Five Top Stupid Things The Web Has Become

In my tribute to the end of David Letterman, and since the Internet (and BuzzFeed) thrives on lists, I’d thought I would just sound out about the top Five Things that drive me bat-shit crazy about this Internet thingie:

5) Wipes, overlays, underlays and other stupid ad tricks.

Ever since Firefox invented or came up with the ad-blocker, web sites have been using more stupid tricks that ever to get you to read their ads. You don’t want to read their ads, but they stick them in your face anyway. All of them are abusive, jarring, and simply the worst. A wipe is when the screen content is replaced with a huge box ad, waits a few seconds and then your original screen returns. Wired, guilty as charged. An overlay is a similar tactic–you arrive on a screen only to watch it grow dark and a giant box with some annoying video or graphic plays. You have to actively search for the “x” to close the darn thing. An underlay is insidious. You scroll down to read an article and then something inserts itself in between two paragraphs. Jarring result! It’s another blasted ad and you have to actively close it or it just hums along and repeats.

4) Somebody Else’s Crap Stories

Read an article on some website and off to the right or the bottom is a list of other articles from paid content providers. These things are nothing more than click bait, full of lists, ads and malware. Most magazine sites have ’em:

Salon Much Beloved Paid Crap
Salon Much Beloved Paid Crap


3) What Counts For News These Days

It doesn’t matter which major Internet news site you visit, they’re all aggregates now collecting entertainment lists, fashion tips, surveys, crazy news, more lists, paid ads posing as real stories (I blame Yahoo completely) and otherwise useless junk in an effort to fill the screen. These sites are crammed with everything from astrology signs to trending nonsense. If you want real news, you have to pay for it.

Yahoo's Main Page
Yahoo’s Main Page


2) Parallax Scrolling is Useless

Specifically in the category of a gimmick, parallax scrolling is a feature used by web site owners who do not know what to do with their web sites, so the best thing they can think of is to make the user scroll through their website’s content. The graphic employed is humongous, hogs bandwidth and is supposed to be cute–the more you scroll, the more things are supposed to look 3D when in fact, it’s just not.

Here’s a real obnoxious example:

Ecobud's pointless scrolling page
Ecobud’s pointless scrolling page


1) Lists

Admit it. Lists are cute. Our time is valuable, so we try to help ourselves by breaking things down into lists. But you can’t get any real information from a web page full of links, can you? They’re just bullet points really, an extension of our overwhelming hatred of Powerpoint. If there was some way to get rid of list pages, then most of the Internet would be clean, well-written, full of beautiful selfies and efficient.

Instead, you just read this list. Feel better?


Observations on Kindle Scout and THE LAST EMPRESS #publishing

Seven days left on the “campaign”. So far, my experience with Kindle Scout has been uneasy.  So I’ve come up with several observations about this new “crowd-based” publishing platform.

THE LAST EMPRESS cover on Kindle Scout

1. The “Submarine Effect”. In the beginning, there’s a lot of excitement about seeing your book show up in the Kindle Scout pages. The web page shows “Hot” titles, then works its way down to the genres represented by Scout. After a week or so, unless your book is “Hot” early on, your title disappears under the weight of newer entries. As you can see in the picture here, there are seven “pages” of Literature and Fiction Titles, and LAST EMPRESS is on page 4. That means it takes four clicks just to see my book’s cover.

2. The “Other Genre” Effect. Some of the “Hot and Trending” titles that show up at the top managed to be placed in multiple genres, and therefore get to show up multiple times on the main page. The title “Love or The Witches of Windward Circle” is not only “Hot”, but it’s in Science Fiction, Romance, and Literature and Fiction. Which one is it? And why was I not allowed to pick multiple genres when I created my title?

3. There’s no “Rhyme or Reason” for Hotness. Clearly the more a book is nominated, the “Hotter” it becomes. But it’s difficult to determine whether someone is gaming the system or simply buying hotness (and is that money really worth spending?) The covers on some of these titles are atrocious. The Misery Checklist is a bunch of pencils and looks like a Powerpoint slide. Fire Thieves looks like someone went crazy on red and orange. So it’s not a case of the “pro” cover. Romance titles are popular, which was to be expected. It’s just a mess and there’s no clear logic behind why some stories are “Hot”.

4. No Help Whatsoever. If you put your book out here for consideration, there are no reviews from readers to guide your choice and no real way to tell would-be voters  which book might interest you. Your book is buried and there’s not much you can do about it. The genre selections are random–vampire books appear in Literature and Fiction. So far I’ve used some of the more basic methods of advertising–Twitter announcements, Facebook, blogging and so on, but this is only an excerpt. It’s not like I can offer the book for free (which I do on Wattpad) and it makes no sense to advertise heavily on a three-chapter excerpt.

I would feel better if the book was “Hot”, then at least I hoped it would get Kindle Press’ interest. Hotness is no guarantee of publication, at least according to the guidelines, but it’s very important on this site.


Today’s Fabulous Free Friday includes another excerpt from THE LAST EMPRESS.  In this piece, young Duchess Anastasia and British agent Jack Hawthorne–fleeing the Soviet secret police known as Cheka–are forced into a risky exit from a still-moving airship…

The Important  Differences of Airships
The Important Differences of Airships

As dawn bathed the near-endless steppes in summer gold, Ana discovered one does not just set off from an airship that was underway. The large aircraft was at the mercy of the winds which pushed and lifted the ship like a cork bobbing on a swirling river. Without a ground crew to seize the control lines and a mast to dock to, getting off the Star of Savannah could cost Ana a broken limb or even her life.

Hawthorne argued with the chief about not bothering with this dangerous maneuver and taking them to England instead. The chief suggested stopping at one of several small towns prior to Petrograd with airfields and ground crews, but Jack Hawthorne refused. Those places had field masters and Red Guard political officers closely watching the arrival and departure of airships and their passengers. There was no compromise. To avoid getting caught, they would have to be dropped off far away from any town, village or farm in the grasslands.

“There’s a meadow just ahead,” the chief pointed out the forward gondola’s windows. A long stretch of flatland covered in wild grass and summer wildflowers beckoned. “This is the best location I can find. I’ll try to get the ship as low as possible. You still have to climb down the ladder and jump.”

“Can’t you just stop the ship?” Ana asked.

“There’s a strong cross-current. I can only slow down, not stop.”

Ana and Hawthorne uneasily watched the engineer open the forward boarding hatch and kick out a rope ladder. The ladder dropped thirty feet or so and dangled in the air as the chief fought to bring the airship down lower. The gauges reported they were sliding forward at almost six knots, the equivalent of a fast-trotting horse, even with two of the engines reversing madly to slow them down.

“I could jump with you in my arms,” Hawthorne suggested. “Like I did before in the trees.”

Ana shook her head, tightening the cap perched there so the wind would not blow it away.

“You don’t know what the ground is like. It could be soft as a pillowcase or as hard as an iron bar. If you land wrong carrying me, you could sprain an ankle or break your legs. Wouldn’t Thorn be better at this sort of leap?”

“Yes. But it takes great effort to put the genie back in the bottle. Once he’s free, he doesn’t want to go back. I’d rather you not have to deal with him.” Hawthorne muttered something that she almost didn’t hear. “He’s rather taken with you.”

Ana was surprised. “What did you say?”

“Nothing important. Look, carrying you might be better than you impaling yourself with that thing,” he tested the impromptu cloth sling the engineer fashioned so Ana could carry the saber on her back.

“I’ll be fine.”

Seeing she was still playing with the hat, Hawthorne snatched it from her head. He gasped. The beautiful long strawberry blonde hair that used to cascade down her back was no longer than her neck.

“When did you do this? How?”

“This morning. The doctor lent me his straight razor,” she blushed as she took back the hat and seated it back on her head. “You said I needed to look more like a boy.”

“You look like a lost waif from a Charles Dickens serial.”

“Then it’s perfect,” she smiled. It was only a fake glimmer of hope, an attempt to appease his worries. The ghosts of last night continued to haunt her.

Hawthorne started climbing down the ladder first.

“Follow right behind me. After I let go, you have to decide when it’s best to jump.”

“I’ll be right behind you,” she called out as he descended into the breeze.

The engineer steadied her as she swung out her legs and put one foot on a ladder rung, then the other foot on the rung below it. Looking down, she saw Hawthorne holding on to the ladder. Farther below him, a ground swell of greens, tans and dark browns whipped by much too fast.

She looked up the ladder at the concerned engineer. He extended his hand to her, just in case. Frightened for a moment, she almost lifted up her hand so he could drag her back inside the gondola. She changed her mind and followed Hawthorne down, rung by rung, the wind snapping about them.

There was nothing certain about this. Her legs and arms started to shake. The airship bounced up and Ana was treated to a stomach-sickening lurch. She closed her eyes and hung on to the ladder with all of her might. The craft corrected itself and came back down.

She looked down again. Hawthorne was near the bottom rung. He was riding the ladder as though it was in a storm. Their weight was causing the ladder to swing forwards and back as though it was the pendulum of a clock. He looked up towards her.

“You have to come down lower!”

Nodding, she came down a few more rungs. With both of them near the bottom, the ladder’s swaying was much more pronounced now. When her feet were almost on the same rung as his hands, she looked down again. He was getting ready to jump.

Hawthorne waited until the ladder swayed backward and he leaped outward, away from the ladder at a near right angle. She watched him tumble into the high grass, spilling and rolling. In seconds, he was back up on his feet and running after them.

“Jump, Ana!” he waved to her. “Cover your head and jump!”

Obeying him, she climbed down to the same place as he was before. She waited and waited as the ladder swung her forward and back, much like the brave trapeze artists from the visiting European circuses who came to the Alexander Palace. She focused on that thought. She remembered they were called aerialists.

“I am an aerialist!” she shouted to the wind, trying not to be afraid.

She looked behind her. Jack was receding in the distance. He could not run fast enough to keep up with them. The ship was picking up speed. Didn’t the chief realize this?

As she was about to jump, the airship nosed upward again. Ana held on tight, wishing things were not moving quite as fast as they were. Looking ahead, she understood why the airship climbed. The meadow was divided by a line of tall trees. The chief was trying to save her life. She looked up. The engineer was waving at her and shouting, but he was too far away for her to hear his words.
She thought about climbing back up. Perhaps the chief could turn the airship around and try again, but the wind was not cooperating. They passed over the trees and more meadowland appeared. The ship’s nose came down and they slowed down. The chief was going to let her try to jump again.

She remembered falling off Orion only twice. Both times were when she was little and hitting the ground was more of a shock than her actually getting hurt. She wondered if jumping off the ladder and hitting the ground would be like that.

Ana timed the sway of the ladder, took one last look ahead of her, clenched her eyes tight and jumped. Long seconds passed. She wrapped her arms over her head as her legs hit the ground hard and gave out. She tumbled, end over end, the air knocked from her lungs. Her arms and legs rotated around her until she came to a violent stop.

Lying flat on her back, the saber’s long shaft wedged hard against her, she looked up at the sky. The tail end of the airship passed over and kept going. The shape headed away until it was little more than a reflection of sunlight bouncing off its silvery skin…

Help Give Anastasia A Good Home! Read the first three chapters and nominate THE LAST EMPRESS on Kindle Scout.



THE LAST EMPRESS Excerpt #publishing


Inspiration for Anastasia
Inspiration for Anastasia

Just as television shows like to tease with a quick trailer, here’s another short excerpt from THE LAST EMPRESS — 

On the occasion of her fifteenth birthday, Anastasia was given a special gift from her mother the Empress: personal riding instruction from the captain of the royal guards, Henryk Michonski. The captain himself proposed he train Ana to ride her horse Orion. The Empress was delighted, but none more so than Ana.

The captain instructed her at the stables and horse track behind the Alexander Palace while Peter Andersen and Anna Andersen looked on. The summer months were humid and unusually hot, but that didn’t stop the captain from drilling Ana. Orion was not even taken out of his stable, not until Michonski was satisfied with Ana’s form as she sat in her saddle precariously on a fence rail. If she even slightly leaned the wrong way, she and the saddle would fall over into the filthy mud, enraging her.

“Patience. Practice. All cavalrymen must be these things,” he lectured her.

“I am not a cavalryman!” she protested. “I am a duchess!”

“For Orion’s sake, you will become a cavalryman. Anything less is an insult to the horse.”

“You treat the horse better than me,” she sobbed there in the dirt, her beautiful clothes muddy and ruined.

“Then prove me wrong, Little Duchess.”

Ana hated when he called her by titles such as “Her Majesty”, “Her Most Highness” or “Little Duchess”, knowing he was being spiteful and cruel. Complaining to him only brought more titles, each one more ludicrous than the previous.

Yes you are a poor student, Your Supreme Delicate Duchess.” “No you cannot rest, My Esteemed Grand Holiness.

A rage built up inside of Ana. She wanted to do better and prove him wrong.

After Captain Michonski was satisfied with her saddle work, they took up riding. Up and down the dusty track the captain rode his luminous white charger beside her and Orion, correcting her with a strike of a rider’s whip across her leg or back. Everyone, even her sisters, taunted the captain’s young “cadet”.

Ana stopped wearing dainty riding clothes, replacing them with sturdy trousers, riding boots, a white button blouse and a sash around her waist like the Cossacks wore. She tied her long hair up instead of wearing a sassy satin riding hat.

After seeing her dress this way, her sisters Tatiana and Maria started accusing her of being Alexei’s long lost brother, “Anok.” Even her mama found her appearance too unsettling after a long afternoon spent training.

“You’re a grand duchess, not a stable boy,” she would scold her.

Ana didn’t pay any attention to them or their teasing, only to the young captain. A man who grew more admirable—and handsome—with every day.

“Are you enjoying your lessons, Duchess?” he asked her as they took off together to the wide swath of dirt of the riding track behind the palace.

“Yes, very much!” Anastasia played with Orion’s mane. “I have learned to appreciate him like the great stallion that he is.”

“Then ride!”

He turned to her and grinned, putting his white charger into a gallop. Ana at once followed him, prodding Orion to follow.

The two horses rushed off at once. The summer wind and its sweet breezes filled her nostrils while she followed the captain. The thundering horse and its powerful strides yielded to her commands as she leaned forward in the saddle. Orion was set free and so was Ana. She found herself laughing with joy, breathless and exhilarated all at once.

They stopped at the far end of the track, almost at the entrance to the woods where she would try to run off to when she was younger. She knew better than to disappoint the captain and turned Orion back around, ready for another gallop back down the way they came. But the captain was in no hurry. Pleased with her progress so far, he nodded towards her.

“What shall your next lesson be, Duchess?”

The thrill of the ride only made her bolder.

“Teach me how to handle a sword,” she said, noticing the fine saber in its scabbard resting in its loophole on the saddle beside his waist.

“Are you enlisting, Grand Duchess?” Henryk joked back. “Or would you prefer an officer’s commission?”

“You said I was to become a cavalryman. Teach me to be a real one.”

“Little princesses do not handle swords. They hold scepters and rule from thrones. You should act like the rest of your family.”

She looked back out across the horse track, towards the palace. There was a sheltered promenade where her sisters, Olga, Tatiana and Maria, along with their giggling friends of the royal court were taking high tea. They were surrounded by shade, music and servants. Anastasia was always left out—too young to understand their gossip and treated as a clingy annoyance.

There was still young Peter Andersen, the boy who remained by the stables while she went out and rode Orion. He seemed content to watch her practice riding. The son of the chief inspector was a writer and would divide his time between private schooling in the village and staying at the palace. But recently Peter had become gangly and dour. He spent a great deal of time keeping to himself, writing in his journal.

Anastasia did not care so much for her sisters or Peter. She wanted the attention of the captain of the guard.

“I don’t want to be like them. I want to be like you.”

The captain looked surprised. He brought his own white horse around, circling Ana and Orion with perfect gait and precision. Ana could not tell if he was concentrating on riding or if he was deep in thought. With no effort at all, he brought his horse to a halt right next to her.

“Your parents would not approve of such things,” he caught Ana’s disappointment and returned it with a mischievous smile. “However, I believe it’s time you and Orion learned to ride in the woods.”

Ana brightened at the challenge, but remembered her mother’s warning.

“Mama said I should never go there alone.”

“You will not be alone.” His gloved hand grazed the saber nestled inside its scabbard. “And we can train there in peace.”


Help Give Anastasia A Good Home! Read the first three chapters and nominate THE LAST EMPRESS on Kindle Scout.


Help The Last Empress Win A Publishing Contract #publishing

As a writer, I am constantly looking at the changing world of publishing.

Kindle Scout logo

The industry has changed remarkably since the days when I would hunt for the names of publishers and agents in a banged-up copy of Writer’s Market at the library, print out query letters, mail them with SASEs and wait months for a reply. If any.

In 2002, I self-published (if that was a word back then) my first book. I used Cafe Press to produce print-on-demand (POD) copies of my first novel. I sold 2 copies off the site and gave away 25. The paperback book’s price was astronomical, almost $14.99 retail, because of printing costs to be recouped by the printer.

In 2012, I returned to writing. After collecting a lot of rejections from publishers and agents for Zak Corbin: Master of Machines, I decided to self-publish again. This time it was with Amazon’s CreateSpace and Kindle. I took charge of my marketing, asked for reviews from bloggers and gave away copies to the wind. In all, I sold maybe a hundred titles and gave away dozens for free.

Speaking of giving away, I tried a new route with the social reading website Wattpad. I decided to release the book to see how it would fare. To this day, Zak Corbin: Master of Machines has a reader count (total number of persons who read a chapter) of 854,000. The sequel, Neptune’s Fury, also released for free on Wattpad, has a reader count of 170,000.

This past year, I signed a contract with Divertir Publishing to publish Darkest Hour, the first of my trilogy about The Battle of Britain during World War II. The book with be produced by POD and ebook, with major heavy lifting in the editing department by Jen Corkill Hunt. This is a standard publishing contract, although I will be mostly be responsible for marketing and publicizing the book (which I don’t mind).

The Last Empress on Kindle Scout

Now I’m going to try another method of publishing with my newest work, The Last Empress. First of all, let’s get you interested in the story:

On a July night in 1918, seventeen-year-old Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanov was marched into a basement room, along with her royal family and loyal servants, and executed by soldiers of the new Soviet government. What happens next is a story of miracles and the madness of science. Aided by a most unusual British agent, young Ana flees from her pursuers across the heart of a Russia torn apart by civil war. The Soviets want to kill her and end the reign of the Tsars. Loyalist forces see her as a symbol that could reunite the country. Ana’s choice will change the course of history.

Intrigued? Read the first three chapters of The Last Empress for free on a site called Kindle Scout.

The Last Empress on Kindle Scout
The Last Empress on Kindle Scout

Here is the direct link to the book’s campaign web page:

What is Kindle Scout?

For thirty days, Amazon will allow users to read and download the first three chapters of The Last Empress for free. If you love it (and who doesn’t love my writing?) then click the blue button and nominate that book. The more nominations, the better the book’s chance at being offered a publishing contract. Yes–a contract with Kindle Press. Here’s how they explain it:

There are interesting rules to this game. For starters, you will need an Amazon account to nominate books (can you feel them reeling you in yet?) A book’s “campaign” lasts for thirty days, then it’s either given a deal or dropped. Last and most important: once you nominate a book (clicking the blue button), the book has to stay nominated for it to count.

Oh and tell your friends how lovely it was, too!

Once you nominate a book, keep it nominated!
Once you nominate a book, keep it nominated!

I’m responsible for the marketing campaign and getting the word out. So you will be seeing me dropping anxious reminders from time to time. If the book is popular, it will appear on the Hot and Trendy portion of the site, keeping it on top and in newcomer’s minds.

If you nominate the book and it wins a contract, you get a free Kindle copy.

Unlike say a Kickstarter project, there is no cost to you. I won’t be giving away signed copies of my keyboard or laser-etched, foil-stamped versions of the book. This is the new face of publishing: crowdsourcing. The more people like my book, the more I get to pursue my writing. And … the better your chances to see if Anastasia sits on the throne or lingers on my hard drive. (Oh no! I think my hard drive’s failing! Quick, nominate the book and save Ana!)