Thursday, March 29, 2012

Smashwords pushes back against censorship

Image courtesy Kofegeek
 Kudos to Smashwords and its head, Mark Coker, for pushing back against censorship

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a column about how Paypal was forcing e-book retailers like Smashwords to remove e-books whose content it found objectionable. If any e-book seller was found to be selling books with content about rape, incest, underage sexuality and bestiality, Paypal would deactivate its account.

This amounts to censorship—the restriction of content. And because of Paypal’s size and dominance of the online payments market, it had the potential to enforce it.

At the time, Smashwords President Mark Coker explained that he managed to get Paypal to grant a “temporary reprieve as we continue to work in good faith to find a suitable solution.”

On March 13, Mark Coker announced through Smashwords’ online newsletter that “PayPal today announced plans to revise their content policies to allow Smashwords writers full freedom to publish and sell legal ebooks....

“This is a victory for all writers and readers. It removes credit card companies, banks and payment processors from the business of censoring legal fiction.

I agree with Paypal’s stated aversion to the kind of material it listed. But outright banning of books that meet the criteria of “including” rape, incest, underage sexuality and bestiality is a blunt instrument. By that token, my book may be banned, as it contains frank description of sexual activity by people who would today be considered “underage”—but who were, in the time the book is set, of marriageable age. Other works that fall into that description would include not just Lolita, but also Romeo and Juliet, Gone with the Wind and The Return of Martin Guerre.

And as I said in my blog post of March 6, while rape, incest, bestiality and underage sexuality may be problems, censorship is not the cure. All it does is limit the freedom of legitimate artists, writers and readers, while forcing the truly objectionable material that celebrates these acts further underground.

Coker attributed the turnaround to thousands of independent authors who made phone calls, wrote letters, emails and blogs and otherwise raised the issue in the world.

Interestingly, I did not hear anything about Amazon’s response to this. Did they face the same pressure? Maybe they’re just too big to worry about pressure from Paypal. But from banks? Unimaginable. Smashwords, as a much smaller company, had far less ability to push back, yet did so gracefully and successfully.

So, congratulations, Mr. Coker, and Paypal, too. But let’s not get complacent.

Where did this latest attempt to limit free speech come from? According to Paypal, the pressure came from banks, credit card companies and others in the financial industry. But that sector is not known for its morality—so who or what was behind the effort?

We should all thank and esteem Mr. Coker for his astute handling of the issue and a real victory for freedom of expression, but at the same time, we need to stay on guard against the next time some faceless organization tries to limit our freedoms.

This issue has not gone away. All writers, fiction or non-fiction, secular or belonging to any faith, political or not, along with all creative people, as well as anyone who values their freedom to choose the art material for themselves—we all must not stay quiet the next time censorship comes cloaked as “decency” or “protecting the most vulnerable.”

And don’t fall into the trap of saying “I don’t read that kind of stuff, so it doesn’t affect me.” Because if those four subjects get banned today, then tomorrow there will be four more that someone finds objectionable.

Don’t think it can’t happen. It’s happened before. And while censorship does not work, it sure leads to misery for a lot of people.

Remember samizdat?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The best and the worst Rebecca Scarberry ever did—as a writer

Rebecca Scarberry is a writer, blogger and book reviewer. She has great taste in short stories (she liked “Dark Clouds”). And she’s a prodigious writer. I don’t know how she finds time for all the writing that she does!

Her story, “Rag Doll,” is a great introduction to a novel she’ll have to get around to writing one day. And “Messages from Henry,” a novella that she had the guts to develop very publicly on her blog, scarberryFieldsForever, uses a unique plot technique.
I asked Rebecca to continue the series “the best and the worst I have done—as a writer.” I have also written a guest post on her blog. Check it out after you read Rebecca’s candid words below.

The best and the worst I have done

I would have to say the best thing I have done as a writer is write my short Christmas story for author Bob Brook’s blog. That story gave my followers on Twitter some insight as to my kindness and struggles. It revealed the fact that at one time I was very poor. It also raised a lot of questions such as, why would I spent three months in a garage, cooking on a campfire and live without a place to bathe. Well, the answer is going to remain a secret. It was a very rough stage of my life, but I have to say it was all worth it. My husband and I both went back to Oregon much happier than when we left.

I have had so many people tell me that the story brought tears to their eyes and it is the true meaning of Christmas. I will never forget those little girls. I cried so hard when my husband told me about their sweet little faces, looking up at him and telling him Merry Christmas. I can never tell anybody that story without crying and when I wrote it for Bob’s blog, I cried when I got to the end.

I have many true heartbreaking stories such as my Christmas story and I put most of them in my first novel. This is one reason I have shelved that novel. It was hard enough writing it, let alone finishing it with an edit.

The biggest mistake I made as a writer is not joining a writers’ critique group once I finished my first novel. I had the first two chapters of that novel edited by a professional, and he was very honest. It would have been kinder of him to tell me to immediately join a writers’ critique group than to do what he did. He didn’t like anything about my first two chapters. I read the email from him aloud to my husband, Rick. When I finished reading what the editor had to say, I couldn’t stop laughing. I’m not sure if I laughed for fear of crying, or if it was the look on Rick’s face that made me laugh. Rick’s response was, “Well, at least he didn’t charge you to edit those chapters.” Of course, this made me laugh even harder.

Once I made the corrections the editor suggested, I thought long and hard about joining a writers’ critique group. There is one only 30 minutes from my mountain home. I decided against it because I am very shy and have a strong fear of reading aloud in front of groups of strangers.

The reason for this fear might seem funny to you, but it’s not to me. My fear of speaking in front of five or more people began when I was in the seventh grade. I was going to have to read one of my book reports aloud in front of my English class, so I asked my mom if I could wear nylons to school the next day. I hate to admit it, but this was before pantyhose were sold. My mom searched and searched for the smallest pair of nylons she owned. She gave me elastic garters to hold them up. I was very tiny and they didn’t seem tight enough, but I was determined to look nice.

When I started reading my book report in front of my class, I got nervous and began to fidget. The nylons slowly slipped down to my knees and one of the boys sitting in the front row started laughing. Before I knew it, everybody was laughing at me. I ran out of the classroom, went home and cried.
I know in my heart that I would benefit from a critique group at this point in my writing career. I would have to have one of the others in the group read aloud for me, but I have heard this is not out of the ordinary. I’m interested in knowing what all of you think of critique groups.
Very candid, Rebecca! Thanks very much. Readers, let us know about your experience with critique groups, writing circles and beta readers in the Comments section.
Now, check out scarberryFieldsForever!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Six sentences for March 25: the most epic action scene ever

This week's Six Sentence Sunday excerpt comes from the chapter of The Bones of the Earth that one reviewer called "the most epic action scene I have ever read."

Context:the hero, Javor, accompanies a group of Roman Legionnaires in a hopeless battle against a dragon that has attacked them. They arrive on the side of the mountain where the dragon's lair is and are attacked  by a series of lesser monsters. Then, they feel an unnatural wind ... 

“The dragon! Scatter, seek shelter where you can!” Horses screamed as the legionnaires dug their heels into their sides. Javor’s horse bucked and he fell heavily to the rock, the second time in one day.
Then the dragon was among them, huge and terrible. In a blast of wind and fury it landed square on a legionnaire, toppling the horse and snapping its neck. The legionnaire,  Tullus, hacked at a claw uselessly until the dragon crushed him.

The Bones of the Earth is available on Amazon and Smashwords.

You can read reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Independent book review: Where's Unimportant, by Daniel Shortell

This excellent first novel about a young man’s downward spiral again proves that independent writers produce books with quality as high as anything produced by the big commercial publishers. It also tells a story that commercial companies shy away from. Daniel Shortell is not the kind of New York-based author with a huge following, living in stylish digs and making excuses to his publisher. This is someone we can all identify with: a young man struggling to make his way in a highly competitive corporate culture, learning by making every possible mistake.

From a mechanical point of view, Shortell is a professional writer. If there were grammatical errors, I don’t remember them. There were a couple of typos, but that’s more than forgivable – I find them even in commercially published books.

But Shortell’s abilities go far beyond mastery of the complex mechanics of the English language. Where’s Unimportant features well-defined characters from literally around the world. He describes their action and their dialog so well, I feel like I recognize them.

The funniest scenes are the main character’s competition with his friend in the company over who can waste more of the company’s time. The loser—well, let’s not give too much away.

Maybe Shortell manages to read so true because the veil of fiction is nonexistent. The main character IS the author. Not just symbolically—the character’s name is Daniel Shortell.

The title, “where’s unimportant,” has a dual meaning, but don’t worry: Shortell doesn’t get cute with his literary abilities. The story is simple, clear, sometimes amusing, sometimes depressing, sometimes inspiring.

On one level, “where’s unimportant” means the character/author feels the same disconnection from others no matter where he is. He does not feel at home in his own community, has only one friend at work, continually suspects the motivations of locals when he travels to China, Malaysia or Africa and has a terrible time communicating with his own wife.

The story prompts some big questions, too. For example, can we consider a modern city a “community” anymore? How much do we have in common with our neighbours? Is it enough?

But Shortell does not waste time philosophizing. Where’s Unimportant focuses on the particular, and in that way, like all great fiction, it’s universal.

5 stars

Available on Amazon

Daniel Shortell on Goodreads

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Independent book review: Red Mojo Mama, by Kathy Lynn Hall

This is a strange review for me. First, I have to admit that I probably do not fit into the author's target audience. I did not really enjoy reading Red Mojo Mama while I was engrossed in the middle of it, but after I finished it, the more I thought about it, the more I came to like it.

The story is about a woman in her, from what I can tell, late 30s who loses her husband and a beloved maiden aunt at about the same time. Her aunt leaves her a trailer park in California, in the midst of the 1848 gold-rush territory. Her husband doesn't really leave her - sure, she has all his stuff in boxes, but his ghost shows up right at the beginning of the novel and makes appearances at key moments.

Don't worry, this is not neo-occult like Stephanie Myer does it. You can choose to interpret the ghost scenes as completely internal to the main character, or a way her mind chooses to deal with grief and the way she has internalized much of her late husband's personality.

Red moves to Nuggetville to take over the trailer park. She begins a completely new life, with new neighbours and a new job as a reporter for the local newspaper.

Kathy Lynn Hall has a gift for bringing characters to life. I could actually hear some of their voices as I read the dialogue (yes, my medications are up to date!), and I swear I've seen some of the residents of the trailer park before. Hall knows how to capture real people's dialogue without seeming condescending.

The main character, Red, is appealing on many levels. Another gift Hall shows is an ability to handle a steamy sex scene. (Excuse me while I have a drink of water.)

What didn't I like? Well, Red is a little too strong, sometimes. Much of it is bravado, which is completely believable. But things fall into place for her a little too well. While I like mysteries that answer all the questions, I generally don't like stories that tie up too neatly at the end. Life, as I have found it, is messy.

Not that Hall's characters' lives are neat and ordered - far from it! And now that I think about it, Hall did expound on her main character's inner turmoil. I just think that she should have thought more about it. Without giving too much away for you readers, I guess I would have preferred that Red make a different decision at the end.

But that's saying too much. I cannot fault Hall for not writing the story the way I would have. And she didn't write it for me, either. This book is written for a female audience. Men, there's a lot for us to take from this, some real insight into that most baffling of questions, "how do women think?" And yes, that shower scene.

Congrats, Kathy Lynn Hall, you've changed my mind. No, I am not stubborn. Am not!

I recommend this e-book as a good read. If you like romances about strong women, mysteries with a lot of character depth, or if you're an action fan who wants to get out of that rut, check this one out.

And if you're an independent writer, Hall's success is a good model to follow. Don't miss her latest, Blog and Tweet, full of good advice on using social media to promote your books.

Red Mojo Mama is available on Amazon
Check out the author's page on Goodreads

Monday, March 19, 2012

Writing tip: cut out those Capital Letters

What is it with CAPITAL LETTERS?

One of the most common errors that I have to correct a professional editor is Overuse of Capital Letters. I see a lot of Unnecessary Capitalization.

I have to wonder, why? What is it that drives writers—and by that I do not necessarily mean Professional or aspiring Professional Writers, but People who have to Write as Part of their Jobs—to put Capital Letters with an apparent if inconsistent Sense of acknowledging the Importance of Key Concepts.

Is this deference to an Idea more important than the writer, or Conceit that every Word the Writer puts on the Screen is Something to be Noted?

Or is this just because Microsoft Word so helpfully changes things that you did not need or want changed?

  • The Meeting of the Employee Picnic Committee will be held in the big Boardroom.
  • The Board will deliberate the Members’ Programme. 
  • The Regional Directors must approve each Manager’s Monthly Report.
Over-capitalization is Distracting, Annoying and Time-Consuming. It doesn’t make words, and even less, ideas, more important than lower-case letters do. If you want readers to take your words seriously, then you have to write them so that they understand their significance.

This is what I would like you, my readers, to try: avoid capital letters. Use capital or upper-case letters only when unavoidable. Limit them to:

  • the beginnings of sentences  
  • proper names of people, places or specific things
  • titles when used immediately before a person’s name, as in President Obama.

What about headings?

Even in titles and subheadings, capital letters are not necessary for words other than the first and any proper names.

I remember the rules I learned in school: “Capitalize main words in headings and titles, such as nouns and verbs, but not prepositions or conjunctions or adjectives less than four letters long.”

What’s a major word? More to the point, what’s a minor word? What about a word like “that,” with exactly four letters? Both “That” and “that” look wrong in a headline.

Here’s my proposed solution: use the same rules for all your text. Capitalize words in headlines in the same way you would in “body copy”: if they’re proper names or the first word in a sentence.

Most major English-language newspapers and magazines today use “sentence case” for their headlines.
  • Daily chart
    The sun never sets
    How Facebook connections mirror old empires

    The Economist online, March 19
  • Sarkozy vows to find gunman in fatal Jewish school shooting
    The Globe and Mail, March 19
  • Vaccines by skin may work better, study shows
    Boston Globe, March 19
Also, don’t capitalize every word in the headings of tables and graphs. Capital letters are not necessary here, they add nothing to the information, and they take up more space than their lower-case counterparts, where space is at a premium.

Most professional editors in the English language are now pushing for less use of capital letters, and it’s time writers got into this new habit. It will benefit you in two ways:

  • It’s easier—there are fewer rules and exceptions to remember.
  • You avoid errors by using the same rules and exceptions in all your writing, whether headings, sub-heads or body text.
Here’s another way to think about it: imagine that the Shift (or, if it’s a Macintosh computer, the shift) key is hot. Pressing it causes a little pain. You don’t want to push down on that key any more than you absolutely have to, do you?

Words to capitalize
  • Proper names of people: Maggie Deng, Wasylko Bukowski 
  • Places: Ougadougou, the South China Sea 
  • Particular things that have proper names: The Roman Catholic Church, the Rotary Club, Scouts Canada
  • Titles when they come immediately before or following a name: Prime Minister David Cameron; Nathalie Delormier, Director of Marketing 
  • Particular sporting events and trophies: the Stanley Cup, the World Cup.
Do not capitalize
  • generic geographical terms: the city; eastern Spain; the north branch of the river  
  • job functions: coordinator of coffee 
  • plural titles: “These copies are for the members of Parliament.”
    “Both ministers will be available to answer questions.” 
  •  non-specific legal terms: “Parliament debated a new crime act.”
There is one other area where capitalization rules require some explanation: lists. I’ll deal with that in my next writing tip.

In the meantime, if you want a comprehensive guide to using capital letters, I’d suggest you invest in a style guide. There are a lot around. Pick one, follow it and check it frequently to make sure you’re staying true to the rules you’ve chosen.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Six sentences for March 18: Dragon Attack

For Six Sentence Sunday this week, I'm presenting an excerpt from Chapter 16 of The Bones of the Earth: Dragon  Attack. 

A little context: the hero, his mentor and his lover have arrived at a Roman outpost, a once abandoned fortress on the southern slopes of the Transylvanian Alps. Valgus, the commander of the Roman legion there, has allowed a group of local people to take refuge in the fortress temporarily, because they're running from a dragon.

The hero, Javor, wakes up in the middle of the night to a huge tumult. He runs out to find that his lover, Danisa, has taken his most prized possession. He catches up to her when:

They turned a corner and were suddenly in the hell of the courtyard. The noise was maddening: women shrieked, children wailed, men shouted and cried, soldiers shouted orders and replies and pleas for help. People were still running and fires leapt high, silhouetting the bulk of the dragon which had walked to the far end of the courtyard. It had dropped the two women it had held before; Javor didn’t know if they were alive or dead. The dragon deliberately swept down buildings and stepped directly on the well just to see it break. Spears and arrows continued to bounce harmlessly off its shiny reddish scales.

For more great six-sentence samples, check out Six Sunday. This week, I'm entry no. 161.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Confessions of an indie novelist: The best and worst of David mark Brown

This week's willing victim/guest blogger is independent author David Mark Brown, creator of the Reeferpunk genre and author of Fistful of Reefer, The Austin Job and blog, Yarns from the Green Porch.

He agreed to add to the conversation about the best and the worst of the independent author. In return, he is publishing my post, this time on "what it is, and is not, to be an independent author," on his blog. Check it out! But first, read his words, below:

Warning: If this were a novel, its story arc would be unfulfiling and gimmickly gutless. But it's a blog post, so that makes it clever and honest. (I don't make the rules, I just manipulate them.)

Entering year three of my full-time indie career has given me good reason to contemplate the sanity as well as effectiveness of my career choice. It is not a simple decision to quit your reliable day job while several of your friends are being laid off, sell your home, move your soon to be family of four, and begin a new life that guarantees you no income for at least two years. But that's how I roll.

Now that I've eclipsed the two year mark it's time to come clean with the worst and best so far.
The Worst: Pushing content into the market place before it was ready.
The Best: Having the courage to jump before I knew what I was doing.

Yes, these are essentially the same things. But before you click away in disgust, cliché can sometimes be truth. Let me explain. Within the indie business dual truths are always at play.
  1. The professional shall differentiate.
  2. The stoopid shall rule.
Pushing out my first novel, Fistful of Reefer, with the wrong title and before I understood what sort of story it was, proved to be the worst decision of my fledgling career. To top it all off, I decided to create my own "Reeferpunk" genre thus alienating the vast majority of my readership before they dare read the first words. (As it turns out, folk in the United States are still rather touchy about marijuana.)

I failed to research the market and digest the hard numbers. Readers won't love something new the first time they see it, no matter how good it is. I wanted to be fresh/original while making a living as a writer. I'm not yet saying that these two desires are antithetical, but they require a long, hard look at reality. Porn and Mystery thrillers are were the money is, not in weird Western dieselpunk.

So, while Fistful of Reefer was ill-defined and ultimately unsatisfying for most readers, and marketed so poorly that many readers wouldn't touch it with a stolen Kindle, it was professionally written, copy edited, formatted and covered. Thus, Fistful was more of a sacrifice fly than a total whiff at the plate. This leads to the second truth within the indie business. The stoopid shall rule.

2.) stoo·pid/ˈst(y)o͞opid/(adjective): combination of ignorance and laborious effort. (Yes, I made it up. I'm just that stoopid!) In his recent book, Do the Work, Steven Pressfield discusses the allies and enemies of creative (and therefore heroic) effort. Number one on the list of allies is stupidity. He says:
"The three dumbest guys I can think of: Charles Lindbergh, Steve Jobs, Winston Churchill. Why? Because any smart person who understood how impossibly arduous were the tasks they had set themselves would have pulled the plug before he even began. Ignorance and arrogance are the artist and entrepreneur’s indispensable allies. She must be clueless enough to have no idea how difficult her enterprise is going to be—and cocky enough to believe she can pull it off anyway. How do we achieve this state of mind? By staying stupid."
Thus, staying stoopid has easily been the best thing I've done. By summer 2012 I will have published three novels and seven shorts within the same alternate history universe and within the span of 30 months. I will have rebranded the entire series as "The Lost DMB Files" rather than "Reeferpunk," in order to reflect nearly a hundred hours of market research. I will have put the same energy and effort into the shorts as the novels. Every one of these works will include a new introduction written by a fictional character who will be the main protagonist of a new series of books (more commercially viable), the first of which will be released by the end of 2012.
Plus, I will release a re-visioned version of my first novel, Fistful of Reefer, that will finally reflect how it should have been written in the first place. And this sort of re-release is a perfect example of the evolving publishing industry. Never in history would such brazen flaunting of the rules be anything other than deadly. But in today's world, I can simply upload the new version, and only a few hundred people (now including you) will ever know the difference.
Sure, the last two years have been filled with ignorance, error and overreaching. I've at times looked the ass. But if the modern, entrepreneurial writer is stoopid enough to endure these failures and smart enough to learn from them, then success will be attained. Check on my progress at and sign up for updates in order to join me over the rainbow!

David Mark Brown's novels Fistful of Reefer and The Austin Job are available on Amazon. His blog, Yarns from the Green Porch, is not to be missed!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Argh! I’ve been tagged!

Repeatedly. I’ve gotten so many tags from so many bloggers, I just can’t keep dodging them. So I've decided to stop trying and answer the tags in no particular order. First up is Sylvia van Bruggen's tag.

As I understand this game, I have to pick 11 bloggers and ask them 11 questions. Then, I have to respond to their 11 questions.

I’m sending them to the following 11 writer-bloggers—some of these choices will not surprise regular followers of this blog, but I hope some of them really do:

Now, my questions:

1. What’s your Easter egg—in other words, what unstated message do you want readers to take away from your writing?

2. Other than your main character, which character in your work is your favourite?

3. Who is your favourite fictional character from any writer’s work?

4. If you write in a genre, which convention or rule frustrates you most? Which would you like to change?

5. Among the genres in which you have NOT yet written, which two would you like to combine in your next work?

6. Do you ever include real people, from your own life or elsewhere, in your work?

7. What do you hope that fans will say about your work?

8. What do you dread that readers will say?

9. If you could appear as a character in any other writer’s work, which one would it be? And what role would you like to have in that story?

10. Is there a living writer, other than yourself, whom you feel does NOT get enough recognition today?

11. If you have a soundtrack for writing, name the first three songs on it (yes, I’m copying carrying this idead forward from Sylvia van Bruggen).

Now, in answer to Sylvia van Bruggen:

1. Someone is holding your book in his/herarms and is gushing about it to you. What does he/she say?

What I’d like him/her to say: “I love the multiple layers—the magic and fantastical, with dragons and monsters and wizards; and the love story; and the coming-of-age story; and the way you did not romanticize the era. And it’s so different from typical fantasy stories, set in a real time and place!

“And I love the way your main character’s disability, his social inability, his isolation from his own community, is slowly and gradually depicted, but then we also see that he learns to go beyond it. He is never “cured,” but he becomes more confident and aware of others’ motivations.

“Finally, I love the way you evoke so many ancient myths from so many different places: ancient Greece and Rome, but also Slavic, Teutonic, Egyptian and Scythian myths. It’s so refreshing to read about something outside the well-traveled, if fascinating, Celtic realm.

“Wait a minute—are the Kobolds speaking a Celtic language? Some of those words seem almost Irish!”

What I’m afraid he/she will say: “I couldn’t get past the weird names of places and characters. It was all too different from what I’m used to seeing or pronouncing. And why was the hero such a weirdo? Why couldn’t he understand the basic human social interactions? And why was the princess such a bitch?”

2. Which children's/young adult book did you only read and LOVE as an adult?

I still love most of the same books, although my uncritical love of Tolkien, Lewis etc. is waning as I read more broadly. I love magic realism like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s, because it incorporates some of those fantastic elements, but adds so much more. I think of it as fantasy for grown-ups.

Elise Stokes began writing her Cassidy Jones adventures only a couple of years ago, so while that maybe is not really the question, it’s a MG/YA series that I love in my middle years (although my wife may dispute my “adult” status).

3. What makes your favorite writers so special? What in their writing do you love?

I love writers with a real gift for language, who know how to use it but don’t show off with wild linguistic fireworks. I also love the way a really good writer can show recognizable human frailties so you hate and love the character simultaneously. Some of the writers who are best at this include John Updike, John Irving and Mark Helprin.

Elise Stokes really captures and depicts the young teenager’s insecurity, hopefulness and rapidly expanding consciousness well. And in Black Beast and Lost, Rob Guthrie very believably shows a courageous man pushed to the edge of sanity by forces he does not want to believe exist, but must.

4. Which advice would you have loved to have when you started out writing?

Don’t write too much detail. You don’t have to describe every movement the character makes. Focus on moving the story forward. Let the characters’ emotions and motivations show in their actions.

5. Where do you go in your daydreams?

A conference where people talk about my books.

6. Where do you love to write?

On a patio or deck, in warm weather, shaded by trees with a glass of wine or beer beside me; or in my study on a bright, sunny winter day, looking out at a wide expanse of snow and ice.

7. Did you pick certain actors or TV personalities for your writing? If so, who?

Nope. They’re phony. Sometimes, I put people I know personally into stories and novels.

8. Did you ever write a character who then never left your mind?

Several: Javor, Tiana, Malleus, Valgus, Helen, the Witch Queen, Teri, Sam the Strawb Part, Vorona… they’re all so interesting.

9. Pick one fictional character. Describe how it would be to meet him/her.

Meeting the Roman Legate, Decius Valgus, would be fascinating and intimidating. He is a military man from start to finish, a man who puts the Empire ahead of himself and even his family—as all military people always have. Valgus is smart, rational, and the kind of leader who inspires loyalty, even devotion, among his men. He was a man of faith who has seen horrors that drive him to lose faith, yet he never loses his convictions and his dedication to honour and his country.

Just talking to a man like that about his life, his experiences and his feelings about issues like loyalty and faith would be fascinating enough for days.

10. What do you have around your writing space to inspire you?

Music, photos. I don’t wait for inspiration—writing is hard work, or maybe hard play. Like a sport you love, that demands a lot of sweat, but you just can’t stop doing it.

My problem is not finding inspiration, it’s finding time to write all the stories I want to tell.

11. Do you make writing soundtracks? Name the first three songs on it!

Whistlin’ Past the Graveyard by Tom Waits; Soul Sacrifice by Santana; All Along the Watchtower by Bob Dylan.

 If you've been tagged, don't take as long to answer as I did!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

The best and the worst of Antiserum author Patricia Carrigan

Today's guest post comes from Patricia Carrigan, author of vampire-genre novels Antiserum and Antiserum, Part II: The Rising. Patricia, as you'll find, is irrespressible and refreshingly open. A perfect victim contributor to the "best and worst" series.

I've also contributed a guest post on her blog, so be sure to check it out.

Over to you, Patti:

I think that the best thing I've done as a writer is probably being able to give back to The Burn Institute of San Diego after all the good that they've done for my family. It feels good that I could contribute in some way. I can’t wait to go back and volunteer as a Leader in Training for their Camp Beyond the Scars again!

Another great thing that I've been able to do since I became a writer was meet so many wonderful people just through the whole marketing experience. I have so many author friends, I don’t want to begin to name them or this will just be a big list of wonderful people! I’ve been amazed how many people accept me even though I’m young. It's all just been a very extreme and amazing experience for someone my age.

Biggest or worst mistake I’ve made as a writer? Honestly, it's kind of hard to really know what my biggest mistake has been. But if I had to chose, it would probably be, (even though I love it to death) the cover choice for my book. It was brought to my attention a long while ago that even though it's very appealing and shows that it's a vampire novel, it appeals more to girls and women more than it does boys and men. I have to agree with that. I guess it isn’t very manly for, say, my dad to hold (but he does it anyway because he is such a great daddy!) He says it’s girlie, but he carries it on business trips and in airports! Go dad, market that book! I just love that cover so much, and it seems to have turned into the picture that describes what my passion is. It’s funny: some people think it’s actually me.

Another kind-of mistake I made: I didn’t know when I published Antiserum that you are supposed to start marketing first and then publish. OH, Now ya tell me? So I took the backwards crash course in marketing. Since then, I have been chasing my tail and burning the candle at both ends to make things work.

It’s been a crazy ride! I started with three connections—all coworkers of daddy—on LinkedIn, and now I’m pushing 9,000 worldwide. I’m busy with Twitter, Facebook, Google+ … and I still don’t know very much. But I have made some great friends who help me all the time. I was even invited to a tweetup in San Francisco by the LinkedIn rock stars, Lori Ruff and Mike O’Neal. It’s funny, since it was at the Hard Rock Café, in the bar, and I was 17. So mom and my big brother took me. I had copies of my book and cool bookmarks that I used as business cards (still do). It was so much fun! I even met the owners of the Rock’n’Roll Fantasy Camp. They took an autographed copy of my book and took pics with me. I met so many people, learned how to network and gained a lot of confidence.

Believe it or not, writing is not something I do constantly, even though I’m thinking about writing most of the time. I really have to squeeze writing into my schedule. And that's mainly because it’s rather distracting to write during the day.I also have school, homework and work to do; I do try my best, though.

I’ve found that I do my best writing at night, when the house is quiet and I can pour all my thoughts into the silence to sort out before writing them down. My laptop is never farther than a few inches from my bed. It’s my buddy (gentle pat on laptop). Nearby, you will also find my composition book. I write by hand when I'm having a hard time typing out exactly what I want. It really helps. In fact, it's how I managed to write the whole middle part of Antiserum Part II: The Rising over the summer when I was travelling.

My writing process, on the other hand, is… complex??? I have no idea how else to describe it. I start by writing out what I want to happen or the guide lines (the skeleton, as I call it sometimes), and then I start adding in the details and connecting links as I go along. This stage is what I call the “flesh” of the story—fitting terms for a vampire writer, right? I also write complete back histories on my characters—and I mean really complete. They could be stories themselves, sometimes. I do a ton of research. Sometimes, though, I find myself going back and changing details because as I get further into the story, I find a perfect way to use a detail as foreshadowing. Then that detail becomes really important to the story line. Usually when I find small details like that I have this uplifting moment of, "Ohmygawd! I feel like a genius!” Then I giggle and bounce for a second or two before writing some more.

Before I started writing, I never realized how complex and how much thought had to go into it. Let's just say, I really enjoyed my crash course in learning that fact.

As I have mentioned before, my first book actually came from my personal journal. So it's almost a given that my personal life affects what happens in my writing. One example of that is if my twin, for instance, makes things hard on me at home, I make her character, J.B., do something ridiculous, like say "If I ever saw a frozen goat I'd probably piddle myself!" Mean? I like to think of it as a release of inner tension to keep peace in the house.

I will explain more about how this attribute affects my writing when Antiserum Part II comes out ;D (giggles mischievously).

Check out Patti's website,

Get Antiserum on Amazon.
Get Antiserum at Barnes & Noble.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Censorship: Smashwords and Paypal

Image Courtesty Technologia

 Paypal is forcing Smashwords to remove books and content “with themes of rape, incest, underage sexuality and bestiality.” It’s been all over Twitter and a range of blogs. I haven’t seen similar buzz about anything happening with Amazon, although that company’s attitude toward controversial content buzzes periodically.

Just in case you haven’t heard, last week, Paypal told Smashwords to “remove all titles containing bestiality, rape or incest, otherwise they threatened to deactivate our PayPal account,” according to a statement in Smashwords’ news page. Smashwords President Mark Coker went on to explain his company’s reaction: “We engaged them in discussions and on Monday they gave us a temporary reprieve as we continue to work in good faith to find a suitable solution.

“PayPal tells us that their crackdown is necessary so that they can remain in compliance with the requirements of the banks and credit card associations.”

According to the Self-Publishing Review, the big credit card companies and associations are pushing for this sanitizing of publishing sites. Apparently, this kind of action falls outside the protection of the First Amendment in the US because it’s done by private companies, not the government.

The payment operators are within their rights to allow anyone they want or not to use their technology and systems. So is this censorship?

Yes. A group or company—people, somewhere along the line—are telling others what they can and cannot publish. It amounts to a restriction on expression.

On one hand, it’s hard to argue with the sentiment. Paypal and the other companies are restricting content that most of us, I think, find repugnant: incest, bestiality and rape. Who’s going to stand up for rape? Anyone?

I won’t be the first to point out though that this kind of restriction is blunt. If we ban depictions of rape, what will happen to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?

Would Lolita pass muster? It has been banned at various times for its central theme of underage sexuality.

As Smashwords President Mark Coker said in the company’s news release: “How does one judge whether the taboo subjects are incidental instances or major themes? Where does one draw the line? The PayPal rep and I agreed our discussion will continue, and they assured me our PayPal services will not be cut off as we both work in good faith to advance the discussions.”

Some say that the distinction between porn and literature like Lolita is clear. But that’s still subjective. Your line may be in a very different place than my line—in other words, we probably have differences over which category to put a particular work.

I am a little worried about my first novel, now available on Smashwords (and elsewhere), because someone could argue it portrays underage sexuality. I have a strong argument, I think: it’s not porn, it’s literature; and it’s set in the 6th century, when most people were married and having children by age 16.

What I think the pro-censorship crowd needs to understand is this: censorship never works. It never has. Remember samizdat? When the Communist Party controlled eastern Europe, it banned “seditious” content, including novels by politically dangerous writers like Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Boris Pasternak and Vaclav Havel. So people made copies on little mimeographs in their basements and distributed them surreptitiously to others who though independently of the Communist Party. No matter how hard the Communists tried, the ideas still circulated.

The less you see, the less you want others to see

Back when I was in university, I was part of a group that conducted a survey about the public’s attitude toward sex and violence in movies. We found—or rather, confirmed—two interesting things.

The first, that those who thought that gratuitous sex (and sometimes violence) should not be shown in mass-market cinemas tended to watch fewer movies. The more people went out to movies (this was so long ago, that people actually went out to movies more than they rented them in their homes), the less likely they were to agree to restrictions on content.

At the same time, even people who thought that sexual and violent content should be curtailed in some way did not think they were influenced one way or another by that content.

In other words, censorship is something we want to do to other people, but not to ourselves.

I certainly do not want to read about, much less see rape, incest or bestiality. But I will say that, sometimes, rape is a legitimate part of a story. It happens.

As for bestiality, again, it’s something that I don’t want to read or hear about; Mark Coker mentioned some time ago that this subject required some fine combing when it comes to paranormal romance. If Twilight’s Bella gets it on with the werewolf, even in his human form, does it come close to bestiality? Clearly, he’s not human. Then again, neither is Edward, the sparkly vampire. I think there is someone, somewhere, who would see that as something similar to bestiality.

So what’s the solution?

The problem with these subjects is not in their expression, but in their commission. Does reading about rape encourage rapists? I don’t know. I doubt that reading about shagging a werewolf is going to convince a young person to rape his or her dog or try to pick up real wolves. And I certainly don’t think that reading the novelization of Blue Lagoon will be the trigger to brothers and sisters getting it on.

There are people with said tendencies or urges, and that’s what we all want to prevent. So maybe we need to focus on the education and the honesty to talk, write and do something about those problems.

Let me know what you think.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Six sentences for March 4: the spat

Six Sentence Sunday doesn't look like it's been updated for today, but I'll post a short excerpt, anyway, for anyone who cares to take a look.

And since they don't seem to be working properly, I'll take the excuse to cheat, just a little, with a seventh sentence—fittingly, it mentions "seventh."

This excerpt if from about the middle of The Bones of the Earth. It's a bit of a lover's spat between the main character, Javor, and the mysterious girl he rescued and fell in love with quickly, Danisa. For the full context, though, you'll just have to read the book.

“You do not even know who I am!” she snarled, retreating to the back of the room.

 “I am the daughter of a king! I am a princess! What are you but a simple farmer!”

He was ready for that one. “And what is a king but the toughest farmer? I am the seventh son of a seventh son.”

You can get The Bones of the Earth from Smashwords
or from Amazon.

And check on Six Sentence Sunday again soon. Let's hope it gets back to normal operation soon—even if mine is the only non-erotica on it.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Two more excellent independent books: Short Stack and The Austin Job

Scott Morgan: a smooth move for the reader's jugular
Scott Morgan is a writer’s writer, but more importantly, he’s a reader’s writer. Someone who obviously has talent and has honed his skills.

Short Stack is a collection of poems, vignettes and short stories by turns funny, touching and always thought-provoking. “One True Cat” kept both me and my wife laughing for far too short a time—because we got to the end of the poem. Morgan obviously has had at least one cat in his life, and he sure knows what they’re about.

“Food and Hats,” the longest piece in the collection, had my laughing, nodding, saying “yeah!” and generally reacting far too strongly for my fellow bus-riders. Not many books evoke those kinds of reactions.

Throughout, Morgan displays a power with language and a writing style that I can only sum up as smooth.

Flawless. There are no errors. Never once did I halt over a grammatical or punctuation or usage error, not once did I cringe at a cliché or even an awkward phrase, never did I think “that was a useless and embarrassing metaphor.” And when I read independent writers, I do that a lot.

But Morgan’s talent goes far beyond following the rules of English grammar. Reading a Scott Morgan story is effortless, sometimes as enjoyable as floating on a raft down a lazy river, sometimes as exhilarating as a roller coaster

Most important, in fact essential with short fiction, is that all the stories are true — not factual, but each one reveals one undeniable truth. When you read it, you have to acknowledge, yeah, you knew that, about people, your town, yourself, even though you probably never wanted to admit it.

The only criticism I have, or can imagine about Scott Morgan’s writing is that there’s not enough of it available. Besides this slim collection of short pieces, Morgan has one other book, a guide to writing called Character Development from the Inside Out, plus of course his outstanding blog, WriteHook: Write for the Jugular.

Come on, Scott. I am getting impatient for a novel with your name on it.

Entering a new kind of world

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Austin Job by David Mark Brown.

As soon as I started it, I realized that I should have read its predecessor, Fistful of Reefer, which creates and introduces the new sub-sub-genre of science fiction, reefer punk. According to the author's introduction to The Austin Job, "reefer punk" fiction is alternate history, set in the western US, based on the premise that oil never got cheap, and instead energy comes from "cellulosic ethanol from the wonderful cannabis plant."

I haven't read any "steampunk," "dieselpunk" or any other "-punk" work before, although I have seen some movies that fit into the genre. The idea is appealing on an intellectual as well as aesthetic level. I love the look of the cyberpunk and dieselpunk ethos--the curving metal, the 1920s Art Deco typography. But pulling off a story that works is a challenge. You have to create a world and a history that is believable while different from our own; an alternative history that patently makes sense and stems from a recognizable point of divergence from our own history; and at the same time not get bogged down in back-story--the bane of many new writers.

This is not Brown's first novel, but with just two novels and a collection of short stories out, he still counts as a new author.


The setting is Austin, Texas in 1918. The story brings together an embittered Ukrainian Bolshevik refugee from the Russian Revolution, a newly elected Texas state senator who is beginning his journey to political disillusionment, an aging sheriff, his beautiful and headstrong daughter, and, of course, a fantastically rich banking tycoon.

The conflict starts right away, with lots of literal pyrotechnics. Just after the state election, a new State Senator, the young and handsome former rodeo cowboy Jim Starr (what a cowboy name!) is courted by two sides in a seething social tension in the state.

Economically, times are hard. Students and union members are striking and have rioted. The match is lit, literally and figuratively, by the mysterious Professor Medved ("bear" in Ukrainian), and once that happens, the action never stops.

Brown describes the technology and gadgets very well. As far as I can tell, the streetcars, derricks and other machinery fit well into the dieselpunk genre, as far as I can tell.

Most of the characters are believable, even sympathetic. I can identify with Jim Starr, someone who is tentatively finding his way in a new line of work after he can no longer pursue his first career (rodeo cowboy, remember?), and I really felt for Sheriff Lickter. I could even feel a connection to the villain, and I felt I could understand, if not condone, his thinking and actions.

The villain is very believable, except for his name: Oleg Rodchenko. It's Russian. To be Ukrainian, it should be Oleh. On the other hand, Brown may be showing how Russified Ukraine is in our world as well as in his alternative version.


This bring me to the only plot weakness: the somewhat unclear state of the world. For example in the Reeferpunk history, what is the state of Russia? Had the Bolshevik Revolution failed?

This is a forgivable weakness, however. An author cannot fit a description of the whole world into one novel, and should not try. Brown says he's planning a series, which will give him room to explore his alterative world.

While almost all the characters are believable, the femme fatale is contrived. Daisy Lickter is a headstrong, capable as well as beautiful. She rallies the women in the Women's Bank (another piece of the alternative history?) She's just too good.

Style: smooth

Brown is a professional writer. Unlike so many independent authors, he obviously knows how to write. The book had very few typos and a couple of words were missing. It's far ahead of many independently published books that I've read lately.

Brown has created a fascinating world and populated it with entertaining and sympathetic characters. The Austin Job is a fun ride, well worth a read. Check it out.