26 March 2015

"Clean Reader" Censorship - Update on Post 14 March

Events never stand still and my original post on the Clean Reader app for use with ebooks needs an update. 

To recap, the app sanitizes words and phrases as innocuous as ‘damn’ with either a blue dot or a replacement word/phrase chosen by the app creators, whether or not these are a near fit to the context or meaning of the text. 

In the post I outlined my severe reservations about this app, how it can change the entire nature of a fictional work, and of my belief it would prove the tip of the iceberg in censorship as the app, and doubtless others like it, were updated and ‘improved’. 

After the post was written I discovered that the app was being facilitated with ebooks sold on the Inktera retailer site, a subsidiary of Page Foundry, one of the retailers my ebooks are available to via the aggregator I use – Smashwords. After deliberation, I decided to withdraw my titles from Page Foundry in my distribution stream, and as a matter of courtesy advised the aggregator of my decision. To give it its due, Page Foundry responded almost immediately to the update from Smashwords and my ebooks were removed from the Inktera site. 

Since then there’s been another flurry across the media. Yesterday I was contacted by Radio 5 Live for an interview which, as it happens, I couldn’t fulfil, and due to breaking news the entire segment was dropped by the programme. Almost at the same time a Google Alert popped into my Inbox through which I discovered that a sound bite taken from my post had been included in the online Telegraph in an article headlined by the author Joanne Harris, and then another to mark us in the MailOnline

As many others have, Joanne Harris wrote a post on her own website concerning this app. As I did, she chose not to concentrate on the fact that the app was replacing perceived profanities, but what exactly this did to the fiction as written by the author and where this was leading. And she did it much better than I managed. Being a celebrity author, a spokesman from the app contacted her, and she responded – see her second post

This morning I picked up a note from the ebook aggregator Smashwords I use, as do many small publishers world-wide. The use of this app has evidently been under consideration. According to the post on the Smashwords site (25 March) Smashwords deems that Page Foundry via Inktera contravened its Terms of Agreement. A request was made to remove all ebooks emanating from Smashwords from use with the app, and this has been fulfilled. 

Which is great news for authors and publishers using Smashwords as an aggregator. 

Until, as the saying goes, the next time.

Update 27 March 2015:

What was I saying about events not standing still? I find this morning that Page Foundry has put out a Tweet saying that its catalogue has been removed from Inktera. Except it's worded more like a damage limitation exercise:

"In support of everywhere, the bookstore system has been pulled from , effective immediately."

As I say, until the next time.

25 March 2015

Wednesday Writing Prompt #15

Over the past weeks I've emphasised the need for some deep thinking where characters are concerned, on the level of what makes them tick, not what they look like.

This week I'm offering the same exercise I offered to my long-ago writing group. Some interesting possibilities, and some fascinating fiction, came from it, so give it a go and see what you come up with:

  • list people by occupation you are liable to see on the street
  • choose one
  • sketch in a few details about this person (who, what, where, when, how, why)
  • this person is approached - who approaches and why?
  • how does this change the person's life? This is your story.
If you want to see this in action, it is one of the short stories dissected in Reading A Writer's Mind...

For a re-run of earlier blogposts dealing with character creation, enter 'Writing Prompt' in the Search This Blog gadget in the right column.


22 March 2015

"The Paintings" now live in all formats

It's good when planets align, and my supernatural chiller The Paintings is now live across all formats. The launch discount on Amazon has closed and pricing stabilized across e-retailers. Enjoy!

"...in this well researched novella the clues are wonderfully placed..."
"...the whole subtle sense of something sinister is very well done..."

19 March 2015

Launching Short Chiller: "The Paintings"

It's Launch Day for Amazon Short "The Paintings". If you enjoy atmospheric mysteries, if you like creepy...

It was supposed to be an afternoon’s appointment to assess a group of paintings.
The client was supposed to be their owner.
The paintings were supposed to be signed.
So why was police tape hanging from the apartment’s door?

Until midnight Saturday (or thereabouts) it remains at its Kindle launch price of 99p / 99c. The link should redirect to your region's store: 

At midnight Saturday the ebook should go live at its full price of $2.99 (+VAT dependent on your country):
 iTunes  ¦  Nook  ¦  Kobo  ¦  Smashwords

Many thanks to all who pre-ordered. I trust you enjoy the short as much as I did writing it.


18 March 2015

Wednesday Writing Prompt #14 - Sound

Are you deaf? 

The chances are that you are lucky enough to be able to answer no to the question, but it doesn't mean that your hearing is crystal clear. Put me in a noisy room - a reception for instance - and I find it hard to differentiate the voice of who I'm talking with from the hubbub about me,  even if he/she is standing within a hand's grasp. That nod and smile I'm portraying masks that I'm as much lip-reading as hearing what is said. 

So where does this leave your characters? We live in such a visual world that many writers don't even consider using sound as part of their writing. They might mention that their character pulled up her collar against the wind, but then the wind is never mentioned again, and certainly not how it impacts on other sounds - if there are any.

As I sit keying in this article, the radiator behind me is slow-ticking, there is a dribble from the water tank in a cupboard, the gas boiler is on a burn in the next cupboard, my laptop's fan is spinning oddly, the wooden floor beneath my feet is creaking because a pipe-- Argh! It's a wonder I get any work done at all! 

Yet most of this is ignored in my routine because... I'm used to it. 

Don't become used to ignoring sound in your writing. Visualise (an ironic pun, there) where your characters are and what they can hear as well as see. A good exercise is to have them in a space where there is no light and they need to move from A to B on sound and touch alone. Close your eyes and try it in your house, but be careful. I'm not refunding insurance claims.

One of the stories dissected in Reading A Writer's Mind... focuses on sound. It was written both for normal reading and performance, and explains its use in detail.

14 March 2015

"Clean Reader" - The Censorship Beggars Belief

Okay, I'm on a rant here, I'll say that upfront and try to keep a lid on it. 

I've just caught a Tweet which reads "Weird >> App Allows Readers to Sanitize Books for 'Cleaner' Reading..." I followed the link to a post dated 9th March on Lit Reactor which is basically highlighting an app called Clean Reader.

A couple in America have decided that to help their offspring, a 4th grade 'advanced' reader, it would be good to have an app that used a filter to censor ebooks - ANY ebooks - of what they deem to be profanity. The couple are quick to point out that the original book files are not changed therefore their app circumnavigates breach of copyright.

The Huffington Post has an interesting take on it. So have the commenters, on both blogs.

What I find breath-taking is the belief that by replacing certain words or phrasings, in this case with blue dots, or if the reader is determined to have a word substitute then a less provocative word (their choice of word) is used as a mask, the piece of fiction is not changed, that it is merely sanitized.

We are talking fiction here, not non-fiction in all its many forms. Non-fiction is written to be precise in the meaning of the phrase, sentence, paragraph, chapter so as to be an efficient teaching/learning medium. Fiction is written to be precise in its meaning, and precise in its subtext, which often the writer is aiming to be a polarised, or at least an oblique, opposite. And there may be more than one set of subtexts at work. It is akin to removing all the hand-painted pieces from a medieval stained glass window so as to leave the coloured glass alone and insist that it is an improvement.

There is also a chill hilarity to this wilful censorship. In my short story Contribution to Mankind the viewpoint character is a belligerent, foul-mouthed individual. Clean Reader's sanitized version would remove the swearing and verbal slurs but leave intact the emotionless murder which holds far more shock value, and in doing so would make that character not the angry self-loather he was written, but a calm sociopath. 

In my novella The Paintings the two main characters contrive an impecable if stilted relationship, which I believe holds not one word the app would flag, yet reaction from its early readers is of a skin-crawling menace that stayed with them through the dark hours. It's certainly not a work I would let any twelve year old in my household read.

This, of course, is hardly the point. It is not the app's software that is flawed, it is the thinking of the people who contrived it. The first act of a dictatorship is to censor books. The second is to ban them. The third is to burn them.

Welcome to America - Land of the Free.

