Monday, November 30, 2009

We Have A Winner!

The winner of this month's Free Book Friday, as calculated by, is commentor #18 - SunnyVale!

I will be contacting SunnyVale via email to ship them the book!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sunday Picture

REVIEW: Fictional: Lurker in the Dark and Others

The review is part of the Absolute Write book blog chain. The preceding post in the chain is: Soon I Will Be Invincible by Raven Corinn Carluk, and next blog in the chain appears at: She Thinks Too Much.

Title: Fictional: Lurker in the Dark and Others
Author: Colin Fiat
Genre: Poetry
Price: Free download, $12.79
Publisher: Lulu
Pages: 102
Point of Sale: Lulu
Reviewed By: veinglory

I approached this collection with no great expectations, especially after the introduction describes the book as a learning exercise with a focus on structure.

But I was electrified by the first poem; I was actually quite excited. "Bad Night Out At A Pizza Joint" is one of the few examples I have ever read of a gritty urban poem that successfully combines a modern aesthetic with a formal structure, including a rhyme scheme. This snapshot of characters passing during a night out in town ends: "I want some more drink even though I am shaking / And hear the soft clink of a car window breaking / Somewhere in the dark, is a business man shouting / But empty car parks have no witness to help him."

If the collection had been ruthlessly trimmed down to a published collection of the very best works I imagine I could give it an 8 or 9 out of ten. However, in my opinion, in the great majority of poems simplistic structure trumps content leading to a Dr Seuss effect. This can be fairly successful in slight, humorous poems like "Thingamabob" ("I went to speak with whatshisname / About my new doohickey / And how the silly gizmo came / Without that paper thingy"). But more often the effect is that grammar seems tortured or unsubtle words chosen simply to meet the demands of the rhyme.

I could only rate the complete ungainly collection of disparate poems in the range of 6/10. However I would encourage anyone interested in modern structured poetry to take advantage of the free ebook version, and to pay special attention to the first section, dubbed the "Lurker in the Dark" poems. I can foresee purchasing a paper copy of this sequence if it was provided with an appropriate cover and given perhaps just a little more polishing to smooth the meter in some places and achieve a more perfect balance between format and subject.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Free Book Friday: Wayland's Principia

Happy Day-After-Thanksgiving! (Or at least to our American readers.) Well, for those of you checking your computer before going out shopping, here's a free book.

That's right, it's Free Book Friday at POD People! This month's book is a signed copy of Richard Garfinkle's science fiction novel Wayland's Principia. My review of the book is available here.

To enter our drawing, write a comment to this post with your email and I will pick a random winner Monday.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanks on Thanksgiving -- c.anne.gardner

We interrupt our regularly scheduled "Thoughts on The Craft" column this week to acknowledge Thanksgiving.

Material things come and go in life, so in reality, it's the people you meet along the way who carry you through.

I want to take this time today to talk about being an Indie author: word scab, literary cretin, dysfunctional grammar moron, artistic savant, or whatever it is we would like to label ourselves at any given moment. But I don't want to talk about labels or publishing, I want to talk about the Indie Artist Community -- our community and how I feel about it in a broader sense.

I too have shared in the frustrations of being a self-published author. The most frustrating for me is that, well, that art has become commerce, and that independent artists are treated with such disdain, simply because the industry and its advocates at large seem to have forgotten that many of the great icons of literature started as Independents, often self-publishing by using small or micro-presses for their own work and the work of their friends. They did this for no other reason than they believed in their work, even though it might have been deemed too risqué, too uncensored, too unmarketable, or irreparably flawed based on arbitrary standards. They took the risk, ignored the rules, and found their passion. With passion comes fulfillment. Many great discoveries would not have seen the light of day if their discoverer hadn’t taken the risk. I think risk taking is an art in itself sometimes. Speaking of risk takers, I have met a few such authors -- self-published and traditionally published alike -- whilst travelling down the word littered path. I owe them a debt of gratitude for offering their criticism, their friendship, and their gentle strength, which kept me grounded and got me through the rough patches. There have been a lot of rough patches.

I would also like to thank my fellow literary junkies: Thank you for always having the time to talk shop. Based on reader recommendations, I have read some truly wonderful books this year, Indie and Mainstream alike.

To speak of my own word-fuddling. My body of work to date has consumed the better part of five years of my life. When it comes to my novellas, admittedly, the original text was seriously flawed, in my restrospective opinion. I held back a great deal of emotion for fear of overexposing the characters. I listened to critics when I shouldn't have and didn't listen when I should have. Many of you who know me know that I took a brief sabbatical in 2008 to reassess the risks I didn't take and come to terms with the ones I did. And after much consideration and painful indecision, it was a deliberate determination on my part to re-write and re-edit my entire body of work in order to restore them to their original intent, to expand the prose, and to subsequently deepen the emotional clarity. I started my own imprint at that same time and decided to go all-in as an Indie, damn the naysayers. Antiquity is available now, and then I have one more to re-release before I can move on to newer and darker horizons. I couldn't have gotten through the process without a few friends. You know who you are.

So, it being Thanksgiving and all, to express my gratitude, I dedicate my life’s work to everyone I have known and loved, to those who know me best of all, and to those who helped shape my history and in turn shaped my work. You are forever etched into my soul and will never be forgotten. I humbly lay my pitiful homage at your feet.

Yes, that's a lot of thankfulness, I know, but I am not finished. I would like to thank Emily Veinglory -- Pod People Blog Founder -- and Chris Gerrib, both of whom are my review and commentary partners here at the blog. Thank you for your stamina. I would also like to thank all our featured authors for offering up their thoughts and commentary, and to our blog followers and Indie Book Advocates around the web for helping to support the Indie cause, not to mention all the readers who have taken a chance on one our reviewed books.

As an author, I personally want to give thanks: to My Father, who died before he ever got to read a single word I'd written, to My Husband, to Lovers and Dearest Friends, to My Readers, to Poets and Storytellers of Old, to My Critics, and to My Shadow, who transcended the darkness to help me see the light.

Happy Thanksgiving, and for those who do not celebrate the US Holiday, well, any day is a good day to be thankful. Much love and light to you.

The art this week is The Ship of Fools by Hieronymus Bosch 1300 -- Seemed appropriate, eh?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Have YOU Smashed Your Words Yet? -- c.anne.gardner

All true self-published authors understand that being self-published means making a lot of business decisions. Those business decisions generally fall into two catgorical extremes: astronomically expensive with little to no return on investment or fiscally sound with incremental returns over the long-term. Let’s not kid ourselves here, we all know what falls into which category, but when you come right down to it, the key to any profitable self-publishing venture is exposure, and the biggest piece of the “exposure” paradigm is Distribution. Getting books into stores for most self-published authors is still an exercise in futility, but let’s face it, with ecommerce and the technology we have today, I don’t see a bright future for physical books stores. Hell, I don’t even like walking around most book stores now. Where the fuck are the books???? We have cafes, we have all sorts of gift items: wrapping paper, toys, and all manner of merchandising crap, but the book shelf space seems to be getting smaller and smaller. Now with the advent of look-inside programs like at Amazon, we can browse books from the comfort of our PC. I don’t have to waste gas to drive to a store and then be annoyed when I can’t find books to read other than the latest marketing blockbuster. I have been an Amazon customer since its inception, and I have no trouble finding the books that I want to read, specifically, foreign translations. I also like to read on-screen. Yup, I do.

