Saturday, August 20, 2011

Change of address

The blog has moved to a new url address, new name, some new features, same old me. An intention to broaden the scope of the posts, note the use of the word 'intention.' If you're currently following this blog, or subscribing, you'll need to sign your life away (again) at the new location
the new url is -

click here to redirect

Hope you can join me for the latest post, 'A fraction too much fiction.'


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Every story deserves an ending

Michael Ende's classic fantasy novel, published in 1979 and adapted several times since in film and TV productions, is titled 'The Neverending Story,' but it does, in fact, have an ending.

A beginning. A middle. Plot and subplot. A terrific cast of characters. Exotic otherworldly locations.

And an ending.

Call me a traditionalist, but I believe every story should have one. I doubt there's a reader or a film goer out there who would disagree.

Imagine watching the DVD of 'Die Hard 4.0' and, as Bruce Willis dangles from a wire midair, surrounded by explosions, terrorists and swooping helicopters, the movie abruptly ends and the credits roll.

Not a good look.

Imagine reading Robert Ludlum's 'The Bourne Identity' - the amnesiac main character, still not knowing who he is or why so many heavy duty killers are on his trail, blasts his way out of one tight corner, only to face yet another. And that's the last page. The story isn't finished but there's no more leaves in the book and no sequel.

Not on.

You may not like a story's ending. It may or may not satisfy you, nor be what you were hoping for, there may be aspects to it that are open-ended (after all, life's like that)- but there should at least be an intended ending, one that completes the journey that the reader or viewer invested in with the first chapter or the first reel or the first episode.

We wouldn't accept a novel or a short story if it was cut off mid-sentence, wouldn't accept a movie if it faded to black without explanation, and publishers and filmmakers wouldn't expect it of us.

So why do TV networks believe they can do this with an ongoing TV series, and why do we put up with it?

This isn't just an occasional thing. It's chronic and it shows complete disrespect for the audiences that the very same TV networks need in order to survive. Talk about biting the hand that feeds...

Here's just a few recent examples:

Persons Unknown: a group of people from different walks of life are kidnapped and wake up prisoners in a small, deserted town. The town is surrounded by an invisible force field. There are thirteen emotionally-charged episodes with twists and turns as these people try to escape. The finale delivers quite a few answers but also sets up ongoing mysteries for a second season. No second season. No ending. 2.8 million U.S followers of the series are left in the dark.

Flash Forward: everyone in the world loses consciousness simultaneously for 137 seconds, during which they "experience' 137 seconds of their future, from six months forward in time. A group of FBI agents leads an investigation in to what, how and why this happened - and what it all means. The network cancelled the series after its 22 episode first series run, without a conclusion.

'The Event,' 'Jericho,' and 'Sons and Daughters' are just another three of the many recent series canned without tying up loose ends, mysteries and plot developments.

No-one expects the networks to run unprofitable businesses, or to not cancel a series that is not achieving the results being sought. Nevertheless, there are still some in the world who endorse the principles of ethics in business, and loyalty to your customers.

Flash Forward had an average audience of 8.5 million in the U.S and more around the world. They liked the program and invested their time and their interest in the characters. The audience deserved a finale that completed the tale. The story deserved an ending.

Writers, directors and producers all want to complete telling the stories that they have created.

When a network decides to cancel a series, it could do so allowing the producers the timing to script and shoot episodes that take the storyline to the finishing line. This was done in recent years with 'Smallville,' 'Prison Break,' and '24.' Or run a two hour telemovie "special" that concludes the series properly.

When the original tv version of spy series 'La Femme Nikita' was to be cancelled after its fourth season, a decision was made to produce a mini fifth season of just eight episodes to deliver a big finish.

It can, and should, be done.

A big finale, properly promoted, can also deliver extra ratings.

An audience is placing faith in the media that it will deliver a beginning, a middle, and a fitting conclusion to its fictional products.

Every story deserves an ending.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Every picture tells a story

On his breakthrough 1971 solo album, Every Picture Tells A Story, Rod Stewart sang, 'Every picture tells a story, don't it?' I remember way back then, whenever I heard the song, I wanted to sing back, 'Yes, Rod, it does.' And I still get that same urge even now when I hear it on those golden oldie classic rock radio playlists.

I'm no singer, rapper or TV voice-over guy, so I tend not to sing, rap or speak it. I just think it (Yes, Rod, it does), which spares me those strange looks I've mentioned before.

Every picture tells a story, or more to the point a fragment of one, as there can be a whole fleshed-out story, themes, characters and sub-plots behind that picture just waiting to be told. Which means every picture can also be an inspiration for writers.

I was reminded of that this past fortnight when, in the midst of riots in Vancouver, a photo was snapped of a young couple lying in the middle of the road, kissing, while conflict and fires raged in the background.

That photo went viral on the internet, and made the print and broadcast news all over the world.

Yes, that photo was worth a thousand words, and yes, it told us a story of love and tenderness in the midst of chaos. It was also a whole lot more than that. The whole world was intrigued enough to want to know the full story behind that "moment" captured by camera.

The police had moved in after angry mobs went wild, burning and looting after their team lost an ice hockey final. (That's got to be a whole other story, doesn't it?)

When Alexandra Thomas was accidentally caught up in the melee, and reportedly beaten with a shield and knocked to the ground, her boyfriend, Scott Jones, held her in his arms and soothed her shock and hysteria with a kiss, a moment snapped by freelance photographer Richard Lam.

The story "told' by a picture can be depicted differently by the differing perceptions of all who see it. To an imaginative storyteller, a picture - any picture - can suggest a variety of different scenarios, complete with a beginning, middle and end.

Perhaps it was a real-life portrait that partly inspired Oscar Wilde to write 'The Picture Of Dorian Gray'?

There were many famous photos throughout the last century that inspired debate, intrigue and various possibilities of the "story" behind them, one of the best known being another kiss - this one of a young French couple on the streets of Paris in 1950. Who were they? What became of them? Their identities remained a mystery until 1993 when the photographer Robert Doisneau revealed that the kiss had been staged, using two models. Doisneau was forced to reveal the secret in defence of a court action by a woman claiming to have been the girl in the picture. There's a whole other true-life story there, very different to the one in the photo.

The 1989 photo of a lone student, standing in front of communist tanks in Tiananmen Square in China, tells a story of oppression and the resolve of the human spirit. It's a picture that tells a powerful story, a picture that can ignite plot lines, both real and fictional, of the thousands caught up in that struggle, and of the tragedy of the massacre that followed.

Every picture tells a story. And every picture can suggest a mix of characters, plots, locations and emotions to authors, screenwriters, composers and songwriters.

Yes, Rod, it does.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A storyteller's best friend

This week I have a Guest Author spot on book blogger site 'CMash Loves To Read.'

An invite as guest to one of the blogs or websites that reviews books/interviews authors/hosts guest posts - is, for me, like an invite to a really cool party, but without the booze, the amateur dancing or the hassle of getting home in the middle of the night. And without waking up the next morning with a mouth like the bottom of a bird cage or a head doing an excellent impersonation of a jackhammer on a building site.

There are 2 free copies of the paperback edition of 'The Delta Chain' being offered in CMash's Giveaway Competition. There's also some general background info, and my guest post-
"A storyteller's best friend."

A storyteller's best friend might not be an idea or a character or a whopping advance or a shiny new laptop.

It might just be a question... (you can read the rest of the guest post and check out the site at CMash Loves To Read.)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Even action heroes can teach us something new

The action hero/thriller genre has grown in leaps and bounds (no pun intended but I guess it's there anyway), propelled by popular authors such as Lee Child, Matt Hilton, Matthew Reilly, Clive Cussler and others.

I'm reading Jeff Abbott's "Adrenaline" and it's one of the best - the first in a series featuring Sam Capra, CIA agent who loses everything dear to him in one horrifying moment; finds himself framed for a terrorist act and on the run; then working for a mysterious international organisation against an equally-as-mysterious and powerful enemy.

In the electrifying opening scene, told in the first-person, lead character Capra gives a blow-by-blow description as he runs through a deserted carpark and building site, up and down gangways, across rooftops, every spin and bounce and landing like a jolt to the senses of the reader.

Capra gives the term "Parkour" to this breathtaking exercise regime. I have to admit I had never heard of it. Well, I have now.

The action in this opening scene sounded to me like something I had heard of - freerunning. Most of us have heard about- and seen - freerunning. Who could forget that opening in the movie "Casino Royale"? Daniel Craig (as James Bond) pursuing a freerunner across an urban landscape.

But what was "Parkour"?

I googled Parkour and learned instantly that it is the original term applied to a free-form, non-competitive discipline, French in origin, in which participants run along a route, navigating obstacles by jumping, climbing, vaulting, rolling, swinging and wall-scaling, mostly practiced at high speed in dense urban areas.

Sebastien Foucan, one of the co-founders of Parkour - (and he's the guy doing that running in the Casino Royale movie) - disagreed with the other originators of Parkour. He wanted to evolve it to include visual "tricks" such as spins and aerial rotations, and for it to become a competitive sport. It was this "breakaway" movement that become known as "freerunning."

Fiction is elevated to a whole new level when it introduces us to something we didn't know, and encourages us to find out more.

There are many and varied examples of this, and just one is Howard Gordon's newly published action novel, 'Gideon's War,' in which the "24" producer-turned-novelist shows us aspects of the construction, layout and operations of a state-of-the-art oil rig, deftly woven into the fast-moving plot. Another example: John J Nance's avaiation thrillers, which take us into the cockpit and behind the controls of major aircraft, and just two of which are 'Pandora's Clock," and 'Medusa's Child."

Back to Jeff Abbott's "Adrenaline." I found myself seeking out articles on Parkour, tracing its origins back to World War 1 naval officer Georges Hebert who, inspired by the flexible movements of tribesmen in Africa, was prompted to develop sports and training regimens that encouraged individual physical skills and dexterity.

Fast forward 80-90 years and you have the development of Parkour and freerunning. There are film doco's like 'Jump," featuring Sebastien Foucan in full flight, and there are articles telling the stories of contemporary runners, such as Johnny Budden. He has trained the Royal Marines in freerunning skills, and advised film producers who have featured the sport.

As for me, I won't be going out any time soon performing aerial spins, jumps and vaults, but like most people I could watch it for hours. Tracking down videos of freerunners on YouTube delivers some fascinating viewing. And the history of this skill, and the stories of the young- and not-so-young - who perform it, is so engrossing it is like a whole collection of fictional tales that have morphed into real life.

Jeff Abbott's electrifying prose brings the sport of Parkour to life on the page. He makes it just as exciting to read about, and intriguing enough to want to learn more.

Even action heroes can teach us something new, and thriller fiction has a whole new dimension added to it when it gives us a glimpse of a fascinating new subject.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A world that is stranger than any of its fictions

In the space of just four days in late April/early May, we saw a romantic fairytale wedding between a prince and his princess, in which horse-drawn carriages carrying people in regal outfits depicting another era, was watched "live' on 21st Century television by an estimated third of the world's population.

