An Author’s Nightmare

author's nightmareI had no ordinary nightmare. It was scary, as all nightmares are, but in the aftermath, I found it hilarious and telling and not entirely surprising, given that I had just sent off my manuscript for my third novel—historical fiction—to an editor.

Writing a novel is only half the battle. The other half is the stress of figuring out how best to market your book, and this is true for both indie and traditional authors. The latter have some help. The notable ones, like Stephen King and Margaret Atwood, have publicity machines behind them so they don’t have to do a lot to get any attention.

The Bones of My Nightmare

My nightmare revealed clearly that it was all about my third novel. In my dream, I was in the Hall of the West Vancouver library—which I frequent—ready to talk about my new book. I was disappointed to see there were only four people in the audience, but as we approached the hour, the hall suddenly filled and there must’ve been well over a hundred.

I was standing up front facing the group and I looked over to see if the librarian was ready to introduce me but she seemed to be busy talking to someone. After what seemed like an interminable amount of time, she advanced to the lectern and began her introductions. The problem was I couldn’t make out what she was  saying. Then she proceeded to read softly and I had to strain to hear, but recognized the passages as ones from my first novel, as the character name, Alex, jumped out at me. (Alex is Catherine’s daughter in A Cry From The Deep).

It Was Not To Be

After reading a page or so, she began to read—to my horror—a few author's nightmarepages from someone else’s book. I still couldn’t make out every word she was reading and was sure others were having the same problem. Because of this, the hall began to empty. Frustrated, I waved my hands and said loudly, “Enough.” By the time I got to the lectern, there were only five or so people left in the audience.

For some reason, we went outside, where I tried to engage the few who were standing, but a young man was playing a boom box and I had to yell at him to turn it off. Next thing I knew, he was behind me and was about to kick my backside. It was then I woke up.

I need a good shrink to unravel the above, but having been a therapist years back and having interpreted dreams myself, I had little trouble identifying my nightmare as stemming from the anxiety I was feeling about my upcoming book.

Will it resonate with my readers? Are there problems I haven’t noticed? If there are, I hope my editor will find them. And ya da ya da ya da. The doubts never stop.

In fact, I wrote a post a number of years ago, entitled, The Power of Dreams and I’ve used them, to my delight, in my debut novel, A Cry From The Deep.

Birthing A Book

I know all this anxiety is natural. It’s like giving birth. You hope that what you are about to bring into the world will be fully developed and without error and that your baby will get a good reception.

Your Comments?

I’d love to hear if others have wild and wonderful dreams, in which our unconscious exposes our fears.

Writers and readers, I look forward to hearing about your wooly night-time adventures.


Looking for a Book Cover Design

Painting by Oleksander Murashko: Peasant Family (1914)

This January, I finished revising my third novel, a historical one, as different in feel from the first two I’ve written, as the second was from the first.

It’s about a Ukrainian peasant farmwife, who shortly after her husband joins the Tsar’s army has to escape with their six children, because the enemy-the Germans and the Austrians—are about to invade. During the next fourteen years, she will endure the trials of a refugee camp, the dreaded typhus, her daughter’s doomed love, the Bolshevik revolution, a civil war and the Polish occupation.

(An aside: I stumbled across this painting by Oleksander Murashko. The peasant farmwife in my novel is a lot younger than the old woman here but the sentiment in the painting spoke to me. I hadn’t heard of this artist, considered to be Ukraine’s finest at the turn of the twentieth century. He won a Gold Medal at the Munich Exposition in 1909 for his painting, Carousel. A patriotic Ukrainian, he was taken from his house in 1919 by a street gang and shot in the back. He was 44.)

Judging A Book By Its Cover

Getting my novel edited is next along with looking for a book cover design. I’ve made a date with an editor, and I’ve been examining once again what makes a good book cover. That whole cliché, you can’t judge a book by its cover, I believe is wrong. I do judge a book by its cover. Don’t you?

A good book cover gives a clue not only about the story, but also about the quality of the writing inside. If the cover’s been hastily thrown together, the reader will likely assume the story suffers from the same lack of care.

A Little Research

When I researched book cover designs online, I found a number of opinions. Chip Kidd, the Random House designer behind bestseller Jurassic Park and many others, is one who emphasizes the value of a good cover.



Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Another book cover designer I checked out was C.S. Richardson, the creative director at book cover designRandom House who designed the fabulous book jacket of Madeleine Thien’s award-winning book Do Not Say We Have NothingHis book cover design got my attention. It was both pretty and engaging.

Did I buy the book because of its cover? Maybe.

I bought the novel because:

  1. I loved the cover.
  2. I read an earlier book by the author, Madeleine Thien, Simple Recipes, a superb collection of short stories.
  3. Her novel is about a Chinese family around the time of the Tiananmen massacre. My husband and I had visited China shortly after that horrendous event, so I was curious to know more.
  4. It had won the prestigious Giller award.

Even with reasons 2-4 listed above, I can say that if the cover had been poorly conceived, and I’d only read the first few pages, I might’ve put it back on the shelf, as this novel is not an easy read. Award-winning books are a mixed bag. There have been many that have disappointed me.

The Cover as Deal-Maker

C.S. Richardson says in the following video, “No book cover…has ever clinched the deal.”I agree with him there, but a lousy cover will also bring down sales. If it’s not appealing, the reader won’t pick up the book in the bookstore or stop to examine its first pages online.



When I checked out Madeleine Thien’s novel online, I was surprised to find a number of different book covers. If a book cover isn’t that critical, why are there so many different versions? I happen to like each one, though the one above is still my favourite.


What I’m Looking For

So, for the cover for my third novel, I’ll be looking for one that conveys a sense of what the cover of Madeine Thien’s story expresses: a story of a family caught up in their country’s struggles with an authoritarian power, their helplessness, but also their resilience. I also want a cover that reflects a story set in Russia during wartime in the early part of the twentieth century. It’s a tall order.

Stay tuned. If you have thoughts on this subject, I’d love to read them.


A Year of Unexpected Delights and Frustrations!

I love year-end reviews. I look back at what I’ve experienced, what I’ve learned and what I’m planning for the new year. The delights were many: travel, family visits, theatre, and writing, always writing.

The frustrations had more to do with what happened outside our home: politics in the USA and the #metoo movement. The latter, I applaud, as there have been so many brave women and men needing to be heard. Feminism, which stands for equal rights, exploded as a result. My novel, A Rubber Fence, set in the 1970s, shows what it was like at the start of that movement.

A Busy Travel Year

a year of unexpected delights

©Diana Stevan                      Salton Sea, California

2017 was an unusually busy year for Rob and me, travel-wise. We had three great trips.

In April, we saw our grandson, Michael Stevantoni, who’s taking film studies at Chapman U.He took us around Salton Sea, where he shot his first feature film. It’s called Desert Shores. The release date is yet to be decided.

We also saw Desert X, featuring amazing art installations in Palm Desert, and heard pianist Hunter Noack play some great arrangements on the grand lawn at Rancho Mirage.

We also weathered extreme heat when we hiked Joshua National Park. The bonus was the fabulous display of desert flowers, unlike any we’d seen before.

Then, in July, we spent 18 days in New York City, one of our favorite cities in the world. Our son-in-law, Diego Matamoros, was in three of eleven productions that Soulpepper theatre company of Toronto took to the Pershing Theatre on 42nd street.

a year of unexpected delights

© Diana Stevan                                         Central Park, NYC

Daughter Robyn and our two granddaughters Chloe and Mimi were in NYC as well, and together we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Broadway for a play, and Central Park, where we cycled, rowed a boat and saw Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I also re-visited Bryant Park where Catherine in my novel, A Cry From The Deep, had a momentous meeting.


a year of unexpected delights

©Diana Stevan          Open Mic Sidewalk Cafe, NYC

A highlight in NYC was going with granddaughter Chloe Matamoros to an open mike night at Sidewalk Cafe to hear her sing one of her original songs.

And in October, we visited Chloe in Halifax, Nova Scotia where she’s studying opera and drama at Dalhousie U. After a week with her, we took in the Celtic Colours of Cape Breton Island and heard some amazing fiddling.

I was so impressed and inspired that I bought a violin and started taking lessons again. I haven’t played a fiddle since high school and even then I wasn’t that good. Now Rob has to listen to my screeching. Good thing he wears hearing aids so he can take them out when I play.

a year of unexpected delights

©Diana Stevan                                               Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada

While we were in the port city of Halifax, we visited Pier 21 and the Immigration Museum, to do some genealogy research and get more material for future stories.

And we topped off the year with celebrations of Hanukkah with friends (Rob found out this year that one of his great-grandparents was Ashkenazi Jewish) and Christmas with family—daughter Karen, son-in-law John and grandson Michael. The latter we celebrated with hearty meals, Christmas carols, readings from The Northern Nativity by William Kereluk and daughter Karen’s magnificent plum pudding.

My Third Novel and More

As for my third novel, I’m still hemming and hawing as to how to get it out. It’s done and I’m polishing it. I may still indie publish it. My experience in self-publishing has been positive and I can apply what I’ve learned from my last venture. It is very rewarding to have control over title and cover and when my “baby” goes out to the public.

And in the new year, I’ll pick up where I left off on my book of short stories, and Along Came A Gardener, my inspirational book. As I also have a number of other writing projects, started and abandoned, I’ll soon see what gets my attention first.

My Wishlist

I’m wishing for and praying for World Peace, nuclear disarmament, the wealthy to pay more in taxes—fat chance of that in the USA—so that the poor and the middle class don’t carry the burden, affordable health care for all, fulfillment of the Paris Accord (respect for our environment), and respect and tolerance for one another regardless of race, religion and sexual orientation.

I know that’s a tall order, but I know that many want what I want. Through working together in our wonderful world and putting out positive energy into the universe, we can accomplish more than we think.

Thank You Dear Reader

Thank you for visiting my website.My ongoing joy comes from connecting with you, the reader. If you’ve read any of my books, thank you and if you haven’t, more information is available here. For book news or any offers down the road, you can sign up for my newsletter. I generally send one out quarterly. I promise not to flood your inbox.

If you have anything to add to my wishlist for 2018 or anything else, would love to hear it. You can leave a COMMENT below.

I’m wishing you all a Happy New Year, one full of Peace, Joy, and Love!



Musings About Immigrants at Pier 21

pier 21Recently, Robert and I toured the Maritimes. We went there to see our granddaughter, who’s attending Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

That city is also home to Pier 21 (Canada’s Ellis Island) and the Immigration museum that shows the immigrant’s experience when they land in Canada. It was a great place to visit, as it allowed me to do some research for another book I want to write. A sequel to a historical novel I’ve written and have yet to publish.

Inside the building is the wonderful Scotiabank Family History Centre with staff who will help any visitor with genealogical research. It doesn’t matter whether a family member landed at Pier 21 or Ellis Island or any other port in Canada or USA.

Immigrants and USA

While at the museum, I thought again about Trump’s ongoing rhetoric about immigrants. Since he began running for prepier 21sident, immigrants in the USA, and those wanting to go there have been under the spotlight and microscope. It’s become more difficult for those foreign-born to become Americans.

Every terror attack committed by an immigrant has fuelled American fear-mongers, even though mass shootings by their own far outnumber those by foreigners.

These naysayers are supported by the Fox News channel (and perhaps Russian hackers who want to mess with America’s democracy and what the Statue of Liberty stands for). Fox hosts and news anchors are quick to underline the horror and the potential horror that they believe is connected to immigrants, whether they are Mexicans, Syrians, or any other group hoping to find security for themselves and their families.

A Child of Immigrants

I’m particularly sensitive to this kind of rhetoric as I come from parents, who were both emigrated from Ukraine to Canada. Dad arrived with his mother when he was 2 in 1913, and Mom came with her mother and brothers in 1929 when she was 14.

They experienced a lot of prejudice but their parents worked hard (weathering the Great Depression); Dad’s three brothers fought valiantly in WWII; and all members of the family on both sides proved to be loyal, proud, honest, and hard-working Canadians.

Syrian Immigrants to Canada

I see the same spirit in the immigrants arriving in our country today. Our prime minister, Justin Trudeau, famously let in 25,000 new Syrian immigrants in his first year of office.

During our recent trip to the Maritimes, I saw a number of them working hard to make pier 21a home in their new land. Two young men sold sweets from a stall in the marketplace in Halifax, We saw two other tables at a different market in Mabou on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Again, they sold what they made. We bought a box of chocolates from one vendor. They were so delicious, I wish we had bought more.

All the immigrants we met greeted us with the warmest smiles. We left the markets feeling proud that our country had given them a home.

Knowing my own family’s immigrant experiences, I know that every immigrant’s journey is very hard.

The Tragedy of Prejudice

As a child of immigrants, I experienced prejudice and have written about it. I now know it was ignorance that propelled my fellow students and teacher to treat me with contempt.

Contempt breeds more contempt. Hate breeds hate, although having said that, I never felt hate, but I did feel sadness and loneliness. It’s no fun when you’re not being accepted by a group, by the society you’re hoping to be part of, because you’re seen as a threat.

A threat because of your name and the fact you speak the English language funny, or because of how you dress, or the colour of your skin, or your customs and your faith. And on and on.

pier 21

The photo above is of one display case at the immigration museum. Someone had written on birch bark:

We walked the Gravel Path

Past the Sleeping Stalls

The Rock Fence

And Cryptic Stones

Like the Earth, Trying

To Discern Autumn

From Snow.

 We Tethered Our Tongues

To The Wind and Wondered

Which Way Did The Ancestors Go?


Not All The Same

I wrote this blog post in hopes that more would view immigrants in a more compassionate way. Those who make the trek, leave the land they loved, want what we all want. A loving family, a roof over our heads, food in our bellies, and joy in our hearts. I’d like to think that more of us can stop and think and not paint all immigrants with the same brush.

I hope I haven’t turned too many off with my musings. The immigration museum brought all of this home in a big way. Well worth the visit.

Comments are free. 🙂


10 Writing Tips From The Surrey International Writers Conference


At the SIWC Multi-Author Book Signing

I jotted down some excellent writing tips at the recent Surrey International Writers Conference, (SIWC) even though this is my fifth time there, three as an attendee and the last two as a volunteer. I was busy introducing presenters, acting as a monitor for their talks, working the registration desk and so on, but on my breaks, I was able to to sit in on some great workshops.

The three days were filled with presentations by bestselling authors, agents and editors covering many forms of writing: screenplays, novels, non-fiction, poetry, short stories and children’s books. There were panels on queries and first pages, as well as sessions on branding and how to self-publish.And for those who wanted more in-depth instruction, there was a day of Master workshops before the conference even got started.

The whole event is a good place to mix with those who care about their work as much as you do. It’s also a good place to get some critiques on your work as well as to pitch to editors or agents who might ask to see more. And at the end, there was a multi-author book signing, which I was a part of. It featured Diana Gabaldon, Michael Slade, Meg Tilly, Hallie Ephron, JJ Lee, Jack Whyte and many more.

There are always some pointers that stand out, like the Ten Tips I got on Writing and Marketing. 

On Creating Characters

  1. When you are creating characters in your story, think about contradictions.Writer and actor Tetsuro Shigematsu gave great examples of charismatic characters. The great examples he gave were: Terry Fox, a one-legged marathoner; a rock star geek; Darth Vader, evil incarnate but a family guy; Madonna, a sex icon but a feminist; Walter White of Breaking Bad, who, as a teacher, was totally against drugs, but became a drug dealer. You want those contradictions in your story – the protagonist isn’t totally good, nor is the antagonist, totally bad.

On Story

  1. Hallie Ephron, bestselling author of crime novels, said, “do not go too long without anything happening.” Make readers care enough to keep reading.
  2. Ephron said, that whenever you introduce a new character or setting, don’t start with dialogue. The reader needs to be oriented, know who’s speaking and in what context. Think of your opening as an audio book. Are you helping the reader know where they are, the timeframe, and the protagonist? Help them get into the world of your character before you get too far in your story.
  3. She also said, every story has suspense. Both Ephron and Dugoni (see below) gave the same example of suspense, one they learned from Hitchcock. Four men are sitting at a table playing poker. The audience knows there’s a bomb under the table and we also see a clock in the background, but the men don’t know. As the clock ticks forward, we have suspense. You need to write fear into your story. If what you write scares you, it will scare your reader.
  4. Agent Kari Sutherland talked about what she looks for in a story. Your first sentence and paragraph needs to catch the reader’s attention. She also said to remember to bring in your character’s internal thoughts when there is action and dialogue.

On Self-Editing

  1. Robert Dugoni, bestselling indie author, said don’t edit while you write. It doesn’t matter if you have a shitty first draft. If you’re constantly editing, you’re not letting the magic happen.
  2. Dugoni said the goal of writing is to entertain. When you are revising, look at places where you’re not entertaining, where you’re stopping the story. Places like backstory, flashbacks, data dumps.
  3. He also said, don’t use your fiction as a soapbox. No one wants to be lectured.

On Discipline

  1. Diana Gabaldon, celebrity author of Outlander, recommended writing at least 10 minutes a day. If you do that, by the end of the year, you’ll have a book.

On Marketing

10. Author Steena Holmes, shared how she managed to get a huge following online. She said “your brand should share your story…your life, lessons, passions and journey.” Readers want to know more about the authors they read. Think of your newsletter as your story. Be different and creative. And don’t be shy about asking your readers for help, like with a character name, or a plot problem. Keep them involved.

As always, after attending a writerly event, I’m inspired to keep writing. I’m already working on my collection of short stories and getting back to Along Came A Gardener, my non-fiction work-in-progress, combining my love of gardening with what I learned as a family therapist. If you sign up for my newsletter, you’ll get a free chapter of this inspirational book.

Any comments are always welcomed.