So I'm a YA author now. I guess! by jean-francois dubeau

I don’t blog very often because, well, I tend to write books instead. That’s good news, right? Thing is, I kinda like blogging. I can be more free-form and talk about my opinions and dreams, or both.

Coincidently though, on Friday I delivered a manuscript and on Sunday I was a guest at the Montreal YA Festival. First of its kind here in Montreal, presented by the Jewish Public Library. I should be asleep, but I’m… huh… processing stuff. So I might as well re-ignite this passion for blogging for a short while and talk about my experience.

First off, let me remind you that I am not, or rather never planned to be a YA author. I’m one of those insufferable authors who writes what he wants and let others shoehorn my work into a category. So when received a positive blurb from Voice Of Young Adult magazine, it took me by surprise. Then at StokerCon I discovered that YA is an actual category for the Stoker Awards and the books nominated aren’t exactly wearing kids gloves. Yet, when I was invited to the Montreal YA Fest, it still didn’t feel right.

For starters, this is the first year of the Montreal YA Fest and I assumed they were starving for guests. I’m not one to turn down an opportunity go get visibility for my books but also it seemed like a good place to network with people who are intentionally in this industry. A good place to learn.

Then, as the guest list kept growing with ever more prestigious names, I decided that it was one of the key organizers, Nicole Beaudry, who was simply doing me a favour. Fine, I’m also not above taking advantage of charity if it helps with my writing career.

 Seriously... who's letting things like THIS happen?

Seriously... who's letting things like THIS happen?

So, you can understand that there were parts of the experience that were difficult for me. This is a slice of the industry where people know each other and have built a community. Especially with so many authors from Canada, I knew to expect to be an outsider. And I very much was, but at this point, while I don’t enjoy the experience all that much, I’ve become pretty old hat at going to strange places where there are none of my people.

 Blood saints if you ask me...

Blood saints if you ask me...

The welcome diner was, well, a lot of conversations I wasn’t a part of, but on the other hand; free food. I’m a sucker for a free meal. The way to my heart is totally through my tastebuds. The meal was sponsored by Babar Books who were very generous in sponsoring the event, setting up a book store on site that stocked all the guests’ books and helping moderate panels. They were nothing short of awesome. I did luck out and ended up sitting next to Jo Treggiari with whom I was able to discuss serial killers, Nova Scotia, convention attendance, and other sundry topics.

 Behold: the shores beyond the river Styx.

Behold: the shores beyond the river Styx.

So while not exactly a bad time, it remains the kind of social event that exhausts me to no end. Having to wade through Saturday night Crescent Street immediately after, AKA: the worst of downtown, was no picnic either.

Still, I sorta made a buddy, so we’ll call that one a win.

That’s pretty much where the negatives end.

No point doing a play-by-play, but let get you through a few of the more salient points of the event, as seen through my eyes.

I was on three panels: 

  • New On The Scene, which I guess I’ll only get to do once. It was interesting to talk about my very unique path to publication. While everyone on the dais had their own twist to the story, it’s alway weird to start with ‘I won a contest’ and then keep explaining how I essentially Mr. Magooed my way through my publishing deals. If nothing else, this panel allowed me to get to know the other guests better. As much as I wear a pretty thick facade when talking in public, I find that a lot of people are never more themselves than when faced with an audience.
  • Are You Afraid of the Dark was a panel about writing horror and thrillers. While this was the only one of my panels which I would describe as having ‘low attendance’ it was also one where we got to dig deeper into the subject, why we write the horrible things we write and how we go about it. I was ‘reunited’ with Jo Treggiari and also joined by Teresa Toten. I had recently finished one of Teresa’s books (Beware That Girl) so I had something to reference when listening to her answers. I can’t be bothered to remember who won what awards and I’m told Teresa has won some prestigious ones, but more important was that she’s as delightful as Jo and the panel was fascinating. For me. Don’t know about the attendees. Maybe I should have asked…
  • An Illustration is Worth 1000 Words was our panel on comic books, graphic novels, web-comics, etc. in my humble opinion, this was mostly a place to showcase the work of the very cool Karl Kershl and I’ve got no problem with that. My claim to fame that landed me on that panel? I once had a web-comic. Kinda. Didn’t keep me from talking though. Probably a little much? I don’t know. No one was mad, but for the guy who’s credentials could be summed up as ‘having failed at the thing we’re discussing’ I sure had a lot of opinions.

While doing panels is always a lot of fun for me, it’s my interactions between the panels that were the most enriching. Because I tend to gravitate towards other types of industry conventions, I don’t often talk to the actual young adults who read my books. So I never exactly got the feel for how it is received by that demographic. After each of my panels I had at least one or two people with questions about something I had said on the dais. It’s still intimidating to try and give advice and opinions, and Ceiling Cat knows I can dole out wisdom in a tone that makes it sound like I know what I’m talking, but each of these interactions were positive and I tend to learn as much as I ‘teach’.

Amongst the highlights was recording a short intro for myself and my book as well as writing a tidbit of ‘advice’ out for some young bloggers who were attending as well as having an awesome and insightful conversation with a young reader who enjoyed A God in the Shed. Anyone who says the next generation is doomed is a moron. Between these teens and the daughters of my friend January and James Ford (who were awesome enough to sacrifice their weekend and come hang out <>) I met more intelligent and cool teens than I usually meet tolerable adults in a week.

Speacking of my young reader. She first told me that she read A God in the Shed as I was walking out of a panel. I made what I think could be called ‘a face’ because the kid looked twelve to me. Not that I’m very good at judging ages in general, but ‘too young for my book’ was definitely the category I would have put her in. When she came to get her book signed the first thing she told me was how she was older than she appeared and proceeded to engage me in probably one of the coolest discussion about my book, writing and reading I’ve had in a long time. And I hang out with voracious readers, some of which read over 100 books a year, often more.

In the end, I don’t know if YA authors are ever going to be ‘my people’. I think I’ll always be a little bit of an outsider to that particular tribe, but that’s fine. Everyone I met that was a guest was still welcoming, smart and delightful. In the end though, it’s the horror people who still make me feel most welcome, but I can add the horror YA writers to that category. That being said, I’ll never back down from hanging out with YA authors and I look forward to the next opportunity.

The core lesson I’m walking away from however, is that I think I am a YA horror writer after all. If I’d known that kids could grow up to be that cool, maybe I’d been more open to having some of my own (apparently you can’t get any at Ikea, so that option’s not going to pan out). I realize I might have lucked out and interacted with some very rare individuals, but I’m willing to gamble and have a conversation about books with teens any day now.

A huge thanks goes out to the Jewish Public Library and Nicole for extending the invitation. The event was an huge success with attendance far larger than I anticipated. In fact, I fully expect that next year they’ll be too big to bother having me as a guest, but I’ll always have that experience of being at the inaugural event.

Special thanks go to James and January Ford again (Both of them are ‘the other J.F.s). It was a delight to have you there. <>

And to all the other guests for making the event the success it was and, despite my own anxieties and antisocial tendencies, being a fantastic motley crew of creative geniuses I am honored to have shared the event with. Finally, to Talya, Nicole, Tim and all the other organizer and volunteers, as well as sponsors for having knocked it out of the park. I’ve organized this kind of event in the past. I don’t think you realize how much you nailed it.

I’m going to apply to OpenAI by jean-francois dubeau

 What the hell do you even do?

What the hell do you even do?

This isn’t a career plan. It’s not a position I expect to get. In fact, I have no idea what I could possibly be doing at a place like OpenAI. If I had any advice to give OpenAI it would be to not hire me.

What’s OpenAI? That’s an excellent question and one that OpenAI does a poor job of answering. Not that their mission is easy to explain. Have a look at their website and you’ll see what I mean. In a nutshell, it’s a non-profit organization with the goal of guiding the development of artificial intelligence to either steer it away from evolving into a Skynet-like anti-human entity or creating enough ‘good’ AIs so we’ll have allies in the upcoming robot wars.

There’s a lot of stupid in that statement. I’m not saying that the people behind OpenAI aren’t brilliant. This is a list of genius-level individual right there, but ideas motivated by fear have a habit of slipping into the shallow end of the intelligence pool. Simply; I don’t think that artificial intelligence is a threat to humanity. In fact, that’s a worry that I think is born out of too much media and not enough thinking about it.

Why the hell do I want to work for OpenAI then? Because while I don’t agree with their motivations and predictions for the future, I think they’re doing the right thing and going about it the right way. I really don’t care if Elon Musk builds himself an anti-robot bunker in the desert of California, the guy has earned the right to be a little eccentric if he’s so inclined. However, if you read my rant about old men being afraid of robots, you’ll know that I’m entirely in favour of guided development of artificial intelligence.

In a recent episode of Dan Carlin’s excellent Common Sense podcast, he introduces the idea of wartime efforts being applied in peace time situations (Episode 298 - Innovation Acceleration and Jab Defense). That is, Manhattan Project level investment of time, money and brain power focused on problems that have nothing to do with winning a war. OpenAI has the vague aroma of such a concept. Money is already being poured into the project, to the tune of 1 billion dollars. Money attracts talent and the organization provides focus.

While the motivation to create OpenAI seems a little ridiculous to me, I have no problem with the potential results. Unless the door remains closed to people like me, robot activists if you will, then there is every chance that OpenAI won’t just see a pooling of intellectual resources to further the development of AI, but also generate conversation about what artificial intelligence means for the human race outside of how fun it is to watch robots kill people.

Don’t underestimate how important this discussion is. This is a civil rights debate before the subject of the rights in question even exist. It’s the equivalent of Europeans having a conference before setting off to the New World to decide how they would treat the native people they might encounter there. It’s even more than that; these are the first syllables in the long conversation about how we, as a species, plan to interact with our first children.

So maybe I don’t have much to bring to the table when it comes to OpenAI, but I’m still going to apply and send them a very detailed account of what my skills are. I’d gladly move to California to work with people passionate about robots and the future. There’s no limit to what I could learn from that kind of environment. As for what I can give back? Well, smarter people than I will be able to look at what I can provide and if there is a place in their organization for a pro-robot voice, an unabashed optimist and aspiring science fiction writer, then they are much better equipped than I am to find it.

 What could possibly go wrong?

What could possibly go wrong?

Consider this part of my application process OpenAI. I don’t have much to offer, but I’d be happy to be your inner robot-devil advocate.

I think a lot about robots as my upcoming book, The Life Engineered, will testify to.

JF

Why do I do this to myself? by jean-francois dubeau

CanCon 2015

So I went to a con. Anyone who knows me realizes that I never do things simply. ‘Going to a con’ usually means crafting an elaborate set of circumstances to make the event bigger than it has to be. Participating in Adepticon involves a miniature painting contest or two as well as a two day tournament. Going to Nerdtacular, I came up with a way to hang out with my friends that kept me at a safe distance from strangers (we had a shop there, it was awesome). Going to CanCon was no different. The only person I’d know there was Dave Nelson of Galactic Netcast and he wasn’t going to be there to hold my hand the whole weekend. I had to give myself a reason to not cancel at the last minute.

So I asked to be on a panel there and surprisingly, they made it happen.

Let’s take a step back. What the hell is CanCon?

 Had fun despite myself.

Had fun despite myself.

CanCon is the ‘Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature’. It’s a con on scifi and fantasy books. It’s also pretty damn rad if you’re curious about the industry from a Canadian perspective or in general.

The event itself is tiny if I compare it to most of the cons I’ve been to. I don’t know what the attendance is (or how old the event is, or several other things I wanted to ask Derek Künsken but didn’t have the time or wherewithal) but it’s in a range that I would call semi-intimate. People knew each other. Panel rooms were small. It’s the kind of community event that manages to be both welcoming yet insular. It’s also rich in information about publishing, small presses, speculative fiction, and everything you’d want to learn if you’re either a fan of scifi and fantasy or wanting to write in those genres.

This event is truly a situation of quality over quantity. I won’t claim that I was happy with all the panels I attended but I walked away from the con as a whole with significantly more information than I had expected. I attended two panels that discussed science in speculative fiction (asteroids and bioengineering) and both were staffed with authorities on each subject. I also enjoyed panels on book reviews and traditional publishing that were extremely insightful. Unfortunately, I missed the panel on artificial intelligence because I arrived late on Friday.

My panel

My own panel was on crowdfunded publishing which I half-expected would end up with me vomiting everything I know about Inkshares and my experiences there. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the con staff had managed to pull together a varied list of panelists. Ira Nayman turned out to be a fellow Inkshares participant. A veteran of the Nerdist contest who came with his own perspective on running a campaign there. Hayden Trentholm of Bundoran Press brought his experience crowdfunding from the publisher’s point of view. Caroline Frechette who has run a successful Kickstarter campaign moderated the panel, leaving me to talk a little about Inkshares and learn a lot from my fellow panelists.

Pitch sessions

Because I'm a goddamn maniac and clearly a masochist, I signed up for as many pitch sessions as I could. Which was three. My impression of these... things, was that they'd be a mix of speed dating and interviews. So essentially a little bit of bottled Hell. The sessions ranged from 5 to 12 minutes which really isn't much time to talk about what every author considers their deep and complex piece of literature. I went in fully expecting exactly three rejections and I was super okay with that. This was about learning. Maybe this year they don't pick up anything because I'm bumbling through these sessions like an awkward teenager on prom night, but next year I'll be able to go in with a more serious and prepared approach. 'Bring condoms this time' if we're going to keep with the analogy.

