Saturday 24 December 2016

My Christmas Wish: Literacy for All

Last year, I had the honour of being guest speaker at the Hamilton Literacy Council AGM.  This wonderful organization provides one on one tutoring to adults in Hamilton who don't know how to read.  The teachers are marvelous.  They are mostly volunteers.

The theme for the AGM was all about wishes.  Dream Big.  And so the staff came up with a brilliant idea for centrepieces for the AGM.  Each table had a crystal globe in the centre of it, like a snow globe.  Each globe had a different note inserted into the middle.  And on the note was the dream of one of the students from the literacy council.

I picked up the globe on my table.  The note inside it read:

"I want to work in a store someday."

I felt my throat constrict.  My eyes started to tear.

Many of us worked in stores when we are in high school or college.  It was our 'starter job' - the one we can't wait to leave after graduation from school to get the better job for which we trained.  I remember working at a mega grocery store.  Eight hours on my feet, unrelenting noise, and lots of lifting.  I was so grateful to leave it.

I thought about our student who wrote that note.  What she wanted most in the world was to become literate so she could work in a store.

Because she couldn't work there now.  She couldn't read labels.  She couldn't read sales slips.  Most stores have computers.  She couldn't read the text on the computer screen.

She couldn't even fill in the application form to work there.

Literacy has always been a cause dear to my heart.  I write a series of crime books for adult literacy students who are reaching the advanced certificate stage.  I donate all the proceeds from my book launches to the literacy council.  But at the AGM, this student opened my eyes and reached my heart.

In our society, we expect everyone to be able to read.  Jobs today require it.

All my life, I have imagined how sad it would be to be unable to read a book.  Imagine how it would feel to be unable to fill out a job application.

My fervent wish this Christmas is the gift of literacy for everyone.  May everyone in my town, Hamilton, and my country, Canada, be able to read.  May everyone in the world have the chance to learn, and may teachers and tutors everywhere continue to make it happen.

Merry Christmas to all.

Thursday 22 December 2016

Christmas with Morticia - (reprinted with permission from the demented people who pay me)

Dear Morticia,
Do you get into the Spirit of Christmas?
Signed, Curious

Dear Cur,
I’m not interest in the Spirit of Christmas and I’ve told him that a hundred times!  (Honestly…it’s these office Christmas parties.  Everyone gets embalmed.)

Dear Morticia,
Can I interest you in custom-designed fruit baskets for your dearest friends.
Signed, The Custom Grocer

Dear Cus,
No thanks.  I gave a Christmas food basket to Thing last year and it bombed horribly.  He just didn’t have the stomach for it.

Dear Morticia,
I’m quitting smoking starting Jan. 1.  Are you making any New Years resolutions this year?
Signed Sincere

Dear Sin,
Yup.  As soon as the vulture dinner is over, I’m becoming a vegetarian.  (At least when you carve a pumpkin, it doesn’t try to eat you back.)

Dear Morticia,
I was a good girl all year, and all Santa brought me was a large frog.  Frankly, I feel cheated. 
Signed, Princess

Dear Princess
Honey, I don’t blame you, so be sure to follow my advice: Be very bad next year and Santa may bring you a Prince. (And if you don’t get the Prince, at least you will have had a smashing good time all year!)

 Melodie in disguise as a fairly normal person in a blue coat.  Merry Christmas.

Tuesday 20 December 2016

The Christmas Spirit aka "Get your own damned shopper" (Christmas post #2)

(Reprinted with permission from the places that pay me.)

Skip the fancy jewelry, fur coats, and dishwashers that do everything.  Let’s be realistic and talk about what we all REALLY want for Christmas…which is a parking spot at the mall.

Let’s face it.  Each year we spend hundreds of miserable hours driving round and round suburban parking lots, in sub-zero weather, during blinding snow storms, looking for a place to park the family car.  This is so we can fight our way into the crowded, outrageously noisy department stores, to buy obscenely overpriced gifts for people who don’t need them.

Who started this practice??

But you have to do it in order to get into the ‘Christmas Spirit,’ which is an essential part of the holiday tradition.  Christmas Spirit is evident in parking lots all over the world.  It begins something like this:

Having arrived at the mall, you spend the first twenty minutes driving up and down the parking lot, taking advice from every occupant in your car about where they ‘think they saw an opening.’  Then your spouse – whom you are beginning to hate – gets the bright idea of hovering like a vulture at the mall exit, and following someone back to their car.  At which point you find that there are four other clever drivers attempting to do the same thing.

You then engage in the time honoured game of ‘parking lot chicken’ to see who gets to the vacant spot first.  The spot, of course, isn’t available anyway, as the shopper exiting the mall only did so to dump a load of shopping off at the car before going back into the trenches.  I’m convinced that some despicable people sneak into suburban parking lots in the middle of the night, leave their cars in prime spots, and bum a ride back the next day.  It’s the suburban equivalent of lining up for rock concerts.

Meanwhile, back at the parking lineup, three of the four cars formerly involved in playing chicken are now racing back to the mall entrance to annex another exiting individual. By now, the windows are down, the drivers are yelling obscenities along the lines of ‘Get your own damned shopper!” and threatening to beat each other to the consistency of plum pudding.

By now, if you are not in the true spirit of Christmas, I suggest the following:  Go home, take an extremely large glass and fill it with equal parts eggnog and rum.  Drink quickly.  Refill Liberally.  Repeat.  This is the alternative practice of ‘getting into the Christmas Spirits.’

Wednesday 14 December 2016

A Few Words About Turkey…the first of the Christmas posts (reprinted with permission from the loony people who paid me)

Today, we are going to talk about Christmas.  Basically, about the inequities between men and women, when approaching the subject of preparing for Christmas.

Woman, for example, approach Christmas from the point of view of shopping for presents, selecting and decorating the tree, cleaning the house for company, cooking the holiday dinner for 10, and flopping from exhaustion just in time to hear Dasher and Dancer on the roof.

Men, on the other hand, tend to regard Christmas as something that precedes the Superbowl.

In order to properly conduct this extremely scientific study, it’s necessary for us to delve deeper into the proverbial muckbin of sexual politics.  Let us look at the different attitudes between the sexes when considering the subject of turkey

Her job:  buy the turkey, defrost the turkey, stuff the turkey, cook the turkey, make the turkey gravy, serve the turkey.

His job: eat the turkey.  (Also, be the turkey.)

Let’s further examine the role of men and women when purchasing gifts for the average North American family.

She buys for:  the kids, the dog, the husband, his mother, her mother, his father, her father, Aunt Gertrude, Uncle Larry, his best friend, her best friend, the kids’ teachers, the crossing guard…

He buys for:  her.

Lest this seem a tad inequitable, let’s remember that there is a good reason the world is aligned this way.  There is no possible way a gal WANTS her guy to buy for everyone on the above list.  This is because most guys’ idea of a really neat and original thing to buy is a gift certificate from Canadian Tire or Fred’s Rods and Live Bait.

Which is why – although it is often the only present they have to get – many men revert to the time-honoured guy tradition, which is try to ignore it and maybe it will go away, aka “leave it to the last minute.”

This is why, on Christmas eve, you are apt to see hundreds of crazed men running through local shopping malls buying anything that doesn’t move, yell or bite.

Him (in department store, 9 PM Christmas Eve, clutching something that resembles a blouse):  “It’s perfect!  How much?”

Clerkette (world-weary):  “This blouse is a size 62.  Are you sure your wife is a 62?”

Him:  “Blouse?  I thought it was a tent.  Oh well, maybe it will shrink.”


So darling, if you’re reading this, the tree is up, and I have a few things on hold at Tiffany’s.  You choose.

Wednesday 7 December 2016


Kath:  Have you got a Kindle?

Me:  Of course I have a Kindle! 

Kath:  Do you like it?

Me:  It’s very pretty.  It has a pink cover.  And it makes a great paperweight.

Kath:  But do you actually use it?

Me:  I used it once as a flashlight during a power outage.  Everyone should have one.

Kath:  Why not get a flashlight for that?

Me:  Flashlights make lousy paperweights.  They roll off the table.

I am a Dinosaurette.  In spite of that, I have a Kindle.  It wasn’t my idea.  People keep foisting them on me at Christmas.  It’s the 21st century version of fruitcake.

Not only that, they multiply.  The first died within months, probably from neglect (I didn’t kill it – honest.)  The second was a prize from my publisher for top sales.  I also have a Kobo.  It was a Christmas present.  It’s around here somewhere.

As you can see, I am not addicted to my Kindle.  In fact, it is my opinion you have to be barking to be emotionally attached to a slab of machinery that displays words.  That would be like being addicted to a printing press.

