The rules to what I lovingly call “Old Man Poker”

April 20, 2015

cropped_fishing_photo

Hello again everyone!

I thought I’d start off my return to regular blogging talking about something near and dear to my heart: Hanging out with my father and his cronies during the annual fishing weekend. It began more than thirty years ago when a group of young men would help each other open a cottage in the spring or close it for the fall over the course of a long weekend, and it has evolved into an excuse to get together and spend some guy time away from the wives and kids. There’s golfing, and fishing, and telling the same tall tales the grow with each year’s repetition, and of course a healthy dose of eating and drinking like they still have the metabolism of twenty-somethings. They’re a cool bunch of guys, and I could go on at some length about how much fun we have, but for the sake of talking about something specific, I want to talk to day about something we do every year that I never see anywhere else: We play what I lovingly call “Old Man Poker.”

fish_storyNow when most people of my generation talk about poker, they’re talking about Texas Hold’em. I can’t speak for everyone, but I believe Hold’em first rose to prominence in my imagination during the 2004-2005 NHL lockout. Canadian television was a wasteland that winter as station after station scrambled to fill all the airtime we normally spent watching the Toronto Maple Leafs lose, the Ottawa Senators choke, and Vancouver and Montreal whip themselves into a rioting fury whether they win or lose. Someone seized upon the bright idea of televising no limit Texas Hold’em tournaments as a cheap airtime filler, and before you know it every young man with at least four friends was organizing a get-together where he could push all his chips into the center while trying to deadpan, “All in.” I had a lot of fun with that as a young man, and without claiming to be any good at it, I won more than I lost. I enjoy Texas Hold’em a lot, and I can get my father and his friends to play it from time to time, but it’s not their game at all. For them, Texas Hold’em happened emerged as the king of Poker when they had already been playing poker for thirty years. They’re loyal to their way of doing things, and more power to them!

So what exactly is “Old Man Poker”? Speaking in broad terms, it’s the traditional poker games that would not have been out of place in a Legion Hall basement in the Fifties and Sixties. Everyone gets a turn as dealer, and each dealer calls his own game after anteing for the privilege. A dealer who starts describing his game of choice without putting his money down is met with a chorus of clearing throats and requests for him to speak up because no one can hear him. It’s a rule that mystifies the non-regulars at the table, but everyone learns in time.

Anyway, all manner of stud and draw games are welcome, and some truly rare and magical variations have been created over the years as well. My Dad’s crowd plays a friendly game with between twenty and thirty bucks in coins each. A dime is the traditional wager in each betting round, with a nickel almost automatically raised on principle and pennies not welcome. Twenty-five cents is big money, and the maximum raise per round is fifty cents. That said, many of these games have ten or twenty betting rounds, so folding money does trade hands over the course of the night. A player who goes bust is allowed to play on without anteing on the understanding that when they start winning again, they start paying again. It’s a pretty solid way to guarantee everyone will have a good time for the entire evening.

Here are a selection of some of the games that a dealer may choose from:

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Starting this blog up again

April 19, 2015

Hello everyone,

bluedustydeskAfter a hiatus of more than two years, I have decided to get back into blogging. I don’t know how often I’ll update this site, but I have begun writing again in earnest, and this was always a great forum for me to change pace and work on something different.

When this blog was good, it was very good. The post about presidential knife-fighting became a runaway hit, with more than 300,000 views to date. I imagine I’ll try to do something equally hair-brained in the future if I ever hope to see those numbers again. I’m also delighted that so many readers of my two novels, Inca and Zulu, have come to this site to learn more about how and why I wrote them. You can definitely expect to see more of that, and hopefully my renewed enthusiasm for seeking our the elusive and possibly mythical third novel will offer much grist for the mill.

There are a few things that I did not do in 2009 through 2012 that I will likely do now: I can see this blog being a space for me to talk about current issues and events as I see them, and so moving forward I will not be so worried about the longevity and staying power of a piece. Better to write prolifically and have some content become stale than to sit idle for months for want of inspiration. I also suspect I will lean more towards many short posts rather than my more customary long and rambling essays. We’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, people start and stop blogs all the time. This was a longer break than I meant to do, but I was busy with other things in the last couple of years, and I have no regrets about how I spent my time. Now I am back, and hopefully we can have some fun with this.

Cheers!

–Geoff


Maps for My Novel, Inca (Minor Spoilers)

January 29, 2013

Hello again everyone,

I’ve had a few readers tell me they have some trouble following where my protagonist is in any given chapter. It’s a fair critique. One of my goals with this book was to have the narrator visit all four corners of the known world over the course of his life, and that can get confusing in fairly short order. I wouldn’t expect most people to have a firm grasp of South American geography, let alone pre-Columbian geography before the Spanish renamed everything. Here is the map included in my book:

(Click to enlarge.)

(Click to enlarge.)

