Friday, December 21, 2012

HOMELAND


                            


I was born in a small country bordering the waters of the North Sea.   As a young child I came with my parents to the country  I now reside in.   I can still speak my native tongue but  there are few occasions now to speak it any more.  My heritage is of a culture that assimilates easily; usually younger immigrants end up marrying a local resident, as I did.     Perhaps there are not enough of us to provide a viable pool of potential mates or perhaps it is because as a group we tend to disperse and not live in enclaves or any particular neighbourhood.  

But is is often at holiday times that heritage assumes more importance.   We remember where we came from.  Sometimes it is just in the food that is served at festive meals.   Old recipes are dug out of hiding or elder relatives consulted.   When we once again sample the favourite, almost forgotten delicacy we inevitably exclaim,  "Why don't we eat this more often?   Why do we wait for holidays to enjoy . . ." (insert your favourite dish).  In the past, out of courtesy, everyone spoke English at family gatherings to accommodate the recent addition to the extended family who could only speak only English.  Now the number of unilinguals has increased.

Assimilation, melting pot . . . those are words for the larger world.   We adopt and accept the laws of the country we come to, the public customs, the official language and  the way the larger institutions like hospitals and schools serve the citizens and residents.   But in the small matters, maybe the ones that matter the most, I think it is good to try to preserve a little of your heritage, your past, in whatever way matters the most to you.

Merry Christmas to you in whatever way you celebrate!  I will be taking a blog hiatus until the New Year.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

IT DEPENDS ON YOUR PERSPECTIVE



   
                                                        



"LIFE SHRINKS OR EXPANDS IN PROPORTION TO ONE'S COURAGE."



  - Anais Nin





      The person who wrote this, oft quoted writer though
      she may be, was never a small squirrel attempting to
      cross a traffic-filled street or a young springbok,
      trying to cross a crocodile infested river.

      Nor was he any of the multitude of small creatures
      that provide sustenance for those animals slightly
      higher in the predator/prey dichotomy.  Instead
      these animals hold to the axiom,


       DISCRETION IS THE BETTER PART OF VALOR

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Make the Most of Your Time on Earth


                                                                   


That is the title of a book I couldn't resist picking up at the library despite its considerable heft and size. I even took it a step further and charged it out.   Perhaps if I had considered more thoroughly the subtitle--a 1000 ultimate travel experiences--I would have realized that this would be an exercise in frustration.

It's a little like the time I speculated that visiting the world UNESCO heritage sites would be an interesting way to make vacation choices.   I've seen and been impressed and even enthralled by some spectacular ones:   the pyramids at Giza, Tikal, Panama Canal, Antigua, Portobello,  the Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania.  But, alas, when I go to the website with the Unesco list I soon realize that there are, if not 1,000 locations, then very close to it.   I would have to travel to a destination every month for the rest of my life yet  I would not complete the task.   And it would likely become a task as world travel is strenuous and best spread out with intervals of quiet daily routine interspersed.   I know there are some round-the-world travellers who manage a lot in a year, although probably not anywhere near all 1,000 places, but they are younger and have the stamina this requires.   I also have a sneaking suspicion that like being 'castled out'-- and anyone who has seen more than five English or European castles on one vacation will know what I mean--the  thrill of these locations is enhanced by being surrounded by 'white space'.

Sometimes favourite movies, my own or a family member's, can provide the inspiration.   So, some years ago I visited the sites where Harry Potter was filmed and a few years later New Zealand's South Island and The Lord of the Rings film locations.   But one thing I discovered is that considerable computer generated imagery (CGI) takes place so that  the "If you want him, come and claim him" river is a very small stream that I can step over.  Still, it was a thrill to be there and the tour company even transported us there in jeeps with license plates that read Frodo and Bilbo!




                                                       

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

But he has an honest face . . .

                                                        
                                                                    

I visit a local Dollar Store from time to time.  Some items (like dog poop bags) don't seem to warrant a larger expenditure; no, not even for cute pink and blue ones with little paw prints festooned across the plastic.   Although all the items are $1.00 or $1.25, the residential area a short distance away is full of million dollar  homes.  It is the most expensive part of the large city I live in.   (I live with my family on the less expensive outskirts of this area).   

As I approached from the parking lot I noticed a couple of boys, maybe 16 or 17, standing outside talking.   One held a skateboard in his hand apparently prepared to wait for his friend who turned and walked into the store just ahead of me.  In a brief glance I noticed that he was a nice looking boy with dark tousled hair and an fresh, open face.  

A short time later I came across him in the aisle where craft supplies were displayed.   He was standing in front of the scrapbooking and other craft supplies looking a little agitated.   Perhaps he had been sent on an errand by his mother and couldn't find the desired item, I postulated.   But at the back of my consciousness a niggling thought was working its way forward.   He wasn't really scanning the display;  he kept sending glances my way.   I formed the distinct impression that he was waiting for me to leave.   Just body language but it spoke as clearly as any words.

He planned to take something, to steal something, and didn't want want any witnesses.  I wavered for a moment and then headed to the check-out and completed my purchase.  Should I have said anything?  What?  I ended up leaving just behind the young man and watched him pass something to his friend outside who was waiting patiently.  So smooth, so slick, that hand-off.   The friend stuffed a small item into his pocket and skateboarded away to the left while the perpetrator--no longer so charmingly innocent looking-- headed to the right.   As I drove out of the small plaza and waited for the light so I could turn right at the intersection, there stood the two of them on the sidewalk, smiling and talking, no doubt pleased with their dollar store score.   I could hardly stand to look at them but couldn't tear my gaze away and I was glad when the light changed and I drove on.   So much for sweet tousleheaded young men.  And my next thought--does your mother know what you do?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

LITTLE HOUSE FOR ADULTS





                                                                    



The Little House Books, as they are called now, written by Laura Ingalls Wilder are considered classics now.  They probably had the same status when I read them in my childhood  but at some point, as I read them with my own children,  they came to represent something more.    A link with the past or a reflection of a different era, one which had lessons to teach us;   in any event more than just a book for children.

I happened to see an advertisement in a recent issue of  The New Yorker for what I would describe as an adult edition of the books.  Perhaps recognizing that more than a few adults wanted to re-read the books which had made an impression on them in their youth but who might  feel self-conscious carrying around the books with covers that obviously denoted their juvenile market, the same books are now available in a two volume set, discreetly bound and in a case suitable for gift giving.  

Now that Laura herself is long deceased,  in a similar  fate as the Tolkien works or Anne of Green Gables , the Little House books have become a brand in  the marketplace with a niche.  I know there are picture book versions and books based on recipes or foods from the series as well as sequels that have kept the series going.

Perhaps that is the ultimate tribute to an author.   Except I once saw a book in the local library that involved Jane Austen being turned into a vampire.   I wonder if that would make the lady 'lose her countenance'?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

WINTER BLUES





                                                         
                                                                   



In one of my novels--now I'll have to stop and think to remember which--one of the characters poses the question as to which is the worst month in the calendar year.   Of course, that depends upon what location you call home.   In tropical climes, July and August can be humid to the point of steaminess and in others spots these months are the rainiest.    The southern hemisphere reverses the seasons except for Australia which must be sunny in all months--at least that was my experience a few years ago in their winter month of July when we jumped the waves at Surfers' Paradise in Queensland.


                                                       

Jaswinder--I remember now who it was--pontificated that November in the Pacific Northwest, with its incessant rains, could be considered to have the worst weather.  Dark and damp and with soggy ground underneath, we become like moles, leaving for work in the dark and returning in a similar state of moroseness.   But then Jaswinder continues (or is it her friend Manisha who disagrees?) that November is only the worst until January arrives with what is usually the coldest temperatures.   Scraping ice off the car windshield every morning, bundling up with hats, mitts and scarves still damp from the previous day and slipping and sliding on the icy roads can make one long for mere rain.


                                                                     


Now it is the beginning of December, that month which few would describe as 'the worst' even though the weather can be a hideous combination of the preceding and following month.  Somehow, in December, for most of us, considerations of the weather take a back seat to the festive season, bright lights and bustle.  There are some who find all this depressing, especially if they have recently suffered a loss or for some reason find their lives difficult, but for many the holidays provide a welcome respite from the lack of sunshine and warmth in the air.

Friday, November 30, 2012

REVIEWS


                                                               


Who writes book reviews?   When I have made informal enquiries I discover that most people don't.   They read a book, either an e-book or a physical book, and they love it, like it, 'it's okay' it, hate it or don't even finish it.   But most don't write a review.   With Amazon, the reader needs an account with the company and needs to have made one purchase at least although not necessarily the subject book.  This may be to increase business or it may be to ensure that the reviewer is sufficiently motivated to jump through these hoops.   Of course, once you have done that you are free to write review after review.   Amazon even keeps a list of the most prolific reviewers.

Although I have not read the book or series myself, I looked at the listing for 50 Shades of Grey on Amazon specifically to discover its review status.   Lots of people have read it;   I believe it has sold more copies, more quickly than any other book.   And sure enough, 13,000+ people have decided to review it and leave their review on line.   You'd think by the first thousand or so reviews everything that there was to say, would have been said.   Of note is that there are almost as many one star as five star reviews but these does not seem to have affected sales in the slightest.   I have had the impression that as many readers loathe it as love it.   But I'll leave that analysis to someone else.

There are apparently such entities as trolls, and I don't mean the kind that live deep in the mines of a Scandinavian country.   No, these trolls, for various reasons, delight in leaving negative, insulting, and destructive comments and reviews up and down the internet.   I seem to recall that fairy-tale mischief makers were called pixies but perhaps that term was deemed to be 'too cute'.  They do cause grief for authors and others.

Traditional publishers send out ARCs -- Advance Reading Copies -- to lists of people, no doubt jealously guarded, who write erudite and usually favourable reviews.   These can be used on back covers and first pages or publisher catalogues to encourage sales.   No one star review would be found there.

What does the 'typical' reader do?   Will a low star count prevent them from clicking the 'buy' button?  In that case there are a lot of unanimous five star books to choose from and if nothing else it is reassuring to know that, in some cases, the writer has so many friends and relatives who will step up to the plate for them.   Or it may be the best book you've ever read.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Killing Cats



                                                         


Read the title of this post and consider yourself warned.  I started paging through a recent issue of [U.S. magazine redacted] which was passed on to me by an employee of a dental office which provides it in the waiting room.  (After some thought I've removed the name of the magazine)   A considerable part of this magazine is about local events in the location where the magazine is published which aren't of particular interest to me but there are always one or two fiction pieces.    It must be an honour to be published in [ redacted ] , a magazine that is, I believe, widely read.   It is available in many professional offices.

I started reading a fiction piece but stopped quite quickly.   I felt a little sick after reading it and after I calmed down I had to wonder if this is what modern readers like to spend their leisure time on.   I'll describe it briefly:   The short story centered on a boy who lived on a farm.   The barnyard had become overrun with cats.  The initial cat(s) belonged to his father, the farmer who hadn't bothered to have it/them neutered.   As a result there were now dozens of neglected, unhealthy and unfed cats in the barn.  The father gives the boy the job of killing all the cats, offering to pay him, I think it was 25 cents a tail.  The tails were to be nailed to the side of the barn.   I won't write anymore as it is unpleasant to me to have written this much.  I'm sorry you've had to read it.  

When I read, or start to read, something like this, I can't help but feel like I must be totally out of step with the rest of the world wherein presumably many like to read stories like this.   I know [ redacted ] hasn't approached me about excerpting any of my works.   Maybe this is more of the 'pushing the envelope' that seems to be one of the current approaches to selling fiction.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Life of Pi




                                                                 



The fate of some books is to be forever defined by where and when we read them.    If the location,  or perhaps that time in our life ends up being especially significant or memorable, that book will be forever framed by that placement in our life.

I read The Life of Pi on a brief family vacation to a a small island in the Pacific Northwest.   We had rented a small cottage, right on the beach for three or four sunny summer days.   Idyllic would be an apt description.   A private beach for our exclusive use beckoned a short walk away but otherwise there wasn't really that much to do.   A few drives on the one road that circumnavigated the island and a trip into what passed for the village centre with a small general store complete with one gas pump  left great swaths of time to read, daydream and do nothing.   Totally different from some of the vacations I've enjoyed  to foreign destinations but special in its own way.

The Life of Pi is another one of those 'high concept' books.   As I described the storyline and plot to my family, who often had nothing in particular to do other than listen to me--or perhaps I should say, no escape--the story line seemed incredible to me.   At the same time it was different from anything I had read before and so real in its telling that it seemed the author must have been cast adrift in the Pacific Ocean himself with a zebra,  orangutan, hyena and, oh, yes, the tiger.

Now that the movie has been released every advertisement seems to call back those hot summer days, the beach, the ocean. the heat-baked grass and azure cornflowers that are entwined in my memory with The Life of Pi.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

WHAT PRICE EDUCATION?

                                                                         



There's a lot of work involved in getting an education.   Let me re-phrase that:   There are acres and acres and unbelievable continents of work involved in getting a university degree.   Anyone who has climbed that hill (I think this is becoming a case of mixed metaphors, but you get the idea) knows how many hours are involved.   Some of these hours are stimulating and enlightening, others are drudgery and boredom.   

Then there's the cost.   It varies considerably depending upon your jurisdiction, your membership in a particular group and whether you choose community college or an exclusive 'ivy league' establishment.  Fifty thousand dollars a year is not unusual and you'd be hard pressed to find a local college that was less than $3,000 a year.   This would be just for tuition.   As any student knows, the books and supplies and related fees can easily equal half of the tuition.  Then there's transportation.   The foregoing assumes you live at home rent-free.   If you have to stump for room and board . . . well you get the idea.   It is exceedingly expensive to obtain a post-secondary education.

How to pay for it?   About half of students take out student loans.  This guarantees a long period of time making payments equivalent to a mortgage just at a time in your life when you might want to get a real mortgage, along with a life.  A large percentage of students have part-time jobs while in school.  Some have parents or spouses who can assist.  The latter are the lucky ones.

But let's assume that you overcame these obstacles, both financial and intellectual, and have that hard-earned degree in your hand.   Surely, employers would seek you out and offer you well-paid and interesting employment utilizing the skills and knowledge you have obtained.   It doesn't seem too much to ask.

It is a bitter pill to swallow and a hard truth to accept that this does not occur for many university graduates.  For some, the undergraduate degree becomes a jumping off place.   More education, usually  in a specific field with particular skills like nursing, education, public health or law enforcement. may lead to decent employment that enables the graduate's life to move forward.  But for others what awaits is low wage employment that does not use their new knowledge and wisdom.    Some go as far as to say that the main beneficiaries of post-secondary education are the people and institutions that provide it.  

In the long run the graduates are better off, I believe, both financially and empirically, but being educated, unemployed, broke and in debt and age twenty-five  is a tough place to be.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

ZEALOUSLY FRUGAL




                                                                   

This is the second post wherein I consider some of the shows on television and maybe a bit of what might be behind them.   There's a program called Extreme Cheapskates.  On a side note, I've noticed that words denoting spending money have a much more positive connotation--take, for example,  words like generous and open-handed compared to words like tightwad, cheapskate and frugal.


You might think that in the present economic climate where many people are unemployed, houses are being foreclosed upon and credit card debt is problematic for many that a television program about saving money would be popular.   There are lots of large solutions, small tips and ingenious ideas out there that could be explored.   A show could be a combination of interviews with experts, a showcase of how one family has climbed out from under a mountain of debt and some quick and casual tips.   All designed to improve people's finances.   



But it must be remembered who pays for television programs (and no, it's not my cable payment).   It's the advertisers.   The purveyors of products who most definitely do not want all of us to stop shopping, no not one iota.  And so it is that  the television program I referred to depicts zealots engaged in the outer limits of saving money.   It's all designed to make us laugh at people who go to extreme lengths to cut their spending.  You already know why . . .  so we won't attempt anything so humiliating ourselves.



The people on the show dumpster dive for their food, wear clothes full of holes, use a spray bottle of water instead of toilet paper, dig discarded popcorn bags and pop cups out of the trash at the movies in order to then go to the concession and take advantage of the free refills.  Never spoken but always implied is that these people aren't the sharpest knife in the drawer, they are one fry short of a Happy Meal, or one donut short of a dozen, they are knitting with only one needle . . . you get the picture.   And the punchline:   You don't want to be like them!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

ONE PERSON'S JUNK IS ANOTHER PERSON'S TREASURE



                                                                 

There are a few reality type shows that members of my family watch from time to time and so, sharing the living room, I've watched parts of them as well.   Together they have given me some conundrums to ponder.   I'm going to discuss some of them in the next few posts.   I'll describe the programs as overseas readers of this blog may have been spared them.  (oops, I mean deprived of them.) 

The first is called American Pickers.   A pair of friendly, good guy types drive around the United States and Canada in a pick-up truck with the goal of buying antiques, memorabilia and what others might consider junk.   Their goal is to re-sell it and make a profit.  What I've found interesting are the things that people have kept--for years.   Old license plates, old metal cigarette containers, old Coke signs.   After 50 or 100 years they all seem to be valuable or at least have value.  The two pickers dicker and haggle and are successful about half the time.   Many times people can't bear to let go of what they have been holding onto for years.   Sometimes entire rooms, even barns are given over to storing these items, in various states of order.

The second program is called Storage Wars.  In this reality show, various 'colourful' individuals have the hobby/business of attending the auctions of the contents of storage lockers which have had the fate  being abandoned by their owners.  Months of rental fees are owing.  These auctions take place all over the country.   Now, you might think that if someone paid to store something the items that are being stored would have some, even considerable value.   After all, storage costs can amount to several thousand dollars a year.  If you  found yourself not able to pay the storage unit cost, wouldn't it make sense to remove your belongings before falling into arrears?  I can see if you've won the lottery you might say to heck with that storage unit, but failing that you could at least give the key to a friend or relative.  Unless . . . what is in the unit isn't worth the accrued storage fees.  But if that is the case, why would complete strangers, who are only interested in profit, bid hundreds, even thousands of dollars, to purchase the contents of that same unit.   What are they looking for?   Straight cash or jewellery is always good but they also want the kind of items that the American Pickers hanker for.   

I must confess what causes me some aggravation is how the Pickers and the Storage people gleefully announce the value of the items they come across with complete confidence that they will be able obtain their price and thereby make their profit.   I have seen sofas abandoned by the curb, awaiting the city disposal crew, just as nice as the ones that have a pronounced $200 value.   

No doubt the program has increased the profitability of storage unit companies, probably so much so that the rental fee from paying customers is the lesser part of their profit compared to what groups of treasure hunters bid up to pay for abandoned ones.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

CIVIL SOCIETY


                                                                     

I read this recently on Rachelle Gardner's  website http://www.rachellegardner.com/    She's a literary agent who posts all kinds of advice, mostly for writers but also other interesting pieces.  


Before saying something, use the old method of asking yourself:

 Is it true? 
Is it kind
Is it necessary?   

The post details other ways to be polite and civil in our hectic and sometimes thoughtless society. The kind of things your mother used to tell you.   Some of the advice is specific to modern devices, like cell phones and how they are used.  It does seem to me though that if we only spoke what was necessary the world would be a much more silent place.


Here's some other thoughts:  

People will often fail to live up to your expectations. 

People will hold different viewpoints from you.

 Try to remember that most people are doing the best they can with what they have, and give them grace.


Sometimes it is useful to step back and remember that most of us prefer to live in a civil society and we all need to do our part.   Or maybe embroider one of these sayings on a pillow and consider it daily!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Nanowrimo

As writers, it is easy for us to think that everyone is familiar with author jargon like the title of this post.  It stands for National Write a Novel Month and it is something I want to celebrate, at least briefly, as it was how I wrote the first Jaswinder Mystery novel, Operatory of Death.   In honour of the anniversary I have gone back to this cozy mystery novel and done a little tweaking and editing.   If you have written an essay, story or book you know how easy it is to miss small typos or transitional words like or in the middle of a sentence.   When you read through to edit, backwards and forwards, your eye sees what a phrase or sentence or word should be and dare I say, what you want it to be.


                                                                     

If I write this sentence:   You cn do what you want  your brain will automatically put in the word 'can' for 'cn'.   You might not even notice the error.

What about:   Tom told the soldier which way go.   Did you catch the error?

Now imagine two hundred pages of text.

In Nanowrimo, the object is to write a 50,000 word novel from November 1st to 30th.  There's a website: National Write a Novel Month.  Check it out if you are interested.   One of the key things about this exercise is that the writer should not edit as they write.   Okay, some slight course corrections or spelling errrors that just jump out at you (you caught the mistake in errors, right?) are okay but the unfortunately, often tedious work of editing can wait--until December, when you definitely won't have time!

                                                             

Saturday, November 3, 2012

FREE BOOKS



 123RF Stock Photo
                                                                 

I'll come right out and say it:   I'm opposed to free books.   I don't mean books from the library.   I love libraries and have used and enjoyed them all my life.   That's the place to go for free books, not to mention all the other great resources libraries provide.   I have vivid memories still of walking to our local library as a child--this was in the days when parents let their ten year old children walk alone the few blocks to the library in the evening.   I always borrowed the maximum number of books allowed for children - ten - and often went home and read a couple the same evening.

No, I'm talking about free e-books offered by independent authors, like myself.    A few authors who offer their books for free sometimes just want readers for what they have written.   Their books is perpetually free, on Amazon, for example.   There are ways to arrange this.   I believe these people are in the minority, maybe less than ten percent.

The majority of writers who offer their books for free for a few days do so as a marketing tool.  It doesn't cost anything other than lost sales, as opposed to some of the different marketing methods that can be employed.   If you read the first book in a series, offered free, you might--if you like it--purchase the rest of the novels in the series.   As well,  when free e-books first started to be offered by Amazon almost a year ago, most authors noticed a definite uptick in sales in the days and weeks following the free days.   Under the algorithm Amazon's list of best sellers included those e-books downloaded for free.  So one thousand free downloads counted the same as one thousand sales in the determination of a particular book's place on the list.   This has now changed.

Websites have emerged that list the free e-books available that day or that week.   Some people have downloaded hundreds, even thousands of books, just because they are free.   I recently overheard some colleagues agree with glee that there were so many free books out there, they never planned on buying a book again.  This may be one of the those situation where while a little was good, a lot has been a mistake.   No business can stay in business by giving away their product.   But writing is not a business, you say.   No, but the writer needs shelter, food and various other necessities of life not to mention a few luxuries and pleasures and these are not available for free.   So while we can say with certainty that the best things in life are free, we should not expect books to be in that category.   Reasonably priced, yes;  but free--no.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Nostalgia or Reality?




                                                                   

Sometimes I'll borrow a set of DVD's from a relative or acquaintance or from the library.   These are shows I may have watched years ago.  I'm not sure of their appeal to me so I'll call it nostalgia.   These shows could also form the basis of a sociological treatise so perhaps I could call it research.

There's a reason for the old saying 'you can never go back'.   You can watch the same program but you are different now due to the passage of years.   Your view and knowledge of the world is different.  So it is when I watch these shows from the '60's or '70's.    Let me tell you some of the things that jump out at me:   The women wear mostly skirts and dresses,  even suits for work or for everyday use.   There are a lot of secretaries,  artfully made-up and with their hair in chignons.   They wear clothes only seen at funerals now.   To be fair, men seemed to be required to wear suits and ties much more often.  

People smoked considerably more.   The main character and supporting actors light up regularly.  When was the last time you saw this on a current television show?   Of course, this means that flirtatious moment when a man bends over a woman, cupping her cigarette hand with his to offer her a light while she looks up at him helplessly, is no more.

That's another thing:   women seem more, dare I say, incompetent.   They freeze, they scream, they phone their husbands for help.   They even faint with depressing regularity.   Anything but take action themselves. I have to resist the urge to shout:   "Pull yourself together!   You're not helpless.   Do something!"  But then I'm accused of talking to the television.

Then there are the cars.   Large American made vehicles, complete with a bouncy suspension, that squeal as they round a corner.   And the technology!   Those ENIAC computers, the size of a large wardrobe or curio cabinet, are portrayed as the latest technology.   I can't help but notice how many situations involve the main character frantically searching for a pay phone not to mention how many situations would have been saved if there had been a cell phone in their pocket.

I recommend trying this activity some time.   Younger people will equate this with the bonnet and bustle days but if you have any actual recollection you may find it fascinating.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

IN YOUR FACE

This post could be an adjunct to the one about taking a news media fast.  I read today that someone determined that on average we are subjected--in other words have thrown in our face--3000 advertising messages a day.  I don't want to do the math and find out how many that is in a year.  This includes radio, television, on-line, posters and large screens  in public places.   Then there are print advertisements in newspapers, magazines and even on the back of bills and receipts, on the jerseys of athletes and the sideboards in hockey arenas.  I don't want to mention the unfortunate people who have he job of waving signs at me from the side of the street or parading up and down wearing a sandwich board.

And what is all this in aid of?  Getting people to purchase something they may or may not need or at least remember the name of the product when next at the shop or the  politician when next in the voting booth.   It's easy to feel vaguely dissatisfied after reading Cosmopolitan or House and Garden.   We just aren't as sexy, good looking or well-endowed not to mention well-decorated and organized as we should be.   But the magazine's advertisers have a cure for that.



                                                                      

I've read that one of the traits of some autistic children is an inability to screen out background input or differentiate between that which deserves their attention and that which should be ignored.    How distressing this would be.  I like to think that I manage to ignore advertising for the most part.


Here is an excerpt from The Simple Dollar on this topic:

Advertising is far more prevalent than most people think. Sure, you can sit at home and skip the television ads, but it’s pretty hard to do that in an airport or at a friend’s home. Sure, you can skip ads in magazines, but your eyes have to look at it enough to recognize it as an ad, and that’s often enough to get visual recognition of the logo.
There’s also internet ads, commercials stuck on the front of YouTube videos, billboards, radio ads… the list goes on and on.
The worst kind, in my eyes, is product placement right within the programs. Ads are often indistinguishable from the show you’re watching or the article you’re reading.
The only way to avoid ads is to go on a complete media fast. No television. No internet. No magazines. No driving. Curl up at home with a thick classic novel.

See if, for a couple of days, you can shut out most of the din.  You might like it and, if not, well you probably didn't need all that stuff, anyway.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

WRITERS' CONFERENCE




                                                                       

I attended recently an international Writers' Conference, held locally.  I was there as a volunteer, my third year to do offer my services.    The Conference is geared towards those writers who are looking to publish in what can be called traditional methods (for some reason this reminds me of the traditionally built Mma Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency but that is probably because I have recently been listening to the audio tape on the drive to work.   The main character, Mma Ramotswe, from Botswana, describes herself as traditionally built.) But, I digress. 

I am self-published or sometimes I say that I am published through Amazon, since they have made it possible for me to publish my books.  But there are still people, probably many people, who want to be represented by an agent and published by a publishing company.   Conference attendees are allowed to sign up for one  ten minute 'pitch' appointment each day.  This is a period of time that they sit across a table from a literary agent or publisher and talk about their book, trying to interest the agent or publisher in representing them or publishing their book.   Part of my day was spent keeping the line of waiting people in order.   People, mostly women it seemed, were nervous. They study their notes, they go into empty rooms to practice what they are going to say.   It is something like a job interview.   I have read that agents take on less than one tenth of one percent of the manuscripts that cross their desks or rather, writers who sit across from it, perched nervously on the edge of a chair.  But mostly they tell me as they leave that the agent/publisher was very friendly and approachable so that makes me feel good about the organization I volunteer for once a year, even if that part of what they offer isn't what I am looking for.   

One factor I did notice was that something like eighty percent of the conference attendees were women.  I wonder what that signifies?  That most of the upcoming writers are women or that men stay home and write and women enjoy the social and mutually supportive atmosphere of conferences?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

IDIOMS


                                                                 





I  came across an amusing book, designed for children mostly, that provides an interesting trip down memory lane, to use a cliche.  (I know, authors are supposed to avoid cliches).   The book is called There's a Frog in my Throat .   The cover itself is hilarious.   The book depicts, in illustration, 440 idioms involving animals from horses to sheep to pigs.  Some date back a hundred years or more--have you heard of something being 'the cat's pyjamas'?   Many you will have heard of but generally idioms go in and out of favour with new ones coming along, often from movies or songs.  

I have tested some of them out with elementary age children and most are unfamiliar to them yet it is something they will come across in books as well as actual conversation.  Adults and children from other countries, trying to learn English,  often find idioms puzzling and they are usually one of the last language elements an immigrant to this country will master (if ever).   It's the idea that a group of words, usually quite improbable sounding, have a meaning that is not apparent in the phrase.  Sometimes you can puzzle your way through them.  To describe someone as being like A bull in a china shop surely conjures up an image of a clumsy, uncoordinated individual.  What about  happy as a pig in mud?

Here's a few more to test yourself on:

- She has a bee in her bonnet.

- snug as a bug in a rug

- lower than a snake's belly

- cat got your tongue?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

ABOUT A NAME


As I described in a previous post, choosing a name for a character in a book requires care and consideration.   The name should be suitable to the age of the person and although there are more women engaged in what used to be traditionally male jobs (and that's a good thing!)   we've probably all met someone whose name did not seem suitable to their occupation or station in life.   Remember the Johnny Cash song, "A Boy Named Sue" and the reason the boy was given that name?  

Do we grow into and become our names?    Or does someone whose name seems wildly inappropriate to them  realize that at some point  and start to use their middle name or abbreviate their given name in some way, or adopt  nickname.






There's an interesting website for both authors looking for just the right name for a character and for parents searching for the name that will fulfill all their expectations even if their infant turns out quite differently.  Here's the link:  Baby Name Wizard .  For prospective parents there are search possibilities by first letter, by style, by era and even by location (in the U.S.)   For authors there's  a well-designed scrolling graph where you can search alphabetically by the decade going back a hundred years + and find the ranking of names.   It's one of those websites where an hour can go by before you realize it as you search your own name and that of your friends, relatives and enemies.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

WHAT DO CHILDREN READ?




                                                                             



I suppose an adjunct to this post title could be  Do Children Read?  But I'll leave that for another time.  I had a look recently at the Newbery Award winners.   To quote from Wikipedia it is:  "The award is given to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children."  Named for John Newbery, an 18th century English publisher of juvenile books, the Newbery Medal was the first children's book award in the world. 

I have had the opportunity to read quite a few of the winners and it is instructive and interesting to see how reading tastes and styles have changed over the years.   For example, the  1945 winner was Rabbit Hill  and the 1953 winner  was And Now Miguel.   In a way, these books, which I have read, remind me of  an era when things moved at a slower pace.   The authors let the books unwind slowly and didn't seem to feel the need to have a lot of action or climaxes.  Rabbit Hill tells the anthropomorphic story of a family of rabbits and other woodland animals, with details of their trials and tribulations.   A new family is moving into the neighbourhood and the rabbits are worried.   At the end of the book, the people turn out to be a kind-hearted couple.  

And Now Miguel concerns a twelve year old boy who wants to be old enough to go up into the mountains with the older boys and men to move the sheep to the summer grazing pasture.    We find out a lot about the details of a Mexican American farming family and their simple but happy life.  It is still available for purchase (in softcover only, not e-book) 

The reviews on Amazon for these two books are varied with quite a few from nostalgic adults.  One of the issues with both these books might be that the reading level is above what the present interest level would likely be.   

I wonder if the market for children's books  or what in the publication business is called  middle grade readers is becoming a narrow window.  Most of the children below Grade 4 (nine year olds) do not have sufficient reading skills for novels and older children today want more sophisticated fare.

Interestingly, the 2012 winner,  Dead End in Norvelt (which I have not read) is set in the 1960's but unlike the books actually written in that time period contains--according to a quick scan of the mid range reviews--mass murder, modified swear words and lots of blood.  Definitely a change!


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

NEWS MEDIA FAST

Have you ever thought about how much time you spend watching or listening to media?   I'm thinking particularly of news and pseudo-news.   Depending upon your time, schedule and habits it can be quite ubiquitious and probably more than you think.  You might listen to the radio news in the morning as you get ready for your day:  News, traffic, weather, sports,  and other assorted items that the radio show producers have decided are interesting tidbits.  On your drive to work you might have the same program going and at work there may be background stations playing softly, or not so softly.  Once home, the six o'clock news seems the logical thing to put on with after dinner coffee.  You'll notice I haven't even brought up various on-line news sources available like The Huffington Post, Salon or Slate to name a few. 

You will be confronted with world news, political news, local news, regional news, sports news, arts and entertainment news . . .   It is a tsunami of information swooping over you every day.  Is it relevant to your life?   Do you care?   With radio and television it is easy to allow it to blab on and on, only tuning in to items that interest you.  But does your subconscious somehow absorb all the drama?   On the internet we can quickly click past.   But there is always more and more.  Perhaps we fear missing out on some key event that has unfolded and we might look foolish for being caught out unaware.   If World War III starts we want to be in the know.  If you stop to keep track you will likely find that most of what you allow to enter your auditory canal and your visual line of sight is not relevant and not interesting and even possibly distressing and upsetting.    But, you rebut, it's important to keep up with the news.   Sounds like something that was said in school. 

