Book Review: Mail Order Brides of Laramie

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Mail Order Brides of Laramie is a clean romance series by Eliza King consisting of 4 short novellas. (NOTE I do not receive any royalties or kickbacks from the sale of these books)

Claire’s Courage https://www.amazon.com/MAIL-ORDER-BRIDE-Claires-Historical-ebook/dp/B01LWHX3MO/

Hannah’s Hope https://www.amazon.com/MAIL-ORDER-BRIDE-Hannahs-Historical-ebook/dp/B01M0H8UPU

Vera’s Victory https://www.amazon.com/MAIL-ORDER-BRIDE-Victory-Historical-ebook/dp/B01M0VBOYN/

Heather’s Humility https://www.amazon.com/MAIL-ORDER-BRIDE-Heathers-Historical-ebook/dp/B01LYMZYAN/

Each book is about a different young woman, a recent graduate of the Boston Women’s Academy in the mid-to-late 1800s. Each makes the journey to Laramie Wyoming at the request of a different bachelor. With such a closely linked premise I was impressed at how different each book was.

Claire finds out she was requested not by the shop keeper but by his sister on his behalf and must win his heart while fending off his old flame.

Hannah is escaping an unwanted arranged marriage which would end all her dreams and arrives in Laramie to find the lawyer who requested her hand in marriage has had an accident.

Vera is the awkward younger sister living forever in the shadow of her perfect older sister. She leaps at the chance to leave home and pursue a life of adventure. If only the town doctor were as excited to have her around.

Heather is Vera’s older sister and after an social faux pas she is sent to Laramie to marry a widower with an infant son.

The girls have very distinct personalities. Claire is quiet, almost demure, but she has a back bone of steel. Her sister-in-law, Julie, a frequent side character in the series, is humorous, welcoming, and a romantic. Hannah has big dreams and a lot of faith. Vera is frustrated at first but once she finds her freedom she becomes an energetic and adventurous woman. Heather begins her story as a stuck-up prideful socialite out of place in the small mid-western city of Laramie but she softens and becomes a warm, mothering character.

Each of the girls continues to make appearances in the following books. I really enjoyed that. I got to see the girls after their marriages as their families started. By the end of book 4 I felt that I was a part of this community.

I gave the books 4 or 5 stars each depending on the title and some specific quirks in each book.

Book Review: Making Beautiful Photography

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Making Beautiful Photography: A Guide for the Novice and the Enthusiast is a how-to book by Jason Greiner and can be found on Kindle here: https://www.amazon.com/Making-Beautiful-Photography-Novice-Enthusiast-ebook/dp/B01DS7RGNA/ (NOTE: I do not receive any royalties or kickback from the sale of this book)

As a how-to book Making Beautiful Photography is aimed at the beginner and the early-amateur. Jason goes over the basic lingo of photography, explaining camera settings and basic concepts in a simple and easy to follow manner. Each step and setting is illustrated with original photos.

The photos add a lot to the book, making the material easier for the visual learning, and making it feel less like a text book and more like an informal and friendly guide book. His tone is helpful and experienced without sounding condescending or arrogant.

The book was fairly short, even with the photographs but it covers a lot including lighting and composition. I gave this book 4 stars.

Writing – The Forgotten Art

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Or are we a craft now? Seriously, it’s hard to figure out where we fit in to the creative world. Are we a fine art, a performing art, a craft? Are we artists, artisans, or crafters? Wordsmith is a great word, but where does it fit in to the bigger picture?

Lately I have been wondering this a lot. You see, these designations determine where each artist, artisan, performer, and crafter, fits into the “art scene” and the marketing scheme.

Art goes in art galleries and souvenir shops. Crafts sell at flea markets and street fairs and souvenir shops. Performing arts get theatres or all shapes and sizes, stages and arenas, you name it. They also get the TV. Books get book stores and libraries. I get that. It all fits.

But what about when you get this whole “buy local, support local” movement? Everyone wants locally knit hats, locally baked birthday cakes, locally sewn baby bibs, locally painted art …… but never locally authored books. And why? Because we don’t have a market for it. Or rather, we don’t have an appropriate market stall for it.

