Month: November 2016

A Find!

With my interest in Herbert West, you would think I would have known about this before now — a comic book version of the first episode in H.P. Lovecraft’s “Herbert West, Reanimator,” illustrated by Tealin.


The illustrations are beautifully done, with total fidelity to the original. Herbert is portrayed as per HPL’s description — slight, blond, blue-eyed and bespectacled — complete with the gleeful insanity expected of a mad scientist. You can tell the illustrator has, in her own words, “a soft spot for the monomaniacal little fiend.”

The story is visible in its entirety on her website.


The Small Stuff

Proof that the left and right sides of the brain don’t always communicate…

A few weeks ago I published three Supplements to the Herbert West Series. I added information about, and a link to said series at the end of each one.

A week or so later, I decided finally to change the url to the HW Series page on my blog. It used to be, because in the dim past, there were only three books. Thinking the middle one, Islands of the Gulf, was too long, I clove it in two and published it accordingly, thus turning the trilogy into a… tetralogy? Ugh. Quartet? Too pretentious. I settled for the rather mundane term “series.” But I didn’t think to change the term in the url linking to the page that has all the information about the series and where to aquire it. No one ever really looks at urls, do they? In blog posts I attach the link to text; someone clicking on that would never see the actual url.

Recently, though, it occurred to me that it was dumb to have misleading information floating around. It’s not a trilogy, so why suggest it is, even in an obscure bit of text such as a url? I changed it to: Self-congratulations all around. I even went back to old blog posts linked to that page and updated the link there. Take note: when you change the url for a page, WordPress doesn’t propagate the change through all the posts linked to that page.


But, of course, I had just invalidated the link I had added to my three new ebooks (the Supplements). To make matters worse, I didn’t pick up on this until after a considerable number of those ebooks had been downloaded by potential readers during a free promotion. Aaaaargh! Now I’m imagining annoyed readers clicking on the bad link, saying “Nuts to that!” when they get an error message, and thus missing out on the delights of reading the main series. All because I (the author and publisher) didn’t bother to change the url as soon as the trilogy became a series, or at least think to upload corrected versions of the ebooks before the free promo days.

I shall refrain from pointing out the obvious.

Well, no I won’t. Because maybe it isn’t all that obvious: Sweat the small stuff.

Like these two guys.


Images courtesy of Pixabay.


The Bush of Smoke and Fire

Most of the random garden photos I’ve taken lately feature the incredible colours of and patterns on the about-to-depart leaves of the smoke bush, Cotinus coggygria.

Smoke bush, November 2016

Smoke bush is a variable and versatile shrub. There is a form whose summer foliage is green, but most of the ones I see hereabouts are one of the purple-leaved forms. Mine is called “Royal Purple,” but there is a plant I’m acquainted with that’s an interesting red-green with purple undertones, and whose fall colour borders on lurid.

I took this picture with my phone; the colours came out a bit weird.

I took this picture with my phone; the colours came out a bit weird.

Smoke bushes may be handled in different ways in the garden. Left to themselves, they can become small trees — “small” meaning up to 20 feet tall, but they tend to be almost as wide, so you need a lot of room for an unrestrained plant. They take pruning well — anything from trimming last season’s growth by one-third in spring to cutting the whole bush down to stubs. Unpruned, they bloom in summer, putting out clusters of tiny flowers surrounded by pink fluff (the “smoke”). Pruned plants, obviously, don’t bloom, but some gardeners prefer the foliage to the flowers. Severe pruning — which is what I did to my plant last spring — results in really vigorous, whippy shoots. I found it necessary to do some mid-season trimming to keep the plant within bounds. I think I’ll stick to a more moderate treatment for the next few years.

This plant was cut down to 2 feet in spring, and trimmed in summer, and still topped out at more than 6 feet, and 4 feet wide.

This plant was cut down to 2 feet in spring, and trimmed in summer, and still topped out at more than 6 feet, and 4 feet wide.

For me, the whole point of growing a smoke bush comes in the autumn, when it starts to change colour — everything from yellow through shades of orange, into reds and purples, and even some green emerging. Many leaves develop little brownish-grey marks on either side of the centre rib that turn them into little works of art.

Looks as though carefully painted.

Looks as though carefully painted.


Smoke bush, November 2016


More good features — smoke bush is drought tolerant and does well in light shade, although full sun brings out the fall colours best. It seems to be pest-free, although I think I read that verticillium wilt is a potential problem.

Smoke bush is a trouble-free, versatile shrub with much to recommend it. It looks good with other plants too.


Smoke bush and Senecio "Sunshine"

Smoke bush and Senecio “Sunshine”


Smoke bush and fern

Smoke bush and fern

¡Fascination is live on Amazon!

