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Tuesday, 22 December 2015

It Might Hurt, but I Refuse to Toughen Up

It's been more than three weeks since I've written anything, other than an e-mail to a friend and some private messaging on Facebook. Ever since I finished off my word count for National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo...or insanity) on November 30th, I haven't felt the slightest urge to write a single thing. There was a writing contest I had intended to enter for The Prepper Journal, but I could not bring myself to even seriously contemplate a topic. Maybe I'll send them something at a later date and ask if they're interested in publishing it, but I desperately needed to take a step back from working for a little while. Luckily it coincided with the Christmas break for the show I produce, because I've been a completely lazy git for the last three weeks.

Not that I can blame myself for it. Most people don't write a book in the course of less than a month, edit it in three weeks, and then write half of another book, while overlapping the editing of the first book. For two and a half months I worked every single day, usually from the time I woke up, until I finally fell asleep about twenty hours later. I'd take the odd break here and there, usually to binge-watch the X-Files with my daughter (we just finished season five and watched the movie a couple of days ago), but mostly I worked. Not that it felt like work at the time, because I was enjoying the hell out of it, but in reality I was busting my butt.

The problem didn't really come until after my book was published and I started receiving negative reviews. The first couple were great, and I consider the majority of them to be positive. However, the negative ones were pretty bad, and in some cases downright rude or wrong. Believe me when I tell you that writers are very sensitive to criticism, though we're told we just have to suck it up and move on. It's not anywhere near as easy as it sounds. Even when a review is dead wrong (to the point where you believe they didn't even read the book, or they skipped half of it), it gets in your head and plays a tune on you whenever your brain gets a little too quiet. I tend to have a lot of quiet time, so my brain poked fun at me quite a bit.

So, since the end of November I've been having a pity party along with my burn-out. In addition to that I've had to suppress my irritation with people. I mean, unless you're stupid you don't respond to the reviews on Amazon. It's bad form, for one thing. For another, it's a no-win situation. Not only is it rude to the person who left the review, but then other people start thinking you're a jerk. For that reason I'm not going to talk about specifics even in my blog. People should be allowed to review. I do think Amazon should consider their review policy, such as disqualifying reviews from people who haven't bought a product, or who are blatantly attacking or bullying someone, but other than that people have to be allowed to express their opinions.

I just can't imagine expressing my opinion in such a rude fashion as some people do. Maybe it's because I'm Canadian, and the whole mud-slinging thing is anathema to me, but there are rude Canadians, too, so I don't think that's entirely the issue. I think it's simply a change in how people behave when they're allowed to be anonymous. There's an expression I like that applies to this.
"The true test of a man's character is what he does when no one is watching." ~ John Wooden
We've all seen what's been happening online these days, particularly when it comes to inflammatory issues. Women are subjected to rape and death threats online, just for stating an opinion. Muslims are seeing hateful rhetoric in a constant barrage. Gun-control advocates are getting threats that they'll be shot by 'responsible gun owners.' If these people were sitting face-to-face, in most cases the majority of their words would not pass their lips, and that comes from all sides of the arguments. It doesn't matter if a person is a liberal or a conservative, a man or a woman, a Christian or a Muslim. We're all guilty of it.

When it comes to my personal situation, I tried to make myself feel better by looking at reviews other authors had received, and it actually made me feel worse. Sure, I felt like I was in pretty good company. Well-known authors (such as Nora Roberts, Karin Slaughter, and J. K. Rowling), were subjected to major abuse in their Amazon reviews. I started seeing that the reviewers who spoke like that had some issues. Often they were extremely hateful. Teenagers were leaving nasty reviews about the Harry Potter series, and I have to wonder how they even have access to leave comments. In order to review an item you have to have made a purchase on Amazon, which means you must have a credit card of some sort. In most cases that would mean it's the parents' accounts, and yet the parents are okay with their kids leaving those sorts of remarks. It doesn't bode well for the future of society.

I honestly thought I would feel better about my own bad reviews if I was in good company. I mean, hey, if it can happen to some of the best (or even most popular, whether or not you agree they're the best), then it should be okay that it happened to me, too. Instead I feel scared by it. I'm scared of what we're turning into when it becomes okay to belittle people online. I know that there are people that get off on hurting others. I know there are trolls and bullies. I know some people try to feel better about themselves by showing off and criticizing other people for doing something they themselves cannot do. I see it all the time on Facebook. I'm a member of some movie groups for some reason, and I see people panning movies left, right and centre, when I sit there and think, "I'd like to see you do better!" If they can't do it themselves, then at least they can cut down someone who has already done it, in other words.

That's the real test, though, isn't it? A friend of mine reminded me of that saying, "Those who can, do, and those who can't, teach," and said he didn't think that was a fair thing to say. I agree completely. You can't teach something if you don't know how to do it. He said those who couldn't would just criticise those who do, and again I agree. But I'm still very worried about society. There's a damn good reason I don't leave the house much. When people think it's okay to issue threats over books or articles, there's a serious breakdown in our humanity. People are shooting people over idiotic things. Young men think they have a right to kill a bunch of people because young girls won't send them naked pictures of themselves. The sense of entitlement on this planet is growing all out of proportion with what we actually deserve.

Part of me is saying that I should just toughen up and get on with my life, and the other part of me is saying that's entirely the wrong thing to do. Why should I toughen up? Why should I be any less sensitive than I am? The real question is, why should I change because of what other people are saying and doing? Yes, I will have to suffer if I don't toughen up, but I also won't lose the part of myself that refuses to become desensitized to aggression and violence - and that's what it boils down to. People are being rude and angry toward other people, for no good reason. They're taking out their own insecurities on others, and we have to stop tolerating it.

I don't believe in all the old-school manners and etiquette, but by the same token we should treat one another with respect. Even when another person has shown they don't really deserve it, we do not need to sink to that level. We become that other person if we do. I've made it a habit the last few months to simply stop arguing with people the moment they become rude. I refer to one-on-one encounters online. If a person calls me a name I tell them I'm done with the conversation for that reason, and then I actually leave the conversation. I don't care what they say after that, because the name-calling just invalidated their argument for me. A debate is fine. Even an argument can be fine. When you step across the line to abuse, I'm done with it. And I wish more people did the same. It might teach these rude people that it's not socially acceptable to do what they're doing.

Of course, far too many people thrive on drama, and often cause it. It's like those people who like to gossip. I can't understand why they have so much of an interest in someone else and how they live their life. It makes no sense to me. And yet they sit there and talk about another human being in the worst possible way. It might sound terrible to say, but I honestly don't have that much concern for what other people are doing, so long as they're not hurting anyone. I'm more than happy living in my own little world, while everyone else lives in theirs. I like my solitude. The only people I make an effort with, to find out what's going on in their lives, are the people I love. Other than that, I can't be bothered. I've got too many other things in my life to do, that I find far more interesting.

Today I finally wrote an article for a friend of mine who asked me to contribute to his online magazine about a month ago. I wrote about dealing with criticism, because it was what I've had on my mind for some time, and his site is about happiness and mental health. I've worked through a lot of it, though I still get somewhat irritated when I stew about it too much. In my case I can't resolve the criticism with a confrontation, so I have to vent in other ways - like this blog post.

I don't want to be a whiner or a wimp, but I also don't want to lose touch with my honest feelings. I've distanced myself from people in many ways, in order to prevent loss of emotion on my part. It may sound counter-intuitive, but I find too much interaction with people I don't know can result in me shutting down my emotions just to get through it. I did it when I worked in the corporate world, and I worked too hard as a teenager to regain my emotions (after a childhood of abuse) to lose them now because of strangers.

So, instead of toughening up I've examined the criticisms, learned what I could from them, determined what parts might be accurate, and then tried to get a handle on why people would feel the need to behave in such a fashion. Allowing myself to understand their motivation has been a big help. Any disparaging remarks will hurt, but knowing why they were made makes them easier to deal with. And of course, just because someone has an opinion, doesn't mean they're right.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Things I've Learned About Indie Publishing and Promo So Far

It occurred to me, while I was actually responsibly working on my next novel (and adding to my NaNoWriMo word count), that maybe people were looking for an update on how things were going with my first novel, and possibly looking for some tips to help them. While I have learned a great deal, it's been less than a week since the release so nothing is a hard-and-fast truth when it comes to anything that's happened since then. I only really know what has happened so far for me, and what I learned about the technical aspects of publishing through Createspace and Kindle Desktop Published (or KDP as it's usually referred to).

I was admittedly paranoid and anal about the technical aspects of submitting files to Createspace, because so many people seemed to be confused about it. Then there were all those fear-inducing articles written on a competing company's site, talking about how terrible it was to publish through them. They are, of course, biased, because they offer the same services, and it was their smear campaign that turned me off using their services. I'm Canadian, and don't hold much with those sorts of business practices. Doesn't seem very professional, and that's my same moral basis for not naming the company that does it. If you ever look into self-publishing you'll find it, I'm sure.

