Monday, August 30, 2010
Title: Pale Boundaries
Author: Scott Cleveland
Genre: science fiction
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib
Pale Boundaries is the first novel by Scott Cleveland, and I found it to be an impressive debut. Set in the 27th Century, man has developed faster-than-light travel and settled a number of worlds. Terson Reilly, a 20-something young man, is a resident of Algran Asta, a hot, jungle-filled and hostile world. Unfortunately for Terson, in the prologue his world is being evacuated due to the discovery of primitive but quite vicious aliens who where there before Man came.
Terson is very nearly killed during in incident in this prologue, but he survives and ends up on Nivia, a very different world – a seemingly peaceful one with strict environmental laws and a dislike of foreigners. We also discover that Nivia is not at all what it seems – in fact there’s an interplanetary mafia who is hidden but deeply imbedded in Nivian culture. It’s probably not a surprise that Terson gets himself on the wrong side of said mafia, and that various “kill or be killed” set-pieces form the bulk of the novel. This is very much a big-stake, action-oriented book, although Terson and the other characters are quite well realized.
I enjoyed Pale Boundaries, and I can recommend it highly to anybody looking for an action-packed story. I do, however, have two nits to pick with the author, one of which I noted in my own writing. There is a convention in writing, especially in books with multiple points of view (POV), that when a POV character takes the focus, we get a brief reminder of what was last on that character’s mind. So, for example, if the first chapter of a character’s POV is “my dog Fluffy is sick,” then the next time we see that character, there needs to be a sentence (early in the scene) that says how Fluffy is doing. This serves as a reminder to the reader of who’s who in the zoo. It can be overdone (I don’t need a paragraph on Fluffy) but I do need it. Here, the author tends to leave those hints out entirely.
My second nit is a bit bigger. In the future of Scott Cleveland, a failed alien invasion provides both the means and the opportunity for humanity to reach the stars. We don’t learn that until about half-way through the book, which is (in my view) a problem. This was important enough to address in the Prologue, as it explains a lot about the world. Explaining stuff like this is why you’ll sometimes see books where Chapter 1 is during some important holiday. If it’s the Fourth of July and you’re writing for a non-US audience, you have an excuse to briefly explain why the fireworks are going off.
Having said that, I truly enjoyed Pale Boundaries, and recommend it heartily to any fan of action and science fiction. I’m reliably informed that Scott Cleveland has a sequel coming out in 2012. I’ll be keeping an eye out for it.
From the LL Book Review's Website:
Review Your Own Book!
By Shannon Yarbrough on August 22, 2010
We’re always open to new ideas when it comes to self-publishing, marketing, and also reviewing. So, we have a new idea and we need your help. We’ve decided to give authors the chance to review their own books right here on LLBR. What are the benefits of reviewing your own book, you might ask? Well, first and foremost, it’s free publicity! FREE! It’s a chance to step up on the soap box and convince readers to read your book. For more information, click here.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Anyway, the actual print copies look lovely, except for one ridiculously heinous error I made on the back cover, which I didn't notice until the second proof copy came, and sadly, that was after I had made some cover adjustments. I had to have read that cover copy six thousand times since the original text was written in the fall of 2006, not to mention that I didn't make the same error on the interior copy. But, no harm done. This is why we get proofs, and this is why we should actually proof the proof copies -- with a couple sets of eyes. I know we get excited when the physical copy is in our hands, but this stage is not one to rush through. This is meticulous magnifying glass type work if you get my meaning. Sure, I will wind up with a rogue comma or two, and hopefully only one or two typos. I can live with that. It happens in all books, but anyway ... I tend to ramble on.
As for the e-book formatting: You know it's a Smashwords formatting day when I ingest/inhale nothing but beer, chocolate, and cigarettes. Kindle is a non-issue. I use mobi-creator to create my files for the DTP upload and never have any issues. I use a slightly modified Word doc for Kindle, almost the same one I use for Smashwords with one exception, but I'll get to that in a minute.
Formatting for Smashwords is pretty basic, and if you follow the style guide, for the most part you won't have too much trouble getting your files approved. In the past, if you wanted some extra spacing between your chapter starts, or in poetry sections, or to just offset some text, we used empty paragraph returns. This is not actually the proper way to add white space in Word, but it was one that worked with the Smashwords meatgrinder. BTW, this does not work with mobi-creator. And while actual page breaks might seem nice in some areas, we have to keep in mind that every time a reader has to do a page turn the battery on their e-reader is drained. Battery life is based on page turns; so theoretically, we want to give the reader as few page turns as possible. Blank e-book pages are a waste of battery life and are frustrating to the reader, so don't do it. Keep your white space to a minimum.
Now, over the last two weeks, Smashwords worked out a way to eliminate the extraneous spacing in between paragraphs that many e-pub converters love to add in. This is awesome, and not just because the text-block looks nicer, but less paragraph spacing means less page turns for the end user. However, Smashwords coding to remove that extra spacing worked too well. It also eliminated all the deliberate paragraph returns, as well. So, everything in the final e-pub file just runs together with no spacing at all.
