Socializing Through a Pandemic

Summer’s here and many fun events are returning to British Columbia. I’ve just finished facilitating an 11-week long spring session of the creative writing program offered in our city. The group was small, but I’d still been a little worried about exposure to Covid. Hospitalization rate were still fairly high in April but have been going down since then. Happily, the rec center gave us a large room in a quiet part of the building, so we felt safe. One of my students came down with Covid and was away for one week, but no one else was impacted.

As I write this, my daughter’s place of employment currently has about ten percent of their staff sick with Covid, after having been encouraged to return to work. As you can imagine, those who work in a common area are the ones who are sick. Those who have their own offices are so far staying healthy. Still, ten percent is a lot.

The cautionary tales I’ve been hearing from medical experts tells me that it’s probably still a good idea to wear my mask in public indoor places. Like many of you, I’m also eager to get back to socializing, especially when it comes to writing events. I turned down two invitations to indoor book launches this spring. I had no idea how many people would attend, how large the venue was, or whether the room was well ventilated. Generally, I don’t feel particularly anxious about most things, when you’re babysitting a two-year-old most weekdays it seems wise to be cautious.

Having said that, I’m attending two outdoor events this week. One is a BBQ with my old employer at Simon Fraser University. Since 97% of the university’s population is vaccinated, I figure it should be okay, although I’ll keep my hand sanitizer close by.

I’m also a vendor at an outdoor mini-craft fair at the TownShip7 Winery this Sunday. This is one of my favourite venues, as the event has musical entertainment and the artisans will be spread apart. Wine tasting, bookselling, and music in a vineyard is a wonderful way to spend the day. The event is also fundraising for the Osteoporosis Society. I know that some of you live in the Lower Mainland, so if you have some time and enjoy wine tasting, this is a great opportunity to get out and enjoy what will be a bright, sunny day.

I’ll be participating in another Art on the Vine event in late August and also selling books at a local Farmer’s Market on Thursday July 14th. So, yes, I’m socializing more, but honestly, I’ll be taking precautions.

For those of you who are looking for more free crime fiction reads, I’m taking part in another BookFunnel offering until the end of June. This is the Women Solve Crime Mystery Giveaway and a good number of the 30+ offerings are cozies, which make great beach reads. The link HERE.

How about you? Are you over Covid anxiety and attending events this summer, or are you still a little anxious?

My 5-Star Reads So Far This Year

I’ve been catching up on reading these past few weeks. So far, I’ve read 20 books this year, which is five books behind my normal schedule. But whenever I’m staying over at my daughter’s for babysitting duties, the evenings are spent catching up on blogs, newsletters, and books.

The eclectic mix of genres have been truly enjoyable reads. Two of the crime fiction authors, J.T. Siemens and Winona Kent, were guest bloggers earlier this spring, but I want to mention them again as they’re excellent writers who deserve more attention.

To Those Who Killed Me by J.T. Siemens, is a gritty, noir mystery that reveals the darker side of Vancouver. J.T.’s Instagram account shows interesting black-and-white photos of some of the actual venues mentioned in his book. The photos beautifully capture the book’s noir feel.

Ticket to Ride by Winona Kent is a delightful amateur sleuth-based mystery set in England, featuring musician and new private detective Jason Davey. I love Winona’s descriptions and the way she incorporates family dynamics into her stories. There’s a lot of heart in her books as well as terrific storytelling.

Silver Bells by C.J. Hunt, is a heartwarming Christmas romance. It’s also a novella that you can read quickly. The romantic scenes are nicely written and the book’s contemporary concepts about a single dad trying to run his business and a woman who’s sold her startup company and is rethinking career options are relatable topics.

Given all the cold, rainy weather in my area last month, it seemed only natural to read another Christmas novella. Crimson Frost by J.P. McLean is a suspenseful supernatural story. Given that the protagonist is only 19, it likely falls into the YA category, but this is a riveting story for all ages at any time of year. Grief, turbulence, and the supernatural elements added to the enjoyment for me.

The Library of Legends by Janie Chang is an amazing historical fiction novel set in China in 1937. The Japanese have invaded the country and the university students are forced to flee by undertaking a 1,000 mile trek to safety in the country’s interior. What struck me was the exceptional writing and the way Janie incorporates mythical fantasy with reality. The story is based on her father’s real-life experience. Absolutely riveting.

Last but not least, is the romantic suspense story Lure by W.L. Hawkin. To me, this book raises the bar by incorporating exquisite writing with real-life tragedy centered around missing  Indigenous women, a topic that has a troubling, longstanding history here in British Columbia. Wendy adds layers to the story by adding a mystery whodunit and a haunting, spiritual component. It’s one of those stories that’s stayed with me.

That’s it so far. I’ve read a number of nonfiction titles related to writing but I hope to explore many other topics this year.

Virtual Mystery Conference, May 24 – 28

I’m back to babysitting this week, so things are a little slower on the writing front, however, I wanted to share info about the Maple Leaf Mystery Conference coming up next week.

It’s a virtual event and for a $25 fee you can attend interviews with Ian Rankin, Rick Mofina, Maureen Jennings and many others. There will also be several panel discussions over this four-day event on a variety of topics for mystery readers and writers. For more info about the program and registration, please check out the link HERE.

I’m not affiliated with the conference and won’t be able to participate this year, but a number of my colleagues are taking part, and I’m excited for them. I will be taking part in a conference in mid-August, but I’ll save that info for a later date.

Free and Discounted Mysteries For You

Before I launch into today’s topics, I want to say that Canadian Independent Bookstore Day last Saturday was a great success for our local store, Western Sky Books. This was their best event ever, and it was heartwarming to see supporters come out in droves. It was great fun to see a number of writers I hadn’t seen in person in more than two years, and one author I hadn’t seen in a decade!

So, here we are in May, one of my favorite months of the year. The weather’s warming slowly although there’s still a fair bit of rain and cloud hovering over BC’s lower mainland these days. Flowers are blooming, albeit slower than last year. Since I was married in mid-May nearly 34 years ago and our family always celebrates Mother’s Day, it’s a special month.

This weekend, I’m offering great deals on most of the titles in my 6-book Casey Holland series this weekend, which ends on May 9th. You can find the link to the entire series with just one click HERE. By clicking on that page, you’ll see that the combined price for all the books is under $10.

I’m also taking part in two BookFunnel events offering free mystery ebooks all month. One is the Leading Ladies of Mystery giveaway featuring female lead characters. The link is HERE.

The other offer focuses on mystery and suspense titles, with either male or female protagonists, which you can find HERE.

So, please take advantage of these opportunities. Summer’s coming and it’s time to load up your devices with new books as you prepare for holidays or at least a little more downtime. Couldn’t we all use some R & R and escapes into great fiction?

Celebrating Canadian Independent Bookstore Day

Every year, Canada celebrates independent bookstores and this year the celebration takes place on Saturday, April 30th.

As stated on the Canadian Independent Booksellers Association (CIBA) website, this is a day when authors, illustrators, readers, publishers, booksellers, and other supporters come together to celebrate indie stores. Managers and staff go out of their way to support authors, and as you can imagine, they’ve had a tough go of it during the pandemic. This year, stores are welcoming people back with open arms. The CIBA is also offering a contest for book lovers which you can check out on their website HERE.

For my local blogging friends, Western Sky Books in Port Coquitlam has invited me to take part in selling my books from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. I’m thrilled to be sharing space with fellow authors Janie Chang and Priscilla Omulo. So, come by and say hi. Other authors will be at Western Sky throughout the day. To learn more, check out their website HERE.

Western Sky is the venue where I launched my 6th Casey Holland mystery in February 2020.

To those of you outside Canada, do you have similar events in the U.S., UK, or Australia?

Welcoming Guest Mystery Author, Winona Kent

I’m delighted to host colleague and fellow BC mystery author, Winona Kent, this week. She’s just released her 4th Jason Davey mystery, Ticket to Ride, which I’ve finished reading and really enjoyed. If you like entertaining whodunits set in England and are a music fan, then this book is a must read. Winona’s post discusses an interesting and relatable aspect about herself and one of the characters in her book so, take it away Winona!

After a gap of about eight years, I’ve made a concerted effort to embrace social networking. I’ve just released a new novel, and this time I’m determined to work flat out at promoting it online. If nothing else, it’s causing my creative brain to go into overtime. I haven’t been this busy in decades.

