Reading

American robin and cotoneaster bush full of berries. Blurry bird image.

Book Review: Encourage a Child to Watch Birds, by Denzil Walton

I’m not a birdwatcher, except in the sense of noticing who’s hanging around the bird feeders in the back garden. I don’t have a life list, nor even a decent pair of binoculars. And as can be seen from the two photos accompanying this post, I’m not that great at taking pictures of birds either. (That blurry shape in the featured image is a robin (American type) landing on a cotoneaster bush full of berries. Robins have been feasting on those berries for the past week.)

Despite the above, I like birds, and I’m keen on helping out the ones that live around here. A pair of Bewick’s Wrens nested in an old shoe on my back porch in 2015. So I hope that gives me some credibility for this book review.

This is a short, well-organized, and clearly written book intended for adults with a child or children in their lives. Its main intent is to help them develop an interest in observing and learning about birds in the natural environment. The introduction specifies that the suggested activities are screen-free, and this is true, although internet resources are mentioned peripherally. Otherwise, each chapter takes the child and adult companion outside to experience birds in a variety of ways.

Ten chapters, or “Ideas,” start with the most basic activities – looking at birds in parks, gardens, and urban environments – and progress to relatively advanced projects, such as keeping detailed notes on bird observations, or dissecting owl pellets to investigate owl diets! Topics include buying binoculars, obtaining books about birds, learning to recognize birds’ songs and calls, and setting up bird feeding stations. Each one is dealt with in simple, clear language. The author’s introduction says it’s not necessary to follow up the ideas in the order presented, or even to work through them all. The reader is encouraged to respect the child’s interests and use the book accordingly.

Each Idea provides basic facts about the topic, summing up with a list of projects to do together and questions that may be asked to help focus the child’s attention on details. It’s clear that this book is intended for people who are eager to spend time with children and act as guides and resources. This is not a book for someone looking to send kids off to amuse themselves.

The author points out how the bird-related activities may kindle other interests in children, such as photography, drawing, writing, music, even astronomy. Observing birds may present opportunities for using math skills, or discussing life-and-death issues such as the fact that some birds kill and eat other birds. The broader topics of conservation and environmental issues may also be approached.

The language is clear and the formatting excellent. In keeping with the “non-screen” approach, the reader is encouraged to use their public library as a resource for books and other materials. Many of the birds mentioned specifically are those of the UK and western Europe, but the book is intended for readers anywhere in the world, referencing organizations and resources specific to North America and Australia.

Altogether, this is an excellent book for anyone who wants to introduce children to birds and the outdoors, and even to learn more about these things themselves. More information about the book and author is available at:  https://encourageachild.org/

Bewick's wren
Bewick’s Wren
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She Who Comes Forth book spine

A Video Review!

Berthold Gambrel’s blog, with the intriguing title “A Ruined Chapel by Moonlight,” is always worth a visit. As well as book reviews, he posts thoughtfully on a variety of topics. This time, it’s a video review of my novel She Who Comes Forth. Have a look and listen, and watch for the surprise at the end!

Book Review: The Crux Anthology compiled and edited by Rachael Ritchey

First, I’ll note that I have a story in this anthology. It’s called “The Blue Rose.” That’s all I’m going to say about it.

Here are links to pre-order the ebook. It’s $0.99 now, but goes up to $5.99 after the end of November, so act fast!

AMAZON   Barnes & Noble   Apple   Kobo

And here’s my review. This contest-based anthology is grouped around the theme of adventure as prompted by the picture on the cover. Most (but not all) of the stories recognizably incorporate the picture’s elements – a youngish bearded man, a woman with white-blond hair, a white temple-like structure on a steep green hill, suggestions of a cave, and a hint of the supernatural. It was interesting to see how closely authors adhered to the picture, and what forms the elements took in their stories.

The quality of the prose is uniformly good, although the authors’ styles vary, as might be expected, since they hail from widely scattered parts of the English-speaking world. The stories range from magical fantasy to grim dystopia, and include humour, mystery, romance and tragedy. Most readers will find something in this collection to captivate, intrigue, thrill, and entertain.

Specifically, these are six stories I especially enjoyed:

“The BUSS Stop” by K.R.Ludlow, for its unabashed goofiness and fast pace.

