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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Day 18: Writing – Is self-publishing a good idea?

My Project: 365 Creative Writing Prompts Write something about writing

Day 18: Writing – Is self-publishing a good idea?

Writers are notorious procrastinators. When an idea for a novel is shiny and new they are filled with enthusiasm and scribble (or type) with fire in their hearts and in their fingers, but as time marches on and chapters fail to materialize they’ll use any excuse not to write.
It’s too cold, it’s too hot, they’re tired from working all day, the house needs cleaning, the lawn needs mowing ... you name it and they’ll use it.

Some of them, with every intention to write, sit down and fire up their computer only to stare at the screen or keyboard. From there they’re just minutes away of getting up to make a cup of tea, take the dog for a walk, play with the cat, or do something else that for one reason or another can’t wait.

Me, I’ve given up on novel writing. I wrote and self-published three novels and two children’s books and while I have a forth novel in the making, it’s gathering dust. I just don’t have the motivation anymore to continue writing.

I tried reading a few self-published works and they were bad. Not just bad, they were awful and I thought ... is my work as bad as theirs? No wonder self-publishing has such a bad reputation. So, if and when I decide to continue to write on my fourth novel, I will try to find a literary agent and if I fail, I will shelf the project. If they don’t think it’s good enough, if nobody wants it, then it obviously isn’t good enough for publication.

Every day I see self-published writers promoting their work, tooting their horn about how good, unique or interesting their book is. And I wonder ... did these people even try to find an agent/publisher? If they spend half as much time trying to get published mainstream as they do trying to convince readers to buy their book, maybe, just maybe their work might have been picked up by an agent.

Other than the content of those self-published books, the covers bother me equally. All too often I see book covers with half naked men, showing off their pecks, muscled arms and iron board flat stomachs. Is this what is supposed to make me buy a book? Do these self-published writers think that because some guy is on the cover I’m going to like the story they’ve written?

Other books sport such a plain and boring cover that I don’t even give them a second look. I’m sure you’re familiar with the saying ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’ ... but this is total baloney. If this saying was true, then why do not all books have white covers with black lettering or black covers with white lettering?

Fact of the matter is, book covers are important, they are very important. You should see how publishers agonize over the right cover for a book. The picture, the colors, the title, the font of the lettering ... idea after idea is presented and rejected until the right combination is found.

While I understand that writers are proud of their work, I don’t like them bragging about it or announcing how many copies they’ve sold or their Amazon rank.

In comparison, I’m reading ‘The Alchemist’ now and what I liked about this author right away is that he was honest enough to state in his foreword that when ‘The Alchemist’ was first published it was a flop. The book didn’t sell, and his publisher canceled his contract. By sheer coincidence the book found another publisher and this time it was a success.

Something that always strikes me when I read a book is that the author has several people to thank. People who helped them in their research, people who supported them and pushed them to keep going, people who read the first draft of a manuscript and suggested changes, and most noteworthy of all, they thank their editor.

A good editor is worth his weight in gold. He will take an ordinary story and make it good, he will a good story and make it brilliant. This and the above mentioned is precisely what self-published writers lack ... they don’t have someone to read their manuscript and give them honest feedback. Writers invariably have fragile feelings and don’t take well to criticism. In turn, family and friends often don’t dare to voice their true opinion.

While there are undoubtedly good self-published books out there, the majority of those I have tried to read should never have seen the light of day.

Feel free to comment. I’d love to hear from you.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Day 17: Pick a word from a dictionary and write about it - trainer

My Project: 365 Creative Writing Prompts

Day 17: Pick a word from a dictionary and write about it - trainer

Okay, I encountered a bit of a snag here ... I don’t own a dictionary. So I turned to Google and asked to present me with a random dictionary word. Google came up with ‘Trainer’. This word suited me just fine as it gives me the opportunity to tell you about the time I took my dog to obedience school.

My dog was called Laura, a Belgian Shephard and while a beautiful animal, she was not very obedient. Taking her for a walk was nothing to look forward to. She would strain on her leach, the leather cutting into my hand, and I would hardly be able to keep up with her. And heaven forbid when she saw a cat or a bird. She would take off like an arrow from a bow, dragging me behind her.

