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Thursday, February 28, 2013

New approach to enhanced eBooks

From Digital Book World

An interesting experiment, with a pragmatic entry into the market.  It will be fascinating to see where it leads...

Digital publishing start-up, Erudition, beta-launches enhanced eBook series

Erudition, a new digital publishing start-up, has successfully beta-launched its first series of enhanced publications, Practising The Piano. The author, Graham Fitch, is one of the UK’s leading piano teachers and the series features the culmination of years of experience teaching pianists of all levels. The publications fill a gap in the piano literature with a focus on the art of practising, showing the reader exactly what to do in order to get the most out of their practice time.

A digital first approach
The publications are purpose-built for digital consumption using Erudition’s in-house content management system. The layout of content is optimised for onscreen reading on personal computers and iPads. Enhancements such as video clips, audio and additional resources are seamlessly integrated with content. Interactive “sliders” enable important concepts to be broken down and illustrated in a step-by-step format.

Direct sales model
Practising The Piano is marketed, sold and distributed directly to the reader via Erudition’s innovative digital fulfilment platform. The publications can be purchased and accessed via a dedicated website or the author’s blog Readers view and interact with their content via a cloud library integrated with a web-based reading application which renders HTML5 content for online and offline consumption.

This direct model provides statistics and usage feedback not usually available to a publisher via third-party retail channels. “We’re thrilled with the results achieved so far”, says Ryan Morison, Director at Erudition. “We’ve received positive feedback from customers across the globe and over 70% of readers accessed the entire first volume within the first week of purchasing it.” New editions and volumes will be influenced directly by the feedback obtained from the beta launch.

Huge pay out to slave owners

The compensation for slave owners in 1833 was bigger than bank bailouts today

It's old news, and the amounts have to be adjusted to match modern currency, but it's still shocking

LONDON (AP) -- A new database launched Wednesday lets Britons curious about their family history uncover some potentially uncomfortable information — whether their ancestors owned slaves.
Researchers at University College London spent three years compiling a searchable listing of thousands of people who received compensation for loss of their "possessions" when slave ownership was outlawed by Britain in 1833.
About 46,000 people were paid a total of 20 million pounds — the equivalent of 40 percent of all annual government spending at the time — after the freeing of slaves in British colonies in the Caribbean, Mauritius and southern Africa.
"This is a huge bailout," said Keith McClelland, a research associate on the project. "Relatively speaking, it is bigger than the bailout of the bankers in recent years."
Compensation for slave-owners was opposed by some abolitionists, who argued it was immoral, but it was approved as the political price of getting the 1833 abolition bill passed.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Leveling the eBook playing field

From Huffington Post.

Three independent bookstores are taking Amazon and the so-called Big Six publishers (Random House, Penguin, Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan) to court in an attempt to level the playing field for book retailers. If successful, the lawsuit could completely change how ebooks are sold.

The class-action complaint, filed in New York on Feb 15., claims that by entering into confidential agreements with the Big Six publishers, who control approximately 60 percent of print book revenue in the U.S., Amazon has created a monopoly in the marketplace that is designed to control prices and destroy independent booksellers.

The complaint centers on digital rights management, or DRM, the technological lock that prevents consumers from transferring any ebook they buy on an Amazon Kindle onto, say, a Nook or Kobo ereader.

DRM comes with all ebooks sold by the major publishers, with the exception of Macmillian's Tor and Forge imprints, and it means that if a consumer decides to switch to another company's ereading device, he or she would lose access to any already purchased ebooks. DRM used to be a feature of digital music sold on iTunes, until Apple abandoned the practice in 2009.

The bookstores making the complaint are the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, based in Albany, N.Y., Fiction Addiction in Greenville, S.C., and Posman Books of New York City, though the suit states that these stores are suing on behalf of "all independent brick-and-mortar bookstores who sell e-books."

All parties are refusing to comment, the matter being under litigation.

However, if you are an indie author, it seems a good idea to make your book DRM free.

Hachette dominates eBestseller list

From Digital Book World

Hachette had a very good week selling ebooks. (And there were also some very interesting movements in price.)

The top four spots in our ebook best-seller list this week are all titles from Hachette and they each represent success in the new art of ebook pricing strategy and promotion.

Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks was the No. 1 best-selling ebook every week in 2013 until this week. It had flirted with the bottom of the list near the end of 2012 — ranked No. 25 on Dec. 1 and No. 23 on Dec. 17. What changed? Price. The ebook was $7.99 on Dec. 1 and was dropped to $3.99 around the new year. It started the year off at No. 1 and didn’t relinquish its grip until this week even though the price was raised back to $6.64 on Jan. 8. It now sells for $5.79.

The Nos. 1 and 4 books are both part of the Beautiful Creatures series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Last week, four books in the series took the list by storm, rocketing up the ranks due at least in part to a price drop to $2.99. Even as the prices increased this week to anywhere from $5.79 to $8.89.

In fact, even as the prices went up, the ebooks continued to move up the list:

Beautiful Creatures moved to No. 1 from No. 2
Beautiful Darkness moved to No. 4 from No. 8
Beautiful Chaos moved to No. 7 from No. 17
Beautiful Redemption moved to No. 10 from No. 11

An Hachette spokesperson told Digital Book World in regards to the Beautiful Creatures price shifts that the price promotions in this case were being driven by retailers.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Oxfam donates archive to Bodleian Library

Record of charity's 70-year history to be catalogued in library in Oxford, where organisation was born

Maev Kennedy reports in the Guardian


The records of 70 years of struggle to keep the world from starving, encapsulated in 10,000 boxes of archive material of Oxfam, have been donated to the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

The charity operates across the world, but began life as the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief. The first meeting was held in 1942 at the university church, St Mary the Virgin, a stone's throw from the Bodleian.

The library has also been awarded a major grant from the Wellcome Trust to catalogue the archive, which includes photographs, posters, reports, film and video, and audio recordings and oral histories. There are also photographs of the many celebrities who have supported fundraising appeals, including the Beatles, the actor Julie Christie, rock star Mick Jagger, and footballer Gary Lineker.

 Sarah Thomas, the Bodley librarian, said they were delighted to have the records of an organisation so linked with Oxford.

 "The archive will be an essential resource for a range of scholars, complementing our existing holdings in the areas of science, medicine, history and development."

 Karen Brown, chair of Oxfam, said the archive was a record not just of the charity but of the development of the international aid movement. "I hope it inspires future generations to continue striving to overcome poverty worldwide."


Absolutely, positively Wellington, New Zealand

It's official

It might be windy, the weather might be uncertain, and the infamously steep and winding streets are terrible to drive along, but according to the Dominion Post, Wellingtonians love their city.

A quality-of-life survey has confirmed what we all knew already, that Wellington citizens are happier than their urban brethren elsewhere. It accounts for the smiles you see on people travelling on buses, and the way they regularly thank the driver, even if they are getting off the bus from the back.

In a nutshell, they hold a deep conviction that they are living in a wonderful city. No less than 93% of those surveyed said exactly that.  They also love sharing their city.  Cruise ships are more than welcome, and cruisers can rely on getting advice and help and just plain friendly conversation -- or so the cruisers we have talked to say. According to the survey, Wellingtonians are also remarkably tolerant of diversity. They enjoy their multi-cultural neighbors, particularly in the inner city suburb of Newtown, where cafes and restaurants featuring food from all over the world line the streets, and the passersby are often wearing eye-strikingly unusual dress.

So, go for it, come and visit.  Just expect to see smug and happy looks on the faces of those you meet.

For maritime enthusiasts

NIWA Seminar

But you do have to be in Wellington ...

From sunny Europe to the cold Antarctic: how to boost polar marine science in a non-polar country in 5 years?

José Xavier, British Antarctic Survey

José Xavier (Cambridge University, Ph. D.) is a Antarctic marine ecologist based at the Institute of Marine Research of the University of Coimbra (Portugal) and at the British Antarctic Survey (UK), focusing his research on predator-prey interactions in the Southern Ocean, particularly on foraging and feeding behaviour of top predators in relation to climate change. His contribution to Portugal´s science, politics and education and outreach during the International Polar Year (IPY) was substantial, playing a major role in the establishment of national science and educational programs, being also highly involved in international programs and organizations (e.g. SCAR, ICED, APECS). José is the youngest recipient of the prestigious Marta T. Muse award for his substantial contribution to Antarctic science and policy, in 2011. His talk is on how it all happened and his most recent work with Dr. David Thompson at NIWA during the last 2 months.

Thursday, 28 February 2013, 10:30 am

NIWA Greta Point, Main Conference Room

For further information contact Jennifer Beaumont (04) 386-0300 or

Monday, February 25, 2013

Great customer feedback

A comment from an anonymous reader

I have just finished reading 'TUPAIA, The Remarkable Story of Captain Cook's Polynesian Navigator...'

Wow! Fantastic read! It brought what, in the past as a schoolboy had been very dry facts about the history of New Zealand.
I felt like I was actually there on the Endeavour, the writing was so immediate and personal I couldn't put the book down! All of those facts about Young Nick's Head, Poverty Bay, Cape Turnagain etc were made real and meaningful! Tupaia's navigational knowledge and skill was so awesome and it was very tragic that Cook, Banks and the rest did not adequately appreciate what an asset Tupaia was in the success of the exploration in the pacific...Again, an Awesome read!!!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Room to Read

A wonderful story of a entrepreneur's urge to give books to the world

From the Financial Times

John Wood was a senior sales manager at Microsoft. Then, during a sabbatical, he was talking with a teacher in a Nepalese village. The teacher told him that all the school library had on its shelves were a few Danielle Steel novels and a dogeared Lonely Planet guide to Mongolia, all left by backpackers.

Wood's heart was touched. Remembering the pact he had made with the librarian in his hometown in Pennsylvania, to be able to borrow more books each week than his quota, he wanted to do something about those Nepalese kids.

 He launched an appeal to friends for book donations that would transform his life as well as those of local people and soon others across Asia and Africa.

The power and effectiveness of his simple message led to the creation of a charity that rapidly expanded its remit and geographical spread. Since 1999, Room to Read has established nearly 15,000 libraries, built 1,500 schools, distributed 12m books, published more than 700 titles in local languages, supported 20,000 girls in education and benefited an estimated 8m children in 10 countries.

And now he has written an inspiring book about it.

Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy, By John Wood (Viking, RRP£13.99, $27.95)

That damn door

Ever walk into a room, only to completely forget why you went there?

New research from University of Notre Dame Psychology Professor Gabriel Radvansky suggests that passing through doorways is the cause of these memory lapses.

“Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an ‘event boundary’ in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away,” Radvansky explains.

“Recalling the decision or activity that was made in a different room is difficult because it has been compartmentalized.”

The study was published recently in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.
Conducting three experiments in both real and virtual environments, Radvansky’s subjects—all college students—performed memory tasks while crossing a room and while exiting a doorway.

In the first experiment, subjects used a virtual environment and moved from one room to another, selecting an object on a table and exchanging it for an object at a different table. They did the same thing while simply moving across a room but not crossing through a doorway.

Radvansky found that the subjects forgot more after walking through a doorway compared to moving the same distance across a room, suggesting that the doorway or “event boundary” impedes one’s ability to retrieve thoughts or decisions made in a different room.

So it isn't your age, and you're not going mental. It's that damn door.

Nebula Awards 2012

Last Year's Best SF

Many of these winners can be read digitally, at no cost.  The good folks at have inserted the word "COMPLETE" where you can rely on getting to the end.

Nebula Award Nominees for 2012 (to be awarded in 2013)
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed (DAW; Gollancz ’13)
Ironskin by Tina Connolly (Tor)
The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan (Roc)
Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)

On a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard (Immersion Press)
After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress (Tachyon)
The Stars Do Not Lie” by Jay Lake (Asimov’s 10-11/12)
“All the Flavors” by Ken Liu (GigaNotoSaurus 2/1/12) COMPLETE
Katabasis” by Robert Reed (F&SF 11-12/12)
Barry’s Tale” by Lawrence M. Schoen (Buffalito Buffet) COMPLETE

The Pyre of New Day” by Catherine Asaro (The Mammoth Books of SF Wars)
Close Encounters” by Andy Duncan (The Pottawatomie Giant & Other Stories)
The Waves” by Ken Liu (Asimov’s 12/12)
The Finite Canvas” by Brit Mandelo ( 12/5/12) COMPLETE
Swift, Brutal Retaliation” by Meghan McCarron ( 1/4/12) COMPLETE
Portrait of Lisane da Patagnia” by Rachel Swirsky ( 8/22/12) COMPLETE
Fade to White” by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld 8/12) COMPLETE

Short Story
Robot” by Helena Bell (Clarkesworld 9/12) COMPLETE
Immersion” by Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld 6/12) COMPLETE
Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes” by Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld 4/12) COMPLETE
Nanny’s Day” by Leah Cypess (Asimov’s 3/12) COMPLETE
Give Her Honey When You Hear Her Scream” by Maria Dahvana Headley (Lightspeed 7/12) COMPLETE
The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” by Ken Liu (Lightspeed 8/12) COMPLETE
Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain” by Cat Rambo (Near + Far) COMPLETE

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy
Iron Hearted Violet by Kelly Barnhill (Little, Brown)
Black Heart by Holly Black (S&S/McElderry; Gollancz)
Above by Leah Bobet (Levine)
The Diviners by Libba Bray (Little, Brown; Atom)
Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst (S&S/McElderry)
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (Random House; Doubleday UK)
Enchanted by Alethea Kontis (Harcourt)
Every Day by David Levithan (Alice A. Knopf Books for Young Readers)
Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Tu Books)
Railsea by China Mieville (Del Rey; Macmillan)
Fair Coin by E.C. Myers (Pyr)
Above World by Jenn Reese (Candlewick)

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
The Avengers, Joss Whedon (director) and Joss Whedon and Zak Penn (writers), (Marvel/Disney)
Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin (director), Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Abilar (writers), (Journeyman/Cinereach/Court 13/Fox Searchlight )
The Cabin in the Woods, Drew Goddard (director), Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (writers) (Mutant Enemy/Lionsgate)
The Hunger Games, Gary Ross (director), Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, and Billy Ray writers), (Lionsgate)
John Carter, Andrew Stanton (director), Michael Chabon, Mark Andrews, and Andrew Stanton (writers), (Disney)
Looper, Rian Johnson (director), Rian Johnson (writer), (FilmDistrict/TriStar)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Robin Hathaway, RIP

Sadly, I heard the news today of the passing of Robin Hathaway.

