Someone I worked with used to declare, as we all returned to the office after the Christmas break, “Okay, now it’s spring!” The rest of us would beg to differ, because rain, cold, and even snow are possible until March or even April.
But my coworker had a point. If you know where to look, even early in January, you can see plants budding or even blooming.
Best of all, as far as I’m concerned, the Chinese witch hazel, which hardly ever blooms, has managed a respectable show, due to extra watering last summer. OK, this is a pretty substandard photo, but if you look carefully, you can see the threadlike yellow flowers in the upper third of the picture. If you look even more carefully, you might spot a dark-eyed junco (bird) perched on a branch. These juncos are frequent visitors to the bird feeder all winter.
All photos taken January 9, 2021, except the last one, which is from January 2015
Writers are all about being published, either by traditional means or doing it themselves. But sometimes, authors unpublish a book.
I can think of a few reasons for this decision:
The author has decided the book is unworthy or even embarrassing. Maybe it was rushed into publication and has attracted mainly negative reviews
The book has attracted other forms of unwelcome attention, such as accusations of plagiarism or threats of lawsuit
The book contains obsolete or inaccurate information. (This would apply mainly to nonfiction)
Sales of the book have been disappointing
The author has issues with the sales platform(s)
In my opinion, only numbers 2 and 3 are really good reasons to unpublish. Number 1 may be as well, but it depends. Like the decision to publish, the decision to unpublish should be made after careful consideration and asking for opinions from writing partners or trusted readers (“omega readers?”).
And if the only problem is disappointing sales, they certainly aren’t going to improve if the book is no longer on the market because its author unpublished it in a fit of pique. “No one wants you, stupid book! Take that!” (Presses the “unpublish” button.)
I think it’s best to keep books available, unless there are really good reasons to take them down.
Why? Picture this scenario: a reader acquires a book but doesn’t read it for months, or even years. When they do read it, they post a favourable review in the usual places. Five stars and praise! But in the meantime, the author has unpublished the book, so any other potential reader who sees that good review won’t be able to buy the book. Disappointed, they may not bother to seek out other books by that author.
This happened to me not long ago, which is why I’m writing this post.
Poor sales, problems with the selling venue, or unfavourable comparison with one’s other works aren’t good enough reasons to unpublish.
On the other hand, unpublishing may be part of a plan to turn a book into something else. For example, in 2016 I published four short stories as separate ebooks. I wasn’t surprised they didn’t sell, because really, I myself would hesitate to spend a dollar for a 5,000 word story, when that dollar could easily buy a full-length novel or a short story collection. The stories did get snapped up when I offered them for free (but then, almost anything does).
Last year, I unpublished those four ebooks, re-edited the stories, and incorporated them into the collection I’ve since published as Tales from the Annexe. So they are still available, but in an improved form.
An author who intends to unpublish a book because they think it’s embarrassingly bad, or because it contains factual errors, may wish to consider publishing an improved or corrected edition instead.
Fellow indies, have you ever unpublished a book, and for what reason?
Winter jasmine seemed like the right plant to feature for my first post of 2021. The bright yellow trumpet-shaped flowers that appear as the days grow shorter are a fanfare for the new year and an early promise of spring.
All right, I’ll admit that ironically enough, winter jasmine isn’t exceptionally tough in terms of winter hardiness. It’s hardy only in the USDA’s climate zone 6 or milder. That means low temperatures of no more than -23C or -10F. Given that its claim to fame is winter bloom, winter jasmine will not be found in places that have snow and frigid temperatures all winter.
But in relatively temperate places, winter jasmine is a treasure. Its long, whippy stems are bright green, and from November onward it produces bright yellow flowers. Unfortunately, they are scentless, which seems to contradict the name “jasmine,” but they are cheerful in a season when flowers of any kind are welcome.
Winter jasmine tolerates both drought and shade to a certain extent, which makes it a good choice for my garden, with its sandy soil and Norway maples.
The plant is a flexible shrub. It may be grown tied to a trellis or fence, or cascading down a retaining wall. I have also seen it trimmed into a bun shape, which destroys the plant’s natural graceful shape, but even so it was blooming well.
Stems that touch the ground will root and form new plants. This makes winter jasmine a good pass-along plant, but it’s worth keeping this habit in mind if you don’t want it taking up more than its share of garden space. Cut those stems back when pruning in spring.
“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.
Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.
So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.
Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.
Make your mistakes, next year and forever.” – Neil Gaiman
Happy 2021 everybody! Here’s to some fantastic mistakes!
