Let us count the perks


Walking on the riverside trail near where I live, I passed three boys, grade 5 or 6. Didn’t recognise them, but said, as you do in a small town, “Hi, guys.”

One nod.

One suspicious glance.

One mumbled: “Hi.”

Walked on.

Then, from behind me: “Hey. You’re the author!”

Looked around.

Three grinning, waving kids, who must have been in a class I’d visited recently. (Had to have been recent for the visit not to be forgotten.)

That started me thinking about the perks of writing.

Came up with …

  • A bit of travel … Writing has taken me all over New Brunswick, as well as to Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Newfoundland, Nunavut, Ontario, and Addis Ababa and Debra Zeit in Ethiopia.
  • Being able to work at your own pace – and in peace and solitude. (I say this after happily spending a big chunk of my working life in the frenzied and crowded and noisy environment of school.)
  • Being able to set your own deadlines, although one consequence of this is that I tend to be stricter with myself over meeting them than I used to be dealing with externally imposed deadlines. (You can always come up with an excuse for not meeting someone else’s deadline, but you can’t lie to yourself.)
  • Being greeted at school doors by students when you arrive to do your writers in the schools thing. (My favourite greeting: The student welcoming committee at a Toronto elementary school with a banner strung across the classroom window behind them: Welcome Mr. Robert.)

What am I forgetting?



The Problem with Rain

The problem with rewriting is the rain.


Nothing against rain, of course.


I like rain. I like walking in it. I like watching it. I like listening to it. I like feeling it on my face, battering it or caressing it, I don’t care which.


But when I’m rewriting, and can’t think how to fix a problem in the draft and I’m not even sure exactly what the problem in the draft is except I know there is one because the narrative in its present state certainly doesn’t work or is missing something and I’m getting increasingly frustrated and I’ve run out of things to throw across the room to vent my frustration … Then I like to walk and think things through.


You see, for some inexplicable reason (a jarring of the brain cells?) walking helps me think things through, and as I think things through, I make notes, usually on a little voice recorder, sometimes in a notebook (trouble with a notebook is you look a complete nerd jotting notes as you walk, as if you’re a dreamy fey poet divining his muse from nature), and gradually the notes turn into an idea for reworking the narrative and suddenly – bingo! – the rewriting logjam is cleared and the redraft is flowing.


It usually works.


Except in the rain, because when it’s raining, neither voice recorder nor notebook works, the voice recorder because it has this habit of fizzling and crackling into silence when it gets wet and the notebook because it tends to disintegrate into a soggy mess when wet and my writing’s bad enough when dry but totally illegible as a sodden mush.


And that’s my reason – my excuse, to put it another way – for sitting at my desk for two hours before breakfast yesterday morning with the intention of rewriting the draft I’m working on (draft #15, actually) and producing half a page of scribbled non sequitur ideas all of which came to a dead end, followed by another two hours later in the morning that produced roughly the same.


Ideas have dried up, I suppose.  Right now, I wish the rain would dry up, too.


Arcadia in Acadia


Funny thing about leaves. They’ve been there since spring, unobtrusively doing their photosynthesis thing, and we hardly notice them, and then come fall – whoa! – just as they decide they’ve had enough of the hard work of gobbling up carbon dioxide, we’re gushing over them and photographing them and bus loads of tourists are clogging the roads in order to ogle them, as if we’ve never seen a leaf before.

All because of a bit of colour.

What is it with red and yellow and gold? Can’t we pay green the same compliment of wonderment? It’s like having two siblings, one the glittering star, the other unpretentious and self-effacing and unassuming, and pouring all our attention on the former.

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Anyway, down to Acadia National Park in Maine, not so much to see the leaves – really! – as simply to enjoy its colours, all of them, and its lakes and mountains and trails and craggy coast and carriage roads and little towns, difficult exactly to pinpoint its allure, maybe part self-indulgent nostalgia, the way it recalls the English Lake District, similar with its lakes and colours and gentle, mostly benign mountains, where I hiked and climbed in solitude years ago, taking advantage of working as a journalist and compiling days off in lieu of pay for covering weekend stories and going north to almost deserted Cumberland in the off season, an off season that I suspect no longer exists.

There’s a kind of irony in Acadia’s transmogrification from its popularity in the 1920s as a quasi-wilderness getaway for the rich playing at Going Back to Nature and Roughing It In the Bush to its status now as one of the most visited national parks in the U.S. with around two million visitors a year.

And having decried the obsession with fall leaf colour at the expense of poor, overlooked, summer green, I’m of course including here a few pictures of Acadia National Park …. and its lovely fall colours.

So who says you have to be consistent?

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It’s more important to know who will buy a book (and why) than who the book is by …

I read recently that the five main things that lead people to buy books, in order of degree of influence, are:

1 Cover
2 Blurb
3 Sample
4 Reviews
5 Genre

I don’t know if this is based on research or opinion, but doesn’t it mirror what we do when we’re browsing in a bookstore?

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Three editions of the same book. If you were browsing in a bookstore, which would grab your attention? (Yeah, I know – none. But just supposing …)

We pick up a book, usually because the cover catches our attention. We turn to the back and read the blurb telling us what the book is about. We open it – at the first page, or at random, and sample a paragraph or two. We look for reviews on the back or on the opening pages. The genre (which I suspect may come higher in the order of importance) may have guided our browsing in the first place, or may be confirmed as soon as we read the back cover blurb.

A similar process applies to browsing on line.

What is interesting in this is who is responsible for what most attracts readers to a book. An artist designs the cover. Reviewers write the reviews (duh). Someone in production usually writes the blurb. What’s left? Aha! At last! Something the author is responsible for – the sample and the genre.

But it’s a relatively minor part in attracting readers, and serves as a kind of healthy means of keeping writers in their place.

(I should also mention, among key influencers, booksellers who steer readers towards books they think – or know – will appeal.)

So thanks to all the people who help to sell books.