Sunday, 28 September 2014

Interview with Nora Fleischer, Author of 'Zombies in Love'

1. Why did you decide to self-publish?

Zombies in Love is actually the second thing I self-published.  My first book, Over Her Head, was originally published by a very small press.  It was a one-woman operation, and when the owner took ill, everything fell apart.  I was never paid any of the royalties I was owed.  Since the rights had reverted, I decided to put the book up on Amazon and see what happened— and people started buying the book.

It was magical!

The reason I pursued self-publishing with this novel is that Zombies in Love is a quirky book.  I think the romance is pretty broadly appealing— it’s about a woman who’s always been a good girl, who falls in love with the least appropriate guy available, and a man who thinks he’s a screwup but learns to take responsibility for his life.  

But I also started writing it soon after earning a PhD.  People with a degree in my specialty suffer from something like 80% unemployment— and that included me.  I wanted to write about the kind of obliviousness that had made me spend nearly a decade pursuing something so unreasonable.  

I think self-publishing is especially kind to quirky books like mine.

2.  What are you writing at the moment?

I’m working on another romance, this one set in a world where the US won the Revolutionary War but lost the War of 1812.  While a woman tries to avenge the death of her brother, she uncovers a deeper plot against the man who destroyed her family— while falling in love with a man who may have secret plans of his own.  

3.  If your book is a series, what can readers expect in the next installment?

I may continue Jack and Lisa’s story— I have an idea for something that’s more of a mystery, involving zombie fine dining and Zombie Ann Coulter.  It’s very funny and just as crazy as Zombies in Love.

4.  Have you ever had a bad review? What's the best thing to do when you get one?

Relish it.  It’s better to be poorly reviewed than not to be reviewed at all!  Witness Ed Baptist’s scathing review in the Economist, which made his reviewer look like a horrible racist and ended up selling a lot of Ed’s books.

5.  What do you do to promote your books?

I’m still experimenting with this!  So far my most effective way of publicizing my book has been politely requesting people to review it.  I know people have experimented with giveaways, but I find if someone gives me a pen I don’t necessarily buy the book named on its side.  And I’m not sure how effective advertisements are.  

I did, however, pay for a very nice cover from Caitlin Beresford:  I think a lovely cover makes a book much more appealing, and her illustration happened to look a lot like the way I pictured Jack: skinny, alert, and good-looking.

6.  If you were to have a pseudonym, what would it be?

I do have a pseudonym!  I took Nora from A Doll’s House, and I picked out Fleischer (German for “butcher”) when I was on an online writing group and wanted to indicate that I didn’t only give nicey-nice reviews.

7.  Is your goal to be traditionally published? If so, why?

I have been traditionally published, but more commonly under my real name, writing non-fiction. (One reason I have a pseudonym— I didn’t want people to get confused!)  I think that self-publishing is becoming more and more a part of a writer’s full career, and writers should especially consider self-publishing

a. Genres that are popular on ebooks, like romance
b.  Books that have been already published and reverted to the author (so they’re already edited)
c.  Works in lengths that are hard-to-sell, like novellas
d.  Collections of short stories (nearly impossible to get publishers interested)

8.  Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what?

I usually listen to instrumental music (I have a big playlist on iTunes), but sometimes I also listen to WFMU ( or FIP radio (  FIP is especially fun because then I get to pretend I’m on vacation in Paris.

9.  Who is your favourite self-published author?

No question.  Annette Laing, who’s written a series of books about a mysterious professor and a group of time-traveling kids.  It’s like YA Doctor Who!  I especially love the one set in WWII England, DON’T KNOW WHERE, DON’T KNOW WHEN.

10.  What would you say to people who think all self-published books are badly written and full of grammatical errors?

All the grammatical errors in my book are totally intentional.

Zombies in Love Synopsis:
Jack Kershaw just wants to hold on to his new job at Lisa Alioto's pizza parlor, and to keep Lisa from finding out that he's a zombie.  But Jack learns that he and Lisa are in serious danger.   His second chance at life is the inadvertent result of a lab experiment by two graduate students, and Winthrop University-- a school which knows how to keep its secrets-- will do anything necessary to conceal that someone on campus raised the dead.  With the help of Boston's zombie horde, can Jack and Lisa escape Winthrop's sinister clutches?

Author Bio:
Nora Fleischer has a PhD from Winthrop University, and promises every word of Zombies in Love is true. She lives in Minneapolis with her lovable husband Sven and children Wolfgang and Anastasia.”
Find out more here:

The Point of Female Characters in Box Trolls

I was all set to enjoy Box Trolls. Stop-animation has long been one of my favourite animation techniques and I enjoyed ParaNorman, director Graham Annable's previous film. 

Box Trolls tells the story of, unsurprisingly, the Box Trolls - small, trollish creatures who always wear boxes and use them to hide in. One day when a baby boy is supposedly stolen by Box Trolls, Archibald Snatcher - Box Troll exterminator - makes a deal with the White Hat Lord Portley-Rind to catch all the box trolls and, when he does, to receive a white hat of his own...
Meanwhile, down below, the Box Trolls are raising Eggs, a human boy. But he stands between Snatcher and his ultimate goal. Along with Winnie Portley-Rind, Eggs must defeat Snatcher and save his box troll family.

There were a few things I loved about this movie. 

I loved the quirkiness. For instance, Snatcher's henchmen Mr Pickles and Mr Trout battle with their role as exterminators and philosophise on whether they are the 'good guys' or stooges.

I also loved the stop-animation. It was FANTASTIC.

Finally, I loved Winnie. Despite wearing pink and looking sweet and lovely, she was actually the complete opposite and had a somewhat unhealthy obsession with blood, guts and murder.

But she was still the sidekick and once again we are treated to a children's movie where male characters fill the most important roles and girls are relegated to the sidelines.

There are only three female characters - Winnie, Madam Freu Freu and Winnie's mother, Lady Portley-Rind. And I have issues with all of them and the role their characters play in the narrative.

  • To provide encouragement, support and validate the hero. This is pretty much all Winnie does. When Eggs is losing hope, she is there. When Eggs is in trouble, she is there. When Eggs needs help, she is - mostly - there. Winnie herself feels neglected by her father and is obsessed with being eaten by Box Trolls. These deeper aspects to her character, however, are glossed over and whilst she is brave, bossy and completely awesome, she's not given any more complexity, back-story or importance than that. Eggs, however, has an identity crisis (is he boy or Box Troll!), a complicated history and saves the day. He should be awarded the trophy of hero-ness, Winnie is the table that trophy would metaphorically sit on.

  • To be a joke. Madam Freu Freu is the other major female character. And it is this character in particular that has caused a great deal of debate about this movie, with some labeling the film trans-misogynistic - something I have to agree with.
It becomes obvious quite early on that Madam Freu Freu is actually Archibald Snatcher dressed as a woman. There is no apparent reason for this plot device and I found it more disturbing than funny. Because once again trans-gender women are being villainised and in a children's movie
From the very beginning, the depiction of Snatcher-as-Freu-Freu is an in-joke between the audience and film-makers as Freu Freu is lauded as a beautiful woman and Lord Portley-Rind himself proclaims to be her 'biggest fan'. We're meant to laugh that Portley-Rind has been so taken in by Freu Freu, we're meant to be eagerly anticipating when Portley-Rind will receive his just-desserts and realise the truth. This is a pervading issue and never-funny 'joke' that is used often in pop-culture - trans women 'tricking' men into being attracted to them. This can be seen in one scene when all the white hats try to dance with Freu Freu and playfully slap her on the bottom, whilst she not-so-subtley attempts to catch Eggs in between dance moves. When Eggs rips her wig off and we see Snatcher in a dress, Lord Portley-Rind tells Eggs off and escorts Madam Freu Freu away. 
Snatcher is the villain, certainly, but by making him out as a transgender woman a whole section of society is also being villified in the process.  

  • To be a stereotype. Winnie's mother, Lady Portley-Rind, is voiced by Toni Collette and has about ten lines, most of which are used to critique Winnie's appearance when she arrives late to a ball in a stained dress. As a character, Lady Portley-Rind is practically invisible and plays no critical role, indeed she appears only about a third of the way into the movie. I originally thought she must have died when Winnie was little and was surprised when she was eventually introduced.
Comparatively, Eggs' mother is not even mentioned, so who knows what happened to her. Instead there is a great deal of fuss made about the importance of father's and both Winnie and Eggs desperately want a proper father figure. Mother's and their importance are completely ignored.  Winnie yearns for her father to take notice of her, but seems comparatively uninterested whether her mother notices her or not, suggesting that a father's attention is somehow more valuable than a mother's. And when Winnie's mother does pay attention to her, it is all to do with her appearance - which is, of course, what all women should primarily be concerned with.  
In so many children's movies and books, mother's are depicted in a problematic way that promotes stereotypes we have about women and mothers. I can't tell you how frustrating I found Lady Portley-Rind's character to be. She was highly unecessary to the story, and yet there should have been a great deal more of her in there. For instance, wouldn't it have been interesting if Winnie's mother wore the White Hat instead of her father? 

The town of Cheesebridge where Box Trolls takes place is a fantastical mirror of 19th century England, but that doesn't mean gender roles have to be the same there too. It's fantasy after all and the whole point of fantasy isn't to stick to the same old tropes and stereotypes we're  used to, but to create something new, to create something better. And in regards to gender, Box Trolls did not succeed in this at all. Indeed, its portrayal of women was deeply troubling and archaic.

Children form their world view on the movies, the books and the tv shows they watch. This movie tells them that female stories are not as important as male stories, that trans-gender women are a joke, but also something to be scared of, and that father's play a much more significant role than mothers. 

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Book Review: The Last Circle

Author: Gretchen Blickensderfer
Published: Dec, 2013
Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks
Genre: Dystopian
My Rating: 3 Stars

Synopsis from Amazon:

"If you will not be saved, there will be consequences."

The Last Circle is a chilling and brutal account of a genocide driven take-over of America by radical, right-wing, Christian conservatives.

Based upon existing platforms and quotes from American Conservative political and church leaders, The Last Circle chronicles the rise to power of a United States Evangelical theocracy and the small group of Pagan and LGBT friends who must escape the country in order to survive.

The U.S. economy is plunged into depression allowing a charismatic preacher to seize control of the government as the leader of the Tea Party and 'Revangelism' movements. With the support of a starving nation, he engages in a gruesome, systematic program of religious and cultural cleansing.

Laura Salway is the leader of a devoted group of friends who maintain a precarious Wiccan Coven in Indianapolis. After publicly performing a Pagan ritual in protest of the new administration, they attempt to flee to the safety of Europe. In a cat and mouse chase through the Southern states, they are relentlessly pursued by Shelby Langman, the vitriolic director of the Bureau of Religious Protection, charged with keeping America safe from threats to Judeo-Christian values.

Their terrifying journey tests the limits of the Coven's friendship and Laura must discover who among them is secretly tipping Shelby off.

See the trailer here:

My Review:
Religion and its intersection with modern day realities has always been of interest to me, particularly having been brought up in a religious home and trying to work out my own views and opinions on the subject.

The discussion within this book is certainly a relevant one and something that is important to think about. Each chapter begins with a quote from a modern-day conservative and some of them are frightening in their complete lack of understanding, humanity or even comprehension of the basic fundamentals of Christianity.

The dystopian reality created in this book is a further extension of these beliefs.  Other religions and some denominations of Christianity, such as Catholicism, have all been made illegal and anyone who deviates from the new norm is hunted down and converted - willingly or not. Further, homosexuality and Wicca have also been demonised and Shelby, the main instigator of this reign of terror, is particularly intent on hunting down Laura and the members of her Coven and destroying them for what they represent.

There were several twists and turns and the plot was exciting and surprising for the most part. That said, however, I did find it a little confusing at times in that huge events happened very quickly or were not explained adequately. Further, I found the characters difficult to keep track of on occasion. More character development (or perhaps fewer characters) may have helped in this regard.

In particular I found Shelby and Laura's battle against each other to be a little far-fetched as the two only met in person once prior to Shelby's rapid advancement up the political ladder. I also found it a little hard to believe that such a right-wing Christian government would be able to take control and make such huge massive changes so quickly.

On the whole, however, I liked this book because I think the themes it discusses are very important and there should be more books that take on these subjects. It was also interesting and surprising, if a little confusing at times. A good read.

Interview with the Author

What are you writing at the moment?

I'm currently working on and researching a treatment for a project called 'The Department' -a horror story focusing on collectors of defaulted student loans and their victims. Also my continuing work writing articles for the Windy City Times.

What is your history? Have you always been a writer?

I didn't start out that way. Although one could argue I ignored the clues life was trying to give me. When I was a first-year in grammar school, my schoolmates inspired me to write a story called "The Horrors of 1X'' which they kept asking me to read to them. However, when I showed it to my father, he shook his head and told me to get into dentistry. So, I became an actor, moved to the United States and got married and divorced twice. While this was happening, I was blogging on and off and was told by a number of people to keep writing. So I settled in LA, took the advice of a casting director and tried to make a career, as "a terrorist or a Hispanic Hugh Grant."

It was during this attempt that I co-wrote a screenplay about my year as a Foreign Exchange student and, shockingly, secured an agent who said she “believed in the project” and to send her more. So I moved to Chicago and had a sex-change.

It was only after I was told I was heading straight to hell by a well-meaning Christian that I was inspired to write The Last Circle. Point being, that some of us are very fortunate to know what we are meant to do in life, almost as soon as we open a box of crayolas. Others struggle with the conundrum that is happiness. All I know is that, when I am writing, I find the peace and contentment I have always sought. It was very much the same feeling that I had transitioning. The turmoil just stopped and I was able to settle down and get on with life.

Life had previously given me clues, which I either ignored or fled in blind terror. It was only when I accepted them, and myself, that I stopped running. There's a lesson in that somewhere or, at the very least, a good anecdote to be used during the fish course. 

What is your favourite thing about writing?

As an actor, one is married to another person's story. You become best friends with your character. So much so that you miss her/him when the run of the play is over, even if it's someone you would ordinarily jump off the stern end of a cruise ship in order to avoid. However, you must stay true to that character and her/his ultimate end whether you agree with it or not. To wit: I always though Macbeth should have told his wife to take a flying leap, married a nice accountant from Swansea and bought shares in the logging industry. With writing, you still become best friends with your characters, you still miss them when you finish the last word of the last draft but the control you have over a character's ultimate destiny is yours alone. Rather unnerving how much pleasure can be wrought out of that. 

What is your favourite thing about self-publishing?

I was on the fence about it for a long time. I was always taught that there were no shortcuts in life and so I thought self-publishing was a cop-out. I am not alone on the days I sit beside a stack of rejection letters. A large percentage of them are cards that all open with "thank you for your submission but...". There are also a few with "no thanks" or "not for me" scrawled over the query letter alongside a coffee stain. Those three or four that actually had something helpful to say all revolved around "there is no market for this kind of story." Hence my rejection letters are kept in a yellow folder.

I queried for two straight years and eventually and ultimately decided that, instead of letting the manuscript gather dust underneath the yellow folder as one of life's "oh well, at least I tried" moments, it really hadn't been given a chance. So I took on extra work, saved like crazy and was able to hire a team of story and copy editors, designers and finally the publisher. It was a lot of work and therefore, I don't believe a cop-out or a short cut at all. Moreover it was a project I believed in with all my heart and, just because an office minion didn't see value in it, I did not want to let that feeling dictate either the book’s or my destiny. 

Without a doubt, my favourite thing about that process has been the completely collaborative nature of the experience. It was positive from beginning to end and, while it may lack the marketing power of a publisher, the results are still something I can be proud of and look back upon with great fondness, no matter how it is received in the end.

The bottom line is that I believe, particularly in country which is so lacking in support of them, there is inherent value in every artist. I don't care if it is the star of the latest offering at the Lyric Opera or the 2nd year college student playing the trombone at the Jackson Street subway station. They each have something to contribute to the greater good - the culture of a country where the emphasis tends more to be on who or what can be bought or sold. They open a world created from their passion and their limitless imagination and they should be given every chance to express it.

Personally, I had something to say and was grateful for the means to do so that was not terminated by the opinion of a tired assistant working her way through an arbitrarily determined slush pile. 

What advice do you have for aspiring self-published authors?

Believe in your work enough that you would bet the farm to see it in front of people. Look, it may not ultimately pay financial dividends. I've lost more than a few farms in my time, I have never won more than three stinking dollars on the Powerball and am pretty convinced even the casino doors in Vegas are rigged. But there is wisdom in the idea that you have to discover by doing.

I can tell you that when your work is the best you think it will be, when you have written and rewritten, found yet another bloody egregious spelling error after it has already been proofed and re-proofed causing you to called the typesetter on your knees with your lips puckered, when you have done all that and you hold the final product in your hands, I defy you to feel anything other than unremitting pride. Anything after that is gravy. 

Have you ever had a bad review? What's the best thing to do when you get one?

It's my first book so, at least at the time of this interview, no. However I have been fortunate enough to have been both an actor and a film critic.

Regarding the former, a reviewer once said that my performance in a Jeff Daniels piece called Apartment 3A was “stiff and unbelievable” and she questioned the veracity of my English accent (I was born and raised in Manchester.) It was my first bad review and, believe me, it was the bee-sting that jolted me out of my own fragile self assuredness to see it a low opinion of my worth in print. Looking back, like the agents, I gave a part-time columnist for the Indianapolis Star far more power than I ever should have. I agonized for days on end and seriously thought about packing it in for a harmless career as a Quantity Surveyor.

Then a chain of events led me to become a film critic on a morning news show. When reviewing the Vin Diesel film XXX, I noted that Mr. Diesel “does not belong on a movie screen. He needs to be studied in a Petrie Dish.” Slamming people in the film industry when they presented something that, in my opinion, was “Hollywood crap in its purest form” was fun! It was so much more entertaining both to write and for the viewers who were just as motivated to post similarly impassioned and creative insults back in response.

Ultimately though, did my opinion of Vin Diesel’s talents even slightly affect XXX’s 142 million box-office gross? Nope. Similarly, and I hate to bring up a tired old refrain here but, hilarious as it was, did Ms. Lumsden’s Goodreads question of “what the hell just happened?” even marginally effect Ms. James’s bank account. Not really.

Truth is people are going to buy what they want to buy regardless. In an age when a video of a ferret trying to negotiate its way out of a plant pot can generate millions of viewers on you tube or lyrics that astutely inform us “today is Friday, tomorrow is Saturday and, the day after that, is Sunday” generate an internet sensation, one wonders whether even an army of reviewers calling such artistic worth into question is increasingly becoming more of a lone voice on Hyde Park Corner.

Nevertheless, I still believe in the worth of opinion. How are we to grow otherwise? But, do I agonize about it to the extent that I used to? Life’s too short and Quantity Surveying is boring.

If you could be any character from any novel, who would you be?

