Thanksgiving Gratitude

Our Canadian Thanksgiving took place this past weekend. It’s one of my favorite celebrations and the perfect time, especially this year, to reflect on all that I’m grateful for.

Me and Ellie at 7 weeks.

The birth of my granddaughter Ellie is a true blessing. She’s just over ten weeks old now and I marvel at how she grows and changes every week. Maybe these photos will brighten your day a little.

Ellie at 2 months

Ellie’s birth is a clear reminder that life goes on and can even flourish, despite whatever else is happening in the world.

I’ve also been reflecting on the fact that all of my grandparents lived through two world wars, the 1918 flu pandemic, and a ten-year-long depression. Once again, I’m thankful for a relatively easy life compared to the things they endured.

I’m also grateful for my health and that since retirement I’ve had more time to balance extra sleep and exercise with writing time. I’m still working on a healthier diet, but hey, it’s a work in progress.

I’m grateful for our warm house, for food on our table, and that I can donate to share with others. I’m grateful for my wonderful family, friends, and a supportive writing community.

I’m grateful that I was born in, and live in Canada, and that my family moved from Ontario to British Columbia when I was seven years old. I’m lucky to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. This year I learned just how competent and caring our public health leaders are.

For Thanksgiving dinner, the six adults in our family bubble still practiced social distancing and spread chairs out around the room rather than eating shoulder to shoulder at the table. It worked just fine and we’ll do this as long as it takes to keep everyone safe.

By the time American Thanksgiving rolls around, maybe more things will have changed. Maybe they won’t. Either way, I wish that you all have something to be grateful for this year. Happy Thanksgiving.

Creating Fictional Monsters

I’ve just finished the fifth draft of my 125,000+ word urban fantasy. I began right after retirement on June 1st and many things needed to be changed along the way. I don’t edit eight hours, or even four hours a day, but prefer to work in the mornings, leaving the rest of the day for exercise, gardening, promo stuff, other writing-related tasks and online workshops. There’s also those much beloved visits with my granddaughter Ellie.

This is the quickest draft I’ve worked through with this book, but once the weather turns cold and rainy, I hope to spend more hours on actual writing. Also, there are many more things I want to learn.

To that end, I recently bought a couple of books, which I’ll soon I dig into. One is The Fantasy Fiction Formula by Deborah Chester and the other is Writing Monsters by Philip Athans. This second book really intrigues me as supernatural monsters aren’t something I’m used to creating.

I’ve been reading a lot of authors’ fantasies and although there’s quite a variey, most of them are a little too familiar. Trolls, werewolves, vampires, goblins, golems, etc. just aren’t scary anymore, so I wanted to come up with something different than this:

So, what makes a really chilling monster in fiction? There are probably a range of answers depending on perspective and experience. After all, some people are more frightened by certain creatures than others. For me, one of the most horrifying creatures are Orcs. The first time I saw them in the Lord of the Rings movies, I could feel my heart speed up a little. I don’t think I ever got used to watching them, especially on the big screen.

So, kind of monster would scare you the most? What would make your heart race just a little, and keep you up late at night, praying nothing like that could exist in real life? I’m curious. 😊

Meeting Up In A COVID World

Here in Vancouver and the suburbs, community and recreation centers have been opening in stages since early September. This is a good thing for many but as our COVID case numbers steadily rise, I’m not sure how long it will last.

As part of the re-opening process, my local community center decided to resume in-person creative writing workshops. Our community is one of the few that offered weekly classes, and they’ve been so popular over the last 30+ years that participants could sign up for either Thursday morning, Monday evening, or Saturday sessions. And then COVID came.

Currently, our community center’s offering only one five-week session on Thursday mornings, which I’m facilitating. It’s therefore my obligation to ask my six participants if they’ve travelled, feel unwell, or if they’ve knowingly been exposed to anyone with COVID. Before entering the meeting room, we are all required to wash our hands in the washroom just inside the building’s entrance.

We have four long tables. I sit at one while participants sit at either end of the other tables. As customary in these sessions, participants voluntarily read a few pages of their work aloud while we read along from a printed version. Participants hand out and collect their own copies.

So far, we’ve met just once but the system worked well. The question is will we be able to keep it up for the remaining four sessions? If the number of COVID cases rise exponentially, the community centers will be shut down.

The thing is that those who attend these workshops (over half are seniors) do so as much for the social interaction as they do for the critique. Not everyone likes screens. Not everyone works productively when they feel isolated. Introverted as many of us are, we still need to feel part of a community and nothing demonstrates this better than in-person meetups.

