Tuesday, 27 February 2018

An update on Creativity and the Unconscious

Why have I written this article now? Well, I've been reading and reviewing and doing small fixes to the half of the Leeth Dossier MS I'd set aside in… (goes away and checks some file dates…) yikes: it may have been 2008, 2004, or even 2003!

Anyway, back then, whenever it was, I'd just re-read a print out of the whole MS and been horrified to realise the whole 2nd half had plenty of story and action — but no plot!

So I cut it in half; then realised the 1st half was now a bit short and could also do with some strengthening, and came up with the Godsson/Disten plot. From that point I left the 2nd half lying there, collecting electronic dust.

Anyway, with Books 1 — 3 published, it seemed sensible to go back to the half of the original MS I'd set aside, that followed straight on. So in October 2017 I think, I brushed off the dusty electrons and poured the MS into the word processor and started reading and reviewing. It went very slowly for a while, as I carefully polished as I went, before I realised that was silly: if I did decide I had to throw away some or all of it, such loving attention and effort would only make it harder for me to ‘kill my darlings'.

Excuses, excuses. So I just corrected minor stuff and made notes about issues that would require more effort to deal with. What with suddenly needing to prepare for Christmas — not to mention a years-overdue de-cluttering of my house — as well as allowing myself a holiday and time to spend on some other non-writing projects, progress was slow. I eventually finished my read-through on Feb 21st, 2018.

At the end, I realised my assessment from 10-15 years earlier had been correct. On top of that I found other structural flaws, all of which I felt might be corrected through ‘the right' plot adjustments. I mean, the 1st three books did lead smoothly to #4 (in particular by continuing a major plot arc from them), but overall I felt the plot was weak, with several strands that felt disconnected. It also had pacing problems too, I thought.

Overall though I still liked it, and despite the flaws, felt this could be knocked into a pretty nice shape. In particular, my gut was telling me that the right modifications to the plot would fix most of the issues I saw.

UTT to the rescue. So, with the need for some creative thinking, and having had good success with the Unconscious Thought Theory in the past (see my older blog article: Where Ideas Come From), I turned to it again.

For the UTT, the first step is to steep your rational mind in all the facts. That was what I'd just accomplished by re-reading the old MS.

But the subconscious is hungry for relevant ideas, so as different thoughts about the story and plot occurred to me — during the embarrassingly long period I spent re-reading the MS — I'd made notes I could refer to later.

Write stuff down. That's a key point: don't rely on your memory. If you don't record the ideas, you'll waste mental energy remembering them or worrying about them. Just write them down instead so you can re-read them when you find yourself in a hole.

Clear the decks of clutter. For the intense parts of the creative thinking process — the parts where you make the act of creation your top priority and give yourself time exclusively for that — you need clear mental space for a problem requiring a creative solution.

So because you need to some clear mental space, write down the problem and all the issues you can think of: like constraints, goals, characters involved, what's at stake… etc. etc. — everything you need to take into account. If you think of more problems, simply note them down as you think of them. These are all grist for your unconscious mill.

Don't get daunted. The funny thing is, that although the number of problems might look scary, each issue is just another piece of the puzzle. In a way, it adds to the richness of the solution; it adds to the stuff your unconscious can use to create an arrangement that makes them all fit.

Give yourself space. Get rid of distractions as far as you can: set them aside and give yourself time. Do this as often as you need to, in each attempt to solve the problem or come up with the needed idea(s). In other words: you can solve these problems a little bit at a time.

Try and try again. You don't need to solve the problem in a single session: you can decide, "Hmm, this might help", or "That might be part of the answer" — so, note those ideas down, too. Sometimes the solution will turn out to be a jigsaw that needs to be assembled. Sooner or later though you'll probably start sensing the big picture: and then the pieces of the jigsaw will start appearing in short order.

Trust your gut. Your gut will often tell you "This idea feels right" — trust it. Think about it, and around it. ‘Your gut' is your Unconscious talking to you. Don't ignore it!

Don't doubt yourself. At this stage, where you're not sure how much of the MS should remain for the final book (since it depends on how big a plot change or other correction is), it can be scary. You could easily spend time thinking about worst case scenarios — like tossing the whole MS! — instead of trusting your gut instincts and the hard work you put in.

Focus on what needs to be cut or added to turn your rough diamond into a fascinating piece of jewellery. At this point, negative thoughts are just distractions. So treat them like everything else: boil them down to their essence and add them to the list of Problems To Be Solved by your creative thinking.

Recording ideas and thinking. For me in this process of creation, some of the time I'll do parts of it on the computer. I'll type up notes, grouping related ideas near each other so I'll tend to reread them all when I revisit one; I'll draw up little timelines (maybe with gaps and question marks: "How does the Department discover this?" or "How do the bad guys learn that?"); I'll sometimes make mindmaps so the connections are graphical and not just linear/textual — and I'll include the holes and question marks, and maybe even colour-code stuff.

But some of the thinking I'll do on paper with pencil, lying down on the sofa. Because for some of it, the computer becomes a distraction. But the pencil and paper is important, because as soon as I have even part of an idea, I can write it down to free up my attention from remembering stuff so I can concentrate on creating stuff.

My review/read-through: While I had been (too slowly!) doing my read-through/review, I'd been:

  • Making notes of ideas that might help;
  • For my local writers' group (the Marrickville Writers' Corner — hi everyone!) I'd also written a few pieces that I felt might fit into Book 4 (Violent Causes), or might just be background events not to be included;
  • Making notes of problems;
  • Forming my overall semi-objective assessment of the MS as a whole.

So I used all these things, plus I re-read my quite large file of random ideas and notes, and the fresh ideas I'd had over the last few months. Lo and behold: a couple of months earlier I'd had a key idea which fitted very well with what I needed! It still wasn't quite right, but it felt like it could form the backbone of the plot strengthening, and so it was back to the Unconscious Thought Theory.

There you have it. With all that fresh in my mind, I thought I'd capture some of the process and get off my backside and write this combined UTT update and status report.

Ah… I suppose that means I should probably write a little status report, shouldn't I? Well, the MS now has 90k words, which at this stage I think I'll be keeping. I'm not sure how many extra scenes I need, or how much editing is needed to fix the other issues I've identified, but my feeling is that it might need as little as 10k words of new scenes (maybe 20k?). So I think it won't be too much longer before I can start trying to book an editing time-slot with Dave at ThEditors.com! I should know in a week or two.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Sydney Freecon 2017 - L. J. Kendall interview

Discussing writing, self-publishing, and my sci-fi/fantasy series, The Leeth Dossier. With Q&A.


Once again I burdened an innocent member of the audience with the request to video the talk just using my tiny Canon Ixus7 camera, no tripod, just holding it by hand. (Thanks again to Arthur Dimitriou for graciously accepting the challenge!)

Apologies for the background noise from the nearby main road.

Links mentioned:

Luke's Amazon author page.
The Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror.
My cover designer, Mirella de Santana.
Luke's facebook page.
Luke's wonderful editor.
Earlier blog articles about the series (e.g.): All About Leeth

Sydney Freecon 2017, Nov 3,4,5.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Scribus for print edition covers

Here’s the long-delayed article on using Scribus to make the cover for your print edition. It’s not a full tutorial on using Scribus — I’m sure there are Youtube videos covering that, and anyway, its manual and the tutorials that come with it are very good. It’s surprisingly easy to use, amazingly powerful and well-designed, and… I just love it! It’s also free, and works on Mac, Windows, and Linux. And it works so well!

(I wrote it today because someone - hi, Eustacia! - was interested.)

Why new covers, Luke?

Several reasons. I have a small sci-fi/fantasy convention coming up (the Sydney Freecon, Nov 3,4,5), but I have zero printed copies on hand. I also wanted to make some subtle changes to the covers, along with reformatting the internals of the first two. I was also finally ready to make the 4.25"x7" A-format ‘mass market’ style paperback editions. (Simply because I prefer that size for paperbacks.)

A brief digression, before I get to the topic at hand: the internal changes were switching the dialogue quotation style for the first two books to match that of the 3rd. I’d held off for years, hoping the bug in LibreOffice preventing me from doing that would be fixed. In the end I gave up and used WPS to change them all. Of course, pasting the novel back into LibreOffice left the odd block of text in weird point sizes (some side effect of using ‘direct formatting’ instead of styles, I gather), but they weren’t too hard to fix. And having received help from some of the LibreOffice developers to understand page setup, I had created a good and safe couple of templates for 4.25"x7" and 5"x8" before transferring all the text into them.

One other thing, too: dreaming about offering some printed copies to my local library, I realised there was no way for a potential reader to know the story is quite dark, so I came up with the idea of including some quotes from reviews, since a lot of reviewers did comment on that. That meant I also wanted to insert one page in the very front, as you often see in traditionally-published books. For me though it was less for advertising than to warn readers what to expect.

And let’s start with a picture of the sort of errors that can occur if you don’t pay close attention to the trim and guide marks provided by your publisher. Here’s a picture provided by a very helpful person at Ingram Spark (waves to Erica), pointing out several serious placement errors in what I thought was a nicely-crafted cover for the A-format paperback edition of Harsh Lessons. How wrong I was!

What do you need for a cover?

I had the excellent cover files generated for my guesstimated size (page lengths) from Mirella de Santana, including the CMYK-profile Photoshop .psd files. You need a template from your publisher that lays out the exact dimensions for your cover: where the front, back, spine artwork goes, and what are the safe areas to stay inside. (The cover can shift a mm or few in the printing.) So I logged in to Ingram Spark and used their cover creator tool to generate and send me a PDF file for each of my books, and sat down with Scribus to make the new covers.

Here’s what the template for Harsh Lesson A-format looked like:

Now, because I had given Mirella only a guess of the no. of pages, and I was wrong in the end, I had to fiddle things to make them fit the template exactly.

Even if you have the right sized cover artwork, though, Scribus is great to let you prepare the right file for your publisher/printer/distributor. Although some people say you should be able to work in RGB images (the colour space you see on your computer screen, with its red, green and blue pixel elements), because printing presses cost millions of dollars and have a lifetime of decades, we’re still a long way away from being able to send most publishers anything other than the Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and blacK colour space files they need. Which is where PDF/X (which is also called PDF/X-1a or PDF/X-3) comes in. PDF/X is a file that lets you specify what’s called a ‘colour profile’ for the images in your artwork. Ingram Spark require/prefer ‘U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2’. You can download the free ICC CMYK colour profiles for a wide range of needs; as with everything Scribus, there are good pages about downloading, installing and using the ICC profiles, such as this one.

Setting the colour space in Scribus

I remember when I first started using Scribus I had trouble enabling the colour management. After some Googling, I found the answer at askubuntu.com. (Scribus 1.4.2: "PDF/X-3" option still grayed out, how make it work?) Manfred Moser posted with a problem similar to mine. Some time later he made a follow-up post (emphasis mine) —

"Okay, so I figured it out myself. It is important to turn on color management for the current document. This is done in File - Document Setup - Color Management. Changing it in File - Preferences - Color Management like described everywhere I found only affects new documents and not already existing ones."

If you’ve done that properly, when you open a new file in Scribus and go to File->Document Setup->Color Management, you can easily set things up so it will look like this (it’s showing ASUS for the RGB because that’s the display I use on my computer):

Note in particular the ‘Simulate colours on screen’ and the ‘Show colours out of gamut’. If, when you load in an image, it shows large patches of horrible lime green, that means it won’t print properly: unless you click on the image and choose the correct colour profile for it! As soon as you do that, all that nasty green should vanish. And you do that by right-clicking on the image and choosing Properties, clicking on the Image tab in that dialogue box, and choosing the correct ‘Input Profile’ (which in my case is ‘Embedded U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2’). That’s all you need to do.

How to use your cover’s template PDF

One of the many great features of Scribus is that it can read and work with PDF files, and understands some of the internal structure, so the PDF ‘image’ is not just one big image blob. So, just open the template file PDF for your cover with Scribus. E.g. in my template file (which I named HL-4x7-284pp-9781925430073-Perfect-template.pdf) here’s some of what that structure looks like in Scribus:

You can select each object and the corresponding picture element will move into view and be highlighted in the main drawing area.

At this stage, I recommend doing a few things that will make life easier:

1) Click about in the Outline dialogue until you find the three parts of the barcode for your book — the white background rectangle, the barcode itself, and the ISBN — and rename those objects to be something sensible. Then copy each item to the top of the page. With the object selected, the Properties dialogue easily lets you move it up and down in the drawing order. (You click on the green Up and Down arrows in the ‘X, Y, Z’ tab.) Don’t change the size of scaling at all: you want the barcode to scan properly!

It’s a good idea to Group these three parts together for convenience. And maybe name the group something sensible — like Barcode!

2) Now click about in the Outline dialogue until you find the parts of the template that show the inner, middle, and outer edges of the front, spine, and back of your cover, and rename them to something sensible.

3) Open the Windows→Layers dialogue and click on the ‘+’ button to create a new layer. That will make it trivial to flick all your artwork to be visible or not, so you can see whether all the important stuff fits entirely within the safe areas. It’s also a great idea to click on the Lock icon for the Background layer to make sure you don’t accidentally move or change anything in your publisher’s template!

Adding your Cover Image(s)

Next, insert the excellent cover artwork for your cover itself. For simple cases you can just create a single ‘frame’ to hold the whole cover image. Or you might need to create a separate frame for the back, the spine, and the front if you messed up and need to move or stretch or clip parts of the image.

You must create an image frame to hold an image: you do that by choosing ‘Insert Image frame’ from the Insert menu. Next, drag a rectangle that roughly sizes the rectangle. You can easily size and place it exactly, by either zooming in insanely far, or by going to the ‘X, Y, Z’ tab in the Properties dialogue and adjusting the Geometry by directly typing the measurement you want (and hitting Enter when you’re ready), or by using the up and down arrows beside each number. There’s also a small ‘Chain/lock’ icon you can click to tie the Width and Height together. Incidentally, the Name field in this tab is where you can type a new name for the object (Using just numbers, letters, spaces, parentheses, dash, or underscore: again, hit Enter when you’re ready).

Anyway, after you’ve placed and sized the image frame exactly right (or before: it’s up to you), you add the image to fill that frame by right clicking in the frame (or on the object) and choosing ‘Get Image...’ and then browsing to the location where your image is. Another insanely great feature of Scribus is that it understands Photoshop .psd files, including the CMYK colour space (unlike the Gimp), so you can directly use your cover designer’s Photoshop file if you thought to ask them to prepare a CMYK version for your print edition.

When editing the image (resizing, scaling, repositioning, etc.), just keep in mind: the ‘X, Y, Z’ tab in the Properties dialogue lets you adjust the image’s frame (the ‘window’ or ‘viewing port’ onto whatever part of the image you choose to make visible), and the ‘Image’ tab in the Properties dialogue lets you adjust the image itself. Again, you can (and should!) use the lock icon on the X-Scale and Y-Scale so you can’t accidentally squash or squeeze the image so it’s out of proportion.

And a super handy feature of Scribus is the ‘Scale To Frame Size’ radio button on the Image tab, which will quickly scale and position the image to good starting value that you can then later changing by choosing the ‘Free Scaling’ radio button instead.

One last thing: check! Use the Outline dialogue to click on those boundary objects for the front and back cover, and the spine. In the main view, you’ll see fine red selection rectangles appear, and you can use those lines to check that all the important parts of your cover are within the safe margins your publisher has recommended.

It was only after receiving the image at the start of this post, today, that I realised this was a really important step which I had failed to do.

Barcode (and QR code?)

You’re almost done! Just use the Outline dialogue to bring the barcode (that you copied and then Grouped together and named sensibly earlier, remember?) to the top of the drawing order so it’s visible, not hidden underneath the image you added for the cover. Make sure it’s still one inch (25.4mm) high. Don’t change its size!

I personally think it’s a good idea for self-published authors to also add a QR code alongside the barcode, containing a useful search string or URL as the encoded text. For this, I use the free software ‘qrencode’. Here’s the command line I used for Harsh Lessons:
qrencode -o QR-code-HarshLessonsBuyGoogleSearch.png -s 20 -d 300 \

"https://www.google.com.au/#q=%22L.J.+Kendall%22+%22Harsh+Lessons%22+buy"

which is just a way of encoding a Google search for: "L.J. Kendall" "Harsh Lessons" buy

There are also similar QR code tools with graphical interfaces, like qtqr.

Creating the PDF/X file for the printer

Your printer/publisher, who supplied you with your book’s cover template, will also have told you what kind of PDF file you need to create, but typically it will be PDF/X (PDF/X-1a or PDF/X-3), which means it supports CMYK.

In Scribus, simply select File→ Export → Save as…, and then

Choose the right ICC CMYK colour profile. These things are designed so the printer doesn’t try to put more ink onto the cover than the paper can handle, as well as faithfully reproducing the colours.

So… how hard is it?

I think my first cover, using Scribus, took me a day to work out most of the stuff above. Then, coming to it this time, I wanted to make four covers in one day (Wild Thing and Harsh Lessons, A and B formats).  I discovered I had no Scribus cover for Wild Thing — I had used Inkscape, and not provided a PDF/X!  I remember Ingram Spark at the time warning me that the cover was barely within the limits of the 240% maximum ink coverage, and a few parts slightly over. I realise now that it worked only by pure luck: the colours happened to be that way.

So I started from scratch, after having not used Scribus for several months (and that last time, was just one day in the last year). Even so, creating the cover for the B-format edition of Wild Thing took just 45 mins. For the A-format, I decided that process had been so painless and easy I’d do it from scratch for that one, too. This time, it took 20 minutes! So then I moved on to Harsh Lessons: each of those took me just 15 minutes.  That's right: four book covers in under two hours, since I already had the actual cover designs and the template PDF files.

So, yes: Scribus is powerful, flexible, robust, and once you’ve picked up a few key concepts, really easy to use.

Go forth and Cover!

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Q&A part 4 — the Darkness of the Story

This is the 4th part (of four) articles from the Q&A I had with AndyK much earlier in the year. (There were some other topics we discussed, but I think four articles is more than enough!)

Spoiler alert!

Once again, because we discussed books 1 & 2, this contains spoilers if you haven't read them: i.e., it’s only intended for people who've read Wild Thing and Harsh Lessons.

L: I have had a few people (a teacher, a book store owner, and a someone in the book industry), tell me it is definitely Young Adult: less dark than some of the stuff available.  Amazing, yes?  But I never intended it for that market.  And I've had other people (YA readers) tell me it's definitely not.

I tend to agree with that.

A: Holy... YA? I mean… I did read my share of YA fiction and the emotional setup of the story is nowhere near what YA fiction presents.
Hell it's not even suited for a lot of ‘mature readers’ to be honest.

L: That was my feeling!  Yet (e.g.) my local chemist's son (about 15? — hi, Damian!) is greatly enjoying the series, and was waiting eagerly for the 3rd.  Like I said, I've had a few people — who I trust to know what's acceptable as YA — say it definitely is.  I find that disturbing and a bit mind boggling.

Some of the moments when I realised what Harmon would do, chilled and appalled me. And definitely, I was literally crying while writing some of that stuff, on more than one occasion.

A: I can imagine that.

Although you did leave out the actual descriptions of the torture or sex. Come to think of it: why? I mean, this story is seriously not for children anyway. And I guess it would make it a bit clearer if this is not left to the reader's imagination. Especially book 2 is pretty vague in that regard.

In book 1 her first time is pretty clear. How the dynamic is set and what very probably happened and how. Same is true with her little encounter with the security chief. Where she used her sexuality as a weapon, or as a means to an end, for the first time. Again, could be a bit more detailed but was pretty clear how the dynamic between those two would be.

The torture stuff with gags and beating is somewhat described but since it's only towards the very end if I remember correctly it's not that central to the story yet. But it could have been a bit more explicit to not leave any doubts in the reader's mind.

But in book 2 things get very vague in that regard. The sex scene after the spanking is totally left to the reader's imagination. And at that point clarity would be important.

But most puzzling is the abuse/torture parts. There are only some flashbacks mentioned by Leeth and those too leave a bit too much to interpretation. Some might imagine things worse than they were. Some may imagine them less bad. And that would result in not really understanding the reactions that follow. You implied he forced her to hurt herself (which is a strange choice. Using the bondage to that end will only lead to another problem just like with the spanking, wouldn't it?)

Don't get me wrong, I'm neither an advocate for explicit scenes in books. Nor am I an adversary to it. But sometimes they could be truly part of the story and help clarify it. Show certain dynamics in the relationship. Like I am sure it would have in this case.

L: The second most important reason for leaving out the detail was to allow readers of different fortitude levels to imagine a level of abuse they were comfortable with.  If I made it more explicit, I think it would have been too much for many people.  I'm definitely walking a tightrope as it is.

A: But it's important to know how and what she is suffering through there. To understand how far gone (or faulty) Harmon's reasoning is. And also to understand what she is REALLY going through.

Leaving it to the imagination of the reader leads to every reader having a (maybe vastly) different story in their head. Making that story connect to the outlines provided might result in friction, head scratching or gaping holes.

L: To my mind, what's happening and what she's going through is quite extreme.  So I hope no reader imagines something worse than what I have imagined!  I also think it's reasonable and even healthy for readers to only imagine the worst they're individually comfortable with.

In a nutshell: bad stuff is happening to her.

Knowing just that sketchy detail is enough to let a reader follow the story.  Of course, I have to provide much more detail than that to make the reader feel the truth of that glib summary.

A: Well, my psychology lessons were decades ago but:

What Harmon creates is psychic traumas.
Traumas can lead to PTSD.
PTSD is the last thing any operative needs. (Well it's the last thing anybody needs, really)
Also it is obvious what he is doing can only lead to alienation at the very best. More probable it will lead to hate. In the uniquely human self preservation ignoring form of ‘I don't care if I die as long as I take him with me’.

So I have a hard time seeing why a psychologist would go that way. There are less personal ways to produce pressure.

That only leaves one good explanation I can get behind: He is a sick bastard who puts his scientific work second and his base lusts first.

L: Keep in mind that people can have major psychological breakthroughs when they survive a great stress, in our world; and that in Leeth's world, magic exists and is another possible outcome. See what you think of Harmon at the end of book 3.  I think he's ‘blinded by science’ — and he and Leeth are in many ways ideally unsuited: each provokes the other.  But he's shocked by much of what Leeth does, despite much of it being his responsibility.

A: I still smirk and shake my head at the scene in book 1 where she hunts the jogger. But yes, that's what he raised and trained her to. Again… he should have known that everybody needs some form of moral guidelines. Else we are animals guided by instinct. (Didn't Godsson say that somewhere in book 1?)

L: There are also some truly delicious scenes with Leeth I'm dying to write.

A: I am curious to read them. She does deserve a bit of a breather.

L: I certainly agree.  I think every reader would be pretty well unanimous in that opinion, too.

A: Actually it is much overdue. I just read the other reviews on the books on amazon.de and then amazon.com after I wrote mine for book 1. And there are some pretty harsh things there. Seems most people feel a lot stronger about it than I do... some of it is way unfair and under the belt. But... you did get under your readers skin. Quite an accomplishment in and of itself!

L: I agree. I went and had Google translate a couple of German reviews, recently. And US reviewers seemed to be more offended than anyone else. So that was when I finally realised I hadn't given enough warning to readers, in the Book Description on Amazon.

A: Yes. It's pretty different from most other stories out there. Going in with the wrong expectations is probably not only draining but even a bit traumatic.

L: There is that! Apart from the one review that said something like ‘poorly executed, doesn't work’.

A: That doesn't fly. You can always be of a different opinions about the story. But the craft part of the trade can be objectively analyzed. And it's definitely not poorly executed.

L: There's also a huge difference between leaving something to the reader's imagination, with hints, and making it explicit.

As well as that, by leaving it vague, and having the reader fill in the details (to the level they're comfortable with), I think makes it more powerful, because the reader is supplying the missing parts.

A: I understand. But those missing parts are not what you imagined for the story. So the more vague the descriptions get the more readers have to fill in. And the farther they get from the ‘facts’. And that makes it hard to understand developments and reactions in the book based on this abuse and torture.

L: But that's an accepted (if odd) truth: each reader brings themselves to each book they read, so each book a person reads is a collaborative experience produced by the author and the reader together.  So each experience of the book is unique.

