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Posts Tagged ‘Canadian author’

Or, more accurately, did you even notice I was gone?

Photo by Jasmina Rojko on Unsplash

No, this isn’t one of those feel sorry for me deals. Those are so cliché and overdone, aren’t they?

I’m more of a realist than that. With the world going a little more down that dark twisted path of an angst horror story each day, its contradictive every person for their self strongly political egotistical self-righteous “only I’m right” political grandstanding and apocalyptic “nature is trying to kill us” story plots at times clashing like a badly written narrative, I half expect each one of you and everyone else to be swallowed up in that darkness, along with me.

The weirdness is even more striking with that overall story thread of mundane normalcy casting its deceptive veil over reality. Or is the mundane the reality and the rest the waking nightmare our narrator is playing us with?

Life goes on.

March 12th, 2020 Manitoba officially reported it’s first cases of Covid-19 as a stunned populace watched the progressing news story in stunned disbelief.

The stories coming out of places like Italy were staggering. Heart wrenching. Hidiously unreal. People singing to each other from their imprisonment in their homes creating a surreal uplifting moment in a lockdown where people stole food to survive with their world in a complete lockdown, and stories of care homes with the elderly and infirm left abandoned by the hundreds, dead and dying in filth, stink, and overrun with insects, rodents, excrement, and rotting waste, a plotline straight out of a fictional apocalypse story.

March 20th, 2020 Manitoba declared a state of emergency, and the lockdown began April 1st with the ordered closure of all non-essential businesses, as if there truly is such a thing when that income feeds and homes people reliant on it.

People cried out that it’s all fake. It’s not real. It’s made up to control us. (Have you read Orson Welles 1984?)

With a sinking feeling of what was as yet unknown to come, it all feeling utterly unreal and entirely fabricated, two days before the announcement, our office was shut down at the end of the day and everyone sent to work from home. March 19th, 2020 I began the odd journey of mostly self-isolation.

Ill prepared schools, teachers, and students scrambled with schools being shuttered to move thousands of kids practically overnight to online learning from home.

Businesses shuttered, mass numbers of people suddenly became unemployed with no job prospects, people were forbidden seeing or touching friends, family, and other loved ones. There was an eventual run on animal shelters by people seeking companionship. Unscrupulous people bought up mass quantities of basic staples: cleaning and sanitizing products, and toilet paper of all things, leaving none for others, those jerks!

Masses of people voraciously embraced new home projects and hobbies with the audacity of assuming everyone had the endless time and financial resources to do the same. By the way, this is also just one of the things that happened during the 1918 “Spanish” flu pandemic (called the “Spanish flu” then much in the same vein as some call Covid-19 the “China virus” now, only there was zero evidence of any Spanish origins to the 1918 flu.) that is being mimicked during Covid-19 today. People then also embraced anything to push away the boredom of quarantine, weird and self-destructive cures, false political wins became more important than protecting people, and people embraced conspiracy theories.

And with all this, for many, life felt relatively untouched. All the horror was distant, someone else’s story.

Interspersed with this has been a nonstop eclectic list of political farces, dramas, and atrocities. The never-ending inhumanities of war in countries that long ago forgot how to exist without war. And the planet seems bent on annihilating us all like a bad case of lice, throwing nonstop global destruction at is in the form of storms, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, pandemics and other too common and weirdly new illnesses, and unprecedented fires, heatwaves, flooding, and droughts with the apparently requisite grasshopper pestilence to decimate what little will grow. And don’t forget the Murder Hornets. We will never forget the Murder Hornets.

Seriously, who is writing this stuff? Is it any wonder it all feels like a far away unreal story to so many? Is it any wonder anyone in your world may have seemed to have just checked out?

And yet our mundane lives go on. Strangely normal and untouched for many while billions suffer just beyond the reach of our little enclosed lives.

We have to eat, sleep, work, volunteer, deal with the dramas of family and friends, raise our children, and pick burs out of our dogs’ ears. We have birthdays and anniversaries, teenagers being teenagers, kids being kids, and partners who we love to be around but sometimes need a break from. We get lonely for the friends we wish we had, miss the ones we do, and watch in sick fascination the train-wreck relationships among us.

And our life goes on, mundane and unchanged for many of us.

The surreal ugly of the world can be a depressing place. If it doesn’t depress you, it can still envelope you in the morose sense of the pain endured by others. Shocking headline after headline. Social media filled with sympathies for others’ suffering and castigations of failures to offer sympathies for that author’s righteous cause. It is impossible to offer sympathies to every pain and loss, and offering daily generic all-encompassing sympathies lacks the merit of sincerity.

And finally, you have been asking where is this going? Nowhere. Like everything else it is going nowhere. Our mundane round and round of daily life, for many sheltered from the reality of others. From the reality of their neighbors.

All during this world and local news unravels in a daily horror story that leaves many screaming to be felt and heard in the most ingloriously strange ways, embracing things they never would have before, some becoming increasingly hostile to anyone not sharing their voices. Many embracing what feels ludicrous in the face of what is happening locally and globally.

As much as I’d like to pinpoint for each week why is has been almost a month since my last post, more than a month since posting something that involved actual writing, the truth of it is that mundane round and round life. The daily commitments of work, volunteering, and family. Teenagers being teenagers, the partner you love to be around but sometimes need a break from, being lonely for the friends we wish we had and missing the ones we do. Picking burs out of Roxy, the #BigDumbBunny’s, ears and between her toes. Watching with that dulled dissociation and disappointment the train-wrecks that some among us have become. The fact that there just is not enough time to fit it all in and so sometimes something must give.

Unfortunately reality holds that by necessity the job that pays the bill takes priority over all else in your life. After that comes the needs of family, pets, and others you care about in your life. Home and house. And finally at the end of the day, behind everything else is you. Writing is for me. It’s my passion. It does not benefit anyone in my immediate world, and so that puts it last after all else.

Over the past five weeks, among other things, we had our first training session with an experienced and qualified dog trainer to try to fix Roxy (and us, because dog training is as much about fixing you as it is the dog). The air conditioner quit during the heat wave. We discovered a nice walking trail close by, an hour round trip walk where we can go partially woodsy deer trail or all grassy field, whichever strikes our interest.

And today we celebrate my nephew and his wife, married in 2019, but she finally now managed to immigrate to Canada.

My attempt to write a simple blog post weekly, large or small, helpful or not, in depth or mediocre ramble, has proven to be an incredible challenge. As in it is very challenging. To find the moments to write even in bits and spurts of a few minutes at a time. To edit it. To be creative.

I went into this knowing I would fail at times to pull it off every week. Heck, I barely managed to edit this at all, so bear with any mistakes and let’s just call this a “rough draft” published publicly.

And today’s random rambling lesson is this:

Don’t let those times when your desires, your driven passion that is what you want to do, gets pushed to the back and, frankly, shoved right off that backburner (cliché, yeah, bring it!) onto the floor behind the stove get you down.

Our world has fallen down a dark abyss of strangeness that belongs in an episode of The Twighlight Zone. Expect to be derailed.

Just because you couldn’t do it for a while, days, weeks, months, or even years, that does not mean you have to call it quit or abandoned. It’s not even a setback, really. It’s just life.

It is way too easy to let yourself slip into that daily drudgery and not make yourself get back at it. Not let yourself get back at it.

Don’t let those times quit you from what you love. Get back to it. Embrace it. Yes, you may feel morose, neglected, rejected, defeated, given up, and a whole of of other negative feelings at times while you quietly yearn to be able to do what you have a passion for, like writing. Life doesn’t care about what you want. It moves on around you, oblivious to you.

It’s up to you to embrace the good. The people you care about and the things that give you joy.

My writing has suffered since March 2019, but it is not forgotten. The passion and drive wanes and flutters back to life, but it will not die. Don’t let yours die either. It is never too late to reclaim your passion.

Be good to yourself and keep writing my friends.

P.s. This was not intended to be a Covid life rant, but the fingers will go on the keyboard as they will sometimes.

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Come under my umbrella, we all fit in here. Rain or shine, large or small, we all know what umbrellas are for.  In this case, we are looking to the other meaning for that which would otherwise protect us from the blazing sun or cool drenching rain, or perhaps raining grasshoppers. We are looking to something that encompasses in a different way. Something that includes different elements.

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Photo by Daniel Lincoln on Unsplash

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What is an umbrella term in writing? It is like a main plot with a bunch of subplots under it. It is a category of writing that includes multiple other categories.

But sometimes (often) you may see them treated as though that once single term is self-explanatory and all you need to know.

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Cross Genre work (also called hybrid work): a genre umbrella term

When a submission call says they want “cross genre” work, it means exactly as it seems. They are looking for writing that blends elements and themes from two or more genres.

Perhaps you incorporated tragic comedy with science fiction and drama. Psychological realism with romance and a dash of horror.

What you are doing is, instead of focusing that science fiction on being only science fiction with elements exclusively of that genre, you are enhancing that story, creating more drama, investing the reader more in the story, building more intensity, and opening the world you created to more cliffhanging moments by upping the ante with more genres worked into it. Your main character has a sub-plot of a doomed romance the reader is rooting for them to resolve. This romance will invariably create tension as the lovers are pulled in different directions, perhaps forced to be pitted against each other, and your hero is forced to choose between the only seeming right choice or their love and happiness.

Just when your reader is thrown into that drama, there is another drama brewing. Your secondary character is ill and dying. Space sickness? Were they exposed to lethal levels of radiation? Or did that crew member who acts weird poison them? But wait, a billion years ago a massive asteroid slammed into a moon, shattering it, and sending a wave of debris hurtling through space and your crew is unknowingly about to find themselves in the midst of this moving debris field. The ship is damaged and one of the crew has to make the dangerous space-walk to repair something essential. They get out there to learn the debris that hit the ship is infested with terrifying creatures of a magnitude only found in horror. Like a parasite, they infest the whole ship and then the crew one by one. Their crippled ship is pulled into the gravity of a planet it passes too closely to and they crash on a planet to discover it inhabited by creatures and beings out of a fairy-tale storybook. Spellcasters with magical powers, dragons, and strange horses with a single horn like the narwhals.

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Fiction: a genre umbrella term

Fiction is a singular genre, but it is also an umbrella term for a wide range of genres and hybrid or cross genres that are creative made up stories.

Your story could be fiction. A straight up straight forward piece of middle of the road do not stray off that narrow path into territories of other fiction genres, fiction only.

Fiction also describes any and every story of every genre which is a work of fiction. Romance, fantasy, steampunk, science fiction, drama, thriller; they and others all fall under the fiction umbrella.

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Nonfiction: a genre umbrella term

Nonfiction is also an umbrella term for a wide range of genres and hybrid or cross genres. It is based on facts, real people, and real events.

The nonfiction umbrella includes academic texts; biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs; guides and how-to manuals, history, humor and commentary, journalism, philosophy and insight, self-help and instruction, and travel guides and travelogues.

And, my personal favorite, true crime.

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Speculative Fiction

Another umbrella term is speculative fiction. What is that? Exactly as it suggests, to speculate. Be it fantasy, horror, or any other genre or hybrid of genres, if the setting is other than the real world, it is speculative fiction. You are asking the question, what if the world was this instead of that. Journey To The Center Of the Earth is speculative fiction. The Walking Dead comic series is speculative. There are no zombies at present in our real world. Sending people to live out their lives in a mining operation on another world, while it may become reality some day, at present is speculative. We are not there yet in our real world. Speculative does not have to mean it’s impossible to ever be real.

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Writing is full of group terms.

If you are not sure what you have fits the definition, don’t be afraid to look for clarification. Never let yourself feel stupid or less than because you don’t think you fully understand something.

If a call wants speculative fiction, you best find out what kind of speculative fiction genres they look for. If they call for cross genre work, you can save yourself a lot of work formatting and submitting your story to something that isn’t a fit to the specific genre elements they prefer.

I’ve seen calls for submissions asking for speculative fiction with no other description. I’ve seen it referred to as if it’s a genre all in itself. That’s it. Speculative fiction. The same with cross genre work. That’s pretty broad.

I could submit any one of my stories to a call specifying just ‘speculative fiction’ in their callout. It won’t be a fit. My stories are speculative fiction, but they have a particular feel to them that doesn’t fit most publications. Even within the dark fiction genres, you need to know more about what speculative fiction genres they want.

Writing terminology is forever changing with the evolution of writing itself.

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Once upon a time fiction was fiction and all the genres fell in line with a simple list of who is who in a basic list of genres. Fiction, nonfiction, poetry, textbooks, newspapers, it looked like a simpler time. That was well before my time and probably yours.

Now there seems to be an endless list of sub-genres and cross-genres and sub-genre-cross-genres.

Even the word length terms have evolved from a few simple terms for a few blocks of word lengths to a different name for word counts broken down, in some cases, to 500 words; 100 or 50 words, and even by character count.

Each term even has multiple names for it. Flash fiction, for example, is also called sudden fiction, micro fiction, immediate fiction,  and nano fiction, among other names.

Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

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Even after all these years writing and being involved in the online writing world, I still come across the odd term that for me is a new variation of an old writing term, new to me, or just new.

It’s like there are so many people out there trying to be original that they feel the need to keep coming up with new ways to express every bit of writing in new names for the genres and word counts.

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Genre Tags Are In Overkill

How many books have you seen listed online with a string of genre tags and how many of those did you think actually matched the story?

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find it exhausting and impossible to keep up with all the new variations of genre tags. I find the listing of a few genre tags better gives a feel of what the story is about than the old basics of single genre fiction, horror, fantasy, and science fiction; but also find too many genre tags are overkill.

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Please, Don’t Call It What It’s Not.

It also leaves the question: If a story is flagged as action, apocalyptic, crime, drama, fantasy, fiction, historical, horror, romance, science fiction, thriller,… how much of the story is relevant to each genre and how relevant are each of these tags?

I totally get it. When you put your books up on places like Amazon, you want to maximize your reach to potential readers by plugging as many genres as you can to make it come up in as many search criteria as possible. There are endless articles out there recommending doing this as a means of spreading your reach. At the same time, don’t lie about what your book is about. Lying about your product is not cool and will turn off readers from trusting you again.

This is, in my opinion, likely the reason why when I do a search on a genre I often get an endless list of what appears to be books that are not that genre at all.

Do yourself and your potential readers a favor and don’t lie about your genre. If a secondary or lower level thread of the story involves a crime or something bad happening, don’t tag it as crime or thriller. Every story involves drama to keep the reader involved, but that does not make it a drama by genre definition.

Readers tend to be particular in their genres and are not going to be fooled. When someone tells me at a book event they only like true crime nonfiction, I know I’m wasting my time and theirs if I try to sell them a fictional crime serial killer thriller or a small town mystery with a paranormal twist.

When I do a search for horror, thriller, or apocalypse and am paging through screens of 80% of covers looking like they are probably romance or erotica, I stop looking. I am not going to buy something I don’t want just because it showed up in my search. This has actually happened to me, by the way. The two genres I have zero interest in reading, and for some reason seemed to glut the search for something I would actually read in a genre they definitely are not.

It’s almost comical considering the romance genre is probably the best selling genre on its own without tagging it in others it does not fall into.

I like a variety of genres, and have even read in the war genre, although I found most of those too focused on spending pages describing the technical details of guns (boring).

I tend on the obsessive side when I want to find something. So, if I give up after four or six or twelve pages of irrelevant books, many others give up much sooner.

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Simplicity is Sometimes Best.

To break it down, simplify your genres to the two or three main threads of your story maximum.

If your story is an Elizabethan era romance encompassing your main characters that happens to have a crime drama as a subplot between two characters, then you have a historical romance. If it’s primarily an Elizabethan era crime drama as the main focus that just happens to have a romance as one of the lower sub-plots, it is a historical crime drama, and don’t tag romance.

Tagging every subplot and minor storyline is more likely to make a reader question the validity of your tags than to make them embrace them. If you tag it as ‘Crime, Drama, Historical, Romance”, then every one of those should be the main focuses of the story plot.

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Definitions and Genres Abound.

There are too many genre tags and other literary definitions for a single blog post. So we will leave it at this introduction for now.

Where will this lead? Let’s see what the next blog post hits. Genres, word count definitions, it’s all devolved into a confusing mass of constantly evolving terms we can’t all keep up on.

Besides, It’s been a busy work week and I’m out of time.

Keep writing my friends. And remember, there are no stories without at least one genre and the stories don’t always follow the rules you want them to.

