Friday, November 30, 2012



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



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



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



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



I read this recently on Rachelle Gardner's  website    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


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


 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.