I received my proof copy of “The Cat Tree and other stories” on Thursday 12th September, so in my naivete I thought I’d do a mildly tongue in cheek ‘unboxing’ video. What the hell, everyone else does them.
Here’s what happened (Do not watch with the volume turned up too high)
There is a rather cold-blooded axiom my parents would repeat from time to time when I was in my teens and early twenties. One that rings ever more true with the passing years. It is this; “There’s no business in sentiment and no sentiment in business.” Trying to make major financial and life decisions with the heart and not the head will, in most circumstances, fail. The current furore over Patreon and Subscribestar is a case in point. Emotionally driven activists are pressuring companies to make ill-considered decisions because the activists want to tell everyone else what to think and do. Their standards are the only standards and anyone who disagrees must be shut down. No matter the collateral damage. Everyone else must suffer because someone makes the ludicrous claim that their ‘feelings were hurt’.
Now I come from the school of thought which bluntly states; “I do not care what you say – only what you do.” People define themselves by their actions, not their words. So it is with Patreon. Who have already cost me money. All of my Patreon donations. Fortunately these losses have been slight. God alone knows what they are for the higher profile creators.
Which interferes with the creative process. It detracts from the focus.
Now Paypal has been pressured to withdraw from Subscribestar. Again after activist pressure. Payments processor Stripe has followed. This leaves me as a creator without reliable means of online payment processing. On the bright side there is a blockchain solution which can process any online donation from any source. All I have to do is get my head around it. Which again interferes with the creative process.
Thanks a lot, activists. You do not speak for me. Nor for all the other artists and writers you have hurt with your politics.
Came back to the site having had the weekend off only to find the spam bin contained seventy one spam comments. Holy smoke, Batman. That’s more spam than proper visitors. Fortunately the spurious stuff was caught by the very useful Askimet feature of WordPress. So they’ve been binned.
To reiterate this blogs policy on comments. Semi nonsensical guff with headers containing links advertising Lois Vuitton Handbags, Russian or Chinese ladies of easy virtue, computer games, search engine optimization, chemical aids etcetera go straight to electronic oblivion. Too much writing time is being wasted trawling through the spam bin for legitimate comments so I’ve stopped. Apologies if your genuine comment doesn’t appear, only it’s probably been sucked into E-hell by a deluge of spam. Which is not a happy mental image. Especially if you’re trying to leave off processed foods.
If you’ve something to say, try again either using your WordPress login or OpenID. Failing that, leave off the link to your profile or web site and comment anonymously. More than one HTML link in a comment will automatically send it straight to the spam bin. Any personal messages can be sent using the ‘About‘ email page. I will get an email for every message.
Had a minor rethink on the introduction of “The Great Book of Everything” and have added a few scene setting paragraphs about infinity, real scientists, conspiracy theorists and why Trombones will not form part of the narrative. As always, legitimate comments are welcomed and engaged with. Just keep it on topic.
Progress on other major projects is painfully slow at present. Must stop reading the news, it’s far too depressing.
Still struggling a little. Real life is full of drama and getting in the way of actual creative writing. House move to be organised, packing, studying, college assignments to be written, job hunting, landlord arrested (Two squad cars in the yard, neighbours scandalised). All these things happened over the last couple of days. It’s been very frustrating. Over the last week I’ve been sorely tempted to throw up my hands and shout “Oh, what is it now!” to the unforgiving air at every new interruption.
Fortunately the sun is shining and for a change I got a full nights sleep last night. Our suite is a tip, full of half filled boxes and moving impedimenta. For the next three weeks this is going to set the tenor of our existence.
Is there a better alternative to Google and Facebook? I ask because I travel periodically, and every time I do, I have to reverify my Facebook and Google accounts, which not only shifts my immediate focus away from the task in hand, but is one of those nagging ‘man from Porlock’ irritations. I’m using the same machine through various secure and insecure Wi-Fi network points, the same fairly strong passwords and access protocols, yet still having my email and access to Facebook arbitrarily cut off is less than funny. I know they’re ‘free at point of use’ services, but they do make their advertising revenue from clickthrough traffic and various other means. Yet my Facebook account and two of my Gmail accounts are now ‘locked’. They may remain that way as I can’t be bothered with the fuss of reopening them. Those who need to know will be notified of changes.
