Tag: Prince Edward Island (page 1 of 2)

The Great Bookshelf Tour: Fourth Stop

Welcome to the fourth stop on the Great Bookshelf Tour of 2020, which I hope you find a bit of a distraction during these unusual times.

First up on today’s tour we have the books of illustrious Prince Edward Island based author Susan Rodgers. Susan Rodgers, you should know, is my sister, younger than me by one year, one month, and three days. I call her Sam because her initials are Susan Ann Mahoney, or at least they were before she married that Rodgers guy.

I could write an entire book about her, and our fabulous childhood together, including that incident where she heroically defended me from a pack of bullies who had stolen my mittens, and the time we got trapped on a cliff-face together (she made it off first), and so on, but that’s not what this tour is about. This tour is about books, and if you want books, Susan has written something like eighteen of them. I’ve lost count. My wife and I once marched into a bookstore and bought all of them, back when there were only nine. There, we’re done, we’ve supported her, we thought. Then she promptly wrote nine more. We’ve yet to pick those up. But we will. Maybe. Someday. Anyway, if you like angsty books about love and relationships and music and Prince Edward Island, you will LOVE Susan’s Drifters series (and related books).

Sitting in front of Susan’s books is one of my favourite books, Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace, by Gordon MacKenzie. A few things about this book. It was a thoughtful gift from a friend, which makes it special. I love everything about the design of this book, the illustrations in particular. If you look inside you will see that it is positively littered with the craziest drawings and sketches, all speaking to the nature of the content. I’ve long wanted to produce a book myself in this style. The book is about creativity and leadership, and it has many sage notions about all of that. There isn’t a much in the way of information online about MacKenzie himself. He’s a bit of an enigmatic figure, but video of him does exist. The books is based on a talk he used to give, which you can see online (and when you do, you’ll see just how much of the book is based on the talk). Curiously, despite the cult status of this book, hardly anybody has viewed MacKenzie’s online talk (145 views as of today). Something else I love about the book: it was originally self-published before Viking (Penguin) picked it up.

Next up, Robert J. Sawyer‘s Rollback. Rob has written even more books than my sister, and has known great success. I’ve known Rob since before he published his first novel, Golden Fleece (which I understand wasn’t actually the first one he wrote). I met Rob working on an episode of Ideas for CBC Radio. He was a guest contributor and I was the tech. He told me about his upcoming publication and that he wanted to be a professional science fiction writer. Little did he know that it was actually ME who was going to be the professional science fiction writer! Unfortunately, I turned out to be a lazy slug of mediocre ability, whereas he is a juggernaut with a big brain and actual talent. Which explains why he’s written so many successful books and I’ve written two, one of which COULD be considered successful if you fudge the criteria for success a bit.

Fast forward a few years (ahem; that would be a Sawyer pun there, if you know the man’s oeuvre). I decided to make a radio show featuring science fiction called Faster Than Light. I asked Rob if he would host it, and he agreed to. The pilot was wildly successful, but the network didn’t pick it up as a series, the Director of Programming at the time telling the Acting Head of Radio Drama that “if we put a show like that on the air, we’ll never get it off.” Oh well.

Fast forward a few more years. Rob writes Rollback. Some of the novel involves the CBC. Rob asked me to read the third draft of the novel to fact check the CBC bits. I did, and was surprised to discover that not only was the main character based on my profession at the time (a CBC Recording Engineer), but I was actually a character in the novel! So you can see that this is kind of a special book for me, beyond being an excellent story, well told, of a man restored to youth, and the impact on those around him.

And sitting beside Rollback up there is another Sawyer novel, Hominids, the first in his well-regarded Neanderthal Parallax series. I’ve actually read many of Rob’s excellent books, though not all of them are on this bookshelf (I do have other bookshelves in the house, and at the office), and I heartily recommend them all.

One day when I was about twelve I had just finished reading a good book and was looking for another of comparable quality, so I asked my father if he could recommend one. He led me downstairs to one of his bookshelves and picked out Cappy Ricks or the Subjugation of Matt Peasley by Peter B. Kyne, published in way back in 1916. What a yarn! I loved this tale of a crusty yet loveable shipping/lumber magnate and the feisty young sailor Matt Peasley he puts to work and torments on one of his boats. I’ve read it many times since. Kyne, incidentally, also wrote The Valley of the Giants (upon which the movie is based), among many other books.

Moving on we have another ancient tome called Lud-in-the-Mist, by Hope Mirrlees, first published in 1926. It was recommended by fellow writer Dale Sproule (former editor of the magazine TransVersions, with Sally McBride) and I’m so glad he brought it to my attention. It’s an adult fantasy about fairies that as many observers have pointed out pre-dates Lord of the Rings by many years, and quite possibly influenced such magnificent works as John Crowley’s Little, Big and Susanna Clarke‘s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, both of which I also loved.

Hmm. Lots to write about on this shelf! Next up we have another book by a friend, this time Thrice Burned, the second novel in Angela Misri‘s excellent Portia Adams mystery series, which I reviewed on this very blog, favourably, I might add. And beyond her a medical thriller by yet another friend, Stockholm Syndrome, by Melissa Yuan-Innes, writing as Melissa Yi. This is one of Melissa’s Dr. Hope Sze‘s books, selected as one of the best crime books of the year by CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter‘s Mystery panel.

And finally, kinda hard to make out there at the far right, we have The Lost Millennium, by Floren Diacu. This is a fascinating book, exploring the premise that history might be off by oh, say, one thousand years. That what we think of as the dark ages might be dark because they actually never happened! Whether this is true (spoiler alert: it’s probably not) this terrific little book provides great insight into how history is actually recorded and conveyed to the rest of us. It’s nowhere near as straightforward as you might think.

Other Stops on the Tour

The Art of the Sale

After one launches a book, one must sell it.

If you thought writing a book was difficult…!

Of course, you don’t have to put any effort into selling your book if you don’t want to. You can just throw the book out there and hope that by some miracle it will get discovered because of its intrinsic value. There are writers who have had some success this way. But if you choose this path, I think you will be waiting a long time.

I feel an obligation to work hard at selling my novel A Time and a Place. For one thing, I spent a long time writing it. I’m happy with it. I think that it’s worth reading. Is it everyone’s cup of tea? Why, yes. Yes, it is. But I do think that there’s an ideal reader for this book and it’s up to me to find them.

My publisher, Five Rivers Publishing, invested in me and this book, financially and otherwise. Five Rivers artists and editors and book designers put their time and imagination into it. They deserve something in return for all that.

Thinking about what I owe my publisher and the book itself gives me the strength and will to overcome certain misgivings I have about selling my book.

What misgivings? Why should I feel bad about selling A Time and a Place?

Because doing so is somewhat at odds with my general philosophy of life. Apart from certain contexts such as work and family, I don’t expect anything from anybody. The world doesn’t owe me anything. If somebody gives me something—their time, a gift, a favour—it must be of their own free will. I don’t want anyone to do anything for me out of guilt or obligation. I will do the same for them. If I do something for you, it’s because I really want to (um, either that or because of some deep-seated unconscious psychological impulse influencing my actions that I am neither aware of nor can be held responsible for).

What this means is that nobody, not family, friend or stranger, is obligated to purchase A Time and a Place, or read it, or review it (or review it positively), or talk about it, or do anything at all to support it.

Nobody owes me or my book anything.

Because I feel this way, I feel a little funny about trying to convince people to buy it, because I don’t want to talk someone into buying it who might not have done so otherwise. Who might buy it out of charity or a sense of obligation towards me. I would prefer that people buy A Time and a Place because they’re actually interested in it, who might really enjoy and appreciate it.

Now, this is not to say that I don’t appreciate the support that I’ve received so far, whatever the motives may be. Support that has been legion, and that I do truly value.

In fact, I will never forget it.

All that being said, because I do feel an obligation toward the book and my publisher, and because I genuinely believe in A Time and a Place, I am doing my best to market and sell it.

The challenge now, I think, is to make A Time and a Place known to a wider audience. I fancy that amongst this wider audience there are people with whom it might truly resonate. A readership that might (dare I hope?) appreciate it on its own terms.

But how to reach this audience?

A Time and a Place is published by a respectable micro-publisher with limited resources. They are not in a position to mount an expensive advertising campaign. Nor can they afford a print run that will place physical copies of the book in brick and mortar stores across North America. And the print version is rather expensive. Finally, I don’t have the time or money to do a book tour.

On the other hand, A Time and a Place is available everywhere online as an e-book at a good price point. And it was very strong out of the gate. The book launch was a huge success, selling quite a few copies. In fact, it was Bakka-Phoenix Book’s (Canada’s top science fiction bookstore) best-selling Trade Paperback for the month of October 2017. A Time and a Place received a glowing review from Publisher’s Weekly (a prominent international publishing magazine), a review that was subsequently distributed to every major bookselling platform, including Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and more. The novel received some respectable media attention (CBC Charlottetown), and it has received excellent independent reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, where it’s currently rated at 4.6 out of 5.

So what does all that mean?

It means that I have a good book and a good foundation upon which to build. It means that I don’t have a huge media conglomerate behind me. It means that my publisher and I must do what we can with what we have.

It means that selling and marketing A Time and a Place is a bit of an uphill battle.

But that’s okay. I’ve been experimenting. And learning.

Early on, I did a Farmer’s Market in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, shortly after being interviewed by CBC Charlottetown. The table, which I shared with my sister, Susan Rodgers (author of the Drifters series), and Sue Campbell (author of Two Bricks Short: My Journey With Cancer) cost me ten dollars. I sold eight copies that day, three a direct result of the CBC Radio interview.

Summerside Farmer’s Market with sister Sue and new friend Sue

I spent a day at a Chapters in Oshawa. Sold nine copies there. But Chapters takes a huge cut (45%). Factoring in what each edition costs me (purchased from my publisher), I was forced to charge an exorbitant amount for each copy to make even a miniscule profit, so I will never do that again, at least for A Time and a Place.

I was invited to two Book Clubs, but only one of them followed through. Several members of the Book Club that did follow through purchased copies of A Time and a Place and actually read it before I showed up to talk about it. This was a lot of fun. Great food, great questions, and great company. My only regret is that I talked too much. I was just so excited to have the opportunity to talk about A Time and a Place to people who actually seemed interested in it.

And I’ve done a few other book-related events, but never sold more than three copies at any of them.

The most success I’ve had selling the book has been to friends, family and colleagues. Cutting out all middle-men allows me to charge the least amount for the book. And in every case they’ve approached me, so I don’t feel like I’m twisting anybody’s arm. I have a couple of rules around this. If someone happens to mention in conversation that they’re interested in purchasing A Time and a Place, I always follow up. As I mentioned before, I owe the book and my publisher that. If they’re still interested, I sell a copy or two. But if I follow up and nothing comes of it, I never mention it again.

I believe that many of these types of sales have been a result of making the book visible. To promote my book launch, I posted posters about the book all over the Broadcast Centre where I work. As a result, everybody who knows me there knows I wrote a book. Also, up until recently, I made a video every weekend that I posted on various social media accounts, such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Goodreads, and Linked In. Sometimes the videos were directly about the book, sometimes they weren’t. But they all put me out in front of people. A surprising amount of people I know have watched these videos (usually via Linked In or Facebook). The existence of these videos, I am certain, has prompted sales.

A word about the videos. Every now and then I break out in a cold sweat, certain that I’m completely embarrassing myself with the videos. My friends assure that I’m not, even though it’s obvious not everyone gets my sense of humour. But I strongly believe that if you’re considering producing similar videos, some thought and craft has to go into them. Don’t just hit record and talk. I started by doing that and quickly realized that I owed the people watching them more than that. When I resume making videos in a few weeks, I plan to ramp up the quality even more. It’s also more fun to make well-thought out and produced videos.

Speaking of social media accounts, I’ve paid a lot more attention to them since the launch of the book, especially Twitter. By using the app Crowdfire, I’ve grown my Twitter following from four hundred to over fourteen hundred since Christmas. Has this resulted in any sales? I know of at least one (thanks Jim!) And I’m pretty sure Jim has loaned A Time and a Place to a friend, who showed up on Goodreads planning to read it. Word of mouth is extremely important. In fact, perhaps the most important.

Goodreads is something else I’m paying a lot of attention to, curious to see how it can help. Recently, I mounted a campaign to make A Time and a Place the number one book about teleportation on Goodreads. It wasn’t very difficult, as not a whole lot of people had voted for that particular list. But I noticed a slight uptick of sales following this campaign. I’m also trying an ad campaign on Goodreads, but a week into that has resulted in zero sales—in fact, zero clicks on the advertisements, so clearly some tweaking is required there. I plan to experiment with Facebook next.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s about selling one book at a time. After a while, the numbers add up. I’ve been very lucky with the support I’ve received from friends, family and colleagues, but for the book to truly succeed it has to break out of that group into the wider world. A Time and a Place has yet to do that to any meaningful extent. But I’m not giving up on it. Everything I read about marketing and selling books tells me that the single best thing I can do to help sell my books is to write more of them. So that’s the next big step. I am well into the second draft of a sequel to A Time and a Place.
If you have any advice on how I can do better, let me know in the comments.

Oh, and if you’re interested in a copy of A Time and a Place?

You know where to find me.

The Blue Shank Road

Assorted Nonsense Episode VIII: My brother-in-law (and fellow author) Brian Wyvill and I visit the Blue Shank Road outside Summerside PEI, where Barnabus J. Wildebear and Doctor Peter Humphrey first return to Prince Edward Island following their trip through the gate in my novel A Time and a Place.

Publisher’s Weekly Review of A Time and a Place

Order e-book version here

Order a Trade Paperback edition here

On location in Prince Edward Island with my brother-in-law Brian Wyvill in Seven Mile Bay on Prince Edward Island.

Publisher’s Weekly Review of A Time and a Place

Order e-book version here

Order a Trade Paperback edition here

French Radio: CJBC

One of a series of posts about working at CBC Radio back in the day.

(Here’s some more).

I spent four and a half years working for the French at CBC Radio.

Here’s an incredibly long-winded explanation why:

I grew up in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, amongst French Acadians. Acadians are French who originally settled the Maritimes hundreds of years ago. Back in those days, Prince Edward Island was known as Isle Saint-Jean (before that, it was called Abegweit, by the Mi’kmaq Indians).

Between 1755 and 1763, the British forcibly removed most Acadians from the Maritimes, confiscating all their wealth, possessions, and land. Fifty-three percent of the French Acadian population died, many by disease, others by drowning when three of the ships transporting them sank. (Sadly, the world doesn’t appear to have changed much since those tragic days, as recent headlines attest.) Although the British did not transport Acadians directly to Louisiana, many wound up there, attracted by the language, where they settled and developed the culture known today as Cajun.

Ships Take Acadians Into Exile (Claude Picard)

Ships Take Acadians Into Exile (Claude Picard)

The expulsion is a Big Deal in the Maritimes. I studied the events in high school, and in Grade Ten I played the man chiefly responsible for the expulsion, Governor Charles Lawrence, in a High School play called Evangeline, which was written and scored by a local High School teacher. I remember being roundly booed during the curtain call for the dress rehearsal. I believe the booing was because the character I was playing was evil, though I can’t be entirely certain that it wasn’t a comment on my performance: my English teacher had coached me on how to play the part, and after one of the shows I asked him what he’d thought:

“I thought your character would be much fatter,” he told me.

He declined to elaborate.

The expulsion was well known elsewhere, too. In 1847, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem called Evangeline: a Tale of Acadie. The poem was about a bride-to-be wandering for years trying to find her fiancé after the expulsion forced their separation on their wedding day. Longfellow based the poem on a story he’d heard; some believe that the couples’ forced separation on the day of their wedding may actually have happened.

Some Acadians escaped the expulsion by hiding in the woods. After Quebec was formally ceded to the British in 1763, the British decided that the Acadians no longer posed a threat and allowed them to return to the Maritimes. By the time I was born, there were about five thousand Acadians on Prince Edward Island (there were more elsewhere: about thirty-three thousand in Nova Scotia and a couple of hundred thousand in New Brunswick). Not all of them spoke French anymore, but some did, and the more time I spent with them, the more it bothered me that I only spoke one language.

Thus was born my thirst to learn French (hey, I warned you it would be a long-winded explanation).

In 1993, I asked for a leave of absence from the CBC to study French in France. My boss at the time, Kel Lack, applauded the idea and was only too happy to accommodate me.

Before going to France, I seriously overestimated my proficiency in French. I had, after all, studied French in school until Grade Eleven. I don’t know what the heck I did in all those classes but it sure wasn’t learn French. My first few days in Aix-en-Provence I couldn’t understand anyone. “Qu’est ce que tu cherche (what are you looking for)?” a girl in a store asked me. I couldn’t understand her. I could trot out a few phrases learned from guidebooks, such as: “un hôtel s’il vous plaît. Quelque chose de bon marché (a hotel, please. Some place cheap)” or “une chambre avec une douche (a room with a shower),” but that was about it.

No matter. I set about making up for lost time. I studied hard at school. Although the school was based in Aix-en-Provence, it was a part of l’université d’Aix-Marseille, called Institut d’études françaises pour étudiants étrangers (years later I saw the actor Bradley Cooper conduct an interview in fluent French; turns out he studied at the same school). I made many ridiculous mistakes. I once asked a street vendor for “un chien chaud avec tout le monde (a hot dog with everybody on it).” One day, when a Frenchman asked me how much French I spoke, I attempted to tell him that I knew a few words. “Je connais un petit mot (I know a small word),” I told him. He asked me which small word I knew.

Garden of l'Institut d'Etudes Francaises, where I went to school.

Garden of l’Institut d’Etudes Francaises, where I went to school.

By Christmas, though, I was able to carry on rudimentary conversations. I began to insist on speaking only French. There for the same purpose, my closest friends were only too happy to oblige. Unfortunately, everyone else wanted to practise their English on me. I began a battle of wills with the French populace. One banker I did regular business with insisted on speaking to me in English. I refused to cooperate. I spoke French while she spoke English. Few things are more ridiculous than speaking French as a second language to someone speaking English as a second language. The loser was whoever was forced to switch to their native tongue first. I always lost. Until the end of the year, when during our final encounter she ran head-long into a word she didn’t know and was forced to switch back to French first. La victoire était douce (victory was sweet).

I resorted to tricks to prevent people from speaking English to me. If I spoke French and they responded in English, I would say “Je suis désolé, mais je ne parle pas l’anglais,” (I’m sorry, but I don’t speak English).

Mais vous êtes américain, vous n’êtes pas (but you’re American, aren’t you)?” (They always thought Canadians were Americans.)

Non, je suis suédois (no, I’m Swedish),” I would tell them, and trot forth a few nonsensical phrases in Swedish to prove it: “Kan jag prata med Eva tack?,” I would jabber. “En hund. Och en annan hund. Sex sardiner i en sardin tenn. (can I speak to Eva please? A dog. Hey, another dog. Six sardines in a sardine tin.) I had plenty of Swedish friends in France who enjoyed teaching me nonsense.

By the time I returned home, my French had improved dramatically (my Swedish not so much). Ironically, I still couldn’t understand Acadians. Acadian French is not quite the same as what I had learned in France. The accent is markedly different. It’s said that Acadian French resembles the French spoken in France about four hundred years ago, when Acadians first settled PEI. I suspect there’s some truth to this.

When I returned to the CBC in Toronto, my boss Kel Lack had retired and Charlie Cheffins had taken his place. Charlie thought it was brilliant that I’d learned some French. It meant he’d be able to place me in the French department. I agreed, and so began four and a half years of working almost exclusively for CJBC.

You might recall from an earlier post that CJBC is an affiliate of the ici Radio-Canada Premiere network, broadcasting to Franco-Ontarians at AM 860. They are a part of the CBC, and broadcast out of the Broadcast Centre in Toronto, but they report to French Services in Montreal. Or you might have skipped over this admittedly dry bit of exposition in both posts (I don’t blame you).

Everyone I worked with at CJBC was bilingual to one degree or another. My French was still very much a work in progress. I continued to improve, but at a much slower pace. My enthusiasm for speaking French had waned somewhat now that I was living my life in English once again. And I was having a bit of trouble with francophone accents in Canada. Not hearing one or two words in a sentence correctly can be enough to make the meaning of an entire sentence suspect. Making matters worse, almost everyone at CJBC was as bad about speaking French to me as the folks in France had been. Just like my banker frenemy, when I spoke French, they replied in English (there were a couple of exceptions).

Still, with all the French floating around CJBC, I couldn’t help but improve my French just by keeping my ears open. Here are a few of the words and phrases burned into my brain during my time with CJBC:

C’est mon lot (it’s my lot in life).” That was Guy Lalonde, the host of CJBC Express. I can’t remember what he was referring to. What I do remember is asking him to repeat what he’d said so I could add it to my vocabulary. I present it here not because the phrase itself is particularly interesting, but to illustrate one of the best ways to learn French, which is to ask people what the heck they’re saying when you don’t understand them. Otherwise it will be your lot in life to remain unilingual. (I learned a good portion of my French this way.)

Il bâille. Dans ma face! (He yawns. In my face!)” Frank Desoer was host of CJBC Express during my second year with CJBC. (I’ve no idea what happened to Guy Lalonde. CJBC Express went through hosts the way the French go through cheese.) Frank was just pretending to be angry, but his words lodged themselves into my brain, and I enjoy trotting them out whenever somebody yawns in my face.

Esther Ste-Croix was the producer of a show called De A a X (from A to X). Esther was a lovely woman, and you’ll have to take my word for it that I didn’t usually tease her, but I must have one day, for she replied, “Tu te moque de moi (you’re making fun of me).” Naturally I asked her to repeat herself, which she kindly did, allowing me to add that expression to my repertoire.

Other staff were fond of exclaiming, “Ben voyons donc!” to express frustration or incredulity. Taken literally it doesn’t make much sense—it seems to me that it would translate as, “well, let’s see therefore!” but francophones use it like anglophones use, “oh, come on!”, which doesn’t really make any sense either. Come where, exactly?

One particularly memorable day I ran into someone from CJBC whose name I must withhold to spare them undue embarrassment. We were on the second floor—not his natural habitat, and he was a little lost. He was also looking a little green around the gills.

“Where are the washrooms on this floor?” he asked me in English.

It was easier to show him, so I led him around a corner. A few steps down the hallway he placed a hand to his mouth and exclaimed, “Ca s’en vient! (it’s coming!)”

A half-second later he projectile-vomited his lunch the entire length of the corridor, a magnificent feat the likes of which I’ve yet to see equaled—and that I think of whenever I hear the words ca s’en vient. (You never know just what might be coming.)

Sometimes I would discern a jumble of words in the middle of an anecdote that I couldn’t quite make out. One day I got frustrated enough to ask someone what exactly they were saying. It took a minute to figure out which words I was talking about, but we finally narrowed it down to “a un moment donné.”

Literally translated, it means “at a given time.” People were using it to mean “at one point.” (It’s at this point that I must advise you to take any translations I provide with a grain of salt. Le français est pas ma langue maternelle—French is not my mother tongue). A un moment donné is (I believe) a rather common phrase, and I mention it here because it’s a terrific example of how understanding a single phrase can, in one fell swoop, render a foreign language infinitely more intelligible. And let’s take a moment here to pause and reflect on what a nifty expression “one fell swoop” is, and how cryptic it must sound to those speaking English as a second language.

More about CJBC in my next post…

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