Friday, 14 August 2020

Romance Writers of Australia Conference 2020: Love in Isolation - Mid-way Report

 Hello Australian Romancelandia, and to the rest of the world watching us having fun,

Here is a brief and incomplete mid-way report for my experiences at the #RWAus20 #LoveInIsolation virtual conference, being held Not-In-Fremantle Western Australia.

First of all, kudos to this year's committee, many of whom I know in-person, for dealing with These Times and the wrench These Times have thrown in the plans of the whole world. They took an in-person conference and converted it to a virtual conference with grace and elan. I've been a SMoF. I know what it's like to run a con this size, and all the problems that come with it. For a never-done-before conversion to a new format, it's been successful in the delivery. Granted, there have been a few minor hiccups, but these have been dealt with in a timely manner. You guys have been so impressive! Overall, things have worked, and I haven't seen an issue crop up that was unsolvable.

I am hoping that future RWAus conferences will consider keeping an element of the virtual conference by recording live in-person sessions and making them available online to those who are unable to attend the full conference. I'd love to see in-person membership and a virtual membership options. That way, if one is unable to fly to the other side of the country for the full convention, one does not have to miss out entirely.

_ _ _ _ _

But yeah. Enough about that.  Here's what I've gotten out of the conference so far:

Liz Pelletier's "Best-Seller" workshop, parts 1,2,3 plus Q&A

Ogmigosh, you guyz!!  Soo much good info!!!  Absolutely NO ONE watching even one session of this workshop couldn't help but level up.

What are the elements that make a novel a best-seller?  Liz told us. She took things apart, showed us how they worked and then put them back together. She told us what the important things were an author needed to focus on, and which petty things we didn't need to sweat.

Session 1 was about the writing. Session 2 was about editing. Session 3 was the marketing. I took so many, many notes. I will also watch the replays and take more notes. Then I shall apply the notes. If I can't take all the good info Liz scooped out upon our heads and make some serious Trout money from my next three books, it will be all my fault.

This workshop alone was worth the whole convention price.

Doctor Love Panel.  A whole lotta PhDs tell us about writing about Romance from Academia. I had no idea Romance Studies was a thing. Now I know what I want to do my PhD in.  (But lemmie finish  my MSci first. one more semester...)

Estate Planning.  Morgan Solomon, an art historian turned attorney explains the value of a good will and why a good will is important regarding your Intellectual Property (IP).  Note to self: update my will.

Getting Started in Self-Publishing.  Gone are the days when you could be a purely traditional author with a Random Penguin.  Many authors are either going hybrid, or turning to indie publishing for their entire careers. Elizabeth Stevens gave us the lowdown of what you need to know to get into self publishing and be successful. Even though I've had a hybrid side to my career for a few years now, I still learned a few new things.

Getting Ahead in Indie Publishing. Kevin Tumlinson of Draft2Digital adds on to what Elizabeth started. While I've been with D2D as part of my hybrid side, I learned of even more tools I should be taking advantage of. Author Page. I should use that more. Plus there are a few more bells and whistles I need to investigate. 

My personal business meeting with Ricardo Fayet of Reedsy.  One of the advantages of a RWAus conference is the availability of one-on-one business meetings with an industry professional. These can range from pitch sessions with a literary agent or editor to a business consultation with a pro. For me, Ricardo had a look at my author web presence and offered some good and useful advice to help me improve. Some of his advice bolstered up a few things I was already thinking. Other advice he gave me was stuff I hadn't even considered. But now he's  mentioned it, I see it for what it is and will be implementing it soon. Soo glad I met with him.

_ _ _ _ _

And now I'm out of time, for the next session is starting online.  I've taken over the home theatre, and am streaming the conference on my wide-screen projector.  

More later. Meanwhile, I'm off to have Carleton Chinner show me how to master plot structures.

Friday, 6 March 2020

The Rules for Books in the Toilet

Dear Australia,

I know you're currently suffering a massive toilet paper shortage. You've stripped all supermarket shelves clean. However will you wipe your butts?

A travesty, I know.

What you may not know, having been the Lucky Country for so long, and have previously had a never-ending supply of Sorbent or Quilton, that once upon a time, people didn't always use bog rolls for keeping the nether regions clean.

In 19th Century United States, last season's Sears catalogue and last year's Farmer's Almanac were traditionally found in Ye Olde Outhouse. Even in the 20th Century, the poorer people around the world made do with yesterday's newspapers for their doo-doo.

But now, with the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020, will you turn to...

