Monday musings: Observations at book signings

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By Scott Bury

Scott Bury showing off his display at his latest book signing event.

Last Friday, I did a “meet the author,” book-signing event at Coles Carlingwood bookstore in a mall in western Ottawa. That was the fifth such event I have done in 2018. Most of them were outdoors, but now that snow remains on the ground, I won’t be doing outdoor signings until spring, at least. I probably won’t be doing any more in a store, either before the end of the year. Bookstores in these parts doesn’t do in-store events because they’re just too crowded with shoppers and all the non-book stuff they promote during this season. An author at a table stacked with just their books would be more of an obstacle than an attraction.

After five book signing events, there are some patterns I have observed.

I have to admit that I always feel a little trepidation as the date for a book signing gets closer. What if no one comes? What if no one buys a book? I’ve ordered a quantity—will that expenditure be in vain?

But over the year, I count nearly all the events as successes. I don’t always sell a huge number of books, but with one exception, more than I feared would be the worst-case scenario.

I learned a lot through this. I saw how some other authors, experienced in these things, who brought big fabric banners on collapsible frames. Some rented or bought big tents for protection from the elements. One, a horror writer also from Ottawa, has a little Cthulhu figurine that sparks conversation.

It’s astounding how many independent writers there are. Some come to events like the Authors’ Market at the ByWard Market with embarrassing self-printed little books, but most have learned the importance of investing in their own work with professional editing, design and production.

I have also learned that it’s nearly impossible for independent authors to get the attention of major media. Thank goodness for community and independent newspapers.

Another thing I learned after five book signings in eight months is that people like to talk to writers! Many are delighted to meet the person whose name is on the cover of a book. They are almost always amazed that someone actually wrote a whole book—never mind seven.

Another thing I have learned is that people have very different reasons for buying a book. One lady bought four different books as Christmas presents for her sons. She wanted me to sign them with not only my name, but also that of one of the characters within.

Another reader wanted an inspirational message with the signature. Still another wanted the date and place of the signature.

They asked the usual questions: what inspired the story, how long it took to write, why I wanted to be a writer.
It’s rewarding. I learn more about readers and why they choose to read the books they do.

Often, a personal connection is what it takes to get someone to buy a book. Over the summer, a number of current and former military people bought the Eastern Front trilogy. I also remember a lady with a British accent who told me about hiding in bomb shelters during the London Blitz.

At Arts in the Park in June, a man who had bought a book the previous year came back and bought a copy of Wildfire.
Everyone seems to have their own reason to read books, and to choose which to buy.

Thankfully, sometimes the chance to meet the writer is enough.

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Monday musings: The bookstore as tourist attraction

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By Scott Bury

In days of yore, I used to love hanging around in bookstores. Whether they sold new or used books, I could while away hours ambling down the aisles, perusing the obscure titles, poring over the pages, admiring cover typography and wondering about the authors. Sadly, it’s a pastime I haven’t enjoyed for a very long time.

Until last September, when I visited Portugal with my lovely wife. From the time we started planning the trip, one of the must-see spots was the Lello & Irmão bookstore in Porto. This is the bookstore that’s famous as the place that inspired J.K. Rowling’s setting of Hogwarts for her Harry Potter series.

The evocative double curving staircase is not the only reason it’s an inspiring bookstore. The inlay ceiling, the baroque woodwork, the antique lanterns—and the incredible range of books! There are books in many languages, bestselling books, books of great age and prestige, beautiful editions and even comic books.

But what is the most immediately striking thing about this bookstore is the crowd inside. Because of the Harry Potter-inspired fame, hordes of tourists cram into it daily. Lello & Irmão bookstore actually charge admission and limits the number of people they let inside at once. If you buy a book, they’ll refund the price of admittance.

Lello & Irmão was not the only bookstore I visited on that trip. Roxanne and I also popped into Livraria Bertrand in the Chiado section of Lisbon, known as the world’s oldest still-operating bookstore. It was first opened in 1732 by Pedro Faure, who took on the Bertrand brothers as partners some time later. The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 destroyed the bookstore and the Betrands moved to a different part of the city. In 1773, the Bertrands returned to the rebuilt Chiado section of Lisbon, its current location on Rua Garret.

Bertrand today is a chain of 53 bookstores across Portugal, and is owned by the Porto Editora publishing company. a

Livraria Bertrand in Lisbon, the oldest still-operating bookstore in the world. Photo: Wikipedia

I rediscovered the joy of spending time in a bookstore in Portugal. And on coming back to North America, I understood one reason that I don’t enjoy that activity as much at home anymore. It’s because bookstores here aren’t much in the way of bookstores anymore.

Every time I enter one in Canada or the U.S., there seems to be more space turned over to knick-knacks, coffee and food at the expense of books.

I have no problem with coffee in a bookstore. Books and coffee are a natural combination. But seeing more space for things that are far less important than books taking away space for them—that’s disheartening.

What about you? What are your favorite book places in the world?

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Monday musings: Why do we love to read horror?

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Photo: Capture Queen (Creative Commons)

Pandemic. Totalitarianism. Climate change. Terrorism. Jihad. Illegal immigration. Socialism. Job loss.

Judging from hyperbole in social media, we are out-and-out terrified of these things. As evidence: people advocate shooting refugees to keep them from crossing their border.

As (occasionally) the author of horror, my job is to reflect my audience’s fears back to them in symbolic way. This can be a way to help deal with them, but mostly, through fantasy, we can take some joy from our fears. It’s like riding a roller-coaster: it’s fun because it scares us, but we’re really safe.

A long, grisly, nasty yet honourable tradition

This is what fantasy and horror writers have always done: create stories that give us another way to look at what’s really bothering us. It has a long history in a technological era:

Godzilla, the monster awakened by atomic radiation and that could breathe out “atomic fire,” reflected our fears of nuclear war and radiation.

Zombies, like those in The Walking Dead series and World War Z, reflect our fear of incurable, virulent and especially contagious pandemics, made even more horrifying and destructive by their ability to instantly render their victims as vessels of further transmission.

Hereditary is the fear of what you don’t know about yourself, which you may have inherited from your parents.

Horror movies like Predator and Venom play on the most primeval fear of all: getting killed and eaten by a predator. Other horror movies play on more modern fears of surveillance, mortgage foreclosure, and of course, the old standby, the Other—people not of our tribe, and therefore a threat. Don’t forget the 2001 horror movie actually called “The Others,” with Nicole Kidman.

Have you not noticed how terrified some people are of people from other cultures?

Fear of sex

Dracula, the Un-Dead, the progenitor of nearly all the vampire books since, plays on several fears. First is the fear of contagion—Bram Stoker’s heroes thought Lucy’s affliction was a blood disease, after all – but also the fear of being infected with something that will change your nature (becoming a vampire). There is also the fear of the Other, the foreigner, the intruder who by his very nature is dangerous. But mostly, Dracula was a sublimation of the greatest fear of the Victorian era: sex.

Yes, I am saying that sucking up blood was the only way that a Victorian era writer would portray sexual lust without getting banned or arrested. Don’t believe me? The vampire was ultimately defeated by a woman’s sexual attractiveness. Oh, sure, Dracula said he was only interested in her blood. But he was lured to his doom by a beautiful young woman, who invited the vampire into her bedroom and made him stay all night long. Now tell me Stoker was not writing about sex.

Image: Vancouver Sun

Still holding onto that argument? Watch Francis Ford Coppola’s film based on the book and try to sustain it.

Today, there’s a lot of fear about crowds of refugees or migrants getting past the border. I don’t understand the fear, myself. Which means there is already a really bad book or movie, or both, based on exactly that idea in development right now.

The biggest fear, though, that I can see is the fear of change. Any new idea still evokes howls from predictable corners. How could writers deal with that?

What about readers? What fears would you like your favourite authors to write about?

Leave your suggestions in the Comments.

Scott Bury

just can’t stay in one genre.

After a 30-year career as a journalist and editor, Scott Bury published a children’s story, and a story that bridged the genres of paranormal occult fiction and espionage thriller. Since then, he has published 12 novels and novellas without regard to staying in any one genre: fantasy, satire, mysteries, thrillers and biography.

In 2012, he published his first novel, the historical magic realism bestseller The Bones of the Earth. His next book, One Shade of Red, was a satire of a bestseller with a similar title.

From 2014 to 2017, he published the Eastern Front Trilogy, the true story of a Canadian drafted into the Soviet Red Army in 1941, and how he survived the Second World War.

He wrote four Hawaii mystery titles for Toby Neal’s Lei Crime Kindle World; Jet: Stealth for Russell Blake’s Jet Kindle World, and two for Emily Kimelman’s Sydney Rye Kindle World. Since the cancellation of the Kindle World program, he has revised and published the first title, Torn Roots, as the first volume in a stand-alone series, Hawaiian Storm.

He has also launched a new mystery series with Wildfire, featuring the smart and passionate Tara Rezeck.

Find out more about Scott and his writing:

And follow him on Twitter @ScottTheWriter.

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When life echoes art: So many very tall people!

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Lately, BestSelling Reads authors have been recounting times they’ve found the real world echoing things they previously wrote about.

Last month, Raine Thomas wrote about marrying an alien. Her husband comes from another country, and n her 2014 novel, Return of the Ascendent, two characters travel between worlds to be together.

Caleb Pirtle III wrote about headlines telling the story of a college football team being suspended for sexual assault, after writing about that idea in Friday Nights Don’t Last Forever.

And how can we forget the bombshell when the government admitted that it could track every keystroke on every computer, tablet and smartphone connected to the Internet. This after Alan McDermott constructed the plot of his 2015 novel, Gray Vengeance, around what he thought at the time was a fictional idea.

Scary on many levels.

The Witch Queen cometh

I have found life imitating things I wrote about, too. In 2011, I published a paranormal occult story, mostly for fun, called “Dark Clouds.” In it, the Witch Queen’s son notices the wind coming from all directions at once. Cloud gathering over the capital city, and he knows his mother is up to no good. Then last year, when visiting the Czech Republic, my wife and I looked up at the darkening sky as we dined al fresco. Bluish black clouds descended, rolling and seeming to reach ephemeral tendrils toward us.

The Tepla River near Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic, at around 7:00 p.m. in June — an oddly dark evening for midsummer. The wind ripples the surface of the river just before driving dark clouds overhead.

Then the wind hit, swiping a half-full glass bottle of water off our table. As we stood to avoid the shards, the wind swept my wife’s chair away, throwing it down a flight of stairs.

All around us, napkins and cutlery clattered and fell to the floor, and other diners rushed indoors. Then the wind stopped as suddenly as it came.

Recently, I found a more subtle echo all around me. Indeed, it seemed to follow me. In 2015, I published Torn Roots as part of a program from Amazon that it has since cancelled. I have just published a revised, expanded version of that book.

So where is life imitating that piece of writing?

The week I was short

One of the main characters is Rowan Fields, an assertive environmental activist. Okay, some people call her abrasive, snarky, bitchy. Fine.

When I was first working on the book, I wanted to make her striking and unusual. So I wrote about a thin, six-foot-tall blond Canadian woman in Hawaii. I figured 183 cm women would be unusual.

The man who took this picture was nearly 200 cm tall (6’6″)

I finished writing the book, sent it to my editor, made revisions to the version that came back, and uploaded it to Amazon, all under the delusion that Rowan Fields was a unique character.

Then I started noticing six-foot-tall, blond women in Ottawa. Every day, I would see at least one, if not several.

In late September, my wife and I took another trip, this time to Portugal. And we both remarked on the number of very tall women and men we saw.

For the first time since my teen years, I felt short. I’m fairly tall, at 184 cm (just shy of 6 feet, one inch — I have lost a half-inch since turning 50).

All around us, dozens of women at least 180 cm tall, and men towering over my head — including the very gracious German gentleman who took this picture of me on the wall of the Moorish castle ruin in Sintra.

It wasn’t like they were all German and Scandinavian. There were extraordinarily tall men and women speaking English, Slavic languages and others I could not identify. I wondered if there was a convention of very tall people, and I had not been invited.

You see what you look for

But what could I do? I couldn’t very well start taking everyone’s picture for publication. And how do you work this idea into a conversation? “Hi, you look like a character I created. Can I take your picture?”

I think I’d be committed to the Portuguese mental health system pretty quickly. Or at least flagged as a potential stalker.

Maybe it’s just that you notice what you’re looking for. Every time I update my car, about every four years, I notice a lot more cars just like it on the road. This year, I’ve been struck by the number of white cars on the roads. Maybe the incidence hasn’t really changed, but how can I tell?

Take a look around next time you’re in a busy urban area, and see if you see any very tall people and white cars. Leave your responses in the comments and we’ll see if there are any trends.

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New book release: Finding You

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By D.G. Torrens

The new romantic suspense novel by bestselling author Dawn Torrens launches today.

Eden Marshall catches the eye of the wealthy and mysterious bachelor, Noah Ainsworth. Noah has been hiding away in his ivory tower for far too long. He decides it’s time to start living again. Eden Marshall is his motivation – captivated by her, he begins to trust in love again. Until a dark secret from his past threatens all that he loves…

About the author

D.G Torrens is a mother/writer/blogger who has a dream to inspire as many people as possible through her story. To show those with little hope that dreams can come true.

Born in England, passionate about writing, D.G. Torrens is married with a daughter. Her first book, Amelia’s Story, has inspired people all over the world. Amelia’s Destiny, book #2 is the sequel and is followed by Amelia The Mother book #3 in this awe-inspiring trilogy. A memoir that remains with D.G.’s readers long after they have put the book down …

D.G is a prolific writer and in 2013, her works were recognized by BBC Radio WM, where she has given several live interviews in the BBC studios in Birmingham, UK. Thereafter, D.G. became a regular Headline Reviewer for the radio show for the next 12 months.

Visit her:

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Monday musings: Life inspired writing inspired life

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By Autumn Birt

I love adventure, especially traveling. One of my remaining bucket list trips is cave rafting in New Zealand (seriously).

The only thing that makes a trip more interesting is throwing in some local history and artifacts and I’m pretty much in love. Hiking the Inca Trail in Peru to Machu Picchu was an experience that will live with me and color my writing. How could following an ancient pathway of stones and steps through mountain passes and by a handful of stunning ruins, each unique, to end at one of the wonders of the world not show up in a story somewhere, especially when you are a fantasy writer?

My hobbies of hiking, kayaking, and sailing have lent a realistic air to many of my books. I know what it is like to carry everything you need on your back for days at a time, slogging through mud and crawling over steep ledges. I’ve ridden horses, though prefer motorcycling over long distances. I know the feeling of stepping into a new land and feeling equally lost and fascinated.

Those are the easy details that permeate my writing, often without me realizing it. But it was a conference in Miami in 2010 that not only changed my worldview but inspired an entire series.

The guest speaker was a proponent for an Everglades National Park, but had given up because he didn’t think the Everglades would exist in fifty years. Slide by slide, he unrolled more scientific details on climate change and historic trends in past climate changes than I’d ever seen. He ripped away the idea that the seas would rise slowly and lethally. Instead, he showed the ancient benchmarks where the land dropped feet at a time due to storms. A storm surge would arrive, inundate everything, and never leave.

The future we have crafted due to past actions is not going to be predictable or follow a smooth chart laid out by scientists doing the best they can with predictive modeling. It will be messy, chaotic, and cause havoc we can only guess at. Working as I did in sustainable agriculture for a government agency, my mind whirled with how would governments respond? How many such storms as Katrina in the US would it take for an area to be abandoned? How many would it take to weaken a government to the point it could be overthrown or bought?

Throw in increasing droughts, lack of clean water, and a pandemic or two, and you have a world in chaos.

It took years with those ideas planted in my brain to finally grow into the post-apocalyptic series, Friends of my Enemy. A twisted tale of a dark future rife with conflicted relationships, it is nevertheless one of my favorite things to have written, even though it is so far different from the epic fantasy books I usually prefer. It is my nightmarish dream and imbued with a bit of hope for mankind in our not-so-distant future.

Plus, the unruly roots sprouted out of that conference eventually lead me to quit my job.

I’m not a prepper or survivalist by any means, but when the future looks unstable, the government you work for is not responding to mitigate anything of what might be coming, and you are going to be in your late 60s by then anyway, grasping life and seeing the world while you can still enjoy it feels so much better than saving for retirement because some guy in a suit said you should. Ok, I might be a bit of a rebel at heart too.

And, you know, it doesn’t hurt that I live in a self-contained, all-terrain adventure vehicle. I’m totally prepared for the zombie apocalypse. 😉

Autumn Birt

is a bestselling author in fantasy, epic fantasy, and war – not all on the same series though!

She is the author of the epic fantasy, adventure trilogy on elemental magic, The Rise of the Fifth Order. Her newest series is Games of Fire, an epic continuation of the world and characters begun in The Rise of the Fifth Order. Book 2, Gates of Fire & Earth, is also a Fantasia Reviews 2017 Book of Year nominee and winner of Best Worldbuilding.

She is also the author of Friends of my Enemy, a military dystopian/ dark fantasy tale laced with romance.

Stop by her website and blog to learn more about the worlds of her books at www.AutumnWriting.com. You can also find her on Facebook at Author.Autumn.Birt or more frequently on Twitter @Weifarer. Check out Exclusive Stories page to pick up free short stories.

Learn more about her on her BestSelling Reads author page and Amazon Author Page.

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