Monday, October 07, 2013

Blogsticuffs? Blogmageddon?

The inestimable Mr. Beettam, having upon further reflection determined that the only winning move is not to play, or something of that nature, has advised all and sundry that Blog War is not for him. 

Thus endeth the Great Blog War of 2013, in a state of status quo ante bellum, which is a fancy-pants way of saying "dammit, now all the work of motivating me to update this thing is going to be on me again". Thanks a lot for foiling my plan to outsource my motivation to you, Greg.

Well, in fact, I've been feeling pretty on top of the motivating-myself aspect of blogging lately. What I was really looking forward to in an unfolding Blog War was not only having a partly externalized motivation to actually post here more regularly (and on a broader variety of subjects), but also the idea that as posts volleyed back and forth, inevitably we'd end up responding to not only the fact of one another's posts, but also the content -- and an interesting discussion might then emerge. 

So, to that end, I'm going to put this out there: If anyone is interested in some form of at least vaguely-organized blog-based discussion, let's set something up. It doesn't need to be a Blog! War!!! It could be anything. It could be a Blogstravaganza!

I don't know exactly what a Blogstravaganza would be, but then, I didn't know what I thought a Blog War was either, until I started typing it, so I'm sure we can figure something out.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Reviewed -- TT: Full Throttle, an excellent debut YA novel

I'm not terribly into sports -- it's great if people enjoy playing them, and hey, if you're a passionate sports fan, there are way worse things you could be excited about. But left to my own devices, I don't follow any organized sport beyond having a sense of what's in the headlines. I particularly am not into motorsports. Not a sports fan + environmentalist = some serious apprehensions about watching motor vehicles drive around in a circle.

All of which is to say that I am so not the target audience for TT: Full Throttle, the debut novel by my friend Nicole Winters, set in the world of motorcycle racing and specifically, at the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy race. A YA novel about motorcycle racing? Yeah, so not my usual thing.

I love this book.

Nicole has achieved something really rare, special and admirable in this, her first published novel -- she has created a window into the world and the passions of a group of very believable characters, and she has done it in a way that makes me, someone who would normally disdain motorcycle racing for all sorts of reasons, deeply interested and invested in the outcome. 

TT: Full Throttle is the story of Scott Saunders, a young man in his early twenties who lives for only one thing -- to race in the annual Isle of Man Tourist Trophy, the TT. Scott comes from a racing family, and planned for years to travel to the Isle of Man with his father for the race. His father's untimely death has changed all that, and now Scott eats, sleeps and breathes the TT, intent on travelling to the Isle with his friend Neil so they can race to honour his dad's memory. 

Scott shares his home with Neil, Mags, a gifted motorcycle mechanic who Scott is attracted to, and Dean, a former juvenile delinquent who Neil has taken under his wing. The story begins as Scott and Neil are moving forward with their training for the TT, but when tragedy strikes again, Scott must decide whether to go ahead or give up on his dream. With the help of his friends, who join him on his journey and act as an ad hoc pic crew, he travels to the Isle of Man. There, however, the pressure mounts as Scott struggles to qualify for the race with limited resources, no sponsorship, and his amateur crew of well-meaning but not always skilled friends. Together, they must all work to rise to these new challenges if Scott's dream is ever to come true.

I'll let you read the book to learn how that works out, and read it you most definitely should. Nicole has a remarkable ear for dialogue, and every single one of her characters pops off the page. Scott, Neil, Mags and Dean are more real to me now than some people I've met in my real life. In the abstract, I don't care much about motorcycle racing, but I care about these people, their struggles, their tragedies and their triumphs, and I was deeply invested in following them on their journey and rooting for them to succeed. 

And if that was my reaction, I can't even imagine how strongly a younger reader, especially one with an interest in sports, would react to this book. This excellent novel is primarily aimed at YA readers, especially boys and reluctant readers generally, but there's plenty going on here to catch and hold the interest of an adult -- even a sports-indifferent one. 

TT: Full Throttle is available from online booksellers everywhere in print and ebook versions. I recommend it unreservedly.


In the interests of full disclosure: I originally posted this on Goodreads -- but a) I'm still figuring out how to integrate Goodreads with the rest of my social media activity and I didn't want this to get lost in the shuffle and b) it's past time for another volley in my Blog! War!!! with Greg Beettam. Mr. Beettam, the ball is in your court now.

And also in the interests of full disclosure: I did mention this in my review, but it merits repeating. Nicole is a friend, and I am in that sense not at all unbiased here. That being said, I think I would love TT: Full Throttle just as much if I didn't know the author at all.

And finally, if you still need convincing, why not check out the book trailer here?

