Archive for the ‘Shelf Life Books’ Tag

Shop Locally This Christmas (Please!)   2 comments

As many of you know, I wrote a novel earlier this year titled

Display of notebooks and pencil at Reid's Stationers

Display of notebooks and pencil at Reid’s Stationers

The Piano Teacher.

Now that it’s Christmas, I hope that you will consider putting it on your shopping list, either for yourself or someone special who likes Canadian Literature. (Not to mention your kid’s piano teacher!)

I know many people who seem to value my friendship on the strength of the fact that I’m a well-known writer. (You know, on top of my good looks and engaging personality.)

Yet, I think it’s entirely possible that some have never seen a play of mine, or ever read my column in The Calgary Herald (too late for that now!) or heard me read my poetry or anything else, for that matter, other than my occasional witty Facebook status updates.

Well, now’s your big chance to change that, and all it will only cost you $20.00.

As you may know, I’m a big fan of shopping locally and supporting locally owned businesses. So, other than online, here’s a list of places where you can find my book in Calgary.

To begin with, it’s for sale at Shelf Life Books (4th Street and 13th Ave. SW) and on Saturday, December 12 from 3:00 to 5:00 PM I will be at Shelf Life to sign copies for you. (I’ll likely head over the The Blind Monk Pub on 12th Ave just west of 8th Street after that, so if you can’t get to Shelf Life, you will likely find me there. I’ll have some books with me. And we could have an eggnog together!)

Other books stores in Calgary that are carrying the book are Owl’s Nest in Britannia Village and Pages in Kensington.

After a recent feature on the CBC on Caffe Beano, where I wrote most of the novel you can once again buy the book at the café (on 9th Street, 10 steps north of 17th Ave. SW). If you buy it there, you might see me hanging out, and I would be happy to sign it for you.

You can also buy the book at Reid’s Stationers on 17th Ave. across from Western Canada High School. The folks at Reid’s have even put together a little museum-like display (pictured above) of the notebooks I wrote it in and the pencil I used to write all 70,000 words.

Finally, if you are not in Calgary, you can buy a copy of the book (not an e-book, but an actual book) through Here’s the link:

The creation and maintenance of a culture only works if the works of art created in a community are experienced by members of that community. As you can imagine, I feel the same as I feel about my book as I do about other elements of our culture, from fellow authors and their books, to live music, (and there are many wonderful venues in Calgary), to live theatre, to art galleries – you name it. There are many opportunities to support local artists, especially at Christmastime.

Whatever our medium, that’s why we do it — to share it. If it costs a few dollars to acquire it, well that only goes back into the pot so we can keep creating more. And hopefully, on it goes.

I hope you have a good holiday season. In your search for the perfect present for the loved ones in your life, please don’t forget to support the people who are your friends and neighbours. Including me!

Merry Christmas.

Here’s a new take on an old Christmas song I heard the other day . . .

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!


bhouse_logosoloA number of years ago my friend Michael Finner and I started up a small publishing house in Calgary called B House. It has gone through good times and bad, happy and sad. It’s obviously interesting times in the publishing world. Everything is up in the air. Everything is topsy-turvy. The old rules no longer apply and no one really knows what the new rules are.

In this regard, we are certainly living in interesting times.

While we have been down, we have never really been out. And now, amazingly, we are having an omnibus launch of 5 new books this spring.

Here is the press release I wrote about the launch:

B House Publications is pleased to announce an Omnibus launch of 5 new B House publications featuring the work of some of Calgary’s finest writers. The books will be launched in one evening at Calgary’s Shelf Books, at the corner of 4th Street and 13th Avenue SW on Thursday, June 6 beginning at 7:00 PM.

The evening will be hosted by B House editor in chief, Eugene Stickland. There will be readings by our authors from their books, in the following order.

1. Neil Fleming will read from his play, “Last Christmas.”

2. Eugene Stickland will read from “Cartwheels,” a collections of letters written by Amy Doolittle chronicling her experience with ALS.