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This problem has driven me to distraction with frustration ever since I upgraded to my (now not so new and already partially broken ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  ) new laptop.

I use spreadsheets a lot and for multiple purposes. I’m also not a super technology-type person.

Photo by Vivek Doshi on Unsplash

My issue boils down to learned behavior. You know, when you do something so much that it’s an automatic reflex.

Typing is a learned behavior once you really know how to type. You know what words and numbers you want and your fingers do it without you having to consciously focus on them.

On my day job, in every program we use including Excel, it’s the same date format: month day year. All day, every day, Monday to Friday. Month day year. Month day year. Month day year. An endless stream of typing month day year in the same format: 5/27/21

My previous laptop was the same: month day year.

I’m so used to it that it’s an actual burden to have to stop and think to type anything other than month day year. It’s the same typing format always and it automatically translates to show the date in any form you formatted it to, whether it’s the short numerical form (8/15/21), short date form (Aug 15/21), or long formal date form (August 15, 2021). You can even set it to show day month year or any other order after you type 8/15/21.

  • 5/27/21
  • 6/30/21
  • 3/18/21
  • 2/28/21
  • 8/15/21
  • 5/5/21
  • 5/8/21

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You get the idea. Consistency is golden. Your dates are always correct when you enter them consistently, in my case month day year. You don’t have to stop and question, or go back and verify anywhere, was that May 8 or August 5th.

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Why oh why did Excel suddenly demand a new date format?

The issue and where the frustration lays is that when I reinstalled Microsoft Office on the new laptop, it flat out refused to use the ‘month day year’ date format.

I periodically tried repeatedly to reset the date format in Excel to take month day year. But no, it persisted in only accepting day month year. My dates kept coming up wrong and I ended up taking the more lengthy process of entering them as text instead of dates: ‘May 8/21 instead of 5/8/21.

I periodically tried researching how to fix it with no luck finding any answers.

Yeah, it sounds like a minor issue. But entering dates as text renders all formulas using those date boxes unusable.

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I like formulas. They make life easier.

For example, if I submit to a publisher who does not respond unless the story is accepted, but instead tells you to assume you’ve been rejected if you don’t hear from them in 75 days.

If I enter the date I submitted as May 8/21 text, I have to count 75 days on the calendar to find the date I should assume they rejected my story.

On the other hand, let’s say in the spreadsheet box K11 I entered the date I submitted my story properly (5/8/21), Excel now sees it as a readable date number. In box M11 where I want the assumed rejection date of 75 days after May 8th, I add the very simple formula =K11+75 and Excel automatically finds that rejection date (Jul 22/21) for me in the fraction of seconds it took me to type =K11+75 (in this case actually =<arrow over two boxes>+75, which is even faster).

With the ability to use formulas that use date boxes, you can also create formulas that will average how long a particular publisher you submit to frequently takes to respond, the longest time it took them to respond, or the same for all publishers’ responses.

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For me, not being able to use formulas on Excel boxes with dates is the equivalent to the dating dealbreaker. It’s just a big fat NO.

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The Solution to the Excel Date Entry Format

There is absolutely nowhere in Excel or any Microsoft Office program that allows you to change your date format to determine whether you should enter mm/dd/yy, dd/mm/yy, yy/mm/dd, or any other variation of 5/15/21.

The key date format is in your operating system. Windows, for example. That is where you need to fix it.

Microsoft Office pulls the date format it uses from your operating system.

Buggers.

I’m not familiar with Apple, so if you have a similar issue with a program I you can maybe try a similar fix, but for Windows here is where you need to fix it:

*What you see depends on what version of Windows you are running.

  1. Open your Control Panel (Settings).
  2. Click on Clock, Language, and Region (Time & Language).
  3. Click on Change date, time, or numbers formats  (Date, Time, & Regional formatting – scroll down to it).
  4. Under the Formats tab (scroll down to Related Settings), click on Additional settings (Additional, Date, Time & Regional Settings).
  5. Click on Time (Region: Change date, time, or number formats).

Make your changes here and click Apply and OK:

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You should see the little clock in your computer taskbar change to show your new date format if you changed it, for example, from day month year to month day year.

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I’m still working on fixing the why my Microsoft Word documents are all such smaller print on my laptop screen now at 100% scale. My eyes are not going to get any younger!

Changing the Windows screen resolution settings just makes everything in every app and on the Windows desktop …

SUPER BIG!

Or small like Word. It also completely messes up some programs that require a specific screen size/resolution to work properly.

And yet, I’ve downloaded word templates that are normal sized on my screen.

That’s a problem for another day.

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Keep writing my friends.

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My attempt to write a blog post about writing techniques, which I’ve been trying to do since Thursday, got hijacked and I’m attempting to jot off something. Of course, trying to write it today, four days after starting the other, is taking hours because family wants to chat or needs attention. My intended writing time became half a day waiting at the vet.

Life just happens sometimes and takes away your planned writing and editing. Life also gets in the way of your characters, but this vet thing has me thinking about the animal aspect of stories.

Roxy the reverse lampshade

Our stories generally revolve around humans or humanoids. Unless you write for children, where your main characters are just as likely to be animals.

Do you ever include animals in your stories? At the very least as part of the world scenery because they are everywhere and naturally will be encountered? As backdrop characters like that angry looking chair that sets the tone?

How about as small bit characters whose purpose is to reveal something about your main character’s personality?

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I did that in The McAllister Farm. Some readers will hate me for it. First for Zeke, the dog at the start of the book, and later for the new McAllister dog, Boomer.

Some readers will tell you they will forever hate any author who harms an animal. Some authors will say that sort of thing is off limits. But in some stories brutal things happen and in real life it is often the innocent that get hurt. Even while your stories are fictional and no real animals are harmed, writing is emulating real life to make your reader feel they are inside the story.

William McAllister is a hard no-nonsense man. He doesn’t hesitate to do what must be done and nothing is more important than the safety of his family. So, when the farm dog, Zeke, is bitten protecting his wife, Marjory, from a rabid raccoon trying to attack her, William knew there was only one thing to do.

Keeping with the times and being a rural farming area, farm dogs were not always vaccinated. They also weren’t pets that were coddled. When it came to putting a dog down, it was not out of the ordinary to treat it like any other farm animal on some farms. A lot of this came from the stories of my own family generations before me. Zeke was a working dog who had a specific purpose and that was to keep away from the house anything that might be considered a danger to William’s family. Coyotes, bears, and people.

This opening chapter showed both the ruthlessness of William McAllister, and his softer side. Zeke was bit by the rabid raccoon. He would be infected and suffer a degenerative death. There is no cure for rabies and it is an interspecies disease. Zeke would also be a danger to William’s family. Any animal or person coming in contact with the dog risked being infected with the contagious disease.

The gun would be a quicker kill, but William put his family first even in this. “Best not to use the gun. The kids will hear.” Marjory was distraught and he knew the kids would be without having to see their teary faces to know it.

Inside the dim interior, William stops and turns to Zeke.

Zeke stands staring up at him expectantly.

“Zeke, drop it,” he commands. “Sit.”

Zeke obediently does as ordered, looking up at him with trusting eyes.

“Best not to use the gun. The kids will hear.”

William casually moves to the wall where a shovel hangs. Taking it down, he approaches the dog.

Waiting patiently, Zeke sniffs around at the air, not paying attention to his master.

William walks around the dog, moving behind him and suddenly swinging the shovel in what is intended to be a fatal blow.

The scene gets more traumatizing to the reader before it ends, but even after the brutality of Zeke’s death, one William partially fails at because he’s concerned with upsetting his family more, and perhaps he even held back on that swing out of feelings of remorse for the dog, William showed care in the gentle treatment he gave the dog’s body in burying it.

And again later, in showing just the edge of the harsh reality of their world, the new dog, Boomer, is also injured protecting his family. This time, the little girl Sophie ran into a pack of coyotes. William failed his family in not driving them off or killing them sooner. The den is too close to the farmhouse. That is the remorse he lives with. And on seeing the severity of Boomer’s injuries, William automatically turns to what he knows. The dog should not be made to suffer unnecessarily and he does not think he will survive. It’s that soft spot in William that intervenes again, but this time the only danger Boomer is to his family is to their broken hearts.

