Category Archives: Craft of Writing

3 things I’ve learned from writing

1. The process of writing means more to me than the finished product.

I’ve gone back to reading several of my old works. Admittedly, some pieces are cringeworthy; others still resonate true today. This comes as no surprise, really. The familiarity of what I’m reading allows me to bypass the story and concentrate on elements of craft. I see things differently than when I first published in 2011.

When I was a non-writing reader, the rules of grammar and punctuation only came to light if I saw an obvious error. Poor sentence structure, the overuse of adverbs, word repetition, etc., were but fleeting impressions.

Now, I’m more focused on how a sentence can be improved upon. This is probably why writers are advised to read — a lot. We feed off and learn from the writing of better authors.

Although completion of a short story, novella, or novel is cause for celebration once it’s published, it is no longer mine. The process of writing is what is important from a learning perspective, and remaining attached to a story after it’s made public serves no purpose.

2. The more I write, the more I learn about others and the less I know about myself.

Writing fiction demands that I look at the world through the lens of others, to inhabit my characters in order write their stories.

By gaining insight into others, I’ve discovered how little I know about myself.

Allow me to explain.

Because I must expand my imagination to write fiction, I sometimes question if it is truly me who comes up with the stories. In the genre of mystery and suspense, I’ve researched by reading a lot of true crime. It’s not surprising I’ve filled my mind with some awful images. That I am also a news junkie only adds to the chaos inside my head.

It’s great for fiction, but not so good for maintaining daily calm.

To stay grounded, I meditate and do yoga. In meditation, all kinds of thoughts come up. I simply observe them, attaching neither good nor bad feelings toward them. Acceptance of these thoughts trains my mind to stay calm and be in the moment. This translates to a more easygoing manner outside of meditation, and hopefully, more awareness.

Yoga serves to strengthen my physical being, which is intimately connected to the mind.

To create believable characters, it’s necessary to nurture them to behave in a way that might be contrary to my own behaviour. The important thing is staying true to myself when I’m not in my fictional world.

3. Writing can be all encompassing.

Writing absorbs me when I’m “in the zone.” At these times, I don’t need food or sleep, and I avoid all distractions. My only purpose is to ride the creative wave for as long as it will take me and as far as it will go.

It doesn’t happen too often, but it’s an amazing feeling when it does.

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What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from writing? Please feel free to share. 🙂

XX

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Toning my Mind, Body, and Time Travel (Part 2) #Bali #Ubud

Welcome to the fourth instalment of my Mind Body Series. If you missed the first three, you can start reading here. The series is about my efforts to unite mind, body, and spirit to inspire my writing.

I started writing this blog while in Indonesia. I have since returned home. What an amazing trip!

Here are some final thoughts on my time in Ubud, which encompasses changes I encountered in Bali from the last time I was there in 1988.

Postcards—The Internet of the Past

The Internet was in its infancy when I was traveling around Asia almost thirty years ago. For all intents and purposes, it didn’t exist. To stay in touch, one of the first things I did when I arrived at a new destination was pick up a stack of postcards and spend a couple of hours writing them. The process helped me acclimatize to my surroundings and lay down thoughts on my travels while planning next steps. I had a list of about twenty people to write, including family, friends, and acquaintances I had met along the way.

Writing postcards was not just a responsible travel ritual.

I did not pen: “Hi, I’m here in XYZ city. Alive and well!” on all my cards. No, each one was personalized.

Even though it was one-way communication, postcards helped me maintain friendships and forge new ones.

bali postcard

In my two years away, I must have sent close to 200 postcards. My only regret was that I didn’t send one to myself each time I posted them. Along with my photographs, they would’ve added another dimension to my scrapbook.

Fast forward to this trip and I can hardly remember when the Internet did not exist.

En route to Ubud, I connected with loved ones at each juncture—each time I landed at a different airport until arrival at my final destination. Media platforms like Facebook and Twitter made it easy. I no longer had to write a note to each person. I could provide an update of my whereabouts and what I was doing en masse.

It was quick and easy, but it did not have the personal investment of postcards. As much as I love the Internet and its ability for near instant communication, it lacks for something. Perhaps I’m a romantic. I still like writing letters and cards on occasion.

Even now, postcards are available if I want to buy and send them, but the process seems like more effort than it’s worth. For a short trip, coupled with slow postal service, postcards probably won’t make it to the addressee until I’m already home.

For most people (and me included) *sigh*, the Internet has replaced postcards as the touchpoint along one’s journey.

Hostels and Hotels

Hostels were a great place to meet other travelers especially when backpacking on my own. I never felt like I was alone and the normally small facilities meant I would make friends, usually over breakfast or while using shared facilities.

This type of accommodation was perfect for a twenty-something on a budget. I don’t remember exactly where I stayed in Ubud so long ago, but it couldn’t have been more than $4 a night.

This go-round, I didn’t exactly stay at the Ritz, but it was luxury by comparison. I had a large room, king-sized bed, and a washroom I didn’t have to share with anyone! Breakfast was included as was a pool, and housekeeping was excellent. Space and privacy was what I valued during my stay at Gana Restaurant and Villa.

If you’re thinking of going to Ubud, consider booking Gana, located centrally and within walking distance to many attractions. The best way to book is via Anita’s Airbnb Listings. She has multiple places listed with different price points.

gana staff 2

The friendly and helpful staff at Gana!

Monkeys—Then and Now

Below are pictures of me in the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary back in ’88.

bali me and monkey 1 I was feeding peanuts to the Balinese long-tailed macaques and recall them being quite timid. They didn’t mind sitting with me for a while before scampering off.
bali_monkey-2

For this trip, I brought with me a a bag of unshelled peanuts again. Unfortunately, visitors to the forest can no longer feed the monkeys certain foods—peanuts being one of them. The caretakers maintain a strict diet with the monkeys, which consists of sweet potato, bananas, coconut and other fruit. It’s understandable for the continued health of the monkeys.

monkey forest sign

Instead of feeding them nuts, I gave them bananas purchased inside the Forest. Several monkeys approached and snatched the fruit immediately. They were no longer willing to sit and have a chat. 😉

monkey forest 3

There are now more than 600 monkeys living in the area. This has more than doubled since I was last there. Along with the population growth, the monkeys now seem more brazen. I can’t help but think it’s due to the continued interaction with tourists.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-7-47-37-pm

One of the guidelines states: Do not make eye contact with the monkeys. They see this as a sign of aggression.

And yes, there are stories of how monkeys bite, scratch, and jump on tourists.

The amount of interaction between humans and monkeys did seem too intimate at times. I saw tourists posing with monkeys using their selfie sticks, the monkeys on their heads and shoulders. I was only too happy to observe from afar.

monkey-forest-roots

A photo opportunity with a monkey did not interest me, as I wanted my presence to be as non intrusive as possible.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-7-43-15-pm

Along with monkeys, there are 115 separate species of trees and three temples inside the Forest. With its moss-covered statues and hanging tree roots, the Forest is an amazing place to walk through.

monkey forest temple

Pura Dalem Agung Padangtegal or the “Main Temple,” built around 1350

Toilets, Toilet Paper and Why the Hose? 

When I was first in Indonesia, I was terribly naive about many things. The first time I walked into a public toilet, I was shocked to find nothing more than a hole in the ground. No toilet paper.

Luckily for me, I always traveled with a small packet of tissues, so I was able to take care of myself that time. Later, I learned the lay of the land as far as toilets were concerned.

If you’re squeamish about bodily functions, this is a warning not to read further.

In Asia, travelers spoke incessantly of their bowel movements. Whether you were constipated or had diarrhea was a topic of conversation at breakfast. I quickly got over my shyness around the subject, and to this day, I have no issue talking about poo to anyone at anytime. (Not that too many of my friends want to talk about this anyway!).

There are several iterations of the Indonesian toilet. In the one I first experienced, a ceramic basin filled with water and a bucket stood next to the toilet. The idea was to use the bucket to scoop water from the basin and clean yourself—with your left hand only. (I’ll talk about this distinction of hands shortly). You would also use the water to flush contents down the bowl.

Below is a pretty fancy version of these toilets. The one I remember was simply a hole with no decorative ceramic tile. I’m not sure why the water is brown in this picture, but it should be clean water from the spigot.

squat toilet

With regards to cleaning yourself with your left hand only, I learned this when I was introduced to an Indonesian man and extended my left hand in greeting. He was polite but did not shake my hand.

As the left hand is used for cleaning yourself, you would never touch a stranger with it. Also, Indonesians eat traditional meals with their hands, and only the right hand is used to pick up food.

