Category Archives: Commentary

My Target Audience Epiphany

Check out any writing site and it will tell you how important it is for an author to build her mailing list. Mailing lists help you to get noticed and build a relationship with your readers which, in turn, helps sell books.

I’ve been trying to build my mailing list for my publishing company for a while now, without much luck. It wasn’t until I was organizing yet another Facebook ad that I had an epiphany–I was targeting the wrong people.

Knowing Your Audience

As a publisher, I mistakenly thought I wanted to market to authors. If I could get their attention, they’d see the books I was selling, read about my authors’ successes, visit them when they did their book signings, etc., and want to publish with me. The problem was that most authors I was targeting were self-published and had no need for a publisher.

I had to ask myself: as a publisher, what is my main goal? Signing authors was great, but no matter how many authors I signed, if no one bought my books, my company wouldn’t be very successful.

My ideal audience was composed of people who read English, fiction readers living in North America and maybe the UK. Their sex wasn’t an issue, but since Facebook tends toward an older audience, I needed to target adults, 18 years of age and older.

Offering Incentive

Many sources will tell you to offer people an incentive for subscribing to your email list. Plenty of authors offer free books as an incentive, so I put together a book documenting how I’d planned and executed my last blog tour, complete with links to actual sites I used and statistics for click-throughs vs. impressions vs. sales. It was the perfect incentive for authors.

After my epiphany, I decided to offer a free eBook, any eBook in my catalogue. To do this, I created a Google form on which subscribers could request a specific book or choose a genre and let me choose the book for them.

Results

I generally run my Facebook ads for a week with a budget of $5.00 per day. When targeting authors with my ads, I was lucky to have 10 leads per ad campaign. With the same run of $5.00 per day for a week when targeting readers, I found 62 leads!

The day after my campaign closed, I emailed everyone on my list of new leads with a link to the Google form. Only 5 people replied to ask for books, which was disappointing–eBooks cost nothing to give away, and once my audience had gotten a taste of the quality of my authors, I had hoped to sell more books.

My Newsletter

This month I sent my newsletter out to 62 more people than usual. Two people unsubscribed the next day, which was to be expected. Now, in addition to new books for sale, my newsletter includes a list of advance reader copies (ARCs) which readers can order for free, with the hope they’ll post a (hopefully positive) review when they’re done.  Out of the 82 people on my list (I had 20 people on my list before), 2 people requested ARCs.

A 2% response rate might not seem like a lot, but it’s a start. It’s more engagement than I had before, at any rate.

I’m building it and they are slowly coming.

Sign up for my mailing list to request one of this month’s ARC eBooks for free!

5 unsettling turns OUAT has taken in season 6

Those of you who read my blog know that I’m devoted to ABC’s Once Upon A Time. In fact, this blog began on Tumblr as “My Own Little Storybrooke”. Because I’m generally busy most evenings, I’ve been saving this season’s OUAT episodes to binge watch over the holidays, which I’ve been doing, and a few things strike me as I do.

  1. I’ve forgotten how amazing the show is and how much I enjoy it.
  2. I’m shocked at how dark the show has become.
  3. I’m surprised at how what once would have made me squeal with delight now makes me cringe in discomfort.

Let me explain point number three.

From season one, the storyline establishing Rumplestiltskin as the Beast in Beauty and the Beast was incredible and I loved watching Robert Carlyle portray Rumpy’s developing character. I was thrilled to see Rumpy flirt with Cora in the story of The Miller’s Daughter, and even hoped to see him paired with Regina when he was mentoring her.

But this season?

This season seems to be bringing a whole host of unenchanted storylines that are too close to real-life disturbing situations. Here are my reasons for saying this season is quite unsettling:

1. Emma may be suffering from a serious neurological disorder.

Emma has begun to have visions of her fatal future. These visions are accompanied with hand tremors that may be evidence of something as benign as hypoglycemia, anxiety, or fatigue, but which could be indicative of something more serious, such as a brain tumor, hyperthyroidism, or Parkinson’s disease. Rather than consider she may be seriously ill and in need of medical attention, Emma is treated by psychiatrist Jiminy/Archie. Her condition is especially foreboding when you consider that her visions are about her death, and something like a brain tumor can be quite deadly.

2. The children of Zelena and the Evil Queen.

Having struggled with their inherent evilness, Zelena and the Evil Queen have resolved to show their children just how wicked they can be. Rather than hide their affinity with the dark side of their personalities, the sisters hope their children will follow in their footsteps. None of this hits closer to home than the scene where the Evil Queen is coercing Henry to smash the heart of the Dragon to release Regina and Emma from their mirrored prison. Let’s unpack this: the Evil Queen is trying to convince her son to kill an innocent man to save his moms. This is particularly unsettling when you remember that the Evil Queen is the one who had created the mirror prison in the first place. Rather than wave her hand to release them, she attempts to bully Henry into committing murder, dragging him down into her dark pit alongside her.

