19 September 2014

Writing Can Make You Healthier

Normally you hear about the physical toll that the largely sedentary practice of writing can have, usually around weight gain and its attendant complications.

But what if there is now evidence that writing can be good for you physically and mentally?

Recent research suggests that the "act of writing itself leads to strong physical and mental health benefits, like long-term improvements in mood, stress levels and depressive symptoms." And that's regardless of the quality of the prose--its the act of writing that appears to be important.

Why is this the case? It may be about exorcising demons.

Those who wrote about traumatic, stressful or emotional events were "significantly more likely to have fewer illnesses and be less affected by trauma," and to spend less time in hospital, and to have lower blood pressure and better liver function than non-writers. They weren't dwelling on these things or bottling them up as much as non-writers, and so that stress on their systems was removed.

Promisingly, one study found that even blogging might trigger dopamine release.

Ahh, here comes the good stuff...

- S.

17 September 2014

#bookbucketchallenge: The Geek Shall Inherit the Earth

So the latest Facebook meme is the #bookbucketchallenge (a take-off of the Ice Bucket Challenge). You may have seen it. Perhaps one (or more) of your friends have posted the challenge on their wall:

“List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don't take more than a few minutes, and don't think too hard. They do not have to be the 'right' books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way."

I'm pleased to report that based on the results of the survey that researchers Lada Adamic and Pinkesh Patel have compiled (and that you can find some helpful infographics of here) we can officially declare the ascendancy of geek culture.

That's right: the war is over. We won.

How can I say this? Well, of the Top 10 books that "stayed" with people, six of them are sci-fi or fantasy:

01 21.08* Harry Potter series - J.K. Rowling
02 14.48 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
03 13.86 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
04 7.48 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
05 7.28 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
06 7.21 The Holy Bible
07 5.97 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
08 5.82 The Hunger Games Trilogy - Suzanne Collins
09 5.70 The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
10 5.63 The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis

If we look at the Top 20 that number grows to eleven. Out of the 100 books listed, thirty-five or thirty-six of them would be considered SF & F--nearly a quarter of them

You're welcome, world. You're welcome.

The Full List

01 21.08* Harry Potter series - J.K. Rowling
02 14.48 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
03 13.86 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
04 7.48 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
05 7.28 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
06 7.21 The Holy Bible
07 5.97 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
08 5.82 The Hunger Games Trilogy - Suzanne Collins
09 5.70 The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
10 5.63 The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis
11 5.61 The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
12 5.37 1984 - George Orwell
13 5.26 Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
14 5.23 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
15 5.11 The Stand - Stephen King
16 4.95 Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
17 4.38 A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle
18 4.27 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
19 4.05 The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis
20 4.01 The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
21 3.95 Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery
22 3.88 The Giver - Lois Lowry
23 3.67 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
24 3.53 Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card
25 3.39 The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver
26 3.38 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
27 3.38 The Eye of the World - Robert Jordan
28 3.32 The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
29 3.26 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
30 3.22 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
31 3.21 The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupery
32 3.15 Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
33 3.15 Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
34 3.12 Animal Farm - George Orwell
35 3.08 The Book of Mormon
36 3.05 The Diary of Anne Frank - Anne Frank
37 3.02 Dune - Frank Herbert
38 2.98 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
39 2.83 The Autobiography of Malcolm X
40 2.78 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
41 2.72 The Giving Tree - Shel Silverstein
42 2.68 The Fault in Our Stars - John Green
43 2.68 On the Road - Jack Kerouac
44 2.58 Lamb - Christopher Moore
45 2.54 Slaughterhouse Five - Kurt Vonnegut
46 2.53 A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
47 2.52 Good Omens - Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
48 2.45 The Help - Kathryn Stockett
49 2.44 The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton
50 2.42 American Gods - Neil Gaiman
51 2.41 Where the Red Fern Grows - Wilson Rawls
52 2.39 Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert Heinlein
53 2.38 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
54 2.35 Little House on the Prairie - Laura Ingalls Wilder
55 2.31 The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
56 2.31 Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett
57 2.29 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
58 2.24 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 2.21 A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
60 2.21 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
61 2.16 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
62 2.12 Night - Elie Wiesel
63 2.12 The Dark Tower Series - Stephen King
64 2.07 Outlander - Diana Gabaldon
65 1.92 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
66 1.89 A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini
67 1.88 The Art of War - Sun Tzu
68 1.85 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
69 1.85 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
70 1.83 The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky
71 1.78 The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway
72 1.76 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
73 1.75 Tuesdays with Morrie - Mitch Albom
74 1.73 The Road - Cormac McCarthy
75 1.72 Watership Down - Richard Adams
76 1.72 A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith
77 1.68 Where the Sidewalk Ends - Shel Silverstein
78 1.65 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson
79 1.65 A Song of Ice and Fire - George R. R. Martin
80 1.65 Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret - Judy Blume
81 1.64 Charlotte's Web - E.B. White
82 1.63 The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
83 1.62 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
84 1.62 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
85 1.61 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
86 1.58 The Shack - William P. Young
87 1.56 Watchmen - Alan Moore
88 1.55 Interview with the Vampire - Anne Rice
89 1.54 The Odyssey - Homer
90 1.54 The House of the Spirits - Isabel Allende
91 1.53 The Stranger - Albert Camus
92 1.52 Call of the Wild - Jack London
93 1.51 The Five People You Meet in Heaven - Mitch Albom
94 1.51 Siddhartha - Herman Hesse
95 1.50 East of Eden - John Steinbeck
96 1.50 Matilda - Roald Dahl
97 1.49 The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde
98 1.47 Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Robert Pirsig
99 1.45 Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
100 1.45 Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak

- S.