Here are reviews of seven more books to round out my best reads for this strange year.
Death’s Detective (Malykant Mysteries #1-4) by Charlotte E. English
Book Description: Konrad Savast is the Malykant: foremost and most secret servant of the God of Death. His job? To track down the foulest of murderers and bring them to The Malykt’s Justice. No mercy. No quarter.
My Review: The book consists of four novella-length stories, all of which feature Konrad Savast and his friend the apothecary Irinanda Falenia. Each of the four presents a murder for which retribution must be delivered, but supernatural justice is quite different from that found in most detective stories. The city of Ekamet, in which the stories are set, is dark, cold, and gloomy. It’s almost always snowing, raining, or blowing. Nearby is the weird Bone Forest, where Konrad has a hut on stilts. It features in every one of the stories, adding its own brand of shivery attraction. Most of the characters’ names have a Russian flavour, and there’s a nineteenth-century feel to the place, but it’s entirely fictitious. Even though the stories are about death and strangeness, Konrad and Irinanda’s conversations are lightened with humorous banter. Their friendship is an overarching theme of the four episodes, along with the difficulties that come with the job of Malykant and how Konrad copes with them. His spirit-serpent helpers, Eetapi and Ootapi, also furnish the odd subplot as well as unexpected funny moments. I recommend this book to readers who enjoy cozy mysteries with an additional touch of Slavic-style shivers.
The Termite Queen. Volume One: The Speaking of the Dead, and Volume Two: The Wound That Has No Healing by Lorinda J. Taylor
Book Description: In the 30th century, an off-world expedition returns to Earth with a specimen of giant termite whose behavior suggests intelligence. Kaitrin Oliva, a strong-willed and ambitious young linguistic anthropologist, is charged with finding a way to access its unique form of bioelectric communication. However, the insect dies and the team members realize too late that they have unintentionally murdered an intelligent lifeform. A second expedition is mounted with the purpose of making first contact and reparations. Griffen Gwidian, the entomologist heading the expedition, is a complex man with a dark personal secret. He falls in love with Kaitrin and against her better instincts Kaitrin responds. The result is a love story by turns turbulent and funny, passionate, tender, and troubled. Meanwhile, civil discord is brewing on the termite planet. Ultimately, the two plotlines intersect in an explosive climax, after which the team must return to Earth and try to come to terms with what they have experienced.
My Review: I have to admit I was hesitant to read these books (even though I’ve read and enjoyed several others by this author) because they are in part about giant termites. Big bugs. How could a book featuring big bugs, however intelligent, be anything but off-putting? I’m happy to say it’s not so, and I’m glad I decided to read The Termite Queen. This is a multi-dimensional and ambitious work. Set in the 30th century, its characters include several species of non-human intelligent life forms besides the giant termites. Even more, the author has invented languages for these life forms. These conlangs give depth and richness to the reading experience. This may sound intimidating, but The Termite Queen is eminently readable, with clear, coherent prose and careful pacing. The scenes that include only termite characters are written rather like scenes from a play, and indeed the sub-plot involving these creatures resembles a Shakespearean drama. The primary termite characters are distinct and memorable, although their intricate names took a bit of getting used to. Kaitrin Oliva, the linguistic anthropologist, is a sympathetic character. Her part of the story involves both her academic interests and the development of a significant personal relationship. Important background details of the future society in which the story is set are artfully conveyed in a way that enhances the reading experience. Volume One is an absorbing read because of the clever combination of familiar human story elements with boldly original ones. The primary focus of Volume Two is Kaitrin Oliva’s recovery from the traumatic events that conclude Volume One. This process involves revisiting many of the events of the first book from a psychological point of view. At times I felt the story bogged down in these details. but there are intriguing aspects, such as parallels between ancient Welsh mythology and the 30th century tragedy. I re-read both books recently (October 2020) and changed my rating of Volume Two to 5 stars because I better appreciated its poignant interweaving of language, culture, storytelling, and spirituality.
Innerscape Omnibus by A.C. Flory
Book Description: Welcome to Innerscape, a virtual reality in which anything is possible, even murder. Includes Book 1, Miira; Book 2, The Godsend; Book 3, Nabatea.