Arthur Dent - House be damned, he was one lucky sod.

Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what?

Yes and It tends to be orchestral as those pieces -even ones created around a specific story such as Danse Macabre or Romeo and Juliet- allow you to wander off and spin your own tale, with the LSO as obedient providers of your soundtrack. I am very lucky too. My wife is a violinist. When I was writing the epilogue of The Last Circle, she was practicing a few feet away from me in our tiny living room. Any complaints about the ending of the book can therefore be addressed to her or, better yet, Spirit Airlines, Complaints Dept.  2800 Executive Way Miramar, FL 33025

Do you think the negative stigma surrounding self-publishing is still there?

From a lot of what I was reading on the internet, yes. One blogger, with no small measure of disdain, put it this way: “Suddenly everyone has become an author.” But is it killing the industry or sending it into disrepute? I don’t think so.

Once again, I recall my days as a film critic. You can almost set your clock by Hollywood these days: January- March: Projects studios green lit in order to pad the calendar. April-August: CGI, more CGI and, just to shake things up a bit, some CGI. September-October: Saw 25, Paranormal Activity 15 and the reboot of The Haunting version 3.1 November-December: “Oh go on, give us an Oscar, please? It’s period and we spent some money on the costumes.”

There are few risks to be found here. Why bank on a new work when you can just reboot any number of even Stan Lee’s minor creations ad infinitum? The motivated, young filmmaker who has just enough money to distribute their work online or at a tiny festival in Milwaukee may change that one day. There is power in opening up hitherto closed doors to anyone with something to say. That is exciting and may shake things up a bit. Then again, I am unashamed Pollyana.

Same for the publishing world, so my hope is that it will force traditional publishers out of their comfort zones. I’m not privy to it, but I do wonder what is happening to those agency slush piles now that people can simply write without having to form their own yellow folders.

What would you say to people who think all self-published books are badly written and full of grammatical errors?

If you can do better, then self-publishing has opened up a myriad of avenues where you are more than free to try.

Author Bio:
Image of Gretchen BlickensderferGretchen Blickensderfer was born in Manchester, England. At the age of twelve, she began acting as well as doing character voices on, then, Piccadilly Radio. She came to America at the age of 18 as part of a foreign exchange and was placed with a family in New Albany, Indiana.

In the course of her career, Gretchen has worked as an actor, screenwriter, film critic for FOX 59 and WXNT radios in Indianapolis, a fundraiser for theatres and educational organizations and is currently a staff writer for the Windy City Times in Chicago.

In 2009, she transitioned from male to female and has since lectured on transgender issues for the Adler School of Professional Psychology and Roosevelt University in Chicago. Gretchen sits on the Boards of Theatre on the Square in Indianapolis and The Chicago College of Performing Arts.

She met her wife Sarah in 2011 and the couple lives in Edgewater.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Interview with Luke Matthews, Author of 'Construct: Book one of the Chroniclers Saga'

What is your history? Have you always been a writer?

Not specifically, no. I went to college for computer animation, with the intention of working in special effects. My timing was way off. By the time I’d graduated, CGI had gone through a boom and the bubble had burst, overloading the industry with over-qualified, out-of-work animators. As a fresh graduate, I couldn’t even get an interview, much less a decent job, so I followed up an internship at Wizards of the Coast with a job there.

I’m a pretty big geek, and loved working for WotC, so I kind of set aside my creative pursuits for a while. I was there for four years before they laid me off, at which point I landed at Nintendo, where I worked up until 2013. At the beginning of last year, I had a very serious discussion with my wife about the future, which led to me leaving Nintendo to be a full-time writer/house-husband.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

As a little kid? A marine biologist. I wanted to work with sea lions and otters, mostly. I’m not sure what really happened to that desire, but I know it shifted to more artistic pursuits once I was in high-school.

What is your favourite genre to write in?

Fantasy, without question. I like melding genres, somewhat, but no matter what I write it tends to have some sort of fantasy element. In addition to The Chronicler Saga, I have an idea for a western series… with a fantasy twist.

Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what?

I do. I absolutely cannot listen to anything with lyrics, though. I find it fascinating that any writer can actually concentrate when music with lyrics is playing in the background. It is so damned distracting.

I use Pandora a lot. I know that in the age of Spotify, saying I use Pandora is akin to me declaring my love for MySpace, but I still love it. I have three different stations for writing: If I just need mellow background music, I have a classical station originally based on Beethoven. If I need tension or atmosphere, I have one based on Nick Cave & Warren Ellis. If I’m writing action, I have one based on Hans Zimmer.

All of them have morphed and expanded some, but the basis gives you an inkling of their content.

Why did you decide to self-publish?

Control, primarily. I’d been going the query letter route for a while, but even while I was querying agents I wasn’t sure it was the right path. I received my fair share of rejections and non-responses, which gave me time to really think about it. I decided that I wanted to have control over the IP if it ever came down to it. Were my stories to take off, the idea of the right’s being dumped off piecemeal by a publisher with little to no input from me seemed appalling.

It’s a trade-off, though. Self-publishing is a lot more work for me, and more of an initial expenditure. I paid for editors and my own cover art, and I did all of the eBook design myself. The actual process of setting up the book for publishing is a hell of a lot of work. Luckily, I really enjoyed all the different aspects.

Do you think the negative stigma surrounding self-publishing is still there?

Absolutely. I even encounter it with my friends. People I know who’ve read the book will say things like “It’s actually really good!” It’s that “actually” that defines the stigma. The automatic expectation is for it to be bad, riddled with errors, or both. And that’s not an un-earned reputation, unfortunately. With the barrier to entry so low, a lot of self-published authors are fine with half-assing their work in favor of quantity or making a quick buck. Others inadvertently half-ass because they don’t know any better.

The other issue, of course, is the difficulty of discoverability and the lack of curation. It’s not easy for a reader to find the authors that rise above the dreck. My only advice, there, is research. If a self-published book catches your fancy, take the time to look into the author further. Is their website professional? Is the excerpt or preview of their book free of errors? Do they have an editor listed? Just as there is more work for a self-published author to get their book into readers’ hands, there’s more work for readers to sift through and find the gems. It can really be worth it, though.

What advice do you have for aspiring self-published authors?

Two bits: First, get an editor. However you can. The author who can reliably self-edit is a unicorn. Every artistic person in the world, be them writers, sculptors, painters, or crafters of hand-knit turtle cozies on Etsy, gets caught in art-blindness. You’ll stare at words for so long and read them so many times that you’ll just lose all sense of the errors in the text. That can only be solved by setting aside ego and collaborating with a second pair of eyes, preferably professional. If not an editor, at least a trusted group of beta-readers. Someone else has to look at your text, and you have to be open to changes.

Second, don’t skimp on the design work. Get a good cover. Do some interior design. The automatic conversion software from most of the digital self-publishing services is only just adequate. A lot of tinkering can be done to make the interior pages of an ebook – even with reflowable text – look a lot better than what their software can produce, especially if you take the time to learn some basic HTML/CSS. If you’re unable or unwilling to learn, then hire someone to do the design work for you. It’s absolutely worth it.

Is your goal to be traditionally published? If so, why?

Not specifically, no. If, down the road, I can sell one of my books to a publisher, I may go that route. I’m a pretty hardcore control freak when it comes to the IP rights for things I create, though, so I’m not sure I’d be able to negotiate a satisfactory contract with a traditional publisher. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that choice, I just don’t think it’s for me.

What are you writing at the moment?

Most of my time is spent working on the second book in The Chronicler Saga series, at the moment. I have a couple of other projects I’m dabbling with – a script for an 8-issue comic book series, and the aforementioned western idea – but the continuation of theConstruct story is my primary focus.

What can readers expect in the next installment of The Chronicler Saga?

I’m not sure how much I can give away this soon after the first book’s release, but the second book will be an expanded look at some of your favorite characters from Construct. New characters will be introduced and the plot will be significantly expanded. There’ll be some pretty fantastic surprises for fans of the first book that I’m really looking forward to seeing the reactions to. It’ll be fun.

Book Synopsis:
construct_cover_thumbnail“Matthews’ vivid description, brisk pacing, and page-turning mystery hooked me from the first page. The haunted construct Samuel is as fine an example of a compelling fantasy character as I could hope to find. CONSTRUCT is a delight!”   – Cullen Bunn, writer of The Sixth Gun
The essence of every construct resides in their core. A fist-sized stone, carefully saturated with khet, mounted in a walking shell – the vessel through which experience will shape them. Wipe a construct’s core – strip all that away – and what’s left?
It’s a quandary that now haunts Samuel’s every step. Hundreds of years of life – the chronicle of his experience – taken from him. All that he once was, replaced by visions of a gruesome murder, the piercing silver eyes of a ruthless hunter, and premonitions of his own destruction. All of it punctuated by the one thing that no construct is supposed to be capable of: emotion.
Relentlessly pursued and adrift in a world that sees constructs as little more than property, Samuel now faces the hardest challenge of all – knowing who to trust.

Author Bio:
luke_headshot_3An unabashed geek, Luke is a fervent reader, cinephile, gamer, and comic book fan, and he has been an avid poker player since his early twenties. A life filled with so many hobbies doesn’t lend itself to easy devotion to a craft, but when the beginnings ofCONSTRUCT found the page, those words pulled him inexorably toward writing, now the primary passion in his life.
Luke lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife, three cats, and a rambunctious German wirehaired pointer. You can find more of his words on his blog at, or listen to him babble on about comic books on the Trade Secrets Podcast
CONSTRUCT is his debut novel.

