Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Smashwords - an update

After a brief email exchange, I got a note saying that Smashwords have updated meatgrinder. I retried my file (the same one I'd submitted already) and it went through, validating correctly in epub. No more added navigation links or NCX problems. This morning I was told it had gone into the premium distribution catalogue.

The Docks is shortly going to be available in Apple, B&N, and multiple other places. For anyone who is impatient, it is already up at Smashwords in those formats (here). Even without premium distribution, it has over 100 downloads, so it can't be that bad. I just need the confidence to send it out for review.

The sequel is coming nicely into shape, although it seems to be getting longer during editing which is a little unusual. Unfortunately I have one opinion on it already: after I left the printed manuscript out the cats decided it was "highly chewy". As critics, I think they have their claws out for me...

Friday, 24 June 2011

A blurred line - fact and fiction

The line between fiction and non-fiction can sometimes get rather blurred.

"Your book would make a great film" is nice to hear. "I know where this happened" is less so, particularly when you invented the story. I've had three different people tell me they know where Brooke's Vale is and where these events happened. Notably, all three set it in different countries.

There seems to be a drive to assume that where a fictional story is engaging or well-researched, it must in fact be true. This also happens with movies - the scriptwriter for Titanic invented the name "Jack Dawson" without knowing about "J. Dawson" who was a crewman on the ship. It hasn't stopped fans leaving flowers on his grave. In a less benevolent case, actor Andrew Robinson received death threats after playing Scorpio in Dirty Harry.

Nowadays, filmmakers can head this off, to a degree. DVD extras showing the cast getting made up, doing interviews and drawing a line between themselves and their character all help. Authors don't have this option, and it can be very difficult to convince people that the ideas and world you have created are both completely fictional. After all, if it is impossible to prove a negative, how do you prove your characters don't exist?

Part of the problem is that people hear what they want to hear. If someone is getting something - validation, enjoyment, etc. - out of what they believe, they won't listen no matter how strong the evidence is against it. Unfortunately, with the increasing social networks and drive for authors to be "in touch" with their readers, it is easier and easier for one person's obsession to spoil things for other readers, and in the worst cases turn dangerous.

In my case the readers who had blurred the line were sensible people who listened when I pointed out the logical issues with their guesses, and accepted it as fictional. Other authors aren't so lucky. Mercedes Lackey's essay "The Last Straw" covers in detail the problems she had with the Diana Tregarde books, and fans who would not accept she invented them.

To make things more complicated there is the issue of reality mirroring fiction. The most notorious case was the novel "Futility, or the wreck of the Titan" which came startlingly close to the actual fate of the Titanic fourteen years later. The problem is that if you research something thoroughly, and you come up with a scenario that could happen in real-life, the world is a big place and somewhere, sooner or later, it probably will.

I've heard people say that they don't understand how anyone could confuse fact and fiction. On one hand I would agree - I've never read a book, fiction or non-fiction where there wasn't an awareness at the back of my mind that this was someone's (often many people's) work, invention or interpretation.

On the other hand, some authors say that they talk to their characters. If the characters are that real to them, then is it surprising that readers may get confused. If fiction is about telling stories that enlighten people about the human condition, telling truth with lies and fables, then believing in that the story is as true as the message can be very easy. And if fiction is about escapism, then it is easy to understand someone for wanting a better life - or maybe just to get away for their own and not let the illusion end?

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

A Smashwords problem, and a paperback question

Three hours of problems with Smashwords.

To boil this down to a summary:
- I was notified by Smashwords that the epub file for the Docks was broken.
- The epub navigation had an extra link on the end.
- I checked.
- The epub file passes epubcheck.

Investigation results
- The Word file did not contain hidden or malformed bookmarks.
- The error only occurred in epub format.
- The previous three file versions did not have the problem, and had identical bookmarks.
- All epub files pass epubcheck

Resolution attempt:
- I nuked the file - copied into Notepad, stripped the formatting and links and rebuilt them.
- I checked the file: were no hidden bookmarks, malformed bookmarks etc.
- I uploaded the new file.

The same error occurred. The new epub file passes epubcheck.

I think this one is at their end... I also think it's going to cost me too much writing time to fix or get them to look at.

Given all this, Conflict of Interest is likely to only come out on Kindle. It's unfortunate, Smashwords has a large audience and wide distribution, but that's life.

It also means I am leaning more towards a possible print edition of The Docks. If ebooks are this fragile, in business terms I'd rather have another route to market. Depends if RA will pick this one up. However I do already have some bookstore interest or I wouldn't be considering it.

