Life on the road — my mini tour full of surprises

Life on the road — my mini tour full of surprises

I’ve been on the road, first launching and promoting The Game of Hope in Toronto, then a long drive home to unpack, regroup, and repack before heading to Montreal for the wonderful first (of many, we hope) Montreal YA fest.

It has been fantastic. At the Penguin launch in Toronto, an older woman leaned in to whisper confidentially, “You’re my favorite writer.” Such confessions are sweet. At an interview following (I don’t yet feel I should mention names), the interviewer told me that she loved The Game of Hope and went on to read every one of my other novels. That made me speechless.

That isn’t to say that everyone loves The Game of Hope — there have been some readers who do not — but overall, I’ve been very, very pleased.

The Game of Hope cards

At the Penguin launch, I had each person who lined up to have their free book signed draw a card from a deck of fortune-telling cards of “The Game of Hope” (to keep as a bookmark), and read its meaning in a tiny guide. The expressions of recognition were wonderful to see: one young woman would be getting married, another would get a promotion. Both were quite pleased. Readers love it! Of course I did not include cards that might have a negative connotation in the deck.

It was a special treat to have my step-granddaughter, 11-year-old Ellie and her mother Cara present. Ellie is reading The Game of Hope and offered shyly to a group, “And it’s really good!”

The Montreal YA Fest: such a blast!

My experience at the Montreal YA Fest was amazing, but in an entirely different way. I only sold one book (!), but I met over twenty wonderful YA authors. I’m accustomed to writers of adult fiction; let me tell you, writers of YA fiction are a different breed altogether. They are loud and rambunctious, delightful! I couldn’t buy their books at the festival unfortunately — recent back problems have forced me to be very careful about luggage weight — but as soon as I got home I put in the orders, and they are starting to arrive in waves.

Two wonderful YA novels

Already I’ve read one absolutely wonderful YA novel: 32 Questions that Changed My Mind About You by Vicki Grant. Don’t you just love a novel that compels you to stay up way too late? That makes you teary and full-hearted? This was such a one. Witty and real, I adored it.

Now I’m reading E. K. Johnstons’s novel That Inevitable Victorian Thing, a futuristic novel set in the past. (Figure that one out.) I.e. Victorian corsets with technological sensors that ease up as needed. It’s delightful, and when I’m not reading it, I’m thinking about it and can’t wait to get back to it.

The wild and wonderful YA world

In general, this immersion into the wider world of YA has been like an explosion of creative imagination for me; in a YA novel, anything is possible.

The YA Fest was extremely well-organized, with many panels for participants to choose from, great food to eat, a fun photo booth (which I’m sorry I missed out on), as well as a button-making table. Here are mine:

How cool is that? I especially love the dismayed look on the face of Little Bo Peep. Moi.

The photo at the top is from A Novel Spot bookstore in Entobicoke, Ontario. Don’t you just love it? Indie bookstores are so great. The mystery woman is Katie Middleton, the bookstore’s owner. Her hair matches perfectly!

Exposing Google’s underbelly

Exposing Google’s underbelly

As a blogger, I watch the ups and downs of my blogs’ attendance as closely as I used to watch my ratings. Thanks to Google Analytics, however, I can now find out much more than how many people are visiting my site. Through Analytics I can find out how long visitors lingered, which pages they looked at, what part of the world they are from.

But most of all, I can also find out what search words they typed into Google that led them to my little website, and in this, the fun begins. In scanning the search words, I discover what it is that that people are looking for.

And so, according to my experience, if you want people visiting your blog, here are the words you should use.

Hats for men with long hair

In a blog post about style in the Court of the Sun King, I made mention of hats and men with long hair. (The post was: “Hats and long hair: for men only?”) I was astonished to discover that quite a number of people came to this rather obscure blog on 17th-century research. They had Google searched “hats for men with long hair.” Apparently, there is a crying need! (Marketers, take note.) To name a few of the Google searches (without any corrections to grammar):

best kind of hats for long hair

hats for long haired men

hats for longer hair

hats for thick long hair

hats to wear for long hair for men

hats with hair 4 men

historic men with long hair

how do you wear a dress hat with long hair

how to wear hats with long hair

long hair and hats

long hair hat

long hair in fancy dress

men long hair with hat

men’s fashion hats for long hair

mens caps with long hair

I’ll end with one cute variation on this theme: someone searched Google for “two longhaired guys side by side.” Without hats, however. And ended up on my blog. (Such a disappointment.)


The second subject of interest was somewhat worrisome. I wrote a blog about the use of cantharides (Spanish fly) at the Court of the Sun King. (“Athénaïs: innocent or guilty?”) A swirl of searches resulted:

history of Spanish fly

spanish fly history

how to prepare cantharides

medical problems with spanish fly

spanish fly experience

spanish fly for horses

spanish fly tincture

Spanish fly is used as an aphrodisiac, but it can be deadly — the Marquis de Sade killed two young women in this way — and so these searches, apparently out of Africa, concerned me.


The third subject of universal interest — no surprise here — is cleavage. On this blog, some time ago, I wrote about “Google adventures into the history of cleavage.” My research had, surprisingly, revealed that — contrary to our expectation — aristocratic women of the 17thcentury used corsets to make them look flat. (They didn’t want to look like a milkmaid.) A number of searches mentioned cleavage, including this one, which I find intriguing: “historical cleavages in Canada.”

Last, but never least: Oprah

On a final note (this I’ve read but not tested): put the words “Oprah Winfrey” into your blog and you will be overwhelmed with visitors.

And so, to conclude, the foolproof sentence I suggest one use to attract traffic to a blog is:

Oprah Winfrey has no need for Spanish fly; her cleavage alone attracts men with long hair wearing hats.



The ABC of SEO in 6 easy steps

Effective SEO will get you noticed on Google.

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which basically means “How I get my blog post/webpage to show up on Google.” Having a website is essential to a writer, but what’s the point if your website isn’t noticed?

I’ve been writing blogs for a very long time, and reading about Social Media and blogging is something of a hobby, but every time I read about how important SEO was, my eyes glazed over.

My curiosity eventually got the best of me and I waded in. It was ugly. Tech talk, tech talk, and more tech talk. Finally, I broke through. I got it! It’s not hard. In fact, it’s kind of fun.

1. Keywords are the key to effective SEO.

Give some thought to what your keywords will be.

To find keywords that are most often searched for on Google, use Google Adwords.

Type in the keywords you’re thinking of using, and click. A chart will come up showing variations of your keywords, how often they are searched for on Google, and how high the competition is. It’s great if there are a million searches a day for your keywords, but not so great if there are ten million other listings.

A high search number and low competition is ideal. For this post, I decided simply on “SEO,” which has quite a high number of searches (673,000), and only medium competition.

Another useful tool, by the way, is Coschedule Headline Analyzer, because headlines are so important.

2. Use your SEO keywords in the first few sentences of your post. 

The closer to the beginning the better.

3. Make headlines in your post that contain your keywords. 

Not every headline, of course, but at least one.

4. Put at least one illustration in your post, and use the SEO keywords in the alternative text (“alt text”) description. 

This is so that Google will know what the illustration is about.

5. Use your SEO keywords a few more times throughout your post.

But don’t make it look forced. Content is key.

6. Before you press “publish,” make sure that your keywords are in your URL.

And that’s it! Other factors that help a blog post rank on Google—in addition to headlines and illustrations—are good content, links and short paragraphs, but the most important thing is your selection of keywords.

If you use WordPress, I highly recommend the plugin WordPress SEO by Team Yoast. It makes this process very easy.

I hope that this post didn’t make your eyes glaze over! Please leave a comment if this helped you, or if you have a tip to share.

Waving arms madly and giving lots away: how to have fun giving a reading

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Most of Thursday I prepared for a talk/reading in support of the Killaloe Public Library in my home town. I knew that many there would be friends and family, so I wanted it to be special.

Several times, I paused my talk to give out door prizes. This was so much fun, I’m a convert!

Doug De La Matter took some great shots! (I have more of them up on Flickr.)

Apparently I’m a bit expressive. ;-)

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Fun podcast interview with Tim Knox for “Interviewing Authors”


I very much enjoyed being interviewed about my work by Tim Knox for his series “Interviewing Authors.”


Interviewing Authors is one of the Web’s premiere blog and podcast destinations that focuses on the process of creating, writing, editing, publishing, marketing, and selling an author’s work.”

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Tim made me feel very much at ease and asked informed writerly questions. It was a fun chat. I love “shop talk.”

I invested in a funny-looking ball of a USB mike for it, thinking that I might like to make podcasts of my own.

(Ya, in my spare time? Well … I just might!)

You may read a print transcript of the interview here.

What you don’t see in the transcript is all the laughter. (Tim got a chuckle out of my brief bio: born in Miami, raised in California, aged in Canada.  I should have added, “like Cheddar.”)


Links, for those of you who are reading this on a non-hotlink site:

Sandra Gulland: Bringing Josephine B. To Life