Self Publicity


I’ve been following a couple of writers discussion threads on LinkedIn and twitter for some few days now. The most active being one called “What’s the best way for writers to promote themselves?” on LinkedIn. Having been writing with various degrees of success over the years, I thought I’d add my five cents worth.

For those not in the rarified air of academia, where various cliques interact to publish what the rest of us mere mortal hacks sometimes consider too self involved. I refer to ‘Prize winning’ books with prose so dense as to be almost unreadable. Books that without the publicity of the prize would inevitably suffer the fate of pulp mill and remaindered book store. The volumes where content is subservient to style are my particular dislike. As far as I’m concerned it’s the story that matters, not the author.

To we lesser mortals left to our own resources, the task of getting one’s work into print often seems insurmountable. Manuscripts languish unread in publishers ‘slush piles’, having failed to engage one readers specific interest. There have been occasions where an author has submitted the first three chapters of a published ‘classic’, only for the MSS to be returned with a rejection slip and formulaic ‘Better luck elsewhere’ letter. I’ve had thirty plus years of observing the mainstream publishing trade in inaction and I’ve formed my own opinion on what a writers best path forward is.

Two elements seem to be key, apart from grammar and spelling etcetera; theme and amount. A single book will not engage a readers interests unless the story is so compelling that it cannot be ignored, nor will the most polished and crafted short story. For all their perfection, they are merely another tree in the forest. Mostly ignored. A body of similarly themed work is, I argue, far more likely to attract attention. A lot of mud has to be thrown for it to stick.

Now take for example the work of Terry Pratchett; particularly his semi-satirical Discworld novels. I ‘discovered’ Terry’s work via a friend who lent me a three year old copy of his howlingly funny Sourcery, which as anyone who knows Terry’s work will observe, is hardly the first of the Discworld series. Before that, I’d never heard of him. Even afterwards, having read everything of his except his latest offering ‘Snuff’. I’m moved to concede that had I only read “The colour of magic” I’d not have bothered with the rest, and missed some of the funniest, most refreshing reading I’ve ever enjoyed. The more he’s written, the more avidly I’ve devoured each new volume. Yet had he not written so much, his comic genius would have had at least one less reader.

Some authors who write under a series of pseudonyms for the romance and erotica genres seem to pump out a novella a month to a formulaic plot. Thrillers not so much, but there are a number who put out one book every six months, recycling plots better than a garden compost bin. Yet these people become household names. Why? Because they write what can only be described as ‘Product’, and like cans of beans in a supermarket their output sells. The royalty cheques flow, which is what a writer needs. Food in the larder, and a little in the bank to fuel the obsession, because writing and storytelling is by specific need, obsessive-compulsive. It’s certainly no way to get rich.

It seems to me that a person is either (and often both) a storyteller or a listener, and neither can help who they are. We can only tell our tales to feed our mutual human need for novelty and stimulation. There is, I contend, an audience for everyone. It’s down to the individual storyteller to pump out so much work that their voice cannot be ignored.

In this way, the Internet and eBooks are becoming the new sounding board. Critique and reason is now open to all consumers of prose, not just that sifted by professional readers and bored Summer Students hired to wade through a mountain of literary pitchblende to find commercial radium. This is a situation we as writers need to take full advantage of. Write, create, polish, publish online. Short fiction, biographies, long fiction. Put out such a body of decent work it cannot be ignored, and your readers will discover you.

That is what I intend to do.

Back to work.

New resources for ePublishing; Amazons Kindle and Barnes & Nobles Pubit.

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Memento


I was checking my hard drive for archiving prior to a PC upgrade and came across this little collection of pictures which my Mother still keeps. I suppose just in case she forgets who I am.

The first is me aged four. The second (Bottom left) at twenty three in 1980 with my recently home built Honda motorcycle, and just to show some things never change; pictured leaving a friends house in Brussels in 2003 (Bottom right) with Angie, my wife, on my old Triumph 900 ST.

Three weeks and three thousand miles during a long hot European Summer tour down the Rhine Valley, across Switzerland into Italy and back up through France and Belgium. Magical.

I’ve got a whole heap of notes from that trip, but the one thing that brings it all flooding back is the smell of fresh Basil. Funny how memory cascades off a single trigger. The smell of hectares of Basil growing along the road from Florence to Genoa, Italy. It floods the mind and snatches me away to a happy vacation. Possibly the best of my life. Slumped in the paltry shade of Gas Stations signs on mercilessly baking days when it was too hot even to ride. Peeling out of sweat caked leathers in the wonderful cool of air conditioned hotel rooms to exhausted cries of “Aircon! Aircon!”. Must do another trip like it this side of the water.

Kindle, and other such exasperations


Am currently polishing off a 20,000 word novella I’m calling ‘The Odd Machine’. It’s a first person narrative about a suburban man who loses his wife, is unfairly branded a paedophile, and how he struggles to keep his children as a family when his wife leaves him for reasons unknown, at least to him.

The Odd Machine refers to his inheritance of a bronze and quartz object once reputed to have been the heart of a ‘Death Ray’, and how it seems to be the catalyst for all his woes.

While the story itself takes the form of a single narrative spread over several years, the issues it addresses are quite current. The context tells of a farming family broken by bureaucracy. How a new generation has reinvented itself and faces, amongst others, the challenge of false arrest and public libel. While the subtext asks the question; “Who do we belong to?”

The cover art for the Kindle edition is already uploaded to Amazon, and the Novella itself will form the core of a collection of shorter fiction, to be published in hard copy format sometime in 2012. Have rewritten ‘Polish Ted’ as ‘Cold Warrior’ which will form part of the same collection, along with a bunch of other supernatural stories. Providing of course I can make time to finish the third volume of my Science Fiction ‘Stars’ trilogy, which is due in September 2012. Only 120,000 words and the collapse of interstellar civilisation to go. Then I’ve got the follow-on trilogy or possible series to write. As for the Cerberus series, well, there are a lot of episodes, but no coherent plot or story arc. That needs to be addressed.

I did consider Smashwords as a means of getting my shorter eBooks to market, but having to wait for the US IRS to give me an exemption number seemed a little too involved. I’ve only ever visited the USA once, so why on Gods green Earth do I need to get an IRS exemption? I pay my taxes here in Canada for goodness sake. So Smashwords will have to remain a closed market. At least as far as I’m concerned.

Talking the talk


At the moment I’m in a state of semi collapse having just sold my first three hard copies to unsuspecting members of the public. Autographed no less. That and delivered a talk which ended up being somewhere in the region of fifty minutes long, rather than the planned thirty.

Quite frankly I don’t know how I feel right now. A little surprised I slid into the talking groove quite so easily. Interacting with interested parties and talking about my work. Got to talking with a precocious twelve year old who was “Kinda tired” of goody two shoes heroes, and liked heroes with a little bit of the night about them. Maybe a bit less of the formulaic stuff where humanity is surrounded by wicked aliens and good aliens. Bad guys we agreed, were ‘more fun’. Both to write and to read. All the better if they are human.

Had fun talking to the amateur astronomers, who have kit worth thousands of dollars for scanning the night sky. Even ran into a friend of a friend who didn’t recognise me in ‘professional’ mode. Still, the day was a lot more enjoyable than I’d thought. I got a decent portrait of me at my desk selling. Next step is donating a couple of copies to the local library, and seeing if that will generate demand. On Monday I’ll open negotiations for my second book signing and see where that takes me.

Preparing to speak


Like most people, I have a mortal terror of public speaking. Yet right this minute I’m preparing to do just that. Actually it’s two talks kind of telescoped together, if anyone will pardon the pun.

The first talk is ten or fifteen minutes on “The big ‘What if’?” which is about how science can trump science fiction. How what was true yesterday could be overturned by observations made at CERN, or by some bright Israeli who finally was awarded a Nobel Prize for Chemistry after thirty years.

Another state of matter? Quasicrystals? Who would have thought? There’s also the advances in planetary observations constantly being posted on the Web. Quite a headache if your brand new trilogy is a narrative about extrasolar exploration and colonisation. What was ‘true’ yesterday might not be accurate and true today, thus consigning two years long grind at the keyboard to the literary pulp pile before it even hits the shelves.

The second talk is about the Trilogy itself. The characters, their adventures, and the (supposed) planets and challenges. Nanaimo District Museum, 100 Museum Way, Nanaimo. 2pm PST 22nd October 2011. Scary.

Dictionaries required


Many years ago I had an English Teacher, a very good English Teacher. One who drove into us the basics of grammar, syntax and dictionary definitions. When she was done (Thank you Mrs Foster) even the dimmest mind in our class grasped the basics. Nowadays, in these days when everyone has an email account the wanton display of outright ignorance astounds me.

Regrettably our means of written and verbal communication is being debased by letting the lowest common denominator do what giving money to people who couldn’t pay it back has done to the Western currencies. Heavy sigh. Even in mainstream news articles where people are paid to have a better than average grasp of English these mistakes / misprisions are legion. Perhaps sub literate has become the new standard for sub editors.

I don’t want to come across as some sort of pedant or ‘grammar nazi’ but really, what is so hard about getting the words right? Stuff I was taught about in primary school at the age of ten; simple differences between ‘there’ (location), ‘their’ (possession) or they’re (Contraction for ‘they are’) are the most commonly displayed. ‘Pour’ (to decant) and ‘pore’ (to scrutinise). It’s astonishing. How can people make such basic mistakes? Why do they not hide their faces in shame at their lack of care? Don’t even get me started about ‘lose’ (mislay) and ‘loose’ (let go). No wonder Lynne Truss had such success with Eats Shoots and Leaves.

An appeal to people’s better nature might be in order here. Words are innocent things, poor abused collations of letters and syllables. My plea is this; if you don’t know what it means, please pick up a dictionary and check. If you require, take the time to learn to read and write. Nothing major, just the basics. You’ll be a better person for the effort.

The English language has taken so long to reach this point. As a flexible tool for conveying complex ideas it has no real peer. English has a cultural heritage so rich you could base a currency upon it. Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Orwell laid new foundations and enriched what they began with. Why can we not aspire to follow their example? What is this cultural love affair with a slope headed sub-Neanderthal world view that prizes novelty and ignorance above knowledge? To use a simile, taking that approach is like trying to run a marathon carrying a fifty pound backpack. It handicaps, not helps. Not learning simple rules reduces communication to mumbled grunting and a daily re run of the bone smashing scene from 2001. Aren’t we a bit more evolved nowadays?

Language is like any tool, a little care will reap benefits beyond measure. Failure to handle correctly may cause injury, and abuse simply blunt the cutting edge. /rantmode

Going fishing now.

New Start


Been writing on and off since I was fifteen.  During the intervening years I’ve collected enough rejection slips to wallpaper a considerable sized house.

Notwithstanding, I’ve sold stories, and had enough work published in various mainstream and trade publications to justify the soubriquet ‘Writer’ but like so many others not enough to make a reasonable living.

The publishing industry is so closed down at present that it doesn’t seem worth submitting anything to the mainstream.  Everyone is looking for the ‘next Harry Potter’, yet considering there were nineteen publishers who turned down J K Rowlings work before she found one willing to take a risk with an unknown, I don’t think they’ll have much success. Especially when writers play tricks like submit the first three chapters of a literary classic under another title, and most publishers they submit to fail to recognise the ‘great’ prose in question. So I’m branching out on my own.  Down the slippery slope of self publishing.  Whoring myself out as best I can and hoping there are enough people out there who like my work to make it worthwhile.

The upside is two new 150,000 word volumes out of a trilogy, artwork as above, and I’ve gotten a solid invite to do a talk on ‘The Big What If’ and a five minute reading at Nanaimo District Museum 22nd October 2011 at 2pm. I’m way too late to put my name down for any of the big Sci-fi conventions this year, but will get my name out on the forums and see what happens. Trudge round book stores on the Island and sell my metaphorical soul. Walk and talk. At least I’m good at that. Although I am rather pleased with the cover art.

In some ways it feels terrifying to put the end result of five years work out in the public domain for just anyone to look over and sneer. In others, the same fear forces you to revise, revise, revise until you are either so tired of the project you really don’t care what anyone thinks any more, or the story you’re telling is really as good as you think it is. So far, my test readers only real criticism of the first volume has been “When’s the next one?”

The Sky Full of Stars, and Falling Through the Stars may not be Heinlein, Niven or Asimov, but I’m hoping they’ll find a readership. There’s a hardcover edition of each, but I think the only copies of those that will sell will be the proof editions for my personal book shelf.