How’s Your May Going So Far?

Potted Plant, May 2020I hope that all the moms out there enjoyed a lovely Mother’s Day this past weekend, although I’m well aware that it must be exceedingly difficult for some, for a variety of reasons. This was my first Mother’s Day without Mom since she passed away last June, and I thought about her a lot on Sunday and Monday. I went out and weeded around the little rose bush that we planted in her memory. The pink blooms haven’t appeared yet, but there are buds!

On Sunday, I saw my daughter in-person for the first time in two months. She’s now in her last trimester and really blossoming. The six of us practiced handwashing, social distancing, and ensured surfaces were clean. We sat outside on the patio and enjoyed the steaks and chicken burgers my son BBQ’d.

White FlowersSpring and even summer-like conditions hit BC’s lower mainland last weekend. As you’ll see from the photos, nature is far more oblivious to COVID-19  than people are. My hubby has planted most of our vegetable garden and as my cat also passed last June, we’ve now hung a hummingbird feeder in the yard.

I’m really hoping that BC continues to be on the right track as it prepares to slowly open up after the coming long weekend. Unfortunately, we saw TV images of crowded beaches last weekend, with few masks or social distancing. One beach-goer who was interviewed said that if people are that worried about COVID-19, they should stay home. Even the reporter called this a selfish remark, but there you go. There are plenty of emotions and different attitudes everywhere.

Rhodos, May 2020I’m also waiting to hear if my employer will allow staff to return to work, perhaps on a rotating basis. Office workplaces are on the list of places that can re-open. It would be nice to see staff before my final workday on May 29th, but we’ll see how it goes.

On the writing front, I’m working on editing and promotion stuff, but I’m also reading a lot both for pleasure and/or research purposes. I’m taking part in my first Zoon panel discussion on Thursday, May 14th, at 7:15p.m. (PST)  through the Port Moody Art Centre. We’ll be discussing how to promote and market in times of self-isolation. If you’re interested, the Facebook Link to this event is:

https://www.facebook.com/events/230349908253190/

I think there will be a link somewhere on youTube after that night, but I’m not sure.

Meanwhile, I’d like to know how things are going for you in your part of the world? Are you venturing out of your home a little more? Making plans for the summer, or taking it day by day? Are you more productive than usual, less so, or about the same?

I think it’ll be a long time before we can put COVID-19 behind us, but every day is one step closer to resolutions, and don’t we all look forward to that?

Great Reads During Self-Isolation

An article in The Guardian this week reported that book sales in England are surging. Until the forced closures, sales in one store apparently went up over 400%! You can find the article HERE.

Given the world’s unusual circumstances, I’m sure the increase in book sales is happening in many countries. Not only are people reading more but they’re tackling longer books and classics like Ulysses . The article stated that other popular titles include The Bell Jar, 1984, Brave New World, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Love In The Time of Cholera. I’m pretty sure you can see the pattern here.

The article also noted that adult nonfiction sales appeared to drop, which suggests that British readers don’t want reality in their reading time, which is understandable. For me, though, nonfiction is an opportunity to learn something new. I just have to be careful of the topics. My last nonfiction read (mentioned in a blog last month), Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges, was a grim look at the decline of U.S. on many levels. Based on the news out of the States this month, things are hardly looking up.

After finishing that book, I dived into a fun fantasy, a couple of children’s books, and I’m now reading two of my favorite authors, Tony Hillerman and Sue Grafton. Their books are not only master classes in crime writing but are truly entertaining. I’ve been reading both authors, on and off for years, so picking up more of their books is like visiting with old friends, as is Agatha Christie.

BooksI’m reading Grafton’s alphabet series in order and am now up to Q is for Quarry. As you can see from the photo, I have a few more to get me through self-isolation, along with my favorite reading beverage. Few things are better than a good book and a good glass of wine by the fire.

I also just finished Tony Hillerman’s The Sinister Pig. I simply love his novels, but don’t read them in any particular order. Hillerman’s descriptions of the New Mexico landscape are so amazing that I definitely want to visit that state one day.

What books are you turning to for entertainment or for learning these days? What takes you right out of your world and into another filled with entertaining escapism? Share your recommendations, as I’m always looking for more books. One day I’ll have finished Grafton’s and Hillerman’s work and, since both authors have passed away, that will be a sad day, so I must keep searching for great new reads.

Six Positives To Self-Isolating

This week is our first full week of self-isolation. My place of employment sent everyone home last Wednesday, my son’s company sent him home on Friday, and my husband voluntarily started working from home on Monday.

Right now, each of us starts our day at our usual time, but rather than head out the door, we go to our separate work areas. I and my husband have basement offices and my son has his computers set up in his room (he works for a cyber security company). So far, I’ve seen more positives than negatives to our new lifestyle, and here’s why:

  1. My husband is saving 2-2/12 hours per day of commuting, my son is saving 90 minutes, and I’m saving 40 minutes, which is good for the environment, our stress levels, and our wallets, even though gas is significantly cheaper these days.
  1. read-652384_960_720[1]Instead of reading from my iPad, I’m reading more paperbacks bought from my local new and used bookstore, who need and appreciate the support.
  1. I’m able to take care of more writing tasks and am eating better on my work break.
  1. I’ve found great new exercise workouts on Utube.Flowers for Mimo
  1. My husband and I are doing more yard work together, for the first time. He usually takes care of the garden and yard, while I’m out running errands, meeting my writers’ group, or going to the gym.
  1. I’m checking in with friends and colleagues more often on social media, making sure everyone’s okay.

And then there’s the silence. I live near a major thoroughfare and generally only notice the quiet at special times, like Christmas morning, during a snowfall, or when I can’t sleep at 3:00 a.m. It’s like this every day now, and I’m hearing far fewer police, fire, and ambulance sirens. It’s almost as if the world has grown calmer, although I’m well aware that there’s plenty of angst happening out there.

I also know that self-isolation is perhaps easier for me than others because I’m an introvert and a writer. On some levels, self-isolation has always been part of life. But I do understand how difficult it can be. When I was a stay-at home mom with young kids, without a car and living on a hilly street, and my husband was putting in ten hour days at work accompanied by a 3-hour commute, I desperately wanted to go out and do something, or run a much-needed errand. Transit was terrible back then and on chilly, rainy days it just wasn’t feasible.

Still, there are things I also miss right now, like chatting with my friend while working out and visiting my daughter (who’s in her 22nd week of pregnancy), and hosting families dinners. I miss all the book launches and other writing events that have been cancelled.

But we’ll get through this and will re-emerge, and be more appreciative of what we have than what we’ve lost. There’s plenty to look forward to in 2020, and every day is one step closer to getting back on track with a new awareness and valuable lessons learned from this experience.

Trying Not to Fret Over Literacy Stats

read-652384_960_720[1]I just finished reading a book by American journalist and Princeton University professor, Chris Hedges called Empire of Illusion (The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle), and he has a lot to say about the decline in American literacy, among many other things. The book was published in 2009 and the figures he quotes are a dozen or more years old.

Hedges says: “Functional illiteracy is an epidemic in America.” From there he reports that 7 million Americans are illiterate, 27 million are unable to read well enough to complete a job application and 30 million can’t read a simple sentence. 50 million read at a 4th or 5th grade level. Nearly a third of the nation’s population are barely literate, a number that grows by more than 2 million every year. A third of high school grads never read another book for the rest of their lives. 42% of college students don’t, and in 2007, 80% of families in the U.S. did not buy or read a book. Each stat lists a footnote citing sources that include the National Institute for Literacy, National Center for Adult Literacy, The Literacy Company, and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Here in Canada, things aren’t much better, according to a 2006 CBC documentary, which claimed that 42% of Canadians are functionally illiterate. I went online to look up more current stats and not surprisingly, the numbers vary from source to source, so like most things in life, I take all of this with a grain of salt. Common sense tells me, though, that literacy can certainly be improved, and that people, in general, appear to be reading less due to other entertainment distractions.

The book delves into other topics such as the captivation with the cult of celebrity, how people believe what they’re fed on TV without questioning its authenticity, and keep in mind that Hedges was writing about this a dozen years ago. For many Americans, their reality is whatever the latest cable news show, political leader, advertiser, or loan officer says it, and most of those elements are controlled by corporations.

This troubling information reaches far deeper and is far more important than any desire I have to sell books. Rather, it’s about the decline of language and communication and analytical thinking, and the impact on our culture, economy, education, politics, and quality of life, to name a few.

Readingabook[1]Hedges isn’t the only one who’s concerned. This week, I came across another a more current headline from Publishing Perspectives, stating “UK’s 2020 World Book Day: Reading in Sharp Decline”. You can read the piece HERE.