 Robin was one of the most kind and gentle persons I have ever met, a genuine lady.  She was very supportive, coming to all my New York signings, and keeping in touch when I was far away. She bought my books, too, though I would have happily given them to her. And, she was a very gracious hostess.

She was also a fine mystery writer.  Her first book, The Doctor Digs a Grave, won an Edgar for Best First Mystery, and from there she went from strength of strength.

Her mysteries had a hint of impish humor, and wonderfully eccentric characters. A legacy that she has given the world, which will long outlive her.

My sympathies go to her family, and all her many other friends.

Bloody Rain, and the future of short stories on Kindle

Recently, I had the pleasure of reading a short story by the author of Hell Around the Horn

It's called Bloody Rain.

And (as you guessed) it was written by Rick Spilman, and published by Old Salt Press.

On Kindle.

This is a great yarn, in the authentic voice of the seafarers of the time.  This was my short but sincere review:

Set in the 1880s on the Hoogly River, this is another example of Spilman's fine background research and feel for authenticity. Not your usual murder mystery, this is a gripping yarn, not a mental puzzle. Highly recommended.

The blurb says it all:


Bloody Rain is a short story set on a sailing ship in the 1880s.

The Queen Charlotte was anchored fore and aft off the Calcutta wharves in the Hoogly River, waiting for cargo. She was a fine, three masted iron bark; trim, low and fast on a reach - in all respects, the perfection of the shipbuilder's art. If she had a single great flaw, it was on her quarterdeck in the man that the owners had chosen as captain.

Captain John McPherson maintains absolute control over his ship and those who sail upon her. The only one that he cannot control is himself, slipping into murder and madness in the face of the relentless monsoon.


While I urge you to buy this little gem, it also made me think about the future of the anthology, in this digital age. With Amazon's Kindle, it is easy to publish either (a) a collection of short stories by one author, or, (b) a single story.

What is not easy is to publish an anthology of short stories by a number of authors. Unless the book is free, dividing up the royalties among the contributors and sending them out is an administrative job that none of the authors might want to take on -- and yet publishing a multi-author anthology that reaps royalties isn't possible without a volunteer to do exactly that.

In a weekend newspaper, I read an interesting comment by a well-regarded reviewer, who said that an anthology by a single author is overkill.  Each individual story might be a gem, but to have a whole lot, one after another, dulls the impact. 

For really brilliant short story writers, such as Ray Bradbury, I don't believe this happen, but I can certainly see his point. Recently I bought a collection by Michael Connolly, and found that it was a couple of short stories, and a teaser for a novel. The teaser worked -- I bought the novel.  But, strangely, I can't bring myself to read it. The mindset needed for reading short stories hasn't carried over to the full length book.

So, I agree that an anthology of short stories is best to have multiple authors. How can we get over the problem of dishing out the money? With a writers' collective, perhaps?

Amazon paying in pounds

Writing in Britain or Europe?

If you are a Kindle author, up to now you have been paid in United States dollars.

And, if you don't have a US bank account, you have had to wait for a check to arrive.

Now, in more evidence that Amazon is going truly global, they are offering the option to be paid in pounds or Euros.  All you need is a British or European bank account.

Go to your account information page for each of your publications, and change it accordingly.

Just make sure you get the account number right. A few authors don't, and then get very upset when the money doesn't arrive...

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Erotic Katherine Mansfield vignette discovered

At a Friends of the Alexander Turnbull Library evening this week an exciting announcement was made

A hither-to unknown Katherine Mansfield manuscript has been discovered.

Full of dark themes and imagery, a previously unknown work by Katherine Mansfield has been uncovered by Dr Gerri Kimber, a leading Mansfield scholar.
While working on the Turnbull Library’s recent acquisition of papers from the John Middleton Murry estate, Dr Kimber found several poems, fragments of stories… and a complete, unknown vignette.
She opens the iron barred window and leans out. Below her the hunchback sits on the stage thrumming his guitar, and the old comic woman, the snake charmer, and the little, fantastic audience, stir and cry aloud with the gestures and voices of dolls. The room behind her is quite dark but a bright light shines on her dusky face and hair, on her shimmering green dress and bare, brown arms. One thinks of a bird quivering a moment at the open door of the cage – there is just that wild eagerness about her – listening, one moment, for the live voice of liberty, and passionately indifferent to everything else.
Signed ‘Katharina Mansfield’, it must date from late 1910 or early 1911, Mansfield’s hashish-smoking, bisexual, drug-taking days. “There are dark images and even darker themes in the piece itself, which is probably why Murry never published it,” says Dr Kimber.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Evolution of the Hybrid Author

The shift from traditional publishing gathers momentum

Digital Book World is carrying the fascinating story of NYT bestselling author Bob Mayer, who is making a dramatic transition from traditionally published author to a man who has taken the reins of his fate into his own hands more flamboyantly than most.