“The Cave of Legix” by David Jesson, for the realistic depiction of an expedition’s interpersonal dynamics and an ingenious mystery in a tropical jungle cave.

“The Paths We Choose” by R.J. Llewellyn, for its characters’ strong emotions and tragic choices made under extreme duress.

“Daddy Forgot Water” by Barb Taub, for its unflinching presentation of a horrific but plausible scenario.

“The God Strain” by Gary Jefferies, for a darkly humorous look at the beginnings of what might turn out to be a similar scenario.

“The Forever Door” by Rachael Ritchey, for fast-paced thrills in a vividly imagined setting, with a compelling quest, a remorseless villain, and a relatable sibling duo as protagonists.

I was delighted to be included among this group of authors and to work with Rachael and other members of the “Crux Crew” to let the world know about this worthwhile book.

Chances and Changes

Now that She Who Comes Forth is fully launched, it’s your last chance to buy the ebook at the special pre-launch price. By next week, you’ll have to part with another dollar or so.

I’m also making price changes to two of the books in the Herbert West Series. So if you’ve been meaning to acquire The Friendship of Mortals, make haste.

On the other hand, if you’re curious about its sequel, Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey, make a note to check it out next week.

AMAZON:  US  UK  CA  AU

Apple

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Scribd

Smashwords

 

AudreyD The Herbert West Series

The Crux Anthology print cover

“The Crux Anthology” Available Soon!

It feels like way longer ago than January that I saw a post on Rachael Ritchey’s blog announcing the Adventure SciFi and Fantasy Contest and decided to enter. Usually I don’t do contests, but there was something about this one…

I was thrilled when I actually finished my story and sent it in, and even more thrilled when Rachael notified me it was in the top ten. Then in May, I was totally chuffed that my story won Third Prize.

And now, The Crux Anthology is about to be published. Take another look at that gorgeous cover. Then take a look at this…

The Crux Anthology back cover description

And here’s the list of those authors…

thecrux-ebook1.jpg

You may recognize some of these folks as bloggers. Here’s a chance to read a curated selection of their fiction.

Just so you don’t miss any important details, click here to sign up for the Crux-specific newsletter.

The release date is November 26th, but you can pre-order on the 19th. All sales proceeds will go to the charity Compassion International.

 

hot air balloon on ground rainbow colours

Her Day Approaches!

I’m inflating that balloon again! The ebook version of She Who Comes Forth launches on Wednesday, November 7th. That means there are only three more days to pre-order at the special price of $2.99.

Recently turned 21, France Leighton travels to Luxor, Egypt, taking with her two legacies—an antique cello and an emerald ring. Instead of the archaeological adventure she expects, she gets a lecherous dig director, hidden agendas, a risky balloon ride, and an enigmatic nuclear physicist. In the mysteries of the ancient tombs, France realizes she and her gifts may imperil the world—or save it.

AMAZON:  US  UK  CA  AU

B&N  KOBO  APPLE

SMASHWORDS

Here is a tiny taste…

1

The Chapter of Experiencing Departure and Disappointment

 

Luxor, Egypt, September 27th, 1962

My hair flopped into my eyes—again. I tried to blow it out of the way, but that never works. I pushed it behind my ear for the hundredth time that day, my dirty hand adding to the accumulated grime on my face. Sighing, I turned back to the pile of rocks in front of me. Check for inscriptions. Check for chisel marks. Attempt to discern shape. Sort and classify.

The clink of tools on stone and the murmur of voices blurred into a distant hum, joined by the drowsy buzz of flies. Even in the shade of the tarp stretched over the sorting area, it was hot and getting hotter.

“Hello, Miss America!” The Grinner arrived with another basket of rocks. His thin body jiggled under his grey galabeya and his eyes squinted under his faded blue turban. “It is beautiful day! Very happy to see you!” He was smiling so hard I thought his face would split and the top of his head would fall off, turban and all.

“Hello,” I said. I couldn’t remember his name. Ali? Omar? I couldn’t keep them straight. To me, this one was “the Grinner,” and I couldn’t call him that to his face.

“Please put that here.” I pointed to a spot next to the basket I was working on. “Thank you. Very much.” I turned back to my current rock, hoping he would take the hint and leave.

“His name’s Mustafa,” Hank said from behind me. “It’s no hardship to remember the workers’ names, France. Just like I remember yours. They appreciate it.”

