Posts filed under writing

Spammer, Spoofed or Hacked?

no spamBeing a self-publishing author is a lot of work. There are a plethora of social media platforms, and communication tools that make it possible for authors (or any creative) to connect with their audience.

One of the best ways for authors to speak to potential readers is through a blog. Clever authors only have one (or maybe two) but I seem to have created rather more than that… worse, instead of having a regular posting schedule, my articles are written when I think there is a need for them, so my posts tend to be erratic. Some might even say I have too many blogs, and I would agree I am indeed stretched far too thin. So when I get a minute (hah! that is the problem, isn’t it!) I’m thinking of consolidating them.

I myself have been a member of GoodReads and many other online communities for some time, even though I’ve not managed to be as involved as I’d like yet.  But even though I don’t check blog comments every day, I do clear out the spam periodically. having multiple bogs, spam might annoy me even more than it annoys you.  Sometimes I actually pay attention to the spam comments I delete, if to only note names to avoid.

Imagine my surprise when I saw I had received a spam comment from another GoodReads author!

It’s the simplest kind of spam comment possible; the kind that might have been the innocent mistake of someone new to blogs.  There is no actual comment, that part is blank, so the only comment is the name of the commenter, in this case, Justin Peatling.  And sure, it isn’t impossible for someone new to the Internet to make such mistakes. And yet this commenter did manage to include a link back to his GoodReads author page.

It isn’t that anyone is expected to click on that link; without any interesting comment, that’s not very likely. But such comments aren’t meant for me, or even you. They are meant for search algorithms.  Because links are what drive the Internet.  The more links flowing to your websites, the more “google juice” you have, and the higher your site will be ranked by search engines.  That makes it easier for your audience to find you, and you your audience.  Comment links help spammers promote commercial websites.

Still, this might have been an honest mistake. So I followed the link to the author bio on GoodReads and left a message to explain that while connecting with other creatives to build community is a good thing, spam is not.
the author:

Dear Justin Peatling:

It is horrendously tacky to leave spam comments on other author’s websites, and even worse on other GoodReads author’s websites.

If you want to get your name out there, engage with the site and leave a REAL comment. Chances are good, the other author would respond to you, and there would be something on the internet that might attract a reader or two. But spam? Self publishing authors have enough spam comments to counteract without having to put up with it from other authors.

(And yes, most of us have learned not to publish spam comments, so it isn’t even working; all you’re actually doing is annoying other authors.)

Laurel L. Russwurm

And that’s when I noticed the name wasn’t exactly the same. The comment name was “Justin Peatling” but the author profile is for “Justin Peacock.” The names are close, visually close enough that the eye doesn’t instantly spot the difference.

(That’s one of the tricks spammers use to fool us into publishing their links.)

But the spam comment in my blog most definitely links to Justin Peacock’s GoodReads page.

Justin Peatling  Submitted on 2014/11/17 at Justin Peatling  Inconstant MoonInconstant Moon – SelfPub

Justin Peatling

After leaving a message, the next thing was to try to discover if Justin Peacock is a legitimate author. All the links on the Goodreads page go to what is supposed to be his website. But the blog at the end of the link is in French, which doesn’t make much sense for an American hard boiled mystery writer. Particularly when the blog isn’t about mysteries, hard boiled or otherwise.   It’s a one page tech blog. A scam.

There are no links to the book(s) by Justin Peacock published by Pocket Black Lizard books on the GoodReads profile. But two Justin Peacock books actually seem to exist. Which suggests Mr. Peacock himself is not responsible for my spam comment. (If he was, he would surely have linked his own books…)  And it’s good odds he would have spelled his name correctly, too.

I don’t know Mr. Peacock, and there’s no way to contact him, if he has published contact information I’ve not found it. (Funny thing; many people don’t publish their email address in an effort to avoid spam.)

But I can (and will) let GoodReads know through their How do I report a security issue? link.


Never publish spam comments (even if you agree with it, even if it is selling something you want.)

Always protect your privacy and online reputation by using your personal information wisely, and locking it behind a strong long password when necessary.

Public Domain Cover Art

I’ve been working on a video for my PubSlush pitch for my next novel, which has led me off on a tangent or two…

This is the cover art I’ve made for what I believe to be the only Public Domain book (so far) by Rex Stout, the creator of Nero Wolfe.

My own cover art for "Under The Andes" by Rex Stout ~ CC0 (Public Domain)

My own cover art for “Under The Andes” by Rex Stout ~ CC0 (Public Domain)

One of the things I’ve been doing for the video is rounding up covers of books I read in my youth. In today’s world of copyright insanity I’m being extra careful never to infringe copyright. This means I can only use works in the Public Domain or explicitly licensed to share.

The problem is that very often it’s simply not possible to even know whether it the cover art is in the Public Domain — even if it is the cover of a Public Domain book.  After all, just because a book is in the Public Domain it’s no guarantee the cover art is.  Especially if all you have is an image found online without the publication date– as most are.

And especially for books like this one: it has been republished many times precisely because it is in the Public Domain.   That’s why I’ve been making a few of my own covers.   If you’re interested, more of the covers I’ve made myself can be found on Flickr in my Public Domain album.

I have to say I am pretty pleased with my mountain… having never actually been anywhere near a real mountain ( neither Blue Mountain or Hamilton Mountain count… they may be big but they are really just hills.  Like the ones in Hollywood).

So I began with my own photograph.  But my “mountain” wasn’t photographed in the Andes, it was taken near Tobermory.

Before and After: "Under the Andes" cover art

Before and After: “Under the Andes” cover art

Originally I had planned to use a few of the Edgar Rice Burroughs covers, since they are Public Domain for Canada.  Even the early books are PD in the United States.  After all, I grew up reading my Dad’s ERB paperbacks, (all twenty-whatever Tarzan books, Mars, Venus and Pellucidar etc… formulaic or not).

But it seems the current holder of the remaining Burroughs copyrights is ruthlessly asserting Intellectual Property Infringement against any reuses, legal or not.

This is one of the major reasons I believe copyright is actually harmful for most creators.

It makes no difference if you are in the right if you haven’t the funds to go to court to defend against any big company with deep pockets, even if its challenge is specious. (They call that “copyright chill.”) Since I really don’t want my video yanked from YouTube, I dropped the idea of using the ERB covers because it is not worth the hassle. Besides, I don’t really want to promote the books if the company that would profit behaves so reprehensibly.