Books? *gasp*

While literary types and regular patrons of Elizabeth's might be falling into a swoon, let's face it. It might come to that. If you do choose a mighty tome to replace the long-lost toilet roll, please follow these rules:

  1. Remember, everyone is reading the same book. Please be considerate.
  2. For every loo visit, you must read x + 1 pages, where x = the number of people in your household. This rule also applies for men popping in for a pee. Yeah, you might not be using any pages, but if you don't keep up, you might miss out on a scene.
  3. You are allowed only ONE PAGE from the book for wiping. Otherwise, your housemates may hunt you down and see how good your memory is.  Remember, if you use more than one page, they might not have read up that far. 
  4. ONLY TEAR FROM THE FRONT OF THE BOOK!!!  It is a travesty to tear from the back of the book. They who wipe their butt with the climax of the story before its time ruins the ending for all.

Just saying, my novel God of the Dark is available in print and currently is cheaper than a pack of toilet paper. Also unlike a pack of toilet paper, you can actually buy a copy. (I swear, TP can't be had for love nor money off most Australian grocery store shelves.)

Okay, so what if you buy the even cheaper ebook version of God of the Dark but you still need to keep clean?

Here's how to use newspaper instead:

  1. Fetch in that free Community Newspaper some poor kid keeps leaving on your driveway. Be sure to get it before your Watering Days or your neighbour pinches it.
  2. Open it up and press each sheet with a hot iron. No, really. Ironing your newspaper will set the ink and prevent it from leaving inky black streaks in your nethers.
  3. Pre-cut newspaper into squares. Tearing it at time of use is only a recipe for disaster.
  4. Just before wiping, give the newspaper several rounds of crinkling up. This will open the fibers and improve the absorption properties.
  5. Don't flush it! Your sewer system really can't handle it. Please dispose of thoughtfully in the trash can. I recommend a sealed bucket, if the scent of the tissue may become bothersome.

Her Grace is sorely wishing she'd installed a bidet when Kneale Manor was built.

Monday, 6 January 2020

I think we invented a cocktail

I don't drink. Never have, and don't plan to in the future. I grew up in a teetotaler culture and now that I live somewhere that's known for its alcohol consumption (aka Australia), I discovered a social thread that says it's okay to not drink alcohol when out with the mates. The famous Australian Lemon, Lime & Bitters is the drink you drink when you don't want to drink. Everywhere makes it, everyone drinks it.

But sometimes you want something different. Mocktails are always served alongside alcoholic drinks, but they are often sweet, fruity and a little OTT.

Sometimes you want something subtle and sophisticated.

Enter the Cucumber Ginger Fizz.

I discovered this drink last year when I was asked to come up with some mocktail recipes for a High School Prom pre-party. A few of the students weren't into the sweetie-fruitie drinks, and asked if I could come up with something different.

A quick google gave me several different recipes for many fun things, but this recipe for a Cucumber Ginger syrup was the winner of the night.

I had a half-bottle left over from that night, and forgot to drink it.

Then came Boxing Day.

His Grace has a set of wonderful friends from his University days. One of their annual traditions is "The Box on Boxing Day" party.  During their school days, they had a Box, which contained everyone's alcohol. Each person would contribute something different. By pooling their poor student resources, they were able to enjoy a wide variety of adult beverages.

Over the years the collection grew, as it got added to and forgotten about, until it had a bar's worth of various liquors, cordials, etc. There's even a bottle of  'genuine' absinthe in there, and a bottle of grenadine, my personal favourite. (I'm a sucker for a good Shirley Temple, if made with ginger beer.)

This year, I remembered the half-bottle of Cucumber Ginger Syrup lying dormant in my fridge, and I brought it along, in hopes that someone would realise its potential.

Initially I made mocktails for people to try. "Hmm," said one mate. "This would go really well with gin."

I'll take your word for it. So, we mixed up a drink, garnished it with a cucumber slice, and the drinkers gave it a go.

Gin for the win!  Everyone loved it.  Did we just invent a cocktail?

Apparently, we did. I went home after the party and attempted to look up the actual name of this new-ish drink we discovered. Surely someone else had come across it before?

Yes and no.  While we came across similar drinks, like the Mule, no recipe I found duplicated its flavours exactly.  They either had lime or mint or both, which changes the aromatic profile enough to make them sibling drinks, but not the same.

So yeah. We invented the Boxing Day Special. You're welcome.



