Friday, 28 February 2014


What a week!  I haven't been this busy in a long time.  A whole lotta stuff Happened at once.  While I try to unburden my life from unnecessary stress, sometimes one can't avoid a whole lotta crap happening simultaneously.

So here is a list of randomosity to remind me (and you) that there's some really cool stuff out in the world.

This Knight battling this Snail.

I don't know what it is, but knights battling snails was a common theme in Mediaeval marginalia.  That the snail is a metaphor I am sure. A metaphor for what?  Nobody really knows.

No such thing as too many cats on the Internet:

The Internet was made for posting pictures of cats.

Mr Money Mustache:  Financial Freedom Through Badassity. Click thru for some brilliant financial advice.  I wish I'd found this sooner.

Don't be UnAustralian. Eat Lamb. 

Or rather, as Easter is approaching, indulge in something Goo:

Um.... not quite sure what to make of this. Funny?  Disturbing?  Comment in the comments.

Her Grace has realised that she needs to learn the fine art of No... six months before the consequences are felt.  She also needs a raise.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Back Up Your Work!

I know, two posts from me in one day.  Normally I'd space stuff out, but this is very important:


Reason #9:  Cryptoviruses are Scary. Like, total freaking-out make-grown-men-cry scary.

Today at the Day Job one of our users picked up a cryptovirus.  It scanned her whole computer (including connected network drives) and encrypted all her data. Then, it told her that unless she paid them a ransom of  US$300/EU€300, her data would remain encrypted forever.  The program included payment options that are rather untraceable.

If you read about something like this in the news you'd be, "whatever".  But to witness it in real life was SCARY.  The moment we identified that we were dealing with a cryptovirus, we went to battle stations.

1.  We unplugged the computer from the network.  Isolation of an infected computer is paramount.

2.  We diagnosed the disease.  While you'd think that step #3 would be the logical next step, we always do a touch of investigation when this sort of thing happens.  What are we dealing with?  Is it a danger to anything else on our system? This is important in case something spreads.

When we tried to clean it off the machine, it upped the stakes:

See that bit at the bottom that says if you attempt to clean off the virus, your stuff will remain encrypted forever?  That's just mean.

3.  Nuke the machine from orbit.  It's the only way to be sure.  Now that the machine is confirmed infected, we completely mind-wipe the sucker--virus, documents, operating system, everything.  Completely gone.

What, you say?  What about the poor lady's documents?

This, dear readers, is why we have backups.

Backing up your work isn't just for writers and accountants.  If you're an average joe with a computer, chances are you've got personal stuff on there--photos of the kids, etc.  A cryptovirus will scramble these into an unusable state.  I've lost personal stuff like photographs before (when a HDD went ker-splodey).  Broke my heart.

I don't want to see that happen to you.

Please make a backup of everything on your computer that is important to you.  (If it's not important, why are you keeping it?)  External hard drives have come down in price. Even the humble thumb drive may save your bacon one day.  Other computers, burnt CDs, Clouds...  There's plenty of options.

I will cry if I hear something happened to you and you didn't have adequate backup.

Go back up your work.  Please.

Her Grace believes inadequate backups are like kicking puppies. It makes the whole world cry.  This Public Service Announcement brought to you by real-life tragedy.

Influencing Quality Regulation in Self-Publishing

With so much self-publishing going on, is there any way of influencing quality? 
It does come down to individual taste.

One method could be by reviews.  

This system already exists but is, I believe, under-utilised.   

Why?  Maybe because people forget that they are allowed to rate books.  We +1 Google posts. We favourite Tweets. We Like Facebook posts, and the list goes on.  So why don't we rate books more often?  Amazon allows it.  GoodReads allows it.  Heck, my local library allows it on their catalogues.

eBay, that ginormous online garage sale, uses a self-rating model to improve the quality of its transactions.  If nobody knew you were an asshole, you'd probably get away with poor service, ill-described products and other sins for quite some time.  But because of feedback for our transactions, everything is open and (mostly) honest and aboveboard.  Sure, there's a bad transaction here and there.  Nobody is perfect. Yet to see most sellers and buyers with 99.X% positive feedback is heartening.

Perhaps when it comes to books, as readers we need to up our game, especially for the small press, the indie publishers, the self-publishers.  Honestly, why are we bothering to give a review of Twilight or Hunger Games or Harry Potter when there's so many other midlist and debut authors whose work is in greater need of our honest feedback?

Are readers afraid of leaving a bad review?  How many of us were raised with "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all"?  In casual face-to-face conversation, this is a very good rule.  In business, maybe honest is a better policy.

As readers, we're consumers of a product.  Providing feedback in the form of reviews lets us share our opinions.  If a book's good, we need to say it's good. If it's bad, we, likewise, should say something. 

Three Stories

Story #1:  Once upon a time I came across a blog somewhere about Really Bad Book Covers. (Forgive me, I can't remember which one.)  One post was dedicated completely to one self-published author.  Yes, his covers were truly hideous.  But it wasn't a case of good author/bad artist.  I looked up the author on Amazon and had a quick peek inside several randomly-selected novels.

Oh dear.  Spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes and a few other issues that even a half-drunk editor would have picked up on.  The work had not been edited and it showed. 

And the poor guy had written and self-published a good thirty-something novels.  I checked out early novels and his later novels.  I did not notice any significant changes between the early works and the later works.  This guy was getting no feedback.

Not a single review was posted at all under his Amazon page.  Have no idea how many copies he's sold.  Apparently nobody wanted to admit they'd bought one.

I checked out his books on GoodReads.  Five stars across the board, except for one, which was three stars.  

Oh, really?  How come?

When I had a look, the guy had self-reviewed and had rated himself highly. He was the only reviewer on his books.   The one book with three stars had two ratings, his, and another reader's. The reader had rated the book a low one star, mostly because of plot reasons.

Had he received several bad reviews, would this author have considered revisiting his [many] issues and create a better product based on consumer feedback?

Story #2:  As an apprentice writer and university freshman, I had the opportunity to attend a creative writing class at university.  Before that class, I thought I was a pretty good writer. I'd written several short stories, personal essays, poems, even three novels by then.  I thought I was doing rather well.

Then I workshopped a piece.  

Oh, one had never seen such terrible destruction of a piece of writing!  Had my vocation not been The Word, that class alone would have turned me off writing forever. (But I persevered throughout my university career, through even worse classes than that.  I survived.)

One thing I did learn was that I had not enough master of the craft to see the blatant mistakes I was making. Feedback gave me that. The taking apart of my work was not done maliciously.  The feedback was correct and justified.  I am a better writer today because if it.

Story #3:    Harry Potter.  The reason it did so well out of its initial first print run of only 500 hardcovers was because people read it AND TALKED ABOUT IT. 

They gave their honest feedback.  And look what happened.

Word-of-mouth is one of the best marketing tools there is.

We should use it more.

Her Grace likes telling people about the good stuff she's read.  Likewise, she'll also express her disappointment in a novel that didn't strike her right.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Read Someone New

Vintage lady reading

We always have our favourite authors--comfortable go-to stories we enjoy over and over again.  I love drinking through a Marion Chesney or Julia Quinn.

We might have discovered these authors based on someone's recommendation, or we might have been hooked by the cover and/or back cover blurb.

As I spend an occasional hour or two working at a library, I have access to all the new fiction that comes through the doors.

Because of this, I'll often read someone new.

How often do you seek out new authors, especially ones you've never heard of?

Kind of scary, isn't it?  What if I don't like their book? What if their style doesn't gel with me?  What if I don't get along with their characters?

And I say, how will you know unless you give them a try?

Every author, EVERY. AUTHOR, was once a debut author with no backlist, no reputation, nothing.  Yet they made it because plenty of readers thought, "Ooh, I ought to read that book."

Today, with the advantages of the Internet, we can scout out a potential author's online presence.  Maybe they've got a few short stories you can read.  Amazon and GoodReads might have reviews.  Also speaking of Amazon, there might be a preview of the first chapter of their debut book.  You can have a taste. If it hooks you, give that author a chance.  (If you give them a chance, do them a favour and leave an honest review of their work somewhere.)

Jennifer Jackson gave me a copy of an Ace/Roc Sampler, featuring several debut authors.  Being in Australia, I don't get as much exposure to debut authors from the US.

This is who they are:

M.L. Brennan  Generation V (American Vampire #1)--urban fantasy.  First page caught my interest not because the main character Fortitude Scott (what an American name!) was a vampire, but because he had a degree in film theory.  (My degree is in film studies, essentially the same thing, only my degree featured a whole lotta hands-on film experience.  Extras don't end up on the IMDB, but film crew does. Not much street cred, but street cred nonetheless.)  Also, the voice was fresh, flowed well and was hooky.  Would I read this book based on the first page?  Absolutely.   M.L. Brennan is a win.

Stella Gemmell  The City--epic fantasy.  Turns out this is the wife of the late David Gemmell.  The style is very rich, and didn't quite hook me at first.  would I read this book based on the first page?  Probably not.  But that doesn't mean I wouldn't persist for a few pages to see if it grabbed me.

Django Wrexler The Thousand Names--epic fantasy.  Now, why do I know this name? Wracking my brain to figure out where I've seen him before.  (Possibly the Online Writing Workshop? Or maybe Podcastle? Can't recall.)  Anyhow, his epic fantasy style is not as heavy as Gemmell's, so it hooked me better.  Also immediately, we meet three weary soldiers with very different personalities.  Yeah, I'd read on.  (Man, I wish I could recall where I've heard this name before!  Driving me nuts.)

Luke Scull The Grim Company--quest fantasy.  Ooh, wizards challenging gods. I likes me some of that.  Also a sucker for quest fantasy, as long as there's interesting twists in there.  I was spoiled by the quest fantasies of the 1980's.  This, however, didn't grab me as much as I wanted it to.  Still, I'd persist in hopes that it would grab me. The character Brodar Kayne might appeal to me on further reading. He's a man with baggage.

Alan Averill The Beautiful Land--urban time travel sci-fi.  The plotline sounds wonderfully complex.  Takahiro O'Leary's Day Job is to investigate other timelines for his company.  Then his company wants to exploit some of the info he brings back, thus threatening the existence of the woman he loves--who has PTSD from the Iraq War.  Then a third party comes along and wants to destroy everything so they can get to one of the alternative realities called The Beautiful Land.  Man vs everything that wants to mess up his life. First page caught my interest, but the genre isn't my cup of tea.  Would I keep reading?  Probably not, purely because of my personal taste.

But then I read this.   And this completely changed my mind.  It's a star-crossed love story!  I'm totally up for that.

Also been scrolling through his blog.  I like this guy.  Go check him out.

Anthony Ryan Blood Song--epic fantasy.  Battle monks.  Deprived heritage and family abandonment (with reluctance).  The chance to lose oneself in the saving of the world. Oh, the conundrums!  The premise sounds good, and the first page was even better. I love a good blend of setting, character and plot. This was well-balanced and drew me in.  I'd definitely read more of this.

Overall, these look to be fascinating books, regardless of my taste.  I am sorry that there was only one woman among the five men. I would have liked to see more female debut authors in the mix.

Her Grace wishes she had more time in the world to read.  There are so many good books out there waiting for love.  Because she can't read them all, she encourages you to help shoulder the burden.  Go find a debut author and read them.  Be kind, leave honest reviews.

Friday, 21 February 2014

The End... finally!

Today I typed "The End" on the first draft of a novel.


I got about five seconds of thrill, then it was time to move on.  The draft is done, but the book isn't finished yet.

So, I really meant to finish this draft a month ago.  But Annual Important Stuff got in the way, as it always does in Jan/Feb for lots of Australians.  So that pushed this deadline back a bit.

Then I got sick and didn't feel like doing much of anything, much less writing. Then I had a professional setback in the Day Job which left me listless for a few days until I got over it.

Then I buckled down, intent on getting the sucker done.  I knew what I had left to do.

Then my wrists started hurting (because I was using an itty bitty keyboard instead of my proper ergonomic keyboard. Duh).  Then Real Life insisted on enforcing it's schedule.  The need to go to the Day Job, to take offspring to stuff, to pick up said offspring, the need to sleep, and other inconveniences got in the way of finishing this draft When I Wanted It Done.

And always in the most Inconvenient Way Possible.  Yesterday, I had to stop fifty words shy (FIFTY WORDS!!) of writing The End.