Image Credit:

As mentioned, the original photograph and the cover design for “Under The Andes” pictured here originate with me, but since this is cover art for a Public Domain Book, I’ve given it a Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication.

Copyright Note:

Even though an American author like Mr. Stout only died relatively recently, back in the day if he didn’t renew the copyright on a book, it would go into the Public Domain… as this one did.

That is not true for Canada (or any of the commonwealth countries which were signatory to the Berne Copyright treaty) because copyright all rights reserved was (and is) the default for any creative works, so they didn’t need to be registered. For this reason, some of my contemporary culture originating south of the border is in the Public Domain.  However with the insane copyright extensions that seem to be the norm, that’s not true for the next generations… their contemporary culture will be locked up in copyright until after they are dead… and if things keep on as they are, maybe forever.

Happy Birthday Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov by Rowena Morrill

Isaac Asimov
born  Isaak Yudovich Ozimov
(circa January 2, 1920 — April 6, 1992)
painting by Rowena Morrill

[reblogged from   visual laurel:
Happy Birthday Isaac Asimov]

I may be a little late here, but if memory serves, although January 2nd would have been  Isaac Asimov’s birth date of record, it seems to me he told some tale about the actual records being confused due to his family’s emigration from Russia.  Whatever else,  Asimov was always interesting.

Isaac Asimov was a hugely important influence for me.   I loved his books when I first stumbled on “Foundation” in my high school library; Ike took me by the hand and helped me find my way through the worlds of science fiction.

As a reader I loved his bare bones accessible writing style.  Devoid of superfluous descriptive padding, his plots were crisp and he wrote just what he needed to bring the story to life.

The good Dr. Asimov’s exploration of robotics throughout his powerful stories was breathtaking, but his non-fiction was excellent, too, because he was brilliant at explaining things so that anyone could understand.  (I rather think Malcolm Gladwell is like Asimov without the fiction.)

And I have to say, between Asimov’s stories and non-fiction alike, I learned more science from him than I did from any teacher I ever had in school.   My grade nine physics teacher was a dead loss at getting through to me; and I’m certain the only reason I passed was because he didn’t want to have to try again.

Much as I loved science fiction, as a writer, I’ve never dared write in this genre because I’ve always felt I lacked the requisite grounding in science,  and always thought the only SF I’d want to write would be hard science fiction.  (That may change in future.)  When I and my friend, Canadian Trekkies Association co-founder Susan Schmidt, published our very first Star Trek and science fiction Fanzine Canektion in the 1970’s, she tackled the science fiction writing while I handled reviews, art and design.  I actually mailed a copy off to the good doctor, and was gobsmacked to receive a personal thank you note on a postcard (with a wonderful “Very impressive looking” quote).  One of my greatest regrets was losing that postcard at my very first science fiction convention.

I was quite taken with the glimpses of Isaac Asimov the person through the humour in his Hugo Winners introductions.  Yet the only book he wrote that was pretty nearly unreadable was the first volume of his autobiography, “In Memory Yet Green,”   I paid big bucks for the hardcover version, but after the agony of struggling through it, I knew nothing would ever entice me to read it again so I gave it away.  Fortunately he took a better crack at it in later life with “I, Asimov

One of the best things about Asimov’s writing is that he wrote characters who were human beings.  Better yet, it didn’t matter whether they were men, women or robots. The strong and interesting women characters that Asimov wrote — women like Dr. Susan Calvin, Edith Fellowes and Bayta Darell — certainly made a positive impression on me as a young woman.  This was pretty radical for his time, especially when you consider that even today some male authors have difficulty writing plausible female characters.   Asimov wrote women who existed in their own right; they weren’t just tossed in to be a damsel in distress, a femme fatale or love interest. They were real people.  I’ve often been told my own characters live and breathe, and I think this is in no small part due to his example; he showed me how.

I never tire of Asimov’s stories, and I’ve read some over and over again.  Which is why I am saddened by the absence of his work on the shelves of public libraries today.  This state of affairs means most of today’s young people will not have the opportunity to stumble across his books the way I did, simply because they aren’t there.

I expect this probably has as much to do with copyright as much as anything.  Keep his work locked down tight so as to create an artificial scarcity that will drive the retail price up… a strategy I suspect the great man would not himself have approved.   Such market fiddling tends to result in dissipation of a hard won reputation.

The movie version of “I, Robot” was quite a disappointment because the only thing the film makers used of his brilliant book was Asimov’s distinctive title.  All I can say is that I am happy Hollywood has kept its fingers off most of his other works.  “I, Robot” wasn’t a terrible film, Will Smith is always a joy; it did have a reasonable story, nice special effects and all… actually I might even have liked it if they hadn’t squandered Asimov’s iconic title on a story that bore no resemblance to his seminal collection of robot short stories.  And of course the worst thing is that it means that there is now little or no chance of making a proper movie from the book.   It would actually have been best as a series of films (or perhaps a mini series) to do the work justice.  And that is just too bad.

Isaac Asimov touched my life in many positive ways, and he certainly influenced my decision to become a writer.   I just wish I could have thanked him in person.

Image Credit
Isaac Asimov on Throne” by Rowena Morrill –en:Image:AsimovOnThrone.png, uploaded to en:Wikipedia by en:user:Xiong 14:06, 2 April 2005. Via Wikimedia Commons under the:

GNU Free Documentation License Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Front-Cover Texts, no Back-Cover Texts and with Invariant Sections as indicated. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled “Text of the GNU Free Documentation License.”

32 Seconds ~ an indie novel

for your consideration: J.K. Pitcairn’s “32 Seconds”

  .   .   .   To the average onlooker, the city of Los Angeles represents glitz, glamour, and the celebrity lifestyle. But to seventeen-year-old Julie Jones, the city is a vast host of problems she’s longing to get away from. The latest? An unfortunate disagreement with her ex-boyfriend Mark—one that could land her in some serious hot water.

So rather than face the troubles that torment her, Julie decides to run away from her old life and start fresh somewhere new. But her parents aren’t on board with the plan, and she soon finds her bank accounts frozen and her wallet empty.

