Welcome to the world of unicorns.

Welcome to the world of unicorns.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Grouchy Amazon Guy - Could Have Sworn it was Donald Trump

I don't remember exactly how it happened, but it seemed I had signed myself up for a free Amazon course of two hours in Burnaby, B.C. 

Why not go? I thought, being an author and all. After all, Amazon keeps changing the algorithms in favour of their self-published books (so rumour has it). Perhaps this lecture will reveal the secret to getting around these mysterious numbers. And so I showed up, grabbed my free cup of coffee and sat down.

In walks the presenter. Handsome, tall, thirty-something, his hair greased back as slick as the talk he was about to give.  And no sooner did he begin, did he utter a serious Canadian faux-pas. He said, "You can make a lot of money on Amazon despite your race."

Ahhhhh! What????? I immediately turned around to see what the demographics were in the room and discovered there were only three white people there. My hackles raised at his divisiveness, and I nearly let out a low growl, but instead decided to listen to what he had to say. After he's only human, right? We all mistakes.

That's when I noticed his accent was American, and thought, "Perhaps he doesn't know. Maybe I should give him the benefit of the doubt and tell him afterward." 

Soon he was tempting people to sign up for a three-day Amazon course for only $1299 by offering them a free kindle. Then he explained the strategy of buying top selling items at wholesale price and selling them on Amazon at a profit. Hmmmm. So much for my writing career. But still, I had decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.

At the end of the talk, I went to him and asked him about the book algorithms, and he didn't deny it. When I asked him how I could get around them, he suggested I sell something else. (Good thing I didn't pay for this lecture.)

But my kinder side prevailed and I said, "May I give you some feedback?" still reeling from the race thing. 

"No!" he recoiled in true Trumpian fashion, his arms crossed, and face in a scowl.

"But it's important," I said.

He acquiesced, but still looked ready for battle.

"When you said that bit about selling things on Amazon despite your race? Well....this is Canada. We don't have racial problems like you guys have in America. There are some, but all in all, we just get along. It's easy. It's not necessary to say that in Canada."

The handsome young man suddenly transformed to Donald Trump himself, red faced as Potus and began arguing with me.  Real professional.

My reply? "My hackles were raised when you said that. It's just a suggestion. Take it or leave it."

And with that, I left, not having signed up for his course on how to peddle on Amazon and a bad taste in my mouth for the world's largest on-line company.

As I was catching the elevator, I spoke with an Asian man who'd sat through the speech. Turned out he was as offended by the race comment as I was. 

How marred my image is of Amazon now, me, an Amazon Prime holder. Think I'll go hang out at the old-fashioned mall instead of on-line. (Huge sigh of relief.)

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Cool Calgary Author With An Imagination Like Nothing I've Ever Seen

My guest today is Calgary author Simon Rose, who has published fourteen novels for children and young adults, seven guides for writers, almost 100 nonfiction books, and many articles on a wide variety of topics. Earlier this year he released Twisted Fate, the second installment of the paranormal Flashback series. Today, we’re looking at his latest release, the Shadowzone series. I'm exhausted just thinking about it all. Phew.

So what’s the Shadowzone series all about?

The series involves the discovery of a grim dystopian version of Earth that’s ruled by a totalitarian dictatorship, the threat of a deadly virus, and a race against time to save the lives of millions. Without giving too much away, here’s a synopsis for each of the novels.

While watching intense flashes of lightning during a violent storm, Ben experiences mysterious and disturbing visions of another world, one very different from his own. In the chain of events that follow, Ben encounters Charlie, a girl from a dark version of Earth, a planet doomed by the effects of environmental catastrophe, where the leaders will stop at nothing to complete their deadly mission. 

On a doomed version of Earth, the sinister schemes of the Ministry are moving ever closer to completion, with dire consequences for the inhabitants of two worlds. For Ben and Charlie, an unlikely alliance, unexpected reunions, and the mysterious prophecy of the Chosen One offer a glimmer of hope, with the ever-present prospect of betrayal, as they embark on an unpredictable journey into the unknown. 

In a dark parallel world, following attacks by its most determined opponents, the Ministry has been forced to change its plans. Yet the ruthless Director-General is prepared to sacrifice anyone to achieve an entirely new beginning, no matter what the cost. In a deadly race against time, as events spiral out of control, Ben and Charlie must risk their lives in a desperate attempt to save two worlds from destruction. 

