Friday, January 29, 2010
Title: Armistice Day
Author: David Drazul
Genre: science fiction
Point of Sale: Amazon / Lulu
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib
David Drazul’s first novel, Armistice Day, is an unusual take on the old alien invasion trope. Set approximately 30 years in the future, the United States has been struck by fragments from a comet and hit by a nuclear warhead. Aaron Osborne is a grunt, fighting in Saudi Arabia, when the aliens arrive. The aliens quickly announce that they are staging an intervention for our own good, and inducting humanity into their Empire. Humanity’s desires as to the matter are not considered.
Now, right about there your typical aliens invade story launches into the battle between humans and aliens. Drazul takes a different path. The struggle between humanity and aliens, at least from the point of the United States, is brief and apparently fairly bloodless. Or at least bloodless enough that, 15 months later, Aaron is working for the aliens as head of a private security firm. Aaron’s firm gets contracted to assist with the security for an Armistice Day treaty signing, scheduled to take place in Shea Stadium in the ruined New York City.
To say things get interesting from there is an understatement. I should also add that Drazul’s aliens are not the monolithic race of TV fiction nor are they the “Walton Family in Space” of Star Trek. There has clearly been some thought put into both alien society and human development.
Armistice Day is a fast-paced action adventure, but one with solid character development. I’ve discussed in previous reviews the need to establish a sense of place – the idea that, wherever the novel is set, it’s a real place and not a movie soundstage. All but the first chapter of Armistice Day takes place in New York City, and Drazul’s native eye paints a very believable picture of a ruined and abandoned place.
Although I found Armistice Day extremely enjoyable, there are a couple of nits I need to pick. In general, Drazul does a great job of handling exposition seamlessly, always an issue in science fiction. However, towards the end his villain does a James-Bond-style speech about why he’s doing what he’s doing. Without some support, such as making the villain a known gasbag, it felt a little flat. Lastly, there were a few minor format errors, including some random italicization. In general, only names of ships or titles of books, movies or TV shows should be italicized.
With Armistice Day, Drazul has delivered a debut novel that anybody should be proud of, and something that’s an example of the good that can be self-publishing.
This book is this month's Free Book Friday! To win, post a comment below and we'll draw a name out of a hat. Please put an email address in your reply!
Note – I received a hard copy of the book reviewed, which will be raffled off.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
I received an email from an author last week wanting my take on the above quote from the Smashwords Q&A section for publishers. My thoughts on it led to a lengthy email discussion with Mark Coker, the CEO and founder of Smashwords, and in light of our agreement on the subject, I wanted to talk a little bit this week about the dark matter and what this sort of standard boilerplate language means to a writer who writes Dark Fic, like myself. What is Dark Fic you ask? Well, it’s a broad term used to define the explicit written expression of subject matter that may be objectionable to some readers, including but not limited to those mentioned above. Sometimes it is called Transgressive Fiction, which by definition is: a genre of literature that focuses on characters who feel confined by the norms and expectations of society and who break free of those confines in unusual and/or illicit ways. Because they are rebelling against the basic norms of society, protagonists of transgressional fiction may seem mentally ill, anti-social and/or nihilistic. The genre deals extensively with taboo subject matters such as drugs, sex, violence, incest, pedophilia, and crime.
The genre of "transgressive fiction" was defined by Michael Silverblatt -- literary critic and host of KCRW’s nationally syndicated radio program Bookworm -- in a 1996 essay on the subject published in the Los Angeles Times. Later, Anne H. Soukhanov, a journalist for the The Atlantic Monthly, described transgressive fiction thus: A literary genre that graphically explores such topics as incest and other aberrant sexual practices, mutilation, the sprouting of sexual organs in various places on the human body, urban violence and violence against women, drug use, and highly dysfunctional family relationships, and that is based on the premise that knowledge is to be found at the edge of experience and that the body is the site for gaining knowledge. Transgressional fiction shares similarities with splatterpunk, noir, and erotic fiction in its willingness to portray forbidden behaviors and shock readers. But it differs in that protagonists often pursue means to better themselves and their surroundings—albeit unusual and extreme ones. Much transgressional fiction deals with searches for self-identity, inner peace and/or personal freedom. Unbound by usual restrictions of taste and literary convention, its proponents claim that transgressional fiction is capable of pungent social commentary. -- Wikipedia.org
So Dark Fic or Transgressive Fic is as old as the day is long and spans multiple genres including Literary Fiction. Think *American Psycho* by Ellis, which contains graphic sexual sadism and torture; *Opus Pistorum* by Miller, which contains extended scenes of child prostitution; and *The Story of the Eye* by Bataille, which chronicles the overtly sexual fetish relationship between two teens. These are but a few among many many others, and I think my favorite would have to be *Looking for Mr. Goodbar* by Judith Rossner. Often Dark Fic is confused with Horror, but it is not limited to the Horror genre. Dark Fic often refers to stories in which the plotlines introduce death, violence, betrayal, and or loss as major thematic elements, and often sexualized violence and fringe sexual expression/exploration can come into play in order to articulate and argue the story’s thesis. Just having such scenes in your work does not automatically violate the TOS and prevent you from publishing your story. Strongly discouraged is not the same as prohibited. Anais Nin often explored pedophilia and incest in her erotica, and *The Story of O* is considered a classic piece of literature in the Lit Erotica genre.
So what violates the terms of service language and what does not? Well, that depends on the publisher. Some publishers will not print certain content regardless of context and/or intent, no matter how integral it is to the story. Fortunately, this kind of censorship doesn’t happen all that often anymore, and it tends to be genre specific. Consult your country's bi-laws if you are unsure. Horror, Thriller, and Crime drama writers have been free to explore the dark side of the human psyche without bounds for some time. Even Erotica -- the likes of Anais Nin -- takes a lingering, albeit uneasy, look at sexuality: its freedoms, its beauty, and its transgressions. Art has always been about the light, the dark, and the shadows or grey areas in between. Literary works are beset with controversial subject matter, and some writers come at it aggressively and some take a subtle approach. To each his own; every story begs a different angle and a different approach. The difference between art and obscenity is in the approach, and there certainly isn’t a clear line to delineate one from the other.
And that is why this is a difficult subject to address: the language or legalese can be vague and in reality it's all about context versus content, meaning: the context a scene is written in, specifically, the context the author intends it to be read in is the defining criteria. It’s not about the story, the scene, or the explicit nature of the words, it’s all about context and intent. For the purposes of this discussion, we can use two key points in the Smashwords terms of service to guide us: Authors shall not publish works that:
· advocate hateful, discriminatory or racist views or actions toward others
· advocate illegal activities
Exploring dark subject matter in a literary sense is not the same thing as writing deviant pornography, although, the definition of deviant is debatable, but I like throwing the term "illegal" in there, because it seems to put an extra measure of clarity on the guideline. Again we can look at Context and Intent with specific reference to Advocacy. Example: If a horror or crime thriller is about a child rapist/pedophile -- think Kevin Bacon in the Woodsman -- and certain scenes need to be written to make the story whole so that the reader has a broader view and a deeper understanding of the characters, their motivations, and the world they live in, this is acceptable and does not violate the TOS. We have to look at context; then we can say, yes, the subject matter -- child rape and pedophilia -- is illegal, but we, the author, based on our approach, are not condoning it as acceptable behaviour. Our thematic treatment of the subject matter is not advocacy. In our approach, we are clearly exploring the subject not advocating it. However, should that same book be labelled erotica, the author will need to take care here since erotica is primarily written with the specific intent to titillate. Should we, the author, write such scenes gratuitously with the deliberate intent to appeal to and titillate such a reader, then that is unacceptable because it is advocating said illegal activity. See how switching genres can make a world of difference. Should a reader feel some sort of catharsis is a much different matter. People read and watch horror films for catharsis and to reconcile their feelings about violence. But I digress ... back to the genres: Now if it be Literary fiction including Lit erotica -- yes, there is such a thing and it's primary function is to explore sexuality in an explicit/artistic fashion -- exploring the rehabilitation and the subsequent redemption of a child rapist, then again, as long as the scenes are not gratuitous and offer greater depth of understanding to the reader, understanding that will affect the way the reader relates to the character and the theme of the story, the author is not condoning it contextually or thematically so it would not violate the terms of service. As an example, the movie poster above is for the Danish film titled: *Naboer* or *Next Door* in English. It’s a psycho drama or thriller in which the main character has a certain repressed sexual proclivity, which manifests itself quite violently as the story progresses. There is only one sex scene in the entire film, but I can only liken it to *Fight Club*. It is brutally violent and subversive and yet it’s not gratuitous. Without the scene, the viewer would not understand the extreme nature of this character’s need and the level of his deteriorating self-control. The entire film would have fallen flat without it. Then we have the movie *History of Violence*, which lists in the opening that it contains a rape scene. It does in fact, even if the scene is between momentarily estranged husband and wife. As for literature, the Theme of Faulkner’s *Sanctuary* is also rape, and the book is considered his most controversial work. Hell, if I start listing literature, film, music, and art that has explicit controversial subject matter, this post would never end.
