Larger Than Life?

We all know about the wonderful worlds of DC™ and Marvel™ comics, with their plethora of superheroes.  I certainly used to love getting the comics when I was a kid, especially the genuine US-printed ones, with all that colour!  I had my favourites, and there were some I didn’t like.  I was a total fan of the X-men (Wolverine Rules!) but The Amazing Spider-Man bored me silly with all his teen angst.  If I’d ever demonstrated an ability to draw people, I would certainly have had a go at creating my own comic.  The superhero was just so coolBut, did the superhero originate in the comics?  The simple answer is a categorical No.

Whenever an author has created characters of anything like heroic proportions, they have been something more than real heroes.  They have been faster to heal, quicker in mind and/or body, just plain superiorSherlock Holmes has a superior intellect.  Jason (of Argonauts fame) was favoured by both a goddess and a witch, letting him achieve fantastic feats.  Sinbad was larger than life, with luck that defies explanation.  Tarzan was honed to superhuman perfection of body and senses.  Literature down through the ages is littered with superheroes.  And we’re still doing it!

The current trend for vampire stories is evidence of our need for something superior in a character.  The original, Count Dracula, wasn’t good, and it was quite clear that he, and those that followed, were undeniably evil.  And then Joss Whedon created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in the TV series of which, the idea of a vampire with a soul was born, in the form of Angel.  A new kind of hero was created.  That which had been evil suddenly underwent a transformation.  And an eager audience (not all of them teenagers) were desperate for more.  Soon, ‘good’ vampires were popping up all over, particularly in “YA Paranormal” fiction, but also bleeding over into the world of movies and television.  A dark, brooding superhero type was let loose.

Older types of superhero still appear, of course.  The extra-intelligent individuals.  Those with psychic powers, natural or engendered.  Action heroes who can defeat small armies.  And the comic books are still there, in greater numbers than ever.  Naturally, the superheroes are balanced by supervillains, but we all know who will win the day.  Even when the supervillain is the ‘star’, there’s no certainty that they will actually do evil, or that they don’t have a ‘good’ nemesis.  Basically, the formula remains.

I wonder if this will ever change?  Somehow, I doubt it.  Personally, I’m glad about that.

~ Steve

“The Ossilan Affair”: New Release

The Ossilan Affair Yes, folks!  Captain Henri Duschelle has sailed again.  In fact, he sailed right into the Amazon bookstores worldwide.  The latest adventure was released yesterday, 28th March.  It’s another novelette, of around 43 pages, or a little over 13,500 words.  To quote the blurb:

A terrible disaster on the Earth type planet of Ossilan leads to Captain Henri Duschelle and his crew being enlisted to risk destruction to investigate. The mystery isn’t what it appears to be, with powerful forces working in the background. Can Duschelle solve the mystery, and live to tell the tale?

This tale follows on, chronologically from the last, For the Sake of Mercy.

You can buy the ebook in Kindle format from:

Amazon.com (worldwide)

Amazon UK

Amazon Canada

Amazon France

Amazon Germany

Amazon Spain

Amazon Italy

Amazon Japan

Amazon Brazil

If you’d like to buy a copy in a different format, you can either wait until it’s released through Smashwords or you can contact me directly.  I can email other formats, as soon as payment is received.

Book Promo Day: 28th March

Welcome to the first Book Promo Day.  For details of how to feature in future BPDs, see the applications page.

Kenning Magic by Lizzie Ross

KMFinalCover Noni lives in a world where everyone, including infants, can cast magical spells. Everyone, that is, but Noni. But she alone can read; she has what her late mother called the ‘Old Knowing’, and this ability is a secret Noni must keep from everyone, including her best friend, Twig.

When magicians from an enemy country steal everyone’s Magic, Noni knows that she is the only one who can help save them. She must use the ‘Old Knowing’ to find the Book of Spells. Only the Book will enable her countrymen to re-learn Magic and have a fighting chance. Meanwhile, dragons have escaped the ‘Hold’ and are burning dwellings and eating anything that moves. The enemy mages have learned of the Book of Spells and are also searching for it. Noni, with Twig at her side, must use her wits and whatever luck that crosses her path to reach the Book before it’s too late.

Current price:  $14.95 paper or $8.99 ebook.

Book purchase links:
Amazon.com
Barnes & Noble
SaguaroBooks

Author contact links:

Website: LizzieRossWriter.com
Twitter:  @LizzieRoss2013


Disappearing in Plain Sight by Francis Guenette

Disappearing in Plain SightCover Sixteen-year-old Lisa-Marie has been packed off to spend the summer with her aunt on the isolated shores of Crater Lake. She is drawn to Izzy Montgomery, a gifted trauma counsellor who is struggling through personal and professional challenges. Lisa-Marie also befriends Liam Collins, a man who goes quietly about his life trying to deal with his own secrets and guilt. The arrival of a summer renter for Izzy’s guest cabin is the catalyst for change amongst Crater Lake’s tight knit community. People are forced to grapple with the realities of grief and desire to discover that there are no easy choices – only shades of grey.

Current price: $27.35 hardback, $18.99 soft cover or $3.99 ebook.

Book purchase link:

Amazon.com

Author contact link:

Website: disappearinginplainsight.wordpress.com


Cold Black by Alex Shaw

cold-black-thriller-alex-shaw-paperback-cover-art Former SAS trooper Aidan Snow returns in the thrilling follow up to the Kindle bestseller Hetman.

Now an MI6 operative, Snow must locate and rescue an old SAS colleague before an Al-Qaeda splinter cell can carry out acts of unprecedented horror. But who is covertly funding these new attacks and why?

Abduction
Veteran SAS trooper, Paddy Fox has lost his job, his wife and his temper. Whilst bitterly job hunting, Fox witnesses a car crash and finds himself rescuing a kidnapped Saudi Royal. Persuaded by MI6 to accept a job as security adviser in Saudi Arabia, Fox travels to Riyadh.

Assassination
In Kyiv, a director of the Belorussian KGB is gunned down whilst trying to pass shocking intelligence to his counterpart in the Ukrainian SBU. Intelligence, which if verified, sets out plans to commit international acts of terror.

Al-Qaeda
In Saudi Arabia, an entire British Trade mission is taken hostage by a new, highly trained, group aligned to Al-Qaeda. But who is covertly funding this new insurgency and why?

An International Conspiracy
Former SAS Trooper turned MI6 operative, Aidan Snow is caught in a maelstrom involving East, West and Middle East which endangers the world’s supply of oil.

Current price: £9.89 paperback or £2.99 ebook

Book purchase link:

Amazon.co.uk

Author contact link:

Website: www.alexwshaw.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/alex.shaw

Twitter: @alexshawhetman


For the Sake of Mercy (A Captain Henri Duschelle Story) by Steve K Smy

For the Sake of Mercy Captain Henri Duschelle must lead his loyal crew on a seemingly impossible mission: to deliver a vital organ to one of the crew’s son, across the longest part of the colonised worlds – to an insane deadline. He is convinced that only his ship, the stunningly beautiful “Persephone” can make such a journey. But problems lie in wait…

A novelette.

Book purchase links:

Amazon.com
Amazon.co.uk
Amazon.de
Amazon.fr
Amazon.es
Amazon.it
Amazon.co.jp
Amazon.ca
Amazon.com.br

Author contact links:

Website: www.imagineer.cu.cc
Blog: You’re already there!
Facebook: www.facebook.com/imagineer.ebooks
Twitter: @ImagineerTeam


A Slice of Spam – In Praise of WordPress

spam Amazing blog!  Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?  I’m hoping to start my own site soon but I’m a little lost on everything.  Would you suggest starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many choices out there that I’m completely overwhelmed…  Any ideas?  Kudos!

The above is a copy’n’paste of a Spam message I received here.  Now, this is a good example of how Spam can give the illusion of being genuine and thereby suck you in.  However, the amusing part is that the message raises some interesting points, points which are actually deserving of an answer.

Ignoring the fake praise, let’s look at the rest of the message:

The opening question is, of course, far too general to be easily answered.  However, I believe the rest of the message qualifies the question sufficiently.  It would appear that we’re being asked about blog writing, not book writing.  So the second question becomes the important one.  Would I ‘suggest starting with a free platform like WordPress’?  That, in itself, raises a question in response: what are your intentions – do you intend to try to make money from your blog?  WordPress is, in fact, free however you apply it, but if you’re installing it to your own web site, then you’re probably paying for that, and it won’t be cheap if you’ve opted for a large amount of server space on your host.  I would tend to regard that, then, as semi-freeFully-free would be opting for the form offered by WordPress.com at its basic level (you can opt to purchase upgrades or even the full ‘Pro’ package).  With .com, there are definite restrictions, and some may catch you out.  You can’t advertise freely.  Anything you advertise has to comply with strict limitations, usually meaning that you can advertise your own items, as long as that advertising doesn’t dominate your blog.  You also can’t use certain facilities of web page coding that are supported just about everywhere else.  For example, JavaScripts are barred.  These restrictions are based on .com protecting themselves and, therefore, all their patrons.  You will also find that links to certain sites are not allowed and, if used, will either be removed automatically or may even see your blog suspended.  This can prove awkward, especially if you utilise most free web hosts, because those are so often exploited by people you really don’t want anything to do with!  If you can accept the restrictions, then .com is an excellent choice, as it has many features you’d have to install for yourself with the alternative version.  One of the most important features of .com is Akismet, which is one of the best Spam filters I’ve ever come across!  Akismet will protect your blog like no other system.

The other WordPress option is WordPress.org.  This requires you to have a web host of your own.  A word of warning: the way some free hosts are structured makes it very complicated getting WordPress to work properly!  Assuming that you can get things the way they need to be, the first thing you’ll discover is a basic version of the platform.  You will have to install a theme and various plug-ins to get close to .com standards.  You will, however, have far more choice in what plug-ins to install (you can’t install any in .com) and you can do just about anything you want – subject only to any restrictions your host might have imposed.  I won’t attempt to go into it all, beyond saying Akismet is worth having. along with JetPack.  Note that some features that come free with .com are pay-for in .org!

OK, so WordPress is covered.  Would I choose WordPress above all the other blog platforms?  You bet I would!  It’s far more flexible than any of the alternatives.  You can, if you wish, use it to create a complete web site, and with the right theme, it will look professional.  As a platform, I don’t believe it has any serious competitor.

I think that answers the message…

~ Steve

P.S. Interesting article: All About SEO on WordPress.com

Statistics and Lies

As a blogger and one-time student of statistics, I’m drawn to the wonderful information provided by WordPress.com.  Just what do these statistics tell us?  Are they as reliable as we’d like?  I’m going to start by looking at the colourful map showing where visitors come from.

WP 25-03-2013 map This map shows all visitors recorded here since the blog started.  Impressive, isn’t it?  A global audience is something I had never imagined attracting.  If you’re wondering, it’s what’s called a “heat map”, the colour rising in intensity according to the number of visitors.  There are figures to go with it, indicating the actual numbers for each country.  But how meaningful is it?  What I don’t know is whether these figures include visits by Spammers.  I hate to say this, but several of the countries are known to be linked to nefarious activities on the internet.  So I have to think that there is definitely some room for caution in accepting what’s being said.

Now, having said all that, the other statistics start to carry a distinct uncertainty.  In the “TAGS & CATEGORIES” pane, WordPress advises: “If you tag your posts effectively, this panel will show you which topics get the most traffic. Snapshot generated from your top posts over the past week.”  Sounds great, but if the figures do include visits by Spammers, then it becomes difficult to assess the report.  There’s no guarantee that you’ll have a clear view of what tags and categories are genuinely drawing visitors to your blog.

There are statistics included which are more reliable.  The number of followers, for example. But even these have to be treated with caution!  They are not guarantees that such folk are active readers.   Even if they do read your posts, it doesn’t mean that they read them all.  Of all those numbers, the most reliable are those from Akismet, reporting how any potential Spam messages were blocked.

The statistics reported by WordPress may not actually be lies, but they can’t be relied upon as being the truth.  In reality, they are, at best, a rough guide to how a blog is doing.

~ Steve

Blog Subscriptions on the Amazon Kindle

Amazon Blog Page I have broadened my Amazon experiment.  I learned that it’s possible to subscribe to participating blogs on an Amazon Kindle.  Being bold and daring – oh, alright, curious, I thought to myself: “Why not?”.  Of course, that question wasn’t aimed at me taking out one of these subscriptions.  No, I decided I’d put Imagineer-ing into the mix.  Of course, being Amazon, nothing is straightforward…

The first thing I discovered is that you can’t open a “kindle publishing for blogs BETA” account using the same information as you use elsewhere on Amazon.  You have to use a different email address!  Fan-bloomin’-tastic!  Ah well, Amazon wills it…  After that, it’s pretty plain sailing, surprisingly.  You do need a screenprint of your blog and a copy of your site’s ‘masthead’ or banner.  As a seller, in effect, you’ll also need bank details unless you choose payment by “check” (note the spelling!).  Not a problem!  You enter your name and address, and stipulate that you’re from whatever country – the UK in my case.  Move on to opt for transfer payments and discover that you need details of a US bank!  Let’s nip back and opt for “check”.  Everything’s done.  A few hours later (and I’ll admit it was vastly quicker than the quoted wait time) and your blog is there, in all its glory, on a Kindle blog subscription page.  You can dance for joy, now… but hang on!  You glance at the little box at the side, where it says: “This title is not available for customers from: United Kingdom (change region) Shop titles available for United Kingdom”.  Oh, good grief!  I’ve told it I’m from the UK and I still can’t subscribe to my own blog!

Right!  Simples (as a certain meerkat would say)!   Trot over to Amazon UK and set it up there.  Yeah, right.  One minor detail: you can subscribe to  blogs here, but just try to find a link that leads you to a way to set one up on it!  Send a request for help and – “we can talk on the ‘phone or chat live”.  I don’t do ‘phones, because of hearing difficulties, and I never use live chat features!  Result: the blog is available for subscription for all those who use Amazon.com but isn’t available to me, the owner and writer, unless I “Change location” to the US.

Such fun… not!

If you happen to be interested, you can subscribe to the blog on your Kindle.  I’ve no idea what it looks like.  I’m also not entirely sure that charging $0.99 for it (the price I see) is right.

Do you have a blog available through Amazon?  If so, is it worth doing?

Do you subscribe to a blog available through Amazon?  If so, is it worth the fee?

Finally, does anybody know how in blazes I can set it up in the UK?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have just bought a new brick wall to beat my head against – from Amazon!

~ Steve

Special Post: Confused on pricing at Amazon…

I don’t understand why, but it seems that the price on Amazon.com for For the Sake of Mercy is higher on the site than I have quoted in my blog post!  This doesn’t please me, I can promise you.  I could have accepted a reduction, but an increase?  That’s just not what I want to see.  I was very clear in setting the price at $0.99 (USD) but on the author page it quotes $1.16.  I can’t see the price on the actual book page, but can only assume it’s the same.  I assume that Amazon reserves the right to apply any price it chooses, which I take as yet another reason for not being very keen on using them for my ebooks!

I will keep an eye on this, and query it with Amazon.  I doubt that the latter action will produce anything satisfactory.  Nothing I’ve queried with them so far has yielded a result, other than “let’s discuss this on the ‘phone”.  I don’t do ‘phones due to hearing difficulties, which I’ve pointed out, to no avail.

I apologise for this situation and hope that it can be remedied.


Update

Amazon have stated that the price indicated on their website is correct, at $0.99 but anybody viewing the website from outside the USA may see a higher price if local taxes (such as VAT in Britain and Europe) are applicable.  Obviously, there is no way that I can possibly know anything about those taxes!  I assume that similar adjustments would apply to all Amazon national websites if viewed from another country subject to different taxes.  I now wonder whether, in quoting prices, a rider should be added about such things…  Then again, perhaps it’s wiser to not quote prices – ever!

Blogging: “Longform” or “Sound Bite”?

I’ve read several articles on how to write good blog posts, but I freely admit that I’ve tended to go my own way.  Of course, that may mean that I’ve also lost out on followers.  There are a couple of things most articles recommend that I’d like to take a look at, though.

Divide it up

It’s always suggested that long posts be split up by using subheadings.  Now, I can actually say that I have done this, on occasion.  However, there are times when I feel that doing this would be intrusive and break the flow too much.  Subheadings are all very well if the content of the post is suited to them.  This post, for example, can use them to highlight each point of discussion.  In other posts, I believe that it would just annoy readers to put in what would amount to be arbitrary subheadings!  In a book, paragraphs work very nicely.  I’ve happily never read a book which has every paragraph preceded by a subheading (other than some manuals).  They effectively create mini-chapters, and I see no value in changing the writing practices of centuries of authors to accommodate a perception of the modern reader in which they can’t cope with anything more than snippets.  Perhaps I’m wrong and the impact of television’s penchant for “sound bites” has damaged everybody’s minds, making it impossible for the vast majority to cope with anything of length.  I find it interesting, however, that, despite the “sound bite culture”, documentary makers are still finding plenty of audiences.  Surely the television documentary is “longform”?

Images, give them images!

Yes, many of those advising on good blogging want blogs to contain images, and even videos, to “jazz up” the look and to draw the eye, and hence the mind, into the blog’s content.  Now, I’ve used images, but I’ve again tended to restrict them to where I think they are appropriate or genuinely attractive or fun.  You can see that this post has none.  Personally, I think there are times when pictures are a distraction.  Worse, some blogs use them in a way that can only be described as “dishonest”, as the images they lead with are frequently irrelevant to the posts.  There are times when I see some stunning images on blogs, only to discover that they may prettify but they don’t support or inform.  Just where is the value in that?  Would this post have any greater validity if I had led with a stunningly beautiful photograph of a landscape?  I seriously doubt it!

Honest values

This is my own view of what a blog should be about!  A blog post should present honest views above all else.  It doesn’t matter whether the writer is correct or not, as long as they truly believe what they’re saying.  Obviously, I don’t intend this to mean that blogs should be used to present attitudes of hat, such as racism or sexism.  Controversy for its own sake, used knowingly and often despite the real views of the writer, has no great value.  “Playing Devil’s advocate” on some issue is fine, if it’s part of a full exploration of a subject, balanced by the opposing view.  Using it to inflame readers and thereby push up the number of views and comments is dishonest.  I believe that a blog writer gains a better, more substantial, reputation by demonstrating fairness and honesty.  Those who employ controversy often devolve into spouting hatred and insults at all and sundry, losing any message they might once have had.

I can’t know whether I’m getting it right!  All I can do is to be true to myself.  I take comfort in the knowledge that I believe what I’m saying.  For example, if I write a book review, then it’s an honest review, not just an exercise in flattery, or the reverse.

~ Steve

“The Forever Saga: Flash” by Sean C Sousa – A Review

Flash Cover Foxtrot - eBook cover The Forever Saga: Flash, by Sean C Sousa, has an opening chapter that leaves you wanting more.  The first scene is a classic science fiction location, filled with remarkable constructions and characters, that is far beyond our understanding.  Beyond this, however, you discover some clever juxtapositions: age against youth, the extraordinary against the mundane.  The story’s pace ranges from the amble of the aged, through the quickness of youth, to the soaring of the overarching peril.  There are also subtle links between each, such as the troubled love lives of Brian and Jason Renney.  Some readers may find the shifts in pace and content difficult, but it really is worth the small effort required to read the story without skipping over parts.  You are, after all, being presented with genuine characters, with lives beyond the story itself.  I found the strong characters most impressive, as was how quickly they become “real”.  In fact, the characters, and their relationships, are refreshingly realistic.

From the very beginning, the science fiction aspects of the novel are very well presented, creating a believable science.  It’s good, hard core stuff, which I believe actually enhances the contrast between it and the “mundane” nature of the other, more “real life” portions.  I will admit that the moment the mundane collides with the fantastic might have benefited from a greater sense of unreality and confusion on the part of the ‘normal’ characters, with a healthy dose of disbelief and denial.  There are one or two places where characters possess knowledge which seems rather inexplicable at this same point in the story, which is a shame when continuity has been so well maintained up until then.  The hardest part to swallow is in the flashbacks to Vietnam experienced by Brian Renney, who is presented almost as some kind of super soldier, capable of feats of daring and physical prowess far beyond what I would regard as credible.  Those moments could do with toning down somewhat.  The other action sequences are well written, making you want more.  The pace of the novel picks up so gently that you barely notice that it’s become far more urgent, demanding that you continue to read as quickly as possible.  The growing sense of an impending collision between good and evil is inescapable.  I have no desire to spoil things for readers and, as a consequence, I’ve really struggled to know how to say this: there is a part of the novel that I find immensely moving.  It is very well written indeed.  I will say no more on it.

If I have a gripe, it’s one that’s all too common these days.  Whether it’s a fault in proofreading or in production, I can’t know, but there are many problems with typographical errors, spelling mistakes and missing or misplaced words.  This isn’t a criticism aimed at Mr Sousa!  In fact, as already intimated, it’s not even aimed at this novel.  These problems appear in every book I’ve read in recent times.  I tend to read more than one book at a time, which now usually means a traditional book and an ebook.  There’s very little difference in the number of errors in either.  It is a pet peeve of mine,I freely admit.  It is a shame that authors are, effectively, being embarrassed by such problems.  The problem that tends to plague ebooks, specifically, is one of formatting – which often seems “broken”, but this might be a result of formatting for one type of ebook but publishing in multiple forms, by just converting the original ebook format rather than publishing from the original document file(s).

Now, to close.  If anything I’ve said above is putting you off reading this book, then please reconsider!  Any review is subjective.  Things I may love, you may hate, and vice versa.  This is definitely a novel that deserves more exposure.  Apart from the charming nod to the Flash Gordon comics, and the fact that this is an adventure worthy of the early days of heroic science fiction, it’s also bang up to date too.  That’s quite an achievement.  I would recommend The Forever Saga: Flash to all science fiction fans, and especially those with fond memories of the early ‘pulp fiction’ (no, not the movie!) days of the genre.

Five stars all the way.

~ Steve


Sean C SousaAuthor Bio for Sean C Sousa

Sean C. Sousa never planned on writing a novel – that is, until the idea for The Forever Saga came along.  He first conceived it as a video game design concept, then a screenplay, and finally a written work of fiction.  His debut novel, The Forever Saga: Flash, marks the end of one six-year journey toward publication, and also the beginning of another: to bring his stories to a worldwide audience.

His dream is to see fiction inspire positive social change in the world, calling attention to issues of social justice and mobilizing his readership to meet the needs of those afflicted.

Mr. Sousa resides in Southern California with his wife, Shelley, and when he is not writing further adventures about the Renney family, he is usually up to socially acceptable mischief with his friends and family.

The Forever Saga: Flash may be purchased from Amazon.com.

The Captain Returns!

For the Sake of MercyCaptain Henri Duschelle, hero of To Sail The Dark Sea, has returned in a new tale.  This one, For the Sake of Mercy, is a novelette.  To quote the blurb:

Captain Henri Duschelle must lead his loyal crew on a seemingly impossible mission: to deliver a vital organ to one of the crew’s son, across the longest part of the colonised worlds – to an insane deadline. He is convinced that only his ship, the stunningly beautiful “Persephone” can make such a journey. But problems lie in wait…

Now for the significant part of this news!  I have been known to be less than admiring of Amazon and their business tactics, as far as self-publishing is concerned.  Well, I like to think that I am fair, so I have opted to publish this novelette through Amazon!  It is available for the Kindle machines in various countries, at the bargain price I’ve detailed against the links (price quoted is approximate).  This is very much an experiment!  I’ll be interested to see how things go.  Note that I did not opt to participate in the Kindle Select program as I dislike the restrictions that it imposes.  If you purchase and read the ebook, I would very much appreciate your feedback on Amazon!

Purchase links:

Amazon.com : $0.99 (USA and India?)

Amazon UK: £0.77

Amazon Canada: $1.01

Amazon Germany: €0.89

Amazon France: €0.89

Amazon Spain: €0.89

Amazon Italy: €0.89

Amazon Japan: ¥99

Amazon Brazil: R$1.99

Other countries: Please contact me.  I will email you the Kindle version on receipt of payment via PayPal.

Coming tomorrow!

“The Forever Saga: Flash” by Sean C Sousa – A Review