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The Books Are Here!

book boxMy books have arrived! One lovely box full of shiny copies of Seventh Son. Aren’t they pretty?

So, anyway, for you paper-book lovers out there, this means that those of you who live close by can buy a copy straight from me for CDN$ 10 (Introductory Offer! Special Deal! yadda yadda and so on). If you’re Canadian, and want an autographed copy by mail, contact me at, and I’ll let you know the rate; just to warn you, though, it’ll be a minimum of $25 (blame Canada Post; they’re the ones that charge arms, legs, and other appendages for small parcels). If you don’t care about having it authographed (and really, my signature isn’t all that amazing), you’re better off buying it straight from CreateSpace or, at this point; the shipping should only be $7 or $8. And hopefully, eventually there’ll be print copies for sale on; I hear it can happen.

So there you have it: Life, the Universe, and Lovely Print Copies of Seventh Son. If you read it, let me know what you think!

Scarlet Runner Beans

scarlet runner beansDid you know that the magic beans from “Jack and the Beanstalk” were scarlet runner beans? It’s true, Andrew Lang says so in The Red Fairy Book:

When [Jack] brought [the beans] home to his mother instead of the money she expected for her nice cow, she was very vexed and shed many tears, scolding Jack for his folly. He was very sorry, and mother and son went to bed very sadly that night; their last hope seemed gone.
At daybreak Jack rose and went out into the garden.
‘At least,’ he thought, ‘I will sow the wonderful beans. Mother says that they are just common scarlet-runners, and nothing else; but I may as well sow them.’

scarlet runner beans (1)Of course, you know the rest of the deal: massive beanstalk, Jack climbing, doing a spot of breaking and entering and theft, Fi-Fi-Fo-Fum, giant dropping off beanstalk, happily ever after. Incidentally, the Lang version has Jack helping himself to the giant’s stuff quite rightfully, because he’s really not a peasant at all, but the son of the knight who used to own the castle and was killed by the giant along with all of Jack’s older siblings. Fortunately, the knight’s wife was on a visit to her old nurse in the village, along with Baby Jack. When she got the news about the massacre she just stayed put and pretended to be a peasant until her son was old enough to take revenge on the giant and get the castle back, meanwhile earning their living with her spinning wheel and the produce of the little cow she’d bought. Enter the plot of the story as we know it.

I’m sorry, Mr Lang, that elaborate backstory just doesn’t work for me; part of the fun of “Jack and the Beanstalk” is precisely that Jack is a peasant boy, and not a very bright one at that. Stop making excuses for his B&E and robbery-with-violence; this is a story of a poor little guy defeating a big rich one and making it against all the odds, winning his fortune not because it’s his by law, but because of sheer dumb luck and gutsy opportunism.

However, that’s not really what I was going to talk about – my point today was Scarlet Runner Beans. I love those things, and I’ve planted some every year. I like eating them as green beans, but the problem I have with that is that I hardly ever get around to picking them when they’re still green and tender – I can’t find them in the tangle of leaves, and quite frankly, I’m too lazy to search for them. So I’ve been growing them pretty much as ornamentals. I figure if people grow climbing vines like clematis for their flowers, I can grow beans for the same purpose. And they really are pretty, with their bright red flowers.

scarlet runner beans (2)And then usually, at the end of the season when the vines die off, I find all these plump, dry pods with those funky black-and-purple-spotted beans inside. I’ve been collecting them just to have more to plant the next year, but then this year I got to wondering if you could just eat them as dried beans, like kidney beans or something, and sure enough, according to the Internet you can. I haven’t tried it yet, but I plan to – I got a small bowl full of beans off the four or five bean plants I had, it should be enough for a meal.scarlet runner beans (3)

So, climbing foliage, pretty flowers, tasty fresh green beans, lovely speckled beans, and beans to save for eating in winter. What a great plant. Never mind giants’ castles at the top, there’s enough here to make them worthwhile just like that.

Life, the Universe, and Scarlet Runner Beans. I’ll be sure to save a few for planting next year.

Bye Bye Macbook

macbook (2) My trusty old Macbook packed it in on Sunday. I was all done everything I had to do, including fixing my big fat blooper, and was just about to start beta-reading a friend’s story, when everything froze. So I did a hard reset, and the computer started up with its customary Apple “Brrrring!” – and then nothing. A blank white screen; not even a friendly apple logo in the middle. The fan was still running, but that was it. White screen of death.

Now, it wasn’t a tremendous surprise. In fact, the Macbook had been kind of temperamental for a while, crashing pages, even occasionally freezing (which is par for the course on PC’s but not on Macs), so I had sort of expected it. It was, after all, an old machine. Well, this particular one was actually relatively new to me – I’d only had it something over a year. But it was a hand-me-down then, which was replacing the identical model I had bought myself seven years ago with one of my own paycheques from working at the library. I was so proud of myself – my very own computer. It took me through four more years of part-time undergrad studies, two-and-a-half years of grad school, the writing of three novels, the first four years of my blogging life, and all the editing, formatting and publishing of Seventh Son. I loved that little white machine.

And now it’s, well, a paperweight. And a not very convenient one at that; perhaps I’ll use it as a coaster, instead. A trivet for my teapot. Or it’ll just go to the graveyard of croaked electronics (yes, we do have one of those in the house; it’s a big brown box in the basement). Bye bye, Macbook (sung to the tune of “Bye Bye Blackbird”).

Unfortunately, this is the end of my Mac usage, period. I can’t afford a new Macbook, and besides, Apple has decided to discriminate against DVD watchers (“It’s all online now,” the guy at the Apple Store told me. Pfft – not my DVD collection, it isn’t! Or the free movies from the library, either). So even if I had the lolly for a lovely new Mac machine, I might still get a PC, because I love watching movies on my compy.

In fact, I don’t really have any lolly for a new computer. So I was really lucky that there happened to be a currently unused PC laptop sitting around the house – a fairly newish machine which the resident geeks replaced with the newer, better and more-powerfully-geeky machines they need for their work. So I inherited it. And spent the last few days moving in. I’m slowly getting used to the positions of the buttons on the keyboard; now I hit the left shift key about 50% of the time, instead of typing “\i” every time I look for “I” (why on earth Acer had to make the left shift key a quarter the size of the right one, no bigger than one of the letter keys, and put a “\” key between it and the “z”, is beyond me. It’s extremely irritating).

However, it’s like driving a new car – after you’ve sprayed the windshield a few dozen times when all you were looking for was the switch to turn the lights on, you get used to doing it the new way. And while you can’t rearrange the buttons on the keyboard (more’s the pity), you can set up your desktop the way you like it. So now I’ve got my lovely picture of Long Beach (the Vancouver Island one) put up as desktop wallpaper, have the icons for all my favourite programs arranged along the left hand side of the screen, installed f.lux to adjust the screen brightness to the time of day, and I’m starting to feel quite at home in my new computer.

I miss my lovely white Macbook, but seasons come to an end. For me, Apple season is over – at least the computer kind. The fruit kind is still in full swing; in fact, I have some Macs in the house as we speak. Maybe I should try how one of them combines with a real book?

Life, the Universe, and Bye Bye Macbook. It’s been great knowing you.

Macbook (no, really!)
Macbook (no, really!)

Humility, Forests and Trees

I pride myself, in certain cases, on my perfectionism. Not always, by any means – there are lots of occasions where I’m not perfectionistic at all. House cleaning, for example. Or yard work. But when it comes to my writing, oh yes, the perfectionist in me is out in full force. As far as content of writing goes, you can’t really make it perfect, you can just make it as good as you can; the rest is a matter of opinion. But form, and formatting – well, there is such a thing as absolutely correct. Spelling, grammar, having everything look right, it matters.

So I released Seventh Son yesterday to great fanfare – drum rolls, fireworks, the lot. There it was, all neat and shiny, on Amazon and Smashwords and CreateSpace. My friends were all patting me on the back, and I felt so proud of myself.  And then, in the early afternoon, a friend messaged me on Facebook: “It might just be my ebook reader, but it looks like chapter 3 and 4 are identical.” WHAT?!? I grabbed the hardcopy I had sitting beside me on the kitchen table, flipped to chapter 3, then to chapter 4 – and said some swear words, loudly. Jumped up, clapped my hands to my face, swore again, frantically paced three steps back and forwards again, hyperventilated, clutched at my hair – you get the picture. Full-on panic mode.

I had, right at the base level, dropped out chapter 3, and instead put in a duplicate of chapter 4. Right in the base file, when I exported the text from Scrivener to a Word document – the file that I used to do all my formatting from, for print, Amazon, Smashwords, everything. And I never saw it. I went over those files over and over again. I had even noticed that it said “Chapter 4” twice, so I fixed the first one to say “Chapter 3”. But I never noticed that it was the wrong text in that chapter. I read over that file so many times since I wrote the story, over and over. It was a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees – so many chapters of text which I was so familiar with and had looked at so many times, I never saw the glaring error. And I blithely uploaded the file to all the ebook vendors, even had a couple of proof copies printed.

So here I put myself out there, telling the world how great I am and what a great thing I accomplished, and it’s got this big fat mistake in it. Talk about a humbling experience. I’m not perfect, not even where it matters, and now the whole world knows it.

My friend Lee Strauss, whose mentorship has been instrumental in getting Seventh Son off the ground, tells me that every self-published writer does something like this at least once. Phew – at least I’m not the only one. I guess you’re not a proper indie writer until you’ve screwed up for the first time; so I’m lucky I did it right on my first release date and got it over with.

And now that you all know I’m not perfect, I have nothing more to lose. I can just carry on being me; write my stories, drivel on in my blog posts, and you won’t expect me to never make mistakes. Which you probably never did anyway – the expectations were all in my own head – but now I know you won’t. And that’s a really freeing thought.

Life, the Universe, and Big Public Bloopers. The freedom of dispensing with illusions.

It’s A Book!

SeventhSon_CVR_XSMLSo here it finally is, the big announcement you’ve all been waiting for: IT’S A BOOK! That’s right, this is the birthday of my first novel, the brain child whose arrival I’ve been promising. It’s been three years in the making, and now here it is in all its glory: Seventh Son. Two hundred pages of a story that started when I put fingers to keyboard in November of 2011, and typed out: “It was the blue pottery bowl that started it all…” Started what? Well, here, let me elaborate:

Cat was ordinary—until the day a blue bowl whirled her off to a magical medieval world…

Catriona, ex-librarian, dumped by her boyfriend, is just trying to restart her life when she looks into a blue pottery bowl in a museum, and suddenly finds herself whirled off to a magical medieval world. Who is the injured man flung across the forest path? How is Cat going to cope with that muddy baby watching him? And what do either of them have to do with the disappearance of the town’s most powerful figure, the seventh son of the seventh son? Something is not right in the forest of Ruph… It will take all of Cat’s ingenuity to solve this mystery, and in the process, she needs to find out what her own place in this new world is. Can she make her way back to twenty-first-century America – and what is more, will she want to?

Seventh Son is available on Amazon (.com, .ca, .de, and a number of other .somethings) for Kindle and in print; in most other Ebook formats on Smashwords; in epub on Kobo; and in print only on CreateSpace.

Life, the Universe, and My First Own Book! Do hop on over to the vendors, and get a copy. And then let me know what you think!

Burg Weibertreu

A friend of mine just posted this CBC article on Facebook: “Wife Carrying Championship: An unusual Nordic tradition returns”. It’s just what you’d think: a race in which husbands lug their wives over a predetermined course. The winning couple gets the wife’s weight in beer, and five times her weight in cash (and a trip to the world championships in Finland). For some reason my man doesn’t want to participate, even though I pointed out to him the serious benefits if we would win (I’m no featherweight). But then, neither of us drinks beer, so it’s perhaps just as well.

However, banter aside, the first thing this news item reminded me of is an old German tale, a story that really happened.

The year was 1140, the place a small South-Western German town called Weinsberg (Wine Mountain – if you look at pictures of the place, you’ll know why it’s called that: there’s vineyards everywhere). The solid castle overlooking the town was held by the Welfs (or Guelphs), who, in this hard autumn, were in a war with the royal house of the Staufer. The Staufer King Konrad III, after weeks of besieging the castle, finally defeated the Welfs in an open battle on December 21, 1140; the starved-out castle garrison surrendered. However, Konrad was harshly resentful that so many of his many good men had been killed by the Welfs on the field of battle; he threatened his revenge: all the men in the castle were to die as soon as he set foot in the fortress. The women, however, begged for their lives; they had had no hand in the bloodshed, they claimed, and asked for free passage out of the castle. The King, being the noble sort, consented, and what’s more, promised they could take with them whatever of their dearest possessions they were able to carry.


Early in the morning, the great castle gates creaked open to let out the first of the women. But imagine the surprise of the besiegers when out of the castle came woman after woman, carrying on her back – her husband.

King Konrad, the story says, laughed, and confessed himself outwitted. He had given his word, and his word he would keep. The women and their “dearest possessions” were given free passage; the faithfulness of the Wives of Weinsberg became legend, and the castle of Weinsberg is to this day called Burg Weibertreu, Wives’ Faithfulness.

I don’t think I ever visited the castle myself (it’s just a ruin today), but I’m pretty sure we drove past it when I was a kid on the way to visit my grandmother. My mother told me the story then, and I’ve loved it ever since. A wife-carrying race to win some beer is a fun thing, but for my money, give me those feisty Swabian women who had the guts to take a King at his word, the brawn to carry out their plan, and their husbands alive and well to show for it. A live husband beats a barrel of beer any day.

Life, the Universe, and the Faithful Wives of Weinsberg. Still one of my favourite stories ever.

PS: Just four more days to the big announcement!

Luddism and Ebook Readers

booksI ran across another one of those articles the other day. You know the ones – “Social Media Are Destroying Our Connections To Real People!” “Computers Rot Your Brain!” “If You Don’t Feel Guilty About Your Use of Technology Yet, Here’s Why You Should!” This particular one is entitled “Science Has Great News for People Who Read Actual Books“, and takes a dig at ebook readers. Granted, this article is a lot better than the last one I read on the subject, which cited a study that said we read differently on a screen than on a page (we skip around on a screen, as opposed to the “linear” reading we do on a static page), and then concluded from that that you shouldn’t read books on your Kindle (because a Kindle has a screen). D’uh. Apparently the authors of that particular article haven’t ever actually looked at an ebook reader, particularly the e-ink ones like Kindle or Kobo – it looks exactly like a paper page, you don’t scroll or jump around visually. Just line after line of text, and then you “flip the page” with a touch of a button or a swipe of your finger.

Anyway, this article I read this morning actually has some interesting info: they’re citing a study that found that paper readers had a better recall of the timing of events in a story than Kindle readers. The researchers speculate that it’s because a Kindle always feels the same, no matter where you are in the story, whereas in a paper book you have the tactile feedback that tells you how many pages are left to read – so you know that when the detective ran across the red herring, you still had half the book in front of you, so it obviously wasn’t close to the end of the story.

Sure, it makes sense. And all those articles do have a point. However, have you noticed something about them? All of those pieces of writing decrying the evils of technology are on the Internet. Guess what? You won’t be able to read that article about the evils of reading on a screen on anything but a screen. That video clip about how social media cut us off from real people went viral – on social media.

There is a certain amount of hypocrisy about all of that, wouldn’t you say? And what’s more, it has an all-pervasive flavour of Luddism. “Everything Was Better in Ye Olden Dayse”, that sort of thing. “If it’s new, and especially if kids like it, it must be bad.” And that’s an attitude that is suspect right from the word Go. I’m all in favour of doing things the old-fashioned way (I made grape jelly without commercial pectin the other day, and was thrilled when it turned out), but that doesn’t mean that the new way is inferior and to be avoided. That’s Luddite alarmism, is what it is.

See, the fact about that article is that while it claims to give “Great News For People Who Read Actual Books”, what it really does is give Bad News to Ebook Readers. It sets up reading on paper as superior to reading on an ereader – and for what? Probably just so that paper book readers can feel smug, and ebook readers feel guilty.

I’m sorry, I have no use for that kind of snobbery. It doesn’t really do anybody any good, least of all us bibliophiles. Of course I love my paper books, I’d never be without them. (In fact, I built me a new bookshelf just a few days ago. No, getting rid of enough books to make them fit the existing shelves isn’t an option. Sorry.) But my Kobo is also a great way to do reading. In a little package the size of a thin paperback I have about 250 books stored – I don’t think I can fit that many hardcopies onto my new shelf, and it’s three feet wide and four feet tall. If I want new books, in some cases I can get them instantly. For example, just the other day E. L. Bates recommended a series I hadn’t read, and when I went on my library’s website, it turned out to have the first of the series available as an ebook. In five minutes I had that library book in hand, even though it was Saturday night and my local library branch wouldn’t open again until Tuesday. Thousands of classics of world literature are available for free from places like Project Gutenberg and the MobileRead website, and many more brand-new books from self-published authors on Amazon and Smashwords.

koboSo stop it with the Luddite reading snobbery already. Ereaders are a fantastic way to get at more reading material, to carry it around with you, to expand your reading horizons. They’re not inferior to paper books, they’re just different. A new way to indulge your love for reading. That’s something to celebrate, wouldn’t you say?

Life, the Universe, and Ebook Readers. Where are you getting your daily reading dose today?

Bear Tales and Business

Steve at computerSteve’s been giving me a hard time for neglecting my blog. I tried to tell him that I’ve had a lot of business lately, so he said he’d write a post himself. “Fine,” I says, “be my guest!” So here he is, trying his hand at blogging. But he kept fussing around with it, and couldn’t figure out the interface on WordPress, so I finally got fed up and said I’d take over again. He looked rather relieved at that, and has gone back to discussing poetry with Horatio.

grape juice (2)So, yes, there’s been a lot of business lately. That’s business as in busy-ness, not biz-ness, you know, with dollars and cents. Figuring out this blog interface thing wasn’t the only issue, although that took a fair amount of time on its own. There’s also been the ongoing harvest – still food to process, dontcha know. I made 18 litres of grape juice from the Coronation grape vine climbing our balcony (32 kg grapes!), and if you’ve never made grape juice, you have no idea of the mess it generates. In fact, I’d never made it in these quantities before, either, and was quite astonished at the resulting blood bath (grape blood, that is). See? grape juice (3)And then, of course, afterwards I had to clean it up, too. Grape juice is incredibly staining – one drop on my light beige kitchen counter, and I’d have a bluish spot forever. I did, in fact, have stains all over that counter for years – not just grape juice and other food substances, but rust rings from where someone left a damp cast iron pan sitting on it for far too long. But then sometime this spring I discovered the secret to rejuvenating kitchen counters: BS.

grape juice (4)No, not that kind of BS. I’m talking about baking soda. Now, that stuff has been my go-to scouring powder for years, but scrubbing the stains on the counter with it had never seemed to do much. Until I discovered the magic trick: time. You make a paste of baking soda and water, smear it all over the stain, and let it sit for an hour or more. Then you can take a sponge or rag, and with the application of a bit of elbow grease the stains quite simply vanish. Voilà, kitchen counters good as new! Which had me quite excited, back there in spring, because the stains were so bad I had already priced out what it would cost to replace the counters. Several thousand dollars, actually. Yes, ouch. Not really in the budget. But then, with a buck or two (if even) of BS, lovely clean counters.grape juice (1)

So there  you have it. Grape juice. Blogging interfaces. Apple butter (thereby hangs another tale – I’d never made that before, it’s yummy!). Dried plums, apples and pears. Grape jelly without commercial pectin. Lots of BS to clean up after it. And that’s just the half of it. So, yes, Steve, I’ve been busy. Hope you’re enjoying your poetry discussions; you’ll have to share them with me sometime.

Life, the Universe, and Business. Nothing a little BS won’t take care of.

Moving House

Welcome to the new home of AMO VITAM!

This is where Steve the Stuffed Bear and I present to the world our unique blend of drivel deep wisdom, random ramblings, the occasional bit of silliness, sometimes a recipe, and occasionally even something that could be construed as profound. So far, we’ve done all this over on a Blogger page, also named Amo Vitam, which is where you will continue to find all our posts from the last four years under its old address. (Have a look around, there’s some interesting stuff [even if we say so ourselves]; and then come back here so you don’t miss anything interesting).

Also on this page you will find, soon, an exciting announcement about a forthcoming event – but I’m not telling you what it is quite yet! Just a couple more weeks though.

And that, for today, is Life, the Universe, and a New Home for Amo Vitam. Glad to have you here!

Steve waving
Steve welcoming you to our new home