Friday, March 30, 2018

9 Year Old Rock n Rollers

My First Guitar

As far back as I can recall, I loved guitars.  I remember when I was 5 or 6 years old, visiting a lady with my family and seeing a beautiful guitar she had behind her couch, and feeling a desperate ache in my middle, because I wanted to play it so bad.  I knew I would not be allowed, so I never asked, but I clearly remember how badly I wanted to play that instrument. I would not have been able to, but that didn't stop me from wanting to.

When I was 7 years old, at Christmas time (that would have been 1966), I got a plastic toy electric guitar. It looked really cool to me, and it had 6 plastic strings, keys to tune them with, and frets. It didn't sound like much but you could actually play chords on it.  It even came with a book that told you how to play two songs.

I think I mostly strummed it, pretending to play it as a rock guitarist for the first few months. But my sister also had one that looked like a regular acoustic guitar, and about the time I would have been turning 8, my older brother picked up her guitar, read the little booklet and played both songs.  I was horrified! I was supposed to be the guitar player, not him! (He was 7 years older than me, so he would have been 15, while I was nearly, or just barely, 8 years old.)

So, I got my older sister to help me figure out the booklet, and I played my two songs.  This was the same sister that helped me figure out the booklet that came with my harmonica when I was 6, the younger of my two older sisters. She would have been 11.

Once I had played those two songs, I started looking for more songs I could play.  My mother had bought a guitar book called "Alfred's Basic Guitar Method - Volume 1".  It had their famous, patented magic chord chart in the back cover.  This had the three major chords, three minor chords, and a handful of extra chords for every key.  I understood how tones and semitones and scales worked (I'd figured it out without lessons) and now I began to get the math and concepts behind transposing.  That back page of the book was my teacher!

Note: Alfred's Basic Guitar method books can still be bought, but they removed the magic chord chart. You have to buy it separately. I suspect that music teachers wanted it out because their students could learn without their help with that included.

With 5 siblings, and all but one of them older than me, I knew I would never get lessons, so when I wanted to play an instrument, and was lucky enough to get my hands on one, I taught myself.

Whatever song I heard on the radio and loved, I'd teach myself. I taught myself a ton of hymns, all the scout songs my oldest brother was bringing home, folk songs I knew, and whatever rock songs caught my fancy.  "Paint it Black" by the Rolling Stones, "Craquelin Rose" by Neil Diamond (I know, not age appropriate, but I didn't care, I loved the song), Shilo (also Neil Diamond), and many others.

I looked, but couldn't find a picture on the internet that matched either my toy guitar or my sister's, so no pictures with this one.

I Get a Real Guitar

Before the year was up, a friend's mother came over and sat on the toy guitar that I'd left on the couch.  I was devastated, but in the meantime, my parents had found some really inexpensive guitars in the Sears bargain basement.  They were from a company called "AGS" which stood for "American General Supply" and I recall they were sold for $10.50. Back then, that was probably the equivalent of a $75 low-end beginner's guitar like what you'd get at London Drugs today.

By this time, my mother knew I could actually play the instrument, so she told me I could use her guitar.

I still remember my first time trying to play it. My little fingers were used to the soft, relatively loose, plastic strings of my toy guitar. This real guitar had steel, relatively high-tension strings that hurt my fingers like mad.  I remember only being able to play for 5 minutes the first few times, before I had to stop, and I remember bawling a bit, cause I wanted to keep playing so bad, but my fingers hurt too much!  I was probably still 8 years old, but I had (and still have) a stubborn streak.  I'd pause, lick and blow on my poor, burning fingers, and then go back to more playing. I think it only took me a few weeks to toughen up my fingers.

Me at 13 years old, with my AGS guitar, in Mission, BC.


My Best Friend

I actually had two best friends, and had real trouble figuring out which one to choose between on occasion.  One of them was a boy my age from a family that my family was friends with. They lived down Jubilee street, and it was his mom who sat on my toy guitar.

The other was a boy I met on the first day of grade 1 (I didn't go to kindergarten, so that was my first day away from my parents.)

Steve and I walked home, and Steve invited me into his house. In there, he sat down in front of their cabinet record player, put a reel-to-reel tape on, and played and recorded a song off of one of his Beatles albums. I was amazed that he was allowed to touch the expensive cabinet (I'd have been killed for trying at 6), but loved the music. Steve and I shared a love of music, especially the Beatles!