Since I started reviewing books for the Podpeople, I have found that my eBook reading time has increased. I like reading eBooks for review because I can make notes and type the review in situ, if you will.

And that brings me to the viability of eBooks and what the eBook revolution means for the fiscally savvy self-published author. Shit, we all know what it means: distribution and to hell with brick and mortar book stores. Yea, I would love to see my book on the shelf at my local haunt, but realistically, the odds are against it. Physical Books are expensive on the front end and equally so on the back end. So why bother worrying about physical distribution unless you are a best selling author.

Admittedly, I am not an early adopter. I don’t jump on bandwagons, and I take a wait and see approach. When I began to contemplate eBook sites, my main concern was that the site needed to have an established customer base and more than one distribution channel. It just makes sense. A stand-alone ecommerce site is no good to me, and who wants to spend all their time loading their books to thousands of sites, time that would be better spent writing or marketing. That’s just ridiculous. You want your book where it will get the maximum distribution exposure and a royalty split that doesn’t leave you the odd man out. In the beginning, when I left Lulu, I chose Amazon. Sure, I could have gone directly to LSI, but their set up costs were prohibitive for a novella and I would still have to split the royalty with them and the end reseller, thus increasing the retail cost of the book. Now Createspace functions the same as LSI with limited distribution exclusive to Amazon, but there are no set-up fees and no reseller percentages on the back-end. Plus, they have branding, a long established customer base, and offer distribution in print and eBook with the Kindle. That’s great. I don't spend a nickle but for a proof copy and the cost of my own ISBN, which I purchase in blocks, so we're off to a good start. But one site is not enough: Enter Smashwords.

Smashwords has been in the news a lot lately as they announced their partnerships with Barnes and Noble, Sony, and most recently, Shortcovers. This is a huge step in the right direction, and this step is what convinced me to finally load up my books with them. Yes, I waited. That’s what I do. I don’t make business decisions on a whim, and in the beginning, Smashwords was just another stand-alone ecommerce start-up site. But now, Kindle isn’t the top dog anymore as far as eBook distribution since the advent of the new Sony eReaders and the B&N Nook. Makes sense that Kindle shouldn’t be your only eBook portal. Yes, you should still Kindle your book. Amazon’s customer base is something not to be ignored, but you need more distribution than that. Scribd is an option, but they only offer PDFs, so even if their relationship with Simon and Schuster increased their customer base, its still not enough exposure. So what I’m saying here is: Get your books on Smashwords. With distribution to Sony and B&N you will have all the major eReaders covered in a variety of formats, not to mention Sony and B&N already have large established customer bases and branding.

Now I won’t lie to you. eBook formatting is a purgatory that rivals the likes of Dante’s inferno, but Smashwords handy dandy formatting guide makes it easy for you to get your “straight text” manuscript up to spec. I found that a Smashwords spec’d out manuscript in Microsoft Word actually loads much better to the Kindle platform than the recommended html. Bonus for me, because I only have to make minor tweaks to the same word doc, and apparently, I must have formatted them properly because they were approved for premium distribution within 6 hours of my submitting them. I guess I didn't screw it up. On a side note: If you have pictures, graphs, and/or other such complications in your manuscript, then you will need additional formatting expertise outside of the Smashwords style guide. Don’t skimp on the formatting here, or your eBook will look like crap.

In summary: Distribution is what you want. Let's face it, Christmas is coming, and eBook readers are gonna be a hot gift: The B&N Nook is already sold out. I am debating buying a Nook for myself after the initial rush. So, get your words Smashed and do it now. I did, at least for three of my books, and all I can say is that my Smashwords experience thus far has been stellar and has far exceeded my expectations. Much thanks to Smashwords for continuing to think outside the box. The only improvement I would recommend is that Smashwords increase the word count on their book descriptions. 400 words is not enough in most cases. Even on my slimmest novella, I had to cut my cover copy. I didn’t have to do that with Amazon.

Edited to Add news Alert: Smashwords to Supply eBooks to Amazon

While I think this news announcement is fantastic, I'll be keeping my own account with Kindle as it is under my imprint name. When Smashwords distributes your books, they have Smashwords listed as the publisher of record on the e-commerce site. It's a fiddly thing really, but I own my own imprint. I paid for the business license and the ISBNs. I am the publisher of record according to Bowkers, so I think I'll keep my own Kindle account. I don't have that option with Sony or B&N, so Smashwords will be listed as the publisher, but what can you do. Distribution is distribution.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

Monday, November 23, 2009

REVIEW: The Shadow on the Doorstep

Title: The Shadow on the Doorstep
Author: James P. Blaylock
Genre: fantasy
Price: $30
Publisher: ISFIC Press
ISBN: 978-0-9759156-7-7
Point of Sale: publisher's site
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I recently attended Windycon, my local Chicago-area science fiction convention. This year’s author Guest of Honor was James P. Blaylock. As is customary, ISFIC Press put out an anthology of his work, and as typical I bought a copy at the release party.

Blaylock’s anthology The Shadow on the Doorstep is a collection of his thirteen personal favorites. Thirteen is entirely deliberate – Blaylock has a bit of a fixation on doughnuts – enough so that the launch party featured doughnuts as refreshments! There’s also a short story entitled Doughnuts in the anthology.

I hadn’t read or frankly even heard of Blaylock before, so Shadow on the Doorstep is my first exposure to him. I have to classify Blaylock’s writing as “gentle fantasy;” so gentle in fact that the title story in this anthology seems to lack a plot. Despite that flaw, I found it entertaining.

Blaylock is that rare bird – born in Southern California, specifically Orange County, back when there were actually orange groves to be found there. Personally, he looks like the stereotypical Californian – tan, lean and healthy. But, perhaps as a result of his watching Orange County being paved over, he has a strong sentimental streak. This sense of sentimentality and place permeates all of these stories, even the ones like Hula Ville, which isn’t set in Orange County.

Several of his stories aren’t even really fantasies at all. For example, The Dry Spell, set in a Southern California dry spell, has no fantastical elements at all. This is more than made up for by stories like my personal favorite, The Old Curiosity Shop, which is also the most action-packed. Fantasies or no, he has a great eye for characters and an amusing turn of phrase. For an example of the later, consider the line, “Amanda needed more shoes like an octopus needed more arms.”

Overall, I have to say that Blaylock is not my cup of tea, although I did enjoy this book. However, if you are a fan of literary fantasy, great descriptions or interesting characters, you will thoroughly enjoy The Shadow on the Doorstep.


