Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Book signing are always interesting

Last weekend my editor/illustrator and I had 3 book signing sessions; one at Coles in Saint John, another at Indigo in Saint John and one at the Chapters in Fredericton.  Jenn brought her sketch book and spent the time having children "boss" her hands to make aliens, monsters and other things that they could take home and colour.  I used this time to chat with parents and promote our books.

One thing we are realizing is that our distributor was right about the way sales work for a picture book versus a middle grade book.  "Owen and the Dinosaur" is a picture book and many of the sales are for people buying gifts for preschoolers who need to be read to.  They know that small children are just happy to sit on someone's knee and have a book read to them.  They usually don't care what type of story it is as long as it's interesting.

However, "Emily Find's a Dragon" is a first chapter book for children in grades 3 to 5. Our customers are now often parents or grandparents with a child in tow.  Now this little person has been reading for some time now and has definate ideas of what they like and don't like.  So now, if said child isn't in tow, then people are less likely to take a chance on what book they might like or don't like.

We are always happy with the results of our book signings.  We get a chance to speak with a lot of fans that have read our books and fans that haven't read our books yet.  Okay, so that might be a stretch, but we do get some great comments and feedback and that helps keep us going.  When a person tells you they love your work, and hope you have another book coming out soon it is an amazing feeling. It certainly makes up for a lot of time beating on the keyboard.

Jenn and I will be at Cover to Cover Books in Pinewood Plaza, Riverview, on Saturday, November 26th from 1pm to 3pm. I hope you will be able to bring your kids down and have Jenn draw a picture with them and maybe you can find a book too.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Week Without my Blackberry!

Gail and I decided to use one of our RCI certificates and take a week off just before the kids came home for Thanksgiving.  We settled on the Bethel Inn and Resort, in Bethel Maine.  We chose this spot for a few reasons; it was within a days drive of Moncton, we had never explored that section of Maine before, and it was close to North Conway, NH - a great place to do some Christmas shopping.

The drive down was beautiful.  We crossed at Houlton and drove down the I95 to the other side of Bangor where we exited at Newport.  From there we followed Rte 2 through Skowhegan, Farmington, Rumford to Bethel.

For anyone who hasn`t taken this drive before, it is a very picturesque drive on a sunny day.  At various times the road parallels the Kennebec River, the Androscoggin and the Sandy Rivers.  The road winds through hardwood forests, small towns and is a pleasure to drive if you have some time on your hands.

Bethel is a quaint little community sitting in the Androscoggin Valley in the eastern foothills of the White Mountain Nation Forest.  At one time this was a lumbering town. One of the long time residents we spoke to told us there used to be three saw mills in the area but they had all closed down over the years.  One of it's current claims to fame is that it is the home to the world's largest snowman in both 1999 and 2008.

A major employer in Bethel is the Gould Academy, named after the town's first pastor, Rev. Daniel Gould.  It is a private, co-ed, college prep school offering both boarding and day school programs.  It was founded in 1835 and has approximately 240 students in grades 9 to 12.  It has a well maintained campus, located in the center of the village and is just a short distance from the Bethel Resort and Inn.

The Bethel Inn first opened it's doors to the public in July of 1913.  As I mentioned before, Bethel was founded on agriculture and forestry, but now tourism is it's main industry.  This a beautiful part of the world with many golf courses and ski hills in close proximity.  While we were there, several tour buses stayed at the Inn as people came to see the fall colours.

Bethel also has a large number of artisans and some great places to eat.  We purchased a lamp and serving tray at Bonnema Pottery.  This husband and wife owned business turns out dozens of designs of lamps, dishes, platters and all things pottery.  Beautiful work and we took a long time making a final decision.

One evening we ate at the SS Milton restaurant situated in an old house, almost across the street from Bonnema Pottery.  Like many things, it was walking distance from the Inn. The slogan on their sign at the street is "a fine casual restaurant" and they lived up to their name.  Our meals were excellent, the service perfect and they had craft beer from a New Hampshire brewery called Smutty Nose.  Couldn't resist that.  I was a nice red ale with a full flavoured finish so I ordered the crab and shrimp stuffed sole which worked very nicely with it.

We found out from one of the waitresses at the Bethel Inn that the Fryeburg Fair was going on that week and that we should make it a point to attend.  We decided to do so on Tuesday.  It was a bit misty and not a good day for hiking so the Fair seemed like a fun way to spend the day.

We were not disappointed.  The Fryeburg Fair is rural America at it's very best.  It is organized by the West Oxford Agricultural Society which was incorporated in 1851.  Originally 9 communities in Maine were included and in 1888, six communities from New Hampshire joined in as well.  After moving around for its first few years, the Fair finally settled in Fryeburg.  It now sits on 180 acres and includes a harness racing track and over 100 permanent buildings.  Over 300 thousand people go through the gates in six days. It was absolutely amazing!  If it had four legs and fur, there were building for it.  Cattle, oxen, horses, pigs, goats, even a building full of rabbits. (I wonder if it was full at the start of the week?)  We watched a lady brush an angora rabbit.  It was sitting on her lap, happy as could be and it looked like it was four feet across.  You could hardly find the actual rabbit in there.

We discovered that it was Woodsman Day and the crowds were out in full to see the competition.  One old gentleman, who was competing in the bucksaw competition was 75 years old.  Pretty impressive too.  They had double bit ax throws, log rolling and more.

Gail and I wandered around all day.  Lunch was no problem at all.  there must have been 100 food vendors not counting every church within 50 miles selling desserts.  Finding something not deep fried was a little more tricky.  A few new things too - at least for us.  Deep fried dough which looked a bit like a beaver tail, but deep fried dill pickle?  How about deep fried kool-aid?  Not sure how they did that unless they mixed the powder into the dough.  Anyway, I we went with BBQ and it was great.  Finished up with fresh blueberry cobbler from one of the church groups and we were good to go.

We found a short trail, called the Eye-brow Trail, that went for 1.2 miles up what looked like some steep terrain and hooked onto the AT.  The walk back was less than a mile so we figured we could handle that.  Well...... were we ever mistaken!  The trail started out steep but good walking and we went along easily.  As we went it got steeper and steeper, but then it flattened out and things were good.  Then we came to a spot where the trail went straight up the side of a rock face.  Well, not quite straight up, but the trail designers had drilled steel posts into the rock and ran steel cables through eyes on the top of the posts so you could pull your self up.

So we got to the top of this, and stood on a natural rock platform about 10 foot square.  Nice view from there and I noticed that the mist was starting to look a bit like snow.  Once Gail had joined me, we looked to see where the trail went next.  Then we noticed that there were metal pipes buried in the rock forming a series of steps we could use to crawl up to the next level.  So, we did this as well.

Now we're standing on a ledge about six inches wide looking out over the tree line.  It is getting colder and although we're quite high up, you really don't get a sense of it because we're next to a large chunk of granite that has been worn smooth and curves out of sight so you really don't see a vertical drop.

To our dismay, the trail leads across this six inch wide ledge with a fifteen foot wall on our left side. This vertical wall had more metal pipes to hold onto.  However, with the amount of rain we we had received, there was a lot of water running down this wall.  We crept across this ledge, holding onto the metal pipes with rapidly freezing fingers.  It was probably not much more than forty feet, but it seemed a lot further.

We got to the other side and then saw that the surface run-off had created a bit of a brook at the other end of the ledge.  We needed to crawl down a few more stairs and then hop over the brook and hope to land on a small metal ladder which disappeared around the corner of the bank.  We looked down the stairs, which we would have had to back down, looked at the ladder and then I said,"What if it get worse after we go up the ladder?  Can you imagine trying to hop across the brook and landing on these metal bars."  We decided to go back.  We figured our kids were still too young to be orphans.

So back we went and we hiked a different part of the AT instead!