But Lord Thunderin’ Jesus, how I am addicted to books! Real books, that is. I see a pile of books on my bedside table, and I get excited.  (Men, take note.)

Oh, the delight of holding a real book in your hand.  The tactile feel of the paper, the visual lure of the cover… And the smell of the glue that binds each little paper together…(minty is best)

The trouble with an ereader is that every story you are reading on it looks and feels exactly the same.  And that changes the experience for me.

I realize that a lot of people love to read on Kindles.  I might even like some of them (people. Not Kindles.)  But I highly suspect they are the same sort of people who actually like salad. 

Thankfully, there are alternate uses for ereaders. (If you like salad, stop reading NOW.)


1.  Kindling.  (Okay, not really, despite the similar sounding name.  Probably not the best way to start a fire.  A Samsung phone is better.

2.  Murder weapon. (Whack the cheating bastard over the head with it.  Continue whacking and alternately reading from 50 Shades.  That should kill him.

3.  Frisbee.  (see Murder weapon above.)

4.  Hockey puck  (I live in Canada, eh.)

5.  Dog toy  (leatherette covers work best for this)

6.  Fly-swatter  (editor's note: works great on spiders)

Plus all the obvious uses: flashlight, paperweight, hot pad, furniture shim, bookmark, ruler, rolling pin, cutting board, door stop.

Finally, I would like to point out that you can’t decorate with Kindles.   “Oh look at that lovely bookcase of Kindles, Gladys!” said no one, ever.

Wednesday 30 November 2016

Pre-Christmas SALE! Rowena Fantasy series and Fashionation Mystery series books are 99 cents!

You can see all my books on Amazon - check the link below!  

The following books are 99 cents at Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords and Googleplay:

Rowena Through the Wall
Rowena and the Dark Lord
Rowena and the Viking Warlord
A Purse to Die For
A Killer Necklace
Code Name: Gypsy Moth

Here's how to get them through Amazon:

Saturday 26 November 2016

Want Street Cred? Write for Magazines!

by Melodie Campbell

Many readers here know I teach Crafting a Novel at Sheridan College in Suburban Toronto.  (I started teaching fiction writing there before the wheel was invented.  We had to push cars uphill both ways to get them to campus...okay, I'll stop now.)

Students often ask me how to get a novel published.  I say: "Walk out of this classroom right now and become a media personality."

Everyone in the class laughs.  But it's no laughing matter, really.  Most of the bestselling crime authors in Canada were media personalities first.  It's no coincidence.  Being a newspaper or television 'name' gives one a huge visibility advantage.  You leap the slush pile.  And chances are, you know someone who knows someone in publishing.

But launching a new career doesn't work for all of us, particularly if we are mid-career or soon to qualify for senior's discounts.  (Of course, you could still murder someone and become a celebrity.  I have a few names handy, if you are looking for a media-worthy victim...)

In order for a publisher to buy your book, they have to read it first.  I know at least one publishing house that receives 10,000 manuscripts a month.  How in Hellsville can you possibly get noticed in that slush pile?

Here's how:  Develop street cred by publishing with magazines!

How I got my start:

In 1989, at the tender age of twenty plus n, I won a Canadian Living Magazine fiction contest.  (Canadian Living is one of the two notable women's magazines in Canada. Big circulation.)  After that, I pitched to Star Magazine (yup, the tabloid) listing the Canadian Living credit in my cover letter.  They said, "Oh look.  A Canadian.  How quaint.  See how she spells humour."  (I'm paraphrasing.)  Anyways, Star published several of my short shorts in the 90s.  The Canadian Living credit got me in the door.

With several Star Mag credits under my belt (weird term, that - I mean, think of what is under your belt) I went to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  They liked the Star credits and published some of my stories.  Then I got a several-story contract with ComputorEdge.

So ten years ago, when I had a novel to flog, I already had 24 short story publications in commercial magazines.  That set me apart from everyone else clawing to get in the door.

Writing for magazines worked to launch my author career.  I'm now with two traditional publishers and my 11th book (The Bootlegger's Goddaughter - phew! Got that in) comes out in February.

Writing for magazines tells a publisher several things:

1.  You write commercially salable stories.  This is important for book publishers.  If you have published in commercial magazines, it tells a publisher that someone else has already paid you for your fiction.  They deemed your obviously brilliant stores worthy of a wide enough audience to justify putting their money into publishing them.  It's much like the concept of 'peer review' in the academic world.

