Publishing Realities

“You’re suggesting I have to do what? You’re kidding, right?”

I know there are a number of people following this blog who are writers aspiring to become published authors. The vision of what that involves isn’t the same for all of us. Some see it as an exciting progression from the initial writing to signing a book contract and enjoying the reward of royalty cheques. Others have been peeking over the cyber-shoulders of those already into the journey, and are learning that the major portion of work begins after a book is written.

“No way! You’ve got that all wrong. Nothing can be more challenging than slogging through the creation of a 100,000-word novel. Once it’s finished, the rest will be easy.”

If that’s what you think, you may be shocked at today’s reality. Agent Rachelle Gardner is currently running a series of blog posts on questions submitted by her readers. Yesterday’s post dealt with “Life as a Published Author,” and she pointed out life will get harder, not easier; you’ll be busier than you ever imagined, and some responsibilities will be daunting. She asks, “Are you ready for the pressure?”

Most debut authors I’ve heard from say they are somewhat overwhelmed – that the edits, deadlines, and marketing, all while writing the next book under a contract schedule, have dumped more stress on them than they anticipated. Balancing the multiple tasks of the writer’s life often leaves little time for anything else, including families and jobs… and yes, they still need those jobs. The financial ‘rewards’ of publication are usually such that maintaining another source of income is a necessity.

No doubt about it. Publication will move our novel writing out of the realm of a pleasant hobby and into a demanding occupation that requires more of us than we may be prepared to give.

“I’m not listening. I don’t want to hear this. Closing my ears. La-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.”

Is this the reality that you imagined or do your dreams of being a published author take you somewhere else? If you haven’t read Rachelle’s post, please do, and then return to let me know what your reaction is. The many comments are worth reading, too. There are others wearing the rose coloured glasses that I put up on the shelf some time ago.

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“Whatever you do, work at it with all of your heart,
as working for the Lord, not for men.”

Colossians 3:23

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“May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us;
establish the work of our hands for us–

yes, establish the work of our hands.”

Psalm 90:17

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Following the Road Signs

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I’m good at telling people where to go, although I know not everyone appreciates being told what they can or cannot do.

On our recent Christmas trip we encountered many highway signs. Some told us what we couldn’t do, like exceed a specific speed, while others were very helpful. We didn’t appreciate signs that told us to reduce speed for construction ahead, especially when there was no construction. Or to merge lanes when that meant being stuck behind a slow moving transport truck.

But we liked the safety aspect of knowing that there were deer in the area that might bolt across the highway, and to be prepared because there were no gas stations ahead for several miles. It was comforting to know which junction to take when highways intersected, and exactly how many miles were between us and our destination. And it’s always good to know the clearance under an overpass, particularly if you’re driving a large RV.

My hubby says I’m a very efficient navigator when our travels require map-reading and following directions.  I wish my ability stretched to also knowing exactly how to proceed in my journey as a writer.

Wouldn’t it be nice if God placed bold signs that said, “This is the direction you need to go right now,” “Prepare yourself for a six-month (or six-year) journey,” “There’s a rough patch ahead but it’s a smooth ride after that?”

God does give us guidelines and signposts, but they aren’t quite as obvious as highway signs. Just as the Department of Highways expects responsible drivers to watch for and obey their signs, so God expects us to search out his guidance and follow it, whether it’s for everyday situations or our writing endeavours.

I think I’ve been waiting for him to slip easy-to-decipher instructions under my nose, when it’s pretty clear I’m suppose to take some action… make an effort to search out his directives and follow them. This road to publication is a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other kind of journey, not a taxi ride.

Okay, God. I get it. Querying, here I come!

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Have you ever found yourself immobilized because you didn’t know where to start in the querying process?  How did you get over the uncertainty about taking that first step?

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“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” [Proverbs 3:5]
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Thus says the Lord, Your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you by the way you should go.” [Isaiah 48:17]
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Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised. [Hebrews 10:35]

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Learning patience by birdwatching

(Click to enlarge photos)

Black caps and white cheeks flash past my windows as the chickadees flit to and from the birdfeeder, interspersed with the occasional nuthatch. They dart in to snatch a morsel, then swivel away on their rapid return to the trees.

I sit with camera in hand and try to catch a photo, but on the automatic setting and without my tripod it’s almost impossible. These tiny fliers are constantly on the move and most of the images show the birdfeeder, but not the birds. Timing is everything!

The stellar jays and juncos are a little more cooperative, sometimes stopping briefly on the railing as they munch a mouthful.

Sparrows and varied thrush have a different mealtime technique altogether, choosing to clean up leftover seeds from the deck rather than hover airborne. The different species often arrive at the same time, but take turns, obeying an invisible pecking order as they dart in for their meal.

There is so much I can learn about God’s care from watching the birds. They may seem like insignificant creatures with very basic needs yet God provides for them, although they must work industriously to take advantage of those provisions.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.” [Luke 12:6 NIV]

Thinking of the earlier “timing is everything” comment, there’s a writing application here, too. When years of writing, revising and querying make us question our publishing dreams, it is encouraging to remember that patience coupled with vigilance and effort is important, and that “success comes when preparation meets opportunity.” [Henry Hartman]

To expect success in this particular challenge, I think I’d better go find my tripod!

What other lessons could we learn from God’s many creatures?

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Blowdowns and Abandoned Writing Dreams

Thank goodness for a 4×4 truck! As I’ve mentioned in at least one previous post, when we head north to our cabin, the route takes us via major highways, gravel logging roads, private dirt roads and eventually to our very primitive road.

There is no public access to our land, and therefore no road maintenance. When trees are down, or washouts happen, you know who has to deal with them.

A couple weeks before we arrived there for our summer holiday a localized tornado went through, affecting areas on a hit-and-miss basis. In some places only a tree or two went down; in others, whole stands fell over. We had to cut our way through three trees before we reached our cabin. Readymade firewood!

On our recent fall trip, the now leafless branches became art as they arched across their fallen neighbours. I’ve returned to these photos several times, noting how it was mostly the less mature growth that bent, broke or flattened in the pummeling wind. I see how tall and gangly some of the growth was — struggling to escape the crowd to reach elusive light.

The images morph into a question … whether experienced or perhaps more mature writers are better able to withstand the stresses of an uncertain future in today’s publication industry.

How often do newer writers become discouraged and decide to lay down their pens? What makes them give up on their dreams while others determine to hold on? I wonder why some writers seem more firmly rooted in the path they’ve chosen.

I’d like to hear your ideas.

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Happy 176th Birthday to Mark Twain, pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens.

“Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.” [Mark Twain]

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The Long Road to Publication

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For the past few months my aunt, Norma McGuire (aka Nonie Vogue), has been working on a special and very personal project – a chapter book for children. It contains bedtime stories that were told by her now deceased husband to their children and grandchildren. Each chapter recounts an adventure of an old fishing boat captain and his young friend.

The manuscript for JOHNNY AND MR. FREDERICKS* has been read and re-read, revised, edited and proofread multiple times. Accompanying illustrations have been sketched. A website has been created. All that remains is to find a publishing home for it.

Despite all the telling, writing, editing, revising and illustrating, that ‘all’ is probably going to be the longest and most difficult part of the journey. Those of us who are still looking for agent representation or a publishing contract of our own know all too well how distant that view can sometimes look, especially when the rejections roll in and the waiting seems endless.

Pursuing a dream takes more than just work. It takes hope, courage and determination as well as patience and persistence. Throughout her eighty-eight years Norma has shown all those qualities, although she’s not one to sit around and wait for things to happen.

I’ve mentioned some of her accomplishments before. She’s a photographer, she paints and she quilts. Throughout her marriage she worked alongside her husband who was a commercial artist. Years after anyone else would have retired, she created a line of hasti-notes from her own paintings. In the past four-or-so years she has been knitting for a homeless mission: so far, exactly 155 toques and 126 pair of mitts, as well as 72 tiny toques for newborns in hospital, with who knows how many more to come. During the past two years she has also filled seven leather-bound journals with wise quotations and stories from her life to create ‘treasure books’ for her family, every page accompanied by a sketch or watercolour painting – to date, 572 of them!

Somehow I don’t think she’ll have any trouble seeing this book publication project through to completion, regardless of how long it takes. She’s a ‘glass-half-full’ kind of person and already has the goal in sight.

* JOHNNY AND MR. FREDERICKS
Stories as told by Harry C. McGuire
Edited & Illustrated by Norma G. McGuire

http://johnnysadventures.wordpress.com

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The sound of writing versus silence

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In my continuing offline hiatus, here is another re-run from 2008.

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I suspect many of us who write are convinced that publication validates our efforts. Mystery/Suspense author Sandra Parshall said, “A writer needs readers to make the last link in the creative circle. A story that is never read by anyone other than its author is incomplete. It’s a bird singing in an empty forest.”

But wouldn’t that bird sing whether or not anyone was there to listen?

Some insist that a writer is one who writes, while an author is one whose writing is published. That makes me wonder if the credibility of a writer is diminished because his words have not become public.

While it’s not my goal, I admire those who sing just for the joy of the song.

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What’s your opinion? Is the writing of an unpublished writer less valuable than that of published ones? Do you think there’s a point to writing if we don’t intend for anyone else to read our words?

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Is there a right or wrong age for success as an author?

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Saturday evening I watched the ACFW awards via a live blog and simultaneous streaming video.  It was next best to attending in person. I stayed glued to my computer for three straight hours.

I held my breath as the finalists were named and winners announced, and smiled when familiar names came up. One thing that surprised me was the noticeable absence of men’s names among them. I can recall only one among the winners. (I’m not talking about agents, of course — Chip MacGregor looked very dashing in his kilt as he accepted an award on behalf of a client.)

What didn’t surprise me was the youthfulness of most finalists and winners – indeed of the various people pictured at the conference. Unless writers age extremely graciously, not many appeared to be in the over-fifty category. I’ve discovered that’s the norm.

When it comes to supportive cyber friends, age is irrelevant, but when I realize that publishing success seems to come more often to those under fifty, I have to question my own ambitions. After all, I’m in my retirement years. Publishing houses are looking for career writers who can be expected to produce for a number of years, and I understand the economics of that. But given the long years it can take to even get an agent, let alone a first book contract, is it reasonable to embark on the process at my age?

Is there discrimination against mature writers? Don’t they have a valuable perspective born of life experience to contribute to their stories? Do their ages have any bearing on the genre they write and the age group of their target market? Why are lists of debut authors populated mostly with young and good-looking people? Is there no place among the successful newcomers for greying hair and a few wrinkles? And where are all the men?

Now there’s a litany of questions for you to consider! Pick one – any one – and offer your opinion. 🙂

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Disclaimer: No, I certainly wouldn’t risk including any photos of people I know. I don’t have a death wish!
Photos by Photostock and Graeme Weatherston. 

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Time Changes Everything… in Life and Writing

An overused phrase says it all. Just like a new day, “I’m baaaaack!”

After two different vacation trips to two different lakes, spending time with two different groups of our family, I’m refreshed, rejuvenated and raring to get back into routine. Sort of. I’m not quite ready to rare yet. My brain is still in lake mode, savouring memories.

Daybreak on our lake. (I took this from the bedroom window and promptly went back to bed!)

This past week we trucked into our Cariboo cabin.  To get there we leave the main highway behind, then a secondary paved road, twenty-three kilometers of gravel logging road, several more kilometers of dirt road, before finally reaching the last few kilometers of the somewhat overgrown home stretch, where the guys (my husband, son and a grandson) had to cut out three downed trees with the chainsaw.

Old logging road.

The last leg of the road to our lakeside cabin.

Yes, this is part of our road.

For several days we lounged, read, ate lots, spent time in and on the lake, and still had time to build a much-needed storage shed. I also coerced DH to take a drive so I could photograph a favourite haunt… a derelict log building that has stood in the middle of our nowhere since before I began going there as a young child. (I refuse to specify exactly how long ago that was!)

I knew it would happen some day, but it was still a disappointment to discover the roof’s supporting log beam had finally collapsed.

Time brings changes… some good, some not. The inevitable disintegration of this wonderful old building hasn’t changed its beauty, only the way in which it is perceived. It can no longer serve its intended function.

It’s a lot like the effect of time and revision on a novel-in-progress. If you’re a novelist, think about how the perception of a manuscript’s early draft changes after we’ve left it and gone on to write something else. After only a short time, returning to it reveals a few weaknesses. Nothing that tweaking won’t fix, right? We’re convinced it still adequately conveys the shiny idea that originally inspired our creative hearts.

The longer we’re away from it, however, the more problems we notice. Leave it until after we’ve written three or four more novels and reading through it makes us blush. Our hearts begin to skitter in dismay as the amateur writing taunts us with its weaknesses. We cringe to realize others may have seen its meandering plot, common clichés, and one-dimensional characters. Our dreams for it come crashing down.

There’s a reason why established authors, editors and writing instructors suggest a first novel rarely sees publication. Its structure is often too unstable to withstand the major renovation it requires, but it takes time before we can perceive and accept that reality. Sometimes the best thing we can do is let it disappear into the ground, grieve its loss, smile a bit at the pleasure and experience its writing provided, and at the end of the day, move on.

Sunset on our lake

Do you agree with me, or not? What’s your experience? Was your first novel publishable, or, if you’re still writing it, do you believe it will be?

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Author Interview: Joylene Nowell Butler

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 I’m delighted to have Joylene Butler as my guest today.  Joylene and I met as a ‘happy coincidence’ when she discovered my pen name on the Federation of BC Writers’ website and followed the link to my blog.

We continue to be surprised by things we have in common: we’ve both lived in Langley and Maple Ridge, BC, both now have homes on beautiful interior BC lakes (well, truthfully, mine is just a cabin), both suffered through the loss of children, both lean heavily on our faith for sustenance, both love the natural world around us, both are passionate about writing… indeed, we’ve decided our meeting was no coincidence at all! 

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CG:             Welcome, and congratulations on the imminent release of BROKEN BUT NOT DEAD, Joylene. This is your second novel. Can you please tell us a bit about the story?

JB: First of all, thank you for having me as your guest today, Carol. I’m grateful to call you my friend even though we haven’t met, and I’m appreciative of all you do for our community.

As for my new novel, because I’m still so terrible at summarizing my stories, I’m going to cheat and copy the blurb from the back cover. Yes, shame on me!

Brendell Kisêpîsim Meshango is of Métis heritage and a PhD university professor in Prince George, British Columbia. When Brendell resigns from the university and retreats to her isolated cabin to repair her psyche, she is confronted by a masked intruder. His racial comments lead her to believe she is the solitary victim of a hate crime. However, is all as it appears? After two bizarre days inflicting a sadistic captivity, the intruder mysteriously disappears. 

Taught by her mother to fear and distrust the mainstream-based power structures, and with her stalker possibly linked to a high level of government, Brendell conceals the incident from the police. But will keeping quiet keep her safe?

Then her beloved daughter, Zoë, is threatened — and Brendell takes matters into her own hands. To save Zoë, Brendell searches for the stalker and confronts not just a depraved madman but her own fears and prejudices.   

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CG:            Where did the idea for this story come from?

JB:            It was an onslaught of hot flushes. The story’s premise began as a question: Could a menopausal woman lose control and kill someone to protect a loved one? From there I met 50-year-old Brendell, a broken but not dead woman who felt overwhelmed by her history. As her secrets were revealed, I got a sense of who she was, and that brought me to the opening of the story. From there I jotted down what happened to her. Sounds easy, but in reality it took years.

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CG:            Everyone has a story about “how I found my agent/editor/publisher.” Can you share a bit of the journey that led you to Theytus Books?

JB:             Not until after everything happened did I realize my story is unique. I self-published my first novel. Overwaitea Foods got hold of a copy and asked me for more. I didn’t have more, so they introduced me to Hignell Book Printers in Manitoba, who introduced me to Sandhill Books, who in turn suggested I query Theytus with my next manuscript. Theytus bought the book. It was all surreal and exciting, but to sum it up in one word, I’d have to say: Providence.

CG:            How long did it take you to write BROKEN BUT NOT DEAD compared to your first novel, DEAD WITNESS?  Was the first draft close to the finished product or did it go through multiple revision transformations?

JB:             Dead Witness was my second novel, and took me three months to write, then five years to edit. My first manuscript was a learning tool that took seven years to write. Broken was a challenge, but it actually took me less time to write because of raging hormones. The first draft was finished in three months, then I spent three years editing. I’m one of those writers who is never satisfied. My biggest problem is to know when to stop.

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CG:            Are you a writer who plots and outlines first, or do you dive in and figure things out as you go?

JB:             If/when I get stuck, I do a thorough outline. Otherwise, I start at the beginning and work my way slowly to the end. I use the 3-Act play formula eventually to make certain I’ve created a strong foundation. When I suffer from writer’s block and can’t seem to go forward, I read everything and anything. Finally, I visualize the book as a video in my mind with my finger on the replay button. At the rough spots, I keep hitting replay while I’m vacuuming, gardening, experiencing insomnia, during hockey intermissions, and waiting at the doctor’s office. Eventually, the story plays itself out in my head, then I race for my computer.

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CG:            Do you have support in your writing… a mentor, critique group, etc.?

JB:             I belong to DeadlyProse, an online writers critique group. Great bunch of writers. I also work with a small intimate Alberta writers group through Skype. I’m the only one from BC. And I work one-on-one with a very talented American historical writer. I’m fortunate to know some great authors who have supported my work since the mid-90s.

CG:            Give us a glimpse of where you do most of your writing.

JB:             My computer is positioned in the corner of my dining room at a picture window that overlooks Cluculz Lake. That way I can keep track of the eagles, loons, and kingfishers. When I need to focus, I close the blind. We live in an open-concept log and stick house. During the cold winters it’s hard if I have family home, but I’ve learned to tune them out when I have to. I can edit anywhere, even during hockey intermission, but if I’m writing something new, I need complete quiet. Early morning works best, or after midnight.

 

Joylene's view of Cluculz Lake

CG:            Were there doubts, low times or obstacles for you along the way? How did you overcome them?

JB:             More doubts and low times than I can number. I quit writing once, for an entire year. I hit bottom a few times and bounced back only to have something happen that sent me into months of writer’s block. I started writing novels in 1984 and didn’t publish until 2008. That’s a long time of supposedly paying my dues. Being pigheaded helped. I kept reminding myself how could I teach my sons to never give up if I did.

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CG:            Do you have any advice for writers who are a step behind you in their pursuit of publication? Anything that you wish you’d known before you waded in yourself?

JB:             I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times: write. But please know that being published is not going to fix anything that’s wrong with your life. It’s only going to give you new experiences. It’s not a replacement for the love of family or their health and welfare. But because I’ve been where you are and can remember someone trying to tell me this, I would urge you to learn your craft in earnest. Know your grammar to the best of your ability. Understand POV. Study the 3-Act Play. Learn to give and get critiques. It’s amazing what a wonderful tool critiquing is. Though others will tell you it’s your story and you know what’s best, don’t assume you do. Educate yourself. You have access to the internet? Use it. And read. Read everything in your genre that you can. Study why you love your favourite authors so much. Then get back to writing. Oh, and don’t forget to be stubborn. It helps.

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CG:             What is your role in the marketing and promotion of your books? Do Theytus and Sandhill Books have specific distribution plans?

JB:            I’m about to learn exactly what Theytus’s marketing plans are. Luckily I made a lot of contacts with my first book. I’ll put out the word and sign up for as many readings and signings that I can this summer. My local radio station has been very supportive, and I’ll do readings for their storytelling nights. I’ll blog regularly. I’ll keep in touch with Friends of the Library. I’ll attend the northern conference again this winter. I’ll sponsor book giveaways on my blog. I’ll tour as a guest online. I do know Theytus will enter my book in applicable contests. Sandhill will take care of making certain it arrives at the stores before I do. That in itself is a big load off my mind. And I’ll keep writing more books.

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CG:            Where can people buy copies of BROKEN BUT NOT DEAD and DEAD WITNESS?

JB:            Any independent bookstore in Canada, plus Chapters/Indigo, Books & Company, Amazon.ca, and online at http://www.theytus.com.

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CG:            What’s next? Do you have other stories in the works?

JB:            I’m almost finished the sequel to Broken But Not Dead, titled Omatiwak: Woman Who Cries. I have another completed manuscript called Kiss of the Assassin, which I’ll probably edit some more. I have a WIP called Wrong, or Dead Wrong, I’m not sure yet. And I’m working on a children’s illustrated book about a spirit eagle.

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CG:            Anything I haven’t asked you that you’d like to take the opportunity to mention? 

JB:             I don’t know where the need to write came from, but I’m very grateful I write novels that people actually pay money to read. If I could do it for free, I would. Thank you to all those readers who took time to read my novels. You’re the reason I’m able to keep doing this.

As for news, an e-book version of Dead Witness is due for release through MuseItUp Publishing this summer. I’ll post information on my blog when it’s out.

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Joylene Nowell Butler, Metis, was born in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, grew up in Maple Ridge, and raised her children in Prince George, BC. She began writing in 1984 after the death of her father. Her first novel Dead Witness, published in 2008 is distributed across Canada by Sandhill Books. Her current works in progress include a political thriller, a children’s book, a suspense thriller, and the sequel to Broken But Not Dead. Joylene, her husband, and their three stray cats live in Cluculz Lake in central BC. They are expecting their ninth grandchild in September. In her spare time, Joylene teaches Tai chi.

Websites:
     Blog – http://cluculzwriter.blogspot.com
     Webpage – http://joylene.webs.com

Roaming Bookstores and Seashores

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Roaming a bookstore is something akin to roaming the seashore for me. There is exhilaration and discovery, the heady smell that is unique to the location. My daughter loves to do both, too, as her blog post and Flickr pictures yesterday attest.

Her enthusiasm for acquiring books reminded me of my recent visit to one of my favourite out-of-town haunts. A few days ago after travelling to my writing group meeting I took the rare opportunity to visit a mega Christian bookstore — Blessings Christian Marketplace.  I was looking for a particular book, which I didn’t find, but I still came home with four others! It just isn’t possible to escape a bookstore with empty hands!

Books by Mary Connealy

As I browsed the shelves it was a delight to discover the books of people I’ve encountered online. It felt a little like running into friends in the crowded city. Or coming upon an eagle “perusing the menu” on the salt washed shore. What are the odds, I often wonder after such encounters.

Seeing the books was a strange sensation… there was a recognition that sparked pride in the authors’ accomplishment. It made me wonder how I will feel the day I see my own title among them, if that day ever comes. At this stage of my writing career I can’t imagine it. But the sight ignited my enthusiasm to continue working towards that day.

The Preacher's Bride by Jody Hedlund

Code Blue by Richard Mabry

Books by James Scott Bell

What emotions do you experience when you visit your bookstore or library, or are you just focused on locating a book?

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Gull photo courtesy of pdphoto.org