A few weeks ago Ryerson student Amanda Raya interviewed me about turning my novel A Time and a Place into an audiobook. I spouted all sorts of inane gibberish and she politely thanked me and I figured she’d go find somebody infinitely more sensible to interview and that would be that.
She has since done her Ryerson magic on our interview and made me sound not only human but somewhat intelligible. I think her excellent questions have a lot to do with it.
She’s graciously allowing me to post the interview here. Et voila:
An excerpt from a memoir about working in radio called Adventures in the Radio Trade, anticipated publication date sometime in 2022:
In July, 1988, CBC Radio acquired a twenty-three year old with a lot of growing up yet to do. I wasn’t completely green, though. I’d been in broadcasting since the age of fourteen. At that age I’d begun volunteering at the local cable affiliate, Cable 5, in Summerside, PEI.
I loved working at Cable 5. I learned to operate the cameras and the big clunky Video Tape Recorders (VTRs) and I was especially fond of “switching” the shows on the cool looking switcher. My friends and I produced our own shows and worked on other peoples’ shows, often about music. At the same time I also worked at Three Oaks High School’s brand new and exceptionally well-run radio station under the leadership of teacher Ralph Carruthers, who launched at least two careers in broadcasting that I know of, and probably more.
That was all volunteer, though. I needed a part time job that actually paid money. So I got a job at MacDonald’s. I hated it there. The managers, only a little older than me, were always yelling and screaming at the rest of us, especially me, it seemed. I’d curse them angrily under my breath. Luckily, after one month they fired me.
“It’s not for everyone,” the franchise manager told me, not unkindly.
She meant that it wasn’t for immature fifteen-year olds who couldn’t be bothered to memorize what went on a Big Mac.
Getting fired from MacDonald’s was one of the happiest days of my life.
Had I not been fired from MacDonald’s I might never have got my first real job in radio. One cold November afternoon I cruised down Water Street in an Oldsmobile with my friend Justin Hickey at the wheels and two other pals, the four of us probably listening to classic Genesis. We passed Summerside’s local radio station, a 250 watt day-timer with the call letters CJRW, located at 1240 AM on the dial. I’d grown up listening to CJRW.
“Stop the car!” I shouted to Justin.
I jumped out, crossed the street, and entered CJRW’s front door. I climbed up a flight of stairs to CJRW’s reception area, walls festooned with plaques attesting to the station’s long history of community activity. Elton John was playing on a set of speakers: “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” the first time I’d ever heard that song. I’ve loved it ever since.
A lady greeted me at the reception desk (possibly Rose Anne Gaudet), super friendly (maybe she knew my mother).
“I’d like to apply for a job,” I told her.
She furnished me with an application. I filled it out as best I could. A man took me to a studio booth and gave me several sheets of thin yellow paper with dot matrix type. News, weather and sports. I recorded an audition tape on the spot. A month later, at home, the phone rang.
I recognized Lowell’s voice immediately. He was the first famous person I’d ever spoken to. Famous on PEI, anyway. “I’d like to offer you a job as a disc jockey. When can you start?”
I could barely believe my good fortune. Lowell and CJRW hired me to host two shifts each week. I had a six-hour long country music show on Friday nights and a rock show on Saturday nights. I hated country music. I grew to like it in time. Well, some of it. I worked at CJRW all through High School. I would have done it for free. I almost did do it for free: I earned $3.35 per hour, minimum wage at the time.
I darned near didn’t show up for my first shift (I was still the same kid who couldn’t memorize hamburger ingredients). I got confused about which week I was supposed to start. One of my fellow disc jockeys was Peter Arsenault (he went by Peter Scott on air). Peter happened to drive down High Street—my street—in his gold Pontiac Firebird Trans Am shortly before the start of my shift. Spotting me, he pulled up beside me and rolled down the window.
“You do realize you start tonight, don’t you?”
“Get in the damned car!”