So today, I got it done.  Yay.  As I exported the sucker so I could print it out and scrawl my editorial notes on a hardcopy, I noticed a whole lotta stuff that needs editing.  Frex, I start off with one character who pretty much gets forgotten.  I end up with quite another character.  I will merge the two.  The mainplot is actually two plots running not quite parallel, but rather skewampus.  I shall have to get a spirit level and even it up.

So yeah.  I've typed "The End" and now I will do nothing about it until Monday, when I shall print it up. Then the editing fun will begin.

Meanwhile, I may indulge myself in a short story about a mortician (one of many) whose job it is to ease people to the other side.  He does this by finding their Spirit Object (kind of like a cross between a Totem and a Horcrux).   I just need to figure out what to call this thing he finds. It needs a name.  I'm open to suggestions.

Meanwhile, as I'm between projects, go read someone else's work and leave a review somewhere, especially if it's an indie or a debut author.  They need love too.

Her Grace is tired and wishes to go to bed.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

My Guest Blog Post on TWRP

Last Friday, Valentine's Day, I was a guest blogger on The Wild Rose Press, where I spoke A Bit on Historical Gold Coins.

I'd done a bit of research for "As Good As Gold", and wanted to share what I had learned.

Have you ever held a gold coin?

Her Grace once had the chance to cradle a gold doubloon in the palm of her hand. It was smaller than she expected, and heavy.  Aussies also have "gold coins" (really copper brass, but they're real shiny!)

Tuesday, 18 February 2014


A few days ago on Twitter, author John Scalzi (@scalzi) posted a link to an "entire album of electronic music".  Apparently, most people did not know this. I didn't.

I was happy to find another fellow writer who was also a composer. (Oh yeah.  Did I mention I was a composer?  I am.)  Many creative people often 'crosstrain' in other fields. dancer/painter, writer/musician, etc. Keeps the creative muscles fresh.  Frex, an actor who can also sing and dance is called a "triple threat", aka Hugh Jackman.

In 2008 I was commissioned to write some theme music for the World Horror Convention that year. Thought I'd share a working copy of the main theme with you:

The lyrics are:
No safe place
left to hide
under the Desert Sun.

I've got a couple of albums' worth of music lying about, plus the soundtracks to a few roadshows, an opera I wrote in University, some movies soundtracks to some student film projects, etc.  I haven't done much composing the past year or so, having focused more on my writing projects and a few Really Big Family Projects involving schooling.

I might get back into it, casually, just to stretch my legs when my brain freezes up from novellisation.

Hope you enjoy.

Okay, aside from the coincidental link from Scalzi to his album, a few weeks ago my husband rigged up a tape player so he could rescue the music from some mix tapes some friends gave him in the early 90's.

I, too, had some tapes with music I wished to rescue from magnetic obscurity.  Especially, I had one beautiful song called "Looking Through Time" that I had created during an Electronic Acoustic Composition class.  I consider it one of my best works to date.  Alas, I haven't uploaded it to the Internet yet, so it'll be some time before you'll get to hear it.

Right now, I'm just glad I managed to save it.  I did have one tape that suffered degradation. The One And Only Copy of that music was on that tape, and now it's pretty much gone. Alas.

Go back up your work.  Doesn't matter if you're a composer, a writer, or a doodler.  Go scan, copy, photograph, archive anything of value that you've created. Trust me, you'll be ever so sorry when it's gone.

Her Grace composed her first song at the age of three.  It was pretty much little more than a patterned banging on the piano, but it was still music to her.  If you've ever written music, share it with the world.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Love Letters

In honour of St Valentine's Day, I've pulled up the Love Letters posts from many years ago.  Thought you'd enjoy.  Which one is your favourite?

Love Letter #1 While you were out...
Love Letter #2 Written in haste.
Love Letter #3 Maybe I'll stop talking to you and write instead.
Love Letter #4 Spontaneity... or forgetfulness. (See love letter #9)
Love Letter #5 Ah, adolescence.
Love Letter #6 Photographic proof.
Love Letter #8 Frank and Donna and... Maggie?
Love Letter #9 Thank you for marrying me.
Love Letter #10 I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you because...
Love Letter #11 It's like a drug to my brain.
Love Letter #12 Emptiness.
Love Letter #13 The story she told the grandkids.
Love Letter #14 Puppy love.
Love Letter #15 Gratitude.
Love Letter #16 They fight crime!
Love Letter #17 Everything will be all right, my dearest.  I promise.
Love Letter #18 Look up!
Love Letter #19 Makenzie's letter, wherein she gives some thought to her future.
Love Letter #20 Ellora's courage. The letter we all wish we could write.

