Saturday, March 29, 2014

Wednesday, March 26, 2014



From a Writing Group prompt:

She took some deep breaths and tried to push down the familiar feeling of panic--the fear of missing out.   It was almost time and Kira just knew she would miss out . . . again.   It wasn't for lack of desire but somehow she just knew that her old nemesis, distraction, would come between her and the prize.  She tried, oh she tried, to stay focussed; to attend to the small signals that would alert her that the time was at hand.   But somehow, all too often, events conspired to distract her to something that would, in the end, prove meaningless.

Today, she vowed, she would remain steadfast.   Today she would succeed.  But just then, the doorbell rang and Kira jumped up and ran downstairs to the front door.   She just had to give full voice to her consternation and excitement.  Only the paperboy!   And too late she heard the familiar refrain:   "Here's a biscuit for you, Blue.   I guess Kira doesn't want one."

Note:   FOMO is an recent acronym for Fear Of Missing Out

 Note 2:   No dog ever missed a biscuit in the telling of this tale!

Friday, March 21, 2014


Writing books can sharpen your powers of observation in other media.   On a recent television
program the story involved an unknown person sabotaging and undermining a project.   But who?  It could not be one of the 'regulars' as that would have meant the demise of the character on the show as the acts were too extreme for that to happen and the show's premise continue.  Sometimes the perpetrator just has to be the character who otherwise seems unnecessary.  Almost too obvious.

 I don't think that happens as often in books as there is no cost other than the author's time, involved in introducing and 'maintaining' multiple characters. There can be difficulty for the reader if too many characters are brought into the story but it may be that the author wants to muddy the trail and introduce red herrings to cite a couple of idioms.   The reader must spot the right tree in the forest.  A glossary of characters isn't used very much anymore;  I recall the last one I saw which was in a book with over thirty characters.   Let's just say I referred to it often.

When the perpetrator of a crime is revealed in the last chapter, the reader immediately congratulates himself for having figured that out or feels annoyed at having erred.   Then the next action is to page back through the book, and  memory, to see if the clues were there had one only been sufficiently attentive.    If the hints were sparse or even missing, there can be a definite sense of being misled and tricked as if the game wasn't fairly played.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

$3 million probably isn't enough


At least the topic is popping up in the media, but for something that could have devastating impacts on world food supplies three million dollars is a paltry amount.  This article describes the problem briefly but funding seems to be focussed on improving farmers' fields which in turn provide nutrients for some bees.   It is widely accepted that neocortinoid, present in many Nort American farm pesticides but banned in Europe, is the main cause of colony collapse disorder.   But like climate change science, there is disagreement which translates into inertia.

Here's another recent article  which discusses the topic further.  For in-depth scientific research, the researchers here conclude that using pesticides with neocortinoid ingredients should be limited until further research is done but the article seems to draw no definitely conclusion and calls for more research.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Does reading make us better people?


I'm of the opinion it does.   You don't need to be a prolific reader either.   It could be that one book a year that touches a chord in you or provides you with valuable information or a different perspective than that you previously held.   This doesn't just apply to novels either.   A single book can persuade someone to change their life, embark on a more simple, minimalistic lifestyle, embark on an adventure to a foreign country, get out of debt, start a new exercise program or overhaul their eating habits.


Less obvious can be the influence of fictional works.   The novel that touches you often has a protagonist you can identify with; one whose problems you can relate to, sometimes hitting amazingly close to home.  How he or she works through the slings and arrows or outrageous fortune can provide guidance and insight.

Some of the books I've enjoyed especially take place in another country.   I can immerse myself in another culture, another way of life.   I'm not only entertained, I'm informed and educated and, I hope, a little more empathetic.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Short form reading


"Old Book Side View" by Keattikorn

I was interested to hear an opinion that for a variety of reasons, readers are turning to shorter form fiction works.   I have a vested interest in supporting this position as I tend to write works that are 'on the shorter side', ie. around 50,000 words for my novels.     I wonder if one reason might be that people are busier these days and it is the rare person and the rare occasion where a 'keep reading until the last page' is possible even if it means staying up until 2 a.m. on a weekday.   I've done it myself, but not lately.

If your reading of lengthier works is done in chunks, is it more difficult to keep track of people and plot lines?   Have you ever gone back a few--or more--pages to try to remember who a certain someone is and what their connection is to the storyline?  This is particularly a problem if more than a couple of days have passed since you last picked up the book.    If a couple of weeks have gone by I find I can be in real trouble.

In the past books contained more narrative;  pages of description of settings or feelings or past events.  I believe it was a comment in response to a post by literary agent, Rachelle Gardner, where, sounding somewhat petulant, a writer  opined that the agent would turn down a book by Dostoyevsky.  (You remember, Crime and Punishment?)  Interestingly, Ms. Gardner agreed that she very well might, saying, it's not what readers today want.   On the other hand, many people still adore . . . and read . . . Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

Maybe what people need is the leisure to read for a reasonably extended period of time, say a couple of hours, each day for a number of days.   Uninterrupted by texts or phone calls, the reader should ideally feel able to read at a languid pace, engrossing themselves in the plot, the characters and the setting.   I suspect what happens is that after a half dozen pages modern life intrudes and the spell--and train of thought--is broken.