But that doesn’t really make it easy to figure out where things really happened, does it? There are half a dozen landmarks, cities, regions, and tribes to use as way points, but I still left it up to the reader to constantly flip back to the map for reference. That must be especially irritating in the e-book version. Accepting this, I started playing around with the map, trying to track down where Haylli went from chapter to chapter. For my own ease I didn’t line things up exactly with the Royal Road network or the available mountain passes –preferring instead to approximate– but even if I had the overlapping journeys would only have muddied the waters. This is what I came up with:

(Click to enlarge.)

(Click to enlarge.)

That’s kind of a mess, isn’t it? A problem with drawing lines on a map of an empire 3,000 miles long and up to 500 miles wide based on a 70-plus-year narrative is that there’s a lot of repetition. A simple coloured spaghetti chart isn’t much help to the reader interested in matching up the story to the geography. It occurred to me a chapter by chapter breakdown is the only way to really bring clarity to the situation. I did my best to avoid spoilers, but there are some broad plot points that just can’t be avoided. With that said, here’s the prologue and the first two chapters:

(Click to enlarge.)

(Click to enlarge.)

If this is an approach that will help you enjoy the book, I’m happy to show you the rest. Just click through the jump for the rest of the breakdown.

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Both of My Novels Are Now Available as Trade Paperbacks

December 30, 2012

BookCovers

Happy Holidays Everyone!

My office was closed this week, so to keep myself busy I set myself a goal: I’ve finally figured out how to get my e-published novels available as print-on-demand trade paperbacks. A copy of Inca and Zulu are in the mail to me as we speak. In the next week or so they’ll be available for sale through the various Amazon websites, but in the meantime they’re already available via CreateSpace directly:

Inca by Geoff Micks

Zulu by Geoff Micks

For any authors out there with e-books, I cannot say enough good things about the CreateSpace process. Formatting for print was a little time-consuming, of course, but if you have any kind of a graphic design background it is also relatively simple and totally free! That’s a far cry from the not-so-distant past.

Once upon a time, physical copies of self-published books were only available via vanity press: You bought a few hundred or thousand copies up front from a publisher, and it was up to you to sell them. There was a stigma to vanity presses, and the costs were prohibitive. Today, the stigma has been replaced with a spirit of entrepreneurialism, and making your books available costs nothing at all. When someone orders a book, CreateSpace prints off one copy and mails it to the reader. They deduct their costs from the price, and send me the rest as a royalty payment at regular intervals.

It’s a brave new world, and for the first time in a long time I feel lucky to live in an age where traditional publishing is gun shy of long works of historical fiction from new authors. This is better –so much better! I have total control over my novels in perpetuity, and I have the freedom to write what I like, format it as  I please, and publish on my own timeline. I even have the option of making the book available to bookstores and libraries, although that’s something I want to research further before taking that step.

This has been and will continue to be a journey, but I’m very happy with how far I’ve already come and the road still stretching out before me. I’d like to thank everyone who helped me set this course. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from a man who finds himself grinning ear to ear lately.

Cheers!


My Favourite 12 Tweets of 2012

December 29, 2012

twitterHello again, everyone!

It’s been another great year, and I continue to enjoy Twitter –my account is @faceintheblue— beyond my wildest expectations: I’ve live tweeted political debates and playing tourist in foreign cities; I’ve complained about the weather and my distaste for shoe shopping; I’ve championed things I like and rubbished things I don’t; I’ve made new internet friends, and entertained some of the people I know in real life; most of all, I’ve killed time waiting for a bus, and I’ve had a lot of fun doing it.

A few years ago I started a tradition as New Year rolled around. I blogged my favourite 10 tweets of 2010 and my favourite 11 tweets of 2011. Now another year has come and gone, and my foray into micro-blogging continues to distract and amuse me in odd moments that I would otherwise have wasted while waiting for something to happen. As I did last year and the year before, I’ve put together my top twelve tweets of 2012. Here they are!

January 27th

Who decided to give the CP24 traffic cam guy the ability to draw arrows on the feed? “No kidding? The cars go that way? Top-notch analysis!”

February 6th

What happened to you, Monday? You used to be cool. (Don’t ask me to cite examples right now. That’s such a Monday thing to do.)

March 7th

Just watched a baby snatch a set of jingling keys out of her mother’s hand and hurl them the length of a city bus while Mom wailed, “Nyet!”

March 31st

“Sara Three Cats: That’s a great name for a pool shark,” I said to Sara Three Cats as she proceeded to hustle me.

April 18th

Sorry, I never do this, but my April morning is cold: Please send it back to the kitchen, and I’d like to speak to your manager. #Toronto

July 17th

I’m not an incompetent hyperbolic scientist, but I play one on Twitter: If my calculations are correct it’s a billion degrees out today!

July 21st

Random Thought: If plants had ‘the sex talk’ it would literally be about the birds and the bees. Practice safe pollination, saplings…

September 14th

I just saw a squirrel panic at my approach & try to bury a nut into interlocking brick. Conclusion? Winter is coming & squirrels’re idiots.

September 19th

Cooking a premade frozen pizza that promises, “No unpronounceable ingredients!” I am not reassured: I can pronounce lots of awful things…

October 11th

The new guy at work just asked if I stayed late last night. I did. He laughed and said, “Classic Geoff!” Not sure how I feel about that.

November 23rd

Walking through a mall, my buddy mocking all the Black Friday shoppers. Mid-sentence he stops, and now we’re shopping for luggage.

December 1st

I’m sitting next to Typhoid Mary –patient zero of an Irish Wedding that saw dozens fall ill– but she coughs into her elbow, so we’re cool.

– – –

My criteria for the top tweets has evolved this year: They need to be self-contained and stand-alone, flippant, and ideally people enjoyed them on my Facebook newsfeed as well. There were half a dozen more that could have made the cut if only this were 2018. Ah, well. You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just mind find you get what you need. I look forward to continuing with it in 2013. All the best to you and yours in the New Year!


Gloucester Cathedral Choir – In the Bleak Midwinter

December 1, 2012

Many years ago I lived in England in the Forest of Dean on the Welsh border for six months. I visited the Gloucester Cathedral many times and befriended a couple of students of the Cathedral school. I don’t believe either of them are members of this choir, but I don’t think it beyond the realm of possibility that they were witness to this beautiful performance by the local choir:

Here are the lyrics:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, in the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain; heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign. In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there, Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air; but his mother only, in her maiden bliss, worshiped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; yet what I can I give him: give my heart.

– – –

Merry Christmas to you and yours.


An Essay on Writing by Way of The Time Traveler’s Wife

November 25, 2012

I have just finished reading The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Some months ago I co-founded a rather studious book club, and this one has been nominated a number of times without ever being selected for group discussion. I had a vague understanding of the premise, and it sounded appealing. I decided to pick up a copy and see what all the fuss was about.

My goodness, there is a lot to fuss about.

Just to emphasize my emphasis, I bought the book less than twenty-four hours ago. Fifty pages in I knew whatever else I planned to do with those twenty-four hours was going to have to be put on the back burner. I needed to see this thing through as quickly as possible.

The book was published in 2003 to rave reviews and was made into a movie I’m told I shouldn’t watch in 2009, so I imagine many of you reading this already know what it’s all about. For everyone else, the novel is about a man named Henry DeTamble with a rare genetic disorder that causes him under certain stimuli to become unstuck in time, flashing forwards or more usually backwards through a span of roughly a century to any number of places throughout the United States’ Midwest. He cannot control where or when he appears, naked and disoriented, but the journeys are guided in some way by his subconscious. More often than not he appears in the vicinity of people and places who have great importance in his life: His mother who dies in a car wreck; himself at a younger age; the Art Institute of Chicago, but most often –or at least it features most prominently in the novel– in the meadow behind the house where his future wife lives.

Clare Abshire first meets Henry at six years old, and over the next twelve years their friendship evolves from an almost imaginary friend through to a guardian angel, and then eventually and inevitably into a crush that moves through her teenage lust into something adult and mature. On her eighteenth birthday he tells her they will not see one another again for two years and two months, and the Henry she meets at that point will be the Henry in the here and now –a Henry only eight years older than her who lives in Chicago– and he begs her to have mercy on him. He isn’t the man Clare knows yet, but he will become that person with her help.

Clare does meet the contemporary Henry after beginning university in Chicago, and their life together begins in both an ordinary and extraordinary way. Throughout their lives together it is understood that at any point he might disappear almost without warning, leaving a puddle of clothes behind. Sometimes he’s gone minutes, and sometimes hours, and sometimes days. When he reappears, he often bears the scars of his misadventures. She likens the waiting to women of previous centuries who married men who went to sea and spent long periods waiting and worrying and watching the horizon for a distant sail.

More than that I will not say. Read the book. You will not regret it.

Now I entitled this blog post, “An Essay on Writing by Way of the Time Traveler’s Wife,” and I do want to talk about writing in some depth. Many of you know that I’ve written a couple of novels myself, and when I read a book now, I read it as an author admiring another author’s craft. There is a bit of armchair quarterbacking involved, of course, but there is also a deep appreciation for the process and the art. I once had a trumpet player tell me I couldn’t be a real Beatles fan because I wasn’t a musician. I find that a laughable claim, but I will admit in the same way musicians can enjoy music with a fuller understanding of the mechanics involved, so too do writers appreciate books in a different way than other readers. We ponder motive, pacing, plotting, character arcs, prose, perspective. We wonder why something was done this way and not another. We peer between the lines to look at the author on the other side and ask, ‘What are you really trying to say?’

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