Monday, September 26, 2016

Everything I Needed to Know About Grief I Learned from Harry Potter

Book cover

"Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light." (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)

Harry Potter came into my life at an interesting juncture. My mother had died of aggressive small cell lung cancer a year and a half before. My sister Joanne had just been released from hospital after almost dying. And I was coming to terms with the fact that my postpartum depression wasn’t going away any time soon.

In order to be allowed to come home, Joanne needed constant care. That meant I had to move in with my toddler son and preschooler daughter. My nieces also came home. They had been staying with their father while Joanne was in hospital. The living room transformed with the addition of a hospital bed, oxygen machine, commode, and lift chair. There were a lot of changes and huge helpings of stress. The Harry Potter books eased the tension.

"There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other." 
(Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone)

This was our “best of times and worst of times.” When my sister first came home, we weren’t sure whether she would get any better. In addition to twice daily visits from a nurse, she had Hospice Wellington volunteers helping out.

At the same time, my sister and I connected at a level deeper than I could imagine… and we were always close. She encouraged me to start writing again and, a bigger step, submitting my work for publication. My nieces became my other children, my daughter their little sister. My son forged an alliance with the dog… but that’s another story.

My niece Sophie had just discovered Harry Potter and Joanne wanted to find out what all the excitement was about. We worked our way through the series from The Philosopher’s Stone  to The Goblet of Fire. Then we had to take a break to read The Lord of the Rings while we waited for The Order of the Phoenix to be released.

We didn’t get through all of that while living with Joanne. She got well enough to take care of things on her own and we moved out of her bedroom. We didn’t go far, though. Me, the kids and my dad moved into the same townhouse complex. When things got bad, as they did, on and off, I could take care of my sister and still go home to my own bed.

"It is our choices… that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."
(Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)

There came a time when I was carting a Harry Potter tome (the books were getting weighty now) between hospitals. I’d been taking books to read to all my sister’s treatments and post-op visits. When my dad had a major stroke, I was going back and forth between two hospitals to read to both of them. 

In our family, it was a series for all ages.

You can probably see where this is going. My sister never got to read… or hear the end of the series. My father read or heard all but the last book. We stopped reading the books aloud. Sophie preferred reading and her sister Claire wasn’t as interested in the magic world. She had twinkling vampires on the brain.

It doesn’t matter. Harry Potter was there for us. The books carried the kind of messages we needed to hear at the time, messages that still resonate.

"We must try not to sink beneath our anguish, Harry, but battle on."
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

(Re-posted - more or less - from Pop Culture Divas.)

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Judy Penz Sheluk: Skeletons in the Attic

Please welcome guest blogger Judy Penz Sheluk with her new book, Skeletons in the Attic.

Judging a book by its cover

In an ideal world, we would never judge anyone by their appearance, and yet most of us do. The impression may change if we get to know the person (and in fact, often does), but if we don’t get to know the person, that first impression, good or bad, will stay with us.

The same is true of book covers. See a book cover with at white picket fence and a cat, and it’s a fair bet that it’s a cozy. Now if you enjoy cozy mysteries, you’ll probably read the back cover blurb. If that grabs you, you’ll probably by the book.

As you can imagine, a lot of thought goes into designing a book cover, from the background color to the font and imagery used, and that process is left up to graphic artists, albeit with input from the author.

When it came to the cover design for Skeletons in the Attic, here’s how it went:
Publisher: What kinds of images do you imagine on your book cover? What elements from your novel would be important to represent?
Me: I think a skeleton would be too obvious, and the Skeletons in the Attic also refers to all the things Callie finds in the attic that lead her to learn more about her mother’s life. One major find was a locket from a man named Reid. I’ll send a jpeg of the locket that inspired the one described in the book. Callie also found six tarot cards: III: The Empress; IV: The Emperor; VI: The Lovers; The Three of Swords; XIII: Death, which are important to the story. The neighborhood itself might also provide inspiration; a typical 1970s subdivision in a suburb, where all the streets are named after wildflowers. Callie’s house is at 16 Snapdragon Circle.
The locket.
Armed with that information, artist Ryan Thomas Doan designed my cover. Notice how he’s used the attic as the backdrop (can’t you just imagine the secrets buried in there?), but he’s also included the tarot cards, and the locket.

Making the title pop is every bit as important as the rest of the artwork. You want folks to be able to read it from a distance, and there’s lots of experimenting with the size and color before making a final decision.

Next up: the cover endorsements by other authors. I was so fortunate to have several authors read my ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) and provide reviews. Selecting what goes where (front cover, back cover, inside the book) is debated between author and publisher.

Last but not least is the back of the book blurb. In the case of Skeletons in the Attic, there were nine revisions before we were satisfied. And here it is:

What goes on behind closed doors doesn’t always stay there… 
Calamity (Callie) Barnstable isn’t surprised to learn she’s the sole beneficiary of her late father’s estate, though she is shocked to discover she has inherited a house in the town of Marketville—a house she didn’t know existed. However, there are conditions attached to Callie’s inheritance: she must move to Marketville, live in the house, and solve her mother’s murder. 
Callie’s not keen on dredging up a thirty-year-old mystery, but if she doesn’t do it, there’s a scheming psychic named Misty Rivers who is more than happy to expose the Barnstable family secrets. Determined to thwart Misty and fulfill her father’s wishes, Callie accepts the challenge. But is she ready to face the skeletons hidden in the attic?

Judy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose, was published in July 2015. Skeletons in the Attic, the first book in her Marketville Mystery Series, was published in August 2016.

Judy’s short crime fiction appears in World Enough and Crime, The Whole She-Bang 2, Flash and Bang and Live Free or Tri.

Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers and the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

Find Judy on her website/blog at, where she interviews other authors and blogs about the writing life.

Find Skeletons in the Attic:

Find Judy on Facebook (, Twitter (@JudyPenzSheluk), Pinterest ( and Amazon (

Monday, August 15, 2016

An Author Confesses

One of the problems with being a published author is that people start asking you how you managed it. There are certain general expectations, like taking writing and/or literature courses, and some specific ones, like having a past career related to what you write. (Being a former teacher or journalist is acceptable across all genres.)

Well, here's the truth about me...

I hated English class. The only good thing about high school English studying the requisite Shakespearean play. The only English course I took that that didn’t involve Shakespeare, was Science Fiction. The only reason I took it was because it had a writing component.That was the only writing course I ever took.

I’m not dissing writing courses. Had I the time and the money, I probably would have taken them. Unfortunately, student debts put the kibosh on that. When I had time, I had no money. When I had money, I had no time.  And then there were those periods when I had neither time nor money.

Everything I learned about writing I learned by reading, listening and doing.

Long before the blog, authors were using their introductions and author’s after words to share their process. Some even wrote books on the topic. Even if they didn’t, everything you need to know about authors can be divined by reading their books. 

Although I had road blocks to taking formal courses, I took every opportunity I could to listen to authors I respected talking about their craft. This might be at a conference or author appearance or while sitting around drinking coffee with friends (who happen to be authors and one even teaches writing). I only hope listening to me has been as beneficial to them.

Actually writing stuff is key, of course. Almost anything will do for a start. I started writing fan fiction before I knew what it was. In my early teens, I'd write myself into adventures with the crew of the USS Enterprise. My sister would read these stories aloud, exactly as written, which really brings home your mistakes.

At university I'd write mash-ups, bringing two or more fictional worlds together. The most elaborate was the epic tale I co-wrote with my roomie that brought together all our favourite TV action heroes with our own creations and, of course, the crew of the Enterprise. I still have most of those stories, all handwritten, many with class notes written in the margins. Some of the storytelling was good and most was entertaining. A lot was embarrassing. But all of it was good practice.

Ever since I realized that I wasn't going to be an overnight success as a novelist (after the first few publisher rejections for my first original stories) I knew I'd have to get a day job. I planned to become a teacher, but I picked the worst time to graduate for that. Instead, I learned layout and copy writing as part of various jobs I took during and just after university. I taught myself web design back when it was brand new and learned graphic design by necessity. When I was between jobs, I started to work freelance. Not an illustrious career, but a useful one.

Meanwhile, I kept reading, listening and above all, writing.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Hero Types

 "Everyone's a hero in their own way."
Joss Whedon, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

I was doing a bit of research on cyber crimes when I came across this link to this article about heroes: 7 Types of Heroes by J.S. Morin.  Naturally I followed it.

The article didn't exactly contain groundbreaking information, but it did illustrate the different types of heroes and the types of stories they work best in. I only had one problem really: almost no women were used as examples.

The one woman named (as far as I know since some of the names I didn't recognize) was a good one, mind you. I'll forgive a lot from a person who uses Granny Weatherwax, the senior witch of Discworld, as an example. Even so I was driven by this shortage of women (and my own need to procrastinate) to balance the examples.

Hero Type Morin's Example My Supplement
The Paragon Superman Wonder Woman
The Misfit Harry Potter Hermione Granger
The Grizzled Old-timer Gandalf, Dumbledore, Granny Weatherwax General Leia Organa
The Every-man Arthur Dent (great choice) Lt Uhura
The Anti-hero Han Solo Catwoman
The Prodigy Anakin or Luke Skywalker Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The Un-hero Rincewind (Discworld) Dorothy (Wizard of Oz)

 “Nobody is a villain in their own story. We're all the heroes of our own stories.”
George R. R. Martin
 As a mental exercise, I tried to fit the heroes of Game of Thrones into the table. It doesn't work well because George R.R. Martin deliberately made it so. I lean that way too when I'm writing... though you won't find Pru Hartley or Kate Garrett turning themselves into assassins or killing family members in the bathroom.

Then I got to thinking about the examples that Morin and I came up with and realized there's a lot of grey area there too.

Superman and Wonder Woman are paragons, but they are also misfits. Harry and Hermione are misfits, but because they grew up in Muggle society, they are also our every-man when it comes to the magical world. The line between anti-hero and paragon can be one decision, or a matter of good or bad public relations. Prodigies and anti-heroes turn into wise old-timer (if they don't become villains and they survive that long).

“Your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes. Keep this in mind; it may offer a way to make him your friend. If not, you can kill him without hate — and quickly.”
Robert A. Heinlein

George R.R. Martin, Robert A. Heinlein and Joss (no middle initial) Whedon all have said, in one way or another, that everyone is a hero in their own story... or at least not a villain. I think we're all a bit of both, but mostly we're just people doing what what we think is best at the time.
“We are all ordinary. We are all boring. We are all spectacular. We are all shy. We are all bold. We are all heroes. We are all helpless. It just depends on the day.”
Brad Meltzer

Thursday, July 14, 2016

What are you reading this summer?

I melt in the heat and neither my laptop nor I function well when it's humid. I don't have air conditioning. I can't afford to spend every day in a coffee shop. So, I'm a fan of fans. And, in the hottest parts of the day, I'm a fan of sitting in front of a fan with an ice tea and good book. This makes summer an ideal time an ideal time to catch up with books I've been meaning to read.

I just finished Plague by C.C. Humphreys, in preparation for reading Fire, the second in the series, which was a gift. This is a Historical Mystery/Suspense in the vein of Paul Doherty (an author I need to catch up with). Like Doherty, Humphreys gives the reader an eye level view of history.

In his author's note at the end, he mentions growing up in London and how the scars from the plague still haunt the metropolis. My mother was a Londoner before she emigrated to Canada. She returned with our family when I was ten. She took us to the usual tourist spots: the Tower, the British Museum,  Trafalgar Square, Oxford Circus... But the first thing she showed us was were the plague pits. Not all of them, of course (we were only in London for a couple of days) just the ones she walked over everyday when she worked in the City. I don't remember everything about that trip, but I remember that. It gave me chills then and now.

For something completely different, my summer reading so far also includes DC: The New Frontier.

In fact, it isn't as different as it seems. Like Plague, it's all about the history. In this case, the era is post WWII United States.