Cucumber Ginger Syrup

1 medium cucumber, grated
1 knob of fresh ginger, grated
2 c sugar
2 c water

Combine sugar and water together in a saucepan and bring to a boil until sugar is dissolved. (This is Simple Syrup, and is often used in cocktails to give a sweetness without the grittiness of granulated sugar.)

Place grated cucumber and ginger in a bowl. Pour the hot simple syrup over and let steep for 2-3 hours.

Strain and bottle until needed. Keeps in the fridge for several weeks.

This Cucumber Ginger Syrup is versatile ingredient for drinks. Combine it 1:3 with soda water for a sophisticated mocktail, or go fully adult with this recipe for a Boxing Day Special.

Boxing Day Special

In a highball glass, combine:

2 shots Cucumber Ginger Syrup
2 shots London Dry Gin
Top up with soda water (approx 2-4 shots). Garnish with a cucumber slice.

Sip sophisticatedly.

And that's it. It's a simple recipe that delivers a broad palate with a flavour journey of cool cuke, hot ginger and aromatic juniper.

* * *

Here's an interesting fact I learned on Boxing Day: garnishes aren't just to make the drink look pretty. Sometimes they're used to add an extra aromatic note to the drink. For example, the gang made Mint Juleps. The mint itself didn't get blended in. We blitzed up some ice, poured over a nice Honey Bourbon, then pushed in a long sprig of mint. Then to drink, you bruised the mint, inhaled and then sipped. The mint was scented, not tasted, and this apparently changed the nature of how a drinker experienced the bourbon without affecting the flavour.

The cucumber garnish in a Boxing Day Special gives you the initial scent of cucumber, which then lifts more cuke flavour from the drink, so you get the full experience.  

The things you learn.

Her teetolling Grace will trust that this truly is a nice drink, and not her friends being nice to her. After all, they were not afraid to completely pan her attempts at a home-brewed apple cider a few years prior.

Friday, 16 August 2019

Buck the system; I want chocolate milk

It came from this tin.
A friend of mine shared a story how she had horrible childhood memories of school milk. To this day, she cannot drink milk, no matter how fresh and cold, because of her enforced experience.

I, too, received milk every day at school. Unlike my friend's, ours was safely refrigerated. Still, plain milk was never my favourite. It was an all-or-nothing kind of situation. If we chose to open our half-pint carton of milk, we had to drink the whole thing. We couldn't just open it, have a few sips and be done. We had the option to not drink, but that meant we had nothing at all to drink.

Once a week we got chocolate milk. We didn't know what day of the week it would be, but guaranteed that it would happen. Oh, how I loved chocolate milk! I would have cheerfully drunk all my milk every day if it was chocolate.

Then one day in Fifth Grade, I got an idea. What if I brought in my own chocolate milk powder? So I did. I got an old empty McCormick's spice tin, disguised it with a cover so it wasn't obvious, and filled it with chocolate milk powder. It was small enough to fit in my pocket. I brought this to school with me every day. Whenever it was a plain milk day, this tin would come with me to lunch and I'd tip a few spoonfuls in my milk carton, shake it up, and enjoy chocolate milk every single day.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Greetings from Melbs

And what a fabulous Romance Writers of Australia Conference 2019 that was!  I am so glad I went. The conference has been officially over for an hour now, and we are all exhausted.

I totally got my extrovert on, and boy, the extrovert spends sooo much energy. I couldn't maintain it for the whole weekend.

I am tired, so I shall have to post later. I will do a complete rundown of the Conference in September's newsletter. Sign up now so you don't miss out.

Quick shortlist of things I learned:

  • This is my tribe.
  • I need to up my marketing.
  • If you don't know something, someone there does. Find them.
  • It's great to simply listen to others.
  • Be bold.
  • Business cards serve you well.
  • Grab opportunities.
Yeah. More later. My hotel bed is looking nicer and nicer.

RWAus 2020 is in Freo next year.  We welcome you to Western Australia.

What would you like me to tell you about the Conference this year?

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Go Hard-Core with Science!

By the time you read this, I'll be at the Romance Writers of Australia Conference 2019 in frigid Melbourne, AU. For the past month or so I have been so focused on getting my writing career together for this, that I haven't had any chance to science at all. AT ALL.

So, while I'm off being an author, you can get your science on.

Science is this beautiful, wonderful pursuit by the human race as they explore their world and the universe, from the smallest known particle to the largest mega-structure their marvelous minds can conceive.

Because you are a human being, do not be afraid to go hard-core when it comes to science. You don't need a fancy degree or even a knowledge of the vocabulary to dip in your toe.

