Bleeding For My Art   Leave a comment

So there I was, bleeding at the War Memorial in Kensington.  arn

My front tire had hit a ridge where the pavement gives way to the planking of the Memorial and I went down in an inglorious heap. It truly was an inelegant moment in the history of cycling.

My first thought was of my ribs – I had a fall last summer and broke a rib on my left side (#8, I believe it was). Let me tell you, that hurt like stink. So I sat there and although my hip hurt and my arm was bleeding and my knee was bleeding and my ankle was bleeding, at least my ribs seemed ok.

Small mercies.

My second thought was of the precious cargo on my bike rack. This cargo was the point of the journey, after all. Ten copies of my novel The Piano Teacher destined for Pages in Kensington book store. The books seemed fine and so I breathed a sigh of relief.

But I remember thinking at that moment that this was a situation unique to self-publishing where you have to do everything yourself. Maybe, just maybe, when I finish my next novel I’ll shop around a little more seriously to find a publisher who would do such things for me.

Then there was a lovely moment as a person of the street came up to me and helped my on my feet and got my bike up and make sure I was all right before sending me on my way. It was a little act of kindness, generosity of spirit, that took some of the sting from my minor injuries and put things in perspective for me.

So my book is now available at Shelf Life Books, Pages in Kensington, Owl’s Nest Books, and Reid’s Stationers, all in Calgary. If you are further afield than this, you can order it from which is a print-on-demand service that I use. They put out a nice product, their books are virtually identical to the ones I have printed at Blitz Print here in Calgary. (The direct link to Blurb is here:

If this seems too much for you, for whatever reason, let me know and we’ll figure out a way to get you a copy of the book.

I’m happy to report that The Piano Teacher was #3 on Calgary’s best sellers last week. (As of September 12.)

Finally, I have arranged to give a reading at St. Mary’s University in south Calgary, where I am the writer in residence, on October 9 starting at 7 PM, but more on that anon.

I hope you enjoying the transition from summer to fall. It’s beautiful here in Alberta, but as we discover year after year, all so brief. Enjoy the colours while they last!

Thanks for reading . . .


An update on The Piano Teacher   Leave a comment

Cover_ThePianoTeacher_Stickland_FrontWe have a good problem, I suppose – there are currently no copies to be had except on-line through (I will provide the link below.)

A recent article on the book and on me by Eric Volmers in the Calgary Herald sparked renewed interest but alas there are no copies to be had in any of Calgary’s book stores.

I printed what I assumed would be enough copies to last through the summer back in May when the book first came out and was launched at Shelf Life Books. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your point of view I suppose, we have exhausted that first run.

It was drawn to my attention that there were a number of typos in the book – sorry about that! We have now expunged those (or at least corrected them) and the book is back at the printers and we now eagerly await the error-free second edition. I would put the date for the book to be back on the shelf (as it were) hopefully around August 29.

I prefer whenever possible to support locally owned businesses, and so at this point in time the book will be available at Shelf Life Books, Pages in Kensington, Owl’s Nest Books as well as Reid’s Stationers, all in Calgary. That’s how it stands now, but that could change if other book stores decide they would like to carry it.

The book is also available through the Calgary Public Library. They recently ordered extra copies (through Blurb) to keep up with the demand. (Wherever you may live in the world, you can always ask your local library to order the book and they usually do. One book at a time is how it goes . . . )

But as I say, it is also available if you order it through, which is essentially a print-on-demand service. It takes a few days for the book to arrive and it costs a little extra for shipping, but it is the same book you would get at any of the above bookstores. (I actually make a greater royalty this way, so please don’t be shy. It’s just like ordering a book through Amazon, only I don’t like what Amazon is doing to the world and so you won’t find it there. But that’s another story.)

The link for buying the book is currently rather wobbly, so the best course of action to take for now is to visit (or dot-com outside of Canada) and go from there. Thanks! (Ahhh, technology!)

If you would like to have a signed copy, then you just have to get in touch with me and we will find a way to make that happen. Looking ahead, there will be a launch/celebration of the book at St. Mary’s University in south Calgary where I am writer in residence sometime this fall.

And then all those other things I don’t know about yet . . .

So there you have it. Now you know what I know. Before I leave you with the link to Eric’s piece, I’d like to thank my designer on this project, Jackie Bourgaize, for her excellent design and patience and my brother Tom and his wife Alison for their immense support – without them, there would be no book, plain and simple.

And thank you as well to everyone who has bought the book so far, and for all the nice things you have said to me on Facebook and in person. It has been a very gratifying experience so far.