The next day was cool and clear and we decided to try out the Mt. Washington Auto Trail.  At 6288 feet, Mt. Washington is the highest point on the east coast and is home to some of the nastiest weather on the planet.  The highest wind speed ever recorded on Earth, ever, was at the summit of Mt. Washington.  It was the winter of 1932 and it was 332 mph.  Companies that build equipment to work in the sub-arctic test them here.  The weather at the summit on October 6th was 15 degrees F with a 95 mph wind blowing .  The auto trail was icy above 4200 feet so that's as far as we were allowed to go.  That put us above the tree line so the view was great but it was cold!

We had a great time that week and we discovered the first day there that our Blackberry's wouldn't work in the mountain's.  After a brief panic we realized this wasn't all bad.  After a few days we realized this was actually quite good.  For the overworked, and over stressed I highly recommend the Bethel area to help you unwind.  Just take a rope with you if you decide to hike the Eyebrow Trail.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What if the US stayed home?

This is the first political blog post I've ever made but I need to get this off my chest and like all writers, when I need to get something off my chest, I reach for a pen.

I've been following world events pretty close for the past several years.  I keep reading and watching, hoping to make a little sense out of it all.  I've not had much luck to be perfectly honest.  With the 10th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center dominating the news for the past few days I've been thinking about that event in some detail.  It certainly was a game changer wasn't it?

I've read that the subsequent "War on Terror", started because of 9/11, has cost in the range of $3.5 trillion dollars and approximately 250,000 lives lost.  God only knows how many have been wounded, maimed and displaced.  I'm not sure if the $3.5 T includes the increased cost of security at airports and government buildings or just for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Regardless, it's a big pile of cash.

After nearly a decade of fighting in Afghanistan, has NATO forces made much progress?  Taking the Taliban out of power has done a great deal for human rights, especially the rights of women, but is it sustainable?  Can the fledgling police and military of Afghanistan keep the Taliban and al Qaeda from taking back over once NATO troops leave?  I don't know but I wouldn't want to bet on it.

Iraq is still a train wreck after the two military invasions, the entire mid-east is still unstable as the Arab Spring becomes Arab Fall.  Can revolutionaries run a country and create democratic political parties where none have existed for a very long time?  They will be finding out in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt in the coming months.  Hopefully these people haven't brought down one dictator to have him replaced by another.

Through much of their history, the US has helped police the world.  When the shooting starts, the US is often there with boots on the ground.  Sometimes that why the shooting started in the first place, but that's an entirely different story.  However, when you look behind the headlines you see that their presence isn't always appreciated by the people they are trying to help.  Obviously a country referred to as "the great Satan" isn't loved by the speaker!

Here's the part I was getting to in this long winded ramble.  What do you suppose would happen if the US went home?  Just said,"Look, guys.  Thanks, but no thanks.  We're going to sit a few of these conflicts out."  Imagine the reaction in these countries that seem to enjoy shooting at each other.  No US troops to shoot at instead.  Damn!  What's up with that!

Now to take this a bit further.  I suspect a lot of the $3.5 T that was spent on the War on Terror came from the US Treasury.  What would the world be like today if they had spent that money on something else?  They could have repaired or replaced all the aging infrastructure in the entire country.  I bet that would have put a big hole in their current unemployment situation.  All of the tax dollars generated from all that work could have gone back against the deficit.

Think too of the effect on some of the inner cities if all those young men and women had trades to go to work at instead of getting involved in gangs, drugs and the sex-trade.  Maybe I'm terribly naive, but I would think a job that pays regular wages would be preferable to any of those other things.  Might have quite an impact on the crime rate in the US don't you think?

Or, maybe the money could have been used to find a cure for AIDS, or cancer.  Wouldn't that have been a world game changer?

Or, with that kind of money to work with, the US might have chosen to become self sufficient in green technology so that they wouldn't have to buy as much foreign oil.  The US currently uses 18,690,000 barrels of oil per day.  That's a bit more than the next four (China, Japan, India, and Russia) combined.  What if US consumption was cut in half because of investment in green technology?  At $100 per barrel that would save the US about $900 million per day or about $330 billion per year.  President Obama could put a beating on the deficit with that kind of cash flow couldn't he?  As an extra bonus, many "green" manufacturing jobs would be created and it would significantly reduce the amount of money going into the coffers of some of the oil dictators who then use that money to train terrorists to become pilots. Just saying...

Imagine how all this could play out.  But it's never that simple, is it?  Powerful people in organized crime and the drug cartels wouldn't like to see inner cities getting cleaned up and drug use reduced.  Big oil would really hate to see all those great green technology jobs get developed while oil use dropped.  There would be a lot of pressure put on many politicians.  Even the arms dealers would be unhappy.  Who would buy their toys?

However, I suspect that the US won't stay home so none of this will come to pass.  But it's fun to take a few hours to think about what it would be like if it did.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

How we work together

I've mentioned before that Jennifer Aikman-Smith of Dragon Dreams Inc., is the illustrator and publisher of my first two books.  We are very fortunate to live in the same area so we can get together regularly to work on our books. In large publishing houses, the writer and illustrator often never see each other.  The story is bought, given to an illustrator in the publisher's stable of illustrators and that is that.  Jen told me of one famous children's author who, upon seeing her completed book for the first time, sat down and cried because she hated the drawings.

When I'm finished with the manuscript, I give it to Jen to start to work with.  She has already seen a "almost finished" draft, one where the story is pretty much finalized, so she can start planning her drawings.  She breaks the story down into pages and then blocks out areas in the text to insert her drawings.  Then the work really begins.

As she puts things together there is a constant stream of emails along the line of..." the 3rd paragraph on page 48, I need it 3 words shorter" - or longer.  The hardest is when she removes a drawing completely, which creates a gap and I need to write a paragraph or two to fit into the gap.  So I have content on either side to match up without an obvious blip in the story.

We get together for an hour or two a week to finalize pages, fix grammar and so on.  We have two "final readers" who get the chapters as they're done to check, spelling, look for typos, see that the drawings match the story, etc., etc.  It is quite a process since we also have day jobs to work around.

However, finally it's done and we are always pleased with the result.  No surprises from the printer and no surprises from our work.  Now the work of marketing begins and that is a whole different experience which we both enjoy.  I hope to see you at a book signing somewhere in the Maritimes between now and Christmas.  Look for "Emily Finds a Dragon" in Chapters and other fine independent bookstores in the Maritimes.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Breakfast TV - the big promotion begins!

Last Thursday Jennifer Aikmen-Smith, of Dragon Dreams fame, and I were invited to be on Breakfast TV for a few minutes to promote "Emily Finds a Dragon".  It went very well, or at least that's what I'm told.  I haven't actually seen it yet.  I was really surprised how compact the sets were.  Three sets used on BTV could all be fit in a good sized bedroom.  A couple of cameras sit in the middle of the room and spin around to point at the correct set.  Quite cool.

We went to Halifax on Wednesday evening since they wanted us on air at 8:15 am.  The hostess was great, gave a great intro and helped us plug the book signing that we had at Chapters later in the morning.  Through the jigs and reels, both Chapters and our distributor, Glen Margaret Publishing, took more books than they had originally had so that was great.

We have another book signing coming up in Dieppe in a few weeks, but once Jen has her daughters V-ball schedule nailed down we will be hitting the rest of the Chapters, a few on the independent stores, the Farmers Market again and so on.  Still hoping to sell at least 650 books by January 1st.

We have been asked a few times about self publishing and Jennifer would like us to do a workshop at the library on self publishing.  Maybe, between the two of us, we could put on a 2 hour work shop.  We have learned quite a bit so far. I think Jen is sharper about this than I am.  I still concentrate on writing and she is the one that works closer with the actual production.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Where do you get your ideas?

