Reflections on Authorship

by Alex Binkley

This is something I wrote in 2014 before my first novel came out but it sums things pretty well.

There are few events that match the rush of holding your own book for the first time. All the hours of writing, editing and incorporating friendly suggestions and helpful hints into the final product are in your hands.

Yet this is just one step in a long process. Throughout the writing process, the author encounters wise advice about how completing the book is just the beginning of the adventure. Ahead lies marketing it and that process is just as time consuming and challenging as writing, the sages said. A few months out from the release of Humanity’s Saving Grace, published by Loose Cannon Press of Ottawa, I can only say they were absolutely right. 

Unless you have a big publisher and or a brand name, the author is his or her own marketing director. The book launch is a good start followed by book signings and book fests like the ones we have several times a year in Ottawa. You have to be prepared to talk up your book at any opportunity in case a potential customer is present. You need to have a couple of copies of the book with you. Then comes looking for ways to talk about it to potential readers through the Internet. That’s no small task because of the thousands of books always coming on the market. It’s one that I certainly have to work on.

There are personal web pages and author pages where you can promote it. They all take time and finding a fresh angle. You have to listen to any suggestion for the book including the local artist who is considering the it for a graphic novel. That’s something I wasn’t expecting.

Another aspect of marketing is reviews. In the past, I periodically wrote them for books, but it was never top of mind largely because there weren’t many places to post them. The Internet, especially social media, has changed that. Now I know about and other review sites such as Amazon. And whenever someone says they finished my book, which I take as meaning they enjoyed it, I ask them to consider writing a review in hopes that enough positive comments will convince readers who have never heard of me to buy the book. And they will enjoy it enough to tell their friends and write reviews. So reviews matter a lot.

Especially the ones that come out of the blue and clearly show how much the story clicked with the reader. Suggestions for a sequel are very motivating even when it wasn’t part of my writing cycle plans. I do have four other novels in varying stages of development. However, an outline for a sequel set 30 years after Humanity’s Saving Grace is under development. And for those who’ve read the book, the Biot Genghis Khan plays a major role.

Humanity’s Saving Grace is a science fiction novel which isn’t nearly as big a genre as crime and mystery or romance and its many sub categories. That means I have a smaller pool of potential readers. So I try to appeal to their sense of curiosity. The story is really about humans admitting that climate change has so badly disrupted Earth that they really have no choice but to agree to aid an embattled alien species, which has the technology to reverse the environmental damage to our planet. And that readers would probably enjoy meeting the Biobots, the biological robots that serve as helpers to the aliens and finding out why the Biobots convinced the Beings to seek Earth’s help. And the mysteries the humans encounter in space that some of them on a life of research and discovery.

A couple of friends apologized for not buying the book because sci-fi isn’t what they enjoy. On the basis of genres that don’t interest me, there are many excellent local writers I would need to apologize to. Writing takes a lot of time and that leaves less time for reading. So I mainly stick to science fiction. Even then there are lots of books I haven’t read.

While I don’t remember my first newspaper byline, the memory of seeing my book for the first time will always be with me.


Answering a good question

A good question was posed on one of my online writers’ groups this summer. “What would it take for you to become the most brilliant and prolific writer you’re capable of? What would have to change for you to achieve this potential?”

It came as I was getting my latest novel Consciousness Rising readied for publication and thinking about what I wanted to do next. I plan to participate in National Novel Writing Month ( in November to flesh out what will be the third book in my series of space stories. For now I’m calling it The Gratitude Solution. More on it after I finish the NaNoWriMo version of it.

My answer to becoming the most prolific writer I could be is probably more time and fewer distractions. I do some freelance news writing for several Canadian publications, used to have American and British customers as well, but they’re mostly out of business. This takes two and sometimes three days a week but I don’t want to drop it as I enjoy the subjects I cover, but they take up time and energy.

The next issue probably is writing to suit readers’ tastes. I still basically write a story that I would want to read. My judgement might be suspect because I often enjoy books that get little attention and find bestsellers uninteresting. Science fiction (I do prefer the term speculative fiction) and fantasy aren’t big markets but that’s where my interest lies. I prefer science fiction that is more about the what-if of science and less about characters. 