With just seventy-five dollars and a full tank of gas, the troubled teen is far too stubborn to turn around and head home. So what’s a girl to do?

What Julie doesn’t know is that her travels are about to take her somewhere unexpected—a place where she’ll be forced to come face to face with the ghosts of her past in order to secure her future.

A tale of redemption, hope, and freedom lost and found, 32 Seconds is a thought-provoking exploration into the human spirit and the nature of forgiveness.

Available on Amazon

J.K. Pitcairn’s Random Fun Facts:
1) To trigger my inspiration, I binge on Netflix. I pick shows from any genre, and study the dialog and the plot. I also watch video game walkthroughs on YouTube. It’s a great help to develop my characters.
2) I can’t remember the last time I’ve had a bad case of writer’s block. Plotting helps eliminate that issue. 
3) My biggest pet peeves: misspellings, grammatical errors, and inconsistent formatting. 
4) Julie Jones has named her car “Bubble”, and when she swears, she says things like “shizzle”, “shizzle nizzle” or “crapola in a peanut butter jar”.
5) The original title for the first draft of the story, before it became 32 Seconds, was Death by Chocolate. 
6) Julie Jones loves In&Out burgers, and strawberry milkshakes. 
7) Julie is also a surfer. Her favorite beach is the one in Oceanside, CA. 
8) I’m a cat lover. I have four cats, and they all distract me from writing by taking turns and lying on top of my laptop.

About the Author:
Johanna K. Pitcairn has dreamed of becoming a writer since childhood–authoring her first novel at the age of nine, and countless poems, stories, and screenplays by the age of seventeen. Later, rather than pursuing a career as a director and screenwriter, she decided to go to law school, driven by her father’s opinion that “writing does not pay the bills.”
Ten years later, she moved to New York City, which inspired her to go back to the excitement, wonder, and constant change of being a writer. Pitcairn is a huge fan of psychological-thriller novels and movies, and delves into her hopes, fears, friends, enemies, and everything in between in her own writing.
Contact the Author:

So what do you think? This is my first book blast and I must apologize for being late to the party. I was supposed to post this before December 28th but only just managed it now, on December 30th, 2015.

If Johanna K. Pitcairn’s new novel “32 Seconds” appeals to you, or if you know someone who might like it, check it out … you’ll be helping support an Independent Author.


Credits: all images and text in this guest post were provided by b00kr3vi3w tours. Since they are not mine and I’ve not been told otherwise, I must assume everything defaults to copyright all rights reserved.

…and so it ends

my final NaNoWriMo wordcount

my grandparents weddingI’ve never written anything in the neighborhood of ten thousand words in a single day before.  And yet that was the incredible feat I managed to accomplish on November 30th.

But it still wasn’t enough.

in the beginning
This year I had decided that I was going to finish NaNoWriMo 2014 with 50k. That’s what the folks at NaNoWriMo call a “win.”

And I very nearly did. But it seems the Flying Spaghetti Monster really had it in for me this time.

I knew going in that I wasn’t ready, a disadvantage from the start.  And I didn’t actually decide what it was that I was going to write until the first of November. In the end, I decided that the best course of action would be to revisit last year’s “Unregrettable” project.

This book was inspired by my grandmother, who emigrated to Canada all alone in 1924.  I never knew my grandmother; but I vaguely knew there was a story that she had been sent overseas to get her away her from an unsuitable young man. The idea for the book first came to mind when I was digitally cleaning up a scan of my grandmother’s passport photo. And of course, I’m a novelist, not a historian or a biographer, so one of my earliest decisions was to have my character settle in the city of Kitchener instead of the rural Carlsruhe area to make it crystal clear this would be a work of fiction.

When I began writing it for last year’s NaNoWriMo, I found myself falling into the rabbit hole of research.  I started out with the idea that I knew something about the time period in which this book is set, but the research I began doing last November quickly disabused me of this notion.   The more I found out about the period, the bigger the project got, and I came to the realization that this story really needed to be more than a single novel. The beginning in the Weimar Republic would need at least a whole novel.   And the research just kept getting more and more interesting.

So the plan this year was to turn Margarethe’s backstory — the events leading up to her emigration — into the first novel.   Kind of like a prequel, or perhaps the first book of a trilogy. Of course I didn’t have an outline to start with, just some of the research I’d done last year, so although I knew some of the scenes I could write without one, I did this while working on the outline.  [One things I have learned is that I can write anything, so long as I have an outline.]  But it was slow going.

I can see clearly now
my new glassesI’ve been run off my feet a lot this year, so even though I have needed glasses for quite a while, I had been procrastinating about getting new ones.   Another big part of the problem was a reluctance to go back to my former optometrist.  But the incessant squinting at computer screens at the beginning of NaNoWriMo was driving me mad, so when someone told me about a new optometrist he liked, I sacrificed some valuable writing time to get my eyes tested and pick out some new glasses,.  The time away from writing was well worth it since it’s brilliant being able to see what I’m typing again.

Let It Snowsnow in November
Snow, snow and more snow. In the old days, the era before Climate Change, we might have seen some snow in November. But it would be just a light dusting. A little crunching under your feet, but nothing requiring a shovel. But those days are gone. This year we had snow. We got days where shoveling once a day didn’t cut it. Yay. Of course, *now* it’s all been washed away again, likely to have a green Christmas…

The Leak
One of the big things I’ve had to deal with has been unscheduled renovations. One morning there was water leaking through the plaster ceiling into my front hallway. The first plumber convinced me (because I so wanted to believe him and get back to writing) that the leaking was side splash from the shower curtain not being quite closed. And it stopped– for a while.  *sigh*

But then it started again.  The good plumber said they would have to rip a hole in my ceiling to find the leak. And so they did. And wasn’t that a job! And apparently the leak(s) had been ongoing for a while, since I don’t get along with mold, I enlisted an awesome restoration contractor to handle the clean-up and resultant renovation.  Which meant not just taking down the ceiling, but opening up walls.  I have been happy with the professionalism and skill of my contractors, but it would have been much better for my NaNoWriMo project if it had happened in any other month.

Book LaunchBook Launch
Another writer I know was launching his debut novel, so I took a wee break to attend his “Rocky Mountain Locust” book launch at the Jazz Room in the Huether. As it turns out, my hubby was coming down with a cold, so we didn’t stay long enough for the cake. I am pleased to have the book in hardcover, since it seems to be encumbered in DRM for the ebook format.

I tend to ignore our anniversary and my birthday because both happen during NanoWriMo.   This year we went out for a lovely anniversary dinner — which wasn’t.   The restaurant served me an inedible steak and assured me “they were all like that” so we left.  Peanut butter sandwiches… yay!   (Now that November is over I find I am still angry at the venue so I expect I will send out that letter of complaint I wrote during November.)

Research"People on Sunday" paddleboat
Of course pretty nearly everything I wrote was going to need research, because everything in my novel happens well before I was born, in a country I have never myself visited.

This period in Germany was actually a cultural golden age.  Not only is it a fascinating period of history, but there is a wealth of media available.  Many movies– some in the Public Domain! — from the Weimar Republic make it possible to get a real feel for the time and place.

For me as a movie buff, it is doubly interesting, because so many great movies were made there by movie pioneers like Frits Lang and Alfred Hitchcock.

Is “M” perhaps the first example of Film Noir?

Peter Lorre in M

the rabbit hole
with Irmgard KeunI was very much aware of the dangers involved in researching this book.  Because the reference material available isn’t limited to movies and textbooks, but novels, too.

Certainly the books of Irmgard Kuen are invaluable reference material.  Her own story would make a phenomenal book or movie, but for my purposes, I decided it would be a good idea to read some of her novels since she was the voice of the Weimar Republic’s “Neu Frau” generation.

I tried to buy one of her  eBooks, but it turns out the publisher’s DRM made it impossible to actually open it.   So I ended up ordering some of her books through local libraries.

I knew her novel Gilgi had been made into a movie, and so I looked around enough to try and find it, but alas, there don’t seem to be any copies left in existence.  Not surprising since her books were banned by the Nazis, but it’s too bad, particularly for me, because that’s the book that most closely dramatizes the world my Margarethe inhabits in “Unregrettable”

Still, I was careful not to go too far so I’d make it to 50k.

Through my life I’ve had some horrific dental experiences, so I am even worse about visiting the dentist than most people.  Having missed a few regular checkups, naturally I got a toothache during November.

And my dentist tells me that if you go to the dentist when you’re in pain it’s already too late.

As it turned out, the diagnosis was even worse… three– count ’em three — teeth in a row with cavities, and one — or maybe all– would need root canals.  As it turned out, the one I thought was the worst and asked to have fixed first wasn’t the one causing the pain, so I had to go back in the afternoon to get an emergency root canal on the one that was causing the agony.  (If you’ve got a good dentist, always take his or her advice.)   In all my tooth woes probably ate up two days with non-writing… and trust me, it’s easier to write brilliant novels without a toothache.

birthday breakfast
Even with all that, I might have made it. And technically I did make it because I did write more than 50,000 words in November. The problem is that I misplaced somewhere between seven and ten thousand of them. backups

The thing is, I knew about making backups.  Boy, did I know, having once lost the only copy of a script that had been green lighted for production and having to reconstruct the whole thing in a weekend.

Apparently I inadvertently deleted a huge chunk of the manuscript and cleverly saved over it (in all three places.) So now I know saving isn’t enough; versioning software is a great idea.  Next time.

So while I might technically have claimed a win, I didn’t have 50k in my manuscript to validate, and fudging that just would not have felt right. So I didn’t “win” NaNoWriMo this year. But I did get a lot accomplished, and I know that life happens, but I gave it my best shot anyway.

And that’s enough of a win for me. 🙂

Free Software for NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo write-in - Computer on table

Surveillance and Software

With NaNoWriMo approaching, I shared a disturbing article about surveillance — “Adobe is Spying on Users, Collecting Data on Their eBook Libraries” on one of the NaNoWriMo boards I visit. This got me an acknowledgement that yes, we are being routinely spied on by our software, but there is nothing to worry about. “All software is keeping track of stuff we do with it, if it dials home it exchanges data.”

I disagree — I think there is an awful lot to worry about. Privacy is important, it’s a human right because people need it. Among other things, we do things differently when we arweree always being watched. As a writer, I can assure you that I can’t lose myself in my writing if someone is looking over my shoulder. (In fact, when I decided to write my first novel, I went out and bought a secret laptop because I wasn’t ready for my hubby to know I was trying to write a novel.) So I know very well that privacy matters.

The good news is that it isn’t quite as terrible as all that, because all software is *not* keeping track of stuff we do with it. That may be true of proprietary software, closed source, DRMed stuff that usually costs lots of money, but FLOSS — Free Libre Open Source Software — software that we usually don’t pay for & mdash; generally respects our privacy. Even if developers of free and open source wanted to hide spyware in their software, they wouldn’t get away with it long because anyone can look at your code. But closed source non-free software can hide any spyware or malware. The irony is, we pay them lots of money and then they spy on us and extract our data

But there is a whole world of free software available. Free software doesn’t just mean that we don’t pay money for it– sometimes Free Software costs money. There are two meanings for the word “free.” Free can mean “gratis” as in no money changes hands, or “freedom” which means our freedom to use it as we like is protected. Free software is sometimes identified as being Free as in Freedom (FaiF), but the reality is that most of it is Free as in “Gratis” as well.

For myself, I believe the Free as in Freedom part is the more important. It’s amazing how much faster a computer can be when you chuck Windows (which is phoning home constantly) for any of the GNU/Linux operating systems — which don’t phone home without my consent.

I was just reading a spirited discussion on the NaNoWriMo site where someone asked “Free alternative to Scrivener??” and a Scrivener fan suggested free software is inferior.  Perhaps there was a time when free software was inferior stuff, but that is certainly not true now.

I appreciate that Scrivener is a small company that has developed a useful writing tool, as well as sponsoring NaNoWriMo. But not every tool is right for every writer; I think choice is the most important thing of all.

Maybe some day I’ll write about the free software philosophy and community, but today I just want to provide a quick introduction to some of the free software that might be handy for writers and self publishing novelists, when it’s still feasible for writers to learn how to use them before NaNo kicks off.

Useful Free Software for Self Publishing Authors

A full “office” suite (similar to Microsoft Word) which includes:

  • LibreOffice Base (database)
  • LibreOffice Calc (spreadsheet/calculator)
  • LibreOffice Draw
  • LibreOffice Impress (presentations)
  • LibreOffice Math
  • LibreOffice Writer

LibreOffice is a fork of OpenOffice, which I haven’t since the split. I expect the two programs are still quite similar.   Even though all these programs are included in the LibreOffice Suite, I have only ever used LibreOffice Writer (LOW) to any great extent. LOW is a reasonable word processing program; it generates nice PDFs and it’s capable of generating a wide variety of file formats, compatible with commercial proprietary formats.

Is a “notepad” like text editior, which does about the same things as MS Notepad. Talk about distraction free writing! I wrote the first draft of “The Girl In the Blue Flame cafe” with this, but I’ve now switched to LibreOffice for formatting since I don’t have time to learn LaTex right now.

“gedit provides a simple interface from which you have access to a full text editor with programming functions and is compatible with most languages. gedit incorporates text search and replace, spell checking, printing and support for opening almost any file.”

Because I use a Linux operating system, gedit and Libre Office are built in, so I don’t need to download it. It may be easier for you to get gedit here:

LaTex is a high quality typesetting program. Because I’m a perfectionist, I want to learn how to use this so I can layout my books exactly as I wish to. So far I’ve yet to learn this, but it is on my list.

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program)
Even if you’re going to hire a professional down the road, you’ll at least want some placeholder cover art to display on your NaNowriMo page during November. As near as I can tell, GIMP is the free software equivalent of Photoshop. I’m really only just now getting the hang of it because I’ve had to unlearn Photoshop.

If you prefer a vector based graphic program, you should instead look at Inkscape.

This amazing software was developed to help readers manage their eBooks, including format shifting eBooks, so they can be read on the desired device. But it is *also* a terrific tool for self-publishing authors, as it makes formatting eBooks a breeze.

FBReader (Free Book Reader)
Read eBooks on your computer ~ when you are selling eBooks, you want to make sure they display properly.

transforms my Android smart phone into an eReader. The best part is that it’s available through F-Droid, so I can by-pass Google Play.

Internet Tools

For research purposes you’ll need a good web browser, which might be:

Some good privacy respecting search engines that don’t track you are:

You’ll want to communicate with people, so you might want to consider using secure email like “Hushmail” or setting up PGP encryption for the email you’re currently using. (It is built in on Thunderbird Mail  Thunderbird Mail  Thunderbird Mail can haveGnuPG/PGP encryption added with a plug-in extension called “Enigmail”. Both Thunderbird and Enigmail are Open Source. The fork of Thunderbird called IceDove built is FAIF Software. /edited)    Keep in mind that the “lite” version of Hushmail is not as secure as the original version.  [CORRECTION: Bob Jonkman says:  “Finally, Hushmail lost all credibility as a secure e-mail service when they handed over plain-text copies of supposedly secure e-mail to law enforcement agencies. Other, better secure e-mail providers have shut down their businesses rather than compromise their customers’ data. In today’s coercive corporate-driven legal environment, the only way to be sure your data is not being handed over to law enforcement or being sold to advertisers is to host it yourself.]


When the time comes that you want to make a book trailer or edit a Crowdfunding pitch video, you will need good editing software, and fir that I can recommend KdenLive. This professional level video editing software is similar to Sony Vegas, but Windows users are out of luck as it only works on computers with Linux or FreeBSD and Mac OS X.

To get a really nice sound mix, once you’ve locked your picture you can export your audio tracks to Audacity.   and then lay it back into kdenlive for a final render.  There are many kinds of audio free software, so I have no doubt creating audio book formats is possible; I just don’t know how yet.

If you’re really energetic, you can make a full fledged 3D animation with the amazing free software Blender.

More Free Software Writing Programs

There are also a great many Free Software Writing programs I know of, but have not used myself. Because my own historical novel seems to be morphing into a trilogy, more organizational tools might help I will be looking at the ones that do the kinds of things Scrivener does, (oStorybook, Plume Creator, Kabikaboo, and maybe even the Scrivener for Linux – Beta; but not yWriter which is only for Windows).
On Clouds
I think Cloud based software is even more dangerous, because your work isn’t just locked inside proprietary software, it’s stored somewhere out there on some anonymous computer on the web and you don’t even know where. The only cloud I use is “OwnCloud” because I can self host it. That means I know where my work is, and it is always under my control. I would never choose a cloud based writing application where I do not have control of my work.

If you do choose to use any cloud based software, be sure to back up your work on your own computer for safety.

oStorybook ⇒
(needs java)

oStorybook is a free Open Source novel-writing program for creative writers, novelists, and authors. From the first idea to the finished book, oStorybook helps you keep an overview of multiple plot-lines, characters, locations, and so on while writing histories, novels, or other written works.
oStorybook assists you in structuring your book. Manage all your data such as characters, locations, scenes, items, tags, and ideas in one place. A simple consistent interface is provided to enable you to define objects, assign them to each scene, and keep an overview of your work with user-friendly chart tools.

Plume Creator ⇒
(only Windows and Ubuntu)

This software gives you an outliner, a distraction-free mode, a note manager and much more !
(This tool is in development, so you can expect new components will be added in the near future.)

Scrivener for Linux – Beta ⇒
Scrivener Linux beta released 22nd July 2014 … this is a Beta (test) version available for Linux, but I am guessing it is not FaiF

yWriter ⇒
(Only for Windows)

yWriter is a word processor which breaks your novel into chapters and scenes, helping you keep track of your work while leaving your mind free to create. It will not write your novel for you, suggest plot ideas or perform creative tasks of any kind. yWriter was designed by an author, not a salesman!

Text Block Writer ⇒
(Similar to Scrivener bulletin board)

Text Block Writer is a virtual index card program for writers. It can be used to organize research papers, articles, fiction, non-fiction, books and whatever related to writing.
It is intended for people like me who use paper index cards to write all the notes and pieces of an essay, and then arrange the pieces and then use that to type them into the computer.

Kabikaboo ⇒

Kabikaboo is meant to help you plan a novel, but could be used for anything that would benefit from tree-based text organization. Kabikaboo is not meant to create a formatted document – you should use AbiWord/ OpenOffice, LaTeX or some other editor for that purpose.

Trelby ⇒

A free, multiplatform, feature-rich screenwriting program!

Freeplane ⇒

Freeplane is a free and open source software application that supports thinking, sharing information and getting things done at work, in school and at home. The software can be used for mind mapping and analyzing the information contained in mind maps. Freeplane runs on any operating system that has a current version of Java installed. It can be run locally or portably from removable storage like a USB drive.

FreeMind ⇒

FreeMind is a premier free mind-mapping software written in Java. The recent development has hopefully turned it into high productivity tool. We are proud that the operation and navigation of FreeMind is faster than that of MindManager because of one-click “fold / unfold” and “follow link” operations.

Yarney ⇒
(cloud based)

Snippets. A snippet is a piece of text. Long or short, it’s just a way to organize your writing. For extra organization, you can also drag and drop to reorder…

Abiword ⇒

AbiWord is a free word processing program similar to Microsoft® Word. It is suitable for a wide variety of word processing tasks.
Free and simple word processing program

WikidPad ⇒

Software developers have grown accustomed to certain features from their integrated development environment that make their jobs easier. Features like auto-completion, outline views, incremental search, easy source code navigation. IDE’s that provide these features can greatly increase developer productivity. wikidPad attempts to utilize some of these features to address the problem of personal information management.

FocusWriter ⇒

FocusWriter is a simple, distraction-free writing environment. It utilizes a hide-away interface that you access by moving your mouse to the edges of the screen, allowing the program to have a familiar look and feel to it while still getting out of the way so that you can immerse yourself in your work.

PyRoom ⇒

Just you and your thoughts
Writing prose in a world as busy as the online world can be hard. Instant messengers, busy websites and other distractions can always get into your way when all you want to do is write.

TextRoom ⇒

TextRoom and all other similar editors share one goal: to get you writing right away by providing distraction free environment to your liking, as well as familiar set of keyboard shortcuts to control its behavior. If you don’t feel comfortable already with your editor of choice, you may find it useful

Zim ⇒

Zim is a graphical text editor used to maintain a collection of wiki pages. Each page can contain links to other pages, simple formatting, and images. Pages are stored in a folder structure, like in an outliner, and can have attachments. Creating a new page is as easy as linking to a nonexistent page. All data is stored in plain text files with wiki formatting. Various plugins provide additional functionality, like a task list manager, an equation editor, a tray icon, and support for version control. Zim can be used to keep an archive of notes, take notes during meetings or lectures, organize task lists, draft blog entries and email, or do brainstorming

Back in the day I was in love with WordPerfect. But the version I bought worked fine for me. But suddenly one day I was unable to print out my documents because my old version of WordPerfect did not support my new printer. I decided it wasn’t fair for the company to make the software that worked perfectly well obsolete, so I stopped using it. And I haven’t looked back since.

Anyone with a regular paycheck might be fine with subscription services, but through my experience as a creative free lancer I know free lance income can fluctuate wildly.  One month there might be a lot coming in, while the next month may bring next to nothing.   When the subscription is for a magazine, it’s no big deal if we let it lapse, but I am not willing to risk losing the writing tools I use to make a living.

Writers are a diverse lot; there is no one-size-fits-all solution. I hope I’ve provided you with some alternatives you may not otherwise have even heard of.

NaNoWriMo Write-In

at a 2010 NaNoWriMo write in at the Queen Street Commons, Kitchener, ON

Whatever you choose to use, good luck on NaNoWriMo 2014.

glossary of software terms

Closed Source a lot of commercial software doesn’t allow the user to access, even to look at the code that makes the program work. Without transparency, any spyware or malware can be hidden within and no one will be the wiser.

Commercial Software can be free software or non-free software — it is is software that is sold.

Crippleware is deliberately disabled to allow you to try enough of it to like it, but you will have to pay to try the full version.  When developers started withholding key features of software unless a payment was made (“For only $5 you can save your files!”) it was called Crippleware.  Sometimes it is the complete program but only for a time limited free trial; if you fail to pay before the trial ends, the software stops working.  Any documents made in the software’s proprietary formats may well be lost to you at this point.

FLOSS Free-Libre-Open-Source-Software is another widely used term for free open source software

Free Software is defined by the Four Freedoms by the Free Software Foundation (FSF).  Frankly, I very much doubt free software would exist without the FSF.  Free Software– often called Free-As-In-Freedom (FaiF) Software — respects your freedom.   FaiF Software can be Commercial Software too — there’s nothing that prevents people from selling software that respects your freedom.

Freemium software, is like Crippleware with a positive spin.  It is also missing features, but those are marketed as enhancements (“For only $5 you get the colour version!”)

OpenSource the software code is open, so it is possible to see what is in it. The term open source is usually used for commercial software.

Proprietary Software is software that is owned by someone else.  We don’t actually buy Windows, Word, Final Draft, Scrivener etc. — they are the property of the corporation that owns the Intellectual Property.  We pay for a license to use it, and  when we click “I agree” we are accepting the Terms and Conditions spelled out in the legal document that specifies what we are legally allowed  to do with their software for the duration of the license. Proprietary Software never respects your freedom. Just the fact that someone lays claim to owning the ideas behind the software makes it non-FAIF. And of course, such terms and conditions are subject to change (by the owner) without notice.   Because you don’t actually own the software, you may be required to pay for upgrades, or the company that owns it can choose to stop supporting it (as Microsoft did with Windows XP) or the company can go out of business. In any of these scenarios, you could lose access to your work if it is locked in a proprietary format, which is why a friend of mine has dubbed it “ransomeware.”

Shareware and Freeware Originally there was Shareware, which encouraged people to distribute it, usually at no cost except the price of the media. Shareware can be FaiF Software when source code is made available and modifications are allowed. Some Shareware was Proprietary Software, as the authors did not supply source code and disallowed modifications. When developers starting asking for donations for Shareware the term Freeware was coined to differentiate no-cost software from software asking for donations. Freeware isn’t necessarily FAIF Sofware either.

Open Source Software (OSS) and FLOSS FaiF Software both make source code available, encourage wide distribution and modification. The main difference is philosophy: Open Source is primarily a good model for creating high-quality software; FAIF Software is primarily about respecting software users’ freedom.

Note: This glossary has been edited to correct errors since initial publication in response to @bobjonkman‘s comment below.  He generously suggested my errors were minor, but I think they needed correcting just the same.  I am not a tech person, but I do try and get it right.  The original glossary text was and is in italic text, the corrections and additions are in plain text.    The changes are extensive enough that Bob should certainly be credited as a co-author of the glossar,

James Garner

It’s funny how imagination and empathy can allow people to feel a connection to people we’ve never met.

James Garner as the charming and charismatic Brett Maverick

James Garner as the charming and charismatic Brett Maverick

That’s why some Wikipedia character pages have more depth and information than those for real people. For me as a writer, character is at least as important as story.  Maybe even more so. A brilliantly written or played character in an average story can elevate a book or movie to brilliance, while the reverse is not true. When we re-read a book, or watch a movie or TV series again, we don’t do it for the story — no matter how good it is, once you know the story, you know the story — we do it so we can revisit the characters who have touched us in some way.

Over the years I’ve fallen in love with countless characters in books, on tv and in films, and sometimes with the people who brought great characters to life. This kind of affection helps create the shared culture that ties us together.

Some actors, like Larry Olivier or Catherine Zeta-Jones, can become completely different people when they play a part. Others, like John Wayne or James Garner, always play the same guy.   James Garner was a very good actor who fell into the latter category.  It didn’t matter if he was playing Brett Maverick or Jim Rockford, no matter what part he was acting, he was always the same charming guy.

James Garner has long been one of my most enduring celebrity crushes.  In the 1970’s he swept me off my feet in “The Rockford Files tv series.”  Realistically, in the real world, James Garner was always too old for me. A few years older than my dad, he was already a star around the time I was born (which was around the time he left the tv show “Maverick“.)   Watching my Rockford dvds now,  it’s a little amazing to realize I found that leather skinned old man to be such a hunk when I was a teenager.  Of course, he was often much older than his leading ladies, but nobody cared because everybody liked him.

In many ways Jim Rockford was my idea of the perfect man. He was charming, smart, charismatic, a loyal friend, and most important, he was self deprecatingly funny. And I have this idea that that was what I think James Garner was, too, not because I ever actually knew the man, but because that’s who he seemed to be onscreen.

And I invariably fell in love with the characters he played. After The Rockford Files, I loved Jim in a short lived series called Nichols. I’ve not seen it since, so I don’t know if it would have held up, but at the time I thought it was brilliant.  Some of my very favorite James Garner characters are Jason McCullough in a movie called “Support Your Local Sheriff,” King Marchand in “Victor Victoria“, and Murphy in “Murphy’s Romance.”

I can’t think of a single character he played where I didn’t like Jim. (Yes, in my mind, I am familiar enough to think of him as “Jim.”) The parts Jim Garner played are woven throughout my life, gems of my cultural experience.

But The Rockford Files will always be my favorite. The plots were always good, the guest stars were always excellent, but the interaction between Jim Rockford and the regular characters his life — from Rocky to Angel to Dennis to Beth — was perhaps the most important element in making The Rockford Files such a solid series.   It was certainly one of the influences that led me to enroll in Media Arts at Sheridan College, and then go on to work in television.


James Whitmore Jr and James Garner

Jim Rockford was the manJames Garner with guest star James Whitmore Jr.

Which is why, even though I never met the man, James Garner will always have a place in my heart. Thanks for all the wonderful memories, Jimbo.

James Garner
April 7, 1928 – July 19, 2014
Rest in Peace.

Photo Credits
Rockford Files: James Garner and James Whitmore Jr. Rockford Files 1977 public domain via Wikipedia

James Garner as Brett Maverick a public domain image via Wikimedia Commons

A Union Station Setting

Toronto Union Station ~ 2012

22 Doric limestone columns line the impressive Front Street face of Toronto’s Union Station.

I’m working on the opening of “The Girl In the Blue Flame Cafe,” which is set in Toronto’s landmark Union Station.

Since I no longer live in Toronto, when I started writing I had to rely on my memory of the station’s internal geography.  That was when I realized just how spotty memory can be.  For instance, I don’t remember the parts I didn’t actually look at.   I wish I had taken photographs there through the years.

Since then I’ve taken a couple of photographic expeditions to the station, which was just beginning the massive renovation it is currently undergoing.  I think some of the station will be unrecognizable when they are done, but fortunately that won’t include the old part of the station where the action in my story takes place.  Thankfully that part is only being restored.

I have decided to keep the story set in the Union Station I knew, rather than making an attempt to get my mind around the new version. The problem with this is that the renovations dominate the Internet, and so far I have yet to find any floor plans of the original version of the building.

Every time I do online research, I invariably discover more interesting bits of information about Union Station.

Doric Columns

The columns were shaped on an enormous lathe, the largest in North America, built in Sarnia
expressly for this ambitious project in 1917. Each forty foot column weighs 75 tons.

The moat?

It would be a lot easier to write a scene set at Union Station if I was certain what the different parts were called.
For instance, I’m still not entirely sure if this is what they call the moat.


Research: Vorovskoy Mir

Thought you might be interested in some of the research I’ve been doing for “The Girl In The Blue Flame Cafe”

In my novel, the Blue Flame Cafe is a jazz club that is really a Russian Mafiya front.

This is an interesting documentary about the Russian Mafiya or the “Vorovskoy Mir” [direct translation: “Thieves World”], which has a tradition dating back to the days of the Russian Tsars.

“And I call my friend who is in government, and I ask him, “Let me ask you a stupid question
Is it possible to purchase a submarine?”

And he asks me, “With missiles or without the missiles?”

Happy GNU Year

[simulpublished across all my blogs]

Happy GNU Year Card

This virtual card is the best gift I can give my readers and online friends this holiday season. Not just because its the best and most awesome Happy GNU Year card you’re likely to find online, but because I created it entirely using free culture and free software.

The Free Software Foundation‘s GNU operating system led to the adoption of the gnu as its symbol.  Free software is incredibly important for a host of reasons, and yet I very much suspect it wouldn’t exist at all any more but for the efforts of Richard Stallman and the FSF.  I highly recommend that you use free software as much as possible, not just because it’s usually free of charge (gratis) but far more importantly, because it respects our personal freedom (libre).

The penguin “Tux” is the mascot of the Linux kernel, is the heart of the free and open source software operating systems we use today. (MacOS and Windows are the non-free software used in personal computing devices (computers, cell phones, tablets, PVRs &tc.)

Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)) LicenseIf you click on the card, you’ll find a higher definition version suitable for printing.  And you are allowed to print it, because this card carries a free culture license, specifically a Creative Commons  Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) License  This license gives you the freedom to use this creative work in any way you like, even commercially, with only 2 restrictions.

  1. The “Attribution” restriction means you must credit the creator(s) as specified.
  2. Second, whether printing it out and selling physical copies, mailing it to you your friends, or modifying it to create something completely different, it must carry the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike License, or a similar license that requires attribution perpetuation of the license terms.

Attribution is simply giving credit where credit is due. I try to provide attribution for everything I use, even work in the public domain. The “share-alike” part of the license exists to prevent creative works from being removed from free culture and locked behind copyright.

Below you can see the steps that led to this card. Click on any of the images below for a larger/printable version.

Happy GNU year Green draft

The green one is my first try, which I like a lot. It could make a good poster, but it’s too difficult to see and read in small formats because it’s too cluttered.

free software wallpaper

Next is the “wallpaper” background I devised. I modified the Powered by GNU-Linux sticker set originally created by deviantdark and published on deviantArt  under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) License.  There are many free software operating systems not included, so I added Trisquel and centOS when I made up the wallpaper background. You can download the printable sticker sets from the deviantART Powered by GNU-Linux page and make your own sticker for your computer.

Happy GNU year stencil Red

The last  red and white image is the first draft of the red card. I loved the simplicity of Rasmus Olsen‘s gnu meets penguin titled GNU/Linux licensed Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) that I found on Flickr.  I altered the image by bringing the penguin close enough to touch noses with the gnu, and stood them both on the lettering. In the final version, I changed the lettering because it was hard to read when the wallpaper was added.

CORRECTION: Rui Damas is the originator of the GNU/Linux artwork I reused, and it was actually released under the GNU Public License. I’m not entirely sure what that does to my licensed usage. [Thanks to Mike Linksvayer for pointing that out!]

Free Software & Free Culture

It’s no harder to learn to use free software than it is to learn to use a windows computer or a Mac.  Many Apple and Windows users are already using free software with Firefox or OpenOffice (I prefer LibreOffice).  The coolest and best ebook conversion software is called Calibre (it comes with a good e-reader so you can read eBooks on your computer).  And of course my favorite blogging software, WordPress is free software.  Wikipedia runs on free wiki software (which is why there are wikis popping up all over) and if you’re into video production, you could so worse than the amazing Blender 3D animation software or Kdenlive for video editing.  You can use social networking with GNUsocial and Friendica.   If you do switch to free software, the biggest difference you’ll notice is that you don’t have to pay for things again and again and again.  Other advantages include better security and a much lower incidence of spyware and other malware.

It was difficult for me to unlearn Photoshop so I can learn to use GIMP, but I keep trying.  I still look for a lot of the features where they would be in photoshop, but its getting easier.  I have yet to find anything Photoshop can do that can’t be done in GIMP; the challenge is finding out how to do it.   That’s why I’m so pleased I made this card entirely with GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) on my computer, which is currently runs on Linux Mint in a MATE desktop environment that has the  Ubuntu Studio plug-in.

As the copyright maximalists successfully lobby to lock up more and more of our culture for longer and longer terms, the importance of free culture has become more apparent.   Sites like the Flickr photosharing site and deviantArt make it easy for users to give their work Creative Commons licenses, so they are often the easiest places to find images licensed to share.

All versions of my GNU year card are licensed Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) License.  If you’re interested in finding out what free culture is out there, I’ve been growing a list of Free Culture resources.    And if you have some spare cash left over from last year, please consider making a donation to the two non-profit organizations that have been instrumental in ensuring the continued existence of free software and free culture:

The Free Software Foundation and Creative Commons

And have a Happy GNU Year!

Happy Saturnalia

ay the ginger cat in the window

I’ve been catching up with life and working on other media projects this month, and family stuff necessarily trumps all at this time of year, even for secular celebrants.

The problem is that “The Girl In the Blue Flame Cafe” is still a WIP. That must be my priority after Christmas.

I don’t generally do New Year’s resolutions, but I’m thinking I might this year. Clearly it is far too easy for everything else to interfere with both my writing and my self publishing. Self Publisher’s set our own deadlines. The downside is that it is far too easy to change them when encountering unchangable deadlines for other things.

So I need to reinvest myself in my real work, so I think my New Year’s Resolution is that 2014 will be my Year of The Book.

Happy Holidays!

Lani Russwurm’s book debut

Lani Russwurm, historian, blogger and author

Lani Russwurm, historian, blogger and author


My younger brother Lani Russwurm was already a veteran blogger when I began my first blog; I appreciate his advice to use WordPress.

Past Tense Vancouver Histories banner


Since moving to BC, Lani’s interest in history took him  to  Simon Fraser University, where his thesis studies led  to his first blog about Vancouver history as “Past Tense Vancouver“, on WordPress and Tumblr.

A few years ago he added a related Vancouver history blog to his repertoire.  “Vancouver Was Awesome” blog became a regular feature on the popular Vancouver Is Awesome site.


Which brings us to this year, with  the publication of  Lani’s first book, “Vancouver Was Awesome” for Arsenal Pulp Press.

"Vancouver Was Awesome" by Lani Russwurm You don’t have to be a history buff or a Vancouverite to appreciate stories like the one about young Boris Karloff’s near ruination.

Or the one about a rampaging squirrel.

And Vancouver’s Jazz Age.

Stories about the wild politicians, artists and free thinkers that hammered out the foundation of the premier city of the Canada’s Left Coast.

Lani’s eclectic mix of tales about the first several decades of the life of Vancouver are richly illustrated with cool archival photos of life the way it used to be.

If you like the blog, you’ll love the book.

And as Vancouver Is Awesome suggests, Lani’s book  debut “Vancouver Was Awesome” will make a fabulous Christmas gift.

Congratulations Lani!


Image Information
Both the “Past Tense” Banner and “Vancouver Was Awesome” images are used with permission, as they are copyright all rights reserved.

The photo of Lani is licensed to share (Creative Commons license information is in the sidebar)