He drove me to the station and put me on the air before a big silver console with rotary pots and two huge turntables. I learned how to cue up 7” 45 single records so they’d start an instant after introducing them (about one quarter turn back from where the needle hit the first sound). We played IDs and promos on cartridges (called “carts”). There was a quarter inch tape machine that looked rather daunting. For my first few shifts I got the guy who worked before me to cue it up. His name was Jim Murray and like me he’d go on to work for the CBC (they’d call him James Murray there).
I got nervous before every shift, but I was never nervous on air. I loved every second of it. I got to choose my own music. I played other peoples’ requests. Once, I sneezed on air. I learned not to do that. Once, introducing a record, I choked on a potato chip. I learned not to do that. I had two laughing fits on air—I never learned not to do that (I was a giddy teen-ager).
With a mere 250 watts, CJRW didn’t have a very strong signal, but it seemed to reach a lot of people. I grew close to my audience. I got calls from all over western PEI as well as Cap Pele, in New Brunswick, across the Northumberland Strait. They’d call to make requests. They’d call to say hi. They’d call week after week. They’d tell me I knew them but wouldn’t tell me who they were. Once, calling a friend during a show, I accidentally called the wrong number. A girl answered the phone. “Hey, you’re the guy on the radio!”
We had a good chat.
The name of the Friday night country show was The Ranch Party. I always opened it with Bobbie Nelson’s Down Yonder from Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger. The station didn’t own that record; my father did. I always brought in a lot of my own stuff. I mixed the country up with folk music from time to time. Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers were favourites. I used to play this one song by them. One night after I played it a Ranch Party regular called up, an older Acadian woman.
“That song you just played?” she said. “You must never play it again.”
“It’s too sad.”
She wasn’t wrong:
Isn’t it grand, boys, to be bloody well dead? Let’s not have a sniffle, let’s have a bloody good cry And always remember the longer you live The sooner you’ll bloody well die.
I had always gotten a kick out of it. Young and fully alive, it didn’t apply to me. I could see how it might be considered a little morbid, though. I respected my listeners. I never played it again.
Another night, during the Saturday night rock show, a girl called up, not someone I knew.
“I love you!” she said, before hanging up.
I laughed. I was always getting calls like that. It was just some kid in town having fun, probably hanging out with a bunch of other kids. For a few short years me and my fellow disc jockeys John Burke and Peter Scott and Mike Surette and all the rest of them supplied the soundtrack of these kids lives, and we all had fun together, so much more fun than grilling hamburgers.
Last week Ryerson student Amanda Raya interviewed me about turning A Time and a Place into an audiobook for one of her classes. I thought she was just going to talk to me about the technicalities of audiobook production. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that not only had she taken the time to listen to the entire audiobook of the novel, she’d enjoyed it.
We had a great conversation during which I discovered that Amanda is also a singer/songwriter.
Yesterday I was flabbergasted to learn that Amanda had written and recorded a song about A Time and a Place. Other than some illustrations which my daughters have kindly drawn over the years, Amanda’s song represents the first artistic work of any kind inspired by the novel, that I’m aware of. Needless to say, I’m touched, impressed, and pleased.
Looking through the Wayback Machine just now I stumbled upon a bit I’d posted about my friend and colleague Steve Starchev. The old version of this blog imploded a few years after posting about Steve, rendering these memories inaccessible, so, because Steve was a special guy, I thought I’d dust them off and get them back out into the light of day, where they belong:
It is with great sadness that I write to you today to inform you that our colleague Steve Starchev passed away this weekend after a long illness.
Steve will be greatly missed by both his friends in the SRC/CBC radio services and by the music community of Toronto to whom he gave so much delight over the years.I worked closely with Steve for four and a half years up in the French department of CBC Radio. He was charming, affable, a really pleasant person to work with, and he introduced me to a lot of great music. He was also young, older than me but damned young, too young to die. They diagnosed him with kidney cancer this past August and now, six months later, he’s gone.I didn’t even get to say goodbye, which is my fault, because I didn’t make the time. Shame on me.
