Sunday, March 1, 2015

Collected reviews.

Reviews from all sources [as far as I am aware] are published at this MEDIA link. If you know of a comment or review somewhere on the net that I may have missed, let me know. 



Sunday, January 19, 2014


Cool.  Big thanks to MCM for the beautiful cover design.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Saturday, May 4, 2013


Strine is outdated, as is the mythological Australian who bids you g'day and speaks of ockers, sheilas, tinnies or being as dry as a dead dingo's donger. [See Bazza Mackenzie circa 1972] Yobbos are now exclusively bogans. [Alt. bo'gahn]

Visitors should now learn Strah'yin.

Begin with greetings: 'Air garn?'

When things are going well for you, respond to the greeting with:
'Yeah, good.'

If all things are not as you would wish, respond with:
'Yeah, nah, arp t'shit, mite.'

In more general conversation, one response (suitable for all occasions) that has not changed is 'nahworries'. It can be prefaced at any time with 'yeah' as in 'yeah, nahworries', and 'mite' can always be added, as in 'nahworries, mite' or 'yeah, nahworries, mite'.

Loosely translated it means 'yes'. [The grammar rule applied here is the age old - If it has one syllable, extend. If it is polysyllabic, always shorten to a single syllable.]

It should also be noted by the visitor that bogans will sometimes substitute 'wuck'n furries' for 'worries' during a conversation, giving rise to the statement 'yeah, nahwuck'n furries, mite'. [That is furries as in durries, (colloq. cigarettes) not as in fur.]

Here ends today's lesson.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


It's foolishness, all this, he said, and sat to watch the game.

Let them all calm down, he said, soon enough it will be done

Sit down, we'll watch the game.

I worry sometimes, though, she said

They bother me, the noise they make. They never stop, I wish they would

But still …

She watched the game.

It's none of my concern, he said, and turned to watch the game

My voice? What is it I could say? I can't begin to turn the tide

What more can I do, anyway? Just sit and watch the game.

Hush. Hush. No need to make a noise. Sit here and watch them pass

Don't draw the fire of crazy men; don't lead the eye toward our place

Don't say a word, it's nowt of ours

Just sit and watch the game.

There is no line of decency, so hush now. Sit here, too

It's come before,  ool come again

It's just a joke, give them a poke, electric jigger in ye hand

We'll laugh together all of us, when this is done and all is past

Just sit for now and haud yer wheesht

Sit still and watch the game.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Mr Churdal lived in a box on the 1174th floor of his modest apartment tower, and for the first time in his fifty year box residency, he was unhappy. 

At some time in the recent past, two, maybe three years ago, he had taken to wearing his shirts backward. He would struggle to button them all the way up, ensuring the collar was tight. The resulting red faced throbbing of his head loaned him the appearance of evangelical zeal, and that look brought with it centuries of gravitas, of towering ecclesiastical edifices and pointed spires and rock hard shafts thrusting at the sky. As for thumbing his nose at clothing conventions, ha! How could he care less what those below thought, when everything below him was demonstrably beneath him?

He had, for some years now, devoted himself to the painstaking construction of a life-sized elephant leg. Correct in every detail, he had crafted it by hand and he knew every wrinkle, every notch, every stubbly bristle. It was dark in his box and difficult to see, but he knew it intimately and he loved its smell: polystyrene and two-part epoxy resin, linseed oil and Morocco-finished leatherette. He had come, with no small amount of pride, to call his construction, “The Elephant”.

The problem which was causing him discomfort had arisen because he'd broken one of his own sound and undisputed principles of being. He had opened a leaflet, junk mail advertising from a local zoo, and his attention had been caught by the image of a blurred and entirely indistinct elephant, its leg shown in high definition hyper-colored detail. He didn't read advertising leaflets. He did not. He had no reason to read such balderdash. He had shelves of literary masterworks with which to fill his bulging, throbbing mind.

And yet… And yet, he'd seen the picture. He'd read the caption. He could not unsee it. ‘There is nothing,' the leaflet claimed, ‘like the smell of a real live elephant.'

It was a shattering revelation and he would have dismissed it as an aberration, but he could not shake the feeling that his masterwork might one day be considered lacking. What if those who came after him - the anthropologists and devotees who would dissect his life in the centuries to come - found evidence of an oversight? The scandal might eternally blemish his legacy.

He needed a sweet snack. He fancied Greek, so he took down a volume of Joyce, layered some pages with crushed nuts and honey and baked the whole in the warmth of his Hands-Free-Itty-Bitty-Book-Light. But he ate without pleasure. His books, his books, were entirely lacking in information on the smell of elephants. He tried for metaphors, he sought out allegories, he came up blank. His only hypothesis, as he loosened his collar in despair, was shit. Elephants would walk in shit, their own shit, and therefore, logically they would smell of shit.

There was only one thing for it. Reluctantly at first, but growing more confident as the work progressed, he saved his leavings and began to build a lifelike layer of shit on the sole of the elephant's foot. And you know, it didn't smell so bad at all!

Meanwhile next door, Ms Coombangg felt her way through the darkness of her box. With fingers sensitized to Braille, she found the perfect place and carefully positioned the last bristle of her elephant's trunk. It was done, and not a moment too soon. The gallery owners would be there in half an hour to collect her magnum opus, this single statement piece for her one woman exhibition — Elephants: the Whole Truth.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


People whose conversation I enjoy have been talking a lot about life-changing times, lately. Decades that have marked crucial turning points in their lives. Realizations that have come, and with them an illumination which has changed the way they see the world, or more importantly, changed their artistic response to the world they live in.

That power of change, the response to an epiphany, has been something I have honoured for many years. One of the quotes prominent in my workspace is:

 “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman (1903) “Maxims for Revolutionis

Being raised unhappily in a strictly paternal authoritarian household where bigotry and social one-up-manship seethed under a thin veil of cultured courtesy pounded into me first an unquestioning obedience, then a slow-burning anger, then a desire for anarchy that was ill-mannered and uncorsetted.

I tried to look through lists of music and films of the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s, and 10s to find favourites and life-changers. There were too many. I have been too many different people through all those decades to find a place to say, ‘that is when I realized I was me’. I have trouble knowing who me is, even now.

What is common to other people’s discussions I’ve followed, though, and all those about planning for their success today, is passion. All the people who get together to discuss the things that precipitated a need to change – or to find a voice in the face of injustice, or to make the time in the life of a busy working wife and mother to write – speak about their passion.

Often they speak about the passion for reading at an early age. Some speak of keeping fading copies of stories they wrote as small children. Some speak of the anger that found a voice through art.

I don’t appear to have a passion. I get passionate about issues. Cruelty, any kind of enabled suffering, makes me angry and outspoken; injustice, bigotry, waste, illiteracy, education failures, health and mental health rights, all other human rights – just the typical lefty sort of ideologies, but generally I seem to be like water.

Water just finds a level and sits, or evaporates and then tumbles down again, or slowly erodes obstacles. Water only gets any grit about it when there is some external force causing a disturbance. That’s me. No passion. Water. Lucky water.

I haven’t had to struggle for any of the successes I’ve had; I’ve just been in the right place at the right time and known the right people. I’m not competitive at all. I cannot win a race. If someone is in a hurry to get past me I am as likely to step aside and offer them my skates to make their journey easier. That isn’t saintly – it’s just that I don’t care if someone gets where they’re going ahead of me.

I think that’s why I feel so lost in this new world.

I cannot compete. I cannot call out continually, ‘Mine is best’. And among those who have no need to succeed in terms of recognition, I have no passion to drive me on to make myself find my very best and put it out there for others. I need external stimuli, deadlines, causes. I need to have something important to say that someone else hasn’t already said better.

The only thing I have in common with the world of other artists is this endless, circular, self-destructive, ego-driven fascination with myself and telling everyone else about it.



Friday, May 25, 2012

TOUCHSTONE REVIEW: To Read or Not to Read.

Another lovely review for Touchstone - big thanks to Marcie and Nancy from To Read or Not to Read.

"My thoughts:
Together they survived the war. But can they survive peace when it means different things to each of them?

Freya was born into a world of poverty.  Her only out of this life is to become a soldier. She is strong, courageous, and well skilled in the art of war.  This has been her life, this is all she knows, and is convinced there is no life outside the Army....
 Touchstone is a well written historical novel ....  It is a hard life and sometimes a short life for those who made the life of a soldier their own.  I liked the strength of Freya as she struggled with decisions she had to make as well as Dragan's compassion and understanding for his wife as he tries to eek out a living on the family farm.  Although  I was not clear where the story was going at times, I found Touchstone a good read."

For more of Nancy's thoughts, go to the review.

And the best thing about great reviewers like Nancy - they have great followers, like writer/avid reader Janiera who find something a little bit different that might just catch their eye.

Thank you all, ladies.

And the ending comes up again. Nancy felt it was abrupt - something readers have agreed or disagreed with in equal measure, and it seems to depend on which character the reader relates most to, how they see the ending.

I'm hearing three different thoughts. Those that love Freya think she did what she had to do; those that loved Dragan think, good riddance and maybe Lenka at least appreciates what she has; those that wish for a happy ending are left wondering what happened. :)

What do you think? I guess you'll have to read it and find out!!


Friday, May 18, 2012


Look what I just found when I followed the MERGE links to Black Sun Reviews: A WONDERFUL review of Touchstone from Soleil Noir. 

I love the review - I agree with Soleil because I love Freya too. Only just this morning I had a chat with someone who loved Dragan - and hoped he and Lenka would find happiness without my lovely warrior girl! Each to his own huh. I'm with Soleil... Check her thoughts: 

I had a hard time writing a review forTouchstone, not because it isn’t beautifully written and thought-provoking, it definitely is. The trouble lies in the fact that the blurb is just a little too good at telling you everything you need to know about the story. This is a very straight forward tale. There aren’t many surprises to be had. This isn’t a criticism, as I feel the book is mainly character driven and luckily for me the characters are very interesting.

 Freya is the perfect soldier, married to the job. She is a hard woman to love, something Dragan hasn’t yet begun to suspect. He’s all too eager to take her away from this life and settle down. But settling down was never in Freya’s plan. Touchstone doesn’t just ask can two people who’ve only known war survive peace, it also asks what happens when you only love the idea of a person, and not who they really are deep down in their core. This is something I’ve thought about a lot in life and so the book really resonated with me on that level.It also looks at what happens when you take away the thing that we feel defines us as individuals, and whether or not we can live with ourselves afterward.  [more....]

Thursday, May 17, 2012

10 Most Read Books In The World

I recently found this list of Top Ten Books, which is based on the number of books printed and sold in the last 50 yrs.
  1. Bible
  2. Quotations of Chairman Mao – Mao TseTung
  3. Harry Potter – JK Rowling
  4. Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
  5. The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
  6. DaVinci Code – Dan Brown
  7. Twilight Saga – Stephenie Meyer
  8. Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
  9. Think and grow rich – Napoleon Hill
  10. Diary of Anne Frank –  Anne Frank
These lists are always problematic – my first problem was having The DaVinci Code and Twilight even appearing on a list of the ten best anything. But these are the most bought books, assumed to be the most read, not the finest efforts of literary expression.
Others felt the same but had other books they would have liked to see there, or were amazed had not been better represented by sales.
Here are some of the points raised by readers of this list:  [more....]

Thursday, May 10, 2012


I’ve been reading a lot again lately, after a few years of reading very little. I had lost interest in most of what I found on the shelves at the bookstores, finding I was disappointed as often as not. Since discovering online fiction and especially webfiction, I’ve found it is possible to read a great deal without the sort of time and emotional investment needed for a really good novel.

Not that there aren’t plenty of exceptional, emotionally involving works available in serial form, but the enforced wait between updates can serve to dampen the effect just as easily as it can heighten anticipation. Which is, of course, the perfect reason to look to the list of 1889 Labs publications; when you have enjoyed the story in episodic form, you can enjoy it all again, differently, with the release of a book.

But, anyway, back to my day to day. I felt it had been too long since I read some really good fantasy – so, off I went to Google up a list of the best in fantasy titles to see what would tickle my fancy. I found an excellent list, which then directed me to a well known online super-marketplace, where I could find reviews on the recommended titles. Once there, I did what I always do. I read a handful of the 5 stars and a number of the 1 star reviews for each title. [I also add up the number of reviews marked 3 stars and under and then compare it to the number of high scores. See, 3 is a fail, for me. Not for the book, it means it is a fair enough read, but I want to find the BEST. There are too many good books out there to waste time choosing something that is just okay.]

What I found reminded me of a comment made by a friend who worked at a pizza chain call centre. She said, “You only hear from the lovers or the haters.” But I wonder how many times lovers and haters are struck by the exact same points. Do the phoner-inners hate their anchovy with a passion as grand as those who were angry there was not enough anchovy? Does an excess of cheese get a poor reception from the diet-conscious and wild applause from the cheese lovers of the world?

In fiction, it seems to happen a lot.  [more....]

Saturday, May 5, 2012

What is your favourite book?

Just lately people keep asking me the worst possible question. No, not questions about the motivating forces that apply to perambulating ducks, not ‘would you kill your child to save the world?’ not ‘do you want fries with that?’; worse.

What is your favourite book?

How does anyone ever answer that? At any given moment, it might be the book I am reading now or the one I wish I was reading. I do not have any exclusivity in genre preferences; I’ll read most things and enjoy many. There are too many variables that influence my choice.

There is the weather. Cold wet weather makes me want to read classics. If I can curl up in comfy chair with a hot Milo or Irish coffee, with a TimTam and a duvet, then I like to read old books and pretend it is a simpler time or the world is a different place. So I’d have to start with a list of classical Literature that I have enjoyed repeatedly. But to pick one?  [more....]

Sunday, April 29, 2012


You know me; I’m that obnoxious soul who keeps saying, ‘Screw the writing rules’. Every writer knows there are rules that we must OBEY. They are rules, rules, damn it. They exist so we can clearly demonstrate that the weight of educated opinion is with us when we choose to criticize.

Of course there are rules. Even I must relent at some point in the discussion, although I know good people with firm arguments who would say, ‘No, there is no need to relent. Ever. Creativity trumps literary fascism every time.’ But… I have to take a middle road when the choice is there. I argue the case of the Buddha: “Books [rules] are useful for finding your path. Once you have found your path, burn the books.”

In February of 2010, the UK Guardian asked some well known authors what were the most important rules for writing well. Some dug deep into their scholarly vaults and produced great wisdom on the points and counterpoints of language and expression. Like Elmore Leonard, who numbered among his recommendations:

  • Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated” and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” … he admonished gravely. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs”.
  • Keep your exclamation points ­under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”. This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use “suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

But I read through and found those rules which I believe we should all keep to the fore as we labor through our creative worklife. These, I think, are essential and all aspiring writers should be caused to have them tattooed to their inner thigh in remembrance.  

  •  Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can't sharpen it on the plane, because you can't take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils. If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.
  • Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do. If you're using a computer, always safeguard new text with a ­memory stick.
  • Do be kind to yourself. Fill pages as quickly as possible; double space, or write on every second line. Regard every new page as a small triumph ­– until you get to Page 50. Then calm down, and start worrying about the quality. Do feel anxiety – it's the job.
  • Do restrict your browsing to a few websites a day. Don't go near the online bookies – unless it's research.
  • Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, eg "horse", "ran", "said".   Roddy Doyle
  • Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. If it still doesn't work, throw it away. Helen Dunmore
  • Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don't follow it.
  • Never ride a bike with the brakes on. If something is proving too difficult, give up and do something else. Try to live without resort to per­severance. But writing is all about ­perseverance. You've got to stick at it. In my 30s I used to go to the gym even though I hated it. The purpose of ­going to the gym was to postpone the day when I would stop going. That's what writing is to me: a way of ­postponing the day when I won't do it anymore, the day when I will sink into a depression so profound it will be indistinguishable from perfect bliss.  Geoff Dyer
  • The first 12 years are the worst.
  • The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page.
  • Only bad writers think that their work is really good.
  • Write whatever way you like. Fiction is made of words on a page; reality is made of something else. It doesn't matter how "real" your story is, or how "made up": what matters is its necessity.
  • Try to be accurate about stuff.
  • Have fun.
  • Remember, if you sit at your desk for 15 or 20 years, every day, not ­counting weekends, it changes you. It just does. It may not improve your temper, but it fixes something else. It makes you more free.   AnneEnright

  • Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer's a good idea.
  • Don't have children.
  • Don't read your reviews.
  • Don't write reviews.
  • Don't drink and write at the same time.
  • Don't write letters to the editor. (No one cares.)
  • Don't wish ill on your colleagues. Try to think of others' good luck as encouragement to yourself.
  • Don't take any shit if you can ­possibly help it. Richard Ford
  • You see more sitting still than chasing after.
  • It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.  JonathanFranzen
  • Write.
  • Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
  • Finish what you're writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
  • Put it aside. Read it pretending you've never read it before.
  • Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
  • The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you're allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it's definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.Neil Gaiman
  • Don't just plan to write – write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style.
  • Write what you need to write, not what is currently popular or what you think will sell.PD James
  • Have humility. Have more humility. Defend others. Defend your work. Defend yourself. Write. Read. Be without fear. Remember you love writing. Remember writing doesn't love you. It doesn't care. Nevertheless, it can behave with remarkable generosity. Speak well of it, encourage others, pass it on. AL Kennedy
  • My main rule is to say no to things like this, which tempt me away from my proper work. Philip Pullman
  • The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying "Faire et se taire" (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as "Shut up and get on with it." Helen Simpson

Many of these greats said READ. As many said, DO NOT READ.

While Roddy Doyle said, “Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.” Colm Tóibín said,If you have to read, to cheer yourself up read biographies of writers who went insane,” and “On Saturdays, you can watch an old Bergman film, preferably 'Autumn Sonata'.” So who’s right? 

There is only one rule which every writer suggested: Write. Writers write. There you go; the best advice money cannot buy. So off you shoot, then. Start writing.

For the full transcript and a more in depth discussion of the fine points of authorial skill - if you want to know which ‘how to’ manual they recommend; if you want to know the finer art of metaphor use, or non-use; if you seek greater guidance on polysyllabic proselytizing, then go to Ten rules for writing fiction: Part 1 and Part 2.

Friday, April 20, 2012


In 1975, a little known singer called John Paul Young released his second single, ‘Yesterday’s Hero’ and was catapulted to [local] stardom. Ironically, the song itself was about the fleeting nature of fame. JPY was introduced on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s iconic TV series, Countdown; he was Australia’s first ‘created’ pop star.

The show’s producer, Michael Shrimpton, and talent co ordinator, Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum, arranged for girls to mob JPY’s car on camera and to pull him from the stage during performances. He went on to have a few more hits with famously interchangeable lyrics on the same riff.

Now, as the fever builds worldwide for the latest synthetic boy band, I am reminded of JPY in reports of empty seats at ‘sold out’ concerts that leave weeping tweens in the streets outside the venues. We’ve seen it all before. The MO of The Beatles was dissected and regurgitated for The Monkees, The Bay City Rollers, New Edition, New Kids on the Block, Boyz II Men, Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync, A-ha, Bros, Big Fun, Brother Beyond, Take That, Boyzone, MN8, 911, Damage, East 17, Five, Another Level, Point Break, Westlife, No Mercy, LFO, O-Town, US5, All 4 One, 98 Degrees, Hanson, Jonas Brothers, Dream Street, A1, Blue, Busted, McFly, O-Zone, Overground, Tokio Hotel, EXILE, and Super Junior.

It doesn’t matter how many times they do it; we buy it all again and again.

It isn’t hard to fabricate mass hysteria. Advertisers know the psychology of group manipulation backwards. There are a few very basic principals which can be used on the great unwashed over and over again without being questioned. They begin with the simple creed – ‘Act as if ….’

Why does it surprise us then, when we see the same thing happen with books?
Apologies here to Stephenie Meyer who has become, among other things, a byword for the awful made megastar. Once again, it is too easy to use The Twilight Saga to illustrate a point. I first heard of in early 2006, in a raving blog on the website of a small Romance publisher who prided themselves on only featuring authors with ‘the most dazzling talent’.

They weren’t alone in their rave. From Wikipedia:

Initial reviews for Twilight were mostly positive, with Publishers Weekly called Meyer one of the most "promising new authors of 2005". The Times praised the book for capturing "perfectly the teenage feeling of sexual tension and alienation", and hailed the book as "[d]eeply romantic and extraordinarily suspenseful". Hillias J. Martin of School Library Journal stated, "Realistic, subtle, succinct, and easy to follow, Twilight will have readers dying to sink their teeth into it", and Norah Piehl of TeenReads wrote, "Twilight is a gripping blend of romance and horror".

Publishers Weekly's starred review described Bella's "infatuation with outsider Edward", their risky relationship, and "Edward's inner struggle" as a metaphor for sexual frustration accompanying adolescence. Booklist wrote, "There are some flaws here–a plot that could have been tightened, an over reliance on adjectives and adverbs to bolster dialogue–but this dark romance seeps into the soul." Christopher Middleton of The Daily Telegraph called the book a "high school drama with a bloody twist ... no secret, of course, at whom this book is aimed, and no doubt, either, that it has hit its mark. Jennifer Hawes of The Post and Courier said, "Twilight, the first book in Stephenie Meyer's series, gripped me so fiercely that I called the nearest teenager I know and begged for her copy after I misplaced my own." Roberta Goli of gave the novel a positive review, saying that while "the first half of the novel lacks action", the writing is "fluid" and the story "interesting". She also praised the depth of emotion shown between the main characters for pinpointing "the angst of teenage love."

Kirkus gave a more mixed review, noting that, "[Twilight] is far from perfect: Edward's portrayal as monstrous tragic hero is overly Byronic, and Bella's appeal is based on magic rather than character. Nonetheless, the portrayal of dangerous lovers hits the spot; fans of dark romance will find it hard to resist."

After reading this about Meyer’s book, I decided it had to be read. However, on the ground, among real people, I heard readers and reviewers call Twilight the worst book ever written and utterly unreadable. [I’ve read worse, but ….] But they weren’t reviewers anyone got to hear. By the time the NYT reviewer drew attention to the fact that:

“…the book suffers at times from overearnest, amateurish writing. A little more "showing" and a lot less "telling" might have been a good thing, especially some pruning to eliminate the constant references to Edward's shattering beauty and Bella's undying love." Although the Daily Telegraph later listed Twilight at number 32 on its list of "100 books that defined the noughties", it said that the novel was "Astonishing, mainly for the ineptitude of [Meyer's] prose". Elizabeth Hand said in a review for the Washington Post, "Meyer's prose seldom rises above the serviceable, and the plotting is leaden".”

- Twilight had already sold 700 000 copies. And now that it is done, and the last movie has been released, don’t be surprised to find you never hear of it again except in fanfic. When The Hunger Games hype began, my own son was among the many who instantly said, “It’s Battle Royale.” [ 1999 novel by Koushun Takami] But by that time, all those same big end reviewers listed there in the Twilight excerpt had already given a thorough thumbs up to the book and it had become a phenomenon.

I’m not suggesting books are created in the same way as boy bands, but the hype that decides who wins and who loses in the popularity stakes certainly is. No one should imagine for a moment that Twilight or The Hunger Games are the best books of the decade. What they are, are the books whose critical acclaim was positive at the crucial point of public uptake, and whose faults went conspicuously unnoticed until well after their success was assured.

Let me run you through some of the principals of the “Act as if ….” creed.

Every boy band has a ‘just like you’ - they have a cute boy, a bad boy, a cool boy, an ethnic boy, a slightly-less-attractive-and-therefore-more-pullable boy. Susan Boyle also embodied the ‘every woman’ dream. Likewise, much more is made of the everyday personal history of authors’ like JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, and Amanda Hocking than of Suzanne Collins or Joe Konrath, who had writing success before their BIG ONES. So, one invaluable point in acting as if, is acting as if the author is just like the reader – as if the reader is sharing their success. We love to feel close to successful people and that is marketed to the hilt.

Then there is a favorite of mine – people love a crowd. The bigger the crowd, the more people you’ll see there. Acting as if EVERONE loves a book makes us want to belong to the group that loves that book. People always want to belong, except those who obstinately want to belong to the group who are known to never want to belong to a group. Consensus, real or imagined – or marketed – is a strong force for success. We don’t automatically question consensus. We are by nature.

‘9 out of 10 dentists recommended this toothpaste!’ Which dentists? Where? When were they asked? Authority – act as if someone with the authority to know said the product was the best. Reviewers, more especially a select group of reviewers, make or break books in the modern publishing world. The right review guarantees success in the same way that being ignored by the right people will [almost] guarantee failure. We want to be told what to think and what to believe, and all the while we choose to think we have free choice.

And lastly, although it seems ridiculous in some examples, the threat of scarcity is a driving force in marketing success. Act as if the reader will miss out. No one imagined, I’m sure, Apple would not supply enough of their new iPads for everyone to have a nice new gadget, but lining up to be the first has become an obsession with each update. Similarly, parents camped out with their children to be first to hold each new Harry Potter. How would poor Tarquin cope if he was the only child alive not to have his own copy of the Half Blood Prince?

Lesser mortals do market their books with ‘on sale – one week only!’ with the same intention, but it is only with the power of seriously big money that threats like that have an impact in the hundreds of thousands. For today’s boy band, selling only 4/5 of the seats for a Melbourne concert and leaving the little ones heartbroken on the streets outside pays off. Next time, and at the next venue, the little girls will pester their mother to buy the tickets sooner and at any price. Tweenage heartbreak is hard to bear.

With online fiction, there are no authoritative reviewers – yet. The marketing monster that is the big six has not been able to breach the wall of anarchy – yet. And there are other players now, with Amazon and Apple shouldering in, and allegations of price fixing and collusion and market monopoly. It is quite likely, as is often snarked by mainstream book reviewers, that some five star reviews of independent books are arranged, but remember, so are the reviews you will choose to read in the paperback wars.

Why not take a chance and read work that is available free, in serial or ebook, and be brave enough to judge for yourself whether you like a book or an author. Free choices not consciously made are rarely as free as they seem.

For some more interesting thoughts on persuasion check out : “>Robert B Cialdini, PhD – Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Communication with Ax – kelpie cross.

Ax, get on your chair – goes to couch and curls up on it.
Ax, find your ball – runs outside or to last known place of ball, returns with ball.
Ax, get in the car – finds toy, goes to stand beside car door.
Ax, get out from under my feet when I’m cooking – goes to sit under table.

Communication with Ruby – Rottweiler.

Ruby, SIT – wags tail, gaping smile, eyes say, “What?”
Ruby, COME – runs over, tail wagging, gaping smile, eyes say, “Huh?”
Ruby, OUT – wags tail, gaping smile, eyes say, “Huh?”
Ruby, GET OUT OF THE WAY! – wags tail, gaping smile, eyes say, “I’m cute.”

She does have two other reactions.
Rolls onto her back, tongue lolls, tail wags, paddle feet wave at me.
And - wags tail, ears forward, drool falls from lips, eyes say, “FOOD! FOOD? Where’s the FOOD? FOOD!”

Could it be a ‘breed’ thing?

Thursday, April 12, 2012


How do you choose your next book?

I never know what I’ll choose. Cover art first, definitely. I’m a sucker for judging a book by its cover. I look at the blurb, never the comments, and then I’ll open at random and start to read. I don’t have to know what’s going on, as long as I want to keep reading.

But I could start out in any section of the bookstore and I’m hopeless with decision making.

Humor is a favorite. Life can be such a bitch; I really like to read stories that make me laugh. It can be hard to know what will work, though. PG Wodehouse and Douglas Adams are always a sure bet, but their backlist has been covered and there’s no chance of any posthumous releases. Terry Pratchett, Stella Gibbons, Oscar Wilde; all done with their careers, sadly. Should I risk a new name? David Sedaris?

I could move to general fiction. A lot to sift through, there, but I like a book that cracks along. I hate bogging down in detail and slogging through looking at page numbers to see if I’m half-way through yet – but then there are slow books like Moby Dick which I love. Some books have such beautiful language it doesn’t seem to matter if the hero spends a chapter and a half just sitting on his porch watching fireflies. How am I ever to know? Covers never warn of a tedious read.    [more....]


Thursday, April 5, 2012


What has gone before: It was a dark and stormy night and Archetypal Images.

When I first started to think about the popularity of stereotypes in modern fiction, I tried on the conclusion it was to do with the ongoing stupidification of the world; the Orwellian Newspeak ideals that are robbing us of our desire to communicate in anything more than sketches and sound bites; the determination to write in the same Neanderthal grunts modern humans use to speak. But in discussion, a friend began to list one word descriptions of people – feminist, housewife, temptress, hippie – and I realized the formation of complete personality profiles from single words was much older and deeper than any self-destructive cultural phase.

We generally think in shorthand and probably always have. Back when the world related easily to the classics, whole moods, whole histories of characters, could be called up for the reader by terms like ‘melted wings’ or ‘Damocles’ sword’. For most readers, in fact, ‘Orwellian Newspeak’ is a redundancy. Using either reference alone, or ‘Doublethink’ or ‘Big Brother’, would have sufficed to illustrate the point. Our minds work perfectly to translate the entire arc of ‘1984’concepts into the argument. Once an idea has entered the popular canon, it draws the whole boxful of its associations into the shared consciousness. [How much information comes immediately to mind if I say ‘sparkly vampires’?]

We naturally think in boxes.

As soon as we meet with anybody, in reality or fiction, we run the scan over them and box them. We do the automatic comparisons to self, assign them a type, and work out our assumptions and judgments. Those assumptions can always be adjusted as we go, depending on how important that person is going to be, and how much more we learn about them. And when we do not have much time, page count speaking, we do not need to know much more about incidental characters than we can gather in an instant.

Yes, it is nice when we read a story so well devised that every face in the crowd is clear, and every personality luminous. But it is equally tiresome to find an author so in love with their world and their people that they drone on about someone on the sidelines when we just want to get back to the story and see where the main characters are planning to go. Stereotypes are probably used most often by most authors to fit out minor characters.

But most genres rely on stereotyped characters as part of their appeal. Yes, the best authors allow us to feel we are seeing the world through the eyes of a real and substantial person/people, but at a fundamental level, there are character set pieces we expect to see, and we recognize them on sight.

Classical fantasy absolutely demands a set of known characters. They may have quirks, but we need to see a mage, a youth, warriors with swords, thieves, publicans, maidens, witches and supreme evil. We want to travel with these characters on their quest, and we must watch them develop, grow, overcome, and learn through their travails.

Romance novels have had four characters in a thousand different guises since they began: the firebrand, the virgin, the rake, and the gallant. They must share the stage with the old aunt, the sidekick, the evil earl, and the love rat, but their hair color and their historical era only fleshes out the story of the love/conflict/love. That is why we read the book. We want to hear that story again. We want to see love prevail against all odds.

Without the gumshoe to lead us through the dark streets, past the hard faced harlots with hearts of gold and the smart/sweet victims of street-wise criminal sleaze-balls, there is no illusion of swift and brutal justice in the dangerous world of noir. We want to hear again how we can vicariously outwit and out grit the bad guys.

In the massively popular young adult market, especially in ensemble pieces set in schools, instantly recognizable characters are essential. We read these stories about the time in life when we MUST classify and associate and judge and belong and understand the members of specific stereotyped groups because there is a war out there for young adults. That is the time when we are defining ourselves. We must define others, too, and we understand each other best within a known social structure.

It goes on; pick a genre. And each of us choose our genre, with its featured characters all easy to recognize and understand, and we will enjoy the same basic few stories told and retold by the same basic few characters. Through them we see ourselves. Through them we experience the thoughts and actions of others. Through them we ask, ‘what if?’ and find answers. Through these stories, told along the same basic lines since the ancient myth cycles, we try to understand ourselves and others, and the way we all fit into the world we share.

Unfortunately stereotypes are too often used to ostracize or ridicule a group by collecting some known negatives and applying them to all people in that group. In fiction, stereotyping in any form, character or event, or clichéd phrasing and overused memes, is frowned upon. Beginning any story: “It was a dark and stormy night…” and collecting some cut out characters to move through a predictable landscape, should be avoided like the plague. :) But like every rule about what makes a story good or bad, the stereotype rule is best broken.
We need to hear our stories, all seven, or twenty-three, or ten thousand of them, told and retold by characters that represent ourselves and known others. We need those stories.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


Ever notice that when individuals have a problem to resolve, they tend to tell the same story over and over. It might be about their health or their heartbreak, it might be about their job and career choice, or it might be about their childhood or their latest love. Whatever it is, chances are you can say the words with them after a while because if they aren’t telling you again, they are telling your friends when you sit down to a meal together.

You might even recognize yourself, here. Ever get hung up in a loop, going over the same thing endlessly? One of the reasons, a primary reason, I believe, that we go through this rehashing, is in an attempt to make sense of things that we cannot get our head around. Mentally, we retrace our steps again and again, searching for the divine light or a universal insight: a reason for what has happened in our lives. We like to feel we have some control, and we will look for parallels in the experiences of friends, and ask for advice even if we intend to ignore it.

And this process of rehashing is by no means new.

This desire to keep studying cause and effect in the world around us powers the driving need we feel to share stories and the experiences of others. Of course, our personal dramas are a great deal more consuming than fiction, after all, we need to fine tune our standing within relationships, groups, companies, cities, societies etc. We need to make decisions and take actions. But a substantial source of understanding of these groups and societies is found in fiction. 

Individuals have dealt with the same issues, in this same way, in every culture since we first built a fire to sit around at night. And every society, no matter the separation of time or distance, peopled their stories with the same characters. When he developed his theory of collective consciousness, KG Jung decided there were shared concepts, archetypes, from which archetypal figures were drawn to represent humanity in every situation. Archetypes themselves are not characters. They are elemental, parts of the personality which are universal.
 Very briefly they are:
The self -- that is, the identity itself, you as you really are.
The shadow – your deeper side, the parts of your mind which you do not always recognize, but which affect and direct thought and action.
The persona – the mask we wear – the face we put forward as acceptable in public.
The anima – femininity including female in the male personality.
The animus – masculinity including male in the female personality.

These universal concepts are illustrated by groups of archetypal figures, again theoretically recognizable to all societies. They number into their thousands as they appear in response to problems or events, but again, there are some basics:

The father: Authority figure, stern, powerful, the king.
The hero: Champion, defender, rescuer.
The youth: The arrogant, the beautiful, the angsty and overconfident.
The child: Longing for innocence, rebirth, salvation.
The mother: Nurturing, comforting, queen.
The maiden: Innocence, desire, purity.
The helper [sage/hag]: Guidance, knowledge, wisdom.
The whore: Manipulator of weakness in strong men.
The trickster: Deceiver, liar, trouble-maker.
The twin: Duality, the double, the paradox of good and evil in one.
The underdog: Beset by tribulations, succeeds to learn life lessons.
The poet: Artistic expression, creativity.

When these archetypal figures are placed into a story world of archetypal themes and events – birth, death, marriage, conflict, creation, destruction, separation, initiation, etc, experiences recognized by all people - their potential to express and explain the human experience becomes limitless.

Before the advent of novels, mythology and folklore were our source of entertainment and education. The ancient pantheons are excellent illustrators of the principles of universal archetypes. All over the world people told and retold stories about the exploits of their gods, each god a complex mixture of archetypal figures moving through epic adventures and magical landscapes. In very different cultures the same gods with different names were having the same adventures and learning the same lessons. When morals were introduced, stories became fables and parables to guide and correct the masses. These ‘fictions’ helped make sense of the world.

Long after their respective twilights, these old gods delivered their burden of human experience to new audiences as they were Christianized, and on into schools and universities where the classics were studied and their life lessons examined. Their tales were drawn upon and modified by Shakespeare and Chaucer and alike, their character traits and their exploits retold in play and poem, with new names and updated circumstances.

They remain popular today.

Their stories describe fundamental truths that are not eroded by time or scientific advancement. For all we have learned, deep in our hearts and minds we are not so far from the cave’s fire pit; we remember the village hearth; we still carry the mythology and superstitious awe of what lies over the horizon.

With the advent of the novel, a change did take place in the telling of stories. Those archetypal characters still moved through landscapes, but their primary function was no longer to educate. All that was necessary from a novel, right from their earliest days, was to entertain.

Heroes and villains in novels moved steadily closer to normality. Everyday people took lead roles away from gods and kings; the adventures they shared became far more mundane. Supernatural abilities became less likely to be the solution to the ills of society. They still carried those archetypal characteristics which are and were recognized universally, but they demonstrated a more natural blend of traits and their actions began to more closely resemble the everyday.

That is when, I think, stories moved from the examination of archetypes, in all their godly full expression, toward ectypes or stereotypes. Stereotypes fulfill the same role, providing instant recognition of a host of unstated characteristics, but they are toned down. They can be just as difficult to believe, but we know them, and accept them, and will often allow them to fill our pages because we are so familiar with them.

So next week, I will have a chat about stereotypes. Whenever we have a favorite genre, you can rest assured there is a set of stereotypes we enjoy following. I wonder; if they are so frowned upon in literature, why do they remain so popular?


Thursday, March 15, 2012



He crouched in the shadows,
Hands over his ears,
Mumbling prayers.
No one hears me, he said.
No one sees me.
No one comes,
No one goes.
Come closer, I said.
Stand in the light.
He fell to his knees,
Rent his shirt and tore his hair
Then shaken,
He screamed for the crowds behind.
See how they exploit me.