Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Where have all the Canadians Gone?

CNW photograph - Josh Basseches
Trending At Toronto's Cultural Attractions: Hire Out Of Canada.

Just got a CNW release about the new head of the Royal Ontario Museum here in Toronto. In the press release ROM welcomes its new Director & CEO, Josh Basseches. He was previously the Deputy Director of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.

Basseches is well qualified to take-over a museum the stature and budget of the ROM. However, by passing over, once again, worthy Canadian candidates for the job (last CEO, an Australian, left her post early), ROM has continued a disturbing trend here in Toronto -- most of the high profile roles at this city's key cultural institutions have been handed over, at a huge expense, to foreign nationals.

Earlier this year the Art Gallery of Ontario announced that after a 7-month worldwide search it had hired Stephan Jost as CEO of the Gallery. A Michigan born art expert, Jost does not appear to have a background in Canadian Art. He is being moved lock, stock and barrel from his home in Hawaii (he was head of the little known Honolulu Museum of Art).

Jost and Basseches join a growing number of foreign born CEOs including but not limited to: National Ballet's executive director Barry Hughson (Boston); Luminato's CEO Anthony Sargent (UK), Harbourfront's Australian CEO Marah Braye; the Opera's General Director Alexander Neef (Germany) and Bata Shoe Museum's Director Emanuele Lepri (Italian).

I am no longer involved in the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. I still do follow their exhibitions and programming. I do note that they are in the process of hiring a new CEO to replace the recently departed head of the gallery. We wait to see who gets the job -- we are betting / hoping it will be a Canadian.

Sunday, 27 March 2016


The Business of Promoting E-Books
SALLOW CITY - Micah Reed's Flint Michigan Blood Bath

From time-to-time I promote E-Books.  On a couple of occasion I have been very successful. Other times, well let’s just say less so.  Last  author driven project I worked on, the aging/ailing  Beatle biographer was so unimpressed with the campaign I launched that he refused to pay full freight on my invoice – it was so bad I couldn’t afford a dozen brown ones to wear on my face.

When it comes to book promotion It is easier to squish a camel through the eye of a needle than it is to successfully push an E-Book work of fiction.  Electronic book sales are currently in decline in Canada, but the number of E-Books that first timers are selling cheap or simply giving away for FREE soars. Readers have quickly gotten used to the idea that they don’t have to pay much (or anything) to fill their Kobo, Kindle or IPad. 

Every day I am offered, through programmes like Free-ebooks.net, Bookbub and E-book-stage twenty titles to download free, usually via Amazon.  The book retailer itself has a frequent flyer reader programme – Kindle Unlimited - that gives you new (but usually remarkable bad) titles for a few cents a download.

In an ongoing effort to avoid future PR failures, I keenly watch to see how writers are promoting their E-Books.  New authors are inventive. Some pre-sell their E-Book through Facebook and genre blogs. Writers who have healthy mailing lists will use direct email pitches to pre-sell their soon-to-be published E-Books.  Others gin up interest with excerpts on their blogs, facebook accounts and on twitter.

With printed books the launch is a tried true method to sell product to fans, friends and family.  I have seen authors sign and sell  300+ copies at a single launch.  It is show, tell, drink and sell.  Good launches lead tomore sales.

E-books launches are ethereal. There isn’t a pile of books, in front of a Sharpie wielding author.  The writer often simply hands out download launch cards to people as they walk through the door. I have seem more inventive authors do photo ops with customers who, after buying an E-Book, get a jpg with themselves and the author along with the E-Pub file.
Jim Heskett

Last month Jim Heskett, an American E-Book thriller scribe did something cool. Just weeks away from launching his new E-Book and softcover Sallow City, he sent emails to people around North America offering a free pre-drop electronic copy on the proviso that the freebee recipients write and review the book on March 23rd.

I sent him a note saying I would like to read Sallow City and promised to write a review love or hate the book.  Heskett thanked me and sent the e-book along with two other new books he has just written. (Turns out there was a delivery mistake).
Brilliant PR campaign concept.  I am not sure it  will work  all that well because getting a free E-Book from a relatively unknown author is something one can do already without having to spend hours reading the book and an hour (and counting ) to write a small review. 
So to save time and space Jim here goes my mini review in point form:

Great Cover – rusty  old car almost up to its door handles in a backwoods empty Michigan lake.  Wish that the photograph had something to do with the book.  It doesn’t.  Book is set in a gritty, dirty urban setting in one of America’s most beleaguered cities – Flint, Michigan. No cars in this book are left sitting in a lake.  Instead they are shot up, crashed, burned and blown away.

