Saturday, September 29, 2012

Review of Things We Didn't See Coming.

Things we Didn’t See Coming is a collection of nine stories with the same unnamed central character. The stories are told in a linear order and follow the life of the main character from his childhood to his death. The first story is set on New Year’s Eve 1999 and subsequent stories extend fifty years into the future. The stories are all set in an Australia suffering wild climatic swings.

The main character is neither hero nor anti-hero. He is an everyman survivor; a loner, not a leader. He is shown adapting to new roles and situations as the world around him falters and transforms.  

Things We Didn’t See Coming is a perfect title for the book. When most people think of climate change they think of prolonged drought, but in this book the climate swings wildly, as scientists always predicted it would. Each of the nine stories is unpredictable, but not so much in having twists at the end, more that the stories head in unexpected directions and surprise the reader with what the characters are actually up to.  

The book is written in a very sparse style. There is not a lot of description or exposition. This is very much a speculative fiction piece where the reader gets to speculate on what happened to get the main character to his current situation.

The novel won the 2009 Age Book of the Year. I absolutely loved it. Because of its literary nature, I would recommend it to any reader who thinks about the future, not just those who enjoy science-fiction.  

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Ebook Price Survey.

Ebook Prices.

Another seven weeks have passed since I last checked the prices of Amazon’s 100 best-selling ebooks. The trend of ebooks becoming dearer, that I reported in August, seems to have stabilised.

At the lower prices, six ebooks were 99c as compared to seven at that price in August and three in June. This is down from a massive 34 at 99c in February.

$1.99 has resurfaced as a price in the best seller list, with eight ebooks at that price. The last two times the number priced at $1.99 was too insignificant to mention.

The number at the ebook guru price of $2.99 remained steady at 16. In August there were 15, June 22, and in February 32 at that price.

$3.99 (14) and $4.99 (9) have been confirmed as popular selling prices for ebooks. For $3.99 the numbers were 17 in August and 13 in June. There were 11 at $4.99 in August.

Thirty ebooks were priced $7 or more this time, compared to 32 in August and 47 in June.

The mid-range of prices, $3.99 to $6.99, with 36 ebooks, seems to be becoming more popular.  
The three "Fifty Shades" ebooks were at $9.09, which is interesting as I saw the paperback version of the first book in that series selling for $8 in Kmart. Most lovers of books would normally buy the paperback version, but many might prefer the anonymity of an ebook. So perhaps the publishers can get away with the ebook being more expensive than the paperback version.

Ebooks Sales.

Aussie author Graham Storrs is having some success selling his very good ebook Timesplash using the Kindle Select scheme. I have mentioned this scheme before. The scheme allows an author to temporarily make the ebook free which hopefully sees it rise up the bestseller lists, raising the ebook’s profile and leading to increased paid sales when the price comes back on.  

Graham says that once the free book giveaway was over, “TimeSplash started selling. In the weeks that followed, it peaked at 400 sales a day and it stayed in the top 100 for ten weeks.”

400 sales a day! Not bad at all.

In previous posts, I have reported on a few other authors who have successfully boosted their sales using the KDP scheme.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

My Writing Stats and a New Article on Divine.


Writing Stats.

Like many men, I am fascinated by statistics. One of the ways I display this fascination is by keeping a record of the number of words I write each day. This record includes both fiction writing and the writing of articles for the Divine website.

Recently I checked my word count record and found I had written at least 10 words on each of the last 366 days. So I have fulfilled the Norman Mailer quote stuck to the bottom of my computer monitor that says “a real writer produces work even on bad days.”

I totalled up the number of words for the past year and it came to 128,000, which is 349 words a day. Now if only it was a1000 words a day, then I might get somewhere.

Oh, and I have just clicked over the 100,000 words on the novel I am writing.

Adventures in Dentistry.

This week I had my 23rd article posted on the Divine website. The article is about my adventures using the public dental system. It contains a few numbers like 6090, which is the number of dollars quoted by my dentist to fix my teeth.

I left out a few numbers from the article like on Monday I will be heading down to Melbourne for the 16th time to see a dentist since April last year. It will be my 26th dentist appointment in that time.

Word Counts in Ebooks.

I do wish the people who format anthologies into ebooks shared my enthusiasm for numbers. Then they could include a word count under the title of each story in the anthology to let me know how long the story is. Ebook anthologies don’t have page numbers in their tables of contents (at least the ones I checked didn’t). So the only way of knowing the length of a story is to laboriously click through each page until the end. I want an easier way to figure out whether I have time to read a story.

Those of you who trawl through my longer blog posts will probably be very happy that this one is a brief 361 words.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Ten Best Apocalyptic Novels I Have Read.

I finished reading Justin Cronin’s apocalyptic vampire novel The Passage a week ago. It is a brilliant novel in both the way it is written and the story. Cronin introduces dozens of characters, each with individual fears and problems that make them easy to empathise with. The Passage is one of the best adventure epics I have read. I had been thinking it was close to the best apocalyptic fiction I have read. To try and decide if it is the best, I went through my book shelves and found dozens of apocalyptic novels to compare it too.

I define apocalyptic fiction as any story set during the collapse of a civilisation and/or the stories of the survivors in the years after that collapse. Some novels in my shelves had civilisation slowly in decline, not so much a collapse, so I did not include them. This meant my all-time favourite science fiction novel, The Sea and Summer, by George Turner, missed out.

After a much consideration, here is a list of the top ten apocalyptic novels I have read:

1. The Passage, Justin Cronin
2. The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood
3. The Road, Cormac McCarthy
4. Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
5. The Genensis of Shannara trilogy, Terry Brooks
6. Things We Didn’t See Coming, Steven Amsterdam
7. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
8. Warday and the Journey Onward, Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka
9. Graffiti, Peter Van Greenaway
10. Earth Abides, George R Stewart.

As you can see, I am a bit of a fan of Margaret Atwood. Five of the novels are written by “literary” writers in Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy and Steve Amsterdam. Justin Cronin also claims to be a non-genre writer before he wrote The Passage. Steve Amsterdam Is the only Australian on the list.

The books made the list for all different reasons. The Road for its bleak atmosphere, the boy and man only have the struggle of the next day to look forward too. It’s keep moving or die.

The Genensis of Shannara is written for young adults and its theme could leave them thinking that they better be prepared to live in a world destroyed by their parents. Brooks might not be the greatest writer, but he can sure tell an engrossing tale that kept me wanting hoping the main characters survived, for three books.  

I loved the way Things We Didn’t See Coming is divided into eight or so self-contained short stories. Steve Amsterdam does a brilliant job of imagining the life of a person born just before the year 2000 coping with future dramatic environmental shifts. The novel sure lives up to its name because I was constantly surprised by the stories in it.

Warday is written like a diary and gives an account of what happens when emp pulses from a limited nuclear attack send the US back into the stone age. It shows in grim detail the decline of the US.

Graffiti has a great concept, the history of the world after a nuclear war is written on the walls of a hotel. So much for ebooks being the future.

Margaret Atwood’s novels are so well written. Her words are seamlessly put together, there are no attempts at cleverness that throw me out of her novels. I think she does a better job of writing like a man, than most men do. She writes how she imagines characters would behave when civilisation is collapsing or collapsed, not how she would hope they would behave. The Year of the Flood is a prequel to Oryx and Crake.

And Earth Abides was probably the first apocalyptic novel I read. It shows attempts to re-establish civilisation stalling.

Cause of the Apocalypse

What did these writers imagine destroyed civilisation?

1. The Passage – genetically engineered vampires
2. The Year of the Flood - a virus
3. The Road - nuclear war
4. Oryx and Crake - a virus
5. The Genesis of Shannara - pollution, genetic engineered mutants, and demons
6. Things We Didn’t See Coming - climate change
7. The Handmaid’s Tale - pollution and biological warfare
8. Warday - nuclear war
9. Graffiti - nuclear war
10. Earth Abides - a virus.

I will probably read Stephen King’s The Stand one day. King’s Under The Dome just failed to make the list. I also must read the classics War of the Worlds and Day of the Triffids. And I am still yet to delve into apocalyptic zombie novels.   

What’s your favourite apocalyptic novel?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Author Tony Birch Visits Wangaratta

As part of the Melbourne Wheeler Centre’s “On the Road” program, author Tony Birch was in Wangaratta last Wednesday. Birch’s novel Blood was nominated for this year’s Miles Franklin award. I went and saw him talk primarily because he had some indigenous blood in him and I am curious about how his writing might portray indigenous Australians. He also teaches creative writing at Melbourne University so I was hoping for some writing tips.

The talk was free, but only about a third of the 100 or so seats were occupied. The audience made me feel young.

The Perfect Pedigree?

Tony Birch seems to have lived a life full of hardship and triumph over adversity. He grew up on a housing commission estate, his father was an alcoholic, Birch was expelled from schools for fighting, he was a fireman for eight years, he then went on to get a PHD in history. Jealous of how his background made him attractive to publishers, I consoled myself with the knowledge that I could still reimagine my background like Bryce Courtney seems to have done.

Tips on Character Development

Birch had some interesting things to say about writing. The narrator in Blood is a 13 year-old boy. Birch said when creating the character he had to think how a 13 year-old would think. But there was a lot more to it than thinking how he would relate to a particular issue at that age. Birch had to try and think how this particular, older and wiser than his years because of his hard life, character would think. Birch said unlike his first novel Shadowboxer, Blood was not autobiographical.

Birch said he got one of his characters from an image he saw. This interested me as I have gone a lot further than just appropriating an image. In the novel I am currently writing I used aspects of particular movie/television characters. My excuse is I started writing it in National Novel Writing Month, so I had no time to fully imagine characters while frantically writing. But the appropriated characters developed their own non TV/movie personas as I wrote.

How Birch Learnt to Write

He said even though he was expelled from school, he was always good at English at school and wrote a lot of stories. Birch said reading books and newspapers was very important in him learning to write. Disappointedly he did not mention any Australian authors when asked to name writers who influenced him. John Steinbeck was one of the writers he mentioned.

He suggests writing economically, leaving it up to the writer to fill in the details. He also admitted he can’t write sex scenes. He sees himself more as a writer of short stories. Nearly all the stories he writes are published. In a good year he sells six short stories.

I walked out of the hour long talk with a copy of his book and a boost in motivation.