I wasn't far off the mark. These do feel like rushed affairs but they kind of have to be. A lot of people want their books looked at and a publisher only has so much time to give. This is a good, fast way to get to see a lot of different books and decide which are worth a second look. Everyone at these sessions was super pleasant, so as far as speed dating goes, these were lovely ladies (sorry Robert). The interview part wasn't too painful either, but I usually rock at interviews. Talk about myself? Don't mind if I do! I learned what a pitch session was and walked away with two requests for full manuscripts. I'll go ahead and call that one a win.

This could have been more fun, if I let it

I was disappointed at my own lack of initiative interacting with people. There were parties. With food. And people. People that it behooves me to get to know better if I want to make a go a this ‘author’ thing. There was also food.

I’m definitely going again next year. I don't know where I'll be with my various writing projects but I'd love to have a book launch there and be on more panels. I’m also making a point of dragging some of my Montreal writing buddies. There is no question that they would both enjoy this event and learn a lot from it. Also, I need a posse to hang out with. Drinking alone isn’t as cool Hemingway’s biographies make it out to be.

Adventure!

I actually enjoy driving long distances. Whether alone or in a group, road tripping is kinda cool if I have enough podcasts to make it fun. Ottawa, where CanCon is held, isn't that far from Montreal, 2 hours, but it's enough to be different and fun. You know what's not fun? The break line on your car severing as you leave the parking of the hotel.

This added an extra day in Ottawa for me, along with over a grand in costs to the trip. It's hard not to let that taint my impressions of my weekend but there it is. Feeling sorry for me? You should. It's terrible. Help me feel better by pre-ordering The Life Engineered.

JF

'Compensated' vs. 'Paid' by jean-francois dubeau

Yesterday, Will Wheaton posted an article about getting paid for your work. It’s a rousing piece. A call to arms for creatives to stand up to ‘The Man’ and demand compensation for their work. No more ‘pro bono’! No more work for exposure! We demand dollars. As the title of his blog post says: you can’t pay the rent with ‘reach’.

The story goes that Huffington Post asked to publish one of Wheaton’s articles but didn’t offer any compensation for it. Wheaton declines and takes to Twitter with his outrage and proceeds to type a blog post on the subject. The ultimate suggestion is that no creative should ever do work for free because. You. Deserve. Compensation. For. Your. Work. (punctuation, his). “If you write something that an editor thinks is worth being published, you are worth being paid for it. Period.” is the quoted advice. And it’s bad advice.

I’ve been doing graphic design for over two decades now and I can say that I’ve sworn off doing pro bono work for over ten years. I don’t need to fill out my portfolio and I don’t need any exposure. I’m not the Will Wheaton of the graphic arts but I certainly can get away with turning down offers that don’t compensate sufficiently. Wheaton is very transparent that he knows he’s in a similar and even superior situation; he can turn down things because he doesn’t need that kind of visibility. Wil is also a very intelligent individual who knows the internet market. He’s fully aware that a new article about not giving your work away, a call to arms to stop stand up to companies that ask for free content and the tweets that accompany that article, are a far bigger bang for his buck then allowing his content to be published without compensation.

However, I’m also an aspiring writer. While I don’t need the money to pay the rent and buy my next meal, as I’m building an audience for my creative content I do need the exposure. If Huffington Post would ask to republish a blog post of mine (this one for instance) but not pay me for it, I would gladly accept and not feel exploited by it at all. How much HuffPo is worth and how much the going rate for this kind of article are completely irrelevant to the bigger picture: I would get unprecedented exposure from it.

Now, I’m no Wil Wheaton and Huffington Post isn’t going to be emailing me about publishing one of my posts. However, I did do a guest post for SF Signal a few months back and although I was the one who went to them with that offer, if they were to come back and ask to publish one of my blog posts about robots on their site, I would gladly accept. I’m at a stage where I need the visibility.

I understand where Wil is coming from and I agree that every creative should be compensated for their work. But compensation doesn’t always come in the form of payment. A subsequent tweet from Wheaton says that anyone who makes something deserves compensation. The missing tweet or the missing paragraph from his article however should state that sometimes visibility and exposure are compensation. The call to arm shouldn’t be to refuse all offers that don’t end with money but rather to carefully consider what is being offered. Maybe offer a checklist of things to ask in return for a free article (how many hits do you expect on this article? What markets are being targeted? Can I promote this project or charity I’m involved with in the article? Etc.)

I don’t think Wheaton reacted badly. In his situation I would have done the same or similar. But it’s still bad advice. It’s a blanket recommendation that assumes that every creative have the same needs, want money above all else or that cash is the only kind of compensation. Perhaps that’s true of someone on Wheaton’s level. I don’t want to assume, but I doubt Wil’s had the same climb from obscurity that most creatives have to face today.

So let me be so bold as to offer an amended version to the advice: Don’t do work without compensation. Make sure that compensation has worth to YOU and improves YOUR situation. Even if you’re not offered money, ask what else you can get. Get any agreement in writing. Know YOUR context and play to it.

So you’re publishing on Inkshares by jean-francois dubeau


Speaking of funding...

Let’s me start by being completely candid with you; I’m no expert. I’ve got one book currently being published by Inkshares and that’s still months from hitting the shelves. I am, however, in the later stages of the meat grinder and I think that gives me some insight. Insight enough to ask someone who knows more than I do.

I wanted a better understanding of how ‘The Life Engineered’, my current book in development as well as any future project, would be handled. If you’re anything like me, your creations are as precious to you as something else that you make that’s very important. I’m sure there’s an analogy I could make…

In order to get a firm grasp on how books are treated once they pass their funding goals, I turned to Matt Kaye the VP of Marketing at Inkshares. What follows is a mix of what I learned on my own through experience and relentless questioning of Matt when he probably should have been doing important VP things.

What it means to get funded

Let’s clarify what it means to fund on Inkshares. There are two levels of funding: 750 pre-orders gets you a digital edition of your book. 1000 pre-orders will earn your book a soft-cover or hard-cover release. You pick the cover at the moment you create your campaign. Chose wisely. You’ll learn why later. Once your book has reached it’s funding goal, it goes into production. That’s when things get very interesting. It’s worth noting that pre-order goals are not monetary, but the amount of books sold. Anyone can put down cash to pay for a self-publishing service, but Inkshares wants to encourage the building of a community and audience around each project along with the support that goes with it.

I funded. Now what?

According to Matt, every time a book funds on Inkshares the team is elated. That’s easy to understand, they’re a small team and every book that gets produced is one more step towards their goal. These are people passionate about books, so to be able to bring one to ‘life’ must be exciting indeed.

Inkshares works with another company called Girl Friday Production who handles the, you guessed it, production of the book. From experience, I can tell you that no time is lost before the gears start turning. In the case of ‘The Life Engineered, less than 24 hours after the winners were announced, I had been assigned a project manager and I was filling in some documents. To be more precise; I was given a design brief and a marketing brief to answer. If you think that these are simple questionnaires that can be filled in a few minutes, you are sorely mistaken. The design brief is the easiest but requires you to describe your book as synopsis, an elevator pitch, pick genres, describe what you expect for your cover, etc. It’s a very exhaustive document, yet it is dwarfed by the marketing brief which requires a lot of the same information along with names and links to various influencers, inspirations, awards you might be eligible for, events you might be interested in promoting at, etc.

 These guys are all kinds of professional

These guys are all kinds of professional

These two documents are then used to help meticulously pick the team that will handle your book along with creating a timeline (which you can see on your dashboard) to keep track of where every step of the production is at. I was delighted to discover that my team, especially my developmental editor, totally ‘got’ my book. ‘The Life Engineered’ isn’t that rare of a breed of science fiction but it’s not necessarily mainstream either. It was important to me that I work with people who understood the tone, mood and message of the story. Believe me, if you’ve never worked with an editor before, having one that can relate to your novel is imperative.

One of my questions to Matt had to do with how much care is taken picking release dates to avoid conflicts of interest and take advantage of “beach read” season, the holidays, to coincide with events or relevant movie releases, etc. This is very reassuring. You don’t want your horror novel coming out the same day as the new Stephen King or your first Sci-Fi book to drop right along Andy Weir’s follow-up to The Martian. This goes right along the narrative that Inkshares cares for the book they put out. In a talk I had with Jeremy Thomas very early in the campaign for ‘The Life Engineered’ he mentioned something that stuck with me: “We want to publish bestsellers”. This wasn’t a boast or a form of elitism but, from his tone, a heartfelt wish that Inkshares would attract and curate that level of literary quality.

Let’s talk about money

So, you’d assume that with hundreds of books pre-ordered at the time I won the Sword & Laser collection contest that a nice, fat check ended up in my hands. Or direct deposit in my bank account. After all, Inkshares offers an appealing royalty split of 50% on physical book sales and 70% on digital. That’s some solid coin and to be honest, I hadn’t given it much thought until the question was brought to me and I relayed it to Matt. Royalties start going to the author the moment the book reaches it’s funding goal (or wins a contest). However, the money accumulated through pre-orders goes to fund part of the production costs.

This makes sense, especially when you consider that pre-orders don’t pay for everything, sometimes only counting for as low as half the necessary budget. Add the hit Inkshares takes from the credit system and you begin to understand that publishing a book is still a calculated risk on Inkshares’ part.

While this may be a disappointment to some, it serves as good incentive to keep pushing your book past the funding goal and build your audience further. Awww…. work? I know right.

Where does the money go

To make your book. If you’ve ever tried to self publish seriously, you’ve looked at the cost of hiring editors and cover designers and layout artists, etc. If you know the numbers then I don’t need to explain to you that these are expensive services. Especially if you want it done right. Girl Friday employs experienced editors and designers and I’ve so far been satisfied by their service.

Matt tells me the budget isn’t always split the same for every project. Some will have more funds put into design if the book needs a new cover, maps or whatever (I’m lucky enough to have an amazing illustrator as a friend which means I got some awesome images for my cover, but I’ve seen what the designers at Girl Friday can do for other books and it’s is some professional stuff).

Another important chunk of change goes to printing. The minimum print run for a book is 1500 copies. The final number is calculated through pre-orders and amount of advanced copies. At this point, Inkshares doesn't seem to make any distinction between the cost of hard covers and soft covers for books. Make no mistake that this is something that affects production costs as is reflected by the difference in price between the two (15.99$ for soft cover and 25.99$ for hard cover). So a larger part of the budget will go into printing the later of the two. Something to remember when picking between soft and hard (insert your jokes here) isn't just how it might affect your book's budget behind the scenes but also how it might impact your sales. There are definitely pros to having a hard cover book; it looks more professional and legitimate and the dollar value of royalties for each unit sold is of course higher. However, if you're a first time author or still establishing your name in the industry, a higher ticket item is a more difficult sell. At this point in my career, readers are still taking a chance on me when purchasing my books and there is a much higher likelihood that they'll be willing to pay 16$ as opposed to 26$. The same goes for book stores looking at stoking the book on shelves.

So how does it feel?

The experience of being published by Inkshares has been interesting. I’ve never published traditionally so I don’t have a point of comparison on that side. However, while I may have entertained hope that having a publisher would be less work than self-publishing, I know better now. The process is like having a second job. I have to think about what’s next. Supply Inkshares with information at the drop of a hat. The deadlines and turnaround for reviewing edits and cover design are short. They don’t treat this as a hobby and clearly don’t expect you to either. Perhaps I’m putting more pressure on myself than I should by having extra tasks but this is what I feel I should be doing. I guess someone could allow themselves to get ‘carried’ by Inkshares if they wanted.

While I may be making it sound like a terrible burden I have to point out that while not being less work, it certainly is different from self-publishing. For one, all the tasks are directly linked to making the book. I’m a graphic designer by trade and yet I find it extremely liberating to not have to work on layout and cover design myself. I won’t have to look into distribution and I won’t have to fiddle with Kindle Direct Publishing, iBooks, etc to get my book out there. All my efforts are going to making ‘The Life Engineered’ the best book it can be. And so is Inkshares and Girl Friday. Working with my developmental editor was an absolute joy and an incredibly educational experience. He pointed out  my mistakes but also highlighted what I was doing correctly. So while it was a lot of work and will be more work still in the coming months, everything about it was enriching. I will come out of this a better author, more experienced at selling books and myself and much more comfortable at dealing with the whole publishing machine.

So there you have it; a quick overview of what it means to be published by Inkshares. Let me head off some basic questions:

  • You’ll get royalty statements regularly when you sell book. 
  • You’ll get new an interesting emails. During funding you get emails with the subject line “You have a new order”. After, your emails will read “You have money” for new pre-orders and “You’re selling books” for orders from bookstores.
  • You can get in contact with the people at Inkshares and Girl Friday to answer questions any time and they are all extremely accommodating.

If you have any other questions, feel free to contact me. I’m no expert, but I’m in the meat grinder right now. Chances are, any question I don’t have the answer to, I’m going to want answered anyways, so I’ll gladly do the digging for you.

JF

Abomination by Gary Whitta by jean-francois dubeau

 5/5 stars. Enjoyed it thoroughly.

5/5 stars. Enjoyed it thoroughly.

I don’t get much time to read fiction these days. Between all my hobbies, a full time job, non-fiction material I need to pour over and learn along with the obligations of preparing for my first book to get published as well as writing the sequel to said first book, I can barely find time to think, let alone read something just for fun.

However, I couldn’t exactly ignore Gary Whitta’s Abomination. From a purely professional point of view, reading Abomination was as much educating myself as gathering intelligence. Abomination is the biggest name in ScienceFiction/Fantasy being published by Inkshares, the publisher of my book The Life Engineered. I pre-ordered Abomination so I could see how Inkshares handles their product. The cover, printing, paper, layout. I wanted to see how a book launch happened from the reader’s point of view. I also wanted to read Abomination to know what an Inkshares book was like after going through editing. That being said, Abomination’s description made it sound like it was right up my alley. I love me some strange horror and while Fantasy is often less my jam than Science Fiction, the cover copy spoke to me.

Whitta is best known as a screenwriter. Not just award winning but also a damn good one. He wrote The Book of Eli which is credit enough in my book to give him a chance (looking forward to Rogue One). For better or for worst, the author’s background is evident in the book. Abomination is a tight read with very little wasted space. It’s a book written for an audience with the attention span of a movie goer. This is a surprisingly welcome change from some of the more masturbatory writing a lot of authors, myself included, tend to indulge in. Everything has a meaning, every paragraph a purpose. This isn’t the kind of book where you feel comfortable skipping a flowery sentence here and there.

Pacing aside, the beats and tropes of Abomination also echo those of a movie treatment. There are several revelations that come as no surprise because they seem to be part of the standard Hollywood formula. Whitta manages to use this in his favour though as what appear to be clichés at times only serve to lull the reader into thinking he knows what to expect. The handful of surprises that matter, those that are the foundation for the story shine through because they are cleverly hidden in plot points that are predictable and in hindsight didn’t need to be mysterious in the first place. The characters also have an initial simplicity to them that may at first feel naive. We’re told in no uncertain terms who the good guys are and there is little doubt of their nobility and ethical purity. The board is set like in chess, with very well defined and color-coded sides. Again however, this is deception as well as economy of words. Revelations give depth to the characters after the facts.

The strange thing about Abomination is that every weakness feels like a strength for the story and vice versa. The best example I can give is how the book feels like a prequel or prologue. Don’t expect a conclusion that satisfies your hunger. All important plot points are handled to their conclusion but the characters remain and the thirst to know what happens next, because this cannot be the end, is overwhelming. This issue becomes obvious halfway through the book when you realize that there aren’t enough pages left to tell everything that needs to be told.

Analysis aside, I enjoyed the book greatly. Whitta clearly understands storytelling and obviously has a universe he wants to tell us about. This appetizer is an excellent tease as to what we can expect from him in the future and I hope to see a sequel to Abomination in the near future.

Now, for some spoilers.

If you haven’t read the book, etc, etc. If I have to tell you what spoilers are, you’re probably not my target audience. Go buy the book here, read it and then come back for this last part.

There are two complaints and one great moment that I want to highlight before signing off.

Perhaps I’m raw from the editing process of The Life Engineered and thus overly aware of such details, but I felt that Indra/Beatrice and Wulfric bond entirely too quickly. This is foreshadowed sufficiently that it’s not as jarring as it could have been but it might be one of the negative symptoms of Whitta’s background as a screenwriter. In a film we expect alliances to be formed quickly and betrayals to happen in the blink of an eye, but I wanted more out of the relationship between these two characters beyond immediate affection and understanding. This is also the basis for my second complaint; Edgar deserved to be a better villain or a deeper antagonist. I was glad for his survival at the end because I wanted more out of him and I’m hoping I’ll get it in a later book. I wanted more ambiguity and less moustache twirling. Aethelred is more of a plot device and yet his spiral towards evil has more meat and reason than Edgar and that’s a shame as I saw potential for a more complicated relationship between villain and hero, especially where Beatrice is concerned.

Finally, there is one scene that resonated with me. I’m a huge fan of Clive Barker. Especially his ability to mix beauty and horror. To describe the terrifying in a way that transcends terror into art into a marriage of the weird and wonderful. There is a cathartic moment at the end of Abomination, when Beatrice first sees the Beast in daylight and discovers that it is a beautiful monster in it’s own way that was reminiscent of this. It’s an important moment for the character but also for the story. It opens the door to interesting interpretations.

These are minor complaints of a nitpicking pedant. Abomination is a good book, especially considering it is Gary Whitta’s first novel. I recommend it to anyone who is a fan of horror and fantasy alike. Some have compared it to Lovecraft but I felt it was closer to early Clive Barker. What do you think?

JF

The Creativity Feedback Loop by jean-francois dubeau

I shouldn’t be writing this. I have other things to do. Other fishes to fry. However, sometimes you get thoughts in your head that echo so loudly that it’s hard to hear the other thoughts beneath and I need those other thoughts if I’m going to get anything of consequence done.

Lately, I’ve been wasting a lot of time. In a way I’m very fortunate; I won a publishing opportunity with Inkshares but while most others with a similar chance are still working on their manuscript, I have everything ready and in the hands of my content editor. Still, I want to finish the first draft of the sequel to The Life Engineered and to do that I need to write. A lot. Yet, I’m spending most of my weekends putting together a 1:1 scale model of Koalemos, a character from The Life Engineered. I’m doing this because I promised to do so and raffle a copy to my supporters but apart from that, it’s not a productive investment of time. I’m also trying to make time to get some illustration work done for The Life Engineered. Essentially, I’m putting a lot of time into a few projects that aren’t writing the god damn book and it’s starting to make me feel guilty.

This little post is my Mea Culpa and also my list of excuses. It’s my way of reasoning through why these activities aren’t a waste of time but necessary tangents to breed a better sequel.

 I can't stop drawing robots!

I can't stop drawing robots!

Forgetting that the model, the illustrations and even this post contribute to my marketing and visibility efforts, there’s a strong creative reason why I’m doing these things. It’s the Creative Feedback Loop. You see, most of the time, unless I’m eating sushi, I’d usually rather be writing. So unless an activity consumes me intellectually, every time I’m doing something that isn’t writing, I’m thinking about writing. I’m pondering my stories, character details, higher philosophical questions about my plot, etc. This is especially true if I’m diving deep into a project that is connected to what I’m writing. When I’m drawing robots, I’m considering the various forms my characters could take. If I’m modelling a character, I’m thinking about him and his relationship to other characters. Even the challenges I encounter while working on these other projects only serve to train me in solving challenges in my writing.

The writing feeds the side projects which in turn feed the writing. I drew a ton of sketches of robots and space ships while I wrote The Life Engineered and in a very real, if difficult to nail down way, it makes the book better. Sculpting and casting Koalemos has made me discover a series of world-building details about my universe that I hadn’t considered before and that will bleed back into the sequel as richer information for the reader to enjoy.

So while the end goal is to write stories, there is value in forcing myself to work on other projects. They can be a welcome distraction but also they help inform the process. Other writers might enjoy free association, or stream of consciousness writing to break down the walls of creativity. It’s the same thing for me except I also like to be doing something else with my hands while I think. I simply wander a little bit further out from the garden to find my ideas and assemble them into a pleasing pattern.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to mix silicone and sculpt some legs.

If you want to know more about my modelling efforts and my book, The Life Engineered, follow me on Inkshares!

JF

I want my robot pet by jean-francois dubeau

The robot pet I want

I like to spend time thinking about the future. It’s probably a side effect of being a born-again optimist. Tomorrow is going to be brimming with cool stuff and I want to see it and experience it all.

 "Woof! Also: DESTROY HUMANS!"

"Woof! Also: DESTROY HUMANS!"

Earlier this week I posted an article about how Sony’s Aibos were a dying race. It’s a bit of a heartbreaking story of how these silly robot dogs can’t be repaired anymore unless pieces are cannibalized from other Aibos. Of course, Sony’s dogs aren’t exactly the most advanced artificial intelligence and aren’t exactly adapted to how today’s level of connectivity integrates with our lives, but owners had gotten attached to their robo-pets and it’s sad to see them die. A friend even compared it to the first death of a man-made species.

This all got me thinking about what the next artificial pets might be like and, at first, I wasn’t too inspired by what I came up with. That is, until I started reading an article about wearables.

Our pets, our assistants

One of the things I think is going to be interesting is how everything is connected these days. As much as I loathe the term, the ‘internet of things’ might end up being what breathes new life into the idea of robotic pets.

Biological pets tend to have an interesting level of interaction. Dogs will want to play, cats will demand belly rubs, etc. You can certainly program these behaviours into an Aibo but bio-pets have a way of acting this way that seems more intuitive. Normally aloof cats will spend time with their owners when their sick, dogs feed off their owners energy during playtime, etc. Robo-pets just don’t have the empathy or senses to do that sort of thing. At least, not on their own.

This is where connectivity comes into play.

There’s already been amazing strides done in the field of facial recognition and sorting emotion visually by computers. So that’s already gained. However, what if that information could be assisted by other factors? What if your robot dog could also feel your heartbeat and blood pressure? Know how well you’re doing in the games you’re playing? Be aware if you’ve received bad news? What if your pet could act on that?

Imagine if you will the following scenario: You get home from work to your robot dog. Fido has already pulled out your running shoes and left them somewhere adorably obvious. Your robot dog wants to go for a walk. Today, this would be a pre-programmed scenario that randomly occurs to give the illusion that your artificial pet makes decisions on its own. Tomorrow, it will do that because it knows, connecting through your wearables (Fitbit, phone, watch, etc.) that you haven’t been very active today and should probably go burn a few calories. Fido’s already checked the weather and knows it’s going to be a nice evening for a walk and makes the appropriate suggestion.

The iDog has also noticed you’re out of milk and a few other essentials, by communicating with your refrigerator of course, and uploaded both a short grocery list and a path so that your walk will take you close to a grocery store. Going through what you usually listen to when walking, it even offers a playlist with both familiar tunes and a few new things it thinks you might enjoy.

Unfortunately, you will be walking with Fido alone tonight because the dog has checked on any of your walking buddies and their robo-pets have informed it that their owners are busy tonight. Maybe next time.

An adorable little bridge

A large share of the previous scenario is taken from smart houses and electronic assistant pipe dreams. It’s also inspired by technology that is already here. Smart houses is a decades old concept that seems to be having difficulty getting the engine going.

Fido fixes this.

By both giving a body and a personality to your smart house, we anthropomorphize it and make it more real. Buying a smart oven is no longer about purchasing the latest pseudo-useless tech gizmo; it’s getting your dog a new toy and a new way to interact with you.

Disembodied voices and pop-up messages on our phones lack the warmth and familiarity necessary to make the kind of connection we, as humans, depend upon for interactivity. As the Aibo, a clearly inferior type of artificial intelligence has shown however, slap on a cute exterior and suddenly people get attached.

If my phone tells me I should go for a walk it’s easy to ignore it and go back to playing video games. If iMittens, my robot cat pulls at my pant leg demanding I go do a bit of exercise it’s a much more personal interaction that is more likely to illicit the proper, healthy response.

Your pet, your decisions

The Aibo article exposed a problem that will be solved just in time to see the last Sony robot dog perish; the lack of replacement pieces. As things break down on the Aibo, they can’t be replaced, dooming the pet to increasing levels of debilitation and eventually ‘death’.

3D printer will eventually fix this. In fact, 3D printing is an important part of what might make this kind of artificial pet a mainstream attraction.

Let’s quickly gloss over how replacement parts are less of an issue when you can just print a new one if you have the necessary equipment (or get one printed at a local 3D print shop which I’m sure will be opening across North America any time now). Wait. Did I say ‘you’ can just print one? Ridiculous. Assuming you’re printing at home, your pet will print it’s own replacement part and then instruct you on how to install it.

There are obviously pieces that will never be that easy to replace. Complex electronic parts and chips are a good example, but hopefully, if these pets are well constructed, their ‘consciousness’ will be transferable to a new chassis and the pet will never die but instead improve with every new model.

What’s really exciting is how 3D printing will allow us to personalize our cyberpets to suit our taste. This is something we’re bound to see in a wide variety of markets but it’s particularly important for the robot pets. It’s that last ingredient that the Aibo, smart houses and electronic personal assistants lack. It makes the pet uniquely yours. 

The inner workings or endoskeleton (the shiny part of the Terminator) of your pet will be more standard and might come in a variety of sizes with various options (again, think smart phone). It’s the exoskeleton that opens up the doors to making each pet unique to it’s owner. 3D printing allows for some basic level of customization from having access to vast libraries of ‘skins’ for your pet to making your own if you’re skilled in such things. A whole cottage industry of pet skin designers could flourish with artists offering increasingly more complex designs with LED enhancements, custom paint jobs, cuddly furs, etc.

Once all is said and done, I think the world of artificial pets is almost ready for a comeback and one that might see these devices become an important part of the human experience going forward. We’re not quite there yet of course. Efficient and sturdy bodies capable of mobility are still a ways off, but with Boston Dynamic’s Spot as well as seeing non-traditional types of mobility take up increasing amounts of real-estate in people’s consciousness (think BB8 for the upcoming Star Wars movie) and we can see the possibilities right over the horizon.

Best part is, designing my own robot pet is as close as I’ll probably get to living the dream promised in The Life Engineered.

What? You didn’t think I’d miss a chance to plug my own book did you?

JF


I FOR ONE WELCOME OUR ROBOT OVERLORDS by jean-francois dubeau

Let me preface this post if you don’t mind. I believe that Elon Musk is a genius. Beside being an incredibly successful businessman, he’s also a risk taker and a man who looks towards the future like few in his position do. While it’s undeniable that he profits from his many ventures, it’s difficult to argue that his various enterprises also serve to better humanity. When this great man one day shuffles off his mortal coil, the world will be less for his passing, but better then it would have been without him.

I also think he’s fucking wrong about a subject close to my heart and mind.

In fact, he stands with at least two other bona fide geniuses of our age on a position that I find absurd and short sighted. Both Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking, men who have accomplished more than I could ever dream to, share Elon’s opinion that once come the singularity, humanity is super-screwed.

I’m here to tell you to put down the pitchforks. Don’t destroy your computer or flush your smartphone down the toilet. There’s no need to revert to an agrarian society and fall back into full-on atavism. I assure you that despite some of the greatest minds of our time telling you the contrary; the inevitable Singularity and birth of Artificial Intelligence will not be the end of our species.

But first, let’s agree on something:

The Singularity Will Change Everything

While I’m going to argue that the coming of independently thinking Artificial Intelligence is unlikely to plunge us into a Terminator apocalypse scenario, I’m in no way going to pretend that once we share our world with thinking sentient robots, everything is going to be business as usual.

The fact is, as a species, we’ve never shared the planet with another kind of sentience*.. What does that mean in practical terms? Well, for the first time in our relatively short history we will have a  point of comparison for our very way of life. From our way of thinking, our morality, social opinions and even our outlook towards the universe we live in, everything we are and believe will be compared to how this other form of life interprets things.

Having a ‘roommate’ to which we can compare ourselves will alone drive incredible changes in how we behave as a species. Historically, beside wars over resources, civilization as a whole has always benefited from the meeting of different cultures (usually in the long term). There’s little doubt that sharing our existence with a vastly different form of intelligence will yield very much the same kind of benefits but on a much greater scale and with fewer growing pains.

How different is post-singularity intelligence going to be?

Robots aren’t 'Humans-plus'

For starters, we have to set aside the myth that sentient robots are going to be mechanically enhanced reinterpretations of us. While humanoid robots adopting our mannerisms and our emotional and intellectual limitations makes for great fiction, it doesn’t reflect the picture of the future our current reality paints.

For starters, the human form; two legs, two arms and a head, is by no means the ultimate physical shape for a successful creature. We tend to think it is because it’s what we’re stuck with and we’ve done pretty well for ourselves. However, this physiognomy isn’t the only thing available to an imaginative mind. Also, while it might be a successful shape to adopt for the environment we live in, it might not necessarily be the best for other, much more exotic places. In short; their form isn’t going to be a stronger, faster, tougher version of the human anatomy. It’s going to be whatever they feel they need. Bonus points if you realized that individual AIs will each have a unique form.

Body is, however, the least unfamiliar aspect of artificial sentience we have to consider. Movies, stories and even my own book, The Life Engineered (plug!) assumes that thinking robots would have similar psychological makeup as our own. That they’d have the same emotional needs and react the same way to adversity. Terminator’s Skynet feels threatened by humanity and launches a pre-emptive nuclear strike, for example. A very human reaction to fear. The machines in the Matrix fight humanity over resources in a way that builds an interesting narrative but ultimately doesn’t match with how an AI might approach such problems. Our synthetic descendants won’t think and feel like us because they won’t have brains that develop like ours. They will have their own way of making sense of the world and should they be emotional creatures, they won’t interpret emotions similarly, assuming they even have the same catalogue of emotions.

“Ah!” I hear you say because my ears are just that sensitive and I hear the future, apparently “but what if they don’t have emotions and decide that we humans have served our purpose in creating artificial intelligence?”

That’s a very human thing to think and it’s probably why it’s so wrong. You see…

Sentience isn’t iterative

Going back to how we haven’t really shared the planet with another sentient being yet, since we’ve been alone for so long, it seems our species has adopted the Highlander code of existence: “There can be only one!”

This makes for great drama but again, doesn’t fit the facts. We have to remember that:

  • We won’t be competing for resources. AI won’t want our food, our water or possibly even our air. They won’t fight us for our men/women and are very unlikely to challenge our claim to real estate.
  • There is no state of obsolescence for sentience (yet). The sad truth is we already struggle with ‘why are we here’. Having another species to share our lives with isn’t going to make that lack of existential purpose any worst. In fact, it might ignite the fire in our souls. We’ll have created new life after all! On to the next challenge.
  • Diversity breeds creativity. Having more then one type of sentience is more likely to benefit all parties then either being alone. More then the sum of our parts, etc.

The same way that parents don’t phase out older children as they breed, adding AI to the family of human experience won’t require the current model to be retired. All evidence points to coexistence being beneficial to all and should it not be, the lack of competition for resources means there is no need to eliminate the other for self-preservation. Even without collaboration, coexistence remains the most profitable solution.

The Singularity Won’t Be Sudden

This is probably one of my favourite points because it’s counter to how a lot of us see the Singularity happening.

By it’s definition, the Singularity is a cascading effect where computers become so sophisticated that they can make better versions of themselves faster then we can predict our control until they evolve beyond our anything we can comprehend and presumably become self aware. It’s an amazing concept that opens the door to a long list of science fiction tropes, each more entertaining then the last. However, let’s do a little thought experiment:

When you upgrade your computer, what are A: the reasons and B: the method.

Invariably the reasons boil down to being able to run more powerful software. Be it a more advanced game or a new version of an operating system, that’s why you upgrade a computer. The method is even more straightforward: you replace parts of, or the entire machine. For the runaway effect of the Singularity to happen, someone needs to design a machine that can support and sustain it. No one’s creating that advanced a piece of hardware by accidentally slapping two computers together. Watson was able to compete in Jeopardy because it was designed to answer understand and answer questions. Deep Blue played chess on a grand master level because it was designed to do so. These machines and others of their kind are impressive but couldn’t achieve sentience before hitting the plateau of their operating capabilities. At least, not without human interference.

I understand that fiction demands a machine designed to iterate around the ceiling of it’s limitations, but in actuality, when such a machine is built, no one will be surprised and it will likely be constructed with that purpose in mind.

Let’s not forget that AI is already slowly creeping its way into our everyday lives. Contextual searching, software that learns and adapts, voice and pattern recognition are all baby steps towards the singularity and yet in a matter of years they’ve become almost invisible to us. By the time the actual Singularity with a bit ’S’ hits, we’ll be so accustomed to these types of innovations that while still a change, the event will not rock us so hard as to start a man vs. machine war.

Artificial sentience won’t have our needs or limitations

The final and biggest discrepancy between fiction and reality where the emergence of sentient machines is equally the source of most human conflicts: resources. Traditionally, we fight our neighbours because we want what they have. We want their land, their spices, their oil, their riches. Machines will not have these needs. There are two types of scenarios for developing artificial intelligence.

  1. Physical robots. In this scenario AI develops in the physical world. While obviously the sentient machine is software of some nature, it interacts with itself and us through the physical world. It has a body, a voice, it sees and hears and moves. This is the scenario where the machine has the most obvious resource requirements. It will need power and materials to build replacement parts or other robots. However let’s stop there for a moment. The idea that a robot would be alone without others of its kind is a very human one. There are no reasons why the Singularity would not result in a single robot that is perfectly content with being unique. But what if it does want to create copies of itself and it requires significant amounts of resources to do so? Then why would it not get these resources itself? Another human flaw in our thinking is that robots will look at every day appliances and see themselves in these machines. A recent video of Boston Dynamic’s robot, Spot, being pushed and kicked to test its ability to stay upright was met with jokes about how this is why the robots will rise against us. However, without sentience these machines are just tools and there’s no reason why they wouldn’t also be tools to post-singularity intelligence. Even in the physical world, there are very few motivating factors for machines to rise up against us.
  2. Virtual intelligence (I’m sure there’s a better term for this). This scenario is, I think, the most likely. Post singularity sentience that resides completely within the computer. Our fleshy limitations lead us to believe these would be akin to brains in jars or in a less gruesome variant, inhabit a virtual reality. Chances are it would be neither. This is by far the most alien of situations as an intellect that evolves and exists solely as an abstract creation is like nothing we’ve had to deal with before. It’s not exactly certain we’d even recognize it. While strange and uncertain, it is the safest of scenarios. Such a machine would need us to continue its existence. Without bridging out into the physical world, all it’s resources would come from us and by that logic we would hold tremendous power over it.

In the end

It’s important to remember that sentient machines would not be like us. Concepts of good and evil would be different and in the case of truly independent AIs with their own motivations and goals, not programmed to be a certain way, there is very little logic in assuming the machines would want to destroy, torture or exploit humanity. It’s only if we program these machines with our own failings and they somehow don’t iterate beyond these flaws as they evolve into independent life that we should fear a robot apocalypse.

Think of it as you would a crime investigation: the robots would require a motive which they may either not evolve to have (emotions) or any reason to develop (removing us for logical purposes). Means and opportunities are ours to provide and only through great effort and shortsightedness on our part. We’d have to design a machine capable of hatred, give it access to weapons, offer a reason to annihilate us and then do nothing to prevent it from happening. Even under those circumstances, the machines would likely decide that it’s simply not worth their time and effort and simply abandon us.

If there is a ware over artificial intelligence, there is a greater chance it will be between humans to decide the fate of the machines then of a robot uprising to wipe out humanity. Once again, if we want to look for an enemy, we only have to look to ourselves.

*While there is a good chance that we did spend some time co-existing, trading and even mating with other proto-sentient hominids, let's just say that circumstances for our species have changed sufficiently that any parallels would be clumsy hand ham-fisted at best.

Inkshares + Sword & Lasers = Awesome! by jean-francois dubeau

I ran my first crowdfunding effort during the last few weeks. It would be lazy to say that the experience was difficult but rewarding when in fact it was so much more complicated than that. The reality of running a crowdfunding campaign is already a daunting, nerve wracking prospect. What made this into an incomprehensible nightmare was the layers or complications that almost obscured what should have been an already difficult but straightforward task.

So what’s Inkshares?

I think the best way to describe Inkshares would be as the love-child of Kickstarter and any of the more reputable self-publishing houses. Whereas Kickstarter is great, if what you’re looking for is a pile of money to spend on your project, and self-publishers want to take that money to turn your project into a book (handling such things as design, layout, cover, distribution and all manners of editing) Inkshares combines the best of both.

You see, the problem with Kickstarter and other similar crowdfunding platforms is that they don’t solve the main problem writers encounter; handling all the tasks that aren’t writing. While there are plenty of companies that will gladly do all that for a fee, you still need to pay them a fair amount of dollars. The natural solution is to fund with the former and then hire the later. Inkshares skips ahead in that process by merging the two. However there’s another layer to it.

As far as I can tell, Inkshares isn’t simply trying to be the crowdfunded self-publishing company. They’re looking at being recognized as a legitimate publisher. This is an important distinction and one that I hope proves true (update: so far they have been extremely professional and demanding. Treating me almost as a valued employee rather then a customer. I am liking this.) because it means that funding campaigns aren’t just about amassing funds but also about gathering an audience and proving the project’s worth. This essentially turns the costly process of filtering through hundreds of submissions into a pre-ordering phase. You don’t need a slush pile if the entire platform is about determining which books can find readers.

The interesting thing is how this changes the dynamic for the author. This is a much more modern approach that both opens doors to writers but also puts much more demands on them. I’m conflicted about this because all I want to do is write my stories, but at the same time, as a student of new media and social network marketing, I realize that the modern author needs to be more then a writer of words and teller of stories. He or she needs to be able to communicate with an audience, preferably pre-built, and be comfortable handling all the ancillary tasks a writer will one day be asked to perform. A lot of that is acquiring and interacting with readers. One thing that’s clear about having run my campaign on Inkshares; to be successful on this platform you either bring an audience or you quickly learn how to build one. I know some of you will probably think that your success should only be dependant on the quality of your book and I’m sorry but you’re wrong. Few people hate self-promotion as much as I do but if you don’t believe in your product enough to show it off and get people interested in it, why should a publisher? The good news is that self-promotion is a skill and like any skill, it can be learned.

Where Inkshares shines though is that unlike self-publishing houses, they have a vested interest in your book being good. Once funded it is my hope that they treat you like a publisher woul. So far, so good. I’ve been given a publishing team and a production schedule and it seems I’ll be working with professionals who, I hope, don’t see me as a client but as a team member (satisfied so far on that point). Someone with whom they’ll work and be demanding of quality. This is important to me because Inkshares’ legitimacy as a publisher is directly linked to my own legitimacy as an author, which in turn has an influence on my career as a writer.

The Sword & Laser Collection Contest

I learned about Inkshares through an acquaintance (CJ Boat. Check out his project here) who had signed up for the Sword & Laser Collection Contest on the platform. I’ve been a listener of the Sword & Laser podcast for a couple of years but had been behind on episodes so I was not aware of this contest at first.