We’re currently in a bereavement crisis on the UK front, scooting between relatives and care homes, and these pernickety and unnecessary interventions to both work and essential on the fly problem solving are less than welcome. My LinkedIn account is globally accessible, as is WordPress and several others, no problem, so why not Google or Facebook? We have an alternative paid for domain with available mail aliases and server, and I’m inclined to build a web site there and activate the email accounts. It means the small expense of changing business stationery, but we can handle that.
Over dinner last night, my eldest stepdaughter was talking about building a service similar to LinkedIn for younger professionals. I’m inclined to buy a new domain name and some extra web space for her to play with. Give her the wheel and see what she can do. It’s just a question of time and effort. Facebook and Gmail are all very well, but I’m thinking that they’ve had their day.
Managed to pick up some form of bug the other week while visiting Vancouver. The result of which was a thick head and snivelling cold. Neither of which have been conducive to laying down a sensible sentence. I’ve simply not had the mental reserves to push ahead strongly enough with narrative, and have found myself picking and chipping away at paragraphs and dialogue, deleting the odd pronoun here, checking tenses and points of view fiddling, not really writing at all.
Still feeling a bit post viral two weeks on, and all I want to do is curl up in a ball and sleep.
Reading LinkedIn this morning, I came across this echo of my own cri de coeur from the New York Times: ‘Slaves of the Internet unite‘. I’ve been writing various stories since the age of fifteen with fairly mixed results. Few of them that well paid. On one salutary occasion in 2006, for a paltry fifteen hundred word short story, I ended up with a cheque for seventy five pounds. Not bad, you might think. Seventy five quid for fifteen hundred words? Money for old rope, right? No. The original story, which was a pretty lean piece to start with, had to be cut by two hundred and seventy words because of a graphic. Four requested rewrites over a forty eight hour period later, I had met all three targets for the magazines shifting wordage goalposts. The original target wordage was fifteen hundred at first submission, then changed to fourteen fifty the following day, then thirteen fifty, and finally thirteen hundred and thirty two. It was a cute little ghost story, but I ended up writing it for an hourly rate that wouldn’t get the most low aspiration burger flipper out of bed.
All through my working life I’ve been approached by people asking “Oo, could you do a little piece for our magazine?” or “Loved that story – can we use it for free now it’s been published?” or “We need a new logo – could you knock something up for us?” I’ve done a little graphic design work, and it’s never just one design these freeloaders want, it’s several. Frankly, I’d rather not work than work for nothing. I’ll happily practice my craft, but I’d rather be shot than give it away, ‘exposure’ or no.
While we’re on the topic of something for nothing, I got a cold call Monday night from a ‘charity’ asking me to be a volunteer canvasser. I’m sorry, what part of the word ‘volunteer’ don’t they get? A volunteer comes to you, not vice versa. If I do not call a charity to offer my services, then how is it ‘volunteering’ if they call me? Who gave them my details, and who do I have some very sharp words with? Canada has privacy laws, and I think they just got violated. Anyway, I’ve done enough voluntary work over the last five years, and I’m getting a little tired. Come to think of it, from helping rewire and refit Claverdons Dorothea Mitchell Hall, working on committees and suchlike, I’ve given away a great many hours of my time and expertise over the years for no appreciation, and on at least three occasions, personal threats. No more.
The same goes for giving stories away to get attention or reviews. No. They’re mine, I’ve spent time and energy on them, and as the New York Times piece suggests; you wouldn’t ask a plumber or electrician to work for free, editors get paid, so why is a writer any different?
Trying to move on with projects when your workplace is subject to unpredictable interruptions is difficult. So it has been for the past few months. Angie’s been panicking a bit over her Teaching History course exam, and I’ve found myself roped in to help with revision. All in all, what with new shifts, cuts in hours, hunting for a new day job, planning to move house, and a heap of other incidentals, finding the time to concentrate and write consistently has been at a premium. Even in the quietest moments there have been things clamouring for my attention, distracting from the job in hand. Next doors anti-social birds and my dogs habit of random fits of barking when there’s no-one there don’t exactly help. I don’t mind him calling me when there’s an issue, but barking at things which aren’t there, or a quarter mile away are not conducive to serious endeavour. So working on ‘A falling of Angels’ and ‘Darkness’ has proven quite an effort of late. Any sudden interruption sends my birds of thought fluttering off to the far reaches, and they’re a bugger to coax down from the rafters afterwards.
Normally speaking, when in a noisy environment, the human mind is rather good at filtering out the constant rivers of aural trash. When you’re in the ‘zone’ it’s like having headphones on, and the nervous hindbrain is lulled to a lower stress level, leaving the frontal lobes free to do the fine carpentry of narrative construction. Low flying aircraft noise, tugs in the narrows pulling log booms, gardening machinery, all these can fade into the background. Background music or documentaries help. But when the interruptions are random and unpredictable, the filters can’t work, and writing suffers.
It’s easy to write, any damn fool can string a sentence together and use a spell checker, but as good old Sam Clemens once noted, fiction has to make sense, real life doesn’t. You can’t just fling any old nonsense down on the page and hope it works. Within the framework of the narrative, premises must lead to conclusions, causality must be rigorously observed. Threads tied off. All that shizzle.
I do keep plot notes, I do try to write character traits down, but, and this is the big but; characters have to develop. They have to change with each major event or they simply become cardboard cutouts of stereotypes. Their humanity has to alter with each new challenge, just like with real people. Fixing them to a page can sometimes be akin to nailing jelly to the wall. Especially when inspiration keeps striking like random meteors. Those “Hey, what if?” thoughts constantly intrude. And if the story is changed, well nothing happens in isolation, everything has to be accounted for.
What is often not appreciated is how hard this is to do. At least for those of us who have real lives. Dogs to walk, day job to do, meals to cook, chores etc. Finding quiet time to let the consciousness roam without distraction and find answers to the many questions. Since Angie took her exam two days ago, the distractions are fewer, and I’m beginning to pick up the threads again. Yet again. Today I’ve sorted out a few gaping holes in the plot of ‘a falling of angels’, or at least nailed narrative planks over the worst of them, and I’m starting to write properly again.
Lot of negative waves at home and day job at present. Angie’s under pressure with a total change of work system and practices, which has a knock on. I’ve been acting as her ‘receptionist’ and fending off some of the time hogs to let her get back in control of her workload. This has eaten into creative writing time.
Walked into evening shift yesterday afternoon to be told we had to be nursemaided off the premises by ‘Security’ from now on because some whack job has been threatening other staff. No idea why, we’re one of the least offensive and most people friendly organisations I’ve ever come across. The problem is; Whack job, obviously what is called a ‘borderline personality’ has extended his threat to everyone else who works in our little office. Our Executive Director is very upset, and I can’t recall the first time I ever heard her swear, but I heard her curse last night. As for the rest of the staff, they’re rattled, which has a bit of a knock-on effect all round.
For myself, I don’t react well to being threatened, even by proxy. Never have. Not unnaturally the hackles go up and get in the way of everything else. I’m usually pretty well controlled, but where petty bullies are concerned I have a tendency to go straight into combat mode. Which rather impacts on the rest of life. Left alone, the stress and anger stains and corrodes the creative impulse. Gets in the way.
As part of a coping strategy, my own anger at being under unjustified threat has been faced down and held up to richly deserved ridicule. This morning I took a time out to corner my own red beast, give him a richly deserved spanking and tell him to play nice. To mind his own business until he’s really needed. Writing about it helps. As for whack job, there’s a handy little article on borderline personalities in the October 2013 issue of Psychology Today, which is getting yet another read through.
Thinking about the threat situation dispassionately, there’s some extra material here. A rich seam of narrative to be mined and refined. In ‘Falling’ my hero has to break up with a slightly goofy and predatory girlfriend, and I think I’ve just found the key to unlock that story element. Where their relationship starts out as a ‘no strings’ kind of deal, it morphs, as these situations are wont to do, into a morass of suspicion and jealousy, which will no doubt end with my hero getting slung out of a very cosy gaff. Well, who’d have thunk it? An extra story layer. Well I never. Inspiration comes from the strangest quarters. My irony meter just went into overload.
Today I am also looking at the ‘Freemen on the Land’ movement, watching videos, examining their philosophy. listening to what they say. Looking at what their opponents say. The reason for this interest, an iteration of their philosophy is putting in an appearance in ‘A Falling of Angels’ where the ‘Freemen’ find themselves as an organising factor in a massive refugee camp. Literally creating their own parallel society, and at the same time both helping and hindering my mind reading detective in his hunt for the killers. However, that’s enough of a giveaway for the moment.
I can’t do it. I’m stuck. I’ve edited and re edited. Proofed and corrected, but as for new output, I’m grinding around in a circle like a tank with one track. Endlessly covering the same small circle. Under inspired.
Everything has ground to a halt. Short stories, screenplays, novels, everything. Nothing is working: the ‘what if’ game, the get on with other things gambit, nothing. Fortunately I’ve been here before, and know that if I kind of take a sneaky sidestep, and quit battering my head against a metaphorical brick wall, I’ll see a way around or through. Sooner or later. Just take a time out, use my eyes, peoplewatch, walk, talk, do the Zen thing and the answers should present themselves. I hope.
Struggling a little with Goodreads yesterday. Spent a good three and a half working hours learning and navigating their Author program, and still no idea whether I will be listed. Especially as I share an author name with a guy who writes spiritual and religious tracts.
According to one LinkedIn poster, I’m probably wasting my time as Goodreads is ‘Troll City’. Frankly I’m not bothered. There are few opportunities for the self publisher to get out there, and if a few whack jobs want to play bougres stupides , well that’s just fine by me. In three years walking street patrol, getting verbal abuse every working day my skin thickened, and I can give far worse than I get, if it’s even worth responding. My tongue and pen are honed to a razors edge. If I really have to waste the time, there are ways and means to deal with mere abuse. Bring it on.
It all goes back to the simple truth about self publishing in a niche market. Getting your work into the public domain is all about networks. Listing on Amazon, listing on Barnes & Noble, listing on iBookstore, on Kobo, Authors Den, Goodreads. Not to mention other distribution platforms. They’re all networks with their own quirks and special requirements. There’s a learning curve associated with each one. Boxes to be ticked. Procedures to be followed. Teeth to be gnashed. Hair to be torn out by the roots. Pass the antidepressants matron, I’m just off to my padded cell to have a quiet little scream.
You get there eventually, but it takes time and energy better devoted elsewhere. No wonder others prefer the Traditional Publishing route.
Writing, rewriting, repeatedly re proofing and editing a hundred and fifty thousand word novel is a piece of cake by comparison. That’s just the third in the Stars trilogy.
Maybe there can be sometimes too much of a good thing. Inspiration, that is. Had a great idea the other day for a little dramatic vignette for ‘Darkness’. A sound piece for to round out the backstory. One that ties up two character threads neatly, just in case a reader asks “Hey, whatever happened to them?”.
The only problem is; sometimes an idea is too good and takes over from the main story sequence. Unfortunately, my story now contains too many conflicts with other character threads. At the same time it’s just too damn good to ditch, because what’s written tidies up a gaping hole in the narrative. On the other hand it opens several large tins of wriggling Oligochaeta.
Originally I’d planned to kill off the two characters in question to provide a focus of angry motivation for others, but I like them both so much I really can’t bring myself to do the evil deed.
This means yet another storyline restructure. Head meet desk. Hi. Ow.
Don’t know how anyone else copes with story conundrums of this nature, but it’s at times like these I’m glad that I use a laptop running word processing software, and not my old Imperial Safari typewriter. Think of the trees I’m saving.
156,000 words. I have just edited and spellchecked one hundred and fifty six thousand words. That’s rewriting, tweaking, removing errant apostrophes, changing the odd metaphor, scubble handtweek and burble. Gods I’m tired.
It didn’t help that some inconsiderate neighbour went out last night having left their stereo on until five thirty this morning. Thump, thump bloody thump, all flaming night. All this and a Sunday shift. Did I say I was tired? Fortunately I’m not working tomorrow, which is Victoria Day here in BC thank the Lord. I may spend most of it asleep. My eyes feel like they’re about to roll out of their sockets. I did say that I was tired, didn’t I? Something of that ilk. Even the dog is giving me funny looks.
I’m formatting this many words for an eBook release. All a hundred and bloody fifty six flaming thousand of them. Spellcheck, spellcheck and re-read again. Get my word spanner on the odd sentence and tighten it up. Grease a metaphor, polish a simile and take a very large hammer to any conceits. Just to make sure they stay put.
It’s another self publish, hence the grunt work. I want this up and in the marketplace before I trot off back to jolly old Blighty in June. Three weeks of playing catch up with the odd old mate, far flung family and a side trip to Southern Ireland. We’re also going to do a stopover in Amsterdam. Go do things like the Rijkmuseum, a day trip to The Hague before heading back to yet more jet lag.
Now I’m going to walk away from the keyboard to make friends with a bottle of vodka. I’ve earned it.
Last weekend I agreed that yes, we should have some extra entertainment in the house. I won’t pay for cable TV, as so much television is simply not worth the subscription. So we went to Future shop and bought an Apple TV. We asked about not installing the dreaded iTunes on our business PC’s and were informed that no, we wouldn’t have to do that, we could set up the Apple TV over the phone. Fine said I, and stumped up the cash.
Minor issues with the Apple TV box not liking the first HDMI cable it was plugged in with, but once I’d swapped it for a non-ethernet HDMI cable, no problem. We switched on the TV, reading the instructions, following the steps and the Apple box fired up nicely. The screensaver looked very nice, and we were looking forward to buying and viewing premium content from the iTunes store. All well and good.
Today Angie asked me to get her an account set up to buy some movies. Apple ID created, great. The Apple TV box itself working, wonderful. Went to buy some content and……..ah. Despite having a verified Apple ID, credit card registered with Apple and everything else, we were unable to purchase a movie or TV series. After two and a half frustrating hours I gave up and called Apple support. After ten minutes the operator told me that I had to have iTunes loaded on my PC to register and connect via the iTunes store. There were no workarounds, no buy by phone, it was iTunes or nothing.
I’ll confess a prejudice here; I don’t like having Apple software on Windows machines, and won’t have it anywhere near a business machine for one simple reason, it’s bloatware. I’ve had Apple software like Safari and iTunes on PC’s before, without registering for the iTunes store. These have been the source of many system slowdowns and even the occasional crash. I’ve also spent too much time rootling around in registries getting rid of all the little surprise packages left behind by iTunes to trip up the unwary. Ergo, that application is forbidden on any system I administer. To me it is a timewaster. An unnecessary complication. If you can’t do it via web browser SSL, there’s something amiss. Amazon and eBay manage nicely, so why not Apple?
So today I have wasted over three working hours on a product that won’t let me use it. Tomorrow I will waste an hour and a half getting the guy at the store to help me verify my Apple store ID, but there is no way on Gods green Earth that I am allowing iTunes on a business PC. It may be just me, but thinking about it there’s also something rather posey about Apple Macs and sometimes their owners that just put me off. Something to do with the implied exclusivity of Apple products I don’t much care for. It’s a computer, not a religion for goodness sake. Full blown Apple Macs are great for DTP, animation and a whole bunch of other things, but overall I feel they’re rather over priced for what they are.
Funny thing; I was actually contemplating buying a Mac until this morning. Now I won’t. Not ever. Because of over four working hours lost unnecessarily. Four hours wasted, all because I couldn’t verify an iTunes store ID without clogging up my system with iTunes.