3. Rumplestiltskin and the Evil Queen getting it on.

Though not technically adultery, Rumpy continues to profess his love for Belle while engaging the Evil Queen in some hanky-panky. Though I find the scenes incredibly sexy, there’s something not right about it. First of all, Rumpy had an intimate relationship with Cora, Regina and Zelena’s mother. Zelena had admitted she tried to get Rumpy into bed. The Evil Queen said they’ve always had a chemistry and now their relationship has been taken to another level. This means that Rumpy has, at the very least, bedded mother and daughter, and come close to bedding mother and daughters, which is kind of gross. Furthermore, Rumpy/Gold is grandfather to the Evil Queen’s adopted son, which adds another rather freaky layer to a really messed-up storyline.

4. Belle is an abused wife.

Having heard that Gold wants to sever his child from his destiny the moment he’s born, Belle goes into warrior-mom mode and tries to escape Storybrooke. When Gold gets wind of her plan, he slaps a gold bangle onto her wrist, binding her to the town. This comes hot on the heels of him keeping her captive on the Jolly Roger to protect her from Jekyll and Hyde. Belle is essentially emotionally abused by her ex-husband, held against her will, and in fear for her unborn child. Though she has said she doubts it will happen, she would gladly get back with him if he would only live his life as the good man he was meant to be. This is essentially battered wife syndrome. How many times has Belle returned to an abusive and emotionally unavailable Rumple, only to regret her actions? The poor woman is destined to live her life under Rumple’s thumb, as there is no way she will be able to combat the magic he can employ to keep his child with him. At that point, we can add Belle’s son’s name to point number two above.

5. A study in Stockholm Syndrome

In addition to battered wife syndrome, Belle is the poster child for Stockholm Syndrome, though she really can’t be blamed for it, as Beauty and the Beast is a textbook case. In the story, a girl goes to live with a literal beast to save her town. She is held captive, enslaved, and winds up falling in love with her captor. This story is meant to teach us not to judge a book by its cover, but the deeper story it tells is much more nefarious, especially where OUAT is concerned. Belle is kept in a dungeon until she’s given house privileges. She must remain captive in the castle or Rumpy will allow the ogres to kill everyone she knows and loves. She is essentially his slave, cooking and cleaning for him, living in fear of his temper, walking on eggshells lest he hurt her or worse, someone she loves. Cue the abused wife argument above.

Honestly, I don’t know what is more disquieting: having to watch pregnant, optimist, bookworm Belle being abused by her ex, or watching my favourite character lose any and all of the redeeming qualities that made him my favourite character in the first place. And while Robert Carlyle plays the part with depraved aplomb, there’s something that’s not right about deriving pleasure from from something so vile.

What do you think about the malevolent turn OUAT’s taken this season? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.

4 New Time Travel Shows Worth Watching (and 1 not so much)

The first time travel story I ever saw was when I was about 8 and watching Classic Trek re-runs (of course, back then, it was called Star Trek and not “Classic”). I’d never seen anything like The City on the Edge of Forever before, and I was hooked. The Star Trek franchise has always done time travel well, which is high praise, given the other memorable movies and series incorporating the time-worn trope since.

The last book I released, I Was, Am, Will Be Alice, is a time travel fiction (largely inspired by The Time Traveler’s Wife), as is my as of yet unfinished manuscript, tentatively entitled Cat and Mouse: A Love Story, largely inspired

This recent television season has seen an explosion of time travel television shows and it doesn’t disappoint, for the most part. In a medium in which good science fiction (and sometimes, any science fiction) is hard to find, you might ask why this particular genre has exploded at this moment in time. A recent CBC broadcast proposed that the phenomenon is due to the current political climate and how people seemed to view the past as a simpler time. With what is happening in the world today, the influx of time travel television reflects people’s desire to turn the clock back to that simpler time. Glamour suggests this may be because we, as a society, have acknowledged the error of our ways and long for a way to fix our future by  going back and fixing our past.

To honour the current television season, here’s a list of 4 new time travel shows (in no particular order) worth watching (and 1 not so much).

1. Travelers

The future is a dystopia, largely due to the fact that a meteor will hit Earth with devastating consequences. They have figured out how to transfer consciousness back in time with the help of a large supercomputer. A team of scientists have their consciousnesses  sent back in time to change the past and make the world a better place. To do this, the supercomputer–known as the Director–pinpoints the moment of a host’s death and transfers the future consciousness in the seconds before the host dies. This show is made interesting by the characters of the hosts, which include an FBI agent with a failing marriage, a mentally impaired woman and her social worker, an addict, a teenaged football player, and a woman who is fighting for custody of her son with her abusive, police officer husband.  Eric McCormack, a long time favourite of mine since Will and Grace, stars.

