Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Friday, November 25, 2022

Monarch of the Glen by Compton Mackenzie Review

Monarch of the Glen, the painting.

The Monarch of the Glen by Compton Mackenzie A (and NOT on the curve.)

As I stated in my Final Quest post several weeks ago, after sampling different genre and contemporary writing, I decided to return to my true roots in non-SFF writing, which is to say books written in the first half of the 20th century, give or take a decade. I wanted something light and bright, and didn’t already have on my bookshelves, so to that end, I ordered a second hand copy of Compton Mackenzie’s The Highland Omnibus, which includes three of his “Highland Novels”, The Monarch of the Glen, (1941) Whisky Galore(1947) and The Rival Monster (1952).

I am pretty certain that I have read this, and the other two novels, years ago, though I found that I remembered nothing of this story. The Monarch of the Glen (A pun on a famous painting of a deer) concerns a Scottish laird, Donald MacDonald of Ben Nevis, the 23rd of that family line, his wife, three sons and two daughters, plus friends, and his millionaire American guests, Chester Royde, his wife Carrie, and his sister Myrtle. The story recounts his efforts to marry one of his sons to Myrtle who stands to inherit millions. In addition there is a war against campers, who have disregarded his “No Camping” signs on his estate. All in the service of poking affectionate fun at Scots highland customs, language, weather and attitudes, with plenty of asides regarding English customs and foibles as well, so I won’t bother to recount the plot. For me the story is all about its writing.

As I have said in the past, I love clever, witty, and accomplished writing. Almost all of my favorite writers are British, or in the case of Raymond Chandler, English educated. There is something in how they use their language that I find delightful, though, of course, there is a wide spectrum of British writers, so that not all appeal to me. It is the light, bright, and atmospheric ones that I find so wonderful, and Compton Mackenzie falls into this category. Now, some of his stories are quite serious, but his Highland Novels, are meant to be funny, and they are. I could quote half a dozen lines here to support that, but well, humor is subjective, and perhaps taken out of context, the lines would fail to amuse, so I won’t. Suffice to say that I grinned, laughed out loud, and simply appreciated the man’s talent.

There is a British TV show with this name as well. I recall watching a season or two of it somewhere, but it’s connection with the book, if any at all, is tenuous at best, set, as it is, in modern times.

There are, I believe, three more novels set in the highlands and the Scottish Islands featuring some common characters. They are, Turning out the Home Guard, Hunting the Faries, and Rockets Galore that I fear I will have to order from England sooner or later, as they never reached this shore. But I still have two more novels to read before placing my order with Abe Books.

Friday, November 18, 2022

What I'm Up To These Days


‘What am I up to?’ you ask.

‘Not all that much,’ I reply.

I have one work currently in progress, Passage to Jarpara. It will end up either as a novella or a short novel, depending on when I reach its end. At present, I am 25K words into the story which is my third Tropic Sea Tale. It takes up the story of the Sella, Lessie, Taef and Carz within a week or two of where we left them at the end of The Prisoner of Cimlye. While we left them in a good place, with no pressing need for any sequel, I am quite fond of these characters and that setting. In addition,  I have always wanted to see Taef launched on his career as a college professor in archaeology. And while I don’t think this story will see his career actually launched, it will at least see him to Jarpara and its famous university.

The story is a simple, lighthearted travelogue, as the title suggests. We meet a few people, some new, some old, and have a few minor alarms and excursions. I always like to try to do something new in every new story, and in this story I’m writing about newly married couples, which would be a first for me. The chase is over. The challenge is to write some nice, sharp, and witty Nick & Nora style dialog within and between the two couples. Alas, there’s not much of that in the first draft so far. No reason to panic just yet, my first draft is all about the story, the second is about style, i.e. how it is written, so hopefully I’ll be able to insert some of the wit and charm that I set out to write in the second and third drafts.

I have no set timeline for finishing or releasing this story. In theory I could finish the first draft with a month’s writing. In theory. However, I was writing this story more or less as I went along, and I really don’t like writing that way. I like it when I have the story entirely in mind so that I can just sit down every day and put it into words. I have three main scenes/episodes yet to write, but the last one is only an idea, not a fleshed out episode, and I want to flesh it out before continuing, so I’ve paused my work on this story until I have the rest of it well in mind.

However, having just release The Aerie of a Pirate Prince at the end of September, and with The Girl on the Kerb ready to go just as soon as it is rejected by traditional publishers – sometime early in spring 2023, I have no pressing need to get this story done, so I can take my time to get those final episodes in mind. I’m thinking it might end up being a fall of 2023 release. One reason for this long delay is that I’m putting my imagination to work to dream up with a new standalone novel that I’m hoping to begin writing after the holidays.

Earlier this week I put a working title to it; Chantiere House. Les Dessard, our narrator finds himself inheriting the chateau of Chantiere along with the ghost of his great, great grandfather who disappeared 11 years prior, and was only now declared legally dead. The story concerns the mystery of his disappearance, and presumed death, which his ghost has no recollection of.

At least that’s where it stands now. I still don’t actually have a story. I only have several characters and a setting and a situation to work with. It will, however be a “fantasy” novel for marketing purposes. Fantasy in quotation marks because I really can’t bring myself to write real magic. As in Beneath the Lanterns, the fantasy elements – for example the ghost – will be fantasy because the narrator is unaware of the advanced technology that creates the “magic.” The story will in fact, be set in my standard “universe” that includes all my stories save A Summer in Amber, Some Day Days, and A Night on Isvalar. It will be set on a planet called “Fair” that has been settled by stasis ships, like Dara in Sailing to Redoubt, and the original Nine Star Nebula worlds. However this settlement and their origins have devolved into a founding myth, the Arcane Age. And the original tech will have been largely – but not completely forgotten, remembered only as the Arcane magic. Those who still know the now secret truth and still retain remnants of the technology which have been passed down through a dozen generations, are known as the scholar arcane. The families of the scholar arcane now secretly wield the power within the government of Fair, though not without rivalry between them. I have the beginning chapters in mind, but the heart of the story, the fact that the Grandfather did something to bring some of the hidden Families Arcane down on him has yet to be hammered out. I suspect that this will be a mystery story more than an adventure story. I am guardedly confident that I can come up with that story, but until I do, this is very much a bird in the bush rather than in the hand. It may turn out to be a dead end. We’ll see.

So that’s were we’re at. I have one novel finished and ready for release in late 1Q or early 2Q 2023. One novella/short novel about half written, with about two months of work left to do on it. And one new long standalone novel with several of the opening chapters loosely sketched out in my mind. In short, I can keep as busy as I care to.

Friday, November 11, 2022

The Final Quest

This will be the final installment of my quest to find a new genre to read. As I said said when setting out on this quest, science fiction no longer appealed to me as a reader, and the same could be said for fantasy – though I was never a big fan of fantasy to begin with. Seeking a new genre to read, I downloaded free books from Amazon in Historical Fiction, Urban Fantasy, and Cozy Mysteries. What follows is my book report on the Cozy Mysteries I sampled.

Murder and Mint Tea, A Mrs. Miller Mystery by Janet Lane-Walters DNF 21%

This story features a 60 something old retired nurse with a lot of friends that we are introduced to along the way, which I believe is a key story beat in this genre. She lives in a “Painted Lady”, i.e. and old Victorian era house that she has converted into two flats – taking the upper one for herself and renting the lower one. Which tells me that Janet Lane-Walters is not very old, since any elderly widow with any brains at all, especially a nurse, would not choose live at the top of the stairs at her age. I believe the mystery concerns her new tenant. This tenant is a pretty lady with two children, a nice one and a nasty one. Her son made the arrangements and the lady is having an affair with a friend is his. I never reached the point where someone gets murdered, so there will be no spoilers in this review.

As I’ve said before, I don’t mind slow openings. My stories never open with a bang, so it would be the pot calling the kettle black to criticize a slow opening, but let’s just say that the only thing that happened in the first 21% of the story is that Mrs Miller breaks her leg crossing the street in a snow storm. Seeing that it is almost healed by the time the slightly slutty new tenant and her obnoxious son and nice daughter are introduced, what was the point of that incident? It’s a mystery. A cozy mystery. And remains one, since I called it a day on this cozy mystery before ever finding out. Or caring.

