Of slacking off and book titles

This blogger has be accused of slacking off — posting pictures instead of writing or, horror of horrors, talking about the weather.

Today, this blogger has a post of more (she hopes) substance.

Authors agonize over titles. Picking the right one can be difficult.

Here are a few titles. What images do these conjure up? Would you be tempted to buy any based on the title alone? If so, which ones and why?

Forevermore – Tenderloin – The Baby Trap – The Brown House – Revision 7: DNA – Oenone – Waking Up Dead – Where’d You Go, Bernadette? –  Domingo’s Angel – The Palaver Tree – The Son – Legasea – Night Must Wait

Looking forward to reading your thoughts.

Now scroll down to see what each book is about.

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Forevermore – supernatural creature
Tenderloin – murder mystery
The Baby Trap – infertility issues
The Brown House – haunted house
Revision 7: DNA – sci-fi medical mystery
Oenone – fantasy
The Son – American western epic
Waking Up Dead – woman wakes up aware she is dead but with a murderer to catch
Legasea – fantasy
Domingo’s Angel – story of a small village in Spain during the Franco era
The Palaver Tree – a young British woman caught up in violence in Africa
Night Must Wait – four young girls in Nigeria during the Biafran war

Did any of these surprise you? Now that you know more which would you want to read?

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Self-Publishing—who’s making the money now

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In the early days (2010) John Locke loomed large on the horizon as the first self-published author to sell one million books. Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey were not far behind. We did the math 1,000,000 X $0.35—and jumped on the band wagon. We all thought we too could be as successful as these pioneers.

Phase 2 of self-publishing saw the emergence of a plethora of “how to”—how to write, edit, publish.

 

Many blog posts one could read for free, but how did we know the blogger had any real expertise? We turned to books instead, however a large number of these books are also penned by unknowns, so we had to pick wisely. It quickly became almost compulsory to attend writing conferences as we hoped to find expert advice from the pros.

Phase 3 carried formatters, editors, and cover artists along for the ride. And those of us who were smart hired them to have our books be as professional as possible. If the big publishers wouldn’t take the time to look at us, we’d do it ourselves, and we’d do it right.

Phase 4? Ah, yes, another plethora, this time of advice on how to use social media to promote your books and the great debate about pricing and the wisdom or stupidity of making your books free;  all of this along with numerous book marketing sites. Some listed your book for free, others charged a fee. The problem of course was determining which were most effective, which really had the following to get your book “out there.” BookBub rose to the top charging what are exorbitant rates for most struggling authors, yet it is the one we all aspire to be on.

And, Phase 5? Perhaps the cleverest of all—“How to Market” courses with lovely videos, webinars, and supplementary materials, seemingly (from what one sees on the screen) prepared in the comfort of one’s own home. For the mere sum of $500, $600, $700 or more, you’ll receive the magic answers. Many of the presenters are Indie authors themselves. These “experts” promote strategies they claim worked wonders for their own sales, which makes one question why they are doing all the work necessary to create and present these courses instead of writing more books.

As we wade our way through the phases, weaving back and forth in an effort to produce the best possible book and find the elusive magical hook that will reel in readers, it’s phase 5 that intrigues the most. Convince 1,000 or 2,000 or 3,000 authors eager for sales to buy your course and you’re laughing all the way to the bank.

 

 

 

 

HELP! I have a major dilemma

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Your response is vital information for authors. We strive mightily to market our books, but are restricted in our efforts by vendors who insist we place our novels in categories and genres.

For example, I struggle to pick a genre for my Em and Yves series. People ask me about EMBATTLED, book one in the series.

Is it?

Science fiction?  Sure. Aliens from other planets are involved, but it’s not hard-core technical sci-fi and it’s set mostly on Earth.

Paranormal Romance?  Would seem so. There is a love triangle between an alien, a human, and her human lover.

Contemporary?  Definitely.  Lots of world events as the alien tries to make Earth a better place.

Mainstream? For sure. Lots of world issues—enough to capture the interest of many readers.

Urban Fantasy? Fits the definition. Urban setting with supernatural or magical elements.

Adventure? You bet. Jujitsu training, hand to hand combat, war, soldiers, terrorists….

Now, how do I roll all of that into one genre? What would your advice be?

