Saturday, March 30, 2013


WORDS OF WISDOM from Nathan Bransford (author and former literary agent)

Nathan Bransford has a lot of interesting and useful information, trivia, referrals and details for writers and readers alike.  I check his blog regularly.  Here are some of his suggestions: (used with permission)


Opening your novel with a gimmick is like shaking someone's hand with a hand buzzer. They'll never trust you again.

Authors: No one ever spammed their way to bestsellerdom. Not even to dozensellerdom.

Every novel needs: 1) starting place 2) protag's life knocked ajar 3) character embarks on journey 4) ends up somewhere new.

First person narratives have to pass the elevator test: Would you want to be stuck in an elevator with that person for six hours?

A social media presence won't make your book a bestseller. Use it anyway.

You shouldn't have to talk yourself into an idea. It should talk itself into you.

Be wary of anyone who tries to tell you there's only one way to find successful publication.

The only novels writers regret are the ones they never got around to writing.

Being a writer means researching the strangest things.

Sometimes you stare at a blank screen for an hour and finally come up with one idea. And it's worth it.

If you're not having fun writing it, they're not going to have fun reading it.

In a story-saturated world, really great ideas are very rare and precious. But it's still the execution that counts.

                   Do Nathan's suggestions make you feel like writing?   For those of you with story-telling ability and lots of ideas but who lack keyboarding skills and cringe at the thought of picking up a pen or pencil, there are technological advances like Co-Writer or Dragonspeak.   These computer programs will write down what you speak into the microphone on your computer.    Or there's the old standby of a secretary with steno pad in hand but I suspect those are in short supply and expensive when found.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Small boys

                      As the screensaver on my laptop computer cycled through my photo collection, the photograph suddenly popped up and the memories came flooding back.


                           I was walking along a well travelled dirt road in a built-up neighbourhood in Africa.   The scene opened up in front of me:   A small boy, grimy,  streaked  face, with tears welling in the corners of his eyes.    One of his hands clutching some small rocks while he glared at a older boy a few meters away who had him in his sights.   I only looked at the tableau for a few seconds before my maternal/teacher persona leapt into action.  Though it should have been obvious to me that he only spoke Swahili, this did not prevent me from commencing to scold him in English.   Something about the dangers of throwing rocks.   I petered out after a few seconds as the tableau vanished.   The older boy, with a glance at me, disappeared.   The tearful child  allowed the stones to slip from his fingers.   My accompanying daughter looked disconcerted.   What to do?  

                        I started to grope in my purse for something to give him, something to stop the threatened tears.   I had not thought to come to Africa with small toys for children.   My hands grasped something at the bottom that I identified as the closest thing I had to something appropriate--a paper fan with thin bamboo sides.  It had been a last minute addition from home to stave off the African heat.  I showed it to the boy:  how it cunningly opened to a bright mauve interior of stiff pleated paper and then closed again, disguising its purpose.   He was enchanted.   I gave it to him, nodding all the while, murmuring something in a softer tone.

                   The boy went into his mud and stick house with the corrugated iron roof, practising the opening and closing of the fan on his way.  When we drove up that road for the final time a few days later on the way to the airport, he was there, at the open door to his house, a large smile on his face and demonstrating for me that he had mastered the knack of opening and closing the fan.  

                     I think about him sometimes, perhaps now because it is three years ago this week our paths crossed.   I speculate that it must be hard to be a small boy in Africa but then again, I just don't know.   If I could reach out today, I would give him something besides the fan.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fewer Readers--Why?

I wrote in an earlier post about how book sales are down.   Since that time, I've been curious to find out more.  There are a lot of statistics out there, some less documented than others.  For example:

  -   the average North American reads 1 book a year
                                          -  even though e-book sales are up they have not replaced  the lost paperback and hardcover sales
               -   over 3 million books were published  in the U.S. in 2010
           -    a book has less than a 1% chance of being stocked in a

There are other depressing and/or surprising statistics on other art forms.   It seems less than 3% of people listen to classical music.   This makes a small pool for symphony orchestras to draw upon for attendance at their concerts.   An even small number favour opera.   If you asked most people I suspect that they wouldn't want classical music or opera or books to disappear.   They just don't want to spend their own time or money on them.

Technology has brought many wonders and advantages that we wouldn't choose to live without but I suspect it is at the root of the issues I raised above.  There are so many other distractions.  Who am I to judge their worth or evaluate their place in the list of leisure activities?



