Fathers’ Day quotes

Fatherhood

In celebration of Fathers’ Day, here is a link to some inspirational quotes. Well, some are inspirational and others are just funny. As the father of a thirteen-year-old daughter, I was especially amused by Mark Twain’s wise words (#3).

Fatherhood can be so underrated, and it’s true that some men fail to take this awesome responsibility as seriously as they should. But it’s always meant a great deal to me, as a dad myself. I love being a writer, but being the best possible parent is much more important.

This has been reflected in some of my writing, with fatherhood an important theme in my first two books, Falling Girl and BASIC Boy. Both stories featured the character Robert Black, a man who often struggled to be a good parent but came through in the end despite his imperfections. I think there’s quite a lot of Robert Black in me.

DCFS: Sample now available – and my close encounter with Fiverr

DCFS cover

Two developments on the Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer front:

As always, any comments on text and/or cover – good, bad or indifferent – are very welcome.

Re the cover, I wrote recently about my conflict concerning the do-it-yourself versus professional designer question. I did try fiverr but wasn’t too happy with the result. I went with a designer who had a pretty impressive portfolio, and I don’t doubt their ability. What I got back was fine from a general perspective I think, but wasn’t at all what I was looking for. I was honestly reasonably open-minded about what I would get back but, put simply, the result didn’t look like the cover of a children’s book to me. It looked more like a standard adult thriller/SF book.

I did provide the blurb and told them it was a children’s book. But I don’t blame the designer for this outcome. To begin with, frankly, what did I expect for $5? (Actually $10 because they also sourced the cover image which cost a bit extra, but that’s still cheap of course.) In fact, the better (and more in demand) the designer is, then theoretically the less of their time that $5 can buy. I can see that from their point of view the whole fiverr thing is a high volume, low margin game. They can’t think too long about each title, or spend much time on it. They will therefore bang out something standard and competent, as quickly as possible. And in many cases that’s probably fine.

I could have gone back to the designer to give feedback and ask for changes, but actually I thought the whole concept was wrong and so essentially I’d want them to start again from scratch, and I doubt that would fall within the remit of the $10 gig. It just wouldn’t be fair. So I’ve basically just written off the $10 to experience. It’s not much to lose.

If I used fiverr (or a similar service) again, I’d choose a designer (1) with demonstrable experience in children’s book covers in particular (though there don’t seem to be many of those on fiverr), and/or (2) will deliver two or more design concepts up-front rather than just one, which probably means (3) charging more than $5/$10 (which is fine – it’s only fair to pay an appropriate amount).

The problem is, my browsing on fiverr to date seems to show the vast majority of cover designers offering very similar things – same rock-bottom price, which therefore covers only one design concept, and very similar generic-looking adult fiction covers (again not surprising for the low price).

I imagine a truly successful author–designer collaboration is one that takes time to develop. The two get to know each other, their work, what they do, what they look for and what’s current in their market. There is a dialogue, some back-and-forth, a development of ideas. A process , in short, that’s far more likely to produce a mutually beneficial outcome than a $5 fiverr gig.

In the end, I did have an idea for a cover, and I ended up doing it in PowerPoint – which I’d never considered using for covers before (and which a professional designer probably wouldn’t be seen dead anywhere near), but was actually quite easy. It also allowed for the text effect I wanted.

Anyway – as I said, any feedback would be very welcome.

And the weirdest comment award goes to …

Combover

I’m always delighted to get comments on my blog, and grateful to everyone who takes the time and trouble to make them. Recently however I’ve had a few slightly … strange ones.

Take this one I got last week, a comment on my post, Is Amazon actually evil?:

There are certain factors that needed to be considered while choosing a wig. Wash with specially-formulated wig shampoo and conditioner. These are available in different shades and colors which can perfectly complement with the natural look of your hair.

Now maybe I’m being a tad pedantic, but that doesn’t seem to have an enormous amount to do with the subject of my post. Granted Jeff Bezos is somewhat hirsutely challenged, but even his sternest critics are surely too polite to bring that up, and too sane to seek to connect it with his business practices.

I haven’t clicked on the link accompanying the above comment, but I’ve little doubt that it’s connected to someone in the wig business – a laudable profession I’m sure – and it’s part of some kind of marketing strategy. Well there’s nothing wrong with trying to make a living I suppose. I’m just not convinced I like them using my blog to do so, or that it will do them much good anyway.

 

37 things that always happen during a heatwave

sun

OK it’s got nothing to do with writing, but I saw this article today and found it quite amusing. The weather in the UK has been amazingly warm recently and I can identify with many of the things mentioned. Brits aren’t very good in hot weather – just not used to it. Sleeping at night is a particular issue.

And of course summer can be a big distraction from writing – and quite rightly so, really. Who wants to be hunched up in front of a keyboard, in a dim curtained room, while the sun blazes invitingly outside? Well … sometimes that sounds pretty good actually – beats getting sunburnt – but I do love summer and it’s good to get out and about. Heaven knows, it’s cold and wet enough of the time in the UK, we’ve got to make the most of fine weather.

But I have been getting some writing done too, here and there, and the project I’m working on is something of a departure for me – more on that soon. In the meantime – enjoy the summer* everyone.

(* Except if it’s winter where you are, in which case – well, erm, enjoy that …)

Airplane shorts

Stephen Stucker

A bit of movie trivia for you: last weekend I bought a pair of shorts at J. C. Penney, and they were on sale price. I now refer to them as my Airplane shorts. Why?

(Well, one reason is that I clearly have a rather weird sense of humour, but apart from that I mean.)

This is my first post for a month, I’ve just realised. This was going to be a serious, deep ‘n’ meaningful opinion piece about Amazon, specifically in light of their current dispute with Hachette. I still intend to write that, but I’ve been putting it off because I’ve struggled to find the time. Hence the short shorts thing.

There is another angle to this though. If you’ve been paying attention, and you know a bit about me, you might be thinking, ‘hang on, this guy lives in the UK, so what was he doing in J. C. Penney?’. Which is a good question. The reason is that I work in a UK office of a US-based company, and my day job recently took me to the HQ in New York. (Actually, New Jersey, but only just over the Hudson from Manhattan, and New York sounds better – sorry, NJ’ers.) Hence I found myself in Penney’s in a Jersey City mall one Saturday afternoon.

All of which made me reflect on the fact that, in common with hordes of part-time writers, I long to write full-time and hence can tend to regard my day job as a necessary evil at best and a damned pain in the proverbial at worst .. and yet that day job has compensations. Like the occasional week in NJ/NY, including a Sunday in Manhattan, which on this occasion I spent at the fabulous Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of my favourite places on earth. Plus my job is actually quite interesting – and has become a little more so recently – and I do work with some seriously nice people too. So the lesson is – I should count my blessings.

I’d still rather be writing though …

 

Dungeons & Dragons: Moral Panic, 1980s style

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The more things change, the more they stay the same – or so it often seems. Back in the 1980s the Internet was a distant dream. So we didn’t have online porn, videos of jihadists beheading infidels, paedophile-haunted chat-rooms or unlimited 24-hour gambling. And although we had video games, blobby little men being chased around by unconvincingly blocky aliens was about as scary as they got.

But there was another threat to our youth, one that involved dice, optional miniature figurines and characters with names like Thong. (Well maybe not Thong – at least not in the version I played …) I was fascinated by this article which describes some of the controversy caused by the craze for fantasy role playing games in the pre-WWW era.

Reading the article now, it seems quaint, almost laughable that such a primitive (in more ways than one) pastime was a source of so much moral panic. By the time I got involved, in about 1983, the principal fear (as reflected in BASIC Boy) was of the mantle of geekhood increasingly being bestowed upon the brave goblin-fighting warriors by the rest of society. I wasn’t afraid of being branded a Devil worshipper so much as a spotty oik who couldn’t get a girlfriend (which I kind of was – a spotty oik that is, not a Devil worshipper – but never mind).

(Actually I wasn’t so much into D&D – I’ve always had an aversion to overly complicated games that last four days – but I did absolutely love the Fighting Fantasy solo role playing books.)

Anyway, this is one reason why I like history. It gives you a perspective on events that you can only get from a distance. I wonder what future generations will make of some of the issues and neuroses that obsess us today?

Changing the subject – I’m taking a break from blogging until after Easter. I’m going on holiday with my family and I’ve made the momentous decision not to take my laptop with me. Call it tech detox if you will. It also means I won’t do any writing as such for nine or ten days.

