Why This Australian Enjoys Halloween

As an Australian, I get very mixed responses when I tell people I enjoy Halloween. 

Some see it as an opportunity for the community to share in something fun. In my town, the local Scout group organises the trick or treating so that the kids are supervised. Anyone wanting the kids to visit them for treats must be registered and checked out first. One of the local cafes sets up a House of Horror for everyone to enjoy, free of charge, and various other businesses run promotions. 

Most Aussies, however, respond with something like “Ugh, It’s so American!” or “It’s just more commercialism!” 

While it’s true that Halloween hasn’t historically been a big part of our culture in Australia, most are surprised to discover it’s not an American thing at all. It actually originated as a Celtic celebration of Samhain in Ireland, and from there spread to Scotland, Wales, England and France. In a strange coincidence, the British who landed in Australia in 1788 thinking they owned the place also originated in those places, so there’s that. 

My first real experience of celebrating and embracing Halloween was in Canada, where it was all about community and celebrating the season, rather than commercial opportunism. It was wonderful. People decorated their homes and yards as a sign to kids that they were welcome to visit on their trick or treating routes. People in the streets wished each other a happy Halloween. We visited an apple orchard that offered hayrides and a corn maze, in addition to picking your own apples and enjoying the fare of the kitchen. October was a time of festivity and community amidst the changing of the season and the anticipation of winter’s arrival, made all the more cheerful by the brightness of pumpkins decorating shops, streets, gateposts, homes, and anywhere else people chose to put them. 

Sure, the shops sold more chocolates and toys designed to give to kids who came knocking. But why can’t that be seen as a boost to the economy, rather than soulless exploitation of shoppers? If people don’t want to join in the celebration, they are not obligated to do or buy anything at all. 

It is fair to say, though, that the growing popularity of Halloween in Australia is the result of the predominance of American TV and movies on Australian screens. People can complain about Halloween all they like, but until they’re willing to stop watching all the American shows and films they tune into religiously each week, or binge watch on weekends, it’s quite a hypocritical objection to raise. You can’t complain about your neighbour’s kids dressing up to go trick or treating if you can’t pause the latest episode of ’The Haunting of Hill House’ or ‘Riverdale’ to answer the door. 

Ultimately, people can make their own choices. There’s no obligation to join in, but there’s also no need to be supercilious about it. 

I’ll be celebrating Spooky Season all month, and joining in the Halloween festivities in my town again this year.  And I’ll be loving every moment of it. 

Prejudice Is Ugly, Kids.

I was saddened to read what happened to Sharon Cathcart the other day in response to a blog post about racism. Nobody should have to put up with another person’s bad behaviour simply because they are standing up for what is right. 

Sadly, there can be no doubt that racism and white supremacy are still living and active in our world. 

We see their outworking on the news, on the streets, on social media, and in the actions of hateful people. It can be public or private. It can be overt or concealed. 

It seems the only thing it cannot be is eradicated. 

I do try, in my own sphere of influence, to teach and challenge others to embrace equality, acceptance, and empathy for what others have endured, and what is still experienced by many. 

I try to make people aware of what white privilege is, and why it’s wrong to perpetuate it. Yes, I’m fully aware that I’ve been a beneficiary of it all my life. I’ve had advantages others haven’t, simply because I’m white. That doesn’t mean I am willing to sit back and allow it to perpetuate.  

This is why I teach my students about the effects of European settlement of Australia on the indigenous people, then and now. It’s why I teach my students about segregation, oppression, and the Civil Rights Movement, and have them listen and respond to speeches by Martin Luther King Jr and JFK. It’s why I thave them study texts such as ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ and ‘No Sugar’. It’s why I teach about inequality, wellbeing, and social justice. And I make sure they understand that for everything that has happened in the USA, Australia’s track record is no better. 

It’s why I challenge people who tell racial jokes, or call people names, or avoid people who don’t fit their ideal. 

It’s why I object to the way in which my country continues to detain people who are legitimately seeking asylum on small third-world islands nearby. It’s why I object to policies and practices that continue to discriminate against indigenous Australians. 

And it’s why I write blog posts like this. 

I do not ever claim to be perfect, but I detest prejudice, discrimination, and everything that goes with them. It’s not just about race: nobody should be excluded, abused or marginalised for being different in whatever way. 

I, too, have had hateful messages left on a blog post or three. I know they are intended to upset me, and to deter me from posting something similar again.

Sadly for those responsible, it has the opposite effect. I always figure that if someone is vehement enough to threaten or abuse me over something I have written, I have probably touched a nerve that deserved touching. As my grandfather used to say, “If you throw a stone at a pack of dogs, the one it hits will yelp the loudest.”

He was a wise man, my grandfather. That statement was never made about actual rocks, nor about actual dogs. It was invariably made about bullies, and various other sorts of horrible people, and the way they would always lash out or blame someone else in response to any accusation or opposition directed at them.

That’s the same reason people leave nasty messages on blogs and social media. They resent the fact that someone is calling them out on their hate.

It’s okay for them to say what they want, though. They have rights, you know.

Sharon E. Cathcart

I was coming back here to write about something else, and found that I had a threatening e-mail (via my contact page) and comment (permanently deleted) from a white supremacist in reference to the link I shared about the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Suffice it to say that this individual now has the rare distinction of having been blocked.

This is what white supremacy looks like: threatening anyone who dares to show support for people of color, or to speak out about what happens to them.

And that is actually what I came here to write about. When my dad died, I mentioned that he had given away the bride when one of his African-American students, Joe, married a white woman. Her own family refused to attend.

Anyway, we tried very hard to find Joe in time for Daddy’s funeral. The number my mother had was disconnected, and the…

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Ten Great Reasons To Preorder That Book!

Authors making their books available for preorder is becoming more and more popular these days. It’s natural. They’re excited about that upcoming New Release, and they want you to be a part of it. 

Apart from the obvious value of supporting authors and encouraging their creativity, there are some very good reasons why you will benefit from preordering a pending book release. 

Why You Should Preorder That Book 

  1. You will have it as soon as it releases. 
  2. It satisfies that “I want it now” feeling that we all have upon seeing a beautiful cover and reading an intriguing blurb.
  3. It’s convenient: you don’t have to remember to go back and order it later. 
  4. You get to share in the excitement of a pending arrival. Consider it a baby shower gift for someone who has worked hard for months to make that book a reality.
  5. Anticipation is a positive and highly motivating emotion. 
  6. For less than the price of a coffee, you can make someone’s day AND get a great read at the same time. 
  7. Books have zero calories, so it’s a guilt-free way of treating yourself to something wonderful. 
  8. It’s like giving yourself a gift. You order it, and a short time later, a wonderful surprise appears in your eReader. 
  9. You will have the satisfaction of knowing your supported someone’s creativity and talent. 
  10. Positive Karma.

What’s not “feel good” about that list?
If you have any more great reasons, feel free to add them in a comment!

Attention: Facebook

Due to recent trends, my algorithm has been realigned.

You may notice that your invitations to boost my posts or create advertisements will receive zero attention. Some may be marked as spam due to lower perceived relevance to the audience. 

If you won’t show my posts to the people who do follow me, I most certainly will not be paying you to show them to people who don’t. 

Because, as you say so often yourself, “it’s all about engagement”. 

Fortunately for the rest of us, there are other places to “engage”, too. 
Are you aware that Twitter neither suppress nor hides anything I post? As soon as it’s sent, BAM, it’s out there for the whole Twitverse to see.

We’re you aware that WordPress allows me to use tags, categories and SEO to make my posts available beyond those who already follow my blog? And they do it free of charge. Ingenious, no?  

I’ll still give you a little attention, Facey. But not as much as you want. And not to help you make money. From what I have heard on the news, you’ve already got quite enough out of people like me. 

Indie Authors: Don’t Let The Scammers Win

There has been quite some consternation among Indie authors over past months in various ways that dishonourable people have found to scam the system and get quite rich selling books that are not what they should be, particularly on Amazon, or who steal others’ books and make them available on pirate websites, or plagiarise and “rebrand” them as their own work.. 