 

Memory Beats Reality

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Perusing the book shelves in the hotel lobby, I snatched up a favorite I had read many years ago. This will be a delightful reread, I thought, with visions of snuggling under a warm blanket on the sofa and reading to the wee hours of the morning. I’d pretend I’d time traveled to my youth, but now I wouldn’t need to hide under the covers with a flashlight lest Mom notice and take the book away.

Alas, it was not to be. What I remembered as a delightful romantic romp was in fact a rather poorly written story “telling” rather than “showing.” I stopped reading before I got to the end of the first chapter preferring to live with the warm fun memories of the book than the reality that I faced now.

The disappointment with the book got me thinking. How many of our past experiences are better not relived?

For one, a visit back to my childhood home—shattering.  Our house and farmyard, diminished by adult eyes brought me to tears. Where was the enormous barn? It couldn’t be that little lopsided building over there could it? The house was worse—a tiny low ceiling three room structure rotting from disuse, the pattern on the wallpaper I so loved as a child faded to mere shadows.

Travelling is another. My first return trip to Mali was a delight. Three years after coming back to Canada, I revisited the house where I had lived, spent time with the students at the school where I had taught, browsed in the market, lunched with the nuns…. All was well.

Another trip to Mali twenty years later brought heartache. Inundated with refugees from the drought, the city was unrecognizable. Wide boulevards, now populated with rude shelters, reduced to narrow paths. The broad steps to the post office, now crowded with make-shift dwellings, had to be pointed out to me. And most of the people I had known were nowhere to be found.

Now, when I think of Mali and Bamako, my memories are tarnished by that later visit. I push them to the back of my mind and linger over the cherished ones from my years living there.

Visiting my school after retirement was another mistake. The start of a new year carries its own excitement unique to the people involved. I was no longer a player, and while I was welcomed warmly and showered with good wishes, all I felt after the visit was deep depression.

I’ve never been attracted to the idea of reunions and have never attended one. I think, now, that my instinctive rejection of reunions stems from this subconscious knowledge that memories are best left as they are—to be savored, and, over the years, to develop a hazy halo that we can bask in to our heart’s content.

 

 

When the Sun was Mine

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When the Sun Was Mine

Review comments

“Expertly written, suspenseful, the mystery grips you from the first page.”

“… a surprising, entirely satisfying beginning.”

“… moments of true poetic beauty as a delicate, unusual friendship develops between a young girl (Brit) and an old lady(Flo).”

“I couldn’t put it down and towards the end I was sobbing.  Good thing I wasn’t wearing any make-up.”

“Alzheimer’s is such a fearsome disease, but Jones’ story doesn’t live there.”

“… makes its mark in terms of social commentary on this disease.”

“…when you have people willing to care, even those newly in your life, the most dreadful of situations can still touch your heart and leave you as the reader with possibility rather than loss.”

EXCERPT

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Poor little Miss Wright. Second time she comes into my room and once again she gets the shock of her life. Appreciated her concern for me, but really what could she do? I gave her a little wave as she eyed the two nurses bearing down on me and then slipped out the door behind Matthews.

All I wanted now was a long hot shower and something to eat. I’d missed breakfast of course and there likely wasn’t much left from lunch, but maybe I could scrounge something. I ignored the two nurses who had come in. One took my arm to help me to the bathroom. I shook her off and slammed the door in her face. Not fair to take my anger out on them. They hadn’t strapped me down, but then they hadn’t come to check on me all morning either.

By the time I finished my shower and put on my jeans, M*A*S*H* T-shirt, and thongs, oops, I mean flip-flops, Curly and Mo had remade my bed. The room still stank. I opened the window to let in some air. The incinerator wasn’t spewing forth at the moment so maybe my room would smell decent when I got back. I squirted some Chanel #5 on my neck and wrists and then a couple of sprays around the room. Terrible waste really, but I thought it might help.

I stepped out into the hallway and took a deep breath. Big mistake. The air didn’t smell a hell of a lot better than in my room. The omnipresent hospital odor mixed with the unique scent of old people. Not fair that everything went to pot as we aged. Wrinkles, creaky bones, flaccid muscles, droopy skin, and the sour fragrance of decay.

Just the other day, some little kid was in the visitor lounge with Esther. “Grandma, you smell funny,” he said, when his mother urged him to hug the old lady. Kid refused and kicked up a fuss. Couldn’t really blame him. At least his mother had the smarts to back off.

