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What I Read for Black History Month

I am making an effort to read more Black authors and stories during Black History Month. So far this year I’m reading more BIPOC authors in general, so here’s what I’ve been enjoying lately:

Non Fiction

Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina (Michaela DePrince)
I’ve been following the Boston Ballet soloist since she was in First Position, a popular ballet documentary. This book documents her young life in Sierra Leone as a civil war rages, ultimately seeing her placed in an orphanage. It chronicles her American adoption and discovery of ballet, as well as the road to the Youth America Grand Prix and a professional ballet career. While part of me wishes she’d written the book older so it held more life experience, she had such a big story of her younger life that it doesn’t feel as incomplete as it might if it was anyone else.

Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina (Misty Copeland)
Yes, I’m a ballet nut lol. Misty Copeland is a ballet phenom, who started very late in the game (13!!). The book chronicles her life, including a tumultuous childhood, a custody battle that was tabloid fodder, and how she has dealt with racism and media attention as a Black ballerina. Currently a principal with the American Ballet Theatre, I hope she can write another memoir later on in life, because with the Black Lives Matter movement and racism in ballet coming to the forefront even more than it was when this book was published, I’d love to hear more about how she has faced life as a principal (this book was written when she was a soloist).

Courage to Soar (Simone Biles)
This one I really wish had been held until Simone was a bit older, although the childhood sections have an immediacy I really loved that I think would have been lost if she’d been much older writing it. But this book was written post Rio 2016 and pre Tokyo 2020/1 and the Nasser/USAG scandal, and the parts with the Karolyi ranch feel very glossed over (for good reason at the time; none of the crimes had been reported yet). I hope one day she can write a memoir that covers that portion of her life, as well as the Tokyo Olympics. I’d love to know how she had the courage to take time for herself and how she dealt with some of the backlash from choosing not to compete. I feel like she’s lived so much since this book, which makes the book feel premature.

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl (Issa Rae)
I was not familiar with Issa Rae before reading her book (I loved the title and wanted to read just based on that). I hadn’t seen her YouTube series or Insecure. Right out of the gate, the first chapter about her misadventures on AOL had me laughing because it took me right back to that time. This is part memoir and part wry observations throughout her life. I really enjoyed hearing about her life in Senegal and juggling that with her American life, which is a POV I don’t usually get to read about.

Unprotected (Billy Porter)
This memoir from the Emmy, Tony and Grammy award winner was amazing. His voice is so clear and honest, and he covers everything from his most raw and vulnerable moments to his great successes. From his family life to building a family of friends during the AIDS crisis. There is also a lot here that will resonate with artists – how to persevere and know your worth. I was so happy I picked this up – I wasn’t super familiar with a lot of his work (I am someone who has never understood musicals, at all, so I have zero Broadway knowledge), aside from seeing his amazing fashions and having Pose on my to-watch list (I’m a notorious slow streamer). Billy Porter needs to be protected at all costs! We need him.

We’re Going To Need More Wine (Gabrielle Union)
I love how honest Gabrielle Union is in this memoir, about her own self, her feelings of worth, her experiences and what it was like growing up as a Black girl in a predominantly white city. I also loved her observations about being Black in Hollywood, especially as she was coming up as an actress. I was really surprised to learn how much Prince was responsible for bringing people together and introducing folks to each other and being a bridge, in essence. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised with how easy it was for kids to throw around the n word at her when she was a kid – and I was surprised how she opened up about her use of slurs and how it affected an important relationship she had. Overall, I really enjoyed this, she got me thinking about issues Black girls and Black actresses face that I had never considered.

Lettin’ It All Hang Out (RuPaul Charles)
This was an autobiography written way before Drag Race – 1995 – and I found it so interesting because it really encapsulates the time period. I love hearing about Ru’s family, and how so many of Ru’s beliefs and sayings made its way into the show. At that time, Ru was really the only visible drag queen in entertainment for the masses. It is also SO FUCKING INFURIATING that in the opening chapter, Ru talks about how so many (insecure assholes) think drag is about sex and that somehow drag queens equals predator. AND WE ARE STILL ON THIS IN THIS YEAR OF 2023 C.E. SHUT THE FUCK UP. It is awful that this is still an issue. I think that’s why it’s important to read an older bio like this. In some ways you see the growth, in others you see the utter fuckitude.

The Last Black Unicorn (Tiffany Haddish)
I’ve seen some of her comedy and her hosting on Kids Say the Darndest Things, and her appearances on talk shows, so I knew she was going to be funny. I really like how conversational the book is – you can hear her voice coming through so strongly in the writing, it’s as if there was no ghostwriter involved. I then found out she’s a trash human who is a COVID denier who doxxed people, is supportive of dictatorships and was accused of child sexual abuse, so she can fuck right off into the sun.


The Lou Norton series (Rachel Howzell Hall)
This series stands at 4 books at the moment (and I’m hoping for more in the future despite hearing that’s not on the horizon at this time …) and follows a Black LAPD detective – Elouise “Lou” Norton – as she investigates crimes in the neighbourhood she grew up in. Especially close to home is the case of her missing older sister. Lou is one of my favourite characters I’ve read in the past five or ten years – she is smart, sarcastic, complex and tough. Howzell Hall really lets you feel the setting of Los Angeles in a new way, and all of her secondary characters are engaging – even the criminals are fascinating. The books in the series are Land of Shadows, Skies of Ash, Trail of Echoes and City of Saviours. Howzell Hall is currently writing standalone novels, so check those out too.

Broken Places (Tracy Clark)
Cass Raines is a Black cop-turned-PI in Chicago, and when her family friend comes to her for advice on some harassment he and his church are facing, she agrees to take the case – only for him to turn up dead the next day. Navigating the official investigation, led by a total prick cop that you know would have had his knee on someone’s neck in the real world, Cass is determined to find the killer. Some great Chicago colour and it’s nice to read about PI for a change, because she is bound by different rules, some of which help and some which hinder. I’ve linked to the series of four books even though I’ve only read the first so far.

Malawi’s Sisters (Melanie S. Hatter)
A fiction book about Malawi Walker, who is gunned down by a white man when her car breaks down one night. The book focuses on the fall out and its effects on her family, a judge father, a disconnected mother, and two sisters with very different relationships with Malawi. The book was fantastic in illustrating the effects of grief on a family, especially when the death is the result of racism. From the public attention to the private mourning, this book takes you through it.

And one final book that was not written by a Black author, but focuses on the life of a mixed race (Black, First Nations and Mexican) adoptee.

Missing Sarah: A Vancouver Woman Remembers Her Vanished Sister (Maggie de Vries)
Sarah de Vries disappeared from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in 1998 and was murdered by serial killer Willie Pickton. Sarah’s life is chronicled by her sister Maggie, with some fantastic journal entries, art and poetry written by Sarah. She had such a talent for writing, and this book is heartbreaking knowing she is no longer here to share her gifts. Also check out de Vries YA novel Rabbit Ears which follows a mixed race teen as she deals with ending up on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

2022 in Movies

Here are the new-to-me movies I watched in 2022. I don’t watch a lot of movies in general, but I’ve been making more of an effort the past few years.

