Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The Death of John Collins: More covers

This is the cover I posted up for feedback last week:

And this is the version I've produced in response to the feedback I've had:

Fonts are still completely negotiable, particularly for the title (I'm not actually happy with this one, I just wanted to get the new version of the art up). I've raised the background colour a bit, and added detail to the sand. I've also added a faint reflective effect to the glass which I'm not sure about. Please let me know what you think; is it any better? (This version is suffering from horrible jpeg compression artefacts. I hate jpeg.)

Clicking Tags and Taking Names: If you can't write what you love, what's the point?

Recently, I was chatting to Dustin Ashe (@DustinAshe) on Twitter about whether authors should talk about their politics in their platform, and it's sparked off a chain of thought which has led to this possibly-unwieldy blog post. I want to talk about being who you are and writing what you love, and about genre and trusting one's audience.

Right now, I'm quite glad just to be writing at all. For those of you who've skipped reading all my other whining (can't say I blame you), on Friday of last week my left elbow blew up with tennis elbow. I'm left-handed, so this has proven quite a handicap; it gets quite sore with even pretty light use. I was all set to write this blog post yesterday, but by the time I'd finished showering, brushing my teeth and shaving - and I didn't really finish shaving - the elbow was too sore for me to do anything besides lie on the sofa playing videogames one-handed. This morning, I'm skipping all that personal hygeine stuff to bring you this blog post (don't speculate too hard on the implications of this sentence).

Sidebar: I never thought I could be this irritated by an enforced 5-day spell of videogaming. I want to write!

On which note, my position on politics in your platform: honesty is the best policy. If politics matters to you, don't lie about it for the sake of popularity. It might bring in a few more sales short-term, but your politics will have gotten into your books (unless you aren't writing what you love; see below), and those sales from people who are put off by politics won't turn into long-term author-reader relationships. Same goes for anything else that might turn people away.

Think of it this way; the people you turn away by being you probably aren't worth your time anyway. Your time is - or should be - devoted to being yourself and valuing the things you find important. People who aren't interested in the things you find important aren't likely to have very much to add to your life. Don't worry about them. We're constantly being told that niche is the way to go in the new e-book market; go for your niche and stay there. If you end up writing thrillers about Sumerian basket-weaving, so be it.

Which brings me to the main point of this post; writing what you love. The way I look at it, if you're a writer, it should be because you love writing. If you don't love writing, for the love of God pick a different job. Writing is too much work, hassle and insecurity to do unless you really love it.

And if you love writing, then you're going to write what you love regardless of what else your life involves. If you love writing and what you really love writing is, say, sci-fi (or thrillers about Sumerian basket-weaving), you're going to write sci-fi whatever else you end up writing.

My point is this: if the way you approach writing as a career ever comes between you and writing what you love, stop. Go get an office job, settle things down, and get back to writing what you love at evenings and weekends. If you can't write what you love, there's no point writing at all.

Now, I'm not saying you should never take a writing job just to pay the bills - a couple of friends of mine are planning to cynically cash in on the urban-fantasy-with-vampires bubble before it bursts to put some money in the back pocket while they work on what they really love - and you should also write things you don't love for practice, but the moment any of that gets in the way of writing what you love, it's not better than an office job, and an office job has a regular paycheck. Maybe even insurance.

For my own part, I'm writing what I love and simply trying to make money off that. Given the lukewarm reception I'm getting from some of my beta readers for 'The Death of John Collins', I think I have a fair way to go before a lot of money will be involved, but hey - I loved writing it. Money is a bonus.

The problem I have with writing what I love is that what I love to write, really, are idea-driven novels. Many of my projects have started from an idea - often an abstract concept - and sprouted characters, settings and plots later, and that means my first three novels are all completely different genres; one contemporary romance, one sci-fi and one political thriller (sort of).

Now, I have faith that I have the philosophical skills to justify writing these books. I'm starting to believe that I can develop my writing ability to the point where I can justify selling them to people as something they might want to read. I definitely don't have the kind of literary chops and credentials to allow me to hop around genres in this way without ruffling a few feathers.

Which brings me to my last point, which has to do with trusting your audience; and this is why it's important to be yourself in your platform. The reason we're told as writers not to mess around with genre too much is that readers use genre as a filter; they like particular things, those things fit a category, so they don't read outside that category. If you brand yourself as writing a particular genre, readers who like that genre know they can come to you for what they like - and if you write something else, you break that trust.

Genre is therefore both a useful tool and a ball-and-chain to a writer like me (and I'm pretty sure most other writers, too). Reliance on genre is all well and good, but I think it involves patronising readers a little, particularly when it comes to authors changing pen name to write different genres. Can't we trust our readers - those who have become fans and are therefore likely to care - to check whether a new book is their kind of genre before buying? Can't we trust them to be intelligent people with open minds?

Building a strong platform based on who you really are as a writer can help with this; if your relationhip with a reader isn't based on a genre but on them having found you through some issue you have as a common interest, I think you're more likely to get them to engage with other work from your own sphere of interest. Particularly since you'll build better relationships with people you share more interests with; better relationships means a stronger niche and a better word of mouth overall, and that's a tremendous business asset, assembled out of nothing more than being yourself and trying to find people who share your interests. If your interest is Sumerian basket-weaving, then maybe it's not going to be a huge money-spinner, but at least you'll be doing the best you can out of your interest and making some new friends.

So, in short; with the changes that seem to be happening in the ebook world, and particularly if the new business model is niche-based, be yourself and be honest and open about it in your platform. You want readers who share your interests, because they're going to be better for your career than customers who don't.

And no, my next book after 'The Earth Trembles' isn't going to be a thriller about Sumerian basket-weaving. I'm much more into the Sumatran style anyway ;)

Sunday, 24 April 2011

The Death of John Collins: Sample Sunday edition

Hello, folks. Here, as a #SampleSunday treat (I hope), are the first two pages of 'The Death of John Collins', the first book of my John Collins trilogy, due out on November 1st.

* * *

“Sir, was John Collins evil?” The question came from a student in the front row of the lecture theatre’s seating. Two rows further back, Blanchett leaned forward, studying Professor Lambert’s reaction intently.

The Professor frowned for a moment, then said, “John was a loyal comrade and a war hero. Whatever you may have been told about him, I knew him, and he was not evil.” His voice was mild, but his face wore an owlish glare directed at the front row. In the dimness of the lecture theatre, the lines in his face became craggy and fierce. On the screen behind him, Collins’ face stared placidly down at them, one of the famous photos from him the early days of the Delta War.

From near the back of the room, a voice called out, “But he destroyed time, didn’t he?”

An audible rustling ran round the room as the students looked nervously at the Professor or tried to catch a glimpse of the questioner. On screen, Collins’ face was replaced by a screen-saver animation. It was a stylised drawing of the Clocktower being built, a tree of tangled black steel and ceramic against the dull grey background of the endless Causal Sea. The top widened sharply and spread into the white mushroom-cap of the City. The animation looped round to restart.

“You’re a new class,” Lambert said coldly, “so I’ll let that pass this once. In my classes, you must always be wary of careless statements like that. Precision is the essence of history. To answer the question as charitably as I can, no one person destroyed time, either by causing the collapse of the origin timeline or any of the other collapses in our history. Nor,” he held up a finger for emphasis, “did any one person cause any of the Temporal Wars. We will be covering the causes of each of these wars in due course. The assumption that John is to blame is a gross simplification.”

He paused and looked around the room, “Some of you are probably about to bring up the subject of Collins’ book, ‘A Radical Subjectivism of Time’. You may have been told that the book is banned because it is dangerous, because it describes the technologies which caused the Alpha Collapse. Well, I’ve read it, and it doesn’t. Yes, ideas it contained guided the engineers and technicians who did cause the collapse, but John wasn’t one of them and opposed their work. And if any of you are considering reporting me to the Truthers for reading a banned book, I read it during the Delta War, long before it was banned.” Lambert finished with a look that was almost a sneer. Blanchett thought she could read pride in his face. She wondered if her Council superiors could actually be right; was Lambert really Collins in disguise?

Another student asked, “So you don’t believe Collins was a Nihilist?”

Lambert barked a sharp, mocking laugh, “The Nihilists destroyed everything they touched. It’s because of them we live in this overgrown tin can,” – he gestured vaguely at the animation on-screen – “instead of on a proper world. If John had been a Nihilist, there wouldn’t even be that much. He’d have destroyed the Oracle and everyone on board after the Battle of Tibulon.”

“So you don’t agree with the Truthers?” the questioner pressed. Blanchett winced. She knew there were no Council agents other than herself assigned to monitor this class, but the other student seemed intent on making trouble.

Lambert, for his part, shot a wary glance at the doors at the back of the room. When he spoke, his voice was milder, his scowl less deep, “Well, of course, all historical perspectives must be considered. This would be a very deficient history class if I shied away from the Truther opinion out of personal sentiment, but you must surely admit – and I intend to show – that Controller Vilsteir’s evidence is unsatisfactory.”

Still staring at the Professor, Blanchett frowned. Other members of the Council militia said that Lambert’s controversial rhetoric on this point proved that he was Collins. She didn’t believe it, but she had to admit that it would make sense for Collins to talk in this way. Corrupting the youth, they called it.

Uncomfortable to let his statement stand, Blanchett spoke up, suppressing a nervous shiver, “What’s wrong with the Council’s evidence?” She tried to sound as nonaggressive as possible, affecting genuine curiosity.

