Month: November 2013

Judging My Books By Their Covers

I admit it — the cover images for my ebooks are home-made and look it. Now that I’m approaching the end of a long process of working through my “trilogy in four volumes” with the help of my critique group, I’ve decided it’s time to plan an overhaul of the way I present my books to the world.

The first thing I will do is commission professionally designed cover images. Even if they don’t result in increased sales, they will honour my works with vivid, fully-realized visual representations. Because I’ve spent almost nothing on self-publishing so far, I am prepared to invest a non-trivial amount of money. I know I can write and even (gasp!) edit, but have neither the talent nor the tools for good cover design.

The next thing will be to completely rewrite my book descriptions. Smashwords allows for both brief (400 character) and long (4,000 character) descriptions. If long descriptions are present, they are what gets distributed to retailers such as Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, etc. Reasoning that short is better than long, I went with brief descriptions only, but really, it’s hard to do much with 400 characters. I don’t intend to use the full 4,000, however. I don’t like long book descriptions myself, and doubt that anyone else has time for them either. If covers get 2 seconds of a prospective reader’s attention, descriptions probably get no more than 5 seconds, so there’s no point in droning on and on.

Once all this is in place, I will add to the end of each book (except the final one, of course) the first few pages of the next book. I thought it was enough to include a link to the next book’s Smashwords page, but there’s nothing like keeping the reader’s attention when you already have it.

Then I will do a re-launch of the entire series, or trilogy if that’s what it will be after all the reworking. Maybe I’ll end up calling it a Quartet or Tetralogy (horrible, spiky word!). No doubt I’ll spend time agonizing over this issue for the next few months.

I’m getting excited about all this, and spent a long time yesterday looking at vast numbers of cover designs submitted to the Book Designer website for their Monthly e-Book Cover Design Awards. This is a great site for self-publishers, by the way — lots of useful information.

The sad part of all this is that the possibility of doing any new writing is becoming less likely by the minute. The Work has called the shots ever since I began writing, however. I just do what it tells me.

Wisdoms from my writers society meeting …

Michelle Proulx - Author

I just got back from my monthly London Writers Society meeting, and there were a lot of interesting thoughts and opinions floating around tonight, so I thought I’d share some of them. Now, I don’t necessarily agree with some of these — in fact, several of them I think are totally wrong — but I figured I’d share the full spectrum, and then you guys can take or leave whatever you want!

In no particular order … wisdoms from my writers society meeting:

  • Great writers should aim to write 1,000 words a day
  • Great writers should treat writing like a full time job, and work at least seven hours a day, six days a week
  • It’s more effective to write for a set period of time than write toward a specific word count goal
  • Great writers should “blueprint” their books before they ever set fingers to keyboard
  • Great writers should…

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Oak Bay Votes to Kill

Well, the council of the superlative suburb I call home — Oak Bay, British Columbia — just voted to spend $12,500 (Cdn) to “cull” 25 deer in a pilot project between now and 2015. This means trapping the animals in Clover traps and killing them with bolt-guns to the head.

I think this is a crude and ultimately ineffective way to deal with urban deer. This region has thirteen municipalities (13 mayors and councils, folks — think of that!). Not all have chosen this option of deer “management.” Saanich, the largest municipality, adjoins Oak Bay; in fact, the boundary between the two runs through the campus of the University of Victoria. Deer live on the university grounds and in other parts of Saanich, and I doubt that they know where the border is. The 25 animals killed as part of Oak Bay’s pilot project will shortly be replaced from adjoining populations.

Aside from the brutality of the methods used, the thing that bothers me is that other, creative options were not even considered. The only question was whether to have a cull. Why not spend the $12,500 on testing fertility control, monitoring deer movements or setting up a way for gardeners to share information about deer resistant plants and plant protection techniques? Why the big rush to kill, rather than taking time to observe, learn and share information?

