Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Comment spam, part 2: from the questioning to the bizarre

Here are more representative samples of the spam I get in this blog's Comments. As I said in my last post, most of the time, I just delete these. But I thought I would present these to help any other bloggers who may be tempted to click on a link. Don't do it! 

Asking a question or for advice
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That would be like selling counter-intelligence to the enemy.
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Random collection of sentences
It's hard not to read these, because there seems to be almost a thread of meaning in it ... like the kind of dream you have after eating really spicy food.I wrote yesterday in my Monday column here how, a week and a half ago, Schneider didn't block having either Percy Harvin, Mar Avril or Michael Bennett on his roster. And they all are there now. "Again the countryside changes, and it certainly did this year,'' Schneider said. When Schneider was gold medal approached cessation to trading after Harvin, he said no. Not even-handed no -- fully no. The Seahawks turn loose safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas to survey to hieroglyph, and then cornerback Richard Sherman, and later quarterback Russell Wilson. Schneider knew Harvin wanted gargantuan funds -- Larry Fitzgerald banknotes -- and that was a nonstarter. But Schneider investigated Harvin, and got to believing that his problems in Minnesota stemmed from a amoral relationship with the prehistoric compass basis, Brad Childress, that could not at all be forgotten, as sufficiently as the Vikings' refusal to augment up him market-place value exchange for the receiver position. And

Just bizarre
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Do you get comments like these? Have you ever followed the links? What was your experience? Leave a non-spam comment below.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Comment spam, part 1: Don't publish these!

Image from wikimedia. This file is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License.
When I started blogging, I was at first astounded by the amount of spam comments I get. Why do people bother with this? Today, my reaction alternates between being annoyed and amused.

Normally, I delete all spam comments after a quick check — sometimes, Blogger puts a legitimate comment into the Spam folder, or rarely, spam filters through Google’s firewall and ends up on my “Awaiting moderation” page.

But I’ve noticed patterns. Most spam comments fall into a few categories — at least, the ones I get. And some get repeat almost verbatim; others are so close, they’re obvious variations on a theme.

So for your edification and amusement, I stopped deleting them about two weeks ago, and let them build up in the “Spam” folder. Now, here are a few examples of the “better” ones.

Grammatically flawed flattery
Some spammers think that buttering me up will convince me to click on their scams. But for me, horrible grammar is a real turn-off.

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If I doubted that was spam, that last bit about his/her blog cinched it.

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Comments about recommendations from the spammer’s brother come frequently:
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I got him/her a teacher?
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Flattery, with added opportunity
Sometimes, the spammer goes to the next step in enticing me:
Have you ever contemplated making an e-book as well as visitor authoring on some other sites? I've got a website depending on the identical subjects you talk about and sooo want to have you share a few stories/information. I am aware my personal audience would certainly worth work. In case you are perhaps a little bit serious, feel free to shoot myself an e-mail. Appreciate your web site publish. Jones i are actually conserving for the fresh newsletter with this make any difference as well as your post has made us to save lots of your own money. Your thinking truly cleared up our issues. Actually, over that which you experienced considered in advance of some time all of us ran into your wonderful blog. My wife and i no longer nurture doubts in addition to a stressed brain as you have fully attended to our personal requirements in this article. Here is my web page: amazon credit card payments
Who could resist that?
Don’t click on any of these comments, if you get them in your blog. Having your links and information spread to even more spam!

Next post: helpful spam, spam that asks questions and spam that's just plain bizarre. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Khirro’s journey: An outstanding novel by a novelist with chops

An independent novel review

Bruce A. Blake is a professional fantasy writer after my own heart. I have already reviewed his first novel, On Unfaithful Wings, giving it a full five stars.

Khirro’s Journey, Book One: Blood of the King is the first book in the traditional fantasy trilogy, and this one is not only an outstanding novel in its own right, it does a great job of creating an audience for the following books.

By doing things right , Blake proves he’s earned his chops as a writer.

First, there’s the hero, Khirro. He’s not a prince, not a warrior, has no magical powers or special training, other than in agriculture. A lifelong, hands-on training program in agriculture. He’s a farmer, and at the book’s action-packed opening, he’s far worse than uncomfortable in armour and a sword is heavy and useless in his hands.

That’s one point for Blake: the flawed, weak and identifiable hero.

Next, he wastes no time in back-story or world-building. He gets right into the action — following Elmore Leonard’s rule, presumably, about “leaving out the parts readers tend to skip.” The book opens with Khirro, in uncomfortable armour, being knocked from a castle wall by undead warriors. Another body crashes onto a stone stairway landing on top of him. It turns out to be King Braymon. In his dying breaths, he begs Khirro to take him to the Shaman. To do this, Khirro has to carry the mortally wounded king on his back and run from a zombie warrior.

A skilled writer, Blake exposes the characters gradually, through their actions. He keeps the pace moving quickly forward, compelling the reader to keep turning pages (or swiping the e-reader screen, more likely).  

Blake does not glamourize the medieval fantasy world, either. It’s hard, it’s awful. Kings are cruel, lives are short and brutal.

And everything is believable, even the magic spells, the zombie warriors and the monsters.


Khirro is a true everyman, and someone we can all relate to. He is the most common kind of man in medieval times (while the setting is an imaginary world where magic works and the undead walk and fight, like most epic fantasy, it’s parallel to our own world’s European middle ages in economics and technology): a farmer. Blake gradually exposes details about Khirro’s back-story only as the plot demands it. While at the outset, it’s clear that Khirro is an unwilling soldier and would much prefer being a farmer than a soldier, as the story progresses we learn that Khirro’s life on the farm was not idyllic, either. Khirro remains fully believable through all his back-story and his own redefinition as he is forced to face challenge after challenge.

Other characters are well-drawn, if a little stock: the royal guard, the terrifying, unstoppable one-eyed assassin, the Shaman. But others really leap off the page as three-dimensional: Maes and Athryn, the magician brothers; and Elyea, the harlot, especially. (How Blake is able to create such believable, sympathetic whores is something his wife may wonder about.)

Even the dead king gets a thorough character development, and turns out to be a mostly likable, if flawed man. There are very good reasons he should be restored to the throne.


The story is a good, old-fashioned quest. One of the oldest stories, yes, but it has lasted for good reason. Khirro is the only man left with the knowledge of the way to the Necromancer, a fearsome wizard who lives in a haunted land, so he can bring a vial of the dead king’s blood in order to resurrect the monarch. Again, Blake brings out the importance of this gradually, as the story demands the details. Along the way, the good guys face greater and greater challenges, and the bad guys show their resourcefulness and intelligence, too.

Blake doesn’t shy away from the queasy plot point on the morality and sheer advisability of restoring a dead man to life. What would it mean for everyone if the king were brought back from the dead? And what would the king and the kingdom owe the Necromancer for doing that?

But it’s not all dark. Humour is an important part of Blake’s writing, and there are passages that made me smile in this book.

Overall, Blake delivers a polished novel here. It stands on its own and tells a great adventure story filled with horror, suspense, mystery, romance and humour. It also leads well into the second and third books of the series. You’ll be hard put not to buy them as soon as you finish Blood of the King.

5 *****

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Rolling Stone

What happened to "innocent until proven guilty"?

People are upset over Rolling Stone’s cover depicting Dzhokhar Tsnarnaev — for all the wrong reasons.

Rolling Stone has earned a reputation for gutsy reporting, for articles and covers that did not shy away from controversy. And at first glance, this cover does that: it features a picture of accused, indicted terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who, at the time the photograph was taken, was a very attractive young man.

And that’s what the criticism is about:

They’re trying to make him look like a rock star and he’s a horrible person that did a horrible thing,” said Rachel Carfarella, who dislikes the magazine cover.

The new ‘Rolling Stone’ cover is disgusting. It sensationalizes Marc’s pain as well as all the other victims and survivors. It is an insult to the families and people impacted that day,” said the friend of a victim — reported in 7News WHDH.com, Boston’s NBC station.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino wrote to Rolling Stone: “Your August 3 cover rewards a terrorist with celebrity treatment. It is ill conceived, at best, and reaffirms a terrible message that destruction gains fame for killers and their “causes”… — r
eported in Time magazine online

People are upset because of way Tsarnaev looks. Definitely, the picture makes Tsarnaev look like a rock star. He’s handsome, well dressed, his hair is perfect, and the setting — the cover of the Rolling Stone, which, as the song says, is a place for rock stars — well, it all evokes the sex symbol.

