Book Review of Only by Blood

Author: Renate Krakauer

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Only by Blood is not just another Holocaust survival story. The author has crafted a clever mystery. She writes parallel stories about the two main characters, setting up for their inevitable meeting. The reader can glean that the two protagonists are related—the truth playing hide-and-seek between the lines. Only towards the end does the author reveal the specifics of this relationship.

Marnia, the modern-day doctor living in Poland, is bent on learning about her roots because of her mother’s dying wish urging her to “find them…make it right.” Her mother’s plea, uttered with her dying breath cannot be ignored. Her own curiosity regarding the secrecy that shrouds her childhood, leads her to embark on a journey of discovery that will take her from Poland to Canada.

Roza is a young mother who endures and survives the Nazi regime in Poland during World War II. Her journey to save her infant daughter is one that no mother should have to make. Forced into hiding during the war, Roza encounters and overcomes seemingly insurmountable trials and tribulations. Miraculously she survives, as does her daughter, Hanka. Together with her husband, the three migrate to Toronto, Canada.

As layer upon layer of both women’s stories are peeled back, it becomes clear that they are somehow connected, and that the relationship dates back to the war years. But the connection seems elusive, at least for this reader, and the exposition when it comes is satisfying. Of course, when I finished reading the book, I wanted to go back and find the bread crumbs that the author had left throughout the book.

The novel is beautifully written. One can’t help but feel sad for the torturous experiences of the Holocaust survivors. The appalling cruelty that one human being can inflict upon another while under the influence of corrupt power is beyond comprehension. One would think that that we would have learned from history to be more compassionate and to never subject another person to those types of brutal behaviour. But the sad reality is that although the world has changed since the Holocaust, war is still a way of life in many regions and people continue to perpetrate hateful acts.

Accountant With A Novel Twist

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Turn-cloak Accountant

How often do you come across an accountant who is also a writer? Apparently we are not quite as rare as I thought, but also not as prolific as say, lawyers wearing the writer’s hat.

So you may have guessed by now that I am an accountant. Yes, a bespectacled and boring CPA CGA with an MBA. And let me just say it before you do, “I am a bean counter.” But now I’m also a writer, a novelist, to be more precise.

How Can I Help?

Here’s the thing, many writers, like most artists, can’t find a single left-sided brain cell to perform tasks that are remotely accounting or business related.  I know that many writers would find my knowledge useful, so I’ve decided to share some of that in this post and in future ones.

This is my first post on accounting and writing. I’d like to start by sharing some tips on getting organized as an author and entrepreneur.

Some Common Q&A

Here are some of the most common questions I get from self-employed individuals and small business owners.

QUESTION: Do I have to set up a separate bank account for my business activities?

ANSWER: When you’re just starting out as a writer, you don’t need to incorporate (that’s a separate topic that I will delve into another time) or even register your writing as a business. Consider yourself as a self-employed professional, and therefore you don’t need to set up a separate bank. You do, however, need to track your author income and expenses.

QUESTION: How then do I keep my author income and expenses separate from my employment income and personal expenses?

ANSWER: Keep a record of your author income and expenses. If you know how to use Excel, set up a spreadsheet. It can be a simple three-column worksheet consisting of these three titles: DESCRIPTION, REVENUES, and EXPENSES. List in the respective columns, your revenues as you receive them and your expenses as you incur them. Obviously you can do the same thing with a notepad if Excel is not your forte. Tally up the REVENUES and EXPENSES columns at the end of each year and include them in your tax returns. You may need to hire a tax accountant.

QUESTION: How do I know which expenditure is a qualified expense for tax purposes?

ANSWER: Generally, any expense you incur to learn your writing craft (e.g. courses, conferences), to write (e.g. software), and then to promote it (e.g. book launch costs), may be considered a qualified expense. If in doubt, add the item into your record anyway, and then when you have to file your tax return, check with your accountant or verify with your taxation agency. This guideline is applicable for Canadians and likely for residents in other countries too, but always consults with a professional tax expert when in doubt.

QUESTION: How do I organize my receipts?

ANSWER: Here’s something that I do that takes a minute to keep organized. At the end of every year, I start a folder for the following year for all my receipts. You can subdivide the folder if you wish or set up two or even three folders instead of one—one for your regular employment related documents, one for writing revenues, and one for writing expenses. How many you set up is a matter of preference and also depends on how many receipts you expect to accumulate. As you receive a receipt, drop it into your folder. Then at tax filing season, take your folder(s) and the aforementioned log of your revenues and expenses to your accountant. You will save a lot of money in book-keeping fees!

Next time I’ll discuss how to create a budget and why you need one. In the meantime, check out how I’ve used my accounting background to create this really useful Excel workbook for tracking your novel’s characters and events. I use it all the time while I’m writing my novel. You won’t believe how it’s kept me sane whenever I’ve tried to remember an event I wrote about several months ago, or how old my characters are supposed to be in the context of a scene. I’ve built in automated formulas to calculate time lapses between events and each character’s age. Try it…it’s free.

So what pressing question do you have about your writing business?

DISCLAIMER: This post is meant to provide general tips to assist individuals in understanding and organizing their business records and is not to be considered as paid professional advice.

 

Picture credit: pixabay

Why I Love Mondays

Happy Monday!

“Now that it’s all over, what did you really do yesterday that’s worth mentioning?” Coleman Cox

345_Why I Love Mondays

The above quote popped up in one of my emails as I started to write this blog. How appropriate and timely for this post about a day that most of us dread. Do you love Mondays? I do. I’m betting that you’re looking at me funny and thinking, “Is she out of her mind?”

Trade in a Corporate Work Day

No, my grey matter is still intact where it belongs, but I did drop something…something out of my weekly routine, that is. More than a year ago, I traded in a corporate work day for a writing day. Best decision ever! Now I look forward to my Mondays when my only obligation is to myself. My calendar is cleared so that all I have to do is write and do all things related to advancing my writing career. When I wake up on Tuesday mornings to write in my gratitude journal, I gratefully state what I accomplished on my date with my creative side. It leaves me wishing for more…but all in good time.

A Fair Swap?

Do you get how liberating and wonderful it feels to shut out the corporate world for twenty-four blissful hours every week? To anticipate only four workdays instead of five? To be able to set my own agenda for what I want to achieve without having my time hijacked by another employee or another crisis? And to find a happy balance between my left brain and my right brain?

Monday Fantasies

On Mondays I create fantasy worlds where I play god, breathing life into my characters or killing them at will. I’ve almost completed my second novel now. No, it’s not a sequel to “Picture Bride” as many of my readers have asked for. Rather it’s a story (working title, “Wait for Me“) about a young woman’s journey to immigrate to Canada after her husband takes a “fake” wife to expedite the process.

Following the publication of “Picture Bride” in November 2014, I started writing its sequel. About a quarter of the way in, I just couldn’t connect with my characters the way I did when I wrote the first book. That’s when I decided to park it for a future date. Better to keep my readers waiting than to turn out work I have a hard time breathing life into at this time.

A Ship-Load of Editing Awaits

Now “Wait for Me” is going through the first round of editing…and it’s a ship-load of work, but I’m loving it. Although I knew that writing a novel wasn’t easy, I didn’t expect it to consume so much of my life. You really have to love this journey to be able to keep up the rigorous schedule you need to maintain to finish writing a book. Now at the editing stage, it’s a major re-write where I just about scrutinize every word and every event. If it weren’t for the novel-tracking workbook that I’ve developed, I don’t know how I’d be able to keep tabs on all my characters and events. If you’d like to try out my Excel workbook with automated time lapse calculations, I’ll be happy to share it with you for free, of course.

So is There a Happy Monday in Your Near Future?

Would you give up a part of your income in exchange for an extra day or two to write or do something you love?

 

Picture by Jeremy Hsiung

Why You Should Work on Your Own Terms: A Book Review

Work on Your Own Terms in Midlife & Beyond

A Book Written by Janine L. Moore

I was Wrong:

When I first came across the book, Work on Your Own Terms in Midlife & Beyond, I had already mapped out my exit strategy from the corporate world. In my mind, I didn’t need any more help to retool for my post-corporate life. The trouble was that I bought the book–it was an impulse buy–, and I couldn’t let a purchase go to waste. So I decided to read it.

I opened it on my tablet during my outbound flight to Portugal where a blissful week of sightseeing and socializing with friends awaited. From the first chapter, Janine Moore hooked me with her engaging style. The first quote I read, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” ~ Anais Nin, drew me in. Then as I read more, I felt more and more connected to Ms. Moore. She spoke to me even though I thought I didn’t need to hear anymore. She made a lot of sense, so I listened.