Have you ever written a love letter?  If not, consider giving it a go, even if it's anonymous.

Her Grace is a sucker for a good love letter. Alas, she never receives enough of them.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Making Adjustments

Fellow writer and local peep Juliet Marillier recently wrote about Dealing with Setbacks.  Her publisher told her one of her books was going to be released as an ebook only.  She shared how she coped with the situation (and a happier ending than she expected).

Setbacks happen to us all.  It's part and parcel of the publishing industry.

Maybe technology is moving too quickly and humans, on the whole, are unable to keep up.

I grew up dreaming of hardcopy books.  It's what existed when I was a child (along with cave drawings and dinosaurs).  I was an early adopter of the internet and dreamed of my college textbooks as electronic files on my bulky laptop.  So much easier than dragging around a ton of dead trees.

I loved the concept. It was the readers who dragged their heels. 

I guess there's a bit of romance to a solid, hold-in-your-hands book.  Makes it more real.  I remember how excited I was to hold a genuine copy of the literary magazine containing my first publication. My first electronic publication several years later didn't have quite the same thrill.

My recently-released novella "As Good As Gold" was an ebook release only. I'd grown quite used to epublications. I'd adjusted.

One of my longtime readers asked, "Is there a hardcopy available?"  Alas, no. 

So I wondered. What if there was something inimitable about a printed book?  Thinking about the delight of a shelf full of colourful spines.  The scent of every single library I've been in.  The thrill of having a book signed by the author.

Ohmigosh!  Book signings! How on earth do you sign an ebook?

  • Sign the back of the ebook reader.  I saw it done at Worldcon 2010.
  • Sign an autograph book.  These were popular until the mid-20th Century.  Maybe they should come back.
  • Sign handout cards.
Last night I went to a book launch by another local author Claire Boston.  Her book "What Goes on Tour" was an ebook release.  So what did she do?  Had handout cards and signed the backs of those. Brilliant!

I would never have thought of that myself.  I'm remembering that for next time.

I got an ebook reader for Christmas, and I love reading books on it.  However, I've been wondering if we might have lost a certain magic that was first born with Gutenberg invented moveable type.

Then I heft a really big book in my hands, feeling it thrash my wrists with its weight, making my neck ache as I read it in bed, triggering my presbyopia as I squint at the small text and giving me that creepy watching-over-my-shoulder feeling should I dare to dog-ear the corners...


Nope. I've adjusted.  Ebooks forever.

Next book launch, I'm signing handout cards, autograph books and maybe the backs of ebook readers. 

But what am I going to load into my catapult for the official "launch"?

Friday, 7 February 2014

TBR Pile

... or rather, the Have Been Read pile, as this is the stuff I've devoured over the past fortnight.

  • Battle of the Network Zombies by Mark Henry - urban fantasy.  Picked up for something other than what I usually read.  I fear it may date.
  • Eglantine by Catherine Jinks - contemporary YA fantasy.  I've liked Catherine Jinks' books before, but this felt a little obvious for me.  The mother was one of those characters, but the father-figure was a bit more cluey, and made up for her.  Really, I don't mind if kids solve the mystery, but you'd think adults wouldn't be so dense.
  • Family on the Run by Margaret Watson - contemporary thriller romance.  I confess I'm not much into contemporary romance, but thought I'd give this a shot.  I found myself skipping the sex bits and getting to the thriller bits. I did have issues with one of the characters Paolo being too shallow. He was more of a prop than a character. Shame. He had so much potential for racheting up the tension.
  • Ghost Stories Shade Shorts 2.0 by Gillian Phillips - horror short stories.  I picked this up more for Second Ladyship, who hates horror on TV but loves it in fiction.  She quite enjoyed it.
  • My Roomate's a Jock? Well Crap! by Wade Kelly - NA romance.  I picked this up expecting it to be a New Adult Buddy Book.  Turns out to be gay romance.  Excellent writing, though I thought the plot could have been a little stronger, with more internal angst and less external grief.
  • The Broken Bell by Frank Tuttle - fantasy.  Quite enjoyed this one because of the voice and Otherworldliness.  Not a single scrap of contemporary about it a bit.  Nice plot twists.
  • The Fortune-Hunters by Carola Dunn - regency romance.  Interesting twist on fortune-hunting.  In Bath.
  • Victoria and the Rogue by Meg Cabot - regency romance.  Love Meg Cabot's lighthearted style.  Enjoyed V&thR, though if I'd ever met Victoria in real life, she'd be one of those bitches I'd like to slap.  Unless she was my best friend. 
  • Fiddlehead by Cherie Priest - steampunk.  I confess, I'm still reading this one.  More on this later, because it's worth reviewing well.
When not reading books, Her Grace has recently discovered Twitter.  Tweet her @heidikneale

Wednesday, 5 February 2014


A few weeks ago I submitted a story to a super impressive magazine.  I knew the guest editor CC Finlay personally, which is how I heard about his call for submissions.  It was only a two week window, but he received over seven hundred submissions. (WOW!)

Modus operandi from the author's side of the fence, we submit a story to an editor, we wait anywhere from 48 hours to 48 weeks before we hear back. Then, one day, when we're least expecting it, we get an email.

Goes something like this:

Thank you for your submission to Super Impressive Magazine. I'm afraid your story is not suitable to our needs at this time, alas.

Doesn't say much, does it?

Authors dream that editors would give a bit more info as to why the story was rejected.  Was it simply not thematically suitable to the je ne sais quois vibe of that issue, or did the story completely suck?

Thus, is born the fine art of Rejectomancy.

When you've collected a few hundreds or thousands of rejections, sometimes you imagine patterns in their replies that might hint at why the story was rejected.

Then CC Finlay posted Nectar for Rejectomancers.   It's like handing us a personal grimoire.

I love how he shared his experiences as an editor.  We don't get to hear about what happens on the other side of the fence too often, especially not in this much detail.

It was good for me.  I've been getting a little frustrated lately with all the rejections I've been getting  on stories of mine, stories I and various editors think are publishable.  (How do I know this?  Basic Rejectomancy.)

Editors rarely send back personal notes on stories.  They simply don't have the time (especially if they're getting over seven hundred stories in a two-week period).   So when they do, it's a big deal.

Also, when they say, "We loved this story," that's kind of hard to mis-interpret.  I especially like when they couple it with "Please send more."  They wouldn't ask if they didn't think I could write publishable stuff.

It was good to hear what CC Finlay thought about all his submissions. He even included what his rejections emails mean.  Much appreciated.

Sometimes the odds do get you down.  One often forgets just how long the odds are.  CC Finlay listed the stats in his post.  He had so many good stories, he had to be Very Selective.  Extremely Selective. He even had one story that it broke his heart to turn down.  (I want to read that story, whose rejection broke two hearts.)

So, from seven hundred-odd stories, he probably selected, maybe ten-ish?    So, 0.01% got sold.


I offer my most sincere congratulations to those dozen-odd authors who were lucky enough to hit this editor at the right time, in the right way, with their i's dotted proper and their eyes crossed right and the stars in auspcious alignment, and the absolutely bestest written story evahr!  I wish I was in your ranks.

Ah well.  There's still dozens of other magazines out there.  Maybe some day I'll get my chance.

Her Grace is wondering how to improve the odds in her favour.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Read lots, says Teddy.

Book Riot had an excellent post from Jeremy Anderberg on American President Teddy Roosevelt's thoughts on reading.

Framed into about ten rules, it covers topics such as, "Read what you want."  "Read lots."  "Don't be ashamed of what you read."  "Novels are good for you."

I found it interesting that a man as busy as Teddy Roosevelt managed to read an entire book before breakfast. (Meanwhile, I have a hard enough time believing in one impossible thing before breakfast, ne'ermind six.)   Hint: he was a speed reader.

Thus, today's questions:

Can you speed read? If so, do you enjoy devouring your books in that manner?

Me, I prefer a nice, leisurely pace when I read.  I'm a movie major and picked up the habit of slow reading for pacing from school.  Sure, it takes me longer to read a book, but I like it like that.

Her Grace once learned how to speed read.  It is, however, a skill, like tap dance, she failed to retain.