Month: November 2015

Light and Power

We just had a power outage where I live. It lasted fewer than two hours, but what a feeling of powerlessness! Even though we had emergency candles and working flashlights handy, they can’t replace real electric lights, never mind stuff like the furnace, stove and especially the computer! I couldn’t read blog posts! Or even make a cup of tea. Truly sad.

After washing the dishes by candlelight, I actually got bored, something that hardly ever happens. I went for a walk along our street, noticing the long black shadows cast by the rising just-past-full moon, and a weird white glow thrown by headlights of approaching cars on the main road nearby. Street lights drown out these subtleties.

It also occurred to me that most of the world’s classic literature was penned (literally) in poor light, unless writers then worked mainly in daylight. And those same works were often read by the dim glow of candles or the not much brighter one cast by oil lamps.

Oil Lamp

Oil Lamp


I couldn’t imagine writing or even reading under those conditions. For one thing, I’m paranoid about setting something on fire with a candle. Stuff was always burning down in pre-electric times, wasn’t it? So I decided to go to bed, but the power came back on before I got there, and here I am now, feeling thankful that I can write this.


A year ago today, an author’s life changed … because of you :)

Sever Bronny, an indie star from Victoria, British Columbia!




A year ago today a simple story forever changed my life. When Arcane was released, I didn’t know what to expect. I hoped to hit the top 100 in my genre in five years’ time. Instead, it rocketed up to the #1 spot in the fantasy coming of age genre on Amazon within three weeks of release.

Since then, The Arinthian Line has sold around 20,000 copies; a Grammy winner narrated Arcane’s audiobook; and over 1000 people joined my mailing list. The series has found a diverse audience, from young children all the way to retirees, and I get mail from all over the world.

Oh, and I quit my day job. I can’t believe I am a professional author, writing full time. It’s a dream come true, a dream I owe to you, the reader. So thank you, from the bottom of my heart 🙂

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The proofs of my next two print books have arrived from CreateSpace! And in record time, too — four days! I ordered them last Friday night. The next morning I got emails saying they had shipped. Really? The estimated arrival date was December 7th, so I was bowled over to see the parcel sitting on the table when I got home today. Impressive!



Now I have to read, or at least scan them for errors. In fact, I’ve already found a couple of instances of missing quotation marks. Aargh!

But not as much of an “aargh” as with the first book, where I omitted the physical proof copy step altogether, being in a big rush to have copies to give as Christmas presents. OK, the errors were minuscule, but irritating as no-see-um bites — a couple of typos and two part-title pages not bolded. More significantly, if I had been able to look at a physical copy I would have realized that my line spacing was too generous. It’s easier to read, perhaps, but the book ended up being a big, fat 554 pages and priced accordingly. Book 2 of the series has 6,000 more words, but is only 381 pages.

Quite a difference!

Quite a difference!

Make mistakes and learn from them.

In the meantime, I am delighted with the books. They look great. And it’s true — there’s something about hefting and paging through a physical, printed book that ebooks simply can deliver. It makes all the labour of formatting (and proofing) worthwhile.

Title page

Title page

The other title page

The other title page

Final (and Future) Flowers

Autumn has been pretty benign here so far, which perhaps explains the extended bloom season some plants are enjoying. At least, I hope they’re enjoying it, after the 130 mm (5+ inches) of rain we have had in the past few days. That would also explain the soggy appearance of some of these plants.


White Lychnis coronaria

White Lychnis coronaria


Last bloom on rose "Fragrant Cloud"

Last bloom on rose “Fragrant Cloud”


Late blooms on Gentiana acaulis

Late blooms on Gentiana acaulis


Some plants appear to be getting a really early start, such as this clump of Iris unguicularis, the Algerian iris. I think of it as a pre-spring bloomer — January or February — so imagine my surprise when I noticed three or four flowers peering out from under some yellow maple leaves last week. Sadly, I didn’t get photos of them, but here is a lone straggler that bloomed after the rest.


Iris unguicularis

Iris unguicularis

There are predictions of a “monster El Nino” this winter, but I’m starting to get suspicious of hyped-up weather predictions in the media. So often we hear about a “superstorm” or “hurricane of the century” that turn out to be run-of-the-mill seasonal weather events. What has happened here so far is a relatively warm fall with quite heavy rains in the past few weeks. Heavy rain also occurred in a previous El Nino winter (1997-98), so perhaps this will be a repeat. At least the regional reservoir will fill up, a good thing if next summer is as dry as the past one was.

However messy, this mixture of plants — in decline, or still in bloom, or putting forth fresh foliage — shows that here, at least, gardens don’t close down for the winter.




Ornamental grass "Little Bunny" still looking good

Ornamental grass “Little Bunny” still looking good


Persicaria foliage

Persicaria foliage


New foliage of Arum italicum

New foliage of Arum italicum

Local Author Book Review #9: Cat’s Castle by Chris James



Cat’s Castle is a collection of poems by Victoria author Christopher (Chris) James.

They were written from 2005 to 2013.

Reading these poems, I was pleasantly surprised to discover familiar place names — Fairfield, Oak Bay, Willows Beach. I know these spots well, but it was interesting to read another’s experience of them.

The cover illustration shows hands holding tools, not surprising as the poems examine everyday life from various angles and through different filters, some of them rather harsh.

I speak the language of the dead coloured leaves.

squashed a cigarette end at the end of a sidewalk mud.

this is beautiful to me.

(from “Comfort”)

In many places I could feel the poet’s intensity in presenting his chosen images, sometimes with repeated phrases to create an atmosphere.


echoes capture trying echoes

trying echoes,

back saw sound, saw sound, cutting down a trying much.

A lawn mower, its

(from “Circular Saw Sound, Signifying”)

These poems are strongly felt impressions wrung out of daily life, images of place, work, love and sadness. The book is short, and few of the poems are longer than two pages. This makes it approachable to those who may be intimidated by poetry served up in hefty tomes. Almost everyone will find words and images to which they can relate, the colours of life as though broken through a bleared prism.

My rating: 8 out of 10 stars.


Declining Awards, With Thanks

Even this obscure blog has been nominated for an award or two, putting me into a quandary. Most blog awards come with the expectation that the recipient answer some questions about themselves and nominate some number of other blogs.

First you say, “Hey, thanks!” Then you say, “Hey — whaa? That’s, like — work!”

Which is why I’ve hoisted this flag:


To be fair, I see the reason behind the “chain letter” rule. Blogs are a form of social media, and answering those self-revealing questions and “passing it on” promotes networking among bloggers. Trouble is, it makes me squirm to rush around looking for blogs to tag, thereby lumbering their owners with the same obligation. So now I say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

To anyone who has deemed this blog worthy of an award, I appreciate the consideration. I welcome your comments on any of my posts, and encourage readers to check out the excellent blogs I follow. Scroll down until you see them in the sidebar.


Formatting: Frustration, Fits and… Fun!

Last year I published my first book (The Friendship of Mortals) in print, after more than four years of being available only as an ebook. Even though I used CreateSpace, I didn’t use the supplied Word template, but did my own formatting from scratch. (Truth to tell, I was hazily aware of the template, but ignored it and just charged ahead). After formatting four books for ebook publication through Smashwords, I thought I was a whiz at that stuff.

Ha. There’s a reason for this post’s alliterative title featuring the letter F.

Among other things, I definitely learned the main difference between designing an ebook and a print book. An ebook is supposed to flow, like an electronic scroll, without impediments such as page or section breaks, headers or footers.

A print book, on the other hand, is a physical object made up of pieces of paper. Pieces of paper with two actual sides, some of which are blank. Formatting an electronic document (specifically, a Microsoft Word document) so it will turn into a book with page numbers, headers, footers, recto and verso pages — well, that’s an entirely different matter than getting a document through Smashwords’ fabled “Meatgrinder.”

(A word to those indies who haven’t done the print publication thing yet: if you tore your hair out over getting your book through the Meatgrinder without Autovetter errors, maybe you should get help if you decide to format for print. Or at least use the supplied CreateSpace template).

So now I’ve just finished formatting the next two books in the Herbert West Series: Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey and Islands of the Gulf Volume Two, The Treasure.

Islands of the Gulf Volume 1 The Journey_3D

Islands of the Gulf Volume 2 The Treasure_3D

With all my hard-won experience on the first book, I thought it would be a snap. Or at least a near-snap.

I was almost right. While not 100% smooth, it was easier, and I now have a procedure that works. What follows isn’t meant to be a set of how-to-do-it instructions, just a bunch of observations as I emerge, rumpled but triumphant, from the formatting jungle.

The trickiest part by far is getting Section Breaks, Headers, Footers and Page Numbering to work together and look right. Fellow indie author and blogger Michelle Proulx recently wrote a good post about adding Headers, complete with screen shots of the current version of Word.

It helps a lot to start with a clean Word document. I used the ones I had created for ebook publication, reasoning that it’s easier to add breaks, headers and footers to a document that lacks them, than to wrestle with the quirks of existing ones.

It also helps to have an actual, properly-designed printed book to refer to as you go along, so you can see which pages need page numbers, headers, etc. That makes a huge difference when it comes to the professional look.

The first thing I did was make sure my documents were in tip-top shape. That meant fixing a bunch of small errors I had noted in a recent re-reading of the whole series. The “handwriting” feature in my ebook reader is great for noting these mistakes. I went through the notes it generated and made the corrections — mostly deleting the word “that.” Bonus: I can upload the corrected ebook versions, thus improving the ebooks and ensuring identical texts in ebook and print.

Then I made copies of the ebook documents and proceed to turn them into a print-ready ones. There are several steps to this process:


  1. Make sure the Style in your document is appropriate for your print book. The Style I used for my books is: “Font Bookman Old Style, 10 pt, English (Canada), Indent: 1st 1 cm. Justified, Line spacing exactly 12 pt, Widow/orphan control.” Uncheck the “Automatically update” box in the Modify Style window, or bad things will happen.
  2. Set the margins in Page Setup. Select Mirror Margins in the Margins tab. In the Paper Size tab, you need to enter the exact dimensions for the trim size you’re going to use, the margins and the gutter. For my 6 x 9 books, I went with page size 22.86 x 15.24 cm, margins 2 cm except the outer one, which is 1.5 cm, gutter is 0.4 cm. Headers and footers are 1.27 cm. from the edge. In the Layout tab, check “Different Odd and Even.” This results in a display of 2 pages per screen, sort of like a real book. (If you use the CreateSpace template, I’m sure all this stuff will be set up already).
  3. Add front matter — half-title page, title page, dedication page, etc. Keep in mind that all these pages have versos, i.e. backsides, that can be used for things like lists of your other books, copyright information, etc. Refer to your model book for these details.
  4. Once you have created all the front matter pages, insert an Odd Page Break at the end of the last page of front matter. Note: most of your page breaks will be Odd Page ones, because new stuff usually starts on an odd-numbered page. If something different happens to a header or footer on an even-numbered page, you insert an Even Page Break. Go through your document and insert all Section Breaks as needed. There must be a Section Break every time the presence/absence of a page number or header/footer changes.
  5. Switch to Headers and Footers view and go through the document again, filling in header information and page numbers for each section. It works best to do this last.  Something to remember: if you want your header info (your name on the even-numbered pages and the book’s title on the odd-numbered ones) to be on the outer corners of the pages, do this: enter them right-justified on odd-numbered pages and left-justified on the even-numbered ones. Same with page numbers. Trust me. (I have seen books where these items are on the inner sides of the pages, near the gutter, and to me that just looks wrong). A note on page numbers: I didn’t even consider putting them in the headers, which I thought would complicate things no end. I left them in solitary splendor in the footers.

An absolutely crucial detail with headers and footers is understanding “Same as previous” (in older versions of Word; in the current version it’s “Link to previous”). Every time you enter Header or Footer information for a specific Section, you have to figure out if it should be the same as in the preceding Section. Once you get this right, victory is near. See Michelle’s post (link above) for a clear explanation.

Something that drove me crazy was inexplicable inconsistencies between documents I thought were set up identically, and (even worse) things that didn’t work the same way in the same situation within a document. Word gremlins at work, obviously. Short words starting with F and S were uttered frequently until these issues were resolved, usually by studious comparison with other documents, trying different settings, or desperate searches of the Internet (which often yield helpful results).

Remember, if things look really hopeless, you can just scrap that document and start again with a new copy.

And where is the fun in all this, you ask? Well, once you figure out all that tedious stuff about section breaks, headers and page numbers, and get it all working, it is fun, or at least satisfying, to see real book-like features appearing as a result of your handiwork. Selecting fonts, adding little glyphs and other decorative elements (sparingly, I would advise) — can be fun. Then you upload your document to CreateSpace and use the interior checker, which shows you exactly what it will look like in print. Once you’re happy with that, and have assembled the package (cover, interior, metadata), you can order a proof copy for a final check. It’s a thrill finally to flip through real pages and see the results of your efforts — first writing the thing, then embodying it in an ink-on-paper artifact.


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