If a book is well-written, I think the experience would tend to be more consistent across all readers, at least on the ‘factual’ side: what happens.  But I think the emotional experience for a well-written book would vary a lot; and maybe it would vary more from person to person, the better it's written, because it would resonate with each person's emotional experience differently?

Interesting: I'd not thought about that so deeply before.

A: For example I still don't know what he did to her before her breakdown. Did he use the compulsion to force her to maim herself? And then mock her about it? If yes then that is a new level  of short-sightedness on his part. If no than what did happen? I always had the feeling I missed something there....

L: Yes, and yes.  But it's not purely short-sightedness: his theory demands such kinds of stresses.

I'm reminded of a panel in Scott McCloud's ‘Understanding Comics’ where he illustrates exactly that point: you see an axe-wielding maniac, you see the victim in the lonely house, and then it pulls right back and you just ‘hear’ the scream.

A: Well.. comics are depictions which put them in a different legal setup. They have no choice unless they want to be seriously restricted in their sales channels. You can write about dicks and pussy and what to do with them all day long and still sell it on Amazon.

L: That's true, but McCloud was making a point about the artistic/emotional effect, ignoring the legal angle.  And I do think it's true.

Interestingly perhaps, I think graphic novels tend to be less gruesome than some Hollywood films or TV shows.  I wonder why?  Maybe because each moment is frozen, and available to be easily studied at length.

Also, I guess the main question is how much is left to interpretation and how much can be misinterpreted.

A: True.  Misinterpretation is unwanted; under- or over-estimating I think is less problematic.

L: For the scene where she almost detonated, emotionally, I think it was clear what was going on, physically.  If I'd added more, I think I'd be writing an erotic passage (at least, for people who like spankings or - shudder - torture).  I don't really think it would have added necessary clarity.

A: Hmm. Hard to say. I only had the feeling I was missing a piece of the picture there. Especially how the dynamic between those two was at that point.

L: By writing it this way, I'm allowing the reader to set the intensity level to whatever they're comfortable with.  In my own mind, it was pretty extreme, and I think for the vast majority of people, reading about torture is the very last thing they want to suffer through.  I would hate for the books to be categorised as ‘torture porn’.

A: Hmm. Wouldn't you say the intensity level was what it was at that point? The things that happened were the things you imagined to happen. Not what I imagined. Not what any other reader imagined.

L: Well, yes.  But then I'm very non- post-modern, and reasonably absolutist.

A: I agree with you that nobody needs to read about the smallest gory detail that is of no consequence to the story. But gory details that ARE of consequence? Or sex scenes that do have implications? I guess it wouldn't be bad to go into as much detail as necessary to clear out any misunderstandings or misinterpretations.

L: I felt more comfortable taking the risk of some misinterpretation (since I felt the broad facts would be quite clear), rather than being overly confronting and possibly losing many readers.  I think the books are pretty far out on the limb of what people can accept, as is!

A: But I know… you already got a lot of flak for the dark parts of the books and this would probably antagonize the torch-and-pitchfork faction even more...

L: Yes. I'm confident that's basically a certainty.

I don't think there'd be much lack of understanding as it's written, since her reactions tell the reader that it was very bad indeed: enough to shatter her faith and trust, and to need to escape.  And we've seen by this stage that she can endure a lot, so the strong implication is that it gets really bad.

A: Yes. But at least for me it left the feeling I missed a crucial part of the story. Not some gory detail but what did he actually do? Is he just over eager? Is he a bit twisted? Is he totally sick? You know that plays into the question we discussed earlier: How redeemable is Harmon?

L: Well, what he did was just as you supposed, further above.  And various humiliations. Is he a bit twisted?  Yes.  Totally sick? No.  How redeemable is he? Well, his actions will speak louder than words in the long run, obviously.

Maybe it would be (barely) acceptable in Germany, and the UK (I'm interested that at last look, I'd had no 1-star reviews in the UK!), where readers can handle it better, somehow?  In the US, I think there would have been a massive reaction against it.

A: ALL reviews in .de are pretty high.
Apart from that... every adult should be able to distinguish between fact and fiction. And if a story is told that demands a certain level of explicit detail... so be it.

L: I don't think that's the issue: my hunch is they identified enough with the character to feel (subconsciously) that they were participating, and felt soiled by feeling that way; and especially, they assume that most other people would react that same way: and feel I am ‘polluting’ large numbers of people.  That's my guess.

You know how some people react completely irrationally when you ‘push their buttons’?  I think my books trigger that kind of reaction in some people.

But fundamentally, I didn't think that an extra level of explicitness in the abuse or in the sex parts would really add to the deeper understanding of the books.

A: As you are the author I accept your judgement.

L: Thanks!  I do think it has to be that way.

A: But I dare to disagree. :}

L: And that too is 100% fine, and the way it has to be.

A: I could accept you decided based on the (prognosed) critical or public reception. But that the story didn't need it? I don't know. I still feel like I am missing a part of the picture. But again I am totally aware that that might be just me.

L: I'd honestly estimate that the decision was 70% that the story didn't need it, 20% concern over public reaction, and 10% trusting in my editor's advice.

My editor advised me to tone it down (and I did), but pushed me to tone it down/remove even more, but I couldn't or wouldn't, since it would have changed the dynamic by reducing the abuse. He was quite clear: he said I would lose readers because of it. But I decided the story demanded it, so I kept it in. The story and the characters are more important to me than profit or success.

A: You don't make a name for yourself by doing it the way everybody else does. Your story is interesting because it is different. Its not ‘enjoyable’ like the mainstream out there. Maybe it could have used some more ‘ups’ in between. But the story and what happens is told well. And it all makes it feel pretty unique. And that is a GOOD thing.

I actually doubt you would have reached more people by lightening it up. Well... what kind of story would have been left anyway?

L: I completely agree.  And I genuinely feel there is considerable originality in my series; and that that's very much a good thing.

A: For anybody not familiar with SR [Shadowrun] the story is a revelation. And that shows in the reviews. And for those who know SR it is still a very well made re-imagination with some pretty serious deviations. And ultimately it's about characters anyway and at least Leeth and Harmon are unique. So is Godsson and the Enemy of Mankind (I never mentioned how much I like her)

L: Cool: that's exactly my feeling, too.  Yeah, d'Artelle was pretty scary.

A: Well... the Department is a bit stereotypical so far. Apart from Dojo. But that's fine. Not everything needs to be unique.

L: I think that's a very fair comment.  The Department was certainly heavily influenced by both the Max Headroom TV series and Nikita (the French film).  I'm not sure if Nikita was released before or after Leeth's birth in my mind.

I think the author Kristin Cashore also has a very original ‘something’ about her fantasy novels, that help make them wonderfully appealing (at least, to me).  I think originality helps.

A: Well.. if you ask me.. it helps. But it's not the most important part. Good execution and consistency is important as well.

L: Quite!  I think all the elements have to be at least basically sound: if any aspect is bad, it ruins a book.  And if every aspect is great, you have a masterpiece of its kind.

And my hope is that Leeth is a truly unique character.  I've read everything I can where the main character sounded like she might be similar.  So far, I haven't found her twin!

A: She definitely is unique. So are the other characters mentioned above.
Though she did remind me of a character in a Shadowrun novel I read ages ago. I just cant remember the title. (Some girl experimented on by a megacorp that gets freed during a Run...)

L: I read several of the SR novels; I bought one, Striper Assassin (I tend to buy all the books I discover with a possibly-similar character, hoping that no one else traverses the same path as me. So far, so good!), but didn't think she was very similar.

But I think my editor was observing that it was more likely to have mass market appeal: avoid offending a good percentage of your readers.

A: Now, this is something completely different but this argument reminds me of Kingdom Death: Monster. When he released it, it had no mass market appeal at all. Nobody was even willing to fund it. It is controversial, offensive, sexist as hell and the antithesis of political correctness. And by now it is the most successful game ever brought to Kickstarter.

What I want to say: just because you DON'T whore yourself out to the mass market does not mean you can't be successful. Or will reach a lot of fans. Many of which will come to you just because you do your thing.

L: I know what you're saying, and I agree.  But I'm also stubborn (perhaps a little less than Leeth), so I won't make changes that would compromise the story or the characters' integrity.

If I feel strongly about something, I won't change it.  If I'm ambivalent, or undecided, I'm happy to accept input and suggestions and advice.

But he didn't pressure me hard: he understood what I was doing, and why; he just wanted to be sure I understood the risks I was taking, and the consequences.

I had to think about what I'd consider a success, and set a modest bar:

if it generated more hours of ‘enjoyment’ (appreciation?) than hours of work to create it, I'd consider it a success.  (Assuming one reader needs about 8 hrs to read one book.)

A: And it is good you didn't cave (for the most part). And it is refreshing to hear somebody is going through all that work mainly for the fun of it.

L: I imagine many (most?) writers do.  But I'm also trying hard to make the quality at least as high as traditionally-published books.


Anyway, so that wraps up the Q&A between AndyK and myself.

And here's a final snippet of news for anyone who's read right to the end: I've finally sorted out the issues with the templates I used for LibreOffice, so I've been able to make the mass-market (A-format: 4"x7") editions. I worried that someone browsing the print books wouldn't get the ‘warning’ about the story's darkness that I added to the Book Description at Amazon; so I inserted a leaf with excerpts from the reviews I've received. I also made a couple of other small changes: including using the same nice quotation marks for dialogue that I used in Shadow Hunt. (I gave up waiting for the Find/Replace bug in LibreOffice to be fixed, and just spent a day or two on a multi-program edit that worked around it.)

Part of the drive for getting the updated print editions ready was my attendance in two weeks' time at a small (and Free!) speculative fiction convention. (Main days: Sat 4th — Sun 5th November. See: https://www.facebook.com/sydneyfreecons/)

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Q&A part 3

This is the 3rd part (of four) articles from the Q&A I had with AndyK much earlier in the year. The topic this time: which character is most evil?

Spoiler alert!

Once again, because we discussed books 1 & 2, this contains spoilers if you haven't read them: i.e., it's only intended for people who've read Wild Thing and Harsh Lessons.

Which Character is Most Evil?

L: Harmon sees himself as logical, clinical, dispassionate, and sees those all as good things. He tells himself that shaping Leeth to develop magical powers is a great gift to her. (From what I've read, there are some psychologists in the real world who are equally blind to the human side of their science.)

A: Until the point where he put his dispassionate thingie into her panties. And generates stress by putting her in gags and schoolgirl uniforms.

It should have been obvious even to himself that he lost it there. And that their relationship is steering towards a big disaster.

L: Well, yes.  And he does know he lost it there.  Though he avoids thinking about that, and blames her for goading him to that point, and then avoids further thought on the subject.

And he also sees Leeth as resisting and obstructing and heading them towards disaster.  In his mind, if she just was a little more ‘sensible", it would all work out.

But Harmon is also consciously trying not to value their relationship, since that would make it harder to carry out his experiment.

But, wow, worse than Stalin — that's saying something!

A: Stalin loved his children. He adored his daughter. :}

L: Erk!

But it's an interesting question, I think: is everyone redeemable, or are some people beyond redemption?  My feeling is there are some people who are irredeemable, but they're a tiny minority.

I think much of what Harmon has done is inexcusable, and to the meagre extent he thinks about it, he irrationally blames Leeth for pushing him so far.

A: Yeah.. redirection and deflection. Again as a shrink he should be able to see the signs in himself.

L: He should be able to.  But I have read of psychologists who fail in exactly that way, in the real world. Which I think is classic rationalisation.

A: And that, yes.

L: I mean it's what set him on the slippery slope. And he completely misunderstood himself (thinking he could remain detached), and refused to see how much Leeth was in fact breaking down his detachment.

A: Lust and control... I don't see any emotional attachment there?

L: I'm offering that merely to explain my thinking, that I think what he did was plausible: not to defend his actions!

A: Of course. I know. I try to put myself in his head and I have trouble understanding his decisions. I don't have this problem with any other of your characters. To the extent I got introduced to them.

L: That probably means you're a lot more emotionally intelligent than Harmon.  I think a lot of people would have trouble getting inside his head.  And probably most people would be reluctant to even try.

Come to think of it, that may be the root of the horror from some readers: they may have hated being presented with the possibility of getting inside such a head.  Perhaps they felt it might pollute them. (For which I'm sorry.)

Leeth is incredibly stubborn, strong willed and self certain. She copes with stress to an astonishing degree. So to get her to a point where ‘something must give' requires torment way beyond what any non-psychopath would allow. Harmon knows he would never ever get permission to do what he's doing if he asked, or if anyone found out.

A: But this torture also means he is producing someone who hates and despises him. A mortal enemy.

He should know that and look for a better way if he isn't doing it because he enjoys it.

L: Not while she believed he was doing it for some good reason.  ‘For her own good.'  After that, yeah, it becomes close to impossible for him.

But I don't see how I could have followed the other approach: pretending to care for her while continually putting her under stress. Sooner rather than later she'd complain; and yet he would keep doing it, and so the pretence would break down.

The justification Harmon gives himself for doing what he did, apart from the ‘need' to prevent her acting against the Dept, was the knowledge that it will start generating pressure, and force her to ‘the next level'. It's probably lucky for Harmon that she escaped at the end of book 2 — too much pressure tends to end in a catastrophic explosion.

In my view, after magic returned, extra options appeared for some people when they are placed under unbearable stress. Disten (with Godsson's magical change) is exploiting one of these.  What he does seems to me far crueller than what Harmon does to Leeth.  Even I think it's utterly horrible.

A: You think so? I would STRONGLY disagree there.
This alien spirit or whatever it is, tries to better humans. By taking away their emotions. Okay, he kills without much hesitation but... In a twisted way it seems as if he actually wants to help. He is just.... alien. I don't know all that much about his motivations yet. I truly can't bring myself to see him as the main antagonist of the story. Even if he is some form of toxic/insect spirit who took over in a moment of extreme distress he still is not THAT irredeemable to me.

Harmon on the other hand, causes pain. Deliberately. And to someone who is dependent on him. Who is helpless. Who he should nurture and protect. He causes her suffering and uses her to satiate his sexual urges. So... I am neither particularly religious (nor particularly moral for that matter) but he is about the most irredeemable character I can remember reading about. And yes, I read ‘Mein Kampf' and a biography about Stalin.

L: The ‘choices' Disten offers his paired victims is literally the worst thing I can imagine anyone suffering through. He consciously does it to put them in a situation where the possible responses are madness or complete abandonment of the ability to experience emotion. With the result that most of them (are so decent and human) that they prefer a third option, and choose death rather than co-operation.

A: Hmm... vs. putting a compulsion on a young girl that forces her to do exactly what she does not want to do. Robbing her free will. Torturing her, abusing her, raping her. Well... I have a clear winner here.:}

L: To me, trying to force someone else to do even worse things than that, to someone they love, feels far, far worse.

For the human and emotional threads, Harmon and Leeth's awful relationship is at the heart of the first several books.  But a big theme is the importance of emotions.  The more I think about that, the more I suspect that emotions will be the key to the survival of our species in real life, in the long term. [Later note: We will need to create AI which has empathy and experiences emotions.]

A: Hmm… maybe this explains why we have such a different view of who the main villain is in your story.

Because it's hate and greed that drives us to do all the awful things humans do. Wars, environmental destruction... the list is endless.

And yes, I know, for all the dark emotions there are light ones. The question everyone has to answer for themselves is if the tradeoff is worth it.

L: See what you think of Harmon at the end of book 3.  I think Harmon is ‘blinded by science' — and he and Leeth are in many ways ideally unsuited: each provokes the other.  But he's shocked by much of what Leeth does, despite much of it being his responsibility.

A: ‘blinded by science' doesn't fly.... nonono  :-}
The Scopolamine I could understand. But he also used a rape drug on her to pretty much steal her virginity. He can't book that under science. And what he did to her in book two is just about dominance and control. About his own ego, his own lusts and not about science. Add these ‘games' he plays with her… if all this is science why did he go to such great lengths to prevent her from talking about it? If he could explain it as a scientific method then why hide?

I would seriously say if you wanted Harmon to be in any way a redeemable character you made him far too extreme.

It would be interesting to see a poll from all your readers how they see the antagonists in the story. Maybe I'm alone in my judgement. But I seriously doubt it.

#Harmon_must_die :-}

L: I'm sure you would be in good company! The aphrodisiac drug and sex are a total failure of ethics and morality: he fell to temptation; a temptation which he himself (subconsciously) engineered. There is no excuse for that. But his motivations were more complex than that.

Harmon would say Leeth's personality and her development is important, and he does not want to stunt it, just ‘direct' it. He wants her to grow, even though the decisions she typically makes are often enormously frustrating to him. But he admires her enormously, too. He wishes she would be more compliant, even while recognising that a compliant personality would be completely unsuitable for his scientific needs.

A: Well, of course she doesn't listen to him. As a shrink he should know that raising her in an emotional vacuum will also waste any possibility to ‘bond' with him. He wouldn't need to love her to hold her and comfort her. And this would build trust and a means to direct and control her. I don't quite understood why he wasted that.

By the time of his great betrayal in book two of course all those options were gone. By then he made himself into her enemy. Again something that seems short sighted to me.

I do understand Leeth's character and her decisions pretty well. They are plausible.

But Harmon's character... his decisions puzzle me still. Is he on the line of ‘intelligent people make dumb decisions too' or more ‘things get bad quick if you succumb to lust and animalistic desires"?

L: Partly it's a mixture of both. But more importantly, controlling her is only a means to an end for Harmon. His main purpose is to stress her enough to make her magic Unfold, as his theory predicts will happen.

Affectionate touching makes Harmon acutely uncomfortable. 

A: That is actually an important information. Leeth mentions it once if I remember correctly. But it didn't really register with me.

But it hints that something is pretty ‘off' with him...

L: Yes. And tied in with that is his belief, as you say, that ‘things get bad quick if you succumb to lust and animalistic desires'.  I see him as not at all emotionally wise — perhaps what drew him to studying the subject of psychology: to try to make sense of people.

A: That is an interesting tidbit of information. Might not be a bad idea to weave that into the story. That Harmon is ‘damaged goods' himself.

Maybe that would make readers a little bit sympathetic for this character.

L: Deep down, he feels it's obvious that he knows what's best for Leeth, and she should just do as she's told by him.  So that's what drives the ‘intelligent person making dumb decisions' aspect.

A: Okay, I can get behind that. But the very essence of ‘intelligent' or ‘rational' is that he reflects on his decisions. That should result in the realization that his approach simply doesn't work and only alienates her further.

But I get it, he is the type of guy that doesn't use a chisel if he can use a mallet. And that's what steers him (them) into this disaster.

L: Perhaps the thing that most gets under his skin is having his advice (instructions) ignored or rejected.

A: Okay, this, again, makes sense for the character. But with all his education in this field he should understand the mechanics why someone (especially a child) accepts guidance. And under which circumstances it does not.

L: I agree that Harmon is quite extreme. Whether he's too extreme is something each reader of course judges for themselves. But in my view, even so, Leeth is more than Harmon can handle.

A: I am very curious to see that. Her breakout and rescue is a nice first glimpse…


And I think that will do for now. The final topic we covered, that I plan to share, was the darkness of the story. I'll leave that until next time.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Correcting your book on Amazon

This is a short piece about correcting your errors and updating your ebook, mainly on Amazon. It's an interlude to break up the series of Q&A discussions about my 1st two books — this article is aimed at Indie authors.

Sigh. Well, I thought it would be a short piece. After all, the process can be explained in a few words: update/correct your MS. Upload it to Amazon. Contact them and ask them to offer the new version to people who have already purchased a copy.

Here's what Amazon say about the process: https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/A2KRM4C8E91086

But I remembered Stella (my wife) telling me how much feedback she'd had from very satisfied users of her technical manuals saying how valuable it had been to get step-by-step instructions. Somehow the article just grew….

So, yes: the mechanics of making the correction to the edition you have on sale is straightforward: update your manuscript and make sure the same changes are made to your ebook edition. If you're using Calibre to generate the ebook file, that's trivial:

  1. Save your MS as a Microsoft Word .docx file
  2. In Calibre, select your book and Choose "Add files to selected book records" (then select your corrected .docx file). If asked about replacing an existing .docx, of course choose that option, since that's the whole point!
  3. Still in Calibre and with your book still selected, choose "Convert books".
  4. Choose ".docx" for the input format and (for Amazon) ".mobi" for the output format. For other publishers, you probably want to choose ".epub" as the output format to upload to your publisher.
  5. Click OK. Calibre will spend a minute or so creating the .mobi file in your Calibre library. Upload that file to Amazon.

E.g. for me, under Linux:

$ ls -l "/home/luke/Calibre Library/L. J. Kendall/Shadow Hunt (99)"

-rw-rw---- 1 luke kendall 511043 Jun 9 17:33 Shadow Hunt - L. J. Kendall.docx
-rw-rw---- 1 luke kendall 1279081 Jun 9 17:35 Shadow Hunt - L. J. Kendall.mobi
-rw-rw---- 1 luke kendall 535810 Mar 26 2017 cover.jpg
-rw-rw---- 1 luke kendall 5658 Jun 9 17:33 metadata.opf

After the upload

This is where things get interesting.

What happens next is that Amazon will check your updated file before releasing it for publication. Basically, I think they check to make sure the book still matches its description and represents fair value, since Amazon has a duty to protect its customers. I imagine a small minority of shonky people try to use Amazon to scam or exploit people. Amazon works diligently to protect its customers from that.

This check can be quite fast if you're lucky, but may take up to two days (if I recall correctly).

At present Amazon provides no mechanism for you as an author to summarise the changes you made (for their staff who check your changes). I assume they have excellent internal tools for making the changes visible, though.

Amazon will send you an email when the updated file is released and available. On your Amazon Kindle Self Publishing page, under the Bookshelf tab, you'll see the book listing has changed back to LIVE

I think it's a good idea to have something like a revision number somewhere visible in the first few pages, so you can Look Inside to make sure the right version is there and available, and readers can also easily determine if they have the latest version.

Oh, and I strongly advise you to at least flip through the online preview of your uploaded content to at least glance at every page. This should pick up any outrageous things that have gone wrong — like blank pages, a shift into italics for long stretches, missing page breaks, illegal characters appearing instead as grey blobs… that kind of thing.

So, that's it — all done?

Nope.

Sure, people who buy your book from that date onward will get the new and corrected edition. But what about previous purchasers — won't Amazon distribute the corrections to them automatically? Or at least, offer it to them?

Nope.

The reasoning is that people might have made bookmarks and annotations, and preserving those when the underlying text shifts and changes is a tricky problem.

So, does Amazon at least inform existing owners there's a new version available?

Again: nope.

Well, at least you can inform people that there's a new version available, yeah?

No, not really. You don't know who bought your book. You can broadcast the news, but even if an existing purchaser goes to Amazon and re-downloads the book, they get the same version they originally purchased. Nor do they get the new version even if they delete the book from their device and re-download it!

Purchasers can only get the new version in one of two ways. One, by directly contacting Amazon and asking specifically to be given the new version. One of Amazon's people will then check and send them the new version manually. Which is a lot of effort for all concerned, right?

The other method requires no effort on their part, provided you do the right things. Using this second method, Amazon will send an email to all purchasers with a link they can click on to get the new content if they wish. Much easier. But you have to do some work as the author, to make that happen.

Have a look at what Amazon themselves say about this topic: https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/A1RGGPBKDR1BPZ

You may think readers can set the options to get automatic updates; perhaps this works only in the US. After I'd tried and failed to get the updated version of another author's book, that I had purchased, after I knew she had updated it (waves to Barbara Strickland), I finally gave up and contacted Amazon via chat, to get the new version. After a bit of back and forth, the helpful Amazon rep pushed out the new content to me. But I wanted to know why I couldn't get it myself, so the chat continued:

Me: Great, thanks. But *surely* there must be a way for customers to do that without contacting Amazon? I was hoping to blog about the correct way to do this...
BTW, the new version is on my tablet, so that's good...
[Amazon rep.]: Thanks for your feedback.
Luke, is the automatic book update option turned ON on your account?
Me: I believe so... I'll check...
[Amazon rep.]: https://www.amazon.com/mn/dcw/myx.html/...(See full link)
Under settings, scroll down and you can see Automatic Book Update.
Please confirm this option once.
We value your support and look forward to the continued opportunity of serving you. Would be there anything else that I can assist you for today?
Me: Thanks. Yes, it is turned ON.
So, why did it not update, given that Automatic Update was already turned on?
You can still help me by explaining what should have happened, or by explaining why it did not update automatically.
[Amazon rep.]: Luke, some Kindle book update can be initiated only from our end.
Me: I believe that even with Auto Update, updates aren't pushed out automatically by Amazon because Amazon worries that people will lose their bookmarks, reading position, etc. So I though there was some user action required, to get an updated version. (And then I couldn't find a way to do it.)
[Amazon rep.]: Yes, you understood it correctly.
Me: So you're saying that there is no way to get an automatic update to a new version, except by contacting Amazon and asking them to do it for you manually? (I know that if the author goes to the trouble of requesting updates to be sent automatically, and I am not asking about that. I am asking about the situation when the author does not do that extra step.)
(I am having trouble understanding that Amazon don't provide such an obviously-useful feature: an option to "refresh/update" the book to the latest version.)
[Amazon rep.]: I can understand your concern completely. However, currently we don't have an option to process the update automatically without the request made from author or customer.
In this case I take it as feedback and forward it to the appropriate team.
Me: Thanks. I will do the same, from my end. I will also blog about it.
[Amazon rep.]: Customer feedback like yours helps us continue to improve the service we provide, and we're glad you took time to write to us.
We're regularly working on improvements to your experience with Amazon.

Pushing out the update

You can get Amazon to offer your update to all existing purchasers, by contacting them and asking them specifically to do so. It does take some work, however. The main thing you need is a clear and reasonably detailed explanation of what you have changed. You contact Amazon, and provide that information, and wait for up to seven days (usually) while they check the changes and your explanation, and decide whether it is a good enough reason to offer the new version to existing purchasers.

It's a little bit tricky, but not too bad.

For the explanation, they will happily accept very detailed lists of exactly what changed. E.g. for most of my (embarrassingly many) updates to Wild Thing after its initial release. E.g. for Release 5 (blush), my explanation to Amazon started with a summary:

Release 5: Based on reading the 1st (proof) printed copy: numerous small improvements (punctuation, word choice), several small continuity errors fixed, several typos fixed, changed to us US-style punctuation within quotations.

"Global" changes:

+1) Replaced all pairs of "<non-breaking space><space>" by plain "<space><space>" (7,000+)

+2) Fixed all wrongly-spaced chapter headings (approx 10)

+3) Changed from British/Aust style quotation-punctuation style ('He said "Yes, really", then…') to US/Canadian style ('He said "Yes, really," then…') in majority of cases (approx 150). (The remaining examples, for unusual situations, are deliberate!)

+4) Replaced all British/Au-preferred "towards" with US-preferred "toward" (approx 30)

Below, the underlined portions of the "before" (left text, Release N-1) and "after" (right text, Release N+1) are to highlight the specific changes. The page numbers refer to the page number in the 5"x8" print edition: they are given just as an approximate indication of the location for the ebook edition.

(Followed by the detailed list of every change:)

Prolog, p6,p7 (punctuation)
'Or might they not even seek → 'Or, might they not even seek
but I believe! → but I believe.

p9 (punctuation, phrasing)
a hammer blow on meat, signalling → a hammer blow on meat signalling
her elbow against his ribs → her elbow into his ribs
and Shining Hair completed her spin → while Shining Hair completed her spin
as if expecting → as if he'd expected

p10 (punct)
husband's chest each impact → husband's chest, each impact

p11 (clarity)
She lunged, grabbing → She lunged forward, grabbing

p14 (clarity)
the female figure → the adult female figure

p15 (punct, typo)
the rigging lines he → the rigging lines, he
But you will → 'But you will
swallowed the land yacht.' → swallowed the land yacht.

Chapter 1, p21 (word choice)
before collecting herself → and she collected herself

Chapter 2, p27 (word choice, punct)
wall of affection → wave of affection
to his office → to his office.

etc. etc. ad nauseam.

Only on one occasion did I have trouble with Amazon. I had found an appalling error in the conversions, that had been present for volumes 1 and 2 for some period. What had happened was that in every place where I had used a blank line as a separator, to indicate a small scene shift or a passage of time, the conversion to .docx and then .mobi had lost the blank line — so the two scenes were jammed together! (I fixed this by making sure each empty blank line contained a "non-breaking space" character. This prevented the automatic stripping of these blank lines.) I provided just a summary of this change, and a sample of the places where this had happened, and uploaded the fixed versions. However, I got back a peculiar message from Amazon asking (I thought) more detail about my changes:

For example:
&gt; Location 129**
&gt; Error: Her mother have tol me
&gt; Correction: Her mother has told me.

For months, as we went back and forth, the miscommunication continued. It was literally only while writing this blog article today that I realised they weren't quoting errors they had seen in my book and were concerned with, or couldn't find, as I thought they were telling me. I kept asking them to check the book they were looking at, and seeing the above errors, since those errors were not in my books — not realising they were giving me an example of the level of detail they needed, and were asking for additional specific examples.

Contacting Amazon

Okay, so, how do you contact Amazon to ask them to do this? First, login (Sign In) to your Amazon Kindle Select Program page:

https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US

Scroll down to the very bottom. You should see a small, pale grey link called "Contact Us":

Clicking on that will lead to lots of useful help topics, but for this task you need to select "Book Details" under the "How can we help?" list of topics, and under that, select "Update a Published Book" and provide the explanation of what you changed, that we discussed above. You'll see from the template text they provide, Amazon also wants the title of your book and the ASIN (e.g. for my 1st book, Wild Thing, the link looks like this: https://www.amazon.com/Wild-Thing-Leeth-Dossier-Book-ebook/dp/B019DQVR76/)

Click on the "Send Message" link after you have filled in all the details (it will be quite long), checked it to make sure you haven't got silly typos or errors in your message, copied it and saved it away for your own records in a file or into an email you send to yourself.

Then wait for the news from the approval from Amazon.

So: is that it? Is it done now?

Why, yes, Mr Jones. I believe it is. All that's left is to perhaps notify your readers in your own social media that you've fixed problems and they might like to accept the offer of an improved version, when Amazon emails them.

And I think this blog article is done, too. I hope it's helpful for a few Indie authors!

Next time, I'll continue with the series of Q&A discussions about the 1st two books in The Leeth Dossier.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Leeth Dossier Q&A part 2

This continues on the Q&A I had with AndyK much earlier in the year. The topic this time covers perhaps a key aspect of the series.

Spoiler alert!

Again, note that because we discussed the first two books, this article contains spoilers if you haven't read them: in other words, it's only intended for people who have already read Wild Thing and Harsh Lessons.

(As a small aside, in Kesha’s powerful song Praying, most of the lyrics sound to me like they could have been written specifically for Leeth to throw in Harmon’s face.)

Harmon and Leeth's relationship

A: I really hope you let poor Leeth break out of Harmon's Mind Control. It's horrific to read what she has to endure. That's what most reviewers are bashing at as far as I can see. And I understand that. It's beyond dark.

L: Harmon and Leeth are certainly the main two drivers.

A: Well.. Leeth seems to be a package on the back seat for much of the journey. During book 2 she mainly reacts. Except the end of course. There the victim finally showed claws. :}

L: I think you're being just a little bit mean to Leeth: learning to be a "super spy" is her dream career, so she was very much in agreement with that development.

A: I know. But Harmon turned it into an abuse spree she can't possible want to be a part of. By the end of book two that showed. To some extent. Also having her trust broken so awfully should leave impressions on her. Would be reasonable if she might even develop trust issues after that.

L: It would have to happen a lot more: she is fundamentally trusting. She'd have to have her trust broken over and over again before she'd decide that was normal, rather than blaming the individuals who'd betrayed her trust.

A: Okay. That is consistent with how she reacts with people. Also makes her more "loveable" for the readers I guess. But will also make her the victim in a harsh world. Curious how that will develop in future books.

L: She'll learn and grow.  Quickly.

A: Were you really afraid you wouldn't get enough sympathy for Leeth from your readers? That's puzzling. If I ever felt a character deserved sympathy and compassion it's her.

L: I'm encouraged and very pleased you feel that way.  That's of course my own feeling, too.  But I know some others don't feel the same way: they say so in their reviews. Even some of the people who liked the book found Leeth hard to like.  And of course the 1-star reviewers found both her and Harmon to be monsters. I found it uplifting to see her survive and defeat the odds against her.  But my perception is very much within the context of what I see developing in the future.  So your comment makes excellent sense to me.

A: Sure.. you see the story and characters in a holistic sense. I as a reader can only see what you presented so far.

L: It is a deep trap she's in.  In fact, she's trapped in several different ways.  Working her way to her best self will take a while.

A: I feared you would say that.

L: At least it suggests the situation and characters will be rich enough to sustain a lot of things to write about!

A: Come to think of it: There are two things towards the end of book two that I don't really get:

1) Leeth wants to actually kill him when he tries to set her to Zombie mode. She fails because of the compulsions. And then says she is sorry for knocking him out!? Why? After she admitted to herself she is controlled by a monster? That "Keepie is gone"?

2) Harmon making plans about after they got away from the Department. What a "great team they would be". Is he really so delusional at that point that he doesn't see where he pushed Leeth to?

L: Great questions!

1) She's still coming to terms with her new knowledge.  She's not certain that giving up on "Keepie" was the right thing to do: she can't help wondering if doing that helped kill the "Keepie" side of him. She wonders if she'd tried harder, could she have brought him back?

Partly, at that moment, she was tired: feeling she should have said more, done more.

Partly, too, she felt it would feel satisfying to appear polite while knocking him unconscious — just a touch of sarcasm in her words — though staring down at him afterwards, it instead reinforced her feeling she'd abandoned "Keepie".

2) I feel that if Harmon completely reformed, and was genuinely remorseful, in time Leeth would forgive him: she's that desperate for love. She desperately wants to be needed, or even wanted.  Harmon, knowing that, knows it could be used, merely psychologically, but also (he would believe) he could use his magic to block some memories and implant more compulsions and ideas.  He believes he could manipulate her that way, through varying means that range from truly despicable and evil (the easy way, for him) to good (though that would require spiritual pain and a lot of emotional growth on his part, which he is not very open to).

On top of that, he genuinely admires her, and respects her, and knows he could give her opportunities to express herself that she would relish.

A: Yet he never showed her that, did he? That he admires her or even respects her?

L: A few times he did, yes.  Not often.  But there are probably ten or twenty instances in the books; and Leeth could list them all: because each one, each tiny crumb, meant so much to her.  Harmon himself would probably be surprised by the length of the list.

He knows he could give her opportunities to express herself that she would relish.

A: Again, did he tell her that? In book 2 I mean? Instead he did something that truly destroyed every bit of trust she had left for him.

L: In book 2?  There were far fewer instances; though given it spans only a few months, perhaps the frequency didn't change much.
A: Which again, as a psychiatrist, he should have realized right then, that there is enough to control her right there in her emotional attachment. "Come on girl. This is important. Do it for me. For us."

L: But if he took that approach, she would feel it only fair to be able to use the same argument, and that's not something he wants to allow. It would be a two-edged sword. And he himself wants to suffer no cuts.

A: Well, without some form of control for her or choice for her it was always destined for contest, rebellion, controversy and finally animosity.

L: We as readers can see that.  Even Harmon, too, probably.  But partly, he's not (yet) been honest enough with himself to admit that he cares; but mainly, he believes the experiment is more important than his or Leeth's happiness.

A: So you developed Leeth's character beautifully along those lines. Which makes perfect sense in this environment.

L: So I don't think he's being entirely delusional.  He is, however, seeing a rosier picture than is likely, given their personalities and how the two of them interact.

A: [Re 1:] But after he programmed her and used that trigger she did realize he betrayed her trust, right? Then he started to torture her and humiliate her in public (which she obviously abhors more than the pain). So her realization that there is only a monster left controlling her makes sense. "...and she had enough". I didn't see much doubt in her after that point?

L: True.  But she has had years of memories and shared history opposing that.  She can even pick out nice things he's done for her.  In her heart she knows she can't trust him.  I think that would be a hard truth for her to accept.  And she still wishes things weren't like that. Besides, sadly, in real life many women stay in abusive relationships for a whole range of complex reasons.

A: [Re 2:] Okay, I guess I could rationalize and understand such a development.
But there is not even the slightest hint that he even considers he might be in the wrong. And it's an even longer way to remorse from there.
And it shows she is desperate for emotional attachment. But she should also have realized she is more likely to find it anywhere else but Harmon.

L: If she were older, or wiser, yes, she should have.  She's trusting by nature, though.  Which I think makes his abuse worse. And she is reaching out: to James, Emma, Dojo, Eagle, Father….

"She desperately wants to be needed, or even wanted.  Harmon knows that could be used..."

A: But he never did! That's what I meant in my previous question:  he could have used an emotional bond to steer her. Even if the emotions are mostly "faked".

L: Yes, it would have made things easier for him, and worse for her, if he could have brought himself to do that.  But he can't bear to start down that path.  It's why he reacted so strongly against what he'd learned from that first mind probe in the Institute, when he felt her overwhelming need for love drawing at him: and "ran away" from it by terminating the spell.

A: But by the end of book 2 it's too late for that. Seriously, do you see an emotional bond between them that would allow them to reconnect? After everything he did? After she realized what he did? I can't.

L: Their relationship is deep, and badly messed up, and damaging them both: her much more than him.  So I do see it as a possibility, but it's not an end I'm steering towards.

Their relationship will continue to be important, and will continue to change and affect them both.

L: "he could use his magic to block some memories and implant more compulsions and ideas."

A: If he erases her memory all the time she can't actually learn and develop.

L: Agreed.  But he wouldn't erase it all.  But not erasing it all would likely leave loose ends that might then be probed at to find inconsistencies and cause problems...

A: And he already put so many compulsions on her she is becoming an automaton quickly. And it's doubtful she can actually work under that condition. She definitely won't progress and develop and he probably would have to admit the experiment failed.

L: I don't agree that she couldn't develop in those conditions; but I think he could easily end up in a situation where unless he has her tied up with compulsions and behaving like an automaton, she'd be too dangerous to him personally.

But again, that's not something the story is heading towards.

A: I am just still so puzzled about Harmon's short sightedness. But again, this is the makeup of an interesting character, too. A pretty fatal flaw. Just because someone has power doesn't mean he has wisdom. And he is a poster boy for that.
It's just puzzling he actually could keep the upper hand for so long. Considering the amount of mistakes he made.

L: The mistakes come mainly from his character flaws, and to a lesser extent to Eagle's very subtle manipulations in the background.

And yes, by the end of Book 2 Leeth realises she can't trust him.

A: Also I don't quite get how he supposed her personal development should progress if he so totally controls her. The only thing developing there can be resentment.

L: Her development would be stunted if he controlled her to that extent. But even he knows that.

More importantly, her development doesn't depend on him. So I don't think he's being entirely delusional.  He is, however, seeing a rosier picture than is likely, given the way the two of them interact.

A: Well...  it is consistent with his personality. I can't argue that :}

L: The point they've descended to in their relationship — what you're calling the fire — I see more as the two of them now being a long way down in a deep pit.  I see the changes coming more as an attempt to climb back out of the pit (for one or both), rather than as putting out a fire.

A: Okay, I'd say both are fitting metaphors. Leeth realizes she has to do "something". And he should realize by now he pushed her to that.

L: Yes.

L: If not for Marcie's situation, Leeth would have stayed, directly confronting Harmon, fighting the problem head on, until something catastrophic happened. If she had run away for herself, or run away just to escape Harmon, she would consider that a massive "loss of points" in their unacknowledged battle.

A: ???

He just switches her into Zombie mode and she has to do whatever she does not want to do. Obviously she wants to fight this torture and abuse. But it doesn't look like she has any chance there. It's what made his betrayal so monstrous after all. And why I can't see any productive way those two actually work together. You already described her breakdown. And her realizations that "Keepie is dead and she had enough"

Running away was the only reasonable choice I'd say.

L: I can see other options.  But none that Leeth would have seen, or could have carried out plausibly at that point.  She could have chosen to stay and endure it: but when I peer into that alternate future, I see disaster and blood.

I think the running away was a wise choice for her.


Again, I think that will do for now. The next Q&A topic: "Who is the most evil character in the series so far?"

Although before that I may write a quick article on updating your ebooks at Amazon, when you have post-publication corrections you want to make.