This post on The Passive Voice seems to indicate that others have had thoughts along the same line.

How do you read?    Is that your preference or the best you can manage?   Are shorter works the answer to  more limited time and attention spans?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Pricing Strategies


The price of books, e-books and 'regular' books is a topic of regular discussion among writers.   What is the right price that enables writers to feel reasonably compensated for their creative efforts and remains affordable for readers?  For the longest time book prices seemed stable, albeit slowly, very slowly increasing over the years.  For one thing, books are one of the few consumer items that has the price prominently displayed on the cover.   Can you imagine buying a pair of shoes that told one and all what you paid for it?   Book prices were and are a standard feature on hardcover and paperback books. 

Two prices are indicated even, one U.S. and one Canadian.  This feature became a problem with the Canadian dollar fluctuating from a low of about 64 cents about ten years ago to a high of about $1.05, maybe a year ago.  Printed prices on books became a 'best guess' by publishers and a problem for booksellers who had to explain to customers why the Canadian price was $2.00 or $5.00 more than the U.S. price when the Canadian dollar was higher than the American dollar.   Complaints were regularly heard that a short drive across the border could mean a significant savings for an avid reader.

Regardless of currency, there seemed to be a threshold of $9.99 for paper back books.   Mass market books, as the smaller 'pocket' sized books are called by publishers could be as low as $5.99.   Then came the trade paperback, a larger sized book, with a larger price tag.  The content was the same.   Hardcover books were beyond the reach of many and their purchase saved for a classic or absolutely favourite author.

This article from Kris Rusch's blog, which is geared for writers more than readers, provides more detail than many readers would probably want, but it does offer insight into the changing world of book pricing.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Farm Fantasy


There's a television commercial for a bank on right now where an older couple has decided, now that their children have left home, that they want to own a farm.   Yes!  I've had that fantasy.   I used to read Mother Earth News (I still browse their website occasionally).   The thought of being independent and self-sufficient has an irresistable lure.  The couple in the commercial, whose bank (of course) helped them achieve the dream, stand on an old-fashioned porch bottle bottle feeding an adorable piglet.   It seems that marketing research by the bank's advertising partners has determined that others have my fantasy.


But . . . then there's the reality.   I've been visiting the Mother Earth News website a little more often lately, probably subliminally inspired by the commercial.   An article with the enticing title  Start a one acre self-sufficient homestead drew me in.   The authors of the article try to be realistic.  Milking a cow can be a quick (8 minutes -- not when I am milking, I'm sure) and downright pleasant (with an easy-going cow).   But the fact is, the job must be done every day,  weekends and statutory holidays included.  So unless you can make alternate arrangements, no going on vacation.  But the recommended cute Jersey cow must be some compensation--those big brown eyes are so engaging.

Crop rotation is essential for a small homestead; your one acre is divided into geometric strips and it is important to keep the cow moving from strip to strip.  And then there are the pigs and chickens.   But overall the main problem for me would be that, judging by the treatment my dogs receive from me, I could never kill my cow, pigs or chickens nor even send them elsewhere for someone else to do the deed.   My farm would become a home for retired livestock.   This would require a second job, in addition to that of farmer, just to keep them supplied in feed and pay the vet bills.  
Probably best to keep this one at the fantasy stage.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

But they were such a deal!

Image credit:  123RF Stock Photo

I'll bet you've done this, too:   Bought something because it was cheap.   It was a deal.   The price was way below what you thought it would be.   But . . . (you knew that was coming, didn't you!)  it wasn't really what you wanted.   It also wasn't really that great.  It was okay--especially considering the price--but you never would have bought it otherwise.   And now, there it sits, sneering at you, laughing at you . . . now I'm really personifying!  We've all been there.

So you wage an inner battle with yourself, after all, you paid good money for  it.   You punish yourself by counting up how many hours of work it took--net hours of work after all deductions and work related expenses.    You must get your money's worth . . . or else.

So you endure the shoes that pinch your feet, that are wildly uncomfortable for walking more than a few steps.   You berate yourself:   How many occasions did you think there were that involved sitting, ankles crossed, shoes at the forefront, looking pretty?   You start to bargain with yourself:   How many days do you have to wear them before you will be okay with getting rid of these shoes?

You think of alternatives.    What about donating them and then someone else would get not only their money's worth but your money's worth also.   You feel magnanimous enough for that.

Maybe you should keep them at the forefront of your decor.   Perpetually in your line of vision,  you will be reminded regularly of your folly with the goal of being much wiser next time.   Does that work?  If so, then maybe a photograph glued to your wallet so that any time you take it out of your purse your conscience is twigged.   

You make deals with yourself:   As soon as you use up the last ball of that hideous yarn you bought on sale, you are going to treat yourself and buy that delicious new offering in that luscious new shade.  Nothing until then!  A thought crosses your mind--if you spill hot chocolate on it does that count as 'using up'?   After all, it's unusable now.