Cover Reveal: Smoke and Shadows

Smoke and Shadows releases on January 6 in paperback and ebook.

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One of the most relatable scenes in Gilbert & Sullivan’s musical H.M.S Pinafore, which I had the pleasure of directing in September, is where Buttercup sings these lines to Captain Corcoran:

“Things are seldom what they seem,
Skim milk masquerades as cream;
Highlows pass as patent leathers;
Jackdaws strut in peacock’s feathers.” 

The Captain appears puzzled, as though thinking about this for the first time, before replying, 

“Very true, So they do!” 

It’s a common thing.  As we go through life, we discover that people and things are frequently not what they seem to be, and what we understand to be the truth of our own experience often turns out to be something quite different instead. Life is as full of illusions as it is of genuine experiences.

False friends abound while finding a true and loyal one is like discovering gold. Trials hurt, but then deliver unexpected strength and blessings. People put up smokescreens to hide their true intentions or feelings; and only sometimes do we ever discover why. The world seems hateful until someone delivers light and love in a surprising way.

The poems in this new collection explore some of the illusions and deceptions people experience in their lives, the clarity and wisdom gained from hindsight, and the lessons we can learn from them.

Both the title of the book and its blurb come from the poem titled ‘The Simulacrum’. I considered using the title of the poem as the book title because it’s such a fascinating word which does, in fact, mean ‘a representation or image of something’. I wanted to go beyond that, though, because the book is really about the multitude of ways that something or someone might not be exactly what we think, or what we are led to believe, rather than focusing on a physical representation. 

“Smoke and shadows yield to glimpses of light—
Only then we begin to see:
When we learn to perceive things as they are,
We can have peace with whatever will be.”

So, without further ado, here is the cover of this new book, which will release on January 6th.  It is available for preorder in all major outlets  via this link

The cover of Smoke and Shadows has an image of smoke in shades of blue, gold, red and white on a black background. The title is printed in gold.

Sledgehammer.

A short reflection on the significance of my newest poem.

I finished a new poem today. It’s only short, but it has great significance.

The idea for this poem came to me in a moment of reflection while I was thinking back to how broken I was just a year ago. Back then, I would not have been able to write this poem: it would not have been true.

In fact, it’s only since I did some “housekeeping” via the publication of ‘A Poet’s Curse’ at the end of August that I’ve actually begun to feel free of some of those things that were holding me down and tormenting me. I wrote in a post back then that it was a cleansing experience, but I had no idea just how liberating it would turn out to be.

I also wrote in my previous post that writing is, for me, really effective therapy. I’ve used it to resist and fight my own personal demons. I’ve used it to grieve, and to rejoice. And I’ve used it to say any number of things that it might not be appropriate to communicate in any other way.

‘Sledgehammer’ is not even defiance. For me, it’s like a milestone that shows me how far I’ve come.

IMG_5851

My walls may not be perfect— they have, after all, been damaged and repaired. I am, without a doubt, both stronger and harder than I was before. That’s not to say I am insensitive or uncaring: I’m not talking about being hard of heart. I’m referring to the kind of hardness that can not only resist the assault of a sledgehammer, but also remain completely indifferent to and unmoved by it.

As far as I’m concerned, that sledgehammer does not exist.

 

Joey'sMapleLeafTatt

If you appreciate this poem or the thoughts behind it, please leave a “like” or a comment below, so that this post becomes visible to more people. 

The Story of My Life.

If a book were to be written of your life, what would the title be?

This question was asked recently in one of the authors’ groups I belong to on Facebook:

Slip Wrong Error Oops Accidental Slip Mistake

The answer came to me in a blinding flash of little-appreciated genius.

Slip Wrong Error Oops Accidental Slip Mistake

Alternate title: Crap That Wasn’t Meant To Happen.

Precis: A woman goes through life generally trying to do the right thing, but situations and people keep backfiring on her. This is further complicated by her own big mouth and her failure to learn the basics of human nature.

Tone: Initially comical, tending toward darkness and cynicism as the story progresses.