The little girl, Sophie, trying to gently hug the dog, still a puppy, their pleading pained eyes as she begged her father not to kill Boomer. How could he not relent?

It’s a tough life for the McAllisters and Boomer will continue to play his occasional part in revealing things about the family members. Sophie’s brother Jason, with his barely repressed anger, self-doubts, and jealousy of his sister. Marjory in her anxious concern over protecting her children from everything, including from her own husband at times. And again near the end of the story where the family is pitted in a standoff against the community, Boomer will take his place as a story tool to bring home the harsh realities of the darker side of humans. Spoiler alert: Boomer will survive this story.

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Where do animals place in your stories? Have you considered it? Are they all animal free? How much thought and story do you put into the personalities and impact the narratives have on the animals in them?

After the long stressful day waiting for the vet

I try to put a little humanity and personality into every character. Even a short sentence of that character whose whole existence is three sentences long. The animals are no different. They are confused, trusting, and feeling even if it is only behind the scenes which don’t make it into the story.

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Even in our real world we sometimes forget to consider just what is going through the minds of the animals around us. That dog silently watching you walk by its house. The one maniacally barking and lunging at the fence as you pass. Your own pet enthusiastically greeting you or saying goodbye at the door only to rush to the window to watch you go.

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Observing these things with the mindset of trying to see it from their point of view like you do with a human character can add a depth of understanding to your writing.

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The sympathetic sister

I recently read an article about how a study analyzing stress hormones in dogs showed them to have lower levels of it if the owner leaving simply takes a moment longer to show them some love and say goodbye when they leave versus rushing out the door.

This article was completely forgotten when we ourselves left, being rushed out the door without the chance to do anything more than shout a quick, “Bye and have fun,” as your are being verbally pushed out of the house.

Three-quarters of the human part of our household vanished mysteriously Sunday. We were rushed out so fast we didn’t get the usual moment of goodbyes at the door. Both dogs always come to the door to say bye when you leave, even just stepping out to pull the garbage bins to the curb.

What goes through the minds of pets when some of their people disappear? They don’t know what’s happening. If you aren’t someone who regularly goes away overnight or for days for work or school, they aren’t used to you being gone. And now with Covid forcing so many to work from home or be out of work, pets have had to adjust to losing their quiet time being home alone for hours and become used to some of their people never or rarely leaving the house.

Not feeling good.
Red, raw, and swollen

By Tuesday one of the dogs had an irritated foot without having done anything to actually injure it. When we returned Thursday the foot was worse. She yelped and cried when we tried to look at it, trying to hid the foot, and obsessively licking it despite our best efforts to keep it wrapped. The dog was out of sorts and very cranky. And being Canada Day, the vet offices were closed.

Between the day closure and a large outbreak of kennel cough currently happening in the area, it took two more days to see a vet. Arriving at 9:30 am and sitting for hours in the car outside the vet’s office because they are doing curbside only with Covid, we were camped at the emergency vet.

This is a dog who was absolutely terrified of cars when we got her from the shelter. She’s over that fear, but not the anxiety, so waiting hours in the car was not ideal. And with the current heat wave it was too hot to take her out to walk around, so it was sitting in the air conditioned car with the engine running the whole time.

So out of sorts.

Spending hours in a car is enough time, apparently, for a large dog to abandon alternately huffing against the window like an anxiously bored child and trying to open the door, and learn how to operate the electric window button. She starts rolling down the window and we’re rolling it up before she can get it down enough to jump out. And repeat, repeat, repeat. Fortunately, there was a lock button on the driver’s door to stop children from playing with the window buttons.

The long wait also gave the opportunity to watch others bringing their pets to hand them off at the door and picking them up. There was the fat dog that had to be helped over that flat metal floor piece separating the vet office tile from the outside world at the door. Apparently the dog couldn’t step up over it. And the smartly prancing little dog being taken for a pee walk by a vet tech, its bright pink cast blinding in the sun. The little dog kept staring at the cars with a look that said, “Mom? Mom? Mom?”

They all exhibited a similar behavior, the reluctance to enter and the sulking slinking out the door after. Even Roxy after her turn finally came, went in reluctantly and she smashed her cone-headed face into the door before sulkily slinking out back to us.

The dog also came from the shelter with an abject fear of vets and needles, and very traumatized by the whole shelter experience. So, we knew she would not be happy to see the vet.

But why are vet offices so filled with anxiety? Do they remember the needles? The techs and vets are always so friendly towards them, offering cookies, but most animals seem so scared and anxious. Is it just them feeding off your anxiety, even if it’s only the size of the bill making you unhappy? Are they reacting to sensing and smelling the fear of the other animals? Is it the smell of sickness and injury? Do they smell the deaths of those who came before and were euthanized?

Our reverse-lampshade dog was clearly relieved to meet us at the door and slink out after being held down to be x-rayed and her foot examined. They wanted to sedate her for it, but she wouldn’t let them.

More than $400 Canadian later, three medications, the cone of shame, and the entire day shot, we learned there was nothing actually wrong with her that was not self-inflicted. There was no injury. The vet figured she stress licked her foot raw, which caused a cascading event of more licking because it hurt and more stress licking and more pain and inflammation, which caused more obsessive licking until it was raw, swollen, and infected.

And now she seems to be getting stuck on everything almost intentionally. Almost like giving us the middle finger while unhappily silently seeking attention and feeling sorry for herself. She gets stuck on chairs, tables, people, the other dog, and can’t get through a door. She paces and lies down and paces, unsure what to do with herself with that big cone constantly in the way of everything.

This isn’t the first time we’ve left the dogs, but they were used to all of us leaving the house for up to ten to fourteen hours a day, depending on the person, for work and school. And with kids activities, that was often followed by more hours away. It was rotating constantly with who was out or home at what times of day and night, and rarely everyone home at once. We went on vacations leaving them home alone for a week with a dog-sitter staying with them. A virtual stranger.

We never before had issues with one of the dogs going drama queen and stressing themselves like this over anyone being away an extended time. Not until Covid and three of four of us not leaving the house for months at a time (okay, maybe a year at a time, or at least it feels like it) because of schools and offices being shut down, and stores and businesses being for the most part shut down.

Maybe taking that moment to say goodbye with some extra ear scratches would have helped. Maybe not. But they are more anxious every time anyone leaves the house even before the camping trip that some of us went on. And leaving one of their favorite people home with them wasn’t enough.

What happens when the world opens up and we return to full time school and working in offices and other jobs, and our animals are stressed over our suddenly vanishing for hours every day?

   .

   .

If this were all part of a story, how would I consider the animals’ feelings and how they relate to and affect their human’s reactions? The pining of the dog and its growing anxiety, whether its humans are aware or entirely oblivious to it, both the humans present and away.

In making our stories real for our readers, we want to add as many little touches of reality as the story needs. These details are also valuable tools in revealing things about our characters, both obvious and hidden personality characteristics.

Everywhere you go, everything you do, is an opportunity to observe the world and its interactions. Watching both people and animals gives you an insight into making your stories better.

Take some moments to watch the often neglected characters of our world, animals. Your pets, others’ pets, farm animals in passing, and the wild creatures around you. Observe people and dogs distant interactions when they pass on the sidewalks. Even watching birds interactions is an insight into that hidden and often skipped piece of stories. And consider this, would adding the odd animal as part of your story or world-building enhance your story? They are everywhere and affect every part of our lives even when we don’t own a pet ourselves.

Keep writing my friends, and I have to go rescue my dog who got stuck on the wall. Yes, the wall.

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The first time I heard the term “story bible” my thoughts went immediately to the most commonly used meaning of the word ‘bible’. But it’s the second, informal, meaning of the word that applies here – “a book regarded as authoritative in a particular sphere.” – Oxford Languages

It felt weird calling something a ‘bible’ which was, in my more limited knowledge at that time, reserved only for a book that holds huge religious significance.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

To better define just what a story bible is, consider the synonyms for ‘bible’:  ABC, authoritative book, companion, enchiridion (“a book containing essential information on a subject”), essential book, guide, handbook, manual, primer, vade mecum (“a handbook or guide that is kept constantly at hand for consultation.”).

I had to look two of these up, so I included their definitions, also from Oxford Languages.

You can call it whatever you want, really, but ‘story bible’ is the commonly used industry term.

What actually is a story bible?

