Saturday, November 30, 2013

Our continuing exploits in New England: Thanksgiving

I hadn't intended on writing a blog post about American Thanksgiving. It's not that unsimilar to Canadian Thanksgiving, and I've cooked Thanksgiving-type dinners before. Sure there are some cultural differences, time of year being a big one, but it also seems that Thanksgiving is the holiday of the year. It's seems that if there's one holiday you go home for in the US, it's Thanksgiving, whereas in Canada, Christmas (I think) takes priority. There's also the Black Friday thing that happens afterward, but it seems to be creeping up into Canada as well.

Let me recount to you my Thanksgiving timeline for this year.

Earlier on in the fall, September, maybe.
Andrew lets me know that a friend of ours from Italy will be in the general area for a conference and want's to know if we can host him. The answer is yes.

Still earlier in the fall, maybe October.
Andrew lets me know that our friend will be travelling with another colleague from Italy and he's keen to experience an American Thanksgiving. I like to cook, so I say, sure, we can handle that.

The week before Thanksgiving.
The question arises that the colleague will be staying with some other friends (an Italian and a Frenchwoman), can we serve everyone? Of course. A large chicken is plenty for six, and making extra sides for two more people really doesn't make a difference.

Sunday, November 24th
Two pie crusts were made and placed into the freezer (two because that's what my recipe makes, not because I was planning to serve two).

Monday, November 25th
The chicken comes out of the freezer to thaw in the fridge.

Tuesday, November 26th
 I make and bake the pumpkin pie (from scratch of course, no from-a-can pie filling for me).

Wednesday, November 27th
Andrew helps chop veggies (carrots and fennel), I put together the dressing (dressing rather than stuffing, since the chicken is too small to hold much), I make the cranberry sauce (again no from-a-can, gelatinous red goo for me).

Thursday, November 28th, Thanksgiving
I work until around noon (I am after all, still working for a Canadian employer) when I stop and have lunch.

1:00 pm
I put the carrots and fennel onto pre-roast; finish preparing the dressing and put it into the crockpot; dress the chicken (chopped garlic and herbs rubbed under the skin); and prepare the sweet potatoes and brussel sprouts.

Everything is going swimmingly.

3:35 pm
The power flickers off. I had only just turned the dishwasher (and was also watching a movie on Andrew's laptop) so I had a momentary concern that I was somehow running too many things and had cause the outage myself. It comes back on after a few minutes and I continue with my preparations.

4:00 pm
I start preparing for the guests I expect in an hour by clearing away clutter from our living room, getting out our folding table and extra chairs, finding napkins, etc.

4:30 pm
The power goes, again. It's getting dark so I find a battery operated light, but don't quite know what to do. I check outside my apartment, the rest of the building is dark and I confirm with another tenant that the power is out in the entire building. I start to search for our landlord's phone number, but as it's growing darker it's difficult. I then take a look outside and realize none of the buildings around me have lights on. It's now donning on me that everyone in my area is in the same position. I send a message to Andrew to give me a call so I can tell him what's going on then start searching for candles.

4:45 pm
While on the phone with Andrew the power comes back on. Woot. Everything seems good, so I preheat the oven, get the chicken out of the fridge and start putting away the candles.

5:20 pm
I put the chicken in the oven.

5:30 pm
The power goes out for the third time. I relight all my tea lights, distribute them around the apartment and wait for our guests to arrive so we can decide what to do.

5:45 pm
We decide it's best to pack up and go over to our guests' house. We scramble around in the pitch dark (since there are no lights on anywhere) packing up food, extra chairs and plates, everything we can think of that we'll need. Just as we're getting ready to leave, the power comes back on, but we decide it's not to be trusted.

6:00 pm
We arrive in Cambridge, unpack everything and continue with dinner preparations. Tables are arranged so that we can seat everyone.

6:30 pm
The first bottle of wine is opened, followed by an appetizer, and another bottle of wine.

8:00 pm
Dinner is served. Good thing everyone else is European and used to eating late. The chicken is completely devoured (all I had left was the bones). Everyone seems stuffed and happy. We head home around 11:00 pm and I'm very glad that my employers are in Edmonton, so I can sleep in a bit and will still be up before everyone else.

That was my first American Thanksgiving.



Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Cure, Q & A: Imaginary fan questions

I have written three fan letters in my time. One to Ann M. Martin, author of the Baby Sitter's Club books, J.K. Rowling, of well, you know who fame, and Stuart Mclean, the author/creator of the Vinyl Cafe stories. I think I know where the return letter from Stuart is stashed, unfortunately I don't think I have the others.

Of course, I'm not even remotely famous, and the last time I checked my sales, I'd made a whopping $14.00, so I don't expect to get my own fan mail anytime soon. However, I thought since not much has been happening around the Milne household over the last few weeks, I might answer some questions that I imagine might be asked in a letter or email.

Q: How long have your been writing stories?
Years. At least since I was ten, when I wrote my first one act Christmas play. I've always written short stories, and during my first year of university, I emailed a serial to my friends, about an alternate universe where everyone had peg-legs. I moved onto novels after I graduated from nursing.

Q: Did you take any special classes or courses to learn how to write?
Yes. After I finished with nursing, I spend three semesters at Seton Hill in their Writing Popular Fiction program. Unfortunately, I didn't graduate after loosing my focus in my fourth and final semester. Even though I didn't graduate from the program, it improved my writing skills considerably. Although I still feel that the ability to create a good story is largely innate, courses and classes in writing can definitely strength your skills.

Q: How many stories involving Nora do you have planned?
It will take three stories to complete Nora's tale and I don't have plans to do any more after that. I often lose interest in a series that goes on for longer, especially if the characters suffer what I think of as "the most unlucky person in the world" syndrome. Three stories will take Nora to the end of her journey, with most of her goals met, and a great deal of personal growth accomplished.

Q: Do you have any other stories you're working on, or have published?
Yes. I have an upper YA novel, title Cimwai's Bay, which I'm currently querying to agents. If, by the time I've released all of Nora's stories, I haven't managed to find someone to pick up the series, I'll also release it via self publishing. After all, the key to success with self-publishing is to have as many novels on the market as possible.

Q: What do you like best about writing?
I like to entertain people with stories. When I was younger, I told lots of jokes, and I've always liked to act and sing. Since I'm not an especially good actor or singer, writing is another avenue for entertaining. Plus, I tend to have no shortage of ideas to write about, although they don't always make it into a novel.

Q: What do you like the least about writing?
The amount of time you have to spend sitting at a desk with just a computer. I'm naturally an introvert, so it's not as huge a sacrifice as it might be for those of a more social nature. Also, I often feel guilty when I opt to watch a movie, or go out for an evening rather than write. It's one of those hard facts about being (or trying to be a writer), it takes a lot of time to craft a novel.

If you have any questions for me about writing, knitting, baking, or being an aerialist, feel free to post them (Note: I do moderate my comments, so it make take a while for them to appear).



Friday, November 8, 2013

The Cure, Q&A: Meet Tomas Classen

Now it's time to meet Tomas Classen.

I can't recall if I've written this here before, but I'm an enormous figure skating fan (since the early 1990's, when Kurt Browning was competing) and I frequently have dreams involving figure skaters. Of course, these dreams rarely involve figure skating, the skaters who make appearances are usually just hanging out with me. At any rate, when I had my dream about living in the airplane hanger, it also involved a Canadian figure skater, one Jeffrey Buttle. He was one of the 'cool' kids, and I definitely was not, and he's the body model for Tomas.
Jeffrey Buttle, 2008 World Champion. I linked to this picture through Wikipedia, but I don't know where they scammed it from (hey, I'm a librarian, if I can't source something accurately, I can at least be honest about it).
Of course, I have no idea what Jeffrey is really like (I can only surmise from the interviews I've seen of him, that he's generally a friendly, charismatic type of person) so technically, Tomas is only based on him physically speaking. Therefore, Tomas isn't terribly tall, only five foot eight (the ideal height for most male figure skaters is in the five foot six to five foot eight range, it's a centre of gravity thing required for jumps and spins) and he's physically fit, very trim, but not beefy. His hair is multi-hued, but is predominantly a golden-blond colour, and his eyes are described as crystal blue. I definitely made Tomas something of a pretty-boy.

My brother, Matthew Thorne's, rendition of Tomas.
Personality wise, Tomas is meant to be very charming, open, and friendly towards everyone. He's the daydream of every girl in the compound, and he tries not to encourage anyone's hopes, but since he's a genuinely nice person, he has trouble discouraging the attention he doesn't want (hence why Ursula and Rose thinks he actually considers them as his close personal friends). He's also much better at keeping his temper under wraps than Nora, but that doesn't mean he never gets angry. Rather, when he gets mad, he gets really mad, and that most often happens when he feels he needs to defend Nora.
My own sketch of Tomas, working in the greenhouse.
Finally, we don't get to learn much of Tomas's aspiration in The Cure, (you don't even get to learn much about them in The Cause, either), but since it's really not a spoiler, I'll tell you. He'd like to go into records management (did I mention I'm a librarian?), which has a limited job field, especially in a small compound like Nu. That's about all I can say about that.

Again, let me know if you have questions! Feel free to post them to this blog, or to post them on Facebook if that's where your reading this from. I'd be happy to answer them.



Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A circus break: a trip to NECCA

This past weekend the hubby and me took a short trip up to Brattleboro Vermont, the home of the New England Center for Circus Arts. We visited there in the summer to participate in the aerials skills week, and while there were informed that they would be holding workshops over the last week of October. We decided back then that we would try to arrange to return for one or more of the workshops, in particular we were interested in the day long session on rigging.

Brattleboro is a two hour drive from our home in Somerville. The journey is rather picturesque, as you drive through the rolling hills of the Appalachians, passing by (and over) rivers. Some of the roads are very twisty, and at times you're driving on an undivided highway of only one lane each direction, so you need to be paying attention. When I return in February (more on this in a bit) I'm going to have to be careful on these roads. Anyway, this isn't about the drive, it's about the aerials learning.

On Sunday we did a 2 hour session with a friend of ours from Edmonton who was at NECCA for teacher training. Our instructor was Destiny Vinley, who we'd met in the summer. She was super fun to work with, and we learned several cool poses that can be built upon to do all kinds of different moves. I only a have a few videos from this session, which are rather slow and not very graceful, so here are a couple of shots from the summer instead.

Monday was a 6-hour workshop on rigging for aerial equipment. Andrew and me both felt it was important to learn more about rigging, in case in the future, we find ourselves performing on our own around Ontario. The session was very informative, but as pointed out by the instructor, we are not now free to travel about the country rigging silks and trapezes as if we were professionals. What we are able to do is recognize when rigging is done safely or not, which is key for aerialists.

One of the coolest things we saw during the session, was how many pounds of force are created from different aerial tricks. Surprisingly, the greatest amount of force achieved was just shy of 1,000 pounds (from a double ankle drop). That was very reassuring to see, as it tells me that the ratings for all of the equipment is far greater than what is needed to avoid crashing to the ground. I think we'd both like to take more sessions in the future, so that we might become more qualified and experienced with rigging.

I'm going back to NECCA in February to take their introductory course for instructors. I'm looking forward to the 5-day session, as I'm hoping to start assisting with a couple of the beginner classes at the studio in Boston.



Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Cure, Q&A: Meet Nora Watson

I don't have a consistent practice for how I develop characters. It all depends on what arises first, the idea for the story, or the idea for the character. Sometimes I'll have a particular person in mind as a body double, often I don't. What I intentionally do, is avoid giving a great deal of description to my main character so that my readers might reasonably imagine themselves as the protagonist. Although, since most of my lead characters are female, that might not work so well for any male readers, but maybe it doesn't matter so much. I don't know.

