I received my official acceptance letter for my creative writing MFA through the University of British Columbia!
I'm very excited. UBC runs what is probably Canada's best MFA for writers.
I received my official acceptance letter for my creative writing MFA through the University of British Columbia!
I'm very excited. UBC runs what is probably Canada's best MFA for writers.
Yeah, we had some fun last night. Hamilton scribe Amanda Leduc – whose novel The Lives of Ordinary Men comes out in May, which means you should get it – organized "Steeltown Speakeasy," a casual reading at the Baltimore House on King William (a truly excellent venue).
I read from Chance & King, my newest WIP. We also heard from Liz Harmer, Dave Pace (that's Dave in the photo doing his reading), and Virginia Ashberry, a talented bunch of writers.
Amanda tells me she's going to try and make this a bi-monthly thing. Sweet! Here are some links/connections so you can stay informed:
For S, G, and the kids.
We’re new here. Moved in a few months ago, renting half of a house near railway tracks, the Corktown Pub, and the Bruce Trail. We don’t know many people.
Corktown is an old neighbourhood, one that has weathered the rises and descents of a steeltown like Hamilton. You can see old century homes on the same stretch of block as faceless apartment buildings, and you can walk from one end to the other in about five minutes and thirty seconds to see the whole range of then until now. And sometimes you can guess who’s renting and who owns their small patch of this railside neighbourhood by how many mailboxes you can see or how well the gardens are tended. The remnants of hard times are becoming scarce, though, as the old homes get bought up by professionals who prefer café-style lattes to coffee from Tim’s.
You can look in through windows, like anywhere, and get the briefest of glimpses into how others live their indoor lives. Especially at Christmas. Hamilton’s a city that hasn’t yet shrugged off the Christian side of the holidays – there’s still a crèche downtown, where baby Jesus looks out at Gore Park and Jackson Square. And for a few weeks at the end of every year, Christmas trees in living room windows shine like friendly beacons, winking at everyone that walks or drives by as if to say, Yeah, us too.
We know our neighbours enough to say hello, maybe hear tidbits about them here and there, about their weddings, their trials, their children. My Lady’s better at the contact – I learn from her. Our little corner generally keeps to itself, which is fine. A typical encounter you might recognize: “Morning,” one of us will say. “Morning.” “How’re things?” “Oh, fine, fine. You?” “Good thanks.”
It’s Christmas Day. Corktown’s quiet. Later in the day, my Dad will say with a smile and a far-off look, “There’s nothing nicer than driving on Christmas morning. Not a car on the road.”
We don’t sleep in all that often, but I manage to make it until 7:15. My Lady makes it another ten minutes or so, with me tiptoeing around in my tan moccasins and trying to make coffee on the quiet. Then I hear a cough and the rustle of sheets as she gets out of bed. I confess that I’m little excited she didn’t stay in bed too long – I was strategic last night as we got into our PJ’s. “Hey, I have an idea,” I said. “Mmm?” “How about pancakes tomorrow morning?” “That sounds nice.” And then I asked her to make them, hoping she’d say yes, planning my offer to make them if she didn’t. She did, of course, but sometimes you need to plan your offer, just in case.
As I sit to read the news, there’s not much going on in the world I care to read about. Christmas even slows the news down, it would seem. I don’t even click on links that talk about politics – even though someone, somewhere had the job of keeping the website updated, the poor soul – and scan straight into Lifestyle. Or maybe it was the wine section. I love the columnist’s name – Beppi – a good wine-trusting kind of name.
“Oh, no,” says my Lady’s voice, muffled by the open fridge door.
“What?” I ask after a few seconds. (I don’t multi-task well.)
“We’re out of eggs.”
Bummer. I’m about to move on and suggest oatmeal, and then I remember who suggested the pancakes in the first place. I ponder an offer to head next door for an egg, wonder if she’ll accept, kind of hope she won’t. I decide I probably should, the whole enterprise being my idea.
I mention I saw our neigbour getting stuff from his car, so they’re definitely awake. “I can go next door.”
Her very quick agreement catches me off guard so I try to hedge a little, throw out another option, delay having to put pants on over my boxers. I point in two directions, two neighbours. “Um, which side?”
“If you saw G at the car, they’re awake. Go there.”
Right. Time to make good. Put on my baggy, striped PJ bottoms over my boxers, which bunch up around my tender bits. “How do guys wear these things under jeans?”
My Lady’s a good sport when I speak banalities. “I know, right?”