I am a keen gardener. My garden has been visited by deer and sustained a certain amount of damage, but really, it’s not the end of the world. Plants recover, or can be replaced. Paying attention and protecting susceptible plants, or setting up simple fencing can make a huge difference.

The issue of deer being hit by cars is a misleading one, as though it’s better to kill the animals with bolt guns before they can be hit by cars. Oak Bay is almost 100% residential, with no high-speed roads. The maximum speed limit is 50 km/hr (30 mph), with many streets having posted speeds of 40 or even 30 km/hr (25 or 20 mph). If people insist on speeding or distracting themselves while driving, you can hardly blame deer for the subsequent collisions. Apropos of this, when a resident wanted to put up a warning sign based on her observations of deer using a certain spot to cross a road, she was told this wasn’t permitted.

Then there’s the trumped up safety issue — savage deer attacking children and pets. If such an incident had occurred within the borders of Oak Bay, you can be sure it would have received maximum publicity, which has not been the case. There are people (such as myself, for example) who are terrified of finding big white grubs when digging in the garden — complete with adrenaline jolt, panicky little dance and running away screaming — but I don’t expect the municipality to start a grub eradication program on my behalf.

Urban deer are here to stay. The sooner we figure out how to live with them, the better. I hate the idea of this cull becoming an issue that pits neighbour against neighbour, leads to demonstrations, letter-writing wars and a divided community. I am distressed at the prospect of Oak Bay becoming known as “that place where they kill deer.”

March 2, 2013

This buck used to hang out in my back garden until I put up some deer netting across his preferred point of entry. I’d rather have him around than guys with bolt guns.

Grey is Good

We have had more than a week of grey weather — quiet, cloudy days with a little rain — and I love it. Especially now, at this quiet time of year, and when I’m not in the best of shape (aches and pains). Sunny, bright weather brings on anxiety, makes everything seem more urgent, and if I’m not up to meeting that challenge, it’s a bummer. Much better when the day is grey and undemanding, and I can stay inside and read, or think, or do nothing at all.

I’m reminded of this poem by Robinson Jeffers:

Gray Weather

It is true that, older than man and ages to outlast him, the Pacific surf

Still cheerfully pounds the worn granite drum;

But there’s no storm; and the birds are still, no song; no kind of excess;

Nothing that shines, nothing is dark;

There is neither joy nor grief nor a person, the sun’s tooth sheathed in cloud,

And life has no more desires than a stone.

The stormy conditions of time and change are all abrogated, the essential

Violences of survival, pleasure,

Love, wrath and pain, and the curious desire of knowing, all perfectly suspended.

In the cloudy light, in the timeless quietness,

One explores deeper than the nerves or heart of nature, the womb or soul,

To the bone, the careless white bone, the excellence.

No NaNoWriMo

I know it works for others, and is probably great for dispelling the loneliness of the long-form writer, but NaNoWriMo isn’t for me. I’ve already realized that getting connected via the internet (and I am only slightly connected) has been the kiss of death to writing another novel. It’s so much easier to read blogs, comment on posts and write posts, read and write reviews of other people’s books, and generally goof off while doing “research” online.

Here are the elements I need to start the writing fire:  first, an obsession-generating idea. Not necessarily a killer plot “hook,” but some basic configuration of characters, situation and setting that I can’t stop thinking about. It acts like a magnet, pulling other elements to itself until a kind of fusion reaction begins.

Second, time and space. This means a room with a desk and a door, and at least two unbroken hours every day in which to write.

Third, a big stack of paper and a bunch of pens. Yes, I write my first drafts in longhand. The first thing I see when I get back to my opus is the spot where I left off, not the first few paragraphs grinning at me in the stark black-on-white of the computer screen. Reading my scribble discourages the impulse to edit the beginning rather than driving the first draft to its end. And yes, writing longhand makes it almost impossible to track the word-count, which is just fine with me.

