Wednesday, 18 May 2016

In Memory of a Loyal Reader

I appear at many craft shows and arts festivals in eastern Ontario, particularly during the summer months. It's something I enjoy doing because it gets me out from behind this keyboard and gives me a chance to meet people and talk about what they like to read.

After having done it for several years, I've reached the point where faces are becoming familiar. People often come up to the table and tell me they enjoyed the book they bought the last time, and do I have a new one they could get? I appreciate the positive feedback because writing is a pursuit that takes a lot of courage some days, and it really helps to get a little pat on the back now and again.

One couple in particular became especially familiar. The woman was the reader, and each time I made an appearance in the Kemptville area she came out, just to remind me how much she loved my writing and to check whether I had a new one she hadn't read yet. Her husband mostly smiled and nodded as she talked to me. "She really loves your stuff," is about all he'd say. Coming up to my table was her thing, it was something they obviously planned in advance, and he clearly enjoyed watching her do it.

Last winter at the St. Michael's High School Christmas craft show they came up to my table again. She talked away to me as always, and was pleased to find SORROW LAKE, which she hadn't read yet. When I autographed her copy, I felt bad that I had to ask her name once again before signing it. I've never been very good at putting names to faces, and as she left the table I made a little vow to myself that I would remember her name the next time. Connie. Connie. Connie. The next time I saw her, I'd say, "Hey, Connie! How are you?"

This morning I delivered a presentation to the Probus Club in Kemptville. Before it began, a man walked up to the front of the hall and asked if I recognized him. His name tag said JIM and I knew the face, but.......  He pulled out his phone, and as he flipped through pictures looking for one of his wife, I knew it was Connie's husband. I said, "You're Connie's husband! How is she?"

"She passed away," he said. "Several months ago."

I was devastated. I'd spent the winter keeping her name and face within close reach in my head, waiting for our next encounter so that I could give her a little something back for all her enthusiasm and loyalty. I waited too long.

So this blog post is dedicated to the memory of Connie Haldersen, a sweet person I would have liked to have known better. Thank you, Connie, for all the pats on the back you gave me, thanks for reading my books, thanks for taking the time to come out and tell me how you felt about them. Thanks for being the kind of person whose husband could enjoy her little enthusiasms with so much affection.

My deepest condolences to you, Jim.

Boy, I sure wish Connie would be able to read my next one when it comes out. Fingers crossed, I think she would have liked it, too.

Rest in peace, dear.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Community Greening Begins!

This is the time of year when local communities around here hold plant sales to raise funds for local spring projects. It's a true sign that winter is finally behind us and a whole lot of great weather is on the horizon!

This past weekend I had a chance to attend the Great Burritt's Rapids Plant Sale. Since it was held at the Community Hall, where my office is now located, it was an easy event to make. I took this photo after most of the rush had died down (and I'd already grabbed my plants!).

This particular sale is held by the Village Greening Team. They used the funds raised to maintain the public gardens in Burritt's Rapids. Isn't this a great idea? Many of the perennials are donated from local historical gardens, and this year's sale featured Fire Star Dianthus and Jack Frost Brunnera.

I zeroed in on the day lilies and asked the very kind woman helping me out to choose two that she thought might do well at my place. Turns out she had donated the lilies herself and that they came from her garden at Burritt House. So now I have a piece of history growing in my own modest garden in Oxford Station.

Can't wait to see them bloom. Can't wait for summer!

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

"The Human Race is Just Unbelievably Deep"

Yesterday morning while driving I was listening to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's morning radio program "q" when a very interesting interview began. It featured New York Times obituary writer Bruce Weber, who is touring to promote a new documentary film by Vanessa Gould that focuses on the obituary department of the Times.  (Links are provided below.)

Among other things, Mr. Weber talked about the process involved in deciding who will have their obituary written for the Times and who won't. As he said, many people are worthy but not many are newsworthy, and it is this latter quality that is usually the deciding factor.

As interesting as the interview was, it was the very last thing Mr. Weber said that stayed with me. Asked about his insight into how people featured in a Times obit have contributed to history, he said that many of his obituaries have covered people who contributed a great deal to history, such as distinguished veterans, but whose lives are largely forgotten, as the famous tend to overshadow the less-than-famous. However, he said, there are many less-than-famous people whose lives have nudged history in a certain direction.

He concluded: "The human race is just unbelievably deep. We've got a big bench."

He said it with such enthusiasm and affection that it stayed with me long after I got out of the car and went about with the rest of my day. Given that he'd talked about the sadness of his job and how it had affected his long-term view of life, his enduring fascination with people and the contributions they make in their lives resonated with me.

I recognized in it my own unflagging interest in people and my very strong conviction that there is no end to the supply of inspiration for the characters that writers create for their stories. There's no reason on earth why readers should ever settle for flat or stereotypic characters when, as Mr. Weber said, "the human race is just unbelievably deep." There's no reason why I should settle for less, either, in my own work.

Find the CBC interview of Bruce Weber here
Find the teaser for the documentary film Obit here

Monday, 25 April 2016

Spring Reading Season Begins!

Photo by David Koren
It's that time again. Time to shake off the winter rust, get a handle on the nerves, and get out there reading.

This week I had an opportunity to appear at the 2016 Arthur Ellis Award shortlist event at Chapters Rideau in Ottawa. Along with a stellar group of mystery authors including Mary Jane Maffini and Linda Wiken, I helped celebrate the announcement of the short lists for this year's awards. It was a lot of fun, and thanks go out to Linda for all her hard work.

Yesterday I was back at it again, appearing at the 2016 edition of the Navan Fine Arts Festival with Lynn L. Clark. Located at the curling club in this town on the eastern edge of Ottawa, it was an opportunity for us to try a new venue. We were pleased with the results. We both did short readings by the fireplace and chatted with interested readers. Thanks go out to Anne Warburton for all her hard work and support at this event, to the Navan Lions Club, and everyone else involved in making this event a reality.

I should mention that this festival included a very interesting event that other communities might like to try as well. Called the Chair Project, it was a goodwill contest in which families were encouraged to donate wooden chairs. The idea was for children to decorate the chairs in whatever way struck their fancy, donate the chairs to the event, and have a chance to be declared the winner in various categories (Cuteness, Amazingness, etc.). There were three age groups, and a surprising number of chairs entered into the contest. The chairs will be set out around the town during the summer for people to sit in and admire. I thought it was a great idea!

Watch this spot as spring rolls into summer for more updates on our travelling road show!

Monday, 11 April 2016


Spring is slow to arrive in our neck of the woods these days, so it was with a mixture of pleasure and relief that I took a couple of hours yesterday to attend the semi-annual vinyl record show and sale at St. Anthony's Hall in Ottawa.

Now, I've blogged before about being an avid collector of vinyl records, an addiction that goes back to my teens, when we haunted Moondance Records in Peterborough scoping out the latest arrivals. I must stress, too, that I don't collect these things for their value, although I'm aware that vinyl has caught on again and prices have shot through the roof. I collect them because I love them, and I love the music.

As I was walking into the hall, I passed some guy on a cellphone explaining that the record he was thinking of investing in was an original pressing, and the dealer was asking only $99 for it. Well, once I was inside I discovered the prices on most of the stock matched what this guy had found. For me, that would have blown my entire budget. And besides, I've always been something of a bottom feeder, not only for budgetary reasons but also for the challenge. I love finding hidden gems for bargain prices. Who doesn't?

Some of the discoveries not currently in my collection that I pounced on for under $5 included Last of the Red Hot Burritos by The Flying Burrito Brothers, Bare Wires by John Mayall and the Blues Breakers, vibraphonist Fred Raulston's Open Stream, and The Best of Buzzy Linhart, one of those two-record sets issued by Kama Sutra Records in the mid-Seventies. Somehow Buzzy's records  never made it to Peterborough that I ever noticed, but that's what this is all about--filling the holes and catching up with the past!

Oh yes, and my favourite grab of the day--Garden of Joy by the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, pictured above. The cover was a little worn, so the guy ignored the $2 sticker and threw it in for free.

How great is that???

Monday, 28 March 2016

An Updated Video Teaser for SORROW LAKE

Click on the link below to view the video!
Our last snowfall of the year a few weeks ago gave us an opportunity to re-shoot some of the video sequences for the SORROW LAKE teaser. So we took a few days and now have uploaded a new version to YouTube for your viewing pleasure.

You may not be aware of it, but the terms "book trailer" and "book teaser" are actually registered trademarks owned by a company who produces these book marketing tools. We refer to ours as a video teaser in the hopes that we will not be chased down and prosecuted like dirty, thieving dogs.

It's important to mention again, on this note, that the music used in the video, "Atmospheric Peds," by Themusicase, is provided by agreement with Cyberlink, and additional photos are used under licence with Thinkstock.

There, I think that covers all the bases. Now, on to the video:


Monday, 7 March 2016

5 Tips on Writing a Synopsis

It's done, it's done!!!
Now that the revised manuscript of The Long Road into Darkness, the first Tom Faust Crime Novel, is finished in its present form and is in the hands of my primary beta reader (Lynn) for feedback, the time has come to work on supporting documents for the manuscript. First and foremost is a synopsis.

Like many authors, I hate writing synopses. It feels so wrong to be forced to condense a 260-page manuscript down to a single descriptive page. I'm supposed to cover what took me a year to write in a few breezy paragraphs??

Naturally, I spent the morning today researching the subject. There are many articles and blog posts online that offer advice and guidance on how to write an effective synopsis, and I've gone through them to distill for your reading pleasure five important tips on how to succeed in this gawdawful, onerous task.

5. Remember Your Objective.
A synopsis is a tool you will use to inform a literary agent or publisher about your manuscript. As such, it must answer all their most important questions--what's it about, where is it set, who is it about, and why should I be interested?

As The Literary Consultancy suggests (link below), if you find the job of writing a synopsis distasteful, "think not of yourself, but of the reader, and treat the project as a ... challenge and [an] opportunity to show your work off in its essential form."

4.  Stick to the Basics.
Keep it short. A single-page synopsis is best, about five hundred words or so. While book readers use their leisure time to read your work, agents and acquiring editors do not--don't expect them to be happy slogging through five pages when one will do the trick.

Use an active, third-person voice and present tense. Review each word in your draft synopsis and try to find a simpler, punchier alternative.

Avoid back story, avoid dialogue, and don't format your synopsis into separate sections. KISS - Keep It Short and Simple.

3. Cover Your Entire Story Arc.
Describe in a few clear, concise paragraphs how your story unfolds. Use the rule of three: explain how your story begins, how it gets complicated, and how it ends. Cover the primary plot, of course, and briefly allude to subplot, depending on how important it is, where space permits. Agents and editors want to see that your story hangs together and isn't disjointed or incomplete.

While you're busy with this, work in a brief allusion to where (and when?) it's set.

A last word on the ending of your story. Many bloggers suggest withholding your ending in order to entice or tease an editor. I've been given to understand, in no uncertain terms, that this is a bad, bad idea. Spell it out without holding back, otherwise they may suspect you don't have confidence in it, or worse, that you haven't actually written it yet.

2. Demonstrate Character Development.
At this point you've probably already written five hundred words (or more), but keep in mind that agents and acquiring editors will be focusing on your protagonist and your other primary characters. Give them a strong sense of who they are and how your protagonist develops over the course of your novel. Book readers crave compelling characters--demonstrate that you have them!

1. Hook 'Em, Danno.
Our number one tip takes you right back to the opening paragraph of your synopsis. Plot summary can be rather dry and boring, no matter how great your manuscript may read, so make a special effort right up front to hook the person reading your synopsis. You want them to read the entire thing, since you've slaved and slaved over it, but agents and editors are like everyone else--if you don't grab their attention in the first few sentences, they're likely to move on to something else.

If you've written a crisp, attention-getting synopsis, you'll achieve your overall goal: you'll leave them anxious and impatient to read the entire story!

For more information:

Now it's time for me to get busy and write mine. Agggghhhhhh!!!