Sunday, October 27, 2013

Freedom of expression and self-publishing: The Mail's manufactured crisis and dinosaur porn

I nearly missed this story last week: Kobo, the e-book reader manufacturer and publisher, went through an exercise of weeding out “offensive” books and removing them from its catalog. Of course, “offensive” means books about some forms of sex. Apparently, books that glorify stock market manipulation or various forms of fraud against the middle class, or books that use religion to justify oppression of women, for example, are okay.

It seems to have started with an “investigation” by the UK newspaper The Mail into WHSmith’s website. On October 11, The Mail Online reported:
Typing the word ‘daddy’ into the search box, for instance, brings up disturbing fictional accounts of bondage and sexual humiliation, as well as collections of bedtime stories for youngsters.
After The Mail on Sunday alerted WHSmith to the appalling content freely available on its website, executives took the unprecedented decision to take the whole site offline while the explicit ebooks were removed from sale.

‘We will tighten our processes to ensure that this error can never happen again and sincerely apologise to our customers for any offence caused,’ the company said in a statement.
The Mail on Sunday investigation found that pornographic ebooks – the majority of which are self-published by their authors – are also available through Amazon, Waterstones and Barnes & Noble.

By Sunday, October 13, WHSmith’s website was down as executives and staff went through the catalog to remove offending titles. The crisis then spilled over to Kobo, which has a partnership deal with WHSmith to supply e-books. According to the much more credible and professional newspaper, the Telegraph, Kobo shut down its UK website by October 17 while its people went through its catalog, as well, and reviewed its self-publishing system to ensure that authors comply with its policies.

Erotic book lovers, meanwhile, sent a petition to online book sellers demand they “LEAVE OUR EROTICA ALONE!”

Executives from both Kobo and WHSmith stated that they’re concerned about books that glorify rape, incest and bestiality, among other subjects.

I’m sure you’ll all be relieved to learn that all my books have passed muster on, including my unabashed erotic novel, One Shade ofRed.

One series of books is apparently not available on Kobo anymore: Christie Sims’ dinosaur erotica books, like Taken by the T-Rex and Mounted by the Gryphon. I have no way of telling whether those books ever were available on Kobo, but they are available on Amazon, and iBooks.
Image source: The Mary Sue 

Kobo still sells erotica, including “tentacle erotica” titles like Taken by Tentacles and Tentacle Alien’s Breeding Pet. Apparently, sex with dinosaurs is too disgusting for Kobo and WHSmith’s executives, but sex with aliens with tentacles is okay.

The power of the written word

This was a crisis manufactured by the Mail newspaper. Apparently, they have reporters with nothing better to do than to surf the Internet for sources of porn that can be embarrassed. Then, they can find people to make self-righteous condemnations of pornography.

John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee said: ‘It is disgusting that WHSmith, one of the country’s most respected retailers, is selling hardcore pornography alongside children’s books.
Why does the Mail toy with evoking the forces of censorship and repression of freedom of expression? Because it sells newspapers.

No matter how Kobo and WHSmith try to discriminate between “legitimate” literature and that which is offensive according to standards, however widely they may be accepted, removing books is censoring some content.

And the Mail depends on the premise of freedom of expression for its existence.

Thankfully, this crisis has sunk back into the swamp without causing much interest anywhere.

I’m just pleased to have found something as ludicrously funny as the idea of dinosaur erotica. I don’t intend to read any, but you have to admit, it has to be the most ridiculous idea in fiction.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sample Sunday: a chapter from the spooky work-in-progress

Hallowe'en is coming up fast, and in honour of that auspicious occasion, I'm posting some spooky stories on the next few Sundays. 
If you've been to this blog before, you'll recognize Dark Clouds. "The Mandrake Ruse" is the first chapter in what is slowly growing into a complete novel that I hope will cross the occult/paranormal-spy thriller genre boundary.
You can download Dark Clouds: The Mandrake Ruse as an e-book for free from the tab at the top of the page.

What follows is a short chapter, this one focusing on "pretty little Teri," the heroine of The Mandrake Ruse, What Made me Love You? and The Graveyard, and the wife of the Witch's son and hero of the tale, Matt.

Dark Clouds: Teri and the river 

Photo of Dumoine River copyright Scott Bury

The water was surprisingly warm, swirling and dancing in the setting sun, dark where it was deep, orange where it flowed over rocks, white were it leapt and spun and rolled in joy.
Teri let herself drift. She closed her eyes to let her spirit see freely. She felt the river’s joy, its happiness in its own strength, in its ability to feed the life in it and around it. Teri saw the fishes and the other creatures below its surface, hiding under soil and rocks and among the trees that pushed their roots into the river to draw their lives.
Teri’s skin tingled with the energy of life, but she ignored the sensation. She could not even be certain she was breathing, whether she was above or below the surface, but she pushed those thoughts, those fears out of her mind. She opened her spirit wider, searched for every sensation and tried to contact the river’s spirit.
A riot of sensation shocked her and her eyes flew open involuntarily. She found herself lying on her back on the water’s surface. She let the river take her. Trees drifted past on either side. The current pulled her until she drifted downstream, head-first. She felt a tug to one side and saw a boulder slide past her vision. The river had kept her from injury.
Teri took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She opened her mind again, willing herself not to think of language or any human constructs so that she could communicate with the essence of the river.
There it was: the joy, the power of the river, constant motion, different in every second, eternally the same. Dark, alive, irresistible. The river acknowledged Teri’s attempt at communication, and her mind filled with a cognizance of a powerful, dark, living and curious presence.
She wanted to ask “Where am I?” but knew that forming human words in her mind threatened to break the communion she had with the river. She explored the edges of her consciousness and found she could not exactly see, but gradually become aware of the world beyond the river’s banks, of the trees and hills and other rivers and lakes and animals, the forest stretching across the world’s curves. Life buzzed and oozed until it twisted or cramped in pain, and Teri understood that happened where humans built their cities.
But there, to her left, no, now her right as the river turned her playfully, there, far but not so far for the river, was her home. And beyond it, her parents’ home. And over there, yes, she could tell where Racine was. She could feel his rancour, feel the stink of his fear.
And in the other direction, a malevolence that could only be Helen. The Witch Queen was looking for her, but she did not have a connection with the joyous river and could not see Teri.
Teri felt the river probe her spirit. Later, her memory would translate the deep connection she had into words.
“Do not fear, little one,” the river said.
“I am not afraid. Thank you for saving me. How did I end up in you?”
“I do not know. One moment, you were there. Perhaps you fell in? The banks, though, do not remember you.”
“The last thing I remember is being in a dark room, chained to a bed,” Teri told the river, careful not to make her thoughts too concrete. “How long have I been in you?”
“A full day. Do not worry, my child. I will keep you warm until I deliver you into the waters of my brother/sister.”
Teri realized she was naked, but not cold. She wondered, briefly, if the sun had set yet, but she did not dare open her eyes in case that would sever her communion with the river.
“Who is your brother?” she asked.
She felt the presence swirl under and over and around her, like an enormous otter or fish, playing in the water. “Some of your kind call her/him the Ottawa River,” said the presence. “I will carry you to him/her by the time the sun rises again. You are tired. I can tell. Peace, child. Sleep. Trust me to take you home.”
Sleep. How long had it been since she had slept, Teri wondered. Days? Weeks? She had no idea how long Helen had kept her in that windowless room. The time had dragged; she knew that Helen had drugged her, somehow, to bring her there, and had used drugs or spells repeatedly to take away her consciousness. She remembered opening her eyes to see Helen’s only inches away, or across the room, supervising Loretta or one of her other bitches as they humiliated her. Even the water’s warmth could not keep her from shivering at the memory of two of Helen’s coven, hands on her ankles, spreading her legs apart while Helen laughed and brought a small crystal vial toward her vagina. But it had only been psychological torture; Helen would never bring herself to actually touch Teri.
Teri let the river calm her, let the water caress her skin. Her thoughts retreated from the world around her, from the embrace of the water, from the presence of the river. And then she felt the presence within her, and she knew that she had defeated Helen.
She slept, and the Dumoine River carried her gently through the night until it gave her to the embrace of its great sibling, and Teri moved with the speed of the deep natural world toward her home.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Win signed books from BestSelling authors

BestSelling Reads authors are doing it again — giving away a virtual boxed set of five  signed paperbacks in the BSR October giveaway. 

How does it work? From BSR's own blog: 
The grand prize winner gets to choose a total of five titles, choosing from all the books available by BSR member authors. Five titles from one author, or mix and match with one title each from five different authors. Plus a $50 Amazon gift card to add even more titles to your shelf!
Second prize is a virtual boxed set of three signed paperbacks plus a $20 Amazon gift card. Eight runner-up winners will receive one signed paperback of their choice by any BSR member author plus a $10 Amazon gift card. 
To enter, visit BestSelling Reads' blog at and enter the Rafflecopter.

Good luck!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Cover reveal: the newest novel by New Fiction author Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

An Unlikely Goddess 

launched October 14, 2013. From Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar, winner of the SheWrites New Novelist Award, 2011

The Hindu goddess, Sita, is said to have been born from the Earth.
King Janaka discovers the beautiful infant and in her beauty, believes in her divinity. He raises her as his own daughter……

A coming of age story, An Unlikely Goddess centres on Sita, the daughter of South Asian immigrants, growing up in all the wrong places. From Hinduism to Christianity, Brad to Naren, she's looking for love but gets anything but.


Unlike her namesake, Sita's first mistake was being born.
     A girl, her mother thought, eyes dark in abject terror. What if he leaves me? She swallowed, increasing the dryness in her post-delivery mouth, the stiches across her abdomen itching. No water. Only ice chips until her bowels passed the tests. Mythili pressed back against the pillows. She closed her eyes, pushing her fingers into the sockets until the darkness was punctuated by bone-white stars. She wished she could as easily tune out the gurgles of the baby in the bassinet beside her.
Yet, even premature and unwanted, Sita was obliviously happy to enter the world, beaming her infant smile at anyone or anything she saw: the nurse, her aunt, her mother's back, the noxiously-pink cement walls of the Madras hospital in which she found herself. Several pounds underweight, she was otherwise fine—a petite, brown-skinned baby with tufts of black hair crowning a smooth scalp. How could she be expected to know that from her first breath she was, and always would be, a living reminder of her mother's failure to produce a first-born male heir?
       Though swaddled and placed in the bassinet immediately after delivery, her eyes were alive with motion. She blinked up at the faces of passersby, but they were admittedly few, so instead, she followed the blinking lights, the creeping shadows and the occasional appearance of a nurse. Everything about the world kept her busy with delight until sleep washed over her little body.
“Look at that smile,” the young nurse said, cradling Sita against her flat bosom.
“Aamam,” Priya, the childless aunt, agreed, rubbing a forefinger across the baby’s somewhat wrinkly face.
Instead of replying, Mythili, Sita’s mother, pulled a see-through blue sheet up to her chin and turned her face away.

You can buy An Unlikely Goddess now from Amazon:

About the author

Mohana is the modern mother, writer, wife. If you tell her something interesting, it's fair game for a blog post or her next novel. With eight e-books, two kids and a PhD, she's got a lot to say. 

Friday, October 04, 2013

Cassidy Jones and the Seventh Attendant: An independent novel review

Before you say it, I know: I am not in the target demographic for this book, or any of Elise Stokes’ Cassidy Jones adventures. Still, I enjoy reading them — despite the strange looks I get from others on the bus when I’m reading the latest installment in paper form.

Elise Stokes hit it big with her first novel, Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula. After being reviewed by a 13-year-old reader, it was picked up by a middle-grade school as assigned reading. Then it won some awards and Elise Stokes became a prominent author of middle-grade or “young adult” fiction.
She followed up her first book in a year with Cassidy Jones and Vulcan’s Gift, but there was a longer delay for the third book. Now that I’ve read it, I understand why.

The plot

As most of the English reading world knows — at least, most of the “YA” market — Cassidy Jones is a normal teenage girl from Seattle. She’s awkward, lacks confidence and isn’t particularly athletic. Then, in true superhero fashion, she’s accidentally dosed with top-secret “Formula 10X,” being developed in her neighbour’s basement lab, which gives her super-strength, speed, the ability to heal quickly and enhanced senses. With the help of her neighbour’s son, Emery, another 14-year-old whose genius IQ has earned him university degrees already, Cassidy foils nefarious plots, rescues her kidnapped father and fights escaped tigers.

In this installment, the bad guys from the first novel return, searching for Formula 10X — which was destroyed in a fire after Cassidy’s accident. It turns out that the specifications were hidden in 10 separate microchips, scattered around the world. The baddies have recovered nine of them (using murder at least once); the last piece is hidden in an ancient Egyptian headdress on display in a museum in Seattle. Emery, Cassidy’s genius sidekick, learns of a plot to steal the chip, so Cassidy dresses as a mummy to spook the bad guys. This has some funny consequences, such as new rumours about a resurrected mummy running around the streets of Seattle.  

But when one of the thieves turns out to be Emery’s father, the mysterious Gavin Phillips, the plot twists — and so do Cassidy’s emotions.

High quality

The third book is a little darker and more serious than the first two. Cassidy is growing up and dealing with a new level of emotions when it comes to boys. Boys are starting to pay attention to her, as well, in ways that are new to her. 

And there’s a love triangle slowly emerging. I think that Stokes portrayed her character’s reaction to that skillfully and believably: it’s plain to Cassidy, but she deliberately chooses not to think about it. I can believe that in a 15-year-old who’s trying to deal with some pretty extraordinary events in her life.
Stokes also spends more space in this novel describing the stress her character has to deal with from having a secret identity—a second life that she has to hide from her own family.

And as with Stokes’ first two novels, the third shows top-notch writing style, editing and production — and a gorgeous cover designed by David C. Cassidy. A fellow member of Independent Authors International, Stokes is living proof that independent writers produce work that meets and exceeds professional standards.

Less action

There is not as much action in this book as in the first two. Cassidy seems to spend more time stressing over her relationships with her friends, rivals, unwanted suitors and her family than she does fighting bad guys. To me, this made for a more interesting story, but I wonder how Cassidy fans feel?

The other slight weakness I found in this story is that you really have to have read at least the first novel to follow this one. The bad guys from both previous novels combine forces in this one. The text also refers to characters and events from the other novels. I kept having to try to recall the previous books to understand some of the plot points in the third (it’s been over a year since I read them, after all, and I’m not getting younger, either).

But those are minor nits to pick out. This is another excellent novel by one of the best writers in the MG/YA field today. There’s lots of room left in the story-arc, too, so we can all look forward to Cassidy Jones and the Luminous soon.