"In the 1950s, Cold War paranoia has resulted in the mystery men of the Golden Age being outlaws." Or, what the period between the Golden Age of comics and the Silver Age would have been if written from the perspective of hindsight and no fear of being persecuted for criticizing the politics of the time.

History, politics, superheroes... It's like it was made to order for me. After graduating with an honours degree in History and Philosophy, I managed a comic book store for five years. I have a Wonder Woman poster signed by George Perez and the Perez Wonder Woman comics in pristine condition in my basement (along with 2000+ other books).

So, what are you reading this summer?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Summer Sizzles - Debra Purdy Kong

School's out for summer. Time to stock up on summer reading material. Imajin Books is celebrating with the Summer Sizzles eBook Sale. I'm celebrating by featuring some of my fellow "Imajineers" during the sale.

Debra Purdy Kong


One wrong decision…
Security guard Evan Dunstan didn’t expect to find a body floating in a campus stream. An empty vodka bottle nearby suggests that the highly despised George Krenn, head of the plumbing department, had drunkenly fallen in. Refusing to let the death of a vile man ruin his romantic plans, Evan decides to leave the body for the next shift to find.

One friend in trouble…
When it’s discovered that Krenn was murdered, Evan has a lot of explaining to do. So does his friend Sully, Krenn’s least favourite student. Evan uses his hacking skills and campus knowledge to keep them both out of jail, but the investigation forces him to question Sully’s innocence.

One mystery to solve…
Uncovering the truth proves to be more than challenging. It may cost Evan his job, his friendship, and his woman. Will Evan find the killer, or will the killer find him first?
Meet Evan Dunstan

Not the greatest great crime-solver, but at least he tries.
“Everything okay?” the football player asked Evan

“I’ll know in a second.”

“They found a teacher in this stream the other day.”

Evan kept his gaze on the water. “I heard.”

As the object floated nearer, the player said, “What the hell is that?”

Something round and light protruded from the bag.

“Not again!” Nausea roiled in Evan’s stomach.

While more of the players came forward, Evan couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing. An inflated pink balloon was attached to the top of the bag. Round eyes, bushy eyebrows, and a gaping mouth had been drawn on the balloon with a thick black marker. Inflated latex gloves protruded from each side of the bulky bag. Police tape was wound around the bag with a sign that said, HELP! I CAN’T SWIM!

“For shit’s sake,” Evan muttered, his face growing warm.

The team burst out laughing.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Summer Sizzles - Kristina Stanley

School's out for summer. Time to stock up on summer reading material. Imajin Books is celebrating with the Summer Sizzles eBook Sale. I'm celebrating by featuring some of my fellow "Imajineers" during the sale.

Kristina Stanley


When Kalin Thompson is promoted to Director of Security at Stone Mountain Resort, she soon becomes entangled in the high-profile murder investigation of an up-and-coming Olympic-caliber skier. There are more suspects with motives than there are gates on the super-G course, and danger mounts with every turn.

Kalin’s boss orders her to investigate. Her boyfriend wants her to stay safe and let the cops do their job. Torn between loyalty to friends and professional duty, Kalin must look within her isolated community to unearth the killer’s identity.

Meet Nora Cummings

A girl in trouble.
Nora picked up a scraper. At the tuning station beside her, melted wax hit the floor, and the pungent odor made Nora nauseous.

“What’s up?” Donny asked. “You’re all pale.”

“Nothing.” Every time Nora worked with Donny tuning skis, he in his wheelchair and she standing, she knew she’d been lucky only her knee got busted.

“Excuse me,” she said to no one in particular and ran. She flung open a bathroom stall door and vomited. Morning sickness really sucks. How was she supposed to hide her pregnancy if she kept running for the toilet? She rinsed her mouth and returned to the tuning room.

Donny gave her a questioning look, and she shook her head.

“What’s with you?” Charlie asked.

“Nothing. I must have the flu.”

Charlie frowned.


“I didn’t expect this from you.”

“Expect what?”

“Coming to work hung-over.”

More by Kristina Stanley

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