An Occupied Grave, A Brock & Poole Mystery by A G Barnett DNF 31%

This is a traditional English mystery story set in contemporary Britain. Unlike the previous story, this mystery starts right out of the gate with the elbow of a body discovered in the newly dug grave at the grave side service of a dead lady. Investigating the body, we have a new police detective, Brock, on his first day at the station, who is assigned the case along with detective Poole. Brock has a backstory that is slowly revealed, as does Poole during the investigation. The victim is a young man just released from jail – a relative of the person being buried – who is hated by everyone in the village because, while drunk, he drove his car into a young couple from the village, killing the young man, and the young woman, turned to drugs and died. So everyone in the village is a suspect in his killing.

While not a classic, it is not a bad mystery story, and I didn’t deliberately decide not to finish it, I  just have not been not motivated enough to pick it up again. Maybe I will finish it someday, but I really wouldn’t call it a cozy mystery. It is a straight up traditional mystery.

I then briefly sampled two other books, The Nantucket Inn by Pamela Kelly about someone opening her home as a bed and breakfast, and Deadheaded and Buried, An English Cottage Garden Mystery by USA Today Best Selling Author H. Y. Hanna. In sampling both of these books I came to the realization that I really didn’t want to read stories set in the contemporary world. I read for escape, and I’m not really into the daily Starbucks lifestyle. So I moved along to sample one more cozy mystery.

Murder in the Manor A Lacy Doyle Cozy Mystery – Book One by Fiona Grace C on the curve

Yes, I finished this one, and yes it is set in the contemporary world, so I guess I found it more compelling than the two previous contemporary stories. This story concerns a just divorced woman, Lacy Doyle, who is an interior designer, on the cusp of turning 40. After signing the divorce papers, she decided to quit her job and fly to England to visit a town she remembers visiting with her parents just before her father disappeared out of their lives. She has money to spend, enough to spend several hundred pounds on a taxi ride to this village without batting an eye. With all the hotels booked for the Easter Holiday season, she is offered a cottage on a cliff overlooking the sea to say at, that owner is planning to renovate. The next day she meets the handsome pastry chef, Tom, who runs a bakery, discovers a recently abandoned store across the street that reminds her of the past. She meets the owner and decides to open up an antique shop in it just as soon as she can change her visa to allow her to work in the UK. After this happens she inherits a dog who has made his way “home” after his owners, the former renters of the shop were killed in a car crash. She runs about buying a store’s worth of antiques using her London antique dealer contacts from her former job and opens the antique store – all in two weeks after arriving. Really? And what’s the rush?

That day, or the next the old lady of the local manor stops by and wants her to appraise her antiques, since she plans to sell them. They agree to meet at the manor the following day for breakfast, “I have it delivered to the house promptly for seven a.m.” the lady of the manor says. The lady says something that seems to indicate that she knew Lacy Doyle’s father – this is a plot thread that runs through the series, I believe. When Lacy arrives the following morning, she finds the door unlatched, and the lady of the manor dead inside. She calls the police, who determine that the lady was murdered. Lacy, somehow becomes the prime suspect. Who delivered the breakfast, you ask? It is never mentioned again. There is, however, Nigel the valet, but he was out somewhere with “an alibi” at seven that morning. For some reason, the victim’s three children, though they wouldn’t inherit anything but items from the play room, become Lacy’s prime suspects as she seeks to solve the mystery since, for some reason, she finds herself (almost) universally hated in the village for killing the old lady. The almost is handsome Tom, the pastry chef, and her next door neighbor on the cliff. Lacy must clear her name or her antique business would go bust, so together with Nigel she set out to solve the mystery It seems that a small, but very valuable painting, is missing from its place on the wall and they believe it is hidden in a locked grandfather clock because it seems people want that clock. And so it goes with various red herrings right up to the end where Lucy and Nigel gather all the suspects together – the victim’s three children – and the police, so Lucy can explain who did the deed, how and why.

The story had energy which kept me reading, but was unrealistic in so many ways. For example, the (unnecessary) speed at which Lacy set up shop. The fact that she was immediately the main suspect without any evidence, the fact that everyone in the village believed that and shunned her. Moreover, there was a sloppiness of the mystery, who delivered the lady’s breakfast was never addressed, and the missing miniature painting in the clock could’ve easily been slipped into a coat pocket and taken, but was instead locked in the clock. By the time the mystery was explained in classic drawing room mystery fashion, I didn’t care. A good mystery needs to be clever, and this was, at best a Hardy Boys level of a mystery with too many assumptions and right guesses.

Note: While downloading the cover image for this book, I was amazed to find that this title had over 10,000 ratings on Amazon. Wow. And darn good ones as well. Lordy, I'm out of the mainstream.

So what’s a fellow do do now? Where to turn for good books to read. To the past, of course. To either books or authors that I have read long ago and retain fond memories of. I went on Abe Books and ordered an old omnibus collection of three novels by a favorite author that I may’ve read, but don’t remember much beyond enjoying them. Stay turned. (Spoiler; so far so good. At last, good, clever writing by a master of the language.)

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

The Aerie of a Pirate Prince is FREE on Amazon

Just a quick note: The Aerie of a Pirate Prince is, of this posting, FREE on Amazon did this all on their own, I haven't been bothering to ask them to price match my free prices elsewhere for the last couple of years - Amazon sales being what they are. In any event, I don't know how long they will keep this price, so act fast if you haven't picked up this title yet! 

Friday, November 4, 2022

7 & 1/2 Years in Self Publishing - A report


It’s once again time to report my six month sales figures for my eighth year in self publishing – from May 2022 through October 2022.

Long story short: it was a very good first half largely due to sales of audiobooks on Google.

I released one new book, a novella, at the end of September, the fourth entry in the Nine Star Nebula Mystery/Adventure series, The Aerie of a Pirate Prince. It had been more than a year since I released a new book, so it was the new auto-narrated audiobooks that carried the ball this half.

My Sales Numbers

As usual, almost all of the sales are free ebooks sold through Amazon, Smashwords, Apple, and Google. What is new is that my sales now include audiobooks offered through Google’s Play Store. My ebooks are also available on Kobo but they do not report free sales to Smashwords. Barnes & Noble do report sales, but they don’t show up on my daily sales charts, so I don’t record those sales by the books – they’re just a rounding error anyway. In addition some books are also listed on other sites that offer free books. I don’t know how many, if any are downloaded from those sites.

Below is the chart comparing sales this half to my sales last year for this period.

Book Title / Release Date

1H 2021 Sales

1 H 2022


Total Sales To date ebook & total sales

A Summer in Amber

23 April 2015



244 Audio


8,711  total

Some Day Days

9 July 2015



331 Audio


5,163 total

The Bright Black Sea

17 Sept 2015



520 Audio


16,240 total

Castaways of the Lost Star

4 Aug 2016




The Lost Star’s Sea

13 July 2017



433 Audio


8,772 total

Beneath the Lanterns

13 Sept 2018





4,222 total

Sailing to Redoubt

15 March 2019



299 Audio


3,833 total

Prisoner of Cimlye

2 April 2020



359 Audio


2,274 total 

Lines in the Lawn

8 June 2020





18 Sept 2020



349 Audio



The Secret of the Tzaritsa Moon

11 Nov 2020



255 Audio



The Secrets of Valsummer House

18 March 2021



382 Audio


1,795 total

Shadows of an Iron Kingdom

15 July 2021



989 Audio



A Night on Isvalar

15 July 2021

(Amazon only – all $ sales only)




The Aerie of a Pirate Prince*

29 Sept 2022



36 Audio


190 total

Total Six Month Sales

* New releases.

(#)B & N Sales 66

NOTE: For some unknown reason the Shadows of an Iron Kingdom audiobook sold very well in Japan. Weird. 


4,414 + 66#

4,480 ebooks

4,574 Audio-books

Sales Total this Half:


56,305 ebooks

4,574 Audio-books

Grand total to date:


Sales at this point 2021:


Breaking down sales via venue gives us:

Sales figures for the same period in 2021 (for comparison):

Amazon 32%

Smaswords (Apple, & B & N) 18%

Google 50%

Sales figures for 2022 including only ebooks:

Amazon 19.5%

Smashword (Apple & B & N) 24.7%

Google 55.8%

With audiobooks now included we have the complete picture:

Amazon 9%

Smashwords (Apple & B & N) 11.3%

Google 79.7%

Even just comparing ebooks, my sales percentage continues to grow on Google vs. Smashwords and Amazon. This is largely due to declining sales on those two sites. However, ebook sales in total is down from last year almost across the board. 

The Headlines for this Sales Period.

I wrote one stand alone novel, The Girl on the Kerb, in 2022, which I expect to release as a self published book in the first half of 2023. I currently have it on submission to British SF publisher Gollancz and I’m waiting to hear back from them – likely in the 1st quarter of 2023. In the meanwhile I have been querying agents with it, with no luck so far. (And none likely.) I hope to submit it to Orbit Publishing when they launch an ebook/audiobook line later this year. I am not holding my breath about selling this novel, hence its expected release in the first half of 2023.

I am currently writing third story set in the Tropic Sea called Passage to Jarpana, which I expect will come in as novella or a very short novel. If it works out, that could see a release in either late December 2022 or early in 2023. As usual, there is no guarantee that it will actually get finished, but I’m hopeful.

This summer I republished all my paperback books in a smaller size and a matte cover with the idea of making them more like the fiction trade paperbacks found on bookshop shelves. I continue to toy with the idea of spending some actual money to get them on the selves of some selected SFF orientated bookshops. However, that would mean that I would have to become a distributor of the books, as I am sure no bookstore is going to buy from Amazon – and well, I didn’t set them up for extended distribution anyway. I’m still just thinking about it, not for making money, but just have a few of my paper books around after I’m dead.

Sales wise, as you can see from above, Google not only continues to lead the pack by a long margin, but dominated my sales not even taking audiobooks into account. Sales on Smashwords crept up a bit on the strength of Apple sales and the release of the new novella, while Amazon continued to fall. Part of the decline in Amazon sales is that I no longer try to get Amazon to price match the free price elsewhere – letting sleeping dogs lie – so most recently released books are full price on Amazon and free everywhere else. I added two European sales channels via Draft2Digital, Tolino and Vivlio, but I don’t expect any sales to result from that. I did it because Draft2Digital has purchased Smashwords and they will eventually merge, so I was just getting my ducks in order early. One novella. A Night on Isvalar is on Amazon’s Vella platform for serial works earns me bonus money without any sales at all. I also have that story in Kindle Unlimited, so it gets the occasional page read and sales. I keep it there merely as a signpost to my other books for readers who would probably never find them otherwise. That, and pure laziness.

I earned $53.22 in royalties, plus a $10 bonus payment for my novella on Vella, for a grand total of $63.22 for the last 6 months. My only expenses was the books I sent to my beta readers that came in under $63.22, so I continue to operate in the black.

The big news is obviously audiobooks. As I noted last May in my 7 year report, Google offered to create audiobooks from my ebooks using their text to speech technology for free, as part of a beta program. I took them up on their offer. Since my stories all being first person narrations, I don’t think they suffer for having only one voice narrate the story – that’s really the way they are written. You see the numbers above, they accounted for half of my sales. The the audio versions have gotten 50 plus ratings to date, all in line with the ebook ratings, and I’ve received no criticisms of the auto-narration quality, so I’m very happy with the results of that experiment.

Looking Forward

I have three goals at present, first is to get Passage to Jarpara written and published in late 2022 or early 2023. Second is to either sell to a traditional publisher or publish The Girl on the Kerb in the first half of 2023. My third goal is to write a new standalone novel over the winter. It will be a fantasy story – I’m going all in on fantasy as it is far more popular with agents and publishers than science fiction, so it is more salable. And salable is what I’m looking for, going forward, since I plan to spend 6 months querying every new standalone novel I write before I self-publish it, assuming I fail to sell it. My attitude is “Why not?’ The gold rush in self-publishing is long over, so a six month delay means nothing and gives me a sliver of a chance to get traditionally published, just for bragging rights.

I have tweaked my tags on all my books on Smashwords and Amazon to see if I can increase sales. In the past I haven’t paid as much attention to them as I should, and I hope to remedy that. We’ll see if we can find an increase in sales as a result of better tags.

Summing It All Up

A very good half. Experiments paid off. We’ll see if better tags pay off. We’ll see if we can sell stories to traditional publishers. We’ll see if I have another novel in me. Always a question. Stay turned.