Keeping Up With Those Reading Lists!

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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!!

Christmas Craft Fair Season Wind-Up

Coquitlam Christmas craft fair, 2019 (2)Following up on last week’s blog about changing writing patterns in December, I’ve spent most of the past six weeks selling my books at various Christmas craft fairs. Happily, it turned out to be a terrific season that exceeded expectations. Expectations are always risky, as the success of any fair is always a gamble. But it’s nearly impossible not to have hopes after investing time and money, not to mention thousands of hours, in one’s writing career.

My first fair was a single-day event at a high school back on Nov. 2nd. The second one was a two-day event a week later. The third was a three-day event over an hour’s drive from home. My booth was next to two booths both selling mustard, which surprisingly brought a fair number of customers to my table. The biggest and busiest show was the three-day Coquitlam Christmas craft fair this past weekend, which is only ten minutes from home.

One of the most satisfying aspects was the repeat customers who’d bought a book the previous year and who came back to buy more. The feedback was exceedingly kind and I couldn’t be more grateful.

If there’s any takeaway from selling at local markets it’s that building an audience and creating word-of-mouth buzz takes time and patience. Still, there are always people who stop to look at the books and say, “I’ve never heard of you.” Some will buy a book while others will walk away. It’s a lot like book signings in that respect, and like book signings, craft fairs create plenty of people-watching opportunities.

I’ve been at the writing/publishing biz long enough to offer tips to those just starting out, and there’s usually a shopper who wants advice about hiring someone to write their story. Others want to know if they should self-publish or look for a publisher. As you can imagine, I’ve had some fairly deep or thought-provoking conversations.

After a total of nine full days of book selling, I’m ready to stop for 2019. It’s always a challenge to spend hours at a table when there are so many other pre-Christmas tasks and errands waiting for me. There’s always the anxiety of wondering if this craft fair will be profitable or a loss (some fair fees are quite steep). Still, there’ve been far more pros than cons over the years, and I wouldn’t trade the experiences for anything.

We Need More Mister Rogers

2659-large[1]A week ago, I was composing an email at work when an administer walked by and said something like, “I see you’re wearing a cardigan for Mister Rogers’ Day.” I responded with what was probably a confused stare and said, “Sorry?” At which point she explained that November 13th was Mister Rogers’ Cardigan Day. Who knew? Clearly, the administrator didn’t realize that I wear cardigans pretty much every day at this time of year.

When I got home from work, I did a Google search and, sure enough, according to goodfoodpittsburgh.com, November 13th was Mister Rogers’ Cardigan Day, which encourages people to express kindness by wearing a cardigan in honor of Fred Rogers You can find the short article HERE.

I have to tell you that Fred Rogers is one of my heroes. I watched him a lot with my kids when they were little. The more I watched, the more I appreciated how unique and wonderful he truly was.

Movie trailers about him have been popping up on TV, so I’ve been thinking about Mister Rogers more than usual lately. I’m intrigued that Tom Hanks is portraying him. Based on a New York times article, (you can find it HERE) he’s a terrific choice because he too appears to be a genuinely nice guy.

If there’s one thing this planet needs right now, it’s more Fred Rogers and genuinely kind people…role models that children and adults, for that matter, can look up to and emulate. People with his gentleness and integrity seem in short supply right now, but there’s nothing stopping any of us from following those values and committing acts of kindness wherever we go.

As a writer, I’m thinking why not create an unassuming hero with integrity, gentleness, and kindness? Maybe he, or she, won’t be the feisty, kick-ass, super-human individual so prevalent in novels and movies today. Maybe this hero will have Fred Rogers qualities, but with one or two other unique aspects…and so a new writing idea begins.

Remembrance Day And The Power Of Words

remembrance-poppy[1]I always prepare a first draft of my blogs on Mondays. This year, Remembrance Day was on Monday. As I wrote the first draft, the TV was showing images of ceremonies that had occurred earlier across Canada. I also read heartfelt Facebook posts about grandfathers, grandmothers, fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters who served our country.

Since I usually post my blog on Wednesdays, I thought that maybe I shouldn’t write about something that happened two days ago, but then I thought, shouldn’t we always be remembering those who fought and sacrificed so much? Shouldn’t we acknowledge veterans and those are who are still serving after November 11th ? Thus, today’s post is as much about paying respect to those who served as it is the power of words.

My appreciation of poetry and the real power of words, began way back in elementary school after reading John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields. If you want to read a poem with an impact, you can find it HERE. It’s still one of the most powerful poems I’ve ever read and still brings tears to my eyes.

As you all know, words can do many things…heal, amuse, anger, disrupt, hurt, and destroy, to name just a few examples. It reminds us that freedom of speech is one thing, but thoughtless, unfiltered remarks in public or by public figures can have grave consequences.

Those of us who are professional writers spend much of our waking lives editing out what isn’t appropriate or simply doesn’t work. We often self-censure, mainly to make a piece clearer and/or less offensive. Granted, when you write about murder and killing people like I do, some will take offense at the topic, no matter what. So be it. I try to be careful with words, online, on the page, or in person. Words are simply too powerful to wield around like uncontrolled weapons. Although I’m seeing a lot of that these days, it makes me appreciate all the thoughtful writers and bloggers who take care with words. Who know just how much words, and people, matter.