2. Timeless

When a seemingly bad guy steals a time machine from a top secret think tank, a historian, a soldier, and a pilot chase him through time in an effort to preserve the timeline. In the first episode, misunderstood Garcia Flynn (expertly played Goran Visnjic) introduces the Rittenhouse Corporation, a Mafia-like group of people who have infiltrated every aspect of government and power corporations for centuries. Through the course of the season, we learn that Flynn is only out to stop Rittenhouse to save his family (whom he believes was murdered by members of Rittenhouse) and make the world a better place. Abigail Spencer, Matt Lanter, and Malcolm Barrett have such incredible chemistry as the team of heroes out to stop Flynn, that by the time they realize they’re fighting for the wrong team, they can do no wrong in the viewers’ eyes.

3. Frequency

Based on the movie by the same name, Frequency supposes that a ham radio can connect the present to the past. In Frequency, police officer Raimy Sullivan learns she can talk to her father over his old radio. The only problem is her father died 20 years ago. Raimy gives her father advice which saves him from the accident that took his life. She goes into work the next morning only to learn that her mother–safe before Raimy had saved her father’s life–went missing twenty years ago and her bones are on the coroner’s table. Her mother, it seems, was a victim of the Nightingale Killer. As if to make matters worse, she is a stranger to her fiancee. Raimy and her father, Frank, spend the season as partners as they try to catch the Nightingale Killer on both ends of the time continuum.

 

4. Time After Time

I remember seeing Time After Time, the movie, as a young adult. I loved the fact that H. G. Wells was portrayed as a time traveller. The Time Machine reads more like a journal, after all, documenting the travels of a scientist into the past and incredibly distant future to check in on the evolution of mankind. It’s not hard to imagine that the novel was Wells’s actual journal. In Time After Time, H.G. Wells invents a time machine that is immediately appropriated by Jack the Ripper who goes forward in time to escape capture and continues his murderous ways. The show is more cat and mouse thriller than time travel epic as Dr. John Stephenson (Jack the Ripper) taunts Wells, daring him to follow through with his threat to capture him before his next kill.

*As an aside, is Flash’s H.R. Wells somehow an homage to H.G. Wells? Why else would the character–who hops Earths a la Sliders and who is known to have time travelled in the comic world–have been given a name so similar to the author?

5. Making History

A time travelling duffle bag is absurd on the face of it. Even so, I could accept it provided the show did something smart with it. In the first two episodes, Dan goes back to make sure the American Revolution happens, only to find that the founding fathers are even dumber than he is, and though they love their guns and will only be riled when the British threaten to take them away (cue the political satire), they refuse to do anything more than threaten to take the guns and aver their love for guns. There’s a love affair (as in Time After Time), false identities with modern names, and claiming of song lyrics that won’t be written for centuries (as in Back to the Future). Though there may be a few moments that made me smile, this was even more groan-worthy than Legends of Tomorrow at it’s campy best.

Whether the surge in time travel tales is due to a longing to return to a simpler time, or the desire to turn back the clock, given the number of celebrity deaths and the politics of the previous year, time travel television is a worthy, sentimental diversion.

Are you a fan of time travel fiction? Weigh in with what you think in the comments below.

How to use Grammarly

You’ve sweated out your story, lived, died, and bled with your characters, edited your work tens if not hundreds of times, published, and your first reviewer complains about the mistakes.

Tear hair out here!

Though I can’t find a scientific article to prove it, I did search “Why can’t we edit our own work” and most sites agree: it’s because we’re too invested in what we’ve written. Because we’ve read it over so many times, our brains know what we want to say, fill in the blanks, and we miss our errors. Microsoft Word does a good job of highlighting what it thinks are spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors, but even that might not be good enough.

Enter Grammarly.

Grammarly might just be the best invention since sliced bread where publishing is concerned, but it does have its faults. Grammarly is only a computer program, it’s not an editing god, and every suggestion it makes must be taken with a grain of salt  (i.e., don’t go making haphazard changes just because Grammarly–or Word, for that matter–says so).

Having published five of my own books with the sixth on the way, and about seven or so more by other authors under my EMSA Publishing imprint,  I’ve adopted Grammarly as my last ditch edit before publishing. Here are a few things I’ve learned.