For Nora, I didn't have particular description in mind. I thought she was probably of average appearance, so pretty, but of course she wouldn't have acknowledged such a compliment if it was passed her way. She has long brown hair (it's way easier to just let your hair grow, then ever cut it or style it) that she generally ties back into a ponytail or messy bun, and she had brown eyes. She looks a lot like her mother. She's about five foot six, or 168 centimeters tall (or my height) and slender.
My brother, Matthew Thorne's rendition of Nora, created for when I posted the chapters here on this blog (sorry, no longer available).
Of course, there's a lot more to Nora than her appearance. As I was developing the story for The Cure I decided that there needed to be something unique about her. She couldn't just be some smart, average of appearance, teenage girl who was awkward with people. There had to be something else. There had to be a reason for why she had so few friends, why she was an outcast for more than just the purposes of my story. That's why I made her deaf.

I've been fascinated with the deaf culture since I was young...since I first saw The Miracle Worker, which is a movie (starring Anne Bancroft) about the early childhood of Helen Keller. I've always admired that she achieved so much considering she was both blind and deaf. I know some sign language (although not nearly enough to successfully communicate with a deaf person, I'm sure), and I volunteered at the Bob Rumbell Centre for the Deaf in Toronto for a short period during my undergrad. I also took several opportunities in my Masters to work on projects related to the Deaf culture.

I have one small regret around making Nora deaf, and that's that I made her deaf and not Deaf. That means she's physiologically deaf, but not culturally. The reason for this is that, she's the only deaf person in her compound. She had no one to learn from. This is why she speaks and reads lips, rather than uses ASL. I try to point out in a couple of places that lip reading isn't perfect, that she can't understand what people are saying when they don't look at her, and even then, she has to fill in bits as best she can. I also have people occasionally remark on her unusual 'accent,' to note that her speaking voice is differentl because she can't hear it herself.

 Small piece of back story that never comes out--Nora's mother was sick when she was pregnant (Rubella), which is why Nora is deaf.
My own depiction of Nora, created early this fall, because sometimes it's fun to draw.

Finally, I made Nora a huge science nerd. That's because I wanted to demonstrate that girls can be smart at science, too. I was kind of an all around student in elementary and high school. I was good at music and art, but I also achieved good grades in math and science. I did, after all, start out my university career in biology.

So, there's the background on Nora Watson, my heroine.

Feel free post questions if you want to know more about her, or my other characters (although there will be additional Q&A's on them to come).



Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Our Continuing Exploits in New England: The RMV, part 2

So, as promised (I know, you were all so hoping for this) a run down of the process of getting our car registered in the state of Massachusetts.

First, let me say, I hate going to the Registry of Motor Vehicles. I suspect that I'm not alone. It's a horrid, soul sucking place that is probably as close as one can get to purgatory (if you believe in that sort of thing, and in fact I don't) on Earth. It involves a great deal of waiting, paper work, and in my case, crossing my fingers that all of that said paperwork is properly filled out.

I have gone to the RMV five times. Twice to get my driver's license, another three times to deal with car registration, although on the fourth visit I waited around for about ten minutes, then decided it wasn't worth it and biked home. There were no tears this time, but I had a forty-minute bike ride (one way, and not including the extra time I spent lost) just to get a sheet of paper.

So, for all you Canadians out there, who might be moving to the United States, here are the details of what you need in order to import your Canadian vehicle (do note this is all specific to Mass and may be different in other states).

1) Import papers. You're supposed to get this when you cross the boarder, of course they didn't even look at our car when we crossed at Kingston-Lewiston, so we didn't have any. This is what I biked forty-five minutes for*. I had to go down to the Port Authority in Boston with a slew of papers. You need to show that you own the car, so I brought our Bill of Lading. You also have to have a Letter of Conformity from the manufacturer of our car to prove that it conforms with the requirements of the US (this was a relatively simple phone call to Mercedes Benz, then they emailed us their form letter). I think they took my Alberta registration, too. I rather insensibly forgot to bring my passport, but I think they customs officer took pity on me and just took my driver's license for proof ID.

2) RMV-1 form. This is the standard form required to register any car in Mass. I got mine from my Insurance Company (GEICO), and they filled out a portion of it for me. You can get a copy of the form, RMV-1 here. Fill it out as best you can, but the person at the RMV will definitely let you know if you're missing something. The woman I had on my last visit was surly, and I was worried she was going to find a way to deny me my registration, thankfully she didn't.

3) The third thing you need is an Affidavit in Support for Exemption from Sales or Use Tax for a Motor Vehicle Purchased Outside of Massachusetts. I couldn't find an online copy of it, but it was about four lines long, so it didn't take long to fill out, even if you have to get one when you arrive at the RMV.

4) Your current car registration. So, whatever papers you've got from where ever you moved from. In our case our registration was for the province of Alberta.

5) Your Mass license. Although, now that I think about it, I can't remember if the woman actually looked at it, but you have to fill it out on the RMV-1 form.

6) Cash or check. Credit isn't accepted for car registration. Don't ask me why, I don't know.

I think that's everything, or at least that's everything I can remember. You can check US Environmental Protection Agency for import requirements. You can also check the state RMV website for Converting an out of state registration.

Still with me?

Last but not least, you have to get an emission sticker within 7 days of registering your car (or I would assume that you have to go back to the RMV and pay more money, and nobody wants to do that). I had a little trauma there, too, but nothing major.

Once that sticker is on your windshield, you're done with the RMV. If we're here for longer than a year, I plan to do my renewal over the Internet. Now we just have to decide if we want to pay for the Somerville parking permit, which is only another $30-40 more.



*I biked because I didn't want to navigate through Boston traffic, on my own to a place I'd never been before and more than likely end up lost while trying to deal with traffic.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Our continuing exploits in New England: Blue Hills Reservation Area

I've been wanting to go hiking around the New England area since we got here. The drive through Mass is very pretty in the summer (and also in the fall as the leaves turn) with all the trees and the rolling hills of the Appalachians. There's a trail through the Appalachians that cuts across 14 states that I'd love to tackle at least part of, but it's getting a bit late in the year for camping (I know, if we were hard core we could go out in the winter, but I don't think either of us would love the experience).

A (very) little Internet searching yields a plethora of options for places to go for short-term hikes in Mass, both throughout the state and closer to Boston. The hubby didn't want to do any extensive driving to find a location, so I limited my search closer to home. In the end, we dropped my suggestion of the Fells Reservation, and went to Blue Hills, which should have only been a 25 minute drive from our apartment. I think it took us closer to an hour, maybe more.

The initial wrong turn was my fault. I'm still not totally comfortable with driving around Boston. The lane lines, at times, seem arbitrary. Same with the speed limits. And a portion of the I-93 is underground, which I think also changes the driving experience. At any rate, I accidentally got off the interstate in the direction of the airport, which resulted in us getting lost. We don't have a GPS, and like most people, we just use our phones to navigate. On Saturday the mapping feature proved to be slow and caused the hubby to give me more than one erroneous direction. We weren't a happy couple. But, we haven't made it through 9 years of marriage (as of tomorrow) for nothing. After we ended up almost back to our apartment, I pulled over, Andrew took the driver's seat and on the third attempt we made it out to the Blue Hills Reservation.

Saturday was beautiful. Sunny, a very comfortable air temperature (maybe 18 or 20C). We found a place to park shortly after reaching the reservation and headed off. We hiked for a little over 2 hours, covering somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 kilometers (my phone battery drained before we got back to the car). The trails were a mix of flat, easy walking with a few roots, to the Skyline trail, which had lots of rocks, and several reasonably steep (for not being in the mountains) hills to ascend and descend.
A shot of one of the easy strolling trails. The mix of green, orange and red leaves was very pretty.
A brook we passed as we hiked.
After we finished our lunch, we went up a steep, rocky path to an observation tower. It was very popular, probably helped by the excellent view.
A shot of Boston from the observation tower.
My ruggedly handsome hubby, when we paused momentarily on our way back from the observation tower, along the Skyline trail.
Nothing like the challenge of the Jasper Park Skyline trial, the one in Blue Hills was still very pretty, and the rocks did make some of the descents a little tricky.
Next time, on our continuing exploits in New England, I'll write about what was hopefully my last visit to the RMV.



Friday, October 18, 2013

My continuing exploits into self-publishing

I haven't looked at my sales figure yet. That's mostly because I don't want to disappoint myself. I know that I'm not going to suddenly be able to 'quit my day job' with this venture, most authors can't, but discovering that I've only made two or three sales would be really disappointing. There's a blog post written by an author named Tobias Buckell, in which he talks about some of the realities about self-publishing. Basically, he points out that most books, whether they are self-published or released by a traditional publisher, don't sell well. In other words, there's a very small number of J.K. Rowlings in the world, and a whole lot more S. Andrea Milne's.

To put it another way, I've released The Cure in the hopes of entertaining a few, spreading Nora's story as far as I can, and if I'm lucky, eventually making back the money I put into it (which thankfully, hasn't been a great deal). I'm not in it for fame or glory; I'm more likely to remain obscure and experience heartbreak.

The spreading the word about Nora is tricky. I don't have a large social network to help me get the word out about my book out, but there's been a few surprises in the past few weeks. A couple of people, who I wouldn't have expected it from, have re-shared my posts about The Cure. This is always a nice surprise. I mean, I've got some re-posts from people I would have expected it (Hi Andrew, Michelle, Emma, and Greg!), and I'm extremely grateful for that. It's the people I don't expect it from that make me feel extra special (and consequently like I'm bad friend).

Plus, The Cure is still only available on Kobo, which also limits the number of sales I might be able to make, since it's not as big a retailer of ebooks as say, Amazon (I'm hoping to get The Cure out there before Christmas, but I hit a slight snag on getting my US tax identification number).

As a further note about Kobo, I'm rather disappointed with the 'Related Titles' that appear when you search for my book on the website. Frankly, most of the titles are porn. I contacted Kobo about this matter, but it wasn't resolved with any success. They say the 'Related Titles' list is developed by a title search, and not by genre, but that doesn't explain why I'm seeing what I'm seeing. From the conversation I had, I think this might not be the case if you log in with a Kobo account, but I'm not sure. Ultimately, I have no leverage in the situation, so I just have to deal with it.

That's all for now. I hope to post some more insights into the self-publishing process, and into the characters and plot of The Cure, in the weeks to come.



Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Cure, Q&A: Find the Map

As explained in Diana Wynne Jones's, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, the first thing you should do whenever you begin a fantasy novel is, find the map. Usually it's within the first few pages, just inside the front cover. It tells you everything you need to know about the geography of the fantasy world you're about to submerge yourself in.

The Cure, isn't actually a fantasy novel. I'd term it more a work of speculative fiction, or a dystopian novel. However, there is a map. A map I sketched during a class, no less (the class was definitely during my Masters, possibly a class on digital reference services). Okay, so it may not exactly a map, so much as a blue print, but it will definitely give the reader a better idea of what I imagined the compounds of my world to look like.

The blue print sketch on its own. If I get around to it, I'll try to put together a more technical-looking, computerized blue print with straight lines and what not.
The full page including my calculations for the number of people living in Nu Compound, and therefore how many cubes there needed to be.


Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Cure, Q&A: The Idea

I always have ideas flittering around in my head. (I have a back log of them right now, but I hope that since I'm now focused on finishing up Nora, that I will get to something new soon.) Sometimes the ideas are just a 'theme' (I want to do something steampunk-ish), or I have a character in mind (I want to write about a girl with green hair, or I want to write about a girl who can fly). From there I ponder about the idea and I just keep going over it until I've come up with something I can work with.

I hate to admit it, but the basic idea for The Cure came from a dream. I hate to say it because famously that's how Stephenie Meyer came up with the premise for the Twilight series. It feels a little passe to say 'My story came to me in a dream', but I suppose that's how many people come up with their ideas (or they hit their heads on toilets, so I guess I'd prefer a non-violent form of inspiration). Then again, I have to credit Stephenie Meyer for getting me writing again after more than a year long hiatus, so maybe I shouldn't be so hard on her.

So, yes. I had this dream where I and a whole bunch of other people were living in a giant airplane hanger. I don't know why we were all living in the airplane hanger, we just were (hey, it was a dream, things don't have to make sense). Everyone had a little space to themselves blocked off by curtains and I was living on the end cube where I could watch people pass by as they went about their business. When I woke up, I thought a lot about the scene in The Muppets Take Manhattan, were they're living in the lockers at the bus terminal. I liked how everyone's locker was representative of their character and how they were all crammed in their together.

And that's how it started. I didn't have characters, I didn't have much of a plot, just the setting. Then I thought and I thought (often at the Edmonton Symphony), and eventually I'd woven myself a web that became the story.



(p.s., if you still haven't purchased yourself a copy of The Cure, you can find it here, on Kobo)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Cure: Available on Kobo

You can purchase a digital copy here: The Cure, on Kobo. Check it out, buy it now, and if you enjoyed my writing, please tell your friends and family.



Monday, September 30, 2013

Crafting fun: toy robots make adorable gifts

A good friend of mine is very pregnant and due at any moment. For her first son, I knit a sweater. It turned out to be a very international sweater as it was knit on a plane en route to Europe, on trains throughout Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France, and I worked on it at my Master's degree convocation (side note, I hate convocations, I've been to 8 of them now). I thought that since I'd already made them a sweater, I'd do something different this time, but I wasn't sure what.

A month or so ago I was at Gather Here for the knitter's brunch and I was nosing through some of the bits and bobs that were out on display when I came across a little booklet with a pattern for a stuffed astronaut, and an accompanying robot. I thought it was kind of cute, and suitable, and as I poked around for potential fabric I discovered they sold bags of leftovers, in which there was plenty to cut out pieces for the toys.

On Labour Day the hubby and I stayed home, so I spent the time cutting out the pattern pieces, fabric, and then sewing the toys. For the most part, I think they both turned out rather well. Since the toys are for a newborn I opted to paint on the face and other decorations, which was probably the most fun bit of the whole thing.

If I make any more I'll change my procedure to match more closely to what the directions recommended (go figure that they would work better...). And I'm considering it. More than once I've been asked why I don't have an Etsy shop, and this might be something I could do. They're easy to do, don't take too much time, and I could easily change the colours to make them look different, or customize them for potential customers. For now it's just a fleeting idea. I'll continue to ponder it, do a little market research, and see where things go.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My venture into self-publishing: obtaining an ISBN

When I first decided to release The Cure, I hadn't considered the possibility of obtaining an ISBN (International Standard Book Number). It's not required by most online retailers (some provide an in-house ISBN or other identification number) and I'd thought it was one of those things that would be too difficult for a self-publisher to get. Not so! It's especially easy if you're Canadian, but first, what is an ISBN and why get it?

As per the Wikipedia page on ISBNs:

 "The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a unique numeric commercial book identifier based upon the 9-digit Standard Book Numbering (SBN) code created by Gordon Foster, Emeritus Professor of Statistics at Trinity College, Dublin, for the booksellers and stationers W. H. Smith and others in 1965.
 The 10-digit ISBN format was developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and was published in 1970 as international standard ISO 2108.
 Since 1 January 2007, ISBNs have contained 13 digits, a format that is compatible with "Bookland" EAN-13s."

My understanding is that ISBNs are mostly important for brick and mortar bookstores so they can keep an accurate account of their stock (i.e. taking orders, making sales, etc). This is probably why ISBNs aren't required for digital books. There isn't really a stock, or at least, there's no physical product changing hands. Why it can be useful for independent publishers is that it can help boost visibility in the vast market of online books. You can also search a book by it's ISBN (although who's going to search for an ISBN over a title or author I don't know).

So, if you're a Canadian resident, ISBNs are free of charge, which is awesome, since if you're an American resident you have to pay for it.

Canadian residents go to Collections Canada, which is a part of Library and Archives of Canada. Once there, you click on the 'Join CISS' link on the left hand side. Next, click on the 'Acceptance of Terms', link and then you're taken to the electronic form you're required to fill out to obtain an account. It's a pretty straightforward form, requesting standard information. The one funny thing is, if you're planning to publish a digital book like I am, you select the Electronic Book Text option under 'Type of Product' (It sounds like a very archaic way of describing a digital book).

I waited around 10 days (I can't remember exactly what day I hit submit on) before I received an email to state my application had been accepted. From here, you have to go back to the CISS website, log in, and go to the 'Request an ISBN' link. At this point you just need to fill out one more form (again, very basic) and click submit. You'll have your ISBN almost immediately.

The ISBN for The Cure is: 978-0-9921294-0-8. It should be on sale very soon.



Thursday, September 12, 2013

My venture into self-publishing: picking retailers

I had hoped to have The Cure out for sale by now, but things will be postponed for a couple more days at least. I'm taking an online course on self-publishing offered by Author E.M.S., which runs from September 8th to October 4th. I'd been wondering before I started the course as to whether or not I should delay publishing until after I'd completed the session (I have so much to learn!). After the first day of reading, I was feeling overwhelmed with all there was to cover and was pretty sure that I ought to read through at least a few lessons before I plunged in.

**The moderator of the online course I'm taking just popped up on the discussion board to make an important distinction between publisher v. retailer. Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Nobles, etc., are all retailers. They aren't publishers, they just distribute my work. That's the thing about self-publishing, YOU'RE THE PUBLISHER! I have to promote and protect my own novel.**

Part of my concern was what to do in regards to tax claims on Amazon. The way I understand it is, that although I don't have to pay American taxes, I need an International Taxpayer's Identification Number (ITIN) in order to get paid. Additionally, I'm subject to a withholding tax on any royalties I make, unless I show that I'm from a country that has a tax treaty with the US. I'm actually lucky here, since I'm currently residing in the US and have a visa, my route to an ITIN may be easier than if I was living in Canada. I'm still being paid by a Canadian company, by the way, which is why I currently don't have any other reasons to interact with the IRS.

If you're looking for information on how to get an ITIN, you can check out this blog post by Joan Leacott.

So, that was one of my big concerns about rushing ahead into publishing on Amazon. The other was, how on earth to price my novel, but that's more easily overcome with a little market research.

Something that came to my attention during my first course reading was, why hadn't I thought of publishing on Kobo Writing Life, a Canadian company? I'd been focused on Amazon's Kindle Direct, assuming that since Amazon was so huge, it was the best way to go, but considering the difficulties surrounding the payment and tax issues, why not go with Kobo, at least to start?

To be clear, I don't want to publish with only one company, and there's no need for me to publish with only one (although depending on which program I sign up with on Amazon, I may have to agree to an exclusivity period). In order to gain exposure and make sales, I need to get on as many different platforms as possible. My current intention is to get onto Kobo as soon as I get my ISBN (maybe I'll post about that another day...), meanwhile I'll begin the steps towards obtaining my ITIN. Once that comes through, I'll publish on Amazon. After that, we'll see. There are lots of other companies to self-publish on. It's just a matter of how diverse do I want to get/have the time for.



Monday, September 9, 2013

Our continuing exploits in New England: apples and candy (but not candy apples)

I had to move away from the series title of 'Early Experiences...' because we've now been here for two months. YIKES.

On Saturday we went for a half-day trip out of town. This hadn't originally been the plan. We were going to go to the knitters brunch at Gather Here, which would have been great, except it turned out that the knitter's brunch is next weekend. I was feeling a little dejected when we got home, and oddly bewildered with what to do with an entirely free day when I'd been expecting a couple of hours in the afternoon to write at best. So, we decided to do what we'd planned for next weekend, this weekend (got that?). (We have a party to go to next weekend anyway).

We visited Big Apple Farm and Mount St. Mary's Abbey near Wrentham, which was about an hour's drive outside of Boston.

First, the Abbey. Andrew had somehow or other heard about Mount St. Mary's and that it was well known for its candy. Since it was in the same area as the farm, we thought we might as well check it out. It was very lovely, far more modern looking than I would have expected for an abbey, although now that I've looked at the website, I see the community wasn't founded until 1949. We sat in the church for a few minutes before going into the gift shop were we picked up some of their popular Butter Nut Munch. Yum!

After the Abbey we carried on to the Big Apple Farm, which was just down the road. It was packed (mostly with families with children) not that this was terribly surprising given it was a lovely day. We decided we want to pick our own apples, something that neither of us had done before (and I consider myself a country kid!). The trees were absolutely laden with fruit and I think we filled our 1/2 bushel in about twenty minutes. After that we went down to their main store area and looked around a bit, although we didn't buy anything else.

After that, we headed home. A short, but pleasant outing.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

My venture into self-publishing: the editing

Although I felt that The Cure was fairly well edited, I wanted to get someone with a more professional eye (than my friends and husband) to look over my novel before I put it up for sale on Amazon. As always, I was concerned about the grammar aspect, but I wanted to make sure the story and characters made sense as well. I figured, even through I couldn't get a proper publisher to release it, I still wanted it to be as polished as possible.

So, I hired an editor. I was given a name or someone, whom I contacted, was given a quote, and a time frame. Unfortunately that experience didn't work out as well as I had hoped. I had to nag to get chapters back and although the responses were generally quick (after I nagged), the excuses almost became comical after a while. The comments in the manuscript felt sarcastic at times (it's not cool to use ALL CAPS, or smiley faces like you're joking) and almost like the editor was lecturing me for having not corrected errors from the last time I made them (never mind that I sent my manuscript to them all at once). Eventually, I ended up in tears one night somewhere in the middle of chapter 12 and decided that enough was enough.

I either had to battle massive self-doubt for the remaining chapters as I worked through edits, or I had to find someone else to look through the end of the manuscript.

Then it occurred to me that my sister-in-law might be able to help. I recalled that she'd done some freelance editing, and that she'd trying to organize a story-share one time which I participated. So, I sent an email, explained my situations, and thankfully, she agreed. I'll do another post of about her editing later. It's a part of our deal. She provided me with an important service and I'm going to write her a testimonial on my blog.

For now, I'll just say that I'm extremely grateful. I'm back up to where I left off with the other editor (yeah, she went through the whole manuscript from the start for me) and I hope to have it wrapped up by the end of the week. Yeah. I hope to have the whole thing wrapped up in just a few days. It seems a little crazy now that I'm writing this. Wrapped up, and out there for people to buy. I just hope a few people buy it, and at least some of them enjoy it and look forward to seeing the second story.

For now, I need to get on with the editing, so I can indeed have it on the cyber shelves within a week or two.


Saturday, August 31, 2013

Early experiences of living in Somerville: the RMV

This is a helpful advice post for any Canadians moving to the US.

Andrew and I have been living in Somerville for a month and a half now (yeesh, has it really been that long already?) and it seemed time to take care of our drivers licenses and car registration. So, last Thursday we waded into bureaucratic hell for the day (so maybe just bureaucratic purgatory). I cried, twice. And at the of the day I still didn't have a license or a car registration.

So, what happened?

The RMV opened at 10:00 am. We'd been told it would be a good idea to show up early, at least half an hour, so we did. We biked over to the RMV as it seemed the a better plan over driving through rush hour, then trying to find parking/pay for it when we found it. The line up at 9:30 was already stretched along three quarters of the block--thankfully it was a nice day, so waiting outside wasn't too unpleasant. Neither of us remembered to bring a book, so it wasn't very interesting waiting.

Once the doors opened the line moved fairly quickly, with a front reception desk that directed people to where they needed to go (which was a good thing since there were at least 3 floors to the RMV we went to). Each person was handed a ticket with their number and the estimated wait time. I headed off to the licencing area, while Andrew tried to get our car registered.

When I got up to the desk I handed over my papers (driver's abstract, visa documents, drivers licence), then I was asked where my application form was. Application form? I didn't have one. So, the lady handed me a form and told me to come back when I'd filled it out. I did as quickly as possible, then re-approached her desk. She took everything again, then as she was going through things I pointed out that I didn't have a social (security number, they're big here in the US, they're needed for everything). Then I was told I had to get a social security denial form. Of course, this wasn't available at the RMV, so I'd have to go several subway stops away to the nearest office.

The lady polite enough, she even told me if I could get back by 2:00 pm (it was around 11:15 at this point), I could come back up to her desk without waiting. I mumbled out a thanks then left. By the time Andrew and I got down to our bikes I was blinking back tears.

We biked home (about a 30 minute ride), had some lunch, and decided it would be best if we did the social security stuff that day. There was one located in Cambridge, so we drove over there, managed to find some on street parking and a cafe where we could get change for the meter. The line up at the social security office wasn't too long, we probably made it to a desk in 15 minutes. The woman who helped us was very nice, then she noticed I'd handed over Andrew's passport instead of mine.

No problem, I had my visa info, did I have my driver's licence (photo ID)? Of course I did...I opened up my, I didn't have my driver's license, it was with all the other papers I'd taken to the RMV and was still tucked in my pannier. We couldn't proceed without at least my photo ID or my passport. By the time were back to the car I was in tears. I had a nice little breakdown in the car. The tears were mostly just stress-related, and I hadn't slept well the nicght before. Andrew drove us back home, I ran up stairs and grabbed the documents I'd forgotten, then we drove back to the office (it closed at 3:00 pm). This time we were successful in getting the forms we needed.

I went back to the RMV on Monday, I received my Mass driver's licence on Friday.

What you need to get your Canadian driver's license switched to an American one (you can also double check this online at: Mass DOT RMV):
1) You're out of state driver's license.
2) A document showing your birth date.
3) A document showing your signature.
4) A document proving your residence in your new state.
5) A driver's abstract no more than 30 days old.
6) A social security number, OR a denial notice.

An out of state driver's license can be used to prove your birth date or your signature, but NOT both.
All documents must be originals.

I handed over:
1) My Alberta driver's license.
2) My passport (with supporting visa documents to show I was legal to be here).
3) My cheque book (to show my residence in Somerville).
4) My Alberta's driver's abstract (which I had to get my friend Lisa [thanks Lisa!] to order since the one we got before we moved expired).
5) My denial notice for a social security number.

You also need to fill out an application form, which you can get when you get online, or at the RMV.


Monday, August 26, 2013

My venture into self-publishing: my cover

One of the steps involved in self-publishing is getting/developing/creating cover art. You need something to catch the eye of a browser, right? Because people really do judge books by their covers.

When it came to thinking about my art, I knew I didn't possess the skills to create something cool, so I contacted a friend of mine, Anna Krider, who has tons of skillz in graphic design. To see her work, you can check out her website: Peach Pants Press.

I didn't have any particular ideas of what I wanted my cover to look like, I just wanted it to look "professional." After a little back and forth, Anna created something funky and abstract. I like the sparkly bits throughout the body, plus she used some nifty layering techniques (that I can't tell you about because it's actually spoiler related!). Anywho, here's my cover:

Now I have a super awesome cover, and I got to employ the skills of a friend. Two birds down with one stone, I'd say.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Early experiences of living in Somerville: churches

I really wanted to write a blog post about how Andrew and I went windsurfing on Saturday--we did, it was super fun, much better than surfboarding--but I don't have any pictures to include in the post. We were, you know, on the water, on easily tipped sailboards, which wasn't a conducive setting for picture taking. We spent most of our day at Old Silver Beach either in the windsurfing lesson (1 hour) or actually windsurfing (4 hours), so we don't even have any pictures of Cape Cod, or of the nearby town of Falmouth.

Instead, this post is about some of the churches in our area.

I've noticed over the last month that there are a lot of churches in the Boston area and so I thought it might be interesting to take pictures of the buildings. Just the exteriors. These are small-ish churches that I wouldn't expect to be open to random visitors/tourists. And I feel weird enough standing on the street taking pictures, so I'm not about to knock on doors and try to get inside.

The first church is the Mission Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith (whew, what a mouth full). From what I can tell, this is only the name of the congregation and sadly, the church's website doesn't seem to provide any additional historic information about the building.

The second building is actually a Jewish Temple, Temple B'nai Brith, which is described as: an independent egalitarian congregation with historical roots in the Conservative movement. Again, I'm struggling to find any historic information on the Temple (the website appears to be down), but a secondhand source suggests it was built in 1922.

Right around the corner from the Temple is a Spanish-language church, Vida Real, which from what I can tell is a large Spanish-Christian organization that runs several churches around the United States. I'm really striking our on trying to provide background information on these buildings. The website for this one is all in Spanish, which of course I can't read. At least there was a stone with the date 1908 carved into it this church, so I'm going to hazard a guess and say that was the year it was built or founded.

The final church I photographed today was the Somerville branch of the Christ the King Presbyterian Church of Boston. This congregation also seems pretty new and their website says that Presbyterian Church of America wasn't founded until 1973, which surprises me, as I assumed it would be older. Maybe that's only in Canada?

And this concludes my not very informative tour of the churches, and temples...the worship facilities? I suspect there's a proper word for describing churches and temples en mass, but I can't remember what it is right now. Maybe next time I'll succeed in finding some historical background information on buildings in my neighbourhood.



Thursday, August 15, 2013

My venture into self-publishing: the why

I haven't looked back over my blog posts to see how many times I've said I wasn't going to self-publish. It's probably been more than once, or twice, or...enough times, anyways. Sometimes I feel like I have no constancy. I tend to run with an idea for a while, while it's exciting and new, but once things aren't going so smoothly, or they're taking too long and the excitement wanes, I change my mind, or perhaps more accurately, I just give up.

So, what's changed this time around?

Back in April, around my birthday, I was exchanging messages with a friend. A friend who I contact whenever I need publishing advice, usually when I get a hint of success (I've had 2 different publishing companies interested in my work, one for Nora, one for Ava, but they've both fallen through). When we were talking this time, she mentioned that she had released some work through the Amazon Kindle Select program. I'd already released Nora here on my blog, but it hadn't gotten a large readership, and so I got to thinking.

It still might not get a large readership on Amazon, but would it hurt? It couldn't hurt. Right?

E, self-publishing is popular. Occasionally authors see a great deal of success--not that I'm expecting big numbers and big money--but authors are also seeing decent success. With the Amazon Kindle Select program anyone can publish with it (although there are some rules about what type of material can be published) and editing isn't required (although I hired an editor to go through the manuscript). The royalties are also much better with an e-book than a print book, which is a plus--assuming I can get people to buy mine.

And so I hope to have The Cure available early to mid September. This isn't exactly how I'd always dreamed of making my publishing debut, I've clung to the idea of being traditionally published for a long time, but at least for Nora, it's the only way she's going to see a wide release. I feel that I've racked up enough rejections with her to have to take the hint that no one's interested. I'm still going to query agents and editors with my other series Cimwai's Bay, but who knows, maybe if Nora does well, I might try the same thing with Ava.

So does has this post answered the why?

If not, feel free to ask a question, although as I note, I moderate the comments, so it won't show up immediately.



Saturday, August 10, 2013

My venture into self-publishing

I haven't exactly started my venture into self-publishing yet (if you consider the start to be once the book is finally available for purchase on Amazon), but I've been getting ready. I've been editing and formatting my manuscript, acquiring cover art, etc. It's coming and soon (I'm aiming for early in September).

I plan to compose a few lead-up posts prior to the book's release describing the processes I went through such as finally making the decision to self-publish, getting an editor, finding an artist to create a cover, formatting the manuscript and then finally making it available on Amazon.

But, you might be wondering gentle Reader, what manuscript am I publishing? Well, I've decided to start with The Cure. Which means I will soon be taking down the posts which I released last fall and winter. It's partly, the cow v. the free milk scenario. It's also that Amazon has an exclusivity clause so I'd be contractually obligated to remove it.

So, watch this space over the next couple of weeks for more details on the release of The Cure, and maybe even consider purchasing it once it's not available. Or, if young adult speculative fiction isn't your bag, consider passing it on to someone to whom it would appeal.



Monday, August 5, 2013

Early experiences of living in Somerville: a walk around the neighbourhood.

I took a walk around my new neighbourhood this afternoon. This served the duo purpose of giving me some exercise, but also giving me the opportunity to take some photos. Further, the exercise was also a method of getting myself out of our apartment, and the photos might give those of my readers who don't live in Somerville (which I assume are most of you) an idea of where I now reside.

Garden's are very popular in Somerville. Lots of houses have flowers out front, and we've also seen some extensive vegetable gardens. I felt it would be a bit weird to photograph other peoples' residences, so I didn't, but I did stop in the small public space we pass on our way to the local grocery store. It's the Quincy Street Open Space, if you can't tell from the picture, which includes chairs and stones to lounge on while you enjoy the shade and flowers.

As I said in my last post, Union Square is the square closest to us. It takes less than ten minutes to walk there and it contains a number of restaurants, a few businesses, churches, and our local grocery store. There's a farmer's market on Saturdays (in the space shown in the third picture below), but it seems that all the produce is fancy-pants organic, for which I'm unwilling to pay. I also noticed while I was out this afternoon that there was an interesting mural painted on the exterior of one of the buildings (fourth picture below).

It seems that we've landed in an area with lots of history--perhaps not difficult since Boston itself was founded in 1630, and Somerville was established in 1842 when it separated from Charlestown. There are several monuments close by. The first is for men who died in the American Civil War, and the one below is for men who died in the war with Spain (which I'm assuming was the war over Texas). There was a memorial for the Second World War, but it isn't terrible attractive so I skipped the pictures.

The public library is also close by, and if I remember correctly, the building was erected in the 1880s ('84, maybe?). The top pictures show the exterior of the library. What you can't tell is to the left of the main column, there's a 'Fallout Shelter' sign. I tried to get a closer shot, but the picture wasn't all that attractive. After a quick survey of the initial foyer area, I determined I need to go upstairs to find the adult and non-fiction collection. The space is open and brightly light, and I headed straight up to the gallery area (so I didn't look like some weird lady taking pictures in the library) to get a couple of shots. Overall I was pleased to find that the interior was really rather nice.

The last set of pictures for today comes from the Somerville High School and City Hall, which happen to be located next to each other. I don't know anything about the High School, except that it's there. I'm really not going to try to poke around a school, especially when students are out for the summer, it just seems like a recipe for a trespassing charge. The second picture is of the HUB bikes I've talked about a couple of times. There are stations all over the city, one being right outside City Hall. The last image is the front entrance of City Hall, although again, I don't know much about it as at that point I wanted to head home.

So that's my neighbourhood. It was a beautiful day.

Ciao, Andrea