But read the cutline on the cover: “How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster.”

Rolling Stone is telling the world that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is a monster.


Tsarnaev has been charged and indicted in connection with the Boston Marathon bombings in April. He has pled not guilty. He has not been tried, yet.

It seems to me that in the US, a country that loves to remind itself and the world about its constitution and bill of rights, that an accused is assumed innocent until proven guilty in court. And I remember in journalism school, how professors admonished students to be very careful about describing accused people. In Canada in the 20th century, as I recall, even using the word “alleged” was risky for a journalist — it could lead to prejudicing a jury.

The cover headline is not the only place where Rolling Stone crosses that line. Read the article, and you’ll find a lot of language that assumes Tsarnaev’s guilt.

The author, Janet Reitman, spoke with Tsarnaev’s teachers, friends and family, then presented their memories and opinions as facts. While it is a fact that these people said these things, Reitman is a professional journalist and Rolling Stone is a long-standing publication whose editors know how publication in print adds weight to opinions like this.

The article begins with a description of the Tsarnaev family, how they came from Russia and settled into Cambridge, Massachusetts. Dzhokhar began calling himself “Jahar,” and sometimes “Joe” as part of assimilating, and hung out with American friends. He became legendary for selling pot and getting high.

At one point during his junior year in high school, he expressed sympathy with some acts of terrorism. One of his friends says “he said he felt some of those acts were justified because of what the U.S. does in other countries, and that they do it so frequently,dropping bombs all the time."
That’s where the article begins subtly characterizing Tsarnaev as a monster, condemning him in text.

In retrospect, Jahar's comment about 9/11 could be seen in the context of what criminal profilers call "leakage": a tiny crack in an otherwise carefully crafted facade that, if recognized — it's often not — provides a key into the person's interior world. "On cases where I've interviewed these types of people, the key is looking past their exterior and getting access to that interior, which is very hard," says Tom Neer, a retired agent from the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit and now a senior associate with the Soufan Group, which advises the government on counterterrorism. "Most people have a public persona as well as a private persona, but for many people, there's a secret side, too. And the secret side is something that they labor really hard to protect."

The article goes even further in characterizing Jahar’s brother, Tamerlan, who was killed in a gunfight in the pursuit of the Tsarnaev brothers, by quoting his family: “His uncle Ruslan had urged him to join the Army ... But Tamerlan laughed, his uncle recalls, for suggesting he kill ‘our brother Muslims.’"
The article cuts abruptly from detailed descriptions of the brothers’ daily lives to generalizations about terrorists. The impression of the Tsarnaevs as terrorists in inescapable.
... in January, Tamerlan and his wife reportedly lost the Section 8 housing subsidy that had enabled them to afford their apartment, leaving them with the prospect of a move...Why a person with an extreme or "radical" ideology may decide to commit violence is an inexact science, but experts agree that there must be a cognitive opening of some sort.
This next paragraph makes the huge leap from journalism to conjecture:
For Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the explanation for his anger was all around him. And so, dissuaded from his quest to wage jihad in Dagestan, he apparently turned his gaze upon America, the country that, in his estimation, had caused so much suffering, most of all his own.

By the last page of the article, Reitman completes the transition from reporting facts to presenting others’ opinions as facts, and painting her subject as a monster. She desbribes how three of Jahar Tsarnaev’s friends, Robel, Dias and Azamat, came to the apartment Tsarnaev shared following the Boston bombing and noticed
Jahar's backpack, which the boys noticed had some fireworks inside, emptied of powder [apparently, Jahar’s backpack did not match the one on the surveillance videos]. Not sure what to do, they grabbed the bag as well as Jahar's computer, and went back to Dias and Azamat's off-campus apartment, where they "started to freak out, because it became clear from a CNN report . . . that Jahar was one of the Boston Marathon bombers," Robel later told the FBI.
Did you notice that: the interview subjects, Tsarnaev’s friends, started to freak out because it became clear from a CNN report that Jahar was one of the bombers. Rolling Stone is not the first to assume Tsarnaev's guilt.

Tsarnaev has already been tried and convicted by tabloid TV news. Not by a court and jury, which has high standards for those silly things called “facts.” Instead, the US public are making conclusions based on TV reporting, which is notoriously inaccurate and unreliable, and then taking that as indisputable truth.

From the first release by police of surveillance video, the mainstream media have all immediately accepted the Tsarnaev brothers' guilt as fact.

Reitman makes a concluding statement about Dzhokhar Tsnarnaev, where she completes her portrait of a monster she has created:
The contents of Jahar's closely guarded psyche, meanwhile, may never be fully understood. Nor, most likely, will his motivations — which is quite common with accused terrorists. "There is no single precipitating event or stressor," says Neer. "Instead, what you see with most of these people is a gradual process of feeling alienated or listless or not connected. But what they all have in common is a whole constellation of things that aren't working right."
In her own terms, author Reitman has succeeded. She brought the readers of her article from a conception of her subject, Dzhokhar Tsnarnaev, from cute American kid to monster terrorist.

But in terms of justice, of human rights, her article contributes to the demonization of a human being. Will it be possible for Tsarnaev to get a fair trial now?
I anticipate a backlash to this post; there are people who will say that a monster who bombs innocent people does not deserve a fair trial.

But here’s the thing, as the young people say: Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty. What if he isn’t the one?

It is possible. One purpose of a trial is to sort out this kind of question, and Reitman’s article, and the similar coverage in all other US media, makes that trial more difficult.

That’s why people should be upset about the article — about the text, but not about the image. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Independent novel review: Broken Pieces by Rachel Thompson

Why do I feel the urge to type “Rachel S. Thompson”?

Broken Pieces breaks the moulds of confessional memoirs and is rightfully ahead in the polling for best non-fiction book of the year among the E-Festival of Words contenders.

Rachel Thompson is best known for her humourous observations of male-female relationships in her blog, Rachel in the OC, and her previous books, A Walk in the Snark and The Mancode Exposed. These books are short, snappy, definitely snarky. Funny, entertaining and usually dead-on right.
“Husband has t-shirts from before we met. He sees no problem with this fact. “They still fit!” — why should he throw them away? Sigh. #Mancode.
With Broken Pieces, Thompson takes a decidedly more serious turn — a walk on a darker side. The book includes verse and prose poems, as well as extended descriptions of her emotions at different crises or turning points of her life in almost stream-of-consciousness prose.

It begins with descriptions of learning about the suicide of a former lover which happened only hours after she met him following years of separation. With a few well-crafted sentences, Thompson exposes the conflicted emotions that result from the memories of a troubled, inconsistent, thrilling and terrifying relationship.

Broken Pieces is an apt title. The book is very much a collection of essays, odes and prose poems, as well as pieces that are impossible to categorize. There are long passages that describe the author’s up-and-down relationship with her unnamed lover: how his strength made her feel safe, and how that feeling contrasted with his barely-restrained violence and his tendency to tear down her self-esteem. She also contrasts the lover with her eventual (and still) husband.

"Rachel in the OC" Thompson
It’s not all dark: Thompson also writes eloquently about the joys and bemusements of her relationships with her sometimes bumbling husband and their kids. Then, like refractions through a broken window, she turns back to her childhood and the trauma and abuse she experienced.

The pieces are disjointed. But I was never in doubt about which period of her life she had just jumped to. I always knew which man she was writing about on any given page. The book is not an easy read; it’s sometimes disorienting, but it’s compelling writing that tells Rachel’s own story. Broken Pieces shows Thompson as a real person, someone much more sympathetic than she comes across in her earlier books.

You cannot stop reading Broken Pieces once you start.


Get it on Amazon or through Thompson's website.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Secrets of the Hanged Man — independent novel launches today!

Bruce Blake has released the third novel in his acclaimed Icarus Fell dark urban fantasy series, Secrets of the Hanged Man. To celebrate the launch, he's giving away a coupon that will allow you to download the e-book from Smashwords for only 99 cents to anyone who signs up for Bruce's newsletter at http://eepurl.com/pjLej

Secrets of the Hanged Man

Icarus Fell thought the afterlife couldn't get any worse...until Hell came looking for him.

When you are the orphaned child of a disgraced nun, and you're saddled with a ridiculous name like Icarus Fell, you don't expect things can go drastically downhill.

Until death comes along and an archangel recruits you for a job you screw up so badly you nearly lose your son to a demonic priest and a fallen angel.

And then, burdened by the lives lost because of your foul ups, you travel to Hell, a detour that costs you more dearly then you could ever have imagined.

No, things couldn't get much worse in the afterlife...unless Satan sends his lap dog to bring back the one thing he thinks belongs to him.


Why couldn't death be easy?

Excerpt from Chapter 3

The pickle factory smelled of—you guessed it—pickles. I’ve never been fond of the things; I always picked them off my Big Mac and gave them to Rae, or threw them away on the many occasions I found myself gorging on fast food alone. Considering pickles are cucumbers soaked in evil, this place seemed an odd choice to bring souls finding their way to Heaven.

Being the middle of the day on a Wednesday didn’t help our situation. It meant a shift in full swing and too many people around for us to be inconspicuous. To my surprise, none of them wore yellow protective suits and inhalators like the guys on Breaking Bad, but regular clothes and hair nets instead, as if they worked in a place devoid of the stink of cucumber death.

We gained access by way of a back door propped open with a broken piece of brick, presumably placed there by someone sneaking out for a smoke. I marveled at the size of the place. We hadn’t stumbled into a Heinz factory, just a local operation, but it was huge. Fluorescent lights dangled from the high ceiling, their harsh glow reflecting on the surfaces of gleaming silver vats and pristine machinery; the interior sparkled with a level of clean to make most hospitals jealous. 

But neither its cleanliness nor the fact it showed up in my scroll brought it close enough to godliness for me to consider devouring one of the hated little things.

Where you can buy Secrets of the Hanged Man



Barnes & Noble

About the author

Bruce Blake lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. When pressing issues like shovelling snow and building igloos don't take up his spare time, Bruce can be found taking the dog sled to the nearest coffee shop to work on his novels.

Actually, Victoria, B.C. is only a couple hours north of Seattle, Wash., where more rain is seen than snow. Since snow isn't really a pressing issue, Bruce spends more time trying to remember to leave the "u" out of words like "colour" and "neighbour" than he does shovelling. The father of two, Bruce is also the trophy husband of a burlesque diva.
Bruce's first short story, "Another Man's Shoes," was published in the Winter 2008 edition of Cemetery Moon; another short, "Yardwork," was made into a podcast in October 2011 by Pseudopod, and his first Icarus Fell novel, On Unfaithful Wings, in December 2011. The second Icarus Fell novel, All Who Wander Are Lost, was released in July, 2012, and the Khirro's Journey epic fantasy trilogy followed between October 2012 and January 2013. His next project, another epic fantasy series titled The Small Gods, should begin seeing the light of day by September 2013.

Friday, July 12, 2013

New independent novel: Deadly Storm — an excerpt

Independent author Kenneth Hoss does a lot to promote independent authors. His website features independent bloggers, interviews with authors, excerpts of work by independent writers, spotlight features — when does he find time to write his own books?
But he does. Deadly Storm, his third detective thriller featuring Kelli Storm launched 
 launched July 1 — a fitting day in a stormy summer!

What's it about?

Detective Kelli Storm and her partner, Eric Ryder, are called to the scene of an apparent suicide only to discover that the victim was a Russian hit man and Kelli was to be his next target.

The trail from the body leads the two Detectives to the underbelly of Brighton Beach, and the Russian Brotherhood that rule there. During the course of their investigation, Kelli discovers a link between them and a powerful Colombian Cartel, the same Cartel she thought had been shut down with the death of its leader.

When the FBI and DEA take an interest in the case, they forge a plan to break up the international drug ring. As they delve deeper, the Cartel and Brotherhood become bolder and they both want Kelli dead. To make matters worse, after an ill-conceived tryst, it’s all she can do to keep her professional and personal lives separate. 

Of course, you want more. 

An excerpt:

Chapter 1:
Monday February 6th – 8:48 A.M. – Washington Heights
Highbridge Park

As Detective Kelli Storm approached the yellow crime tape, the fresh snow crunching under her shoes, she waved at her partner, Eric Ryder, and wondered how he had managed to beat her to the scene. She ducked under the tape, surveyed the area and walked over to him.
The park was covered in a white blanket of pristine snow, undisturbed except for the ground at her feet, where several sets of footprints led up to and away from the Cadillac CTS. She nodded and smiled at Eric, who was standing on the passenger side, and he smiled back. “I’ll take the driver’s side,” she said as she retrieved a pair of gloves from her pocket.
The victim was sitting behind the wheel, the back of his head blown out and a Ruger 9mm lying in the seat next to him. It had all the markings of a suicide, with one problem. Where there should have been blood spatter, there was a void. The passenger seat was clean except for a few stray drops along the inside edge. 
“Pretty messy in there,” Eric said as he bent down and looked inside. “Christ, is that brain matter on the headliner?” 
She leaned in to see what he was talking about and nodded. “Yeah, and it looks like some of his skull too,” she said and winced as she pulled on the second glove. “Come on, let’s get this over with.” 
She reached in and pulled the man’s coat back, found the inside pocket and pulled his wallet out. She stood back up, opened the wallet and removed the man’s driver’s license. 
“Alexi Polachev, Brighton Beach address. Wonder what he was doing up here in Washington Heights, besides getting a bullet through his brain.” 
Eric popped up on the passenger side, holding a small scrap of paper, an odd look on his face. “Uh, Kelli,” he said stretching his arm out across the roof. “Why would this guy have your name and address?” 
“What are you talking about?” She took the paper from him, looked at it and then looked at the corpse, shaking her head. “No idea. I’ve never seen this guy before today.” 
“That’s weird. This guy comes over here, kills himself and has your name and address on him. What the hell is going on, Kelli?” 
“Your guess is as good as mine. You saw the back of his head, right? Did you check the passenger seat or the back seat?” 
Eric shook his head, bent down and looked inside, then back at Kelli. “They’re clean."
“There should be blood spatter on the seats. Instead, we have voids. No, this guy had company.” 
“Crap, why didn’t I see that?” 
“Don’t worry about it. The question is, why was this guy looking for me and what did he want? Someone went to a lot of trouble to make this look like a suicide. He’s got my name and home address with him, and he’s found dead in Washington Heights. So what the fuck is going on?” 
“A hit maybe? You know, this guy could have been sent by anyone, even the Colombians. What do you think?” 
Kelli shrugged. “Right now it’s anyone’s guess. Could be the Russians, could be the Colombians. God knows I’ve pissed a lot of people off in the past few years. The question remains though, was he the target,” she said, pointing at the corpse, “or do I need to start looking over my shoulder again?” 
“Well, you know I’ve got your back, except that this time I’m going to shoot before I yell for the son of a bitch to drop his weapon.” 
“Yeah, and end up trading that beautiful wife for a prison cell. I don’t think so, Eric. Let’s just get back to the Squad and run this guy,” she said as she looked back down at the body. “At least his troubles are over.”
Kenneth Hoss was born at Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth, Texas and served a combined total of fourteen years on active duty  to 1987 in  the US Army and US Navy. His tour in the Army took him to Frankfurt, Germany where he had the opportunity to travel Europe. While in the Navy, Kenneth spent most of his time stationed in San Diego and Long Beach. His Navy travels took him to Hawaii, Guam, The Philippines, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Okinawa, the Middle East and Pakistan. He has lived in several states, including South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Washington and California.

Storm Rising - A Kelli Storm novel is a police procedural and is the first book in a three-book series. Book two in the series, Storm Warning, is now available on Amazon. Deadly Storm, is book three.

You can find Deadly Storm on Amazon in the US and UK, in both paperback and electronic versions.

You can find Ken on the Independent Authors Network: http://www.independentauthornetwork.com/kenneth-hoss.html

Check out Ken's
blog and his work, too.  And send him a tweet to @Kennhoss!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

All about Tween literature: EMBLAZON launches

Emblazon is a new group of authors who write for readers aged 11 to 14 has just launched a new blog dedicated to the art and science of writing for this special audience.

“Some call them upper middle grade; others call them low young adult. They’re somewhere in the middle and can lean either way. We call them Tweens,” the group states on its About page.

The members will post about some aspect of reading and writing literature for Tweens on the first three Wednesdays of every month. “The fourth Wednesday is your turn. That’s when we host a monthly feature called Tween the Weekends.

As part of the launch, Emblazon is giving away signed paperback and e-book copies of stories by member authors for Liking the books and authors. Check out their Launch Giveaway page for details.

Good luck to the Emblazoners in their drive to “write stories on the hearts of children.”

Make an appointment to visit their blog every Wednesday at emblazoners.com.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Independent book review: Stories My Evil Twin Made Up

I have a major problem with Scott Morgan’s writing. There isn’t enough of it, especially fiction.
I understand Morgan’s dilemma. He has a day job, and a blog and a Twitter feed and a life with a family; he has also published writer’s guides, Character Development fromthe Inside Out and How To Be A Whiny Beeyotch: 71 Writing Excuses Meet the Back of My Hand. He has appeared on this blog, with a guest post and as the object of a review of his previous collection of short stories and poems, Short Stack.

I really enjoy Morgan’s fiction. His writing style proves that he is the kind of writer who should be teaching others how to write.

Reading Stories My Evil Twin Made Up evoked a mixed reponse: it’s very good, but it’s very short. It’s kind of a “Best of Scott Morgan” album.

“There’s nothing new in here,” Scott Morgan admits immediately in the introduction to his new collection. All 10 short stories appeared in one of Morgan’s three previous collections, Short Stack, Tryptic or Love/Sex/Soul — but not everything in those three collections appears in the new book. “There is no poetry in here and a few stories didn’t make it. Because they suck.”

I miss some of the poems, particularly “One True Cat” from Short Stack. But there is much to enjoy in Stories My Evil Twin Made Up especially “The Price of Angie’s Ice Cream,” “Brown Paper Bags” and “Food and Hats” are all entertaining as well as insightful. They evoke that “yeah, exactly, I was there” response.

Morgan’s talent lies in writing precisely the words that bring the reader into the created reality. Every word rings true. Nothing is out of place, nothing is excessive, nothing is missing. This is exactly the kind of writing that all the writing courses and all the snootiest London and New York publishing houses say that they insist on (before publishing something by the latest celebrity bimbo).

It’s hard to say what’s my favourite story in here, but “Brown Paper Bags” probably hit closest to home. It’s a story about young boys reaching that age when they can no longer bring cartoon character lunchboxes to school, but have to use plain brown paper bags. And all the other symptoms of growing up to be the perfectly repressed North American males society demands we be.

Victor had seen the changeover coming. Had monitored the upper classes and seen the transition from Marvel Comics to plain brown wrapper. He was fine with it. Was, in fact, looking forward to it. And then his mother handed him a black tin lunch pail. Tin, like his Superman lunchbox from kindergarten. Only uglier. It looked like a little house. The kind of lunchbox he’d seen in cartoons from the fifties, when mesomorphs ate their lunches on orange girders sixty floor above the street.

But he could already see the look in her eye, ten years into the future. Misty. Reminiscent of a childhood gone forever. To tell her that this was the worst thing she could have done to him would kill her on the spot. So Victor took the little black house. And promised her he’d keep it safe. He would just have to keep it in his backpack and hope he never got searched by anyone.

“Yes,” I kept thinking. “That’s it exactly.”

The only failing to Stories My Evil Twin Made Up is that it’s too short. The paperback version has very wide margins (to those versed in graphic design, a very short measure). It’s obvious that Morgan was trying to pad out his page count (which he cleverly hid by not putting page numbers in the paperback). It’s unnecessary. Even if the book had one-third fewer pages, it would still be a respectable, if slim volume. This design makes the readers feel that Morgan is trying to fool us, somehow.

Brother writer, I respectfully propose another solution: write more stories!

The world will be a better place for them. 


You can find Stories My Evil Twin Made Up on Amazon.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Guest-post: Anti-Quebec logic

On US Independence Day, in the spirit of promoting democracy, pluralism, minority rights and other values the USA says it stands for, I'm re-blogging a post from the caustic but clear Eclipse News. The following essay originally appeared on Eclipse News on June 11.

By Evan Zenobia

ANCIENT ROME—It looks as if the Québec Soccer Federation has really stepped in it, this time.

It’s not really their fault though. It’s just that the English Canadian media has been dumping shit all over the sidewalk.

Yes, ever since the FSQ announced that turbans would, along with all other headgear, be impermissible on soccer pitches, everyone from rags like Maclean’s and the National Post to federal cabinet ministers have denounced the regulation, thundering righteous, theatrical indignation and hurling accusations of racism and xenophobia at Québec.

By now, you’ve probably heard or read the standard narrative. Driven by either a radical secularism gone mad or just by Québec’s innate and distinctly un-Canadian xenophobic racism, Sikhs were singled out by FSQ and swept off the soccer field. Now, Sikh children will be barred from the game, cruelly excluded by racist Québécois officials.

The football team of India wears no head gear, turbans or otherwise.

This isn’t the first time the Sikh community’s religious obligations have run across trouble in Québec. In 2010-11, a scandal erupted over the barring of kirpan (knife)-bearing Sikhs from entering the Nation Assembly. The FSQ faced similar criticism for banning the hijab. And, the standard reaction from the conservative English-Canadian establishment had been to accuse Québec of racism or xenophobia.

But that’s not what’s happening.

According to the FSQ, headgear is not allowed on the soccer pitch. You can’t wear a baseball cap, or a cowboy hat, or a tuque, or a crown, or a German war helment. The rule is no headgear. A turban is headgear. Therefore, turbans are not allowed.

So now Québec is being accused of racism because in Québec everybody, regardless of their religion, is subject to the same rules and regulations.

When you treat everyone the same, that’s not discrimination, it’s called equality. And I know that conservatives actually hate that, but they should be honest about it instead of accusing the 7 million people of Québec of intolerance and hatred.

In any case, the FSQ will follow FIFA’s lead if the international body allows turban. But until FIFA makes its decision, Vic Toews and Parm Gil and Jason Kenney and the esteemed “writers” at the authoritative rags of Canada’s business classes should quit their hysterics about “intolerance,” and maybe practice a bit of tolerance to Canada’s second largest province.

Evan Zenobia is the Ottawa-based co-publisher of Eclipse News.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Cover reveal: Secrets of the Hanged Man

 Coming July 15:

The third instalment in Bruce Blake's best-selling Icarus Fell urban fantasy series: SECRETS OF THE HANGED MAN.

What's it about? 

Icarus Fell thought the afterlife couldn't get any worse...until Hell came looking for him.

When you are the orphaned child of a disgraced nun, and you're saddled with a ridiculous name like Icarus Fell, you don't expect things can go drastically downhill.

Until death comes along and an archangel recruits you for a job you screw up so badly you nearly lose your son to a demonic priest and a fallen angel.

And then, burdened by the lives lost because of your foul ups, you travel to Hell, a detour that costs you more dearly then you could ever have imagined.

No, things couldn't get much worse in the afterlife...unless Satan sends his lap dog to bring back the one thing he thinks belongs to him.


Why couldn't death be easy?

About the author:

Bruce Blake—tall, bald, and Canadian—is the author of the Icarus Fell novels, On Unfaithful Wings and All Who Wander Are Lost, as well as the Khirro's Journey epic fantasy trilogy. On Unfaithful Wings has been nominated for the eFestival of Words' Best of the Independents Ebook Award as well as being a semi-finalist for the 2012 Kindle Book Review Indie Book of the Year, and the Khirro's Journey trilogy was awarded the Life Changing Read Award by author/editor/blogger Ella Medler.

Bruce's goals in life include writing more novels and remaining tall, bald, and Canadian.