I read a bit of fiction outside these genres mostly because the author is interesting. Terry Fallis is a wonderful story teller and I’m a longtime fan of Martin Cruz Smith.  Gorky Park is on my too read again list. I have plenty of other fiction books on my shelves.

Also I read a lot of non-fiction, mainly related to science especially the probability of aliens and the origin of Homo Sapiens. A Most Interesting Problem is a fascinating book if you have any interest in evolution and the work of Charles Darwin. Yuval Norah Hari will get you mind fired up. Margaret MacMillan’s War is near the top of my to-read pile.

I have written at least 10 short stories and got most of them published. I want to do a lot more starting with several unfinished ones in my laptop. That will be my post NaNoWriMo project. Then there are a lot of non-writing interests and activities that consume plenty of time.

My book for 2022 – By Intelligent Design– was almost done in March 2020 when I decided that a story involving a pandemic wasn’t going to draw a lot of readers.  All my stories have been written with at least one sequel in mind because I find once I get into them, I get all sorts of ideas.

Be well everyone.

First Novel Hazards

"Excellent advice from a seasoned author and writing coach" - Alex

By Barbara Florio Graham

Most of the authors I mentor come to me with their first book, often a novel they’ve wanted to write for a long time. In many cases the author has already written a first draft, and wants help to refine this, find a publisher, and prepare a professional book proposal.

I’ve noticed some common mistakes first novelists tend to make, comparing them to water hazards on the golf course. As is the case with golf, it’s often a matter of selecting the right club, the right stance, and keeping your eye on the ball!

To read the rest of her advice, you need to join Ottawa Independent Writers.

The group meets monthly except during the summer outside of pandemic times. You can meet a wide variety of writers and hear excellent presentations on the craft. And even meet Barbara, a most gregarious soul. You should check out her web site.

Being A Biographer

By Stephen Nelson

Biography is a genre perhaps some authors wouldn’t think about writing. A biography can be of someone who is or was famous, infamous or unknown to readers until they read about them. Not many people can identify the author(s) of biographies unless the readers follow the genre.

I’ve decided to try writing a biography for genealogical purposes. This project has made me think of many factors before even starting to write a biography.

Some factors for consideration are:

1. Be comfortable doing research, notetaking, doing interviews, being organized and  possibly travelling to places significant to the subject’s life. 

2. What is the subject’s appeal and if readers would be interested in them?

3. Have any biographies been written before on the person?

4. Too many published biographies can diminish interest in the biography you considering to write. On the other hand, if there hasn’t been a biography written about someone, is there enough interest in the person to warrant one being written?

There should be a reason about the subject to keep you interested in writing the biography. 

5. Know your target audience. An adult wouldn’t be as interested in a teenage singer and a young adult would not be as interested in an historical figure. Write the biography to the educational level of the target audience.

6. The information sources used in the biography being written should be compiled in a bibliography. Fans of the subject, biography genre readers and fact checkers will want to know where the facts and details are obtained.

7.  Keep a copyright authorization folder or file and backup to protect you as an author against any legal action. Written permission from the living subject or their estate and any source is required to use their photographs or documentation. Documentation requesting permission to use something in the biography and the authorization correspondence should be retained.

It’s better to be prepared before starting to write.

Editing Tip – Is It Logical?

by Stephen Nelson

I read the novel and jot down some details in each chapter about characters, location or something I think will be referred back to later in the novel.

I write down sentences that don’t make sense to me.

Some examples are:

He walked upstairs, put on his suit, showered and shaved.

To me, the sentence is not logical.

The way it’s written, he showered when he was wearing his suit. So… he’s wearing a soaking wet suit. Unless that’s the point, the word order should be changed.

Johnny printed his name in blue ink on the black puck.

The idea of printing his name on the puck so he wouldn’t lose it is perfect, but it’s not logical.

Blue ink can’t be seen clearly on a black object. I recommended the authour amend the colour of the ink to neon green. 

© Stephen Nelson 2020

The Art of Worldbuilding, Part II

by Stephen Nelson

A world for your characters to inhabit is a daunting task to build. Doing the research to make your world believable to your readers might take as much time as writing your novel.

You probably have compiled a Story Bible or electronic folders and files containing the aspects of geography, society, fashion, language, inventions, nature and weather. The collected information is important when writing the novel, especially if there are differences from the world we live in. 

