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27th June 2014

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How Dungeons and Dragons Saved My Life


It was a pretty typical Sunday evening. A rogue elf, a human ranger, a human barbarian, a half-elf paladin, and me - an elvish monk - battling creatures deep in a vampire’s crypt who was possibly aligned with our mortal enemy. I started off in battle admirably, even punching through the skull of a tentacled water creature and back-flipping onto a ledge several meters up. After that, I was rolling nothing but fours and sixes against creatures I should have taken out without a sweat.

There’s a belief among gamers that your connection to your dice influences your rolls. As I continued to rack up the worst rolls of my gaming history, I realized I could no longer ignore one important thing: my gut was having spasms that was making it difficult to breathe. This had to be why I was rolling so terribly.


Unfortunately, those spasms were happening out of game and not from the Dungeon Master to my character. At first I did what every male is taught from infancy to do: suck it up and wait to see if it goes away. The trouble is, I enjoy breathing. A lot. And it was getting harder to do, so I overcame decades of societal influence and broke up the game by stating, “I’m having trouble breathing. I think I need to go home.”

I’d learn later that our paladin and host, Kolja, at first thought I was playing my character. No one knew the pain I was feeling because I have a ridiculously high pain threshold - even for a third level elfin monk. I don’t like people worrying, so I acted like all was good until I couldn’t anymore.

"Do you want to lie down? Do you need some air?" Kolja asked.

I considered both those things as a sharp pain hit my gut, feeling not unlike the fourteen poison darts that had struck the paladin just moments earlier.

"I need to go to the hospital," I muttered and headed for my jacket and shoes.

Both Kolja and Sarah, our ranger, followed in close pursuit. After all, our number one rule has been to never break up the party. They asked if I needed a ride, but I thought I could drive myself. Since that conversation is a blur in my memory, I’d say I was in no condition to drive.


Kolja slipped into his hiking boots, whisked me out the door to his car, and we were at the hospital in less time than it had taken Von Blaten, the vampire we’d been hunting, to teleport through the mirror on Pirate Island to his underground lair where my monk was just earlier rolling fours and sixes.

At VGH, over the next 36 hours, I’d discover that I had appendicitis and it needed to come out. (I’d also discover that after fasting for that long soggy hospital toast and a boiled egg tastes as yummy as the best cut of prime rib at a gourmet restaurant. Another post for another time.) My most important lesson, besides that appendicitis sucks and that keeping a smile and good humour makes a bad situation better, was that I have an incredible Scooby Gang that rushed to help me without my needing to ask. Lee, Marcie, Sarah, Rob, and Kolja - thanks for stepping up when I needed it. And to everyone else who texted, emailed or signed the card at work (including all my regular customers) thank you for keeping my spirits up.

Of course from a gamer’s point of view I realize that had I not been playing Dungeons and Dragons that evening I probably would have ignored the pain, taken a Tylenol, and attempted to sleep it off. The infection would have gotten worse, and I may not have played my monk to fourth level.

Yes folks, we now have proof that Dungeons and Dragons saves lives.

Tagged: dungeons and dragonsgaming

5th May 2014

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Summer Institutes for Ages 15-18

Fantasy Writing with JAMES MCCANN
Learn the conventions of fantasy writing and then decide which rules to break as you create a world of your own. By the end of the course, you will have both a working fantasy world and a story to tell about it.
Monday-Friday, July 14-18, 10am-3pm. $485 until June 30; $535 after


21st April 2014

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Some people see “junkyard,” I see zombie apocalypse shelter.

2nd April 2014

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The Bookstore Conundrum

It just seems to make sense. You want to sell books, you’ve got to be in the bookstore. You know how it works, those big tables filled with books that always seem to make it to the New York Times Bestsellers lists. Wait … have you ever noticed that those tables are always filled with NYT Bestsellers?

Bookstores exist to make money. Yes, the owners are often struggling, or what they do is called a “labour of love”, but ultimately to stay open that brick and mortar store has to make a buck. There are two ways to do that:

(1) Sell product

Compared to other products, there just isn’t very much mark-up on books. On average, there is a 40% take on cover price that bookstore retailers earn when they sell a novel. Sometimes, when they buy in bulk or have a great reputation with a supplier that may be higher, but on average that’s the ceiling. Every so often, a book is short-discounted at 20% or even 10% - which makes it unattractive for the bookstore to stock. To put yourself in their shoes, imagine if every once in awhile your boss wanted to only pay you half your pay for a day or two. Yeah, bookstores don’t like it either.

Those short-discounts usually only occur on educational materials that have small print runs and (let’s be honest) captive audiences forced to buy them from the university bookstore. Every wonder why your textbook is so costly? Those are two factors closely tied to the reason. The thing is, when a bookstore is asked to stock a book where the profit margin is almost nothing it just doesn’t want to do it.

However, even when books have full discounts that also doesn’t mean the bookstore will want to stock that book. Bookstores, like any retailer, wants to stock books that people want to buy. Yes, that means those NYT’s bestsellers that you wish would move over and make room for your book. What you should remember is that these books, sold in the quantity they are sold, are what keeps the bookstore viable so that it can take a chance on an unknown author like yourself. Provided that your book is something called “returnable”.

You know how when you buy a product that you realize just isn’t going to work you want to know you can return it? Bookstores, because they work on such a small profit margin, want to have that exact same thing. There is a long history that you can Google to learn more about returns, but what began the process is no longer as important as the fact that it isn’t going to change. Ever. And you know what? As a new author, that’s a good thing. With minimal risk, a bookstore is much more likely to stock an unknown than they would be if they thought they’d be stuck with a whack of stock that doesn’t move. So remember, in the traditional publishing method, returns are good.

(2) Co-op
All those displays you see and covet? Those are paid for by publishers, which is why there are so many of the same titles on that display. That means without a publisher behind you who can afford that kind of advertising, even if you’ve written the greatest novel in the history of novel writing you just aren’t going to make a best seller list. (Yes, there have been exceptions to that rule, but exceptions don’t make the rule.) It almost makes you think that publishers can control somewhat which books they want to be bestsellers, doesn’t it?

The Trouble With POD

Do you know what the discount schedule is on your POD books? The bookstore does. All they have to do is click a key on their computer, and up pops … 20-25%. And it doesn’t matter the buying relationship they have with the distributor, or how many they purchase. It’s always 20%, and that discount is forever. The book is also not returnable, which means there’s zero incentive for a struggling retailer to stock your book. In fact, it’s worse than zero.
But wait … here’s a great idea … if you send your grandmother in to “buy” a copy, she can decide when it arrives not to pick it up and the store will pop it on the shelf, right? Most bookstores have caught on to this, and won’t order books with the designation POD on them. A lot of sneaky, bad behaviour by hopeful writers have not made the industry comfortable with POD. Did you read that blog post where I wrote the bad reputation of self-published authors was earned?
So, if bookstores are in business to make money, even if those earnings are only enough to keep them afloat, as an author (and this is true be it self-published or traditionally published) we shouldn’t be upset when they don’t want to stock our books. Bookstores should be, for the self-published author, the last place to consider selling a book.

Next blog post … how to sell a book.

27th March 2014

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The Stigma

Years ago, one of my many duties as a bookseller was to review self-published materials to decide if we wanted to carry them in the store. I acted as the “slush-pile” acquisitions editor in a way, reading through piles and piles of hopeful writers’ works and choosing only a very few to send to my boss for the final evaluation.

Of the hundreds, and there were hundreds, of self-published books I read I chose only a small handful. If I recall correctly, no more than five maybe six books. I realized pretty quickly with the volume coming in that I had to evaluate on a “bookstore” basis - even if the book was brilliant, would we be able to carry it? My evaluation process, in order, became this: (1) Did the book look professional, (2) Was the price-point competitive, and (3) had the book been professionally edited.

Self-published books have a stigma attached to them, and many who go this route feel this stigma is unfair. Personally, I don’t think this stigma is unfair as much as it is earned - due to the fact that many people who self-pub cut corners to save money by foregoing professional help in areas they absolutely needed it. Those three points above. So, in republishing my own books, I’m using my own criteria as a bookseller as a check list.

(1) Does the book look professional.
I am a writer, not a book designer. If I design the cover, it will most likely have text that is hard to read and an interior difficult to read. Serif or sans serif? Apparently, it matters. Thankfully, I have some ridiculously talented friends I can hire. Jeff Porter, a graphic designer, is one of them. He did the cover, and for inspiration I gave him a copy of the originally published book and the freedom to do whatever he wished. He showed me three different drafts, each one I loved, but in each he kept making it better. This is not something that I could have done had I attempted to design my own cover.

(2) The price point.
Too many times with self-published books I hear, “I believe in my book, so people will pay more for quality.” Maybe. But if they have no way of knowing your work is quality until after they purchase it, your price may be what’s turning them away. I’ll go more into this in distribution, but my plan is not to sell through bookstores. Rancor will now be an ebook, with a price point that is competitive with the professionally published books out there. 
I am, however, going to do a small print run of copies to sell at workshops and camps - and that won’t go for more than $9.99/book. The finished product will be a 5x8/270 page book with a glossy cover. 
To get to this point, I looked into how much digital printing for small runs would cost with five different printers. The local printers were $10/book (too high), Lulu was double that, and Createspace, even with shipping, came to just under $5/book. My suggestion is to check into your local area and make sure they can’t do better, but don’t just take the first quote.

(3) Editing.
This is, undoubtedly, the number one reason why self-published books have  a bad reputation. To save money, or because of vanity (either the belief the author is perfect in their grammar — or because the author believes no one should “change” their story) , too many writers don’t hire a copy-editor for their work.
Rancour, published in 2005 and 2011 by Simply Read Books, was edited twice. (Each release had minor changes.) This particular release I made a few major changes due to (a) I’ve learned a lot about story over the last ten years, and (b) the other two books in the series are written and not just ideas so I wanted Rancor to fit better. (And by the way, the use of “Rancour” and “Rancor” is deliberate here.)
I hired an editor. Melanie Jackson came recommended to me by a friend who once ran a publishing company. At this very moment, Rancor is being edited, again. I do this to show respect to my readers who have taken time they could have spent doing a million other things but have chosen to read my novel. I don’t want there to be mistakes that take them out of the moment - out of the story. And that is how I see editing. It’s the author listening to an outside point of view out of respect for the readers who will later pick up their book.

Next I’ll discuss my goals for distribution, and why I’m not going to approach bookstores.

22nd March 2014

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New Direction

Awhile ago, I posted that I intended to republish Pyre as I’d had my rights returned to me. For the last few weeks, I’ve been working on not only getting Pyre ready for republication but also getting Rancour ready. Since this is all new to me, I thought it might be interesting to some of you to know what this involves.

First, you need to understand about “rights”. I posted on Facebook that I’d had my rights returned to me and many of my friends thought that meant I’d lost them at some point. In publishing, when you sell a book what it means is that you sell the right for the publisher to make your story into book form and sell that book in agreed upon markets. For example, if I sold the Canadian rights to Rancour I still own the copyright on the text — but I’ve sold away the right to make that text into a book to sell in Canada. This is a good thing — it means someone has paid you for that right.

In Rancour’s case, it was published in 2005 in Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand. It sold well enough that it warranted a sequel, which was published in 2007. By 2008 there was no more stock left of Rancour, but unfortunately the publisher was too small to print more until 2011. Pyre was sold out in 2009, and was never reprinted. By 2013, because my contract stated a reversion of rights back to me should my books be out of print for longer than 12 months, the right to publish my text was returned to me. This also included a third text that my publisher had acquired in 2008 but had never published.

As every author will go through a period where a previously published book is out of print (that’s what it’s called when a book is no longer being printed and available for sale,) I wondered what to do with these books. I could try and sell them to another publisher, but I’m working on two other projects that are far more relevent to publishers and would rather concentrate on them. So, I looked at what other authors were doing with their out of print titles.

Arthur Slade, Eileen Cook, John Wilson and many more have taken their “backlist” and published them as ebooks. Easy to do, since the books have been edited professionally and have an audience. This seems to help their current titles as well. I’ll admit that this didn’t interest me at first - I’ve always been a firm believer that self-publishing (making your books for sale yourself) is what someone does when they can’t get published by a publisher. But the aforementioned authors do publish professionally, as well as publish their backlist. So, maybe there’s a such thing as authors who do both?

This is my experiment. Rancour is first, and will be released in June. I’ll blog about it along the way (probably not as long and rambling as this one) just in case others want to do the same and need a little guidance. When this is complete, you’ll be able to click on the category tag “ebook experiment” to see the whole journey. Some time next week, I’ll discuss a little what went into the cover design for Rancour.  Also about ISBN, CIP, print vs. digital, distribution, and how my experience as a bookseller has played a role. Stay tuned.

Tagged: selfpublishingrancourpyrepublishing

7th March 2014

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Zombiepocalypse bicycle →

In a zombie apocalypse, this bike will get you from point A to point B. Even if a horde of zombies stands between them.

25th November 2013

Link

"Doomsday Seed Vault" in the Arctic - →

How do you think such a place would matter in the event of a zombiepocalypse?

19th November 2013

Video

How to open a can without a can opener. Zombiepocalypse tip!

29th September 2013

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Had a discussion at dinner today whether or not a machete could decapitate a zombie. So I came home and found this video.