 1. Canadian spellings are marked as errors.

I’ve blogged about this before. Did you know that Canada (and the UK) are the rule and the US is the exception? What I mean is that what my American friends think are “cute”, Canadian foibles are actually the norm practically everywhere else in the world. And while you can change Grammarly’s dictionary for British English, there is no Canadian option. This might pose a problem because like the UK, we have the odd double consonant rule before adding a suffix, and then there’s the whole “our” ending thing, but unlike the UK, Canadians, for example, prefer “mom” to “mum”. It is for this reason I prefer to keep my dictionary set to American English.

The bottom line is that you have a choice if you’re Canadian: write in American English, or know your Canadian spelling rules and be sure to do a Google search to check all spellings Grammarly marks as incorrect.

2. Do a search and replace.

Grammarly marks words that should be hyphenated but aren’t, or words that are hyphenated but shouldn’t be. It also marks compound words that shouldn’t be or vice versa. The trouble is that it doesn’t do this consistently. I’ve found that, in many cases, it really doesn’t matter as long as you hyphenate or compound consistently.

For example, should it be “eco-terrorist” or “ecoterrorist”? I did a Google search and discovered that Wikipedia and The Toronto Star use the hyphenated version, while the FBI and The Washington Post don’t (and though the Star is Canadian, I don’t believe this is another US-Canada dichotomy). My conclusion is that both are correct, as long as I pick one and stick to it throughout. In some cases, Grammarly picked up on this, in others it didn’t, and I had to go through my manuscript with a search and replace to make sure I was consistent throughout.

3. Know your comma rules.

Oh, those dreaded commas!

I’ve learned quite a bit about them on my editing journey, most of which can be read here, but the bottom line is that while there are rules, there are some exceptions due to style. Grammarly often told me I was missing a comma where I believed there should be none, and told me I had an incorrect comma where I believed there should absolutely be one.  The bottom line is, you have to know your comma rules.

Perhaps the biggest issue I have when using Grammarly is with the Oxford comma, the one that says you must separate all items of a list with a comma. Here’s an article on the Grammarly blog explaining what the Oxford comma is and why people care so much about it. The Oxford comma conundrum is compounded with the rule about commas and conjunctions (that unless you have two independent clauses on either side of the conjunction, no comma is necessary). Grammarly often thought I was connecting two dependent clauses with a comma before my “and” when in fact, it was an item in a list with the Oxford comma.

For example:

He tried to patch things up, went into my room, discovered I was gone, and was waiting up for me.

In this case, Grammarly marks the comma in red as being incorrect, but in my mind, it denotes the fourth item in a list with an Oxford comma. This sentence has a parallel structure, detailing four things my main character’s father did:

  • he tried to patch things up
  • he went into her room
  • he discovered she was gone
  • and he was waiting up for her when she returned.

According to the way the Oxford comma works, to separate items in a list, this is absolutely the correct place for a comma to be, yet Grammarly marked it as an error.

Here’s another example:

Not to mention the fact that I’d just broken my dad’s heart.

So first: yes, this is a sentence fragment, but stylistically so. Secondly, Grammarly suggests a comma go after “dad’s” and before “heart”. The reason: “When speaking directly to people, their names must be set off by commas. Consider adding the comma(s).”

This sentence is a part of my main character’s internal conflict. She is in her bedroom, alone, thinking to herself and not speaking to anyone, least of all her father. Grammarly was way off the mark on this one.

The takeaway? Question every change Grammarly suggests before you make it.

4. Check, check, and double-check.

Grammarly occasionally marks incorrect word use when there is none. Case in point:

“Cain broke up with me,” I bawl, barely intelligible, to myself, anyway, between the sobs.

Grammarly wondered if I didn’t mean “bowl” instead of “bawl”, as if “I bowl, barely intelligible” makes any more sense.

“My sobs have long subsided into sniffles…”

Grammarly wants to change “sobs” to “sons”, because it makes more sense in the context.

Note that I’m not bashing Grammarly here. Rather, I use these examples to explain why it is important to check everything Grammarly suggests against alternate sources, particularly if the resulting change would make little sense.

5. Is your apostrophe used to indicate a possessive or a contraction?

Knowing how and when to use an apostrophe is paramount, especially when you’re relying on an app to find your errors.

For example,

 

They made it into the news because of their less than conventional behaviour during the protest and was forgotten a few days later.

Grammarly suggests that “their” is a “confused possessive and contraction”  and goes on to tell me that “It appears that the possessive pronoun their should be a contraction instead. Consider changing it.”

My option for change is therefore:

because of they are less than conventional

rather than “their” which Google defines as  “belonging to or associated with the people or things previously mentioned or easily identified,” which seems to be the obvious choice.

The moral of the story is: Grammarly is great, but only if you know what you’re doing when you’re using it. Technology should not be used as a replacement for our learning proper spelling, punctuation, and grammatical rules. Having said that, we must recognize that we live in a revolutionary age. We have millions (if not more) web pages to suggest spelling, and punctuation and grammatical usage at our fingertips, and authors must get into the habit of looking things up before they make changes, particularly when a collection of ones and zeros–which have the capacity for neither human speech nor human creativity–tells us our instincts are incorrect.

Comma Gain?

Punctuation rules are confusing, particularly those surrounding commas, semi-colons, and dashes. In this post, I tackle the comma: when to use it, and how much is too much.

The Oxford Comma

The Oxford Comma refers to the comma used to separate items in a list, particularly before the “and”. The perfect example of this is

While common sense can help to sort out problems such as this one, when the reader must pause to engage critical thinking skills to sort this out, it pulls them from the narrative and spoils the experience.

Commas and Conjunctions

Use a comma before a conjunction with two independent clauses, but not when there is only one independent clause. For example:

Two independent clauses: I want to eat, and I want to sleep. [Both clauses on either side of the conjunction can stand alone as their own sentences.]

One independent clause: I want to eat and sleep. [Only “I want to eat” can stand on its own as an independent clause.]

Semicolons vs. Commas

In a long list, where there are already commas, use semicolons to separate items in a list:

Once Upon A Time has several subplots going: Rumplestiltskin and Belle, who also double as Beauty and the Beast; Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, which serves as the segue into the Land of Untold Stories arc; and The Dr. Whale/Dr. Frankenstein connection, which may wind up saving Storybrook from evil, once again.

Semicolons are also used to separate two independent, yet related clauses (without a conjunction):

Some fans might say that Rumplestiltskin is the quintessential villain; the Evil Queen comes in a close second.

With the exception of the list rule, a semicolon should never be used in place of a comma, or a colon, for that matter. Note: see example above for proper colon use (or the start of this sentence). In general, a colon denotes a list to follow.

Commas After Conjunctions

Commas should NEVER be used after conjunctions (this is one of my pet peeves). Though we often pause after conjunctions like “and”, it is not correct to put a comma there. Consider my horrible example from above:

I want to eat and, if I can ever find the time, I want to sleep.

If you were to read this aloud, it might sound right, but it’s grammatically incorrect. Per the rule above, the comma should come before the “and”.

I want to eat, and if I can ever find the time, I want to sleep.

This is correct as the phrase “and if I can ever find the time” is an aside. See note below regarding the use of commas and asides.

Is it ever okay to break the rules?

Sometimes, in dialogue, it is okay to break the rules. For example, in I Was, Am, Will Be Alice, Pete, Alice’s boyfriend, asks:

Could I see, like, dinosaurs, or travel to see how mankind evolves a couple a thousand years from now?

Though technically, this isn’t exactly rule breaking, as it is correct to put commas around an aside in a sentence (giving additional information without which the sentence is still an independent clause), “like” is more of a speech habit than an aside, but the commas work in this context.

English is a Funny Language

As I write this post, I am going back and editing my recently published novel, I Was, Am, Will Be Alice, via Grammarly. I do this as a result of a review that claimed I had quite a few errors in my book, which I took as a personal affront, as I freelance as an editor. Grammarly tagged quite a few “errors” that really aren’t errors in the true sense of poor grammar and/or typographical errors (although, admittedly, there were a few, but I could count these on my fingers and still have a few left over). I’ve decided to write this and other posts to set the record straight with respect to grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Here’s some of what I’ve learned:

OR vs. OUR

Both Canadians and Brits spell words like colour, neighbour, and favour (and a whole host of other words with similar endings) with an extra “u”, probably as a result of our French roots.

L vs. LL

Many words ending in “l” double the letter before adding the ending. Travelling is one of these words (as opposed to “traveling” in American English). There are exceptions to this rule, and “instalment” is one of them, spelled with a single “l” in Canadian but a double “l” (installment) in American. Weird.

The elusive E

It is perfectly acceptable to add an extra “E” in words such as “acknowledgement” and “judgement” in Canadian English (“acknowledgment” and “judgment” in American English respectively). Interestingly enough, the word “jewellery” is the proper, Canadian/British spelling of the American “jewelry”, contrary to what one of my reviewers criticized.

In Canadian English, “insure” tends to refer to issuing and insurance policy, whereas “ensure” means to make sure. Though some sites, like Writer’s Digest,  insist there is a difference, other sites, like The Oxford English Dictionary, say that while the primary meaning for “insure” is the insurance connection, it is sometimes used in American English to mean “to make sure”. It is for this reason that my American clients insist using “insure” throughout.

C vs. S

Many American spellings favour “se” rather than “ce”. Examples of this include “licence” (Canadian) vs. “license” (American); “offence” (Canadian) vs. “offense” (American) ; and “defence” (Candian) vs. “defense” (American).

Commas Inside or Outside of Quotation Marks?

While we’re on the subject of Canadian vs. American, it’s important to note that in American English, the commas and periods go on the inside of quotation marks, while in Canadian and British English, they go on the outside. Note that this does not apply to dialogue. For example,

American: Canadian spellings are frequently tagged by American reviewers as “errors.”

Canadian: Canadian spellings are frequently tagged by American reviewers as “errors”.

Which Came First: The Chicken or the Egg?

“Dialogue”, as it is spelled above, is correct in Canada, with Americans preferring “dialog”. Some websites say that “dialogue” is to be used for conversation and “dialog” for a pop-up box to communicate with a computer. I also read that “dialogue” is gradually being replaced, primarily in America, for the shorter, “dialog”. I have to wonder if the reason the shorter spelling is used for the computer is because dialog boxes originate in the States, and therefore, the American spelling is used. Definitely a chicken or egg scenario.

Interestingly enough, Canadian English distinguishes between “blonde” for a woman with blonde hair, and “blond” for a man. This is largely due to ties with the French, as this is the rule in French grammar. While some sites say that “blond” is common for both men and women, others say “blond” is always used though it is still acceptable to use “blonde” for a woman in Canadian English. I would argue that this is not the case in Canada and that one should always use “blonde” for women, but with such a loosey-gooesy rule, one can hardly call this an error, unless you use “blonde” to refer to a male.

In Conclusion…

Keep in mind that I come at this from a uniquely Canadian perspective. Many of the “errors” Grammarly marked in my manuscript were simply the difference between American and Canadian spellings, and these should not be considered errors. As most of my clients are American, I’ve learned a few things regarding the differences between Canadian, British, and American English, and I’ve learned that one rule does not fit all, and just when you think you have it, there’s an exception to the rule, and you’ve broken it! Much of what I know about spelling American, is recently learned, as to me, spelling Canadian is the norm (and I’d like to think I’m quite good at it, having won more than a few spelling bees in my youth). An American can no more call the Candian and/or British spelling of a word an error, any more than a Canadian or a Brit can call the American spelling an error.–if you’re going to read, and/or review indie books, you simply

The bottom line is, if you’re going to read, and/or review indie books, you simply must be aware of the differences. Hopefully, my posts will help.

Revenants are Real!

On 19 June 15, the Ancient Origins website published an article by Mark Miller entitled “Ancient Greeks apparently feared zombies so much they weighed down the dead“.  In his article, Miller says ancient inhabitants of the island of Sicily feared zombies so much they used large boulders to weigh down the bodies of the newly buried dead. This, apparently, was the result of the fear of revenants held by the Ancient Greeks. Miller defines revenants as existing in a state between life and death, in which the undead would be able to “ris[e] from their graves to haunt the living.”

Both Miller and an article published by Richard Gray on Mail Online quote heavily from a Popular Archaeology article which confirms that “necrophobia, or fear of the dead…has been present in Greek culture from the Neolithic period to the present.”   These articles are the result of the excavation of a site in Sicily yielding close to 3,000 bodies. Two of the burials found were covered with heavy amphora fragments and rocks, presumably “to trap [the bodies] in the grave.”

In her article, Carrie L. Sulosky Weaver defines revenants as “reanimated corpses [who] rose from their graves, prowled the streets, and stalked unsuspecting victims, often to exact retribution denied to them in life.” She goes on to explain that  the Ancient Greeks believed that “even those who could not physically leave their tombs posed a threat, because mediums could easily invoke restless spirits and cajole them into committing heinous acts…[N]ecromancy, the purposeful invocation of the dead,” was another of their practices for which there is evidence in the archaeological record.

There are two revenants in The Revenant. Zulu is thrown from his horse on his way to elope with his sweetheart in nineteenth century Toronto. Raised from the dead by a necromancer, he has walked the earth for more than two centuries, searching for his beloved Alma. His lifelong companion has been Morgan, a seer with the gift of longevity. Together, they save the people Morgan sees in his dreams from certain death. Malchus, the other revenant in the story, also seeks closure, but in his relationship with his brother. Raised in spirit form and inhabiting the body of a local teen, Malchus believes his brother, Morgan, is responsible for his death, and he intends to exact retribution. The Revenant is a young adult paranormal thriller with zombies that pits brother against brother in the archetypal battle between good and evil. Will Zulu and Morgan survive, or will Malchus emerge victorious?

Buy The Revenant wherever eBooks are sold.

Glints of Light on Broken Glass: the Art of Showing in Writing

Some of the first things new writers are told is to write what you know, and to show, and not tell. Russian playwright and author Anton Checkhov is credited with having said “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass,” underscoring the latter. Showing can be a powerful tool when used with discretion, but all too often new authors forget to do this, preferring instead to paint their word pictures with broad strokes rather than choose a finer brush.

I’ve often written about how writing is a construct, something artificial made to seem real. Everything authors do, from creating and recreating setting, penning plot, and/or developing character and dialogue is not real. Everything about any given scene is there for a purpose; the trick is to add them subtly so they seem happenstance .

One mistake many new authors make is in how to express the physical appearance of a character. Having the character stand in front of a mirror and take stock, making note of his or her own hair and eye colour, and the shape of his or her jaw, lips, and nose doesn’t work. How many times have you looked in the mirror and taken stock? When I look in the mirror, the bow of my eyebrow is only important to me if it’s time to get a waxing. I notice my eye colour if my clothes make them pop. I may make note of my hair colour, but only if it’s time for a dye job.

Here’s another mistake. When I flip my hair back from my face, I don’t think that my hair is brown with red highlights as I’m doing so. I might be cognizant of the fact that I’m flipping too many times in a day and am due for a cut. I might get frustrated and sweep it back into a ponytail, but I don’t take note of the colour. Your characters shouldn’t either.

When you get into your car to go to work in the morning, do you take time to contemplate that it’s a 2010 slate grey, four-door Toyota Camry?  Isn’t it more likely you might think that it’s a beater, or that it’s nearly half-a-decade old and still looks like new? Might you think it needs a wash? Would you rub at a patch of dirt to make sure it wasn’t a scratch? Be annoyed that the neighbourhood kids wrote “Wash Me!” with their finger on the trunk again?

If I describe the car, my reader will know a lot about the make and model of the car, but little about the driver. If I get into the driver’s head and show what he’s thinking, I’m building character. If my reader drives a middle-age Camry, s/he might find a small point of identification with my character. If I show my character as either taking pride in the car or neglecting it, I’ve given my reader a more precise point of connection.

The next time you show detail, consider narrative viewpoint. If you describe something your character wouldn’t normally see, think or hear, then change tack.  For example, if I smile, I can’t see my white teeth gleam in the sunlight. I might feel my cheeks ache, the cold air I let in when I part my lips might hurt my overly-sensitive teeth, or I can imagine I must look like a grinning idiot (but I can’t know for sure).

Never forget your job as a writer is to construct an immersive version of reality.   Paint your word pictures with fine detail, and texture with character, dialogue and setting, using only the palette colours limited by your narrative point of view.

Have you noticed these errors in the books you’re reading? Maybe you’ve made some of these errors yourself? Share your experiences in the comments below!

My Paleo Diet – 1 Year Later

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Chocolate Pecan Pie Muffins – Low Carb and Gluten-Free on All Day I Dream About Food

I began my Paleo diet a little over one year ago today after my trainer suggested it as a way to help me lose weight. Turns out, Paleo for weight loss was an epic fail for me. Though I’ve lost about 4 pounds through the year (and I suppose that’s 4 pounds better off than I was last year), it’s no where near the results others have reported with the switch. Rather than be deterred, I kept with it, still hoping I’d eventually lose the weight, but mainly because I felt better eating this way.

Before the switch to Paleo, my stomach was…let’s just say, unsettled. That’s disappeared. So has the gas, water bloat, brain fog and headaches. Most of my sweet and salty cravings are gone. So is my joint pain. A surprising side effect was that my hot flashes have disappeared, those horrible hormonal waves that made me strip off my jacket and sweater and t-shirt in a mall only to leave me drenched in my own sweat and shivering—are gone! Eating Paleo’s worth it’s weight in gold for that discovery alone.

On the down side (besides no weight loss), food preparation is timely and costly. I can’t come home after a stressful day at work and pop something into the microwave for dinner. I must shop for fresh veggies and meat, prepare them, cook them, and clean up after ward. And while the fact that my kids enjoy my Paleo food is a bonus for them, it’s a negative for me as, no matter how much I think I’ve made, there are never enough leftovers and the whole process must begin anew the next day.

I’ve learned that…

  • I don’t miss processed foods (except where convenience is concerned). In fact, when I eat processed foods, the brain fog and bloat and stomach upset returns the next day as does my hip joint pain, in both hips, including the one that was replaced three years ago.
  • Spiralized zucchini has a consistency similar to Udon noodles when sauced.
  • Stevia leaves an aftertaste and agave’s not as healthy as you think. The best sugar substitutes are coconut sugar and xylitol. Both are plant-based sweetners that are less sweet than refined sugar.
  • I enjoy milk and milk products. My grandfather owned a dairy when I was a child. When he passed, my mom and her siblings took over. I was raised on yogurt, cottage cheese and cream cheese. I never much liked milk because I couldn’t get it cold enough. I learned I had a lactose intolerance with my first pregnancy when I decided to drink more of it. Thank heaven they have lactose free milk for my morning lattes. And though I don’t eat much yogurt or cheese, I do feel for it every once in a while.
  • I can’t cut grains out entirely. When I crave a salty snack, I pop some popcorn. When I eat too much fibre, I need to eat a small serving of rice daily until my body corrects itself. I eat wild rice, because I reason the cavemen I’m emulating might have come across a patch of wild rice at some point and harvested it (Hey! It could happen!).

Lastly, Pinterest is amazing for finding recipes and new weight training moves. Without variety I’d be bored. Pinterest has yielded a number of amazing ideas for recipes. Here are some I’ve tested that I really like:

Microwave Cinnamon Raisin English Muffin on The Big Man’s World

I make a savoury version of this muffin. Take the basic recipe, omit the cinnamon and raisins. Add 2 tablespoons of ground flax seed and a half teaspoon of your favourite spice. I like onion soup mix and/or garlic powder. After microwaving, cut in half like a real English muffin and toast until brown. I use this as sandwich bread, to substitute for a bagel (topped with butter or jam or cream cheese) and as the base for pizza muffins.

Chocolate Pecan Pie Muffins – Low Carb and Gluten-Free on All Day I Dream About Food

When you make this, add in the optional molasses. It gives it a rich feeling and adds little sweetness. The result, when served slightly warm, is reminiscent of pecan pie. I recently served these at work and my colleagues couldn’t believe there wasn’t any flour in it! I take two of these for breakfast once or twice a week.

Chocolate Muffin in a Minute on DJ Foodie

The basic recipe for this muffin is great. Throwing in a teaspoon of chocolate chips makes it better. Ditto chocolate mint chips. This muffin works as a sweet treat to satisfy a craving or as a gooey weekend breakfast.

The Best Paleo Pumpkin Pie on The Paleo Mom

My son absolutely loves this recipe, and I like pumpkin (who knew?). The crust is simply nuts and egg whites and the inside is pumpkin (a vegetable) and eggs. Rather than walnuts, I use pecans for the crust. I’ll sometimes have this for breakfast or lunch or for a guilt-free evening snack. I add a drizzle of pure maple syrup on my piece before eating.

Constantine – 5 reasons why he’s a forgotten regeneration of Dr. Who

Another comic book hero series to debut this season is Constantine.

John Constantine is a self-described “Exorcist, Demonologist, and Master of the Dark Arts”. He engages in Supernatural-type adventures, pitting him against other-worldly bads. Much like Sam and Dean Winchester, Constantine is a reluctant hero and an anti-hero, which only serves to make his character more interesting. (It also doesn’t hurt that, like the Winchester brothers, the actor playing him, Matt Ryan, is easy on the eyes.) But with episode 3–“The Devil’s Vinyl”–John Constantine proves he’s more a forgotten regeneration of Dr. Who than a long-lost Winchester boy.

Here are 5 reasons an argument could be made that John Constantine is a forgotten regeneration of Dr. Who:

[Tweet “5 ways John #Constantine could be a forgotten regeneration of Dr. Who #drwho”]

1. He’s British.

With the exception of Peter Capaldi’s iteration, all of the Doctors have either been British or played British. And so Ryan’s Welsh, but (correct me if I’m wrong) isn’t Wales considered part of Britain?

2. He has a companion.

Beginning with episode 2, Constantine adopts a young, female companion named Zed. Like so many of Dr. Who’s companions, Zed is attractive, smart, and has saved Constantine’s skin on occasion.

3. His home base is a T.A.R.D.I.S.

When Zed first enters Constantine’s underground base of operations she observes it is bigger on the inside, which is the primary feature of the T.A.R.D.I.S.

4. He has psychic paper.

Constantine has an enchanted playing card that makes the viewer see whatever the holder suggests.

5. He has a sonic screwdriver.

Not exactly. A sonic screwdriver is a sort of deus ex machina device that allows Dr. Who to get out of tough situations, simply by pointing it. Constantine has a carpet bag full of tricks. At the start of the episode he introduces an ancient tracking device that he uses later in the story. I would bet there are trinkets enough in that carpet bag to rival anything the sonic screwdriver can do.

And there you have it. Why John Constantine is a forgotten regeneration of Dr. Who!