If dragons, elves or aliens exist in the world of the novel, maybe their lifecycle and powers can be noted in the documentation for easy access when you write the novel. 

Cheat Sheets

Cheat sheets can be helpful for reference when you write. A double-sided page for each character, location, geography, weather conditions, flora and fauna (nature), inventions, society, language(s) and fashion.

Map and Illustrations

Some readers love seeing a map of the imaginary world in which the novel is set. A map and illustrations dispersed through the book can pique a prospective buyer’s interest when they take the book off a bookstore shelf and thumb through the pages. Illustrations can be simple or complex in nature.

List of Characters

I find it useful sometimes to read a list of characters in the back of a novel. Their name, relationship to others and maybe their occupation, if relevant can be written.


Historical and any sub-genre, science fiction and fantasy novels can have terms or words which the reader might not know. Some names of creatures or the alien lifeforms for example can be described in a glossary at the end of the book.

Guide Book or Encyclopedia

Why let the hard work of research, developing and writing a new world go to waste? Something to consider is writing an encyclopedia which is the source material you used to build the world where your novel is set.

Anything you have written as source material for the novel can be incorporated in a guide book or an encyclopedia. Many readers love to know more about their favourite novels. An example is, J.K. Rowlings, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a guide book.


These ideas might trigger your own creativity to develop the material you were ready to purge. Remember that fabric scraps in the right hands can make a beautiful quilt. The same goes for scraps of information can be recycled and reused. After all, it is your material to use in another work in progress.

© Stephen Nelson 2020

The Art of Worldbuilding, Part I

by Stephen Nelson

Reading a short story or novel pulls the reader into the world which the authour has made for the characters. That is the beauty of imagination. To make a person believe they are in the world of the characters. Worldbuilding can be as small as a room or a boat on the ocean. Other stories and novels can be set in a fictional city or even on a planet.

Each genre has its aspects of worldbuilding. An historical novel regardless of its subgenre like mystery or romance has to have some accuracy in its description of society, fashion and events unless it is an alternative history novel or short story.

Whether a novel is a standalone, or one of many in a series, the novel’s world must be created. The set could be set in an existing town or city or an invented location using bits and pieces of a current place. An authour might create a complete world from their imagination, like J.K. Rowlings, Harry Potter and J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings.

I must confess. I am a Planner. I plan as much as possible before putting pen to paper or striking a computer keyboard to write a short story or novel.

I will do a second Worldbuilding post for science fiction and fantasy writing, but a novel can have locations and settings which are from the authour’s imagination. I like to think the following should be considered before writing any genre.


I like to call it, the “lay of the land”. Sending characters on a quest or trip to find a person or an object is affected by the geography they cross. Obstacles like mountains, volcanoes soon to erupt, raging rivers, oceans to cross provides drama and conflict in a novel or short story.


A character’s social class, where they live in the community and income might influence how they react to an event. The late 1800s social norms are far different than present day. Research is necessary to write accurate details.

What a wealthy family does for a living, where they live and for entertainment wouldn’t be the same as a poor family.


Fashions and fads change. Different countries have different fashions. A person wearing bell bottoms and platform shoes would stand out in a Regency romance novel. The fashion of the people has to be from the era which the novel is set.


People speak differently, depending on where they are from. Idioms and slang words might identify the nationality or at least the region to which the character has connection. Two different words in English can mean the same object if one is from North America and the other is from the United Kingdom.


When writing an historical novel or story, you have to make sure the inventions of the day are accurate. As examples, do not have a telephone or telegraph in a novel set before they were invented.


When a real event happens, research the actual weather that occurred to make the event more authentic.


You can develop and build your new world for your novel as detailed as you want. After all, it is your novel.

© Stephen Nelson 2020

Building a Novel

by Stephen Nelson

Some people who read novels might think, “I can do that.” I have always loved to write. I was asked at a retirement course, “What do you want to do when you retire?” My immediate reply was, “Write a novel.” Those in the class who didn’t know me, laughed, but the people who knew me well, smiled in approval. The novel(s) hasn’t/haven’t been completed, but the ideas are written down. I admire friends who are authours, published or unpublished (for now). I applaud them all.