Great. Another mini-lecture from Hashish Hank. I squinted up at him, brushing the hair out of my eyes yet again. “But my name isn’t ‘Miss America.'”

Hank grinned. “That means he thinks you’re pretty.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Even my sarcasm-producer was weary.

“And you’d better step it up.” He gestured toward the new basket of stone fragments that had joined my half-full one. “The Boss wants us to get this section done today, so there’s lots more to come.”

“All right.” I blew a raspberry at his departing back and picked up a rock. Check for inscriptions. Check for chisel marks. Try to discern shape. Sort. Classify. Wipe sweat, push hair behind ear.

Shit, it’s hot!

Archaeology, Egyptian style.

If only I’d known.

 

Balloon image from Pixabay

“The Forever Door” Prologue Bonus

The Crux Anthology is about to eventuate! Here is a tantalizing taste by the energetic and talented Rachael Ritchey. I’ll be posting more about the anthology in the next few weeks.

Rachael Ritchey

This is a special preview prologue to my story “The Forever Door” in The Crux Anthology, a book of adventure science fiction and fantasy short stories by sixteen different authors.

Official Release Date: November 26th, 2018

TheCrux ebook

You can preorder your ebook copy November 19th, 2018

We’ve got our very own The Crux Crew FB Fan Page for you to get updates & news,

but in the meantime, enjoy this prologue to my entry!


History has seen its share of violence and the conquest of man. And now that same history has caught up with talented architect Owen McFadden when his archaeologic-expert sister’s passion for the unimaginable unknown leaves him no choice other than to join her on the quest of the millennium … a dangerous hunt for the forbidden … deep in the cloud forests of Peru.

“The Forever Door”

Prologue

TheForeverDoor.jpg

Owen unhooked the safety harness and stepped back…

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The Hundred Mile Reading Diet

An opportunity to browse and buy books in Victoria, BC!

My Writing Eden

November is Craft Fair month when you can buy your Christmas gifts, and Victoria Writers’ Society is renting a table at a different fair almost every weekend.

Members, many of whom are self-published, take full advantage of the opportunity to sell their books. You will see them flogging their “craft” — the craft of writing– at the following fairs:

November 3 — The Victorian on Feltham

November 9 & 10 — Vintage Holiday Fair at the Da Vinci Centre

November 24 — Cook Street Activity Centre

November 28 — the Wellesley on Blanshard

December 1 — Dickens Craft Fair at James Bay Community Centre

We have books of many different genres, including historical and fantasy novels, memoirs, poetry and a children’s book. So, come to one or more of these fairs and support your local writers.

Read locally!

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Constant Sister: a Sister Katherine medieval mystery by Gillian Bridge book cover

Local Author Book Review #14: Constant Sister: a Sister Katherine medieval mystery by Gillian Bridge

Despite the subtitle, this book is so much more than a whodunit in a medieval setting. Reading it is like watching the tiny, jewel-like pictures in an illuminated psalter come to life. It is a heartfelt story rooted in history, with a carefully structured plot and memorable characters. Readers familiar with London may recognize familiar place names with amazement at how different things were more than 800 years ago.

The story begins with the coronation of King Richard I (“the Lionheart”) and the riot and fire that followed attacks on Jewish people who attended the event. Sister Katherine nurses some of the victims of the fire in St. Bartholemew’s Hospital. Subsequent scenes introduce her brothers, Robert and William, and several other characters whose interactions create the central question of the story: who killed Master Simon?

As scenes unfold and interlock, leading to the answer to that question, the author’s knowledge of life in medieval England emerges and captivates. The characters represent a full range of social statuses and occupations, such as prosperous merchants, dutiful knights, busy clerks, dedicated religious, craftsmen, farmers and herders. Among them, Sister Katherine and her brothers (the elder a clerk, the younger a monk) play important roles in the final resolution. Women are not all subservient and uneducated, although their roles are more circumscribed than those of men. Details of architecture, clothing, food and drink, commerce, law, and agriculture are skillfully woven into the plot. A glossary at the end offers further information. I came away from the book with an increased knowledge of medieval life.

