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Jared is a fifteen year-old First Nations youth living with his mother, Maggie and her boyfriend in a small town in northern British Columbia.


To say Jared’s family is dysfunctional would be an understatement. His mother has a homicidal temper and has been jailed for assault and mandated to take anger management programs. His home is a party house from which his mother and her boyfriend sell drugs and partake in other criminal activity.


Jared’s a smart kid with a smarter mouth and struggles to maintain some normalcy in his life despite his role models. This becomes increasingly difficult since it’s not only his family but all his peers who indulge in similar destructive lifestyles.


Indeed, author Eden Robinson has included almost every type of self-destructive and anti-social behavior you can imagine including domestic violence, bullying, promiscuity, self-mutilation, S&M and, of course drugs, more drugs all topped off with binge drinking.


As Jared’s life lurches from crisis to crisis he copes by staying stoned or inebriated or both. Soon he can’t tell what is real and what isn’t. When he reaches out to some elders for help, including his paternal grandmother, he discovers they have an entirely different agenda for him.


Yet despite the magical power of the cultural mythic creatures that align themselves with Jared in his time of need his salvation comes in a very conventional form, which unfortunately makes for an anti-climatic ending.


Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson is a page turner for sure. The author does a remarkable job of defining her characters through authentic dialogue and dramatic action. The story in some places is laugh out loud funny and in others almost too painful to read. Her portrayal of Jared’s young life as a First Nations youth is brutal and honest though never didactic.


In this era of “Idle No More”, mainstream media has come under criticism for it’s coverage of First Nations people and their issues suggesting they are always depicted by the three “Ds” – drumming, drunk or dead.


As a journalist and an author I agree with the criticism and am attempting to understand more about the issues and the people so it can be reflected with honest and empathy in my writing.


Though an entertaining book, Son of a Trickster is an extremely negative representation of First Nations people. It’s a good thing Robinson is a First Nations person herself, otherwise it’s unlikely her book would have been short-listed for the Giller Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards in Canada.





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The Way of the Writer, Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling is filled with the accomplishments of Charles Johnson, his philosophy in regards to writing and the benefits of academia. Somewhere among this rather high-minded autobiography (because that’s basically what it is) are some insights about actual writing (that would be literary fiction with a capital L since Johnson considers anything else “pork” or industrial writing and not worth the effort).


Much of his philosophy is similar to John Gardner’s who was his teacher and mentor. Indeed, one might be better off reading Gardner’s On Moral Fiction as well as The Art of Fiction for more specifics on these two areas unless you’re want to know more about Johnson’s career highlights beginning in grade school.


I did find it interesting that he places more emphasis on plot than character development which could be considered a contradiction since one definition of literary fiction is that it’s character driven. That’s it you ask? Perhaps it’s his lifetime as an academic, with thirty of those years as a teacher, that gives him, in my opinion, a rather limited point of view.


Though I’m now inclined to read at least one of his novels – to see if it is actually as good as he thinks it is.




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The Golden House: A Novel - Salman Rushdie

A man of extreme wealth immigrates from Mumbai to Manhattan along with his three adult sons. They change their identities and keep the reason for leaving their previous home a mystery though they don’t live like recluses, just the opposite, they embrace their new homeland with excess and extravagance.


The Golden House is about this family and the unraveling of their mystery as told by a neighbour, a film maker, who takes an interest in them because he hopes their story will provide the plot for a movie he wants to make.


Salman Rushdie’s characters are larger than life, and I mean down right over the top. Indeed, there are no ordinary people in this novel, every one is eccentric, brilliant, extremely talented, very well dressed and beautiful beyond description though Rushdie does his best to describe all the above lavishly and extensively.


In fact he spends so much time on sumptuous imagery, on references to Greek mythology and on quotes that might make sense if I knew author of the quote and the context in which it was being used, I very soon became bored and early on found my self skimming pages to find something that advanced the plot.


The Golden House is an “insiders” book. If the reader knows the locales, events, jargon, trends, author of quotes, context of quotes, the heroes and heroines of Greek mythology and their significance then I imagine you’re supposed to feel included, with it, up to date, part of the club, and oh so contemporary. If you don’t you’re a boob, a rube, a member of the cultural lumpenproletariat and don’t deserve to know what’s going in his book.