That’s it. At the first draft stage, I don’t need anyone rooting for me or keeping track of my words. Talking too much about the work-in-progress might jinx it. For me, the act of writing is as private as — well, use your imagination.

Strangely enough, I did start writing seriously in November. November 7th, 2000, which is why the main character of my trilogy, Herbert West/Francis Dexter, was born on that day (in the year 1886). Fall and winter are great for writing, especially for a gardener. Summer evenings are too valuable as gardening time to be spent writing, but when darkness comes early, often with rain or snow, what else is there to do?

Plenty, for those who insist on being constantly plugged in to the hive of the internet. Which is why, when I find myself preoccupied with a novel-nub that simply must be developed, I will have to unplug. Descending to my subterranean writing room, the equivalent of an alchemist’s cave, I’ll stack up the paper, uncap the pen and begin the Work. The blog may be neglected, but that’s the tradeoff.

In the meantime, happy birthday to Herbert, and good luck to all you industrious NaNos.

Late Fall Garden深秋的花園

I love the last flowers of the passing year, and these are exquisite.

My Food And Flowers

Late Fall Garden深秋的花園
I am so blessed! There are still flowers blooming in my garden! 🙂
2013-10-20 048 (Medium)
木犀草Sweet Mignonette(Reseda odorata)
2013-10-20 045 (Medium)
金銀花 Hall’s Honeysuckle
2013-10-20 064 (Medium)
百日草Zinnia
2013-10-20 063 (Medium)
大波斯菊Cosmos
2013-10-20 041 (Medium)
台灣油點草Toadlily
2013-10-20 039 (Medium)
大理花Dahlia
2013-10-20 040 (Medium)
矮性醉魚草Butterfly Bush
2013-10-20 047 (Medium)
大花扶桑Winter Hardy Hibiscus(Hibiscus moscheutos)
2013-10-20 038 (Medium)
香堇菜Tricolor Viola
2013-10-20 054 (Medium)
蔓玫Climbing Rose (Rosa ‘New Dawn’)
2013-10-20 056 (Medium)
無刺玫瑰Thornless Rose (Rosa ‘Smooth Velvet’)
2013-10-20 057 (Medium)
錦帶花Weigla
2013-10-20 069 (Medium)
菊花Mum
2013-10-20 060 (Medium)
六倍利Lobelia
2013-10-20 037 (Medium)
秋水仙Autumn Crocus
2013-10-23 002 (Medium)
鐵線蓮Clematis
矮牽牛Petunia
金盞花Calendula
牽牛花Morning Glory

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The Garden in October

After 148 mm. (nearly 5 in.) of rain in September, 93 (3 in.) of which occurred in the final week of that month, October was curiously dry and foggy. From the 11th to the 27th, there was widespread fog nearly every day, sometimes thick and persistent, to the point that flights were cancelled, both short hops from Victoria Harbour and regular flights from Victoria International Airport.

I love fog, but didn’t enjoy it as much as usual because I was scheduled to fly to Toronto on October 23. Early that morning, things looked very thick here at home, but the fog thinned out around the airport and I departed without delay. By the time I returned on the 29th, it was gone. I came back to a garden full of fallen leaves and late blooms finishing up — blowzy is the word. I still haven’t reconnected with the garden, regarding the mess with detached unconcern from the window. That will change once the rain stops and I get out there.

The garden I left 11 days ago was quite a different place. Most of the leaves were still on the trees.

October 6, 2013

Asters were in glorious bloom.

October 12, 2013

Graceful decline prevailed in the herb garden.

October 6, 2013

There were interesting fungi, including a giant black mushroom.

October 12, 2013

October 12, 2013

The garden shed was re-shingled with artisanal hand-cut cedar shakes.

October 12, 2013

And the autumn crocuses were at their best.

October 13, 2013

October 13, 2013

But now we’re in November, a less frivolous month. Grab that rake, tote those leaves. Pens to paper, fingers to keys, noses to the proverbial grindstone!