Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Celine's Laws

Gah! Another blasted UK election and another blasted merry-go-round of lies. And, despite all the lessons that history has tried to beat into our stupid heads, we still insist on keeping this sick system afloat. Well, I suppose the only good thing to say about democracy is that it's better than the alternatives. We may be ruled by the worst liars, hypocrites and hate-mongers to have backstabbed their way to the apex of society, but at least we have the illusion that we can vote them out next time. Sadly, the old saw: "It doesn't matter who you vote for; the government always gets in," is entirely apt. The only things we can be sure of is that whoever wins, they won't have our rights or interests at heart; they won't listen to public opinion; and they won't do what they promised they would. Hurrah! Everyone go out and vote!

So, as the insanity increases and rationality gets put on hold, let's all remember the worryingly self-evident Celine's Laws, shall we?

1) National security is the chief cause of national insecurity. (Because if you're not afraid of the "security forces" in their Stasi-like zeal, you really haven't been paying attention to all those whistleblowers recently, have you?)

2) Accurate communication is only possible in a non-punishing situation. (Everyone suffers from confirmation bias -- yes, even me, even you. But when your leaders ignore the real evidence and, I dunno, use your taxes to help kill 116,277 or maybe even 500,000 people, then go on to attack those people who speak up, it becomes "a problem".)

3) An honest politician is a national calamity. (A ludicrous proposition? Well, say what you like about communist regimes, but you can't say they weren't really fucking sincere about socialism. The more a government wants to "change society for the better", the more laws they must create to do so. The more laws they create, the more people become criminals. The more criminals there are, the bigger the danger to society. You can see where this is going, right?)

Alas, it's humanity's lot to keep adopting ridiculous ideologies. No matter what lessons history teaches us, we'll carry on believing things that aren't true because it's easier to to adopt someone else's stance than to think for yourself. It's just human nature to want to be on the winning team, and the team leaders are not interested in inconvenient facts, (such as they are).

Tuesday, 28 October 2014


Been scribblin' these past few weeks, hoping to get a bunch of short stories sold to some "professional" publications. Reasons are fourfold: 1) to get some exposure; 2) to qualify for SFWA membership; 3) for my own self-esteem, because I live in a world without much feedback; 4) because it's fun to exercise, (and exorcise,) your story-telling muscles.

I've always been willing to experiment with different voices and styles as a short-story author. When I was writing a lot of them, six or seven years ago, I didn't much care how my stories came across because I just wanted that "paid writing" credit.  Now I'm more concerned that the people who read my short stories and go to read my novel don't feel short-changed.  The trouble is, now I'm so critical of what I'm doing, I'm never happy with it.

So yes, I know I should just throw it out there and see if it floats.  Just give me a moment...

Friday, 12 September 2014

Cover me!

Further to this post, I wouldn't say that I've had a change of heart as much as a change of perspective about book covers. It suddenly occurred to me that what I like in a cover is of very little importance. It's what everyone else likes that matters. I'm not trying to sell my book to me; I'm trying to sell it to you. If everyone else likes the kind of covers that I grimace and turn away from, then that's probably what I should go with.

Well, there's no accounting for taste; but there is for my tax returns...

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

WIBBOW wobble

Heh! As some of you might know, "WIBBOW" stands for "Would I Be Better Off Writing?"; a marketing precept I cribbed from Kristine Rusch. (If you're an author and don't read her stuff, particularly her business advice section, you definitely should. She's been there and done that and knows the ropes better than most.) In essence, WIBBOW boils down to time management. Am I wasting time Tweeting/writing a blog post that relatively few people will read and far less will care about, when I could be writing a short story that (potentially) many people will read and care about? The answer is usually "Yes", of course. Social media is unlikely to actually harm your sales, (unless you are a truly obnoxious personality, of course,) until it actively distracts you from getting your work out there. At that point, you should probably quit updating your status and get back to work.

So with that in mind, I should stop waffling! I have a few short stories on the go and I'll be aiming to get them in some professional (5 cents-per-word +) markets with big readerships. I'll keep you posted when they're out there.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Drivelling under the influence

Not a post about writing whilst drunk, which isn't something I'd advise. (I mean, best case scenario, you'll come out with a load of crap. But what if it's brilliant? What if you find you can only produce works of wit and poignancy when you're soused? For your liver's sake, it's probably best not to find out if your "Mr Hyde" is a literary genius.) Anyway, no, this is a post about the other authors you read while you're writing. Those influential whisperers who creep into your own prose while you obliviously hit the keys.

I've heard it said that everyone starts their own writing life by aping another author. I certainly did. (Raymond Chandler in my, and many other people's, case.) But after that initial, faltering "parody" stage, we naturally begin to develop our own voices. A bit of pride creeps in once we start to venture off the well-trodden path of imitation. We might, eventually, even fool ourselves that we're beyond outside influences and henceforth develop the silly notion that we're being entirely original.

We're not, of course. Our literary forefathers stand behind us in a line and frown at our hubris.

If you read -- hell, if you receive communication your fellow man at all -- you can't help but be influenced. Whether it's the words themselves or simply the rhythm of language. Something someone said to you or a mannerism you poached for a character in one of your stories. It lends a sentence veracity if it describes something that really was done or said.

But whilst standard advice to all authors is to read a lot, I've discovered the necessity to be discriminating about it. An earlier, unpublished novel I wrote was largely written whilst resentfully hacking through "Atlas Shrugged". (I did this solely because I thought that I ought to. Seldom a good reason for reading anything of that length.) And, without any conscious effort, Randian extended monologues began creeping into my own work. Every so often, one character would climb up on a soapbox and start making themselves disagreeable by haranguing another. The worst part was, I could see that the show/tell ratio was out of whack, but couldn't seem to break out of it whilst I was reading that damned book. In the end, the novel was serviceable enough, if bloated, but I disliked it and it sits on my hard-drive still, waiting to be cut up for spare parts.

So, yes, I think writers ought to read a lot. But only the sort of stuff that helps them.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Cover, my arse

A common piece of advice to indie writers is to have a professional design your book cover. I'm in two minds about that one, myself. There are plenty of bad self-made ebook cover designs out there, sure. Monstrously bad ones. But then go into any bricks-and-mortar bookshop and you'll see an equal number of hideous, awful, wretched abominations created by so-called professional designers too. Most of them are entirely indistinguishable from their neighbours on the shelf and seem to have been copy-pasted from some vast bank of stock-images. It's so rare to find a book cover that rises above being merely adequate that few really stand out -- "The Sisters Brothers" by Patrick DeWitt, being an exception I often come back to. It's simple, stylised, and yet has another level; the outline of the two stylised gunmen against the moon behind them, creates an effective skull motif. I like it a lot.

In fact, although I have rarely ever been attracted by a book cover, I've often been repelled by them. It would be fair to say that I'm mostly repelled by them, if anything. I realised the other week that I have a whole list of cover-crimes that prevent me from picking up a book in a bookshop. Sometimes it's a certain title or subtitle, but often it's just the image. The book itself might be a colossal work of literary genius, but I'll never know because the cover has made me flinch away in disgust. The following list is not exhaustive, but gives an example of my rampant coverism.

1) Anything with a pastel image of some woman in period dress is out, obviously. I don't care if the author is the next Bronte.

2) Anything with a man carrying an AR15 or AKM. (Remove extra points for having a call-sign in the title.) It's going to be a cookie-cutter tale with an identikit hero and a plot about a bomb being hidden in a city. Or in a plane. Or on a boat. The hero's name will be something like "Jack Cutter" or "Jason Slade" and he'll be a jaded ex-special-forces soldier.

3) Anything with "An Inspector (insert name here) Mystery" as a subtitle. In fact anything that names the hero on the cover. It just screams book-farming to me -- someone who cranks out half a dozen titles a year without thought or attention, knowing that they'll sell to their hard-core fans and no-one else. I don't look down on such prolific authors, by the way, it's just not the sort of thing that I can read.

4) Further to point 3) any police procedural. I loved them when I was younger, until the moment I realised they were all exactly the same book.

5) Any sultry looking vampires. Actually, anything with a hot young person on the front cover. I am not your demographic.

6) Anything with a faux-naif home-craft sort of cover and a quirky title. You know the sort. A felt cut-out of a cow or a house or a car. A title like "The Blackfoot Indian's Guide To French Polishing".

7) Anything called: "The (insert quirky profession's) Daughter".

8) Anything with a spaceship on the front. Again, I used to adore hard sci-fi as a kid, just not anymore.

9) Anything that has been made into a TV series or film. I don't know why. Probably just a holdover from the days when every film had a terrible novelisation cranked out to accompany it. Completely unjustified, I know, but now it just seems like the mark of anti-quality to me.

I'm not saying any of these books, or even these covers, are bad necessarily. They simply repel me personally. YMMV, as they say.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Putting all my ironies in the fire

Authors are constantly asking themselves why certain books succeed, while others, (usually their own,) fail to generate much interest. We are told, by those who are grizzled with battle-scars and paper-cuts, that we should simply write a superlative book and it will eventually sell itself. That's what sells; good writing. Case closed.

Until we look at the 50 Shades... phenomenon and that theory falls apart like a quivering secretary in the arms of a perverted executive. The author is richer than you'll ever be and good luck to her. I won't generate bad karma by ragging on another author, but maybe you need to have it read to you to get the full benefit.

Well, E.L. James just "tapped into a market", didn't she? Yes, she did, and very successfully. But what the hell does "tapping into a market" even mean? If we knew that, we could all do it, right?

It's perception. People perceive that "everybody" is doing something, and people are social animals. They don't want to be excluded from the group by going their own way and doing their own thing. You can't make friends with someone if you have nothing in common, so, in order to have the best chances of success, you need to do what is common to the most people. Do what everyone else is doing. Follow the herd. Even if you hate the latest fad, at least you can talk about it; at least you're engaged in following it. You can laugh at Twilight in conversation with all the other people who hated it, but you still bought into it as a cultural phenomenon, didn't you? You still saw the movies or read the books, because you didn't want to miss out on the zeitgeist.

And herein lies the problem. The premise of almost everything I write is that: conformity erodes self. Now, with supreme irony, I'm having to do what everyone else is doing, in order to tell my readers to follow their own path. And yes, you can now follow me on the hive-mind of Twitter.

So, I'll leave you with the opening lines of the old Cop Shoot Cop song, "Discount Rebellion":

Our survey told us what you wanted,
Rebellion at a low, low price,
Be an individual through our product,
Why jeopardise your life?

(Words by Tod A.)