Throughout the book, I began to wonder what, if any, solutions Hedges has to the problems of literacy and illusion. He doesn’t really, at least nothing concrete, but I know a couple of people who volunteer to help children read in schools and in adult community centers. Helping one another to improve reading skills and create joy in reading seems like a good place to start.

Keeping Up With Those Reading Lists!

Holidays-Card[1].png

Before sharing my favorite reads in 2019, I wanted to tell you that this will be my last blog until after Christmas. I and my family will be celebrating on the 24th and 25th, so I’ll probably be searching for the nearest gym on the 26th.

Also, production of my 6th Casey Holland mystery, The Blade Man, is nearly complete! The cover reveal will be on my January 8th blog. The designer’s done a fantastic job and I’ll be very happy to share it. The manuscript is formatted for the book printer, but I still have to get going on the ebook versions and set up pre-orders. The book will be officially launched on February 12th, but more on that in a few weeks.

As you many of you already know, this is the time of year when lists of recommended books are everywhere. There’s too many to name, so I’m just mentioning a small sampling that’s peaked my interest.

In my quest to read more nonfiction, I was interested to learn that investor Warren Buffet has a recommended reading list (see link HERE) as does Bill Gates (HERE). BookBub’s poll (HERE) has also come up with best books of the entire decade.

If that isn’t enough, Lithub presents a compilation of best reads taken from 37 different lists involving 749 books (HERE). Given how many books were published this year, I find it hard to believe that only 749 are noteworthy, but all lists are subjective, which leads five of my favorites of the 52 books I read this year. I was lucky to find many great reads this year, this time around I’ve chosen books that were compelling and thought-provoking. My top five are:

. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

. The Hanover Square Affair by Ashley Gardner (historical mystery)

. Becoming by Michelle Obama

. The Devil’s Half Mile by Paddy Hirsch (historical mystery)

. Eleventh Grave in Moonlight by Darynda Jones (urban fantasy)

I kind of surprised myself with the historical mysteries. I chose these perhaps because I would find it extremely difficult to write a historical mystery, and am in awe of those who do it well. Having said that, If I had to review my list again tomorrow, I’d probably change it for different titles. That’s how subjective lists are.

Anyway, here’s to more great reads in 2020, and Happy Holidays everyone!!

Searching For Great Urban Fantasy Novels to Read

BookshelvesGiven that I’m editing my first urban fantasy (still untitled), I’ve read a fair number of fantasy novels over the past three years. I’ve discovered great authors in Jim Butcher, Kelley Armstrong, Justin Cronin, Darynda Jones, Deanna Chase, Charlaine Harris, Morgan Rice, Deborah Harkness, and Terry Pratchett. I could list another fifty lesser known speculative fiction writers whose books I’ve really enjoyed, yet I still feel that I’ve barely scratched the surface of great books I should be reading.

When I came across an article listing “The 21 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books Ever”, I had to take a look (you can find it HERE). My problem with these types of lists, though, is that they are subjective and woefully incomplete. Only 21? How come? Perhaps this is a word-count issue for the piece, and the author does admit that a lot of great writers have been left off.

Many on the list are classic novelists such as Tolkien, William Gibson, Lois McMaster Bujold, Douglas Adams, and Ursula le Guin. Given that not all of the must-read authors are urban fantasy novelists, I’m not rushing out to read every book mentioned. I’m still looking for more great urban fantasies to read, so if any of you have some favorites, let me know.

This brings me to the link within the article, (HERE) which features the best books of 2019 so far (31 are listed). None of the titles are familiar to me, but the author provides descriptions of each. No matter how you cut it, I have a lot more reading ahead. It’s impossible to stay on top of even one genre, isn’t it?

So, what do you think of the list(s)? Would you agree with the author’s choices? Would urban fantasy novels would you suggest as must-reads these days? I’d really like to know.

Meet Guest Author, Jacqui Murray

Blog Post Image of The Quest For Home

One of the best things about being on WordPress is in meeting other authors. One of these great people is author Jacqui Murray, who has recently released her second prehistoric fiction novel, The Quest For Home, in the Crossroad series, part of the Man vs. Nature saga.