Just three days later, on every news media around the globe, came reports of the killing of the earth's most wanted terrorist leader, a man who led a network responsible for one of the worst mass-killings in recent history.

To enjoy the reading or watching of fictional works, particularly in the romance and thriller genres, usually requires the suspension of disbelief. That is what we are told. And yet...

The real world around us is often stranger than any of the fictions created by mankind. That's what I've always thought.

Fiction has to make sense to the reader. The real world often does not.

When armed forces raided the terrorist leader's secret compound in Pakistan, the US President and White House officials watched the operation "live" on screen from Washington. The images were being relayed from mini-cams in the helmets of the military personnel.

If that was a scene from a novel or a film from just forty years ago it would have been labelled science fiction.

Yesterday's s/f or high-tech thriller fiction is today's reality.

We call tv series such as "Survivor' and 'The Amazing Race" reality tv, but the Pakistan raid watched by a small group of leaders really was reality tv. Strange world.

If we focus on just these two areas - the British Royal family - and international terrorism - we'd find many instances where the known facts would stretch credulity if they were presented as fiction.

In 2008, Price Harry had to exit his role as a member of a cavalry regiment, fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, when his secret tour-of-duty was "revealed" to the world by a glossy celebrity magazine in Australia. The revelation put Harry's life, and the lives of the team, in potentially even greater danger. Oops.

Put that into a novel or a film and it would have been regarded as suspense turned soap opera. Kind of like "24" meets "the Bold and the Beautiful."

It's been revealed that the world's most wanted terrorist and his family had lived for several years in his million-dollar enclosed compound in Abbotobad, very near to a Pakistan military academy, and supposedly without anyone in the city or surrounding towns having any idea he was there. I have to wonder how believable that would have been in a Robert Ludlum or Frederick Forsyth novel. Too far-fetched?

When I was fairly young I recall hearing my parents express surprise at a newspaper item regarding a suicide. A man was playing cards with his family and friends and became so upset at losing, he went to his bedroom and shot himself in the head.

News reports are often taken at face value. However, if that was a scene in a movie, it just wouldn't wash with audiences.

I thought about that news report many times over the years. Why would you shoot yourself over a game of cards? I've long since realized, of course, that there were no doubt other, more serious reasons for the man's depression, and that the card game was just a catalyst for the action he took. But that's not what was presented in the news report. And it would require a giant leap to consider it credible in a work of fiction.

'Willing suspension of disbelief' has long been regarded as the means by which writers and their readers can justify non-realistic or "fantastic" elements in storytelling. It was first suggested by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, of 'Rime Of The Ancient Mariner" fame, in the early 19th Century.

Suspension of disbelief is certainly a formula required for the enjoyment of much fiction. However, I'd suggest it's not out of place in our observation of the real world around us.

Next time you're reading a book or watching a film and you think to yourself: "...that could never happen..." or perhaps, "...that was way over the top..." - don't be so sure the seemingly implausible plot event couldn't really happen. It probably has somewhere, at some time. Or maybe it just hasn't happened yet.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Rise of the Ebook

In 1989, an unpublished manuscript by classic 19th century French author Jules Verne was discovered and subsequently published in the 1990's. 'Paris In The 20th Century,' was written by Verne in 1863 and is set in the great French city 97 years in his future - in 1960.

Just one of the futuristic devices featured in the novel was a machine that could transmit the image on a piece of paper to another machine in another location. Forty four years later in Germany, Arthur Korn sent a photograph from Munich to Berlin on the first-ever inter-city fax machine.

It was another sixty years on before the streamlined, electric fax machine became a common feature in businesses around the world. And another fifty years on from that it's all but extinct in the age of the internet and the email.

The future Paris described by Verne was a city full of towering buildings - written twenty one years before the the first modern skyscraper - the 10-storey Home Insurance Building - was opened in Chicago in 1884.

Verne's novel had been rejected by his publisher who regarded it as too wildly imaginative.

Verne was good at this sort of thing.

He wrote about high-powered metallic submarines, ('20,000 Leagues Under The Sea,') long before the first one was built. He wrote about a rocket trip to the Moon, ('From The Earth To The Moon,') 104 years before Apollo 11.

Let's imagine, then, an imaginary novel written by an imaginary author named John Ferne - sixty years ago - in 1951.

It's set in 2011 and it's about a wealthy entrepreneur who launches a new invention - a hand-held device on which you can read the text of a book on a flat, non-glare screen.

The books can be transmitted to the device anywhere in the world via wireless networks from supercomputers that hold hundreds of thousands of titles.

At the same time a global book store has collapsed and major print publishers are considering the way forward in an uncertain business. As print sales decline, there is a sharp increase in the ereader devices. Pure fantasy.

The novel is called 'The Rise Of The Ebook,' and Ferne's tale is rejected by 1950's book editors as being too improbable, even for s/f fans.

Of course, this is a novel that was never written. (Or was it?)

However, it's 2011 now and the scenario couldn't be more real.

It's less than four years since Jeff Bezos' Amazon launched the Kindle ereader. Aptly named, for just as kindling in the forest can ignite a fire, so the Kindle has fanned the flames of an ebook revolution, with several major ereader devices and online bookstores launching. In addition there's ebook distributors such as Mark Coker's Smashwords. These 21st century outlets are offering hundreds of thousands of books, by both established publishers and by the new wave of "indie" authors/publishers.