Chapter titles:

  1. How Not To Fit In… Ever
  2. How To Lose A Friend, Simply By Being Yourself
  3. Dairy Farming: The Idyllic Life
  4. How To Injure Both Hands At The Same Time
  5. How To Lose A Friend By Standing Up For What You Believe In
  6. Be A Teacher: They Only Work From 8.30 to 4, And Get All Those Holidays!
  7. The Sneaky Ways Awful People Conceal What They Really Are
  8. Apparently, I’m A Slow Learner
  9. How To Get A Tropical Disease 2500km South Of The Tropics
  10. Fibromyalgia: The Gift That Keeps On Giving
  11. No, They Will Never Understand That ‘Introvert’ and ‘Shy’ Are Different Things
  12. A Published Author: How Nice! You Must Be Rich.
  13. Oh, You’re An Author? I Don’t Read.
  14. Needles In The Haystack: There Are Actually Nice People Out There
  15. ‘One In A Million’: A Ridiculously Optimistic Ratio
  16. How To Get A Knife Out Of Your Back
  17. Why You Should Never Give That Knife To Someone Else
  18. When Adding Extended Family On Social Media Backfires
  19. Old Friends Can Turn On You, Too!
  20. Why They Can Post Whatever They Want To On Facebook, But You Can’t
  21. Why Doing Something Nice For Someone Is Often A Really Bad Idea
  22. The Block Function: How To Slam That Door Well And Truly Shut
  23. How To Offend Your Family And Friends By Succeeding
  24. Why You Should Never Assume That People Are As Sincere As You Are
  25. Vulnerability Explained: Discovering You Are An Empath
  26. The Achilles Tendon: ‘Heel’ and ‘Heal’ Are Not The Same Thing
  27. Still Hobbling? There Goes Your Other Ankle.

I know. It will never sell.

Marketing that kind of stuff is exhausting – I should know.  It is, after all, the story of my life.

What A ‘Critical Review’ Really Means.

How to respond to a review that you see as less than ideal.

Ignorance is, for some people, bliss.

However, when that translates into comments in their book reviews, it can also be rather revealing.

I’m not talking about the nasty trolls who leave one-star ratings with hateful comments that demonstrate no evidence of even having read your book. Those are in a class all of their own, and way beyond anything I could logically explain.

I’m talking about the reviewers who buy and read a book, then leave a review that leaves you with more questions than answers.

Consider these examples. In the interests of brevity, I have paraphrased them.

 

Facepalm 1

What they wrote: “A mix of Romeo and Juliet with Rapunzel… too much like spoiled five-year-olds instead of sixteen-year-olds. Sex on the first day? 2 stars.”
What I thought:
Have you even read Romeo and Juliet? Or watched the movie? Those were Shakespeare’s ideas, not mine.
Oh well. Some people don’t like his writing, either. I’m in good company.

 

facepalm-6.png


What they wrote:
“I didn’t expect a horror story.”
What I thought:
But it clearly says it’s a horror story! Did you read the product description? Did you check the categories in which it’s listed? Obviously not.
Wait.
Does that mean you “one-clicked” me? Awesome!

 

Facepalm 4

What they wrote: “I don’t read poetry. I don’t like it and I don’t understand it. So I didn’t really understand this book of poetry. But it was OK I guess.”
What I thought:
If you don’t read poetry… and you don’t like poetry… why would you buy a book of poetry?
Wait.
You “one-clicked” me, didn’t you? Alright!

 

Freakin’ A! I have two fans who buy my books, even though they don’t like what I write. Brilliant. Now I just need about a million more and I’ll be set.

To be honest, I actually very rarely read my reviews. Those are there for the benefit of other customers who need to know if they want to read my books (they do) and if they’ll enjoy them (they will).

Oh No Raccoon 2014-09-12 18.07.36

I certainly don’t respond to them. That’s like hanging a target on your own back, and can cause far more heartbreak for an author than any review ever might have done.

Of course, the stores like us to get reviews, too. Amazon say it’s to inform other customers, but every Indie author I know thinks it’s so that they have something to feed their algorithm monster in the basement, and so they have something to take away from us when it appears we’re doing a little too well. Thankfully, other stores let us keep the reviews we get.

I don’t worry about the occasional baffling review. Reviewers are so rare that I’m reluctant to complain. Besides, it balances all those lovely shiny five star ones and makes everything look much more realistic. I don’t think any writer can reasonably hope for their work to be loved by everyone.

If your reviews are consistently negative, it’s fair to assume you probably have some work to do. The best way to avoid that happening is to ensure your book is properly proof-read, edited, and has been given a thorough working over by beta readers. You’re not doing yourself any favours by skipping those things. If it’s worth writing, it’s worth doing it properly.

Squirrel 2014-08-14 21.04.23

A critical review here and there doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, nor that your book is terrible. It just means that your book, like any other author’s book, isn’t to everyone’s taste. And that’s perfectly okay.

The best response is to ask yourself if there’s anything useful you can take from it, make a note, and walk away.

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.

How To Avoid Blocked Hashtags On Instagram

Did you know that you aren’t allowed to use the hashtag #books on Instagram?
Until today, I certainly didn’t.

Instagram have been blocking some terms – mostly to do with sexism, sexual content, body shaming and bullying, or so I thought. It’s called a shadowban: posts using blocked tags are less visible than others, and repeated use can result in more definite blocking of posts or accounts.

Surely there’s nothing offensive about #books though? Yet it’s one of the hashtags that will cause your posts to drift into obscurity.

As an author, reader, book reviewer and all-round book nerd, that’s a trap I’ve fallen into more than once, but thankfully my love for tags like #bookstagram and #booklover has been saving my bookish hide more often than I ever realised.

I did find a rather extensive list of hashtags banned by Instagram, courtesy of the great people over at Instavast.com, but I don’t really want to go and consult another site and spend my valuable time reading through horrible words – and some of them are horrible – in order to find out if something relatively innocent is also blocked.

I’d rather be able to check quickly and easily inside the app itself. And that is quite do-able, even if you’re a novice.

Follow these handy and simple instructions to discover if a term you want to use is acceptable without consulting a long list somewhere that may even be out of date by now.

1. When you’re using the Instagram app, click on the search icon. It’s the one that looks like a magnifying glass.

2. Type in the hashtag you want to use. A list of possible tags will come up. So far, it looks like #books is okay.

3. Next, click on the Tags tab of the search window. #books is still there and still looks alright. However…

4. Tap on that tag in the list and scroll down, you will find only a few images, followed by a message that says the tag has been banned because reports have been made regarding inappropriate content.


If you go ahead and use the tag, nobody will see your tag because they can’t find posts using that tag, either. And your other tags might also end up being blocked. So might your account.

Nobody wants to end up there.

So, as authors and book lovers, we need to tag our posts differently so that other book lovers will find our posts.ScreenHunter_439 Mar. 13 19.13

When you click on a tag that is not blocked, you’ll see some further “related” tags that you could use in your posts. Notice, though, that this does not exist for #books.

I’ve slogged through a whole bunch of these “related tags” to find some great hashtags with good popularity that you can use safely – for now, anyway.

Try some of these great tags for your bookish posts:
#bookstagram
#booksofinstagram
#bookworm
#book
#booklover
#booklove
#instabooks
#booklife
#bookish
#instaread
#bookblogger
#bookaddict
#bookphoto
#booknerd
#booknerdigans
#bookstagrammer

If you’re posting images or reviews of books you’ve enjoyed, consider some of these:
#ilovereading
#epicreads
#amreading
#bibliophile
#lovetoread
#bookaddiction
#readingbooks
#readabook
#igreads

My final piece of good news is that if you have been using a blocked hashtag, you can rescue your posts and make them fully visible again.

1. For each post, click on the three dots to the right of your username.

2. Choose edit from the menu.

3. Scroll to your hashtags and change or remove the banned one.

4. Click on ‘done’ and your post will be back to full visibility.

 

Handy hint: if you “like” your own post once you’ve changed it, your post will re-enter the general Instagram feed.
It’s a good idea to do this one or two posts at a time, not all at once, so you don’t flood your followers’ feeds.

International Women’s Day, 2018

Why We Should Celebrate International Women’s Day.

As I was driving to work this morning, a caller to my favourite radio station was critical of the fact that the station was observing International Women’s Day as part of the day’s programming.

“What’s it going to achieve? Do you think you’re going to change everything in one day?” He spoke politely, but went on to dismiss the value of this, and every other, “touchy-feely day”.

While my initial instinct was to dismiss him as a sexist pig, his cynicism challenged me to consider that there might be many folks out there, and possibly not just men, who doubt the benefit or validity of such an observance.

This is what I would like to say to those with that mindset:

Observing International Women’s Day is definitely not going to change everything on one day. That’s not what anyone is expecting.

It is a chance to celebrate the changes that have been made, and to remember those who worked so hard to introduce them. It’s not even exclusively about gender equality – so many women have made significant advances, even when it was still almost entirely a “man’s world”. Think of Marie Curie or Ruby Payne-Scott making significant scientific and mathematical discoveries that have had a huge impact in many other areas of society. Think of Rosa Parkes and her courage that inspired so many. Think of the countless women who have worked for freedom, or justice, or civil rights for all people, not just women.