Disclaimer: Reviewer purchased the book at retail. Link does not go to affiliate site.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

Review -- Waiting for Spring

Title: Waiting for Spring
Author: R.J. Keller
Genre: Literature/Fiction/Contemporary Women’s Fiction
Price: $ 11.95
Publisher: Createspace
ISBN: 978-1440461163
Pages: 480
Point of Sale: Amazon
Review By: Cheryl Anne Gardner

For a standard “woman starting over after a failed relationship” type of story, this one had a rough edge to it that I liked -- liked a lot. If more contemporary women's fiction was written like this, I would read more of it. Tess, our narrator and main character, is a little off. She is Neurotic. Very. Very. Neurotic. Not to mention: cynical, sarcastic, and self-absorbed. Not much to like really, but considering her dysfunctional childhood, her bleak outlook on life seems somewhat justified. She sort of reminded me of a cross between Bukowski’s crass malcontented characters and Jennifer Aniston’s character in the movie Friends with Money: the sarcastic cleaning woman who isn’t living up to her potential, who gets stoned and obsesses over the man she lost. But this story has so much more to it than that.

To match the personality of the narrator, the narrative itself is very coarse. Tess just says what’s on her mind, and at times, it can be quite melodramatic. There is a fondness for choppy little fragmented thoughts and sentences that becomes noticeable right away. I felt it alluded to the character’s choppy, abrupt, and rather disjointed attitude about her own life and her own identity, but the chop might wear on some readers after a while because everything is so disconnected and at the same time completely exposed. Some might even say that Tess is a bit over exposed, and I would agree with that, but first person narratives with this type of story arc tend to feel self-indulgent, and so I felt the tell it all, here I am, and if you don’t like it go fuck yourself self-exploratory narrative was important to the characterization. Tess is raw, in more ways than one, and we feel it in the narrative. She is bitchy and vulgar on the surface in order to cover up deep-seated feelings of inadequacy, which she obsesses over endlessly to the point of sabotaging anything good that comes into her life. She has a toxic personality disorder, and some readers might find themselves disenchanted with her about half way through the book. I had a similar issue with Love and Other Natural Disasters by Holly Shumas, as the narrator’s neurosis was similar to Tess’. Some readers might find this a bit much to warrant the exasperating number of pages devoted to Tess’ self-destructive foibles and obsessive reminiscing. A prudent cut here and there would have taken care of this issue, but I liked Tess’ honesty, so even though the narrative seemed to drag a bit here and there and her obsessing did start to wear on my nerves after a while, I still didn’t mind spending so much time with her. Even in today’s liberated society, I still see women stifling themselves on a regular basis. Tess’ neurosis was all too familiar, and so the exposition was rather refreshing.

Structurally, the story begins with a prologue and establishes the narrator’s view on God, authority, and justice in the world. I liked the crayon metaphor, and considering it was introduced so early in the piece as if it were going to be a grounding element, I was disappointed that, thematically, it wasn’t carried through the text as deliberately as I had hoped it would be for such a powerful personality statement. We get dribs and drabs but not enough to fully flesh out that side of Tess’ personality, the true artistic and visionary side, which might have been the juxtaposition the story needed to offset her persecution complex.

For the story arc, we have Tess, our narrator and recently divorced thirty-something who is struggling with the demise of her marriage -- among other issues. She decides at the start of the story to try to escape herself by making a new start in a new town -- a new town where nobody knows her or knows about her past indiscretions. Then there is Jason, her ex, who left her because she had adamantly made it known throughout their marriage that she didn’t want to have children. Of course, we find out later that that wasn’t really the reason for his divorcing her. The real reason becomes obvious the more time you spend with Tess. Then we have Tess’ Brother David and her sister-in-law Kim. They are expecting their first child, which will predictably force Tess to reassess her position on the matter. Tess’ parents are typical archetypes: the mother is a cruel cold-hearted fault-finding selfish vindictive shrew, and since I have some extensive experience with that sort of nurturing, I could relate, and the father is basically the all around nice guy doormat who is too tired to fight anymore. There is a litany of other minor characters and sub-plots all of which refract the underlying themes of the story very well.

In the first third of the narrative, Tess moves to a new town and almost immediately takes up with Brian -- the younger man who lives downstairs from her -- in an effort to use sex to drown out the pain she feels over her failed marriage and her perceived failed life, even if she can't admit that that is what she is doing. The remainder of the book deals with Tess and Brian’s relationship, his failed relationship with his alcoholic father, and his relationship with his drug-addicted troubled younger sister. Tess’ inner conflict is reflected back into the narrative as she explores her own inter-personal relationships with the people who surround her in the story. As we all do in life, when we cannot confront our own shadow, we use the lives of others to sort out our own existential dilemmas and our own personal philosophies. It’s Tess’ idiosyncratic perception of the world around her that deepens her feelings of persecution and thus drives the story. Had the narrative been written any other way other than from her point of view, I think the intensity would have been lost, as the immediate storyline is offset with random flashbacks, and the intervals are pretty frequent. This is how the backstory of Tess’ entire life is revealed for the most part -- indulgent yes, but for Tess, it works.

As far as the technical stuff goes: I noticed a few fiddly punctuation issues: In this font the em-dashes seemed the same size as hyphens and not proper em-dashes, so reading those sentences made the eyes go a mite bit buggy because the sentences seemed confusing at first glance. There were some minor interior formatting issues, specifically the chapter start drop caps, which were not proper drops, and so it created an uneven amount of line spacing from the first line to the second. There was a typo or two -- my own personal nemesis -- and a missed word or two. But the issue that most concerned me and one that really affected the read "for me" was the extensive use of italics to indicate internal monolog, specifically the conflict monolog. The constant italicized interjection became jarring after a while. The true nature of a first-person narrative is that it is a reflective narrative, so italicized internal monolog is really unnecessary, especially in a narrative such as this where the narrator is already exposed to a great degree. In this case, I would have advised the author to leave it all unitalicized and to find another way to work in the internal conflict and integrate the thoughts. One could distinguish by the diction the internal “conflict” monolog from the regular First-person monolog without the telltale slanty words. This would have made the text block look better as well, and this would have restricted the italics to emphasis alone versus the use of Capitalized words, which again, to me, felt too in your face in an already in your face narrative. The italicized conflict monolog also created some paragraphing issues, where continuity was lost because the paragraph was split mid-thought to separate the internal conflict monologue from the main narrative. This separation is unnecessary and eliminating or integrating the italicized thoughts would have eliminated the excess chop -- chop that did affect the read for me and did reduce the review score somewhat. I understood what the author was trying to do in showing how disjointed Tess' mental state was during the narrative, but I thought the author's writting style did that quite effectively without the italics.

Aside from that, there was a certain ugliness to the story and the writing that came off almost poetic. The characters behave quite naturally in their world. There is a twisted very human logic to the situational conflict, and the backstory was integrated nicely: The balance between scene and summary was almost flawless, and although it might have seemed like everything set Tess off into flashback mode so she could revel in her own personal drama, it only reaffirmed her obsessive personality to me. The sex scenes were fluid in their emotive content -- innocent, yet deceptively insecure -- and they weren’t graphic or porn-speak laden -- thank goodness. Here the sex scenes are used very deftly to draw out the pathos of our main character as all good sex scenes in literary works are designed to do. Good show!

