Reading in Vancouver for Kurdish House.

There are days in my life that I’d be willing to live over and over without changing a moment- May 18 was one of those. I woke up in Shwan and Yvonne’s place in Coquitlam to a fantastic breakfast, was chauffeured to Douglas College with a detour on the way to see the beautiful Maillardville and then I ran into my old friend Jeff on his way to the event. “The Event” as it’s been called for 2 months, was planned by Kurdish House, mainly Shwan Chawshin, with ferocity. He invited MPs, put out flyers, advertised on Kurdtv, emailed, facebooked, telephoned…Shwan filled that auditorium.

Vancouver reading May 2014

Vancouver reading May 2014

What a thrill for me to read to a Kurdish audience! I felt my life had come full circle. After all these years, I was embraced again by a Kurdish community. Eighteen years ago I promised a group of Kurdish refugees that I would tell their story to the world and here I was reading from it to a group of Kurds, many of whom were refugees.

I’ve been haunted by the refugees I met in North Kurdistan in March 1996. I’ve wondered, tearfully, many times what happened to them, if any survived…I remember especially the barefoot boy who fell in the cold mud and his poor mother who didn’t have water to wash him or heat to warm him.


chatting at the end

chatting at the end

I read that part of the book to the Vancouver community. When I finished, a number of people came to talk.

“I lived in one of those tents for 4 years.”

“My father was killed, my brothers died in jail…I am the only one left.”

“I was Peshmerga, 8 years.”

chatting at the end “I was tortured every day for 45 days.”

They are miserable words, but to me, to see so many people who had survived, who had made it to Canada…well for me, it was an affirmation of life. I hadn’t been able to imagine how ANYone could IMAG0676 survive the desolate situation I witnessed.

I also read about the wedding- a foreigner finding her way through 3 days of rituals and celebrations- and the audience laughed out loud at her efforts and observations.

A few people told me they had both laughed and cried in the 30-minute reading. What a joy for a writer to see the impact her words have made! And I was reminded again of the emotional openness and honesty of this community- men who can come up to me with tears in their eyes and say what they are thinking or remembering. I have said it before: The Kurds are stunningly courageous people in so many ways.

I remember sometimes resenting that my evenings, weekends, holidays were spent in isolation, indoors, working on a manuscript. I didn’t know if it would ever be read by anyone but me. I wondered sometimes if I was wasting years of my life. Other times, there was nothing more important than keeping my promise, nothing more beautiful than the polished words that I touched and touched and touched again. I did dare to dream it would be appreciated…and this past weekend that dream came true.

Ava's reading

Ava’s reading

Ava Homa read from her fascinating collection of short stories Echoes from the Other Land, Avan Ali read poetry in Kurdish and the host Nassir gave a stirring speech. We ended the afternoon with singing by Nadia- a Kurdish singer. After the strain of travelling and the tension of speaking, that music was a release. Nadia’s voice roused the joy in us all and as we clapped along I watched for who would dance first.  It was a group of men at the back. They formed a chain and snapped the handkerchief. I attached myself to the chain and danced with pure exaltation.

With all of my heart- thank you Shwan and Yvonne, Ava and Shaima, Aras and Sewar, Taban (who gave me flowers before I even read and who had never met me before), Jeff and all of the beautiful people who shared their Sunday with me.

Thank you to Kurdish House for the plane ticket and the roof over my head!

Shwan, Laurie, Yvonne

Shwan, Laurie, Yvonne

Self-publishing Advice (in hindsight).

Mission accompished- Meet the author at Perfect Books

Mission accompished- Meet the author at Perfect Books

Self-publishing Afterthoughts: What I did and what I wish I’d known.

I won’t repeat what’s already online about how to self-publish. I will say: It isn’t 7 easy steps. Also, note the date as you read- the market is changing rapidly (eg. CreateSpace has surpassed in preference; is exceptional but hardly a household name yet…) Mostly, I will share my mistakes with you, the shortcuts that I wasn’t aware of, the money I could have saved.

First- What I did (bare bones):

-manuscript in final copy edit, creative complete, (acknowledgements, disclaimer, dedication, permission etc.)
-artist and designer working together on cover

Early cover sketch

Early cover sketch

-website content: excerpts, discussion questions, photos, images, blog… ($1500)

-crowdfunding campaign. Crowdfunding levels the playing field. Everyone (anyone) can make a CD, start a small business, publish a book- crowdfunding is a great way of getting investors/capital.

I wrote the script for the campaign video (minimal wording) and planned “perks” for donors. I hired professionals to tape the video ($850). It was uploaded to youtube & my website. It can be used after campaign for marketing.

I used for the campaign & I have no complaints. Lots of support material is provided. I ran a summer campaign & I missed donors because of it. I made $4,000 on the campaign and from that paid 9% to Indiegogo, paid for the video & part of the website bill, printed 200 books and mailed 50 of them as perks to campaign donors.

-joined Facebook with marketing in mind during crowd-funding campaign

-manuscript went to designer to lay out in indd format. Proofs and final edits. Cover jacket then finalized on indd with blurbs, reviews and quotes, art, scanner product code. Whole thing went to local printer to print 100 copies digitally ($1,700) (I didn’t make enough on the campaign to afford a larger traditional printing- 1500 books for $12,000.)

Signing & wrapping "perks" for crowd-funders

Signing & wrapping “perks” for crowd-funders

-Epub version of file created for upload to Amazon for Kindle reader. Very fussy. ($400 for expert help)

-I readied a Microsoft Word version of the manuscript using Smashwoods Style Guide and then uploaded it to where it can be purchased by anyone and downloaded in any format (PDF, Kobo, Kindle, Apple iPad, Apple iPad, Nook, Sony Reader, & most e-reading apps including Stanza, Aldiko, Adobe Digital Editions, others (Epub), PDF, RTF, Plain text, Palm Doc (PTB), LRF). I’m not techno-talented. If I can do it, anyone can. (It took me many hours and there was some yelling at the computer.)

-Uploaded to Kobo (epub file) then Nook (epub file), although Smashwords can do this for you automatically with your properly-styled Microsoft Word document.

-Launch & marketing tasks picked up.

-Second order with local printer- this time $3,400 for 200 digitally-produced books. (My greatest folly.)

-Last thing I did was upload to CreateSpace for print-on-demand at Amazon (and married that page with the Kindle version)

Okay, now this is what I wish I’d known:

Those people who say they’ve got self-publishing down to 7 easy steps accomplished over a weekend are blatant liars (or doing a shoddy job). Block off some time, I mean holidays, a summer…

1- Plan marketing long before you’re even finished writing. Flesh it out once in a while, constantly picking other people’s brains and websites. Have some real tasks set out in detail for when your book is launched. By that time you will be up against sheer fatigue and some fear too. Have the steps broken down with a timeline- some tasks will begin months before the book is even complete.

2- Join Facebook way back when you’re writing the book & include friends in the journey. It comes on harsh when you show up just to market your new thing (even when you’re upfront about it).

3- Chat with your videographer a few times before filming- bargain a better price, trust your vision & share it, choose young hip videographers, plan a fun day, be flexible- let the magic happen. Don’t over-practise.
Video practice fun- click to see blooper

4- Don’t run a crowd-funding campaign in summer when everyone’s outside. Study Indiegogo and plan at least a couple of months ahead of time. There are some great crowd-funding workshops out there. This is when you need your savvy computer friends to help out- people with connections who will put some effort into spreading your video/researching email addresses/finding contacts online who will help your cause. You will spend hours doing this, but according to workshop notes I have, you need someone “who can come up with 500 new contacts in a day when the pressure is on”. I still don’t understand how to access to email lists/newsletters etc.

5- Style your Word Perfect document using the style guide. This is worth every moment to get it right. If you read this early enough, do it while you’re setting up your manuscript in the first place and write within that format. Then upload it to and thru them to Kobo and Nook.

6- Get print-on-demand thru Create Space and (yay!) use the Word Perfect document you just styled for Smashwords. Now you can print those perks for your campaign donors at $8 each plus shipping, so yeah, you’re not saving anything really- except all the visits/proofs/interaction with the local printer, wrapping and mailing all those books, putting cash out on a large order that may or may not be filled quickly (There are a lot of boxes of books at my house.)

Books arrive from printer

Books arrive from printer

7- I wish I’d known that when a local unknown author leaves books at his local independent bookstore (no, Chapters won’t look at you until you sell a bunch on Amazon), that these books are left on consignment. When they do sell, it’s 60/40, the writer’s 60% hopefully covering his production costs. (I paid $17 per book, they sell for 29.99. My share is $20.)

8- I wish I’d taken responsibility for the product bar code on the back of the book. There’s a simple app to check that the bar code works, but mine doesn’t. It feels unprofessional when this comes up in a bookstore.

9- Why did I pay someone $400 to edit my epub file for Amazon? I could have gone to smashwords first and got an epub file from there. Then I could have used it for Kindle or Kobo or whoever else.

10- Choose a publishing date at the beginning of the month. My date is Sept. 30. Now when I’m going to author’s fairs and so on, I am asked what month it was published because the show may be open only to authors who published in the last 6 or 12 months.

11- Plan more than a month between campaign-end and launch. It will take at least 6 weeks to print books and mail them as perks, upload and give e-books in various formats, and plan launch details. My tight deadlines caused unnecessary stress.

12- If I were to do it again, I would insist that the artist have a final look before the designer sends it to the printer. Mistakes would have been caught by the artist that the designer didn’t see. Neither the designer nor the artist saw the cover proof before it went to print (different cities) and that caused errors in the final product. If timelines had been kept (or if I’d been more flexible about changing deadlines), there would have been time to mail it around.

First look at the proof, tears in my eyes.

First look at the proof, tears in my eyes.

My final bit of advice: Take charge- this is your project. Your inexperience with publishing doesn’t equal stupidity- demand respect for knowing your product & your audience and for your many skills. Do not be intimidated.
Surround yourself with encouraging dependable people who will give quick and honest feedback on script, video, blogs, website look, campaign progress, cover, book dimensions etc.

Last word: Joy. No matter how traumatic the process is, do not succumb to fear. It’s a triumph to finally relinquish your creation and share it with the world. Take time to dwell on the joy. Congratulations on your accomplishment, my friend. Best of luck!

Reading at Cdn. Authors' Book Fest April '14

Reading at Cdn. Authors’ Book Fest April ’14

Pinto Valley Ranch

Pinto Valley Ranch

Pinto Valley Ranch

It was heartbreaking last summer when the folks at Pinto Valley Ranch had to sell some horses (“family” the owner called them). They couldn’t feed the horses because of the drought. I showed up there today for a trail ride and found spirits to be high again.

It’s a family ranch, busy with teenage volunteers, a menagerie of animals and Ruby’s Restaurant (mismatched chairs and benches, large tables, a couch, armchairs, busy play area, decent coffee and bacon).

I go now to see the peacocks and llamas and a giant black pig who is free to waddle wherever his wiggling nose leads him, but I first went there to do some research for The Word Not Spoken. I really wanted to give Leigh, the main character, some freedom. She saw Felicia, an independent businesswoman, galloping on a horse on the cliffs; Leigh and I both wondered how to get her up there.

I had no experience riding horses, but a trail ride at Pinto Valley gave me the details I needed for the novel. I heard the squeaking saddle and felt the twisted ankles. A guide taught me a bit about horse behaviour, and I was able to make Leigh’s experience believable.

One visit gave me all the information I needed, but I return to the ranch again and again for the people. Kids are working and laughing and playing in every corner of the place. They’re brushing horses, feeding chickens, sweeping mud puddles, jumping horses in a ring, helping out on a trail ride. The nearby adults seem unflappable.

Everyone is welcomed with a smile: the neighbours who come only to talk over a coffee, the regulars in muddy boots who know every horse’s name, the visitors on an adventure who show up in sandals, camera in hand. And the writer too, the one from the city who asks questions like “Why do some horses stop to poop and some don’t?”

pig, dog and chicken sharing the trough of scraps from Ruby's Restaurant.

pig, dog and chicken sharing the trough of scraps from Ruby’s Restaurant.

The Kettle Boys – Worth The Trip

The Randy Boys, oops, I mean the Kettle Boys, were having a good ol’ time out at Fortune Farms near Almonte (Ontario) this weekend. Beyond the modern maple syrup operation and the free taffy on snow, through the woods and beyond the demo of an early vat system, up the hill and over the crest, you’ll find the Kettle Boys cooking up “the real stuff”. These older men in zippered overalls carry around “the good stuff” like it’s moonshine. In fact, it’s syrup from the 3 huge cast iron kettles hung over a long wood fire. After hours of boiling, it’s filtered…but you never know what’s in it: the round Kettle Boy suggests ashes, leaves and squirrel droppings as possible ingredients. It’s not for sale.


These guys laugh and letch the whole day long, feeding wood to the fire and homemade fudge to the guests who find their way up the hill. Music plays and stories are told. I eat enough syrup to send a large man into shock, but I’m Ontario-born: I need my taste of early spring. That condensed sap flows through my arteries and melts heavy winter right out of my mind.