Excerpt of a New Tale Plus News

Twitter Frustrations

It’s very frustrating.  It drives me to distraction.  For a while now, I’ve been unable to Follow anybody new on Twitter!  I have, it seems, hit the maximum for the number of Followers that I have.  I’ve pruned out some who I was following but weren’t following me, but there are many I wouldn’t expect to follow me!  So I’m stuck.  Some kind folk have opted to follow me in this troubled time, but I can’t reciprocate.  It’s very disheartening, too, when I read that it can take months to reach the next level!  So, while there was a time I wouldn’t have believed I would say it: “Twitter, a first cap of 2000 Followers isn’t high enough, by far!”

Online Business Cards and LinkedIn

Following on from my post in which I spoke (briefly) about Spam, I am ashamed to admit that I got caught recently!  Years of being so careful and never taking anything at face value, and BAM!!  I am a member of LinkedIn, which has brought me into contact with some very good people, as well as adding new levels of links to some I connect with elsewhere.  When, therefore, I get a message asking me to rate somebody on their online business card, I have no problem.  Well, there’s the mistake!  I should have been more cautious.  No reflection on the person who made that initial request, but the whole thing stinks.  I rated them and clicked on a button, all very authentic looking, saying Log in with LinkedIn.  Now, I had no idea if the rating had been recorded.  It went to a screen with my own business card displayed – and that should have rung big bells!  I hadn’t set up a business card!  Oh no, I must have been really switched off that day.  I accepted the offer and did what it asked.  Yes, it was a mass message but it was just a one-off…  Want to bet?  Oh no, the website, mybizcard.co, has since sent two more such mass mailings (that I know of).  Apparently, it had used stealth mode to attach itself as an app on my LinkedIn settings!  I launched complaints to LinkedIn Support. After having to put up with replies from them, which made it all too obvious that they weren’t reading my comments/replies, or were trying to dodge the issue, I’ve finally put the saga of the online business card scam behind me – I hope!  Well, that’s after 72 hours have elapsed, I’ll be free of it, I’m told…  Trust me folks!  Don’t join mybizcard.co!  Don’t even go on their website!

*****

Writing

Yes, I do still write!  Following a couple of bad days, in health terms, and battling the internet demons, I haven’t actually made a huge dent in the things I’ve got on the boil at the moment.  That’s another frustration to add to those of recent times.  I can feel the ‘you have to write’ worm gnawing away at me and yet somehow the days still sneak past with nothing of significance achieved.  I think my novel is under a pile of dust in the darkest corner of my hard drive.  The rest pops to the surface now and then, only to sink under that dread word: Later.  I have sufficient reasons to get on with it.  There’s that beautiful paperback copy of Shade of Evil, and I’ve actually had one or two more sales of ebooks.  That should be plenty of inspiration!  Shouldn’t it?

If you’re wondering, I’m working on a third story in the G1: The Guardians series.  What length it will be remains to be seen, but it won’t be smaller than a novelette.  It follows on from the second, after a few months have elapsed.  Meanwhile, in the field of science fiction, Captain Duschelle is currently resting, awaiting his next adventure.  At the same time, I occasionally dip into a longer tale that I’m working on, using the authoring/publishing website, Pressbooks.  This is actually a WordPress based site, fitted out with some nice, useful templates for authors.  The tale I’m writing there, off and on, is an Alternate History, though I fear it may also incur the label ‘Steampunk’.  Apart from the Alternate History aspect, it’s a detective/mystery tale – another first for me.  To distinguish its alternate facet, the language is very different, and requires care – which is why I have to be in the right frame of mind to add to it.  Just as a teaser, here’s a teaser (the opening of Chapter 1):

Ronald Lowden had anything but the look of either the powerful intelligence he possessed or his profession as a detective.  He was, in fact, acutely ordinary.  Somewhat round of face, with thin brown hair, hazel eyes, and a pale complexion, he was of average height and slightly above his ideal weight.  When he walked into a crowded room, nobody stopped to stare.  In fact, most people didn’t even notice his arrival.  But that very ordinariness worked in his favour, much of the time.  A good detective should be invisible, when he’s on assignment.  Unfortunately, everything else tended to make him less than imposing when a confrontation with unsavoury types was unavoidable.  In essence, however, he was not entirely unhappy with his lot, other than for the fact that he was less than impressive in the eyes of women.  His liaisons on that score had been few and far between, and his employment had ensured that all ha ended unhappily.