Yes, we were allowed out of our rooms during the day, the idea being that we could entertain each other and not burden the staff. Heaven forbid they should have to exert themselves for us. I went to the dining room and found a couple of slices of bread to pop in the toaster, and a hard-boiled egg. I poured a glass of watery orange drink made from powder like that horrible Tang stuff they sent us when we were overseas years ago, and smeared my toast with something that was supposed be butter. It tasted okay if you held your nose. Lord knows, I’d eaten a lot worse in my lifetime. Millet laced with grains of sand. I laughed when I remembered seeing the goats foraging in the mortar and pestle that held our food. I brushed toast crumbs off my hands and had to admit I felt better after eating.

I wandered over to the rec room and a sorry excuse it was. A few rickety tables and battered folding metal chairs, which made me think of France with all those sidewalk cafes, the parks, the little wrought iron tables, Michel. Now there was a lover extraordinaire, lived up to the romantic Frenchman reputation; kind and thoughtful and gentle, but a lion in bed. I closed my eyes and lived it again. Ah, those were the days.

Then I made the mistake of opening my eyes. Worn linoleum floors. One tiny window. I didn’t bother looking out. I already knew it was the same dismal view as from my room. Decrepit war-time houses across the street, scrubby grass that passed for lawns, the odd scrawny tree, no flowers to speak of, although one house had a couple of hanging pots that looked pretty, the riot of color a sight for sore eyes. Battered bikes lay scattered in the yards, abandoned haphazardly when the kids got home from school. Wrecks of cars parked in front of some of the houses. Was a wonder any of them still worked, but they did. I’d watched the people from my window when I couldn’t sleep: kids, parents, going about their business, work, school, with a few drug deals thrown in for good measure. Dreary little houses, dreary little lives. Bet all they did was watch the boob tube, guzzle beer, and smoke pot. Bah. Humbug.

We never got to go outside. Never. I’m sure prisoners were better treated. Didn’t they always have an exercise yard or was that just the movie image? A trip to a park or the mall would be nice, or the movies. Not that Hollywood was producing much good stuff these days, but still … just to get out.

Everything about Happy Hearts so conducive to enjoying oneself. I counted five people in the rec room sitting, staring at the floor. A sixth was watching television on mute alternately nodding and shaking her head at the screen.

Old Artie, and I mean old, ninety-nine and still toddling along, spent most of each day sitting at the chessboard. Never had any visitors or anyone to play with. I took pity on him, sat down, and offered to play a match. He proved to be a more challenging opponent than I expected, but I won. Took my mind off the Internet dilemma for a bit. I’d have to lie low for a couple of days, but then what?

I roamed the halls looking for Brittany and found her with a large screwdriver in her hand.

“What are you going to do with that?”

“I couldn’t open your window this morning. It’s stuck.”

Stuck? I burst out laughing. This younger generation never ceased to amaze with their ignorance. The chit had obviously never seen wooden windows before and didn’t know she had to turn the lock thingy at the top of the frame before she could slide the window up.

The girl bristled. “What’s so damn funny?”

“Whoa, did you just use a bad word?”

She blushed. Must have grown up in a staid household, I thought. Much like mine. The words in my head stopped me cold. I squeezed my eyes tight and fought to remember, but nothing came to me. I felt tears forming at the corners of my eyes. To have a glimpse, just one little glimpse of my mother. That’s all I asked. Did I have pictures of her? If so, where were they? Would I recognize her or would someone have to point her out to me? And my dad? What was he like?

That’s the worst thing about this Alzheimer’s business. Thoughts pop in and out of your head until you don’t know what’s real and what isn’t. They taunt you with snippets of your life before, but there’s never enough to grasp a whole memory or maybe there is on some days and you just don’t remember.

“Is your window always locked?” Brittany asked.

Her voice jolted me back to the present. “No, why?”

“Not even at night?”

“I like to leave it open all the time for fresh air, if the incinerator’s not rumbling that is.”

“Okay then.”

I watched her amble down the hallway toward the caretaker’s office swinging the screwdriver and humming, “a merry tune to toot, he knows a song will move the job along.” Hated that movie. Maudlin nonsense.

 

 

Finding a Good Book

haystackFinding something to read has become little more than hunting for that proverbial needle in the haystack.

In the “old days” we searched the shelves in the library for a title or cover that attracted our attention and then read the blurb. The hunt could take hours, followed by the trek home with an armload of books, only to cart several back unread as they just didn’t appeal.

Now, we face another haystack as we receive emails from publishers and Amazon, from book groups like The Fussy Librarian and bloggers we follow with a multitude of suggestions for our reading pleasure.

