Sunday, January 30, 2011

Face it, writing and printing your self-published book are relatively easy tasks, compared with all the other requirements involved. They can be so daunting, you need to be sure first whether you are even cut out to be a self-publisher.

So most importantly, ask yourself -- honestly, what is your real reason for publishing a book? Is it to make a lot of money, or for public recognition, ego gratification, a need to communicate an important message?

Identifying your motivation up front can either dissuade you from taking the plunge or help you enormously to succeed. The emotional and creative satisfaction of producing your own book can be uniquely satisfying, so long as one realizes in advance what the process entails.

It involves five serious factors:

1. commitment

2. time

3. money

4. selling

5. persistence

Naturally, it is going to cost you money to get your opus produced, so check the different options carefully. Any self-publisher who simply goes to some neighbourhood print-shop with a manuscript in hand to be transformed into a book is in for an arduous experience. That way, the hapless author must be prepared to do virtually everything for him or herself; all the design, editing, and proof-reading before, as well as the sales promotion afterwards.

A slightly easier route is via the better known print-on-demand service companies like Xlibris and FirstBooks or the scores of other similar companies. Even they are still technically not publishers, being actually just printers, producers, and distributors of writers' works. It is their author-customers themselves who must still perform every one of the necessary steps that a conventional publishing house provides for its authors.

The marketing of a self-published book is such a drawn out, complicated procedure, it can virtually take over an author's everyday life for a while, so it demands a very strong commitment.

You alone will be responsible for buying copies, quality control, inventory, storing, publicity, selling, processing orders, accounting, packing, shipping, mailing, handling returns, invoicing, and bill collecting. Small wonder that many author-publishers commonly put in 80-hour work weeks.

Hopes of making pots of money from sales are most likely in vain. The fact is that very few, if any, first time author-publishers break even.

Hyped dreams of tapping the Internet for huge sales on-line are just that, illusions, and seldom materialize. Unless one is a "name" author, significant royalty profits are no more likely to occur on Web sites than in bricks and mortar bookstores.

For instance, even an early major player like Xlibris is reported never to have exceeded sales of 2,000 copies for any one title. (That's not particularly shocking, though, considering that the average total income of all fulltime professional writers is between $24,000 and $29,000 a year.)

Modestly scuffing one's toe in the dust has no place in a self-publisher's style. Unabashed publicity and promotion are vital to your book's success. Read John Kremer's excellent 1001 Ways To Market Your Books, Steve Weber’s Plug Your Book, or Jay Conrad Levinson's Guerrilla Marketing series. By necessity, you'll soon learn how to blow your own horn, mainly because nobody else will do it for you.

Study the sort of people who are your most likely prospective readers, and devise publicity that will appeal to them. Write brief half-page news releases about your masterpiece and distribute them to appropriate media.

Offer to speak on radio call-in shows, and try to arrange readings at local bookstores and libraries. You'll likely be pleasantly surprised at your own ingenuity and the receptiveness of people you approach for free publicity.

Many authors are introverts, which can form a huge problem when it comes to self-publishing’s most important activity – personal selling. Until you set out with a box full of books to sell to every store available, you have no idea what a rocky road lies ahead.

If you have previously submitted your manuscript to conventional publishing houses, you doubtless experienced a lot of rejection already. But that was usually by e-mail, letter, or telephone. You will find being rejected by someone face-to-face is much tougher to take.

And believe me, you will get a lot of turndowns by book buyers.

You need to develop a certain thick skin when you tote your own book into a store. Responses can range all the way from apologetic refusal to stony-faced scepticism or even sneering contempt.

Even though many famous literary luminaries had their first book privately printed, there is a widespread conviction by booksellers and readers alike that if a book is self-published, it simply cannot be any good.

Naturally, you're convinced that your book is eminently well-written. Just don't expect bookstore people to even bother reading it to be so persuaded. Few bookbuyers feel the need to read any book from established publishers before accepting it for sale. (Come to think of it. you wouldn't expect the owner of a garden supply store to personally test every model of lawnmower she stocks, either.)

Nevertheless, in-person direct selling is about the only method you have to get your books onto store shelves. Encourage yourself by remembering that long before anybody ever heard of him, John Grisham used to sell copies of his self-published first novel from the trunk of his car. You need to be equally determined and imaginative.

Always offer to leave hatches of books on consignment, to be paid for after customers buy them. Keep up your selling efforts. come what may. Persistence is the one quality that every author needs more than anything else. It is what gets the manuscript completed in the first place, and stick-to-it-tiveness continues to be the only thing that builds your book's final success.


"Two times (for twice) Scary (for frightening) Wholebuncha (for many).

Truly, kindergarten vocabulary is now used by most young adults.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Book authors and blurb copywriters eventually find themselves acting also as "art directors" -- despite seldomly having any formal training in the role. Art direction is a skill in itself, that involves nearly as much human relations tact as it does layout know-how. Writers usually have a good general idea of how their message should come across visually, but it is a graphic artist who actually lays out the design -- whether an advertisement or a book cover. Within reason, the artist should have the last word on graphic appearance. Sparkling as the wording may be, graphics' appearance can make or break your message. When you find a good designer --usually a freelance supplier -- treasure her, and strive for a harmonious working relationship.
As a team, the writer and designer should concentrate on one thing only; focussing the prospect's eye on the two key elements of your ad, cover, or brochure. These are the benefits the buying prospect will get from your message, and what take action to take to get it. Your designer is worth her salt if she helps snag the prospect's attention, and directs his eye to the right place(s) in the layout. Talk over the project. Express your writerly views, by all means -- then leave the designer to create final artwork.
Have her display your copy into at least two design roughs for discussion. For all the need for teamwork, realize that designers each have their own style, which they try to impose on you. That's okay if it agrees with your intentions. If it doesn't, listen to her rationale first, anyway. But you still may need to put your foot down. If rejection is needed, do it calmly; no need for ill-feeling. (Any last-minute "panic" that arises is a sure sign the designer had been brought in far too late, dangerously close to the deadline. Another reason for giving suppliers as much lead-time as possible to perform well.)
Just explain what revisions you have in mind, and ask for another rough. If this second version does not seem acceptable, though, watch out -- it could mean the instructions were not clear enough. Once you both have agreed on the finished product, the designer can create final design for approval and production.

"The simple declarative sentence is the soul of good writing"
-- Georges Simenon.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Remarkably enough, all Emily Dickinson's poems can be sung to the tune of "The Yellow Rose Of Texas." Coinicidentally, each use the same iambic pantameter.

Friday, January 21, 2011

It was George Orwell who best pointed out that hope of making money is seldom the main reason why pople write. In his opinion, far more of them seem to write just to get even.
In his essay, Why I Write, Orwell emunerated what he called the writer's four great motives. First on his list was -- "Sheer egoism; desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grownups who snubbed you in childhood, etcetera."
He concluded "It is sheer humbug to pretend that this is not a writer's motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen — in short, with the whole top crust of humanity.
The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all — and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class.
Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money." All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery.
Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Avoid logorrhea.

Many ads and TV commercials drown the viewer in a torrent of words. It's called logorrhea (rhymes with diarrhea). So, always avoid it. A good way to do that is to make your pictures tell the story. What you show is even more important than what you say.
"A child educated only at school is an uneducated child."
-- George Santayana.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Reviewed by George Orwell.

Devotees of the cult pulp crime novel, No Orchids for Miss Blandish, will likely be surprised to learn that it was admired by no less a highbrow author than George Orwell. The book by James Hadley Chase was first published in Britain in1939, gained sales of over half a million copies, and eventually was made into a movie. Chase's book seems to have reached its greatest popularity in 1940, in the grim early days of World War Two, during the Battle of Britain and the German air-bombing blitzkrieg on Britain. Though written by an Englishman, the book is purportedly set in the United States, which lead to some occasionally risible dialogue. Orwell's review describes the book's story-line like this: 
Miss Blandish, the daughter of a millionaire, is kidnapped by some gangsters who are almost immediately surprised and killed off by a larger and better organized gang. They hold her to ransom and extract half a million dollars from her father. Their original plan had been to kill her as soon as the ransom-money was received, but a chance keeps her alive. One of the gang is a young man named Slim, whose sole pleasure in life consists in driving knives into other people's bellies. In childhood he has graduated by cutting up living animals with a pair of rusty scissors. Slim is sexually impotent, but takes a kind of fancy to Miss Blandish. Slim's mother, who is the real brains of the gang, sees in this the chance of curing Slim's impotence, and decides to keep Miss Blandish in custody till Slim shall have succeeded in raping her. After many efforts and much persuasion, including the flogging of Miss Blandish with a length of rubber hosepipe, the rape is achieved. Meanwhile Miss Blandish's father has hired a private detective, and by means of bribery and torture the detective and the police manage to round up and exterminate the whole gang. Slim escapes with Miss Blandish and is killed after a final rape, and the detective prepares to restore Miss Blandish to her family. By this time, however, she has developed such a taste for Slim's caresses that she feels unable to live without him, and she jumps, out of the window of a sky-scraper.
Several other points need noticing before one can grasp the full implications of this book. To begin with, its central story bears a very marked resemblance to William Faulkner's novel, Sanctuary. Secondly, it is not, as one might expect, the product of an illiterate hack, but a brilliant piece of writing, with hardly a wasted word or a jarring note anywhere. Thirdly, the whole book, rĂ©cit as well as dialogue, is written in the American language; the author, an Englishman who has (I believe) never been in the United States, seems to have made a complete mental transference to the American underworld. Fourthly, the book sold, according to its publishers, no less than half a million copies.
  I have already outlined the plot, but the subject-matter is much more sordid and brutal than this suggests. The book contains eight full-dress murders, an unassessable number of casual killings and woundings, an exhumation (with a careful reminder of the stench), the flogging of Miss Blandish, the torture of another woman with red-hot cigarette-ends, a strip-tease act, a third-degree scene of unheard-of cruelty and much else of the same kind. It assumes great sexual sophistication in its readers (there is a scene, for instance, in which a gangster, presumably of masochistic tendency, has an orgasm in the moment of being knifed), and it takes for granted the most complete corruption and self-seeking as the norm of human behaviour. The detective, for instance, is almost as great a rogue as the gangsters, and actuated by nearly the same motives. Like them, he is in pursuit of "five hundred grand." It is necessary to the machinery of the story that Mr. Blandish should be anxious to get his daughter back, but apart from this, such things as affection, friendship, good nature or even ordinary politeness simply do not enter. Nor, to any great extent does normal sexuality. Ultimately only one motive is at work throughout the whole story: the pursuit of power.
  It should be noticed that the book is not in the ordinary sense pornography. Unlike most books that deal in sexual sadism, it lays the emphasis on the cruelty and not on the pleasure. Slim, the ravisher of Miss Blandish, has "wet slobbering lips": this is disgusting, and it is meant to be disgusting. But the scenes describing cruelty to women are comparatively perfunctory. The real high-spots of the book are cruelties committed by men upon other men; above all, the third-degreeing of the gangster, Eddie Schultz, who is lashed into a chair and flogged on the windpipe with truncheons, his arms broken by fresh blows as he breaks loose. In another of Mr. Chase's books, He Won't Need It Now, the hero, who is intended to be a sympathetic and perhaps even noble character, is described as stamping on somebody's face, and then, having crushed the man's mouth in, grinding his heel round and round in it. Even when physical incidents of this kind are not occurring, the mental atmosphere of these books is always the same. Their whole theme is the struggle for power and the triumph of the strong over the weak. The big gangsters wipe out the little ones as mercilessly as a pike gobbling up the little fish in a pond; the police kill off the criminals as cruelly as the angler kills the pike. If ultimately one sides with the police against the gangsters, it is merely because they are better organized and more powerful, because, in fact, the law is a bigger racket than crime. Might is right: vae victis.
  As I have mentioned already, No Orchids enjoyed its greatest vogue in 1940, though it was successfully running as a play till some time later. It was, in fact, one of the things that helped to console people for the boredom of being bombed. Early in the war the New Yorker had a picture of a little man approaching a news-stall littered with paper with such headlines as "Great Tank Battles in Northern France," "Big Naval Battle in the North Sea," "Huge Air Battles over the Channel," etc., etc. The little man is saying "Action Stories, please." That little man stood for all the drugged millions to whom the world of the gangster and the prize-ring is more "real," more "tough," than such things as wars, revolutions, earthquakes, famines and pestilences. From the point of view of a reader of Action Stories, a description of the London blitz, or of the struggles of the European underground parties, would be "sissy stuff." On the other hand, some puny gun-battle in Chicago, resulting in perhaps half a dozen deaths, would seem genuinely "tough." This habit of mind is now extremely widespread. A soldier sprawls in a muddy trench, with the machine-gun bullets crackling a foot or two overhead, and whiles away his intolerable boredom by reading an American gangster story. And what is it that makes that story so exciting? Precisely the fact that people are shooting at each other with machine-guns! Neither the soldier nor anyone else sees anything curious in this. It is taken for granted that an imaginary bullet is more thrilling than a real one.
  The obvious explanation is that in real life one is usually a passive victim, whereas in the adventure story one can think of oneself as being at the centre of events. But there is more to it than that. Here it is necessary to refer again to the curious fact of No Orchids being written — with technical errors, perhaps, but certainly with considerable skill — in the American language.
  There exists in America an enormous literature of more or less the same stamp as No Orchids. Quite apart from books, there is the huge array of "pulp magazines," graded so as to cater for different kinds of fantasy, but nearly all having much the same mental atmosphere. A few of them go in for straight pornography, but the great majority are quite plainly aimed at sadists and masochists. Sold at threepence a copy under the title of Yank Mags,* these things used to enjoy considerable popularity in England, but when the supply dried up owing to the war, no satisfactory substitute was forthcoming. English imitations of the "pulp magazine" do now exist, but they are poor things compared with the original. English crook films, again, never approach the American crook film in brutality. And yet the career of Mr. Chase shows how deep the American influence has already gone. Not only is he himself living a continuous fantasy-life in the Chicago underworld, but he can count on hundreds of thousands of readers who know what is meant by a "clipshop" or the "hotsquat," do not have to do mental arithmetic when confronted by "fifty grand', and understand at sight a sentence like "Johnny was a rummy and only two jumps ahead of the nut-factory." Evidently there are great numbers of English people who are partly americanized in language and, one ought to add, in moral outlook. For there was no popular protest against No Orchids. In the end it was withdrawn, but only retrospectively, when a later work, Miss Callaghan Comes to Grief, brought Mr. Chase's books to the attention of the authorities. Judging by casual conversations at the time, ordinary readers got a mild thrill out of the obscenities of No Orchids, but saw nothing undesirable in the book as a whole. Many people, incidentally, were under the impression that it was an American book reissued in England.
  The thing that the ordinary reader ought to have objected to — almost certainly would have objected to, a few decades earlier — was the equivocal attitude towards crime. It is implied throughout No Orchids that being a criminal is only reprehensible in the sense that it does not pay. Being a policeman pays better, but there is no moral difference, since the police use essentially criminal methods. In a book like He Won't Need It Now the distinction between crime and crime-prevention practically disappears. This is a new departure for English sensational fiction, in which till recently there has always been a sharp distinction between right and wrong and a general agreement that virtue must triumph in the last chapter. English books glorifying crime (modern crime, that is — pirates and highwaymen are different) are very rare. Even a book like Raffles, as I have pointed out, is governed by powerful taboos, and it is clearly understood that Raffles's crimes must be expiated sooner or later. In America, both in life and fiction, the tendency to tolerate crime, even to admire the criminal so long as he is success, is very much more marked. It is, indeed, ultimately this attitude that has made it possible for crime to flourish upon so huge a scale. Books have been written about Al Capone that are hardly different in tone from the books written about Henry Ford, Stalin, Lord Northcliffe and all the rest of the "log cabin to White House" brigade. And switching back eighty years, one finds Mark Twain adopting much the same attitude towards the disgusting bandit Slade, hero of twenty-eight murders, and towards the Western desperadoes generally. They were successful, they "made good," therefore he admired them.
  In a book like No Orchids one is not, as in the old-style crime story, simply escaping from dull reality into an imaginary world of action. One's escape is essentially into cruelty and sexual perversion. No Orchids is aimed at the power-instinct, which Raffles or the Sherlock Holmes stories are not. At the same time the English attitude towards crime is not so superior to the American as I may have seemed to imply. It too is mixed up with power-worship, and has become more noticeably so in the last twenty years. A writer who is worth examining is Edgar Wallace, especially in such typical books as The Orator and the Mr. J. G. Reeder stories. Wallace was one of the first crime-story writers to break away from the old tradition of the private detective and make his central figure a Scotland Yard official. Sherlock Holmes is an amateur, solving his problems without the help and even, in the earlier stories, against the opposition of the police. Moreover, like Lupin, he is essentially an intellectual, even a scientist. He reasons logically from observed fact, and his intellectuality is constantly contrasted with the routine methods of the police. Wallace objected strongly to this slur, as he considered it, on Scotland Yard, and in several newspaper articles he went out of his way to denounce Holmes byname. His own ideal was the detective-inspector who catches criminals not because he is intellectually brilliant but because he is part of an all-powerful organi- zation. Hence the curious fact that in Wallace's most characteristic stories the "clue" and the "deduction" play no part. The criminal is always defeated by an incredible coincidence, or because in some unexplained manner the police know all about the crime beforehand. The tone of the stories makes it quite clear that Wallace's admiration for the police is pure bully-worship. A Scotland Yard detective is the most powerful kind of being that he can imagine, while the criminal figures in his mind as an outlaw against whom anything is permissible, like the condemned slaves in the Roman arena. His policemen behave much more brutally than British policemen do in real life — they hit people with out provocation, fire revolvers past their ears to terrify them and so on — and some of the stories exhibit a fearful intellectual sadism. (For instance, Wallace likes to arrange things so that the villain is hanged on the same day as the heroine is married.) But it is sadism after the English fashion: that is to say, it is unconscious, there is not overtly any sex in it, and it keeps within the bounds of the law. The British public tolerates a harsh criminal law and gets a kick out of monstrously unfair murder trials: but still that is better, on any account, than tolerating or admiring crime. If one must worship a bully, it is better that he should be a policeman than a gangster. Wallace is still governed to some extent by the concept of "not done". In No Orchids anything is "done" so long as it leads on to power. All the barriers are down, all the motives are out in the open. Chase is a worse symptom than Wallace, to the extent that all-in wrestling is worse than boxing, or Fascism is worse than capitalist democracy.
  In borrowing from William Faulkner's Sanctuary, Chase only took the plot; the mental atmosphere of the two books is not similar. Chase really derives from other sources, and this particular bit of borrowing is only symbolic. What it symbolizes is the vulgarization of ideas which is constantly happening, and which probably happens faster in an age of print. Chase has been described as "Faulkner for the masses," but it would be more accurate to describe him as Carlyle for the masses. He is a popular writer — there are many such in America, but they are still rarities in England — who has caught up with what is now fashionable to call "realism," meaning the doctrine that might is right. The growth of "realism" has been the great feature of the intellectual history of our own age. Why this should be so is a complicated question. The interconnexion between sadism, masochism, success-worship, power-worship, nationalism, and totalitarianism is a huge subject whose edges have barely been scratched, and even to mention it is considered somewhat indelicate. To take merely the first example that comes to mind, I believe no one has ever pointed out the sadistic and masochistic element in Bernard Shaw's work, still less suggested that this probably has some connexion with Shaw's admiration for dictators. Fascism is often loosely equated with sadism, but nearly always by people who see nothing wrong in the most slavish worship of Stalin. The truth is, of course, that the countless English intellectuals who kiss the arse of Stalin are not different from the minority who give their allegiance to Hitler or Mussolini, nor from the efficiency experts who preached "punch," "drive," "personality" and "learn to be a Tiger man" in the nineteen-twenties, nor from that older generation of intellectuals, Carlyle, Creasey and the rest of them, who bowed down before German militarism. All of them are worshipping power and successful cruelty. It is important to notice that the cult of power tends to be mixed up with a love of cruelty and wickedness for their own sakes. A tyrant is all the more admired if he happens to be a bloodstained crook as well, and "the end justifies the means" often becomes, in effect, "the means justify themselves provided they are dirty enough." This idea colours the outlook of all sympathizers with totalitarianism, and accounts, for instance, for the positive delight with which many English intellectuals greeted the Nazi-Soviet pact. It was a step only doubtfully useful to the U.S.S.R., but it was entirely unmoral, and for that reason to be admired; the explanations of it, which were numerous and self-contradictory, could come afterwards.
  Until recently the characteristic adventure stories of the English-speaking peoples have been stories in which the hero fights against odds. This is true all the way from Robin Hood to Pop-eye the Sailor. Perhaps the basic myth of the Western world is Jack the Giant-killer, but to be brought up to date this should be renamed Jack the Dwarf-killer, and there already exists a considerable literature which teaches, either overtly or implicitly, that one should side with the big man against the little man. Most of what is now written about foreign policy is simply an embroidery on this theme, and for several decades such phrases as "Play the game," "Don't hit a man when he's down" and "It's not cricket" have never failed to draw a snigger from anyone of intellectual pretensions. What is comparatively new is to find the accepted pattern, according to which (a) right is right and wrong is wrong, whoever wins, and (b) weakness must be respected, disappearing from popular literature as well. When I first read D.H. Lawrence's novels, at the age of about twenty, I was puzzled by the fact that there did not seem to be any classification of the characters into "good" and "bad." Lawrence seemed to sympathize with all of them about equally, and this was so unusual as to give me the feeling of having lost my bearings. Today no one would think of looking for heroes and villains in a serious novel, but in lowbrow fiction one still expects to find a sharp distinction between right and wrong and between legality and illegality. The common people, on the whole, are still living in the world of absolute good and evil from which the intellectuals have long since escaped. But the popularity of No Orchids and the American books and magazines to which it is akin shows how rapidly the doctrine of "realism" is gaining ground.
  Several people, after reading No Orchids, have remarked to me, "It's pure Fascism." This is a correct description, although the book has not the smallest connexion with politics and very little with social or economic problems. It has merely the same relation to Fascism as, say Trollope's novels have to nineteenth-century capitalism. It is a daydream appropriate to a totalitarian age. In his imagined world of gangsters Chase is presenting, as it were, a distilled version of the modern political scene, in which such things as mass bombing of civilians, the use of hostages, torture to obtain confessions, secret prisons, execution without trial, floggings with rubber truncheons, drownings in cesspools, systematic falsification of records and statistics, treachery, bribery, and quislingism are normal and morally neutral, even admirable when they are done in a large and bold way. The average man is not directly interested in politics, and when he reads, he wants the current struggles of the world to be translated into a simple story about individuals. He can take an interest in Slim and Fenner as he could not in the G.P.U. and the Gestapo. People worship power in the form in which they are able to understand it. A twelve-year-old boy worships Jack Dempsey. An adolescent in a Glasgow slum worships Al Capone. An aspiring pupil at a business college worships Lord Nuffield. A New Statesman reader worships Stalin. There is a difference in intellectual maturity, but none in moral outlook. Thirty years ago the heroes of popular fiction had nothing in common with Mr. Chase's gangsters and detectives, and the idols of the English liberal intelligentsia were also comparatively sympathetic figures. Between Holmes and Fenner on the one hand, and between Abraham Lincoln and Stalin on the other, there is a similar gulf.
  One ought not to infer too much from the success of Mr. Chase's books. It is possible that it is an isolated phenomenon, brought about by the mingled boredom and brutality of war. But if such books should definitely acclimatize themselves in England, instead of being merely a half-understood import from America, there would be good grounds for dismay. In choosing Raffles as a background for No Orchids I deliberately chose a book which by the standards of its time was morally equivocal. Raffles, as I have pointed out, has no real moral code, no religion, certainly no social consciousness. All he has is a set of reflexes the nervous system, as it were, of a gentleman. Give him a sharp tap on this reflex or that (they are called "sport," "pal," "woman," "king and country" and so forth), and you get a predictable reaction. In Mr. Chase's books there are no gentlemen and no taboos. Emancipation is complete. Freud and Machiavelli have reached the outer suburbs. Comparing the schoolboy atmosphere of the one book with the cruelty and corruption of the other, one is driven to feel that snobbishness, like hypocrisy, is a check upon behaviour whose value from a social point of view has been underrated.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


One of my current writing projects is a police proceedural novel -- TORONTO HOMICIDE -- set in 1968. Its era of 40 years ago seems so distant now, it could almost be considered an historical novel; or at least an echo the style of the “golden age” thrillers. As a break from writing it, I am taking time to briefly muse about fond memories of my own early enjoyment of reading writers of the genre, back during the Second World War.
The first name that comes to my mind is Leslie Charteris (Leslie Yee) author of the Saint series. As I read his books while I was young, the "Saint" books seemed more than mere thrillers to me. Through them, I learned about a wider world; of adult human nature, skullduggery, adult urbanity, romance, and examples of bad guys ruthlessly getting it in the neck as implacable payback for their wickedness. I actually met one of my then-idols, Bernard Newman, who visited my school to lecture about writing his series of espionage novels, based on his own actual experiences as a British counter-spy in the First World War. Heady stuff!
Another great thriller writer was Eric Ambler, who transported me to the back alleys of Istamboul and many other exotic locales, where scheming gun-runners and secret agents lurked. One notable title was “A Coffin for Demetrios” now better known as "Mask Of Demetrios." Then there was Geoffrey Household (“Rogue Male”) who also took this young reader into a better-written world of secret agents in foreign parts.
The above were a more sophisticated step-up from my earliest favourite thrillers I started out with --  the cheerfully thuggish upper-crust avenger, “Bulldog Drummond," Peter Cheney’s ruthless spies and gangsters. In closing, dare I mention? -- Rene Raymond's “No Orchids For Miss Blandish” and the wonderfully sexist Robert Lesley Bellam, arch scribe of 'Spicy Stories.'
Ah, truly, they just don’t make thriller writers like 'em any more.
-- Sidney Allinson.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

W/C Guy Gibson VC (front right) with his labrador "Nigger"
and members of his Royal Air Force aircrew.


This current furor over censoring "Nigger" from Huckleberry Finn reminds me that the same word recently prevented a planned re-make of the 1955 movie, THE DAM BUSTERS. The movie, based on actual historical events, is about the famous 617 Squadron, Royal Air Force, which bombed the German Ruhr dams in WWII. (The squadron also included several Canadian airmen, and a few Americans.) Their leader was W/C Guy Gibson VC, whose labrador retriever was named "Nigger," a name then commonly used for black dogs, without conscious racist intent.
Those being less introspective days, the dog's name was spoken often throughout the film, including the fact that "Nigger" was the code-word radioed back to signal the mission had been carried out successfully.
However, when production started on a re-make of the movie in England in 2008, a PC uproar started against use of the dog's name; historical accuracy be damned. The remake's producers then decided to go ahead by changing the dog's name to "Nidge." Which understandably caused a public uproar the other way, by many British people who still honour the memory of Gibson VC and his dog. So, in the end, THE DAM BUSTERS was never re-made, all for squabbling over a word.
It is touching how strongly the memory of W/C Gibson's dog lives on. The faithful labrador was run over and killed by a car just an hour before 617 Squadron aircraft took off for the historic raid to breach the Ruhr dams. Saddened, Gibson asked his Flight-Sergeant to bury the dog that same evening at midnight, the exact time the squadron was expected to be over the target in Germany that night. Nigger's grave still remains at RAF Scampton airfield, and his resting-place is visited by hundreds of people every year to this day.

Nigger's Grave.

You may enjoy these film-clips from THE DAM BUSTERS movie:

Monday, January 10, 2011

The latest example of "politically correct" idiocy -- The words "mother" and "father" are banished from all new US passports, replaced by First Parent - Second Parent.

“Your” for you’re

“Impact” for affect

“Alternate” for alternative

“Prostrate” for prostate

“Walla” for voila

“Anticipate” for expect

“Tow the line” for toe the line

“Oversight” for overview

“I could care less” for I couldn’t care less.

“Peek” for pique

“Hoards” for hordes

“Corpse” for [army] corps

I could go on, but ...

Friday, January 07, 2011

“One of your first jobs, as you write for money, will be to get rid of your vocabulary.”
-- Jack Woodford, American novelist and best-selling author of books on the writing trade.

Saturday, January 01, 2011


Authors of historical novels are rightly proud of the fictional
characters and situations they create, and the accuracy of
the historical background included in their novels. Simply
defined, they write about fictional characters set in actual
historical atmosphere and military events during days gone by.

But something odd has happened in public libraries
gradually over time -- shelving historical fiction
titles amidst non-fiction history books. To come
across a book you know is a novel nestling amidst
History titles is jarring, to say the least.

Evidently, some librarians nowadays have a somewhat
wobbly grasp of what is factual history and what is
historical fiction, which results in blurred genres.

Three examples of fictional novels being mistakenly
shelved in the non-fiction History Section that I have
come across:

THE GREAT PACIFIC WAR, by Hector C. Bywater
ROOTS, by Alex Haley

Likely, you have noticed a few others yourself. If
you do encounter these or similar historical novels
being mis-catalogued in libraries and well-meaningly
feel urged to tell a librarian about it, take warning
-- you are in for a frustrating experience. :-)

First, you are automatically assumed to be mistaken.
i.e., wrong.

Second, you will find yourself trapped into giving
an interminable explanation, in face of a bemused
librarian who likely just hears you out politely,
has not the faintest idea what you are talking about,
and will not correct the book's classification in the