Great Title -- Sallow City. You know Flint isn’t called that in real life. Its motto is Strong,  Proud. Its nickname is Vehicle City.  But frankly with what is going down now, what  with the tainted water scandal, soaring unemployment and political corruption,  Heskett’s title is probably a prophetic monicker for Flint.

Great Idea For A Series --The book is the follow-up to  Nail Gun Messiah (seriously).  Both books are very violent stories about Micah Reed and his bail bond boss Frank Mueller.   Micah used to work for a very violent Mexican drug cartel.  He ratted his murderous friends out and now lives in Denver, with a new name and a new honest take on life.

Micah is on vacation in the mountains when his boss gets reports that a badly mutilated body with Micah’s face has turned up in the Flint morgue.  Soon Micah and Frank, a pair of US government contract killers, and the Mexican drug cartel are on their way to Flint.  Standing by in the basement of a recession ravaged city mall is a band of AK47 carry criminals – the Flint Mafia.  Meanwhile a small vigilante posse made up of novice  millennial Jewish gunslingers plan to to kill all the racist drug dealers in Flint and steal as much of their drug and gambling money as they can. It is a 21st century Battle Royale where the authorities are content to let the bad guys (ie almost everyone in the book) shoot it before they roll in to pick up the bodies and put out the fires.

What did I think?  I don’t want to be cruel or dismissive, but this book, like most of the free E-Books I have read (and I have consumed a lot) needs some  serious editing support.  The book is repetitive. It drifts into needless scenarios that are frankly unbelievable – a strong editor might have kept Heskett from having Micah sit beside his would-be government hired assassin in an Denver flight that starts breaking up in turbulence.  That same editor might have convinced him not to have Micah tell a middle aged woman who has just had her throat slashed to not worry and that she should simply apply pressure on her wound until help arrives (as he slips out the back door)!

The book is set in Flint, but, one wonders if Heskett has ever been there.  I have spent much of my life in nearby Windsor and know there are a thousand ugly stories to be told about the decline of Michigan’s once great cities – Heskett never gets around to describing the Michiganess of Sallow City beyond introducing readers to a decrepit mall (it is a real place) that somehow has stayed open even as Flint slips into depression. Sallow City is really a metaphor for the  people who inhabit Flint. Thieves, drug lords, murders, government contract murders, Mexican drug cartel mass murders,  Jewish vigilante murders, and just run-of-the-mill murders.

Guess I am just a pacifist Canadian. I couldn’t handle the non-stop cavalcade of  murders. Tasers. Knives. Handguns. Machine Guns. Burnings. Mutilations. Beatings.   I lost count of the dead.  Best guess? 120, or  about one murder every two pages.

In Sallow City there are no law abiding citizens just  raw meat waiting to be carved up.  The police, sound their sirens but don't actually appear in the book. They seem content to wait on the sidelines as an army of Mexican drug cartel thugs shoot up the mall (and the secret casino in the basement)  while the Young Jewish gang literally sneak in the back door to try to massacre the bigots, right all racial wrongs and steal the casino loot in the book's cathartic climax.

Not ruining the ending when I say that virtually everyone except the hero Micah die horrible senseless deaths.  Oh, his buddy and employer Frank does live to take part in the next Micah Reed thriller, but that is only because he has an appendicitis attack and misses all the fun while recuperating in a Flint hospital.

Younger blood hungry readers will probably devour this book. It sells on Amazon for $2.99 ($6.99 for soft cover). Check out Heskett’s web page. If you look hard you might be able to score a copy for free (don’t mention my name).

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Aging and New Age Thoughts: A Conversation With Ian Brown


Regrets? For journalist Ian Brown there are a few but not for the big things. Ian regrets the book not read, should he read three long classics or just the one he knows he will enjoy, does he have enough time to finish? 

Face to face Brown is the kind of man you just want to be friends with; smart, funny, educated and able to hold his own in a conversation. His takes on life have you laughing and thinking at the same time just as they do in his recent memoir 'Sixty,' shortlisted for the RBC Taylor Prize.

In Sixty Ian kept a journal of his 60th year with a touching honesty that left no wart untouched. Baring his soul was powerful and in many ways liberating for him giving him an outlet to vent all of his emotions of a mentally challenging year. Putting words to paper is what writers do but baring your soul can be like walking into a minefield.

Catching a bite at Fresh and Wild during a lunch time interview Ian Brown is reflective of his life with biting humour. There's something about looking into the mirror feeling like a young man and being shocked that the image staring back at you is old. The mirror tells only one side of the story, Ian rounds that story out with his personal observations. 

Chatting asIan fueled up for a busy end of the week and beginning of whirlwind events for the RBC Taylor Prize (Sixty is a finalist) we touched on those unspoken topics that come with getting a little longer in the tooth like forgetting your keys or using hair gel as facial cleanser.  
"Canada Art Channel Talks to Ian Brown About His Book - Short Video press here"
One of the issues we face as we get older is that our parents are aging at the same time. After his mother died Ian was able to build a stronger relationship with his father. While some may find caring for a parent when their bodies begin to fail Ian is grateful for those moments where father and son grew closer. In thoughtful reflection Ian mused that the act of cleaning up his father as he grew frailer left him feeling like time had reversed but those moments were some of the most touching memories that he has.

More aware of fitness Ian admits he starts his day off with 'boring' exercise with a sheepish grin. It's a way to beat back the clock and stay young. Ian talks about how we are always aging, our brains lose cells early on, our bones get dusty by the time we hit 40- but the process doesn't catch up to us mentally until later. Then out of the blue one day we see this old person in the mirror and realize that those things we wanted to do but put off for later just might not ever get done. 

As he ages Ian is less likely to keep his thoughts to himself, poking fun at the little changes in daily life as he ages.  At times he starts off with saying that his ideas may be a might New Age, but his thoughts are what others internalize and don't have the courage to say out loud. His honesty is refreshing in a world that glorifies youth making the feat of getting older (and looking older) almost a criminal offense. 

Don't worry though that Ian is going to become a grouchy old man. Any one who has a bio of Dylan on his work desk isn't going down for the count any time soon. He has more stories to get out for the Globe & Mail. And that's a good thing for us all! 

By KJ Mullins

Matthew Halton: A Hero Father Remembered Through Research


 Canadian David Halton grew up in London during WWII with a father who was rarely home. Matthew Halton was the voice of Canada, sending reports home for the Toronto Star and CBC from the front lines. His stories from the battlefields kept Canadians aware of what was happening daily but today that voice has been largely forgotten, or was until David put ink to paper. Dispatches From The Front brings this extraordinary man to a new generation.

Born in Pincher Creek, Alberta Matthew may have grown up with humble means but his parents made sure that their children read the classics, cultivating a love and thirst for knowledge. David reflected how his grandmother had the writing bug reporting for the local paper where Matthew would write his first stories. When at 12 Matthew asked to write for the paper the editor sent him out to cover a local campground as a lark thinking nothing would come of it. Matthew not only covered it but wrote with such passion and prose the editor told him that he was a writer. From those early words to his untimely death Matthew Halton brought pieces of the world to his audience. 

David Halton followed his father's footsteps, becoming a notable journalist for the CBC as a foreign affairs correspondent. After retiring in 2005 David gave lectures to up and coming journalist students. He was staggered to find that while war time reporters like Edward R. Murrow and William L. Shirer  have been remembered few had heard of Matthew Halton. "It seems to be a national trait for Canadians to forget our high achievers," David said sadly. 

The discovery that his father had been forgotten led David on a "voyage of discovery." Just 16 when his father passed away as David researched his father's articles, journals, letters home and other documents he got to know his father with clear, adult eyes. The result of that result is his acclaimed book 'Dispatches from the Front: The Life of Matthew Halton, Canada's Voice at War,' one of the books shortlisted for the RBC Taylor Prize. 
KJ interviews David Halton

Halton reflected on his father and the journey of writing Dispatches From the Front at Toronto's King Edward Hotel. David is a thoughtful, gracious man who clearly loves his father and holds his career as a groundbreaking journalist in high esteem. 

Matthew Halton was often away during David's young life but when he was home he was a devoted father who took long walks with his children. He also helped with homework cultivating a love of literature and good writing. David smiled remembering that his father would reward good marks in English with fine dining, special treats that remain cherished memories and left a lasting impact. This was a welcome respite from war rations. “In London the rations didn't end until 1952,” David remembered adding his grandmother sent treasured food parcels from Canada with sweets. 

Halton was one of the first to understand the evil of Hitler and give warnings about Nazi Germany. In 1935 Matthew predicted the bombing of London, 5 years before the Blitz.  “He was almost clairvoyant on his predictions about Hitler during WWII,” David stated with loving pride.

When David started at the CBC he had big shoes to fill. Matthew Halton's writing was so impeccable that the copy he set from war zones to the Toronto Star ran as is. “My father was the darling of the Star,” David said proudly stating that the top brass made it clear that any article that Halton sent in was not to be edited, a rarity for any journalist. His father's name may have helped to get him through the door but David's talent kept him there. 
David Halton on Monocle Radio

Starting at the age of 26 David's tenure had him covering foreign affairs from Paris, Moscow, London, Quebec, the Middle East, Vietnam and Ottawa. He thought when he was posted in Washington D.C. in 1991 the position was be for a few years. He remained in D.C. until his retirement in 2005, a total of 14 years. Those years were rapid fire reporting compared to other posts, with almost all stories from the U.S. capital affecting the entire world quickly. As the senior correspondent David covered some of the most memorial stories of our times including 9/11.

In today's news world Matthew Halton's style of journalism may not be as popular to editors. Halton put himself into the stories and his personal opinions were often very clear. This editorial style did not always meet with favorable review but it was always honest and clearly thought out. Written with flowery prose Halton's articles and newscasts let his audience know exactly what was happening on the front lines. Halton's work is a national treasure. He was a hero to the countless men and women who served on the front lines, bringing their stories back home nightly so that they would be remembered. Let's hope that we as Canadians remember Matthew Halton as well, a hero who gave the truth to our nation when we needed it.

By KJ Mullins

Friday, 4 March 2016

Camilla Gibb Is Happy That Her Book Deals With Sadness

K.J Mullins interviews Toronto writer Camilla Gibb

Camilla Gibb believes in keeping journals, in fact her students at June Callwood Professor in Social Justice are required to keep one during their studies using an actual pen for the art of writing. With five award winning books under her belt Gibb knows the importance of catching those moments that may be forgotten if not written down in the moment. 
Camilla Gibb

Camilla Gibb is the author of 'This Is Happy,' one of the five shortlisted books for this year's RBC Taylor Prize to be announced on March 7 in Toronto. Snow was falling outside as we sat in the lobby at Toronto's King Edward Hotel to discuss her book and how life has changed since it was written. 

Gibb said that her book was documenting a moving target (the birth and first few years of her daughter's life) while looking back to her own upbringing. That moving target, life in motion, has grown in the two years since the book was written. Gibb's story is one that many can relate to; mental health issues, a childhood where silence ruled in place of experiencing feelings and the ending of a relationship with the daunting task of becoming a single mother. As a new mother Gibb built a secure family unit for herself and her daughter with several close friends and family members. 

Reading the book one feels a kinship with the author. As the pages turn the reader becomes invested with this young woman, cheering her victories and wanting to console her during the hard times. By the end of the book you feel like she is a cherished friend that you want to succeed. 

Meeting her face-to-face those same sentiments come through, warm yet reserved Gibb is kind and sentimental. She smiles easily and is clearly devoted to her young daughter. “She is now 5. This is so far my favourite age with her,” the loving mother gushed. One big difference in how her daughter is being raised compared to her own childhood is the use of language to express feelings. “She tells me what she is feeling easily. If she is angry and sad she says so.” 

Like other single mothers in their early 40s she has concerns about her own life, and the reality is sometimes life is not easy. She makes sure to take time for herself including weekly appointments with her doctor. 

Life moves on. Gibb noted that many of those featured in her moving memoir are starting families of their own. Gibb's young daughter is the nucleus for this family of the heart who remain close while moving forward in their own lives. The loving nanny Tita is now a mother herself. Adventurous Miles is about to get married. Gibb's brother is still living in Vancouver, struggling with his demons.  “Each person in my daughter's life serves a different purpose,” Gibb said relating that Miles is the one that her daughter has rough and tumble time with. At the end of the day though it is Gibb who is the nurturing one, mothering with her entire being. 

Gibb's own mother as always remains a constant in her life. There were some concerns that others would she her as cold after reading the book but Gibb smiled confiding that she has heard that many thought her mother came off as sexy and mysterious, after all she did have that spy background. 

Born in the UK, long time resident of Toronto Gibb said that in the past she didn't feel 'at home' in Toronto. That changed once she gave birth to her daughter explaining that with the city being her home has made it feel more like home to Gibb as well.

Sharing the intimate parts of her life could have been hard but the reaction from readers has been an amazing thing for her, who share with her stories of their own lives. “what people have brought back to me has been ten fold,” Gibb shared with a truly happy grin that brightens a snowy day.

Feature story by K.J. Mullins
KJ Mullins