Because I have sailed with so many Filipino shipmates, I am particularly interested in their stories.
The fellow above has a particularly sad one. He is
(Photograph: Aljon Malanjit/ITF Seafarers’ Trust)
The fellow above has a particularly sad one. He is
(Photograph: Aljon Malanjit/ITF Seafarers’ Trust)
The Power of the Dog was in local cinemas for a few days. Friends who went to see it have come back bemused, all very curious to know what I might think of it. So this is my answer to them.
There are good reasons for seeing it. It has had rave reviews from all the important critics. And, while the story is set in Montana, it was actually filmed in New Zealand. During the pandemic, what's more. It was more exciting knowing that Benedict Cumberbatch was stranded in our country, than knowing that Google billionaire Larry Page was here, believe me.
As I have poor eyesight, and dread being trapped in a dark cinema, I was happy to wait for Netflix. And that was lucky, because I found I could watch this film for only short spells at a time. Nothing to do with my sight; just that I found it slow and, at times, grueling.
The cinematography is amazing. Astounding. Yes, I do know that our country is photogenic, but the lingering shots were stunning. Beautifully composed and shot.
The acting was equally great. Benedict C turned in a truly compelling performance as the main actor, and the other three major characters were excellent.
But the story did not seem to merit the huge talents employed in making the film. In a nutshell, it is about a cowhand struggling with his homosexuality, and taking it out on anyone and anything within yelling range. Including his poor horse. When he called her a bitch and whipped her, it was very hard to take.
The people around this foul-tempered cowhand suffered, too, even if they were simply in the same room. This brought back a bad memory. Quite some years ago, Ron and I were in a restaurant in Sacramento, CA, where there was a table of men -- some kind of stag do -- where one of the men was in a black rage. Waitress after waitress was reduced to tears, and everyone at the other tables, including ourselves, felt the brunt of it, too. There is a very similar scene at the start of this movie, which did not make me feel any sympathy for the cowhand, at all. So, for me, it was a bad beginning.
From then on, the black rage (pictured rather too compellingly by the very, very gifted Benedict C) was turned on (a) the horse (b) the cowhand's brother's new wife, who is reduced to a quivering alcoholic, and (c) the new wife's son -- who wreaks revenge for the bullying (though he is probably homosexual himself), by murdering the cowhand in a peculiarly scientific fashion, as an objective study in medicine.
It is perhaps one of the cruelest ways possible of popping someone off. Cruelty, in fact, is the motif of the story.
Go to see it, if you enjoy wonderful camera work and outstanding acting. But be prepared to be repelled.
Today, in New Zealand's internet news site, Stuff, plus print features in various newspapers:
Maori are the inheritors of an impressive maritime tradition. Their remote ancestors were skilled sailors who burst into the western Pacific from southeast Asia over 3,000 years ago, to settle the islands of Fiji. About a thousand years before Christ, they colonized Tonga and Samoa, where Polynesian language and culture developed. From there, men and women sailed out from this ancestral cradle, fanning out across the broad Pacific, and exploring more of the earth’s surface than anyone ever before.
This amazing feat was made possible by their evolution of the double-hulled canoe into a stable voyaging vessel, capable of freighting plants, animals, provisions, as well as people. The big, graceful craft ranged as far east as Rapanui (Easter Island), and probably made a landfall in South America, either introducing the kumara, or carrying kumara sprouts back.
At a time when sailors in the Mediterranean were experimenting with the fore-and-aft sail, Polynesian canoes powered by lateens made the tough 4000 km voyage from the Tahitian archipelago to Hawaii, and then back again, battling cross-currents, the doldrums, and contrary trade winds. And two hundred years before the era of Columbus, Magellan, and Drake, Polynesians crossed 2000 miles of storm-tossed ocean to the mountainous, deeply embayed islands of Aotearoa-New Zealand.
Their navigational science was astounding. Not only were they familiar with the patterns of currents, clouds and swells, and the migrations of birds, fish and whales, but they had a truly impressive knowledge of star bearings. Great directional stars and constellations—Matariki (the Pleiades), Whetū-kura (Aldebaran), Rehua (Antares), and Te matau o Maui (the hook of Scorpio)—were as familiar to Polynesian navigators and priests as the faces of their kin. Centuries before the crew on Coumbus’s ship shivered at the prospect of falling off the edge of the world, Polynesians knew perfectly well that the earth is round.
The ancestors were also adept at the science of acclimatisation. It was an intrinsic part of their successful settlement of the Pacific, and involved plants and animals from as far away as New Guinea. This was because the islands they found, though fertile, were barren. In Tahiti, for instance, there were only two edible plants — a kind of borage, and coconut. Undeterred, they introduced taro, kava, breadfruit, paper mulberry for tapa, pigs, chickens, dogs, bananas. It is almost impossible to imagine what today’s tropical paradises would have looked like without Polynesian horticultural brilliance.
They applied the same system to Aotearoa-New Zealand. But this land was colder, heavily forested, the soil not as fertile. Some of the cargo was lost right away. The pigs and chickens either did not survive the voyage, or died soon after landing, and bananas, breadfruit, and coconuts failed to thrive. There were still dogs and rats—though the rats might have been stowaways, it was possible to eat them. Carefully nurtured sprouts of taro, yams, gourds, kumara, and paper mulberry acclimatized after a fashion, along with the Pacific ti cabbage tree with its sugary root. But the challenge was enormous.
While the settlers were learned in the spheres of astronomy, navigation, botany, zoology, medicine, and the social sciences, big gaps in their knowledge were suddenly important. They did not have chemistry, geology, physics, or metallurgy, for instance. That those pioneers produced a flourishing society despite these gaps is an achievement that should never be underrated.
I love dragons (and collect them) and I love riddles. The plot of my first novel, Abigail (A Love of Adventure) revolves about a riddle.
So how could I help but be charmed by pirate lady Cindy Vallar's Rumble the Dragon?
Here is an alluring excerpt:
Deep within the bowels of Cymru two caves combined to create an immense cauldron-like chamber. Striated walls ebbed and flowed into peaks and valleys like waves crashing onto the shore. The higher the walls rose, the narrower they became until shrouds of darkness concealed the ceiling. At the far end of the cauldron, a frozen river of gray, brown, and green cascaded onto a polished floor. Two alabaster pillars guarded a domed rock upon which sat an ancient and enormous dragon with graying whiskers. Age had faded the emerald green, burnished gold, and umber brown of Dragon Father’s scales, but time had failed to obscure his regal bearing or dim his keen sight.
On a tiered platform across from him sat the members of his Council. A few emitted occasional low growls, as if angered, while others uttered high-pitched whistles to show their delight. Lacking the patience of their leader, nearly all the young dragons flapped their wings, pushed and shoved each other, or shifted their weight from one foreleg to the other. With a flick of his claws and a glare through narrowed eyes, Dragon Father silenced them until they perched like stone statues.
Once every half century, he summoned dragons from the farthest reaches of the world to a confabulation. The preponderance were Great Earth Dragons, but the lesser dragons came in all shapes and sizes. Mud-caked, timid Knuckers lingered near the fringes of the gathering. Farther from the center and even shier than their cousins, the Bucca bumped around in the shadows. Chirping, mischievous Dwarf Dragons darted over and around the cauldron, annoying one and all. Moth Dragons, with furry manes and razor-sharp teeth, nestled in the clefts away from the light. Black-striped Tazzy Dragons warbled from pillars or stalagmites, while their young peered out from pouches on their parents’ backs.
Dragon Father unleashed a mighty roar that rocked the chamber. The jabber ceased and from smallest to largest, everyone focused their attention on the king of all earth dragons. A blur of shimmering peacock blue popped up from amid the Council, swooped over their heads, and plopped down on the shelf in front of them. Dragon Father lowered his large head, stretched his neck across the open space, and peered through hooded eyes at the adolescent Earth Dragon, who straightened his spine and smiled.
Expelling a puff of white smoke, Dragon Father asked, “Es vos promptus?”
With the claws of his right front leg curled over his left, the small Earth Dragon bowed his head. Eager to show his comprehension of Latin, Gwalchmai said, “Yes, Dragon Father, I am ready.”
The instant Dragon Father resumed his perch, Gwalchmai lifted his peacock blue head, while the green and gold scales on his tail glittered as it curled and uncurled with anticipation. This was the final night of the confabulation. Previous evenings had been devoted to poetry and music, magic and masquerades. But tonight a unique competition of riddles and conundrums would test the dragons’ mental prowess against Myrddin, a wizard with respect for nature and dragons.
“Kee, kee, kee.” The bird’s high-pitched call reverberated through the cauldron. A bluish-silver falcon, with reddish-brown spots on its white breast, glided to the open floor directly between Dragon Father and his Council. When the falcon settled on the polished stones, it transformed into an old man. A brimless leather cap crowned his head, and his white beard, speckled reddish brown, flowed over his blue-gray robe almost to his knees. He opened his hand to reveal a radiant star ruby the color of blood with a tinge of blue, which he offered to Dragon Father. “A gift.”
Dragon Father plucked the giant ruby from the wizard’s hand. “It is a rare beauty and a gem I shall treasure. Thank you, Myrddin.” After adding it to the hoard, he clasped his front paws under his chin and asked, “Are you ready for my riddle?”
The wizard nodded, then tilted his head and placed a finger on his cheekbone as three others curled at his chin.
In a dulcet voice, Dragon Father posed his conundrum.
“It is cold and it is hot
“It is white and it is dark
“It is stone and it is wax
“Its true nature is of flesh
“And its color is red.”
Mryddin absently stroked his whiskers as he mumbled the riddle over and over. He alternated between pinching the top of his nose and rubbing his chin. He walked in a circle with the sleekness of a cat. Once or twice he looked about to speak, then shook his head and resumed his contemplation.
“What is it, Myrddin?” Although whispered, Dragon Father’s question reverberated through the grotto.
The wizard tugged the sleeves of his robe. His lips twitched into a confident smile. “A man’s heart.”
Gurgles, howls, and squawks greeted the answer. Gwalchmai’s eyes grew round and his jaw dropped.
“You are right, Myrddin.” Dragon Father sat back on his haunches. His right paw curled over the stalagmite that served as an armrest to his throne. He extended his left foreleg toward the wizard. “To guess correctly deserves a prize, and so, I bestow upon thee the singular title of Lord of the Dragon.”
Myrddin bowed. “I am most honored, Dragon Father.”
“And have you a riddle for us, my lord?”
The shrewd wielder of magic nodded. He rotated in a slow circle so all heard his puzzle.
I know! I know! Gwalchmai yearned to share the answer, but it would be rude to blurt out the solution before the older and wiser dragons. He tapped his foot, scowled, crossed and uncrossed his forelegs, but not a single dragon spoke. Gwalchmai puffed out a loud breath.
Myrddin whirled round and pointed at Gwalchmai, who gulped under the gaze of hundreds of eyes. He hated being the center of attention and tried to withdraw into the midst of the Council, but the taller dragons closed ranks against his retreat and seemed to push him forward until he tumbled from the shelf into the center of the floor. A ray of sunlight peeked through the smoke hole illuminating him for all to see.
“Do you know the answer to the Lord of the Dragon’s riddle?” Dragon Father asked.
“Ye . . . yes.” The word sounded more like a mouse’s squeak than a dragon’s roar. Gwalchmai cleared his throat. “He speaks of a shadow.”
“You are right,” Myrddin said. Well done, Gwalchmai! Your mind is as sharp as the sight of the bird for which you are named.
Gwalchmai squeezed shut his eyes and trembled. How did the wizard know his true name – a name only he and Dragon Father knew? With such knowledge Myrddin had the power to control him. The rapid beating of his heart drowned out the barks, growls, and warbles of the other dragons. When Dragon Father spoke, a heavy feeling settled in Gwalchmai’s stomach, as if he had swallowed stones that weighted him down.
“You are indeed wise, Myrrdin. You stumped all but one of us, and for that I grant you one boon. What shall it be?”
Still pointing to Gwalchmai, the wizard said, “Allow this dragon to come with me.”
Dragon Father conferred with his Council. Beads of sweat dripped from Gwalchmai’s brow. His tail quivered. He belonged here with Dragon Father, not out in the world where some men paid others to hunt dragons.
After Dragon Father resumed his perch upon the domed rock, he said, “The request is unusual, but granted. He may stay with you, Lord of the Dragon, until I call for him.”
Myrrdin bowed. “Thank you, Dragon Father.”
Want to buy the book? Of course! Buy an autographed copy here
And Abigail's riddle? It is the clue to a treasure trove. See if you can solve it.
It's a conundrum. Which to choose when publishing your book?
There are many choices with producing a digital book. Amazon, obviously, is the biggie. Their publishing arm is KDP. You produce a single page-sized jacket converted to pdf, and then upload your manuscript as a word document. If you want details, my blog Publishing Your Novel on Kindle has been a standby for many since I put it up a bunch of years ago.
I've had many, many thank you notes and comments since then. About a thousand, last counting. People have found it very useful, which is terrific.
Not much has changed since then. It is still possible to design your jacket on powerpoint, though you get better text definition with adobe. But powerpoint is a lot, lot easier.
As for the interior, don't bother with adobe. A good word manuscript is best.
With KDP it is easy. With Draft 2 Digital it is very easy, too, and you get a prettier book, as they offer all kinds of fancy embellishments. So I always go for both.
The hard part is the paperback (or hardback, if you are really ambitious).
The two big platforms are Amazon's KDP and Ingram Spark, an umbrella that includes Lightning Source. And so, with Daughters of the Storm, I looked at both.
There is plenty on the internet if you want to compare the price and pricing structures.
I recommend OldMateMedia and the Alliance of Independent Authors' Watchdog. The second is somewhat out of date, as CreateSpace, alas, is no more, being taken over by Amazon's KDP, but the tips are still good.
The conclusion I came to was to use both. Amazon is great for selling KDP books on the labyrinthine Amazon site, and even seems to give preferential billing to books that are published with them. But they are not as good at selling print books as they are with digital, in my experience, which goes against the statistics of the bookselling market, where eBooks have never surpassed 25% of sales. You can opt for extended distribution, but the financial return is not very good.
With Ingram, on the other hand, you have the chance of getting your book into actual stores. By paying $150 you get it listed in their catalogue, so while the stores might not actually stock the book, they can find it easily if a customer asks for it. And the author's cut for international print book sales is definitely better than Amazon's.
But how hard do they make it to publish your print book?
The robots at KDP are very, very picky. With the text, you have to watch the page breaks, as blank pages will slip in if you are not very careful. The formatting problem seems worse with a pdf manuscript, and I found it was best to upload a good word document. And it has to be good. Investing in the new Microsoft 365 turned out to be a must. It's expensive, but can be shared with five other authors.
Creating the cover is truly awful. KDP have a so-called Cover Creator which has six designs to choose as a template. All are terrible, in my honest opinion. The back is cluttered, and the front has badly placed text. But you might like it, so go ahead if you do. But I warn you that glitches are so frequent that it feels as if they are embedded. It is much better to download a template with nothing but guidelines, so you can create your own. Fill in the boxes with the trim size of your book, and the number of pages, and then have fun with your images and text.
And then, when I ordered proof copies, the damn spine did not look right. It bled over to the front. Grr.
Ingram has a template generator. You have to subscribe, which is free, and you also have to have an ISBN. When you explore their site you can find a free one, so try that, if you don't have your own ISBN ready. But when you have filled in all the boxes on their template generator page, they will send you a free template for your cover. Open it on adobe, save, and work away. Be careful to save every change under a different name, so that you keep a record. And it also pays to cut out the ISBN on the template, save it as a jpeg, and crop off the pink and blue surround. Then you will have it ready to insert after you have done everything else.
Your interior has to be a high-quality pdf. Their website has plenty of tips, and the community is also very helpful. Which is lucky, as the robots -- and the people -- are very picky indeed. And every time you change, it costs, so it pays to get it right from the very beginning.
First, you start with your word document, complete with front matter, back matter, copyright page, list of previous publications, any acknowledgements, a table of contents if you use one, maps, images, and author biography.
Then you convert it to pdf by PRINTING to adobe. Don't use the "convert to pdf" option in save, as it does not work. You hit "print" and choose "adobe" and you alter the properties from standard to PDF/x-1a2001.
Don't worry about page size. Because once you have your interior as a pdf, you have to crop every page to your trim size. KDP do that for you, whether you submit a word doc (recommended for them) or pdf. But Ingram does not.
The cover needs a lot of care. There is the same pickiness with the content of the spine as there is with KDP. So keep your title and author's name well within the guidelines, and be very particular with any small image or colophon you might add.
So, what is the result of all this hard work?
KDP, remember, is free. But the return for extended distribution is small. And KDP is very mean about passing on royalties in any currency save the US. With every market, your royalty has to be more than $100 US for you to be paid.
This does not happen with Ingram. Daughters of the Storm is the third book I have published with them, the others being The Discovery of Tahiti and Tupaia, and I have been very happy with both their reporting and their payments. There is that upfront $49 US plus $150 if you want to get into their catalogue, but I covered the costs quickly.
Quality of the product. Ingram wins hands down. The book looks and feels great. The paper quality is wonderful, and the jacket is very slick indeed. The KDP product is second-rate, when the two are compared.
But I guess you get what you pay for.
Another Nordic Noir
In my chase of Nordic chiller mysteries, "Case" was a natural choice, as "Trapped" was brilliant, and I wanted to know if all the Icelandic stuff was as good.
And this is definitely up there with it. "Case" has all the great cinematography, sound track, and writing that I found so compelling with "Trapped". There are even some of the same actors.
And the acting is as brilliant. The cast look natural (no Hollywood glamorization). They act like natural people; they even talk like natural people, though the words are in Icelandic. Gabriela, the lead detective, is so aunt-like that you expect her to smell of freshly baked scones. Her hair is lank, her face is scarcely made up, and her clothes do nothing to hide a few extra kilos. When the mystery gets grueling, you want to go up to her and give her a reassuring hug.
So, why my headline -- "starkers and nervous"? Because the producers wanted to show the viewer exactly what happened, and this is a story about the deliberate sexual degradation of 14-year-old girls. Accordingly, there is a graphic scene in a brothel where the totally naked manager is being cross-examined, and is so nervous that he fiddles with himself while he hunts for plausible answers.
Behind him, naked couples are copulating. In most American and British dramas, this would be offensive, but here it is dramatic and telling. Not offensive at all -- but get ready for it. Once you are immersed in the story, it is easy to understand that the scene is necessary to the plot, just as the writers intended, and the sex and nudity are not gratuitous at all.
Only one character is a stereotype -- Logi, the washed up lawyer in Paul Newman style, who operates on booze and blunders horribly in his hunt for the truth -- but he is so well portrayed that this is eminently forgivable. And Logi definitely does the right thing in the end, even though he is mad enough to break the law. By doing this, he foils Gabriela, who is close to the truth herself, but her enigmatic little smile at the very end reveals what she really thinks, deep inside.
Okay, the plot. But no spoilers. A very young ballet dancer commits suicide in a Reykjavik theatre -- an interesting choice, as though it is definitely suicide, and not a murder, it looks like a public plea to the police to investigate her motive for ending her life.
And that is exactly what Gabriela -- and Logi -- set out to do. They follow a tortuous trail that leads to a mess of corruption and depravity that lies under the surface of an apparently very virtuous city. Teenagers are evasive, and keep changing their stories, the depths of the Dark Web are plumbed, and unexpected villains are exposed.
As in "Trapped", it is easy to get lost in the labyrinthine story, and wonder what the devil is happening. Which makes it even more watchable, because you know exactly how Gabriela and Logi are feeling, and why they do what they do.