Lowden was not a classic private investigator, in that he only ever took cases that intrigued him at a personal level.  He was, most definitely, not ‘in it for the money’.  When his penchant for mysteries of crime had first surfaced, his clergyman father had hoped that he would jin the police.  That was never going to happen, however.  The police held to certain requirements of physical fitness and obedience to orders.  Both were anathema to Lowden.  His only powerful ‘muscle’ was his mind, and that was extremely well developed.

The truly unfortunate thing for Lowden was the fact that so few people knew of him and his choice of profession.  Consequently, he struggled financially.  He couldn’t afford an office and the tiny flat he lived in was not suitable for receiving visits from mice, let alone potential clients.  If it wasn’t for his mother’s generosity, which was always a bone of contention with his father, he couldn’t have afforded even that pathetic accommodation.  Contrary to his father’s oft stated opinion, however, Lowden was mortified that he had to accept the financial support of his mother.

Much was to change.  And soon.  He had no clue to what was going to occur, however, on the morning that he made his way from his flat to the tacky little café where he customarily breakfasted.  It was a very normal Thursday in early Spring.  Cool and bright at the moment, but probably destined to turn cold and wet.  He entered the café, an old bell clattering at the door, and took his usual seat in the window.  Why he sat there, he didn’t know.  The window was so grubby on the outside that it barely counted as a window.  He waited a few moments, until the woman on the counter deigned to approach, a tatty pad in one hand, pencil in the other.  It was the normal routine.  He made a show of reading the unchanging menu, sighed, and ordered the same thing as he had every Thursday.

Lowden was half way into a plate of scrambled eggs on (overdone) toast when a small, round blob of a man suddenly sat at his table, facing him.  Startled, and at a loss for words, all Lowden could do was stare blankly at the man.  The stranger was shorter than himself, by a considerable measure, and dressed in a black suit, white shirt, neatly knotted black tie.  His head was disturbingly close to being an almost perfect sphere.  His nose was a round lump, with scarlet pinpricks which suggested a drinker.  His eyes were small, black objects that glittered like polished jet but gave no hint of anything within their depths.  Tidy but thin eyebrows arched over his eyes.  Beneath his nose was a pencil line of a black moustache, then a small mouth with thin, pale  lips, and finally a perfect little goatee.

“You are Mister Ronald Percival Lowden?” the stranger almost demanded, in a surprisingly deep, but reedy, voice.

Lowden finished his mouthful of food and then slowly reached for the tall,thick, slightly chipped mug of strong tea.  He raised the mug, not looking at the intruder, and took a sip.  Only then did he return his gaze to the man.

“Who I am,” he said calmly, “is my own business, I believe.  What I am willing to divulge is that I am not kindly disposed to rude people.  How is it that you believe you may intrude upon a gentleman at his breakfast, without his consent?”

The stranger blinked rapidly.  “Your pardon, sir,”  he said, with no trace of sincerity.  “I am come upon a most urgent matter, and it has already cost me time to find you, having discovered that you were not in your… er… apartment.”

“Really?  Most extraordinary.  How did you come to know my address?  I do not advertise it.”

“By the kindness of your mother.”

“Remarkable.  But, sir, you have the advantage.  You have not yet introduced yourself.”  He again raised the mug of teato his lips, waiting.  ‘I must have words with dear Mother.’

“I am Humphrey Kingsley, of the Waterbridge Kingsleys.”

“Very pleasant for you, I am sure.  It is always advantageous to have a Name.”  Waterbridge was a quaint hamlet some three miles from where Lowden’s parents lived, and probably enjoyed his father’s rambling sermons on certain Sundays.  The area was renowned, unfortunately, for a certain snobbishness, where pecking order in ‘polite society’ was all-important.  “Now then, Humphrey Kingsley, what is this ‘most urgent matter’?  And how does it involve myself?”

“It is a most delicate affair,” Kingsley replied, glancing round.

The café was empty apart from themselves, and the woman at the counter, who was far more interested in reading a newspaper that rested over the pile of rolls that never seemed to change.

“I do believe we are safe from eavesdroppers,” Lowden said drily.

