Happy Mother’s Day

I always love hearing the origin stories of people’s careers—how and when they decided to do what they are doing. I’ve also long admired and been fascinated by people who knew exactly what they wanted to do with their lives at an early age and then had the will and ability to make it happen…in part because it took me so long to figure out what I wanted to do.

Back in 2007, when I was applying for graduate school, I had a telephone interview as part of the application process. The interviewer said, “Tell me about a person who inspires you and who you look up to.”

I didn’t have to think before answering: my mom.

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Every day, she sets an incredible example of dignity and dedication to her family and friends.

She is also a Kennedy buff and a few years ago I gave her a memoir written by Mark Shriver about his father, Sargent. It is called A Good Man because, Mark wrote, that’s what people kept saying to him after his father died—that he was a good man—and he eventually realized how that phrase encompassed Sargent Shriver’s life of service to others.

That might also be the best way to describe mom…she is a good woman.

Now, back to career origins and the reason for this post—one of my favourite stories about mom:

When she was in school, her mother took her to a talk by Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche and a man often referred to as a living saint. Hearing Vanier speak about the inherent dignity of all humans helped inspire her to follow his lead and work with children with special needs.

She has spent her entire career working with children with special needs, not because it is easy or fun or because it pays a lot. She does it because she knows it is important that every person be treated with the same love and kindness no matter what abilities they have or don’t have. Not paying lip service to treating everyone the same, but actually doing it.

Her work is also a living expression of her faith and the Church’s teachings on the equal value and importance of every human life.

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That is the example she sets for her children and grandchildren (even if we don’t always live up to it). She is a role model for me and for my brother and sisters and I’m sure she will be for her grandchildren, too.

Happy Mother’s Day, mom!

Love,

Matthew

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How F1 Influences Car Purchases: A Case Study

 

Our third child (codenamed B3) is due to arrive any day now.

My wife and I bought our first car, a Hyundai Elantra, just before our daughter, Ava, was born back in 2009. Things got a bit squishy when Michael arrived, but we didn’t really feel the need for a bigger vehicle yet—although there was a camping trip last year where the kids had to hold their sleeping bags and pillows on their laps for the drive to the campground.

With No. 3 on the way, though, we definitely needed something larger.

I didn’t want a minivan…not because I hate minivans, per se, but because of how many bad experiences I had witnessed with Dodge Caravans, specifically (one of the most affordable models). So I started checking out larger SUVs—sorry, crossovers.

But after test-driving a GMC Acadia, we realized it had way more features than we needed (and was consequently priced at more than we wanted to spend). Our list of desired features was: functioning engine, six or seven seats, preferably with keys and steering wheel included. In other words, we aren’t too picky.

Most of the people who are reading this are probably related to me, so you probably also know that I have a job as an F1 columnist for Bleacher Report. Coincidentally, at the same time we were researching cars, I was also doing some research for a profile on four-time world drivers’ champion Sebastian Vettel.

In the course of that research, I came across this Daily Mail article, where Vettel talks about how much he loves the used VW van he bought. That got me thinking: If some used van is good enough for four-time world drivers’ champion Sebastian Vettel, it’s probably good enough for me.

So I reset my Auto Trader search parameters and—BAM!—a few weeks later, we were the proud owners of a 2005 Toyota Sienna.

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And I am now living proof the F1 does influence car-buying decisions…just not in the way manufacturers like Mercedes, Honda and Ferrari are hoping.

(Oh, and the kids love it, too. Mike, during his first ride: “I feel tall, safe and brave.”)

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Q&A With Luciano DiNardo, Author of ‘The Angel’s Kissing Spring’

In my final year of high school, Luciano DiNardo taught my English Writer’s Craft class. I have many fond memories from the course, where I learned a ton about writing (and life). It was also in that class—in 2002—that I first heard about The Angel’s Kissing Spring, a novel Luc had written and was trying to sell.

We kept in touch after I graduated, with our shared interest in football, Seinfeld and, of course, writing. And every so often, I would ask about the novel, whether it was any closer to getting published, always receiving a similar response: not yet. So I was quite excited when I received an email last month saying that it was (finally) published.