Your story bible is the document you use to keep track of the details and worldbuilding in your novel. If you are doing a series, you might have a series bible that spans the larger story in addition to, or instead of, individual story bibles for each book. You may also have more broken down specific character bibles or world bibles if your story has more than one world.

Story bible vs. outline.

Story bibles go by many names—from series bible to novel bible, to the more specific character bible—but they all are the same thing: A document used to keep track of the worldbuilding and details in your novel.

It sounds pretty similar to an outline, and it is, but it’s not quite the same thing.

Both will duplicate certain details like your characters’ names and backgrounds, important worldbuilding points like technologies, languages, and locations, and the little details you need to remember about what you foreshadowed early in your novel.

The difference is in the scope.

The story bible is a quick and short reference guide for editing. Its focus will be narrow and restricted to the basic details. It might even be in point form. This guide makes a handy tool to quickly check when you’re making changes to your story. It’s also helpful for your cowriters if you have any, editors, and proofreaders.

An outline is like a story bible, but more detailed and more in-depth. It’s a guide with more meat for the purpose of plotting and fleshing out your story. It is a not-so-quick reference guide that fills in all the specifics and organizes your plot.

Purpose of the story bible.

Having to go back searching through a 300+ page manuscript to verify what color that car/dress/other item was is not something you or your editors want to have to do.

Your story bible is your reference guide for all your planning for the novel: story concept, setting, cultural references, bits of dialogue and phrases to keep language consistent, potential plot conflicts, character descriptions, and more.

This can be especially helpful if you participate in National Novel Writing Month. Quickly jotting down little details can save a lot of time spent wondering about or searching for the small things you need to be consistent on. Instead, you can move forward and spend that time trying to blast out 1667 words per day.

Maintaining continuity is perhaps the most important job of the story bible. You never know what small detail a reader might latch on and be put off by your lack of consistency with. Especially with the more complex science fiction and fantasy epics. Suddenly changing the name of a place because you didn’t remember correctly which name you went with can be confusing and off-putting for the reader. And, keeping things consistent can be hard when you are revising, rewriting, or, like me, have more stories than you can name on the go.

Creating a story bible.

If you’ve never created a story bible, don’t let that intimidate you. You can do an online search and come up with all kinds of ideas and suggestions of what to include. The lists are abundant and if you compile them yours will become ridiculously long. There are also templates you can download, but they might not seem relevant if they don’t match your genre.

The key is making it yours. Make your story bible what you need it to be. Don’t make up details that are irrelevant and wouldn’t be in your story otherwise just for the sake of filling in a form list.

Start early. If you’re a plotter, you might want to create your bible first and then expand on it to create your outline, or you might find it works better to create it simultaneously with your outline. It you are a pantser, quilter, spastic quilter (me!), the best advice I can give is to create and update your bible and outline as you go from the start. Going back to do them later in the game is time intensive and leaves you open to the mistakes having them would have avoided. Maybe I’ll write a post one day on how to convert that manuscript to an outline if you didn’t do one as you wrote.

Keep the details light. You don’t want to duplicate your outline here. This is meant to be a quick reference guide. If you want deeper darker dirt on the details, refer to the outline for more. In fact, this is where hyperlinks are a beautiful awesomely spectacular wonderful thing.

Using hyperlinks, you can be a click away from more details in your outline. Hyperlinks are not just to bring you to web pages. In fact, if you are formatting an eBook, they are absolutely essential to link your table of contents to jump to the chapters. To make it easier, you might even choose to have your story bible at the beginning of your outline document so the hyperlinks are contained in one document you can share, move, or rename as needed.

It’s trickier if you decide to also use them in your working notes in your WIP to bring you to the relevant places in your outline. Warning: changing file locations and names will break your hyperlinks if they are not linked to a place in the same document.

Your bible, outline, and story are fluid like the writing process. They are likely to change until the finished product.

There is no one size fits all story bible. Each will be a little unique to the writer and the needs of the story.

Let’s start with those most central key points. Title your story bible and list your story bible header information.

  • Story Bible Title
  • Series title and book titles
  • Genre/timeframe
  • Elements/rules of the world
  • Setting notes, ie) time, place, mood, context (create a section for each setting)
  • Story Drive (everyone wants to say their story is “character driven” because that’s the popular story driver. But what drives the character who is driving the story?)

Example:

Where the Bodies Are – Story Bible

Series: The McAllister Series, book 1

Central conflict/plotline: A serial killer must be stopped.

Torn, reality fractured, the killer is desperate to be stopped.

Genre/timeframe:   Crime fiction, antagonist lead, contemporary urban/rural, current period

Main features/rules of the world:   Real world / real life rules

Setting notes:

  • Time:    current day/year not specified
  • Place:    small city formerly a rural town grown in size, rural and urban locations
  • Mood:  dark, urgent, suspense
  • Context:  all real world assumed/not detailed: demographics, political systems, social views, cultural practices
  • Story Driver:  character/antagonist, drive to stop the killer, driven to stop himself killing; underlying story driver: killer’s dead sister, Cassie

For the body of your story bible you will want to categorize your sections to cover pertinent things like:

Characters’ Overview:

  • List of characters/characters’ names:
    • Most important/focal character(s) – what character the story cannot exist without
    • Lead character(s)
    • Secondary character(s)
    • Other character(s)
  • Characters’ relationships to one another – this could be one peoples relationship to another or individual characters’.
  • Key features of characters – again, this could be specific to groups or individuals.
  • Character portraits – key details only.

Worldbuilding:

  • Maps.
  • Locations and settings.
  • Races, cultures, and social norms.
  • Technologies, spells, and magical systems.
  • Conlang words (the language you invented for your fictional world) and their proper usage.

Plot timelines.

Example:

Characters’ Overview:

  • Key features/character portraits of characters:
    • The killer
      • Male, not described, identity secret, torn in a fractured world where reality and insanity blurs, obsessed with finding his dead sister; kidnaps women resembling what she would look like if the grew up, murders them in a fit of blackout rage when they are not his sister.
    • The Killer’s Dead Sister: Cassie
      • Female, died as a child, The Killer blames himself.
    • Beth (Detectives’ office)
      • Female, 30ish, competent, “perfectly painted nails and matching lips”
    • Detective Jim McNelly
      • Male, older/middle-aged, obese, slovenly, gruff, ugly ancient brown rusting Oldsmobile, driven to stop the killer, takes each victim personally, unrevealed mystery behind dead wife.
    • Detective Michael Underwood (McNelly’s partner)
      • Male, younger/not too young, generally considered attractive, likeable guy, seems just as home drinking with the boys or at Aunt Bee’s quilting group, driven to stop the killer for his own (spoiler redacted) reason.
      • Goes undercover as orderly at hospital to watch prime victim 1 “Jane Doe”.
    • Molly, nurse (hospital)
      • Mousy, nervous, thinks she’s a bit clairvoyant, protective ‘mother hen’ to prime victim 1 “Jane Doe” in hospital.
    • Prime Victim 1: “Jane Doe”
      • Female, young woman, left for dead, no memory, killer obsessed with taking her back.
    • Prime Victim 2: “Kathy”, Katherine Kingslow
      • Female, young woman, abusive boyfriend, comes to see kidnapping as rescue from Ronnie (boyfriend), develops Stockholm syndrome relationship with kidnapper/The Killer.
    • Prime Victim 3: Connie Wilson
      • Female, young woman, held prisoner at the farm with prime victims 1 & 2, killed when the Jane Doe and Connie try to escape.
    • Reporter Lawrence Hawkworth
      • Male, tall/skinny, buzzard-like features and mannerisms, reporter with ‘less than moral morals’, colorblind, secret dream of being a cop, is clairvoyant, confidant/friend/associate of Detective Jim McNelly, helps McNelly search for The Killer.

Worldbuilding:

  • Contemporary urban / rural. Real world.
  • Unnamed small city formerly a rural town grown in size, rural and urban locations.
  • **Locations not named because this could be your city/town/rural area. This could be your community.
  • Old hardware store: inspired by a real hardware store in a real small town in Manitoba
  • The farm (Killer’s hideout): long abandoned, rundown.
  • Police precinct: a small-town precinct that never grew up with the growing town turned into a small city. Police on the 2nd floor, municipal offices on the 1st floor.

Plot timelines:

Part One: Jane Doe: Learning about Victim 1 Jane Doe and the people connected to her.