A short summary of the book:

Chased by a ruthless and powerful enemy, Xhosa flees with her People, leaving behind her African homeland, leading her People on a grueling journey through unknown and perilous lands. As they struggle to overcome treachery, lies, danger, tragedy, hidden secrets, and Nature herself, Xhosa must face the reality that her most dangerous enemy isn’t the one she expected. It may be one she trusts with her life. 

The story is set 850,000 years ago, a time in prehistory when man populated Eurasia. He was a violent species, fully capable of addressing the many hardships that threatened his survival except for one: future man, the one destined to obliterate any who came before.

Based on a true story, this is the unforgettable saga of hardship and determination, conflict and passion as early man makes his way across Eurasia, fleeing those who would kill him. He must be bigger-than-life, prepared time and again to do the impossible because nothing less than the future of mankind is at stake.

Jacqui’s on a blog tour and today she’s going to answer one key question about her work, which is: Convince me they can communicate as well as it sounds like they do with just gestures, hands, and facial movements. 

I get this a lot. Let me give you two examples. First, have you ever been around someone who doesn’t speak your language and still, the two of you communicate by pointing, hand gestures, body movements, and facial expressions? Second, think of sign language. Very sophisticated ideas are communicated with just hands and facial expressions. That’s how Xhosa and her kind did it. 

Find Jacqui and her Books at Any of These Sites:

Amazon Author Page:  https://www.amazon.com/Jacqui-Murray/e/B002E78CQQ/

Blog:                                 https://worddreams.wordpress.com

Instagram:                       https://www.instagram.com/jacquimurraywriter/

LinkedIn:                          http://linkedin.com/in/jacquimurray

Pinterest:                           http://pinterest.com/askatechteacher

Twitter:                               http://twitter.com/worddreams

Website:                              https://jacquimurray.net

Jacqui MurrayJacqui’s bio:

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman , the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for  NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, In the Footsteps of Giants, Winter 2020, the final chapter in the Crossroads Trilogy.

Excerpt from Chapter One, The Quest For Home

Northern shore of what we now call the Mediterranean Sea 

Pain came first, pulsing through her body like cactus spines. When she moved her head, it exploded. Flat on her back and lying as still as possible, Xhosa blindly clawed for her neck sack with the healing plants. Her shoulder screamed and she froze, gasping.

How can anything hurt that much?

She cracked one eye, slowly. The bright sun filled the sky, almost straight over her head.

And how did I sleep so long?

Fractured memories hit her—the raging storm, death, and helplessness, unconnected pieces that made no sense. Overshadowing it was a visceral sense of tragedy that made her shake so violently she hugged her chest despite the searing pain. After it passed, she pushed up on her arms and shook her head to shed the twigs and grit that clung to her long hair. Fire burned through her shoulders, up her neck and down her arms, but less than before. She ignored it.

A shadow blocked Sun’s glare replaced by dark worried eyes that relaxed when hers caught his.

“Nightshade.” Relief washed over her and she tried to smile. Somehow, with him here, everything would work out.

Her Lead Warrior leaned forward. Dripping water pooled at her side, smelling of salt, rotten vegetation, mud, and blood.

“You are alright, Leader Xhosa,” he motioned, hands erratic. Her People communicated with a rich collection of grunts, sounds, gestures, facial expressions, and arm movements, all augmented with whistles, hoots, howls, and chirps.

“Yes,” but her answer came out low and scratchy, the beat inside her chest noisy as it tried to burst through her skin. Tears filled her eyes, not from pain but happiness that Nightshade was here, exactly where she needed him. His face, the one that brought fear to those who might attack the People and devastation to those who did, projected fear.

She cocked her head and motioned, “You?”

Deep bruises marred swaths of Nightshade’s handsome physique, as though he had been pummeled by rocks.  An angry gash pulsed at the top of his leg. His strong upper arm wept from a fresh wound, its raw redness extending up his stout neck, over his stubbled cheek, and into his thick hair. Cuts and tears shredded his hands.

“I am fine,” and he fell silent. Why would he say more? He protected the People, not whined about injuries.

When she fumbled again for her neck sack, he reached in and handed her the plant she needed, a root tipped with white bulbs. She chewed as Nightshade scanned the surroundings, never pausing anywhere long, always coming back to her.

The sun shone brightly in a cloudless sky. Sweltering heat hammered down, sucking up the last of the rain that had collected in puddles on the shore. Xhosa’s protective animal skin was torn into shreds but what bothered her was she couldn’t remember how she got here.

“Nightshade, what happened?”

 

WordVancouver 2019 Coming Soon!

Word+Vancouver+2019+Website+Banner+SquareIn just two weeks, from Tues., Sept. 24th to Sun. Sept. 29th, the annual WORDVancouver festival will be celebrating its 25th year here in Vancouver. This celebration of reading and writing will feature many author readings, exhibits, workshops, panel discussions, and all kinds of fun stuff.

I love this event because it has something to offer people of all ages and reading preferences. Poets, comic book authors, nonfiction writers, Indigenous authors, and many fiction authors, among others, will be there.

The biggest day is the final day, Sunday, where there will also be musical entertainment. This free, family-friendly event will be held both outdoor and indoors down at and around Vancouver’s main public library on Georgia St.

I’ll be helping volunteer at the Crime Writers of Canada table from 11:00 to 1:00 p.m. There will also be a panel discussion on Setting in Crime Fiction from 12:05 to 1:05 pm in the Montalbano Family Theatre, so if you’re a fan of crime writing, come by and check us out!

You can learn more about the festival’s schedule HERE

Hope to see you there!

Celebrating International Literacy Day

tumblr_ma0chcq3dn1qedj2ho1_1280[1].pngFor those who don’t know, today is International Literacy Day. Created by UNESCO’s General Conference in 1966, the purpose of this event is to raise awareness of the important of literacy in communities around the globe.

According to one website, 16% of the world’s population, two thirds of them girls, are unable to read or write in their native language. While many programs are underway and doing great things to help, there’s still a long way to go. You can learn more HERE

There are plenty of things people can do to help promote literacy, but just helping someone with reading challenges is a huge and important step forward. When my kids were little, I spent many hours over the years reading to them. It’s one of the best things I ever did as a Mom.

This year’s theme is Literacy and Multilingualism. I work in the Linguistics department at a university here in Canada, and most of the people in my department speak at least two languages. Some speak four or five, and one professor far more than that! Three of our faculty members and others are working diligently to teach and record Indigenous languages, and to instruct other students on how to teach those languages before they are lost. It’s quite remarkable.

So, hats off to literacy and multilingualism, learning and communicating. No matter how technologically advanced we become, it doesn’t mean much if you can’t express and share your ideas with words.

Positive Takeaways From an Ugly Experience

The Latin Quarter, Paris, FranceIn ten years of book reviewing, now topping over 500 reviews, I have to say that it’s been a rewarding experience. I love reading and reviewing books. It’s amazing when I come across an author I’ve never heard of and find a story that I just love.

I read both famous and new, unknown authors. I read almost everything and draw on both self-published and traditionally published books. Basically, I choose whatever intrigues me on any given day. I also like to help and support other authors. So when I answered someone’s review request in the fall of 2016, I gave a balanced, honest review of a book that had some major grammatical, spelling, and typo flaws, but which also had a good plot and characters. I wound up giving it a 3-star interview on Amazon, (2-stars on Goodreads).

The author didn’t like my review and also wanted me to tell her where all the typos were. I told her about two of them and pointed out that it was her job to find the rest. That’s when she began ranting at me on Twitter. She emailed me a couple of times, but I didn’t respond. What was the point? I felt no need to defend or justify my review, and still don’t.

So imagine my surprise when I learned this past Sunday that she had posted a scathing rant on Facebook about me, warning her Friends about my “malicious” review. Oh yes, apparently, I was “stupid and ugly” too.

Honestly, I’d forgotten all about her because the review was posted well over two years ago. Clearly, she hadn’t forgotten about me. What happened next was what really shocked me. Within an hour of the woman’s post, I had 23 people who had called her on it, told her it was wrong to attack a reviewer, and who then asked to “Friend” me as a means of offering support, so I did. Many felt that the woman’s remarks were uncalled for and that I didn’t deserve this treatment.

My expanding social network is still expanding as I write this. More people know who I am, what I write, and that I approach my reviews with integrity. I could make a number of points about this experience, but I want to focus on two that are most important to me.

One: The writing community is filled with wonderful supportive people who will not put up with bullying, abusive behavior.

Two: Honesty and integrity not only matter, but are appreciated.

It does my heart good to know this, and I will continue writing reviews because I still enjoy it. I’m not afraid of the occasional unprofessional rant about my work, whether it’s over reviews, blogs, or my books. The positive feedback far outweighs the negative and for that I’m grateful.