“This Cover Contains A Book”

We’ve probably all done it.  Browsing through masses of books, one suddenly stands out.  Why?  The cover is attractive, enticing.  We may have even gone further and trusted the cover illustration so much that we’ve bought the book knowing nothing about the contents.  Of course, there’s the possibility that we may even enjoy the contents, if and when we get around to reading it.  Equally, we may be bitterly disappointed!

There’s one thing I hate.  Covers that have very little, if anything, to do with the actual contents of the book.  There is nothing so disappointing, especially when the cover is spectacularly good.  If I enjoy the book despite the inaccuracy of the cover, I often feel the temptation to hide the cover in a wrapping.  I won’t name them, but I’ve got several books in my collection where I seem to have acquired two entirely unconnected pieces of art – the cover illustration and the content of the book.  I can only assume that these gross misrepresentations are the work of publishers.  Why would an author commit an error of such magnitude?  It equates with blurb that has been written by somebody who hasn’t truly read the book and cobbles together a totally misleading precis.

Covers are important, of course.  At least, they are until a book has achieved classic status.  There are many of the classics which may be found in very plain covers, amounting to little more than the title and author’s name.  If that helps reduce the cost of the book for buyers, then I’m all for it.  I see no reason why a paperback, or ebook, need have a colourful, evocative, exciting cover when it has achieved immortality.  Classics in hardback form often come in very plain style, maybe embellished by the use of gold on the minimalistic text of title plus author.  Unfortunately, achieving such notoriety is difficult, to say the least!  Most of us have to live with the need to package our works attractively, even if we’re giving them away.

As an author, I sometimes wish that people would remember that you’re supposed to buy books for their contents rather than for the quality of the packaging.  Sadly, though it shouldn’t be the case, we’re seen to be in a competitive market.  We have to obey the rules of product impact as much as a lamp manufacturer!  Avid readers will, in all likelihood, read almost everything in their favourite genre, regardless of the packaging.  What we’re really competing for are the less avid readers, who make choices based only partly on content.  These rely on the packaging first and foremost, unless they are given books as gifts.  They may establish favoured authors over a period of time, too, but the first hook is, all too often, the quality of the packaging.

As the title of this post hints, perhaps we need a visual impact box on book covers, warning potential buyers that covers do indeed contain books.

~ Steve

Derivation, Plagiarism and Fan Fiction

It is unfortunately true that totally unique fiction is extremely rare.  Whatever we write, the chances are that somebody got there first.  That said, there’s no reason to suppose that a writer has ever encountered the earlier work.  Sadly, however, some fiction is very clearly at least derivative.  There may be no conscious effort to copy the work of earlier writers, but we store vast amounts in memory and it’s liable to leak out at any time.

The worst sin in writing is straight theft of another’s work.  Say a famous writer receives a manuscript from an unknown author.  They’re experiencing a total block and deadlines are pressing.  It is very tempting to simply claim the unknown writer’s work as their own.  Of course, that is a huge risk!  If the unknown can prove that the work is their’s. then the well known author is ruined.  Almost equal in status is plain plagiarism.  Virtually copying another’s work, perhaps styling it to suit the plagiarist‘s known form, is as likely to ruin the author as theft.  Neither can be excused.

So-called fan fiction comes in two brands.  The first takes something like a game or movie created by others and generates writing to suit, expanding on the world the writer is a fan of.  The second is similar but involves expanding the creation of another author.  Many fans feel unsated when an author decides to end a series of stories.  Hooked on` the world the author created, they write their own tales based on the same world, and maybe even many of the same characters.  Only the original author can decide whether such works are legitimate, and many choose to protect their creations and stipulate that others have no right to use their work in this way.  Some fan fiction is well known, however.  For example, Robert E Howard‘s Conan stories have been expanded by other writers, by permission.

Derivative works are similar to fan fiction, in some cases.  No attempt is made to create everything from scratch.  Names and certain details are modified to make the new work appear to be original but it isn’t difficult to discover the truth.  Such works are the result of laziness, generally.  In other cases, the derivation is less obvious, being a complete reworking of all but the central theme.  This may be because the theme itself fascinates or inspires the author, driving them to take it up and put there own interpretation on it.  That’s not hugely different, in essence, to the way different writers produce works based on the same social issues.

Finally, don’t be too quick to point fingers and shout “Foul!”.  You need to be sure that a writer has deliberately hijacked somebody else’s work.  A superficial resemblance isn’t plagiarism.  Taking parts of other works and assembling a jigsaw of those parts isn’t right but remember that there is a limit to imagination, and most authors write based on their own experiences or reports of real life events.  If something seems too similar to another work, but you can’t actually pinpoint exact, or near exact, copying, then just set the derivative piece aside and stick with the original.  Also, bear in mind that you may actually believe that a work has been plagiarised when, in fact, the “original” you think of might have been written much later!  Check the original publication dates before making accusations.

~ Steve

No Turkey For Christmas

With the eternal problem of what to give people for Christmas, many will fall back on the old favourite option of books.  These days, there are more options, of course.  You can buy actual books if you’re confident that you know the recipient’s tastes, or good old book tokens if you’re not.  You can also buy gift cards in many places for web sites like Amazon.  If you’re happy to do it, you can also buy e-vouchers or even ebooks, giving the necessary codes/links via a card or such.  Sounds simple enough.

In reality, there are probably more Christmas gift books left unread than you’d care to know.  It’s far too easy to buy what the recipient (privately) regards as something of a Christmas turkey!  You may not know their tastes as well as you think, or you may simply buy something in the right genre but that’s not to their taste, or you might duplicate books they already possess.  That’s why book tokens have always been so popular.  They give the recipient a free choice.  The same problem applies to electronic alternatives.  You may see an ebook that seems perfect for somebody, but it’s still a gamble.  The purchase of e-vouchers makes sense, but conveying the proper information is a problem.  Gift cards for the likes of Amazon, however, fix where the recipient must shop.  Beware, too, about the format of ebooks!  Not everybody owns a Kindle.  There are plenty of eReaders that require the ePub format, rather than the Kindle’s mobi format.

I would love to say that you should consider supporting Indie authors.  Unfortunately, to do so, you need to read their work yourself.  There’s no other way that you can make an honest recommendation.  I’ve no problem with saying that you should think about Indie authors, as many provide excellent ebooks.  The problem lies more in just how willing you are to read works that may not suit you but may suit a gift recipient.  I would suggest that, if you really wish to support Indie authors, you buy e-vouchers and simply offer a few suggestions as to where to find works you think the recipient may like.

I know that many people think of gift vouchers and book tokens as something of a cop-out.  In fact, they show that you recognise the recipients love of reading and have applied some commonsense to how you choose to provide a suitable gift.

~ Steve

Two Ideas For The Future…

Steve has been contemplating two ideas for the future.  They’re quite simple and the first is obviously not uncommon.  The second is one where there is greater uncertainty.

First, then. To take the short stories that have already been published and add to them.  With the unpublished pieces, to produce an ebook that can be offered for sale.  This idea has two options.  In one, each short story that’s already been offered for free would be the only published piece included in a themed anthology.  In the other, all the published pieces would be in one anthology, which wouldn’t have a theme, other than being a showcase.

Second.  To take selected posts from this blog and bring them together into an ebook.  This could be just those posts or a combination of the posts and some kind of commentary, hopefully bringing the posts together in a sensible way.  This is not quite as easy and would probably involve quite a bit of work.  The final ebook would be offered for sale at a fairly low cost.

It has always been Steve’s intention to release longer works at a price.  At the outset, this meant novels.  Having spent the better part of 2012 working hard at providing thoughtful posts for this blog, writing short stories and creating his novel, however, it has become clear that a better balance has to be found between free and priced works.  The effort involved in any writing is considerable and deserves to be fairly rewarded, as we’re sure you will agree.  Finding the right balance isn’t easy, however.

We would be interested in hearing from all our readers, and Steve’s readers, as to how you think things should proceed.  If you have any thoughts on the ideas, or other options, please feel free to leave a comment against this post.

Thoughts of a Reader and Writer

The time to read is any time: no apparatus, no appointment of time and place, is necessary. It is the only art which can be practised at any hour of the day or night, whenever the time and inclination comes, that is your time for reading; in joy or sorrow, health or illness. ~Holbrook Jackson

December, with cold seeping into bones and forcing pain levels ever higher.  December, with snow falling in dribs and drabs, between days of sun or rain.  December, when the gaudiness of Christmas outweighs the feast day’s meaning.  December, when melancholy is as common as eager anticipation, when memories may hurt or please.  December, when hope and despair collide most forcefully.

Christmas is close and our children are in the swing of things already, and not only because they have young children of their own.  We feel a little pride and a lot of pleasure that we managed to instill a love of the season in them all, a love that is even greater than our own.  Of course, our feelings at Christmas are more mixed, which is inevitable as we grow older.  Our kids have flown the nest and we are just two.  Then there are the loved ones we have lost, their absence felt most keenly now.  Yet we try hard, to demonstrate our belief that this is truly a very special time of the year, even if we don’t deck our home in all the trappings of the modern Christmas.

I probably read less at this time of year than at any other.  That’s odd when you consider that books are one of the most popular gifts at Christmas.  It hasn’t always been that way.  I used to read some of the Christmas classics in December, to help me to both get in the spirit of it, and to remind me of its problems.  Then, too, it was something of a tradition, when our kids were small, for me to read The Night Before Christmas, by Clement C Moore, to the three of them, many times over.  We had a beautiful copy, illustrated by Douglas Gorsline and published by Random House in their Pictureback® series.  In fact, we still have it, and just seeing it brings back many fond memories.  I think it’s an important book, too.  It is everything a child needs to draw them into the world of literature.

Way, way back, before I started writing in earnest, and when I was under 13 years old, I wrote a Christmas play.  It wasn’t an act of genius, and it definitely got sidetracked part of the way through.  It was, however, the first hint that the written word would become extremely important to me.  Why a play?  Well, that wasn’t surprising, really, as my eldest brother was very deeply involved in amateur dramatics, gaining a fine reputation for it, and I would often be enlisted in helping him to learn his lines.  I never had the courage to show him that one, and only, play that I wrote.

Thinking about it, all four of we siblings had an abiding love of words, both written and spoken.  It was a fact which would lead to problems for the two youngest of us, as we strove to use an ever enlarging vocabulary, and good pronunciation.  Our peers saw that as snobbishness, treated us as trying to be better than them.  That was nonsense.  In fact, we never even really considered ourselves to be better than others.  We just loved words!

We had an excellent example in our father.  He would often be found, sat in his armchair, reading book after book.  Equally, we had the example of our mother, whose education had been severely damaged by the Second World War, and the bombing that accompanied it.  She struggled all her life with both spelling and writing, and we all loved her dearly.  How could we, then, ever believe that we were better than others simply because we had this love affair with words?  We were truly blessed, having both ends of literacy as our foundation examples?  To think like that would have meant thinking ourselves better than our mother.  Unthinkable!

I, for one, will always be deeply grateful to my parents, for all that they gave us.  They were always wise beyond measure and our lives were guided firmly but with a love that made us all, I hope, better people.  We discovered that family was something that was desirable beyond all other things.  We were taught the practicalities of life.  We had fun and discipline.  Yes, I mean that.  Discipline is as important to a child as anything else a parent can give, providing moral boundaries with firm gentility, always tempered by that deep, abiding love.  We also learnt about the world, especially the richness of nature and the beauty that can be found.  I can never express adequately the gratitude I feel, and the love.  My mother has gone now, and my father has severe health problems.  One of my sisters has gone too, she who was next in age to myself.  They are never forgotten, but the Christmas season recalls memories that can sadden or warm me.

Perhaps the most important thing that we gained from our parents was a desire to give.  We each have striven, in some way or other, to give something of ourselves, and therefore share something of our parents.  Whether we have succeeded or not isn’t for us to say.  I can only hope that we have, and that our children have also been instilled with at least some of the wisdom of my parents.  The evidence, so far, is that my three children have, indeed, been coloured by that upbringing.

When you are reaching that point in this season, when you begin to wonder whether it’s all worth the effort, I hope that you have the same strong foundations to your life, foundations that enable you to put aside the negative and to remember, and embrace, the positive.

~ Steve

Character Assassination

Creating characters is a tough job.  I’ve also discussed where they might find their seed in a previous post.  I can’t be alone, as a writer, in cherishing some of the characters I’ve created.  That applies as much to villains as heroes.  I know I can’t be alone.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, that great master of the ultimate in detective, forensics slanted, crime stories had both his Sherlock Holmes and his Professor Moriarty.  Both lived through numerous clashes, until the final showdown.

The problem is, however, that we can’t live through those cherished characters alone.  At some point we must make a decision to either simply abandon them, leaving the end of their story untold in effect, or we must kill them.  The lucky ones may be fortunate enough to die of old age, but the majority tend to meet less happy ends.  If their end must be violent, then will it be in some final act of heroism?  Or will it be some senseless calamity, like being killed in a traffic accident?  Whatever end they meet, the task of writing it is far, far harder than the process of creation.

A problem with assassinating characters is that we may be doing something that our readers find deplorable. If our characters have found their way into the hearts of others, we’re risking a great deal by ending them.  We may even alienate some of our readers, driving them away from anything else we may write.  Unfortunately, we must be Angels of Death regardless.  We are fortunate, in one respect, in that we may leave enough gaps to permit us to return to the same characters at some future date, plugging in new episodes in their lives, or writing a prequel or two – but only if we were less than thorough in chronicling the life of the character.  But there will still be some who may never forgive our murder of a favourite character.

It occurred to me, a little while ago, that it’s quite possible that writers have, collectively, killed more people than all the wars, famines, volcanic eruptions and other disasters have in the history of humanity!  Some writers, indeed, have killed off billions in world cataclysms, so I’m confident that we are truly ruthless in the pursuit of our craft.  And yet, we can still agonise over the deaths of individual characters.  We are, undoubtedly, a very strange breed!

~ Steve

Seelie Heiress

Following the discovery of a few errors not found in the proofreading, a revised version of Seelie Heiress has been uploaded and is available through Smashwords.com.  If you’ve already downloaded a copy of the ebook, please redownload it.  The errors are minor, but may interfere with your reading pleasure.

Our apologies for this problem.

New Release: Seelie Heiress

Steve’s latest short story, Seelie Heiress, has been released today!  It’s available for free from Smashwords.com in multiple formats.  It is a fantasy with a touch of romance.

To quote the blurb:

Jenna was betrayed, her lover a cheat. What she didn’t know, was that she had a secret past that involved a worse betrayal. Then the mysterious Athan appeared and changed her life forever. He revealed the truth, but his appearance also heralded danger.

 

Seelie Heiress

Seelie Heiress

 

Note:  This short story contains adult material!