There were no complications with submitting my files, however, so I don't have a clue why people had a hard time with it, but I am a former accountant and administrator so I tend to be detail-oriented. Not everyone is geared that way. And believe me, getting lost in details is not always a positive thing, so if you're not like that you can feel grateful for it. When I ordered proofs (I got five of them...just because), the books were put together fine. No two books will ever be identical, particularly in self-publishing, because this isn't precision German engineering we're talking about. It's a book. Even the best traditional publishers have variations in individual books. Some so bad that they have to be returned. Happily that was not my experience with Createspace.

The Kindle segment was much easier. I chose to start with Createspace, because then it can be put through to Kindle after the main part is done, and I wanted to be absolutely certain that people would see both options on the same page when they saw the listing on Amazon. When it comes to royalties there isn't much difference in my case. I only get eighty cents more for the paperback than I do for the Kindle, and so far only one paperback was ordered. Granted, I've got a bunch of people asking for signed copies, which means plenty of orders to come. I just haven't tallied them.

The big surprise for me was the lending library. I checked off the box to participate in that with a sort of shrug. I didn't think it would be a big part of my royalties, but I'm really, really glad I did it now. The last time I checked, authors were getting paid approximately $0.0058 per page. When you're having thousands of pages read per day, it can really add up. In fact, I will probably make more money from that than I will from purchases, and people who subscribe to the service get to read the book for no extra cost above their monthly fee. More readers means a better chance someone will leave a review, and from what I'm seeing it actually impacts my book's ranking on Amazon. I almost cracked the top 100 (in a specific genre, not the main list) yesterday and today, which was pretty exciting for me. Once you manage to do that, apparently Amazon starts promoting your book for you, so I'm doing what I can to make that happen.

Being pretty much broke, I haven't spent a lot of money on promo, though I have found some really great bargains there, including sites that include and promote your book for free because they want to get books out to their readers. One such site is AUTHORSdb, and another is iauthor. I mean, when you're broke you sometimes have to spend more time on promotion than you would like, if you want to get your book out there, but it's worth it if you ever want to not be broke. Struggling for art is fine, but who actually wants to if they don't have to? I've got a promo through SweetFreeBooks coming out on November 29th (it'll be free for a day!!) and they only charge $5 right now. Your book either has to be 99 cents or free, but free promos can really get your ranking up if people know about them. Sure there's no return on investment on the day the promo runs, but the ROI after-the-fact can be huge according to every other author I've spoken to or read.

Other free promo ideas include eReaderIQ, Content Mo, Hot Zippy, BeeZeeBooks, Choosy Bookworm, PeopleReads, ReadFree.ly, and Booktastik. A lot of those are for when you're promoting a giveaway or contest, but well worth it if you're trying to boost your numbers with a free Kindle deal.

Another suggestion, which I was reminded of by my business partner and host of the show I produce, is to do radio shows and podcasts. Now, I'm lucky because I've already been able to do one of those without even asking, because Steve Kovacs chose to have me come on and talk about my novels, along with the very real possibilities behind it that were the inspiration for writing it. We don't normally have fiction authors on the show, though we've had some, so I didn't want to change the format just to be able to plug my book. He was nice enough to suggest an hour-long show, but I said it wouldn't work. Hey, I'm Canadian. I can't help it.

If you decide you're up for interviews, a good option is to use Radio Guest List to find potential shows. You can sign up for their free e-mail that's meant for guests, or you can choose to go directly to their listings where you'll get a lot more possibilities than what they send out to you. I know most writers are probably introverts, and it may not be easy to do interviews, but the majority of the ones you'll find that pertain to authors will be podcasts rather than vodcasts - audio-only, as opposed to video. You also don't have to leave your house. Technology is a wonderful thing. Just watch for any shows that request a donation, though they're few and far between.

At the very least you should be prepared to offer them an electronic review copy, along with a media kit. Don't worry. I haven't put together an actual media kit yet myself. It's something I'm going to have to do soon, because I'm trying to get proper book reviewers to take a look at it, which means professionalism will be required on my part. Especially as an indie author. I luckily have my own company, and I used it as my publisher, which might make them more likely to take a look at it.

Just as you would with your book, try to make sure you have a well-edited review request. When I was editing my book I used a program called Natural Reader (there's a free version, though it has some downsides) to read my chapters out loud to me, and you can do the same with any of your official correspondence. (I have the free version, and the third voice on the list of available ones was even better than the paid voices I found, so I'm happy to use the free version of the software for now.) Even when we read our writing out loud to ourselves, we often read out what we think is there, rather than what actually is there. One of many compelling reasons to have your book professionally edited if you can afford to do so.

I had to put my money into promo, so aside from my daughter reading the book, as well as a friend of mine, I used Natural Reader. Windows has something built-in that does the same thing, but I got irritated trying to set it up because the voice kept telling me every button I was hovering over, when that wasn't what I needed at all. It's meant for blind people, not authors, so I can't say I blame them. It's just not its true function.

In case you're wondering, I'm not getting paid for any of these links. This is all stuff I found on my own and I'm actually using. None of these sites have any idea I'm linking to them. In fact, I don't get paid for this blog in any way, shape, or form. It's just too random. The only thing I have on here are linked images to animal shelters I personally donate to, and hope someone else will choose to as well.

As for paid promo, aside from SweetFreeBooks, I've used a few different ones without really thinking it through and being critical - probably because I wasn't spending much money with each of them. Since then I've found a site that offers some advice on that sort of thing, called eNovels Authors at Work. The link I've provided is the first in a series of articles on promoters they've found that are good and bad. I haven't even read all of the series yet, since there are at least five parts to it. I've already found a lot of good information, so if you go through their blog I'm sure you will, too.

Something weird that I noticed about pricing for a lot of book promotion services is that they charge more when your book is free. Not all of them, but most. For instance, BookBub charges less when the Kindle is free, but sites like FreeBooksy charge more. I used their BargainBooksy list, which was only $35 to promote a $2.99 book, but the other list can cost anywhere from $40 to $200, depending on the genre (since some genres have more people subscribed to them, which means the books go out to more people). I understand the reasons, of course, because there are a lot more subscribers for the free lists, which means way more exposure for an author, but it's confusing when BookBub does the opposite. Of course, they have everything all on one list. They're also a lot harder to get on, for good reason. They have a huge list of subscribers.

I've done massive amounts of research on all this promotion stuff. Many, many hours of it that I would rather have spent writing. When you're a novelist, however, there's little choice. Unless you're Stephen King or something, even traditional publishers don't provide much in the way of promotion for their authors, which was my reason for heading straight to the indie route. I get much higher royalties, with no difference in work, except for the formatting and cover stuff - it's a very good thing my daughter is skilled with Photoshop, because I suck at graphics. Even opening a proper graphics program gives me a splitting headache. Every single time. I can use MS Paint, and I can crop or resize photos, but that's pretty much it.

I really wish I could afford someone to do all this stuff for me, because I just don't wanna. Hopefully I've managed to save my fellow authors a bit of time with this bunch of information. It really is worth it, though. I got my first review yesterday, and it was amazing. It was five stars, with a great deal of praise in the comment section, and I don't know the person who left it (unless they used an alias). I also didn't pay for it, which you can find someone to do if you go on fiverr, but I'm hoping to get real reviews as opposed to paid, ergo biased, ones. It just didn't seem very honourable, though I was admittedly tempted. Now I'm really glad I held off, because I've got two (honest) 5-star reviews on there, and I'm pretty sure I don't know either of them. There's criticism within them, but they still liked the story, so that gives me something to work with for the next book. I'm quite thrilled to see that one complaint was that there wasn't enough detail on something, which means they would rather I had left in some stuff I took out because I thought it would be too boring.

[WARNING! *Shameless Book Plug Ahead!*] If anyone reading this is interested, Tipping Point is available on Amazon here at this link. If you're from a different country, it will tell you where to go (and it's polite about it). It's the first of a pre-through-post-apocalyptic trilogy that's based on a very real possibility. I was actually warned by a former Ontario Hydro executive that the power outages were going to get much, much worse, and that warning turned into a novel. Hopefully we can figure out a way to avoid it in the near future, but we'll have to wait and see.

The first book takes you up to the apocalypse. The second will take you through it. The third will show you a possible new beginning for humanity. The man who reviewed Tipping Point said it was terrifying, but there's action, romance, suspense, adventure, and science fiction. You can read it for free if you're a subscriber and have access to Amazon's lending library, or the Kindle's regular price is $2.99. If you read it and enjoy it (or even if you have a criticism of it), please leave a review - they're vital for indie authors. I honestly want to know what people think. It will help me improve as a writer.

Since the second book isn't going to write itself, and I have to catch up on my word count for National Novel Writing Month, I'm going to get back to it. Here's hoping my writer friends will attain the success that will allow them to do what they love for a living, rather than working to be able to afford to write. It's what we all dream of, isn't it?

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

I'm Either Livin' the Dream, or Dreaming My Life

Since the middle of September my life has been nothing but a fantasy. Now, I don't mean a fantasy where it's been a series of perfect events. Not at all. Though it's certainly been perfect in its own way. Of course, no one else can really see it happening, because it's mostly been inside my own head. That's one of the many joys and frustrations of being a writer. You can be as happy as a clam (decide for yourself if a clam is really happy), yet no one has a clue that you are.

Starting around September 15th I began writing a book. I finished it (technically) around October 12th. Now I've spent the last few weeks editing and revising that book. I dream about the characters, and my first thought when I wake up is about those 'people' and what they're 'doing.' I don't remember ever getting involved with my writing like this before, even when I was much younger and was getting those mad spurts of creativity that made me look like a female version of Dr. Emmett Brown. Oddly, my biological father looks a bit like Christopher Lloyd, but thankfully I don't look like my father - not that I'm really happy about looking like my mother either.

I actually wake up, roll over, and start working every single day. It's become my waking habit if you will. I live within my book, because it's the only life I have at the moment. Not that I consider that a bad thing, because I truly love fiction and its ability to zip us around through alternative realities. The places we can go, the people we'll meet, and the things we'll do in those books can never be duplicated in everyday life.

This year I decided I would join National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as it's called. After writing 126,000+ words in less than a month, I realized that writing 50,000 words was rather like a walk in the park for me. (In case you're unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, the goal is to write 50,000 words in a 30-day period.) I'm three days into it, while still putting the final touches on the other book, so I'm just hitting the daily word count for that book, but since I'm also working on the other one still I'm not too worried about it.

The joy of writing this new book for the contest, is that it's the second book in a trilogy. Both books are connected, and everything is staying super-fresh in my mind. This is a very good thing, because I have a lot of characters to keep track of, and various events on the timelines, so I don't want to lose the details. The world has basically come to an end, a lot of people have died, and the survivors are limping along. I honestly never thought I'd write science fiction, as apocalyptic fiction is labelled, but my personal interest in off-grid living became a trigger.

The research, before, during, and after writing the book, has actually been a joy. It's all stuff I'm interested in for my own life, and I feel I need to know anyway, so the two-bird-with-one-stone thing makes it seem like half the work to begin with. Plus I have a genuine interest and get enjoyment from learning about pretty much anything. My head has been stuck in a book (if you can call online research a book) even when it wasn't stuck in my book.

You might be wondering why I would have to research after writing the book, but that's to do with revision and editing. I occasionally get to a part where my critical thinking skills finally kick in and ask, "Yes, but is that really how things work, or were you just pretending to be a know-it-all?" I've been schooled a few times since the 'completion' in mid-October. In fact, a friend of mine has introduced me to some knowledge on survival knives recently, that may find its way into the book even now when I'm about to format it for CreateSpace. I'm not sure if it's particularly relevant, but I'm keeping an open mind.

At this very moment I'm actually supposed to be rewriting the first two pages of the book, along with the epilogue. Both are rather ham-fisted at the moment, and not what I intended, but sometimes writing is like that. You just get the general concept down, and fiddle with it later. Not everyone wants to write like that. Often people who call themselves writers will refuse to write unless the blinding light of inspiration strikes. Most often those writers never finish a project. Believe me, I know. I was one of those.

I'll be fair to myself here and say that a good portion of the reason I wasn't doing my 'real' writing (also known as novel-length fiction), was pain. It can be very difficult to get out of your own world and into a fictitious one, when your body is screaming at you. I had to figure out a way to write so that I was as physically comfortable as possible, which isn't easy if you're trying to avoid mind-numbing narcotics. I don't want to be one of those writers that can only write if they're drunk or high. It's one point on which I'm in complete agreement with Stephen King. Substance abuse is substance abuse, whether or not you're using it to write. I feel the same about music, actually. I've never like listening to drug-infused garbage. I figure if they can't play it straight, then they really can't play it. Anything else is like being an athlete on steroids or blood-doping (ahem, Lance Armstrong).

Thankfully I've given myself a major deadline on my first book. I've told a whole bunch of people that it's coming out on Friday the 13th (yes, this very next one, here in November). It's most likely that will be Kindle only, because the paperback may take a couple of weeks longer to be finalized. Still, a promise is a promise, and that means there will be no more fiddling and procrastinating after I submit the formatted work.

I love Friday the 13th. It's my lucky day, and it has been my whole life. Back when I was a figure skater (the main cause of the pain I deal with these days), I always did exceptionally well during tests and competitions if they happened to fall on that day. Good things were attracted to me on Friday the 13th. A friend of mine (who actually knows and loves me) tells me it's because I'm the devil, and so I chuckle wickedly in response. Maybe I am, maybe I'm not. It could all be an intricate plot. In my life pretty much everything is.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

It's Never Been a Better Time to Be a Writer - Kindle Part Two

It has taken me a while to get back to writing the second part of this, because I've already been taking my own advice. It really is a great time to be a writer, and I wanted to capitalize on the changes I'll be telling you about here in this post. In fact, I wrote a whole book between September 15th and October 15th. Actually, I finished around the 12th of October if I remember correctly, and since then I've been editing and revising as madly as I wrote it. Yes. That was me. I did that! 120,000 words worth at the time, though it's since crept up to 125,000 with the addition of some new scenes I felt were necessary. (I'll be announcing a release date soon, and sharing the cover design around that time.)

In this day and age anyone can be a published author. I really do mean anyone. Even me. You don't have to go through stacks of envelopes, a zillion e-mails, or receive a hundred rejection letters. No, you can let your readers decide whether or not they like your books, not some executive sitting in the ivory tower of traditional publishing. Let's face it. Readers know what they want far better than some stranger.

Traditional publishers try to convince authors that they can't go it alone. Well, here's where my true-false meter flashes a big, red light. They're lying to you on three counts. One, it's entirely possible to go it alone. Two, you really don't have to be alone out there. Three, the majority of writers who go through a traditional publisher often end up going it alone anyway. There is very little support for a writer when it comes to promotion. You have to hire your own people for that.

The best you can expect from your traditional publisher is to be included in the information they send out to book stores. You don't usually get any bookmarks to hand out, they don't book radio and television appearances, and they don't take out ads promoting your book. You have to do all that yourself. And for all that nothingness that you get from them, what's the bottom line? About ten or fifteen cents per book sold.

In other words, to receive about $40,000 per year you would have to sell up to 400,000 copies of your book. That year and every year thereafter. Pretty tough to make a living as a writer under those circumstances. Sure, the idea is that you're going to write more books, and then the effect would be cumulative, but why would you want to give all that money to a traditional publisher anyway? What have they done for you lately?

So, here's the deal. Self-publishing used to be a great way for printing companies to gouge desperate authors. The industry has cleaned up a great deal, however, and now it's at the point where publishing a book can be completely free, or so ridiculously cheap that it might as well be. It all depends on what you need the self-publishing company to do. If you publish through Kindle, the formatting costs absolutely nothing. Same with CreateSpace, which is the print-on-demand side of Amazon, as opposed to the e-book only side. CreateSpace will try to up-sell you on stuff, but if you have any competence with a computer this should be a non-issue. Or you can go to websites like Fiverr and pay someone $5 to do the work for you.

The same holds true for cover design. If you're no good at graphics, and you don't know anyone who is (and who would be willing to do it for free), there are a lot of cover designers on Fiverr, as well as a number of very reasonably-priced graphic artists out there who specialize in cover design. Believe me, you want someone good. I did a mock-up of the cover I want done, but it totally sucks as it is. That's why I'm having my daughter deal with the heavy-lifting there. Your cover is what will sell your book, far more so than the blurb that accompanies it. As a reader, I know very well that I tend to skim the back-cover paragraph. If I see certain keywords I'm happy, but the cover has to get me to pick up the book in the first place. If my daughter can't come up with something really grabby, then I'm going to talk to some of the wonderful folks on Fiverr.

My book's cover art is a bit of a challenge, however. It's hard to define it in an image. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but can you encapsulate 125,000 words in a single image? Well, I guess we'll see what we can come up with there.

As for the rest of it, the resources that are out there if you do a simple Google search are amazing. Truly amazing. So many blogs and articles about how to take on different aspects of writing and self-publishing. Everything from the nuts and bolts of forcing yourself to sit down and write, to the hundreds of ways you can market the finished product (including how to time your promotions for the best results). There are some really great ways to promote your books that are completely free. Things like joining pages and groups on Facebook that include people with an interest in the topics your book centres around. For example, my book deals with preparedness and survival, along with an oncoming end-of-the-world scenario. So, any page that talks about those things has the potential to help me market my book (I should say 'books,' since this is the beginning of a trilogy).

A great way to market your book is through those e-mail lists I mentioned in my last post for Kindle readers. BookBub and Sweet Free Books are two of them. There's also FreeBooksy, which I just discovered recently. You can hire people from Fiverr to promote your books for $5, through banner ads, radio shows, or podcasts. I mean, seriously, what's $5 when it comes to advertising and promotions. BookBub, Sweet Free Books and FreeBooksy cost way more than $5, usually, unless they're running a special. Currently Sweet Free Books is actually $5, but that could change at any time, so always look at their pricing. Last time I looked, I think it was 99-cents. Some e-mail sites require your books to have a certain number of reviews on Amazon, or a rating of a certain amount. BookBub can go out to as many as a million (or more) people, however, and their rates of return are really quite good. Well worth the hundreds of dollars they charge (and the amount depends on the genre and listing type - whether you're offering your book free or for discounted rates).

Amazon has a built-in tool for marketing that I'd suggest you use if you publish through Kindle. It's Kindle Select (check out this article for tips to leverage it). It means agreeing to a 90-day exclusivity contract, so you cannot publish through any other e-publisher, no matter what format it is, and you can't give your e-books away to anyone unless it's through the 5 free days they give you as an optional promotional tool. This does not apply to any print versions of your books. The reason I suggest you use it is two-fold. First, because your book automatically gets marketed through Amazon - are you really going to get any better advertising than that? Second, your book goes into their Kindle lending library, from which you make a percentage of the royalties. People can read your book for free by subscribing to the service, but you still get paid. If you're looking for exposure, this is one great way to get it.

Seriously, when it comes to marketing, the options are myriad to the point of being limitless. I'm the kind of person who despises selling. Marketing is just not something I want to spend any time on at all. I'm going to have to, of course, but I'll be very picky about what I'm doing. Mostly that means paying someone else to do it, but I'm also a cheapskate, so that means I'll be paying as little as possible at the very beginning. I'll funnel book profits back into marketing on a sliding scale. If I can afford it, I'll do it, because the only way to sell your books is to let people know you've written them. Bestseller Labs has some really great advice on its site that you should check out, too.

So, what's the bottom line on profit? Okay, most writers write because they have a compulsion to do so. They really do it for love, if they're any kind of writer. (I've been doing it since I was twelve. Not that I was any good at that age, but I was still writing. I'm 44 now, so I've had writing in my head for 32 years. I wasn't writing the whole time in a physical sense, but my head was always telling stories to me.) However, people still need to eat, so we all have to make money at doing things if we don't want to starve. Kindle offers you up to 70% royalties, and CreateSpace offers up to 60%. I'm focusing on those for two reasons. One, their royalties really are the highest I've found. Two, this article has Kindle in the title. I will be using them both, because I want print version of my books. Call me old-fashioned if you like, but it's also a vanity thing. I want them in my house. I want to be able to give them out. When I read I tend to read e-books these days, but it's pretty damn hard to sign and hand out e-books.

What do those royalties come down to? Well, let's do the math. If you have a trade paperback selling for ten bucks (which is extremely cheap these days) through a traditional publisher, and you only get ten or fifteen cents per copy sold, you have to sell up to $4 million in books every year to your readers to get $40,000 per year. If you're getting seventy cents on the dollar, however, in order to get that much in annual income you only have to sell a little over $57,142 worth of books per year. You can easily charge $2.99 a book and still make out like a bandit, only having to sell about 19,048 copies each year. In other words, your readers have to shell out seventy times more money, just so you can earn a semi-decent income, if you choose to publish the old way.

If you're writing a series, the options are amazing when it comes to promotion and sales. You absolutely must take advantage of this stuff if you're writing a trilogy, or a giant series. For one thing, every single book in that series will work to promote all the other books. Your sales will increase exponentially, if people like what they're reading.

This blog is a good example of that, if you think about it. When I first started writing it my readers were pretty thin on the ground. As time went on, even though I don't have a serious theme going here, I got a lot more readers. That's because they've clicked on something they found on Google, and ended up getting sucked into the black hole of my brain. I've been writing a lot fewer posts, and getting a lot more activity on each post, yet without much in the way of promoting them. Half of what I write on here is just to chat with the people who have become loyal readers. Okay, maybe more than half - I'm not really sure, since I just write what I feel like writing. When I do have a post that has some seriousness to it, I'll usually promote it a little bit through HootSuite, which shoots it out to all my social media platforms.

At the end of a Kindle book (at least it works this way for the Android app), Amazon automatically asks for a rating of the book. If the book is part of a series, Amazon knows this (assuming the author entered that information correctly when they published their books), and it will direct the reader to other books in the series, as well as other books written by the same author. I've bought a lot of my books this way. I start out with a free book, but then the rest of the series I willingly pay for if I'm hooked. It's perfect for readers and authors. Readers find new authors they love, and writers can promote a series of books.

Offering books for free can be a very good idea for other reasons, too. You see, Amazon has a ranking system for all books, and your rank is based on how well your book is doing within its genre. Picking your category is extremely important (see this article for an explanation on categories and what they can mean for authors), because the fewer books there are in a genre, to more likely you are to rank high. The higher you rank, the more likely Amazon will help to promote you. Your book may end up going out to millions of potential buyers, without you having to do the heavy-lifting. I know, if your book is always free then it's not possible to make money from it. However, the idea is to space out your free promo days (Kindle Select will give you five of them that you can schedule based on your own needs, if that's the promo type you choose), so that you spike your readership enough to increase your ranking. And if you've already got another book published that's part of the same series, then you're getting massive promo for it.

Honestly, I cannot begin to cover everything I've learned about self-publishing in a single blog post. People dedicate entire blogs to just the marketing end of it. All I can do is tell you that I'm convinced it's the best option for me when it comes to publishing my own novels. A traditional publisher would have a long way to go to convince me that it was worth signing a contract with them. What they do offer is massive editing and proofreading, plus professional cover design. All of those are available through freelancers, however, and just for the record, the top five things of importance when it comes selling a book are these: Good writing, a good story, a top-notch cover, pristine editing, and marketing. If you want your book to succeed it really should have all five of those elements. Not every successful book does, but if you want to guarantee you sell oodles of books, you should do everything you can to have every one of them in place. And you don't need a traditional publisher to do that.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

It's Never Been a Better Time to Be a Reader - Kindle Part One

First let me start out by saying that I'm an absolutely voracious reader. I consume books at a very rapid rate, and I'm addicted to them. If I don't have at least one more book lined up for when I finish the one I'm currently reading, I feel very anxious. I need my fix. So, believe me when I tell you that if there are more free books out there than even I can keep up with (and they're in my favourite genres), I'm not blowing smoke. In fact, my phone is now completely overloaded with books waiting to be read. The vast majority of those books were completely free, and I downloaded them legally from Amazon.

So let me tell you how it works. No, it's not a gimmick of any kind where you have to jump through any hoops other than technological ones in the form of downloading the Kindle app and the books themselves. There are two websites out there that I will recommend that sends you daily e-mails about free or nearly-free books. They don't send you anything else. No spam at all. One is called Sweet Free Books, and the other is BookBub. The other thing you'll need is an Amazon account. Just do their free sign-up thing if you don't already have an account.

Both mailing lists ask you for your genre preferences, and that's what they send you for recommendations, which include the Amazon link for getting the books you choose at that price. Now sometimes these deals go fast, but usually I can try the next day and they're still there - some last much longer.

This works whether you have a physical Kindle or not. If you have a smartphone or a computer, you can read Kindle books. They have a downloadable app for iOS, Android and BlackBerry. They even have it for Windows phones. They also have the app for your Windows PC, and possibly others. Just go to this link for the various apps. They can send it direct to your phone or e-mail you a link.

Personally, I didn't like reading on my laptop. Reading on my phone, however, is a totally different story. You can change the font size, type and colour, it's convenient, and you can carry dozens of books around with it - potentially thousands, depending on your phone's memory capacity. You can also move the Kindle app to your replaceable memory card, so you have a lot of storage capability for books. It is so much more convenient (and lighter) than carting your current books around, and then your next one just in case you finish the one you're already reading.

The other thing people need to know about, is that you can look at books by genre and sort by price on Amazon, and you're going to find hundreds of free books available to you at any given moment. This is where I've managed to increase my collection so quickly. One or two books a day is great, and probably more than I'm going to be able to read, but I'm a total hoarder when it comes to reading material.

One more area to scavenge for free reading material are places that store out-of-copyright, or public domain books. After a certain number of years books lose their copyright status. It's usually somewhere between fifty and a hundred years after the death of the author, depending on which country you live in (and I believe it's the reader's country of origin, not the author's, but I could be wrong). So, if you've been looking to catch up on the classics, those are great places to start. Project Gutenberg has a huge collection. Google Books is doing some sort of online indexing now, too, but I haven't ventured into that except when researching specific topics and I haven't downloaded anything. Keep in mind that the major databases have books in multiple formats, so if you have a Kindle app you're looking for the mobi format. Sony has a reader, as does Nook, and Kobo, etc., so make sure you pick the right file format.

However, if you're looking for a book on one of those sites and it's not available in mobi, you can download what they do have and convert it very easily using Online-Convert.com. I use this site for so many different things, and I have for years. The conversion works perfectly as far as I can tell. The link I've provided is for converting everything from Word documents to PDFs to LIT into mobi files. They also have audio and video converters on there, so it's a really helpful website for pretty much anyone. I used to use the Microsoft reader, so I've got tons of books I've had to convert from LIT to mobi.

Let me reassure you once again that everything I've told you here is legal. These are books that are either out of copyright, or the authors have chosen to give the Kindle versions of their books away. Now this is the only part of the whole thing that you might be able to call a ploy. The reason authors give away their books is because they're hoping you'll love their work and want to buy the rest of them. Now for those of us who love books, paying for a book isn't a hardship if we can afford it. We want to support the authors, because we want them to keep writing, and a good book is well worth its price. This works especially well when an author has written a series, and at the end of the first book, which they've given away free, there's a link not only to rate the book, but also to purchase the next book(s) in the series.

I'm perfectly okay with that. In fact, it makes things really convenient for me if I love what I'm reading. In most cases the subsequent books are also very reasonably priced. Indie authors are doing this all the time, and they can afford to when they publish with Kindle. Amazon gives authors great royalty percentages on their books, unlike traditional publishers where authors will often make only a dime or so per book sold. Kindle authors can sell a book for under a dollar, and still make five times as much on it as they would have with a traditional publisher. They're cutting out the biggest middle man. Amazon would be there anyway at the end of the retail chain, but suddenly the reader is no longer paying the bloated salaries of publishers that don't really do much to help their authors anyway.

"Yeah, but are the books any good?" I can hear that question a thousand miles away. There is an absolute plethora of amazing authors out there, publishing independently. I have friends who have written great books, like the Time Change series written by +Alex Myers. They're great books, fast-paced, fascinating, and with a ton of research put into them. No, I'm not saying those are free. I got copies of them so I could review the first one, and he was kind enough to send me a couple more of his books because I was so thrilled with the first one I read. I'll be re-reading the first two Time Change books shortly, because I plan to buy the third one.

That's the magic of being a reader (or a writer, which I'll get into in the second part of this blog when I write it), in this 'day and age' as they say. There's a connection between reader and author unlike anything that's come before. Indie authors are approachable usually. Often they're looking for feedback on their work. I read a book recently that was a really great story, but badly needed editing, so I e-mailed the author. I explained that I'd given him four stars on Amazon, and my reasons for not giving him five. Seriously, though, if you do that please be kind. Authors can be very sensitive. A story or book can be like one of our offspring, and we want everyone else to love it, too. Make any criticism constructive. I try to be very careful about what I say, and how I say it, because if I like someone's work enough to want to go to the effort of critiquing it like that, I really want them to continue writing.

Thankfully the author I wrote to seemed to agree with what I'd said, and told me that I had given him new encouragement to finish the sequel. As I said, magic. He knows that there's a fan out there who likes his brainchild enough to help it grow up a little bit. And he'll be letting me know as soon as it's available so I can read it right away.

Of course, it's not just unknown or indie authors that are giving deals. I get quite a few that are New York Times Bestselling authors. Alice Hoffman, who wrote Practical Magic (yes, the one that became the movie with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman), recently released a book that ended up on my e-mail list of deals. It's a great marketing tool. A few people get the book and start raving about it, and soon others are buying it at full price, or at least buying other books by the same author.

I've been reading a lot of dystopian, apocalyptic fiction lately. A fair bit of zombie stuff, along with a few aliens, and a disease or two wiping out most of the population. It's a pretty specific interest area, but as I said there's an absolute plethora of free books on Amazon. Barnes & Noble does the same thing, but at a smaller volume, so I haven't bothered with a membership with them. I don't need it.

One series I read recently (that started with a free book), was just wonderful. I don't know the author personally, though I might e-mail her just to beg her to write another book. Her name is Sarah Lyons Fleming, and the first book in the series is, "Until the End of the World." There are three novels in the series, and one novella. At first glance the title made me think it was going to be a romance. Sure, there are relationships in it, but the main theme in the books revolves around a zombie apocalypse caused by a virus developed by the army. The main character's parents were what are called 'preppers' who were of the homesteading type. They had backpacks ready to go at all times, a cabin with solar capabilities, canned food to last for years, you name it. Since I'm already personally interested in the topic, the stories were great from that perspective alone. On top of that, I fell in love with the characters. Important people die, and you actually care that they're gone.

As you can imagine, I posted a great review for all of the books, other than the novella which I just haven't gotten around to posting yet, except for giving it the five stars through my phone app.

The abundance of book is like a utopia for me, as I (ironically perhaps) read about dystopias. Those e-mails from BookBub and Sweet Free Books are ones that I eagerly anticipate each day, wondering what new literary treasure awaits me. Don't get me wrong. I have hundreds of actual books on my shelves. I prefer hardcover when it comes to reference material I keep for my research, or even oversize softcover. I need to be able to glance over at the page continuously sometimes, and my phone shutting off automatically would get annoying for that. However, it's just easier to relax with my phone for recreational reading, and outright reading of non-fiction.

If you're a reader (and I assume you are if you're even bothering to read this particular post), you'll be ecstatic if you delve into these waters. They're filled with wonderful stories, and every story that you read makes you a better person. Fiction teaches understanding and empathy in people, so if your kids have smartphones encourage them to read on them instead of spending hours on social media. There's nothing more important to the development of human beings than reading, and the freedom to read as we like. From the time I got so angry reading Fahrenheit 451 that I threw the book across the room when they started burning books in the story, I've fervently believed that reading was vital. I was a young kid doing a book report - fifth grade I believe, because I remember who my teacher was - yet, books were so important to me even then.

I never finished reading Bradbury's book, though I will someday, but my teacher didn't punish me or give me a bad grade. In fact, I wrote the report based on what I'd read so far, if I remember correctly, and then explained what happened to my teacher. She was actually rather impressed by my ferocious love of books, and I got a really good mark.

Escapism is necessary to a healthy psyche. It helps us cope when things are difficult, allowing us a release valve. Some forms of escapism are harmful, though, whereas reading is not. The more we read, the more we open our minds and hearts. The more people in this world who do that, the more likely humanity is to move forward, rather than petering out.

Now, turn on that device and get downloading! Happy reading everyone!!

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

My Latest Snuggle Buddy



I'm madly in love, I tell you. After months of aridity - more months than I care to count - I'm finally getting it again. Coffee that is. I finally got a new coffee maker, and the coffee to go in it, and I'm thrilled to death to be able to report that I had my first cup today. Wow, yum. That's all I can say. It's the perfect little doodad for me, too. Just look at the picture and you'll see what I mean. It does a cup at a time, which is all I can drink usually anyway. It came with a mug, scoop, and permanent filter. It's absolutely sublime. I'm sure the infatuation will fade eventually, but for now I will revel in newfound love.
My New Snuggle Buddy







Additionally I've had some other wonderful things happen lately, and maybe a not-so-wonderful wake-up call, or two. For starters, I'm working on this great project. It's a video about rape prevention, protection and recovery. As usual I'm working with my friend and business partner, +Steve Kovacs, who is really pushing this project. It says wonderful things about him that he feels this is so important. It's a multi-prong approach to dealing with rape. Not just for women, either. It's for parents who want to teach their boys not to rape, and their girls not to engage in victim-blaming. It's for anyone who wants to physically prevent being raped using techniques from a real expert (that would be Steve, since he's a 9th Dan Black Belt in Minna Jiu-Jitsu, and the soke of that style), and it's for anyone who wants to recover from rape.

So, in the spirit of having to be on film for certain segments of this project, I knuckled under and decided it was time to do the wild and crazy things I've been putting off. Such as dyeing my hair a crazy colour, growing my nails, wearing make-up, etc. I actually had to go out and buy make-up, because mine is long past any expiration date. The one thing I should have bought, and didn't, was mascara. That's the one you have to watch for when it comes to bacteria getting into your eyes. I think I've got a fairly recent one, however, so I'll take a chance. After all, the colour I get never really changes.

I wanted to get a haircut, too, but chose a six-pack of beer after a hard day's shopping, rather than walk several blocks to the hair place. I was already worn out, and hey, The Beer Store was right there (yes, it's actually called The Beer Store here in Ontario, Canada). I hadn't had beer in so long. Sadly, six beers were only enough to get me mildly tipsy, despite the fact that I rarely drink. I have a very high tolerance for alcohol for some reason. Probably the Irish and Scottish in me.

I chose Manic Panic's Hot Hot Pink for my new crazy colour. I'm not stripping it first, so it will come out sort of a raspberry colour I think, which really isn't extreme, but I'll get there eventually. I'm personally angling for bright purple, blue or green at some point, but I'll surf through all the colours at some point.

I was a little confounded and depressed by the whole make-up thing. I mean, even the regular, drug-store type stuff like Revlon is getting expensive. $17 for an ounce of a substance that's actually supposed to look invisible - also known as foundation. $70 later, and sans mascara or blush, we left the cosmetics department. Ugh. Still, it'll be fun to play dress-up.

I've finally managed to set up my shot appointment again, too, for those ultrasound-guided injections into my hips. Took weeks of calling, but I finally got bumped way ahead on the list. I already had an appointment for July 3rd, but they cancelled, so by rights they had to put me in ahead of the pack. Yesterday I saw my doctor for a physical for the first time in about 4 or 5 years, and went through the whole deal. I also got my tetanus shot, and all the bloodwork, plus a liver function test and a check on my B12 levels. I'll probably have to go back in once more to get my vial of B12, along with some needles, but if I have to go in there for the shots I'll never stay with them consistently. Other than that, assuming my results are relatively normal from the tests, I won't have to go back to my family doctor for years again, and I'm fully up-to-date on everything. Yeah, baby!