I have been using a house as a symbol for the parts of novel. 


I consider the foundation as the research required before or during the writing process. I research as much as possible about a subject or I try to do that, before I begin writing. If something written will affect the plot, it needs research.


I put each character into a different room. The more characters in the novel means a bigger house. A character sketch for each character belongs in their rooms. The main characters have larger, more detailed rooms and the secondary and minor characters have smaller rooms to live in. If a secondary or minor character develops into a main character, they would move to a better room and that main character moves into a smaller room or a new room is added to accommodate the minor character which becomes a new main character. A character creating conflict can result in permanent or temporary expulsion from the house to live in the proverbial doghouse or move away. Characters that are killed off or die of natural causes leave the house. 


Novels are written with one or multiple points of view. The windows allow the reader to see or listen to a character describing what is happening in the plot. Authours usually write chapters from a character(s)’ point of view.

Everyone, no matter how perfect they consider themselves to be have character flaws. I like to use that as a cracked window. The larger the crack in the window or even if it is a broken window, the more severe is the character flaw. 


In the broad sense of the word, I think world building, whether it’s detailed or sparse can be represented by landscaping. The world as the characters know it needs explanation if the novel is set in an historical period, present, or in the future.


A flower or vegetable garden has many stages before a flower or vegetable is ready to be picked.

I use it to express what tense is used to write the novel.

A sprouting or flowering garden represents the present tense.

Neglected dead flowers and rotting or spoiled vegetables can represent the past tense.

The future tense is garden soil as the garden waits to be planted and the growth of plants and vegetables. 


The smoke coming out of the chimney is the authour’s creativity which includes the novel’s concept, research, writing, revising and editing and promotion of the finished product. 


The sidewalk to the house is the invitation to the reader to pick up the book, buy it and read it based on the book cover, title, author’s name, genre and blurb.


This analogy works for me. I hope it helps others.

© Stephen Nelson 2020

Camp NaNoWriMo Tip

For all you writers, aspiring or experienced, below is a link to a great story continuity check list from National Novel Writing Month to refer to. Thanks to Stephen Nelson for suggesting and providing it.

Camp NaNoWriMo Tip

Continuity Check

How often have you read a book or watched a television show or movie and noticed something wrong?

I don’t mean errors in spelling or misnaming a character.

It could be a character’s physical appearance has changed like having a mustache in one scene and not enough time passed since the previous scene to grow a full moustache.

Does a character wear different clothes in the same scene or chapter without an explanation?

I find a “cheat sheet” helpful when I’m writing. I use a Word document with the essential details of each character.

I was surprised at the number of times that I referred to it when I write. It saves time when editing as well. 

The headings and descriptions I use are as follows:

Character’s Full Name  (Maiden Name) if applicableThis could include adopted name or name legally changed.
AgeBirthdate, age at the start of the novel or when certain characters meet.
Place of BirthUseful when it explains customs and traditions a character has. Maybe the character immigrated and when to what region
MarriedName of Spouse and maybe the wedding date
Occupation(s)Past (if applicable) and current occupation
Eye ColourObvious
Hair Colour and Facial HairHair colour: Blonde, brunette, black, salt and pepper, grey, natural colour, dyed what colour, full head of hair, bald, thinning, beard, goatee, mutton chops, mustache  
Body typeTall, short, weight etc
Markings and LocationTattoos, moles, liver spots, scars
FearsGive the fear and why they might have it.
Hobbies What are they and how they were introduced to them. Did a family friend or family member get them interested in them?
WishSomething they would put on a bucket list to do or are unable to do.
Sense of fashionDepends on the era they live in and what their income might be.  Are they influenced be others?

© Stephen Nelson 2020

Patricia K McCarthy: On Writing Fantasy Fiction

Patricia K McCarthy is an Ottawa writer and author of six paranormal fiction novels. If you have any interest in the genre or modern fantasy, they are well worth reading.

In January, she made a presentation to the Ottawa Independent Writers on science fiction and fantasy. It sets out the history of the two genres and what makes them special to their followers. It contains a lot of good advice for any aspiring writer.

If you enjoy the presentations, check out her web page for more information on Patricia and her books. If you get the opportunity to meet her, say hello. She’s very friendly.