Sunday, April 27, 2008

Our Cup of Tea--veinglory

For those of you thinking about submitting a query. Please give use you email in the text (it is forwarded to a yahoogroup and so the senders email is not shown) and a nice concise synopsis. Here are some examples of what a few of the POD reviewers are more interested in:

"Literature -- dark humour, but serious satire is ok too. Say along the lines of Brett Easton Ellis, or Christopher Moore, or Chuck Palahniuk, or Denis Johnson."

"Science fiction, mystery, history."

"Travel narratives, nonfiction along the lines of radical politics, activism, eccentric biographies (I'm talking like Boxcar Bertha style here), alternative education/medicine/living projects, do it yourself manuals and how to books, and that sort of subculture, off-the-beaten path, underground sort of thing, science fiction, magical realism, macabre, mind f-- sort of lit."

"Pulp-style, cross genre especially with western, unusual romances, erotica."

On April 29th Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander, originally self-published by Authorhouse will be released by HarperCollins. Congratulations to Ann Herendeen. See our review here. p.s. I like the new cover.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Sorry, no review this Friday--veinglory

The other peeps are busy, apparently. I have dental woes, a writing deadline and well... stuff. I do have a few books, some I have had for a while. If I think a book looks good but I am not in the mood, I put it aside for a while. So a few of you may have seen me mention having your book, but no review yet. Please believe me, you probably don't want me reading it with a developing tooth abscess. It is a truism that being published badly is worse than not being published at all. I suspect the same is true of reviews--but I will get back to all those books eventually.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

More on Anonymity--veinglory

Who are you online? Who are you as an author? Is that identity the real you? Is that identity a real identity?

In an entirely different context science blogger PZ Myer's says: "I consider a consistent pseudonym to be a name. I've gotten to know lots of people on the web via their chosen pseudonym, and that pseudonym acquires its own authority on the merits of the writing behind it. You don't need to reveal your full, legal name to be known on the web — it's good enough to have a handle so we can recognize you." And I think he is entirely correct.

Bloggers are essentially like authors. They can be known by a 'pen name'. Under an assumed name, used consistently a person can be known and even accountable. The person you know from a book or a blog is not exactly the same person known by family or colleagues. But it is still the same person and in some way perhaps more honestly so than in complex offline social situations. The pseudonymous self is known by their content, by their style, by what they know and what they say devoid of the clutter of place, race and face.

Pseudonymity is not anonimity because it is consistent over time and so what they pseudinbymous person does carried weight and has consequences. You invest time, money and emotion in that part of your life and a person, by any name, who is accountable is a person. And at this point, was PODdy Mouth a person, or a sock puppet? It all depends on how strong you feel the pressure was that caused that personna to vanished from the internet.

Friday, April 18, 2008

REVIEW: 'Ringcat' by Donna Barr

Title: Ringcat
Author: Donna Barr
Price: $ 9.19
Genre: fantasy?
ISBN: --
Publisher: A Fine Line Press
Point of Sale: Lulu

I think Donna Barr rocks. I think her comic books Desert Peach and Stinz rock. I was thrilled to find she had some content on Lulu and I bought Ringcat fully expecting that it would rock, and it did. Really positive reviews have a way of being very uninformative. The thing is that when I try and describe this novella it sounds like the kind of book I would never buy, and certainly wouldn't enjoy. But here goes.

Ms. Barr often writes stories set in an alternative world in which technology is behind in some ways, almost modern in others, dark nasty magic is lurking in the countryside, and the Nazi party is still the national government in Germany--or something somewhat like it. The world of Ringcat is a kind of soft-edged dystopia that might be very broadly compared with Robert Harris's Fatherland.

The story involves a feckless and very young SS officer being sent to investigate a series of grave robberies and the disappearance of the previous investigator (a female officer by the name of RingCat). From there the tale is kind of a romance, kind of a mystery, has a literally lashing of kinky rural customs and a very idiosyncratic kind of horror twist at the end that is truly glorious.

Ms. Barr's work is vivid, quirky, dark, unique, intelligent and just basically wonderful. Okay, so I'm a fan; I have been for some time. But what is the small and independent press for, if not to deliver this kind of genre-defying material to an enthusiastic reader such as myself?

My only criticisms are that the illustrations are reproduced way too small at only a couple of inches across, I could barely make sense of them let alone really appreciate the details--and the bonus short story at the end is fine but I think it distracts from the climactic last few chapters of the main story.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Dead or Alive--veinglory

Last November I noticed that a new blog had arrived on the scene, by the name of PODdy Mouth. I occasionally found useful information posted there, although by February I found her perspective differed pretty widely from mine and her attitude sometimes (okay, often) annoyed me. I still checked the blog from time to time but found I was putting less weight on what I read there and often I would question the accuracy of statements about publishers made by this blogger. However, like any intelligent person I read the blog and found it interesting, being able to make up my own mind about what was said. I deemed it fairly likely that this blogger was an owner or senior staff member at one of the other self-publishing service providers.

I did notice that some other publishers took part in the comments and questioned the accuracy of what PODdy Mouth said in emotive and sometimes unnecessarily insulting terms. Regardless of what one thought of the blog to begin with I considered the choice to engage with it in that manner and tone questionable at best. More recently I found Angela Hoy had literally put a price on PODdy Mouth’s head: “REWARD!!! If you are the first to tell us the real identity of PODdy Mouth (not the original POD-dy Mouth, but the one mentioned above), and can provide verifiable proof of his/her identity, we will send you $500.”

Now Angela Hoy is, for the most part, a figure I have a lot of respect for while PODdy is a source I considered only marginally useful if considered largely propagandistic in approach. But I still find it ironic that Ms. Hoy is apparently taking the low road of using money and influence rather than (or as well as) the high road of simply approaching the webhost with evidence that their terms of service have been broken or offering calm, persistent corrections on her own site (as her comments on PODdy Mouth were apparently blocked). While Ms Hoy is routinely fairly accurate, much of the rest of her accusations about being “inflammatory” and “negative” invoke an image of a pot and a kettle. How more negative can you get than offering a three figure cash bounty and calling any person a “snide” garbage spewing “liar”. Angela knows how to do good research, she is probably right on points of fact, but she is also certainly overly righteous.

I offer you my opinion on this blog, I do not suggest it is neutral or infallible any more than the other players are. But is the answer to dubious practices and emotive rhetoric to descend immediately to that level and win the battle on those terms? As for Angela’s suggestion that you should “Never, ever trust anyone who refuses to divulge their real identity”. Don’t trust PODdy Mouth, certainly don’t trust my own pseudonymous self at all, and also don’t trust Angela Hoy—don’t trust anyone but your pet puppy dog and even then only if biscuits aren’t involved. Read what is offered, consider the sources, filter out the emotions and motivations, and check the facts.

And decide for yourself.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Question for Authors--veinglory

Charles Weingartner held a view about what artists of all kinds do, what they have always done, and what they should do. In short his opinion is that artists "warn us about monsters." His focus is mainly on man-made threats, and how art can urge us to hold the makers of monsters accountable.

So my question for authors is this. Does your book warn us about a monster, and if so what monster is it?

Friday, April 11, 2008

REVIEW: 'Down to the Sunless Sea' by Mathias B. Freese

Title: Down to the Sunless Sea
Author: Mathias B. Freese
Price: $ 11.86
Genre: Literature/Fiction Short Stories
ISBN: 978-1587367335
Publisher: Wheatmark
Point of Sale: Amazon

Deviant and Damaged … yes, that pretty much says it all with this book of short stories, each an outpouring of bile from the human sewer. I am not being harsh here either. Fact of the matter is, the characters in these stories have lost compassion for themselves. They leave themselves to rot and obsessively desecrate their own souls. Some of it almost reminds me of the disquieted musings of Pessoa, and some, the lamenting Philosophies of Nietzsche.

Here we have a cast of characters reflecting upon and deconstructing the lack of normality in their lives: abusive and psychologically tainted family members, deformity and disability, the confrontation of one’s mortality, and polluted self-esteem—yet all the characters are fighting to survive themselves. If you are a big fan of self-examination, self-deprecation, and self-flagellation, and like your reading material on the darker side, then this book is quite a good read. There is no closure, no happy endings … and that is real life for these very non-fictional souls. In this book, we cannot escape or ignore that fact.

The stories are written in different voices and tones, some from an almost clinical detached external view, some from a surrealistic stream of consciousness view, and some from a wounded internal one. Personally, I like the first person wounded internal ones the best, which, to me, allows a more personal connection with the character. The style is matter of fact in most cases, serious, with levity injected at the just right moment to lighten the load. Yes … you will be shocked and appalled not only by the subject matter but also by the macabre themes, not to mention the smattering of self-righteous sarcasm, and you might even find yourself laughing at times – and you will feel guilty about it.

Excerpt From: I’ll Make it I Think:

“I was born like this and I’m not a freak. I mean, I got God’s good dose of CP, bless him, but this doesn’t stop me from feeling every now and then that I’ll be a freak for most of my goddam life. Man, you should see me run, like a seesaw coming at you, clanging up and down, a crippled mother Fokker machine gunning at you while going down in flames. When I do date—and that ain’t often—I don’t date a girl who is crippled like me, although she’s often a loser of one kind or another, a prossie, something like that. I ain’t no snob, I just know I can do better for me, that’s all. Like I said, the girls I do date are losers. Inside, I’m better. I’m me, untwisted, normal. Outside, well, that’s something else. No use in changing people’s minds. What you see is what you get—the world eats this up.

I’m not that crippled I can’t do better for myself. My folks say I can’t go out with normal girls (“They won’t have you”): classic— as if their snatch is any different—that I should get it through my thick skull (they’re loving parents) that they won’t date me. They go on to talk about “reality.” What the fuck do they know about reality! Try jerking off using Ralph for help and Lon for support. God, in his infinite mercy, made me left-handed. And they’re right—my folks—well, in a way right, in a way wrong. I really can’t dance because of my leg, and my webbed fingers come together like a flipper so that I can’t grasp a girl’s hand, unless she’s into frog.”

That particular story is about a deformed young man who struggles with being a freak on the outside. Struggles so much that the inside has become damaged to the point that he takes up voyeurism in order to achieve sexual satisfaction. But more importantly, the fable in this story struck me: the allegorical porter and metaphorical garbage cans and refuse. Must be why this one is my favourite. Anyway, this is the sort of candid view we get with this book. A short forward will help the reader understand the author’s motivations and expertise on the subject matter. I, however, did not read the forward first, as I like to judge stories on their own merit without the author’s or anyone else’s explanations clouding my interpretation.

Mr. Freese’s characterizations are convincing, as they should be, and the stories are relatable at a base human existence level that most are afraid to confront. My only complaint is that some of the stories, (I use that term loosely as many are really existential and philosophical musings) not all but some, feel a bit like case studies—clinically detached essays, maybe a bit too detached for me, as we get told everything we need to know, and we don’t really get to experience a full manifestation of their individual pathologies, like you do in say Bataille’s “Story of the Eye or My Mother”, which explore similar subject matter. Many of the stories are overtly subtle in their message, requiring a bit of contemplation from the reader, some are blatantly extreme, and some, the short format might not allow for enough texture to fully appreciate the psychological depth, its cause and effect. So, individual reader interpretation and reception will vary greatly.

It’s difficult to write about this subject matter at best, using imagery to portray deep psychological realism is even more difficult … a sense of detachment can be a lifeline, and even though the lifeline is apparent here, I have to applaud this author for going down a road very few attempt to negotiate. Mr. Freese does it with intellectual elegance and subtlety, with wit, and with candour. The prose is often poetic, and on occasion, disarmingly innocent and charming. All of the stories are thought-provoking and a bit haunting, not necessarily in what they say or how they say it, which is always eloquent, but often in what is not said. As far as personal favourites go, mine are: “I’ll make it I Think”, “For a While, Here, In This Moment”, and “Young Man”

Some might find the subject matter challenging and/or offensive, so be warned, this is not a light read.


Reviewed by Cheryl: Cheryl Anne Gardner is a retired writer of dark, often disturbing, literary novellas with romantic/erotic undertones. She is an avid reader and an independent reviewer with Podpeople blogspot and Amazon where she blogs regularly on AmazonConnect. She is an advocate for independent film, music, and books, and when at all possible, prefers to read and review out of the mainstream Indie published works, foreign translations, and a bit of philosophy. She lives with her husband and two ferrets on the East Coast, USA.

Friday, April 04, 2008

REVIEW: 'Playing for Keeps' by Mur Lafferty

Title: Playing for Keeps
Author: Mur Lafferty
Price: free ebook, $16.99 paperback
Genre: Fantasy and Sci Fi
ISBN: --
Point of Sale: author's site, Lulu

There are a few fictional touchstones that most people have in common. The Bible, Shakespeare, Tolkien... superheroes. Several generations of us how now grown up with superhero comics. I bonded with the soap opera style 80's X-Men, and indies like Zot and Distant Soil. I worked my way back into the older books from there, Dr. Strange, Dazzler, Warlord.... And the latest development is superpowers with a hefty dose of satire, parody or just a straight out, good ol' reality check. And this was more or less what I was expecting from 'Playing for Keeps'.

The story starts strongly with Keepsie, a woman whose power of stopping people from stealing her stuff just isn't good enough to get her a place in the academy. I loved the opening scene of a gal just trying to get to work through a battle between a pompous hero and robot-riding villain. The villain slips Keepsie a mysterious sphere and her suspicions about their motives and her wounded pride mean she refuses to give it to the so-called heroes.

From there things get more interesting in some ways as we meet the cast of Keepsie's band on not-very-super-powered friends and hangers on. But the action also devolves into a lot of running here and there and instead of playing with super-hero cliches the plot seems to depend on them. That is to say, people bump into each other coincidentally, the action and fight scenes play become increasingly implausible, 'normal' people are basically invisible except as occasional victims... and the main solution to problems seems to involve getting more power.

So although I still kind of liked Keepsie at the end I felt the book ended up endorsing the very ideas it started out poking fun at.



From a press release (excerpted):

NEW YORK, NY (April 3, 2008) - HarperCollins Publishers today announced it has signed publishing veteran Robert S. Miller to develop and launch a new global publishing program based on a non-traditional business model ... Miller will publish approximately 25 popular-priced books per year in multiple physical and digital formats including those as yet unspecified, with the aim to combine the best practices of trade publishing while taking full advantage of the internet for sales, marketing and distribution. Authors will be compensated through a profit sharing model as opposed to a traditional royalty, and books will be promoted utilizing on-line publicity, advertising and marketing ... "Bob Miller is one of the most talented publishers in the business, and we are thrilled have him join the HarperCollins team with the objective to re-define publishing for the 21st century,"

As a person with a foot in both camps I find it fascinating how this one announcement has been received with glee in some quarters and despair at others. So what is the truth of the matter, is this good for authors or bad? The answer is yes... or no, or it depends.

The thing of it is there is an advantage to a system that pays advances. The author knows what they are going to make, the publisher is committed to the book (after all they've already paid the royalties sup front) and it is basically up to them to make the book perform up to the standard they predicted. It is a model of selection and investment. If the book does even better than they predicted the author gets further royalties, if it does worse they keep the advance--but may never place another book with that publisher.

There is also an advantage to a royalties-only model. The publisher is less invested in each book so they can take more ch aces, they can take on more book and give more authors a go. Each author is probably going to get less attention and make less money. But they have a foot in the door and if the book doesn't do all that well it is unlikely to cause that much of a negative impression. So this may be a deal that will allow an author to graw a little rather than having to come out of the gate at full gallop.

So it's good, and its bad. Its not as good a deal per se, but more authors will get a chance at at. The most worrying thing may be that this sort of thing blurs the models in a way that doesn't always thrill people. Like Kensington's now defunct line with a similar model, like paying Kirkus for reviews or a commercial press with a same-name subsidy imprint. Personally I feel that unless this imprint is set up with a distinct brand and identity it may really be over-stretching the HarperCollin brand--leaving the impression the want the same sort of books as for their mainstream lines but just don't want to pay for them up front like they used to. I mean, do you remember Levi's tailored suits? No? They didn't last long; that service just didn't fit under that brand. Oh, and also it's just not what they are good at doing.

Maybe this will be seen as me being down on alt. publishing models again, but really my point is that if anyone deserves the kudos for developing POD, royalties-only, internet-retailed, generally unreturnable, but perhaps innovative books perhaps it should be the guys who have been pioneering the approach from the beginning and deserve to be on the forefront when it starts to really pay off. Rather than some Johnny-come-lately Rupert Murdoch imprint spear-headed by a much touted wunderkind most famous for founding Disney's Hyperion books and putting out such cutting edge literary stuff as... celebri-books by Oprah, Steve Martin and Chris Rock and cookbooks by Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson--oh and celebrity cookbooks like the Oprah Magazine Cookbook. Nor is the idea of paying around $20 for a "short" book all that appealling to me as a customer.

Frankly if this is the guy who is going to "re-define publishing for the 21st century" I will buy a hat so I can eat it. But I guess we shall see, what do I know. Pundits are a little worried about how Hyperion will do without him.

p.s. I spent ages trying to find photo of Miller online. Can't find one. What is this guy, the invisible man?

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Lightning Source's official response to Amazon's decision -- Dusk Peterson

Here. Lightning Source, for those of you who don't know, is a major POD printer that is a sister company to Ingram Book Group, the largest book wholesaler in the U.S.

Discussions of this topic are taking place at two lists heavily populated with Lightning Source authors and presses, Self-Publishing and POD_Publishers. No definite conclusions about what self-publishers should do have been reached at either list, though plenty of opinions have been expressed.

Dusk Peterson writes fantasy stories on friendship, gay historical fantasy tales, and contemporary gay fiction. Occasionally, a heterosexual love story will appear as well. Peterson's stories are often placed in dark settings, such as prisons or wartime locations. Romance and friendship, especially male friendship, are recurring themes.

Cherchez le Lulu?

I find myself very curious about how Lulu will respond to Amazon's demands that all POD users employ Booksurge, if they want to keep direct buy buttons. In a way I wonder where I get off. What makes me so up in arms about whatever Lulu ultimately decides to do? Would they care about my opinion? Well of course they wouldn't. But the marketplace is like a democracy. On an individual level one vote really doesn't matter, but on an aggregate level it does.

Just this afternoon a box arrived at my place holding the books shown in the picture. That's about $100 worth of merchandise, in case you are wondering. So I am, emotionally and financially speaking, invested in the Lulu brand. Some of the earliest self-published books I read were from Lulu. They are the only self-publishing provider I shop from directly, and the great majority of books reviewed on this blog are from Lulu.

So I read the only semi-official statement from "Adam" at Lulu: "We would like to assure our users that Lulu continues to have a strong relationship with As a result, the recent changes has announced should not adversely affect Lulu content listed within in any way." I was less then thrilled.

As a customer of Lulu I associate their brand with quirky, independent books. I feel good about Lulu and the books I buy there. I am willing to overlook their terse, limited customer support and pitiful search bookstore engine. I agree with their authors that Lulu only really does the bare minimum to sell books to customers like me--while focusing mainly on selling their services to more authors. But I am hanging in their optimistically with Lulu as a substantial, honest, low cost provider of self-published books that now has the basis to develop as a kick-ass retailer in their own right. But this optimism is not unconditional or indestructible.

I understand that in order to sell their authors' books via Amazon, Lulu may need to make some concessions. But I think Lulu should understand that there is more to their brand than staying in what looks increasingly like an abusive "relationship" because they have not made an effort to develop other retailing options. Understand who you are talking to here Lulu. Our concerns are not just that Amazon might break up with Lulu, but what Lulu might sacrifice to keep Amazon.