Category Archives: Uncategorized

What if you do it all properly?

Writing the novel is not enough, say the experts. You have to get it edited properly, and actually DO the suggested rewrites. You have to get the formatting right, and you should really pay good money for decent cover art. These things, those experts say, are the foundation of a good novel.

Of course, the story itself needs to be the very best it can be, the most exciting, interesting, gripping, real-character-filled rollercoaster of a story ever. That goes almost without saying.

But say, just for the sake of argument, that you have all that.

Do you get to hit the big time?

Many people say yes. They say you get the right combination of brilliant product, and the good reviews, and the word of mouth, and the celebrity endorsement, and the world is your mollusc.

Which is why I want to know why you, out there, are not buying everything written by S.A. Hunt.

(Well, not you, the person over there. I understand, you only read Harlequins, and the guy off to the left who sticks to non-fiction… That’s fine. You guys take a break while the rest of us chat, ok?)

S.A. Hunt has done everything right. He wrote a great book, The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree, and while he was still putting it together he was engaging with people on Social Media. I remember him posting some possible covers for the book. He’s done promotions and giveaways and had beta readers and discussions and he’s done guest posts on blogs. Better still, he wrote the second and third books in the series that begins with “The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree”, known as “The Outlaw King” series. I took advantage of a promotion that got me both the first and second books for a reduced price, and I went ahead and bought the third at regular price because I was so caught up in the story. I’m eagerly awaiting the fourth installment right now, because Mr Hunt doesn’t stand still – he’s started another series in a different genre with “Malus Domestica”. Intrigued by the amazing artwork on the cover, and knowing I already liked his style, I bought this book too and read it over three nights.

S.A. Hunt is doing everything right – he even has an agent. But he hasn’t been featured on Oprah’s book club, or made it onto the New York Times bestseller lists. Why not?

I honestly don’t know. My guess is that it’s only a matter of time, which is an object lesson for any authors out there who have thrown their heart and soul into their first book and are waiting for the gravy train to pull into the station, but just imagine what it’s like for S.A. Hunt himself, as he works on Outlaw King book 4 and Malus Domestica 2.

The next time you’re talking to someone about books or reading, mention S.A.Hunt. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to say you were part of the reason he made it to the top?

How much would you pay for “Free”?

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Yesterday a friend and I were discussing audio books. I told her about my membership of Audible.com.

“It costs about $14 a month, but you get a free audio book for that…” As I said this, I thought “Well, duh, it’s not FREE, is it? Because I’m paying fourteen bucks for it….”

Free is a big deal these days. My kids want free music. People try to justify streaming pirated material for free, rather than paying for content someone has paid to make. We got rid of our cable because we objected to paying a huge monthly fee when we only watched a fraction of what was on offer. Now we have a Netflix account and can pick and choose what we watch, and when we watch.

It’s like the “On Demand” service our old cable provider used to have, but because we don’t pay for each movie, it feels “free”. It’s not, of course, but the monthly payment is much smaller than our old cable bill, and you don’t get reminded about it every time you choose a movie.

Once I started thinking about what I pay for free stuff, I started thinking about Windows 10 and Google Plus. Both of these are things I use every day. Both were given away free, but with the unspoken agreement that they would harvest data from my usage and use that to generate income for the parent company. In the case of Google, that didn’t bother me so much. Let’s face it, we all enter search queries into Google around twenty times a day, telling their algorithms more than enough about our lives and habits in return for speedy information. So, yes, Google can learn a lot about me from the articles I read and forward to friends, the comments I leave on posts and the links I post for other people to see. In return I get another platform to promote my blog, my e-books, my plays, the Appraisal Service… The things that earn ME money.

You may remember, I was less sanguine about Microsoft collecting data through Windows 10, but I’m wondering about that now. Looking at buying a new computer, I had to get a price for a new copy of Windows, and I realised that I saved over $100 with the upgrade. Yes, the data collection is a little sinister, and I don’t like the way we are given options to turn some of it off, but not all, and those options may be subtly turned back on again with updates and so on, but the software works. It powers my PC, which I use to write my blog, my e-books, my plays and the appraisals. Isn’t it a fair exchange?

The last aspect of free is the free offer. Famously, E.L. James posted early drafts of “Fifty Shades of Grey” on Twilight fan-fiction sites, before changing the names and publishing as an e-book. That free posting generated a readership that created the buzz that saw the novel rocket up the sales charts. The same can be said of “The Martian”, posted episodically on a blog as the author explored the story and checked his science, then was encouraged to publish as a complete e-book.

