Music: Most Recent Pickups

Because I don’t tend to stray far outside without headphones on, some form of music playlist is involved in most things that I do. When I’m at an event, I leave them in my pocket or at home just because I’ve decided to exist at the whims of the DJs for that span of time, and it’s not like I’m going to whip out my laptop and do any transcribing.

But what to stream through the falling-apart Skull Candy headset, with its band temporarily patched using Scotch tape? I survived a recent stint with a hostile client by listening to The Sisters of Mercy on the buses, from York Region all the way to Lakeshore; “Sometimes in the world as-is you’ve got to shake the hand that feeds you…” I was also briefly on an Autumn’s Grey Solace kick because that’s what was needed to chill out. I wear most everything thin with over-listening so it becomes necessary to grab something new, or at least new-to-me.

Here are a few recent pick-ups. I realized I had to subtract one in case it’s not supposed to be public knowledge that I have it; you know, advance review copies, privacy of the artist, all that.


 

Listen to the Scatman: The Jazz Vocal/Piano of John Larkin

I don’t have a lot of Jazz in my collection, because that’s just never a direction I went with music listening as a younger person. I do get snippets of it because it’s a known part of popular culture, and I hear jokes at the expense of the genre, most recently on the TV program Scorpion. But I do already have two albums from John Paul Larkin, who you may already know as Scatman John. This release is not meant to be much like Scatman’s World or Take Your Time; aside from the last track which is flavoured somewhat more like his other albums, the most this has in common is, that’s John Larkin and he’s scatting. You’ll get the big Jazz solos, the bouncing bass lines and piano going all over the place, but I get the impression this is where John Larkin pays homage to the kind of music he enjoys most, and dare I say it, he feels a bit more at home here. Even though Scatman’s World showed up with perfect timing, in just the right part of the 90s for that album to be right at home. If I don’t listen to this as much as I could, it’s because as a listener I find this rather distant from most of my collection; however, it’s quite accessible to this casual listener. Purchased on iTunes.


Sonic Foundation – Helalyn Flowers

Let’s just roam as far away from the previous entry in the list, right? You’d think. While John Larkin’s entry into this list was a spur-of-the-moment iTunes purchase inspired by a Tumblr post, I pre-ordered Sonic Foundation and listened to the Beware of Light single many times before the album arrived. So any version of “Beware of Light” and “Karmageddon” is pretty familiar to my ears, and I wanted to hear the rest of the album. I mostly listen to this on the elliptical (a handles-free stepper which, when paired with a simple musician’s stool, works like soft-core spinning), and when working the crossbar for an upper chest/biceps/triceps workout. This is an Alfa Matrix jam, boom boom boom. I know the label more from one of the other entries on this list, and also Junksista who follows my Twitter account for some reason (not complaining, just… I’m not cool am I?) The production and mixing are tight enough to my ears that nothing distracting happens, and I can listen to this thing end to end without being jarred out of whichever perpetual daydream I’m stuck in that day. Available on order from Bandcamp in a deluxe format, among others.


Paper Dolls – Ayria

I still remember my first Ayria show; should be at the Savage Garden. The prime example of awkwardly approaching a stranger for an awkward attempt at awkward conversation, and every show since I’ve been lining up outside the door just waiting for the newest opportunity to showcase my socially challenged nature all over again. Totally worth it, every time. That first meetup and show was about… three albums ago, now. Paper Dolls feels so far like the best put together Ayria album there has ever been, the best end-to-end cohesive collection of songs. I find where I want to stop is really somewhere on the list of remixes that came with the special edition–but that’s my fault for importing all the songs of both discs into one convenient folder, so that it’ll just keep playing through them all. As for the album proper, it’s what I will take out on walks, for distance or for planting. As with Sonic Foundation, I had the early single Feed Her To The Wolves already and was quite familiar with a couple of tracks, but the rest of the album works so well that I don’t even want to skip the songs I’ve already heard too many times. I can picture the next live shows where “Fading From Me” is the song you’d traditionally wave a lighter for. I guess these days, with indoor fire safety rules and also fewer lighters, we’ll hold up our smartphones. Available on Bandcamp.


My Dear Violet – Amy’s Arms

Close to the time I crowd-funded The Gift-Knight’s Quest… well, it was the Year of the Crowd Fund for me, because I was at it with Auxiliary Magazine, I was at it for myself, I was trying to support/spread the word about other projects (such as The Scarlet Fever), and then there’s the debut album from Amy’s Arms. If it seems like I’m too reticent about ever crowd funding again just from one campaign, it’s because even though I wasn’t working for any band I still felt like I was closely watching and exerting effort for four or five campaigns within a compressed time frame, only one of which I (dis)organized myself; if I did it again, I would refuse to do it alone, and follow a more Johnny-Hollow-like plan. But you’re here for the music in relation to my life, so I should get on with that. It’s been a pleasure watching this group grow and find itself, trying out different contributors, different ideas, different permutations of the core sound. I have this album for walking and planting, too, and do have a listen of the single they released after the album. From that single Bandcamp page you should easily find the link to the new album (if not, here you go).


And for me, four is a big number of new albums to have acquired at once. I expand my collection slowly, as the budget allows, between iTunes and the occasional autographed hard copy. And as you can see, it’s often a matter of pre-ordering or supporting the album’s creation, then waiting for the musicians to make sure the album’s properly finished before they let the world listen. I have the tendency to fall back on the same things that have worked for me before, to the point that they don’t work quite the same. Four, though, is a big number of full-length albums that should last me a good while.

 

Charging up the caffeine meter

There is no actual “caffeine meter”, which makes sense because I’m not an android, cyborg, or other advanced inorganic mechanism. However, I refer to “charging up the caffeine meter”, generally followed by a percentage, when I’m knowingly indulging in beverages which would probably do just that if I was a machine and did have a “caffeine meter”.

Over time, though, flavour does win out. Otherwise, I could find a strong and readily available source in most energy drinks, which I don’t touch unless I have a really late evening at a club to cope with.

Here are a few different go-to sources for me.

Ethiopian coffees. I could just say “specialty beans” but the overwhelming majority of specialty beans I ever buy are Yirgacheffe, Guji, and generally Ethiopian coffees. Can also include Arabica beans, if you want to widen the scope a bit further. What I could probably do is narrow down the list of coffees I can’t have, but then I would have to run into a lot of heat-inducing, sweat-inducing brews in the course of making a checklist. I prefer a conservative approach where I go to what I know works, and reach out for something new every once in a while. This is on the top end of price and I couldn’t possibly afford something this good every week, so it’s a once-in-a-while indulgence or treat.

Supermarket blends. Supermarkets with a selection of different coffee beans; this is for the inexpensive every-day home office brew. 50% of the bag will be filled with espresso beans, and the rest layered with different flavoured coffees, like vanilla, chocolate, Irish cream. Pour into the grinder, stir a bit to mix up the beans, and grind ’em all together. Brew like regular coffee. A bigger hit of caffeine than a regular cup, but with the added flavours and mixing, not quite as powerful as drinking a rather tall or grande espresso.

Discount bags. For when I really need coffee but I’m not at a place with a selection of beans or a grinder. Quite often the poorest tasting coffee I’ll ever have, but it does the job.

Ad Astra 2016

I was only briefly at Ad Astra 2016, but I made the optimal use of my short time there.

It was my first outing at the convention, and I’m convinced not only that I should have attended this many times before, but that I should hope to get a table for the next one within the one-hour time span I’m told they can sell out.

Ad Astra is a convention with a more literary focus than some others I’ve attended; it covers the broad enough spectrum of sci-fi and fantasy, and the vendor tables involve a lot of publishers in these genres, a lot of booksellers, and some indie authors. But without the utter huge size of a Word on the Street or a Fan Expo, where I could easily get lost. Someone told me I could practically “do a panel”, but I don’t feel like I’m there yet.

Planting seeds

I’m still intermittently thinking about the speech I should write for May 15. Yes, it’s a little over two weeks away and I haven’t even started.

You should probably know that this is par for my academic career. At my worst, I tried to write a final assignment 15 minutes before it was due, arrived in class late and got a C-. At best, I would routinely churn out essays in the Scott Library a couple of hours before they were due, and it just worked, because I had spent enough time thinking about it and the worst you could say about the product was “needs an editing pass”.

No one’s grading this speech. If you are, don’t tell me unless you want to ruin the experience. I am going to have cue cards, and I am going to fill ten minutes as best I can. But I will share one of the early ideas I had that didn’t take off.

Because I’ve spent the past couple of weeks doing a lot of planting, I wanted to talk about all the firsts I had been through, and how I was planting seeds. Like the first manuscript, the first draft, the first publishing… just a faithful planting without knowing what seeds will sprout.

But that’s not where I’ve been for a while with the book I’m showcasing that day. I planted those seeds in 2006, and planted more a couple of years later. Now I’m tending to the harvest and planning the next planting.

I’ll probably read something short from the book, with context.

Another book spotlight and promo

I’m mostly busy with planting and zine stuff this week, and reviewers need time to read the book before they post anything. But in the meantime, some promos are beginning to surface, and they bring some brief topics to mind.

Here’s the latest spotlight/promo on My Life, My Books, My Escape.

If you have a book trailer uploaded anywhere while you’re promoting, and soliciting any kind of blogger attention, try not to forget that the trailers exist even if it’s been a year or two. That may sound like common sense, sure, but I have to admit that when I was first offered such author spotlights I forgot about them. Yeah, the things I had specially filmed, and backgrounds specially illustrated, and a whole afternoon spent stuttering through different takes; the first time I agreed to a promo, I didn’t mention them. See if you can get them in the post.

Some bloggers won’t post two trailers. In this case, you may have to choose a favourite. While I like both of mine, I think things really came together well for Trailer 2, so that’s my go-to. Of course, if you only have one trailer, or only one newest that’s your auto go-to, you don’t have to think much about this. And if you don’t have a book trailer, this won’t come up.

Author Interview on Book Whore blog

Behold, the latest interview I’ve participated in.

Excerpt:

What do you find most distracting when you write?

I have to find a way not to get caught up in other people’s energy. People don’t intend to distract me, but if they’re there I think about them. This is why I tend to think of group sessions as socials, most of the time; unless all of us at the session agree to plug into whatever we’re doing and not stop to have a chat, I’m there to have a chat. And if I managed to get VR glasses in addition to noise canceling headphones, just to zone in to my work in any space, I fear I would become more susceptible to pranks. I know some of my fellow writers all too well!

The courage required for author interviews

When you fill out an author interview, you’re putting yourself out there. People value frankness and authenticity just as ever, if not more, in features today; if I want people to be interested in reading my interview, I want to answer questions honestly and as best I can.

There’s a real risk in that. I don’t think I need to remind you, but in the interests of making the post longer, I’ll do it anyway. You’re putting yourself into your answers. You know that someone reading any answer has the power to decide they think your answers are disingenuous, pseudo-intellectual, faked; you know that you can’t directly control the way they view your answers. You can control your answer, you can phrase it as best you can, and from there, you’re at the mercy of the reader.

Is this new, though? If you’ve written a book, fiction or non, and you’ve actually published it anywhere or otherwise made it available to readers, you’ve already done something similar. You put yourself out there the moment you decide to show those words to other people, or even to yourself. Every time anybody reads anything I write, they have the power to conclude to themselves that I’m a complete fraud without talent or skill. When I fill out an author interview, it’s the same thing. They could decide that in their view, I don’t qualify as a “real” author. Sometimes they tell me and other times I just think it.

I’m going to tell you right now, I definitely don’t have any special talent or skill at fielding destructive criticism. I acknowledge the risk, I understand how people can be, and I wouldn’t call it carelessness because I certainly care. It’s just that the type or degree of caring didn’t happen to stop me, or that there are certain other things I care about more. When one thing is cared about more than another or given a higher priority, the other thing, the other caring doesn’t vanish. It’s not a balance sheet, it’s your feelings. And I find more often than not, you don’t have to view this as carelessness, you can view it as courage.

If I did have any remotely helpful observation to make, it’s that this sort of discomfort is situated in time. The time span may feel like forever, but that’s because of how uncomfortable it is. The good thing about that is, all the other things we have to deal with in life eventually just become more important, and the sting fades as it becomes less “now”, less important. You still feel it at the time because you have feelings, which isn’t any kind of weakness at all. Matter of fact, I view it as a positive, desirable character trait.

Author Spotlight on NYA READS

An author spotlight went up today over on NYA READS. It contains a synopsis, a trailer, a link to the Goodreads giveaway, and the first chapter as an excerpt. If you’re curious, you can find it by following this link.

Goodreads Giveaway!

I woke up today to find 17 new people having marked my book as “to-read” on Goodreads.

It took me a moment to remember that I arranged a Goodreads Giveaway, it was approved, and it begins today.

There are three autographed paperbacks up for grabs, and the giveaway ends on May 13, 23 days from now.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Gift-Knight's Quest by Dylan Madeley

The Gift-Knight’s Quest

by Dylan Madeley

Giveaway ends May 13, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

 

In the meantime, I had better finish some more transcripts and save up for postage. I have one week shy of a month to work with, so I’m sure I’ve got this covered.

Book Review Requests

selfie with glasses

If, like me, you have difficulty waiting for something to happen, you need some form of busy work. I already discussed why this shouldn’t be about trying to merge promo with all your usual social outings and also not seeking out questionable paid services that may net you nothing, so I would like to go over one thing you could be doing instead: sending book review requests to bloggers. I’ve done this in smart ways, and I’ve done this in dumb ways, and here are a few generally reliable tips.

Pre-compiled review blogger lists

If I’m not using a list compiled in someone’s blog post or on a website, I’m using Google and trying to remember whether or not I already sent something to that blogger. I’m also concerned my search terms aren’t the best, regardless of how many permutations of search term I try.

There are pre-compiled blogger lists on some sites. The Book Review Directory is the one I most recently used, which tries to keep up-to-date and also divides the list into subsections. I crawled along Fiction – Fantasy for a couple of days last week.

Check the time of the list’s last update

I’ve noticed there’s quite a turnover in the book review blogger world. It makes sense to me. Thousands upon thousands of writers, self-published or not, flood the field with review requests in the desperate hope of getting some positive attention, some more Amazon or Goodreads reviews, whatever.

The other thing is, it’s not like you want a set number of reviews before stopping. You want as many as you can get. That means no matter how many book review bloggers spring up, I don’t foresee there ever being too many for the insatiable hunger of today’s writers on the internet. If a hundred new book review blogs came up that didn’t immediately rule out my submission, it just means I have 100 more requests to send, which could take me a couple of days.

But my point is, a new book review blog opens for submissions, they get swamped, the reviewer has a job or jobs or school and work; life suddenly gets busy, and at some point they may re-evaluate whether they really have the time and energy to run a book review blog. They close for submissions, and maybe they never catch up with that backlog, and maybe the blog doesn’t ever become active again. The only obligation anybody has to keep a blog running is an obligation to one’s own feelings, which can shift at any time.

As a result, if your top search result is a handy list that was written in 2010 and hasn’t been updated since, prepare to encounter a lot of broken links or closed blogs. The ones that stuck around are probably listed on a newer such directory/masterpost.

Google lets you specify how recent you need the search results to be. I found that one list I used from 2015 was still okay, but I didn’t try anything older than that. Once you’ve run your initial search, find the tab that reads “Search Tools” and click that. You should then see three new drop-down menus reading “Any country”, “Any time”, “All results”, because that’s the default setting. I clicked on “Any time” and chose “Past year”. If you want to expand the time frame you can enter a custom range.

Be careful with your default email

If you write a personal email for every book review request, you’ve avoided this problem, instead opting for the problem of taking longer to send out large numbers of requests. And you’re probably right, but being eternally impatient, instead I have advice for people on how to carefully manage their Default Email. That should be the one you only dare use whenever a blogger simply says they’re open to submissions, but doesn’t have a form on their site, or any content that otherwise narrows down the few things they want to see in their email.

If they have an outline or numbered list of things they want to see in an email, follow that. They’re handing you a guideline on what they want to see, and just give them what they want. They suggest that format for a reason, and they’ll appreciate it. If they aren’t specific at all, they’re going to get your Default Email.

That said, make sure the Default Email gets tweaked every time in any way it needs to be. Look at one I’ve used recently, with mixed success:

Hello [NAME],

I have a fantasy for adults that was released on May 28, 2015, and I was wondering if you could fit it into your review queue. It’s 92,000 words or about 288 pages, and I have it in epub, mobi, or PDF depending on what format you prefer.
I’ve sent out over a hundred review requests since before the book came out, so I understand that if your queue is backed up for 3 to 6 months or more, it’s not really a problem for me–I just require reviews, and your blog came up in The Book Reviewer Directory under “Fantasy”. I don’t think people last very long in the “review request” game if they can’t be patient with bloggers who are usually swamped.
So, about the book.
Synopsis:

When a young woman named Chandra takes the throne under suspicious circumstances, she has to solve the deaths of the King and Queen before those responsible get to her. She has to maintain peace in an empire where people consider her the number one suspect.

Derek is summoned by an official letter and his people’s tradition to be Chandra’s personal guard. He’s immediately suspicious given that her family ruined his once-noble ancestors, but if there’s no way to escape the world’s largest empire, what might he do to turn the tables?

The first of a trilogy, but the only one published so far. “The Crown Princess’ Voyage” has been written but the plot arc of the first book should stand more or less on its own.

I have enclosed it in .mobi format. Let me know if you’re interested and/or need any more information.
Thank you!

The things I put in bold up there are things that need to be regularly changed or omitted. If the blogger doesn’t specify what format they like, I don’t enclose anything, and I leave that second bolded phrase intact. I may leave that second bolded phrase in there no matter what, because maybe someone’s about to inform me that my usual .mobi attachment is corrupted, and I just want them to know I have it available in different formats.
I don’t have enough spare paperbacks to mail free to just anybody anymore, but during my first ever reviewer sweep I did mention that as an option.

Get used to time frames of over a month

If you have a good reason to specify a hard review deadline, then you have to work with that and you have to let the reviewer know what time frame you have in mind.
If, like me, you really do just need more reviews and you’re flexible on the time, and someone says “it sounds interesting but due to my queue it may be 2 or 3 months, is that okay with you”, the correct answer is yes, 100% of the time. Reviewers take a long time because it’s necessary, they’re not doing it to inconvenience you.
This is why one of your first blog reviewer sweeps may happen when the book’s not even out yet, when you want to time the review to its release or shortly afterward. I tried that, with less luck than I’m having this time around. Some blogs don’t actually want a submission unless it’s an Advance Review Copy; I recall at least one reviewer wanting nothing older than a year, which means I was potentially there in the nick of time

When a blogger politely declines, politely thank them for getting back to you

It helps them to know that even if you used your Default Email quite a lot, you’re not a bot or a script. It might build rapport for the future. Also, some blogs offer promo options other than reviewing your book, and it helps not to rule that out. Maybe they’ll offer you a guest post, or an interview, or depending on whether you’re comfortable with that, a giveaway. Getting reviewed just happens to be the opportunity you were pursuing first. In my most recent reviewer run, I’ve had two of these “positive declines”. One blogger wants to know if I’d like to do any other type of promo, and another mentioned my book in great detail in his podcast free of charge.