It almost feels like I oughtta write another one!

Thanks for reading!

Here’s Eric’s piece . . .


There Was A Most Amazing Storm Last Night   2 comments

There really was a tremendous storm last night here in Calgary.  storm

The day before Canada Day, Mother Nature provided better fireworks than we’re likely to see tonight. As a friend of mine put it, “it was like my apartment was in the middle of a thundercloud.” I felt the same in mine.

There was a most amazing storm last night . . . such a statement, which you can see from the photo I wrote in my journal this morning, might be quite unremarkable in and of itself, but listen to this:

When I was a music major at the University of Regina for a brief time in the 1970’s, I studied piano with a marvelously eccentric and talented pianist named Thomas Manshardt. I have drawn heavily on what I remember of Tom, all these years later, for both the narrator and his teacher Alfred in my novel The Piano Teacher.

Tom was one of the last students of the venerable Alfred Cortot in Paris. Through Cortot, Tom could trace his pianistic lineage back to Czerny – and I guess, by extension, so can I!

In those days before Political Correctness has reared its ugly head, it was not uncommon for a prof to invite a student over for a drink, and it was not uncommon for me to show up at Tom’s apartment for a glass or two of Pernod to talk about art and music and life and everything in between.

Tom’s apartment is memorable for a few things as I look back some 40 years. One, it had a commanding view of Regina’s beautiful Wascana Park. And it was entirely bereft of any furniture whatsoever, unless we consider book shelves to be furniture. There were plenty of books, plenty of open space, but not a chair or table or couch to be seen.

Once during this time, there was a tremendous thunderstorm in Regina, far worse than the one we saw in Calgary last night. It caused havoc and destruction throughout the city. Even my own parents’ basement flooded in that storm, and the house was hardly on low land.

That night I was over at Tom’s and saw that his journal was lying open. On the journal, his Montblanc Meisterstuck fountain pen, just as mine is in the photo above. He had written at the top of the page, as I have done all 4 decades later –

“There was a most amazing storm last night.”

In many ways you could say my life began that night, the moment I read those words . . . .

Thanks for reading. Happy Canada Day!

Here’s Cortot . . .





The Marriage of Music and Literature   4 comments

moragandmeThis lovely photo taken by my friend Francis Willey is from the launch of my novel, The Piano Teacher, at Calgary’s Shelf Life Books.

The beautiful woman you see in the photo is Morag Northey, a wonderful cellist and human being who graced us with her presence and made what may have been an ordinary event quite magical.

The universe, or God, or god, or the gods, or maybe a simple act of fate brought Morag and I together about 6 years ago when I was looking for a cellist to create a score and perform it on stage for my play Queen Lear.

That’s not an easy thing to do, let alone do it well, but she did it and anyone who saw that Urban Curvz production of the play certainly came away from it enriched and even transformed by her infectiously generous spirit that she somehow manages to impart with each and every note she produces.

How perfect, then, that Morag offered to play at the launch of The Piano Teacher.

If Queen Lear was an exploration of the process of the theatre, then The Piano Teacher is an exploration of the process of music. Among other things, obviously.

I began my artistic career as a piano player. When I was young and developing my aesthetic sensibilities, it was all about music, and the act of playing. It really quite amazed me that when I set out to write this novel, which is told from the point of view of a concert pianist, so many of the lessons and ideas learned from my teachers decades ago were still so fresh in my mind, like it all had just happened yesterday.

Interesting, isn’t it, what sticks and what doesn’t.

When I began writing plays — my first one, The Family, was performed in 1984 in the back space of Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto — 31 years ago, dear God, where does it go? — I guess I must have felt that words alone were inadequate somehow, never as powerful or as evocative as music. I tried to find a balance between language and music in the medium of the theatre. The odd time I think I may have actually gotten it right.

There’s a bit of business in The Family where the dead son returns from war with his coffin on his back. (Don’t ask.) (Designers either love or hate me.) The coffin transforms into a piano, and the dead son sits down and plays some lounge music while his father seduces the son’s fiancée. (Or was it the other way around?)

The point being, we had live music on stage. Other plays I’ve written – Quartet, Cocktails (which I edited and contributed a piece to), Excavations, Writer’s Bock and Queen Lear, all featured live music on stage in one way or another. Even my old chestnut, Some Assembly Required, had one of the characters creating the soundtrack on stage by playing a tightly controlled rotation of LPs.

It’s an exploration I got away from during my years at Alberta Theatre Projects. Looking back now, I’m not sure why that happened. I certainly came back to it with Queen Lear, and now with The Piano Teacher, it feels like I have come full circle in my adult life. (Or whatever this is.)

Ongoing, I’ve muddled my way through most of a second novel that so far has nothing to do with music. I do have an idea for a play that is about an aging rock musician (see photo below!) but so far that’s just an idea, I haven’t taken pen to paper yet.

I do think it interesting to endeavour to probe this antinomy of music and literature.I look forward to renewing the journey again some day. Meanwhile, though I have a novel to flog and it seems to take up a lot of time and energy. I have to say that the early feedback on The Piano Teacher has been so warm and enthusiastic that it’s really been encouraging.

Oh, and this. As you are probably aware, artists of all stripes are trying to figure out how we can make a living from our travails in this digital age. Well, a friend of mine put a “Donations” button on his blog a while back and he has made the astronomical amount of $37.00 as a result. So I thought what’s the worst that can happen, and put one on this blog, up on the left hand side. It’s a long summer and any support I receive in this manner will be greatly appreciated.

If you can afford to, I would appreciate the support. But really, just knowing there are people reading these ramblings is gratifying in itself. Still, you know what they say — you can’t live on air.

I mean to put a permanent link on for buying The Piano Teacher and Queen Lear from, but I haven’t figured out how to do it yet.  If you’re in Calgary, you can buy both books at Shelf Life Books, but if you’re further away, The Piano Teacher can be purchased online at and Queen Lear at

Thanks for reading!

Here’s a photo of me shilling my book at the Shelf Life sale at The Lilac Festival earlier today.

Lilac Festival

Of Elections and Bike Lanes in Calgary   4 comments

In case you hadn’t heard, the Alberta election (which I wrote about in my last post) was held and much to everyone’s surprise – delight or dismay, depending on what side of the political spectrum you are on – the left-leaning NDP won a whopping majority, thus ending some 43 years of uninterrupted rule by the province’s right-leaning Progressive Conservative Party.

For the record, my candidate of choice, Terry Rock, who was running for the PCs, didn’t fair so well. My riding of Calgary Buffalo went to a candidate for the NDP whom I never saw during the election, still haven’t seen, wouldn’t know if she walked up to me and hit me over the head with a dead fish, but that’s politics for you. I wish her and our new premier Rachel Notley the best of luck.

Those of you who know me will recognize that the NDP come far closer to my own political views than the other parties, although for all that I had somehow made my peace with the PC regime and had learned to live with the status quo. Clearly, though, by anyone’s standards, it was time for a change, and we got it, big time.

For many, this shift from right to left was seen as a seismic event. I have to say that I was frankly amazed at the passionate responses to the election from friends, as seen on Facebook, from both sides.

When we play sports, or engage in competition of any kind, we are taught – or at least we used to be taught – to be gracious in both victory and defeat. There was little grace that I saw following this election. I saw gloating from the left, sulking from the right, the whole thing made me aware once again of just how entrenched we have all become in our own beliefs, and how intolerant we have become to the beliefs of others.

In fact, what was once upon a time in the fairy tale past a measured dialogue that is surely the cornerstone of democracy, now sounds something like this:

I’m right. You’re wrong. Shut the fuck up.

Do you remember Voltaire? No? Well, I’m not surprised. It was he who said, as seen above, I might disagree with your opinion, but I am willing to give my life for your right to express it.

Well friends, we seem to be a long ways away from such lofty tolerance. That seems to be what we are losing these days, by the bucketful: tolerance. I know this. I’m a smoker. Believe me, I know.

If the great bastion of conservatism in Canada has fallen (remember, Alberta is sometimes referred to a “Texas North,”) an even greater force of evil (in some people’s minds) has insinuated itself into the heart of Calgary: bicycle lanes. Or as they are properly known as, the City of Calgary Cycle Path Network.

These bike lanes that have taken away precious lanes for car traffic, and precious parking spots in front of businesses along various streets (including 12th Avenue, where I live) have added insult to injury in the minds of many of our citizens, and if anything I have probably heard more outrage and frustration directed at them, and cyclists in general, than at the dreaded NDP government.

It’s so bad that as a cyclist, I don’t even love them. Now when I leave my apartment, I am afraid that whenever I’m outside of the official bike lane, which is actually on the other side of the street from me, I will be fair game, fairer than ever, to all the wannabe rodeo kings in their penis-extending souped-up pickup trucks (most of which show no evidence of ever having driven on anything but pavement, but I digress).

I mean, they were bad enough before we pissed them off . . . Who knows where all this will lead?

These two radical leftist events – the election of a socialist government and the sudden appearance of bike lanes – came together perfectly in a letter I saw written to the Calgary Sun recently. (Or was it the Herald? Hard to tell them apart any more.)

In a wonderful blazing fusion of intolerance and ignorance, one reader complained bitterly about the bike lanes – which are obviously a civic undertaking, not provincial, set in motion years before this election was held – ending his diatribe with a little phrase I’m sure we have not heard for the last time in these parts: I blame it on the socialists.

Seems we live in interesting times.

Thanks for reading!

This song by Paul Brandt would seem to beg the question, now that we have an NDP government here, will our rednecks now be properly referred to as orangenecks? Time will tell . . .




It’s Spring in Alberta and You Can Smell an Election in the Air   2 comments

According to my friends on Facebook, terryand at least some of the polls, we in Alberta would seem to be at a crossroads of sorts — one path being the well-worn if not worn-out way of the Progressive Conservatives, the other leading into the uncharted and hitherto unimaginable regions, at least in Alberta, of the NDP. With various Wild, Wild Rose and Liberal possibilities thrown in for good measure.

According to one poll I saw, my own riding of Calgary Buffalo is favouring the NDP, followed by the Liberals, followed by the Conservatives and finally, the party we hope has no hope in hell here in the inner city, the Wild, Wild Rose.

For those of us with any kind of memory at all, this situation is reminiscent of the election three years ago when a similar poll told us (well, it told me anyway) that the Wild, Wild Rosers were in the lead, followed by the Conservatives and then the Liberals.

The Liberals in that election were represented here in Calgary Buffalo (where I’ve never actually seen a buffalo in all these many years, not yet anyway) by the incumbent Kent Hehr who, despite the dire predictions, won the last election quite handily. Which taught us, if nothing else, not to trust the polls which as I say had predicted a Wild, Wild Rose landslide.

So here we are, back again, only this time the threat to the ruling (for ever) Conservatives is from the left, not the right, but one can’t help but wonder if the effect won’t be the same – that voters will decide once again on the lesser of two evils and continue the tired old dance with the devil they know.

On my Facebook at least there is a real thirst for change. Yet, I can only imagine that for every orange marker I see, there are at least 10 PCs biding their time fully intending to keep things just as they are, thank you very much. In other elections I’ve witnessed here, there has been no change, other than the leader of the ruling party – which, I have heard, is the longest continuously ruling democratic government anywhere in the world.

Countries have come and gone, walls have been built and have fallen, the world has changed in so many ways since the days when the PCs were young and brash and vibrant. Finally, at least some of the voters in the province have awoken to the realization that they haven’t actually done a very good job of running the place, not by anyone’s reckoning.

It’s hardly a secret that my own political sensibilities run a little left of centre, and maybe a little left of that some more. My granddaddy on my mom’s side helped start the CCF party, the forerunner to the NDP, so maybe it’s hereditary. I believe that Tommy Douglas was the greatest Canadian Premier (albeit in Saskatchewan) in our brief history, giving us, for example, an Arts Board long before the Canada Council came into being, not to mention universal Medicare.

And so, while I would be delighted to have an NDP government in Alberta (and I can’t even believe that it’s a possibility) as usual I’m going to step out of line and for the first time in my life vote Progressive Conservative.


It’s true. (Sorry, Grandpa.)

I’m not actually voting for the party, I’m voting for the individual, who in this case is Terry Rock. My old friend Kent Hehr has left provincial politics and will run in my federal riding of Calgary Centre in the next election, and you bet I’ll do what I can to help him win and replace what’s-her-name from the Cons who was recently voted the most useless MP on Parliament Hill.

Running for the Liberals in Kent’s place is David Khan, who seems like a great guy. I’m sure he would make a wonderful MLA. I don’t actually know Kathleen Ganley who’s running for the NDP, and I haven’t heard anything from her or her people, but I wish her luck. Sorry, I can’t bring myself to name the Wild, Wild Roser. And I haven’t heard a peep out of Trevor Grover of the Green Party. Those are my choices.

So why would I vote for Terry Rock of the PC party and run the risk of perpetuating this rather tired, stale and ineffective government?

Well, he’s a good man, for starters. More importantly, however, it’s where he comes from. He the founding President and CEO for ten years of Calgary Arts Development. As a result Terry is probably more knowledgeable about the activities and aspirations of artists and arts organizations in Calgary and even throughout the province than anyone.

When this election race first began, I thought how wonderful to have a knowledgeable and sympathetic MLA – one on the government side of things, for a change. It’s really not too big a stretch to see him as the Minister of Culture. Who better?

But that was then, and this is now. How things have changed over the course of this campaign! If nothing else, it feels like we are finally able to have some kind of intelligent political discourse in the province.

Obviously, I don’t know what will happen to Terry or the PCs on Tuesday – that’s why we cast our votes. As for me, I only have one vote, and for the first time in my life, I’m voting for the Progressive Conservative candidate.

Thanks for reading, and if you live in Alberta, please do the right thing on Tuesday and get out and vote.



A Book Launch: The Literary Event of the Century!   7 comments

Everyone who’s anyone will be there . . . so read on!

The three notebooks I wrote the first draft of The Piano Teacher in, and the first page. Such a long journey.

The three notebooks I wrote the first draft of The Piano Teacher in, and the first page. Such a long journey.

On May 7 at Shelf Life Books in Calgary, I will be launching my novel, The Piano Teacher. Beyond launching a single book in a sense I will be launching a new incarnation of myself, this time as a novelist, adding to but not necessarily replacing other incarnations which have included, to date, musician, playwright, journalist and educator. (I may be missing a few.)

I suppose one way to stay young and humble and hungry is to leave your comfort zone and try something new. (Isn’t that what the Lulu Lemon bags tell us to do?) It’s always a bit scary and there is no real safety net but the risk of failure and public humiliation is not new to me.

Over the course of my writing career which includes to date 15 plays and almost 300 newspaper columns and numerous and various magazine articles and poems, I am quite used to sharing my failures along with my few successes.

For me, hell is not failure; hell is to stop trying new things.

I found the writing of the book to be straightforward enough. It’s written in the first person, in the form of a diary, so in a sense it’s an extended monologue – very extended, in fact, it’s about 70,000 words.

I wrote it mostly in Caffe Beano in the three small journals pictured here with a mechanical pencil. Yes, it’s true, I still prefer to hand write my first drafts when time allows. After I had filled the three notebooks, I was fortunate to receive an Alberta Foundation for the Arts grant to transcribe it from those handwritten journals into my computer which was  a labourious but productive process.

The only part of the journey that was difficult and even unpleasant was finding a publisher. Being an award-winning playwright seems to offer little advantage when looking for a publisher for a novel.

I only showed it to two people in this regard, and both times I got the same response, that it doesn’t have a broad enough commercial potential. Quite frankly, I was proud of that, and maybe I’m arrogant (because I’m too old to be naïve) but I think the writing holds together well enough and because it’s about a classical musician, a concert pianist, and because I assume the classical music mob is one that actually likes to read, I think I’ll be ok.

I have no illusions that I’ll make a million bucks, but I’ll at least have a work I am proud of and that I created purely on my own terms.

And so I just said “Fuck ‘em. I’ll do it myself.” And so I am, through my own boutique publishing company, B House.

I have written about B House before on this blog (see, for example, Publish and Perish in my archives). Our biggest difficulty in the past (one of many, I assure you) has been with distribution. I think I have solved that problem by having it printed in two different ways.

Locally, as we have been doing, it is being printed by Blitz Print and those are the copies that will be available at my launch May 7. Over the summer I hope to get copies to other independent book stores in Calgary (Pages and Owl’s Nest) but by and large if you’re in Calgary and wish to buy a copy,  your best bet is to go to Shelf Life Books on the corner of 4th Street and 13th Avenue SW.

At the same time, the book is also available on line through or depending where you are in the world. (As is my play Queen Lear. Other titles will be made available in this way over time. At least that’s the plan.)

If you would like to buy the book on line, simply copy and paste this link and order away:

Beside providing you with hours and hours of entertainment, it will obviously make a nice present for your child’s piano teacher, or for Aunt Mable, or for the mail man, etc. etc.

Sorry, but one has to engage in some shameless self promotion from time to time.

As I was writing this post, I heard from my dear friend Morag Northey who informed me that she is going to bring her cello and grace us with some music at my launch. Morag created the musical score and performed the role of the cellist in my play Queen Lear at the Urban Curvz production a few years ago. Her support for this novel of mine means more than I can say.

If you’re in Calgary, I would love to see you at Shelf Life Books on May 7 at 7:00 PM. There will be wine and cheese and Morag and music and I will obviously sign your copy of the book – who knows, it might be worth something some day.

And wherever you are, I would appreciate your support through my online sales. Contrary to popular belief, we artists don’t live on air. It’s nice to eat.

Thanks for reading!


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