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Con Ascending: Making Cons Better and More Sustainable through Diversity in SFF

As I mentioned last time, both Dragon Con and the Worldcon took place over the Labour Day long weekend. This has engendered a fascinating, sprawling conversation about creators and fans about the future of Worldcon specifically -- because it's greying, and not very diverse -- and more broadly science fiction and fantasy (SFF) in general. The discourse has taken place across the web in all sorts of fora, including many author and fan blogs, and has been prominent on Twitter, where writer Jim Hines created the #DiversityInSFF hashtag to further the discussion.

For some important background and the discussion to date, you can read the #DiversityInSFF tweets, as well as blog posts from Chuck Wendig, Madeline Ashby and Jim McDermott.

I wasn't at this Worldcon. In fact, I’ve never been to a WorldCon (I attended the 2012 World Fantasy Con, and I was a pre-supporter for TorCon 3, and look forward to attending future Worldcons), but I'm very much pro-Worldcon. I love cons, I love science fiction and fantasy and the SFF writing and fandom communities – our wonderful, strange little subculture. I want the things I love to succeed, and to continue to succeed for years to come.

I also have some small sense of the amount of work that goes into organizing an undertaking as massive as a convention, especially when you’re an all-volunteer organization. I have the utmost respect for the hard-working convention committees and the other volunteers who make conventions happen. You are all awesome and I don’t want for one second to detract from your awesomeness. I want you to be able to continue to be awesome and pass on the awesome to future generations and for the awesome to roll forever down the ringing grooves of change.

Although Worldcon engendered this discussion, the problems that have been identified are not unique to Worldcon (a lot of them aren’t unique to SFF). That doesn’t mean that we can’t and shouldn’t do something about them, either for future Worldcons, or more broadly throughout SFF.

So what are these problems? Broadly, they are problems of inclusivity and bringing new people into the community -- that they are welcomed, that they can freely participate as themselves, that they are encouraged to stay and supported in staying. This is important not only for ethical reasons, but because being more open, welcoming and therefore more diverse is the key to long-term sustainability of a community that is frankly too old, too white and too male to grow or even be self-sustaining in the long run, without change. 

Here are nine suggestions. Nine things we could to address the problems of diversity in literary SFF conventions and fandom.

A note on my own positioning: I am a member of various fandoms. I am a writer who aspires to work professionally within SFF. I occupy positions of privilege, since I present as male, white, cis and straight. I know that affects my experiences and my thinking, and that I am not always aware of how. So these suggestions are just that. Suggestions, my attempt to contribute to a vital discussion, to indicate my willingness to do my part to make things better. I hope for feedback, so that I can learn more and that better ideas can emerge from the conversation. I hope to listen and learn so I can be a better ally. I welcome dialogue.  

Another note: This list is really focused on conventions because that's where a lot of the current iteration of the conversation started. There's lots more work to do in diversity with regards to diversity among writers and in subject matter, for instance -- but others have been writing eloquently about that.

A final note: Many of these ideas are not new. At least half are via other, smarter people than me, and the other half, a different bunch of other, smarter people probably thought up before I did, and I just didn’t hear about them. (I've tried to source them, where possible.) 

But that’s part of the point – these ideas aren't revolutionary, aren't terribly complicated and shouldn’t be controversial. In many cases, they're kind of obvious. Some might take time, planning and money to implement. Some would require a will to change that might not be there. But we are a bunch of people who pride themselves on our intelligence and creativity, right? Well, if we can’t pull off the basic level of problem-solving required to address these issues, then we might have to re-evaluate that opinion.

And with the appropriate background and mea culpas out of the way...


Paul Weimer’s idea to hold an upcoming Hugo Award ceremony at Dragon Con is an exciting and good one. His brief suggestion doesn’t go into detail – would only the ceremony be at Dragon Con? Or would Dragon Con attendees actually be eligible to vote for the Hugos? 

I assume Paul is suggesting the former. The latter would be a great opportunity to open up the Hugo Awards to new participants but given the recent anxiety and pushback expressed in the discussion of opening up access to Hugo voting through more affordable memberships, I don't think the community is ready. 

So, failing that admittedly bold step, simply holding the awards ceremony at Dragon Con would, as Paul points out, be a brilliant way to open the Worldcon door to the Dragon Con community. Everyone gets awards shows; you don't need to be an insider to understand the dynamic. They have built-in drama and fun, and you get to see celebrities dressed up in clothes and making goofy jokes. 

And reaching out to Dragon Con attendees, to be clear, isn't just about raising the profile of Worldcon, or the Hugos, although both of those are worthy goals in themselves. It forwards Diversity in SFF by making an active effort to welcome and include Dragon Con's much larger (about ten time the attendance of an average Worldcon) audience of younger, more diverse fans. Hook them with the awards show, get them interested in the books, the programming, the discouse and the community -- and connect them to SF&F's powerful traditions of celebrating those things, and you're already half-way to winning the next generation. 

If, however, that is a little too much for people...

Why not? The technology is there to have joint panels and other events split between the two cons, connecting via videoconferencing. Imagine a Dragon Con vs. Worldcon poetry slam, with improvised poems on SFFnal topics suggested by fans at both ends. Imagine being in Atlanta for Dragon Con and not having to miss George R. R. Martin’s reading at Worldcon. Hell, with Margaret Atwood's invention, the LongPen, we could even have signings split between the conventions.

An aside on Dragon Con
There are huge differences between Dragon Con and Worldcon besides the age and diversity of the fans -- Dragon Con is commercial, Worldcon is non-profit; Dragon Con is devoted to all media and all things fannish, Worldcon is firmly and almost exclusively literary in focus. And Dragon Con isn't without its flaws or problems. A lot of the comparisons are happening because the two conventions happen at the same time, and therefore form a really clear contrast to one another. The issue isn't Dragon Con per se, just as it isn't Worldcon per se; it's that fan media cons are more diverse, younger, and growing, while SFF literary cons are less diverse, greying, and have plateaued -- for years, in many cases.

But those young, diverse fans who are helping the media cons to surge should be a massive feeder market for Worldcon and other literary cons, creating the next generation of, for instance, Worldcon and World Fantasy attendees.

Should be, could be, but so far aren't. So the question of what can be learned from those cons, and how to reach the fans who attend them, and make them aware of and excited about literary cons is vitally important. Dragon Con and Worldcon happen at the same time and so they're obvious candidates for some form of cooperation and synergy, but there should be stronger ties and connections between literary and media cons in general.

Future Worldcons could create a steeply discounted category of membership for people attending their first Worldcon (as long as information is shared between Worldcons, you can manage this issue with a spreadsheet. The challenge is not going to be logistical). Get the price of a badge down and there will  be fewer barriers to participation, especially for younger and/or less financially well-off people.

And let's be clear: The cost of attending major conventions is significant and it is a barrier to participation. In Mary Robinette Kowal's survey on Diversity in SFF, of respondents who had never attended a con, 57.4% cited cost as one reason. 

Making conventions -- including but not only Worldcon -- more accessible to people who can't currently afford to attend will address Diversity in SFF via age (young people are often less well-off) and social class. And people in groups that are less privileged or marginalized for other reasons tend to have less money and be less financially secure as well -- so there'll be a ripple effect.

(Oh, and on the subject of that survey question, 36.5% cited "I would feel out of place" as a reason they've never attended a con -- another reason that addressing Diversity in SFF will be good for cons!)

Again, and this is specific to Worldcon, there are going to be concerns about things like Hugo voting and the WSFS business meeting. You know what? Amend the bylaws. Make the new membership category a “Friend of the WSFS” or “Observer” or what have you, and sever it from Hugo and WSFS business meeting voting rights – but provide the same access to the other programming as any other attendee. People who try it and get bitten by the Worldcon bug will be back, with full memberships at future Worldcons.

The Carl Brandon Society is doing wonderful, important work "to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the production of and audience for speculative fiction." One of their initiatives is Con Or Bust, devoted to "helping fans of color attend SFF cons". This is essential. As I noted above, financial barriers to participation in conventions are real, and they disproportionately affect people of colour and people in other less privileged populations. Con Or Bust, and the other projects of the Carl Brandon Society, should be financially supported so they can not just continue, but expand them. The Society should be invited to present on its work and hold donation drives at cons. 

And new initiatives should be created to support participation at cons by other under-represented populations (the differently-abled for instance, or the neurodiverse).

I live in Toronto, home to a major film festival. It's going on right now, you may have heard of it? Every year, the Film Festival -- one of the biggest and most prestigious in the world -- has programming devoted to the cinema of a particular country

So, why isn’t the World Convention of the World Science Fiction Society doing something similar? 

It could and should. Every WorldCon could have an International Guest of Honour, bringing a creator from a spotlight non-English-speaking country or culture to the con. Programming could explore the IGOH’s work and the speculative fiction tradition of his/her home country, culture, or language.

Expose con attendees to more diverse SFF from around the world, and they will find something to love -- and that will spur more sources, more voices and more diversity in SFF.

Many people supported the Helsinki bid for the 2015 Worldcon (Helsinki lost to Spokane, WA) partly out of a desire to support the growth and development of organized SFFnal fandom in Europe. That argument did not persuade quite enough people, this time around. But what if the choices weren’t exclusive?