I slide on my rubber shoes and unlock the door, expecting a blast of real cold, pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t come. It’s cold, but not cold. Mild Christmas, they’ve been saying, something about 95% of Canadian urban centres not having a white Christmas this year, even frigid places like Winnipeg and Edmonton. I head out, doing that strange walk we do when we’re underdressed for winter temperatures, a stiff, lurching blend of hop and shuffle.
Next door, I climb the stairs and listen for a moment. I smile. There’s a Christmas morning in full swing in there, seven kids, two adults, and 365 days of pent-up anticipation rattling the windows. Mom sounds tired, tells the kids there’ll be no whining on Christmas morning, and the decibels dip for a solid three seconds before I decide to knock. I’m too timid – they don’t hear my first one. The second one prompts a cheer and an excited exclamation from the oldest boy, “Leo is here!”
Five little girls in their best flannel PJ’s in primary colours and cartoon characters and stars all over them, and two boys in boxers and t-shirts, like the man of the house, open the door with one big collective smile. I’m not Leo, but those kids don’t miss a beat.
They all yell it at the same time, blessing someone they don’t really know even though he’s supposed to be someone closer named Leo. The girls are wiggling all over and crowd around me at the door, perfectly pleased with themselves, while the boys hang back, trying to be a little cooler even though their eyes are spilling their excited secret.
“Merry Christmas,” I say, notching up my enthusiasm a notch. “Did you know your house is vibrating because you’re so excited?”
They laugh. That’s so nice.
And then those little girls put a bigger smile on my Christmas morning. They all rush the guy at the door they don’t know from Adam, blessing his legs with a group hug worthy of the angels. I’m a little speechless at the display, but I hug them back, even as I realize I’ll never be able to match the enthusiasm and happiness spilling from five hopped up little ladies who could care less who the bed-headed guy at the door is but who are still going to pile the purest Christmas cheer on him the world has seen since the shepherds knelt beside that squalling baby in Bethlehem.
“Um, we’re making pancakes and don’t have any eggs,” I finally manage. It’s hard to speak normally when your face is smiling itself to split at the seams. “Could we borrow one?”
“Absolutely,” S and G, the Mom and Dad, say.
The girls are still hugging my legs, fiercely, with their eyes closed and their lips grinning, as Dad hands over an egg carton and Mom puts a gift wrapped in Christmas-tree green on top.
“Merry Christmas,” she says.
I can’t stop smiling as I head back to our place next door, shaking my head a little at the goodness that has just been poured all over me. The air is still cool, but I’m walking slower now. I can’t wait to share the story with my Lady – tell the universe, maybe – about ten strong little arms that could’ve lifted this stranger straight up to heaven.
I have had a wonderful writer’s week (so far).
Last week, from either a stomach bug or food poisoning, I spent Thursday through Sunday in hit-by-truck mode. I didn’t sit down to do any real new writing even once (the KDP vs. Kobo posts had been written earlier) but did have lots of time to finish Daniel O’Thunder by Ian Weir and plough through my growing stack of neglected lit journals.
Shameless plug: Daniel O’Thunder is a wonderful, roiling tale about Dickensian London and an epic boxing match with the Devil. It’s the kind of book that makes me love writing. Full disclosure: Ian Weir gave me a blue-pencil session at SIWC and signed the book for me, so I am biased that he’s awesome.
On the journals: I now feel caught up on all the dysfunctions, infidelities, drug use, soul-torture, and basement-apartment-living I’d been missing while reading other things. And lots of self-questioning by lots of sad, sad narrators. Ahem.
But I’d like to focus on a couple of days this week that really boosted this writer’s efforts.
On Monday, I had a video-chat session with my Humber School for Writers mentor, Nino Ricci, who has been working through Old Habits (my WIP) with me. He gave me an hour of his time, where we chatted about the direction of my novel. Nino’s been very generous and gracious with me as I move through my draft (what Anne Lamott rightly calls the “shitty first draft”) and has been very affirming of my writing progress and process, despite my draft lacking significant cohesion and vision.
Since submitting my last chunk of the WIP to him, I have felt that my novel has started to take on real shape: it is now fully outlined, the characters all have places to be, and I’m feeling the exciting momentum of seeing where it could lead. I was able to explain all of this to Nino and share my ideas. After that, we spent the remainder of the chat session brainstorming and theorizing ways I’ll be able to strengthen further revisions. It was a very encouraging and productive session. I am buoyed.
Full disclosure: I covet the bookshelves Nino has in his office.
Yesterday, I had another boost: a character breakthrough. I have a character that has really made his way into my heart: he’s young, innocent, and a real helpless product of his environment (what’s not to love, right?). But his role in the novel has always been predicated on an idea about the character and not why he exists in the work – i.e. he has always been a good character with a good connection, but not an excellent one. But you, fellow scribes, know that good ain’t good enough and I have at times questioned why and how he made his way into the novel at all.
The breakthrough came to me in the middle of a chapter where, after his father’s death, his mother sells him off into what is, in essence, slavery. I was typing away, worried about this dear boy, when his clear role in the shaping of events in the remainder of the work popped into my head. Sure, I lost a precious half hour of writing time as I adjusted the outline, made sticky notes, and brainstormed, but that’s small beans indeed compared to the boost and focused direction I now have. What a nice feeling.
To sum up:
It has been, so far, a week of goodness for my writing. Thanks for reading.
Background: I have, for the past few years, written Christmas stories for my students, my teaching colleagues, or just for myself. On November 1, I thought – hey, maybe I can self-publish a small collection of them and get them out in e-book format just in time for the holidays. Here are my experiences. (Please note that for all requests, I was able to respond the same day – just so you don’t think it was this writer holding things up!)
Click here for Part I: Kindle Direct Publishing.
Click here for a reminder about what I faced when I looked into Kobo. Stark.
However, I am not deterred. I tell myself, I can do this – it’s early, I’m tech-savvy, and I have time to work almost every day on this if I need to, right? Right?!
Enter a very different model of e-publishing. Kobo is obviously in favour of the gatekeeper approach to deter wannabe publishers from using/abusing their service – this means my stories will be surrounded by excellence. My stories are good. They’ll be worthy. Hopefully.
- I email the address on the page, explain my project, and attach my .epub file. A Kobo rep – who I’ve decided to call Buddy Awesome (BA) – replies within a few hours, thanks me for my interest, tells me the .epub files look good, and sends me a 10-page information pack and a one-page questionnaire. BA seems nice. That’s pretty fast, I think – then I think about how much faster (easier) mailing a link to the info and questionnaire would have been. I read and fill everything out and send it back to BA.
- BA emails me to say that because my .epub files look so good, he will request an FTP folder (a place on some server where I can store my files) on my behalf. That’s nice. He attaches a document that outlines the different kinds of contract I can have – it’s similar to Amazon’s, so I can breeze through it. He also attached an Excel document and says I need to fill it out with the bibliographical data/metadata. Excel documents scare me, btw, and these words (metadata?!) sound scary, but I do my best and send it back.
- BA replies and cheerfully (he’s always cheerful) notes that I have left the eISBN field blank. Oh, I think. He says that as a Canadian, I can get a free ISBN from CISS, the Canadian ISBN System Service, and sends me the link to the CISS site, which is part of the government system. Oh no, I think. Government means slow. I go to the CISS site, fill in the application – I am downhearted, and ready myself for the bureaucracy-crawl.
- CISS replies that they’ve received my application but that I’d left a field blank (I hadn’t). Could I reply with the ISBN of Make Fire in the Desert? I do.
- Not having heard boo about my application, I email CISS and follow up. Them: oh, yes, we did receive it, but it can take up to 10 days for the application to be processed.
- CISS emails me with an account access code, and I have to resist the urge to roll my eyes that only one day after my follow-up it gets processed. I access and apply for my ISBN. A few minutes later, an automated “application successful” email arrives, along with another email explaining how I assign an ISBN. I do just that, and ponder the power I have: I could make up a dozen books and have a dozen shiny new ISBN’s if I wanted!
- I email BA with my new ISBN. He says how great that is and that he will add it to my metadata, and can I confirm what contract I will be using (I’d already provided it)? Then he sends me an 8-page monster contract for me to read and sign, but says I can just sign, scan, and return the last page. I picture him winking as he says it. BA’s so nice.
- BA thanks me for the signed page and says he’ll put it in the queue for some other dude to cosign. I’ll call that dude Unknown Soldier (US), because I’ll never actually speak to him. US has a nice, scrawly signature, though, which means he’s efficient and successful. Then BA says that next I should hear from someone who I’ll christen Mystery Jane (MJ), because I’m scared of the word “should” in something that needs to happen.
- MJ emails me! I receive a signed copy of the contract (which is how I know that US has the kick-butt signature) and the promise of an SFTP account where I can upload my files. (I thought I had already given the files to BA, but, like, whatever.) And, on top of it all, SFTP sounds scary, like something I’ll have to tech-learn on my own. MJ says it’s all right to email Distant Lady (DL) if I don’t get full details for the SFTP within a week.
- I email DL. Full disclosure: I didn’t wait a full week.