Rushdie obviously is an excellent, clever, educated, intelligent, sophisticated member of the upper crust of society and he sets out to prove that in every paragraph of this book.

The writing is so rich, so decadent I felt the same way I did when during the Holidays I overindulged in Christmas cake, shortbread and mince tarts – well fed, yet ironically, unsatisfied.


Keeping with my New Year’s resolution of not enduring to the end books I’m not enjoying, I abandoned The Golden House about a quarter way through.




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NakedTreesWinterSunsetBWcover copy copy copy

This is a review of my writing for 2017. You couldn’t call it a success, nor could you call it a failure since something would have had to have been achieved in the first place. Get what I’m saying? If you’ve never been up how can you be down?

If you don’t, well, that’s okay since I write this for myself to put the previous year in perspective.

Last year I decided to see what it would be like to take part in public readings and conduct writing seminars. The idea was to raise my profile while at the same time sell my books at these events.

It didn’t take much to get booked for both, but the experience was not very satisfying, akin to pitching from behind a table you’ve rented at a flea market. After my initial experiences I didn’t look for more opportunities. Sales just aren’t that important to me.

The only thing I self-published was a novella, The Rocker and the Bird Girl. It began as an experiment on Inkitt to see if a shallow story about a rock star and a young woman who ran a bird sanctuary would be popular with the juvenile readers who populate that site. Unfortunately, or fortunately – I’m not sure which, I was soon having so much fun with this story and became so enamored with my characters (though very few Inkitt followers did) I decided to pull it from that site and self-publish it.

Novellas for “New Adults” (protagonist between eighteen and thirty) seem to be trendy likely due to the diminishing attention span of this age group and the fact they’re read on cellphones during commutes. Quite unexpectedly I discovered I had a lot of story ideas for this heroine and I could easily expand it into a series. Series, according to the “experts” sell better than stand-alones so what the hell, nothing else is working.

Despite a thorough launch for The Rocker and the Bird: listed as a pre-order on Smashwords three weeks in advance of publishing, email ARC copies to my Advance Reading Team, giveaways on Booklikes and Library Thing, two weeks free on Smashwords, free with coupon on my website, and promoted unabashedly on my social media accounts  – it so far has had two reviews and no sales.

Undeterred, the second in The Mattie Saunders Series, Cold Blooded, is set to be self-published in March of this year. Here’s the blurb:

“When a suspicious death at the The Reptile Refuge closes it down, Mattie receives a desperate call from Liz, an old friend from high school, asking if it’s possible to temporarily board some reptiles at Saunders Bird Sanctuary. Mattie’s not concerned with the circumstances and sees it as an opportunity to reconnect with Liz as well as help some animals in distress.

Unwittingly, Mattie’s drawn into a dark intrigue and soon discovers it’s not just the displaced inhabitants of The Reptile Refuge that are cold blooded.”

Still determined to break into traditional publishing I spent the balance of last year polishing the manuscript of East Van Saturday Night – four short stories and a novella and submitting it to Canadian publishers. The list of rejections continues to increase from those publishers gracious enough to send me one.

What’s ahead?

This year, as mentioned, the second in my series will be self-published, the third is already outlined (okay, only in my head, but it’s only January 4th) and a first draft will be written, plus I’ll continue to work on another full length novel with the working title, The Triumvirate – three exceptional people, one insurmountable challenge. I’ve already stopped submitting East Van Saturday Night and, once the disappointment abates somewhat I’ll take another look at the entire project.

Promotions of my backlist are also a consideration for 2018.

Book sales from all sources in 2017 amounted to $174.44. Expenses including book proofs, book orders and postage totaled $253.88. You can draw your own conclusions.

Oddly enough I’m optimistic. Why not?

Besides, writing for me is its own reward – really.


Stand calm, be brave, watch for the signs.




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Miller's Valley - Anna Quindlen



Mary Margaret Miller is a young girl growing up on a farm in Miller’s Valley, a small community in rural America in the 1960’s.


There’s nothing unusual about her family or her life: she has two older brothers – one’s away at college, the other is a lovable rogue, her father works the farm, her mother is a nurse at the local hospital, an aunt lives in a small cottage on the farm.


The only thing that makes Miller’s Valley different from thousands of similar rural hamlets is the government has plans to raise a nearby dam and flood the valley displacing the few families who live there.


This a theme that runs throughout the book looming over the lives of the Miller family though never really effecting them since there is no set timeline for the flooding.


Through the point of view of Mary Margaret the reader comes to know a loving and, more or less, functioning family, their friends and neighbours living in middle America during this period.


Quindlen is such a fine writer I was immediately drawn in. Her gift is that she makes the reader feel like they know, have known, or know someone just like her characters. Her prose is so seamless you don’t realize you’re reading a book – more like experiencing it.


Unlike some of Quindlen’s work that can leave you with PTSD (Every Last One, One True Thing, Black and Blue) nothing really dramatic happens in Miller’s Valley. There’s regular love, life and death but it’s not agonizing, unimaginably violent or pathologically cruel. It’s just your run of the mill stuff – strokes, abortions, infidelity, drug abuse – but it’s balanced with love and real caring.


Sound boring? It’s not. Every time I sat down to read it was like catching up with a friend.


I had no idea how Miller’s Valley would end and apparently neither did the author, because what she implies in the last few pages is incongruous to the story that has come before. I simply could not believe it.


Despite the rather bizarre ending, Miller’s Valley is a satisfying and entertaining read.



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So what works when it comes to marketing your self-published book?


Well, maybe that’s being overly cynical. You may find some things work infinitesimally, but let me assure you there is no book marketing “silver bullet”. At least that’s been my experience over the past seven years with my eight novels and two plays.

But, hey, I’m ever the optimistic (what’s the alternative?) and so when I received a promotional email (no personalized salutation) from an indie author saying she noticed I’d reviewed a book similar to one she had just written and if she sent me a free e-pub edition would I be interested in reviewing hers, I was curious as to know how she culled my email address from the millions on Amazon.

So I agreed to review her book on the condition she tell me how she got my email address and any other tips she might have on marketing. She responded favourably and was very forthcoming.

This all transpired in early October 2017  and I wrote a blog (see my previous blog entitled Book Launch Case Study) about what she had undertaken to produce and market her novel on October 18th.

As promised I read and reviewed her novel and rated it two stars. It was classically amateur. As well as posting the review I sent her a long, constructive (at least I thought it was) email with suggestions on improving the book and her overall writing.

She sent a terse reply saying I clearly did not enjoy the genre and her book obviously was not for me.

Fair enough.

So I thought I would wait and see if the money she spent on marketing would increase the popularity of what I considered a bad book.

Her book was published Sept. 27, 2017 and here’s what she’d done and spent up to the point of sending it to me:

– To produce her book she hired two beta readers at $50 each and got a book cover artist from her writers’ group to design her cover for $65. No editor was needed she said as she just happened to be one herself.

– She purchased a Book Review Targeter app for $200 (that’s how she got my email address).

– She uploaded the culled emails into Group Mailer and had “about forty-five people agree to read and review a free version of the book and an additional twenty who declined the free copy and purchased the book to review it.”

That’s 65 people who agreed to review her book. Keep that number in mind.

In addition, she said she had another three or four lists (from additional similar books) she had yet process.

– At the end of October she was running a 99¢ campaign for the e-book edition for two days on Amazon and one-day free book promotions on Pretty-Hot Books and Discountbookman, spending ten dollars for a featured promotion on bookreadermagazine and running a giveaway on Goodreads.

– Let’s not forget her friends, colleagues and clients whom she apparently had no problem asking to buy and review her book. She also asked writers in her writers’ groups to share information about her book on their Facebook pages and had started looking for blogs to ask bloggers to mention it.

All this cost her $375, and, I might think a bit of personal integrity and perhaps even a friend or two. But who isn’t prepared to sacrifice their integrity, friends and even money if it means hitting the Amazon Best Seller list?

In the 71 days since her book was released she’s had 7 customer reviews on Amazon with an average 4 star rating. Her book is currently ranked 3,359,000 on Amazon.

So what’s the take away from this book launch case study?

  1. Promises are not reviews or sales (remember those 65 people who promised to review her book, buy her book, or both) they’re just promises.
  2. Offering your book free or for 99¢ does not generate reviews or sales.
  3. Since her family, friends, professional colleagues and clients didn’t step up and review her book maybe you shouldn’t go there. Relationships are more important than a book review and you really never know how much harm you’re doing. Think of the friend who got involved in that multi-level marketing scheme – do you really want to be like him?

Am I happy she fell flat on her face? No. Am I vindicated that her efforts fell miles short of what I imagine her expectations were? No (well, maybe a little).

Mostly I hope she’s gained some knowledge, maybe a bit of humility and carries on, but with emphasis on improving her craft rather than her marketing schemes. Maybe even get that email I sent out of the deleted file and take a look at what I suggested.

And always remember what Nietzsche said, “Art is the proper task in life.”

And that would be whether it sells or not.

Stay calm, be brave, watch for the signs


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Whenever I search the internet trying to find some information to resolve a self-publishing issue invariably an article written by Joel Friedlander comes up.


I’ve read a number of them and found them professional, helpful and, most importantly, understandable.


When I was offered all this knowledge free in his book Book Construction Blueprint by Joel Friedlander – Expert Advice for Creating Industry-Standard Print Books it was a no-brainer.


Book Construction Blueprint is a comprehensive guide and includes preparing your manuscript, interior book design, cover design, printing and working with professionals.


A good deal of it wasn’t relevant for my needs but some was invaluable including the section Cleaning Up Your Word Files. Pretty much all the problems you’re confronted with when you upload your original manuscript to a self-publishing platform can be attributed to formatting glitches in your Word file. Friedlander has some nifty tips, accompanied by screen shots, that saved me countless hours of hair-pulling frustration. They’re now incorporated into my pre-upload check-list.


Ever wonder about the order of your book’s front matter? What goes on the Copyright Page and does the Dedication Page come before Acknowledgements? It’s all spelled out in Friedlander’s book.


He also has some great suggestions on what components make an eye-catching cover, designing running heads and font choices.


I try to review a lot of new indie authors and it’s very distracting and unprofessional to read poorly or incorrectly formatted books. I know what a challenge it is and mine still aren’t perfect, but they’ll be a lot better now that I have Book Construction Blueprint by Joel Friedlander – Expert Advice for Creating Industry-Standard Print Books to refer to.


I downloaded this book free from the BookBaby Blog


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The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers - John Gardner


One of the most interesting things about this book is how attitudes have changed in regards to what it means to be an author.


The Art of Fiction – Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner, was published in 1984, long before the advent of online platforms that make self-publishing free and easy to any and everyone.


This is not your “How to Write a Novel for Dummies” and Gardner definitely would not have supported “everyone’s right to publish” as proclaimed by many indie authors and the entire self-publishing industry.


Gardner felt that aspiring to be an author was almost akin to a “higher calling” and required rigorous study and practice. As well as hard work and sacrifice such a career choice came with duties and responsibilities.


The most important of which is telling the truth, and not just getting facts right, but making sure your fiction is believable and not perceived by the reader as a lie. Foremost it must “affirm moral truths about human existence”.


Good fiction according to Gardner “creates a vivid and continuous dream” for the reader.


Though the book contains good suggestions on craft they’re not presented point by point but rather embedded within the text. That means enduring a lot of with Gardner’s rather academic, elitist attitude.


Is it worth it? Definitely – if you’re serious about becoming an accomplished author.


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The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers - John Gardner


 I recently received an promotional email (no personalized salutation) from an indie author saying she noticed I’d reviewed a book similar to one she had just written and if she sent me a free e-pub edition would I be interested in reviewing hers?


What interested me was how she went about selecting reviewers? It must be an onerous task to go through reviewers on Amazon, even after applying the appropriate filters in regards to genre, and extract their emails. And once you have them there is no guarantee they’re going to review your book, or for that matter give you a good review.


So I agreed to review her book on the condition she tell me how she got my email address and any other tips she might have on marketing. To sweeten the deal I even purchased her book, very uncharacteristic for me.


She responded favorably and has been very forthcoming. Here’s what she has undertaken so far in producing and marketing her novel.


She says she wrote this book, her second in a series, taking into consideration the requirements and preferences of traditional publishers because she thought she might approach agents and traditional publishers with it.


“In the end, after reading several articles and consulting with the other authors in my two writers’ groups, I decided that self-publishing is actually the better option. If you’re interested in my reasoning, let me know.”


I am interested and will be asking her why she’d turn down a traditional publisher to become a self-publisher? Her previous book was also self-published so it’s not like she switched.


So how did she come up with my name and email address and those of other reviewers?


The answer is she bought a Book Review Targeter app for $200 (lots are available on the internet).


It works like this – you choose as many books as you want that you feel are similar to yours and receive what’s essentially an excel list of all the people who reviewed those books. The vast majority don’t have an email address but there are plenty that do.


So what to do with those email addresses?


She down loaded an app called Group Mailer because it makes sending out group emails easy.


So how is she doing?


“In about three days I’ve had about forty-five people agree to read and review a free version of the book and an additional twenty who declined the free copy and purchased the book to review it.”


Now that’s impressive, not the forty-five who agreed to review it, but the twenty who declined a free review copy and bought one. Who are these people?


She says she has another three or four lists (from additional similar books) she has yet process.


She’ll be running a 99¢ campaign for the e-book edition for two days on Amazon and one day free book promotions on Pretty-Hot Books and Discountbookman, spending ten dollars for a featured promotion on bookreadermagazine and running a giveaway on Goodreads.


She also has had no problem asking friends, colleagues and clients to buy her book and she anticipates reviews from about twenty percent of them.


She’s asked the other writers in her writers’ groups to share information about her book on their Facebook pages and has started looking for blogs to ask bloggers to mention it.


If that isn’t enough, and it probably isn’t, she’s considering spending $720 to have BookBub promote her book. BookBub claims the campaign will sell 2700 books, and the members in her writers’ groups unanimously support these stats saying they’ve received three times the return on their investment with such a promotion.


There’s a caveat here – BookBub only accepts professionally produced, error free books. They seldom accept new releases, preferring you have a proven track record with reviews. If you qualify be prepared to cut your price to the bone. Even if you want to promote with BookBub you may not make the grade.


To produce her book she hired two beta readers at $50 each and got a book cover artist from her writers’ group to design her cover for $65. No editor was needed as she just happens to be one herself.


So far her hard costs have been $375. Results are pending.


A lot of what she’s doing I’ve done:

– I have an Advance Reading Team e-mail list of a little over 200 who receive my new books free to stimulate buzz and encourage reviews.

– I have run giveaway promotions on Goodreads, LibraryThing and BookLikes.

– I send a press release to local media offering them a book in return for a review

– I blog, and promote on Facebook and Twitter

– I have three beta readers who read my books free and are recognized on the book’s Acknowledgement Page.

– I edit my own books and design my own covers


Some of what she’s doing I’ll never do.


I have never solicited family, friends, colleagues or clients to buy my books. In my opinion it’s unprofessional. Besides I want my books to be bought because they’re well written and entertaining, not out some misguided obligation or as as way for someone to ingratiate themselves to me.


My hard costs on my last book were zero.


And so have the results.


Of course, there’s always the elephant in the room – the quality of the book.


I’m watching how this book launch does and hoping I can learn something. Maybe you will as well.


Speaking of book marketing…


CreatorCollabs Boosted Tweets


So out of the blue I get a promotional tweet about CreatorCollabs (CC) Boosted Tweets. Basically, post a tweet and share it on CC. Other CC users see your Tweet and share it with their online audiences. In-turn, you need to share content created by others to ensure your points stay high to continue to get access for your tweets.


There’s a free and paid plan. Of course, I used the free one.


For a week I loaded Tweets about my plays, Harry’s Truth and End of the Rope, available free on Smashwords until December 31, 2017. In return I retweeted content about the books of other authors.


They have a stats bar so you can check how many people you’re apparently reaching. Here’s the results of one of my tweets.

– The number of retweets my tweet received from my own twitter followers = 0.

– The number of retweets my tweet received through CreatorCollabs Community = 7

(increase 700%)

– Number of my followers my tweet reached = 50

– Number of followers my tweet reached through CreatorCollabs Community = 10,131

(Increase 20,262%)


Increase in books sales in response to this enormous increase in reach = 0

Increase in activity on my website and book sales platforms = negligible.


Just another case of nobody being interested in anyone (or their books) but themselves – including me.



Stay calm, be brave, watch for the signs.


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