Monday, August 29, 2011

Sweet Sacrifice: Ethics and E-Publishing

I'm not one to socialize, especially these days. But after a blow up this weekend on Facebook that surprisingly sucked me in, I thought I'd pose a question to the readers of this blog. It goes something like this: What is acceptable conduct in e-publishing, and what should be considered unethical?

With more and more authors doing their own book covers these days, problems are bound to occur because we're all drawing upon the same pile of stock imagery. Here's the dilemma in a nutshell: two ladies fell in love with the same photo, and decided to use it as the focal point of their composition. Had they not known each other, it’s a moot point. One person using a stock image doesn’t preclude the other from using it. That’s the risk that comes with using stock; authors are free to rip off your idea at will, and it happens all the time. Just go to the Kindle store and look at all the similar works with nearly identical covers.

But what if these two people do know each other, and even worse, are friends? To avoid any hard feelings, let's say their names are Sally and Brenda (not their real names). After digging through the stock archives for days, Sally stumbles across the perfect image, incorporates it into her design, and slaps it on her e-book. After showing it to her friend Brenda, she also falls in love with it, and decides to use it as well. Brenda changes a few elements, but says nothing about it until just before releasing her own book, and lucks out when her friend Sally does not see it on her blog. So far, so good.

Trouble is, Sally eventually does see it, on the morning of Brenda’s release no less, and nearly spits out her coffee. The resemblance is striking; feelings of betrayal and disgust surface, and are almost too much to bear. "I thought she was my friend." She wipes away the tears.

Legally, no laws have been broken, and although it may cost Sally and Brenda their friendship, both are welcome to rip off each other’s ideas as often as they like. Fair game.

But what if that friend also happens to be your publicist? That's right, the one in charge of running your blog tour. The one promoting you and hoping for a little self-promotion in return. Can you begin to imagine the conflict of interest that this represents? Forget about Hurricane Irene, that's what descended upon the writers' group this weekend. Apparently her publicist gushed over the cover several times, so in a way it wasn't surprising when the love interest from Sally’s cover emerged on Brenda’s.

And that's where I draw the line.

It's not OK for a promoter to create a book cover using identical stock imagery as their client, unless there is an agreement in place beforehand (or unless they want to commit professional suicide as my friend aptly put it). If you don't want the same thing done to you, then don't do it to someone else, especially those close to you. Since there is already a business relationship in place, the publicist should not engage in any practice that marginalizes their client.

"Borrowing" ideas can still land one in legal trouble, though. The base image that anchors the cover is only the starting point. Over the course of designing a cover, the image will most likely be cropped, have filters applied to it, have the brightness and contrast tweaked, etc. Any author is free to crop the image in the same fashion, apply the same filters, and so on; but if they're going to play this game, they had better know what they're doing. They still must build upon the original photo; they cannot use the enhanced image that another author has already tweaked if they have access to it. Otherwise, they will leave themselves open to a world of hurt, and not to mention, bad publicity.

As the story goes, Brenda eventually did change her cover, which could have been avoided if she had simply communicated with her client. Perhaps Sally would have agreed to let her use it, perhaps not. Either way, Brenda would have been better off if she had talked to her. Sadly, I know them both, and think that deep down inside Brenda means well. It's just too bad it all came to this.

One thing that can't be ignored is the gold rush mentality that is sweeping through the industry. Amateurs and professionals alike are churning out as much content as they can that is often poorly conceived, edited, or may very well "borrow" far more than just the face of an author's book. Unfortunately I think we're in for more of this, not less.

I truly hope fellow authors think before they act, because it’s their reputation at stake. Potential customers will fall off like the plague if a work is plagiarized or of low quality. And don't think for a moment that all of those fake 5-star reviews from your friends will help one bit (just ask Jacqueline Howett). Customers are savvy, and can spot a bogus review from miles away.

Ok, I've said my piece, now it's your turn. Please don't ask for the real names of the people involved; I will not disclose them.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Canterbury Coven - Chapter 1: Delilah

‘Twas an accident, I must confess. Not sure where to begin, so I will just jump in. I caught her spying me through the window that eve as I poured over edits of The Canterbury Chronicle. As I hurried to bolt the door, the pale shadow slipped inside, combing her blonde locks with her fingers.

“Do not be frightened, kind sir. I am an admirer,” she murmured, making sure I could see her fangs. “Pity I have savored your work from afar, pondering every word, every subtle turn of phrase. No longer.” She advanced me. “Is that tomorrow’s edition?”

“Yes.” I steadied my trembling hands.

“Good. I have a story for you. The wisdom of an old, enlightened soul,” she mused.

“Very well.” I backed into my desk. “Who would you like me to interview?”

“Myself, of course.” She lifted her crimson dress, and eased into the chair.

“Right.” I lumbered around the desk, and plopped down in my padded armchair. “Well then, tell me about yourself.” I grabbed a quill.

“Hopefully you will not ask my age,” she smiled, her gold eyes sparkling.

“How about your name?”

“There have been many over the years: Evaline, Saffrey, Marion, bitch, hag, slut…but you may call me Delilah.”

“So, Deliliah-”

“Your eyes do not deceive you.” She cut in.  “I am a vampire. For the past month I have lived among you, but I am not the only, nor the eldest.”

Icy beads of sweat trickled down my spine. “There are more?”

“Ask yourself, Mr. Bundt: is it a coincidence that The Chronicle is an evening paper?”

“It is my paper. I do with it as I please,” I balked.

“Then why not a morning paper?” The vampire eyed me curiously. “How did you arrive at this?”

“We conducted a survey, asking subscribers which they preferred.”

“And?” Delilah crossed her arms.

“Overwhelmingly they prefer an evening paper, but that’s besides the point. I myself prefer an afternoon deadline so that I do not stay up all night.”

“Yet despite such deadlines, you still find yourself laboring through the night. This I know. I have been watching you the past several moons,” she scoffed at me.

“So you have come to Canterbury to prove the conspiracy of the evening post?” I set down my quill.

“I am here to offer names, and in addition, my story,” she replied.

“I cannot afford to become the target of some secret society that does not wish to be exposed. If they do exist, they will come for you as well.”

“One can only hope,” Delilah grinned.

“Not another word.” I stood. “A pleasure meeting you, Delilah, but I am better off entertaining the notion that there are no vampires living in Canterbury, even if they do in fact exist. Good evening.” I nodded.

In the blink of an eye, she jumped across the desk and seized my neck. “As if you have a choice in the matter,” she sneered. “Do not make me stain my dress. I have grown quite fond of her. Tell me, Edgar, how is your darling Maggie? I am told she has a birthday in the coming days. I will craft her a gift that she never forgets.”

“You wretched whore,” I choked.

“Please, call me Delilah.”

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Enura - Chapter 77: Checkmate

Before he saw the shadow upon him, something plucked Lawson from the ground. He looked up and gasped, dangling from the vampire’s outstretched hand. Talmot in turn wavered in Essinger’s grasp, who held fast to one of the whipping tendrils. “We shall ferry you to the blossom, where you can unleash your wrath,” said the Muslim.

Scores of dismembered bodies flashed by. Lawson’s stomach plummeted as Essinger released the vine, and latched onto another racing by.

“How many arrows remain in your arsenal?” Talmot asked.

“Just one.”

“Then we shall pass her over to maximize our contempt. Impervious she is to swords and arrows, but perhaps you can be more persuasive.”

As they glided through the air, the hellflower turned and scorched them with its fiery breath. The vine snapped, dumping the trio into a pile of mangled corpses.

“Never have I seen so many vampires felled at once, even by my own hands.” Lawson tossed severed heads and limbs aside. “Yet I am struck by a sadness that I have not felt since the hunt began.” He fled the blast.

A spiderroot scattered over the carnage, cutting off his advance. Talmot and Essinger leapt forward, unsheathing their swords, and chopping it to bits.

“She cowers inside.” Talmot flipped it over, and ripped out its heart.

“How certain are you?” Lawson asked.

“As certain as I can be.” The vampire took a bite, and spit it out. “Besides, where else would she be hiding?” Talmot pushed him aside as a crypt rein speared down. “We must keep moving if we hope to defeat her.”

“No, this is our best opportunity.” Essinger pulled counsel closer when the scythe failed to extract itself. The crusader grabbed a bony column and nodded.

Talmot sliced the line, sending the two skywards. “My prayers go with you, brothers.”

The world flashed by like a dream, the stage illuminating, no shadow too deep. Lawson spotted her watchful eyes in the flower below, colorless hollows that would not be soon forgotten. Unsure how much of himself reflected back at that moment, he hesitated to commit his final arrow.

“Slay her now, Lawson. For Vissorouy,” Essinger urged.

“For Vissorouy.” Lawson nodded, and pulled the trigger.

The creature recoiled into the bud as it snapped shut; but the hunter’s uncanny delivery allowed the silver arrow to sneak through. It slipped inside and detonated, blasting petals from the stem, and forcing its master onto the crimson stage. Her refuge in shambles, the translucent ovule rose, towering over the vampire legions. She was tall and slender, tresses of transparent flesh draped over her like a dress. The ovule stepped forward, and reclaimed her arm from the tainted soil before her. She pressed it against her shoulder, strumming her lithe fingers until it was firmly reattached.

Though her attention diverted, she was no less deadly. Her cruel stinger impaled vampires as they pounced. The barbed tail rose over her willowy frame, making her appear even taller.

She knocked Talmot aside as he buried his blade into her neck. “Are you still in need of the lesson?” She yanked the blade from her throat, and tossed it into the fire. “Impervious I am to earthly designs. Come closer, I beg you.”

Lawson rose from the carnage, watching the last of the bony tendrils sag before him. “From pile to pile I wander, no end in sight.”

“A merry time indeed.” Essinger grinned.

The hunter tossed his bow aside in disgust. If only he had been spared another hour, he could have forged the killing blow. Still he felt a burden lift from the land, noting the spiderwood wilting around him. “Her magic has faltered.” He rushed forward. “Culverins!” he shouted.

But Lord Vangley had already arrived at the same conclusion. His legions hauled the cannons into range, and uncorked the barrels. “I collected your stones for you, Enura. Now choke them down.” He signaled.

The culverins fired as one, blasting the wicked one asunder. The army took cover as the green stones obliterated what was left of the old manor and the forest around them. Fragments flickered and went out, surrendering their magical potential.

The ovule’s head rolled to the elder’s feet. “Checkmate.” Lord Vangley stabbed down with his canesword. Her pale face bubbled over, steaming in the moonlight, and dissipating in a cloud of vapor.

“We have won the night!” Talmot embraced Essinger with his one good hand.

The patriarch raised his sword. “Victory,” he said softly. Vampires cheered and mobbed the visionary.

“Well done, my lord.” Olivia bowed slightly.

But the hunter lingered on the battlefield. “What have we truly accomplished?” He scratched his chin.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Enura - Chapter 76: Hellflower

“I thought I’d stick around awhile longer to adorn my wall with your head.” Talmot launched himself into the trees as the rooftop collapsed.

Essinger followed, swinging around a lower branch, and mounting its perch. He reached for his sword, but instead groped air.

“Perhaps I should return this to you. It served me well in your absence.” Talmot tossed down the sword. “What became of you anyways, old man? Out whoring?”

“Too dangerous these days.” The crusader frowned. “You could catch something if you are not careful.” He sneezed.

A crimson bulb of flesh rose from the ruins, uncurling and exposing rows of sharp teeth. A translucent form huddled below, beckoning the vampires closer.

“‘Tis not the best view from the bottom of the ocean, so I decided to go topside for some devilish play. I prayed for a mermaid or two, but all I got were horny eels and hungry sharks.” Essinger savored the blade in his hands.

“Foolish infidel. Repent to Allah, and he will give you 72 virgins once I cut off your head,” Talmot grinned. “Otherwise, one of those decomposing corpses back in town will have to suffice.”

“I’m fond of such corpses. One in particular.” He pondered her sweet smile.

Talmot and Essinger jumped the next tree over, as the hellflower scorched the branches with its volcanic breath.

“Essinger?” Lord Vangley stepped forward, his mouth agape.

“My lord, look out!” Lawson knocked him aside as the wicked vine snapped down, and severed a guard in two. Woven into the hellflower’s stem, bony scythes flailed the vampire legions as they swarmed. “We must view the stage from safer ground if I am to unleash the fury of my bow.” He helped Vangley to his feet, and scurried away. “Laurent?” he called.

The skeletal whip lashed at their retreat, burying itself in the trunk of an old tree. Vangley’s guard rushed forward, slicing the vine to pieces, the bones of its victims strewn across the forest floor.

“Perhaps there is safety in the trees, the very ones we tried to extinguish,” said the elder.

A root burst out of the ground, tripping the patriarch and his counsel. Slats in the base of a pine snapped open, its myriad eyes throbbing with a tawny gleam. The creature yanked its parasitic tendrils from the tree, and lumbered forward.

“Be still. You cannot outrun spiderwood,” Lawson whispered. “On my mark, roll to your side.”

Two children scampered by, torches crackling in their hands.

“Dionte, Deverrell, no!” Lord Vangley uttered.

The spiderroot pounced on the easy kill, scattering over top the twins, and snapping its jaws. Abruptly the woodcraft faltered, flames devouring its extremities. The creature screeched one last time before the miscreants kicked it off them.

“It’s mine.” Dionte came running with a parcel of flesh.

“No, mine.” Deverrell snatched it back.

Suddenly two stone lions jumped out of the forest, knocking the vamplings off their feet, and seizing the heart of the wood beast. They ripped it apart, devouring the soft, dark flesh before eyeing the vampires.

“Lawson!” Laurent called from the tree above. He unfolded a gray cloth, and tossed down the crossbow.

“I was saving this for Enura.” Lawson glanced at the hellflower in the distance. “But you will do just fine.” He pointed the bow and fired.

A lion jumped clear as the other exploded in a hail of rock and dust. The hunter adjusted his aim and fired again, catching the beast flat-footed, and shattering its lower extremities.

Stone stards cut into the trees, waking more spiderwood from their slumber. Dionte and Deverrell screamed, their arms and faces bloodied by the keen deluge. Before Lord Vangley could react, a shadow slipped out of the darkness, scooped up the twins, and ran towards him. The stranger deposited the miscreants at his feet, and glared at him with her green eyes.

“Olivia?” Vangley gasped.

“What fool goes into battle without a medic?” She uncoiled her scarf. “My elixirs are just as potent as my poison.”

“I will not have you here. Leave!” he commanded.

“Tell me something, my lord. Whose misguided notion was it to bring children to the battlefield?” Olivia asked.

“Field experience is invaluable if one wishes to become a man.”

“But real men use diplomacy. Your words, not mine,” she replied.

“Stop hounding me, woman. I am trying to conduct an engagement!” The adjacent tree exploded, knocking Vangley to the ground.

“Perhaps I could be some use.” Olivia pulled a splinter from his forehead.

The elder shrugged her off, and got to his feet. As he turned, the stone lion sprung out from behind a tree, and clawed its way forward.

“Save your arrow, Lawson.” Laurent pushed the bow aside, and charged forward. He swung down the stone hammer, again and again, pounding the lion’s skull to dust. “Finally we are free of your stain.” He tossed the hammer aside.

Spiderwood crept out of the shadows, tightening the circle around them.

“Wait a moment.” Laurent turned. “Where is Lawson?”

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Delilah: A Short Poem

Again the muse beckons
Calling forth the night
I tread shadows
But cannot discern
The song from my hunger
Her verse fades
And a sadness fills me
A world away
That song of innocence
Nothing more than a dream

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Vampire Hunters: Prelude - Chapter 7

Like an ant feeling its way through the nest, I waded through the murky mire, swatting roots from my way. The passage narrowed, forcing me to my knees, no sign of the creature that had wandered through.

Thoughts of you ran together in my head, a shadowy mosaic of time and gold. I will not let your mark fade from me, Endolyn. I will remember you as you were, before your heart darkened. Failed you I have, though unsure how.

But I will not fail her.

Am I any closer to finding her? In my confusion, could I have passed her by, trekking through the ashes of Avarié? Though my heart says no, would I be able to recognize Elena’s charred corpse: her skin peeled off, hair burnt to the scalp? Or would self-preservation blind me, just as it would any grieving heart? I can only hope that I am not mistaken, that somewhere out there she is waiting for me.

Sweet Elena, live on.

I plodded along, my spirit waning as the burden grew greater. By all accounts, I had overdone it; pushed myself too hard despite the loss of blood. My eyelids sagged as I tried to decipher the light glowing in the distance.

Is that you, my love? The miracle that I am meant to see? I nudged forward. The tunnel spun, splinters of light peeling off pulsing orbs. I grabbed my glasses from my coat pocket, certain my eyes were deceiving me. The vortex quickened, spinning out of control. I reached for you, but as always, you were just beyond my reach.

“Is this my grave I have wandered into?” I mumbled. As before, I had come without the expectation of seeing the light again. With one last breath I inched forward, but alas, she had slipped through my fingers.

A shadow loomed over me, all too familiar. “How deep is the chasm? Know one knows for sure. Depends how black your heart is,” came a voice.

I froze, recognizing its childish taunts.

“Does the darkness run so deep that it could consume an entire village? Vampires and mortals alike? One must ask themselves.”

“I do not know what you mean,” I replied.

“A grave deed you have done. Or did you? I am not sure that you know yourself,” the voice hissed.

“Leave me alone. I will not warn you again.”

“Or what will you do, vampire hunter? Sling mud in my face? Perhaps you have other tricks that I have not seen? You will need every last one of them,” it goaded me.

“I will indulge your query if you pay me the same respect. The hole goes as deep as it must, but do not confuse darkness with emptiness, they are not one in the same. I hunt alone, it has always been thus, and fear that I may never know what has befallen Avarié,” I replied. “Though you claim to know so much about me, little do I know of you.”

“In essence, I am thee,” the voice faded into the distance.

A horn blared, deep and guttural, twisting through knotted bones. I struggled to open my eyes as the light intensified, ripping me from my slumber. Had I been out minutes, hours? So easy to lose track in the void.

The scatter of tiny feet filled my ears. Hundreds raced towards me, their luminescent bodies coming into view as they charged the tunnel, each no more than the size of my palm. Late in executing my retreat, I ducked the wave, tiny legs pricking me as they swarmed over. I crawled ahead, brushing them off as they continued deeper into the passage.

I rolled to one side, admiring the cool breeze spiraling down. Only grave deeds cause a vampire to swallow their words. This thing we are up against, it will destroy us all if we are not careful. I must take leave of Avarié at once. Darrien and Delilah’s union will falter if given time. I must not stop until I cross the river, and put as many towns between us as I can. Though I still cling to her memory, there is nothing for me here. She is not here.

But still…

I reached up, grasping air, the void ever deeper. From my knees, and then my feet, I could not find a ceiling to this cramped space. As I stood, a fresh draft washed over me, imparting its wisdom once more. A fork in the road lay before me, one path leading upwards while the other continued parallel to the surface. Without a second thought I abandoned the course, scaling rocks and clay walls until the wormhole wavered, and I was able to get my base under me.

Darkness embraced me once more as I rummaged through the nest, the foul stench now inseparable from my soiled clothes. A faint gust licked my spine, a hopeful sign that sent me scurrying up the slope. The horn boomed again, louder still, its hymn punctuated by the chatter of broken teeth.

“Is it all you had hoped for?” the voice mocked me. “Curious that you find comfort in the deepest shadows. Is it because you sense the end is near?”

“Steady thy tongue before I carve it out,” I uttered.

The horn resounded before I realized that something was upon me. I turned, scraped my chest against sharp outcroppings, and hurried back whence I came.

“‘Tis too late. The choice has already been made,” the shadow snickered.

The creature closed in, braying in short bursts. I glanced behind me, my retreat turning into a tumble. I pinged off jagged walls, falling like a stone, and slamming into the soppy bottom, my shoulder absorbing the brunt of the fall. I screamed, thrusting my shoulder back into place, and flipping onto my stomach.

A second isopod stormed the burrow, chasing down a glowing mite that eluded him. The insect scattered by, providing a fleeting glimpse of the horned creature above. Thick, segmented plates adorned its massive frame, a trio of wicked tusks protruding from its spiky crown.

I leapt forward as the creature knifed into the moist earth, and scurried away as fast as I could, narrowly keeping pace with the luminescent. The cave fetid and familiar, an ominous feeling swept over me. Had I been turned around, heading back in the same direction whence I started? Or was I burrowing deeper into the labyrinth, a path that could prove just as fatal?

My heart sank as the passage dipped, and then skipped a beat when it inclined several paces later. Again the tunnel narrowed, my shoulders wide as an ox. I forced myself through at an angle, speed and motion halved, quickly losing ground to the wayward mite.

Into the heavens we ascended, the angle steepening, the passage barely wide enough to breathe. The creature snapped at my heels, and drove its tusk through my sole, the keen point sneaking between my toes. I kicked back, slashing at him with my knife boots; but the angle was poor, their design clearly meant for frontal attacks. It nibbled on my spurs, hoping to take my feet with them.

As we wriggled along, the tunnel abruptly ended. The glowing mite raced through a hole in the wall and disappeared, a fitting reward for those that put their faith in such worthless creatures. I rammed the dirt wall, hoping it shallower than it appeared. Nowhere to run, I ducked as the behemoth collided with me, thrusting me through the dirt barrier and stone tiles of an illuminated walkway above.

The creature screeched, its prized horn snapped in half. I rolled to my feet, grabbed a torch from the wall, and grinded it into the severed tusk. The beast recoiled and burrowed back into the muddy depths. Two more henchmen emerged and tasted my fiery wrath. I stomped the floor until it collapsed, burying the pill bugs in a shallow grave.

Soldiers of the hive, I knew their abrupt burial was merely an inconvenience. Without cloth or wood to build a fire, I grabbed a fresh torch, and hurried along the barren hallway.