* The numerals between the book's ranking and the title indicate the percentage of people who mentioned the books in their lists

12 September 2014

Graham Joyce, 1954 - 2014

Graham Joyce died earlier this week.

I only met him the once, at World Fantasy 2012 here in Toronto. I was at the bar, chatting with a couple of Australian writers I know when Graham came over. He knew them both quite well, and they introduced me.

I liked Graham right away; he reminded me of a beloved professor from my undergrad days. He had a kind face, dominated by a big nose, and a great working-class accent. I seem to recall him lugging around a box of books for some reason.

He struck me as quintessentially British.

We talked a bit about writing, and a great deal about Toronto. I remember a good sense of humor, and a wonderful squinty-eyed laugh. And then he was on his way.

I'd never read anything he wrote, but I decided that I should pick up some of his work simply because he seemed like such an all-around nice bloke who'd taken the time to have a nice conversation with a nobody author 20-years his junior who happened to be sitting with a couple of guys far more successful who were his contemporaries.

Later at the annual "what we liked this year" panel that some of the major editors always do at WFC, Graham's book Some Kind of Fairy Tale kept being mentioned (indeed, it was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award the very next year) and I took it as a sign that I really did need to read it.

And there it sits still on my shelf. I bought it at the dealer's room that same day four years ago…and haven't cracked it open.

And I feel a strange guilt about that.

I'm a notoriously slow reader and I have a HUGE pile of books in my "to read" pile. But now that Graham Joyce is dead-- I dunno. I'm feeling some kind of regret that I didn't read it sooner. Maybe I would have sent him a fan letter? I dunno.

I don't pretend to have known him, and there's zero reason he would have had to recall me from our brief conversation. But I feel deeply saddened by his passing.

Having read a bit more about him this week perhaps there are reasons.

He died too young, first off. Not even sixty--in this day and age!

He began writing around the same age I am now, and published more than 20 books before he died, being awarded the British Fantasy Award an extraordinary seven times.

He died of lymphoma, leaving behind a wife and two children. With the recent birth of my second child, I confess to more than a passing fear of dying suddenly and leaving my wife all alone to raise the kids. And as someone whose family has been touched by lymphoma (though a much slower form) his diagnosis hits more than a little close to home.

It could be anyone of those reasons, I suppose, thought they all came after the fact.

Truthfully, when I heard the news I was sad because a guy I'd met once and shared a pleasant half-hour or so with passed away too young, and that doesn't seem fair.

As it happens, I'm between books right now in my alternating fiction/nonfiction/fiction cycle. So tonight, I'm going to settle into bed with Some Kind of Fairy Tale at last and remember with fondness my passing acquaintance with the talent that wrote it.

Rest peacefully, Graham. I for one will miss you.

- S.

05 September 2014

Seven Things Your Author Website Needs to Be Successful

I'm planning some big changes to my web presence this Autumn, not least of which is putting together a simple but proper author website with custom URL. This Blogger account has served me well, but as I plan on launching my first indie pub project later this year I think its limits have been reached. Stay tuned for further announcements!

So I was pleased this morning to find some advice from Mike Shatzkin on what exactly a proper author website should include in this day and age. His entire post (on author web presence and SEO, author branding, and marketing) is well worth the read, but here's a checklist that I plan on testing my new site against:

* List of all your books, listed chronologically and by series
* A landing page for each book, including the cover, a description, reviews, excerpts, links to retail sites and other important metadata that would help readers discover the title and decide to buy
* Contact page so readers can easily send an email and get a response
* Sign-up for an email list for future updates and marketing initiatives
* Social media buttons, so readers can easily connect and share your content via social media
* Calendar with upcoming publication dates and scheduled public appearances
* Page with links to articles and reviews by the author, as well as references to the author on blogs and in the press
In addition to these things on an author website, Shatzkin recommends that authors all should have:
* Up-to-date Amazon author page
* Google Plus page (which is crucial for effective search engine optimization strategy)
* Twitter and Facebook

Shatzkin's full article (and blog full of useful stuff generally) is here.

- S.

02 September 2014


Homo sapiens neanderthalensis.jpg

Proof over the weekend from an archaeological discovery in Gibraltar that the extinct hominid genus Neanderthal, a) were perhaps capable of abstract, artistic thought after all, and b) invented the hash-tag.

For reals.

Check out the deals on the discovery here.

- S.