Indie book stores are shutting down across numerous countries. We have 1 in my city and it also sells incense and purses and scarves and specializes in a certain type of new-age Eastern philosophy type book and while they’ll take some stuff by local authors it doesn’t sell if it doesn’t fit their image. Oh, we have one independent toy store as well with a book shelf but they only take for kids.

So I’m sitting here posting my books on Handmade Local pages and sites like crazy and no bites. Local salons step up and ask for local crafters who make anything that might sell at a salon – jewelry, maybe even some hats, small accessories, cosmetics and creams. And I celebrate. I love when local businesses step up and stock locally crafted items.

But not books.

See people only want to buy a book if they recognize the name of the author. So yeah, they’d love to support the local author, but only after you’ve gotten the 6-figure book deal and the movie deal. Then you’re important. Then they’ll buy the local author and celebrate their localness. Then saying “I went to school with this person” or “I attend that church” or “Yeah, they’re from my city” is cool.

Sorry if I sound bitter but sometimes I wonder why I wasn’t gifted with a talent for playing guitar. Or painting. Or decorating awesome cookies. Some art or craft or talent that other people actually wanted to support.

The numbers are against me. Over 3000 individual titles are released in the English speaking world on a daily basis, including translations into English, reprints of classics, second runs, traditional press, small press, digital only, indie, etc. All formats, all styles, all genres. 3000+ “new” titles per day. That’s a lot of noise to cut through.

People are willing to spend 2-3 minutes listening to a new song by a band they never heard heard before. It costs them a red light. Or waiting for their coffee to perk. They’ll take the chance and they’ll buy that 9-15$ CD (what does an album go for on iTunes anyway? I still buy CDs) based on one or two songs they’ve heard.

People don’t have to take a chance on art. They can look at it, determine if it will suit the room, or the person they’re buying a gift for, and buy it or not.

Movies? Maybe you’ll take the chance based on a few trailers and spend the money for a ticket. Maybe you’ll wait for it to hit Netflix. But you get that preview.

But the free sample on Amazon? The back of book blurb? The book trailers on YouTube? None of that seems to be enough to get people to invest the $2-4 dollars more than the cost of printing the damn thing that I’ll actually make in profit into taking a chance on a book by an author they’ve never heard of.Seriously, $10 for 250 pages and I’ll sign it for you and you can’t take the chance? Forget the “I don’t read” crowd and the “It’s not my genre of choice” people because I totally respect that. Not every hobby is for everyone. Not every book is for every reader. Hence the 3000+ books published daily. I’m writing in popular genres and can’t get the local “buy local support local buy indie shun the big companies” crowd to take a chance on anything I write?

I know, it takes longer to read a book than it does to listen to a CD. There is an investment of time as well as money in a book. But part of the problem is the way we’re shunted off into a dark corner at every gathering of the creative.

Take Simbi for example. A great site for exchanging services and product based on an internal meta-currency. I fully support going back to a trade culture. But writing is listed under business. Business. As in “I will help you with your resume”. And “I will edit for you”. “I will write a business proposition letter.” Are you snoring yet? I’m snoring. Where’s the creative writing? Why is “I’ll write a short story about your kid to make them smile” under business and “I’ll draw a caricature of your child” under art?

What about RAW artists? Performing artists? Check. Jewelry? Check. Crafts and designs and fine art of every style? Check. Books? Nope. Books aren’t edgy enough. You can’t perform them. You can’t hang them up so they sparkle in the light. You can’t work on creating a book while sitting at the booth to entertain people because watching someone write shit down is boring but watching someone beading or doing metal work is awesome (actually, I love watching jewelry makers in action).

Or is it the lack of word-of-mouth advertising? When was the last time you shared a song with someone? Raved about a movie? Shared a recipe? Handed out the business card of the lady who made your kids’ Halloween costume? Said, “I read this awesome book and you should check it out?” Guess which one is missing from most people’s list of “how I support local/indie/the arts”?