Clearly, The Angel’s Kissing Spring had a long gestational period, but the wait was worth it. The book is fantastic—a dramatic and mysterious unconventional love story full of fascinating characters set in small-town America during the Second World War. I had a ton of questions when I finished reading and Luc agreed to answer some of them for this blog.

There are no spoilers here…the Q&A is mostly about the background of how the story came to be and about Luc’s writing process. If you want to get into the plot, well, you’ll just have to buy a copy for yourself.

In the meantime, here is Luciano DiNardo—a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan and fellow Carleton University grad who once received a letter from Harper Lee—on opening lines, the frustrations of the publishing industry and his all-time favourite books:

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What does your title mean and where did it come from?

I was always intrigued by James Cain’s title for The Postman Always Rings Twice because there is no postman ringing a doorbell in the story. I found out that Cain’s postman did ring the doorbell twice to let him know that he had mail waiting for him. Cain grew to despise the sound of the doorbell ringing twice because of the constant rejection letters he was receiving in his mailbox. There isn’t a clear connection with my title to the story. I always liked the sound of it, but if there is a link to the story, it would have to be the well where Charlie dies. In some circles people believed that an angel kissed a person before that person went to heaven, and Charlie would have had an angel kiss him in the well which is connected to an underground spring.

When did you first get the idea for the story and are any parts of it inspired by true events? If not, what did inspire the story?

There isn’t any factual connection to a particular person or event that triggered my motivation to write the story, but there are little bits and pieces of myself, some family members and other events that I’ve used in the story just to add some description or a quirky touch to help promote interest. Alice’s father had a Dalmatian that he eventually gave away. We once owned a Dalmatian for a brief period of time. Alice’s natural ability with numbers is connected to my younger son’s aptitude for math.

Your protagonist is a woman, and I know you had a few female friends read drafts to ensure the voice was authentic, but why choose to write a female main character—especially when she is such a solitary person and so much of the plot is revealed through her thoughts and words? Did you know you could accurately portray a woman’s thoughts and feelings before you started writing?

For some reason I just thought that the story would work so much better from a woman’s point of view. I could have had the story driven by Billy Johnson’s point of view, but I always thought there was more that could be offered from the point of view of a mother’s loss concerning the death of her young son rather than a father’s or a man’s loss concerning the death of a child.

When did you send out your first query letter? And how frustrating was it to have to wait so long for the book to be published, especially when you see how much crap gets churned out every year and somehow ends up in Chapters or Barnes & Noble?

I started sending out query letters about fifteen years ago. To my surprise, an agent in Manhattan with a fairly solid reputation agreed to represent the story and offered me a three-year contract that I accepted. I was disappointed with his lack of communication so at the end of the three-year contract, I decided not to re-sign with him. I was convinced that I would pick up with another agent fairly quickly, but that didn’t happen. Many agents told me the story was well written and interesting, but they “didn’t know what to do with it” whatever that meant! And it was frustrating going into bookstores and seeing some of the stuff that was in print. But it’s a crapshoot in so many ways. There are about a million new books published every year, so it’s like winning a lottery. It’s often been said that writing a novel is easy; getting it published is the hard part.

Publishers are increasingly looking for authors with ready-made audiences, so they can be reasonably assured a book will sell. Did you ever hear from an agent or a publisher that the fact that you don’t have that audience, say on social media or through a blog, hindered the book’s publication?

No one ever expressly mentioned that to me. Of course, a built-in audience always helps. That’s why celebrity biographies are always out there. A first-time writer always has the challenge of familiarizing himself to all the faceless readers out there.

You have a knack for building and keeping suspense, and for revealing just the right amount of information at just the right time. Is that something that comes naturally to you when you are developing a story or do you have to work hard at finding the perfect nugget of information to drop to keep readers turning the pages?

Sometimes an idea would just hit me. It would be the right thing to develop at just that moment in the story. I did re-write the story several times, and on one occasion I edited about seventy pages from the story because I felt there was too much psycho-babble going on and I just decided to concentrate on the linear development of the story. I did make deliberate decisions to make sure that my chapters ended with something intriguing or something that was satisfying with the character development or story development.

I love to hear about different writers’ processes, so I have a few questions on that: You were working as a teacher while you wrote it. How long did the first draft take and what was the process like? Did you write every morning or evening? A certain number of words per day? Cram it all into one summer break?

