Monthly Archives: June 2012

I often run across grossly overused names in the books I read, and I have long considered writing a list of names, especially surnames, that should be just cause for an author being fined, tortured, or imprisoned.  I had never summoned up the energy to do so, however, and probably never would have, except that someone was trying to explain the plot of Fifty Shades of Grey to me the other day, and began by naming the protagonists, Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, two of the most horribly overused surnames in the history of bad writing, together, in the same novel, meaning that I now have even more reason never to open the book than I did before.

Here is the problem: there are, even at a very conservative estimate, many millions of last names in the world, and hundreds of thousands of these are more or less native to English speaking cultures, yet a special few, not even the most common, are abused by writers in general and genre writers in particular.  There are endless numbers of Steeles and Grays in novels, endless numbers of Stones, Sterlings, Whites, Blacks, Hawks, Colts, Wolfes, Brands,  and Rocks, despite the fact that many of these names are not even all that common in the general population.

I would call this a lack of imagination, but it is not even that, because it takes almost no imagination at all to find names for a novel.  It takes only a list of names, almost any list: a PTA membership, a church directory, a class list, a batting order, a theatre program, a political petition, a Contact Us page from your favourite site, anything at all.  Then just pick a name or two.  Mix and match them if you like, but pick something that seems about the right age and culture for your character.  Do not try to find something that describes your character’s personality.  Do not try to find something that seems trendy or popular.  Do not, above all, butcher the name by substituting letters to make it look interesting and different.  In short, try not to use your imagination.  Just pick something common enough to be unremarkable but not so common as to be cliche.  Then use it.

And please, for the sake of your readers, never name a character Grey or Steele.

My boys and I have come up with a variation on the traditional cucumber sandwich.

First, cut a fresh bun in half and smear both sides thickly with garlic butter.  Cover both with cheese, as much as you can fit, and then bake until everything is melted and beautiful.  Lay cucumber slices into the cheese on both sides.  Salt and pepper the cucumbers liberally.  Spread a creamy sauce over the cucumbers (ranch or Caesar dressing will both do, but we generally use a three cheese dressing that we buy at our local grocer).  Lay a thick piece of chicken schnitzel on one side of the bun, and put the other side of the bun on top.

Enjoy the garlicy, cheesy, creamy, schnitzely, cucumbery goodness.

As some of you already know,  I am working with a few people on a co-operative publishing venture that I am not yet quite prepared to announce officially, and so I am having to learn a few things as I go, which is always an amazing and terrifying experience, especially since I am trying to do things as open source as I can.  Here are a few of the things I have learned:

1.  In Canada, ISBN numbers are granted free of charge through Library and Archives Canada, with the requirement that the publisher send a copy of each publication to be catalogued in the national archive.

2. You can create ISBN barcodes very easily using an online barcode generator, like the one provided through

3. The Gimp is an effective image editor for creating book covers and dust jackets, though the learning curve, especially for someone like me who has never really used this kind of software before, can be pretty steep.  I must confess that it took me several days of playing with the thing to get a real sense of composing an image in layers, and I get the feeling that I am only just scratching the surface of what the program can do, though I am very pleased with what I have managed to create so far.

4.  Inkscape is my latest self-education project.  The program is used to produce vector images, which can scale to any size and retain their image quality.  I am using it to design some logos and whatnot, but I have only just begun, so I am currently hacking my way through a test project and getting to know the user manual.

5.  I have already mentioned, but I have also been using as I continue my education in writing LaTeX.  Along the way, I have also found to be an invaluable resource when the answers I am looking for are somewhat less than intuitive.

6. I have learned that though there are print on demand publishers in every design and flavour, very few of them allow authors merely to submit print-ready files without purchasing a publishing package.  There is, of course, and it is an acceptable option as far as it goes.  There is also Amazon’s, which offers similar services, with greater default distribution but less choice in terms of book sizes and bindings.  The best option seems to be, though they really only deal with publishers, so you will have to create yourself as a publisher in order to deal with them, and you will need to set up credit with them in some way as well, even if only through a credit card.

In short, I have learned that some parts of learning to self-publish high quality books are far easier than I had imagined, some are far harder than they should be, and most of them require a certain amount of trial and error, though I think I may now finally be exhausting the trails and errors and getting to the point where I can produce books with some proficiency.  Of course, I might still be wrong.  I have been before.

I am very excited to announce the addition of a new little guy named Jayden to our family. He is fifteen months old and the most charming little man imaginable, active and curious and happy and wonderful. We have spent the last few weeks getting to know him and his foster family, and he came to stay permanently at our house just this Sunday morning. Our boys are completely in love with him, feeding him his bottle and pushing him in his little blue car, and we are all of us delighting in having him in our home.

We are also deeply thankful to Jayden’s foster family, who have been truly remarkable throughout the entire process. Transitioning a child from one family to another is always full of indescribably complex and often contradictory emotions, joy and loss and hope and grief all together, but they received us with such graciousness and friendship, and we feel that our family has grown to include not only Jayden but his foster family as well.  We are grateful to them for everything.

Though we know that many of you will want to meet Jayden as soon as possible, it is important not to overwhelm him with unfamiliar people, so we would ask that you give him a few weeks to get used to his new surroundings, and that you give us a call before coming to visit.  We look forward to introducing him to you, and we are sure that you will fall in love with him as much as we have.