An oldie but a goodie:
You wake up covered in blood.
Grim and sticky, this one can take you in many directions. Whose blood is it? Do you know why and how you got red on you? What’s your first reaction to waking up this way: fear, anger, annoyance? Do you freak out or take it in your stride? And, interestingly, how long does it take you to notice?
Enjoy your bloody mess.
Part of the Amazon is not your friend series.
In 2015, Kindle Unlimited (KU) changed how it was determining how much to give authors who were part of the program, moving from a ‘per borrow’ system to a ‘per page’ one.
At least one of their motivations for doing this was to prevent authors from trying to game the system by turning out lots of short works. Per-page payments meant that authors of longer works should, theoretically, be paid more.
Over a year on, and I think it’s safe to say that Amazon didn’t achieve their goal. In fact, they seem to have made the scamming problem worse: it got to a point where scam books were taking over the bestseller list and utterly devaluing KU for non-scamming authors.
The Big Flaw
How did they do this? Because, despite the paranoid reactions about Amazon being big brother and collecting all kinds of data on you through your Kindle (including mine!), they can’t tell what pages you’ve read. We gave them way too much credit. They can only tell the latest page in the book that you have viewed. From there, they assume that you’ve read everything from the front cover up to that page.
Hyperlinks are a common – and required – element of an ebook. If you click one that takes you from page 20 to page 300, KU records that you’ve read 300 pages (and pays the author accordingly), rather than the actual 21 pages. There’s also the front matter (copyright statements, etc) that everyone skips past but still counts as pages read.
How the Scammers Scam
You’re probably already seeing how easy it is for scammers to game the system. Where some people said that this would make authors write better stories, to keep people reading page after page, instead you have scammers creating ebooks with links at the start of the book to offers and competitions on the last page, to make them get paid for the entire book’s worth of pages even if you haven’t actually read them.
In the middle, scam books typically have junk. There might be enough legitimate, story-like text to fill up the 10% preview to entice readers to borrow it, but the remainder of the book (usually thousands of pages) is trash text, or repeated copy-and-pastes of that first preview section.
If the text isn’t entirely trash, there might be translations of the story at the front, making readers click past pages and pages of Google-translated gibberish to find the English version.
Or, similarly, ‘bonus content’ at the front of the book (instead of the back, where it typically goes in a print book), so readers who want to read the story they’re there to read click past it, racking up a chunk of pages that no-one has read. (This can be used legitimately, because readers can react negatively to a story ending 70% of the way through the book and the rest is ‘bonus’. One author specifically moved her bonus content to the front to respond to feedback and improve reader experiences.)
Another tactic that scammers have used is to put the table of contents (ToC) at the back of the book. As it’s a useful navigation tool, it’s common that a reader would use it, and record a full book read without reading a single page of the story. (It’s worth noting that this could be invisible to the reader; they’re not going to care where they are in the ebook, as long as they know what to read next!)
A ToC is a required part of an ebook, but its location is at the discretion of the author. Many (legitimate) authors move it to the back to reduce the noise at the start of the book, because the beginning section is used as the preview. The preview an important tool for enticing readers to read or buy a book, and they want potential readers to get to the story as quickly as possible. So, having the ToC at the back of the book can aid sales and support readers; it’s not necessarily a sign of a scam.
So, it’s easy for scammers to rack up huge numbers of page views with very little effort. They’ve been so successful at it that scam books started to take over the bestseller lists on the Amazon site, because Amazon factors in the ‘borrows’ and likes to pump up books in the KU/Kindle Select program.
Real authors are the ones who have been paying the price. Because the money paid out to KU authors is a fixed amount, and the portion given to authors is determined by their percentage of the total page views for the month, it means that authors found their incomes dropping at a startling rate.
Unfortunately, Amazon’s response to this issue has been in typical Amazon style: wild and indiscriminate use of the ban-hammer. They went on a campaign of ripping books off the shelves if their ToC was in the rear of the book, despite this being used for legitimate reasons by real authors. The backlash against this was so huge that they wound up back-pedalling on it and allowing rear ToCs. However, by then, the damage for many was already done.
The impacts for legitimate authors are huge. Due to the way Amazon’s algorithms work, books that were removed from the store lost sales ranks and visibility. It takes a lot of work and money to recover the sales position of an affected book. Due to the timing of the bans, at least one author wasted a whole bunch of money on a promotion that coincided with his book’s removal. This has real impacts on visibility, saleability, and future earnings. In short: it hurts authors’ livelihoods.
For some authors, it has been worse than that. One author, Pauline Creedon, had all of her books removed from Amazon, lost all outstanding royalties, had her account cancelled, and was banned from ever selling through Amazon again. The reason? Some of her KU borrows came from ‘systematically generated accounts’ – the type of system a scammer might use to artificially inflate page read numbers.
While it’s great that Amazon is cracking down on this type of behaviour – paying click-farms to bulk up your page reads – it’s clear they’re hitting legitimate authors as well. Pauline says she did not pay anyone to do this, and it’s not like authors can prevent click-farms from going nuts on their book. The spike that she – and other legitimate authors like her – received wasn’t enough to earn her a significant amount, either. Speculation says that click-farms attempt to hide their scammy activities by clicking through ‘real’ books, which is why Pauline is not the only author to be hit by this accusation and ban-hammering. Pauline’s case was a little while ago now, but I saw another report of a legitimate author being punished for this reason just this week – it’s clearly an ongoing issue.
This seems like a particularly extreme response on Amazon’s part (banning for life? on an unsubstantiated violation?), especially when compared to their actions towards real scammers.
Because, on the flip side, when books are reported as scams, Amazon takes a long time to respond. When they do, they might take down an individual book, but do nothing about the account. These accounts typically have a massive catalogue of scam books. Let’s be clear: these scams are not very well hidden; a quick, cursory glance is enough to confirm what is or is not a scam, but Amazon simply aren’t bothering to do anything but the bare minimum.
They are quick with the automated ban-hammers, but slow and minimalist when responding to reports of real problems. It’s pretty clear that their focus is on the quick, easy action rather than solving the real problems.
Since mid-2016, chatter has grown quieter over KU and Amazon’s shenanigans. But nothing has changed: authors must still be on their guard at all times, and we’re still getting reports of legitimate authors being banned out of hand. One particular blog post suggests that authors should query any spike in sales with Amazon, to get ahead of accusations of fraud, rather than simply celebrating a book doing well. It’s pathetic that this is probably good advice, but even that isn’t working for authors who try to do the right thing.
I remain sure that I will not be making my books exclusive with Amazon any time soon, nor will they be available through KU. Amazon has a long way to go before their service is anything other than a waste of everyone’s time and effort.
Here’s this week’s writing prompt:
Humans have discovered that once you reach the age of 130 years, you start to regenerate and get younger. You just have to make it to that age first.
I love prompts like this, with so much packed in there. You can focus on any one of them to tease out a story (or more than one!).
How did someone make it to 130 years old? What happened to that first person who started to regenerate? How many people reached that point before society – or science – started to believe what was happening? Is it public knowledge, or is it a secret being kept by a select few? How does someone handle growing younger again? What would they do with this second chance at life? Is there another kind of limit on their lifespan – how young will they become?
I find the psychology of the idea interesting, and its societal implications. Where will it take you?
A new year, a fresh start, an eager jump off the blocks. That’s the idea, right?
After the marshy struggle that was 2016, I’ve decided to approach this year’s goals in a slightly different way. Part of it is that I know that focus is going to be key; too many things have been left unfinished, and this bothers me.
So, line ’em up and knock ’em down. That’s the plan. Here’s the list!
This novel is what I’m currently working on, and that’s where my focus is going to be at first. I’m in the last section of the second draft now, typing onwards to the climax of the story, and it’s flowing well. This has taken several years to get to this point, and I’m excited that the end is in sight!
So, first goal is to get to the end of the story. Then, to complete the second draft of the novel. Sadly, these are not the same thing: there are a couple of holes I know I need to go back and fill in (hindsight is fantastic), and there is a flashback sequence that needs to be completed and then woven into the main narrative.
Once that’s all done, I’ll be passing it to a couple of alpha readers for initial impressions and feedback to help guide the third draft work.
After that, there will be decisions to make about how much work there is left to do, and what publishing option I’ll be pursuing. But sending it out for alpha reading is where my initial plans for this project stop for the foreseeable future.
The Asylum is due in April or May, so will probably be the next thing I work on after (or possibly during) Vampire Electric. I’ve got some ideas for this year’s challenges, but I still need to write them up and get them ready. After that, it’s a case of setting up the scheduling and running the day.
This will be the fifth Asylum (!!!), so I’d like to take a bit of time to go over the things I’ve tried, identify what works well and what works less well, and do a bit of an analysis. That will help me plan the next one, and maybe come up with something new to try, too.
This project has languished for far too long. Writers who submitted their stories have been waiting for feedback, and because of that, I’m pushing this up my list. I’ll be looking to firstly chase up the stories on my plate to edit (they should all be with their writers for reworks), then I’ll be chasing up the rest of the edits. I may wind up taking on more of the editing myself, depending on what’s happening with the other editors on the project.
I’ll be aiming to get edits back to the writers at a steady pace. It’s a process that takes a few rounds, and is reliant on the writers being able to get reworks back to us in a reasonable time frame, so we’ll see how it goes.
Adventures of the Detachable Penis
Get Part 2 out! It’s all but ready to go. I might go on to write Part 3, you never know. It’s all planned out. I shall see if the naughty mood strikes me!
Finish the last few entries, get it scheduled and up. I’d like to see this one finished off. I might look into collating it into an ebook and releasing it (self-published), but the main goal is to get it finished on Inkspired first.
No particular plans for this year’s November adventure in novelling yet. I’ll be scheming with my co-MLs for what we might do this year, things we want to do again and anything new we want to try.
I want to look into doing a roving write-in on the trains again this year, but that’ll take a bit of research to see if it’s feasible with the current ticketing system.
At this point, I have no idea what I might write as my NaNo project. I guess it depends where I’ve got to on the list above! Who knows, it might even be Starwalker Book 5.
And I think that’s it! But that doesn’t seem like much, right? And where’s Starwalker in all of this? Aren’t I ever getting back to it? And what about all those other little projects?
Starwalker is still on my list, but my struggles in trying to pick it up again in 2016 showed me that I needed the break. That particular story isn’t talking to me very loudly right now, which tells me that I need to do something fresh with it. I’m pondering ideas – it is always percolating away in the background – and toying with some options. But I’ve learned that this sort of thing can’t be rushed or forced; it doesn’t go well.
Who knows, maybe I’ll get a wonderful idea and dive in sometime this year. Same goes for other languishing projects, like the VVSG. Never say never!
No promises at this point, though, just hope.
Always onwards, with hope.
I decided to have a go at one of the recent writing sparks:
You are so tired of burying your friends. It’s time to make a change.
My brain took it in a special direction, and I got to play with second person and present tense, neither of which I use very often in my writing. I had fun, and hope you enjoy the result!
Digging holes is hard work. The earth is harder than it looks, and it hides rocks for the shovel to crash into, sending shock-waves up to punish your already weary arms and shoulders. Your back hurts, more on one side than the other, so you try switching the shovel to the other side, as if that might help. All that happens is that new muscles start complaining. The hole gets deeper.
Bodies, they’re hard work, too. They’re heavier than you might think, particularly when they’re limp and useless. There’s no good way to carry them, and the dangly parts easily get caught on things as you pass, forcing you to stop and untangle them. It’s awkward work, but you’ve learned that it’s best to wait until the rigidity has eased before moving them.
After all, they must be dealt with. The holes must be dug. The bodies must be dragged out, heels scoring divots in your freshly-piled earth. The space closest to your home is full now, which means you have to drag them further and further away each time to reach your newly-dug hole. It only gets harder.
Luckily, gravity takes them down into their new home, though they don’t lie peacefully when they come to rest. You want to hop down there and arrange them in a more appropriate way, but your arms feel like lead and your legs shake with the weight of it all.
You’re honestly not sure if you could climb out again, should you go down there.
It’s easier to fill a hole than it is to dig it, but the shovel feels heavier now when you pick it up. Perhaps it is the drain of the day’s work so far, of digging and digging to make a hole big enough, because bodies require a startling amount of space to lie in, and it seems wrong to force them to fold up just so you can dig a smaller hole. They died, and they meant something to you, so you try to do right by them.
Plus you have to make it deep. Deep enough that you won’t smell the bodies turning into food for the earth; deep enough that the animals won’t smell the bodies turning into food for them. You only want to bury them once, so best to do it right the first time. Only a fool cuts corners and makes more work for themselves.
Or perhaps the shovel is heavier now because of the strain of carrying the body from there to here, so you could put them to rest. Dragging their cold shell with its clinging memories. Sometimes laughter, sometimes shared sadness, always connections. Some way in which lives intersected and forged a bridge. They made you like them, which made you care when they stopped.
You feel that weight in every shovelful of earth you pour down on them. Memories slide off the shovel’s blade and pepper down into the hole. The moment they smiled at you honestly for once. A packet of shared chips. A pat on the back that was almost a slap. You shovel and shovel, and the earth hisses as it goes down and settles, and your muscles burn with the effort of it.
When you finally tamp it down into place with the back of the shovel, your whole body trembles with fatigue. You try to brush the dirt off your clothes, but it clings and stains. You wash your face and hands, but more seems like so much effort. You drink like you’re dying, and eat because you have to, even though it seems like yet more work for your body to do. Finally, finally you fall down into the deep, dark hole of sleep with a relieved sigh.
Burying friends is exhausting work. When the next one turns up, you start to wonder if you’re doing the right thing.
Building a bonfire, you discover, is much more pleasing work. You get to walk through the woods and enjoy the freshness of the air. You don’t have to listen to the crack and slide of the shovel or the rasp of your own breathing; now, the sprinkle of birdsong lights your day, and faraway animals call to each other. Small things living their small lives.
You move about freely, selecting pieces of fallen wood as you please. When you have an armful, you wander back to where you started. A pile begins to grow. Every now and then, you drag a large branch back, and notice that you’re getting better at dragging heavy, unwieldy objects. They’re not as heavy as a body, so you start to feel good about your skills. You’re probably starting to put muscle on, too.
Sometimes, all you need to bring back is a sackful of dry leaves and twigs for kindling. That’s like carrying air. You organise the branches in a circle, throw some of the smaller ones on top, and drizzle the kindling around the base. You maybe get a little artistic with the arrangement. There’s no harm in having fun with it, right?
You arrange a lawn chair and a cooler nearby, upwind and close enough that you should be able to feel its heat, once it’s lit. There’s nothing more pleasing and restful than sitting out under the stars with a roaring fire and a drink in hand.
The sun begins to set, painting the trees in red and gold, like the promise of the flames to come. It is time to add the final piece. Setting up the bonfire was not quick or effortless work, but it was still better than digging a hole.
Dragging the body out is still a heavy, tricky process, and heaving it up onto the centre of the pyre is surprisingly difficult. You wonder if it’s possible for them to help at all, come at least part of the way before they expire, but that would be somewhat unfair to ask of them. At least you’re getting better at manipulating the prone forms with their wayward limbs, and this time you’re able to fold the arms over the chest with a modicum of respect and consideration. Your friend looks almost peaceful. That’s much better than being twisted at the bottom of a hole.
You light the kindling and watch it catch. The conditions are dry enough that the flames crackle and latch onto the larger branches quickly. Light drains from the sky and pools in your bonfire that rises and rises, and throws sparks up as if to complete the cycle. For a while, there is a friend-shaped shadow in the fire; then it, too, is turned to light.
You sit and watch and sip your drink. Perhaps murmur a few words over your fallen friend and wish them well on their way to the next place. Happiness and sadness and all the other memories that bound you to them rise away with the smoke.
Before you head to your much-loved bed, you rake and poke the glowing embers, folding them over into a concentrated heap. Bones are hard to burn but you hope perseverence and pressure will do it. By morning, the wind will have scattered the ashes.
Yes, fire is a much better way to deal with a dead friend than digging a hole. You feel good once you know this, because progress and improvement are worthy things.
It doesn’t occur to you that perhaps you should stop killing your friends when they call by.
In the spirit of the new year, resolutions, and making changes in our lives, here’s a spark to get you started:
You are so tired of burying your friends. It’s time to make a change.
Why are your friends suffering such fates? Why are you left to bury them? Is this change uplifting, hopeful, or more menacing than what has come before?
You decide. Have fun!
2016 is in the rear-view mirror now, so it’s time to see how I lined up with the things I aimed to achieve in that year. As you may guess from the title, the tl:dr version is: not well.
Goal: edit Carnifex.
Result: done and done! It’s a great book and available to buy right now! So happy I could be a part of this project.
Goal: get Everyday Heroes moving.
Result: partial success. The editing on my plate moved on a ways, but the anthology as a whole has languished. This needs a huge kick up the arse.
Goal: finish off the new editions of the Apocalypse Blog.
Result: got through Book 2; Book 3 is still outstanding.
Goal: finish small projects. Specifically: Boomflowers and the Vampire Victim Support Group.
Result: progress made but not published. Boomflowers is coming along nicely, and only needs a few more pieces written to get to the end. I haven’t released any updates to this, as I’m waiting for it to be finished before I do that. VVSG is languishing, mostly due to a couple of troublesome pieces that I need to beat with a stick (ie: rejig until they work).
Goal: more Detachable Penis fun.
Result: I got a cover for Part 2! But managed to drag my feet in actually releasing the next book, so it’s not out yet. This is one of those things where I just need to get my head down and sort it out.
Goal: get Starwalker Book 5 moving.
Result: no movement yet. That’s hard to write, but it’s the truth.
Writing was hard for me in 2016. I tried a few different things, but the truth was, I was burnt out and needed the break. Recognising that was an important step, because sometimes you’ve got to stop pushing, start listening to yourself, and try to figure out the best way forward. Sometimes, that means taking a step back.
Clearing the mental decks was essential for me. I’ve had to assess and reassess my capabilities a few times in the past year, try to work out what’s achievable, and then push forward with some new plans. Taking that step back and taking a break was important, and so was figuring out how and when to start moving again.
The good news is that I’ve come out of that ‘break’ now. I put my NaNoWriMo time to good use (see below) and revitalised a languishing project: Vampire Electric. It’s in its second draft, up to the final stages (well past where the first draft got to), and galloping on towards the approximate 200k I think it’ll be before I get to the end of the story. I’m getting back into the habit of writing every day, and enjoying it!
So, I’m happy to report that the year ended on a positive note. Despite not getting to all the things I meant to, after some readjustment of plans, I’m finally making progress.
Goal: plan it, write it, do it.
Result: done, done, and done! This one was loads of fun, and I had lots of good reactions from those who took part. Some good learnings to carry forward to the next one.
Goal: plan it, do it, achieve wordcount.
Result: done, done, and done!
I had a great NaNo this year, and it was a turning-point for me in the struggle that has been my writing life. I’ve written about how it was actually pretty easy for me to hit the big 50k this year, and the good news is that I’m still writing. Even the break I took over the Christmas/New Year period hasn’t interrupted it much: this week, I’m back writing again, and feeling enthused for the story. It’s a great feeling.
As far as the events go, I’ve written about it here on the blog, but I think we can chalk it up as a success. I had a couple of awesome co-MLs to work with, we tried some new stuff (which I hadn’t originally intended to do, but was so worth it!), learned a few things, and had a great time.
Goal: streamline home stuff.
Result: same old same old. I had planned to move house, downsize, and simplify things, but that hasn’t happened yet. I won’t go into details, but some other things came up and staying where I was turned out to be the easiest and least costly option. It’s all a work in progress, I guess.
Overall, 2016 was a struggle for me. Most of it didn’t go how I’d hoped, I learned a few things, and managed to pull myself out of the bog of uninspiration. By the end, I managed to get myself back to writing again, so the year ended on a high note, which is something to be grateful for.
Now is the time to look forward. To tuck those learnings under my cap, adjust expectations, and try to come up with goals that are realistic but also challenging. And then: get shit done.
Here’s a spark of inspiration to round out the year:
It wasn’t my idea to destroy it, but it was my job to get it done.
What is ‘it’? Why must it be destroyed? How seriously does this person take their job, and why are they so willing to carry out such a task? Is it as terrible as it sounds, or is there something good in there somewhere?
The story is yours, so write it.
Every year at this time, the world is rife with decorations, marketing, propaganda, and strident advice about what it’s okay to say to people when you want to share good will and wishes with them. Every year, I roll my eyes at how people can bitch and complain about how someone expresses those will and wishes.
The way I see it, whatever words come out of your mouth, the intent is what’s important. And the intent here is to wish someone well. Taking offence at that just seems petty and overly precious.
The crux of the issue seems to be religion, and that’s also a large part of why I roll my eyes. That’s not to say that I’m denigrating religion: the part that annoys me is that this has become a religious issue.
The way I see it, Christmas is not a purely religious holiday. Christmas is a part of Western culture that has grown out of many faiths: originally Pagan, co-opted to have some Christian trappings and elements, and liberally sprinkled with folklore characters and details. Christmas is much bigger and broader than all of those sources. The way I look at it, it’s more cultural than religious.
My immediate family members are not Christians. We don’t celebrate the birth of Christ explicitly or intentionally. The same is true of most of my friends and their families.
To us, Christmas is about getting together with family and loved ones. In some cases, reconnecting. It’s about giving gifts and showing others that we think of them, we remember them, we appreciate and love them. It’s about spending time with them, usually so difficult in our hectic lives. It’s about feasting and indulging, which is so frowned-upon in this milieu of dietary rhetoric driven by whatever trend is making the health industry money right now, and rare in a life driven by budgets and careful spending. It’s about taking a break from the stress of our regular lives, just for a short time. (I know, Christmas itself can be stressful, but that’s still a break from the other stress, right?)
In many ways, it’s about loving life and each other, and celebrating that.
I love Christmas in my house. It’s laid-back, it’s warm with welcome company, and I get to share gifts with people I care about (I love giving people presents).
It means so much to me that, in recent years, I’ve been inviting friends over to spend it with us. Specifically, friends who are away from their families, or who can’t get back to them, or who would otherwise spend it on their own. I think it’s good to spend that part of the year with others, indulge in good company and food, and then do nothing more strenuous than move to the couch.
It’s such a pleasure to have them join us and be part of our little celebration. They make me make more of an effort, and I think we all have a better time of it as a result. It reminds me of how big our hearts are.
I don’t think you have to be religious to feel blessed.
So when I wish someone ‘Merry Christmas’, it’s because I want them to feel as heartful and happy as our version of Christmas is, even if they don’t celebrate it (at all, or in the same way). I hope they enjoy this time of year – or even just today – however they choose to spend it. It’s a way to share this celebration with others, even those I barely know. ‘Good will to all men’ is a holiday-appropriate phrase that applies here.
I’m sure that when Christians say it, they have a similar intent, if different because their experience and conception of Christmas isn’t the same as mine. And that’s fine. They, too, are sharing the good will of something that means something to them with others. Even strangers.
I don’t check to see what flavour of Christmas someone prefers. I honestly don’t really care. Similarly, I don’t take offence if someone wishes me ‘Happy Hanukkah’, or any other type of religious holiday or festival-related phrase; I receive it with gratitude.
Because ultimately, it doesn’t matter what religion the recipient is; the giver is the one to whom it means something, who gives it meaning. I understand that they are wishing me well, and I take it in that spirit.
For me to say ‘Happy Holidays’ is to mouth empty words, and I don’t see the point in that, so I choose not to. I don’t mind that people use the phrase, but I do dislike when people attempt to make others feel bad for not using it. That’s not okay, and it’s not in the spirit of the holiday.
(Note: I know that companies and government entities have different challenges and considerations, and therefore so do their representatives. I’m speaking from a personal point of view, here; not a representative or spokesperson for anyone or anything but myself.)
It’s like going to France and saying to a local, “No, it’s not ‘merci’; you should say ‘thank you’.” If what someone is saying isn’t in your language or lexicon, translate it and then react.
Ultimately, let’s not get hung up on the words falling off people’s lips. Let’s try to be considerate and respectful, and understand what someone is trying to say to us. Let’s appreciate a time of year in which people share kind, well-meaning sentiments with each other, even with strangers. So few of us, me included, seldom take the time to share positive wishes with the people around us, so let’s make the best of it.
So you. Yes, you. Merry Christmas.
May it be wonderful in your world, however and whatever you’re celebrating.
Here’s something a little different for you:
A Latin class chant through an old text, and accidentally summon a demon. Or did they?
I love the idea of an innocent activity like parroting words in a class turning into something quite unexpected. I also enjoy the flip on the end of this one. Which part is the lie? Accidentally? Summon? Demon? What’s really behind it all?
As you can probably tell, I love questions and teasing out the answers.