Two book recommendations

Since I stopped keeping count of my monthly book reading, I’ve occasionally found myself composing short reviews of books I’m reading, only to remember that I’m not doing that anymore. Then I realised I COULD still do that if I wanted to.

The world is my oyster. The internet is my hamster ball. The Pompidou Centre was a ghastly mistake that had nothing to do with me.

So, in that spirit, here are two books I have read recently that are worth a look:

Moonwalking with Einstein

Journalism is often writing about something that other people are doing. Josh Foer went a step further when he covered the National Memory Championships in America – he accepted the challenge to train for the following year and compete. Along the way he investigates what memory is, how it works, whether it really can be improved, how it intersects with education, the historical memory versus the modern view, savantism… There’s really so much to this book it’s hard to nail it down.

I got my copy through Audible, which is great because it prevents me skipping paragraphs (something I’m prone to with non-fiction), but it makes it harder to bookmark great passages for later investigation. There are some hints and tips in the book for improving your own memory, but mostly it is a fascinating ride through the history of memory and Josh’s personal journey from reporting on the National Memory Championships to competing in them.

Whispers Under Ground

Whispers Under Ground (Peter Grant)

I picked the first of this series (Midnight Riot) from the paperback stand at my local library. It was great to find an Urban Fantasy book that wasn’t set in America and wasn’t fascinated by vampires or werewolves. Instead, these books follow Peter Grant, a young Detective Constable in the Metropolitan Police, as he stumbles across the arcane branch of the Met that deals with the Supernatural. Well, I say “branch”, but really it’s just Detective Inspector Nightingale. Nightingale takes Grant under his wing (ha! See what I did there?) and introduces him to the other side of London, while slowly coaching him in the art of magic. What’s refreshing about Grant is that he’s a modern guy who feels that doing magic is cool and fun, and he’s also a little bit scientific about the whole thing. When he discovers magic has a devastating effect on microchips, for example, he sets up a simple experiment to establish the range of the effect. He learns from mistakes, and he pushes at the boundaries placed on him by Nightingale. In short, he feels like a real person.

“Whispers” is the third in the series, and again I got it through Audible. The performance is excellent and the story manages to stay logical while still scampering through magic and legend. I just picked up the fourth one this week.

Fifth Anniversary : Looking forward and back

Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of our arrival in Canada. It seems funny to celebrate during the day, since we spent most of that day traveling, only emerging from the airport when it was already dark. In past years we have returned to the restaurant where we had our first meal out (Milestones on English Bay), we’ve had meals with friends, and we’ve completely missed the evening a couple of times too.

outgoings 021

Three Weasels arrive at Vancouver airport, March 9th 2009

This year the busy pace of life has meant our celebration meal is going to be postponed until Spring Break, a week away. I’ve found that, rather than looking back on our five years here, we all seem to be looking forward. Eldest Weasel is starting Grade 11, and making decisions about courses that will help her on to her plans for employment. Middle Weasel begins High School in September and is aiming high with the courses she’s planning to take. Tiny Weasel is struggling to overcome her focus issues (which I’ve tried to help her with, but I keep wandering off to do something else.)

Modern-day Weasels enjoying life in Canada with Mrs Dim and a minion

Modern-day Weasels enjoying life in Canada with Mrs Dim and a minion

Mrs Dim is enjoying her work, feeling positive about the direction it’s going, and I’ve found working at the library is the job I’ve been looking for all this time. We’re all looking ahead and enjoying where we are now.

The irony is, that while we’re doing this, we’re also sorting through cupboards and boxes in the house and trying to organise, which means scanning in photos and converting old VHS tapes to digital files. This has meant looking back in a big way, seeing pictures and film of family and friends, some of whom are long gone, and some of whom have simply slipped out of touch.

In this screenshot from family video, Gran Nichol and Gran Trasler chat at Eldest Weasel's Christening party.

In this screenshot from family video, Gran Nichol and Gran Trasler chat at Eldest Weasel’s Christening party.

Looking back is fun, and it’s important to preserve these memories and pass on the stories that go with them, so the people we have loved and lost are not forgotten. But looking back doesn’t prepare you for what’s on the way, so we’ll be watching the road ahead this year, so we don’t get thrown by unexpected bends.

The story of our emigration and first year in Vancouver is still on sale for the bargain price of $1.99 all through this month. You can find it at Amazon.com, Amazon.ca or Amazon.co.uk .

The question you should be asking yourself…

You’ve probably seen the chart above before, or one of the variants, allowing you to nail your personality type (as defined by Myers-Briggs) to some film character or other. This style of thing differs from the inane “Which character from ‘The Walking Dead’ are YOU?” quizzes because it has a purpose. Defining your personality type is supposed to help you get on in life. To understand a little more about why you act the way you do, how you tackle tasks and relationships.

As a Dad of three girls, I’ve been around for a few talks about hormones and the chaos they can cause in everyday life. Mrs Dim has explained that hormones can cause people to overreact, to get unaccountably angry or intolerant, but the key is they are not an excuse for bad behaviour. They may be behind it, but knowing the cause means we have the power to change the behaviour, to moderate it, or at least to leave the room before killing someone.

Looking around the internet at the types of  charts like this, I also see people finding them and shouting “Hey! I’m XYZ! That’s why I can’t concentrate for more than three minutes! Brilliant! Now I never have to…Oooh, SQUIRREL!”

The point is, learning what personality type you have is the beginning*. Knowing how you’re wired should help you work out how to get things done sensibly, not be a ticket to avoiding responsibilities. If you don’t deal well in situations that require you to think on your feet, you have to find a job that allows you to plan ahead, not use your ‘diagnosis’ to claim an exemption from those moments.

These thoughts are prompted by the run of working with Tiny Weasel as she struggles to keep up with her school work. Lacking focus, she dreams her way through the school day and returns home with a stack of things to finish. Somewhere, there’s a test we can take that will indicate how she could deal with this, and how we can help her. In the meantime, we’re trying patience and persistence. And occasionally, shouting in German.

 

 

 

 

*The geek in my head is giggling uncontrollably and saying in a Nimoy voice “Logic is only the beginning of wisdom, Valeris.” And I didn’t even have to look up that name. I need to get out more.

Prices rise and fall….

Next month I’m experimenting with price points by raising the cost of all my e-books. Except one.

It’ll be the fifth anniversary of our emigration on March 9th, so I thought I would drop the price of “The Great Canadian Adventure” for the whole month. It’s the true-life account of our first year, from the week before we flew out to the purchase of our house. I’ve tried to include helpful links and also added in material from my wife’s viewpoint to balance my own writing.

It’s currently available for $4.99 at Amazon, but will be down to just $1.99 from the 1st March.

Find it in the US HERE

in the UK HERE

and in Canada HERE

And if you’ve already got it, don’t forget to leave a review to warn… I mean, encourage other readers.

Celebrating failure

Don't get overwhelmed by the goals you set yourself....

Don’t get overwhelmed by the goals you set yourself….

My favourite Douglas Adams quote of all time refers to deadlines:

“I love deadlines, particularly the whooshing noise they make as they go by…”

For the #RomanceChallenge that I picked to kick off this year, I gave myself a tough deadline – I was going to write a 35,000 word novella between the end of January and Feb 14th (Since publishing a romance e-book on Valentine’s Day seemed like a good marketing move…)

I’d like to say my unexpected bout of Lassa Fever (or Bubonic Plague, Black Death or whatever…Clearly it wasn’t just FLU, that would be pathetic…) was the reason that the work is stalled at 10,000 words. Certainly it didn’t help to lose a fortnight, but since then, I’ve really had plenty of time to bang out the required wordage. I mean, I read Rachel Aaron’s excellent book on increasing your word count per day, and by that token I should be done and edited and published already.

I didn’t make enough progress to be done by the deadline, especially since there are many other domestic tasks to get done by the weekend, not least being Tiny Weasel’s birthday preparations. Now I have a choice. I can flip tables in frustration and announce that the project was a failure. Or, I can just keep plugging away, and put out the book when it’s ready.

Some years ago, I complained to Mrs Dim that I have a completion neurosis. I start many, many odd projects in the course of any given year, but most of them will languish half-complete for a long, long time. It’s not that they don’t get finished, it’s that they don’t get finished in order, or within the original timeframe.

My Mandalorian armour, made for Fan Expo 2012. Yet to appear at Fan Expo...

My Mandalorian armour, made for Fan Expo 2012. Yet to appear at Fan Expo…

As I’ve got older (not necessarily grown up, you understand) I have become more organised. I have seen the value in pursuing a task until it is complete. I have less guilt over leaving sillier projects to languish while I finish the worthwhile things.

So I’ll be annoyed with myself for not hitting the target I painted for myself, but I’ll be glad that Tiny Weasel doesn’t have to take a backseat to my writing progress. I’ll be glad the house gets hoovered and there’s food to eat, because there’s ALSO the odd e-book now and then, published when I’ve finished, and that’s fine.

As I sat down to compose this, WordPress told me Kristen Lamb had just written a blog post in a very similar vein (Though she doesn’t have Mandalorian armour. As far as I know…)

http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/setbacks-success-excuses-oh-my-the-truth-about-publishing-myths-about-muses/

The point is that your goals are things to aspire to, not things to bring you more misery. Strive to be better, to achieve more, and be content with what you do achieve.

Correlation does not imply causation

That’s my caveat for today, the last day of my free giveaway of “Troubled Souls”. I’m keeping it in mind because I’ve had FOUR sales this month (and this month is less than 10 days old) when I usually get around two or three at most. Four sales, with three being the follow-up book to “Troubled Souls”.

Available at the Kindle Store

Available at the Kindle Store

This is the first time I’ve seen any connection between a giveaway and sales, but this is also the first time I’ve given away a book with a direct link to a connected book. Previously, “Troubled Souls” mentioned that “Eddie and the Kingdom” was coming, but there was no link. Now “Eddie” is finished, published and the link is in “Troubled Souls”. And at least one person has chosen to buy another of my books.

At just over forty downloads in total (worldwide), this has been my most successful giveaway, and the one I worked hardest on. The usefulness of the giveaway gets debated a lot, but I think we can assume causation here. With a direct link between the book being given away free and the book that follows it, I have generated some sales from the free offer.

This should be good news for people writing series books – trail the next book at the end of your previous book, and include a link, and free giveaways of book one should lead to some sales of book two. Make it easy for your customer to spend their money – they get to the end of the first story, read a teaser for the second and the link to purchase is right there….Click!

I don’t think there’s ever going to be a magic bullet – something that everyone can do that will guarantee sales or success. Anyone who tells you that is likely trying to sell you their book “How to sell your e-book”. But in this case, I think there is a connection between the giveaway and the sales, and if I were a better marketer, both the number of downloads and the number of sales might be higher.

That doesn’t mean the number of sales of unconnected books of mine would be higher, though. At least one person has said they liked my short stories but weren’t interested in zombies. My butterfly attention span when it comes to genre is certainly working against me there. But if you find your niche and love living in it, you could use this tactic to add sales from giving away your older books.

Is it time to stop e-publishing?

Today looked a lot like Tuesday. There are school trips to volunteer for, evening meals to be planned before Karate, the washing has to go on…Tuesday stuff.

Just because it looks professionally printed, doesn't mean it makes sense...

Just because it looks professionally printed, doesn’t mean it makes sense…

But then I got to the computer and a friend had posted a link to Chuck Wendig’s latest post. Here it is:

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/02/03/slushy-glut-slog-why-the-self-publishing-shit-volcano-is-a-problem/

Apologies for the profanity – it’s his, not mine, and it’s just the way he is, bless him.

I like Chuck’s posts, and I like his books. He writes in a way that sounds like a snarl, like the words come pouring out at speed, but I’ll bet he revises and works really hard on every sentence. In fact, since my e-copy of one of his books was published with some editing notes left in, I KNOW he does that.

Anyway, I like to read his books and his blog, and I usually find myself in agreement with what he says. In the case of e-publishing, what he tends to say is “There’s no problem with it, but since there are no Publishing House Editors, or agents involved, YOU have to be the guardian of the quality of your work.” There’s literally nothing stopping you typing a stream of consciousness novel and uploading it with a crayon drawing for a book cover.

In his latest article, Chuck argues that the very freedom that e-publishing has brought has clogged the virtual bookshelves. Finding decent books amongst the dross has become harder and harder, and many people are taking price points, or even the self-publishing aspect itself, a indicators of quality. You can see the logic – “I downloaded five $0.99 books, and all of them were terrible. I won’t bother with books that are sold so cheaply.” Or “Every self-pubbed book I’ve read has been riddled with mistakes. I’ll stick with traditional publishers from now on.”

The very first e-book I bought was “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister”, by Gregory Maguire. It was for my Hewlett Packard iPaq, and it had some beautiful illustrations, as well as the text. That was a book that had recently come out through a traditional publisher. I later bought “The Hunger Games” and “Save the Cat!”. These books looked, on my e-reader/phone, just like they did in the stores.

Then I bought a book that was self published. The author had set up a small press, but was writing their own books as well as advising and publishing others. (No gender indication or clues here.) The book wasn’t good. The cover was pretty enough, looking more professional than amateur, but the story was unlikely. Within the first two chapters I was openly scornful of what I was being asked to accept, and I had already found upwards of ten spelling or grammatical mistakes. Although I had downloaded the book on a free offer, it was going on to charge around $7 per copy, and this was only the latest in  a series of books by this author. This book had been written by someone with experience, edited and proofread, and yet it was still a very bad book.

Perhaps the problem is identifying the difference between a bad book and books we don’t like. “On the Road” is held up as a classic novel. My Father-in-Law has two copies. I read it years ago and despised it. I found the characters unlikeable, their journey pointless and the whole book depressing. Does that make it a bad book? I don’t think so. I won’t read it again, but I know that other people reading it have found it to be marvelous and inspiring and so on. No one reads it and says “I hated all the spelling mistakes, and the main character’s name changes spelling three times through the book.” As a novel, it’s done properly, despite the author writing the whole thing on one continuous roll of paper. It’s been properly edited and proofread and packaged. It’s a good book, and I just don’t like it.

Compare that with other books I’ve read, where the story might have appealed, if it weren’t for the constant errors and formatting disasters that drag me out of the story and make me grind my teeth. It’s a bad book.

All these are things I thought of while reading Chuck’s blog today, and it made me think about the eight or nine e-books I have on Amazon. I’m giving one away currently, and it’s not setting the world aflame. The last few days I’ve been wondering if there was any way to get more people to download it, to review it, to tell their friends about it. And now, I’m considering removing it, along with all the others.

I like the books I’ve written. The collections of short stories were fun to produce, and writing longer things was a novel experience (heh heh heh!) But as I mentioned before, it’s been two years since I began putting my work up on Amazon, and in that two years, though some books have sold, I’ve not earned anything from them. And in addition to not earning, I’m adding to the heap of books people have to wade through to find what IS worth reading.

I wonder if it’s time to admit to myself that writing prose is only ever going to be a hobby, and if that’s the case, is it something I need to share with the world? My plays have a publisher and moderate success – they have a purpose, in that they are sold and performed all around the world, every month. I get an income from those sales, and people out there get plays to act in. But these e-books go out into the world and I worry that they don’t sell, even though I’ve told myself there’s nothing riding on those sales, that I’m just publishing for the fun of it. Well, that doesn’t feel like a worthwhile reason any more.

All this has more weight right now because I have few commitments this week – no library shifts until Saturday, just the one school trip to volunteer for today, and the laundry already more than half-done. I have the Romance Challenge novel standing at 7,500 words, and four days of writing might see most of a first draft completed. That would leave a week of half-days to finish and revise and publish before my self-imposed deadline of Feb 14th.

And then? Do I watch the stats for another e-book, telling myself it doesn’t matter if it sells, but wishing it would? Wouldn’t my time this week and next be better spent working on sketches and pays for TLC and planning Tiniest Weasel’s birthday, and something for Mrs Dim for Valentine’s Day?

It’s not that I’m thinking about stopping being a writer. That’s something I’ve thought about before and rejected, because I couldn’t stop being a writer. But maybe I can do without the extra worry of publishing e-books. If I’m finding my head full of short stories, I can write them down, but there’s no need to take them further, and if I do, there are always competitions out there, if you look hard enough.

Answers in the comments please – vote “Give it up!” or “Stick it out!” . Remember, the e-books were never meant to turn me into the next JK Rowling or Hugh Howey, so it shouldn’t be about financial success.