When I started writing the story I was working teaching full-time during the day and I was working as a night school teacher on Tuesdays and Thursdays. During the summer holiday that year, I also taught a summer school course. I would be teaching and lecturing and an idea would pop into my head and I would have to stop the class and jot on a piece of paper whatever had popped into my mind. I would be driving the car and I would hear something on the radio, and I would have to scramble for a pen and some paper. It took me about a year to write the story, and there would be periods when I wouldn’t write anything for a couple of weeks because I didn’t know where the story should go or what should happen to a certain character. I learned that there are a lot of uncertainties when you’re writing.

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When you began writing, how much of the story was already mapped out?

I looked upon the writing of the story as being similar to drifting on a raft. You can drift and just let the current take you to wherever it takes you and once you get there at the end of your drifting, you’ll know you’ve reached the end of your destination. Or you can get on the raft and know in advance where and when you’re going to get off. I tended to just drift with the story. I didn’t know for certain how the story would end or what would happen to certain characters until I was almost forced to reach a decision.

How similar is the finished product to your first draft?

It was very similar, but I knew from the moment I began writing the story that the story’s conclusion had to have a finality to it. Yet, at the same time, I wanted to leave many unanswered questions because in life there are times when people aren’t given convenient answers or solutions for their problems or mysteries. My first draft tended to concentrate more on the town of Ashton Falls and its people, and then I decided to concentrate more on the central character of Alice Dempster. My first draft’s opening line was “Ashton Falls was always known by two of its buildings: the church and the jailhouse…” I changed the opening line to “The only thing Alice Dempster ever resented was the stain on the front seat of the car.” I think the change in the opening line reflects that the story was going to be foremost about Alice with the town in the background rather than having the town take centre stage with Alice imbedded into it.

Reading the book, I was reminded of the film Gone Girl, in terms of the mysterious, strong female lead and the feelings evoked by the story. I know you are also a film buff, so, when you wrote your novel, did you have one eye on the screen? The detail, such as your descriptions of the book’s settings, is certainly very cinematic and I think the story would translate very well to film. 

I know the story would translate well to film because it’s a simple story involving a simple setting with simple people. Some people have commented on how visual the story is, and I’ll take that as a compliment. Many stories today are written with a cinematic style so that the reader can “see” the story. Long gone are the days of Charles Dickens when he could afford to devote four pages to the sound of horses’ hooves in an alley surfaced with cobblestones.

What interesting (or frustrating) things did you learn about the publishing industry throughout the process of bringing this book to market?

The driving force for many years now is how much money can this story generate. Publishers have always been preoccupied with how much money a certain story can make, but years ago publishers would put a story out into the marketplace if they believed in the story, crossed their fingers and hoped for some success. There’s so much competition now for people’s attention and money, that publishers have become very wary of taking chances. As I mentioned earlier, many publishers told me that the story was a good one, but they “didn’t know what to do with it”.

What advice would you offer to a young person who tells you, “I want to write a book”? 

You have to have patience, be stubborn, listen to other people’s opinions and you have to have a thick skin.

Finally, what are your three favourite books of all-time? And please give a one-sentence pitch for each for why someone should read them. I’ve already penciled in To Kill a Mockingbird at No. 1…

To Kill a Mockingbird has one of the best circular narratives. Many people have commented on Harper Lee’s dual point-of-view narrative, that is, Scout’s observations as a child and her later recollections of those same events from a distanced mature adult’s point-of-view. I loved Larry McMurty’s Lonesome Dove and how he developed the characters of Gus McRae and Woodrow Call to be the foils they are. It’s about a thousand pages long and I’ve read it twice and I usually don’t read books twice. I would also have to mention Wally Lamb’s The Hour I First Believed. He was very gutsy to use the Columbine shooting as a backdrop with his story, and I really identified with Maureen who was a nurse at the school during the shooting.

Get your copy of The Angel’s Kissing Spring here.

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Ava’s Sportswriting Debut

My five(soon to be six)-year-old daughter Ava said she wanted to write an article, just like her dad, so we watched qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this morning and took some notes. Here is her story:

Formula One Qualifying

By: Ava Walthert

The track is in the desert, but it is strange because there is water around it. Boats are sailing where the race track is and it reminded me of the Monaco race. When the qualifying is on, it gets dark. It is night time.