So, should you decide, as an artist, that moments of darkness are necessary and that the articulation of your theme would suffer without said “moments” then by all means do not censor yourself or your story. I have seen plenty of stories fall dead in the dishwater because the author held back. Just keep your mind on context and intent, take an artist’s approach, and be prepared to attach an adult content label to your work. Smashwords has an adult content filter; Lulu used to require that you keep your work "direct access" which supposedly made it unavailable in the marketplace; and as for Amazon, well, like most distributors, they just want the bibliographic data, specifically they want the appropriate reading age specified so they can filter it. For the exception of Antiquity, all my books are labelled 18+ and as adult content. Respect the TOS, do not mislabel your work in an effort to gain wider readership unless you can afford the legal ramifications. Now, if you’re going the traditional route and your publisher or epublisher of choice says NO to certain content, then NO means NO, and they will use terminology appropriate to get that message across. Simon & Schuster withdrew their offer to publish Ellis’ American Psycho. It was subsequently released by Vintage later and was censored and in some cases banned in a few countries. But that’s traditional publishing ... Indie publishing has a unique advantage as it innately allows unbounded freedom of expression, just be careful with your explorations ... the line is there, and any artist worth their salt knows where it is. Transgressive fiction has literary merit, and by it's very nature does not violate the rules of advocacy. No one scene can be judged out of context. However, know and respect your publishers guidelines and know the law.
I want to thank Mark Coker of Smashwords for the lively discussion we had on the subject. The term Indie is all about freedom of speech and freedom of artistic expression. So if you have a question about your work, get clarification.
Cheryl Anne Gardner
Edited to add: Dark Fic has many different meanings across many different genres of fiction-- see comments by Dusk Peterson -- and is not restricted to sexual content. Dark fic also applies to settings and the psychological state of the characters. For the purposes of this discussion, the term Dark Fic has been used in a limited fashion to specifically address the use of transgressive content and themes in literature as it applies to TOS and content guidelines.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Last week, another follower joined us, and I wanted to take a minute to welcome them because they are just a little bit different than our “normal” follower. Welcome Bloody Bridge Review.
Bloody Bridge Review is new to me and apparently new to the world. According to the site, they are an online short fiction and poetry lit e-zine.
All authors of short fiction, especially flash fiction, know how hard it is to find a venue to publish their work. I recently Facebooked an article from MotherJones.com titled The Death of Fiction where the article begs the question: Lit mags were once launching pads for great writers and big ideas. Is it time to write them off?
Personally, I don’t think so. While print magazines might be limiting their fiction sections and some are cutting them altogether, and subsidized lit journals have begun “offloading their publications” due to overburdened budgets and dwindling readership, the article states, I have seen an outpouring of Indie fiction on the web. I have seen sites with thriving readership such as The Exquisite Corpse, Café Irreal, and Our Stories. While not all of these are paying markets, they are still places that understand the value of short fiction. Short fiction is not a dying art even if the mainstream publishing engine ignores it because they can’t turn a buck. Hell, the literary novella would be a dead genre if weren’t for e-publishers, and they just prove that there are readers out there who enjoy short fiction.