In spite of her efforts, Lambert picked her out with a laser glare. Suddenly, she felt glad of the combat bodysuit she wore under her student ‘disguise’. It would provide little protection, but the knowledge that she was in some small way prepared for violence was reassuring. Lambert’s face softened a little as he said, “Well, personally, I have two problems with Vilsteir’s claims. Firstly, they go directly against my personal experience. I knew Collins. John was a close friend, and he just wasn’t like the character Vilsteir writes about. Secondly, he refuses to release his sources into the public domain. I call that bad practice.”

“But he’s still preparing his commentary!” Blanchett protested.

"As he has been doing, without aid or any apparent training in historiography, for twenty years. In the mean time, he has spearheaded a campaign to suppress alternative accounts. Banning books, for heaven’s sake! ‘A Radical Subjectivism’ is a harmless work of abstract metaphysics and deserves to be read and understood, not expunged.”

“It was the government that banned ‘A Radical Subjectivism of Time’, not the Council,” said Blanchett, feeling more confident.

“At the Controller’s very public urging. I doubt you are old enough to remember that unpleasantness, but-“ Lambert was cut off by the noise of the door opening. His eyes went to the back of the room and widened sharply.

Blanchett half-turned to follow the Professor’s gaze, and froze in her seat. Collins himself stood in the doorway.

* * *

Intrigued? I'm currently looking for beta readers for the remainder of the novel. Leave me a message in the comments or on Twitter (@eatthepen) if you're interested.

What I've learned this week: a drummer's elbow

Very short blog post, as I've developed a sudden bad case of tennis elbow (from drumming; I've almost never played tennis in my life) which makes typing - and almost everything else I do besides videogames - quite uncomfortable. It's all under control and I should be back to full functionality in a couple of days, but I have to take it easy for now.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Objective: Objectivism - What's it got to do with objects?

Given that I know a lot of people in my part of the world aren't terribly familiar with Ayn Rand, I'm going to kick off this series with a brief sketch of her basic ideas. With this post, I'm focussing on the bits where I agree with Rand, which are mainly on the metaphysical/abstract side. We need to start by putting Rand in her historical/philosophical context

Rand called her philosophy 'objectivism', which may sound like a buzzword, but it does mean something and it's actually a pretty well-chosen label (much better than, say, neomodernism >.>). In philosophy, if something is 'objective' then it's not dependent on human beings - this is simplifying a bit, but bear with me. Rand's philosophy is a reaction against various kinds of subjectivism which were prevalent, particularly in Europe, during her lifetime. Among these kinds were postmodern relativism and existentialism, if you're interested.

The mid-20th-century subjectivisms all involved some sort of belief that the world we commonly experience is not objective - that in some way, it depends on human beings or human consciousness. The subjectivists had various reasons for this, all of which are complicated and obscure (if you really want to know, I'll send you a copy of my PhD thesis when it's done; most of my research is into a couple of progenitors of modern subjectivism). The upshot of this kind of subjectivism is the theoretical possibility of changing the world by changing the way you think about it.

Rand was dead set against this (her hatred of Kant can be traced to pretty much exactly this point). Her objectivism asserts that the world is as it is and no mere thought can change it. Rand believed that attempts to do this were at the root of the socialist mind-set, because socialism, she thought, was out of touch with reality.

Sidebar: Rand was in the bad habit of referring to this fundamental premise with Aristotle's formulation of the law of identity, 'A is A'. She never formally studied philosophy, and as a result seems to have rather got the wrong end of the stick on 'A is A' - the law of identity is a logical tool only, and pretty much trivial most of the time. Rand's point is good, but her invocation of Aristotle is not, and it set my philosophy-grad-student teeth grinding right through John Galt's speech in Atlas Shrugged.

Anyway, to all intents and purposes, I agree with Rand that there is an objective reality which we can't change by power of thought (and, hard as it may be to believe, lots of academics have disagreed, some with pretty good reasons). Rand says that the purpose of thought is not to change reality, but to understand it and learn how it may be changed.

Thought - rational thought - is the defining activity of the human species, according to Rand (and even given the growing body of evidence about the higher mental faculties in other species, the human capacity to reason remains unique at least in degree). Rand and I disagree about the role of emotion in thought, but that's a debate for another time.

If, as Aristotle said, man is a rational animal, then our ultimate fulfilment should come from the correct use of reason. That is to say, a good human being is one who approaches and solves all his problems through the use of reason, and said good human being will take his highest pleasures from doing so. It may sound a little implausible, but remember we're only talking about highest pleasure; other stuff can still be pleasant, it's just that the most pleasant experiences will be those in which a pleasant object is approached rationally. For example, Rand thinks that the highest musical pleasure comes from listening to music whose driving concepts one grasps and agrees with, as well as liking the sound (I won't get into her slightly distasteful views on sex).

There's another important consequence of the twin objectivist premises of objectivity and rationality, and it's a moral one; if human beings are definitively rational creatures, there is a moral obligation on us to be rational. It is immoral, Rand thinks, to lose oneself in irrational sentiment or waste time on unearned emotion. It's an austere, ascetic position rather at odds with Rand's own life story, but there's a grain of truth in it, and it lends her system a symmetrical beauty; rationality is in our best interests, and rationality is a moral obligation. It's an alignment of the practical and the principled which is a feature of all the best anti-subjectivism (because if there is an objective reality, principles derived from it will always be practical).

In summation, then, Rand argues:
1> There is an objective reality, independent of human beings
2> Human beings are inherently rational (for some appropriate definition of 'rational')
3> It is in our best interests to be rational, because this will best equip us to master objective reality
4> There is a moral obligation on us not to suppress our rationality, which stems from <2>

The conclusion of this argument is that we should be left as free as possible to engage in rational activity, which is where her small-government libertarianism kicks in (I gather she hated to be called a libertarian, but if the shoe fits...). There are all sorts of practical - and some theoretical - problems with that half of Rand's philosophy, but this 'first' or fundamental half is actually pretty plausible and systematic. I'll get into the particular problems I want to highlight over the coming months, but I needed to write this first so I've got it here to refer back to.

Your feedback is welcome - do you agree with my reading of Rand's philosophy? It's based mainly on Galt's speech in Atlas Shrugged, and I haven't read any of her non-fiction.

PS. I realise I haven't actually explained what it's all got to do with objects; but then neither did Rand, so I blame her.

The Death of John Collins: Cover me, I'm going in!

Let's get straight into it. Here's a cover concept I've been working on for 'The Death of John Collins':

It's not finished, and the text design is particularly negotiable - I'll be the first to admit I know nothing about fonts and formatting. That's the sort of thing that can be figured out later. What I'm really interested in right now is the concept and style; does it work? I'm thinking of doing hourglass-themed covers for books 2 and 3 as well, so that they make a matching set.

Art-wise, I think the 'glass' areas might benefit from some reflection markings to give them a bit more shape. Either that or the sand needs to be made flatter and more stylised. At the moment it's a little bit of a compromise between realism and iconography.

My main concern is that the whole thing might be a little too stark - harsh white text and art on a very dark background. Could it do with a little more variation? I'm a big fan of really stripped-down, conceptual/impressionistic book covers - I might well do a blog post about this in the near future - so I've probably erred on the side of contrast.

Please let me know what you think, either in the comments or on Twitter - all feedback welcome!

As a bonus, here's the blurb I'm working on:

"Some believe John Collins destroyed time. Now, in the last human city, Collins has returned, and three students must make their own judgements about his motives. One worships him; one has sworn to kill him; and billions of lives may hang on the decision of the third.

And Collins brings a warning: time is collapsing again."

Probably needs more polish than the cover, but again, comments welcome.

Finally, a shout-out to @MarijanJett and @Ralimore, who hosted me on their blog this evening as an experiment in drunk guest blogging. Find my post at, and just generally check them out - excellent writing peeps and tweeps.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Clicking Tags and Taking Names: #pubwrite

Imagine, if you will, a virtual pub, filled with writers from around the world. Now log on to Twitter, type #pubwrite into the search box at the top, and voila! There you are. It is, as you might expect, a vibrant if somewhat confusing community. To the best of my ability to tell, there are about 50-60 people currently involved. It works like this: start tweeting with and searching the hashtag #pubwrite, follow people who are involved, get followed back, and receive an instant boost to your platform and networking activities.

Seriously. I've now been using #pubwrite for about a week, and in that time, I've gained 40 followers on Twitter, and more are still pouring in. I've even quadrupled the number of people following this blog (this may or may not be saying much ¬_¬). I've certainly made some great new friends and discovered some great new blogs. It's not instant overnight success, but it's definitely progress.

By the by, 'Clicking Tags and Taking Names' is what I've decided to call my series on networking for authors. There's some debate about how important networking is for authors, but it certainly can help sales, so I see no reason not to give it a try. I don't know a lot about networking, and I know I have some instincts which run counter to actually succeeding at networking, so this series is probably going to be mainly about lessons learned the hard way, but at least if I learn the lessons the hard way, you don't have to.

So, #pubwrite. Be prepared for some strangeness, but join the community now, while it's still possible to catch up on all the injokes (hint: try saying 'Gabriel!').

I'm not saying that doing things like #pubwrite is important because of the number of new followers it can bring you, of course; if you consider the number of friends or followers you have on a social networking site as a barometer of success, you're probably going to die poor and alone. It's what you do with (or to!) those followers which really counts.

I'm of the opinion that networking with writers shouldn't be considered, strictly speaking, marketing. While it's true that no-one buys more novels than a writer, I could sell copies of both the novels I'm planning on publishing to all 40 of the people following me as a result of #pubwrite and not even scrape the sides of my (pretty low) target for first-year sales. Never mind that not everyone on #pubwrite is a sci-fi writer - which is not a bad thing, because it keeps the levels of nerdly procrastination under control.

The main reason I'm so keen on networking with writers is for advice. Different writers have expertise in different things; some are very good at the technical aspects of writing which I know I need to learn; some are fluent in the seventeen kajillion different ebook formats and retailers; some can put me in touch with pro editors or cover artists. If nothing else, other writers will be familiar with the frustrations of balancing writing with work, writers block and all those other special kinds of angst reserved for weary warriors of the pen, and will be sympathetic to my whining. Writers tend to be good people to have as friends, at least over Twitter-type distances.

It's also worth noting that purely from a research point of view, the more people you know, the more likely you are to know someone who knows something about something you need to know for your novel. For example, 'The Earth Trembles' is set largely in New York (it couldn't really be anywhere else), a city in which I've spent a grand total of three and a half very jet-lagged days. I fell in love instantly, but I can in no way afford to fly to the city for research purposes; if I do need to know something, it's entirely possible I now know a number of writers who live or have lived there who may be able to answer a quick question.

Of course, there are opportunities even within #pubwrite to do promotion and marketing; blog swaps and tours, cross-promotions and review trading, for example. I'm not planning to pass those up as and when they become available, but I see it as secondary to the other things just mentioned.

So, go ahead and #pubwrite. I'll see you there! (Gabriel!)

Monday, 18 April 2011

Objective Objectivism: Why now?

So, as I've mentioned in passing but not explained in any depth, my next novel, 'The Earth Trembles' (currently in pre-production), is an attempt to write a left-wing response to 'Atlas Shrugged'. This is an introductory post on the subject, and for now I want to focus on why I'm doing this now, and why it's important to do it at all.

I'm in the strange position with this project of being a British author writing about an American icon. Ayn Rand is barely-known over here, and generally regarded (where she's known at all) as a total lunatic with no good ideas. In America, by contrast, there are still a huge number of people who regard her as one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century. It's a little trite, but of course the truth lies somewhere in between.

Having read two biographies of Rand (of which more in a moment) and three of her four novels, I've come to the realisation that certain elements of American culture which seem incomprehensible to many Europeans can only properly be understood if you get a grip of Rand's work. In particular, it's only possible to understand the Tea Party phenomenon - a phenomenon regarded with a mix of derision and fear in this country - if you understand the influence Rand has had on the Jeffersonian/libertarian streak in American political thought.

I'm going to take a moment's digression and recommend to everyone even faintly interested in contemporary American politics, or Rand and objectivism, or even 20th-century history in general, to read Anne C. Heller's 'Ayn Rand and the World She Made' and Jennifer Burns' 'Goddess of the Market'. Heller's book is one of the finest biographies I've ever read in terms of making her subject feel a real person while still capturing the intense high drama of Rand's life; Burns' book is more about the political history of Rand's oeuvre, but does a fab job of explaining all those bits of American culture which seem so strange to a European. Both books hold up very clear mirrors to objectivism, relatively free of bias but not shrinking from criticism where appropriate.

Anyway, the point I'm making is that Rand's ideas have been hugely influential, and with a US election next year which is likely to be dominated on one side by Tea Party-style voices for vigorous economic libertarianism, they seem to be on the rise again. I can't remember where I saw the stat, but I think I remember reading that sales of Atlas Shrugged are on something like a 20-year high. There's also recently been a film version of the first part of the book, so clearly some people think it's time for a fresh look at Rand.

I'd be dishonest to pretend that I wasn't hoping to turn some of that renewed interest into marketing opportunities and sales, but I don't see anything particularly unethical about doing so (and Rand would certainly approve the opportunism). However, my main intention is to use Rand's ideas to frame my own arguments on the subject of sociopolitical ethics.

That may sound rather grandiose, but it's just a posh way of saying I have some ideas of my own that I want to put out there. I certainly don't agree with Rand on a lot of things, but some of her ideas about the nature of human beings are very appealing to me. My criticism of Rand's arguments, I hope, will bring out the good in them as well as throwing out the bad.

'The Earth Trembles' isn't going to be a blanket statement of my entire philosophy, or even the socioeconomic part of it. What I want to do is make an argument which starts from the points I agree with Rand on, and highlights several places where I think the conclusions she reaches from her premises are amiss. For example, I agree with Rand that it is defining of mankind that we are in her sense 'rational', but I don't agree with her that it follows from this that we should never help each other (in the interests of keeping this post short, I'll argue this point another time; bear with me).

Anyway, there's never been a better time to know about Ayn Rand and to give her resurgent ideas (or at least, the Tea Party-mangled version thereof; there are certainly some Tea Party ideals which I'm sure Rand would never have countenanced) a thorough going-over. I hope you'll follow my journey, and please feel free to challenge anything I say with which you don't agree.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

The Death of John Collins: Cover Matters

I have made a discovery. I have realised that, while book covers aren't supposed to be important to a reader, it's impossible to do a good job of platform-building without. That means that getting covers sorted for my books is going to be top priority for the next few weeks.

It sounds ridiculous to be giving such important to a cover, but bear with me. A cover is, undoubtedly, a vital part of marketing a book once it's out - it grabs the eye in bookshops and on Amazon etc, and it probably will be your first point of contact with many readers. But for an indie self-publisher, a cover has so much more work to do.

Look at any successful writer's website or blog - there will be thumbnails of their books somewhere prominent on the front page. That means if you want to look like a successful writer - and looking like success is vital for making a good first impression, in all walks of life; why else wear a suit to job interviews? - you need thumbnail cover images on your website.

Actually, given that websites which are all text generally look terrible and will turn most traffic away without a backward glance, images are vital to your web presence, and any more than one photo of you will look a little bit imposing. So there's one thing you need a cover image for.

There's more: a lot of internet marketing involves simply looking professional. That means at least looking as if someone designed every element of your web presence. It goes beyond your website; you need a custom backdrop for your blog and your Twitter profile. You also need a cover image to display prominently on things like Facebook fan pages, Goodreads and so on. You shouldn't necessarily be stuffing your cover image down everyone's throats all the time, but people need to know what your book looks like.

I recently read this excellent post by Al Boudreau about platform building. I left a comment asking what Al thought the most important elements of an author's platform should be, and he listed a Facebook Fan Page as one of them (you can check out his full answer in the comments). A cover is sort of vital for a fan page, so it needs doing now.

There are other benefits to getting a cover out of the way, too, from my point of view. For one thing, I'll be able to establish whether I can do it myself or whether I'll need to farm out the artwork. This will have serious budgeting implications for the rest of the process, because if I need to pay for two whole lots of cover art, it'll probably come to somewhere North of £500.

Plus, it will be nice to see what the book will look like. I'll be posting some thoughts on actual designs over the coming week (though not as a theme week, of course ;D), both for 'The Death of John Collins' and 'Bad Romance'. For now, though, I've had an absolutely exhausting weekend and I'm going to rest...

Saturday, 16 April 2011

A whole week of neomodernism is a bit much, huh?

Right, time to review my progress and what I've learned this week. I'm trying to make it a regular feature to do a sort of round-up (hopefully normally on a Saturday) to collect together anything I've learned that might be useful for someone in my position to know. Doing these omnibuses also helps me file and organise what I've learned for my own benefit.

What I've learned this week is that I don't think 'theme weeks' work for me. It works OK for some topics (like the research planning stuff last week), but not for others - and a whole week of abstract academic philosophy is a bit much in one go. As a lot of what I'll be blogging about is philosophical in one way or another - philosophy being what I do, and all - I think it'd be a bad idea for me to keep doing theme weeks. I might do a few here and there, but only for special occasions.

As I don't want to just blog willy-nilly about whatever comes to mind - that's a surefire way to find oneself without blog topics many days - I'm going to have to find a different way of giving some structure to my efforts. What I'm going to try next, and I stress this is an experiment, is running several series in parallel. As just mentioned, I'll be keeping Saturdays as a sort of 'week in review' day, but I don't plan on keeping to a strict schedule of other topics on certain days. I may even broaden my topics a bit and throw in the occasional non-series post when I have something I think is worth saying.

Here's a list of series ideas I have so far:

'The Death of John Collins': In many ways, this is the big one. I'm expecting 'The Death of John Collins' to be my biggest seller in my 12-month target period, because, of the two books I'm launching on November 1st, I think it's the much easier-to-market volume. As such, my biggest focus over the six months remaining til publication needs to be getting the book ready and building a platform for it. This series will chronicle my efforts to do exactly that, from cover art to Twitter promotions.

'Bad Romance': I may not be expecting 'Bad Romance' to sell as well as 'The Death of John Collins', but there's still a lot of work to be done to get it ready for the big day. 'Bad Romance' faces some challenges which 'The Death of John Collins' doesn't, particularly in terms of marketing and placement, so while the series on 'The Death of John Collins' will concentrate more on issues typical for genre writers, this series will be more specifically how to deal with more unconventional novels.

'Objective: objectivism': My next book, which I aim to start writing in July, is a sort of left-wing response to 'Atlas Shrugged'. In this series, I'll be discussing the issues I have with Ayn Rand's philosophy and assembling the arguments which my novel, 'The Earth Trembles', is to make. I'll also be talking about why it's important to keep thinking about and critiquing ideas of this kind.

'Time for a sequel': Don't expect to hear much from this series until 'The Earth Trembles' is in the bag. This series will follow the process I go through as I plan and write the two sequels to 'The Death of John Collins'. I'll use this series for talking in general about my writing process and any recommendations I have for writers. I'll also, as I progress, doubtless be letting slip hints about what happens in the sequels and generally being a tease.

I'll also be running a series of some sort about the business side of the operation - taxes, sales figures, budgeting and so on, but I can't think of a pithy name for that right now. All in all, that gives me five series, but I'm sure I'll think of a sixth in time...

Anyway, I can take away one positive from this week, which is that platform-building has sort of automatically started for me. Why? I started using #pubwrite on Twitter in the last couple of days, and it's been a revelation. I've already gained around 15 followers. I don't have time right now to compile a complete list of the #pubwriters I've chatted with, but I particularly want to thank @steveumstead @threecifer and @kayepeters for making me feel so welcome on my timid first steps into the bar (shout-out also to @Sguron, my #pubwriteUK buddy).

I'll do a more detailed post on #pubwrite and other things like it soon, possibly during next week. For now, though, I've got hijinks to get up to.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Neomodernism and human rights; something a touch more academic.

Right, in the interests of proving my academic credentials - and showing a little bit of what I do for a 'living' (ha) with my PhD research, here's an introduction to academic neomodernism by way of an argument about human rights. The argument was originally put by Jurgen Habermas as a critique of postmodernism. I won't do academic stuff like this often, but I think it's not a bad thing to occasionally dip your toe into academic matters, so try this for size.

A preliminary point: there is a debate to be had over whether human moral rights or human moral duties are more important. I happen to favour the latter view, and you'll find this surfacing in my novels, particularly in 'The Earth Trembles' in my critique of Ayn Rand's objectivism. Either way, though, it's a debate we can put aside here; the same point holds both ways.

Anyway, the argument goes like this; postmodernism embraces a view called moral relativism, which says that moral principles only apply to the cultures that believe in them. So, if I belong to a culture which says cannibalism isn't OK, I nevertheless can't condemn the actions of someone from a different culture where cannibalism is accepted. To take a more contemporary argument, if you belong to an Islamic culture which says that women should wear the burkha in public (I know not all Islamic cultures do), and I belong to a culture which says it's immoral to cover your face in public (as at least one friend of mine believes), we nevertheless have nothing to say to each other on the subject. Our disagreement is prevented by the fact that one culture is not allowed to prescribe or proscribe behaviour to another.

So, we rich westerners can't condemn Amazonian tribespeople for their 'primitiveness' any more than they could condemn us for our frivolous wasting of natural resources and destruction of the environment. It doesn't sound terribly reasonable when you put it like that, but it gets worse; 'Western culture' holds, generally speaking and within reason, that life is sacred. But under postmodern moral relativism, we cannot condemn anyone who believes that life - or even some kinds of life, like for example godless heathens - isn't sacred, nor can we condemn anyone who believes that certain people deserve to die, provided they come from a culture which approves their views.

Habermas' basic point is that this kind of relativism is totally incompatible with anything resembling an ethics of human rights. If we want to say that there are inalienable human rights (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, say), then we can't accept relativism. I suppose we could say that since we're talking about human rights, we don't necessarily have to accord those rights to members of other species, but that has no effect on cultural divisions.

(footnote: that last sentence breaks down if you're prepared to say that different cultures are different species, but good luck with that - it's the worst kind of racism, pure and simple).

What does this mean? Well, it means that we are obliged to pass judgement on different cultures and say that not all cultures are morally equal. Now, I recognise there's a severe risk of parochialism and bigotry in saying that, but I've not finished explaining, so bear with me.

You can condemn a culture as morally inferior only in respect of some human right it unapologetically fails to uphold. That means that first, you have to have a set of human rights, and you have to have an argument which establishes why those rights are universal. This is harder to do than it sounds, but let's assume it can be done. If you have a sound argument for some particular right - that is, if you can prove that it's a right - you can condemn a culture which fails to uphold it.

For example, if you can prove that free speech is a human right, you can condemn the US for locking up Bradley Manning (assuming that represents a clear-cut case of attempting to restrict freedom of speech).  If you can prove that democracy is a human right, you can condemn Libya for going without it - or at least, you can condemn Gaddafi and his cronies, since the cultural balance in Libya seems to have rather shifted in favour of democracy lately.

If this all sounds uncomfortably judgemental, don't worry. It's a by-product of taking morality seriously in a world used to relativism. You can't have morals without being prepared to condemn immoral acts; it's worth remembering that moral acts can - and should be - praised (I didn't use any examples of praise because they tend to be harder to come up with). Taking morality seriously is at the heart of neomodernism, just as denying its seriousness by means of relativism is at the heart of postmodernism.

Maybe I haven't convinced you, but I hope I've at least given you something to think about.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

A day off from neomodernism

I am heartily sick of the word 'neomodernism'. I am still a neomodernist, neomodernism is still my creed, but I'm sick of the stupid bloody word. I wish I could come up with something better, but I haven't been able to yet and neomodernism is the established term for this ideology.

Anyway, time to have a day without using it (more than the four times in the preceding paragraph, anyway). Last night, at about half eleven after a pleasant evening in the pub, I sat down with my dad, told him my plans for self-publication, and asked what problems he foresaw and whether he thought my plans were realistic. This is, of course, the common-sense test I talked about last week.

The good news is that I passed. The bad news is that it was a conditional pass; dad was able to quite quickly come up with several important questions I need to answer.

The most important questions concern taxes, and specifically VAT. I realised I know nothing about who pays VAT on an ebook sale I make through Smashwords or Amazon (i.e. whether it comes out of my share, Amazon's or both); nor do I know how much money I have to be making from sales before it becomes an issue. Complicating matters, of course, is the fact that through Amazon and other distributors, any books I publish will be available in multiple tax regimes - multiple countries. Different amounts of VAT will be payable to different governments, unless Amazon et al have some clever system for dealing with this (and if I was in their shoes, I would have, just so my own backside was definitely covered). Still, it bears substantial investigation.

Income taxes and appropriate documentation for them are another tedious problem to be faced, though at least I understand those a bit better. UK national insurance is just a more complicated version of same. I figure, though, that if I'm making enough for taxes to be a really serious problem, I'll be making enough to hire an accountant (I sincerely hope). A couple of friends of mine have recently started discussing a plan to form a small independent press which may be of some use in this area.

I need better information on what covers and editing are going to cost. Much better information. I have only a vague idea at the moment, though I'm toying with the notion of going with very minimalist cover designs (I have a blog post in the works about my favourite genre fiction book cover ever, if I can just find an acceptable image, and you'll see how seriously I mean 'minimalist'), which might be within my personal drawing capacity. Maybe.

I probably also need better information on how much it might cost to do some paid-for advertising, which requires figuring out where to advertise. I have a few pretty obvious places in mind, but only a few (which I suppose matches the few £s in my advertising budget...).

There are some issues which I've become aware of myself, too. High on the list is how to unite the books I've got available right now into a focussed enough brand which nevertheless has commercial legs - it would be quite legitimate for me to bill myself as a philosphical novelist, but I'm not sure anyone would buy my novels - and fewer still would read them, particularly if I was successful (don't lie. Have you actually read that copy of Nausea? ^_--). That in turn brings up the question of how to brand 'Bad Romance' at all, which I'm not afraid to admit I'm still rather lost on.

One question my dad raised was whether it would be better, instead of publishing two books at once, to publish them a month or two apart. The blogs I've read suggest that having more than one book available is quite an asset (and given that I'm aiming to publish 'The Earth Trembles' only 2 months later than 'Bad Romance' and 'The Death of John Collins', I'm already going to be tapping some of the effect dad's talking about). Still, there is a question of cross-promotion between books. For now and until someone gives me a convincing, evidence-based argument that it's a bad plan, I'll stick to the two-book plan, but I'm open to suggestions.

Anyway, that's the fallout from the common sense test. I'll be getting to grips with it as best I can over the next few weeks. Tomorrow, it's back to (sigh) neomodernism.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Ooo, you gotta keep the faith...

I make no apologies if this post contains gratuitous Bon Jovi references (yes, there's no accounting for taste).

I'm talking about faith today, because faith is a big part of neomodernism. Now, stop right there, I'm not talking about religious faith (or at least, not solely about it). Religious faith is an important part of my life, but more from an emotional than a rational point of view. The emotional side of life is still important, but the neomodern side of my interest in faith is a rational one, neomodernism being in many ways a rationalist's philosophy.

Right, now that I've hedged the hedge of my hedging (I think this may technically be called a shrubbery), on to the business of non-religious, rational faith.

But hang on, I hear you cry, isn't faith by definition non-rational? Faith is belief in the absence of reason, isn't it?

Well, sorta. Sample sentence: 'I have faith in you'. It's a perfectly legitimate, literal use of the word 'faith', but it's not normally a sentence you'd think of as a case of belief the way one might believe in the existence of God or Santa. It means a combination of trust, respect and admiration, and perhaps an implicit belief in your virtue(s). Cynicism and misanthropy often make this kind of faith very difficult to achieve in modern life - we tend to isolate ourselves a little, particularly from people we don't know well. And yet, the rewards for putting faith in someone and letting them know it are often (in my experience) great - in the best cases, one receives a similar faith in return, along with cooperation and friendship.

(Yes, if you haven't been following my posts this week, I'm an optimist. If you aren't, wise up - pessimism is not a survival trait).

Anyway, consider a more important sample sentence from a neomodern perspective; 'I have faith that the human race can solve its problems and achieve a better, more peaceful, more comfortable life for all'. A cynic might say that this is a paradigm case of faith as belief without reason, but I've made my attitude towards cynics clear.

I think it's clear that if this kind of faith were more widespread, a lot of the suspicion and distrust which lead to many of our conflicts would be eliminated. Is it in any way justified? I think so - after all, all I'm asserting is a possibility. I know that there's a lot of historical evidence that we're not very good at getting along, but I think that's only because conflict makes for better, longer-lived stories than cooperation - a point which is fundamental to the existence of most novels.

It's easy to forget the hugely complicated collaborative efforts which put men on the moon, or built the web of cables which supports the internet, or figured out quantum physics. Yes, there's a lot of destruction, viciousness and pettiness in the world, but from my point of view - the neomodern point of view - the majority of it is eliminable. My view is that most of this nastiness can be viewed as a product of people being unable to see the bigger picture - people going for short-term greed at the expense of long-term social well-being, people believing that there will never be enough to go around, so it's best to grab as much as you can whenever you can.

I have this much faith in technological progress; I believe that most of the kinds of scarcity which give the appearance of justification to these attitudes are soluble. There is a nasty global economic pinch coming as oil, coal and natural gas start to run out, and overpopulation starts to make food and water a problem. But technologies exist already to get us through most of that, and to do it by solving supply problems for long enough that we start having to worry about things like continental drift and the sun swelling up. I believe the only thing standing between us and solving those problems - and thereby making food, water and electricity universally and cheaply available - is human ignorance of just how possible it is if you think big enough.

So, if it feels like we're living on a prayer, keep the faith ;)

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

It's good to be neomodern...

Over the past couple of days I've been talking about what neomodernism is, and outlining some of the considerations that I think make it intellectually appealing. Today I'm going to be a bit less brainy, and a bit more.. uh... hearty? That's not quite the right word >.>

Anyway, neomodernism is in many ways a feel-good philosophy. There are plenty of good intellectual arguments for it, but it can also make you feel good about yourself and the world - a rare luxury, these days. When I've been battling miserable feelings, it's been the attitudes and beliefs of mine that I now recognise as neomodern (dear God, I've got to find a better name for this thing - the buzzwordiness is really starting to get up my nose) which have helped me get past it and cheer up. Certainly, it's much nicer to entertain neomodernist optimism and proactivity than postmodern cynicism and misanthropy.

I'm generalising a little bit, but the point more or less stands. Postmodernism is fundamentally pessimistic at every level - postmodernism says there's no objective standard by which a thing can be judged as good, therefore there's no way in which it can be true that things have gotten or will get better. Neomodernism says not merely that things can get better, but that we can make things better. Yes, it will take hard work and time, but it's possible for you to 'fix' your life and improve your quality of living - it's possible for the human race to improve as a whole, morally, personally and technologically.

I'm sometimes accused of being wildly naive about human nature (the stronger the accusation, usually, the more cynical the postmodernist making it) because I tend to be very trusting at first with new people I meet. I make it a point of principle to work from the assumption - until it is disproved beyond reasonable doubt - that people are dealing with me honestly and forthrightly. The accusation is sometimes justified, but I am seldom disappointed when I put faith in people like this - and every so often, my faith in someone turns out to be justified even when said person is normally a bit unreliable.

In the interests of starting to link this back to my writing, that faith in individual people, at least in the long-term and the bigger picture, is a major theme of the stories I tell. In 'Bad Romance', the characters trade constantly in trust and deception, but every act of trust engenders a little more trustworthiness in the recipient (and if this sounds unrealistic, it's only because I'm putting it so simplistically; my editor just emailed me a preliminary critique which particularly praised the depth and reality of my characters). In 'The Death of John Collins', much of the drama is created out of the various characters' refusals to take Collins at his word.

Above the individual, faith in humankind as a species is also a major theme. 'Man and God', while it acknowledges the flaws in human nature - and indeed goes as far as to show direct causal links between said flaws and the collapse of modern civilisation - also shows how the great strengths of human nature, loyalty, courage, imagination, intellect and so on, can eventually lift us past those flaws.

Maybe this sounds starry-eyed and optimistic to you; in which case, let me be cynical for a moment and say 'buy my books - let me make a more compelling case at your expense' (;D). But I mean it when I say that I'm rarely disappointed by individuals, and my experiences of dealing with individuals have given me a strong conviction that there remains hope for us as a whole species.

Of course, if you already share my optimism about individuals - and therefore, I hope, about me - then this can only reinforce your conviction, and I hope that gives you as much contentment as writing it has me. Not only are there good reasons to be a neomodernist, but it feels good. Try it on for a bit ;)

Monday, 11 April 2011

You're probably a neo-modernist... at least one respect. That's because the backlash against the rise of 'alternative medicine' is a quintessentially neomodern phenomenon (hint: if you're pro-alternative medicine in any major way, you probably don't want to read this blog). If you've ever complained about the lack of good evidence for the effectiveness of homeopathy or chiropractic, then been frustrated (or driven to screaming rage) by the argument 'well, science doesn't know everything', you're a neomodernist.

One of the major defining features of postmodernism is relativism, which says that there's no such thing as objective truth (that is, truth which is independent of the opinions of individual human beings). Therefore, says postmodernism, if two people produce different bodies of scientific evidence, there's no way to decide which body of evidence is 'correct'. It doesn't matter how the evidence was produced or how scrupulous the experimenters were, both bodies of evidence, even if they conflict utterly, are valid.

So, when a homeopath says 'science doesn't know everything', what they mean is 'your science doesn't know everything, because my science - regardless of my total lack of appropriate qualifications and training, and the woefully poor design of my studies and experiments - disagrees'. Naturally, this is a frustrating thing to have to deal with (particularly when the $%&@ers are getting subsidised to supply the NHS out of our tax money).

I should at this point refer you all to Dara O'Briain's brilliant skit on alternative medicine (check particularly around 1:50 somewhere), which covers these issues more entertainingly than I can - I'm a bit too worried about intellectual seriousness, po-faced academic that I am ¬_¬

Anyway, neomodernism says that that the postmodern reliance on relativism - and it gets into every aspect of postmodern thought one way or another, like a bad smell - is simply misguided. It was relevant for the postmodernists to bring up relativism as a tool of cultural understanding, because modernist attempts to pronounce judgement and proscribe treatment to 'backwards' societies certainly make for uncomfortable - and often wildly inaccurate - reading, but they took it far too far. This is really a legacy of Nietzsche and Existentialism ('If God is dead, then everything is permitted' and all that jazz - I'm sure I'll have more opportunity to explain this at some point, but now's not the time).

Neomodernism responds to this all-annihilating relativism with the simple point that actually, there are facts. It may be hard to tell what's right and wrong, but you do know the way to the post office. There may be no such thing as objective beauty, but if you turn the kettle on, it boils the water (unless it's broken).

It's such a stupidly obvious point that it seems impossible that the postmodernists could have made the relativistic mistakes they have (though it's far from the most stupidly obvious mistake ever made by a philosopher). But the fact that there is a reality - an objective reality (close enough) - out there means that some forms of relativism are simply false. Of course, no relativist could ever credit the idea that any doctrine could be simply false, but all we need to do is wish such people luck finding the post office...

If there is an objective reality, then there are more and less appropriate ways of learning about it. The documented, trial-and-error, experimental method of science is one of the finest ways of accumulating knowledge that mankind has ever come up with. In terms of its practical value - the total quantity of knowledge produced - it is galaxies ahead of any alternative. And whatever the status of ultimate truth, there can be no denying that the conclusions of science, when turned into practical devices, are reliable. Light bulbs give out light. Computers compute. Cars enable travel at speeds and over distances far greater than a human being can manage without.

The same principle applies to medicine - if you want to discover if a medicine is effective, there is an established procedure for doing so. Bureaucracy notwithstanding, the procedure is established FOR A REASON; namely, that it identifies what treatments are effective and what aren't. Apply treatment, in such a way as to minimise the placebo effect; compare progress of treated patient with untreated (and with alternative treatments); fund, support and buy the treatment which comes out on top. Check that all studies involved are as free as possible from economic bias.

It's not irrational prejudice to prefer the most effective method over alternatives; it is, in fact, perfectly rational behaviour. Neomodernism says that rationality (roughly defined as conduct tending towards making the world a better place) is one of the basic standards by which all activity should be judged. What this basically means is that common sense should prevail.

So there you have it; you're probably a neomodernist, at least in so far as you know the way to the post office.

The other end of the spectrum.

I spent most of the last week talking about market research and very businessy, practical things relating to my writing, but I don't want this blog to be just about that side of the enterprise. I also want it to be a blog about my writing and the ideas behind it. With that in mind, this week (yes, my weeks start on Sunday; I'm not a practicing Christian, but Sunday's usually my most free day so it's a good time to kick new themes off), I'm going to be talking about something much more abstract.

I will, of course, report on the common sense test as and when it happens - having only been home for about seven hours, there hasn't really been time to get organised yet, though it is lovely to be back and to have such nice weather for exploring my parents' excellent gardening efforts.

The theme of this week is, if you'll excuse the horrible jargon, neomodernism. You don't have to know in advance what this means - I'll be explaining in detail what neomodernism is over the course of the week. The reason I'm talking about neomodernism is because I recently discovered that I am a neomodernist (though I really hope I can find a better branding than that in time).

Let me explain by means of a brief introduction to the concept of neomodernism, along with modernism and postmodernism. Simplifying grossly, neomodernism can be seen as an attempt to modify modernism to take account of postmodern ideas. That sentence by itself doesn't help very much, but bear with me.

'Modernism' here refers to a view of the nature and destiny of the human species (and yes, it's a stupid name for a philosophical theory or movement). Modernism has its roots to a certain extent in the enlightenment, and to a certain extent in the work of philosophers like Hegel and Marx. Its defining trait - at least as it was explained to me - is a utopian vision of the future; a belief that mankind is naturally progressing towards an ideal society of contentment and luxury. You can see some of this belief in things like the hippy movement in the 60s.

There's some debate over the difference between 'postmodernism' and 'modernism', but essentially as I understand it, postmodernism throws the modernist idea of progress out the window. Postmodernism holds that while there can occasionally be a sense of motion about human society which leads to the appearance of progress, actual progress in a non-technological sense is impossible. Whatever our technology, it cannot fix the underlying problems of the human condition. If modernism is defined by a utopian vision, postmodernism is defined by dystopia. Blade Runner is archetypal postmodernism.

There are a whole lot of trends associated with postmodernism with which we're all familiar - referentiality and self-referentiality in art, for example, the distrust of science as leading towards 'truth', and moral relativism (the idea that what is 'right' or 'wrong' for someone to do is defined by the culture in which they live and no culture has a right to make moral judgments of another). One particularly insidious phenomenon which I think is a product of postmodernism is cultural irony; we have become a culture of cynics, sneering haughtily at anyone who shows any real fervor for an ideal. It's hard to express a serious passion for something without being regarded as a little bit weird.

I hate - and have hated for a long time - all these things, except some kinds of self-referential art. There is no doubt that postmodern skepticism of modernist optimism has some justification - after all, it may be the future, stupid, but we still don't have the flying car and we haven't eliminated war or even hunger - but it has gone too far and engendered too much pessimism.

This is where neomodernism comes in. Neomodernism acknowledges the postmodern evidence that the modernists are wrong about the inevitability of utopia, but denies that utopia is impossible. Neomodernism holds that progress - real, deep-running social progress - is possible, but only if we work at it and have faith in the project. Progress, says the neomodernist, requires us to stop being so endlessly negative and cynical about everything and actually think long, hard and sensibly about how to fix stuff.

Imagine the following conversation:

Modernist: Soon we shall have peace on earth and good-will to all. It is a historical inevitability!

Postmodernist: Oh shove it, you Bible-thumping, preachy moron. We're not going anywhere fast.

Neomodernist: (throws up hands in frustration) Dammit, you two, I'm sure we could achieve the ideal society if you two would just stop arguing and put your minds to it!

Anyway, every element of the neomodern credo which I've come into contact with so far (which may not be much, but to the best of my ability to tell it is as yet a small movement) has resonated with me at a very deep level. I only discovered that the label existed two weeks ago, but the beliefs which make up my neomodernism are all things I've held for a long time. Neomodernism is a perfect fit for me, and elements of the neomodern credo which I'll be discussing in the coming week form the philosophical background for my writing. I hope that doesn't put you off ;)

Saturday, 9 April 2011

What have I learned this week?

I have a confession to make, with apologies to any of my professors who happen to read this. I didn't do a whole lot of work as an undergraduate. Most of the time, when I didn't have an essay to submit or exam to prep for (and even sometimes when I did), I was goofing off doing stuff largely unrelated to philosophy. I can't honestly say I'm entirely sure what I did some of the time, though large quantities of Guitar Hero were involved.

When I did have an essay due, I tended to throw the whole thing together in a handful of work-intense days. I work very well in short bursts and I'm a very efficient essay-writer, so this was enough to get me excellent marks - and indeed, it keeps my PhD ticking along nicely. However, it has left me used to doing research work in very short periods of time, and putting everything else aside to do so.

This worked fine at undergrad level, where I wasn't also working two jobs, my band was hardly active, and life in general was sedentary. It worked partly because the academic world is actually pretty well-structured for making information available. That's sort of the point, really. Therefore, research is conducted in an environment designed for it.

Unfortunately, the research I've been trying to do this week hasn't been in an academic context. There isn't really an academic context for e-publishing yet, because it's so new (yes, I know it's technically been around since the 90s. You know what I mean). I've been trying to get information from first-hand sources, from people who haven't necessarily got any academic experience at all, from people who are trying to sell books, not help other people sell theirs.

As a result, while my research strategy is working, it's working slowly. I'm finding authors in my bracket fairly easily (today I added Steve Umstead to the list of people I'll be watching closely), but it's starting to look like I'll have to email them individually to get the information I'm after. I was sort of expecting every self-publishing author to be an evangelist in the Joe Konrath vein, happy to make sales figures and even royalty data publicly available as a matter of course; not that I think most of the people whose blogs I've been looking at are deliberately concealing the information, they just don't have a reason to make it public.

Basically, then, I've not been able to accumulate information at the speed I'm used to. I know there are people - a good number of people - out there doing well with e-self-publishing even at very early stages of their careers, so I know it's possible. It's hard, statistical data which will take a bit longer to come by - and it's exactly this kind of data which will be most important for a common sense test. Still, pretty much everything I've read this week has reinforced my optimism, and that means it's been valuable activity in and of itself.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Repeat after me: I am not superman

There are, occasionally, days when nothing is going to get done. Today is one such day for me. I slept poorly (thanks in part to housemates holding conferences in the hall outside my room after midnight), then got up early and taught 4 hours of formal logic. Having also done 5 miles of walking to get there and back, by the time I got home at around 2pm, I was shattered. It's also the last day of term today, and fatigue has been mounting for a while.

So, it is time for me to have a day for reminding myself I'm not superhuman. I think this is something it's vitally important to be able to do occasionally, particularly given that in self-publishing one has to carry the whole world on one's own shoulders so much of the time. It's OK to put it down for a day now and then - provided it is only a day now and then. How frequently you need it and what you do is up to you, but TAKE A BREAK now and then. You can't do good work if you work yourself to exhaustion.

In the spirit of the day, then, this is all you're getting ;) (all 1 of my followers, anyway). I have much of tomorrow free to finish off my research week and tidy up the loose ends in time for going home on Sunday. I will still be blogging next week, though - albeit on a slightly more abstract theme.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Some preliminary research results


I may know how to *do* research, but I don't enjoy it. I've spent much of today - though possibly not as much as I should have - trawling through Amazon's sci-fi bestseller lists and the Kindleboards for sci-fi, searching for authors who are self-publishing, per the research strategy I described on Tuesday. While there are many self-publishing authors, what I've mostly learned is that lots of them have never learned how to write marketing copy, and some haven't even learned how to SPAG-check (spelling, punctuation and grammar) their forum posts.

That much, at least, leaves me feeling fairly confident; I'm a pretty accurate typist and grammarian (I recognise the irony in using a word like 'grammarian' here - is it a real word or not?), and I'm pretty sure I can write better marketing copy than much of what I saw on the Kindleboards today. If nothing else, I can write shorter marketing copy - some people post up 1000-word plot summaries, and even anecdotes about how they came to write the book (tip, guys: the anecdotes go on your personal website).

Actually, one thing which has really surprised me is how few of the authors plugging their books on the Kindleboards had easily-Googleable personal sites or blogs. Something I've heard constantly from the blogs I read about how to succeed at self-publishing is that maintaining a good, active online presence is one of the best ways to draw readers. If all that turns up when I Google you is a list of Amazon links, you probably aren't casting your net wide enough.

The drawback from my perspective of it being hard to find people's blogs, particularly, is that that's where I was hoping to get most of the information I'm after - people's descriptions of what they're doing by way of self-promotion and what their results are like. Joe Konrath's blog is great for this, but he's a thriller writer, and 'thriller' is a rather different genre from sci-fi.

I've found a couple of success stories I'll be studying with interest; Christian Cantrell is running well on the sci-fi bestseller list with 'Containment', and Stephen J. Sweeney is doing pretty well on Apple's iBook store and has generated several hundred Amazon sales of a book he's giving away free everywhere else. So this is doable.

What I'm struggling to do is build a systematic body of evidence, rather than a collection of anecdotes and case studies. I'll try to do some more of this tomorrow, as well as dipping into some of the free books I've found today and checking my writing style against what's on show.

To finish with (and to see if my high opinion of my own promotional writing is in any way justified), here's a blurb I'm working on - note, still working on - for 'The Death of John Collins':

"Some believe John Collins destroyed time. Now, in the last human city, Collins has returned, and three students must make up their own minds about his motives. One worships him; one has sworn to kill him; billions of lives may hang on the decision of the third.

And Collins brings a warning: time is collapsing again."

What this needs at the moment, is a better first sentence, or possibly an all-caps leader along the lines of 'THE DESTROYER OF TIME RETURNS...' at the top. Does it grab you?

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The promised Screnzy post

Okay, large parts of tomorrow are set aside for research, so I don't need to feel too bad about having spent today on Script Frenzy and new toys. With that in mind, here's an off-topic post about Script Frenzy; what I'm doing, how it's going, and what, if anything, I'm learning.

What I'm doing for Script Frenzy is writing the next volume of my webcomic Prismatic Vodka. PV spent the second half of last year steadily going down the tubes as a combination of stresses and a lack of clarity about where it was going caused me to lose the ability to be funny. The actual story suffered as a result, and in mid-November, I put it on hold until I could recharge my creative juices. I realised that part of the problem was that I'd lost sight of where the characters were going and how I wanted them to end up.

It's now been four months plus since the hiatus began, and I've spent the interim (among other things) figuring out how to fix the comic's character problem so that I can start driving the characters towards the climax at the end of the volume after the one I'm currently writing.

It's actually going pretty well. I've given up trying to come up with a joke every page - I'm not a good enough humour writer to manage that, and given that the plot of this volume (volume 6) has already involved the immolation of probably 100,000,000 innocent human beings, in some places humour would be far more tasteless than I'm prepared to go. The result of this freedom from the punchline structure has been the confidence to polish dialogue and exposition, and to be a bit bolder with my action sequences - one sequence involves helicopter-mounted mages fighting demons in the skies above Berlin.

I'm a little past half-way through the 100-page target of the challenge, though I can probably expect to write more than 100 pages overall. Given that it's only April 5th, this can probably be taken as a good sign (though by 5 days into November, I was substantially closer to the completion of my NaNo target, and that involved a hell of a lot more words actually written). I'm hoping to finish by the end of the weekend, but it's starting to look unlikely - I'm a little too easily-distracted at the moment, particularly with the buying of new toys I can't really afford.

Overall, though, it's great to be writing again, and to be bringing back old fave characters from earlier in the comic's story (I celebrated the half-way point of the challenge by bringing back my favourite ever character, the benign-yet-irritable poet demon Ferdandt, who only previously featured in two scenes back in volume 3). It's also felt good to find that I can still come out with jokes - they may not be very 'good' jokes, but Prismatic Vodka has always been about finding humour in self-consciously bad jokes, so the quality of the joke itself doesn't matter.

It's also been a nice break between much more serious, dark writing projects. 'The Death of John Collins' can hardly be described as light-hearted, and 'The Earth Trembles', because it has to get to grips with Ayn Rand's bleak vision of mankind, is in some ways extremely dark.

That's all for today. Once again, I can't recommend Script Frenzy enough as a writing exercise, and indeed as a fun thing to do if you enjoy writing (particularly with a little pressure and friendly competition to carry you along).

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

It's OK to start your research with Wikipedia...

...provided you don't end it there.

This is a post about research methodology (with respect to my preparations for the Common Sense Test next week), and in particular the above important lesson which took me a long time to learn after being told several times as an undergraduate that it's not true.

Bah, that's a horrible sentence. The story goes like this: in Britain at least, most undergraduates are told at an early stage (possibly even before they finish school/college) that Wikipedia is 'not a credible source' and thus they shouldn't use it in their research. They then go on to try to do research without Wiki and other similar sources, and find it almost impossible to make any headway. The lucky ones eventually figure out that it's OK to use Wiki, just not to say you used it.

I was well into my PhD before I got to that point. Before then, I worked up huge quantities of stress trying to find introductory material on obscure philosophical topics like Meinong's ontology (don't ask) without using Wikipedia.

The problem is one of finding starting points. It's easy to look at something like the field of e-self-publishing, even limited to a genre such as speculative fiction, and think 'wow, how the hell do I find anything out at all?' The scale of activity in indie publishing these days is staggering, and set to continue growing. So, here, based on my experience as a research student in the similarly overwhelming field of abstract metaphysics, is a research strategy. You'll be able to judge the strategy, I hope, by the results it produces for me over the coming week or so.

Step 1: Refine your question.
You can't find answers to a question you don't know. What I have to figure out is what I need to know information about. In my case, I'm trying to prove that self-publishing is a viable option for a new author. I'm trying to prove that self-publishing can be used to supplement an income to an extent that justifies time and effort spent.

So, I'm looking for authors doing just that. Specifically, I'm looking for authors who are writing the same kind of stuff I'm writing, who are self-publishing online. I'm looking at a comparison of number of authors making money against total number of authors trying to make money, and at how much money is being made. I need to be able identify the authors whose work is selling well, and detailed information on their sales and (hopefully) their income from same. I also need some general statistics about the size of this slice of the industry.

Step 2: Go where the answers are.
It's impossible for a new author to be everywhere and to get their name everywhere. The chances of running into any kind of promotional material for a new speculative fiction writer just by clicking through the websites I normally visit (mainly webcomics and Web 2.0 stuff linked on Twitter) are pretty small. On the other hand, every new author knows that the Kindle boards are a great place to promote your work - because the shop selling it is two mouse-clicks away. There are (or at least I hope there are) still large online communities where people discuss science fiction and speculative fiction which are an obvious home for sci-fi novelists to try to accumulate sales.

This is where the point about Wikipedia comes in. It's easy to think that these sources will be unfiltered and unpoliced - which is the (snobbish and misguided) motivation behind the complaints teachers are always making about Wiki. To a certain extent, it's true that the actual text that will appear on your screen is unpoliced, but that's what God (or Darwin, your choice) gave you a brain for. In a quick skim down a single thread on the Kindle boards just now, I was quickly able to discard half the posts by the quality of the promotional writing - whether the actual book being promoted is any good or not, no-one's going to sell books with marketing copy that looks like a poorly-punctuated amateur plot synopsis.

Step 3: Follow the answers where they lead.
If I had been doing something other than a quick skim, my next step (the 'provided you don't end at Wiki' step) would have been to click the links the remaining posters were helpful enough to provide - to look at the reviews they wanted me to read, and probably to find links to the ones they didn't want me to read. I'd also look up the author on Wiki, to see if they were successful enough to rate a mention (if nothing else, Wiki is a great barometer of significance-to-someone-somewhere). Lastly, I'd look at the author's own blog and Twitter feed, and do a simple Google on their name - possibly with the book title if it's a fairly common name.

The overall point, then, is that you have to start from the unfiltered, aggregator-type sources with research, because these are the only places where the information you want all gets indexed in one place. The aggregator then gives you links to more information on the particular entry you've just looked up (an index or phone directory isn't a bad analogy for this way of using Wiki or the Kindle boards), which in turn gives you a path or set of paths to follow. Provided you take decent notes along the way - and yes, note-taking is ESSENTIAL - you end up with exactly the information you're after.

I hope I'll have time to start arriving at some results tomorrow, though it may have to wait until Thursday before I have anything more than a list of names and titles. This strategy has proven sound not just for my PhD, though, but also for my Distinction-earning MA thesis, so I'm fairly confident, and I highly recommend going about your market research this way if you're struggling.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Speculations on Genre (ha ha)

As I said yesterday, I'm spending this week doing research for a 'common sense test' of my self-publishing plans. Of course, I don't have much more than the current half-hour free today to do anything on this front, which rather prevents me coming up with anything substantial.

So, I thought I'd cover one area I need to sort out in order to do effective research which I haven't really confronted yet, which is figuring out what genre I'm writing in - how am I going to position my books, and what will they therefore be competing with. I have a few different labels to play around with. I like the idea of branding my work as 'conceptual fiction' (that is, fiction whose main interest is investigating some particular concept or other), but I don't think that's a label in widespread use, so there's no guaranteeing anyone would understand what it means.

'Philosophical fiction', another label which is entirely semantically appropriate, is wrong for different reasons; primarily because I'd imagine that when most people think of 'philosophical fiction', they think specifically of Sartre's 'Nausea', or possibly something by Camus. That's a far cry from the sort of novels I'm writing, though my intention in writing it is, I think, similar to the intention by which Sartre wrote 'Nausea'.

Initially, I was considering branding myself a 'hard sci-fi' author, and stressing that the 'hard' part was more philosophical/metaphysical than laboratory-scientific. I'd be aligning myself with the likes of Isaac Asimov (particularly the Robot stories) as against someone like Greg Egan. However, I think 'hard sci-fi' is more closely associated with the Greg Egan end of the spectrum these days; much more novels which you have to understand a lot of physics to get to grips with the story.

Of course, that means it would now be a little bit misleading to call 'I, Robot' hard sci-fi. A more common label, I'd guess, would be 'speculative fiction', which I think is the best label I'm going to be able to come up with. The compass of speculative fiction includes Asimov, Philip K. Dick and Ursula LeGuin (I'm reading 'The Left Hand of Darkness' at the moment, with growing fascination), and while I don't quite have the arrogance to put myself on their level, I think I'm doing, or trying to do, the same sorts of things.

I'll expand a bit what I mean. 'The Death of John Collins', as I've said, grew out of a piece of MA coursework on the nature of time. I started with physicist Itzhak Bars' theory of two-dimensional time and looked at how the linearity (one-dimensionality) of time as we experience it could arise in that context. Then I came up with a story which explored that vision of the world. In the novel, the story comes first, but I tried to systematically realise the logical consequences, from a human as well as a metaphysical standpoint, of this theory of time.

'Bad Romance' is also in a sense speculative - what it speculates on is just how far you can go with pretending to be someone you aren't in public (particularly in the media and online) without actually creating a person. It pushes the classic speculative fiction question of identity and draws much of what is distinctive about its story out of these two areas. Most importantly, while the story (which, again, is king) is a romance, I tried to write a book of speculative fiction whose story is a romance, rather than a romance which speculates on public life; I tried to write in a style which reflects the history of speculative fiction and my history as a reader of it (I've certainly never been an avid reader of romances). I don't think 'Bad Romance' would sit any more easily on a 'romance' bookshelf than on a 'speculative fiction' one.

I've always quite liked the old label sometimes applied to Ayn Rand's novels, the 'novel of ideas'. In a sense, it's a much broader label than those I've considered here, but it's also possibly the most appropriate, partly because it's so broad. Equally, it's clumsy to use in marketing language and a little bit anachronistic, so I think I'll stick with 'speculative fiction' for now.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

The common sense test

A week tomorrow, I'm going home to visit my parents for a few days. I haven't quite told them yet of my plans to self-publish. Being avid dead-tree-lovers, I suspect they'll be slightly hostile to the idea. I think they'd be horrified if they realised how much work I was intending putting into it.

However, my father is the best purveyor of common sense I know, so I'm going to sit down with him for an hour or two while I'm at home, discuss my plans with him in detail and see if he thinks they make sense. If the plans pass this test, I'll feel comfortable putting in the time, effort and, particularly, money to make my books sell.

Of course, that means I need detailed plans. I need a detailed, evidence-based case for self-publishing, based on sales figures for authors in my bracket and genre, and I need to know what the ones who have succeeded have done to generate that success. And I have just a week to find out.

So, obviously, if you know any relatively new speculative fiction writers successfully self-publishing online, please let me know. Also, if you know any good resources for aggregated statistics on ebook sales (particularly if you can get a breakdown by genre), I'd appreciate it.

What other sorts of things will I be looking at? Well, among other things, I need to do some costing. I've got a total budget, if the plans get the go-ahead, of about £800. I need to get two novels ready for sale, which means I need a(t least one) full edit on both, plus market research - which I should be able to do almost for free, because it's the future, stupid - and cover design and artwork. I've seen some places advertising cover art as low as around $250 (about £155), but I think I've got some shopping-around to do.

I also need to learn my way around formatting for ebook release, though with such short books, plus a fair deal of coding and HTML experience, I'm expecting to be able to do this myself, provided I leave myself enough time to get it done.

The last thing that I need to be able to outline a plan for is networking, and I'll happily admit I'm bad at this. I'm bad enough at being sociable, face-to-face, with people I know and like, never mind people I don't like who might be in another country.

Anyway, I'll be dedicating the coming week to some basic research on these points, and I'll share my findings as and when I have any. I don't know what I'll be able to manage tomorrow, as I'm not sure I'll have a single moment to myself - work all morning, then a philosophy colloquium in the afternoon, and I'm going straight from that to a gig my band are playing at. I'll probably get home around midnight. A long lunch-break is my only chance to get anything done. Wish me luck!

Saturday, 2 April 2011

If you would hit the mark... must aim a little above it. - Longfellow (thanks, Twitter!)

I am tempted to declare the above my motto (yes, I'm still not doing a proper blog about Script Frenzy - I'll get to it, I promise). I'm a very ambitious person. It's the natural combination, I feel, of imagination and optimism, and I have both in spades.

I want to talk a bit about my ambitions. Not so much my career ambitions - I want to make a comfortable living off my writing, and that's about it, really (of course, I'm *aiming* to make millions... ;D). I want to talk about my ambitions to write.

I'm in the bad habit of planning lengthy series of novels. I seldom start a single-story project without having it sprout sequels, spin-offs and other ideas. 'The Death of John Collins' started life as a short story, and I'll be lucky to keep it down to a trilogy. 'Bad Romance' started life as a standalone novel, and ended up getting absorbed - along with a lot of other standalone novels - into a truly epic sequence whose completion has become one of my main goals.

I used to deliberately try to write long sequences, because I thought that a longer story would automatically be more complex and therefore more rewarding. That's very much putting the cart before the horse. Once I got things straightened out, I've found I can't stop coming up with sequels and expanding series.

It isn't - or at least, I hope it isn't - the kind of syndrome which has been plaguing Hollywood for a while now. The film industry is churning out needless, bland sequels all the time these days, because a sequel is safe. I add to sequences and stories, when I do, for one of two reasons; either because I believe a character deserves more time in the sun, or because I believe the books that already exist (in my head) require or mandate a book about something else.

It's the latter case which affects the 'Bad Romance' sequence, more than the former. 'Bad Romance' is book 1 of 'Man and God', a sequence of which I've currently laid out 21 books (with the overall story still basically lacking a third act). Now, I'm expecting most if not all of those books to be in the 60-80,000-word range, so we're still not in 'Wheel of Time' territory by a long chalk, but it's still a long sequence.

Why write a sequence that long? There's only one good reason; I want to write those books. Most of the first part (books 1-10) consists of books which more or less stand alone, but just happen to happen in the same world. They describe distinct, separate key events in the collapse of modern society and the birth of its replacement. By the time I realised they fit together in this fashion, seven of the books were already on my 'I'd like to write a book about that' list (Bad Romance wasn't one of them).

I probably wouldn't be trying to market Man and God as a series if I was attempting to break into conventional publishing. Fortunately, I'm not, so I can talk about the series and its ethos now. Part 1 of Man and God is a collection of books which explore philosophical and sociological areas which fascinate me (tribalism, myth, economics, faith and hope, among others). The demise of modern civilisation happens to make a good backdrop; I wanted to write the books, I discovered that putting them together would help each book, provided I added a few to the mix, which I discovered I also wanted to write.

My ambition, in all these cases, is to write such-and-such a book, not to write a 20- or 30-book sequence which happens to involve writing a few particular books.

I suppose the other point to make is that all I'm talking about is ambition to write the books. I'll put them all on sale, though I'm not necessarily expecting them all to sell equally. And nothing stops me writing them - that's the great thing about writing; I can write whatever I want, and if a certain book doesn't make any money, that's just an excuse to write another book and see if that one does.

Maybe I won't ever finish 'Man and God'. Maybe I won't even finish the Collins trilogy. But that's where my ambitions lie right now, so here goes...

Friday, 1 April 2011

Right, Script Frenzy's underway...

So naturally, I'm talking about my writing influences. Wait, what?

Well, I'm spending my Screnzy trying to get the webcomic back on-track with some proper scripting, so it's probably not going to afford much to talk about from the perspective of my novels (though I do highly recommend trying your hand at screenwriting if you want to write novels professionally - and hey, Screnzy is much easier than NaNo).

I'm talking about my influences out of nothing more than indulgence, really. Partly because I want to recommend some great books you may not have heard of, but also as something of a break from all the serious work I know I'll need to do to meet my targets for the next nineteen months. Maybe it will also shed some light on where I'm coming from - and therefore where I'm going.

If we're talking influences, I have to start from 'Hyperion' by Dan Simmons. 'Hyperion' is an amazing book - probably not the best in terms of technical writing, but staggering in its richness and depth. In particular, it's the only space opera I've ever read which has delivered enough diversity of human culture to convince me that it's a vision of *our* future. Most of the sci-fi I've read has limited itself to at most a half-dozen distinct human cultures, with the suggestion that cultural diversity will die off with technological progress, and I don't buy it at all. In Hyperion and its sequels, there are hundreds of cultures - and better yet, you can sort of trace how certain strands of modern culture might develop into the cultures it features. The three sequels improve on the formula in various ways - books 2 and 4 are in constant competition for the title of 'my favourite book'.

Another epic sequence I love is Janny Wurts' 'Wars of Light and Shadow' (actually, I've never read a Janny Wurts book I didn't love). The quality here comes from the construction of brilliant characters, particularly the hero, Arithon. Arithon is defined by compassion and foresight - and Wurts shows with piercing, painful clarity time and time again how these virtues can be crippling. I'm not sure any other book has managed to make me share so much of a character's suffering - and eventual catharsis.

Quite apart from fiction, though, I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about my philosophical influences. This isn't just because I am a philosopher and philosophy has been my primary activity for the last five and a half years, but because my philosophy is a way of life, and is a way of life which is reflected in and advocated by my novels; each of those novels explores a little piece of my philosophy, and if you put them all together, the whole picture should become clear.

My biggest philosophical influence remains Sartre, particularly his 'Existentialism and Humanism', the first philosophy book I read. E&H isn't always coherent, possibly suffers in translation, and isn't very long, but it sets out a vision of mankind which has always resonated with me. I'm not going to go into great detail about that vision now - over the next few months, there will plenty of time for that while I explore the philosophy of Ayn Rand (which has eerie parallels to Sartre's system, mad as that may sound) in preparation for writing 'The Earth Trembles' - but I want to bring out some fundamental points.

Firstly, free will. The philosophical debate over whether or not we 'have' free will is one of the most clouded, difficult areas of philosophical discourse. I've come to the conclusion over the years that we have something similar enough to the traditional conception of free will to serve the same moral purpose - that is, making us responsible for our actions. This is an essential (ha ha - philosophical joke) part of Sartre's existentialist philosophy. Whatever you do, and however it works out, you did it and it is a part of you.

For Sartre, the foremost virtue - in some senses the only virtue - is authenticity, by which is meant never trying to be something, but instead always being yourself. You should not pick a target (for example, 'I will be a writer') and then make your decisions based on what you think a writer would do; you should do the things that you believe it is right for you to do, and if you end up writing, only then call yourself a writer. So, I am a writer, because I have written - not because that is what I have successfully tried to become. It's a subtle point, but the import will become evident when I go into the system in more detail.

The last important concept I want to take from existentialism at this point is the existential idea of universalisability. This says - and I'm not sure it's ever explicit in Sartre's writing, but it's unavoidable if you look closely - that every time you do something, you in effect declare it permissible for anyone else in those circumstances to do the same thing. You don't get to count yourself as a 'special case' of mankind - in every situation you find yourself in, you represent the whole species and must behave accordingly.

Maybe none of this makes any sense. If it doesn't, I'm probably not explaining it very well. I am, after all, 12% of the way through a challenge to write a screenplay in a month (again, DO SCRIPT FRENZY), so I've an excuse to be distracted. Also, it's been a long week. Bear with me, I'll explain in more detail - and with more attempt at persuasion - in the not-too-distant future. Tomorrow, more writerly-type stuff.