3. Virginia Nemitz will read from her volume of poetry, “Swans I have Known.”

4. Jude Dillon will read from his volume of poetry, “The Fractured Garden.”

5. Kirk Miles will read from his volume of poetry, his second with B House, “Hotel on the Cliffs of the Heart.”

There will be an intermission so our friends can look around this beautiful book store and mingle with the authors. There will be a reasonably-priced cash bar and some nibblies.  All in all, it will be a rare experience to launch so many books by so many great writers at the same event. Please share this with as many people as you can.

All of these books will also be (or have also been) launched individually by their author, so please check with them to see if there will be other events to celebrate these books. 

See you at Shelf Life June 6.


On the night, I will speak on the ever-changing mandate of B House and offer some insight into what I think is going on in the publishing world. I certainly invite friends in Calgary to take in this event and support our local writers.

There is a link to Shelf Life on the left side of this screen.

Thanks for reading.

Shopping Locally   6 comments

It’s hard to imagine but it’s almost a year and a half since I decided to live life in Calgary, a car-centric city if ever there was one, with no car. It seemed like a major decision at the time, and for a while I couldn’t help but remark on how things were different as a result of my decision, harder in some cases, surprisingly not harder in others.

I may have gone through a holier-than-thou phase when I felt myself to be morally superior to all drivers anywhere in the world, not unlike how many of my friends come off when they have managed to quit smoking. By and large, that has subsided and I don’t really even think about it much anymore.

I realized yesterday that there are subtle changes that I could not have imagined when I became a pedestrian and a cyclist and a rider of the C Train, and the most significant of these are the changes in my habits as a consumer.

There was a flurry of snazzy pimped-up sayings on my Facebook page around Christmas encouraging me and everyone else to shop locally and to support independent locally owned businesses. I don’t know if anyone really pays attention to those things, it seems to me we click “Like” on things we already believe anyway and then happily ignore the rest.

For my part, though, I have always tried to support local businesses.


Sandwiched between my two favourite playwrights at Shelf Life Books.

It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a fixture at Caffe Beano – in part because I like the coffee and the people there, but also because it isn’t a national or international chain. I have known all the owners over the years and I am happy to support them with my patronage.

On any account, yesterday (which was a Saturday) I found I had a few extra dollars in my pocket and felt like engaging in a bit of retail therapy. Back when I was a driver, at such times I would get into my car and drive out to West Hills (or some such) and relieve the retail itch in big box stores, almost always with the result of spending far more than I had intended on things that I didn’t really need.

The ink!!!

The ink!!!

But yesterday, I did the same thing on foot, starting out at my favourite Calgary bookstore, Shelf Life Books. Recently, my brother, Tom,  turned me onto the novels of Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I had read The Prisoner of Heaven and there at Shelf Life they had The Shadow of the Wind, and so now it’s mine.

When I bought it, they gave me my customary writer’s discount, and if you are a published writer and you tell them that at Shelf Life, you can get the writer’s discount as well. It only amounted to a  few dollars, but it’s a nice touch and who doesn’t like saving money?

From Shelf Life I went to my favourite store on the planet, Reid’s Stationers. While I have had a fetish for fountain pens (and now mechanical pencils) almost since I could walk, I am now developing a serious ink problem. They have some Japanese stuff at Reid’s (pictured here) but it’s so expensive (even with my preferred customer discount) that I have been trying out several of them before I commit myself. I bought a plastic binder for $1.50, but I came away with a pen full of the precious Japanese ink.

There’s a clothing store I like a block west of Reid’s on 17th Avenue called Dick and Jane. Last time I was in they had a coat I liked, a Warrior Brand jacket from Great Britain with fabulous red tartan lining. I felt that I needed a little spring spruce up, something other than the drab black thing that I’ve been wearing for at least three years now. So in I went and out I came with a fabulous spring jacket. They even gave me a discount at Dick and Jane – “just for being who you are,” said the lady at the till – so it clearly doesn’t suck to be me.


I don’t begrudge the money I spend at the store of a local merchant. I somehow think it comes back to me. I paid less for all of these items than I would have, had I driven 5 miles in my car to a big box outlet mall. They all mean more to me, because of the process I went through in buying them.