Palmira: February 23rd, 2006 @ 7:15 pm It’s been nice to see such lovely things written about Steve Starchev…amazing isn’t it? I am his aunt and there seems to be an entire life he led that I didn’t know about. I knew about his radio program and his love of music, of course. But the vast number of people that he knew is something I was not aware of. Many members of Steve’s large family are also musicians and so his love of music was not a surprise to anyone of us.Steve, his sister Lili, my brother Rudi (also his uncle) and I grew up together, as only four years separated the oldest (me) from the youngest (Lili). We were more like brothers and sisters than an aunt, uncle, nephew and niece. I visited Steve in the hospital and told him he had to get better, that any other alternatives were unacceptable. He said no problem….he’d just bought a new pair of shoes and he planned to wear them. Good I thought, that’s the right attitude. His passing has left a huge void in our family, especially in his Mother’s heart. He fell out of line. It should not have been his turn. Not yet. There is a natural order to life and when that goes awry, hearts are broken and lives are changed forever. Because of his suffering, Steve’s passing was a blessing at first, but now it just hurts to know he’s gone. I hope he’s in the good company of the many musicians who have gone before him and I also hope that he’s playing whatever instrument he can get his hands on at full volume and wearing those new shoes. Steve, you are missed. P.
Kendal: February 25th, 2006 @ 10:35 pm I am Steve’s oldest niece. It’s so nice to know that my uncle was loved by so many people. I lived in Toronto for about a year, and coming from a small town, I didn’t know much. He was such a caring person and was always there when no one else was. That’s the way he was, though. Obviously not only for me, but so many people I didn’t know about. I miss you so much. Love Kendal
Leslie Soos: February 28th, 2006 @ 4:09 pm I knew Steve since our days at Central Tech. He was a good friend, and I will always remember him as a kind, intelligent individual. I regret not keeping in closer touch, but sometimes we don’t realise how quickly time progresses.If anyone can please put me in touch with his sister, Lili, or his family, I would greatly appreciate it. I know email addresses are not displayed on this site, but would request that mine be given to Steve’s family, or vice versa, so I can pay my respects.
Syl Lebar: March 2nd, 2006 @ 11:42 pm I am Steve’s youngest uncle. In fact the only uncle that is actually younger than he was…by 3½ years. We used to talk about how odd that was and the fact that it was due to the nature of our large family. There was a time from the late 70’s going into the late 80’s when Steve and I were more buddies than family. We did everything together…concerts, girls, a beer, and often sitting and listening to great music together, and discussing it. One thing I will never forget Steve for was his constant encouragement in my musical endeavours. He was one of the few family members that would sit and listen to me play the piano. His comment was often, “what I’d give to play like that!” His sense of humour was for me one of his most outstanding features…he’d have me in stitches with a mere glance. We were in a video arcade once and I started playing a ‘disco’ pinball game. Steve put on an act of embarrassment with simply a facial expression, and even at 20 paces his ever so sideways glance had me laughing so hard I was in tears. I remember many a time when he got me laughing so hard it literally hurt. My son happens to be the youngest grandchild while Steve was the eldest. I got a great picture of them together at his Mother’s place over a Thanksgiving dinner. I remember the moment vividly when Emil went and stood beside him, and the thought suddenly occured to me that these two were cousins at opposite ends of the age spectrum. 41 years to be exact. My son believes that Steve is playing his Hurdy-Gurdy for St. Peter right now. Knowing Steve that’s probably right, and he most likely has St. Peter in stitches too! Steve, you will be fondly missed. Thanks for leaving me with such great memories of the times we spent together.
Lili (Starchev) Brands: March 3rd, 2006 @ 2:35 am Hi, I am Steve’s sister. It is so wonderful to know that Steve was so well thought of by those whose lives he touched. I miss him so terribly already, and feel so very privileged that I was able to be there with him and for him during his last peaceful moments. I remember all the fun times we had as kids, and the many friends we shared due to being only 14 months apart. Steve is forever embedded in my heart and I am so thankful for the time I had with my “big brother” Thanks to everybody for your kind words and condolences it means a lot to me and to his family. Seka (Little Sister)
Yesterday I started a week long 99 cent promotion for the ebook version of my novel A Time and a Place with marketing courtesy of Manybooks. I was the Manybooks Featured Author and you can see advertisements for the novel up their site now. They also promoted A Time and a Place on their Facebook and Twitter feeds.