This is one of the most common questions I get asked and I suspect this is true for most writers, regardless of gendre.  I also suspect that almost every writer couldn't tell you exactly.  I find that most of my ideas come as a bit of an "aha" moment where something clicks in my feeble little cranium and an idea pops out.  I always carry paper with me since I have a good memory - it's just short.  Nothing worse than loosing the idea for the next blockbuster story for the lack of a scrap of paper.

I find I get most of my ideas when I'm not really thinking about it.  Mowing the lawn, road trips with music on, are all fertile places for me.  However, contrary to that, the idea for my second book did come as an "aha!" moment with the bulk of the story in place instead of a scrap of an idea.  I was looking at a drawing my friend and illustrator, the brillant Jennifer Aikman-Smith,  did of a baby dragon looking up at you holding a valentine.  He had the big puppy dog eyes and "pop" came the idea for "Emily Finds a Dragon" with 75% of the story dragging along behind.

That was unusual for me.  Most of my stories come in a series of movie scenes in my head.  I jot them down and eventually pull the pieces together to make the first draft.  As a result, I often have two or three manuscripts going at the same time.  One I focus on, one that is ruminating in my head and I pick out scenes for, and one that I'm researching.  Since my writing time is often hit and miss, this allows me to do something constructive with my writing time regardless of how long I have or how tired I am.  Sometimes I'm just typing notes into the computer.  This is good stuff to be doing when I'm too tired to be really creative, but I'm still doing something that needs to be done. 

I suspect this doesn't work for many writers, but it does for me.  I have had to juggle time all my working career so I'm used to trying to work on a couple of things at a time.  As I get older, and slowly back out of the many organizations I volunteer for, I hope to have a more structured day where I can block off time to write at more consistant times.  Then I hope I coan concentrate mainly on one manuscript at a time.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Parks Canada 100th Anniversary

Parks Canada is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year by doing something long overdue - at least for parks in our area.  Fundy National Park was formed in 1948 by the expropriation of approximately 206 square kilometers of Acadian Forest and kilometers of rugged Bay of Fundy coastline. This land, unfortunately, held the homes of many people plus logging businesses on the Point Wolf and Alma Rivers.  Many people were relocated, some homes (my parents and grandparents were two) were moved as well.  People were paid very little and moved because the government told them too.  My great-grandmother lived near where #7 green is on the current golf course.  She had lived there all her life and when the Park was created she was moved, even though she was quite elderly.  She died a few years later and my Mom always said it was of a broken heart.

Anyway, this year the Park decided to have a birthday party and invite all of the people they booted out, plus their children and grandchildren and, (drum roll please) a seasonal pass for the next month or so that you need one was given to everyone.  It was suggested that this may happen each year but we'll see what 2012 brings.

It was a nice get together even though they ran out of food early.  The crowd was much bigger than anticipated which is a good thing.  It was a like a family reunion and a number of people got to get reaquainted with people they hadn't seen for years.

My father Otty, who is 86, and his brother Leo, who is 94, were among the two oldest ones attending and were some of the last of the original expropriates.  My grandfather's home and Mom and Dad's home were located where the Fundy Highland Motel and Chalets are now.  Their homes were moved to Alma.  Ironically, Dad's house is now owned by the Park and is used for summer students.

My brother and sister lived in the Park.  They were 3 and newborn when they moved to Alma.  I was born after the Park was established and only lived in Alma until I was 6.

I grew up camping in the Park and heard all the stories from my parents of what life was like in that area when fishing and lumbering were the big employers.  The fishing is still there - you haven't lived until you've jack-hammered your way into a Fundy lobster - but the lumbering is gone.  Those jobs were replaced by government jobs with pensions and health benefits.  So in some way, some people benefited.

Don't get me wrong. I'm actually glad the Park was created as it is protected some very unique land like all National Parks do.  It would have been nice, however, if the "powers-that-be" had given those free passes to the expropriates many years ago.  Better late than never I guess.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Sometimes just a small change .....

Jennifer Aikman-Smith (Dragon Dreams Inc.) and I were in the final stages of our latest collaboration, "Emily Finds a Dragon", when we were presented with a conundrum.  Jennifer, illustrator extraordinaire and publisher, had just received a call from our distributor who told us that Chapters wouldn't take our book unless it had an Atlantic Canadian tie-in. Our first book, "Owen and the Dinosaur", had been set in Parrsboro, NS so it wasn't a problem.  I purposely kept this story without a specific location.  Wider audience, more potential sales I thought craftily.

So, Jen and I thought about it for a bit and then said, "What odds?" and inserted some Maritime references.  Now the book is loosely set in the Annapolis Valley.  We also flicked in a quick reference to Halifax as well.  Didn't effect the story at all.  Pas de sweat.

Then things went silly quickly.  Jennifer's Mom, our "fine tooth comb" editor and grammer genius, commented that the wolf pack that I had used as our "bad guys", don't exist in the Maritimes.  Jen checked with a senior naturalist friend about it.  No wolves.   However, no shortage of coyotes.  So quicker than you can say "we-have-to-reread-the-entire-book-take-out-wolf-and-put-in-coyote" we changed the story.  Then Jennifer had to change a drawing so that three mean looking wolves became 3 mean looking coyotes.

Next, there always seems to be a next, Jen discovered places where changing "wolf" to "coyote" didn't fit.  Those extra 2 letters played havoc at times.

Anyway, after a couple of days of frantic work on Jen's part and lots of emails (I was out of town during all this) the story was corrected and finalized at the printer.  Oh ya, the book was at the printer when this all came to light!

So the book is complete and back to us. Look for it in Chapters and fine book stores around Atlantic Canada this summer.

Monday, May 16, 2011


The rain has been falling for about a month now and this morning I noticed the animals lining up two by two.  Anyone know where a guy could find a good supply of gopher wood?  The upside, is with all this rain, work outside is impossible so that leaves more time to write!

"Jimmy and Cinder" is done to the point that I'm comfortable enough to start searching for an agent.  I say it's done, but I'm sure if I'm fortunate enough to find an agent, I'll be doing more rewrites. 

"Emily Finds a Dragon" is off to the printer and we shoould have proofs by the end of the week. Yahoo!  I'll be glad to get that one out on the shelves as we are getting great feedback from our small releases on the publisher's website (http://www.dragondreams.ca/). 

Lately, I've been very busy and traveling quite a lot with my real estate work.  I'm 1st VP for the Provincial real estate board which requires some travel.  In 2012 and 2013, I should be President which requires more travel.  So, I've been trying to fine tune my things so that I can write and keep track of my real estate business when I'm on the road.  I think I've got it in pretty good shape, so now evenings stuck in a hotel somewhere can be productive.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Rewriting "Jimmy and Cinder" - again

I've been working on the "Jimmy and Cinder" manuscript, off and on, for about three years.  I thought it was ready to send to an agent when I took it to the SCBWI winter conference in January 2009.  I learned a great deal at that conference, the most important thing being that this manuscript wasn't ready.

My formal education is in Engineering, not English, or journalism or any other discipline where I might have to compose anything but a report.  Worse still, I'm a Survey Engineer - I'm trained to crunch numbers.  So, I always liked things in order.  Logical sequence.  Don't speak about things not previously defined.

So, the first thing I learned at SCBWI was that I started my story in the wrong place.  Most people thought my story should have started about page 30 in my manuscript.  Damn!  But what about all the great details that were in the first 30 pages?  I explained the setting, how the characters were related and so on.  Nobody cares, I was told.  It's called "back story".

Aha!  Now I understood.  So I rewrote "Jimmy and Cinder" over the next 18 months while I finished another story that is being published quite soon.  I felt that this time I had it.  I added some more story, I got rid of pages at the start and used them as some to this new fangled back story I had found out about.  Again, I felt it was ready but....

I still couldn't send it to an agent yet.  Something was nagging at me.  Way down deep inside me I could feel something trying to get out.  There was more story in there and it needed to be put on paper.  However, I just couldn't pull it out.  I didn't think I was putting off sending for fear of rejection.  I just didn't feel that it was ready.

Then, yesterday I was reading an article in my favorite writing magazine, Writer's Digest.  It was about great Chapter 1's.  The feeble little light bulb over my head flicked on and I realized that I still wasn't starting in the right place.  I reread the manuscript and realized that, although better than what I took to NYC, the story still started on page 15.

So, I'm starting again with 15 pages of great back story to work with and hopes that in this rewrite, the last bit of story will escape from my head and get on the paper where it belongs.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Book reading at the library

My illustrator/publisher and I were invited to speak at the Riverview Library last Thursday as part of the Town of Riverview's Winterfest.  We were very pleased with the turn out - about 30 parents and kids.  It was about all that little meeting room could handle.

We spoke about the process of putting a book together and how my words influenced her drawings and vice versa.  People are always interested to hear how a children's book is put together and how the two of us work together to get the finished product.  Jennifer worked her magic again with the kids, showing how drawings evolve from her sketch book to the finish product.  Parents and children are equally amazed by her drawings.

I read one of the chapters from our new book, "Emily Finds a Dragon", and showed spots where the text is moved around, but the drawing isn't in place yet.  I spoke a bit about my finished manuscript, "Jimmy and Cinder", which is another middle grade book.  I'm looking for an agent for that one to see if I can get it published by one of the "big" publishers.  With the success this year of self published and small press books, I'm not certain that is the best way to go, but Jennifer thought i should give it a try in the market.

By the end of the evening, we had sold another 8 copies of "Owen and the Dinosaur" and we pre-sold 7 copies of "Emily Finds a Dragon" which is due out by the end of March - we hope.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Man are we lucky!

I look out the window and I see we received another 25cm of snow.  Since Christmas it's been - give us this week our big snow storm ... - .  I hear lots of grumbling but I have been thinking, can you imagine living in Egypt, or Tunisia, Haiti, Darfur, Afghanistan, or poor Queensland, Australia?  Then you would have something to complain about!

Here is Canada, and especially in the Maritimes, we forget how lucky we are to live here.  Watching the evening news should remind us but we grow complacent and forget.  The above picture is a building in downtown Moncton last Canada Day festival.  Lots of people in the streets - just listening to the live music on stage and not a brick being thrown. Priceless! 

The world is in turmoil in so many places.  Lets all hope that when it's all over, things are better for those people brave enough to try to make a difference.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The strength of Social Media

These past few weeks have seen social unrest at a level we haven't witnessed for many years.  What started in Tunisia has spread to Egypt.  President Zine El Albidine Ben Ali and his family have already fled Tunisia but President Mubarak is refusing to leave Egypt and has sent in the troops to quash the uprising.

Friday was a real pressure point in Egypt - the so called "Day of Rage".  Over 100,000 people were reported to be on the streets of Cairo and clashes with police and the military left many dead or wounded on both sides.  By the weekend, fighter jets were circling Cairo, often passing so close to the protesters that the noise set off the alarms in parked cars.  Regardless of the immediate outcome, the genie is out of the bottle and will not be easily stuffed back.

The most interesting thing for me, watching this all develop from the safety of  Atlantic Canada,  is the use of social media to organize these rallies.  Over 90,000 people answered the call to go to the streets in Tunis, all organized on Facebook.  In Egypt, in spite of Government attempts to control it, Twitter, Facebook and personal blogs helped the news media get the message to Egyptians and the world.  It was truly a revolt of the commoner, fed up with the corruption that has been identified with the long standing regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.