Cars do nothing towards fostering community. Setting out on foot, supporting local merchants, interacting with one’s friends and neighbours is what community is all about. I encourage you to try it sometime, you just might like it.

Thanks for reading!

PS. I believe Divine is having their big annual sale next weekend and it’s time for a new pair of Chucks. (Please see my post from April 21 of last year.) Anyone want to join me in the afternoon of Saturday March 30 to go on a Chuck-hunting expedition? Leave a comment if you do and we’ll make it happen!

The fabulous tartan lining of my new jacket!

The fabulous tartan lining of my new jacket!

Another One Bites The Dust   4 comments

The peeling letters on the awning indicate that even the owners didn't care about this place.

The Indigo Spirit store in Mount Royal Village has closed and few will mourn its passing.  It’s hard to say now if it was a matter or arrogance or ignorance, probably a bit of both, that put landed the country’s biggest chain of bookstores, where they presumably know what they’re doing, in one of the best locations in Calgary and yet managed to fail and fail miserably.  And so now they are packing up the last of their remainder books and stealing away. The beast is dead and it died not even with a whimper.

A few blocks to the south of Mount Royal Village – which, it must be noted, seems to have some sort of curse on it, as it seems to be a magnet for failing enterprises – is one of Canada’s (ie, the world’s) wealthiest and most literate neighbourhoods. All around MRV to the north, east and west are apartments filled with students, artists, seniors, in general people who like to read. One block west is Caffe Beano, one of Calgary’s most literary cafes, certainly the only one with two poetry anthologies to its credit.

Had anyone from Indigo ever bothered to sit in Caffe Beano for a few hours and check out what we were all reading, they might have fashioned a more relevant inventory and sold a few more books. Instead, it came to be known as the book store that had absolutely no books in it of interest to anyone. It was worse than what you might expect to find in a far flung suburban mall at the end of the earth.

All that said, this is no great victory, it’s just a regrettable failure. I have to admit I managed to find a few books there over the years, most notably one of my all time faves, The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman.  One of the clerks at Indigo, Blair, who became a friend over the years bought a copy for himself and we bonded on that. With the closing of the store, Blair is running back to Saskatoon, apparently having had enough of cowtown. The staff was great and I wish them all the best of luck. They were involved with a doomed enterprise and they all knew it, but they soldiered on.

And so Indigo Spirit  is gone. Its passing will go without notice, other than this one. In the words of one of my favourite playwrights, Michael O’Brien: See ya. Hates to be ya.

Shelf Life at the corner of 4th Street and 13th Avenue SW: open for business.

All is not lost in the hood, however, as for the past few years we have been blessed with a truly wonderful independent book store, Shelf Life Books (a link can be found on the left hand side of this page).

Shelf Life is for those of us who live on the south side of the Bow River what Pages in Kensington is for those on the north side. (This isn’t an absolute, obviously. Most of us who have the book habit frequent both places quite happily.) Here the inventory matches the sensibilities of the people in the neighbourhood it is found in, just a few blocks east and a few blocks north of the now defunct Indigo.

Readings abound. Books are launched and prominently featured. Local authors (like me) can be found on the shelves (as it were). They take their place in our community seriously. In fact, just yesterday I popped in and spoke to Will, one of the owners, about launching my volume of poetry, Nocturnal Emissions,  in the fall. No problem. I just have to finish writing it!

Last year when Robert Kroetsch passed away, an evening of readings and tributes was held, allowing those of us who knew Robert (he edited an anthology of short stories for Coteau Books which contains my first ever published work) some sense of closure.

In these uncertain times, these troubled times in the publishing world, when who in their right mind would open a book store, we celebrate the continuing presence of Shelf Life in our community.

So we lost one book store that had no connection to the neighbourhood it was located in, that showed no desire to get to know any of us; yet we retained a good locally-owned literary book store and cultural centre that constantly brings together the authors and book lovers who live and work in this part of town and beyond.

It’s another reminder to support our local businesses, our friends and our neighbours. Clearly this is exactly what is happening in South West Calgary. In this particular case, one can’t help but think that for once, the good guys won.

%d bloggers like this: