Tuesday 26 March 2019

Memoirs of a Guardian Angel Broke Kobo South Africa

I woke up on Thursday morning last week, to the most wonderful surprise an author could ever expect to get: Memoirs of a Guardian Angel was trending in the South African Kobo store:

Yip, I don't know who started it, but the book was being shared all over the place!

In case you can't read it so well, when I took that screenshot, the book was #5 overall in Fiction and Literature, #1 in Religious Fiction and Literature, and #2 in Contemporary Science Fiction and Fantasy.

I honestly can't express my gratitude enough, to all of you who made this possible. I truly have the most amazing readers in the world.

If you click the screenshot above, you'll be sent to the book's page on Kobo, where you can take a look at the current rank. As you'll see, it has dipped a bit since last Thursday, but it's still doing admirably well.

Tuesday 19 March 2019

Why You Should Shop Around for EBooks

I mentioned two weeks ago on one of my readers' groups on Facebook, that I was shopping around for the best price on the ebook of Stephen King's The Drawing of the Three.

After checking Amazon and Kobo (Barnes & Noble doesn't sell ebooks in South Africa), I settled on Google Play Books, because it was significantly cheaper than both.

Two people commented on that Facebook post. The first said that she'd pay extra at Amazon, simply for the convenience. The other person said she had a physical Kindle, and was always on the lookout for good ebook deals elsewhere, but she asked what format Google Play Books were in. Unfortunately, they're in epub format, which Kindle can't read, but at least she said it wasn't a massive train-smash; just a minor inconvenience.

Now, this is one of the reasons why I believe Amazon's has severely damaged the ebook industry. There are basically two ebook formats in the world today: mobi, which is readable only by Kindles, and epub, which is readable by every other ereader and ereading app on the planet. Amazon's effectively locked everyone who's ever bought a Kindle into their service, by making it (practically) impossible for them to buy ebooks from anyone else.

But I digress. Personally, I don't own a physical ereader. I made a conscious decision not to buy one because I didn't want to be tied to any one retailer. I buy books from whichever store gives me the best deal. Take A Song of Ice and Fire, for instance. I've bought one of them from Amazon, two from Kobo, two from Google Play Books, and read the best from my local elibrary.

And then, of course, there's Smashwords. With Smashwords, you pay for your book with either credit card or PayPal, and then you can download it to your PC in whatever format it's available. The vast majority of them are available in epub format, then most of them are also available in mobi (for your Kindle), and a few are available as PDFs as well.

There are other formats available too, for people with older Sony-type e-readers, or who prefer reading in plain text or whatever, but in general, epub, mobi, and sometimes pdf are the "Big Two/Three".

They don't have their own e-reading software, because their motto is "Your ebook, your way" - their big philosophy is to allow you to read the book you want, on the device you want, in the environment you want.

Oh, and also further to that philosophy, all their books are DRM free. They don't allow authors to apply DRM to their books.

Which is, incidentally, the only downside (if you can call it a downside). On Smashwords, 99%+ of all the books are self-published (and yes, all mine are there too!). You'd be hard pressed to find any traditionally published books on Smashwords, because Smashwords doesn't allow DRM, and most traditional publishers insist on DRM.

So how about you? Are you locked into, or married to, a particular retailer when it comes to your ebook purchases, or are you free to shop around? Particularly if you don't live in the United States, Amazon's often far from the cheapest.

Sunday 17 March 2019

The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King (Book Review)

Now this is much more like it!

About a month ago, I read and reviewed The Gunslinger, the first volume in this series. It left me disappointed because it was disjointed and confusing; it told me quite a bit about who The Gunslinger was, but almost nothing about his quest, the object of his quest, or why he was seeking it.

If it had been written by any other author, I wouldn't have bothered, but the fact that "this is The King we're talking about here", and the fact that many members of a readers' group I belong to on Facebook urged me to not give up, persuaded me to give it another go. Besides, even though the first book struck me as nothing more than a teaser, it was still a tempting one!

Well, I'm glad I didn't give up. In his Afterword of this book, Stephen King shares how he thinks that this book is a more "complete story" than the previous volume. I have to agree: it has a coherent beginning, middle, and end, and stuff actually happens to carry the story and characters forward.

Also, in his introduction, Mr King gives a short synopsis of what happens in the first book. And I'm glad of that, because that synopsis actually explained and clarified a few things I was confused about while reading said volume in the first place.

I have a few reasons, though, for not bumping this review up to five stars (although they're not severe enough to bring it down to three):

In the first place, there was a formatting/editing issue in the Google Play edition I read. The convention in this book is to put the characters' thoughts in italics. But in this book, I often found that the italics didn't go away when the thought was over. So, for example, you'd get something like "I'm hungry, he thought." where that entire sentence (including the words "he thought") are in italics. It's inconsistent, of course, so some of them are just fine.

The other two are plot related. The first of these comes in part three (The Pusher). At the beginning of that part, the story sets the stage by relating to some previous events, so you get the distinct impression that it's taking place somewhere in the early '60s. But later, the author remarks that one of the characters keeled over of a heart attack nine years later, while watching The Terminator in the cinema.

Maybe there's a perfectly logical explanation for that, which I either missed or didn't understand.

The second of the plot inconsistencies is also in that third part, but it's much simpler. A cop wakes up to find that his gun, holster, and gunbelt have been stolen. Later, he picks up another gun, and remarks how it won't fit in his holster, and so tucks it into the waistband of his pants. Umm... I thought he didn't HAVE his holster anymore?

Now, despite this formatting issue, and the above two plot inconsistencies, this is a fantastic story, definitely in line with what you've come to expect from the great Stephen King. And if you pick up an edition which contains that "Book 1 Synopsis", there's a good chance you'll be able to forego that embarrassment altogether and start the series from here!

Oh, there's one more thing I noticed. I remember when the Dark Tower movie came out, some racist commented on the YouTube trailer how it was a travesty that Idris Alba should play the lead because Stephen King never said The Gunslinger was black. This poor misguided soul promised to boycott every one of King's books from then on, because of it.

Having never read the books before at that time, my first thought was, "So? I doubt he ever said The Gunslinger WASN'T black."

Well, after reading this book, I have to say, "Hmm, okay, fair enough. He kinda does." The Gunslinger is white, and in fact, this volume makes a rather big deal of that fact, because a racist black woman who hates "honky mahfas" plays a significant part in this story.

I mentioned in my review of the first book that I couldn't help seeing Idris Alba. And so it was for the first 20-30% of the second book, too. Until the aforementioned became apparent. Now I have to re-imagine him all over again....

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

About the Book

Part II of an epic saga. Roland, the last gunslinger, encounters three mysterious doorways on the beach. Each one enters into a different person living in New York. Through these doorways, Roland draws the companions who will assist him on his quest to save the Dark Tower. 

Click the cover above to find out where you can buy the ebook.

Tuesday 12 March 2019

Hang Out With the Author - Questions & Answers

Remember that "Hang out with the author" event I spoke about last month? The one where you could win a R500 Loot voucher? Well, it happened on Sunday, and I thought it was a roaring success.

I got asked a bunch of questions. You might be interested in hearing about them:

I have a question! Any other books in the pipeline?

Yes there is, actually. But it's early days. I'm working on a sword-and-sorcery story, that I'm hoping to get to novel length (but it might end up being long novella instead, like Memoirs of a Guardian Angel).

It doesn't have a title yet, but the world it's set in actually the inside of a giant cylinder.

The question all authors hate...name your top three books of all time!

I have two, right off the top of my head:

The first is The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr Seuss. My mom read and re-read that book to me until it was falling apart, and when I got old enough to read myself, I must have read it ANOTHER couple of thousand times. ;)

The second is IT by Stephen King. It is LONG, but there's just so much depth to the world and characters, that it's one of the few books I've ever read, where I honestly got lost for hours at a time, and forgot I was reading a book.

I honestly can't think of another single book. I really enjoyed all The Famous Five series by Enid Blyton when I was in Primary School, and when I was in High School, I discovered Gamebooks, and my all-time favourites were the Lone Wolf series by Joe Dever.

What made you start writing, and when did you?

I've always loved telling stories. In Primary School I was always the guy who remembered and re-told long-winded jokes (I often got them wrong, but that's beside the point). ;)

Towards the end of High School, I discovered tabletop roleplaying, and went from AmeriCHAOS 1994, to Werewolf, to Dungeons & Dragons (various editions), to GURPS, back to D&D. Although I enjoyed playing as a character, I soon found that, more often than not, I got lumped with the job of being the Game Master, telling the stories that the characters would participate in.

I think I wrote my first actual story down in Standard 7 (1994, if my maths is correct). It was a Gamebook about a spy. I can't remember much about it--and the manuscript has thankfully been lost to eternity--but I do remember one scene quite vividly, where you as the main character had to follow a trail of stompies (yes, I actually did call them that!) to track down your prey. :D

The next time I wrote anything creative was quite late, in 2012. I had recently discovered ebooks, and a friend of mine on Twitter had just self-published his first book on Smashwords. I read it and thought, "Hey, I can DO this!"

And so A Petition to Magic was born. I had a dream one night, clear as anything, about a wizard standing in his lab, surrounded by flasks and vials of various coloured liquids, and a giant spellbook spread out on the table in front of him. And that became the central scene in the story.