The Manybooks team has been great to work with and have delivered exactly what they said they would. There was one little glitch when their promo indicated that my promotion price might be wrong, and that potential buyers should double check, but that may have been my fault; it’s possible I indicated the wrong start date for the promotion when filling out the paperwork. I emailed the Manybooks team right away and they corrected the problem within minutes. So, some nice professionalism all round.
But the big question of course is what impact is this having? The fact is making a single book stand out is a herculean task. It’s not like promoting a movie, where you’re only up again other new releases which that year might number in the hundreds. With a book, you’re up against two hundred thousand. Millions, if you want to talk about all the potential books a reader might be interested in reading, cuz they’re not necessarily only interested in new books.
For the sake of other authors interested in marketing who might be following along, I want to be brutally honest as I track my progress. Casual readers interested in books might also want to know.
A caveat. This is just the beginning of the campaign. And I readily admit that I only barely know what I’m doing (unlike, say, fellow Canadian author Mark Leslie Lefebvre, who’s so good at marketing that, look, here I am helping him by name checking for no reason other than his name just popped into my head. Though isn’t that what we should all be doing? Helping to promote one another?) . Figuring out how to market a book properly is like trying to drink a lake. A tasty lake, with delicious fish in it, but it’s going to take a while to get through that lake.
So how are we doing on Day Two? Manybooks has 1870 followers on their Twitter feed (I have 2071). Their tweet featuring me was liked four times and retweeted four times. I’m one of the retweets, and my retweet was liked once and retweeted once. Highly unlikely that the Manybooks tweet generated any sales.
The Manybooks Facebook post generated zero comments and zero shares. I posted a link to it on my personal Facebook page, my author Facebook page, and the SF Canada Facebook page, of which I’m a member. A handful of friends and family shared the post (thank you! I feel the love) on my personal pages. The SF Canada post reached 38 people and generated zero engagement.
I have no way of knowing the traffic on the Manybooks pages that now feature my book. I can track sales. As of this writing, this effort so far has generated three ebooks sales and one audiobook sale. I can also track some rankings. Right now, A Time and a Place is ranked #328 in Time Travel Science Fiction on Amazon.ca, which is no different than yesterday. It’s ranked 10180 on Kobo in Science Fiction & Fantasy, which is also no different than yesterday.
Here’s the painful part. The Manybooks newsletter promotion cost $39.33. The Manybooks Author of the Day promotion cost $66.45, for a total of $105.78. The revenue generated by the campaign so far (with a promotional price point of 99 cents I get 35 cents for each sale on Amazon) is not enough to even reach the threshold required for Draft2Digital to pay me, though Audible might sent me the 40 percent they owe me for that one sale.
But no matter. This is only the beginning. Today I have promotions with Read Freely and eBooksoda. (Why do I feel like I’m promoting them just as much as they’re promoting me? And for free…) All of this is part of a strategy called Promo Stacking, the idea being to generate buzz in and around the big promotion that happens tomorrow, when A Time and a Place will be a BookBub Featured Deal, theoretically reaching millions of potential readers, as opposed to the smaller newsletters, who reach tens of thousands.
I also want to make it clear that this is not about convincing (or guilting) more of my friends and family to buy copies of this book. Anyone the least bit interested has already done that, contributing to the 500 sales of A Time and a Place that have already happened. This is about seeing if it’s possible to take it to the next level. A little anecdote: shortly after the novel was published, a guy at work asked me what was next. At that time I told him that it was about taking it to the next level. Aware of how challenging publishing can be, he said, “What’s that? Taking sales from dozens to hundreds?” I said, “No, from hundreds to thousands. ”
Even then I had few illusions about how difficult that would be.