UPDATE 16 March 2015:

It seems that the app works with the Inktera retail site run by, and a subsidiary of, Page Foundry. Through an aggregator my ebooks are made available to Page Foundry. As an indie author I'm lucky enough to be in control of distribution of my ebooks and have, as of today, requested they be removed from sites operated by Page Foundary. Authors under contract to publishers won't be so lucky.

UPDATE 26 March 2015: read HERE.

11 March 2015

Wednesday Writing Prompt #13 - Detail

How much is too much detail? It all depends on what you are writing and its genre.

Here’s a handy rule of thumb...

Short fiction is a single snapshot of life set in words. Leave the promo video in words for a novella; the two-hour blockbuster movie, complete with sound and atmospheric lighting, for the novel.

However, this doesn’t take into account the genre. A pithy, kick-ass thriller with a high percentage of dialogue and a non-too realistic take on violence will drown under detail. A ghost story will come across as limp if atmospheric detail is removed. Where would an epic fantasy be without the detailed world-building, or the claustrophobia and mind-numbing routine of interstellar space flight?

Getting a handle on how much is too much comes with practice. The big no-no is the info-dump – a page or half a page of description that no character plays a part in. And that includes characters standing in front of mirrors describing themselves. That’s pure authorspeak. Give the reader a break here! A novel is not about its author.

Reading widely within your genre develops mental boundaries, not just for the genre, but your own reaction to it as a reader. It also comes from trials.

Come up with a simple scenario: your focus character leaves his/her home base to gather supplies. The character is in a calm frame of mind; on the way the character meets someone who isn’t.

Now write that as a kick-ass thriller, a ghost story, an epic fantasy, an SF, a romance, a Western, a....

7 March 2015

The Curse of Living in Interesting Times

So when is the best time to have a website makeover?

Not when you're behind with writing a novel.
Not when you're launching a novella.
Not when appointments are queuing as if to a 1930s soup kitchen.

In truth, when I started on a test site none of this was in the offing, but then life intervenes and schedules go out of the window.

So for those prompting me on the new incarnation, you'll just have to immerse yourselves in something fulfilling. I suggest reading a book. But there again, I would, wouldn't I?

4 March 2015

Wednesday Writing Prompt #12 - Theme

You may be writing about a set of characters, or a premise, but are you also writing on a theme?

For a short story the theme may take on the mantle of a moral or proverb: All that glitters is not gold.

You may believe you are, say, writing about an obsessive journalist who puts his/her friends through hell to gain a coveted interview, but comes away with such dross that even the best wordsmith cannot make it saleable. The theme – all that glitters... – is what the story is portraying. The characters, the plot points of the story, make up the vehicle which conveys the theme to the reader.

Not all short stories have themes, but most novels do, even if the writer isn’t fully aware of it at the time of writing. It took years for me to realise that the theme of my first published novel, Hostage of the Heart, was ‘fear of betrayal’.

I am now far more astute at recognising the themes of my longer works. For instance, I’d hardly written beyond Chapter 2 of The Bull At The Gate when I knew that what I was writing about was ‘perceptions of reality’. There are three major storylines running through this novel:
  • the hero’s determination to free his dead lover trapped between planes
  • the suspicion of the police that the hero is both mentally fragile and responsible for the disappearance of a young woman
  • a Roman, living within the same space as the contemporary setting but in a different time, fears that his religion is under threat from a rising cult

The three storylines reflect and twist about one another as each proceeds. As the novel closes I leave the reader to reconsider their own perceptions of what occurred. After all, The Truth does not exist; only a person’s perception of The Truth exists – both in real life and in fiction.

Complicated? It was written as a thriller, so although the theme may take some explaining, the writing is straightforward. But it is certainly a stronger novel, a more multi-layered novel, for my keeping the theme in mind as I was writing it.

If you re-read a piece of your own fiction, can you recognise its theme? Would it be a stronger work if it was tweaked, or even re-written, to prune what does not support its theme? You may think this hardly matters, but it is part and parcel of what a developmental editor does. And if you can do it yourself, you’re halfway home.