A memory, as Christmas approaches

I was born in Vancouver, B.C., many aeons ago in a former world, and immediately put out for adoption; which happening in due course, I found myself with the man and woman whom I remember as my parents. They had a massive RCA console black-and-white TV with built-in stereo, about four or five feet long, something very much like this: [Read more…]

André-Philippe Gagnon, a cast of thousands

I mean to say, of course, that André-Philippe Gagnon is a cast of thousands. The Beloved Other and I went last night to see him in concert. I had seen him once before, in the early nineties; for her, it was a new discovery.

And what a discovery! He began the performance with a one-man history of rock & roll, impersonating singers from Elvis Presley to CeeLo Green. His star turn was a duet between Céline Dion (herself, on video) and Frank Sinatra (André-Philippe, live).

Here, by the magic of YouTube, are some highlights of his show, as performed in a different (and rather more posh) venue:

Visit André-Philippe Gagnon’s website.


From episode 1 of Where Angels Die:

‘Forgive my friend,’ said the Badger smoothly. ‘He was raised by screech monkeys, and thinks tact is how carpets are secured to the floor.’

McStudge’s sole comment on the election

It is almost touching, how the humans cling to their most obviously stupid beliefs. For instance, large numbers of them believe that by voting for one shop-window mannequin over another, they can improve the quality of merchandise sold in the shop.

We encourage them in this belief, of course. It distracts them from the inconvenient fact that the shop itself is a monopoly and removes all competitors by force. Remember, my poppets, the most powerful force in the humans’ lives is their own gullibility. Use it often, and use it well.

     H. Smiggy McStudge


Today, so the calendar tells me, is my birthday. I had hoped to have Superversive available today, but matters became complicated when ‘The exotic and the familiar’ firmly announced that it needed to be in the book. (It was right.) So the release is delayed a few days.

As for my age: I admit to 117, but the Powers That Be have an unreasoning reluctance to pay me a pension, and insist that I am only fifty. Whichever is the case, as Aragorn said, I am no longer young even in the reckoning of the Men of the Ancient Houses. Wish me well, Loyal Readers, on the back side of the hill.

An embarrassment of not-riches

First, the news according to Truman: Last night, I did nothing.

This is because I worked during the day; but the Boneless Beast flaps a scornful pseudopod and replies, ‘Details, details.’ At any rate, I am back on the job with Where Angels Die, even if I am getting the work done outside of abnormal business hours.

Meanwhile, a difficulty arises.

When I sell books in June (as I am doing now, thanks to my Loyal Readers and some new faces), Amazon tots up the account at the end of the month and pays net 30 days – that is, at the end of July. If I keep the nose to the grindstone and so forth, I may be all right to pay my bills for August. But my usual source of income has been temporarily cut off, and I find myself with one foot hanging over the yawning chasm of July and nothing to build a bridge with.

In short, I am scrambling for a few bucks to pay the bills.

If anybody wants either ebooks or print books laid out, typeset, and proofread, I am available for such jobs at the most reasonable rates. Wendy S. Delmater of Abyss & Apex (where I serve as Editor-at-Large) can vouch for my skills in these areas; or you can look at any of my own books and judge of my work for yourself. If you know anybody who is looking for such a service, it couldn’t hurt to mention my name. I can be most easily reached by email through the CONTACT link at the top of this page.

And if you haven’t got any work to send my way – though it pains me to ask – if you happened to drop a few bucks in the tip jar by clicking on the Donate button, it would be received with blessings and gratitude.

I want to get Where Angels Die out, and the Superversive collection, and the McStudge book, and resume publishing The Eye of the Maker, all of which my Loyal Readers have asked me to do; I am here to entertain you, and perhaps give you somewhat to think about. But I need to buy the time to do it.

Your support and good wishes are greatly appreciated. Thank you all,

Your suggestions, please!

Our 3.6 Loyal Readers will have noticed two new books out from Yr. Obt. Svt. I am happy to report that my health is unusually good so far this month, except for stubbed toes and similar trifles. While this good fortune holds, I want to see what else I can finish and get out the door, to hold the interest of the Amazon ‘also-bot’ now that I have attracted its attention.

What I am hoping to do is a variation of the so-called Liliana Nirvana technique, so named by Hugh Howey. The original technique was used by romance writer Liliana Hart, with great success, and has been successfully replicated by a number of other authors. Ms. Hart, who is perhaps less inclined to be wilfully silly than Mr. Howey, calls it her ‘five down, one in the hole’ technique. It works like this:

Annual releases are too slow to build on one another. And not just in the repetition of getting eyeballs on your works, but in how online recommendation algorithms work. Liliana suggests publishing 5 works all at once. Same day. And she thinks you should have another work sitting there ready to go a month later. While these works are gaining steam, write the next work, which if you write and edit in two months, will hit a month after the ‘hole’ work.

This technique catapulted Ms. Hart from unpublished to earning a living in a few months.

There’s just one problem: I can’t use it.

You see, the purebred Liliana Nirvana requires that these be your first five books, and that they all be published on the same day. I haven’t got five books ready to go at once, and at this point, I can’t afford to wait until I do have. Also, my existing books have attracted some readers and acquired some reviews, and I don’t want to lose that by unpublishing and re-releasing them (which, apparently, is a variation of the Technique that has been successfully tried.

What I can do, though, is build on the momentum started by The Worm of the Ages and Style is the Rocket, and put out several more books as quickly as I can. It’s a question of which projects are closest to completion, and which ones are likely to yield the best return on a small investment of time.

Going over my stuff in drydock, I see the following unfinished ships, roughly in order of how close they are to completion:

  1. Another essai collection, more general in nature than my previous ones. Tentative title, Superversive: Essays on Life, Language, and Literature.
  2. The ‘pilot episode’ (novella length) of Where Angels Die, samples of which have previously appeared in these pages.
  3. A collection of pieces by H. Smiggy McStudge – if he will consent to write two more of his snarks, which, I think, will be required to fill out a book.
  4. A novella called The Stone Sword, which is set in the same world as The Eye of the Maker, and reveals the previous history of a few of the characters that you will (eventually) meet in volume 2, The Grey Death.
  5. The Grey Death itself, resuming (at long last) the forward motion of the Magnificent Octopus itself, The Eye of the Maker.

This last project will take at least a couple of months to finish. The first four can be done in a matter of days or weeks; and if I work very hard and luck holds, I may be able to put three of them out by the end of June – which would give me a sort of soft-pedalled Liliana Nirvana, spread out over a full month.

I invite the Loyal 3.6, and all and sundry, to offer your suggestions. Which of these books would you like to see me release, and which do you think I should concentrate on? Or do you have another idea, involving something I have overlooked? All comments are most welcome.

Publishers and pies

Self-styled publishing industry pundit Michael Kozlowski, whose foolishness is exceeded only by his bad manners, had this nugget of conventional wisdom to offer in the comment box of an article on The Passive Voice:

Indie authors are for the most part very lazy. They spam out e-books without any regard for quality and think quantity is better. I have noticed over the years that if you mention the e-book industry declining they will always say “its [sic] because we don’t want/need an ISBN” and then they will defend the indie movement.

If indie authors really wanted to be taken seriously they would buy cheap ISBN numbers and be counted. But that takes a few hours worth of work, something they aren’t willing to do.

Indie authors for the most part are lazy, incompetent and have no regard for the self-publishing movement.

I found that I could not let this go unchallenged. My reply follows:

OK, Kozlowski. I wasn’t going to waste my time commenting on your drivel at its original location, because I have a pretty strong suspicion that disapproving comments are ‘curated’ out of existence. But you’re here, so I’ll have a bash.

We ‘indie’ authors are so God-rotted lazy that we actually start our own publishing businesses. We not only write the books; we hire editors and copyeditors, commission cover art, arrange for wholesale and retail distribution, handle our own promotion and PR, and not only that, we, unlike you, actually engage with our end customers, the readers – a section of the food chain that your part of the business is still barely aware of and never listens to. And we do all this on our own time and our own dime, without anybody paying us an advance. [Read more…]

Happy New Year

But in Gondor the New Year will always now begin upon the twenty-fifth of March when Sauron fell.

—J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Catholic tradition holds, on reasonably secure grounds, that Jesus was crucified on the twenty-fifth of March; which makes it the feast day of St. Dismas. That is the name assigned by tradition to the robber who was crucified with him, to whom he said, ‘Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’ By a happy coincidence, I am writing this in a year when Good Friday falls on March 25: a rare event.