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My Twitter: @GeekElite

Yes, “Emma You Are Next” was a hoax; No, everything’s not okay

From Katherine Cross at Feministing:

4chan Hoax

One thing that can be taken away from all this is that threats are “real” to their targets even if they turn out to be hoaxes. After all, we can understand that a threat to kill someone can have a terrible psychic impact on the target even if the person making the threats has no intention of making good on them. It is precisely the Schrodingerian quality of not knowing that makes these things so torturous.

Threats of this particular kind—attacking Emma Watson because she gave a feminist speech—also have a terroristic effect on any woman in a similar position. Being threatened for speaking out as a feminist is neither new, nor rare, and events that target a celebrity in this way have the effect of scaring thousands or millions more. They serve as constant reminders to women, in particular, that speaking one’s mind in public is to incur the wrath of mob justice.

The internet makes crowdsourcing such attacks easier than ever; the buy-in for mobbing is lower than it’s been at any point in history, and the threat made against Watson was entirely believable because of how 4chan has been at the center of mass sexist campaigns like GamerGate and the leaking of other celebrity nude phots. The hoax would not have gained traction without the faith and credit ensured by past events.

Being a public figure of any sort, regardless of one’s gender, carries a terrible price these days since we are all made to stand before the flaming open vents of social media as a condition of our work. Men and women alike have noticed that the internet is often a furnace of furious and often hateful personal invective lobbed up at anyone with a platform. But for women and feminists the threshhold for being attacked is much lower; it takes less exposure, less reach, less celebrity to be deemed worthy of hate-mobbing. Sometimes the biggest targets are women few people had ever heard of prior to the harassment campaigns against them. I’ve watched friends who are only well known in very narrow activist circles get struck by waves of directionless harassment that come from nowhere and everywhere at once.

One poster on 4chan’s /pol/ board wrote, according to Jezebel,

“4chan holds Emma in high esteem, and while most of us would fap like crazy to real nudes, it’s not us hacking the cloud.

Thanks for listening. Oh, if by some rare fluke Emma Watson is reading this – many on 4chan respect what you’re doing as a moderate, balanced feminist and we don’t hate you like we hate the SJW’s”

No one person can truly speak for a hivemind, naturally, but it is not hard to find similar sentiments sprinkled across the internet: online denizens setting themselves up as arbiters of who is the right kind of respectable woman and/or feminist, and who is not. The implication, of course, is that for those who do not pass the test all the layers of Hell await. But as I said, no one person can speak for a hivemind, and in a society that holds women to such impossible standards, some group, somewhere will find us wanting, even if others praise us for our supposed moderation.


The “high esteem” the anonymous 4channer alludes to is a fleeting thing indeed.

I’ve often called this kind of cyber mobbing “the monster with a thousand faces,” for it does act as a thoughtless mass of Lovecraftian proportions and horrors whose will and reasoning seem nearly inscrutable to the rest of us. It is a constant companion to women online—and our allies as well; men will find themselves beset by similar horrors if they speak up in defence of women, especially those deemed by that 4chan mentality to not be worthy of “high esteem.” Disapproval does not earn you disagreement; instead, it yearns for your very destruction.

It is what made the “Emma You Are Next” countdown so believable. Meanwhile, petty abuse from that thousand-faced monster carries on against many people you have never heard of, with no headlines to mark its occurrence. This specific countdown was a hoax; the culture that created it is all too real.

(Read the full article here)

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Emma Watson's Speech to the UN

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) will activate an online map to track the progress of countries in promoting equality of the sexes

Emma Watson (yes, Hermione from Harry Potter) recently gave an excellent speech to the UN about a new campaign called 'He For She', an initiative that aims to help integrate men into the feminist movement. Her speech was moving, evocative and she spoke beautifully. Within her speech, she addressed real world issues, in particular what, precisely, 'feminism' means. She stated, 

“For the record, feminism, by definition, is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes [...] Women are choosing not to identify as feminists. Apparently, I am among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, ‘too aggressive,’ isolating and anti-men, unattractive, even. Why has the word become such an uncomfortable one?”

Indeed, this is one of the key issues feminism struggles with - the misconception about what feminism actually is. For many people, it is about women only and has no space for men. Making a space for men is, however, the whole point of the He For She initiative. Watson stated, 

“In 1997, Hillary Clinton made a famous speech in Beijing about women’s rights. Sadly, many of the things that she wanted to change are still true today. But what stood out for me the most was that less than 30 per cent of the audience were male. How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?”
“Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation.” [Applause break] “Gender equality is your issue too. Because to date, I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society despite my needing his presence, as a child, as much as my mother’s. I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness, unable to ask for help, for fear it would make them less of a man. In fact, in the U.K., suicide is the biggest killer of men, between 20 to 49, eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease. I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality, either.”
And, hitting out at critics who might readily dismiss her words because of who she is and her Harry Potter history, she stated, 

“You might think, ‘Who is this Harry Potter girl? What is she doing at the U. N.?’ And it’s a really good question — I’ve been asking myself the same thing. All I know is that I care about this problem and I want to make it better. And having seen what I’ve seen and given the chance, I feel my responsibility to say something. Statesman Edmund Burke said all that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing.”