With each book that captures our interest, we first read the blurb, then download the sample. Many of these too, will be deleted when the first bit doesn’t hold up to its initial promise.

In all of this time consuming search, it is perhaps the suggestions of fellow readers that hold the most promise for a good or great read.

With that in mind, here are a few books that I feel are worth your time.

The Iron Wire by Garry Kilworth who learned to receive and send Morse code at the age of 15. Recommended by my aunt who lives in Australia, this recounting of the construction of the Adelaide to Darwin telegraph line is much more intriguing than it sounds. No dull list of facts here. Kilworth imbues the story with drama and a love of the harsh beauty of the land traversed in the stringing of the line.

The Villa Triste by Lucretia Grindle. A modern murder mystery, set apart from most by the fact that it is entwined with characters from WWII. Set in Florence we are shown a different side of the ravages of war as a senior policeman agrees to supervise a murder investigation, after it emerges the victim was once a Partisan hero.

Because We Are: A novel of Haiti by Ted Oswald. Harsh, gritty, and heartbreaking, this look at Haiti today will bring tears, but you won’t be able to stop reading. When ten-year-old orphan Libète discovers the bodies of a murdered mother and child, we are taken into the depths of the slums of Haiti’s most infamous slum.

Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement. If you want to know what life is really like for the majority of Mexicans—that is the poor—read this. It is the most accurate account I have come across.

 

 

 

Are there benefits to moving?

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We’re moving. As I contemplate the demands and logistics of organizing, packing, and notifying friends, family, agencies of our new address, I wonder if there is an up-side to moving. The answer is, yes.

I haven’t moved often as an adult, but throughout my teaching career, I did change schools and that isn’t a lot different than a house move. Packing up the classroom – files, books, teaching materials necessitates much the same organizing and sorting.

Classroom contents such as textbooks belong to the school, but every teacher has a truck load of their own materials. My own books, posters, manipulatives, pictures, etc. go into boxes. Then, with each move, I face the filing cabinet, go through each file carefully—something I often haven’t had the time to do in years. Many things can be discarded as obsolete. Files I’ve used often and know I’ll use again get packed along with the rest. And often I stumble across gems that elicit an “Oh my, goodness, I’d forgotten all about this.” Ideas for teaching that I’d used with success in the past and somehow let fall by the wayside. They’ll be put to good use again in the new school.

Our last move was from a house to a condo and the process not much different from that described above. Decisions were made regarding which pieces of furniture to take and which to sell. The accumulation of “stuff” in the basement sorted, some of the items to be sold, others to be donated or junked. Cupboards and closets opened and emptied.

“I didn’t know we had this,” I said (more than once) as I sifted through boxes from the bottom of the closet.

“If we didn’t know we had it, do you think we can live without it?” my husband asked.

Settled in our new home, everything unpacked, pictures hung, I’m determined to keep our belongings minimal, to avoid the “acquiring” mode of my younger self.

Now as I prepare for this move, I see that I’ve partially succeeded. We still have too much stuff and much of it will have to go as we sort and pack. Some of the decisions will be harder than others. Do we really need those glass plates that were wedding presents, but never used? Do we really need two sets of dinnerware? We haven’t used the fancy ones more than once a year. What to do with those afghans Nana knit for us? Ah, we’ll give them to the grandchildren.

Where, in all this work, is the up-side of moving? Is it in the flood of memories that come with the finding and handling of items we’ve had for so many years? Is it in the freedom of parting with items we’ve had for so many years?

For me, the process of moving has invariably been positive—a cleansing of sorts. It’s rejuvenating to leave the old behind and move to the new. It’s liberating to divest oneself of material acquisitions. Of course I’ll keep the things I hold dear—family antiques, books, special souvenirs of Mali—but the rest will be downsized once again and I won’t miss any of the things I leave behind. Perhaps this is a piece of the freedom we all aspire to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Kindle has killed

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Drugstore reading glasses. No big deal there, you think as you settle on the sofa with your glass of wine and adjust the font on your Kindle, Kobo, Sony, etc….

Great grandma’s magnifying glass—not that you ever wanted to have to use it. You’ll keep that as it’s an antique and a nice memento to remember her by.

Bookmarks on the other hand could be a big deal. What to with the ones you were inspired to make from your Malian trade beads? Hm, they’d convert nicely to a necklace. They never really worked all that well on those wires anyway.

What about the one you bought in Turkey and the one that your guide in Egypt gave you. Don’t throw them out. They’re nice souvenirs.

And where will you store these keepsakes? Why, on great grandma’s bookshelf of course—the one she brought to Canada from Wales. Your Kindle has not negated the need for a place to keep your “real” books, the ones you’ve had forever and hold dear to your heart.

Long live books, no matter what the format.

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Some books are more special than others

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I love the ebook revolution. I love my ereader. I love that my books are available in ereader formats as well as print. I love being able to carry a library with me.

So many pluses for the book lover. See a book that sounds interesting. Download a sample. Enjoy the sample. Check out a few reviews. Reviews are encouraging. Buy with one click.

Do all of this from anywhere in the world.

Unlike other readers, I’m not tied to print books. I don’t think there is any loss of enjoyment in the story if I read an electronic version.

But … and it’s a big but, I do bemoan the following:

Nothing matches the joy of an uncle handing you a book from his laden shelves, one you undertake to read with some trepidation, for what can the aging old fellow possibly know about your young heart? You read it anyway, when you haven’t had a chance to get to the library and nothing else is available. It’s old and battered with a dark green cover. You don’t like green. Inside you find a signature you can’t make out as the ink is smudged, but you can read the name of the town and it’s the one where you were born. You flip a couple of pages and see that it was printed in 1929. Lord, it is old. You begin to read and discover it’s a charming adventure/love story. One that you know already you will reread. Bless the old uncle. He’s not so daft after all.

Then there’s the thrill of finding a copy of The Unexpected Mrs. Polifax on the shelf of a book exchange in a coffee shop in small town Mexico. You’ve read every one of the series and here’s a first edition of the first book published in 1966. The dust cover is scruffy, the inside pages stained and musty, but who cares. It’s now your book!

And that book from the library that you read way back in high school and never forgot and still pine for, if only to read one more time. Why oh why didn’t you buy a copy back then? Maybe you could find it on Abebooks. By golly, there it is. One and only copy somewhere in the US and for a few dollars, it too, is yours. You place it reverently beside Mrs. Polifax and gloat.

Don’t forget the pride of ownership of an autographed book.

From Camilla Gibb (Sweetness in the Belly) “To Darlene, with very best wishes and fond shared memories of Muslim Africa.”

From Robert J. Sawyer (Rollback) “To Darlene in friendship!”

From Susan Ketchen (Born That Way series) To Darlene because you know how difficult this is.”

From Glen Husar (Skinnybones and the Wrinkle Queen) “For Darlene, Love and best wishes.”

And best of all:

From Anneli Purchase (Julia’s Violinist) “This book would only be a forgotten manuscript if not for your encouragement and support. Thank you.”

Yes, books are special, some a little more so than others.

We’re not so different after all

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Those who aren’t from Canada may not know that beneath the surface of the polite Canadian image simmers a hotbed of rivalry between French and English speaking citizens. The flames flare and recede in cycles of political turmoil and subsequent recesses.

I find a new acupuncturist who happens to be a Canadian of French descent, originally from a small town in Quebec. He grew up speaking French, but learned English and has a most charming accent. I’m a Canadian of Belgian and Ukrainian descent who grew up in a small town in Western Canada. I grew up speaking English and have no idea if my French accent is charming or not.

We discuss many things during an acupuncture session, including our childhoods. This is where the similarities come in. We share a love of the Eaton’s catalogue; both having spent hours poring over the pages filled with shiny pictures of our hearts’ desires—toys, toys, books, and more toys. We also remember the early days of hockey. The Montreal Canadiens being our favorite team.  We, out west, didn’t like the Toronto Maple Leafs any more than Quebecois did.

“Did you read Le Chandail de Hockey?” I ask.

“Bien sûr,” he says.

“I felt so sorry for the boy when the catalogue sent him the wrong hockey jersey,” I say.

“Imagine the shame,” he says, “playing with your friends who all have Canadiens jerseys,” he replies with a sympathetic shake of his head.

I shudder at the thought and ask, “Did you get substitutes too, when you ordered things?”

“Mais oui,” he says. “The hockey sweater my mother ordered for me was too small. She gave it to my little brother.”

“Me too.” I sigh. “I’ll never forget getting the little blue purse when what I really wanted was the red one.”

We sigh again and then chuckle and move on to other topics. The memory of the blue purse still rankles, but Michel and I have found several common grounds and our friendship continues to grow.