Suddenly…. September

Summer has turned to Autumn and the leaves are falling. Unfortunately, some of them are still attached to the trees....

Summer has turned to Autumn and the leaves are falling. Unfortunately, some of them are still attached to the trees….

It’s been a long, hot, crazy summer, with visitors galore and rediscovering all the tourist spots of Vancouver and the surrounding areas.

But now the rain has returned, bringing with it lower temperatures, howling winds, falling trees, power outages and (gasp!) internet shutdowns…. It’s time to think about the winter and how much has been achieved this year, as well as how much is still to be done.

And while you do that, I’m going back to bed to pull the duvet over my head and pretend it’s not happening.

Free again!

Free until Friday! Probably should have mentioned this  earlier...

Free until Friday!
Probably should have mentioned this earlier…

Thanks to an attack of camping, I’ve been offline for the first couple of days of the free giveaway of “Tribute” my only YA novella (so far…)

“Tribute” tells the story of Lisa, who has grown up thinking that legendary rock guitarist Stone was her father, only to discover, on the day of his funeral, that she might actually be the child of the band’s frontman and long forgotten star, Pitch Blend.

Lisa struggles to bring her parents together and find her own place in the world in this coming of age story.

Which is free, on Amazon until Friday.

Amazon US

Amazon CA

Amazon UK

Free stuff for the rest of the month!

Available NOW at Amazon!

“My Cosplay Disasters” is the first of several free e-books available this month.

August seems to be galloping past, and before long it’ll be my birthday again. Instead of demanding shiny things and an outrageous party, I thought this year I would give away a bunch of e-books, one each week, and only ask people to leave reviews on Amazon in return.

To be clear, I’m not asking only for GOOD reviews – I would like honesty. If you hated the book, or thought it was childish, then say so. Actually, I don’t think anyone would be surprised.

From Monday the 17th, “My Cosplay Disasters” will be free from Amazon. Next week, I think it’s “Tribute”, my awkward attempt to turn a stage musical I never finished writing into a YA novel. Then the week after that there’s another one, but I did all this late at night two days ago, and I can’t remember what the plan was.

Leaving a review can be a pain, but it really, really matters to authors. If you’ve read a book recently, try leaving a review on Amazon, or Goodreads, or your own blog or wherever. It’s ok to be honest, as long as you’re talking about the book and not taking potshots at the author’s personality or life choices. Your words could influence someone else, maybe help them discover a book they will love for the rest of their lives. Or maybe save them from a literary disaster.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the thank you letter I would have to write for the presents you would send:

Dear ________,

Thanks so much for the review you left for me for my birthday. It was a lovely surprise to see the notification pop up in my email and then the live review on Amazon.

I had a lovely birthday, with a late start and then a pleasant walk in the sunshine with dog and family, followed by lunch out and an afternoon movie back at home. It turns out forty three is a lot like forty two, but with less literary connections.

Hope you are well, and that we get to see you soon,



An (upgraded) open letter to Microsoft

Microsoft wait times

Dear Microsoft,

You may recall my last open letter to you – more likely, you don’t. I never received any form of response. Unless, of course, the hasty cancellation of Windows 9/Blue was due entirely to my heartfelt plea to return control of the computer to the User, rather than making it simply a tool for you to impose your will upon? Thought not.

I came to grips with Windows 8.1 in the end, you know, making it do as much as 7 used to. Most of my peripherals adapted or died off, and I found a way to view all the files I had stored. And when Windows 10 was announced, I was actually quite enthusiastic about the chances of interacting with Cortana, with having a PC platform that might, perhaps, make the experience of owning a Windows phone more enjoyable, or convenient. Sure, I worried a little that some of my programs (not apps, please) might not run well, but I figured I could adapt enough to counter your intransigence.

There was a long wait, here in my part of British Columbia. I watched friends around the world downloading and installing, and heard various shrieks of horror or hums of approval. I still wasn’t discouraged, and when I finally got the nod (well, strictly speaking, I never ACTUALLY received notification that I could start the download – I did one of my daily checks and found it was ready…) I hit the install button with hardly a qualm.