  1. Labyrinth
    I have a friend who is a huge Bowie fan, and his love of all things Bowie got me interested in seeing this, and everyone on my FB list was like “OMG tell me what you think” and then I realized so many people love this. It was super weird, but I think if I’d seen it in the 80s it would have made perfect sense because it fits right in with Fraggles and Masters of the Universe and everything 80s. I loved Ludo.
  2. First Blood
    So I’d never seen Rambo, and realized very early into this I was confusing it with Commando. I liked it. So much of my 80s TV was dominated by Vietnam veteran stories, and that whole facet of time where the war and the people involved became major characters is fascinating to me, especially in light of how so many vets were treated coming home. It was shot locally, and I always like watching films shot here before the big film industry boom. It just hits different.
  3. Rambo: First Blood Part II
    I felt like the story had been told – the end is the same, Rambo soliloquying about how much he’s given for his country and how no one cares.
  4. Rambo III
    I find it so fascinating how the films go through events, from returning from Vietnam, to returning to Vietnam, and now Soviet/Afghan War. Watching these films back-to-back really gives you an interesting overview of the 80s.
  5. Dolores Claiborne
    I read the books years ago but couldn’t remember much about the story, so the film felt new to me. I just love Kathy Bates, I feel like she does King’s work justice, because she’s never afraid to play odd or plain or weird. She plays what the character is because King is the master at writing characters with flaws and unattractive qualities and physicality.
  6. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
    I feel like the first Jurassic World was pretty good, but this is where it just falls apart for me. I will, of course, watch the last film in the trilogy, but I wasn’t engaged with this like the others. For some reason it always bugs me when the dinosaurs are like … everywhere. I want them on their island and not all over everywhere.
  7. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before
    I read the books this year too, and for some reason thought it was a TV series and not a movie. I, weirdly, realized it was filmed here when I saw Lara Jean lean her bike against a store front and I knew which one it was lol. I didn’t really feel like the casting of her boyfriend matched up to what was in my head. I honestly think this would have worked better as a TV series.
  8. Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell
    This was a sequel included in the Criterion Collection version of the Streetwise documentary by Martin Bell. Some argue that it comes off like poverty porn, and I think it veers that way if you haven’t seen Streetwise to have the context for why we’re following Tiny and her family and that her situation here is better than her previous situation in many ways. It really shows the cyclical nature of poverty though.
  9. The Martian
    Another book I read this year, I was really curious about how the film would pull it off. I enjoyed it, but the book has so much sarcastic hilarity in the first person POV and that’s lost a bit on film. I do like that they kept with the book closely, but I wish there were a few more events included. I did appreciate the follow up at the end, because the ending of the book was so sudden I was sure my ebook was corrupt and I was missing a chapter lol.
  10. The Virgin Suicides
    I watched this, as I do many films and TV shows, because of Jonathan Tucker. It was an interesting, odd film. I haven’t read the book so I can’t say how closely it stayed to the source material. I don’t know if I liked it or not. One of those films that makes you think about it.
  11. Vertical Limit
    I watched this because it was a mountain climbing movie. So much of it was so wrong, but it was still interesting. I liked seeing Paxton as a bad guy for a change, and was he in every movie ever? It feels like it. I just finished watching The Mentalist, so it was fun seeing Robin Tunney. And a very young Chris O’Donnell!
  12. Downtown Abbey: The Movie
    I had watched the entire series, but never saw the movie until now. I think they did a good job with the storyline and characters. It didn’t feel “special” enough as a movie, more like something they would have normally aired at Christmas.
  13. Downton Abbey: A New Era
    This is probably the most recent release I’ve seen this year. I liked the storyline – I knew it was time for change and moving forward and I just wish we’d learned the baby’s name although I’m pretty sure we can guess what it is. Seeing a new setting was nice, and I like that Thomas got a good ending.
  14. Gravity
    I never saw this one either until now. It was … okay. I see the artistic side of it in the cinematography and the interesting shots and takes, but I guess I prefer my survival movies with a bit more drama than art. Space movies always freak me out on a weird level though. I would never go to space. I don’t even like leaving my house that much lol.
  15. Now and Then
    This is one of those movies I wish I’d seen when I was younger. I thought the casting was great, especially Gaby Hoffman/Demi Moore. I loved seeing a movie where the girl friendships are treated as seriously as boy friendships. It was really sad to discover Ashleigh Aston Moore passed away from pneumonia complicated by drug abuse. I thought she was the best actress in the group – so funny and relatable.
  16. The Bodyguard
    Another one people were surprised I haven’t seen. I think two rocks have more chemistry than Houston and Costner did which really detracted from the story. I saw the death coming from ten miles away, which also sucked. Overall, not my favourite movie, but damn that soundtrack is on fire. I forgot how many great Whitney songs came from this film. I Have Nothing has always been a favourite (way more than I Will Always Love You). I really miss Whitney’s voice.
  17. To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar
    This is one I slept on back in the day. I wanted to see it and just never did. I loved this – obviously there are some now-dated sections, but this would have been so new and brave at the time, especially for a wide release film. I love that the queens leading this were Hollywood men known for tougher roles, and not who you’d expect to play a drag queen.
  18. The Blair Witch Project
    This is one of those films that I think would have had more impact on me when it came out vs now. The found footage aspect gets really annoying to me in the first half hour. It’s hard watching badly shot stuff. My home movies are steadier, and that’s before they get to the woods. I think what I most liked is the hint that something is there, but never seeing or knowing what. I find that’s almost always scarier than revealing it.

So things went to hell after that and I didn’t watch any new movies after that – just ones I’d seen before since it was all I could handle.

Goodreads Reading Challenge 2022

I set a goal (as usual) for 52 books this year (one a week) and read 77 books this year. I only read 56 last year and blamed pandemic brain.

This year wasn’t much better pandemic-wise (especially since I was hit very hard by COVID), but I did get back into reading more. Part of that is that I found a really awesome Excel file to track my reading. The original spreadsheet is from Sophie Islington and you can find the spreadsheets for various years here on her YouTube channel. I edited one from 2017/2018 to fit my needs and use it along with Goodreads now.

This year I read …

By The Numbers

Non Fiction Books Read – 30 (39%)
Fiction Books Read – 47 (61%)

Ebooks – 68 (88%)
Paperbacks – 8 (10%)
Hardcovers – 1 (1%)

Adult – 65 (84%)
New Adult – 1 (1%)
Young Adult – 11 (14%)

Busiest Month of Reading – 8 books (January, August, October, November and December)
Least Busy Month of Reading – 3 (April)

Genre Most Read – Suspense (Fiction) followed by Mountaineering (Non Fiction) and Writing (Non Fiction) books.

Page Length – 38% of books were between 300 and 399 pages. Shortest book was under 100 pages. Longest was over 900.

Author Gender – 51% male and 49% female. I tend to read more female authors, so this was a surprisingly even split.

BIPOC Authors Read – 9 books (12%) from 7 authors (technically 8 because one was a writing duo). Better than last year at least.

LGBTQ2IA+ Authors Read – 4 books from 4 authors. There may be more; I only marked an author as LGBTQ+ if their bio stated it or stated they were married to someone of the same gender.


1 Star – 0
2 Star – 0
2.5 Star – 2 (3%)
3 Star – 35 (45%)
3.5 Star – 20 (26%)
4 Star – 13 (17%)
4.5 Star – 4 (5%)
5 Star – 4 (5%)

I tend to choose books I know I’ll like at least a little, which is why nothing was below 2.5

Read Harder Challenge – 6 of 24 done

Here is a rundown of some of my favourites (and not-so-favourites):

Favourite Non Fiction Books Read

Our Friend Joe: The Joe Fortes Story – I loved this book which has as detailed a history as possible on the late Joe Fortes, named Vancouver’s Citizen of the Century. It’s a fascinating look at the man’s life and the early history of Vancouver, especially the history of Black citizens.

Homey Don’t Play That!: The Story of In Living Color and the Black Comedy Revolution – I watched ILC every single Sunday, and loved the show. It completely encapsulates the early 90s for me. This book was a fantastic look at how Keenen Ivory Wayans came up and revolutionized sketch comedy. There’s great family history, cast info, chat with the writers and a lot of background of comedy and TV in LA in the 80s and 90s.

Favourite Fiction Books Read

Straight (Chuck Tingle) – Most people know of Hugo award nominee Chuck Tingle from his erotic novels like I’m Gay for My Living Billionaire Jet Plane and Pounded By The Pound: Turned Gay By The Socioeconomic Implications Of Britain Leaving The European Union. Underneath the titles and cover art are often poignant and raw truths about people and circumstance that make you realize love is indeed real. Straight is a modern LGBTQ2IA+ horror novel that manages to be frightening in its new take on the zombie genre and touching in so many ways that will hit home with LGBT folks and allies.

One Step Too Far (Lisa Gardner) – I also want to include the first book in the Frankie Elkins series, Before She Disappeared because both are so good. I love this new character and series Lisa Gardner has come out with – and I always get nervous when favourite authors debut new characters. Frankie is a recovering alcoholic whose mission in life is to find missing people. The first book is set in urban Boston, while this one is in the wilds of Wyoming, where she joins a search group looking for a missing man and finds more than she bargained for.

Land of Shadows (Rachel Howzell Hall) – I loved this book about a Black LAPD detective solving murders in the city. I’m disappointed to have read that Hall is no longer writing series books and is focused on standalone, because I really loved this first book and I’m looking forward to the three other books in the series.

Best New-to-me Author Discovery

Rachel Howzell Hall (see above) – I love the snarky way she writes Elouise “Lou” Norton. Her secondary characters really shine as well. I was just really happy to find her books. I’ve been wanting more POC suspense series.

Least Favourite Non Fiction Books Read

Wicked Beyond Belief (Michael Bilton) was a well-researched book about the Yorkshire Ripper, but I was frustrated with the fact that after 900+ pages I felt like I knew next to nothing about many of the victims and the perpetrator. The question of why is not really even posed. It was mostly a book about policing on the case, and as such it read dry.

Least Favourite Fiction Books Read

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Suzanne Collins) – It seems obvious in retrospect that a book about a sadistic dickhead would be a trying read lol. I found some aspects interesting – the way the early Games were run, Lucy Gray Baird’s character – but Coriolanus Snow is a total dickhead, from start to finish. So I found myself questioning why I was bothering to read because I knew the outcome – we know what he becomes. And honestly … I didn’t care about why and how. The book doesn’t really explain it either. He just is a bad seed from the genes. I’d rather read about how Tigris ended up breaking away from him.

Marilla of Green Gables (Sarah McCoy) – While there was a lot to like here in terms of the time period and research, I found many aspects of the story (Marilla the abolitionist for one; Matthew courting for another) totally unbelievable and not close to how I would have envisioned the characters when they were young.

The Last Star (Rick Yancey) – I liked the first book, found the second a bit of a slog, but I was really interested in how it would all come together, and I didn’t like it. I mean, I think the epilogue section pretty much left everyone the way I expected it would, as there really was no other out. But it just got too convoluted for me.

Best Book Settings

Alaska – Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak series really brings Alaska to life. I’ve been watching and enjoying Alaska Daily on TV and I like catching all the references I’ve learned from Stabenow’s books. It’s been interesting seeing the changes in her fictional town of Niniltna as the books have progressed too.

Boston – In Lisa Gardner’s Before She Disappeared Frankie Elkins arrives in the Boston neighbourhood of Mattapan to find a missing girl. Gardner does an amazing job of bringing you right into the neighbourhoods of the city.

Least Favourite Book Settings

Italy – Jeffery Deaver’s The Burial Hour took place in here. I think I’ve only liked ONE book set in Italy, and it was a children’s book. I can trace my hatred back to Patricia Cornwell’s Book of the Dead and Thomas Harris’s Hannibal. I don’t know what it is, but Italian police procedurals make me irrationally angry lol.

Number of Books I Re-Read

None – I want to re-read SO many, but I have so many unread books that it feels like cheating to go back and read something I’ve already read. But I’d love to, especially first books in series’ that I’ve been reading for ages. I want to see how it is to re-read those.

My biggest goal was to just read more without worrying about who I was reading or if I was doing enough non fic vs fic etc. Basically removing any rules so that I could relax and just read, and it seems to have worked.

I also made an effort to read some books that had been on my to be read list for years and years. I had a TBR list of 16 books in my Excel file and I read 14 of them (finally!). My Goodreads TBR went from about 60+ to around 40, so that was good as well.

Twitter (or a lack thereof)

So I really love(d) Twitter.

It made no sense why, since I hated posting on Facebook even though the only people that could see my stuff were people I mostly knew in real life. But I’m not visual enough to curate a decent looking Instagram and I hate being on video, so TikTok and YouTube were out. Hell, I don’t even post images in my posts here half the time even though I have evidence photos bring in more views and interaction.

As a writer, Twitter made sense. It’s text based. It’s real time. It’s breaking news and random niche stuff. Everyone is there. With the death of the message board, it was the only social media I felt comfortable on. I liked shouting into the void. And it often was a void.

I never had a ton of followers or followed lots of people (maybe a few hundred at the most), but I liked the ones I did follow. I interacted with a lot of other writers, met some readers, and in general enjoyed myself in my little Twitter corner.

Enter Elon Fucking Musk who ruins things like a petulant toddler.

I tried a few other platforms and all of them felt wrong. You know the feeling when you can instantly tell whether something meshes with you or not? I know Mastodon is not for me, even if it seems like the most used alternative. I feel like I’m missing so much content outside of my instance. I have no idea if deleting a toot deletes it. I hate calling it a toot.

I tried Tribel but didn’t like their privacy/TOS issues, Cohost was too small and felt cloistered and Hive was too focused on photos and has no web option. I reactivated my Tumblr. Haven’t tumbled.

What I realized is that the platforms I’m on (TikTok, FB, YouTube, Insta) I use those to consume media and content. I follow a lot of people, enjoy what I watch. But on Twitter, I created content. I posted things, discussed stuff, got news, discovered new authors, got companies to help me when all other options failed, kept up with friends.

I have yet to figure out where I’ll go, if I go. I still like Twitter, because the people I follow are what made it good for me. Some of them have dipped out to other platforms, but I really hope they stay, because I have no idea what to do when 5 people go to 5 different platforms. I already feel so fractured between platforms.

In the meantime, here is where you can find me around the internet. I keep this updated just in case of implosion. My Linktree.

Self Publishing for Canadians updated

Self Publishing for Canadians has been updated as of October 8, 2022. My last update of the print and ebook versions was in May 2021. I try and updated once or twice a year.

This update includes info on the D2D/Smashwords merger, some updated Kobo Plus info and a few more definitions, as well as talk about BookTok.

The next update I have planned I want to address audio books (since I’ve done one and now have info to share lol). No timeline on when that will get done, but probably 2023.

I’ve added a few new links to the link page for the book as well, so if you have an older copy, there are some new book recs.

Anatomy of a Book

If you’re publishing print and ebook, what do you have to include outside of the actual book content? It’s called front matter and back matter, and here’s a list of things you can (and in some cases, should) include.


Front matter is everything that comes before Chapter 1. So here’s a list of things you may find in a print book front matter. The requirements? The copyright page. Anything else you can play fast and loose with.

Title Page – So the title page contains (wait for it … ) the title of your book. Hardcovers often include two title pages – one with just the book title and the second with the book title, author name and imprint/publisher logo and/or name. Paperbacks may also do the double title pages, but it’s more common to see a single one.

Copyright – The copyright page often resides on the back of the title page. It will contain information on the publisher (name, address etc), copyright year, and often the Cataloguing in Publication data block (something self publishers will not be able to get). Fiction books usually have a “this book is a work of fiction” disclaimer as well.

Sin City’s copyright page with disclaimer. I use a very simple copyright page and credit my cover designer/photographer.

Dedication – If you’re dedicating your book, it should appear in the front matter often in italics.

Other Books By – It’s often on the back of the Dedication page. If a dedication isn’t being used, you can include it in the back matter or as part of the copyright page. You can also do it as a separate page with a blank reverse.

Author’s Notes – If you have to warn your reader about anything or explain something, this is the place to do it. It may include explaining about historical portrayals (like language that is considered racist now, but was the polite usage then), recapping a previous book that affects this one or anything you need your reader to know before they start reading.

That’s it! Next up is Chapter 1. You make your way through the book and hit The End … then what? The back matter, that’s what.

Acknowledgements – The place where you can thank your editor, agent, beta readers, proofreader, cover designer, cat, dog, family etc. Anyone who helped you with your book. I, personally, LOVE this section. I don’t know why, but I always read them.

Book Sample – Include a sample of your next book. Usually a chapter or part of a chapter. This is usually done most often with series books.

Author Bio – Hardcovers often put this on the book flap, but paperbacks will have it in the back matter. You may or may not include a photo. Many readers love to know something about who wrote the book they just finished.

Resources – If your book deals with heavy issues, you may want to give out a list of resources for readers. For example, a book dealing with rape may want to list some organizations that help rape survivors. This is seen most often in young adult books.

Other Books By – Another place you can list your other books. You can also list ways to contact you or a mailing list link.


In general ebooks contain all of the same information as print books. But there are a few differences in ebooks, primarily:

Table of Contents – Ebooks are required to have a clickable/tappable ToC that will take readers to each chapter/section of your book. Many ebooks include them at the front AND the back for ease of navigation.

Metadata – You won’t see this in the ebook, but embedded in the epub file is metadata – information on the book, sort of like the print cataloguing in publication block. It will have the title, author name, categories for shelving, publisher, series info, a summary etc. Programs like Calibre and Sigil will allow you to edit the epub to include metadata.

My best advice is to find a book you like and mimic the layout. Make sure the pages fall on the correct side in print books. Title pages are always on the right hand side, copyright the left, and Chapter 1 always begins on a right hand page. Laying it out like published books you see will make your self published book look more professional.

Goodreads Reading Challenge 2021

I set a goal (as usual) for 52 books this year (one a week). I buy so many new releases that I don’t get to for years and years, so this year I aimed to try and read a few recent releases as well as old ones I never got to.

Last year I read 96 books, many of those Shakespeare plays. This year I tried to diversify my reading a bit.

This year, I read 56. This has been my lowest year since 2015. I blame it on the pandemic turning my brain into mush that is only capable of handling repetitive iPad games.

My most recent finishes in my 2021 Reading Challenge.

Here is a rundown of some of my favourites (and not-so-favourites):

Non Fiction Books Read – 23
Fiction Books Read – 33

Best New-to-me Author Discoveries – Riley Sager and RM Greenaway

Favourite Non Fic BookAll God’s Children (Rene Denfeld). A look at the formation of street families in the Portland area. Part true crime and part sociological study.

Least Favourite Non Fic BookTwins Talk: What Twins Tell Us About Person, Self, and Society (Dona Lee Davis). It didn’t cover what I hoped it would regarding twins and their relationships.

Favourite Fiction Book – A tie between two YA books, Loveless (Alice Oseman) and Moxie (Jennifer Mathieu), followed by You Should See Me In A Crown (Leah Johnson). All three books have great lead characters. Loveless features an asexual lead and a UK college setting, You Should See Me in a Crown features a Black bi/pan lead (with anxiety!), while Moxie calls up all of the 1990s riot grrl feminism you’ve been missing in your life since high school. The YA authors really got me this year.

Least Favourite Fiction Book – A tie between Smokescreen and The Persuasion (Iris Johansen). Both are part of the Eve Duncan series, and I’ve decided to stop reading this series because of how formulaic and infuriating it is with the “sex crazed bad guy” and hypocritical overprotective yet lone wolf leads.

Best Book Settings – Northern BC’s the Hazeltons in RM Greenaway’s Cold Girl and Mount Everest in the multiple mountaineering bios I read this year. If someone attempts to climb that thing I read about it lol.

Number of Books I Re-Read – 2 (both from Rashid Darden – Lazarus and Covenant)

BIPOC Authors Read – 4 authors of 10 books (to my knowledge)

LGBTQ2IA+ Authors Read – 7 authors of 6 books (to my knowledge)

Overall I read a bit outside my usual genres, and for the second year in a row had a big stretch of Everest books circa April/May lol. I have a bunch ready on my reader for 2022.

52 Movies

I set a goal, along with reading 52 books this year, to watch 52 movies I’d never seen before.

I’m not really a movie person. I prefer episodic things like series books and TV shows. I love staying with characters for extended periods. But I’m almost always saying “no, I haven’t seen that” to even the most popular films. So I set out to watch more movies and accomplished my goal. I can’t say I’m super into movies, but I do have some I want to see for 2022.

Here’s what I watched in 2021:

  1. Paris Is Burning
    I loved this documentary about the ballroom and drag culture in New York in the ’80s so much. It broke my heart to google what happened to everyone after.
  2. Mockingjay Pt 2
    I’d seen the entire series but not the last movie. I have no idea why, but I do this with a lot of series (watch all but the last one). I think it was helpful to watch because I always had a hard time envisioning a lot of the underground scenes.
  3. Tangled
    I went into this thinking I’d hate it, but it was really funny. I’m enjoying kids movies that make it fun for adults to watch.
  4. Mulan
    I enjoyed it, but it didn’t stand out to me like other Disney movies did. I feel like I would have enjoyed it more if I’d seen it when it first came out. I did appreciate they actually used Asian voice actors.
  5. Pocahontas
    I didn’t like Pocahontas. Probably because I knew more of the real story, and it was just weird to see this period of time romanticized like it was.
  6. Step
    This is a documentary about a step team. Worth a watch.
  7. The Lion King
    I remember how big this was when it came out. I see this as the start of the “new” Disney that wasn’t a part of my childhood. Good songs, but honestly I wasn’t as impressed as I think I would’ve been if I’d seen it when it originally came out.
  8. Insurgent
    Yeah. No. I lost interest in it early on and can’t even tell you what happened in it. I enjoyed the books, but they changed a lot in the movies and I just didn’t like it.
  9. The Princess and the Frog
    I also really loved this, and I think it’s the perfect movie to refurbish Splash Mountain.
  10. Charlie’s Angels
    I’d never really seen Kristen Stewart in much and she totally won me over. I watched it for Jonathan Tucker, but she stole the movie. I’ve never seen the other Charlie’s Angels movies, just the original TV series.
  11. Double Teamed
    This is a Disney original movie about identical twin basketball players (based on a real story). It was super schmaltzy.
  12. Lilo and Stitch
    Another one I missed the bus on, but really loved. The relationship between Lilo and her sister and their circumstances was nice to see in a cartoon.
  13. Moana
    I liked it, but it didn’t stand out to me much.
  14. Brian Regan Nunchucks and Flamethrowers
    I love Brian Regan’s comedy. He had a new special coming out so I caught up on this older one I hadn’t seen first.
  15. Frozen II
    I was really apprehensive about this. Mostly because sequels often suck. But they hit just the right notes. I think the canoe ride down the river needs to be a ride at Disney.
  16. Free Solo
    This documentary follows the attempt of Alex Honnold to free climb El Capitan. I am afraid of heights. This doc made me feel so uncomfortable and nauseated because of that. It was good, but so, so nerve wracking. And I knew the outcome before I watched.
  17. Brian Regan On The Rocks
    This was his most recent special and really funny.
  18. Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
    I read the book and was really taken by it, and was eager to see the movie. It’s outstanding. I was surprised by Mariah Carey honestly.
  19. The Barkley Marathons
    I loved this documentary about this extreme long distance race. A local has run it multiple times, and I found it insane. It’s quirky, difficult and the vibe is something we’re really missing in the world.
  20. Beauty and the Beast (live action)
    It was only okay. I prefer the animated version. I was surprised people didn’t think Luke Evans was right as Gaston, when I thought he nailed it.
  21. Hanna
    I really enjoyed the movie, so much that I wanted to watch the TV series, but I didn’t get into it, which sucks because I love Joel Kinnaman and Mireille Enos (thanks to The Killing, WHICH I LOVE). Hanna was raised off the grid, and for very good reason. I will probably give the TV series another shot because JOEL KINNAMAN and MIREILLE ENOS.
  22. Clue
    I had never seen this older movie, but I wanted to watch Knives Out and this seemed like a nice primer. I found it funny, but a few months ago I read Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and I find this movie even more brilliant now.
  23. Bao (short)
    I LOVED this short film about a woman who creates a dumpling who comes to life. It’s so sweet.
  24. Dumplin’
    Ironic these were back to back lol. I’d read the book, I think last year, and the movie was quite good. I actually liked that the movie involved the drag queens more, and I love seeing queens I know from Drag Race in films.
  25. Moxie
    The author is a writing friend from days gone by, and I had read the book and loved it and its riot grrl references. The movie is good, but the book is better. It really made me miss the early to mid ’90s.
  26. Knives Out
    I went in not knowing what to expect, but this was a great whodunnit. It’s really great if you go in knowing nothing. It’s so weird lol.
  27. Halloween II
    I am not a horror movie person (I watch them on AMC because most of the gore is cut out lol), and I found this one only okay.
  28. Poltergeist
    So many other films reference this, now that I know what it’s all about. I found it a lot less scary than anticipated.
  29. Mean Girls
    This is probably the number one film people couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen. I liked it a lot, and I like the fact I now understand references to it better lol. And I had literally NO CLUE Jonathan Bennett was an actor since I’d only seen him host Food Network shows.
  30. Final Destination
    I liked this first one, because the whole opening is really entertaining and actually makes you think how you’d feel to survive like that. I liked that there was this sort of malevolent spirit-like feeling to what was happening.
  31. Final Destination 2
    I watched this because AJ Cook was the lead. I found it was getting into the ridiculous in that I can see the series never ending because there will always be someone to die.
  32. Halloween III: Season of the Witch
    What the fuck.
  33. Scream
    I was nervous to watch it because I thought it would be gory (AMC to the rescue lol), but I loved that they killed Drew Barrymore right away, and that it was a mystery to me who was responsible. Yes, I had no spoilers, which is shocking consider how old it is. It’s such a smart movie, and I can see how innovative it was when it came out.
  34. Gremlins
    I always thought Gizmo turned into a Gremlin himself and then went back to cutie. I had NO idea he wasn’t one. Hi Ho will never, ever fail to make me laugh now. The beginning with the stereotypical old Chinese man of wisdom was really dated. I see where Baby Yoda gets some of his cute from.
  35. The Dead Zone
    I loved the book, but the movie just didn’t hold it for me. So much of Stephen King’s works are good because of the internal thoughts of the characters and it’s so hard to translate that to film. You really get a sense of how he feels he has to kill this guy because of what he sees happening in the future and I think the movie lost that. I’m curious about the TV series and how that worked.
  36. Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers
    This is my secret favourite after the first one. I love Danielle Harris in this, and I tend to like kid-in-jeopardy stories.
  37. The Exorcist
    Really not what I expected. This was a much more cerebral film I felt was focused on the priest way more than Regan and I feel like it gets lumped in as a horror film when it’s not.
  38. Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers
    I like this one too, but I’m still mad about Rachel.
  39. Halloween H2O
    Meh, it was okay. I hate how they retconned things in this (because it erases Jamie being Laurie’s daughter). But Jamie Lee Curtis was great.
  40. Scream 2
    Another that I really enjoyed because I didn’t see it coming even though I really, really should have.
  41. Midnight Run
    This was so good. I’m a huge fan of buddy movies where it’s an enemies to friends story – echoes of my book Bayou Bound in that way.
  42. Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants
    Another I’d never seen that it seems everyone has. It was okay. America Ferrera really kills it though, she made me cry.
  43. The Omen
    Another one that wasn’t really what I expected. Ms Baylock must’ve been the inspiration for Mrs. Paddock in the X-Files episode “Die Hand Die Verletzt” because they are twins.
  44. Christine
    I’d read the book, and hadn’t seen this. Didn’t recognize Alexandra Paul from Baywatch at all!
  45. The Equalizer
    I’ve been watching the CBS show, and decided to watch the Denzel movie. I forgot how much I enjoy Denzel. I really loved this – I’ve got the sequel in my to-watch list. The little OCD habits he gives his character really work.
  46. Kid90
    This was a trip. I’m the same age as Soleil Moon Frye and many of the others featured. It was like looking back at my own time in high school (but without tripping on shrooms lol). I wish I had more video of that era in my life. There’s a lot of really heartbreaking stuff here, especially surrounding all of the people who died.
  47. The Craft: Legacy
    Disappointing. The original is still best. I was really underwhelmed. I didn’t even like how they tied it to the original.
  48. Scream 3
    I wasn’t as into this one as the others. I think it is at the point where three is enough even though I know they made more lol.
  49. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
    I am Nutcracker obsessed (Gorsky/Vainonen derived choreo is my jam), so I was not enthused with the story changes being so off-book. It was gorgeous to look at, and I enjoyed seeing Jack Whitehall, but I wanted a more traditional story.
  50. Home Sweet Home Alone
    As I tweeted, this is the worst movie I’ve sort of watched while doing other stuff. I wish I could erase this from my memory.
  51. The Bitch Who Stole Christmas
    I’ve always thought there was a distinct lack of drag queens in my Christmas movie watching. This is a totally cheesy-on-purpose movie that is right up your Drag Race alley.
  52. 14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible
    Right up my Everest book-loving alley, this doc follows Nirmal Purja in a bid to climb all fourteen 8000m mountain peaks within a record time of 7 months. It was -9C on my walk this morning and my hands were so numb in my two pairs of gloves that I couldn’t feel anything but pain. I can’t even imagine how people climb these mountains in the cold. It’s unfathomable to me.

2021 in Writing

This is usually a post where I sum up what I accomplished writing during the year.

This is going to be a short post. Kidding (not really).

Self Publishing for Canadians

My biggest accomplishment this year was turning Self Publishing for Canadians into an audio book. It was a lot of learning, and I’m happy with the final product. I have decided not to do my fiction books at this time. I just don’t have the energy.

Sin City series

I have two books written years ago that are set in the ’70s (ten years post Bayou Bound), but there’s one that needs to come before, and I have a plot hole/issue I need to solve in it before I move forward since I’m sure it’ll cause rewrites if I don’t.

Sin City is co-written. MB Miller has written accompanying pieces and four characters (Ray, Jimmy, Adam and Carl) are her creations. Since Ray is the Big Bad, it’s hard for me to feel like I can write the series alone since I use her characters. MB Miller has been busy with other projects so this series hasn’t been worked on in years. I’d like to get back to it, but I just haven’t felt like focusing on it.

Billie and Diana series

This is also co written with MB Miller and pretty much stuck. We have a second book that is 3/4 done, but there’s a few changes I want to make with Billie’s character that I’m excited about. We each write one character so it’s a series that needs us both working on it at the same time, and I don’t see that happening, so I’m not sure when it’ll get done.

YA Series/Joy Morrison series

I did work on this series this year. I finished the first book.

I still need to write the second, but I need to figure out some stuff in books 3-6 before I can do that. But there was a little bit of progress on this project.

I’m thinking I’ll probably just call it the Joy Morrison series since she’s the main character and focus of all the books.

Other Projects

I had joked I wanted to write a traditional romance, but I’ve realized I really don’t like romance novels (I’m likely greyromantic, which probably explains it). I prefer it as a subplot, and I prefer realism with messy endings, messy people and things that don’t go over well in the romance community lol.

The pandemic has really killed my creativity this year. I haven’t crafted, haven’t written much new stuff (just edited), haven’t done any photography or anything. I feel kind of dead inside creatively. I’ve thought about giving it up completely, but I feel like I’ll still work on the Joy Morrison stuff because I do like what I have planned, I just don’t have the mojo to do it right now. But someday.

What I Learned Doing an Audio Book

I have never been able to get into audio books. I have a huge problem listening to narration and retaining information. I always did better in lectures when the notes followed the lecture closely. I just don’t seem to be able to comprehend audio books in the same way others can, so they have never been on my radar as a reading option.

But audio books are popular, so I elected to try ACX with my non fiction book, Self Publishing for Canadians.

Here are a few things I learned doing my first audio book.

  1. There are two options for paying narrators.
    The first option is paying the narrator up front. The most sought-after narrators will prefer this method, but as it can cost a pretty penny ($100/hr or more), many authors can’t afford it and go with the royalty share option, where you split royalties with your narrator. This is what I elected to do.
  2. I hate hearing my work read.
    I don’t know what it is, but I can’t stand hearing my work read aloud. It makes me so self conscious, and I wanted to edit everything again. I had to get past this because you’re required to listen and approve both a 15 minute sample and the full manuscript. Narrators will never match the internal voice in your head that reads your writing (especially if it’s fiction). You’ll hear emphasis put on a different word than you would have emphasized or something and it will really bother you. Okay, me. It bothered me lol. But as long as nothing was wrong or inaccurate about the reading from a technical standpoint, it’s all about different styles.
  3. It’s difficult to choose a narrator.
    After submitting my script (a few snippets from different parts of the book), and opening up to auditions, I had to listen to the narrators and try and decide whose voice best suit my work. Honestly, it’s not an easy choice. You might like one person’s voice, but another’s inflection, you may not be able to decide between a male or female narrator, or you may not get enough auditions if your books don’t sell well or you’re brand new to publishing. It helps if you have a solid idea of the type of voice you want (stoic, funny, casual, formal etc) because it will shape the type of auditions you receive. You are allowed to describe what you’re looking for so narrators searching for projects can get a sense of the vibe you want in the reading. Take your time picking a narrator. Really listen to the samples and allow enough time for people to submit auditions.
  4. It’s hard to estimate how long it will take.
    My book is 25,000 words. I had no idea how long that would take to record and edit. I had the offer accepted August 23rd, the first fifteen minute check on September 14th and the final files by October 31st, but I had to set the time for the two due dates, and I just guessed. Everything was done on time, but I have no idea if I gave too much time, not enough time, or just right. For a 120K novel, I am still not sure how long that would take. So communicating more with the narrator is something I have to do moving forward.
  5. Non fiction has challenges fiction doesn’t.
    I used my book as the script, so the audio book is literally the book narrated. It made me realize my non fiction book isn’t organized in a way that reads easily. If I ever write another non fic book, I would definitely look ahead to narration and make sure things like chapter breaks, section heads, lists etc were set out much more clearly.
  6. Fiction has challenges non fiction doesn’t.
    The biggest would be dialogue and making sure the narrator you choose is good at differentiating the characters. Another challenge is word count – a fiction book is going to be a lot longer than non fiction and may take longer for the narrator to record.
  7. Make sure you give your narrator any notes you have.
    From pronunciations of foreign words, names, sci-fi/fantasy locations/people etc, make sure you give your narrator some notes on how things should be said. I didn’t do this, and in one instance I realized a picky author might have a preference – the word Nanowrimo. Some people say nano-WRY-mo and others prefer nano-WREE-mo. To me, personally, it doesn’t matter. But if you’re firmly in the “WRY” camp, that’s something you may have to give your narrator a heads up about.

Overall I’m really happy with my ACX experience. I am considering doing my Sin City books in audiobook format at some point. I’m debating between a male or female narrator before I make the decision to go ahead, and it’s proving hard to come to a decision.

If you want to buy an audiobook copy of Self Publishing for Canadians, you can do so at Amazon, Audible and iTunes.

Self Publishing for Canadians is now an audiobook

If you are a reader who commutes a lot, audiobooks might be your jam. I have personally never been able to get into them (I can’t retain spoken info as well as written), but I’d had people asking, and here it is – Self Publishing for Canadians is now available in audiobook format on Audible, Amazon and as soon as they update, iTunes!

Self Publishing for Canadians

Narrated by Natalija Pavic, the book covers the basics of getting started in self publishing, especially if you’re a Canadian resident. Taxes, ISBNs, lingo, best practices and more, this book will help you get started on your journey to see your book in print, on an ereader or playing on someone’s Bluetooth.

If you’d like to review the book, please contact me on Twitter for a review code.

Books of my Childhood

I was cleaning my office the other day and came across a ton of books from my childhood. It made me reminisce about what I loved to read when I was younger.

The earliest I can remember is Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever. My sister and I scribbled in it, ripped the pages and generally treated the book like crap, but only because we loved it. I still love the cat drawings the best.

We had a huge amount of Little Golden Books – mostly Disney stories, like Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. We also had a lot of Read Along Records. They were little books with 33 1/3rd records that narrated the book and you read along. All of them were Disney stories like Peter Pan. I can still hear the little chime that told you to turn the page. My grandma bought us both little Winnie the Pooh record players. Yes, I’m that old.

She also bought me the Charlie Brown ‘Cyclopedia series (my sister got a Sesame Street series). I still have all of the hardcover books and I suspect this series is what lead to my love of the World Book Encyclopedia. I’m still mad I never owned a set.

One year on my birthday (9 or 10 years old?) I got A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein. I still remember opening it at my party and seeing a photo of the author on the back and getting embarrassed for some reason and handing it to my mom to finish unwrapping. I still have it though, so the inside made a better impression.

I still remember deciding to read The Secret Garden for the first time after finding it in the bottom of a drawer (probably a gift I never read to that point). I feel like it was probably the first big book I read.

Reading was always something we did. After lunch throughout elementary school we had either SQUIRT (Super Quiet Uninterrupted Individual Reading Time) or USSR (Uninterrupted Super Silent Reading). It was a 15 minute block designed to calm us all down after running around at lunch by reading quietly. I remember how cozy I’d feel on a rainy day reading Little House in the Big Woods and imagining myself in a log cabin.

From age ten and up I read a lot of the Babysitter’s Club (I wanted to start my own group, but I hated babysitting lol) and Sweet Valley High (I’m still obsessed with the #95 to #100 Margo series, culminating in The Evil Twin (#100) and The Return of the Evil Twin (Magna Edition, #6)). I’m pretty sure my interest in both twins and sororities started here, although it never occurred to me it was weird a high school had a sorority.

The New Jessica, Sweet Valley High, #32
The New Jessica was one of my favourite SVH books. These covers are the height of 80s awesomeness.

I read lots of Judy Blume, the Fudge series, but especially Blubber, a book about bullying I think they should give all kids to read. I also loved Barthe DeClements Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade and Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You. That book was refreshing since the main character had a learning disability.

My personal favourite series as a kid was Nancy Drew. I read the original yellow hardcovers in my school library – taking them out so many times the school librarian asked me to stop and read something else lol (cut to me taking out The First Book of Stage and Costume Makeup over and over. Don’t ask, I have no idea why). Weirdly I owned only two Nancy Drew hardcovers. I found Nancy Drew Files around the same time and loved those. I still own False Moves, which involved ballet and a missing diamond. They were modernized and had a case summary at the beginning which I loved.

Some of my other favourites were old books of my mom’s. She had a hardcover of Trixie Belden’s Mystery in Arizona that I remember reading (the book went missing after that and I never found it again). A few years later the Trixie Belden series was reissued in softcover and I read a bunch of them (my favourite was the Mystery of the Headless Horseman, where I learned about grafting fruit trees, believe it or not).

My mom also had Annette books, mystery novels based on Annette Funicello. I didn’t read all of them, but I re-read The Mystery at Medicine Wheel a dozen times, which is why my heroine Ruby in Sin City loves horses and lost her mother to tuberculosis. My mom also owned almost every Donna Parker hardcover. The character of Donna Parker wasn’t out there solving mysteries, really, as the books were a lot more realistic and every day life reads – her best friend’s mom has a serious illness which leads to an awkward rift between the friends. I still love reading Donna Parker at Cherrydale and Donna Parker Mystery at Arawak.

