Opinions. Everybody Has 'Em.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Happy Halloween, Humans!

I love Halloween. Always have. As a kid, Halloween probably outdid Christmas for me in the excitement stakes ( if only pressies were included in Halloween, I might never have given Christmas a second thought ), and even then I was a little bit obsessed with all things dark and supernatural. The darker and creepier the better. The notion that on All Hallows Eve a supernatural veil between worlds was at its thinnest, that doors or portals opened up temporarily allowing the dead to rejoin the living, was fascinating and thrilling to me. It still is. My beloved homeland Scotland is a land awash in magic and mystery, and much gory history too, all perfect Halloween fodder for anyone with a little darkness to their imagination. In Orkney, Halloween has long been refererd to as 'Devilment Night' in reference to the pranks played, often on unwary 'outsiders', including showering them in eggs, flour, and treacle! Recent years, however, have seen a clamp-down on these pranks by the ubiquitous Fun Police. The origin of the pranks lie in much darker, superstitious rituals played out to keep the bad spirits and the evil Fae away at this time of year when those veils-between-the-worlds were so thin. The eggs, flour, and treacle used now have replaced the somewhat less savory ingredients of days of yore, which were then designed to expose the Fae to human sight, or to keep the spirits "stuck" within the bounds of cemeteries.

Halloween is, of course, all about dressing up ( "guising" in Scotland ) and parties. Although I've never been one for large social gatherings and tend to give all manner of parties a wide berth, including Halloween ones, my sometimes odd and generally inventive parents made certain that I never missed out on Halloween fun growing up. One year Dad took it into his head that we should dress up and drive the 20 miles to surprise Mum's sister at home. Dad, done up in Nora Batty-style drag complete with curlers and headscarf, floral pinny, and wrinkly stockings ( a long-running UK television sitcom from the 80s, Last of The Summer Wine, produced the infamous Nora Batty character ) certainly gave the guy on duty at the toll bridge a good laugh. After that it became a family tradition on Halloween and the adults competed even more keenly than me and my cousins to outdo each other with costumes. Another year, stuck in hospital over Halloween, a group of mothers also stuck there doing dialysis training, got together an impromptu party on the ward. They raided the ward kitchen for bread and jam to make sticky jammy pieces, and made novel use of IV poles and tubing to string these dripping, sticky offerings from. We each took a turn being blindfolded - using a couple of paper surgical masks - twirled around until slightly disoriented, and then we had to grab a bite from the jammy pieces. Not as easy as it sounds, especially when you have a couple of giggling nurses continually moving the IV poles further and further away from you! And I'm pretty certain that cardboard bedpans were not intended for use in apple-dooking, but hey, when in a childrens' hospital...I daresay that in today's too often cheerless world the bean-counters who have overrun the NHS and the dreary Health & Safety Executive would all have had a fit and a bad turn at our cavalier use of supplies and scanty regard for jam-slippery floors!

I still put up Halloween decorations - sometimes I like them so much I'll leave them up year-round so that most of the rooms in my house have ended up looking a bit like a leftover Haunted House attraction with screaming skeletons and red-eyed bats hanging from the ceilings, and Grim Reapers at the windows. I don't need an excuse to eat too much candy ( or chocolate cake ) or to spike the punch bowl, but if ever you wanted a good excuse for doing so, Halloween is definitely it! Neither do I need a reason to watch hours of horror movies, but there's somethign a little extra-spookily special about watching them at Halloween...just don't expect any reassuring cuddles from me if you're the scaredy-cat sort. You'd be more likely to get a cushion thrown at your head for distracting me from the movie than an arm to cling to!

But if you absolutely insist on something a little more - bleeech! - romantic for Halloween, try this ancient Orcadian tradition...at midnight on October 31st, any young un-wed lass should go to the barn or other outbuilding, taking with you a sieve, a pair of scissors, and a knife. Whilst facing away from the door of the barn - which should be left open - you must 'winnow' the scissors and knife in the sieve, doing so three times whilst repeating the magical words "three wechts o' naitheen" ( no, I don't know what it means either ). Then you should turn around and the first person that you see passing the open barn door will be your future spouse! NB. If the first person you see pass happens to be your father or brother, I'm afraid you may be the victim of a Fae prank! Better luck next year, sweetie.

A wee Halloween greeting from The Dog...

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Family vs Future. Decisions, choices, and finding the one-size-fits-all solution.

Today I had the unsettling experience of feeling a sense of relief and a little bit bad all at once when I realized that moving away from my current island home to go back to where my mother stays, may not be as easy as everyone anticipated. I love my mother. She is one of the most courageous, resourceful, and calm-under-fire people I have ever known. She has passed some wonderful qualities to me, including the ability to see a glimmer of light in even the most hopeless and/or frightening of situations which, at various times in my life, has come in very handy indeed.

But we also remain chalk-and-cheese in many respects as far as our personalities go. This is particularly noticeable in matters of household affairs where I have inherited my Dad’s laidback approach ( “ The dust bunnies are relatively tame and so long as they only grow to a certain size, don’t worry too much about ‘em” ) and Mum is, well, Mum is a house-proud control freak. Most of the time I forget where the iron lives day-to-day: Mum can recall the day it was purchased, where it was purchased from, and often the name of the salesgirl who sold it to her. I find this trait in her bewildering but vaguely amusing. She finds my lack of household skills/care disappointing at best and little short of scandalous at worst. We can laugh about this so long as we don't have to live with the results of one another's differing household approaches. 

Mum's physical health is failing. She has carers and home helps, and a few friends who help out, but there are some matters to which she would prefer to trust a family member - and that would be moi. There are always a host of problems associated with caring for an elderly, physically frail relative, no matter how much you love and respect them, and just one of those can be the clash of ideals. For two very different people from two very different generations - the one of whom is years used to looking after the other, to being a mother to them with everything which that role entails - to suddenly switch roles can be a traumatic experience for both. Mum is clinging to what control she has left; clinging to it with a grim and strident determination which sadly and seriously is coming to more and more lack the humorously tempering input of my Dad, who is almost 20 years dead now. Where once the rougher edges of Mum’s insistence that everything be done ‘her-way-or-take-the-highway’ could be smoothed out by some gentle teasing and cajoling from Dad, those rough edges have now hardened into sharp, cutting, deadly barbs that will snag the wary and unwary alike and tear them to shreds. What was once a minor discordant note in her nature has become a major symphony of clashing, jarring noise, and I don’t think I could stand to listen to it for a prolonged period ( okay, I went a bit OTT with the similes and whathaveyous there - I’m a writer, for fuck’s sake, sometimes I take artistic license wherever I want to find it ). Well, not without taking a longing look at the sharpest knives in the kitchen. Probably whilst secretly swigging from a bottle of Captain Morgan, or maybe Grey Goose would be better since vodka has less scent and Mum has a nose like a fucking bloodhound when it comes to sniffing out alcohol on a person. It is for good reason that Mum and I get along better when we have a considerable geographical distance between our lives and homes. If I gave my space up now, I would also - very realistically - be giving up the pleasures of my life as they are. And I like my pleasures as they are. Put it this way, I don’t see myself swapping ‘em for knitting patterns and ‘Coronation Street’.

Also, there is an equally realistic business opportunity for Housemate and I right here on the island. It may take several months, perhaps a full year even, to bring to fruition, but it could well provide us both with a nice little nest-egg for our own golden years, and in the meantime it’s something which we’d thoroughly enjoy doing. If we left the island to return to the place where my mother ( and Housemate’s remaining family ) live, we could kiss that opportunity goodbye. Unfortunately, they live in a place where socio-economic deprivation has reached such a state as would’ve shocked even Charles Dickens in his day. A snowball would stand a better chance in Hades than we would of making our business fly there. Perhaps it is selfish of me to even look at it this way, but I can’t help thinking how it has taken me nearly 42 years to reach the point in my life where I could feasibly set this business up and run it successfully, and well, fuck me, but the thought of having to let that opportunity go just kills me. Even if it were for my mother. Nonetheless, when the one option which would’ve caused this to happen was effectively removed from the table today, I felt that sense of relief. Followed by feeling bad for being relieved. All of which bothers me, even though people have assured me that feeling this way is pretty damned normal and it doesn't make me a monster.

Given that I also have inherited my mother’s ability to find ways either around or out of a problem, I daresay I shall eventually come up with a solution to this dilemma which suits the needs and wants of all. Or die trying, as they say. Well, maybe not that - but I may get very drunk on Grey Goose before it’s all done and dusted!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

First Blog Tour Was Sure Fun Times!

So my first-ever blog tour came to an end yesterday, and what fun it was! My thanks to Roxanne Rhoads, Bewitching Book Tours, and all the lovely bloggers who hosted me and my book, 'Dante's Awakening ( Vampires of Hollywood #1 )'.

A little bit of thinking outside of the box brought me the idea of approaching Bewitching Book Tours to ask if they could arrange a tour for a book which is primarily lesbian fiction. Roxanne was happy to do so, having had arranged LGBT tours before with success. The experience was made not just painless but even pleasant by Roxanne who handled everything, inlcuding the giveaway. In 7 stops I got the opportunity to reach out to a whole new section of potential readers through promos, guest blogs, and some very intelligent interviews. I also got sweet reviews from The Book Maven and Butterfly-o-Meter Books. For the relatively small cost of the tour, I think it was all very worth it indeed.

I know that blog tours are just one more matter in which writers often disagree as to value, but for my money ( both literally and figuratively ) a well-organized book tour via blogs can be an invaluable resource in expanding your readership and getting your name as an author out there.

See my interviews at:

Roxanne's Realm

Books and Other Spells

The Creatively Green Write At Home Mom

And my guest posts at:

Nomi's Paranormal Palace - "Come Over To the Dark Side"

Butterfly-o-Meter Books - "The Enduring Lure of The Vampire"

Smart Mouth Texan - "My Inspiration"

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

My First Blog Tour Now Showing At A Blog Near You!

Yes, my pretties, my first blog tour is now underway. Brought to you courtesy of Bewitching Book Tours, it runs from 15th - 22nd October ( fittingly close to Halloween ), and is helping to promote both 'Dante's Awakening ( Vampires of Hollywood #1 )' and to extend my reach as an author to a new readership. There are guest blogs, starting on the 16th Oct with this piece at SMARTMOUTHTEXAN where I talk about finding my inspiration to write, some promos, reviews, and a few interviws where you can find out more about me, my writing process, and what I do when I'm not writing...oo-er, missus! The whole deal has been beautifully organized and orchestrated by Roxanne Rhoads at FANG-TASTIC BOOKS where you can visit to find the full tour schedule. There's even a giveaway of goodies that you can enter! Just go to the Home page at Fang-Tastic and scroll on down...See you all there!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Gonna Be Nothing 'Special' About My Diet...

Special diets are something I know a thing or two about. I spent my life between the ages of 9-17 yrs following a weird ‘n’ wacky variety of special diets thanks to kidney failure and dialysis. Low sodium, low calcium, low potassium, low protein, high protein, high calcium, restricted fluid…and often a combination of one or more of the aforementioned. My mother’s kitchen was filled with measuring jugs, low-sodium products ( which cost a fucking fortune and were hard to find in the 1980s UK ), potatoes steeping in water overnight to remove their potassium content, and special weighing scales which went down to the nano-level to measure even the smallest iota of protein. If there was one thing I took away from the experience it was that following a special diet is a pain in the ass. Especially if you happen to be a lazy, undisciplined, occasionally hedonism-prone individual like me. Try as my doctors did, they couldn’t stop me from eating nuts - salted, unsalted, peanuts, walnuts, brazils, whatever - even though these were cited as frequent culprits in messing with my biochemistry. Yeah, well, I loved 'em. Still do. Never met a nut I didn't like.

One day, whilst I was on a low-protein diet sometime in the mid-80s, my mother and I were in the kitchen, weighing a Wee Willie Winkie sausage for my dinner. For anyone who doesn’t know what these were, they were tiny little pork sausages, about the size of an index finger ( No off-color jokes, bitches, please! ), and very, very tasty. Go here to view today's Wee Willie Winkie sausages. We ended up with a piece of sausage about 2 ½ cm in length which sat there forlornly on the scale whilst both of us stared in abject disbelief at it. My mother deadpanned “ Well, there’s your dinner, dear. Don’t eat it too fast now, in case it gives you heartburn” and we both dissolved into giggling hysterics at the absurdity of it all. I swore then that soon as I was able to eat and drink freely, I’d never get sucked into any manner of ‘fads’ or brainwashing as far as diet went, and I never have.

Oh, and my mother threw in the whole sausage that day, figuring - correctly - that it wasn't going to fucking kill me!

Today I firmly believe that telling people not to eat or drink something at all or ever again is pointless - not unless doing so is actually going to kill them, and even then it had better be sooner rather than later. It’s far better to practice moderation, to experiment with what suits you as an individual and to make that work for you. Attempting to follow diets set for some elusive ‘average person’ is also frustrating and pointless - who the hell is the 'average person' anyway? I’ve never met them. Have you? I suspect if I had, I’d have been so fucking bored by them that I wouldn’t remember anyway.

Lately, my docs made the discovery that I have gout - apparently something of an inevitability after childhood kidney failure, years of dialysis, and then years of taking corticosteroids and immunosuppressive drugs. Fair enough. They offered me the chance to control it through diet but I said, “ Gimme the meds” instead because those will allow me to eat and drink normally. Like hell I'm going back to futzing with my diet at this stage in my life! Besides, just about everything I love to eat and drink ( except for shellfish and organ meats which I loathe ) is moderately high to high in the purines which cause gout attacks, and if you read the contradictory literature on the disease, no one seems to know what exactly is best to cut out, cut down, or eat/drink more of. Some say taking more fruit and citrus drinks is a good for preventing attacks. Others say that citrus is a cause of them. Some say drink wine and spirits instead of beer. Others say that it’s better to drink beer in moderation than to drink wine or spirits. Yet others preach that you shouldn’t drink any alcohol at all ( yeah, any bloody excuse to flaunt your teetotal halo, huh? ). Some think peanuts are a cause. Some say lentils/ oily fish / peas / spinach are all causes.

I say fuck that noise. I love beer. I love cider. I love nuts. I love oily fish. I drink a glass of orange juice every day. I eat an apple every day. Okay, I could live without ever eating spinach again, but I really like peas with my oily fish.

The pain of an acute gout attack is something that I would not wish upon anyone. I’ve endured a variety of pain before - from peritonitis to pancreatitis, from migraine to damaged nerves - but nothing has ever driven me to the extreme of distraction that the acute gout pain did. My docs even broke their cardinal rule of never giving me stronger codeine ( that’s a blog in its own right! ) to try to kill the pain. In the end, the only thing worked was increasing my corticosteroid dosage…ironically, one of the very drugs which probably caused the gout in the first place! Drugs, and the human body’s reactions to them, are a fascinatingly contradictory thing at times.

So, all I need to do now is keep any further acute attacks at bay until the beginning of October and then I can start the anti-gout meds and start getting my regular life back.

10 more days. I can do that.

As my mother always told me, “ You can take whatever shit and nonsense life throws at you because you are stronger than you even imagine….” and added with a raise of her eyebrows… “ Besides, you’re also a bloody-minded little bastard who can't let anything get the better of you on principle! ”

Amen. Now, pass me that damned beer, bitches. Before I die of alcohol withdrawal!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

"Hive Mind" Reviews - Resistance To Them Is NOT Futile

No thanks,
I won't be making any
deal with the Devil today!
When an author has a public meltdown on the internet it’s usually over a review which they feel - rightly or wrongly - has been unfairly harsh to them. As with any dispute, there will always be two sides ( at least ) to the story, and no shortage of people jumping into it with poorly-informed and ill-formed opinions. In traditional and indie mainstream publishing these meltdowns tend to blow over as soon as the next juicy scandal comes thee-ing and thou-ing along to distract everyone. The amount of long-term harm done to either the author or the reviewer is debatable - probably negligible. As writers, knowing that we will all get a less than glowing review at some point because it is impossible to please all of the people all of the time, most of us have learned to take the rough with the smooth and not to get all bent out of shape about the former. Certainly, if the poor review comes from another writer, we have learned that it is particularly bad form to rubbish that writer back out of revenge, or to allow our fans and friends to rubbish or shun them on our behalf.

However, there is one corner of the publishing world where the giving of less than glowing 5-star reviews often continues to have more long-term and sinister repercussions for the review-giver, especially if that review-giver is another writer…and that is in lesbian fiction publishing. Sadly, parts of the lesfic world run on a “hive mind” where dissent is very often not tolerated. If A says that B’s book is the best thing since individually wrapped cheese slices, then it is expected that C through Z will agree with this position. Some may deny this is so. Probably the most vociferous deniers will be those who have benefited most from the hive mind - denial is an attractive and much-inhabited land, after all. Just not one which I choose to inhabit. The expectation of consensus may be unspoken, the pressure to join the consensus may be subtle, but it’s there. I believe that.

From time to time I post on Goodreads, and on my blogs, reviews of some of the books I have read. I post honest reviews which concentrate mainly on how I found the story to be. I rarely comment on the grammar or editing unless it is so bad that I’ve been left with the urge to hurl the book ( or my Kindle ) across the room. I’m often harder on traditionally published books than indie ones because if the trads want to continue claiming that they are better and sneering at the indies for poor editing etc, then they had better raise their own bar pretty fucking high. But so long as I continue to fail to see appropriate bar-raising in traditional publishing, I will continue to point it out if and when I feel the need to. I do try always to make it clear that my reviews are simply my opinion. As are anyone's reviews.

A while back I just stopped posting reviews of lesfic because I began to feel that subtle pressure to join the consensus at work in my own life. I felt the pressure to post only good reviews, that in posting anything less I was being subjected to the collective wrath of the hive mind. And I hated myself for compromising my own integrity. I hated that I backed off in the face of this insidious pressure. The simple truth is, if I'm going to post a review, I can’t post anything other than an honest one. If I find something good about a book, I’ll mention that. But I can’t go along with the shiny-happy everyone-gets-a-gold-star-just-for-participating mindset which says “ If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all!” And I certainly won’t join with any hive mind.

If all we ever saw were glowing 5-star reviews, there’d be no balance, no honesty, and it’s my feeling that the integrity of both readers and writers would be compromised by any such thing. So I won’t compromise. Even if A through Z are all singing the praises of a book in perfect chorus, I will sound any discordant note I feel the need to. I'll be the dissenter. I’ll be the only sour cherry on that fruit stand and I’ll be damn well proud to be so.

Yeah, gives me an excuse to post this!

Monday, 23 July 2012

Reviewers Behaving Badly - The New Edition

I’ve come to the conclusion that the Writers vs. Reviewers debate will never be resolved, but will simply rumble on and on, becoming an endless - and ultimately pointless - argument as both sides continue to refuse to either listen to each other or to see their own faults in the matter. So this is my final word on it. From now on I’m steering clear of all and any debates on the subject because they rarely are anything like grown-up, reasoned debates. But before I do that, I felt it necessary to re-jig and update this post because some of the points seem to have been lost on the folks on at least one side of this fence.

Some book bloggers behave badly. Some authors behave badly. Therefore, some bloggers and some authors are ass-clowns. But not all of either are ass-clowns.

Authors give free review copies in the expectation that they will receive a review. They have a right to expect this review to appear in a reasonably timely fashion, or to be informed by the blogger that there will be an extended waiting period. Or indeed no review at all. We all have offline lives. We all need 48hrs in every day to get shit done. Bloggers don’t have a monopoly on that, although given the way some of them carry on, they would seem to think that writers just click their fingers and little magical elves appear to write their books for them, giving the writers time to sit around and do bugger all but dream up ways to be nasty to those poor, overworked bloggers. If your offline life is overtaking your online commitments, you should at least put a message on your blog/website to this effect.

A simple “ Events in my offline life have necessarily taken precedence over reviews for the moment. My apologies to anyone who is still waiting for a review then. I will resume reading and reviewing as soon as possible and I would sincerely appreciate your understanding and patience on this matter. Thank you” would suffice.

And if you ultimately find that you don’t want to review a book? Let the author know this. You don’t have to tell them the whole truth, i.e. that you thought their book sucked donkey balls, you can tell them a white lie. But just know that leaving them without either a review or an explanation it isn’t an acceptable I’m-taking-the-cosmic-high-ground-here way to do things. It’s fucking cowardly. You want to be “nice” to everybody and give everyone “positive” reviews and get all itchy-scratchy when you can’t do that? Oh boo hoo. Pull on your big-kid panties and deal with it, or fuck off out of the kitchen if the heat is breaking you out in hives. Sure, you will continue to get authors who freak out at you. There are, and always will be nut jobs in this world. Again, either put on your big-kid panties, or get out.

As for authors, if the blogger you intend to approach has guidelines, read the fucking things and abide by them. If you get a bad review, well, you can just put on your big-kid panties and deal with that, or don’t seek reviews at all. But don’t start an online war with the reviewer over a bad review. And don't let your well-meaning but misguided fans / regular readers start a war on your behalf either. It just never ends well for anyone. Of course, neither should authors feel afraid to make a polite approach to bloggers or reviewers who have not lived up to an agreement and it's a shame that their whining has made many of us just so afraid to speak up, not even when we get royally screwed.

Personally, I’m sick of seeing book bloggers in online writing groups moan about how all authors are evil and all treat them like shit, and I’m even more heartily disgusted by seeing authors leap to agree with this, flagellating themselves for being horrible people, and kissing the asses of these whingers until they are shiny enough to see their faces in. And I hate seeing authors go off the deep-end and start online wars with individual bloggers. However, authors and publishers do have a right of expectation when they send out books for review. It’s not enough to send out hundreds of free review copies in the mere hope of scoring a couple of reviews from that, and then just shrug off the non-responses. It costs money to send out books and promo materials, often the author's own money. If I want to give my books away free, I’ll do it on my terms. As part of KDP Select, or a giveaway within a blog or magazine that I’ve chosen to deal with. Otherwise, I’m making an agreement with a reviewer and I don’t care if it is “some kind of gentleperson’s agreement” as one author put it, it’s still a fucking agreement. What are we if we allow ourselves to become people who don’t honor their agreements? Maybe our governments and industry leaders are guilty of not honoring their agreements, but do we not shake our heads in disgust at this behavior and use our vote to oust these dishonorable types from positions of power?

And yet, we shrug and mumble about how it is okay to dishonor our own agreements. Bullshit it is. An agreement is still an agreement, doesn’t matter if it’s written in blood, or merely on a handshake or your word alone. Bloggers, if you even have the slightest inclination that you are not going to be able to fulfill that review agreement, let the fucking author know! Because given all the bad publicity we get, many of us are actually reluctant to make even the politest of inquiries to even the most super-tardy of reviewers...you know, just in case our "Excuse me, I understand that you are busy [ well, so the fuck am I ] and have many things to do [ditto ] but I was just wondering...that review we agreed upon six months / one year / a fucking lifetime ago...has there been a problem with it? It's fine if there is, I would just like to know so that I can move on and not keep wondering whether you have A. changed your mind B. forgotten in the rush of daily life or C. are just a greedy little shit who likes to gather up as many free books as you can with scant intention of ever reviewing more than a couple of them in your entire 'career'...but really, no harm done, just wondering!"

Both sides have their bad points. Both sides have their good points. But instead of seeing things from both sides and having a reasoned discussion about it, people merely want everyone else to agree with them. “ You’re so right that bloggers are bad/authors are bad/whoever you want me to say is bad…I agree one hundred percent with every word you uttered!” and to pat them the back with a “ There, there, there, you poor soul, you’re so hard done by and so perfectly saintly to put up with it!” And if they don’t get this? If - gasp! shock! - a post results in an actual discussion? Well, they simply putt their lip, grab their ball and march off the playing field in a huff, deleting the whole post on the way. Oh, grow up. The last man on this earth who was allegedly perfect was nailed to a fucking cross for it. But don’t worry - none of us mere mortals are in any such danger because none of us are perfect, nor blameless, nor saints. The best we can do is try to see each other’s points of view, have reasoned discussions about our differences and grievances, and do our level bests whenever we humanly can to act in ways that are honorable.

Or maybe one possible solution is that bloggers should start charging for reviews? Entering money to the equation creates an actual contract between people. The author or publisher then would be buying the blogger's time ( not buying the review ) and the blogger would be obligated to either deliver a review in timely fashion, or to refund the money, as with any contract. The author would be contracting their willingness to accept whatever kind of review they got - good, bad or indifferent - without recourse to complaint...unless the reviewer very obviously did not read the book and wrote a factually inaccurate review, or failed to provide the agreed-upon review within a timely fashion ( I'd put that at six months, personally ). Pretty soon the reviewers who are just in it for free books, or who disappear without explanation, or who are just plain lazy and distracted ( of course, being lazy and distracted is fine, just don't do it on someone else's time ) will stop getting custom, thus allowing the responsible bloggers to rise. 

...and waiting now for the howls of protest about "paid-for reviews" because people haven't properly read the above paragraph...

Too bad then that most people will continue to simply cherry-pick the parts of posts like these that suit their own view and disregard the rest; and so the whole debate will rage on ad infinitum complete with its frequent tendency to degenerate into schoolyard name-calling and capital-letter threats of everything from litigation to dismemberment. Well, what the hell. I'm tired of looking at both sides of this fence. Actually, I'm tired of the whole fence - let it fall down and rot. Personally, I won't be volunteering any more books for review, not without a cast-iron agreement either as part of an pre-arranged blog tour, or whatever. If my publisher wants to give out free copies for review, then fine, that's at their time and expense. But either way I won't be sweating this any longer. Now, I'm off to have a drink in that great spirit of "Write drunk, edit sober!"

"Cheers to no more reviewer tears!"

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Belgian Waffling...Or...Exploring The Annals Of My Accident-Prone Life

It’s all been getting a bit serious up in here lately, so to lighten the mood let’s have another rummage through the ruins of my accident-prone life…

This weekend I had a telephone conversation with my mother during which Mum was on a bluebottle safari. Apparently said bluebottle had the brazen cheek to follow her Home Help into the house and Mum hates bluebottles with a passion approaching the psychotic ( I must confess that I share this dislike of bluebottles with her - they are nasty, dirty, buzzy creatures which need to die immediately ), so that our conversation was peppered with the intermittent thwack-thwack-thwack of a rolled-up newspaper hitting walls, windows, lampshades etc. Anyway, it reminded me of the first time my parents took me abroad on holiday…

I was around 13 yrs-old, and we decided to take a coach tour which encompassed France, Holland, and Belgium - because my parents thought I’d enjoy these countries ( which I did ) and because the tour was based in Ostend where my parents spent part of their honeymoon and they thought I might find this sweet and nice ( which I didn't ). Two rooms had been booked for us by the tour company, a twin for my parents and a single for me. I was excited to have a room of my own.

Except as soon as we arrived that went out the window. Almost literally.

Our luggage had been deposited in the twin room, so we entered there first, to find a half dozen bluebottles buzzing in circles around the ceiling light. Dad and I left Mum wearing a grim expression, clutching a rolled-up Daily Express newspaper, and muttering “ Right. Come here, you dirty little bastards!” as she chased the offending insects around the room, and we fetched my luggage to what was meant to be my room.

There is no delicate way to put this so I’ll just say it…the tour company had booked a hotel smack in the middle of Ostend’s red-light district. And my room looked directly across a very narrow street into one of its licensed houses of ill-repute. Dad and I walked into the room to be greeted, via the wide open window, by the sight of a very buxom and somewhat under-attired lady of the night ( and the daytime too, it seemed ) leaning out of a window in the building opposite. She spotted Dad and his expression of I’m-horrified-but-fascinated-at-once-by-this-cultural-difference and gave him a big smile and a little finger wave, and he promptly whisked the curtains closed, turned to me and announced that I’d be sharing the twin room with my mother. No arguments ( bless him for being an overprotective father, he wasn’t quite so horrified by the thought of me seeing naked ladies as he was by their clients seeing me - and any other motive on his part I refuse to think about ).

Later, after dinner, enjoying a drink in the hotel bar, I realized I need something from the room, so off I went. Of course I got off the fucking elevator at the wrong floor and wandered down the wrong corridor…why would I not? This was also the first time I’d ever come across lights that were on a timer - you hit the switch at the start of the corridor and the light came on for a set time before going out again, necessitating that you hit the switch at the other end. All very energy-saving and noble except that I don’t think this particular hotel was thinking about being eco-friendly so much as they were struggling to pay the utilities bill. Anyway, there I was wandering down this corridor - identical to every other bloody corridor in a hotel that generally had about as much decorative feature as one of those slabs of fucking concrete in the old USSR - unable to figure out where the damned room was, and poof! out went the lights. Since the corridor was an internal one ( meaning it had no fucking windows ) I was plunged into pitch darkness and my nerves have never been exactly solid in darkness…

…five seconds later I burst out of that corridor, shrieking in panic, having dropped my room key ( of course ), and ran into a very startled French couple exiting the elevator, who tried their best in their limited English and my even more limited French to comfort me, help me find my room key, and guide me toward the right floor. By this time I was wondering what kind of weird, masochistic peoples were these bloody Belgians?

But it could still get worse. Surprise, eh?

Just before going to sleep that night, I decided it might be a good idea to mess with the radio alarm clock. I have no idea why I thought it would be a good idea to do this since my jinx with all things electrical was already in full-swing by that age. Maybe it was the Continental air or something - who knows, and who gives a rat’s ass? I tinkered with a radio alarm clock that was all written in fucking Flemish and the result was…well, it was BAD.

I panicked when I realized that I didn’t know shit about the language I was tinkering with, so I did the only sensible thing I could think of - I switched the radio alarm clock off. Honestly, all the wee LED numbers went dark, and I was pretty sure I’d switched it off completely. And so Mum and me settled down to sleep.

About an hour later we were awoken by the most unearthly screeching sound emanating from the radio alarm clock that I’d been so sure I switched off. And I mean this was a screech. This was like no normal alarm I’ve ever heard before or since. Maybe Flemish people are hard to wake in the mornings? Anyway, the LED lights were on and flashing, too, like some kind of emergency fucking Bat signal. Mum leapt up out of bed, covers all going everywhere, eyes like saucers, and she yowled “ What is it? What’s happening? What’s that bloody racket all about?” whilst I was frantically trying to trace the cord to the electrical outlet behind the bed and yank the damned thing out of the wall. I tried to reassure my panicked, half-awake mother that the hotel wasn’t really on fire, it was just some fuckwitted Flemish design of a radio alarm clock ( yeah, absolutely nothing to do with me, the Queen of Electrical Jinx, tinkering with something written in a language I had zero understanding of )...by the time I got the instrument to just shut the hell up with its unearthly screeching, Mum was looking at it like she was wondering whether she might be able to find a Belgian priest amenable to exorcising electrical equipment on short notice. I thought it prudent to deposit the offending item in a drawer, first wrapping the cord firmly around it for what purpose I’m not sure…and there it remained for the duration of our stay. Dad became our morning wake-up call. And yes, he laughed himself silly over the whole incident, and yes, he offered to “fix” the radio alarm clock…an offer which was greeted by a chorus of “ No! It’s fine! Really! Don’t touch it please!”

I’m happy to say that the rest of this holiday went relatively smoothly…well, unless you count the ‘beer incident’ in Brussels, and maybe UK HM Customs & Excise suspecting us of smuggling drugs ( that was their fucking problem, not ours ), and there was that thing with me nearly falling out of the window in the hotel room and don’t even ask me why I partially-flooded the bathroom…faucets in Belgium are different from those in Britain, okay!?!

Friday, 13 July 2012

Authors, Five Steps To Healthy Relationships With Your Reviewers!

It’s undeniable that some authors act like egomaniacal chimps when it comes to sending their precious tomes out for review, and equally that some reviewers act badly. Here’s my five cents worth of hints to authors for enjoying a healthy, respectful relationship with book reviewers:

1. Read the Submissions Guidelines. Please. There is a reason I made this No.1 on the list. It drives reviewers crazy when authors don’t read the damn guidelines. Pay attention to which genres the reviewer wants. If they only review YA and romance, they are not going to read your zombie hippos vs. vampire giraffes horror novel. It doesn’t matter if you think that you are a modern-day Poe with a Kingesque twist and that your novel is the most innovative offering ever to have been birthed from the imagination of a scribbler…if it’s not on the list, it ain’t getting in. If you write in cross-genres and you are uncertain whether your fits the criteria, a short polite email inquiry will serve better than ‘just taking the chance’. If a reviewer doesn’t reply within a reasonable time, take that as a sign of disinterest and move on. Oh, and if the guidelines say SUBMISSIONS CLOSED and yet still you send your book winging their way, laboring under the illusion that they shall make an exception just for you, then you are an egomaniac. And an idiot.

2. Don’t hassle the reviewer once they accept your book. If they have been gracious enough to state that they are backlogged by reviews ( granted, not all reviewers are at all gracious in this respect ) and reviewing your book will take 6-8 weeks, there is no point contacting them before then. Give it 10-12 weeks and if still there is no sign of a review, make a polite email inquiry on how the current situation stands ( note how the word polite is emphasized ). If they haven’t mentioned anything about backlogging, you might want to wait for about 6-8 weeks before querying them. If they don’t reply within a reasonable time, take it as a sign of disinterest and move on. It’s annoying to think that someone has gotten a free copy of your book without upholding their end of the bargain to provide a review in exchange for it, but yes, Virginia, there are greedy little people in this world who want the free stuff but who don’t want to fulfill the obligation attached to it. Just note that blogger’s name and site in a little black book, never allow them to have a free copy again, and fuggedaboutit.

3. Always offer to provide a free copy for review. Some reviewers buy the books they review. They may do so out of personal preference, or because they feel less obligated to produce a good review if the book is purchased, or even because they understand that every book sold will help a writer to stave off starvation in their little garret. Regardless, you need to offer the book free to reviewers. Again, there may be a certain number who fail to, or never had any intention of fulfilling their end of the bargain, but…see above, Virginia.

4. If you are given a good review ( and why wouldn’t you? Your book is the greatest thing since sliced bread, is it not? ) thank the reviewer for it. Do it on their blog Comments section, an online book group that you share, your own website or Facebook page…just do it somewhere. It’s polite. If you get a bad review ( and why would you? Your book is blah blah blah ) but it’s a fair bad review, please resist any urge to start a battle with the reviewer over it. If it’s evident that the reviewer has not read a single word of your book and yet produced a wildly inaccurate and stinkingly unfair bad review, well, use your own judgment on how to proceed with that. But whatever you do, don’t become a troll. Leave that to those sad little want-wits who haunt the Amazon Forums.

5. Instead of only seeking reviews, try getting a bit creative in how you get your name out there. Find blogs that deal with subjects relevant to your writing i.e. if you write Dan Brown-style adventures, seek out conspiracy-theory blogs, find out if they accept guest posts, and if they do, write one for them. Do I even need to say don’t make your post a blatant advertisement for your book? As a guest blogger you should get a credit at the end of your piece anyway i.e. “Thaddeus Titus Rumpelmeyer is the author of the hilarious and touching murder-romance ‘Honey Badger and The Big Bad’ available from market stalls in the seedier parts of London”. Or join some of those social networking sites where they give you the chance to write blogs which members can read ( or anyone who visits the site if you make the blog public ) and start writing blogs there. Again, do not write blatant puff pieces for your own damn book. People won’t read those. Seriously. They won’t. Try to be relevant instead. Or funny. Both even, if you can manage it.

Anyway, all of this isn’t to say that I blame authors entirely for the miscommunication and occasional ill-feeling arises between them and reviewers. On the contrary, I hold reviewers just as responsible for their part in the miscommunication and ill-feeling ( please read below to get both sides of the story ). But if we all just bore our p's and q's in mind a little more often, kept to our promises, and stopped acting like egomaniacal chimps on a rampage, we might succeed in getting along to a greater degree...
Okay, that might be taking the idea of
'getting along' a little too far.

And because, sadly, book reviewers are indeed not always lily-white in this issue either, here's another of my five cents worth of advice to them on how to keep their end of bargains made and treat their writers right!

1. If you accept free copies of a book on the specific agreement that you will write a review in return for it, you take on an obligation to actually write the review. Yes. You do. Authors do actually work hard to bring their books out. If they are indie authors they may well have spent their own money on things like cover design, formatting, marketing etc. So although it may seem like a harmless, victimless thing to do - take a free review copy and not give it a review - you are essentially stealing that author's labor and, more to the point, the revenue right out of their mouth. The publisher's, too. At the very least it isn't fair play. If a free book is offered in one of those "cattle calls" for reviews that publishers often launch on sites such as Goodreads, but it isn’t to your taste or isn’t in a genre that you prefer to review, please don’t waste everyone’s time - not to mention the author’s potential revenue - by accepting the copy just because it's free. Better to pass and let that copy go to someone who is likely to review it. 

2. Please, please don't be one of those horrible reviewers who doesn't actually read the books they review! Remember how wild it makes you when authors don't read your Submissions Guidelines? Well, nothing makes an author wilder than to see a review written by someone who patently did not read the damn book. If you find that you just can't get through the book, better to tell the author/publisher that and decline to review it at all. No review is better than one which is full of glaring factual inaccuracies.

3. If you are “backlogged” with reviews, please tell this to the author/publisher when you accept the copy. Tell them that there will be a wait to see their review in print ( so to speak ). Try to give them some idea of a timespan in which you expect to be able to get to their review. By all means overestimate the time it may take you to get to it. This will let an author know that you aren’t just ignoring their review but will get around it, and it may help to prevent you , dear reviewer, from having at least some of those flaky authors pestering you by email about when their precious review is coming.

4. If you are backlogged by reviews that doesn’t mean you can “forget” entirely to review a book and then, as time goes by, shrug it off and think, oh well they must have plenty of other reviews by now, they won’t need mine. Your obligation remains. Yes. It does. And FYI? If you're claiming to be backlogged by review work, it might be an idea not to be futzing around on Facebook posting pics of your pets, your five-years-ago civil partnership ceremony, or Aunt Mamie's 80th birthday party. If you can find the time to futz around on Facebook, then you've got time to be fulfilling your obligation to review those free books you were eager enough to snatch up.

5. Finally, don’t be too surprised if you don't get away forever with taking books for free without delivering on your part of the deal. Authors have as much right to complain about reviewers who are acting badly as reviewers have to complain about ill-behaved authors. And if enough authors complain about reviewers who deliberately don’t do as promised without explanation, eventually all the authors and publishers will stop handing out free copies to those particular reviewers. Sadly, it can result in authors - indies in particular - becoming unwilling to give away free review copies. And that's a shame for all.

Like so many things in this life, complaining cuts both ways. Authors, too, are often expected to put up with bad behavior from people: agents, publishers, reviewers, Amazon. And if they dare to complain about bad treatment, they're often accused of whining. But why should authors, any more than reviewers or anyone else who puts their time and effort into producing something, meekly accept less than fair play? Drawing attention to the bad reviewers will hopefully result in their sinking to the bottom where they belong, and allowing the good reviewers to rise to the top. And give authors one less excuse for berating reviewers in general!

Again, I say we can respect and treat each other fairly - but we can only achieve this if each side is willing to recognize its own flaws as well as those of the other side, and to work together to make right what has been wrong. Hence the combining of these posts - you can't read the arguments of one side without reading those of the other side, or the whole issue just remains unbalanced.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Get Your Knockers Signed By Me!

Got your attention, have I? Uh huh. Well, read on. You just might find mention of knockers again...

But first, look up the Urban Dictionary definition for the term ‘magic toaster’ and you will find this which describes me so perfectly that it might well have been coined with me in mind.

Hi. My name is Devon Marshall and I’m a raving technophobe.

My relationship with technology - with all things which depend upon electricity to operate - is more often than not shaky at best. Which was why I took myself by such surprise almost two years ago when I sent a manuscript to an electronic publisher. Me! Submitting to a purveyor of those e-booky thingies! It was a wonder that the world did not promptly fall off its axis.

Now I have a website ( okay, a few websites ), a blog, a Facebook and a Twitter. I’m on a bunch of other social media sites too, but time and space are still finite so I won’t list all of those. I have 3 books ( okay, 2 ½ because one of ‘em is a novella ) in e-print and I’m working on converting one of those to print through Lulu. I have business cards with QR codes and I’m working on other promo materials with the same. And I joined Kindlegraph so that I can put my precious electronic signature stamp to your copy of my e-book ( do we still call it a ‘copy’ when it’s an e-book? I don’t know that much about this electro-techno world yet ). I am, to say the least, well chuffed with myself for these small accomplishments.

However, I continue to have - shall we say - difficulties with technology and because of this I thank God everyday for booze and that no one has ever been stupid enough to call for Prohibition again. And I continue to treat these difficulties with the same short-tempered, intolerant, hand-wringing and eye-rolling attitude of why-do-I-bother-because-technology-and-the-world-hates-me? that I have always done. Because technology continues to frighten the bejeezusmaryandsweetjoseph out of me, quite frankly. Just because I finally purchased a Kindle doesn’t mean that I won’t break the fucking thing within a week. It won’t change the fact that I can’t wear a digital watch at all, or keep a vacuum cleaner for longer than it takes the sonofabitch to overheat, go on fire, and blow half the lights out in my house. Nor will it prevent me from setting the VCR all wrong and recording a field of TV snow instead of the latest episode of Rizzoli & Isles. Yes, I do still cling to my VCR, despite the fact it’s almost an antique, and no, I still haven’t figured out how to set the fucker to record properly even after 100 years.

But know this…

If a technophobe like me - who still minces around a new portable DVD player eyeing it with the same fear and suspicion that the first caveman probably eyed fire when he accidentally created it - can build herself blogs and websites and put QR codes to be read by mobile phone apps onto bits of card ( despite not having the faintest bloody notion of how any of these ‘magic toasters’ actually work ), then take heart each and all, because anyone can do it. Seriously. Anyone.

Oh, and if you want your e-booky thingy Kindlegraphed by moi, please do the necessary - which I think might involve clicking on that logo whatzit in the sidebar here. Or something. Anyway, I’ll be glad to put a wildly inappropriate message on your Kindle for you alongside my electronic paw-mark.

And because I promised you knockers...
So there ya go. Knockers. You shallow lot.

NB. Or if you are a good-looking woman with a nice pair of knockers, I’d be just as happy to come along in person and sign my moniker under a wildly inappropriate message on those! ;-) Just sayin’.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Home Improvement...D-I-My Way!

Once, when Dog was but a 3-4 month-old puppy and already possessed of a determination to become involved in everything her humans did at all costs, Housemate and I decided to redecorate. Naturally, this meant Dog stepping in the paint tray, her version of ‘involvement’. She managed to make quite a trail of fuschia pink paw prints across the hallway before we caught up to her. After that we have always tried to ensure the vicinity of wet paint is Dog-free. Not always successfully…

Recently we decided the kitchen needed livening up and that we’d go with a ‘cheesy Italian-themed restaurant’ look, red checkered tablecloth, plastic garlic strings and all. I had no idea that finding a red checkered tablecloth would be so difficult. We would’ve had better luck requesting Rumplestiltskin spin us a tablecloth of pure gold. As for red matt emulsion paint…there is a chance that a local paint store might still be able to order us some from its Mainland counterpart, although ‘might’ is often employed in these parts as a polite euphemism for “ Not a snowball’s chance in hell!” Apparently our fellow island-dwellers prefer shades of beige to anything even remotely fun or colorful. Whatever, further excavations in the Land of Kitchen have been temporarily suspended. I am so devastated by this I needed a drink to celebrate mourn.

We did manage, however, to obtain black matt emulsion for the bathroom; after a day of trooping around town, during which we did a lot of elbowing and excuse-me-ing ( the excuse-me’s becoming a little less frequent and the elbowing a little more so as the day wore on ) through the heaving horde of wide-eyed and be-sandaled tourists disgorged from the latest behemoth of a cruise ship to invade our little port. Oh deep, deep joy. Especially for someone like me who has a horror of people invading her personal space. Every time I see one of these floating luxury prisons chug its way into our little bay, I remember that there is good reason why they have so many bars and alcohol flowing 24/7: thousands of people all stuck on a boat together in the middle of the ocean - if there wasn’t alcohol they’d all be chucking themselves overboard after two days just to get the fuck away from each other. Christ, the very notion of setting foot on a cruise ship has me reaching for the rum bottle. 
Even this would be preferrable to spending time on a cruise ship...
Everything went surprisingly well with the actual painting until Dog decided it was time for her to inspect our progress. Unfortunately she chose to barge into the bathroom just as I was perched on a stepladder behind the door, brush dripping with black paint in hand…well, yes, of course the door whacked the paintbrush and the paintbrush whacked me in the forehead. According to Housemate it looked like I had “turned to Catholicism and gotten a bit crazy with the ashes.” Har har. Housemate also reminded me that since she has the balancing skills of a giraffe attempting to descend an escalator, it should be left to me to perch precariously once more, this time with one foot on either side of the bathtub, in order to paint a hard-to-access corner. Of course, we forgot about my natural klutziness, and I dropped a tray of black paint in the tub. It looked like something BP might have spilled, and was almost as difficult to clean up. At least this time I didn’t manage to trip over a faucet and knock the head off the bloody thing…You try explaining that to a plumber!

Even the simple task of picture-hanging is not without its perils in our house. I’ve been a little more careful about my hammering ever since I thrust a hammer right through a wall once…well, how was I to know that section of the wall had been shored up and re-plastered? And no, I had no idea why there was a shored-up section of wall in the living room, nor did I want to know why, considering the dubious location of that particular house. I learned another valuable lesson this time around, and that is: when hanging pictures it is always a good idea to ensure they are securely hung before retiring for the night. Being awoken in the middle of the night by the sound of said picture crashing to the floor and taking with it a lamp, some books, and a couple ornaments, is not a good for your peace of mind.

And now I'll have to brave the tourist-infested streets once more to hunt down a fucking replacement lamp. Seriously, they call it tourist season, so why can't we shoot them?!

Jane almost fell victim to a zombie tourist who tried to make her paint her kitchen in beige.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

A Day In The Glamorous Life Of A Writer...

So, this morning I was awoken by the dulcet tones of my dog announcing the arrival of a parcel. It doesn't matter how many times I try to explain it to her, Dog just cannot see the difference between an innocent mail carrier / delivery person, and a horde of ravenous vampire zombies from which Dog must protect her feeble humans, mostly by barking like a maniac and charging up and down the stairs. Presumably her defence strategy consists of rendering said vampire zombies deaf...or something.

I may have managed to ignore this rabble if it hadn't been for Dog knocking to the floor a bunch of jackets and coats in her desperate bid to fend off the horde at the door. I couldn't leave those lying around ( much as I wanted to ) because Dog is also an incurably nosy bugger and she would have been through every pocket, seeking out and chewing up anything she could find, including any stray paper money Housemate may have forgotten to remove from her pockets.


Forced to rise from my comfy, cosy bed ( it may be June, but in Northern Scotland that can equate easily with November in many other parts of the known universe ) I stumbled downstairs and restored the fallen clothing to its rightful place. Then I fetched the offending parcel, and in the process managed to get myself temporarily trapped in the front hallway because the connecting door is a total ass-clown of a thing that just loves to get stuck each time I'm home alone... Finally free, I found my way to the kitchen and there I started a pot of coffee. Whilst that brewed, I opened up the cause of all this early-morning disturbance.

Oh deep joy. My long-awaited item had a piece missing - a piece crucial to its intended fucking purporse! Re-parceling the bastard and sending it back would've cost me more than the item did, plus I'd already realized it wouldn't be appropriate for its intended purpose anyway ( the walls in this house are mainly flimsy plasterboard and this was a heavy bugger of a thing ) so I decided to keep it and set it to a different purpose. That prompted a fit of tidying away needless shit and dusting of surfaces in my bedroom, and by the time I had done with that and remembered about the pot of coffee, it was burnt beyond drinkable. Cue much swearing and stamping around as I put on a fresh pot.

Whilst I waited for my fresh coffee to brew, I cut half a grapefruit and smothered the bitter thing in sugar. I never have sugar, or salt, with anything except grapefruit. I like grapefruit, but boy, it needs some sugar! Apparently I'm not supposed to drink fresh grapefruit with my medication, but I figure that means specifically "don't take your meds with fresh grapefruit juice", and not "don't eat a fresh grapefruit an hour after your meds"...anyway, I also figure if rum, beer, and the occasional Baileys doesn't affect my meds, then what serious harm can a bit of bloody fruit do? I put the sugar bowl away in the fridge afterwards. Because that's where sugar belongs. Not.


Finally able to sit down with my coffee and some cherry yogurt, I decided to check my emails, because they say we women should be able to multitask...Yeah, that's a fucking lie. And cherry yogurt spilled on your keyboard is not a good way to start your online day.

Heading back to the kitchen to fetch some cloths and whatever else I could find to fix the cherry damage with, I stepped in Dog's water dish. Wearing slippers. And no socks. Yuck. And Dog has the brazen cheek to look at me like she's wounded by my klutziness or something! Jeez.

After cleaning my keyboard and checking my emails - the whole time determinedly ignoring my wet slippers and socks and Dog's smug laughing at me - I headed back upstairs to take a shower. For some reason I took my empty coffee cup with me. I stood at the bathroom door, looking at the coffee cup and wondering why in hell I had that with me, then I left it sat on top of a bookcase to take downstairs after my shower. It was nearly 3pm before I spied the cup still sitting on the bookcase and remembered it was me, not Housemate, who left it there.

I intended to spend the rest of the day writing and being terribly productive, but somehow the joy of browsing the jolly old inter-webs for shit that I don't need to spend money on that I don't have overtook all such noble notions, and then there were those DVDs from my birthday still needed watching...and oh, you get the point, right???

Somewhere in the midst of this day, I made the mistake of using Poly-Filla to plaster in some holes in the living room wall made where I'd changed the pictures around and that created something of a mess so I needed to vacuum ( if not, Dog would have eaten the little bits of plaster littering the carpet just like she eats everything )...but the vacuum cleaner was full so it needed emptying and I missed the bin with all that clotted dust and pet hair and assorted carpet furth and I had to clean that up...and just as I was getting done with that, Housemate returned from the store to inform me that an entire box of cola bottles on special offer ( intended for mixing purposes ) had fallen through the bottom of a crappy Lidl bag and smashed to frothy smithereens...and dear sweet Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, if I didn't I just need a goddamned drink by then!!!

Yeah. The life of a writer is really glamorous indeed!


Monday, 11 June 2012

An Apocalyptic State of Mind

During the apocalypse, groups of people gazing skyward
will be a common sight.
Having watched the uber-bleak vampire apocalypse movie Stake Land over the weekend, I was struck by humankind’s ongoing obsession with its own mass demise by apocalypse. Ever since we began to ponder our existence, it seems we have been concerned with our demise - especially the notion of being wiped out en masse by some terrible, catastrophic event or plague. Even that most celebrated of mythical cultures, Atlantis, now believed to have been based on the Minoan civilization upon the Greek island of Santorini ( or Thera, as it was then ), was itself wiped out in the most cataclysmic volcanic event ever witnessed by the ancient world. Stories of Atlantis retold down the centuries by people like Plato and Pliny, were essentially apocalyptic morality tales - warnings of how the gods would punish the hubris of any civilization grown too powerful and too arrogant by destroying it utterly.

Centuries of Western historical writings, too, are rife with the fear of religious apocalypse a la Revelation; each crop failure, each climate change, each plague has been duly heralded as a sign of the coming Apocalypse. Then we feared an angry God sending His only begotten son back to wipe out the sinners and cleanse with a “scorched- earth policy” the very world that we had polluted with our ungodliness. Jump forward again in time and we find that world wars, the rise of dictators, and nuclear armament become the heralds of apocalypse. From the 1940s to the 1980s, as the biggest and most powerful countries fell out with each other and armed themselves to the teeth with weapons of mass - and mutually assured - destruction, we feared the end would be a blinding white blast and the scorch of a nuclear wind.

According to ex-prez Ronald Reagan, the most
frightening sentence in the English language is:
" We're from the government and we're here to help."
Today our fears of apocalyptic demise are rooted in man-made disease and biological warfare; in the fear that some dreadful plague will get loose from a government laboratory and scythe its way through the world population in a matter of weeks. We distrust our government and our military, imagining them to be busy creating all manner of nasties at secret facilities, and none of them in the least capable of keeping those nasties under control forever. Sooner or later their incomptence will reduce our world to chaos, lawlessness, poisoned water supplies, and random straggling bands of survivors struggling to avoid slavering zombies and vampires, hungry for brains and blood. Often we see these as terrifying, horrifying creatures that are organized, fast, powerful, and unstoppable. Sometimes we see them as pathetic shambling wrecks of one-time humanity, but no less dangerous for all that, especially if they’re in a herd. And it isn’t just entertaining fiction such as The Walking Dead, Stake Land, or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road in which we find these modern monsters of imagination gone wild either: TV channels are constantly showing us What Could Happen in documentaries about bio-terrorism; on the internet are scores of websites devoted to scaring us into building zombie-proofed bunkers and stocking up on broad-spectrum antibiotics for the coming apocalypse.

Where does this obsession with apocalypse and mass extinction stem from, what is it in the psychological makeup of human beings causes it? Perhaps we recall the tales of ancient civilizations like Atlantis and deep down fear that the same hubris will be punished when the “gods” which we have created today i.e. nuclear arms, genetic engineering, etc. turn upon and destroy us. Or perhaps that arrogant pride itself creates a need within the collective human ego to imagine our species going out in fiery, spectacular fashion, rather than simply, quietly petering out of existence. Whatever the root cause of our apocalypse obsession, for the moment it makes for some jolly fun - if occasionally unsettling - entertainment!
Once we were afraid of nuclear warfare.
Now we fear...
... zombie clowns!

Come the apocalypse, wearing shades and baggy coats
will be de rigueur.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Pride Is...?

June is Pride Month. So what does ‘Pride’ mean to me? Honestly, I had to think about this.

Being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, heterosexual, or any of the other myriad shades along the human sexuality rainbow has just never been an issue to me, any more than a person’s skin color being black, white, or green with purple polka dots has ever been an issue. I find it difficult then to fathom why others should make my sexuality an issue. That isn’t to say I’m unaware of the existence of prejudice and hatred. A person can’t think about the quality of fairness without being aware of those who apparently don’t think any such thing need be applied in certain cases of their choosing.

What engenders such hatred? Ignorance? Fear? Self-loathing? All of the above, I should imagine. What we fear, we often do not know, and what we do not know and fear, we may come to hate. Self-loathing comes in when we know, deep down, that we have no reason to hate gay people, or black people, or transgender people, or disabled people, and that our fear is born out of the irrational prejudice engendered by ignorance.

Then again, there are just some people in this world who are born fucking evil and can’t function without having someone else to hate on.

Pride then, to me, means knowing who I am and accepting who I am, and accepting who others are - differences and all. Pride is believing that we all should be fairly treated despite any of these superficial differences of sexuality, skin color, physical ability etc. Pride is knowing that underneath these differences, we are all human beings who bleed the same stuff. And if you don’t believe me on that, go punch one of those evil haters in the mouth and see for yourself! ;-)
Just kidding...really...no, I am...

Saturday, 2 June 2012

The End of The Era of Emily

So the Era of Emily Prentiss on Criminal Minds has come to and end with something of a disappointing whimper - but at least it wasn’t with the bang of a coffin lid this time! The double episode rounding out the Era of Emily was unspectacular. Not even the addition of Tricia Helfer as an eye-rollingly crazy UNSUB could drag it all the way out of the mire of mediocrity has plagued the show’s last two seasons.

The fiery did-anyone-die-or-didn’t-they? explosion closing out Part 1 of the finale was annoyingly reminiscent of the Whose SUV Exploded? cliffhanger of Lo-Fi. And although it’s always nice to see JJ kick some ass, the resulting fisticuffs after Izzy the UNSUB took Henry hostage were too reminiscent of Hotch’s battle with The Reaper in 100 ( miraculously, JJ managed to appear at her wedding next day without a single cut or bruise, yet I’m pretty certain I saw Izzy ram an elbow into her face at least once? ). Was this all just Erica Messer’s little homage to Hotch’s Greatest Hits? We all know she wuvs him best anyway. And what was all Erica's bullshit about " Emily might be leaving the BAU but she’s still going to be seeing the team, having brunch with them etc" - that’d be a clever feat if she’s running an Interpol office in fucking London, wouldn’t it? At least Emily did get to be a little bit awesome by defusing the bomb wired up to Mumbles The Clown Will - notwithstanding the ungenerous part of me that was thinking, “ Oh hell, Emily, just do what he's telling you and leave him there to go boom!” But that wouldn’t be Emily’s way. Sadly for me and fortunately for Will. And did JJ even thank her for risking herself to save the life of the emotionally-blackmailing, passive-aggressive, mumbling father of her child? Did she hell.

As a related aside, I find it interesting that for five seasons under Ed Bernero’s guidance, JJ and Emily were written as close enough to spawn an entire online femslash industry around them, and JJ never married Captain Mumbles, yet in just one season with Erica Messer at the helm there has been a distinct cooling-off between the two ladies. After the first half dozen episodes, they barely had a meaningful scene together. And JJ finally marries Captain Mumbles. I’m just saying, I find it an odd coincidence of timing.

We won't be seeing any more of this...

...or this.
I’ve always wondered if there were more to the Season 6 hiring-firing-and-rehiring saga surrounded AJ Cook and Paget Brewster than has ever been said, and I can’t say that the latter’s decision to leave now - despite Erica Messer’s apparently begging her to re-sign her contract - has made me wonder any less about what might have been left unsaid. But it is Paget Brewster’s decision this time and we fans, bereft as we may feel, must respect that and suck up our loss. We can also keep a tiny candle of hope burning that she might yet change her mind and return…For sure, the BAU won’t be the same place without SSA Emily Prentiss. JJ is a good character but she just isn’t strong enough to balance the weight of three alpha males and genius-boy all by herself. There are mutterings about replacing Emily but given the Ashley Seaver fiasco, any replacement would need to be handled very wisely indeed, and I have little trust left in Erica Messer to do this successfully.

For now, Emily's colleague and friend Derek Morgan summed it up best:  " I think I miss you already."
Emily Prentiss. A little bit fucking awesome.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Mary had a little lamb...

Let’s be clear: I’m no lover of being in the outdoors. I simply fail to see the attraction in yomping through mud and cow shit in search of the perfect mountaintop view. The idea of getting soaked and freezing my ass off in a kayak or some other water-borne conveyance that ought to have been consigned to pioneer history, just leaves me confused. And a little scared, quite honestly.

That said, neither do I wish to see the entire countryside disappear under concrete and barbed wire. It has lately been lambing season in these parts. This has brought forth the yearly cries of  “ Foul!” from island citizens concerned about our rocky lamb mortality record. The problem is that the Northern Isles are super-exposed. There are few trees to speak of, and nothing you could actually call a hill whilst keeping a straight face. But there is wind a-plenty. In fact, if the wind ever stopped blowing here, we would all probably freak out, convinced the world had just ended. Oh, and it rains a lot, too.

Look in any direction across the islands, and you will see open fields and miles of five-strand barbed wire. You can’t help wondering - how do the lambs find shelter? The answer is, with great difficulty. Many die of exposure before the farmers can bring them inside sheds.

Right here let me just state that I’m not about to get into a discussion on the rights and wrongs of modern livestock farming, okay? That’s for another day, another blog. They've been farming in these parts for centuries, they still farm today, and that's how it is. This blog is about making better one aspect of that farming.

Every year the suggestion is made in the local paper that we replant the hedgerows to counter this death-by-exposure problem. Hedgerows attract birds and wildlife, and they give handy instant shelter to livestock. Apparently they are also good for strengthening the ground, but that’s more technical-environmental than my brain can cope with. The task of replanting could be carried out by the volunteer sector, which happens to be pretty extensive in these parts ( They have to be…they picked up most of the slack when the island council decided, in the best tradition of all out-of-touch government, that elderly and disabled services would make the best budget sacrifices ). Work training and much-needed jobs could be created through continuing care and maintenance of the hedgerows. Farmers would stop losing so much livestock and, in many cases, their livelihoods. And best of all from the point of view of the island council -? The tourists wouldn’t be traumatized by seeing poor dead little Larry The Lamb. Hedgerows make a much prettier picture to show the folks back home.

But will the island council ever get around to undertaking a project like this? Will they implement it by digging into the £90million fund they amassed through cutting vital services over two years? Will they hell.

They’ll spend the money on erecting another white elephant of a building that the tourists will never bother to use and the locals will have no use for, and then they’ll complain of being skint again. The lambs will continue to die of exposure and the farmers will continue to be out of pocket. And a landscape that could be beautified, will instead still be marred by miles and miles of rusty, stabby barbed wire.

Because heaven forbid any sensible decision should ever be made by local government. Imagine the dangerous precedent that would set?!

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Lil' Bit O' Blowing My Own Horn...

I awoke today to the happy news from Jay Hartman over at Untreed Reads that my debut novel for them, 'Vampires of Hollywood Book 1: Dante's Awakening' is PICK OF THE WEEK at DriveThruFiction

As unambitious and easygoing as I am, sometimes 'tis nice even for me to see my own work rewarded in such a way as this. So " Yay me!" and go take a look-see. Hey, why not buy a copy whilst you're there? Authors need to drink eat too!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

REJECTION...? It happens, get over that, too!

Rejection. It happens, right? That’s what all we authors all tell ourselves, anyway, and sometimes we eve do it with a careless shrug and a laugh. And then we turn away and cry. Bitterly. Because we fear rejection. Deep down, we fear it like a two year-old fears the bogeyman. 

Okay. I don’t do this often…but in this case I’m going to relate a very personal story because it connects directly to my feelings about rejection and the unnecessary agony I see some fellow authors put themselves through over it. When I was 10 yrs-old I suffered catastrophic, inexplicable, and irreversible kidney failure. Due to various factors - which I won’t get into here - I waited 7 years for a transplant, every one of those hard and on dialysis ( I won’t go into that either because it’s a novel in its own darned right! ) and when I did get that magical, life-saving transplant -? Well, it did its best to kill me.

No. Seriously, it did.

Long story short, I reacted with deadly violence against the life- and kidney-saving drugs I was being given, only one out of every ten thousand people who were unlucky enough to do so. More of the long-and-for-another-day story cut mercifully short, I recovered. Against all odds, to the amazement of my doctors, and only to find that my precious life-giving transplant kidney ( which had functioned with steady perfection throughout all the bad stuff ) was starting to REJECT. Well, hell. That sucked ass.

I was assured by one of the most competent and personable nurses whom I have ever had the pleasure of encountering that this was temporary set-back, something that was to be expected, and which could be easily reversed, and that all would be fine…But she also reminded me that even if the kidney did reject permanently, I had got to where I was once, hadn’t I? I could get there again if I was called upon to do so. The bald, simple truth of that statement struck me more than anything else had ever done before or since in my life.

Guess what? Twenty-some years ( and a lot more abuse ) later I still have the same steadily functioning transplant kidney. I’ve had one more episode of rejection - and I didn’t even know about it! My doc told me months afterward. I couldn’t give a shit either. I have always remembered that nurse’s advice: you did it once, you can do it again. Rejection is as rejection does...

And to come to my point…I’ve had a bunch of my writing stuff published in magazines, small presses, by publishers etc. I’ve also had my share of rejections. A whole motherfucking lot of ’em, actually. But has this rejection scarred me, deterred me, sent me weeping and tearing out my hair, running to a corner of a dark room, where I scheme and slobber, wild-eyed, never seeking the light of day again?…

Um, well...NO. Not at all. 

Because I don’t fear it. I stopped fearing rejection of any kind on that long, hot, agitated night I spent in hospital, because I realized something about rejection itself on that same night… … I realized that rejection itself cannot kill us. I fought the rejection of something that really was a life-and-death matter to me, and you know what I learned - ? That it doesn’t even matter that I 'won' - it matters that I fought and I did my best whilst I fought.

What more can any one of us ask of ourselves?

Oh, and if you're still feeling crappy about your book being rejected, go take a look at this:
Publishers Who Got It Embarrassingly Wrong
If that doesn't make you feel better, then you're in the wrong game, matey!