Every night at the hotel that week in Portugal, exhausted from the day’s activities I’d read the book before going to bed. Ms. Moore advises the reader to read the entire book once, and then re-read one chapter each day, doing the exercises shown after each one. The idea is to rewire your brain by the end of thirty days when you finish reading the book. She wants you “to view the world through a different lens so you can create life on your own terms.”

The Book

Work On Your Own Terms in Midlife & Beyond: Change Your Mind, Change Your Life
Each chapter begins with one or more powerful quotes from the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr., Dale Carnegie, the Dalai Lama, and others, and ends with some action steps where Ms. Moore also lists some suggested reading materials. She cleverly groups most of the chapters under six of our main fears: 1) Poverty, 2) Criticism, 3) Poor Health, 4) Loss of Love, 5) Old Age, and 6) Death. She addresses these fears and how to work with them.

Our fears cripple us if we let them. The author uses examples and quotes to help you tame them. For instance, the fear of poverty drives us to work hard and to amass more wealth than we need, thus cuffing us to our jobs longer than necessary. She uses the parable of the businessman and the fisherman to illustrate how one can chase monetary gains blindly in the name of financial freedom that will allow you to spend quality time with family and friends. However, all this while, that dream is already within the businessman’s reach except he doesn’t know it.

Death finds everyone without exception. The author quotes Norman Cousins, “The tragedy of life is not death, but what we let die inside us while we live.” Food for thought. She also believes that the people who ponder their own mortality lead more fulfilling lives. She uses Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc. as an example. He said, “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.”

The Message

While I haven’t gone back to re-read the book as recommended by the author–time constraints being my excuse–I plan to do it as soon as I can. I believe in Ms. Moore’s message about working on your own terms. It doesn’t even have to begin at midlife; it can apply to anyone with the right mindset.

Dancing At Ghunsa – A Book Review

Dancing at Ghunsa: A Trek in the Cloud Forests of Nepal

By Glenn Forbes Miller

Dancing At GhunsaThe words are at once poetic and fluid. Glenn Forbes Miller’s book, Dancing at Ghunsa is a feast of words. Miller has returned to Nepal—travelling half way around the world—for his second trek in the Himalaya Mountains. This time he aims to reach the base camp of the third highest mountain in the world, Kanchenjunga, 8,598 metres (28,208 feet).

The first chapter is titled, “Walk with Me a While.” You’ll realize as you start to read that you’re in it not just for a while, but for the entire hike. Miller takes you on an incredible journey along with his guide, porter, and cook. Along the way he meets many people who come to life in his pages—people in such remote and rustic worlds as to seem unreal, but for images captured in his camera.

Then there’s the terrain over which Miller treks through—rough paths rarely travelled if at all by commercial traffic, and sometimes no paths at all. The hike is not for the faint of heart. “At 12,000 feet, the trail steepens, which reduces me to stutter-stepping, but even so, I can only manage that for five minutes before having to stop and rest.” Couple this with the reduced oxygen at that altitude, his brain can no longer focus on anything save phrases from songs that he uses as rhythm for his five-inch strides.

The mountains are ruggedly beautiful. “Beauty and Danger go hand in hand in the Himalayas.” Even when Miller and his group stop to snap pictures, there is a sense of danger in those heights where often, the best views are taken standing on boulders and rocks.

Take the journey with Glenn Miller to Kanchenjunga’s base camp at almost 17,000 feet. You may never need to hike there yourself and still experience the sights, sounds, and people. I highly recommend this book, especially if you love an adventure and the English language.

Retiring, Retooling and My Three-day Weekend

Retirement

A Soul Sister

Jan Moore came on my radar screen a few months ago when I did a “Blog Hop” at the end of a 30-day on-line book-marketing challenge run by D’vorah Lansky. We connected on our websites because Jan’s message resonates with me. In fact, I’d already written some articles about retirement/retooling that have similar elements in her book, Work on Your Own Terms. While I’m only preaching retooling to retire, Jan’s actually teaching you how to do it. Check it out on her website.

My Four-Day Work Week

As some of you know, I now work four days a week. This is part of my exit strategy from the corporate world. Two and half years later, the job shackles will come off. Right now, just having this one day to devote to my writing and all things related to writing keeps me motivated and my creative juices flowing.

If you have been thinking about pursuing your hobby or passion, but can’t find enough time for it with your two-day weekend, consider taking this leap to a four-day work week. Of course, it’s not for everyone: your work place may not allow it, you’re not ready financially, or there may be other reasons.

Go Own Your Three-day Weekend Now

If you’re in a position to do so, then go after your three-day weekend now. Do it on a trial basis if you’re uncertain. Work something out with your employer. Just start. And try reading Jan’s book, Work on Your Terms. Maybe get in touch with her even. You’ll never know what you can do unless you start somewhere. Why not start now?

 

Lessons I Learned from Jeff Walker’s Book, Launch

Launch: An Internet Millionaire's Secret Formula to Sell Almost Anything Online, Build a Business You Love, and Live the Life of Your DreamsLaunch: An Internet Millionaire’s Secret Formula to Sell Almost Anything Online, Build a Business You Love, and Live the Life of Your Dreams by Jeff Walker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hype or Real?

If you’re hoping to become an instant millionaire, you’re in for a rude awakening. You’re not going to become rich just by reading this book.

Why I Read Launch

As an accountant and a business process management professional in the corporate world, I’ve never had the urge to dabble in marketing. There are others whose job it is to sell the company’s products and services. And I’ve never felt like I needed to market myself; people associate with me or become my friends for who I am.

Then I became a writer. My novel, Picture Bride is scheduled to be released by TSAR Publications on October 15, 2014. Suddenly, I find myself in the position of a marketer. True, I have the option to let the publisher deal with the book promotion and only do what they ask me to do. But I’ve never been a good backseat driver. I realized that if I want my years of hard work to be recognized, I have to promote my book. So I started to read books on marketing.

The Proof is in the Pudding

Okay, the book title tantalized and teased…so I bought Launch a few days before its release. Jeff Walker had already turned on his Internet marketing machinery long before the book was on the shelf. It started to drive sales using the methods he teaches. The fact that it climbed to the #1 spot in The NY Times Bestselling List within the first couple of weeks did not surprise me.

What did I learn?

For starters, there’s no shortcut to success. You have to work smart and work hard to succeed. Jeff Walker shows you how to promote your product, but you still have to get down in the trenches. And speaking of product, you need one to sell one—he’ll even give you ideas for that. I have to admit that I found it incredible what some people sell…and the same goes for what some people buy.

The book entertains while you learn—success stories that keep you turning the pages. Jeff Walker’s methods are credible and doable if you are serious about starting an Internet business. After reading the book and watching him speak a few times on video, I believe him. He’s not the sleazy salesman or marketer who turns you off with his pitch.

Conclusion

Does the book give you the license to print money? NO. Go do the work and learn some marketing tricks along the way to promote your product or service. There’s no reason why you can’t have fun doing it. Read Launch, and get some actionable ideas.

Lean In for Those Who Want to Move Ahead

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book made a lot of sense to me. I read some negative reviews where some readers wrote that not all women want to lean in and that Ms. Sandberg can advocate this because of where she is today in the business world. The truth is she states clearly in her book that it is not for every woman or man for that matter. She says that one should lean in if you are in ambitious pursuit of a career.

I believe that her lessons can be applied not just in the corporate world, but in any endeavor that we undertake. I like how she draws parallels to one’s career these days with the jungle gym as opposed to the corporate ladder. Many people don’t move up in a linear manner these days.

The book and its message resonate with me. Two thumbs up here.

View all my reviews

Why I Should Own My Identity

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Reflections on a Sunny June Day

As I sit in my kitchen on this beautiful afternoon in June, I let the sights and sounds outside take over my senses.

Whrrrm…whrrrm…whine…whine…screech! You got it; I’m not painting an idyllic scene. You see, the developer behind my backyard has started serious construction work. The green space has been razed down and the oversize digger is scooping up everything that grows there.

Earlier when I let my son’s dog, Lennon, out to do his thing, I listened for the birds. Their chirps were still audible despite the heavy equipment’s whirring. In fact, as I listen to them now, they sound like they’re competing with the whrrrm whrrrm…our spunky feathered friends doth protest in sympathy with their neighbours.

What’s that about an ebook?

No, this is not a griping session about the big bad developers. The truth is I barely pay attention to the noise now. They’ve turned into sounds of summer as I write my e-book, How to Stir the Writing Fire in Your Belly, which I plan to give away to all my email subscribers for free. I’ve almost completed the first draft.

Yippee…I said it out aloud. That must mean I’m committed to finishing the book.

