Thursday, September 6, 2012

Sock Puppetry by Dominic H. King

What do 7-time Tour de France ‘winner’, Lance Armstrong, and crime writer, R.J. Ellroy, have in common?

Well, it would appear they have both cheated to get ahead. Lance Armstrong by doping and R.J. Ellroy by inventing people to favourably review his books and attack those of fellow authors – a practice that has been dubbed ‘sock puppetry’.

Lance Armstrong has not admitted the offence, but some commentators and other cyclists from his era have sought to defend the practice by stressing that everyone else was doing it and therefore implying that this was the only way he could ever have ‘won’. Whilst in publishing, RJ Ellroy is by no means the only author to have admitted inventing personas and conversations in a bid to boost sales (see Guardian UK article).
As a new author this poses a number of questions for me: Are authors old and new using pseudonyms to get ahead? Do I stand a chance of being noticed if everyone else is artificially building a buzz around his or her work? If everyone else is doing it, does that make it OK for me to do it too?

Without wanting to sound like a martyr in an industry I have been part of for a nanosecond, I would answer the final question with a firm no. Without specified rules of engagement, any competition becomes meaningless, whether that be slogging your guts out to reach the top of Mont Blanc or the Amazon bookseller list. Full disclosure: I have asked friends who have read my book to tell the world what they think online. True, they doubtless see the book through rose-tinted glasses but, to my mind, this is a world away from posting your own reviews and slating competitors. R.J. Ellroy might well retort that any publicity is good publicity, but it will be interesting to see how these revelations impact on his sales.

Publishing has changed dramatically since the arrival of the digital book, bringing with it the rise of the self-publicist and the peer review. Clearly, sock puppetry is one of the challenges that emerges as authors become their own publicists so I was pleased to find out that Goodreads has a system for identifying the practice and that the Society of Authors would consider introducing a new code if it becomes more widespread.

Ethics can be highly subjective but I think most people would find it hard to justify the actions of anybody, be they a cyclist or an author, who cheated to reach the top. Maybe Lance Armstrong and R.J. Ellroy, let alone Marion Jones and Ben Johnson, would tell me it was all worth it.

But somehow I doubt it.


Dominic H. King is author of the Twin World trilogy. Vol1: The Chamber It is available here on Amazon, Amazon UK and Barnes & Noble.

When an unstoppable evil force known only as ‘the Reaper’ seeks to break into Kal’s world, his life becomes intrinsically linked to that of Daine, a ruthless female assassin. Boy and girl must face challenges both together and apart if Kal is to save his father who lies in a chamber far away, and Daine is discover why she has been called away from everything she has ever known.

Kal must travel further than he has ever been before, alone, except for the sporadic guidance of his father’s best friend, the mysterious Juquor. Relentlessly pursued by the deadly Arrochom, he must show maturity beyond his years to fight prejudice, solitude and the fears that cramp his every waking moment if he is to find a way back to his father.

Daine finds herself in another world, ripped from the comfort of the profession that is all she has ever known, unable even to converse with those around her. Confronted with feelings from a missing adolescence and forced to learn everything she once knew again, she must battle with her gender and revisit painful memories if she is to find purpose and quell the daemons that stalk her dreams.


Chapter 1.i

“You must get back. The evil one is coming. You must be gone before he arrives.”

The old man called to him, but his mind felt heavy and sluggish. Great trees and fields of corn burned. Children ran screaming, their faces contorted with fear. A dark presence rose up, high as a mountain, blotting out the sun.

“Do you hear me? Help is on the way but you must get back!”

The boy awoke with a start. Cold stone bit into his back and he raised himself onto his hands. As he did so, a flash of pain erupted from his leg and looking down he saw that the right leg of his hair trousers was wet with blood. His vision blurred and he tried to focus on his surroundings. A great stone chamber engulfed him, hollow except for thirteen pillars forming an inner-circle. A shaft of light fell from an unseen hole in the cavern ceiling, flooding the centre of the chamber with a pale, ghostly green translucence.

Is it illuminating something? Or someone?

An unseen force; a howling, gusting gale battered the depths of his soul. It bounced around the chamber, wailing and screeching, cutting and biting. Yet nothing stirred.

Laying in utter darkness some twenty paces outside this circle, the boy groaned, raising into a sitting position and squinted ahead, trying to ignore the throbbing pain in his leg. A man lay prone on the cavern floor; his naked body looked frail, brittle. The boy could make out a deeply lined, lightly bearded face and something stirred inside of him.

Was this the man from his dream?

Have I been entombed? Or am I dead?

He thought he should check on the old man but fear kept him still. 

Chapter 1.ii

The air was heavier than usual, unwilling to allow either heat or rain to escape. Dark clouds swirled menacingly overhead, as though forewarning her of danger. She had scouted the area and found nothing, but the stillness made her wary.

Could it be a trap?

She kept her senses sharp and her mind alert for any signs of company. There was only a small window of time to complete the mission. She had to get in and out without being seen. There was no back up, no friends to rescue her if things went wrong. She always worked alone and she liked it that way.

She straightened and craned her neck around the low stone hut she had been crouching behind since the sun had gone down. It looked like the Reaper’s army had moved on but a deep sense of foreboding gripped her. She must be gone before they returned. She made one final scan of the area from her hiding place before gliding away across the sodden earth. The evening was stiflingly muggy under the blackened sky, which offered just the faintest tinge of murky moonlight to guide her. She would not make a sound, she had been taught by the best.

But then, I am the best they have ever seen.

She crept forward with her eyes fixed on the low stone entrance, senses straining for any sign of an ambush. The landscape was bleak and barren. All living things had either escaped or died trying. Charred remains smoldered around her and she tried to block out the stinging, nauseating stench of burnt flesh searing her nostrils as she crossed towards the low entrance to the chamber hewn smoothly out of the black rock.

Get in, get out. It was a job. Nothing more. It was how she survived.


Until Next Time...

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