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Thursday 26 July 2012

How not to be a twit (Rant Alert)

I realised something earlier this week. Although I love twitter, and I'm on it a lot - not always posting, often just cruising around - I hardly ever look at my main feed any more.

The reason is pure and simple spam overload. Almost every tweet at a given time is pushing something - usually books, since I tend to follow a lot of other indie authors. They beg, they plead, they occasionally compare their writing to the Latest Big 6 Thang (which automatically puts it onto my DNR list, because odds are - nope, your writing is nothing like whatever the hell you claim to be better than). And it saddens me, because I've met some great people through twitter, and even some of them appear to have been replaced by marketing spam-bots. There is a special place in the seventh circle of hell for the inventors of spam-bots, and when I meet up with you in the after-life I intend roasting a marshmallow over you. Just saying.

I've tweeted links to my books - usually when they're free up on the kindle store, but I tweet the link maybe twice a day. To be totally honest, the last couple of times I forgot about it. The thing is, I love reading. But there isn't a hope in Hades of me clicking the link you just posted, and I'm going to list them here.

1) I'm usually broke. I scrape by month to month, and if I'm very lucky, when pay-day rolls around I have a few square quid in my pocket. I discover new authors usually be downloading a freebie, and if I like what I read, I will hunt down and happily pay for the next couple of books if my budget lets me. Anyone pricing their book at higher than £5 gets a fleeting look of regret, because I'm not willing to blow my budget on a single book when I can get two or more for the price of one. I never buy off a twitter link, and I've been on that site for over a year.

2) 99% percent of the authors tweeting only link to the book, which I can't download here in sunny London. It also means I can't even check out the full description or download the sample. Skip. Very rarely I'll remember to make a note of something recommended by someone else - usually not the author, and check it out once I've dragged my sorry butt home from work.  Most of the time, it's a case of get home and face-plant and pray for Friday so I can actually get some writing done on the weekend.

3) It. Annoys. The. Crap. Out. Of. Me. It annoys me because I check out everyone who follows to make sure they interact a bit with folks, and if all they do is promote, promote, promote, I don't follow back. I'm on twitter because I like to chat to folks, and jabber about everything from my latest fun experience with spiders to the evilness of the London transport system. So I have no idea how my feed is suddenly spam-city, but I look at it, growl, and jump over to my lists.

4) To add insult to injury, some of the folks on my lists appear to have fallen victim to the Great Spam-Bot Body Snatching experience, and all they bloody tweet is ...... links. To their books. No more interaction. No more jokes or chats. Just. Bloody. Spam.

6 months ago I'd scroll through my feed, catch up with a few folks and have a bit of a chat. Now, since I haven't updated my lists in a while, I have to hope and pray I remember their handle and search them up - and hope they haven't turned into the author-spam-bot from hell over night.

My response? Well, I haven't done a tweet about my books in a while, unless you count the last blog excerpt, and I'm seriously thinking about culling down my follow list. I have no issues with losing followers who spam me repeatedly, because all I really want is my old twitter feed back.

If you are an author, or blogger - I have no issue with you tweeting about it every now and then. We live in an on-line world where often the only way to get anyone to pay attention is the internet equivalent of flashing your boobs at the bar-tender to get served,  (yes, it works. Only on straight guys and bi-curious girls, though, and only the first time you do it. Be warned.) but be prepared for the back-lash if that is all you do. If you provide no more value to someone following you than the Duracell Bunny, you lose your voice. It gets skipped over in the sea of links, and screams of "Buy me! BUY MEEE!"  are becoming as annoying as the toddler kicking and screaming on the supermarket floor because nobody will give him the candy he wants.

Mix it up a little. Chat to people. If you get my attention that way, odds are I'll at the very least check your stuff out. I might not like it, and I might not buy it - but I'll still talk to you. And auto-DM's are just another form of spam that make me want to roll on the floor and bite the carpet; don't do that either. It puts you back in the boob-flashing/Duracell Bunny category, and trust me - there's no longer anything unique about either one of those.

J H Sked is the author of WolfSong , Basement Blues , Die Laughing , and Quarter the Moon  and a contributor to Sweet Dreams, all of which are on Amazon as ebooks.

Sunday 22 July 2012

Snippet : Ravens WIP

I've had a few queries on the follow-up to WolfSong (working on it guys, promise!). The bad news is - still working on it. The good news is, it's going well - definitely easier writing this time around. There were a few howls when I mentioned I'd dumped the last version three quarters of the way in, but I have to say it was the right decision. I've learnt a lot since the first book, and hopefully it shows in this one. 

I've pasted a snippet below for you; with the usual caveats - this is still a work in progress, and that means anything posted is subject to change or deletion, especially if my eagle-eyed master beta (hi, Joe) hits it on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper. *grin*

In the meantime, hope you enjoy it. This takes place a couple of chapters into the book itself, and once again, Amber is getting herself caught up in all sorts of trouble.


Gates’ legs dissolved at the knees half a street away from the inn. Wills caught his left side and nodded at the artist lad, Farding, to take the other.
Amber and Dort strolled along behind them.
“So why are you really staying with Gates?” Dort asked.
Amber was glancing through Farding’s sketchpad as they walked. There was more than enough ambient light for hawk eyes to see. The lad was good.

She closed the pad and thought for a moment, then dipped lightly over Dort’s mind. There was fear there, true – and a bright, burning anger at whoever had killed Dunning and left his body for Gates to find.
“Because I don’t want to find him sliced apart in his bed tomorrow,” she answered finally, and Wills stopped in his tracks and glanced at her over his shoulder.
She nodded at him.  “So far he’s lost two kin to murder, he has a lovely bruise on his face and he didn’t want anyone to think I’d stick my nose into this mess. I think your Commander has a target on his back, and I want to know why.”

“There aren’t that many folk you’ll be able to trust,” Dort said.  “Being a hawk and all.”
“So far I’ve found four,” she answered, and the men looked at each other before they carried on walking.
Dort smiled gently. “And when your squad arrives, there’ll be a few more.”
“What?” Amber stopped and grabbed his arm.
The medic looked at her then flicked his eyes to a space behind her.
“I’ve never heard a panic call on so many levels,” he said quietly. “It was quite an experience.”
Ahead of them, the two guards dragged Gates through the doorway of a small house.

Amber turned around, hands on hips, and glared at Jadah, who shrugged sheepishly.
Really? ” Amber said. “One little knock on the head and you bring in everyone?”
Jadah winced.
“Oh, stop that,” Amber said irritably. “Call them off, Jadah.”
“I tried,” she answered. “Tarmien reckons he always wanted to travel, Garliaan was as excited as a child on Samhein, and Ariaan told me the whole squad is overdue leave.”
Dort cleared his throat. “My pardon, ladies. But if we don’t get off the street we’ll start drawing a good bit of attention.”
Amber spun away and stamped into the house.

Dort and Jadah followed at a more leisurely pace. “Which squad?” the spirit asked him.
“Black Arrow,” he answered. “We were the first mixed squad on the border.”
“They know about your talent?”
“That’s why they recruited me,” Dort answered.
“So why are you so scared of her?” Jadah asked, as they reached the door.
“I knew her dam,” he whispered, and stepped into the house.

Jadah followed, for once stunned into silence. 

J H Sked is the author of WolfSong , Basement Blues , Die Laughing , and Quarter the Moon  and a contributor to Sweet Dreams, all of which are on Amazon as ebooks.

Monday 16 July 2012

The Universe and Society vs Art

Weird things happen when you try to write part-time. I'm pretty sure they happen to full-time writers as well, but since I've never had that perspective, I can only talk about it from the other side of the road.

Sometimes it feels like the entire universe is hovering over you, waiting for the chance to punch you in the face. This usually happens when you've just recovered from the last serious issue, are back on track and writing again, and the birds are chirping and the sun is shining and your mind is in fluffy kitten and unicorn territory.

And it's often arbitrary things. Like the flu. Or the stomach bug I had last weekend that killed four or five writing days for me, because I couldn't look at a screen without whimpering and making gentle heaving motions. Travelling for work and forgetting your power-cord for the net-book, trying to write during your lunch hour and having everything commented on (loudly) in Spanish by some annoying female you don't even know but would dearly like to slap, being too scared to take the net-book in during torrential rain because if it fries you are screwed - and losing those five hours of writing you could have had for the week as a result. Saving your book and realising the next time you open your programme that you had a bug that has just wiped the entire frigging thing off the map, and your last back-up seems to have corrupted.

Sometimes it's not so arbitrary. The first Crescent book I wrote was destroyed by a jealous boyfriend who couldn't accept the fact that I wasn't cuddled up to him on the couch watching t.v. twenty-four seven and cooing adoringly when he opened another beer. This was back in the days when hard disks and floppy's still existed, and believe me when I say they did not stand up to being stamped by a fairly large bloke in work-boots.

That and a few other moments of trauma (not relationship related) meant it was years before I tried writing another book. I still played with short stories but full length stuff - nope. It took a good long while before I did that again.

But the thing is, eventually I did it. I stopped telling myself I couldn't do it, or it wasn't worth it, and I started another one. It was awful. Tried another. Oh, mummy. That one was bad. Start again.

I moved to London and started re-writing the last one, the one that didn't make me cringe too much when I put the disk in and had a re-read.

In the meantime I got a short published in a US fanzine, and pretty much did the happy dance for a year on that one.

Broke my leg. Six months of not being able to spell my own name, (I have no idea why anyone thinks drugs make you more creative. The stuff sure doesn't help me much, and I don't like feeling stupid. Then again, they were NHS strength pain-killers) let alone do any decent writing. Started re-writes again after that. In the meantime, I started a university course and work stepped up a notch when I was allowed back full-time.

The point is, real-life happens. A lot of writers - especially the folks doing this part-time - are also looking after kids, mortgages, and a whole bunch of real-life stuff I don't need to worry about. I have no idea how they manage, but they do. And every time - every single time - the universe bitch-slaps them, they get up and keep doing it. They keep writing.

And the reason this is amazing is because most folks, when you tell them you write, or that you want to write,  don't consider it a real job. The same applies to my musician friends, struggling artists, and actors that I've met.

It's a pretty weird attitude because every single one of those people - the ones that roll their eyes and make comments about you wanting to be the next J.K. Rowling (different audience, but frankly, I'd love her sales) or sweetly advise you that you'll never pay the bills doing it - every single one of them watch t.v. or movies, download music and rave fanatically about their favourite bands, or wait breathlessly for the next book in the series they HAVE to have. Every. Single. One. They all need entertainment, they all desperately want their chosen favourite to lift them away from their everyday life - but they don't consider it a real job. They don't think of it as work.

None of the folks who shake their head when I say I write would do that if I told them I was studying to be a plumber or electrician. They wouldn't tell a kid who dreams of being a footballer to get their head out of the clouds, or laugh at the older girl trying to get her nursing diploma part-time.
I'm not sure why, but I think it stems from the impression that art - all art - is something intangible, that it's created by gently rocking in a hammock while sipping a cold beer, and The Artist waves a little finger and Something Great is Created.
They don't realise that behind the guy on stage making that guitar walk and talk are years of frustration and bleeding fingers and lugging your gear into lousy bars and hoping nobody throws a full beer can at your head tonight. They don't realise that the artist selling their paints for £800 a pop spent three frigging years drawing rotting fruit in a stuffy classroom before they figured out how to see an apple properly, or the absolute ecstasy that came with that switch. The dancer with blood and torn corns in her ballet shoes, the actor that marches into an audition with a confident strut and smile and walks ten miles home because he can't afford the bus fare.The writer that pounds on a keyboard until her legs and fingers go numb because it's snowing and she can't afford to cover the heating bills so the furnace isn't on, and will go and thaw out under a pile of blankets and then write some more.

They don't know, and one of the reasons they don't know is because we sell them dreams. We sell moments of time that transport them and if we do it well, they never know the effort behind it. Because dreams break easily, folks. They splinter and crack like fine crystal in a deep freeze, and we know it, and we will move everything to make sure that doesn't happen. We wrap them in pretty shiny packages and we give them to someone else and hope that dream works for them, just for a little bit, because we can't stop dreaming. We can't stop producing. And that takes work.

I can't fix your plumbing, change your wiring, or perform open-heart surgery. But I can produce little dreams, little moments in time for you, and I will keep doing so. Even if I have to keep the day job.

J H Sked is the author of WolfSong , Basement Blues , Die Laughing , and Quarter the Moon  and a contributor to Sweet Dreams, all of which are on Amazon and enrolled in the Kindle lending programme. 

Monday 9 July 2012

New Artwork - Jason McKinney's Hell is What You Make of It

My good friend Jason McKinney has a new collection of short stories up on the kindle store, all with his usual mix of macabre humour and outright horror - everything from a bar of soap POV from the Bates Motel to a rather disturbing - but funny - take on the children's classic, Charlotte's Web.
I'm very proud to have had a small hand in this, since Jason trusted me enough to let me do the cover and some of the beta-reading and editing. Carry on reading for the book description, Amazon links, and of course, the artwork itself - I'll put a few technical details on the painting at the bottom, for anyone interested in them.


Everyone has an image of Hell. Whether your punishment is to walk an endless desert with redemption always in sight but never within reach or being a bar of motel soap whose soul purpose is to be Norman Bates’ unwilling accomplice, we all have a personal hell.

But what if hell is what you make of it. Being damned can’t be all bad…can it? Take a trip to an alternate dimension where soldiers from World War 1 ferry war casualties to their reward.

Or is it worse than we think? If you step through the looking glass where one of Santa’s elves finds a meteor that has undead ramifications, a Marine combat veteran from Desert Storm has to answer for his sins, and a familiar, beloved female spider spins a web of flesh eating destruction for a hapless pig.

These tales show that at the end of it all, hell is what you make of it. : :

For anyone interested in the techie details, the entire drawing was done in CorelPainter 12, and took around 8 - 10 hours or so. I have a huge stock of photos (this is the girl who took 17 pictures of snow on leaves for textures. Don't judge me.) and I love to re-paint over photos and mix it up with painterly effects, like the hat and the flaming lips. The skull itself was painted in chalk and airbrush to get it as photo-real as possible. It's perfectly possible to use a photo and leave it at that, but depending on the rest of the painting you intend, it isn't always suitable; and in this case it would have destroyed the feel of the painting. The hat was done in oils and chalk. The lips were painted in oils, chalk highlights, and the burn tool, then the flames painted in individually, which probably took the longest to do - there is a flame brush on Painter, but it's about as real looking as a blue hippo. There are a lot of layers on those flames, and they were done using the airbrush tool and smudging.
The back ground was achieved by using the gel brush and a couple of shades and then playing with the saturation levels.

The fonts were done in CorelDraw (probably the last time I'll do it that way, since my programmes are on two different machines and it is an utter pain to switch between them) and then transferred over. Tablet used was a Wacom Bamboo, and after struggling on a cheaper version for nearly a year, it's pretty sweet. When it comes to graphic art,  go for the best upgrade you can afford - the difference in what you can achieve is astounding. (If the tooth fairy would like to leave a Cintique under my pillow, btw, no complaints here. Just sayin'.)

Actually, if you're just starting out, I'd recommend skipping the ultra-cheap tablets altogether and moving straight on to one of the low-priced, high-quality versions. Cheap tablets drag, stick, and on occasion have you screaming at the screen, and I'd be surprised if a number of budding artists didn't just give it up at that point.


J H Sked is the author of WolfSong , Basement Blues , Die Laughing , and Quarter the Moon  and a contributor to Sweet Dreams, all of which are on Amazon and enrolled in the Kindle lending programme.

Saturday 7 July 2012

Moving the goalposts - why I don't like amending published work

I'm seeing an interesting trend now by authors to amending already published works. Not fixing spelling errors, punctuation or formatting (oy, formatting. So very much my weak point) but actually changing the story itself. Changing plot points, rewriting character arcs, in some cases changing the ending to something completely different.

Some of this has been in response to reader feedback. Some authors feel this is a good way of inter-acting with readers, and some of these readers agree. This was  bound to happen; in a world where you can publish - and unpublish - at the push of a button, the real surprise is that it didn't happen earlier. But I can't say I like it.

There's a couple of reasons for that, and to lay them out properly I'm going to come at from two perspectives, both as a reader and as a writer.

From a reading point of view, this would annoy the holy hell out of me. If I've invested time and energy (not to mention money) in a book, changing arcs, story lines, character behaviour and endings is going to flip out of that universe at the speed of sound. By all means release an expanded edition - King did this with the Stand, and I loved it - but don't mess with the story itself. It makes me feel cheated. It makes me wonder why the hell you published the first version to start with. If you don't believe enough in your world to hold to its inner core, the truth of the vision you initially put out there for the world to see, how can you expect me to this as a reader?

The books I love I really, really love. The books I enjoy I will come back to; it's rare for me to really like a book and never read it again. And if I come back to it and you've changed integral parts of the story line, you've destroyed that world for me. That's it. The trust I had in your world is gone, it's shattered, and not all the comments of "but this is better" is going to restore that. For one thing, it's condescending, for another, it's whiny, and lastly, a part of me will always feel that justifying what you wrote should remain in the precincts of school reports and keeping your teachers happy. I'm not your English professor.
The odds of me picking up another story from you? Nil. (And if you do this to me while I'm in the middle of the book - which recently happened - this Lil Constant Reader is going to go nuclear. 8 amended versions in 3 weeks. I no longer visit that site, and reminders from it go straight to my junk mail, with a muttered "bugger off" from yours truly.Ugh.)

From a writer's point of view, I can understand the wish to make it better and keep your customers happy. Guess what? There will never be 100% happiness from your readers/customers. Never. That only happens in very cheesy adverts.
There are parts of WolfSong I'd love to go back and re-do or eliminate all together. If I did that, I expect I'd get lynched by the people that read the book and liked it, and rightly so. I write a book, I polish it as best I can, and once the beta-reading and editing is done, it gets published. I've republished Wolfsong previously as edition two in an effort to eliminate formatting issues, but I made it very clear there were no changes to the story itself.

My paying customers are not beta-readers, and treating them as such in both unethical and rude. It's like handing someone a bowl of cornflakes, yanking it away just when they've gotten used to the taste, and replacing half of it with granola. Do that to a customer, and odds are you'll end up wearing a bowl of badly combined cereal on your head, with milk dripping slowly onto your shoulders. And if you're still wailing "But it's better!!!" at this point, you deserve all the karma you are going to get.

The other thing, purely from a practical view-point is - when do you stop writing the bloody thing? Once it's published, you need to move on. Move onto the next story, the next world, the next universe, otherwise you will still be re-writing the first book in thirty years, rocking gently and mumbling to your cats. If you need to rewrite, you need to do it before you push that publish button, because if you intend on rocking your readers world, you want to do it in a good way, not in an OMG if they change this frigging thing ONE MORE TIME kind of way. Your readers trust you to build them a world they can step into and enjoy with the security of knowing that world is fixed. Changing that world - breaking it apart and remaking it into something new - upsets its evolution, both for the reader and for the author. Make it interactive by all means - add pictures, links, and sound-files - make it entertaining, make it exciting, but most importantly, make it trustworthy.


J H Sked is the author of WolfSong , Basement Blues , Die Laughing , and Quarter the Moon  and a contributor to Sweet Dreams , all of which are on Amazon and enrolled in the Kindle lending programme.