Mayer tells it like this: 

"In late 2010 I was preparing to bring a new manuscript to my agent. I was hearing and reading buzz about “Self-publishing” with eBooks but few seemed to be taking it seriously. At Digital Book World 2010, agents were laughing about a part of the industry that took in only 3% of income.

"I wasn’t laughing. I knew how slow and technophobic traditional publishing was, after spending 20 years and 42 books in it and hitting all the bestseller lists, while also experiencing being dumped by various publishers at times due to decreasing print runs with increasing sell-through (that refrain sounds familiar to any of you authors?).

"So I peered into my crystal ball and wondered: “What will publishing be like in 2013?” Because if my agent took this manuscript and sold it to another traditional publisher, like all my other deals, I knew pub date would be mid-2012 to early 2013."

At this pregnant moment, he was approached by his business partner, who wanted to know what he was doing with his backlist.  Like many other backlists, it was moldering. Mayer evidently had had the rights reverted (which every sensible author should be doing), so they spent 2010 putting out the books, one after another, in digital format. Cool Gus Publishing was born, and grossed $26,000 that year.

Things changed in 2011 and even more in 2012.  They grossed over seven figures.

Then he decided to do something even more radical -- bring in other authors.

Such as NYT bestselling author Jennifer Probst.

But, as he says, what could Cool Gus offer her?

An extension of self-publishing that was a publishing partnership.

And so Cool Gus evolved. Like a traditional publisher, Cool Gus would have a traditional publishing schedule, but with Kindle Publishing-style royalty rates, and monthly payments. Like oldtime publishers, Cool Gus would promote her books, and set up interviews.

It is a very interesting concept.  According to DBW, about one-third of traditionally published authors want to branch out into self-publishing.  But are that many actually taking the plunge and doing it?  There's a lot to learn, and a lot of pitfalls, despite all the advice that the self-publishing platforms so generously provide.

Mayer reckons that if you want to do it right, you really can’t “self” publish. The learning curve is much too steep to risk it, he says -- that's why most traditional writers he talks to say they are scared. He's offering an alternative.  Will this publishing partnership concept work? The nitty-gritty, as they say, is in the detail, but it certainly does look promising.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Witch on a Ship

A haunted passage to Virginia

A current eBay offering is four issues of the 1691 Athenian Mercury, which is all about  GHOSTS & WITCHCRAFT aboard a SHIP BOUND FOR VIRGINIA.

The best-known and longest-lived of all seventeenth-century literary periodicals, The Athenian Mercury was the first advice column and the first newspaper to use the question-and-answer format. A widely-read staple of the coffee houses, it is also generally considered the first major popular periodical in England as well as the first miscellaneous periodical, and the first to appeal to both men and women.

Published twice weekly from 1691-1697 by the eccentric pamphleteer and prolific publisher John Dunton, the Athenian Mercury took its name from Acts 17:21 ("For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing"). Over the course of its 580 numbers, Dunton and his two principal writers, Richard Sault and Samuel Wesley (father of Charles and John Wesley), answered nearly 6000 questions, both weighty and frivolous, on a dizzying array of topics, including theology, philosophy, politics, health, natural history, science, literature, courtship and marriage, sex, etiquette, etc., etc.

These issues of the Athenian Mercury are numbers 10 and 20-22 of Volume 4, published in London in 1691.

It is 20-22 that is interesting, being largely devoted to a lively and fascinating account, accompanied by sworn affidavits, of an apparent case of witchcraft on board an emigrant ship bound for the New World.

The story begins: On the twenty first of October, 1674, putting forth from Plymouth into the Sea, with the Ship Recovery of London: John Wood Commander bound to Virginia, we had very bad Winds as West South West, and at South, with very bad weather, that all our Fore Shrouds broke at times, being good Ropes, our Topmast broke twice, our Mizzen yard broak, our Spritsle yard washt from the Boultspreet, one Main and two Foretops split, most of our running rigging shatter’d, the Ship’s planks working from the Stern-post, our Men tyred with working: Fair weather or foul, it was all one, what was mended one day, would the next day be in pieces…

And it just gets worse. The crew and passengers come to believe that "our ship was bewitched by one Witch aboard,… and that we should not get to Virginia, but lye and spend our provision and liquor in the sea." Eventually, their suspicions fall on one Elizabeth Masters. But even after the Jonah-witch has been arrested and "clapt in chain at a gun in the steerage," the accursed ship's troubles continue…

Fascinated?  The starting bid is $24.99 US, plus shipping. But new customers get a ten-dollar rebate.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Fancy killing off an editor?

Crime novelist Margot Kinberg has set a puzzle for you all ... if you feel up to the challenge...

Like to write a mystery short story where someone in the publishing world is killed off?

Sounds fun, doesn't it?

Margot wants to collect enough of these to publish them as a digital anthology, in memory of a dear friend who was a great mystery fan.

As she says on her blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, "Maxine Clarke was an avid reader and strong supporter of crime fiction and crime writers. The world of crime fiction lost one of its dearest members and I lost a good friend when Maxine passed away in December 2012. As a way of giving back just a little of what she gave to us all, I’ve decided to put together a crime fiction short story anthology...

"If you’re an author, please consider contributing a story for this collection. Maxine supported us all, so let’s return the favour. Here are a few things I have in mind to help you decide whether you’d like to be a part of this:

  • The stories will all focus on crime in the world of editing, publishing, writing and/or reviewing. Feel free to explore that theme in your own way. Stories about fiction writing, non-fiction writing, research or academic writing are all fair game.
  • Please, no stories with excessive gore or violence against children or animals.
  • I’m hoping that the anthology would be ready by the end of this year for e-publication. So if you’re interested I’d ask that you’d be prepared to contribute your story by the first week of August.
  • If you already have a story that hasn’t been published elsewhere, feel free to contribute that.
Any proceeds from this collection will be donated to the Princess Alice Hospice, which was so supportive of Maxine and her family during her last days and weeks.
Interested in getting a story out there?  Email Margot at and she will send you the particulars.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Killer cats

There is a cat controversy on the boil in New Zealand

It's all the fault of Wellington economist and financial wizard Gareth Morgan, who suggested that Cats have a Dire Effect on Native Birdlife. 

In fact, he has gone so far to say that our world standard bird sanctuary, Zealandia, is an expensive catfood factory.  Birds that are lovingly reared in a pest-free environment are free to fly all over Wellington once big enough to fly over the fence.  Hence, over the past few years, Wellingtonians have had the delight of hearing the demented conversations of tuis in their own backyards, and are treated to the rather comical sight of massive keruru (wood pigeons) balancing on power lines. (They are so big that when they fly they sound like helicopters.) And Dr. Morgan says they are in danger. From your common-or-garden household cat.

In fact, Dr. Morgan says that cats that are found straying about the neighborhood that haven't been micro-chipped should be put out of their microchipless misery, and thereby save a few birds.

As eminent scientists have pointed out, while cats might kill a few birds (though tuis and keruru are too big/too crafty to be snared by those satanical claws) they do the bird world a favor by killing other pests like rats and stoats, which sneak about the bush and climb trees to rob nests of chicks and eggs.  Figures have been quoted, and authorities cited.  But the controversy simmers on. Should everyone consider their current cat their last cat, not to be replaced once gone?

Some say yes, some say no. It has been getting rather heated -- in the way of humor.  There have been some very funny letters to the paper.  Here is a sampling of this weekend's letters to the ed.:

Moggy: a cat of dubious breed.  Ex.: "No, my dear, that is not a British Shorthair, it is a moggy." Origin: from the word "mongrel."  Morgy: an expert of dubious expertise. Ex.: "You don't need to listen to his dieting adivce, he is a morgy." Origin: see "Morgan, G."

It would seem that, on balance, cats destroy enough New Zealand pests to more than offset any damage they do. If only they could club together and eat economists, we would worship them just as much as the ancient Egyptians did.

Since my two cats died a couple of years ago the birds have returned to my garden in their dozens. So far they have eaten my strawberries, dug up my potatoes, and now they have started on the Beefsteak tomatoes, not to mention pooping on my washing and my car.  I shall be getting another cat next season, possibly two.

Just in case you are interested (and possibly getting het up) here is Gareth Morgan's website, complete with neat little tags to back-buttons like "Your Cat is Not Innocent."

And here is Zealandia's lovely website.  If you are visiting Wellington, it is a really neat place to go.  Wear a hat and good walking shoes, and prepare to spend several hours.  And yes, you can take a packed lunch. Or have a fancy wedding, if you wish.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Interactive textbooks the way to go

What's the difference between a printed textbook and a digitized textbook?

Nothing exciting, according to a new study, reports Digital Book World

Despite taking the load out of the backpack, etextbooks are just not taking off. 

About 6% of students are using a “core digital textbook” as their main course material, according to a new study from the Book Industry Study Group, which surveyed a nationally representative sample of four-year and two-year college students during the fall 2012 academic semester for the third year for its Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education report. This number is unchanged from the same period a year ago.

The problem isn't adoption of technology: Double the number of students have tablet computers (about a third). BUT, less than 5% of them use the devices as their primary study device. They're heading for the internet, instead.
So what is the answer?

One insight from the new data is that students especially don't respond well to e-textbooks that are simply digitized versions of the print editions. Herein, as DBW remarks, lies the lesson for trade publishers, especially of illustrated digital titles: A straight digital reproduction of the print edition may not impress readers.

Publishers should take advantage of the new medium to give readers something special, different and specific to the platform.
An enhanced digital version of the textbook, for instance. With embedded images and video.  Interactive would be even better.  Now, that would be a learning experience.

Airline Feng Shui

Well, this is a nifty marketing trick for the Chinese New Year

Jetstar Asia has put up a web page to help the lovelorn or out-of-luck to choose the right seat to improve their chances.

They have hired a guru named David Tong to reveal the auspicious seat and row numbers.

Blokes wanting to ensure their good health are advised to go for rows 9, 19, or 29, while women looking for a financial boost should choose rows 1,11 or 21.

If friendship is what you’re after, go for 3, 4, 13, 14, 23 or 24.

Tong also says those who fly early – between 5am and 7am – will be the luckiest travellers.

If you're thinking of flying soon, hit the link, enter your birthdate, and have fun. If you're not sure where to go, the gadget will help you with that, too.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Hot New Release

The Elephant Voyage an unexpected hit

Blame the Amazon algorithms.

Four or five weeks ago, I released another castaway story, this one about six men who were stranded in a whaleboat off Campbell Island in the subAntarctic after their captain assumed they were dead.

It's an unusual story, because it is not just about the stranding and the five-day struggle to get on shore, followed by a horrible time in a castaway hut while they waited desperately for rescue -- which happened in the nick of time, and by accident. What else is interesting is that after they were eventually carried to New Zealand public outrage at their delayed rescue led by turns to a courtcase, the political embarrassment of the colonial government, and then the involvement of first the American representative in the Court of St James, and then the American President.

However, I have been too busy preparing for another book to promote The Elephant Voyage, so it has been left to market itself.

And now I find that Amazon finds that there is enough interest in the book for them to promote it as a HOT NEW RELEASE.  Hit the link, to see what I mean.

I wonder what will happen next?

Expert help for Indie authors?

Who can be trusted?

Historical romance novelist Francine Howarth has posed a very interesting and pertinent question on facebook, which she kindly gave me permission to post.

"Can I ask a potent Question?" she asks: 
When professional input is referred to as an absolute necessity for Indie Authors, what is the recognised standard of professional input? Please bear in mind I'm not hitting at any one individual... But, anybody can set themselves up as a consultant in the field of literary expertise: a) editorial services - b) graphic design - c) marketing et all.

Of course, many "professionals" will cite testaments to their output, and of that output there will be many satisfied authors. But, on investigation by a friend of mine (News International journalist) she discovered many of these so-called professional editors (a) have no recognised qualification in the media of publishing or journalism, nor hold a recognised university graduate level in English language. Some are authors listed with e-book publishers who've graduated to positions of self-employed freelance editors with said publisher, and have in turn set up a sideline editorial business. If that is true, and I don't doubt the levels of deceptive practises in the ever expanding world of the Indie Author seeking professional help, how many authors then are being duped by fancy web talk, and all based on credence of an author-cum-editor?

Of the graphic designers (b) many have genuine artistic skills and not a qualification to their name, while some of the graduate designer's works give food for thought and little else. But of course, with the visual aspect one can see what is good, mediocre or crap. And, the best book cover designers shine on skill not a piece of paper declaring they are what they claim to be even if they have a Masters in Creative Art: whatever.

Now to (c) the marketing experts? Do they count, and how much would you (the author) be willing to pay someone you don't know but has the spiel down "pat" on how great you are, how fab your product is, and yes, if you're willing to pay big bucks the PAT will trump you as best author ever on some vague Internet platform: probably Goodreads! Which "professional" is to be trusted?
What do you think? Let me know...

The Apron

Do you remember making an apron in Home Economics at school?
Do you actually remember Home Economics?
If you do, this will bring back memories ... 

The principal use of Grandma's apron was to protect the dress underneath because she only had a few and because it was easier to wash aprons than dresses and aprons required less material. But along with that, it served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven.

It was wonderful for drying children's tears, and on occasion was even used for cleaning out dirty ears.

From the chicken coop, the apron was used for carrying eggs, fussy chicks, and sometimes half-hatched eggs to be finished in the warming oven.

When company came, those aprons were ideal hiding places for shy kids.

And when the weather was cold, Grandma wrapped it around her arms.

Those big old aprons wiped many a perspiring brow, bent over the hot wood stove. Chips and kindling wood were brought into the kitchen in that apron..

From the garden, it carried all sorts of vegetables. After the peas had been shelled, it carried out the hulls.

In the autumn, the apron was used to bring in apples that had fallen from the trees.

When unexpected company drove up the road, it was surprising how much furniture that old apron could dust in a matter of seconds.

When dinner was ready, Grandma walked out onto the porch, waved her apron, and the men folk knew it was time to come in from the fields to dinner.
This was sent to me by a friend, and I am posting it because I think it is cute, but I don't actually agree with the final statement -- "It will be a long time before someone invents something that will replace that 'old-time apron' that served so many purposes" -- because a quick hunt through google indicates that the apron is making a comeback.  Not only is a barbeque apron a very handy gift for that man in your life who has absolutely everything else, but patterns for pretty aprons abound. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Overdue book returned

The New York Public Library can celebrate

A book that was 55 years overdue has finally been returned.