There are nearly 80 million people in Egypt and most live below the UN poverty line of $2 per day.  They're fed up with living with little hope for a better future while their leaders and their cronies live in luxury.  These last few weeks have shown them that there is strength in numbers.  My only concern is that there needs to be a leader.  Someone democratically elected to lead these countries to their full potential.  However, in the vacuum being created as we watch, who will come forward to do this?  I worry that what comes along might be worse.

Friday, January 28, 2011

25th Anniversary of Shuttle Explosion, e

It's hard to believe that the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after lift-off 25 years ago.  I had just started writing in my first journal at the time, so I dug out that journal, and found I had put some newspaper clippings in it as well.  That really took me back.

I was working as a land surveyor with Daigle Surveys at the time.  I was in the office doing computations when the story came on the news on the radio.  I remember thinking this is really going to set the space program back.  I was right because several years went by before the shuttles flew again.  I wrote in my journal, "It is a sad day for those of us who believe in the challenge of space and the value of exploration."  I still think that way.

I've been a space freak (or geek) since the early days of the Apollo missions.  I was 10 when Neil Armstrong took his one small step.  I guess that's why my writing has moved back and forth between Fantasy and SF.  I'm currently doing research for a series set on an much expanded ISS.  I'll work full time on that series after I finish the current book I'm working on.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Science Fiction needs good science

I bought the book "The Writer's Digest Guide to Science Fiction & Fantasy" before Christmas.  I think it's a must have for new writers in this genre.  Orsen Scott Card does a complete section on how to write SF and Fantasy and he's a pretty good teacher!  One of the points he makes is that good SF writing requires strong science.  Readers of today's SF demand this or they won't read you twice.

I'm currently working on a novel about the International Space Station.  I plan on it being a series of 4 or 5 books.  I have been a SF fan since I was in Jr High and cut my teeth on Arthur C. Clarke and his contemporaries. I have always had an interest in science and the ISS has been a favorite subject of mine since I first read about it 30 years ago.  After all, haven't we all wanted to live in a space station?

I've been working on research on this novel, while finishing up another.  I came across an article in the Globe and Mail yesterday that I clipped and put in the ISS research file. It is too cool to believe, actually.  A company in Texas, Joule Unlimited, has patented a genetically modified E. Coli bacteria that can produce fuel on demand.  They claim to be able to use this bacteria, plus sunlight and water - it doesn't need to be fresh, potable or clean - to produce liquid hydrocarbons.  No foodstock is needed what so ever.  On a commercial scale, they think they can produce 800 barrels of oil per acre of production whereas you can only get about 350 barrels from an acre of corn. So, not only is this pretty cool technology to help us produce oil, it will be a great system to use on my ficticous ISS.  Good science tweeked to make a good story.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Social Media and Tunisia

I was listening to an interview with a young lady from Tunisia this morning who is an active social media user/contributor.  She lives in Tunis, the center of all the protests in that country.  Her blog and SM postings are heavily followed in Tunisia and she is credited for starting and maintaining the buzz about the protests in Tunis.  These protests ultimately caused the President - read Dictator - of Tunisia to flee the country.  Turns out he is an active follower of Twitter posts and obviously didn't like what he was reading!

Social media has become a powerful force in the world and this is just another example of it.  Much of the information we receive from countries in turmoil, or recovering from major natural disasters, comes to us via the internet in some manner.  It has become a very powerful tool for social change and a life line when conventional communications are down.

Businesses are seeing the good and bad of the social media world.  It's a great way to interact with your customers and it's a great way for the world to find out when you screw up badly in customer service or in product design.  There are dozens of books, blogs and websites dedicated to helping businesses handle social media.

I've been active in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and blogging for about two years.  As a writer, I enjoy putting words to real and virtual paper, but it can be very time consuming.  Writing is a passion of mine, but it doesn't always pay the bills, so I'm also a REALTOR.  This is a great job to combine with writing since the hours are flexible, I get to meet lots of people which provide character ideas, and I get to write about that industry as well.  So I have 2 real estate related blogs, this blog - which has been neglected lately - plus the social media sites.  It's hard to service them all!