Global bookstore chain Borders has closed most of its brick and mortar stores, while building its own online presence and its own ereader.

Welcome to the future.

And these are the most recent developments in the rise of the ebook:

The April 16, 2011 press release from the American Association of Publishers (AAP)reported that in February, digital books in the U.S showed a 202.3 % increase against the same month of February in 2010.

The Ebook was the Number One format among all categories of Trade books, including Adult and Childrens/YA hardcovers and paperbacks. That's $90.3 million in sales for the month of February. (Boy, what I could do with $90.3 million.)

The ebook now accounts for just on 30% of all U.S. book sales.

Ebook sales outside the U.S are slower, but the trend is upwards.

My research indicates that in the UK and Germany, where ereaders have been on sale for a much shorter period of time, ebooks are estimated at around 5% and growing.

The rise of the ebook has also seen the rise of the independent author.

The 'indie' artist was once the exclusive domain of the musician, particularly rock musos. Technology meant it was possible for singers/songwriters/bands to record their own material, release it on CD or download, selling it on the internet and at 'live' shows. "Indies" gained a strong foothold in the 90's.

Now technology has done the same for authors, and it's a real game-changer.

There are many thousands of "indie" authors flooding the market with their self-published works and, sadly, many will not stand out and find readers. Nevertheless, an opportunity to sell your wares and connect with an audience is there.

And from those thousands, there are many who are achieving strong sales and excellent reviews, too many to mention here, but as an example - Mel Comley, Imogen Rose, Edward Patterson, Siebel Hodge and Nick Spalding.

There's a small but growing number who have hit the Kindle Top 100 bestseller lists, including John Locke, Amanda Hocking, J R Rain, Michael R Sullivan and Debbi Mack.

Hocking and Sullivan have been approached and have also signed with established publishing houses.

John Locke, who has many titles on the bestseller list, prefers to remain "indie" but has acquired a literary agent to field movie offers and foreign rights publishing opportunities.

These authors are an example that self-published works that are well written and edited, can match the traditionally published well-known authors in finding a readership. As such, they are an inspiration, a guide and a beacon to every other writer out there who is heading along the same path.

Locke's agent, Jane Dystel, was quoted in The Wall Street Journal as saying this brave new digital publishing world was a "wild west."

Well, the U.S ought to know, having had the original Wild West back in the 1800's. Around the same time Jules Verne was imagining the fantastic inventions of the 20th century, which are themselves already ancient history to us. If Verne was writing today, we can only wonder what speculative fiction he might have written about the future of the digital age.

And what of our imaginary John Ferne novel, 'The Rise of the Ebook'?

In our fictional story, Ferne's grandchildren have discovered his manuscript and released it as an ebook. It's a Kindle Top 10 bestseller. Imaginary film studio, Dreamjobs, have bought the rights and legendary director Stephen Steelkirk will direct.

And for the role of an indie author who hits the big time, talks are underway with Josh Heart-throb and Christian Sale.

The real Hollywood recently released 'The Social Network,' a film about the rise of Facebook.

A real movie about the rise of the ebook? Who knows...

Thursday, April 14, 2011, not you. It's the new book title

Over the next 8-10 weeks, I'll have some promotional and publishing activity going on. I'm launching a new novel, 'Disappear', in July, and re-issuing 'The Delta Chain' with a slightly revamped cover, an extension of my author name, and setting a special promotional e-book price of .99c. (The paperback will follow shortly.)

Later on, to complete this initial triumvirate of activity, I'm launching my short fiction collection (title tba).

In the spirit of experimentation, and after much research on indie author blogs and websites, we'll see how the pricing and cross-promotion of the titles is working, and I'll post some status updates.

So no idle moments then, no twiddling of the thumbs around here. (I've always wondered what 'twiddling' of the thumbs actually means. According to one dictionary entry, it's a series of twist and turns. Not sure why you'd want to spend time doing that with your thumbs, sounds very 'Deliverence' and duelling banjos to me.)

Here's the lowdown:

In 'Disappear,' a young husband takes what should be a 10 minute walk to a local shop. Never to return. Eighteen years later his body is found on the very same street, the victim of a hit/run driver. Where has he been and why was he returning now, only to die in an accident? His wife, Jennifer Parkes, is called to identify the body...and is confronted by a seemingly impossible fact...

In 'The Delta Chain,' authorities are unable to trace the identities of six drowning victims washed ashore along the coasts of two countries over a two year period. Who were they? Are there others?

In my short fiction collection, a "breaking news" item on TV presents a man with an opportunity to commit an undetectable, perfect murder - one that will deliver personal and financial gains; a daring international cat burglar, who has never been caught, has a stunning plan to steal a fabulous diamond; the little-known forensic science of 'bite-mark analysis' delivers an unexpected curve to a small-town murder investigation; these are three of several stories with a sting that explore the themes of deception, greed, power, crime and the sometimes unexpected paths that can lead to justice.

I've always been drawn to suspense fiction that has an unusual or intriguing element of mystery to its plot and characters, something instilled in me from a very young age. I remember sitting up late on a Tuesday night with my Mum and Dad, watching 60's tv series 'The Fugitive,' with David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble, on-the-run from the law,
roaming from town to town, adopting different identities and jobs, while searching for a one-armed man who could prove Kimble's innocence of a murder charge.

On successive Saturday nights, I watched a festival of old Hitchcock films, many of them based on novels and short tales by master storytellers in the thriller genre. As a result, I sought out books by those authors : 'Jamaica Inn,' 'Rebecca' and 'The Birds' by Daphne Du Maurier; 'The 39 Steps' by John Buchan; 'Marnie' by Winston Graham; 'Psycho' by Robert Bloch; 'Strangers On A Train' by Patricia Highsmith; 'The Secret Agent' by Joseph Conrad.

Years later, revisiting some of those books has proved a valuable reminder of just what it was that influenced me, inspired me, entertained me, and set me off on this particular journey - and hoping that a few tricks and techniques in pacing, mood and characterisation, rubbed off.

Rediscovering roots isn't just for blues musos, it helps writers and every craftsman in every field to re-focus and sharpen the skills and the tools of our trades.

Enough blabbing. Time to get back to work. Or - maybe -before that, I'll just dip into an old Hitchcock movie or Winston Graham novel. After all, those guys really knew how to cast a line and reel you in...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wishing You Were There

You're behind the wheel of a an open-air sports coupe, hitting the highway, wind in your hair (provided you have enough, which I don't), the refreshing rush of morning breeze lifting your spirits, the song on the radio pumping its rythmn through your blood, the landscape flashing by, the ocean on one side...

Actually you're not, you're reading a novel but you feel you're right there alongside the protagonist, seeing what he/she is seeing, feeling the same exhiliarating sense of freedom and excitement...You wish you really were there.

That's what the best fiction does, transplants us into the middle of the action, where we feel we are an honorary character in the cast, walking the walk, talking the talk.

It's one of the secrets of success of the world's most popular writers.

Wilbur Smith's epic adventures take place on land, sea and in the air. I'm sure many readers, like myself, have tasted the salt of the sea on their tongues, or the dryness of the desert parching their lips, or the adrenaline kicking in as a safari hits the open African plains.

Reading Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road,' I felt I was tramping alongside the hero on that apocolyptic near-future journey or feeling the tropical heat and rain in Somerset Maugham's novels and short stories.

Setting of scene and atmosphere is one of the writer's most effective tools of trade, and is effectively what puts the reader into the action.

We've all visited a place that seemed to be imbued with its own personality. Every place has its unique characteristics. Zeroing in on those and subtly using them to build the ambience of a location is an essential part of the craft for every writer to master.

The writer's goal is not to get bogged down with long passages of by-the-numbers description, but instead to briefly and deftly weave those sensory aspects of a place into the plot, just as a painter must brush them onto canvas with light and shade (that's today's lesson, I do try to pass these things on, lol)

Right now though I'd like to be behind the wheel of a sports car in an exotic location, and where better to be suave, sophisticated and worldly than on the pages of one of Ian Fleming's James Bond books, where he invariably drives Alfa Romeos, the Ford T-Bird, Mercedes convertibles, the Rolls Royce Silver Ghost...

That sports coupe on an ocean road?

I'm still waiting for that scene to be written.

But I can dream, can't I?

Better still maybe I can persuade a boutique car dealer to let me take the latest sports models for a spin, testing their wares on coastal highways, and into the country...research, after all, is essential to getting the facts straight. Wonder if Mr. Fleming ever tried that?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

It's Read An Ebook Week

In addition to the paperback and Kindle editions, on Amazon, my novel 'The Delta Chain' is now also available in several other ebook formats, from Smashwords, and from Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Sony, Apple's ibooks, and Diesel.

And just in time for the 2011 Read An Ebook Week.

As part of the Ebook Week promotion, 'The Delta Chain,' is available at a 50% discount (using coupon code no. RAE50) from Smashwords, until March 12.

According to my neighbor, Buggeroff, there's no reason now for anyone not to get a copy. But then up until last week he thought an ebook was a geeky term for an xbox. When I showed Buggeroff a Kindle, he wanted to know which button to press for the latest Red Faction: Armageddon game.

The Read An Ebook Week initiative runs this week, from March 6 to March 12. It's an annual promotion that's been going strong for several years now, but is more topical than ever given the steep rise in ereader devices over the past year, as they've become lighter, slimmer, and lower in price.

On her write2publish blog, Robin Sullivan investigates many ebook stats. Industry reports show that the ebook was recently approx 10% of the U.S book sales market. That's a healthy and growing niche.

Ebook Week has news, info and features, across a wide variety of media, about the pleasures and advantages of reading electronically. Authors, publishers, readers, booksellers, the media and the general public participate. In 2010 it attracted readers from 136 countries, speaking 74 languages.

You can find out a great deal more about it here

For 500 years, since Gutenberg's first printing press, we've had printed books. This past decade the Project Gutenberg enterprise has made thousands of classic books available as ebooks, and for free, and helps introduce them to a whole new generation.

In the 1960's movie version of 'The Time Machine,' the time traveler arrives in the far future and is taken to a hall that contains Mankind's books. When the traveler takes some of them from the shelves, they crumble in his hands, due to neglect.

In Ray Bradbury's classic novel, 'Fahrenheit 451," futuristic nasties burn all the books.

I expect the printed paper book is more resilient, that it will survive the doomsayers, and that it will always have a place in our hearts, albeit in smaller numbers. And that it can live happily alongside the ebook.

The ebook definitely has a vital and increasing place in our world, and in our hearts, and Ebook Week celebrates that without resorting to burning or neglecting its print counterpart. Live and let live.

There's thousands - or more - books available, from the classics to the latest bestsellers. And if there's a negative to the whole ebook revolution, then it's that there's so many titles of all kinds available, and just not enough time to read 'em all. Damn.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Reasons for storytelling 1, 2, 3...

I've been 'writing' stories since before I could actually write. As a kid I'd invent stories and then act them out, playing all the characters myself. If I do that now I get strange looks, so I try not to do it.

Eventually I began writing my stories down in long-hand (I still do first drafts that way, though that could change.) As a teen I bought my first portable typewriter for just $40. Haven't seen a typewriter for a long time now. I kinda miss them but I don't miss the white liquid paper (for corrections), used to get that all over me (my Mum thought it was toothpaste)and I don't miss changing the ribbons and getting the ink all over me.

In the 3rd series of s/f tv series, 'Fringe,' contact is made by people with those in an alternate universe by means of typing messages on an old typewriter. Glad to see they still have their uses.

I've heard Tom Hanks collects old typewriters and has hundreds of them. That sounds like a fine hobby to me, better than stamps, but it would take a lot of space to store those things and I don't have one of those multi-room Hollywood mansions, so no, not for me. I'm still trying to figure out what to do with my piles and piles of vinyl records.

Of course eventually along came the PC, the laptop, iphone, ipad, ereader, whatever.

But the process is the same and I'm still "acting" out those characters in my head. I've had some very strange conversations with those characters over the years.

When Kylie Minogue sang, 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head," she didn't know the half of it.

There's a self-editing process that goes on, as well, at that imaginary conversation point. Is this a story I really want to tell? Is this a story I would want to read if someone else had written it?

It's all subjective, of course.

Recently I read reports on a schlocky horror-type movie with a theme so revolting that the idea doesn't deserve any mention here (trust me on this.) Suffice to say, I'm not the only one who feels that way. Everyone I know finds it too disgusting to give any further comment. Fortunately, it's a film with limited distribution and limited promotion, so most don't know about it.

Nevertheless, someone wrote a script for this movie, someone raised financial backing, someone cast actors, someone directed, someone produced and distributed this knowing it could only offend and disturb.

This got me to thinking: what is the role of the storyteller in our society. In any society.

My view: stories are to entertain and amuse (both good balm for the soul) but also to cast an illuminating light on the good and bad choices we can make in this world. They are about our strengths and our weaknesses; our history; the importance of our relationships; the triumphs of our spirit against adversity; the endless possibilities for our future; for enriching each other with love and care; and for ringing the warning bell on the darker side of our nature and presenting the consequences.

Or stuff like that, anyway. Otherwise what's the point?

Never should it be gratuitous, or dwell on the base and vile as though they are normal, or ignore the balance that is a natural part of the universe.

There's all sorts of reasons for all kinds of stories, but wallowing in filth and darkness and depravity just for the hell of it, can't (as Jerry Seinfeld might have said) be any good for anybody.

Reasons for storytelling? I've been a collector, for a while, not of typewriters or stamps but of quotes, comments and observations on the craft of the storyteller. From time to time, I'd like to share a few of them. Some you'll know. Some you won't. Regardless, collections are fun, we all love quotes, and it's good to re-engage with these when you haven't heard them for a while.

"Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today." - Robert Mcafee Brown

"There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no great societies that did not tell stories." - Ursula K. LeGuin

"Surely the job of fiction is to actually tell the truth. It's a paradox that's at the heart of my kind of storytelling." - Jeremy Northam

"I grew up in a place where everybody was a storyteller, but nobody wrote. It was that kind of Celtic, storytelling tradition: everybody would have a story at the pub or at parties, even at the clubs and raves." - Irvine Welsh

"I think that instinct, that storytelling instinct, rescued me most of my life." - Armistead Maupin

"Storytelling is an ancient and honourable act. An essential role role to play in the community or tribe. It's one that I embrace wholeheartedly and have been fortunate enough to be rewarded for." - Russell Banks

"You can't stop stories from being told." - Dr. Parnassus (ok, not a real person, but a great quote from a fictional character) - in 'The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus.'

"Story is the vehicle we use to make sense of our lives in a world that often defies logic." - Jim Trelease

"Stories tell us what we already knew and forgot, and remind us of what we haven't yet imagined." - Anne Watson

"Our stories matter...your stories matter. For you never know how much of a difference they make and to whom." - Caroline Joy Adams

"I'm writing a book. I've got the page numbers down..." - Steven Wright (I know how he feels...)

"I think every beautiful tale in the world hides the truth and reveals it little by little." - Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

"Australian Aborigines say the big stories - the stories worth telling and retelling, the ones in which you may find the meaning of your life - are forever stalking the right teller, sniffing and tracking like predators hunting their prey in the bush." - Robert Moss, 'Dreamgates.'

And that's one very powerful, inspirational image on which to reflect, and on which to leave it, for now.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Where are the great rock'n'roll novels?

Kevin Johnson is an Aussie pop balladeer who had an international hit, many years ago, with his song, "Rock and Roll (I Gave You All The Best Years Of My Life.)" Yes, lengthy, but it works, boy does it work. It's been recorded by over 50 artists around the world including Tom Jones and Mac Davis and you can watch an early performance of it here

It's the plaintive tune of a rock muso who is always just one step behind the music trends, who never makes "the big time", whose dreams fade while others soar, but who plods on, ever faithful to the music and the industry he loves.

There's thousands of creative artists who could relate to this, who've toiled away at their craft over the years, never "making it" in the way they might have envisaged. In point of fact, there's many people from all walks of life who can relate on some level or other, at some point in their lives.

And what's more, it's a great story idea with hidden depths to explore. Which brings me to a great puzzle:

Rock music was the single, greatest, dominant, explosive, much-loved, much-hated, electrifying art form of the late 20th Century - damn, probably in all history.

It gave us extraordinary true life tales of rags-to-riches and back again, of dreams realized, of hopes dashed, of cursed romances, of lavish living, of impossible triumphs, of deep despairs and tragic ends. (And all for real, remember, all for real.) And it's not over yet.

And characters. Talk about characters - mad, lovable, eccentric, romantic, dangerous, self-destructive, both doomed and redemptive men and women and (yes, even) children - and they were just the support bands.

There's no end to the fascinating fictions that could be inspired by the whole incredible era.

So where are they?

It seems the fictional world has largely skipped by this rich tapestry of material, and that's a mystery worthy of Mr. Holmes himself.

There are, of course, some rock'n'rollish novels out there, just two of them being Don DeLillo's 1973 novel "Great Jones Street," which was well received and more recently "You Don't Love Me Yet," by Jonathan Lethem, but for the most part they are not widely known and have not had the mainstream impact of the big books by the bestselling authors.

Where are the literary world's answers to the "Almost Famous" and "A Star Is Born" movies?

Rock musos do turn up as characters in all sorts of novels, but even then they're few and far between, and these books are not rock'n'roll novels as such.

Joe Hill's supernatural thriller, "Heart-Shaped Box," is about an ageing heavy metal star who "buys" a ghost over the Internet and finds himself stalked and haunted by the deadly entity. It has parts with great humour, and parts that are genuinely chilling. Great read, great character.

And in Clare Francis' suspense novel, "The Killing Winds," (a.k.a "Requiem) a semi-retired rock star and an environmental activist investigate an eco conspiracy after the rocker's wife dies in mysterious circumstances. (A favourite of mine.)

But fiction about the world of rock, its origins, its influences, its creativity, its rises and falls - these novels, either mainstream or genre, are hard to find.

Any thoughts on this?

I've always believed that truth is far stranger than anything authors can create...Maybe, just maybe the real world of rock'n'roll is so eccentric, so bizarre, so over-the-top and infinitely outrageous, that 'fiction' can't compete and has, like the rest of us, taken a seat in the audience and is watching the spectacle from the front row...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

About 'The Delta Chain'

There's a story behind every story, and it's usually kicked off by one of the most famous, age-old questions asked by fiction writers: What if?

From the international news media to observations you make in your local street, there is always someone or something about which you could let your mind wander and ask "What if...?" It's what writers do while other people are being sensible and getting on about their business.

Some years ago, while researching something completely different, I stumbled upon an intriguing fact: in the United States each year, over 1,000 unidentified, deceased bodies are found. And there are comparative figures in many countries around the world. Manner of death varies, as do the locations in which the bodies are found. Most are found on land. Some have drowned and are found in rivers, in the ocean, or on beaches.

In some cases it is weeks, months, even years before the bodies are identified.

In 1998, the body of a young girl was finally identified, thiry years after her body had been found in mountains.

In 2000, a man discovered on an English beach remained unidentified for six years.

Here's the kicker- a small percentage of these bodies are never identified. They are never reported missing. No-one ever comes forward with any information. Exhaustive forensic searches turn up no solutions.

In the 1930's, a devastating fire claimed the lives of hundreds of people at a busy circus. The remains of a young girl were found on the site. No one has ever known who she was or where she was from.

As anyone would, I wondered who on earth these people could have been. What was their story? How could it be that no-one missed them?

I asked myself the following: 'What if there were several unidentied drowning cases, in different countries, that were similar in nature? Who could they be? What led to their deaths? Why were they never reported missing?"

How would the police go about pursuing the answers? What would be the personal impact on the investigators? What would be the effect on their lives and their relationships?

'The Delta Chain' imagines just such a scenario and follows the trail through the efforts of a young detective, Adam Bennett, and several others who are drawn into the evolving mystery.

It's been a long and winding road but this month I've published 'The Delta Chain' in paperback and ebook editions.

Moral of this blog is that when you ask yourself that 'What if...?" question you can never be too certain where it will ultimately lead. For both writers and readers,  that's what makes the craft of storytelling so addictive.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The caring, sharing entrepreneurial writing community

One of the most inspiring aspects of the rise of the "indie" author/publisher, and the spread of ereader devices and ebooks, has been the willingness and honesty of writers to share their experiences.. Not just about the craft of writing and editing, but also the mechanics of publishing, of promotion, of pricing and distribution and networking.

This caring and sharing comes not just from big-name bestselling authors, but from a diverse range of those practicing the craft -from mid-listers through to newbies, from the traditionally published to the self-published.

Of course, mainstream media has always had interviews with well known authors and their path to success, but those articles were heavily edited, diplomatic transcripts. Imagine if there'd been a Wiki-leaks back then to reveal what some of those guys really thought about the 'biz.

What is different now is the sheer volume of viewpoints accessible via the web - plus the fact that what you're reading is coming straight from the keyboard to you, from authors who are opening up with a no holds-barred honesty about the ins and outs of publishing.

All this info is invaluable. And it's free.

It's then up to you and I to sift through and analyse what's best for us, and what isn't.

J. A. Konrath's blog, A Newbie's Guide To Publishing has been around a few years and is one of the pioneers of this warts-and-all approach. Joe was an early adopter/predictor of the rise of ebooks and of reasonable, affordable pricing. Joe is both traditionally published, and an "indie," foot-in-both-camps at various times. Thankfully, this hasn't stopped him from being highly vocal about many elements of traditional publishers and the NY6 (sounds like an evil cabal, but it's actually just an affectionate (?) term for the six big New York publishing corporations.)

When I first set out to set up my own small book imprint, and launch my own novel, I had no idea all this advice from others doing similar things, was out there.

I'm glad it was.

Some of the authors I've been following lately, and gleaning plenty from their experiences, are the following:

Stephen Leather has been a successful novelist for 25 years, writing crime and detective fiction, thrillers and supernatural tales. Recently he's published his own ebooks and he's a regular on the Amazon Kindle bestseller lists. The entertaining Mr. Leather is not only blogging about his literary adventures, he's issuing a step-by-step rundown on just how you and I can emulate his practices and achieve ebook success of our own, at his blog -

Michael R Sullivan writes fantasy bestsellers, also riding high on Kindle lists among others. His wife and co-publisher, Robin, has a blog titled  write2publish that provides a wealth of little gems on pricing, marketing, distribution, all the nitty gritty stuff. Robin is very forthcoming on just how she and Michael have gone about building their business, and publishing other authors as well.

Mary McDonald is the author of 'No Good Deed," a novel that's received excellent reviews and has been steadily building sales since Mary released it on various ebook platforms, including Kindle, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble and ibookstore. Along the way Mary has shared each step, from manuscript prep, cover design, experiments with pricing, the sales numbers achieved on a month-by-month basis, and various promotions and how they've fared.

There's a certain bravery in communicating all this as you're doing it, and I commend Mary as she's shone a light ahead for those like me who are coming in from the dark. Mary's blog can be found here and by the way, "No Good Deed" is a superb tale of suspense about a photographer whose well-meant good deed sees him mistakenly suspected of terrorism. He is arrested, imprisoned, interrogated and ...well, you'll have to check it out if you want to know more.

The UK's Helen Smith is a playwright, screenwriter, novelist and children's author whose blog offers fascinating insights, tips, advice, promotions and, for international readers like myself, there's lots of glimpses of day-today life in and around London. Love it.

April L Hamilton's website Publetariat has long been a source of inspiration, motivation and tasty morsels of information for the budding author/publisher.

In fact, it was April's "Indie Author Guide To Publishing For The Kindle With Amazon's Digital Text Platform..." that I found one of the most useful, user-friendly, practical articles on the subject. It's been right alongside me as I've gone through the formatting process myself with my novel, 'The Delta Chain." (Watch this space.)

And those are just for starters.

In the coming months, I'll highlight some of the others blogs that have helped me along my way, and I'll weigh in with a few more experiences of my own as I enter the publishing phase.

This caring, sharing entrepreneurial writing community is one of the best things about being a writer right now. It's out there 24/7, and it's just a click away.

Friday, January 7, 2011

2011 and the brave new world

December, 2010 didn't go exactly the way I'd planned.

The end of the year saw some unexpected house problems, some unexpected day job turmoil, some greatly unexpected financial hassles. In spite of all this I managed to squeeze in an interstate road trip to visit the rels (negotiating some torrential rain and whiteouts on the road to Queensland, but avoiding the floods that have caused many people much hardship in some northern coastal and regional areas.)

Finalising my publishing project was temporarily put on hold, writing new material was shifted to the back burner, and posts to this blog have been in absentia.

2010 is over. Long live 2011.

Once the new year is underway, so too, I hope, will I be. Back in the writing saddle. Back on track.

I'm reminded of some of history's greatest writers' most quotable quotes. 'In the end is my beginning'. This is the opening sentence to Agatha Christie's crime classic, 'Endless Night," and is one of my favourite lines. Works well here, agree?

'The best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.' Poet Robert Burns wrote this in the 18th century.Many of us, over the years, must've found comfort in knowing we aren't the only ones to have things go pear-shaped from time to time.

'If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.' I still haven't mastered this one, but what good's a new year without new year resolutions, and this one's always on the list.

Like anyone else who was paying attention, I observed interesting changes developing in the book industry in 2010.

A year ago I'd never seen an actual e-reader, except pictures of the Kindle on the Amazon site. It was also the only e-reader many of us had heard of.

By year's end I'd seen the Sony e-reader, the Kobo and the Iriver being displayed in bookstores, and along with the occasional Kindle, I saw them being used by commuters, as well as books being read via their apps on the Ipad and various cellphones.

Amazon announced the e-book market was around 10%, and greater than their hardcover book market.

Bestselling traditionally published authors such as David Morrell, F Paul Wilson and Scott Westerfeld self-published in e-book format some of their backlist titles, and in some cases, new material.

Indie author/publishers rose sharply in number, with a few such as Amanda Hocking, J A Konrath,  LJ Sellers and others achieving previously unheard-of success. Amanda Hocking's various titles in the vampire and paranormal romance genres have reportedly sold 100,000 copies. Congrats, Amanda. Many thousands of others are selling a lot less, but this is an exciting and growing market that offers new opportunities for up and coming authors - something that hasn't happened in the book publishing biz for a long, long time.

Authors and publishers are also utilising POD (Print on demand) technology to make both backlist and new titles available.

So whether seeking traditional publishing and distribution outlets, or this alternative brave new world, aspiring authors have broader options and much to look forward to.

If I'm writing this then maybe I'm getting my mojo back in harness. Okay, so it's not NYE, but what the hell I'm pouring a bottle of bubbly, kicking back with my wife and a few friends, and raising a glass to 2011 and the brave new world.

As Agatha wrote, in the end is my (our) beginning.