It’s Been Two Months since I Opened an Online Bookshop: and Here’s What I’ve Learned

Photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash

If you’ve been following me at all, you won’t be unfamiliar with my teeny-tiny online business: The Littlest Online Bookshop.

In case you don’t know, TLOB is a very small independent used bookstore completely online. I ship internationally and am working to connect people everywhere with books. It’s my passion project and something that has basically taken over my life… besides my actual job, that is.

Over the last two months, since the store opened, I’ve learned a lot. Not just about what it’s like running a business, but about me as a person and what I’d like to do with my life.

But also I learned a lot about e-commerce.

I knew going into this that it wasn’t going to be simple or easy. In fact, I’m widely surprised it’s done as well as it has since opening. To be honest, I completely expected to have no business. I didn’t think anyone would be able to find the store, or that anyone would be interested in some random assortment of used books I have in stock. But, somehow, my flailing attempts at marketing have drummed up some business. Weird.

So here a few things I’ve learned in the last two months of relatively successful business ownership…

It might take over your life just a little

I’m sure any small business owner will agree with me. When I’m not actively doing inventory/adding stock to the store, I’m marketing or managing social media or researching more efficient shipping or packing shipments or organizing books or answering customer questions or updating financial spreadsheets or or or…

There are a million and one things for me to be doing at any given moment. Most of them not fatally important but essential for the business to keep running smoothly.

One thing I’m trying to do, especially now when things have gotten eerily quiet in the store, is keeping a balance between when I’m working on bookstore things and when I’m working on other stuff… any other stuff. The bookstore was meant to be a way to make a little more money while I continue to write and work my day job, but so far the bookstore has edged its way into my writing time. Proper time management is key, but that’s easier said than done in my case.

But, as I said, this is something to continue working on. And as I get more comfortable with my business, I’m sure learning what needs to be done right now and what can wait a little will become more obvious.

Shipping in Canada is expensive

Being a completely online business, the only way I can get my books to customers is via shipping (or local delivery). And having never mailed anything more than a postcard or a letter in my life, I was taken aback by how costly it is to ship just about anything.

I have yet to ferret out the reason why considering I’ve researched shipping costs in the U.S.A. and it’s miraculously less down there. The only thing I can think of is that they charge that much because they can.

But, whatever the reason, it makes it so difficult for tiny businesses just starting out to get a leg up. With all the cost of opening the business itself and how much I end up paying for shipping, it’s going to take me years to make any sort of profit. I’ve even lost money on certain orders because the shipping cost ended up being more than the actual order. But, there’s not much I can do because I’ve yet to find a more affordable option.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my customers. It’s been such a pleasure connecting them with books and seeing their delight when they receive their orders (if they send an email or post on Instagram). But, it’s hard to convince people to pay for shipping, especially at the prices Canada Post asks. And I don’t expect them to.

So, I have to basically absorb the difference. It’s easy enough for big companies (*cough cough* Amazon *cough cough*), but for a teeny-tiny business, it’s unaffordable.

Budgeting is complicated

Notice how I didn’t say “hard”? It hasn’t been difficult, per se, especially since the business is moving slow enough for me to keep up with. But, it isn’t simple. Maybe because I’m doing it myself, maybe because it’s spread over multiple spreadsheets.

It is very necessary, though. Keep. Track. Of. Your. Money.

What comes in and what comes out needs to be properly documented. Everything needs to be documented. Every bill or expense or payment.

It’s not difficult, but it’s a lot. Especially as someone who’s expertise lies with words and books and art, not with numbers and money and spreadsheets. I like organizing, but I always live in fear that I’ve forgotten something.

Amazing customers make it all worth it

Amongst all the craziness and the stress and the worry, the customers are the best part of this journey. Obviously, they are what make the shop possible in the most basic way, but the community is just as important. Any time someone lets me know they got their order, or posts a picture on Instagram, or shows any enthusiasm towards my store, it makes it all worth it.

Like there’s nothing more joyful than knowing I connected someone with a new book.

And they’re the reason I opened the store in the first place. I didn’t start an online business to make money, I started it to share my passion for books and create a book-loving community.

The support I’ve received since the store opened has blown me away. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t expect all the support and enthusiasm. They keep me coming back even when I feel overwhelmed.

So, if you’ve supported my store in anyway–even if that’s just checking it out and telling someone–thank you.

THANK YOU THANK YOU!


There are so many other things I’ve learned that I can’t really put into words. I’m constantly learning something new every day. Whether it’s the inner workings of e-commerce, running a website itself, marketing, shipping, and everything in between.

But this has given me such a new drive and I’m determined to work my ass off to make sure this business thrives and to cultivate a creative and loving book community.

Book Review: A Song Below Water

“We should all speak like sirens. Use our voices to make a difference, because all of them matter.”

Tavia is already at odds with the world, forced to keep her siren identity under wraps in a society that wants to keep her kind under lock and key. Never mind she’s also stuck in Portland, Oregon, a city with only a handful of black folk and even fewer of those with magical powers. At least she has her bestie Effie by her side as they tackle high school drama, family secrets, and unrequited crushes.