Not so fast…

The trouble is that the first draft is really bad. I mean it. I will have to work hard to polish it until it shines. At this point, my brain doesn’t seem to want to cooperate. I’m experiencing a mental cramp that refuses to unlock and let me see how to make my book worth reading. So I’ve decided to give myself a break from over-thinking it.

My right brain gave me permission to read writing-marketing-writing blog after blog until the gray matter in my head has turned into floating black clouds of meaningless alphabets. I realize that my protracted research is actually retarding my progress. I don’t draw any comfort from this knowledge. OMG…where is the panic button?

I am a Writer

I bought Jeff Goins’s message about owning my writing identity a long time ago. Read his blog here. Just as when I’m at my day job, I own that identity too.

Yet sometimes doubts still plague me when I find myself in a slump…this is not where I want to be right now. It’s not possible to produce quality work if I only dip one foot in the water in either places.

I need to write what I know. That’s simple, isn’t it? I know myself well and I’m the only one who knows how I went through my journey to becoming a novelist.

Hmm…maybe I should change the book’s title to How I Stirred the Writing Fire in My Belly…and You Can Too. What do you think?

Picture downloaded from www.Morguefile.com

30-Day Book Marketing Challenge: What an Experience

A Free Course, Reblog-hop-150x150ally

Is anything really free these days? The only thing I can think of is the air that we breathe. But wait, let me tell you about D’vorah Lansky’s 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge. Not only was it free, it DELIVERED…day after day during the thirty days. And the best part of it all…you don’t need to spend a cent if you don’t want to and still get the full benefit of the course. Did I get your attention yet?

Converting a Skeptic

I started out as a skeptic. How much can I really learn from a free course? You heard the saying before: “You get what you pay for.” Well, not this time. D’vorah packed so much content into the 30-Day Challenge that I could barely keep up. I stayed up late at night listening to the webinars and constantly reading the great variety of materials provided. The posts teased and pushed my brain to its limit. How do I get the best out of all these marketing tips? So many to choose from, and I still have a day job to do.

My Ah-ha Moment

On Day 18 of the Challenge, I listened to Kristen Eckstein speak about serializing books on Kindle. I knew right there and then that I’d found a strategy that would suit me perfectly. My fiction, Picture Bride, will be published by a traditional publisher during fall 2014. I don’t have a book out yet, but I have many short stories that I’m still editing. Why not release some of these stories as a series on Kindle? And for my free giveaway for anyone signing up on my website, I started to write an ebook called How to Stir the Writing Fire in Your Belly.

I was on fire. I signed up for Kristen’s Kindle in 30 Challenge for the discounted rate of $97. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, you don’t have to pay for anything if you don’t want to. I’ve just started this course and hoping to self-publish my first ebook soon.

About My Novel

Picture Bride is about a young Hakka Chinese girl from India who marries a cold and aloof stranger in Canada. Bound by tradition and culture, she stays in the marriage despite his uncaring ways and even after she discovers his secret. Then when she is forced to flee, she is spurned by her father who cares only about his honor and reputation.

If you enjoyed this post please share the love and tell someone.

 

Only as Good as Your Word – Susan Shapiro

Only as Good as Your Word: Writing Lessons from My Favorite Literary GurusOnly as Good as Your Word: Writing Lessons from My Favorite Literary Gurus by Susan Shapiro

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The best thing about Susan Shapiro’s memoir is that she’s brutally honest. She hooked me at the Introduction and then she kept reeling me in.

Shapiro recounts her relationships with seven mentors who helped her in her quest to a becoming a professional writer. I believe she gave as much, or more than she received from them. She adored and celebrated them.

Jack Zucker, Shapiro’s high school English teacher, stoked her love for poetry. Then Howard Fast, her best-selling author cousin challenged her to “Write a whole book already!” As a self-confessed psychoanalytical fiend, she was more interested in writing poetries and personal essays during her early career. Now she has eight books to her credit.

The other mentors, both men and women, are from her various literary circles. She regards them as friends even while she acknowledges their roles in helping shape her professionally. Her candid accounts of her relationships with these people are witty and humorous.

Ms. Shapiro’s generosity and kindness shine through her book. I, a total stranger, had the pleasure of being on the receiving end when I met her at a conference. She is genuine and sincere; her memoir reflects that too.

This book is a keeper.

View all my reviews

Three Things I Learned From How to Market a Book by Joanna Penn

Why do we buy self-help books?

I don’t know about you, but I buy them when I’m itching to learn something new or to fill a void, perceived or otherwise, that I’m feeling. Then when I read a book that teaches me a useful tool or two, I can’t shut up. My friends and colleagues will hear about it and my family too. So why not write about it too?

Joanna Penn, the author of How to Market a Book has a prolific web presence. Find her on http://www.thecreativepenn.com/. She’s a credible teacher in the niche she’s chosen: helping writers publish and market their books.

What I learned from the book:

  1. When you’re marketing yourself, you can’t be self- conscious.

Joanna Penn says that we write because we either want to help people and make them think or to entertain them. Thus the end product is for the customer. If marketing is about the customer, then feeling self-conscious means I’m focusing on myself. So I’m learning to get over this troublesome and inhibiting naval-gazing.

  1. What is social karma?

Social karma is all about giving and sharing on the internet. Don’t hold back your compliments if you like something you saw or read. Be a giver, not a taker—that’s also my life philosophy. Good karma goes around when you generate positive vibes. Joanna Penn’s generosity comes across as genuine; it permeates her book. She provides many useful links and resources that I’ve clicked. I’ve even bookmarked some of them for future reference.

  1. The Importance of public speaking as an author.

Authors need to learn to be good public speakers. I get that. But, “Being a professional speaker makes you stand out in the crowded marketplace of authors.” This caught my attention. Yikes! I worry about bringing attention to myself. Do I have what it takes to stand in front of an audience and keep them engaged? I’ve chaired many meetings at work—that’s different because I know those people. I’ve even presented at a conference once, but my knees wouldn’t stop shaking. If I want to be a speaking author, then I’d have to tame the trembling inside pretty quick. Luckily, the internet provides lots of resources to help you learn any skill. Joanna Penn shared this link about introverts.

http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts

In closing, the book is well-written, readable, and the tips provided can be easily implemented if you wish to do so. Two thumbs up for How to Market a Book.

 

Ten Indications That You Can Be A Novelist

Novels

Do You Have What It Takes to be a Novelist? I never thought the day would come when I would proudly claim to have completed a novel, let alone find a publisher too. If you’ve dipped a toe into the pool, and are still not quite sure whether to go all the way or not, then check yourself against these indicators. If you agree with more than half, then start writing like I did.

1. You have a story bursting to be told.

It’s been stewing in your head for a long time. You’re convinced that you have an interesting story. In fact, you may even have bounced the idea against a friend or a family member, and they agree with you.

2. You read a novel and you say to yourself, “I could have done better.”

The plot doesn’t seem credible. You can’t connect with the main characters.

3. A short story just doesn’t satisfy you anymore.

When you finish writing a short story, your work feels incomplete. You no longer feel a sense of accomplishment like you used to.

4. Your characters cry out for more.

The characters live in your head begging you for more air-time. You can’t do them justice with two or three thousand words.

5. You want to paint on a bigger canvas.

More scenes, more settings. Your characters live in places and spaces that you want to bring to life for the readers.

6. The power to play god gives you a head-rush.

You have complete autonomy over your characters. When your novel starts to fizzle, you can kill one of them. You throw your hero another challenge because you can.

7. You seek free therapy.

When you write from the heart, you save on expensive psycho-analysis. You get to imbue your characters with traits that you love or hate. Some of your good or bad experiences get embellished in your plot. It’s a cathartic journey.

8. You can’t wait to put your butt down and write.

Once you’ve started your novel, every half-hour chunk of free time turns into an opportunity to crack open your laptop because you can’t help yourself.

9. Even when you don’t want to, you drop that butt down and do it anyway.

That’s when you know you’ve become a serious writer. If you didn’t write, you’d feel awful for the rest of the day.

10. You want to give your family bragging rights.

What a glorious feeling when you complete your novel, but even greater when your friends and family want to brag about your accomplishment.

Reflections

How is it possible that another year has gone by?  As one gets older, time doesn’t move at the pace of the hour glass; it slips and slides like sand between the fingers. All too soon, I’m chasing that last minute before the day is done, and then I lie in bed wondering if I could have done some more.

The end of the year is a good time to reflect on what we have done these past twelve months with our careers, families, friends, and interests. What have we done to change or enhance our existence? Did our careers get a boost or a nudge, or did it plateau and maybe even take a beating? What were the highlights in our family events? The ones that made us laugh, love, or cry? Did we reconnect with an old friend, make a new one or simply kept our friendships active? Where did our interests take us this year—developed a new hobby or nurtured an old one? Did we try to make a difference to someone’s life?

So much to reflect upon.

I am blessed. I am grateful for many things in my life, and I remind myself of these as often as I can—sometimes daily—with even just one thing that makes me smile. One joyful bundle entered my life this year. My granddaughter, born during the first quarter, never fails to lift my spirits every time my eyes fall on her cherubic face, in many expressions, on my computer screen.

My family, at my side all the time, cheers me on as I measure each success by my writing milestones. A new contact or friend, attendance at a new author’s book launch, my first reading, my name amongst other writers—still unknown, but hopefully not for long.

I have edited more than a quarter of my first novel. The fact that I even finished my first draft this year is an achievement I never thought was possible. For so many years I had dreamed of writing a novel, but never got past the first couple of pages. So I am indeed thankful.

For anyone reading this blog, I hope you’ve had a successful year, however you define success.

Story Engineering – Pearls of Wisdom

The most worthwhile $10 that I spent on a writing book recently was for Larry Brooks’ book, Story Engineering. Not only has he suddenly brought structure to my novel, but he’s infused it with new life.

Last November I started my novel-writing journey. I bought a number of books for technical guidance. I’m reading many novelists’ work with a voracious appetite in the hopes of gleaning some nuggets of wisdom. I’m also poring over numerous writing blogs, magazines, and anything that remotely resembles writerly pearls. And now there’s Story Engineering, a book I stumbled upon when I was browsing some of the recommended websites by Writers Digest. Until then, I’d say I was probably wandering in the pantser’s forest. Yes, there’s actually a word for my “fly by the seat of the pants” writing style. Mr. Brooks refers to people like me as pantsers.

Well, I took his advice and started to plan my book. That’s not to say I didn’t have a plan before – it was somewhat unstructured with a loose outline. My left brain kicked into high gear as I read Mr. Brooks’ methodology. I’m not suggesting that writing is left-brained, but I like the structured process. I can overlay my creativity freely over my “beat sheet”. Knowing my destination ahead of time is actually liberating. I know it almost sounds oxymoronish (dictionary says no such word exists)…structured creativity. Hey, if it gets me excited about my writing, that’s what matters.

I have completed the road map for my novel. Thankfully I was only at the halfway point in the book when I realized that I should stop my organic writing. I can now start to navigate my way on this journey with a defined route. While I’m prepared and expect to deviate somewhat during the creative process, I know that the basic path will keep me on course. For any budding novelist out there, if you’re finding yourself doing many re-writes and drafts, I’d recommend trying Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering.

The Perfect Storm of the Book Shopping Kind

I was on a book buying spree this past week. Why? Because all the right conditions were present just like the perfect storm, a rarity.
Ever since I got an iPad from my boys last Christmas, it has an invisible chord attached to me right next to my BlackBerry. I can’t believe how easy it is to browse and download ebooks in minutes. The virtual store is denting my wallet faster than the bricks and mortar kind.
My novel has been in hiatus because I’m focusing on my short stories…or perhaps that’s just an excuse. It occurred to me that a how-to book would help me re-focus. So, I started the week with Bob Mayer’s “The Novel Writer’s Toolkit”. Then came Writers Digest’s bundled deal, a few days later, for “Start (and Finish) That Book Kit”. Hmmm…that seemed like another sign to get me going again. No ebooks here, but I have nothing against traditional books that I can physically hold in my hands. And yes, I could do with a couple of webinars too.
By Friday night, after a couple of @mentions and direct messages with a fellow tweep, Rick Bylina’s “One Promise Too Many” became part of my Kindle collection before I could finish saying “Boo”. Finally, I wound up the week with my first Kobo purchase, “The Accident” by Linwood Barclay. When he was a humour columnist at The Toronto Star, his section was a must read for me.
To sum up, this week has been a productive one for books, someone else’s writing, that is. I’m glad I have a paying job.

Reality Check – The 4-Hour Work Week?