Parts of the book are set on the road between London and Colchester. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 8, in which one of the characters sets out on a ride to that town:

Robert rode carefully to avoid children who ran laughing after balls or willfully from the restraining arms of their mothers. As he entered the shadow of the ancient double gate with its raised portcullises, he was forced almost to a standstill by a flock of sheep on their last journey to the Shambles. Egged on by dogs and boys with sticks, they flowed around Sparrow’s legs, a moving sea of woolly foam. Then suddenly he was free. Ahead, crowded within the bars of Whitechapel were the workshops of glaziers and bell founders and, in the distance, the village of Whitechapel lay open to the fields. The rutted road was hard under Sparrow’s hooves; white clouds sailed overhead. He nodded to the gatekeeper as he passed the Bars and then smiled fiercely with pleasure as Sparrow tossed her head and snorted.

Aloud he remembered words from his childhood: “Hast thou given the horse strength? Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder?” He shouted out his response, “Yes,” and Sparrow picked up speed.

By the end of the book, most of the human dramas are resolved in a plausible and satisfying way, although not without a few tantalizing loose ends which make me wonder if a sequel is to follow. I certainly hope so.

My rating: 9 out of 10 stars (in my own rating system: 1 = abysmal, 2 = barely readable, 3 = mediocre, 4 = not bad, 5 = OK but not great, 6 = good but unremarkable, 7 = pretty good, 8 = really good, 9 = remarkable, 10 = superlative).

Constant Sister is published by Quadra Books and available on Amazon.

She Who Comes Forth book spine

Printed Book DIY

Okay, authors are advised not to do this — design your own cover images, especially for the printed versions of your books. But I did it. Maybe it was the allure of the forbidden. Or maybe it was inevitable, because this whole writing and publishing adventure started with me telling myself, “Think of it as an exercise, not a commitment. Try it and see what happens.”

When I published my first ebooks, almost a decade ago, my home made cover images were indeed lame. After a couple of years I commissioned excellent professionally designed images, which still grace the four books of my Herbert West Series. They were not inexpensive. (“Good, fast, cheap — pick two!”)

A couple of years ago, I started using Canva, just to see whether it was as easy as some said. After some experimentation, I designed cover images for the four short spinoff stories from my main series, published in 2016. Since I intended to make them perma-free, it didn’t make any sense to pay for cover images, and I was happy with the results, although compared to the professional designs, their amateur origin is evident.

She Who Comes Forth print book front coverBy the time my latest novel, She Who Comes Forth, was ready to come forth, I had designed more than half a dozen images for it. Fooling around with Canva is fun, and was a great way to do something related to my (then) work in progress when I didn’t feel like actually writing. After I finalized my final design, part of me could hardly wait to start on the challenge of incorporating it into a cover for the print version of the novel. This was while I was still waffling about publishing in print at all, and a bit apprehensive at the prospect of formatting the Word doc for POD.

So here we are, a couple of months later, and the print version of SWCF exists. I have ten copies right here, nine of which are still in the box with the Amazon smile. And all in all, I’m pleased with it. (I still have all my hair, too.)

The print book may be purchased at your preferred Amazon outlet. This one, for example. The ebook version of She Who Comes Forth will be available on November 7th, and may be pre-ordered now at a special price.

For those who might be foolhardy bold enough to attempt a similar project, here are a few things I learned that others may find helpful. One thing I’ve noticed about documentation, instructions and “help” pages — sometimes they omit tiny but crucial details. I don’t pretend to be an expert, and many of you may know all that stuff already, or have no desire to get into this type of project, so this is for the rest of you. FYI on DYI.

Word Document Formatting:

Amazon KDP provides a pretty good basic formatting guide. And you can usually find good help pages on the internet for most Word issues. This one, for example, tells you how to set up different headers and footers on odd and even pages.

Here are a few of my own personal tips:

First, find a trad-pubbed (or for that matter, indie-pubbed) book you like the looks of and use it as a model for interior design, preliminary pages, presence/absence of headers and page numbers,  etc. Then all you have to do is figure out how to get those effects in your Word document.

Second, make sure your text is perfect (or as close as you can get) before you start formatting. Adding or deleting more than a character or two can mess things up once you’ve inserted Section Breaks, Headers, and Footers.

She Who Comes Forth book chapter heading with moon glyphThird, add your preliminary pages (half-title, title page, epigraph and or dedication pages) and any “extras,” such as the moon glyphs I added to every one of the chapter titles. (They actually represent the moon phases in Luxor, Egypt in 1962 as the story progresses.) Decide on the trim size for your book (6×9 inches, for example), specify the paper size and set the margins. KDP’s “Build Your Book” guide has instructions for these steps, and even little videos you can view as many times as you need to.

Now for the ultimate challenge — Section Breaks, Headers, and Footers. Use the magic of “Save As” before you start, so you have a pristine copy of your document up to that point. If things go wrong, you can scrap the mess and start again without having to go through the process of adding the preliminary pages, setting margins, etc.

Really, once you’ve set up the headers and footers for Chapter 1 (or Prologue, if you have one), it’s a matter of selecting the right type of Section Break between chapters and breaking the link with the Header in the previous section when you want to do something different, like omitting the odd page header from the first page of the new chapter. (See why this can involve hair-tearing and profuse cursing?)

Actually, it seemed to me that the latest version of Word makes the process easier than previous versions. Or maybe it was just because I’d struggled through all this stuff before. Whatever the reason, I found I could rely on a specific sequence of checks and choices as I paged through the document, like a little mental flow chart. It was encouraging to be able to reproduce the desired pattern reliably as I went along.

She Who Comes Forth book title page

The title page. I used Canva to create the picture in the middle (a separate little project). Then I inserted it into my Word doc.

Again, do NOT fiddle with anything that affects the space taken up by your text after you insert your Section Breaks, Headers, and Footers. That would be trim size, margins, font size, line spacing, adding or deleting more than a tiny amount of text. Get all that stuff finalized before you start on Section Breaks. If you really need to make any of those changes, return to your “before Section Breaks” document and make the changes there. Once you’re done, Save As, and start over. (Trust me, “Save As” is your friend.)

 

Finally, before you upload your document to KDP, save a copy in PDF form. That will show you exactly what your printed pages will look like. If there are problems (usually with headers and/or footers), you’ll spot them immediately and can return to your Word doc to fix them. Once everything looks good, you can actually upload your final, perfect PDF to KDP.

For a really thorough how-to guide on the entire print publishing process, I recommend How to Print Your Novel with Kindle Direct Publishing: a step-by-step guide for absolute beginners, by ACFlory. It takes you through the formatting process in detail, with screenshots. This ebook is available on Amazon.

Cover Design:

Anyone who’s comfortable with Canva (and designing images) can create a credible print book cover. You probably wouldn’t want to make this your first experience of Canva (unless you’re a really quick study). Experiment first, getting used to layering images, using transparency, adding text, and moving stuff around. Create some ebook cover images. If you don’t actually have an ebook that needs a cover image, make some for books you mean to write. (The exercise might inspire you.) Once you know you can construct attractive images with the degree of complexity you need, you’re ready to tackle a print book cover.

Before starting, you need an interior book file that’s complete, perfectly formatted, and ready to upload, so you know how many pages your book will have. That determines the width of the spine. Once you know that and have selected a trim size, download a print cover template from Amazon KDP. Go to Canva and start a new project, with customized dimensions exactly right for your cover.  I found these instructions by Katherine Roberts very helpful, especially the calculations to set the custom size for your Canva project.

One of the cool things about Canva is that you can upload your own images to use in your designs. This is also where you upload your print cover template from KDP. By incorporating it into your design (temporarily), you can make sure to adhere to KDP’s specs for bleed and barcode placement.

If you use free images from a site like Pixabay for your cover design, remember to download the highest resolution versions. Images that don’t meet Amazon KDP’s fabled 300 dpi standard may cause your cover to be rejected. (This didn’t happen to me, I’m happy to say).

Select a background, and then layer the cover template over it.  (My background is that textured ochre colour on the spine.) Then proceed as usual, adding whatever elements you need for your front and back covers. Set the transparency so you can see the cover template and its all-important red border lines. For my cover, the spine was the only place where the cover template was the topmost layer (well, just below the spine text). This was important, because after I was finished adding all the elements, including text, and was certain nothing important was on or outside the red lines, I easily deleted the template. Don’t forget to do that, and do NOT move any text or important image elements once the template is gone. You can change filters, transparency, or colours, but don’t change fonts at this point, because that might change the size of text areas. When you’re done, download the image as a printable PDF, and upload both it and your text PDF to Amazon KDP. And rejoice.