But you must dip in your toe. Follow it with your foot, and then plunge right in. Do not make the mistake that oh-so-many online denizens do of learning one little factlet from some meme someone posted to their Facebook timeline and running with it, never more choosing to research deeper. That's just irresponsible and leads to issues like Flat Earthers, Anti-Vaxxers and the "Mobile Phones Cause Cancer" crowd.

There's a lot of hard-working, dedicated scientists out there who are doing the hard research. When they do, they publish their results so everyone can have access to them and see what their work is on.

And yes, you can read these papers as well (or their abstracts at least).  Abstracts are free. Sometimes the papers are behind paywalls. Sometimes they're free-and-easy access on

DO NOT BE AFRAID TO LOOK AT THESE PAPERS! Do not think that they are limited to just scientists. You can read them too. If you come across a word you are unfamiliar with, the Dictionary is your friend. Consider it leveling up by learning new vocabulary. It's not that scientists are being deliberately obtuse; quite the opposite--they are aiming for precision. English is one of those beautiful languages with hundreds of thousands of words (okay, most of them obscure) that precisely define something. When a scientist chooses a particular word, it defines and constrains the  meaning to an exact definition.

So, how do you find these papers?  For astronomers and astrophysicists, we use a database called...

The SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System

Say you wanted to see what's been published regarding Water on Mars in the past few years?

I put in a range of dates from 2016 up to next month. My keywords were "water on Mars".  I hit the search button.

These were my results. It pulled up 1,605 papers that had anything to do with water and Mars. Now, some of the titles make even my eyes glaze over, but I trawled through until I found something interesting.

Hmm, which one to choose?  Best way is to read the abstract.

An abstract is kind of like a back-cover blurb that gives away the ending of the story. Most useful if you're trawling through looking for a paper about a particular topic.

After reading both abstracts, I chose to have a closer look at Follow the Oxygen.

Here's the abstract: 
Aerobic respiration—the reduction of molecular oxygen (O2) coupled to the oxidation of reduced compounds such as organic carbon, ferrous iron, reduced sulfur compounds, or molecular hydrogen while conserving energy to drive cellular processes—is the most widespread and bioenergetically favorable metabolism on Earth today. Aerobic respiration is essential for the development of complex multicellular life; thus the presence of abundant O2 is an important metric for planetary habitability. O2 on Earth is supplied by oxygenic photosynthesis, but it is becoming more widely understood that abiotic processes may supply meaningful amounts of O2on other worlds. The modern atmosphere and rock record of Mars suggest a history of relatively high O2 as a result of photochemical processes, potentially overlapping with the range of O2concentrations used by biology. Europa may have accumulated high O2 concentrations in its subsurface ocean due to the radiolysis of water ice at its surface. Recent modeling efforts suggest that coexisting water and O2 may be common on exoplanets, with confirmation from measurements of exoplanet atmospheres potentially coming soon. In all these cases, O2accumulates through abiotic processes—independent of water-oxidizing photosynthesis. We hypothesize that abiogenic O2 may enhance the habitability of some planetary environments, allowing highly energetic aerobic respiration and potentially even the development of complex multicellular life which depends on it, without the need to first evolve oxygenic photosynthesis. This hypothesis is testable with further exploration and life-detection efforts on O2-rich worlds such as Mars and Europa, and comparison to O2-poor worlds such as Enceladus. This hypothesis further suggests a new dimension to planetary habitability: "Follow the Oxygen," in which environments with opportunities for energy-rich metabolisms such as aerobic respiration are preferentially targeted for investigation and life detection.

Oh-kay... lots of big scary words if you're not an astrobiologist. But once you look them up, you'll see that Lewis, Vlada, Kevin and Woodward were being rather precise when they wrote the abstract.

Let's take bits of this apart and see what it really means:

"Aerobic Respiration..." - essentially, breathing oxygen, specifically, life forms breathing oxygen. While they gave a very detailed definition (and they had their reasons for it), essentially, the whole sentence is about how breathing oxygen is the preferred method of using oxygen in our metabolisms here on Earth.

"Aerobic respiration is essential..."  Advanced lifeforms like us and the cats in our laps need to breathe oxygen. Lots of oxygen on our planet means lots of life.  

"O2 on Earth is supplied by..."  photosynthesis. We all know that from Third Grade science. Plants make the oxygen we breathe.

But what if we could manufacture oxygen a different way? Do we need plants? Do we even need life, or can we source plentiful oxygen from a non-living method--an abiotic one that doesn't require a life's metabolism?  "...that abiotic processes may supply meaningful amounts of O2 on other worlds."  

The big question is, which came first? Oxygen or photosynthesis? If there's plenty of oxygen on another world produced abiotically (by a method not dependent on life, like a tree), could it be that this is what could allow multi-cellular life (like amoebae and rats and elephants) to be developed on other worlds? This is what the authors are thinking.

Until recently, space exploration has been dancing to the tune of "Follow the Water". Maybe it should be "Follow the Oxygen".

"This hypothesis is testable..." is music to every scientist's ears. Everyone loves a good idea, especially if it can be proven or disproven. Someone came up with an idea, and a way of proving it (or disproving). This is what makes science so groovy.  [end abstract]

Ward LM, Stamenković V, Hand K, Fischer WW (2019) Astrobiology, 19, 6   (Yeah, that's ApJ referencing style.)

Now, if only the article wasn't behind a paywall (or you are a university student whose library has e-subscriptions to Astrobiology magazine (Vol. 19, No. 6 is the issue this appears in). Maybe I should have gone for "Paleo-Rock-Hosted Life on Earth and the Search on Mars: a Review and Strategy for Exploration" instead. Here's a link to the full article. It's about rock-eating life bigger than a single cell. It happened on Earth a long time ago. Maybe it's also happened on Mars. "These findings suggest that rock-hosted life would have been both more likely to emerge and be preserved in a martian context," the authors say.

Friday, 2 August 2019

Finally deciding what I want to do

Over the past few months I've been busy working on audiobooks (and I taught a class on the same in June).

Finally, a job that uses my bachelor degree!

After spending quite a bit of time recording, editing, and mastering audiobooks, I realised something very important.

I want to do this. I really want to do this. Like, permanently. I know what my career change needs to be. I want to work on audiobooks.

What I Like About It

  • The Solitude. Really, I love working in isolation, which is why writing books has suited me so well for so long. But with audiobooks, I also get the cone of silence I crave. I shut myself away in the home theatre with its soundproofing and comfy chair and muted walls and I can shut away the world. I can't begin to tell you how much this pleased me. I got to sit alone for hours and Get Stuff Done. Interruption were rare, and feline (or occasionally canine--not my own).
  • The Performance. I get to perform. I get to be dramatic. I get to read a book aloud and make it come alive. And if I make a mistake? Pshaw! Do-over, and any issues like coughs or pauses get edited out of the final product.
  • Focus Time. One of the things I hate about my current day job is the interruptions. It's my job to solve problems, but it's also my job to answer the phone. When I'm in the middle of doing something and then the phone rings, I must pause what I'm doing to pick up the phone. I can't ignore the phone and finish what I'm doing.
    But with audiobooks, I can ignore everything and focus on my work. I was able to work for hours without interruptions. It was great!
  • My Own Pace. Sometimes I can work for hours on end. Other times I'm good for about thirty minutes and then I've got to take a break. This pace varies depending on what else is happening in my life. That Time of the Month, a bad night's sleep, digestive issues, A Better Offer, can all take up the energy I might have devoted to work. At least I can proceed at my own pace and therefore ensure that the performance I deliver is top-notch. I am not so experienced an actor that I can turn it on 100% if I'm not feeling 50%. (Believe me, that's a real skill, and one well-admir'd.)
  • Living Wage.  When you've got work, you make more than minimum wage per work hour. SAG-AFTRA members make even more.
  • Music Composition. I can compose my own lead-in music. 
  • Mad Skillz. It's not enough to be a good narrator. Many of us have to be producers as well. Lucky me, I've got lots of experience in sound editing and I regularly upskill.


Every job has a downside.
  • Irregularity.  Jobs come when they do, and you can't always get work all the time. While I'd love to be working on audiobooks every week, sometimes it just doesn't happen.  With irregular work comes irregular pay, and that can make budgeting require more spoons.
  • The Sound of my Voice.  Yeah, I do get sick of it, from time to time.
  • Isolation?  While it hasn't gotten to me yet, I can see the potential to feel isolated in my work. However, with the advantages of the Internet and being able to set my own pace, I can manage to get the socialisation in that my mental health requires. Fortunately, I don't need much to maintain good mental health.

The big challenge is getting regular, steady work. It is doable. I've seen other narrators get it.

I can has my turnz, pls?

Her Grace is happy to contract with you to deliver ACX-ready high-quality audiobook recordings.