Happy new… well, not yet stale year

sparkler-839831_1920So, here we are again (a little delayed, on my part). My year started off a little less spectacularly than a hotel-room view of the fireworks over Quebec City, but I drank peach sparkling wine with friends in my pajamas, so I have no complaints.

A year ago, I made a post talking about resolutions and goals, though while the spirit of the new year inspired productivity from me, I didn’t really set many concrete goals. The one exception was my reading goal. After a rather pitiful year of reading in 2018, I wanted to do better. So I set a Goodreads reading goal of 27 books, one more than my previous best year of books since I’ve been recording my progress on Goodreads.

I ended up reaching 38 by the end of the year. Granted, 21 of them were graphic novels, but I wasn’t that specific when I set my goal.

a-jewel-on-sapphire-coverAs for writing last year, alas, I didn’t get book two of the Sisters of Chaos trilogy published. But, er, I did release a new book last year! A Jewel on Sapphire is a chapter book about a girl who lives on a space station and finds an alien she wants to keep as a pet, so if you or the 6-9-year-old in your life is into that sort of thing, go check it out.

In other goals, I must admit that playing guitar fell by the wayside. However, I managed to keep up an unbroken streak learning Japanese on Duolingo, and hit a pretty good milestone recently.

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Granted, I had a few cheat days, but overall, it was less than a week, so it’s pretty safe to say I have indeed put in a full year’s worth of work by now.

So what do I have in store for 2020? Let’s start with a reading goal.

20191120_090414This year, I just want to get through my TBRs. In fact, I took them out of their carefully filed places on our primary bookshelf and stacked them – in chronological order of date acquired – in the living room, so that they stare me down and entice/guilt me into reading them, rather than remaining easily forgotten behind the elliptical in the bedroom, and behind another row of books in some cases.

I actually felt fairly good about that stack when I saw it. It’s fewer books than I read last year, and only about 20% of those books are older than last June. At least I am making my way through my TBR books. So, at present, my reading goal for the year is rather shorter than last, but I’m focused more on specific books, and I’m counting on reading others after (and probably a few during; I haven’t fully caught up on W.I.T.C.H. yet).

And while I may not have released the next Sisters of Chaos book last year, I can now say that it is coming in June! So please stick around, I promise I’ll try to be better about hyping it up prior to its release.

I do feel bad about spending seven years to get the second book of the trilogy out. However, that’s only half as long as it took to get the first book out, so it’s an improvement. And it offers up another convenient goal: try to halve that time again for book three. Hence, my writing goal for this year: get a first draft of the final installment of the Sisters of Chaos trilogy written. Sounds a little daunting for someone who just took seven years to write a sequel to a novel with the rest of the trilogy already roughly sketched out, but when I break it down, that’s only about 10,000 words to write per month. The fact that I’ve yet to write a word for it is moot; I have time enough left in January without resorting to NaNoWriMo pace. Besides, I still had some planning to do. It’s a motivating goal, at least, like my reading goal that I smashed last year. I can do this. I will do this.

As far as other goals, I just want to continue the good habits I’ve formed over the last year or two. Exercising regularly, listening to my body, eating healthier, avoiding time-wasting mobile games or spending evenings rewatching the same movies and TV shows over again. I also apparently need to do a better job of mitigating my general stress level. That lengthy Duolingo streak is also inspiring me to continue it, though I’ll admit that after a year, I’m spending more days doing my minimum goal than I used to.

I’m ready for this year. Er, never mind that we’re already a few weeks into it. Let’s do this.

P.S.: I also finally finished making my way through this beastly backlist (which was actually closer to 45 hours by the time I committed to it):

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Now I can finally move on to the dozen other albums and several dozen other free songs I’ve been waiting to check out until I finished vetting these. … oh.

BUY MORE BOOKS

blur-book-stack-books-590493Stay with me here a minute.

We can all agree that reading is good, right? It makes you smarter, increases your empathy, it’s the best method of stress relief, it helps you sleep, the list goes on. Yet it seems that in general, people are so reluctant to actually buy books, even heavy readers.

When I made my round of Authors Avenue at Gen Con and picked up new books, every author I bought a book from was surprised when I told them to ring me up. This after I had read the back, spoken with the author about it, and read a little of the book.

Every. Single. Author. Surprised after showing interest in the book not that I didn’t buy it, but that I did.

One author told me that she had the same customer come by her table three times over the weekend to look at the same book. I don’t know if they ended up buying it.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pitched a book, heard, “wow, that is so cool!” and then they walk away and I never see them again. Self-proclaimed voracious readers will show interest in a book and still not buy it. No matter how interested a person sounds when they say, “I’ll come back for that” or they’ll buy it online, maybe 5% actually do. You do this long enough and you realize it’s out of sight, out of mind.

This gets particularly perplexing when I’m selling books in an artist’s alley. All around me, I see people easily dropping $25, even $40-$60 or more on prints, but hem and haw over $15 on a book that provides hours of entertainment. We’re talking 5-10 hours or more for less than $20! Where else can you get that kind of value?

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In a way, I get it. I’ve read my share of lousy books and I used to insist on reading a sample before taking the plunge. Even today, I’m reluctant to take a chance on an unfamiliar author from a big name bookstore. There’s so many books out there that it’s hard to even narrow down what one should get. $15 seems like a lot of money when I’ve picked up fantastic used and clearance finds for $2 and my shelf is full of twenty-year-old mass market paperbacks marked $6 or so at full price. And, of course, books pile up, and they can be heavy and ungainly to lug around a convention floor. Trust me, as a peddler of books, I know.

But the fact is, with that mindset, I simply wouldn’t buy books. Maybe my attitude has changed because I’m in a better situation financially, or from being a small press facing the same problem, or perhaps as a result of being more free with buying books for my daughter. Now, though, I’m much more free with jumping on a book that looks promising.

And I love books. And I love supporting indie authors and small presses, who need it a lot more than the household names and already deceased authors. And again, $20 for eight hours of entertainment! Sure, it may seem like a lot when there are used or clearance finds for a lot cheaper, but this way, you get the book you want. And when you buy a new book at list price, you are directly helping that author and publisher do more of what they love and bring more books into the world. And we can always use more books, right?

We buy impulse items at the price of a book all the time. Heck, you can barely get a fast food dinner for less than the cost of one book. It doesn’t even take much to spend that much money at the dollar store.

So maybe we should all be a little more free with buying books. If a book looks interesting to you, just buy it. Take a chance. You might find a new favourite. Even if it’s not, time spent reading is always time well spent.

Wouldn’t you agree?

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Gen Con haul 2019

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Games:

Pins and buttons:

  • Genevieve the dragon and “Game on!” from Gen Con
  • Sheep from Catan
  • Crowned fox from the Crowned Rabbit
  • Dragon from Lindsey Burcar
  • Boss Monster
  • Here, Kitty, Kitty!
  • Gold dragon from Geek Chic
  • Longpack Games
  • 10th anniversary Foam Brain Games
  • Barbarian from Too Many Bones
  • Pathfinder button
  • The Fool from the Arcana series by H. T. Brady
  • Winner from Formal Ferret Games
  • Little Bestiary

Miscellaneous:

  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time water temple T-shirt
  • Catan “We built this city on rock and wheat” T-shirt
  • Doge sleep mask courtesy of Aspis Net game Trap
  • Two replica pirate coins

Not pictured: Tin of White Cherry tea from Tea & Absinthe

Books / time: the story

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I love reading (as is probably obvious). Even my 7-year-old daughter now says, “you can’t have too many books”, gets excited when we go to the bookstore, and says “booooks” hungrily when confronted with a stack of them.

But I’ll admit I’m not the most prolific reader. The main excuses for that are that I spend free time engaged with other pastimes (writing) and a silly fear of commitment over starting new books. I also don’t consider myself a very fast reader, so I don’t get through books as quickly as perhaps I could.

2017 was my best year yet for reading since I started tracking my books read on Goodreads, at 26. However, I followed that up in 2018 with a paltry 10. Well, 11 when you count one book that wasn’t on Goodreads.

Granted, that’s only the measure of the books I read for enjoyment. That doesn’t count the thirty or forty books I read as part of my freelance work, or the handful of books I read (or reread) for Brain Lag. But it does seem a little sad after such a good 2017. And considering the number of new books I picked up last year, it does make me want to read more.

I’ve started the year on the right foot, at least. Whereas last year, I had a gap through to the end of March without any books read for pleasure, I finished my first book of 2019 tonight. It was even one I’ve been meaning to read for a few years. Progress!

I managed to whittle down my TBR shelf (we’ll pretend that row of books hidden behind them aren’t there) to six or seven before I started buying more new books last year. Maybe if I keep at it, I can finally get through those books I bought and haven’t read yet. (Again, we’re not mentioning all the books behind them on the shelf, or the dozens of ebooks I have on Kindle and Google Play.) Maybe if I do that, I can get back to some series I’ve partially read, or start reading other books I’ve been wanting to check out for years, read some authors and titles I’ve heard such good things about.

Or maybe I’ll continue getting lost in whatever ebook I happen to open in a moment of boredom or picking up whatever shiny title catches my eye at the library.

Some people may lament the idea of there being so many books that one cannot possibly hope to read all the ones they desire in a lifetime, but to me, I find reassurance in the knowledge that I’ll always have something to read.

I’d like 2019 to be a better year for books for me. I’ll make it a better year. I’ve never set myself reading goals on Goodreads, but maybe I’ll do that this year. I spend too much time goofing around on mobile games because of this weird anxiety over starting new books, when I’ve plenty of minutes throughout the day that I can find to get some reading in. It’s not hard to start a new book, and I know that.

It’s a new year. Time for new stories.

PSA

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Look at all these fantastic books!

I don’t tend to bring it up much here, but I am the owner of and, essentially, one-woman show behind Brain Lag, publisher of science fiction and fantasy novels. I don’t tend to mention it because that means technically, my own novels are self-published, though aside from the fact that that has no correlation to quality, six other authors have liked my work enough to entrust me with theirs.

I love to do this. It took me almost thirty years to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I’m so glad to have the opportunity to do it. I’ve seen two fellow publishers hang up their towels in the last couple years because it wasn’t right for them or it wasn’t viable, and I get it. My sales aren’t nearly what I would like them to be, and I’ve had to take on freelancing work to help support the primary function of Brain Lag.

But I believe in my business. I love taking the amazing manuscripts my authors send me and turning them into beautiful, professional books. I love seeing my shelf of books I’ve published expand and to introduce as many people as I can to these great stories.

So please, help spread the word a little. Tell your friends, mention it on social media, buy a book, request a copy at the library, leave a review. It would mean so much to me to help get my authors the recognition they deserve.

Thank you.

The Gen Con 2018 haul

20180806_122042I shared a photo of our Gen Con haul this year in my previous post, but I wanted to go into a little more detail than that, since we picked up so much stuff that the photo is a little busy. So, here’s the breakdown:

Books

Games

Artwork

Miscellaneous gaming merchandise

  • Seven X-Wing Miniatures promo cards
  • One pack version 2.0 T-65 X-Wing damage deck for Star Wars: X-Wing
  • Four packs version 1.0 damage deck promo cards for Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures
  • Four packs card protectors
  • Assorted dice

It was definitely a larger haul than usual, and certainly my own largest yet. Thanks again to Gen Con for providing a space and for all of the producers/creators for creating work I enjoyed so much.

Ad Astra schedule

I’ll be at Ad Astra this weekend, Toronto’s original scifi/fantasy/horror literary convention. I’ll be spending most of my time at the Brain Lag table in the dealers room, and I’ll also be involved with the following events:

Saturday

11:00
Creating Art on Commission
So someone has asked you to create a piece of art for them. And they’ve even said they’ll pay. How much do you charge them? How do you sell yourself as a commission artist, and what are the pros and cons of offering to create work on commission?
Thornhill room

1:00
Selling Your Art at Conventions and Festivals
So you’ve finally finished a beautiful set of paintings. Or maybe you’ve been selling your fan art on commission and want to think bigger with prints. Maybe you want to do commissions for money, or you fancraft and have an Etsy store and want to sell in person. You’ve got wares, and you’re ready to sell them and think that a convention or festival is your best bet. How do you do this? What’s the etiquette? How do you market yourself? Should you participate in an art show or just book a table? And is what you’re selling even allowed? In this panel, learn the dos and don’ts of being an artist on the convention or festival circuit.
Thornhill room

5:00
Tabletop Games You May Never Have Heard Of
Are you bored of playing Monopoly and Risk over and over? A fan of RPGs but unsure what the best party games are? Curious about which games are best for specific numbers or types of people? This panel is a great opportunity to learn about and share recommendations for tabletop games from those in the know!
Oakridge room

6:00
Brain Lag launch party
Brain Lag invites all Ad Astra attendees to join us at our spring book launch party celebrating the release of Why I Hunt Flying Saucers And Other Fantasticals by Hugh A. D. Spencer and Tinker’s Plague by Stephen B. Pearl! The authors will be on hand to give readings and sign autographs, there will be free snacks and drinks, and we’ll be featuring an exclusive sneak peek at the cover art for the upcoming sequel to Tinker’s Plague, Tinker’s Sea!
Room 1080 (penthouse suite)

Sunday

12:00
Setting Up Shop as an Indie Publisher
So you want to be an indie publisher. How do you bring other authors on board? How do you build your reputation within the literary community? In this panel, learn from those who have done it how to be a publishing entrepreneur, and get tips on start-up costs, marketing, and what it takes to get started.
Newmarket room

3:00
Sunday Afternoon Fantasy Reading
Join authors Catherine Fitzsimmons, Rob Howell, Cameron Currie and Brandon Draga as they read a fantastical selection from their work.
Oakridge room

I hope to see you there!

A new beginning, a few weeks late

I’ve just made a small change to the design of this blog that may mean bigger things for it: the tagline, which now mentions my art, writing, and interests.

I started this blog with the intention of focusing only or at least primarily on the things I produce. But, inspired a bit by a number of book review blogs I checked out recently, I’ve decided that I will start talking here about the things I enjoy, even if they aren’t directly related to my art. Maybe nobody will care about it, but trying to write posts just for other people has resulted in skeletal updates here for the past… years.

Besides, if you’re here visiting my personal blog, you must be looking for more information about me, right?

In the spirit of book blogs, I’m going to start by sharing my reading progress so far this year. I kind of devoured books in January, surprising even myself with how many I finished – I read more published books in the first six weeks of this year than in all of 2014.

I’ve also started reviewing books again. When I started this blog, I posted reviews of the books I’d read, though when I discovered Goodreads, I moved all my reviews there. In the past couple years, my reviews were feeling too formalized and time-consuming and I pretty much stopped making written reviews and simply left star ratings. But even if just for my own reference, it’s nice to go into greater detail about what I liked and what I didn’t, and I’m taking the reviews a little less seriously this time.

So, here is my reading progress in 2016, with links to my reviews of each: Continue reading “A new beginning, a few weeks late”

On my journey to the Dark Side*

* Or the Light Side. They’re both fine choices.

I often find that when someone is a fan of scifi/fantasy books, there was someone in their life who led them to it. Maybe it was a parent, a teacher, or a friend. Someone wanted to share the stories that they loved and opened up a new world to a budding fan.

I didn’t have anyone like that. No one in my family was really into speculative literature, my friends didn’t quite hold my same interests in fiction, and I was far too shy to attempt speaking to a school librarian about it.

I wanted to read fantasy books. But back in the days (you kids get off my lawn) before Goodreads, book blogs, or even social media, and in a genre rife with huge, epic stories that are often poorly marked as such, I had no idea where to start. My nearest library was a half-hour hike over lots of steep hills, and the small fantasy selection just didn’t seem to have any titles that caught my eye.

I read a lot of original stories posted online by authors back in those days, but when it came to actual published books, my list was quite short. I did read some great books back then, like one by an author recommended by a friend I chatted with over IM (Someplace to be Flying by Charles de Lint), a random purchase from a bookstore with a cover and premise that intrigued me (Thief of Lives by Barb and J. C. Hendee), and a gift from my future husband the first time we met (Green Rider by Kristen Britain).

I credit a lot of my truly discovering fantasy books with a mailing list I joined nine years ago that provided me with free e-copies of selections from many currently popular authors. I still feel like I’m not necessarily well-read, but I have certainly read enough that I could introduce someone else to the genre.

That seems to be how I have come into a number of my interests – by discovering it for myself, and even resisting when trying to be shown it (maybe that’s why I had troubles in school). I had friends who listened to Jpop but it wasn’t until I heard Japanese arrangements of a soundtrack I loved that I began to accept listening to music in foreign languages (which I have loved for many years now). I had friends who read a lot of comic books, but I never even really read any until last year, when I subscribed to Marvel Unlimited and discovered favourite series on my own – and now we have a pull list at our local comic store.

And now, it’s happened with Star Wars.

I’m not the Star Wars fan in my family. Let me rephrase – I’m not the Star Wars fan in the family. I enjoyed the movies, of course – well, the original trilogy – but I’m not the one with giant tubs full of Star Wars novels, action figures, and art prints. I tried to read a particularly well-loved Star Wars novel once years ago, but I couldn’t get into it. (I couldn’t get into tie-in fiction for a long time, whether fanfiction or officially licensed novels.)

Last year, however, fostered a decidedly increased interest in the Star Wars universe. It started with X-Wing Miniatures – because hey, I’m always up for a good table top game. Then, I started watching Star Wars Rebels, because it’s now canon (whereas those tubs of novels in the basement no longer are).

It escalated from there. Curiosity drew me to Kanan: The Last Padawan, a comic book series about one of the characters from Rebels, which I immediately loved. I saw the trailers for The Force Awakens and grew truly excited about it.

And when it released… well, it wouldn’t have become the top-grossing film of all time if it had been another Phantom Menace.

This week, I have taken the step I never could before – the novels. And not only have I read two Star Wars novels this week, but I didn’t even like one of them very much (but I still got through it).

Now, I’m hooked. I want to read different eras, different characters, I want to know more of the lore and the history and politics that don’t get revealed in the movies, and I’m fascinated by the rich tapestry of comics, shows, movies, and books that are making up the new Expanded Universe. And it’s even kindling a new interest in Star Wars Legends, the old canon.

Maybe I resisted for a surprisingly long time, but now, I have truly discovered the Expanded Universe. It’s always fun discovering new things.

Bibliophiles and other locutions

As a book seller, I have spoken with many people who have told me about the sizes of their book collections. Little surprises me now, and personally, I can easily understand how books can take over a closet, a room, a basement, or even a storage locker. Books are delightful and memorable and avid readers can amass them quickly, particularly those who have been collecting a lot longer than I have.

Of course, I am partial to collections. There’s something immensely satisfying about the sight of perfectly even row of books arranged on a bookshelf. Or a cabinet of DVDs and Blu-Rays. Or a shadow box of figurines. Or–I am probably dating myself here–a rack of CDs. (Although admittedly, ours is in the basement and I almost never take any out, having ripped them all years ago.)

Shortly after moving in to our current home, I took an afternoon and went through our books. I arranged the books on our two kinds of bookshelves by format, genre, and then author, got rid of all the books I no longer wanted, and managed to fit what remained almost perfectly on our bookshelves. I really only keep them all strictly for love of the collection itself; much as I might have adored the books on those shelves, I simply don’t have the time to go back and reread them all, and most have only been read once. I just like having all those books I enjoyed lined up there, and even if I wanted to get rid of more, I would never be able to decide upon which ones to part with. And perhaps there is some paranoia that maybe someday I will want to read a particular one again and will be disappointed that it’s no longer there. These are the same reasons that I don’t like to re-sell the video games I have played and enjoyed, and probably will never play again. But I digress.

For a while after rearranging the shelves, I didn’t really buy any new books. I never have bought many books, as the cost and the sheer number of books that potentially interested me, never mind not knowing where to start with many epic fantasy/scifi series, made it too difficult to decide. I have also read enough mediocre or downright bad books that I have become very selective about my books, and usually want to read at least some of a book or at least an author’s work before investing in something. I also went through a period of reading mainly free ebooks I received through promotions or utilized what turned out to be a pretty impressive library within walking distance of home. On top of all this, at the time that I re-sorted my book collection, I simply didn’t have much time or energy to read, being busy with an infant.

Eventually, I began buying books again. Very slowly, as I am still quite selective about my books, and most of the books I have bought have still not been read yet. I still frequent my library and download a lot of ebooks, and between the two, I have little need to buy books. I still generally shy away from list price, unless it is the latest instalment in a series I am actively following. Generally, those books I have bought are clearance rack finds at my local chain bookstore or books from author friends that have particularly piqued my interest. Even the number of books I have bought over the past few years has gone up and down, as I pass along books I have read and am no longer interested in keeping.

But gradually, my collection has increased. And now, after picking up a couple new books at Gen Con, I am finding myself facing the problem that so many book lovers deal with at one point or another: not enough shelf space.