I’ve written all kinds of posts (I know I’ve driven my friends crazy on Facebook). I have a mix of out-and-out promo’s for Ticket to Ride, along with personal things like photos from my recent trip to England, and random, off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts. What’s been an eye-opener to me is the popularity of one of posts on my personal Facebook page…a celebration that I’d lost 45 pounds over the past couple of years, got my Type 2 diabetes stabilized, and managed to get myself off insulin in the process.

At last count, that post had 111 reactions and 124 comments. I think that must be some kind of record for me.

I guess the weight loss thing resonates with a lot of my friends. We’re all getting older (I’m 67), and we’re all going to come to terms with health issues, sooner or later. Obesity has recently been officially recognized by medical communities as a chronic disease, rather than a behavioural issue, and that’s opened up all kinds of avenues for therapies that are more successful than the usual “eat less and exercise more” advice that our GP’s have issued in the past.

One of the other things that has resonated with my friends is the upsurge in Type 2 diabetes. I was diagnosed in 2009, but I wasn’t at all frightened. My husband had been diagnosed ten years earlier, so I knew it could be treated and managed with meds, lifestyle and diet changes.

What I didn’t know – until it was pointed out to me by the physicians at the medically-supervised weight loss clinic I attended – was that insulin actually promotes weight gain. It’s a sad irony. I was told that if I could lose weight, I could take the strain off my pancreas, and it might start to work more efficiently again. Yet, the one therapy that helps regulate our blood sugar the most, and which is prescribed routinely as standard treatment, is insulin. Go figure.

Anyway, long story short, I lost 45 pounds and because my pancreas was able to start working more efficiently again, I was able to stop taking insulin. I’m still on three other meds which control my glucose levels (one of them is that once-a-week shot which, as a side effect, also promotes weight loss). But I’ve been able to say goodbye to those nightly injections into my upper thigh. (I could never inject into my stomach – it’s far too sensitive.)

One interesting side-effect of being familiar with insulin, however, is that I was able to use my first-hand, intimate knowledge of the stuff in my latest novel, Ticket to Ride.

I did quite a lot of research on top of what I knew. I tasted it. Interesting. I smelled it. (Yes, insulin has a very distinctive smell – it’s the preservative.) I looked into all the different types (there are several, long-acting and short-acting, depending on your particular needs). And I looked into real cases of deliberate massive insulin overdose. And how they were treated. And what the recovery rate was. I had to read a lot of articles in peer-reviewed medical journals. Fortunately, before I retired, I worked in the Faculty of Medicine at UBC.

It was all for a good cause. My main character has a particularly harrowing run-in with insulin in Ticket to Ride. And you can be absolutely certain, when you read it, that I know exactly what I’m talking about.

Ticket to Ride was released on March 26.

More info at my website:

http://www.winonakent.com/tickettoride.html

Winona Kent is an award-winning author who was born in London, England and grew up in Canada, where she completed her BA in English at the University of Regina. After moving to Vancouver, she graduated from UBC with an MFA in Creative Writing. More recently, she received her diploma in Writing for Screen and TV from Vancouver Film School. Winona has been a temporary secretary, a travel agent, a screenwriter and the Managing Editor of a literary magazine. She’s currently serving on the Board of the Crime Writers of Canada and is an active member of Sisters in Crime – Canada West. She lives in New Westminster, BC, where she is happily embracing life as a full-time author.

Here’s some ordering links for a Ticket to Ride:

Amazon Canada: Paperback, ebook

Amazon US: Paperback, ebook

Amazon UK: Paperback, ebook

Barnes & Noble: Paperback, ebook

Apple books, Kobo

My Odd Relationship with Instagram

Last month, the Alliance of Independent Authors posted a good article about how to boost your presence and ultimately book sales on Instagram. There was a lot of useful advice, which you can find HERE. The more I read, however, the more my head started to spin. Among the many suggestions were preparing reels, posting high-quality content regularly, creating a theme, hashtags, being creative in the captions, and much more. Of course, there was the issue of snapping quality photos, which is where I really run into a snag.

Although I enjoy viewing photos on Instagram, I’m not much of a photographer at all. In fact, I rarely think about taking pictures unless on holiday. When I go out for a walk, which isn’t often enough these days, it rarely occurs to me to snap a picture of anything, so you can see my conundrum. I’m just not sure what to photograph. I don’t have a pet right now and when I sit down for a meal, even a fancy scrumptious one, it never occurs to me to take a picture of it. I just can’t seem to get my brain around the idea of integrating photography into my life. On the other hand, I like the quick simplicity of Instagram.

While I like my life, I can’t say it’s overly exciting. I write. I babysit Ellie. I do chores, run errands, exercise a little, and read. I am going for a CT scan this week, which might count as exciting but I’m pretty sure you don’t want to see a photo of that. I sure don’t.

I know some of you are on Instagram because we’re following one another, and if you’d like me to follow you, let me know and I’ll do my best. Right now, I’m just starting to develop the habit of checking in daily, but sometimes that doesn’t happen either. My question is, as writers, do you use Instagram? What is your best means of acquiring followers? Do you feel it’s helpful to find new readers or grow your brand?

Meanwhile, the BookFunnel promo I mentioned a couple weeks ago is midway through, so if you’re interested in a chance to win a $250 gift card or looking for other great mystery reads, please check it out HERE. My 5th Casey Holland mystery, Knock Knock, will be on sale for $.99 until March 31.

Searching for Beta Readers

Things are moving along at a fast clip (finally) with edits on my 7th Casey Holland mystery, tentatively titled, Man in a Gold Satin Thong. If the title piques your curiosity or makes you smile, then I’m on the right track. Although there’s a murder in this story, this 24,000 word novella explores a lighter aspect of Casey’s security work than in the previous novels.

I’ve been fortunate to find two beta readers, but I’m looking for two more, especially those who are fans of amateur sleuth mysteries. It’s not necessary to be familiar with the series as each book works as a stand alone. Hopefully, the story says enough of Casey’s professional and personal life to not leave new readers confused.

For those of you who are uncertain about the role of a beta reader, it’s basically to read the manuscript to provide an overall impression of the book, and to point out where there might be some confusion, repetition, or a lag in the pace. In other words, it’s not a line by line edit, looking for typos, grammatical glitches, and so forth.

The book will be available in PDF format this week, and I’ll provide a short list of questions to use as a guide, but I’ll certainly welcome all comments. I’m hoping to have feedback back within three weeks, so I can get cracking on the changes. My goal is to publish the book this year, but that will depend on beta readers responses and later, my editor, plus the jacket designer’s schedule.

If you are interested reading the book this month, please email me directly at debra_kong@telus.net

Thank you!

How I Spent My Break

If you’re looking for free mystery and suspense novels, I have one more BookFunnel promotion I’m taking part in this summer. This one ends on August 1st and there are nearly seventy authors participating. My Casey Holland mysteries, Deadly Accusations (#2) and Beneath the Bleak New Moon (#3) are also free, but only through BookFunnel’s newsletter campaign till Aug. 1. You can find the whole roster of books HERE.

I’m not sure that writers truly ever stop writing, even while on holiday, but I sort of managed it. I didn’t look at my urban fantasy for eight days, which became kind of difficult after four or five days. The thing is, when your mind is relaxed and all is quiet, ideas pop up.

This is how I found myself working on characters and an outline for the paranormal mystery I’ve mentioned in the past. It was great fun exploring ‘what-if’ concepts and creating characters. It was even more fun coming up with ideas for monsters. I’m trying to stay away from old familiars like vampires, werewolves, and ghosts, at least with this book. Creating monsters is a whole new challenge in my writing life, but I’ve read a couple of good books on the topic.

Speaking of reading, I read a terrific how-to book called Mastering Your Mystery by Cheryl Bradshaw. She goes through the basics of writing a crime novel, but takes it further in the second half of the book by offering helpful advice on marketing, publishing, and promotion. I especially liked that she went the extra mile to provide a list of awards and competitions to submit to, and a list of sites to help promote your work. Although I’ve read my share of how-to books, I always find that reading these books sparks ideas for current projects.

Last, but definitely not least, I spent a great deal of time with little Ellie, who’ll soon be one year old. Last week, she learned to crawl up a couple of steps and had her first ‘swim’ in the lake with her mom and dad. I’m always amazed by the astonishing changes during a child’s first year of life, and can’t wait to see what the next year will bring.

She’s hold a favorite new toy, a bowling pin.
She loves her food.