Friday, July 30, 2010
Author: Andrew Kent
Genre: Mystery/Detective Fiction
Price: $ 13.45
Publisher: Dog Ear Publishing, LLC
Cover copy: What Lies Beneath? When neuroscientist John A. Novarro was separated from his past and given a new identity as Johnny Denovo, the Denovo name quickly sent a chill through the world of high-stakes criminals.And while they try to adapt, he keeps picking apart their primal signals - the metaphors that betray them.
In this, his second published case, Johnny's hired by a bio-tech mogul facing a bizarre form of blackmail and a disruptive pattern of corporate espionage. Within hours, Johnny's drawn into a mystifying mirrorscape of secrets and half-truths. He soon discovers a cabal exploiting a venerable Boston landmark as part of an even more sinister plot. Running out of time and facing a certain threat, Johnny must use his unique abilities to untangle truth from fiction and discern friend from foe - even as his strength wanes, his options collapse, and his adversaries rush to complete their plans.Will his mind and muscle endure to the end? Or will he become a forgotten footnote to a devious plot with timeless roots?
Read my review here.
Comment to Win this book by Midnight, Sunday August 1st. Please include an email address. The winner will be announced on Monday August 2nd. Good Luck to all and Happy Reading!
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Meh! What's failed? That's what I want to know. If you are writing and you love what you write and you love the process, then you are not a failed writer. A failed writer to me is the writer who gives up their dream. Self-published writers, if anything, can be said to have zealously embraced the dream.
My idea of success is exactly MY IDEA, and it’s not how many books I sell in a week or a day or a year or in a lifetime or my Amazon ranking. It's about being happy with what I have written. It's all about the art for me, and so validation generally comes from my own internal sense of artistic self-worth. For others, validation comes in many different ways: sales for some, reviews for others, or maybe it's an award or a traditional publishing contract ... and sometimes it comes in the form of recognition one might not be expecting. I had this happen over the weekend. An Amazon reviewer/author who had reviewed my novella The Thin Wall contacted me to tell me that a NY Arts Foundation wanted permission to cross-post their review to a new Literary Fiction site they were launching. They had said yes, but they wanted to notify me. In the mean time, I had gotten a Google alert on the posting. I did some research on the site and found it to be legit, and I didn't specifically know anyone involved with the project. Of course, I was thrilled to death that an Arts Foundation would find literary merit in my work. That is the sort of validation those who write for the art of it hope to get. The only thing nagging at me was the question of how they found my work and why they selected that particular review of it. So I emailed the foundation... Yes, I am bold that way.
Dactyl Review is a new Literary Endeavour funded by The Dactyl Foundation for the Arts and Humanities in NYC, founded in 1996. Ms. Alexander, one of the founding members, is an author herself and has some strong opinions about the current state of the publishing industry, specifically when it comes to Literary Fiction. By Literary they mean: that the author pays attention to, for example, the sounds, double meanings, etymologies, allusiveness, or rhythms of language. Literary novels are prose poetry, at the sentence level and also at a larger level where themes, characters and events should also relate poetically. The subject of the work is engaged with something that might be called weighty, questioning, for example, how we think, how we make meaning, why things happen the way they do, how we decide what’s right or wrong, or musing over what might have been.
Dactyl's stance on literary fiction in today's publishing climate is as follows from their website: For a number of years, publishing has been dominated by commercial fiction. Literary fiction novels and short story collections by small presses or independent authors have little chance of being noticed by reviewers or placed on bookstore shelves. Even the literary fiction written by relatively well-known writers published by big houses has been pushed to the side by pseudo-literary fiction — written and reviewed by those who don’t know the difference between thought and sentimentality, poetry and the use of adjectives — such that the meaning of “literary” is lost. Moreover, with the way the publishing system is currently organized books aren’t given much time in front of judges and audiences. Those that don’t make it immediately are tossed in the remaindered bin. A deep pity, as literary fiction is slow-growing and takes time to find its audience.
So how did Dactyl find me? According to Ms. Alexander, they are attempting to seed the site while they look for qualified reviewers. That effort included a search of all Amazon Reviewers who use the tags Literary and Literary Fiction and who are published authors themselves. From that list of reviewers, they selected specific books and reviews for inclusion on the site. Books must meet their definition of "literary" as listed above.
Flattering -- yes. To have an arts foundation award you by finding literary merit in your work, enough to profile your book alongside Cormac McCarthy, is definitely something. I am still basking in the glow, but now I have to wipe the shine off and get down to business.
Dactyl is looking for reviewers to contribute to the site with original content or cross-posted reviews, doesn't matter. So...do you qualify to review for the site? Dactyl answers that:
Who Can Submit a Review
Any published [including self-published and micro-press] "literary fiction" writer can contribute a review. No reviews of one’s own work will be accepted. A contributing reviewer must give his/her name and the title of one or more of his/her own book-length works of literary fiction.
What to Review
We accept reviews of books both new and not-so-new. In fact, we encourage reviewers to consider the under-appreciated and older titles of any contemporary author. (No reviews of long-dead classic authors, please.) Only reviews of book-length “literary fiction” will be accepted, including short story collections. It’s okay to review a book that’s already been reviewed on this site. You can also submit any review that you have posted or published elsewhere.
Dactyl Review will not hold copyright on any review and you are free to publish elsewhere. Allow five days for your review to be approved and posted.
More information about submitting reviews can be found here.
Dactyl is also currently running a Literary Award program and information on that can be found here.
Will I be submitting reviews to the Dactyl Review site? I am not sure. I have to confirm that my work being profiled on the site is not a conflict of interest. The Podpeople reviewed my work prior to my joining the team, and actually, a favourable review was a requirement at that time, so we shall see. Whatever happens, it's nice to have the validation. I have always been happy with what I write, but now I know for certain that I am writing what I am meant to write, even if it isn't marketable in today's publishing climate.
You are only a failed writer if you give up the dream of writing. The dream of writing, not publishing.
Cheryl Anne Gardner
The art this week is Forbidden Literature by Rene Magritte circa 1936
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
What I found was a plot so tight and so tense you could bounce a coin off of it. What started out feeling like a detective story turned into one of the most frightening psych dramas I have read in a while, and I didn't see the end coming: it just slams into you out of nowhere. But what was even more frightening was the very up close and personal look we get at the psychiatric field in the 1950s, back when lobotomies were standard practice and homosexuality was treated with shock therapy, which they innocuously termed "conversion therapy."
Our book starts it's tangled rather deceptive plotline as a Detective Story. It's 1954 and US Marshals Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule are assigned to Ashcliffe -- a small island Mental Hospital in the Massachusetts outer harbour -- to investigate the issue of a missing patient. Actually, Ashcliffe is more of a federal prison for the criminally insane. During the course of the investigation, it becomes apparent that the staff of Aschcliffe are hiding something and that the lives of Marshals Daniels and Aule are very much in danger.
There is a lot going on in this story. Teddy Daniels is suffering over the loss of his wife to a house fire, and his ulterior motive for getting himself assigned to the island is that he heard the pyromaniac/arsonist who burned his house down currently resides at the facility. Also, after much covert investigation, Teddy has come to conclusion they the staff at the hospital are using their patients for experimental research reminiscent of the Nazi regime. However, everything is mere illusion, when the real story comes slamming into you about two-thirds of the way into the book, you will stand up and shout, "No fuckin' way!!!" like I did. The critics called it a mind-bending plot twist, and I have to agree with them on that.
Lehane's writing is typical for the genre. It's about storytelling, so most of the mainstream writing you find in this genre can't be considered great prose styling, but then again, it isn't meant to be. Shutter Island is a plot-driven thriller for most of the book. Even so, it adequately explores a wide range of emotion: fear, obsession, paranoia, and so the complex plotline plays into those emotions. It's very disorienting, and there is a solid reason why, but I won't spoil it for those who have not read it.
Beyond the psychology, what really stood out for me was how the story explored the social attitudes of the time. It was Cold War USA, and there was a lot of prejudice against minorities, more specifically, the mentally ill. There is a scene in which Teddy finally runs into the elusive Warden for the first time and the conversation they have is so truly frightening I got the chills. For those who are sensitive to the "N" word, in this scene we get a rather graphic view of humanity’s less than compassionate attitudes with regards to race, poverty, and the mentally ill, so be prepared for it. Some of America's historical attitudes are not pleasant. Unpleasantness aside, there is something insightful and telling on just about every page.
Even after reaching the end of the book where all the "realities" of the story are exposed, the author still draws the reader back into the delusion in the final pages. The intricate plotting was quite brilliant. You will think you know what's going on, and then, just like our main character Teddy, you will find your entire world turned around on you.
There were some spots where the writing felt a bit clunky to read, mostly in the dialog, but it was easily overlooked, and I actually loved how Lehane worked in the rather lengthy exposition in the end. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes psychodramas, cop stories, and thrillers. It hits all the marks.
Friday, July 23, 2010
And while we are on the subject of Lulu, a recent Lulu blog states "Several of our forum mainstays like Keith Dixon and veinglory have chimed in with suggestions for Mark." I stated in a reply to this post that I am not a mainstay of the forum, in fact while I still read the forums I have not posted there in months and plan to never to post there again. The powers that be helpfully deleted this comment after a few days and left the incorrect statement on the post intact. The reason for my participation boycott being, should anyone care, that Lulu CEO Bob Young saw fit to launch an attack on the forums against myself and several other previously loyal Lulu-ers based on our criticisms of several recent changes at Lulu including removal of the ability to search exclusively for the Lulu-published (self-published) books lost amidst a plethora of third-part material (with a buggy search system). Right now I have no idea what is going on with the Lulu site where third-party material seems have quietly vanished away again?
Thursday, July 22, 2010
I found an interesting post about Beta readers over on Pimp My Novel. Yes, I know, that site tends to flout rather flagrantly [say that ten times fast] their unfavourable view on Independent authors and self-publishing in general, but often I find the occasional bit of writing advice to be sound, as in this case. I recommend every author, Beta reader, and reviewer stop by and read the entire post.
However, for my purposes this week, I am only going to address a portion of that post because it has to do with those bullshit arbitrary rules I hate so much, and this is advice every reviewer and Beta reader need to take to heart:
2. See the forest for the trees. Take off the professor hat and really think about what you're reading. Is it possible that passive voice worked for that sentence? Did that adverb bother you just because it’s an adverb, or was it really inappropriate? Is that really a POV switch, or is it just a stylistic way of writing? As writers, we're desperate to latch onto something concrete, because so much of writing is judgmental and subjective. But because it’s so subjective, the rules don't matter all the time. Try not to act like they do.
I see this often, especially when it comes to self-published books. Many reviewers have the subconscious expectation going in that the self-published book they are holding in their hand is going to be lacking in editorial finesse, and so they latch onto all the cliché writing conventions they have heard with little regard for what they are actually reading. They often expect that the book in their hand will adhere to the conventions of mass-market fiction, and while some self-published books do try to work to those, many self-published books tend to be experimental in story and style. Now reviewers by nature are critics, and critics by nature tend to be tuned into the technical aspects of writing more so than most readers. I know this to be fact, because I am a reviewer, and this hyper-focus is a good thing. Our thoughtful and detailed criticism can actually help writers improve their craft/art, but we have to be very careful that the technical aspects of writing we latch onto are not some mainstream writing-for-dummies perpetuated arbitrary bullshit writing rule. And the first thing every critic has to do when they come upon something they think might be a technical issue is to: finish reading the damn book. After that then the critic can assess the issue(s) within the context of the entire story in order to determine whether or not the author actually made a mistake or made a deliberate stylistic choice.
For example: Back when I read Shannon Yarbrough's Stealing Wishes, I noticed that there were a lot of clichés -- a lot. Enough that if I weren't a very careful reader, I might have dismissed them as novice writing err and passed critical judgement. But I didn't. I just marked the clichés as I went and finished reading the book. It was a good thing I did. Towards the ending, our protagonist confesses a truism about himself: that he had no opinion of his own. So to me, after thoroughly analyzing the story and the character, I came to the conclusion that the cliché use fit perfectly with such a man: a man searching for life's great metaphor only to find a thousand clichéd similes.
In a similar situation while reviewing Gint Aras' Finding the Moon in Sugar, I stumbled over some scenes that just felt awkward and some that came off over-the-top unbelievable, but within the Wizard of OZ context, the characters and scenarios, while absurd, were completely believable, and their actions did not contradict the logic of their world. The book read to me like an Aesop's fable of a sort, and everything, albeit exaggerated to a degree for effect, fit quite nicely. Sure I had issues with the dialect and thought that it might have been a little overworked, but beyond that I found nothing in the plotline out of line. A story doesn't have to be "real" by the everyday life definition of the term to be good. We have to be careful how we define: suspension of disbelief. Some critics take that statement too seriously sometimes.
As a reviewer, we cannot take anything out of context. Sure there are real rules. Grammar is grammar and clarity is key when it comes to sentence structure, punctuation, and proper tense usage. Hell, sometimes I don't use a question mark at the end of a sentence if I am actually making a statement in the form of a question. I know. Who in their right mind would do that! I would. I am not specifically asking a question, I am just making a statement in order to introduce an argument. I have also been known to create my own words when I feel the need: In Logos, the paranormal novella I am editing at the moment, I use the word Phantasma. Not a real word, per se, but within the context of the sentence, it makes perfect sense.
As a reviewer, we cannot be too quick to judge. Now I am not saying that all bets are off when it comes to writing rules. We cannot forsake clarity for anarchy. We have to mean what we say and say what we mean when we write -- for the sake of the story and more importantly, the reader. Sometimes that might require that we follow a rule, and sometimes it might necessitate the bending or the breaking of a rule for effect.
So what am I saying here? If you need to shift tense, do; if you need that adverb, then leave it in, especially if you are writing in a campy style -- see Douglas Adams -- and if you need to change POV then have at it, Freud. Be as cliché as you want. Whatever! As long as it is appropriate. The key with any of this stuff is to be subtle and make sure it works. If it works, I promise I will be a careful enough reader to "get it." However, keep in mind that poor sentence structure, ineptly placed clauses, misspelled and misused words, and just god awful story construction are not stylistic choices, and I will "get" those as well.
Cheryl Anne Gardner
The art this week is The Elephant Celebes by surrealist artist Max Ernst, circa 1921
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Now it may.
This is from The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition, Sneek Peeks and Retired Rules.
Personally, I never worried about orphans anyway. Widows, however, are a different story. I do try to rework those if they are not at least 3/4 of a line.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Narrator: Arthur Graham
Price: $ 9.99
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed By: Cheryl Anne Gardner
At the onset, our protagonist is sent to live with an aunt/uncle after the untimely death of his parents, and he finds the routine and familiarity therapeutic in a sado-masochistic sort of way, until the day comes when his aunt and uncle basically throw him out on his own with nothing possession-wise to speak of other than his porn mag collection. Well, at least our narrator handles it well: with wit, sarcasm, and what was probably a heat stroke induced delusion.
"Most of my time was spent reading and masturbating in my room, activities that seem equally self indulgent in retrospect. Hours of page-peeling and penis-pumping (and sometimes penis-peeling and page-pumping, when things got really out of hand) were punctuated only by mealtimes, when I would descend the stairs to eat with the strangers who presumably read, slept, and pleasured themselves in the room down the hall from mine."
Either way, he makes his way and quickly discovers, via a travelling salesman who "befriends" him, that sex for cash is an easy way to make a living. Then the narrative shifts from a first person to a close third person narrative, still in the head of our original narrator. The initial shift is jolting. We aren't sure if it's the same person we have been intimately familiar with up to that point, but the inscription in a small leather journal will get the reader back on track. Personally, I liked the shift. It felt to me as if the narrator was now looking upon his life as if it were foreign to him, as if he no longer knew or understood himself, and that his life was nothing more than surrealist fiction. Then in the next chapter, we jump again from editor in an office cubicle to a merchant marine ship powered by solar energy.
The Gulf of Mexico...welcome a frigid July morning in the year 2484 CE, well, frigid until the 3 suns rise and radiate everyone on deck to a crisp.
Cut back to our Editor
Cut again to our travelling sex-a-holic salesman
Cut yet again to the Whitehouse at the onset of a nuclear holocaust...
And so it goes on like this in a very hyperbolic Burroughsesque Fear and Loathing in modern America style of storytelling. Although their really isn't a story here, just a series of victims, cataclysmic events, witty suppositions, political postulating, and philosophical musing.
I did find the juxtaposition of the end times of the world and a young man's adolescent end times to be intriguing. The boy’s transmutation into his reptilian self fit well with the de-evolution of humanity theme going on in other chapters. And don't worry; this is one of those books in which it's perfectly ok NOT to know what the hell is going on. That’s part of the adventure, so don't look for mainstream writing via a nice linear plotline and one restrictive point of view, because you won't get it here. It’s experimental for sure, and while the writing is sarcastic and very dark, I wouldn't categorize the book as humour like the author did. It's more existentialist fiction with a black comedy bent to it.
Young man loses his parents and is forced to live with unsympathetic aunt and uncle, relatives he doesn’t recognize as his own and suspects them of being demons...
Young man is thrown out on the street...
Young man gets seduced by travelling salesman...
Young man turns into a snake...
The world is nuked by greed...
An editor's personal manuscript gets stolen and sold to another publisher...
But all books have all been destroyed by a virus...
Eve is taught how to pleasure herself by a really really bored serpent...
End scene and cut to editor on trial for crimes against humanity...
Until a lunatic starts screaming on a domestic airline flight prophesizing that the plane is going to crash, and yet, our editor continues on to Florida to write the fictitious biography of a client who shall never be identified by name but only by non-descript pronouns. I love this bit of meta-fiction BTW. Bravo!
In my opinion, I felt the central theme to this work was humanity's evolution, or rather, our lack of, and how, no matter how much time we have, no matter how much time is behind us, we just seem to be doomed to a repeat performance of the past. Our logic never changes, our ideology never changes, and like lunatics, we expect different results after each performance, so we, self-righteously so, are shocked an appalled by the same ole shit when it happens to us. We can excuse it away, say we have a mental illness or an addiction, but the real reality is that Humanity distorts reality to suit its own needs, whatever they may be at the moment, because we are fickle, and we have no fucking clue what we need to begin with, and much in the style of Vonnegut, our author here makes it his mission to point out the obvious when it comes to human idiocy. Maybe if we all stopped trying to hard-line the divide between fate and choice, we could all see the possibility of everything. We could all see that fact and fiction are not that easy to distinguish from each other over time.
As for technical issues, I noticed a few editorial problems along the way, mostly with the formatting and presentation. In the PDF I reviewed, the matter pages were nonexistent. I do expect a book to follow proper conventions with regard to interior content, even if it's an ebook. This did not, so I had to take off points for that. I could not address the cover except by the image on screen, but it looked to be very rudimentary and very reminiscent of some of Vonnegut's covers from back in the 70s. Beyond that, there were some other fiddly proofreading issues, none really bothersome or prevalent enough to affect the read. I did note that the author used the ellipsis in a more European way, so I did not count that in err since I noticed the word gray was spelled "grey" and there were a few other spelling and usages that, while not American, were not actually incorrect, so I didn't count any of it as an issue.
If you want a straight story with everything all nicely written to mainstream writing conventions then this book is not for you. However, anyone who likes experimental literature will probably just love this book. To me, it had a Vonnegut/Naked Lunch/Hunter eS.que feel to it, and I don't mind feeling disoriented during a narrative providing that a thesis is being argued in the process. That is certainly true of this book, which is darkly humorous and even a little obscene. NC-17 warning here for mature content.
Bottom line: Fans of Breakfast of Champions, Naked Lunch, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas will feel like they are in familiar territory and will probably give the effort a thumbs up even if it doesn’t say anything new -- but then again, that’s the point I think -- and Apocalyptic fiction lovers will also be pleased at the indulgent retrospective. This is an odd little book, but not without its merits especially to those readers who like the above mentioned authors. It may be an emulated style, but it’s still nice to see someone attempting to keep it alive. It's an intellectual read and a fun one at that, provided you don't mind a strange trip; though I felt the author didn’t really “need” to justify the absurdist nature of the narrative like he did in the end.
This book was reviewed from a PDF provided by the author.
Monday, July 19, 2010
EPIC's eBook Awards for 2011
Recognizing Excellence in eBooks of all Genres EPIC, the Electronically Published Internet Connection, proudly announced today their annual EPIC's eBook Awards contest. This contest is the premier contest in the eBook and ePublishing world.
Categories are judged by volunteers, the largest percentage of which are members of EPIC, an organization consisting of published authors and industry professionals. Guest judges, all of whom are either published authors or publishing professionals, are used only as deemed necessary by the EPIC's eBook Awards Chair/Committee.
The First Round Judging delivers our EPIC's eBook Awards Finalists, whose works are forwarded to a second panel of judges before the winners of our thirty categories are selected. Winners from each judged category are announced at the EPIC conference's gala award ceremony, taking place at the annual EPICon Convention, taking place March 10-13, 2011 in Historic Williamsburg, Virginia.
Entry submissions will be accepted from July 15 through August 15, 2010
See the site for more details on fees and submission guidelines.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Of course mine are included in the sale as well. Happy Reading.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
My last article on the Bullshit Arbitrary Writing Rules generated some healthy debate; however, sometimes I feel that my position on such matters is often misinterpreted, so since I am in one of those peculiar moods at the moment, I would like to take a second or two to explain my position with regards to writing rules and writing conventions, which are not to be confused.
Those who know me understand that while I am an advocate of Artistic Anarchy, I am also a staunch supporter of the rules. I would never suggest that a novice author ignore the rules, and by rules, I mean true literary theory. Barring any innate gift, the vast majority of us writers must actually learn to write. We do that by thoroughly grasping the grammatical rules and by exposing ourselves to and discussing at length the techniques developed over time by other great writers. Those storytelling techniques are the foundation for what is known as literary theory. Those are the real rules, and every writer needs to know them before they can even dream of developing their own style and voice. Where the confusion lies for most new writers is that it is difficult to distinguish sometimes between real practical theory and what we call the writing “conventions” of the time.
Writing conventions change over time and they have nothing to do with art. Writing conventions, though sometimes grounded in actual theory, are really just fad and fashion. Writing conventions are about creating a consistent product that falls in line with the current trends. If the current publishing trend is for minimalistic writing, then the vast majority of mainstream writing guides will lean heavily towards those conventions and will often label them as guidelines or rules. Rules they are not, and without a proper understanding of real theory, conventions can cripple the artist by placing unnecessary and arbitrary restraints on the words. Not to mention that the conventions of the day do not guarantee success. If that were true then these writing guides, touting nothing but the current conventions, would be producing best-selling authors every second.
Understanding the conventions of the time is helpful if you are deliberately trying to write to sales trends or specific genre trends, but learning the conventions is no substitute for learning the actual craft. Stripping your work of all adverbs and passive voice will not save a manuscript that has failed in theory. And that is why these conventions are so arbitrary. Taken out of context and then subsequently taken too literally, they can destroy a burgeoning new voice. Authorial voice and style must be free of conventional limitations in order to grow. If everyone listened to the conventions of their day, we would not have modern poetry or modern art or new narrative styles like those that came out of the beat era.
Some might argue that the “conventions” are a good start for novice writers, often likening them to training wheels, but here is the problem with that logic: Training wheels might give you confidence, but it is a false sense of confidence, because in reality, you have not mastered the mechanics of riding a two-wheeled bike. Riding a four-wheeled bike is not the same, and the only way you can master the two-wheeled bike is to discard the training wheels and learn the real mechanics of a two-wheeled ride. Novice authors need to learn the theory so they don’t become overly dependent on conventions that could fall out of favour at any moment, or even worse, misinterpret the convention thus creating a lifeless, flawed, and grammatically unsound manuscript. I have seen authors misguidedly conjugate every verb in their manuscript using simple past tense because they didn’t understand the theory behind the “consistent tense” convention, and what they wound up with was a grammatical minefield. Or those authors who do a seek and destroy, cutting all words that end in “ly” without really understanding the grammatical difference between an adverb and an adjective, not to mention that all adverbs do not end in “ly.” Or when was the last time you heard the term Show don’t Tell followed by an in-depth explanation of what that actually means. Story telling is about showing “and” telling, and not all exposition is telling.
So the point I am trying to make when I get all assholes and elbows about the current writing conventions is simply: If you blindly follow the writing conventions without a thorough understanding of the literary theory behind them, then you do so at your own peril. My advice to all novice authors is to learn the grammar rules, learn the craft, learn the theory, and then later, once you have a firm grasp of the real rules, you can then, if you choose, modify your manuscript to fit the current conventions with some degree of confidence. There is a lot more to POV than First and Third person. There is a lot more to everything. Knowing the practical theory is the difference between an average writer and a great writer. We all want to be great writers, and that takes patience and stamina and the will to understand the craft beyond the trendy conventions of the time. Those are the books I want to review: the books authored by writers who understood the theory and risked moving beyond it.
As a bonus, for those who are not sick to death of my diatribe, I will continue this discussion from a reviewer’s point of view next Thursday.
Note: This is only my personal opinion and does not reflect the opinion of the other Pod People. Reader mileage will vary.
Cheryl Anne Gardner
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Your book has shown no sales for more than a year. At this time you may want to have your book's publishing rights reverted back to you.
We can arrange that.
Go to www.publishamerica.net/productnumber.html and instruct us to return the rights to you. In the Ordering Instructions box, write the title of your book. You will receive the termination documents by mail. There are no strings attached to this termination except the $99 processing fee that covers our administration costs and our de-listing obligations to vendors and/or wholesalers. You must choose a shipping option to activate your rights return instruction.
Thank you for having been a PublishAmerica author, or for sticking around if that's what you prefer!
--PublishAmerica Author Support Team
The second email goes like this:
Sometimes a book deserves a new start.
Not labeled in book vendor databases as POD.
A low list price.
A new publisher.
Independence Books is our new subsidiary. It is treated as an independent publisher. Not registered as POD in vendor databases. Not registered as PublishAmerica. Uniform list prices are $14.95.
Want a new start for your book? We will cause it to be published as an Independence Books title. It will receive a new ISBN and the new $14.95 list price. It will not show as POD. It will not list as PublishAmerica. ISBN-fed databases will show that your book is an Independence Books book, readily available from Independence Books.
Go to www.publishamerica.net, find your softcover, add to cart, use this discount coupon: IndyBooks40. Minimum volume is 7 softcovers. For 12 or more softcovers use the IndyBooks45 coupon.
This will cause your book to be published as an Independence Books title. It will no longer be available from us as a PublishAmerica softcover. (Your book's paperback or hardback versions, if already activated, will keep their PublishAmerica designation.) Your order today will be printed under the new Independence Books logo ( www.publishamerica.com/independence), with its new ISBN. Transfer may take up to 6-8 weeks to be completed and will be permanent. Book remains under contract with PublishAmerica. Use this coupon for your softcover only; other applications will not be processed. PublishAmerica's online bookstore will re-list the book as an Independence Books title generally within 24 business hours. Other vendors may do so at their discretion.
--PublishAmerica Author Support Team
Quite frankly I can't even work out what this new craziness is all about, but it all sounds pretty shady to me.
As economic hard times bite, yet another review venue has been bit by the vanity bug. This time it is ForeWord magazine who are sending out emails including the following:
"Digital Reviews is our new review service for books that meet our standards for worthy books, but which we can't cover in our print magazine. ... Digital Reviews are the same as print ForeWord reviews in many respects: the books must meet our quality standards; we use the same proficient reviewers; and the reviews are featured on our Web site and iPhone app and licensed for publication in the top title information databases used by booksellers and librarians: Baker & Taylor's TitleSource III, Ingram's iPage, Bowker's Books in Print, and Gale's licensed databases. Digital Reviews are different from ForeWord reviews in that they are a fee-for-service review. A $99 fee covers the expense of writing and posting the review."
The paid for reviews are of course different in other ways, like almost nobody reads them. As I read through their website the unmistakable message seems to be this: we will review anything, but the worse the book is the more you pay and the less value the review will have. Great book are reviewed for free in the magazine, good books are reviewed for $99 on the website, all other books are reviewed for $305 (a "Clarion" review) and put on the website in a ring-fenced area.
"Paying $305 for a professional 400+ word critique is the best marketing value available in this industry."
I beg to differ.
The first author quote under the testimonials section is: "I am happy with your service as well as the Clarion Review, it gave me so many points I missed. Thank you again.” This seems to seriously confused a review of a customer-ready book with a critique of a manuscript. Reading the first five reviews in this section reinforced the idea that authors using this service might have done better to invest in editing rather than reviewing:
"The writing would also benefit from another round of editing to pare down repeated words and phrases."
"Awkward tense structures and punctuation occasionally detract from Sam’s thoughtful, humorous soliloquy as he searches for meaning in his life with the people he cares about."
"Unfortunately, there are several developmental flaws that distract from what is otherwise an interesting story. Character point-of-view often switches in the middle of the action, causing confusion and throwing the reader out of the main character’s head ... Although the characters are not flat, they are predictable and clichéd."
"...crude syntax and cringe-inducing typos deface this extraordinary work of science fiction. Professional editing is recommended for the author’s sequels or future works."
"The author has a florid writing style that can be exhausting for the reader."
It seems to me that reviews that you pay for are not real reviews, and not really doing the author any favors when their efforts (and money) would be better invested in improving the book. But if an author is paying for this service I think it would be reasonable for them to ask how much traffic an average Clarion review receives, and to check out their appearance. When I visited the cover art image was broken on all of the reviews in this section, and there was no direct link to a point of sale. I would not call that $305 well spent.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Author: Ron Miller
Genre: Art book
Point of Sale: ?
Either Lulu's search engine has become even more opaque, or this book is no longer on sale. It is, or rather was, a 150-page book includhing a large number of illustrations based on photographs of the female form. Each picture is highly decorative, but to my eye they don't quite evoke the deeper theme of "the feminine core of art, science, literature and mythology." I also found the almost exclusive use of a single female model made the works start to feel repetitive by the end. Like most art books I lived with Elemental Woman rather than forming an immediate impression. Overall I found it to be a pleasing and accomplished work of fantasy art, but not one for the keeper shelf.
Title: The Girl Who Stayed Awake
Author: Karen Rosario
The Girl Who Stayed Awake is a very interesting and whimsical children's book about a girl who has a series of dream. There is an underlying story of accepting the wonder of dreams as ephemeral and always secondary to real life. However the unique style of this book is not quite enough to overcome a pervasive lack of refinement. The rhymed text seem overly long and has a very uneven meter. The pictures are charming a their best but are uneven and sometimes only muddily reproduced in the grey scale interior.
* Thumbnail reviews are provided for bought copies only, donated review copies receive full reviews.
Thursday, July 08, 2010
You must maintain a consistent verb tense.
I have got into numerous arguments with novice authors on this one. It is a bone of contention for me because, frankly, we don't ever speak in one consistent tense so why should a story be told in one? Not to mention that if the story is to have any three dimensional time continuity, it can't really be in just one tense anyway.
Mostly new authors are told to pick either past or present and to stay within the tense ranges for those two, but in actuality there are at least thirty of them, tenses that is, and it's good to know the basic six and how to move between them. Purdue University has an easy to understand guide for when you are trying to figure out when and how to shift tense. For example:
Did you notice the shift? The majority of the book is told in past tense and its variables, but as the narrator is reminiscing over what is to be a quintessential moment in her life, she switches to present tense to give the scene the immediacy it needs for impact. After the scene is over, the narrative resumes in past tense. This happens often throughout the book.
"He shimmered in the mirrors. An infinite number of Adrians in beige corduroy trousers and plum colored turtlenecks and brown suede jackets. And infinite number of dirty toenails in an infinite number of Indian sandals. An infinite number of meerschaum pipes between his beautiful curling lips. My zipless fuck? The man under my bed! Multiplied like lovers in the last year at Marienbad. Multipled like Andy Warhol’s self-portraits. Multiplied like the One Thousand and One Buddahs at the Temple of Kyoto. […]
“Hello Ducks,” he says, turning to me.
“I have something for you,” I say handing him the inscribed book I’ve been carrying around all day. The edges of the pages are beginning to fray from my sweaty palms.
“You sweetheart!” He takes the book. We link arms and start walking down the mirrored hall.
From Fear of Flying by Erica Jong.
So you tell me -- six point something million copies sold. Award winning author Erica Jong -- did she and/or her editor make a serious mistake? I think not.
So this is just another one of those rules that has been distorted over time by people who don't understand it yet feel the need to shove it down everyone else's throat. No wonder so many new authors get confused. Feel free to shift tense when appropriate for effect, but make sure you do it right and do it subtly. An author shouldn’t have a fear of flying.
On a side note: I am embarrassed to admit that I am just getting around to reading Fear of Flying. I know, I know, in '73 when it came out, it was lauded as one of the greatest works of literature of all time, and it is. It was one of the first books to explore the feminist psyche in such an unapologetic way, and one of the first to do so written in the style of a memoir. However, I wouldn't have really been able to relate to it as deeply in my Twenties, but now that I am well into my Forties and have one divorce and a second marriage under my belt, I can appreciate the psychological truisms that would have eluded me as a younger reader less experienced in the ways of love, sex, and relationships. The book is witty, shocking in its exhibitionism, but most of all, it's honest. I don't know of any woman who hasn't thought or felt this way at some point in their life about the men in their life and how it all relates to their own sexuality. As a bonus, the writing is stellar.
Cheryl Anne Gardner
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
Title: The Martian Women
Author: Tyree Campbell
Genre: science fiction
Publisher: Sam's Dot Publishing
Point of Sale: genre mall
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib
Tyree Campbell is chief cook and bottle-washer over at Sam’s Dot Publishing, a micro-press busily cranking out a lot of titles in science fiction and fantasy. I met him again at a local SF convention, and he talked me into buying his new novella, The Martian Women. I’m glad I did.
The Martian Women stars Teresa Minerva Timberlake, and opens as she begins to testify at her own show trial. The story, then, is mostly her testimony at that trial. We discover during her testimony that she is a fifth-generation Martian, very unhappy with the re-immergence of a subservient role for women, and somewhat cantankerous. (We also discover that the cantankerousness is hereditary.)
The story, then, is one of discovery – Teresa’s discovery of her past, our discovery of her world, and her discovery of a world-changing technology. That’s difficult for a reviewer to summarize. It’s also difficult for a reader to put down!
I do have a couple of nits to pick – first, Campbell’s inner Solar System is dominated by one giant corporation, which I think is unrealistic, and his idea that female sex roles will revert to the 1960s Mad Men concept is a bit problematic for me. But these are nits, and the mark of a good story is that you don’t care about nits.
This is a good story. I found Teresa an engaging, interesting and vital person, and her story both interesting and believable. I devoured the novella in one sitting, and found myself wishing for more.
Thursday, July 01, 2010
Title: Cold Hands and Other Stories
Author: Jeff Duntemann
Genre: science fiction / fantasy
Price: $11.99 (paperback)
Publisher: Copperwood Press
Point of Sale Lulu
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib
Jeff Duntemann is a veteran computer writer, born and raised in Chicago, who also works in science fiction. Back in September 2008, he released a collection of all his computer-related fiction, entitled Souls In Silicon. I was pleased to review that book, and am now pleased to review his second short story collection, Cold Hands and Other Stories.
Cold Hands is a collection of eight short stories, one seeing its first publication, and an excerpt from Jeff’s (so far) only SF novel, The Cunning Blood. Unlike Souls in Silicon, there is no overarching theme, although nanotech comes close, four stories having some level of nanotech in them.
The title and leadoff short story, Cold Hands, is about Ed Gracyk (there’s a Chicago name for you!) who lost his arms in a space accident. The Combine visits him at his retirement home on Maine and offers him a set of arms better than his own, for a price – flying fuel ships for them. He accepts, but finds that rather than him owning his arms, the arms own him. This conflict drives an interesting and exciting short story.
Our Lady of The Endless Sky is the next story in the collection, and focuses on the need for religion and belief, even as Man colonizes the Moon. Inevitability Sphere, one of Jeff’s earliest stories, is about the burning need some people have to explore, no matter the cost. Also collected in the book are the story Whale Meat, Jeff’s only entry into fantasy writing, and Born Again, With Water, Jeff’s only story with aliens.
The last three stories in the book are set in Jeff’s Drumlin universe. Here, unseen aliens have seeded the near galaxy with Earth-like life, except no primates. Human shipwreck survivors have landed on one world, and discovered not only the expected Earth-normal ecology but Drumlins – devices that make nanotech things from simple tools to unknown (and very complex) devices.
On the Drumlin world, Jeff has set up a very interesting cold war between multiple groups of people. One group, the Grange, wants to exploit the Drumlin technology, while another group, the Bitspace Institute, wants to redevelop Earth technology and fix their starship. A third group, the largest, just wants to live their lives on the new world. To say this leads to some interesting conflicts is an understatement, and all three of the Drumlin World stories are little but highly enjoyable gems.
Much like Jeff’s previous collection, Cold Hands is a must-buy book for anybody interested in enjoyable science fiction with ideas. Highly recommended.