After speaking with Bill and Mark to make them aware of the situation, I decided to do some testing to find a workaround. I tried adding an em-space in those blank lines, but Smashwords meatgrinder does not recognize Word's code for an em-space and you just end up with visible question marks. You could add in ellipsis or other fancy ornaments, but that gets tiring on the eyes after a while. So I wound up, on a whim, uploading the Word doc I use for my mobi files, which uses proper paragraph line spacing instead, and wouldn't you know it, that worked like a charm. Just like it does in mobi-creator.
Now I just had to reload all my other books, because if Smashwords decided to regrind their entire catalogue, it would cause the same problem in my other books. 24 hours later, I was reloaded and approved, except for my new release, which has to go through the manual review process.
If you don't know how to do proper paragraph spacing in Word, it's under formatting-paragraph for older versions, and in Word 2007, it's under home-paragraph. In the submenu you will see a section called: spacing. That is where you adjust the line spacing before and after a paragraph. Keep the line spacing set to single. The before and after areas can be adjusted to whatever you feel is appropriate. Just be warned: don't add too much white space. On the small screened e-readers this can cause a lot of blank page turning. I like to use 12 point to set off poetry and indicate a time period change, and I like to use 24 point to offset chapter starts and items in the front matter. I don't suggest using anything more than 30 points, and don't try to create a style in Word to automate some of the process. It will de-normalize your text and cause font sizing issues during the conversion. You can check all this by downloading and proofing the e-pub file from Smashwords in Adobe Digital Editions reader, which is free to download. Don't go by the HTML preview on Smashwords. What looks fine in HTML does not always render properly in e-pub, which is based on XHTML. So I advise authors to download an e-pub reader and also the free Kindle reader so you can check the end product on Smashwords. You never know what you are going to find. For instance: optional hyphens do not appear in the Word doc or the HTML copy and yet are visible in the e-pub. Word's non-breaking hyphen code shows up as a little black triangle and not a hyphen, so be careful. Check/proof your final product for formatting issues before you approve for distribution. You will save yourself a lot of grief in the long run.
On a shameless promotion note: My novella Logos should be available in print and on Kindle by the week of September 6, or Labor Day here in the States. The e-pub is already up on Smashwords, and the PDF copy will be up on Scribd when the print book goes live in September. After that I am taking a writing hiatus to clear my head. I'll be reading only for a few months before I start the revisions on my all new, never before published, horror novella that was originally titled Sin-Eater. This first draft has been sitting and waiting for me to clear my head for over 2 years now. It'll be nice to get back to something new.
Cheryl Anne Gardner
Edited to Add: I received an e-mail from Bill -- one of Smashwords tech guys -- and he seems to have found a fix so that the meatgrinder will honor blank paragraph returns for adding white space along with paragraph style spacing. So either should work, but I would wait to hear from Smashwords before you make any drastic changes to your documents, and remember, always download and check your e-pub files.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
When I first heard that Publishers Weekly was going to review self-published books I felt a moment of elation. I love the Pubishers Weekly magazine even though my local Borders refuses to stock it for me--although that is a whole 'nother story. The mag gives a snap shot of what is going on in some facets of the publishing world, and covers some of the new releases coming out. I thought this announcement meant they would review self-published books side by side with mainstream books of similar literary (or other) merit--the one thing that would make me love their mag even more. On the up side my feeling that I have become a miserable cynic is apparently seriously wide of the mark. I am still some kind of hopelessly naive optimist who tends to assume the best. I was, of course, wrong.
Like all of the other pay-for-a-ghettoised-review vendors, Publishers Weekly does not want your self-published book, and will not give you a review of the same quality they give to other books. They will however take your money to provide a bastardised version of it. So they are "accepting" self-published books for review to the extent that they are charging more ($149 versus nothing) to provide less (a listing you write for them in a "quarterly supplement" rather than their best selling magazine). Oh and the listing in this supplement will not actually include a review, just a "brief description" presumably provided by the author. Only 25 of the unspecified number of books listed in a supplement will get a review. They then have the temerity to call the less-for-more treatment "PW Select".
They write: "We briefly considered charging for reviews, but in the end preferred to maintain our right to review what we deemed worthy." That is presumably their attempt to seize the moral high grown and try to spin the fact that they are doing the one thing worse than charging for a review. They are charging most of the authors $149 (plus book and P&P) and then not even giving them a fucking review. I am going to miss reading Publishers Weekly, but after this fiasco it just wouldn't be the same. I hope self-publishers will not flock to the fleecing, but I suspect plenty of them will.
Author: David L McAfee
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/Vampire Mythos
Price: $ 14.99
Paperback: 276 pages
Publisher: Coelacanth Press
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed By: Cheryl Anne Gardner
Our story starts out with vampire assassin Theron sent to kill a traitor of the vampire nation. Apparently vampires have been around for thousands of years by this point, and, there is some dissent and subsequent "conversion" to humanity due to the teachings of a particular preacher by the name of Jesus, who is roaming around gathering converts to his Faith. The Vampires, who have had an uneasy alliance with the Romans, cannot allow that to happen. And Theron has to kill Jesus too.
I don't normally read in the vampire genre anymore unless the premise moves beyond the conventions of the day. I think the last really different vampire story I read was The Golden by Lucius Shepard, which was a brilliant existentialist piece wrapped up in a murder mystery, but after that, Anne Rice's melancholia just wore me out. If it's whining, pining, or vampire romance, I don't want any parts of it unless it makes some profound philosophical statement. I want new mythos, not the same old stale clichés. I was hoping when I accepted the story that it would be something along the lines of the Pontius Pilot meta-fiction in Master and Margarita, but sadly, it was not. Sadly for me; those who like mainstream action/thrillers will no doubt love this book.
This is a plot driven, action based story, obviously, written to the mainstream writing conventions. There is a lot of repetition, and by that I mean that certain plot points are addressed over and over and over again throughout the course of the story. Now for some it won't matter, but for me, I can remember what happened two pages ago, so it really slowed the pacing for me. I also noted a few minor historical and linguistic innacuracies that hampered my suspension of disbelief a little bit, such as the awkward use of modern day idioms, for instance: "run like the devil" when actually, "the" devil did not exist as a concept in mainstream Judaism at that time even though the Hebrew Apocrypha represents the devil as one who brought death into the world. However, I doubt that modern expression would have been used. The Greek term Diavolos would have referred to "a" devil, not "the" devil. The modern Devil or Christian Satan, would not have existed in the state we know him at that time. The older Cabbalist literature still list him as an agent for God: an angel named Ha-Satan. So the modern idiom seems glaringly out of place, almost hokey, and the term Lucifer in Latin means Morningstar and has nothing to do with evil. The Christian usage of the Devil didn't come into being until about 400 years after Jesus death. This is why we have to pay particular care when using modern language in historical fiction. It might be nitpicking, but this sort of stuff really stops a reader in their tracks, but onto the story...
The first two chapters are nothing but hack-n-slash. We get the mission, the basic premise, and an introduction to our main character Theron -- the vampire assassin -- who pretty much has all the depth of a fighting pit-bull. There is a lot of rending flesh, blood spatter, and rolling heads, but beyond that, it's not very interesting.
In chapter 3 we are introduced to a clandestine romance, a stolen kiss wrapped in the secrecy of the night. The Roman Legionary, Taras, and his young Hebrew maiden, Mary. But this secondary plotline doesn't really go anywhere and is absent for most of the book. We don't get an accurate or in-depth picture of their relationship or their love for it to have any affect, and so it just seems like a plot device without any substance behind it. After that the narrative moves back and forth for a while from Theron to Taras where we get dribs and drabs about their respective lives before we discover that they are both assassins. Yes, it is a familiar plot device, the duelling assassins, but then we get a brief glimpse of Vampireville, and I do mean brief, if not a bit clichéd: We have portals, of course, because the vamp compound is hidden somewhere almost on a different plane of existence, where the crotchety elder council curmudgeons attempt to rule the world from some Goth dungeon. Again, as far as mythos goes, there is nothing new here ... except the Lost Ones. I did really like the imagery and the idea of the Lost Ones, so bravo for that skin-crawling bit of mythology: rotting corpses with bugs eating them is just what I was looking for, too bad there wasn't more of it.
Anyway, back to the plotline: Theron is unable to kill Jesus himself, and so the next best course of action is that Jesus should be framed for the murders Theron just committed and then his death sentence can be delivered by proxy. So he has to get everyone to believe that Jesus is a delusional liar and is really preaching for a Jewish uprising against Rome. Jesus has to be crucified, as requested by the council. They want brutality, and, one has to work with that particular history. In this way, the Vampires or Bachiyr will get what they want: the commoners will abandon their faith in the one God and side with the Romans who are weak with their pantheon of gods and already more or less under vampire control. Anyway, I won't be putting any spoilers into this review for those who want to read it. Pretty much it's one of those stories where everyone is trying to screw everyone else to get ahead and further their own interests. Everyone is plotting and everyone is a lying conniving bastard, which actually works for this type of story. You know Jesus is going to die anyway, but you keep reading to see who gets their comeuppance. Theron wants to be a member of the council someday, but he makes too many mistakes. Taras just wants to marry Mary, leave the army, and live a normal life; Marcus wants his brother's death avenged; and Gordian, who is a little freaky weird, just wants his twin-brother to like him again -- not like in good way, but like in really creepy incestuous way. You see, they haven't been all that close since his brother went vamp on him, and he will do anything to get him back; plus, immortality doesn't sound like a bad thing. As for the brother, he just wants to get some respect, and Theron is in his way.
If you want to delve into the themes, I felt justice was the prevailing one in that justice doesn't always mean right and getting to the truth of a matter is always a subjective ordeal. In the one scene where Marcus has to deliver the news of his brother's death to his brother's wife and children, this thought runs through his head when his young nephew demands admission to the crucifixion because he wants to watch Jesus die:
"He disliked having to hurt his sister-in-law like this, but he reminded himself that life sometimes hurts. There were times when the best you could hope for was to stand up and keep moving."
He does acquiesce to the boys request because he believes the boy should have the opportunity; since Didius was his father, the son deserves to see justice served, so I loved this statement with regard to life in general at that time. Nicely done! It truly shows the callousness of the world. We also get a broad thematic view of corruption by power and racism among other petty idiosyncrasies of humanity. Yes, racism, including religious racism. It's there; it's just subtle. Never once does the author go soapbox with his themes or moral views. In Literary works that's expected, but this is a thriller, so it's best to stick to the plotline, which McAfee does. The only time the Faith/Forgiveness and Good versus Evil themes seem to come to the forefront is when Theron engages Jesus in conversation around the mid-point of the book, but then it's back to the hack-n-slash fight for power. However, for me, probably the most disturbing part of the narrative is while mutilated, tortured, and murdered Jesus is being cut down from the cross, Taras' future wife Mary is at home worrying about which blouse she should wear for her trip to Rome. So, if you are looking for sympathetic characters, you won't find any in this story. If you are the type of reader who needs them, then you probably won't like this book.
To sum it all up: from the cover, I was expecting a Vampire Story: monsters, blood and guts, and a whole lot of mythos and world building, but what the book turned out to be was more of a period political/religious thriller with vampires thrown in for good measure. The world building was thin, and the mythos was pretty much standard fare. I was expected to just accept that vampires cannot get to people with faith with no justification to back it up, and apparently, the potency of that faith has something to do with it too, since Theron didn’t have any trouble killing a whole lot of faithful Christians in the epilogue. It just seemed a contrived solution in order to justify a plot point. If the author had had Theron make an attempt on Jesus and then subsequently become befuddled because he couldn't get near him, then, his "setup" plan would have come from a place of real desperation, and that would have been more believable than just a pat "oh we can't touch people with that much faith." Sorry, my impulse was to ask why? and want for an explanation. How did that come about? Faith in what specifically? People were faithful to a lot of Gods back then. Now, this is not the first time Christian Vampire Mythology has been used in this way: Dracula 2000 comes to mind, but it was explained that God made Judas a vampire as punishment for betraying Jesus, and so the fear of Christian icons, the faith, and the stake thingie are justified and explained. Same with the Movie version of Bram Stoker's Dracula: Vlad, The Impaler, is made a vampire as punishment for renouncing the Church, so it all makes sense. But in this story the Vampires already just exist, with no history, and the Christian Mythology/Faith issue is just thrown in before Christianity is even a breath on anyone's lips, and so it just doesn't ring genuine. If it had, the ending of this story would have been all the more potent. If the author was trying to say that Jesus’ one God was the only true God and thus imbued his followers with some sort of magical protection, he didn’t quite execute well enough on that theory, and that, along with the use of modern day idioms: running like "the devil" and the use of the term "hell" which also did not exist until 725AD in the Northlands, really threw me right out of the story. If the author had said "a" devil then it would have been authentic, but The Devil as we know him, again, did not exist at that time. As for Hell, if he has used the Greek term Tartaros, which is part of Hades -- no, Hades is not hell -- that would have been more accurate. Other than those major issues, there were some fiddly formatting and editorial issues as well that were obvious enough not to go unnoticed, but mostly it was the inaccurate use of religious terminology and modern idioms that dropped the rating, because every time I ran across one, I really lost a feel for the time period.
All that aside, the storyline is tight, and the characters are basic non-emo military men types who come off most of the time devoid of emotion aside from sheer brute anger, but that's to be expected. You won't find loveable whining pinning sparkly vampires here, so don't look for them, but if you like HBO's Rome, sans the sex but with all the hateable backstabbing characters, the twisting plot turns, and all the political intrigue you can stand, then you will probably love this book. As a conspiracy/assassin story it works very well, but as a vampire story, it just falls short of what it could be. There is nothing wrong with wrapping the vampire mythos up in another genre. Shepard did very well with his genre bending The Golden, but what we got there was a balance struck between the vampire story and the detective who-done-it. The balance was a little off in this one, which made all the vampy stuff seem overly cliché and contrived. I define a true vampire story as one where "the essence of being a vampire" is integral to the story. It wasn't in this book. The "Secret Society" could have been anything: zombies, aliens, Nazi-ninjas, or North Korea -- whatever. Some might think by this review that I didn't like the book, but I really did like it, a lot, just not for what it was billed to be. So, if you just want to read a mainstream period action/political thriller story, I give this a thumbs up, but if you are expecting a 33AD 30 Days of Night or something along the "vampires are real monsters" like the cover sort of suggests and not just humans with pointy teeth and an agenda, you might be disappointed. I just didn't think there was enough genuine vamp in this vampire story. I was looking for new mythos here, but what I got was an engaging political thriller set in 33 AD. Not that that's a bad thing for those who like political thrillers and dog fights. It just wasn't what I was looking for based on the cover art.
8/10 Period Political/Religious Thriller
5/10 Vampire Story
This book was reviewed from a PDF provided by the author.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
And it is very exciting to see that 5 of the top 100 best sellers in the Kindle Store are self-published titles, but I have to ask this question: Why are we measuring success by the traditional publishing yardstick: I sold [this many] books and subsequently got a publishing contract with a big NY publishing house and that = successful?
I don't mean to shit on everyone's parade here. That self-publishing is moving into the mainstream and that we are slowly but surely becoming less of an illiterate bastard step-child is a good thing, but we need to maintain some perspective here, and what I am about to say isn't going to be a cheerleading rant and it will probably piss some people off, but I have to say it. The majority of self-published authors need to be realistic. Not every self-published author is going see the same results with their self-published book as mentioned in the article. Frankly, some self-published authors do not fully understand the concept of craft nor do they grasp the concepts of revision and editing, not to mention that serious self-publishing is about more than slapping your manuscript up on Kindle then awaiting the accolades. Then there is the fact that some genres are harder than others to breakout into. As for marketing: some self-published authors just don't have the time, inclination, or in some cases, the charm enough to brand and market themselves in cyberville, and some self-published authors just don't measure success that way to begin with. I am an Indie; I can think for myself. I don't need corporate publishing to define success for me: I am perfectly capable of defining it myself, and maybe the definition, for some authors, matches yours, but the bottom line is that we choose how to define our succes. We choose. Got that!
Those who know me know that I am all for Indie publishing and Indie authors. Shit, I am one myself. Artistic Anarchy is my thing. Indie publishing is getting noticed in a good way, but I fear for the Indie Author Identity. I don't want the spirit of Independent Publishing to become tainted by mainstream dogma. I don't want to see that anarchist spirit morph into conformist bootlicking. Damn It! I don't want literary works written like Hollywood blockbusters and vice versa. I don't want to lose the sense of adventure and autonomy that comes with being independent. And I certainly don't want to see any author's work defined by a bunch of naysayers whose litmus test for quality writing is what they can get for it bottom dollar, because then we move into the traditional bureaucratic way of defining things: successful self-published author = this. No. That's NOT what being Indie all about. It's about thinking outside of the box, not trying to cram ourselves into one. The last motto I will ever put faith in is: crap until proven marketable. So why in hell would I ever let someone else define success for me like I am some kind of moron?
But that is just my personal opinion, of course, and I felt like ranting, since I am on vacation this week and this post was scheduled before I left. But I am glad I got that out of my system. Now onto some review writing.
Cheryl Anne Gardner
The pic this week is way off topic, but it is vacation. Meet my new Betta fish, Beavis. I was missing the 55 gallon fish tank I got rid of a year ago -- too much work and expense -- but after fish keeping for twenty years, I missed it. I also find that Beavis is a good listener, and it's relaxing to watch him tend to his home. For those aquatically inclined: it's a two gallon bowl with live Java fern, Anubias nana, and floating water lettuce. The heat lamp is a 5000k mini-spiral CFL bulb, and he gets fresh water every day. Yes, I have passions other than writing and reading, and they usually involve nature or animals of some sort. I hope to write a book about my life with Ferrets some day. Well, back to vacation. Happy Reading and see you all next week.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Anyone who has done even a fair bit of formatting and typesetting in Microsoft Word knows how frustrating and problematic that software can be if you don't know all the quirky ins and outs of the program. I've spent twenty years formatting in Word from simple letters to dissertations to business proposals to book layouts, and I can safely say that automating as many simple formatting tasks as you can is a real time saver. I use a few macros of my own, I use styles, and I live and breath by Word's "find and replace" feature. All these features are uber useful for setting up the interior layout of a print book, but where they really shine is when you are reformatting that print book for epub. For example: optional hyphens, while critical to print book layout, become invisible when switching the manuscript to rag-right justification; however, they will reappear in the ebook, so you wind up with hyphens in odd places unless you delete them. Tabs too, and extra spaces ... all these fiddly little formatting nuances can become problematic when you convert to ebook, and stripping your manuscript of all its formatting, while recommended by Smashwords, is not very practical.
The Editorium offers a variety of time saving formatting programs including : Filecleaner, which is only $29.95. If you plan on formatting your own books and plan on formatting a lot of books in Word, then thirty bucks is a steal. At the very least, every self-publisher should know how to use the "find and replace" feature, and The Editorium has a free text download outlining some advance techniques that no self-published author should do without.
Formatting in Word doesn't have to make you crazy. Sure, I've been doing it for two decades, so I can reformat quickly and efficiently. I also do a fair bit of formatting on the side for other Indie authors, but I had to learn Microsoft Word inside and out because this was before all these snazzy little programs were made available. I still advise authors to learn the software, but as a stop gap, programs like this make the learning curve a bit smoother.
Cheryl Anne Gardner
Monday, August 16, 2010
Title: Shades of Milk and Honey
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib
Mary Robinette Kowal is a friend of mine and a fan of Jane Austen. Although I’m not a Jane Austen fan, I am a fan of Mary’s writing, so I purchased a copy of her debut novel, Shades of Milk and Honey, at the release party. (A party that the authoress attended in Regency attire, with period refreshments.) I read it on the flight home, and found it a wonderful novel, and well worth my money.
Shades has been billed as “Jane Austen with magic,” which is an accurate description. The problem with introducing magic into Regency England is that, without care, one can break that which makes Regency romances appealing. Here Mary works carefully, describing her magical system as “glamour” – something that provides illusions without changing reality. The magical system of Shades is discussed in terms of fabric – folds of glamour are weaved and manipulated like one would a fabric. This allows women to become practitioners of magic.
The story is primarily about Jane and Melody Ellsworth, the two daughters of Charles Ellsworth, a second son who will not pass his estate on. Thus, like in any Austen novel, the goal is to marry off the sisters. Jane is plain while her younger sister Melody is a raving beauty, which leads to both conflict and the suspicion that Melody will marry well and Jane will not at all. You probably see where this is heading, but the fun of this delightful book is getting there.
Shades is also fun in other ways. A surprising number of Mary’s friends make appearances in the book, appearing as characters great and small. In Chapter 4 (Act 1, if you will) a gun appears on a mantelpiece. In Chapter 25, (Act 3, if you will) the gun goes off. (Mr. Chekhov, please pick up the white courtesy telephone. Mr. Chekhov…) In short, Shades of Milk and Honey is a serious book, but not too serious. It’s a wonderful read, and I’m already looking forward to the sequel, Glamour and Glass.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
Friday, August 13, 2010
Title: Havana Harvest
Author: Robert Landori
Publisher: Emerald Book Company
Point of Sale: Amazon
Read by: Chris Gerrib
Robert Landori, in his author’s biography at the back of his new book Havana Harvest, claims to have spent two months in solitary confinement in Castro’s Cuba. He is also very familiar with international funds transfers, both above and below the table, and has been to just about every place featured in the book. His attention to detail shows, and makes Havana Harvest a very exciting read.
The story is set in the waning days of the old Soviet Union, during the tail end of Cuba’s involvement in Angola, in the last 1980s and early 1990s. During this period, Cuba was also assisting Colombian drug smugglers in order to generate hard currency to support their faltering economy. What Landori has done is take these bare bones and flesh out an interesting if fictional take on what happened.
The lead character in Havana Harvest is Robert Lonsdale, a man born in Hungary but now a CIA employee, although with personal ties to Montreal, Canada. Lonsdale gets involved in a Cuban defector’s story of drugs and money, and spends the bulk of the book trying not to get killed while he unravels the story. This unraveling is complicated by blackmail, double-crosses and an ill-timed romantic encounter.
It sounds like your standard James Bond stuff, but Lonsdale doesn’t have any of Bond’s gadgets, and like true spies everywhere the last thing he wants is to be addressed by his real name when walking into a hotel. In short, this is a spy novel with some sense of reality, but with action and adventure. I did have a couple of nits – it seemed like people were a little to familiar with email and GPS for the era – but other than that the book seemed well-grounded. Highly recommended.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
He wouldn't have had the energy, the patience, or the perspective either.
We all need to rest. Writers need to rest, and manuscripts need to rest, just like wine, and cheese, and flowers, and trees, well, like most good things in life. For a writer, the daunting tasks of self-editing and revision become an exercise in futility if we don't step back and step away from the work for a period of time.
This isn't anything new. Most who teach the craft advise that a manuscript, after the first draft is finished, should be shelved for a time -- a few weeks to a few months -- so the author can detach themselves from the words and from story. Without that detachment, we can't see the forest for the trees, if you will pardon the cliché. Admittedly, I didn't do this with the first editions of my early novellas, and sadly, they were lacking. My readers didn't think they were, but when I looked back on them during the reformatting process -- when I switched distributors/printers -- I noticed the err of my ways. I saw areas that could be improved dramatically. Improvements that could only strengthen the work. I am not talking about a proofreading here; I did numerous revisions before releasing the first editions. I am talking about structural improvements that dig down deep. Subtle things I hadn't noticed in the thousand times I read through the manuscripts.
This happens to every writer -- the blindness -- and the only effective remedy is rest. I rest a manuscript for a few months between the first draft and the start of revisions. I also take a rest during the time the work is out for Beta, which can also take several weeks, and I rest it again for a week or two before the final proofread. I also rest myself. I don't write anything but blog posts and articles while I am resting a manuscript simply because I have to rest it out of my brain as well.
Rome wasn't built in a day; Eden certainly wasn't either, so how can we expect to create a fully three dimensional world full of vigour and emotion if we've lost our objectivity because we have been desensitized by our own words?
Often self-published authors can get overwhelmed. Multi-tasking is great and all that, but it does affect our ability to focus. Scientists are doing a lot of studies on this right now because we are crippling our brains on the net. The craft of writing is all about focusing. We feel pressure to get the books out as fast as we can. We feel pressure to be a brand with presence, to market and sell ourselves on the virtual street corner, and we feel pressure to keep up with all the latest and greatest industry news. It's exhausting to have your brain hyper-focused on a thousand things all the time. And soon all this becomes distraction. We cannot concentrate to write quietly without interruption, and the writing suffers.
So rest, my dear authors. Rejuvenate your senses. Breathe deeply of life, and reconnect to the world. Our imaginary worlds will grow stagnant if we don't feed our own souls from time to time. While you are resting, read. Nothing puts words into perspective more so than reading someone else's. I go offline at weekends. I also set time aside to read and write each weekday in solitude. If I didn't, I'd have been carted off to the booby-hatch by now. And speaking of rest, I will be on vacation next week to work on the final proof of my novella Logos among other fiddly garden and house things that need to be done.
Cheryl Anne Gardner
This week's art is Eden by Erastus Salisbury Field, circa 1860, and yes, if you didn't already know, I like to study art in my free time. The art I choose for each weekly article is relevant to the subject matter even if it's in some obscure way only I can see. This version of Eden is striking to me in that it strays from convention by using a more tropical environ. Oddly, Field was an American Folk Painter never straying more than 200 miles from his birth home in Massachusetts, and yet he imagined, through reading scripture, an Eden far different than we see in most biblical paintings.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
You can check this by going to your DTP Bookshelf and clicking actions on any one of your titles. If it has been transferred, it will give you the option to: See Book in UK Kindle Store. Of course the reviews have not crossposted yet it seems.
If your book is not listing in the UK and you feel it should be or you want it to, you might need to make some changes to your Publication Rights. For each title, you will need to Edit Book Details, then in the Content Rights section, you need select either Worldwide Rights -- all territories or Individual Territories and then select which ones you have the rights for.
Most self-published authors hold all the rights to their work, so in this case, it is best to just select Worldwide and be done with it.
As for pricing, you have two options: you can have Amazon automatically calculate the UK price based on the US list price, or you can enter a price of your own.
Smashwords today announced a two-part ebook distribution partnership with the Diesel eBook Store, a leading independent ebook retailer.
The agreement expands ebook distribution opportunities for thousands of current and future Smashwords authors and publishers.
Under the first part of the agreement, Diesel has become the latest ebook retailer to join the Smashwords distribution network. In addition to Diesel, we now distribute our books to the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Sony, as well as to mobile app platforms such as Aldiko for Android devices, and Stanza for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
All Smashwords Premium Catalog titles will go live at Diesel by August 19. If you're a Smashwords author and your books have been accepted into the Premium Catalog, your books will automatically go to Diesel unless you opt out from your Dashboard's Channel Manager (the only reason to opt out is if your book is already distributed to Diesel via a different distributor).
Friday, August 06, 2010
This is a book loosely described as being stories about dating ("Product Description: Dating is a humorous struggle for a recently divorced man who has no clue what women want"). Which it isn't. Some-one the author is dating is first mentioned on page 83, and actual dating advice (FWIW) first arrives on page 105. What this is is a collection of short essays and anecdotes, apparently from the point of view of a bartender, on topics such as Facebook, lousy tippers, drinks, farts and cougars. One dialogue between a man and his penis might be mildly amusing, three was pushing it.
To be fair I could read this book from beginning to end without pain. It has nice illustrations. It is reasonably cleanly written (although my version scrambled all of the accent marks and some of the punctuation). Yes the writing is "honest", but that doesn't automatically make it good (The same could, of course, be said about this review). My personal feeling (and many comments on Amazon disagree) is that the author is only about half as funny as he thinks he is, and while he repeatedly says people (especially women) show be nice and not whine about things--the book is essentially an extended and rather catty vent about 100 different things that apparently get up the author's nose. There are episodes of real humor and charm, but also moments of hypocrisy, bitterness, mild but ubiquitous misogyny and some other very dodgy moments.
It is entirely possible that this book is far more funny if you possess testicles, but I wasn't willing to acquire a pair just to find out.
Thursday, August 05, 2010
I ran across this post over on the Smashwords blog this week and it was quite disturbing. It also made me thank the friggin’ stars I don't use a pseudonym. No one can sue me for using my legal identity, even if it is my maiden name.
There are a lot of different reasons for writing under a pen name:
- Your real name sucks ass and has no poetry to it.
- You're like Batman: you work a day job, and due to circumstances beyond your control, you must keep the superhero writer side of your life separate.
- You just feel like keeping your writing life separate from your work-a-day life because it's just easier to organize a life when you compartmentalize things.
- You publish in several different genres and you don't want to confuse your fan bases. (See cover pic)
- You publish in several different genres and you don't want to piss off your fan bases. (Again, see cover pic)
- You write controversial stuff like erotica and such and you don't want crazy sex stalkers or homicidal nut jobs lining the sidewalk across the street from your residence.
- You are addicted to snark and can't help yourself online, but you don't want to become the victim of some personal vendetta simply because you bashed someone venomously on some blog or in an Amazon review.
- You are deep in the middle of a very real identity crisis and your therapist has advised you that you must choose a primary personality to act on your behalf in the “real” world.
- You just don't think your name is hip enough to write that urban paranormal fantasy novella.
- You are a self-published author and you are trying to hide that from the world.
Now I am sure there are many more reasons than just the 10 I listed here, and many writers have multiple reasons for using a pen name, and some writers have multiple pen names, which is fine, as long as you are not trying to hide something; because you know what, you can't hide. Having worked in banking for a decade, I can safely say that a skip trace is not all that hard or expensive to do. Something somewhere ties you to your pen name, and if somebody really wants to find out who you are, they will. Not to mention that lying about self-publishing or the genre you write in, especially in today's publishing climate, is just ridiculous anyway. Eventually you might have to sign some sort of legal contract and your real name will come out. Pen names can also present legal problems such as the one Mark Coker mentioned on the Smashwords blog, so my advice to new authors thinking about using a pen name for whatever reason is this: Make sure your reason is valid and make sure you have researched that pen name to be sure it won't come back and bite you in the ass later like it did for that Smashwords author.
As for me, my reasons for choosing a pen name were 1, 3, and 8. However, mine is not a pen name by the actual definition of the word, according to my birth certificate, anyway. As for pen name cardinal sins, there are only a few, but the biggie is: If you know an author's real name, do not ever divulge it to the world. Respect the pen name and respect the privacy of the author.
I hope things turn out ok for that erotica author, but a little research would have gone a long way in preventing that scenario in the first place.
On a side note: I wonder if women use pen names more than men. Anyone want to weigh in on that?
Cheryl Anne Gardner
Wednesday, August 04, 2010
Author: Mark A Roeder
Point of Sale: Amazon
The Vampire's Heart is a young adult story of a thirteen-year-old puny kid coming to terms with being gay, while falling for a vampire. In this case the perils of gay love range from mere humiliation to eternal damnation, and the new 15-going-on-900-year-old object of his affection is sending some serious mixed signals.
The writing is a little repetitive in places and has a heavy emphasis on 'tell' over 'show,' but for a teenage audience I think the emotional heart of the piece would more than overcome these limitations. Many of the characters verge on cliche (the jock, the bully, the mentor, the gorgeous British vampire) but there are still some twists and turns in the plot and our hero, Graham, is extremely likable throughout.
An older and more well-read person might find this story a little undemanding and overfamiliar, but for tweens, teens and anyone looking for an easy read with a happy ending, the Vampire's Heart may be just the ticket.
Tuesday, August 03, 2010
From their website:
Hello and welcome to PoDhouse.
You're probably here because you love good books but want something a little bit different to what traditional publishers can offer you (not all of us are fans of Katie Price and Dan Brown after all). If so, you've come to the right place. If not, welcome all the same.
What is PoDhouse's purpose in life?
The burgeoning world of self-publishing may be an area you are unfamiliar with (you may even have heard horror stories about some self-published titles), but PoDhouse aims to make this world one heck of a lot easier for you to navigate and assist you in discovering new, as yet unsigned authors. There are gems out there - and we'll help you find them. Being a portal for self-published books rather than a merchant, PoDhouse doesn't actually sell the books we promote - but we do provide direct links to all platforms the author has chosen to sell through, including Amazon, Waterstones and Barnes and Noble, making purchasing easy peasy.
How does PoDhouse do this?
The most important thing to know about PoDhouse is that we don’t promote any old nonsense, oh no. Instead we use a network of writers, editors and book reviewers across the UK and beyond to read, review and recommend titles for consideration on PoDhouse, making sure each one meets our exacting standards. We don’t choose work based upon whether we like it or not (that’s a matter of personal opinion), but we do make sure that all the work we promote is up to the standard you would expect when spending your hard earned money on a book. As well as sourcing for quality works we also accept submissions from aspiring authors (click here for more information). Unlike other sites, we don't charge authors a single penny for appearing on PoDhouse - we just want to find and promote the best self-published work.
Who are PoDhouse to tell me what's good or bad in a book?
We won't - we can't. One person's good is another person's awful - that's why we love books! We're not here to tell you our opinions of a book, but we are here to ensure that books littered with spelling mistakes, grammatical errors or any other defects that instantly ruin a piece of work don't get on our shelves. From there it's up to you. And if you're worried about our ability to judge, compare a sample of one of our titles with a selection of those not on PoDhouse. We're sure you'll see the difference.
So there you have it. How actively they promote a title and what the word promote means is subject to debate. As a listing site, it is similar to IndieReader and the new Indieprose in that submissions are vetted to an extent before inclusion in their catalogue, except that PodHouse does not charge the authors to list nor does it, at this time, take a percentage of sales. I spoke with Mark Hunter, the founder of Podhouse, and when I questioned him about the revenue needed to keep the site going, he said he might use ad-sense, affiliate links, and possibly take donations, but that he would not be charging fees directly to the authors.
The book pages look nice and provide all necessary sales links: links to author websites, previews, and links to reviews. I like the look and feel of the site and might even consider submitting some of my own novellas. I am not much for the gate-keeping model, specifically if the gatekeepers are being paid, but in this case, it's just a list site and one that won't cost the author an arm and a leg.
Edited to add comments on promotion by Mark Hunter: In regards to promotion of titles, each title will have its own page with all the links you mention, with each new addition featuring on our Facebook, MySpace and Twitter pages as well as our homepage. We aim to offer equal exposure for all titles, and firmly believe that PoDhouse should act as an add-on to an existing marketing plan rather than being a one-stop marketing shop.
The word 'promote', as far as we are concerned, means simply that we are raising awareness of certain books above others; we act as the claw in the stuffed-toy grabber at the fairground, hooking certain titles out of the pile and giving them a platform. And we have recently added a fancy new flash gallery to our genre pages. I suggest having a look! -- Mark Hunter
Cheryl Anne Gardner