The return of Harvey Duckman…

Harvey Duckman presents Volume 2 is the second in a series of collected works of suspense and mystery in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror and steampunkery, called, oddly enough Harvey Duckman Presents…

This anthology features work by exciting new voices in speculative fiction, including both established authors, previously unpublished writers from all around the world, Great Britain, America, Germany, Australia  and even Teesside…  and again oddly enough, one written by an itinerant Yorkshireman with so many multiple personalities he has decided to give them all numbers so he can keep track of them all, (otherwise known as me.)

Personality #17, whom has an occasionally lurid sense of humour, wrote a wonderfully baroque little sci-fi tale for this volume, called, ‘The Strontium Thing‘ which brings together a princess in need of suiters and a mercenary pirate warlord with an interesting collection of body parts, each with their own little tale, which leads to the princess feeling a little flushed, and sitting not entirely comfortably as the Warlords tale is told…

If that’s not enough on its own to send you running to your local bookstore, I will add that it is just one tale in a collection with fifteen new and exciting authors for you to discover. As with the first book in this series, I am predictably excited to have one of my stories included in the anthology alongside so many other great writers, but what I am really looking forward to reading all the other stories myself when I get my hands on my own copy. Among them are several authors I have read and reviewed here before as well as those who are new to me. As I am sure you can guess I love nothing more than discovering new writers. Except perhaps telling people about them when I find them. So here’s a chance to discover some new indie writers yourself, and plunge into whole new worlds of wonder, darkness and light…

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Volume 2 includes stories by: A.D.Watts, A.L. Buxton, Jon Hartless, J.S. Collyer, Paul Goodchild, Craig Hallam, Mark Hayes, Peter James Martin, Phoebe Darqueling, Lynne Lumsden Green, and more… And it was edited by the every wonderful C.G. Hatton

It’s available for Kindle on preorder in the UK here or on the picture above… 

Or across the pond and in other realms Here

And will be released in paperback on the 6th of July at Kapow sci-fi fair in Stockton on Tees, where you will find me (or at least, one of my personalities, probably #9, C.G and several of the authors stood around pretending not to be nervous about talking to people about our collective writings, signing books and being ridiculously enthused about everything, because we generally are.

The first volume of the Harvey Duckman Presents series is also still available in paperback and now only £2.99 on Kindle, I would put up a link but it’s not like I haven’t done that a dozen times or more over the last few months … Oh, go on then click on the picture below, it will take you to other worlds…

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Quotable Steam…

The reason steampunk attracts people is that it is premised on a technology which is visible and pleasing to the naked eye, and whose moving parts are comprehensible on a human scale ~ Nick Harkerway

As I have not done a quote post for a while, here a little quotable goodness wrapped up in gears, cogs, goggles and a healthy dose of steam power… And because speaking as a man who spent most of his formative years in black…

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and Charles Stross, Ron Harris and a dozen others…

For those who perhaps need a little more in the way of an explanation…

Steampunk is… A nostalgia for what never was. ~ George Mann

…and while that may seem a little obtuse, let me suggest we consider what Albert might have said about steampunk…

If at first, an idea isn’t absurd, there is no hope for it. ~ Albert Einstien

Now I know what you’re thinking, that Einstien quote is a tad out of context, but really, think about it now, are you actually going to tell me Albert wasn’t an archetypal mad scientist in his day? Because god knows he always looked the part, stick a pair of goggles on him and a cogwheel or two and he would be more steampunk than a top hat…

But to move things along let’s just say…

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Steampunk life is kind of like normal life, except there are airships ~ unattributed

A civilized society is one which tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity. ~ Robert Frost

I’ll never fit in. that’s one of my best qualities… ~ Terri Willingham

Be splendid and wear goggles ~ unattributed

And because if you’re going to put up a few steampunk quotes and you don’t include a little something from the mind of Gail Carriger you’re clearly mad…

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So lets all vow by the parasol… and have a splendid day…

and look I never mentioned Hannibal Smyth once…

Adios

Mark

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A Very English Apology…

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The Steampunk British Army https://www.facebook.com/SBA.Lucca/

No matter where they are in the world, an Englishman’s body language is always saying the same thing…

‘We’re so sorry we colonised your country in our imperial majesty, the empire was a terrible thing, glorious of course, so very, very glorious, and we gave you so much; cricket, impoverishing debt, that strange inferiority you foreigners can’t help but feel when an Oxbridge accent is in the room, partition, and so many train stations, while we took all your cultural treasure back to dear old Blighty and stuck them in draws in the “Vic and Bertie”. Gods it was a glorious thing the empire, bloody glorious.’

‘Bloody too come to that, but you can’t paint half the world pink without spilling a little red now can you? But we brought you the rule of law, habeas bloody corpus, lawyers and all that. And let’s not forget parliamentary democracy because god knows that’s working out so bloody well for us…’

‘But, it was, of course, terrible, utterly terrible and we’re so, so, so very, very sorry about all that now.’

“Sorry!”

From ‘A Scar of Avarice

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The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward: TCL#53

‘The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward,’ is the only full novel HP Lovecraft ever wrote, which might make you think it is likely to be his grand opus… Sadly it is not. Its a long hard trawl through a Lovecraft story that had it been a ten thousand word short may have been quite fun. This may be slightly disingenuous of me to say, as I vaguely recall enjoying the novel a great deal the first time I read it some twenty years ago, and while taste develops over time and what you like in one decade of your life you’re not necessarily going to enjoy as much in the next, there must have been something about it at the time that sat well with me. However, I suspect I know what the difference was in those bygone days of youthful when I did not find ‘The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward’ a  thankless trawl of a novel which just drags itself along like a man who has just lost a leg to a threshing machine who is trying to get to the farmhouse to phone for a doctor. If you’re wondering what was different then, it is simply this, I had not read everything else Lovecraft had written up to this point in his life back then…

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My opinion and lack of enjoyment this time around, therefore, is a bit of a shame, because as an introduction to Lovecraft’s style of storytelling it’s not a bad one. Indeed his style suits this down to the ground, except having read everything else by this time it is that style which is my biggest hurdle when it comes to Lovecraft. But it is not the only issue with ‘The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward,’ as far as I am concerned. There is also a small matter of the plot and knowing exactly what was going to happen and where the story was going after the first ten pages. And yes I had read this before, a long time back, but even if I had never had that pleasure I could have taken a stab at the plot of this novel, and the big reveal ending, after the first few pages.

The set up is complex in some respects but tracing paper thin in others. Young Charles ward becomes obsessed with a mysterious ancestor whom ‘dabbled’ shall we say, in the dark arts, and in the course of his researches becomes stranger and moves slowly towards madness. Which is all good apart from one bit of description early on which gives the whole game away. Indeed sells you tickets to the big blockbuster while telling you Bruce Willis’s character was dead all the time…

Its this line, and I paraphrase a little

‘Wards madness was strange, he seemed to know details of antiquity that were impossible for a man to know yet understood almost nothing of modern life…’

Which gives the whole game away, and as you read further everything you read just confirms what you expect to be the reason Ward appears to be a mad man. Why he has grown old in his skin and while lucid speaks in archaic terms and language.

There is a lot in the novel, ancient magic, witch trials, a whole lot of Lovecraftian lore, zombies or some other undead, strange paintings and souls that don’t quite stay where they should. But it is so drawn out that these gems buried in the text are somehow lost within it. There are few actual surprises and fewer shocks, to the point it all feels a bit too mundane and perhaps that’s the greatest problem with it all. There is nothing new here, no big idea, its just Lovecraft let loose in the long form with an idea better suited to a short story.

As I said this is all a tad disingenuous of me, I had read the novel before, even if I didn’t remember it that well. But having read a lot more Lovecraft of late believe me when I say he could have made this a much better short story than it ever is a novel. I’d probably still recommend this to anyone new to Lovecraft, but not before a whole host of better stories. It does, however, mark a watershed of sorts in this series of blogs, because the next several tales coming up are among the best of Lovecraft. Dunwich Horror,, the mountains of madness, and the shadow over Innsmouth are all in touching distance. So after the long drawn-out haul of the last few of these blogs, I finally have something good to look forward to and something I have been longing to share before I started. so perhaps that’s why I am giving this a generous, not entirely deserve four …  But mostly for the memory of what an interesting novel it seemed the first time around, all those years ago…

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Further Lovecraftian witterings as ever can be found here

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Smugglers of Sussex…

According to 19th century Sussex dialect slang, a bumblebee is a Dumbledore, don’t tell JK Rowling this…

I’ve always found dialects, fascinating. Possibly because I hail from Gods own county, a place rich with a hundred dialects slowly been eroded by times endless march to urbanise us all into some watered down singular tongue. Yorkshire dialects are under siege from TV Movies and BBC English on the radio, and it’s fighting a losing battle in a pattern repeated everywhere. In a couple of generations, no one will know what ‘put wood int oil’ or ‘gan ta fot tov ow stairs’ means. Which is a sad state of affairs, but only to be expected. Dialects are however a rich and wonderful tool for a writer. When done well, it adds flavour and authenticity to dialogue, even if you don’t come from that region or for that matter know much about the dialect. For example, I personally probably couldn’t pick out a Sussex accent from a police line up of southern accents. Just as I suspect most residents of Sussex could not pick out the difference between a Barnsley accent and a Harrogate accent. Sussex however certainly has its own accent, its own dialect and ‘somewhen’ in the past was doubtless a little more insular than it is today with far fewer incomers from ‘Lunnon’ and ‘the Sheeres’, and while it doubtless still exists in some corners of Sussex now, back in the 19th century it was a rich and vibrant language all of its own, much like the dialects of my own native Yorkshire.

Why all this talk of dialect and Sussex in particular? Well, it’s because I recently read the wonderfully rich and vibrant novella ‘Rottingdean Rhyme’ by Nils Nisse Visser, an adopted son of Sussex (originally from Rotterdam) and prolific writer in a span of genre’s which is frankly intimidating. Nils own brand of steampunk, set in an alternative Sussex in the 19th century, a time of steam power, airships and this being the Sussex coast, a smuggler or two. A prequel to his Time Flight Chronicles featuring a young Alice Kittyhawk (not read Amster Damned, the first of these yet but it is on my to read list, indeed more so than ever after Rottingdean Rhyme)

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Everyone loves a tale of smugglers, how can you not, romanticized though they undoubtedly are much like pirates or highwaymen, they are tales of the downtrodden, the forgotten and the passed over, fighting back against ‘the man’. Smugglers, in particular, hold a certain place of honour in the folk-law of many a coastal community. Such folk-tales are often very similar, as are the narrative tales descended from them. What sets Nils tale of Sussex Steampunk Smugglers apart is the depth and richness of the dialogue. With the Sussex natives adding there own glorious vogues to every sentence they distil. It gives authenticity and real feeling to the tale, pulling the reader ever closer to hear each word.

The tale is of a ‘Sheeres-man’ from ‘Lunnon’ who moves to the small Sussex fishing port of Rottingdean thanks to a cottage he inherits from an uncle he never really knew. A stranger in a strange land he is befriended by the village children who have a kingdom of their own at the end of his garden. The interplay between the characters is joyous and brilliantly realised. As with the rest of the tale, as the man from ‘Lunnon’ gets slowly drawn into the local world of the smugglers, striving to feed their families and adapting their way of life to a new world of airships and steam power.

As I say, its a tale that knows its roots, a smugglers tale that follows familiar patterns and an ending you would probably half suspect from the outset. But the joy is in the journey, the beauty of the language, the splendiferously realised characters. It may end, as perhaps it was always going to, but then it could not end another way and feel so right, and it is a journey more than worth taking to get there.

So go take a journey down to a 19th century Sussex that never was, and much joy it will bring you I am sure…

 

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The Harvey Duckman Experience

The bulk of this post is a reblog from Sixth Element publishing’s website. Hence the disclaimer below. I do however heartily encourage any published or unpublished indie writer of Horror, Scifi, fantasy or Steampunk who would be interested in having a short story published in an anthology to read the post below and consider contacting them at the email at the bottom. I would also encourage anyone in the north east of England who is interested in writing, considering publishing there work and/or just wants advice from professionals to visit their website. Frankly, I love the 6e team even though I am entirely self-published, and not technically one of their writers. Click on the banner below for their website.

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The aforementioned disclaimer: I am not part of 6e, do not work for 6e, and am not actually connected with them except that I am one of the authors who contributes to the Harvey Duckman Anthologies. But as I know they are always on the lookout for more contributors I thought I would repost their submissions policy, and how to contact them here …

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Sixth Element Publishing is looking for new, original, exciting, exhilarating, thought-provoking short stories in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, steampunk and horror.

For each volume published, in paperback and eBook, authors are offered a share in 50% net profit from sales, with – according to Sixth Element’s steadfast philosophy – all rights to the works remaining with the authors. Yes, we’re breaking the rules, and happily throwing them out of the window.

We want to give readers great stories and the chance to discover awesome new writers. And we want to give writers the chance to get their work published, share in the collaborative promotion of their work with other like-minded writers, and join a select (but growing) community of exciting genre authors who are doing it their own way.

We do have a code but really it’s more like a set of guidelines than actual rules:

  1. No erotica. Sorry.
  2. Young adult friendly please, although the occasional expletive and swear word is fine. As is dark content and tough themes, as all good YA should be. Although we’re not specifically looking for YA stories, some of the content may be, and we’d like each volume to be accessible to as wide an audience as possible.
  3. Original, unpublished content only. If the story you’re thinking of submitting to us is in the public domain already (including Kindle, web publishing sites such as Royal Road and Wattpad, and small press), we’d rather look at something new and include links to your published work.
  4. The genres we’re looking for are quite broad and we’re good with anything weird, quirky or anything that stretches the imagination and has a good punchline. If in doubt, just ask.
  5. Story length – ideally around 3,000 words please, although we won’t necessarily refuse anything that is over this (up to 6,000 words) if it’s awesome enough.
  6. Sixth Element retains full editorial control over the content to be published. Any changes will be discussed in full with the author and agreed before publication. We will only publish a story when both parties are happy.
  7. Promotion – in addition to any promotional stuff Sixth Element carries out, authors included in Harvey volumes are encouraged to support each other and the series, whilst promoting their own work. The idea is for indie and new writers to reach a broader audience while having fun.
  8. All writers must confirm that they are the creator and owner of the submitted work, and accept full liability for any claims to the contrary. Sixth Element cannot accept responsibly for any actions as a result of falsely submitted works and any subsequent legal costs associated with any such claims.
  9. Costs – there are none. If your work is accepted, you will be offered a royalty deal (share of 50% net income with other writers in that volume). All rights to your story remain with you. Once it’s been published in Harvey, you are free to publish it elsewhere, and whilst we would appreciate an acknowledgement along the lines of ‘first published in Harvey Duckman Presents…’ we don’t demand it. We want to help. And, as we said, let’s have some fun.

If you like the sound of all this, please drop us a line or submit your story for consideration to: harvey@6e.net

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UPDATE:

Harvey is now collecting submissions for volume 4 &5 as well as the Christmas special

 

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The page count dichotomy…

In the past, I’ve written a fair few mini guides for indie writers looking to self publish. One way to sum up these posts would be to call them ‘the list of things I have done wrong then had to fix’ or ‘My mistakes in self-publishing and how to avoid them’… I haven’t done any of these for a while, which you could decide means I make fewer mistakes than I used to…  If you chose to think that, then bless your little cotton socks for thinking well of me, and would you be interested in buying some magic beans?

But putting that on one side, let’s talk about page counts… or to be more exact type-setting and the approaches to take when making physical books. To clarify, there are other type-setting issues and considerations when it comes to e-books (I may do a separate post on them at some point), but they are completely separate from the considerations involved with physical books when it comes to one particular factor, the factor of length, or to be more exact girth. It doesn’t matter how long an ebook is, if you want to self publish a 250000-word epic as an ebook go ahead. But if you want to publish that same book on Print-on-Demand you are looking at an expensive book, a book so expensive no one but your mum will be likely to buy it.

This is because POD services base their unit cost per book on page count ( and I am using Amazon as an example here though there are others of course, but they all apply the same basic logic to their pricing structures).

With Amazon that cost for a black and white novel is $0.012 per page, + the base print rate. So if we say that 250000 novel in print is 875 pages, the unit cost is $10.225 per book. By the time you add distribution costs to that, your unit cost is closer to $15 and if you sell a paperback on Amazon you make 60% of what remains as the price you set, so to make a dollar the minimum you can charge is $17… All the while readers can walk into the local supermarket and buy two paperbacks for the print cost of one copy of your book, and that’s before they decide to look for books in the local charity shop first and buy five for a quid… But all that said, the cost of buying a print copy of your book on Amazon isn’t really your issue, because the market for print copies of an unknown author just doesn’t exist on the internet. The only people likely to buy print copies are those who know you and like your work already. E-books are your actual market.

When all this does matter however is when you dip your toe into a brave new world. The world of direct selling, at conventions and signings etc, or asking indie bookshops to stock a few copies of your books. At that point page count really matters, and it all comes back down to that unit cost…

I recently dipped my toe in these waters, I have bought authors copies of my books before, in small lots, to sell to friends and family (which is another form of mistake btw, as they are the people who would buy your paperbacks on Amazon, and you are far better off asking them to do so as it drives up Amazon sales which make it far more likely you will break out of the friends and family market place). But as these were small lots it never really matter to me how much the books cost, because I was getting print copies just because I could, not because I was trying to sell them to the wider public. But if you are going to do that unit cost becomes very important very quickly, table fees, travel expenses, hotels, bookshops profit margins all combine to drive up the bare minimum you can charge for a book and in terms of conventions the number of books you have to sell just to break even, and the only thing truly under you control is unit cost. So I went through an exercise in the last week or so of trying to reduce that unit cost while keeping the quality of the books, which is tricky, particularly if what you really want to do is improve the quality in any way you can. here then is the issue…

  • Passing Place unit cost £5.15
  • Spider in the Eye unit cost £4.52
  • Scar of avarice unit cost £1.98

Spider, in particular, was far more expensive than it needed to be. At only 75000 words it’s page count was well over what it should have been for a book that size due to the original choices I made in type-setting. Luckily by making smarter choices, I was able to cut that down quite a bit.

The first and biggest problem was fonts. Spider was typeset in Arial 12point, industry standard is more or less Garamond 11 point ( as my good friends at 6E informed me, and they give better advice than I ever do btw if you’re local to the northeast of England) Now it doesn’t sound like 1 point and a different font should make that much difference I know. But just reducing Arial 12 to Arial 11 dropped spiders PP count from 341 to 315, switching the main body of text to Garamond 11 (which is nicer to read anyway as it what most of us are used to in print books) reduced it still further to 289.

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That was not the only change, I altered the layout and presentation of chapter titles (see above), removed some blank pages and back end pages to include instead a simple ‘by the same author’ page, all of which cut the page count down still further while actually making the print book a nicer all round product, and the page count dropped right down to 279 and the unit cost to under £4. I also did the same with other books, Passing Place had its page count reduced by 45 pages by the same process, Scar which is fairly thin to start with as its just a novella by a modest 5.

The point of all this is typesetting was making the book look as good as possible but doing so keeping page count in mind. Of course, getting it right the first time is probably the best option around. But I’ve never managed that, which is also why an offshoot of this task was that I had to redo the cover for A Scar of Avarice, as the important cover from CreateSpace to KDP was made for a set number of pages, as soon as I made that page count smaller ( by all of 5 pages) I screwed up the cover as it no longer sat in the frame right and I had to build a new one from scratch. On the plus side, that did leave me with an opportunity to make the cover of Scar fit in with the themes of all my other books ( apart from Cider lane which doesn’t count in this case) So here is the new set of covers with the new Scar cover and the cover for the forthcoming Tassels ( which is not fully complete yet but is getting there.)

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The lesson here, as ever, is learn from my mistakes, keep your page count down, get professional advice if you can, play with layouts and fonts till you get it exactly as you want it, and remember Garamond 11 is king…

At some point, I will talk about typesetting kindles, which is a different kettle of fish entirely and should be done in utterly different ways

adios

mark

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