I'm going to hypothesize that this onslaught of information leaves your body and mind vaguely on edge.   You should do something but you are not sure what.   The world is a terrible place,  people do awful things, lots of people seem to have a better or, at least, more extravagant lifestyle.  You should care, you should write to your politician, you should visit that store, that business, you should order tickets, you should take a different route home.  Okay, the last one might actually be useful if it helps you to avoid a traffic jam.


You might find it interesting, not to mention refreshing and relaxing, to take a news media fast for a few days.   A certain calm may envelop you and you will be able to hear your own thoughts.   Creativity will be fostered in the space in your mind that you have created.   If you can ignore the vague uneasiness at being out of the news loop you might find that you enjoy the step away and if not, well, it will be waiting for you.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

RESEARCH

I write this blog primarily for readers of books or blogs.   Some author blogs seem to focus more on advising other writers and they provide a considerable amount of useful information about the writing craft and the publishing world.  There are several authors whose blogs I follow for this reason.

I used to think that the ultimate goal for a writer (aside from winning the Pulitzer prize for writing or something similiar!) would be to set each book in a different place in the world.   The exotic setting would surely justify a  tax-deductible stay of a undetermined length of time to research the town or city and the surrounding environs.  It would be perfectly acceptable, I reasoned, to linger for a while to absorb the local culture, the charming dialect, and those little details of shops and cafes, bookstores and educational establishments that would give the final work that ring of authenticity.

I still drift into fantasy on occasion and project myself (and laptop) to a tropical beach or quaint European village.   I have visited both and have the photos to prove it but, alas, did not think to make notes that would be suitable for novel use.   It could also be said that some locations have been used, if not to excess, then rather a lot.   I'm thinking of Paris or London.   Of course, those two locations have so many unknown streets or hidden shops that could provide a unique perspective.   The last time I was in Paris, it was the summer of the great heatwave in which many people died.   The train tracks were even melting, or so we were told at the Metro station when we tried to book a ticket to Versailles.   Probably not the Paris people like to read about.

And so,  Jaswinder Pandher (of the Jaswinder Mystery Series) lives in Surrey, British Columbia and my two dystopian novels take place in the Pacific Northwest.   These are the areas I am most familiar with.    But, sometimes, it is interesting to write about something that is completely unfamiliar to me and perhaps to many of you.  That is where the research comes in.   Tell me, how much do you know about camelids?



 123RF Stock Photo
                                                                   

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bees really are dying

In my novel, When Bees Die, it is a terrorist plot that kills off the bees but in the real world bees really are in trouble.   As I do a little research for the second book in the series I find out that there isn't just one reason but, as often the case,  there are a number:




1. Malnutrition   


Wild bees feed on a diversity of pollen and nectar sources.   Commercial honey bees are limited to certain commercial crops for which the hives are rented, for example, almonds or cherries.  These kinds of limits may contribute to bees' nutritional deficiencies.


2. Pesticides


Pesticides, particularly nicotine based pesticides, are suspected in colony collapse disorder.  Purdue University researchers have produced a list of pesticides that cause the death of bees on contact and it is a long list.


3.  Genetically modified crops

A major genetically modified crop is corn, one of the most, if not the most widely produced North American crops.   Honey bees decline in these areas but it is not known why.  


4. Migratory beekeeping


Beekeeping today is more about renting hives to farmers than producing honey.   There's just a lot more money in the former.  But remember, honeybees use orientation to find their way around.   Moving them thousands of miles every few months is not only stressful for bees, lowering their immunity, it also introduces new diseases and pathogens which they haven't had an opportunity to build up an immunity to.


5. Lack of Genetic Biodiversity

Bees are healthier when they obtain pollen from a variety of sources.



6. Beekeeping Practices

Studies of how beekeepers manage their bees may determine trends that lead up to the disappearance of colonies. How and what bees are fed would certainly impact their health directly. Splitting or combining hives, applying chemical miticides, or administering antibiotics are all practices worthy of study. 


7. Parasites and Pathogens


These do not cause Colony Collapse Disorder on their own, but some suspect they may make bees more susceptible to it. Beekeepers fear varroa mites the most, because they transmit viruses in addition to the direct damage they do as a parasite. The chemicals used to control varroa mites further compromise the honeybees' health. 


8. Toxins in the Environment


Honeybee exposure to toxins in the environment warrants research as well, and some suspect chemicals as a cause of Colony Collapse Disorder. Water sources may be treated to control other insects, or contain chemical residues from runoff. Foraging bees might be impacted by household or industrial chemicals, through contact or inhalation. The possibilities for toxic exposure make pinpointing a definitive cause difficult, but this theory requires attention by scientists.



9.  Electromagnetic radiation


This area is in dispute with some research demonstrating that both cell phones and cell phone towers disrupt bee navigation.   The bees cannot find their way back to the hive.



10.  Climate change


Global temperature increases cause a chain reaction in the ecosystem.  Warm winters, droughts and floods all affect flower plants, limiting nectar and pollen supply.



It's amazing there are any bees left!
                                                              
 123RF Stock Photo