The ATM that ate my card

         This morning, I was rushing to the bank before I had to be at the studio. I had a cheque and a wad of cash to deposit. It was a steady downpour so I opened my umbrella to walk a few blocks to the bank. I missed a couple of chances to cross a busy street which delayed me. The walk signal changed to red too soon. Finally, I was able to cross at another intersection and a fellow raced ahead of me to enter the bank first. I shook out my umbrella and followed him in.
         Patiently, I stood waiting for him to finish using the bank machine. In anticipation, I fished out my wallet from my handbag and took out my debit card. After he left, I inserted my debit card. I had only five minutes before I had to be at the studio.
         A sentence came up on the screen which read, "This bank machine is not working or available at the moment." 
         At the moment? What does that mean? Were they servicing it for only a moment? It seemed rather bizarre. I hesitated. Do I pull out my card? Or do I wait for it to clear itself? I waited ten seconds at the most, then the machine ate my card.
         Horrified, I pressed the 'cancel' button, but there was no response. I pressed 'correction' but still my card wasn't ejected. I've never experienced losing my bank card to an ATM before. How could I not have my debit card which to me was as important as my keys? I needed to deposit the money right away because I didn't want to carry around a large amount of cash.
         Feeling lost, I looked around for assistance. Thankfully, the bank was open. I asked an employee in a black suit for help and he directed me to a bank teller. I stepped up to the counter to speak to an Asian woman. "The bank machine ate my card. I didn't even enter my pin number."
         "We will reissue you a new one."
         "Couldn't you just take it out of the ATM?" It seemed simple enough. After all, it was my card.
         She waved her hand. "We can't do that. The alarm will sound."
         I checked my watch, worried I was already late. "Will it take very long?"
         "Not long," she said with a smile. After I presented two pieces of identification and confirmed my address and phone number, she typed information into the computer, asked for my signature on a form and passed me a new card to sign on the back. "The new card will duplicate all the functions of your old card and your pin number will remain the same. Please validate it on your way out."
         "What happens to my old card?" I asked nervously.
         "It will be destroyed when they check and service the ATM," she said.
         I thanked her and waited to use the bank machine again, thinking about what she said. Would my old card really be destroyed? Would it fall into the wrong hands? Will it pop out when another customer uses the ATM? Who really knows? I figured I'd be checking my balance for the next ten days.

Great art for sale

Please come to our annual sale! Affordable, original work including paintings, prints, pottery, jewelry and textiles.

The Art Studios Winter Sale and Silent Auction
Thursday November 22nd, 12-8 pm
Heritage Hall, 3102 Main Street, Vancouver, BC

Door prizes! Admission by donation.

For more info, call 604-871-9788

The Art Studios is a Vancouver Coastal Health program that offers art classes to people with mental health diagnoses and/or addiction.

Proceeds from the auction go toward specialized art workshops and art supplies.

Next steps for a Canadian Mental Health Strategy

In my visit to Ottawa, I was encouraged by the significant steps the Canadian Alliance on Mental Health and Mental Illness has made this year.

CAMIMH is an alliance of 19 national mental health organizations including health care providers, including psychiatrists, occupational therapists, psychologists, social workers, and organizations like the Schizophrenic Society of Canada, the Canadian Mental Health Association, and the Mood Disorders Association. Their mandate is to put mental health on the national agenda to aid mental health consumers and their families in receiving appropriate access to care and support.

This is CAMIMH's 10th anniversary of its Faces of Mental Illness campaign to reduce stigma and build awareness about mental health. This year is the first time that the Faces of Mental Illness campaign attained the opportunity for the Faces and CAMIMH representatives to meet jointly with Parliamentarians personally during Mental Illness Awareness Week, and for the first time, to be invited to Rideau Hall for a roundtable discussion with the Governor General and his spouse. The five Faces were also invited to share their personal stories with Her Excellency Sharon Johnston in an informal chat.

CAMIMH put forward three major recommendations at Parliament Hill, including:

1. Increase the proportion of health spending that is devoted to mental health from seven to nine percent.

2. The federal government could lead by example and improve mental health policy and deliver services within areas where they have direct responsibility, such as First Nations, Inuit and Metis, National Defence, Veteran Affairs, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Corrections.

3. The federal government could create psychologically effective workplaces for their employees, which means better productivity and savings of tax dollars and less disability claims and sick leave due to mental health issues.

John Higenbottam, co-chair of CAMIMH, stated that it's not enough to just increase federal spending in the area of mental health, but the monies need to be directed into the right services, such as housing and community supports for people with mental illness. I would include approachable access to care for youths and adults experiencing mental health problems. Of course, we need to spend money on acute care for example, but if we can use preventative measures to aid people before they are in crisis and keep people well after they leave hospital, we remove a portion of the excessive demand and expense on front-line services like emergency rooms and police intervention.