There are some really touching moments in the story -- very pure uninhibited emotion -- and there are some relationship moments where every reader will roll over in hysterical laughter at the idiocy of it all. Brian has his share of emotional wounds too: his out-of-control younger sister Rachel whom he plays the father figure to, a loser of a father, and the bevy of young babes he bedded during a male angst crisis seem to haunt him throughout the narrative. So the mismatched coupling of Tess and Brian works to the advantage of the story in a misery-loves-company/watching-the-train-wreck kind of way. What reader doesn’t love a good train wreck? This is the kind of story one might see on an episode of Intervention. So if you like deluded self-destructive characters, love desperation -- desperation makes people think about and do crazy things -- and love a narrator whose personality has been soaked in vinegar, then this book is for you. Even still, Tess has a good heart, and she has her vulnerable moments as much as she is wont to believe the mask she wears is on straight all the time:

Later that night I lit a dozen tiny candles all over my room
and we made love in my bed; slow and hot and beautiful. The
room was filled with shadows. They flickered everywhere; on the
ceiling, on the walls, on Brian’s face as it hovered gently over
mine. My heart was open wide, filled and overflowing with a
thousand fragile emotions I couldn’t even put names to. I stared
into his eyes, eyes that were glowing with dark orange light,
glowing with love and heat and the reflected flames of the candles,
and I was too overwhelmed for words or moans or sounds of any
kind. I just gazed at him, at those eyes, his hot breath on my face,
as he reached inside me and touched my soul.

In the end Tess’ prevails even through all the tragedy. I won’t be including plot spoilers here, but there was a moment where Tess finally stands up to her mother, and I could not help but cheer her on. Later she shares a moment with Brian’s sister Rachel that was absolutely excruciating to read, and the end of the book is a bit tense before the happily-ever-after wrap up. Let’s just say that fate and choice make for a bad coupling in this story. Action, reaction, and consequence, that’s what the story is about here … and God has little to do with it. So, if you like a real story, from a real woman’s point of view, about real life, and real relationships, and real womanly angst with all its unbearable messiness, then put the bleach away and sit down with this book. Despite the ugliness on the surface, it’s got real womanly grit, and I like that. It’s a story about survival, about surviving the perception we have been force-fed about ourselves and others. We all know that that sort of survival is rarely pretty, but it’s inspiring nonetheless.


This book was reviewed from a PDF provided by the author.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thoughts on a Writer's Life -- c.anne.gardner

To the question: How do the authors of sketches, stories, and novels get along in life, the following answer must be given: They are stragglers and they are down at heel. —Robert Walser

I am just too exhausted to rant this week. In the last three weeks, I read three books well over 400+ pages each and with that came four lengthy reviews. I did the final proof of my own novella Antiquity, not to mention the writing of my regular weekly columns, so my thoughts will be brief and focus more on the writer’s life and my own personal take on it.

Many quotes, such as the one above, allude to the eccentricity of many writers. My favourite such quote is from Brendan Behan who claimed he was a drinker with a writing problem. I can sympathize, as I too have a writing problem. I also agree with Walser in that I find that all artists tend to be a bit down at heel and are stragglers by preference not by their very nature. Now, I would not choose to define stragglers or down at heel as destitute or less evolved as common usage would dictate, I would choose to accept those terms more as metaphor for being world-worn and prone to wandering from the socially accepted path. I think writers, as well as most artists in general, tend to prefer the periphery. Artists are observers, less apt to “fit in” if you will, and so artists tend to be a motley group with a fair amount of personality ticks. Least I am sane enough to admit it. I suppose that’s why you see a lot of drinking and drug addiction in the art world. Living on periphery with such an acute sense of being can be a bit torturous at times in its isolation. I suppose that's why a lot of artists seem reclusive to the casual eye. Living figuratively in a literal world has its challenges.

For me, like most self-published writers in today’s age of technology, the “life” has become even more complicated and exhausting. Many writers, like myself, have full time day jobs or careers, and many also offer up their services on blogs and other social media outlets. Throw in spouses and family and what you get is a conflicted person with a serious personality disorder. Some days I feel like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ... and Mr. Hyde gets a mite bit pissed off when he is relegated to the wee hours, forced to put his pen to paper in the darkness. I am sure my husband, even though he would never admit it, thinks I resemble Mr. Hyde in attitude and appearance when I am in the throes: dishevelled, t-shirt and old boxers, pacing the floor, hair a snarled mess, with a cocktail in one hand and a smoke in the other, stinking to high heaven because I haven’t bathed in two days. When I start talking to myself and acting out scenes, he would probably feel the need to leave the house, if I subjected him to it, that is. It would be just as well, for when I am in serious story mode, I am deaf to the world at large, anyway: The world I live in at that moment is the world I created, and all those voices in my head make for an unpleasant din. I cannot tolerate the real world's intrusion, can't stand anyone in the house even. So, when my imaginary world and the real work collide, it isn’t pretty. Couple that with a few weeks of sleepless nights with post-it notes in the thousands sticking to sweat-soaked bed sheets, and you’ve wandered into straight-jacket territory -- I am the madman drooling in the corner. But don’t worry, I rarely bite. I might flash my bare ass and flip you off, but I mean well. If you humour me, I’ll offer you some bugs to eat.

Now I am not that manic all the time, but when the need to write comes on, it's all-consuming, and I have been fortunate over the years in that I have been able to connect with a few artists who share my dementia. Thanks to technology, the isolation doesn't feel so overwhelming anymore. Not like in the case of my idol de Sade. I think Geoffrey Rush's portrayal of the persecuted writer in the movie Quills was probably not far from the truth, as the letters, penned in his own hand, expose the conflicted artist at his most vulnerable. His need to write, his need to shed light upon the hypocrisy of the world he lived in, was obviously worth his soul. I think that need applies to all serious writers. Our need to express truth as we see it is worth the suffering it takes to get it on the page.

The art this week is the double exposed portrait of Richard Mansfield playing the illustrious dual role of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde circa 1887.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Harlequin Horizons

Harlequin and Author Solutions have combined to provide a Harlequin-branded but Authorhouse-priced and styled self-publishing portal for women's fiction called Harlequin Horizons.

Edited to add: as a result Harlequin Enterpirses (all imprints) has lost RWA (Romance Writers of America) recognition as anon-subsidy/non-vanity press.

See also:
Who Gets to Wear the Big H?

Review: The Guilt Gene

Title: The Guilt Gene--Poems
Author: Diana M. Raab
Genre: Poetry
Price: $ 10.76
Publisher: Plain View Press
ISBN: 9781935514398
Pages: 92
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed By: veinglory

Raab's poetry is grounded in mundane objects and specific events. Themes of childhood and motherhood are intermixed with poems about particular events such as mastectomy, traffic tickets and book signings.