Today when I Googled 'Emma Watson's Speech to the UN' in order to show my boyfriend, the first results were not links to the speech itself, but rather links to the misogynistic abuse Watson has received because of her speech. Links such as Emma Watson targeted by online trolls after UN speech - BBC and After U.N. Speech, Emma Watson Hit With Nude Photo Release Threat. Clicking on either of these links will inform you that 4Chan is hosting a countdown to reveal 'the biggest thing to come thus far' about Watson - supposedly nude photographs, although this may very well be a hoax. Further, there have been a great many abusive, violent and downright disgusting comments about Watson posted through various social media sites, including 4Chan. Rather than paying attention to the He For She campaign itself and the benefits of that campaign, instead it seems as if more attention is being paid to the trolls. I'm outraged on Watson's behalf. I'm outraged that the He For She campaign is being lost underneath all of this. But at the end of the day, the reason why Watson is being trolled so violently and so hatefully is because she has a bigger voice and a stronger social platform than the trolls do. 

Death and Taxes Magazine wrote an excellent piece on this situation and concluded with the following:
'Members of [4Chan], as well as many “Men’s Rights Activists” in general, tend to go apoplectic at even the most mild implications that women might be human beings. For them, this is simply “not allowed” and must be punished swiftly and severely, as they appear to believe that feminism is the one obstacle in the way of all these pathetic neckbeards getting their pick of supermodel girlfriends who obey their every whim.
The goal is to make it as uncomfortable to speak out about misogyny and women’s issues as possible, the goal is to make it a scary thing to do, which is why they go to the wall in terms of harassing women like Emma Watson. At the end of the day, this is the crux of it. It would be sad if it weren’t so vile.'
Feminism is constantly battling against misconceptions. Firstly a great many people - both men and women - are unclear about what feminism actually is and confuse it with man-hating rather than equality of the sexes. Secondly, as feminism is about equality, it is in men's interests to support it. For instance, feminism tackles men's issues such as the importance of men being valued as fathers, not just women being valued in roles other than mother.

And that is what is important to take from all this. The He For She campaign is an important and necessary initiative. It shouldn't be lost among the louder outrage that surrounds Watson's speech. Feminism is not just for women. It is for men too.

Watch Watson's full speech here or read the full transcript of her speech here.

Monday, 22 September 2014

From the Blog of J.A. Konrath:

J. A. Konrath copyright
Elsewhere on the Internets, David Gaughran gives the publishing industry a spanking, Dan Meadows gives Douglas Preston a spanking, and Hugh Howey gives Authors United a spanking.

I'm finding this highly amusing. The Hachette/Amazon situation has become a true comedy of errors. It's like watching Groucho Marx lead Freedonia into war by intentionally being greedy, dishonest, and self-serving.

I'm not sure if Authors United is a bunch of elitists who know they're full of shit and are trying to make the best argument they can to sway public opinion because they don't want the gravy train to end, or if they're truly as stupid as they appear.
I go back and forth. Think-tank forced to defend an unwinnable debate, or self-deluded pinheads?
What I'm really enjoying is the Law of Unintended Consequences. They're in a large hole, and they keep on digging. The situation has become a farce. And even though AU has the media in its pocket, the ridiculousness of their stance is becoming impossible to hide.

The same silly things are being repeated, over and over. Preston, Colbert, Russo, Patterson, Turow, Robinson, are attempting to use buzzwords and terms in order to evoke fear and sympathy, and failing spectacularly.

Collectively, they feel threatened, and there really aren't any good ways to defend their sense of entitlement, so they have to zero in on the same nonsense they've been preaching for years; protectors of culture, nurturers of writers, champions of indie bookstores, and defenders of fair business practices. Amazon is using "sanctions" and "boycotts", Amazon is a "monopoly" that is "targeting" authors.
This is all very specific language that the status quo has collectively adopted in order to spin the real story.

Barry Eisler wrote a hilarious piece on this kind of thing back in 2010, and it applies perfectly.

When waging the battle for public opinion, word choice matters. As Barry said in the above article, when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, erupting 60,000 barrels of oil into the ocean per day, the media, government, and oil companies called it a "leak" and a "spill." It was actually an "ecological disaster". But describing it accurately would alarm the masses, so the language was tailored to put everyone at ease.

Authors United can't win on logic, facts, or even common sense, so they are appealing to emotion to sway public opinion, and the language they're using is tailored to that. So the same lies keep getting trotted out, with Authors United hoping that the public will start repeating them and public opinion will side with them.

(Read the full article here)