The installation took a while, but that was no surprise. I wangled my way through the menus, selecting and unselecting, reminding you again and again that you collecting my data was a choice I should be making, not one you make for me. Targeted advertising is not a benefit for me, you understand, it’s a benefit for the advertiser. I know I haven’t caught all the permissions. I know there are a bunch hidden away that allow you to do all kinds of data harvesting, and I know this because if there weren’t you would have put them all in one convenient place, instead of scattering them through settings and setup and a bunch of other places. Microsoft, you have become a politician, lying by omission and presenting a false face. That’s pretty bad, in case you hadn’t noticed.

Anyway, Windows 10 works. I still have all my old emails, still have my old calendar, can still find my photos, my documents. All the programs I use on a daily basis seem to work just fine. Except for one tiny, tiny thing.

When I go to save a file, the computer tells me I don;t have permission. because every day, when I turn on the computer, ALL THE FOLDERS have their permissions reset to “Read only”. Every single one. I know this because every single day I have to reset the permissions on any folder I want to use. I am the only registered user on the computer. I am, as far as I can tell, The Administrator. But every day Windows locks me out of my own folders. Why?

Well, Microsoft, that’s a good question. It’s a question I’d like to ask you. Today I went back through your “Contact me” page for the hundredth time. Look, I get it. You’re just rolling out the biggest software upgrade in History. You’re trying to help everyone get on board with Windows 10 and you’d really like to weed out the ones who just want to change their lock screen back to their photo of Miggsy the Hamster, or the ones who can’t find their passwords anymore and so on. I understand why I keep getting booted back to the same FAQ screen, but I really, really want an answer to this because it is making my working day HARDER. I have upgraded the software and it is making my work more difficult. This is not how it should go.

I have used Windows for a long time, and I am barely more than competent. I CAN change these permissions to use the folders. I know where to go to do that. I don’t know where to go to stop your upgraded OS from changing them back again. I don’t know why it’s doing it, I don’t know why it started, whether it will stop, or who can help me if you won’t. Unfortunately, I don’t ave 336 minutes to sit here and wait for your poor chat line operator to tell me he doesn’t know why that’s happening either.

I’m not giving up. I’ll keep looking for a solution, and looking for a way to contact you that will actually result in contact. If you could be ready with an answer for me, that would be cool.

Oh, and it would be nice if I’d known ahead of time that Cortana would NOT be available to Canada until some-undisclosed-time-in-the-future. It would definitely have affected my decision to go ahead with the install this early. I realised we’re not as technologically advanced as the Spanish or French here in BC, and our accents can make us tricky to understand. I just wonder if the folks in the Microsoft building downtown in Vancouver have Cortana as part of their Windows 10?

Anyway, thanks for your time. I’m sure you’ll read this when you’re sifting through my drafts folder for information to sell to advertisers.


Hey Amazon! Let’s make something NEW!

The new cover for the new edition - same photo, new subheading.

The new cover for the new edition – same photo, new subheading.

E-publishing will kill REAL books!

Real books will never die!

The arguments have been raging about e-books since they first became a thing, way back in 19-I-can’t-be-bothered-to-look-it-up. So far, I think we can agree, real books have survived, and e-books like “50 shades” and “The Martian” have become real books and vice versa. (Sidebar: Now wondering about the viability of a “Fifty Shades of Red: Survival and sex on Mars” blockbuster series… Studio Heads, you have my phone number – it’s on that restraining order.)

Anyway, it’s become clear to me that e-books are not pushing their best features. Why should they just be regular books but on tablets? Yes, I can take fifty books on holiday in a pocket-sized device (I have big pockets), but that’s only one advantage. E-books can do full colour photos at no extra cost. They can include sound clips, video clips and other multi-media hyperlinks. These are all cool, but they feel like gimmicks.

Last week I looked at one of my early publications: “Troubled Souls“. It was supposed to be a collection of short fiction, but because one of the stories got away from me and mutated into a novella, it ended up as only three stories and the opening chapters of the novella. Neat, but not great value for money, even at the low price I set. I’ve written other stories in the intervening time, and I realised that some fit the Troubled Souls profile. I updated the file and uploaded it, then notified Amazon that I wanted to roll out the changes to people who had already paid for the book. They weren’t too sure about that. Here’s what they said:

“Because customers may lose their highlights, bookmarks, and notes when they download updates, we only send out updated content to correct serious readability issues, like overlapping text or cutoff images.

 If your updates fit the criteria above, please provide details and specific examples (including location numbers) of the content updates. Then, we’ll review the changes to make sure the readability issues have been corrected, and then we’ll take one of these three actions:

 Corrections to distracting errors. If we find only minor corrections, we won’t notify customers by e-mail, but we’ll activate their ability to update the content through the “Manage Your Content and Devices” page on

 Corrections to destructive or critical errors. If we find major corrections, we’ll alert the customers who already own your book via email. These customers have the option to use the “Manage Your Content and Devices” page on to receive your book updates.

 Corrections to critical errors needed. If we find more major corrections are needed, we will temporarily remove your book from sale. We’ll notify you of the issues we found so you can fix them. Once the improvements are made, just let us know and we’ll email customers just like we do for major corrections.”

But I’m not correcting an error – I’m adding content! I want to give my readers more, at no extra cost. Ok, so this may not look great from the point of view of Amazon’s business model, but think about it. Imagine you saw a collection of short stories for sale, and you knew that buying this one book would allow you to receive MORE stories for FREE as the author wrote them. A collection that grows over time. Amazon already allows subscriptions for e-magazines, like the excellent E-fiction series, so what’s the difference here?

I guess it’s that users have to approve an update to data they’re storing locally, but this is a big issue for me. I want to add content to “My Cosplay Disasters” too, but I don’t want to have to go to the trouble of personally contacting the three people who have bought it and sending them the new file. This should be an automated process.

So come on, Amazon, let’s make a new thing, a book that gets bigger with time, a book that adds new content without further purchases. It’s possible, and it’s unique to e-books. It’s something they can do that no other form of publishing can. Let’s do it.

I dare you.

The updated “Troubled Souls” is available now. The un-updated “My Cosplay Disasters ” is also available now, to be updated later with fresh disasters.

EDIT: Twenty four hours later…

I received an email from Amazon KDP:


I’m following up on your feedback on the recent response received from our Kindle Direct Publishing team.

Thanks for your feedback about notifying the existing customers of a book about the updates made to its content file. Though we currently don’t have this option, the customers can always contact our customer service team via the below links and get the updated content file for free.

To contact our customer service department via phone:

To contact our customer service department via chat:

Meanwhile, what I can do for you right now is, I’ll take your concern as feature request and communicate the same to our business team for consideration as we plan future improvements.

I’m unable to promise a timeframe at this time, however, we are still evolving and feedback like yours motivate us to dive deep and unearth ways and means which helps us in making publishing on KDP a happy experience.

Please be sure to check our forums periodically for updates:

Thanks for your understanding and support. We look forward to having to providing continued support to you.”

Not bad, Amazon, not bad.

The books of July 2015

We took some friends to see Second Beach, still hot at sunset....

We took some friends to see Second Beach, still hot at sunset….

It’s been dangerously hot in BC during June and July, unusually so. There’ve been wildfires across the province, some accidental, some not. School let out, and visitors came, so we’ve had lazy days in the sun, crazy days being tourists in our own town, and the whole spectrum in between.

There haven’t been many days lazing in a hammock reading books, but there are three I’ve read in July that stand out.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Growing up in the UK, I never watched Saturday Night Live, but it’s hard to escape the many SNL alumni who populate the film and television shows we all watch. Tina Fey has been a voice on animated movies, characters on film and television, and a name that appears again and again on the internet, especially when there are comedy awards happening.

The cover of “Bossypants” is quite distinctive, and I’ve seen it on the shelf in the library often enough to be curious about it. Like many autobiographies of the rich and famous, it’s not actually a blow-by-blow account of their lives in chronological order, but a series of anecdotes. Not everything in the book is something you want to know about, but it’s presented well, and I like her sense of humour. What does come across clearly is the staggering prejudice she’s had to overcome – in the comedy improve troupes, in the comedy clubs, in television and in movies. People have told her that “audiences aren’t interested in a sketch with just two women” and other unbelievable things . All of these nuggets of wisdom clearly based on no experience whatsoever, since Tina Fey and Amy Poehler took the internet by storm with the two-woman sketch of Sarah Palin being interviewed by Katie Couric. Tina Fey is not “funny for a woman”, she’s funny. In fact, she’s hilarious. Her sections on parenting were so true they made me laugh even while remembering the agony of parenting small children.

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

This book has been out for a while, but I’ve been resisting reading it. Now that I took the plunge, I can’t remember for the life of me why I was so reluctant. I’ve read all of Neil Gaiman’s books, and a stack of his Sandman comics (though not all) and they always have the same effect: I wish I wrote with a special fountain pen, so I could screw the cap firmly on and put it away for ever. Then I would lie down with a bag on my head, secure in the knowledge that nothing I ever wrote could be half as good as Neil Gaiman’s simplest short stories.

Like Stephen King, Neil Gaiman is living proof that short stories can be amazingly powerful, that they have just as much ability to ensnare the mind as full-length novels. Reading a collection like this is like having a dozen novels at your disposal, with the added advantage that this collection includes a story about Shadow Moon, so you’ve got another sequel to the astonishing “American Gods” (another sequel because there’s another Shadow short story elsewhere, and Mr Gaiman says there’ll be at least one more in the future.)

It would be sad to think that there’s no future for short stories. Amazon made provision for authors to write short stories with their “Kindle Singles” program, and of course, there’s nothing to stop us Indie authors writing and publishing any number of collections of short fiction. What seems to have gone forever is the ready market for short fiction – the magazines that used to accept short stories and give some respectability to new authors. I hope the sales of collections like this and others helps dispel the myth that short fiction isn’t popular.

The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree by S.A.Hunt

I often stumble across great books thank to my friends on Google Plus, and this one was no exception. Having heard a great deal about it from other friends, I finally made the acquaintance of the author himself and downloaded the book. As a bonus, the edition I bought is books one and two, saving a wait when I got to the end of book one. Anyone who has read the Gunslinger books by Stephen King will feel a thrill of familiarity, but truth be told the only thing the two tales have in common is that the lawkeepers of the alternate worlds are gunslingers. In the land of Roland of Gilead, the world has moved on and things are collapsing. In the world that Ross stumbles into, civilisation is alive and well, with a gunslinger on the throne. Comparisons become useless at this point. The story is epic in scale, but well told and original. I will be picking up book three soon.

Due to technical difficulties (my own, not his) I haven’t been able to read my ARC of “Spirit Hackers” by Aaron Crocco, but since I’m a big fan of his “Chrono Virus”, I’m happy to recommend it. “Spirit Hackers” should be released soon, so check for the latest news

As frequently happens, I’ve read a bad book this month too. I’m not going to name names, because reviews are subjective things. Suffice to say, this was a book that had fulsome praise on the back for its ingenuity and unique voice, etc etc. That’s all well and good, but I believe stories should have a beginning, a middle and and end. You don’t need to put them in that order, but as a writer you have a contract with the reader. “Here’s a world,” you say “and here’s the people in that world. Here’s something happening, something worth your attention.” If you do it right, you’ll grab my attention early on, you’ll make me care what happens to those people – whether I want to see them succeed, or want to see them defeated by their enemies, well, that depends on the situation you’re writing about, doesn’t it? But what I really, really don’t want is the story I got from this book: “Here’s an insignificant man. He doesn’t like himself. He’s got a great girlfriend, and he doesn’t understand why she likes him. He cheats on her, and everything goes wrong. Now things are genuinely unravelling for him. His family is broken, dying, he has no girlfriend, the woman he cheated with doesn’t want him…The end.” You know what? I made it sound better than it was. Not only was there no resolution in the story of the central character, but the secondary story that he was writing throughout the book ALSO has no resolution. It is literally interrupted in the final sentences by a ringing telephone, and never finishes. And that’s the end of the book.

You are free to tell me that this is a very worthy thing, that not all stories have a neat conclusion, that the author wanted to write a bleak, dystopic analysis of the psychological makeup of the modern western male. And to that I will say “He shouldn’t have thanked his agent in the back of the book for “giving me the chance to try my hand at comedy” then.”

The next book on my stack is “Go set a watchman”, despite my reservations. I didn’t read “To Kill a Mockingbird” for a long time, but when I did get around to reading it, there was still a “19” at the start of the year.

What’s been your favourite book this year?

E-book writing software: Sigil

This was the page that showed I had some problems with the first draft of the text...

This was the page that showed I had some problems with the first draft of the text…

E-books aren’t generally complicated things. You can bash them out in almost any word processing program, then just save them as html files. Then you upload them to your chosen platform, where you may need to jump through a few hoops to conform to their formatting requirements.

Certainly, you CAN make things more interesting by including hyperlinks and styles, then an active table of contents or index to help your reader jump back and forth through the book, but even so, a few clicks in Word can fix those things up for you.

If you’re an intermediate computer user (someone who doesn’t look for the “any” key, can reboot a router and prevent a download adding Macafee to your desktop) then you should be able to sort out those features with some experimentation and consultation with Google search.

Great Canadian cover

But what if your book contains a lot of illustrations? Working in Word can be problematic. For my e-book “The Great Canadian Adventure“, I used Serif PagePlus 6, a  desktop publishing program that claimed to have some special features exclusively for e-book production. While the process worked, it was a steep learning curve with several restarts and not a lot of guidance.

Available NOW at Amazon!

Available NOW at Amazon!

This time around, for “My Cosplay Disasters“, I wanted things to go a little smoother. However, only thirteen pages in, I was running into all kinds of formatting errors that I couldn’t fix.

Then my friends Amy Knepper and Lisa Cohen told me about Sigil, an e-book editing program that allows you to edit text or or html  code direct, and it will build the table of contents for you.

Amy kindly reformatted the pages I had already completed, which gave me a template for the rest of the book. Lisa lent her personal preference for the CSS.

To check that the pages I was producing were formatting properly, I would periodically save the file and export it to another program, a desktop e-reader called “Freda” to check how things looked. This helped me spot when things went wrong, as well as the more mundane issues like typos and spelling mistakes.

When I had completed the book, I tried uploading it to Amazon’s KDP program, but I was told the file contained a broken link. I went back and manually checked all the hyperlinks I had included, as well as the table of contents itself. Having no luck there, I was getting frustrated, but then tried the “preflight” check facility within Sigil itself. That found a whole bunch of “invisible” links, where I had inserted pictures, but the files had fallen out of the book somehow – in the code, there were still links to pictures that weren’t there.

Like any new program, it took some mucking about to understand exactly what I was doing, but by saving a few different versions, I ensured I was never more than one re-load away from a working copy, no matter what changes I made. Putting together “My Cosplay Disasters” didn’t take nearly as long as I thought it would, and there were considerably fewer re-starts than with PagePlus.

When I’m producing “Murder in the Kingdom”, the second “Eddie and the Kingdom” book, I’ll do it all in Word again, because it’s entirely text and simple enough to throw together. But later this year there’ll be an update to “My Cosplay Disasters” when I add in the saga of constructing my very own Stormtrooper Helmet.