Fred Phelps, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Social Workers, stated, "The Government of Canada has the opportunity to both lead by example in areas of direct federal responsibility as well as to coordinate shared accountability through the Canada Health and Social Transfers." (source)

Currently, when federal monies are transferred to the provinces, it's up to the provinces how health dollars are spent. But by listening to CAMIMH's message, hearing from the Faces firsthand, and reviewing the national mental health strategy created by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the federal government could take the lead and work with provincial governments, provincial health authorities and mental health organizations (within CAMIMH as well) in a unified approach to tackle mental health issues, channeling money to specific needs in communities across Canada.

In our discussion at Rideau Hall, after hearing some of the barriers and problems people with mental illness confront, Her Excellency Sharon Johnston posed the question, "Where do we go from here?"

We need to look at the dollars to be saved with the development of healthier workplaces and preventative and ongoing community support for people with mental illness. If the government can see the economic value of these improvements, they are more likely to take action, according to Laurie Pinard, one of this year's Faces who worked in politics for over a decade.

Instead of different mental health organizations duplicating services and competing for funding amongst themselves, perhaps they can strategize and come up with a plan, each taking responsibility for different aspects of care, but also having open communication of innovations and better ways of doing things.

I hope this event built some momentum starting in Ottawa which I hope will filter down or at least be at the forefront of issues in the House of Commons.

An Excellent Day in Ottawa

October 2nd, 2012, I woke up at 5:30 am, packed my bags at the hotel and later met my group to walk to Parliament Hill. We went through security, got our ID tags and had breakfast in the Parliamentary Restaurant. Met MP Olivia Chow from Toronto and Minister Peter Gordon MacKay. Chatted with two young aides who work with politicians. I asked one of them if he had seen The Ides of March, starring George Clooney. He said that it was horrendous and gave a very bad view of politics and politicians. I laughed. "I'm sure it's not really like that," I said.

I had to leave the breakfast presentation early to take part in an interview with Dr. Karen Cohen, the chair of Mental Illness Awareness Week. The CTV Canada AM interview was with host Marcie Ien who was in another studio in Toronto. So I didn't actually see her, but only heard her voice through a speaker in my left ear. It was very exciting to be on national TV. They showed my artwork and featured my book.

Walking back to Centre Block, I was stopped by a fellow who worked for a pharmaceutical company who recognized me and gave me his card. Ah, a bit of stardom.

After that I met with Dr. John Higenbottam, co-chair of the Canadian Alliance on Mental Health and Mental Illness, and MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay (Delta-Richmond East) to discuss CAMIMH's message and recommendations. I gave her a copy of my memoir which she said she would read. She congratulated us on the good work we are doing to reduce stigma.

I then met the other Faces and a few others to be in a photo-op with Bob Rae, the leader of the Liberal Party. He shared with us and us with him.

After a buffet lunch, I met with MP Don Davies (Vancouver- Kingsway, BC) and Meagan Hatch. Davies was genuinely interested in what we had to say. We took some photos and I was introduced to Thomas Mulcair, the Leader of the Opposition. Davies gave us a bit of a tour. He was glad to receive my book too and called me a 'double threat,' artist and writer.

After a brief press conference in the Charles Lynch Room, we took a short break then went through security again to observe part of a session in the House of Commons. When someone gave a speech, there was applause, but I did notice a bit of jeering.

On the Centre Block steps, I was stopped by another woman who said she had seen me on Canada AM that morning.

A group of us took taxis and arrived at Rideau Hall. The 5 Faces and Dr. Cohen met with the Governor General's wife Sharon Johnston and a couple of her aides. Her Excellency wanted to know what we would say to parents or caregivers of people with mental illness. Each of us shared our story and I gave her a copy of my memoir too. I told her my father Gordon Yuen was knighted and had received the Order of St. John in 2004, before he passed away.

We then met the Governor General David Lloyd Johnston and other people connected with CAMIMH. We had a photo outside then were seated in a dining area for a roundtable discussion about mental health issues and where do we go from here.

The meeting went overtime, so I was worried about catching my flight back to Vancouver. Chantal and I were to fly out at the same time. We were excused to catch our flights and Her Excellency hugged us goodbye. We waited for the taxi which finally came and headed off to the airport. Once I arrived, I nervously stood in the security check lineup for 15 minutes. The flight was delayed so I was at the gate in plenty of time.

I got into Vancouver close to 10 pm. All in all, it was a very exciting, wonderful experience.

Face to Face With Sandra Yuen MacKay Video

I'm happy to share this video. Please check out YouTube to see the other Faces videos. 

People with mental illness don't have to suffer alone. Reach out for help. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Sandra in Ottawa

For Mental Illness Awareness Week (Sept 30th to Oct 6th, 2012), I will fly to Ottawa for two nights.
On Tuesday, Oct 2nd, I will participate in the following:

Breakfast on Parliament Hill
CTV Canada AM appearance
Meetings with Parliamentarians
Press Conference at Centre Block
Visit Rideau Hall to meet the Governor General David Johnston, participate in photo op, and have an informal meeting with Her Excellency Sharon Johnston

Also, public service announcements will be publicized with the five Faces of Mental Illness together and in individual videos. Later, they will be available on Youtube I believe.

