Becoming the Person I Want to Be

(Instead of the one I was afraid I would become) *

By my late twenties, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life: I wanted to be a writer. Not only did I love to read and write, I also loved the whole idea of being a writer. I imagined myself in the future, living a writer’s life – long days of creating fiction interspersed with occasional public readings from my newest book to audiences who hung on my every word.

I knew it wouldn’t happen overnight, but no matter how long it took, I was determined that I would get there. I would become that woman.

Ten years later, I’d published a novel, some short stories and some essays, even a radio drama. Reviewers for the most part seemed to like my work, and small groups of people came out to hear me read: sometimes they even seemed to hang on my every word. That part of my life was all I had imagined, and I loved it.

But writing is no way to make a living, so when I wasn’t writing, I was stressed. I was stressed about everything – my teenaged kids, my relationships, my work deadlines, my lack of money: you name it. And while I was stressing about everything, a few bad habits were turning into serious addictions. I was smoking too much, drinking too much, eating too much… sometimes all at the same time. Which added to my stress: now I also worried that my addictions were going to kill me – later if not sooner. My doctors’ advice just reinforced my fears, and a brush with breast cancer didn’t help.

By now I had a totally different image of my future self than I’d had when I was younger. Now what I saw was an enormous grey-haired woman rolling home from the liquor store, several bottles of fortified something tucked between her immense hips and the seat of the motorized wheelchair she now needed because her arthritic knees could no longer support her weight. An oxygen tank was strapped to the back of her wheelchair; tubes snaked into her nostrils.

In short, my image of the future was now fashioned out of fear, rather than from hope.

Gotta quit. Gotta quit.

For the next ten years, I was always trying to quit smoking. I was always trying to quit drinking. I was always trying to lose weight. Every day I made a new resolution and every day I broke it. I am pretty sure that I tried every single smoking cessation, drinking cessation and eating cessation program known to humankind – and I failed with every one of them.

Somehow I also managed to write and publish a few more books, but not as many as I would have if I hadn’t been so obsessed with my lack of money and my bad habits. (And, to make things worse, the price of cigarettes and booze kept going up and up, and the publishing industry fell to pieces!)

Finally, I hit bottom. And finally – with the help of a therapist I had gone to in despair – I began to realize that I had been taking the wrong approach. I began to understand that I could never quit anything when I was focussed only on the quitting. What I had to do was stop thinking about what I was afraid of, and start remembering what I wanted to become.

What I Did Next

At age 50, I took that image of myself as a failure and I essentially shoved her off a cliff. When I saw her trying to claw her way back up toward me, I shook my head at her. That wasn’t me. No more. After a long time, she grew weaker and stopped trying to return. Now I almost never see her.

In the meantime, I took that other image, the one which had become lost in all the stresses of the years, dusted her off, and put her back in front of me where I wouldn’t lose sight of her again. I did some fine-tuning while I was at it: imagining every aspect of what I wanted to become. I was getting to the age where if I didn’t do it now, I’d never get another chance.

The woman I wanted to become was strong and healthy. She was aging powerfully and well. She was a woman whose children and grandchildren would see her as a role model – and (this part hadn’t changed!) she was a writer whose books (and blog posts! And Tweets!) made people sit up and pay attention: hang off her every word.

First, I quit drinking… one day at a time. That turned out to be much harder and to take much longer than I thought it would, but it was nothing compared to quitting smoking. That I had to do one hour at a time. Both of those recoveries caused me to gain even more weight than I was already carrying around, but I couldn’t let myself worry about that. Finally I turned to the challenge of getting healthy, and a few years later, I was able to get serious about actually losing weight.

I didn’t do any of these things out of fear of what might happen if I didn’t do them, or because I wanted to fit into some outfit for a certain event. I didn’t do them because the doctors told me I had to, or because my loved ones said I should. I did these things for me – because I know who I am, and because the person that I am has goals. I did them because I want to live long enough to enjoy my life and the people I love for as long as I can – without sickness, without shame, and especially without fear.

I Am Getting There

I have not fulfilled my vision yet, but today I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I get out and exercise regularly, and I weigh 35 pounds less than I did four years ago (I still have 10 pounds to go).

And I write. My latest book – a novel called Rita Just Wants to Be Thin – is the story of a woman who, at 29, learns the lessons that it has taken me a lifetime to figure out.

Who knows? Maybe some day Rita (or one of my other books) will put me on that stage I’ve been imagining for so many years, in front of a room full of readers who are hanging off my every word. But if that doesn’t happen, it’s okay. Because what really matters is what happens offstage, where most of my life is lived. And there, at last, I am finally getting closer and closer to becoming the person I have always wanted to be.