I stole The Headless Cupid from my sister. Literally. It’s still on my bookshelf. I had to have it when I saw it dealt with witchcraft (I was very into wicca as a 13-year-old) and didn’t know until about ten years ago it was a series. I bought all of the other books a few years ago and read them all last year and they completely hold up to the test of time. I still love Janie the most.

I also read Lucy Maud Montgomery. A hardcover Anne of Green Gables was in my house – probably my mom’s. I read Anne of Ingleside (with this horrific cover) next, then went back and read the series in proper order. I still can’t remember how I ended up with my favourite of Montgomery’s books and series – Emily of New Moon. I identified with Emily the writer a lot more than I ever did Anne.

In grade 6 (and probably 7, I had the same teacher), he read The Cay and Mara, Daughter of the Nile to our class. Mr. Tibble (affectionately known as Mr. T) always did great voices for each of the characters. I can still hear his voice as Timothy saying “young boss” in The Cay. Mr. T passed away on Valentine’s Day this year, but he left a lot of us with great memories of reading. (And the ability to play the ukulele).

I resisted reading “adult” books until I was well out of high school (and then I just jumped straight into Patricia Cornwell, so it was a bit of a change lol). I read the high school standards like Lord of the Flies and The Great Gatsby, but was obsessed with The Outsiders (I’m sure the movie had a lot to do with it lol). That particular cover is the only I accept as my true Outsiders cover, since it was the first I owned. I re-read it in 2005 and it lead me to writing fan fiction and making some great friends and eventually led me to publishing.

I know in grade 12 we had to choose a more adult book to read. I chose Along the Shore, an L.M. Montgomery book that is Young Adult. Because Mrs. Murray let me get away with it. I thought adult books would be 1) boring and 2) maybe make me uncomfortable somehow with their content, so I policed myself. (My first adult read was Patricia Cornwell’s Unnatural Exposure – talk about jumping into the deep end! PS: Don’t start reading a series in the middle.)

These days some favourite authors include Tess Gerritsen, Jeffery Deaver, Lisa Gardner, Dana Stabenow and Kathy Reichs. But when I’m feeling like I need some familiarity and comfort, I pick up those old books from my childhood. Some may not be great literature (how many times can one girl have a boyfriend die, I’m looking at you Jessica Wakefield), but I loved them then and they are still great fun now. I could literally talk about books of my childhood forever, but I’ll stop now lol.

What books did you love as a kid?

My Big Word Migration of 2021

I am weird with technology.

In some ways, I am fairly modern. I have a smartphone, stream TV shows, can use TikTok and all of my calendar is online.

In other ways … I am ridiculous.

I have been using Office XP for almost 20 years. Why? The biggest reason was because I had it, and it worked. Every time I’d get a new computer, I’d install it and it would function. Even after Word 2007 when docx became the file norm, I just installed the free Compatibility Pack and kept on using Office XP.

I think there was some reluctance to learn something new by upgrading, which is so ironic since I love learning. But upgrading software for me has always been difficult, especially in regards to writing and creating. I become obsessively dedicated to software. I used Netscape 3.0 until it wouldn’t open most websites.

But, as of late, the Compatibility Pack no longer seems to work, and I can’t open docx with little Word 2002 anymore. I had to go online and use the free version of Word in order to open the files, and I figured it was about time I upgraded my almost 20 year old writing software.


So that was my first reaction to Office 365. I considered LibreOffice, but friends offered codes on their accounts for 365, so I took them up on it, since I have no idea how Word plays with LibreOffice, and with published books to deal with, I couldn’t justify the risk. I may try and play around with it in the future, since I do love open source software.

After spending some time with Word 365, there were benefits.

  • The subscription model ensures you are automatically updating, and therefore not using 20 year old software.
  • Dictation and Read Aloud features are great for writers.
  • Collaboration is easier.
  • You can back up into the cloud and get 1TB of One Drive space.
  • Docx is a smaller file size.
  • Quick Access Tab is helpful.
  • Built-in Print to PDF, but limited in function (no embedding fonts etc. I still use doPDF for that).
  • When you open a document it asks if you want to go back to where you left off, and it takes you there. So helpful for giant novels with hundreds of pages.
  • I can actually open docx files!

But there were also negatives I discovered pretty much immediately.

  • The Ribbon is huge. The Ribbon is ugly. Things were very inaccessible and hard to find. So much clicking to get places!
  • Text and fonts looked different. Not bad, just … different.
  • Doc to Docx conversion not only shrunk file size (yay!), but actual pages (huh?). I lost 1-2 pages in each book, despite the margins, fonts, spacing, etc. all being the same. It’s a mystery I need to solve. (Might be related to the fonts looking different?)
  • Zoom doesn’t remember the zoom preference per document. It always goes back to last used setting, which is obnoxious since Word 2002 remembered it per document. Why take a step backwards?
  • I reordered things on the Home portion of the Ribbon. It didn’t remember it and changed it back to default constantly. Custom stuff I added stayed, so no idea what’s going on there.
  • The Backstage area is cluttered and it takes so many clicks to find what you want. You can’t have it open to Folders instead of Documents.

I was literally close to tears with how much I hated it … which is why I never upgrade my software. But, thanks to my Google skills, I’ve managed to make Word look a bit more familiar and work better for me thus averting a full meltdown over software. Here are a few tips, if you, like me, are traumatized by the huge leap in upgrade difference.

  1. Use the Quick Access Toolbar instead of the Ribbon.
    The Ribbon is big. The Ribbon is ugly. I customized the Ribbon and it kept resetting itself. Until I found a tip online from some else that seemed to enjoy the compact layout of Word 2002 as much as I did. By customizing the Quick Access Toolbar to add the commands I use most (Bold, Italic, alignments, spacing, word count etc) and hiding the Ribbon, I managed to make it look like this:

    Word 365 header
    I moved the Quick Access Toolbar to below the Ribbon, and it looks very similar to olden Word. So much prettier.
  2. Turn off Backstage.
    One of the biggest turnoffs was what happened when I went to open a file. It would take me back to a start page of sorts, where I’d have to press Folders, then find the folder and search through it for the file to open. Took forever. This area, the start page, is called Backstage. It’s stupid.
    Turn it off under File – Options – Save and then check mark to turn off backstage for file open and save. This will pop up an old-school Open File dialog that is so much faster for finding things.

    This is Backstage. I found it useless and annoying.
  3. Change the way Word opens.
    Word default opens to the Backstage area. I found this highly annoying. In Options, I changed the behaviour to have Word open directly to a new document. Much faster. Go to File – Options – General and under Startup Options uncheck Show the Start screen. Now you get a nice, blank page to start with, perfect if you’re a writer and you need to start writing, stat. If you want to try out a template or something else, just click File and you’re in Backstage. Much nicer.

These simple three things made me much more comfortable with Word 365. I’m still stressing out, but at least there’s a minimum comfort level now. My big issue was how to convert 500+ files.

I downloaded a program called Total Doc Converter to convert my files. It was a free trial, and you have to continually click a button to keep converting unless you pay to upgrade, but since I was using it once for these files it was a small price to pay. The downside was any file with custom margins got changed back to standard, so I did those ones (my book files mostly) myself by opening them in Word 365 and using Save As and choosing docx. This maintained the margins. I also used Total Excel Converter for converting my Excel files (because I forgot new Word meant new Excel. I wasn’t ready for all of this lol).

I am still trying to figure out what has changed to shrink my book files by about 1-2 pages each. Nothing in the margins, font spacing or line spacing seems to be different. It happened with the converter and when I did it myself. I’m wondering if it’s purely a screen rendering issue, as the fonts look slightly different as well. I plan to print out some test pages to get a closer look, but if anyone knows what’s going on (did they change the default line spacing or letter spacing perhaps?) let me know. I have a ton of books I may need to overhaul after this switchover.