Wish me luck!

Coast Resource Centre 2012 Art Show & Sale

I may have some paintings in this juried exhibition. Come one, come all! Enjoy this visual experience with me opening night! Lots of wonderful pieces to view.

Face-to-Face with Sandra Yuen MacKay

Posted August 28th, 2012 on the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Wellness website. Together with Dustin Garron, Laurie Pinard, Chantal Poitras and Alicia Raimundo, we are spreading the word that "Recovery is possible." Please check out the other FACES bios and photos. They are all amazing heroes to me.

Sandra is one of this year's FACES

The Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health (CAMIMH) celebrates their tenth year of the Faces of Mental Illness Campaign and announces this year's Faces. In a recent press release, they stated they received 90 nominations and selected five Canadians who will participate in the campaign to reduce stigma and raise awareness.

Here's a list of the chosen Faces:

Sandra Yuen MacKay of Vancouver, British Columbia
Alicia Raimundo of Pickering, Ontario
Dustin Garron of Renfrew, Ontario
Laurie Pinard of Ottawa, Ontario
Chantal Poitras of Fredericton, New Brunswick

I am the only one from Western Canada. It's a great honour to be recognized and to have the opportunity to spread hope and inspire others.

My Artist's Corner and the ECHO Clubhouse

Recently I gave a talk in Burnaby about my story of recovery. I arrived at the ECHO Clubhouse on Canada Way on a hot afternoon. With me, I carried some books, a water bottle and my prepared speech on paper. I took a deep breath and entered.

The Canadian Mental Health Association in the Lower Mainland has many services including the ECHO clubhouse. It's a supportive environment that provides activities for people with lived experience of mental illness. One of the programs at this location is My Artist's Corner that offers classes to members in drawing and painting. Materials are supplied for a small fee. They have art shows, guest speakers, and guest artists.

So in the My Artist's Corner art room, they set up chairs and passed out popsicles. I was formally introduced and the group applauded me about receiving the Courage to Come Back Award.

I talked about some of the things that had helped me cope with my illness. They were friendly, receptive, asked questions, and complimented me. Some of the audience had already read my memoir. One comment that for me to speak openly about my story in person was better than the book. I asked them questions too.

I left on a high note after chatting and signing some books.

It's important to remember that sometimes it's not about one's status and accomplishments in life, but the connection between one and others. If I didn't feel connected to my family and others, would I find joy and contentment in my life? Giving to others is rewarding. Very often it comes back to you.

When Quietness Came: a fascinating memoir by Erin Hawkes

Erin Hawkes started to hear voices at a young age. Didn't everyone hear them? At least that was her belief. When Quietness Came: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey With Schizophrenia reveals her struggle with auditory hallucinations and delusions. Despite her long battle, she was an academic star, earning a Master's degree in neuroscience, scholarships and the Hugh Bell award. 

Erin Hawkes
I feel Erin is courageous and should be applauded for sharing her story. In her memoir, she can shift from neuroscience expert to describing delusions in less than a page. This book also shows that one can be highly intelligent but still succumb to paranoid delusions. She writes about self-harm and being put in restraints and injected with medications against her will.  The revolving door of repeated relapses and hospitalizations is a reality for many people suffering from mental illness. Erin's story is remarkable that she could achieve so much despite her illness.

I was so wrapped up in this book that I read it in less than a day. Five stars.

The Early Edition on CBC Radio with Rick Cluff

On April 26th, I received a call that an Associate Producer of CBC Radio was trying to track me down via different sources. I called her that afternoon and she asked me if I was interested in speaking on the radio about the annual family conference for mental health which was held April 28th. She thought it would be insightful to hear from a mental health consumer who was to speak at the conference.

She asked me quite a few questions focussing on the conference and my views on what is good in the mental health system and what things need to improve. The problem wasn't what to talk about but I had so much to say, we had to limit some of the questions.

So on Friday morning, April 27th, I set my alarm for 5 a.m. and arrived at CBC Radio on Hamilton Street at 6 a.m. True to form, I was early but soon it was time for my interview. I walked into the radio booth and there was Rick Cluff. He waved hello as he spoke into the microphone to another interviewee. At 6:40 a.m., it was my turn. He introduced me as the recipient of the Courage to Come Back Award and mentioned my memoir, however, these bits were later cut from the broadcast. My radio interview was quick but we covered a lot of information. He gave me the thumbs up when I left, signalling I had done a good job.

 Here's the podcast of my interview on Early Edition on CBC Radio with Rick Cluff about the annual family conference if you'd like to hear it. If you fast forward to 7:54 the interview runs until 14:21. Click here.

I posted this late but I think the content is still valuable.

Courage to Come Back winners feted at gala dinner

I was enthused to receive the Courage to Come Back Award with five others. The May 17th evening gala had over a thousand guests and was held at the Trade and Convention Centre West in Vancouver. They raised $939,340 for the Coast Mental Health Foundation. I was happy to share the experience with friends and family and made new friends too. This photo appeared in The Province along with an article.

The Courage to Come Back Award recipients for 2012 (from left): Rebecka Hill, Angie Lohr, Michael Coss, Margaret Benson, Kamal Dhillon and Sandra MacKay pose at the Vancovuer Trade and Convention Centre on Thursday night.

Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, PNG

Sandra's story on Global TV BC

Deborra Hope interviewed me on Global BC's News Hour for the Courage to Come Back Awards but the video has since been taken off their website.

It was very exciting to appear on television which images of my art and tell my story. Deborra put me at ease. The same day I met the other recipients of the awards.

Thank you Deborra and the organizers at Coast Mental Health.

Schizophrenia Awareness Day - May 24th

The Schizophrenia Societies across Canada have come together in a collaborative venture to raise awareness of schizophrenia and psychosis.
Every year on the 24th of May we want to paint the country purple!  We ask that you wear purple to show unity in bringing awareness to schizophrenia, and to show support  for those affected by the illness.
Joining in the show of support in 2011 was one of Toronto’s most important monuments!  On the evening of May 24th, theCN Tower was lit purple in support of the 1 in 100 people in Canada who are living with schizophrenia.


1. BC Place in downtown Vancouver will light the exterior of their building in purple on May 24 to support Schizophrenia Awareness Day.
2. Canada Place will be recognizing Schizophrenia Awareness Day by running a scrolling ticker message on their outdoor HD Screen on the front of the facility from May 15th to May 24th.
3.  Teams of volunteers will be handing out purple tote bags to morning commuters at various skytrain stations with literature and swag. Stay tuned to our Facebook and twitter to find out the locations.
4.  To donate to the BC Schizophrenia Society, click here.

Alone in the Crowd: Zerom's Quest to Reduce Stigma

I met an author named Zerom Seyoum who is on a quest to reduce stigma about the lost souls of society- people that have been marginalized and discriminated against. Zerom is mild-mannered, kind and respectful with a sense of humour. When I read his books, I was shocked at the experiences he's been through. Born in Ethiopia, he received a Bachelor of Science degree but was exposed to life-threatening situations. He moved to Canada with hope of a better life, however he became mentally ill, triggered by crises in his environment. Zerom committed a violent act, caused by paranoia and delusions, which was opposite to his nature. He wrote Not Guilty but Not Free a detailed description of many years spent at the Forensic Psychiatric Institute which later became the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital in Coquitlam, British Columbia.

Imagine being in a secured facility for years on end, doing repetitive tasks and not being free. To endure the side effects of medication and the regulated schedule of activities takes perseverance. It is hard to keep motivated and maintain hope in such a setting.

Alone in the Crowd is a new book that he published this year. Again Zerom gives a rare inside view of the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital. He writes vignettes with honesty and sometimes humour about the patients, staff and the system. Some events are sad, shocking and bleak but I discovered that the patients weren't hardened criminals but people who didn't believe what they did, once they started to recover. Some did not recall their crimes or said that voices affected their behaviour. Some found sanctuary in the hospital because they felt protected and had shelter and food. Others were able to leave the hospital and live in the community.

He doesn't sugarcoat their experiences but shows many dimensions of his fellow patients. They have strengths and weaknesses, fears and dreams like the rest of us but some are trapped by their circumstances, lack of education, and their illnesses.

Zerom now lives independently and works as a peer support worker. After persevering for so long, he is sympathetic to the patients he knew and grateful for good things in his life. He isn't looking for pity for them but understanding and compassion. Some are misled but others like Zerom find their way. His story is remarkable- he is a true survivor.

Interview on CKWX News 1130 with John Ackermann

I got a call from John Ackermann of CKWX News 1130 Radio who wanted to interview me about my life story and thoughts about winning the Courage to Come Back Award. I went down to the station and we sat in a meeting room where he asked me questions about what it was like to have mental illness. We were done quickly as he only needed enough for a one minute clip. Afterwards he gave me a tour of the station.

This morning I heard the broadcast. Here's the link to the interview.

Thanks to John and the crew at News 1130.

Courage to Come Back honoree offers comfort, hope to mentally ill

I am pleased to announce I am the recipient of the Courage to Come Back Award in the Mental Health category for 2012. This award is given to 6 recipients every year to people who have faced adversity, risen above it and helped others. Coast Mental Health in British Columbia has offered this award for 14 years.

Announcements and publicity include The Province (Monday, April 9th edition, page 11), Global TV, CKWX News 1130. There will be a gala dinner on May 17th at the Trade and Convention Centre in Vancouver to honour this year's recipients.

It's thrilling to receive this award. It's really a milestone for me after years of struggle. Thank you to my family, colleagues and supporters who helped make this possible.