I've been put on Tylenol 3s, since I was taking far too many Tylenol 1s. This will save my liver a lot of aggravation, and hopefully I'll notice fewer issues with my blood sugar. She's also sending me for an x-ray and ultrasound on that knee I hurt in March. This was the first time a doctor has looked at it. I know, I'm terrible, but not being able to get down the stairs at the old place meant not getting to the ER when it would have made a difference. And then I procrastinated even though I knew something was still wrong with it.

There were two things from Friday and yesterday that I wasn't exactly thrilled with, but I maintain my positive attitude anyway. The first is that it looks like our 15-year-old cat has cancer, but she's still healthy and probably has a lot of life left. She goes back in a couple of weeks for a check-up and possible testing. I don't think surgery will be viable, since they would have to remove her mammary area pretty much completely, along with spaying her to get rid of the hormones. The vet said the tumours tend to come back pretty aggressively if they miss anything, though, and it's very hard to get it all. Plus she's not exactly a kitten anymore, so I'm not sure if we'll put her through surgery. We'll decide when the time comes. As I said, she's still acting completely normal, and the vet said she seems healthy and active, so we're not borrowing trouble.

The other item that wasn't great was my weight. I'm heavier than I've ever been in my life, and I can't fool myself into thinking it's muscle these days, so I need to get a lot more serious about that exercise plan I mentioned in my last post. If I average out what I've done since my birthday, I'd say I've been getting some pretty loose exercise a couple of times a week. It's not enough. I can still do sit-ups, touch my toes, and boogie to the music - I just don't look as good doing it. So, it's time to do more than a little yoga and a few sit-ups. I have to build up some muscle to start burning up my stored energy (also known as fat).

Still, things feel really good for me today. Knowing most of my issues are being taken care of, and that I've gone ahead with the plans I made for my life this year, makes me feel positive about pretty much everything. And now to celebrate, I think I'm going to snuggle up with that adorable little coffee maker again, and possibly wheedle another cup for myself. The first one went down just a little too smoothly.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Giving Myself a New Gift (or Three) Every Year

Change and movement are a part of life. Every year around my birthday I start to look at how things are at that moment, what I managed to accomplish in the last year, and what I'd like to accomplish by my next birthday. There's been a lot of changes this last year, moving being one of the best ones. We're in a place we really like now, and that makes a huge difference in how much I want people in my personal space. I'm no longer ashamed of where I live. I'm thrilled to be able to make plans about what furniture and other decor to buy, and where to put everything. I have an interest in having nice things again, where before I just looked around and shrugged, saying, "What the hell difference would it make? It'll still look like a $#!thole."

It was a psychological 'giving up' caused by depressing surroundings, and it really is amazing how much better I feel as a human being these days. I realize I haven't been writing, but I don't have a comfortable writing space set up with a chair and desk. At the moment I'm sitting on the edge of a mattress that's sitting on the floor. My laptop is propped up with a large stack of reference books. I'm hunched over in an amazingly uncomfortable position just so I can bang out a few words to my regular readers. Well, that and I'm sort of organizing my thoughts for the year to come.

That being said, I need to get back on topic. Last year I became even more politically involved, particularly in my own country. I actually became an official member of a political party. I donated $25 I think, and I have a 3-year membership with the Green Party. I could have gone with the NDP, actually, but there are things that are annoying me about them. Still, either party is better than the Progressive Conservatives (or PC party) or the Liberal party. Both of those are in the pockets of big oil and all that jazz, and they both voted for Keystone XL. The only ones to vote against it were NDP and an Independent. I'm really hoping we can get rid of Harper in the next federal election, because he's destroyed a lot of Canada - physically destroyed it, I mean.

The third gift I gave myself last year, though it wasn't really under my control so much, was finally getting in to see the right orthopedic surgeon. Nothing has been done as yet, except to book me for a group of doctors that will be giving me a whole bunch of ultrasound-guided injections of long-acting local anesthesia. That won't happen until after my birthday, so I can't count pain relief for last year, but I can count the progress toward healing.

This coming year I'm looking at my last year before I hit 45. That's kind of a milestone birthday, I think. So this next year I'm going to give myself some really important gifts for that birthday. The first is related to the last one I mentioned for last year. I'm going ahead with the treatment that will discover the extent of my injuries, and exactly where the worst of the pain is coming from. I want to be able to jump out of bed in the morning, rather than rolling cautiously, straightening each part of my body slowly so that I can finally stand up. The first couple of steps I take are pretty painful. I want that way of life gone this year. Maybe the doctors won't be able to schedule my repairs fast enough for my next birthday, because it sounds like there's a lot to be done. However, there's something else I can do to help that along.

This leads me to my next gift to myself, and that simply physical fitness. Knowing that the vast majority of my pain will be treated, despite it being only a mask of the real problems, I'm confident I can start to move around a lot more. I'll have to start out cautiously, because I've basically been in a chair or a bed for the last few years. It's hard to exercise when it's excruciating, but even more so when you're told you're not supposed to because it will cause more damage. In fact, I've been told a lot of crap from doctors that never told me there were ways around my various issues. I have a problem with my knees that could have been fixed with simple exercises, and I only found that out a couple of weeks ago. It turns out that my disc problems in my back can be healed, but I was told by another orthopedic surgeon that my back was permanently screwed.

In other words, I'm taking what the doctors tell me with a grain of salt, I'm doing my own research, and I'm going to start moving my body more and more throughout the year. Yoga, resistance/weight-training, and aerobic activity. I'm going to start recording my results, and maybe I'll share them here, too. It depends on how I feel about it once I get going. I'm not sharing half-naked before & after pictures, don't worry. I'll spare everyone that much. I might do some fully-dressed, though. We'll see. Whatever the case may be, I'll be in a lot better shape by my next birthday, and I'm doing it the right way - as a lifestyle change, not a binge program. The last thing I need is more injuries, or to stop doing it because it's just too drastic. I need to have fun with it. Thankfully I like the activities I've chosen, and they're well-rounded with regard to a fitness program. Flexibility, strength and endurance, which are all things we need to live a full life.

I'm also setting up my home so that I have a nice working and living environment, so I can get back to serious and consistent writing again, in addition to my other work. I want to be able to put in the time on everything and feel productive again. In my head I'm almost always working, because I do love the things I do. However, translating that to actually getting the work done is a different story. Not being in so much pain will help a great deal there, too. Not only because pain is distracting and exhausting and makes me want to curl up in the fetal position, but because I take so many pills to counteract the pain that my brain just can't stick with things long enough to accomplish anything. You wouldn't believe how many blog posts and articles I've started and stalled out on halfway through. Once I stop working on a piece it ends up being deleted. I never go back to finish it off. I either rewrite the whole thing or just dump it entirely.

Cautiously I say, too, that this year I want to finish and publish at least one book. Even if it's an anthology I edit where I've only written one or two short stories, and there are stories from other writers in it. It's past time for me to get my fiction work out there. I'm also considering writing a small book on rape recovery. Never mind the fact that I've got the makings of more than one series of books. There's my demon series and the serial killer one. I've got lots of notes, and the basic outlines for story arcs throughout, so I think they'll be great if I ever have a comfortable place to sit and get some real writing done. I know...excuses, excuses...

I look forward to every single year of my life. I don't celebrate birthdays with any brouhaha, because it's just not the way I roll. I'd rather sit at home doing exactly the same things I'd be doing on any other day. The exception is that we usually have a special meal, with cake or pie after, and then my daughter and I watch a bunch of movies. That won't be possible this year. My daughter is working 12-hours shifts on weird rotations, so she has to sleep the entire time she's home. Not to mention the fact that she wasn't getting any shifts at all for a while there. We barely have the rent money now, so we won't be buying steaks & cakes. That's okay, too. I don't mind being broke so long as we have the essentials and we're not short on the rent. We won't starve and the landlord is getting paid.

Maybe I'll watch some movies on my own, but more likely I'll play games on my computer or work toward this year's goals.I still have to finish my starting routine for working out, and determine my level of progression, but I have fun planning that kind of thing. I can get bogged down in the details and find myself distracted, but as long as I cover the first few weeks I can always plan the next steps when I get to them.

Of course, I also continued my education last year, and that's ongoing. I went through the MIT course on programming with Python, and I'm enrolled in Linux and calculus courses at the moment. I think there's a chemistry course in there somewhere, too, but it hasn't started yet. I plan to delve into CSS and Java, among other things. For me, I think the best part of living life is learning whatever I can latch my brain onto. We become so much more by educating ourselves, opening our horizons. Every course I take brings in new perspectives on life, no matter what the topic. I see just a slightly different slant, and that's such a huge benefit - not only to me, but to my readers as well. I can offer so much more to everyone around me if I keep becoming more than what I am now.

