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THE Magazine by Canadian Authors & Writers



How to Write HARD and Die FREE POETRY Renewal Time


The Freedom Broker

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How to Genre: How to Write Hard and Die Free

Take the time to learn craft and style, and to develop your own. Just because you can type, doesn’t mean you should publish. Note that I didn’t say you shouldn’t write. I said don’t publish. Not until you think you’re ready. Then, don’t publish!

Kim Howe K.J. Howe is the executive director of ThrillerFest, the annual conference of International Thriller Writers. A three-time Daphne du Maurier Award winner, she completed her MA in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University.


21 Is Your Book Cover Attracting Buyers? They say that you can’t judge a book by its cover, and though the content may be great even if the cover is bad, the chances of anyone discovering your book diminish if the cover is not attractive.

do you have a facebook share to spare?



Home gardening with barbara Planting Spring Bulbs

26 Poetry: Renewal Time

Decisions And How to Recognize Unhealthy Ego



Short fiction Smiley Mikey

K.J. Howe is the executive director of ThrillerFest, the annual conference of International Thriller Writers. A three-time Daphne du Maurier Award winner, she completed her MA in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University. She is an avid traveler who has raced camels in Jordan, surfed in Hawaii, and dove with the great whites in South Africa. She became fascinated by the kidnap and ransom (K&R) world after meeting Peter Moore, a British computer consultant who became the longest-held hostage in Iraq and the only person to survive of the five men who were taken that day.

Kim Howe

The Freedom Broker Permission to print this article was expressly given to Opal Publishing by Kim Howe

Have you ever heard the term response consultant? If not, you’re not alone. A hidden world exists in the private security field, and I have spent the last three years researching this dark arena. Response consultant is the industry term for kidnap negotiators, and these heroic individuals travel to the globe’s hotspots, risking their own lives to help bring hostages home. Kidnapping, also known as K&R— kidnap and ransom—has become an international crisis, with over 40,000 reported cases every year. In many third world countries, displaced military and police are turning to kidnapping as a way of putting food on the table. They have the required tactical skills to manage the abduction and captivity of hostages, and kidnapping can be quite lucrative. And terrorists are also filling their coffers by abducting people. The prime targets for kidnapping are wealthy business people and their

families, professionals traveling abroad, tourists, journalists, and aid workers. To survive a kidnapping, people need to fight against their instincts— because our natural reaction when threatened is to fight or flee. Both of these responses can result in serious consequences for hostages. Instead, people in captivity need to find ways to endure countless hardships, poor hygiene, lousy food, restrictions on their movements, endless boredom, and a constant, pervasive fear for their lives and find a way to maintain the hope that one day they will be free to enjoy life again. I wanted to create a series that would explore the different facets of kidnapping, hopefully bringing attention to this growing international crisis so we can bring more hostages home. Kidnapping is a purgatory of sorts, the rest of the world going on with their normal lives while hostages’ continued on page 8




lives are frozen in time, every decision of every day governed by their abductors. To learn all that I could about kidnapping, I interviewed response consultants as well as former hostages, reintegration specialists, K&R insurance experts, and Special Forces soldiers who deliver ransoms and execute rescues. I’m constantly working to further my education, as I want to bring verisimilitude to my series highlighting kidnap negotiator Thea Paris. The Freedom Broker is the first book in the series. Thea is a woman working in what has traditionally been a male-dominated world, but she stands her ground, works hard, and is extremely capable in her job. She is also personally motivated to help hostages, as her brother was kidnapped in front of her when she was only eight years old. When her father is abducted before the most important deal of his career, Thea is determined to bring him safely home. The kidnapper doesn’t send the traditional ransom demands, but instead texts Latin quotes, leaving Thea embroiled in the case of her life. There are many different types of kidnapping, and I hope to explore them throughout The Freedom Broker series. When I first decided to write about kidnapping, I took a bit of a risk and attended a K&R conference. 8


I slowly developed relationships with the generous and heroic people who work in this industry. They were kind enough to introduce me to other individuals with a background in different aspects of kidnapping, and so on from there. I’m deeply grateful to all the experts who spent time patiently educating me. I hope that readers will take Thea into their hearts. Although she is strong, smart, and capable, she is also vulnerable, both physically and

emotionally, like all of us. She has type 1 diabetes, and she keeps it a secret because she doesn’t want to be treated differently by her team. And her blind loyalty to her father and brother is tested in The Freedom Broker.

I hope that readers will relate to her fears and cheer her on as she strives to bring her kidnapped father back home. My website is

KIRKUS, Starred Review BookList, Starred Review Publishers Weekly Top 10 Most Anticipated Thrillers of Spring 2017 article/72269-spring-2017-announcements-mysteries-thrillers.html Publishers Weekly Review The Real Book Spy Review Cover reveal Cover reveal, SHOTS Magazine, UK cover Featured February Selection The Real Book Spy 20 Most Anticipated Thrillers of the Year Just Reviews OPAL PUBLISHING



o t w Ho e t i r W d n a Hard e e r F Die

How to Write Hard and Die Free

Ho w Ha W to rd rit Die a e n Fr d e

By Axel Howerton After a whole lot of technical history and definition based columns, I wanted to take a moment to put what we’ve been learning here into perspective. To offer some straight up creative advice, business savvy (about how to not let business ruin your savvy), and moral support for your imagination and creativity in this new Age of Idiocracy. How to Genre’s guide to How to Write Hard and Die Free. The word cliché gets bandied about hither and yon, to and fro, with no accounting for meaning, which is ironic, no? Being that the very meaning of the word denotes a word without meaning. Words, concepts, ideas. All of these things have become commodities to co-opt, borrow, rehash, or steal in these heady days of interwebz, tweeting megalomaniacs, and cable news networks. Anything can be used, abused, and "Frankensteined" into whatever some jackass thinks they can market to the rubes. There is no truth beyond perception. There is no meaning beyond inference. You say “potato”, I hear “French fries & gravy”. There seems to no longer be any correlation between OPAL PUBLISHING

reality and supposition. We have been so bombarded and inundated by popular culture, worn down by contrarian opinion based entirely on attitude, and irradiated with such an unfathomable amount of inconsequential information, most of us are completely losing touch with the difference between what we personally experience and process, and what we expect based on what we’ve been told by outside sources. Some of us take comfort in the expected and predicted “rules” we’ve been given, and some of us rail against it. Where does imagination – pure, unadulterated, and unpolluted imagination – fit into the equation anymore? And what the funk does any of this have to do with writing? How exciting is it to have thousands of knock-off e-book novels of that highly popular TV show that was basically a rip-off of that big box office movie? A movie adapted from the graphic novel taking its cues from that bestseller that set the trend that led to 36 other like-minded projects that are all over the airwaves and the bookshelves right now? Run-on what now? Confused yet? I know I am. The point is that more and more, our culture is becoming so self-referential and meta, that it has become commonEDITION #22


place to just copy whatever has proven popular, until the in-breeding and cross-pollinating of genres, characters, and plots has led to a horrifying flesh puddle of mutant ugliness that now threatens to shamble, blob-like over the countryside, devouring everything in its path and leaving us lying in its wake. A world full of boneless, brainless, meat-sacks too weak to do anything but flip between three hundred channels of the same Disney 'tween' shows and cookie-cutter reality TV stupidity. We’ve been fed into the machine, stripped and processed, ground to paste to power the almighty advertising and consumables monster. It seems harder and harder to find an original idea or, if you have an original idea, to have anyone but your twelve Facebook followers like the idea (not friends, we all have thousands of Facebook friends, right? Collect ‘em all, and then never have meaningful contact again!). How do we fight back? How do we stand out? How do YOU get YOUR idea out there to change the world? I’m not going to give you the ol’ self 12


pub/hybrid/traditional seminar. That’s a column for another month. What I want to talk to you about is being true to your work. How to make something worth being proud of, and not just for its sales rankings on Amazon. Here are my advisory suggestions for you writers of the here-and-now. Walk away from the prefab visual stimulus machines. Turn off that rerun of Friends you’ve seen eightmillion times. Instead of watching The Phantom Menace on TBS for the third time this month or re-mainlining the latest Marvel series on Netflix, go outside and read a damn book. A book you’ve never read before. Let your brain get some action instead of plugging it into the pandering idiocracies of Fox or ABC, or watching somebody open a box of action figures on YouTube. Don’t stand idly by and watch your cerebellum lie in a pool of its own saliva on the floor. Soak that melon of yours in outside influences – foreign influences – watch weird German comedy films, 70’s Blaxploitation flicks, read eighteenth-century French political satire and transcendental humanist poetry. Go look at some art, all kinds of art, art that seems like

bullshit. Look at it until you can either understand it, or convince yourself that you can. • Listen to other people’s stories in the coffee shop. • Eavesdrop on strangers. • Watch that strange cable access channel with the Korean melodramas and Bollywood musicals. Take it all in, the depth and breadth of humanity. Soak it up like a sponge, even if you don’t totally get it, even if you can’t quite relate. Take yourself out of your comfort zone and discover things. Discover life on this planet outside of your own living room and your own cubicle. Seek first to understand life, before you try to replicate, mock, or fictionalize it. Then… make up your own stories, your own characters, steeped in that experience and that insight, instead of copy-and-pasting actors from the WB into your lightly-veiled small town in the pacific northwest. Saying something is “like Twin Peaks” should mean that it has some of the same qualities – i.e. it’s a mix of supernatural elements and small town Americana with quirky characters – not that it is an almost exact copy featuring a lone FBI agent solving the

How to Write Hard and Die Free, Axel Howerton murder of a teenage prom queen in a town full of weirdos, where a strange power lurks in the woods. Smash those clichés. Most of you reading this are writers. Do your part. Fight back and subvert the power of the easy mark. You want to write the Great American Zombie Story? Well, you can’t just throw out another tired ol’ biohazard canister, or create another engineered plague, and expect the world to call you a genius. You want vampire Armageddon? Don’t fill it with teen angst and sparkles. That worked for somebody else, but you need to find your own thing. Neither should you just write in Anne Rice’s voice and go on at length about the frilly shirts and virgin fangs of the New Orleans set. Unfortunately, it is true, you will get bashed by smallminded monkeys who only want their same-old same-old. I wrote a zombie story once. A zombie novella. It features no engineered diseases, no shambling corpses hungry for brains. These zombies are the result of a curse, uttered by an angry Indian sorcerer. Indian. Proper Indian. Calcutta Indian. A character I more or less took inspiration from an Italian horror flick from the early 70’s. Inspiration.

Not the same character with a different name. Just the idea of an Indian guru in a white suit causing chaos with black magic. Some people took great offense and hurled one-star ratings and two-sentence reviews bemoaning my ignorance of “the rules”, as if I had just poured gallons of virgin baby blood onto the Holy Roman Bible and lit it on fire with my demonic penis. As if I shot Rick Grimes in the testicles and ate baby Judith with a fork in front of him. But guess, what? There are no rules to writing zombies. That’s just what they tell you on TV, and what some unimaginative people divine from which movies have the most banner ads on Netflix. None of this is real. Science is real. Science has rules. Stories? Fiction? Playtime? Imagination? Since when are there fucking rules? And you know what else? Yes, there are “purists” who insist that I am some kind of monster for not aping the traditions of a nearly sixty year old movie that most of them have never actually bothered to watch (because, sure, Night of the Living Dead is the bomb, yo! But it’s, like, black and white, bro! I don’t watch artsy bullshit! 14