However I am taking the printed-out synopsis of my third novel, which I’ve done next to no work on for several months, and I’m going to ponder and scribble on it in an unashamedly pre-digital kind of way. The era of the word processor has been a massive boon to writers, and I just can’t imagine writing a novel on a typewriter or – even worse – by hand, though of course that’s what authors used to do and it didn’t stop some pretty good stuff being written! But sometimes I think there are drawbacks too. It encourages us to dive in and just write – which might be a good thing in many ways, but not perhaps always. And of course there are all those distractions – the Internet, e-mail, games, blah blah blah …

I’m hoping the space and focus of the next week will allow me to really think about my novel, to plan and ponder, read other stuff, and hopefully come back energised and ready to pound the keys and get the damn thing written.

Hope you have a wonderful Easter.

Are men idiots?

A rhetorical question, you might say! Today I came across this article in a UK newspaper, and it got me thinking. (I usually blog about books or writing, but there is a connection – bear with me.)

The article contends that in modern, Western popular culture – in this case, television specifically – it has become commonplace for men to be portrayed in less than flattering ways. Certainly this can be seen in some advertising, where the male of the species are often seen to be shallow, simple and/or sex-obsessed, and frequently outwitted with ease by sassy, self-confident women.

Perhaps it’s the case that, quite rightly shy of overt sexism or racism, and possibly over-compensating for the overt gender stereotyping of the past (see below), mainstream advertisers have started to regard men as the easiest target.

Roles

For myself, as a man, I can see the article’s point, and I do think that some advertising is guilty of this. TV programmes, probably less so. (I don’t, for example, especially agree with his view about Outnumbered – yes, the dad in that show can be a bit wet, but so can the mum.) But equally I’m well aware that I live in a society where men still have it pretty good. Most top politicians, business executives and high earners still tend to be male – that’s changing, but slower than it ought to be. And it’s important to be able to laugh at ourselves – and let’s face it, most stereotypes have at least some basis in reality …

Anyway – how does this link to writing? Just the thought that it’s important to avoid lazy stereotypes when creating characters – because it’s very easy to do. Specifically, as we strive to draw strong, compelling and authentic female characters in our stories, we should beware of the temptation to short-change the males. Especially the older ones. This may be especially a risk in teen / YA fiction, in which the younger characters are centre-stage and the older ones tend to be in the background and therefore in danger of being merely one-dimensional and under-developed – and if they’re also men, the risk may be higher.

One adult male character, Rob Black, appears in both my novels Falling Girl and BASIC Boy (though in the latter he’s a teenager half the time too). He’s middle-aged and male – the kind of character who, in YA fiction, might not come across in a very positive way. I’ve tried to avoid that, and I hope I’ve succeeded. He’s certainly flawed, and many of this shortcomings are brought into sharp focus as the stories unfold, but so is a deep courage and determination. In the end it’s the kids who really save the day of course, but he helps and he’s clearly there to support them. He’s certainly not an idiot – not entirely anyway. Or at least I hope not.

A very quick guide to the 1980s – yes, even Kajagoogoo

kajagoogoo

My novel BASIC Boy: A digital ghost story is set partly in the 1980s and includes many references to that august decade. Upon its completion I realised that the young of today, poor deprived souls, will be largely unfamiliar with Margaret Thatcher, Yuppies, Dungeons & Dragons and even Kajagoogo. (Just to set the record straight, I am not, and never have been, a Kajagoogoo fan. Got that? I included them mainly as the epitome of a certain type of eighties boy band with cataclysmically bad hair – see the picture for the damning evidence. Not that I’ve got anything against them. Too Shy was a good song in a school disco kind of way.)

Anyway, from BASIC Boy, here is my contribution to the education and enlightenment of today’s youth: A Very Quick Guide to the 1980s. Warning to US readers: it’s quite UK focussed – no Ronald Reagan or Michael J. Fox – but I’m sure, if you’re old enough, you’ll recognise a couple of things. And possibly wince.

Snow White: what happened next …

Snow White

After my diatribe about Morrissey a few days ago, I thought something a bit less serious was called for this time.

Recently I entered a competition to write a story with a maximum of 1,000 characters. Yes, that’s characters – it worked out at just under 200 words. The flashiest of flash fiction basically. I struggled to crow-bar my story into such a tight space and had to perform major surgery on it to do so. The theme incidentally was ‘happily ever after’, and I probably wasn’t the only person to immediately think of a fairy story.

So here is the original, extended version of And they both lived … – still pretty short but I hope you like it: