The Grand Conversation on ebooks: Martin Livings

Martin Livings has been kickin’ it old-school (my funky lingo, not his!) for the past twenty years. He’s one of Australia’s leading horror authors, and certainly one of the most prolific, with more than sixty published short stories under his belt. Martin is the author of Carnies, a horror novel published by Hachette Australia, which is now out of print but available directly from Martin’s website.

The reason I wanted Martin to participate in the Grand Conversation is that he’s typical of a lot of well-credentialed traditionally published authors – he’s had nothing to do with e-books so far, and I suspect if you asked him outright, he’d say he’s a bit baffled by the whole thing. Here’s Martin’s take on e-books:

“Do As I Say, Not As I Do!”

(A Neo-Luddite’s Lament)

It never used to be like this.  When I was a kid, I was right on the cutting edge of technology.  I was programming computers before I left primary school, had my first computer (a Dick Smith VZ200) before my teens.  Started my first IT business in high school, Hologram Software, selling games I’d created myself.  I was on the Internet before it really even existed, just text-based news and email.  Always had the latest computer, the latest software, the fastest Internet.  I was a gadget junkie, Homo Technologus, wires in my veins, a brain filled with circuitry and software updates.

Now, every day, I hear that younger me berating me.  “What happened to you, man?” he asks me, and inexplicably, his voice sounds like that of a young Dennis Hopper.  “You used to be cool.”

I’m writing this article on a laptop that’s well over six years old.  That’s, like, eighty in computer years.  Still running Windows XP, too, which will, I understand, cease to be supported by Microsoft in 2011.  And without a working optical drive.  I have a Twitter account, apparently, but I never look at it.  Blew my nose today, LOL. Please.  Just last week, I went and bought a Playstation 3, to replace, not a PS2, but an original goddamn Playstation.  It seems that, at some point in the last ten years or so, my desire and ability to keep up with current technology was replaced with a stubborn need to cling to a past both comfortable and comprehensible to me.

In other words, I got old.  When the hell did that happen? Apparently, I used to be cool.  Or so Dennis Hopper assures me.

I’ve never even read an e-book.  Or more accurately, I’ve never read an e-book the way it’s intended to be read.  Once or twice I’ve read some works I’ve bought online, and of course I try to read the Australian Horror Writers Association flagship magazine Midnight Echo whenever I get the chance, but in all these cases I’ve … wait for it … printed them out.  So much for saving the fucking environment with digital literature.  I don’t have an e-book reader, or even anything I can realistically use as one.  My iPhone, provided by my work, is too small for my decrepit old-man eyesight, and I’m not going to rush out and buy an iPad.  I like my books to be real, solid, and made of paper.  Books aren’t just the words on the page, there’s a tactile, and yes, even an olfactory reaction to them.  Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer summed the notion up best:

“The knowledge gained from a computer is … it has no texture, no context. It’s there and then it’s gone. If it’s to last, then the getting of knowledge should be tangible. It should be, um … smelly.”

So, that’s what I do.  But what do I say?

Buy e-books, damn it.  Buy them and read them.

A work colleague came up to me the other day and revealed that, since buying his daughter a Kindle for Christmas, she’d been reading more than she ever had before, something like seven or eight books a week.  That’s phenomenal; I don’t think I read that many books in a year.  (Mind you, I tend to get bogged down in books; Dan Simmons’ fantastic novel Drood has happily occupied me for months, and I’m coming to the end of it very reluctantly indeed, unwilling to let it end.)  And every day, more and more books are becoming available in electronic editions, and better and better e-readers are being released.  Personally, I’m still waiting for the right e-reader – and a plentiful and unrestricted supply of e-books to pour into it – to entice me into making the change.  And when it arrives to my satisfaction, yes, I’ll come along, lagging way behind the rest of you as always, but not dragged kicking and screaming as some might imagine, but just making my own damn way in my own damn time.

In the end, when it boils right down to it, reading is reading.  And anything that gets more people reading more books has to be a good thing.  For the moment, yes, my focus is still on the written, printed, smelly word.  But one day, I’ll probably do as Shane Jiraiya Cummings is currently doing, his admirable and ambitious Grand Experiment in e-books, selling some titles that don’t fit easily into the print publishing world.  I have one or two short novels that could benefit from some heavy editing, and I’d also love to try and collect the best of my mildly-tolerated Tuesday’s Ten Minute Tales into an e-book.  One day, I’ll do it.

One day, I’ll be cool again.

One day.

Martin Livings’ horror novel, Carnies, can be purchased from his website.  In hard copy only, of course!

You’ll find his latest short stories in the forthcoming Ticonderoga Publications’ anthologies Scary Kisses 2 and Dead Red Heart. The best of Martin’s short stories will appear in a collection entitled Living with the Dead (Dark Prints Press, 2012).

The Grand Conversation on ebooks will run here at until February 28. If you’d like to contribute a guest blog post, email me at



  1. […] same way celibate priests somehow believe they’re qualified to perform marriage counselling), I’ve gone and taken part in it.  And, in doing so, I think I probably end up sounding like an old crazy man yelling at kids to […]

  2. love this post. Once I was cool too. LOL. I feel cool again with my Kindle, though.

    take heart.

  3. Bob Mayer says:

    Totally get it. I’m an old dog too. I’ve never read an ebook. Bought a Kindle for my wife, we looked at it for about five minutes, couldn’t find the table of contents for a nonfiction book and shipped it to our son who is allergic to paper. Who loves it. He reads books on his iPhone. I’ve never even listened to an audio book.
    But BUY ebooks is my mantra as I check my Kindle account, my PubIt account, my LSI account every morning and count sales. We just lowered our prices for fiction from $5.99 to $2.99 because we realized # of readers is more important than profit per reader.
    I wrote my first book on the original 512K Mac. Frankly, other than swapping out floppies, the most reliable and best computer I ever owned.
    I find it strange there is such resistance among authors regarding ebooks. It’s not right or wrong, it’s reality. I did a whole series of blogs likening it to the Borg. Assimilate or be destroyed.
    Anyway. I’ll be in Australia in August speaking to the national RWA group. I’m looking forward to the trip as I hear everything is opposite there. Left is right, up is down, and summer is winter.

    • Shane Jiraiya Cummings says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Thea and Bob,

      Bob: The Borg analogy is a great one! I felt that ‘assimilate or be destroyed’ feeling building for months, which is why I launched the whole ‘Grand Experiment’ thing.

      And yeah, be careful when you get to Australia – if all the strange reversals don’t get you, the dropbears will!

  4. I am still cool you old fogies 😛 .But yes I think it makes sense for any author to take their time but eventually get their work up and available.