So is it the risk? The time and money investment? The lack of support from the rest of the local/indie/art scenes? The flooding of the market? The dying of reading as a hobby? The fact that we don’t actually bind our own books, we just create the ideas in them?

I’m at a loss. For myself and for the other people in my writing groups. Do I want to be famous, sure. But this isn’t even about that. Really it’s about connecting with a few more people, extending my reach to another network, finding a few more readers that would like my book, even just within my own city.

 

Book Review: The One Taken from the Sea of Stars

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The One Taken from the Sea of Stars is a science fiction novel by Octavia Davis and is available on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/One-Taken-Sea-Stars-ebook/dp/B01KQX5KGY/ (NOTE: I do not receive any royalties or kickbacks from the purchase of this book)

The One Take from the Sea of Stars stars strong. You’re thrown into a beautiful, fantastical world of rituals and warriors and sacred trees. The first two characters you meet don’t like each other. You have tension, vivid settings, and interesting characters without the boring info dump. You know enough of what is going on to get your bearings and you know the rest will come with the story.

And then in chapter 2 you’re somewhere else with other characters in a completely different cultural setting and your head is spinning. Sometimes this disconnect can turn me right off of a story but the writing was so good that I stuck with this one. You start to get hints in chapter 2 and 3 that chapter 1 really is connected and that promise of more information kept me reading until 4 and 5 when the “ah ha” moment hits.

The story is beautifully crafted with amazing pacing. By chapter 5 or 6 I was hoping this was book 1 in a longer set and I was not disappointed. I wanted it to be so much longer than the page count and now I have more books to look forward to.

And I am looking forward to them. The dialogue was natural. The character introductions were smooth. Everyone feels distinct and you recognize them on the page easily. The plot is compelling and full of tension and mystery.

I gave this book 5 stars and I am eagerly awaiting the sequel.

Book Review: Habitual Scribbles

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Habitual Scribbles is a writing prompt work book written by Angela Parker. You can view the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Habitual-Scribble-Angela-Parker/ (NOTE: I do not receive any royalties or kickbacks for sales of this book)

Habitual Scribbles – what do I think? Well, it’s a compact book, under 400 pages and only about 5×8 inches which makes it perfect for travelling. You can tuck it in a purse, laptop back, backpack, picnic basket, beach bag ……… and your writing comes with you.

What’s in it? Just over 365 writing prompts, one at the top of each page, and blank lines to write on. That’s it. Great for those times when you’ve got writer’s block but still want to scribble SOMETHING down for the day. A good way to spend time on a road trip, or other lazy-day outing like the beach or to fill time while waiting for an appointment. There is just enough space for brainstorming, the start of a story, or a micro-story.

The prompts are open enough that you can do a lot with them, mostly. I found some were boring, some were too narrow, some were too vague. And I’m sure you’ll find the same, though how we categorize each prompt will be completely different.

The variety in this book is amazing and while I didn’t really click with all the prompts right away I know that’s because different people have different interests. And as the creator says in the forward, the idea is to break out of your comfort zone and stretch your writing muscles in new ways.

Overall I gave this book 4 stars and would recommend it to anyone looking for an inspirational notebook.

School Visits

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Studies show that children learn best when they are fully engaged. More and more schools are inviting visitors to talk about different subjects. My daughter’s class had a visit from a former member of the school board. He taught them about ice fishing, the parts of the fish, and how to cook fish. He brought a freshly caught fish to school to show them. She talked about this for days.

During I Love To Read month they had a local radio announcer come and read to the school. Last year they had two football players from the Blue Bombers come down to read.

Math, Science, and Literacy are a lot harder to get excited about than Art or Music. That’s why these visitors are so important.

As a local author I love visiting schools to share my books, and my love of the written word. I offer different reading packages for different age groups and different needs.

Basic Readings: I have books for all grade levels from pre-4 to Grade 12 (Senior 4). At a reading I read. That simple! For younger kids I read all of one or even both of my picture books and let them ask questions and tell me stories as young kids love to do. With grade 3+ I read excerpts of a grade appropriate story and ask questions to get them engaged. What do they think will happen? Questions about setting and character. And I let them ask their questions. These last roughly 30-45 minutes, depending on how many questions they have.

Q&A Sessions: These focus a little less on the reading and more on the questions. I encourage teachers to brainstorm questions with their students ahead of time. I answer questions about the writing process (brainstorming, writing, editing, and publishing), my own creative process (where I get my ideas, where I find my covers, my writing schedule, etc), the marketing side of being a writer, and even some basic personal questions about myself. This can take 30-60 minutes depending on the questions, and the teacher’s needs.

Basic Writing Workshop: Teachers should schedule at least a full period for this (40-65 min) or more depending on the size of the class. I go over all the basics of writing: character, setting, plot, outlining, writing, editing, project length, publishing … I engage the students with short writing prompts and encourage them to share what they write. This is a great introduction to a creative writing unit.

In-Depth Writing Workshop: Teachers should schedule three-four full periods roughly a week apart for this workshop. In the first session I go over things like character, setting, plot, brainstorming, outlining, and the first draft. I go over some writing prompts and answer questions. The students then have a week to work on their project. In the second session we go over the editing process in detail. If teachers send the first drafts ahead to me I can return them to the students with a critique (don’t worry, I’m gentle!). The students then have a week to self and peer edit their projects. In the third session we have the chance to share our works in progress and we talk about polishing and publishing. I have a package of ideas for the teacher that goes over various options for putting the stories together in a book – anything from using the comb binding machine to duotangs to a professionally bound book. A fourth visit can be arranged a week or two later to reveal the finished project.

So far I have only done in class visits but I would love to expand to doing Skype visits as well. We have smart boards in the schools and this sounds like a great way to make use of them. I live in southern Manitoba in Canada and I’m willing to travel a little to visit schools in a wide area around me. Anyone interested in more information or booking a visit can contact me through the form on the blog or at my Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/schreyerauthor.

 

The Quick Death vs Slow Dying

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In the last 5 years I have dealt with 3 deaths in my immediate family. My mom passed away from Cancer, it’ll be 5 years ago this August. My husband’s grandmother passed away last summer. And my grandfather passed away at the end of January. I have witnessed terminal illness, old age, and sudden passing and I have been thinking a lot about them lately.

There is always some debate, between people and especially internally, as to which is better – to go slowly, to know it is coming, or to simply be gone.

My mother received her terminal diagnosis in the spring. A few years earlier she’d been diagnosed with a form of skin cancer; she had a tumor growing behind her eye. She had an operation and the tumor shrunk and became benign and she went into remission. Until, a few years later, the cancer showed up in her liver. It was aggressive. It was a secondary sight. They didn’t think operating would help in the long run. So they did chemo for nearly a year, three different types. We battled the exhaustion and the low blood count and the nausea and the hair loss. By the time my daughter was born the tumor was so large and so inflamed by the chemo that she was in almost constant pain. When my daughter would try to bounce, as little children do, my mother would hand her back because sure enough she’d put a little foot on the sore spot. She wore a fancy hat to walk my sister down the aisle at her wedding because she’d cut her hair short a few months earlier. My sister got married after the terminal diagnosis. Over the summer her health deteriorated at an alarming rate. By mid-August she was gone.

The fight against the Cancer was hard on all of us. We were all exhausted. I had a child with Colic and a toddler and I had to keep them quiet all the time so she could sleep (we were living at home to help care for her). But her passing was peaceful.

The public health nurse spent the night. She went in to check on my mother around 5 am and she was sleeping peacefully, though her breathing was laboured. My father came down around 6:30 to get ready for work, and she was already gone.

When battling a terminal illness, especially one that caused so much pain, your sorrow is mixed with a sense of relief. Yes, you miss them, no, it’s not fair, but they are finally pain free, they are finally Cancer free, they are finally at peace and you can’t help but feel relieved.

My husband’s grandmother passed away peacefully with her family around her on a Sunday afternoon this past July. She was in her 90s. She’d had a stroke, and while she bounced back and was able to talk and feed herself again she never fully recovered. She didn’t walk anymore. She lived in a care home. We watched as her mobility and energy levels decreased, as her ability to talk slipped away again. The care home called the family and told us they thought she had a week, maybe two, left. We were all able to visit her, to say good-bye. She would smile and nod but had no more words for us.

Marie was very old. Her husband had been gone 14 years. All her children were grown. All her grandchildren were grown. About half of her numerous grandchildren were married. She had 19 great grand children, the youngest of whom was born the day she died. We were sad, and while there was no sense of relieve here, there was a sense of acceptance. She was old, she was tired, she was ready to let go. She was strong in her faith so if there is a heaven, or if the afterlife is simply whatever you believed it to be on Earth, then she is happy and reunited with her husband and her siblings.

My grandfather went out one morning and fell and hit his head. It was January, and here that means snow and ice. I thought he had slipped, my grandmother is sure he had a second stroke. He had mobility issues and used a walker for balance ever since the first stroke. Unlike my mother and my husband’s grandmother we had no warning. One day he was fine, though his health was slowly failing. We thought we had a year or two with him at least. Then he fell, and we all held out hope that he would wake up and could spend a few months in a care home. Then it was shortened to maybe two weeks, maybe only a week. Then I went to visit him in the hospital and I knew. He was breathing the same way my mom was those last few days and I knew. So I said good-bye. He died very early the next morning.

There was intense sorrow at his passing. I wanted to say that it wasn’t fair but death is never fair. My husband put what I was feeling into words. “His death felt cheap.” How does the saying go? Warriors don’t die falling down the stairs? Of course, at first, we thought it was a fall, that he had slipped, that an icy patch in the wrong place had stolen him from us. Knowing it was more likely a second stroke – well, sudden passings are painful in a unique way but we knew his health was failing and we knew he was at risk for a second stroke. Still, more than with my mother, more than with Marie, if felt as if my grandfather was stolen from us.

So what is harder? I don’t know. I know the fighting that comes with potentially terminal disease is hard, perhaps the hardest. But the death? Letting go of my mother was surprisingly easy though I still grieve and I still miss her. Letting go of Marie was easy as well, perhaps because she was more my husband’s family than mine, perhaps because her life was fully lived, I don’t know. But walking out of that hospital room, knowing beyond a doubt that it was the last time I would see him, was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I could have stayed there for hours, days even, if I thought my presence could change things. I could have stayed anyways, and just sat and remembered for hours until he passed. Or perhaps it’s just that this pain is still the newest, that it hasn’t had time to fade into acceptance the way it has with my mother and Marie.

Why do we talk about such things? Because when I loved one passes we begin to think about our own inevitable end. My other grandparents still have a foster child. What happens if something happens suddenly to one or both of them? Where does this child go? What do they feel about life support? What about my dad? He’s had a heart attack already, and though he’s still young, too young to dwell on dying, the thought comes to mind. What would I do without both my parents? What about me? My husband? What if I get sick? Cancer seems rampant in my family in many forms. What if my husband has an accident at work? What if we’re in a car accident? We have two young children. And so we talk about these things. Do I want to be on life support? Who will watch the children? For a few weeks anyway we talk about dying and then death becomes a distant figment once again and we live each day thinking we have hundreds more ahead of us.

It is important to talk about such things. I think culturally we have pushed death out of sight for too long. Having my mother home at the end was an experience I will never forget and am eternally grateful for. My grandparents came over, and my aunt. We sat and visited and mourned together. The gentleman at the funeral home gave us a few hours before coming to collect my mother’s body for cremation. It was like having a wake. But with tea instead of beer. I took my children to all three funerals. Death is not something we can ignore, nor is it something we should fear.

For those who follow my blog who are writers, death is something we think about all the time. When and how is it appropriate to feature death in our stories. Sometimes our characters must die. What is the impact we want to create with that death? What emotions do we want to evoke in the surviving characters, and in our readers? We struggle to find deaths that are emotionally fitting for our stories. Perhaps this will help you plan a piece of your story, because those deaths are the only ones you truly have control over.

Our own deaths are a mystery. And what legacy we will leave behind, what we will be remember for, in a way, that is a mystery as well but at least we can strive to shape that into something positive while we are still alive.

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