What about a network of concurrent, satellite Worldcons taking place around the world? Set up Worldcon spoke sites, essentially, in Europe, or South America, or East Asia, or South Asia, or Africa, but linked up with the main Worldcon via videoconferencing for conjoint programming. This would allow affordable participation by not just a significant number of creators from other countries and cultures, but fans from those countries and cultures too. And it would develop connections and partnerships between “main site” con coms and their partners elsewhere – and that would also build the skills, experience and fannish infrastructure for future, successful Worldcon bids from outside North America (and western Europe). A Gdansk, or Rio, or Mumbai hub in partnership with the 2016 Worldcon could lead to Gdansk, Rio, or Mumbai hosting the main Worldcon in 2023.

In a list of uncomplicated ideas, this one is a no-brainer.

I first learned of this idea via writer Paul Cornell (who I suspect was consolidating, expressing and making into a personal, actionable goal the outcome of a series of discussions and suggestions that a large number of people participated in -- my apologies to all those who informed this discourse whose names and contributions I'm unfamiliar with.)

Panel parity is just a basically sensible idea. Panels, and therefore convention programming, and therefore conventions, will appeal to more and a more diverse set of people, if they see via the panelists that their participation is wanted and welcomed. More women on panels = more women going to panels and participating in the discussion. The same principle can and should be applied to people of colour, and to other forms of diversity.

If the makeup of panels, that is to say, ignores a significant percentage of humanity, those people will go somewhere else instead -- somewhere that acknowledges, welcomes, includes and reflects them and their experiences.

But why should this be up to individual panelists to police, when it's not only just straightforwardly the ethical thing to do, but is actually in the best interest of conventions? The answer, clearly, is that it shouldn't. Panel parity should be adopted as a core principle by cons.

Now, the people who organize programming for conventions already work really hard -- scheduling those panels and events is like playing Jenga, except that everyone is yelling at you and the pieces are on fire -- but I can't imagine that ensuring parity and diversity in participation would be an unbearable addition to the burden. Indeed, in the long run, by expanding participation, panel parity will expand the pool of available panelists, which will make panels easier to organize -- making it a matter of enlightened self-interest yet again!

Again: No. Freakin'. Brainer. This issue has been discussed at length over the past year or so, but it's central, it's vital and it bears repeating. Conventions need robust and robustly enforced policies and practices to ensure that all fans feel welcome and safe there. There must be policies to prevent harassment and bullying of any kind, and clear, consistent, transparent procedures in the event somebody breaks those rules. 

There are other factors, important ones, that haven't been as widely discussed yet, that are vital to cons being safe and welcoming for all: Accessibility for people with reduced mobility; accommodation for the differently-abled and the neurodiverse; on-site child care are just a few. 

So many people have done so much work on these issues -- harassment at conventions being particularly prominent and thorny lately -- that it would be difficult to name them all. A very short list of the ones who have helped me towards better understanding would include Rose Fox, Genevieve Valentine, John Scalzi, Maria Dahvana Headley, Jim Hines and groups and organizations like SFFragette, the Backup Ribbon Project and the Ada Initiative. We all owe these people, and the others who have been dealing with these issues, a tremendous debt of gratitude. It takes a lot of courage to put yourself into the maw of frothing internet-hatred that this struggle too often is. To acknowledge their efforts properly, we should do two things: Thank them, and then do the work required to make sure these problems are resolved.

That's important for all these ideas, in fact. Many, many people have done a lot of work to change things for the better, so that conventions and fan culture will be more diverse and therefore better, stronger and more sustainable. Let's take a moment to thank them.

Now, using these suggestions or the other, better ones that will emerge from the ongoing discussion, let's fix things. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Con, Descending

Was there ever a convention called Con Descending? There must have been. Punning is as deeply ingrained in fen as arguing, Monty Python quotes and the phrase, "Not a question, more of a comment..."

Regardless: Conventions. The gatherings of the geek tribes. Nerdhallas. Cons.

With two big exceptions, about which more later, my involvement in fandom-related conventions has mainly been tied to being the co-creator and co-writer of Xeno's Arrow. Even before Greg Beettam and I launched our own comic, I went to small local comic cons to hang out with my friends and help crew the Egesta Comics table. I started on at cons being on the creator's side of the table, in other words. I didn't attend a comics convention as a "fan" (as distinct from a "pro", for certain values of "pro", of course) for years.

So, for the most part, I stopped attending conventions when I stopped having a comic to sell to the unwitting masses. Greg and I have occasionally had a table at Toronto's big outdoor literary festival, Word On The Street. And while we haven't had a table there, I attend the Toronto Comics Arts Festival (TCAF) every year, as a fan/enthusiastic reader/lover of comics.

I find that I miss cons. As the Labour Day long weekend approaches, I find myself missing them even more than usual. That's because there are two major conventions over this weekend - Dragon Con, in Atlanta, and the WorldCon, which this year is in San Antonio, Texas (WorldCon moves around from year to year, like the Olympics).

The two cons are very different in size, scope and character. Dragon Con is a huge media-driven nerd fest, with tons of programming tracks covering every kind of fandom. I believe that it's second in size in North America only to Nerd Prom itself, the San Diego Comic Con. Cosplay is a major, major element

WorldCons, wherever they are, are rather different. WorldCon skews older and is focused exclusively on literary science fiction and fantasy. There's some steampunkery and people in cool hats, but you won't find many Stormtrooper or Catwoman costumes. The Hugo Awards are presented at WorldCon. It's an order of magnitude smaller than Dragon Con.

I am, however, told that the partying at WorldCon is just as intense. Make of that what you will.

If my Twitter feed is to be believed, everyone in the world except me is at one of these two conventions. Or, okay, it might just feel that way. Regardless, missing on out con season is hitting me especially hard this year. 

It's funny, because when Greg and I were actively publishing the comic, cons were part of the job. They were exciting and fun and a wonderful opportunity to see and spend time with the friends we'd made through comics, certainly, but that wasn't supposed to be the point. The point was go somewhere where we could meet existing and potential readers, and hopefully sell them comics. I wouldn't have gone to a convention just for the excitement and fun and camaraderie - I was a pro. Or, rather, a "pro", but still.

I remember a lot of conventions from those days. Guess how many of my memories have to do with how much money we made? 

So yes, I miss cons. I miss the excitement and the fun and the camaraderie. Attending conventions is another part of my life where I'd like to get back from erstwhile. Of course, in this case, in addition to being a time thing, it's also a money thing -- hotels and air fares and paying ten bucks for a sandwich adds up. But there are options that won't cost an arm and a leg or take a week out of my life -- and for the options that would, I can dream, and plan.

Monday, August 26, 2013

This Is What I'm Doing: The End of August 2013 Edition (and a Slight Declaration of War)

So, first order of business - I feel kind of compelled to say this whenever I go radio silent for a while, these days - yes, I am indeed still alive. Busy, but well overall.

But since it has been a while since my last post, I'm going to defer the exciting conclusion of my epic 'A Not All That Hilarious Heart Attack' series for now, and instead do a scattershot update on the state of the me.

The Summer of Live
I've been focusing on home and family over this summer. Partly, just because that's what I've been most interested in doing, but also partly out of necessity. The kids have been out of school and unfortunately, the summer activities we had hoped to get them into didn't quite pan out - the demand for summer services for autistic kids being rather in excess of supply. Which would be complicated enough, and has been a huge amount of work for Sarah, who's been at home with them full-time while I've been at work. But on top of that, the change to activity levels has switched up their sleep cycles. They've always been night owls compared to typically-developing peers, and now they are up late. Late. Very late.  The opposite of early, is what I'm saying here. L-A-T-E.

This means that we don't get our usual time to unwind or do stuff after the kids are in bed - and we're up so late, I haven't been able to get up early, either. Although Sarah has done her level best to support me getting time to get out of the house and do me-time things, including writing, it hasn't always been possible, and I certainly haven't been anywhere near as creatively productive over the summer as I imagined I would be, before we realized how impacted we were going to be by the kids' schedules going wonky.

On the plus side, the kids are happy and healthy, and they're cheap dates - the splash pad at the local park will keep them entertained for hours. I love getting to spend time with them, and minor kvetching about free time aside, it's been a wonderful summer.

But boy, am I ever looking forward to the day after Labour Day this year!

Write On
Not as productive as I imagined doesn't mean that I haven't been productive at all. I've been polishing and submitting my short fiction - I generally have two or three stories out to market at any given time. No sales yet. This has had the beneficial side effect of making me much less sensitive about rejection, and will make the eventual acceptance, at whatever publication that ends up being, even sweeter. I expect that I'll be hard to shut about about that when it finally happens.

And revisions to the novel continue - that's really been the big-ticket project this summer. I'm about half-way through the manuscript, but since notes from my readers are a bit thinner on the ground in the second half of the story (because it was, you know, better than the first half) I'm likely more than half done. Then it'll be a matter of doing a final read through, making my own notes, and the resulting final buffing to get it into shape.

And then I'll start shopping it around to agents.

So, this is obviously not going to be done this month as I had originally hoped - but I am in good shape to finish in September. The important thing is to start contacting agents well before December, when they'll start getting flooded with everyone's NaNoWriMo output.

More on the process of finding representation as it unfolds.

Blog! War! Declared!!!
I was reminded that it was time (okay, past time) for me to post something new by two friends who are now blogging. Nicole Winters, whose debut novel will be out in September, has been updating the blog on her new website with all sorts of interesting content, and I recommend you check it out - and pick up her novel when it's out, too!

And Xeno's Arrow co-creator Greg Beettam just made the inaugural post on his Bleakwhimsy blog, which I also very much encourage you to check out.

Now, so far, Greg just has the one post up. An auspicious beginning, and his clearly-stated desire to blog regularly going forward gave me an idea. With this post, I hearby declare Blog War on Greg Beettam and his Bleakwhimsy blog!

What exactly does that mean, you ask? It's a fair question, since a Blog War is something I'm pretty sure I just made up.

A Blog War is a challenge to spur us both to post more regularly. When I update my blog, the gauntlet is thrown down to Greg to respond - not to the content, although he certainly can do that if he wants - but by updating his own blog with a new post. And, to keep this interesting and fair, I'm adding a word count stipulation - the new post must meet or exceed the length of the post it's in response to. So if I update with a 500-word post, Greg's response needs to be at least 500 words - and the armour-plated glove is thereby thrown down to me to respond with a comparable post.

(Greg gets a pass on the word count of this current post, to be fair - he just needs to post something, and the length it ends up being will determine the minimum length of my post in response.)

The goal is to keep the chain unbroken and the posts flowing, challenge and response, thesis and antithesis, Bert and Ernie. And on January 1, 2014 we'll tally up our total number of blog posts between today and New Year's Eve. The blogger with the highest total number of posts wins the Blog War and gets massive bragging rights, plus... I dunno, a cookie? Greg, is a cookie a good prize?

Mr. Beettam, I await your bleak and whimsical response. And may the bloggiest blogger win!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Not All That Hilarious Heart Attack, Part 2: The Cardiologist Strikes Back

So, when we last left our hero, the seriousness of the situation was finally - belatedly - registering (because even I can't have a discussion with a cardiologist about the risk of death associated with a medical procedure versus the risk of death associated with doing nothing, without it sinking in that something important might be happening), and I was being taken upstairs on a stretcher.

While I was being prepped for the procedure, the cardiologist explained a few more things, including that I wouldn't be able to drive for some time afterwards. 

"That's not an issue for me," I said, "I don't drive."

"Oh," he replied, "You got here in an ambulance?"

"No," I said, "I took the bus."

A look of pure incredulity flashed across his face. "You took the bus? Why wouldn't you take the ambulance?"

"It seemed excessive," I told him.

He laughed out loud. "It seemed excessive," he said, shaking his head. 

So yes, everyone: Point taken. The Head of Cardiology at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre agrees with you. The bus was not one of my better ideas. Sheesh! Can we move on to the procedure? 

This was the procedure: I would get a local anaesthetic on my right wrist, and a sedative - but not a general anaesthetic. Then a camera would be inserted via my wrist and snaked up to my heart. They'd have a look around and take further action as needed.

The further action, I learned afterwards, was the insertion of a stent. One of my arteries was totally - one hundred percent - blocked. They were able to clear out the blockage and re-open the artery with the stent. So there's a tiny plastic tube in my artery. It releases medication, too, over time, to ensure that my body doesn't try to heal it over.

Yeah, how amazing is medical science? Based on information obtained via a tiny camera that went to my heart via my wrist, I had a stent inserted - again, it went in via my wrist - into one of my heart's arteries. All of this without being cut open (the tiny incision in my wrist healed within days) and without needing anaesthetic. This all  took an hour. I was conscious throughout the whole process.

It didn't even hurt.

My one regret is that I couldn't see the monitor myself from the position I was lying in. Although with the sedative, I'm not sure I would have been able to make much sense of it. I was flying pretty high, except for the time I fell asleep.

Fun as it was, the sedative wore off quickly and I was able to talk to the cardiologist and debrief as soon as the procedure was finished, which is when I found out about the stent, and the extent of the blockage in my arteries (in addition to the total blockage of the right anterior artery, two others had partial blockage - one was forty percent blocked, one fifty. These didn't require intervention as they're considered treatable via medication and lifestyle change.

So, the procedure was done and I was ushered into my post-heart attack era by being taken down to the Cardiac ICU. There I was moved into a bed - the nurses who got me settled in told me that the bed cost more than both their cars, put together - and hooked up to a bunch of machines that go ping: An ECG, a blood pressure monitor, oxygen, an IV feeding me blood thinners, and a blood oxygenation monitor (which, in another "Sweet FSM modern medicine is freaking astounding!" moment, is a little clip that goes on your finger, shines a laser at it, and via that process determines how oxygen-saturated your blood is).

That's when they let Sarah in to see me.

I probably looked a bit hellish by that point, even if she hadn’t already been scared half out of her mind. We were both pretty emotional. She hugged me - gently - and sat with me, and held my hand. We talked a bit - not a lot, we were both exhausted. The kids had school in the morning, or later that morning, really, since it was after 3:00 am by then, so after a little bit of just being together, she went home to take care of things, and I went to sleep in a bed that cost more than two nurses' cars. 

Exhausted, weak, with a tube in the artery next to my heart. And alive. 

Next: The first day of the rest of my life (in a post-heart attack world)

Sunday, April 07, 2013

A Not All That Hilarious Heart Attack

Alice Sheldon, who wrote some absolutely brilliant science fiction, mostly under the pen name and guise of James Tiptree Jr., once wrote an account of her experience having a heart attack while on vacation in Mexico. She called it 'How To Have An Absolutely Hilarious Heart Attack' and it's well worth reading, if only to note the deft writing that went into a very frank account of a medical emergency that still managed to keep her gender implicit and therefore, her identity secret.

My own experience was perhaps not as hilarious, and my description of it will be a lot less well-crafted. On the other hand, I promise that "Stephen" is my real name.

And last week, I had a heart attack. Oh, and if that wasn't hilarious enough? I'm 41.

I had been feeling not very well for a couple of weeks. Simple activities, that wouldn't had even rated as effort before, seemed to get me winded, to get my heart pounding.

I wasn't sure what to make of it, but I figured, meh. I'd put on some weight since the holidays and it was slowing me down. I was getting over a cold. It was a long, cold, winter. Nothing that starting to eat better and exercise regularly again wouldn't fix.

Besides, after talking to some people and researching my symptoms online, I was pretty sure I had acid reflux.

But last Sunday, March 31st, some time after 10:30 in the morning, that theory got a lot less tenable. My father-in-law had taken the kids for an outing and Sarah, my lovely partner, was getting some well deserved sleep, so I was the only one both home and up.

And I suddenly felt like a giant was leaning on my chest. My heart was pounding, again - and this time, I hadn't been doing anything at all. It hurt to move. It hurt to breathe. It just plain hurt, and no matter what I did, it felt like that giant was pushing me, putting all his weight into pushing me right in the chest.

My first thought was that this acid reflux thing? A lot worse than I'd expected.

I looked up some home remedies (apple cider vinegar, that sort of thing) and tried a couple. They caused a lot of burping, but brought no relief. They also seemed to bring on a bout of nausea, and it was the sound of me trying to throw up that woke up Sarah. Since I'm rarely sick, she was surprised and concerned. "Are you okay?" she asked me.

"No," I said, "I think I need to go to the hospital."

As I said, I'm rarely sick - until this recent misadventure, I hadn't used a sick day in about two and a half years. We talked about it, and agreed that the best thing for me would be to get some rest instead.

So I went to bed and slept for about five hours.

When I woke up, the pain had subsided, but it was still there. I still felt awful, and I'm used to a decent nap being a cure-all, so I was even more concerned, even though I didn't actually hurt as much. I decided to call Telehealth and get some advice.

(For non-Ontarians, Telehealth is a toll-free phone line the provincial government operates - you call and talk to a Registered Nurse, who can advise you how best to proceed based on the symptoms you describe. The idea is that it keeps people from rushing to the emergency room when they don't need to go, and makes sure that people who need to go to the ER do).

The nurse at Telehealth was... a lot more concerned than I expected, and encouraged me to go to the ER as soon as possible. "I can transfer you to 911 right now," she said. I said that was okay, I needed to talk to my partner about making sure she and the kids were okay, et cetera. "If you don't take this advice, you could be putting yourself at risk," she said. I thought that was hitting the disclaimer boilerplate pretty hard, but I said I understood, thank you and so on, and hung up.

I told Sarah the nurse had said that I should call an ambulance, but that I didn't think that was necessary. A bus stops right in front of our building that goes right past the nearest hospital - it was minutes away, probably just as fast as an ambulance would be.

So I showered, put on clean clothes, got some things together and went out to hop on the bus. It had been a mild day but was starting to get cold. Happily, I didn't have to wait long. The bus arrived in a few minutes and I was en route to the hospital.

I arrived a bit before 8:00 pm, and sat down to wait for triage. I saw a nurse, told her my symptoms. She gave me a couple of baby aspirin, which I chewed up and swallowed. She didn't seem unduly alarmed. I may have understated my pain then, or the seriousness of my pain earlier. I may have been a bit too committed to my acid reflux theory. In any case, after triage, there was more waiting.