Does that answer your question? :P

And how are you enjoying the journey of being an author?

My favourite quote of all time is "I hate writing. I love having written."

That should tell you something. ;)

No, seriously, it can sometimes be stressful and frustrating, when the ideas just aren't coming. Other times, they flow out of me and it's the most amazing feeling in the world. Either way, there's no greater feeling than typing "The End" on a first draft.

And, unlike most authors, I think, I love re-reading and re-writing what I've written. As another quote famously put it, "You can't edit a blank page." ;)

I also really enjoy the business end. Tinkering with different marketing ideas, writing my monthly newsletter, talking with other people about what works and what doesn't... and I run my author business LIKE a business, with a set of books, and I report on my finances every month to my e-mail list. That kind of thing inspires me and keeps me going, and makes me feel like my fans are really a part of my journey... and I hope they feel like that, too. :)

When writing a book... do you have an overall idea of the whole story or do you start with an idea and see how it develops?

It's kind of a combination of the two. I don't do a formal outline, like many other authors, but I do tend to have an overarching idea of what's going to happen.

For A Petition to Magic, for example, the whole thing started with that ONE dream. When I woke up from that dream, I had no idea where that scene would fit. I didn't know the events leading up to it, or where the story would go from there. I didn't even know the wizard's NAME.

The more I thought about it, the more those things started falling into place in my mind. I don't think I started writing the book immediately; It was probably a couple of days before I felt comfortable enough to put the proverbial pen to paper (fingers to keyboard, heh). :)

All my other books have followed a similar process. Memoirs of a Guardian Angel didn't exactly come from a dream, but it DID come from a scene my wife told me, where she imagined a guardian angel sitting on top of a car careering down the highway. :D

Basically, I get an idea, and I pretty much just run with it. Even when I do have a basic idea of what's going to happen, that tends to change several times while I'm writing, so by the time I'm done, the ending is nothing like what I'd first imagined.

I guess that's one of the reasons why I take so long to write a book. I like to take my time, and I change my mind loads of times before I'm done.

So do you have some sort of a notebook to jot down ideas?

Honestly, no. I know everyone says writers should keep a journal, but I've never had the discipline for that.

I remember one time, reading something Stephen King said, and it kind of reminded me of my process. Paraphrased, it was something along the lines of how you shouldn't write down your ideas. The best books come from those ideas that just won't go away, and some of his bestselling books came to him that way: he would get an idea, but either dismiss it as stupid, or stick it in the back of his mind while he was busy with something else.

He'd end up forgetting most of them, but some of them would just keep asserting themselves. Sometimes for years and years, before he actually took the decision to WRITE those stories.

I have a couple of those, too. I've got plenty of ideas that I THOUGHT I probably should've written down, but didn't, and have since forgotten all the details. But there are others that I just keep remembering (the book I'm busy with now is an idea that first occurred to me at LEAST 15 years ago, but I didn't think I was mature enough to tell it back then).

It's weird how this process works. :)

Where do you write? Do you have a dedicated writing space?

I do. I'm really lucky to have a day-job where I work from home, so I have an office set up at home with a dedicated workspace. I also have a dedicated "work notebook", and my home machine is a desktop PC.

When work is done in the afternoon, I switch off my notebook and switch my keyboard, mouse, and monitor to my home PC. And that's when the writing begins! :D

Here's a photo of my writing space:

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?

I can't remember wanting to be anything other than a computer programmer, and that, since probably Standard 1 (1988 if my maths serves me again ;) ).

Only back then, all I wanted to do was write games. I matured a little over the years, but never lost that overarching goal.

And guess what I am now? Yip, a computer programmer! :D

I love my job. But I love my writing career too. I'd never want to give either of them up.

What do you enjoy doing, aside from writing, reading and IT? Any hobbies?

We watch a lot of series on TV. In fact, we've just finished binging five seasons of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I also still roleplay, and go to a monthly Dungeons & Dragons session.

I can see a new hobby maybe coming up in the near future; we're going on a cruise, and I want to play shuffleboard. I've ALWAYS wanted to play shuffleboard! :D

Got any questions that haven't been covered above? Pop them into the comments below, and I'll do my best to answer them!

Tuesday 5 March 2019

The 2019 Smashwords Read an Ebook Week Sale is now on

Every year around this time, e-book retailer Smashwords runs a massive sale, with thousands of e-books either free or deeply discounted.

This year, the event runs from 3 - 9 March 2019. Yip, that's right, it's on now, but you need to hurry, because it ends this Saturday.

Click the image above to view the sales page.

Also, as I do every year, my books will be enrolled. See below for prices, and click on the cover to visit the book's page at Smashwords: