Saturday, February 28, 2009

Environmental Guardians

My friend, Careann brought to mind what my quiet part of the world consists of these days: writing and winter. The view from our window is so vast (14 kms of lake) that I often spot black dots on the ice that only turn out to be moose, bears, or lynx with the aid of my binoculars. Seldom do they venture close enough to pose for a photo.

In the summer, bears wonder into our yard, and my dog quickly chases them up the nearest tree, while I grab my camera. Then it's dog indoors so my friend can leave. Generally most of our wildlife neighbours venture through the area at night under a full moon. I used to walk the loop (our road runs back into itself along the lake around to the creek) until it became known that the bush in the center was shared by a moose and her calf or a bear and her cubs.

I worry a lot about what we are doing to the environment. I worried long before being "green" was fashionable.
 I can remember as a kid wondering where all the animals would go as we encroached on their territory. My godfather told me that as human beings we were meant to have dominion over all animals. That didn't make it any easier to accept. Even today when we go to town and see our highway trenches a mecca for dead deer, moose, raccoons, and wolverines, the unease sits heavy on my chest. That's why I'm so grateful for those who do spend their lives protecting these creatures and our land. Not enough thanks is given. They're generally seen as nuisances, interfering in our demanding industries: forestry, hunting, and neighbourhood expansions.

Thank you Everyone.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


After dinner, my husband and I walk six paces from our dining room table to the sofas to plop ourselves in amongst the 3 cats and a dog. The idea is that the old guy will read while I either watch a documentary, drama or something on BookTV. Sometimes I print off a chapter and edit as I sit there. But that's for those nights when he's watching hockey or curling. Hey--Who's brilliant idea was it to put a mic around the Skipper and Third so we can hear them screaming at Second and Lead, "SWEEP! HARD!"?

Behind me, 10 paces is my Mac on a Costco folding table in the corner of my dining room. Some nights my Mac beckons me. I ignore it. Evenings are for me and the old guy. We don't have to talk, but we should at least be together. If I sit at my computer, I feel guilty. I had all day to write. Evenings should be for us.

But guess what? During the day I see dust bunnies in the corner of my kitchen, dining room and living room, and laundry piling up in the guest room, and I feel guilty because I was brought up believing, as an adult, if you weren't working, daytime was meant for housework, laundry, and outdoor chores. Only--I'm a writer. And I hate housework. But I like structure. And there are those days when I can rework an entire scene while vacuuming. However ....

The kids are grown. The two oldest grandsons have their licenses. Weekends can be hectic. But during the winter, mostly it's me and the old guy. How much mess can we make? Not much. But guess how much mess 3 cats and a dog can make? Apparently, quite a bit. Especially if you're working on a new book and aren't spending the allotted amount of time petting, patting and brushing as you used to. But that's a story for another day. Not a good idea to get me on the subject of strays. Then I'm off on a tangent about summer people bringing their cats out to the lake, then leaving them to the elements when they go back to town for the winter.

The point is, I'm a writer. I'm supposed to be writing every day. 1000 words. Evenings are meant for the old guy. Weekends are for the grandchildren: hockey games on the ice, ski-doing, and all those other crazy winter sports. While weekdays are for, dare I say: marketing, networking, blogging and editing. When is it time for housework?

This picture was taken last summer. I'm trying to remember if I've done housework since then...

Thank God the old guy cooks breakfast every day, gets the wood in and even cooks supper when I present him with my pathetic-I'm-so-busy-writing-face.

The trick is to learn to live with the mess, and to be happy if all you write is 200 words. I'm stuck on a scene right now, so maybe that's a sign that I should bring out the knee pads and floor detergent, and scrub the floor. I could be working on my next scene inside my head. Kill two birds with one stone. Course, I do have my back to think of.

By the way, notice how I started with "After dinner..." and not "After doing up the dinner dishes..."?

Monday, February 23, 2009

White Blessings

Three inches of snow fell last night. The scene outside my window this morning was magic. And by that I mean whiteness covered all the muck that will reappear in the spring. All the problem areas on our lawn are covered in a perfect white blanket. You know, that clean whiteness that fills your heart with peace. I know I complain about winter a lot, but it is magical how snow makes the ugliest things look beautiful.

Because the lottery wasn't won Wednesday night, Saturday 649 was 48 million. Can you even conceptualize having that much money? Few people can. I've met one or two, and wanted so badly to ask them what they thought about in place of worrying over money. I lay awake Saturday night and imagined the freedom to leave whenever winter had me down. I imagined me and my new Mac notebook flying to the warmest places where I could sit at night and watch sunsets that would take my breath away. I imagined all the people I could help, and how fulfilling that would feel. I imagined... well, so much freedom that I slept poorly. Even after all these years, occasionally I still have to remind myself that bedtime is for sleeping not conjuring up scenarios that will keep me awake all night.

Chances are, I'm never know what having 48 million feels like. I'm not even sure I want to. I like my simple life. It's just taken a bit longer to realize that than it should have. Yes, I'd like the financial freedom to travel, to visit my family on a moment's notice and buy whatever I want when I want it, but at the risk of what? Is there a risk? I think so. Therefore, I'm publicly thanking God for the blessings I have that money can't buy. Particularly that of a healthy brain with its seemingly endless ability to imagine.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Getting a handle on Army acronyms – or GAHOAA

In honour of Red Friday, the following is an article from Army News on Army Acronyms. This was a tremendous help in translating a lot of what our son, Cory said during his normal conversations. Before this article, his dad and I nodded a lot, but had no idea what he was saying.

CFD Dundurn, Saskatchewan – "Private! I need you to go up to the NOB from the FOB and find the 2IC. Then get an Int Sit Rep from the FOO at OP on the OPFOR ASAP."

"Roger that, sir! By the way, your five-hole is open, sir!"

"Private! MYOB!"

If you understood that conversation, you must be in the army – and maybe a hockey fan. If you are completely confused, you have my sympathies. Until taking part in Exercise Prairie Defender 26 April to 3 May at 17 Wing Detachment Dundurn as embedded media, I was just as confused. Allow me to translate.

NOB is the Northern Operating Base at the training ground. This is where some of the soldiers taking part in the exercise are practising live fire artillery shooting.

FOB is the Forward Operating Base, a temporary main camp from which military campaigns are carried out.

2IC means Second in Command. While I didn´t meet the 2IC of the artillery range, I did speak to the Number Two of one of the big guns. Seven soldiers work as a team of bombardiers to operate these modern-day catapults. As I learned, you don´t approach a gun without first asking the Number One, or the team leader for permission.

Bombardier Jon Hede of the 20th Field Artillery Regiment, RCA allowed us members of the media to stand right behind his team´s C3 Howitzer, which can fire 105 mm rounds up to 13 km away. The machine is the same design as 1936 American Howitzers - which Canada adopted in the 1950s and called C1s – except for slight improvements including a longer barrel and reinforced trails, or rear support posts, which absorb the recoil.

To my surprise, the guns are not computerized like every other modern machine: the mechanisms to adjust elevation and range are still manually-operated by wheels and carpentry-like levels. In fact, the gun we were looking at was a 1998 rebuild of one of the original 1950s C1s. A perfect example of "if it ain´t broke, don´t fix it."

Int Sit Rep means Intelligence Situation Report, and Op For is Opposing Force. In battle, such a report could be obtained from a FOO, or Forward Observation Officer who travels far ahead with the infantry, scoping out the land, looking for the Op For. The FOO would radio back from the OP (Observation Post) to the CP (Command Post) where the CO (Commanding Officer) would radio the Number One of each gun. The Number One of each gun would then adjust their aim accordingly, much like medieval archers who would fire at the enemy over the heads of the cavalry and infantry.

Speaking of cavalry, we rode along with them in the afternoon. Instead of knights on horses with lances, machine gunners fire 7.62 mm rounds from C6 machine guns from rotating turrets of Mercedes Benz G-wagons, also called LUVW (Light Utility Vehicle Wheeled).

Periodically, Range Safety Officer, Captain Cameron White, allowed me to get out of the G-Wagon to take pictures of gunner Corporal David Craig of the Saskatchewan Dragoons as he fired at pop-up targets.

After the exercise the officers and soldiers gathered for an AAR (After Action Review) to give and get feedback on the exercise. "Target acquisition was a little slow," said Warrant Officer Doug Roy, but apart from that, the gunners and drivers did well.

So let´s see what we learned today. Here´s a sample for you to translate:

"Private! Take that LUVW to the NOB and tell the CO to get an Int Sit Rep from the FOO on the Op For. Then return to the CP for an AAR."

Christine Mazur is a Creative Communication Student at Red River College and was embedded as media in Exercise Prairie Defender.

Article by Christine Mazur
Photos by: Corporal Bill Gomm

Project Number:08-0564

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The 5 Best Ways to Promote Your Book on a Budget:

A.F. Stewart
is the author of Chronicles of the Undead

The following is based on A.F.'s vast experience on marketing and promoting on a budget.

Your blog:
This is an essential tool; post writing articles, excerpts from your books, character interviews, and important book updates. Add links to your book to these posts, and/or a picture of the book cover. You can also write book reviews, short pieces of fiction or a serial type story.
Don’t forget to promote your blog: Add it to site directories that list blogs and join a site like Feedburner to try and increase your blog traffic. Also, comment on other people’s blogs, add a blog roll and follow or subscribe to blogs you like; you never know who will reciprocate.

Social Networking:
The key to good book promotion is interconnecting with your social sites, and not over extending yourself on too many sites. You want to interact with writers, editors, publishers, readers; attend online events, join and create groups, comment on discussions, etc.

Recommended Sites:
• MySpace: A great site for connecting with e-zines, editors, small publishers, authors, promotion companies; many of these services have budget friendly prices.
• Facebook: A Facebook fanpage is great promotion for an author.
• Twitter: Short updates, great way to remind people of events, news, or to say hi.
• Create a lens on any topic (I have a page about writing fantasy novels), make a page about your book, or write about yourself (in the SquidWho section).
• This network has dozens of social sites for writers and great interaction.
• WritersCafe: A writer’s site. You post stories, poems, books and sample chapters, get feedback from members.
• AuthorsDen: A great place for an author profile, complete with your books, news, excerpts or stories. It’s free to join, with reasonably priced upgrades.
• A nice place to find fellow authors, books, and to post articles.

A Press Release:
The best way to get the word out on your new book. Basically you need a catchy headline, followed by a one or two line description, then two detailed descriptive paragraphs (if you have any good review quotes, add them) and a good closer. Add a short author bio, contact info and a book link.

Check out these links for complete details on writing a press release:

There are two types of press release services: ones you pay for and ones that are free. The paid service will get a wider release, but the free services are effective; I use the free online press release services Sanepr and PRlog. You will need a press release for each book, and you can also send out releases for book events, the launch of your website, for winning awards, etc.

The Virtual Book Tour:
A Virtual Book Tour or Blog Tour is a series of guest posts, interviews, and/or book spotlights on other people’s blogs; it is an excellent way to promote a book and yourself as an author. There are several places on the internet that will organize a tour for you for a small price; Pump Up Your Book Promotion being an example. But if your budget does not allow the extra expense, you can organize your own tour.

• You will need a list of articles on writing to use as guest posts (you can use your book to illustrate your topic in examples, or discuss your process in writing the book). I would say five or so is a good number, but it will depend on how long your tour runs, so if you want to write more go ahead; you can always post leftovers on your own blog later.

• Be prepared to answer interview questions. Some hosts will want to do an interview and will supply you with a list of questions. If you are unsure what to expect check out other interviews. You can also do a Character Interview, where you answer questions as a character from your book.

• Some of your tour stops can be Book Spotlights. You will need a snappy book synopsis, a small photo of your book cover, book links, and possibly a book excerpt. The blogs Authors Promoting Authors and Authors and Their Books offer book spotlights on a regular basis.

• Have at the ready an author photo; some blogs will want one, some won’t; it never hurts to have a short author bio handy as well.

Once prepared, you have to find your hosts, so send the word out on your social networks. I simply wrote a post stating I was thinking of organizing a blog tour and asked if anyone was interested in hosting me. Before I knew it kind and generous people were offering. Try keeping to a manageable level of hosts, in a set time period, say a month or so.

If you want to participate as a host in someone’s blog tour, just do one of the following: offer to let the author guest post; offer an interview, either an author or a character interview; spotlight their book.

Book Trailers:
You can get a professionally done book trailer, (there are inexpensive options) or make your own. Windows Movie Maker or similar programs can be used to make an imaginative promo; all you need are photos that relate to your book, music or narration, intriguing captions and patience.

Your trailer should be around 30-50 seconds long, have an ending credit sequence featuring your book title, a book link and any photo or music credits. You can make elegant credit and title sequences with Powerpoint, by saving individual slides as Jpeg’s.
If you use your own photos/music or have permission to use a friend’s, you may use your discretion as to crediting the owner. If you plan to use anything from the internet, check the copyright! Royalty free does not mean it won’t cost; a photo or music clip is only free to use with a Creative Commons License. Even then you generally must give the owner a credit for the copyright.

Check carefully though, sometimes free means only for personal use and not for commercial purposes. You can find free-to-use photos on Flickr and free-to-use music clips at

To sum up, good promotion needs capable planning, commitment, and a working knowledge of Google.

A.F. Stewart

Narrated as the personal journals of Samuel, Edmund, and Charlotte Harrington, CHRONICLES OF THE UNDEAD tells three stories of temptation, vengeance, and redemption. The plot unfolds as the lives of this family unexpectedly intersect with two vampires. Find out who succumbs to the seduction of a vampire, and who struggles to combat this evil influence that permeates their lives. Adult content.

Monday, February 16, 2009

TOS Gives Facebook Copyrights Over Your Contents

February 4th, Facebook revised their Terms of Use. The following is an excerpt from the revised TOS. To read more click here: Facebook Terms of Use

"You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof. You represent and warrant that you have all rights and permissions to grant the foregoing licenses."

The sentence I found interesting is as follows:

Prior to February 4, the Terms of Use read:

"If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content."

They now own all my photos, blogs and personal data?

Dang, I should have uploaded the good ones.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Test-to-Speech: an Infringement?

Maya Reynolds posted an interesting blog this week concerning the new Kindle 2 and The Authors Guild's response to it. As a Canadian, I've yet to see any Canadian reactions. Though I doubt they're long coming. As for what I think, I'm still green around the gills. I don't have an opinion. I'd admit that typically new technology scares me until I take the allotted time to understand, appreciate or reject it. I was one of those die-hard Beta users in the 80s. Don't laugh, some readers are probably scratching their heads and wondering what I'm talking about.

Well, I'm confessing, I might as well admit that I was a computer programmer back in the 80s, the first MS-DOS. After that I went into another field and didn't return to computers for five years. The changes were mind-blowing. It was as if I'd arrived from another planet.

I was also quick to reject the first e-books. I thought unless I could hold the book in my hands, it wasn't a book. Maybe I'm one of the reasons Kindle was improved upon. One of its newest features is a Text-to-Speech function; a computer-generated voice reads the e-book aloud. I've got a similar feature on my IMAC. Still, every time there's a problem with one of my programs and a female computerized voice announces "Excuse me," I jump.

If you'd like to read the entire article on The Authors Guild response to the new Kindle, check it out here.

As inserted on Maya's blog, here's an excerpt from Cory Doctorow's speech to Microsoft, with Doctorow's permission:
Whenever a new technology has disrupted copyright, we've changed copyright. Copyright isn't an ethical proposition, it's a utilitarian one . . .

Technology that disrupts copyright does so because it simplifies and cheapens creation, reproduction and distribution. The existing copyright businesses exploit inefficiencies in the old production, reproduction and distribution system, and they'll be weakened by the new technology. But new technology always gives us more art with a wider reach: that's what tech is *for*

Tech gives us bigger pies that more artists can get a bite out of. That's been tacitly acknowledged at every stage of the copyfight since the piano roll. When copyright and technology collide, it's copyright that changes.

Which means that today's copyright -- the thing that DRM nominally props up -- didn't come down off the mountain on two stone tablets. It was created in living memory to accommodate the technical reality created by the inventors of the previous generation. To abandon invention now robs tomorrow's artists of the new businesses and new reach and new audiences that the Internet and the PC can give them.

I'm still not sure how I feel about this new technology, or how it fits in with my career choices. But one thing I do know, I should be free to decide and have more than one choice to pick from.

Character in Search of a Plot.

Say hi to my friend, author Helen Kitson

I’m definitely a character-led writer. The characters generally come to me far more easily than the plot, but if I’m lucky the characters tell me the story they want me to write. Of course, this doesn’t always happen, and I still have one character desperately in search of a plot.

I know this girl very well. I see her sitting on a park bench in the Tuileries garden in Paris. Her legs are crossed, her gaze fixed to the book she’s reading (she likes the classics and is a big Thomas Hardy fan). Her hair is of that shade euphemistically called strawberry-blonde. She is not beautiful – her teeth stick out slightly and she is clearly someone not comfortable in her own skin. Her name (which she hates) is Angela.

But why is she there? She is alone, on a beautiful day in a beautiful city, but she looks unhappy. What brought her here and why does she look so sad? I’ve tried to write this girl’s story numerous times, but she refuses to yield it up to me, and so she sits there still, alone, silent, waiting for me to find the key to unlock her mystery.

Unlike some readers, I don’t require people in books to be ‘likeable’. Indeed, many of my favourite fictional characters are fairly unpleasant. What matters to me is not that I care about the characters, but that I should find them interesting. After all, many of the celebrities whose personal lives fill so many miles of magazine and newspaper pages are not particularly likeable people. What is it about them that grips our interest? In some cases, it’s the simple fascination of being unable to pull your gaze from a train wreck. In other cases, it’s a question of that nebulous quality, charisma.

Why does my redhead refuse to have her story told? I often think she’ll be sitting on that park bench until the end of time, an enigmatic Mona Lisa smile on her face, like a frozen tableau that refuses to come to life.


Monday, February 9, 2009


Here's an easy way to cut needless words from your manuscript, tighten your tense and replace the passive and inactive verb "thought"

He's not Samo, Mateo thought. Samo is dead.
He was not Samo. Samo was dead.

"You leave now," the soldier said.
Fine with me, Mateo thought.
"You leave now," the soldier said.
Mateo was fine with that.

One order from her guardian and ... well, she thought, gazing down at Vien, death and Kurenkov went hand in hand.
One order from her guardian and ... she gazed down at Vien, death and Kurenkov went hand in hand.

You are stupider than stupid, Wu, she thought, doubly amazed the woman was still alive.
It was doubly amazing that the woman was still alive. Wu was stupider than stupid.

So, it is true, he doesn't speak English, she thought, and seeing his arm rise, ducked.
So, it was true. He didn't speak English. She saw his arm rise, and ducked.

Now what? he thought, looking back at him.
Now what? Danny looked back at him.

True, some of these statements could use some work, however, as examples they state their case. The elimination of S/HE THOUGHT in no way deters from the meaning of the sentence. Instead the reader isn't required to switch from 3rd person to 1st. And when the thought is short and to the point, it's clear whose POV it is. These examples work equally as well with S/HE WONDERED.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

I'm Writing High

Hate to admit it, but I'm exerting more control over my (WIP) work-in-progress this time round. I'm using those secret tools Mr. Grisham talks about. I'm layering on the suspense. I don't actually know what Mr. Grisham's secret tools are, but I'm a suspense writer, so I can guess. If you've read anything nonfiction by Bickham or Stein, you know what I'm talking about: red-herrings, foreshadowing, transitions, sentence structure, rhythm and settings. Anything to mess with my reader. Because? Yes! I owe it to them.

I'm still not able to do manipulate the storyline to this extent in the first draft though. One more reason I don't start off with an outline. Writing free style helps me know my protagonist. Through writing his or her story, or both, I learn the important aspects to any good story: protagonist, goal, conflicts, setting, antagonist, and theme. Oh, and let's not forget voice. All those things help me understand my protagonist better ... better than I understand myself (my characters are more interesting than I am).

Writing is a thrill that makes my skin tingle, my focus tight, and time fly. In the thralls of a full blown writing spree, I lose all track of time. Luckily, my husband is the morning cook in our house. I can rise from bed, walk to the computer, plop myself down, then stop to have breakfast when it's ready.

What's really thrilling is our son Jamie is visiting for a few days, and Jamie loves cooking. Which means dinner will be taken care of. I should jot down my word count during his visit and see just how much writing I get done. Could be grounds for hiring a cook full-time. If I can find one who'll work for free.