It is a day to remember that the rights and freedoms I have as an Australian woman were fought for by many – not just the suffragettes. Nurses at the battlefields of major conflicts, teachers, doctors and medical researchers, writers, women who raised their sons to respect them and therefore other women, lawyers, filmmakers, journalists— they and countless others have contributed to the privileges I enjoy in the 21st century.

It is a day to remember my own mother, grandmothers and aunts who worked hard to provide and care for me, but also to teach me and demonstrate for me what it means to be a woman of strength, confidence and integrity. It’s also a day to think of my sisters, cousins and friends who encourage and stand beside me when life is hard, because they model those same qualities for me time and time again. They remind me of not just what I am, but who I am.

It is a day to consider what legacy I pass on to my nieces, my students, and my readers. What do I want them to learn from my example? I want them to know they are enough. Strong enough, good enough, beautiful enough, deserving enough, talented enough, smart enough, and worthy enough. They do not have to take any else’s bullying or abuse. They do not have to accept other people’s bad behaviour. They are under no obligation to “measure up” to the yardstick of anyone else, male or female. They can make of their lives anything that they decide upon and set their mind to. They can face challenges with courage, and they can overcome whatever would seek to undo or defeat them.

These are the women I write of in my poems, blog posts and stories about women of strength and beauty.

That, my friend, is what this day helps me to achieve, because it sharpens my focus on those things for a time.

So, happy International Women’s Day 2018.

I hope that you will think of it in terms of gratitude and humility. I also hope that every woman will use it to both be inspired and be inspirational.

Nine Things You Can Do With A Bookmark – Without Actually Putting Your Book Down!

When you don’t want to put your book down, here are nine great uses for a bookmark.

Using a bookmark to keep one’s place in a book when putting it down is common behaviour for readers.2018-03-06 17.31.19

Some, however, do not like to put the book down. It’s far more preferable to just keep on reading right to the end. I’ve been known to lose all track of time, and on more than one occasion I’ve forgotten to eat. It’s probably a good thing I wasn’t reading ‘War and Peace’ at the time.

 

When you don’t want to put your book down, here are nine great uses for a bookmark:

1. Mark a beautifully written sentence or passage.

2. Keep the place of a quote you want to use.

3. Save the location of a favourite event or conversation in the story.

4. Provide sensory pleasure by playing with the tassel while you read.

5. Fan yourself when the weather – or the story – warms up.

6. Shield your eyes from artificial lighting, or from the sun if you’re reading outdoors.

7. Swat at flies or mosquitoes that might be tempted to buzz or bite while you’re trying to read.

8. Lure someone — parent, sibling, best friend, or significant other, for example– into thinking you haven’t actually been reading all day when there were other things you were supposed to do, by tucking it about 20 pages previous to where you’re currently reading.

9. Hold it up as an unspoken barrier between yourself and anyone who might try to interrupt you. Pretend that it deflects any sound they might make, so that you can just keep on reading.

 

©2018 WordyNerdBird

Things I Have Learned In 2017.

They say you should keep on learning until you die. Measuring by this list, I’m not dead yet.

 

2017-02-19 14.48.15

 

 
These are the important lessons I’ve learned in 2017:

 

  • Anyone who supports you, champions your cause, and/or loves you unconditionally is worth their weight in gold.
  • I am very blessed to have a number of people in my life who are worth more than their weight in gold.
  • Not everyone who says “I love you”, “Congratulations”, or “Thank you, that means so much”, actually means it.
  • It is entirely possible to encourage another person when you are feeling completely discouraged yourself.
  • Integrity matters far more than the words that come out of someone’s mouth. Those words, though, can be a fairly good indication of  integrity – or the lack thereof.
  • There are some things which should be left in the past: do not let them define the present.
  • There are some things which some folk will never understand. That doesn’t mean they don’t matter; it means it’s a waste of time and energy trying to talk with them about it or hoping they will change.
  • I will most likely continue to trust people and assume their “goodness” far too readily, and that will most likely continue to backfire on me. Apparently, there are some lessons I never learn.

One Way

  • Just because I often find myself on a one-way street doesn’t mean I have to unpack and live there forever.
    I am learning to see the signs and walk away.
  • There is no shame in tears. They are natural, and they are necessary.
  • People talk about “grace” far too easily. Showing grace to the undeserving is hard, painful, and usually invisible.
  • There is, in fact, an ear piercing that helps with chronic pain.