Kingsley took a deep breath.  “Very well.  The matter is just this:  Yesterday, at approximately ten fifteen in the morning, my superior vanished.  He was known to be in his office, from which there is but one exit, passing through his secretary’s office, which is, in effect, the anteroom to the large room occupied by my superior.  He was seen to enter his office at ten minutes past ten.  At twenty past ten, I sought to speak with him on an internal matter of no consequence to this affair.  The secretary, a most dependable woman in her forties, a Miss Alice Roach, went to the door and opened it to gain acceptance of my request.  She returned to me in a state of some considerable confusion.  When she stated that my superior was missing, I immediately grew concerned and entered the office myself.  There was definitely no sign of my superior.  Fearing some dreadful event, I checked the windows, but found them all securely closed and fastened.”

“Which Department do you work for?” Lowden asked suddenly.

“I am with the Foreign Office,  as….  How do you know that I am in government?”

“Your evasion of using any name or title for your superior suggests one who may be well knwn to the public at large.  Also, you have never once mentioned where you are employed.”

“Remarkable,” Kingsley said.  “Well, you have heard my tale.  Do you believe that you can help solve the riddle?”

“I do think that I may be able to solve the puzzle.  Come, we shall go to your offices and investigate the scene.”

Lowden stood up, Kingsley hurriedly following suit,  and paid his bill at the counter.  The pair of them left the café, stepping out into a hot day that threatened the dreaded Smog.  A short distance away, Lowden hailed a steam-cab and they were soon trundling through the narrow streets of the old city, a trail of steam left behind.  The driver sat up front, in a high seat, watching his gauges and occasionally feeding small lumps of coal into the little firebox.  Similar vehicles were everywhere, all in bright colours and most sporting the liveries of cab companies.

~ Steve

Thoughts on a Tuesday – New Paperback Launch

‘Likes’, ‘Follows’ and so forth

I’ll admit it.  I’ve participated in a few ‘Like for a Like’ and ‘Follow for a Follow’ schemes in recent times.  Now, the theory is that you’re supposed to click on ‘Like’ or ‘Follow’, or something very similar, for everybody you track a link to.  In all honesty, at first I adhered to that rule.  Lately, however, I’ve been very naughty!  I’m afraid that if I didn’t like what I found, I didn’t do what was expected of me.  What caused this revolution?  Well, quite simply, some of the participants were ringers!  The schemes were supposed to be for authors, writers, self-publishers, book reviewers and maybe book lovers.  Some of those who jumped on the ride, however, had nothing to do with any of the world of books!  They were promoting sites/blogs/pages that did anything but talk about books.  Then, there were some that did fill the bill but I had a crisis of conscience over and had to duck away from (and no, I’m not going to say what they concerned, other than for the ‘make me rich by buying my self-help-get-rich-quick book’ types).  I have no objection to the concept, but in truth I prefer the idea of having a similar scheme where you only ‘Like’/’Follow’ those you actually have an interest in hearing more from.  It’s time for a more discerning scheme for these things!  Yes, I know that I’ve gained followers, but it’s almost by accident as I’m sure the vast majority don’t really expect to maintain any active interest, and many cancel their ‘Like’/’Follow’ after a while.

Paperback Writer

Yes, the second paperback is out there – sort of!  Following the instructions given, by FeedARead, I ordered a ‘proof’ copy of my novelette in paperback.  Now, the instructions indicated that I had to approve said proof before it would go live on their store.  Performing what I like to call a ‘security check’ by Googling my name, to see if any of my ‘to-buy’ books were in places they didn’t belong, I encountered my new paperback being offered for sale by… FeedARead!  Now, in essence, I don’t have a problem with that.  I do, however, object to having to buy a copy of my own book – surely they could absorb the cost of a complementary copy – on the grounds that it wouldn’t be put up for sale until I had done so and approved it, only to discover that it was being advertised anyway!

Well, if it’s good enough for them (and no, I won’t be using them again!), then here we are:

Shade of Evil (Being Part 1 of G1: The Guardians) is available from FeedARead, ISBN 9781782993551, for £3.99 plus Post & Packing.  To quote the blurb:

A simple man bears a terrible burden, unknowing. Now, that burden is killing him, seeking freedom from his exhausted hulk. Freedom to satisfy its evil hunger.

“A darkness dwelt there, a vile miasma of misery that gnawed at the very soul of the man. It had been there for years, growing like some parasite, growing bloated with every bit of melancholy that was sucked from him. Worse, it was taking on a life of its own, a substance that should not exist. And the man was becoming something less, something hollow.”

A novelette.

A Matter of Spam

This blog is very well protected against Spammers by a system called Akismet.  The odd bit slips through, but as I have to approve comments from anybody who hasn’t been previously approved, they’re easy to mark as Spam and disposed of.  More rarely, a comment from somebody legitimate might end up in Spam when it doesn’t deserve to, but I’m scrupulous about checking before emptying the Spam folder, so they get found and approved that way.  The same isn’t true for all blogs!  I’ve noticed several blogs where Spam comments have gotten through, which means that the blog has become vulnerable to attack, and other readers may suffer if they follow links in those comments, or click on the commenter’s name.  More worryingly, this is happening on some sites that use alleged secure systems, like Captcha, which requires that you  decipher something before your comment will be accepted.  Obviously, Captcha isn’t working!  Why?  Because Spammers all know about it and it seems they are (probably) randomly attacking sites in person, so that they can get past Captcha!  Unless, of course, somebody’s created a ‘robot’ program which can solve the puzzles.  If you’re a blogger, I suggest you keep a close eye on all comments!  If you’re a blog reader – be wary of clicking on links in comments, especially if the language is poor and the comment seems ‘odd’.

As an aside, you can find out about any commenter quite easily.  First choice: Google them!  Chances are, you’ll find a string of entries where they’ve posted on various forums and blogs.  If you’re still unsure, maybe because Google has proven inconclusive, there’s a site called WhoIs.  That will look up information on anybody who is online, and it can even trace IP addresses.

Take care out there!

~ Steve

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

Penning Perils

I’m slowly coming to recognise certain facts about making efforts to become a published author.  There are many perils out there, lurking everywhere.  What’s worse is that, apart from  the very fact that they exist, many come disguised as worthwhile!  There’s no shortage of those who will offer you the world, or more, if you will just pay them this very small amount, just so they can do what they do, and they promise to do all those jobs you hate doing, so that you will be free to concentrate on your writing.  Sadly, there are many of these that won’t get even close to your expectations, and a surprising number have the audacity to actually ask more than legitimate services.  You will likely encounter their advertising in various places that are less than selective in what they are willing to allow on their sites.  There’ll be even more of them scattered across the social networks – both the general networks and those aimed at the world of authors and readers.  The moment you put yourself out there, posting on a social network or maybe starting a blog, you will use certain trigger words.  You can’t help do anything else!  Unfortunately, the bad guys, or ’black hats’ in internet parlance, have software which constantly scans for the use of those words.  When they find them, they ooze out of the virtual equivalent of woodwork and begin to make your life difficult.  Emails start coming in, especially if you haven’t been cautious enough to never post yours publicly.  Adverts pop up in places they shouldn’t.  Spam assails you from all directions!  Life can quickly become a living hell if you make a wrong move now.  You’ll never be free of them, but if you actually respond to any of them, the situation will spiral out of control.

What’s truly sad is that some of the black hats can sound so genuine, so honest.  The best (in the sense of success) will have you utterly convinced of their honesty, their heartfelt desire to help you, to lift all the burdens from you.  It’s a pity that they aren’t all like the worst (least successful), who are so transparent, so obviously false, that nobody could possibly be drawn in by them.  These latter usually use such atrocious English, and utterly incomprehensible spam, that they are actually laughable, if you set aside what they’re trying to do.  The golden rule is: never click a link if you don’t know where it comes from!  If you do, you may unleash an endless inundation of more spam, or you may find yourself the victim of identity theft!  If you have never heard of a site, don‘t click that link!  I don’t care if it is an ad on Facebook!  Trot on over to Google and do a search on it, check the “whois” entry, if there is one.  And don’t just take the first page of the Google search results – go deeper.

Much of this may sound pretty general, and you’re right – it is.  The important thing to remember is that a lot of the Spam and fakery will actually be targeted!  It will often talk about things that have become very important to you.  Just because it’s dressed up to look like something you should pursue doesn’t make it legitimate.

Having spoken about the activities of the black hats, I should put in a word about the honest folk who may land you in trouble.  They may start an online business meant to provide a very genuine service.  Unfortunately, you only have to look at the statistics for failed businesses!  A genuine intent to do what you set out to do doesn’t mean that you will be successful.  That applies to everybody.  Be cautious.  Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!  Don’t make commitments that may bind you to a failed business, or brand you as unreliable yourself because you supported somebody else who then failed.  It’s sad, but you really can’t afford to take risks.

Ultimately, you have taken on the job of author.  You need to spend your time in writing – not defending yourself from the worst that the internet has to offer.  Be true to yourself.

~ Steve