Yes, indeed, I'm such a diehard Billy Bragg fan that eight days after his Toronto gig I'm still celebrating the show. Hooray for the person who posted Billy's rendition of John Cooper Clarke's Evidently Chicken Town in Toronto on YouTube! We've all had days/weeks/months/years that felt like this, I think:

I must admit I'm tempted to send a link of this to the blog reviewer who mentioned that One Lonely Degree had "forty swears" up to page 68 but I don't know, they might go into a state of shock or break out in a rash. I totally understand when people take issue with language (or images or jokes etc.) that spread(s) hate of any sort (racism, sexism, homophobia). It really should come as no surprise that (and there's actually a 2007 study on this), for example, “exposure to sexist humor can create conditions that allow men – especially those who have antagonistic attitudes toward women – to express those attitudes in their behavior...The acceptance of sexist humor leads men to believe that sexist behavior falls within the bounds of social acceptability.”

But, for me, it doesn't compute when folks get antsy about stuff like, “I fucking love you, man” or “I'm having a shitty day.”

I guess people like that don't really enjoy stuff like The Trailer Park Boys or The Commitments, huh?
Still no Billy Bragg video from the recent Toronto gig but handily there are fantastic Ottawa and Hamilton clips to be seen. How I wish I'd been at the Hamilton show too! Alas, there were no tickets to be had.

Jeane, Hamilton Place, November 18, 2009:

The Milkman of Human Kindness, Hamilton Place, November 18, 2009:

Like Soldiers Do, Hamilton Place, November 18, 2009:

Old Clash Fan Fight Song and Billy talks about how The Clash initially inspired his activism, Bronson Centre, Ottawa, November 19, 2009:

On activitism continued, I Keep Faith, and There is Power in a Union,
Bronson Centre, Ottawa, November 19, 2009:

A New England singalong, Bronson Centre, Ottawa, November 19, 2009:

Finally, you can download Billy's hilarious musical rendition of John Cooper Clarke's Evidently Chicken Town at Krewechief's Live Music Blog and read Krewe Chief's comparison of the Toronto and Hamilton shows. A warning for those with sensitive ears—I don't have an f-word count for the song but it's exceptionally f@#*ing high!
I haven't seen any clips for last night's Billy Bragg Toronto show appear on YouTube yet but if they surface I'll post them later (please tell me someone captured the brilliance of Evidently Chickentown on video!). There's a review up on Canoe if you want to hear more concert details.

It's actually been awhile since I caught a full length Billy Bragg concert in Toronto—my last two Bragg gigs were in London last year and Dublin in 06—but it's cool indeed to share the experience with some of my fellow countrymen and see what Billy Bragg fans they still are. And always, always, wonderful to see Billy—who is hilarious, insightful, inspiring and really knows how to rock a guitar—play live.

As you can see below, my spot against the stage wasn't actually an ideal one for snapping photos. My old point and shoot camera wasn't up to the challenge of the concert lighting and made portions of the show appear like a bit of a psychedelic experience.

Billy Bragg, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, November 17, 2009

Or like a potential bootleg album cover—case in point:

Billy Bragg Live @ The Phoenix

However, I did manage to get a few snaps that were more representative of the gig.

Billy Bragg, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, November 17, 2009

Billy Bragg, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, November 17, 2009

Billy Bragg, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, November 17, 2009

Billy Bragg, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, November 17, 2009

When you're just one guy on stage with a guitar regular tea breaks are essential for refueling!

Billy Bragg, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, November 17, 2009

Billy Bragg, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, November 17, 2009

Billy Bragg, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, November 17, 2009

So, because there aren't any T.O. clips up yet I'm attaching a few from the Bragg show in St. John's, Newfoundland on November 14th.
Must I Paint You a Picture:

Greetings to the New Brunette:

The Warmest Room:

And here's some bonus classic Billy: An Accident Waiting to Happen, live in 1992

Thanks, Billy, for an amazing show and for keeping the faith all these years and helping your fans keep ours!

And for Canadians with tickets to the upcoming Bragg shows in Hamilton, Ottawa, Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg—you guys are in for a fantastic time!

Book blogger Thao of Serene Hours has created stunning mock covers for I Know It's Over, One Lonely Degree and The Lighter Side of Life and Death.

* Check them out in all their glory

Thanks so much, Thao! You rock. Please accept this virtual cupcake with my thanks:
mmmm cupcake!

I adore the covers. I've been trying to make up my mind which one I like the best but I just can't do it—they're all so beautiful. Staring at them I can almost believe warm weather is on the way. May's just around the corner, right?
A few days ago I was sifting through files on my clunky super-slow desktop computer, deciding what needed to be saved to DVD, and discovered some mysterious stuff in the folder for The Lighter Side of Life and Death. I create a folder for every book I write and save different drafts of the manuscript to it along with various research files and photos. For instance, in The Lighter Side of Life and Death folder there are a bunch of files on the Arthur Miller play, All My Sons, which main character Mason stars in as Chris Keller for his school's production.

I don't want to give too much away by saying what else is in there but...I did find a couple of things that have me scratching my head because they have nothing to do with novel.

1). Articles explaining how to break into a car.
Car break in

2. Four separate files on counterculture figure Abbie Hoffman.

Abbie Hoffman

Now while it's conceivable (though I have absolutely no recollection of this) that at one point I could've thought someone would have to break into a car during the course of the book I can't for the life of me work out what role Abbie Hoffman could play in the novel.


Anyway, I can confidently say The Lighter Side of Life and Death doesn't feature any car break-ins. Also, Abbie Hoffman does not appear (nor is he referenced) during the pages of this book. I hope this news doesn't disappoint anyone.

Here are some other things that don't appear in the novel:

* zombies

* Elizabeth Bennet (of Pride and Prejudice fame)

* Time Lords, talking apes and evil aliens

* alternative rocker and political activist Billy Bragg (although I really should work him into a book)

* chocolate bunnies (however, there is one reference to chocolate and two references to rabbits)

But here's what I consider to be some Lighter Side of Life and Death related music (song #16 on my Lighter Side playlist) to end this blog entry on:

TV depictions of violence against women have risen dramatically in just the past five years (while violence that occurred irrespective of gender only increased 2%.) Depictions of violence against teenage girls increased by an alarming 400% in that same period. Those findings, by a Parents Television Council report, note that the portrayals of violence against women, especially young women, "with increasing frequency, or as a trivial, even humorous matter, the networks may be contributing to an atmosphere in which young people view aggression and violence against women as normative, even acceptable."

Recently a public pro-rape Facebook group composed of students from a university in Sydney was uncovered (and subsequently shut down) in the sports and recreation section. The commander of the NSW Police sex crimes squad, Detective Superintendent John Kerlatec, said when operational, the Facebook page - tagged ''pro-rape, anti-consent'' - was ''inciting people to sexual violence''. In Richmond, California last month a fifteen year old girl was gang raped and beaten for more than two hours while twenty men and boys looked on, laughing and snapping photos. In the province of Ontario studies have shown that sexual assault against girls at school is so common that it's seen as the status quo.

This is the kind of atmosphere our young girls are growing up in. Hostile. With so much violence (or threats of violence) directed at them and shown to them in the form of entertainment that it's become an unhappy normal. Is it any wonder then, that a survey of Boston teenagers last winter reported that 46% felt Rihanna was responsible for the violent attack Chris Brown committed against her and 52% said both were responsible, despite knowing that Rihanna's injuries required hospital treatment?

As well, young women today are relentlessly bombarded with media messages that tell them their worth is rooted in being attractive, that their life's ambition should be to exist in a state of hotness twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Much of the music industry glories in showing women purely as sex objects—and flawless ones at that. If you're unaware of the airbrushing that goes on in video, this article in Uplift Magazine is an eye-opener.

New Moon magazineObviously we need a hell of a lot more media out there ready to take girls' wellbeing into account and counter the overwhelming negativity (hooray for organizations like PinkStinks and About-Face!). And we need to fight to hold on to the good stuff like seven year old New Moon Magazine (100% advertising free) which is dedicated to lifting tween girls' aspirations, increasing their power, and giving them an outlet for their unique perspectives and voices. Unfortunately, New Moon has been hit very hard by the current recession and will have to close at the end of December if we can't help them out financially. I know it's a challenge for many of us to find extra money to donate to worthy causes during this economy, but take a look around a quick look around at the toxic media universe and you'll realize how important this is.

New Moon says you can help by:

" Sponsoring memberships for libraries, schools and programs serving low-income girls. It's quick and easy to sponsor one, ten or 100 girls - every dollar matters!

" Buying memberships for all girls 8-14 that you know. Our holiday special saves you 50% after the first order.

" Telling everyone what you value about New Moon. Link to us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter and share with your FB friends and Tweeps."
Here's their donation page. You might also want to read about the "safe, secure and advertisement-free social network" they've created for girls 8-12.

Truly, New Moon is awesome. Let's help keep it alive for all the amazing tween girls out there.

Lest we forget.
I saw, via Tanita S. Davis's blog, that 100 Scope Notes are repeating the fun they had with their Create Your Debut YA Cover concept. Normally I'm not a fan of memes but I love designing book covers and couldn't resist jumping into the fray with my YA own offering. This time I'm diving in to create a debut picture book cover by following the bellow instructions from 100 Scope Notes: 

* 1. Go to “The Name Generator” or click

Click GENERATE NEW NAME. The name that appears is your author name.

* 2. Go to “Picture Book Title Generator” or click

Click CREATE TITLE! This is the title of your picture book.

* 3. Go to “FlickrCC” or click

Type the last word from your title into the search box followed by the word “drawing”.

Click FIND. The first suitable image is your cover.

* 4. Use Photoshop, Picnik, or similar to put it all together. Gettin’ creative is encouraged. {You can see a thumbnail of the original picture I had to work with on the right.}

* 5. Post it to your site along with this text and then let 100 Scope Notes know if you want your design up in their coming reader gallery.

Robert, The Blue Car by Thomas Coile

I'm not much of a car person (unless we're talking Mini Coopers) but I guess I'd give Robert a chance. Looks like a pretty snazzy book!

Before I go I want to send my congrats out to Courtney Summers for scoring a bright shiny star from Kirkus for her upcoming book Some Girls Are! Also, I'm not sure if there's still a chance to enter Susan Beth Pfeffer's ARC contest for This World We Live In but it doesn't hurt to try...although if you try it might hurt my chances so maybe I should just shut up about it.

We've reached that point in autumn when there are more leaves on the ground

GTA leaves, November 8, 2009

than there are on trees.

GTA trees, November 8, 2009

Folks' pumpkins don't look quite as impressive as they did at the end of October

GTA Pumpkins, Nov 8, 2009

GTA Pumpkins, Nov 8, 2009

GTA Pumpkins, Nov 8, 2009

and generally nature seems to be

Autumn leaves & pine cones Nov 8, 2009

Autumn leaves, November 8, 2009

various shades of rust.

Old lock, Nov 8, 2009

But there are still some vibrant colours out there,

Fall colours, Nov 8, 2009

Fall colours, Nov 9, 2009

things of beauty to gaze at

Gorgeous blue fall sky, November 8, 2009

Fall flowers, Nov 9, 2009

and fun to be had.

Fall leaves, November 8, 2009

Especially on lovely November days like yesterday when we hit 15 balmy and bright degrees (59 Fahrenheit for those of you who don't think in metric) in the Greater Toronto Area. Hope you had a chance to enjoy it but if not we're looking at a beautiful 18 degrees for today. Can you believe it? Ahhhhhhh.
I'm so excited to be able to share this! Introducing the cover for my third book, The Lighter Side of Life and Death:

The Lighter Side of Life and Death cover

I love the colours and I gotta say, that looks like one hot kiss. Big thanks to Nicole for the awesome work she's done on this cover. And once again somehow just looking at this is making me absolutely long for summer.

Check back tomorrow for the book trailer!
17 hour old baby

Recently Chris Spence, the Toronto District School Board's new education director, has been calling for an all-boys school to address male underachievement at school. “The real objective is to cast a critical eye on how we reach and teach our boys,” said Dr. Spence, whose 2008 book, The Joys of Teaching Boys , makes the case that boys learn differently from girls and have suffered under a “unisex model for child rearing and teaching.

But it sounds like Spence isn't being nearly objective enough because in fact neuroscientists say that, “Just as a boy's foot and a girl's foot work the same way, so do their brains. As the OECD report Understanding the Brain points out: "No study to date has shown gender-specific processes involved in building up neuronal networks during learning." So the way boys and girls create synaptic pathways – and therefore learn – is the same. When we see differences in the behaviour of boys and girls, that's because those differences are taught. They are social, not biological.”

Functional MRI studies show, "that there are no differences in the young male brain that would explain why boys might have more trouble reading."

According to StatsCan figures for 2006/7, a third of boys don't graduate from high school and a quarter of girls don't make it. Spence's vision, on top of being rooted in beliefs unsupported by evidence, does nothing to address that 25% figure, nor does it deal with the startling amount of sexual harassment and violence aimed at girls uncovered in Julian Falconer's report on school violence.

Are there major problems with Ontario's education system? You bet, the same problems we encounter elsewhere in society but magnified many-fold as young people soak up our constraining—often toxic messages—about what it means to be male, female, rich, poor, middle class, white, black, Asian, straight, gay, bisexual, yada, yada.

Apparently many scientists now believe that 20% of a person's outcome in life is the result of innate brain capacity (nature) and the other 80% is based on what happens after birth (nurture). Biology doesn't count for much. A newborn's brain doesn't know it's a future male problem child. It hasn't yet learned the faulty cultural idea that a girl isn't as mentally equipped for math or been exposed to Eurocentric teaching that devalues other cultures.

So sure, we can start up that Male Leadership Academy and pretend a one size fits all solution might work (as though all boys learn in the exact same way and face identical challenges...right) for some of the boys that attend it, but that would still mean doing a disservice to an entire generation of kids.

Or we could be ambitious and hopeful and aim for that less-traveled road where all young brains are treated like equal entities and given the nourishment and confidence they need to be their best selves. That would undoubtedly require more money being funneled into the education system (higher taxes!), a much bigger push to end child poverty and a concerted effort—as a society—to set aside our own learned biases, but imagine a generation of kids raised with that kind of care. Just imagine how glorious that would be.
I hope everybody had a fun Halloween. With these chilly, short days there's pretty much no denying that's it November but I'm trying not to dwell on it. Yes, I've moved on from denial mode to distraction, which means I'll be killing even more bugs, going to see Zombieland and counting down the days to the release of Blue Rodeo's new double album (aha, there's something good about November after all!).

As far as book stuff goes, I've added the first chapter of The Lighter Side of Life and Death to my website so you can now read it here:

* The Lighter Side of Life and Death - Chapter One

The cover and book trailer will follow shortly...

Don't call her!
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