* This article was written at the invitation of Jan Graham and originally published on her great blog site, Cranky Fitness. Check it out. Thanks, Jan!

Art and Reading: Combining Pleasures

"The White Horse," John Constable. The Frick Collection

“The White Horse,” John Constable. The Frick Collection

It is one of my small gifts to myself after I’ve visited an art exhibition to purchase a few postcards in the gallery shop that depict the paintings or drawings or sculptures that particularly interested me.

I bring these home and then I use them as bookmarks. I write notes on the back of the postcard about the book as I am reading. Then, when I have finished the book I leave the postcard in it, and later I can revisit not only the book and my thoughts about it, but also remember a work of art I have seen somewhere and particularly liked.

IMG_4225I suppose I could choose the postcard on the basis of how I think the book is going to “feel,” but I don’t. That would make me dither, and I have enough things to dither about as it is.

Two of the most satisfying things in life are reading good books and seeing good art. I love that I can combine these pleasures easily and inexpensively.

Everything you ever wanted to know about publishing but were afraid to ask, in case

the entire publishing landscape might have changed since the last time you checked.

TWUCvid(Which it has.)


The Writers’ Union of Canada’s cross-country workshop, Publishing 2.0 Tips and Traps, was held — to overwhelmingly positive reviews — in 9 cities across Canada in 2014-15. It is now available as an 83-minute video.

In it, Caroline Adderson, noted Canadian writer of fiction for children and adults, speaks to those who want to know how to work with traditional publishers today. And I share experience, advice, and cautionary tales with those who are considering self-publishing their back-lists or new titles. Most writers are interested in hearing about both approaches.

Through this video, you will gain the know-how and confidence to work within the current publishing landscape, and finish with an expanded and inspired sense of what it means to be an independent writer in today’s world. – TWUC web page

I was proud to be part of this comprehensive initiative because it spoke directly to writers as the creators who today have ultimate control over how their books reach readers. This video reflects that approach.


John and I were humbled and delighted to see this review of our book, The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid. The review was written by Merna Summers  – a writer I have admired for decades – and published in the June, 2015 issue of Alberta Views.


Why Any Writer Worth Her Salt Should Welcome Amazon’s Pay-Per-Page Initiative

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 9.34.09 AMThere has been a whole lot of uproar and outrage out there in the books world in the past few days, ever since Jeff Bezos announced a new way of paying authors who participate in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library programs. The new system (which, by the way, applies ONLY to e-books that are borrowed from Amazon, and not to e-books that are bought outright), is to be launched in August.

The outrage has largely been fuelled by media coverage such as the item above from The Guardian, where the contents of the article are accurate but the headline misrepresents the nature of Amazon’s initiative. The dismay has been spread by those who read only headlines and then react — on Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere – without reading further, and by people with a hate on for Amazon and Jeff Bezos in particular and self-publishing in general, due often to their loyalty to traditional publishers. (The dust from the Hachette fracas is a long way yet from settling.) Now I am seeing comments that denounce Amazon’s new method for paying authors for their borrowed books from people who don’t know the first thing about self-publishing, and may never have bought a single thing from Amazon, much less signed up to participate in its lending library.

In truth, Bezos’s announcement should be welcomed by every writer with any self-respect. Those of us who are writing books of fiction and non-fiction that we want people to read and find satisfying (or at least find to be of enough interest that they will finish reading them before they rip them to shreds), are the ones who will benefit from this new initiative. Those who will lose money are those who are churning out “book products” – page after page of illiterate crap that people download onto their computers but discard after the first sentence or first page.

The Particulars

Here is what you need to know in order to assess the new payment method that Bezos has announced:

  • The new royalty payment plan applies ONLY to books that are enrolled in the Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library programs. Writers who have self-published their books in paperback or e-book format for direct sale on Amazon do not need to participate in the KU and KOLL program. It is optional.
  • Kindle Unlimited (KU) is a program for which readers can register for $9.99/month, and subscribers can then can borrow as many e-books or audiobooks as they want during the month. (If you’re in Canada, this is the link.) After the month is up, the e-book is removed from your device. Until now, the authors of those books got paid a portion of the kitty collected from KU whenever their books were downloaded, whether the books were ever read or not. If a reader read the first page or first five pages, hated the book, and never picked it up again, the author still got paid. Or if a reader felt like downloading several books but never got around to reading any of them before the borrowing time was up (as some of us do at the library, sort of like trying on clothes at home and then deciding we don’t like/need/want them, and taking them back unworn), the writer still got paid.
  • The Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL) is available to members of Amazon Prime. KOLL operates in a similar way to KU, except that there is no “due date,” when the e-book is automatically removed from your device, but you can only borrow one book a month. Again, many readers were downloading books, discovering they were not of interest to them and/or were unadulterated crap, and never picking them up again. The writer still got paid.
  • The money that is available to authors who choose to participate in KU and KOLL is called the KDP Select Global Fund. Each month a percentage of it goes out to authors. Currently, the money that Amazon makes available to this fund is divided equally among all books that are borrowed via KU or KOLL. Those authors with more books have the potential to make more money.
  • Under the new system, the money will be divided on the basis of the number of pages “read” (or accessed, to be exact) when a book is downloaded. There are downsides to this if you are a poet, or are writing genius flash fiction: these writers may chose to triple-space their text in future:) . But the benefits outweigh the disadvantages for most books and most genuine writers, because now payments will be made to authors who have written books that are of sufficient merit that readers want to keep reading — either because of the quality of the writing, the page-turning nature of the writing, or for other reasons (e.g., the reasons that made the Fifty Shades book sell so well, which still elude me). With her best-selling novel The Goldfinch coming in at 771 print pages, Donna Tartt would have been ecstatic about this new plan if she’d had the foresight to self-publish.

An Attractive Option

While it is optional for authors of e-books on Amazon to make their books available on Kindle Direct Publishing Select (KDP Select) — where they become eligible for KU and KOLL – there are definitely advantages to participating, such as a higher royalty rate on books that readers purchase outright from Amazon. This makes sense: Amazon wants to encourage readers to participate in KU and Amazon Prime. But it is still a choice: we can sell our e-books and our paperbacks on Amazon without participating in the KDP Select program. I personally have made almost as much from the KU/KOLL program as I have from outright sales since I enrolled in it.

Sorting Wheat from Chaff

In case you hadn’t noticed, there is a whole lot of crap out there in the self-publishing world. I have seen “writers” on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere who laugh at those of us who ever write a second draft of anything. To them, revision is a waste of time. These people measure their output in the number of words written in a day (5,000 being a typical minimum) and work to attain those numbers like those of us with FitBits do to acquire steps. It’s not that they write inspired first drafts: I’ve checked out several of them. Quality is not an issue: the number of books (products) on the market is all that matters. Those self-described writers have been doing very well with KOLL and KU as it currently exists — who cares if people read your book? All that matters is that they download them.

Those who are the modern versions of Charles Dickens — who, given his deadlines, must have churned out readable first drafts — will continue to make money under the new system. But they are in the minority.

Those of us who have sweated over every single word we’ve written, and after much revision (usually taking several years, not several weeks) have ended up with a few books that we find of sufficient quality to publish — and then, before we dared to self-publish them, have hired editors and book designers to make the “package” a quality item in which to deliver the quality writing — are the ones who are going to win under the new system.

It has long been my belief that the new gatekeepers for books — those who decide what books other people should read — will in future be the readers, rather than the agents, publishers, booksellers and traditional reviewers who have dictated the confines of our reading decisions in the past. This new approach from Amazon brings us one step closer to that reality.

For Whom Do the Poets Write, If Not for Me?

Mary W. Walters:

“[Jason] Guriel demands not only talent but signs of diligence in the poetry he favours. He seems intrigued by such questions as ‘What is a good poem?’ and ‘What is a good poet?’ and the answers he proposes often have to do with the way the poet has connected the language – the words themselves – with the purpose of the work.”

Originally posted on Mary W. Walters: Book Reviews:

GurielCoverThe Pigheaded Soul

Essays and Reviews on Poetry & Culture

Jason Guriel

Porcupine’s Quill

264 pages

I admired the cover of a newly released book on Facebook, and to my surprise I received a copy in the mail from the publisher – no charge, no strings attached.

When the book arrived, I found myself as intrigued by the first few pages of the work as I had been by the cover. This created a dilemma for me. I like to write about books that intrigue me: doing so allows me to engage in conversation about the book – with myself, with other readers and, theoretically, with the author. I read books differently when I know I’m going to write about them – pausing to make notes, to reread paragraphs, to check external references. I wanted to read this book this way, and then to write about it on this blog…

View original 2,755 more words

“You Must Never Put Down Your Pen,” by John Degen

John Degen, Executive Director, The Writers’ Union of Canada (Photo: Claudette Boekstael)

Note from Mary: I am a member of The Writers’ Union of Canada, and have been for many years. I cannot recommend highly enough the value to writers as individuals and as a community of belonging to this organization. Some of the concrete benefits of membership are outlined here, but there are many less tangible ones as well – such as the sense of community a writer feels as a part of TWUC, and the interesting people she meets. If you are eligible, I encourage you to consider joining.