My Review: Having greatly enjoyed Miira, Book 1 of this work, I was delighted when this omnibus edition, comprising all three books, became available earlier this year. I intended to read it slowly, savouring the strange setting and intricate plot, but that didn’t work out. In Book 2, The Godsend, the tension ratchets up to an unbearable degree. I simply had to know how things turned out for Miira, Kenneth, and Jaimie. These characters have so many strikes against them to start with that the new complications, resulting from greed, deception, and brutal self-interest on the part of those around them, are totally compelling. The setting is Australia in the 22nd century. Climate change has altered the environment to the extent that those who can afford it live in domed communities. But the Residents of Innerscape, a select and privileged group, can travel–virtually–almost anywhere–to Paris, for example, or the ancient city of Petra, or Japan. They can also enter hyper-realistic gaming worlds. In reality, though, these individuals’ surgically altered physical selves are sealed in confinement units, kept alive by advanced technology. That means they’re totally dependent on the technology working as intended, a fact that makes them vulnerable to clever and inventive individuals pursuing hidden agendas. And there are plenty of those. The point of view shifts from one character to another at times, but the shifts are clearly signalled and not confusing in the least. The plot moves along steadily, building on previous incidents and revelations. Along the way, the reader is treated to vivid images of places, technological wonders, and characters’ clothing and physical characteristics — enough to create thrills but not so much as to be tedious. This contrasts chillingly with brief glimpses of a dystopian world, especially the truly frightening penal system. Altogether, these three books combine human drama with a futuristic vision that add up to an engrossing read with a satisfying and thought-provoking conclusion. I recommend them to any reader who enjoys a glimpse beyond the boundaries of present day reality.
One Night in Bridgeport by Mark Paxson
Book Description: Jack McGee is on his way to having it all — a promising legal career, marriage to his high school sweetheart, and a happy normal life — when his boss sends him to do some legal work in Bridgeport, California. There he meets a gorgeous local girl, Lea Rogers, and he throws caution to the wind — for one night. The next morning, Jack panics when he realizes what he’s risked and rushes home, content to leave Bridgeport, Lea, and their steamy night together buried forever. A few days later, Jack loses everything when he is arrested for rape and hauled back to Bridgeport, a small town full of secrets and intrigue and citizens determined to destroy Jack. One Night in Bridgeport is an intriguing tale of lust and vengeance, and of one man’s desperate attempt to salvage his life.
My Review: This realistic legal thriller shows how it feels to be a man accused of rape. Its methodically constructed plot benefits greatly from the author’s firsthand knowledge of legal processes. Jack, the main character, although innocent of the crime with which he’s charged, is immature, often petulant, and at times downright annoying. His lawyer, Tammy Evans, is tough but sympathetic. Watching her deal with Jack and do her job, both in and out of the courtroom, was a pleasure. The book is fast-paced, even as it shows that legal processes take a wearisomely long time. Jack makes his initial bad choice in summer, but winter arrives before his trial begins. The third person omniscient point of view shows the thoughts and actions of different characters, but at times the narrator steps away from the story to explain things to the reader. I found that helpful but a little jarring. I also appreciated the descriptions of Bridgeport (a real place) and environs.
The Inn at the Edge of Light by Michael Graeme
Book Description: Do you think you’ve only the one life to live? Well, how about two, at the same time, or maybe more? And if you think that sounds complicated you’d be right. So, beware of dreams of the Inn at the Edge of Light in case you go to sleep in one life and wake up in another. In the summer of ’87, Chris Marshal travels to the Western Isles of Scotland and spends the night in a remote mountain hut. There, he’s joined by an adventurous backpacker, Jen Munroe, who invites him to go with her on the trip of a lifetime, just the two of them, hiking along the old Hippy trail, all the way to India. But Chris is shy of and afraid of this bold, confident woman, so he says no, then wakes the following morning to find her gone. It’s then he realizes going with her was actually the one thing his life actually needed, that he’s now doomed to spend the rest of it searching, for the essence of what it was he lost that day.
My Review: This book is written in second person present tense. The person experiencing the events that make up the plot isn’t “he” or “I,” but “you.” It took me a while to get used to that, but I’m glad I kept reading. The experience was like undoing a tight knot in a string, maddening but ultimately worth the effort when the tightly twisted strands loosen and open up. The main character is at times a young man, at others middle-aged and living in a harsh world where the social order is collapsing into chaos. The time period ranges from the 1980s to the 21st century, a near future projected from the actual present. Scenes circle from the inn of recurring dreams to episodes in Chris’s real life (referred to as “topside”). At first, it’s all pretty obscure, but eventually patterns and a sense of progress emerge. The narrative is full of symbols and references to mythology, psychology and philosophy. Recurring images include Scotch whiskey, bottles (with and without messages), watches, cameras, keys, and a pebble. There are references to the enneagram, inner journeys, and mystical quests. Almost all the action is interior, a scrutiny of Chris’s memories, thoughts, expectations, and hopes. It’s almost claustrophobic at times, but ultimately, the knot opens to an ending that, although ambiguous, is satisfying. This is a book I will think about for a long time and probably re-read at some point.
Beneath the Lanterns by C. Litka
Book Description: No good deed goes unpunished. The historian Kel Cam enjoyed a pleasant life in Azera, the colorful capital of the Azere Empire. In the dark days, he taught classes at the University. In the bright days, he traveled the wide steppes to visit Blue Order communities, seeking clues about the mysterious, long dead civilization of the Elders in their libraries of ancient texts. However, when his best friend, Lefe Sol, the son of the ruler of Azere, discovers that his father has arranged his marriage to Ren Loh, the fourth daughter of the Empress of Jasmyne, Kel offers to stand by and help Lefe deal with his unexpected, and unwanted, bride-to-be. Kel soon finds himself caught up in the intrigues of empires which not only upset his well ordered life – they lay it to ruin. Beneath the Lanterns is an old fashioned novel of adventure and travel set in an imaginary land – a land of colorful cities, sweeping steppes, and lush valleys littered with the ruins of a lost advanced civilization. It is a world of sixteen days of day light under the Yellow Lantern and sixteen days of night lit by the Blue Lantern. And across this wide and wild world under the Yellow and Blue Lanterns, Kel Cam finds that he must flee for his freedom, if not his life.
My Review: There are really only two important characters in this book: scholar Kel Cam and the eccentric Ren Loh. Brought up by her father as one of his Imperial Lancers, Ren is dead set against the marriage her mother has arranged for her. Kel’s friendship with the prospective bridegroom gets him entangled with Ren early in the book, and the rest of the story is about how the two of them work things out while eluding the clutches of those who want to drag Ren back to the politically expedient marriage. Kel is serious and methodical; Ren is an adventurous risk-taker. To escape discovery, the two disguise themselves as caravan guards and later as pilgrims to a mystical city. More than once, Kel hopes he’s seen the last of her, but chance, and eventually loyalty, keep bringing them together. Engaging secondary characters include a dog with personality and a couple of horses. Well, there is another noteworthy “character,” and that is the world in which the action takes place. The landscapes and urban scenes reminded me of old China, but the long days and nights under the Yellow and Blue Lanterns suggested a different world. Places called Cauldrons, of unstable ground and toxic gases, resemble volcanic features, but not exactly. Remnants of the Elder Civilization are also tantalizing, for example the building material called “poured stone” and the enormously tall Blue Lantern Tower. That’s another thing–the story is full of colour, starting with the two Lanterns. There is a White City, a Green City and communities of something called the Blue Order. I would love to learn more about this world. As the author’s description says, this is indeed an old-fashioned adventure story, with comradeship, conflict, hard choices, and narrow escapes. It reminded me of movies like High Road to China and Romancing the Stone. I hope a sequel is in the works.
Almost all of these books are available in the usual place, but some of them may be acquired at the Smashwords store, which is having an end-of-year sale right now. In fact, two of these titles are permanently free at Smashwords.
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Tell your readers three things about yourself
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THREE THINGS ABOUT ME
One of my favourite pieces of music is Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 5, “The Emperor.”
My favourite sin food is potato chips, salt and black pepper flavour in particular.
I have been lucky enough to visit three of the lighthouses on the British Columbia coast.
QUESTIONS FROM ELIZABETH
What is the first book you really loved and read over and over? The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.
What fictional character would you like to live with? Right now it would be France Leighton, the main character of my novel She Who Comes Forth, because I’ve just started writing the sequel to it, and I could ask her for plot suggestions.
Which writer would you like to have dinner with? Richard Adams, author of Watership Down, Maia, and The Girl in a Swing.
Which fictional character do you really detest? Steerpike, the villain in Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast and Titus Groan.
Would you rather dance or read? Read, no question. I prefer to dance internally.
MY FAVOURITE BLOG POST I’ve been blogging for more than a decade, so I have a lot of choices, but I decided on a post from August 2018 called Our Golden Age? It’s about the phenomenon of indie publishing many of us are part of.
Now, those of you who have read my posts know me as a rule-quibbler, so I’m sure you’re not surprised that I am breaking Rules 6, 7, and 8. I am not going to nominate any other blogs, but I did sort of enjoy putting this post together.