2020 Roundup

So 2020 was a sucky year for all.

For my writing, it was a so-so year. First, I have to thank everyone who bought my books. I had a great year of sales after the initial pandemic slow down, and that alone kept me motivated when I wasn’t. Thank you so much for your reviews and comments as well. I appreciate it so much.

For me, writing took a backseat the past year. Not because of the pandemic, but because of personal health problems. I was diagnosed with both myalgic encephalomyelitis and fibromyalgia this year. It had been years of searching for answers, doctors appointments, medical tests etc. To finally have answers was great, even if those answers sucked (and quite honestly I still struggle with the ME/CFS diagnosis, because that one precludes me from ever donating blood again).

One of the biggest symptoms of fibro is brain fog. I experience it enough that it made writing difficult. I also experienced a lot of pain and fatigue. Although things haven’t changed much in the symptom arena, I’m better at managing it, so I’m hoping I can get back to a regular schedule.

I did manage to do most of the editing for Book 1 of my YA series. I say most because as I edit Book 2 I think of little changes for Book 1. But I’m at a place where the major and minor storylines are set and it’s just tiny corrections/mentions at this point.

So 2021 is focused on finishing the edit of Book 2 and moving on to continue to write Book 3, which is about 50K at this point. I also have set a goal to plot a bunch of new novels, whatever comes into my head. I’d love to get back to Sin City, but I’ve hit a plotting wall in terms of trying to get from Point A to Point B but needing to come up with a solution that makes that happen.

I also have the goal of reading 52 books again this year. I have made mini goals to read all of Jane Austen and as much Sherlock Holmes as possible.

So here’s to a better 2021!

An update on my YA coming-of-age project

When I finished Book 1 and Book 2 last year, I thought I was ready for them to go out. I worked on editing them a little more and then worked on Book 3 during Nanowrimo 2019.

As I wrote, I came up with a lot of ideas and plots that would have to be mentioned/included in Books 1 and 2. So back to those I went. Then a few wonderful research books landed in my lap, and suddenly there were some other elements that needed to change.

As of now, Book 1 is about 90% finished. Book 2 is probably 75% – by “finished” I mean done with re-writing, editing, proofing and formatting for print.

Book 3 is still in the same state as it was at the end of Nano – just over 50K in words, and probably only one third finished.

The good news is I have a fairly good idea of how the rest of that book is going to go, which should hopefully make the other books easier to write. I also have had some great ideas for shorts and novellas, either as freebies, mailing list goodies or Patreon content. Some are pre-series stories about non-main characters, some are novellas that fall in between the main novels (eg. summers between college years), and some are alternate POV or missing scenes.

I also have an idea to spin off the series after book 7 into a new series that will eventually circle back around to conclude the entire thing.

COVID really knocked everything off track this year, but I had a lot of paid work that captured my attention, so I’m hoping to get back into the groove and work on things for Camp Nano in July this year – if I can finish the research book I’m reading!

Reading Pandemic

I’m not a big reader of novels that involve killer illnesses, and that was before SARS, MERS and COVID-19 invaded our consciousness. No, me and my health anxiety were happy to avoid reading about any kind of illness because if I read about it, I’d think about it, and if I thought about it too much, I’d probably get it. Yeah, I know. Logic. But with bad anxiety, I was happy to pick up some serial killer book instead.

Even though I haven’t read a ton of pandemic novels, here’s a few I have read and actually enjoyed. Links lead you to Goodreads. If you’re self isolating, download the Libby app and connect with your library online. Oh, and wash your hands.

The Stand (Stephen King)
Pretty much the granddaddy of them all, King’s novel focuses on a man-made illness (Captain Trips … no, not a Jerry Garcia reference) that kills 99% of the human population. Two different groups of survivors begin to form with very different goals. Much of the book deals with the pandemic and the aftermath, how the survivors find each other and begin to try to rebuild society. I really enjoyed this book, but I was smart and didn’t read it during an actual global pandemic lol. I still haven’t seen the 1990s mini series (with Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald and Rob Lowe), but they’re currently filming a new version here … well, until that gets shut down due to COVID.

Pandemic (Daniel Kalla)
Kalla is an ER doc here in Vancouver, and I once got his book out of the library, started to read it and promptly got sick. Back to the library it went until a few years later when I wasn’t so superstitious lol. Pandemic starts in China with a zoonotic flu (sound familiar?) that someone begins spreading on purpose and it’s up to Dr. Noah Haldane and his colleagues to stop it. Noah Haldane also features in his second book Cold Plague. Guess what it’s about?

Outbreak (Robin Cook)
It’s been a long time since I’ve read this one, which was also made into a film.  Outbreak is the first in the Marissa Blumenthal books. She works for the CDC and a plague begins to sweep across the country – but it’s only affecting doctors and patients at low-cost clinics. This book isn’t as medically oriented as you might think and is more of a conspiracy novel than a plague novel.

Virals (Kathy Reichs and Brendan Reichs)
The most fun of the bunch, this YA series focuses on a group of friends that get infected by a type of parvovirus which gives them unique side effects. It’s a great series, and not as life or death panic inducing as some of the others on this list. I highly recommend this series, even if you’re not into YA books.

Girlfriend In A Coma (Douglas Coupland)
You’d think a book about a pregnant girl who falls into a coma and wakes up 18 years later wouldn’t involve a pandemic, but you’d be wrong! In this case, people just … fall asleep and die without warning. This book is more about the characters and their relationships with each other, with the last half against the backdrop of the apocalypse.

Gravity (Tess Gerritsen)
Astronaut Emma Watson (yes, really, this was pre-Harry Potter) is aboard the ISS when a virus begins to wreak havoc on the crew. As it turns deadly, Emma’s husband is trying to work with NASA to get them home, but the unknown virus is a threat to earth, so they are stranded in space with time running out.

If you are reading this and thinking “Yeah, I think I’ll pass on pandemic books” then check out:

I Am Maru (Mugumogu) If you like cats
Me Talk Pretty One Day (David Sedaris) If you like funny
Hyperbole and a Half (Allie Brosh) If you really love laughing and fun cartoons

Also check out washing your hands.

Goodreads Reading Challenge 2020

Every year I do the Reading Challenge at Goodreads, an Amazon-owned website dedicated to tracking your books and reading. I challenge myself to read 52 books a year – one per week. Here’s my recent year stats (which are worse than I thought!):

2019 – 61/52
2018 – 60/52
2017 – 67/70
2016 – 66/65
2015 – 24/30
2014 – 31/50
2013 – 36/50

I joined Goodreads in 2012, so I couldn’t join the challenge that year (it’s open at the beginning of the year). A few years in there I made a goal, surpassed it, and upped the goal as I went (which is why I failed in 2017 … originally it was 50 books, I upped it then didn’t do more reading and failed lol).

The last two years I’ve also challenged myself to read at least 25 books fiction and 25 books non-fiction. I read both regularly, but I wanted to make sure I was splitting my reading for pleasure and for learning (although I also get a lot of pleasure out of learning reading).

So far this year I’ve just completed my 3rd book (1st non fic) and I’m two books ahead of schedule.

I’m also doing the Shakespeare 2020 Project this year, which is a challenge to read all of Shakespeare’s works this year. There’s a very active Facebook group as well. So far we’ve completed Twelfth Night, and I’m on I Henry VI right now (and enjoying it, despite my limited knowledge of that era of history).

New Book – Self Publishing For Canadians

I know, I said publishing four books this year practically killed me, but here I am with a fifth. Self Publishing for Canadians grew out of a huge blog post here. There was so much information to share on self publishing, especially in regards to Canadian-specific information.

The ebook is available on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and all major online outlets. The great news? It’s only 99 cents! (You can also get a paperback for $6.99 USD)

If you’re a Canadian that’s always wanted to self publish, this book is a great guide to get you started. It was an Amazon Canada Bestseller in Authorship in December 2018 and November 2019.