Given the turmoil and angst-inducing events in the world (you know what I mean!) this is a perfect time to escape into a better world by reading Kevin Brennan’s delightful novel, Fascination. It’s now available on Amazon.


cover-smallClick me, s’il vous plaît!

Yesterday, with no fanfare whatsoever, I published Fascination on Amazon.

I know. Unexpected, right?

You can probably guess why I did it. Two main reasons: One, that after an initial blast of sales to, pretty much (no, exclusively), people who read this blog, I couldn’t give away a copy. There was no follow-up, no word of mouth, and though a number of potential readers expressed interest via comments on reviews of the book on other blogs, none of them pulled the trigger. Two, aside from the blog and Twitter, there’s no way to market the thing. I knew this going in, of course, but I’d hoped that Janey would tell Jenny and Jenny would buy it and then tell Jackie, who’d buy it herself and then tell Jill. It’s #guerrillapublishing, right? The word spreads and strangers start showing up. Six degrees of separation.


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Local Author Book Review #11: The Opera Singer by Keith M. Costain

A few weeks ago, I participated in an event at my the Greater Victoria Public Library featuring four authors who had contributed books to its Emerging Local Authors Collection. The four of us exchanged copies of our books. I declared I would read and review the other authors’ books. This is the first of those reviews.


From the book jacket: “The book is a fictional memoir of a child’s life on the Isle-of-Man during the Second World War and focuses on the child’s relationship with a German/Jewish opera singer interned in Ramsey, the child’s home town.”

The Opera Singer by Keith M. Costain is a fascinating look at life on the Isle of Man during the Second World War. The author calls it a “fictional memoir,” but the element of memoir predominates, presenting island life at the time through vivid memories of childhood. Ten-year-old Erik relates anecdotes about family and community, easing the reader into the milieu in which the title character, Austrian opera singer Jakob Weiss, plays a crucial role. Weiss is an “enemy alien” interned on the Isle of Man, along with many others. In fact, the island was turned into a prison camp, with prisoners supplying unpaid labour to local farms as part of the war effort.

This fundamentally grim situation is enlivened with a great many humorous situations and colourful personalities, notably Erik’s choleric-tempered father (referred to as “Pop”), his refined and hard-working mother (called “Ma”), and Bessie, an opinionated neighbour. Many others are skilfully portrayed, always with an eye to their place in the big picture of the island’s society. An example of social class differences is the matter of which houses were requisitioned by the government to house military personnel. Erik’s family’s home is occupied by a shifting population of servicemen and their wives, adding to his mother’s burden of labour, but also contributing additional rations to the household.

At the centre of the book is young Erik’s relationship with Jakob, the interned Austrian who takes the role of an older brother and confidant. As the relationship progresses, Erik must deal with the prejudices of those around him and his own emotions of jealousy, fear and anger. The War is an ever-present threat that impinges on the child’s life in mundane and dramatic ways, from having to lug a gas mask around to watching a Spitfire crash into the bay and learning that its pilot has perished.

This book may be enjoyed in different ways — as a lively account of growing up in a time and setting very different from the present day, as a colourful fragment in the mosaic of 20th century history, and as a richly interesting and detailed look at family and community life as seen by a child on the border between innocence and experience.

Two minor quibbles: it seemed to me there was an absence of commas in quite a few places where they would have been useful; and I was sometimes stopped by phrases such as “asked him and I,” when I expected “asked him and me.” But these are small issues that did not interfere with my enjoyment of this wonderful book. I heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys memoir or accounts of civilian life in the Second World War — or anyone who is looking for a warm and engrossing read.

In my 10-star rating system, The Opera Singer gets 9 stars.


All in One, All at Once

So many books…

You know how it is — you read an ebook, think it’s pretty good, wonder if there’s a sequel. In a day or two, other books and life in general overlay the memory. Weeks later, something reminds you of that book. Now, what was the title? The author? You try to find it in your e-reader and your computer. So many books… You pick one that looks interesting and start reading, the book you were looking for forgotten.

This shouldn’t happen to readers of the Herbert West Series, because now they have the option to acquire all four novels at once — the complete series.

I started writing the first book on November 7th, 2000. November 7th, 2016 is Herbert West’s 130th birthday. In honour of the occasion, I have published a “box set” of all four novels, with a bonus — Chapter 1 of the as yet untitled sequel to the series.

It’s in the works at Amazon and Smashwords, and will be widely available soon.

Complete information and links may be found here.

From ancient Arkham to the agony of the Great War, from Acadie to the islands of the West Coast, a brilliant but amoral physician is subjected to travails and entanglements, to become a source of healing — and of peril.



The Pond

There is a pond in my garden. I’ve mentioned it in numbers of posts, never explaining that it’s not a natural pond, but a completely artificial one, constructed (or maybe “installed” is a better word) in 1993.

When we moved to this 50 x 120 foot piece of paradise, there was no pond. Instead, toward the back of the property there was an enormous cherry tree, with a trunk a foot and a half in diameter. That in addition to half a dozen other large trees. Any cherries produced by the tree were too high to be picked, except by birds. The tree did not even have attractive flowers; they were a washed-out white. I decided it Had To Go.

We did not opt for “stump grinding,” so ended up with a substantial stump. I had been reading Henry Mitchell on the delights of garden ponds, so proposed we dig out the stump and install a pond in the resulting pit.

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, digging out the stump and main roots of the cherry tree was a horrendous job. I seem to recall serious chainsaw abuse (a rented chainsaw, at that), as well as blunted axes and other saws. We were a lot younger then, but strained muscles and fatigue ensued, not to mention mud and grit.

The stump, when we hauled it to the landfill, turned out to weigh 300 pounds.

After that, digging out a 12 by 7 foot hole, two feet deep in the middle and a foot around the edge, was relatively easy, although the network of smaller roots slowed things down. (Roots — they’re still a problem in this garden!) The soil removed from the hole was distributed around the potential pond to create a bit of topography in a space that’s as flat as the proverbial pancake.

Once complete, the hole was lined with heavy-duty EPDM pond liner, the edges concealed with soil and rocks. While we were at it, we dug out a smaller hole next to the pond, laid in some pond liner and filled it with soil to form a “bog” for plants that need constant moisture around their roots. Then came the all-important steps of filling the pond with water and surrounding it with suitable plants. Those plants included two water lilies (one dark pink, the other white), a water iris and a floating plant called Elodea said to help oxygenate the water. Following Mitchell’s advice (and because it was easier), I installed no pump or filter, and never have to this day. But I did introduce half a dozen goldfish.

The pond was a delight in its early days. Sadly, I have only old fashioned prints, no digital photos. The water lilies bloomed, the goldfish multiplied, the surrounding plants (calla lily, astilbe, sedges, Irish moss) made the area look lush and jungle-like (in a temperate way).

The "jungle" by the pond (in June)

The “jungle” by the pond (in June)

This perfection did not persist, of course. The goldfish were fished out by a visiting great blue heron (a delight in itself) and by raccoons. I even saw a kingfisher once. I didn’t replace the fish, not only because I wasn’t about to set up a heron feeding facility, but because of an incident one fall, when in scooping out loads of fallen maple leaves with a rake, I also scooped out several fish. Once I realized that, I scrambled around in a panic rescuing a number of stranded fish gasping on shore. Somehow the idea of fish lost its charm after that. The raccoons (or their descendants) are still regular visitors, knocking loose stones from the edge into the water. Recovering and resetting those rocks has become a Tradition.

The water lilies no longer bloom, due to encroaching shade. The calla lily and astilbe still do, and ferns help to maintain that lush feeling. Reflections, and scatters of yellow autumn leaves add to the tranquility. A friend called the pond area a “magical oasis,” and that’s still true, even after it has been shaped by the realities of its setting.

Leaves and reflections.

Leaves and reflections.

A few practical notes: garden ponds really should have full sun. Mine doesn’t. Apart from the inhibiting effect on the water lilies, falling tree stuff creates a lot of work. It starts in spring, with birch catkins and the spent flowers of a nearby laburnum. Then the maples get going, and deposit leaves and winged seeds in all stages of development. Windstorms drop twigs from maples, birch and ailanthus. I have developed techniques of removal. An improvised net made from an onion bag, wire coat hanger and old broomstick is good for scooping, as is a rake for really heavy accumulations of leaves (hence the fish disaster already mentioned). For individual floating leaves, twigs and ailanthus leaf stems, a plain bamboo stake about 6 feet long is surprisingly effective. There is a Zen quality to standing by the pond for 20 minutes every day, artfully flicking these items out of the water to be raked up later.

Needless to say, it’s impossible to keep all the leaves and other debris out. Over the years a certain amount accumulates, forming muck, especially in the two foot deep part in the centre of the pond. Henry Mitchell said he drained and cleaned his ponds once every year or two, but after doing that once, I gave up. It was a huge, messy job. (Yes, it could be argued that it wouldn’t be so awful if done every year, but it’s about as much fun as oven cleaning). Natural ponds don’t get such treatment, I declared, so why should an unnatural one?

Natural ponds, however, usually have a water supply, either a creek or a spring. Without a constant input of fresh water, the pond would dry up, in the manner of a vernal pool. I pipe in water through permanently positioned hoses from rain barrels by the house and the garage. This works beautifully (aside from the hoses, which add an annoying element of weirdness to many of my garden photos), but only during the fall-winter-spring rainy season. In summer, I have to top up the pond from the metered supply. It’s either that or watch it turn into an ugly black hole.

A pair of mallard ducks — most likely denizens of one of the local parks — dropped into the pond regularly from April through July for several years. They didn’t try to nest here, but would swim around, investigating the muck on the bottom, and have a little snooze before taking off. Sadly, I haven’t seen them for the past two springs, but the duckweed they may have brought with them flourishes. A good deal of it sticks to fallen leaves I scoop out, which helps to control it, but I believe it’s here to stay nevertheless.

Pond visitors, May 2011

Pond visitors, May 2011

The rustic bench near the pond was made from a giant cedar trunk. Besides being the perfect pond-side accessory, it’s a great place to rest and think suitable thoughts between sessions of gardening (digging roots, cutting suckers, raking leaves). On sunny mornings cats hang out there, rather more than the gardener. The pond is a water source for all kinds of creatures, from those annoying (hole-digging, rock-rolling) raccoons, to squirrels (and probably rats) and a variety of birds.

The "Pond Bench"

The “Pond Bench”


Pete and Zeke on the Pond Bench, March 2010

Pete and Zeke on the Pond Bench, March 2010


Despite all the heavy work involved in creating the pond, and the attention it needs, I think it is an asset to this garden. The main path leads to it, but the trellis that marks the transition from the main back garden to the pond area partly conceals it, so in the best tradition of “garden rooms,” the sight of the water is a pleasant surprise, in all weather and at any time of year.

The Pond Vanishing Under Snow and Ice

The Pond Vanishing Under Snow and Ice


Ice on pond after low temp of -10 C

Ice on pond after low temp of -10 C


Spring 2014

Spring 2014


Ailanthus leaves and rain drops in the pond.

Ailanthus leaves and rain drops in the pond.


Why a “Box Set?”

“Box set.” An unwieldy term, by any standard — two nouns that jostle along together without anything to link them into a meaningful concept. But, for some reason, that’s the term used to describe a set of books or music recordings with something in common (author, composer, performer, theme) issued together as a special edition.

“Boxed set” actually makes sense, referring to the fact that the separate works are contained in a box or slipcase especially designed for the collected edition. But it looks like “box set” is here to stay, for a number of excellent or dubious reasons.

Another term I’ve seen applied to collected editions is “bundle,” but that sounds blunt and indiscriminate. Does anyone really want books that come in bundles, like lumber? Or “omnibus,” which I’ve seen on single-volume print books containing a number of separate works? That sounds clumsy and menacing.

So box set it is.

The publishing trajectory that culminates in a box set goes like this: an author writes and publishes a novel. Then they write and publish another. And another, forming a trilogy, or even more novels, forming a series. Once the series is complete, the author goes on to create other novels or series. They gather a following (maybe), and eventually it makes sense to make the trilogy or series available as a set — a box set.

The box set may include a bonus of some sort, a story or two not otherwise available, or even the beginning of another novel. This is a good idea, because it may entice purchasers who already own the separately-published books. So might a new, striking cover image for the box set. Readers may not be able to resist the look of a spiffy new package to replace their dog-eared copies, and some new writing from an author they already like would be icing on the literary cake.

Ebooks are often sold as box sets (without an actual box, of course). A new, purpose-designed cover image is essential here. Taking the easy option of pasting reduced versions of the original covers together results in a muddled mess, not an eye-catching novelty.

Box sets may be something besides a collection of works by a single author. Several authors writing in a specific genre may contribute books from their backlists to form a set with a common theme — cozy mysteries or supernatural thrillers, for example. Box sets may also be created to support a charitable cause, in which case all or part of the proceeds go to that cause.

I have to admit, I always thought box sets (the physical kind) were a good idea that didn’t quite work. Anyone who really liked an author’s books would have them all anyway. Buying a box set for a friend would be a risk if they weren’t a fan and superfluous if they were. The only motive to buy a box set would be the spiffiness factor.

But here I am, about to publish a box set of the Herbert West Series. It will include all four novels, along with the first chapter of a new novel intended to be a sequel to the series. “Intended” because so far I’ve written only that first chapter. Putting it out there will give me incentive to write and publish the rest. That’s the idea, anyway.

The Herbert West Series Complete will make its appearance through Smashwords and Amazon, in ebook form only, on November 7th — Herbert West’s 130th birthday.


Image designed by Audrey Driscoll with Canva