2.  You accept editing.  A magazine writer (fiction or nonfiction) is used to an editor making changes to their work.  It's part of the game.  If you have been published many times in magazines, then a novel publisher knows you are probably going to be cool with editing.  (Okay, maybe not cool, but you've learned how to hold back rage-fueled comments such as "Gob-sucking fecking idiot! It was perfect before you mucked with it."

3.  You work to deadline.  Magazines and newspapers have tight deadlines.  Miss your deadline, and you're toast.  Novel publishers are similarly addicted to deadlines.  Something to do with having booked a print run long in advance, for one thing.  So they want authors who will get their damned manuscripts in on time.

Here's something to watch out for if you are going to write for magazines:

Kill Fee
If you are publishing with a major magazine, negotiate a 'kill fee.'  (This doesn't mean you get to kill the publisher if they don't print your story.)  A kill fee is something you get if the mag sends you a contract to publish your story or article, and then doesn't publish it.  Usually a kill fee is about half the amount you would be paid if they had printed it.

Why wouldn't they print your story after they agree to buy it?  Sometimes a publisher or editorial big wig leaves and the new big wig taking over will have a different vision for the mag.  Sometimes a mag will go under before they actually print the issue with your story.  That happened to me with a fairly well-known women's mag.  I got the kill fee, and the rights back. I was able to sell the story to another magazine.

Which brings me to a final point:  Note the rights you are selling.  Many mags here want "First North American Serial Rights."  This means they have the right to publish the story for the first time in North America, in all versions of their magazine.  (For instance, some magazines in Canada publish both English and French versions.)  But what happens after that?  When do rights return to you?  Two years after publication? (Very common.)  Or never?  Are they buying 'All Rights?"  It's good to get rights back, because then you can have the story reprinted in an anthology someday.  Make sure your contract stipulates which rights they are buying.

Of course, I always say, if they pay me enough, they can keep all rights, dress them in furs and jewelry, and walk them down Main Street.  I have the same attitude re film companies that might want to swoop up my novels for movies.

Melodie Campbell writes the multi-award-winning Goddaughter series of mob comedies, starting with The Goddaughter.  It features a different kind of 'kill fee.'

Thursday 24 November 2016

Happy American Thanksgiving! I'm Grateful you're reading this blog

Recently, a chronically mopey person asked me “Why are you so cheerful all the time?”  It was stated like a criticism.  And it got me thinking.

Several years ago, I was in a serious car accident.  I was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.  A young girl with a two-week old driver’s license lost control of her car and hit me head on. 

I didn’t walk away from it; it took me two years to walk without canes.  Even with extensive rehab, that collision changed my life.  I could no longer go hiking.  I could no longer dance Flamenco.  I have arthritis in every bone that was broken.

Around that time, my best friend Ruth died of MS.  She had been battling the illness since she was 14. 

This was a devastating, life-altering time in my life.  I mourned my friend deeply.  I lost a lot of the physical agility that defined me.  It was tempting to wallow in self-pity.

I had a choice. I could succumb to the darkness.  And sometimes I did.  But then a voice started in my head. 

Be grateful that you lived through the accident.  Be grateful that it didn’t disfigure your face.  A young man in the other car went through the windshield.  You didn’t. 

Be grateful that you can walk without a cane now.  It could have been so much worse.

As I grow older, I have joined the club that enthusiastically bitches about “yet another damned thing” that happens to you as you age.

But it is good-natured bitching.  Because we in that club are grateful to be growing older.  We are here to bitch about it.  So many of our generation aren’t.

I’m cheerful because I’m here to live another day.  It’s as simple as that.  And if my being cheerful, and funny, and maybe even a bit silly can make another person smile, then we’re all better off.

Happy Thanksgiving to my American Friends!  I'm grateful you read this blog.

Postscript:  Another version of “Why are you so cheerful” that I receive occasionally is “Why don’t you write something serious instead of all those humorous books.”  Again, this is stated like a criticism.

My answer is simple.  Of course I could write more serious fare (and in fact, I have.  See my award-winning short stories, such as Hook, Line and Sinker.)  But truly, there are sufficient sources of dismal fiction and alarming news in the world. I would prefer to bring smiles to readers’ faces.