It is also the Feast of the Annunciation. On somewhat less secure, but still reasonable grounds, the Church calculates that Jesus was born on December 25; which means, in round numbers, that he must have been conceived somewhere around March 25, and the angel who broke the news to Mary is therefore thought to have appeared on that date. This fits in with the ancient Jewish tradition that great sages and prophets lived an exact number of years, being born (or conceived) and dying on the same day of the year.

There are more fanciful associations. For instance, some have supposed that Adam and Eve were created on March 25. I ask the skeptical among my 3.6 Loyal Readers to suspend their unbelief momentarily for the sake of a good story. Supposing that there were an Adam and Eve, and that they were created on the same day (which even Genesis does not tell us), they lived long before the invention of fixed calendars; so that even if they knew the exact time of year at which they were born, and told their children, the information could not have been passed on to the authors of the Torah. The language of the Hebrew calendar is too new, the calendar itself too recent, to convey data directly from so remote a source. You could suppose that God gave the information to the author of that passage in Genesis; but then, Genesis does not tell us any exact date either. Even the most enthusiastic and credulous believer, I am afraid, has to surrender this particular story as a pious taradiddle.

In the Middle Ages in Christendom – not everywhere, not always, but certainly in the official records of the Church – March 25 was treated as New Year’s Day in commemoration of these events, real and legendary; with the odd result that March 24, 1066 (to pick a year not quite at random), was almost a year after March 25, 1066. This peculiar system persisted until Pope Gregory XIII reformed the calendar in 1582, bringing it back in step with the seasons, and incidentally moving the New Year back to January 1, the start of the old Roman consular year.

The Protestant and Orthodox countries stuck to the Julian calendar for some time yet; England went over to the new system in 1752, which by that time meant dropping eleven days from that year, so that March 25 of the old calendar corresponded with April 5 of the new. In 1800, the old and new calendars diverged by one more day, so the British Parliament made a special enactment that the tax year would start on April 6 instead; but they did not trouble themselves to move it to April 7 in 1900. That is why, to this day, the British tax year begins on the sixth day of April, to the lasting exasperation of accountants, taxpayers, and all tidy-minded persons.

‘Thinning’, as The Encyclopaedia of Fantasy calls it, does not only occur in fantasy fiction; we often find it in real life. The old Catholic New Year has thinned to a shadow, and all that remains of it now is a bizarre tax regulation in Britain, which hardly even pretends to be a Christian country. One of the few people to recall the old New Year and the old reasons for it was Tolkien, who deliberately chose that date for the defeat of Sauron and the beginning of the Fourth Age; so the reason for the date passes over into myths and old wives’ tales. But as Tolkien made Celeborn say—

Do not despise the lore that has come down from distant years; for oft it may chance that old wives keep in memory word of things that once were needful for the wise to know.

Still, I bid you all a happy and glorious New Year in the Old Style (with Gregory’s correction), and in company of the old wives of Oxenford; and I add a prayer for any of my readers who may chance to be British, and in the clutches of the Inland Revenue. God bless you all.

The deplorable redemption of bebop

Some time ago, my poppets, I instructed you in the gentle art of killing art forms in a piece entitled ‘Death by Bebop’. Those of you who read it (or clicked through just now) will recall that I made a particular corpus vile of jazz, and an especial example of ‘Take Five’, by the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

That composition very nearly upset our lovely little applecart. Fortunately, after a smashingly musical opening in 5/4 time, the soloists swiftly degenerate into the indistinguishable pabulum of vaguely rhythmic noodling that has made latter-day jazz so detestable to all right-thinking people, McStudges as well as humans.

The natural solution to this is to combine the head of ‘Take Five’ with the heads of other compositions in the same signature, and transposable into the same key; and to play the whole, not as jazz, but as a properly composed piece, scored rigorously throughout. This has often been tried, and done badly, by mashing up the Brubeck noise with the theme from Mission: Impossible. So long as it is done badly, by persons of little talent, it matters not to us.

But no art form is ever dead quite beyond resurrection. We must strive continually to keep them dead. This we do by shutting out the skilful and interesting artists, and admitting none but giftless and footling plodders. Every so often, a human of real ability stumbles into a field that we would leave barren, and makes it yield fruit in our despite.

So it is with this mashup business. A human who calls himself Jake Justice has done it well; and for this he must pay. Behold, my junior McStudges, and judge for yourselves the danger we are in even now:

This nuisance must cease forthwith.

     H. Smiggy McStudge
          Deputy Commissar of Music Depreciation (Pro Tem)