Growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan, I thought skateboarding was the coolest thing ever, but there was literally nowhere to do it where I lived, and there was no skateboard culture anywhere near me.
Then, at age 40, I bought a rental house that happened to come with a really good skateboard that the previous owners inexplicably left behind. I took it as a sign from the universe that it was finally time to "hit the deck," so to speak.
Dozens of skinned knees and elbows and one broken thumb later, I became pretty good at riding the bowl, my favorite aspect of skateboarding. Then at a garage sale I came across a cool vintage Landyachtz longboard (which is now mounted on the wall of my home office, image below).
Once again, I took it as a sign to take my boarding career in a different direction. We happened to be living in a community with lots of paved trails on hills, and our town even has an annual longboarding competition, so it seemed perfect.
The first time I took out the board, I started too high on the hill and had to bail out on a tight corner because I was going too fast. The result was a sprained ankle, a cracked rib, and pretty severe road rash on both elbows (scars I still bear to this day). Believe it or not, while still in shock, I took the board back up the hill (starting a little lower this time), and did it again. This time I made the corner. Then I limped home through the forest, leaving a blood trail behind me that, thankfully, no wild animal chose to follow.
I've since upgraded my board to a Landyachtz Hollowtech board, similar to the one below, a technology designed right here in Kimberley, BC, where I live.
After miles and miles of boarding (mostly in the golf course next door during the off season), I've only sustained one sprained ankle.
What is the point of all this, you ask?
While doing research for my new Milligan Creek novel, Quiet on Set!, which involves a film shoot about a guy named Wind Wagon Smith, I came across an article on Wikipedia about, you guessed it, land yachts. Turns out land sailing has been a thing since about AD 552! And here I thought Landyachtz the company was doing something new.
That's one of the coolest things about writing. You never know what you'll have to learn next and how it might connect to something you already know--and love.
Chapters are starting to roll in, narrated by Tanner De Bruyne. Excited to hear the finished product, soon to be available on Audible and Apple Books. In the meantime, here's the first chapter.
Growing up in small-town Saskatchewan in the 1980s, the local movie theater was a vital connection to the outside world, especially in the pre-VCR and pre-satellite TV era, which I remember all too well. I grew up on a farm, so I didn't even have cable. Just two channels we got over the air. So, it was always exciting when we had a chance to go to "the show" at 8:00 p.m. on Friday or Saturday night. Even though movies tended to arrive in Foam Lake months after they were released in the broader world, it was our only real opportunity to see Hollywood's latest offerings.
The first movie I recall seeing at our theater was during the annual Santa Claus matinee. I don't remember the title. All I know is that it was a black-and-white film that took place in the military and involved a donkey (it could have been this film). It was more of a social event than a movie-watching experience though. We were mainly there for when Santa showed up at the end to hand out treat bags, which contained candy, peanuts in the shell, and a mandarin orange, which was a rarity for me back then.
One of my most vivid memories from that era was seeing The Empire Strikes Back. At nine years old, I stood in the doorway of my sister's bedroom as we were about to leave for the theater, trying to help her understand what a momentous occasion it was. She just laughed at how serious I was about it. A few years later, I went on my first date to see Return of the Jedi, but I was too afraid to hold my girlfriend's hand. (She stopped being my girlfriend about a month after that. I guess I literally let her slip through my fingers.) I also recall my dad taking us to see Airplane. We were far too young to see that film when we did, but I think Mom had told him to get us all out of the house, so she could have the night off. Hangar 18, a movie about a UFO cover-up, also stands out, as does being told to quiet down while watching Footloose. Then there was lining up to see Tim Burton's Batman. The line extended down the street, which was rare for any movie. A huge comic book collector at that point, I was right there for the first screening on Friday night in my Batman T-shirt with the classic yellow-and-black logo.
I often wonder what my life would be like today if Foam Lake didn't have a movie theater. Would I have gone off and gotten involved in the film business myself? I also chuckle when I think of some of the movies I saw at that theater, wondering if the filmmakers ever dreamed their movies would resonate with a starry-eyed, pimple-faced teenager who lived on a farm outside a tiny town in the prairies dreaming of the day he might make it to Tinseltown.
I know one thing that would be different if we didn't have a movie theater growing up: the Milligan Creek Series. I'm having so much fun writing this sixth book, Quiet on Set!, which is a love letter to movies, the movie industry, movie theaters, and small-town life. I hope I can do justice to all four of those influences.
The movie theater in Foam Lake is still operating, after a fashion. No longer showing first-run films, it screens movies on Blu-ray and is available for private events. I got a chance to peek inside it a few years ago right before it was renovated. Not much had changed, thankfully. I'm just glad the people in the community decided to save it rather than let it drift into decay, as happens to so many old buildings on the prairies. Here are a couple of photos that show how the theater looks today. As I said, not much about it has changed. So, when you read about the theater in my new book, picture this place.
My big plan was to take April 15 to May 15 off my other work (editing other people's books) to see if I could bang out the first draft of Quiet On Set, book 6 in the Milligan Creek Series. Unfortunately, my editing work dragged on until April 26. Then I had some finishing up to do on Pumpkins, book 1 in the Uncanny Icons Series. So, by the time I finally settled down to work on the new Milligan Creek book, I was almost two weeks into my planned month off. However, since then I've made good progress, and I'm nearly 20,000 words into the book. After the seriousness of Pumpkins, it's fun to be back in a world where each character is zanier than the next. It's also fun to be writing about moviemaking, which is my "other" other career. In addition, I managed to extend my "time off" until May 20. At this point, there's no way I'll be able to complete the draft, but I should be well over half finished, which will put me in good shape to release the novel this fall.
Truth is stranger than fiction. My new Milligan Creek novel, Quiet on Set, features a washed-up action movie star who made a bit of money endorsing products in Japanese. The commercials were never supposed to air in North America, but somehow word got out.
I was going to make up a strange product for him to endorse, but when I was doing some research in that regard, I stumbled across this thing and realized I couldn't come up with anything stranger than this. So, I merely gave it a new name.
It's been 24 years since I last canoed Milligan Creek, right around this time of year. It was one of the voyages that inspired me to write Up the Creek years later. I've always regretted that we didn't have any photos of those trips, but then I realized we did! My mom gave me a photo album for my birthday this year, and to my surprise, included in it was a photo of us right after we set out. I'm in the stern of the second canoe in the photo below. My brother Al is in the bow. The guy in the lead canoe is Nevin Halyk, now the principal of my old high school in Foam Lake. Just out of frame is Victor Loeppky, who made the trip with me the previous year when we hit a dead tree and capsized. Looking down from the bridge is my mom, a.k.a. "Killer Miller."
I've held off on turning the Milligan Creek Series into audio books for a while now, partly because I wasn't sure if there was a market for middle grade audio books (I've since learned there is) and partly because I wanted to narrate the books myself but never seemed to find the time to do it.
However, recently I read something by fellow indie publisher, ad guy, podcaster, and coach Bryan Cohen where he said that even though you may be good at doing a lot of things, it doesn't mean you should be everything yourself. Instead, you should be focusing on what you do best and, perhaps most importantly, what makes you the most money.
That was a tough pill for me to swallow seeing as I enjoy learning new skills and seeing if I can pull them off. Case in point: on my last documentary, I was writer, director, producer, and editor. We only had a two person crew (me and my son, Huw), so I also worked as a cameraman, sound recorder, sound mixer, gaffer, grip, post-production supervisor, music supervisor, second-unit cameraman, and the list goes on. Contrary to appearances, it's not a control issue, just a desire to see if I can do it.
As I mulled over this advice, realizing Bryan was right, lo and behold, last Sunday my wife mentioned that someone I knew right here in town is an audio book narrator. I contacted him immediately, had him record a short sample, and just last night greenlit the project.
With any luck, Up the Creek (which just came out in hardcover) should be ready to go by the end of April, with the other books to follow. I'll keep you posted here.
I finally took the plunge and made Up the Creek available in hardcover, exclusively on Amazon. The other Milligan Creek Series books will follow shortly. The move involved resizing the book slightly and tweaking the cover, shown below. It also gave me an opportunity to add "A Brief Note About the Inspiration Behind This Book," which I've included in every other Milligan Creek series book. Plus, this edition contains a sneak peek at the first chapter of Unlimited. which will be the next book to get the hardcover treatment.
Brief thoughts and updates on writing, publishing, and life