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Sunday, May 31, 2015


Seven teenagers with problems, on an elderly Chinese junk that has the ironical name of Good Fortune, herded about by an artificially enthusiastic counselor, and with cynical men in charge of the craft.  Off they sail into the vast Pacific, and so the adventure begins.  It sounds like a fairly standard scenario for a YA novel, doesn't it?  No, it is not.

James, the protagonist, is a sensitive.  He sees auras, and is vividly aware of changes in others' moods; he see his shipmates in eccentric ways -- one of them for instance, smells of liquorice, and when his companions are excited, they give off light.  He can hear dead men singing in the water. And he has a terrible premonition of disaster.

These dead men come from a distant, violent past -- a history that they want to resolve.  And James knows it. This, he thinks, is how the disaster is going to come about

As the junk drifts on an empty sea, and the ship's personnel begin to die off, the tension mounts almost unbearably, aided by superb writing.  An un-put-down-able book, permeated throughout by the author's obvious love of the sea and her thorough knowledge of Chinese lore.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Guest post from Book Expo America

Guest post from Linda Collison, Old Salt Press author

The BEA (Book Expo America) is touted as the largest publishing event in North America. This year’s show certainly covered a lot of landscape, set up in New York City’s spacious Javitz Center, on the bank of the Hudson River. There were hundreds of exhibitors -- traditional publishers, University presses and independent presses, and a myriad of industry support services such as industry magazines, publicists, printers, distributors, etc.

This year China was the guest of honor in the global market forum. Hundreds of Chinese publishers, authors, and government officials attended – 500, according to the press release. Being interested in Chinese culture and maritime history, I spent some time checking out these exhibits and talking briefly with a representative of Dalian Maritime University Press about an intriguing maritime history book they had on display. I also sampled tea, learned about early Chinese papermaking and printing processes, and watched a calligrapher wield his brush.

Dozens of “celebrity authors” were scheduled throughout each day to sign advance copies of their newest books. Eager librarians and indie book bloggers lined up like cattle in chutes to wait their chance to have their ARC signed. Other authors, less well known and not chained to a mighty publisher, had bought booth space and set up stands that almost reminded me of waterfront hucksters at the far end of the giant hall. I felt I represented the great majority of authors who fall in the gap between celebrity and huckster.  

I attended the BEA as an indie author-at-large, having purchased a discounted badge from Author’s Guild. I went to the explore the current publishing territory, so to speak. I had paid for two of my titles, Looking for Redfeather (Fiction House, Ltd.) and Water Ghosts (Old Salt Press) to be showcased by Foreword Reviews, a publication that promotes small presses and independent publishers by providing professional reviews of their books and selling advertising space to indie authors and publishers. I wanted to personally meet with some of these people – to put a name to a face.  Not to mention, it was an excuse to attend a Broadway play.

Most of all I wanted to have some face-to-face time with fellow author, friend, and founder of Old Salt Press, Rick Spilman. This exchange of ideas and camaraderie took place outside of the Javitz Center and was not a result of the Book Expo, except that we both attended. Having attended a few other publishing events, I’ve found the real value is in the connections outside the hall, yet it is often the event that brings us together. (I also managed to see not one but two Broadway shows with Bob, my husband. We saw Phantom of the Opera and Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, an electrifying stage adaptation of the book by Mark Haddon, which influenced my own writing to some degree.)

My personal take-home message from BEA 2015:

  • Books are simply a product and writers (except for celebrity authors) are just part of a team manipulated by the Big Publishers, who are masters of the universe, or so they would have us believe.
  • The average reader is greatly swayed by marketing hype from the publicity department and subsequent media buzz.
  •  It’s crucial to discover my “market” -- the people who want to read my books -- and connect with them. I’ve always thought of readers discovering my books but I must discover my readers.
  • It’s beneficial for authors to form working relationships with like-minded writers to improve our craft, promote our work, and to exchange and explore new ideas.
  • The dedicated book-lovers at Foreword Reviews are doing a great job. I highly recommend them.
  • Old Salt Press is a progressive publishing alternative I’m pleased to be a part of.
  • Wear sensible shoes! I thought I did, but should have worn dedicated hiking shoes with arch supports. Oh, my dogs are killing me.

Look for my review of Linda Collison's latest, Water Ghosts, coming very soon.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Quick reviews

I've been writing a number of quick Amazon reviews over the past couple of evenings, and the first was a five-star review of Linda Collison's short space romp. Holiday on Planet Jolieterre

This novella has everything - humor, pace, action, and imagination, great characters, too. 
Highly recommended for a swift, engrossing, original read.

The next was a free digital short story from Simon Kernick, called The Debt.  I "bought" it (a) because it was free and (b) because the premise amused me.  As I say in my four-star review, This short story was written to promote a BMW series 7, and has been resuscitated for Kernick's adoring public. A quick read, and an amusing one.  I enjoyed it.

The reason it was free, I found, was that it included a teaser from his book The Final Minute. As a marketing ploy, it certainly worked.  As I say in the review, which I headed "Non-stop action and a gripping mystery," What more can you want? This book has you hooked from the first page, which is why I bought it. I read Kernick's freebie, the short story The Debt, and the first chapter of this was tacked onto the end.  Had to read the rest and one-click did the trick.  Certainly don't regret the purchase, and will be reading more.

Even more amusingly, I find that the current free offer of The Debt carries a teaser for a different book, The Ultimatum.

As I said, a great marketing ploy.  But how does one make a book free on Amazon, if not on the five-day Kindle Select plan?  Kernick's publishers certainly managed it, with obviously pleasing results.

Thursday, May 28, 2015




With eloquent accuracy, Spilman’s novel captures the life of a 19th-century sailor.
Bill Doerflinger is a young archivist wishing to record old sea shanties sung by a few aging sea captains and their mates. In October 1938, he travels to the Staten Island home of 85-year-old Capt. George “Georgie” Anderson, who recounts a fantastical tale. In 1870, at age 17, he sailed from New York to Australia and back in the medium clipper Alhambra. The journey begins under the command of Capt. Josiah Adams, who leads a motley crew of complex characters. The most fascinating of the common seamen is an enigmatic drunk named Jack Barlow. When Capt. Adams falls ill and dies, the ship faces all manner of turmoil, from rumblings of mutiny to the terrifying roar of a hurricane. As tensions on board increase, Barlow proves far more astute than he first appears. Meanwhile, the naïve Georgie is beginning to find his “sea legs” with the help and hindrance of his crew. The novel carefully charts the young man’s intellectual and moral development. His initial sense of awe, along with the precarious nature of life at sea, is captured with an effortless grace: “When the sun was shining, the endless progression of the Southern Ocean graybeards was breathtaking—rolling mountainous peaks, thirty and forty feet high and long, with low valleys between. The wave tops were ten feet of boiling foam while the waves themselves were mighty beasts seemingly ready to devour us, just about to overwhelm the ship, until the fine lady Alhambra lifted her skirts and rose up.” A profound understanding of nautical terminology and procedure is also evident, yet the author is careful not to confuse readers who don’t know a “crojack” from a “spanker.” Eager to educate, the book also contains a comprehensive glossary, a rigging diagram, and an essay on the history of the sea shanty. Spilman’s colorful, well-researched novel will enthrall both sailing enthusiasts and landlubbers.
A fabulously gripping sailor’s yarn.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Royal New Zealand Ballet wins again

The world premiere of Salute in Wellington was an amazing night! After four fantastic shows in Wellington we look forward to sharing this very special production with audiences around New Zealand. The New Zealand Army Band and cellist Rolf Gjelsten will be with us all the way, with Christchurch the first stop on the tour.
Christchurch 28 – 30 May at the Isaac Theatre Royal
Dunedin 3 June at the Regent Theatre
Hamilton 10 June at the Founders Theatre
Takapuna 13 – 14 June at the Bruce Mason Centre
Auckland 17 – 20 June at the Aotea Centre
Napier 24 – 25 June at the Municipal Theatre
Here’s what the media said about opening night:
The Dominion Post

Dear Horizon: The magnificent specially commissioned score by Gareth Farr is imbued with anger at war's terrible waste of human potential. It is brilliantly played by the Army Band, with a very affecting cello solo by Rolf Gjelsten.

Passchendaele: From the powerful fevered opening with bodies hurtling across the stage, to the final image of dead soldiers and grieving lovers, and the final, ominous knock on the door, all the dancers perform intensely and with great skill.
(Top) RNZB dancers Paul Mathews and Abigail Boyle (front) in Andrew Simmons' Dear Horizon. Photo by Ellie Richards.

(Below) RNZB dancers in Neil Ieremia's Passchendaele. Photo by Ellie Richards.

Soldier’s Mass: The strength of unison is immense in this work but the strength of each individual dancer is electrifying and terrifying as we reflect on war without boundaries and war still in our world today.

Passchendaele: …the vulnerability of both men and women is haunting me still ... Passchendaele is a work that brings each artistic element together brilliantly and it is impossible to disconnect them.
(Top) RNZB dancers in Jiří Kylián's Soldier's Mass. Photo by Evan Li.

(Below) RNZB dancers Kirby Selchow and Shaun James Kelly (front) in Neil Ieremia's Passchendaele. Photo by Ellie Richards.

Salute: Remembering WW1 is a superb programme, and a fresh way of appreciating the messages in the ongoing centenary commemorations of New Zealanders fighting ‘the war to end all wars’.
RNZB dancers Damir Emric and Lucy Green in Johan Kobborg's Salute. Photo by Evan Li. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Streaming classical

Have I been quiet lately?

You can blame our internet provider, who/which has been providing very patchily.  I suppose I could blame the Wintry Weather. I am sure they have a Reason, and the Wintry Weather is good enough.

Another reason is that we bought a Sound Touch 20.  Bose.  It's an internet radio.  Wireless, of course.  I was a bit worried about (a) bandwidth and (b) how easy it would be to set up.  But our FM reception is so lousy in our gully that the decision to buy seemed logical.  It would be lovely, we thought, to get Radio NZ Concert (Classical) without all that fuzz and the occasional blast from nearby stations.

Well, that setting up.  First of all you have to download an app.  I did this with my desktop, and then found that it had to be connected physically with either an ethernet cable or a USB cable.  And it was supposed to be WIRELESS?  Say what?

Ah well.  My desktop is a long way from where we placed the Bose thingie, so I hauled out my trusty little laptop, set it on the floor by the Bose, and connected it via ethernet.

No go.  My laptop told me that the connection I could physically see did not exist.

So out came a USB cable. Same result.  Then the Bose gadget suggested I tried my iPad.  So I downloaded the app onto the iPad, and presto.  It was indeed easy.

Once on board, you scan through possibilities.  Internet radio, yes.  Local, yes. Definitely my first choice. But could I get Radio NZ Concert? No way!  Not to despair, I turned to global radio, and was given a mind-boggling range of countries.  We once lived on Long Island, and adored the PBS classical station out of Fairfield Connecticut radio, and to our joy we found it, and there it was, just as remembered, even with the same humans behind the lovely music.  So that was preset as channel number one (there are six).

We found Abacus out of Vancouver, and the BBC news.  We also found Classical Weta out of Washington, DC.  Not only do we get wonderful music from them, but we get the local news.  Maybe Michelle Obama is listening to the same station. That's mind-boggling.

It is a bit confusing for us (and probably for them) that they are in the middle of the night when we are in the afternoon, but the music is great.  We even found their website, with a playlist.

Which is even more confusing.  Listened to a great piano concerto.  It was supposed to be Max Bruck.  But though they didn't know it, apparently, it was Brahms.

Perhaps they hauled the wrong disk out of the stack.

But what the hell.  And it uses hardly any bandwidth at all.

But there's a hitch.  For brilliant streaming radio, you need a great broadband service.  That, at the moment, I lack....

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

WAR OF THE WORLDS illustrations at auction

From the blog

An incredible collection of pen-and-ink illustrations for the 1906 edition of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds is now on auction in Beverly Hills.
Brazilian artist Henrique Alvim Corrêa, whose imagination was spurred after reading a French edition of the science fiction classic, produced some sketches of tripod aliens and death rays and brought them to Wells in London. Wells was so pleased with them (and so dissatisfied by the earlier illustrations commissioned for the 1898 first book form), he asked Corrêa to illustrate a 500-copy, limited edition published by L’Vandamme in Brussels.
Thirty illustrations, plus a promotional poster and a postcard from Wells to Corrêa, were consigned to Heritage Auctions by collector Stefan Gefter.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Travel agent posers

Travel agents get asked the oddest questions

To offer a glimpse at the difficult requests made of travel agents, the American Society of Travel Agents released a list of top 10 strangest requests its 26,000 members have received in the last year.

1. Can you please book the honeymoon suite for us and another couple?
2. Can you please plan a honeymoon for me, my bride and my mother?
3. Can you guarantee that no pet has ever been in the hotel room?
4. Can I fish off of the cruise ship?
5. Do they speak English in Britain? 
6. Can you book two rooms in different parts of the resort—one for me and my wife, and the other for my girlfriend?
7. Is our relationship like a client/lawyer relationship?
8. Does the crew actually sleep onboard the cruise ship?
9. Don't tell my fiancé this is where I took my first wife for our honeymoon.

10. I would like to go somewhere where there are NOT a lot of men.



In Collison’s (Star-Crossed, 2006, etc.) YA adventure, a teen on a character-building excursion at sea faces challenges larger than getting along with his crewmates when the spirit of a destructive ancient Chinese ghost appears.
James McCafferty has the bad luck to be shanghaied by his mother and her boyfriend and sent aboard the Chinese junk Good Fortune. He is not a happy sailor. While the other teens possess what might pass as conventional behavior problems—the bookish boy obsessed with weapons, the tattooed punk girl, the adopted Asian kleptomaniac, the bully and his minions—James is different. He isn’t a bad kid; he just sees and hears dead people, who now pursue the Good Fortune as it wanders to the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Yu Chin, the spirit of a 700-year-old Chinese eunuch in the imperial court, talks to James, berates him as a weakling, then tells him his plan to take over his body and send him to hell. Until then, readers’ are treated to plenty of irreverent Holden Caulfield–like wit along with James’ spot-on observations, which seem to keep him afloat as the situation takes on water. When the chipper youth counselor Marty—“a continuous public service announcement”—and first mate Miles disappear and Capt. Dan, who “looks more like somebody’s fat, stoned uncle,” dies, the ship is inexorably drawn toward a fate that involves a parallel spirit world and an ancient Chinese power struggle. The abandoned teens don’t become as feral as those in The Lord of the Flies; instead, their camaraderie comes in handy just as a ghost armada raises itself from the deep. Much interesting information on Chinese sailing ships and mythology is introduced, and while not all of it is essential to the plot, Collison deftly prevents the info from talking down to young readers or encumbering the story.
A witty YA voyage with plenty of narrative power.
Publisher: Old Salt Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online: 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Delay or instant gratification

It's a fifty-year old test that is so famous that advertising agencies have used it to promote retirement plans.  Parents of little children use it to try and guess how well their progeny are going to do in life. And now it is out in a book, called (surprise, surprise) The Marshmallow Test.

The inventor, psychology professor Walter Mischel, used it on 600+ privileged children in California.  Each child was led into a room, and seated at a table.  Before him or her was a plate holding a single marshmallow.  He or she was told that if the marshmallow was still there when the supervisor came back, the reward would be a second marshmallow.

In a word, it was an exercise in self-control, and the penalty for instant gratification.  Most children ate the marshmallow the instant he or she was left alone, but about a third went into contortions rather than "fail" the test. So, the following video is not just very amusing, but also educational.

Even more interestingly, the professor and his colleagues followed the careers of the children, and found that those who had been able to exert self-control were more successful in life.  It won't be a surprise that they were leaner and fitter, but they were also better scholars and had good private lives too, managing to make good choices in friendships, marriages, and avoid the pitfalls of drugs adn crime.

But were there flaws and slip-ups in the research process? What did it really tell the world about the value of self control?  This very interesting interview with Professor Mischel reveals a great deal.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Harking to the past

I was in the library browsing for a book for the weekend, and picked up one called Miracle Cure by Harlan Coben. Flipping to the front while I made up my mind, I read ..


Okay, if this is the first book of mine you're going to try, stop now. Return it. Grab another. It's okay, I'll wait.

If you're still here, please know that I haven't read Miracle Cure in at least twenty years.  I didn't want to rewrite it and pass it off as a new book. I hate when authors do that.  So, this is, for better or worse, the exact book I wrote when I was in my early twenties, just a naive lad working in the travel industry and wondering if I should follow my father and brother and go to (shudder) law school .... 

Well.  That made me pause. Then I thought, what the hell.  I don't know Harlan Coben's books, but I liked this candid approach.  And I remember a similar experience with one of Michael Crichton's books, an early manuscript that turned out to be a fascinating account of his first year as an intern in a busy hospital. So I took Miracle Cure home and read it.

Boy, it was dated. The medical details were tired enough, but the issues were even more retro.  The author was oddly conscious of being Jewish -- or, at least, it seemed odd from the 2015 perspective. And the whole thing was so, so wordy.  I skipped entire pages. I did get to the end, however, though it was mostly to confirm that I had guessed the baddie right. (I had.) And I have read worse. A lot worse.  I might try one of Coben's more recent books.  After all, he's a bestselling author and the multitudes can't be wrong.

But I did wonder why he would bring back a book that had been published twenty years earlier.  Did he need another million?  Did he have a multi-book contract with a deadline and no book to fulfill it?  Did his agent beg? His publisher demand?

Otherwise, why bother?  Historians love rewriting their books and papers, to include the research that they have done since -- and to correct those embarrassing factual errors, too.  And I guess historical novelists can be lumped in with the nonfiction writers, as there are always those lovely little tidbits that have been learned in the meantime, and which can add such wonderful color to an evocative scene.

But a medical thriller, where everything is out of date?

It does seems strange.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Weapon to end all wars


The "Lordships" of the 25th instant, informs us that a M. Lagrange, chemist, of Lorient had directed his attention for some fifteen years past to the improvement of a description of cannon ball of a fearfully destructive nature. Though he had been completely master of the secret for some time past, he never applied for permission to test the result of his experience.

Recently, however, he consented and accordingly the experiments took place in the presence of Vice admiral de La Susse, and Rear-Admiral Le Guerre, Lieutenant-General of Artillery Laplace, and the entire Commission appointed to watch the "proof" of the cannons "a gavre."

The success justified the expectation of M. Lagrange and far surpassed the hopes of the Commission.  We have been informed that each time one of these balls struck its object, it exploded instantaneously, with a report equal to the first, producing most fearful destruction. The effect is the same on earth, wood, rock or any substance.

After experiments, the members of the Commission observed to the inventor: "Sir, you ought to be added to the members of the Peace Congress, after your invention, we must no longer think of making war."

M. Lagrange asserts that, with a gun-boat and four guns, he will be able to sink a 120 gun ship in a few moments.  It is said that he is in negotiation with government to sell his secret.

The Straits Times, Singapore, 17 December 1850, page 7

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Call for nominations

Kia hiwa ra!
Kia hiwa ra!
The National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa is seeking nominations for the New Zealand Poet Laureate Award.
Poetry is a quintessential part of New Zealand art and culture, and through the New Zealand Poet Laureate Award the government acknowledges the value that New Zealanders place on poetry as a part of our national identity.
The Chief Librarian of the Alexander Turnbull Library will appoint the New Zealand Poet Laureate after reviewing nominations and seeking advice from the New Zealand Poet Laureate Advisory Group.
Nominees must have made an outstanding contribution to New Zealand poetry, and be an accomplished and highly regarded poet. They must also be a strong advocate for poetry, and be able to fulfil the public role required of a Poet Laureate, which includes engaging with a wide range of people and inspiring New Zealanders to read and write poetry.
Nominations close on Monday, 6 July.
Candidates must currently reside in New Zealand.
The term of appointment for the next Poet Laureate will run until 30 June 2017.
Please send your nomination to
Email is preferred, but you can also mail your nomination to:
Alexander Turnbull Library
Attention New Zealand Poet Laureate Award
PO Box 12349
Enquiries about the New Zealand Poet Laureate Award can be sent to

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

May Quarterdeck

Old Salt Press and Old Salt Blog founder Rick Spilman is interviewed at length in the latest issue of Quarterdeck, a newsletter dedicated to news about maritime books and authors.

Altogether, this is a very exciting edition.

You can download the issue, together with the interview, the latest news from Old Salt Press, and a study of the Victory, HERE

Monday, May 4, 2015

Sailors' Sunday pleasure

Sailors' sea chests have a varied history.

They were infamously used for stowing pirate treasure, as in the famous illustration from Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates (1917).   On the whole, though, they were used for more mundane treasures, that being a seaman's private belongings.  It was equivalent to his bookshelves, his wardrobes, and his chests of drawers back home -- and yet had space for so little. At the New Bedford Whaling Museum there is a educational program that asks the students to pack a sea chest, which is more of a challenge than the student might expect.  Not only do spare clothes have to be packed inside, but there are little luxuries, like soap and tobacco.  Any books and writing paper have to find a place, along with the seaman's journal -- and his navigational guides and instruments, if he is ambitious enough to study his trade, with an eye to getting a post in that hallowed place, the afterquarters, where the captain and officers live.  And, on long voyages, like the years-long cruises of whaleships in the age of sail, there are the ships' models, scrimshaw, and shell valentines he might have made, all of which need a safe place.

And Sunday was the day for turning out the sea chest, and gloating over the little private treasures that were hidden inside.  As J. H. Drew meditated in the Boston Journal, on Septembe 10, 1877, "Sunday is the day for the sailor to wash and mend his clothes ... Having done this, he invariably overhauls his chest, takes out all his clothes, unfolds them, airs them, folds them again, and lays them away.  This is what they call 'sailors' pleasure.'"

And woe betide anyone who opens another man's sea chest, invading his most private space. 

The drawing above is from "Sketches from the Naval Training Camps," created by George Wright, and published in the Harper's Monthly in August 1918.   I'm not even sure that the fellow depicted is studying his sea chest, as it was usual for a canvas bag to be issued to a navy man, instead of the traditional chest -- or so I believe.

So, can anyone think of a better illustration of a sailor turning out his sea chest?

It's a challenge.

Friday, May 1, 2015

A history of the dust jacket

As the previous post hints, choosing a design for a book jacket is an intense and important process.

And yet, dust jackets are a relatively new development. Originally, they were intended to protect the beautiful binding, and were often just a rectangle of paper used to wrap the book like a parcel.  As a fascinating post on relates there was no design at all. The title of the book might be printed on the paper wrapping, to make sorting easier, but the wrapping itself was meant to be discarded.

The first wrapping that matched the size of the book most probably appeared in the 1830s, the idea being that it would persuade the purchaser to keep the paper jacket, to protect the book while it was being read.  And it took another fifty years for publishers to realize that more information could be displayed on the wrapper. They might even include an image, as well as the names of the book, the publisher, and the author, as in the early edition of The Moonstone, above. The authors approved -- Lewis Carroll wrote to his publishers in 1876 persuading them to print the title on the spine area of the dust jacket of The Hunting of the Snark to keep it in a "cleaner and more saleable condition."  The idea was that the customer could read the title of the book without having to pry it out of the bookseller's shelf.

But still the major reason for the wrapper was to preserve the lovely binding underneath.  It was not until the 1920s that publishers (and writers) realized that it was a major marketing tool.  It was possible to have not just the title and author's name, but a synopsis, too.  Then elaborate dust jackets became all the rage -- in the 1940s even paperbacks had one.  Then, as the century progressed, the jackets became more and more ornate.  Graphics were explored for their attention-seizing value, and about the 1970s the blurb was invented. For a little while famous authors were paid by publishers to write a few complimentary words about another writer's book, but blurbing quickly became free, as authors vied to get their names on jackets.

Book jacket design became an industry, one that, interestingly, hasn't faltered with the development of digital books.  The original idea of producing a jacket that stood out on the bookstore shelf has simply evolved into the need for a design that is commanding when displayed as a thumbnail.