Here is the online version of The Province article:
Courage to Come Back honoree offers comfort, hope to mentally ill

Thanks to The Province reporter Susan Lazaruk for interviewing me and Janelle Schneider, the photographer.

The Prize

A rainy March is coming to an end, but being indoors gave me ample time to write. Flash Fiction World published my humorous flash fiction story "The Prize" which takes place at the Academy Awards. If you read it, I encourage you to explore some of the other stories, with a limit up to four hundred or a thousand words. Flash fiction is an art in itself. On this website, there are some rules around writing these sort of pieces. For example, telling is better than showing in order to maintain brevity. Metaphors and similes are unnecessary. Contractions also are useful to keep the word count low. However, flash fiction should also be a complete story with conflict and a conclusion. Plot is paramount.

In a world that seems to spin faster and faster, flash fiction has a role in delivering entertainment in snack-size bites.

Flash Fiction World runs quarterly competitions for new and experienced writers. For those who may be experiencing writer's block, writing flash fiction may give them a different approach and fresh perspective.

Inspiration for writing comes from many different sources. I continue to fine-tune my editing skills and look for opportunities to publish my work. If you have any suggestions of good places online to sending writing, please leave a comment here.

Sometimes payment isn't only limited to dollars but to exposure and a feeling of accomplishment to be acknowledged by the public, by editors for other websites or through comments from readers.

Cursed Drum of Julius and a thank you

A UK writer Cleveland W. Gibson sends me an email once in awhile about opportunities to be published online. Some of the sites he suggests are in the UK but others are elsewhere.

I met him years ago when I joined At the time, I was discouraged about my writing and he and I wrote a poem together. I really appreciate his ongoing support and thank him in the introduction of my memoir, My Schizophrenic Life: The Road to Recovery from Mental Illness. 

Sometimes it takes the encouragement of one or a few people to guide someone to accomplish a goal. A voice saying, "you can do this or try this," is a much needed nudge.

He also showed me that being a writer means you need to write often. I realized I need to keep generating ideas and work on the craft but also focus on the process, because the process is where magic happens. It's a journey of discovery and learning and using life experience and knowledge to grow stories. Writing is a lifestyle not only a profession.

Gibson has written 200 stories and poems, including two published books, Moondust and Billabongo, which are available on Amazon. Here's the poem we wrote together.

Cursed Drum of Julius 

In the darkness, the battle ended, the dead and dying bled,
Romans filled the drum of Julius, the cursed drum of lead.
The wild-eyed soldiers in the lion's den passed it all around
To create the undead, they spat hot blood full upon the ground.

Buried deep within the Earth, the blood sought out the secret curse,
As a scarecrow, I felt terror then the shock of something worse.
It awoke in me the taste for blood to kill the pure of heart.
The dark of night gave me life; from the field, I could now depart. 

The years slipped by relentlessly controlled by a vampire's will;
I saw the girl in pure white, the one I loved but had to kill.
No slip of knife or tight scarf around her throat so very pale;
Thirsty, I sank my fangs into her flesh, silencing her wail.

The hunters roused in rage, their bows primed, dogs barked thro’ out the night.
Fearfully, I faced the pack, unable to escape or fight.
They lit the corn, engulfing me in flames-- revenge has its price.
With heat so fierce, I felt the sheer pain, the end to all my vice.

My remains, a demented scarecrow, a mute, a troubled mind.
My best victim, the girl in white destroyed, the last of her kind.
With the curse to kill or lust for young girls’ blood taken away,
Finally I could rest, my ashes left to rot and decay.

Caught in the act of offering Hell's Fire for free

So about a week ago, I wrote a blog about whether or not writers should give away their books for free. One person commented that book giveaways are good for getting reviews and getting one's name out there. If someone doesn't read your work, how will others know the quality of one's work? Also, this person said that if your book does well as a free download over a 24 hour period, the author may receive bestselling author status.

My response was that she was right, but there's a difference between giving away books for reviews versus giving away a free book to everyone.

So I went on my merry way, until I received an email from Smashwords who are having a Read an Ebook Week from March 4-10th. Authors are invited to sell their books at a discount or for free for a week. It sounded like a good promotional tool.

So now I was in a quandary. Would I lose credibility if I were to give away my 99 cent science fiction novella Hell's Fire for free? Would I stand to lose thousands of dollars? No, very doubtful! Would I feel good if people were interested enough to download my book? Yes.

So there you have it. I'm jumping on the bandwagon and joining the free ebook frenzy. Maybe I wasn't totally right the first time. I'll give it a try. Thanks, Malika!

Should I buy an iPad or e-reader in lieu of a vacation?

I had lunch with a friend who is going to Mexico on Saturday for a week's holiday. I know a lot of people that fly to different places around the globe to experience different cultures, environments and people.

Because I don't travel much, I found myself with some money saved up. It's been on my mind that I'd like to buy an iPad or e-reader in lieu of a vacation.

First, I would have to know exactly what purpose I have in mind. Would it be used mostly for reading e-books or do I want to access email or work on documents or watch movies? Originally, I thought I'd like to read, answer email, surf the internet, and work on documents. I considered if would be best to purchase an iPad. I've always liked Mac and own an iMac computer. I found out that Microsoft will release an Office app for the iPad this year which is good news for me as I do a lot of word-processing as a writer.

However, the iPad isn't recommended for editing long documents said one reviewer. If you link up a keyboard to type and free up screen space for viewing your document, you have to bounce back between using the touch screen and the keyboard. I'm still used to using a mouse so I'd have to adapt. iCloud stores all your music, photos, documents, etc. and transfers them to all your devices, so if I download an iTunes song on my iPad, it will show up on other devices and vice versa.

But what about other devices? The more research I did on the Kindle Fire, Nook Tablet, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Blackberry Playbook, and iPad, the more confused I became. Kindles are lower in price and compact but have limited functions. If you have Wi-Fi access you can stream your movies and music to cloud and only store apps, books, email and docs and images on your device. The Nook reserves part of its storage for Barnes and Noble purchases. As I'm already linked to Amazon, it would make sense to go with a Kindle if I want something less expensive but then there's the question of compatibility to what I have now.

So I'm not sold on any of them yet. Maybe I should wait for iPad 3.

Should it be free?

Frequently, I see e-books for free for a limited time or longer on Amazon. Some of these books are downloaded enough times to earn a ranking in the top 100 e-books in the Free in Kindle Store category.

Some authors will give away e-books for free in hopes that readers will be interested and perhaps buy one of their other books for money. Or maybe they are just feeling generous or their sales are lagging and they want to promote their work. Or the free e-book may be a new release, which the author hopes will become hot if he offers free downloads. There may be other reasons as well.

Free e-books are great publicity and combined with good reviews can make a book successful. However, if one's book is worthy of a price tag, why undervalue one's work?

For example, if one offers a $3.99 e-book for free, is one not actually giving away $3.99 to each of those people who downloaded the book? If one's book reaches a thousand downloads, has one in fact given away approximately 70% of $3990 in royalties which is $2793? Is that good marketing?

It could be argued that one wouldn't sell a thousand e-books if one kept to the higher price, but then one would have to consider the quality of the work and other reasons the book may not have sold.

One can't go into Chapters or another bookstore and get a book for free. One can borrow books or e-books through the library system, but I'm pretty sure the library paid something to carry that book.

Maybe it's not such a hot idea to offer one's prized work for free.

The writing process in fan-fiction

I have a friend who writes fan-fiction stories.  Fan-fiction is based on original works (also called canonical fictional universes) from which writers may borrow characters or settings. Fan-fiction is almost never professionally published because their origins belong to the original author. Writers may alter the events in a character's life from the original, or put the characters in a different setting or situation. On FanFiction.Net, authors serialize their work, posting chapters one by one. Reviews are frequent. Commenters provide constructive criticism and communicate with writers.

The author I know is onto her third novel published online. Her stories contain druids, elves, mages, rogues, and humans set in the Warcraft fantasy universe.

Blizzard Entertainment developed the Warcraft franchise which includes video games and novels and other media. A film adaptation of Warcraft is rumoured to be released in 2013.

My fellow writer has a different approach to writing than I but her techniques are used often in fan-fiction. She publishes a chapter at a time online. Her first story was over twenty chapters. Her second was longer. When I asked how she is able to complete and post chapters one by one, she says that she only plans a few chapters ahead at a time. She may have an overall idea of the outcome or conclusion of a story, but the details and crafting are done step by step. When she gets closer to the end, she'll think it through and formulate the twists and turns and ins and outs in more detail. After she received some feedback on one story, she went back and edited one crucial chapter but she didn't need to edit very much.

I was impressed that she could write a book this way. I edit a lot and go back and flesh out different details. What I learned from her is that one should have a strong sense of story structure including the overall story arc and minor threads. Continuity is as important as conflict. She also arranges different scenes in a chapter to open and end each one on strong note for best impact. Her use of cliffhangers create tension and suspense. She has an amazing ability to create big climaxes with fight scenes including magic as weapons. Her characters are imaginary but each have believable motivations, emotions and behaviour which are consistent. I think her stories are mainly plot-driven but the main characters do evolve and go through a transition as in other types of fiction.

By the time I read the final chapters of her first serialized book, I was so excited I flew through them. Her sentence structure is fluid like a dance with rhythm. I would say her stories are popular and she has fans of her own.

So for the next book I write, I'm going to spend a lot more time preparing before actually writing. It will save me a lot of headaches later.

A Word about Morgen Bailey

Morgen Bailey is an amazing person. She's personable, dedicated, efficient, and effective. And I know this because I've been in contact with her and I've viewed her website. She's the author of The 365-Day Writer's Block Workbook, free eShorts and other e-books available on Smashwords. Since June 2011, she has posted 281 blog author interviews, about 60 author spotlights and the numbers are rising.

When I think of all the hard work and amount of time she puts into aiding and supporting other writers, I'm blown away. I don't think she's paid by the authors she promotes, but maybe the rewards come a different way.

Writers may contact her at if they would like to participate in an interview, author spotlight, guest blog, or Flash Fiction Fridays.

Morgen is based in Northampton, England. Besides maintaining her extensive website, she's also a freelance writer.

I wish for her success as she has given others so much of herself.

I'm proud to be included in her 281st blog interview! A round of applause for Morgen Bailey.

Junying Kirk, writer

Junying Kirk's ability as a writer shouldn't be underestimated. I first befriended Junying on Goodreads. We exchanged stories of our experiences and commonalities. She's knowledgeable, articulate, and honest and a voracious reader. She was born in the 1960s and grew up during the Cultural Revolution in China. In 1988, she moved to the UK where she received a degree in English Language Teaching and further postgraduate degrees. Besides writing, she currently works as an interpreter and translator. If you visit her blog, you will find many images of her trips to beautiful places.

She published two e-books The Same Moon and the sequel, Trials of Life which are part of the Journey to the West trilogy. She plans to release the last book in the trilogy this year. Even though the novels are fictional, some of their content is based on different periods in her own life and demonstrate the challenges faced within the Chinese culture and how one adapts to another culture. 

Her books are strikingly poignant and multifaceted, full of history, culture, and conflicts faced by the protagonist Pearl. In the opening chapter which takes place in Sichaun in the 1980s, she has a forbidden, secret relationship with a man against her parents' strict wishes. The story gives insight into the political and societal constraints of the times.  Lying to her parents, she suffers from fear, guilt and shame. When she is found out, she is severely punished. Filled with anguish, she must break off her relationship. In chapter two, the story flashes back to her grandparents' lives in a harsh political and economical climate and their sacrifices to pay for their children's education. 

If you are interested in Chinese culture and the transition of Chinese to other parts of the world, these stories will give you insight. Viewing her writing from a contemporary western perspective, I was struck by the extreme differences of Pearl's life and my own. The hardships she endured were significant and made me realize that I should not take living in Canada for granted. Junying's personal experiences make these stories authentic and credible.

If you visit Amazon, you may preview the first chapters of each of her books.

I was grateful to be featured on her blog in an interview. Please click here to view. Thank Junying!


What I learned in the process of setting goals in writing

So after a month of writing short stories, reading how-to books on writing, and editing my current manuscript, I'm feeling a little stressed and worn out. I was pretty much on the computer for every spare moment I had. I pushed myself to set a deadline to finish editing my novel but found I was rushing the process and missing mistakes.

As for my short stories, the first ones I was really pleased with, but by the fifth one, I was racing to get to the conclusion, and telling more than showing. Such is my nature!

So I spoke to my dear friend and she told me something interesting. If I have a home, food on the table and enough money to spend, why push myself to work more hours or set a deadline at all? The joy of writing is self-discovery, learning the craft, and the act of writing. Why do I write? It's not to make a great deal of money so maybe I don't have to work so hard if it affects my health.

Having a stress-related illness means I have to learn how to manage my time and energy well. I could pound away and finish my manuscript in the shortest time possible, but I would think the work would suffer and my mental health, physical health and psychological health may be affected.

So the new rule is: Do what I can, but pace myself and achieve a balance in my activities. Rome wasn't built in a day, right?

For those of you out there who can manage to set goals of writing more than a few books and market them successfully, I salute your dedication and talents. But for me, I need to take the time to move slower. Be a tortoise rather than a hare.

Having said all that, I believe my manuscript will be finished but maybe later rather than sooner.

Just to add, my flash fiction story "Follow Me" was accepted and published on Flash Fiction World. Julie Elizabeth Powell, a prolific writer who just completed her tenth published book and is working on her eleventh, left a wonderful comment. She is the author of the Avalon Trilogy. If you are interested, look her up on Goodreads or check out her books on Amazon or Lulu. Thanks to Julie!

If you like, please leave a note and/or rating under comments on my page at Flash Fiction World.

Nancy Kress: Beginnings

So I recently finished Beginnings, Middles and Ends by Nancy Kress, an award-winning author who teaches writing. In her book, she discusses weaknesses in those three areas and how to improve each one. I share some of her ideas on the beginning of a novel with you here.

The first sentence of one's novel needs to be unique and grab the reader's attention. The first scene should introduce at least one character, a conflict, be specific in detail, and credible. It has to be interesting enough that the reader will want to read on. It shouldn't be generic but original, demonstrating that your book is different than others and special in some way. In the beginning of a story, one wants to set up a conflict via an event or situation. It might be a problem or mystery that the protagonist has to solve. Details and building engaging characters will give one's story more believability.

