How To Get Noticed In A Downpour

It’s raining books. Yes, it is. Some three million books were published last year. Nightstands and shelves are stacked with books, digital and otherwise. A plethora of books is good news for book lovers. Choice is always a good thing. It also means a bevy of authors are busy vying for the attention of the book buying public. Most of us are struggling to stand out from the crowd, trying in vain to garner reviews which will influence all those lovely bibliophiles out there to part with their money. It’s a cut throat book-selling world to be sure. But how far is too far to go in reaching for elusive bestseller status?

Debunking The Bestseller: This post came to my attention through one of my yahoo groups. Soran Kaplan defends his decision to use a company called ResultSource to help him hit the bestseller lists with his book Leapfrogging from day one. He addresses the nebulous distinction of gaming the system versus working the system. I don’t even know what to make of this…I had no idea you could purchase these kind of services.

Smart Bitches, Trashy Novels: Susan Mallory answers questions about marketing and her decision to develop a Review Squad. Free books to two hundred of her lucky readers in exchange for an honest review. On Amazon the more reviews you have the easier it is to find you. Fair enough but, um, isn’t this a little like asking your friends or ‘a sure thing’ for a review? And aren’t these the kind of reviews we’re supposed to ignore?

Is it wrong or sketchy to influence public opinion? Or in this case lists and algorithms? It happens all the time in every aspect of life. Perhaps the real question should be do we buy books based on popularity? Of course, we do. That’s why there are lists. And Goodreads. Do we see a title on a bestseller list and figure it must be worth a little investigation because, well, it’s on a bestseller list? Do we wonder how they got there? Are positive reviews by readers just another way to pass on good news? Kind of like online word-of-mouth, only not really?

What say you?

* What follows is more preachy business about Freed to Read Week and one of my favorite authors.

The river flowed both ways.

Above is the first line of The Diviners written by Margaret Laurence. I should come clean and confess to loving Margaret Laurence to whom I was first introduced to in high school English class by way of her novel, The Stone Angel. I went on to discover A Jest of God, and The Fire-Dwellers. But it was her book The Diviners which grabbed my heart and never let go. Morag Gunn is a protagonist like no other.


The culmination and completion of Margaret Laurence’s celebrated Manawaka cycle, The Diviners is an epic novel.

This is the powerful story of an independent woman who refuses to abandon her search for love. For Morag Gunn, growing up in a small Canadian prairie town is a toughening process – putting distance between herself and a world that wanted no part of her. But in time, the aloneness that had once been forced upon her becomes a precious right – relinquished only in her overwhelming need for love. Again and again, Morag is forced to test her strength against the world – and finally achieves the life she had determined would be hers.

The Diviners has been acclaimed by many critics as the outstanding achievement of Margaret Laurence’s writing career. In Morag Gunn, Laurence has created a figure whose experience emerges as that of all dispossessed people in search of their birthright, and one who survives as an inspirational symbol of courage and endurance.

The Diviners earned Margaret Laurence her second Governor General’s Award for Fiction in 1974. It also drew great criticism from religious and conservative groups. They lobbied to have it banned from schools and libraries.

Writer Timothy Findley observed: “no other writer in Canadian history suffered more at the hands of these professional naysayers, book-banners and censors than Laurence.”

They hoped to ban The Diviners “in defence of decency”. I am eternally grateful they didn’t succeed.

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Wednesday’s Ponderings: Reading Nooks

The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.  Dr. Seuss, “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!


We call it the Reading Room unless it’s someone’s birthday or it’s Christmas than it’s the Present Opening Room. A sunny room with large windows facing south. It makes for a cozy place to relax with a book. There’s no television.. Just a comfy couch and large overstuffed chairs.

One little chair for one of you, and a bigger chair for two to curl up in, and for someone who likes to rock, a rocking chair in the middle.  The Friendly Giant

What comfy, cozy spot do you curl up in?

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Tuesday’s Table: Sweet Treats


You know what goes great with conversations about banned books? Hot chocolate with those little marshmallows sprinkled on top. Some of the sweetest treats go with the sweetest books. And some of the sweetest books are banned or challenged books, like Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson or My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis.

Some of my children’s favorite stories have shown up as banned books. My son loves A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. My daughter loves James and The Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. We all love the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling. We spent a lovely winter weekend when my son was six and my daughter was four in a cabin with no television and no stereo reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone aloud. A dozen years have past but I still hold that weekend close in my memory. Toasty warm under layers of blankets, the scent of hot chocolate on the air, the taste of gooey sweet marshmallows on our tongues we journeyed with a boy wizard to a magical place that was as fascinating and it was treacherous.

You know what else goes well with childhood and books? Sweet treats. Remember those squares made with colored marshmallows, peanut butter and butterscotch chips? I’ve only had them a handful of times since I was a kid. They remind me of being a kid. Yummy! How about Rice Krispies cake? I loved coming home from school to find snacks and goodies waiting for me. I’d nibble away, read, and try to avoid my chores. I read a lot of books, banned and otherwise. Not that I knew it. Chances are no one in my house, including me, knew some poor-misguided, naysayer to our freedom of expression was challenging the books I was reading. Had they known they wouldn’t have cared, so there was nothing and no one to stop me from reading Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder or Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.

Want to start a conversation? Not quite sure how? Try reading Judy Blume’s “Places I Never Wanted To Be“.

Today it is not only Sex, Swear Words and Lack of Moral Tone — it is Evil, which, according to the censors, can be found lurking everywhere. Stories about Halloween, witches, and devils are an suspect for promoting Satanism. Romeo and Juliet is under fire for promoting suicide; Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, for promoting New Age-ism. If the censors had their way it would be good-bye to Shakespeare as well as science fiction. There’s not an ism you can think of that’s not bringing some book to the battlefield.

Our fears are not our children’s fears. Our thoughts are not theirs. Our preferences are not theirs. They should be free to browse and explore. If there is something they feel they can’t talk to an adult about hopefully they can find the answers in a book. Solace. Comfort.

What books did you love to read as a young child? What was your favorite after-school treat?

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The Glam Watch Is On

Girl playing electric guitar

It’s hard to feel sorry for a woman wearing thousands of dollars worth of designer duds. Unless she ends up on someone’s Worst Dressed List. I not a big fan of these post award show lists. Lists suggesting it might be an honor to be nominated but look out if it’s a thumbs down on your styling choices. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fashion hater. But I like to think the whole over the top evening is about more than the dress, the shoes, the jewels, the hairstyle. It’s about the role they played and the character they brought to life on the big screen whether it was this year or last year.

I figure it’s always a good time of year to pull out my favorite body image quotes so I can keep some kind of perspective. BTW, those dresses can be worth anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000. That’s just the dress. A thousand bucks for shoes and clutch. Hair and makeup – $5,000. Need a stylist? $1,500 to $6,000 a day. Needed for several days. The jewelry is borrowed, but still pricey. I wonder what happens if you somehow manage to lose a $750,000 ring? There might be the need for a little laser resurfacing and a chemical peel. Did you know Botox injections keep armpits from sweating? For $1,000 no one can see you sweat. I kid you not.

What about brow shaping, eyelash extensions, waxing, tanning, teeth whitening, nannies, travel costs, hotels and all the other little incidentals? Who knows. Most of the tab is picked up by the studio, loaned or borrowed, donated or gifted.

And if you’re unfortunate enough not to go home with Oscar you receive $45,000 worth of consolation swag.

Oh right, some perspective.

On body image. Because natural has it’s advantages and should be enough. It’s the performance that counts. Therefore, I have this quote taped to the wall in my office:

“At some point in your adult life, you’ve probably walked into a party and felt a frisson of relief upon discovering at least one woman there who was fatter, uglier, and/or dressed more inappropriately than you. We sure have. But if you want to have any hope of making peace with your own body, you need to knock that shit off.”  Taken from Screw Inner Beauty by Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby

Because once you stop judging others and holding other women up to some crazy, imaginary standard, you stop doing it to yourself. Honestly! It works.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for fashion. But I think it should be less about someone else’s choices and more about your own.

“Even by resisting dominant ideas of beauty, whether through celebrating our wide hips or wild curls we still give priority to the physical over and above the intellectual. We’re still accepting archaic ideas about women being seen and not heard.”  Mehal Krayem

“My body is an instrument, rather than an ornament.” Alanis Morissett

Will you be watching The Oscars on Sunday? Who are you cheering for? Which movie was your favorite? I think the only one I saw was Brave. But I loved it!

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Under The Sea

“The sea is only the embodiment of a supernatural and wonderful existence. It is nothing but love and emotion; it is the ‘Living Infinite…”  Jules Verne



Photo Taken By Josh Good

I love Verne’s words about the sea being the ’embodiment of a supernatural existence’. It certainly seems like another world down there. Things move differently, there is watery, wavy color. Not even my fear of drowning could diminish my awe of the sea’s beauty. I find myself distracted by story ideas starring feuding female pirates and sexy smart treasure hunter.

Happy Hump Day!

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Tuesday’s Table: The Scent of Cinnamon

cCinnamon Toast was a treat my Mom would make on those extra-cold winter nights. Chances are the smell of buttered toast sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon found me either hiding with a book or hunkered down in front of the television. Time to put down Anne of Green Gables or taken a break from watching Little House on the Prairie and go to the kitchen to investigate. There’s also a chance Mom might have found me studying Charlie’s Angels instead of math.

I bet everyone has a cinnamon story of their own. These days I enjoy it swirled on top of my Chai Tea Lattes. It’s amazing what a barrista can do with foam and cinnamon. But it’s the scent that takes me back to the cozy feeling of being safe and warm.

My mind is on those kinds of details these days. I’m putting the final touches on my work-in-progress. This next pass through is about adding those little details, channeling the five senses, imagining a specific experience and describing it on paper.

A little like cinnamon toast, it’s about mixing the exotic with the everyday.

FYI: That’s not all cinnamon has going for it. It’s also good for your health and useful in lowering blood sugar levels and increasing alertness. There are a bunch of other benefits but I’ll leave that for you to explore.

But just in case you’re interested here are some yummy ways to consume cinnamon. Besides the most delicious of way of all which is a cinnamon bun smeared with cream cheese icing. Because you don’t even want to know how many calories are in one of those bad boys. Or perhaps this is one of those cases where denial isn’t a good thing. You may enjoy rolling up the rim to win at Tim Horton’s but adding a glazed cinnamon roll will cost you 340 calories. Yikes.

  • Instead add a tablespoon to your pancake batter.
  • Stir 1/2 teaspoon into plain yogurt. Add the same amount of maple syrup.
  • Sprinkle over sweet potatoes or carrots. Add to thick curry flavored soups.
  • Add to chicken stews, grilled chicken or pork.
  • Coat 2 cups of raw nuts with a mix of 1/4 cup honey and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and roast at 350F for 15 minutes.
  • Use a couple of shakes in your favorite smoothie.

Go ahead, eat tree bark.

Remember Big Red Gum? Enjoy Hot Tamales? What’s your favorite cinnamon flavored treat?

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Our Vanished Sisters

I’m about to put the finishing touches on my latest work-in-progress, Off The Grid. This story takes place in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, which is infamous for being Canada’s poorest postal code. I loved writing this story. I love the characters, especially Marnie. But it really started with my fascination of the setting. It called to me from the first time I became aware of the reputation of the Downtown Eastside (DTES). At the time I had no idea I would craft a story set in Vancouver. But as I look back, I realize it all started with my book club and a selection I never would have chosen to read on my own.

That book was Missing Sarah: A Vancouver Woman Remembers Her Vanished Sister by Maggie de Vries. Sarah’s remains were never found, only trace amounts of her DNA. It also meant she was a victim of the worst serial killer in Canadian history, Robert Pickton. Sarah was a sister, a daughter, a writer, a poet. She loved and was loved. She had hopes and dreams. She also happened to be a prostitute and a drug user living in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. de Vries’s book is her tribute to her sister. It’s also brutality honest. It is sad. But in the end I cared about Sarah as a person, as a sister. Before I read this book I knew less than nothing about Canada’s vanished and murdered women. I’ll always be thankful I read it. It gave me a new perspective, a new way to look at stories about lost sisters.

And now I do care.

February 14th Annual Women’s Memorial March is held on Valentine’s Day each year to honour the memory of women from the Downtown Eastside who have died due to physical, mental, emotional and spiritual violence. Now in its 22nd year, the march brings courage and commitment to remember and honour murdered and missing women, and to end the violence that vulnerable women in the DTES face on a daily basis. Women’s Memorial March Many cities across Canada now hold their own Women’s Memorial March. Check your city for details.

“We are here to honour and remember the women, and we are here because we are failing to protect women from poverty and systemic exploitation, abuse and violence. We are here in sorrow and in anger because the violence continues each and every day and the list of missing and murdered women gets longer every year,” says Marlene George, Memorial March Committee organizer.

February 14th is also a day for dancing. One Billion Raising to stop violence against women around the world.

Because of gendercide and sex selection abortions. Because a child should never be forced into marriage. Because a college student should never face the horrors of being gang raped on a city bus. Because women do not go ‘Missing’. Because of statistics that suggest 70% of murdered women are killed by an intimate partner. They are murdered by people they know. Assaulted by people they know. Stalked by people they know.

When we demand the right to be safe and free from violence, we demand equality.

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Sunsets and Paulo Coelho

I cry very easily. It can be a movie, a phone conversation, a sunset – tears are words waiting to be written.  Paulo Coelho


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