The direct phrasing and anecdotal sources sometimes sinks into ambiguity such the poems opening with the line: "Days after we met at your father's nursery" or "Only a year after father found / the parakeet she wanted instead of a child".

The collection as a whole is quietly engrossing and I read it twice, with some pleasure. However I doubt it is a book I will return to often (if at all); in contrast to my well-thumbed copy of The Cavalier Poets or WS Merwin's The Vixen.

While it reaches for somewhat wider themes, The Guilt Gene is fundamentally a work of memoir. Thus, her poems are an interesting window into Raab's world, but do not penetrate deeply into mine.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Friday, November 13, 2009

What Does A POD Peep Read: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

I’ve never met Cherie Priest, but if her blog is anything to go by, she would be as entertaining in person as her books are. Since I just finished reading what might be her breakthrough novel, Boneshaker, let me say that she would be very entertaining indeed.

Cherie, who hangs out with the science fiction folks, produced a trio of southern-fried Gothic novels (Four and Twenty Blackbirds and two sequels) a few years ago. With her latest book, Boneshaker, she moves squarely into science fiction, writing a “steampunk with zombies!” novel. It’s set in her adopted hometown of Seattle circa 1880.

But her “circa” is much different than ours. The Civil War is still raging back east, and Seattle is a territory. Gold was discovered in what is still Russian Alaska at the start of the Civil War, and one Leviticus Blue was given a contract by the Russians to build a gold-digging machine he called “Boneshaker.” During an unscheduled (or at least unannounced) test, the Boneshaker rips up a chunk of downtown Seattle, including a surprisingly high percentage of the town’s bank basements.

The Boneshaker also causes the release of a toxic gas that kills most and turns the rest into zombies. Seattle is hastily evacuated and walled off. A young boy of fifteen, Zeke Wilkes, born just after the evacuation, decides to sneak back into the walled-off zombie area of town, on a mission that’s only clear if you’re fifteen. His mother, Briar Wilkes, decides to go in after him, and, trading on her father’s name, enlists a local zeppelin captain to get her in and out.

To say the novel moves along briskly is an understatement; “rocket-propelled” is more accurate. But this isn’t just a roller-coaster ride. Briar and Zeke are well-developed characters, as are the supporting players. Although Briar and Zeke are very resourceful, a good quality to have if you’re in zombie country, neither are they invincible. The world-building is first-rate, and the images created the author are memorable. Although the book is not intended for a young adult audience, it would be enjoyable to the teenager on your Christmas list.

Bottom line – Cherie Priest hit this one out of the ball park.

Booksurge becomes Createspace

I saw this coming a long time ago simply because having two brands to manage is just a pain in the fiscal ass, not to mention Booksurge had a history and Createspace, platform wise, is just so much better in my opinion. I have been extremely happy with my transition from Lulu to Createspace, so a drop in book cost is good for me. As a matter of fact, I am awaiting my proof copy of Antiquity as we speak.

From the Booksurge Website:

Company Announcement: BookSurge is Becoming CreateSpace

We have some exciting news to share - BookSurge is becoming CreateSpace. BookSurge and CreateSpace have historically operated as two distinct brands of one company – On Demand Publishing LLC, a subsidiary of, Inc. - and are now uniting under the CreateSpace platform to offer you an expanded catalog of publishing tools and services. You will still be working with the same team and receive the same high level of service to which you’ve been accustomed with BookSurge. During the coming months, we will be transitioning all BookSurge accounts over to CreateSpace and retiring the BookSurge brand. In addition, BookSurge’s publishing services are now available on the CreateSpace platform, enabling BookSurge and CreateSpace members to benefit from the same knowledgeable staff that has supported BookSurge members for years.

How do BookSurge authors benefit from this transition?

In addition to the same personal customer care, professional publishing services, and top-notch print quality authors currently receive at BookSurge, they will also receive these new benefits and options through CreateSpace:

  • Get more flexibility in setting royalties and list prices
  • Publish new books without setup fees using the "do-it-yourself" option for print-ready PDF files or continue to take advantage of the professional fee-based publishing services you're accustomed to using with BookSurge
  • Receive better wholesale book prices on most book orders
  • Gather feedback on your work with the free Preview tool
  • Create eye-catching book covers online using the free Cover Creator
  • Network with thousands of other authors and industry professionals in the free online CreateSpace Community
  • Publish video and audio in multiple formats: DVDs, CDs, video downloads, and MP3s

How do BookSurge publishers benefit from this transition?

Through the CreateSpace platform, publishers are enjoying enhanced features, services and functionality:
  • Stay up to speed on your titles' performance with enhanced reporting functionality that allows you to schedule daily, weekly or monthly royalty reports
  • Order copies of your titles and easily track the progress of your orders
  • Manage your entire content portfolio through one easy-to-use web interface
  • Access the Preview Gallery where you can share content and gather feedback directly from other CreateSpace members
  • Receive real-time alerts and updates on your account and orders through your personal Message Center
  • Create eye-catching book covers online using the free Cover Creator
What Happens Next?

During the coming months, all BookSurge accounts will be transitioned to the CreateSpace platform. To make the transition as smooth as possible, we will automatically transfer all book files and account history to CreateSpace. At that time, BookSurge members will receive instructions for accessing their new CreateSpace accounts via e-mail, and our staff will be available by phone and email to answer questions during the transition period.

Our members are our highest priority, and we believe uniting BookSurge and CreateSpace on the CreateSpace platform will provide them the best possible publishing experience. We look forward to continuing our support of our authors’ and publishers’ book publishing endeavors.

To find out more about CreateSpace’s publishing and print on-demand solutions, please visit

BookSurge authors – please visit the For Authors tab for more information on what this means for you.BookSurge publishers- please visit the For Publishers tab for more information on what this means for you.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thoughts on the Craft -- c.anne.gardner

This weeks column will be a blending of my What Does a Pod Peep read review column and my Thoughts on the Craft column because I wanted to talk about Structure and Technique using some broad strokes while discussing at length Andrew Davidson's first novel and NYT Bestseller: The Gargoyle.

At the start of this book, we have the very mainstream shock and awe first chapter where our unnamed rather loathsome protagonist finds himself at the mercy of a flaming car wreck. His own car in this case, as he was drunk and coked up when he saw the imaginary flaming arrows shoot out from the roadside brush, startling him, and subsequently sending his car crashing down into a ravine. The explosion left our main character with 3rd and 4th degree burns over 90% of his body, including his dick, which was burned off down to a nub. From that point on, the narrative shifts to our protags trials and tribulations in the burn unit of the hospital. We get to experience his treatment with gruesome and disturbing detail, as the author took a substantial amount of time researching this aspect of the story. During our protagonist’s hospital stay, he is approached by a psychiatric patient named Marianne Engle who proceeds to chastise him for burning himself again. She believes that they were lovers in a past life in 14th century Germany.

Now, at this point, I want to make mention that this book seems to have divided readers into the love it or hate it categories, so I want to discuss the “issues” people seem to have with the narrative, and how I personally felt about it, as it is a long book, so you are with it for a while. First off, we have our unnamed protagonist and first person narrator. You just won’t have very much sympathy for him. He isn’t a pleasant person at all -- arrogant, egotistical -- so he is the perfect mainstream fiction trope. Many had difficulty with the fact that the character itself was an archetype: the nerdy book-worm kid who finds himself being raised by meth-addict relatives, later in life only to discover that he is rather gifted sexually, handsome in his own opinion, and so he becomes a porn star, forsaking love and faith for the pleasures of the flesh. Yup, I can see the cliché and a lot of readers took offence to that. Then we have Marianne Engle, the psychotic artist who sculpts grotesques in her basement and thinks she was a nun back in 14th Century Germany and the first to translate Dante’s Inferno (The Divine Comedy) into German. She also thinks that our protagonist was the wounded mercenary whom she fell in love with and saved by forsaking her own vows to God. Again, contradictions aside, many people took offence to the cliché Marianne Engle: angel wings tattooed to her back, not to mention, she conveniently shows up to save him. But we can't call shenanigans here, cause that's fate. However, we can mention the crazy artist archetype, even if I might not personally take issue with it. I have known a lot of crazy artists, and I am one myself at times. The real issue for readers seems to be that both of the main characters here have very few redeeming qualities. Their personalities are coarse, and their world-view is jaded, and many readers just couldn’t connect with either one of them. Me, I like pissed off and fucked up characters who take their cynicism seriously. Those are the sort of characters I like to hang out with, in life and in fiction.

Secondly, the narrative itself was a bit disconcerting for some readers, and the convenient pseudo-autobiographical meta-fiction just pissed some people off. They found it a trite way to excuse the narrative foibles. The justification does make itself know in an intrusive way, but I just felt Meh about it. As for the rest, the book uses a good deal of narrative summary, and so there is very little “in the now” action, and the POV shifts between our first person unnamed narrator to Marianne’s first-person account of their past life together told almost exclusively in a second person narrative voice. Since our primary narrator has only to lie in bed and contemplate suicide, the majority of the book is Marianne sitting at his bedside telling him stories. Stories that our protagonist, in the beginning, has trouble believing, but that disbelief begins to fail him as the story moves along. Personally, I happened to like the storytelling and the very elaborate narrative summary. It felt as if the main character and Marianne were moving in and out of an alternate consciousness, though some of it was a bit long winded and indulgent. But my favourite part of the story happened in the end when Marianne attempts to free our protagonist of his cold heart and the morphine. Here is where Dante’s Inferno (The Divine Comedy) comes back into storyline as our protag, during his morphine withdrawal, travels through an inferno all of his own, coming out at the end with love in his heart and a new world view. Some readers also found that a bit cliché.

Half the time period of the story, our protagonist is in the hospital and the other half he is living with Marianne, bearing witness to her self-destructive artistic mania. She has a very typical story as well, in this life, and in the end she sacrifices herself to save him, just as he had done to save her in his prior life. Many readers found Marianne to be bland, almost motherly in her attitude towards her lover, but she did say in the beginning that she was tired and wanted to rest from life, any life for a while, so her tiredness did come through in her voice and actions to some extent. If giving away all her hearts could give her death, and in death, give her salvation and the embrace of God, who she forsook, well then, her dispassionate matter-of-factness or rather her detachment seemed justified.

I did like the underlying thematic principle even though it’s as tried and true as it gets: Marianne releases the beasts from their stone cages, and conversely, in our protagonist’s case, she needed to chisel the good man out of the grotesque thing he had become, as the fiery wreck had brought his ugliness to the surface so that he would have to confront it. I also like the redemption through love concept. I write about that often myself. I like when the shit character finds his inner goodness. I loved the sculptor and her grotesques metaphor, and I loved the self-inflicted purgatory moral of the story, but some readers felt the intensity was lacking between the two lovers. In reality, they weren’t lovers in this life, so the uncomfortable distance that always seemed to be between them felt appropriate to me. The distance was cautionary. Had they been swooning over each other the whole time, I wouldn’t have bought into the idea.

On to the technical stuff: some readers took issue with the extensiveness of the research and the regurgitation of said research into the narrative. Overwritten and heavy handed are words you might see in many reviews, but I didn’t mind it at all and thought the depth made the whole situation more believable. In some areas, a good pointed cutting would have been wise to eliminate some repetition, but other than that, I didn’t mind the thick prose. I also didn’t mind the rather bland ending either because it was pretty realistic. People, if they change at all, change slowly. There are no grand life epiphanies, no eternal love, no happy ever after, the story ends just like life does in most cases, predictably and with tragedy.

On the whole, I don’t normally read Bestsellers: I just don’t buy into all the hype, but this was recommended to me by a friend, and I liked the premise he described. I loved the shifting narrative, I loved the lush prose, I liked the detail -- except for the endless lists of food items and other such nonsense -- I loved the unsympathetic main characters. I loved the romantic vignettes, I loved the ambiguity -- was Marianne a nutcase or was her lovelorn tale real -- and I loved that the story ended badly in that the love would remain unrequited. What I didn’t like was the constant interjection by the “bitch snake” in the weird and abrupt font. I got it that his “id” was trying to keep control of him, but it was a bit much. This book also crossed a lot of different genres. If I had to classify it for readers, the bulk of the book is backstory, and it has the look and feel of a historical romance with a spiritual love at its centre more so than a physical one. We are dealing with love as faith here and not love as fleshly passion, so don't expect that kind of passion. The plot is an existential and philosophical one; therefore, the pace is that of a meandering walk through time and not what one might consider a page-turner. Sometimes I like it slow, especially if I am expected to appreciate something ugly.

I didn't hate it, but I certainly didn't think it was the most fabulous love story ever written. The nerd turns porn-star bit really didn't sit well with me; however, Mr. Davidson's adventuresome technique had me applauding more than once. I like an author who waxes unconventional, and I love an editor who agrees to go along for the ride. I thought it was a fine first novel.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Review -- Carol's Aquarium

Title: Carol’s Aquarium
Author: Kristen Tsetsi
Genre: Fiction/Literature/Short Story
Price: $ 1.50 ebook only
Publisher: Penxhere Press
Pages: 100
Point of Sale: Kindle, Scribd, Smashwords
Reviewed By: Cheryl Anne Gardner

Minimalist at its finest: so vague, so dark, and so mortally wounding, some of the stories warranted a second read so that I could fully appreciate just how deeply the psychology of obsession hit the page in so few words. That's what this book is all about after all: pain, suffering, and obsession -- the decay and collapse of the human psyche. But I'll get more into that later.

Now I love deviant and damaged characters, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the level of neurosis I found in this collection of stories, or rather, explorations in obsessive emotion. Obsessive to the point of being pathological. The level of self-indulgent angst is disturbing in itself, and the spare writing style leaves much for the reader to interpret on their own, which makes for a very uncomfortable and eerie experience. So brava!