  • Introduce Jane Doe victim left for dead.
  • Introduce characters: Nurse Molly, orderly (det. M. Underwood), Detective McNelly, Beth (civ. Missing Persons), reporter Lawrence Hawkworth.
  • Mystery man (Jason McAllister) tries to see Jane Doe at hospital after visiting hours.
  • Reporter Lawrence Hawkworth starts investigating the story of vic. 1 Jane Doe.

Part Two: Losing Grip: Killer has break from reality, almost kidnaps a little girl.

  • The Killer watches a woman’s house. She resembles his sister, but grown up. He slips into the blackout void of his madness and therein attempts to kidnap the little girl who drew his attention.
  • The Killer is sickened and in shock over almost taking an innocent child, not his intended target.

Part Three: Suffer the Righteous & Pamela Makes Three: The third woman kidnapping victim.

  • Deceased victim (2, 2nd Jane Doe) is found in parking garage, The Killer murders ex-priest/witness.
  • The Killer takes Pamela, victim # 3 / lesser victim character, not prime vic. 3.

This example is shortened for brevity here. Listing every bit character and event is not relevant to the blog post.

You see from my example that I only included the very basic details. If I described something (Jim McNelly’s car) in more specific terms that cannot be changed, I included that information. Otherwise the story bible becomes too long and cumbersome or becomes a detailed outline.

In some cases, particularly for a lengthy list of characters or locations, a checkbox form might be better suited.

This is a very basic example, but if you have your pertinent details filled in with this form repeated down the page for as many characters as you need, you can just click/check-box down with the minimum time spent filling in details and it keeps everything consistently organized:

Characters:

Name:                                         ☐ Female          ☐ Male              ☐ Other                 

                                                          ☐ Infant            ☐ Child               ☐ Teen

                                                        ☐ Y Adult          ☐ Middle aged ☐ Elder

                                                              ☐ Tall                 ☐ Short              ☐ Average

                                                              ☐ Thin               ☐ Obese            ☐ Average

                                                              Species/People:

                                                              ☐ People A        ☐ People B        ☐ People C

                                                              ☐ Town A           ☐Town B           ☐ Town C

If you need more in-depth lengthy details that’s where you want to turn to your character sheets or outline because you are no longer looking to reference a quick list guide.

Keep writing my friends and start journaling your storytelling adventure by plotting your bible and outline.

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We discussed how essential self-promotion is, whether you love doing it or hate it. And how self-promotion is the face you put out there to your followers.

Now we are getting into what you can do to self-promote, like blogging.

Having a website is as important as blogging. It’s another tool in your promotion toolbox. Think of your website as the center of everything you. It gives you a homepage to send people to for various purposes.

As with everything, there’s no one right way to do a website, but some things are better than others.

Don’t be bloggy.

It’s an easy mistake, but avoid making your website look like a blog. I made this gaffe when I started trying to do this stuff years ago. I’ve also seen it on a lot of websites. You can incorporate your blog and website together in a one-stop package, import your blog with an RRS feed, or just have a running list of links to your most recent blog articles, depending on what your website platform is capable of.

Just be sure your website looks like a website and not a blog. The first page of your website should look like a homepage. Keep the blog feed on another page they can easily find and click on, or in a lesser profile side stream.

Don’t backburner your website. Prioritize it.

I’m guilty of this and working to put more focus on updating it. In being so busy with life, family, the job that pays the bills, volunteering, blogging, trying to self-promote, and trying to get writing and editing done, I tend to forget my web page even exists. Bad bad me.

If this is your one-stop spot for people to find everything, it needs to be up to date. It should also be very easy for them to find and click links for your books and other products.

Keep it current and relevant.

If your blog feels abandoned, like an old house, it will not invite visitors in.

Your website is your homepage for all things you.

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

As I said above, your website is your homepage. It’s where you can feature your newest release or product, sales, events, promotions, anything you want to focus on. You want links to follow you on social media, and to any store pages you’re selling your books or products on.

It’s your central hub pointing to and organizing the maze of media all your self-promotion is on. This also makes it easy for it to turn into a confusing web of links and plugs.

Try to do all this and keep that homepage simple and uncluttered. Easier said than done.

Your branding starts here.

As your focal point for self-promotion, your branding starts with your website. All points lead both to it and away from it.

Branding, in short, is how you shape the you your followers see. It’s something recognizable that immediately identifies you. Once you establish a branding that works for you, you want to express it consistently across all of your media from your website to your blog to your Facebook and Twitter.

Landing page vs. homepage.

You might see a website homepage referenced as a landing page. I’ve seen website homepages that were a landing page. Here is the key difference between the two:

A landing page is singularly focused. It is a standalone web page for a specific marketing or advertising campaign. It will typically have a single call-to-action link button.

For example, this newsletter signup button on the sidebar of my blog brings you to a landing page.

This landing page’s singular call to action is to signup for the newsletter. It asks the visitor to enter their email address and click “Subscribe”:

A homepage page is the first page visitors to your website see and it sets the stage for your website. It’s opening the door and stepping into your front entrance with just a glimpse of the home within behind the doors, aka pages and links.

This is my L. V. Gaudet website at the moment, and my other alias (Vivian Munnoch) website. They are both a work in process. As with all things writing, I’m forever working to improve my websites too.

Give your website personality. Make it stand out as yours.

Whether you are using a template or building your website from scratch, you want to give it your own personality. Make it yours. Make it stand out as a piece of you. You want your website to be memorable. To scream, “THIS IS MY WEBSITE AND IT’S BETTER THAN THE REST!”

Multiple pen names means having multiple websites.

If you are published under multiple pen names, you ideally want to have a website for each pen name. You can have a quick link for visitors to jump to your other nom de plume website. It means double the work. I have a visit button on both of mine linking to the other. With Wix, because I didn’t pay for a special domain name, this means both sites’ addresses start with ‘lvgaudet’.

Alternatively, you could go the route of treating it like a dual-author shared website. But having separate sites means you can focus each more on the target audience for that pen name. This is especially ideal if they are different genres. In my case they are different age groups.

Choosing the right website platform is important.

Finding the right website platform can take some trial and error. The first one you try isn’t always the best and that’s okay. There is a range of them out there from free to pricey, many with for both free and paid services, with different options and ways they work. Finding the right one for you makes the difference between a struggle or making updating your website a breeze.

Creating your website is like writing your story. You plot and draft it out, outline, change, and rearrange it. You might even scrap the whole thing and start fresh with a new page on a new website platform. It’s all part of the creative and learning process.

My webpage is on Wix.com. It is free and, once you figure it out, not too hard to use. It has limitations, but they all do. You can only link one blog to it. It is designed to be more friendly to Blogger than other blogsites like WordPress.

I chose Wix because after reading through multiple website platform reviews, it was in the top of the list with a majority of the reviewers, and because it’s free.

One of the things I don’t like is having to choose between adding new material at the bottom of your pages or the long slow process of moving all those boxes down a few at a time to organize it from the newest to oldest going down the pages.

For example, my “News & Events” page. It doesn’t make sense to list it from the oldest a the top down to the most current at the bottom. Who wants to scroll down that far for the most recent news? Maybe there is an easier way to do it on Wix, but I haven’t found it yet.

It only takes a moment to search ‘best free website platforms’ and you will have a screenful of articles to sift through and pick out which sites have what is best for your needs.


Keep writing my friends, and don’t let the challenge overwhelm you. Building a website can be time consuming, but it’s worth it in the end.

Posts: SELF-PROMOTION IS A FOUR LETTER WORD:

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How can you kill two birds with one stone? Simple. Follow that cliché! Blog.

Since most of us writers don’t make a whole lot from our writing, if you are among those that do sell any books, it doesn’t take much to put you in the red. Yes, there are ways to publish without spending a penny on it, but effective publishing, and promoting, costs money.

Blogging is one way to promote yourself and your work on any budget from, “Budget? What budget? I’m dead broke.” to “Budget? Haha, yeah, I don’t even think about what I spend. I don’t worry about money. I’ve got lots.”, and you don’t even have to blog about your work. You can make your blog about anything.

Photo by Daniel Thomas on Unsplash

Just because you write a particular genre or subject, doesn’t mean that’s what you have to focus your blog on. Maybe you’d rather discuss the plight of the Pacu Fish. If you don’t know, they have weirdly human-like teeth. Personally, I suspect this is the result of some hapless person who really angered someone big time, and was cursed that they and their generations to follow will forever live as fish.

Whatever your passion is, you can make that the subject of your blog. Write it enthusiastically. Write it well. And, the most important point, try to write it on schedule.

Consistency is magical. Stay reasonably on topic. If your passion is painting burned out skyscrapers and you grow a following blogging about those post-apocalyptic symbols, your readers likely won’t be interested in your post on tapioca pudding, unless it’s pudding found in a burnt skyscraper.

Posting occasionally and sporadically won’t grow much of a following. If you are going to do a monthly blog post, try to schedule it for the same day each month. People like consistency. They want you to be reliable.

Frequent blog posts can be a big challenge, especially with daily life and other things getting in the way. If you are going to commit, make it a schedule you can likely keep. Too frequently posting could set you up to fail, and if too frequent, is also spammy.

Don’t be spammy. Nobody likes having their email clogged with spam. If I’m getting multiple notifications a day every day on the same blogger posting, I’d stop following them pretty quickly. I find one a day every day from the same blogger too much. I don’t have the time to read that and would be just deleting the email notifications and probably killing that blog subscription.

Speaking of execution, how are you committing that murder of the second ‘bird’? Blogging serves a second purpose.

Blogging is writing practice. So, not only are you working to build a following that will hopefully result in some book sales, but you are also working at practicing and improving your writing skills.

Don’t wait. Start blogging before you publish.

While the writing practice and working to develop your writing voice is a bonus, the main purpose of your blogging is to put yourself out there and build a following. Your blog is a checkmark on your writing platform to do list.

Building a following is key to building your author platform. Any potential agent or publisher is going to be a whole lot more interested in the author with an extensive following than the one with a few dozen co-workers, family, friends, neighbors, and the odd random person they don’t know in real life.

Whether you are going traditional, with an Indie or small press, or self-publishing, that following is a pool of potential buyers of your book. The bigger that pool is when your book comes out, the better your odds are at generating sales through your blog.

You want to get your followers excited about your upcoming book if you can. Get them interested enough that they are sharing and spreading the news about your book. Only a small percentage of your followers will typically buy it, so the more reach you can get them to spread for you, the more potential buyers see it, and your list of followers can grow.

How do you start a blog?

Find yourself a blogging platform and start writing articles.

Simply put, a blog platform is a service or software for managing and publishing content on the internet in the form of a blog.

WordPress is one of the most popular platforms. It has both free and paid for themes that have a range of customization ability. There are plugins that let you do even more. You have to buy a subscription to use the plugins, but you can still do a pretty decent blog for absolutely free.

There are two variations of wordpress.

WordPress.org is a self-hosted open-source software. It’s free to use, but I’m sure there’s some catch in there for them to make money off you. Self-hosted = you need a domain name and web hosting. It lets you do more than the other WordPress, but a domain name and web hosting is not included in the “free” price tag of this software. You will need to find these and will have to pay for them. This also means that you or your web hosting service are responsible for doing all customizations, updates, and backups of your blog site.

WordPress.com is what I currently use. It is a hosting service created by Automattic, so it’s got the all-in-one on providing both the blog platform and hosting service. It has options ranging from free to crazy expensive. You are more limited in what you can do than with the .org, even more limited with the free version. You can get your own domain for a price. You have to have a paid subscription for that. They plug ads on your blog to make money off you, and you cannot plug your own ads to monetize. If you max out your storage space on the free plan, you have to upgrade to a paid subscription. When that happens, I’ll likely look into the costs of getting that domain name and web hosting to switch to the .org.

What I dislike about WordPress.com is that the new editor automatically removes all extra line breaks and color in text when you copy/paste your post into it, and doesn’t allow for font type changes within the post. I write in Word, all prettily formatted, and copy/paste it into WordPress. Then I have to go through the entire post adding back in the line breaks and re-convert sub-headers back into sub-headers and re-colorized any text that I didn’t want black. Line breaks – those empty spaces – help make your post easier to read and breaks up bits that don’t necessarily go together.

Blogger is another common one. You may have heard it called “Blogspot”. They aren’t one and the same, but they do work together to provide you a blogging platform. Blogger is the publishing platform and BlogSpot is a domain service provider. Both are available for free. You can also pay to get a custom domain name.

Warning: some authors have reported having issues with Facebook flagging Blogger blogsites as violating their anti-spam rules. Apparently Facebook lately equates Blogger with spam. Hopefully they will fix this.

There are others, and also website platforms like Wix that let you do a blog in addition to the website.

Do your research before you start. Find out what blogging platform best suits your needs.

You will find that you can auto-feed many blogging platforms to cross-pollinate your articles onto other social media sites with your blog. Where they are capable of feeding to depends largely on who owns what and who set up their sites to work together. I was able to set Blogger to feed into Wix (a website platform), but had no success trying to get WordPress to feed into Wix. Blogger also fed posts into Google+ before Google shut down that platform.

This article says you can import WordPress blog posts into Wix (you have to log into Wix to read the article). I’ll give this a try later when I get around to updating and spiffing up my Wix page.

My WordPress.com blog auto-feeds posts to my author pages on Facebook and Amazon, Twitter, Tumblr, and LinkedIn. It also has a new create a podcast episode feature that lets you convert your text blog to audio. I tried it out. Cons = it sounds like a robot, tends to skip words, and will mispronounce words including names and anything that is a heteronym (same spelling, different pronunciation). There is no way to fix those errors at this time. It’s new, so hopefully they fix that, but they probably won’t be able to get it to sound human.

Vlogs are another option.

Like audiobooks, they are also increasing in popularity. Why read a blog when you can listen to a video blog while you are doing other things like ignoring the other people in the room? Right?

Vlogs have their own group of hosting platforms. You could probably get away with creating the posts on your phone, but if you want a professional feel, you’re going to have to invest in equipment, find some sound and video editing software, learn sound and video editing, and find a quiet place to record. I’m probably making it sound harder than it is.

What else are these posts on YouTube, Tik Tok, and other social media and video sites where people are essentially blogging by video if not a form of vlogging? No, not the barrage of so-called challenges and other bizarre and mindless shares. I’m talking the posters who actually use these media sites as vlogs. There are other platforms out there designed specifically for vlogging.

You also have to be capable of speaking coherently while recording yourself. I’m still working on developing that talent.

One of the benefits of the blog is the side bars and pages.

In the side bars, you can have click to follow buttons, signups for your newsletter, and photo button plugs linking your readers to buy your books and products.

Pages give you the option to set up a click away page featuring any or all of your books and products.

Readers can come for the article and see your books down the side, buy them, learn more about them, and click to follow your other social media accounts.

Keep writing my friends, and good luck on those blogs.

SELF-PROMOTION IS A FOUR LETTER WORD Posts:

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How cute you look. Dashing. Pretty. Pretty weird. Handsome. Bizarre. Tough. Tender.

What kind of appearance are you going for?

Photo by LeeAnn Cline on Unsplash

Self-promotion, in many ways, is like a Snapchat filter. Who hasn’t used one of those, right? The ‘old’ filter is fun when you’re goofing with friends, making them all see how awesome they look old. Or as one of the other wacky filters. It makes for hilarious party games.

But you see people on other social media using the Snap filters to change their appearance for the pics they put up of themselves, to make themselves look more flattering (because who doesn’t want to look better?) and it’s so obvious they used a filter.

That’s what self-promotion amounts to. The appearance of yourself that you put out there. Your public persona is the Snap filter of your real self. And that appearance isn’t really about your looks, it’s about your personality.

Whether you are going for genuine original you, or putting on a different face for your fans and followers, putting that persona out there consistently is work. And you need to be consistent. You can’t be the girl or boy next door full of sweetness and then lash out full of angry venom. You will alienate your followers that way. Don’t confuse them with different personalities on different social media platforms. Self-promotion means using multiple platforms, and trying to remember who you are on each is just too much unnecessary work.

If you are going to be a particular persona, own it. Eccentric? Own that too.

If you are going to be Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, Alice Cooper, or some other character, then you have to put that act on any time you are doing anything to self-promote. Always in character. Always obvious about knowing you are a character, not real, because your followers know it. That’s exhausting.