Understandably, those who put a lot of effort into writing and publishing excellent books find such situations discouraging. It’s hard to be upbeat about what we do when others seem to “win” with shortcuts that are plain wrong. 

As I commented in yesterday’s post on integrity and ethics, it seems as though the floodgates have opened to allow all sorts of deceitful behaviour.
It’s hard to know how to respond.

What honest writers must not do, however, is quit. 

It’s up to us to keep on creating fantastic stories and poetry for the readers out there who crave excellent books. 

It’s up to us to hold our heads high, proclaim “I write every word of my books!” and then show the world what we’ve got. 

In short, it’s up to us to show the cheaters and scammers how it should be done. 

Nobody but honest and hard-working authors can restore the faith of readers in Indoe and self publishing. The only way to do that is to maintain a premium of quality in the books on the shelves in stores, libraries and homes all over the world. 

We may have to work harder, smarter and cleaner than ever before. Still, we’ve had to do that in order to give traditional publishing a good shake, and we’ve certainly achieved that. 

We Indies have so much to offer. We have each other for support and an entire future that is yet to be shaped ahead of each of us.

I refuse to quit. I refuse to let the scammers win. Who’s with me? 

Focus On Creation, Not Competition.

A reflection on integrity, creativity, and success.

Image by TeroVesalainen on Pixabay

Competition can be a good thing. It urges us to strive to make sure we do our best, and that our product is as good as anyone else’s. It makes us less willing to settle for something less.

However, it can also be unhealthy if we let ourselves be consumed by it. When a job or a hobby becomes all about being number one, and being better than everyone else, it takes us into territory far beyond what is good for us, and often beyond what is good for those we consider our competition. 

I see both things happening in the Indie Author community. 

Most strive to ensure their covers are eye-catching, their stories are good, and their books are error free. We compare our books to those in the same genre, so that we can gauge the likely level of attraction among readers.

Most of us see our fellow authors as people we can learn from. As a rule, The Indie author community excels at being helpful, free with advice, and positive and encouraging of one another. 

Some, though, seem intent on dragging others down— as though putting someone else down will push themselves further up the rungs of the ladder. Some resort to insult, backstabbing and rum our-mongering. Some sink low enough to leave nasty reviews and one-star ratings on their fellow authors’ books. Some find ways to cheat the system or rig contests to gain visibility and prestige. And some go even lower than that: plagiarism, book-stuffing, and various other ways of scamming the reader and making a lot of money that would otherwise be going to honest writers. Sadly, this discredits the entire Indie community in the eyes of many.

I abhor those behaviours, especially the more extreme they get. There is no place for them, no way to justify them, and certainly very little tolerance for them at all amongst those in the community who have any integrity. 

I also think that it’s a very sad indictment on how some people view their profession. Whether they are authors, realtors, bankers or whatever they do, how tragic is it that they are so fixed on their perceived image and definition of success that they will do anything – even risking destroying the very career they prize – to achieve that. 

The warning is clear: pursuit of “success at any cost” will probably bring about the very opposite.

If you see everyone else in your field as competition, you won’t find any joy in what you do. 

I would much rather be the writer who produces quality work that readers will love, even if it means I can’t quit my day job yet. I would rather be a poet who touches someone’s soul than a lowlife who helps themselves to someone else’s work or reputation.

The key to both success and integrity is simply to do your job well. That will speak for itself. 

There IS a Wrong Way to Write a Book Review!

What not to do when writing a book review – and what to do instead.

This week I read a blog post that asserted there is no right or wrong way to write a book review. The writer made some good points, particularly about reviews needing to be individual and personal responses to a book, but I disagree with the basic premise of the article.

I am writing this post from the perspective of a reader, not an author, and I realise that some people won’t agree with me, so let me explain my reasons.

A book review should never recount the story of the book. It shouldn’t give spoilers. Yet time after time, I see reviews that do exactly that. My issue is that if I already know what is going to happen, I feel as though I no longer need to read the book. The joy of the journey has been neutralised. That review has effectively cost the author a sale. 

In all honesty, I hate blurbs that do this, too. As a reader, that’s one of the quickest turnoffs when I’m looking at a book. 

Don’t give me a summary. Give me teasers, give me feelings, give me thoughts and observations. Pique my interest. Make me want to read it for myself, instead of making me feel as though I already have. 

A good review doesn’t have to be long or complicated.  It does needs to be at least 20 words in length, which gives you room to say whether you enjoyed the book and why. One or two sentences will do the trick.  There is no obligation to write any more than that if you don’t want to. 

  • If you do want to write more, you can consider including the following ideas: 
  • Why you liked or disliked it. Remember that others may like what you disliked, and vice versa, so try to be kind. 
  • What important ideas the story made you think about – love, anger, justice, revenge, pain, fear, overcoming… anything that is relevant to you is a valid point for comment.
  • What the characters are like as people, and what we learn from them Did the writer’s style impress you in any particular way?
  • Was it easy to read and understand, or did you have to really work at it?
  • Who else might like to read it? Think about interests, age group, and genres here. 

This will help you to write a review that is interesting in itself, and which will encourage the right readers to choose that particular book. In that way, you’ll help both the author and prospective readers at the same time. 

The Difference Between Poetry And … Everything Else.

A post about what is, or is not, poetry.

Excuse me for a moment while I climb onto my soap box again. 

A few months ago, I wrote a post in which I complained about books which claimed to be poetry, but were actually just a collection of sentences arranged with one word on each line. 

Today, I’m going to indulge my poetry-nerdiness yet again, in response to another trend I’ve observed on social media.  

As both a reader and a poet, I get really annoyed when pieces of writing are labelled as poetry when they’re not. 

This is rife on Instagram, where some folks take a pretty picture of a sentence or a paragraph and call it poetry. They use the hashtags like #poem, #instapoem, #poetry, #poemsofinstagram… you get the idea. I’ve bitten my tongue – or my virtual fingertips – so many times when I’ve wanted to comment that what is pictured is not a poem. 

I’ve seen letters, paragraphs, and even short stories presented as “poetry”. I’ve seen single sentences tagged “poetry”. In fact, there are books out there with a sentence on each page, which the creators have classified as ‘poetry’. 

This is where I beg to differ.

A sentence, a letter, a paragraph… an entire book may be written in highly poetic language. It may use conventional poetic techniques such as imagery or alliteration, but is it poetry? Everything within me screams “NO!”. A letter is a letter. A sentence is a sentence. A paragraph is… prose, not a poem. 

The issue is one of form. 

Poetry as a form has conventions of its own that set it apart from a letter or a sentence, or anything else. While it’s true that poetry can take any number of forms or styles, those are forms and styles that are recognised as being poetry. They are not forms that are instantly recognised as something else. 

I totally accept and agree that a sentence or any other piece of writing can be beautiful. I’ve read individual sentences or paragraphs that have taken my breath away with the imagery or the power of the writing. They can be poetic. But, according to the conventions of one form as opposed to another, they’re not poems. They’re. Just. Not. 

I’m not trying to be a poetry snob here— in fact, it’s taking no effort at all. I realise I may be coming across as a pretentious git, but let’s look at this from another perspective. 

I don’t get to call myself an author if I don’t write and publish anything. I don’t get to call myself a doctor because I am not, in fact, a doctor. In terms of professions, we don’t get to call ourselves something we’re not. 

Alternatively, I could choose to start telling people I’m a cheeseburger. I’ve eaten a few cheeseburgers, I know what they taste like, and I can list the ingredients. And they do say you are what you eat. However, people will fairly promptly tell me I’m not actually a cheeseburger. The more I make that assertion, the more strident people will be in assuring me I’m not. Even if I went to McDonalds or Burger King and sat in the food warmer, it wouldn’t make me a cheeseburger. I am quite obviously not a cheeseburger. 

If we pretend to be other than what we are, that very quickly becomes a matter of integrity. At first people laugh, then they get frustration, and then they get angry. Trust is broken, and often, walls go up that are not easily dismantled. 

That is exactly where I am with other pieces of writing masquerading as poetry. I’m well past the point of frustration. If I pick up a book because it says it is poetry, and the contents are nothing more than pithy sayings or observations of life in sentence form, I’m going to be annoyed, no matter how beautifully they’re written. If I wanted a book full of meme-worthy of proverbs and quotations, that’s what I would have gone looking for. 

Poetry takes time and effort to craft and shape. It isn’t easy to condense the meaning and message into imagery and forms that require skill to master. To write something beyond trite rhyme or greeting card verses is more difficult than many people realise. The ability to do that, consistently and repeatedly, is what makes someone a poet. Poetry is a craft that I take very seriously indeed. 

That’s why I refuse to “like” posts on Instagram, or anywhere else for that matter, which present one thing as something it’s not.  It’s why I am very choosy about what poetry and poets I review and promote on my book blog.  It’s why I’m on my soapbox, ranting furiously to anyone who will listen – or read, as the case may be. 

It’s hard enough getting people to take real poetry seriously these days. We certainly don’t need to confuse people any further. 

Why All My Books Are Not In One Basket.

Wide distribution is a boon for Indie authors and for readers.

I’ve never been a believer in keeping all my eggs in one basket, so to speak. I use more than one bank. I store my important files in more than one place. And I have always had my books available in more than one place.

In recent months, I’ve become more and more thankful that Amazon is not my sole venue for book distribution.

kobo

All my books are available on Kobo Nook, iBooks, and a number of other stores in addition to Amazon. You can find all the links for each book at jvlpoet.com/books.

 

Like the kindle app, the Kobo, Nook and iBooks apps are completely free.
And from an author’s point of view, there are significant differences:nook-icon
  • Those stores don’t remove readers’ reviews – but Amazon does.
  • Those stores don’t insist you spend $50 before you can leave a rating or a review – but Amazon does.
  • Those stores don’t care which country you live in – but Amazon does.
  • They don’t want to know who your friends are, or mistrust you because you might know some people. Amazon does, though.ibooks_ios_7_icon_update_by_hamzasaleem-d6stc29.png

As far as I know, I am the only Joanne Van Leerdam selling books in any of those stores. If you search for me, you’ll find me.

Amazon doesn’t necessarily make life as an Indie author smooth sailing. Sure, they’re the biggest beast in the eBook zoo… but that doesn’t mean it’s the only one that should be fed.

So, I’m going to start favouring different distributors when I buy eBooks, and still give the same support to my fellow Indie Authors through buying, reading and reviewing their books.
I’d love to see more people doing this, just to show we’re not reliant on a company that thinks it can do whatever it pleases, without consequence.

Let’s face it, if a dog bites your hand enough times, you’ll stop patting it. And if that dog doesn’t learn not to bite, it’s likely to end up very lonely. The only people who can teach it that lesson are the people with the option to pat the dog or not.

Personally, I think I’m going to make Kobo my first choice. Some may see it as the proverbial runt of the litter, but that just makes me want to support them. And in 24 months of working with them, I’ve never had anything but excellent service.

I’m also going to try to encourage others to buy my books somewhere other than Amazon.

In addition to adjusting my advertising and promotions, I think I may create a slight price advantage for those who buy from a non-Zon source. That’s easily achieved through my Draft2Digital account, and it might just drive some increased interest in my books on the other platforms. An additional advantage of using Draft2Digital is that their payment threshold is $10, not $100 as it is on Amazon.

On a final note, please don’t think I’m single-handedly trying to bring Amazon down. I’m not, at all. I’ve had good sales there and I’ve bought many, many books there, too.
I’m just very disappointed in some of their “developments” of late, and happy to find alternatives that don’t screw myself or my fellow Indie authors over at all.

A Protest.

Some people think you can write any old thing and call it a poem.
That’s not how it works.

IMG_4945

This
Is
Not
A
Poem.

This
Is
A
Protest.

A
Word
On
Each
Line
Does
Not
Make
It
A
Poem
Unless
Each
Line
Means
Something
In
Itself.

Wouldn’t
It
Be
Ironic
If
This
Became
My
Most
Popular
Piece
Of
Writing
Ever?
A
Bestseller,
Even!

©2018 Joanne Van Leerdam