Meanwhile, many larger writing events are still being conducted online in our area. I’m not sure how well attended they are and I don’t know if authors are selling any books. I hope they are but something tells me we’re in for a few more rough months. I also know that things will get better and that the best I can do is to keep writing and reading and leaning and improving. Maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll have a new Casey Holland mystery ready for release and can actually hold an in-person launch. Won’t we all be ready for a party by then?

Those Crazy Creative Phases

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last posted a blog, but honestly this retired grandma has been on an ambitious streak. I’ve stepped up my commitment to various writing-related tasks, as well as my new critique group and volunteer work. I’ve also attended some interesting Zoom workshops lately.

I don’t know about you but my life seems to revolve around internal cycles where I have a lot of energy and ambition to get things done for a few weeks—or even months—and then it diminishes. It doesn’t necessarily involve weather and seasons, although they might contribute.

During the low energy, unambitious phase, writing projects aren’t quite as important. I’ll have little interest in monitoring book sales or networking on social media. I still edit my book every day, but not for as long a period. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that the low energy phase always passes, so I don’t fret about it anymore. It’s perfectly okay to make more time for rest and reading, a lesson that has taken a long time to learn.

I’ve been in an ambitious phase since about the end of August, which means, I’ve finished a fair number of tasks, in and out of the house. Due to the terrible fires in the U.S., I did retreat indoors for several days when Vancouver’s air quality plummeted. My throat became dry, eyes stung, and I started coughing after only a couple minutes outside. My heart goes out to everyone south of the border who are suffering so much through this calamity.

The air improved enough over the weekend to go back outside and continue yardwork, but the rain has now returned big time and I don’t know when I’ll get back to the garden. Meanwhile, the photos below show some of the clearing I’ve been doing in the backyard, plus our first sunflower! We’ve also harvested a couple dozen of tomatoes.

Our first sunflower! We started late this year.
Slowly clearing the weeds. The yard was completely overgrown at one point!

Of course, there have been visits with our lovely little Ellie, who is pure joy and light. She’s adopting a wide range of expressions and sounds and is absolutely delightful.

I don’t know how long my ambitious phase will last—I never do, but that’s okay. I’ll role with it and see what happens. How about you? Does your creative life involve ambitious, or other types of cycles?

Welcome Guest Author, Winona Kent

I’m delighted to host Canadian crime-writing friend and colleague Winona Kent today. She’s just released a new mystery that music fans will especially love, called Lost Time, which you can learn more about on her website at  http://www.winonakent.com/losttime.html

Also, the first two chapters are available at http://www.winonakent.com/losttime-chapters.html

Winona’s prepared a fascinating piece for this blog about an intriguing connection between her life and that of her fictional character, Jason Davey. Now, in Winona’s words:

I’m terrified of lightning – and so is Jason Davey, the main character in my new mystery Lost Time.

Jason has good reason to be afraid – his father was killed on a golf course by a rogue lightning strike. There are a couple of thunderstorms in Lost Time and I have no trouble at all describing Jason’s terror when they happen – one jolts him out of his sleep, and the other strikes when he’s sheltering in the back of a police car. Here’s a spoiler: the police car gets a direct hit.

My fear of lightning comes from growing up in Saskatchewan, which has some of the most spectacular thunderstorms in the world. Our back yard was home to the biggest tree in the neighbourhood, an 80-foot-high balsam poplar. When the storms blew over (usually in the middle of the night) I’d bury myself under the sheets and blankets and, nearly-suffocating, I’d count the seconds between the immense flashes of white light and the inevitable crashes of thunder. My biggest fear was that our tree would be struck and that the electricity would travel through its massive root system and come up into our house and kill me. Or the charge would jump from the tree to my bedroom window and explode through the glass and kill me. Or the lightning would splinter the tree and it would crash down on our roof and onto my bed and kill me.

I have actually been in a building that got a direct hit and I noted two interesting things. One, there was absolutely no thunder. Just an immense flash. People across the street heard the deafening boom. But not us. And two, at the moment the lightning struck, I was sitting at my computer and the computer blinked off and I felt like I’d been punched hard in the chest.

Jason experiences much the same phenomena in Lost Time. And the result has an incredibly profound effect on him.

In all the years I lived in Saskatchewan, our tree was never hit. It was a majestic specimen – a bit messy, with its sticky buds and its red hanging catkin flowers – but we loved it. It survived the storms and lived on after my dad died and my mum moved away to Vancouver to be with us. Its end came when the new owners of our house decided the back yard would look better without a big messy tree blocking their view of the sky. But then again…who knows…perhaps they, too, were terrified of lightning strikes in the middle of the night…

Winona Kent

Amazon Links: (this is Canadian but the ebook and paperback is available on all Amazon sites)

Winona’s website: http://www.winonakent.com
Social media:

FB: https://www.facebook.com/winonakentauthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/winonakent
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/winonakent

Getting Involved

A few weeks ago, when I began planning tasks and events for the remainder of 2020, I assumed this would be a slower fall than usual. After all, I retired from my Mon-Fri day job and many of the in-person events I take part in are either cancelled or going online.

So, what to do? Well, the answers came quickly. First, I was invited to do some volunteer work for Crime Writers of Canada (I accepted this short gig which ends in Oct.). Second, I learned that my casual job, which is to facilitate creative writing workshops for my local recreation center, is starting up again for five weeks, and possibly longer if these in-person sessions go well.

Third, I’ve started an online writing critique group comprised of experienced, committed writers. I’ve known all of them for years and am thrilled that I’ll be receiving weekly feedback from this diverse and terrific group of people.

Finally, I’ve joined a highly interactive online organization that offers all kinds of mini courses, support, and resources, called Creative Academy. I hope to connect with authors, readers and gain assistance in areas I need help with.

While I’ve had a productive, self-isolating six months working on my current urban fantasy (over 280 pages edited these past three months), it’s time to reach out and connect with the writing community in new ways.

Getting involved whether through critique groups, courses, or volunteering seems like a great way to stay positive and look forward to whatever the rest of this year brings.

Ellie and me, Aug. 25. I swear she was smiling 🙂

Following Up On Book Promotion Sites

Last week’s blog about promotion sites generated few responses and those who did respond weren’t familiar with the sites I listed. However, I did come across something helpful while catching up on the many blogs I subscribe to.

Author and marketing guru David Gaughran posts a lot of helpful and interesting information about marketing that includes ads, Amazon algorithms, and many other things. The day after I posted my blog I came across his piece on the Best Book Promotion Sites, which you can find HERE.

Those who’ve been following my blog for a while know that I’ve already taken part in a BookBub promo back on Dec. 31. In June, I also promoted my books on Bargain Booksy and Book Adrenaline, offering the first book in my series, The Opposite of Dark, at the discounted price of $.99. Results showed a small profit, but nothing significant. Next month, I’m trying the same discount with The Fussy Librarian.

1st in Casey Holland transit mysteries

I’ve chosen not to do three or four promos at a time because I want to track the amount of sales for each event to figure out which are the most financially viable investments. With six books in my Casey Holland series, sales can trickle in for two or three months (longer for BookBub) after an event, which I also want to track.

Meanwhile, a colleague also planned a promotion event in June, offering the first book in her series for free. As with my books, hers are available at sites other than Amazon, however when she asked Amazon to price match the book for free, Amazon declined. That didn’t happen to me back in January, so I’m wondering if this has happened to any of you, or if you’ve heard of this happening to other authors? So far, I’ve had no difficulty asking Amazon to price match books I’ve discounted for $.99 this summer, but who knows what will happen in future?

Puzzling Promotion Possibilities

If you’re an author, you’ve probably received numerous emails from people who want to sell their services for social media blasts, blog tours, press releases, and other things. Reviewers, jacket designers, and proofreaders have also invited me to purchase their services for a wide range of prices.

These aren’t all scams, but it does take some digging to determine which ones are legitimate and/or useful and which are not. The Writers Beware website is helpful, but it doesn’t cover everything, so I often do my own research.

Lately, I’ve been inundated with emails inviting me to list my books on promotion sites. Some of these offers are free listings while others come with a price tag. A few sites give you an option for free or paid listings, depending on how much visibility you want.

Here’s what I’ve found with a quick search. All of the sites below want me to set up an account, which I’m not prepared to do right now. The emails I’ve received suggest that these are the best book promotion sites in 2020, which is likely subject to opinion. I have started a basic search and most of these sites list featured, standard, or basic listings, likely dependent on the price.

Giobooks.com – offers different levels of visibility, so assuming it provides both free and paid

Bmibooks.com – has a startup fee starting at $10.00

Olto.App – has a free and paid options

BookswiFi.com – again offers a varying price range.

Bestreads.app – invites you to share your amazon purchase link for free

Reactbooks.com  – little info is given about this site without registering

Wordlikes – charges $15.00 for one year

I’m sure that several of you have also received similar emails. Have any of you tried these book promotion sites or do you think it’s a waste of time? Do you use any specific sites for your books? Honestly, you could join a new site every day for a month and still not have covered them all. If I get enough responses, I’ll share them with you, plus other searches I plan to do over the next couple of weeks.

Planning the Rest of the Year

My biggest 2020 events have now passed…The publication of my 6th Casey Holland mystery, retirement from the day job, and the birth of my first grandchild. As far as I know, nothing major’s coming along over the next four and a half months, which means this is a good time to start making plans for the rest of the year and into 2021.

The problem with this idea is that our COVID world is only a few months old and not likely to disappear soon. Uncertainties are everywhere and planning is trickier than usual. Under normal circumstances, my fall craft fairs would be booked and paid for by now. These days, such events are up in the air. One of the fairs is planning to host their event online and it will be interesting to see how that goes. One was cancelled and I’m still waiting to hear on another.

As far as my casual job goes, which is to facilitate Port Moody Recreation’s creative writing workshops, the rec center is still trying to figure out how to make it work. Registration normally starts in July, so I and my three co-facilitators usually know what our schedules will be by now but we don’t.

So, I’m going to focus on what I can arrange, which mainly involves more writing and promotion work. As mentioned in last week’s blog, I have idea for a new series that requires a great deal of thought and note making before I write the first word. And there are always household projects waiting for attention.

At some point, the cold rainy weather will set in and the yardwork will stop and I’ll switch to indoor sorting. I have bins filled with the kids’ old schoolwork that needs to be sorted and some of it recycled. I’ve also started collecting new recipes which will be fun to try.

On some levels, I’m also preparing for a COVID relapse in case things go south in our area. In late May, we bought a freezer for the first time in my life. It’s not huge but should I or the people I live with get sick, we want to be able to feed ourselves or provide food and meals for family members, should they became ill. I’ve also stocked up on hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes, which are plentiful in the stores these days.

I’m thinking about starting Christmas shopping early. My mother used to have her shopping done by the end of August and wrapped by the end of September, but that was before the dementia took hold. I used to think she was nuts to do everything so early, but retirement and COVID is changing my perspective.

I’d prefer not to shop online, so maybe I’ll start while the weather’s good and everyone else is outside. Needless to say, there’s lots to plan for. Who knows what the next four and half months will bring, but I’m going to hope for the best and plan for the worst.

What are you all doing to plan for the fall, personally or professionally? Do you find it difficult to make plans right now, or are you looking ahead as well? Meanwhile, here’s the latest baby Ellie photo. I’m blown away by the changes in just a few days.

Baby Ellie, 8 days old.

Transformations and New Roles

People are works in progress. We learn, experience new things, change jobs, homes, or relationships. Sometimes, as with COVID-19, change is dumped on us.

Retirement has given me a wonderful lifestyle change. But even before it began on June 1st, I felt a transformation coming that went beyond not driving up to the university five days a week. I knew I would become a grandparent, and that I would probably volunteer, and yes, both those things have now happened.

Ellie, shortly after her birth

I’m thrilled to announce that my granddaughter, Eleanor ‘Ellie’ Debra MacNeil was born this past weekend, and that I’m now officially part of the exceedingly special grandparent club. After my daughter’s maternity leave ends next July, I’ll be doing a lot of babysitting so she can resume her career. As a writer, all I need is a laptop, and I can work anywhere, so it’s all good.

Which brings me to my second transformation. As some of you know, I’ve been working on a lengthy urban fantasy novel for some time. Retirement has allowed me to work on it for longer periods each day which has helped me figure out continuity glitches and so forth.

But a new idea for a mystery series has also sprung up and won’t let go, at least yet. I’m making notes and thinking about it, often while doing household chores and yard work. I’m also wondering if it’s time to say goodbye to the Casey Holland series, or perhaps put it on hiatus.

I do have a Casey novella planned for release next year, but after that it might be time to move on. This new series idea, plus the fantasy novel will keep me busy enough, and I do love the idea of exploring something new, so we’ll see. Like most transformations, it will require much more thought and reflection.

Meanwhile, after many years of coloring my hair, I’ve decided to let that go too. I like the silver that started coming in during the first few weeks of  COVID. When I finally got to the hairdresser in June, I decided I want to keep it, so I’m in another transition there :).

Other transformations are coming down the road, but they are too far away to dwell on right now. Personally, I’m not afraid of change, as I believe it’s a crucial part of learning and growing. This grandma’s a lifelong learner, and in some ways I’m just getting started.