Monday, February 28, 2011

We Have A Winner!

Apparently it's a slow month, because we only had nine entries in this month's Free Book Friday drawing, but thanks to Random.org, post #7 - "Teawench" is the winner! Congratulations!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Free Book Friday - Zaftan Entrepreneurs


We here at POD People have a tradition of giving away books on the last Friday of the month. Well, it's that time again. This month's free book is Hank Quense's humorous SF novel Zaftan Entrepreneurs. My review of the book is available here.

To win, please post a comment below, and we will randomly select a winner Monday. Please make sure that your comment provides an email address so we can make arrangements for shipping!

Good luck, and see y'all Monday!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thoughts on Editing and Revision -- c.anne.gardner

“There is a difference between a book of two hundred pages from the very beginning and a book of two hundred pages, which is the result of an original eight hundred pages. The six hundred are there. Only you don't see them." Elie Wiesel

I want to talk about the editing and revision process this week, because as the quote above states, there is a huge difference between a tight compelling narrative and a wandering dissertation. Revision is where we edit out the extraneous stuff, where we make course corrections, and where we compress our dreams into concise thoughts and actions. It's where we take an idea and give form and function. It's where we discover how to say what we mean in as few words as possible.

We are often told to write bravely. Well, I think you have to have a modicum of suicidal bravery to begin the editing and revision process in the first place. Why? Because you are going to hear a lot of shit thrown at you from critique partners, beta readers, and even regular readers. Shit like: The bla bla character wasn't likable. So and so wouldn't do this or that. The language was too flowery, complicated, simple, slangy or whatever. Your character's name reminded me of some stupid shit or another or I couldn't pronounce it, so you should change it to Claire; or, you’re first sentence didn’t hook me ... ad nausea. Much of what you hear will be noise like this and not relevant criticism, and the reason why is that most of what you hear will be subjective opinion -- biased opinion. Our characters don’t have to be likable in the least. We don’t have to write to an 8th grade reading level; we only have to write to a level that is true to our style, the story, and us. We don’t have to name our characters Bob and Carol or Ted and Alice just because a reader finds them appealing. And we don’t have to write an advertising slogan as our first line.

When I am asked to beta read or review a book, I try to put all the subjective stuff out of my head and focus on the story. I will give it the attention it deserves, and I will "get it." I promise I will not project my own personal bullshit onto your story. "I would have written it that way." never enters into my mind. It should never enter into any critic's or reader's mind. I might be an author and a book blogger, but before all that happened, I was a reader, and when all those other things drift off into the distance, I will still be a reader, or rather, a lover of the written word. While your book or manuscript is in my hands, I promise that...

  1. I will focus on grammatical issues, particularly participle phrase abuse and verboseness.
  2. I will focus on mood and movement, the textural stuff. If your page long description of the floorboards in a room affects the pacing or distracts from the story, I'll let you know I thought so.
  3. I will focus on the implausible and the downright ridiculous. I'll take specific genre considerations into account on this, but if your ordinary Joe takes a few bullets to the chest there better be a damn good reason if he gets up.
  4. I will focus on inconsistencies and redundancies; if you bludgeon me with character motivation on every page, I'll probably smack the shit out of you. I am capable of thinking on my own. You don't have to explain everything.
  5. I will damn sure focus on your characters, and I love me some loathsome characters. I even like clichés if they are used creatively to force a point home.
  6. And I don't care what language you use. I am not a fan of overly simplistic see-spot-run sort of writing or heavy dialect, but if it fits the story, then it fits the story. Whether I like it or not is irrelevant.

I don't believe in giving bad reviews. I don't have time to read books that are technically challenged let alone review them. I'll politely email you and decline the review if I find your book too out-of-sorts to continue and I’ll explain why if you ask. If I am beta-reading for you, you can be sure I will give you the straight shit, straight up, and there will be no coddling, ass kissing, or hand holding. You'll get my respect and that's about it; unless I have some spare chocolate and whiskey on hand.

Yes, I will give you my honest thoughts and opinions, and I won't be snarky about it, so what you decide to revise or cut will be entirely up to you. We cannot revise to suit every single reader's personal preferences, that's not what revision and editing are about, so I try to keep my own idiosyncrasies out of it while I am beta reading and while I am reviewing. I try to focus on the bigger picture. Yeah, I'm talking about that one you painted for me in blood, sweat, and tears.

Writing is much like the distillation process. A lot of ingredients go in at the start, but it's the concentrated essence we are after.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Review: The Cutting Edge

Title: The Cutting Edge
Author: Darcia Helle
Genre: Thriller
Publisher: Createspace
Price: $12.50
Pages: 232
ISBN: 978-1453630730
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed By: Cheryl Anne Gardner

Book Description: My name is Skye Summers. I'm a hairstylist and I can't stop fantasizing about killing my clients. Not all of them, of course. I only want to kill the ones who irritate me, which, if I'm being honest, is most of them. My occasional fantasies have turned into chronic daydreams. They're bloody and vivid, like watching a slice-and-dice movie on IMAX. I also want to kill my husband's ex-girlfriend. She's not a client but she tops my list. Eighteen years ago, she gave birth to his daughter and she has tormented him ever since. I should be troubled by this growing desire to use my surgically sharpened shears for more than a haircut. Instead, I wonder how I can get away with it.

Well, it's no wonder Skye wants to kill people. Her name is Skye for one; her parents are hippies; her husband's ex is a monster of a greedy selfish bitch and his daughter has also found fashion in that as well; and all Skye's clients at the hair-salon have rubbed every single nerve in her body raw. If you've ever worked in the service industry, you will be able to relate to Skye's woes, and if you haven't, Skye's darkly humorous way of dealing with the self-absorbed should be taken as lesson learned. Sometimes we forget that the voice across the lunch counter, or the salesman at the shoe store, or the waiter/waitress bringing us our food are actually people with lives and emotions, etc. They are there to do their job, not be subservient to us. That's the first part of the story, the second, the serial killer part, has to do with another sort of person, which we shall call the abusive manipulator. Both stories converge to paint a rather unflattering portrait of the "selfish woman.” Actions speak louder than words, and this story is chock-full of some of the most loathsome people I could ever care not to meet.

However, Skye doesn't have it all bad. Her should-be-a-porn-star husband is a charmer, and her parents are stereotypical peace, love, and understanding, but a day job that drains you and then subsequently fills you up with negative energy can take its toll on even the most make-the-best-of-it people. Skye is no exception. Most of the book is done in a first person, present tense, daily journal styled narrative where Skye complains about her day, worries over her homicidal thoughts, and berates the ignorance and rudeness of her clientele while fantasizing about killing and maiming them in various gruesome ways. This is interwoven with the third person narrative of the serial killer. Some readers will not like the constant head hopping from first to third person narrative styles. It is a bit choppy and disorienting but the author, for effect, might have intended that. Other than that, the book was well proofed. I only found two or three instances of missing words/grammatical issues. The biggest problem with the book was the presentation. The cover image is absolutely striking, but I thought the sideways title in such a plain font with the black bar void under the picture really didn't do justice to the graphic or the story. The other major issues were with the interior formatting, and they are too numerous to mention here. You won't notice these issues as much in eBook format, of course, but I was reviewing from a print copy, so I had to take everything into account.

As for the plotting of the story, it's a quick predictably fun read. Skye's got an uber amount of personality, so if you like sarcastic all up in your face attitude, then you will just love the book because of the connection you'll feel to Skye. The serial killer thriller part is pretty much standard fare: the abused child vicariously seeks revenge against his dead monster of a mother, and eventually he and Skye cross paths using kismet as a plot device. What I really loved was that Skye kept her head about her and didn't become the cliché "damsel in distress turns unto a sobbing begging wet noodle" type of heroine in the end, so the book has a predictable yet strong finish. The last line is a knock out! Readers who are on the sensitive side might have trouble with some of the violence, detailed and implied, so be warned.

Overall, I really just loved Skye, and I loved the story, and those who love sarcastic heroines, pitch-black comedy, and misogynistic serial killer plotlines will too.

7/10

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Review: Exchange


Title: Exchange
Author: Dale Cozort
Genre: science fiction
Price: $16.95
Publisher: Stairway Press
ISBN: 978-0975431474
Point of Sale: publisher Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I’ve met Dale Cozort in various science fiction fandom events here in Chicago over the years. When I ran into him a few weeks ago, he said “I got a book published!” To which I reply, “I review books!” This resulted in me leaving the event with a free copy of his novel Exchange.

The story is set in and around Rockport, Illinois in the immediate future. For reasons unexplained and apparently not well understood, random chunks of our Earth are “exchanged” with the same piece of Earth in a different timeline – one in which the large mammals of the Pleistocene didn’t die off, and humans apparently did, leading to the Exchanged areas being referred to as Bear Country. As in, lots of lions and tigers and bears. These areas revert back to their previous timeline in a matter of days or weeks, further complicating matters.

The story opens with Sharon Mack, a young single mother, getting stuck inside the Exchange boundary and thus being sent into the Bear Country reality. Fortunately, she’s not alone – a number of US Marines and others are going with. Unfortunately, those others include her violent and anti-social ex-husband, who wants to take their seven-year-old special needs daughter Bethany with him as he tries to set up housekeeping in Bear Country land that’s not returning to our timeline. We meet him when he crowns Sharon with a whiskey bottle at the start of Chapter 2, setting up attempts by Sharon to get her daughter back. This personal drama, although gripping and interesting, isn’t the only thing going on in Bear Country, as Sharon discovers during her quest.

I like Dale, and I found the book engaging and entertaining, but I do have some issues with the editing. Editing runs on a spectrum from line to story editing. Line editing is grammar, spelling and punctuation, while story editing focuses on the authorial decisions in telling the story. I felt that Dale’s editor fell a bit short on the story editing side of the ledger. There were several instances of “maid and butler” dialog, including early on when the local radio station was busily explaining to those inside what had happened to them. Also, I was repeatedly told how big the Exchanged area was, something I didn’t need to be told so often.

There were also some nits with the story that may fall on Dale’s head, not his editor’s. First, there were a lot of guns in the story, but they were never described as other than pistol or rifle. This really bothered me, especially when at one point somebody substituted an unloaded gun for a loaded one. Without knowing if it was a revolver or a semi-auto, I found it difficult to see how the substitution was made. Second, on several occasions, Sharon got snuck up on from behind. I found that a bit difficult to swallow, especially for people moving in woods and grasslands.

Having said all of that, I enjoyed Exchange, and found it well worth the read.
Rating: 7/10

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Thoughts on Being a True Storyteller -- c.anne.gardner

I just love me some Chuck Wendig!!!! I am shouting this, note: excessive use of exclamation points.

Last week he had an interesting article/rant on what it takes to become a true storyteller, and I just can't let his toolkit go by without comment, but first:

The Essential Toolkit

To achieve this [becoming a true storyteller], he says, I suspect you must be:

  1. An excellent liar.
  2. Someone who is at least mildly disturbed.
  3. Capable of thinking of profound evils and delirious virtues in equal measure.
  4. Willing to commit acts of overwhelming cruelty to invisible, non-existent people.
  5. Someone who had lots of imaginary friends as a child. And possibly as an adult.

Wendig calls this a True Storyteller, but I like to call this Delusional Surrealist-Visionary syndrome.

I don't think you have to be an excellent liar -- I am not really fond of the term liar because in my fiction all your gonna get is truth -- but I think you have to be just delusional enough to believe all the crazy damn shit you make up. Oh, don't let any writer tell you otherwise; we do actually believe our own shit. We have to or it won't work. We never lie to the reader; we only lie to ourselves. That’s the black magic of it. We have to suspend our own disbelief before we can ask a reader to suspend theirs. It’s like a mentalist trapeze act. So, I suppose we can classify "delusional" as mildly disturbed, but some of us go way way way beyond a mild case of scab-picker. I know a guy who knows this other guy who knows a guy that can sit for hours in a corner extruding the fossilized dust mite lint from his belly button. It's the only way to get a quiet moment in the nuthatch he calls his creative mind. All those damn voices blathering at us all the time, who wouldn't want to hurt them, hurt them all, and hurt them bad. And that guy I know who knows that other guy with the frizzy hair and the lint fetish, he is mercilessly cruel: killed, tortured, and maimed cruel. He's had characters commit suicide, commit rape, commit murder, lie, cheat, steal, and self-flagellate all in the name of a story. Yea, that's right; he's even had little girls in frilly dresses eat turd and dead rat kebabs. You see, there's me and there's him, and we've got this thing we do. Been doing it since we were kids. We only bleed them a little, and the kind of friends we have don't seem to mind. We’re not afraid to go there, whereever there might be, no matter how dark, dank, or putrid. We've got our suitcases packed -- all liquorice and lace knickers -- train tickets in our pockets, cause that's what it takes...

Other’s rational thinking mileage will vary.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

Don't forget to stop by Wendig's blog to read the entire article. You won't be disappointed. After that, subscribe to his feed; you won't regret that either unless you are averse to flagrant expletive abuse.

The Art this week is Mad Kate by Henry Fuseli, 1806

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Page 99 -- Falling Star - The Watchers by Philip Chen

Page 99 from Falling Star - The Watchers
A Roswellian Thriller
By Philip Chen
Reprinted with Permission. Copyright 2010 by Philip Chen. All Rights Reserved

Book Description: The World is at risk; not the ordinary risk seen every night on prime time news, but a horrific one that portends the possibility of total annihilation. Mysterious objects have been found buried deep in the murky depths of the ocean. Despite massive governmental efforts to uncover their real meaning the objects remained silent for decades. But something has happened. These objects wake up and start sending messages to outer space. Mike is pulled back into a clandestine world that he thought he had left behind to help decipher these messages. But he is attacked by gangs of ordinary looking Americans and must fight for his very life. Who are these attackers? Why have they targeted Mike and his colleagues in the secret agency? On top of these interwoven threats, Mike learns that a revered friend has died. With the death of this friend, is mankind's last hope for understanding the signals lost forever in the silt and muck of the ocean bottom? Mike's personal journey through 1960s America forms a backdrop to unraveling this mystery.
-----

The banker was dressed in a dark blue cotton shirt with white stripes, starched white collar, and white French cuffs anchored by simple gold links, bright red paisley braces holding up custom tailored gray pinstriped suit pants, and a blue and red-patterned tie. He wore a gold school ring with a garnet stone from Mr. Jefferson's School for Boys on his right ring finger.

The arduous climb to the top had its price, which the banker had paid, though it was not readily evident in his outward appearance, or even to him. He enjoyed his office, his position, and his attainments. He lived for the power and prestige that these things brought to him.

This morning, however, there had been a strange feeling, a gnawing sensation; a premonition that something was not right, that something had been left undone. He had shrugged off the feeling as simply lack of sleep.

The perennial SystemGraphon deal was in trouble, again, and he had endured too many late night negotiating sessions, trying to put it back on track. The SystemGraphon, a "career deal," seemed never to go away; it just wouldn't close.

Aloysius Xavier Kang Sheng Liu, his thinning gray hair combed back over his head, was in charge of Project Finance. Aloysius. He had been given that cumbersome moniker by his diplomat father upon their arrival in the United States in 1950. Someone called him "Mike" on his first day in grade school and that nickname had stuck throughout the years.

His rise at Smedleys had been spectacular, marred only by the often-unquiet jealousy of Ivy Leaguers who could not understand how an outsider could attain such position. To them an "outsider" was anyone who could not claim to have grown up rich in Connecticut or Western New Jersey. To have been born into the right circles and to have received the proper education at Exeter or Choate, finished off with a sojourn at Harvard or Yale or, in the exceptional charity case, Wharton -- in short: white and rich. Certainly, an outsider could never achieve high stature at Smedleys; that was only reserved for [...]

-----
Born in China, but raised in Washington, D.C., Phil Chen has an eclectic background. He is trained as a mechanical engineer with degrees from the University of Virginia and Stanford University, and as an attorney with a Juris Doctor from the University of Minnesota. He is a registered professional engineer and has been admitted to the Bars of New York and Minnesota. He has lived in many states in the U.S. and abroad in South Africa, where he started and ran a private equity fund. In his career, Phil has been an ocean research, energy, and environmental engineer, a hyperbaric chamber operator, a trial attorney, a financial services attorney, an investment banker, an equity fund manager, business executive, a cartoonist, a webmaster, and an aspiring novelist. He and his wife currently live in New Jersey, but are looking at retirement destinations. His two children are out of the house and on their own. One is a doctor and the other a business executive. His grand-daughter is the twinkle in his eye.

http://www.amazon.com/Falling-Star-The-Watchers-ebook/dp/B003YCPK4C

If you would like The Podpeople to feature your Page 99, send us an email to: podpeep at gmail dot com with the subject line Page 99. Please include a link to your preferred e-commerce site, a cover jpeg, and paste your page 99 into the body of the email or attach it as a .TXT file. If your page 99 happens to be a chapter start or chapter end and does not contain a full page, you may use the full page before or after your page 99. One page only please.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Middle-aged Thoughts on The Craft -- c.anne.gardner

I was reading an article in the Guardian last week by Amanda Craig, which spoke very candidly to women writers with respect to the subject of age, particularly; at what age did the writers she most revered publish their breakthrough book. She responded:
"Time and again, I found that they all hit their late 40s or mid-50s before this happened. The exception seemed to be gay women. The reason why was easy to guess: if you have children, your career tends to be eclipsed for a good decade-and-a-half."
I agree and disagree with this, and I am sure my thoughts here will piss a few writers off.

First, I don't necessarily think children are always to blame for the late start of a woman's writing career, or rather, the writing career getting serious late in life. I am a childless woman, by choice, and even though I didn't lose a decade to child rearing, I lost a decade to life. I mean let's be real here, at eighteen to twenty-couple of years old, I didn't have the life experience to really write anything substantial. Most of my chicken scratchings at that time were all about sex and anarchy. I hadn't put in the time yet; the years of adult struggles were ahead of me. I hadn't been affected yet by the psychological, sociological, and political strife adults must come to grips with. At twenty-something, it was all pining, experimentation, and pissed off damn-the-man-partying-on-the-road-to-self discovery-dear-Penthouse type nonsense. The who I was would change radically many times over in the course of that decade and a half. I was learning to live, and I was learning to understand the world I inhabited on a much less superficial level than I had as a child. I couldn't write what I write the way I write it now if I had tried to do it back then, which I did, and it sucked like a sloppy sewer sump pump. All my writing then was immature, because I was immature, I didn't have the skills, and child rearing had nothing to do with it. I thought I was a woman at twenty years old, but I was wrong. I might have been a woman physically, but I was still a naive child, and that didn't change until I was in my late thirties when could look back on all the mistakes I made with some analytical perspective -- when I could also look at the creative process with some analytical perspective.

I think that's what makes a mature writer: Time In, and by that, I mean time invested in obtaining said analytical perspective. Sometimes raising a family is part of that, and sometimes it’s a career, or sometimes its time spent finding your spiritual center. Serious literature comes with serious contemplation, and I don't think that has anything to do with whether or not you are a man or a woman, or whether or not you are gay, or whether or not you have children. Yet this is where the publishing industry fails mature writers. Amanda Craig states in her article:
“Unless and until we get to the lofty eminence of our eighties and are once again deemed as interesting as Diana Athill, middle age is a period of about 30 years in which somehow, despite having a lifetime of experience to draw upon, we are somehow not worth reading.”
I do agree that young sexy writers with a mouthful of shiny teeth and overactive glands can and do sell a lot of books. In addition, I am not saying young people can't write, but I can tell you, everything I wrote when I was young was all raw emotion, anarchy, and criticism about things I really didn't understand yet. I am sure that sort of writing is captivating in its own way, all that angsty x-y-z or whatever generation we happen to have a love/hate relationship with at the moment, but it certainly isn't objective. An older more mature writer makes the conscious choice between objectivity and subjectivity. We know when our narrators are unreliable because we have deliberately made them so. The same often cannot be said of young writers, and that's simply of case of the insulation and the isolation that comes with being young. You don't know what you don't know, and you don't want anyone telling you otherwise. It's as simple as that.
Ms. Craig says, "On the whole, good and great fiction is not written by beautiful people who feel successful. It's written by the person who is most overlooked, all their life, and who understands things about the human condition which is very different from that of the experience of the 25-year-old part-time model."
So, are there young writers who fit Ms. Craig's bill of goods? I am sure there are, but that sort of critical thinking and objectivity is a rarity when it comes to young writers writing serious literary fiction. I've read a bit over the years, so I know. It's not about the technical aspects of writing, it’s about the minutia of living that makes good and great fiction.

When I was young, I wrote some hot, sexy, trashy stuff all civil disobedience and shit, and my friends were mildly amused, but today, I write stuff like this, and I am not saying it's any good, I am just saying it's very different:

A Sack of Rags and Rocks © 2011 Cheryl Anne Gardner, All Rights Reserved

I can still smell the perfume in their hair -- the scent of lavender just after a summer rain -- as it drifted to me across the ice. The lake had frozen that January, under the midnight moon, and neither a pound of gold nor the beating heart of a sleeping man could raise the dead drifting on the current just below the surface. "You might have had the one, but never both," the ugly old shrew advised through rotted teeth and needful breath as she looked at the spread of cards laid out before her, "And neither would have made you happy in the end."

She only wanted the best for me. I don't know why I expected her to understand my infatuations. She wasn't a faith healer ... she was just my mother, and she never told me the water would be so cold.

Others mileage will vary, but I would rather write the above than what I was writing in my twenties.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

The art this week is Witch by Anton Kandaurov, 1899

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Page 99 -- The Waterfall Dance by Andrew Quinn

Page 99 from The Waterfall Dance
A Novel
By Andrew Quinn
Reprinted with Permission: Copyright 2010 By Andrew Quinn. All Rights Reserved

Book Description: The maxim of the three wise monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil too often describes matters of American justice; though in new author Andrew Quinn's debut novel, Waterfall Dance, one very special primate is poised to show and tell all. Renowned English primatologist Emily Bennett has taught sign language to generations of chimpanzees, but only recently has the project, Simian Says, adopted sign language recognition and speech synthesis technology designed for communication-impaired humans. Voice changes everything, so when Emily is arrested for her involvement in the rescue of three experimental chimps from a Seattle lab, her prize pupil is thrust into the spotlight. Emily's lawyer, ambivalent pretty boy Will Thomas, can't help but fall for his primate-passionate client, which will either help the case or interfere with her scheme. In the twenty-first century's most sensational trial comes the most anticipated witness in courtroom history. Time is running out on our closest relative in evolution. To turn the tide, Will Thomas must change what it means to be human. The woman gave him clarity. The trial taught him courage. But it is an animal that must teach aimless Will Thomas what it means to be human. The prospect of meaningful communication with a great ape is just around the corner--not the ambiguous interpretation of body language and gestures, but the plain English of American Sign Language synthesized into voice. Much of the technology required is already here. The rest will soon arrive. What will they say? What would you ask? What does it change?

-----

She peeked into her mocha, slurped a dab of whipped cream, and then stared away. She licked her lips before turning to him.

“What? She said.

He smiled. “Where would you be if it weren’t for all of this?”

“Sorry?”

“If you didn’t have to do all of this, the project and chimps.”

“I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

She didn’t seem to understand the question. In a sense, he was setting her free.

“But if you could.”

“I wouldn’t. I would do exactly what I’m doing.” While smoothing an errant bang, she looked over his shoulder as though at something of interest. He spun to look at a wall hung with underwhelming metal art.
“You like metal art?”

“What about you? What dreams may come of Will Thomas?”

The scenario was as old as high school and he had played it in his head a thousand times. He had browsed catalogs in search of just the right retro-Casablanca furniture, and surfed temp agencies in search of just the right sassy red-lipped secretary. Yet he knew nothing of the destination he desired.

“I’d open a PI pop stand in Key West and change my name to Dick Savage, get me a straw fedora and one of those sturdy retro desk fans to push the heat around. I could get Cubans there, cigars to loll away the time.” His hand spread. “The neon outside would say Whodunit Dick, on your case like stink on shit.”

Melanie had laughed her ass off. Emily covered her mouth to hide horror.

“This would make you happy?”

It barely peeped out. “No.”

“I don’t understand.”

He felt stupid now. “Just a stupid kid thing.”

She touched his sleeve. “I see Will Bond, foreign diplomat, pressed suits and sultry ladies, passports and euro-trains, the State Department’s savviest spy for humanitarian relief work.”


-----
As a young man, Andrew Quinn left the relative comfort of his Minnesota roots in search of solace in the Northwest, residing twice in Montana and living for nearly a decade in a remote cabin in Oregon. Alcoholism counselor, carpenter, and ranch hand are but a few of the many occupations he has employed in an adventurous life. Home again in Minnesota, writing became a fever. Starve a cold; feed a fever. To learn more about Andrew or his debut novel, Waterfall Dance, visit him on the web at StoriesThatStir.com

http://www.storiesthatstir.com/
http://www.amazon.com/Waterfall-Dance-Andrew-Quinn/dp/1453629475?ie=UTF8&qid=1287072785&sr=8-4

If you would like The Podpeople to feature your Page 99, send us an email to: podpeep at gmail dot com with the subject line Page 99. Please include a link to your preferred e-commerce site, a cover jpeg, and paste your page 99 into the body of the email or attach it as a .TXT file. If your page 99 happens to be a chapter start or chapter end and does not contain a full page, you may use the full page before or after your page 99. One page only please.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Thoughts on Short Fiction -- c.anne.gardner

I'll admit, readily, that I am lousy at the long form, which is probably why I never hesitate to say, "No," when people ask me if I ever plan on writing a novel some day. I am also lousy at short stories too. For some reason, the novella just seems to be the perfect length for my style and particular writerly mindset. However, I have been doing a lot more sculpting lately, and my current manuscript revision progress has been slow at best. I've been extremely busy with a few massive initiatives at work, as well, and lately I have been going for days at a time without even looking at or even thinking about my novella Death Dreamt. This isn't a bad thing for me, and I don't feel guilty at all or label myself a lazy writer. My creative mind just doesn't like to be stuck in one process for too long. I know that, so I don't sweat it.

Anyway ... with all this going on, I do fear that my writing will go stagnant if I don't exercise my skills in that department on a regular basis, so I have begun experimenting with flash fiction. Why flash fiction you ask, since I admitted that I was lousy with the short story? Well, a few years ago, at the [bad] advice of one of my writer friends, I submitted a few short stories to an online ezine. They were running a brief contest/critique service to promote their site at the time. My stories were rejected, of course, because I am shitty at it, but the critique, albeit brief, was very helpful. They said my writing was excellent but that I had a tendency towards the abstract and that readers wouldn't necessarily "get it." I thought that was an odd comment, since most of the lit readers I know absolutely relish the abstract, but apparently abstract was not quite right for this particular ezine. No harm done. Cut to the present day, and I have been thinking a lot lately about what I could do to keep the writing feeling alive while I work on other projects, and flash came to mind.

It was just a combination of odd things that led me to that conclusion. I have a writer's block widget that generates 4-5 unrelated elements each time you click on it and throws them at you all willy nilly in order to stimulate your creative mind. Things like wooden shoes, a girl begging, a roulette wheel, scavengers, etc. So, I thought I would see if I could write a bit of flash each day using all of the unrelated elements provided to me. Now flash is anything generally under 1000 words, but I have been deliberately trying to keep it under 150. I know, it's a tall order, but some of the stuff I came up with over the past few weeks has gone over like gangbusters with my writers group and critique partners. So maybe, just maybe, I have a knack for flash. Who knows, but I am going to keep at it because I find it very stimulating and challenging. I might even try to submit some, even though I am just not into that whole submission/validation thing. Of course, this is why I am not posting any here today, but if you want to read some, I do share select pieces with my Facebook writer group for critique/commentary, so friend me over there. If I decide not to submit, I might consider doing a collection under my own imprint once I get enough of them. It feels a lot like writing poetry to me, and maybe that's what attracted me to it. The shit might actually suck, but I like writing it and it’s best to work with what moves you at any given moment.

So my writer and reader friends out there: How do you feel about flash fiction? Do you write it, do you read it, and are there any great flash sites out on the interwebz you just cannot live without? The morning coffee break is a perfect time to read a bit of flash.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

As for the sculpture, you can see I am in manic mode with the little birds. People just love them. The kitty is a new project. A friend asked me if I could make a cat. I had no plans to but said I would try, because if I could pull it off, he wanted me to make one for him and incorporate his beloved Rusty's ashes into the cement mix. I thought that was a brilliant idea and a wonderful way to memorialize a beloved pet, so that's the kitty prototype pictured. I know they aren't great works of artistic genius, but they are my whimsical creations, and I am having fun experimenting, which I think all creative people should do from time to time, whether it be with their writing or something else. I think experimentation gets the blood flowing to the extremities like nothing else can. If anyone wants a birdie, just shoot me an email; we can work out a friend price.

The art this week is The Liver is The Cock's Comb by Arshile Gorky, 1944, since I was feeling in a bit of an abstract mood.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Review: Zaftan Entrepreneurs


Title: Zaftan Entrepreneurs
Author: Hank Quense
Genre: science fiction / fantasy / humor
Price: $17.99 (print)
Publisher: CreateSpace
ISBN: 978-1456349387
Point of Sale: Amazon.
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

Hank Quense sent me a proof copy of his latest novel, Zaftan Entrepreneurs, which is billed as Book One of a trilogy. It’s an amusing and satirical take on science fiction, especially the classic “first contact” story.

The titular Zaftans are your basic B-movie pug-uglies – walking squids with eight semi-independent brains. They, or at least the group represented on the mining ship Black Carrion Flower, fly about the galaxy mining Rare Earth minerals. The Black Carrion, being a bit down on its luck, arrives in the Gundarland system, a solar system that “flaunted unpretentiousness.” The one planet in the system with usable minerals happens to be inhabited by a collection of races from fantasy – humans, elves, dwarves, etc. Since the Zaftans have a high opinion of themselves (for no discernable reason) and the Gundarland tech-level is mid-Victorian, the Zaftans decide to take the local yokels for a ride.

It’s not much of a spoiler to tell you that the locals, including a female dwarf constable named Leslie Higginbottom and a miner named MacDrakin Gemfinder, have other ideas. The implementation of these ideas leads to a very humorous romp through the book. Quense spares nobody in his satire – taking aim at politicians, bureaucrats and trade union members with equal zest, just to name a few of his targets.

From Quense’s blog I read that “Most of my characters share a common trait: namely, Tunnel Vision, the ability to selectively view events through a set of personal filters that eliminate everything except what effects the wearer of the filters.” This fatal flaw allows for much of Quense’s humor, which is effectively worked into the story. Overall, I found Zaftan Entrepreneurs a very enjoyable and light read. Recommended.




Rating: 8/10

Review: Randolph's One Bedroom

Title: Randolph's One Bedroom
Author: Andrew Oberg
Genre: Short Stories
Publisher: Createspace
Price: $8.95
Pages: 156
ISBN: 978-1451543308
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed By: Cheryl Anne Gardner

Description: When winter stretches on for half the year and people are forced to spend entirely too much time indoors, strange things are bound to happen. Randolph's city of Sornsville, and the local coffee shop he works at, are no exceptions. But through all the irate customers and cryogenically preserved mammals, the drinks that magically disappear just when their order has come up, and the simian clerks that know far too much for their own good, Randolph somehow manages to keep an even keel. Here are twenty linked stories, or twenty episodes if you will, about Randolph and the small, frozen, and thoroughly odd part of the world he inhabits.
--
The book, for me, wasn't so much about Randolph as it was his state of mind, specifically how he dealt with the everyday oddities of his world. The truth is stranger than fiction, and where Randolph lives, pretty much everything is strange. What I think I loved most about this story collection was that none of the characters were all that out of the ordinary. We are surrounded by the bizarre every single day, and we, like Randolph, have become unaffected by the goings on around us. If we didn't insulate ourselves in this way, we would all be mental by now. When I see some of the things my own neighbours do, I swear my husband and I are the only normal people on the block. That's a stretch, all things considered, but then we think, hey, they probably think we are weird, and they wouldn't be that far off base. That's really the whole point of the book I think: it's an abstract look at society's various psychological tics. Randolph's cursing pet parrot is really the only thing predictable in his entire world, well, that and he never gets any mail.

In our first story, The Neighbour, Randolph confronts the neighbour living overhead who is making a lot of noise while screaming at and berating her ceramic garden gnome. Of course, instead of knocking on the ceiling or going up and knocking on the neighbours door, Randolph decides that climbing the dumpster and looking in the old woman's window is the better option. The funny part is not that the woman is having an altercation with a garden gnome but that she freaks on Randolph for being a peeping Tom. After that, we join Randolph at the local Marmuck's coffee shop where he works as a barista, and if you've ever worked in a retail setting, you know there is no shortage of morons and freaks to accost you all day long. We've disappearing mochas, Pastors who claim the frozen bodies of Neanderthals do not exist. Nope sorry, there is no frozen mummified body in that hole. You are not seeing one because it doesn’t exist. We've also got Randolph's small enclave of dope smoking friends, which is kind of ironic when you think about it. In Randolph’s world, hallucinogenics aren't really necessary. Not in a town where the local grocery store is staffed with monkeys because they don't want minimum wage. All the monkey’s want is good dental benefits.

Yes, we've all run into a few of these characters in our time: the crazy pastor, damning everyone to hell; the cross-dressing coach; the homeless man who isn't homeless, he just doesn't want to pay the man for utilities. How bout that guy at work who spends way to much time on Wikipedia and thinks everything he knows is right and everything everyone else knows is wrong; and lastly, a store manager who seems to have a spastic colon and thinks every situation can be settled amicably with a free drink coupon.

There is a lot of socio political and religious satire here. I loved when the Pastor converted to Dunedonian after reading Frank Herbert's Dune even though he had no concept of what he had read. Then we have the brown-baggers political party, and lastly, we have Dave, the Marmucks' assistant manager who got his job by sleeping with Lucas the manager; Dave, who football tackles everyone anytime the situation presents itself; and Dave, who thinks that being gay makes him special. Yes, Dave is just slightly touched in the head, but he does stop a robbery, so what's not to love?

Some of the stories were rather abstract like Missing Mocha and Message where Randolph overhears two lovers breaking up on his answering machine, but my favourite was the last one titled Fin and it was a fitting end to the book. Poor Randolph, all he wants to do is refill the caramel dispensers, and yet, every five minutes he is interrupted by one crank delivery after another: pizza, then Chinese food, then flowers, then a singing telegram, each one more hilarious than the next, until the candy gram pushes him over the edge and he must run out the door down to the new competitor’s coffee shop for a bit of sanity. So Bravo I say, Bravo. This review would be way too long if I wrote about every single little hilarious subtly.

As for the technical stuff, there were some fiddly editorial issues, mostly with the participle phrases, but nothing too distracting. If I had to compare this book to something, I would say this is pretty close to a written version of Steve Dildarian's The Life and Time's of Tim. This is the stuff cartoon sitcoms are made of. The stories in this collection are subtle, and even though, to some readers, they might seem like “every day in the life of ordinary” on the surface, they actually represent a very abstract view of the world. I liked that, a lot. To me, these stories really put forth the suggestion that we are all a bit off and all a bit off in our own little worlds.

8/10

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Page 99 -- Hazel Wetherby & The Elixir of Love by Bill Defelis

Page 99 from HAZEL WETHERBY & THE ELIXIR OF LOVE
An Urban fantasy / thriller for ages 10 & up
By Bill Defelis
Reprinted with Permission: Copyright 2010 By Bill Defelis. All Rights Reserved.

Book Description: Think: ‘Nancy Drew meets Men In Black.’ Thirteen-year-old Hazel has a rough life: two nerdy rocket scientists for parents, a kid brother convinced he’s an alien, and a housekeeper trained by the Spanish Inquisition. But when her parents vanish, the housekeeper turns into small bits of charcoal, and the police only shrug their shoulders, Hazel realizes she’s still got a lot to learn about rough.
As days drag by with no news, Hazel decides she’ll have to find her parents herself. And she’s determined nothing will stop her – not her complete ignorance of how to go about it, not her loony brother’s ravings about evil alien kidnappers, not even the dead guys trying to kill her.
But first she’ll have to join in a race to find something small and red and jolly. Winning that race will be her only chance to save her family. And a lot of other families as well.

-----

As Hazel hemmed and hawed, wondering how much she could safely say and whether the FBI knew anything about the cat, she was saved by the ring of Agent Nero’s cell phone.

He pulled it out and had a brief conversation of grunts and monosyllables.

“I have to go,” he said. “We’ll continue this at three o’clock. And remember, you and your brother.”
With that, he flashed her another smile, thinner than the one he’d come with, and left.

Five minutes later, Luella arrived. Hazel quickly brought her up to speed on everything since they’d parted last night.

“Now,” said Hazel. “I gotta get over to Darien.”

“Hazel, you are totally insane! After Mrs. Haggis, and your parents, and now someone breaking into your house and doing godknowswhat? What does it take to get you to realize that whatever’s going on, it’s dangerous. Deadly dangerous.”

Nothing stiffens the resolve like having your sanity challenged. Her fears about going to Darien vanished as she rattled off the many excellent (in her mind) reasons why she had nothing to worry about: no one had a reason to hurt her, she’d be following Ms. Wonderly from a distance, it was broad daylight in a nice neighborhood, she’d have Mr. E with her, etc, etc.

“At least let me go with you,” tried Luella.

“Nunh-unh.”

“What if I could get Sid and Hymie to go with you? Hymie may not be worth much, but at least he’s big enough to look like some protection.”

“No. I’m going to Darien, alone. I need you at the office.”

“What on Earth for?”

“Because if Ms. Wonderly came looking for me there, someone else might too.”

And that was true, though not the way Hazel intended.

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http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004BA5352
http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/29760

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