- DL replies! She says she’s sorry for the delay, something about upgrades impeding the configuration of accounts (uh-huh), but provides all the instructions on how to SFTP my files to the Kobo servers. True to my prediction, it involves tech-learning a new process. I’m fairly tech-savvy, so I figure it out, thanks to a combination of .pdf help files that link to someone else’s site, metadata (still scary-sounding) instructions, and a blank Excel metadata spreadsheet. If you recall, I had already gone through the metadata thing and completed most of it with BA’s help, so I’m thinking that Kobo’s communications/procedural structures aren’t very effective.
- I follow the instructions and upload the files (the .epub and Excel metadata sheet) to the Kobo servers through a program called Filezilla. (Yeah, I know – that’s not scary at all, right?!)
- I receive confirmation emails from the Kobo servers that the files have been received. And also a reminder that it could take up to five working days for my E-book to appear in the Kobo catalogue.
- No listing on the Kobo page. Could five days actually mean five days?!
Well, in truth, I’m still assuming that the e-book will appear, but enough has transpired for me to make an honest comparison of KDP versus Kobo publishing. Even when (if) Finding December: Christmas Tales makes its way onto the Kobo site, it will have taken over a month to process what is, in effect, two things: my contract and uploading the files.
KDP: I was very impressed with them – everything was ridiculously easy, accessible, and efficient. Someone’s on the ball over there, and their commitment to simplifying the self- and e-publishing process shows. The downside, of course, is that anyone can do it – there is a lot of crap available for the Kindle. But I think a quality product will usually do well and rise above the sludge, so I’m hoping the same is true for my efforts. Grade: A (I withheld the + because Amazon is a multinational corporation and must be, therefore, evil.)
Kobo: Not so impressive. Aside from the CISS stage, which unlike the American rules for KDP is a Canadian requirement for selling any books, and totally out of Kobo’s hands, everything else was clunky and repetitive. Their representatives seemed very nice, but were at times unaware of what should happen when in which stage of the process. There is no reason, in a Web 3.0 2011, that everything could not be placed online to make the user experience much more efficient. They want to control the quality, I get that, but even with their cumbersome approvals, they should look at putting the execution of the various parts online. The combination of emails from different people, the attached files, the clunky spreadsheets, the SFTP uploading, and over five weeks in process will hurt their ability to get quality work out there and make money. Kobo doesn’t get a fail, because I think my book will look better surrounded by other quality publications, but there is much work to be done. Grade: D-
I have, for the past few years, written Christmas stories for my students, my teaching colleagues, or just for myself. I thought – hey, maybe I can self-publish a small collection of them and get them out in e-book format just in time for the holidays.
Here are my experiences. (Please note that for all requests, I was able to respond the same day – just so you don’t think it was this writer holding things up!)
My thinking: it’s the beginning of November – lots of time, right?
I choose four stories that are the most family friendly. Then I set some time aside and do some research, discovering that, if I format a Word document correctly (i.e. very basic formatting with page breaks and such), it’s a fairly easy thing to convert the .doc into e-book format (.mobi for Kindle and .epub for Kobo). More complex structures require a bit more formatting.
Then I design a basic cover for my collection (remembering that it has to work both in large and thumbnail size), cut and paste the stories into a single Word document, and remove all formatting, apart from a .15” indent in each paragraph and a page break between title pages and every story.
Next, I sweat and agonize about the various programs available, one of which I would have to pay for and use for my task. Then I discover this free site, which allows free conversions with no conditions (no, really, none!): http://www.2epub.com/. I convert and download a .mobi and .epub copy to my computer.
Uploading my product comes next.
Kindle: I Google “Publish EBook to Kindle” and am linked straight away to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), click around for a little while, set up an account (linked to my regular Amazon account), choose a contract, set my pricing, fill in some information about myself and the e-book, and upload the file. There’s a lot of reading, but it’s all online with helpful little help links and pop-ups and, in the end, it’s just like signing up for any other service: fill in the blanks. I accomplish all this in about an hour, including reading through the KDP documentation. They say, “Thanks for signing up! It might take 24hrs for your book to go live!” (in reality, it took less than two).
Click here to see my Kindle e-book page: Finding December: Christmas Tales. (Feel free to buy, too!)
At this point, I’m pretty pumped. How easy can this be?!
Kobo: I Google “Publish EBook to Kobo” and am directed to this page. No clicky buttons, no reassuring sentiments, no easy-fill e-forms, just that scary email address. Whaddyamean I have to make contact with an actual person?!
In my next post, I’ll look at the Kobo experience.