On this trip, my hotel had a Western-style toilet along with a handheld hose—a bidet, if you will. I saw more and more of these bidet hoses in public restrooms.

toilet with hose The hose is attached to the seat and activated by a button or knob, or in some toilets, it is mounted to the wall. In any case, it’s a step up from using the bucket. The idea is simple: After you finish your business, you would hose yourself while sitting on the toilet. Because I had good water pressure at my hotel, I didn’t need to clean myself with my hand.

The hotel also provided toilet paper, which I used sparingly to dab myself dry after applying the hose. A full roll of paper is only about a quarter of what you would get in the West.

Toilet paper is expensive, and the sewer system is not equipped for flushing copious amounts of it.

It takes some adjustment and coordination, but I like the idea of cleaning with water. It’s much more hygienic than just using toilet paper.

Food and Drink

I LOVE Indonesian food.

I had opportunity to eat at some fantastic warungs this trip. These small, family-owned businesses serve traditional food, and are usually housed in modest dwellings, though some can be quite large.

trad-food The food is normally a simple combination of rice, meat or fish, and a vegetable. Along with a drink and shrimp chips, you can have a filling meal for less than $3.00.

trad-food-2

What makes the meals delicious are the spices, usually a combination of chilli, turmeric, garlic, and ginger. Curries are also a big part of Indonesian cuisine.

curry

On one of my last days in Ubud, I was invited to a friend’s birthday party with many other women. It was a veritable feast that lasted over three hours. Thank you Ednawati!

I tried a shaved ice dessert made with fruit, grass jelly, and sweet and condensed milk called Es Campur.

me holding es campur

I never thought I would be able to eat the entire bowl, but I did. It was so delicious! I couldn’t finish the birthday cake though, but it was also very good.

dessert-and-drinkYoung coconuts were abundant, and since it’s a super food, I could not get enough of them. The juice from one coconut filled me for hours.

coconuts

Wine is expensive in Indonesia, given it is imported and there isn’t much variety. I’m also not much of a beer drinker. As such, I drank hot tea most days, particularly green tea, which I am addicted to! I found an amazing brand of it at Kakiang Bakery near my hotel and bought three bags to take home.

Now I have to find out how to replenish my supply once it’s finished! green-tea

On this trip, I tried something I’ve never had before—Kopi Luwak coffee. If you are unfamiliar with this coffee, it is the most expensive coffee in the world.

Why? The unusual production process.

The coffee beans (which are actually seeds) are digested by the Indonesian cat-like animal called the civet cat (known as luwaks in Indonesia). The feces of the cat/luwak are collected by farmers, processed, and then sold as Kopi Luwak.

Cat poo coffee.

civet-coffee

I told you I had no qualms talking about poo. Heh.

So, did I like it?

To frame my response, remember I’m a lover of green tea. I’ve also been off coffee for several months, so my taste for it is not discerning, by any stretch.

I drank the Kopi Luwak black, which is what you’re supposed to do in order to experience the unique flavour.

Truth is … I didn’t hate it, but that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement!

kopi luwak

Kopi Luwak is very rich, as you can see from the residue around the cup.

I tried not to disturb the coffee as I drank it, but once I got near the bottom, it became too thick to continue.

My best analysis of the flavour is it’s a blend of dark chocolate and dark coffee with a smooth, nutty aftertaste. Given I usually take my coffee with a bit of cream, I expected it to be bitter. Surprisingly, it wasn’t bitter at all.

My recommendation is you try it once and make up your own mind. Indonesia is certainly the place to do it.

Travel with Purpose

When I traveled to Bali and Asia in the late eighties, the purpose was to explore the world. With an open ticket and no set timeline, I started in Hong Kong and meandered from there. I had a simple formula—when my funds ran out, I would return home.

Indonesia was not on my radar when I started my journey, but it manifested as I met other travelers along the way.

bali_Goa Gajah

Goa Gajah, 1988

The only purpose of that trip was to expand my realm of experience and my mind. The power of travel helped mould me into the person I am today.

festival banner

On this trip, I planned my stay around the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. The festival saw numerous speakers come together for a five-day event to discuss writing, books, and issues affecting the world today.

open-dance-for-fest

The festival began with a traditional Balinese welcome dance.

The theme – Tat Tvam Asi: ‘I am you, you are me’ – created a strong focus for the conversations.

eden at the festival

One of the most entertaining speakers I met was Delhi-based author, Mayank Austen Soofi. (You have to love a man who chooses his middle name after his favorite author!).

He writes a popular blog called The Delhi Walla. I attended a couple of his panels, one in which he shared the stage with three other authors.

His approach was decidedly different from the others.

How so?

He didn’t try to sell his books by obnoxiously mentioning them while answering questions from the moderator.

Indie authors like myself who do it all, including promote our work will understand why this is so important. Nobody wants to listen to someone who screams: “Buy my book!” at every turn. In the age of social media, over-selling is easy to do, but it won’t work. Seasoned authors know that selling a book does not mean flogging it to death.

Mr. Soofi’s responses, infused with enthusiasm, warmth, and wit sold his book.

nobody can love you moreFor this reason, I feel fortunate to have received a copy of Mr. Soofi’s book, Nobody Can Love You More. It is an account in words and photographs of life in Delhi’s red light district. He was gracious enough to sign the book for me, and I look forward to reading it.

mayank sign book

Writing, yoga, and sightseeing made up the other days of my stay in Ubud. Instead of telling you about it, I’ve attached a slideshow. You will see for yourself why Ubud, Bali is one of the most magical places on earth.

Thank you for reading. Now that I’ve returned from Bali, my Mind Body Series will tackle other areas of my life. I hope you continue to join me as I explore this curious time in my life.

~eden

Approximately 30 pictures

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Pieces of You in Ubud #poem #Bali

A poem for my husband on the occasion of his birthday.

* * *

John,

Thank you for being who you are, for granting me precious time and space … for Ubud.

In return, this is my gift to you,

eden
xox

* * *

Pieces of You in Ubud

 

I walk the streets of Ubud and discover pieces of you
In the cracks of broken tile pavements
Across ill-fitting, metal sewer grates
Your spirit rises to greet me like incense to the gods

Faded signs of cafés and hotels line a main road
Veering toward alleyways filled with unknown treasures
You pull me close for a moment or two
To breathe in the wonder of a new day

Appeasing and pleasing gods and demons
Begins a daily ritual in Bali
Devotional gifts of flower petals and frangipani
Adorn sidewalks, shrines, and statues

You walk with me in harmony
Careful not to step on the canangs
The day is young and the hustle has just begun
You hypnotize at every turn

 

I meander the streets of Ubud and find traces of you
In statues wrapped with black and white checkered cloth
In the sweet fragrance of incense permeating the air
You guide me through narrow walkways hand in hand

I sidestep a dog that is too hot or too tired to move
Or maybe he is just claiming his space
You escort me to the edge of shattered crossroads
Where I look right, then left, then right again

A rumble quickly escalates to a roar
In the tangle of vehicles that defines Ubud traffic
A chaotic racetrack unfurls from around the bend
Unleashing a blur of motorbikes and vans

“Wait …” you whisper in a cautionary voice
I feel the squeeze of your hand as you inch me forward
The dust and noise settle down, a fleeting calm
Just the break needed to run to the opposite side

 

I weave through the streets of Ubud and remember pieces of you
In the voices of young women offering a massage
In a bakery window filled with chocolates and sweets
Your essence surrounds me like a favorite sarong

A gentle rain falls in the early evening
Merchants pull in their wares and clapboard signs
Backpackers scurry to find shelter
I seek refuge under my latest possession

A monsoon hits, third one in a less than a week
The downpour floods the streets within seconds
I skip over puddles with unsteady footing
My flip-flops are soaked, yet again

You navigate me around a minefield of gaping holes
Loose rocks and debris float toward overflowing gutters
I squelch my way toward my hotel
And silently thank you for my umbrella

 

I travel the town of Ubud and conjure up images of you
In the faces of men who call out “Taxi?” as I walk by
In swathes of brilliant green rice fields as far as the eye can see
You tug at my heart until I choke with tears

Ubud …

You cast your spell on mortals and spiritual beings
Lay bare the knowledge of your ancient wisdom
You tempt
Like the graceful sway of a Balinese woman
You inspire
With the mystery of the Sacred Monkey Forest
You arouse passions and fulfillment of passions
Pieces of you live inside of me
And they always will

* * *


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Toning my Mind, Body, and Time Travel (Part 1)

Welcome to the third instalment of my Mind Body Series. If you missed the first two, you can start reading here. The series is about my efforts to unite both mind and body to inspire my writing.

I’m currently in Bali, Indonesia. Travel is a passion for me, and I haven’t been to Asia since 1988. It was time to return.

For this post, I’ll highlight a few things that have changed since my last trip.

Checking Luggage

My flights to Bali were without incident … but for one issue—I’ll get to that in a minute. I originally booked to fly to Denpasar via Beijing and Singapore. With connection times, it would’ve taken me over 33 hours. I found a better route a few days before the trip. It cut my travel time to less than 29 hours, flying Toronto—Houston—Taipei—Denpasar.

I never fly Air Canada because it’s too expensive, but I was traveling on points and it was worth making the change. Air Canada would fly me to Houston and EVA Airways (the Hello Kitty airline based in Taiwan) would take me to Taipei and my final destination.

eva airways

The AC flight was uneventful, and I slept part of the way. When I got off the plane to catch my connecting flight, I thought I heard my name over the intercom. I didn’t think much of it at the time. Houston is an enormous airport with multiple terminals. I only had 75 minutes to catch the next flight. As I waited for the airport train to take me from Terminal A to D, my name sounded over the speaker again.

I couldn’t catch the garbled message. A slight panic set in. Who was calling me and why?

At that moment, the airport train arrived. There was nothing I could do but go forward.

When I arrived at Terminal D, I immediately went to the EVA Airways counter and asked if they had paged me. The attendant confirmed she had. The reason? She wanted to give me EVA’s official boarding passes and vouchers for the lounge.

I didn’t even know I had the privilege of a lounge. Bonus … and relief!

It was past midnight, and there was a giant buffet in the lounge. People were piling food on their plates, but I couldn’t eat. I watched CNN’s ongoing recap of the last Presidential debate. An announcement for pre-boarding sounded shortly thereafter. I was anxious to board the 16-hour flight to Taipei.

Queued up for the gate, I felt pretty good until the attendant scanned my boarding pass and asked me to step aside.

Now what?

Another attendant’s worried look told me it was not good news. She asked me to sign a form absolving EVA Airways of any fault. Apparently, they could not find my one piece of checked luggage. It was supposed to be delivered to them by Air Canada, but they never received it.

luggage

I would have to fly to Bali without it.

There was no time to think, even less time to be upset. While in the air, I tried not to fret, but I did use the plane’s WIFI to send a note to a friend. Perhaps he could do some investigative work for me before I landed.

Long story short, my luggage never made it out of Toronto. I thought it was misplaced in the transfer, but Air Canada had not even loaded it on to the their own plane! Several e-mail exchanges with my friend revealed my suitcase was en route to Houston. It was leaving 24 hours after I did.

In the two years I traveled around Asia back in 1988, no airline ever lost my luggage, and I took a lot of flights back then.

Time has not improved the transport of luggage.

Indonesian Currency

I’m a millionaire here in Indonesia!

Back in 1988, the exchange rate was 1 USD = 1,665 Rupiahs.

Today, 1 USD is approximately 13,000 Rupiahs. it means $500 US equals $6,507,493 Rupiahs. That’s a lot of zeros.

The currency has devalued over the years, with the 100,000 note now worth about $8 USD or $10 Canadian dollars.

idr currency

An interesting note: I was told that Indonesia changes its money every five years. That could mean a change in denominations, removing old notes, adding new ones, or other changes.idr currencies

Recording my trip

It’s hard to believe I carried around 50 rolls of film and a camera the size of a small appliance when I was last in Bali. I still have my old 35mm Minolta with its zoom lens.

camera

Film camera vs camera i-Phone

The camera served me well and took some great pictures, but it weighed a ton. I was self-conscious of its size in countries where photography was not consistently welcome. The Balinese are a modest people and do not always want their picture snapped.

Today, convenience is key. I take pictures with both my phone and a small digital camera.

Music

Remember this?

walkman

It’s a Walkman, akin to today’s MP3 players such as iPods, except that it plays cassettes.

Today, I don’t travel with an MP3 player. I no longer consider it a necessity to be constantly plugged in. I listen to music on my laptop when I’m working (not writing).

I haven’t thrown away my Walkman. Maybe I should donate it to a museum, along with all my cassettes?

Travel Information

I love books and that goes for travel books too. One of the great pleasures for me was always in the planning of the trip. Travel books were excellent guides to help with the process. Well … no more.

travel-books

Now, with the Internet, I can book a hotel online and research anything I care to know about a destination before I get there. For instance, I’m staying at a terrific hotel called Gana Restaurant and Villa, which I found on AirBnB.

gana

Since the Internet allows for so much available information, I am able to customize my searches and create the holiday I want. No longer is it necessary to carry maps and books to locate landmarks and other places of interest, though I still keep a blank notebook for recording interesting facts.

Thank you for reading. I hope you will join me for Part 2 of this Time Travel instalment for Mind Body Series. I’ll be writing it this coming week.

 

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Toning my Mind, Body, and a Trip to Bali

Welcome to the second instalment of my Mind Body Series. If you missed the first one, Toning my Mind, Body and Breasts, you can read it here. It provides a basis for the series.

For this post, I’m tackling a few topics: My upcoming trip to Indonesia (specifically Bali); writer’s block; and travel as inspiration.

But first, a few facts about Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago nation.

map of indonesia

Indonesia is home to more than 17,000 islands in each of its 34 provinces. With a population of 260 million (dated: July 2016), it is the world’s fourth most populous country after China, India, and the United States. My flight to Bali by way of Beijing and Singapore will take about 22 hours from Toronto.

With wait times for connections added in, it will be 33 hours before I land in Denpasar, the capital city of Bali.

I traveled around Indonesia in 1988 as part of a trip I took across Southeast Asia. Here I was on the most exquisite white-sand beach in Lombok.

lombok beach

That was nearly thirty years ago, but I’ve never forgotten the beauty of the country and the people I met there.

I knew I would return to this part of the world someday, but what would call me back?

As it turns out, several things did. In my first post, I talked about health concerns which forced me to make some changes. I started a regimen of Chinese herbs, continued to meditate, and took up yoga. I’m in better shape now than I was twenty years ago; I lost ten pounds without even trying, and I feel terrific.

It was all good, except … my writing was stuck.

Stranger at Sunset released in 2014. It was the first of a 3-book trilogy, but books 2 and 3 are not finished. A bit of introspection uncovered the following thoughts, which of all things, involved the concept of input and output.

My mind is a mystery, even to me.

input output

My thinking went something like this. As with all things that require an ‘output’— correct and adequate ‘input’ must first feed the brain. A series of steps known collectively as a ‘process’ then creates an output. If the output is not as expected, it only makes sense to go back to the source and ask: Is something missing from or wrong with the input?

For example, if my pipes leak, I engage the services of a plumber. If the leak persists, it’s due to bad input. Either the plumber used incorrect or faulty parts, or the problem was misdiagnosed, resulting in a flawed process to fix it. Whatever it is, the desired result is not achieved.

Why am I using this odd plumber analogy?

Because once upon a time, in an over-simplified attempt to dismiss writer’s block, I wrote: “Plumbers don’t have plumber’s block, so why do writers have writer’s block?”

Unlike plumbing though, writing is deeply entangled with an author’s personal identity. The inability to produce undoubtedly creates angst. This in turn, can paralyze the process of writing altogether.

So … as much as I hate to admit it, writer’s block is real. I had to eat my words.

eat your words

I initially treated my block as emotional noise, something I could banish by continuing to write. I produced novellas and short stories, but I could not move forward with my series, no matter how hard I tried.

My block was specific. I couldn’t defeat it with enthusiasm and discipline.

I beat myself up mentally until I realized I had to change my input if I wanted a different outcome.

When I purposely shifted away from negative thoughts, I created space for opportunity. That’s when I came upon a festival—in Ubud, Bali.

ubud writers fest

I was familiar with the festival but had always dismissed it. The cost of airfare and distance to get there made the trip prohibitive. I never gave it a second thought. This time, I thought twice, so I decided to explore the pros and cons of making the journey.

Pros:

(1) Travel lifts my spirit and imagination to a new high.

(2) Parts of my next two books are set in Asia. Firsthand research is the best, whenever possible.

(3) Ubud is the cultural heart of Bali filled with temples, galleries, and local markets—an inspiring place like no other.

(4) Numerous yoga studios are located in Ubud, so I can keep up my practice while there.

(5) The aforementioned Writers and Readers Festival.

Cons:

Hmm …

Aside from the cost and distance, I really had no cons.

I chose to make the trip because ultimately, it was an investment in me and my writing. And the two are inextricably linked.

From the moment I booked the trip, my imagination went into overdrive. I won’t make empty promises about when I will finish my books, but I do know this … I’m excited and I’m writing, and I look forward to returning to Bali to recharge my batteries.

Stay tuned for the next instalment of my Mind Body Series when I’ll be writing to you while en route to Beijing. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing on a 16-hour flight. 🙂

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Toning my Mind, Body, and Breasts

I hope you’re here for my mind and not my breasts. 😉

The title is a bit misleading, so allow me to elaborate.

Over the next month (possibly longer), I’ll be blogging about my mind, body, and … something else. I’m calling it the Mind Body Series. The “something else” is a by-product of the work I’ve been doing to improve myself mentally and physically.

For this post, I’ll talk about toning my mind and body and only touch on my breasts.

Hmm … that didn’t sound right. What I mean is, I won’t be offering any tips on how to make your breasts perkier or firmer, in case that’s why you stopped by.

As October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month (USA | Canada | UK), it’s important that I highlight this worthy cause in any way I can. Since I was diagnosed in 2000, both detection and treatment have improved significantly for those with breast cancer.

It’s encouraging to read about the progress over the years and know this disease may someday be eradicated—in my lifetime.

breast cancer awareness month

The stuttered beginning of this post provides a small indication for how I’ve been feeling the past two years—hesitant and unfocused. It’s affected every area of my life, most notably my writing. I’ve pushed ahead as best as I can, but it’s been a difficult time not knowing how long the lethargy would last.

In essence, when would my mind bounce back to the way it was—to when it was sharp and clear, without the filter of cobwebs behind a thick fog, buried under a rock?

See? I need major help with my metaphors too.

empty brain

On paper, my thoughts were dysfunctional and incomprehensible to me. Others did not seem to think so, but I’ve always been my own worst critic. The words rang hollow. At times, I felt like my brain was empty of thought. This, of course, was impossible. What offered me small comfort was knowing that I can write. I had proof of it in my previous books even though my perception of my writing had changed. When I used to read my old work, I would think: “Ha! I can write better than that now!” and feel good that I had improved.

Now, I did not recognize myself in my writing. I felt like an imposter, which wasn’t all that different from how I felt when I first started writing fulltime. Call it self-doubt or a crisis of confidence, but whatever it was, it gripped me in a headlock and was not letting go.

For the better part of this year, I’ve limited my blog to music posts and author promotions. I figured I couldn’t mess those up too much. Penning an original and personal post had become increasingly difficult. I wrote the last one when I returned from my grandmother’s funeral, and that was nearly ten months ago.

If it were not for R.B. Wood’s WordCount Podcast and Toby Neal’s Lei Crime KindleWorlds series, I would not have done much creative writing at all. Both of them gave me opportunities to write—at least in the short fiction format.

Regardless of how I felt, it was important that I kept up a daily writing ritual, so I turned into a robotic vomiter of words for the sake of meeting word count.

word vomit

I tried to maintain discipline, anchoring myself in the knowledge that these words were not without merit. The problem was, none of them were in the proper order for my next book—A Fragile Truce, which was to follow Stranger at Sunset, released 2014.

I had planned to launch the second book less than a year later, followed by book three shortly after that.

The pressure to meet my deadline prompted me to withdraw from social media for a while, but that didn’t help.

What was happening to me?

Was it the dreaded writer’s block (which I had vehemently denied even existed?)

writer's block

Or was it something more sinister?

Following a couple of trips to see my doctor, he diagnosed me as severely anemic. My iron level was non-existent and my blood pressure so low he was surprised I didn’t faint. I was 50 at the time. It made sense I would be experiencing hormonal fluctuation and other symptoms of life change. Still, I never thought it would affect me with such intensity—to the point where both my mind and body felt foreign to me.

I know every woman goes through this, and some I’ve spoken to have much worse symptoms than me. I was also reminded that fifteen years ago, my oncologist told me there might be lingering effects from my chemo treatment. I guess I had chosen to ignore that little piece of information. Unfortunately, it was impossible to ignore the connection between changes in my body and how it affected my ability to communicate – both verbally and via the written word. I never used to struggle to find the right words. Now, It’s on the tip of my tongue syndrome occurred more often than I cared to admit. My vocabulary plummeted, which meant writing took longer since I needed to consult a Thesaurus more often.

Something had to change, but what?

meditator

Since my mid twenties, I’ve meditated regularly, which I owe to saving my mind from becoming even more erratic than it already was. What I didn’t realize was the process of stilling my mind (sitting for long periods in meditation) was not fully serving me at this stage in my life—not physically anyway.

I’ve never really had to exercise. Moderate physical activity was enough to keep me in good shape, but I knew I needed to do more. I felt sluggish and heavy. I couldn’t sleep.

In February, against my doctor’s wishes, I decided not to take iron supplements and instead, started a regimen of Chinese herbs. They have helped me regain much of my energy. I don’t have that lethargic feeling anymore, and best yet, my foggy brain cleared up as well.

chinese herbal concoction

Concoction of dates, goji berries, and dong quai

I also did something opposite to what my doctor recommended. He wanted me to take it easy with exercise. I understood his rationale, but I listened to my body, and my body told me it needed to move. It needed to move A LOT. I felt manic when I made the decision to join a hot yoga studio in the neighbourhood, like I had been on ice for far too long.

5-lb-dumbbell

I started going to classes two, three, then five times a week. One of the classes is a Body Tone class which is fitness inspired. We work with weights, loud music, and the pace is breakneck. I imagine it’s what “Bootcamp Yoga” would be if there was such a thing. In the beginning, I couldn’t even do half the moves of the hour-long class. I am now happy to say that after eight months, I can complete the full class—with gusto! I’ve even moved up to using 5-lb weights from my original 3-pounders. Though that might not sound like a lot, performing repetitive weight-bearing squats, lifts, and sit-ups in 35C (95F) heat is exhausting. I walk out of the class drenched but feeling happy and invigorated. The workouts have also helped me sleep much better.

I returned to my doctor recently for a follow-up appointment and told him what I had been doing. He was fine with my approach though a bit concerned I had lost 10 pounds since I started yoga. It shocked me, really. I don’t own a scale, so the only time I ever weigh myself is at my doctor’s office. It was never my intention to lose weight, but despite my thinner body, I felt stronger than I have ever felt in my life.

All good news, right?

Well, there is a small downside to the story … and that’s where my breasts enter into the picture.

Or more accurately, it’s where they make their exit.

Those 10 pounds I lost came straight off the top. I didn’t think it was possible to go down a size from a 32A bra, but it is.

The main casualty of this weight loss is now I have to get rid of many of my bras. I love beautiful lingerie, and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I own several push-ups that feel like they could double as a football player’s shoulder pads. They transformed me from a 32A to a 32C—a two-cup increase. Woohoo!

bras

These babies could stop bullets!

When I fitted myself with these push-ups the other day, I laughed my ass off! I thought I was going to topple over. Suffice it to say it looks unnatural for me to have such large breasts now.

Did you ever think you would be so intimate with my intimates? Heh.

It’s been a trying and interesting time. I’m not one who complains, but I wanted to let readers know why I haven’t been able to deliver on my trilogy. At the same time, I also wanted to thank you for reading my meanderings, now and in the past.

The good news is I’m on the mend.

My mind is much improved with Chinese herbs and meditation. My body is leaner and growing stronger with yoga, and last but not least, even though there is less to them now …

love your breasts

Stay tuned for the next instalment of my Mind Body Series when I talk about travel and returning to a magical place—Bali.

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The Relevance of Sex in Literature – An update for author S. Burke (@pursoot)

In 2011, I wrote an article as part of a series hosted by author S. Burke (Soooz).

The Relevance of Sex in Literature in 2011 was a month-long series, which featured many guest authors.

It’s now five years later, and along with some of the original authors from that series, I was invited back to give an update on the subject. I can’t believe so much time has passed!

Hit the graphic below to hop over to Soooz’s blog and find out if I think anything has changed.

relevance sex 2016

Also, connect to Soooz at all her virtual homes. I’ll be featuring her newest book, Acts Beyond Redemption, on my blog next week.

soooz burkeWebsite | Twitter @pursoot | Facebook

 

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Filed under Craft of Writing, Eden's Guest Blogs & Interviews

Praise for the Novella ~ Guest blog for @ShelfPleasure

shelf pleasure

I am thrilled to be featured on the site, Shelf Pleasure, home of the latest book news and trends. Many thanks to author Toby Neal for the referral!

My article Praise for the Novella is timely, considering all the new novellas releasing Oct. 31st for Toby’s Lei Crime series on Kindle Worlds

As you know, I wrote A Snake in Paradise and SEAL of a Monk for the series and intend to do more in the future.

I hope you enjoy the post and feel free to comment if you do!

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Connect to Shelf Pleasure 

Website | Twitter @ShelfPleasure | Facebook* * *

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Anatomy of a Book Cover

A short time ago, I started thinking about changing some of my book covers to better represent the genre and tone of my stories. For this post, I’ll talk about the changes I made for my latest mystery/suspense novellas—A Snake in Paradise released April 9, 2015, and SEAL of a Monk released July 26, 2015. Both were written for the Lei Crime Series in Kindle Worlds, based on the books of author, Toby Neal.

 

lei early attempts

Original covers – Early attempts

 

I don’t like busy covers with too many images. I prefer something subtle and spare. The problem with this is that subtlety can be lost on a reader if they know nothing about the story. If the cover does not grab them immediately, they are unlikely to read the blurb or sample the first few pages.

At the other end of the spectrum, some covers incorporate too many story elements and end up as a cluttered mess of images in a collage.

So … what is the right balance? I’m no expert, but here’s what I do.

I consider the cover as the first point of contact for my book—a visual sales tool, if you will. As such, I try to do everything I can to make it appealing to a buyer.

 

lei original final

Original covers – FINAL

 

It’s true that most people judge a book by its cover. He or she may assess it any number of ways:

  1. Does it look professional?
  2. Do the graphics evoke a particular genre? (Horror, women’s fiction, romance …)
  3. What kind of mood does it convey? (Mystery, humor, fear …)

All these thoughts go through a reader’s head when browsing for a book, but the process is quick. We have limited time to hook a potential buyer before they move on to the next book cover.

 

sip woman image

Image used for A Snake in Paradise – NEW COVER

 

When Toby suggested I change the two covers I had written for the Lei Crime Series, I had already been considering it, but her input clarified what I had to do. She offered ideas for how I could keep the dark restraint of my original covers while adding some sexiness to better convey the mood of the books.

soam man image

Image used for SEAL of a Monk – NEW COVER

 

Toby was absolutely right. My old covers were too dark and subdued. They conveyed the mystery/suspense genre, but the graphics did little to reveal the mood. In the original cover for A Snake in Paradise, my designer gave me a symbol of the story as I had requested, only … the story was not about a snake. It was about a woman named Lainey Lee with a snake tattoo. She was the main character and deserved to be on the updated cover.

In SEAL of a Monk, the story continued with Lainey. In it, she met Max, a Navy SEAL who helped her with a search and rescue operation. He was central to the story, so he was represented on the new cover. Common elements such as color, texture, and font linked the two books together.

When the essence of the stories became clear for me, it was obvious that I needed to add the human element to the covers. The symbols I had originally used were too vague. It was important to allow readers to visually know what was between the pages.

 

new lei first attempts

NEW covers – Early attempts

 

Ultimately, I changed the covers so they would better resonate with my readership as well as attract new readers. And let’s be honest, the reason authors want a great book cover is not just so that we love it. Potential buyers have to love it too. If it can please both the author and the reader, then we have found the sweet spot.

Here are a few things I learned with this change process, and I hope you find them helpful.

~ Whether you use a professional cover designer or not, it is important to have a clear vision of what your story is about. Is it a love story, a mystery, or a different genre? Once you determine this, choose a color scheme and image(s) to clearly communicate it. If uncertain, refer to bestselling books in your particular genre for ideas.

~ Ensure a proper balance of text and graphics. Remember that e-books should be clearly visible as a thumbnail, and a cover with a white background will lose its borders on most sales’ sites. That means your book image ends up “floating” in white space. If you must have a white background, consider going a few shades darker to give your book a distinct outline.

~ Book covers should be both functional and attractive. It’s art, but there are rules. Do some research on what sells and what is considered good. I’m a bit of a design junkie, so it’s interesting for me to read up on trends, but you can google “best book covers” and find numerous sites that will provide useful information.

 

NEW LEI covers

NEW covers – FINAL

 

As always, huge thanks to JB Graphics who designs all my covers.

I hope you like the new ones and enjoyed learning a bit about the process I used to arrive at them.

Over the next while, I will change more of my covers. I want to attract new readers, particularly for some of the books that have not been selling as well as I like. I will keep experimenting. Aside from doing the work, I don’t see a downside, and the upside is … greater sales and connection to more readers. I think that’s worth it, don’t you? 😉

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Bad reviews and unprofessional behavior

A friend lent me a book recently called The War of Art – Break Through the Blocks and Win your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield, whose debut novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance, was adapted for screen. A film based on his book was released in 2000, directed by Robert Redford.

The War of Art is for writers, artists, and anyone who hopes to breathe life into their creative works.

I don’t read many “self-help” books, but this was a quick read and contained a few gems. One section that resonated with me referred to how “professionals” behave. I’d like to expound on this in relationship to book reviews.

If you earn a living by writing, or are trying to make a living this way, this post is for you.

star-reviews

A review can be a double-edged sword.

A good review can help sell a book. A bad review can alert potential readers not to buy it.

Authors count on reviews as a means to promote their work to new readers. They are a form of marketing. They don’t need to be scholarly book reports, just honest accounts of what readers like or do not like about a book. Initial reviews are crucial for establishing a pattern for a book. Does it average 4-5 stars? Or is it more like 1-2 stars? Right or wrong, the star system is a how many readers determine the quality of a book before they buy it.

It’s why many authors, myself included, solicit reviews from a healthy cross-section of readers/bloggers once a book is released. The more reviews, the better, because as time passes, the 1 and 2-star reviews appear less important when the overall average for a book is 4/5 stars.

And though more reviews do not guarantee more sales, an absence of reviews may correspond to fewer sales.

What does this have to do with unprofessional behavior?

In his book, Pressfield writes: 

“Evolution has programmed us to feel rejection in our guts. This is how the tribe enforced obedience, by wielding the threat of expulsion. Fear of rejection isn’t just psychological; it’s biological. It’s in our cells.”

Whether you believe what he says or not, we can all agree that rejection and criticism (in the form of bad reviews) hurt.

No one likes negative feedback. If you consider your creation as an extension of yourself, then you probably feel a bad review as a rejection of who you are.

It may explain why some writers behave badly at times. I’ve seen authors attack readers both verbally and via the social networks. Sometimes, there are long threads of comments to discredit a reviewer (usually a faceless, unknown entity).

The degree to which each of us reacts to criticism varies. Though I can understand the public display of anger by some authors, it is not something I consider healthy or helpful for anyone. It certainly is not professional.

bad_review cartoon

Credit Firstsecondbooks.typepad.com – Mark Siegel

3 truths about book reviews:

1) No piece of writing is universally beloved, so as wonderful as it is to receive 4 and 5-star reviews, they are not the ones that will help you become a better writer. The 2 and 3-star reviews are more likely to provide clues to your writing deficiency, especially if it’s a recurring criticism.

2) It’s a waste of time to engage with online trolls, people who post ridiculous comments because … well, because they can. These are reviewers who like to push their own agendas on Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter, etc. Remember, a reader can write a negative review for ANY reason, even just to be mean.

3) Reviews, good or bad, are not a measurement of your abilities as a writer. The actions and opinions of others DO NOT define your work.

reviewersBad reviews sting, but they don’t have to sting for long.  

I’ve had my share of bad reviews, but I choose not to dwell on the negativity or take them personally. I don’t allow negative comments to derail me. After all, external feedback is not the reason I write. I do it because it’s my passion.

And though I don’t look to reviews as validation of my efforts, I do appreciate praise. Who doesn’t? I also appreciate honest reviews, when someone takes the time to tell me what is wrong with my book. I know this is more difficult to do, so most people won’t do it, and that’s okay too.

The truth is, writing reviews is not obligatory for readers. It’s not their job to review a book even if they LOVED it, even if they know it might help the author sell more books. As professionals, it’s important to ask for reviews but not to coerce them from readers. Some people may choose not to write reviews, for whatever reason.

review_1aSo do opinions from readers matter?

Yes, they do. Feedback should be sought. Beta readers, editors, critique partners are not the enemies; book reviewers are not the enemies. Learn from constructive criticism and ignore the troll-like comments.

As a professional, grow a thick skin, not one that will numb you to bad reviews, but one that will allow you to believe in your own strengths while working on what needs to be improved.

You don’t have to crumble at the first sign of a 1 or 2-star review.

Bad reviews are part of being an author and not within your control. How you handle them, though, is entirely within your control.

Whatever you do, don’t let someone else’s negativity stop you from writing.

~eden 

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On the Subject of Self-Editing

I am a writer and a reader. On occasion, I am a reviewer, but one thing I can never be is an editor of my own work. Given that, I’d like to speak about self-editing, the important process I do before I hand off my manuscript to a professional editor.

Even if you are an indie writer who does not use a professional editor for whatever reason, I hope the following information will be helpful for you.

editor

Many writers hire two types of editors, and the same person can be both in some cases.

Content Editor – looks at the big picture: plot, characterization, voice, and setting.

Copy Editor – specializes in grammar, punctuation, fact-checking, spelling, and formatting.

The reason I self-edit is to provide my editor with the best possible draft of my work, free of: typos; grammatical errors; plot holes; etc., but I know that even with the best of intentions, even after I’ve made changes based on beta readers’ suggestions, there will still be errors.

Why?

I’m too close to my work, and after re-reading my book for the umpteenth time, my mind simply fills in the gaps and I can no longer see my mistakes.

I’ve listed five things I do to polish my manuscript when I self-edit. It’s grunt work but is not difficult to do and will make your final product much cleaner.

1) Eliminate clichés

chiches

Clichés are words or phrases that have become popular from overuse. They weaken writing and make sentences boring because they lack originality. Examples of clichés are:

– fit as a fiddle
– lived happily ever after
– sent a shiver down my spine

I try to replace them with a different phrase or rewrite the sentence without the cliché. It takes more effort, but the reader will be rewarded with fresh storytelling, not the same old, tired phrases.

2) Eliminate repetitive words/phrases/facts

repeating words

I often repeat the same word(s) within a few paragraphs, but it’s not easy to find these repetitions. Reading my text aloud helps. I also have “crutch” words I tend to overuse. A “search and highlight” for a specific word or phrase will reveal how many times I’ve used them in my manuscript. After that, I can replace them with a synonym or rephrase a sentence altogether.

Repetition of a fact/effect is a different problem. This can be two sentences that say the same thing or two paragraphs that convey the same information. It’s akin to hitting the reader over the head numerous times to make sure they understood you the first time.

Example:

Chapter 2: Mary’s hair is a flaming red color, always sitting as a messy pile above her shoulders.

Chapter 4: Mary’s fiery hair falls in a disarray around her neck.

Chapter 7: With her curly and out-of-control crimson tresses, Mary was easy to spot in the crowd of blonds.

I am essentially saying the same thing, drawing attention to the color and state of Mary’s hair. There may be instances where this can work, but in most cases, once is usually enough.

3a) Reduce the use of adverbs

Adverbs are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. As a rule of thumb, they usually end in -ly.

studly adverb cartoon

Courtesy of the New Yorker

I know writers who are staunch “adverb-haters,” intent on removing all adverbs from their manuscript. I’m not one of those writers. I go by the rule that it’s always better to replace a weak adjective or verb with a stronger one than to use an adverb, but sometimes I choose not to do this. Stylistically, I may prefer the adverb in that sentence.

Adverbs such as ‘really’ and ‘very’ can usually be strengthened with a better word or phrase, and adverbs like ‘rather’ and ‘quite’ can be eliminated altogether.

Examples:

Modifying adjectives:
Really big … replace with HUGE
Very tired … replace with EXHAUSTED
Extremely small … replace with TINY

Modifying verbs:
She ate quickly … She GOBBLED her food
He walked slowly … He SAUNTERED

Modifying adverbs:
He moved rather slowly … eliminate RATHER – or change to: He appeared lethargic
She talked quite loudly … eliminate QUITE – or change to: She bellowed

3b) Eliminate adverbs in dialogue tags

In most cases, an adverb in a dialogue tag adds nothing useful to the dialogue.

Example:

Tom’s mouth curled into a grin. “I’m so thrilled you threw me this surprise party!” he said happily.

Tom’s facial expression and his words already express his happiness. There is no need to insert the word “happily” after “he said.”

Below is an example of where the word “angrily” isn’t needed.

“I’m never coming back here!” she said angrily. Jane stomped out of the room and slammed the door.

4) Be consistent

british vs US english

If you are writing in American English, be sure you use the correct spelling of words and keep them consistent throughout your text. American and British spellings differ for many words. As a Canadian, I’m aware of both spellings but sometimes use them inconsistently in my manuscript. This rule also applies to words that are capitalized or hyphenated, as well as formatting of punctuation.

Examples:

Color vs Colour
e-mail vs email
Internet vs internet

Here is a comprehensive and helpful list of UK vs. US spellings: http://www.tysto.com/uk-us-spelling-list.html

5) Vary the construction of sentences

keep calm and vary sentence structure

A reader alerted me to a specific stylistic technique of mine when he read my last book. The sentences looked something like this:

– With steely determination, she pressed on against the tide …
– Holding his bible against his chest, he preached to the choir …
– Like a wildcat circling her prey, she examined the body …

There is nothing wrong with this construction, but he was correct in pointing out that the sentences had a similar rhythm. Overuse of it can distract a reader.

Varying the structure of sentences helps make the writing more sophisticated. By avoiding constructions that have been overused, your writing will sound fresher and go a lot further to developing your own unique voice.

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I hope you have found this information helpful. If you have any tips on what you do to clean up your manuscript, please feel free to comment and share.

Happy writing and self-editing! 🙂

~ eden

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An Infographic by @Grammarly shows good writing matters … not just for authors

From time to time, I muse on the craft of writing. I don’t go into writers’ tips so much as observations about writing in general. Below are a few of my more popular posts on the subject:

About that C-word

It’s Only Words … Or is it?

Plotting for Pantsers

Although I consider words fun to play with, I do not, however, play without established rules. What are these rules, you ask?

They would be: punctuation, sentence structure, correct wording, spelling, and so on. They are areas I strive to improve upon each time I write a book/story/blog. I know this because I cringe (just a little) when I read some of my earlier offerings. It’s not that they were terrible, but I would have written them differently today. I consider this progress—a barometer of my own learning, if you will.

As authors, words are our tools. We use them to create content that must be both compelling and good.

What makes it compelling is our imagination and passion for telling a story.

What makes it good is our ability to capture readers’ imaginations in the telling.

Mastering the basics of writing is essential, and because language evolves, it is also a continuous learning process. Authors cannot become complacent with the mechanics of writing for it is the very foundation on which our imaginations rest. Without good writing skills, a story, no matter how compelling will never connect to a reader.

And it’s not only authors who need to write well.

Grammarly, a “grammar checker” and education website conducted a study to measure the impact of good writing skills on earnings. The Huffington Post published their infographic, and I have as well.

In the interest of full disclosure, Grammarly approached me to share it. For doing so, a donation will be made in my name to Reading Is Fundamental, a charity that promotes literacy.

I encourage you to read the infographic. Of particular interest to me were the findings related to the finance sector. As a former banker, I always knew good writing skills were important for moving up the corporate ladder. This was especially true as more areas relied on written communication to cement contracts with partners, both domestically and globally.

If there is a lesson to be learned, it’s that good writing matters. And nothing will convince some people more of this than the amount of pay they take home.

writing_skills_matter infographic

flourish

Learn more about Grammarly 

Website | Facebook| Twitter @Grammarly

xx

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About that C-word …

‘Tis the season for C-words—cranberries, cookies, candy cane … but I won’t be talking about these C-words.

This post contains THE C-word. Consider yourself warned. It’s not my intention to offend, but if you are someone who is sensitive to words, then you may choose not to read further. I’ve written about the importance of words before, so you know I’m passionate about the topic.

unlocking the mysteryI started thinking about this post following a recent free promotion I did for my novella, Unlocking the Mystery. It’s the only story included in my erotic anthologies that contains no sex, but it does contain adult language. As with all my writing, I don’t insinuate “bad” words into a story for the sake of it. I make a choice to use specific words because they reflect a mood or a feeling. Certain words are just more powerful than others.

The story was inspired in part by letters Irish novelist James Joyce wrote to his wife Nora Barnacle. Titillating, romantic, poetic, and often rude as hell, Nora initiated the correspondence in November of 1909. At the time, Joyce was in Dublin and she was in Italy raising their children. Nora hoped that by feeding her husband’s fantasies in writing, she would keep him away from the courtesans.

I’ve received several reviews for Unlocking the Mystery. They are good reviews, so this post is not to discredit any of them. I’ve also entered into some interesting e-mail exchange with readers of the story. The reviews and the e-mails have something in common. They all mention a particular word I used: Cunt, and to a lesser extent cock.

“… using the crude words the author chose were unnecessary and jarring.”

“… change the descriptive word used in this story for the woman’s lady part, as it turns away many readers for some reason from what I ‘ve gathered.”

“I liked the story very much, but did you really need to use the C-word?”

“… That word is so demeaning to women. It shocked me that you used it.”

And so on …

I am not easily offended. Honest feedback is what authors want and need in order to become better at what we do. Reviews help us know when we are connecting with readers, and more importantly, when we are not.

As such, I’m writing this post as a form of explanation. I respect the opinions of those I excerpted above. I’m sure they represent a segment of the population who feels the same way. The thing is, if I were to appease every reader who disliked my choice of words, I would not be writing my own stories, I’d be writing someone else’s. My own conviction is what dictates that certain words “fit” a story. That’s the reason I choose them and why I must stand by them.

Unlocking the Mystery is a romance between two grown-ups, separated by an ocean. They cannot use their senses to experience each other. They can only convey their desire by writing letters.

Letter writing—it’s a dying art, so why write one, post it, and wait two weeks or longer to receive a response? The anticipation must make the desire unbearable, and that’s the point. My story is about a generation that was a lot more patient than we are today.

Yes, Caroline and Shane were romantic, but it does not mean they could not be lewd, crude, and raw in their desire for one another.

My use of the word cunt is present in two passages in the story. In both instances, they were included in the letters Shane wrote to Caroline.

(1) … Your last letter had me excited for days. I read it over and over again, seeing you doing all the things you wrote of. It was wonderfully disjointed and made me feel the desperation of you fingering your cunt right before you wrote it. To play with yourself like that for hours in a deep sea of blankets, my god, but you are a vixen! …

(2) … I dream of your breasts, your cunt, your arse, your lips, your hands. I dream of you, my beautiful, sweet Caroline and count the seconds until I receive your next letter…

The raw nature of the letters was meant to express a man’s sexual frustration at being separated from his love. Though mere words could never communicate his feelings properly, they were all he had.

In my opinion, the word cunt fit. After all, sex is not always a polite “please and thank you” session. Sometimes, it is raw passion driven by libido, and in the absence of connecting to Caroline physically, Shane’s animalistic lust fueled his letters.

james joyce

James Joyce

Here is a post that contains some of James Joyce’s letters to his wifeCunt is used sixteen times, along with other “taboo” words. You soon realize how his lust fueled his letters as well.

Etymology of CUNT

Most sources I have read show the word cunt as derived from the Germanic “kunte” and dates back to the 1200s. The word’s etymology is complicated, and I am not a scholar on the topic. It does appear, however, that in the Middle Ages, English speakers were less squeamish about obscene language. With a lack of privacy, there was probably less shame about sex and body parts. The C-word was socially acceptable for a time until it became taboo. When and why the switch occurred is a source of debate. Dates are bandied about based on when texts were censored if the word cunt was used. If you wish to read more on the topic, refer to a comprehensive article on Matthew Hunt’s blog.

The word’s acceptability can also be regional. Barbados-born pop star Rihanna included it freely in her tweets until she was criticized for it. She defended her action by saying the word is not offensive to Bajans, and she used it as a term of endearment.

The queer subculture has been using cunt for years to describe something beautiful, delicate, and soft.

In the UK, the word does not apply only to women. It is a gender-neutral slur that is often directed at men as well.

My point is: the word cunt and words derived from it will offend if you hear it as the most vile swear word that can be directed at a woman, if it speaks to you of misogyny, sexual harassment, and abuse.

And here is where another C-word comes into play: Context.

It’s my firm belief that the volition behind the words we say or write is every bit as important, if not more important than the actual words used.

Language is a living and breathing discipline, and words that make up a language evolve. What was taboo at one time may transition from unacceptable to acceptable. In 1966, comedian Lenny Bruce was arrested for saying nine words: ass, balls, cocksucker, cunt, fuck, motherfucker, piss, shit, tits.  Today, most of these words are commonplace in spoken and written media.

Whether we like the C-word or not, it is not going away. Earlier this year, The Oxford Dictionary added four new words—cunty, cuntish, cunted, and cunting. You may never use them, but they exist.

Like the words sick, wicked, and bad, whose informal meanings have been changed from negative to positive, so too might the case be for cunt one day.

You just never know.

FiW.act-three_4And on this positive note, I offer one last FREE novella this month, available Dec. 22-24. ACT THREE is the most over-the-top erotic story I’ve written to date. It’s raw fantasy inspired by adult play, mixed with reality. At times, the lines blur. For some readers, this story will push the boundaries for what they find comfortable in erotic writing. I hope you’ll pick it up.

One final C-word—Christmas. Have a Merry one, and no matter what you celebrate, I wish you warmth, health, and happiness this holiday season.

Have a wonderful week,

~ eden 

 

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Plotting for Pantsers ~ Guest blog for Ingrid Hall (@authoringrid)

ingrid hall

I am thrilled to be featured on the blog of author Ingrid Hall.

A couple of months ago, she invited submissions of articles to help indie authors, and I decided to write one. She also curates the Facebook page for Indie and Proud. Be sure to connect to Ingrid at all her sites.

Read my post: Plotting for Pantsers on Ingrid’s blog and find out how it ties into my latest book.

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Find out more about Ingrid by following her links below.

Website | Twitter @authoringrid | Facebook

Indie and Proud: Facebook | Goodreads

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sas_2kindle

Buy from Amazon worldwide

No Kindle? No Worries.

There is a Kindle App for just about any electronic device (Click here to get one). If you own a computer, smart phone, iPad, or iPod touch, then you are able to download my e-books.

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Does Sex Belong in a Mystery Novel? ~ Guest blog for @casesheridan

casey sheridan 3

Today, I am thrilled to guest blog for the amazing Casey Sheridan.

I’ve known Casey since the end of 2010. She’s one of the first erotica author I ever connected to, and we’ve seen each other through a lot. Casey is a wonderful friend and supporter to many indies. I highly urge you to check out her books.

Read Does Sex Belong in a Mystery Novel? on Casey’s blog and find out how it ties into my latest book.

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Find out more about Casey by following her links below.

Website | Blog | Twitter @casesheridan

 Facebook | Pinterest | Goodreads

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sas_2kindle

Buy from Amazon worldwide

No Kindle? No Worries.

There is a Kindle App for just about any electronic device (Click here to get one). If you own a computer, smart phone, iPad, or iPod touch, then you are able to download my e-books.

**

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Meet my Main Character Blog Tour – Kate Hampton

I’ve been tagged by the lovely author, Maria Savva to partake in a tour involving my main character.

What are the rules? They’re simple!

I have to answer seven questions about a main character from one of my novels, then I nominate five other authors to answer the same questions.

Here’s a link to Maria’s blog where she introduced her character, Nigel Price. He’s my type of man — tortured and with secrets 😉 I can’t wait to read more about him in Maria’s latest book, Haunted

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sas_2kindleHere are my responses about Kate Hampton.

1. Tell us a little about this main character. Is she fictional or a historic person?

Kate Hampton is a fictional character from my book, Stranger at Sunset.

2. When and where is the story set?

The story is set around the end of 2012 and the first few months of 2013, primarily in Jamaica, West Indies.

3. What should we know about her?

Kate is a psychiatrist in her mid-thirties. Her defining trait is her intelligence and her ability to assess someone almost immediately upon meeting them.

4. What is the main conflict? What messes up her life?

Her main conflict involves her own mind. There are parts of her life she would rather forget. She is aware an incident from her past has traumatized her, but it’s buried so deep in her subconscious, she is uncertain as to what it is.

5. What is her personal goal?

Her goal is to find out why travel writer, Matthew Kane has written a scathing review of her favorite holiday spot, threatening to shutter the Jamaican resort for good.

6. What are the titles of your novels, and where can we read more about them?

Stranger at Sunset is my first novel, and the first in this genre – psychological mystery/thriller. My previous books were literary erotica written as short stories, novellas, and anthologies. You can find out more about my books at edenbayleebooks.

7. When can we expect your next book to be published?

The next book will also feature Kate Hampton, and it’s called A Fragile Truce. I aim for a trilogy with her as the main character. The new book should release by next year if not sooner. You can read an excerpt of it at the end of Stranger at Sunset. 

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Now I’ll nominate five other authors. All of them are terrific writers, so please visit them and give their books a read.

~ Science fiction author, Mars Dorian, just released his first novel, Blogbuster.

~ Fiction author Lisette Brodey writes in multiple genres, including the acclaimed drama Crooked Moon.

~ Author Christoph Fischer, writer of historical fiction novels, and A Time to Let Go, a drama about Alzheimers.

Billy Ray Chitwood, the author of more than a dozen books, with his latest Bailey Crane novel, A Common Evil.

~ Author Victoria Dougherty, whose book The Bone Church is receiving excellent reviews.

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Crossing Genres ~ Guest blog for @lisettebrodey

lisette brodey

Today, I have the pleasure of guest blogging about my new book, Stranger at Sunset, and it’s hosted by the wonderful Lisette Brodey.

Lisette and I have known each other for a short time, but she’s someone with whom it’s easy to become fast friends. She’s been writing in multiple genres for sometime, so I wanted to pen a post around that specific topic.

Lisette is a talented writer whom I have enormous respect for, and I recommend you get to know her, like yesterday!

Read Crossing Genres on Lisette’s blog and find out how it ties into my book.

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Find out more about Lisette by following her links below.

Website | Twitter @LisetteBrodey | Facebook | Goodreads

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sas_2kindle

Buy from Amazon worldwide

No Kindle? No Worries.

There is a Kindle App for just about any electronic device (Click here to get one). If you own a computer, smart phone, iPad, or iPod touch, then you are able to download my e-books.

**

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You LIKE me! On winning the Versatile Blogger Award

Okay, so I stole Sally Field’s line, but I’m truly honored to receive the Versatile Blogger Award from author, Christoph Fisher, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing. If you missed it, you can still read it here.

For me, the most rewarding thing about blog awards is learning more about the person who nominated me. I rarely participate in these memes myself. If you want to know why, read my article from Nov. 2011, a year after I set up my blog.

In re-reading that post, I realized I had received this award before, so I thought I should finally participate. It’s great to be recognized by a peer, and versatility is something I value in blogs, but even more so in people.

Given that, don’t forget to find out why Christoph received his award.

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versatile blogger

As part of this award, I’m supposed to tell you seven things about myself, then nominate fifteen other bloggers whom I think deserve this award.

They in turn, will keep this meme going (if they so wish), and we all get to discover some wonderful and versatile bloggers. So, here goes, and hope you enjoy 😉

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1) I had my ears pierced at five by my aunt. She rubbed ginger root on my lobes and stuck a needle through them that had been heated over a stove burner. I don’t remember it hurting but I cried anyway. Here I am modeling my first pair of earrings. Please ignore the outfit.

me with earrings

 2) I do not own a cell phone and have no intention of getting one. I never want to be that accessible, nor do I want to look like this guy.

rude cell phone

3) My laptop is with me almost all the time, and I’m one of those obnoxious MAC users. You know who you are.

laptop

4) I’m an online Scrabble freak with about 20 games on the go at any given time. I play with friends, strangers, enemies. I’m also extremely competitive, so don’t expect to win.

scrabble

5) I’m a strong advocate for sexual diversity and since 2011, have been a judge for the Feminist Porn Awards. It’s an incredible event sponsored by Good for Her, which supports the LGBTQ community in Toronto.
good for her banner

6) I still have all 130 of my 45s in pristine condition (numbered and dated of course). If you’re too young to know what a 45 is, then you probably won’t know what this is either.

45 adapter

7) I took two years of classes for a Conservative Jewish conversion. At one time, I could read Hebrew and recite many of the prayers. In the end, I went through three rabbis who would not convert me … but that’s a story for another blog.

star of david

flourish

And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for! Drum roll please …

I bequeath the honors to these fifteen bloggers, whom I have great respect for. It wasn’t easy to narrow down to only 15, but here goes …

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thedailygrime ~ Writer of funny, witty, and newsworthy posts

John Dolan ~ English author living in Thailand, polymath, smartypants

Nicole Chardenet ~ American author turned crazy Canuck author

Billy Ray Chitwood ~ Prolific author and poet who tells beautiful stories

Lisette Brodey ~ Author of multiple genres and terrific interviewer

Jamie White ~ Author, blogger, photo geek, editor

William Kendall ~ Writer, rogue, and scoundrel

Ned Hickson ~ Author and journalist of humor and writerly advice

Junying Kirk ~ Traveller, author, foodie, videographer

Sharkbait Writes ~ Author of multiple genres and gamer, Rob Pruneda

Justin Bog ~ Author, storyteller, pop culture connoisseur

ThrillWriting ~ Excellent resource for writers from author, Fiona Quinn

L.M. Stull ~ Poet, author, reader, runner, and so much more

Majk Ink ~ Author, school nerd and techno genius

Bloody Munchkin ~ Creative writer and advocate of worthy causes

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Learn About my Writing Process

Happy Monday! My regular Music Monday post has been replaced by this blog meme and will return next week. “My Writing Process” is a blog tour which takes place every Monday. Here, you will discover an individual author’s writing process based on four simple questions.

I was invited by author Raymond Bolton, who posted his writing process last Monday. I’ve featured Raymond on my blog previously when he released his novel, Awakening.

Below are the questions and my answers:

What am I working on?
My very first novel. Wheee! I’ve written and published anthologies, novellas, short stories, and flash fiction up until now, so this full-length novel has been a real challenge. It’s also a different genre from what I primarily wrote in. I’m moving from erotica to mystery.

Double whammy, but hey, I love a challenge, or maybe I’m just mad.

steven saylor quote

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’ll be honest. I hate this question. As a writer who’s penned erotica, romance, thrillers, I’m all about the storytelling and I could give a rat’s ass about genre. Genre is an old dividing line for readers, with some stories categorized as plot-driven and others as character-driven. Mysteries are normally classified as plot-driven, along with thrillers, fantasy, science fiction, and romance. There’s a lot of judgment in this type of categorization, with the assumption that character-driven stories are more “literary,” and plot-driven “genre” stories are entertaining but not well written.

To this, I say, Bullocks! And I’m not even British.

mysteryIt’s ridiculous to pit one against the other, and that’s why the argument of genre becomes tiresome for me.

I don’t write to fit my work into a genre. I’ve classified my upcoming book as a psychological mystery because there are complex characters and interplay between them. There is also a plot that moves them forward. There is no detective, but there is suspense. The end product has both conflict and growth. Whether you love the “Whodunnit” mystery or prefer the psychological interaction between characters, I think you’ll enjoy my book.

Why do I write what I do?

I’m not crazy about this question either (I’m beginning to wonder why I’m on this tour 😉 ). The best answer I can come up with is my writing is fuelled by interests outside of writing. Some of these things are: the human psyche; foreign destinations; music; culture; current events; travel; life and death; love; sex; life in general. Until now, I’ve written erotica because I had the stories, and I liked telling them. Sex is a provocative and universal subject.

Now, I have another story to tell. It’s not erotic. It’s mysterious. Can you tell I really don’t like being labeled?

How does my writing process work?

In previous interviews, I’ve said I don’t deconstruct my writing, and that’s the god’s honest truth, but there are a few things I do regularly which steep me in the discipline.

Writing everyday is important. Reading is important. Right now, I’m on a word count schedule because it’s important to know I’ve reached milestones in my book, but that’s as strict as I get. The internal pressure to finish my book is great, but I also know myself. As a full time writer, I can easily become obsessive and self-absorbed if I don’t have a balance in my life. For this reason, I pursue external endeavours that have little to do with writing. 

One last tidbit, though I consider writing a serious business (and it should be if you want to earn a living from it), it needs to be fun. Here’s a piece of writing humour you might enjoy.

ImportantWritingTips humor

Next week, you can discover the writing process of three more authors. Visit their sites and see how amazing they are, then you’ll know why I chose them for this tour. I’ve included their Twitter handles too, so you can follow them now.

They will each post on Monday, February 24th to their individual sites, so watch for them!

Annetta Ribken ~ A professional editor of over ninety novels, Annetta Ribken has also been writing since a tender young age, when letters were chiseled on stone tablets, and is currently living and working just outside St. Louis with her evil feline overlord, a rescued shelter cat named Athena. Twitter: @netta50

Cameron Garriepy ~ Romance novelist, genre-crossing short story author and indie publisher. Twitter: @camerongarriepy

Victoria Dougherty ~ She comes from the ultimate Cold War family – daring escapes, backyard firing squads, Communist snitches, bowlfuls of goulash, gargoyles, spies, killers and dangerous pursuits, all part of her recent family history and explain why she writes Cold War thrillers. Twitter: @vicdougherty

My sincere thanks again to Ray for inviting me on this tour.

~eden

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Filed under Author Promotions, Craft of Writing, Eden's Guest Blogs & Interviews, Revelations & Humor

Erotica and Horror – My guest blog for @DravenAmes

Draven Ames is an author who writes in the horror genre. We’ve been part of each other’s social network for some years now.

He invited me to write a piece for his web series: Biggest A-ha! Moments in Writing. Numerous writers have participated, and these valuable lessons are wonderful references for all writers.

Hop over and read my entry: Erotica and Horror: Two Sides of the Same Coin.

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Connect to Draven

Website | Twitter @DravenAmes | Google +


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