When a neighbor suggested obedience school I made inquiries and Laura was accepted for the September/October class.

The first Saturday afternoon we showed up at the school, which was a large grassy field with a pavilion, I was surprised at the attendance. There must have been 60 men and women there, accompanied by German Shepherds, Labradors, Border Collies, Golden Retrievers, French Poodles, Dobermans, and an assortment of mixed breeds.

While the owners made conversation, the dogs sat next to them, lay down on the grass, or tried to get acquainted with each other.

At precisely 3:00 p.m. one of the trainers called the gathering to order and requested them to go their allocated spot: beginners, intermediates and advanced. It was obvious who the intermediates and advanced men and women and their dogs were, as they knew where to go. Only the beginners class stayed behind.

Laura and I, along with 10 other dogs and their owners were directed to the left-hand side of the field. The class started by commanding our dog to sit.

“Sit” I commended Laura, but she looked up at me with an expression that said she was perfectly fine standing. “Sit,” I said again and again and eventually she must have thought ... okay, if you insist. So, she sat.

Next came the command to lay down. When I commended Laura to lay down, she had no problem with that. She lay down, front paws elegantly stretched out in front of her. Good dog. 

Getting her to get up again proved to be difficult and I could see her point ... first you want me to lay down, now you want me to get up ... make up your mind.

We practiced and practiced and eventually Laura had it down, she sat and lay down on command. Now came the part where our dogs had to sit and had to remain in place while their owners walked away (a short distance). Laura was having none of that. I had barely taken three steps or she came after me. Walking away while Laura lay down proved to be just as impossible.

Week after week Laura and I joined the other men and women and their dogs, most of them well behaved if not super obedient (the dogs I mean).

Toward the end of October, obedience classes came to an end and the training season would be rounded off with a party. One of the staff members handed me an invitation and Laura promptly bit her arm. Not bad, but enough to warn her.

“Never extend your arm to an owner while the dog is present,” one of the trainers said. “The dog might think that you’re going to attack the owner. Do it slowly and let the owner extend his or her arm first.”

So, while technically Laura had done nothing wrong, we were banned from any future lessons. Biting a staff member, even with the intention of protecting an owner, was not acceptable.

“Don’t feel bad,” the instructor who had been working with Laura said to me. “Laura might not be the most obedient dog, but where it comes to protecting, she doesn’t need any lessons.”

Friday, September 15, 2017

Day 16: Addict - What are four things you can’t do without?

My Project: 365 Creative Writing Prompts

Day 16: Addict. What are four things you can’t do without?

Have you ever given this some thought? Have you ever wondered what you wouldn’t be able to do without? I don’t mean food, water, smokes, alcohol, or drugs, I mean the more mundane things.


Could you live without people? Your first reaction might be ‘Oh yes, I could definitely do without them’. For a lot of people living on a deserted island is a much-coveted fantasy. And to a certain extent I agree, some people irritate me, annoy me or downright make my blood boil, but living without them ...

One of my favorite movies is ‘Cast Away’ with Tom Hanks and it really brings home the message how difficult and lonely life can be when one must survive on one’s own. Nobody to keep you company, nobody to talk to, nobody to share things with.

Living alone might be fine for a few days or even weeks, but indefinitely ... no, it would drive me crazy.


Could you live without animals? Imagine having to make do without the loyalty of a dog, the affection of a cat, hearing birdsong in the morning or the majestic beauty of a horse. For a lot of people, their pet – whatever that animal may be – is their best friend. It waits for them when they come home, it listens attentively without interrupting and never criticizes. An animal loves its owner, regardless of whether they wear couture or vintage, whether they wear makeup or not, whether they just returned from the salon or have a bad hair day. Whichever way you look at it, animals are our best friends.


I know I said we weren’t going to include food in this lineup, but chocolate isn’t really food, it’s candy. Personally, I’m not big on candy, I can take it or leave it, but chocolate is the exception. Chocolate makes everything better. Whether you’re at work or at home, inside or outside, happy or sad, a piece of chocolate is always welcome. Being from Belgium I consider myself a bit of a chocolate connoisseur and let me tell you, Jacques 3 x 4 is THE best chocolate in the world. Nowhere will you find richer, smoother, better chocolate. Not in Switzerland, not in Holland, nowhere.

Books I couldn't do without either. Through stories, I meet thousands of people, learn about animals, visit places all over the world and get entangled in all kinds of emotions ranging from love to hate, friendship to betrayal, marriage to murder.

I can’t remember the first book I read, but since then I have read hundreds if not thousands. While some people cheer themselves up with buying clothes, shoes, makeup or something for the house, my go-to place when things are not as they should be, is the bookstore. The scent of paper and being surrounded by authors just waiting to introduce their characters to me never fails to lift my spirits.

While these days I shop online and download books to my Kindle, I miss real books. I miss holding a book in my hand, I miss turning pages, and I miss their intoxicating smell.

In many ways, books are like candy. Carefully selected, sampled and when chosen slowly savored.

These are my four things I couldn’t do without. What are yours?

Feel free to comment. I’d love to hear from you.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Day 15: Most embarrassing moment at work

My Project: 365 Creative Writing Prompts

Day 15: Most embarrassing moment at work

It could happen to anyone. If you had been there, you might have made the same mistake. I was working for the Toronto office of Warner Brothers. It was my first day on the job and I had a lot to learn.

Overwhelmed with all the new information, I decided to go out during my lunch break to get some fresh air. Even though it was the middle of winter and bitterly cold, I thought a walk would do me good. The building had a beautiful garden and although the grass was covered thick with snow and the trees and bushes encrusted with ice, it appeared to be the perfect place to find peace and quiet.

However, there wasn’t much peace and quiet that day. No sooner had I reached the patio or I heard a bone chilling scream. I look around me.  Had someone fallen and broken an arm or a leg? I couldn’t see another living soul. I hurried into the garden, looking for a human or animal form, but the whole garden seemed undisturbed. Yet I definitely had heard a scream.

Still puzzled by it all I heard another scream, a man’s scream, and it was, even more, bone chilling than the first. I noticed that it came from behind me, from the lower level of the building. Ignoring the snow and the ice on the garden patch, I hurried over and heard him scream again and again.

Just as I reached the building a giant of a man walked out the door.  Dressed in pants held up by suspenders, he puffed out his considerable chest, lit a cigarette and with great satisfaction blew the smoke into the air. I skidded to a halt. This was definitely not the man who I heard screaming. 

This man, I wondered, what had he been doing? Who else was inside that building? How could he leave a man, who obviously had been in considerable pain a few moments ago, alone while he stood there enjoying a cigarette? 

My imagination took a flying leap.  Was he perhaps the man who had inflicted pain on this poor soul?  Being a few feet away from him I searched his clothing for traces of violence or worse ... blood. Had he been torturing someone? Surely not, this was 1999, not the middle ages.  Then again, these days, one never knew what went on right under our modern noses.

I tried not to be too obvious as I looked at the man, but at one point our eyes met. He grinned at me. He grunted something, but too occupied with my own thoughts I didn’t pay attention to what he was saying.

“Well,” he said, louder this time, “what’s it gonna be?”

“Huh? I’m sorry, what?” I stammered.

“Do you wanna look,” he said, throwing a nod towards the door behind him.  “You’re new here, aren’t you?  They’ll show you this place sooner or later, but I can give you a private tour.”

Stepping back, I shook my head. “No thank you.  I must go now.” 
When the man moved towards me I flew into the building, up the stairs, and into the office. As they told me later, when I entered my office I was in quite a state, pale as a ghost, shaking and obviously very upset.

“Something’s happened,” I told my boss.  “I was downstairs and I heard a man screaming. He was in pain.  We have to do something!”

He tried to calm me down but I wouldn’t be calmed. With the screams still ringing in my ears, I figured someone needed help, now!

“Exactly where were you and what did you hear?” my boss asked.

“I was out in the garden and the screams came from inside this building,” I explained.

“Did you see anyone?” he asked.

“I saw a big man come out and have a smoke,” I said.

“A big man with suspenders and a French barrette?”

“He wasn’t wearing a barrette,” I said, “but yeah he was wearing suspenders.”

A broad smile spread over my boss’ face.

“Nothing is going on and nobody needs help,” he explained.  “The big guy you met, the guy with the suspenders, he’s our sound technician and he synchronizes the images of the film with the soundtrack.”

I must have given my boss a blank look because he went on. “We have our private cinema where we show new movies before they're released on the circuit.”

“But the screams,” I said.

“Were the screams of a man being executed in the electric chair,” my boss explained.  “It’s the new movie with Tom Hanks called, ‘The Green Mile. I saw the movie earlier and they are indeed bone chilling screams.  It’s not a movie for sensitive viewers.”

As if that embarrassment wasn’t enough, more was to come.
A few days later I got an invitation to see the movie, with my choice of a guest in the private cinema.  When the scene of the execution came, several heads turned in my direction and there was a whole lot a giggling and sniggering.

Later still I got to meet the sound technician, officially this time, and when he got to hear the story of my suspicion he laughed so hard I swear the walls of the tiny cinema vibrated.

Feel free to comment. I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Day 14: Who would you like to be stuck in an elevator with?

My Project: 365 Creative Writing Prompts.

Day 14: Who would you like to be stuck in an elevator with?

On Facebook, I noticed the following question ... ‘If you were to be stuck in an elevator, who would you like to have for company?’

Ask any person that question and they will either answer right away or get a pensive look on their face. Who would they like to be stuck in an elevator with ... so many people to choose from.

On Facebook, one person said J.K. Rowling, another Adam Levine, another still Barack Obama, while two opted for ‘the elevator repair man’. And then there was this woman who said ‘My husband’. In my eyes that makes her a twit.

Wanting your husband for company in an emergency situation is understandable when a couple are newlyweds or are deep in their senior years, but for everything in-between ... come on.

Ask a man, any man, who he would like to be stuck in an elevator with and not one, not a single one will say ‘my wife’. They will name actresses, singers, models, sports stars or even some girl from their office, but no man will name his wife.

When men are married for a while, they will find any excuse to get away from home. They will work late, go to sports events, bars, DIY stores, invent jobs around the house, work on their car, stay busy with their hobbies, surf the Net, hide behind the newspaper or hang out with their buddies.

Hanging out with their wife ... why, their mission is accomplished. They found a maid to clean their house, do their laundry and iron their shirts, a cook to prepare their meals, and they no longer have to go looking for sex or pay for it.

You may think that I’m cynical about marriage and I’ll admit that I am. I think I made that clear on day 2 of this project when I was supposed to write a love poem and couldn’t do that because I don’t believe in love.

Now, who would you like to be stuck in an elevator with?

Feel free to comment. I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Day 13: Letters - Make reference to a famous letter

My Project: 365 Creative Writing Prompts

Day 13: Letters. Make reference to a famous letter

Because of the internet, people today enjoy instant communication. Someone writes an email and within seconds can expect a reply. Or contact someone via chat and create an instant conversation.

While this is a very convenient way of interaction, very few people today know the pleasure of writing a letter and the joyful anticipation of a reply.

When I was a teenager I had several pen pals and waited for the mailman every morning. Sitting by the window, I saw him push his bike up the street and almost from door slip something in the mailbox. Would he have something for me? When I heard a thud in our mailbox I knew something had arrived.

I used to rush through the house, open the small wooden door of the mailbox and fish out whatever was just delivered.
More sweet anticipation followed as I sifted through the envelopes looking for those addressed to me.

Responding to those letters was just as enjoyable. Sitting at the dining room table, a block of crisp white lined paper in front of me and a fountain pen on the side. I use to love the feel of that silky paper and the sound of the pen scratching as it formed letters and words.

I wonder if Napoleon felt the same when he wrote:

My Dearest Josephine, I wake filled with thoughts of you. Your portrait and the intoxicating evening which we spent yesterday have left my senses in turmoil. Sweet, incomparable Josephine, what a strange effect you have on my heart!

Poor man, who knows how long it took for his letters to be delivered and how long he had to wait for a response. I wonder how Josephine felt. Each time Napoleon went off to battle she must have wondered if she'd ever see him again, and a letter would have been a sign of life.

In due time, I moved on from pen and paper to a typewriter. I admired those machines the way my friends admired shoes, boots, and handbags. From behind the showroom window, they beckoned for me to come closer, enticing me with their shiny black, white, mint green or powder blue cases, detailed with black or white keyboards. Side by side they stood, fighting for my attention.

A whole year I saved up part of my pocket money so I could have one of those machines for my very own. Do kids still do that today, save up for something?

I’ll never forget the day when I brought my ‘baby’ home. Using two fingers I could now hammer out letters to my pen pals at a fraction of the time it used to take me.

Over the years my little typewriter was replaced by a much more sophisticated electric machine, followed by several desktop computers and finally laptops.

Does anyone these days still use typewriters or write letters for that matter?

Feel free to comment, I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Day 12. Hello

Day 12: Hello – Write a story or a poem that starts with the word ‘hello’

“Hello, is this Conny?”
“Yes, it is,” I said.
“It’s Robert Chatham and I would like to welcome you to my firm.”
“I got the job?” I asked.
“You got the job” Robert Chatham confirmed. “See you on Monday. You start at nine o’clock.”

When the call was disconnected, I wondered why I didn’t feel happier. I had been looking for a job for a long time. I had seen Chatham for an interview the week before. I finally got a job, in a great location for a generous salary. So why did I feel like a dark cloud had just moved over my head?

When I arrived at the firm the following Monday, I was shown not to a cubicle but to an office, a private office with a view over the building’s private courtyard. Sunlight streamed through a floor to ceiling window, bouncing off a blond oak L-shaped desk and credenza. This was just getting better and better.

When Robert Chatham walked in at 9:15, the six men and women who had been chatting in the kitchen scattered to their desks like mice who’d smelled a cat.

Minutes later Chatham walked into my office. “Let me give you the tour,” he said.

Behind glass fronted windows, the other employees seemed hard at work, not looking up when Chatham and I walked past. “I’m not going to introduce you to anyone,” he said, “as you won’t have contact with these people and I don’t encourage socializing. You are all here to work, not to chat.” I thought this a little harsh, but okay.

When we arrived at the copy room Chatham instructed that I was to pick up his printing and bring it to his office every 20 minutes. “Not every 19 minutes, not every 21 minutes,” he emphasized, “every 20 minutes.”

In the kitchen, he pointed out the dishwasher and percolator. “This will be your job too,” Chatham said. “When you come in in the morning, you make coffee. When you see me come in you make me a cup of tea. You let the tea bag in the cup exactly 35 seconds. Not 34 seconds, not 36 seconds, but 35 seconds and add three-quarters of a packet of sugar.”

Was this guy for real? I couldn’t believe this was the same men I met during my interview. 

Over the next two weeks what I heard and witnessed bordered on the unbelievable. Grown men and women were reduced to tears after being yelled at, screamed at, and called every derogatory name under the sun. Now I also understood why everyone had a private office ... the employees were not allowed to talk to each other, not even in the kitchen or mailroom and no paired visits to the bathroom were allowed. This man ruled his staff like a dictator.

To cut a long story short … I quit after the second week. I put up with difficult managers and directors in the past, but this one took the cake. I put up with his yelling and screaming and calling me names, but when it looked like he was about to strike me, I had enough. 

The reason ... he screamed that there were no water bottles in the meeting room. I pointed out that water bottles are better kept in the fridge, so when someone wants something to drink the bottle is cold. It was the middle of summer, who wants lukewarm water on a hot day? The result ... Chatham's face lost all color, he started shaking and the next moment he screamed and screamed how I dared to talk to him that way. 

The following Monday I contacted a lawyer and related my experiences. “Do you have proof of this abuse?” the lawyer asked. I said that I didn’t. “Then you have a problem,” he said. “If you can’t prove that the lawyer screamed and used abusive language, you don’t have a leg to stand on. I will contact him if you like, but my guess is he will deny everything.”

“The others can't lie when under oath,” I pointed out. “They will have to tell the truth.”
“You want to take this to court?” the lawyer asked. “Before you say yes or no, let me point something out to you. I will need a $1,500 retainer, I charge $300 an hour and a case like this could take two years before it goes to court. Do you have the financial means to see this through?”

I didn’t. I didn’t have proof and I didn’t have money for a court case. So Robert Chatham got away with it. 

This experience started with 'hello' and ended with 'goodbye' and everything in-between was another lesson learned.