Whatever curious and interesting subject strikes my fancy, be it silly or serious, gets posted for your reading pleasure.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Do You Know You Have a Superpower?

In a previous post I shared a selection of an article written by author and blogger Kristen Lamb on how important it is for readers to support authors by writing reviews, (which you can read by clicking here.)

However, I thought I’d like to share a few more of my observations on the subject ...

To start with, did you know that YOUR book reviews can mean the difference between life and death for our books?

Yes, really.

Think about it.  What does an avid reader, or even an occasional one, see when they walk into a bookstore?  Heaven! (Of course, an author sees that too!)


But you know what else an author sees?

A graveyard.

Yes, a graveyard.  Sometimes I do.

Let me explain...

What happens when you walk into a bookstore?  You are met with a staggering display of shelf upon shelf of books, hundreds if not thousands of them, all waiting to be read, a sheer mass of volumes burying each other as though they were actually dumped into a mass grave.  What to pick from?   And that day you walk into a bookstore is only a ‘blip’ in the publishing year.  You have the cozy-up-with-a-book winter time, the spring printing season, summer time reads, the Christmas book blitz...

Goodreads's photo.
Yikes!  You get the idea.  The choice is endless and the books keep coming.  There are the blessed already-famous authors who sell thousands if not millions of books each year, then there are the indie and self-published authors thanks to services like CreateSpace, and of course, there are the shelves dedicated to the Glorious Dead ~ the classic literature section.  It never ends!

Oh, let’s not forget the other forms of entertainment we authors  compete with such as movies, music downloads, concerts, dining out...yes, authors have serious competition.  Our handful of books get buried by all that too, so when someone has actually decided they want a book, they face a huge mass all silently calling out from their shelfy-graves ~ “Read me!”

A reader is spoiled for choice these days: what book should they buy? 

Image result for parrot in a cageThe thing is, they certainly don’t want to waste what little ‘fun’ money they have after paying for all the necessities of life like the mortgage, food, the electricity and water bills, only to get stuck with a book they won’t like, maybe even end up hating! Not to mention no author wants to see their novel end up as poopie paper at the bottom of a bird cage.  (Yes, I’ve heard about one disgruntled reader doing that to a book...and no, thank goodness, it wasn't one of mine!)

So what do readers do?

They rely on word of mouth, vis  GOOD BOOK REVIEWS!

Which means, we authors also rely on them too.

Why?  Well, for a start...

Advertising. Does. Not. Work. Period.

People ignore ads for the simple reason they know it’s professionally driven hype to make any product from cat food, to canned soup, washing soap and books, look as appealing as possible so it will sell.  Nobody likes to be physiologically manipulated into liking something let alone feel like their being driven into buying something.

Sure, it’s one way to spread visibility about a book, but people just ignore ads after awhile.  People want truth, and let’s face it, we’ve all been ‘had’ by product ads every now and again.  People don’t want to be ‘had’ again.

Of course, ads popping up everywhere these days are just getting annoying!   We’re sick of them cluttering up websites, plus Facebook and Twitter feeds, eventhough they help provide these online services for free.  We just tune them out and ignore them, sometimes, we can get so annoyed, we refuse to buy the product being shoved in our face the whole time.

Plus, ads alone won’t help a reader figure out if they might like a book and help them decide if it’s worth spending their hard-earned money on because....

BOOK BUYING is a RISK for the wallet of the reader, we authors understand it's a pain.

There’s the Sacrosanct Code of never revealing any plot spoilers, so we have to use hazy descriptions and ‘trust me, you’ll love it’ speeches when writing or talking about our book, which makes all those blurbs and ads even more  annoying since they ask readers to buy something without getting to see what they’ve bought.  Book buying is a peculiar type of gambling after all ~"Would I like that book? What if I won't? Oh, maybe I'll give it a try..."  Will the reader hit that 'gosh, what a great book' jackpot? 

   And here we are, us authors, still prodding, "Come on, try it, you'll like it..."

 Sometimes, it sounds like we’re selling snake oil, which is why promotion gets stale.

So, ads are a wash out, which leads to another problem authors face: nobody really wants to listen to us authors after awhile either.

True, we all have to do a little self-promotion to help get our books noticed, even the mega-famous authors still have to go on the book tours, talk about  their latest works, blah blah blah, just like the film stars, then people begin to think...heck, this is the author talking...of course they’re going to sing nothing but praises about their own baby!

(Yes, our books are our children, and we think they are just wonderful.  We can’t help but see nothing but their good side, and we think everybody will love them too...coochie coochie coo!)


Uh oh.  That sounds like Auntie Margie taking out the family photos every single time you come to visit, or when she visits you.  Drives you bonkers, doesn’t it?

Soon, authors get tuned out just the same as all that hype-driven advertising.


The really frustrating part is, authors still have to do some amount of self-promotion whether they are famous or not just to get traction on a new book, writing the blurb that everyone is just going to ignore, publish posts and blog all over the place, only to get a brief look and then ignored.

(Did you notice all my little book covers lined up down the right side of this blog?  Nope?  My point exactly. And if you did, and just read this, I’ve probably annoyed you.  Another example of how frustrating this is for everyone!)

This is why GOOD BOOK REVIEWS are Absolutely Essential!

YOU have the awesome power and opportunity to literally save the life of a book and prevent it from getting buried in that bookstore.  Yes, you also have the power to breathe life back into a dying book on an author’s backlist simply by writing a good book review.

Yes, YOU the reader have a SUPERPOWER!


People simply pay attention to your reviews because they really want to know what other readers thought about a work.  They are mighty valuable second opinions that are not blurby blurbs put out by an annoying advertiser or the biased author, which is why people trust them more than ads or our constant ‘please read my book’ appeals.

When others see your reviews as a reader, it helps to lower that ‘gambling risk’ feeling of “Hmm, I don’t know what it’s about, haven’t heard much about it, should I spend my money on it?”  to “WOW! This book is getting a lot of reviews, everyone is reading it, I have to get it, it sounds like a great page-turner.”

Which reminds me...

I must mention one or two things that HURT authors  ~  the second-hand book market.  Every time a book makes it through the sellers, the stores get paid, etc, but the author doesn’t.  A writer gets paid the one time it was newly published, but after that, they are usually out of pocket with each second-hand sale.  The same pretty much goes for books purchased for a library:  there are one or two copies that have been bought, but hundreds of people get to read them, the author is out of pocket all those times they are borrowed too.  Same for when you borrow a copy from a friend, etc.

(Oh, and don’t get me started on all the freebies authors are expected to give out ~ so many free books, and sometimes we don’t get one helpful review in return. Ouch!  In the case when an author is given a few extra copies of their own books by the printers / publishers, they are meant to be given to reviewersWe aren’t running a non-profit charity!  Freebie books aren’t your due unless you  helped out with our research efforts and we wish to thank you with a copy, or, if you are a reviewer who is willing to actually write that review.  So if you have an author in your life and they give you a copy of their book, please do them the courtesy of writing a review.  Even when a book is given as a gift and you truly wish to support our work, please thank us with a review. )

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand not everybody can buy new books all the time, heck, I buy second hand books too, especially when they’re out of print.  But by writing a review about the book, you can help ‘pay it forward’ for the author and encourage others to buy the book new, especially when a book that’s out of print is later brought back into print.  It really does help!

Yes, dear reader, you can literally help make a book by your reviews, we authors cannot do it alone.

Paradoxically, book sales are not enough either!  Without reviews to help get our books seen above the grave pile, they die from neglect.  End of story. Forgive the pun.

Writerspace's photo. 
Frankly, a book review means the world to me because not only did you take the time to read my work, which I’ve spent years of joy, toil, tears and delight crafting into a work of art, be it fiction or non-fiction, but you also thought enough of the effort I put in by supporting my work and returning your appreciation by spending some of your own precious time writing a review.

 Yes, a your review means the world to me: you save me time from having to write those stupid blurbs and self-promotion posts that nobody can stand, which allows me to concentrate more on producing the books you want to read.  

Also, if an author knows they're on the right track with their writing via good reviews they will continue to write the books you like them to write!

A win-win situation! Authors can’t stress this enough. 

 Everyone is always asking "When's your next book coming out?" but nobody wants to help us get that next book out.  If we're stuck promoting, writing time is gone.  If we dont know you like what we write anyway, why keep writing in the same genre?  If we can't get our books noticed, they won't sell, so why keep going?

 Write us some good reviews, people!  You help us keep going!

Now that you know how important book reviews really are, where’s the best place to post them?


It is a shop after all, and by the time a perspective book buyer is browsing there, they pretty much have decided they want a book.  This is when they are really taking in all the reviews shared about a book!  The more good reviews a book receives, the more favourably it is treated in the algorithms that run the search engine on the site, making it even easier for readers to find our books.  So the more good reviews a book receives on Amazon so much the  better, for  these days a book can’t get enough reviews if it is to be seen and ‘resurrected’ above the grave pile.  Remember, you have that superpower to resurrect a book!

But what if you don’t want to support Amazon?  Don’t worry, so many people go to Amazon just for the reviews, then they go and buy or order the book they want at their local bookstores, and since we’re talking about supporting authors, it’s another win-win all around.  People who are going to shop at Amazon are going to shop there anyway, and those who won’t still go to Amazon for the reviews, so it’s one of the best places to give an author a boost.

Amazon is a great place for another reason: other sites such as WorldCat.org, the online interlibrary site post Amazon reviews for all the books listed in their catalogue, helping librarians to find new books for their collections, students to search out the material they need, and also other library users to see if they might like to borrow that book they heard about: that’s an awesome amount of visibility for our works. (I know, I said libraries can hurt sometimes, but it's still a venue of getting our book out there and read by people, who hopefully will write a review...etc.)

Another great place to post your reviews is on Goodreads.com, it’s a Facebook for bibliophiles!  Of course, do post your book reviews wherever you can, not just on Amazon, place it on Facebook, Twitter, you can also place reviews on WorldCat.org,  just plonk them anywhere you can think of because your family and friends are paying attention to you, and like I said, everyone is sick of us authors blathering.

Okay, we understand that you don’t have much time either these days, but we’re NOT asking for a 10,000 word essay! 

A few sentences will do, heck, a paragraph would really really be nice, and it doesn’t take that long, it doesn't! 

If you’re worried about or wondering if you can write something like that, please don’t.  You’ve actually had a lot of experience already in grade school with all those book reports you wrote, only this time, you get to talk about a book you loved and didn’t have shoved down your throat in a have-to-do homework assignment.

Plus, you are actually doing something very helpful and nice for someone, which means a lot to them.  You are helping authors, and also readers by making it simpler for them to find what book they would really like. 

 You have a superpower, remember that!  You as a review writer have serious clout!

Just write about what grabbed you: did it have a great story?  Was the plot action packed or emotionally charged?  Where the characters so life-like you couldn’t wait to see what they did next?  Did you like how the text flowed, or the manner of expression and description? Was it one of those stay-up-all-night reads that you couldn’t get to sleep over it?  Where there some surprises you didn’t expect to show up?  Sure, it’s okay to talk about a few things that you didn’t quite get, or perhaps didn’t like, other readers will see then that you are being honest and not just inflating the book either, (plus it will help us authors see if we’re getting it right, and if we need to improve elements in our writing), but generally concentrate on the positive things that really caught your attention.  If you’re stuck on how to write a review, just read a few.  It will give you an idea of how it’s done, maybe you can do it better than the rest, and that will help get you all fired up! 

BUT, pretty please, do not give spoilers!  Don't give away every singly detail and especially DO NOT tell how the thing will end, or you've just wrecked it for other people, it kills the book.  It is akin to throwing Kryptonite on your superpower.  Be Superman and help the book ~ don't be a Lex Luthor and kill it off!

But what if I don’t like a book?  Can’t I warn everybody not to buy it if I think it’s terrible?

Um, well, you could, but you can kill a book quicker by your silence than by a bad review.   Sometimes a book gets notoriety simply because it gets bad reviews too.

Image result for pet rockThen so many bad reviews can cultivate that strange variety of curiosity in people to where everyone has to see why it’s sooooo bad, it becomes a cult phenomenon!  It’s like the movie director Edward G. Wood and his wobbly creations, his movies were such awful outright groaners that they have become a novelty.  Gee, even a movie was made about him!  Yes, there is a market for the strange and the useless, people are willing to spend their money on stuff that’s a joke.  Think of ‘pet rocks’ and cans of Irish air that were sold one St. Patrick’s day, yep, empty cans.

 Dang, even I bought a book because I heard it was so bad and needed to see how bad it was...sucker!  That’s when bad publicity doesn’t work in the sense the reader has been conned, it is counter productive and helps sell the bad stuff.

It’s better to stay positive. 

If you want to help readers find good literature, stick to writing good reviews for what you believe are good books, and try not to accidentally promote the silly junk that’s out there.  It rests upon you to help determine what great and what’s trash in the book market, especially as any Joe Bloke who hasn’t got a clue can just throw out a book these days.  (Not to mention, if you write bad reviews all the time, you will come across as a meanie!)

Then, what if a book you read wasn’t to your taste?  You can see the book has merits, someone else might like it, you want to support the author, but you just can’t give it a good review?

Well, there’s a way you can write what I call a ‘Middling Review’ ~a bad review that’s actually ‘good’ for the author and help sell the book to people who would actually like it.

Write a GOOD BOOK REVIEW~ it’s a superpower! 

Monday, 1 February 2016

February 13th ~ Hell's Birthday?

Two years ago, I came across an interesting piece of Medieval trivia ~ that scholars once believed God created Hell on February 13th.
(Image: Painting depicting Hell, c. 1516
 This was news to me.  The bafflement was mighty!  After studying the Faustian legend  and writing about it in-depth to the point of severe academic obsession, starting with the historical Faust in the late Medieval Period who allegedly sold his soul to the devil and working my way up to Goethe’s epic closet drama published in the 19th century,  I wondered how come I never heard about this before?

Naturally, I had to do so digging and satisfy my curiosity, and lately have decided this might make an interesting blog post.

I began my information treasure hunt with Google, (where else?), and discovered a post dated February 13, 2014 on a Benedictine website stating that this hellish event was marked in medieval calendars.  Considering we are looking into the Medieval Period, we must not forget that in those days theological scholars believed they had also pinpointed the First Day of Creation according to their Biblical calculations based on the Julian calendar, which is currently 13 days behind ours. (So, 'Hell Day' would be the 26th of February in our modern calculation of time assuming my online source hasn't already adjusted the date.)

My theory is, if you can understand how they calculated the First Day, it should be fairly simple to see where ‘Hell Day’ originated.  Right?

Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with too much history. (Hopefully!)

We already know that the early and Medieval Christians believed the First Day began on March 25, the day Julius Caesar set forth as New Year’s Day on the calendar he instituted, yes, the Julian Calendar.  He chose that day as it was the Spring Equinox, however, as his calendar was not astronomically accurate, the equinox shifted over the centuries.  In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII instituted a new way of reckoning the year to correct the astronomical discrepancies they crept in, changing New Year’s Day to January 1.  We continue to use the Gregorian calendar to this day, which as mentioned, has skipped forward almost two weeks due to the Julian discrepancies.

 However, it is the Julian Calendar that still is of interest to us, and indeed, is still used by Orthodox Christians.  Despite the shift in the spring equinox, March 25th continued to regarded as the First Day of Creation in both the east and west during the Medieval period:  it seemed logical that Creation had to have taken place sometime within the life-giving season of springtime. The day was also mystically significant as it was the Feast of the Annunciation, the day of Christ’s conception.

Our information digging doesn’t stop there; the majority of the earliest Christians up until the Middle Ages believed that Creation began circa 5500 BC give or take a few years.  Yes, there were various calculations proposed, but for some time, this was the basic accounting of years according to calculations of the Septuagint.

Okay, enough of calendar history! 

According to the Medieval way of thinking, we have March 25 as the Day of Creation and also the year c. 5500 BC as the Anno Mundi to work with, so it is logical to assume scholars thought Hell must have been created around or slightly before this date and about the same year ~February to March.

Curiously, we find that in Dante’s time it was  believed the First Day of Creation took place when the sun was in the constellation Aries, a belief he recorded in his poetic classic ‘The Divine Comedy’ (1308-1320):

“The hour was morning’s prime, and on his way
Aloft the sun ascended with those stars (Aries)
That with him rose when Love Divine first moved
Those fair works: (...)”

          ~ Canto I, The Divine Comedy, (Harvard Classics, Vol. 20)


(Image: Dante holding a copy of The Divine Comedy next to the entrance to Hell, the seven terraces of Mount Purgatory and the city of Florence, with the spheres of Heaven above.  Fresco by Michelino, 1465)

Thanks to modern astronomy technology, we can now test out this information with some stellar experimentation!

Looking at the sky with the Stellarium app, we find that around 5500 BC the sun was indeed in Aries, right in sync with Dante’s fine verses.

Using this year, we can also see why theologians and scholars thought Hell was created in February.

Not only is the sun in Aries in 5500 BC, it is above the constellation Cetus ~ right over the head of the evil sea monster of Greek mythology that was destroyed by Perseus.  Remember the movie Clash of the Titans? 

 (Image: 12 PM screenshot of the sun Cetus, 5500 BC, from the Stellarium App.   Assuming the date February 13th is according to the Julian calendar, I’ve set the date in the App to the 26th, taking into account that we are now 13 days ahead in the Gregorian Calendar.)

Now, get this...

Cetus is also called the ‘Whale’ ~ a beast that was considered a symbol of Hell.

How did they come up with that?

In the Gospel of Matthew 12: 38-40 we find the following:

“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying: Master we would see a sign from thee. Who answering said to them: An evil and adulterous generation seeketh a sign: and a sign shall not be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet.  For as Jonas was in the whale' s belly three days and three nights: so shall the Son of man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.” (Bible: Douay-Rheims edition.)

Using the symbol of Jonah and the whale, Christ was foretelling His death, his following decent to the Underworld and His resurrection that would happen three days later.  In those days, both the Limbo of the just souls and the Inferno of the damned were part of ‘Hell’.  Christ descended to free the just souls, and it is also believed He entered Hell, commanding Satan and all the demons to bow before Him and acknowledge Him as the Lord God ~ the 'Harrowing of Hell'.  Of interest, when St. Jerome translated this passage of the Sacred Vulgate, he used the word ‘cetus’, the same word as the whale constellation.

(Image: the constellation Cetus as a fish-tailed monster published in 'Urania's Mirror', 1825)

I also found a Biblical Astronomy site online edited by Robert Scot Wadsworth that states the name Mira for the bright star in Cetus is from the ancient Hebrew ‘marah’ meaning ‘rebel’, ‘rebellious’, ‘disobedient’ ~ a fitting star to be found in the constellation representing Hell where Satan the rebel angel and all his followers are doomed to remain for all eternity!

In ancient texts it is common to see the gates of Hell depicted as a monster or whale swallowing up the damned.  You can find some incredible examples in the following  post published in the British Library Medieval Manuscripts blog: “Prepare to Meet You Doom”.  Oh heck, I'm borrowing one of their images... here it is:


 (Image: detail of demons throwing sinner in to the mouth of hell from the 'Taymouth Hours', Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 142 r.)
Detail of a bas-de-page scene showing the casting of souls into Hell, from the ‘Taymouth Hours’, - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2014/02/prepare-to-meet-your-doom.html#sthash.4K2slu3g.dpuf
Detail of a bas-de-page scene showing the casting of souls into Hell, from the ‘Taymouth Hours’, Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 142r. - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2014/02/prepare-to-meet-your-doom.html#sthash.4K2slu3g.dpuf

There we have it!  Since it is believed Hell was created for the devil and his angels before God turned His attentions to creating the physical cosmos, if we take 5500 BC and observe the sun’s position in Cetus in February, we can see how the scholars of those times arrived at their calculation, February being before March, the month they believed God began his Great Work of Creation.  Even when adjusting the 5500 BC assumed date of Creation back and forth a decade or two, the sun is still in Cetus, the Mouth of Hell.  How they arrived at the date, the 13th, I’m not sure: that’s another mystery to unravel, which I shall leave to the experts in biblical astronomy.

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