Talking about things

Memories of Easter travel

It’s Thursday night and I’m sitting here with the door open, listening to the traffic . There’s a truck stopped on the road outside, engine idling, diesel fumes wafting in the door. It’s been there for fifteen minutes now.

It’s the start of the Easter break and traffic is at a standstill.

Easter to me always invokes memories of travel. Of bumper-to-bumper traffic, of leaving early and finding the roads already crowded. Back in the days when the freeway only extended a hundred kilometres north of the city you slowed to a crawl as soon as you hit the single carriageway. Nowadays, it’s a little better, but sometimes not by much.

You’d stop at a roadhouse, or in later years, McDonalds. They were always frantically busy, full of white-faced travellers just like you, desperate for coffee and a toilet break (and not necessarily in that order).

Then back onto the road you’d go.

Only to do it again in the opposite direction come Monday night.

It’s like driving at peak-hour. For 300km.

We don’t travel at Easter any more unless we absolutely have to. The roads are just too busy. It takes the whole weekend just to recover from the drive, and as long afterwards to recover from the drive home.

And yet … I remember those trips with nostalgia. I wouldn’t want to do them again, but they were good times, fun times, and the road trip is part of those memories. Sometimes, when I see the white-faced travellers stop by at our local McDonalds on their way through the city, I want to be out on the road again.

Talking about things

I can’t show you this picture of Thor, but it’s awesome

We collected Thor from the picture framers today. It’s an original drawing from one of the Marvel Comics artists. I won it as a prize when I bought tickets to see the movie Thor.

Sadly, it’s been sitting on the bookshelf in the office for months but we finally got it framed, and it looks awesome. I’m playing the soundtrack movie right now too. Very appropriate.

It looks so good I thought about putting the image up on the blog. Then I thought, hang on, can I do that? I own the picture, but do I need to get permission from the artist before I even show it in the public domain like that?


So all I can do is tell you about it.

Trust me, it looks fantastic.

Talking about things

The stupidity factor

I enjoyed the movie Frozen. (It was a three-tissue movie for me. I cried every time big sister Elsa appeared, except for the very first and last times we saw her, but that’s not what this post is about.)

Anna, the main protagonist of the story, is feisty and strong. I liked that. But she did do some stupid things sometimes—like race off into the snow to rescue her sister in nothing but a bare-sleeved dress and a cloak. (Lovely dress, incidentally, and I loved the way it twirled as she danced.)

Yes, it’s only a cartoon. Yes, changing into warmer clothes would have slowed the story down. Yes, it would have spoiled the scene where she meets Kristoff. But all the same, couldn’t she have been more sensible about it?

On a scale of 1–10, running off half-prepared like this is pretty low in the fiction stupidity scale. To be honest, Anna’s character was drawn well enough that I could almost believe she would go out into the snow like that. Despite the fact that she would almost certainly be dead from hypothermia before the story really got going.

Plus, like I said, it’s a cartoon. There’s a lot that happens in your average cartoon that couldn’t happen in real life.

The stupidity factor is not confined to cartoons, of course. How many stories have you read, how many films have you seen, where you go, “He/she was stupid to do that/go there.”? Why did the hero race after the heroine without calling the police? Why did the good guy throw away a perfectly usable gun so he could fight the bad-guy barehanded and nearly get himself killed in the process?

Fiction (books and movies) stupidity scale:

  • 10—Barney Ross throwing away his gun in Expendables 2
  • 4–Princess Anna in bare sleeves and a cloak racing off through the snow to rescue her sister
  • 0—Indiana Jones shooting the swordsman with his gun in Raiders of the Lost Ark
Talking about things

Sleeping in a cupboard

I love my cupboard. It is so cute and so just mine.

queensland rail single sleeper_1
This is the size of a single sleeper on the Brisabane to Cairns Sunlander. As you can see, it’s squeezy.

After GenreCon we decided to catch the train from Brisbane to Cairns. 30 hours by train. Naturally, we needed a sleeper (but not Queenslander class, because we both wanted bottom bunks). The single sleepers were the same price as the doubles. The single is the size of a cupboard. And I am sleeping in this cupboard tonight.

Queensland Rail single sleeper_3

Queensland Rail single jump seat
I’m 160cm tall. These photos are taken with me sitting either end of the carriage. First in the little jump seat, second in the main seat.
Queensland Rail single sleeper
Breathe in as you walk down the corridor. No room for overtaking or passing.


Talking about things

eBook things

The eBook market seems to be settling down, and with it eReading habits. I step back and take stock occasionally. Here’s where I’m at with eBooks right now.

I buy my eBooks from a number of suppliers, and I keep them in a number of different places as well. This may or may not be typical behaviour—most of my eBook reading friends tend to buy from one supplier, even if they buy their paper books from different places.

I can see lots of advantages to sticking to a single supplier and format but there a lots of disadvantages too.

Some eReading facts about me

  • I don’t have a dedicated eReader like a Nook or a Kindle
  • My favourite eReader is the iBook app on the iPad
  • Other eBook readers I use on a regular basis are Calibre, Kindle for iPad and Kindle for PC, and I use on a lesser basis some other proprietary readers
  • I like to keep all my books in the one place
  • I use Calibre to manage my books
  • I don’t have a preference for eBooks over paper books; price and immediacy (as in, do I want to read it right now) determine which format I buy in.

Some eBuying facts about me

  • I buy DRM-free if I can, because it’s easier to move between eReaders
  • I prefer to buy books in a non-proprietary format, again so I can easily move between eReaders
  • I try to buy from publishers whose business practises I support
  • I buy more books now I have an eReader
  • I’ve had some bad experiences with PayPal, so if that’s the only way I can pay for a book I’m not going to buy, not matter how much I might want it

And yes, those first three points mean that I only buy eBooks from Amazon when it’s the only place I can get them from, or when they’re so cheap I’ll take that in preference to a book I can read in another reader. What this means is that my Kindle books tend to be my junk novels. There are a lot of self-published books in there, for example.

I don’t buy books from the Apple store. Ever.

I also like to feel that once I’ve bought a book, it’s mine. The bookseller can’t take it back on a whim. Here’s looking at you, Amazon.

The last point limits where I buy books. A surprising number of smaller online publishers only take PayPal.

ePurchasing experience

Things suppliers/software do for me to make my ePurchasing experience easier

  • Read the first pages

This is the equivalent of picking up a book in the bookstore and starting to read. I love it.

  • Amazon one-click to purchase

I love it.Despite what I say about Amazon above, this makes be buy a lot of books. Spur-of-the-moment decisions. If I have to take out my credit card to make the purchase I’ll often think twice.

Maybe it’s a good thing.

  • Number of pages or number of words

Amazon again, but other publishers do it as well. Sometimes, buying a book off the internet seems like a lottery with regard to value for money. I have been caught out so often buying stories—at novel-type prices—only to find it’s little more than a glorified short story. Unfortunately too, many of my favourite mid-list writers are turning to self-publishing, and it seems that as soon as they do, they start producing shorter works. If a story is only nine pages long, I want to know that before I fork out $5 for it. I’m expecting at least half a novel for that price.

  • Send to device

Calibre has a great feature where you can send your books to iTunes. Kindle has a ‘send to Kindle’ option when you select a file. I use them both all the time. Anything that makes it easier to move between the various readers gets my vote.


Looking back over old blogs, I’d say my eBuying and eReading habits were settling.

Talking about things

Cruising to a novel

I have always wanted to travel the world by cruise ship.  Stopping at various places as I go, spending a bit of time in whatever county we end up in, then jumping on to another cruise and moving along to the next country.

In my dreams of course I’d be writing full time by then.  With my laptop and the internet I could write from anywhere in the world.

Obviously, reality intrudes a little and for the moment I need my day job to pay the mortgage.  But I recently took a cruise and one of my aims for the trip was to find out how practical it would be to actually write onboard.

First, some notes about the cruise.  It was 17 nights, which by cruise standards is quite long and four of us shared a cabin.  I have done cruises in a twin cabin before, so I’ll use that experience as well.

Finding room to write

The ship we were on was a relatively small ship and from my experience of other cruises, quite crowded.

At the start it was hard to bring out my laptop.  There was lots to do and I felt embarrassed taking the computer out in public.  Worse, everyone was so friendly, always prepared to talk, and all I wanted to do was sit hunched over a PC.

The best places to write were the tables in the casual food areas.  The view was perfect, the tables were a good height and the chairs were ideal.  Unfortunately, these tables were used for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and sometimes afternoon tea as well.  Seats were at a premium.

It occasionally got quiet.  Like between 4 and 5 pm in the afternoon, and after 9pm at night.

It would have been perfect to work in the ship’s library.  They had nice seats at the tables, with some well positioned to watch the sea while you typed.  Unfortunately, if you didn’t arrive right on opening time then your chances of getting a seat were about the same as your chances of winning the lottery, and you’d probably have a better chance of winning the lottery.

Had I been travelling on my own, or with just one other person I could have written in the cabin .  There was a desk/dressing table in the cabin and it had a good chair.  However, with four of us the desk was always covered as it was the only flat surface.  Not to mention the constant traffic of people trying to get past, and the distraction of other people in the room.

Not only that, the cabin we booked had a lovely big window but if I was sitting at the desk I couldn’t see out the window, which was a waste, given that we were on a cruise.

So I tried for the bars.  There were a few, and some were better than others.  Not to mention that there was always some activity on, or about to go on, in most of them.  Even so, I managed quite well by bar hopping my way around the ship and got to sit by lots of windows staring out at sea.

It’s a lovely ambience for novel writing.


There was one power point in the cabin.  Between the four of us we had two computers, two iPads and four mobile phones.  That power point was in constant use. Sometimes my computer couldn’t be charged immediately.

Finding time to write

I got a lot of writing done on the days at sea, nothing on the days we were in port. After all, if you’re in a new place are you going to sit around writing your novel or are you going to explore?  Me, I’m going to explore.  That’s one of the joys of cruising, going to new places in comfort.

I did most of my writing during the day, going to dinner, bars (to drink this time) and shows in the evening.  I couldn’t write in the cabin at night, because when you’re sharing with others you can’t.

Thus, if you want to write on your cruise, pick one with lots of days at sea.

Health issues

Most bars aren’t ergonomic.  I spent my writing days on low seats with my netbook on my lap.  I’d do this for hours at a time.  Some days when I got up my back was agony.  I learned soon enough to get up and move around and stretch occasionally.  This is basic common sense for any writer, but it’s easy to forget when you’re on a cruise.

Cruises and food go together.  The food is plentiful and for the first few days of any cruise you eat way too much, and often foods that you wouldn’t normally touch. For example, I hardly ever eat dessert at home, but I ate it every day on the cruise.  All this food, plus alcohol, combined with sitting around typing for a lot of the day, can be disastrous to your waistline.

In summary

I would do it differently next time.

First, no more than two of us in the cabin.  Four people in one cabin doesn’t give you any cabin writing time at all.

If I could afford it, I’d get a balcony.  It was beautiful sitting, writing, watching the ocean.  Imagine how much better it would be if you could do that on your own balcony, and on cold days looking through a floor-to-ceiling window to the same.

I would exercise more and eat less.  These are things you don’t have to be on a cruise to think about. Writing is sedentary.  You have to keep moving to keep fit.  Don’t wait for a cruise to do this. Do it now.

I didn’t get as much writing done as I hoped, but by the end of the cruise I had a good schedule going.  By the end I was up to 2,000 words a day, even if I didn’t take part in many ship activities.  I proved I could do it.  Not only that, the sea and the travel and some of the people I met helped add character to my story.

I will definitely do it again.

Talking about things

Amazon bought The Book Depository

So Amazon bought The Book Depository.

That’s business, I suppose, but it wasn’t something I ever wanted to hear.  As Chris Zappone said in the Sydney Morning Herald, online book retailing is about to get a little less competitive.

Talking about things

How to discover new books

Finding books is hard

When I look at books I like on sites like Amazon nowadays there’s one extra place I always look. The ‘who bought this item also bought’. When I find a book in the list that looks interesting, I read the excerpt, if there is one, then I read the reader’s reviews.

This is where I find a lot of new books nowadays.

Another place I find new books is Suvudu’s Del Rey Spectra 50 Page Fridays.

And of course, there are still the recommendations from my reading friends of books they read and liked.

Even so, as Michael Shatzkin, of the Shatzkin Files says, one problem not really solved yet with eBooks is the ability to find books you want to read.

But the merchandising … leaves a lot to be desired. My shopping experiences are actually a bit of a random walk. I ask my ebook retailer to show me books by category and … I tend to see the same books over and over again, far too many of which I have already read …

Michael Shatzkin, Merchandising ebooks is a problem not really solved yet

The big bookstores aren’t much use

It’s a dilemma, and for me the difficulty of finding new authors hasn’t just started with the eBook revolution. I never used the major bookstores like Borders to find new authors. I only ever used them to buy books.


Because they only carry the bestsellers and new books. I don’t always want the bestsellers, and I don’t always hear about books when they’re new. When I hear about them they may be six, twelve months old—after my friends have recommended them, or I read a review somewhere.  By then they’re often out of stock at the big chains.

Back in the days when bookshops were more prolific, there were two local science fiction/fantasy shops I frequented all the time. The salespeople in those shops knew their books and they would happily recommend authors or novels based on what you were buying. One thing I really look forward to is the return of these specialist bookstores—which I think is coming, now that the big chains all seem to be going broke.

Online booksellers—both electronic and paper—have improved matters, only they’re doing it in a typical Web 2.0 fashion, putting the onus back onto users to make the recommendations rather than doing it themselves.

Reader reviews

I like reader reviews. I like the ratings they put on books.

They’re different to the reviews you read in a major newspaper’s weekend section or a magazine for two reasons.

Paid reviewers have no real choice in what they read. Well, they do have some choice, but they still need to review the major releases, even if they don’t like them, sometimes even if they don’t read in that genre. So right from the start, they’re reading a book they would not normally read as a reader.

I also find that they’re a lot like film critics in that they review so many books they’re often looking for something different. Anything new, fresh or innovative rates highly with them—even if it doesn’t suit the genre or the story.

But readers, they’re reading books in their genre. They’re reading books they chose to read. When they write a review they’re starting from the same place I am. When they give a book five stars I pay a lot more attention to it that I do to the five stars a professional critic gives it because it means that someone like me read the book and liked it.

I pay a lot of attention to one-star reviews as well, incidentally. You will often find readers give a book one star because of a subject matter that is taboo to them. A book with mostly five-star reviews and some one-star reviews is often a very good book. Read the reviews to find out.

Book sites on the web

Of the booksellers I look at regularly I find that:

  • Amazon has an excellent review system. Most of us know it already and use it
  • Fictionwise has ratings, but no capacity for comments
  • The Book Depository has capability for reviews and ratings but in my experience I find few books that I buy have been reviewed by users
  • iTunes also has capability for ratings. I haven’t used the Apple store much as they still don’t have many of the books I want—or maybe I just can’t find them—but based on the other items they sell I expect these reviews will eventually come to rival Amazon’s.

But you don’t have to just stick with the bookstores. There are specialist sites where you can record what books you are reading, keep a record of everything you have in your library, write reviews and see what other people who like the same books you do read and recommend. Some of the big ones are:

We’ve still got some way to go, but it’s getting easier to find books. Much easier than it was back in the day when the big bookstore chains were all we had. It can only be good for books.

Talking about things

Apple finally has books as a separate option on iTunes

Hooray.  And it’s even in Australia.

Now I have to decide if I want to buy from Apple or boycott them.  Territorial rights and digital rights management are the bane of my life.  There are so many eBooks I want to buy but can’t. There are so many eBooks I have bought but can only read on one reader.

Talking about things

More experience buying eBooks

As I read more eBooks my buying habits are slowly changing.

Amazon still has the best ‘book finding’ capability, and their one-click buy makes it easy to purchase. I say I wish more publishers would do that but I don’t like leaving my credit card details with any and every site, and I need to be sure it’s secure first.

Amazon has a couple of big problems.

  • The Big Brother issue. If I buy something, I don’t expect someone to come to my house and steal it back when they find they have made a mistake, even if they do leave money on the table for it. At the very least it would be nice to say, “I mucked up” first, and then politely offer me my money back.
  • Format. I like my novels all in the one reader, and I my format of choice is ePub. I use Calibre E-book management to manage them. We put our own novels there as well , so that we can read them and annotate them on whatever device we’re reading from (mostly the iPad). But Amazon doesn’t publish files in ePub format, they use mobi (.azw) files. Which leads me to the third problem with Amazon.
  • Digital rights management. The files you buy from Amazon are locked. I can’t upload them into Calibre and convert them to ePubs so that I can read them on other eReaders.

Apple has the best little eReader on the market in the iPad, but it has some problems of its own:

  • When will Apple (Australia) learn that books could be good sellers if they just gave them some space? They have a menu option for audio books but their text versions are still tucked away in Apps. Believe me, Apple, some people still like to read, rather than just listen
  • It’s too hard to find books in the Apps unless you are looking for a specific title
  • You have to jump through hoops to get a book onto the eReader. It’s easier with Calibre doing some of the work, but you still have to sync.

At least Apple does use ePub format.

So far, I have never bought a book from the Apple store and I buy from Amazon only when I can’t find a book elsewhere, when the electronic book is much cheaper than the paper book and when I’m not concerned about losing the text some time in the future. (Call me paranoid, yes.)

I have bought a lot of books from boutique publishers and author sites. Not to mention Fictionwise (a Barnes and Noble company) that seems to publish a lot of boutique publisher books. The prices are better and I get what I want. In fact, I have bought more books from the non-mainstream publishers this last six months than I have bought from mainstream publishers. I can see that happening more and more.

Based on my own book-buying experience boutique publishers will sell a higher proportion of books in the future.