It’s Out!! And now what??

A copy of the novel horse/man on a wooden platter shaped like a leaf.
One of the very first print copies

horse/man has been officially out for 3 weeks! January 28, 2022. It was actually a complete surprise when I found out a few days later. I knew that the final version had been submitted to the printers and websites like Indigo and Amazon, but there hadn’t been any notification that this process had been completed and that the book was live. One afternoon I decided to take a moment to check on Amazon, and there it was! It was so, so gratifying to see it finally listed.

From start to finish, this book took 11 years. I came up with the concept at the 2011 Ontario Library Association Superconference while I was sitting in an uninspiring session, and after that I muddled my way through the research, an ongoing crisis of confidence while putting it together as a novella, working with an editor who said “triple the size”, querying publishing houses to no avail, and finally, spending the last year working with Tellwell Talent to polish it and make it fit to be out in the wide world. Almost every step of the way was challenging – to find my creative voice, to stop cringing when I talk about writing, to have confidence that what I’ve written is any good at all. But now that it’s done, I’m very happy with it. And I’m determined to make it a success.

For now it’s a soft launch, on the major online retailers’ websites. As it’s a self-published book, it is produced using the “print-on-demand” model, so there’s no warehouse of copies sitting around. It’s quite fantastical to think that all over the world, anyone can place an order for the book and get exact replicas of the same thing. Which also means that in every Amazon warehouse, there’s a room full of paper with a printer dedicated to making sure these orders are just right. Sometimes technology is pretty cool.

In the next week or so, the bulk order of physical copies should arrive, and then it’s really off to the races with promotions and marketing. Since I don’t have a large pre-existing audience of people who know who I am and are waiting to purchase, there’s going to be a lot of cold calls to equine magazines, tack shops, and influencers, working to get more reviews, and building momentum in terms of awareness and sales. This is going to be easier once the physical copies have arrived and I can offer reviewers physical copies in exchange, and put a few copies in stores for people to see.

Right now, close friends and family are the primary readers of the novel, and so far their feedback has been extremely positive – with one caveat. They like the main character, and the style of writing, but they complain that I have been too unkind to said main character. A common problem, I’m sure, for many authors of literary fiction where a happy ending is not guaranteed! In any case, they don’t have to like it, they just have to love it.

And while getting reviews is necessarily off to a slow start, in an unexpected twist so soon after publication, I’ve also entered the novel in a couple of competitions, The landscape for competitions is different for self-published than for traditionally-published novels. Alas there can be no Giller prize for me! Most competitions that I’ve found so far are for works that have been selected through the editorial/publishing house process, or for parts of a work that are as yet unpublished. However there are a few indie book award competitions, and as entries all seem to be due at the beginning of the year, in it goes. Wish me luck!

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Aquarian Librarian Reads 2021

Mac acting as my book rest
Mac keeps me company while I read. He takes up most of the couch and steals the pillows but that’s ok.

In order, and with brief annotation, I present the *very small* list of books I read all the way through in 2021. It’s been a long time since I’ve read so little – my first two years as CEO of SPL are the two years on record, those being the years of general overwork and exhaustion. This year I was busy with other things! In an odd twist, I’ve probably discarded as many books as I finished this year, which is highly unusual. I am typically very dogged in completing books, but in 2021, even well-written and objectively enjoyable books didn’t get finished.

With no further padding to this blog’s word count, here are the ones that stuck:

  1. Samra Habib, We Have Always Been Here – a Canada Reads 2020 finalist, and as good as promised. I read it mostly in one sitting.
  2. Glennon Doyle, Untamed – I was on a Glennon Doyle high from the end of 2020, reading about being one’s authentic self. Not sure how I felt about this one to be honest, at times I loved the insights and at other times I had to put it down and step away from the intensity.
  3. Core Conditioning for Horses: Yoga-Inspired Warm-Up Techniques, Visconte Simon Cocozza – this suite of exercises has been extremely helpful to me and every bodywork client that has tried them. I waxed poetic about this book in another review in 2021.
  4. Genevieve Cogman, The Dark Archive – another entry in the Invisible Library series and a pleasure as always!
  5. Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex – very masterfully written, also very long and I had itchy fingers. “Delete delete” said my brain!
  6. Natalie Haynes, A Thousand Ships – walking through the carnage of the Trojan War through the eyes of the women involved in the Homeric tale. Beautiful writing but the subject unrelenting violent.
  7. C.L. Polk, The Midnight Bargain – A delightful fantasy romance, such a treat.
  8. Cathy Marie Buchanan, Daughter of Black Lake – not my favourite of what this author has written, but I did enjoy it. And finished it!
  9. Eden Robinson, Return of the Trickster – 3rd in the Trickster trilogy, and I loved every second of it.
  10. Pamela Korgemagi, The Hunter and the Old Woman – Super super book, I think one of the pull quotes on the cover said it was hypnotizing or mesmerizing or something like that, and it was.
  11. Ashley C. Ford, Somebody’s Daughter: A Memoir – I heard this author speak at a library conference in early 2021, and had been looking forward to her memoir ever since. She was so eloquent and moving. This one did not disappoint!
  12. Ronan Hession, Leonard and Hungry Paul – this showed up in December in my inbox as one of the Top 5 books read in Ireland in 2021, and was described as a gentle read about gentle souls. It was indeed all that and was a quietly hopeful way to close out the year.

Current reads…uh…well let’s just say I have a growing pile of books I want to read that are gathering dust. And I was given a gift card for Christmas so I’ll probably be buying a few more books to add to that pile…

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Cover Reveal!

And at long, long last, now that we’re getting close to the release date, I can share my wonderful cover with you all:

And the back, with full blurb for your reading pleasure!

I’m really delighted with how the cover turned out. The designer did a fantastic job capturing the concept that I put forward and it looks all class.

The book is now in the final stages of proofreading, and once the files are finalized and sent through to the distributors, it will be available for purchase. I expect it will be ready to ship out in January 2022!

You will be able to order the book from either your preferred local retailer, or from Amazon, and will be available in paperback/hardcover/ebook formats.

Watch this space!

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That took longer than I thought…

Project update:

It’s taking longer than I thought.

When I made the decision to self-publish in April, I had a goal of publishing by the middle of September. The runup to Christmas is the heaviest book-buying season of them all, so it seemed like a great idea to align my book launch with the waves of people who are looking around for novels. It’s some more substantive editing and then copy-editing, and I was already most of the way there, right?


In reality, I work a full-time job, and then some. My week days are packed pretty full. Of the two days on the weekend, it’s pretty well impossible not to have to use one full day for resting, laundry, grocery shopping, and otherwise keeping the life ship upright. So that leaves one day a week to work on the novel. Plus any statutory holidays and scattered vacation days I could book in. On average, probably 10 hours a week of actual focused work, not counting all the time that gets sucked away with TikTok “breaks” or having to deal with the dog who’s whining about some undefined tragedy in his life (he’s been fed, walked, and barked at the squirrels. Now what?!)

We started with the back cover copy, and the cover design. And then the intake for the editor, and the editor needs time to review. And then I got the manuscript back, and I developed a nice big case of Imposter Syndrome. Which meant that I avoided looking at the book for 3 full weeks and didn’t start working on it until the end of May. I don’t remember what I did instead but I’m really good at avoiding things when I want to be.

The self-imposed deadline of July 1 for Round 1 of Substantive Editing flew by.

And then August 1st.

And I start to panic about my other self-imposed deadline, but it seems I’m incapable of letting go of fixing the tangles I’m working on until I smooth them out to my satisfaction. For one thing, the editor said there were filler words. And she said not to worry about it, that I didn’t need to “search and destroy” but that is Exactly what I did. A line-by-line re-read of every single chapter, over and over again, finding those filler words and re-working everything until it was as crisp as I could make it. Ctrl + F was a tic on my left hand. Here I thought I was a clear and concise writer who was smart enough to avoid these things…

Now, filler words were definitely not the only thing I worked on, there were some plot additions/changes, but the filler words were definitely the most time-consuming component. I wrote down lists of repeated words, and every time I thought I wrangled one into submission, another one would pop out at me. You literally become unable to see the forest for the trees.

Cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Glued to computer every weekend, thesaurus in hand, agonizing over the replacement of each and every word.

And I’m slow. Did I mention that before? I am not the swift-fingered person who could slap together a University paper at the eleventh hour and get an 87. I am the person who started working on those essays 3 weeks in advance and got an 83. It was all positively maddening, then and now!

Near the end of August, it felt done. Sent it in again, and got really really good feedback from editor. So much so, that in only 3 weeks I have been able to send it on to the Interior Design and Copy Editing process. It would seem that the original agonies paid off.

There’s another 2 rounds of Copy Editing to be done, and then the finish line is really close.

Barring more filler words.

Mac the dog
Mac expresses his thoughts about my editing crisis

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Book Review: Core Conditioning for Horses: Yoga-Inspired Warm-Up Techniques, by Visconte Simon Cocozza

May be an image of horse

I read this book in one night! I can’t often say that about any non-fiction book, even if it is about the subject that consumes many waking hours.

This book does a brilliant job of connecting the anatomical functioning of the horse with resistance-free exercises to offer their bodies the opportunity to relax and build strength. The most impressive parts of the text are:

1) A chart that assesses the horse’s core strength using objective indicators. Using the indicators, the horse’s core strength can be assigned a score and then the rider can pick the appropriate exercises, and track their progress.

2) The fact that each of the 10 exercises has 3 different levels of difficulty, so that the exercises can increase in difficulty as the horse gets stronger, and mixed up to provide variety while staying at a reasonable number of things for the rider to remember and incorporate.

3) The exercises are dressage-based, but they can be done by absolutely any discipline because the goal is to mobilize the horse’s body and increase fitness in a biomechanically-correct way. No equipment needed, and doesn’t matter what kind of saddle you ride in!

After reading it, I had extensive opportunity to practice the exercises. My horse had just had 6 colic episodes in a 5-week period and ended up in the equine hospital at the University of Guelph, with no conclusive reason as to why he’d become sick in the first place. We’d removed his shoes to see if that helped (a different long story) and were on a very slow return to work.

My horse had a middling score – not terrible, but definitely not where I want him to be. I had known he wouldn’t be a top scorer, we are definitely still working at unpicking all of the “stuff” he has. So I basically made all our rides focused on these exercises. Every other day, 20-30 minutes, at walk for the first 3-4 weeks. We added the trot in small bits after that, and as of this writing we haven’t incorporated the canter yet; we are going slow to go fast. He’s a sensitive horse and shuts down when he feels overfaced.

I have to say that Sol is really appreciating this work. The exercises are teaching him how to use his body differently, and it is making a big difference to how he thinks he should be responding to the aids under saddle. He used to have a chronically sore back and I notice that his back muscles are improving more than they ever have before, and that he’s able to carry himself more correctly under saddle. These are huge, huge wins for this horse.

I’ve also been recommending it to my bodywork clients, and the ones that have tried the exercises are also reporting great results. One thing I would add is that there are SO many benefits to doing work at the walk. Way, way more work at the walk than you think you would ever want to do. 20 minutes at the beginning of every ride is very beneficial to the horse, and when these exercises are incorporated, it’s a workout on its own.

Initially when I talked to my equine chiropractor about the book, he was a bit skeptical, as the exercises don’t focus specifically on the hind end, which is of course where locomotion originates in the horse. And I agree, the hind end is essential. What I like about these exercises is that they are circumventing *dysfunctional* patterns of established movement. So, they definitely won’t be the only exercises you ever do with your horse, and they aren’t the end goal for what you want to be doing. But they are a fantastic tool for remedial work, or for low-impact/resistance-free strength building. And the chiropractor has noticed this in Sol, and tells me to keep doing what I’m doing. Oh, we will.

TL;DR: These exercises are easy to teach your horse, the progression is laid out for you, and the results speak for themselves. A very worthwhile investment in your horse’s soundness.

Ride on!

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A Decision Is Made

14 months after submitting queries to all available and appropriate Canadian publishers and agents, I have decided to proceed with self-publishing my novel. There have been some lovely rejection letters, complimenting the quality of my writing, but no desire to follow-up with publishing.

I suspect that it is the subject of the book that makes publishing houses leery. It can be classified as a “horsey book” and that brings with it all sorts of associations from other horsey books: The Black Stallion, Jilly Cooper, Saddle Club, just to name a few. As much as *I* love all of these books, animal-related drama with more than a touch of the fantastical is not currently in vogue! And so even though my book is very different from the titles I mention, there doesn’t seem to be appetite for it right now. And that’s ok: I know that Canadian presses are small and can only publish a limited number of titles each year. For an unknown author with a seemingly niche subject matter, it was definitely a long shot to get a contract anyways.

However, there is definitely an audience for this kind of work – in fact, this work fills a gap in what is available on the market. So we go onwards!!!

I will be working with Tellwell Publishing, a self-publishing press that assists with all stages of the process from editing to cover design to marketing and distribution channels. The goal is to publish by the fall, which is the runup to the busiest book-buying season of the year.

Kita the collie sleeps on the couch in front of notes from the novel-writing process.

As you can see, I have excellent company for all the work to be done.

Truly, I never thought that I would self-publish. I have always liked the legitimacy that comes with a book coming forward through a publishing house: vetted for accuracy and quality, and given much care and consideration in the editing and design process. Basically, I was being a librarian thinking about all the criteria that we apply in order to have a consistently high-quality collection for the public to use.

And then I thought to myself: “Self, why are you worried about getting validation from this particular formal system? That’s never been your way before. When you got rejected as “too young” or “too ambitious” or “not the right fit” you never let that stand in your way before, and it resulted in successful outcomes. What’s stopping you now?”

The publishing world has changed. The publishers will flat-out tell you that they can’t publish all the excellent novels that come their way, and since the advent of the internet, self-publishing has become a very real option, in fact it’s probably *the* option for most authors these days. So, instead of holding on to the same model of thinking I’ve been subscribing to for the last 20 years, I decided that I would take advantage of this opportunity. Tellwell can hold my hand in the production process, and I will work hard to make sure that the novel achieves the level of quality that I’m satisfied with, and gets the exposure it deserves. And then I will be achieving the goal I had when I was a small child, and that with this idea has taken 10 years of work to realize.

The first step is to send off my manuscript for its first round of substantive editing (it’s already had 2 to get to the point where it is right now, but I do believe in the power of more sets of eyes), and then to do the cover design. It’s going to be a busy summer!

Here we go…

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Aquarian Librarian Reads 2020

Several years ago, I used to post annual lists of the books I’d read over the year. The habit fell away; the deeper I got into the CEO workload, the fewer books I read. I used to read 50 books a year or more, but sitting still for so long every day for work led me to try to be as physically active as possible in my off-hours. But I never stopped keeping the lists – I have a little book on my desk where I record things in chronological order as they are finished. It’s always interesting how one’s eclectic brain is reflected in the books I read. So here’s 2020!

  1. A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness – my sisters read this series and loved it, so I tried it too. Struggled through the first 50 pages but I kindof liked the creativity around the premise, so I persevered until I stopped rolling my eyes and was enjoying myself.
  2. Unrelenting: The Real Story: Horses, Bright Lights, and My Pursuit of Excellence, George H. Morris – per my earlier review, this was morbid curiosity.
  3. The Secret Chapter: An Invisible Library Novel, Genevieve Cogman – Book #4 in the series? Good fun.
  4. Running with Sherman: the donkey with the heart of a hero, Christopher McDougall – for fans of endurance athletics, a very sweet read.
  5. The Grimoire of Kensington Market, Lauren B. Davis – excellent Toronto-based fairy-tale re-telling.
  6. Jonny Appleseed, Joshua Whitehead – so many awards! Captivating Indigenous author.
  7. Shadow of Night, Deborah Harkness – Had high hopes, they were not quite satisfied. Wanted to edit everything.
  8. The Book of Life, Deborah Harkness – hate-read out of stubbornness.
  9. The Blue Salt Road, Joanne Harris – Irish fairy tale
  10. Riding Between Worlds: Expanding our potential through the way of the horse, Linda Kohanov –
  11. City of Brass, S.A. Chakraborty – this series was the most fun I had reading all year. I bought the first in April or May on a friend’s recommendation in lockdown, but fortuitously managed to time the reading of this until just before the 3rd book was released, and then managed to read #2 & 3 in one week while on vacation.
  12. The Kingdom of Copper, S.A. Chakraborty
  13. The Empire of Gold, S.A. Chakraborty
  14. Moon of the Crusted Snow, Waubgeshig Rice – do not recommend reading this in a remote cabin in the woods just before winter. There’s a reason I don’t read spooky things!
  15. Autopsy of a Boring Wife, Marie-Renee Lavoie – this was funny. I LOL’d.
  16. French Exit, Patrick deWitt – dry and absurd.
  17. Chasing Painted Horses, Drew Hayden Taylor – vivid and disquieting.
  18. Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle Melton – read this without really knowing anything about the author beforehand. Thought the memoir was captivating, haven’t quite figured out what to do with the author’s blog/brand/platform.

What am I reading now? Some Winston Churchill excerpts, to be followed by some from Albert Einstein, I think…or maybe I’ll steal the novels I bought my sisters for Christmas.

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The International 3-Day Novel Contest

What do you do when you’re wildly busy and find out about a contest where people write 30,000-word novels in 3 days? Sign up of course…

I found out about this contest the day before the entries closed and I thought “why not?” Actually what I thought was that it would be a great opportunity to start work on my second novel. The idea’s been sitting there for a couple of years now, but it had to wait while I finished Novel #1. With the limited amount of time I have to write, it’s not a good idea for me to split my time between multiple projects. From experience in my day job, once you do that it’s really hard to get anything substantive done.

The contest ran from 12:01am on Saturday to 11:59pm on Labour Day Monday. There were still bodywork sessions to do and dogs to walk and all kinds of other things – like a sacrum spasm that meant I couldn’t get up if I’d sat down, so the mantle of the fireplace got turned into a standing desk – but even so I got about 18 hours of writing in and wrote 12,000 words. For me that’s a stupendous amount of writing in such a short amount of time. It was really exciting to get into such a state of flow and move that far along; with Novel #1 it took ages for me to problem-solve my way through the plot.

Speaking of which, this novel is completely different than Novel #1. Novel #1 is a historical/literary fiction with a male protagonist; Novel #2 would probably be classified as a feminist fairy tale/literary fiction with a female protagonist. It’s the start of an eclectic and thought-provoking collection of works that one would expect from an Aquarian librarian with a degree in Anthropology!

For a first drat, I’m quite happy with the quality of the writing. So even though the novel isn’t the length of those that ordinarily win, it got submitted anyway and I’m super curious to hear what the judges have to say. Winner is announced in March? I’ll just keep puttering away…

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Pet Photos

Around last Christmas the pet food store where I buy the dogs’ food celebrated its first anniversary and had a prize draw; I won a pet photo session with Kit Kat Photography! So nice. I love professional photography – one of the reasons I don’t take many photos is because I much prefer it to my own amateur snaps. I’d rather have one amazing photo that captures the essence of a moment or a person than a hundred mediocre ones.

So I was really looking forward to a spring session with the dogs, with a pretty green backdrop and Mac being a year old and more mentally capable of behaving himself. Naturally the pandemic hit and things got a little delayed, but the photographer was kind enough to be flexible. We just got the final images back and this is my absolute favourite one:

Kita, 3 years old

And the mandatory group photo:

Same garden as our wedding photos, ha!

And last, but almost as good as my favourite, is this very accurate depiction of what life is like with Mac:

Pushy, noisy teenager

It was really nice to have the dogs photographed like this; now I just need to get them printed, framed, and hung! Along with all my other great photos. Home decor is just not my strong suit…

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My Very First Rejection!

In the middle of the pandemic, a little ray of sunshine – a personalized rejection letter for my manuscript!

Maybe seems like a bit of a strange thing to be excited about, but I am. When a publisher takes the time to read what you’ve submitted, write back, and start it off with “your writing is excellent”…well. It may not be a publishing contract, but it’s a huge piece of validation for me, and very flattering. I’ll take it!

In other news, Mac just turned one and is Such. A. Boy. I truly do NOT recommend that anyone spend a pandemic lockdown with an intact adolescent male dog who believes that the world revolves around him. And who is also secretly a chicken. I seem to recall that Kita mellowed out around 18 months and right now that’s my main goal…just somehow make it to 18 months. Walk and train and walk and train and walk and train!

His Royal Highness, awoken from His Nap.
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