Friday, 27 April 2012

One Day: A Superior Romance

Last night I watched the film One Day, and from what I'd seen of the previews I really wasn't expecting much. I was happily proven wrong. Based on the reviews I've read people have extreme reactions to this film, they either love it or hate it. Many people mention that the book is much better, but I haven't read the book and only have the film to base my opinion on, and I think it was very well done.

To begin with I loved the character of Emma. She was very easy to relate to and Anne Hathaway did a brilliant job. She even managed to look like a dork at the beginning of the film, which is no mean feat. One of the reasons I think I liked this movie is because it roughly follows the same time frame that I grew up in. I loved seeing the fashions change as they got older and some of the songs on the soundtrack brought back memories. (I'd totally forgotten about the song Roll To Me by Del Amitri, and who could ever forget Tracy Chapman's Talkin' About A Revolution which is still one of my all time faves. It was so funny when Emma put this song on as "mood" music when they were about to get it on at the beginning of the film. No wonder it took them nearly 20 years to consumate their relationship). 

I did find the platonic relationship between the two main characters a bit of a stretch. It just didn't make sense to me that a guy with the world at his feet would have time for a girl like Emma. I think they needed to be part of a bigger friendship group for it to be believable, but apart from a couple of friends who made fleeting appearances, it was just the two of them. Some people have complained that because the characters were not even together for much of the film the relationship wasn't very deep, but I didn't find that. After I got past my initial scepticism I found their growing feelings authentic, and the fact that life took them in very different directions also rang true. It was good to see a romantic film that did not focus exclusively on the characters relationship but also looked at their lives when they weren't together which made it more interesting than many films in this genre.

When the finally do get together I really thought the movie was finished and it was a bit of an anti-climax, but oh no, there was another major surprise in store which I did not see coming at all (much like Emma). That's probably one of the major reasons I enjoyed this movie so much - it actually surprised me and not many films manage to do that these days.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Kindle Direct Experiment #2

Jane: Amused or horrified?

As I write this my second experiment with a free book on Kindle is drawing to a close and I'm very happy with the results. My novella Prude & Prejudice has been free for almost 48 hours and during that time it's been dowloaded 1660 times. While I didn't manage to crack the top 100 in free books I did come close in the UK at #111. My book reached #20 in contemporary romance meaning it was on the first page with New York Times bestselling author Barbara Freethy, and I was listed alongside the top 20 paid books. To be just 18 spots behind Barbara Feethy is thrilling beyond words. While there are a few fly-by-nighters (like me) in the top 20 for free contemporary romances, many of them are established authors with multiple books to their names, adding to the great excitement of ranking so highly.

While I am really pleased with how many books were downloaded, I'm also realistic and realize this doesn't mean all that much in the grand scheme of things. It does show that I'm capable of choosing a title, cover and blurb that people find appealing, but it's not a comment on the quality of my writing or my story. I don't have any reviews yet apart from one from a friend whose opinion I respect (thanks Michelle!), and I'll just have to wait and see if any more come in.

My first self-published short story Written in the Stars was basically an experiment to test the waters of self-publishing.  I have a lot more invested in this novella and I'm proud of its message. Seeing Anders Brehvik on the news coldly recounting how he murdered 77 people in the name of racial purity reminded me of just how dangerous anti-immigration sentiments are. I find it truly terrifying how quickly politicians are ready to exploit people's fears about immigration and race when they want to distract attention or score points against their opponents. Hitler used the Jews as scapegoats for Germany's declining economic position, and look how well that ended. He appealed to the middle-class who were most affected by this decline, and I fear that it is the middle-class who may turn to the far-right as the shockwaves from the GFC continue to be felt around the world.  I just hope this time around people will learn the lessons of history.

I love the fact that Amazon allows you to see what other books people who bought your book purchased. It's the best form of market research. The connection with Pride & Prejudice has undoubtely given my novella a boost because there is a big market out there for adaptations and sequels. I didn't realize just how huge it was until I wrote this book. I find it fascinating and can't wait to read some of the books I've come across. The erotic ones are the most amusing, and my favourite titles would have to be Pride & Penetration (The filthy classics) and Mr Darcy Vibrates.

I wonder what Jane would think?

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Writers Getting Hot and Sweaty

One of the biggest downsides to writing has got to be the fact that so much time is spent sitting down in front of a computer. For a person who leans towards a sedentary lifestyle at the best of times, this has really not been a good development for me when it comes to my health. I now seem to spend so much time in front of my computer that I've gone from sedentary to practically comatose. My situation has been compounded by the fact that four months ago I moved to a "town" (I use the term loosely) where there is nothing to do. And I mean that literally. We are 56kms from the largest real town and even there choices for recreation are limited.

So what's a girl to do? The best form of exercise and the one I have always enjoyed the most is walking. There are a lot of dirt roads around my house which I could in theory traverse everyday for exercise. The problem is not just motivation (and sheer laziness), but also fear. When you've spent most of your life in the city it can be hard to get used to being in the wide open spaces without another human being in sight. When you have a very overactive imagination like me it's even worse because you begin to imagine all sorts of terrible scenarios involving serial killers and rabid dogs appearing out of nowhere. These are not very comforting thoughts on a lonely stretch where no one can hear you scream.

Once upon a time many years ago I used to be an aerobics junkie and I do know what it's like to have an exercise high. The only problem is it takes a lot of sweat and effort to get to this point and this is where my great plans to get fit always get stuck. Thankfully I now have a couple of jobs where I'm on my feet for most of the day, but I've written this entry to try to inspire myself and hopefully others to get out there and start moving again.

Here are some tips for writers to help stay active:

1. Have a set time that you will spend in front of the computer and stick to it. Without this time limit I find that hours pass where the only part of my body moving is my fingers.

2. Use exercise time to think about your WIP or come up with new ideas for stories. This will help to make exercise more enjoyable and productive.

3. Develop an exercise plan that is realistic and incorporates things you enjoy. Find a buddy if you can, or join an online forum where you can chat with people who are also trying to improve their fitness - just don't use this as an excuse to spend more time on the computer and less time exercising!

4. Don't spend long periods of time slumped in front of the computer. Get up frequently and go for a walk around the house, or do something physical that will help to refresh and energize you, even if it's just for a few minutes.

5. Do stretches at your desk to prevent stiffness and get the blood pumping.

6. Every now and then put on your favourite music and dance like a crazy person.

Now I've just got to start taking my own advice! This picture is frighteningly realistic.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Return to Pleasure Island

I know authors aren't supposed to mention bad reviews or have a go at reviewers for expressing their opinions, but what about good reviews?

I've recieved the following review for my novel Pleasure Island from Mrs Condit Reads Books and I really don't want to keep it to myself.

Thank you Mrs Condit, you have made my week!

MRS CONDIT’S OPINION: Francene Carroll’s PLEASURE ISLAND is a delightful story about opposites and compromises. A new reality show has been hatched that proposes to pair two people with opposite personalities on a deserted island in the Pacific and whoever can stand to stay the longest wins $5 million.

Jack is an actor who is on his way out of the spotlight due to his inability to control his addictions to alcohol, cigarettes, and women. He reminded me quite a bit of Charlie Sheen, as a matter of fact. Allie is a documentary maker who is a vegan environmentalist. People just don’t get much more opposite than Jack and Allie. The back story on Jack is he needs the prize money to get out of debt because he has squandered all of the money he made in the movies. Allie’s friends have urged her to go on the show because they think it would be fun for her and fun for them to bask in the near-celebrity glow.

PLEASURE ISLAND could have been a clichĂ© – enemies to lovers. However, Ms Carroll created a character-driven story that is so much more than that. Jack and Allie both evolve while marooned on the island, and like a pendulum their swings move closer and closer to the middle. This is a reality show, though, and there are cameras everywhere to record every movement, every whisper, and nothing is as it seems. While Jack and Allie are tentatively deciding whether to trust each other, they really should be focusing their questions about trust on the greedy producers of the show.

When the show abruptly moves back to Los Angeles to liven things up, the producers throw temptation in Jack’s path. I was shouting, “No, Jack!” at a Kindle, for goodness sake. I was so wrapped up in the story and characters I not only couldn’t put the book down I couldn’t distance myself from what was happening.

I loved the twists and turns that in hindsight were as they should have been but surprised me at the time. There were no easy answers for either Allie or Jack, and the end is less HEA and more HFN. I would really love to read more about Jack and Allie, and I hope this becomes a series of their stories. We need to hear more about Danny, Pam, and Ty, too. Stories about other people who come to the island to change their lives would be great, too. PLEASURE ISLAND is a fun read but it might kick your butt with lessons learned, too.

MRS CONDIT’S RATING: 5 blissful sweet peas!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Indies Are People Too!

Today I have a confession to make which I'm not exactly proud of. In the not-so-distant past I have been guilty of writing some very scathing one-star reviews for books by indie authors. At the time I felt completely justified because it was my opinion that if people put something out in the public realm for consumption, it was fair game. When I decided to test out the indie waters myself, I took down my scathing reviews out of fear that authors might seek their revenge by shooting my books down in flames. I should know by now that it's not so easy to outsmart karma. I have just been on the receiving end of my first nasty review and I've got just one word to describe it: Ouch!

When the words "unbelievably retarded" are the title of a review for your book, it really makes you think twice not only about writing, but living in general.

In my defence I can say that I've never been quite that brutal towards someone's book and I've always tried to give one or two reasons for my low opinion. I've also only written reviews for books which have a lot of other mixed reviews already. On saying that though, I have made some very detrimental comments about people's writing which in hindsight may have been crushing to them. When I read my own negative review, it suddenly occurred to me that I had probably been responsible for making people feel exactly the same way I was feeling at that moment. It was a real eye-opener to say the least. Mabye I'm particularly obtuse, but up till then it just didn't occur to me that it was wrong to tear someone's work to pieces so brutally as if their feelings and efforts did not matter at all.

I'm not saying that reviewers should not give their opinion or warn other readers not to buy something they think is unworthy, I just think there are certain standards of decency that should be maintained. No matter how detestable you find someone's book, no one put a gun to your head and made you read it. No one forced you to continue reading it after you'd decided it was garbage. Like most indie authors I'm not in this to make money but to build a name for myself through short stories which might help sell my two novels (or not!). I'd give everything away for free if I could but unfortunately Kindle Select only allows you to do this for 5 days in three months. I enjoy writing and hope there are at least a few people out there who will like what I write, and I believe this is the case with most indie authors who just want to share their stories.

We live in such a fast-paced world that people become angry when they feel like they've wasted their time on a book that did not live up to their expectations, and I believe this is what provokes the vitriol seen in so many Amazon reviews. People forget that behind every one of those books is a person who has put something out there of themselves. The internet has given everyone an opportunity to fuflill their dreams of authorship, and I guess all I'm trying to say in this post is don't be so quick to step all over those dreams. Before you write that nasty review think about the person behind the book and be a little kinder and more lenient towards them. Give some constructive reasons why you weren't engaged by the book and offer some suggestions for improvement if you can. And if the book is "unbelievably retarded" and beyond redemption like mine apparently is, just a simple "did not enjoy this book at all and would not recommend it" will suffice. The message is loud and clear.

Indies are people too, and if you can't bring yourself to care about the struggling wannabe authors out there, then care about yourself, because I'm telling you, this karma thing is a total bitch and it will come back to get you!

Here's the review in full for:

Unbelievably Retarded

There's really nothing else I can say. I read a LOT of books. This really is one of the most retarded books I've ever read. Don't waste your money

Yep, that pretty much says it all.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

The Gender Wars Continue....

My WIP What Women Don't Want is very much about gender, so at the moment I'm on a bit of a feminist crusade. In my previous post I talked about the debate over women and comedy that has literally been going on for centuries. Seems that it's okay to speculate about women's comic abilities (or lack of) until the cows come home, with many men agreeing that women just aren't that funny, but dare to suggest that men might have some innate and less than flattering qualities and look out!

This tongue-in-cheek article about men's texting habits by Annabel Crabb is an absolute corker, but what is really revealing are the comments from men that follow. Seems the boys don't like it much when the shoe is on the other foot. What is ironically lacking in most of the men's responses is a sense of humor and the ability to have the "piss taken out" of them. Funny, because according to the previous responses on women and comedy, it was the ability to "bag others" and "be bagged" that made men superior in the realm of comedy to women, who are far too sensitive to be really funny.

Here's my favourite quote from the article:

When David Beckham was busted in 2004 for having an affair with his personal assistant Rebecca Loos, thus launching his career as a philanderer and hers as a serial reality-TV contestant, it took about five minutes for the pair's intimate text messages to be extracted at length in London's tabloids.

I will never forget the moment when, scanning such a list of messages, my eye was drawn to one in particular, in which Golden Balls exhorted his illicit lady love to ''remember what I done to you when you was face down''

What a way with words the man has! It's almost worthy of Shakespeare.

Read the full article here and prepare to be very amused.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Apparently Women Just Aren't that Funny

Another comedy festival with very few female performers, another article asking the question "Are men funnier than women?"

Ho hum. The last time this debate raged in the media was with the the release of the film Bridesmaids, when it was considered groundbreaking for women to appear in an all-female comedy that people actually enjoyed. What a concept!

Excuse me, but what century are we in? Why are there so many people out there who still seem to believe that having a vagina and the ability to make people laugh are mutually exclusive? What does gender even have to do with comic ability? Some PEOPLE are funny, and some PEOPLE are not. X & Y chromosones have nothing to do with it. The reason there are fewer female comedians around is that women are not encouraged to be the centre of attention. There are so many subtle messages sent to young girls about what is desirable behaviour, and making wisecracks and being the class clown are not high up there. Instead young girls are still taught that their main achievement in life is to look good and look after others.

Not the sort of messages that are going to encourage young women to get up at an open mic night. None of this is going to change until women decide that enough is enough, and start challenging the insidious messages that young girls are exposed to every day. The lack of female comedians is a symptom of a far deeper problem which unfortunately seems to be getting worse if you look at the sexualized clothes and toys that are marketed to children these days. The Bratz dolls are a perfect example of this. At least the lips are funny, if nothing else. Angelina eat your heart out.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Prude & Prejudice Goes Live

Today I have joined a long and illustrious line of Jane Austen imitators with my novella Prude & Prejudice, which is now available on Amazon.

When one joins the ranks of Jane Austen wannabes, you really have to ask yourself the question why this provincial writer of women's fiction is still so popular today nearly two hundred years after her demise? What is it that makes her writing relevant and copied when so many other books have disappeared without a trace? It really comes down to the universal appeal of a good story. In Pride & Prejudice Jane Austen got the ingredients just right with a smouldering romance and a good healthy dose of satire and humor that captured that social nuances of her time.

Some people believe it's lazy to piggyback on another author's work, but I think it's the greatest compliment you can pay a writer.  I didn't set out to write my own mini-version of P&P until I came up with the title Prude & Prejudice. It tickled my funny bone so much that I had to use it and the story just grew from there.

My novella is set in contemporary England and although I've drawn on the original work in some ways, I've also tried to make it quite different in keeping with the times.  The idea to make it about racial prejudice came from a couple of incidents caught on mobile phones last year which showed two very bitter women abusing immigrants on the tube in London (see below).

 It really makes me angry when people think that because they were born in a country they somehow 'own' that country and can decide who belongs. This novella gave me a good opportunity to vent some of my spleen over these incidents and also attempt to show how easily these kinds of feelings can be exploited by the extreme right and politicians.  Wrapping this up in a romance/chick lit novella based loosely on P&P was challenging and fun, and revisting my favourite book reminded me all over again of why I love Jane so much!

Book Description

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman with a name like Prudence Higginbottom must be in need of a good shagging.

Prudence Higginbottom’s youth was marred by the cruel taunts she endured over her unfortunate name, but at the age of twenty-six she has managed to rise above it all to become the part-owner of a cafĂ© and catering business with her parents and three sisters in the small town of Merryton. When the Higginbottom family are hired to cater the opening function for a new business that has just relocated from London, Prue is excited as everyone else, especially when she discovers that the two company directors, Charles Bradley and William Darling, are handsome and single.

Her excitement, however, is short-lived. The first time she encounters William Darling at the company’s opening party he mocks her name and insults her appearance. She then overhears a conversation in which he expresses some very unsavoury opinions about immigration. It becomes her mission to expose him for the prejudiced, narrow-minded man that he is and prevent him from fermenting racial intolerance in her town.

Things become complicated when Prue discovers that she is not immune from prejudice herself, and William Darling behaves in ways that seem completely out of character for him. Through a series of misunderstandings and embarrassing drunken outbursts Prue and William finally get to know one another and realise that first impressions can be very misleading.

Prude & Prejudice is a novella length romantic comedy (16,200 words).

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Escalator Etiquette: Are You a Cruiser or a Climber?

Here's my last published Heckler column, this one from 2003. There are some important insights to be gained from something as seemingly simple as escalator travel. Hope you learn something useful!

Cruising your way to the top
May 14 2003

You are how you behave on an escalator, says Janine Harrison.

Forget star signs and personality quizzes - I have discovered that the world is divided simply and irrevocably into cruisers and climbers. You can witness this on the escalators at any train station. There are those who queue to the left to take their place and ride the escalator all the way to the top. These are the cruisers.

Then there are those who queue to the right in order to continue walking to the top, even as the escalator is carrying them to their destination. These are the climbers.

These two basic categories transcend all class, gender and racial divisions. Anyone of any age can be a cruiser or a climber, but if you are a child cruiser, you are destined to become an adult cruiser.

You may join the climbers occasionally if you are running late for work, but even as you are bolting up the moving stairs you will be glancing in envy at those sedately cruising their way to the top. If you are a climber, you will never be content to stand still when you could be moving faster, and getting to wherever it is you are going a few seconds earlier. That is your nature.

Once you have started to notice which of these categories your friends, loved ones and co-workers fall into, the world will begin to make more sense to you. My own status as a cruiser has not blinded me to the good qualities of climbers, but for obvious reasons I cannot help but draw the conclusion that cruisers are of a higher intellectual and moral character than their climbing brothers and sisters.

Unlike cruisers, who have easily adapted to technological innovation, climbers have yet to grasp the fact that the stairs are moving for a reason, namely so that humans don't have to.

As a rule they tend to be more aggressive, impulsive and excitable than cruisers, and their attention spans are limited. They are not prone to reflection and find any opportunity to think, however brief, a little disconcerting.

The more primitive mindset of climbers also means they see the world as a competitive place where they must fight to get to the top. Each day they act out this struggle on the way to and from the workplace. Many times I have witnessed the sorry spectacle that ensues when some poor soul, unfamiliar with the etiquette of escalator travel, inadvertently blocks the climbers' queue, only to be pushed and trampled underfoot until someone in the cruiser lane kindly lets them in.

Compared with climbers, cruisers are much calmer, rational and generally good-natured. They recognise that it is futile to exert themselves unnecessarily only to wind up hot, sweaty and flustered before their day has even begun. They look benignly on the world about them and smile gently to themselves as the climbers rush past them each day. For, as many cruisers have come to realise, the climbers can huff and puff and push their way to the top as much as they want, but on the great escalator of evolution they will always be a few steps behind.