I've read that at one time, not even that long ago if we take the entire human history into account, the only way to hear music was to attend a live performance or play yourself.   Many early pioneer families had a piano in the parlour just for that purpose.   People would travel for hours by horse and buggy to hear a concert, stay overnight and head home the next day after the once-in-a lifetime experience.  It's so much easier now and perhaps taken for granted.



We are so much more blase' today.   Everything is easily available in high definition and surround sound.  Abundant culture and entertainment is available for free.  Not so long ago the potential reader had books--purchased at a book store or borrowed from the library--a newspaper or magazine or the back of the cereal box.  The internet has a neverending supply of reading material.  Is there such a thing as reader fatique?   Probably.

I have previously suggested that reading is a habit that is formed in youth.   Yes, I know that some people start reading in middle or old age but I think that is the exception.   But, because of a multitude of other activities, not as many children and young people take up reading as a free time, pleasurable activity.   Video games seem to have taken over the preferred activity spot.   Movies may occupy second place.

I suspect the creators/inventors of video games designed them for children and teenagers and believed that was their target market.   But the passage of time has shown that the average gamer is a male in his thirties.   

Watching television--some television--is sometimes described as a mindless activity.   At the end of the hard day, you 'zone out' in front of the tube.   Reading requires more alertness, more engagement.   Are we too tired for this?

Can it be speculated that one day there will come a time when there are more writers than readers?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

We do this every day?

There's something about hurtling through space at incredible speeds in such absolute darkness that you cannot see a hand in front of your face, that concentrates the mind wonderfully.  This is how I will end, you allow yourself to speculate briefly.  No one speaks and in the silence thoughts and imagination are the only outlet.

In another situation -- an amusement park ride -- screams of delight would be issuing from the mouths of the ride participants.  Even as they approach the precipice of the tunnel and know that a 200 foot drop  into a pool below awaits them, they squeal with anticipation.

My thoughts turn darker and I imagine for a moment that I'm trapped in an airplane plunging towards earth at the mercy of some video game playing captain.  But there are no sounds of improperly stowed luggage shifting and banging so I abandon that fantasy, with relief.

At last the subway train begins to slow as it pulls into the light of the  next station.   Passengers blink and exhale, collectively, and abandoned conversations resume.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013



The word charity has a condescending sound to it but many, if not most people, like to be helpful to others, at least in some circumstances, if they can at all afford it.  It feels good to help someone else, someone deserving.   Many religions in the world impute to followers the obligation to be charitable, to help those in need.   The concept of the tithe--giving ten percent of your income to the Church--was to not only benefit the Church but those that the Church ministered to.  Ancient cultures including Greeks, Romans and Hebrews, followed the custom of public or government assistance to those who were destitute.

Some people don't like to be on the receiving end.  Charity is a dirty word to them.  Others  will  accept help, perhaps regretfully, when they know they need it at a particular time in their life.   Still others have no problem accepting, even demanding, help on an ongoing basis and feel no need to ever try to be independent.    I suspect most donors prefer to give to the middle category.   They like to be appreciated; after all, they could have spent the money on themselves.   But no one likes to feel their help is taken for granted or is unnecessary. 

The government supports charity--at least a little.   You might think that giving away your money to a charity should count for a tax deduction and reduce your income.   After all, you gave it away.   The government might otherwise have to provide the service.  But, alas, the reality is that charitable donations only give you something like a twenty percent tax credit, which is different from a tax deduction, and a lot less than the total you gave.  Unless, of course, you are making a contribution to a federal political party.   They are the most deserving charity of all it seems.   You will be allowed to deduct 75 percent or three-quarters of your donation to this group from your income.  

Perhaps our choice of charity says something about what is important to each of us.   For myself, at the present I've found that I have gravitated towards charities that benefit dogs, elephants and for humans -- micro-loans to developing countries.   I've found that it does feel good to do good!

Saturday, March 9, 2013



Book sales are down all over.   Publishers like Harlequin and some self-published authors are reducing prices in attempt to make up the difference in volume.  I read a recent blog entry from freelance journalist, Nate Thayer, wherein in he relates how he was approached by a certain newsmagazine, wanting him to re-write or summarize an article he had written into a certain word count.   You can read the exchange between the editor and the writer here.

