Monday, August 31, 2009
Friday, August 28, 2009
It's that time again - time for the POD People to
The rules are simple - to enter the contest, post a comment with an email address below, and we'll randomly select a winner Monday. Good luck and have a nice weekend!
Thursday, August 27, 2009
I will leave you with that today, since I am struggling at the moment trying to achieve my own self-affirmation. The path of a writer is an arduous one to take, fraught with doubt, reproach, and flat out rejection. At one turn we feel confident we have finally gotten it “right” and at the next, we can come face to face with the realization that we weren’t even close. Yet each new day, we get back to it.
Cheryl Anne Gardner
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 5 August 2009 20.00 BST
Gutenberg's development of movable type in the 15th century was probably the most influential European invention of the second millennium. It paved the way for mass production, and the revolution is continuing in the digital age. Movable type has got more movable as it migrates into computers, mobile phones and e-reader devices. Having begun as an illuminated manuscript read by an elite few, the book may one day not exist in physical form yet be read by billions on mobile devices.
We are so used to digital miracles we have become blasé. It passed almost without notice that, at least in the US and Canada, up to a million Google-scanned books can now be read on Sony's ebook device, the Reader. Amazing. Read the rest of the Article Here.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
In an age of new media where the rules are changing faster than we can write them, it would make sense that publishing rules are changing too, wouldn’t it? Does it still make sense to query an agent, go to conferences and network with other writers? Or should you just sit home and blog and hope someone finds you online? Truth be told, it’s a combination of all of it. Sites like Twitter have really leveled the playing field. If used effectively, Twitter can really help you to leverage your market. You don’t have to be a superstar when you start on Twitter but you can certainly become one by being on it. Then of course there’s blogging, and social networking, video and on and on. So what should a budding author do to get noticed? Or, perhaps you have self-published a book and want to get a mainstream house to pick it up. The key here is to first identify your goals, then find ways to go after them both online and off.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Of course, there’s still so much to do – we have many new features in the works, including improvements to what you see already. For example, we want to allow customers to navigate from Kindle detail pages to Author Pages the same way they do from detail pages for physical books. Also, the current “More About the Author” feature is extremely simple -- it doesn’t yet do “smart” things like link directly to fresh Author Blog content. We expect to add both of these features in the coming weeks. (If you’re wondering about the change from the “old” Author Blog feature, the simple explanation is that the previous implementation proved a relatively inefficient use of detail page space. We want those pages to be as tuned as possible to selling your books –we think our new implementation will not detract from that goal while still exposing your Author Blog content for interested customers.)
Best regards,The Amazon Author Central Team
Friday, August 21, 2009
Title: Triangulation: Dark Glass
Editor: Pete Butler
Genre: science fiction, anthology
Price: $12 (trade) $4 (download)
Publisher: PARSEC Ink
Point of Sale: Lulu
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib
I recently attended Confluence, a small literary science fiction convention in Pittsburgh. There I discovered that the folks that put out the Con also put out a short story anthology. For $12, I bought a copy and gave it a whirl. I’m really glad I did.
This dense little book packs 16 stories of science fiction and fantasy into a mere 152 pages, and it’s well worth the cover price. The folks at PARSEC Ink have been doing this annual anthology for six years, and for the past couple of years opened things up to writers nationwide. As a result, a number of “up and coming” authors are featured in the pages of Dark Glass. A few of the more memorable stories were:
The Milton Feinhoff Problem (Mark Onspaugh) – Any story that begins with “One bright spring, Milton Feinhoff came downstairs to find himself eating an enormous stack of waffles” is sure to offer entertaining weirdness. Onspaugh does not disappoint.
St. Darwin’s Spirituals (D. K. Thompson) – offers a very unusual alternative reality of 19th Century England. In this world ghosts are real, and Jack The Ripper is out of his world!
Imaginal Friend (Kenneth B. Chiacchia) – here’s another unusual tale, about some really paranoid aliens and a kid who’s not paranoid enough. This one sent a chill down my spine when I finished it.
Deadglass (Lon Prater) – in this story, the author delivers a compelling cross between fantasy, science fiction and alternative history.
Perchance to Dream (D. J. Cockburn) – The author’s hero, Pongo Ponsonby, discovers that it was a good idea after all to stay awake during his Greek mythology class. It was even better to stay awake during the Ancient Greek language classes!
Broken Things ( Kathryn Board) – We’ve all heard of genies, right? Well, here’s an unusual twist on the concept. Be careful what you wish for – you just may get it!
Souls on Display (Kurt Kirchmeier) - this is an interesting coming of age story, with a hint of fantasy.
Seeing Is (Craig Wolf) – Seeing may be believing, but maybe you don’t want to believe?
Overall, this is a very good collection of short fiction, and I highly encourage you to order a copy!
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Henry Ward Beecher
To me, there is nothing like the calm of a Library to reinvigorate a weary soul. When I was a child, I spent a great deal of time at the local library, so much so, that my love of libraries often finds its way into my fiction. So, how does one end up with a library fetish? Well, my step-father was an academic man, and he loved to read -- history and letters mostly. Every night he would be sitting is his rocking chair, smoking his pipe, and reading some historical doorstop or another. He was also a disciplinarian who believed that “summer vacation” would make you stupid, so in order to prevent sun and fun induced brain fart syndrome, he made us read and do book reports over the school break. Must be where my love of reviewing comes from. Of course we hated it at first, as all children are apt to when they don’t have a choice in the matter. Even so, the hatred soon turned to a bona fide love of books, for all of us. Everyone in the house read: I liked the classics, horror, and mystery. My mother liked poetry and art. My sister is more of a romance/chick lit type, and my brother was a fantasy/sci-fi reader. Family library day was not uncommon, and when we were down with some childhood ailment, my mother always brought home cheap paperbacks from the grocery store for us to read in bed. Let’s just say, the house was filled with books, and my fondness for classical literature grew by leaps and bounds with each passing school semester.
The more I learned about Literature, the more I wanted to know.
When my father died, the books went in boxes. I was only 19, on my own, living with a bunch of roommates whilst trying to survive myself in the 80’s, and my family had to make some major changes and sacrifices after he passed. When I eventually got my own place, I rescued many of those boxes of books from ill-fated storage in a damp garage. My tiny apartment didn’t have much room to spare, but I couldn’t let the memories from my childhood rot away. We are talking the classics of literature and art here, old books with yellow dog-eared pages and leather covers that had been worried away by time and eager fingers. The books meant something to me, not simply for their artistic significance or their academic worth, but they meant something to me because they were the last vestige of my father that I had to cling to. I had been given a life-long love, something to cherish to the end of my days. My desire to write sprang forth from that love, and so my father’s books became a symbolic manifestation of it. Something to be respected, and I did try my best. Those books were stacked all over my small apartment. Anywhere I had space, you would find a book, books I returned to over and over again just to feel my father’s presence on the page.
Much later, after I had made a career for myself and after I had washed my hands of the first marriage and the bohemian lifestyle I had been living, I settled down into a house with my beloved second and last husband. We’ve been there about fifteen years now, and over that time, we basically gutted and remodelled the entire house, including a small ground floor bedroom that was too small to be of use other than, yea, you know it ... a library. I finally had the space to honour my father’s memory properly. I can’t even remember how long it took us. Had to be at least a year, maybe more, to design and construct everything. We didn’t hire anyone. The labour of love was ours alone. We are both pretty handy, and so my husband did all the deconstruction and carpentry work whilst I was in charge of staining, flooring, painting, and the overall design. I can recall saying in algebra class, “When am I ever going to use this shit again?” I found out right quick, and it was good thing I paid attention even if I hated the math. The end result was worth the torture. When it was done and I put the first of my father’s old books on a shelf, the whole essence of what it means to be in a “library” became clear. And certainly I realised then that while its architecture would never rival the Gothic Temples of old, my aching knees and mangled hands were a testament to its creation and the immortalisation of a childhood memory. A memory I can’t seem to let go of.
Yes, there are the bourgeois who think that by putting a library in their house and stacking it up with books they have never read will somehow give them an air of respectability or make them appear literary or scholarly in some way to their friends and neighbours, but the shame is on them for being so blatantly pedestrian. They aren’t fooling anyone. Books are not nick-knacks to be scattered about for impression sake. They are objects d’art, the finest of the fine. I am sure Library appreciators understand what I mean by that. My father certainly did, and now, I can return to him over and over again. I can return to my childhood, to the place I found my love, whenever I want.
Why did I post this, you ask? I posted this out of angst, actually. All this talk of the e-book revolution has me worried a little and I don’t mind saying it. What will happen to the libraries? To pull up a book digitally from your home office just doesn’t have the same impact as walking into a real library. I remember I used to love looking at all the times a book had been taken out before me. I would wonder who those people were and what they thought of it. Did they love it as much as I did? I remember how satisfying it was to flick through the card catalogue in search of my quarry only to find myself lost with joy in the maze of books before I could even get to it. I remember the silence. Oh, there is nothing like the silence ... and the smell of old paper. Yes, I do worry that literature lovers might be robbed -- robbed and cheated out of the truly wonderful and tactile experience that is The Library.
Many reviewers donate books to their local libraries. Some donate their time and their money. The Library needs you to survive.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Title: Strange But True America: Weird Tales From All 50 States
Author: John Hafnor
Illustrator: Dale Crawford
Publisher: Lone Pine Productions
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib
I have a degree in history and a great interest in the subject, so when John Hafnor’s request to review Strange But True America: Weird Tales From All 50 States came across my email I jumped at the request. It’s an enjoyable and well-written book.
Strange But True is a large format book and heavily illustrated, and consists of a one-page story about or set in each US state, accompanied by an appropriate black and white illustration. As suggested by the title, I learned a lot of things not covered by typical history books. For example, the Vermont section tells the story of the Vermont Republic, a period from 1777 to 1791 when Vermont operated as an independent nation. This was in part due to Ethan Allen’s personal interests, and part out of a desire to not be part of New York. In fact, Vermont overcame New York’s objections to entering the Union chiefly as a free state counterbalance to Kentucky’s entry.
Each state gets at least one such interesting tale, and a few, such as my native Illinois, get two sections. Hefnor is a good writer, and the stories are told in an engaging and well-written manner. This book is very slickly produced, and if I didn’t know who “Lone Pine Productions” was, I would have no idea that it was effectively self-published. Having said that, the target audience for this book is two-fold; kids (junior high and up) and people who don’t read books.
You see that in part in Hefnor’s style, which is written to eighth-grade level following AP news article style. Also, the book itself is large, in 8 by 10 format, and a series of 50 state postcards are being marketed in truck stops as a tourist item. There are also two sections at the end providing shorter tales about various states. One of these sections in particular, called “When Doomsday Came Calling In Your State” lists every accidental nuclear bomb drop (fortunately none of which went off) in the US. This section in particular is designed to target (sorry!) junior-high boys everywhere.
Which is not a bad thing – junior high boys can grow up to be readers too. (Ask me – I was one!) Overall this is a very enjoyable read, and excellent as a gift to younger readers.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Full-Color Options Ideal for Cookbooks, Travel Books, and Others with Vivid Photography
Bloomington, Ind. (PRWEB) August 7, 2009
AuthorHouse, the leading provider of self publishing and marketing services for authors around the globe, has introduced a pair of new full-color book publishing packages. These new indie book publishing options provide authors increased flexibility when they choose to publish a book in full color like a cookbook, travel book, or any other book that includes color photographs.
- Professional one-on-one support
- Custom full-color cover and interior design
- ISBN assignmentElectronic proof
- Online distribution and bookstore availability
- Complimentary author copy
- Insertion of up to 50 full-color images
- Copyright and Library of Congress control number
- Five free copies of the completed book
- Inclusion in Barnes & Noble's "See Inside the Book"
- Inclusion in Google and Amazon search programs
- Ten free copies of the completed book
- All of the products and services included in the Portfolio publishing package
- Professional book marketing kit
- Personalized back cover
- Inclusion in Book Buyers Preview program
- Author book-signing kit
Full-color book publishing is becoming increasingly popular with authors because it allows them to integrate their own full-color photographs," said Keith Ogorek, vice president of marketing for Author Solutions, Inc.--parent company of AuthorHouse. "Ideal for genres like cookbooks or photography portfolio pieces, these new full-color book publishing options provide for increased flexibility and marketing."
Monday, August 17, 2009
August 12, 3:40 AM Latino Books Examiner Mayra Calvani
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Author: Eric Durchholz
Price: $17.66/6.66 (ebook)
Point of Sale: Lulu
Reviewed By: Emily Veinglory
Heartless is a lot more coherent that Durchholz's previous novel. Well, no, that's not quite true. It is more that the novel's surreal world building and dizzying threading together of real world insanity and metaphysical conspiracy is more systematic, convincing and deftly achieved.
But I am getting ahead of myself. The basic story relates to Dustin a drug-addicted depressive, his best friend Sam and Sam's girl friend Deena. Dustin's suicidal impulse leads to something a little bit like a deal with the devil, but a lot more interesting.
The story of Dustin struggling with just what he is willing to do to get what he thinks he wants is embedded in a lot of unconventional use of formatting, font, graphics and more. This is the kind of gimmick that usually annoys the heck out of me but in this case it not only failed to irritate but actually added something to the text in most (albeit not all) cases. The devices used to render depressive thinking and drug-altered states are highlights, the Wikipedia info-dumps and computer-screen-unfriendly page shape, not so much.
Buried in a magical realism is 7/8ths of a very good story (lacking a truly well-resolved conclusion) and a couple of genuinely thought provoking moments. This is one of the better books I have read this year and certainly the most interesting.
Actually, I think most of the hype about Vista has been a bit overblown. I ain’t no IT specialist, but I really didn’t have much trouble at all. You see, whilst I was on vacation last week, my Frankenstein monster of a home computer decided to finally go tits up. No amount of new parts was gonna bring it back from the dead this time. So, off I went to buy a new computer. Now I am not a bells and whistles kinda girl, and I don’t want stuff I don’t need eating up my RAM, so I generally look for a stripped down model built for customizing. I ended up with a very nice Dell at a very nice price. It came with the operating system, antivirus protection, a nice HD monitor, and a free printer: the rest was up to me. On a side note: the husband wanted a Mac, but all my book software is windows, and our meagre usage couldn’t validate the cost compared to the Dell.
What does this have to do with self-publishing? Well, it’s all about digital files my friend -- good quality digital files. Years ago, I had the advantage of working in the digital/desktop publishing world for five years, and that afforded me all kinds of crazy knowledge with regard to digital files, specifically setting up files for press and digital printing. One of the things I hated about Lulu was that they made you load jpeg images for the cover files. Everyone knows jpeg images are compressed even at the highest quality. They are meant for web-viewing, not printing, so the quality of a jpeg book cover is noticeably compromised. You can do your own one piece covers and submit as PDF files to get around that. Most companies accept them, but some companies have file size limitations so be careful. Lightening Source and Createspace require distilled PDF files, and rightfully so, as this just makes for a better looking cover.
Here’s where Vista comes in. Some older programs will either not load at all on Vista or will load without certain features. My old Photoshop program was a total bust, but I have Microsoft Digital Imaging 10, which looks and feels like Photoshop and I like it better, so that was not an issue. My Word 2002 loaded just fine, and my web-design program loaded just fine. So far so good, until I got to loading Adobe Professional 7. The program itself loaded just fine, however, it could not configure a printer port for Adobe PDFwriter, and so couldn’t load the driver. This is a known issue and Adobe will not be issuing a fix.
What is PDFwriter, and why does it matter?
PDFwriter functions like a hybrid postscript printer/distiller all in one. One click PDF file creation and the specs are customizable. What you get is a nice super clean 1200 dpi cover file. You can create the PDF from inside the Adobe program without PDFwriter, but the difference in quality is astronomical to the naked eye. What to do, what to do. I could purchase Adobe 9, but it’s costly, and it’s a RAM hog. So I decided I would use a backdoor method, the same one we used in the early days of digital printing: the two-step postscript to distiller option. Now I just had to find and install a 1200 dpi colour postscript driver -- easier said than done. There is no way to know which of the print drivers offered in Vista are 1200 dpi without installing them and checking the advanced graphics options, so that is what I did. After 30 or so installations and test files, I remembered that some of our favourite colour machines back in the day were Tektronix and Lanier. Tektronix was a bust, all were 600dpi. Vista also offers Lanier print drivers, and I was able to find a 1200 dpi one and load it to the :FILE port. After that, converting quality cover files is a snap. Print from your program to that printer. It creates an eps file or encapsulated postscript file that you then use with Adobe distiller to distil a PDF to whatever specs your self-publishing company wants. Createspace and Lightening Source have very specific distilling specs, so check with your company about their file requirements. As for interior files, most companies want B&W PDF files distilled and downsampled to 300dpi. You would use the same process only this time you will select a black and white printer that can accommodate custom sizes. I like the Xerox Workcenter pro 90 myself as it allows for downloaded softfonts.
So for authors out there forced to convert to Vista, don’t panic, as Douglas Adams would say. Your old word and rtf files will convert just fine. I tested a whole bunch.
I will probably upgrade to office 2007 anyway, but as far as working on my in-progress books, it’s not urgent to make the switch at this point.
Of course, there are other PDF creation programs out there: CutePDF and a few others. I have never used them, and so I cannot vouch for the quality of the PDFs they create. That’s why I have stuck with Adobe all these years.
Edited to add: Well, I wound up upgrading to Office Professional 2007 because I got a software deal that was just too good. Anyhoo, my text files are fine, not a glitch, but my web publishing program converted my old files in a rather quirky way, so now, I have to redo and upate the entire website. Thank god I can do it offline. It was due for an overhaul anyway, but this is a good time to remind everyone to back up their old files, which thankfully, I did before conversion/upgrade.
Cheryl Anne Gardner
The art is Frontispiece to Frankenstein 1831 by Theodore Von Holst
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
By: Sam Kornell August 05, 2009
Are printed books on the road to obsolescence? If so, what might it mean for the vast industry dedicated to their production and sale? Digital books are value neutral — they're nothing more than a different distribution platform for the same product, the written word - but, if the rhetoric is accurate, they may be about to cause a "massive amount of pain and suffering in the book industry" as one analyst recently put it to me. Read Full Article Here.
“Dead Tree Format” I hear this phrase quite a bit these days, especially when it comes to advertising spin for digital readers. While all this is well and good for the trees and the Book Industry’s Treatise on Responsible Paper Use, which will require publishers to increase their recycled paper use to 30% by 2012, it doesn’t address the issue of e-waste. Like the i-pod and the i-phone, where every new model that comes out is a must have, e-readers contribute to a glut of digital waste product. Compared to paper, digital waste is more costly to recycle, and some of it cannot be recycled at all. These devices are filled with all kinds of toxic elements that wind up in our landfills, poisoning the earth. Now I am not saying that digital devices are the scourge of the modern world and should be avoided at all costs, but, consumers need to adopt a more eco-friendly use/reuse/recycle decision making process when they feel the urge for the latest digital gadget. Books are recycled far more diligently than electronics. We pass them along to friends, we sell them on eBay and other auction sites, we donate them to libraries, we sell them to used book stores, and we offer them up on book swapping sites. Books that are irreparably damaged can be pulped and recycled. Unfortunately, what happens most often with digital products is that the old one ends up in the trash because digital recycling isn’t as easy for the consumer. Just some food for thought.
Cheryl Anne Gardner
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
August 10, 11:58 AM NY Gifted Education Examiner Alina Adams
From the Article, and I am copying and pasting for your enjoyment, bolding text for mine.
"And now, a final, FINAL thought. Getting published. Publishers are always looking for good new work. So make sure your book is as original and well done as you can make it, then look up the names of editors at your favorite publishers, and send them a short, well-written cover letter, describing the book, along with a couple of chapters. (Don’t forget to make sure your manuscript is double-spaced). Another way to get published is to get an agent (an agent is someone who shops your book to publishers for you). There are also reference books that list every children’s agent in the country. Write them polite query letters, describing your book. Again, include a couple of chapters. If you’ve spent all your time writing and loving your book, you might just be surprised at the positive response you get!
(Editor’s Note: The Gifted Education Examiner strongly discourages authors of any age from taking the self-publishing route. This is not considered a genuine credit in the publishing [word] and will work against the author’s selling a future project to a legitimate publisher. Any time an author is asked for money from their publisher, they cannot be considered legitimate. If you are asked for money, you are simply getting your book printed, not published and certainly not professionally edited. This is fine if you simply want a few copies to give out to family and friends, but not if you would like to be considered an author." Read the rest of this stimulating article Here.
This is the advice being given to young authors. Yup, publishers love those unsolicited manuscripts, and agents are always up for sample chapters they didn't request, not to mention that infamous "black list" you will wind up on if you self-publish a word ever in your life -- Oh wait, isn't blogging a form of self-publishing? Guess kids can't blog either then. Maybe that's a loophole, I don't know, not to mention I have read self-published books that were edited far better than this article. Nice typo.
Or is this advice meant to be some kind of a tough love thing? You know, get them used to rejection young, stifle them whilst they are still impressionable. Let's fill their heads with fire and brimstone old testament type diatribe. I just think if we are gonna give kids advice on publishing, let's give them all the facts and teach them the proper way to query and submit partials. And for Pete's sake, I can't see how a Lulu book you did when you were a teenager or even one you did as an adult is going to ruin your writing career . A few self-published words might give you hairy palms and make you insane, but I am not convinced it will damn your soul, certainly not in the eyes of a "legitimate publisher" anyway. You might not be able to sell that book, the one you self-published, but it won't hurt your chances for future work, especially if you have a book that meets what the market wants at the moment. Actually, I gotta say, "Good for the kid who has the guts to go to it and self-publish their book." To me it shows determination and courage and most of all: vision. Dawson Vosburg comes to mind. His tenacity will probably get him published some day. And think of all the things he has learned along the way.
But don't worry you parents of the "gifted" young writers. The evil Indie publishing world will not try to seduce your child, corrupt their grammatical morals, or doom them to a hellish dank hole of a basement library with leaky walls and rows and rows of books with the Lulu logo on the spines. Most of us know the shit out of our Lit theory, we have read and studied the classics, and don't breathe a word of it, but a lot of Self-published authors actually have MFAs. Shocking. I know.
There is a lot of good advice in the article, so it's a shame really that it had to end with the typical Trad vs. Indie propaganda dreck. Haven't we all seen enough of this ridiculousness. Here is some advice worth its weight: If you want to be a writer, stay in school and learn how to friggin' write. Live and love your Lit theory. If you want to be a mainstream published author, stay in school and learn how to friggin' write and edit and revise and address criticism and query properly, then research all your options thoroughly. Funny, it's all the same for Self-published authors as well, except trade the query process for marketing. So in the end, it's all about education as much as it is talent and hard work. Many a gifted author of old got rejected, so you can't skimp on the work no matter which path you choose. Self-publishing probably won't bring you fame and fortune -- the odds are against it. It might not be a genuine "credit" but that doesn't mean the experience isn't worth having, provided you are having it for the right reasons. This holds true for the Traditional Publishing process as well, unless rejection is considered "credit" towards paying your dues.
I think what it all boils down to here is that we should be fostering creativity and experimentation not breeding contempt. Sometimes holding an actual book in one's hand is just the sort of satisfaction that motivates an author, especially a child author, to press onward through the process. Becoming a published author is a daunting oftentimes humiliating process. Self-published or Trad Published, it takes an insane amount of determination, skill, and hard work. It takes a level of commitment most people don't have the stamina for. That little something tangible -- a printed book -- can be the inspiration that keeps a dream alive in the face of adversity. It keeps the artist loving the art even if the process is painful.
Cheryl Anne Gardner
Monday, August 10, 2009
The books did not come from a publisher, though. Rejected by mainstream publishers everywhere, Mr. Lord resorted to self-publishing. When he saw his wife and writing partner, Elisabeth Richards, light up with excitement seeing their books lined up on a shelf, he knew it was worth the $2,000 initial investment in his dream.
Friday, August 07, 2009
Author: J.W. Nicklaus
Genre: Literature/Fiction/Short Story/Inspirational
Publisher: American Book Publishing Group
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed By: Cheryl Anne Gardner
The cover detail: This book is a collection of uplifting images that delve into the reflections of the human condition. These stories will cause you to think, laugh, and even cry at the beauty of emotional memories. You will smile at the thought of love lost and found again in "Paper Doll." You will think about your life's choices in "10:18." You will cry tears of joy while reading about the hidden gift in "Winter Rose." This is a must-have collection of thought-provoking reflections perfect for your bedside or the beach.
I really wanted to love this book. Those who read my reviews know that I am quite versed in short fiction, and human psycho-drama is my favourite kind of drama. I read the preface to this book before agreeing to review it, and I found the prose to be beautiful, poetic, and inspiring. The author has a gift for essay. His blog rants attest to that. However, when I moved on to the actual stories, that’s when it just fell apart for me. I was expecting deep reflection, impactful exposition, and emotional relevance. Based on the preface, what I wanted and expected were carefully crafted stories along the lines of Wagner’s Matinee by Willa Cather, Car Crash While Hitchhiking by Denis Johnson, Photograph of Luisa by Melissa Pritchard, or Father by John L’Heureaux. But for a few promising moments, what I got were stories that left me a bit adrift with indifference.
However, there was a ray of light...
Broken is by far one of the best stories in the entire book. For the first time, we move away from the cliché pining and imagery into a more literary approach to the loneliness. The metaphorical comparison between discarded roadside trash and the car crash the main characters will witness later in the story was truly sublime, and the end, quite frightening in its unabashed obsessiveness. This was the story I wanted, but alas, it also had its issues.
Then we rattle on with a few more muted reflections until we come to Run—a little literary masterpiece. In a child’s well calculated manipulation, we get a much different view of Hope. Good Show!!! In my honest literary snob opinion, this story shows the author’s true talent, and had the remainder of the book been written with this sort of subtle insight, it would be a fine endeavour indeed. This story is where the author’s voice and style really came through. Perfect! Beautifully executed. This story is perfect for publication in any literary journal.
As far as the rest of the book, the stories felt a little lacklustre to me. They were definitely good stories, though-provoking and very relatable. All the stories accurately reflect the truth in the human condition: love, loss, jealousy, greed, pity, pride, self-indulgence, indifference, bitterness, serendipity, and most of all hope, but something felt off for me.
Now, it wasn’t the actual stories that left me cold. Conceptually, the stories are lovely and full of substance: the morality is true and hopeful and virtuous. What left me cold was the delivery, the writing itself—the structure and the technique. The stories show promise in a Chicken Soup for the Soul kind of way—very mild and touching—but the writing in many of the stories is maudlin and melodramatic, which is the cardinal sin of fiction writing. The reason for this is that the book suffers from pervasive technical issues, and those issues diminish the impact of the stories. A little Strunk and White or Self-editing for Fiction Writers would have helped significantly during the revision and editing process. No rule is hard and fast, but these books explain why we don’t overdo it with adverbs; why we try to remain low-key and unobtrusive with our dialog tags and beats; why we vary our sentence structure and paragraphing, paying close attention to our participle phrases and modifiers; why we refrain from idle action, and why we need to take care with similes and metaphors—overdone is just over-indulgent. The writing in this book suffers from those same issues, so much so, the prose was awkward in some areas, and it was very distracting for me. In my personal opinion, it really robbed the stories of their true worth, not to mention a higher review score. A scrupulous editor would have done a world of good here, and it’s a shame really, because this author has an uncanny talent for nailing down existential and philosophical conundrums, and these stories could have been so much more without all the clutter.
Short stories that deal with the emotionally scarred need to be simple, character focused, and heavy on visceral impact. The simplicity was there, causation was direct and very character focused, but the visceral impact was lacking. When characters are constantly sighing and staring off into the distance, the emotion begins to feel contrived as it did for me in many of the stories, and when we stumble over the words and idle action, we lose sight of the story completely. The writing needs to be tight. It needs to be subjective and vivid and forceful. (Forceful doesn’t mean gritty. Forceful, for our purposes here, would mean uncluttered.) I just didn’t get the strong rush of feeling I had hoped for with this book. However, judging by all the five-star reviews on Amazon, maybe it’s just me. Maybe I pay attention to the theory more so than an average reader. I felt the technique lacked the drama stories of this nature require.
So, if you are literary minded and are expecting heart wrenching Willa Cather styled stories then you might be a bit disappointed, but if you like Chicken Soup stories and you don’t mind or don’t care to notice the technical issues and the chop, then you might find this to be a light, enjoyable, sentimental read; although, I think the $15.00 price tag is a bit over market for such a short collection, 15 stories at 180 pages.
On a final note, this author has the right attitude about the process. Critical reviews are never easy on the eyes or the ego, nor are they easy to write. Mr. Nicklaus has a gift for musing, his words can be very powerful, and I would like to see more of that incorporated into his work versus what we call “traditional storytelling.” Anyway, I leave you with a quote from the author’s blog:
“I have stated many times before that I don’t expect everyone to like how or what I write. My style and voice aren’t for everyone. So when I’ve been sending out copies of my book for review I fully expect, at some point, to possibly receive reviews that are not glowing or even complimentary. I have the simplest of hopes that folks enjoy the stories, that’s all.” -- J.W. Nicklaus
Thursday, August 06, 2009
Mr. Bransford is talking about the “Am I crazy for spending so much time doing this" conundrum. He was referring to the writing, but in my case, I have those moments multiplied by infinity. Of course, my answer to the question of how I deal with it is: I drink, I smoke, and I talk to myself -- a lot -- using a myriad of expletives. However, I may be eccentric, but I am no raving lunatic. I chill in my garden, I exercise daily to relieve the stress of it all, and I shower my husband and ferrets with as many kisses as I can spare and as many as they can stand.
People, especially non-writers, think I am crazy because I edit my work to within an inch of its life, and I am still never completely satisfied. We grow, we change, and every time we re-read the work, something new comes to the forefront. That’s what revision is all about, but at some point, the work does need to see the light of day. Some share their work with other trusted writer friends, some use critique groups, some use social networking sites like Scribd, and some actually publish the work and set it out into the world of strangers for review. I did this, and I found the commentary so beneficial that I took all the work out of print for revision. Actually, I took the work out of print in order to start-up my own imprint, but in the end, it seemed to make sense to have a look at it all again whilst I had the perfect opportunity to do so. Certainly, everyone said I was crazy, but I am a self-published author, so releasing second editions or revised work is not as daunting a task as it is for mainstream published authors. I needed the serious critique -- from people who didn’t know me -- and this was one way to go about doing it. The objectivity was what I was after.
This leads me to my other “Am I Crazy?” moment. That being: Why do I spend so much time on this blog reviewing self-published books and writing columns and commentary on the craft and the not so artful act of self-publishing? I receive no compensation for my work here even though I have garnered the coveted literary curmudgeon status and people seem to like what I write about, but none of this amounts to book sales or fame and fortune. Not to mention, popular opinion seems to be that writing reviews, especially the critical ones, is a thankless time-sucking lacklustre pursuit, so why in the world would I want to devote so much time to it? (That’s why most review blogs last less than three years, BTW.) So, all that being relatively true, what’s the deal then? Well, I am crazy, and to me, this is some sort of demented “pay it forward” karmic love-in I suppose. I’ll explain.
I’ve been writing since high school -- off and on for twenty-five years now -- nothing really serious, misogynistic penthouse forum type shit, and I just loved to write. In my twenties, I was too stooopid to write anything of value; I was too busy enjoying a suck career, a bad first marriage, and watching many of my friends and lovers self-destruct in a variety of interesting ways. In my thirties, I spent my time putting things into perspective and trying to recover from all my own failed efforts . What can you do aside from taking a lot of mental notes whilst trying to hang on to your own sanity, but I do have thirty years of literary study under my belt, and I still study literature in my spare time for my own personal pleasure. I know, it’s sick, but studying theory ain’t a bad thing, if you want to be a writer that is.
There is nothing like the smell of a used textbook.
I love the language.
I am a word nerd, and I love literature, the real artsy fartsy maudlin shit that by page two has you thrust into the middle of your own existential crisis.
But all that’s beside the point, really. After a while, I got serious about my own writing. I’d lived a nasty bit of life, and finally, I felt I had the emotional experience to tackle some of the issues I wanted to write about. Nothing fancy, no Proustian prose here, though some people seem to think the poet in me needs a bit of release … anyway, I had a traditionally published writer friend ask to see some of my draft scribble back in 2005. She read it and urged me to continue, that the stories were good and needed to be finished. I had gotten a bit rusty from the sporadic writing and the equally sporadic living, and she gave me the no shit version of a workshop critique, really kicked my ass, and told me in no uncertain terms where I needed to improve. I had been out of academia for fifteen years at that point, had barely scraped two sentences together for ten of those years, so the gears needed a bit of oil, but if it weren't for her honesty, I might have thought my horrible shite was actually good.
So, it’s all because of her really, and the fact that this blog agreed to review one of my original drafts back in 2006. As far as motivations go, I just really want to give back to the Indie community. A community who nurtured me without coddling me. A community who wasn’t afraid to tell me the pencil I had up my ass smelled like shit. That's right, I want to give some of that back, not the shit, the pencil -- promise, I’ll wash it first. If I can share thirty years of academic knowledge and help another writer be a better writer, then so be it. If I can shine a light on an Indie writer whose prose is worthy of recognition, all the better. Occasionally, I get a nice thank you note in my email for being honest and writing a real review -- a review that had some constructive use. Some of those thank you notes have, over time, turned into bona fide friendships and trusted critique partners.
So you tell me … am I crazy? I might just be, but my heart is in the right place.
How do you deal with the "Am I crazies"? Comments are open.
The Art is By William Hogarth titled “In The Madhouse” circa 1735
Cheryl Anne Gardner
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
The Instock Conference was a great success, generating impressive feedback among the participants. "I very much enjoyed my day at InStock. Being around so many talented and enterprising writers was both an inspiration and a pleasure”, said one of the participants.
BookWhirl.com co-sponsored the InStock Conference in full support for self-published authors to gain additional knowledge from the experts and experienced icons of the publishing industry. The conference became a great venue for self-published authors to ask advice on the experts of the fields and share ideas and information with other self-published authors.
BookWhirl.com believes that good marketing services perfectly complement a strategic marketing plan.
BookWhirl.com is an online book marketing service company, specializing in providing low-cost, high-quality marketing services for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry books. Through its unique, inexpensive book marketing services, BookWhirl.com helps authors promote their published works more effectively and connect to readers in a more effective, more efficient system. BookWhirl.com employs an experienced team of online marketing strategists, ad copywriters, graphic artists, and web designers, whose combined talents ensure an effective online marketing campaign at easily affordable rates.
See also [added by veinglory]:
BookWhirl Can't Even Sell Itself
Absolute Write thread
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
By John Ajvide Lindgvist
The cover detail: It is autumn 1981 when the inconceivable comes to Blackeberg, a suburb in Sweden. The body of a teenage boy is found, emptied of blood, the murder rumored to be part of a ritual killing. Twelve-year-old Oskar is personally hoping that revenge has come at long last---revenge for the bullying he endures at school, day after day. But the murder is not the most important thing on his mind. A new girl has moved in next door---a girl who has never seen a Rubik’s Cube before, but who can solve it at once. There is something wrong with her, though, something odd. And she only comes out at night. . . .
I discussed the movie version of this book on the site already with respect to individual interpretation of the relationship between Oskar and Eli. See here for more detail. Normally, I find movie adaptations to be lacking, but in this case, the director and screenwriters did a superfine job adapting it to film. I do however caution potential readers to watch the movie first before reading the book and not the other way around. At 480 pages there was just too much to the book to fit properly on the screen, so the filmmakers chose to take a very intimate approach to the story and decided to strip everything away in favour of a tight focus on the psychodrama between Oskar and Eli, which was in essence the heart of the story. Manichean theology divides the world into two cardinal principles: light and dark or good and evil. God dwells in eternal light, and the devil is consigned to darkness. Humans have day and night to live in equally, where both good and evil can exist in balance. This duality is borne out over and over again throughout the story, specifically in Oskar's "darkness" and Eli's innately human capacity for "light."
The remainder of the 480 pages was devoted to the town of Blackeberg and more importantly the people of Blackeberg. There are varied side dramas and converging plotlines. Every character involved is explored deeply and with care: each character’s emotional state of mind affects the events in the story. There are a lot of human issues addressed in the work, from basic human loneliness, to broken homes, single parents, alcoholism, low self-esteem, juvenile delinquency … The characters idiosyncratic emotional responses to their surroundings and the events that unfold are akin to the freezing and thawing of the landscape. What is hidden can’t stay hidden forever. The writing is thorough, uncomplicated, and we spend a great deal of time in each of the character’s heads – scenery excursions are kept to a relevant minimum for affect. The gore, like the film, is also kept to a minimum. The horror is life, the monster, an innocent manifestation of its abuses. The book contains some shocking revelations not found in the film, most of it quite disturbing -- so I won’t get into plot spoilers here -- and there is just enough vampire lore to keep the reader grounded in the mythology without being cliché. This is definitely an original and engaging story more so from a psychological standpoint than a traditional horror one.
In my previous post, I discussed with a friend our very diametrically opposed viewpoints on the expanding relationship between Eli and Oskar. After reading the book, I was pleased to find that my assessment of their relationship was the correct one. Their friendship was that of trust and respect. There was no manipulation there, just a kinship of a sorts. Definitely worth the four days it took me to read it. If you are a vampire nut like I am and are sick to death of vampire cliché, then this book is for you. If you prefer pitch black psychological drama then deviant and damaged is what you will get, but hope is what you will find in the end.
Cheryl Anne Gardner
Monday, August 03, 2009
The winner has been contacted via email and has responded.
So stay tuned for the next Free Book Friday on August 28th.
Happy Reading from the Pod People.