Remembrance Day Thoughts

Poppies in a field after remembrance day ceremonies

I don’t have immediate family members who served in any war, although it’s highly possible that distant relatives served in at least one of the world wars. Regardless, Remembrance Day is one of the most important, and certainly most poignant, days of the year for me.

Over the years, I’ve kept every poppy I’ve purchased, except for the many that have fallen from my jacket. Seventeen of them are pinned to my bulletin board among business cards and notes. These poppies are a constant reminder that, thanks to those who served, I have freedoms here in Canada that citizens of some other countries do not. The freedom to choose my own path, though, came with a hefty price for those who fought for this privilege.

Serving in the armed forces must be one of the most difficult, and in many ways, thankless jobs a person can do. Yet, to me, it’s a noble and essential profession, and we need to honor these folks more than ever.

Heartfelt thanks and a big salute to the men and women who served and are serving today. This year, I’ll be watching the ceremonies on TV, with tears in my eyes and poppies nearby, as I always do. Lest we forget.

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Two Great Books For Writers

Now that the rainy season is here in British Columbia, my afternoons of yard work are pretty much over, so I’ve rejigged my daily schedule to reserve more time for reading and online learning in the afternoons. Maybe I’ll do more editing as well. Heaven knows there are still plenty of changes to make in my urban fantasy.

Those who follow my blog know that I’ve reading a fair bit on self-publishing and marketing over the past month. I’m also investing my time on great books for writers. One of them is Writing Monsters by Philip Athans, which is a great guide for anyone who’s writing horror, science fiction, or fantasy. What I really like about this book is the way he makes the reader think about why a monster should appear in one’s story. What is its purpose? How and when it should appear? He even provides a checklist of questions as we come up with new and innovative scary creatures. There’s plenty in the world to frighten us these days, and tapping into what scares us most is a good start to creating fictional monsters.

Stephen King’s book On Writing, was published twenty years ago and has been recommended to me numerous times, so I finally bought a copy and am just over halfway through the book now. I’m really enjoying his unique and candid approach which, as the title reflects, is more of a memoir in the first half than a how-to book. The book is filled with anecdotes from his childhood, teen years, and early married life, when he first wrote Carrie, a character he’s never really liked, by the way. Out of those experiences, are terrific writing insights and tips, which I’m jotting down.

If you’re stuck indoors and looking to improve your writing, these books might help. I’ve also started reading The Occupation Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. The introductory pages have already given me ideas for a paranormal series I’ve been mulling over for several weeks. The ideas are coming along, faster than I can write and edit them, but that’s not a terrible place to be!

Those Devilish Details

As an indie author with wide distribution, meaning that I sell my books on other platforms besides Amazon, I’ve learned that it’s crucial to keep the information at the back of my ebooks separate between Amazon and other booksellers.

Amazon doesn’t like it if, for example, I provide universal links to other platforms at the back of an ebook that I published directly through Amazon. As Draft2Digital is my distributor for Kobo, Apple books, and Nook, among others, I therefore had to create two separate ebook files to keep things straight. Apple also will refuse to list my books if I include any Amazon links at the back of my books, by the way. While I understand that the conglomerates aren’t interested in supporting one another, it also means we have to pay extra attention to production details.

This week, I’ve been updating the backend information in each of my Casey Holland mysteries, and reducing prices in preparation for a couple of upcoming promotion events. One of the things I’ve done is add a short paragraph, inviting readers to post a review on Amazon or wherever they’d like.

On sale for $.99, starting Oct. 28th!

After submitting the fourth book revision, I received a message indicating that Apple won’t accept the updates until I remove the word Amazon from my review request. Oddly, this apparently wasn’t an issue for them with the first three books. To prevent further disruption, I created a more generic review request for the first three anyway and resubmitted them.

Both self-publishing and traditional publishing are filled with restrictions and rules, which aren’t always clear. It’s why I keep detailed notes, as there’s no way I’ll remember the details when I release another book a year or two from now. If I decide to publish directly with Apple and Kobo down the road, I’ll probably need separate versions for their books as well, and I’ve no doubt that the formatting will be different for them than it is for D2D.

If you’re fairly new to publishing, I suggest that you make notes of every step in your book’s production process, especially if you’re planning to offer your book for wide distribution. If you wish to provide links to other books in the future, remember Amazon only promotes Amazon, so you’ll need different versions. It’s extra work, but providing live links for readers is worth the effort.

Canada’s most closely guarded secret: October is Women’s History Month

I came across Jane Fritz’s incredible post and wanted to share. I had no idea that October was Women’s History Month in Canada. Not one person in the media has mentioned this, as far as I know, and I watch several news channels everyday.

Robby Robin's Journey

OK, all of you readers who are Canadian women, raise your hand if you knew that October is Canada’s Women’s History Month, so almost over? I’m not raising my hand, or at least I wouldn’t have a few days ago. I came across it inadvertently while meandering around the Internet (where I spend a great deal of my time, I admit).

I have to ask: why have a Women’s History Month different from March (when the more well-known International Women’s Day is celebrated) if you’re not going to promote it? Once you know it exists, you can find a little information, but just a little. According to a post on the government’s Status of Women website, “in 1992 the Government of Canada designated October as Women’s History Month, marking the beginning of an annual month-long celebration of the outstanding achievements of women throughout Canada’s history. Women’s History Month includes International…

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Improving Marketing Strategies

One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned as an author is that marketing is as much of a marathon (if not longer) as is the process of coming up with an idea for a book, then writing and rewriting until it’s finally ready for publication.

Authors with marketing backgrounds excel at implementing strategies for reaching potential readers, but for the rest of us it’s a hit-and-miss process to figure out what works best. Also, in this rapidly changing world, what worked well five years ago doesn’t work nearly as well today.

I’ve been reading recommended books on the topic of ebook marketing, and found a great resource in author David Gaughran. I just finished taking his free course (I don’t know how much longer it will be free) called Starting From Zero, which you can find HERE. I’ve also read his book Let’s Get Digital. The book is an introduction to publishing, but the latter sections on marketing were so useful that I’m currently reworking my Amazon book descriptions, finding better keywords, and changing the price for upcoming promotions.

Gaughran stresses the importance of developing a website, having a Facebook page, and getting an email list going. I’ve being doing the first two for some time, but I’ve always balked at the idea of maintaining an email list, which is a huge mistake in Gaughran’s view.

Part of my reasoning was that I didn’t want to bother people with announcements to buy my book, every time I released a new one (Gaughran also used to think this way), but the other reason is that I already make announcements on my blog and other social media outlets, so wouldn’t I be repeating myself?

I’m curious if any of you use an email list in addition to your blog. As part of my book updates, I’m adding a link to my blog on my end pages (I probably should have done this from the start) inviting people to join if they’d like to learn more about my writing life and to receive upcoming announcements.

It seems like there’s always something to tweak and improve upon, but as Gaughran also notes, the most important part of your day should still be writing. I couldn’t agree more.

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