Friday, May 30, 2014

Stephen King's Mr Mercedes is almost here...

Some readers have likened my books and stories to Stephen King. First up, wow! That is some compliment, and I'm always humbled followed by the idea they have my stories mixed up with another author's.

Secondly, its no accident. I have grown up on Stephen King.

I'm old enough to have read Carrie in its first printing and seen the film when it released in the cinemas. I still credit Salem's Lot as  being the book that scared the heck out of me more than any other book. And I've read The Exorcist at thirteen! (Yes, I know I was weird and still am.)

When discussing authors of this genre (which I am not even sure what genre we're talking about. Is it really Horror? I call it dark thriller.), I say you only bought the other author's books, Dean Koontz, James Herbert, Peter Straub, Whitley Strieber, etc. to keep you going until the next Stephen King arrived on the shelves.

His short stories just captivated me, and they still do. When I first started writing, almost thirty years ago, I wanted to write short stories like his, with full characters that hinted of a life behind the story, and left you wondering what happened after (that's if the character survived). If not for him, I probably wouldn't have written so many short stories.

While I didn't love his follow up to The Shining, the pretty droll Doctor Sleep, I did adore 11/22/63. If you haven't read it, it's masterful. I never wanted it to end. The Dome was a fabulous read, too. So despite the hiccup of Doctor Sleep, I am eagerly awaiting Mr Mercedes. Something tells me this is going to be a fabulous book and back to the King that I love.

I write dark thrillers, and I'm proud that somewhere in my mind circulates the dozens of Stephen King stories that I have read and reread. Perhaps,if not for King I may have never traveled down the writing path.

His book, On Writing, is a must for writers. He says it all. Its pretty simple to write. You need to read a lot, write a lot, and, I will add, love your characters. For as dark and terrible are the minds of his characters, you can tell he loves them, along with every fault they possess. You can't write bad guys until you understand them, and when you do you can't help feel something for them.

Yes, he's wordy sometimes, and some of his subplots, that I call his "I digress" moments, go nowhere and probably aren't necessary to the plot. Yet they're mostly worth the journey.

So here's to Mr Mercedes out in June 2014. I can't wait. And here is the master himself describing where he got the idea for the book.

Do share in the comments who is your inspiration if you are a writer, or favourite author if you are a wonderful reader...

And for your further entertainment if you are a writer, here's the best advice anyone can give you on writing. In fact, its the big secret of writing. This makes me laugh every time I watch it.

If you have enjoyed this musing, do hop over and register for my very random newsletter. Straightaway you will receive two fantastic short stories FREE. You'll also be the first to know when I have exciting news to share like free books (international) and film ticket giveaways (Australia). Hop over here:

Thursday, May 29, 2014

HarperCollins launches direct-to-digital publishing list for new talent

Well, it had to happen. Publishers are now going direct to readers with their authors. Now, while all the self-published die-hards will say what's the point of them doing that when an author can basically self-publish themselves and keep all the money, I don't agree.  Some writers don't want to play around with self-publishing and the steep learning curve, and others like the idea of being accepted by a publisher. It gives them validation. I really get that.

So good on Harper Collins for first taking the step of having The Wednesday Post for submissions, and for then finding something to do with the manuscripts that they have discovered that they think are worth publishing.

Even though I'm a proud indie author, I know a lot of people behind the scenes in publishing, and after my recent visit to Random House offices I have great respect for what they do and how passionate they are about books.  I don't buy into this indies vs mainstream publishing war. Sure some people have probably had bad experiences, but there are a lot of people who have had great experiences with publishers. That is business. Just because the guy down the road's retail store doesn't turn a profit and closes down that doesn't mean mine, just up the road run by me with my skill and values, won't succeed.

So if you want to self-publish, go for it. Its great to have the control, but its a lot of learning and hard work. If you want to hunt down a publishing deal, go for it. It, too, is a lot of learning and hard work.  

What's your view on the indie vs traditional publishing route? I'd really love to hear from you.

For everyone who loves the craft, here is another opportunity...

 HarperCollins launches direct-to-digital publishing list for new talent

HarperCollins Australia has unveiled an exciting opportunity for unearthed writers with a new direct-to-digital publishing list. Harper Impulse ebooks are fun, fast-paced reads in all commercial genres from epic fantasy to erotica. The first tranche of titles will be released internationally on June 1.

The foundation authors include an ex police dog-handler, a mother of twin baby boys, a corporate trainer, a Lonely Planet writer and a university academic. Impulse Editor Kate Steinweg says, ‘it’s exciting to have a digital channel through which to introduce new talent we believe in. We’re looking for writers who know how to tell a grippingly good story, and have already found many wonderful authors through our newly launched manuscript portal, The Wednesday Post.’

HarperCollins Publishing Director Shona Martyn says ‘with the closure of many bricks-and-mortar bookstores, sadly it has become harder for publishers to launch new authors into print because of simple economies of scale.  Fortunately the ability to publish direct-to-digital means we can give even more authors opportunities to find their market. While some may eventually become print book authors too, the sales we are now seeing for ebooks in commercial and genre fiction mean that we can connect authors with readers fast and effectively.  We can also respond to reader demand and new publishing trends faster than we can in conventional publishing timelines.’

Impulse ebooks will be released on the first of each month through all major e-retailers worldwide.
Watch for them on the ebook bestseller lists!


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Win The Place at Whitton by Thomas Keneally

To celebrate Thomas Keneally's 50 Years as a published author

Australian publishing houses have banded together with ABC Events to host a gala dinner to celebrate Tom Keneally’s 50 years as a published author. 

Speakers include Steven Spielberg, Richard Flanagan, Bryan Brown, Kathy Lette and others.  We’d love to tell you about the other speakers who will be paying tributes to Tom at the event or via video but we don’t want to ruin the surprise for him!   

ABC Radio’s Richard Glover will be the Master of Ceremonies on the night.

The dinner will be held on Wednesday June 11 at 6.30 pm at the Westin Hotel in Pitt Street. Bookings can be made at 
or by calling 1300 360 111.

As well, to co-incide with the anniversary, Random House Australia is re-issuing The Place at Whitton, Tom Keneally’s first book.

Simply fill in your details below for your chance to win!

An Adventure in Words together with Random House Australia are offering you the chance to WIN one of two copies of Thomas Keneally's book The Place at Whitton.

If you are on twitter and enter below and, also, share the tweet below then you will also win The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman. Total Prize package if you tweet $49.98. Total prize package if you just enter below $29.99.

Tweet this for extra prize

#Australia Win Thomas Keneally's The Place at Whitton & The Street Sweeper-Elliot Perlman. ENTER here & retweet 

The Blurb on The Place at Whitton by Thomas Keneally

Tom Keneally's first novel, The Place at Whitton, a psychological mystery, was published after his time in a seminary. Fifty years on, this anniversary edition is being released with a new author's note about the novel and fifty years of writing.

The Blurb on The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman
Emerging out of the depths of his own personal history, Adam sees, in a promising research topic suggested by an American World War II veteran, the beginnings of something that might just save him professionally and perhaps even personally. As these two men try to survive in early twenty-first-century New York, history comes to life in ways neither of them could have foreseen. Epic in scope, this is a remarkable feat of storytelling.

Competition closes Midnight WA Time Sunday 15th June
Winners will be notified by email with 72 hours

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Why clones shouldn’t be used in customer service call centres



Dear wonderful reader, who normally expects writerly news and information here, I endured the misfortune of having nearly four hours of my writing time taken by a company delivering extraordinarily bad service. So I thought I would take the opportunity to write an amusing take on it, so that the time wasn’t entirely wasted.

Dear BUPA Management,

In your blurb on your site, you claim:

“We don’t make claims. We pay them.
When you make a claim on your health cover, it shouldn't be hard to get it paid.”

It “shouldn’t be hard,” but it’s very hard; its almost impossible. Also at great variance to what you claim is your concept of “urgent escalation.” So I’m going to help you out here, as customer service is near and dear to my heart, and I’m going to take more of my valuable writing time to share my story with you and my friends and readers.

Get yourself a coffee. This is a long read, but you will find it a valuable experience in helping you understand what is going wrong for you in your service department. The oft repeated catch phrase by your customer service people (and I call them that very loosely) of “I’m trying to understand what has happened here,” makes me wonder if I have been speaking to people at all. I wonder if perhaps your call centre is staffed by clones, whose role is to frustrate your customers so that they give up and go away, thus lessening the wait time. 

Let me enlighten you as to what has happened, so that you don’t have to repeat that phrase when it comes to my complaint ever again, and you can help your clones “understand."

We recently changed over to you from a health fund with which we’ve had a very good experience for ten years. Our reason for moving was that you promised there would be savings for us (yes there were) and that we would receive valued customer service as we were coming via a corporate plan through a multinational billion-dollar company for whom my husband works.

I’m afraid you misrepresented your dedication to service, as what I received would be the equivalent of what I now call “The Clone Wars.”

First up, when I tried to make a simple claim for optical for two invoices for glasses for my son and myself, your online service denied it because of some problem with a clearance certificate from the previous provider. No biggie. We got the certificate for you. Would have been nice if you chased it up, or told us we needed to chase it up. But, still it was one small problem, which I’ve since found created a whole other BIG problem.

Weeks later, when said certificate finally was sent to you and we did claim online, we were paid short of the amount expected and one of the claims was denied for some reason, which necessitated my call to you.

“Ah yes,” says the customer service operator (let me call them Clone 1), “it looks like the system has registered it as a duplicate claim because of the first rejected claim. So I will escalate this as an urgent matter to the Claims Department, and they will get back to you within 48 hours.”

“Hmm,” he adds, “I don’t know why this has happened. I’d like to understand why this has happened. Its an interesting one.” (This is an important line because every one of your Customer Service People Clones said this line. By the fifth clone person, I wanted to reach through the line and rip out their brain chips or whatever you plug into them to have them repeat the same damn thing to everything.

Sorry, I digress... Clone 1 goes on to request that I please email a copy of the invoices to assist the Claims Department in fixing it. This I did immediately on the 29th April.

Then I wait. In fact, I gave you a whole week to reply. Considering Clone 1 had labeled my claim urgent and escalated it and assured me someone would get back to me within forty-eight hours, quite frankly I was worried. I thought I’d better call you again. You see, I suddenly realised that I hadn’t thought to ask what your version of “urgent” actually was, since your version of “urgent” and mine was clearly different. Clone 1 did say “48 hours,” but I didn’t think to ask if you meant consecutive hours or you were spreading them out over a few weeks.

This brings me to yesterday’s phone call at around 4.30pm, Perth time, seven days after my Clone 1 phone call. The time is important, and I will get to that in a minute. The 2nd Customer Service Clone (Clone 2), a young man who had a just as cheery and trying-to-seem-helpful-whilst-offering-no-help personality as Clone 1, again repeated your company line after I explained my troubles over a simple claim. 

He kept me on the line, while he read all the notes and said. “Hmm. Now I’m trying to understand what has happened here.”

Then he did some calculations, which I think he may have pulled out of his hat or some other place where you keep them there, and told me that the wrong amount had been paid and it should be a few dollars more. Not the full amount of refund like you were meant to pay me, though. Then he repeated. “Hmm, now I’m trying to understand what’s happened here.” He just kept saying that phrase, as if his chip was malfunctioning, poor guy.

By then, I was trying to understand why he kept saying that. I truly wondered if I stopped him there, and pressed number 3 on my dial pad and then hit #, if I would get some other answer. That the number 1 I had pressed for customer service had actually got me through to the Automated Clone Department. I really needed a human that would simply understand I was a customer who just wanted some… service from the Customer SERVICE Department.

He couldn’t help me. His department couldn’t help me. Clone 2 offered to escalate it as urgent. He didn’t realize that I understood that BUPA’s version of urgent, was different to mine.  

I worked that out all by myself and without reading your brochures; I did this while waiting for you to call back and waiting on your line and waiting for your clones to “try to understand what has happened here.” And BUPA I don’t like your version. It kind of sucks really, and its so far from good customer service that…

I digress, sorry, I get worked up…

So I declined Clone 2’s non-helpful offer, and asked to speak to the person above him—maybe someone higher up on the Clone ladder. Nothing against clones here. I like clones, but they shouldn’t work in customer service, unless they’re cloned from the very best customer service clones. These clearly were not.

Then came the next surprise, even by clone standard it was low. I had called at the wrong time, according to Clone 2. You see, we West Australians are two hours behind the East Coast, so it was “after hours” where he was situated in Clone Land. Therefore there were no Clone Managers he could put me through to.

Wow. A big company like you, Australia-wide (world-wide, in fact), who boasts that 3.7 million Australians have entrusted their health insurance with you, that isn’t set up to deal with the two-hour time difference. Management clones working an extra two hours or placed on a 2 hour later shift surely don’t cost that much more than your average Customer Service Clones. We’re only talking two hours, people! 

Here’s a free tip, too. West Australians don’t like to be told they’re calling out of normal business hours. It’s kind of insulting when you, BUPA, know that you have West Australian customers. I mean you don’t give us a discount in our premiums because we don’t get the full service with top class management clones after 3pm.

By this stage, you can understand, I was a little frustrated. This was my 2nd phone call, a week after the first, plus I’d sent an email and the whole clearance certificate debacle was now playing on my mind. Did I mention that I received an acknowledgement of my email, three whole days after my email arrived with you, informing me that someone would get back to me within 48 to 72 hours? That’s horrendously slow. Surely Email Handling Clones are cheaper than the Customer Service Clones. They, at least, don’t have to talk.

I said to this one, Clone 3, who was still muttering, “I’m trying to understand what’s happened here,” that I expected someone to call me back the next day, and that was my version of urgent. Clone 3 was now sounding a touch harassed. Perhaps something went wrong in the cloning process, but he wasn't dealing well with an unhappy customer who’d been treated poorly. His final words that he thought were comforting for me, but were not: He would do the best he could and escalate it to “Urgent.”

Isn’t that what the other clone did? Huh?

Next day… guess what? No phone call. I wanted to finalise it. These clones were getting under my skin. I decided to call again, because I didn’t believe they would call me back as they’d promised. Remember I didn’t understand the “urgent” system. It could be years and I hate loose ends.

Ah, I get another Customer Service Clone, Clone 4, who wants to… you guessed it “understand what has happened here.” 

Clone 4 also couldn’t tell me whether or not BUPA would be paying my claim any time soon. They had to… guess what? Escalate it to “urgent.”

How many urgent levels do you have? I think, in my book, I was on Urgent Level 5 by this stage (the next one is code red where my head explodes and we go to Defcon 5 where submarines all over the planet "Dive"). But none of the clones seemed prepared to reveal what urgent level I needed to be on in order to get my simple claim paid. We’re talking $358 here. Did I mention that?

Here’s how the customer service clone performed just for your feedback, because I think you won’t want to replicate this one. The conversation is abbreviated, too; it went on for fifteen minutes before this excerpt.

Me: It seems to me the problem lies with the claims department. Can you put me through to the Claims Department and I'll sort it out with them.

Clone 4:   I can't put you through to the Claims Department. They don't take calls.

Me:  Why not?

Clone 4:  They just do claims. They don't talk to customers.

Me:  How do I get to communicate with them?

Clone 4:  Through me. I escalate it to "Urgent" (oh brother, I thought, not the "urgent" merry-go-round again)

Me:   Can you please put me through to a manager above you, because I’m not getting off the phone until someone tells me they’ve processed the claim and are paying me. I’ve wasted a lot of time on this over nothing.

Clone 4: Oh, I don’t think you’ve wasted time over nothing. It’s not because of nothing.

Me:     That’s it. Put me through to a manager.

Clone 4:        Can I help you with something?

Me:     No, you can’t. It’s not working for me with you. I want to speak to someone above you. (Head clone or something, I thought. I know it’s not polite to call them clones to their faces.)

Clone 4:        But why? What’s it about?

Me:     My claim!!!! (I wanted to say: You need something genetically modified, I think, like your brain.)

Clone 4:        But what exactly, so I can tell them?

Me:     For God’s sake. Just tell them it’s about bad customer service (and I think to myself, annoying clones)

Clone 4:        What customer service?

Me:     Exactly.  And the nothing comment. I didn’t like your "nothing" comment. (I’m almost speechless, stuttering.)

Clone 4:        I can transfer you to the Customer Relations Department and inform them that its about bad service. The wait is 50 minutes!!! (Yep you read that right 50 minutes!!!)

BUPA, do you really need to transfer me to your Customer Relations Department to complain about your service so that you understand that its bad service to tell someone that 50 minutes is an okay wait time? Holy hell. Who runs this place? The Evil Competition Clones who are going to destroy the BUPA business from the inside?

By this time, I’ve been on the phone for 1 hour and 10 minutes. I waited another ten minutes, then hung up and called back. I figured (while I was waiting and listening to your message about how much you value your customers) that Clone 4 had put me on perpetual hold. I started to think that Clone 4 might be worried that I would complain about them, then your Clone Department would put them back in the tank and reuse their body cells to create another clone. Clone 4 forgot that you record their calls for customer service training, so they were fried meat anyway.

I call back… next Customer Service Clone, Clone 5, and I have a similar conversation. “Hmm," she says, "let me read through the notes. Let me see if I can understand what has happened.”

Me:     I just want you to put me through to the Customer Relations person who can help me. I know you can’t help me because none of you (clones) in Customer Service (yes they’re two different departments) have been able to help so far. (I think: you don’t have the magic ring, or wand or power or whatever it is you need to just give me my small amount of claim money.)

Clone 5:   I will transfer you, but, hmm, I’m just trying to understand what’s happened here.”

Me:     Hmmm. I don’t care what you are trying to understand. I’ve been on the phone for almost two hours. If you want to understand it, do it on your own time.

Clone 5:         I’ll put you through to Customer Relations, but the wait time is 30 minutes.

Me:     Yes, why don’t I wait. I’m getting good at waiting on your line. And while I’m waiting I’ll be tweeting to my 42,000 followers and all my Facebook friends about my wait, and about you, and how you’ve wasted my time over a nothing claim. So, do let whoever is in charge know that’s what’s happening while I’m waiting.

I waited. Listened again to how good you think you are to your customers on your recorded message and how much you love your customers and how you invest all your profits back for the members (and attempting to improve your cloning techniques). It gets old. I can repeat the message verbatim.

Then I thought: this Clone 5 could be pulling the same trick as Clone 4 to avoid going back in the dissolving tubs. So I hung up and called back again. Surely I could find the one clone who might understand that my call was possibly the one call that needed to jump the queue or have a much higher-up-on-the-corporate-ladder-clone deal with it. I just needed one that could deal with this now very, very frustrated customer.  You must train one of them for that. Surely one…

I hung up and tried again. Clone 6 did the trick.

Clone 6:        Do you want to tell me what’s happened?

Me:     No, I think its best for you and for me if you just put me through to the Customer Relations Department. You don’t need to understand what has happened. You just need to hit a button and put me through to Customer Relations. The notes are there. They keep telling me they’re making notes. (I’m thinking: Is there not a bloody flashing banner over my account number now, above the damn notes so you don’t keep asking What has happened?)

Aside Note to BUPA on Clone 6: This one is a good one to clone again. If you are listening back through the phone calls that are recorded in order to “improve your customer service experience,” (would take quite a bit to improve by the way) please note that she did a good job and listened to me and put me through. She didn’t mutter “I need to understand what’s happened here.” Good clone.

Ten minutes later, after Clone 6 puts me through to the Customer Relations Department. (You can’t call this Department directly by the way. The clones have to put you through.) Where was I? Oh yes, ten minutes after Clone 6 puts me through…

… only ten, not fifty, not thirty... I’m on to a top level clone in customer relations who actually suggested that she familiarise herself with the file off-phone and then call me back in…  wait for it... twenty minutes. Ta-da!!! Heck twenty minutes! So they can do it. A miracle of service. 

Me:     Why don’t the others (clones) offer to call me back in twenty minutes?

Customer Relations Clone 1:  They aren’t able to make phone calls out. We’re the only ones who can do that. Anything that they can’t handle, they escalate to us. We can’t call people back immediately. Normally, we’re only allocated a window of time when we don’t take phone calls and we can then make phone calls. That is when we can call customers back. (I think: What??? This is clone-speak. Only clones understand this logic.)

Me:     But they escalated it to you a week ago, and that didn’t work.

Customer Relations Clone 1:      Yes, something has gone wrong. We’re prepared to offer you one month’s premium as compensation for your trouble. (I’d asked for the compensation from Clone 3, but that one told me that BUPA doesn’t give compensation (obviously this was above their clone pay-grade.)

Customer Relations Clone 1 calls me back within thirty minutes. Yes, they will pay me my claim money on Monday. She’s sorted it out and fixed all the things that had gone wrong to cause the claims not to be paid. 

Me:     Why did it have to come to this?

Customer Relations Clone 1:     We know we are having problems with customer service at the moment, and trying really, really hard to fix it.

You think?

I suggest you find the defective clone and stop cloning them. That would be an easy fix. I'll even tell you where to find them. They're somewhere up the management food chain. They work out how to save money by cutting staff and not properly training the ones that are left. "Shhh," they say, "the customers will barely notice. They're used to this kind of service. It's crap everywhere anyway. Why should we be different?"

The final insult must surely be that, after all this, I go to my Facebook page to see that BUPA has actually responded to my complaint that I posted on their FB page while I waited for the clones to help me.

I'd also tweeted the events to my followers and tagged @BupaAustralia in on the multiple tweets and retweets, and received no acknowledgement. I’d written all over their Facebook page, too.

The BUPA Facebook Page Clone left me a message on Facebook and also asked me to DM her in future if I needed any help. I’m sure that would be so good for you, BUPA, if your customers didn’t make their complaints public, but how is that fair to other potential customers not to see the complaints? And if the Facebook Page Clone can solve all my problems with a quick DM, then why don't they answer the phones or why don't we DM all our complaints instead of using the phone?

Here's my recommendations BUPA

BUPA, if you want to advertise that customers are important, then don’t just pay it  lip service.

If you are going to use clones, then programme them properly.

If you are going to have social media accounts, then check them more than once a day, so that you can offer assistance before tweets like mine are retweeted to hundreds of thousands of people. You do not know now how many people changed their mind about moving to you because of what happened to me today. Or how many in the future, now that I’ve posted this on my blog. One of my friends has genuinely reversed her decision to move over to you because of this. She will tell others.

Finally, when a customer calls you and tells you they’re having a bad experience, don’t EVER say to them, “Now let me try and understand this,” and “We’re escalating this to urgent, and we’ll call you back in the next 48 hours.” Those two phrases don’t go together. They’re oxymoronic.

BUPA, please know, also, that this may cost you more money thanks to my frustration and angst levels having risen to URGENT levels today, I may have a heart operation claim coming through to you shortly. So how economic are your customer service clones now?

No more clones please, my heart can’t take it.