Friday, November 16, 2012

Gimp or Photoshop: Creating Book Covers

Self-published authors have to do everything on their own, including book covers. There are services available, of course, that can be paid to do this. Most of us, however, do not have excess resources so we either do it ourselves, or ask family or friends for help. The DIY approach can also be costly if you do not have graphics software on hand for the task. Photoshop is regarded by most as the best tool for the job, but it is very expensive. For my latest round of book cover designs, I choose to try the free software called GIMP and was pleasantly surprised. Combining Gimp with the Createspace cover template allowed me to overcome the hurdle of creating a cover for my latest book, and editing and redesigning the photoshop generated covers of my previously published books.

First a little history:

Last year I wrote a four book scifi series called Socialite 1. While working on the time consuming task of editing I had little time to work on the covers, so my son (14 years old at the time) offered to do them. He used a combination of tools available on our iMac.

The basic design he used emphasized the dichotomies of good and evil with contrasting dark and light triangles.  (here is a picture of the cover of book 1 of the series.) I was very appreciative of his efforts, of course, but knew that I would need to make them more visually appealing at some point in the future. At the time Photoshop was offering a thirty day trial, so I used photoshop to create the back page and spine of the print book covers. I had never used it before, but found it quite easy to learn for this task (using youtube videos as my teacher.)

This fall I completed my fifth book Good Gladys (pictured above) and figured that at the same time as I was designing its cover, I would redo the covers of my Socialite books. I looked for an alternative to Photoshop (because of price) and found that many websites recommended GIMP. I downloaded it (for free!) onto my MAC (the PC version is also available), watched a few youtube HOW-TO videos (here's a sample) and went to work.

I asked my sister-in-law, a wonderful photographer, for a photo depicting a sunrise or sunset—something kind of mysterious looking, appropriate for the murder mystery genre of Good Gladys. She sent this to me (pictured at right). A little cropping and some manipulation of the colours turned that photograph into the cover pictured above. GIMP was really easy to use, and the whole cover took only a few hours from start to finish. For the print version of the book, I just opened the cover template provided by createspace, then added the image of the front that I had created and sized it appropriately. I found that this process was just as easy and effective as it had previously been with photoshop. The resulting pdf document of the cover was instantly accepted by the Createspace editors, just as the photoshop version of the Socialite covers had been.

Here's the final print book cover:

Finally I decided to tackle the socialite covers. The files were Photoshop files (.psd). I was surprised that GIMP had no problem opening these files, preserving all of the layers that I had created in the past. Although I am not very experienced I found the tools in GIMP were fairly easy to use and with some trial and error, I was able to transform that image of book 1 shown above into this:

I highly recommend GIMP. I don't know if really seasoned Photoshop users would experience severe limitations in its functionality, but I do know that inexperienced users, like myself, can get very satisfactory results, with minimal effort. The software is free, and there are many, many instructional videos on youtube to get you started.

To see all of the new book covers for the Socialite series, go to my Good Gladys website and scroll to the bottom. I hope that this was helpful for other self-published authors considering trying their skills at creating interesting, effective book covers.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Fund This? Will my donation make a difference?

Crowd Funding sites like Indiegogo, Kickstarter and many others do not hold any of the campaigns that they host accountable to the people who donate. Nevertheless, very few scams have been reported. Most campaigns are genuine and most donors get what they sign up for. Regardless of the type of campaign, be it a tech gadget, a music album or a life-saving operation, the campaign organizer and the donor to that campaign are joining forces, working together to realize a dream.

There have been numerous stories in the news lately of projects having difficulty responding to donors. As a spokesperson for the very successful Pebble Watch Campaign stated ,"there are 65000 people who ordered a watch that doesn't exist yet."  Obviously there are a lot of poeple who don't mind paying $100+ to hitch a ride on someone else's dream. Crowd funding has made hitching a ride on a dream extremely easy. Millions of people are contributing $1, $10 $25  etc every day to share in someone's crowd funding project.

And there are a lot of dreams to choose from on crowd funding sites. In the past few posts I have already shown six that I thought were interesting, and worth looking into. In this post I am presenting a few more. Dream along with the creators of these projects in two ways: give them a donation to help the project get completed and/or tell your friends about the project so they can also share the dream.

The first one is shown in the image above. It is an album of cover songs (donors can even request one of their favourites) all done bluegrass style. Watch the video, it's funny and makes you want the guy to succeed. Here is the link: Guilty Pleasures.

The second one is a cool variation on the game chess. It's an animated chess game where the pieces show emotion in their facial expressions, body language and movement. This is only a couple steps away from the Wizard's chess game we saw in Harry Potter!

Here is the link: Chess Peeps

This third and final one was brought to my attention via the comment section of an earlier blog post. This is a short film, a scary mystery that is complete and ready for presentation at film festivals. They already won an award but need funds to get to more festivals so their film has a chance of success. And they are sooooo close to reaching their goal.