Most of the stories in this collection are written in the dramatic style, and since the themes are very macabre in nature, the brevity actually suits the stories. Subtly is required here so that the reader doesn’t feel bludgeoned by the suffering. And there is a lot of suffering. These characters cling to their pain in frightening self-destructive ways, and they practice avoidance as if their lives depend on it. Stunning! Even the justifications are so perfectly extraordinary in their ordinariness that any adult reader will be able to relate on some level with each of the characters and their particular situation. These are real people, people who have become victims of their own life experience.

There isn’t a bad story in the bunch, well, they aren’t stories in the conventional sense of the word, so there aren’t really any plot lines, but my favourite, even after reading the entire book twice still has to be the first one: Eating Eternity, where the main character is so deeply obsessed with her own eventual non-existence that she takes to eating dust, carpet fibers, and her own husband’s fingernails. There are quite a few stories in the collection having to do with a woman’s anxiety as she awaits the return of a man at war. I believe Ms. Tsetsi has some experience with that, and so it didn’t surprise me that it would be one the major themes explored in the work, but pinning for the soldier lover is only one of many of the existential themes represented here: We also explore the issues of mortality, depression, desperate delusional love, jealousy, insecurity, envy, guilt ... actually I think all the 7 deadliest are represented here in one allegory or another. One might even go so far as to liken this collection to Dante’s Inferno, each character is in a purgatory of sorts, placed there by the conviction of their own will alone. For example, in the story Suburban Warfare, our main character has lost her husband to the war effort. She patiently awaits a call, a letter, never knowing if her beloved is still alive or whether or not she will see him again. The anxiety she feels turns into an obsessive almost malicious disdain for the ordinary world, a world she no longer feels a part of, and I quote:

The dog gnawed the crumble-bones sideways, molars grinding round edges, and at dusk when she went indoors and stood behind her window to watch her neighbors—actors in a sun-flushed, cotton-soft all-American movie—play in their yards and have tiki-torch barbecues and smoke on stained porches, she would see the dog waiting at the fence.

Yes, that story ends in a very cold, calculated, and troubling manner, but Ms. Tsetsi keeps the emotion well restrained in these stories, everything is very deliberately masked with order and calm resolve, the author preferring to let the shadows do all the wailing. Let me tell you, the wailing is deafening because these stories are dark, dark, dark. These characters have plummeted over the edge, beyond the abyss, into some serious dementia. I have to spoil a moment here so future readers can understand what I am getting at. In the above mentioned story, the main character subsequently has to rescue her dropped phone from that stray dog. In self-defence when it attacks her, she has to kill the dog, but that is not the disturbing part, the woman later begins to write a letter to her husband:

That night—or rather, very, very early the next morning, the cell phone left in some room or other—she would write slowly, bandaged, “I have blood on my hands. Do you? I know what it’s like, now. Fear and fighting. To hear that last breath. A half-breath, more like, and a little anticlimactic, if you ask me.”

This is the sort of narrative voice I like in short fiction. The themes are very pointed, and the writing is confident enough to deliver the emotional payload like a blow to the chest with a knife-blade. I tend to like richer and fuller prose. I am Gothic girl, what can I say, but I think that these stories, even if they are written in a modern minimalist style, still encompass the framework that made the Late Victorian Gothic revival so wonderful. That framework being an unabashed appreciation of extreme emotion, an awestruck love of the sublime, the inherent desire to thrill by instilling fearfulness in the reader, and the pursuit of atmosphere in the ordinary. In this case, the Gothic would represent the decay and collapse of the psyche as I mentioned above, which is deftly dealt with in this collection.

I reviewed this from a Scribd PDF copy. It’s not formatted for a traditional print publication, so I have no comment on print quality or layout, and I only found a few very slight editorial issues. My only nitpick with the cover is that the font and picture of a rolling ocean don't really reflect the extreme emotion one will find in the book -- the font especially. Aside from that, I look forward to reading more from this author, and I encourage everyone who enjoys the art of short fiction and Gothic themes to download and read this book. There is true talent here, talent fully fleshed out in these haunting vignettes. These are real people in real pain, self-inflicted or otherwise, and they hit the page with a subtle vengeance.


Monday, November 09, 2009

Announcement from the LL Book Review -- Shannon Yarbrough

Greetings all!
Good news for self-published authors seeking book reviews.

Back in March 2008, the Lulu book review appeared on the scene as the exclusive place for Lulu authors to get their books reviewed. At that time, the Lulu book review was a one-man show, hosted by Shannon Yarbrough author of Stealing Wishes. In 2009, the Lulu book review updated its look, its name -- now the LL Book Review -- and expanded its review range by accepting books from Wordclay and CreateSpace authors. A few months later, they added Outskirts Press to the mix. Mr. Yarbrough states: "We briefly contemplated adding Lightning Source this month because lately, our queries for reviews have been light. However, the other two reviewers and I have decided to throw down our guns and jump into the review field with fists flying!"

So, as of today, The LL Book Review will now accept books from all POD/Self-Publishing companies. "That's right!" Mr. Yarbrough says. "We're throwing our publisher short list out the window and will now accept queries from all self-published authors across the board!"

We here at the podpeople like that idea very much, and wish The LL Book Review team much success.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Lulu opens ebook sales

Only a few weeks ago, Lulu got their search system working again. It took them only... well, about four months to repair a system that would not find a book even when you typed in the correct title or author's name. But, well, credit where credit is due--you can now do this successfully (key word or genre searching remains somewhat hit and miss).

But now I wonder for whom this repair was made? Recently Lulu searches started bringing up all kinds of mainstream books. This was not, of course, explained on the website or in the Lulu forums--but an online Press Release dated yesterday explains:

"Lulu ... today announced a vastly expanded selection of eBooks, adding 200,000 titles from authors such as Dan Brown, Malcolm Gladwell and Emeril Lagasse to a catalog of content already among the Internet's most diverse ... "It's time for a new era in publishing, one that treats all content equally and gives all authors an equal shot at success," said Harish Abbott, Senior Vice President of Products at Lulu. "We've built an open content marketplace that lets everyone get their ideas to all readers in all forms, print and electronic. And we mean everyone."

I guess it is a bright day for Dan Brown. I wonder how else he would ever manage to sell his books?

On one level I think more books, means more customers, which means more sales. One the other hand Lulu is never going to compete with Amazon, B&N and Powells. So it seems more likely to me that they are maximising their own profits and their authors can either accept a smaller slice of the pie or go to hell.

p.s. if you go there to buy my books, that of course is fine. [/hypocrisy]

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

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

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

One hot spring evening two men sit on a bench at Patriarchs Ponds: Berlioz, editor of a literary magazine and Ivan Nikolayevich, a poet. The editor is lecturing his poet friend on the err of his ways in portraying the fictional Jesus in his recent poetic endeavour as a man, albeit a flawed man, but nonetheless a man who did in fact exist in the most mortal sense of the word. During their heated conversation, a tall foreign stranger, who goes by the name Woland and professes to be a professor and an expert in black magic, approaches them as he is very interested in their debate on the existence of Jesus and claims to have been on the balcony the day Pontius Pilate condemned the prophet to death. After a lengthy discussion, Woland prophesizes Berlioz’ eminent demise, and then all hell breaks loose.

I have wanted to read this book for many years, and it just kept slipping out of my head until a few months ago when I stumbled upon it while browsing at a small Indie book store. I am a huge fan of Russian Literature, so I am a little embarrassed to admit that I kept forgetting about it all these years, but there was no time like the present to read it. Banned Book week was upon us, and Bulgakov’s masterwork was banned in Russia and not released in English until the 1960’s in a censored version. We don’t have to worry about this anymore and can now read one of many wonderful translations. I do suggest that if you are hunting down a copy, make sure you get a decent translation. The one I purchased, pictured above, had a lengthy commentary section that goes over some of the finer points of Russian Politics during the 1930’s, and so it made the read more enjoyable.

The story is a complex allegory: part social satire, part contemporary historical, part romance, part farce, part political irony, part theological pontification, yes, this book, written in the theatrical style of a playwright, is magical realism at its finest. The book moves back and forth between three converging storylines: Woland, or rather Satan, and his retinue’s descent upon the unsuspecting citizens of Moscow; the heartbreaking unconventional love story between the Master and Margarita; and The Master’s own novel, which explores Pontius Pilate’s great guilt. However, Woland is not your conventional Satan, often appearing very sympathetic and thoughtful; Yeshua is not the Jesus we are accustomed to; and Pilate manages to redeem himself. I won’t say how, because that will ruin it. Now Woland doesn’t come to Moscow to reek havoc, nor does he come to whisper in the collective Muscovite ear in order to bring out the worst in people, he merely allows Moscow’s disingenuous to come face to face with their own hypocrisy. Where Yeshua teaches, Woland provokes, but in the end, their goal is the same, and that’s the religious rub of the story: the two are equal and share the same hope for humanity in the end. There is a lot of allusion to the New Testament as well as folklore representations of Pilate and other Biblical characters as Heresy in all its many forms is the main theme running throughout all three plotlines. Each Moscow miscreant, much like in Dante’s Inferno, receives the punishment fitting for their crime. Even The Master’s punishment fits his crime. In this Faustian part of the tale, the Master is condemned to an insane asylum because of his cowardice. Cowardice, Yeshua says, is the greatest of all sins. The Master, having received negative commentary in a review of his unpublished novel, broke under the weight of the criticism and lost faith, in himself and his work, and only through Margarita’s sacrifice, would he finish the novel and achieve peace, which Yeshua, as requested by Woland, grants him in the end: Peace not Light, or rather not salvation.

This story explores a lot of odd and awkward existential angles and does it with finesse and a black humour blacker than the fur on the pickle-eating, vodka-drinking, gun-toting Behemoth, Satan’s Black Cat. The story has a full on narrator who interjects with a vengeance, and the narrative style is operatic and slapstick all at the same time. Besides the main characters: Woland, The Master, and Margarita, there is a litany of other minor characters within the main narrative and also within the Master’s inner novel, and all the characters reflect nicely the main themes of the story: Good and Evil, Heresy, Cowardice, Faith, Death, Freedom, Guilt, and Sacrifice or devotional love among others. And so the characters are deliberately grotesque and superficial, ordinary and archetypal. Satan’s retinue is particularly diverse: the grotesquely dressed valet Koroviev (Fagotto); a fast-talking black cat who walks on his hind legs and is big as a hog, Behemoth; the fanged little wall-eyed hitman Azazello; the demon Abaddon; and the naked red-headed witch Hella. There is a lot of anti-religious propaganda of the day weaved into the narrative, and so there is a lot of parody: Margarita’s stations of the cross as she welcomes the guests at Satan’s spring ball, and The Massolit writers’ last supper of a sort as they argue over who will go to the summer retreat being two of them. To write a proper review of this book is an exercise in futility because there is just so much going on thematically, philosophically, and theologically, it would take extensive study of the text and essays of great length to capture all its nuances. But you don’t have to do all that to just plain old enjoy the story. It’s heartbreaking, horrific, action packed, confusing, hilarious, and if you didn’t have faith in the cosmos before you read it, you just might afterwards. You don’t even need to know much about Russian politics of the time to enjoy the satire, and the language is sublime:

Gods, my Gods! How sad the earth is at eventide! How mysterious are the mists over the swamps. Anyone who has wandered in these mists, who has suffered a great deal before death, or flown above the earth, bearing a burden beyond his strength knows this. Someone who is exhausted knows this. And without regret he forsakes the mists of the earth, its swamps and rivers, and sinks into the arms of death with a light heart ...

I highly recommend that all writers read this book: the lessons in structure, language, characterization, and theme are well beyond what one will get in a style guide. Bulgakov’s articulation of his thesis is flawless, even if the original manuscript has been butchered over the years by clumsy editors and translators.

Podpeople featured author Jim Murdoch just finished reading the book as well and has a rather lengthy review over on his site that is worth the look.

On a final note: Since I read a lot of Russian Literature, I found some striking stylistic resemblances between The Master and Margarita and modern author Sergei Lukyanenko’s Nightwatch series. Specifically in the interplay between the Watch Bosses, who reminded me of Woland and his retinue. There are similarities in theme as well.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

Monday, November 02, 2009

Free Book Friday Winner: Francine

Congratulations to Francine for winning the brand new signed copy of Brett Williams "Family Business."

We have heard from the winner. We hope you enjoy the book Francine and would love to hear your thoughts on it.

Stay tuned for this month's Free Book Friday on Black Friday, November 27th. What a way to start the holiday shopping season. There is nothing better I like to do on Black Friday than stay out of the fray and curl up with a good book by the fire. But that's just me.

Review: The Darkness Within by Joseph S. Meraz

Title: Mystic Quest: The Darkness Within
Author:Joseph S. Meraz
Genre: fantasy
Price: $12.99
Publisher: Tate
ISBN: 9781606964170
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: veinglory

I wanted to like this book, but alas I comprehensively failed--so I will keep this mercifully brief. The Darkness Within is technically clean and well presented. However it has all the depth and pathos of a cut price fantasy war game. None of the characters, events or the entire world seem real. The names of people and places are jerked brutally from their historical context and feudal characters use language like "significant other" to refer to a girlfriend.

Characters referred to monotonously by some sobriquets like "the fair maiden" or "the warrior" move across a simplistic game board and engage in battles devoid of any kind of inconvenient topography or confusion, in which everyone can see exactly what is happening and only the actions of a half dozen people seem to be significant. Overall the book seems to be the work of a very undeveloped talent and, as such, at best a learning opportunity for the author. And given that the publisher is Tate (charging $4000 and up) it seems that it was an expensive lesson.

Rating: 2/10

Sunday, November 01, 2009