Air Guitar is a Thing of the Past, and the Loss of Pepper

Air Guitar is a Thing of the Past, and the Loss of Pepper

When I was fourteen years old, I saw this really cool-looking guitar in a music store in Edmonton. I was living with my mother and step-father, which was sort of odd for me since I’d lived most of my life with my (very abusive) grandparents. (Don’t let the semi-positive change fool you–they weren’t the greatest people to be raised by either.) We spent a fair bit of time in this mall for the couple of years I actually spent living with them, and every trip found us visiting the music store. My step-father played guitar, though not particularly well, and we always ended up getting new instruments like a banjo, a harmonica, I’m pretty sure there was a tambourine in there somewhere, and then we got a really nice electronic piano. It was one of the first that were touch-sensitive like a real piano, and it played really nicely. Full set of keys, you name it. I had spent much of my younger years, from the age of four and up, taking piano lessons, and I had competed and performed in a wide variety of places, so pianos were nothing new to me. A guitar, though…that was what all the cool kids played.

Somehow I knew, when I saw that guitar hanging from the hooks, that my mother and step-father would be getting that for me for my fifteenth birthday. I saw my step-father ask to see it, and then he played around on it a little bit. Maybe it was the fact that it was a copy of a B.C. Rich Warlock, which has a very distinctive shape, that assured me he couldn’t possibly be looking at it for his own collection. Case in point:

B.C. Rich Warlock

As you can see, it’s not exactly the kind of guitar that would appeal to conservative step-fathers. Mind you, the one he was looking at was a copy, with a very odd brand name, called Series A. It looked almost identical to the above image, except mine had a whammy bar…or tremolo bridge, if you want to use the technical name.

And so, along comes my fifteenth birthday, and surprise surprise, I got the guitar as a gift. Now, it had been $200 in the store, so part of me was surprised they would spend that much money, and yet I still somehow knew that guitar was coming my way. I was ecstatic. I could finally feel like one of the cool kids. (I had been very unpopular in the small town I grew up in, but when I moved to Edmonton I was actually very popular, except the scars from being bullied could never allow me to believe I really was cool.)

Now, as wonderful as the moment of receiving the guitar was, it could not overcome the disappointment I felt when I couldn’t play the damn thing well. I had played my step-father’s electric guitar and done fairly well with it, but with this guitar I could do nothing about the horrendous rattle I got from pretty much every chord. I mean, I already have short fingers and small hands, so playing guitar is more challenging for me at the best of times. On the plus side, I’ve got pretty strong hands from playing piano and typing my whole life (I started writing on an electric typewriter when I was twelve, rather than four like when I started playing piano, but that’s still a lot of my life). Having a guitar that rattled the way it did completely ruined any enjoyment I had when I learned all the notes for the melody guitar of Breaking the Law by Judas Priest (I had the official book, but that was really the only song I wanted to play, despite them being my favourite band).

I thought things would get better when I bought myself a small Peavey amp, since less of the rattle would come through the amp. It helped a little, except that I always played at night, when I was awake, which meant keeping the volume down. No matter how much quieter an electric is when it’s not plugged in, when you’re parents are across the hall from you it’s still too loud, so even listening on headphones wouldn’t have worked for me.

Eventually I just gave up on the whole thing and sold the guitar, not picking up another one for a few years. A friend of mine had a limited edition Gibson of some sort, however. After some time spent searching online, I think it might have been an M III, because that’s the only body shape I’ve found that makes sense. More than twenty years ago that guitar was worth at least two grand, which tells you what it might cost today. The point is, I picked up her guitar and found out I actually had a little bit of skill. It was a huge shock to me. I sounded like I was playing real music. Damn!

Not being able to afford several thousand dollars for a guitar, however, meant I just let the whole thing go for a couple of decades. Every once in a while someone would have a guitar and I would play on it a little bit, but I never quite got the enthusiasm back. Until a few weeks ago.

My fiancé has at least five guitars, and ever since he moved in they’ve just been sitting there when he wasn’t playing them. He handed me one of the acoustics one time, and I fiddled for an hour or so, but my nails were too long, and my fingertips got sore right away. Again I put it down and didn’t touch another guitar for months. Finally I tried his Fender Strat, which wasn’t bad at all, and then he had me try his Japanese-made SG (one of the ones with the thicker neck join so they don’t break, among other improvements to the original SG). That’s when I knew I could really pick it up again. Despite the fact that I preferred the body style and aesthetic of the Fender, I liked the action on the SG much more, and that’s what really counts when you’re trying really, really hard to play barre chords.

As a side note, barre is spelled three different ways, and they’re all correct when referring to guitar chords. Go figure. Bar, barr, and barre. Yet we wonder why people can’t freakin’ spell! Same word, same meaning, same pronunciation, but three different spellings. English is stupid.

Anyhoo. Suddenly I was practicing for hours every single day for weeks. My fingers were damn near bleeding, and hitting something with my fingertips was pretty painful for a while. They’re actually still sensitive, despite the rather impressive calluses I have now. The funny thing is, I still have a lot of surface numbness from my accident last summer on half of my left hand, so I’m not sure what made me decide to make my fingertips numb, too, but suddenly I could not stop playing the damn guitar.

One of the first things I did was print off the sheet music for a David Bowie song that makes my guy emotional, because he thinks of me when he hears it. It’s Wild is the Wind, and believe me, even after weeks of practicing it I still suck at it. The weird chords in that song are a serious pain in the ass for someone with small hands. From a C to a Cmaj9, and from an Am to an Am/G, are the two most vivid difficulties I’ve had with it. Every time my fiancé was out of the house, I was practicing that song. I have printed dozens of other songs, but I hid that one, hoping one day to surprise him.

You see, I had decided I was going to record that song for him for our anniversary present, which is exactly what I did. I laid down a track for the so-called drums by using a program called Stagelight. Now, I can actually play the drums, but I don’t happen to have any so I was stuck using fake ones. I just used a closed hat for a nice ticking sound in the background, so that I could keep time properly. Then I laid down a rhythm guitar track with just chord strums. I finally laid down a melody track with a fairly intense bit of picking throughout the song, but based strictly on the chord shapes. The last track was the vocals, and let me tell you, that was a serious pain in the ass. How the hell is someone supposed to sound good while singing off-key? Never mind the weird off-timing of the singing, and then the long stretches without any vocals at all, right in the middle of the verses and the chorus.

Long story short, I finished the recording the afternoon of our anniversary, after finally having to kick my fiancé out of the house to get it done (such nice behaviour for our anniversary, I know). I wasn’t even with him when he heard it the first time, because I sent it to him through Facebook as a PM. He did, however, react rather emotionally to it, so it was a gift that came off well. I played it for him later on my headphones so he could get the full gist of it, and again he was quite emotional about it. I guess you could say he liked it.

Just in case, however, I had already made plans to take him out for dinner. I’m hopeful, not stupid. We had a really good time for our anniversary. What did he do for me, aside from simply being the most wonderful man I’ve ever known throughout our entire relationship? Well, he got us tickets for a fundraiser dinner that we thought was going to be on our anniversary, but turned out to be on another date. It’s for a cafe we go to where you can buy buttons that people can use to pay for food if they can’t afford a meal, or even just for coffee to keep warm in the winter. We used to go there together a lot when it was warmer and I wasn’t in hibernation mode, and he goes there quite a bit on his own. As soon as I saw the event, I thought it would be a great thing for our anniversary. He bought the tickets on the spot. So, basically we’ll have taken each other out for dinner two consecutive weekends. For me, especially in winter, leaving the house two weekends in a row is pretty much unheard of, but my guy is worth it.

I haven’t stopped playing guitar, even though one of my biggest incentives was learning to play well enough to record that song. I do take a day or two off now and then, but I keep printing off new songs to learn, which keeps my interest level high. There’s no shortage of music I like, so I look forward to learning a lot of songs.

My ADD really shows itself when I practice, though. I’ll play a few licks of Metallica’s One, veer off to Blink 182’s Adam’s Song (which, if you know both songs, you’ll realize they are enough alike to be confusing when you’re learning both at the same time, even though I don’t drop the tuning for Adam’s Song), play Dan Seals’ Everything that Glitters for a bit, add Iron Maiden’s Wasted Years, and then bounce back to my old stand-by, Judas Priest’s Breaking the Law. There’s some Dwight Yoakam in there, with his version of Suspicious Minds, a whole bunch of Martina McBride, etc. I have a collection of 59 songs that I like so far. Most of which I can play at least some of the fingering parts, if not all, and I can generally play all of the chords now. Barre chords still give me trouble, especially getting my fingers in the position to start, but I’m improving.

I still need a lot of improvement, but I’ve become damn stubborn about it. Okay, I’m always stubborn, but I wasn’t specifically stubborn about learning to play guitar, as evidence by my quitting all those years ago. Now I put in an unbelievably amount of time practicing.

How’s the book coming along, you ask? Uh, okay, that’s kind of another story. Book three is on its third iteration, but it’s not too bad. At least it’s way better than it was, plot-wise, and for the third draft I stopped repeating myself and pontificating…I think. Part of the reason I’m writing this blog post, actually, is to get myself back in the habit of typing something out. Believe me, you really can regain momentum if you just start writing something…anything.

I did have one major issue that was making it hard for me to write, understandably. One of my ferrets died very unexpectedly, and honestly it’s still killing me. Not only am I grieving for him, despite it being nearly five months after his death, but I modeled one of the ferrets in my books after him. It was Pepper that we lost, on December 8th, and Pickle is his counterpart in the book. Having to write a scene with Pickle/Pepper in it was killing me. And there’s the stuff I wrote while he was dying. I knew he was sick, and was waiting for the vet to be able to see him. I was trying to keep busy. That part will probably not make it into the book, because I started writing a new version entirely, but I can’t bear to delete it. Normally I have no problem ridding myself of writing that I’ve rejected as being crap, but in this case I’m keeping it. Just like I’m keeping the small Pepsi bottle Pepper last chewed on as a fantastically noisy chew toy. I don’t care if that makes me weird. I’m okay with being weird.

It’s been tough getting back into it, despite the book itself being pretty damned exciting. I’m enthusiastic about it, but I’m a horrible procrastinator. Especially when something is painful for me to do. This book is now inextricably tied with the death of my much-loved ferret, and every moment of writing is something I kind of have to grit my teeth through, so I’ve been avoiding it. I’m about a quarter of the way done the final book in the trilogy. There will most likely be other books that will tie in to this series, but they will be separate trilogies on their own if I choose to go ahead with them. After all, a trilogy is meant to tell the full story arc. Tacking more books onto the end wouldn’t work very well, since there shouldn’t be any more loose ends to tie up after this one is done.

Shortly after Pepper died, I also got very sick. I was down for about a month if I remember correctly. I spent days in a blurry state of mind, with almost no voice, a horribly sore throat, dizziness, etc. Not a lot of fun. I stayed away from my future step-son because I didn’t want him getting sick. I would try to carry on a conversation with my fiancé or daughter, and it wouldn’t last long before my voice gave out again. Sometimes uttering a single sentence was too much for me. I’m pretty sure it was strep throat, though I didn’t bother going to the doctor for it. A lot of people I knew got really sick, too, and they sure as hell didn’t catch it from me. Hard to catch something from someone in another country, and nearly all my friends are people I know on Facebook. I’m not the most social of people when it comes to the in-person thing. It’s actually kind of a miracle I met my fiancé, but then we did meet on Facebook.

