Monday, October 28, 2013

The Story of a Book

This is a story about a book. Not the story in the book (though that’s fascinating too), but the story of this book’s road to prominence on my shelf. If you ask most readers what their favorite novels are, they will say “Oh, there are so many. I couldn’t choose one.” I can: Not Wanted on the Voyage, by Timothy Findley. And here’s how that happened.

My grade eleven english teacher seriously intimidated me. Mr. Whitman, was flamboyant and haughty. I thought he hated me. He seemed to ooze disapproval. Most days he completely ignored me. When one of my short stories was published in the School District’s “Fledgelings” magazine he dragged me into his office and asked (with his glassed perched precariously on his nose) “So, young lady, how do you know so much about fox-hunting?”

“I researched it,” I said proudly. And I had. In these years before internet, I had spent hours in the library learning all the fox-hunting jargon.
Kim McDougall & Griffin
He’d smiled his Cheshire Cat smile and said, “You’ll be a wonderful writer when you write about what you know.” There’s a double-edged compliment for you. I left without another word.
Then one day, for no reason, he dropped Not Wanted on the Voyage on my desk and said, "You're going to love this book." I read it and didn't understand a word. I returned it to him, embarrassed and mumbling something about it being good. Mr. Whitman never offered another book or insight to me.

About five years later, I reread Not Wanted on the Voyage and fell in love with it from the first page of the prologue. Since then I have read it several times and I wonder, how did my teacher, who barely spoke to me, have such insight? Could it be possible that teachers pay more attention than egocentric teens realize? Shocking!

But Not Wanted on the Voyage isn’t my favorite novel just because of its brilliant prose or the strange way it came into my life. Every time I read this novel I am a different person. It makes me aware of my growth as a reader, as plainly as a child’s growth chart etched on a doorframe.

At age eighteen, I wrote a short story, Nomad’s Daughter. It was the first good thing I ever wrote, the first work that one of my teachers noticed and praised. It made me feel good about myself at the time and urged me to continue writing. Every few years I pull it out and reread it. I am reminded of how I have grown as a writer. At twenty-three, I scoffed at my juvenile attempts at literary prose. At twenty-eight, I rewrote it completely. At thirty-three, I decided the original wasn’t so bad, just heavy-handed.
I don’t pretend to compare Nomad’s Daughter with Not Wanted on the Voyage, but it serves the same yardstick purpose to my writing.
Come to think of it, might be time to reread both of them.

Here’s an excerpt from the prologue of Not Wanted on the Voyage by Timothy Findley


And Noah went in, and his sons, and his sons’ wives with him into the arc, because of the waters of the flood …
Genesis 7:7

Everyone knows it wasn’t like that. 

To begin with, they make it sound as if there wasn’t any argument; as if there wasn’t any panic—no one being pushed aside—no one being trampled —none of the animals howling —none of the people screaming blue murder. They make it sound as if the only people who waned to get on board were Doctor Noyes and his family. Presumably, everyone else (the rest of the human race, so to speak) stood off waving gaily, behind a distant barricade: SPECTATORS WILL NOT CROSS THE YELLOW LINE and THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION. With all the baggage neatly labeled: WANTED or NOT WANTED ON THE VOYAGE.
Timothy Findley

By the way, my story of this book doesn’t end with Mr. Whitman. Some years ago, I was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Findley at a Books and Breakfast reading at Montreal’s Ritz Carleton. I told him that I kept giving away my copies of his book, because I thought everyone should read it. He took my address and a few months later, I received a signed hard copy in the mail. Findley suffered from depression all his life. He signed it with his usual mantra, "Against Despair." I wonder if he reread his own work and held it up to that yardstick.

The Castelane blog will feature guest authors, artists and publishers, writing about marketing, publishing and the joys and angsts of the writing life. If you’d like to contribute to either the Castelane blog or the Knowledge Base, please contact us at

I’d also love to hear your experiences about your favorite books or interesting teachers. Feel free to post them here.

✍ Kim McDougall


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Authors Helping Authors

by Kim McDougall

My second greatest joy as an author is taking part in the online writing community. I say my second because my first, like any author is seeing my stories take flight in the world and be enjoyed by readers.
As authors, we all have this same goal in mind. We all want our books to succeed, win attention and make money. And yet, unlike other industries, authors don’t seem to compete against one another. Would a car dealership ever write a glowing review of another dealership? Probably not. Authors review other books all the time.

And it goes deeper than that. Since my first book was published, in 1999, I’ve had the pleasure of working with five publishers, three critique groups and uncountable blogs and author groups. Overwhelmingly, my experience in these forums has been positive. Authors help each other out by tagging books on Amazon, they give away their secret marketing ideas and they introduce others to their agents and editors. After all, just because a reader buys one book, doesn’t mean he won’t buy another. In fact, smart authors recognize that getting people to read in general will mean more readers for all authors. So we work together. We network in the best sense of the word.

On a personal level, the online community is a vital connection for an author whose world is often shrunk down to a keyboard. Authors helps other authors through personal crises, writing crises and even crises of faith. The kind when you’re feeling so bad about your new work in progress, you just want to chuck the whole eighty-thousand words and start over. Only another author can talk you off this ledge. Through writing, I now have friends in Australia, Canada, United States, South America, and Europe—people I’ve never met, face-to-face, but I consider close friends. It’s a strange new world we live in.

In 1999, I had been a neophyte, learning the mystifying rules of submission guidelines, finding my elusive voice and swallowing shyness to market myself. By 2009 I was something of an expert in my field of book trailers and I decided to give back to this community that had nurtured me. Like a good student— I wrote what I knew. I created Blazing Trailers, a site dedicated to books with video teasers. And I invited all authors to post a free promo page for their books. When I shut down Blazing Trailers earlier this year, we had over three thousand books listed. And I shut it down for a good cause. I wanted to create a site, bigger in scope. Not just book trailers, but a one-stop-shop for book marketing.

In July, I finally convinced my husband, Louis Chatel, to join me in creating this book marketing shop. Louis is a former marketing director and he’ll bring his expertise to the table as well as take on all those projects I’ve never had time for. The first ones are the new eCommerce site, this blog, and Facebook page and store. These are all works in progress with new features waiting to be added. Take a look around and let us know what you think.

The spirit of Blazing Trailers lives on at Castelane. I will never forget all the wonderful authors who got me this far. To them, I dedicate our FREE promo opportunities. Check out our knowledge base of articles on marketing, self publishing and writing, all written by authors who’ve been there, done that. This database is available to everyone. We will also be continuing with the FREE author promo pages for anyone who purchases our services. Take a peek HERE. Both these services are in their infancy but will grow quickly as we add more authors and articles every week.

And, yes, we have services for sale (who doesn’t?). But since I’m an author too, I understand how hard it is to spend marketing dollars you don’t have. Since I began making book trailers in 2007, I have always maintained low prices, with trailers starting at $200. Over the years, I’ve seen other companies inflate video previews into the thousands of dollars for the same, or inferior product. But authors helping authors don’t do that. I hope you’ll take a look at our services and sign up for our newsletter for updates on new offers.

The Castelane blog will feature guest authors, artists and publishers, writing about marketing, publishing and the joys and angsts of the writing life. If you’d like to contribute to either the Castelane blog or the Knowledge Base, please contact us at
I’d also love to hear your experiences with the online writing community. Feel free to post them here.

✍ Kim McDougall