Friday, February 24, 2006

Talking Point: Being the Y'am

Let us look at two pieces of information.

One is the widely accepted list of ‘good reasons for self-publishing’. My source here is ‘The Street-Smart Writer’ by Glatzer and Steven—an all round good book for the newbie writer. These widely accepted reasons would be: re-releasing an out of print books, niche non-fiction, poetry or short story anthology, a timely subject, a built in audience, as part of a business or just to hold a book in your hands.

Secondly we have what seems to be the single most common reason for self-publishing—confirmed by our very own handy-dandy POD poll. “Because I was unable to secure a traditional publisher”: (running at 48% of respondents).

So, if this is not a good reason to self-publish, what is a person meant to do when they have made a reasonable effort to secure a publisher and failed. The options seem to be:

1) Try harder. Approach smaller publishers. Yes, well, point taken. Maybe many people give up too soon. How many well prepared queries is enough before you realize it just ain’t gonna happen? And as you move to smaller presses there are diminishing returns for your ever increasing effort.

2) Put it in the drawer or burn it, and write another, better book. Yes, well, perhaps there are some self-denying paragons destined for NY Times bester seller list greatness who are doing just this. More power to them, they wouldn’t want their earlier, flawed efforts to be out there in a world as an embarrassment to them in their later years. But I bet there are also a lot of people throwing out the only book they will ever write, or going on to write more and more books—none of which will ever find an audience.

As a reasonably impartial observer I would have to say that if you have made a fair effort and not secured a traditional publisher, why not self-publish the damn thing. Even if it ends up making only average sales for a self-published book (figures vary but 20-75 copies seem to be the range) then it has, in its own humble way, done what a book is meant to do. It has communicated with a reader, or two, or fifty. There are worse things.

Now, thinking that self-publishing is likely to lead to being picked up by a major publisher, or become a grass roots underground best seller that propels you to stardom—well, maybe it does happen but so does winning the lottery. So sue me I am not a lottery ticket buyer, and even people who are generally keep paying into their pension funds rather than fastening their undying hopes on buying that Caribbean island they always wanted with an over-sized check.

But if you looked at the book manuscript in your hands and consigned it to Lulu or Cafepress rather than the pyre, what is wrong with that? So long as you’re your motivations are honest and your expectations are reasonable you can say, like any self-publisher author: I y’am what I y’am.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

'Jackson Corners' by Jennifer L. Hart

TITLE: Jackson Corners
AUTHOR: Jennifer L. Hart
PRICE: $14.95 printed, $5.59 download
GENRE: Contemporary fiction
ISBN: 1-4116-7078-7
PUBLISHER: Jennifer L. Hart via

Isabella Roberts is looking for a change. After a messy divorce to an anal-retentive husband, she bundles her two-year-old daughter out of the city and purchases a house in sleepy Jackson Corners. There she meets handsome, brooding Noah Davis, and learns that while her new home may come with neighbourly assistance and friendly faces, it also a lugs around a swathe of emotional baggage.

There’s one rule of thumb for writing a decent mystery: Plot Is Everything. Jennifer L Hart knows her plot and ought to be commended for her firm handling of it. Jackson Corners is fed to the reader with the utmost care and not a piece of information comes too soon. Every character is suspect; every action has an ulterior motive. The sinister presence lurking in Jackson Corners waits until the final moment to reveal itself and while the moment isn’t particularly shocking—everyone’s a suspect here, remember—it does deserve a shout of approval for keeping the guesses going so long.

Unfortunately, as all too often happens with mysteries, character and authenticity falter at the hands of the storyline. In particular, the sexual tension between some of the more prominent characters has a tendency to collapse into the realm of the undeniably cheesy. The prose itself is as contemporary as the world the characters inhabit: email and telephones are on equal footing and it’s completely normal for most of the characters to be (or see) a therapist. Word usage and proofing errors are the only real stumbling block in what is otherwise quite lively and well-planned prose. The extradiagetic narrative helps immensely and multiple points of view stop the story from lingering too long in any one place.

Ultimately though, it’s the plot that drives this novel forward. A real solid effort on that count.




Monday, February 13, 2006

'Gilleland Poetry: Storoems and Poems' by Harry E. Gilleland Jr.