I’m not sure if I mentioned my accident in any of my blog posts either, though I know there haven’t been many of them. When I mentioned not having much feeling in my left hand, there’s a good reason. The reason? I’m a freaking klutz. I made a couple of over-easy eggs for my fiancé because he was hungry and he doesn’t react well to the lowered blood sugar (he gets really absent-minded and confused, plus frustrated and irritated). I didn’t want to send him off to the kitchen to cook something for himself in that state of mind, so I decided to make breakfast. The problem is, I was hungry, too, which means my hypoglycemia can decide to kick in rather fiercely and I start to freak out a bit. I was carrying the eggs back to our bedroom when my toe caught on a box. I am completely incapable of regaining my balance these days, and so I fell right into his plate of eggs. Scared the shit out of my daughter, who was also in the living room at the time, and my fiancé came tearing out of the bedroom to see what happened.

I didn’t think it was that bad, though the plate had broken. Of course, I hadn’t seen the blood yet, and the numbness in my hand seemed a normal reaction to a falling injury. It wouldn’t be the first time a body part had gone temporarily numb on me like that. So, my fiancé helped me to the bedroom and got his first aid kit. After seeing the wound on my wrist, I felt more than a little sick. I knew then that there was nerve damage. We went to a clinic, I got some stitches, and then I was sent home after being told I’d be contacted by the plastic surgeon, who may or may not do surgery on me. About a month later I was getting surgery. Apparently the nerve was trying to regrow through a neuroma (a tumour caused by trauma in my case), which explained why I was getting an electrical zapping/zinging sensation whenever the injured area was touched. I had a partial cast on it for a couple of weeks. I was supposed to be able to type, though I really couldn’t because it was covering the palm of my hand.

I know, I know…all these excuses! It does seem like this book has been jinxed right from the beginning. Admittedly, I took quite a bit of time off when my fiancé and I started dating, and then moved in together. I figured, after putting out three books in less than a year (one being the anthology I edited and wrote short stories for), that I deserved a bit of a break. Apparently life thought I needed a much longer one. Life is really starting to piss me off. Now I’m obsessive about playing the guitar, and have gone back to playing a lot of computer games, and my sleep schedule is way out of whack.

I also have to adjust for the fact that I’m sharing my bedroom/work space with someone (yes, that someone is my fiancé). I’m just not used to that. I was single for eight years. Happily single. I was not expecting to find someone so amazingly perfect for me. Yet, he basically works freelance as a paralegal, and he was driving for Uber (which wasn’t really worth it financially), so he’s around almost all the time. Wonderful for us as a couple, but not so great for my self-discipline when it comes to my writing. He would happily give me all the time in the world to write, but I miss him too damn much when he’s gone. I mean, yesterday he was only gone while I was sleeping, and I still missed him! We’re truly sickeningly sweet and affectionate with one another.

However, the other day I finally started cracking a bit. As much as I love my time with him, I’m very much an isolationist. Even when I don’t notice it, that need to be alone starts to build up. When I need my space, I really need my space. I turn into a bitch, where I have to protect him from me. What I need is actual, inviolable work space, where I absolutely cannot be bothered while I’m in that space. The moment someone walks in the bedroom, I’m distracted from what I’m doing. Or if I’m lying on the bed, just plotting out things for the book, he may not realize I’m actually working, and so he starts saying something to me. Believe me, he isn’t the kind of guy who would knowingly do that, so he feels horrible about it, but without a sign attached to me that says, “I’m working,” there’s no way for him to know that’s what I’m doing.

We’ll figure it out. After all, writers are pretty creative, so if there’s a solution out there, I’m sure I’ll find it. I just need to think of it like I do in my books. A problem to be solved. Of course, holding up a sign while I’m doing that might be a good idea.

A Change of Life, Just Not That One

I’ll admit that I had become completely cynical about my chances of finding the right person to share my life with. I was considering getting back into the dating world, but I was also planning to wait until after the third book in my trilogy was published. After all, I didn’t feel like I had the time to spend on vetting all the candidates one tends to find on online dating sites. So, I hadn’t bothered to create a profile anywhere.

Funnily enough it turned out that I’d already met the man of my dreams, and it was more than a year ago now. We had political interests in common, so we were both members of a certain Facebook group. We’re also both actual members of the Green Party, so that was a weird kind of synchronicity, among other things. With all our commonalities, however, we were more than a little surprised to find out we not only lived in the same city, but we were only a few blocks apart. Go figure.

Just when you think life isn’t going to give you the one thing you’ve always looked really hard for, it can suddenly seem like it’s throwing you a surprise party with all the perfect gifts.

When I was awake and aware I never felt lonely, but I knew that some part of me was. I used to have these dreams where I would be held by a specific man, who made me feel truly loved. I’d wake up feeling so ridiculously content, and I would close my eyes at different points throughout the day to hold onto that feeling, picturing it in my mind. Nearly four months ago I finally discovered what that felt like in real life. All previous relationships paled in comparison, and I realized that if I’d truly know what this felt like, I would never have settled for what I had before. I would have known the real deal.

Nobody is perfect, but sometimes you find someone who is absolutely perfect for who you are. They fit with you somehow. All the things that you’re insecure about, and that you’ve been told are fatal flaws, suddenly they’re things that are cherished by another person. Don’t get me wrong – we weren’t all sunshine and roses about who we were, pretending to be something different. We were both almost brutally honest about ourselves. I was pretty enthusiastic about telling him I swore like a drunken sailor, cracked every joint in my body, and the only thing domestic about my habits is the fact that I’m potty-trained.

For his part, when we started private messaging, he bluntly asked me if I was single, and said he needed to know because he was certainly happy to be friends with me, but he would be sitting there wondering the whole time if I was available. It made me smile, I can tell ya. And it was a first for me. After all, we met on Facebook rather than a dating site. On a dating site you’re assuming the person you’re talking to is single (though there are plenty who are trolling for a side piece, too). I’d never had a guy have the courage to be so blunt about his interest in me on there. Of course, he was pretty blunt about a lot of other things, too, like wanting to talk to me, see me, kiss me, you name it. And he had the confidence and courage to follow through on it. He still does, and it’s something I find endlessly fascinating and attractive about him. Especially since a lot of guys seem pretty intimidated by me.

Of course, explosive chemistry helps. I’m not giving details, but I will say that time stands still when he kisses me. There’s a Zen-like calm that comes over me when we’re together. I’ve only been truly mad at him once, and from what I can tell I was being stupid. However, all he had to do was touch me and I was lost (as was the anger, though I tried to fight that). There’s a magic in it, and I’ve never felt it before. Any time in the past when I’ve been mad at a guy, they’ve been mad at me, too, and so the last thing they were interested in was making me feel better. Yet, my boyfriend has got to be the most selfless person I’ve ever known. He can (and does) feel empathy even toward a person who should be his most bitter enemy. I’ve seen examples of it time and time again. Honestly, we need more people like him in the world. He just truly cares about people. He talks to them on the street, homeless or otherwise, he buys strange kids a meal, he stops to help people who have been involved in car accidents, he’s politically involved, and he stands up for women online when men start acting like misogynistic jerks.

He’s also the best father I’ve ever seen. He’s been involved in his child’s life from the moment of birth, and even against adversity he’s made sure he remained a major part of his child’s life. It makes me wish I was ten years younger so I could easily have a couple of kids with him. Not that it’s impossible even now, of course, but the odds are against it.

We’ve both had our share of bad luck and bad choices when it came to past relationships, so you would think we’d be a lot more leery of moving forward with things, but we were pretty much living together within a week or two of starting to date. People thought we didn’t know each other, even though we did. In truth I’ve never known anyone so well in my life. My own experiences kept my eyes open, and not just for suspicious behaviour, but also for the evidence that backed up everything I was being told. Fate stepped in, over and over, to show me that he was everything he said he was. My one instance of anger with him was all the more stupid because I’ve been given constant proof of his character. Yeah, I felt like an idiot…and well I should.

Have we talked about taking things to the next level? Well, in an oblique sort of way. Neither of us are against the idea of getting married. I just have one caveat there. It’s gotta be a ‘hell, yeah’ kind of thing on his part. I mean, it would definitely be a ‘hell, yeah’ for me, but I won’t do it if he doesn’t feel like that, too. After all, I was told in a previous relationship that I’d dragged the guy into it (despite him being the one to propose). It was a month after the wedding, and that was the end of our marriage in that very moment. For me, anyway. I never felt the same way after that, even though I tried to keep going. My heart just wasn’t in it anymore. I couldn’t even bring myself to care enough to fight with him after that. I became rigidly logical and cold-hearted whenever he tried to fight with me. It was painful enough for me then, but if I had to go through that with my current guy I don’t know if I’d survive that kind of heartbreak. He isn’t the kind of guy who would say something like that, but without the ‘hell, yeah’ part of the deal, he might as well be feeling it.

Still, he feels more like a husband to me than any man from my past, with or without the marriage certificate. When I talk about him, or even think about him, I have to actively stop myself from calling him that. I’d have to say it’s because we work so well together in everything we do. You know those things you try to do with someone that usually lead to fighting? Like hanging wallpaper, fixing things, etc. Well, we can do those things and just be happy to be together. We have fun with it, because we always have fun together, and we genuinely like each other. We enjoy talking about pretty much anything – though he’s admittedly a bit attention-deficit, so I find myself repeating things, but then I have to ask people to do the same with my hearing being so crappy.

Probably the funniest part of all of this is how we started out being so logical about love. We both agreed that it took about two years to really get to know someone, and until then you couldn’t truly say you loved them. Then I told him on our first date that he was going to fall madly in love with me. Go figure. Of course, my barometer for knowing if I love someone is a pretty morbid one. I try to imagine how I would feel if they died, and whether or not it would devastate me. Within the week I told him he’d smashed my barometer. I couldn’t imagine my life without him.

So, you see, there’s a reason I’ve gotten so far behind on blog posts and other writing projects. I don’t blame him, of course. He’s perfectly willing to give me the space I need to get my writing done. I just haven’t been able to tear myself away from him. A first for me. I’ve always managed to work and do what was necessary before. Thankfully I’d already published book two of my trilogy when we started getting all crazy in love. I had a bit of breathing space. Or should I be calling it ‘breathless’ space, because that’s how he leaves me.

It took me until I was 44 years old to find the man that was right for me. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in the past, and not just with my choices. I’ve also made mistakes with my behaviour within those choices. I know very well that I had my share of the blame to shoulder, and I needed to learn from all that in order to be where I am right now. It’s tempting to wish we could have met ten or twenty years ago, where we could have saved ourselves the heartache we’ve both been through, but that might have been a disaster for us. We needed to be who we are right now, in order for things to work as well as they do. I needed a certain maturation. Our experiences form us, and there’s no regretting those experiences when they brought us to this point. We each have offspring we might never have had, and we would never have wanted to miss out on them.

I guess the point is this. No matter how crappy things can seem, they can change in a heartbeat. I learned that lesson a long time ago, and it’s something I keep trying to share with people who are going through hard times. I almost gave up on finding someone I could be happy with. I’d thought about dating, but I had no faith I’d find anyone who would put up with my foibles, much less someone I was willing to tolerate. And I certainly held no hope I’d find the exact person who was everything I ever needed and wanted. He feels the same. I can only hope he keeps feeling that way, and hope is no longer in short supply for me. Of course, it helped that my ferrets were all over him like he was wearing a meat suit, and he likes doing dishes.

The best part? I feel more free with him than I ever felt when I was single.

It Might Hurt, but I Refuse to Toughen Up

It’s been more than three weeks since I’ve written anything, other than an e-mail to a friend and some private messaging on Facebook. Ever since I finished off my word count for National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo…or insanity) on November 30th, I haven’t felt the slightest urge to write a single thing. There was a writing contest I had intended to enter for The Prepper Journal, but I could not bring myself to even seriously contemplate a topic. Maybe I’ll send them something at a later date and ask if they’re interested in publishing it, but I desperately needed to take a step back from working for a little while. Luckily it coincided with the Christmas break for the show I produce, because I’ve been a completely lazy git for the last three weeks.

Not that I can blame myself for it. Most people don’t write a book in the course of less than a month, edit it in three weeks, and then write half of another book, while overlapping the editing of the first book. For two and a half months I worked every single day, usually from the time I woke up, until I finally fell asleep about twenty hours later. I’d take the odd break here and there, usually to binge-watch the X-Files with my daughter (we just finished season five and watched the movie a couple of days ago), but mostly I worked. Not that it felt like work at the time, because I was enjoying the hell out of it, but in reality I was busting my butt.

The problem didn’t really come until after my book was published and I started receiving negative reviews. The first couple were great, and I consider the majority of them to be positive. However, the negative ones were pretty bad, and in some cases downright rude or wrong. Believe me when I tell you that writers are very sensitive to criticism, though we’re told we just have to suck it up and move on. It’s not anywhere near as easy as it sounds. Even when a review is dead wrong (to the point where you believe they didn’t even read the book, or they skipped half of it), it gets in your head and plays a tune on you whenever your brain gets a little too quiet. I tend to have a lot of quiet time, so my brain poked fun at me quite a bit.

So, since the end of November I’ve been having a pity party along with my burn-out. In addition to that I’ve had to suppress my irritation with people. I mean, unless you’re stupid you don’t respond to the reviews on Amazon. It’s bad form, for one thing. For another, it’s a no-win situation. Not only is it rude to the person who left the review, but then other people start thinking you’re a jerk. For that reason I’m not going to talk about specifics even in my blog. People should be allowed to review. I do think Amazon should consider their review policy, such as disqualifying reviews from people who haven’t bought a product, or who are blatantly attacking or bullying someone, but other than that people have to be allowed to express their opinions.

I just can’t imagine expressing my opinion in such a rude fashion as some people do. Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian, and the whole mud-slinging thing is anathema to me, but there are rude Canadians, too, so I don’t think that’s entirely the issue. I think it’s simply a change in how people behave when they’re allowed to be anonymous. There’s an expression I like that applies to this.

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” ~ John Wooden

We’ve all seen what’s been happening online these days, particularly when it comes to inflammatory issues. Women are subjected to rape and death threats online, just for stating an opinion. Muslims are seeing hateful rhetoric in a constant barrage. Gun-control advocates are getting threats that they’ll be shot by ‘responsible gun owners.’ If these people were sitting face-to-face, in most cases the majority of their words would not pass their lips, and that comes from all sides of the arguments. It doesn’t matter if a person is a liberal or a conservative, a man or a woman, a Christian or a Muslim. We’re all guilty of it.

When it comes to my personal situation, I tried to make myself feel better by looking at reviews other authors had received, and it actually made me feel worse. Sure, I felt like I was in pretty good company. Well-known authors (such as Nora Roberts, Karin Slaughter, and J. K. Rowling), were subjected to major abuse in their Amazon reviews. I started seeing that the reviewers who spoke like that had some issues. Often they were extremely hateful. Teenagers were leaving nasty reviews about the Harry Potter series, and I have to wonder how they even have access to leave comments. In order to review an item you have to have made a purchase on Amazon, which means you must have a credit card of some sort. In most cases that would mean it’s the parents’ accounts, and yet the parents are okay with their kids leaving those sorts of remarks. It doesn’t bode well for the future of society.

I honestly thought I would feel better about my own bad reviews if I was in good company. I mean, hey, if it can happen to some of the best (or even most popular, whether or not you agree they’re the best), then it should be okay that it happened to me, too. Instead I feel scared by it. I’m scared of what we’re turning into when it becomes okay to belittle people online. I know that there are people that get off on hurting others. I know there are trolls and bullies. I know some people try to feel better about themselves by showing off and criticizing other people for doing something they themselves cannot do. I see it all the time on Facebook. I’m a member of some movie groups for some reason, and I see people panning movies left, right and centre, when I sit there and think, “I’d like to see you do better!” If they can’t do it themselves, then at least they can cut down someone who has already done it, in other words.

That’s the real test, though, isn’t it? A friend of mine reminded me of that saying, “Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach,” and said he didn’t think that was a fair thing to say. I agree completely. You can’t teach something if you don’t know how to do it. He said those who couldn’t would just criticise those who do, and again I agree. But I’m still very worried about society. There’s a damn good reason I don’t leave the house much. When people think it’s okay to issue threats over books or articles, there’s a serious breakdown in our humanity. People are shooting people over idiotic things. Young men think they have a right to kill a bunch of people because young girls won’t send them naked pictures of themselves. The sense of entitlement on this planet is growing all out of proportion with what we actually deserve.

Part of me is saying that I should just toughen up and get on with my life, and the other part of me is saying that’s entirely the wrong thing to do. Why should I toughen up? Why should I be any less sensitive than I am? The real question is, why should I change because of what other people are saying and doing? Yes, I will have to suffer if I don’t toughen up, but I also won’t lose the part of myself that refuses to become desensitized to aggression and violence – and that’s what it boils down to. People are being rude and angry toward other people, for no good reason. They’re taking out their own insecurities on others, and we have to stop tolerating it.

I don’t believe in all the old-school manners and etiquette, but by the same token we should treat one another with respect. Even when another person has shown they don’t really deserve it, we do not need to sink to that level. We become that other person if we do. I’ve made it a habit the last few months to simply stop arguing with people the moment they become rude. I refer to one-on-one encounters online. If a person calls me a name I tell them I’m done with the conversation for that reason, and then I actually leave the conversation. I don’t care what they say after that, because the name-calling just invalidated their argument for me. A debate is fine. Even an argument can be fine. When you step across the line to abuse, I’m done with it. And I wish more people did the same. It might teach these rude people that it’s not socially acceptable to do what they’re doing.

Of course, far too many people thrive on drama, and often cause it. It’s like those people who like to gossip. I can’t understand why they have so much of an interest in someone else and how they live their life. It makes no sense to me. And yet they sit there and talk about another human being in the worst possible way. It might sound terrible to say, but I honestly don’t have that much concern for what other people are doing, so long as they’re not hurting anyone. I’m more than happy living in my own little world, while everyone else lives in theirs. I like my solitude. The only people I make an effort with, to find out what’s going on in their lives, are the people I love. Other than that, I can’t be bothered. I’ve got too many other things in my life to do, that I find far more interesting.

Today I finally wrote an article for a friend of mine who asked me to contribute to his online magazine about a month ago. I wrote about dealing with criticism, because it was what I’ve had on my mind for some time, and his site is about happiness and mental health. I’ve worked through a lot of it, though I still get somewhat irritated when I stew about it too much. In my case I can’t resolve the criticism with a confrontation, so I have to vent in other ways – like this blog post.

I don’t want to be a whiner or a wimp, but I also don’t want to lose touch with my honest feelings. I’ve distanced myself from people in many ways, in order to prevent loss of emotion on my part. It may sound counter-intuitive, but I find too much interaction with people I don’t know can result in me shutting down my emotions just to get through it. I did it when I worked in the corporate world, and I worked too hard as a teenager to regain my emotions (after a childhood of abuse) to lose them now because of strangers.

So, instead of toughening up I’ve examined the criticisms, learned what I could from them, determined what parts might be accurate, and then tried to get a handle on why people would feel the need to behave in such a fashion. Allowing myself to understand their motivation has been a big help. Any disparaging remarks will hurt, but knowing why they were made makes them easier to deal with. And of course, just because someone has an opinion, doesn’t mean they’re right.

Things I’ve Learned About Indie Publishing and Promo So Far

It occurred to me, while I was actually responsibly working on my next novel (and adding to my NaNoWriMo word count), that maybe people were looking for an update on how things were going with my first novel, and possibly looking for some tips to help them. While I have learned a great deal, it’s been less than a week since the release so nothing is a hard-and-fast truth when it comes to anything that’s happened since then. I only really know what has happened so far for me, and what I learned about the technical aspects of publishing through Createspace and Kindle Desktop Published (or KDP as it’s usually referred to).

I was admittedly paranoid and anal about the technical aspects of submitting files to Createspace, because so many people seemed to be confused about it. Then there were all those fear-inducing articles written on a competing company’s site, talking about how terrible it was to publish through them. They are, of course, biased, because they offer the same services, and it was their smear campaign that turned me off using their services. I’m Canadian, and don’t hold much with those sorts of business practices. Doesn’t seem very professional, and that’s my same moral basis for not naming the company that does it. If you ever look into self-publishing you’ll find it, I’m sure.

There were no complications with submitting my files, however, so I don’t have a clue why people had a hard time with it, but I am a former accountant and administrator so I tend to be detail-oriented. Not everyone is geared that way. And believe me, getting lost in details is not always a positive thing, so if you’re not like that you can feel grateful for it. When I ordered proofs (I got five of them…just because), the books were put together fine. No two books will ever be identical, particularly in self-publishing, because this isn’t precision German engineering we’re talking about. It’s a book. Even the best traditional publishers have variations in individual books. Some so bad that they have to be returned. Happily that was not my experience with Createspace.

The Kindle segment was much easier. I chose to start with Createspace, because then it can be put through to Kindle after the main part is done, and I wanted to be absolutely certain that people would see both options on the same page when they saw the listing on Amazon. When it comes to royalties there isn’t much difference in my case. I only get eighty cents more for the paperback than I do for the Kindle, and so far only one paperback was ordered. Granted, I’ve got a bunch of people asking for signed copies, which means plenty of orders to come. I just haven’t tallied them.

The big surprise for me was the lending library. I checked off the box to participate in that with a sort of shrug. I didn’t think it would be a big part of my royalties, but I’m really, really glad I did it now. The last time I checked, authors were getting paid approximately $0.0058 per page. When you’re having thousands of pages read per day, it can really add up. In fact, I will probably make more money from that than I will from purchases, and people who subscribe to the service get to read the book for no extra cost above their monthly fee. More readers means a better chance someone will leave a review, and from what I’m seeing it actually impacts my book’s ranking on Amazon. I almost cracked the top 100 (in a specific genre, not the main list) yesterday and today, which was pretty exciting for me. Once you manage to do that, apparently Amazon starts promoting your book for you, so I’m doing what I can to make that happen.

Being pretty much broke, I haven’t spent a lot of money on promo, though I have found some really great bargains there, including sites that include and promote your book for free because they want to get books out to their readers. One such site is AUTHORSdb, and another is iauthor. I mean, when you’re broke you sometimes have to spend more time on promotion than you would like, if you want to get your book out there, but it’s worth it if you ever want to not be broke. Struggling for art is fine, but who actually wants to if they don’t have to? I’ve got a promo through SweetFreeBooks coming out on November 29th (it’ll be free for a day!!) and they only charge $5 right now. Your book either has to be 99 cents or free, but free promos can really get your ranking up if people know about them. Sure there’s no return on investment on the day the promo runs, but the ROI after-the-fact can be huge according to every other author I’ve spoken to or read.

Other free promo ideas include eReaderIQ, Content Mo, Hot Zippy, BeeZeeBooks, Choosy Bookworm, PeopleReads, ReadFree.ly, and Booktastik. A lot of those are for when you’re promoting a giveaway or contest, but well worth it if you’re trying to boost your numbers with a free Kindle deal.

Another suggestion, which I was reminded of by my business partner and host of the show I produce, is to do radio shows and podcasts. Now, I’m lucky because I’ve already been able to do one of those without even asking, because Steve Kovacs chose to have me come on and talk about my novels, along with the very real possibilities behind it that were the inspiration for writing it. We don’t normally have fiction authors on the show, though we’ve had some, so I didn’t want to change the format just to be able to plug my book. He was nice enough to suggest an hour-long show, but I said it wouldn’t work. Hey, I’m Canadian. I can’t help it.

If you decide you’re up for interviews, a good option is to use Radio Guest List to find potential shows. You can sign up for their free e-mail that’s meant for guests, or you can choose to go directly to their listings where you’ll get a lot more possibilities than what they send out to you. I know most writers are probably introverts, and it may not be easy to do interviews, but the majority of the ones you’ll find that pertain to authors will be podcasts rather than vodcasts – audio-only, as opposed to video. You also don’t have to leave your house. Technology is a wonderful thing. Just watch for any shows that request a donation, though they’re few and far between.

At the very least you should be prepared to offer them an electronic review copy, along with a media kit. Don’t worry. I haven’t put together an actual media kit yet myself. It’s something I’m going to have to do soon, because I’m trying to get proper book reviewers to take a look at it, which means professionalism will be required on my part. Especially as an indie author. I luckily have my own company, and I used it as my publisher, which might make them more likely to take a look at it.

Just as you would with your book, try to make sure you have a well-edited review request. When I was editing my book I used a program called Natural Reader (there’s a free version, though it has some downsides) to read my chapters out loud to me, and you can do the same with any of your official correspondence. (I have the free version, and the third voice on the list of available ones was even better than the paid voices I found, so I’m happy to use the free version of the software for now.) Even when we read our writing out loud to ourselves, we often read out what we think is there, rather than what actually is there. One of many compelling reasons to have your book professionally edited if you can afford to do so.

I had to put my money into promo, so aside from my daughter reading the book, as well as a friend of mine, I used Natural Reader. Windows has something built-in that does the same thing, but I got irritated trying to set it up because the voice kept telling me every button I was hovering over, when that wasn’t what I needed at all. It’s meant for blind people, not authors, so I can’t say I blame them. It’s just not its true function.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not getting paid for any of these links. This is all stuff I found on my own and I’m actually using. None of these sites have any idea I’m linking to them. In fact, I don’t get paid for this blog in any way, shape, or form. It’s just too random. The only thing I have on here are linked images to animal shelters I personally donate to, and hope someone else will choose to as well.

As for paid promo, aside from SweetFreeBooks, I’ve used a few different ones without really thinking it through and being critical – probably because I wasn’t spending much money with each of them. Since then I’ve found a site that offers some advice on that sort of thing, called eNovels Authors at Work. The link I’ve provided is the first in a series of articles on promoters they’ve found that are good and bad. I haven’t even read all of the series yet, since there are at least five parts to it. I’ve already found a lot of good information, so if you go through their blog I’m sure you will, too.

Something weird that I noticed about pricing for a lot of book promotion services is that they charge more when your book is free. Not all of them, but most. For instance, BookBub charges less when the Kindle is free, but sites like FreeBooksy charge more. I used their BargainBooksy list, which was only $35 to promote a $2.99 book, but the other list can cost anywhere from $40 to $200, depending on the genre (since some genres have more people subscribed to them, which means the books go out to more people). I understand the reasons, of course, because there are a lot more subscribers for the free lists, which means way more exposure for an author, but it’s confusing when BookBub does the opposite. Of course, they have everything all on one list. They’re also a lot harder to get on, for good reason. They have a huge list of subscribers.

I’ve done massive amounts of research on all this promotion stuff. Many, many hours of it that I would rather have spent writing. When you’re a novelist, however, there’s little choice. Unless you’re Stephen King or something, even traditional publishers don’t provide much in the way of promotion for their authors, which was my reason for heading straight to the indie route. I get much higher royalties, with no difference in work, except for the formatting and cover stuff – it’s a very good thing my daughter is skilled with Photoshop, because I suck at graphics. Even opening a proper graphics program gives me a splitting headache. Every single time. I can use MS Paint, and I can crop or resize photos, but that’s pretty much it.

I really wish I could afford someone to do all this stuff for me, because I just don’t wanna. Hopefully I’ve managed to save my fellow authors a bit of time with this bunch of information. It really is worth it, though. I got my first review yesterday, and it was amazing. It was five stars, with a great deal of praise in the comment section, and I don’t know the person who left it (unless they used an alias). I also didn’t pay for it, which you can find someone to do if you go on fiverr, but I’m hoping to get real reviews as opposed to paid, ergo biased, ones. It just didn’t seem very honourable, though I was admittedly tempted. Now I’m really glad I held off, because I’ve got two (honest) 5-star reviews on there, and I’m pretty sure I don’t know either of them. There’s criticism within them, but they still liked the story, so that gives me something to work with for the next book. I’m quite thrilled to see that one complaint was that there wasn’t enough detail on something, which means they would rather I had left in some stuff I took out because I thought it would be too boring.

[WARNING! *Shameless Book Plug Ahead!*] If anyone reading this is interested, Tipping Point is available on Amazon here at this link. If you’re from a different country, it will tell you where to go (and it’s polite about it). It’s the first of a pre-through-post-apocalyptic trilogy that’s based on a very real possibility. I was actually warned by a former Ontario Hydro executive that the power outages were going to get much, much worse, and that warning turned into a novel. Hopefully we can figure out a way to avoid it in the near future, but we’ll have to wait and see.

The first book takes you up to the apocalypse. The second will take you through it. The third will show you a possible new beginning for humanity. The man who reviewed Tipping Point said it was terrifying, but there’s action, romance, suspense, adventure, and science fiction. You can read it for free if you’re a subscriber and have access to Amazon’s lending library, or the Kindle’s regular price is $2.99. If you read it and enjoy it (or even if you have a criticism of it), please leave a review – they’re vital for indie authors. I honestly want to know what people think. It will help me improve as a writer.

Since the second book isn’t going to write itself, and I have to catch up on my word count for National Novel Writing Month, I’m going to get back to it. Here’s hoping my writer friends will attain the success that will allow them to do what they love for a living, rather than working to be able to afford to write. It’s what we all dream of, isn’t it?

I’m Either Livin’ the Dream, or Dreaming My Life

Since the middle of September my life has been nothing but a fantasy. Now, I don’t mean a fantasy where it’s been a series of perfect events. Not at all. Though it’s certainly been perfect in its own way. Of course, no one else can really see it happening, because it’s mostly been inside my own head. That’s one of the many joys and frustrations of being a writer. You can be as happy as a clam (decide for yourself if a clam is really happy), yet no one has a clue that you are.

Starting around September 15th I began writing a book. I finished it (technically) around October 12th. Now I’ve spent the last few weeks editing and revising that book. I dream about the characters, and my first thought when I wake up is about those ‘people’ and what they’re ‘doing.’ I don’t remember ever getting involved with my writing like this before, even when I was much younger and was getting those mad spurts of creativity that made me look like a female version of Dr. Emmett Brown. Oddly, my biological father looks a bit like Christopher Lloyd, but thankfully I don’t look like my father – not that I’m really happy about looking like my mother either.
I actually wake up, roll over, and start working every single day. It’s become my waking habit if you will. I live within my book, because it’s the only life I have at the moment. Not that I consider that a bad thing, because I truly love fiction and its ability to zip us around through alternative realities. The places we can go, the people we’ll meet, and the things we’ll do in those books can never be duplicated in everyday life.
This year I decided I would join National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as it’s called. After writing 126,000+ words in less than a month, I realized that writing 50,000 words was rather like a walk in the park for me. (In case you’re unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, the goal is to write 50,000 words in a 30-day period.) I’m three days into it, while still putting the final touches on the other book, so I’m just hitting the daily word count for that book, but since I’m also working on the other one still I’m not too worried about it.
The joy of writing this new book for the contest, is that it’s the second book in a trilogy. Both books are connected, and everything is staying super-fresh in my mind. This is a very good thing, because I have a lot of characters to keep track of, and various events on the timelines, so I don’t want to lose the details. The world has basically come to an end, a lot of people have died, and the survivors are limping along. I honestly never thought I’d write science fiction, as apocalyptic fiction is labelled, but my personal interest in off-grid living became a trigger.
The research, before, during, and after writing the book, has actually been a joy. It’s all stuff I’m interested in for my own life, and I feel I need to know anyway, so the two-bird-with-one-stone thing makes it seem like half the work to begin with. Plus I have a genuine interest and get enjoyment from learning about pretty much anything. My head has been stuck in a book (if you can call online research a book) even when it wasn’t stuck in my book.
You might be wondering why I would have to research after writing the book, but that’s to do with revision and editing. I occasionally get to a part where my critical thinking skills finally kick in and ask, “Yes, but is that really how things work, or were you just pretending to be a know-it-all?” I’ve been schooled a few times since the ‘completion’ in mid-October. In fact, a friend of mine has introduced me to some knowledge on survival knives recently, that may find its way into the book even now when I’m about to format it for CreateSpace. I’m not sure if it’s particularly relevant, but I’m keeping an open mind.
At this very moment I’m actually supposed to be rewriting the first two pages of the book, along with the epilogue. Both are rather ham-fisted at the moment, and not what I intended, but sometimes writing is like that. You just get the general concept down, and fiddle with it later. Not everyone wants to write like that. Often people who call themselves writers will refuse to write unless the blinding light of inspiration strikes. Most often those writers never finish a project. Believe me, I know. I was one of those.
I’ll be fair to myself here and say that a good portion of the reason I wasn’t doing my ‘real’ writing (also known as novel-length fiction), was pain. It can be very difficult to get out of your own world and into a fictitious one, when your body is screaming at you. I had to figure out a way to write so that I was as physically comfortable as possible, which isn’t easy if you’re trying to avoid mind-numbing narcotics. I don’t want to be one of those writers that can only write if they’re drunk or high. It’s one point on which I’m in complete agreement with Stephen King. Substance abuse is substance abuse, whether or not you’re using it to write. I feel the same about music, actually. I’ve never like listening to drug-infused garbage. I figure if they can’t play it straight, then they really can’t play it. Anything else is like being an athlete on steroids or blood-doping (ahem, Lance Armstrong).
Thankfully I’ve given myself a major deadline on my first book. I’ve told a whole bunch of people that it’s coming out on Friday the 13th (yes, this very next one, here in November). It’s most likely that will be Kindle only, because the paperback may take a couple of weeks longer to be finalized. Still, a promise is a promise, and that means there will be no more fiddling and procrastinating after I submit the formatted work.
I love Friday the 13th. It’s my lucky day, and it has been my whole life. Back when I was a figure skater (the main cause of the pain I deal with these days), I always did exceptionally well during tests and competitions if they happened to fall on that day. Good things were attracted to me on Friday the 13th. A friend of mine (who actually knows and loves me) tells me it’s because I’m the devil, and so I chuckle wickedly in response. Maybe I am, maybe I’m not. It could all be an intricate plot. In my life pretty much everything is.

It’s Never Been a Better Time to Be a Writer – Kindle Part Two

It has taken me a while to get back to writing the second part of this, because I’ve already been taking my own advice. It really is a great time to be a writer, and I wanted to capitalize on the changes I’ll be telling you about here in this post. In fact, I wrote a whole book between September 15th and October 15th. Actually, I finished around the 12th of October if I remember correctly, and since then I’ve been editing and revising as madly as I wrote it. Yes. That was me. I did that! 120,000 words worth at the time, though it’s since crept up to 125,000 with the addition of some new scenes I felt were necessary. (I’ll be announcing a release date soon, and sharing the cover design around that time.)

In this day and age anyone can be a published author. I really do mean anyone. Even me. You don’t have to go through stacks of envelopes, a zillion e-mails, or receive a hundred rejection letters. No, you can let your readers decide whether or not they like your books, not some executive sitting in the ivory tower of traditional publishing. Let’s face it. Readers know what they want far better than some stranger.

Traditional publishers try to convince authors that they can’t go it alone. Well, here’s where my true-false meter flashes a big, red light. They’re lying to you on three counts. One, it’s entirely possible to go it alone. Two, you really don’t have to be alone out there. Three, the majority of writers who go through a traditional publisher often end up going it alone anyway. There is very little support for a writer when it comes to promotion. You have to hire your own people for that.

The best you can expect from your traditional publisher is to be included in the information they send out to book stores. You don’t usually get any bookmarks to hand out, they don’t book radio and television appearances, and they don’t take out ads promoting your book. You have to do all that yourself. And for all that nothingness that you get from them, what’s the bottom line? About ten or fifteen cents per book sold.

In other words, to receive about $40,000 per year you would have to sell up to 400,000 copies of your book. That year and every year thereafter. Pretty tough to make a living as a writer under those circumstances. Sure, the idea is that you’re going to write more books, and then the effect would be cumulative, but why would you want to give all that money to a traditional publisher anyway? What have they done for you lately?

So, here’s the deal. Self-publishing used to be a great way for printing companies to gouge desperate authors. The industry has cleaned up a great deal, however, and now it’s at the point where publishing a book can be completely free, or so ridiculously cheap that it might as well be. It all depends on what you need the self-publishing company to do. If you publish through Kindle, the formatting costs absolutely nothing. Same with CreateSpace, which is the print-on-demand side of Amazon, as opposed to the e-book only side. CreateSpace will try to up-sell you on stuff, but if you have any competence with a computer this should be a non-issue. Or you can go to websites like Fiverr and pay someone $5 to do the work for you.

The same holds true for cover design. If you’re no good at graphics, and you don’t know anyone who is (and who would be willing to do it for free), there are a lot of cover designers on Fiverr, as well as a number of very reasonably-priced graphic artists out there who specialize in cover design. Believe me, you want someone good. I did a mock-up of the cover I want done, but it totally sucks as it is. That’s why I’m having my daughter deal with the heavy-lifting there. Your cover is what will sell your book, far more so than the blurb that accompanies it. As a reader, I know very well that I tend to skim the back-cover paragraph. If I see certain keywords I’m happy, but the cover has to get me to pick up the book in the first place. If my daughter can’t come up with something really grabby, then I’m going to talk to some of the wonderful folks on Fiverr.

My book’s cover art is a bit of a challenge, however. It’s hard to define it in an image. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but can you encapsulate 125,000 words in a single image? Well, I guess we’ll see what we can come up with there.

As for the rest of it, the resources that are out there if you do a simple Google search are amazing. Truly amazing. So many blogs and articles about how to take on different aspects of writing and self-publishing. Everything from the nuts and bolts of forcing yourself to sit down and write, to the hundreds of ways you can market the finished product (including how to time your promotions for the best results). There are some really great ways to promote your books that are completely free. Things like joining pages and groups on Facebook that include people with an interest in the topics your book centres around. For example, my book deals with preparedness and survival, along with an oncoming end-of-the-world scenario. So, any page that talks about those things has the potential to help me market my book (I should say ‘books,’ since this is the beginning of a trilogy).

A great way to market your book is through those e-mail lists I mentioned in my last post for Kindle readers. BookBub and Sweet Free Books are two of them. There’s also FreeBooksy, which I just discovered recently. You can hire people from Fiverr to promote your books for $5, through banner ads, radio shows, or podcasts. I mean, seriously, what’s $5 when it comes to advertising and promotions. BookBub, Sweet Free Books and FreeBooksy cost way more than $5, usually, unless they’re running a special. Currently Sweet Free Books is actually $5, but that could change at any time, so always look at their pricing. Last time I looked, I think it was 99-cents. Some e-mail sites require your books to have a certain number of reviews on Amazon, or a rating of a certain amount. BookBub can go out to as many as a million (or more) people, however, and their rates of return are really quite good. Well worth the hundreds of dollars they charge (and the amount depends on the genre and listing type – whether you’re offering your book free or for discounted rates).

Amazon has a built-in tool for marketing that I’d suggest you use if you publish through Kindle. It’s Kindle Select (check out this article for tips to leverage it). It means agreeing to a 90-day exclusivity contract, so you cannot publish through any other e-publisher, no matter what format it is, and you can’t give your e-books away to anyone unless it’s through the 5 free days they give you as an optional promotional tool. This does not apply to any print versions of your books. The reason I suggest you use it is two-fold. First, because your book automatically gets marketed through Amazon – are you really going to get any better advertising than that? Second, your book goes into their Kindle lending library, from which you make a percentage of the royalties. People can read your book for free by subscribing to the service, but you still get paid. If you’re looking for exposure, this is one great way to get it.

Seriously, when it comes to marketing, the options are myriad to the point of being limitless. I’m the kind of person who despises selling. Marketing is just not something I want to spend any time on at all. I’m going to have to, of course, but I’ll be very picky about what I’m doing. Mostly that means paying someone else to do it, but I’m also a cheapskate, so that means I’ll be paying as little as possible at the very beginning. I’ll funnel book profits back into marketing on a sliding scale. If I can afford it, I’ll do it, because the only way to sell your books is to let people know you’ve written them. Bestseller Labs has some really great advice on its site that you should check out, too.

So, what’s the bottom line on profit? Okay, most writers write because they have a compulsion to do so. They really do it for love, if they’re any kind of writer. (I’ve been doing it since I was twelve. Not that I was any good at that age, but I was still writing. I’m 44 now, so I’ve had writing in my head for 32 years. I wasn’t writing the whole time in a physical sense, but my head was always telling stories to me.) However, people still need to eat, so we all have to make money at doing things if we don’t want to starve. Kindle offers you up to 70% royalties, and CreateSpace offers up to 60%. I’m focusing on those for two reasons. One, their royalties really are the highest I’ve found. Two, this article has Kindle in the title. I will be using them both, because I want print version of my books. Call me old-fashioned if you like, but it’s also a vanity thing. I want them in my house. I want to be able to give them out. When I read I tend to read e-books these days, but it’s pretty damn hard to sign and hand out e-books.

What do those royalties come down to? Well, let’s do the math. If you have a trade paperback selling for ten bucks (which is extremely cheap these days) through a traditional publisher, and you only get ten or fifteen cents per copy sold, you have to sell up to $4 million in books every year to your readers to get $40,000 per year. If you’re getting seventy cents on the dollar, however, in order to get that much in annual income you only have to sell a little over $57,142 worth of books per year. You can easily charge $2.99 a book and still make out like a bandit, only having to sell about 19,048 copies each year. In other words, your readers have to shell out seventy times more money, just so you can earn a semi-decent income, if you choose to publish the old way.

If you’re writing a series, the options are amazing when it comes to promotion and sales. You absolutely must take advantage of this stuff if you’re writing a trilogy, or a giant series. For one thing, every single book in that series will work to promote all the other books. Your sales will increase exponentially, if people like what they’re reading.

This blog is a good example of that, if you think about it. When I first started writing it my readers were pretty thin on the ground. As time went on, even though I don’t have a serious theme going here, I got a lot more readers. That’s because they’ve clicked on something they found on Google, and ended up getting sucked into the black hole of my brain. I’ve been writing a lot fewer posts, and getting a lot more activity on each post, yet without much in the way of promoting them. Half of what I write on here is just to chat with the people who have become loyal readers. Okay, maybe more than half – I’m not really sure, since I just write what I feel like writing. When I do have a post that has some seriousness to it, I’ll usually promote it a little bit through HootSuite, which shoots it out to all my social media platforms.

At the end of a Kindle book (at least it works this way for the Android app), Amazon automatically asks for a rating of the book. If the book is part of a series, Amazon knows this (assuming the author entered that information correctly when they published their books), and it will direct the reader to other books in the series, as well as other books written by the same author. I’ve bought a lot of my books this way. I start out with a free book, but then the rest of the series I willingly pay for if I’m hooked. It’s perfect for readers and authors. Readers find new authors they love, and writers can promote a series of books.

Offering books for free can be a very good idea for other reasons, too. You see, Amazon has a ranking system for all books, and your rank is based on how well your book is doing within its genre. Picking your category is extremely important (see this article for an explanation on categories and what they can mean for authors), because the fewer books there are in a genre, to more likely you are to rank high. The higher you rank, the more likely Amazon will help to promote you. Your book may end up going out to millions of potential buyers, without you having to do the heavy-lifting. I know, if your book is always free then it’s not possible to make money from it. However, the idea is to space out your free promo days (Kindle Select will give you five of them that you can schedule based on your own needs, if that’s the promo type you choose), so that you spike your readership enough to increase your ranking. And if you’ve already got another book published that’s part of the same series, then you’re getting massive promo for it.

Honestly, I cannot begin to cover everything I’ve learned about self-publishing in a single blog post. People dedicate entire blogs to just the marketing end of it. All I can do is tell you that I’m convinced it’s the best option for me when it comes to publishing my own novels. A traditional publisher would have a long way to go to convince me that it was worth signing a contract with them. What they do offer is massive editing and proofreading, plus professional cover design. All of those are available through freelancers, however, and just for the record, the top five things of importance when it comes selling a book are these: Good writing, a good story, a top-notch cover, pristine editing, and marketing. If you want your book to succeed it really should have all five of those elements. Not every successful book does, but if you want to guarantee you sell oodles of books, you should do everything you can to have every one of them in place. And you don’t need a traditional publisher to do that.

It’s Never Been a Better Time to Be a Reader – Kindle Part One

First let me start out by saying that I’m an absolutely voracious reader. I consume books at a very rapid rate, and I’m addicted to them. If I don’t have at least one more book lined up for when I finish the one I’m currently reading, I feel very anxious. I need my fix. So, believe me when I tell you that if there are more free books out there than even I can keep up with (and they’re in my favourite genres), I’m not blowing smoke. In fact, my phone is now completely overloaded with books waiting to be read. The vast majority of those books were completely free, and I downloaded them legally from Amazon.

So let me tell you how it works. No, it’s not a gimmick of any kind where you have to jump through any hoops other than technological ones in the form of downloading the Kindle app and the books themselves. There are two websites out there that I will recommend that sends you daily e-mails about free or nearly-free books. They don’t send you anything else. No spam at all. One is called Sweet Free Books, and the other is BookBub. The other thing you’ll need is an Amazon account. Just do their free sign-up thing if you don’t already have an account.

Both mailing lists ask you for your genre preferences, and that’s what they send you for recommendations, which include the Amazon link for getting the books you choose at that price. Now sometimes these deals go fast, but usually I can try the next day and they’re still there – some last much longer.

This works whether you have a physical Kindle or not. If you have a smartphone or a computer, you can read Kindle books. They have a downloadable app for iOS, Android and BlackBerry. They even have it for Windows phones. They also have the app for your Windows PC, and possibly others. Just go to this link for the various apps. They can send it direct to your phone or e-mail you a link.

Personally, I didn’t like reading on my laptop. Reading on my phone, however, is a totally different story. You can change the font size, type and colour, it’s convenient, and you can carry dozens of books around with it – potentially thousands, depending on your phone’s memory capacity. You can also move the Kindle app to your replaceable memory card, so you have a lot of storage capability for books. It is so much more convenient (and lighter) than carting your current books around, and then your next one just in case you finish the one you’re already reading.

The other thing people need to know about, is that you can look at books by genre and sort by price on Amazon, and you’re going to find hundreds of free books available to you at any given moment. This is where I’ve managed to increase my collection so quickly. One or two books a day is great, and probably more than I’m going to be able to read, but I’m a total hoarder when it comes to reading material.

One more area to scavenge for free reading material are places that store out-of-copyright, or public domain books. After a certain number of years books lose their copyright status. It’s usually somewhere between fifty and a hundred years after the death of the author, depending on which country you live in (and I believe it’s the reader’s country of origin, not the author’s, but I could be wrong). So, if you’ve been looking to catch up on the classics, those are great places to start. Project Gutenberg has a huge collection. Google Books is doing some sort of online indexing now, too, but I haven’t ventured into that except when researching specific topics and I haven’t downloaded anything. Keep in mind that the major databases have books in multiple formats, so if you have a Kindle app you’re looking for the mobi format. Sony has a reader, as does Nook, and Kobo, etc., so make sure you pick the right file format.

However, if you’re looking for a book on one of those sites and it’s not available in mobi, you can download what they do have and convert it very easily using Online-Convert.com. I use this site for so many different things, and I have for years. The conversion works perfectly as far as I can tell. The link I’ve provided is for converting everything from Word documents to PDFs to LIT into mobi files. They also have audio and video converters on there, so it’s a really helpful website for pretty much anyone. I used to use the Microsoft reader, so I’ve got tons of books I’ve had to convert from LIT to mobi.

Let me reassure you once again that everything I’ve told you here is legal. These are books that are either out of copyright, or the authors have chosen to give the Kindle versions of their books away. Now this is the only part of the whole thing that you might be able to call a ploy. The reason authors give away their books is because they’re hoping you’ll love their work and want to buy the rest of them. Now for those of us who love books, paying for a book isn’t a hardship if we can afford it. We want to support the authors, because we want them to keep writing, and a good book is well worth its price. This works especially well when an author has written a series, and at the end of the first book, which they’ve given away free, there’s a link not only to rate the book, but also to purchase the next book(s) in the series.

I’m perfectly okay with that. In fact, it makes things really convenient for me if I love what I’m reading. In most cases the subsequent books are also very reasonably priced. Indie authors are doing this all the time, and they can afford to when they publish with Kindle. Amazon gives authors great royalty percentages on their books, unlike traditional publishers where authors will often make only a dime or so per book sold. Kindle authors can sell a book for under a dollar, and still make five times as much on it as they would have with a traditional publisher. They’re cutting out the biggest middle man. Amazon would be there anyway at the end of the retail chain, but suddenly the reader is no longer paying the bloated salaries of publishers that don’t really do much to help their authors anyway.

“Yeah, but are the books any good?” I can hear that question a thousand miles away. There is an absolute plethora of amazing authors out there, publishing independently. I have friends who have written great books, like the Time Change series written by +Alex Myers. They’re great books, fast-paced, fascinating, and with a ton of research put into them. No, I’m not saying those are free. I got copies of them so I could review the first one, and he was kind enough to send me a couple more of his books because I was so thrilled with the first one I read. I’ll be re-reading the first two Time Change books shortly, because I plan to buy the third one.

That’s the magic of being a reader (or a writer, which I’ll get into in the second part of this blog when I write it), in this ‘day and age’ as they say. There’s a connection between reader and author unlike anything that’s come before. Indie authors are approachable usually. Often they’re looking for feedback on their work. I read a book recently that was a really great story, but badly needed editing, so I e-mailed the author. I explained that I’d given him four stars on Amazon, and my reasons for not giving him five. Seriously, though, if you do that please be kind. Authors can be very sensitive. A story or book can be like one of our offspring, and we want everyone else to love it, too. Make any criticism constructive. I try to be very careful about what I say, and how I say it, because if I like someone’s work enough to want to go to the effort of critiquing it like that, I really want them to continue writing.

Thankfully the author I wrote to seemed to agree with what I’d said, and told me that I had given him new encouragement to finish the sequel. As I said, magic. He knows that there’s a fan out there who likes his brainchild enough to help it grow up a little bit. And he’ll be letting me know as soon as it’s available so I can read it right away.

Of course, it’s not just unknown or indie authors that are giving deals. I get quite a few that are New York Times Bestselling authors. Alice Hoffman, who wrote Practical Magic (yes, the one that became the movie with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman), recently released a book that ended up on my e-mail list of deals. It’s a great marketing tool. A few people get the book and start raving about it, and soon others are buying it at full price, or at least buying other books by the same author.

I’ve been reading a lot of dystopian, apocalyptic fiction lately. A fair bit of zombie stuff, along with a few aliens, and a disease or two wiping out most of the population. It’s a pretty specific interest area, but as I said there’s an absolute plethora of free books on Amazon. Barnes & Noble does the same thing, but at a smaller volume, so I haven’t bothered with a membership with them. I don’t need it.

One series I read recently (that started with a free book), was just wonderful. I don’t know the author personally, though I might e-mail her just to beg her to write another book. Her name is Sarah Lyons Fleming, and the first book in the series is, “Until the End of the World.” There are three novels in the series, and one novella. At first glance the title made me think it was going to be a romance. Sure, there are relationships in it, but the main theme in the books revolves around a zombie apocalypse caused by a virus developed by the army. The main character’s parents were what are called ‘preppers’ who were of the homesteading type. They had backpacks ready to go at all times, a cabin with solar capabilities, canned food to last for years, you name it. Since I’m already personally interested in the topic, the stories were great from that perspective alone. On top of that, I fell in love with the characters. Important people die, and you actually care that they’re gone.

As you can imagine, I posted a great review for all of the books, other than the novella which I just haven’t gotten around to posting yet, except for giving it the five stars through my phone app.

The abundance of book is like a utopia for me, as I (ironically perhaps) read about dystopias. Those e-mails from BookBub and Sweet Free Books are ones that I eagerly anticipate each day, wondering what new literary treasure awaits me. Don’t get me wrong. I have hundreds of actual books on my shelves. I prefer hardcover when it comes to reference material I keep for my research, or even oversize softcover. I need to be able to glance over at the page continuously sometimes, and my phone shutting off automatically would get annoying for that. However, it’s just easier to relax with my phone for recreational reading, and outright reading of non-fiction.

If you’re a reader (and I assume you are if you’re even bothering to read this particular post), you’ll be ecstatic if you delve into these waters. They’re filled with wonderful stories, and every story that you read makes you a better person. Fiction teaches understanding and empathy in people, so if your kids have smartphones encourage them to read on them instead of spending hours on social media. There’s nothing more important to the development of human beings than reading, and the freedom to read as we like. From the time I got so angry reading Fahrenheit 451 that I threw the book across the room when they started burning books in the story, I’ve fervently believed that reading was vital. I was a young kid doing a book report – fifth grade I believe, because I remember who my teacher was – yet, books were so important to me even then.

I never finished reading Bradbury’s book, though I will someday, but my teacher didn’t punish me or give me a bad grade. In fact, I wrote the report based on what I’d read so far, if I remember correctly, and then explained what happened to my teacher. She was actually rather impressed by my ferocious love of books, and I got a really good mark.

Escapism is necessary to a healthy psyche. It helps us cope when things are difficult, allowing us a release valve. Some forms of escapism are harmful, though, whereas reading is not. The more we read, the more we open our minds and hearts. The more people in this world who do that, the more likely humanity is to move forward, rather than petering out.

Now, turn on that device and get downloading! Happy reading everyone!!

Giving Myself a New Gift (or Three) Every Year

Change and movement are a part of life. Every year around my birthday I start to look at how things are at that moment, what I managed to accomplish in the last year, and what I’d like to accomplish by my next birthday. There’s been a lot of changes this last year, moving being one of the best ones. We’re in a place we really like now, and that makes a huge difference in how much I want people in my personal space. I’m no longer ashamed of where I live. I’m thrilled to be able to make plans about what furniture and other decor to buy, and where to put everything. I have an interest in having nice things again, where before I just looked around and shrugged, saying, “What the hell difference would it make? It’ll still look like a $#!thole.”

It was a psychological ‘giving up’ caused by depressing surroundings, and it really is amazing how much better I feel as a human being these days. I realize I haven’t been writing, but I don’t have a comfortable writing space set up with a chair and desk. At the moment I’m sitting on the edge of a mattress that’s sitting on the floor. My laptop is propped up with a large stack of reference books. I’m hunched over in an amazingly uncomfortable position just so I can bang out a few words to my regular readers. Well, that and I’m sort of organizing my thoughts for the year to come.

That being said, I need to get back on topic. Last year I became even more politically involved, particularly in my own country. I actually became an official member of a political party. I donated $25 I think, and I have a 3-year membership with the Green Party. I could have gone with the NDP, actually, but there are things that are annoying me about them. Still, either party is better than the Progressive Conservatives (or PC party) or the Liberal party. Both of those are in the pockets of big oil and all that jazz, and they both voted for Keystone XL. The only ones to vote against it were NDP and an Independent. I’m really hoping we can get rid of Harper in the next federal election, because he’s destroyed a lot of Canada – physically destroyed it, I mean.

The third gift I gave myself last year, though it wasn’t really under my control so much, was finally getting in to see the right orthopedic surgeon. Nothing has been done as yet, except to book me for a group of doctors that will be giving me a whole bunch of ultrasound-guided injections of long-acting local anesthesia. That won’t happen until after my birthday, so I can’t count pain relief for last year, but I can count the progress toward healing.

This coming year I’m looking at my last year before I hit 45. That’s kind of a milestone birthday, I think. So this next year I’m going to give myself some really important gifts for that birthday. The first is related to the last one I mentioned for last year. I’m going ahead with the treatment that will discover the extent of my injuries, and exactly where the worst of the pain is coming from. I want to be able to jump out of bed in the morning, rather than rolling cautiously, straightening each part of my body slowly so that I can finally stand up. The first couple of steps I take are pretty painful. I want that way of life gone this year. Maybe the doctors won’t be able to schedule my repairs fast enough for my next birthday, because it sounds like there’s a lot to be done. However, there’s something else I can do to help that along.

This leads me to my next gift to myself, and that simply physical fitness. Knowing that the vast majority of my pain will be treated, despite it being only a mask of the real problems, I’m confident I can start to move around a lot more. I’ll have to start out cautiously, because I’ve basically been in a chair or a bed for the last few years. It’s hard to exercise when it’s excruciating, but even more so when you’re told you’re not supposed to because it will cause more damage. In fact, I’ve been told a lot of crap from doctors that never told me there were ways around my various issues. I have a problem with my knees that could have been fixed with simple exercises, and I only found that out a couple of weeks ago. It turns out that my disc problems in my back can be healed, but I was told by another orthopedic surgeon that my back was permanently screwed.

In other words, I’m taking what the doctors tell me with a grain of salt, I’m doing my own research, and I’m going to start moving my body more and more throughout the year. Yoga, resistance/weight-training, and aerobic activity. I’m going to start recording my results, and maybe I’ll share them here, too. It depends on how I feel about it once I get going. I’m not sharing half-naked before & after pictures, don’t worry. I’ll spare everyone that much. I might do some fully-dressed, though. We’ll see. Whatever the case may be, I’ll be in a lot better shape by my next birthday, and I’m doing it the right way – as a lifestyle change, not a binge program. The last thing I need is more injuries, or to stop doing it because it’s just too drastic. I need to have fun with it. Thankfully I like the activities I’ve chosen, and they’re well-rounded with regard to a fitness program. Flexibility, strength and endurance, which are all things we need to live a full life.

I’m also setting up my home so that I have a nice working and living environment, so I can get back to serious and consistent writing again, in addition to my other work. I want to be able to put in the time on everything and feel productive again. In my head I’m almost always working, because I do love the things I do. However, translating that to actually getting the work done is a different story. Not being in so much pain will help a great deal there, too. Not only because pain is distracting and exhausting and makes me want to curl up in the fetal position, but because I take so many pills to counteract the pain that my brain just can’t stick with things long enough to accomplish anything. You wouldn’t believe how many blog posts and articles I’ve started and stalled out on halfway through. Once I stop working on a piece it ends up being deleted. I never go back to finish it off. I either rewrite the whole thing or just dump it entirely.

Cautiously I say, too, that this year I want to finish and publish at least one book. Even if it’s an anthology I edit where I’ve only written one or two short stories, and there are stories from other writers in it. It’s past time for me to get my fiction work out there. I’m also considering writing a small book on rape recovery. Never mind the fact that I’ve got the makings of more than one series of books. There’s my demon series and the serial killer one. I’ve got lots of notes, and the basic outlines for story arcs throughout, so I think they’ll be great if I ever have a comfortable place to sit and get some real writing done. I know…excuses, excuses…

I look forward to every single year of my life. I don’t celebrate birthdays with any brouhaha, because it’s just not the way I roll. I’d rather sit at home doing exactly the same things I’d be doing on any other day. The exception is that we usually have a special meal, with cake or pie after, and then my daughter and I watch a bunch of movies. That won’t be possible this year. My daughter is working 12-hours shifts on weird rotations, so she has to sleep the entire time she’s home. Not to mention the fact that she wasn’t getting any shifts at all for a while there. We barely have the rent money now, so we won’t be buying steaks & cakes. That’s okay, too. I don’t mind being broke so long as we have the essentials and we’re not short on the rent. We won’t starve and the landlord is getting paid.

Maybe I’ll watch some movies on my own, but more likely I’ll play games on my computer or work toward this year’s goals.I still have to finish my starting routine for working out, and determine my level of progression, but I have fun planning that kind of thing. I can get bogged down in the details and find myself distracted, but as long as I cover the first few weeks I can always plan the next steps when I get to them.

Of course, I also continued my education last year, and that’s ongoing. I went through the MIT course on programming with Python, and I’m enrolled in Linux and calculus courses at the moment. I think there’s a chemistry course in there somewhere, too, but it hasn’t started yet. I plan to delve into CSS and Java, among other things. For me, I think the best part of living life is learning whatever I can latch my brain onto. We become so much more by educating ourselves, opening our horizons. Every course I take brings in new perspectives on life, no matter what the topic. I see just a slightly different slant, and that’s such a huge benefit – not only to me, but to my readers as well. I can offer so much more to everyone around me if I keep becoming more than what I am now.

I remember many years ago reading in a book about a married couple whose philosophy was that we are not human beings, but rather we’re human becomings, and for me that was a crystallizing moment. I understood right then that that was the person I need to be (or become, if you will). So, every year I get just a little bit closer to the person I’m supposed to grow into. Maybe I’ll make it there, and maybe I won’t, but it would be a real shame if I didn’t even try. Alas, no matter how many years are between this one and the one on my birth certificate, I don’t think I’ll ever really grow up, which makes me smile just thinking about it.

Powerful While Powerless, and a Refreshing Start

Let me get right down to the nitty-gritty. We finally got ourselves moved out of our old apartment. We also had some interesting times without electricity for the last 10 days we were there. It’s not the first time I’ve done without power, and I’m stubborn when it comes to paying a bill where I think I’m getting ripped off. Living in an apartment it’s very easy for people to patch into other people’s power lines. All you need is a little detector for electrical lines and a drill. For some reason, despite the fact that we weren’t using space heaters for those months, our usage was twice as high as it had been the previous year when we were using space heaters. I told the woman at the utility company this, and she simply didn’t care. Told us we had to pay well over $300 if we wanted to retain our service for the last ten days we’d be there. I told them to stuff it. Stealing utilities of any kind in this country is actually a very big offense, so you would think they’d be a little more interested, but they weren’t. Too much bother for them when they could simply demand their money from us.

We actually had the money to pay the bill. That wasn’t the point. The point was that someone was stealing from us and I wasn’t going to pay for it. Instead we bought some batteries for our LED lantern, and got a couple more LED lights. It being close to summer, we had a fair bit of daylight anyway, and at night we played board games or UNO. We had a lot of fun, and bought a bunch of ravioli to eat cold. We could have had other stuff, but we happen to like cold ravioli.

Right before our power was shut off our microwave blew, so this weekend we’re getting a new one. My daughter was cleaning it and may have sprayed the vinegar-water through the vent holes. Normally we put a cup of vinegar-water in it and turn it on to clean it, and it works miracles, but this time it started smoking and sparking and I told her to stick it in the pile going into the garbage.

We got rid of a lot of our stuff. There were various pests in that building and we had no interest in bringing any of them with us. Besides, my dresser and bed were already destroyed by water damage when the roof of the building leaked. Mildew had destroyed half my clothes in my closet, too. And this is the landlord that had the nerve to try to get $2,600 from us for damage to the floor. That didn’t work out so well for them. Thankfully they were nice enough to allow us to stay on a couple extra months when I injured my knee so badly I couldn’t get down the stairs.

As luck would have it, though, that delay from my injury was a blessing. Not that I enjoyed the pain or anything, but the delay is how we ended up finding a really great apartment. We went to look at two that day, and we figured from the address that the first one would be a dump and the second would be decent enough. It turned out that the first one was amazing. We were really surprised by it. We still went to see the other place, but I called the guy from the first place right after our second viewing and told him we wanted the place. The rent was higher, but all utilities are included and we also have central air. We no longer have to throw in a window unit. Yippee. In fact, we gave that window unit away by sticking a sign on it and putting it in the hallway of the old building. It was gone in less than 24 hours.

We’re still really thrilled with the new place. Every floor is tile. My bedroom has a ten-foot ceiling, which echoes like mad right now, but once I get a painting or two on the wall, and buy the area rug I want, it should be awesome. I’m going back to having a queen-size bed again in a couple of weeks. The room is huge, in addition to the high ceiling, so I now need furniture to fill it up. Thankfully the landlords left a wardrobe, a couple of bookshelves, a nice table and chairs, curtains on all the windows except one, and a couple of area rugs. The urgent stuff is no longer an issue.

We haven’t unpacked fully, yet, but we’ve unpacked more here than we did at the old place in nearly 3 years. Hopefully we’ll get everything done this weekend, as we’ll have been here two weeks by Sunday. We’re actually going to hire a friend of my daughter to come in and clean at least once a month. My daughter’s back at work with hours that are a crazy mix of continental days and nights, so she needs her time off to adjust between shifts, and I’m just not capable of cleaning a whole house anymore. We’ve been keeping up with the animals rather religiously, however. The ferrets are doing well with their puppy pads, and the cat was never a problem with her litter box. Apparently the people who lived here before wouldn’t change their cat’s litter, and so the landlord warned us ahead of time that we needed to keep everything really clean, especially since they’d never seen a ferret before. They haven’t had any complaints thus far, so hopefully we’re doing okay with that.

For the first time in about four years, we have a decent place to live. Actually, it’s closer to seven years. The place was clean when we moved in. It smells and feels clean, and it’s done up pretty nicely. I’ll be pleased to have people come over and visit, instead of being ashamed of it. It’s a huge change in mindset for me, and a great step toward regaining happiness in my life.

Another positive is that I finally got in to the orthopedic surgeon. He’s sending me to a group of doctors that will administer long-acting anesthetic injections, guided by ultrasound. I’ve got about four different problems with my hip joints, apparently, and so they want to deal with the pain first. Once the pain is eased, I can fix one of the problems myself – lack of exercise. It won’t matter anymore that I may be causing further damage by walking around, because it won’t hurt and they’re going to fix it at some point. My muscles have been atrophying for some time now, including the stabilizer muscles, so I’m looking forward to being able to exercise again. I miss it.

I still won’t be able to do my belly dancing until they fix the issue with my joints locking up, because my legs simply won’t do what the need to do right now, but maybe I can do a limited amount. Dancing is something I miss more than anything. I’ve been dancing in one form or another since I was a small child, and to have that taken from me is painful. I can wiggle my hips on the dance floor at a club or something, but I can’t do anything that requires real skill.

I go for the shots on July 3rd, so we’ll see how that goes. In the meantime I’m catching up on my reading and getting comfortable in our new home. We have office space now, which is awesome. I just can’t really use it yet. I need a proper desk and office chair. I bought an office chair from Staples a while back, but it doesn’t tilt back far enough so it’s uncomfortable for me. I do have a table I can use, but no chairs that will really work with it. Then I have to set up something for sound-proofing, or at least noise-reduction. I’m doing the intros for all the shows now, and I do other voiceover stuff, so I want to be able to record quality audio. I’ve done the last two in my bedroom, and the echo was pretty bad. I can get rid of some of it, but it’s better to not have it in the first place.

So I finally have peace in my life again. The stress of hearing people yelling in the hallway, swearing, coming in drunk in the middle of the night and carrying on loud conversations with other neighbours, people smoking in the hall so it surges into our apartment, and who-has-the-loudest-stereo competitions late at night – those are all things I do not need in my life. I despised living there, and the tension built up so much that I’m still letting go of it now. Situational depression, even when the situation is gone, doesn’t just magically disappear. Your behaviour becomes habitual in response, so those habits have to be broken. I cringe when I hear noises, still. Our only neighbours in the building are our landlords, and they live upstairs so we hear their dog barking and their voices when they talk loudly, so it trips the switch a little, but once I realized that was their natural speech pattern I was fine with it. I just hate people fighting. Drama is not something I seek out in life.

Now that a large number of problems have either been solved, or are about to be, I’m looking forward to seeing what I can make of my life once again. Giddyup!

Brushing Up Against Rental Fraud

The phrase, “Too good to be true,” was invented for a reason. Seriously. With my daughter and I looking for a new apartment, and not having a lot of time left to do it in unless we talk our current landlord into letting us stay another month, we’re looking at every advertisement online and culling out anything that seems decent. I’m even going into strange rental sections on Kijiji, like “Others,” just for the hell of it.

It was there we found the apartment of our dreams. Or so one might think. However, it could easily have turned into a nightmare if I were of a less suspicious bent. Believe me when I tell you there are con-artists everywhere, and it’s our disbelief that anything so unusual could happen to us that aids them in their victimization.

Imagine this, if you will:

2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, all appliances, all furniture, all utilities included. [Insert stunning description here along with 5 equally stunning photographs.] $819.00 per month.

Contact is made via e-mail, and more photos are sent. They’re not looking to make a profit, or turn it into a business, etc. They just want the apartment rented out to someone responsible so it’s not sitting there empty. They will buy a plane ticket to come show you the place, but they need you to do them a favour and place an ad for their spouse’s old apartment – apparently they are unable to do so because they are currently overseas and the classified ad website will not allow people overseas to place ads on the Canadian site. They dangle the carrot of removing the ad so that you’ll be the only prospective tenant.

Being of a suspicious and cynical nature, I took a good look at the ad before I even contacted them the first time. I decided I might as well check it out. If it was a scam, no harm done. Being of that suspicious and cynical nature, I did not send them anything other than our names and phone number, and I wasn’t about to send anyone any money, so I wasn’t concerned.

The first response was a long e-mail, and asked us to let them know if we’re interested. I said I was, and we wanted to view the place. I asked them to send the application, because I figured we could fill it out and give it to them when we saw the apartment. (I wasn’t sending them anything with personal details by e-mail.) The ‘application’ was a few questions in their reply e-mail, along with a request for a picture (that was not mandatory). I replied vaguely, saying my daughter has a full-time job in a factory and I’m on disability. When I came to the question about references I said I would provide references when we viewed the place. With my name and references they would be able to obtain my current address, and it’s more information than I want a stranger to have through these means.

No, I didn’t send a picture. I couldn’t see any valid reason why a prospective landlord would need a picture, and believe me when I say that sent up big red flags with sirens blaring and strobes flashing. My first thought was that the place might be real, but have hidden cameras for underground porn videos of the peeping Tom variety. So I figured if we viewed the place I’d be looking very carefully at mirror placement, and behind anything mounted on the walls.

The next e-mail was when they said they’re more than happy to book a flight back here to show us the apartment, but they needed our help in placing an ad for his wife’s old place so they can take care of that at the same time. Yeah…right. Just like the people who have fifteen million dollars waiting to be taken out of a bank account, but they need you to do it for them, and it doesn’t look like they’re asking much – and certainly nothing that will cost you anything – but it generally results in a person being stripped of their life savings.

My response was polite, because it’s just barely possible the apartment is real. However, I made it clear that it was their responsibility to be available for viewings, and if they found it inconvenient to do so, they could hire a property management firm. They have the added benefit of being licensed, and can run credit checks for prospective tenants as well. Or they could book a whole bunch of viewings all at once. This person said in the last e-mail that ‘he’ had come up here once before and the person hadn’t shown up – gee, people who break promises? Who’da thunkit? This is an old trick used by scammers who are trying to reassure someone by showing they know how that feels, and implies that they, themselves, would never do such a thing.

I also made it clear that, whatever they wrote in an e-mail, we did not know them. We were not going to place an ad for them which might result either in us being victimized or being accused of collaboration in a scheme meant to defraud others. I apologized, just in case they were on the level, but I very much doubt that they were.

After sending that last e-mail I started to do some research. I found an article in the Winnipeg Free Press newspaper from 2009. It details how a woman lost $1200 in almost identical circumstances. In her case the gentleman had relocated from Winnipeg to New Jersey, but was currently in London. She sent $800 for a month’s rent, and $400 for a damage deposit. When she requested keys he demanded another $1200 before he was apparently willing to send them. Once the situation was investigated it was discovered that there was no one in the building by that name, and it was managed by a property management firm with no ties to this person. The police could do nothing. After all, she had sent her money out of the country.

Kijiji warns on every page that a person should never give money to someone they haven’t met in person. Their classified ads are meant for person-to-person sales, whether it’s an apartment or a bicycle. Near-identical ads for ‘dream’ apartments have appeared in major cities all over Canada, and I don’t doubt that they appear in most other countries as well.

People want to believe they’ve found a place to live. It hits in a vulnerable area, especially during a time when it’s difficult to find an apartment. In the last two and a half years since we moved into this apartment, rent prices have gone up considerably, and apartments are taken almost as soon as the ads appear. Then if you find yourself in a situation where you might not have a place to live in a couple of weeks, you really want to believe that this wonderful place is sitting there just for you. An answer to a prayer, basically. The thought of being homeless scares the crap out of pretty much anyone, and who can blame them?

Still, there are a few hard and fast rules out there if you don’t want to be a victim. The biggest one is that you should never trust anyone without reason. I mean, geez people! Why would you send money to someone outside the country for a place you’ve never even been in? An apartment has to be viewed in person. I’m sorry, but that’s the reality. Even real ads will often show an apartment that isn’t the one that’s available. Management companies have show suites. Even when you go to view an apartment, they often show one that has the same floor plan, but isn’t the one you’ll be renting. That’s pretty standard for big buildings, so then you have to do a walk-through of your actual apartment to list any damage that’s already there.

Trust is earned. It takes time to develop. Not everyone is trustworthy. In fact, a very large portion of the population cannot be trusted. I personally believe no one can be trusted for everything. Every human has flaws, and there are certain things each person can’t be trusted with. It all depends on their personality type. Some can’t be trusted to pay their bills exactly on time, even if they do eventually pay them. Some people don’t do things they’re supposed to do by the time they say they’ll do them. Some people show up late. Everyone has flaws, and those are the things that can’t be trusted in that person, but they may be completely trustworthy in every other way. Some people you could loan a million dollars to, and they would pay back every penny with interest, but you know they’re always going to blab secrets.

It takes time to know the flaws of a person, and thereby know which things can be trusted about them, and which things can’t. Trusting anyone without knowing them is ridiculous. The woman in the above-mentioned article said she trusted the person she sent money to because he claimed to be a Christian. Really? Wow. I can claim to be Jesus Christ, but that doesn’t make it true. In fact, I would be less likely to trust someone because they’re religious, than I would if they said they were atheists. I do not like organized religions, so I have a huge bias there.

Though I might vaguely feel sorry for anyone who has been ripped off, there’s a larger part of me that thinks, “What the hell were you thinking?” Then my sympathy tends to dry up. When it’s someone of diminished capacity who is scammed, I feel terrible for them, but with the general population I feel mostly disgusted that they’re not using their critical thinking skills. Of course, lack of critical thinking is something that drives me crazy to begin with. It’s the reason the vast majority of people believe what’s reported on the news. In the US they’re not obligated to tell the truth, yet people still believe what they’re saying. In Canada that’s against the CRTC regulations, and results in fines and other penalties, but that does not mean they don’t unknowingly report a falsehood – because it’s quite possible those who wrote the stories in the first place weren’t using their critical thinking skills and didn’t thoroughly investigate their sources. They might report the truth as they know it, but it’s quite likely not the whole story.

My basic point is exactly what I said in my very first sentence. Too good to be true is always too good to be true. Follow your instincts, use your brain, question everything, and don’t give people money for anything they’re not handing to you right then and there. Even when you’re doing business with people you know (perhaps especially when you know them), you don’t pay them until they’ve given you what you’re paying for – whether it’s a service or an item. I offer website design and maintenance as a service, but I certainly don’t expect anyone to pay me for something I haven’t done yet. Some companies may require a deposit, but it’s not necessary. Not when you can build the site and not post it, but still show your client what it will look like once it’s published, and there are other ways web designers can protect themselves if their clients don’t pay.

In all business dealings (and renting an apartment is a contract just like any other) both parties should be able to provide proof that they’re on the level. An apartment is visible proof. If you don’t see the place with your own eyes, there’s a good possibility it doesn’t exist. On the landlord’s end of things, they’re well within their rights to take a look at your identification and do a credit and reference check. Don’t be afraid to offend someone. Honest people will understand and respect skepticism if you’re polite about it. It’s only the dishonest ones who will react defensively and get angry – most likely because they see their scam falling apart and realize the money they foresaw is slipping through their fingers.

In our case I would expect that this supposed landlord would respect the fact that I’m mature and responsible enough to be careful with regard to my personal information and my money. If I just gave out money to everyone, it would show an obvious lack or responsibility and maturity. Sadly, there will be people desperate enough and gullible enough, who so badly want to believe their dreams have come true, that they will fork over most of their savings to secure a non-existent apartment. I’m not immune to those feelings myself, and I hoped we weren’t being scammed. I was polite in my last e-mail because a tiny part of me still hoped it was real. This was before I started researching rental scams and saw the various articles about the different ways people got fleeced. Then I started to see the similarities.

What’s funny is that I’m a huge believer in doing things online. I buy groceries that way sometimes, and have them delivered. I shop online for other things, paying for my items electronically. I honestly do not have to leave the house if I don’t want to, though you pay a little more sometimes for that privilege. Maybe it’s being experienced in the ways of online retail that helps me weed out the scams. The worst thing that ever happened to me was that a ring I ordered from eBay was never delivered, and since I only paid about $10 for it I wasn’t all that concerned, particularly since I’d ordered a bunch of other stuff at the same time and sort of forgot I was expecting it.

In fact we just ordered dinner online, but I’m pretty sure they’re going to deliver it since we haven’t given them any money yet.