But fellow authors I’ve spoken to on G+ have their doubts about the free giveaway. Some have experienced great success with the giveaway and few follow-up sales. Some, like me, have had only modest results with the giveaway itself. My friend at the library ultimately wasn’t swayed by my description of Audible, and decided to stick with getting her audio books from the library.

“I love the free”, she said. I think she’s right.

People love the free.

 

Because this is all about the free, because it’s nearly Christmas, and because I haven’t done it for a few months, here’s a free book for everyone – Troubled Souls is free on Amazon .com and Amazon.co.uk. It’s a (recently expanded) collection of short, dark stories, with the opening chapter (FREE opening chapter!) of my zombie apocalypse novella “Eddie and the Kingdom”.

Bonus story opening…

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There was going to be a great and exciting post about a free giveaway for the holidays, but it’s taking a while to process, so in the meantime, here’s the opening few pages from a new Twist Stiffly adventure, celebrating an upcoming performance of “Waiting for Twist Stiffly” in the USA.

Twist Stiffly and the Senopod Manifold

“This is goodbye, Stiffly! Ghenghis, take them to the Maturation vats! Aha ha ha ha ha! Well, go on, what are you waiting for?”

“The maturation Vats were last month guv. This time we’re sticking them in the Senopod Manifold. As if that’ll make any difference.”

Spleen Ventor stared at his henchman, his yellow eyes glinting with suppressed rage.

“What exactly do you mean by that, Ghengis?”

The dwarf shuffled his feet and shrugged, a feat made quite impressive by the use of all five of his arms. Ventor raised his gaze to the two struggling figures chained to the wall.

“I ask you Stiffly, is this gratitude? You take a nobody from a backwater planet, give him extra limbs and career opportunities he’d never dreamed of before, and what thanks do you get?” He speared the dimnutive creature with another penetrating stare and imitated Ghengis’s fluty tones.

“It’s the Senopod Manifold this time, guv. Guv!” Abruptly his voice snapped back to his usual snarl. “I’ll tell you this one more time, you snivelling worm, it’s Evil One, Majesty or Lord, not Guv! Got it?”

While Ventor raged at his poor excuse for a sidekick, Twist Stiffly, Agent for Good and Truth craned his neck around to whisper to his beautiful fellow captive.

“I’m sorry Pert, it looks like it’s all up for us this time. I don’t know what this Senopod Manifold is, but it doesn’t sound good. I wish I hadn’t got you into this one.”

His steel-grey eyes flicked back to the tableau in front of him, Ventor pressing home his point to Ghenghis with the toe of his boot. It occurred to Twist that Pert had said nothing, when surely a “Don’t worry honey, I know we’ll get out of this somehow” was in order? He craned his neck around again, blowing a lock of corn-gold hair out of his eyes and strained against his chains to see what Pert was doing. Good Girl! She had managed to slip one slim foot from her manacles and was raising it towards her desperately reaching hand. What was concealed in that boot, Twist didn’t know, but obviously good old Pert had a plan in mind. While mentally cheering her on, Twist was slightly disturbed to note a smidgen of chagrin that Pert hadn’t told him what she was doing. Or even that he hadn’t thought of it first. Whatever it was.

Now her purple tinted fingernails, chipped and cracked from their confinement in the cyber-cell, were dipping into the top of her boot, and Twist thought he had caught a glimpse of metal. Was it a probe, a skeleton key of some sort? Had she had the presence of mind to hide a pencil laser in her boot in case they got the chance to use it?

With a gasp of relief, Pert tugged the metal file from her boot, flipped it and caught it in her teeth. She just had enough slack to bring her mangled nails to bear on the file and began repairing the damage wrought on them.

“You’re doing your nails?” Twist asked, in a surprisingly calm voice.

“Did you work that out by yourself?” Her voice was muffled as she spoke around the file.

“Now? Is that a good time, do you think?”

Her raven curls turned towards him and he caught the azure blue of her eyes as she craned her neck to see him. Her full lips caressed the serrated steel that still wasn’t as abrasive as her sarcasm.

“We may not have time later. Unless this Senopod Manifold is a manicure joint.”

“Unlikely” Twist conceded. By an amazing effort of will he kept his voice light as he asked the next question. “Hey, do you think I could borrow that after you?”

Another withering blast from her cobalt stare collection.

“You? Honey, your cuticles are shot to bits. You need surgery, not a nailfile.”

“Oh, I might just have another use for it. What do you say?” He grinned at her, the lopsided grin that had melted hearts around the galaxy. It cut no ice with Pert Buzoom.

“I say ‘Hey Buster, you still owe me twenty five Kirby grips, two dozen pairs of tights and a can of hairspray’. Sometimes I think you drag me along on these adventures because I carry more useful kit than you do. And don’t think I don’t know that you didn’t use that hairspray for any escape bid. Was it co-incidence you released a new vid-book that afternoon? I think not.”

 

TO BE CONTINUED…..

 

(Maybe)

Image created with the Pulp-o-miser !

New York was OK – Pt 2

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Ok, I just had to get that picture out of the way. For anyone interested in the photographic details, it was taken on a phone and mucked about with using an out-of-date app. Hope that helps.

Our second day in New York began with a ferry ride down to the business district to see the One World Trade Tower. When I was thinking about our trip, I wondered if I wanted to go to Ground Zero. Like millions of people around the world, I remember that day very clearly, and am still struck by the horror of it. What benefit was there in seeing the place it happened?

Well, as it turns out, quite a bit. In the current atmosphere of fear and anger over terrorism and the rise of Daesh, it’s good to see that New York stood tall after 9/11. The site is clean and well-presented, with none of the opportunistic “tat-for-sale” booths that you find at the other prime tourist spots.

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The footprints of both towers have been converted into these touching and fitting memorials, where the water cascades endlessly down, and the names of those lost that day ring the enclosure. It was sobering to stand there and read the names.

Sobering for us, certainly. However (and here’s the grumpy old man coming out), what do you think about this? Selfies. Yes, people have the right to take pictures of themselves. I can see that some people like to have pictures of themselves at the places they’ve visited. Maybe they have to prove they went there for some reason. But it struck me as odd and disrespectful for people to be grinning cheesily into their phones as they posed in front of these memorials. I wanted to know what they thought when they looked at the pictures later. Or if they thought anything at all. Mrs Dim pointed out that for many of these visitors, the attacks were part of history, and the memorials are simply another stop on the New York tour.

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The symbol of New York’s refusal to bow to terrorism, the One World Trade Tower, is huge. It’s the tallest building in New York and it dominates the skyline. There’s an observation deck on floor 102, and the elevators take you from the ground to the top in under a minute. The sides of the elevator are display screens, and they show New York being built around you as the elevator rises.

The observatory deck offers great views of New York, if that’s your idea of a good time, and there are a couple of guides who give short presentations on the local areas and what you can see from the North and South sides of the deck. They’re locals, well-informed and very entertaining.

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One of the things you can see from the observation deck is the Statue of Liberty, so we grabbed some horrendously expensive lunch from the cafeteria and walked down to the ferry point. We managed to get tickets for the last ferry to the Statue, although we opted not to buy tickets for going inside. Going so late meant we would be there for sunset, and maybe even my dodgy Windows phone would get some decent pictures.

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The statue is entirely made of hardened weetabix and was modelled on the sculptor’s mother… Actually, that’s only half-true. There’s lots of statistics and interesting facts about the Statue of Liberty (Did you know the steel girder system that supports the statue internally was designed by Eiffel BEFORE he built his famous tower in Paris? Did you care?) but there’s no getting around the fact it’s an impressive statue and a great symbol. It’s weird now, though, having watched American Lawmakers and governors scrambling to block any entry by refugees, to think of the pride evident in the acceptance of refugees prior to this. The whole of the island bangs on about the hope given to people on boats as they sailed past the statue, with her welcoming verses (now removed and hidden away, in case anyone believes them…)

I may be a little cynical.

It was a great visit – the souvenir shop was tacky beyond belief and we bought a lot of it. Then the Park Rangers who administrate the island formed a human chain and marched around the pathway, herding tourists ahead of them to ensure no one was left behind on the island, because at the stroke of midnight, Lady Liberty scratches her back and switches arms for the next day.

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We rode the Metro back uptown – no scarier than the Tube, and not much more complicated, but it makes the SkyTrain look like a kid’s ride at the zoo. Shopping at Bloomingdale’s was on the agenda, and we did find what we were looking for. It was fun, having time to shop together without having to rush away for something else, but at the back of our minds was the exchange rate and the fact that these were New York prices – just another way that the Big Apple likes to pretend it’s a capital city (it takes all your capital.)

We finally fell into a booth at a Chinese restaurant near the Yotel that was entirely adequate, and then we were done for another day.

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The next day we still had some culture to take in. We strolled through Central Park again (inadvertantly becoming part of a 60km charity run at one point) until we reached the Guggenheim. This gallery is famous for its revolutionary building design and having a silly name.

The design inside is supposed to maximise wall space, I guess, but in this case the walls were being wasted by having an exhibition of works by Alberto Burri. If you thought the discussion about Picasso’s work was bad, you would have hated the one we had about Burri and his non-representational deconstructivist work in tar and burnt plastic. Fortunately, one of the side galleries had real paintings in, including a Van Gogh I had never seen before and a whole collection of Kandinskys.

The internal design of the place also meant there was only one toilet per floor and they were cramped and almost always occupied. Many people found this unsatisfactory, but I guess that’s art for you….

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Culture absorbed, we wandered down to Grand Central Station, which is exactly as you’ve seen it in the movies, unless the movie you saw it in was the remake of “Arthur” starring Russell Brand, in which case, there are no trampolinists and lots more people. Also, no pez. Sorry.

I got to see the outside of the New York Public Library, because it had been a while since I had been to a library, though we didn’t go in, just took a break on the seats outside. Behind the library was a temporary ice rink and Christmas Market, which was a very pleasant surprise.

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Finally we got to cross one more thing off our list – we walked the High Line, a stretch of disused elevated railway that’s been turned into a public park. It’s one of the smarter things we saw in New York, and something that deserves more attention than I think it gets.

Views from the High Line

We rounded off the evening with a meal in the very not-Irish pub, the Half King. When we enquired about the name, the waitress told us it was some kind of Native American thing chosen by the first owners of the pub, who WERE Irish. It seemed odd that genuine Irish folks would choose a local to celebrate, when Americans in general seem so keen to pretend to be Irish, but there you go. Don’t google the Half King, by the way – I seem to remember the story was a little gruesome and didn’t reflect well on anyone. The food was nice though.

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Hello Vancouver!

On Sunday we flew home, with delays, transfers and finally a taxi driver who didn’t know where we lived, how to get there or how to drive. When he missed the off-ramp and admitted he didn’t know where to go next, Mrs Dim directed him home.

People have asked me if I liked New York more than I thought I would, and the honest answer is yes. It’s cleaner than I expected, seems to be taking care of its history and its people, and provided you don’t want to drive anywhere, it’s not a bad place to get around. But I didn’t come away with that love of the place that I’ve seen in so many others. It’s an interesting city, but so was Rome, so was Paris. Birmingham, not so much, I have to say, even with a juggling convention in town. I’m in no hurry to go back, but it was a great way to celebrate twenty years with my wife.

 

New York was OK

There’s a bit of a joke running around the internet that goes:

“My girlfriend wanted a kitten, but I didn’t, so we compromised and got a kitten…”

Mrs Dim has wanted to go to New York for a long time. She’s heard great things about it from many people and was keen to go experience it for herself. I didn’t want to go. Not that I had anything particularly specific against the city, I was just…not that interested.

But recently we reached our twentieth wedding anniversary, and it really felt like Mrs Dim deserved some recognition for sharing space with me for two decades. We booked four nights in New York, in a groovy little hotel not far from Times Square called the “Yotel”.

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Once we had decided to go, we made a list of the things and places to see. I was going to collect movie locations, I decided. Mrs Dim wanted a sandwich from a genuine New York Deli, and she wanted to visit the Guggenheim, MOMA and Bloomingdales. We both felt the Statue of Liberty was unavoidable, and that the Empire State Building was a curiously unattractive proposition.

Since we didn’t fly direct, it was a long day’s travel to reach the city, and an hour’s wait for the hotel shuttle didn’t make us feel any better. Once it arrived, we clambered in and were treated to four orbits of the airport, as the driver repeatedly missed notifications of passengers and rocketed back through the dense traffic (composed almost entirely of Taxis) to pick them up.

Driving in New York seems to be a form of percussion. Tap both feet in an irregular rhythm on the brake and accelerator, and catch any missed beats by pounding on the horn. It doesn’t matter if the car in front of you can move, or even if it is occupied, you have to pound on the horn.

So much excitement on the way to the hotel put paid to any plans to explore the city that first night. Instead we reveled in the view from the 24th floor and the snugness of the cabin room of the Yotel, and made quiet plans for the next day.

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The view from the hotel room window.

The next morning we were eager to get on with sampling the culture. We walked to the MOMA and we happy to find they had an exhibition of Picasso Sculptures on. We got free entry because we had arranged New York City Passes ahead of time, so we sauntered past the huge line and went to look at Art.

As usual, we spent half the time in the galleries looking at the art, and the rest of the time looking at the people looking at the art. MOMA was a great place to wander, and we had plenty of space and time to have our usual argument about the importance of intention in the production and perception of art. Sorry, I talk like that a lot in galleries. It’s exactly as pretentious as it sounds.

After MOMA we went to the first of my movie locations…which was also the second, third…probably all the way up to fifteen or so, and also my favourite part of the city, Central Park.

(Left to right, top to bottom)Mrs Dim reads the same book the Doctor read in Central Park in “The Angels take Manhattan”, she looks over the ice rink where Abbie Cornish escaped the bad guy in “Limitless”, walks the main thoroughfare seen in dozens of movies like “When Harry Met Sally” and “You’ve got Mail”. The walkway where Adrianne Palicki gets shot in “John Wick”, the fountain where the big musical number ends in “Enchanted”, and the statue of Alice in Wonderland that isn’t featured in a movie but is a favourite thing of Tiny Weasel, so I took a picture….

Central Park is beautiful. It’s not as wild or as big as Stanley Park – it doesn’t have the coastline, or the raccoons, but in a big, noisy, claustrophobic city, it’s a real breath of fresh air and open space. We didn’t ride in the carriages, but Mrs Dim did remark on the poor health of the horses we saw pulling them. We also managed not to take a photo of the family of four in their carriage who were all staring intently at their phones as Central Park rolled by them, unobserved.

The walk back to the Yotel took us a while, and it was dark when we reached Times Square. I was unimpressed, both by the crowds and the garish spectacle. Las Vegas does spectacle better, and this was crowded, noisy and uninteresting.

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In part Two: The One World Trade Center, The Statue of Liberty, shopping at Bloomingdales and mediocre food. Oh, and the journey home.

Responding to Daesh

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Mrs Dim and I were in New York when we heard about the latest atrocities by Daesh*. That day we had visited the 9/11 memorial and seen the One World tower. The obvious reaction, aside from horror and sympathy for the nations suffering (more than just France, remember) was bafflement.

What do the terrorists imagine they are achieving? In the wake of 9/11 there was a huge outpouring of anger towards the supposed perpetrators, and the war that followed has rumbled on for years. Certainly the casualties in the initial attack were high, and many countries have lost soldiers and other personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the cost to the aggressors and the civilians has been immeasurably higher.

Then I read some terrific news articles that outlined exactly why this kind of vicious attack and the response to it is exactly what Daesh want. They want to drive a wedge between the Islamic citizens of the West and everyone else. Only by turning our citizens against each other, by dividing us into “Us and Them” can they hope to recruit more disaffected fighters, to grow a new generation of haters.

Those trying to prevent the refugees entering their states through fear of similar attacks are responding just as Daesh hoped they would. They are promulgating the fear of the “other” in their society, they are telling people in genuine fear of their lives that they are the enemy. If you drive away these refugees and treat them as criminals and terrorists, where will they go? How will they view your land of freedom and equality?

Is there a danger that more Daesh infiltrators are amongst the refugees? Of course. But who are we, who do we want to be as a nation? As a Canadian, I know my country was built on immigration. The cooperation of the First Nations helped those original settlers and they were repaid cruelly. New immigrants have come and made Canada their home and they have fared better, helped the country grow. There should never be a dividing line between immigrants and “old-stock Canadians”, because that’s not how our country is.

By all means, pray for Paris. Pray for Beirut. Pray for peace. But remember that Jesus also said there were a few more responsibilities for a conscientious believer:

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

 

 

 

*Not “Islamic State, because they’re neither Islamic, nor a State. They have no system of government, no ambassadors, no foreign policy or economy. They are nothing but fighters, and so have no plan beyond destruction. This has been shown in the towns they have captured – time and again they are found to be abandoned by the populace, unable to support regular life under the “governance” of Daesh.

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.