Friday, July 31, 2009

Free Book Friday

This months Free Book Friday is Finding the Moon in Sugar by Gint Aras
Genre: Literature/Contemporary
Reviewed By: Cheryl Anne Gardner

The cover detail: In this tragicomedy, Gint Aras’ hapless and marijuana-dazed narrator, Andrew Nowak, is seduced by a bombshell internet bride. The mysterious and wealthy Audra soon consumes the twenty year-old boy’s imagination, a welcome distraction from his needy mother and sister. Wild and hilarious adventures await Andy in Lithuania when he sells his possessions to follow Audra abroad. But he soon finds himself trapped penniless in her world of illness, regret and sex. Stumbling backwards into a romance he never sees coming, Andy must deal with Audra’s narcissism and grapple to understand her, a struggle that just might destroy him.
My Review can be found here.

To enter, leave a comment by Midnight, Sunday August 2nd. The Winner will be drawn and announced on Monday August 3rd.

Thanks for stopping by and good luck to all.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thoughts on Vacation -- c.anne.gardner

"Champagne, if you are seeking the truth, is better than a lie detector. It encourages a man to be expansive, even reckless, while lie detectors are only a challenge to tell lies successfully."
-- Graham Green

Since I am on vacation this week, I will just leave you all with that quote and a brief thought.

Over the course of Literary history, we have had more than a few authors who were notorious drinkers and drug addicts. Maybe it’s just the nature of art. Those who dig deeply for truth are often tortured by what they find. I have heard many times, “I write better when I’ve had [insert mind-altering substance of choice here].”

So what’s your Champagne? Is it a quiet room, a garden, a heavy metal band blasting on the disc player, a sexy foreign art film, or a chocolate bar?

What feeds your muse?

Cheryl Anne Gardner

Public domain image provided by wikimedia commons, artist unknown.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

And Why Not One More ...

I had never heard of this company until I recently saw an ad on Facebook.

From About

BookRix is an internet portal and the first book community where anyone can place their own books, short stories, poems etc. to be promoted on the web, just like a published piece. The massive Web 2.0 - Projects, which have been hugely popular with music, video and photography fans, now have a sister platform, which will delight literature fans around the world: BookRix provides an online destination where authors can showcase their work. Registered users will get to design their own personal profile page. This gives users the opportunity to create their own books, recommend their favorite literature and promote themselves as authors and/or readers.

BookRix allows writers to create their own projects and display their work to others. The BookRix-Format enables users to design individual books. All one needs is a web browser to easily publish and showcase their work.

Bookrix provides users with a platform to:
  1. Find other readers and authors
  2. Share thoughts about many interests in groups
  3. Discuss books and projects
  4. Join author fan clubs
  5. Participate in writing competitions with like-minded people in a big literary network
  6. Write reviews
  7. Send your books to friends and family via e-mail
  8. Find top-rated books and all new works


Yup. This isn't a new idea, nor was it the first of such ideas. Seems like this is the new web version of the workshop, and anyone who knows anything about writing knows that workshops have an inherently flawed dynamic. Most serious writers know what that is. But, I anticipate more of these sites popping up and making the same claims, and while I am in favour of the social networking aspect of such sites, I will leave you with Writer Beware's cautionary words.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

News Links

Bikers unite: Self-published author gets boost from Jay Leno
"The real benefit for me, though, will probably come in future projects. I've got a screenplay in development, based on a real-life motorcycle "Great Escape" from the Nazis at the beginning of World War II that people will be more inclined to read; maybe future projects will be more likely to find a publisher."

An Appreciation: E. Lynn Harris (R.I.P.)
"Taking an unpaid leave of absence from work, he sold thousands of copies out of the trunk of his car as he went from city to city and beauty shop to barbershop promoting the book. Invisible Life detailed the story of Raymond Tyler Jr., who has a homosexual encounter while in college, though dating a woman. He afterward struggles with his sexuality, trying to determine whether he's straight, gay, or bisexual."

Springs woman publishes books in her barn
"Haag and her marketing manager Karen Egan have churned out nearly 100 books during the past six years, most of them from Colorado Springs authors, and no one book selling more than 1,000 copies. Yet ... Haag has faith that she is publishing quality editions of classics that will still be selling decades from now. "

What Does a Podpeep Read -- c.anne.gardner

Friday after dinner, I went on my usual “project errand” trip. First, a short stop at the art supply store, then a quick spin down the road to the nearest of many strip malls. There, the husband and I parted ways: He went to the guitar centre and I to the bookstore, Borders to be exact.

I didn’t really have anything particular in mind, but I do love browsing the isles full of mainstream whatnot in an attempt to hunt something down more in tune with my particular literary tastes. Most of the Lit stuff stocked is old, and much of it I have already read a million times over. Nevertheless, a book popped into my mind just as I entered Twilight Marketing hell. Anyway, they are remodelling the store, and so my usual haunts have moved. I wandered about aimlessly for a while, tossing round which direction I wanted to go: philosophy or poetry. I, in retrospect, really thought neither. When I finally decided to stop fooling around, I headed over to the computer kiosk for a bit of techno search help. I keyed in the title that had popped into my head on a whim and...wait for it...wait for it...Ding! The book was said to be in the store, and so I headed off, compass spinning, to try to find where they moved the damn horror section. In my wanderings, I stumbled upon several tall racks of books in the middle of the store. The sign at the top said: Required Reading for Local Schools. Now, if you're a book nerd like me, you can’t help but get a bit nosey parker and wonder: What the hell is it that they have these damn kids reading today? If it’s Twilight, I am gonna pitch a shit fit sure to embarrass everyone in the store.

By no means was this an irrational response for me. My stepson went to parochial school, and let’s just say, the reading material was “limited.” I went in with a bad attitude from the start. So I stood there for a moment, sceptical, but then as I scanned over the many titles they had on display, I got friggin' happy real friggin' quick. The classics were accounted for from In Cold Blood, to Slaughterhouse Five, to To Kill a Mockingbird, The Good Earth, and Fahrenheit 451. I was more than pleased. Even my beloved Novella was well represented with Animal Farm, Of Mice and Men, and Lord of The Flies. I was doing such a little jig in the isle that the salesperson probably thought I had to pee. I assured her that bladder control for a woman of my age might be suspect, but in my case, it was just excitement. What I wasn’t prepared for were the new arrivals to the required reading scene. Stoker’s Dracula was there as was Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide. I even saw a smattering of new authors, in particular Brian Jacques’ Redwall and DiCamillo’s Tale of Desperaux, both of which I own in hardback. Yes, I am strongly inclined to stories with animals, and yes, I have been known to read a children’s book or two in my day: Watership Down is one of my favourite books of all time. I am a huge Beatrix Potter fan as well and a tried and true critter lover. Anything that stumbles hungry into my back yard gets a meal, don’t matter if it’s the skunk, the possum, or the raccoon. They all have names, and they all have backstories, well, backstories that I gave them, anyway. Not to mention, strap a sewing needle sword on a tiny little thing of a mouse and you've tugged my heartstrings.

However, back to the books: these stories aren’t cutesy fluffy bunny tales. Yes, they are children’s books, but they go far beyond that. These are tried and true fairly tales – fairy tales as they originally would have been written before sensitive editors toned them down. Dark, poignant, and very relevant, they mirror in grave detail the socio-political ills of humanity. Desperaux might be about a mouse who fell in love with a princess, but upon deeper reflection, he was a condemned mouse who suffered a death sentence for embracing a culture not his own. DiCamillo won the Newberry award for this book for damn good reason, and even though children will be entertained by the fanciful adventure on the surface, adults, digging deeper, will be rewarded with a rich, heartfelt, and hopeful experience and a glimpse at humanity that is both thought provoking and frightening in its truth. I haven’t felt this way about a children’s book since reading Alice in Wonderland, and I highly recommend Desperaux to readers young and old.

So, all in all, my bookstore excursion turned out to be a few hours well spent. I walked out with the book I wanted, which was Let The Right One In, if you must know, and all was right in my world. Literature is not dead after all.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

Monday, July 27, 2009

FastPencil wants to help aspiring authors write and publish their books
From Digital Beat
July 15, 2009 Anthony Ha

The site is built around a social network of writers, editors, reviewers, and others; it offers a Guided Collaboration tool to help you find potential collaborators, chat with them, ask for feedback from others, and more. Other features include automatic chapter formatting and blog importing. Then, once the book is written, FastPencil can publish and distribute it for you, getting the book listed on Amazon, sold for the Kindle, and even stocked in brick-and-mortar bookstores. Read Full Article Here.


The article states that they can publish books at a much cheaper cost than Lulu, and of course, the mention of brick and mortar stores always seems to crop up in these start-up company profiles, but upon taking a closer look, it's the same ole cliche we have heard a million times. They make your title available through Ingram, like everyone else, though after the first year, their pricing page implies some sort of registration fee. Probably Lightening Source's $12.00 per year catalog fee, but who nows, it's not clear what the fee is for or what the fee is. Pricing packages are in line with most of the DIY sites like Lulu, and additional author services are available a-la-cart.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thoughts on The Craft -- c.anne.gardner

This week I thought I would stray away from the art of writing for a moment in order to revisit some of the technical aspects of the craft, specifically: grammar with respect to sentence structure.

Since self-published books are part of my complete bookshelf, I suppose I get a bit more exposure to the “technical issues” and so maybe I am a bit of a hypersensitive editor. I am told that can’t be bad thing.

Anyway, according to WhiteSmoke, the top three common writing mistakes made are:

  1. The Use of the Dangling Participle or rather the misplaced participle phrase or modifier.
  2. Confused use of Homophones and Homonyms.
  3. Using non-parallel sentence structure when giving lists.
Of those three, the issue with poorly placed participle phrases and modifiers is the one I see most often and does the most damage to the writing. A misplaced modifier can change the meaning of a sentence, can make a sentence confusing or long winded, and can also make a sentence downright ridiculous. It rates the highest on my list of faux pas along with overuse of adverbs, emotionally redundant dialog tags, repetitiveness, melodramatic characters and idle action, and simile/metaphor abuse (or self-indulgent "trying too hard to be literary" writing.) For today though, I will just stick to the modifiers.

So what is a Dangling Modifier? The Oxford Companion to The English Dictionary states: In grammar, a dangling modifier (or dangling participle) attaches itself to a word different from the one the writer apparently intended. The writer may have meant to modify the subject, but word order makes the modifier seem to modify an object instead.

Most often I see this happen with participle phrases, when the author is trying to do some fancy footwork with sentence structure and it doesn’t quite work out as intended. Most novice writers are told to vary the structure of their sentences to improve readability, and the use of participle phrases is one of many grammatically sound strategies. It also happens to be the strategy chosen most often by new writers and the one most egregiously misused. This happens because of the non-finite verb derivatives or the active progressive participles. These verbs indicate active action or progressive action, and this is fine, but when the action is misplaced or the subject it modifies is unclear, we can wind up with sentences like these:

Ducking into the bedroom, I changed my dress.
Here we wind up with two actions happening simultaneously. Funny, but not possible.

After falling from the balcony, my mother picked up the busted flower pot.
Did the mother fall from the balcony or the flower pot?

Walking down the cobblestone path, the flowers were beautiful.
Here we have a flower parade, and I am wondering if they were wearing top hats?

I saw the glowing street lights peeking through the curtains.
Damn nosey street lights.

Taking a bite of egg she nodded and continued chewing.
I often try not to move my head when I find myself approaching it with metal utensils. Really, has anyone ever tried to take a bite of anything while actively nodding their head?

This my favourite: As president of the kennel club, my poodle must be well groomed.
That last one is from The Elements of Style and is a different kind of modifier but one that still poses some difficulty for new writers. Must be one hell of a poodle.

So what is a writer to do when they want more sophistication than “see spot run?” Well, there is nothing wrong with complicated sentence structure, and as with all things, it should not be overdone. So have at it, but I also recommend in these cases that during the editing process the writer make one pass with the sole purpose of cuing in on modifiers and participle phrases. (Participle Phrases usually have an ing word.) With each one, read the sentence and consciously ask yourself some questions:

  1. What is the phrase modifying: the subject of the sentence or an object within the sentence?
  2. Is that subject or object missing? If so, we need to rework the sentence and make sure it’s there.
  3. Is the modifier placed appropriately within the sentence so that it is crystal clear what subject or object the modifier is actually modifying. We have to take emphasis into account here as well as clarity. Modifying for mood can make a difference when deciding where to place a clause.
  4. How many non-finite verb derivatives do I have in a sentence, in a paragraph, or on a page? Could some of them be reworked into stronger sentences on their own. Impact is everything, and too much modifier rambling weakens the writing.
Now, back to the sentences:

I ducked into the bedroom and then changed my dress.
My mother picked up the busted flower pot that had fallen from the balcony.
While walking down the cobblestone path, the women noticed the beautiful flowers.
Peeking through the curtains, I saw the street lights glowing.
She took a bite of egg, nodded her head, and then continued chewing.
Since I am president of the kennel club, my poodle must be well groomed.

Often when I refer to Editorial or Technical Issues while I am writing a review, I am specifically referring to sentence structure issues, in particular, ineptly placed modifiers. It tells me the work wasn’t thoroughly edited, and it indicates a sloppy revision process. Oh yes, I have been there myself, much to my own embarassment, but this is how we learn -- through study and critique. The writing/revision/editing process takes time to develop. I know that, so I can forgive a typo or two and a punctuation error or two. It happens -- been there, done that. Homophones and Homonyms are silly errors, and if it’s not pervasive, I let it pass. Not pervasive means only 1. I gotta tell ya my wench/winch story sometime. The visual had me on the floor, and it was an error I shouldn’t have missed, but alas, at that time, my editor pencil wasn’t as sharp as it is now. However -- I tend to ramble on -- misplaced modifiers make for convoluted writing, and that just knocks me right out of a book, and it will result in a lower review rating.

Copy editing is tough work, but you gotta do it -- by eye. Yes, use your word processor’s spell check and grammar check for proofreading, but it won’t get everything. I also recommend a backup like Whitesmoke. I use their software and have been pleased with its performance; although, it too, won’t catch everything. An adverb or a participle phrase might be grammatically correct, but in so far as the art of writing is concerned, it might not be the best choice. So the rest of the revision process has to be done line by line, one line at a time, by a live person who has some knowledge of theory and an eye for grammar and style. I believe every author should know how to copy edit. Today’s editors want a “near perfect” manuscript, one they can get to print quickly, so, to be negligent here is ill-advised. To err is human; to err in the same fashion over and over and over again is the definition of lazy.

Edited to add: Still think all this isn't important. Well, maybe the average reader won't notice the technical errors, but agents and publishers will, so if you have any thoughts of a publishing contract, you had better think again. I read a few Lit Agent Blogs, and this morning I came across an article discussing Query letters and what warrants an instant rejection. This was number nine on the list: "Lack of knowledge of the English language, proper sentence structure, or word usage. And yes, I can tell the difference between a typo and knowledge of the English language. Instant reject." Quote courtesy of Book Ends Literary Agency

Cheryl Anne Gardner
View My Documents on Scribd

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pitch Parlour -- Go on, Send it In.

We have a new critique blog on the scene called Pitch Parlour.

I know what you are thinking: It’s not a review site, so why am I mentioning it? Well, the concept is a little like Query Fail and a First Chapter critique all wrapped up into one with the added benefit of requiring a synopsis, as well. "What’s all that about?" you say. I’ll tell you: Even if you are a self-published author, you may still be in pursuit of the traditional publishing contract, and the fastest way to rejection slip hell is a poorly written query, a poorly written synopsis, and a drab or convoluted start to your novel. This new blog happens to address all three in a rather unique way. It's a little like Authonomy and a little like The Publetariat Vault. The blog owner screens the queries but will not be reviewing the submissions. The assessment will done by the community at large via the blog comments section. A posted submission gets you listed, and Agents and Publishers will be able to pick through the queries to see if anything interests them.

There is no charge to submit, you just need the courage to do so. See here for Submission Guidelines.

We here at the Peeps wish Pitch Parlour the best of luck and hope to see some publishing dreams come true.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

From Homepage

So you want to be a writer!

Once upon a time, writers were solitary creatures, agonizing in isolation over every word, waiting for the day when their books would get noticed by an agent and wind up on the shelves of bookstores around the world.

No longer! In the brave new world of all things digital, there's more than one way to skin a cat - and more than one way to write and get published. WEbook is a community of writers who come together to write, give and get tough, honest feedback, and maybe make a few friends along the way. WEbook is transforming the landscape-one writer at a time.

At WEbook, you'll find the tools you need to help you make your writing dreams come true - no matter what those dreams are. Want to go the traditional route, find an agent, and make it to the big time? WEbook can set you on your way. Want to forge your own path through self-publishing? Let WEbook help you draw up a roadmap. Want to have a good time, become a better writer, and maybe achieve a little internet fame along the way? WEbook has totally got you covered.

The best of the best WEbook writers wind up in real books discovered right here on the site, voted for by our members, and published by WEbook. Keep your eyes open for the WEbook Vote, and a chance to get your book in the running. Or, show off your stuff in a WEbook-sponsored collection that brings together the best stories, essays, and poems on designated topics.
Ready to find your path to becoming a writer? Join WEbook today! It's free!


This site is a hybrid self-publishing/traditional publishing/file sharing site. It works similar to Authomony in that writers upload their work for free, get read and critiqued in forums and groups, and if their work is voted best of the best, they are offered a traditional publishing contract with Webook to have their book put out in print or one of the various other book formats. From the terms of use, here is the definition of Publication:

Generally, WEbook will consider publishing Works that are voted in the top 10% of all considered Works on the Site. However, WEbook reserves the right to depart from this measure for Works that, in WEbook's sole discretion, are otherwise worthy or not worthy of publication.
When WEbook decides to publish a Work, WEbook will contact the author(s) and, as appropriate, the Project Leader for the Work, about a publishing contract for the Work.
For purposes of this Agreement, "Publish" means publication of a Work or part of a Work in or as a book, an electronic book, a digital book, a magazine, a journal, a downloadable or electronically transferable file(s), print-on-demand publication, an audio-book, online, a format that can be used with products such as Amazon's "Kindle" or Sony's"Reader" (or any other device created in the future), and in any other manner that exists now or in the future that enables humans to read, hear, or view the Work.

Royalty payments are set up a slightly different and are divided between the author and what they call "Project leaders." Please read their terms of use carefully.

Webook also offers a "Community Sourced" book platform, which means anyone within the community can contribute to a book project once it's opened up. Course it's not a free for all, this is where the project managers come in, but the idea of colaborative works via social networking is just simply wonderful.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

REVIEW: The Desert Baron

Title: The Desert Baron: Friedrich, A Warrior For All Seasons
Author: Conrad Crease
Genre: biography, military history
Price: $19.95
Publisher: Booksurge
ISBN: 978-1439221006
Point of Sale:
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib.

As a student of military history, I was of course aware of the fact that during World War I there was combat in the Middle East. The war there was perceived as a side show to the main event, and most of what we remember of that era is the story of T. E. Lawrence, AKA “Lawrence of Arabia.” I have since come to discover that Lawrence was a most overrated man, who is remembered today because he had a good publicist. One of the many people who contributed to my discovery is Conrad Crease, who wrote a biography about his ancestor entitled The Desert Baron: Friedrich, A Warrior for All Seasons. It’s an interesting tale of a man largely forgotten by history. Crease, writing his first book, has delivered a well-researched tale.

At the start of the war, the badly outnumbered German Navy’ Mediterranean squadron, was forced to flee from the powerful but ineptly-led British Royal Navy (First Lord of the Admiralty, one Winston Churchill, was micromanaging the pursuit, all but giving rudder orders via wireless, despite a lack of naval experience). In mid August the force arrived at the mouth of the Dardanelles (not Straits of Hormuz, as in the book) with the British hot on their heels. There, Baron Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein, a Bavarian army officer, assigned as an artillery instructor to the Turkish army, browbeat the Turkish War Minister into allowing the ships into port and safety. Thus Turkey entered the war on the German’s side, and Russia was cut off from western aid.

Baron Friedrich was then assigned to lead a mixed group of 20,000 Turkish troops in an attempt to attack and block the British-held Suez Canal. Despite being heavily outnumbered, Baron Friedrich nearly pulled it off, and tied down tens of thousands of Allied troops in Egypt throughout the war. The Baron pulled off this feat by rapid and aggressive maneuvering, earning the praise of later military historians. He was only defeated when British general Allenby amassed a force that outnumbered the Turks 10 to 1.

Baron Friedrich did what he could (very little, alas) to stop the Turkish genocide of the Armenians at the end of the war, and was also instrumental in the Republic of Georgia gaining its independence. After the war, Baron Friedrich became commander of the Bavarian military, and blocked Hitler’s “Beer Hall Putsch” of 1923.

In short, Baron Friedrich lived an interesting life, and was a very good military leader. Crease’s book focuses on the facts of the Baron’s life, which is helpful, but does not reveal much about the man himself. We learn what Friedrich did, but not why, or what he was thinking. Friedrich never married, but did write a memoir published in German. Perhaps the “why I did what I did” wasn’t in the memoir, but if so I would have at least liked to see that stated. I also found the book’s maps, apparently taken from the German memoir, hard to read. This is a problem hardly unique to the self-published world. At any rate, The Desert Baron is an interesting recounting of an unjustly-forgotten man.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thoughts on The Craft -- c.anne.gardner

“Writing is to descend like a miner to the depths of the mine with a lamp on your forehead, a light whose dubious brightness falsifies everything, whose wick is in permanent danger of explosion, and whose blinking illumination in the coal dust exhausts and corrodes your eyes.” Blaise Cendrars

This week I would like to descend into the mine and take a moment to talk about the use of backstory in fiction. Narrative exposition is a controversial topic, and in reality, even though there is no right way to do it, there definitely is a wrong way, which we often hear called the “infodump.” It’s perfectly acceptable for the author to feel as Mr. Cendrars describes above whilst we are working on our draft revisions, but most readers won’t appreciate the dim light and the coal dust corroding their eyes.

Modern mainstream fiction seems to have an aversion to backstory: everything should be immediate and action packed—scenes and dialog, scenes and more dialog. While this is all fine and good, the fact still remains that our characters need their backstories: the world needs its backstory. Otherwise, our fiction becomes as thin and transparent as tissue paper. Good for spitball but not much else. Past life emotional and situational experiences, cultural shifts, catastrophic events -- past knowledge and past mistakes -- are the foundation stones of our characters’ motivations. Nothing frustrates me more than reading a book and wondering, “Why in god’s name did that character do that?” and being offered no answer. Flat character arcs are just as bad as flat story arcs. Stripping your story of its past is not a good way to go about dealing with your story’s spatial relations. It’s all about time management really, dealing with space and time.

Now this doesn’t mean that we have the luxury of endless pages to devote to our characters’ trials and tribulations. We still have to make sure that we keep the backstory relevant and well integrated with the main narrative. Subtlety is the key, and methods for incorporating backstory will vary from story to story based on that particular story’s narrative rhythm, aesthetics, and pacing. We want small relevant amounts to be delivered to the reader at the right moment so the reader can share in the epiphany and yet not lose any momentum. The right way answers readers’ questions with more questions to ponder. To do this, we must be scrupulous in what we reveal, and that is never more than is absolutely necessary for the moment.

I hear a lot that the modern reader has a short attention span, and I wonder about that sometimes. Is it that attention spans are short, or is that writers have forgotten how to write engaging exposition, which would include backstory? We also hear that modern readers want something to “happen.” I’ll agree with that, but happenings vary from emotional epiphanies to a buildings exploding, not to mention, I also think modern readers want to understand the why, the how, and the what for when it comes to the happenings. We talked about engaging the reader’s intellect in a previous post. Backstory engages the reader’s intellect if done properly. It also connects the reader to the story through character life experience. We, as readers, understand the characters, and so we are more likely to develop some sort of an emotional connection: love or hate, it doesn’t matter as long our readers don’t feel indifferent.

So, there are a few ways we can address backstory:

  1. Start the story earlier than you had planned or use a prologue.
  2. Flashbacks
  3. Dialogue
  4. Interweaving
With all of these, there are a couple of key elements to consider and those are time and transition. We want the story to move effortlessly back and forth through time, and we want the reader’s stay in the past to be brief so they don’t lose focus on the actual story. Long winded, didactic narrative summaries won’t win you any fans. I know, I have made that very mistake in my earlier drafts. Readers want a short smooth flight when it comes to backward movement. When we get it right, it provides the reader with the full rich experience of a life versus a TV sitcom snippet. Backstory requires the same dramatic construct as the main narrative, and yet, this is an area where many new authors fall short, so let’s go over some of the options.

When deciding to use a prologue or begin the story earlier than planned for deeper emersion into the backstory, we need to be absolutely sure that the backstory has power. We have to be sure that we are not just “telling” all the relevant details so we can “move on” but that the details we are revealing are indeed as potent as the main narrative and affect the main narrative in a significant way. Backstory should not feel static, and we should keep it lively with action, dialogue, conflict, theme setting, and foreshadowing.

Next are the flashbacks. I love flashbacks, and because my stories are generally told by extremely reflective narrators, flashbacks work almost seamlessly. However, lengthy forays into flashback mode destroy the pace of the main narrative. The key again here is brevity and relevance, but I think flashbacks are truly unique in that they are, by their very nature, emotionally internalised. Flashbacks should be spare on objective detail in favour of emotional detail. A flashback is a psychological event which manifests itself usually when a character/narrator is under duress of some sort. Whether the character is overwhelmed by nostalgia, happiness, love, hatred, sadness ... doesn't matter. Something triggers the flashback, so the right tone and the right time is of the utmost importance, and be careful you don’t cross over into the melodramatic. As far as transitioning for a flashback, many writers have individual ways of working this out: some use white space, some use chapter breaks, and some use punctuation or a subtle tense shift. I prefer a more integrated approach and try to avoid the choppiness of white space and line spaces if I can help it. Whichever you choose, all of these methods prevent the reader from becoming disoriented.

Then we have dialogue. Backstory in dialogue is often recommended to novice writers, but more often than not, it comes off as contrived. People don’t tell their life stories to people in lengthy detail. Conversation tends to be choppy with shifting focus. When people are together and talking in casual situations, conversational triggers thrust us into a flashback, but what comes out of our mouths tends to be nothing more than a few disjointed sentences connecting our life to theirs. Anything more than that and the characters appear to be lecturing each other for the sake of dictating a historical memoir. So be very, very careful here. When written poorly, this technique is by far the most embarrassing.

Lastly, we can interweave the backstory into the main narrative. Interwoven backstory or rather integrated exposition says what isn’t said. This technique relies a great deal on inference as opposed to the direct reveal, so you have to be careful not to overdo it as the reader will have to decode your intent in order to get an accurate picture of the past and the present. The danger in this is that it gives assumption a wide berth.

An engaging and fulfilling story, especially when it comes to literary fiction, brings the reader full circle. Our characters were born, but they weren’t born yesterday and certainly not emotionally cogent. The best stories use a balanced mixture of exposition and scene. Expository narrative can have just as potent an emotional charge as a scene, and I think all good stories use a blend of techniques to reveal their character’s dogmatic proclivities. Those are best revealed over time no matter how you choose to do it. Hold back; let your characters revel in a bit of mystery. Your readers will appreciate it, and as you work through your draft revisions, the right technique for your narrative will become apparent. Don’t force the backstory. Gentle and Subtle. What the reader doesn’t know will only intrigue them more.

In closing, I have been asked which approach I favour in my own work. Well, the short forms are a little more restrictive, and so I like a blend of flashback and integrated exposition. My stories tend to demand this approach. It’s a rare occurrence where I reveal backstory within character dialogue. I like to keep dialogue to a bare minimum at best anyway, and so I tend to reserve it for critical moments and conflicts within the narrative, not so much to reveal their past per se but to reveal the emotional state they are in at the moment. As far as prologues go, I have only used a prologue once, but the prologue was the present, and the subsequent linear narrative was the backstory in its entirety. So my approach varies, and things often change during revision as I become more aware of the story's thematic elements, but, no matter what the story dictates, I try to keep the old adage in mind: “If it isn’t the story, get rid of it.”

Cheryl Anne Gardner
View My Documents on Scribd

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Random Houses Teams with BookGlutton for Promotion
Publishers Weekly, 6/30/2009

In an effort to take advantage of the growing number of online book clubs, the Random House Publishing Group has joined forces with the social reading platform BookGlutton in an online promotion of Sarah Dunant’s forthcoming novel Sacred Hearts which will be released July 14. Starting yesterday and running through August, RH will make the first four chapters of Sacred Hearts available to users. Avideh Bashirrad, director of marketing for the Random House imprint, said the company chose to go with BookGlutton because of the ability it has to allow users to read the same book simultaneously and share the experience by making notes online, chapter by chapter. Through BookGlutton, readers can also chat in real time with Dunant. “We are looking to cater to online book groups, and we think BookGlutton helps us do that,” Bashirrad said.

RH is lining up other titles to put on BookGlutton. Set for August is No Time to Wave Goodbye by Jacquelyn Mitchard, which Bashirrad expects to be a book club favorite.
This is yet another online reader discussion community and file sharing site, and I don't see why Indie authors shouldn't take advantage. Sharing a couple of chapters of your new release to invite readers to comment and discuss can't be a bad thing for any author platform.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Glad To Be An American

On April 23, 2009, a federal district court in the southern Russian province of Dagestan issued an unprecedented ruling, ordering a journalist of a local newspaper to pay compensation in an amount equal to US$1,000 to a writer who did not like a review of his book published in the newspaper.

Hat tip Jackie Powers.

Monday June 29, 2009

In a media driven world it's hard for the starving artist to get recognized. You may have written a book, movie, or comic, but you can't get it published. Essentially you're throwing out a message in bottle hoping someone picks it up, but when there's already a sea full of messages all that's left is to hope that lady luck shines down on you.

those looking to get noticed for their work there's always the Internet. helps you self-publish everything from magazines, books, and even promotional music albums to get noticed. Read Full Article Here.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

REVIEW: Constellation Chronicles: The Lost Civilization of Aries

Title: Constellation Chronicles: The Lost Civilization of Aries
Author: Vincent Lowry
Genre: science fiction
Price: $14.95
Publisher: Mill City Press
ISBN: 978-1-934937-35-8
Point of Sale: Author’s site
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I recently received Vincent Lowry’s first novel, Constellation Chronicles: The Lost Civilization of Aries. It’s an interesting book, and one that I am finding difficult to review. From a technical point of view, the only flaw I see is a tendency to italicize brand names. Otherwise, the writing is clear and entertaining. Yet I still am a bit ambivalent about the book. I think part of my difficulty is that the book is really a novelization of Lowry’s so-far unproduced screenplay.

The plot of the book is simple enough. Glenn Sawyer is a teenager living in Rigel, New Mexico. Glenn’s a geek – interested in alien civilizations and flying saucers. Then one stormy night, something crashes in the desert outside town. Glenn, who happens to be driving by with his grade-school-aged sister, stops and investigates. The object proves to be some kind of spacecraft, and one of its occupants, a small furry biped, tags along for the ride back to Glenn’s house for dad’s digital camera. Due to various issues at the Sawyer house, Glenn returns alone to the spaceship, and meets the crew, who are giant creatures resembling polar bears.

This is the point where the plot and I part company. We are told that Glenn’s visit to the spaceship is no accident, and that the aliens are the survivors of a civilization destroyed in a war, a war which is on its way to Earth. Glenn’s help is required to save Earth from this threat.

Now, here’s where I’m having difficulties. If your exposure to science fiction is limited to movies and TV, this plot is believable, if a bit overdone (how many “Chosen Ones” are there, anyway?) If you get your science fiction from reading, the plot doesn’t work – at least not on paper. Whisk me along on an epic voyage, show me some pretty pictures and blow stuff up real good on screen, and I’d probably consider it okay.

Here are just a few of the TV tropes that I found irritating in the book:

* Crew of starship is in suspended animation, but they don’t wake up until after the ship has crashed. (Shouldn’t they wake up well before the ship approaches the planet?)
* Instant and fluent command of English by aliens.
* Space dogfights at extreme close range.
* Super-thick asteroid belts, or in this case, Kuiper belt.
* Captains of ships representing two warring alien races know each other’s name, and routinely communicate with each other during battle.

On the other hand, while not super believable, the book tells an entertaining tale. Lowry is a good writer, and Glenn seems to be a believable teen. Compared to, say, the latest Transformers movie, the plot is a marvel of believability and comprehension.


Friday, July 10, 2009

We Have A Winner, Take Two

Well, I thought we had a winner to last month's Free Book Friday. But having gone two weeks with no reply for a shipping address, I have decided to go back to the hat.

Our new winner is Daniel M. - congratulations!

ETA: The book is in the mail!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Serialization of Speculative Fiction -- A New Publishing Model -- Josh Vogt

From The Examiner
June 29, 10:47 AM
by Josh Vogt

Donation link for T.A. PrattThe publishing industry as a whole right now is one of many struggling through some economic hardships. Editors and agents alike have tightened their criteria for bringing on new authors, marketing budgets have been slashed, and, unfortunately, a lot of the industry's time-worn policies and procedures (such as a bookstore's ability to send back any unsold titles for a full refund) keep profit margins slim on all sides.

So far, people are looking to advances such as Print-on-Demand (POD) services and ebooks and e-readers (such as the Kindle) to relieve some of the burden print costs forces the industry to shoulder. However, there is another approach that seems to be gaining some notice: Free novel serializations.

Free, you ask? Well...yes. Free. No strings attached. Of course, there is the option to donate however much money you wish to the author, if you enjoy the story enough (or just out of the kindness of your heart). Read Full Article Here.
We always hear the question: Why would an author, or anyone for that matter, give their hard work away for free? And most authors who do will say that it's all about building a platform, getting exposure, and gaining readership in the process. The author's hope is that, after the freebie, the readers will be happy enough to pay it forward by way of buying the author's work at a later time.

I question that logic sometimes myself. Well, maybe not the logic per se but more the psychological logic of the term "free" and how it relates to human behavior.

People love free stuff, so much so that quality often isn't really an issue. The fact that the "thing" is free seems to be more important, and it rarely affects their buying decision down the road. On the other hand, I think all authors should offer some sort of preview of their work. When I pick up a book by an author I have never heard of, I flip it and read some random pages. Why? I am looking for style. Regardless of a books subject matter, I tend to be more engaged by an author's style than anything else. If Poe wrote an auto-mechanics manual, I would probably love it. In any event, people have different preferences, so offering a preview is paramount, whether that be short stories for free, the prequel to a series you are writing, or even two or three chapters of the book you are selling.

Serialised fiction is a wonderful adaptation of the "freeview" idea, and it works better in some genres more so than others: speculative fiction of course, where world building is paramount, and romance as well, where storylines can span many generations of characters. Yes, like Dr. Who and Daytime Sopa Operas, but I don't know how well this will work for straight up literary fiction. However, free to read will get you attention, certainly, but I don't think used as a marketing tool by itself that it will equate to more book sales. You still have to promote the free-to-read. If the reader doesn't know it's out there, they won't find it, even if it is free. Not to mention: Free only keeps them so long, and the writing has to be engaging; beyond that, the author will still have to work the market in my opinion. Slapping up a freebie will get you traffic, but not everyone will continue through the tollbooth.

Of course, I don't have any hard data to compare the percentages of free reads to actual purchases over time, so I can only speculate based on my own author experiences and those of other writers I have spoken to on the subject. Commentary is welcome. Let us know how the "freeview" has worked for you.

Cheryl Anne Gardner
Chapter Previews for my own work can be found on Scribd and Amazon.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Booking The Future -- Ransom Stephens

From Australia.To News
By Ransom Stephens

Three mistakes will plague the six huge publishing conglomerates, a.k.a., the Six Sisters: first, their blockbuster profit model is unsustainable; second, they're not capable of marketing those titles that are in the market segment with the greatest profit potential; and, third, they've stopped nurturing the majority of their talent with the editorial and promotional nutrition necessary for them to blossom into bestselling authors, the so-called mid-list authors whose early efforts showed enough promise to be published, but didn't return a profit. It looks a lot like what sickened Time-Warner/AOL, Sears and IBM and killed DEC.

Publishers' role as the gatekeepers of quality has always been dubious. Do book buyers have brand loyalty? Do you check the publisher before buying a book? Once we jump the low hurdle of spelling, grammar and minimal storytelling skill, literary merit is nearly as subjective as your favorite color. In a world where musicians can sell their best songs on iTunes, the only thing maintaining publishing's quality-control role is the carefully manicured perception that self-publishing is anathema to aspiring professional authors. Publishing, through its marketing plans and budgets, today effectively controls who sees what book. But the grip of the industry's role of gatekeeper is about to go.

The publishing company that turns the corner, leaving the Six Sisters in the dust, will leave will leave quality control to authors - even grammar and spelling.

The obvious candidates include Yahoo and Amazon, but I think they are already too big and stodgy to make the move; Google has everything necessary on its place, but might be too fragmented to make the move; the big self-publishing companies Lulu and iUniverse are well positioned but might be too burdened by the "vanity press" label to emerge. Right now, I think the smart money is on Anyway, for the sake of argument, let's call the emerging company NetBoox. . .

Read the rest of this economically sound article Here. You won't regret it.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Review: From an Otherwise Comfortable Room

Title: From an Otherwise Comfortable Room
Author: Roger Sakowski
Genre: Literature/Fiction/Philosophy and Existentialism
Price: $15.95
Publisher: Outskirts Press
ISBN: 978-1432729769
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed By: Cheryl Anne Gardner

Mr. Sakowski, you are a master of subjective details, philosophical musing, and deconstruction. This thought provoking book of yours can only be described as a cross between Burrough’s Naked Lunch and Alice in Wonderland. Our main character Willie “Om” Omkowski being the Mad Hatter of a sorts.

“I’m and island with a ghost in my head. […] I’m drunk as a Mick in March with a song in his head.”

The Blurb: When space bends and time has no meaning, the door is open to history, myths and magic. This is the world of William Homer Omkowski, Om to his friends, an old man who drinks too much. He tells a visitor about a loft party he attended in Baltimore thirty-some-odd years ago and the tragic event that overshadowed it. Prosaic and often hilarious, Omkowski’s memories are filled with poets, artists, Druids, oracles, witches, and a mysterious woman akin to the White Goddess of Robert Graves. It is the story of a man seeking to become a point of creation in neutral universe that is at once frightful and absurd, loving and heartless.

I would classify this book as experimental literature, a blend of narrative storytelling and philosophical musings. Part verse, part dysfunctional memory, and part hallucinogenic reflection, this is a book for people who like a challenging read and are inclined to non-linear thinking. I do and am, and so I enjoyed it immensely.

The story here, if you could call it one for lack of a conventional plot, is the disjointed recollection of a man’s life: part fact, part alcohol induced delusion. There is no rhyme or reason. Fiction blends seamlessly with legend, philosophical conundrums, historical truths, and the laboured breath of human existence – complete with radio static. As we begin our story, we are introduced to our drunkard of a narrator, William “Om” Omkowksi, as he, through his tall tale, attempts to connect the lines and the points of his own existence. From his childhood -- where he was the “lesser” son to an aspiring great writer -- to all night benders in Baltimore, to the Torry Bar and all its wonderland inhabitants, we can see William as clearly as he can see the Lady living within the stain on his wall. The segues are disordered, and the cast of characters is staggering. We have George the manic poet who strangles cats. “George paces the floor and knocks down Amphetamines, whites to keep the mind awake. He was an egg-shaped sort with the pointy end up, a short and roundly, a squat man who strutted with curious sideways wobbles. A noble egg after the Humpty Dumpty image precariously pitched on a high-strung nature” Tailspin the druid bard who was “a walleyed sort seething hopeful truisms too profuse for a single vision, so one eye turned east and other west”, and his pseudo-wife, Sybil the witch, “equally obese, hobbled on crutches with a fondness for sheets.” Amidst the chaos, we have Leopold and Lobe, April rain, Muidris the OCD junkie who accidentally commits suicide, and an evening long discussion on where one should, philosophically speaking, place a chair. Doesn’t seem to make sense, does it? But it does, if you have the patience.

This book covers the mutable and the immutable with dizzying clarity, clarity that “is” and yet is conflicted to the point of being a senseless blur. The Chicken and The Egg, Virgin Births, The Big Bang, and the implications of time: its creation, its order, and its bureaucracy. Everything is truth and everything is suspect. The mathematics of the universe lies hidden within the words. Poetry, tons and tons of poetry. “Step on a crack break your mother’s back. […] Even so the mist had sting to it when the wind picked up making it difficult to clearly see. […] What could be seen: dark and less dark feather-edged suggestions, trying, as they will, to retain their form. It would take some doing to keep momma from harm, bless her soul.”

But what struck me most about this book was the philosophy and the effortless expression of it through the subjective details. Every character was a metaphor and a mockery, and the satire at times was bludgeoning. This is not the world as we would know it, this is the world as William Omkowski sees it and lives it. “Fascism’s just intent on millenarian rebirth, you know, reverse civilization’s decline. Nazism is clearly an abuse of the term. Now how’s the end of it better for the world? Religions have been fascists for thousands of years. In fact, I bet everything I have, stash and all, that every man, woman, and child is a closet fascist just dying to reverse one decline or another and most likely in an abusive way.” Hilarious, meandering, and twisted. Every conjecture is something to ponder and ponder again. “A question is a nervous little thing on a comfortable lap.”

I noticed a few editorial missteps here and there, and the dialect in some areas might be problematic from some readers -- though once I got used to it, I enjoyed it -- but my biggest pet peeve with this work is the lack of proper comma usage. Mr. Sakowski seems to have a comma aversion, and with text as complex as this, strategic use of commas would have improved the read overall. Other than that, this book is exactly what it claims to be: A Creative and Adventurous Literary Journey. A journey that, at one turn, will have the reader perplexed and staring at the ceiling and at another will have the reader either shouting in agreement, shocked and awed, or laughing hysterically. I will leave you with some of Mr. Sakowski’s words from the chapter on Muirdris, and this pretty much sums up the book.

A Point has no width or height; no thickness for that matter. It simply can’t exist yet a line spans two of them. Strange, no? Worse are the lines between the more vicarious points such as times, friends, family, etc. These points vanish or die eventually and yet the lines persist, don’t they? Bewildering, no? I’m a wreckage of vicarious points.


Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Links of Interest

Self-Publishing Tips
"One thing I've changed is that now I'll take one copy of any self-published book on consignment. This involves no risk on my part and it allows your book to spend some time on the shelf."

The Slow, Moronic Death of Books (as We Know Them)
"year's BEA felt less like a convention and more like a funeral: Last fall's recession triggered perhaps the most dismal year in the history of publishing in America."

The smell of desperation
"Authors complaining that they can't afford to buy their own books for review. And they expect readers to somehow afford those books, then?"

Dear Self-Published Author
"If you have managed to write a book then you must have a brain. So why, oh why, does that brain stop functioning when it comes to selecting a cover for this magnum opus of yours?"

Indie Books Top Oprah Winfrey's Summer List
"Seven independently-published books topped Oprah Winfrey's 25 Books of Summer list this year...."

Librarians Fighting Google Book Deal -- Janet Morrisey

June 17, 2009
By Janet Morrisey

Critics of Google's book-searching agreement with publishers and authors were cheered last week when antitrust regulators in the Justice Department set their sights on the search giant's publishing deal, demanding more information.

At issue is a $125 million settlement agreement reached last October that gives Google the right to make millions of books available for reading — and purchase — on the Internet. Under the pact, a Book Rights Registry will be set up that will allow publishers and authors to register their work and get paid for their titles through institutional subscriptions, ad fees and book sales. Google will retain 37% of the revenue, with the remainder going to the registry to be distributed to authors and publishers. The deal effectively gives authors and publishers control over their work in the digital world and pays them for it. For the public, it means easy click-of-the-mouse access to millions of books that sit on dusty shelves in university libraries across the country.

Read Full Article Here.


Now the sticking point here is mainly about "orphan works" or works where the rights holder cannot be identified or found. For most of us self-published authors, this isn't what we should be concerned with at the moment. However, I do urge every self-published author to look at the settlement agreement. If you have books listed on Google's booksearch platform, preview or no, I suggest you register and claim your titles and at the same time you will be able to select which options you prefer and what you will and will not allow google to do with your books. You may also opt out of the settlement. Either way the Deadline for opting out is September 4, 2009 and the deadline for claiming your books is January 15, 2010. This does not apply to those who are part of the google book partner program. The Settlement Site can be found Here.

If you do understand legalese, then please, have a legal professional look over the agreement before you opt in or out.