After going  back and forth a few times regarding specifics, the editor disclosed that unfortunately she was not able to pay him for his work, but he would get 'exposure'.   Nate Thayer responded as follows:

I am a professional journalist who has made my living by writing for 25 years and am not in the habit of giving my services for free to for profit media outlets so they can make money by using my work and efforts by removing my ability to pay my bills and feed my children. I know several people who write for the Atlantic who of course get paid. I appreciate your interest, but, while I respect the Atlantic, and have several friends who write for it, I have bills to pay and cannot expect to do so by giving my work away for free to a for profit company so they can make money off of my efforts. 1200 words by the end of the week would be fine, and I can assure you it would be well received, but not for free. Frankly, I will refrain from being insulted and am perplexed how one can expect to try to retain quality professional services without compensating for them. Let me know if you have perhaps misspoken.

The editor had not misspoken.

What do you think of this?   Is it tilting at windmills for writers to expect to be paid?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013



We do our children and ourselves a disservice if we don't allow them to take responsibility when it is warranted.   They grow up to become adults who can always find a reason why their life hasn't turned out as they had hoped or as they feel they deserve . . .  and the reason is never themselves.

A recent article in the Huffington Post discusses kids whose parents encourage them, perhaps without realizing it, to be sore losers.  It starts innocently when the child is very young.   Of course, they don't have the skill to excel at what they try, from walking to feeding themselves to riding a bicycle.   We encourage them, we say they're doing great.   We let them win board games.  We want to see our children happy;  we don't like it when they pout or cry.  Alas, it is all too easy to continue along this path and not only cheer their achievements, however puny, but start to make excuses for their failures.

If your child isn't successful at an activity, encourage them to try again or try differently or even (gasp!) try harder.   You can explain that when you fail and try again, you may be that much closer to success.   This could be when you tell them that Thomas Edison tried over a thousand times to invent the lightbulb.

Everyone isn't good at everything.   Should it be necessary to state that?   We all have our strengths and weaknesses.   There's nothing wrong with being average at something as long as you accept that you don't have the skill or natural talent to be much better.   Singing, ballet dancing, basketball are activities that come to mind in this category.   Great effort can lead to improvements but not sufficient to win the title or medal.

Where the problems occur is if the parent tells the child--or the adult tells themselves--that they really are great or even terrific at the activity but that the referee was unfair or their brother woke them up early before a game or any of dozens of excuses.   Better to tell the child--or yourself--that the other team practised more, tried harder or has more skill.

The choice is then to accept reality and continue to enjoy the activity, try harder (at least for a while) and see if you can improve your skill level, or abandon the field to those who truly do excel.   But don't whine and blame other factors.  Nobody's fooled!

Saturday, March 2, 2013



With coffee cup in hand, I'm sitting across from an imaginary interviewer who is scribbling furiously as I answer some standard questions.

What are you writing now?
Right now I am working on editing  the fourth Jaswinder Mystery book, with a working title of Camelid from Camelot.   At least that's the title on the file in my flash drive.  (Changed this to If Llamas could Talk . . .)   I would like to have the second volume of When Bees Die ready by this fall, but that remains to be seen.  I'll start it after Jaswinder IV is finished.

Where did the idea come from for the Jaswinder Mystery Series?

The first book, Operatory of Death, was done as part of my participation in NaNoWriMo, as I've written before.  (National Write a Novel Month).   I know several people who work in dental offices and I'm familiar with Surrey, B.C., the setting.

How did you choose to write in this genre?  

I had decided I wanted to write the genre before I even knew its name.   I don't know who came up with the name.  (Pause while I google this and find out the answer!).   Here's Wikipedia's definition:

A sub-genre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humourously, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community.

Do you have an author role model?

I enjoy reading Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series.  I suppose I could call these books a role model for the Jaswinder Mystery Series.  I won't presume to compare my books to his.

 For my dystopic novels, I've enjoyed reading some of the classics:   Brave New World,  1984, Farenheit 451, Handmaid's Tale.  I'm probably missing some favourites in this list.   Often it is a news article or program that will start me thinking down a certain path. If this activity/way of life/erroneous action continues what will be one possible/the inevitable result?

Who or what inspired the current WIP? (that's author talk for work in progress)

Characters become friendly acquaintances that the author likes to visit.   I didn't realize this before I started writing.   A relative's co-worker, named Tammy, interested in llamas, suggested the current theme.