Here is the link: Drei von eins  (three of one)


And of course you can always share in my dream by contributing to my book campaign:

Here are the links:

Friday, October 5, 2012

Fund this? Give a Boost to the Cool and Quirky in the world of Crowd Funding

Anyone who has perused the pages of a crowd funding website realizes that there are a lot people  receiving donations for their cause or project, often in the thousands of dollars, from complete strangers.  Some of these projects request help with medical emergencies, desperate financial need or similar social cause. As with most crowd funding campaigns, the majority of these cries for help do not get answered. A few, like Karen the bus monitor, do the impossible by motivating thousands of people to contribute to the cause. Though that campaign asked for $5000,  Karen received over $700 000. This example illustrates one of the main drawbacks of crowd funding: a few projects tend to receive the majority of the donations. Many really good causes and projects fail to raise anything.

Sites, like Indiegogo and Kickstarter recommend that projects seek their initial funding from family and friends to give their project initial momentum. Only after they have sufficient funding will their project get featured on the site. This means that most projects will not even get exposure from the site hosting it. How then can a campaign gain exposure?

Gaining traction isn't easy. Rather than focussing on the problem, I am using this blog as a partial solution for some campaigns. The campaigns that I list are ones that I thought were interesting. If you agree, then you should tell others about the campaign. If you really like it, perhaps send a donation their way. Even $1 helps the organizers of the campaign know that someone has seen their page and likes what they are doing. I know from personal experience that both of these things, publicity and donations (of any size) are a huge boost.

In yesterdays post I discussed three creative campaigns (a band, a book and a mentalist).  Today's selections are a few cool and quirky invention campaigns that I came across this morning and liked. As I said before, I don't know any of the people running these campaigns, and have no vested interest in any these projects.

The first is the Bubble Worm. A new twist on an old idea. You blow into it and make a cool foam. I know my kids would have had a blast with this when they were young. The creator's campaign is having a slow start so take a look and see if it's something that you would endorse.

Here is the link: BubbleWorm

The second project is an interesting techie version of a hoola-hoop called KolaHoops. It's a hoola hoop with a computer and lots of led lights inside so patterns and colours can flash as it spins. The effect as shown in their photos (one at the top of the page and the one to the right) is really cool.

Here is the link: KolaHoops

This last one is for the smartphone crowd. It basically turns your phone into a roaming, tilting robot. It's called Helios. Put the phone into it, than you can control it from any web browser. The camera on the phone gives you a view of where Helios goes. You can move from side to side, in circles and pan up and down. It even has downward sensors to detect table edges so it doesn't drop off. Pretty cool!
Here is the link: Helios


I'll share some more projects in a future post. Until then, check them out and also check out my campaign too.

Once again, here are the links for my campaign.

I should re-emphasize, if you can't contribute with a donation, no problem.  I hope you will please share this post, or even just the link to one or all of these campaigns.

Leave a comment suggesting other campaigns that you think I should discuss in the future. No guarantees that I will write something about your campaign (I will never put negative comments!) but even having your site in the comment section for readers to see will be another way for people to find out about you. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Fund this? Crowdfunding comments and samples

The number one impediment to a successful crowd funding campaign is lack of exposure. Not enough willing contributors find out about it. I am a crowd funding donor and recipient. As such, here are a few comments on my experiences and a few projects that I saw on crowd funding sites that I think more people should be made aware of. I know you can't contribute to every interesting campaign, neither can I, but we all can spread the word a little bit better, and ask others to do the same so these projects find a large enough pool of contributors to succeed.

Some people may think that the popularity of crowdfunding sites over the internet has made getting funding for a project, a social cause or sudden need brought on by personal tragedy a cinch. Not so! In fact most projects on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or any of the other sites fail to reach their target; many fail to raise any money at all.

My Experiences: 

My own experience is fairly typical. I first created an Indiegogo campaign in June to raise funds for the marketing and distribution of my new four book series Socialite 1. I am very grateful to all those who participated and supported the campaign. I followed the advice on the site, told family and friends, used Facebook, Twitter, Reddit etc. I had excellent perks for donors. Nevertheless, at the end of the campaign I received less than 10% of my goal.

My campaign ran on Indiegogo, which allows flexible funding, so I did get to keep the money that was contributed. The many people who use Kickstarter and don't reach their funding goal, get nothing. Kickstarter only pays out when the goal has been reached. I feel bad for them. Not all of them: some projects are just weird.

I just started a second campaign to raise funds to publish another book. I am running it as a contest: I am writing two books (shown in the image above) and I will decide which one to finish and publish first based on the donations by readers who prefer either Mystery or Science Fiction.  I hope that by giving people a say into the publication of a new book, the campaign may get more exposure than my previous one.

This campaign is at Indiegogo. (Creating a campaign on Kickstarter is not an option for non-US citizens). I am also trying a new crowdfunding platform called GoFundMe. These two platforms are similar in that they allow people to donate to projects and causes. They are different in a number of important aspects for those running a campaign. Firstly, Indiegogo requires that a minimum of $500 must be donated with the first two weeks of the campaign or else the campaign will never be included in their search results, shown on their homepage or get any exposure to their crowdfunding community. My first attempt at crowdfunding missed the mark, so my campaign never really got off the ground. By day 15, I couldn't even find it on their site.

GoFundMe on the other hand requires that $100 be raised prior to them listing it on their site and making it available to searches. They don't put a time limit on campaigns either, so your cause isn't dead after two weeks if you don't get $100.

So I am trying both and will post updates on their progress over time.

Other interesting campaigns:

I don't believe we should ever ask for something without giving something back when we can. As I said I can't give to every campaign that I like, but I can give them a little more exposure. So here are a few campaigns that I like. Note, I don't have any connection to these campaigns, and have never met any of the people running them. I just like what they are trying to do.

The first one is a blues band from Chicago: I like their bluesy sound, and the perks they offer are reasonable - only $10 helps them out and gets you a copy of their debut CD. Awesome! Here is the link:


The second campaign was for a book. I liked the concept of the story: time travel becomes possible but people are allergic to it. There are lots of ways the story could go that would be interesting. The author generously gave donors a copy of the ebook too. This campaign was at Indiegogo, but it expired there before the author reached the target. I'm putting it here so anyone who likes the concept can watch for the book, or email the author for a copy. I am also including this book because I'm sure the author still wants people to know about her hard work. 
Here's the link:

(update: I just learned that the author has another campaign running to fund editing. Here is the link: Editing Allergic to Time.)

The third and final one comes from Kickstarter and is for a Mentalist in Utah to fund promotion of his first stage show. I think his pitch is kind of cool, and I love the TV show the Mentalist. Also, one of the books in my campaign involves a mystic/medium so I have done a lot of research on this form of entertainment. If you think it's cool, then tell other people, and perhaps send a donation to that campaign.
Here is the link:



There are a ton of interesting projects out there. Perhaps I'll share some more in a future post.

Once again, here are the links for my campaign.

If you can't contribute with a donation, no problem.  I hope you will please share this post, or even just the link to one or all of these campaigns.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Some revision notes and epub conversion lessons

I just finished a full revision of the four books of Socialite 1 and learned a few lessons that some of you may find helpful.  This stage of the self-publishing process was initiated by a desire to make the books available in print form.  I choose CreateSpace for the outlet because it's free, has a lot of helpful tools and templates for the design of the books and the covers (the image shown here is my final version of the cover for Book 2, created using the latest free demo version of Photoshop) and offers very reasonable royalties…but mostly because it's free to create the books.  This process was worthwhile, though time-consuming.

I began the edit step by placing the text of each book in a Word template (supplied by CreateSpace) that I selected for the size that I wanted for the final books.  I choose the 5X8 format.  I initially wrote the books in Pages - Apple's version of Word - and the cut and paste into Word was simple.  There were a couple of glitches involving page numbering and section breaks but nothing too complicated.  I loved that the margins were automatically adjusted for alternate pages to account for the binding.  I read helpful articles on the CreateSpace site about editing and cover design.  These resources led me to construct a short checklist for the final product.  Going through the checklist for each of the four books ensured consistency across the chapters and across the four books in the series.


  1. start chapters on odd numbered pages: this is a matter of personal preference, but at the very least I wanted to ensure that the book title page, dedication page, table of contents, first chapter, acknowledgement page and author's page started on an odd numbered page so that the reader would see it on the right side (not the left) when they opened the book.
  2. empty pages that separate sections or pad the end are totally empty - no numbers or headers
  3. justify text in chapters - I had found problems with this for my ebooks since I first created them for the Amazon Kindle and their .mobi format doesn't allow justification.  In this iteration I fixed that issue (though I noticed that after sending the files to Amazon's Kindle site the new books revert back to left aligned text.)
  4. Don't indent first paragraph of each chapter.  I set the tabs to 0 and used paragraph formatting (at 1.5 inches) for the remaining chapters as was suggested and it worked great.
  5. ellipses should be created using the single character rather than 3 periods - on a MAC this is done using the keyboard shortcut Alt + semicolon
  6. use proper hyphens, en- dashes and em-dashes - I found this article very helpful to fix any improper forms of these characters in the text ( )
  7. I had used 1.5 line spacing for my earlier epubs but found that single spacing looked better for the print versions
Once I had the text looking the way I wanted it I used the Edit-Find function to check that each of these points on the checklist was consistently followed. 

I loaded these books into CreateSpace, along with the newly created covers (again created using the appropriate template for the 5X8 book size.  I am now awaiting delivery of the book proofs.  Soon these will be available for marketing to book stores.

Creating new Epub Files:

Having completed the editing of the text, I had to make the ebooks consistent with the soon-to-be released print books.  For this stage I copied and pasted the Word version of the text back into Pages since Word does not have a SAVE to EPUB function, but Pages does.  I reused the formatting from my earlier files that worked as epubs ensuring that each type of text was assigned to a unique "style".  For example, the chapter titles were formatted as "Heading 2" in the paragraph styles section on Pages.  These styles are critical for proper conversion to the xhtml language of the ePub files.  Again, this was quite simple, but errors here can cause problems later, so I checked and rechecked all of the styles for consistency.  Once everything looked good I used the SHARE as EPUB feature in Pages to create the four files that would work on eReaders (iPads, Kobo, Sony etc.) except for Kindle.

I tested these on an iPad, iPod touch and a Kobo and they looked great - text was justified as I wanted, the table of contents worked great and the cover looked amazing.

The next step was to create the .mobi files for the Amazon Kindle.

Creating Kindle files:

I loaded each file into a free epub editing program called Sigil.  The program window is divided into sections to facilitate editing each part of the epub (an epub is actually a set of files and Sigil enables the readers to change each portion of it).  Learning how to use Sigil isn't hard, but figuring out which parts of the epub to change takes a little time.  I just Google each thing that I wanted to change and readily found answers to all of my questions.  Here are the most important things I learned:
  1. paragraph padding - ePubs created from Pages appear in Sigil with each paragraph separated by a huge gap.  This was annoying.  I found out that Pages inserts a piece of code at the beginning of each chapter that creates this padding.  The code looks like this: div.sgc-2 {white-space:pre-wrap}. I deleted all instances of that code and the paragraphs came out looking professional, without all that white-space.
  2. The book browser on the left side of the Sigil window shows all of the files in the ePub - one of them "cover.xhtml" will cause the Kindle to show two pages of your cover.  I simply deleted this file (right clicked on it and hit Remove).  Now the kindle will show a single cover of the book.
  3. The book Browser does not have the table of contents file needed by the kindle - I created a new one (right clicked on the "TEXT" folder and selected "New File" then renamed it to "toc.xhtml". I found a version of this file on a website and copied the code from that version into the code window for my file, then renamed the chapters accordingly. Here is a sample for anyone who wants to use my toc.xhtml code  (you don't have to understand all of it for it to work):                              

  4. Besides a few other minor adjustments, like asking Sigil to generate a separate table of contents file using the section on the left side of the Sigil window (this is the toc.ncx file a separate table of contents file from the first that must be in an epub) I had to add a piece of code into the file called "content.opf" to tell the eReader that I added a toc.xhtml file. the line of code makes the section called "guide" look like this:

Getting the Kindle files to look perfect was a little tedious but in two days I had all four books looking great.  I tested them using the free Kindle reader application on my mac - the latest version allows me to switch between different devices (Kindle fire, Kindle eReader and mobile versions of the Kindle reader) so I could adjust my ePubs for maximum compatibility.  It also automatically converts the ePub into a .mobi file. When everything looked great I sent these .mobi files to Kindle and voila - SUCCESS!

Please let me know if any of these instructions are unclear and I'd be happy to clarify.  There are many steps that I did not include in this post, so leave a comment or question if you are having problems with your own book conversions.

And - check out my books - the first one Bees to Benny is still free as an ebook. The new versions of my books are available to download at Amazon's Kindle site and will soon be available at Apple's iBookstore and at the Kobo ebookstore.

Amazon Kindle:

Apple iPad, Ipod, Iphone:


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What do Aliens look like?

Science fiction has offered us a plethora of images of potential alien life.  They are all rooted, to some extent, in assumptions about differences in their evolutionary history as compared to humans.  Some of these images are bug like, some warrior like, while others look more like an average, hairless, baby faced human (like the image shown here.)  Most presume that aliens would share certain human-like characteristics like bipedalism (walk on two legs), bilateral symmetry (right and left sides are mirror images of each other), and a similar arrangement of the major body parts (head on top with eyes and mouth, long central torso etc.)  These add familiarity for the reader but lack a level of ingenuity that we expect in fiction.

In the Socialite 1 book series, the aliens, Ray, Grace and Elle Amis, were designed on their planet to look exactly like humans.  This was important for the story since they had to blend in and be accepted by the Liebe family if they were going to have a chance of completing their mission.  I did not even describe the Zozian species in any detail, except for a few general remarks.  For example, in Book 2: Mission to Mission, Elle and Jacob are walking through the forest near Harrison Hot Springs in British Columbia and  Elle explains why she believes that we are never alone:

Jacob stumbled on a decayed piece of cedar, revealing a community of beetles, and isopods.  “Don’t step on them!” shrieked Elle.  She bent down and looked at the assortment of life.  “They have such a small circle of life, especially compared to these huge trees around us, that can live for hundreds of years.  Even compared to ourselves:  within a year these little ones are born, become adults, reproduce then die.  Although their circle of life is small, they deserve just as much respect as creatures with larger life cycles.”  They cautiously stepped over the crawling creatures.  “You see - even we aren’t alone out here.”
“Oh, is that what you meant.  What about in space?  That astronaut stuck up there on the space station - he’s alone.  There aren’t even any bacteria up there.” 
“He’s not alone, either,” argued Elle.  “He’s in constant communication with the people in Houston, who are trying to figure out a way to get him down.” 
“He could simply turn off his speakers, turn his back on Earth if he wanted.” 
“Even then, he would just be facing all the other inhabited planets in the universe,” said Elle.  She was skipping over a log as she spoke, pulling on Jacob’s arm, forcing him to skip as well. 
“You believe in alien’s, do you?” asked Jacob, sarcastically. 
“My dad does, that’s for sure,” said Elle.  “He says that life on other planets is a certainty.” 
“Really?  Do you mean, life like us?” 
“Now who’s being silly?  They aren’t like us...not exactly.  He told me that they have to look a lot different from us, because of different evolutionary histories, and different planetary conditions.” 
“It sounds like your dad has thought a lot about this.”  Jacob tried not to sound too skeptical, or else Elle might think he was judging her father’s sanity.  “I guess while you were growing up he had a lot of time to think about these things, thoroughly.” 
“Now you’re just being silly.”  She stopped, looked into Jacob’s eyes and asked, “is it so hard to imagine life beyond this atmosphere?  When you look at the stars at night, don’t you sometimes wonder if someone may be looking back at you?” 
“Yeah.  Sometimes.  I just never went the extra step that your father has in speculating on what they look like.” 
“Try it.” said Elle.

Elle is subtly trying to get Jacob to believe in the possibly of alien life, a necessity if he is to eventually accept that she is alien.  In the backstory to Socialite, the Zozian Diaries, Ray Amis is translating the diaries of previous Zozian explorers to Earth.  Ray's commentary is meant to allow humans to understand what Zozians are like and how they think.  I used this format so that I could periodically add details of Zozian physiology, sociology and psychology to that story.  For example, in Part 2, Ray explains why the Zozians used to call humans "animals with holes" by describing how Zozians look.  Keep watching for additions to the Zozian Diaries as I will add new parts to the story each week, explaining more about these aliens and their adventures.

Remember:  Book 1: Bees to Benny is still free at:

Amazon Kindle:

Apple iPad, Ipod, Iphone:


Please tell your friends about Socialite Books - people are more likely to buy books that their friends recommend than books they find on their own.
Find socialite books on Facebook at

Monday, March 26, 2012

Today's Inspiration: people in my life

I remember a scene from the comedy series "Kids in the Hall": a writer is struggling with his work when the image of Queen Elizabeth (Scott Thompson, of course) appears above his head advising him to "write what you know."  After all, when requiring advice we Canadians always turn to the Queen of England.  I'm not sure if I am remembering the scene correctly.  Regardless, the sentiment has value: writing what you know is good advice.  In developing characters for my stories, I often draw from the people that I know.  Often this takes shape as the character interacts in a particular scene of a story.

The characters in my books are never based on a single person, though some people may see themselves or someone they know in the actions or descriptions portrayed in a particular scene.   For example, the main character of Socialite,  fourteen year old Elle Amis, is an amalgamation of some of the most important people I know, my wife, and my kids.  I wrote her character description years ago for a very different story that I didn't finish.  When I decided to begin writing again, after my wife's passing,  I was reviewing some of my previous notes and became reacquainted with Elle and realized immediately that she was the femme fatale of my books.  I still find that her character drives the creation of her own scenes as I am writing.

One of my favourite minor characters in Socialite is Mrs. Therese Austen.  She is an older woman, who lives a few doors down the street from the main characters, and is often seen walking her little dog Bixby.  She was partly inspired by my sister-in-law's mother, who talked very softly and had a way of making you feel like you were the most important person in the world.  In the books, Mrs. Austen treats Jacob in exactly this way: to her, Jacob Liebe is the most important person in the world.  When I was writing the description of Mrs. Austen the image that kept coming to mind was one of the Queen mum in a green cloche hat - I couldn't resist how exquisitely Canadian it felt to describe her as I saw her in my head.  I liked the character so much that I decided in the early stages of preparing Socialite 1 that she would play a major role in the ending of this series, as you will see when you read Book 4: Unless Rules.

None of the characters in my books are exact replications of people I know.   Instead, I tend to see a scene play out in my head, and imagine how the emotions or reactions should be described.  In the process a memory of someone acting similarly will come to mind, and often that imagined person is someone I know.  Sometimes, the process happens in reverse: I'll remember how someone handled a particular situation in a clever or unusual way and make a note to use that memory at a later time.  The ordinariness of everyday life is often interrupted by one of these brilliant, living vignettes - unfortunately we tend to forget them all too quickly.  When looking for inspiration as I'm writing, I kick myself sometimes for not heeding the advice given in another Kids in the Hall, Scott Thompson skit: speaking as the character Buddy Cole he ends a comedic monologue with:
"It all reminds me of something that Moliere once said to Guy de Maupassant at a cafe in Vienna... That's nice. You should write it down."
Here is a small scene with Mrs. Austen meeting Ray Amis for the first time from S1B2: Mission to Mission.  After fourteen years of seclusion in his house, all the while watching and learning about his neighbours by watching projections from the many cameras that his daughter's chauffeur, Morse, had installed around the neighbourhood, Ray Amis is finally going for his first walk outside just after dawn.  He doesn't get far before his peaceful solitude in interrupted by Mrs. Austen and Bixby.

He was alone in his thoughts as he walked past the sleepy houses lining Homedale Street.  As he reached the end of the block, he noticed an old woman walking her dog coming toward him.  He recognized her as Mrs. Therèse Austen.  “Good Morning,” he offered, smiling cordially. 
“Where’s your dog?” she kindly asked.
“My...what makes you think I have a dog?” he asked puzzled. 
“No one comes out at this time without a dog,” she reasoned.  “Here you are, so what happened to your dog?  Did he get off his leash?”  Ray looked curiously at her.  He had seen her many times on the AmisVision screens, walking her dog to and from her house.  His curiosity had prompted him to ask Morse to install additional cameras along her route, so that he could learn more about this strange behavior.  For hours, some days, he would watch her slowly walking, sometimes to the grocery store, sometimes to the diner, but usually, just casually walking in circles, cleaning up after her pet.  She always wore the same lime-green coat, with a matching Cloche hat.  She was also constantly talking to her dog.   
“I have no dog, nor have I ever felt the compulsion to subject a creature of this planet to subservience or confinement,” he confessed. 
“No dog.  Well, that is new.  And you live close by?” she continued, undaunted by issues of animal slavery. 
“I live at the yellow house down there,” he said, pointing down the street, no longer afraid of being identified by his neighbours. 
“You mean the house across from Jacob’s?” 
“Yes.  Are you one of Jacob’s friends?” asked Ray. 
“Oh ye-e-es.  I am,” she said, enthusiastically.  “Ever since he was a little boy.  I used to watch him sometimes when his mom would go shopping.  A wonderful, kind, intelligent boy.  Are you a friend, too?” 
“My daughter is.” 
“I hope she’s pretty.  Is she pretty?  I was hoping that Jacob would meet a pretty girl.” 
“I am her father, of course, so my opinion may seem biased.” 
“Are you new here?” she asked, moving on to another subject without completing the previous one. 
“No,” said Ray.  He was becoming tense due to his lack of control of the conversation and the inquisitional verbal delivery of his neighbor.  He didn’t want to be rude during his first, real conversation with an outsider, so he answered, “I’ve lived here for many years.” 
“You don’t walk much.  I’ve never seen you.  I guess you drive instead.” 
“No, I don’t drive.  As it happens, this is the first time that I’ve taken a walk around here.” 
“You don’t have a car and you don’t walk, how do you get around?” she asked, looking concerned and confused. 
“I have a car, but it’s just for my daughter.  She has a driver who takes her places,”  explained Ray, trying to direct the discussion in a new direction. 
“You don’t go with her?” she asked, still confused. 
“No, I don’t go with her.” 
“Poor girl, all alone.  Well not quite alone, now that she has Jacob.  Then, how do you get around?” Mrs. Austen repeated. 
“I must confess that I don’t want to seem rude by avoiding or refusing to answer your benign question.  I absolutely don’t condone dishonesty.  So, perhaps we should conclude our discussion for now and continue some other time on a different subject.” 
“Perhaps you could borrow someone else’s dog for your walks,” suggested Mrs. Austen. 
“Why would I want to do that?” returned Ray. 
“Then we could talk about our dogs,”  said Mrs. Austen plainly, without a hint of sarcasm in her voice.     
“You are very astute.  I look forward to speaking with you again some time,” said Ray.

All four books in the Socialite series are available at:

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Apple iPad, iPod, iPhone:


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Zozian Diaries - a new beginning for Socialite

I have a ton of ideas for expanding the Socialite series into the future.  Currently I am working on the second set of books which will be called Socialite II: Duality (those of you who have finished Socialite 1 will understand the significance of the title.)  I have also sketched out many of the scenes for Socialite III and Socialite IV.  All of these series follow the timeline set in the original series, and gradually move into the future following the lives of Elle Amis and Jacob Liebe.  When I started to conceive of their story, my initial notes had the story beginning many years before the arrival of Ray and Grace Amis on Earth.  I scrapped the idea of including the stories of the early Zozian explores from Socialite 1, and did not want the next three series to fall backward in time either.  Instead, I decided to develop these stories separately as the Zozian Diaries.

The Zozian Diaries cover the voyage that preceded the Amis' journey.  In Socialite 1: Book 3, Grace and Ray described the importance of that expedition to the Zozian people.  Here is a brief section of that scene:

        "Our people have been traveling here every couple of centuries since we discovered your planet, oh, about eight hundred years ago.  Back then, our people were amazingly creative and vibrant, scientifically and artistically.  They had solved many of the challenges that currently affect your planet: energy shortages, poverty, food shortages.  Health care, disease and longevity, were the only major hurdles left to conquer.   Our first expeditions brought back plants, insects and various other samples.  Samples from other planets proved useless to us.  The compatibility of the genetic material on Earth with our own, however, led to the development of the first siloplasts.  These technological wonders, enabled us to combine small DNA sequences with our own.  Within a hundred years of that discovery, we had cured most diseases on our planet and increased life expectancy by about twenty years.  So you see, your planet and ours are already parts of a greater whole.” “Your people?” said Tim with skepticism and a little fear.  He and Mandy, silently communicated with a glance at each other, their agreement that Ray must be delusional. “Well, as I told you before,” Ray continued, undaunted,  “the people of Zozia Lee, look a lot different from you and me.  When I was a child, I felt like a stranger, an outsider.  We all did.  In fact, that was one of the conditions of the experiment, to ensure that we would be more comfortable and content when we reached our new home.  Blood samples brought back on the very last expedition, the same expedition that brought the ‘great book’ to us, enabled our scientists to reconstruct a human-like genome - part human, part zozian.  Mistakes were made, frightfully ugly mistakes, and they were treated with utmost sympathy and compassion.  As was I, and the forty or so others who survived in the later stages of the experiment.  That’s right, Grace and I were part of that same experiment that produced Benny.  We were the successes, the ones from whom two would be chosen for the most ambitious expedition attempted.  As you can attest, we look, and talk and, well, in many ways, behave like humans.  So, for the first time, a Zozian explorer would be able to interact, and to live with the human population.  Grace and I were chosen.”
I am developing the diaries as a translated version of the original diaries written by the explorers of the expedition that prepared the way for the Amis' mission.  The translation is being conducted by Ray Amis.  He will add notes throughout the text to help explain unusual or unclear comments made by the explorers.  These diaries will cover the discoveries and inadvertent interactions of those explorers with humans in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.  I am presenting these diaries as a web log.  Each week I will add a few days or key events to the log.  Readers can follow along with the adventure weekly, as I am making this freely available on the website listed below.  In part 1, the explores have arrived and are watching Earth from the vantage point of the moon (hence the picture above.)  Eventually they will make their way onto the planet.  I hope that you enjoy this new addition to the Socialite story.

Click on this link:  Zozian Diaries

Click on a link below to get the first set of books:  (Book 1: Bees to Benny is still free at each location)
And please leave a comment or review of the books once you have read them.

Amazon Kindle:

Apple iPad, Ipod, Iphone:


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Writing without borders - letting the muse do the typing.

While writing Socialite 1, I found that I enjoyed the process the most when I let the feeling of a scene take over.  Usually, after getting the kids either off to school or off to bed, I would sit at the computer and scan the excel spreadsheet on which I had each scene for each book described in a single sentence.  For example, one scene in the spreadsheet said: "Elle recites original poem during Jacob's English class".  That brief description allowed me to recall the whole scene as I had originally imagined it.  So as I was saying, I would sit at the computer and look over the scenes and eventually, one particular scene would begin to get my mind racing, developing the action, the dialogue, etc.  My fingers would get typing and a little while later the scene would be complete.  This process worked well, except during the scenes that were meant to contain music, or poetry.

The music and poetry scenes seemed to require a more organic approach.  Often I would look at one of the scenes and imagine how the action might develop, but without the central music or poem, I just couldn't get anywhere.  If I had a sense of how the song or poem would begin, I would go for a walk, usually to get a Starbucks' coffee, and arrive home with a complete scene ready to type into the computer.

In the case of the poetry scene mentioned above, I knew that I wanted Elle's poetry to be original - unlike anything that the reader had experienced (like the image of poetry above).  At the same time it had to be something that would allow for humour in the scene and enable the kids in the class to interact with Elle.  On one of my evening walks, the poem and poetry format came to me quickly and seemingly without effort.  It probably wouldn't have, if I had stressed about coming up with it while writing book 1.  Since I was writing all four books simultaneously, and out of order, it didn't matter to me that book 1 and book 2 had both been mostly complete when I finally was inspired to conceive of the "Hidden Word" format of Elle's poem.  I knew that scene was going to be in chapter two, but just left it incomplete until it came to me.

That scene is one of my favourites in book 1.  It is the first time that Jacob hears Elle speak, and only the second time that he and Elle interact  (earlier that day, Jacob's nose is smashed with a soccer ball, and Elle runs over and wipes the blood from his nose - without saying anything.)  The scene is also the second time that Elle modifies her voice to affect the behaviour of one of the other characters in the book.  Throughout the book series I play with causes of behaviour and the attribution or more frequently misattribution made by the characters for their own behaviour.  After this scene, Jacob can't get Elle out of his thoughts and attributes those persistent thoughts to a normal human interest of a boy for a girl, though the reader knows that there is a lot more going on that is not normal and not human.

Here is the entire scene:

Just as class was beginning, Matt, sitting right behind Jacob, jabbed his sunglasses - a permanent accessory propped on top of his bald head - into Jacob’s side and whispered, “Hey loverboy, look!  Your personal nurse just walked in.”
Mr. Estlin, who taught both English nine and ten, motioned for Elle to wait in the corner.  He was tall, about six foot five inches and looked very thin in his tight blue jeans, tan corduroy shirt, and pencil thin black tie that barely reached the middle of his belly.  His frizzy, permed, long, brown hair made him look at least five inches taller.  
“Alright!  Let’s quiet down,” he began.  He had a commanding voice that, combined with his physical appearance, ensured cooperation; the class quickly became quiet.  “I gave all of my classes a poetry assignment in the first week of school and promised a prize for the best composition.  Not everyone took the contest seriously,” at this a few students, including Jacob, laughed, “but a few of you handed in some excellent work.  Unfortunately there could only be one winner, and I am sorry to say that none of my grade tens could compete with the amazing poem that was written by this grade nine student, Elle Amis.  I can now reveal the prize, as it is something that will benefit all of you.  As the winner, Elle has won the opportunity to read her poem in front of both of my classes, so that we can all applaud her work of art.”  Some of the class groaned, others laughed, but most of them were just happy to have lost the competition.  
Jacob felt a little sad for Elle.  As he saw it, she had both won and lost.  He felt like Elle was being cheated somehow.  He spoke up, “Mr. Estlin, don’t you think that since Elle is new to the school you might give her something like a pen, or a book instead.”  
Matt, misinterpreting Jacob’s intentions added, “Yeah, spare us the torture, please!”  The class erupted in laughter.  
Jacob felt embarrassed that he may have just made things worse for Elle.  He tried to clarify, “I just think that it’s probably a little embarrassing for her to be forced into standing in front of a class of strangers, you know, in the limelight.”
Mr. Estlin considered this request for a moment then turned to Elle and said, “do you feel uncomfortable in this situation, Elle?  If you would rather not present your poem, I could read it instead.”
Elle looked at the faces of the students in front of her, smiled and in a sweet, confident voice answered, “I’m fine.”
“There you have it, Mr. Liebe.  She’s fine.  Let’s give her the floor, everyone,” said Mr. Estlin.  “First, I should explain the type of poem she has created, as we haven’t covered this particular style yet.  She created her poem in the newest poetic format called ‘hidden word’ created and popularized by our country’s current poet laureate, Aladar Roch.  In ‘hidden word’ poems, the last word in each stanza is omitted; yes, that’s right, it’s just left out.  The text of each stanza is cleverly constructed to suggest the identity of that final missing word.  I think it would be fun if we all shout out the first word that comes to mind as Elle pauses at the end of every fourth line where the hidden word is located.  Let’s see if Elle was successful in getting us all to think of the same thing.  Her poem is titled Cicada.  You can begin whenever you are ready, Elle.”
Elle stood at the front of the class, looking poised and confident.  She didn’t look directly at Jacob, though he was now staring at her.  She flicked her long hair over her shoulder and began to read her winning composition.  Most of the students in the class appeared bored - it was poetry after all.  She read slowly and loudly:
Buried I hid
   Eight years then five
   You thought I was dead
   In truth, barely ________
Elle paused, and a few kids in the front shouted “Alive.”  Matt yelled, “Sex!”  The students looked at him and he whispered, “he said to say the first thing that came to mind.”  A few students laughed, but not Jacob.  
Elle waited a few seconds for the class to become quiet again, then continued,
Escaping the tragic
   Avoiding the sin
   As if by magic
   I shed my _______
Elle paused again, and this time most of the class shouted, “Skin.”  Mr. Estlin cast a smile at Elle, though she didn’t see it.  She continued to stare at the class and concluded with,
This voice will assist
   So love I can bring
   No lover resists
   Whenever I ______
“Sing!” the whole class shouted in unison.  
Mr. Estlin looked very pleased.  “Great job, Elle.  It worked perfectly.  How about we give a round of applause to our poet!”
The students clapped, and the boys cheered loudly, as boys will always do for a beautiful girl.  When the cheering reached a peak she spoke up in the most imploring and sweet voice, “you are just so nice. I can’t thank you enough for being so gracious.  I beg one favour, though.  Could I please recite a very short poem written by my favorite author?  It is very short and I am sure you will like it.  Please?”  This last word echoed in the class room for a few seconds before the boys broke out even louder than before in thunderous cheers.  
Mr. Estlin was proud of the enthusiasm in his class.  He asked, “who is the author?”
She replied, “E.E. Cummings.” 
“Oh what a treat!  We would love to hear one of his classic poems.”  
She waited for silence, then began, “I carry your heart with me” with a different voice than she used for her earlier poem.  This voice was deeper, almost husky, and sexy.  The atmosphere became cave quiet as her voice bounced off the classroom walls.  
For Jacob, it seemed that each word took a few seconds to cross the gap from her mouth to his ears.  Her eyes moved around the room, but her voice, destined to find him, seemed to get lost in a search for the most worthy listener, eventually choosing Jacob.  
When she spoke the line, “here is the deepest secret nobody knows,” he hung onto those words wanting nothing more than to know what her secret was.  Then he was rewarded with the answer as she slowly, purposefully whispered, “I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)”.  He started to feel embarrassed as the tears welled up in his eyes and had to pretend to sneeze so he could bring a tissue to his face.  
Remember:  book 1 is free at most ebook retail sites, so download it today.  I would love to hear your comments as well, so if you have time, enter a review of the book at the store where you got the book.  Or simply leave a comment right here on this blog.  

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