Reviewed by Jon Stone

TITLE: Gilleland Poetry: Storoems and Poems
AUTHOR: Harry E. Gilleland Jr.
PRICE: $13.00 (US)
GENRE: Poetry
ISBN: 1-4116-2927-2

'Poetry' is an odd word. The blurb to 'Storoems and Poems' promises writing that is 'for all readers, both poetry lovers and those who do not usually read poetry', while the author, in his bio, is said to be 'passionate about his poetry'. A quick recky onto Gilleland's Lulu site unearths quite a few fellow enthusiasts (albeit mostly friends and family,) who in turn salute his 'great poetry'. I do feel, however, that in this case, the word 'poetry' means something like 'genial reflections and thoughts of a respectable and warm-hearted human being, laid out in simple rhyme'. As a poetry enthusiast (i.e. I buy more books of poetry than I do novels, or CD's, or socks, or pretty much anything else,) I did find the book lacking in what I've come to expect from poetry.

It is strange to me, for instance, to find Gilleland crediting himself with the creation of the 'storoem' (a hybrid between a story and a poem,) without any mention of narrative poems or prose poems, which are, in different ways, the same thing. There are very few poetic techniques employed throughout the book. There is a great deal of rhyme, though it is sometimes forced, and a grasp of iambic and trochaic rhythms. There are welcome touches of enjambement too, and sometimes personification (a continent 'stumbles' in the acrostic 'AFRICA'). But I found original metaphors and similes very scarce, and the dominant form of the book is four line stanzas, rhymed ABAB, which does become tiresome. There is no strictly formal poetry in here (by which I mean no sonnets, triolets, villanelles, rondeaus, sestinas or the like,) and no real experimentation with language.

Of course, poetry isn't all about technique. But in terms of content too, I did find it hard to be moved. There is condemnation of genocide and despair at war, but it feels strangely second-hand for an author who served as a captain in Vietnam, while many of the interesting stories about animals are, at the poet's own confession, based entirely on wildlife documentaries. I was eager for some expert insights into the natural world (Gilleland was Professor of Microbiology at Louisiana State University,) but found myself disappointed. Much of the philosophy too, while sound, is age old common sense rather than visionary.

That said, I think we need to take the book on its merits. Gilleland is not, after all, competing for quite the same audience as Carol Ann Duffy. Indeed, it's unlikely his fans are into modern poetry in quite the same way as I understand it. His character comes through strongly in the book, and he is, quite obviously, a gentle and intelligent man with both a sense of humour and a childlike sense of wonder. His stories are good fun, and the subjects ranging. He is also quite free of malice, pretentiousness and ill-thought out political opinions. Reading his poems is rather like spending some time in his company, and I can certainly think of worse things to do.

RATING: 4/10

8.5/10 Lulu
10/10 Molly’s Reviews
10/10 Muses Review
10/10 Amazon


Saturday, February 11, 2006

Upcoming Reviews

* Conviction: A Sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice by Skylar Burris
* Jackson Corners by Jennifer L. Hart
* Casualty of Duty by David Drexler
reader* Gilleland Poetry: Storoems and Poems by Harry Gilleland
* Bob the Dragon Slayer by Harry Gilleland
* Cashing in on College by Marty A Nickison

Also: 5 books queued

Sunday, February 05, 2006

'A River Transformed: Wang Wei’s River Wang Poems as Inspiration' by Gary Blankenship

Reviewer: James Midgley

TITLE: A River Transformed: Wang Wei’s River Wang Poems as Inspiration
AUTHOR: Gary Blankenship
PRICE: print: $15.00, ebook:$8.35
ISBN: 1-4116-6227-X

Blankenship’s A River Transformed is an engaging, visceral journey through the landscape of his verse and its relationship with the Chinese poetry that served as inspiration. If nothing else, the first twenty poems are an interesting look into intertextuality, with Blankenship’s poems juxtaposed directly with their corresponding progenitors.

The comparisons between each poem are obvious in content as well as stylistically; the poems inherit the disposition toward unadulterated images to communicate, much the disposition Ezra Pound injected into western poetry in the early 20th century. This results in endlessly tangible verse, but often the point of clarity, that climax of comprehension, is grasped at but never quite pinned down.

The workmanship also varies, with brilliantly poignant lines such as ‘in a world without walls, there are no windows / to hold the moon, my songs’ mixed with such over-modified, redundant disasters as ‘I tap dull keys in muted silence’. One wonders, too, how well these poems sustain the Zen orientation of their parents, especially with the introduction of direct narratives. The vers libre is generally well controlled and wholesome, and Blankenship has an understanding of the line that is rare amongst his contemporaries, possibly thanks to his keen interest in ancient Chinese poesy. In attempting stricter forms, however, such as the later pantun, the poet appears obviously stretched.

Blankenship manages to make much of his verse relevant, which is certainly to his credit considering the gap of time, language and context he has to work with. Often, though, this reader is left wondering just what the point is; it seems that much of the time the link is more important than that the poem work under its own steam. For someone interested in examining inspiration, intertextuality or the original poems themselves, this is ideal, but for those simply looking for evocative, intellectually stimulating poetry, on many occasions this collection falls short.

Furthermore, the relationship across time, the connection between the parent works and these contemporary pieces, is never used except as a raison d'ĂȘtre. There seems to be little meaningful interplay or commentary on the act of updating beyond the constant reminder that this is what is being done.

In and of themselves, it is the final poems of the collection that prove more fulfilling. They are often surprising and a genuinely interesting mix of modern life influenced by their ancient sources. Again, though, no reason is placed behind the mix, no salient factor arises that justifies ancient Chinese influence in the contemporary world, and the question itself is barely touched upon; indeed, when it is examined, it is under the guise of linguistics and translation, rather than anything that could be considered a poetic manifesto.

The value of the book, then, resides in what one demands of it. For someone interested in the process of writing poetry, ancient Chinese poesy, intertextuality and the motions of inspiration, it is difficult to imagine a more suitable collection. The gimmickless, visceral style is a breath of fresh air, regardless, and one can almost forgive the book’s flaws for its brave resurrection of the imagist approach.

RATING: 6.5/10

9/10: Lulu


Saturday, February 04, 2006

'Trading Ashes for Beauty: The Phoenix’s Song' by Ron Viers

TITLE: Trading Ashes for Beauty: The Phoenix’s Song
AUTHOR: Ron Viers
EIDTOR: Mia Coleman
PRICE: $15.99
GENRE: Gay & Lesbian/Memoir
ISBN: 1-4116-7535-5

Pride and jealousy were beginning to wage war in the house of God. p.24

There is a great deal of courage in this book. Personal testimonials are some of the most heart wrenching pieces to write. Ron Viers bares his soul to a world which doesn’t often accept what he is… a Gay man. That same soul is open to the GLBT community that might not understand as well. Christianity is something that has betrayed many of us. A place where, especially in the evangelical churches I’m familiar with, diversity and God don’t coexist. Like oil and water the two will never mix.

At its simplest level this is a narrative of the rise and fall of a Southern, GLBT evangelical church. Another is the story of a close knit group of people who share a common goal and faith. On a higher plane it is “Testimonial” of faith. There were times when it happened… the all the hair on my body standing on end.

It’s an entertaining afternoon’s read. Ron is a decent writer – decent enough that I was left wanting more (and I’ll explain that at the end). He takes his own life back to the scripture at times and that’s a nice tie in. There’s no hesitation in telling us that he questions The Plan at times. “God, are you smokin’ crack?!” (p.40) he comments at one point. Questions, misunderstandings and lack of comprehension are presented unvarnished. The preachers, deacons and pastors are humans who screw up. Given who they are, those screw ups affect more lives then just their own.

I would have like to have heard of how Ron and Michael’s relationship began at an earlier in the book instead of in Chapter 6. It would have given some of the conflict in Ron’s secular life a grounding that seemed a little lacking otherwise. When you finally get the background, you have an “aha” moment.

I would have liked to have seen some of the songs he had written. Why choose Steve Nix when you could have given us Ron Viers? I would have liked to have “heard” the conversations between the personas dramatique although I understand how memory is hard after a time and those bits are lost. I think as a testimonial, the book would have been more effective with more personalization. Although he does have a gift of perception, an ability to tie the characters into the metaphor of their station, we’re left a little wanting about who these people are.

I want to know about the church and the people in it. I’ve been to evangelical services. When Ron says the Pastor spoke in Tongues or they Laid them Down, I know what he means. I’m not certain readers outside the movements would. I’ve watched people go catatonic at the touch of a preacher whom they feel is Speaking In The Lord. Most people have never seen such things. Another 100 pages of those types of detail would have given the reader a far deeper connection. That bond with the congregation would have helped explain why many of the events within the book were so shattering to the flock.

Ultimately, I wish he’d written it and put it in the drawer for a year.

For us to understand, Ron needs to have moved past the hurt. The pain he’s gone through is still too raw. While I may not be of the same religion as Ron, it is not that different. We are all often called upon to do things that we don’t yet understand. I believe that his heart is true. I believe that he has been called by his faith to write this. I also believe that he has jumped the gun in getting the word out there. In the end we’re left with the story of a man who comes off as bitter and betrayed (not unjustifiably so). Ron is still in the stages of betrayal and grief – which maybe where he needed to write the book from. It is not where he needed to publish it from.

The book just isn’t finished… the Phoenix hasn’t risen yet.

RATING 6.5/10

Review by James Buchanan

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'The Vomit Factory (Life is Fake: Death is Good)' by Alexander T. Newport

TITLE:The Vomit Factory (Life Is Fake: Death Is Good)
AUTHOR:Alexander T. Newport
PRICE: Free Download, book: $13.47
GENRE: Philosophy

Dig: "The Vomit Factory (Life is Fake: Death is Good): Temper Tantrums, Freak-outs, Philobabble, Rants" by Alexander T. Newport, is accurately titled. It's basically a long diary, all about the author's unhappiness and general discontent with the world. After a brief note about why spelling doesn't matter to him, because it's his book god dammit and he can do whatever he wants, he introduces us to some of his ideas about immortality. For example, how life is just a "dreamgame" which we've chosen to take part in as some kind of vacation from our "homestate of awareness" (which is supposedly infinitely blissful) by donning our "virtual reality skin-suits." And dig: Mr. Newport presents these ideas with a unique tone, using words like "dig" a lot (he always spells "a lot" "alot" by the way, because it's his book and he can) to really draw us in.

Unfortunately, Mr.Newport never really gets past the presentation of these ideas, into what they actually are, or what they might mean to anyone but him. He goes in long, ranty, depressing circles about how crummy everybody is, especially to self-imposed outcasts such as himself. But dig: this gets old real fast. It's too bad, because I'm sure Mr. Newport has some pretty interesting ideas. I'm sure a conversation with him would be a real trip. But anything of merit that Mr. Newport might have to say gets drowned out in the whiney, self-pitying, nonsense that makes up most of the book. It's an un-organized, badly (or barely) edited collection of diary entries, dreams, poems, and other pieces of his personal life (including several grainy, seemingly pointless photos of him and his cats), shoved into one volume, and presented as a book. But there's no coherence, and I found myself getting frustrated by this quite rapidly. I have to admit I couldn't get through all of it, at a certain point it just seemed clear that it wasn't worth investing any more of my time into.

There's some funny parts in the book, and I can't completely hate something that gave me a few chuckles, but I can't recommend buying this to anyone. In fact, I really wish I could get my money back. The author includes several rejection letters from publishers in the book, most of which are scathing refusals to have anything to do with him, and generally expressing anger for wasting their time. My question is this: why include this in a book if you want the book to be successful? I get the feeling that Mr. Newport, somewhere, doesn't want the book to be successful, and if he doesn't care, then why should I? The book is available for free in .pdf format, so you might want to give it a look yourself if you're really into self-pitying nihilism, but otherwise...pass. Dig?

RATING: 4/10

10/10: Lulu


Thursday, February 02, 2006


Please let us know about any other contests open to self-published books of any type.

Writer’s Digest
Entry Fee $100
Prize worth $15000 approx.
Specifically for self-published books
Closing date, 1 May 2006

FFWA Contest
Entry fee $10
Prize $100
Self-published counted as non-published
Closing date, 15 March 2006

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

'The Promise Of Eden' by Eric Durchholz

TITLE: The Promise Of Eden
AUTHOR: Eric Durchholz /
PRICE: $19.72
GENRE: Fantasy/Horror
ISBN: pending
PUBLISHER: Lulu / Concrete7

In the aftermath of a showdown between ghosts and gods, sixteen-year-old Gregory Coleman explains to his lawyer that things aren't as they seem. A conspiracy is afoot and it has to do with... well... lots of things, actually, but mainly ghosts. In particular, a ghost called Anna, who enlists Gregory to help her find heaven.

Eric Durchholtz's The Promise of Eden finds space for everything and I'm really not exaggerating. There are large slices of homoerotica, forbidden love and family issues on offer, not to mention the hidden agendas and growing pains thrown in. What could be more exciting than washing it all down with an almighty splash of the paranormal and a lick of science fiction?

Unfortunately, lack of suspense leaves the fantastical plot to flounder by itself for over 400 pages, and it's a bit of a stretch. This is partly due to Durchholtz's style, which is straightforward and easy to read but somewhat lacking in energy. The storyline is practically begging for shock value—it's so absurd that the twists ought to be damn well unpickable—but the reader is let down at every turn by the narrator's habit of anticipating the tale before he tells it. Information leaps out of nowhere and is validated as an afterthought, while intriguing ideas about god and religion are completely overshadowed by the straight-outta-left-field introduction of ghost-on-human sex.

To Durchholtz's credit (and the reader's relief) no loose ends are left flapping in the wind, although one could be forgiven for wondering if the story needed quite so many threads. Points are won for sheer originality but lost again in the search for suspense—and perhaps a better proofreader.

For fantasy fans looking for something... different.

RATING: 4/10



Reviewer: Stephanie C.