So let’s welcome Bloody Bridge Review and see if we can’t get them some submissions. Their guidelines are noted here, and for one, I appreciate their honesty. I was tempted to submit to them myself, but I am not a short fic writer: my two pieces of short fic come in at 800 and 2000 words respectively, but I know many a short fic writer out there and would like to see this site do well. No, I am not personally affiliated with the site, and I don’t know the person or person(s) in charge of it, nor do I know what their particular qualifications are, though I would like to see that elaborated upon on the site.
Anyway, welcome Bloody Bridge Review. The Podpeople wish you well and hope for much success in all your endeavors. We are always ready to raise a glass for short fiction.
Cheryl Anne Gardner
Saturday, January 23, 2010
We do have some books in our to be reviewed queue. Coming up are:
Hauling Checks by Alex Stone. This novel is about the air-freight industry, specifically, the guys flying bank checks ("work") around every night.
Armistise Day by David Drazul. Aliens show up while the Earth is fighting World War III. Somehow I doubt this intervention is going to be entirely welcomed by humanity.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Now those who know me know I am a process whore. The analytical side of my brain helps me switch back and forth effortlessly between artist and editor. It also keeps me on track when I falter -- when the pages become nothing more than a smear of despair. We have all been there; I am sure. But I digress, going back to the Ken Follett quote, my thoughts on the process differ from his, but only slightly.
As for research … my books take a substantial amount of it, and I use a variety of sources. I set my stories outside of my homeland, so I need to be very careful with locations, language, and other subtle nuances. Some of my stories are very heavy on history and science, so research can take months, and I love every minute of it. Every step of the way is a new learning experience for me. For Thin Wall, I had to research immigration laws and University housing and protocol for ex-pat students. In Antiquity, I spent ages studying anthropology and archeology, a million locations, and some very technical aspects of the science. In Logos, my main character is alive for several thousand years, from 9 B.C. Germania to modern day London. I make extensive notes, not just on the settings but also on my characters and their motivations. I studied psychology and sociology heavily when I was in school, and so I tend to refer back to my mentors when working through some of my characters’ idiosyncrasies. I tend to put them on the couch if you will. I think good research makes a writer more self-aware, and as a result, their characters become more aware, more integrated into their surroundings.
When it comes to making an outline, I don’t make one in the traditional sense. My stories don’t come to me in any sort of linear format. They come in scenes: in dreams, sometimes daydreams. Most artists dream their work: who doesn’t keep a notebook by their bed … and a nightlight for better night vision? So, as those scenes come to me, I enter them into a very loose outline. Those scenes will eventually become the chapters. Once I get all the scenes to make a full outline, I move them around, as the story never comes to me “in order.” It’s easier for me to check the ebb and flow of a story when it’s in outline format. Once the outline is set and I know how the scenes will fall in the main arch of the narrative, then I start writing in situ, using the theme of each scene as the chapter head. This eventually becomes the first draft, and here I agree with Mr. Follett. The first draft always sucks and it is the hardest part, combining all those incoherent dream elements into a cohesive whole. My first draft can take months for just a mere 30k words or less. I go through several hundred drafts it seems before I can stop and let it sit for a while. This is where I made my biggest mistake early on. I didn’t let the draft sit for a few months, and so now I adamantly recommend all authors do this. Three months at minimum so you can come back to the rewrite with indifferent eyes. You need to be indifferent, detached to some extent in order to “see it” clearly. Taking a break from it is the best way to do this. My novella Sin-Eater has been decanting for a year now. I haven't even snuck a look at it once. (Don't get me started on the "snuck" versus "sneaked" debate. I think snuck sounds better, and it is becoming the standard. This coming from a language purist.)
Now when it comes to the rewrite, this is the part I live for and love with an artist’s manic passion. Satisfying is not the word I would use. Maybe the word enlightenment would do the experience justice. The rewrite is where I come to realize what the story is “really” about. Sure, I know the theme going in, but during the process, when the demented artist in me is writing the story from my subconscious, I write almost in symbolic imagery and poetry more so than plot driven scene, and often I am unaware of the symbolic story elements until I stumble over them in the rewrite. It’s then when I, as the writer, become self-aware, aware of my words in a more metaphysical sense, and because I have become acutely aware of them, I can articulate their subtle nuances better. The rewrite for me is like deciphering a Rosetta stone in a sense, and it opens my eyes to what I am really trying to say with the work.
After that I find designing the cover to be the most fun. It’s the moment when I get to distill my thesis into art as imagery. The cover is where I try to picture the dream that is the story, and in only one case – Antiquity – did I choose to use art that was not my own. All my other books utilize my own photography, and that is very satisfying. Well, on Thin Wall, I had my husband’s help, but he didn’t mind at all, obviously.
Beyond that, the interior formatting is a technicality and one I am quite adept at, considering my extensive years in the desktop publishing industry. Some find formatting tedious, but I have adopted the “house formatting” mantra, and so I write my books in situ via a template, which means they are written in the final format and not in manuscript format. Recently over on The Self Publishing Review there has been a debate going as to whether SPers should use a word processing program to typeset their books. Typographers will argue against, since it is their job to notice these things, but most readers cannot discern the difference between a professionally typeset book and one done on a word processor if the typesetter knew their way around their word processing program. You can get professional looking results from a WP program if you know what you are doing. It won't be "perfect" in a typesetting sense, but it can be so very close to the mark that readers will not notice. Also, using a word processor program saves me time in the end, and makes reformatting for ebook that much easier. We all know ebook formatting is a sado-masochistic torture and a purgatory that rivals Dante’s Inferno, so any attempt to make it easier is worth it for the Indie author.
So writers, how do you differ from Mr. Follett?
Cheryl Anne Gardner
The art this week is "The Alchemist" by Sir William Fettes Douglas circa 1853
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Amazon’s newest shot to keep e-book prices low and to develop more original content is a new royalty program that will give authors and publishers who use the company’s self-publishing Kindle Digital Text Platform a much higher rate than standard royalties. Under the program, which goes into affect June 30, authors or publisher who choose the new 70% royalty option will receive 70% of list price, net of delivery costs on all e-books sold. The new option will be in addition to the existing DTP standard royalty option.
Delivery costs will be based on file size and Amazon said that new program will enable authors and publishers to make more money on the sale of e-books. In Amazon’s example, on an $8.99 book an author would make $3.15 with the standard option, and $6.25 with the new 70% option. To qualify for the new rate, however, e-books must meet a set of requirements that includes carrying a price between $2.99 and $9.99, a price that must be at least 20% below the lowest physical list price for the physical book. The title must also be made available for sale in all geographies for which the author or publisher has rights, although at launch the option will be available only for books sold in the U.S. In addition, books must be offered at or below price parity with all competition, including print book prices. Amazon said it will provide tools to automate that process, and the 70% royalty will be calculated off the sales price.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Do you have an unpublished or self-published novel you know Amazon.com readers will love? Enter your novel in the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award for a chance to win one of two $15,000 publishing contracts with Penguin USA and distribution of your novel on Amazon.com.
How the Contest Works
Beginning January 25, 2010 through February 7th, 2010 you can enter your unpublished or self-published English-language novel into the General Fiction category, or the new Young Adult Fiction category. The contest will then proceed through four phases of judging:
First Round: Amazon editors will review a 300 word Pitch of each entry. The top 1000 entries in each category (2000 total entries) will move on to the second round.
Second Round: The field will be narrowed to 250 entries in each category (500 total entries) by Amazon top customer reviewers from ratings of a 5000 word excerpt.
Quarterfinals: Publishers Weekly reviewers will read the full manuscript of each quarterfinalist, and based on their review scores, the top 50 in each category (100 total entries) will move on to the Semifinals.
