Monthly Archives: August 2012

Planet of the Knob Heads

August 29, 2012

I had to share this one. Thanks for my friend, Cat Sparks, for pointing it out. Although I’m somewhat concerned that she saw it and thought of me. My favourite part? Other than the truly awesome title, note how it’s a “new book length novel“! Brilliant. (Cat found it here.)

Paid reviews hurt everyone, except those being paid

August 28, 2012

There’s a caveat to the title of this post, explained later, but I don’t mind a bit of sensationalism. So, this has come around again. It’s a subject that has cropped up a few times and usually makes the news cycle once in a while. It basically boils down to predatory fuckwits offering to write glowing reviews of any book (which they won’t bother to read) in exchange for cashmoney. Idiot authors jump on the bandwagon and buy those reviews in a desperate attempt to get their work noticed.

Most recently there’s this guy selling reviews for $99. Or 20 reviews for $499. For a cool $999 he would write you 50 reviews. On the one hand you have to admire the entrepreneurial spirit. On the other hand, you have to say, “Fuck you, pond scum, why are you devaluing the work of legitimate authors and reviewers everywhere!?” To which he’d reply, “Because it makes me around $28,000 a month!” and you can’t really argue with that. Well, you can, but clearly there are no ethics or morals involved here, so applying our own is pretty pointless. His business has failed, thankfully. More on that later.

Of course, it’s not just this guy. From that article:

[Bing Liu, a data-mining expert at the University of Illinois, Chicago] estimates that about one-third of all consumer reviews on the Internet are fake. Yet it is all but impossible to tell when reviews were written by the marketers or retailers (or by the authors themselves under pseudonyms), by customers (who might get a deal from a merchant for giving a good score) or by a hired third-party service.

Well, boil my nuts in the tears of angels, what’s the fucking point? Why don’t we all just buy the reviews we need? The guy in the article linked above has some of the best weasel words I’ve ever heard. How’s this:

“I was creating reviews that pointed out the positive things, not the negative things. These were marketing reviews, not editorial reviews.”

The fuck does that mean, exactly? He’s likening the reviews to back cover blurbs, but that’s bollocks. Reviews are valuable because they’re impartial. We know that blurbs aren’t. He can “reason” it out any way he likes, he knows he’s lying. Misrepresentation.

Anyway, this particular story has a happy ending. The business was ratted out and subsequently failed, for which we can be thankful. The guy says he regrets his venture into what he called “artificially embellished reviews”. Which is good. At least he realises that what he did was wrong, so there might be hope for humanity yet. Shame he couldn’t admit even then that he was lying and misleading people. Just “artificially embellishing”, but there you go.

Here’s the thing, as far as I’m concerned. Paying for a review is not necessarily a bad thing. We all want to get noticed. We all want our work to fall before the eyes of more readers and reviews definitely help that. I’m always going on about reviewing. If you read something, review it! Two lines and a star rating at Amazon and Goodreads can make a massive difference. People are really busy and everyone needs to make a buck, so someone charging money for reviews is not neecessarily a bad thing. I’ve said that twice now in this paragraph and there’s one very important word that I’ve deliberately left out. That word is “good”. Paying for good reviews sucks Satan’s rancid balls, because you’re corrupting the system and devaluing the work of everyone. Paying someone to read your book and honestly review it, however, is fine. That’s a very important distinction.

I’ve never done it, but I wouldn’t completely write off the possibility. Getting reviews is hard and if someone is prepared to take a free book and a small fee, with the guarantee that they’ll leave an honest review in a variety of places, I see that as a good thing. Sure, you might be paying for someone to tell you, and the entire internet, that your writing sucks, your book is crap and no one should buy it unless they run out of toilet paper. But that’s what you always do when you send a book off for review. And when you do send it off, it might never actually get reviewed. Adding a few bucks to ensure it does makes sense. And if you’re told it’s shit, you know to try harder next time. Maybe listen to the advice of your writers’ group and beta readers. Or get new ones. Or something. Just don’t pay some schmuck to guarantee you a good review. You’re cheating your future readers, you’re cheating yourself, you’re cheating the very fucking concept of honesty. And the only one who really benefits is the person charging you for their artificially glowing review. If your book is good enough, it should hopefully get some good reviews all on its own. Regardless, it should garner some honest reviews over time. Hassle people about reviewing it. When people tell you they enjoyed it, ask them politely, ever so nicely, prettyplease can they put a quick review somewhere.

But, most importantly of all, please honestly review what you read. Lead by example. Make it a habit to add a line or two and a rating on a handful of sites every time you finish a book. Or even just one site of choice, like Goodreads. Whether you like it or not. A broad range of honest reviews will do wonders and takes no time at all. And if everyone got into that habit, we’d have fewer predators out there using sock puppets (multiple fake online personas) to leave bullshit reviews. And when you do find those people, don’t grab a pitchfork and a gang of friends and give them a good, old-fashioned online lynching. Why waste your time? Report them to the sites in question and let the policies of those sites deal with them. Then get on with your day, read a book and review it.

We love you when you review our work. Don’t let the sharks spoil it for everyone. Now I’m off to Goodreads to fill in a few gaps in my own reviewing.

(And if you’ve read any of my books, prettyplease can you put a quick review somewhere? And if you want to read my books and will leave me a review, drop me a line and I’ll send you ecopies for nothing, if you promise to leave an honest review at Goodreads and Amazon. Can’t say fairer than that, eh?)


A Killer Among Demons from Dark Prints Press

August 25, 2012

I’m very happy to announce that my short horror/crime story, The Beat Of A Pale Wing, has been accepted by editor, Craig Bezant, for his anthology, A Killer Among Demons, to be published by Dark Prints Press around April 2013.

From the website: A Killer Among Demons aims to encapsulate the deep, intriguing, and twisted tales that arise from the wonderful combination of paranormal/supernatural crime.

I’m very happy to be in this book and trust Craig to put together an excellent selection of yarns. I’ll post more information about it as I learn more. Now please excuse me while I Snoopy dance.


Farewell my old friend

August 21, 2012

A wet hand, a moment’s inattention and tragedy. Disaster struck! My favourite coffee mug is dead. Broken. Gone. This might seem like an over-reaction to people who don’t understand the attachment a writer can have to their favourite mug. Coffee is the fuel of writing – the actual energy used in the production of words. Along with alcohol, tears, angst and blind pig-headed stubbornness, it’s how stories are born. Word babies gestate in a sea of caffeine.

My wife bought me this mug some years ago. It holds nearly two palrty “normal” sized mugs worth of coffee. It’s round and slightly rough to the touch, a tactile experience. It’s sat beside my keyboard for hundreds of thousands of words. I’ve cupped its reassuring bowl in my palms as I’ve stared disconsolately at the virtual page. It’s steamed gently beside me as I’ve researched, read, muttered to myself while staring at the walls. It really is an old friend. And now it’s broken. I know it was an accident, but I feel a terrible sense of guilt along with the loss at the moment. I loved that old mug, and I dropped it.

There’s a curl of mouse cord on my desk that looks so empty now. It’s where my mug would sit. I want another coffee, but I feel as though I can’t, there’s nothing to hold it. My wife remembers the market where she bought it for me and next time that market comes around we’re going to see if I can get another. But it will never be the same.

When I first reported this terrible tragedy on Twitter, Angela Slatter said, “Noo! Quick, dance widdershins around the remains then throw coffee grounds over your left shoulder to ward off bad writer hoodoo.”

To which my initial response was, OH MY GODS IS THAT A THING!?

So I’ve done that ritual now. You know, just in case. I’ll have to soldier on with a temporary mug while I try to deal with the loss. Today is a writing day. I’ve been for a run with my wife and dog, done some bits and pieces that needed doing and now I plan to keep my arse parked here until there are 5,000 new words on the novel in progress. I just hope I can do it without my old pal.

Vale, mug. You were one of a kind.


Colin Harvey Memorial Ebook Bundle from Angry Robot – All Proceeds to Charity

August 17, 2012

Angry Robot author, Colin Harvey, died of a massive stroke on August 16th 2011, aged just 50.

To mark the one year anniversary of his passing, and to continue to bring his work to the wider audience it so richly deserves, Angry Robot Books are offering a bundle of Colin’s ebooks – his two Angry Robot novels, Damage Time and Winter Song, plus his flash fiction mini-collection – for the special price of only £6.00 (approximately US$8), via the Robot Trading Company.

All proceeds from the sale of this bundle will be donated to Colin’s favourite charity, Above and Beyond.

You can get all the details in this heartfelt post from Angry Robot‘s Lee Harris. That post also has a short film by Sam Lemberg embedded, based on Colin’s short story, Chameleon. It is a brilliant film, well worth 6 minutes of your time.


In conversation with Gillian Polack

August 16, 2012

On reading women, reading about women, categories and curses.

Gillian Polack is a fine writer, a fine person and a good friend of mine. You may remember that I reviewed her novel, Life Through Cellophane, a while back. Sadly, the publisher of that book, Eneit Press, fell victim to the Red Group/Borders debacle and went under. It seemed that Gillian’s book went with it. But, a literary phoenix from the ashes of corporate foolishness, it has found new life with the Pan Macmillan ebook imprint, Momentum. Now called Ms Cellophane and with a cool new cover, the book is back.

I got to talking with Gillian about the book recently. She was particularly pleased with my original review when I said:

I must admit that I felt a bit weird reading it. It was like I was hiding out during a secret women’s business meeting, hearing about things I shouldn’t know.

On hearing this, Gillian said, “It’s a good reaction. You read lots, and this is the only book that gives you that sense. I get a lot of female readers saying to me, “This is my life, I read this and am looking into a mirror.” It makes me wonder why you haven’t encountered other books that give you the same sense. What sort of boundaries are out there and what sorts of restrictions do they put on us without us knowing?”

Alan: I think it’s largely to do with the types of books I read. It’s not that I don’t read books by women. In fact, on checking Goodreads, recently I’ve read:

Felicity Dowker’s Bread & Circuses
Jo Anderton’s Debris and Suited
Kirstyn McDermott’s Madigan Mine
Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts
Joanna Penn’s Prophecy
Lisa L Hannett’s Bluegrass Symphony

That’s just this year, which is a year where I haven’t read nearly as much as I usually do. But while these are excellent books by women, all with strong female protagonists and/or supporting characters, they’re not as much books about being a woman as yours is. So I wonder if I just don’t choose to read other books more like yours.

Gillian: My book was all about the type of invisibility that many women feel so yes, it wasn’t about a strong protagonist so much as about a very particular aspect of life. Can you pinpoint some of the things that made you feel as if you were entering a foreign universe – and maybe talk about how they differ from the approach you take to your own female characters?

Alan: I have a very simple, perhaps overly so, approach to writing female characters. I basically approach all characters as neither male or female, but simply as people. Of course, I will try to get inside my character’s heads and they’re all very individual people, but gender is only ever a small part of that, never a primary consideration.

Reading Cellophane, I felt as though I was getting an insight into the day-to-day miniutiae of being a woman. You do a good job of putting the reader in Elizabeth’s mind and it almost feels, to me at least, as though we shouldn’t be there. Of course, that’s a sign of great writing – feeling like we’re inside a character rather than simply watching from outside. And, equally, my male-ness is showing, simply because the process of reading your book came as such a surprise to me.

The best thing about it is that none of it was uncomfortable in any way – it was simply fascinating.

To go back to my own writing, I deliberately don’t try to make my female characters “feminine”. I use quotes there to indicate the insufficiency of the word. I don’t know what it’s like to be feminine. I know what it’s like to be around women. I’ve been married a long time and have many great female friends. I know what it’s like to interact with women and I know how they might respond to various situations. My author’s eye is always studying people and scenarios, subconsciously filing it away for later story use. All writers have to be great observers of the world around them. But I can never observe what it’s like to be a woman. Until reading Cellophane, that is. Because that’s something which gave me an insight I couldn’t get on my own. And while I read a lot of female authors – in fact, my favourite Australian spec-fic writers are all women! – I guess I don’t read very much stuff about women. So perhaps I need to know what I could read that would help me with that.

Of course, that also leads to a small problem. I hate “chick flicks”. I have little to no interest in reading books aimed at a purely female market. But Cellophane seemed to transcend that issue, so I guess I need advice on more books like yours!

Gillian: I don’t know where there are more books precisely like mine! There must be. Cellophane can’t be sui generis. I wrote it though, because I wanted to read books like it and I wanted the books to be speculative fiction. One of my publishers suggests that I’m like Anne Tyler, someone else suggests that the female-ness of my world is a bit like Alice Hoffmann, while Sophie Masson suggested that my first novel reminded her of A.S. Byatt. They’re all women writers who often put women in the centre of the story and are capable of working quite inwardly (though don’t always), so I’d start from them, I think, and work out. Ursula le Guin does the same inwards-out approach in Always Coming Home, but she’s more concerned with place and culture and change than with domestica.

There’s a lot of literary fiction written in a character’s head, where the internal view is key to the novel. There’s not, however, much speculative fiction that both takes this approach and focuses on the mundane. Kaaron Warren’s Slights does that, of course, but in such a different way! She wrote about someone quite terrifying and had me accepting, as a reader, that this was quite normal until we realised that this person we had accepted into our headspace was someone we wouldn’t ever want to meet. I really wanted to communicate the everydayness of lives and that these lives can be wonderful, and that magic doesn’t have to be the stuff of adventures and quests.

Alan: Slights is a great example of character, but you’re right, certainly not a particular example of womankind. More an example of arsehole-kind.

I think you hit it on the head when you say that you “wanted to communicate the everydayness of lives and that these lives can be wonderful, and that magic doesn’t have to be the stuff of adventures and quests.”

Is that something you’ll be exploring more? The street-level magic of the everyday wonder rather than the “big story” wonder? Will you write about Elizabeth again?

Gillian: I won’t write about Elizabeth again, but I will definitely be exploring the everyday wonder. In fact, I have a novel out there… It’s one of those hard-to-categorise novels, like Cellophane. Publishers are both loving it and not willing to publish it. This is a problem I face regularly, for there is no general sub-category for what I do, and so it’s hard to fit into a schedule. Personally, I can’t see what’s hard to categorise about a magic-wielding feminist divorced Jewish Sydneysider who is not speaking to her father. In fact, the short story that’s set after the time of the novel was published years ago (in ASIM), for short story markets are more flexible. It was listed as recommended on an international Year’s Best, and I have a recording of actor Bob Kuhn reading it, just waiting for the right moment to appear. People ask me about Judith, and I have to say, “Still no home.”

The cursed novel (The Art of Effective Dreaming – due to appear some time ago) is about dealing with the mundane world, how to escape it and what the implications are of such an escape, but of course, the novel is cursed (and contains dead morris dancers). It was supposed to appear several years ago, but the most extraordinary life events (hurricanes, earthquakes, computer failure, near death experiences) keep getting in the way. I find it rather ironic that a novel about an ordinary person should be doomed to adventures and not be seen, but right now, the story of the The Art of Effective Dreaming’s delays would make a rather good disaster novel.

Alan: Sounds like you need just the right small press for the Judith novel. I’m sure it’ll find a home eventually. I hope it does, because it sounds very cool.

And The Art Of Effective Dreaming will eventually see the light of day, right?

Gillian: From your mouth to God’s ear (to use a Jewish expression I did not in fact grow up with!). You want to read about the dead morris dancers… Actually, The Art of Effective Dreaming also gently takes the mickey out of quest novels, so I rather suspect you might like it. I hope you get to read it soon!

Alan: As far as I’m concerned, the only good Morris Dancer is a dead one, so yes, I’d love to read it.

As Gillian once said to me in an email: “One of the messages I wanted to get out there about my writing is that it’s not bad despite not fitting categories. So many people look for categories and assume that a novel is not readable, simply because they haven’t encountered its like before… for there is a public perception that there’s a gender divide and that women read men’s books but that men don’t read women’s. I’m beginning to think that it’s being reinforced through being assumed and would love to break it down.”

So get out there and have a read of Ms Cellophane. It might change your perceptions a little bit. It’s available now from Momentum.


Stephen King with a truthy truth

August 12, 2012


Anywhere But Earth now available direct from the publisher

August 11, 2012

You’ll remember me talking a lot about this book when it was published. I’m very proud to have a story in it – my deep space horror story, Unexpected Launch. And personal bias notwithstanding, I think this is one of the best science fiction anthologies money can buy. It’s a huge book, 728 pages and around 30 stories of excellent science fiction. The range of style and subject included is mind-blowing. It’s great for sci-fi fans and it’s a brilliant introduction for people who don’t read much sci-fi. Editor, Keith Stevenson, has really done an amazing job with this volume.

It includes stories by luminaries such as Margo Lanagan, Sean McMullen, Richard Harland and Kim Westwood, and includes Robert Stephenson’s Aurealis Award winning short story Rains of La Strange.

Anyway, just buy a copy. Or two. You won’t regret it. And now you can buy the print or ebook edition directly from the publisher, Coeur De Lion. Go on, you won’t regret it.


Top-earning authors

August 11, 2012

Forbes yesterday released its list of the top-earning authors of 2011. Good to see a lot of genre authors dominating the list, taking 9 of the 15 slots. There are 6 women and 9 men on the list. The big money writers are listed below. The parts in italics are quotes directly from the Forbes list.

1. James Patterson: $94 million
Unlike many of the authors on this list, Patterson earns nearly all his money from his gargantuan book sales and relatively little from TV and film royalties. He published 14 new titles in 2011 – of course, that’s what you can achieve when you’re in charge of a book writing factory.

2. Stephen King: $39 million
“11/22/63″ and a new installment of his “Dark Tower” series made good for King, but he also sells well on a massive backlist.

3. Janet Evanovich: $33 million
The author of the Stephanie Plum suspense series told Forbes’s Jenna Goudreau she finds the “Fifty Shades of Grey” phenomenon “strange” and worries that it might encourage abusive relationships. Interesting.

4. John Grisham: $26 million
With the baseball novel “Calico Joe,” Grisham proved he could write bestsellers that aren’t legal thrillers. But let’s be honest – the name of John Gisham is going to sell pretty much anything initially. Still, if he pulled off a good book outside of the genre he’s famous for, it bodes well for J K Rowling’s career shift. (She’s a bit further down the list.)

5. Jeff Kinney, $25 million
“Cabin Fever,” the latest installment of the “Wimpy Kid” series, was the top-selling book of 2011, with 3.3 million copies sold. The movie version of “Dog Days” made $15 million at the box office in its opening weekend. Not a bad run.

6. Bill O’Reilly: $24 million
You know him primarily as a Fox News host, but these days O’Reilly is making almost as much from his historical books, including “Killing Lincoln” and “Killing Kennedy.”

7. Nora Roberts: $23 million
Are you sitting down? Nora Roberts has written more than 200 books. Think about that for a second. She also writes under the pen name J.D. Robb. 200 books! Dies and is dead.

8. Danielle Steel: $23 million
Although she’s spent more time on The New York Times bestsellers list than any other author, Steel’s earnings seem to have peaked. The romance novelist made $35 million last year. Personally, I’d be happy with just one year of Steel’s earnings. Even this year’s paltry $23 mill.

9. Suzanne Collins: $20 million
The odds are ever in Collins’s favor, with royalties from the blockbuster “Hunger Games” movie swelling her earnings and two more films still in the pipeline. I think we might see her rise in the ranks next year.

10. Dean Koontz: $19 million
This Shippensburg State College alumnus has two current hit franchises, “Frankenstein” and “Odd Thomas.”

11. J.K. Rowling: $17 million
Five years after “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” Rowling is branching out, with an $8 million advance for her first adult novel and the online store Pottermore, where the boy wizard books are finally on sale in electronic form. Wait, let’s just back up a bit there. AN $8 MILLION DOLLAR ADVANCE!? Dies and is dead again.

12. George R.R. Martin: $15 million
Martin’s fans wish he would spend more time writing new “Game of Thrones” books, or at least episodes for the HBO adaptation, and less time blogging about the New York Jets. He took six years to write “A Dance With Dragons,” the fifth of seven planned installments. Let’s hope the TV series catches up and he HAS to write the last two books. Don’t do a Robert Jordan on us, George, please!

13. Stephenie Meyer: $14 million
With “Twilight” behind her, Meyer’s no longer riding quite so high, but the phenomenon she started lives on in “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which originated as fan fiction modeled on her vampire romance. Shame Meyer isn’t going to see a penny of that cash factory.

14. Ken Follett: $14 million
Follett is set for a huge autumn, with the next installment of his “Century” trilogy coming out in September and a TV miniseries based on “Fall of Giants” airing.

15. Rick Riordan: $13 million
If your adolescent kids know suspiciously a lot about Greek and Egyptian mythology, it’s probably because of Riordan’s books. Either that or they’re weird cultists. Now I want to read Riordan’s books!

Pretty good earnings for pen monkeys. I think we’ll see E L James pretty high on this list next year, if not at the top, with the “50 Shades of Grey” phenomenon. It became the UK’s best-selling novel of all time if you can believe that. And the movie has been optioned. There will be a certain delicious irony if E L James ends up out-earning Stephanie Meyer over the long term.

For the entire list, with pictures, see the Forbes website.

In the meantime, I’m working on a new book. It’s a thriller about a time-travelling crime investigator, who used to be a pro baseball player, but is now a failed lawyer. He was a wimpy kid, but grew up to be right-wing news commentator reporting on death. He has a love affair with the producer of a violent reality television series and they have a very odd son who ends up going to wizard school. There, he encounters stange political machinations and the return of the dragons. He controls the dragons by hiring sparkly vampires to ride them and they bring down a race of giants. Oh, and it’s all set in ancient Greece and Egypt. And they all have nervous, exploratory, abusive sex all the time. Fuck yeah! This can’t possibly fail.


Batman action figure animation

August 10, 2012

You know how much I love a bit of Batman action. Well, thanks to @RedBakersen on Twitter for pointing this one out to me. It’s a 6 minute film using action figures and toys from Christopher Nolan’s Batman films (and a cameo from somewhere else). It’s some pretty clever work, even if it does go a bit haywire in terms of story! Enjoy.



The website of author Alan Baxter

Alan Baxter, Author

Author of horror, dark fantasy & sci-fi. Kung Fu instructor. Personal Trainer. Motorcyclist. Dog lover. Gamer. Heavy metal fan. Britstralian. Zetetic.

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