A Different Kind of Tired

I’ve written the following post to recognize International Awareness Day for ME/CFS, and dedicate it to all my courageous friends who struggle every day with CFS. 


Anyone who visits this site regularly will have noticed a dwindling of blog posts over the last couple of years. I’ve never thought of myself as a blogger–I lack the dedication. But more than that, I’m mostly too tired to blog. If it sounds like a lame excuse, it’s not. I have an illness called chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also called myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME for short).

“Yeah, I’m tired a lot too,” I can almost hear some readers saying, though I know that wouldn’t be you. Allow me to be perfectly clear: CFS involves a different kind of tired. What sets it apart from everyday tiredness is that we, people with CFS, don’t recover our energy and strength after a good night’s sleep (which, paradoxically, is difficult for us to obtain). One of the defining characteristics of the syndrome is exertion intolerance. Instead of feeling invigorated by exercise, it drains us, and for long periods (so please don’t tell us we need to exercise more). Recently, it took me three weeks to recover from a three-hour lunch and shopping outing. This hallmark of the illness, exertion intolerance, has spawned a whole new name for CFS, systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID), a moniker that hasn’t really caught on yet even though it more accurately captures the complex nature of the illness than “chronic fatigue syndrome” does.

CFS is also about so much more than being tired. Apart from exertion intolerance, a host of other symptoms afflict us. My symptoms include persistent muscle pain and weakness, unrefreshing sleep, and light-headedness. The combination of symptoms we experience can knock us flat; approximately a quarter of us are bedridden for months, sometimes years. The rest of us limp through our days feeling  debilitated but somehow managing to live half a life. Someone’s pulled the plug on us, and the outlet is nowhere to be seen. Sometimes we slide into CFS gradually, but often the onset is dramatic, preceded by a virus or a traumatic event like an accident. For me it was a virus, and I remember all too vividly the exact day–March 27, 1998–when CFS disconnected me from my power source. After a couple of years, it gradually went into remission, and for several years I enjoyed good health. Unfortunately, it re-emerged in 2014, following a period of intense work during which I was writing a novel in addition to taking on too many editing projects.

I’m managing half a life now–on good days, three-quarters. Even with my Jell-O legs, I can go for a walk with the dog once a day; I’m up to forty-five minutes reliably and sometimes make it to an hour. Occasionally, I’ll take public transit for a short jaunt somewhere. I still work as a freelance editor. If I take at least three horizontal rest breaks during the day, I can work at the computer for three,  sometimes four hours a day without completely burning myself out. Although my world has narrowed because of CFS,  I’m doing better than I was a few months ago and am sure I’ll continue to improve.

There are scores of people out there with this illness–some 400,000 in Canada, at least a million in the US, and 250,000 in the UK (and these numbers are on the conservative side).  More of us are female than male. CFS can hit at any age. I was thirty-four when I was diagnosed with it, but I’m alarmed to see how often it strikes young people who are only just starting to find their way in life.

Sadly, CFS is often a wholesale wrecker of lives; careers and relationships can be destroyed by this illness, which may be misunderstood by those around us. We look perfectly healthy and sometimes encounter skepticism from our friends and families. To the ignorant, we may appear bone-lazy, but many of us previously led active lives and had a strong achievement orientation, a tendency that, if continued, perpetuates our condition. The lack of sensitivity and support from others is hurtful and isolating for those with CFS.

Some doctors are skeptical too, but those who don’t dismiss our illness often don’t know how to help us because CFS is so challenging to treat. They commonly prescribe cognitive behavioural therapy, graded exercise, or symptomatic relief in the form of antidepressants and sleep aids. These measures often don’t get at the root of the illness and may even set us back (our bodies are very sensitive to medications, and exercise programs are something we should undertake with the utmost caution). Many of us find some relief in alternative remedies. For me, a good naturopath is essential, but I’ve had bad ones who have made me feel worse.

I paint a bleak picture, but at the same time I’m optimistic. Why? Because it’s entirely possible to recover from CFS; I put it into remission once before and expect I can do it again. I’ve also read countless recovery stories in which people go on to lead active lives. But there is no easy or universal solution for those of us with CFS; we must each find our own recovery path. Nonetheless, it’s possible to make a few generalizations about what helps.

Because we usually have food sensitivities, we tend to improve by cutting out dairy, gluten, and other harmful foods (once we are tested to determine the culprits). It’s also essential to find a way of calming down our nervous systems, which get stuck in a fight-or-flight response. Calming is a prerequisite to being able to heal, as I learned in the excellent online program, Secrets to Recovery. I use guided meditation and visualization daily to achieve this calming effect. Avoiding stress is critical for people with CFS, as it causes flare-ups of the illness. There’s no question in my mind that experiencing both a concussion and horrible side effects from  adrenal supplements I was prescribed last year greatly exacerbated my CFS. We must carve out tranquil time in each day to rest and devote ourselves to getting better. Pacing ourselves and not pushing beyond our activity limit is also vital to our recovery. Determining precisely where that limit is can be frustrating; it often seems like a moving target, and inevitably we exceed it at times.

I’ve also benefited from IV nutrients such as Myers’ cocktails (no, they don’t contain alcohol or come in a martini glass) and Bach flower remedies. Supporting our recovery often requires solutions outside the mainstream, and for me these unorthodox remedies have had positive results. As people with CFS, we each have our own list of what’s most effective for us. Certainly we can heal, but doing so takes compassion for ourselves, time, patience, and–perhaps more than anything–a generous helping of hope.


New Book Release: Eaten by Susan J. Crockford


Polar bears may look adorable and cuddly on greeting cards, but as I learned from reading Susan J. Crockford’s debut novel Eaten, you really don’t want to encounter one of these fearsome predators in the wild. In the book, Crockford, who is a polar bear scientist, explores a frightening scenario: an invasion of the bears in the remote outports of northern Newfoundland. Recently, I spoke to Susan about her book.

CK: Eaten is a unique thriller liberally laced with polar bear science. What sort of reader did you write the book for?

SC: I wrote the book for people who love a good story first and foremost but who don’t mind learning a thing or two in the process. I was aiming for a thriller that would give people nightmares–and I believe I succeeded.  The prospect of a bear attack fascinates people because it’s one of those primal fears. Animal predators (like bears, big cats, and wolves) still kill unarmed people every year, as they have done for hundreds of thousands of years.  Eaten taps into that primal fear and shows that even in the 21st century, we will not necessarily be safe from carnivorous predators.

CK: Your novel takes place in 2025 in Newfoundland, where ravenous bears are killing and eating humans. How likely do you think it is that this dire scenario could come true, and what would cause it?

SC: Based on my knowledge of seals, bears, and sea ice, I imagined where, when, and why polar bears might be forced ashore by hunger to prey effectively on humans. That dictated the location, the year, and the season of the story. Could it happen? Absolutely. Will it happen? Not unless all of the variables fall into place as I’ve described: if only some do but not others, there would be another outcome. Two of the variables are very high population numbers of harp seals (already achieved) and of polar bears (in progress).

CK: You’re a professional zoologist who’s studied polar bear ecology and evolution for more than twenty years. You also blog about polar bears.  You know these beasts inside out, in a way few of us ever can. As your book pointed out, many people have misconceptions about them. What would you most like people to know about polar bears?

SC: That late winter through spring (March to June) is the most critical to polar bear survival because this is when the bears feed intensively on young Arctic seals. Polar bears eat eight months’ worth of food during this time. After months without food over the winter, bears are at their leanest and hungriest in early spring and this makes them especially dangerous predators at that time because they are highly motivated to find the food they need. See this recent blog post, Hungry polar bear attacks: Why my novel “Eaten” is set in early March.

CK: Turning from science writing to fiction seems like quite a leap. What was your impetus for writing Eaten, and what was the process like for you?

SC: I come from a family of storytellers and I think that helped considerably. When I found myself in a position where I could do nothing but write for several months, my original thought was to turn my polar bear blog posts into a science book. But then it occurred to me that a more valuable contribution would be to write something for people who would never read a science book. I realized that a good fictional story based on science might be far more popular and inform a wider audience than another dry science tome (however well written it might be).

I enjoyed writing this story more than I expected and found it was not as hard to switch genres as I’d feared.  It was comforting to know that a good fiction editor could help me over the transition, especially in writing dialogue and getting point of view consistent. I knew I’d need that help and budgeted for it, which gave me the confidence to just write. My sister, who’s an avid fiction reader, gave me some useful feedback on the first few drafts but after that, I was off. In the end, the professional editorial help made a huge difference and was worth every penny.

CK: Will you be writing more fiction, and if so, what do have planned?

SC: Oh yes, I’m hooked on fiction! I don’t think I’m done with Newfoundland polar bears quite yet. As well, other ideas just keep bubbling away in my brain, so I write them down as they come to me, hoping one of them might play out into a future story.

CK: You’ve just been through the self-publishing process with Eaten. Do you have any advice for writers who are contemplating self-publishing?

SC: I’ve actually done it twice now–once for a science book about evolution, Rhythms of Life: Thyroid Hormone and the Origin of Species, that got quiet rave reviews but didn’t sell particularly well (although probably better than other self-published books in that genre). I may have just covered the cost of publishing that book but certainly not enough to reimburse myself for the time it took me to write it. That was disappointing but probably predictable.

I’m hoping a fiction book might be more popular and a better seller. As a virgin fiction author, I had virtually no hope of finding an agent to represent me to a conventional publisher, so I didn’t waste my time looking. Self-publishing takes more author-generated marketing effort, but I knew that going into this project. Having the blog already established has given me a bit of a leg up, not just because of the people who read the blog but the people I’ve met over the last three years who will help get sales going. Time will tell but early sales are encouraging. So I guess if I had one piece of advice, that might be it: have a solid, on-line presence before you start, so that you can use it to help get early sales going.

Eaten is available at Amazon.com. Also see the book trailer, Susan’s blog, Polar Bear Science, and her website.


One Approach to Creating a Facebook Author Page

When I was writing my novel Virginia’s Ghost and already thinking of ways to promote it, I felt intimidated by the notion of a Facebook author page. What would I post? I perused other author pages and noticed lots of posts on upcoming public appearances and detailed notes about the progress of books. That seemed all very well for high-profile authors with an established following, but no one knew who I was, so why would anybody give a fig if I announced I was on page 47 of my second draft?

Realizing my self-confidence was crumbling from dwelling on what the literary luminaries were doing, I resolved to find my own strategy. As a new and unknown author, I had to. I decided to focus on drawing people into the various themes of my book, which include antiques, auctions, the 1920s, art deco style, flappers, historical Toronto, and ghosts. I hoped that by posting little informative and entertaining tidbits on these themes–accompanied by appetizing visuals–I would arouse curiosity about the world represented in my novel.

Sometimes I deliberately made the connection for people between the images I posted and Virginia’s Ghost, but often not.  I didn’t want the page to always be about my book, as I thought other people would find this narrow focus pretty tedious. And I especially didn’t want the page to become a platform for blatant self-promotion. I’ve seen far too many tiresome Facebook author pages that hammer people with one message: “Buy my book!!!” This looks amateurish (especially with all those exclamation marks), and my reaction to it is usually “No thanks.”

But because it was an author page, I obviously wasn’t going to neglect the subject of my book altogether, so I did and still do include posts about Virginia’s Ghost. When my book was in production (yes, I started a Facebook page months before I published), I posted the cover image and gave a few updates on how things were going during the design and proofreading processes. Now and then I post excerpts from the novel that are illustrated with some particularly appropriate image, or I chat briefly about where I’m at with the sequel. On rare occasions, I do some sort of giveaway that again puts my book briefly in the spotlight.

What I’m saying is that a wide variety of types of posts–a balanced approach–is critical to creating an interesting page. Personally, I prefer just a dab of promotion, and I like to be fairly understated about it. What I’m really keen on is connecting and engaging with people who like the same things I do because it’s just so much fun. I like being part of my own little tribe, and the bonus is that those who are in it might buy the book someday. But I don’t want to push it on them.

I tend to post several times a week (daily if possible), and I always aim for high-quality content. When I really put a lot of effort into writing a post and finding that perfect accompanying image, more people like and comment on it.  A thoughtful post also consistently reaches a lot more people (for those who don’t know, Facebook informs you about how many people you’ve reached with each post). If you’re lazy and simply repost links to articles that have been making the rounds, especially without giving much additional commentary, you likely won’t receive much of a response. Effort and originality go a long way.

You can increase your followers by sharing your posts with like-minded Facebook groups. One of my favourites is Flappers and Bootleggers, a delightful group of people who are enthusiastic and knowledgeable about anything related to the 1920s. By posting art deco-era fashions and collectibles to this page, I have managed to acquire numerous new Facebook fans, many of whom regularly like and comment on my posts.

What I don’t recommend is succumbing to the allure of Facebook ads to attract new followers. I advertised for a week shortly after I launched my book last September, and while I did acquire the set number of new likes that Facebook had promised me (fancy that), few of the “likers” seemed legitimate. I don’t recall any of these people commenting on my posts, and when I looked at their profile pages, I found it impossible to imagine that they were the sort to be interested in my book. Where Facebook found these people is open to question, but my belief is that most of the likers had dormant accounts. It’s tempting to want to build your numbers quickly and easily through a Facebook ad, but you’re better off being patient and regularly offering compelling content that attracts the right people–the audience for your book.

Once you publish, countless people will come out of the woodwork to offer to take your money and help you flog your new book. The advantage of a Facebook author page is that it’s one of the few promotional activities you can do for free. It’s worth your while to put considerable effort into reaching your audience with a well-thought-out page. Don’t be afraid to express your unique personality through what you post, and don’t be intimidated by the process of creating a page. If you’re anything like me, you’ll ultimately come to see your Facebook page as a labour of love and have plenty of fun working on it. Enjoy the adventure!

Should Freelancers Get Disability and Fracture Insurance?

Should freelance editors and writers obtain disability and fracture insurance? Especially if you’re young, healthy, and apparently invincible, you may feel these types of insurance are just not worth spending your hard-earned dollars on. After all, you’re hardly likely to injure yourself while you’re typing at your computer, and what are the odds you’ll be in a car accident or have a serious slip and fall that will prevent you from working?  Most of us assume that the odds of suffering a serious injury are remote. But what would you do if you couldn’t work for a period of time? Would you have enough money in the bank to tide you over for a few weeks, months, or even longer?

Getting disability and fracture insurance made enormous sense to me, and here’s why. Over the years I’ve broken a total of four bones, torn two ligaments, and concussed myself once.  As a friend of mine joked, some people get all the breaks. Here’s the rundown of injuries. I fractured my tibia and tore two ligaments in my knee when I was twenty-nine from a fall on the ice while walking a dog.  My second break was at age forty, when I stepped off a cobblestone curb in Montreal and fractured my fifth metatarsal (the plane ride home was loads of fun). Almost exactly a year later, while I was preparing to hold a contents sale, I dropped a sliding door on my big toe, breaking it too (I finished the sale, though).  Break number four occurred on January 7th of this year, when I broke my left wrist after another fall on the ice while walking another dog.  I’m now 51. What made this fall especially nasty was that I hit my head and concussed myself, resulting in several weeks of post-concussion syndrome (PCS). For those who don’t know, PCS results in severe fatigue, weakness, poor balance, difficulty concentrating, extreme sensitivity to stimuli, nausea, and lousy sleep (and this list of symptoms is by no means exhaustive). Resting your brain in a quiet, dark environment is one of the most important things you can do to aid your own healing.


My bejewelled wrist cast in January
My bejewelled cast in January.


I emphasize that I was not engaging in anything resembling risky behaviour when these accidents occurred, and that I am not a senior citizen and do not have osteoporosis. I am just extraordinarily accident-prone.  You probably aren’t an expert in bone-breaking and head-knocking the way I am, but you could still suffer an accident, and one that could put you out of commission for some time.

Between the broken wrist and the concussion, I was unable to work at all for seven weeks. Over the past month and a half, I have gradually increased the amount of time I can work at the computer and am approaching pre-accident levels. But when my fall first occurred, I lost clients who were unable to wait for me to get better (I also kept some who could). Fortunately, I had been approved for two types of insurance, disability and fracture, just five weeks before my fall, and the benefits I received kept me afloat.

How did I know which insurance company to choose and which level of coverage I needed? I had a meeting with my financial advisor of fourteen years; he shopped around for an appropriate policy for me. I note here that these types of insurance are easy for freelance editors and writers to obtain because our work is sedentary, involving little physical risk. And acceptance doesn’t depend on being robustly healthy to begin with; anyone in any sort of physical condition can have an accident. We explored my options for disability insurance, which would partially replace lost income monthly should I have an accident. How much money would I need to cover my expenses each month (I decided to opt for a maximum benefit of $1,500), and what could I afford in terms of monthly premiums? Fracture insurance was an add-on to the disability insurance and available at two levels of coverage. I decided to choose the one that would pay out a higher lump sum if I broke something. Total monthly premium for both disability and fracture insurance: $67.25.

After making a claim, I promptly received a lump sum payment for the fracture plus a monthly disability benefit. The initial disability payment worked out to 75 percent of my average monthly income over the past year. When I notified my case manager of my increased work hours, the monthly payment was adjusted downward.

Disability and fracture insurance has allowed me to recover from my injuries without having to fret unduly about paying my bills. It also allowed me the luxury of things like taxi rides to the fracture clinic and other medical appointments, as well as laser treatments and physiotherapy. Frankly, I don’t think I can afford to be without it.


Should Authors Participate in Book Giveaways?

In the two months since I’ve published Virginia’s Ghost, I’ve been racking my brains as to how I can best promote it. It’s easy to garner interest in the book from friends and casual neighbourhood acquaintances, and I confess I haven’t found it a stretch to sell hard copies in person to folks I barely know. But online sales are a whole different matter. I mentioned to someone recently that as a first-time self-published author, I’m as invisible on the World Wide Web as a minnow would be in a vast ocean. So how can I become a bigger fish?

Other writers I know have suggested book giveaways. I balked at this initially–would I irreparably cheapen my book by giving it away for nothing? A big voice told me that I would, but feeling desperate for some sort of attention, I overcame my reservations and took the giveaway plunge. I’ve now done a total of three giveaways, with mixed results. Let’s take a closer look at these.


For my Facebook giveaway, I told my fans that in order to enter, they had to comment on my giveaway post. Each time they wrote a comment, their name would be entered into the draw, What I liked about this approach was that it engendered lively discussion on my Facebook author page, which is of course something I wish to encourage.  People asked questions about me and my book. And a Facebook giveaway is a lovely way to thank your fans for their support. I gave away one copy, which happened to go to a real-life acquaintance of mine who was very appreciative. I don’t think I sold any books as a result of the giveaway, but I didn’t really expect to. For my efforts, I did receive some psychic pay–a nice glow from all the enthusiasm people expressed. And it only cost me about $15 to do (my cost for the book and the postage).


Every author wants a high profile on Goodreads, as next to Amazon, it’s the go-to site for reader reviews. So it makes sense to participate in Goodreads discussion groups to make your presence known and to do a giveaway to get the word out that you’ve written a book. I opted for a giveaway that ran for about six weeks, and at the end of that period, I gave away three paperback copies of my book. It was a tremendously exhilarating process; by the end of the giveaway, 1,265 people had signed up for the chance to win a free signed copy. The number was higher than I expected and made me feel almost ridiculously popular (more psychic pay). But the apparent enthusiasm for the book also contributed to my expectation that I was probably going to sell lots of copies, which didn’t happen. You see, lots of Goodreads members are pretty indiscriminate about which giveaways they sign up for–they simply “collect” giveaways. Once the giveaway is over with, they’ve probably forgotten all about your book or that they even wanted a copy of it in the first place. As for the three people who received the book, I’m hopeful that I may still receive a review or two in return for the freebie. My cost? About $45 (for three books and postage).

Story Cartel 

Story Cartel is a site that specifically encourages reviews from readers who receive a free download of your book. For the cost of $30 USD, the book appears on the Story Cartel site, where it can be downloaded gratis for twenty-one days. (After the download period ends, Story Cartel then displays your book on their site for another week.) Spend an additional $125 USD and your book will appear in a newsletter that circulates to subscribers. I decided on the newsletter exposure, and a total of sixty-seven people downloaded my book. After participating in Story Cartel, I have received a total of seven reviews on Amazon from people who downloaded it from the site, and some of these reviewers also posted to Goodreads. I expect I may receive additional reviews from people who are still reading the book . If you want to quickly populate your Amazon listing with reviews, then Story Cartel is a good option for you. Total cost: $155 USD.


My advice for authors who decide to go the giveaway route is to keep your expectations extremely modest or you will end up disappointed. Yes, giveaways do generate some interest in your book, but that interest is very fleeting and doesn’t necessary translate into sales or reviews.  You should view giveaways as only a small portion of your overall book marketing plan.




Virginia’s Ghost Released in E-book Form

For the past month, I’ve been rolling out Virginia’s Ghost in its various forms. The paperback was released on Amazon.com on September 11th, and the Kindle followed ten days later.

I know that many of you have been asking when the EPUB version of the book would be available, so I’m pleased to announce that it’s now here! I checked last night, and Virginia’s Ghost has just appeared on Kobo and Barnes and Noble. The links in this post will, of course, take you directly to the book. But for fun, you can search the title on these sites and see the plethora of books that have been written about ghosts in Virginia. Who knew?

Canadian readers will also want to know that, three weeks after its release, the paperback version is finally available on Amazon.ca. This puts an end to my frustration over Amazon’s strange distribution methods. It’s still funny to me that a Canadian author’s book would be available in the UK, France, and Germany before it’s available in Canada!


Virginia’s Ghost Now Available

A lazy autumn afternoon is the perfect time to make a cuppa, curl up with your favourite canine or feline, and immerse yourself in a novel, so I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve just released my cozy mystery, Virginia’s Ghost. This tale of ghastly crime, euphoric love, and devastating betrayal has now arrived! Virginia’s Ghost transports readers from a hectic contemporary auction house to the posh world of Toronto’s elite during the 1920s. The book features plucky heroine Virginia Blythe, who works at Gable & Co. Auctioneers, and her flapper ghost Constance, who mysteriously appears and gives Virginia her diary just before pandemonium descends on the auction house. I sincerely hope to provide you with some spine-tingling reading!

The book is now available in a glossy paperback edition, with e-book editions to follow soon–I’ll keep you posted as to when they’ve been released.  You can purchase Virginia’s Ghost through Amazon.com or CreateSpace.

Virginia's Ghost book cover

Virginia’s Ghost: This Book Has a Cover!

Getting my book Virginia’s Ghost to a publishable stage has been a long haul. I’ve never been a swift writer, and between my plodding approach to writing, my editing work, and dealing with a chronic illness, I’ve been wondering if the book will ever come into being as a published work. Will something tangible really emerge from the endless writing and rewriting?

But now, with a completed book cover on my hands, I realize how close I am to the finish line. This cover has me glowing almost as much as the ghost is.  Sure, seeing my name in lights as it were is a little ego boost, but there’s much more to the excitement than that–it’s thrilling to see how the designer has represented my book and captured its essence through images.

Virginia's Ghost cover
Virginia’s Ghost cover


I was a bit nervous about the design process at first. What if the designer couldn’t connect with my book and produced something I felt lukewarm about? But with a designer like Scarlett Rugers, I needn’t have worried.  After reading Virginia’s Ghost, she came up with three excellent cover concepts, all of which reflected the great extent to which she’d absorbed my book. Concept one was very colourful and showed a small ghost on the balcony of a Victorian house, while concept two depicted the blurry figure of a ghost ascending basement stairs. But concept three, which you see here, was definitely the one, and it was Scarlett’s favourite too. Her version of Constance the ghost matched very closely the Louise Brooks-like image I’d been carrying around in my head. But to ensure I wasn’t utterly misguided in my choice, I sent the cover concepts to various people I knew including editors and other writers, very few of whom had actually read the book. While the results weren’t unanimous, concept three was preferred by most.

I liked Scarlett’s thoughtful approach to the design. When I asked her why she hadn’t chosen an art deco font, which was what I’d expected, she replied that this might mislead readers into thinking that all the book takes place during the 1920s, which isn’t the case. Pondering her decision, I couldn’t agree more. The image of the flapper ghost and the border design allude to the 1920s, whereas the bold and glamorous title font gives readers a whiff of the present.

We made a few adjustments to Scarlett’s original concept–shifting the title down to reveal more of the ghost’s hands, for example, and decreasing the size of my name, which I thought was competing with the title for attention. On the back, we’d originally had an author blurb and photo, as I had really wanted this, but the text covered much of the red-brick mansion and wasn’t that readable even though Scarlett had darkened the house behind it. Something had to go, but it wasn’t the mansion. I wanted it in for two reasons: a good friend of mine, Louise Kiner, had taken the photo, and the house represents the one the ghost inhabited when she was alive. Once the extra bit of text was gone, Scarlett was able to brighten the mansion, allowing it to shine forth in all its gloomy glory!

After some back and forth and lots of nitpicky little decisions, I finally have a book cover. And I couldn’t be happier with the result. Many thanks to Scarlett for her inspired design!

The Great Literary Blog Hop

I was recently approached by fellow editrix and  fantasy authoress Vanessa Ricci-Thode to participate in something called a blog hop. Vanessa published her novel The Dragon Whisperer last year and now has another book in the works. Honestly, I don’t know where she finds the time and energy to do all these literary things and raise a child too.  When she first mentioned the blog hop, I didn’t have a clue what it was, but I soon learned it would give me an opportunity to blab about my writing. What writer can say no to that? Thank you, Vanessa, for giving me the kick in the pants I needed to start blogging again.

As part of the blog hop, I’m required to answer four questions. At the end, I’ll provide links to the websites and books of some terrific writers who are taking up the challenge to continue this blog hop. So without further ado, let’s get started.

1.  What are you working on/writing?

As far as paid work goes, I’m currently editing the third book in a series of thrillers. The novel is action-packed, well-written, and suspenseful, so I’m really enjoying the process. Editing flows quite easily when the material you’re working on is so good. I consider myself very fortunate to be working with this particular author, who not only writes well but is very pleasant to deal with and shares my love of dogs.

There’s also my novel, Virginia’s Ghost. The book is a cozy mystery with a supernatural element. My protagonist, Virginia, is an auction house employee who encounters a rather demanding ghost named Constance from the 1920s. She realizes the ghost is trying to tell her something important, and precisely what is revealed as she reads Constance’s diary, written when she was a young woman. I include several diary entries, so I’m working with two first-person narrators. Simultaneously, mayhem and murder begin happening at the auction house, and the ghost is ultimately the key to making sense of all the chaos. Past and present are interwoven, and the book is really about the extraordinary connection these two women from separate eras forge and how they affect each other.

It does feel as if I’ve been writing Virginia’s Ghost forever, but after two rounds of edits by professional editor friends, I’m finally at the end of the writing process. Recently, I posted Chapter 1 on this site, and received eighty-eight Facebook likes, which astounded me! Because I’m a fanatical perfectionist, I’ve printed out the whole thing to read one more time and tweak as needed. About a month from now, we’ll be starting the cover and page design, which I’m very excited about.

Virginia'g Ghost book cover

2.  How does your work/writing differ from others in its genre?

I call my book a cozy mystery, but I doubt it is, strictly speaking–it’s just what it’s closest to being. One way in which it differs is that my protagonist isn’t really a sleuth as such and certainly doesn’t see herself as taking on that role. Instead, she has chaotic circumstances thrust upon her and copes as best as she can. Virginia’s Ghost does have a number of the characteristics of cosy mysteries, though: it’s set in a very closed community and features a victim who dare I say deserves to die. As well, there’s no graphic sex or violence, so it’s suitable for all ages. And although I intended to write a page-turner, I also like to think it’s more than a whodunit.

3.  Why do you write what you do?

I’ve been very influenced by my previous career. I worked at an auction house for about fourteen years and always thought it would be an excellent setting for either a mystery or a ghost story (I ended up combining both). There’s something both intriguing and slightly creepy about being surrounded by dusty old antiques that suggested both of those genres to me. I have a fascination with past eras, particularly the 1920s, so I wanted to bring a nostalgic storyline into the book–the story of Constance, the beautiful flapper ghost.  As well, there’s always a lot of adrenaline surging through the auction world–the pressure of crazy deadlines and the excitement of a live auction–that I thought would make for a dramatic book. And I met a lot of eccentric people, both clients and fellow employees, who I’ve drawn on in creating the characters for the book. The day I left that job, I thanked the staff for providing such wonderful inspiration for the novel I would one day write. Some of them looked a little worried when I said that. I guess they didn’t want to find themselves as a character in the book–particularly a villain or someone who gets murdered. But my characters are composites of various people I’ve met in my life.

4.  How does your writing process work?

What can I say? It’s slow and painstaking. This is because I’m an editor too. My sentences barely have a chance to squeak out before I’m polishing them to within an inch of their lives. I try to tell myself just to write, but it’s nearly impossible to quiet the professional editor in my head. But I’m also a better writer since I became an editor. I think I must have been pretty awful before.

I’m actually not too sure how many drafts of Virginia’s Ghost I’ve done–it’s either five or six, I think. It often tell my editing clients that it’s a good idea to start with an outline, but I didn’t do that myself. There–I’ve come out of the closet as a non-outliner! Actually, though, I did put together a synopsis of all my chapters after I’d written my third draft, and it did help me see what wasn’t really adding up in the narrative. And doing this helped me get unstuck and move forward.


I now pass the baton to my chosen blog hoppers, who are as follows:

Tiana Warner. Tiana is the author of The Infinite Knowledge of J.T. Badgley, an intensely dramatic science fiction novel that takes place on a planet called Zielaarde but illuminates much about life here on Earth.  As you’ll see from Tiana’s website, she’s also an accomplished poet. You can read my interview with Tiana here.

Pat Krapf. Pat has just published Brainwash, the first of a series of techno-thrillers featuring tough, no-nonsense private investigator Darcy McClain, formerly an FBI agent, and her sidekick Bullet, a giant schnauzer. Pat is currently following up Brainwash with two more Darcy McClain thrillers, Gadgets and Genocide.

Martin Turnbull. Martin has written the Garden of Allah series of novels, which are set in Hollywood’s golden age. If you love the thought of rubbing shoulders with screen legends like Greta Garbo and Errol Flynn, you’ll love Martin’s novels–The Garden on Sunset, The Trouble with Scarlett, and Citizen Hollywood.