When my son told me to read Timothy Ferriss’ book, The 4-Hour Work Week, I thought the title was very clever. It was an immediate hook. Who doesn’t want to work only four hours a week? If someone has a solution for helping me be ultra productive, then I’m prepared to invest some time in reading the book.
My son raved about the useful tips he was learning from Tim Ferriss. As an entrepreneur, he thought he could apply a number of suggestions shown in the book. He is now trying to avoid meetings unless they are absolutely necessary (he says). He already pays bloggers to manage and post to his company’s website, so he is not averse to the idea of outsourcing…okay, so Tim Ferriss puts a whole new meaning to the concept of outsourcing. As for gunning for mini-retirement, that’s still a pipe dream.
For my part, I found most of the pages “entertaining”, this being the key word. I was especially tickled by some of the stories served up as examples of how to outsource your life. I bookmarked them and shared some laughs with a few of my work colleagues. Alas, Tim Ferriss’ methods will never work for office lifers like me. I bet that if I adopted some of his tactics, I would be standing at the unemployment line in a heartbeat. Now, my boss trusts me…a lot, I think. But to put in face time of, say, three days a week? He’ll pay me accordingly.

For the short period that I spent flipping the pages, I could see myself on board my favourite cruise ships, living out the 4-hour work week. But, Mr. Ferriss, while I chuckled and even laughed out loud reading your book, I cannot heed your advice.

Learning from books

Sometimes we place unrealistic expectations on books to make life-altering changes for us. I have often picked up a self-help book with that hope. Of course, that doesn’t happen. Reality check, please. Indeed I’ve gleaned many useful nuggets that I have been able to apply to my life from reading well-informed authors. I believe that if I can take away two or three tips and incorporate them into my routine, then my time is well spent.
Such was the case when I bought Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein – The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. I thought I would give my brain the gift of memory. Eagerly, I read page after page, holding my breath for the moment of enlightenment. Then I finished reading the book. Still the “Aha” moment did not come.
So I mulled over what I had read. Did I enjoy reading it? Yes, I did. Is there a takeaway for me? I thought about Mr. Foer’s journey from an ordinary person with average memory to winning the U.S. Memory Championship. He shared some of his memorization techniques. Example, “The idea is to create a space in the mind’s eye, a place that you know well and can easily visualize, and then populate that imagined place with images representing whatever you want to remember.” I tried that out. It worked. I loved the suggestion that the more ridiculous the images, the better you would be able to retain them. The problem was that the effort became too much for me. I have lapsed back to my usual forgetful self, but I’m learning not to chastise myself for not remembering.
The lesson:  books can’t change me, only I can…sometimes with assistance from experts in their fields.

The Palm Leaf Fan

Kwai-Yun Li is an amazing person who I had the pleasure of meeting recently. She is the author of The Palm Leaf Fan, a collection of short stories that has prompted many discussions in university classrooms. A Chinese Canadian who emigrated from India in 1972, she is a generous spirit brimming with enthusiasm about her work, and eager to share her knowledge about the writing world.
Ms. Li’s characters are based upon the Indian Chinese of Calcutta (now called Kolkata). Her stories bring to life a community that was once vibrant in that populous city. Most of these people are now living in other parts of the world, the largest number having settled in Canada. Ms. Li writes about growing up in Calcutta with simplicity that lends credibility to all the personalities. She has a gentle and persuasive style as she weaves her characters into arranged marriages, the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict and subsequent internment of Chinese residents, and the Indian caste system.

I feel very fortunate to have made the acquaintance of this graceful person. If you’re looking for something different and uncomplicated to read this summer, try The Palm Leaf Fan.

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Book Review – Dreaming Kathmandu

If you love words, Glenn Forbes Miller’s book, Dreaming Kathmandu, will captivate you. If hiking is your passion, you will be treated to an adventure. If you love traveling, the sights and sounds will reach out to the tourist in you.
Miller has captured the rugged and rustic beauty that is Nepal. His eloquence paints an ephemeral glimpse of a world that is as yet unspoiled, for the most part, by modern advancements. When he reaches fabled Tilicho Lake, the highest lake in the Himalayas at 16,232 feet, its pristine beauty moves him to philosophical musings.
“One has to observe the beautiful and be moved by the phenomenon for the beautiful to exist. Things in and of themselves are only things. A mountain. A valley. A gelid blue lake. Each, all exist without me. And if I perceive one of them as beautiful, it exists because I am there to behold it, to declare it, to think it into existences.”
Then there is the human dynamics. Four family members, Miller and his wife and two adult children, always within yelling distance for 34 days. It is not always a smooth ride. Other trekkers along the way also become characters in his book as he weaves them in with interesting side stories. Add to that mix the local people brought to life with words that he seems to have an endless supply of.

 
Certainly a book worth reading.

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