Friday, 21 December 2012

Prepare to be creeped out. The Baptist by Ruby Barnes

Since the debacle over Amazon fake, friend and family reviews over the last couple of months, it seems to me reviews are a bit harder to come by. My opinion is authors and some readers have become reluctant to post reviews on Amazon in case of removal. 
The following review for The Baptist is posted on the author's blog and reproduced here with permission. It's quite a cerebral piece and I'm flattered by the literary comparison. I highly respect Jim Williams as an author. He has a very strong literary style and is a Booker Prize nominee, and I'm honoured by his insight and kinds words. At the same time his review reminds me what a traumatic experience it was to write The Baptist as I had to live with that first person narrative for about a year.

Jim Williams' review of The Baptist by Ruby Barnes

In popular fiction the serial killer is a trope for the embodiment of evil rather than an extreme example of the everyday experience of madness that may affect our friends or ourselves.  For that reason Hannibal Lecter has more in common with Dracula Prince of Darkness than, say, the Yorkshire Ripper in his ignorant ordinariness.  For the same reason, the madness of the fictional serial killer is a permanent part of the character’s identity – masked perhaps, but always there – while in contrast the madness of actual life is like a career of part time jobs: some good, some horrible, but all episodic.  Ruby Barnes’s insight into this reality is what makes The Baptist so truthful, convincing and distinctive.
The story is told mainly from the point of view of the killer himself, John Baptist.  He is committed to an institution in his teens for the murder of his brother and here he meets Mary, whose madness is of a more chaotic type.  On his release he creates a normal life in Ireland, including a marriage with children and a job running a small garage business.  His tendency to madness is always there but it is managed by drugs, as is the case for many people.  However – and this is another intelligent insight of the author – John secretly comes off his drugs: he actively chooses his psychosis over his sanity because the experience of madness is invigorating and empowering (at least on a temporary basis until its disruptive effects become overwhelming).  In this condition John encounters Mary again and they embark on a spree to realise his mission.
The most effective passages of the book deal with John’s encounter with a mysterious friend, Feargal, and the resumption of his relations with Mary.  Because we see events through John’s eyes the surface of the narrative becomes slippery with uncertainty as to the reality of what we are seeing, and the identities of characters seem to elide one into another.  This part is wonderfully done because of the delicate writing, which is restrained, slyly humorous, and at times lyrical.  The best parts are reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro.  The writing throughout is of a very high standard. 
As with most books there are flaws, though none of them fatal.  This isn’t a detective story, but Barnes introduces a detective, McAuliffe, who is linked to John’s history by an inadequately explained backstory and whose role is essentially redundant.  Also there are several shifts in the narrative point of view that work only so-so because the dominance of John’s viewpoint has the effect that the shifts come as something of a surprise.  It is also fair to repeat that this is not a standard serial killer thriller, and this means that the reader does not have the safety and comfort of the usual conventions.  Prepare to be creeped out.

Jim Williams is the author of Scherzo, ten other novels and two works of non-fiction.

The Baptist - a psychological thriller. Available from all online bookstores in all formats, including tree. 

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Monday, 17 December 2012

Hotel Creative Writing for Publication

A tribute to the NUI (National University of Ireland) writing course and its tutors Suzanne Power and John MacKenna.

Hotel Creative Writing for Publication 
Words by Ruby Barnes 
to the tune of Hotel California by The Eagles
On a Kilkenny footpath, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of ambition and a thousand euro to spare
 Up ahead in the distance I saw the light of success
Suzanne Power in her floral prints and John McKenna’s string vest.
There they stood in the doorway, Joan of Arc and William Tell
And I was thinking to myself this could be Heaven or this could be Hell
 Then she lit up a candle and she showed us the way
There were voices down the corridor I thought I heard them say
Welcome to Creative Writing for Publication
Such a lovely place, but not a luvvies’ place
Freedom to dream of imminent publication
Any time of year light the candle here 
And face your fear.

If your character’s twisted - he killed a guy with a bar
Or your bloke is checking out the good-looking girl with no bra
 Just channel those weirdos, talk out loud for a week
Ignore the strange glances of those who think you’re a freak.
Now let’s tweak the narrator - first person post modernist
Third person omniscient, second person horribly pissed
 And map out the timeline - flashback, backfill and so on
And if it gets confusing, kill someone or take off your thong.
Welcome to Creative Writing for Publication
Such a lovely place, but not a luvvies’ place
Freedom to dream of imminent publication
Any time of year light the candle here 
And face your fear.

So we face the non-fiction but are lacking in stimuli
All thoughts of a memoir guaranteed to bring a tear to each eye
 Master McKenna’s chamber applies his music therapy
We listen to each other’s shite then smile and nod happily
Last thing I remember, I was running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
 ‘No way’ said Ms Power, 'You are programmed to critique.
Life will never be the same, you all have Writer’s Disease.'
Farewell Creative Writing for Publication
Such a lovely place, but not a luvvies’ place
We’re heading for imminent publication
Any time of year light the candle here 
And face your fear.
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Thursday, 13 December 2012

Can you get something for nothing?

There's no such thing as a free lunch, right? 

I've been offering The New Author for free as an e-book for the past few weeks as part of my haphazard marketing strategy. This isn't a KDP Select freebie, it's a price-matched affair. The New Author freebie has resulted in several thousand downloads on Amazon US and UK (and possibly Barnes & Noble etc but who knows with the slow Smashwords reporting). A few free downloads have occurred on Amazon DE and ES where it's also gone free. Has it stimulated sales of my novels? Difficult to say but things are a bit quiet on that front for me as for many other indie authors. What has surprised me is the Amazon paperback sales of The New Author which have consistently beaten my novel e-book sales during this 'experiment'. (I hesitate to call it an experiment because, like I said, I'm like a flag in the wind when it comes to pricing strategy. Maybe I should increase my novel prices? Hey, yeah. See what I mean?)

Another by-product of this 'freeness' is the fairly continuous presence of The New Author in top ten genre rankings alongside paid books and established freebie must-haves like Smashwords Style Guide and Write Good or Die. It's a rare event for me to get into a genre listing (although Peril did manage to get into a UK Drama listing this week) and I'm enjoying the vainglory of The New Author achieving that in a niche genre that requires just a few dozen downloads a day for a listing.

Reviews are starting to appear, as well, and a particularly interesting blog review turned up yesterday from one Michael N. Marcus. He loved The New Author but thinks I'm throwing money away by giving it for free and here's his blog post on the subject:

So, whadya think? Should I put The New Author e-book back to priced? Is it the dumbest marketing strategy you ever heard? Am I flushing money down the toilet in a fit of genre-listing narcissim, 'cos nobody will buy my novels on the back of a piece of non-fiction? 

Let me know and I'll email you a free e-copy of ... oh, wait a minute, that's what got me into this fix in the first place!

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Monday, 10 December 2012

Profane Language? WTF! The Baptist Profane Twelve Days of Christmas

(Seriously, if you are offended by profanity then stop here.)

Last year I emailed a copy of The Baptist to a friend's work as a pdf attachment. That email was intercepted and she received an automatically generated message from her employer's Mail Sweeper programme.

This e-mail has been stopped in Profane Messages. 

A report was attached to the message with the MIMEsweeper Analysis results. The report was studied by all and sundry tea-break and the content engendered a lot of discussion. Irish tea-breaks are an occasion for great craic. The consensus was The Baptist contained a lot of action but not enough components to perform it. They discussed the parts of speech.

The report results are below and I have to say that, while I didn't intend to write a profane novel, I can remember exactly each and every page where the offending words occur.

The phrase 'arse' was found at location 70126
and so on. I'll just share the count.
arse x 1
balls x 2
bang x 3
bastard x 12 (a dozen, one of them capitalised therefore a pronoun?)
bitch x 6 (half dozen, imperial measure)
bloody x 8 (quaint that bloody should be a profanity in this day and age, and might actually have described murder weapon)
blow job x 1 (shouldn't I have hyphenated the blow-job? That's what I've been doing wrong)
bollocks x 1 (shouldn't there be at least two of those fellas?)
crap x 2 (okay, in UK and Ireland it's an expletive)
cunt x 3 (I do apologise, it's a very vulgar word but, in my defence, it was, or rather they were, components of dialogue. Vulgar dialogue. Not uncommon in Ireland.)
fag x 5 (means cigarette in UK and Ireland and that was the intention)
fuck x 10 (no argument there and good to see it's gone decimal)
fucker x 4 (nice alliteration and I'm getting an idea for a Christmas song now)
fucking x 21 (more than a score - in fairness, there is a lot of that going on)
penis x 1 (poor little lad, all on his own, but just goes to show it takes only one)
prick x 3 (oh, right ... well)
queer x 1 (surely acceptable as an adjective?)
sex x 7 (the vanilla variety is profane?)
sexy x 2 (sexy too)
shirt-lifter x 1 (at least it's hyphenated, if homophobic, but anyhow it's dialogue)
shit x 11 (one short of the dozen)
shite x 1 (the Irish for above)
slut x 1 (so few?)
wanker x 1 (there's always one)
white trash x 2 (confused, is that profane?).

Right, Christmas is on the horizon. So, in the spirit of the season, I offer:

The Baptist Profane Twelve Days of Christmas

(I'll just go to straight to the last verse)

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Twelve bastards bragging
Eleven shits a fan-hitting
Ten fucks a flying
Nine fucking expletives (cheated, there wasn't nine of anything)
Eight bloody bus stops
Seven sex in the opens
Six bitches barking
Five ... fags ... a ... puffing!
Four fighting fuckers
Three quiet cunts
Two dangly balls
And a slut arse-wanker penis blow-job bollocks.

(That leaves a spare queer sexy shirt-lifter shite white trash, sounds like one of my characters.)

I'm sure we'll be hearing that little ditty on the radio.

All in the name of literary art, my dears.


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Thursday, 6 December 2012

Taking Your E-readers for Granted? E-readers 101

The other day I was delivering the first session of 'Join the E-revolution - Self-publishing an E-book' in Carrick-on-Suir library, South Tipperary. We had fifteen participants, more than enough for the small room, and it was an intimate, informal atmosphere. I had brought my gadgets with me - kindle, Kobo, iPhone and laptop (plus a bit of old fashioned paper).

A few people in the room owned e-readers themselves but for many this was a first look at e-books.

There I was, blabbering away about front matter in the mobi or something, when I noticed a few heads bobbing but many more had the 'what on earth are you talking about' expression on their faces. It's only too easy to forget that not everyone is already surfing the wave and all this e-book revolution is still new for a lot of readers and authors.

Then someone asked me if they had to buy an ebook from the Apple store to read it on their iPad or could they buy it elsewhere or even on Amazon. Another wanted to know if I needed to buy multiple copies to view the same book on all my different devices, and why did I need all those devices anyway?