Archive | February, 2015

Trigger Warnings Trigger Me

28 Feb

[Trigger Warning: if you think trigger warnings are a good idea, you’ll hate this post. Here are some nice cat gifs.]

You know, after extensive consultation with myself, I have come to an unpleasant realisation.

Trigger warnings trigger me.

I mean it. Every time I see a trigger warning, I have an uncontrollable urge to scream in rage, chew the carpet, put my fist through the computer monitor and write long screeds about the irredeemable stupidity of the human race. Clearly, trigger warnings trigger me something awful <grin>.

The solution <puts on smug face> is obvious. In order to stop triggering me, people should stop writing trigger warnings. <evil smirk, as done by evil characters in Disney movies, just in case someone in the audience is too dumb to realise that they’re evil>.

Ok, I’ll be serious now.

The world is not a safe place. I mean it. If you’re lucky, your parents are wealthy enough to bring you up in a nicely sheltered cocoon … which lasts until you go to school. Homeschooled? That lasts a little longer, but eventually you have to get a job and go to work. No job? That leaves you completely dependent on someone else, who may leave you in the lurch one day.

And yes, one of the dangers is encountering something that may frighten you, or set you off, or offend you, or merely get on your nerves. Trigger warnings do all four of those for me.

Yes, that was serious.

There are people who go through serious traumas in their lives, people who are left with PTSD and other mental problems. I wouldn’t make fun of someone who has genuinely suffered in their life. But looking at the vogue right now for trigger warnings, defences against micro-aggressions (as if they were intentional, which they rarely are), safe spaces and other moments of absurdities, it is increasingly difficult to take them seriously.

Put a dozen humans together and chances are that some of them will rub some of the others the wrong way. There might be a loudmouth who brags endlessly about the time he scored a touchdown while playing soccer. Or there might be a whiny little man/woman-child who’s thirty and acts like she’s five. Or there may be someone from a culture which has no sense of personal space meeting someone who is required to keep some distance between himself and everyone else at all times. And, of course, some of them will have different opinions about … well, anything really.

The internet pushes all that up to eleven. There are no shortage of opinions on the internet that I find disturbing. The concept of trigger warnings is one of them <grin>. How am I meant to know what will trigger someone? Am I required to write a 6000-word disclaimer (2 chapters) warning people that they might be offended? Or should I just shrug and point out that the internet is for adults and one of the things that separate an adult from a child is the ability to recognise that offense may not have been meant? Personally, I’m in favour of the latter.

It gets more absurd on college campuses. I won’t deny there are some subjects that are awkward even before some idiot invented the concept of trigger warnings. But should courses be changed because someone might be triggered? Should a law course be revised, keeping out all the trigger-worthy stuff, because it might cause a lawsuit? Law students might not be taught about certain crimes (rape, for example) because they might find hearing about them traumatic … but I’d bet good money they would, sooner or later, find themselves working a case that involves rape. If, of course, someone with such delicate feelings, actually manages to get a law degree in the first place.

Telling people that you have a trigger doesn’t make you look strong; it makes you look weak and pathetic. Telling people that you’re the victim of micro-aggression makes you sound ridiculous. No one will be inclined to take you seriously – and if you want to get anywhere in life, you need people to take you seriously. People have a right to their opinions – and those opinions may be different from yours.

And yes, that means I have to put up with people calling for trigger warnings. It’s a small price to pay for freedom of speech.

Free eBook Week (March 1-7, 2015)

16 Feb

Put this in your diaries. 

Read an eBook Week will run from March 1st-7th this year.

The following titles will be offered as free giveaways via the Twilight Times Books web site during Read an eBook Week, March 1-7, 2015.

Schooled in Magic; Read an eBook Week 2015
An Elfy on the Loose by Barb Caffrey
Behold the Eyes of Light by Geoff Geauterre
Book Reviewers Talk about their Craft by Mayra Calvani
Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective by Christine Amden
Death on Delivery by Anne K. Edwards
Deeds of a Colored Soldier During the Rebellion by F. W. Abel
Don’t Let the Wind Catch You by Aaron Paul Lazar
How I Wrote My First Book: the story behind the story by Anne K. Edwards and Lida E.Quillen, Editors
Jerome and the Seraph by Robina Williams
Laughing All the Way by Darrell Bain
Literary Sampler by Mayra Calvani, Aaron Paul Lazar and Anne K. Edwards
Monkey Trap by Lee Denning
No Place for Gods by Gerald Mills
Rue the Day by Ralph Freedman
Schooled in Magic by Christopher Nuttall
The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival by Stephanie Osborn
The Storks of La Caridad by Florence Byham Weinberg
Touch of Fate by Christine Amsden
Tremolo: cry of the loon by Aaron Paul Lazar
Who is Margaret? What is She? and Other Stories by Celia A. Leaman

Bookworm III – The Best Laid Plans

13 Feb

Book III – Up Now!

Elaine and Johan are preparing to leave Golden City, with Daria and the travellers, in order to search for the Witch-King. The Grand Sorceress instructs Inquisitor Cass to help them. But before Elaine can leave she is arrested by two Inquisitors on the orders of the Emperor. When she resists she is hit with a powerful spell that forces her to concentrate all her efforts on protecting her mind from its intrusion. Taken to the palace she finds that the Grand Sorceress has been removed and the Throne has accepted an heir to the Empire. Realising this has to be the work of the Witch-King, Elaine must defeat the spell that is eating away at her defences if she is to escape and destroy him.

Meanwhile, Johan, Daria and Cass are trying to find a way to get to Elaine and break her out of the cell in which she is being held.

The Golden City is still widely devastated from the disastrous battle for power that followed the death of the previous Grand Sorcerer. The recent escalating breakdown of social order can only be made worse by the return of an Emperor and the imposition of martial law. The Privy Councillors and Heads of the Great Houses succumb to the power of the new Emperor, as he amasses a huge army.

It is up to Elaine and her friends, with some unexpected help, to prevent an all-out war.

The third instalment in the Bookworm series, The Best Laid Plans follows on immediately from the events in The Very Ugly Duckling, with Elaine and Johan joined by other favourite characters as they try to track down the Witch-King.

Download a FREE SAMPLE, then purchase the complete text from the links on this page!

Updates and Future Stories

10 Feb

Hi, everyone

Good news first – Never Surrender (The Empire’s Corps 10) is out on Kindle. Reviews and comments welcome. Furthermore, the audiobook version of Warspite and the eBook of Bookworm III are available for pre-order now.

Being a father, it seems, is odd. Sleep? What was sleep again? I’ve been having problems getting out of bed in the morning – thank goodness I don’t have a normal job – and problems remembering things, although thankfully that problem seems to have faded as I’ve grown more used to Eric’s sleeping patterns. Actually, he seems to be a nocturnal baby; he spends half the night burbling or crying, then sleeping late in the mornings. He’s also learnt how to kick and pinch … and while it will be months before he’s crawling, he’s learned how to throw himself around a bit.

But he’s adorable.

I’ve also had a few requests for signed copies of my books. Basically, the cost is £10 + P&P. If you email me, I can tell you what I have in stock and what I will need to order; generally, I only keep a handful of each book in stock at any time. I will be at EASTERCON and probably RAVENCON, so please let me know in advance if you will be going and you want a signed copy. I can order extras if I have a rough idea of how many are necessary.

Anyway, my plan for the future is as follows.

I hope to start Coup D’état on Monday. Coup is a stand-alone novel that may be the start of a new series, but we will see.

After that, my current plan is Warspite II, Trial By Fire (Schooled In Magic 7) and Falcone Strike. It may be revised at some point; ideally, I want to get book 3 of both BATG and Democracy out at some point. Let me know what you want <grin>

Love’s Labour’s Won is being edited now. I will let you know details on publication when I have them.

My current plan for The Empire’s Corps is to have Book XI (First To Fight) be Edward Stalker’s origin story. It would be told in first-person, a new idea for the setting, and detail his life from the Undercity of Earth to the Terran Marine Corps. After that, I have a book provisionally entitled ‘They Shall Not Pass,’ which will be the next mainstream book. Can anyone think of a title that has more links to the real marines?

I’ve also been working on plots and plans for Sufficiently Analysed Magic, the sequel to Sufficiently Advanced Technology. I have a rough outline of the story now, but it needs time to gel and develop into the fitting link between SAT and the main story for the universe. Would you rather have SAM of Bookworm IV?

I’ve also been looking at other prospective story ideas. One is basically a story about an invasion of Earth from a magic-using world. (This is the one that started with a nightmare, probably the result of stuffing my face with fish and chips.) Generally, it would be a cross between Lord of the Rings and Battle: Los Angeles, set in the UK. Or mostly in the UK. My idea was that there would be a version of Alexander the Great, who would be desperately seeking more worlds to conquer. Ours was merely the first one he encountered.

Another grew out of a discussion on Baen’s Bar. Basically, there was a great hero who died saving the Federation (or whatever) from an alien enemy (something akin to Lord Nelson). However, he wasn’t such a decent man to his family (neither was Nelson) and his son (or his daughter; I haven’t decided) wants nothing to do with his father’s legacy. Or maybe he/she just feels overshadowed by his/her father. Anyway, there’s a place at the space academy for him and he’s going, even if he doesn’t want to go. I have a vague concept of someone planning to launch a coup or do something else that will serve as the bad guy, but I clearly need to give the idea more thought.

I’ve also been looking at the Mirrored Princess idea, again. Basically, it followed the adventures of a girl who was born a princess in an alternate world, but her father (the King) took her to Earth after his brother launched a coup against him. Now, she’s developing magic and needs to go back to study on her native world (and also, perhaps, serve as part of her father’s plans to regain the throne.) This is obviously very close to Schooled in Magic, to the point where I’m not sure I can handle it without plagiarising myself. I’ve seen one author do that (copying herself) and it wasn’t pretty.

She would be a very different character from Emily, to be sure. She would think more highly of earth than her homeworld (hot running water, proper medical care, etc). The poorest person in America might live better than a king in her homeworld. She would be intent, to some extent, on making a profitable future for herself – she’s something of a gold digger, but not in a bad way. She’s certainly a great deal more inclined to make friends than Emily.

There would also be some reluctant to introduce new ideas. Her father might want to hire an army of mercenaries, armed with modern weapons, to put his ass back on the throne, but it would destabilise the entire world. There are a handful of sorcerers in the alternate world that know we exist, but they regard us with absolute terror; they do not want ideas, let alone technology, moving from our world to theirs. (Others might have different ideas, of course.)

I was thinking that magic would be an optional extra, of sorts. Difficult to master, even with a strong gift (I was thinking that anyone can learn to use magic, with enough effort, but some people are just more naturally talented than others). The school would be a combination of basic learning (for their time), a place to make contacts with other aristocrats and wealthy merchants) … and a place to keep hostages for the good behaviour of their parents. There would be a great deal of discrimination too – some pupils are poor, but very blue blooded; others are new money, but have no family history. Rich merchants send their children to help them make contacts with the aristocracy. Basically, it would have a great deal in common with Britain in the years before the Civil War.



Up Now–The Empire’s Corps X–Never Surrender!

9 Feb

The direct sequel to Retreat Hell!

The war isn’t going well.

Wolfbane’s forces are pressing the Commonwealth on multiple fronts, the Commonwealth’s fragile political balance is on the verge of shattering and there’s a high-placed spy somewhere within the Commonwealth elite. For Colonel Edward Stalker and his men, the stakes have never been so high. Defeat will mean the end of everything they have fought and died for since their exile from Earth.

Held in a POW camp on Meridian, a world on the edge of settled space, Jasmine Yamane and her men seem trapped. But one thing she was never taught was how to give up. She’s coming home, even if she has to burn her way through enemy space to do it …

[This book is completely DRM-free. As always, you can download a free RTF sample from here, purchase the kindle version from HERE and read the afterword here!]

A Learning Experience: The Decline of the West

6 Feb

Several reviewers of Hard Lessons have raised issues with the decline and eventual fall of the Western World depicted in the novel. They have questioned the likelihood of society collapsing, even under the twin pressures of the attack on Earth and the existence of the Solar Union. I understand their positions, but there are some countervailing points.

First, while emigration to the Solar Union is a relatively tiny percentage of the West’s population, it is largely concentrated in the most productive sections of society. Young men and women who are the bedrock of the economy are leaving in large numbers and not looking back. The people with the inherent talent and education to rise high, or open their own businesses, or anything along those lines are leaving. Arguably, something similar is happening to Greece and Ireland right now.

Because of this, the tax base is shrinking rapidly. Every time the tax rate is pushed higher, more people either leave or stop working.

Second, large numbers of businesses are leaving too. The Solar Union has access to Galactic-level technology, but it also has reactive regulations instead of proactive regulations. It is, quite simply, a better place to run a business than the West. Companies like Microsoft are moving their facilities to the SU because the SU treats them better.

Third, several economic bubbles have burst. The SU does not serve as a debt collector, so graduated students who leave the West are not paying back their student loans. Unsurprisingly, the costs of higher education have skyrocketed … but nowhere near high enough to offset the effects of the bubble’s collapse. Because of the lower tax base, bailing out the universities isn’t such an easy option. There’s also the problem that various near-monopolies in the US – internet services, for example – have been broken; the dongles introduced in ALE have spread widely.

Fourth, the SU is simply a safer place to live, with relatively low living costs. There’s no danger of having to deal with corrupt officials, while if you happen to be accused of a crime you can clear your name quite easily. Furthermore, there is no ‘criminals are the victims of society’ mentality; the SU has a narrow definition of ‘crime,’ but it enforces that definition harshly.

Fifth, there are simply many more opportunities. Imagine going to university for three years, then emerging with a useless piece of paper and zero experience (which is worthless, because everyone else has one too.) The only requirement for a job in the SU is the ability to do the job … and there are no shortage of training programs designed to actually teach someone how to a particular job.

And then there’s the wonder of living in space.

Seriously, who wouldn’t want to leave?

A countervailing point is that Europe didn’t suffer badly when large numbers of people left for the United States. That is largely true, but the relative population was much larger (it could spare the people) and the economy was considerably more primitive. And there was no influx of immigrants who had their own way of living.

Your mileage may vary, of course.

Pre-order Now!

6 Feb

Just a quick note:

Warspite can now be pre-ordered for audio – here.

Bookworm III: The Best Laid Plans can now be pre-ordered for kindle – here.


How Not To Publish A Book

5 Feb

I hate raining on someone’s parade.

I mean it. My first thought when I heard of Empress Theresa and the reaction it was getting was to feel sorry for the author. It took me direct experience of his behaviour online – detailed elsewhere – for me to decide he really wasn’t helping his case. I understand how he felt, having his work ripped apart; I’ve had that myself and it isn’t pleasant.

But sometimes there are things that need to be said.

A few days ago, one of those feel-good publishing stories popped up on my Facebook feed. A teenage girl had not only published a book, she’d actually managed to get it into her school library and Amazon. I assumed that she’d had a lucky break with a traditional publisher – there are quite a few stories like that out there – and checked the link. At that point, I realised she’d made a fatal mistake. She’d used a vanity press. (The article actually states she researched publishing companies and spent money on having her book published.)

So what, you might ask, is wrong with that?

There are, as a general rule, three ways to get published these days. Traditional publishing, the oldest way, involves sending your work to a publisher, who decides to buy it and sell it. The publisher does everything, from the editing to cover design, and then puts it on bookshelves and libraries all over the country. Traditional publishing has many problems these days, but it still carries a certain prestige. An editor read the book, liked it and paid an advance! That’s why so many authors would still sell their souls to have a book picked up by a traditional publisher.

[I see a horror story here <grin>]

Traditional publishing does have some other advantages. They can afford to print lots of books and store them, so they can lower the price for individual units. They also tend to know good editors (although I have seen some books with very poor editing) and ways to market your book. The downside is that you will lose a lot of control, unless your name happens to be VERY famous.

Self-publishing is a little different. You put your book on an eBook distributor, like Amazon Kindle, or a Print On Demand service, like CreateSpace. You pay for everything like the cover, editing, etc, but you don’t really have to pay to get the book hosted. The service takes a cut of every book you sell. It’s a good way to build a brand if traditional publishers don’t want you. However, it does have the disadvantage that you either have to do everything yourself or pay someone to do it for you.

Vanity publishing is the worst. Basically, you pay someone to publish your book.

In theory, this works like a traditional publisher, only they don’t take a gamble on your work. In practice, going this way can be costly – there are no shortage of scammers out there – and you will have to do a LOT of work to sell your book. Writer’s Beware will happily tell you all sorts of horror stories about people who have been sold a bunch of goods, then discovered that the services were jokes, books were poorly edited, etc. (Publish America is perhaps the most notorious service.)

There are times, I suspect, when vanity publishing works. A person who only wants a handful of copies, or intends to only sell them at one place, might be able to get it to work. (But surely CreateSpace could do it cheaper.) However, if you want to build a career, avoid vanity publishing like the plague. Your books will NOT be on a bookstore’s shelf. Indeed, most booksellers will avoid vanity publishing, reviewers will not touch them, etc, etc.

Why? Most vanity books have a reputation for being awful, un-publishable crap. Is that fair? Probably not, but having to pay to get one’s book published does not fill reviewers with confidence, let alone any interest in reading the book. It’s the inverse of traditional publishing; someone didn’t pay to read, someone had to be paid to read. A vanity press will take ANYTHING! And I mean ANYTHING!

I understand the urge to want to get a book published. I’ve got it. But scammers love taking those hopes, biking you for all they can get and then laughing all the way to the bank. To the best of my knowledge, most attempts to recover such monies are doomed to failure. You can be conned. If you go into it with your eyes filled with visions of being the next JK Rowling, Tom Clancy, etc, you WILL be conned.

If an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is.

My honest advice, if you are just starting out, is to go the self-publishing route. Do not purchase any boxed services. Pay only for things you cannot do yourself; cover design, comprehensive edit, formatting service, etc, etc. And then put it on kindle and start your next book. DO NOT give money to scammers. They’ll enjoy spending it and you won’t get any return. Save it for something more useful.

Good luck!


Guest Post: Why a Blue Collar American Doesn’t Want A Living Wage

4 Feb

Reblogged from here, with kind permission. 

This is a guest post by the redoubtable Jonathan LaForce, who wrote it up and then let me publish it on my blog when I saw it and wanted it to have more platform than facebook. Thanks, Jon, and I look forward to seeing more like this from you.

Why a Blue Collar American Doesn’t Want A Living Wage

This article really is pretty sad. A business shouldn’t be shut down for this. But reality is that it is and will.

Now somebody is going to say “they just had a bad business model”. Hold that thought for a second.

1. Store sells books.

2. Books come from a publisher through a distributor.

3. In order for those books to arrive, they must be shipped, generally by truck, which means transportation- this is a variable cost, as fuel prices rise and fall.

4. Those books are printed which means you also have print cost, the editing, the advertising, storage facilities for unsold copies, any artwork, the author’s percentage (typically 15-20%).

5. Those prices are established by contract. This is how every business operates.

Now that we’ve established the previous 5 points, and we can pretty well agree on those, here’s three, maybe four more to consider.

6. You cannot force people to buy your product. They have the choice to not read. Borders and Waldenbooks understand this all too well. They went belly up and closed because of it. Barnes and Noble is hanging on by the skin of their teeth for the moment.

7. You can only pay your employees if you’re earning money. If a book cost $10, by the time you finish factoring everything applicable from points 3 & 4, how much is the store actually making off the book, before profit margin? About $1. Which means an hour of employee labor at the $15 living wage means you’ve sold 150 books.

And that’s to sustain one employee!

Now, a typical bookstore is going to have upwards of 20 employees in it working throughout the day. Let’s say you get a total of 160 man-hours at a flat $15 rate (not entirely realistic as it doesn’t allow for higher management pay). That’s $2,400 in salaries. Which means you’ve sold $24,000 worth of $10 books while you were open.

8. That doesn’t include operational costs for power and water. Add in another $10,000 in book sales to cover daily utilities.

$34,000 has to be made each day, at a minimum But you can’t guarantee that, can you? Let’s say you’re having a bad sales day and you only clear half that ($17,000) in merchandise. What do you do to make good the lack? Are your employees going to start press-ganging passers by from the street into the store and forcing them to buy books? I hope not. That’s a good way to get your flammable bookstore burned down around your ears.

What will more than likely happen is that the store will cut employee hours, because they cannot afford to keep that many people employed at the demanded $15 per hour living wage. Not without re-negotiating every single contract they have with publishers and distributors, so that the price is adjusted upwards to reflect an increase in the cost of goods and services- the price of the book goes up! What a surprise!

What this all means is that while theoretically the amount of money you’re earning has increased your actual buying power has stayed the same or worse- decreased! A living wage only sounds good in theory. What it actually gets you is a whole different set of unintended consequences.

At my current employer I make just over $10 an hour. I sell phones and their service for the largest wireless provider in the country. That wage is set based on what the employer feels is a reasonable price for my services. It’s not a government mandate either.

They are currently increasing the staff in our project to 200 sales agents taking instant messenger chats from customers, and we operate 24/7. Not only that, I’m now authorized to work up to 16 hours if I voluntarily wish! This means that I can theoretically make over $1,000 dollars a week before taxes. But it only works so long as I am able to sell phones. If the quality of the product I sell starts to slip, is superseded by something better, or customers refuse to buy, I am no longer authorized to work those hours. The company cannot justify that payroll expenditure. They have a profit margin to maintain. Why? Because if they are called upon to back their investments, those profits will be what does it. If they cannot justify keeping me employed, I get severed. Which in turn means my buying power goes down.

And that ladies and gents is why a fixed minimum living wage is neither practical nor desired. Deregulation of this, and allowing the market to decide would have a tremendous impact on our economy. Yes, it would be rough for some people. But for the vast majority of Americans, it would be an improvement. Certain companies would probably try to justify cutting their workers’ pay down to the bones- only to find that they can’t attract decent employees at $2 an hour with a 20-hour work week. Nor, do I suspect, would consumers stand for it.

End this living wage nonsense immediately, it will do nothing good for us in the long run.

This article is the first in a series I’m going to do on de-regulation, and why or why not it should be applied to specific cases. Special thanks to Tom Kratman, Sanford Begley and Patrick Richardson for inspiring me to write these up. Michael Z. Williamson gets an honorable mention for unwittingly providing the article that serves as the basis for this. And before anybody asks, I’m neither a classical liberal, nor an extreme conservative. I can tell the difference between Obama, Bush, Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Rand Paul and Satan.