Friday, October 28, 2011

Jack in the Box

This is the title of the latest story to be accepted by Byker Books for the latest volume in their ongoing Radgepacket series, which will be number six.

I had the acceptance late last night and was particularly happy as I sent the story in simply months before the deadline and was never quite sure the editor had received it. The good news was that not only had he received it, but read it and enjoyed it enough to stuff it in Radgepacket 6, where it'll snuggle up to stories by some great noir authors like Ian Ayris, Paul Brazill and Col Bury.

Actually, 'snuggle' probably isn't the right word since Radgepacket stories tend to be so edgy you could cut diamond with them, but you know what I mean.

And what's Jack in the Box about? Well, it's a painfully dark tale about a young man cosying up to the local crime boss to get what he wants. And it starts with said young man jumping naked out of the cake at the crime boss's fiftieth birthday party. You can't make much more of an entrance than that!

The book should be available to buy, or at least pre-order, in spring 2012 but I'll post regular updates, and perhaps an excerpt or two, nearer to the time.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


On Sunday Dave set off for a marathon five hour train journey to Kent, where he'd be staying for three days. Five minutes after I'd bundled him into a taxi, I spotted a small dark ominous shape on the hall shelf... his mobile phone.

Knowing he'd be lost without it (it's got all his work contacts, as well as email handling and everything else), I had no option but to make a dash for the station, to try to catch him. I slammed the windows shut, grabbed a jacket and set off, without even the time to change into decent walking shoes.

The train was due to leave in twenty minutes, and it's a three quarter mile trek to the station. Ordinarily that wouldn't be a problem, but it's relentlessly uphill the entire way, the last part a one-in-five gradient, and there are roads to cross and the village centre crowds to negotiate. I half-ran, half-walked, gasping for air on the steepest bits, and rather to my disbelief got to the station entrance just as the train was pulling in.

Of course, by the time I'd reached the platform Dave had already boarded the train but I went and bobbed up and down outside all the windows and luckily he saw me, came to the door and retrieved his phone. One minute later the doors shut and the train pulled away... and I retreated to a nearby cafe for a cuppa while my breath trickled back!

I'm quite proud of myself, though. One happy husband reunited with his phone, and I must not be quite as unfit as I thought I was!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Aspen Mountain update

As of Tuesday this week, the Aspen Mountain Press website has been down, with only the following brief statement to replace the usual content:

"The Aspen Mountain Press web site is temporarily suspending operations.

Over the past five years we've demanded high standards in all areas of the company from authors to editors to administrators. Due to the current health of the owner these standards have not been met.

We'd like to thank you for your support and patronage over this past half decade and apologize for any inconveniences this decision causes."

On the one hand this is terrific news - someone at the press has finally seen sense and suspended operations while they sort out both themselves and the whole horrible muddle. Books are no longer being sold illegally, outside of contract and/or copyright, and although royalties are still not forthcoming many authors (including me) would be willing to forego their payments just to get their rights back.

On the other hand, there's still that pesky 'temporarily' in the message. This has happened before; the website is starting to resemble a game of hokey-cokey having been up and down about three times in the last couple of weeks. Each time it went down the authors breathed a sigh of relief, only for it to pop back up again a day or so later. This time, it's been down for three days straight, and I'm really starting to hope that it has either gone off air for a major re-think, or closed its doors for good.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wine, women and song

We had a fantastic night with our friends last week when we went to see American folk rock band The Pierces at Birmingham's Glee Club.

The Pierces are two singing sisters from the other Birmingham in Alabama, who have been performing together since early childhood and specialise in the sort of harmonies I remember from sixties groups like The Mamas and The Papas. We first came across them at an accoustic studio performance during the Glastonbury coverage on BBC and were, quite honestly, blown away. Two women, one bloke with an accoustic guitar, and sheer perfection.

On the strength of that, and a few searches on YouTube, we bought their latest album and when we saw they were performing live in Brum, we grabbed some tickets (not before time as the concert was a sell-out) and mugged our friends into going along. All four of us were blown away all over again. The songs were note-perfect, and at one point the sisters sang acapella, with no accompaniment whatsoever, and were still note-perfect. They really are a sensation, and not nearly well known enough.

The only slight downside was that the event was standing only. From the moment we joined the queue outside the doors to the moment we finally hauled ourselves back to the car was a little over three hours. I'd worn flat boots but even so my feet were close to committing murder and our friends ached from head to foot. Still, it was a small price to pay for a great musical evening.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Google email problems

It looks as though Google mail is having serious problems this morning. I logged on to my usual email account in Windows Live, to find over a thousand messages waiting for me, most of them junk.

I went through and deleted the lot... and then found that something had apparently spoofed my email address and was happily sending more spam out *from* my account. ::headdesk:: According to Dave, there are new kinds of spam that activate when you delete the original message, whether or not you open it. That's so crafty it's untrue, and seems to have happened to me.

I've logged out of my email account and closed the program, which will hopefully limit the damage until Google sort themselves out. In the meantime I can't, of course, receive or respond to any email - and can only apologise if any of my readers, friends, relations and contacts have been showered with spam from my account. I'm hoping it's only a temporary glitch...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Unfinished novels

I had to smile at this little snippet in the latest issue of Mslexia:

"At 'six-time failed novelist' Steve Wilson calls for fellow failed novelists to show their faces. "It's time for us to face our shame and share our failures, bathe in our lack of dedication, explore our artistic nebbishness." Each unpublished novel is accompanied by a 'reason abandoned'."

I quite like the sound of this. I could fill a double-decker bus with the files containing all my unfinished novels, some of which date back to my earliest days as a new writer, nearly (gulp) twenty years ago. Since then my style has changed and so have my interests; a vast sci-fi tome, for instance, is unlikely to ever see the light of day because apart from a very occasional flash story I no longer dabble in that genre.

Others may still get tugged off the shelf and fiddled with from time to time, and there's at least two that I still have high hopes of finishing, One Of These Days. In the end, though, I think my biggest downfall is concentration. It's so hard to focus on just one mammoth project long enough to get it written, edited, polished, re-written and submitted somewhere. Some writers can do all that in a matter of months or even weeks, but it takes me years.

The one thing that puts me off joining Steve Wilson at unfinishednovels is the implication that you have to share the entire work with the group. That could give rise to copyright or 'previous publication' issues if hell ever freezes over and I do finish one of my babies. Otherwise, I'd be in there like a shot. If nothing else, it sounds like the perfect place to waste more time that I should really be spending... um... finishing a novel.

Monday, October 10, 2011

New! Spark to a Flame

Remember me saying, a few days back, that I'd had a story accepted by Litro? Well, they've published it today and you can read it, absolutely free, on their Ones to Watch section.

The story, about an arson attack on a school, was inspired by various news reports and events here in the UK, and has a twist that I hope makes it very topical. I hope you all enjoy it, and don't get any ideas involving matches. ;)

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Please don't buy my book

You might think this is a really strange thing for any writer to say. After all, we write books and stories to entertain people, and hopefully to make a little money in the process, so asking readers not to buy our work is a little like an athlete stapling their feet to the track. They're not going to get very far.

However, sometimes circumstances are so difficult that desperate measures are called for, and that's what has happened here. My second pigeon shapeshifting tale, Steal the Sky, was published by Aspen Mountain Press in the anthology 'Shifting Perspectives 2' three years ago, under the terms of a three-year contract. As of the 1st of October this year, that contract expired, and one of the other authors in the same anthology had already let the company's owner know that we didn't want to renew. Under the terms of the contract, as of 1st October all rights should have reverted to the authors (including me) and the publisher should have automatically removed the book from their own catalogue, and notified any third-party distributors such as Fictionwise, Barnes and Noble, Amazon etc.

Sadly, this hasn't happened. Not just for my story in that anthology, but for many books by many different authors all contracted to Aspen Mountain Press. The company's owner has gone AWOL, is refusing to answer emails, telephone calls or letters, is returning certified mail unopened, and hasn't paid any authors royalties for some considerable time.

The last time I was paid royalties on Steal the Sky was in July, and those were already two months in arrears, which means the last actual payment I received was for May. That's six months ago. Six months of the book continuing to be sold by Aspen Mountain Press and other distributors, while I receive not a single penny. Now the book is out of contract, and it's *still* being sold. Illegally, I might add, and the payments are still not being made.

I'm not alone. There are authors out there who are owed hundreds, possibly even thousands of dollars in unpaid royalties. But I'll let them tell their own stories; all I can do is point to my own experience. I emailed Aspen Mountain Press on Monday to remind them Steal the Sky was now out of contract. I've received no response and the book is still on their catalogue.

I will of course be contacting as many distributors as I can track down to explain the facts to them and beg them to remove the book from their catalogues. But in the meantime I can only issue a heartfelt plea - if anyone comes across this book being sold anywhere, please please please don't be tempted to buy it. You won't be doing me any favours if you do because I won't receive a penny from the sales; the only person who will benefit is the owner of Aspen Mountain Press.

It's an unpleasant situation, and sad too, because until quite recently Aspen Mountain were a decent company to work for. That's no longer the case, and I can only sit and watch the carnage as the company circles the drain. Oh, and if anyone out there is considering submitting work to them, don't. Seriously. It really isn't worth the bother.