Category Archives: Somebody Has To Say It

Clumsiness: In Pursuit Of The Perfect Cuppa

Last week I did a guest post for Erica Lucke Dean’s blog (@ericaluckedean). I ‘won’ this guest post for extraordinary clumsiness, although I still insist that the string of events was in fact an extraordinary run of bad luck.

This is a fun, light-hearted post in the spirit of the clumsiness that won the guest spot, and you can find it here – http://www.ericaluckedean.com/the-daily-blog/2011/9/2/in-pursuit-of-the-perfect-cuppa.html

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Stupidity In the Raw

I have a fairly high threshold when it comes to being shocked by stupidity. I’ve seen so much of it I have become inured to it. It takes something jaw-droppingly stupid to truly surprise me. There are many things that I shake my head at but not so many that really stop me in my tracks.
I tell you this so you can understand the true depths of the stupidity I am about to relate to you. This is a tale I read in a local Sydney paper a few months ago now. It was like an infomercial. But wait… there’s more. Every time I thought the woman in question couldn’t possibly get any stupider… I was wrong. And the people who know me will tell you that I am rarely wrong. My husband even complains about it.
So, we have a backyard nudist. OK, some people like to sunbathe nude in the (ahem) privacy of their backyards. Such as it is. Not me, but each to their own and all that. This woman was complaining because the trees that provided privacy to the rear of her backyard had been cut down.
Well, fair enough you say. I’d be a bit miffed if someone came along and cut down my trees, whether I was in habit of sunbathing nude or not. I reasoned they might have been diseased or storm-damaged and therefore had to be taken down for safety reasons. I could see myself being a bit disappointed if I lost some mature trees in this manner. Particularly if I was in the habit of getting my kit off in their shade. Which I repeat, just so we’re clear – I’m not.
But no… the trees had been cut down by the adjoining school. Wait… you sunbathe nude in your backyard and your property adjoins a school? A primary school? What were you thinking? All I could think was these poor children under eleven who might be copping an eyeful.
Well, that aside, the trees were on the school’s property, and I figured they had every right to cut down trees on their own property. You can’t rely on trees that belong to someone else to ensure privacy in your own yard. Plant your own trees, for god’s sake. In the meantime, I should think your fence would provide some privacy. Put some lattice on top or something. Take the initiative (and some responsibility, but let’s not get side-tracked on the topic of people who can’t take responsibility for themselves) and do something to protect your privacy. It’s your problem, not someone else’s.
Hang on a moment… The school has offered to erect a fence and share costs. There‘s no fence? Your backyard abuts a primary school, there’s no fence separating it, and you sunbathe nude in that backyard? Have you no shame?
But wait… there’s more (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?).
Our nudist wasn’t happy with the school’s offer to build a fence. Really? How much privacy could the trees have offered with no fence? Anyone could have walked into her yard! So because she wasn’t happy, she decided she would protest. By handing out fliers. With naked pictures of herself. To the parents of those primary school children at home time.
There are so many things wrong with this on so many levels that I struggle to know where to begin.
Firstly, it becomes something of a moot point, does it not, to complain about your lack of privacy if you are going to voluntarily hand out naked pictures of yourself? What privacy do you have left to protect at this point?
Secondly, and more disturbing on a wider level, how could anyone possibly think it was a good idea to hand out naked pictures of themselves to parents of children under eleven while those parents have those children in tow?  I shudder to think of the inevitable question. ‘Mummy, what’s that?’ ‘Nothing, sweetie, really, nothing..’
Seriously, what was running through your mind?
The only answer I can come up with is… nothing. Absolutely nothing. If there was even a modicum of intelligence in there, even one, lonely brain cell, surely it would have told her to stop? All I can conclude is that here is a woman whose IQ makes a room-temperature IQ look scorching hot!
And the very last, disturbing piece of news? Her husband whole-heartedly supported her. Clearly, he wasn’t much brighter than she was.
I hope they never breed.

Indie Publishing: Traditional Publishing’s Competitor – or Slush Pile?

This is probably not a post which is likely to make me very popular but, you got it, I’m going to say it anyway. To avoid pointless arguments about what I’m not saying, I’d like to be clear upfront. I am not saying that writers should never indie publish.
But… What is indie publishing?
I expect there are as many different definitions or concepts of what indie publishing is as there are for each genre and subgenre of fiction. We could probably argue about it until the cows come home. So I’ll tell you what I think it is. Then you can argue about it, and I’ll just watch.
I consider indie publishing to be an alternative to traditional publishing for writers who have submitted to traditional publishers and/or agents and received responses along the lines of ‘It’s great but it’s not for us’ or ‘You’ve got a fabulous story but it’s not commercial’.
In other words, indie publishing is an alternative for writers who are skilled in their craft but can’t get an editor or an agent to take a risk on them for reasons that do not relate to the quality of their work.
How about what indie publishing is not?
·         It’s not an excuse to cut corners on your WIP. A lot of them exist for a reason. If the response you are getting is that your WIP is not interesting enough, engaging enough, well-written enough, or suffers from other technical problems, indie publishing will not magically solve them;

·         It’s not the ‘easy option’ for the ‘lazy’ writer. Good writers are not born, they are made. They are forged in the crucible of reviews, critiques and, yes, rejection. Only when we are told what is wrong can we make it better. If you have just penned your very first novel or story and indie published it (particularly without an editor, or review or critique by someone who knows what they are talking about) I am sorry, but it’s probably more useful as toilet paper.

And yes, I say that as a writer. I have one of those ‘first novels’ lying around. Like most writers who have been around the traps a bit (and after nearly 20 years at this, sorry to say I am old enough to be one of them), I pray to god or anyone else who might be listening that no one ever sees it. How embarrassing. As a matter of fact, I can’t even tell you where it is right now. Probably on a floppy disk for which there will shortly be no means to read it. I can hope, anyway. Maybe I am lucky enough for it to have been the broken one I found the other day.  

·         It’s not publishing for ‘vanity’. In the old days (which I remember, crivens), writers had to pay other people to have their book vanity published. Now a writer can epublish their book, even if it’s absolute drivel, and expect other people to pay them. If you are providing a product to consumers, it should be a good one, and not just to stroke your own ego.  People pay for a good product or service. Money spent by a consumer just to make you feel good is not money well-spent. Unless maybe it was spent by your mother.

·         It is not an excuse to drop standards. If you are indie publishing, I expect you to know how to spell, and have good grammar, as the most basic tools of your craft. You don’t need to know the names (I can never remember what a preposition is) but I expect you to know how to use them. I also expect you to know good dialogue, to not infodump, to weave backstory carefully, to have interesting plots, believable characters with depth… The list goes on. In short, everything I would expect from a traditionally published novel. I’m sorry, but the method of publishing does not change the ingredients in a good book. Yes, I have high standards, but in my defence I will say I never held someone to a standard to which I did not hold myself;

·         It’s not an excuse to break the rules – without good reason. In traditional publishing, as an unknown author, we are told all the time that breaking the rules will land you in the slush pile. Not so in indie publishing. What slush pile? Well, that may be true, but rules exist for a reason. If you break a rule, and it doesn’t somehow add to your story or advance the plot or somehow make it better than if you had abided by the rule – then breaking it is probably detrimental;

·         It’s not an excuse to not know the rules. If you want to break rules meaningfully and intelligently, you need to know what they are. Learn them, please. Study your craft.
I recently heard the question asked ‘are you regarded as having achieved less because you indie publish?’ I don’t hesitate in saying ‘you betcha!’. We all know the odds against traditional publishing. Ergo, if you are traditionally published, you have achieved something of heroic proportions. You beat the odds. Even if your writing is not great literature, you still beat the odds.
That, however, does not automatically mean that an indie book is bad, because we all know plenty of good work doesn’t get traditionally published. Unfortunately, a lot more of what doesn’t get published isn’t good work, which brings me to my next point.
I recently heard suggested that we should do away with one star reviews because they are ‘not fair’ to the writer. Really? Why not? If the quality of your work is that poor, why shouldn’t you get 1 star? Because your fragile ego can’t bear it? I’m sorry, but if you can’t take negative criticism, you are in the wrong line of work.
Granted, there are bound to be a number of undeserved 1 star reviews. But then, as discussed in my last post ‘What Price Your Honour?’, there are also large numbers of undeserved 5 star reviews floating around. Maybe we should also do away with 5 star reviews?
But then, now 2 star reviews are undeservedly harsh, and 4 star reviews are coveted. I know! We shall have 3 star reviews only. Now you are all the same. Is everyone happy?
I expect not. That was a very exaggerated example, but most of you probably got the point. A review system is, by its very nature, designed to distinguish between good and bad. Any scale, no matter where it starts and finishes, will have a lowest point and a highest point.
As a reader, I can say that I have seen enough false reviews that I don’t bother looking at the star rating of a book anymore. It is meaningless data. Worse, I have started discriminating on the basis of price point. Two bad experiences with (traditionally published) 99c books, and I am ready to swear off them. If I won’t buy traditionally published 99c ebooks, what hope do indie books have? Not much, I’m afraid.
I have in fact never bought an indie book. I have read free excerpts of various indie ebooks, designed to entice and lure the reader into purchasing the complete work. Sad to say, none has yet been of sufficient calibre, or sufficiently intriguing, to induce me to do so (though some clearly had promise). What a sad state of affairs.
I like the theory of indie publishing, but as you can see, so far the practical reality is disappointing me. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that all indie authors are bad, I am saying that inconsistent standards and unreliable reviews are demotivating me to look for the diamonds in the rough. I am sure they exist, but where to start looking? It is the proverbial needle in the haystack. I am time poor, so I must choose the books I read carefully.
If indie publishing wants to be taken seriously, and to provide a viable, commercial and, ultimately, profitable alternative to traditional publishing, writers need to hold themselves to some kind of quality standard in the work they choose to self-publish. Otherwise, indie publishing will be doomed to be nothing more than a very public slush pile for traditional publishing. I would think that a tragic waste of something that could have been so much more.
Fellow writer, I implore you – always strive to improve yourself. Take workshops. Join a review group. Use beta readers. Pay an editor. Listen to the feedback you get. But please, don’t publish anything less than your absolute spit-polished best.
Hold yourself to a standard and be proud.

What Price Your Honour? – Fake Book Reviews and More

What value do you put on your word? On your honour? Is it even something you have ever thought about?
Without meaning to blow my own trumpet (ye gods, I have enough people putting their hand up for that without doing it myself) I put a fairly high value on my word. If I give it, I keep it. I’m not in the habit of making promises I can’t keep, or even a promise I don’t know I can keep.  My word reflects on my honour, and yes, my honour is pretty important.
I won’t go so far as to say my honour is my life. I would lie to a gunman to save my life. But that’s smart. That’s natural selection at work (based on the theory that stupidity is something we want to evolve out, and therefore intelligence should be a survival trait). But short of that, I do put value on being considered honest, loyal, trustworthy.
These days, though, the concepts of your word and your honour are almost archaic. Even in more prosaic terms of ‘keeping promises’, or being trustworthy, it doesn’t seem to be something our society values highly, or at least not one it promotes itself as valuing highly. We rarely talk about it, discuss, or say we value it, except in negative terms, usually when we’ve caught a politician with his pants down. I value faithfulness highly, but I find it hypocritical to crucify said hypothetical politician when the rest of the time society barely gives a passing nod to the concept of fidelity.
Making a promise and keeping it is such an important concept (or was, somewhere in the dark mists of time) that it is now backed up with the full force of the law – contract law. If you make a contract (a promise) and you break it, the law can be called upon to make you abide by that promise. It doesn’t always work, but we are only talking about the theory, not the practice. A large part of the fabric of our society depends upon the very idea that promises will be kept. Your electricity provider supplies electricity on the promise you will pay. You pay deposits on the promise that the goods will be delivered.
Why is it, then, that in our personal lives, so often the concept of keeping one’s word, and in the wider sense, of being honourable, or honest, is increasing seen as meaningless or valueless? I raise this point in the context of a practice that I have come across in the writing community recently. Those of you who are fellow writers may well have come across this practice as well.
The fake book review.
It most often seems to occur in indie publishing, although I expect there exist instances of it in traditional publishing. For those who don’t know, it is where a writer implores his friends and family to write glowing reviews on websites such as Amazon, whether those friends and family have read the book or not, and whether they believe the review is justified or not. Those friends and family who agree to write such reviews do so, I am sure, out of filial obligation or in the name of friendship. But, I’m afraid, all parties are guilty of dishonesty. Worse, this is dishonesty of the kind designed to con the innocent consumer out of his hard-earned dollar and deposit it into the pocket of undeserving writer. Or if not designed for that purpose (in some cases, it may solely be designed to stroke the ego of said writer) it certainly has this effect.
False reviews are not always easy to spot. Having so many 5 out of 5 reviews that it stretches belief can be a sign, particularly if they are mixed with a number of very poor reviews (1 out of 5 stars). Think about it – even authors like Stephen King do not get strings of perfect reviews. Other than that, there’s not much to go by. If the author has a website, check it out. Sometimes sample chapters are available for free, and you can read and compare to the reviews. Sometimes it is glaringly obvious the reviews are not justified.
A similar practice is where writers review each other’s work, and one of them tries to hold the other to ransom – ‘I wrote you a good review, now you must give me a good review’. Bad writer, bad writer. This is not a barter exchange. You get a review that befits your work, not the review you are giving the writer’s work. In some ways, this type of false review (if the ransomed writers bows to pressure instead of standing by their integrity) is more damaging, because the review has been given by someone who is assumed to be an authority on the subject matter.
Both of these practices completely undermine the system of giving reviews and trusting reviews. If false reviews abound, potential buyers don’t know what to believe – or buy.
As a consumer, what do you feel when you purchase something which does not live up to your expectations? Cheated? Ripped off? Lied to? I would.
As a writer (if you are one) how do you feel when you see this type of thing occurring? Angry? Ashamed maybe? Embarrassed that one of us is guilty of this type of behaviour? I do. It reflects on every last one of us when one of our number behaves in this fashion. 
Why do it? For monetary gain? For an inflated sense of self-importance? Your writing, if it is any good, will stand on its own merits. If it’s not any good, the reader is going to spot this, and no amount of good reviews will change their mind. If this is the case, then you should be learning from your errors and working to improve yourself. Lying about it, and worse, encouraging others to lie on your own behalf, is not going to make you a better writer. The only thing that will do that is hard work.
I’m afraid people who have so much conviction in the brilliance of their own writing that they not only encourage people to write false reviews, but shout down the honest yet bad reviews they receive, are never going to improve.
Improvement necessarily involves acceptance of a lack of perfection.
I’m always striving to write better. I try to help others to write better where I can, and I have been lucky enough so far to only receive heartfelt thanks for my efforts (but now I risk straying into a rant on the etiquette of giving and receiving critiques). I don’t want fake reviews – a fake review won’t help me improve. An honest review will, and if I improve enough, I’ll earn honest good reviews.
I’m not perfect. Are you?

Stranger Than Fiction

My first blog received the comment that my profile said a lot about what other people thought of me, and not a lot about me in my own words. So I thought that for my second blog, I’d tell you a bit about me.

Is this something that ‘somebody has to say’? I can assure you, just about anything that could have been said about me has already been said by someone. I might as well lob in and say something myself. The problem is’, how would I even begin?

There are reasons for that. Firstly, I think it’s terribly immodest to talk about oneself. I don’t know where I got that attitude, but it has stuck with me. Possibly this is one of the ghosts of my childhood that has unwittingly haunted me through to adulthood. I was the quintessential nerd. Talking about my achievements was not going to improve my popularity at school. I had precious little of it to start with. 

The second reason is I do not often indulge in self-analysis. I am who I am, I like who I am, and I am comfortable with who I am. There is nothing about myself I feel driven to change, although of course I have naturally evolved with age and experience. I learned very early on that some people will like me for who I am, and others won’t, and that’s fine. My own self-acceptance means that I rarely have the need to stop and think about who I am or how to describe me. I am just me. I don’t consider myself to be especially remarkable. Because of this, it is the people who know me best who most often come up with interesting and accurate descriptions of my true self.

The third reason is you probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you. At first glance, that sounds like immodesty, in defiance of my rules, but it’s not. I said you wouldn’t believe it. I didn’t say that was because I am unbelievably fabulous! Like most people, I have my own flaws and foibles, and, like the rest of me, they tend to be on a scale that is larger than life.

Even if I did describe myself to you, how much do the words really paint a person? At best, it’s a line drawing, with blank areas waiting to be filled in. You can’t get a real concept of a person from them (think about it, it takes a whole novel for you to really get to know a character). The best way you can learn about me is from observation. As the advice to writers goes, ‘show don’t tell’.

Now, you really can get a sense of who I am from what others have said. You can read some in my profile, but here are a few others you might not have read, before I go on in my own words. I will stretch my distaste of immodesty far enough to say I would not have included this if I didn’t agree with it, so you can assume that the quotes of people who described me as an intolerant judgemental b***h have been omitted. What would they know?

·         My oldest and closest friends describe me as tactless (I think they mean honest, really…), stubborn, loyal, passionate, quirky, strong-willed, confident, trustworthy, determined, and ‘bent on world domination’ (Um… thanks Kylie. What can I say in rebuttal? The world would not like me as dictator!).

·         A friend hand-picked me a birthday card that read ‘She had not yet decided whether to use her power for good or evil’;

·         My boss said ‘if I didn’t know you I wouldn’t believe you could exist’;

·         After a first meeting, people who don’t know me describe me as ‘…interesting’ It would be nice to think they are speechless in the face of my brilliance, but it’s probably just shock.

And here’s some extra titbits I thought I might throw your way.

If I was a Dungeons & Dragons RPG character, my alignment would be Chaotic Good. If you don’t know what that means, ask Google.

My favourite quotes are:

·         ‘I have loved to the point of madness; that which is called madness, to me, is the only way to love.’ – Anon

·         ‘Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.’ – Dr Seuss

·         You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.’’ – Ray Bradbury

This is the ‘User Manual’ created by my friends of 20+ years:

Rule 1: Ciara is always right.

Rule 2: If Ciara is wrong, refer to Rule 1.

Did I mention I’m a lawyer? There’s a reason I chose that profession… Absolute conviction in your own infallibility goes a long way in law.

My favourite authors include Terry Goodkind, Fiona McIntosh, Diana Gabaldon, Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson and Brent Weeks.

I love Stargate (SG-1, SGA and SGU), Buffy, Angel, Firefly and Supernatural.

My favourite word is ‘defenestrated’. Who would have thought there’d be a word for this? It means to be thrown out of a window. Often used in the context of killing someone, in which case, in the interests of maximum efficacy, the window should be high.

My favourite place to visit is Scotland. I was there in 2008 and I am dying to go back, which won’t be until 2015 or 2016. I recently discovered there is a subgenre of romance called ‘Scottish Historical’. Clearly I am not the only one who thinks it is a romantic, magical place.

I’m currently working full-time as a lawyer, writing and/or editing, participating in a writer’s critique group, undertaking a number of writing workshops, marketing myself online, blogging and raising a daughter. Oh yes, I am an excellent time manager.

And for those people who really want me to describe myself, I have prepared the following, at great emotional cost to myself. I hope you’re happy!

I am an action-oriented perfectionist. I am a decision-maker and a leader. I am demanding, forceful, strong-willed, and determined. I thrive on competition and perform well under pressure. I am fiercely independent, and I work best when my boss just leaves me alone. I am intelligent. I am easily bored.

I am a planner and an organiser, but I am hopelessly untidy. I believe in rationality and logic. I have no tolerance for stupidity (really, none… don’t believe me, try me). I don’t like taking risks (this is almost a pre-requisite to being a lawyer). I am detached and analytical, but at the same time I can be extremely empathic and compassionate.

I am (I think) uncomplicated in my desires. My husband may disagree. I am direct, I mean what I say, and I say what I mean. I won’t play games or politics. This makes me tactless to an extreme. If you ask me to critique your work you will get the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I won’t be cruel or nasty, but I won’t lie to you. I will provide helpful examples. I promise not to do the critique in red pen. I can’t be held responsible for whatever colour Word chooses to use on marked up text.

I don’t like time-wasters, or being told what to do. I’m compulsively argumentative. I am assertive, aggressive and confrontational. I don’t like arguing with the people I love.

I am a cynic and an atheist, but I love fantasy and magic. I don’t believe in ghosts and the supernatural but I watch Supernatural. I read fantasy and watch science fiction.

I am a contradiction.

If I was a character in a book, would you believe in me?