philosophy technology writing

Top 10 posts from the last 10 years – All you need is love!

toddhdow trafficIn my earlier post celebrating 10 years of blogging, I promised to share my top 10 posts from the last 10 years (based on page views). I’m not really surprised by the results. But, that’s because I watch my traffic stats on a regular basis. You might be a bit surprised though. The top results are not what you’d probably expect. In reverse order, here are my top 10 posts from the last 10 years based on page views (with a bit of commentary along the way):

Juravinski Hospital10. I had cancer… Wait… what?
I’m a bit surprised that this post made the top 10 as I just posted it a month ago. But, it was a pretty alarming story and a lot of my friends and family were aware that I was sick, but they didn’t know all of the details. So, this summary post was shared far and wide. (and, everyone loves a good story of doom and gloom, right?) 🙂

The God Solution9. Dawkins Part 4: The Objective Roots of Morality
My Dawkins series has received a lot of traffic over the last few years. Atheism is a popular topic and my objections to Dawkins’ The God Delusion have received a lot of traffic (and hateful comments). And, my book The God Solution has generated a fair amount of traffic as well. It is no surprise that some of my Dawkins writing has made the top 10.

8. Should atheists have children?
This is the most controversial post on my blog. I am not surprised that it made the top 10, but I am a bit surprised that it wasn’t higher on the list.

7. Is there any difference between pacifism and nonresistance?
This post was a response to a reader comment. I do get a fair amount of referral traffic from search engines, and I suspect that this is the source for a lot of the traffic to this post. (I haven’t done an exhaustive analysis of the relationship between referrers and my posts so I can’t say for certain).

6. Dawkins Part 7: The Slippery Slope of Abortion
This is a perfect storm of traffic generated by an interesting blog series (I had plenty of readers during the time when I ran this series) and great SEO. I regularly see high traffic to this post due to the popular keywords associated with this page: Dawkins, abortion & atheism.

5. AGAPE – unconditional love
Here’s where things get interesting. I am constantly surprised by the amount of traffic that my series on love has generated over the years. Although it wasn’t the intent, these posts continue to be huge SEO traffic generators for my site. My site consistently gets listed in the first page of search results for search terms like “philia love”, “examples of eros love”and “types of philia”. I see plenty of traffic to these posts on love on a daily basis.

God Delusion book4. The Atheist Delusion – Why I don’t agree with Richard Dawkins in 10 parts
I dedicated a great deal of time writing a response to Dawkins’ book, “The God Delusion“. I even wrote a book on this subject! Therefore, I’m relieved that my Dawkins posts are listed in the top 10 for my blog.

3. Dawkins Part 3: Problems with Organized Religion
Organized religion is an easy target for atheists and theists alike. There is lots of common ground in this discussion. Thus, this post really resonated with a lot of people. And, I do regularly see some SEO juice via Google referrals coming to the site by people searching for “problems with organized religion”.

2. EROS – romantic love
SEO generates a lot of traffic for this post. I’m the top beneficiary of this search query: “examples of eros love”, which appears to be a very popular search term.

philia love search result1. PHILIA – friendship love
It seems that plenty of people are looking for love on the internet. My series on love has generated a lot of traffic to my site, and my post on “PHILIA – friendship love” has generated over twice as much traffic as the second most trafficked post (EROS – romantic love). Searching for “examples of philia love” delivers this post as the top search result on Google. This wasn’t my intent when I wrote these posts, but it has become clear that these posts are seen by Google as great reference sites for these terms. I won’t complain!

Who would have thought that my posts on love would dominate the top of this list? I’ve been watching my traffic over the long term and my posts on love regularly generate a lot of traffic, so I wasn’t surprised that they came out on top. But, without knowing my stats, I would have been very surprised to see these posts at the top of the list.

What do you think? Any surprises? Any questions? And, more importantly, what can I learn and do differently after examining my top 10 posts from the last 10 years?




personal philosophy technology writing

10 years(ish) of blogging!

I reached a pretty cool milestone in December 2015 – 10 years of blogging! My first official blog post is dated December 29 2005 (Welcome!). My blog, then called Wirepaper, was meant to be my geek home online, but has since shifted to focus more on my writing pursuits.


Over the years, I have talked about religion, politics and IT stuff (Mac vs PC)… I think I’ve covered all of the main topics that you’re supposed to avoid when talking in polite company.

AOL CanadaPostmediaWhen I first started blogging, I had already established my IT career. I had spent time working at AOL Canada as a web geek, I had worked in a couple of internal IT departments (at Celestica and Toronto Rehab Institute) and I had recently returned to the online space when I started working at Postmedia (then called Canwest) in early 2006. When I joined Postmedia, I was just wrapping up my undergrad degree from the University of Toronto (in Philosophy and Religious Studies) and I was beginning a masters degree (Master of Divinity) at McMaster University. I have since put my studies aside and continue to focus (and greatly enjoy!) on my IT career.

And here lies the challenge with my blog: my content spans some very different topics. At times, I write about IT – blogging tips, tricks and techniques, summaries of some geek stuff (especially my beloved Kindle!) and a fair amount of content about IT security (which is my primary career focus). Other times, I have written about Cystic Fibrosis Fundraising. My daughter has CF, so this is a cause that is very close to my heart.

But the bulk of my writing over the last 10 years has been about philosophy and religious studies. And I am kind of happy about this. While I do like writing about geek stuff, I think that my writing habits have highlighted where my interests lean more often than not: faith and reason. I love my IT career. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But I am more fascinated with existential concerns: where do we come from, why are we here and where do we go when we die.

I do remember every piece of tech that I’ve ever had, but I am starting to see all of that stuff as tools that we have to replace every two or three years at great expense.

Macbook AirTools? That’s it? Yes. Some are prettier than others. But at the end of the day, they are tools that we use to communicate. I’m writing this blog post on my wife’s Macbook Air. It’s my favourite writing instrument. It is lighter and faster than my aging Macbook Pro (which I fear may have finally died for good – it’s either got a failed hard drive or a failed logic board). Her Macbook Air has an SSD drive, it’s less than 3 lbs and it has 12 hours of battery life. Oooohhh… Aaaahh… Are you excited yet?

Yeah, me neither. I used to be, but not anymore.

(and this should serve as fair warning to my wife that I might be coveting her laptop on a regular basis until we fix or replace our Macbook Pro)

ChromebookNowadays, these things are commodity devices. Most of us just need a web browser. We keep in touch via webmail, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, . All of this could be done with a Chromebook. If you need MS Office or some other productivity tools, then a full blown laptop is still needed. But Apple has almost replaced laptops with tablets with their latest iteration of the iPad Pro.

But I digress… what was my point here?

Oh yeah – I am happy that my writing is about something other than technology. I can use all that tech that I understand for something outside of the tech community. And I’m really excited about that. That is the dream of the internet, realized. But even bigger than that, this is the dream of technology throughout history: to better our lives and to improve our quality of life.

Or, maybe it was simply to kill other people more efficiently. Yeah, that has been a key driving force for technological improvement over time as well. That and porn.

Printing PressThe internet is this age’s Gutenberg. Anyone with a commodity device is equipped to reach the world. There has never been such a democratization of free speech in history. And I feel fortunate to be able to participate in this free speech.

Looking back over the last 10 years, I’ve shared my thoughts on war and peace, the existence of God, the historical Jesus (did he exist or not?), atheism and more. And this is the important stuff to me. I’ve wrestled with where we came from, where we are and where we’re headed. I’ve interacted with people that agree and disagree with me (and I appreciate both sides of the argument to help me discern my thoughts). And because of this, I feel more centred in my approach to life and in how I continue to live my life.

Do I have more answers because of my writing? Nope. If anything, I only have more questions. But that’s okay. Because I’d rather know what I don’t know than not know what I don’t know (do you remember Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns”?).

faithDoes this make me any smarter? Nope. If anything, it makes me feel more foolish for sharing my incomplete and/or inarticulate thoughts with others. But I have made some stronger relationships from my writing. And I have learned how to more clearly state my case as well.

And for that, I don’t regret any of my writing. I’m glad that I’ve done it. If anything, I am sad that I haven’t done more. But, as I said recently, it’s time for me to do more writing. I find it therapeutic, relaxing and fun. So, you can expect lots more of it.

I’m going to spend a couple more posts dwelling on my 10 years of blogging. Stick around. In my next post, I’m going to talk about my top 10 posts from the last 10 years. After that, I’ll geek out a bit and share the technical nuts and bolts for how I’ve maintained my blog over the years (it has been surprisingly simple). And, I’ll wrap things up with a post where I talk about what I am most proud of with my 10 year old blog.

Have you been blogging for a while? Does any of what I’ve said resonate with you? Why did you start blogging? Do you have one topic for your blog or has your focus drifted over time?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

And, let me know if there’s anything else you’d like me to write about pertaining to my 10 years of blogging.

Talk soon!



How do we remove fear from the refugee equation?

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the constructive and respectful dialogue online over the last day or so pertaining to refugee policy. Despite the anti-foreigner rhetoric over the last few days, there has been some clarification of views and some middle ground to be found between the various pro and anti immigration perspectives being shared online.

From what I can tell, everyone has a common desire to be helpful. The biggest problem though is fear and concern for our safety and well being. These are valid concerns, considering the potential for danger when people from a war-torn area are being relocated.

Another concern is that the needs of new immigrants would trump the needs of existing Canadians, particularly the homeless, the elderly and others that rely on an already stretched thin social assistance program.

I’ve done some digging and I’ll try to address both of the above concerns.

First, safety:
ccr-logo-web_0The Canadian Council for Refugees ( provides some helpful facts about refugees and refugee claimants in Canada. It specifically says that “Refugees and others seeking protection pose very little risk to Canada’s security”. It outlines Canada’s front-end security screening process, which is also detailed by the Government of Canada ( In a nutshell, CSIS checks all refugee claimants on arrival in Canada. It also says that, “It is far more difficult to enter Canada as a refugee than as a visitor, because the refugee determination process involves security checks by CSIS and the RCMP, fingerprinting and interviews. It is not likely that a person intending to commit a violent act would expose themselves to such detailed examinations. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act excludes refugee claimants if they are found to be inadmissible on the basis of security, serious criminality, organized criminality or human rights violations.”

Various other sources echo these same processes as a key protection against the arrival of malicious individuals as part of the immigration process.

Further to this, a CBC interview today mentioned that government refugee screeners are looking for scenarios where safety is ensured: families with children (particularly women and children) and other similar scenarios that suggest stability and a desire to build a safe, stable family environment. And, in another interview on CBC, an interviewee mentioned that the refugee screening process would not be a good way for potential jihadists to reach their goals as the risk of being discovered was too high. Malicious actors would prefer more subtle routes to accomplish their goals. (sorry, I can’t reference a source for this particular interview so feel free to take this portion of my post with a grain of salt).

economist - refugees in americaAnother fact to consider:
As per this factoid from The Economist: 750,000 refugees have been resettled in America since 9/11. Not one has been arrested on domestic terrorism charges.

While nothing can offer absolute certainty pertaining to safety, I do think that security screening and the desired demographics do help to minimize the potential for abuse that many people are concerned with. And, the path of least resistance that a potential terrorist would prefer does suggest that they would shy away from the screening process that a refugee claim would bring. This does offer me a level of comfort pertaining to support for refugee arrivals in Canada.

Now, what about the potential drain on Canada’s social assistance resources?
According to the Canadian Council for Refugees, “Refugees receive limited, if any, social assistance from government authorities” ( “For several years, a persistent chain email has been circulating claiming that refugees receive significantly more money in income assistance than Canadians collecting a pension. The information, which is based on a letter published in the Toronto Star has been disproven by the federal government”. The Government of Canada posted the following:
“Question: Do government-assisted refugees get more income support and benefits than Canadian pensioners do?”
“Answer: No. Refugees do not get more financial help from the federal government than Canadian pensioners do. A widely circulated email makes this false claim. The email mistakenly includes the one-time start-up payment as part of the monthly payment. The amount of monthly financial support that government-assisted refugees get is based on provincial social assistance rates. It is the minimum amount needed to cover only the most basic food and shelter needs.

Many refugees selected for resettlement to Canada have been forced to flee their country because of extreme hardship. Some may have been living in refugee camps for many years. When they arrive in Canada, they must start their lives again in a country very different from their own.

In keeping with Canada’s proud humanitarian traditions, individuals and families get immediate and essential services and support to help them become established in Canada.”

The same myths and facts page ( also offers that “the cost of healthcare for refugees and refugee claimants amounts to a fraction of that of other Canadians”.

So, while I do think that many people do not receive the social assistance that they may need, I do think that the above answers highlight a fair and balanced approach to helping people in need.

So yeah… I found the above by doing only a quick Google search. The Government of Canada is quite transparent on their immigration policy and they provide a good overview of the protections that they provide. They also provide a good overview of their funding model to support new immigrants (and dispel the myth that immigrants get a lot more financial support than pensioners).

What do you think? Does this help alleviate your safety and fairness concerns? Any other questions, comments or concerns? Or, any refutations to the information that I’ve highlighted above? Feel free to provide your feedback in the comments below.



(In)tolerant – which do you want to be?

It’s been a while since I have written about religion, politics and world conflict. For a while, I felt like I had nothing new to say or that I was wasting my breath saying things that were unpopular in a world filled with hate, racism and right wing just war theorists.

I’ve been compelled to write over the last few months, but finding the time has been difficult. But the activities of the last 24 hours have finally pushed me to put “metaphorical” pen to paper.

Yesterday’s attacks on Parisians by ISIS-backed militants is just the latest in an increasingly offensive reign of terror being perpetrated by a minority faction that is being mistaken for the majority view of Muslims the world over.

Anecdotally, I have many friends who are Muslims, none of whom want to kill me because I am a westerner or because I am from a country that supported the “war on terror”. Should I isolate myself from them or have them deported simply because they share the same religion as the perpetrators of yesterday’s violence in Paris? I think not. The logic is simply ludicrous. But that is what I am hearing today. People are saying that we should lock the borders, that we should ship out the immigrants, that we should “save us from them”. It’s ridiculous.

Following this same logic would imply that we should hate all Canadians because some of us are criminals, or, as Stephen King tweeted today, “Hating all Muslims for what happened in Paris is like hating all Christians because of the gay-hating Westboro Baptist Church” (link).

It is illogical to jump from the actions of a few to the hatred of so many. This is how things like slavery, the holocausts (there have been more than one against many different groups!) and McCarthyism (Better dead than Red!) were perpetrated. Fear of the other is a powerful motivator to lock your doors and justify hate and intolerance behind the banner of protection.

But unfortunately, this fear is making us punish ourselves. Modern western political, ideological and philosophical thought prides itself on transparency, freedom and safety for all. But by limiting freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of thought, we do ourselves a disservice.

In Canada, we have prided ourselves on being multi-cultural. Toronto and Vancouver are great melting pots of various faiths, ethnic backgrounds and lifestyle choices. We benefit greatly from the positive aspects of so many people. Canadians are known the world over for being tolerant and accepting of people of all nationalities. When we start being seen as intolerant and hateful, something is wrong.

Part of the problem here is the problem of perception. We are worried about attacks from people from a distant land, intent on bringing their struggles to our peaceful country and giving us a taste of what they are living through. We are right to be fearful of this. I don’t know about you, but I live a pretty charmed life. I have a house, two cars, a loving wife and three wonderful children. I am living in a dream world compared to most of the world. One of my paycheques could support an entire community for a year in some areas of the world. That sort of discrepancy speaks to the injustice of our world simply because of the circumstances into which we are born.

We have a right to be worried. We don’t want violence in our peaceful lives. Yet we don’t think much about the violence that we are supporting or turning a blind eye to elsewhere in the world.

Wait a minute… did I say supporting? Yep I did. There are various arguments for who started these conflicts. We could go all the way back to biblical times and the tribal conflicts that today’s division of land in the middle east is based upon and we would still be no closer to identifying the root causes of our world instability. At best, we could articulate that somebody started it, which is no better than trying to pull apart two children who are fighting over their claim of real estate in the backseat of the family car.

Bottom line: it’s a lost cause to try to ascertain rightness in who is entitled to what land in the middle east. Judaism claims first rights, Christians claim to trump Judaism and Islam claims to trump the other two. However, these are all faith-based claims, which are dangerous to try to sort out in the best of times. I am a faithful Christian, but even I have grown tired of trying to justify my actions based solely on the word of God as The Bible can be interpreted so differently by so many. Add two other major religions and you end up with an impossible debate based on nitpicking using out of context quotes and logical leaps that even a kindergartener will tell you isn’t fair.

But back to my point about the west supporting violence in the middle east. I’ve been mumbling to myself for a while that the current refugee crisis should be solved by a big backyard BBQ held by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. I blame their insanely fanatical “war on terror” in Iraq for grossly inflating the 9/11 crisis into a horribly misguided full-blown bonfire. They used fabricated evidence to justify an invasion of Iraq. They were irresponsible in their planning for their invasion. And they were incompetent in their post-invasion nation building in the region. In a nutshell: they lied, they skimped and they blundered. They abused their power and they messed up the lives of billions (yes, billions) of people as a result.

And they made a bundle off of the whole thing. I don’t know about you, but if I am in charge of policy decisions, my company should not benefit from my choices. That is called a conflict of interest. If my memory is correct, Dick Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton for a while and Halliburton was a major beneficiary of the war years. I’d be curious to know if Dick’s friends George and Donald benefited similarly.

So yeah… I think they are adequately funded to help host the whole 2 million plus Syrian refugee contingent in Texas with a big backyard BBQ for as long as it takes to sort out the problems George, Dick and Donald created in the middle eastern homeland. I think that’s a fair tradeoff, don’t you?

And it’s not just me that blames George and his buddies. The Huffington Post raises a compelling argument as well, as does The Washington Post:
For The Record, Yes, George W. Bush Did Help Create ISIS
The hidden hand behind the Islamic State militants? Saddam Hussein’s.

(TL;DNR: Basically, George’s war in Iraq displaced a bunch of Iraq military who went on to form ISIS.)

So where does that leave us? Living in fear and increasingly hating those that we don’t understand.

I get it. ISIS has already threatened to attack other countries. They are threatening similar attacks in other cities across the western world. They are threatening to infiltrate refugee camps so that they can sneak into Canada and the US and launch attacks on our soil. Some of the stories coming out of Paris are suggesting that the attackers were from Syria and that they snuck into France via refugee routes. So yes, the path from refugee to terrorist is realistic.

But so is the path from native born to fanatic to terrorist. And so is the path from multi-generation Canadian or American to terrorist. Does this mean we should deport all foreigners? Do we deport anyone who questions our current military and political strategy (they might be an extremist, after all)? Where do we send them? What do we do with them?

Or should we take a step back and think rationally for a moment. The vast majority of refugees are in dire need of assistance. They are not planning a terrorist attack. They do not have malicious intent. They are simply looking for a safe refuge for themselves, their spouses, their children and their extended family.

The vast majority of refugees are tired, hungry, scared, in shock, alone and completely upended. Many have seen close family members or friends killed. They have lost all sense of normalcy and civility. They have traded their homes for the discomfort of long journeys to places they do not know, to foreign lands that don’t want them, after leaving all of their worldly possessions behind.

In this context, I feel ashamed to say this, but to me, a 10 hour car drive during a vacation with my three kids in the back is stressful. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like to attempt to relocate my entire family to who knows where, with no end in sight, no timeline and no idea where my next meal will come from.

And we have the audacity to worry that a few of them might be bad apples or that they will come over here and leech off our government assistance.

Shame on us. Shame on all of us for turning our backs on the most needy among us. Especially when we so heartily helped to create this mess.

I don’t know about you, but my biggest problem this Christmas is telling my 10 year old son that Santa will not be bringing him an Xbox One. He already has one game console (an Xbox 360), the value of which is more than which many families can afford (and which is also greater than the complete net worth of many families in the world). When I think about it from that perspective, I cringe, as I know that 25,000 lucky people will win the “come to Canada” lottery this Christmas, where they will be allowed to come live in a faraway land, with no family and friends, no possessions, little understanding of the local language, few prospects for immediate employment and a hostile welcoming party. But they will be coming to a place free from war, free from terror, free from the hostility that made them choose sleeping in fields and on unpaved roads over staying in their homes.

And we want to paint them all with the same brush: dangerous. threatening. terrorist.

But we have a choice. We can choose to be humanitarians. We can choose to change the story. Rather than discriminate and hate, we can love, we can welcome and we can strive for peace.

We can embrace those that need help. We can embrace those that are struggling. We can welcome those less fortunate than us. We can support people as they try to make a better life for themselves and their children in a faraway place.

We can tell a new story – a story of love, peace, tolerance and kindness. This is the kind of story that can help to heal. This is the kind of story that can build bridges to peace. And this is the kind of story that Canadians should be about.

We can create a welcoming environment through:

  1. our thoughts (be compassionate)
  2. our actions (be part of a community that hosts a refugee family or donate money or goods for refugee families)
  3. our values (tolerance, acceptance and multi-culturalism)
  4. our destiny (set an example of universal peace and love)

We have a choice: we can be the tolerant or the intolerant.

Who do you want to be?


Stephen King in Toronto – Thurs Oct 24 2013

Stephen King Kindle autographI met one of my favourite authors the other night. It was awesome!

Stephen King and Owen King came to Toronto for a PEN Canada Benefit to kick off the International Festival Of Authors on Thursday October 24 2013.

I’ve been a Stephen King fan since I was a child. My first introduction to SK was in grade 6, when a friend told me about a really cool book about a competition in the future where a bunch of people start walking. Anyone that slows down or lags behind is killed. The last person left wins. Simple premise. Very entertaining to an adolescent boy. My first question was: what about bathroom breaks?!?! I had to read it. So, I got myself a copy of The Bachman Books and an addiction was born.

SK entertained me for years, giving me my first peek into adult fiction. His writing helped bridge the gap from children’s stories to adult fiction due to the characters and story lines. Many of King’s works introduce us to children or early teenage characters. Who remembers Carrie, Charlie from Firestarter, Danny Torrence from The Shining, The kids from “The Body (Stand By Me), Tad from Cujo, Gage from Pet Sematary and George Denbrough, Bill Denbrough, Ben Hanscom, Eddie Kaspbrak, Beverly Marsh, Richie Tozier and Stan Uris (The Losers’ Club from IT)? All of these and many others made it easy for me to put myself right into the scary tales that King wove so well. To this day, numerous childhood memories of school and playing in a creek by my childhood home are interspersed with visions of King characters and story lines – sometimes, I can almost picture Pennywise the clown, werewolves or vampires inhabiting my adolescent playgrounds. Almost…

SK has also been a huge motivator for my own personal writing. I have read and re-read On Writing numerous times. I really enjoy hearing Stephen’s personal story – his early years, his first book sale, his challenges with substance abuse and his family following in his footsteps are all good news stories to me. Stephen King remains a humble, unassuming and completely normal (in spite of his dark and twisted writing!) person to me. It is this sense of normalcy that suggests that his success could happen to anyone. His primary advice to aspiring writers is as everyman as it comes: ““If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” There’s a large chasm between Stephen King’s ability and my own, but he makes the ability to write seem like such an achievable goal.

Stephen King & Owen King PEN Canada Double Feature - Thurs Oct 24 2013.I first heard that Stephen King was coming to Toronto back in April. Tickets to the PEN Canada Benefit went on sale online on April 18 at 1pm. Needless to say, I was ready with web browser in hand at 12:45 on that day! At 1:01pm, tickets were sold out and I had received my email confirmation that I was a lucky recipient of a ticket to see Stephen King!

Leading up to the event, I wanted to make sure that I maximized this chance to meet Stephen King. My goals for the event were as follows:
1. Hear Stephen King speak
2. Get a signed copy of Doctor Sleep
3. Get Stephen King to sign my Kindle
4. Shake Stephen King’s hand

Considering that the event centred around Stephen King and Owen King giving a reading and then participating in an interview, I knew that #1 would be a no brainer.

How did the rest work out? Well… here’s my overview of the evening. Give it a read.

Signed copy of Doctor Sleep from Stephen King400 pre-signed copies of Doctor Sleep were available for purchase at the event, so I was confident that I would be able to get a copy. But, I wanted to make sure that I got a copy early so that I didn’t have to worry about this later on when I was looking for a good seat and/or when I was waiting in line for an autograph. So, I decided to get to the event as early as possible so that I could be at the front of the line to get into the event. I arrived at about 6pm to discover that about 50 people were already in line ahead of me. Twitter informed me that people started lining up at noon! But, I was in a good spot in line, so I wasn’t too worried. By 7:30, the hallway outside of the theatre was abuzz with excitement.

The doors opened and in we went. My first stop was the book table. I had to get a copy of Doctor Sleep. They were charging full price for books ($37), which was fine with me considering that Stephen King had autographed the books ahead of time. Fantastic souvenir of the event! To me, it was a keepsake that I’ll hold onto. But, to others, these books are investment that have the potential to pay off quite well. More on that at the end of this post.

Next up was to find a good seat. I headed for the auditorium and quickly discovered two camps of people: those that wanted seats as close to the stage as possible and those that wanted seats as close to the exit as possible. Luckily, most of the people leaned towards the former group so I had a good chance to get my getaway seat by the doors. I grabbed my seat and eagerly awaited my chance to see Stephen King live in person.

Before the main event, PEN Canada took some time to thank the audience for their attendance and to share some of the work that they do. PEN Canada’s mission statement is as follows: “PEN Canada is a nonpartisan organization of writers that works with others to defend freedom of expression as a basic human right, at home and abroad. PEN Canada promotes literature, fights censorship, helps free persecuted writers from prison, and assists writers living in exile in Canada.” At this event, PEN Canada presented their annual One Humanity Award. “The One Humanity Award of $5,000 is given by PEN Canada to a writer whose work ‘transcends the boundaries of national divides and inspires connections across cultures.'” This year’s award was given, in absentia, to Dieu Cay, a Vietnemese blogger who is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence for “conducting propaganda against the state.” According to the PEN Canada website, “Sixty-one-year-old Dieu Cay, born Nguyễn Văn Hải, has been a pioneer in using online social networks to expose corruption and human rights violations in Vietnam. He rose to prominence in the blogosphere as an outspoken advocate for democratic reforms and is well known for his denunciation of China’s foreign policy towards Vietnam, an opinion that eventually led to his imprisonment.”

PEN Canada’s presentation was quite moving, as it highlights the challenges and persecution that others have to deal with on a daily basis. It reminded me of the freedom that we have in Canada. I have hesitated to share some of my writing for fear that others might take offence or be critical of my thoughts and feelings. But after learning of Dieu Cay’s challenges, it lit a fire in me to complete some of my own writing and to share it wherever possible.

Next up were Stephen and Owen King. They both provided a reading from their latest books. Stephen read a section from Doctor Sleep. Owen read a section from Double Feature. The biggest thing that stood out for me was the inverted technology choices: Stephen read from an iPad. Owen read from a book. Based on how quickly Stephen was swiping pages, I am guessing that Stephen’s font size was quite large – perhaps that is the main reason that Stephen was using the iPad.

Stephen King - PEN Canada 2013Stephen’s reading was taken from Chapter 4: Paging Doctor Sleep. It was great to hear Stephen King read his own writing. Having already read the book, there were no surprises here for me. It was nice to simply listen to him read. Stephen prefaced his reading by explaining a bit about the subject matter of Doctor Sleep. Commenting on the disturbing nature of some of his writing, he remarked, that many people pay $90 or more an hour for therapy to deal with fears, phobias and other challenges. He deals with this stuff by writing it all down. And the best part is that he gets paid for it!

Owen prefaced his reading with a story about his “dirty bookstore reading”. He warned us about the adult subject matter that he’d be reading. Owen has read this section at previous book readings, including a book reading in Portland, Maine. At that particular reading, the most graphic part of his reading coincided with the arrival of a small child, far too young to hear the strong language and sexual content being read, in the audience. The kicker to this story was that as the child appeared, Owen happened to lock eyes with a famous passerby, F Lee Bailey, who mischievously nodded approvingly of the situation.

Owen’s entertaining introduction to his book, along with the entertaining nature of the reading itself, convinced me to pick up a copy of his book before the night was out.

After the readings, Stephen and Owen were joined onstage by Andrew Pyper, the author of six internationally bestselling novels, including his most recent book, The Demonologist. Andrew facilitated a great conversation, dedicating time equally between father and son, encouraging thought provoking and entertaining discussion.

Some of the highlights from the discussion include:

  • When asked about whether Owen was thinking of his famous father in his writing about a particularly dysfunctional father figure in his book Double Feature, Owen said that he could write about Virginia coal mines and people would ask if the hills or the mines were metaphorical representations of his dad. And for the record, he did clarify that this particular character was not based on his interaction with his dad.
  • The discussion turned to similarities between humour and horror. Stephen King mentioned that we all have a mean streak in us – and that we like it (whether we admit to it or not). And he also said that humour starts turning into horror when the target starts being you.
  • When asked if people or places are haunted, Stephen replied by saying that he believes that both occur. Stephen suggested that we leave residue of ourselves in our wake.

As the interview wrapped up, a large number of people (approx 25 or 30 in total) started to leave the theatre. I knew where they were going: to get to the front of the line for the post-interview book signing! I was eager to join them, but wanted to wait until the last possible moment before leaving. As these people started to leave, others in the audience got upset, yelling out that they were being rude by leaving early. It was uncomfortable for a couple of minutes as this group departed.

Shortly after that, Pyper wrapped up the conversation by thanking Stephen and Owen for coming. I took that as my queue and I snuck out the back to get into line for the book signing. I arrived in line to find the earlier auditorium departers waiting patiently for Stephen King to arrive for the book signing. There were about 40 people in front of me in line at that point.

Coincidentally, my spot in line was right beside the book table, so I was able to pick up a copy of Owen’s book, Double Feature while I waited. Then, I noticed a TV in the lobby that was broadcasting what was happening in the auditorium. On the screen, I could see that a guest was being called out on stage to present something to Stephen King. Sure enough, I missed out on something by leaving early. Margaret Atwood was on stage with SK! I got to see it on the TV, but I missed the live version of that event. Disappointing…

But, next up was the big finale for me – meeting Stephen King in person and getting him to autograph my Kindle.

Stephen King - PEN Canada 2013Getting Stephen King to sign my Kindle made me a bit nervous. Several factors: Stephen King was only going to sign books for 1 hour. If there was a long line, would I get to the front of the line in time? What would I use to sign my Kindle? Would he sign it? A bit of planning made sure this happened. The book signing was happening after the main event. So, as per the advice of a couple of literary friends of mine, it was suggested that I sit at the back of the auditorium so that I could slip out of the auditorium just before the main event ended, thus getting to the front of the line before everyone else came rushing out the theatre to join the line. This worked well, but as I mentioned above, some other people had the same idea.

After a bit of a wait, Stephen and Owen came out of the auditorium and over to the signing table. The line behind me started to fill up. And, the line started moving. As I got closer to the front, several “handlers” scanned the line, ensuring that people only had one book to sign. They also started asking people to open their books to the page they wanted signed. Finally, it was my turn. At the signing table, a handler took the book from the person in line and handed it to Stephen, who would then put his autograph on it. I handed my Kindle and my silver sharpie to the handler. He looked a bit puzzled for a moment, looking at me to make sure. I said yup, he shrugged his shoulders and handed it to Stephen King. Stephen looked up at me questioningly, I smiled and asked him to make his signature as big as possible – fill the back! and off he went, signing my Kindle. I asked another of his handlers to take some pictures of me with Stephen King. When he was done signing, I shook his hand, thanked him for signing and I moved on. No time for chit chat!

Stephen King & Owen King - PEN Canada 2013I slid down the table to Owen and got him to sign his book for me as well.

From there, I packed up, and headed for the door. As I looked up, I understood the reasoning behind the smooth machination of the book signing: 400+ people in line is a lot of people! The lineup of people behind me in line snaked through the lobby, down the stairs and around the downstairs lobby of the theatre. I still don’t know if everyone had a chance to get a signature from Stephen or Owen King.

I do know that Owen must have wrapped up at the hour mark, because he retweeted one of my tweets shortly after 11pm. I would assume that they wrapped at 11 and left for their hotel rooms shortly after.

All in all, it was a fantastic night and I managed to accomplish all of my goals for the evening.

I headed home, souvenirs in hand.

My research leading up to the event highlighted the resale market for signed memorabilia. I have no plans to part with my signed copy of Doctor Sleep or my signed Kindle. But I do know that some people approach this as a business. So, I did a quick check online to see if there was suddenly a glut of signed Doctor Sleep books on the market. Sure enough, ebay had a couple of listings for newly obtained signed Doctor Sleep books straight from the Toronto event. Average selling price was $400! I was stunned. My $37 purchase could be flipped for $400 within a couple of days. No wonder people have such an interest in memorabilia and collectibles. That said, I’m keeping my book and Kindle as a reminder of a great night meeting one of my favourite authors.