My Shepherd Book List

My Book Shepherd List

Happy New Year!

Recently I was invited to participate in an interesting new project that asks authors to share lists of their favourite books on a theme in return for promotion of their own related work.

The brainchild of Ben Fox, it goes under the banner of Shepherd: Discover the Best Books, and is currently in beta.

I created a list of favourite time travel books under the theme of “The Best Time Travel Books for People Keen to Change the Past.”

Here is that list.

As I mention in the list, it’s related to my own book with that theme, A Time and a Place.

Browsing around the Shepherd site, I see several thousand other authors sharing lists of their favourite books. It certainly seems like a great place to find some good reads.

For instance, here’s a cool looking list from New Zealand author Mandy Hager.

The best speculative young adult fiction from Aotearoa New Zealand that will challenge you to think harder.

Happy reading in 2023!

Podcast Experiment

A few months ago I decided to try an experiment to learn more about podcasting. Because I’d produced my novel A Time and a Place as an audio book I knew I could easily turn it into a podcast. So I got myself an account on Podbean and started releasing chapters one week at a time.

Of course, this meant giving my work away for free. But A Time and a Place was released in 2017 and isn’t earning that much money anymore. This is because I’m not really marketing the book at the moment. For one thing, I refuse to give Jeff Bezos any more money than I absolutely have to (a subject for another post) and also because it doesn’t make sense to do so right now until I have more of a back list. Which isn’t going to happen until I retire from my day job.

I thought a part of the experiment might be to see whether releasing A Time and a Place for free as a podcast could itself generate revenue. So I included links with each episode indicating where listeners could donate to the cause.

The novel has now been released as a podcast in its entirety. I haven’t marketed it at all other then a tweet here and a Facebook post there. I released it via Podbean on all the major platforms including Samsung, Spotify, Google, Apple, Amazon, and so on. The only expenses were a basic Podbean account at $9 US per month.

Downloads for all chapters total 13.3 thousand. But this is misleading because the downloads were wildly skewed. They averaged 50-100 downloads per week for the first couple of months. Then, in June, downloads for Chapter One took off, ultimately totalling 4147 downloads. I’m not entirely sure why. Almost all these downloads came via Samsung Listen. Samsung Listen is only available to Samsung Galaxy owners, a device I don’t have. I can only assume it was a Samsung Featured Podcast or the like, but there was no way for me to tell.

I thought, great! Now it’s taken off and all those people will go on to listen to the rest of the book. But that didn’t happen. As of today, downloads for Chapter Two stand at 254 downloads. Other chapters average roughly the same until Chapter Twenty, which sits at 5506 downloads.

Chapters are still being downloaded at an average of about twelve downloads a day.

To date, the podcast of A Time and a Place hasn’t generated a cent, at least as far as donations are concerned. It’s possible one or two people have purchased copies but certainly there hasn’t been a stampede, or even a trickle. And even though I included contact information, not a single person has emailed, texted, commented, or tweeted any kind of response. My podbean account did accumulate four followers, one of whom is a friend of mine.

It’s difficult to draw any real conclusions from the experiment, so I’ll just leave it at that. I will be launching a different sort of podcast after Christmas. It’ll be interesting to compare the two.

In the meantime, I will be taking the podcast version of A Time and a Place down in a few weeks. So if you happen to be one of the people listening to it a chapter at a time, you’ll have another couple of weeks to get to the end. If you haven’t finished by then, well, you could consider purchasing a copy somewhere. 🙂

Adventures in the Radio Trade Update

Some unfortunate news: the CBC has informed me that I will not be allowed to publish my memoir Adventures in the Radio Trade while I am employed with them.

I will of course respect this decision, which is disappointing but not all bad. For one thing, it means the CBC forfeits all editorial input. I will get to publish it the way I want. With certain anecdotes intact. And I will get to publish it eventually; I just have to wait until I retire.

Retirement is still a ways off, though. I’m still having fun. The same impulse that made me want to write about the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (well, the radio part of it, anyway) also keeps me there. In short, I love it. Have loved it for thirty-four years and counting. As corny as it sounds, I believe in our mission (helping to bind this great country of ours together). I love the people, the work, just about everything about it. The memoir reflects this. It’s not a hatchet job, a tell-all. It’s an ode to radio broadcasting.

So I’ll keep working there a while longer (or as long as they’ll have me) and then publish Adventures in the Radio Trade the day I retire. My retirement party will double as a book launch. And you’re all invited.

In the meantime, there’s no reason why I can’t put the book together. It’s already completely written and professionally edited; it just needs to be packaged up, and a cover designed. My creative team and I will be able to take our time now and get it right.

And it’ll all be just that much more exciting when I finally can get it out there for you all.

Parting Gifts

Me and Peter Chin in Radio MCR circa 1989

“How else you gonna be?”

That was Peter Chin a few days before he left us. We were talking on the phone. He wasn’t in great shape. They’d taken him to the hospital a couple of weeks earlier because he’d woken up with no feeling in his legs. He couldn’t walk anymore. I may have the details wrong. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that he’d been cheerful during our call though he must have known the prognosis wasn’t good.

“I have to say, Peter, you sound pretty positive despite everything,” I’d told him.

“How else you gonna be?” he said.

It was a gift. Peter had been good to me right from the beginning, ever since we’d met thirty-four years earlier serving the nation’s broadcaster in Radio Master Control. He’d mentored me, and I was awfully fond of him, and now here he was in the last week of his life and he had to have known it and he wasn’t anywhere near old enough to be in the last week of his life and he was cheerful. It kills me to think of it. But it was a gift he was giving me, it wasn’t an act, I’m sure of it, it was really Peter showing me that you could face that sort of thing, the end of your own life, with courage and grace and I will remember it to the end of mine.

Then there’s Gus. Gus was my next door neighbour, had been since 2001. He passed away a couple of months ago. You may think this is sad, me writing about good people dying, and of course it is, it is definitely sad, but it’s a part of life (“the last part,” a friend’s father once said) and we arguably don’t talk, don’t think about it enough. But bear with me, please, I promise you it’s not all doom and gloom.

The last thing Gus ever said to me was a joke. He’d had surgery and it hadn’t gone well. In fact, it had signaled the beginning of the end. He never got better. And he was sitting on his porch in his eighty-fifth year with the woman he loved, who loved him back more than anyone I’ve ever known has ever loved anyone, and who was there with him right til the end, and he was watching my wife and I move a ridiculously heavy couch from our basement to our living room through the front door.

“Good for you, Joe,” he told me, in his soft Scottish lilt. “Making your wife lift the heavy end.”

Gus knew the end was near but he faced it with good humour, joking to friends, family, and nurses alike right to the end. We lost him a few weeks after he poked fun at me.

My father-in-law Dave spoke to me via video from the hospital bed from which he would never rise.

“How are you, Joe?” he asked with genuine interest, my well-being somehow, impossibly, important to him during these last few hours of his life. “You look good,” he added, his attention firmly directed on those around him rather than on his own predicament.

I am not at all sure that I will be able to muster anywhere near the same courage and dignity when my time comes, but having seen it done now I shall certainly try.

Bill Lane. (Boy, I really feel like we’ve lost a lot of fine people in a short span of time this past year. I think about them often.)

Bill’s family reached out in his last few days, soliciting memories from those in his life. I shared one on Christmas Eve, honoured to have been included. So did many others. There’s a picture of Bill on Facebook taken on Christmas Day after having received those memories. He appreciated us celebrating his life. He’s lying in bed smiling. Smiling, though he would be gone a few short days later.

You see, don’t you? It’s possible to smile at the end. To joke, even. To be positive in the face of certain calamity. I am sad, thinking of my friends. I wish I’d gotten to know each of them better, spent more time with them.

But I am also braver courtesy of their parting gifts.

Reflections on Peter Pan

Peter Pan: The Story of Peter and Wendy (A Thrushwood Book, Grosset & Dunlap Publishers, New York, 1911 edition)

Peter Pan, by Scottish writer J.M. Barrie.

A play turned novel, published in 1911.

I can hardly believe I’ve never read it before, but I haven’t. I’ve seen a version of the play, in Stratford. I don’t remember much of the play. Saw the Spielberg movie Hook; don’t remember much of that either.

A friend gave us the novel years ago, as a gift. It appears to be a first edition, though half the first page is torn. I stumbled upon it a couple of weeks ago and picked it up to see what all the fuss is about.

The first thing that struck me is that it’s funny. Laugh out loud funny at least twice. The second thing that struck me is that while being a product of its time (the indigenous people of Neverland, although portrayed as a noble tribe, are saddled with a most unfortunate name, one recently ditched by an American football outfit), its wit and cleverness and whimsy stand the test of time, for this reader at least.  

A dog as a nanny. A boy returning for his shadow and a girl sewing it back on. Imaginative. Children who can fly. Second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning. Evocative. Pirates and fairies and Indians and mermaids. Adventure! A boy who refuses to grow up. The stuff of myth, and the Big Idea behind the book, what makes it tick even more than the crocodile who swallowed the clock.

The book rings true in part because it’s brutal and mean. This ain’t Disney. Barrie doesn’t write what he thinks you want to read. Peter Pan is selfish and inconsiderate. Charming and charismatic, but narcissistic and cruel, with a lousy memory to boot. He’s nobody’s idea of a good friend, at least not after you’ve grown up and know better. And the whole lot of them, all the lost boys, are bloodthirsty murderers. Sure it’s pirates they’re killing, and it’s all based on make-believe, but it’s a proud thing in this tale to have run somebody through with a sword.

Characters are deftly drawn, some at least. Peter flies right off the page. Hook is surprisingly complex. Mr. Darling is hardly believable but you can see him, hear him, laugh at him. Wendy lives and breathes and even grows. Tinkerbelle is jealous, spiteful, not much to redeem her, and then, rather callously, is dead and gone before you know it, just like Mrs. Darling, dispatched with hardly a backward glance.

It’s a good thing Peter Pan (or Peter and Wendy, as it was originally called) was published in 1911. It would not see the light of day today, I don’t think. Not with hundreds of thousands of books published a year with which to compete. The boy who never grows up is a terrific concept, but it wouldn’t stand much of a chance against J.K. Rowling’s the boy who lived, so much richer and better realized.

Still, I’m glad Barrie wrote it, and I’m glad it was successful enough to have endured long enough for me to have found it now, at the age of 57. There’s enough of a kid left in me for it to have resonated. And the adult in me respects the craft behind it. The creativity, the skill. The confidence, the whimsy.    

Wish I’d read it when I was ten, though.

I might have adored it then.         

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