Discouraging Volunteers

Libraries are always in need of more money, and volunteers who get together to raise funds on their behalf are known as Friends of the Library. In my town, the Friends have raised more than $120,000 for our libraries during the last 25 years.

There are Friends organizations across Canada and the US, but they are mostly unconnected. Each has its own approach to fundraisingbooksale. Our two big annual events are a puzzle sale in the early spring and a quiz night in the fall. Those aside, we have ongoing book sales and a range of other activities to raise money. Almost all our events are held in the main library itself.

The funds we raise go to buy furniture and equipment, special books and other needs, and our libraries (we serve three) have always been appreciative.

Until last year. Then, at the urging of their insurer, our library system informed us our members must submit to police background checks and fingerprinting or we would not be covered in the event of an accident or lawsuit. In other words, if a member of the public hurt his or her back while picking up a puzzle, we would be liable. Likewise, if someone swallowed a pencil during Quiz Night.

Now, my first reaction to this was, Who would think of doing such a thing? Who would be so churlish as to sue one or all of a group of well-meaning volunteers? But that’s not the right reaction these days. Such people do exist and our members, many of whom are retired, were unamused at the prospect of being put at risk by their voluntarism.

The library subsequently removed its demand for background checks and fingerprinting—but also said it couldn’t afford to insure us. Casting about for a way out of this dilemma (while thinking black thoughts about those who bite the hand that feeds them) we hit on a solution: we could become a society and purchase our own insurance. This would cost about $500 annually, money that would otherwise have gone to the library.

It would also require time and effort on the part of our executive committee. There are legal implications and obligations to becoming a society, and questions to be answered before we can make a decision, and so we have had to cancel our normal summer fund-raisers until these matters can be resolved.

Which brings me to my question: Why would anyone want to discourage free help? It’s hard tvolunteero find a downside to people volunteering their time and energy free of charge to help the organization of their choice. It’s good for the organization, good for the volunteers and good for society. Volunteers help keep down costs and enable entities to spend money elsewhere.

When society makes it hard for people to volunteer their time, we all lose. It’s immaterial who puts up the impediments: unions or management, insurers or government bureaucrats. By discouraging the natural and healthy impulse to donate our time and energy to good causes, they are robbing our communities and our society.

As to our Friends organization, I’m sure we’ll figure out something to do. But we’ve already had to expend time and energy on these completely unproductive side issues just so that we can go back to doing what we wanted to do in the first place: raise money to help out the library.

Return to Kaitlin: Goodreads Giveway

I had a lot of fun with a giveaway for my last book, The Money Tree. This time, the contest runs until publication day, after which ten lucky readers will receive a free copy. Sign up on Goodreads.


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Return to Kaitlin by Helen Yeomans

Return to Kaitlin

by Helen Yeomans

Giveaway ends June 15, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to Win

Return to Kaitlin: ready for review

With publication day coming up (way too fast, if you ask me) on June 15, I’ve been busy mailing out advance copies and ebooks of Return to Kaitlin. I’m hoping to gain reviews in newspapers and industry magazines, on GoodReads, and also on book-review blogs.

After publication day, reviews can also appear on the retailer sites like Amazon, B&N, Indigo, etc.

Here’s the Factsheet on Return to Kaitlin. If you’re interested in reviewing my new novel, please email me at: info (at) helenyeomans.com. Hoping to hear from you soon :)

Review: Medicine Walk –by Richard Wagamese

Medicine Walk by Richard WagameseI loved Medicine Walk. It takes place in the interior of British Columbia, in the northern Nechako region. It’s the story of a teenager, Frank, an angry 16-year-old who knows nothing of his mother and has been let down again and again by his drunkard father, Eldon. Frank lives with an old man on a farm, and has learned both farming and the ways of the land. Called into town to see his father, he finds him dying and anxious to be taken to the high country to be buried.

On the journey he finally unburdens himself of his past life, of Frank’s grandmother, his mother, and the old man. There is anger and bitterness and ultimately, forgiveness.

I’m a sucker for “make and do” books, so I loved the trail aspect of Medicine Walk, learning how to catch fish without a rod, edible flora, and how to face down a grizzly bear (that’s what you have to do, incidentally. Never turn and run: it doesn’t work).

I liked Frank very much. He’s one competent young Indian, understandably filled with anger at his father, but also the beneficiary of love and steadfastness from the old man who raised him. And the prose is a pleasure to read, tangible and almost crunchy. This is a good book.

My rating: 4 stars

On Amazon

Review: . . . And the Whippoorwill Sang –by Micki Pelosi

whippoorwillSpanning more than fifty years, …And the Whippoorwill Sang is Micki Pelosi’s memoir of family life. Married at 17, she and her husband Butch raised their six kids on a shoestring, living mostly in the eastern US.

What sets this memoir apart is the warmth and wit of its author, who paints a wonderful picture of family life, and whose husband and children come across as unique and memorable individuals. But there is a tragedy interwoven into the chronicle: one of the children is struck by a drunk driver and lingers in intensive care for ten terrible days. This ordeal is related in stages through the chronological story.

I was unable to purchase …And the Whippoorwill Sang in book form in Canada, so I bought the Kindle version, something I don’t as a rule do because I have to sit at my computer to read it on a Kindle for PC. This turned out to be no hardship because the book was so easy to read. It is a wonderful, sometimes hilarious, story of life back in the sixties and seventies, and a poignant memoir of love and loss.

My rating: 5 stars

On Amazon

Whose Land Is It, Anyway?

A few years ago, I needed a filler job to pay the bills, so I hired on at a local customer service call centre. I was assigned to a contract for Highly Personal printers. My job was to help people who phoned in with problems or questions about their printers.

One day I took a call from a woman in the Bronx, Vera by name. Vera was Jewish, she told me, and wrote and produced a newsletter for Kurds.

The Middle East
I’ve always had a soft spot for the Kurds. They were never given any land of their own, back in the early 20th century when Europeans were dividing up the Middle East. The Kurds were pushed from pillar to post, but they never stopped trying for a peaceful settlement with Iraq, or Iran or Turkey or Syria, or whomever. And Vera wrote a newsletter about this and about the people.

We had a good chat about the Kurds, and after we had put in Vera’s order for a replacement printer and were waiting for the confirmation and shipping details, I asked if I could ask her a question. Sure, she said (actually, “shuah”—she’s from the Bronx).

“So . . . what do you think about Israel, Vera? I mean, is that a good thing?” I’d never been able to decide if carving out a Jewish state in the Middle East was wise, even if it was eminently understandable in the aftermath of the Holocaust.

Vera was silent for a bit. “You know,” she said at last, “every square foot of land on earth was owned by someone else at one time or another.”

The confirmation for her printer shipment came through at that point, so we said goodbye soon after. But I’ve often reflected on that observation, and it resonates whenever I re-read one of my favorite books, John MacNab.

I revisit this novel every few years, usually in August, the time of year in which the story takes place. It’s a light read and highly entertaining. It isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I love it because it’s set in Scotland and because I’ve been stalking there, so I know how hard that pastime is.

The story was written by John Buchan of Thirty-Nine Steps fame. It is one of his lesser-known books, a delightful tale of three eminent gentlemen who decide to turn to poaching to relieve their boredom. To up the ante slightly, they inform the owners of the three estates chosen for their depredations that John MacNab will collect a stag or a salmon from the estate between certain specified dates, thus assuring themselves of a warm welcome.

In short, John MacNab is Buchan’s way of exploring land rights. One of the substories concerns the discovery of ancient Norse ruins on one of the estates, ruins indicating that a thousand years earlier the land was owned and occupied by one Harald Blacktooth. In another substory a young woman tells her young man that no one should have the right to just sit on their property collecting rents; that ownership must be justified, not once but regularly, so that no owner can take his property for granted.

Buchan was Governor General of Canada during the thirties, and I sometimes wonder what his views on Indian land rights might have been. This is a subject that may underpin a sequel to my new book Return to Kaitlin, so I’ve been researching the question over the past few weeks. More on the subject down the road.


Review: The Orenda –by Joseph Boyden

The Orenda by Joseph BoydenThe Orenda has riveting characters and a fascinating portrayal of village life. I loved the Iroquois girl, Snow Falls, and the Huron chief, Bird. I was less enchanted with the Jesuit, Christophe, though one couldn’t doubt his sincerity and depth of belief. The story, it has to be said, is also bloodsoaked and brutal, and is hard reading at times. I’m not sure why Boyden felt it necessary to go into such detail. Was it that torture was integral to the Indian way of life? I preferred reading about the three sisters (corn, beans and squash, the staple diet), and the village long houses.

At one point, Christophe says that the Indians in their leggings, with furs draped over one shoulder, remind him of the ancient Greeks with their togas. That image may remain with me.

My rating: 5 stars

On Amazon

Review: The Silent Wife –by A.S.A. Harrison

silentwifeJodi and Todd have been together for twenty years when over the space of a few months he leaves her for another woman and, as we learn on page two of The Silent Wife, she proceeds to turn into a killer.

Todd is an entrepreneur who gentrifies old buildings, Jodi is a psychologist and they have a waterfront condo in Chicago. The story is told in alternating chapters of Him and Her, and my sympathies veered from one character to the other, finally settling reluctantly between them both. A well-told story.

My rating: 4 stars

On Amazon

Finding the Right Book Cover

I’m an ignoramus when it comes to art. I can’t even claim to know what I like: sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t.

Today I like Mona

Today I like Mona

This was a problem when it came to my latest book, Return to Kaitlin. I had no idea, none at all, what the cover should look like.

I’ve been fortunate in the past, having had my first two books designed by a colleague, Felix Ferreiro, with whom I’ve worked on nonfiction projects for years. I supplied the words, he supplied the graphics. But Felix wasn’t available for this book, and so I set out to find a new graphic artist.

LinkedIn was a good starting point: I’m a member of several writing groups there, and found names of two or three artists in a discussion on covers. Searching the internet for “book covers” produced some names, certainly, but most looked to be far too expensive for my means. At the other end of the scale, I tried a designer on fiverr, a marketplace that offers just about anything you might want for five dollars.

I also found a really useful resource compiled by BookBuzz, a directory of book cover designers. Several designers looked very good to me, and their prices turned out to be competitive. I nearly took the plunge and went with one of them, then panicked and got cold feet: what if he didn’t come up with anything I liked?

A friend had mentioned 99designs and crowdspring, both of which offer a range of prices. I checked them out and liked the concept: you submit a brief, which is presented on a member bulletin board where everyone and his dog can submit designs. That way, you get lots of choices. But will they be good choices? And will they provide the finished art to your specifications?

I decided to stop messing about and take the plunge, and because I’d been hit by the devalued Canadian dollar when it came time to pay my US editor, I went with 99design.ca, which took the worry out of that particular aspect by quoting in Canadian dollars. I chose their low-end package, $299. I posted my brief, consisting of a description of the book and a blurb (the cover copy). I added a full synopsis, which many of the designers dumped onto the back cover, slightly startling since I had intended it for reference only.

Anyway, the trickle began and within three days had become a flood. These contests are time-sensitive: designers have only four days (as I recall) to submit a design, and it’s my job to winnow out the ones I definitely don’t like. I found this incredibly hard to do. In the first place, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. In the second, these clever artists from all over the world were submitting art for my book. I wanted to kiss them. Most of them, anyway. A couple of offerings were quite easy to reject. But the entries ultimately totaled 94, and I had to resort to polls, and to buttonholing friends and forcing them to make a choice and tell me why, before I could reach a decision.

I wish I could display the shortlisted entries. They were all good, all quite different. But two seemed especially striking from the start. They had similar colors, but the first had a silhouette of a roughneck (which seemed appropriate: my novel was titled The Roughneck until very recently) and the second, an image of a young man. And because Return to Kaitlin is about a young man, that’s the cover I ultimately chose (you can see it on the book page, here). It was not the popular choice: the roughneck entry had by far the most five-star awards in the polls. But it was the most appropriate choice and I think it will linger in the mind.

The designer, Ivan Zanchetta, is my new best friend. ;) He read between the lines of my brief and found the central character’s vulnerability. And he provided final art for both LightningSource and CreateSpace, at no additional charge.

As for 99design, I can recommend them without reservation. Their customer service is always there and always helpful, and they run their contests with both sense and efficiency.

Review: Revival –by Stephen King

Revival by Stephen KingI’m a lapsed Stephen King fan. I read The Stand and Cujo and The Dead Zone when I was young but found Misery and The Shining too frightening. When I was looking for reading material for my vacation, I grabbed a Grisham and a King (Revival) and wondered at the time if the latter was a mistake.

It wasn’t. I enjoyed Revival no end. Jamie Morton, the hero, reminded me of the sweet-natured hero of The Dead Zone and he ends up carrying a similarly heavy burden, though it isn’t second sight. The story chronicles his life from childhood to the present, and the conclusion is both uncomfortable and thought-provoking. I had a hard time putting the book down, even though I was on a cruise, with plenty of distraction.

Jamie comes from a large happy family in (where else?) New England. Tragedy strikes, and in his late teens and twenties he has trouble dealing with it, and becomes a junkie. He’s saved by the minister from his home town, a man who lost his family early and has been on a quest to find a new source of electricity ever since, a source that can both heal and cure.

Working the religious carny circuit, the minister learns how to harness this power, and cures Jamie of his addiction, and others of assorted ailments and diseases. But he also extracts a pledge from Jamie, and compels him to honor it in a scene that has much of the horror that we associate with Stephen King.

Revival is a super read and I’m now a renewed King fan, with plenty of catching up to do.

My rating: 4 stars

On Amazon