But everything changes in the aftermath of a siren murder trial that rocks the nation; the girls’ favorite Internet fashion icon reveals she’s also a siren, and the news rips through their community. Tensions escalate when Effie starts being haunted by demons from her past, and Tavia accidentally lets out her magical voice during a police stop. No secret seems safe anymore—soon Portland won’t be either.

Goodreads | Amazon | Indigo

When I heard of this book and saw the cover I was sold. Mermaids? Check. Sisters/Female friendship? Check. Black girl magic? Check.

This book promised a lot and I was here for it. It felt like the perfect time for this book, in the wake of the ever-growing Black Lives Matter movement. Using the metaphor of the sirens’ oppression to hold a mirror up to the current political and cultural climate.

But the metaphor was layered on top of the actual thing it was trying to explore. And sometimes it was to the detriment of the actual plot.

I wanted to like this book. And I believe I would’ve fully if it had followed up on all its promise. There was so much potential that felt a little wasted at times. There were plenty of moments that felt truly inspired and if the whole book was like that it wouldn’t be a problem. But, unfortunately, the plot often skidded to a halt to go back to thematic musings by the main characters. Obviously, as a white woman, I can’t make judgments. These themes are important, but I often felt like there needed to be less philosophical/political conversations and more magic.

The themes are clear. They’re there in full view, though it seemed we needed to be reminded over and over again. I’m fine reading a political commentary, but when it’s disguised as a fantasy, it turns me off a little. Just be honest with me about what this book really is.

But, the story is chock-full of so many wonderful ideas and premises that I wish had been explored further. Especially the world building.

The magical realism in this book is to titillating. The readers are given this fantastical but fully realistic world that’s packed with mythology and magical creatures. But this amazing world is never fully realized within the confines of this book. A couple hundred pages more to include proper exploration would’ve been the trick, because I just wanted to know more.

Much of my confusion and frustration with this book might have been mitigated by some further world building. I didn’t know where the line was drawn; what was possible and what wasn’t; what mythical creatures were real and which weren’t.

And it’s kind of a pivotal part of the book, but the lack of explaining meant I was more befuddled by what was happened than enthralled.

But I loved Effie and Tavia’s relationship. I’m all about strong female friendships and found families (see: my own writing), and this was my favourite part of the book. All my favourite scenes were them together being each other’s rocks.

But their POV voices lacked distinction and sometimes it felt like they could’ve been the same person.

I liked Effie’s arc a little bit more—dunno why, just did—but I felt like she was under-utilized for the first part of the novel. *Minor Spoilers* I think it was because I was confused half the time as to whether or not she really was a mermaid or if the Ren Faire was more than it was. But this goes back to the lack of proper explaining of the mythology of the world in which Effie and Tavia live. Of course, all is revealed at the end, but I shouldn’t be so confused for 90% of the book.

For me, I wanted Effie to be more active in her own journey. I wanted her to go looking for answers instead of just saying “ah, oh no!” every time something weird happened to her.

The other characters in the book weren’t nearly as well fleshed out. They were interesting, but often were cardboard cutouts to populate the background and worse, sometimes felt like they were only there to be props for the social commentary.

Especially near the end, at the climax. I couldn’t understand the motivations of some of the background characters because they hadn’t been fleshed out properly. It seemed like, “Oh she’s just a hateful and vindictive person because that’s who she is.” And while that’s valid, it wasn’t totally satisfying.

However, I really liked the ending… like the last 20 pages were fantastic. And it finally gave the satisfaction the whole novel had promised. I just wished it could’ve come a little sooner. I don’t know. Maybe.

All in all I did like the book, but I felt like it promised so much without delivering until the very end. There’s a difference between tantalizing and suspenseful and just frustrating. A Song Below Water walked the line between them and would often flip flop. As I said before, I think a lot of the problems I had with it would’ve been solved with letting the reader have more than the sliver of world mythos we experienced. It wouldn’t have left me so frustrated.

But if you’re looking for a book with Black girls being amazing, important social commentary, and a sprinkle-winkle of magic, then you’ll probably enjoy this book.

The Literary World Needs Negative Reviews!

Photo by Fabiola Peñalba on Unsplash

I’ve noticed a trend within the Twitter writing/reading community where people are actively discouraged or actively avoid writing negative reviews on books they read.

To some extent, I get it. No one wants to see a negative review of their book. But at what point does negative intersect with honesty? Does only living in a positive bubble of good reviews actually help the author and the book community at large?

If someone honestly didn’t like something I wrote for a valid reason (aka not just because they hate me), then I’d want to know why. If there’s something I overlooked or a section that would’ve packed a better punch if I’d gone at it a different way, then I’d like to know.

But that’s just me.

I think one reason for this attitude of “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” is that people sometimes go at negative reviews from a very aggressive position. Things get nasty. Feelings get hurt. It’s unproductive and sucks.