World War Z! Walking Dead!). But for every one of those deeply offended “experts”, there were fifty readers who thoroughly enjoyed something new. I had somebody come up to me out of the blue at a convention last year and tell me that was the best zombie story they’ve ever read. Specifically because it broke those rules. I’m not going to even dream of professing that I wrote the best zombie story ever, but I made something original enough that someone not only remembered it to me, they appreciated it and valued it, and it had stuck with them for years. That means I did something right by not doing everything the same. Look at the success of J.K. Rowling, or Stephanie Meyer. Yeah, yeah, I know. Stephanie Meyer sucks. She may suck, but she was a goddamn genius in her approach to a tread-worn genre. She may not be a terrific writer. She’s not a wordsmith on par with a James Joyce or a Voltaire, or a guy who writes knock-off thrillers, but how many people have read Joyce or Voltaire? Really? Stephanie Meyer took the cliché and smashed the bejeezus out of it. She paralleled the established Victorian romanticism of the vampire, and reimagined it for the modern era. Yes, Anne Rice did it first. She was incredibly successful, as well. Stephanie Meyers did it different.

Where does our romantic melodrama take place in the twentieth/twentyfirst century Western World? High school. She took the sexual taboo of Dracula, the torrid romance of Lestat, the kinky overtones of Dark Shadows, and made eternal teens in high school. Vamps that sparkle in the sun and act just like seventeen year old girls wish seventeen year old boys would act (arguably, like a lot of forty year old women apparently wish seventeen year old boys would act). Meyer used, abused, and "Frankensteined" the tired old vampire story, and its worn-out clichés, into something new and valuable. Maybe not valuable as high-culture, but valuable to a very large segment of readers. Sure, she panders to youth, and maybe to horny housewives. Sure, she writes tepid dialogue and weak characters. Sure, it’s creepy as hell to think of what is effectively a great-great grandpa of a home-room hottie drooling all over a barely legal teen. None of that mattered, because Meyer was brave enough to try something new and exciting in what had become a trite and boring subgenre. Now, Stephanie Meyer has more money, fame, and chocolate than God. J.K. Rowling made a new fairytale for our age, an entirely new and original epic that not only spoke to children, but adults too, and taught or reminded OPAL PUBLISHING

How to Write Hard and Die Free, Axel Howerton us all of exceptional core values like friendship, teamwork, loyalty, tolerance, and respect for genders, races, and species. She imbued it with all the mystical and magical powers, evil beings and corrupt bureaucracies of her forebears, but in a new and novel way that sustained a series of books, multiple spinoffs, musicals, a merchandising empire, and bloody theme parks! J.K. Rowling is literally a rags-tobillionaire story. Billionaire. The most successful writer in the history of human civilization. She didn’t get there by imitating Gaiman, or Pratchett, or Tolkein, or Seuss, or Ursula K. Le Guin. She may have paid homage, she may have been inspired by them, but she took that inspiration and wove something new. Do not yield to the pressures of corporate culture or populist whims. Why should we be constrained to endlessly replicate everything even moderately successful? Where is the spirit of humanity in that? Innovate! Experiment! Evolve! Go your own way, create your own reality. Leave off trying to write something that can replicate Twilight or Harry Potter or following the patented James Patterson formula. If you manage EDITION #22


to be that one-out-of-amillion success story by mimicking someone else, you’re still not going to be great. You’re not going to be an artist. You’re going to be a hack, with little respect and a whole lot of problems for your money. Real, meaningful success will never come from making a copy of something that has already been done. Stop dreaming of being Stephen King. Dream of being as prolific and accessible as Stephen King. There is already a Stephen King, and a very big part of him wishes he could be you, with all the freedom and opportunity you hold so gently in your hand. Even if he’s sitting on his golden throne in his box at Fenway, eating gold-leafed hot dogs and drinking virgin baby blood cocktails, I can guarantee you that part of him wishes he had the freedom to write an historical romantic comedy about Charlemagne and Pepin the hunchback on a road trip to get Pope Hadrian laid before Lent.

You need time to appreciate the subtle nuances of character, to add layers of meaning and context. To research and research and research some more. To properly engineer emotion, motivation, and reality into your characters takes more than writing a two-paragraph back-story that reminds you that he lost his virginity to a Dutch Countess named Evangelique in 1678. Likewise, an endless list of the minutiae of a Walther PPK does not make a James Bond. Giant made-up terms for minotaurs, or satyrs, or bird-men from some far-off planetoid do not make them more believable.

Human actions, emotions, thoughts, and reactions are what make characters relatable and memorable. Insight, passion, contemplation, and creativity are what makes a plotline sing, not how many bodies are left in your cyborg assassin’s wake. Take the time to invest those things into your story, take the opportunities to show what is inside of those characters (aside from strewn intestines), and Take your time. I know that the what secrets and truths are hidden whole writing industry keeps being behind their motivations, and your sold to us as a cut-throat chariot race, a work will resonate with readers and la Ben Hur, but indie writers... please... lead to a real following and long-term stop churning out books like they’re appeal. If you take the easy route to bundt cakes. Yes, you need product out hammer out yet another “motherless there to attract readers, the more the serial killer in the dark” novel, another better, but only if it’s good product. 16


“rakish star-pilot reluctantly saving the galaxy” epic, and it will be exactly that. Another. One more of the same. Take the time to learn craft and style, and to develop your own. Just because you can type, doesn’t mean you should publish. Note that I didn’t say you shouldn’t write. I said don’t publish. Not until you think you’re ready. Then, don’t publish! Seek to have your work vetted by a traditional market, by professional editors and writers. By all means, go to your coffee clatches, and your writer’s groups, and your critique clubs. Join organizations like your local writer’s guild, or the professional collective of whatever genre you favour. Take classes. Do seminars and go to conventions. Learn from everyone you can. Take it all in, then filter out what you feel to be bullshit. Try everything. Avoid nothing. Practice, practice, practice. Writing is like playing guitar, learning to code, drawing still life nudes, or becoming an expert Dungeon Master. It doesn’t happen without a lot of learning and a lot more practice. Nobody picks up a guitar their first time and bangs out Voodoo Chile. That shit takes years. When you think you’re ready to play in front of a crowd, you don’t debut at Altamont. You don’t take the headline gig at OPAL PUBLISHING

How to Write Hard and Die Free, Axel Howerton Woodstock, you go play a club for a skeezy guy in a disco suit who tells you that you need more bass. If you work your way up, someday, you will wow a crowd of thousands. Millions, perhaps. If you try to play the Royal Albert Hall your first time out, and lead with Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, you’ll meet an angry mob and never play London again. My standard advice to all aspiring writers is this: a) This is a long, long road. Be prepared for years of grasshoppering before you’re ready to take the stone from my hand. "Grasshopper" your way there by committing yourself to the rest of this list. b) Read. Every spare minute. Every single day. Read, and not just the stuff you think you want to write. That leads to the same echo chamber mentality that is stunting our society’s growth in general. Read everything. Literature across the centuries. Literature across the genres. Romance to Horror. Soup to Nuts. Read Mike Milligan and his Steam Shovel with just as much care and interest as you read The Sister Brothers. Read Hemingway with the same eyes you use on Elmore Leonard or Alice Walker or Stephanie Meyer or Dune. c) Write. Every spare minute. Every EDITION #22


single day. I know, it seems counter-intuitive when taken with the previous prescription. Just do it. Write fifty stories. Throw them in the fireplace and send them to oblivion. Write fifty more and lock them in a box, which you must then sink to the bottom of the nearest river. When you get to story #101, rewrite it fifty times. #101 (r.51) is the one you send out to every magazine, every collection, every quarterly, every fiction-posting website on Earth. Then wait for the rejections. Take them to heart. If they say it’s too long, make it shorter. If they say it’s too cliché, turn it inside out. If they say your face looks like your ass, take that son-of-a-bitch out of your Rolodex (after you retort with a witty rejoinder). Take all the criticism, all the notes, all the pain and agony and terror of those rejections, and go write #102. By the time you get to #150, people will be changing their tune and your rejections will be tempered with acceptances. Just realize that, even at the top, there will still be rejection. There will still be pain and misery and doubt. Not everybody is going to love everything you do, not even if you’re J.K. Rowling, not if you’re Stephen King, and especially not if you’re Stephanie Meyer. But someday, if you’re lucky and you never stop working and 18


growing, somebody may look at you as that shining beacon of what is possible. I guess, my ultimate advice to the graduating class of whatever-the-hell year you may be reading this article is this: Mark Twain said: “Be good and you will be lonesome.” To which Jimmy Buffett replied: “Be lonesome and you will be free.” Both are true. Both are one-of-a-kind. You may well laugh at me equating the two. Both found their path and took it, regardless of popularity and pressure. Both of them will be remembered, whether for capturing the sardonic wit of an entire people and giving us timeless characters of Southern Americana, or for writing that book where a kid paints a fence. They both spoke to a generation of their peers, and have continued to appeal to some of us today. They will be remembered. Their imitators are already forgotten. Write hard. Stay true. Be good. Be free. And to hell with anybody who doesn’t get it. They’ll be happier watching TV.

Read Every spare minute. Every single day. Read, and not just the stuff you think you want to write. That leads to the same echo chamber mentality that is stunting our society’s growth in general. Read everything. Literature across the centuries. Literature across the genres. Romance to Horror. Soup to Nuts. Axel Howerton How to Write Hard & Die Free OPAL PUBLISHING



I s Yo u r


c o v e r at t r ac t i n g buyers



author | writer By Simon Rose They say that you can’t judge a book by its cover, and though the content may be great even if the cover is bad, the chances of anyone discovering your book diminish if the cover is not attractive. Your cover can make all the difference between success and failure. There are of course a lot of books to compete with in a bookstore, although these are only in your section if someone is looking for children’s books, fantasy, mysteries, horror, self-help, and so on. But on Amazon you’re competing with every other book that was ever published. In a book store most books are on the shelf with the spine out, so let’s assume that your book is presented that way and doesn’t have the benefit of the cover showing to the customer. And let’s also assume that you have a good title that’s going to attract your buyer's attention. The next thing that


readers look at is the cover. And if they like the cover they will check out the back cover and see what the book is about. If the back cover is gripping they’ll then turn to the first page. If you’ve got your reader opening your book to the first page then you've done a good job and you may have made a sale. But none of this is going to happen without a good cover. The cover will often show a scene from the story or depict a character or two. It might even feature multiple features from the story such as a dragon, knight, castle, mountain, or a battle scene. Even if these things don’t appear together at any point in the story, they are still part of the plot and their inclusion on the cover gives the prospective reader a good idea what the book is about and its genre, helping them decide whether to read your book. You only get one chance to make a good first impression. You may have written the greatest book in history, but if the



cover is a disaster, no one will ever look inside. As a self-publisher you have the choice of what will be on your cover, but if you’re traditionally published, you often do not. Traditional publishers have their investment in your book to protect, but if you have some suggestions for the cover it doesn't hurt to offer them to your publisher. When we discuss the cover we also refer to the back cover. The cover text may be determined by the publisher but you should try and influence this if you possibly can. Normally today authors websites and Facebook pages appear as the back cover text, along with a review or two.

If you’ve got your reader opening your book to the first page then you've done a good job and you may have made a sale.



Your cover is your packaging. By paying too little attention to the cover this can impact not just the sales of that particular title but also your reputation as a writer. Bad publicity has a tendency to stick around much longer than most of us would like. The objective of the cover is to entice people to pick up your book. In the case of ebooks, the cover is designed to get the book noticed online among millions of other images. A successful cover creates a good first impression with people visiting the bookstore website pressing the download button.

Social Media should help you… not become a black hole sucking your time, money, and energy … getting you little to NO RESULTS It’s sad… but it’s true! Most writers have no followers, no book sales, and no online attention If you are a WRITER looking to make Social Media work for you rather than you working on Social Media… then this is the RIGHT place

Website: Twitter: @CatherineNetWeb OPAL PUBLISHING



Do You Have a Facebook Share to Spare? By Catherine Saykaly-Stevens Most Facebook posts have 4 options: Like, Comment, Share, plus a mystery fourth option. In the last two Opal Magazine issues, we looked at the Facebook Like’s popularity contest and the Facebook Comment’s engagement. Now let's focus on the Facebook Share. We choose to share Facebook posts to: ▪ Show our audience new content we consume ▪ Support the original poster ▪ Redirect the information/ entertainment to another group, page, or individual There are only 2 people in a share: ● The originating poster ● The last person who shared it There are 2 directions with a share: ● Linear sharing – 1 person shares to 1 person who shares to another 1 person, etc., ● Complex sharing – multiple people sharing on every level, often with cross-over. Each share is a jackpot hit for the 24


originating poster. It’s not about receiving an individual’s attention, or attracting a small group of commenters and their engaged friends. A Facebook Share is about a free introduction to an entirely new audience who may not be familiar with the originating poster. Large scale expansion may occur with each share (depending on that person’s audience). It occurs with each share, increasing online reach. Share is an easy link to press under most Facebook posts, yet it is the least used of the three. It may be worth noting that different posts trigger different responses. i.e. not all posts shared are commented on; not all posts shared are liked; not all posts commented on are liked. Over time, you will grow your numbers fastest with the more Facebook Shares you get. Are you aware of which past posts got the most shares? Make note when one post does well, and post more like it. You’ll invite others to share you with their audiences to expand your reach.

Social Media Strategies

for Authors and Writers

Catherine Saykaly-Stevens | Audience Growth and Fan-Engagement Social Media Consultant and Trainer Showing authors, entrepreneurs, speakers, coaches, and health practitioners how to sell more books, programs, and services.

*Join us for the next FREE Webinar - 7 Keys to Unlock Social Media Results *Learn takeaways to implement today!

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y r

Renewal Time

Daffodils, Easter Lilies, what a glorious display. They light our homes and gardens in their magnificent way. Friends and families gather

Out with old and bad habits,

for dinner Easter Sunday,

it’s time to change our ways.

it’s a feast of traditions:

Easter is for revival,

to love, laugh, enjoy and play.

time to brighten up our days.

The true reason for Easter

Time to let go of grudges,

is not recognized by all,

judgment, and criticism;

but love, sharing, and caring

time to grow from past mistakes

is renewed in big and small.

and know we are forgiven. Easter’s a fun holiday,

Happy Easter. Jean Kay

chocolate Easter eggs abound; time for the Easter egg hunt with goodies that can be found. Chicks, lambs, and tiny bunnies are displayed for all to see. Priceless children’s expressions– full of amazement and glee.

Jean Kay




Mind, Body, Spirit

DECISIONS – AND HOW TO RECOGNIZE UNHEALTHY EGO By Marta Rabiej The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart. ~ Helen Keller HOW often do you struggle with making decisions in your life? Is it something that comes to you easily, and can you enjoy the choice you made? Or are you having a difficult time deciding on anything, and still question or doubt yourself later? Decision making is a crucial part of our lives. We are bombarded with choices all the time. From simple preferences about where to get our coffee in the morning on the way to work, to important life-altering decisions on where to live and how to spend the rest of our lives. There are several things that influence our decision-making process, and it is surprising how little it has to do with a problem-solving activity. Instead, it all reflects back on our subconscious beliefs and the conditioning we received as children. If we grew up in an environment that was loving and supportive, we will be OPAL PUBLISHING

confident and decision making will be easy. We won’t have any regrets once we choose something. It will be obvious and it won’t take us long to come to a conclusion what would be the best outcome for us, and what we decide to pursue. But, if we grew up in an environment where lack and fear were the norm we will have a hell of a time making decisions, and most likely it is going to be difficult to come to a conclusion , perhaps after many sleepless nights of tossing and turning. Later, we will still ponder our choice, wondering if it was the best possible option. Not because there is more than one option, but because we also will have the belief that no matter what we chose, we won’t be satisfied enough. So, the question is – how can we handle decision making better? What would it take to be free from dilemmas, doubts, fears, and dissatisfaction? Well, the ideal thing would be to clear the layers of those fears, hurts, and pain that are imprinted in our energy center that governs our self-esteem: our Solar Plexus Chakra. It is the seat of our personal power, ambition, center of our will, strong emotions, and action. Its natural element is fire, and it deals with power. Balanced or EDITION #22


out of balance, Solar Plexus Chakra can make a difference in our life. From feelings of lack of power or obsessive-compulsive behaviours, to being in control of our destiny and happiness, it has the power to make us feel either in total control of our life or powerless with low self-esteem. It can make us feel confident or totally dependant on what others think. It is a center where anger, fear, and guilt reside, with the ability to make us feel like a victim of circumstances, resulting in stomach pains and anxiety. There are several ways to clear Solar Plexus Chakra besides Reiki, which balances energy blocks stuck in our energetic field. One of the most important ways is the ability to live from our heart center, and allowing it to guide us in decision making. The heart is more than just a pump that sustains our vital signs. It is the source of love, wisdom, intuition, and positive emotions. The heart is our connection to the Divine Consciousness and knows every answer to every question about our life – past, present, and future. The renowned French philosopher, Blaise Pascal stated, 30


“The heart has reasons that reason cannot know.� There is a constant two-way communication between the brain and the heart that only recently became the focus of a research resulting in very interesting facts. One of the primary researchers in this field, Rollin McCraty, Ph.D., Director of Research at The Institute of HeartMath, located in Boulder Creek, California, Fellow of the American Institute of Stress, and who holds membership with the International Neurocardiology Network (among many others), explains that the heart and cardiovascular system are sending far more signals to the brain than the brain is sending to the heart. These signals have a regulatory influence on many aspects of the autonomic nervous system, including most glands and organs. They also have profound effect on the higher brain centers such as the thalamus, hypothalamus, and amygdala, and they play a direct and important role in determining our perceptions, thought processes, and emotional experiences. Recent work in this relatively new field of neurocardiology has firmly established that the heart is a sensory organ and an information


encoding and processing center, with an extensive intrinsic nervous system that’s sufficiently sophisticated to qualify as a heart brain. ( It sounds all complicated and scientific, and if you are not into this sort of thing, this research won’t have much value to you, but it is very important. Why? Because it proves that the heart is a very well equipped instrument, able to guide us on the road to live our lives in alignment with our higher purpose, in joy, into peace, balance, and happiness. For years, we focused entirely on the brain and its role in our existence, only to find out that we still cannot answer many questions that we have about our thinking processes. But there is one aspect of our mind that indicates we do not live from our heart, and that’s our Ego. To get into an “easy mode” of decision making we should know what role ego plays in our lives, and what the signs are that it is overinflated. According to the dictionary, ego is a part of the mind that is responsible for testing our reality and distinguishing a sense of our OPAL PUBLISHING

personal identity. But in reality, it’s more complex than that. Several psychoanalysts devoted their entire lives to studying human personality structure: our wants, needs, desires, impulses that drive us, and our decision-making process. An Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, explained that ego is trying to satisfy our identity based on the comparison of reality with what is beneficial for us, where ego looks after our basic needs of survival. But putting all of those theories aside, we can learn how to recognize signs that we live and are governed by our ego. The first sign that we live from ego is when we are focused entirely on our own needs; where everything is always about “me, me, me”. Ego is all about serving itself, and putting 'me' on the pedestal. We won’t have compassion for others or concern about anybody else’s needs other than our own. We will lack empathy and be observed by others as selfish. Instead, get into the habit of doing random acts of kindness and allow your attention to focus on others on a regular basis. That gets you in touch with your own feelings and makes EDITION #22


you aware of how you affect others. Another way to know that our ego drives our life is when we are defensive and always have to be right. Ego is all about protecting itself and it fears vulnerability. It never wants to be exposed, because that would mean we don’t really know anything, or we don’t know what we are doing; so we build fences around ourselves, our beliefs, our motives. Ego doesn’t like to be wrong or insecure, so we get caught in an illusion that it protects us from a threat, even if there is none. Let go and surrender. Eliminate stress and realize that it’s okay to learn from others, from our own mistakes and failures, as long as we have self-compassion and treat all of our experiences as the learning curve and a stepping stone to something better. Overindulging and using food as a way of satisfying our feelings is a sign that our ego is on the loose. It has no breaks and it knows no limits. It requires to always be fed and never has enough. It’s not easy to break a habit of eating our emotions, but it is possible to do so by admitting to ourselves that we have an issue, and examining what it is that we are refusing to deal with openly. 32


Awareness is the key to success. Bringing those feelings to the surface is half of the victory. Addressing them can help us heal. To get food addiction under control do intermittent fasting, and start with eliminating junk food in favor of green and fresh foods, freshly squeezed juices, or fruits. There is a lot of info on the web about it. I liked the article of Allison Young’s blog, containing research results. You can read more and find it here: http:// When we compare ourselves to others, chances are our ego is in charge. We feel we need to strive to be better than others, and that makes us very unhappy for many reasons. One reason is we do not focus our attention and energy on our own abilities and gifts, but instead judge and criticize. When we are not achieving the same results as those we compare ourselves with, we actually end up criticising ourselves and feeling bad about our perceived failure. Instead, understand that each of us is on our own unique path. Each of us are learning different things, we have different beliefs, circumstances, and goals. Comparison leads to judgement, judgement leads to suffering, and that is the beginning of a miserable life. We would serve


ourselves better if we put our heart into finding our own niche that we are amazing at and focus on living our passion while celebrating our own victories, however small. If our life is all about collecting material possessions that never bring us happiness, that's also an indication that our ego is in charge. We focus on attaining, hoarding, and cluttering our living spaces with items we don’t even use, postponing our contentment and gratitude for what we already have. This compulsive focus on material takes away from our spiritual life. The best way to change it is to realize that we are only trying to fill the hole in our soul, which cannot be patched by anything that money can buy. Start with a simple way of taking stock of our blessings: write five things a day that we are grateful for. If we do it right before we go to sleep, we end our day on a positive note and put our mind at ease, by focusing on our blessings instead of problems. It’s a wonderful way of getting into a habit of bringing more of what we want, and allowing our mind to get some restful sleep, which is a first step to reclaiming good health and a positive outlook on life.


Are you genuinely happy for others about their good fortune or success? Can you rejoice in other people’s happiness? If you live in envy, that’s the sign that your ego needs an overhaul. Ego is all about getting attention, it does not like to be left behind or see others succeed more than it does. It is about being ahead of everyone else, not realizing that there is no race. We all have different values and should focus on what makes us happy, understanding that there is plenty of abundance, and everyone can be great or have an amazing life. It’s a good idea to ask ourselves once in a while if the attention we seek comes from our authentic-self or from the need for other’s approval and validation. Ego loves recognition and seeks it from outside sources, often compromising integrity or using manipulation by pretending to be someone other than who we actually are. There is nothing wrong with striving to be better or wanting better things for ourselves; but that shouldn’t stop us from admiring other people’s successes or being happy for their good fortune. It’s a true art to be genuine and share someone’s joy in their prosperity. Give it a shot and know that it is also available to you. EDITION #22


To allow joy and prosperity into your life, you only need to match the vibration of joy, happiness, or gratitude. It needs to be spontaneous and true, and envy is far from being a match to any of those feelings. You should always have respect for yourself and that comes from you and your authentic self. It’s good to take time to listen to other people and not be self-absorbed. Learn to recognize when your actions come from your ego, and do not allow it to control your life. Ask yourself what your values are, and what really matters to you. Every time you have to make a decision check how you feel about your options. That’s the best guide you can ask for, but you need to trust your heart and follow what it tells you. The more you use its advice, the



easier, happier, and more inspired your life will be. Stop competing; be smarter. Think outside your brain. A grateful heart is a beginning of greatness. It is an expression of humility. It is a foundation for the development of such virtues as prayer, faith, courage, contentment, happiness, love, and well-being. ~ James E. Faust

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“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” Henry David Thoreau




Home Gardening with Barbara

Planting Spring Bulbs



By Barbara Shorrock As I write this in February for your reading pleasure in April, I think ahead to preparation for spring, even though our gardens are still snow covered. If you have empty spaces in your flower garden or large pots waiting for something showy, why not consider tender, summerblooming bulbs? Now remember, “tender” means they are tropical species who like warmth and cannot survive freezing temperatures, so you will either plant them in pots in the house about 6 weeks before last frost date (June 1 in Calgary, plus or minus 2 weeks, depending upon Mother Nature’s whimsy each year) or directly into the garden a week or two before that unreliable date. If you are a thrifty gardener, you will bring these bulbs inside (basement or heated garage), before they freeze in the fall, to be stored for enjoyment the next year. If that isn’t your thing, treat them as annuals and buy new each year.

producing extravagant varieties that look like a crazy painter has been at work on each bloom. The taller ones will need staking as they become top-heavy later in the summer and I don’t need to tell you what our July storms can do. Smaller, bushier ones need nothing more than sunshine and lots of water (dahlias are thirsty). Native to Mexico, the dahlia is not a true bulb, but has a tuberous root which multiplies and grows through the summer. You must dig this up before it has a chance to freeze, dry it, and store in sand, vermiculite, or peat moss over the winter. Dahlia

Dahlias offer a dazzling range of size and color, ranging from tiny Mignons to enormous Giants (think “Dinner Plate”). They start at white and continue all through the warm shades of yellow, red, orange, and so on. Breeders have been successful in




Gladiola corms may be planted directly into the garden or started indoors a few weeks early. The second most popular cut flower (second only to roses), they belong at the back of the flower bed where their tall spikes can be appreciated over their neighbours. There are over 10,000 varieties, so you will be spoiled for choice at the garden centre. The giants will produce one spike with multiple blooms; others will be smaller with several stalks and can be most charming in pots on the patio. Begonias have a roundish tuber, and present a dramatic display of color for weeks and weeks, most effective in pots and hanging displays. If you are buying them for the first time, be aware that size really does matter with begonia tubers: the bigger ones produce the most numerous and voluptuous blooms. This is one plant that doesn’t need full sun to be happy and will produce a lovely display on a partially shaded deck or patio. Note: begonias come with fibrous roots, rhizomes, and tubers, so be sure you know what you are buying. The first two are best treated as annuals in our climate, but you can store tubers for next year. 38


Canna and Calla Lilies are also becoming more popular in our gardens as newer hybrids are developed. These are often grown to spectacular effect in large pots, shared with lower growing annuals. Like all the others in this article, the rhizomes should be dug up and stored over the winter, as they are also native to the tropics. If you are looking for some new and dramatic color in your garden, check out spring bulbs. Some are already in the garden centres.


calla lilly

Barbara Shorrock is a writer, reader, traveler, retired realtor, ESL teacher, Spanish student and brand new great-grandmother! She can be found most first Wednesdays at the Queensland Garden Club, which welcomes all gardeners, experienced and new. We don’t care where you live.




Smiley Mikey By John D Robinson The smile of Mikey Milford was an almost permanent fixture upon his face; no matter what was happening to him or around him, Mikey would be seen smiling. He was twentyfour years old but had the intellect of a ten year old boy; Mikey would approach and speak to and smile with everybody that he encountered whilst he was out shopping. He was warm and friendly and was a wellknown and popular character within the small community on the edges of this seaside town. Folks would say that Mikey was simple or slow, but was always said with a fondness for Mikey. He lived with his mother, and his father had passed several years ago. Everyday, Mikey would walk to the shops and purchase the day’s groceries. He was of a large build at six feet, two inches tall with broad shoulders, dark short hair, large bright brown eyes and a soft face that betrayed his age. His voice was soft and gentle, low in volume. Mikey would call into every shop, all twenty three of them. He’d drop in and chat 40


for a few moments and then move onto the next one. Along the way he’d buy what he needed to, and there were never more than half a dozen items on the list. It would take Mikey about four hours to complete the daily chore of shopping; these hours came as a kind of relief for Mrs. Milford. Mikey would talk non-stop: from the moment his eyes opened upon awakening, to the moment they closed in sleep, his talking and smiling were relentless. Mrs. Milford and her son lived in a two bedroom apartment on the second floor of a thirty-storey tower block. It had been Mikey’s home since birth. Everyday, for as long as anybody could remember, Mikey would call into every local shop and business, whether he had the purpose to or not. He’d call into the hairdressers, greengrocers and supermarkets, take-away food outlets and bars, a funeral parlour and a garage, florists and a carpet showroom, banks and a post office, a hardware store and a butcher’s, a betting shop and a bakery, discount stores and estate agents, cafes, solicitors office, second-hand furniture shops, chemists, restaurants and a toy model shop. Everyday, for as long as anyone could remember, Mikey would call into all of the shops.


Today, Mikey didn’t call into any of the shops and had not been seen. As the day progressed, more and more comments were being made of Mikey’s absence from the shopkeepers and office workers. Most comments were delivered as no more than observations but there were a few comments that were said out of concern and none more than the words of Ms. Avis Perkins, Assistant Director of Padget & Perkins Funeral Parlour. Ms. Perkins was a single lady in her mid-forties, and over the past three or four years she had become very fond of Mikey; she loved him, she considered, in a paternalistic way and looked forward to his daily visits. Mikey would spend more time with Ms. Perkins than he would within any other business or shop; he felt close and warm towards Ms. Perkins and his non-stop talking almost ceased when in her company. Instead, he’d smile and look at Ms. Perkins and would only speak when spoken to. Around her, he felt shy and bashful and he didn’t know why he felt that way, but nonetheless, Mikey liked the feeling very much. At the close of the business day, Ms. Avis Perkins decided that she’d call in on Mikey Milford and his mother to see if all was okay, or if they needed anything. OPAL PUBLISHING

Smiley Mikey

2 I won’t bother to tell you of my name; it’s not important. It will suffice to tell you that I’m a young man in my early twenties. I’ll spare the sad and pathetic details of how I came to find myself in a very desperate situation. I’ve no excuses; I can’t blame it on my upbringing. Okay, my father wasn’t around much of the time, but my mother was a strong hardworking woman who provided what we needed. We never went hungry or cold. Mother loved me dearly, but she never said or displayed her feelings, I just knew she loved me. I was brought up knowing right from wrong and have never been in trouble, of any kind, before. Okay, here it is: I had gotten a young girl pregnant and we needed the cash quickly for a private termination. This was her choice initially, and rather reluctantly I agreed. So, there you have my reasoning for my actions. I was not presently working, having been made redundant several months ago. There was no one to help and nowhere I could raise the money needed; desperate thoughts can lead to desperate decisions. Like most people, Mikey Milford was someone I knew of, he was a popular EDITION #22


and harmless character, and, so I considered, an easy target. It all went terribly wrong, right from the off, it all went terribly wrong. The plan was simple enough: Mikey would leave the apartment every morning at exactly 11 a.m. I knew that he’d have very little cash on his person, but I guessed that there may be some cash within the apartment. I’d accost Mikey right outside his own door and bully my way in and take whatever cash and valuables were around. I’d be out and away in a few moments, straightforward and simple. I was prepared. I was positioned just a few yards away when I could hear the apartment door being unlocked. Mikey stepped into the corridor, I moved within a foot or two of him and snarled, “Give me your fucking cash!” Mikey punched me so fast and so hard that I tumbled backwards and fell down a small flight of concrete stairs, opening up a small gash at the back of my head, and passed out. Mikey picked me up and took me into his apartment and laid me upon the lounge floor, placing two thick bathroom towels beneath my head. I drifted in and out of consciousness. Mikey sat and watched over me. Mrs. Milford appeared and was, for a few



moments, hysterical. Mikey calmed her down and explained what had happened, that I had attempted to rob him. She gazed down at me and shook her head. “You better go find a telephone booth and phone for an ambulance and the police,” she said to her son. “Mum, I’m not leaving you alone with him!” cried Mikey anxiously, but still managing a faint smile. I drifted in and out of consciousness. I heard Mikey talking scared and in a panic of being charged with my murder. I heard his mother trying to reassure him that I would be fine and that they needed to get the police and an ambulance, but Mikey would not leave his mother alone in case I came around and attacked her. Mikey was frightened; he had never hit anybody before. “Mum, I was scared, he screamed at me for the shopping money and I hit him. I thought that he might hurt me, but I hit him first,” Mikey smiled softly. I drifted in and out of consciousness. I was given some water to drink. I tried to speak, but the words would not leave my mouth, they remained in my head silently going around and around and then a darkness would come and take me away for a little while and then my eyes would


open and I’d hear the distant-like voices of Mikey and his mother. I’d try again to speak, but I was unable to. I felt weak and dizzy, disorientated and frightened, and then, suddenly, there came a loud knocking at the door. “Quickly Mikey, answer it!” Mrs. Milford said. I came to for a short while and let go a groan. “Okay mum!” Mikey moved quickly and opened up the door to Ms. Avis Perkins. The moment Mikey saw Ms. Perkins he began sobbing, he threw his arms around her and they embraced for a few moments. Mikey was whispering but I couldn’t hear what he was saying. For a few long moments Mikey and Ms. Perkins stood holding hands, Mikey was calmer and smiling. “Mikey punched him, he was trying to rob him, right outside our own front door Ms. Perkins. We have no phone and didn’t know what to do, thank God that you appeared,” said Mrs. Milford excitedly. I let go another groan.


Smiley Mikey

“Shut up making those noises!” said Mrs Milford looking down at me in disgust. “I thought I’d call around as I hadn’t seen Mikey today, I was a little concerned, just wondered whether everything was okay,” said Ms. Perkins pulling her mobile telephone out of her handbag and then phoned for the police and ambulance services. She knelt down beside me and briefly examined the wound at the back of my head. “He’ll be okay, it’s worse than it’s looks.” She moved away and assisted Mikey in the kitchen, who was making cups of tea. Mrs. Milford remained looking down upon me until the emergency services arrived.

John D Robinson is our U.K. short fiction contributor.



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National Volunteer Week Calgary Public Library's volunteers are honoured each April during National Volunteer Week (April 23-29, 2017) at our Volunteer Recognition Event. Our volunteers make an incredible difference in our community every day, allowing the Library to do so much more: offer more programs, in more locations, more often, to so many more Calgarians. Thank you to all our volunteers! Want to be a Library volunteer? Visit for more information.

Louise Riley Library April 7, 6:30 p.m. To register, visit

Summer Reading Looking for ways to keep kids busy this summer? The Library can help with that! Kids can be part of a 3 Things for Canada Action Squad and help with community projects, learn to code using Scratch, and get messy with our science program. And of course we’ve got books that kids love to read! For details, visit

Bill’s Book Café with Mike Morrison Take in Bill’s Book Café with Library CEO Bill Ptacek and Mike's Bloggity Blog creator Mike Morrison. It’s guaranteed to be a lively discussion of Your Inner Critic Is a Big Jerk by Danielle Krysa. OPAL PUBLISHING




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April 2017 Opal Magazine  

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April 2017 Opal Magazine  

Opal Magazine is all about Canadian Authors and Writers!