Ali Lawati. Ali is a children’s author who has written The Jungle Adventure of Chimpoo, a whimsical tale of a monkey family.


Back-cover Blurbs: What I’ve Learned So Far

I’ve been crafting it off and on for weeks now, and sometimes I lie awake at night, mentally tweaking the wording until it’s just so. It consists of four little paragraphs, a mere two hundred words. But those paragraphs might be the hardest thing I’ve ever written, and every one of those words has to pull its weight. What, you might ask, is causing me such writerly agony? The back-cover blurb for my novel, Virginia’s Ghost.

Logic would dictate that this process shouldn’t be so excruciating. After all, I’ve written or edited blurbs for many clients before, so I know the drill. And no one knows my book better than I do, right? But maybe familiarity is precisely the problem. What’s making the blurb so challenging is knowing my book all too well; I’ve been living and breathing Virginia’s Ghost  in all its subtle nuances for quite some time. With so many tiny details about the plot, character, setting, and dialogue filling my brain, I’m finding it tricky to pick out the broad strokes.  Here’s my latest effort to whittle the book down to its essence and pull my audience in (and please feel free to criticize, as I still consider the blurb a work in progress).

Antiques specialist Virginia Blythe of Gable & Co. Auctioneers is working late one night when she hears mournful wailing. Following the sound to its source, she gasps in astonishment: a breathtakingly beautiful flapper who looks like a refugee from an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel is lingering in the shadows of the company’s basement. 

Later the disconsolate young woman returns to offer Virginia her diary, written in 1928. It reveals she’s the ghost of wealthy Toronto socialite Constance Pendleton. What is Constance trying to tell her? Intrigued, Virginia curls up with the diary and begins dipping her toes into the elegant opulence of Constance’s Jazz Age world.

But suddenly things go terribly awry at Gable & Co. Just as Virginia’s preparing for a blockbuster auction, some valuable porcelain mysteriously goes missing and her job is on the line. The worst, however, is yet to come. A shocking murder spins the eccentric world of the auction house into chaos. Struggling to make sense of it all, Virginia turns increasingly to the secrets of the diary.

Virginia’s Ghost is a tale of ghastly crime, euphoric love, and devastating betrayal in which two women transcend time to affect each other’s lives in startling ways.

Apart from discovering that writing your back-cover blurb is damn difficult to pull off, what else have I learned? Here’s my advice, based both on my experiences helping clients with their blurbs and writing my own.

First, get as much critical feedback throughout the blurb-writing process as you possibly can. People who have already read your book (e.g., your editor) are invaluable and can help you answer some key questions. For example, does the book actually deliver what you promise the reader in your blurb? If you’re describing thrills and chills aplenty on the back cover but your book’s more of a meditative literary piece, then you have a serious mismatch on your hands.  As well, does the tone of the blurb match your book’s tone? Obviously, it should, and only someone who’s read your book will know. But people who haven’t read it can also be enormously helpful in answering the big questions: Would you read this book? And if not, why not? Take every bit of feedback you receive to heart and keep revising your blurb until you’re hitting all the right notes.

Second, use language that will hook readers emotionally. What will grab them enough to make them want to read your book? If you’re not sure, think about who your readers are–their tastes, interests, and values. Chances are you’re like me and you’re writing for the very club you’re already a member of, which makes it much easier to know what your audience wants. I expect my readers to be largely 40+ women who are fans of the cosy mystery genre and period pieces. Because of this, I’ve tried to heighten the mood of mystery and intrigue and have emphasized the past by playing up the flapper ghost and the auction house setting. And I hope that the image of Virginia curling up to read the diary will strike a chord with my readers, who probably enjoy spending their Sunday afternoons with a cup of tea and a good book. Consider what’s important to your audience and use language and images that truly speak to them.

Finally, make every word count. Most blurbs aren’t much more than about 250 words, so you’ve got to be economical in your prose and focus on what’s really important–namely, some enticingly described story details that will leave your readers wanting to know more and eager to buy your book. Now’s not the time to blather on using wordy or vague language, pat yourself on the back for your brilliant book, or give too much of your plot away.  Remember that your blurb isn’t a synopsis but a teaser that functions as your primary marketing tool. You’ll be using it on the back of your book and elsewhere too–on your website, Facebook author page, and Amazon, for example. It’s worth your while to take your time and do it right.