Books have been pulled from publication or ruined because of people dog piling negative reviews.

But that’s a different issue that I’m not going to delve into right now.

From my point of view, if a review is honest in a thoughtful and constructive way and doesn’t get nasty about it, then it’s fine to write a negative review. But the key is being kind and thoughtful when writing about what you didn’t like.

Art is subjective and not everyone is going to like everything. A reader might be saved from reading a book they just won’t like because someone with similar tastes left an honest review.

The literary world needs balance and negative reviews serve a purpose.

Now, I’m not usually one to write long reviews for books unless it’s struck me in someway, but I have written what would be considered “negative” reviews. I don’t shy away from being honest, but I focus on constructive things and go into explain why I may not have liked something.

But even if I didn’t like it, someone might read my review and think maybe they’ll like it or read it just to see if what I’m saying is true. So it’s more publicity for the writer.

We’re all adults here, or most of us are, we can find a way to be respectful when giving our opinions. Even if it’s that we didn’t like something. But cutting out negative reviews all together does nothing but convince the rest of us that positivity is the only valuable opinion.

The Tellings Chapter 3

Bethany

My first day at the diamond shop started with rain. I tried not to see it as an omen as I walked down the cobblestone streets, with my drooping umbrella barely shielding me from the downpour. 

The town was filled with a rainbow of umbrellas, contrasting against the grey of the rain-soaked city. There were tourists looking lost, priests on their way to one of the many churches, and regular towns-folk milling about on their day. To my surprise, I saw Mr. Taper, a leather goods store owner, helping a group of tourists. Most people that live here find it amusing when tourists get lost, but not out of cruelty, but because the labyrinth of our town has baffled us for years. 

I held my yellow umbrella above my head in an attempt to protect my new wool sweater. Luckily for me, the diamond shop was only a couple blocks away from my house. When I reached the front window, I peered in at all of the display cases. 

I hadn’t noticed that the windows were dark until Mr. Trumble came up and unlocked the door. He was an older man, small but straight as a pole. He wore a brown tweed suit and used a wooden walking stick. He looked at me from under his bushy, silver eyebrows. “Hello, young lady,” he said, “can I help you?”

“I’m Bethany, and I’m supposed to be your new assistant,” I said as I turned to him.

He slowly nodded, his eyes closed with remembering. “Ah yes, I remember now. Come in, and I’ll show you around.” 

Mr. Trumble held open the door as I walked in. He quickly slipped by me and into the back room, where he put his jacket and walking stick. 

“Alright,” he said, “this is where all the magic happens.” He let out a little chuckle at a joke I didn’t understand.

I walked down the long shop room, and gazed at the displays on either side of me. There were diamonds of every shape, size and colour. They glimmered and gleamed in the light, as if it had been specifically designed to show off all the diamond’s best qualities. If I looked close, some appeared to be two colours swirling around deep in the heart of the jewel. 

“How did you make the different colours?” I asked, not able to take my eyes off of one diamond. It was a deep forest green with streaks of dark blue exploding from the centre. 

“It’s all about being at the right place at the right time.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, looking up to see him suddenly standing behind the case in front of me. 

But, he seemed distracted, looking down at the green and blue diamond. “Such a tragic story,” he mumbled to himself. 

“Sir?” 

“Oh, I’m sorry, Bethany,” he said, shaking his head as if that could dislodge lost thoughts. “Forgive me, I am getting old and my mind has the tendency to wander.”

“You were saying that you need to be in the right place at the right time. What does that mean?” I asked. 

He smiled at me and folded his hands on the case top. “In order to make these diamonds, you need the right amount of everything.”

I nodded, knowing the process for making coal into diamonds. 

“For this one, here,” he pointed to the green and blue diamond. “It required the right amount of terror and grief.”

I blinked. “Terror and grief? Those are emotions, sir.”

“You think I don’t know that? The little girl who made this diamond had just lost both of her parents in a car crash.” 

I blinked again. 

“These are not just ordinary diamonds. These diamonds are made from tears.”


No more than two hours later, I found myself sitting beside Mr. Trumble at a wedding, in one of the most uncomfortable church pews. He was determined to show me the process of collecting tears, despite my rational disbelief. Diamonds were not made from tears. 

This is madness, I thought as I tried not to fidget or be embarrassed that I wasn’t properly dressed for a wedding. 

“We’re going to get a tear from the bride,” he told me. 

“Seriously? What are you going to do, interrupt the wedding?” I asked. 

Eyes were on us from every direction. Some more curious, others disdainful. Whatever Mr. Trumble did, there was a divide in opinion of it.

“I do what I need to.”

The music began and the bride appeared with her company. Her eyes were already red and teary. 

As we stood, Mr. Trumble took a small glass vial out of his coat pocket. Without a word or a look, Mr. Trumble reached out towards the bride and placed the vial on her cheek. One tear dripped soundlessly into the glass container. 

No one looked at us then, not even the bride. 

“How did you—”

“Tear collectors are never seen at the moment of collection. I’m not sure why, but it’s part of the tradition.” 