One of the interesting people I have come to know recently is John Degen, The Writers’ Union’s executive director. This past year, he shepherded my co-presenter Caroline Adderson and me across Canada on a series of writers’ workshops about publishing (soon to be available on video!).  Over our post-workshop dinners, we had some great conversations on writing-related subjects – the kinds of conversations that sustain writers (or at least they do me) when we retreat once more to our own garrets.

In addition to his work with the Union, John is a poet and a fiction writer. His deep convictions about the importance to the world of writers and their writing, and the need to ensure our ability to continue to do (and own) our work, inform everything he does. His column in the most recent (Winter, 2015) edition of Write, the magazine of The Writers’ Union of Canada, speaks to this conviction on many levels.

I read his essay twice, and then asked for (and received) John’s permission to reprint it here. I hope you find it as moving (and wonderfully written, and absolutely true) as I did.

You must never put down your pen

By John Degen

As a student, I worked for a prominent bookstore chain, and I was on duty during the early days of the Salman Rushdie fatwa. Corporate management at my employer had us remove all copies of The Satanic Verses from the shelves, wrap them in brown paper, and store them under the front counter. Our instructions were to “assess” anyone who came into the store looking for a copy of Rushdie’s book. If they looked “harmless,” we would sell them a wrapped copy. I didn’t know then how to differentiate a harmless book-buyer from a dangerous one, and I still don’t. I remember a lot of semi-embarrassed nodding and winking at the cash register. I also remember selling an awful lot of plain-brown copies of The Satanic Verses. All of a sudden, a relatively expensive book with not much more demand than any other was flying out of the store.

Halfway between work and my apartment there was a very small independent bookstore (remember the days when there might be two or more book retailers in a single neighbourhood?). The owner of that store was not one for looking retail horses in the mouth. His entire display window was dedicated to Rushdie’s book. I remember walking in and asking if he wasn’t nervous someone might throw a brick through the glass. He called that possibility “free advertising,” and laughed when I told him what was going on where I worked. I bought my own copy of The Satanic Verses from him.

I began writing this column on January 7, late in the afternoon, after a sickening day of reaction to the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, France. I have worked for and with small, underfunded political magazines for most of my professional life. I was, for a while, chair of the board at THIS magazine in Toronto. Many of my friends also work in this business. I believe I can picture exactly how informal, irreverent and alive that editorial meeting was just before masked gunmen broke through the door. Did they even have to break through? Do magazines lock their doors? When did that start happening?

The violence in Paris is an absurdity and an obscenity. People whose working tools are pens and keyboards suddenly confronted with Kalashnikov automatics? That anyone should be murdered over words and pictures is madness. I remain filled with nausea and anger. I’m also profoundly impatient to get back to my home office and write something.

On January 7, my Twitter feed contained sentiments and pronouncements with which I agreed, and many with which I didn’t. I assume the same is true for everyone reading these words, and I’m betting (maybe even hoping) our individual lists of what we do and don’t agree with might look quite different. I intentionally follow folks on social media whose opinions bother me, because I want diversity of thought all around me, all the time. I want to be challenged and annoyed. I think some of my best work comes from being annoyed.

Barely 24 hours after the attacks, many on social media were injecting nuance into their reflexive support for freedom of expression – removing “Je Suis Charlie” from their streams, and suggesting the puerile, clearly offensive cartoons published in Charlie Hebdo might not be a suitable hill to hold in the fight for free speech. Because I’ve been wandering the front lines of free speech my entire career, I value the existence of those arguments even as I strongly disagree with them.

Similarly, as someone who practices a private faith, I was distressed and even offended by a lot of the immediate anti-religion commentary that followed the attacks. The brilliant Salman Rushdie, whom I will defend to my last breath, called something I sincerely value “a mediaeval form of unreason” that “deserves our fearless disrespect.” These were hard words for me to read, but I’m so glad he said them. I’m so glad he was here to challenge and offend my own thinking. I cherish his fearless disrespect.

There’s a great deal published that I think is complete garbage. Had I paid better attention to it before January 7th, much of the work in Charlie Hebdo would likely have attracted my scorn and dismay. That doesn’t change my mind at all that those of us who deal in words and pictures are to be argued with or ignored, not violently attacked or censored.

By complete coincidence that same awful week in January, I was speaking with a respected colleague at You may recall the last issue of Write might have had a few less than complimentary things to say about the large online retailer. We were discussing the possibility of an Amazon response in Write (which I encourage), but we first took time to commiserate about Paris. My colleague became passionate on the phone and said to me, “You must never put down your pen.”

That goes for all of you as well.

© John Degen 2015. Originally published in Write, the magazine of The Writers’ Union of Canada Reprinted with permission of the author.

I Create my First Video Book Trailer (and Other Book Promo News)

Rita TrailerFirst, an update for those who have been wondering what happened to my call in July for a book “publicist, but not just any publicist.” I am very happy to report that I have found a person who perfectly fits the bill. Her name is Chelsea. In a future post I will explain how we connected, how we are working together, and what we are doing to promote my books.

In the meantime, I have already started to enjoy the benefits of having someone else on board who also has an interest in testing some of the book promotion ideas I’ve been accumulating. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I find it difficult to do direct self-promotion and, as as a result, I’d been avoiding doing the groundwork that was necessary for any real promotion to happen. Once I’d started talking with Chelsea about what we should do first, I needed to get moving on that groundwork… and I did.

The Website

The first thing I needed to do was to revisit my website. Previously, I had different websites for different books, each containing the kinds of materials that would have gone out in a “media package” in a previous era: a profile of the author, an introduction to the book, reviews of the book and of my previous books, photos, etc. Having so many websites was expensive so, when two of the sites came up for renewal, I didn’t renew them. Instead, I amalgamated them into my main website at Now, the background info about Rita Just Wants to Be Thin and The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid are sub-pages on my main site that are clickable from the Fiction/Books page.

While I was at it, I asked Chelsea’s opinion of my existing website and, using her input and my own thoughts, I revised and re-energized the entire site. There are still a few pages I want to add or reactivate, but for now I’m happy with what I have.

I think it’s worthwhile to revisit websites every year or so, not just to update them but to rethink them and to re-examine what purposes they serve. The previous incarnation of my website was directed at, among others, prospective clients who might need my editorial services. I am now focusing on my writing, and on getting my books to pay the bills at least in part, so the new version of the website has a different slant.

The Book Trailer

The other thing I’ve been meaning to do for quite a while is to make video trailers to promote my books. I’ve been talking about my options with several experienced video people for several years, and I had the names of some who I thought could do a good job. But then I also needed a video for another initiative I am working on — it’s called Success After 60 — and for that venture, I’m going to be making videos every week or so. I wasn’t going to be able to afford the money – or, even more importantly, the time – to deal with a professional for what were essentially going to be regular video blog posts, or “vlog posts”— most just a few minutes long on a single topic. Besides, I wanted both the trailer and the vlogs to to look amateurish rather than highly professional, because I think they’re more intimate that way.

So since I was making my “Success After 60” video myself, I decided to try making one for Rita Just Wants to be Thin at the same time.

It took me two months to make those two videos. I learned a lot. I hope to be able to make the next one in a day or two, but the whole experience was not only educational. It was also a pain in the ass.

From the faint hope that it may benefit someone else who decides to attempt what I have done, here’s what I learned. (Note: If you find yourself tempted to watch either the Success After 60 video OR the Rita trailer,  and if you find them at all interesting, or learn anything from this blog post, I would be most grateful if you’d “like” them):

The script is key. You want to develop something short and interesting.

My first several attempts at the Rita trailer consisted of my introducing the novel, then reading a passage from it, then encouraging readers to check it out online or buy it from their independent bookseller. The trailer ended up being about 7 to 8 minutes long, and even while I was creating it, I realized that it was boring.

Listening to an author reading from her novel is one thing — I enjoy going to literary readings (I especially enjoy them if the material is interesting and the writer reads well, which isn’t always the case). But unless you are a performance poet, and you have a self-contained passage that only takes a minute to read and doesn’t need to be set up first, save it for those who are already committed to you and your writing.

For most of us, reading from our books is not a good way to promote them on video.

I sent the (boring) video I’d made to Chelsea for her input, and she said a brilliant thing. She said, “Maybe you could make it more like a movie trailer.” At first I was flummoxed. How do you make a book trailer like a movie trailer? – short of filming a scene from the novel, which I was not prepared to do. (Some authors, with deeper pockets than I, have done that — some to great effect.) I also wasn’t about to hire an artist to turn my trailer into a self-contained work of art by manipulating text and images, although I’ve seen some outstanding book trailers where that has been done, such as this one.*

So I thought, What is the underlying principle of movie trailers? I looked at a lot of them, and I realized that what they do is to run snippets of the movie together so you get a sense of the story from the trailer… and that is all they do. Look at any trailer on Rotten Tomatoes, such as this one, and you will see what I mean.

After several days of mulling over how in the world this could be applied to a novel, I finally had an idea while I was working out on the rowing machine (I get my best ideas while exercising). I would read only a sentence or two from various parts of the book, and that way I would give the reader a sense of what the book was like. And the structure I would use would be to introduce the characters and the central conflict of the novel. I’d explain that Rita has a lot of problems, and then tell readers what some of those problems are.

So I threw out the previous scripts and started over. And what you see is the result.

Attitude is also key.

During my first attempts at the book trailer, I looked apologetic. All of my reluctance to shill my own work was obvious in my face and in my voice and in my posture. Since I was feeling like the script I had developed was boring (introducing the book, reading from the book, asking viewers to check out the book), I also felt like viewers were doing me a favour by sticking with me through to the bitter end of the video: and that showed, too.

Once I had developed a script I liked, I was enthusiastic about it, and all of my insecurity disappeared. The new script reminded me that I loved the novel and its characters, and that I thought readers would love them as well. Instead of trying to persuade viewers to hang in there for the video so that they would eventually see why they should buy the book, I was simply sharing my enthusiasm for the book itself. Instead of impersonating a used-car salesman, I was speaking from my heart.

Brevity is Key

The new video is 3.5 minutes long. That length made it easy to record again and again until I was happy with it. The first version had been 7 to 8 minutes. When I didn’t like the ending and the light in the house had changed, I had to start all over again: redo every single clip. Sometimes I had to wait until the next day because I didn’t have another hour to devote to it — which meant starting all over from scratch the next day or whenever I had enough time: showering and blowing my hair dry and putting on makeup and getting into half-decent clothes (rather than my usual “writing clothes”) before I could even start to record the video.

That is one main reason why it took me two months to create a video I liked: I kept having to do it over and over again. When you’re redoing a video, you want it to be short.

Recording the same video over and over again is ultimately a good thing

Despite how I whine about how often I had to re-record the Rita book trailer (and you cannot imagine how many clips I threw out that ended with swear words) due to bloopers, poor timing, the battery in the camera suddenly running out, etc., there were real benefits to being so particular about getting the video to the point where it was as good as I could make it. By the time I did the version you see posted online, I was totally relaxed in front of the camera. All of my apprehension, camera shyness and lack of confidence had gone away. I was me.

The “Technicalities” (for those who are interested)

I used the following apps and objects found around my house to make the video:

Recording the Video Clips

I did my first few attempts at the video just talking to the camera that is built into my MacBook Air (using OS X Yosemite), with the help of an app called Photo Booth. Using that program was fairly easy, but there were disadvantages: I couldn’t get my eyes to look directly at the viewer, which was what I wanted to do in order to make “eye contact.”  No matter what I tried, I appeared to be either looking down or up. Reading from a script made this problem worse, of course, because I had to look at the script and then back at the camera. Another program on my computer, iMovie, offers a teleprompter function, but that didn’t help either because I still had to look down at my computer.

Furthermore, the recording came out reversed even after I processed it (more on the processing below), which meant that when I held the book up, the title was backwards.

So for the next attempts to make the video, I used Arnie’s Canon camera on a tripod. He helped me set it up so that when I sat down in my armchair I was seated in the right place  — my face close enough to the lens to feel personal, but not too close. Then we left the camera and the armchair in the same place for a few days, and I kept making different recordings until I had the ones I was happy with. I would sit in the chair, gather my thoughts, then get up and push “record” on the camera. Then I would sit down and start talking. When I flubbed it, I would get up and stop the recording. Then I’d take a deep breath. Then I would start at the beginning of the sentence or the paragraph before the flub, where it seemed like there would be a good pause that would allow me to cut and patch the clips together later. I gradually learned to pause at the end of paragraphs  every time, and in other places, so that if I had to do a patch, I’d have some elbow room.

Again I had to keep an eye on the lighting and make sure it was consistent. If I needed six clips, and I made Clip 1 at 2 p.m. and Clip 2 at 2:15 p.m. and so on, and then after I finished Clip 6 and started working on them, I discovered I didn’t like Clip 2 and had to redo it,  by then it would be 4 p.m. or later. The sun would have moved across the sky or disappeared behind a cloud, and I’d have a continuity problem. (I preferred natural light to artificial, so I didn’t tape at night. Also, I have a shorter fuse at night, so it wouldn’t have worked anyway.) The longer the video is, the worse this clip-matching problem can become.

To hold the script, which I tried not to simply read but only to refer to, we put up a music stand behind the camera, printed out the script in large type, and clipped two pages to the stand at at a time. If you refer to the Success After 60 video, you will see me reading the script more than I do in the Rita video. I’ve decided there is no way around this — short of buying a real-live tv camera like my son Dan uses on Daily Planet, which has a teleprompter built right into it. Life is too short for some things, and memorizing scripts is one, so I’m living with the fact that you can see me reading the script in my videos. I did, however, read the scripts over many, many times before I felt and sounded natural reading them.