I'm overwhelmed. What inspired you to write these three books? What’s the story behind the story?

The original idea was about someone capturing mysterious images on a video camera of a person that no one else could see. It was around the time that a local hospital was about to be demolished. I imagined that my character was filming the event and captured the image of the person stepping seemingly unharmed from the rubble as the building came down. The idea of capturing unexplained images on film was something that I’ve continued working on and it also inspired me to write The Time Camera, which was published in 2011.

For a while, that’s all I had and it was one of those ideas that I was never sure would come to anything. It was early in my writing career and I put it aside and worked on other stories, but I’d periodically add another element to the story about the camera and the mysterious individual. At one point, I decided that the person that the boy caught on film wasn’t a ghost but from another dimension or perhaps a parallel universe and they were attempting to contact him for some reason. I then began to add details of this other Earth and the reasons for the connection to our world, and it went from there. An initial concept involving kidnappings from hospitals didn’t quite work, so instead I developed the idea of a deadly virus, which was a good fit with the type of government running the other Earth. Once that was all in place, I was able to get to work.

Was it always going to be a series?

Shadowzone was originally only one novel, but once I’d finished it I immediately realized that the story wasn’t over and that I need to write more. The final installment was written very quickly and in the process I knew that I needed to expand the earlier sections too, so in the end I had a trilogy.

 So of course, people need to read all three :)

You could certainly just read Shadowzone, but there’s a cliffhanger ending and hopefully most people will feel utterly compelled to be read on and learn what happens next. Into The Web and Black Dawn also don’t make sense if you haven’t read the first book in the series. Taken together, it’s an exciting, fast paced adventure that I hope everyone will really enjoy.

So do you think it’s a good idea for authors to write a series of books?

It can be, but only if you have enough material for multiple books. If readers are sufficiently interested in the story and the characters after completing the first installment, they’d usually like to read more. However, the story or theme has to be strong enough to warrant more adventures. It’s important to remember that the reader won’t appreciate any novel that’s overloaded with filler, just for the sake of creating a series, and might easily avoid any books by the same author in the future.

So where can people buy all three books in the Shadowzone series?

The books can be purchased at most of the usual places, as follows:

Paperback: AmazonCreatespace

Into The Web

Black Dawn
Ebook: Amazon CanadaAmazon USAKoboiBooks, and Smashwords

You published these yourself, whereas most of your earlier work was traditionally published, correct?

The first eight novels were published by Tradewind Books, while Flashback, Future Imperfect, and Twisted Fate were published by Tyche Books, but my seven books featuring tips and advice for writers were self-published as paperbacks and as ebooks.  I hadn’t self-published fiction before and thought it was time that I did. The Shadowzone books were finished and I believed that they were as good, if not better, than my other work. I also asked some people read them to confirm this and then decided to go ahead with publication. A lot of traditionally published authors also self publish as well now, so it’s quite common practice these days. 

Will you self publish again in the future?

Yes, I think so. The third part of the Flashback series will be published by Tyche Books next spring, but I do have several other projects that I’ll most likely publish myself as well soon. 

What are you currently working on?

I always have a current project or two and right now I’m working on a historical fiction novel for young adults set in the turbulent era of the English Civil War in the 1640s. The novel’s about half finished, but I still have a lot of work to do. I’m also working on sequels to Future Imperfect and The Sphere of Septimus.

Are your other books in this similar dystopian genre?

No, although my novels are all in the science fiction and fantasy genre. The Sorcerer’s Letterbox and The Heretic’s Tomb are historical fiction adventures set in medieval England, The Alchemist’s Portrait is a time travel story, The Emerald Curse is all about superheroes and comic books, The Doomsday Mask is all about the legend of Atlantis, and The Sphere of Septimus involves the characters traveling into another world and is in the same vein as the Harry Potter series, The Chronicles of Narnia, or Lord of the Rings. Future Imperfect is a technology-driven story featuring mysterious messages from the future, and Flashback and Twisted Fate are in the paranormal genre. I’ve also written nonfiction guides for writers, including The Children’s Writer's Guide and The Time Traveler’s Guide.
You also work with other authors, don’t you?