The diamond he made with that tear was clear and pure. It was tinted sunshine yellow with joy. 


The next day, it was my turn. Mr. Trumble gave me the assignment of collecting four tears by the end of the week. He told me any tears would do, so I didn’t have to exert myself too much. He warned that collecting tears was terrible work sometimes. 

“Us collectors are there for moments of joy and sorrow. Emotions run deep and we must keep our heads about us.”

I started with a child that had fallen on the pavement. First I collected the tear, and then I went to find her mother. The stone that came from it was clear and a light sky blue shot through with streaks of red. The next tear came from an old man visiting his wife’s grave. The diamond was a deep indigo but an intricate shape that held many stories. The third tear came from a wife after a fight with her husband, sitting outside on a bench. The jewel came out a deep orange with red highlights and jagged edges. 

During this time, Mr. Trumble also had me help with his booth at the daily market. I hurried around the stalls, trying to get tourists to look at the jewels. But, as hard as I tried, I found it hard to convince people to buy others’ tears.

I also noticed that Mr. Trumble would visit a boy at the market, who sold flowers. 

“His name is August,” he told me. “I used to know his grandfather.”

“What happened to him?” I asked. 

“The town couldn’t keep him alive anymore.”

I had become used to Mr. Trumble’s cryptic ramblings. This one sent a shiver down my spine, though it was no more mystical than the others. The worst was when he would come into the store and tell me about a “premonition” he had the night before. I never found out if he was right or not most of the time.


The last tear I needed to collect was the hardest. All week I had been seeing the extremes of different emotions, trying my hardest not to be affected. I couldn’t tell Mr. Trumble that my heart broke every time I collected a tear. It was like I was stealing something personal from them, something that was not mine to take. 

Before I collected the first tear, he told me, “Collecting tears is very difficult for the soul.” He wasn’t kidding.

A week after I started work, with three out of the four tears I had to collect, it was raining. I tried not to take that as an omen. 

I knew I couldn’t go back to the store without the last tear. But, I couldn’t handle the intense emotions that I’d been exposed to. I couldn’t take someone’s feelings and turn them into something to make a profit from. 

I avoided the shop for most of the day. Instead, I wandered through the streets trying to get lost. Though, the one thing about this town is that you can’t get lost if you try. At least it never worked for me. I hid out in various restaurants, I strolled around the parks, and I even went to one of the many churches that towered over the town. But, I couldn’t hide from the knowledge that I had failed Mr. Trumble. 

It was still raining when I walked down the stairs of the church.

“Oh, to hell with it,” I snapped as I pulled out the vial from my pocket. I held it out in front of me and let a single raindrop fall in. 

I didn’t say a single word as I marched the vial back to the store. Mr. Trumble processed the raindrop without question, oblivious to the fact that it wasn’t a tear.

“I’m really proud of you, Bethany.” he said as he turned to me with a smile. “I’ve had many assistants, but not one has made it through the week like you have.”

My breath caught in my throat. He was proud of me, thinking that I had accomplished what others couldn’t. I had failed twice. 

“Mr. Trumble, I have to apologize. I didn’t really collect a tear. It’s just a raindrop from outside.”

He froze. 

“What?” he asked. “A raindrop?” He jumped out of his chair with too much vigour for someone  that old. From across the room, his eyes were fixed on the diamond sitting on the desk. It was a deep muddy black, perfectly shaped, but no light reflected off its surface. 

“Bethany, I don’t know what that is, and I don’t know what that means, but I know it’s not a good sign.” 

“Mr. Trumble, I—” 

“Leave!” he cried. “Get out of here.”

So I did. 


A couple days later I went back to check on Mr. Trumble. The shop windows were dark and the inside empty. I asked around and found out Mr. Trumble had gone into great debt and had to sell all his inventory to pay for it. That must have meant selling the raindrop diamond. 

A little while later I saw a tourist wearing it. I tried to ask her if she knew what had become of the owner, but she didn’t respond or look at me. 

Slowly, the tourists stopped coming and the town businesses died. 

One day, a week after the disappearance of Mr. Trumble, a dark stranger showed up in town. He knew who I was, and called himself the caretaker. 

A Baby Gardener’s Guide to Wellness with Plants

The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.

— Alfred Austin

A couple months ago, I was in a bad place mentally. Lockdown living was keeping me safe, but not helping me thrive. I had all the time to write and paint and bake and do all the things I love, but I was still feeling glum most of the time.

Then something changed.

The weather got better and my family decided it was time to renovate the garden right in front of our house. It wasn’t much of a garden at all. It was a boxwood lined area covered in periwinkles dotted with some shrubbery. It didn’t look bad, per se. But, it significantly lacked inspiration. We’d been talking about it during the winter and even with the virus running rampant, we were still able to do what we needed.

Physical labour was needed to remove the hedges and shrubs and, I don’t know what it was, whether the sunshine or getting dirty or being active, I felt amazing afterwards. After digging up boxwood roots, I’d be exhausted and sweaty and covered in dirt, but I was satisfied. Satisfied in a deep way I didn’t understand; as if I connected with something primal inside. It was like digging in the dirt had connected me with nature in a way that I hadn’t experienced before.

The garden quickly became my passion project.

Planning, designing, and working on the garden gave me something to think about, while spending time with plants and generally spending more time outside did wonders for my mental health. My feelings of helplessness and apathy began to lessen significantly.

Now, this was my first major foray into the gardening world. My mother is the gardener of the family and, until fairly recently, my interest had been lukewarm at best. But as I’ve been exploring a slower-paced lifestyle, gardening has become more important. I’d love to be able to grow my own food someday. Perhaps even own some chickens.

Since, I have learned how beneficial gardening can be to my wellbeing.

Salvia

Bathe in the Green

It might seem a little obvious, but there are many benefits to spending time in natural landscapes. With the research done on the Japanese practice of Forest Bathing, it’s not hard to see how being outside is good for the soul.

Gardening is especially good because it’s just outside or front or back door. A mere couple steps to your own personal green oasis. You can surround yourself with all the plants that make you happy.

I think humans need to have a connection to our natural surroundings in order to feel the most human. But, that might just be me.

Hydrangea

Breathe in

Fresh air is important.

Lilac

Dig in the dirt

Carrying plants, digging holes, and all the other things one does when gardening all counts as exercise! It might not be the same sort as going to a CrossFit gym, but low-level exercise with varied motions and movements over a longer period of time can be just as beneficial.

And, what appeals to me is, it’s purposeful. I’m not just moving my body for this abstract idea of “health” that is sometimes easily ignored in order to sit on my couch and do nothing, but I’m doing something that I want to be doing. The exercise is a bonus.

Lavender

Be present

It’s been proven that being present in the moment and mindful is beneficial and the garden can be our own sanctuary of mindfulness. There, we can practice focusing on what we are doing in the moment, instead of all the stressors that are waiting for us to think about.

Smell the flowers, listen to the birds, feel the dirt under your hands. Let yourself embrace all that your senses are feeling.

Cosmo

“The lesson I have thoroughly learnt, and wish to pass on to others, is to know the enduring happiness that the love of a garden gives. ”

⎯ Gertrude Jekyll

There’s just something about gardening that I never realized before I started doing it myself. Even now that the garden is mostly “done” (though, I’d argue a true garden is never done) I find myself always wanting to work on it.

A garden is like a living organism and can be continuously worked on and changed, but don’t forget to enjoy your hard work and the beautiful space created. Take some time to be still in your natural oasis.

I may have just started gardening, but I think this is the start of a great mindful hobby!

I’ve Opened a Bookstore

The last few weeks have been an absolute whirlwind. Why? Because I’ve launched a tiny online business.

I’ve always loved books and bookstores. There are many many blog posts dedicated to my favourite books and bookstores. One dream I’ve had, since graduating five years ago, is to open my own bookstore.

It’s easy for me to get lost in dreams about what the store would look like, what sort of books and other bookish products I would stock, bookish events I would host. My dream bookstore would be a haven for book lovers and authors alike. But, unfortunately, it is but a dream.

Newmarket, my hometown, used to have an independent used bookstore, but it closed YEARS ago. Since, there haven’t been any other bookstores other than the big chain. It’s a real shame because all towns deserve a real cozy bookstore. I’ve been to many, all over the world even, and it’s an experience I adore.

But, it’s expensive to open a brick-and-mortar store. So how could I reconcile my dream with realistic finances?

An online store!

Every single step of this process has been surprisingly painless. From registering the business with various governmental bodies, finding the best hosting platform, and collecting initial stock. It’s also been much cheaper and much less risky.

But, more importantly, I’ve been able to do something I’m passionate about. Yes, I don’t get to design a real shop where I can put a homey reading nook. And I don’t get face-to-face interactions with my customers. But, it’s better than not doing anything at all.

I set up a couple avenues of direct communication, where customers can contact me and hopefully we can build a real relationship.

  1. A potential customer can email me with a specific book they’re looking for and I’ll find it and ship it to them.
  2. I also provide recommendations for anyone who gives a couple details of their reading habits/preferences

This launch is a wonderful mixture of excitement and terror as I make my dreams a reality and pray that it doesn’t just fizzle out into nothing.

If you’re in the market for a gently used book, please please check out The Littlest Online Bookshop!

Book Review: Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune

Yin-yang fried rice was a feast for the eyes and the senses. Swirls of cream contrasted with an orange tomato sauce to form the iconic pattern. Underneath the sauces lay a bed of yang chow fried rice containing a bounty of minced jewels: barbecued pork, Chinese sausage, peas, carrots, spring onions, and wisps of egg. Slices of white onions and pork emerged from the tomato sauce while shrimp and sweet green peas decorated the cream.

At the news of her mother’s death, Natalie Tan returns home. The two women hadn’t spoken since Natalie left in anger seven years ago, when her mother refused to support her chosen career as a chef. Natalie is shocked to discover the vibrant neighbourhood of San Francisco’s Chinatown that she remembers from her childhood is fading, with businesses failing and families moving out. She’s even more surprised to learn she has inherited her grandmother’s restaurant.

The neighbourhood seer reads the restaurant’s fortune in the leaves: Natalie must cook three recipes from her grandmother’s cookbook to aid her struggling neighbours before the restaurant will succeed. Unfortunately, Natalie has no desire to help them try to turn things around–she resents the local shopkeepers for leaving her alone to take care of her agoraphobic mother when she was growing up. But with the support of a surprising new friend and a budding romance, Natalie starts to realize that maybe her neighbours really have been there for her all along.

Goodreads | Amazon | Chapters

I don’t know quite where to start with this one except that it’s deliciously good.

Roselle Lim’s wonderful descriptions of the food cooked throughout the novel left me reaching for a snack. At times I could almost smell the meals wafting from the pages of the book.

Along with the food descriptions, the setting of San Fransisco’s Chinatown completely encased me. Lim has painted such a clear picture, it was hard not to feel like I’d travelled the great distance between my home in Ontario to northern California. I could fully imagine the neighbourhood where Natalie moved back to along with the delightful cast of characters.

Each one of the characters in the book felt so real and grounded in reality. From the intimidating and somewhat grumpy restaurant owner to the down-on-her-luck shop owner, I felt like I could just walk out the door and meet them on the street. And I’d want to. Despite some obvious conflicts, no character was completely unlikeable or unredeemable. It was so nice.

Right now the world is in a bit of chaos, and books like this are much needed. This book is like curling up inside a warm pork bun (wouldn’t that be amazing, though?). Though this is what I could call a “comfort book” and I knew everything would work out in the end, I still felt very much compelled to read on and on. I laughed and I cried in equal measure.

I won’t give anything away because you should do yourself a favour and read this book, but there’s a twist that took me by surprise. It was the happy little cherry on top of this delicious book sundae.

Why I’m Handwriting my First Drafts from Now On

Just over two weeks ago, I finished writing the first draft of my current work-in-progress. I feel satisfied with this draft. I wrote it in under a year, whereas the last one took over two years, and I felt more naturally creative while writing. What’s so different about this one, compared to my first novel, is that I wrote it all by hand in a notebook.

I learned a lot about my writing style and my creative process throughout. And I simply enjoyed the process much more than I did when I wrote on my computer. It felt very organic and a more natural way to write.

So, I’ve decided that I’m going to write all of my first drafts by hand.

Flow, creativity, flow

The big issue I find with writing is my incredibly short bursts of creative energy. Usually, I can write in a somewhat-halting sprint for like 10 minutes before I get distracted by something else on the computer or my idea sputters out.

When writing in a notebook, I was able to write for longer and I found my creative energies didn’t run out nearly as quickly. My writing sessions lasted longer and I found the ideas came more organically as I went. And not working on a computer removed those dastardly distractions.

The best thing about writing the draft by hand in a notebook was, if I had a moment of inspiration, I could write it down no matter where I was. I’d take the notebook to work with me, and in quiet moments between clients, I could scribble down the next scene. I didn’t need to get into a creative mindset, like I do on the computer, I could tap into my inspiration whenever I needed it.

Word counts are a lie

Okay, that’s an exaggeration. If you enjoy having a word count goal, more power to you, but I found I worked best without one.

Handwriting meant I couldn’t keep track of my word count unless I wanted to sit and count it out… which sounds like no fun at all. But the lack of word count tracking gave me a certain freedom I never felt on the computer. It was just one less thing to worry about.

Instead of making sure I was hitting goals, I was able to fully focus on the story. The characters and plot were in control, not some arbitrary number. And any time I did think about my word count, it was more out of curiosity. How many words had I written?

I found my voice

Maybe this isn’t something directly related to handwriting my novel, but it’s something I noticed while I was writing. My writer’s voice came out.

When I was writing my first book, I had this nagging feeling the whole time that the writing was bland. While some passages were quite good in my opinion, I think my instincts were right. I hadn’t developed my own unique voice.

This time was different, and, as I said, I don’t know if it was the handwriting or just my own growth as a writer, my writing voice came out. The prose is distinct and adds to the atmosphere of the book, rather than just being words that describe what’s happening.

The reason I suspect it might be related goes back to the natural way in which the words seem to flow. The overthinking and habitual distractions weren’t present, so the voice could come out unhindered.

Editing is for the second draft

I wrote about this before, but handwriting seemed to quiet my inner editor. There was not much I could do after writing a scene but take note of something I wanted to be changed. I couldn’t fixate on it or waste time trying to get it right the first time.

A first draft doesn’t have to get it right. That’s what editing is for. But editing should be saved for after the first draft is complete.

I found when I was writing my first draft of my first book that allowing myself the freedom to edit as I went cut off the “flow” of the story. I’d get disconnected from what was happening with the characters, too focused on making sure the writing was perfect.