I remember many years ago reading in a book about a married couple whose philosophy was that we are not human beings, but rather we're human becomings, and for me that was a crystallizing moment. I understood right then that that was the person I need to be (or become, if you will). So, every year I get just a little bit closer to the person I'm supposed to grow into. Maybe I'll make it there, and maybe I won't, but it would be a real shame if I didn't even try. Alas, no matter how many years are between this one and the one on my birth certificate, I don't think I'll ever really grow up, which makes me smile just thinking about it.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Powerful While Powerless, and a Refreshing Start

Let me get right down to the nitty-gritty. We finally got ourselves moved out of our old apartment. We also had some interesting times without electricity for the last 10 days we were there. It's not the first time I've done without power, and I'm stubborn when it comes to paying a bill where I think I'm getting ripped off. Living in an apartment it's very easy for people to patch into other people's power lines. All you need is a little detector for electrical lines and a drill. For some reason, despite the fact that we weren't using space heaters for those months, our usage was twice as high as it had been the previous year when we were using space heaters. I told the woman at the utility company this, and she simply didn't care. Told us we had to pay well over $300 if we wanted to retain our service for the last ten days we'd be there. I told them to stuff it. Stealing utilities of any kind in this country is actually a very big offense, so you would think they'd be a little more interested, but they weren't. Too much bother for them when they could simply demand their money from us.

We actually had the money to pay the bill. That wasn't the point. The point was that someone was stealing from us and I wasn't going to pay for it. Instead we bought some batteries for our LED lantern, and got a couple more LED lights. It being close to summer, we had a fair bit of daylight anyway, and at night we played board games or UNO. We had a lot of fun, and bought a bunch of ravioli to eat cold. We could have had other stuff, but we happen to like cold ravioli.

Right before our power was shut off our microwave blew, so this weekend we're getting a new one. My daughter was cleaning it and may have sprayed the vinegar-water through the vent holes. Normally we put a cup of vinegar-water in it and turn it on to clean it, and it works miracles, but this time it started smoking and sparking and I told her to stick it in the pile going into the garbage.

We got rid of a lot of our stuff. There were various pests in that building and we had no interest in bringing any of them with us. Besides, my dresser and bed were already destroyed by water damage when the roof of the building leaked. Mildew had destroyed half my clothes in my closet, too. And this is the landlord that had the nerve to try to get $2,600 from us for damage to the floor. That didn't work out so well for them. Thankfully they were nice enough to allow us to stay on a couple extra months when I injured my knee so badly I couldn't get down the stairs.

As luck would have it, though, that delay from my injury was a blessing. Not that I enjoyed the pain or anything, but the delay is how we ended up finding a really great apartment. We went to look at two that day, and we figured from the address that the first one would be a dump and the second would be decent enough. It turned out that the first one was amazing. We were really surprised by it. We still went to see the other place, but I called the guy from the first place right after our second viewing and told him we wanted the place. The rent was higher, but all utilities are included and we also have central air. We no longer have to throw in a window unit. Yippee. In fact, we gave that window unit away by sticking a sign on it and putting it in the hallway of the old building. It was gone in less than 24 hours.

We're still really thrilled with the new place. Every floor is tile. My bedroom has a ten-foot ceiling, which echoes like mad right now, but once I get a painting or two on the wall, and buy the area rug I want, it should be awesome. I'm going back to having a queen-size bed again in a couple of weeks. The room is huge, in addition to the high ceiling, so I now need furniture to fill it up. Thankfully the landlords left a wardrobe, a couple of bookshelves, a nice table and chairs, curtains on all the windows except one, and a couple of area rugs. The urgent stuff is no longer an issue.

We haven't unpacked fully, yet, but we've unpacked more here than we did at the old place in nearly 3 years. Hopefully we'll get everything done this weekend, as we'll have been here two weeks by Sunday. We're actually going to hire a friend of my daughter to come in and clean at least once a month. My daughter's back at work with hours that are a crazy mix of continental days and nights, so she needs her time off to adjust between shifts, and I'm just not capable of cleaning a whole house anymore. We've been keeping up with the animals rather religiously, however. The ferrets are doing well with their puppy pads, and the cat was never a problem with her litter box. Apparently the people who lived here before wouldn't change their cat's litter, and so the landlord warned us ahead of time that we needed to keep everything really clean, especially since they'd never seen a ferret before. They haven't had any complaints thus far, so hopefully we're doing okay with that.

For the first time in about four years, we have a decent place to live. Actually, it's closer to seven years. The place was clean when we moved in. It smells and feels clean, and it's done up pretty nicely. I'll be pleased to have people come over and visit, instead of being ashamed of it. It's a huge change in mindset for me, and a great step toward regaining happiness in my life.

Another positive is that I finally got in to the orthopedic surgeon. He's sending me to a group of doctors that will administer long-acting anesthetic injections, guided by ultrasound. I've got about four different problems with my hip joints, apparently, and so they want to deal with the pain first. Once the pain is eased, I can fix one of the problems myself - lack of exercise. It won't matter anymore that I may be causing further damage by walking around, because it won't hurt and they're going to fix it at some point. My muscles have been atrophying for some time now, including the stabilizer muscles, so I'm looking forward to being able to exercise again. I miss it.

I still won't be able to do my belly dancing until they fix the issue with my joints locking up, because my legs simply won't do what the need to do right now, but maybe I can do a limited amount. Dancing is something I miss more than anything. I've been dancing in one form or another since I was a small child, and to have that taken from me is painful. I can wiggle my hips on the dance floor at a club or something, but I can't do anything that requires real skill.

I go for the shots on July 3rd, so we'll see how that goes. In the meantime I'm catching up on my reading and getting comfortable in our new home. We have office space now, which is awesome. I just can't really use it yet. I need a proper desk and office chair. I bought an office chair from Staples a while back, but it doesn't tilt back far enough so it's uncomfortable for me. I do have a table I can use, but no chairs that will really work with it. Then I have to set up something for sound-proofing, or at least noise-reduction. I'm doing the intros for all the shows now, and I do other voiceover stuff, so I want to be able to record quality audio. I've done the last two in my bedroom, and the echo was pretty bad. I can get rid of some of it, but it's better to not have it in the first place.

So I finally have peace in my life again. The stress of hearing people yelling in the hallway, swearing, coming in drunk in the middle of the night and carrying on loud conversations with other neighbours, people smoking in the hall so it surges into our apartment, and who-has-the-loudest-stereo competitions late at night - those are all things I do not need in my life. I despised living there, and the tension built up so much that I'm still letting go of it now. Situational depression, even when the situation is gone, doesn't just magically disappear. Your behaviour becomes habitual in response, so those habits have to be broken. I cringe when I hear noises, still. Our only neighbours in the building are our landlords, and they live upstairs so we hear their dog barking and their voices when they talk loudly, so it trips the switch a little, but once I realized that was their natural speech pattern I was fine with it. I just hate people fighting. Drama is not something I seek out in life.

Now that a large number of problems have either been solved, or are about to be, I'm looking forward to seeing what I can make of my life once again. Giddyup!

Thursday, 14 May 2015

A Current Outsider's Perspective on America's Political Situation

I'm not American, as my regular readers know, but I dabble in politics and you can't really avoid American politics no matter what country you're from. What they do affects the rest of the world in big and small ways. For the last couple of years I've been watching the US pretty closely, and what I've seen has been very disturbing. I was already well aware of certain tendencies within American culture that would most likely lead to the degradation of the country, but there's been a very sharp downturn recently.

There's been a lot of talk about the disappearance of the middle class in America, and it's not a fallacy. It's getting to the point where people are either poor or they're extremely rich, and the vast majority are very poor. When you work full-time and can't afford to pay your rent and utility bills, and still buy groceries, there's a serious problem. Sadly those in higher income brackets fail to see (or care, perhaps) that this is a self-defeating system. After all, if you squeeze every drop of money out of people for basic necessities, they have nothing left over for luxuries of any kind and they don't spend the money that fuels the economy. Eventually the machine is going to break down.

There are a lot of other problems, but the inability to secure a living wage is the biggest one, because it means there are kids going hungry, people without healthcare and losing their teeth. School programs are being gutted, and the curriculum is geared toward indoctrination rather than education. In some places it's even worse, because the indoctrination comes in the form of religion that contradicts known scientific fact. It's bad enough that people are uneducated. Now they're being mis-educated. At the moment there's a very large number of people who truly believe science has no place in the public school system, and religion is the true story.

Never mind my own personal bias against organized religion - and I freely admit I have one. Let's just look at the big picture. Mis-education is creating states that will have generations of people believing scientific facts to be lies. The United States competes in a global market. How does it expect to continue being competitive when other countries are not only teaching the science these kids need to learn, but other countries are offering free university and college education? The answer is that they won't. While politicians are debating religious dogma, the rest of the world is zipping on by. While politicians debate the reality of global warming and climate change, the rest of the world is looking for (and finding) the answers. Countries all over the world are reducing their dependency on fossil fuel products, and Americans are becoming more dependent.

Mainstream media in the US is too afraid to upset the corporations that sink millions of dollars into advertising on their networks, to subvert the propaganda they're spreading about sustainable energy. So there's still a large portion of the population that believes we're not in an ecological crisis at this very moment. They've become blind to the massively lower water levels in California, and the 4-year drought that's going to make food so expensive only the rich will be able to eat. Now they're predicting that California only has a year of water left, but Nestle is sucking it up to bottle it.

Corporations are controlling every aspect of American lives. Some people are starting to understand that, but so many people still believe what's being broadcast on so-called news programs. I've lost count of the number of studies I've seen that talk about how low the percentage is for truth actually being broadcast. Most news is opinion-based in the US now, much of it is outright deception, and every once in a while they throw in a small grain of truth to confuse everyone. Then that small grain gets lost in the avalanche of dishonesty.

Admittedly it's not easy to tell the truth, the whole truth, so help you. It's not so hard to be honest in some ways, by making the choice never to lie. However, even if we think we're telling the truth, it's only the truth as we know it and perceive it. We can't possibly know the whole story. Even people who are right there when something happens only see their version of it. Witness testimony is always suspect and inherently flawed by our own biases. All we can do is try to be as thorough and as honest as possible, but frankly mainstream media has no interest in adhering to a policy like that.

What's needed in the US now is not just a strong middle class, but also to have the poorest among its population still being able to survive. Working a 40-hour week should be enough to do that. I believe in a fair minimum wage. If a company can't pay someone that much, then they either need to raise their prices or bow out of the business altogether. If people don't want to pay an extra 50 cents for a burger or a coffee so that the person behind the counter can afford to buy formula for their baby, then they shouldn't be going out to eat or drink. I've always had that attitude when it comes to service employees. When I go out to eat I tip at least 15% unless the server was purposely terrible. I do the same with cab drivers because I know very well how little they make. My second husband drove a cab, and was stuck paying for fuel out of those tips. I figure if I can afford to buy pizza or whatever, the tip is a part of that expense.

The second thing they need to do is get corporate money out of politics altogether. This isn't a new idea. What I don't understand is how it ever happened in the first place. Did they not realize the danger? Didn't they know there would be favouritism for big donors? Do the citizens not understand why their politicians are voting against what the people actually want for their country?

Then there are the big banks that are ripping everyone off. Having people who deal with money that are as unregulated as the financial industry in the US, is sheer idiocy. Bill Clinton drove the nail into the coffin that Reagan built with respect to all that, and it needs to be overturned, along with the aforementioned corporate sponsorship of politicians. I'm sure many Canadians, if they understood it, would hate the thought that they pay for the campaigns of their politicians, but the alternative is unacceptable. Sure we cover that with our taxes, but it's an extremely small bite considering the cap they have on spending, and it means corporations aren't buying/bribing our government officials - in that way anyway. We the people own the rights to our government, and that's as it should be.

So along comes Bernie Sanders. I've been seeing him around the internet for a while now, and the more I learn about him the more I perceive him as the ideal candidate for POTUS. He just announced his run a little while ago, and the media sort of laughed him off at first, until the figures for his campaign donations were announced from the first 24 hours. He received more money than every one of the Republican candidates, his average donation was $43, and it was regular people who were sending him the money. Obviously he had a lot of donors. This is a man who understands that he works for the taxpayers. He's not royalty looking down his nose at his constituents.

A look at Hillary Clinton's campaign funding makes me shudder in sympathy for my American friends. All but one of her top ten contributors are big banks. I don't like her, and I never have. She flip-flops with the wind. She sold out on healthcare many years ago, and she's sold out on other things since. She can't even settle on what name she's using, because she bases it on what she thinks will garner her the highest approval rating rather than on what she really believes. I may be a feminist who looks forward to the day when females are elected as leaders as often as males, but that doesn't mean I want the wrong woman voted in just because of her gender. I want the right person in office, regardless of their anatomy.

As for the Republican candidates, I don't get it. I do not understand why any of them would have enough people backing them that they could even throw their hat in. Religious zeal is only one of the issues they're having. Not everyone is a Christian, and the recent news that Christianity in America is losing ground should be a red flag for them. Campaigning with religion as your hook isn't going to get you far. One big reason for that, which is also a reason the Republicans are in so much trouble with voters, is feminism. Women are subjugated in almost every religion ever invented. There are a few that do not, though they're not widely accepted as religions, and have few practitioners. If you go around beating the drum for Christianity or any faith that doesn't respect women, there are going to be a lot of women who want nothing to do with you. And that's not even getting into the hundreds of anti-woman bills that were introduced in 2014 by Republican politicians.

If the Republicans are to have any hope of securing the top political seat, they need to find someone who isn't going to offend women, LGBT, rape victims, people of colour, people who practice religions other than Christianity, and poor people. Their entire support system seems to be comprised of white, heterosexual, Christian, non-disabled, entitled males (and they don't make up a huge portion of the American population). A couple of them thought they were being funny or something when they started talking about how old and ugly Hillary Clinton is, yet there isn't one among the males that doesn't appear as though he's been beaten with the ugly stick and nobody thinks that impacts their abilities in any way. Insulting Clinton's appearance and age are going to backfire severely if they don't put a stop to it. It amounts to name-calling at a high-school level. If they can't debate the issues any more intelligently than that, I don't see how anyone could believe they're smart enough to run a country.

And back to Bernie Sanders. Do some research if you don't believe me, but this is a man who has been saying the same things his entire political life. And finally people are listening and starting to realize that he's most likely right. I truly believe he is the one person who might be able to get America back on track. On the international stage I'm sorry to say that the US has lost almost all respect. Maybe it's not fair, but a lot of it is a kind of pettiness because America tooted its own horn for so long, telling everyone it was the greatest country in the world, and now that inspires people to cheer when they see it faltering. Pride goeth before a fall, to paraphrase Proverbs, and there are a lot of countries out there that would all too happily give them a surreptitious shove. Kind of like going to your high school reunion and finding out that the prom king is now 300 pounds and sells shoes for a living. You start hearing, "Nah nah nah nah nah nah," in your head.

The problem with that is, America still hold the key to a great deal of security in the world. When they're stable the rest of the world can latch on and be okay. When they're not stable it's like being in an earthquake and having the ground fall from beneath you. So many things in America impact every country on earth. Unless we're willing to see our own countries suffer, we should be cheering on the States and helping them pull themselves together, rather than sticking out our foot to trip them up. We've got a giant rogue army taking over the middle east, sawing off people's heads. What do we think is going to happen if America is no longer a threat to them?

In all sincerity and seriousness, America needs to get back on its collective feet. The infighting weakens it on the public stage, especially in the age of the internet where everyone gets to see what's going on. Rumours start flying about every little scandal, and everyone has an opinion before the facts are even released. It's one reason I never weighed in on the whole issue of the so-called wave of killings by police officers. When you start to look closely at those situations, and then go over the statistics, there really hasn't been any sudden changes or increases. The difference lies in the focus. Thank mainstream media for turning every molehill into a mountain. Yes, every life is important, whatever race, colour or creed. I agree with the sentiment wholeheartedly, but we have to look beyond what the media wants to show us.

Corporations that control the media are not doing their country any favours, and truthfully they don't really care. They're interested in nothing but pure profit. They don't care if America is reduced to ashes. They build their business on the backs of fellow Americans, they squeeze out their profits, and then they take their money and stick it in offshore accounts. They move their headquarters to Canada because they prefer our less-complicated tax system, or they go to another country where the taxes are laughable. Their gratitude to the people that gave them their billions is non-existent.

Frankly I don't want those companies in Canada. When I sell products to American customers, I'm required to pay taxes on that. Royalties through Amazon book sales are taxed through the IRS - I haven't published a book yet, but they've already got my tax information for when that day comes. I don't mind one bit. If I make a profit in a country, then I'm using or doing something that has been created through taxation and socialism, like postal services, or the roads that are used for shipping my items to customers. I have to pay for that, and I should, so corporations that don't pay for it really burn my ass because they can well afford to. Instead of giving back to the community that made them what they are, they take the money and run. It's contemptible, and tells you their true morality. If corporations are people and there is a God, then they're going straight to Hell.

America has the foundation to make a comeback, despite the cracks in it. And whether or not they like socialism, I believe we all have to help one another. Socialism builds the roads we drive on, and the services we use, but it can also be a way to accomplish the big things, like protecting the rest of the world from the Islamic State and keeping the world economy stable. In my electronic travels I've made some very good friends, and many of those friends are American. I care what happens to them, and it doesn't matter to me that we don't share a country. We do share a planet and personal experiences. We share resources. We share technology and the responsibility of cleaning up our ecosystem. Without international cooperation and aid, we would all have faltered long ago, but I think we keep forgetting that. Our trade agreements allow us to have so many of the luxuries and necessities that we currently enjoy.

I'm very proud to be a Canadian, but (even if it perhaps sounds silly) I'm also proud to be a Terran. I want my whole planet to experience all the happiness and security we're capable of. Linux users have heard of Ubuntu, which is a computer operating system used in lieu of Windows or Mac OS on Linux-based systems. However, many people don't know the meaning behind the word Ubuntu. In short it means, "Humanity to others." The longer version is, "I am what I am because of who we all are." There's a story that goes along with that about the sharing of apples between three friends and their refusal to race and have one of them win all the apples because the one couldn't be happy if the other two were not. I think this is a truism of our world. We will never experience happiness the way we were meant to until everyone who shares our world has that same freedom. How can we sit, greedily eating all the apples while our friends have nothing?