Word on the Street is an annual one-day literacy festival that takes place in locations across Canada. In each participating city, local, regional and national authors, poets, illustrators, spoken word artists, and entertainers participate in readings, panel discussions, and musical entertainment. Publishers, booksellers, literacy organizations, post-secondary programs, and community groups are also welcome to set up tables in the vendor marketplace.
For most of its history in English, the word ‘literate’ meant to be ‘familiar with literature’ or, more generally, ‘well educated, learned.’…Today literacy means so much more than the ability to read and write. In our modern technology-rich society the definition of literacy is much broader and now includes nine essential skills: reading text, document use, numeracy, writing, oral communication, working with others, computer use, critical thinking skills and continuous learning. – Word on the Street Halifax
This year, fellow romance author Brenda Pearson and I shared a table to sell and sign our books. As always, one of the highlights of WOTS was the opening reception the night before. The reception was held at Halifax’s famous Central Library, where Mark Lefebvre from Kobo Writing Life happened to be in attendance in his capacity as an author (did you know he writes spooky Canadian ghost stories as Mark Leslie?).
Check out this Facebook Live interview I did with Mark!
One of the other people I was excited to meet this year was Alexa Wilcox, the 14-year-old author of the YA fantasy, Aqua Jewel. With help from her parents, Alexa self-published her debut novel and is already hard at work on the sequel.
Last but not least, it’s always great to catch up with John Munro, the Atlantic Canada Regional Manager for Frontier College. I volunteered with this literacy organization when I was in law school and it’s always nice to see what new programming is in store.
Beginning in 1899, the founder of Frontier College, Alfred Fitzpatrick, trained teachers to go into logging, mining, and railroad camps to teach the workers there to read. Now Frontier College provides homework clubs, summer reading camps, adult literacy and GED tutoring, and ESL services.
Finally, here are a couple more photos from the festival! On the left, I’m posing with Super Why!, a children’s television character who helps kids ages 3-6 learn literacy skills. On the right is a photo of some local athletes marching in support of ending violence against women.
Although I usually sell my books on all major retailers’ platforms, I have decided to give Kindle Unlimited a whirl for a three month trial period. In a nutshell, Kindle Unlimited is a subscription service offered by Amazon that lets you borrow and read as many books, audiobooks, and magazines as you want for $10/month. There are more than one million titles available and many of them are from self-published authors, so if you’re a voracious reader or simply want to support indie authors, this is a great option.
I think KU is an awesome service for readers, sort of the ‘Netflix of books’, but it is controversial in publishing circles. When a book is enrolled in KU, it can’t be available for sale or download anywhere else, which creates a monopoly on the title in favour of Amazon. Obviously, other retailers aren’t fond of this. Another common criticism of the program is that KU hurts writers/the publishing industry by devaluing books and making authors too dependent on Amazon for the majority of their revenue.
So why have I chosen to enrol in Kindle Unlimited?
Simple – other retailers haven’t been offering me much bang for my buck lately. I have tons of respect for everywhere I sell books, especially Kobo (Fury’s Kiss won the $10,000 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize in Romance). However, my sales aren’t what I hoped to see at this point in my career, based on the number of books and short stories I have available to readers. I have tried different marketing strategies, including promotions with specific retailers, Facebook ads, and newsletter building campaigns, among other things. Some work better than others, but they all cost money and KU is a free option I haven’t tried yet.
Testing out KU isn’t a case of sour grapes because my books don’t sell as well as I would like – I write and publish because I enjoy it, regardless of whether I make money or not. That being said, I would prefer to enjoy my work and make money at the same time. I also have a number of projects in the works that require significant upfront investment (cover design, editing, formatting, printing costs, etc.). My goal is to make my self-publishing business a growing concern, not just a going concern. For that reason, I need to keep the hustle going so I don’t go broke pumping personal funds into publishing.
If you’re interested in outstanding legal and economic analysis of the publishing industry with a side helping of common sense, I suggest http://www.thepassivevoice.com. This blog is written by Passive Guy, aka David P. Vandagriff), an attorney, entrepreneur, former tech executive and writer. His frequent commentary on Amazon’s presence in the publishing/online retail industries align closely with my own views, except that he has the benefit of years more experience than a spring chicken like myself. (If you ever read this, PG, I’m not calling you old. I’m calling myself young).
As PG says:
In a competitive economy, no retail organization has a right to continue its existence. Commercial history is littered with names of former commercial giants who lost the contest for consumers’ dollars to competitors who did a better job of providing consumers what they wanted. During their climb to prominence, Montgomery Ward and Sears decimated hundreds of small-town retailers with lower prices and a far larger choice of products.
I’m super excited to share the news that I am currently developing a 6-issue comic book series! The incredibly talented Maria Nguyen is creating the artwork for the series (check out her work here) and we are working on finding a publisher. Read on to see the first six sample pages.
Set against the backdrop of London and rural Ireland in 1790, Wild Rose reimagines a haunting Irish folktale. The story of Eliza Day is a tale of love and revenge, but also of class conflict, religious intolerance, and the secret societies that became common in eighteenth century Ireland. When Eliza is seduced and betrayed by a wealthy English lover, she vows to seek revenge and enlists the help of a witch. But as she soon finds out, the restrictive society in which she lives has no place for defiant, damaged women who break with convention. To make a new life for herself after the loss of her innocence, Eliza will have to be braver than she could ever have imagined.
At long last, The Fury Bride is finally live! Thank you so much to all my readers who have been patient with me while I worked out the kinks in this story. The Fury Bride is the longest book I’ve written (so far), with new characters and more worldbuilding/mythology than ever as the series races toward a finish in book seven.
If you like short stories/flash fiction and good deals, you should check out my Patreon page. $1/month gets you a free short story every month. There are also opportunities to get cool swag, have characters named after you, and even see your name in the dedication of my next novel. The most recent stories I’ve posted were a lot of fun to write, and I think that shines through in these covers!
Hey, guys! I’ve teamed up with over 45 fantastic urban fantasy authors to give away a huge collection of novels, PLUS a Kindle Fire, to one lucky winner! You can win my novel, Fury’s Kiss, plus books from the amazing authors pictured below.
Retro Reads is a series of posts highlighting the best, most interesting, and most hilarious trends of the fiction of yesteryear.
(Spoiler alert: This post contains spoilers, but does not give away major plot points. Also trigger warning: This book review contains discussion of sexual assault, racism, and strong language.)
Before Harlequin became the romance powerhouse it is today, the company was a small publisher dedicated to reprinting paperbacks in a variety of genres. Books cost $0.25 each (those were the days!) and the catalogue included a strong backlist of mystery from big names like Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The first book Harlequin ever published was a romance titled The Manatee—although trust me, this book bears little to no resemblance to the romance novel as we currently know it!
I can’t claim to have read every Harlequin every published, but I am willing to nominate The Manatee for the title of Worst Harlequin Ever. Intrigued by the back cover copy I found online, I tracked down a copy of the book on Amazon, expecting to find some next-level crazy between the covers.
And friends, this book has it all.
For your reading pleasure, I give you a brief synopsis of The Manatee, in the publisher’s own words.
“This robust, powerful novel is the story of Jabez Folger, savage, romantic man of the sea, with a sinister secret in his past. Against the colourful background of Nantucket in its great whaling days, Nancy Bruff has set this bold, sweeping drama of vibrant love and corrosive hatred. On Jabez Folger’s first whaling voyage he had a dark and evil experience that changed and embittered his whole life. In a rather softened mood, he courted and married piety, a gentle Quaker girl-then deliberately, viciously, murdered her love. Born of this strange union, conceived in love and hate, their children turned to Flowery Shrine, their half-caste south sea island servant, for the love and understanding they craved. Folger’s vindictive cruelty brought about his ruin, but in so doing freed him from the evil demon that possessed his soul. The manatee is a vivid, exciting and compelling tale, written in lusty, vigorous prose, yet with exceptional power and beauty, played out against a setting of sea, sky and fabulous island.”
If I were to re-write the synopsis to accurately reflect the plot of this novel, it would look something like this: This insane novel is the story of obviously unstable Jabez Folger, savage, racist man of the sea with a sinister secret in his past. (The secret will turn out to be far less sinister than you hope). Against the repressed background of Nantucket in its great whaling days, Nancy Bruff has set this bold, sweeping drama of emotional abuse and corrosive hatred.
I don’t think it’s fair to judge this book against modern standards, but even for 1949 tastes, it’s hard to believe this book was so popular it required seven printings between September and December 1945. (Maybe they were small print runs?).
If you ever want to play Trigger Warning Bingo, this novel is an excellent choice. The objectionable material in this book truly has to be read to be believed:
• Emotional/verbal abuse – Our “hero”, Jabez, frequently berates and frightens his family, but the elderly Amos Lamb, retired seaman and village lecher, gives him a run for his money. Sample dialogue from Amos: “The Selectmen can give each other what the cock gave the hen and that’s something old women with titties like envelope flaps have to do without”.
Conclusion: Amos Lamb is truly vile. I spent the whole book wishing he would die.
• Murder – When Jabez’s crew turn on him in mutiny, he strands them at sea in a lifeboat with no food or water, enjoying the thought of their suffering as he views their fate as “a mathematical perfection”.
Conclusion: I have no idea what mathematics has to do with anything. Executing mutineers was standard practice at one point, but leaving them to suffer a slow, painful death is pretty harsh.
• Xenophobia/racism – There is a Frenchwoman living in the village who is written as a walking stereotype—she has a “wildness waiting to spring out of her”, speaks in an exaggerated accent, and is driven to suicidal despair by the repressive Nantucket society. But the author’s depiction of a Black servant in the Folger household is so racist, it’s hard to read. Flowery Shrine is described as a “young and lovely mulatto girl” named after her mother, who had been “named and loved” by a sailor who brought her from a South Sea Island to Nantucket. Despite having grown up in New England, she speaks English poorly with what I can only assume is meant to be a “slave accent”.
Conclusion: Yikes. Literally every mention of Flowery Shrine made me uncomfortable.
• Sexual abuse/assault – Almost every central female character is sexually abused or assaulted at some point in this novel. Jabez assaults his wife, Amos harasses every woman who walks past his house, and Jabez’s daughter is date raped and abandoned by a young lieutenant. (He promises to bring her a kitten, as if that is somehow valid payment for her virginity). Yet again, however, the worst abuse is aimed at Flowery Shrine. She has no sexual agency of her own and does not understand “Christian values”, so clearly it is her fault as much as his when Jabez takes her to his bed. She is fifteen years old.
Conclusion: Barf. Everyone is awful.
If you are looking for a book that actually contains a romance, this book is not for you. If you are looking for an epic, generational family drama, are interested in the history of romance publishing, and can stomach all the awful-ness, you’re getting warmer. And if you’re looking for an example of literally everything an author should not do when writing a book, you have hit the jackpot with The Manatee.
For readers who aren’t familiar with The Romance Studio, you’ll want to check out this romance review site/blog in time for their Valentine’s Day party! The site is giving away a ton of free ebooks, including copies of my sexy new romantic suspense, Man’s Ruin. They’re also giving away a $100 Amazon gift card to one lucky reader.
To enter the contest, visit www.trsparties.com or their Facebook page between February 10 and 14 and comment on any post. Authors (including me) will be dropping by to interact with fans and share info about upcoming/new releases.
Make sure to mark this one on your calendars so you don’t miss out!