Little Rock n Rollers

So, that brings me to being a 9 year old boy, who had taught himself to play Harmonica, Recorder and Guitar, without any lessons, and could play just about any song by ear.

That year, Steve and I got the idea that we'd form a rock band and play our favourite songs.  Steve had got hold of a second-hand acoustic guitar and had strung the first 3 strings on it.  I was impressed that he could pick the lead part out. I was a rhythm guitarist, and just played chords.  I was also impressed because I was convinced he sounded like Paul McCartney (but 9 years old...)

His little brother wanted to play along, so I took two aluminum meat-pie tins, put some pigeon feed in, and stapled edges together. I gave him that for a maraca. I only think he joined us once or twice, but I do recall wanting to include him.

Our first song was "Get Back" by the Beatles.  Our second song was "Hey Jude", also by the Beatles.  We sang a lot of Beatles songs.  Somewhere, Steve thinks they may have a tape or two of us singing. I'd love to hear it if he could find one.

I do remember getting us to sing "Sloop John B." by the Beach Boys, because I loved it so much (the folk musician in me, coming out!)

At one point we had a drummer and a handful of extra vocalist, and I recall Steve's mom took a picture of us all singing.

I remember us playing in Steve's garage one time, with the neighborhood kids riding their bikes around us.

Still Rockin' in the Free World!

I went on to play for my scout troop, my various churches, youth groups, seniors homes, and recently, my cub scouts and bible study group.  I still love all kinds of music.

Steve, meanwhile went on to playing real gigs, and still does so. Recently he created an album, mastered at Abbey Road Studios, with over 22,000 downloads on Spotify.  His album is available on Spotify, on CD and on Vinyl, through is web site http://www.stevejensenmusic.com

You can find Steve's Spotify account with this search:
https://open.spotify.com/search/albums/steve%20jensen

I often listen to his album on my way to or from work, on the Skytrain, and find it really relaxing and fun to listen to. (Warning, there's one song "Really Nice Person" with explicit lyrics.) 

I'll leave you with one of his music videos, featuring many lower-mainland locations, including the old Gastown Steam Clock, called "Walking Back Home":



Sunday, January 14, 2018

Amazon Ads for my book - It Actually Worked!

Previous posts about this book:
I've Self-Published a Story
Using Facebook Promotions to Advertise an Amazon book
Amazon Ads for my Book

The last post on this topic I mentioned my reservations about Amazon ads, but finally, on looking at it decided to give it a try. With Amazon, you can set a daily budget, and between that and the duration, I knew I could control the costs.

So I setup a campaign to start the first weekend of December and run through to Christmas Day, with a maximum cost per click of .25 and a daily budget of $2.00. I was willing to lose that much money for the exercise.  I chose a sponsored products ad campaign and let Amazon automatically choose the keywords. I was convinced that their algorithms were probably better than any guesswork on my part, so I left it to them. I suspect that was a good idea. 

I learned a number of things from this. 

Amazon bids on ads, like mine, that have been activated and put out there.  If they bid on you, they will put you on pages that they feel, based on the ad's keywords are a good fit.  Every time they put you on someone's web page, that's called an impression.  You don't pay for impressions. You pay if someone clicks onto your page, whether they buy or not.

It started on Sunday December 3rd, mid-afternoon. The ad went live in the evening and had over 30,000 impressions by morning.  By the end of Monday, we were at about 80,000 impressions, and I had a few sales in the bag.

By end of day Tuesday, I was at 90,000 impressions. But then it slowed down. By end of the week I was stalled at 100,000 impressions.  I suspect as we moved into the holiday season, Amazon was focusing their bids on high-priced, high-demand items (they are a business, after all.) Impressions practically dried right up!

The interesting thing is they were still under $3.00 cost for the campaign. I had a daily limit of $2.00 but they weren't even coming close to it on any day. So I decided to up the anti.  I increased my per-click maximum to .50 and my daily budget to $6.00.  This resulted in getting more impressions, but still very slow. Sales picked back up.  I also extended the campaign to end of the first week of January, figuring that kids with new eBooks would be loading them with books during the holidays.  Most kids in Canada, and many in North America were off for the first week of January, so this made sense.

Middle of the week after Christmas, impressions began to climb and I got a bunch more sales.

At the end, my total spend on this campaign was under $20.00.  My royalties due for these sales are more than double that, so I'm ahead of the game.

The other interesting thing is, that although the ad campaign focused on the eBook, a lot of purchasers went to the paperback version and bought it, instead.

And finally, my original goal was to sell a dozen through this learning exercise. I sold 18 (of which 4 were paperbacks bought by me) so I'm ahead of my original goal.

Takeaways from this exercise:

  1. Don't try to compete with big business close to Christmas (my next story will not be a Christmas story)
  2. Don't be afraid to have a higher daily budget - you probably won't spend it anyways.
  3. Amazon ads can work - you need a good product that's well positioned.
Thus endeth the lesson!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Wolf Cub Field Trip - To Jail!

Can't remember what, but something brought this back to me today, so I thought I'd share this memory...

When I was 10 years old, I was a member of 1st Burnaby South-view Wolf Cub Pack, which met in Maywood School on Imperial street behind Simpson Sears (now Metrotown). Back then we were called wolf cubs, not cub scouts (I preferred being a wolf cub - much cooler!)  This was when the organization was still called Boy Scouts of Canada. Now it's co-ed and it's called Scouts Canada.

I believe it was very rare at that time, (Scouting in Canada not being co-ed yet) but my Akela was a woman, named Beth Reynolds.  Her son, Greg, was one of the other cubs.  It never phased me that my Akela was a woman, I was just glad to be a Wolf Cub, but I realize now that it was an unusual situation!

We did a lot of fun things when I was a cub, and as leaders today, we try to ensure that out little cubs get to have a lot of fun activities, too.

One of the things we did was a field trip to the Burnaby Police Station. I believe later that year it was torn down and a new building put up.  We were taken around and shown various parts of the building. I honestly can't recall much of it, but there was one part that stood out for me.

The officer that was taking us around got us to the area where the prisoners were kept. They had jails in there with metal bars and bunks.  This particular "ward" didn't have any prisoners at the time, or they would not have been able to bring us in there.  He opened the door to let us go in, which we all did, and started climbing all over the bunks.  There was probably about a dozen of us on this field trip, so we all fit.

Then, he closed the door and locked it, turned to my Akela, and told her "Okay, we can go talk in the staff room in peace!" and they walked away and left us there.  After the initial laughs and wails of "Hey! No fair!" or "I didn't do it! I'm innocent!", one of the boys grabbed the bars and started to chant "We want out!", so we all joined in.

After several minutes they came back and let us out.  They were teasing us (we do that with our cubs, too), but we knew we were safe. We would never have wanted to be in there for real!  That memory has stayed with me over the years! It's funny what stays with a child!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

What Does Christmas Mean to Me?

My family came from the Netherlands before any of us children, other than my oldest brother, were born, and he was just a baby.  When they came here, they adopted Canadian customs and traditions for holidays, including Christmas.  As a result, we grew up enjoying Christmas trees, presents, Santa Claus, Rudolph, Reindeer and more, much like any other child growing up in Burnaby would have done.

We did a few things that were unique to us:  We never hung up stockings. And we usually opened presents on Christmas eve.  Other than that, I think we were a pretty normal family in terms of Canadian Christmas celebrations.

Christmas 1965 - I was 6 years old
I don't recall ever thinking Santa was real.  I somehow understood that he was a fun game that parents played with their children, and that the stores were trying to use him to sell their goods. I also don't remember ever sitting on his knee, and I knew who my presents came from.

Me opening presents when I was 5
I do remember really loving the Christmas story. Someone would read all the key verses every year before we opened presents, and I loved our manger set.

Me at age 5 playing with the manger set - I liked to add my toy animals

I also loved it when my family would sing Christmas Carols.  We were all very musical, and we'd pull out the instruments and have a little mini-concert.

Family Christmas Music in Mission - Pretty sure I'm 12 here
Dad took the pictures

Antoon and I on recorders, Merina on Guitar (Big Bertha), Sylvia on Flute,
Mom on round-back mandolin

Better view of my mom on the round-back Mandolin - I have it now
Here is Away in a Manger, recorded by me (recently) on multiple instruments that we would have played when we were young, from my SoundCloud account. Click the play button to hear it:


When I was just seven years old, and was becoming an avid reader, I started reading stories in Reader's Digest books and in newspapers and other places. These stories told of the meaning of Christmas, or illustrated the spirit of Christmas.  I was too little to understand that the latter was God's Holy Spirit working in people's lives, but I do remember it clicked.  Somehow Santa really fell into the background, and it was much more about what God did in sending us Jesus.

I fell in love with the true meaning of Christmas that year, and I realized that St. Nicholas was a bit of a distraction from the real point.

In many European countries, there is a special day for Saint Nicholas, usually on Dec 6th.  This has the effect of clearly separating him from the day to celebrate Christ's first coming.  Unfortunately, in both the UK and in North America, we've combined the two.

I recently talked to my cubs about who St. Nicholas really was, and what Christmas really was about. There are things we know about him and things we can't validate, that are part of the legend and myth surrounding him.

Here are the historical facts we have about Bishop Nicholas of Myra:

Nicholas was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and
ships.  In many lands, St. Nicholas day is celebrated on December 6th, the date of his death.

So Nicholas was a devout Christian who followed the example and teaching of Christ. His example is a good one to follow in that respect and he's worthy of note, and maybe even a feast day, if that's your thing!

Some stories that circulate about him include a very consistent one in which he attempted to help a man whose wife had passed away (or was very sick) and several daughters. The result was gold coins in the stockings that the girls had hung to dry in their chimney (chimney's used to be big enough you could stand in the fireplace and you'd use it to cook or dry clothes.)  This drove the tradition of stockings for St. Nicholas day.  It has nothing to do with the Nativity story.

There are other stories about St. Nicholas that are a bit harder to verify. After his death, he is credited with rescuing a 12-year-old boy who was taken as a slave by Arab pirates from Crete, on the feast day of St. Nicholas. A year later, in answer to his mother's prayers, St. Nicholas miraculously rescued the boy and whisked him back to his home and his parents.  He's also credited with praying to God who miraculously raised 3 murdered children back to life in answer to his prayers (while he was still alive.)  While there are numerous sources of these stories that corroborate fairly well, there is no evidence supporting them.

He was an interesting character, as you can see, with lots of interesting facts and unverifiable legends, but even the historical facts clearly identify him as a person of faith and personal character, with a heart of giving and helping others.  While this is a good fit for the Christmas season, I still think it's a bit of a distraction.

The real point of Christmas, and the true gift of Christmas, is summarized in John 3:16.  God gave us his son, Jesus, born in a manger, announced to lowly shepherds, worshiped by foreign magicians and soothsayers. His son was not sent to drive our foreigners (Romans) from Israel, nor to be recognized by a sinful world as a key world figure, but to give his life to redeem us from sin. To free us from the tyranny of sin, made the tyranny of the Romans, or anyone or anything else, for that matter, immaterial! One day He will free us from all the rest, too, but for now, he has left us in this broken world to proclaim the message of the Gospel to broken people. The same message that the Angel of the Lord announced and a choir of angels sang many years ago, on the first Christmas day:

"For unto you is born, this day, in the City of David, a Saviour, who is Christ, The Lord!"

That's the true meaning of Christmas!

--------------------------------------

The Little Interpreter

Experience the joy and magic of the first Christmas story as experienced by two boys.  David is a young Jewish boy, living in Persia, learning to be a scribe, when the star first appears.  Adopted by one of the wise men when his father passed away, David goes as an interpreter for the wise men.  Thomas, a young shepherd boy, is there when the angel announces the Christ child. Almost two years later, he meets David and leads him and the wise men to the house of Joseph, Mary and Jesus in Bethlehem.  Along the way, David learns lessons about faith, and about accepting differences in all people who would worship the Christ child!

An excerpt from the story can be read on my author blog site:


The Kindle eBook or paperback can be bought at these English-language Amazon sites:
US Kindle and paperback
Canadian Kindle
Australian Kindle
UK Kindle and paperback



Sunday, November 26, 2017

John Denver's Music and My Love of the Outdoors

I grew up in a Scouting family, hearing stories from my brothers and my dad about camping and great hiking experiences, so it's no surprise that I got bit with the bug when just a little boy.

At first, I did my own adventures with my friends, riding bikes to ravines and patches of bush, where we'd play.  I joined the Wolf Cubs program of Boy Scouts of Canada when I was 10, and almost right away went on a camp in a cabin up on Mount Seymour.  Following this I did a camp at a park called Garibaldi Provincial Park. The southern part of it was separated and renamed Golden Ears Provincial Park soon after.

I"m climbing the flag pole at Camp Garibaldi - this became Golden Ears Park

At 11 years old, I did a linking camp, where older cubs like me got to join a Scout camp (with the big boys).  I went with a couple of my older friends from my pack, 1st Burnaby Southview (we met in Maywood School.)  I remember sitting on the beach on a log, and looking at those gorgeous mountains on the other side of the lake and dreaming of living up there in the trees.

Then, my family moved to Mission, BC when I was 12, late in the year. The following year, as I turned 13, I discovered that if I rode my bike up the hill, I was in those same mountains. There was a small lake that had a raft with a pole you could push it around with.  There were trails and rivers galore! I was in heaven!

About that time, an artist whose music I knew and liked, came out with an album that blew my mind.  It was a live recording of a concert, and it was called an evening with John Denver.  The songs he sang positively screamed what I felt about the mountains, and wildlife, and I fell in love with that music.  I promptly learned a bunch of songs on that album and can still play and sing them.
Me, behind Antoon and Mom in Mission - 13 years old - probably playing John Denver!
When I first went out with her, I used to serenade Loretta with some of his songs! Annie's Song, This Old Guitar, and Hey It's Good To Be Back Home Again" and many others, so these songs have another nostalgic angle for me!  I still sometimes play those songs for her, but haven't for a while...

I was saddened when I heard that he crashed his plane and died back in 1997, but I continue to enjoy his music, thankful for the joy of knowing his music, and growing up to it.

------

Check out my Christmas Story - an excerpt and links are available here:

Friday, November 17, 2017

Amazon Ads for My Book

Having tried out Facebook, I started reading up on Amazon.  You get a significant number of "impressions" which means your ad shows up on someones page on Amazon.com, but don't have to pay until they click on your link. What you pay for that suggests that you need to get a sale for every 5 clicks, based on my current price, but that's not happening for most authors.

Targeting is key, but those who do the targeting indicate it takes a long time to make it work, and it works better for a series.

So Amazon marketing is off the list for me. 

About my Story

Experience the joy and magic of the first Christmas story as experienced by two boys.  David, a young Jewish boy is living in Persia, learning to be a scribe, when the star first appears.  David had been adopted by one of the wise men, Gaspar, when his father had passed away, and goes as an interpreter for the wise men.  Thomas, a young shepherd boy, is there when the angel announces the Christ child. Almost two years later, he meets David and leads him and the wise men to the house of Joseph, Mary and Jesus in Bethlehem.  Along the way, David learns lessons about faith, and about accepting differences in all people who would worship the Christ child!

Major English-language Amazon sites:

Monday, November 13, 2017

Using Facebook Promotions to advertise an Amazon book

Well, I paid a mere $7.00 to Facebook to promote my book, to see what would happen.

I had a pretty good idea that Facebook would not do that well, especially after looking at my options:

I was not able to constrain my age range below 13 as that's the youngest that Facebook will let you manage a page or open an account.  So right there, they are wrong for my demographic.  I could only do Canada, as broadening the geographic range would make it more expensive than the experimental nature warranted, especially given the incorrect demographic, but the paperback is only printed in the US and UK so there's no free shipping, regardless how many your buy, so only the eBook is even a rough candidate.

In the end, they reached 329 people (actually pretty good reach for $7.00), of which only 8 clicked on the link (about $1.00/click) and only one shared the post.  Clicking on the link meant they clicked on the Facebook post that had further links out.

Unfortunately, I know who some of the clickers are, so they would have done so from other sources, too, so a couple of those 8 clicks can be scratched, as they are meaningless.

All in all, if I ever want to sell something compelling to the general public, 13 and older, in Canada, Facebook is a great option! For my children's Christmas story, not so much...

So, my next step is to start digging into Amazon Advertising to see what the options look like.