Yes, I do quite a lot of that these days. I’ve edited books in all kinds of genres for a wide range of writers in the last few years, offering both substantive and copy editing. I also work as a writing coach and consultant for people with works in progress or those that are struggling with writer’s block. You can learn more about some of the projects I’ve worked on that have subsequently been published are here on my website. I also offer online courses for adults and workshops on a variety of themes for aspiring young writers.

Thanks Simon, for being my guest here today and the very best of luck with the Shadowzone series. I hope the books sell thousands of copies in the coming weeks and months.

You can learn more about Simon and his work on his website at www.simon-rose.com or online at the following social media sites:

·      Facebook
·      Twitter
·      LinkedIn
·      YouTube
·      Google +
·      Pinterest

Friday, April 21, 2017

Finding Memère and Pepère

I'm back from a very exhausting, but exhilarating trip to Saskatchewan that took place over the course of 2-1/2 days, where I sought out the places I had always heard tell tales of in my childhood. You see, my grandparents, Napoleon and Leopoldine de Montigny, were one of the first homesteaders in Southern Saskatchewan shortly after WWI. Together they cleared the land, and tried to build a life for themselves during the twenties and the dirty thirties while bringing up seven children. Today, I will tell their story with the photos I took while there.

I drove the 3-1/2 hour trip from Regina to Val Marie at night, lovely at first as the sun set until I hit Cadillac at dusk and the road changed from a modern highway to some bumpy and narrow wagon trail full of potholes marked by small, red signs. I managed to miraculously arrive in Val Marie with no flat tires, but I couldn't find my hotel, The Convent Inn, because there were no streetlights and my GPS was freaking out. (They're not built for small towns, I guess.) Finally, in frustration, I stopped at some place and went in to ask for directions. Turned out it was the right place. And what a place! (Although I'm kind of ashamed to admit that since it was an old convent, I was worried about ghosts.)

I slept well that night because it was so quiet. No cars, not even a rooster. And definitely no ghosts. Phew!

In the morning, after a delicious breakfast, I went to the Municipal Land Claims office and found out exactly where the homestead had been. But I have this terrible problem -- when I listen to people talk, I fade in and out a lot. So I wasn't sure if the information was quite right. But here's what's left of Masefield, the closest town to the homestead.

After passing Masefield, I found what I thought was the road that lead to the homestead and traveled down it, looking for the two hills that marked the opening to where my grandfather had built the tiny house and dug a beautiful dam, planting trees beside it. Couldn't find the two hills, so when I saw a truck coming along the gravel road, I flagged it down. Two Hutterite men gladly stopped and chatted with me. One of them told me that when he was a boy, he used to play in that dam and that the Hutterites now owned the land. He said they had drained the water and cut down the trees that once stood beside it, providing much-needed shade. He pointed me in the direction of where the dam had been. So off I went, walking through the prairie, just me and fields of gold under incredible blue skies dotted with puffy clouds. Fortunately, I didn't run into any rattlesnakes or aggressive bulls (another thing I was worried about), just some muck from time to time. (My boots are still crusted.) I never found the damned dam, but I did make it all the way across to the highway. That's a lot of land. When I got to the road, I had walked so far, I had to flag down another car whose driver gladly took me back to my vehicle. Not Hutterite this time.

I paid another trip to the Land Claims office because I was deeply suspicious that I hadn't been in the right place. Turns out I hadn't. So back I went to the same road and took pictures of the surrounding area, this time standing on my grandparents' land. Could this be the two hills?

I took lots of pictures, then drove back to Val Marie to look for the house Pepère built for his ever-growing family after leaving the farm. It was still there, but someone was renovating the inside. My father was very proud of this house. He was supposed to have dug the basement, but never did because he kept being distracted by pretty girls in town. 

Here's the wheat pool.

And here's the school they attended for a while.

I'm wondering if this was the general store. Aunties and Uncles? Would you know?

Anyway, after filling my car up at the local card lock, something I'd never done before, I went off to Ponteix where my great grandfather had lived. What a charming town! Here's his house. It too is being renovated and has changed.

I had some help finding this house. A couple in Quebec City - Louise Lupien and her husband, Guy Ferland walked me around on Facetime until we found it. Louise Lupien's grandfather was the first pioneer prairie doctor in the region. He lived two doors down from the de Montignys. His house is being renovated too. Apparently it was a house they ordered from the Eatons catalogue.

And now, here's the church the de Montignys went to every Christmas when my grandparents went to visit the family. There's a convent and a school too.

Then there was the sad part of the trip, going to the cemetery and finding the graves of the twin baby girls Memére had lost to meningitis as well as the baby boy who died a couple of months after birth. This is what had brought me to Ponteix. I had been so moved by that story that I vowed to place flowers on their grave some day. And here it is. It still makes me want to cry.

I also tried to find my great grandfather's grave, but many of the graves were so worn that the names were no longer legible. However, I did find Uncle Levi's grave. Apparently, this man was quite the musician - a kindred spirit, a fiddler. And it was my great grandfather who made the cross, according to a relative.

And of course, I found Dr. Lupien's grave too and placed a rose on it.

After I was done grave hunting, I went back to Regina. (Still can't believe a queen named her daughter Regina. What was she thinking?) This is where my grandfather came to meet my grandmother after WWI. He'd proposed to her in Belgium, but she told him to go back home and think on it and that if he still wanted her, to send for her. Well, he went back home and worked as a cowboy until he'd made enough money for her passage. Memère then left her hometown of Chatlineau, Belgium and traveled to Halifax, across Quebec and Ontario, and then the prairies where there was nothing. Just fields of snow for miles and miles. She finally arrived in Regina at the Union Station (which has now been turned into a Casino - so much renovating).

That night, they were married with only two priests as witnesses. I believe this was the church they were married in. It was called St. Mary's at the time and is now Blessed Sacrament.

Here's the inside of it. It's quite lovely. Can you imagine it through her eyes? 

Then, apparently, after supper, they went and saw a show. I figured it was at the Globe Theatre which still exists. 

I had a tough time finding old hotels dating back to that time, but was very surprised to discover that the Holiday Inn was once The Champlain, renovated some years back. Could this be where they stayed? This is what it looks like today:

The rest of my trip was taken up by a bit of sightseeing and shopping. When I got back to Vancouver, my husband and the dog welcomed me home at the airport. (The dog looked bored to see me.) Tomorrow, I continue to write the story that has been haunting me, that has been calling my name for years. And now that I've been where it all took place, it's all the more real to me. Fields of Gold Beneath Prairie Skies to be released in September, 2017.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

In Search of Memère and Pepère's Homestead

Today is the day I leave for Saskatchewan in search of Memére and Pepére's homestead near Val Marie, Saskatchewan. As I approach the end of my historical novel, Fields of Gold Beneath Prairie Skies, I've grown to know my grandparents much more intimately than ever before. I've learned who this jolly, little French-Canadian man from Trois Rivières really was, and what this mysterious lady from Belgium endured as they took up a homestead in the 1920s only to have their dreams dashed by the Depression era.

But there are more than just them I seek to know. It's also my great grandfather, Levi, and his wife, Emma, as well as the uncles and aunts who convened each Christmas, playing their fiddles and guitars, their Quebecois joie-de-vivre lighting up the festive season. I'm hoping to find their house in Ponteix as well as the graves of my baby aunts and uncle who died in infancy.

And finally, there is one more person I must mention -- A pioneer doctor named Dr. Onile Lupiens. A man who devoted his life to his practice, often treating patients for free, lighting fires in peoples' homes who were too sick to tend to it themselves during the Spanish Flu. A more devoted man never existed.

Who knows what I will find when I arrive. In the meantime, here is the blurb and cover of my novel, slated for release in September, 2017. 

French-Canadian soldier, Napoleon, proposes to Lea during WWI, promising golden fields of wheat as far as the eye can see. After the armistice, he sends money for her passage, and she journeys far from her family and the conveniences of a modern country to join him on a homestead in Saskatchewan. There, she works hard to build their dream of a prospering farm, clearing fields alongside her husband through several pregnancies and even after suffering a terrible loss. When the stock market crashes in ’29, the prairies are stricken by a long and abysmal drought. Thrown into poverty, she struggles to survive in a world where work is scarce, death is abundant, and hope dwindles. Will she and her family survive the Great Depression?