What persona do I think works best? Just be you. The real you. Unless, of course, the real you is a jerk. Be personable, friendly, and easy-going. Be natural. Be the best and most likable real you that you can be. Although you might not be able to be all natural you. Not if, like me, you have strong introverted tendencies, are most comfortable in your own company, and feel completely awkward about promoting and talking yourself up or talking to audiences of any kind. You’ll have to fake the outgoing personality a bit then. But it gets easier and more natural feeling the more you do it. Kind of like that bike you learned to ride.

And when you get out of practice, like relearning to ride a bike (I did that), it’s easier the second time around.

Wherever and however your are promoting yourself, everyone will see through a fake façade. If you try to sound too smart, funny, or cute when you blog, when your blogging or vlogging voice just isn’t you, followers will pick up on that quickly if they meet you in person or follow you elsewhere. If you put a personal note in the front or back matter, make it real. Make it you. When you do a bio of yourself, try to put a little of your personality in it, even though you are writing it in the third person.

Here’s a secret: readers like to feel a personal connection to the author, like they know you. Like they can think of you as perhaps a distant friend or an acquaintance. I’ve listened to teenagers rave about their favorite authors and it always seems to share one common thread – they will happily tell you about something they feel is personal about the author. Something they found Googling about the author, from an author interview or article about the author, or just from following the author on social media. It might be a story the author shared about something that happened in writing or publishing a book, at a book event, in an interview, or in their personal life. That connection seems to have a bigger overall impact in that age group than the quality of the writing.

Adults seem to gravitate more to the story that enthralls them first and the author’s personality second. But if that personality fails, so does their opinion of you, and that translates to their opinion of your books.

Think before you speak. Another important tip. It only takes a single one-off offensive comment to ruin a reputation. Insulting people and making hurtful comments is not a way to sell yourself or your books. Your personal views are separate from your writing quality, but not from your reputation, and it’s that reputation you want to build. When you put respecting others first, you bring greater respect on yourself.

Do no harm. That should be first and foremost in your actions and comments. Think before putting something out there publicly that you cannot take back. You do not want to alienate entire communities of potential fans, whether it’s by being insensitive, flipflopping the public persona you put out there, or by being unlikeable.

And remember, the easiest way to not slip up on your public face is to just be you. Be nice. Be respectful. And be real.

Keep writing my friends, and think about the different ways you can self-promote you and your books.

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You hate it, but you have to do it. Self-advertising.

But what does self-advertising really look like? And why did I just call it “self-advertising” instead of the normal term “self-promotion”?

Photo by Dollar Gill on Unsplash

The two terms mean the same. Usage may be more about where you are from than anything. The point here is to get you to think outside the normal box. Draw outside the lines. Explore new clichés, invent new metaphors, and find new ways to promote yourself and your work – preferably without annoying and alienating your would-be readers with all these clichés.

Self-promotion – Oxford languages (British) describes it as:

“The action of promoting or publicizing oneself or one’s activities, especially in a forceful way.”

“she’s guilty of criminally bad taste and shameless self-promotion”

Self-advertising – Collins dictionary (USA) describes it as (Oxford apparently doesn’t want to touch it):

“Self-advertisement in British English NOUN

The act of gaining publicity for oneself and one’s activities esp through pushyextrovert behaviour and not hesitating to put oneself forward.”

Okay, so we established that whatever your preferred term to call it, self-promotion is you being a pushy bugger, putting on your extrovert gear and promoting and publicizing the hell out of yourself and your work to as many people as you can.

Just the thought of it makes me cringe. I am not an extrovert. I am much happier alone in my happy place with a glass of wine, my dogs and family nearby, watching birds, squirrels, and bunnies, and the trees outside, while writing scenes of terror from my head through the keyboard to my screen.

“But what actually is self-promotion?” you ask?

It has many faces. That Facebook friend who keeps constantly plugging their book in their feed, in others’ posts comments, and anywhere else they can. The endless list of plug-n-dash Facebook groups for blatant self-promotion where everyone just plugs their book and pops on to the next self-promo group. (Does anyone actually get sales from the plug-n-dash groups?) Giveaways, contests, paid ads, book events, they all fall into the self-promo territory. These are just the tip of the list.

It already sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?

But, like the demon in a horror, it is a necessary evil.

At some point most of us who have at any time published with a publisher have questioned why the onus seems to be on the writer to promote their own book, why the publisher isn’t doing it all, or at least more.

The simple fact is that, just like you, the publisher has a limited budget they can and are willing to spend on a book they don’t have high guarantees will sell and sell well.

If you are a very famous top tier author, maybe this isn’t a thing. Your millions of copies of guaranteed sales in the first run alone gives the publisher a nice budget to invest in widespread promotion. Your very existence is promotion too.

Even well-known authors do a certain amount of self-promotion. I’ve seen Dean Koontz (I’m a fan) promoting his own books on social media.

For most of us – lower tier authors who may have awesomely fantastic viral-worthy best-seller potential books – who are maybe published with an indie press, small publisher, medium publisher, self-published, and even with big publishing houses – self-promotion is both a case of self preservation and an expectation of the publisher.

While your publisher should be doing their part with what budget and social media reach they have, the bulk of it rests on your – the author’s – shoulders. This also means the publisher should be working with you. If you are inexperienced, they should be doing everything they can to teach you how to self-promote, what inexpensive options are out there, and what in their experience has or has not worked. They should make it clear what they can do to help and what your options with them are.

Reduced price author copies should be a given. How else are you going to sell them at book events without having to over-price them to cover your costs? And yes, you will have to buy copies of your own books, and pay for the shipping, in order to have copies on hand to do book events. Your publisher is doing this as a business, to earn a profit. But if you can get them at their cost or little more, that’s no different than ordering your own self-published copies from KDP to sell at events

But what else? What other perks does your publisher offer to help you self-promote? Are they willing to offer discount sales in conjunction with you doing a self-promotion event or tour? A freebie eBook download for people subscribing to yours and their mailing lists in the hope subscribers buy your other books?

Together we will explore what self-promotion can look like. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Blogging and vlogging. Newsletters and websites. Book signings and sale events.

These past few months I have done two self-promotion things that fall under none of these.

I won a story contest. My short story, Unknown Caller, won the Manitoba Writers’ Guild 2021 Bloody Valentine short horror story contest in a blind submission. The payment was in the form of a gift certificate from McNally Robinson Booksellers and the reach was only to the Writers’ Guild’s smallish newsletter mailing list – it was published in the newsletter only. So, the promotion gain was negligible in the scheme of needing to reach wide, but it is still promotion. Even that scattering of a few hundred email subscribers who will actually open and read the story could potentially result in a book sale or two, or even better, online buzz about your writing. (“The average email open rate for all industries we analyzed is 21.33%.” -Mailchimp).

Photo by ammar sabaa on Unsplash

I (gasp) took part as a panelist for the virtual Keycon 2021 (Keycon38): Ghosts in the Machine May 22nd with fellow authors L.T. Getty (I have read and recommend her book Dreams of Mariposa if you like steampunk vampire stories – it is not a romance despite the romancey cover) and horror author Reed Alexander, who I met for the first time on this panel. The theme for this year was horror in science fiction, two things I personally feel go well together. I was terrified of doing it. As I’ve said many times, I am not a public speaker and actually find public speaking to be dread-inducing, panic time, and really awkward. While participation in the panel was small – it was their first virtual con and Winnipeg is a small but wonderful community – I do believe they intended to record and upload these panels for posterity – and potentially to laugh at my awkwardness. But really, despite my lack of experience and zero comfort zone, I actually enjoyed it and would do it again. The organizers put in a lot of hard work to pull this off and, despite technical issues with Discord, they did a pretty marvellous job for having no real budget.

And maybe, just maybe, my appearance and participation with Keycon might result in a book sale or two, or a little online buzz, or someone remembering my name at some other point.

These are just two of the faces of self-promotion and no promotion is too small if it gets you out there before a single person who never heard of you or your writing. Except for no promotion at all. That is definitely too small.

There is no way around it. Effective self-promotion is hard work. It’s a full time job in itself. It means maybe doing things you are not comfortable with, like public speaking online where a million people potentially could see you and laugh at you. It can also cost a lot of money. And no matter how much work and money you put into it, there is no guarantee that it alone will culminate in mass sales, even a small mass.

Keep writing my friends, and self-promote your asses off.

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