For the sake of my research, what are your views on The Docks as a 96 page novella paperback?

Sunday, 19 June 2011

SampleSunday - The Docks (Free Father's Day coupon)

The Docks by VH Folland

Get The Docks free on Smashwords with this coupon: CK45G valid until 21st June

Harry's in more trouble than he knows, and he knows he's in a lot.

His freedom depends on covering his tracks, and uncovering the truth before the police do. One person holds all the pieces. Unfortunately Harry killed him last night.

Murder, manslaughter or self-defence? When Harry agreed to a light spot of arson, he didn't know what was really planned. Then the bomb went off. Now he's confessed to burglary, could be on the hook for murder and is desperately trying to dodge a terrorism charge. On his side, a bunch of crooks and the solicitor he's dubbed Ms. Pitbull. Against him are his former accomplices, the police, and the inspector who sent him down for ten years.

Chapter 1 of the Docks

Bob had told me we were going to sink the ship, but what he hadn't mentioned was that it wouldn't be empty when we did it. My jaw dropped in horror as I saw the arm, smashing out the cabin window, black against the flames behind it as it fumbled for the door handle on the outside to escape the inferno. Fumbled at the door that Bob had blocked.

"Good night's work, eh?" As he clapped me on the shoulder, I looked at him, wordless. "Hey, don't look like that. A few corpses always helps them think it was an accident."

"Bob, I — Insurance is one thing, but this —" I choked, staring out of the office window, down towards the ship. In front of me the hand was still reaching, the arm flailing, but more weakly. I could see the first tongues of flame licking down the sleeve.

"What?" He looked at me scornfully. "Don't go soft on me now. Remember, you're in this up to your neck." He turned his back to look at the ship and smiled. He was still smiling when the crowbar hit him, his skull shattering like an egg and he went down. To make sure, I hit him again and from the shape of his head I knew he wouldn't be getting up. He should have remembered what I'd done time for when he recruited me.

The boat was still burning, and I knew I had to get across there. I ran out of the dockers' office where we had met, metal burning my hands as I slid down the ladder towards the quayside. The explosives would scuttle her in ten minutes unless they could be removed, placed carefully to look like an explosion as the fuel tanks overheated. With the gangway removed — Bob had said to prevent casualties, now I knew he had lied — getting on board would be difficult. I swung myself onto one of the huge docking chains, pulling myself up. Slick, oil-soaked, the climb was difficult. Twice I slipped, saw my legs dangling over the dark gap between the ship and the quayside where the sea boiled and churned, and then I was against the side of the ship, the raised hull too far above to climb. Locking my legs around the chain I released my grip, fumbling for the grappling hook I had used to get on board earlier. One quick cast and it was over the side, hooked on something. I tugged it as hard as I dared and it moved. Slack pulled in in coils until suddenly the line caught and held. I couldn't see what it was caught on, but it held against my tugs, and carefully, reluctantly I put my weight on it, climbing up until I was standing on the chain. It held. No more delays.

Hand over hand I could climb the rope easily, the knots giving me all the purchase I needed. Seconds later I was swinging my legs over the side, and then as I came to my feet, running for the door. Now I was close enough to hear the screams, feel the heat that was beginning to seep through the deck. No time to check the time. I kept running, ducking under the window, feeling the heat of flames on my back and yanking away the fire axe Bob had used to block the door. It came open, and suddenly I was bowled aside as people piled out, desperately escaping the flames. As I came to my feet I was pushed over again, and hands tore at me. For a moment I thought I was being mobbed, and then as I was pulled away across the deck I could see feet kicking at the charred remains of my rucksack.

By the side of the ship, I could see crewmen staring at the missing gangway. Others were trying to find something to replace it. Two more had grabbed fire extinguishers and were heading back passed me towards the blaze. Staggering from exertion, I grabbed one.

"Guy in the dock office. With a gun. Said he'd scuttle the ship in five minutes. Bombs." I was gasping, sweating in the heat. It was all true, but covered in oil, clothes charred, a total stranger, I couldn't have looked a less believable witness. The man stared for a moment, then yelled to the crew. Fortunately letting them out must have given me some credibility, as they abandoned efforts to extinguish the blaze and turned to escape.

A splash over the side indicated a crewman taking a sensible option. Others began to follow. In four minutes this ship was sinking. Anyone close in the water would be pulled under. The rest would be swimming in a sea covered by burning fuel.

A shout came from the end of the deck where a crewman had found my abandoned grapple, still trailing over the side. Hauling it up from the tangle of cables where it had caught precariously he was making it fast to the fixings on board and all I could think was there was no god-damn time. I ran back towards the flames. No one tried to stop me; intent on the rope I don't think they even noticed.

The crew knew the layout of the ship backwards. I knew something they didn't: the location of the fires. I ran across the deck to the front cargo hold, lifted the inspection hatch that covered the ladder. Sitting on the edge, I swung round, arms on the ladders side, feet to the edges, and began to slide. With a hiss of pain I knew something was wrong even as I started to move, the metal slick in my agonised grasp, but halfway down a ladder it is difficult to stop.

My legs jarred across the deck, but I was staring stupidly at my hands. The gloves I'd worn had been light, to allow dexterity and stop fingerprints, not for climbing anchor chains and sliding down ladders. My palms were shredded. I shook myself. No time for this. No time to think, just act. I ran, staggering as the ship lurched, and prayed I still had time.

Defusing a bomb, is a complex and dangerous task, unless it's one you built yourself. A quick careful look to make sure Bob hadn't tampered, grip the metal box in the right place and open it, fourth wire from the left, pull, and pray. Nothing, but then since I hadn't needed a countdown I hadn't added one. If I'd pulled the wrong wire I wouldn't be here to worry about it.

I picked it up, blood slick on the surface, and ran back. I didn't trust Bob not to have set his own "insurance" and I wanted off this boat, with evidence of my culpability over the side. Back in the hold, snatching at the ladder, I let go with a cry of shock.

Trying to grip the heated metal in torn, painful, hands wasn't going to happen. It wasn't a case of forcing myself through the pain, my fingers simply could not close with enough strength to pull me up with both hands, far less one-handed. I stared for a moment, torn between dropping the device here and trying to climb with arms looped behind the ladder, or struggling up with it and risking a jolt that might trigger it. Either way, I knew I'd never make it.

The coils of rope hit my shoulder and trailed past, unwinding onto the floor. As I looked up a crewman was gesturing, shouting something I couldn't hear through the full respirator mask that covered his head. His gestures were clear enough. Quickly I wound the rope round my waist, wrapping my forearm in it. If I fell I'd be in trouble, but I wanted out of here. The crewman vanished, and I felt the rope tighten, but I lifted only slowly. What was wrong with them? At this rate we'd still be here when the ship sunk. I crabbed sideways, getting my feet on the ladder's rungs and began to walk upwards, using the rope purely to replace the grip of my damaged hands. Suddenly the climbing became much faster as, with most of the weight off, the crewman could keep the rope taut, providing the support I'd needed. At the top, I leaned forward, over the ladder, and suddenly the crewman had gripped my shoulders and back, heaving me over the edge and onto the deck.

I didn't stop to thank him, tottering towards the side of the ship that faced open water. With as much strength as I could exert I threw the bomb. The metal slipped in my fingers, slick with blood, flying off at an odd angle. Luckily there was nothing to hit out there but water. The box made a satisfying splash, and sank. The majority of the device was an incendiary meant to trigger fuel fumes after a small charge punched a hole in the metal of the tank. As long as it wasn't hard against anything when it blew, I wasn't too concerned about it. Bomb already forgotten, I turned to try to get off the ship.

There was a sudden thunder and the ship lurched. Flung violently against the dockside, the cargo ship's deck slanted sharply and my feet went from under me. A wave of water splashed across the deck, taking my breath away with cold and shock as it hit, and leaving me scrambling to get upright on the now-slick surface.

Somehow the damn thing had gone off. I shoved away the list of possible causes running through my head — Bob's tampering, defective materials, a fall-back — and focused on the now. The bomb had gone off when it shouldn't, and now I didn't know what the hell was going to happen next. I had to get off this ship.

Staggering on the yawing, pitching deck I headed towards the dockside lights, looking round urgently for a way down. Crewman clustered against the side, clinging to rails and ropes, obviously doing the same thing. I headed for my grappling hook by the anchor — they had to have it secure by now — only to have my arm caught as the ship lurched again, sending me into a group of crewman. I swore at them, trying to jerk my arm free on reflex before what they were saying penetrated and I looked down between ship and dockside where the water churned. Falling into that would be a quick and painful death. Hustled by the crowd I tried to clutch the rail, but my hand slipped leaving a slick red smear across the white paint. Only the pressure of the crowd was keeping me standing, and it was moving, pushing towards a goal I could not see. I had no choice but to go with it until I saw — Thank God!

Somehow they'd got the gangplank fixed, held loosely by chains that jerked and rattled as the ship tossed in the crazy waves that filled the harbour. Crewmen were tumbling across it, skidding and slipping to the safety of the deck. Suddenly I had a goal, and began pushing as urgently as any of them.

Helped by a shove, I was on the gangway, even as the ship yawed upwards and the surface tilted steeply. I found myself falling, painfully grating my arm against the wire mesh that was all that stopped me falling from the narrow walkway. It tumbled me down the way faster than I could have walked it, arriving at the bottom in a bruised and bloody heap. As the gangplank fell away with the reverse roll of the ship, even as it registered that I was on the dock, safe, I was being pulled away to get other crewmen out. Finally clear of the ship, I stopped to take stock.

A body in the office, a bomb in the bay, and both linked to me. I was in trouble.

--End of Chapter One--

Get The Docks free on Smashwords with this coupon: CK45G valid until 21st June

Amazon:(For non-Smashwords users, the book can be bought from Amazon for Kindle. However Amazon does not accept coupons).

Saturday, 18 June 2011

The Docks: Father's Day offer

Get The Docks free on Smashwords with this coupon: CK45G valid until 21st June

Now on to the update: The Docks is out for premium distribution, as well as on Smashwords and Amazon, and I should be sending copies out for review. Unfortunately, I'm a little cautious for a few reasons.

Spoilers are one: spoilers in a review for a crime story would be a much bigger problem than spoilers for action/adventure.

The real problem is the main character. Harry is not a likeable character. He is sympathetic, but only because he's in over his head and he is only in trouble because of his own faint sense of ethics (at least he has one - his accomplices don't). The Docks has an unreliable narrator, in the sense that he's not just deceiving the reader, he's deceiving himself.

The difference between Harry and his opponent, Rivers? About thirty points of IQ and a badge. The reader can put together many of the things Harry misses, misinterprets, or doesn't mention.

After all, if the viewpoint character tells you when he's not lying, you should pay close attention the rest of the time...

I've also been asked about a printed version by bookshops. As this is self-published, unlike Fire Season, this would have to be done POD which takes away from my writing time. On the other hand, guaranteed offers of shelf space are something an author should not turn down.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Reviews and writing

"Well written and suspenseful this novel is an absorbing read."
Book'd Out

A nice way to start the week, with another good review of Fire Season. This one is from "Book'd out" a well-known reviewer on Amazon and Goodreads. I also just received my sales reports for May and June. Kindle sales have remained at the same level, despite the price increase after the launch offer ended.

I've a few things coming up: more reviews, and an indie book lounge interview due in July, so hopefully it will help me reach more readers. "The Docks" is also being offered in the Great Summer giveaway on the Coffeemugged blog (details here).

"Conflict of Interest" is at 12,000 words. Its target release date might slip to August, as the plot has just gone in an unexpected direction. At the moment, this is the manuscript taking up my time, and the reason I've cut back on blogging, twitter, and promoting. After all, there are only so many hours in a day.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Author headshots

One of the issues linked to pen names is the author headshot. If you are using a penname, how do you deal with the demand for a photograph? If you're using a penname for privacy reasons this is almost impossible.

The increase in social media is making it more difficult. In the old days Charlotte Bronte signed her name Currer Bell and that was enough. Now you have to worry about photos, videos, interviews and more and that's all before you start to sell books. This has lead to some authors having to go to extremes. There is an anecdotal tale of a female thriller writer who hired a male actor to manage signings and stand in for photo shoots, or the male romance author who added his photo only after the first books had sold.

Now, I am honestly not sure why this is. If I am buying a book I am concerned about the writing. I can say quite honestly I have never bought a book because of the quality of the author's headshot. I may be biased on this one, after one bookstore took one look at my ugly mug and asked if I could give them presigned bookplates instead of attending a signing. Apparently my face doesn't fit, which to be honest I find rather funny.

I have a running joke that my author headshot is going to be a pair of legs sticking out from under a car/plane/other vehicle.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Updates and progress

My main project right now is the sequel to The Docks. The manuscript is over 10,000 words, the outline is complete and the cover's being designed.

The problem is that the more time I spend writing, the less I have for promotion, and my sales figures for the month so far reflect this. To try to correct this over the next few months there are a couple more interviews scheduled, and blog features booked, as well as some upcoming reviews for Fire Season.

I should be sending The Docks off to reviewers in the next few weeks, as bloggers let me know they have gaps in their schedule. Meanwhile, I'll be back to writing the sequel.