Assembling the Video

After the recording was done, I imported the clips from the camera into PhotoShop on my MacBook Air, and then exported the ones I wanted to work with to a folder on my Desktop. I then opened them in QuickTime (it’s the default on my computer) and started trimming them, using the “View Clips” option and then “Split Clip” command. That way I eliminated the parts at the beginnings and ends of the clips where I had recorded myself sitting down (after starting the recording), and then standing up (to stop the recording). Where there was a flub, I cut that out too and then started the next clip in the appropriate place so that they would match. I didn’t worry about whether they matched exactly.

I didn’t do much editing in the middle of clips at this stage, either (taking out phrases or hesitations), because I found out the hard way that I could throw off the synchronization of sound and video if I did too much editing within clips. Cleaning up places where the sound doesn’t match the video is harder to do after the fact than it is to avoid it in the first place.

Then I uploaded the rough-cut clips to iMovie and followed the instructions (I watched several YouTube videos on how to use iMovie before I did it, and several more during the production process). I lined the clips up, did a bit more editing, added titles, and watched the whole thing in the iMovie library. When I was satisfied (several days after I had started), I uploaded the video from the iMovie Library to the iMovie Theater (this takes an hour or so). Then I uploaded it to YouTube (again, this takes a while. And btw, there is lots of info online about how to do this.) Then I watched it a few times, showed it to a few people, decided it wasn’t right, and started all over again: right from the getting-in-the-shower-and-blowing-my-hair-dry stage.

In all, for the two videos I ultimately created – the Rita book trailer, and the introduction video for Success After 60 – I probably recorded 50 to 75 clips. I threw out most of them. I made about five complete projects in iMovie before I had two I could live with.

I’ve learned a lot in the past two months, and I’m fairly proud of the results. I hope that it will go much faster next time, from scriptwriting to posting.

Going Public: YouTube and Facebook

I have now got two channels on YouTube in addition to my own: one for Mary W. Walters, Author, and one for Success After 60.  (Subscribe to one or both of these channels if you are interested in seeing other videos I’ll be creating in future.) Figuring out how to create channels, upload videos and manage the metadata on YouTube is fairly straightforward. The site is very user friendly. You can also edit the video some more from right inside YouTube.

I have learned that it is much better from a quality point of view to actually upload the videos to your Facebook pages than it is to just post the link to YouTube. (I found this article on the subject interesting.) But aside from Facebook, you don’t need to upload your video anywhere besides YouTube. YouTube gives you all kinds of link codes and one-click options for social media, as well as html text that allows you to embed a direct link to YouTube in your website.

So there you go. More than you wanted to know, I am sure. But maybe it will inspire you to get a video up as well. If I can do it, so can you. Just set aside six weeks.

If you have your own approach to creating and posting videos, please let us know below.


* I found the examples of great (but expensive-looking) book trailers here.

Água Viva – Clarice Lispector

Originally posted on Mary W. Walters: Book Reviews:

LispectorÁgua Viva

Clarice Lispector

Translated by Stefan Tobler

88 pages

New Directions Books

Although Água Viva is officially classified as fiction, it is likely to appeal more to those with a taste for poetry than to those who prefer the more familiar manifestations of prose. Água Viva lacks narrative structure: in fact, one reviewer described it as “non-narrative fiction” — whatever that means. For the most part the author betrays even her own basic construct, which is that this work has been written by an unnamed narrator — a painter who is exploring the artistic possibilities of the writing medium for the first time — to a lover from whom she has been temporarily and unwillingly parted.

Despite the wrench she claims to feel at his departure, the “other” to whom the writing is ostensibly addressed is not important to this work. For most of Água Viva, the narrator…

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Wattpad: Engaging Readers as You Write

Note: This article previously appeared in a slightly different form in Write, The Magazine of The Writers Union of Canada

Confession: Sometimes I have trouble writing the next page of my new novel. WPNot because I am short of ideas, but because I have a lot of other urgent matters that demand my attention. I have often envied the writers whose editors or literary agents I imagine standing at their sides like midwives, encouraging them throughout their labour, reminding them of the rewards of manuscript delivery, telling them how much the world wants to see their next baby, and finally urging them to “push.”

When I heard about Wattpad, an Internet platform for readers and writers that attracts 27 million unique visitors per month, and 200,000 uploads of writing per day, I thought it might be part of the answer to my problem. And it has been. But it is also other things.

What It Is

Wattpad is a social storytelling platform where writers can register to post all kinds of work – poetry, drama, fiction and nonfiction – and where readers can read that work: all at no charge.

Most writers post short segments of their works in progress (1,000 to 2,000 words at a time, sometimes much less, sometimes much more), adding to it at regular (or irregular) intervals. Some writers are posting whole manuscripts in serial format that they have previously completed. Others (like me) are posting early drafts of longer works one section at a time. Still others slap up writing fragments like ill-mixed paint with hairs in it, and leave it there to dry — perhaps intending to come back and edit later, perhaps not.

Once the piece is up there, the effort to attract readers begins. You can contribute to this process (but probably only once) by emailing all of your friends and inviting them to check your story out, and by posting your Wattpad link to other social media sites (here’s mine). Of course, you also want to encourage visitors to your page whom you don’t already know, and you can do this indirectly by reading and commenting on the writing of others on the site, getting involved in the discussion forums, and entering the informal competitions Wattpad puts on from time to time. The goal is to get people to “follow” you so that they will be notified whenever you post a new installment or an update.

Every time someone takes a look at a segment you have posted, your “read” counter goes up. Readers can also vote for or post a comment on your work. The more reads and votes you get, the greater are your chances of being noticed by even more readers.

Some people use Wattpad as an end in itself – they are not interested in publishing elsewhere. Others are creating works ultimately intended for self- or traditional publication. Many writers have several projects on the go. Some ask for input and guidance from their readers; others just write.

Who’s on Wattpad?

The two Canadians who developed Wattpad (Allen Lau and Ivan Yuen) intended it for readers as much as writers, and Ashleigh Gardner, Head of Content: Publishing, says that “Ninety percent of Wattpad visitors are there to read and comment, not to post stories.”

She also says that regular visitors include publishers and agents who are looking for new talent.

“Some writers use Wattpad to promote their books to publishers,” she says. “Perhaps their novel was rejected when they submitted it directly, but now they can demonstrate that there is significant interest in their work.”

Gardner also tells me that the Wattpad app for smartphones and tablets is downloaded about 400,000 times a day. “Eighty-five percent of our visitors now reach us from mobile devices,” she says.

The advantage of Wattpad’s mobility component is clear: your work is accessible to readers no matter where they are, and your followers will receive “push” notifications whenever you post something new.

Copyright and Other Concerns

Gardner says that the site features a very sophisticated data-checking system that not only protects what is posted, but also works to prevent piracy. “All work on Wattpad of course remains copyright to the author,” she says. “Further, it cannot be copied and pasted, and readers can’t download it.”

A few people have told me they’re reluctant to sign on to Wattpad because they fear it will lead to spam, but so far Wattpad has attracted no more spam to me than have Twitter, Linked In, Goodreads or Facebook (which is, in my case, none).

Wattpad has had a reputation for being a place where teens post stories for one another, but if that were true at one point (and wouldn’t it be great to know that there are millions of teens who are interested in writing and reading?), the demographics are changing. “The majority of visitors are now between the ages of 18 and 30,” Gardner says, “and the subject matter of the content is changing as the average age goes up.”

Making Wattpad Work

The important part of making Wattpad work for you is to remember that it is a social media platform. If you don’t engage with it (read others’ works, respond to comments, participate in forum discussions), you will miss out on the very important reciprocation factor, and your work will languish. Further, thanks to algorithms, the more readers you attract, the more readers who will find you on their own.

Networking is not as painful as you might think. While it’s true that the Wattpad platform sports lots of dabblers and thousands of very bad writers, it doesn’t take long to sort the wheat from the chaff. And there are also some very good writers there, clearly intending to do as I am — get the work written and noticed by intelligent and discerning readers.

I’ve found a few manuscripts on Wattpad whose next installments I am genuinely eager to read and I’ve also found a few very careful and helpful readers who will probably help me get through Seeds and Secrets far more quickly than I would ever have done on my own. There is a definite motivation to keep going when readers start asking when you’re going to post the next installment. (As of Jan 1, 2015, Seeds and Secrets had received 1,500 “reads” and 121 votes. It stands about 450 from the top in the General Fiction category.)

In addition to pieces of my novel, I’ve put up a couple of works of short nonfiction on Wattpad – one previously published, one not yet – and received encouraging – and immediate – responses on them as well. I am also posting blog posts from my 2011 solo trip to India – Watch. Listen. Learn – which seems to be very popular. In fact, the response is making me seriously consider publishing it as a book, which I had not considered doing before.)

For me, Wattpad is like a humungous writing group where no one has to make coffee or serve beer, get dressed before offering feedback on other writers’ works, or pay any attention to comments from readers who don’t get what they’re doing.

Wattpad is not for everyone, of course, but if it sounds like a tool you could use to stimulate your writing and find new readers for your existing work, check it out. I’ll be happy to read the writing that you post – as long as you read mine. :)


Update: You can check out Wattpad’s 2014 Year in Review here. According to Nazia Khan, Wattpad’s Director of Communications, the company has noted some interesting trends this year:

  • People are writing novels on their phones
  • Episodic/serial reading is back (Dickens would be so pleased)
  • Everyone is a fan of something as evidenced by the growing number of fanfiction stories
  • Teens are reading. Yes, really.