The first chapter may set up a promise. If someone is murdered, the reader wants the crime to be solved and/or shown what lengths the detectives or others go to in order to find the killer. If a girl meets a boy, the reader expects a romance to fulfill that promise. If a character is conflicted within himself, battling with a conscience or inability to act, the reader wants to see the character go through a transition for better or worse. The promise doesn't always mean a happy ending, but a journey that explores, inspires or brings the reader to a different place then where he started. It doesn't necessarily need to be a lesson learned but shed a different perspective or give an insight into human nature.

Those are just a few examples from this great book on writing. I encourage you to read it if you are a struggling writer or if you are new to writing stories.

The unnatural writer

Some writers are able to create sentences that are elegant, fluid and fall like snowflakes. Sometimes it's a blizzard but other times it's like music. The rhythm of images and words make for a poetic dance.

I'm not much of a poet or lyricist. But when I read quotes or the first sentence of a story by a talented writer, I'm amazed. How aware are authors to see and describe characters and their environments in such a pure, insightful way unburdened by awkwardness or oversimplification?

Perhaps I'm not a natural writer. My words stumble at times, but I believe it's part of how I am evolving. Because of having a mental illness, perhaps my mind is tainted by medications that dull the creative spark and cloud the mind. So in the past, it has been difficult for me to be a better artist or writer, because of not only the illness but also the treatment.

Still I trudge on, trying to find my artistic wavelength. The magical place where words and images come naturally.

Two weeks, six stories and counting

So a while ago, I took on a challenge of writing two short stories a week or 1,500 words a day. Over a period of fourteen days, I wrote six short stories. I explored different topics and points of view. Some stories were sad or funny. Because these were short in length as opposed to a novel, I was able to spend more time on each paragraph, slow down and get into the character and feel his fears, sadness and happier moments.

Someone says when one paints, one has to go through a lot of bad paintings before the cream rises to the surface. In writing, quality may vary, but like art, as the creator matures I believe he will get consistently better.

I've been reading some short stories by Fredric Brown who is described as the O. Henry of science fiction. Highly recommended.

This next week, I may write a little less and focus more on reading Frederic Brown and books on writing. The important thing is that I'm working on it!

1,500 words a day

So, I've heard that professional writers will often use the method of scheduling a certain number of words or a time period to write each day. Some might write for two or three hours at the same time of the day and then leave their stories to rest and do other things the rest of the day. Stephen King in On Writing states he writes 2,000 words a day (or ten pages) and can complete a 180,000 word novel in three months.

Now I'm not up to that standard but I wrote and edited a short story in two days. I didn't break any records and spent hours fine-tuning. I left it rest overnight and finished it up the second day. However, as I was suffering from a bad case of "I can't write" for months, it was a triumph. I confess I did write a creative nonfiction piece in December, but it was hard to find the right words.

To break through fear and free myself up to explore and experiment was a risk but I was very satisfied with the result. In less than a week, I wrote another two stories as well. So once I was able to set a goal and funnel all the expert advice I've been reading from other writers, I created something original. I was able to show in the right places. I didn't overexplain. I kept to first person point of view.

So am I willing to take the plunge and set a goal of writing 1,500 words a day or two short stories a week? Would I be able to keep to that without coming up with drivel? New writers that tackle NaNoWriMo are able to complete a novel in a month. It may not be their best writing but it forces them to be creative and just plow through.

So as I am toying with the idea of setting a daily or weekly goal. I'll let you know how I'm doing next week!

What Stella and Roz taught me

Hello all,
I apologize I haven't been updating my blog frequently enough. Sometimes life gets in the way, but I think the new year is a good time to change that. First off, I stepped down as editor for Majestic but am still active as a columnist. Why oh why would I step down from this prestigious position? Because I'm prioritizing. Instead of managing the newsletter, I plan to spend more time writing, or at least practising writing new stories.

On Facebook, I met Stella Deleuze, a writer and professional editor in London, UK. The author of No Wings Attached and Excuse me, where is the exit? available on Amazon. She was on Facebook one day and we started to chat about her latest manuscript. I said, I was interested in reading it as her main character seemed similar to one in a book I've been writing. So we exchanged files and agreed to edit each other's stories. She took me by the hand and showed me what I needed to do to improve my story. She focused on plot, point of view, continuity, character development and made many comments and suggestions on the first several chapters. I was able to see how to improve my writing by limiting the point of view and not using omniscient point of view indiscriminately.

I also was reading Roz Morris's blog. She is a prolific writer also based in London with a lot of good ideas about how to write better. She's the author of Nail Your Novel and My Memories of a Future Life  available on Amazon. She said if one has a blog to post frequently, otherwise readers will think it's been abandoned. So I certainly don't want to look like I'm neglecting my blog, so here I am writing about my plans for 2012 and plan to continue documenting my journey this year.

The main goal I have is to concentrate on new writing. With thanks to Stella, Roz, and others, I have new tools in my writer's toolbox. I am more discerning and perceptive about how to improve and by practising my new skills; I'm ready for action. As of this week, I've broken through writer's block and am exploring new ideas and the techniques I've learned.

So in a nutshell, 2012, I'm ready.