Originally checked out of the Fort Washington branch in Upper Manhattan on April 10, 1958, it was returned in a plain brown wrapper.

The book was Fire of Francis Xavier, by Arthur R. McGratty.

Library records don't go back that far, so it is impossible to tell who borrowed it.  Whoever it was, the shamefaced fan of the fiery saint is extremely honest -- a check for $100 was included in the envelope, for outstanding fines.

The New York Public Library has a second reason to celebrate, because a neat little profit was reaped.

A "Very Fine" first edition copy of Fire of Francis Xavier is on sale on eBay for $32.00.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Wiki Coffin cover story in AHMM

Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine features Wiki on the cover

Eighteen-year-old Wiki Coffin is a seaman on a weatherbeaten little brig, Bengal Tiger, in the South China Sea.  Loaded with an explosive cargo of gunpowder and fireworks, the becalmed brig is drifting towards the dragon-haunted island of Komodo when she catches fire.

Which is more life-threatening? Staying on board a vessel that is about to explode to Kingdom Come, or taking the boat to land on an island where poisonous dragons lurk in the spindly thickets, drooling bloody saliva as they await their defenceless prey?

Read the story, and find out how Wiki copes with the horrid dilemma ... and how he solves the mystery of how the fire started, too.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Whaleboat for Charles W Morgan

There is an old tradition at work in Martha's Vineyard

This winter, Gannon & Benjamin Marine Railway on Vineyard Haven harbor is at work recreating a small piece of the nation's maritime history. The Island boatbuilders, designers and builders of pleasure craft large and small, power and sail, are building one of the whaleboats that will be carried by the Charles W. Morgan, the last remaining wooden whaleship and the oldest American commercial vessel still in existence.

In all, nine whaleboats are under construction by third parties that include, in addition to Gannon & Benjamin, the Lowell Boat Shop and the Philadelphia Independence Seaport Museum.

Meanwhile, work has begun in the austere surroundings of the Gannon & Benjamin shop, which but for the use of electricity, resembles an 19th-century shipwright's premises.

According to Virginia Jones, Gannon & Benjamin office manager, the Morgan was built by the Hillman family who originally came from Chilmark. Seven of her series of masters were from Martha's Vineyard, as were many of the crew on her 37 voyages.

"We feel that it is particularly appropriate for a Vineyard boatyard to participate in this noteworthy project," Ms. Jones said in an email to The Times that highlighted many of the past and present Island connections to the project.

Ms. Jones said Morgan's last skipper was Captain George Fred Tilton from North Road, Chilmark. He served as port captain for the Morgan. He wrote about his sailing adventures, although not on the Morgan, in a book titled "Cap'n George Fred," which includes an account of his efforts to save an Arctic whaling fleet caught in the ice. "A must-read classic for every Island school kid," Ms. Jones said. "His perilous walk is quite an adventure story."

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A wooden whaleship sails again

Charles W. Morgan Launches Again

"Mytic Mist" -- Ron Druett

Sunday, July 21, 2013
9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Charles W. Morgan

The whaleship Charles W. Morgan, the oldest American commercial vessel still afloat and a National Historic Landmark, has undergone a multi-year, comprehensive restoration in the Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard at Mystic Seaport. The project, which began in November 2008, renewed areas of the vessel from the waterline down to her keel and also addressed the bow and stern. On July 21, the 172nd anniversary of the vessel's initial launch, she will be launched again.

At high tide a ceremonial breaking of a bottle over the Morgan's bow and lowering of the vessel into the Mystic River will highlight the day's celebration. Guest speakers, including state and local dignitaries, will speak about the vessel's important role in Connecticut history, the whaling industry, and our nation's maritime heritage.

There will be special Morgan-related presentations and demonstrations, including talks from the shipwrights who worked on the restoration. Listen to live music from the Museum's chanteymen and take part in numerous family-friendly activities. Join us for this historic occasion as we celebrate a national treasure -- it's a once-in-a-lifetime event not to be missed!

The 38th Voyage

In the late spring of 2014, the Morgan will embark on a historic 38th Voyage to historic ports in New England. The journey will begin with several weeks in New London, where she will finalize her fitting out and conduct sail training. This will also include events celebrating the city's whaling heritage. The Morgan will then sail to Newport, New Bedford (where she was built and sailed from for much of her career), Vineyard Haven on Martha's Vineyard, through the Cape Cod Canal on the centennial anniversary of its opening, Provincetown, which she will use as a base for day sails among the whales on Stellwagon Bank, and finally to Boston to join the USS Constitution.

Each port stop will have a series of public events and programs focusing on that particular city's heritage. When she returns to Mystic Seaport in August 2014, the Morgan will return to her berth at Chubb's Wharf and resume her role as an exhibit and flagship of the Museum.