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?

The World’s Growing Impatience

Social[1]Long before the pandemic began, I habitually browsed through a variety of news sources to find out what was happening in the world. As I do so these days, one question keeps replaying in my head…how long can people reasonably be expected to social isolate before they chuck it in order to visit cherished family and friends, or to salvage what’s left of their business? As you all know, millions of folks are missing out on paychecks, medical procedures, visits with ailing family members, and educational prospects.

Here in British Columbia, talk has started about a slow and careful reopening, although we’re still two weeks away from lifting the state of emergency. Our provincial health officer isn’t ready to provide specific dates about starting elective surgeries or re-opening classrooms. It’s worth noting that B.C.’s lockdown hasn’t been as strict as it is in other provinces, and that many of BC’s closures are self-imposed. Still, I sense that people are starting to become really frustrated and even angry about the lack of work and accessibility to services. Here in the Lower Mainland, we are seeing more vehicles on the road than there was two weeks ago, although what this actually means isn’t clear. Maybe people just want to go for a drive. After all, gas is really cheap right now.

As I’ve mentioned before, self-isolation is easier for some than others, depending on circumstances, but is there a line that some will cross before health experts give the all clear?

The day that line is crossed will be different for everyone. Mother’s Day is coming up, as is the Victoria Day long weekend in about three weeks. If the weather is hot and sunny, what will happen then?

Governments aren’t bottomless pits of financial aid. They will run out of money and things will have to re-open—hopefully in a smart, safe way—long before a vaccine is developed. Will the majority of people be back at work this summer? Will the beaches and parks and malls re-open? If so, will the numbers of people allowed in be restricted, and if so, who will regulate those wide open spaces? It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

I don’t know what my own personal line is, but my daughter will give birth sometime in late July. I haven’t seen her in person since March 8th, and although I would never do anything to jeopardize her health, the urge to go see her will become overwhelming as time passes.

Yes, we’re all in this together, but as I’ve seen on the news this week, there are different interpretations of togetherness. Many of us are still doing our best to stay home, remain patient, and see what unfolds. May should prove to be an interesting month.

Writing About The Pandemic, Or Not

We’re all so immersed in the COVID-19 pandemic that it seems nearly impossible to get through an entire day without hearing something from TV, radio, and social media. And maybe that’s as it should be. I’ve always felt that staying informed is crucial, despite the contradictory statements and misinformation.

0304_n13_covid_19_coronavirus_graphic_generic_file[1]I’ve been reading blogs from people around the world about their personal experiences. It adds a poignancy and depth to the medical stats and political statements we’re bombarded with. I appreciate the candidness of bloggers expressing their hopes and fears, or even when they simply discuss their altered routines.

But, here’s a question I came across from an author this weekend, and it’s made me stop and think. If you’re working on a novel set in 2020,  will you be making reference to the pandemic and, if so, how much reference? Will it become a major part of your plot or will you avoid it altogether? After all, there are certainly people out there who seem happy to pretend that the whole thing’s an overblown hoax, which opens up interesting psychological components in fictional characters.

Writing Clip Art(2)jpgShould you build a plot around the pandemic, or should you mention it in passing? If one of my Casey Holland transit mysteries was set in the spring of 2020, my characters would be working in quite a different way than normal. Bus drivers are not charging fares these days. Passengers must enter from the back and sit within social distancing guidelines. In other words, no full buses allowed. This kind of reality couldn’t be ignored in my work, as social distancing would have to play a role in everything my characters do, whether sharing information on Zoom or writing reports from home. Unless someone was breaking the rules, face-to-face confrontations wouldn’t be happening, yet they are a crucial aspect of mystery/thrillers.

Here’s another issue. If you want to set your book in the spring of 2020, how much detail is too much? How do you keep from slowing your story’s pace with too many unnecessary details? And do you risk losing readers who’ll be sick of hearing about the pandemic and don’t want to read one word about it?

Movies made about OJ Simpson’s murder trial and other real-life murders have never held any appeal for me, if I’ve already lived through those periods of time. I remember wishing the OJ trial would just end so we could all get on with our lives. The same is true for Richard Nixon’s impeachment in the early 70’s.

I’m curious to know if those of you who write contemporary fiction( mainstream or genre) plan to incorporate the pandemic in your work. What about those of you who are children’s authors? Is this a topic you’ll want to address down the road? What do you, as readers and writers, think is the best way to handle the pandemic in fiction?

My Mother’s Favorite Quote

One of my mother’s favorite sayings was “Everything happens for a reason”. If she was still with us today, she’d be saying exactly that right about now. I can actually hear her words in my head. I never could argue with Mom on this point, but sometimes I had a hard time figuring out what the reason was whenever a strange or disastrous event happened to friends or family, or when I heard of immense tragedies in other parts of the world.

With the rising number of deaths and illnesses from COVID-19, plus the social isolation, struggling global economy, fear, and uncertainty, I can’t help asking why. It’s in my nature. I do this all the time in real life about many things. The question’s also a crucial component in plotting mystery novels.

tropical-habitat-natural-environment-for-manatee-mammals[1]Scientific theories for the virus’s spread are circulating, along with tons of unscientific ones. Rather than focus on bats and conspiracy theories, I’ve been approaching the question in a more philosophical way (thanks to Mom’s quote) or perhaps an environmental one.

I started realizing that with fewer cruise ships on the water, fewer cars on the road, and fewer aircraft in the sky, maybe we’re giving the environment a wee bit of a much needed break. The Monday night evening news showed images of Venice canals that were actually blue and so clear compared to their usual murky brown state that people could see the bottom. Imagine that!

78[1]About a month ago, I read that emissions in China had decreased by about 25%. Whether this percentage is true or not isn’t as important as the often destructive ways human beings have interacted with animals, oceans, rivers, trees, jungles, and so forth. Did you seen photos of all the garbage left on Mount Everest earlier this year?

I’ve come to the conclusion that Mother Nature has just walloped our bottoms with a warning to behave, or else. We’ve even been sent to our rooms to think about what we’ve done. Lord knows we’d been given plenty of warnings through frequent and severe storms and fires, among other things, and too many of us still weren’t paying attention. Now, the ante has been raised and if we don’t pay attention this time, we’ll receive another beat down that’s going to kill a lot more people than the 7,500+ plus souls so far.

It’s up to each of us to step up game and help heal the planet, or face something much worse. At least, that’s how I interpret Mom’s quote.

Underwater_turtle[1]

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.

Pondering the Pros and Cons of Blog Tours

KEEP-CALM-BLOG-ON[1]I have a confession to make. With seven published full-length books and two novellas, I’ve never taken part in a blog tour. I have nothing against them as they seem like a good way to promote one’s book. But with two part-time jobs, family responsibilities, and several writing projects on the go, I never felt I had the time or energy to prepare a dozen or more blogs.

I have written guest blogs before and answered interview questions, but I can do this only half a dozen times before I run out of steam. Honestly, I’m not even sure how to come up with ideas for twenty or more blogs. I have maybe two topics in the works and one completed blog, but that won’t be enough.

I follow over seventy blogs and a number of them host guest authors who are on blog tours, but very few focus on crime fiction. I read some of the guest blogs, but not all of them. It depends on whether I know the author and what the topic is, and how much time I have for reading blogs on any given day.

So, I could use your advice. Are blog tours a good way to spend your time and energy?

If your answer is yes, then do you have tips on how to find guest blogging opportunities that would especially interest mystery readers? I know there are services that arrange blog tours for authors, but again I know little about them or their price range. So, any input would be appreciated!

Should I Use a Pen Name?

Pen and NotepadThose who’ve been following my blog a while know that I’ve been writing and editing my first urban fantasy for some time. It’s getting closer to completion, but while there’s still work to be done, I’ve started pondering about whether I should adopt a pen name.

The thing is, I’ve been writing and publishing mysteries for years. This blog is called Mystery Deb and my amateur sleuth transit mysteries are pretty much my brand. But I’ve been stretching my wings and am excited about this new creative part of my life. So the question is, do I keep my name or should I adopt a pen name for the fantasy novels?

I’ve read a few blogs over the past couple of years about the pros and cons of using a pen name when publishing in different genres. I don’t remember the details in those blogs, but I do remember some points, and both sides presented good arguments.

One of the main reasons for keeping one’s name is that the author’s platform is already there. If readers like the author’s writing style, then they might be more inclined to try the author’s work in a different genre.

The downside of this is that new readers who don’t know the author could become confused as to what it is they write exactly. They might come across one title in the mystery series, but see another title in the fantasy genre. Does this really confuse readers, though?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Have any of you used pen names? If so, what are the pros and cons? As readers, do you find it challenging to follow an author if that person is using different names?

If I go ahead and choose a pen name, should I be setting up a separate platform on my blog Twitter account and Facebook page, or should I keep it all together? Decisions, decisions…

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.

Thanksgiving Gratitude and Surprises

CA_thanksgiving1[1]Last weekend, my Canadian friends and family celebrated Thanksgiving. Other than doing a little editing and book formatting, this wasn’t a productive writing weekend, but rather a weekend for family and for reflection on the many things I’m grateful for. It was also a day to remember my mother who would have celebrated her 85th birthday on Sunday the 13th.

Her ashes were scattered on Sunday. We toasted her with a bottle of sparkling wine, her favorite celebration beverage, and a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, which was her favorite holiday meal. We also began the task of sorting through the last of her belongings that I’d been storing in our spare bedroom since early June.

When we packed up her apartment in July 2018 to move her into assisted living, we thought we’d been through everything. As it turns out, we didn’t closely inspect every book and photograph. You won’t believe what we found.

Stamp album.jpgFirst, we came across what looked like a book, but what was actually The Victory Stamp Album, which is pretty much self-explanatory. The title page says that the book was made in England but published in Toronto (in England and French) by The Copp Clark Co. Ltd. I’ve never heard of them but stamp enthusiasts and others might know who they were. Inscribed on the inside of the book, is the caption, “To my dear little son Clifford with love and all good wishes, from Mother.” Clifford was my grandfather, born in 1908. Some of the stamps are missing, but others are still there. It felt like I was holding a bit of history in my hands.

 

War time book.jpgThe second surprise was a thin book called “How to Solve Some of Your Wartime Home Problems” published by Canadian General Electric Co. Limited, dated Nov. 1943. Some of the chapter headings are “How to Conserve Fuel and Still Keep Warm” and “How to Get the Most Out of the Food You Buy” that includes meat rationing recipes, like Braised Beef Heart, Beef Liver Creole, Pic Hocks and Sauerkraut, and Creamed Sweetbreads with Mushrooms”. How different our Canadian diets are today!

The third book was apparently the first book given to my mother. The cover has all but fallen off, but handwritten inside is the date 1939. Mom was born in 1934. It’s an illustrated book of Bible stories.

Lastly, I came across a photo of my grandfather Clifford’s grandmother, whose name was Jane Anne Taylor before marriage to the Mason clan. In other words she was my great, great grandmother. I had no idea. Looking at more family photos of my aunts, I can still see some resemblance. Simply amazing. My kids and I learned some valuable family history on Sunday, and I’m thankful that my mother kept these things, and that her memory will live on.

The Growth of a Popular Scam

I love blogging on WordPress. It’s introduced me to many great people whose blogs I enjoy reading and learning from. From time to time, I’ve also entertained the idea of adapting my books into screenplays. Screenwriting interests me, and understandably, many authors would love to see their books make it to TV or movie screens.

WordPress has raised my profile, apparently enough to attract the attention of unsolicited emails from strangers offering to promote my books. Some of them even take the time to mention my latest title, Knock Knock. But I’m also seeing more unsolicited offers to help turn my books into movies. Hmm. Sounds a little too good to be true, right?

fraud-alert-sign[1]According to Victoria Strauss, who’s written a really informative piece for Writer Beware®, there’s been an explosion of “book-to-screen scams”, which offer to help authors turn their books into movie deals. Some of the packages are rather elaborate, not to mention expensive, but they quite enticing.

This scam isn’t new, Strauss notes, but it is increasingly prevalent, which is why she wants people to understand how it works. Strauss adds that it’s debatable if any of these services, regardless of who provides it, actually get the desired results for authors. I also know that I’m regularly approached on LinkedIn with a similar type of offer.

If you’re approached by a service that sounds too good to be true, please exercise due diligence, and read Victoria Strauss’s blog HERE.

Maybe we authors should prepare a list of legitimate sites that assists authors, although perhaps one already exists somewhere.