Fernando Alonso is focused, but he gets a puncture and Jenson Button passes him. He is out.

Jenson Button has sparks coming from the back of his car. He is a great driver.

Sebastian Vettel thought he had a good lap, but he didn’t, and he is close to the back. Kimi Raikkonen did a good job and he was third.

The Force Indias were in third and fourth earlier and Sergio Perez finished fourth. They’re usually not that fast.

Lewis Hamilton did not let anyone pass him until the last lap. Nico Rosberg passed him on the last lap, so he gets to start first. He was concentrating and pumping his fist because he won.

Lewis Hamilton said, “Nico did a good job today.”

Nico Rosberg said, “I’m enjoying the moment.”

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A Pittance of Time

The first time I heard this song was a day or two before Remembrance Day 2007. I was in a classroom in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu with my platoon in Basic Training. Some of our instructors played the video for us.

Our platoon was one of the first to include non-commissioned soldiers who had been accepted into the officer training program, so we had a bunch of guys who had served in Afghanistan, the Balkans and elsewhere. They had already lived through the shit and naturally we all looked up to them.

When the video ended, there were a lot of tears in the room—many from what history books would refer to as “battle-hardened soldiers” or something like that.

Every so often—not only on Remembrance Day, but perhaps especially then—it is important to watch something like this or listen to In Flanders Fields or read the stories of individual soldiers in the many wars our country has fought. You may not agree with the politics of each war, but the sacrifices made by regular Canadians in the pursuit of the freedoms we all enjoy deserves to be remembered and honoured.

Even in times of peace, soldiers and their families make enormous sacrifices that the rest of us don’t often see.

When we talk about places like Vimy Ridge and Juno Beach, proud moments in our country’s history, we cannot forget the cost of those battles. In the four days it took to capture Vimy, for example, 3,598 Canadian soldiers were killed.

That’s 3,598 families, in just four days of a four-year war, finding out that their father or brother or husband or son was not coming home.

“The Ghosts of Vimy Ridge” by William Longstaff

Since Confederation, more than 100,000 Canadian soldiers have been killed serving their country. More than 100,000 families have received that awful news, some more than once. And, sadly, more will die in the future.

Today, and every day, we remember them and we thank them.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

– from For the Fallen, by Laurence Binyon

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The Blue Jays: A Love Story

Tonight is a good night. Tonight, for the first time in 22 years, the Toronto Blue Jays are AL East champions. For the first time since I was nine years old, the Jays are going to the play-offs (and no, clinching a berth in the wildcard game a few days ago did not mean we were going to the play-offs).

A lifetime of Jays fandom.

A lifetime of Jays fandom.

I was born to be a Jays fan. My dad is from Toronto and he followed the team from the beginning. My parents took me to Exhibition Stadium when I was a baby, and my mom was horrified as I crawled around under the seats.

From the time I can remember—just before the first World Series—dad would take my brother, Adam, and me to a game every year (we live in Ottawa, so it’s about a five-hour trip). We would usually get tickets up in the 500s in the infield and bring dad’s big binoculars to enhance the viewing experience.

Kelly Gruber was my first favourite player. For my fifth birthday, I think, my dad stood in line for an hour or more at some store in Toronto to get him to sign a card for me.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 9.25.14 PMOn the evening of Friday, July 10, 1992, we were on our way to Toronto for an afternoon game the next day against Oakland. Mike Moore vs. Juan Guzman (OK, I didn’t remember that—I just looked it up). Anyway, we were about an hour outside Ottawa when the car broke down. Obviously, dad was pissed. But I was seven and Adam was five and we just wanted to have some fun while we sat on the side of the road and waited for the tow truck.

I don’t know exactly what we did, but I do remember my dad giving us several chances to stop and us not taking them. By the time we had the car towed back to Ottawa, he had made it clear we weren’t going to the game. Our friends even offered us their car the next day, but dad said no. Here’s the unused ticket (I think this might be the last season I didn’t see at least one game):

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In 1997, I think, we went to a Friday night game with my grampa, who lived outside Peterborough at the time. I had a hockey practice at six or seven the next morning, but we stayed at the game until the 7th or 8th inning. I distinctly remember Jose Cruz, Jr. hitting a home run as we were walking to the exit. Dad then drove through the night, dropping grampa off and making it home in time for the practice (which I undoubtedly did not want to go to).

As Adam and I grew up, and before our Notre Dame football obsession took hold, the Blue Jays were the one sports team we both liked. It was the only time we could watch a game together and root for the same team.

When Adam went away to Brock University and I went to St-Jean and then Gagetown for army training, we used to call each other and watch the games together over the phone—especially in that great summer of 2008 where Cito Gaston returned and it looked like maybe, finally, the drought was going to end. Instead, despite finishing 10 games over .500, we were fourth in the AL East, 11 games out of first.

Matt, Adam, Joseph and our shine.

Matt, Adam, Joseph and our shine.

In more recent years, I’ve started tagging along on Adam’s annual home opener trip with his buddies from Brock, where we rent a room in the SkyDome hotel and rarely remember anything past the second inning.

Once, with the Red Sox visiting, Adam got into an argument with some Boston fans and ended up booted from the stadium because some lady complained that he swore, even though a section full of Sox fans had been swearing right back. When we asked why only Adam was tossed, the security guard said it was because there were so many Boston fans, so it was easier just to remove him. Talk about home field advantage!

But no more. Now the Dome is packed with Jays fans, louder than I’ve ever heard. Sure, half of them have only been fans since the Tulowitzki trade (you can easily pick them out because they are wearing Tulo jerseys), but we’re 53-28 at home and about to clinch home-field advantage throughout the play-offs.

The kids are excited, too. We took Ava to her first Jays game when she was just a year-and-a-half old. I caught a foul ball—my first and only one—and handed it to her. She threw it down the stairs. Good arm for a one-year-old, and luckily I got it back.

289834_10152183926405241_1978234193_oMike and Ava both love Joey Bats and every time Mike sees a Yankees player, he automatically boos (it works for the Ottawa Senators, too).

Apart from that game where we left to get to my hockey practice, I think the only other time I have left a Jays game early was the last of a three-straight games we saw in August 2007. I had just graduated from university and was getting ready to leave for basic training. I wanted to buy Caitlin’s engagement ring while we were in Toronto, but something about the store’s hours meant the only time we could go was that Monday afternoon.

So Adam and I took off early and headed up to Bloor Street, while the other guys watched the end of the game. In the middle of the shopping trip, we heard David Beckham was at a store next door, so we dashed out. The sales lady was understanding, I think, and we did go back. I ended up picking up the ring a few weeks later, when Caitlin and I were back in T.O. (and yes, we saw a Jays game on that trip, too). A bit more than two years later, Ava was born.

When the Jays won the Series in 1992, I didn’t get to stay up until the end of Game 6 (remember, it went 11 innings), but my dad taped it and left a note for me on the kitchen table saying we had won. I’m looking forward to doing the same for Ava and Mike this year.

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Lunch Time and the Power of Suggestion

The other day, Caitlin asked Michael what he wanted to eat for lunch.

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Mike, on an important call, I guess (he said he was talking to Jenson Button).

Usually, this question elicits an “I don’t know” or “peanut butter sandwich” response. This time, though, Mike said he wanted an egg-and-sausage sandwich on toast.

A surprisingly detailed request, maybe, considering he is three, but not altogether shocking. Mike’s egg intake can, on occasion, rival Gaston’s from The Beauty and the Beast. He also loves Egg McMuffins—something we discovered on a recent family vacation. Eggs are one of the few proteins he regularly eats.

Anyway, Caitlin made the sandwich and set it down in front of him.

“Mommy, where’s the fruit?”

“What fruit?”

Mike hops down from his chair, grabs a flyer from M&M he had been looking at and shows it to Caitlin. It has a photo of what looked to him like an egg-and-sausage sandwich (although it actually appears to be made with hash browns and is called breakfast pizza).

I guess he mistook it for the lunch menu Chez Walthert.

Of course, it has a bowl of fruit beside it.

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So Caitlin, laughing, grabs him an apple from the fridge, washes it and puts it beside his plate.

*Pout*

“What’s wrong, Mike?”

“It’s not the same fruit.”

It sure wasn’t, but we didn’t have any fresh berries or cantaloupe on hand.

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