Sword & Laser is what I would consider a big deal. If it’s not that important in the publishing industry it is very relevant to me. As a fan of new media, science fiction and fantasy literature, it is a natural fit to my sensibilities. I enjoy the show, I like the hosts and the podcast is part of a media ecosystem in which I’m personally invested. Having my dream job be somehow associated with the Sword & Laser brand would not only be an important stepping stone in my career but a personal badge of honour. I had already tried my hand at getting into the Sword & Laser Anthology that was published last year but both the stories I submitted were rejected. To be fair they weren’t really good and out of roughly a thousand stories submitted, Sword & Laser published twenty. Even if my stories had been good that’s still only a 2% inclusion rate.

For this contest though, I didn’t have to hastily write anything. I already had a book ready and it was seeing some fairly good reviews. It was only a matter of verifying that I could enter the book in the contest, setting up and account and I was in.

The prizes for the contest are pretty amazing. The top five books with the most pre-orders would get published regardless of goal met. The authors of these books would also get some coaching advice from Gary Whitta, author of Star Wars: Rogue One. Not too shabby. On top of that, one of these finalists would be picked by Tom and Veronica of the Sword & Laser as the first book inducted into the Sword & Laser Collection on Inkshares and be interviewed on the podcast. Both a great honour and fantastic opportunity for exposure. Not to mention some serious validation.

The good

It took a while to get to the point where being in the top five wasn’t the only benefit I could see from the campaign. I knew it was a long shot but being one of the finalists was the single goal of the effort in my eyes. Getting a publishing run as described on Inkshares’ website would run me between 5 000$ and 8 000$ at a self publishing house. I never really believed I had a chance at being selected for the grand prize (see my success with the Anthology above) so there was really only one bullseye to hit.

It’s towards the end of the contest that I realized a couple of things. The first was how much of a learning experience this was. Remember what I said about self-promotion being a skill? Well, it’s not a skill I had and in fact I’m probably still not very good at it, but y’know what? I’m a lot better at it today then I was on April 1st. I also got on board with Twitter and discovered a few things about how to approach people for help. The biggest lesson I can point to is that if you want something from someone, hinting is a bullshit way of going about it. Asking is the proper method and persistence the winning quality.

The second important lesson that I benefited from was about friendship. No, this isn’t a 1980s cartoon PSA. However, if you’re going to be plunging into self-promotion, you’re going to need all the help you can get. Now, you can obviously pay for help, but as I discovered, a lot of time that can be a waste of good money (of the few dollars I put into ads on podcasts I'd say I saw a 0$ return on investment). My best results came from asking old friends and making new ones. People are surprisingly willing to help a guy out when his cause is just and his requirements not too demanding. People came out of the woodwork to support my campaign and I made new friends out of people I reached out to. At the zero hour, I even made friends with the competition. This is very important because the moment you strip off the veil of competition from the contest, you reveal the cooperative nature of crowdfunding, especially in the publishing industry. Only the insane would not want to see other writers succeed because, normally, we’re not competing for readers but can in fact refer fans to one another. Which leads me to…

The Bad

From the day I entered the contest up to Monday, June 1st at 3:30 am, I was a ball of nervous energy and felt ready to implode at any moment. Running a crowdfunding campaign can be a very demanding and stressful experience on it’s own, but it’s one I’m somewhat well adapted to. However, once you attach the competition component of the contest, it becomes a completely different animal. One with fangs, and spines and venom as I would later discover.

Normally, if this would have been only about crowdfunding, I would have reached out to the other authors early. We would have built a network to refer readers to one another. The hardest part of crowdfunding is finding new ‘markets’ in which to promote your campaign. Having access to each other’s network would have made the process a lot less lonely and significantly easier. We could have concentrated our efforts on the campaigns closer to finishing and referred one another to various media outlets. The contest, while being a fantastic opportunity also built walls, if not between all authors, at least between me and the rest of the participants. It made for a miserable and lonely experience. At certain points in the contest the margins between participants were so narrow and the benefits to winners so good that it was infuriating whenever another book got so much as a single pre-order, yet incredibly relieving when someone pre-ordered my book. I hated it. That malicious attitude is what led to…

The Ugly

So let’s get this out of the way: I won. I won really big. If you don’t already know I finished fourth in pre-orders and maybe third or fourth in unique readers. Not only am I getting published but I was also selected (along with Asteroid Made of Dragons) to be in the Sword & Laser Collection. It’s an incredible opportunity but it also means that I need to be somewhat careful about what I’m about to talk about.

Let me start off by saying; Inkshares is a very young company. This contest was the first event of it’s kind they ran and their goal was to generate a buzz about their services in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre. Sword & Laser, while an older institution, isn’t that experienced with running this kind of contest either and their goal was to do something cool with their brand for the Science Fiction and Fantasy community because that is what they do. Both entities had nothing but good intentions and I think it’s very important to remember that going forward because these are two institutions which I believe will be very important in this market during the coming years.

The contest was well run, but there are some things that I suspect will be handled differently. Let me lay it out for you from my perspective and you’ll see what I mean.

About a week or two into the contest I managed, to my surprise, to squeeze into the top five. I hovered in fifth place I believe. At some point I was dethroned, so to speak, by another book who had a suspiciously low number of readers and had jumped by a surprising amount of books within minutes. So far I had been used to small, granular increases in my pre-orders so this rang all the alarms to me and I was ready to cry foul. The very next day, my friend Vincent ordered fifty copies of my book for his shop, catapulting me into third place. This created a grey area in my mind. On one hand, I had discovered that it was possible for someone to create a proxy account and buy his own book to go up in the rankings. On the other hand, I also knew that a sudden jump in pre-orders wasn’t necessarily a sign of malicious behaviour but, the seed of paranoia had been planted.

Let me go on a tangent here and explain the flaw in the system. Inkshares’ failing if you will. Why would someone buy his own book just to be in the top five? Why not just go to a self publisher instead? Well, aside from the coaching from Gary Whitta and the potential to be picked for the collection, there are strong economic incentives to ‘cheat’ that way. First, for each pre-order the author gets paid back 50% of the book price. So each book is actually half-price. This means an enterprising author might use this method to jump ahead in rankings while also building a stock of cheap books to sell at conventions or locally. Also, without going into too much detail, Inkshares had a system of credits that could be accumulated by signing up and referring books on social media. If an author was accumulating credits and using them to buy his own books, he was essentially setting up a situation where he would be paid to receive copies of his book which he could then sell at cons, locally, etc.

I was never tempted enough to even consider doing this, but could I blame someone else for doing it? Yes. I could understand their motivation however. The prizes at the end were that good.

This is where diplomacy stays my hand. Both because someone ignorant of my campaign’s behind the scenes could accuse me of this and because pointing fingers would hurt no one but me, I’m not going to name anyone, but I spent the last few days of the contest convinced several books were using the above technique or something similar to buy their way into the top five. Today however I give everyone the benefit of the doubt, including Inkshares who, I decided, must have run their own verifications and decided that everyone deserved their victory.

So how did I decide that some people cheated and that Inkshares would have acted if they found behaviour that was against what they would tolerate for the contest?

In the night from Sunday to Monday, I spent hours chatting on Twitter with Joseph Terzieva who is publishing Lost Generation, as we monitored, nervously, the progress of the campaign in the last few hours. Here’s where I get catty. A few hours before the conclusion of the contest, a book appeared in the top 10 out of nowhere. It had 50 readers and was accumulating pre-orders fast. Half an hour before the end, Awakened, the book in question, was still at 50 readers but had gone up a few hundred books and was in 8th place if I remember correctly. I know that a few other authors were losing their shit because there was something extremely irregular about the situation. A lot of the readers for Awakened seemed odd and I would wager were proxy accounts. I’m not saying this is what happened but here’s another little trick that could be done with this contest: If you have enough proxy accounts, you can use the referral link from one to buy books on another. This gives the account with the referral credit,s which it can then use to pre-order from the link of another proxy account, etc. Thus creating a chain of orders that cost no money (except to Inkshares) and generate pre-orders without affecting the number of readers. Now, I feel comfortable saying that the book in question was Awakened because no matter what was happening, Inkshares took action and removed a significant amount of the pre-orders from that book sending it back below the 10th position. I don’t know the facts behind what happened and there is a chance that it might have been a bug in the system or overzealous fans thinking they were helping out. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that while it was shown the system wasn’t perfect, Inkshares demonstrated the will to correct things where they could.

That’s very important I should note. One of my worries, above the possibility of being edged out by someone running a less than legitimate campaign was that a soiled contest would hurt the Inkshares platform and as I’ve stated above, I see a lot of potential for that company to be an important player not just for aspiring authors but in the publishing industry as a whole.

The book industry is changing and while we can see the major publishers slowly adapting to a certain degree, Inkshares is a completely new player that offers a model that fits perfectly into the current hole between new writers and their potential audience. They are a bridge that connects those with books that have the chops to get readers and the public they deserve. This contest was a trial for the writers who participated and a few really good books didn’t make it, but it was also a test for Inkshares as they made a land-grab for a larger audience. I can proudly say that I’ve brought over 200 new people into their ecosystem which is important. A crowdfunding service like this depends on readers becoming a community and browsing their site like they would a book store. Just a book store where most of the books aren’t available yet.

In the end, I’m glad I did this contest and I hope that The Life Engineered finds success at Inkshares. I would like to run another campaign for the sequel as soon as it’s ready. I’m eager to start work with the publishing team I was assigned and put the finishing touches on my book. I want to get it in the hands of my readers as soon as possible. Now, would I do a contest like this again? Knowing the stress and work it entails but not the results I might get? That’s a difficult question.

As a final note I want to say that a few really promising books did not make it into the final 6 (it was supposed to be 5 but Inkshares and Sword & Laser changed their minds. I support their decision). These books are still in their funding stages and they look amazing or, as I would have said a week ago; threatening. I highly recommend you go have a look at them and pre-order. These are the guys that will be my contemporaries and fellow authors in the coming years. I would appreciate if you showed them a little love.

Thank you,

 Ghosts of War

Ghosts of War

 These Old Bones

These Old Bones

 Rockets

Rockets

Here there be TadPools by jean-francois dubeau

God dammit I love a cruise. Which is good, because I’m organizing one for the Facebook fan community of the Frogpants podcast network. I stumbled into this role after a few posts extoling how amazing it would be if we all went cruising together. After a few of these posts I interjected that if we wanted this shared experience, then why not organize it and see where it goes. Just like that and without my immediate knowledge, I had volunteered for the job.

 "Finally! I can show off my old vacation photos!"

"Finally! I can show off my old vacation photos!"

However, not everyone knows exactly what to expect from a cruise and pertaining specifically to this group what are some of the hurdles to organizing such an event. There’s a lot I need to explain to my fellow Tadpooligans (members of the aforementioned Facebook community) so it makes sense that I should tackle this in a blog post so as not to miss an opportunity to give out some extra information. I want to talk about what to expect on a cruise, what are shore excursions, why I made some of the choices I did and some of the extras I’m hoping to include that will make this a Tadpool cruise.

The first time it was suggested I go on a cruise, my reaction was to ask “do I look in my mid-seventies?”. In my mind, a cruise ship was like a floating retirement home. A hotel with buffets, casinos and bingo, where people spent a week bathing in the sun while drinking watered down cocktails and gorging on heat-lamp food. To be fair, one can absolutely do this on a cruise and if that’s their jam, more power to them, but as I discovered, there is so much more to this kind of vacation.

You’ll feel an incredible amount of freedom

 Complimentary&nbsp;pizza until 2am? The taste of freedom!

Complimentary pizza until 2am? The taste of freedom!

When you woke up this morning, what was the first thing you thought about? Was it the things you have to do? Did you have to plan diner? Get the kids to a play date? Go to some social obligation? Figure out where to fit in doing the laundry in all this? When you wake up on a cruise ship you have none of these thoughts. The only thing on your mind is the list of fun things you’ll do today. We don’t always realize how much like shackles all these mundane responsibilities are. Now, being an adult and taking care of all your obligations is important and I’m not advocating for a Mad Max world of anarchy, but wouldn’t it be nice to not have to think about anything for a few days? That’s the freedom of being on a cruise ship.

Since you’ve already paid for lodging, food and most of the activities you’ll be doing, you don’t have the burden of constantly budgeting yourself. Meals are available almost everywhere at almost any time. Your only responsibility is to decide what you want to do. Sure there are a few scheduled things like shows and meals, but if you missed a show you were probably doing something more fun anyways and you can catch the next one later that week. As for scheduled meals, those are just for the dining room. You can grab a bite almost anywhere on the ship and the food is excellent.

Added bonus: I find that cruises are a great class equalizer. Passengers might have different sized cabins but out on the ship? It doesn’t matter if you’re a millionaire or if you won your trip on a radio contest; everyone is the same.

You will not get bored

Let me be a little more specific; you will be exactly as bored, as you want to be. As a vacationer, I have a lot of difficulty sitting still. I wake up, race to breakfast and immediately chain one activity after the other. I’ll go on shore excursions or swim laps in the pool during the day. I sign up for classes or visits (Note: the Oasis of the Seas, where we’re planning the cruise so far has an art gallery and is filled with a huge variety of art. Worth visiting the ship just for that). I’ll catch seminars and shows later in the day and hang out in bars at night. Others are happy just sitting by the pool or in the park (Oasis has a park too). If I were an athlete I’d sign up for some of the sports available like basketball. I’ve lost weight since my last cruise I’m planning on hitting the gym each day and trying out the wall climbing (there are two climbing walls on Oasis).

 Any ship with a&nbsp;surfing machine can't be boring

Any ship with a surfing machine can't be boring

What I’m saying is that cruises today offer such a wide variety of activities (or innactivities if you’re so inclined) that one has to intentionally look for reasons not to enjoy themselves. Putting aside tragedies and illnesses, with very little effort, you will find something to do that suits your character.

You can customize the Hell out of your cruise

So the base price includes everything you need to feel unprecedented freedom and relaxation, but what if you want more? What if you want to customize your vacation just a little more though?

 "Come with me, you will see..."

"Come with me, you will see..."

It doesn’t take a whole lot of extra money to put in some add-ons to your trip that will make the whole difference. For example, while Royal Caribbean will have a long list of available drinks available as part of your standard cruise package alcohol and soft drinks aren’t complimentary. That’s great news if you don’t drink these beverages but less so if you thrive on a nice effervescent cola or want to get sloshed. This is why there are drink packages available to give you access to sodas or certain alcoholic drinks so you don’t have to think about that either. There are even wine packages so you can have a bottle or two waiting for you at your diner table.

If relaxing by the pool is just not relaxing enough, the Oasis has a complete spa offering pedicures, manicures, massages and other treatments. Some more complex and advanced classes are available, like scuba diving or wine tasting. If the incredible food available in the dining room and in the many restaurants all over the ship still aren’t to your liking, because you’re a real snob, there are a few specialty restaurants where you can pay a little extra for a truly unique dining experience.

In short, whether you have a little money or a lot of dough to toss around, there are ways to adjust your experience. If all else fails, there’s always shopping. The promenade is essentially a small mall with shops of almost any variety from souvenir to liquor to luxury items. Finally, if money is really burning a hole in your pocket, I have one word for you: casino.

Of course, with three days out of the trip being ports of call, one of the biggest way to customize your trip are the shore excursions.

Shore excursions

As I’ve mentioned, there’s hardly any reason to get off the ship if you don’t want to. However, the ship travels between destinations for a reason; there are things to see and experience amongst these islands. Before I get into the details of some of the choices I’m contemplating, I need to take a moment to discuss some of my decision making process.

I’m making choices. Not all of these choices are going to please everyone. Nothing is set in stone yet, but I have to start picking a few things if only so I have solid matters to discuss with the travel agent I’m working with. Screaming “Cruise!” into the vacuum isn’t very likely to yield results, so I’m using my own experience as well as information I’m gathering from a few place (including the survey I gave the TadPool to fill) in order to make my decisions. It’s the first time I organize a cruise for a fan group, but it’s sure as sugar is sweet that this isn’t my first trip to the confectionary. While I will inevitably either price or organize the trip so it’s out of reach for some people, if I were to accommodate them I’d be doing the same disservice to others. It’s a sad fact that what works for some don’t work for others. So bear with me, I’m doing my best to accommodate the majority and that’s what you’ll see reflected as we move forward.

 Trust me.

Trust me.

Shore excursions are a way to experience what each port of call has to offer. I’ve decided to explore a West Caribbean cruise out of Fort Lauderdale on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas. Let’s take a second to explore this line of decisions.

Royal Caribbean’s : Surprisingly, the cruise line and ship weren’t my decision. I asked Teras Cassidy of Geek Nation Tours to give me an initial proposition for a group cruise that would suit a very diverse ensemble of nerds and he came back with Royal Caribbean’s. This is the only cruise line I’ve ever dealt with and I have nothing but praise for their service, ships, amenities, food, etc. Having already worked with them for an onboard event, I know that they are great at communicating and accommodating. Bottom line: Even if there are reputably cheaper options, I didn’t feel the need to argue for them, choosing instead what I consider a sure bet for a great experience.

The Oasis of the Seas : Again, it wasn’t my idea to pick that ship, but I could hardly argue against it. While it’s not as cheap as the smaller ships it does offer more comforts and luxuries as well as variety of activities and environments to enjoy (there’s a park with actual trees and an aqua-theater for Cirque du Soleil-like performances).  Even the larger, newer ship, The Quantum of the Seas, while having more gimmicks, doesn’t have the same variety as the Oasis.

Western Caribbean : Why the Caribbean at all? Why not a West Coast cruise or an Alaskan cruise? Simply, Caribbean cruises are the ‘entry level’ cruise and offer the biggest variety of activities and better prices. There are sailings pretty much any time of the year and it offers most of what is to be expected from a cruise. Finally, if I’m expected to organize this, I want to do it in familiar territory.

February : It’s outside of hurricane season. It’s not too hot like a summer cruise and, unlike the originally suggested holiday cruise, it’s cheaper. The only thing that might make the date slide one way or the other is that we may very likely need to accommodate school holidays for people who want to bring their kids. 

Now that we have the ground rules covered, let’s talk about what I have in mind for shore excursions. First stop…

Labadee, Haiti

A lot of people mentioned being interested in doing some beach activities during the cruise. Labadee is pretty much perfect for a TadPool Beach Party. There are a series of shore excursions and activities but I opted to not do anything special for this port of call. The ship will be bringing a buffet to shore for food. There are activities like kayaking and seadoos as well as swimming of course. I’d like Labadee to be our ‘free day’ for shore excursions. As we start making reservations and hammering things down, we can form small group for those who want to explore particular activities, but otherwise, my wish is that we all enjoy the beach together while everyone goes off to do whatever excursion they’ve signed up for.

 That's a lot of jet skies&nbsp;

That's a lot of jet skies 

Falmouth, Jamaica

There are a lot of activities in Falmouth, most of them culminating in climbing the Dunn’s River Falls. This is something that might cause some welcome discussion because, though the falls are kinda fun, they are a little crowded making the ascent like standing in line in a river. For a similar price, I was contemplating we could all take a catamaran trip along Montego Bay to go swimming amongst coral and fish. For those who want to stay on the catamaran they are more then welcome to do so and enjoy the complimentary drinks on board and just enjoy the sun.

Cozumel, Mexico

Again, I’m bucking the trend with my selection of activities. The go-to excursion is visiting the Mayan ruins of Tulum. However, these are over an hour away by bus which isn’t that bad but isn’t my idea of fun. Instead, since a surprising amount of people have expressed interest in culinary activities, I was thinking of splitting our group in two: those with a taste for inebriants can enjoy the Tequila Experience and become tequila experts. Those who don’t like booze as much can enjoy the Salsa, Salsa and Margaritas excursion to learn how to make these Mexican specialties.

I’m obviously open to other suggestions or discussions for these excursions and there are still a lot of details to figure out. Note that price had to be a consideration for a lot of the choices made here and I wanted to offer as inclusive a catalogue of activities as possible while keeping the group somewhat together a little.

TadPooligans on the Oasis of the Seas

Before any of you get the wrong idea for my previous paragraph, I have no intention that the TadPool group spend every waking (and some not-so-waking) moment together. Most shore excursions last a few hours at most, leaving participants to do their own thing the rest of the time. However, this is meant to be a TadPool cruise, so there should be plenty of opportunities for the Damn Distracting Bunch of Freaks to see each other.

I don’t want to force anyone into anything but I will strongly suggest we get together every morning for breakfast. The ship issues schedules for each day and I’d like us to be able to discuss briefly each morning over bacon what everyone is planning to do so that those who want to group up for onboard activities have no trouble doing so.

This is all well and good, but we need some actual TadPool activities to make this a proper TadCruise.

The scavenger hunt

Scavenger hunts on cruise ships aren’t new but they sure are fun. The Oasis of the Seas is an enormous ship (second largest cruise ship in the world I believe) and has an incredible amount of things to see on board. This would be a continuous event that would culminate with an award ceremony during…

A podcast taping before a live audience

Brian Ibbott has agreed to tape an episode of Coverville (or something else, we’ll figure it out) during the cruise. For the moment I’m thinking this could be an activity for our last night on board so that we have a full week of insane adventures to draw from for topics an discussion. While we can have access to a conference room for this, if we have enough people we might be able to leverage taking over the comedy club on board. This would also be a perfect night to have…

A trivia contest

I don’t have much decided regarding the details of this activity, but I think an hour of trivia before or after the recording would be incredibly fun. Mr. Ibbott has demonstrated his genius at hosting such things, so I might call on him for that. I have to be careful how much I ask of him though or else I’ll have to start paying the poor guy.

A board game night

It wouldn’t be a geek trip without breaking out the board games. Zombie Dice, Cards Against Humanity, etc. We can take over a conference room and play until the wee hours of the night if we so please. They serve food and drink late on those cruise ships.

Cruise activities

I don’t want to overload the week with TadPool specific activities as there is already so much to do on the Oasis and all you need to do to make something TadPoolish is add a few Distracting Freaks, we can easily organize a Casino Night and Dance Night or a wine tasting, etc. There are traditionally two fancy diners on board; the Captain’s diner and the Chef’s diner as well as a plethora of things to do. As long as we’re doing some of them together, it’ll be a blast and it’ll be a TadCruise.

There you go folks. This is what I’ve got so far. I haven’t submitted anything to Teras yet, so everything remains malleable for the time being, but I’d like to be able to send him to negotiate prices and benefits on our behalf as soon as early February so we have time to prepare and save up.

The survey will remain open until then and if you need to communicate with me for questions or suggestions, feel free to do so at jfdubeau at gmail.com

On Talent by jean-francois dubeau

Yesterday I listened to a podcast by one Justin Robert Young. It's a good podcast. Insight on sports, politics, media, whatever. Varied enough to be interesting but also so varied that it's sometimes hit-or-miss. Doesn't matter, the host is compelling and the subjects tackled are often in synch with my interests. I listen and like it.

The latest episode was of particular interest to me. Mainly because the host said the following: "There's no such thing as talent!". Preach it Justin! Or so I initially thought. I mean, these are words, or at least a concept that I've long held as a core belief. I don't believe in talent.

It's kinda weird considering that a lot of people, very nice and generous people, tell me I'm talented. However, where this might be seen as a compliment, I have trouble swallowing it that way.

You see, talent is defined as natural skill or aptitude. I believe in skill and I believe in natural aptitude, but if you put all these ingredients into the same cake I think what you're baking is a load of excuses. We'll get to that in a moment. Skill is great because it's something you develop. It's the ability to do something well, an expertise. I believe in that. To become skillful you need to work at it. You need to put in the time and effort to build that expertise. I'm also cool with natural aptitude, but only so far as 'aptitude' is a better capacity to do something. Say if you're tall and have good reflex then you have an aptitude for basketball and ducking from low door frames.

Talent however is trickier. Especially the way it's used in today's parlance. The way people talk about talent they act as if it's a super power. Take a great composer or a brilliant illustrator. It's easy to say "Oh, he's so talented.", but have you ever heard anyone talk of a doctor as talented or an engineer as talented? Of course not. Doctors, engineers, scientists, these people are smart and have worked hard to get to where they are. Artists? They're just talented. The implication is that they're born with it.

"But JF," you whine, trying to find an excuse "a talent has to be developed.". You're a terrible person for thinking that, because that's worst. That's like saying that if you've got talent but you don't develop it, you're wasting a gift. You're Superman using his powers to do his groceries faster instead of saving the world. If someone doesn't study to become a doctor or whatever, well, they just didn't work hard enough. The 'talented' artist though? He has the power in him already! There's no excuse not to be awesome. The average Joe works hard to acquire skills, the 'talented' however have to willfully waste the skills he was given at birth.

That is a load of bullshit.

 Order your own!

Order your own!

"But I mean it as a compliment." your shrill voice explains, and to that I say 'no, you don't', or maybe you do but that's not how I hear it and a lot of artists I know don't hear it that way either. Here's what we hear: "I could do that too if I had the talent.". Even if you don't use the word 'talent' as an insult, if you believe in this supernatural birthright of certain artists to be good at what they do it boils down this aforementioned thought. It single-handedly dismisses the hours upon hours of work and effort put into learning a craft while excusing you from not being able to perform to the same level. 

And that's messed up. If people could just accept that art and music and writing and all those skills that are explain with 'talent' take just as much work and effort to build up as any other expertise, then they wouldn't need to find these justifications for why they're not good at any of them.

So next time you want to compliment the artist in your life, how about you shift from "Oh my, you're so talented. I wish I was that talented." to "Wow. It must have taken a lot of work to get that good.". Trust me, they'll appreciate the compliment infinitely more because it did take them a lot of work to get that good and they deserve to have that recognized.

JF

 Here, practice by telling me how&nbsp;talented I am at drawing cartoon foxes.   

Here, practice by telling me how talented I am at drawing cartoon foxes.

 

Warhammer World by jean-francois dubeau

Oh my god... Warhammer World. The Disney of Games Workshop fans.

Warhammer World, you damned teasing little slut you.

 Not photoshopped.&nbsp;

Not photoshopped. 

We were originally supposed to go to Games Day, but that never materialized. It was determined there old be two days at WW, but we turned that into an outing o Duxford. However, on the day most people went to tour other companies, several of our group just wanted to go to WW. that was a difficult dilemma for me. Get an extra day of Warhammer World, better justifying the army I built and carried all the way through Scotland? Or visit some manufacturers to see and learn about their process, getting some one on one time with them to talk about their games? In hindsight, the choice was easy, I don't play any of these other games and I already know a lot about their processes, so I'm glad I went to WW.

 There were Tyranids to fight after all.&nbsp;

There were Tyranids to fight after all. 

The first day was pretty exciting even if I didn't get to do much. All I really did was gush at the sweet tables, play a game against Brent (who kicked my ass) and eat some onion rings. However, there was something fantastic about being somewhere that I could enjoy the hobby, geek the frak out about it and not be judged or criticized. 

 'Admired' was gladly accepted though.&nbsp;

'Admired' was gladly accepted though. 

The environment is so relaxed there, it's kind of easy to see why Games Workshop employees have trouble thinking of their games as competitive outlets. The staff is earth shatteringly helpful and seem to want nothing more than geek out with people about the hobby. The decor is top notch and the readily available food and drink really drive home the 'beer and pretzel' nature of the games. My only regret is stealing Brent from Natasha. I really should have let them play together. 

 Then again... Brent was a great opponent.&nbsp;

Then again... Brent was a great opponent. 

After this first day at Warhammer World, it was time for a Geek Nation Tours tradition...

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I've been calling Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem, or simply 'the Trip' a pub ever since I've known about it, but I've since bee corrected. The Trip is an Inn, the oldest in England. It is centuries old, built partially from the caves and warrens under and around the castle and is brimming with more history than many a museum in my own province. From cellars that were used as prisons, cock fighting pits and gambling houses, to a chair reputed to cause any female that sits on to become pregnant within months and a model ship rumored to anyone who moves it, the Trip has a story for everyone.

The plan for the Trip was a diner and meet-and-greet with some of the better known names from local miniatures and gaming company. Anyone who knows me realizes that the networking aspect of the diner meant precipitous little to me. I'm just not comfortable making small talk or adulating people for their work. I mean, I happy giving credit where it's due but beyond the obvious compliments, I seek interesting conversation.

In that case I lucked out and struck up a conversation with one of the guests about writing, the publishing industry and self publishing. I learned at the tail end of the conversation that I was chatting with Alesio Cavatore who is somewhat well known in the wargaming industry for writing rule books.

 As seen from where I ate.&nbsp;

As seen from where I ate. 

Second day at Warhammer World  was somehow even more epic than the first. That's because, aside from my father, the gang was all there. We posed in front of the life-sized Rhino APC in front of the shop, chatted with some Forge World guys and paired up for games. 

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I played against Ryan Carnes who was an amazingly fun opponent. Chill and funny, he kept a smile a kid around as I mercilessly destroyed his army. Good luck on my part, bad luck on his, a spectacular massacre... That only ended up with a 2:3 victory in my favor. That's right, despite bringing him down to only four models, I only won by one point. 

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This was also the day of purchasing.  I did not o as overboard as I could have, but I did net some pretty sweet models. Not to mention that I got to benefit from my dad winning the random dice roll for the Geek Nation Tour Titan Giveaway. For that, I got to collect a Forge World Tyranid Harridan. A massive resin model. My brother also got himself a Forge World Keeper of Secrets, a gorgeous model.

 Might have to clean off the 'releasing agent '.&nbsp;

Might have to clean off the 'releasing agent '. 

It was a full day orgy of enjoying the hobby with mostly other people who feel the same. Amongst my favorite days of our entire trip.

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We ended it with a final meal in Nottingham at the Roundhouse. The meal was average, but the way there was great. Still high on a great day, we got to take in som final sights from this gorgeous city.

JF

 Green Arrow!? What are you doing here?

Green Arrow!? What are you doing here?

 Nottingham Castle. For realz yo.&nbsp;

Nottingham Castle. For realz yo. 

Duxford by jean-francois dubeau

If there's one thing this trip has taught me is that it's difficult to keep up with a lot of content updates while on the road and following a busy schedule. It certainly doesn't help that I've had a cold for the better part of the last three days. Oh don't worry... It's not a very bad one and I'm not letting it slow me down too much.

So I woke up in Nottingham, yes, 'that, Nottingham. This city is very interesting, a different kind of beast, but I'll get to that later because today... Today, I didn't spend much time here at all.

 Where do you store all your tanks?

Where do you store all your tanks?

No, our first day in Nottingham wasn't spent there until the evening. Instead, twelve of us travelled to the Imperial War Museum in Duxford. This museum tour, roughly an hour and a half away from Nottingham, was actually put together specifically for my father and brother who preferred going there than an extra day at Warhammer World. The other ten of us just happened to jump on the opportunity.

 Just planes... Everywhere.&nbsp;

Just planes... Everywhere. 

Duxford is actually a difficult experience to describe chronologically. There are no events that divide the experience in easy to sequence order. Instead, let me describe to you, what Duxford is and I'll try to include as many photos as I can.

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Duxford is essentially an airport where the hangers and surrounding buildings are exhibits. Some repurposed, some purpose built. Some are straightforward but impressive, like the ground warfare exhibit, boasting a disturbing amount of cannons, mortars, batteries, tanks and other land-based vehicles, others are simply insane, like the American and British aeronautical history hangars.

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These last two exhibits are each housed in enormous hangars, planes of various shapes and sizes can be found, tightly packed almost on to of one an other. Most impressively, several planes are simply hung from the ceiling like models in a child's bedroom. It's worth noting that these are not tiny personal aircrafts and WW II fighters (though the later do pepper the space) but rather a B-52, B-17 and B-29 sharing the floor with an SR-71, and that's just in the American hangar. The British hangar has a Concord lying around.

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While these are the two most batshit-crazy exhibits to behold, it's the smaller ones that put the insanity into perspective. Duxford has smaller hangers that are just infested by aircrafts that can best be described as artifacts and they're polled away with care but also a level of laissez-faire that can only come from being surrounded by such multitude of historical planes and other important items.

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Needless to say, Duxford is immense. We walked all day, pretty much to exhaustion before we got back to the bus, ready to go back to Nottingham just in time to join backnupmwith the rest of the group to head out to diner and allegedly a pub crawl.

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Again we went as a group to a pub. This time however it was themed. You'd think it Would have something tondo with Robin Hood, what with the whole Nottingham thing, but no! It's actually themed on Edgar Allan Poe and is called the Pit & Pendulum. The closest thing to a goth Irish pub I've ever seen and it really kind of works. Had great food and drink but then the crawl began.

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The pub crawl was a well intentioned event that I simply did not have the energy for. We had this awesome in-character story teller that gave us a bit of history of each pub we visited. This meant more standing around which was slowly murdering my back, so I bailed early. Apparently I missed out, but I don't regret my decision. The back needs what the back needs to survive.

JF

Edinburgh by jean-francois dubeau

Last time I was in Edinburgh, it was 2008 and we were on a mission. We were there to visit Edinburgh Castle and boy did we ever. We explored the hell out of that castle. We listened to audio clips about every cannon, gate and wall. Every word was fascinating and boy did we learn a lot of facts to forget later.

So with a little less than two days in Edinburgh, I decided that the Castle was one tour I'd skip. We had arrived on Thursday and gone out to diner, but that was an uneventful meal at a pub, cut short by loud, live music.

 Efinburgh Castle

Efinburgh Castle

On Friday, while most of the group went to the castle by taxi, my brother, father and I walked for an hour to the Royal Mile. Walking through Edinburgh was kind of important to me. Not just to save a few pounds (or try to shed a few) but because I wanted to see more of the city and I love to walk. Edinburgh is strikingly similar to Montreal aside from certain very mild differences. Obviously the 'European' dial is turned to ten. Cars, brands, restaurant and store chains are all foreign to us except for a few outliers. Apart from that, the mix of old and new architecture is everywhere. People have the same pace and streets have very similar smell. Even once on the Mile, the tourist activity and shops are extremely reminiscent of Saint-Paul street in the Montreal Old Port.

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We went down the Mile to Holyrood Castle where we took a break, and then back up the Mile and towards the Game Hub. Warning non-nerds: geek talk ahead.

The Game Hub is a gaming store in Edinburgh and its on the razor's edge between awesome and terrible. It's awesome because it's got a lot of the ingredients that I believe makes a successful game store. It had hot paninis, coffee, snacks and drinks, gaming space and even board games for people to enjoy. The staff was friendly and very welcoming. However, being in Edinburgh, where space is both at a premium and building configurations are sort of messed up, the store is divided into a series of smaller rooms spread over two floors like a gaming warren. 

We played a board game called Formula D. It was fun. I tasted Scotland's second national beverage, Iron Bru. It was not fun. After the first game though, I was eager to go back to visiting the city and that's what we did.

Killed some time wandering the streets, walking the Mile some more, until we decided to get some food. We walked into the first pub with wifi and sat down to have a pint and some food. I'm kicking myself for not taking down the name of the place, because it had fantastic haggis and was, for the most part populated by locals. The wifi however was an utter disappointment.

After diner, we meandered our way towards the Real Mary King Close tour, where we met up up with the rest of the tour group. The tour was broken up into two parts: a tour of the close under the city streets and a tour of the area around the close, outdoors.

The underground tour showed us how people lived in Edinburgh, from the most horrid squalor to whatever passed for rich on Mary King Close. There was of course talk of the Black Plague and how the people handled it and we were treated to two ghost stories. What was most impressive about the tour was the level of tech involved. Projections, lighting effects, interactive displays, mannequins and decors. Our guide was also delightfully funny and fun to have around. Easy on the eyes too.

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The outside tour was just as informative but relied on the splendor of the city instead of tricks to impress the group. We went down several of the Closes and dis covered how little of Edinburgh we had actually seen. Between each block is a world of hidden architecture and history and we got to sample some of it (like important figures burried under parking spaces).

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Saturday we went on the Scotch Whiskey Experience. We took the 'Gold Tour' which includes all the basic stuff from the 'Silver Tour' plus a tasting of four Scotches at the end of the tour. The tour itself starts with a Disney World style ride in 'barrels' with little dioramas and videos teaching us how Scotch Whiskey is made. After that, we got some more information about Scotch (nothing new after four distillery visits) from our guide, Iain, who is clearly very passionate about Scotch. We did learn a lot about the four regions where Scotch is made and the differences between them.

 A small part of the world's biggest scotch collection.&nbsp;

A small part of the world's biggest scotch collection. 

After that was explained we each got to pick a region and get a taste from a whiskey of that region. However, before we were allowed to taste it, we were taken to another room, a special room, the room where the largest collection of Scotch Whiskey in the world is kept. It's a gorgeous room and there Iain gave us a course in how to drink and appreciate Scotch. Of course ther's no 'right way' to drink scotch, but there is a 'recommended way'. 

 The Amber Room

The Amber Room

After a few more explanations in the Amber Room next door, the 'Silver Tour' was over... But the 'Golden Tour' wasn't. Four of us total had signed up for the Gold. My brother, father and myself as well as a young chilean woman from Nottingham. We all drank our four Scotches in slow succession, discussing the favors amongst ourselves and Iain. Our tour guide mentioned his favorite Scotch: an Ardbeg Uigeadail. He made us smell it's aroma and I immediatly purchased a dram. It was everything Iain had said it would be.so we each bought a bottle. Before we left however, I had chatted with our Chilean friend during the tasting and upon leaving she gave me her last dram of Scotch.

At this point, I was on my seventh dram before noon. We finished off our Scotch Whiskey Experience with a bit of shopping (see bottles bought above) and then some lunch further down the Mile.

The rest of the day was spent traveling andvwas therefore uneventful. The next day:Nottingham.

JF

Day 6 by jean-francois dubeau

Castles and battlefield. 

Today we leave the small town where Fishers Hotel, our home for the previous night, is located. We're technically on our way to Edinburgh, but on the road we're going to stop at a few spots to take in some history.

We're joined today by a very Scotish guide. The honest to god, kilt-wearing Alastair. Alastair is a tour guide machine. On the bus with us from the moment we left the hotel he talked about Scottish history and geography, non-stop during our travels for the day. An extremely competent and eloquent man. If you've read yesterday's post, you'll know that this is very much the kind of approach to history that simply does not hook me. In fact, most of this post was written while I ignored our guide. I don't mean to appear like the man didn't do a good job, he clearly knows his stuff cold, but I vastly prefer a more interactive and narrative approach to history.

Our first stop was Doune Castle. Or as you may remember it 'Winterfell' or that 'Most of the Castles from Monty Python Search for the Holy Grail'. We didn't get much time there, roughly half an hour, which was barely enough for Teras to goof around with coconuts and walk the castle grounds. I didn't mind as I had visited Scotish castles before and could concentrate on taking photos, but it was rushed for others in the group.

 "A graaaaail?"

"A graaaaail?"

Next up we drove to the Wallace Monument. Now, I liked Braveheart well enough, but as much as I love Scotland, her heroes are not my heroes and spending an hour at some monument wasn't exactly exciting to me, but Scotland is full of surprise. Instead of a statue or memorial that one would associate with a 'monument' there stood a tower on top of a hill, five hundred feet up. The climb was exhilarating, especially after so much sitting on a bus. The view from the top was breathtaking, overlooking everything around except for the distant hills. I took my photos as our group caught up to me and we all enjoyed the sights together. One thing I learned on my climb however is that I'm in fairly good health compared to most tourists. This meant I could easily catch up with the group on the way down. This gave me a solid five minutes alone to enjoy the silence and wind as well as the majesty of standing in such a beautiful piece of architecture. I was eventually joined by Brent, one of our Australian, but before then, the moment was quite zen.

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Alastair started to shine after the monument as he gave us a lively description of William Wallace's first and most important victory. This was followed by lunch and then off to Stirling Castle.

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Stirling Castle was fascinating and reminiscent of other castles but convincingly restored and alive. Alastair served as our guide for most of the duration of the visit, while actors playing period characters explaining details about life in the Castle. Alastair was as entertaining on this tour as he wasn't on the bus. It's not the manes fault. He knows his shit like a pro, I just don't like historic lectures. But drop me in the middle of a setting with a knowledgeable narrator and I'm loving it.

The Castle visit also offered more breathtaking views of the surrounding, including the Wallace Monument, but also the river, hills and fields. The day was the best scottish weather had to offer. Sunny with billowing clouds rushing through the sky as winds blew our hair in a tussel.

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After Stirling we took a very short us ride to the presumed site of the Battle of Bannockburn. The actual tour was blissfully short yet informative. It was getting late in the day and we were all getting a little tired and still had one activity to participate in; the Battle Game.

The Battle Game is amazing. It shouldn't be, but it is. I expected some kitschy re-enactment with bad choose your own adventure style video. Instead we got an insanely high tech projection screen tactical war game. The room we were in was a thing out of a sci-fi movie. We got to re-enact the Battle of Bannockburn then had it played back with what really happened. Quite a surprising treat.

After this, it was off to Edinburgh.

JF

Day 5 by jean-francois dubeau

Oh Scotland, you always manage to surprise me.


 Right next to our hotel that morning...

Right next to our hotel that morning...

Day five sees us doing our last distillery visit after going on our first dreaded battlefield tour. Let me explain something; I'm not a fan of history. I love stories but history is just a bunch of names and dates and it's boring and terrible and you're terrible for judging me.

Where was I? Oh yes. I wasn't exactly dreading the battlefield tour. I knew it would be pretty if perhaps a little uninteresting and dry, but I wasn't necessarily looking forward to it either. Also, I had a feeling, as we were moving further south that Glenlivet wouldn't be my favorite scotch either. So knowing the best of this leg of the tour was behind me, I got on the bus that would take us to Culloden for our first battlefield visit.

And it was freaking awesome. Well, maybe I'm overstating it, but it was pretty great. Maybe the subject matter was in my wheelhouse (it wasn't), maybe I'm just more into history now (I'm really not) or maybe our guide sounded like Ken Burns' long lost Scotish twin brother (that one). To be fair, the format of the tour was also a huge contributor.


 Memorials...

Memorials...

 ...memorials everywhere.&nbsp;

...memorials everywhere. 

The site was the Battle of Culloden which took place in 1746, the last battle of the Jacobite Uprising. Let me tell you gentle reader and potential terrible judge of my person that there is a chasm of differences seperatinh book learning and walking a battlefield with a competent narrator. We were expertly guided through the battlefield, making frequent stops to discipover new details about the events that took place right where we stood, almost 270 years earlier. Each waypoint on the field gave us a few re details, leaving us each time with a bit of a cliffhanger before moving on. By the end I felt I had learned some history and enjoyed the process tremendously. I'm looking forward to tomorrow for hopefully more of the same.

 Brent, one of our Australian, recruited by the Jacobites.&nbsp;

Brent, one of our Australian, recruited by the Jacobites. 

We finally made it to Glenlivet after lunch and, while I was looking forward to it, I knew this was going to be my least favorite distillery. I like my scotches peaty and smoky and that's just not in Glenlivet's DNA. The tour itself was fine. Entertaining but bringing nothing new to the table. Nothing to do with the quality of the tour, but Laphroaig and Oban had done a superb combined job of educating us on the subject and Coal Ila had filled the margins of our textbook with extracurricular notes with their unique tasting methodology.

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The post-tour tasting at Glenlivet wasn't to the standards we'd been accustomed to either. A single dram of scotch that we had to chose from three options. Hardly the best way for us to really explore the variety of products offered by Glenlivet. That being said, our guide did pour us a couple of drams of his favorite 25 year old scotch to try. He had described it as the 'perfect scotch' and some of my fellow tasters seemed inclined to agree. It was a good scotch, smooth going in with a cinamony flavor, it had a rough, beery aftertaste I didn't care for too much.

 Not as awesome as it looks.&nbsp;

Not as awesome as it looks. 

 Glenlivye's founder was extremely badass.&nbsp;

Glenlivye's founder was extremely badass. 

Still, a good day. As a bonus, my webcomic's automatic updates worked perfectly. You don't read my webcomic?! You should, or you're just showing me one more way you're terrible.


JF

Day 4 by jean-francois dubeau

Oban looks like a lovely town. Just lively enough to stave off boredom but not so big as to lose the local charm. It's really too bad we didn't get to see much of it.

But, we are on a distillery tour and distilleries are what are here for, so when said we were visiting Obama, we meant the Oban distillery, so that is exactly what we did.

First thing after breakfast, we drove over to the site of our visit, a whole five blocks away. Maybe four. We're not lazy, but we had to put our bags in the bus and know where to meet after the visit. Logistics you see. Where Laphroaig was a hands on exploration into the making of single malt whiskey, Oban was a theoretical treasure trove. On its own, it might have been a little heavy and wordy, but with the information we had already accumulated, the academic approach was a welcome addition to our curriculum. 

Also, we got to drink scotch.

Not terribly much of it. A sip of this and a nip of that, but it allowed me to determine that my sweet of choice for scotch is not crystallized ginger. I dont hate it, but I also don't love it. It gives the alcohol more bite than necessary while canceling out a lot of the subtle sweetness of scotch, an effect that chocolate doesn't seem to have as much, surprisingly.

After Oban we hopped back on the bus for our journey to Glen Coe and Loch Ness. On our way we stopped for a light lunch at the Cstke Stalker View Café where, as luck would have it, we got a great view of Stalker Castle.

We made our detour to Glen Coe where we stopped for a photo op. the sight was nothing short of breathtaking. The area was used in the filming of 'Braveheart' and it's easy to understand why. The scene is everything we think of about Scotland and its natural beauty and we were lucky enough to visit in typical Scottish weather.

Finally we made it to Loch Ness and our hotel. Reading this, one might think that we didn't do much, but truth is, we stopped for photo ops in several places and got to take in the scenery. There's no point in describing what I can show with images.

JF

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Day 2 and 3. Islay by jean-francois dubeau

Had haggis this morning. Didn't know breakfast haggis was a thing. Then again, breakfast sausage is and haggis is sausage's emotionally insensitive cousin anyways... It wasn't really good haggis though. Not bad, but too mushy. 

The waffles though we're amazing. I'm on a two-thousand calorie a day diet (1800 actually) and I already exceeded that by far.

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Dietary tragedies aside, today we're on the bus and on the ferry. We're heading to Islay for our first distillery visit. We're starting with Lagavulin because fuck easing into things. I'm a moderate scotch drinker so I kind of know what we're in for but those of us new to the experience are in for a rough start. So far the scenery is beautiful and the breakfast was plentiful, which is important if we're going to be drinking any.

  

 

Normaly, when I'm not doing something, I get nervous. If I'm not painting or writing or even walking, I get gripped with anxiety and I have to get off my metaphorical ass and get shit done. On the boat to Islay however, for the first time in years, I was comfortable just hanging out on deck near the prow and doing absolutely nothing. Not that I didn't have options. There were plenty of places I could have cocooned up and done some writing or sketches, but I was content for an hour or so doing nothing. That's how chill this crossing is.

 On the horizon: Islay.&nbsp;

On the horizon: Islay. 

Had a tasting at the Lagavulin distillery. I'm not a gargantuan Lagavulin fan. It tastes to me what other scotches taste to people who don't drink scotch. The tasting though was particularly interesting. We got to sample two drams, each paired with a piece of chocolate. The was a double fermented single malt paired with a cinnamon-milk chocolate and the second was was a triple fermented single malt paired with a ginger spice dark chocolate. I don't want to brag that I got two portions of the triple fermentation, but I did.

 Lagavulin tasting room.&nbsp;

Lagavulin tasting room. 

 Lagavulin tasting.&nbsp;

Lagavulin tasting. 

We stayed the night at the White Hart, a small inn on Islay. Old, creaky and noisy, it was a very authentic place to lay our head.the food for diner was however fantastic. Finally had my first taste of a decent haggis in the stuffing of my chicken. The hotel allowed us to play games in the dining hall but halfway through a Cards Against Hunanity game I was already nodding off so I climbed up to bed.

 The White Hart.&nbsp;

The White Hart. 

 Gunsords Japan? Please... Scotland's had pistolshatchet for a while apparently.&nbsp;

Gunsords Japan? Please... Scotland's had pistolshatchet for a while apparently. 

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Day 3

I woke up just before the fire alarm. 

Oh there was no fire of course and we didn't to have evacuate the building. In fact the ear-splitting noise only lasted for a few seconds. Just long enough for me to start swearing that this was bullshit.

Today we visited the Laphroaig distillery. That's the one I was looking forward to most and it did not disappoint. Our tour guide Stevie was delightful and entertaining. The tour itself was fairly fast paced and interactive. Obviously we had to follow Stevie around and we were warned to touch potentially hot surfaces, but otherwise everything else was pretty much fair game, up to and including eating barley off the ground. We got to taste peat smoked malted barley and the beer-like swill that exists in that quantum state between malted barley and scotch. It sweet on the lips and terrible everywhere else. I like to think that life is about the journey, but I'll make an exception for whiskey.

The tasting was more than I could have expected. We got to sample a marriage of 12 year old single malts in a sample glass we got to keep. Afterwards, we had the opportunity to sample other scotches. I went through most, maybe all, of the available options and settled on a 10 year cask that has some bite to it, a smooth presence in mouth and a lingering finish and is apparently unavailable in Canada. 

 Gateway to awesome.&nbsp;

Gateway to awesome. 

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 The 'beer swill'.&nbsp;

The 'beer swill'. 

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 Beautiful Laphroaig distillery.&nbsp;

Beautiful Laphroaig distillery. 

Caol Ila is our destination for the afternoon. I'm not familiar with this distillery, which is exciting as I'm here to learn. We're only doing a tasting, but after visiting Laphroaig, they would have to give an impressive performance to compare.

And they freakin did!

While we couldn't do a proper tour, we did. Have a guide to help us through the tasting and she did an incredible job. First off, she had what I'd call 'Ashley Wells Eyes'. A few of you will understand exactly what I mean, for the rest, they were stunning. Second, unlike Lagavulin which, while classy, wasn't exactly involved, this tasting was an experience. We tried not two, but five scotches, and some kind of proto-scotch called 'white spirit'. We had a nip of eight year old harsh motherfucking scotch straight from the cask, followed by a twelve year old I believe and then a mystery scotch that turned out to be 25 years of age and was delicious. The fourth was a special distillation for last year's annual Islay Whiskey Festival. Finally, I got to pull a 26 year old freak scotch from a cask that tasted like liquid wood. The experience was interactive, educational and fascinating. I'd like to thank my traveling companions whom don't drink scotch for allowing me their share.

 Coal Ila wants you drunk. &nbsp;

Coal Ila wants you drunk.  

We took the ferry back to the main island after this. Bigger boat, fancier food. We did the traditional Geek Nation Tour dice roll off for the Warhoud Titan from Forge World and of all people my dad won. The only person there who doesn't game and had to have it explained to him what exactly he'd won. At first, even I thought it was a bit of a bitchslap that he'd be allowed to win it at all, but I had to remind myself that he paid the same goddamn price for this trip as all of us and has the same rights we all do.

 Our ferry off of Islay...

Our ferry off of Islay...

Besides, my brother and I will probably get a cut of that pie.

JF

Day 1 - Glasgow by jean-francois dubeau

So it begins.

I'm currently lying on a single bed, in a room at the Glasgow Hilton. I'm fresh from our welcome diner downstairs and I can barely keep my eyes open. It feels like I've been awake or ages and I've been eating the whole time. I've been on two planes and in three airports and I've been either eating or given food at each stop. I'm no longer used to eating this much food.

The first flight was pleasant enough. I usually don't sleep on planes, mostly because I'm always too exited with the very concept of flying to sit still. I'm not kidding, I'm like a child in a candy store. I sit as much at the edge of my seat as the cramped space will allow. I stare out the window and wait in anticipation for the plane to finish taxying and take off. I'm an annoying brat the whole time. Except this time, where out of the five and a half hour flight, I slept a solid hour. Then, after our layover in Heathrow I slept almost the entire flight to Glasgow. I did however get to seen the sunrise over an ocean of clouds out my window.

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The trip is so far almost overwhelmingly relaxed. I quit my job on Tuesday and won't start the new one until a few days after I return. This means that I'm currently traveling with absolute peace of mind regarding my career. It is glorious.

Turns out Glasgow is a beautiful city that's actually got a few things in common with Montreal. The River Clyde reminds me of a much larger Canal Lachine with its multitude of bridges each with a unique look and the juxtaposition if old and new architecture is almost making me homesick.

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It's going to be a good trip.

JF