Now I have a complete(ish) story with full character arcs. The writing isn’t perfect, but at least it’s all there. Getting it from the notebook onto my computer has been acting as a first-pass edit to make sure all the scenes and characters are fully fleshed out before I delve into the heavy-duty editing.

Drafting was actually fun

My first novel was an important step in my writing life, but I didn’t have much fun drafting it. I was too caught up in the pressures of making sure it was “The Book” because I was so sure it was going to be published. Ha!

This time, I’d found a story that I wanted to tell⎯a story with a great amount of heart in it, and I let the passion fuel the drafting process. And it was fun.

New ideas were exciting, connections I made within the plot were deliciously clever, and sitting down to write didn’t feel like a chore. Because I was writing freely, in a way that felt natural to me, the pressure didn’t seem to be so important anymore.

Yes, I wanted the book at the end to be publishable, but the process felt so much more like me, so I let myself relish in it.


If you, like me, were/are struggling to get into the groove, maybe try a different method. Most writers hoard notebooks like dragons, don’t they? At least I do. It’s a simple method and doesn’t require any technology, besides a pen.

Of course, the way I write won’t be exactly right for everyone. Every writer needs to find their own unique process. But this experiment has been a success for me.

What I’m Learning this Month

I feel like I’m prefaced so many thoughts and sentences with the phrase: “with everything that’s going on…” But, it’s no less relevant or true. So many things are happening everywhere and it’s impossible not to be affected by it.

This is the time of month when I would share the list of books I’m reading at the moment, but I think this one needs to be different. Especially with everything that’s going on right now.

I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes my reading list is not the most diverse. It’s certainly not on purpose, but in the past, I haven’t made a concerted effort to be inclusive and diverse in my reading choices. All the protests and activism and sharing of resources and information have acted as a bit of a wake up call for me. So, starting now I’m making a commitment to read more diverse authors and diverse stories.

Better late than never, right?

So that leads me to this post. I wanted to do something that highlights and amplifies black voices, both fiction and nonfiction. I’m not including my thoughts this time, just the blurbs from their Goodreads pages so you can fully know and understand what the book is about. This is the list of books I’m currently reading or will be reading in the near future…

Non-Fiction

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

In 2014, award-winning journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge wrote about her frustration with the way that discussions of race and racism in Britain were being led by those who weren’t affected by it. She posted a piece on her blog, entitled: ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ that led to this book.

Exploring issues from eradicated black history to the political purpose of white dominance, whitewashed feminism to the inextricable link between class and race, Reni Eddo-Lodge offers a timely and essential new framework for how to see, acknowledge and counter racism. It is a searing, illuminating, absolutely necessary exploration of what it is to be a person of colour in Britain today.

The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power by Desmond Cole

A bracing, provocative, and perspective-shifting book from one of Canada’s most celebrated and uncompromising writers, Desmond Cole. The Skin We’re In will spark a national conversation, influence policy, and inspire activists.

In his 2015 cover story for Toronto Life magazine, Desmond Cole exposed the racist actions of the Toronto police force, detailing the dozens of times he had been stopped and interrogated under the controversial practice of carding. The story quickly came to national prominence, shaking the country to its core and catapulting its author into the public sphere. Cole used his newfound profile to draw insistent, unyielding attention to the injustices faced by Black Canadians on a daily basis.

Both Cole’s activism and journalism find vibrant expression in his first book, The Skin We’re In. Puncturing the bubble of Canadian smugness and naive assumptions of a post-racial nation, Cole chronicles just one year—2017—in the struggle against racism in this country. It was a year that saw calls for tighter borders when Black refugees braved frigid temperatures to cross into Manitoba from the States, Indigenous land and water protectors resisting the celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday, police across the country rallying around an officer accused of murder, and more.

The year also witnessed the profound personal and professional ramifications of Desmond Cole’s unwavering determination to combat injustice. In April, Cole disrupted a Toronto police board meeting by calling for the destruction of all data collected through carding. Following the protest, Cole, a columnist with the Toronto Star, was summoned to a meeting with the paper’s opinions editor and informed that his activism violated company policy. Rather than limit his efforts defending Black lives, Cole chose to sever his relationship with the publication. Then in July, at another police board meeting, Cole challenged the board to respond to accusations of a police cover-up in the brutal beating of Dafonte Miller by an off-duty police officer and his brother. When Cole refused to leave the meeting until the question was publicly addressed, he was arrested. The image of Cole walking out of the meeting, handcuffed and flanked by officers, fortified the distrust between the city’s Black community and its police force.

Month-by-month, Cole creates a comprehensive picture of entrenched, systemic inequality. Urgent, controversial, and unsparingly honest, The Skin We’re In is destined to become a vital text for anti-racist and social justice movements in Canada, as well as a potent antidote to the all-too-present complacency of many white Canadians.

Fiction

*Note: I think reading fiction is just as important for gaining perspective and connection as reading Anti-Racist non-fiction, which is why I’m including more in this section.

A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow

Tavia is already at odds with the world, forced to keep her siren identity under wraps in a society that wants to keep her kind under lock and key. Never mind she’s also stuck in Portland, Oregon, a city with only a handful of black folk and even fewer of those with magical powers. At least she has her bestie Effie by her side as they tackle high school drama, family secrets, and unrequited crushes.

But everything changes in the aftermath of a siren murder trial that rocks the nation; the girls’ favorite Internet fashion icon reveals she’s also a siren, and the news rips through their community. Tensions escalate when Effie starts being haunted by demons from her past, and Tavia accidentally lets out her magical voice during a police stop. No secret seems safe anymore—soon Portland won’t be either.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.

Now we rise.

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.

The Book of Negros by Lawrence Hill

Based on a true story, “The Book of Negroes” tells the story of Aminata, a young girl abducted from her village in Mali aged 11 in 1755, and who, after a deathly journey on a slave ship where she witnesses the brutal repression of a slave revolt, is sold to a plantation owner in South Carolina, who rapes her. She is brought to New York, where she escapes her owner, and finds herself helping the British by recording all the freed slaves on the British side in the Revolutionary War in The Book of Negroes (a real historical document that can be found today at the National Archives at Kew).Aminata is sent to Nova Scotia to start a new life, but finds more hostility, oppression and tragedy. Separated from her one true love, and suffering the unimaginable loss of both her children who are taken away from her, she eventually joins a group of freed slaves on a harrowing odyssey back to Africa, and ends up in London as a living icon for Wilberforce and the other Abolitionists. “The Book of Negroes” is a pageturning narrative that manages to use Aminata’s heart-rending personal story to bring to life a harrowing chapter in our history.


Of course, this is a tiny amount of the books by black authors out there. But, hopefully this gives you a jumping off point for your own more diverse reading list, as it is for me.

If you’d like a more extensive list of anti-racist books, the UofT library released a fairly decent list. Take a gander if you’d like. And there are so many more lists like it you can find everywhere now. Just a wee bit of Googling will get you there.

Happy reading!

P.S. Not all of the books on this list are pictured because a) they’re on the Kindle or b) they haven’t arrived in the mail yet.

Why I’m NOT Going to Age-Down my Novel

Could a coming-of-age or finding-yourself narrative still apply to me?

At 27-years-old I still feel like I’m solidifying my identity, I’m still filled with self-doubt, I’m still trying to find my place in the world. The internal struggles I’m facing in my late (-cringe-) twenties aren’t actually that much different from what I struggled with in my late teens or early twenties. I suspect my youthful ignorance actually left me feeling more confident about my abilities/identity than I feel now.

When I think of adult genres, especially contemporary or literary fiction, I think of characters who are established in their careers, perhaps they have some love troubles, but their life seems to be fairly settled until the events of the novel stir things up a little.

But where are the messy twenty-somethings? What about the people who still need to do a little⎯or maybe a lot⎯of soul-searching?

This is what my most recent book kind of deals with. My protagonist is a 22-year-old who’s never taken a risk and thinks herself satisfied with her quiet existence, though she secretly is terrified of mundane existence and wishes for some magic. In essence, her life needs a wake-up call and for her “real” life to start, she’s going to need to find the magic in herself.

I know this story. It’s an over-exaggeration of my own inner struggles. And I can’t be the only twenty-something who feels this way. Could I?


I’ve received feedback from two other writers who suggested my book might work better as a MG (middle grade). It’s not a completely ridiculous suggestion; the writing is fairly whimsical and it’s a fantastical adventure story with magic books and antique clocks.

But, why do kids ages 8-12 get the monopoly on whimsical fantasy stories?

I know there are YA/Adult aged stories with a whimsicality and lots of magic… Neil Gaiman, Alice Hoffman, and Dianna Wynne Jones have done it. And I’d like to do it too.

Maybe I’m mistaken, but I feel like there’s this idea in the YA genre that a book has to be dark, gritty, and tough in order to be good. At least, that’s what I’ve noticed with a lot of popular YA books in the last 5-10 years. With the immensely popular Hunger Games series and the Shadow Hunters and books where everyone is a fairy assassin or at least a little murder-y.

Could there be space in there for a slightly lighter⎯though still a tiny bit murder-y⎯fantasy book?

I think so.

There’s a reason books like Alice in Wonderland, Anne of Green Gables, The Hobbit, and many others like it are still enjoyed today by all ages. There’s a timelessness to them and a desire, perhaps, for a little bit of light and whimsy to contrast with harsh realities.

Sure, Alice in Wonderland is a kids book, but it’s not just enjoyed by children. Anne of Green Gables was, in fact, not written with children in mind, though the writing is quite whimsical and the subject matter is light and happy.

So I’m not going to age-down my novel because I see no need for it.

Maybe my book won’t fit with what’s trendy right now, but I love it. I enjoy the lightness of the writing style and the fact that my main character isn’t angry all the time and wants to kill everyone that looks at her funny.

Let me have my whimsy. I think the world needs more of it!

… That was a lot of the word “whimsical” in one post.”