What Really Matters

thinking-writing[1].jpgWriters spend a lot of time worrying, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, if you’re writing for contests and publications, fretting over word counts and meeting deadlines is a necessary part of the job. Let’s face it, all occupations come with worries and challenges.

But sometimes the worry starts to feel out of control. There are people who spend years writing and rewriting the same manuscript, never sufficiently satisfied to actually submit it somewhere. Other writers never get over the hurdle of feeling that they’re not good enough or deserving of a great review or an award, or some other recognition, so they don’t bother trying.

Those of us who publish are own books spend a lot of time fretting over production details. Which font should we use? What should the spacing between lines be? What should appear on the front and back pages, and in which order? Which is the best month to launch a new book? What makes an effective book launch? What if my books don’t arrive in time for my launch, signing, or some other event? What if no one shows up? What if no one cares?

This kind of stuff can drive you crazy. So when I came across a very short piece on Seth Godin’s blog (he writes terrific, thought-provoking blogs) it made me stop and think. Given that I’m in the midst of book production and numerous writing projects, his recent piece called A Year From Now, really resonated with me. It’s only three sentences long, so it won’t take you long to read it HERE.

Okay, now that you’ve finished, I have to tell you that those three sentences made me realize that fretting over what seems important—or even an emergency today—might not mean a darn thing a year from now. Maybe I should rather focus my energy on doing something today that will indeed matter in a year’s time.

Although Seth’s blog certainly applies to other areas of our lives, I’ve been thinking about this with respect to my writing life, and I’m working on answers.

Whether you’re into writing or not, what will you do that will still matter one year from now? Food for thought, right? I encourage you to subscribe to Seth’s blog. Needless to say, he has some pretty cool ideas.

Welcome Guest Blogger, Darlene Foster

Amanda in Holland.jpgMy guest today is author Darlene Foster, the creator of the popular Amanda Travels series featuring Amanda Ross, a twelve-year-old Canadian girl who loves to travel to interesting places. The seventh book in the series, Amanda in Holland – Missing in Action, has just been released by Central Avenue Publishing and is available through most bookstores.

In this book, intrepid traveller, Amanda Ross, is in Holland to see the tulips with her best friend, Leah. They travel the canals of Amsterdam, visit Anne Frank House, check out windmills, tour a wooden shoe factory, and take pictures of the amazing flowers of Keukenhof Gardens.  But, things are missing in Holland – rare tulip bulbs, a gardener, a home for an abandoned puppy and Amanda’s great-uncle who didn’t return from the war. Is Amanda capable of finding these missing things without putting herself in danger?

Darlene Foster photo.jpgDarlene bases her novels on her own travels. Ever since she was a little girl living a ranch in southern Alberta, she dreamt of travelling the world, meeting interesting people and writing stories. It’s no surprise that she’s now an award-winning author of the exciting Amanda Travels series featuring spunky twelve-year-old Amanda Ross, who loves to travel to unique places. Readers of all ages enjoy travelling with Amanda as she encounters the unknown and unravels one mystery after another. When not travelling herself, Darlene divides her time between Canada and Spain with her husband and entertaining dog, Dot. She is proof that dreams can come true.

A recent five-star review for Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action

This book was quite a bit of fun. Foster combines a middle-grade fiction plot with a colourful tour of Holland, including its famous sites, snippets of history, and its wonderful flowers and food. I had the great fortune of visiting my grandparents in Holland when I was Amanda’s age, and her experiences in the book mirror my memories in great detail. It was a blast to traipse along beside Amanda and enjoy the country once again.

The main plot focuses on the recovery of a lost puppy, but secondary plots weave through the story, and all come together nicely at the end. There’s a bit of mystery and some danger to keep the tension up. There are also some very moving scenes when Amanda visits Anne Frank’s home and a war memorial dedicated to the Canadians who helped liberate Holland during WWII. A lovely book for young readers and absolutely perfect for readers who plan to travel the world.

  1. W. Peach https://dwallacepeachbooks.com/

amandapostcardsallfront.jpgThe Amanda Travels series introduces readers to new cultures and countries by weaving mystery and adventure into the stories. They are perfect for tweens or reluctant older readers and appeal to teachers and librarians looking for new material for their classroom. Adults enjoy the adventures as well.

Darlene will be in the Vancouver area reading from and signing her books at these locations:

Albany Books, 123 – 1315 56th Street, Tsawwassen on Saturday, October 19th from 1:00 – 3:00 PM

Chapters, Pine Tree Village, 2991 Lougheed Hwy, Coquitlam on Sunday, October 20th from 1:00 to 4:00 PM

Social media links

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DarleneFosterWriter/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/supermegawoman

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/darlene6490/

Website: http://www.darlenefoster.ca/

Blog: https://darlenefoster.wordpress.com/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3156908.Darlene_Foster

Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/DarleneFoster/e/B003XGQPHA/

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?”