Over this time, my heart rate seemed to speed up, and sometimes it felt like my heart was doing some particularly awkward acrobatics in there. I chalked it up to stress and psychosomatic symptoms brought on by my imagination.

Eventually, I was assessed, and got an ECG.

More waiting.

Finally, after midnight, I was seen by a doctor. She looked at my chart and immediately told the staff to give me another ECG, since it had been so long since the last one. When that was completed...

The doctor looked at the ECG. "Did you feel that, just now?" she asked.

"Feel what?" I said.

She nodded, as if to herself, "Yeah," she said, "We're going to get the cardiologist down here to talk to you."

Would you believe that it wasn't until then that my internal "Oh shit!" alarm started to go off?

The cardiologist was there shortly. He looked at my ECG results, did a quick examination and assessment.

"You had a heart attack," he said.

"Really?" I replied.

He told me, yes, I really had. We discussed the risks and benefits of an angiogram and angioplasty, and I agreed that the procedure sounded like a good idea - and signed the appropriate paperwork.

I might, he said, want to call someone.

I said that I didn't think that would be necessary. I didn't want to bother my wife.

He looked a bit incredulous, and tried to explain to me that a heart attack was not a minor thing. I should probably, you know, tell my family.

I called Sarah, and let her know the news. She started to cry. I told her that I was going to be okay, but that she should probably come to the hospital. Within a few minutes, she had made arrangements for a friend (the kind and generous Melanie - thank you so much!) to come over and stay with the kids, and told me she'd be there as soon as she could.

After the waiting, waiting, waiting, I was a little surprised by the speed at which events moved forward. I was only waiting for about half an hour while the CATH lab team was assembled (they're called is as needed, rather than kept waiting around) and that was just as well - it gave me time to talk to Sarah.

Then I was taken upstairs on a stretcher - for the procedure.

Next time: The procedure and afterwards.

(Spoiler warning: I didn't die!)

Thursday, February 28, 2013

And the Beat Goes On

Yes, so, lots has happened, and lots continues to happen. And much of it is interesting. And, uh, I really should be blogging about it, shouldn’t I? That means this is most definitely going to be a scattershot, bunch of little updates, ITEM: Stephen likes pie! kind of thing:

I had kind of a blah start to the year. It was grey and cold and I was fighting a bug of some sort and needed to sleep a lot. So I got really stalled out and didn’t make a whole lot of progress on any creative front (or with exercising, for that matter). Until…

My writers group went on a weekend mini-retreat. We got out of Toronto (on the night of a big snowstorm, no less) and spent a couple of days at a cottage near Grand Bend. It was awesome to be able to go heads-down for an extended period of time, and it let me push through the morass. I owe big thanks to: Claire, who thought of and organized the whole deal; her family, for generously allowing us to use their cottage that weekend; and of course to my co-parent and partner Sarah, without whose support a weekend away would not have been possible.

I came back feeling creatively rejuvenated, and I’m currently working away on the script for the next story-line for my webcomic, Cold Iron Badge. It’s still going a little slower than I’d like, but you, know, I have the time to write that I have. Any progress beats the heck out of no progress.

And on the subject of Progress, I haven’t been blogging here much so far this year, but I have been blogging. Greg Beettam and I have blown the dust off the long-dormant Xeno’s Arrow website, and we’re adding new content there regularly, about four posts a week on average. No new comics or story material yet, but Greg’s providing a look at the process of creating our characters, including never-before-seen art, in his Sketchbook Diaries. I’m doing blog posts going into our processes of collaboration and co-writing, and also contributing brand-new Appendices that explore the Known Galaxy of Xeno’s Arrow.

Appendices were prose features, sometimes illustrated, sometimes not, that we ran at the back of issues of Xeno’s Arow, after the comic. They were part of the universe, but not part of the story – usually presented as excerpts from books or articles from somewhere in the Known Galaxy that allowed us to explore and detail elements of the setting that fell outside the frame of our characters and their adventures. They were always tremendous fun to write and I’m having a great time doing that again!

And there may be, very possibly may be, some more news on the Xeno’s Arrow front. That’s pending some other elements falling into place, so nothing’s confirmed yet. If something’s happening, it’ll most likely happen later this spring. Even the prospect has me really excited, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

Meanwhile, I've heard back from most of the beta readers who very kindly had a look at my novel, and I'm starting to think about the final round of revisions. Depending on how long it takes to finish the script, that may be my Big March Project. After which... wow, after that I have to start thinking about finding representation by submitting it to agents. 

Still creeping their way up the to-do list: Regular exercise, my next novel, and another entirely different writing project that I've been kicking around that would be an absolutely insane amount of fun, if I could pull it off. 

More updates, perhaps not quite as they happen, but pretty close. Stay tuned!