Semifinals: Penguin USA editors will read the full manuscript and review all accompanying data for each semifinalist and will then select three finalists in each category (six total finalists).
Finals: Amazon customers will vote on the three finalists in each category resulting in two grand prize winners.
How to Enter
Contest submission period begins January 25th, 2010 at 12:01 a.m. (U.S. Eastern Standard Time) and ends February 7th, 2010at 11:59 p.m. (U.S. Eastern Standard Time), or when the first 10,000 Entries have been received, whichever is earlier.
To enter; starting on January 25th 2010, go to www.amazon.com/abna or www.createspace.com/abna, register and submit your entry following the instructions on the entry form. In the meantime, go to www.createspace.com/abna to sign up for contest updates and valuable online content that will help you get your submission ready. To register and enter you will need to submit:
- The full/complete version of your manuscript (the "Manuscript"), which must be between 50,000 and 150,000 words;
- Up to the first 5,000 words, but no less than 3,000 words, of text of that manuscript, excluding any table of contents, foreword, and acknowledgments (the "Excerpt");
- A pitch statement (cover letter/summary) of up to 300 word (the "Pitch");
- Other registration information as asked for on the entry page (such as name, contact information, book title), and
- An author photo (if desired), which must be in .jpg format (at least 72 dpi and 500x468 pixels)
(The foregoing five entry requirements are collectively referred to as the "Entry" or "Entries".) Sponsors will NOT accept or review paper-copy Entries.
The author of each manuscript must be an individual author. Any manuscript submitted as an entry that was written by two or more authors will not be eligible. Poems and short stories or collections of poems and short stories submitted as entries will also not be eligible.
- be the original creation of entrant;
- be fictional;
- be in the English language;
- be in Times New Roman and 12-point font;
- be double spaced and paginated with a 1-inch margin on all sides (in a manner enabling reformat to single-space display easily, i.e. no "hard" returns to achieve double spacing);
- be of interior black and white text with no images in the document;
- be a digital file of Microsoft Word .doc, .docx, or .rtf format;
- not currently or previously have been the subject of a publishing agreement with any publishing house; self-published entries are acceptable, as long as the entrant retains global distribution rights to the work.
- not currently or previously have been the subject of a publishing agreement with any publishing house;
- not include the author's name in the body of the Manuscript or in the Excerpt or pitch statement; and
- meet the content guidelines found at www.amazon.com/contentguidelines
All Entries determined by Sponsors in their sole discretion to meet the foregoing requirements will be deemed "Valid Entries." Entries submitted by authors who are represented by an agent are acceptable, provided author agrees to comply with these Official Rules.
Sponsors' servers and clock shall be deemed the official clock for the Contest and entrant's proof of submission does not constitute proof of receipt by Sponsors.
Monday, January 18, 2010
We are pleased to announce the worldwide launch of DTP with support for English, French, and German languages. With this launch, authors and publishers around the world can use DTP to upload and sell books in English, German and French to customers worldwide in the Kindle Store(http://www.amazon.com/kindlestore.
We have made a number of other changes to our Terms and Conditions. Key highlights include:
1. We have made it easier than ever for our publishers to exercise their choice of Digital Rights Management (DRM) on Kindle store. Publishers are now able to select 'Enable or Disable DRM' option on a per-title basis during the submission process.
2. We now require that a title's list price not exceed the lowest suggested retail price or equivalent price for any physical edition of the book.
3. To be accepted in the DTP program, digital books with a file size greater than 3 megabytes up to 10 megabytes must also have a list price of at least $1.99, and digital books with a file size of 10 megabytes or greater must have a list price of at least $2.99.We are excited about launching these features and look forward to serving authors and publishers globally.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Well, I finally got myself an ebook reader, yes, indeed I did. Happy Birthday to me, well, it was Sunday, actually. And yes, it’s pink! So What. I might be crass, but I am a girl who likes Pink!
Many of you know, I have been labouring over my ebook purchasing decision for some time, and again, it came down to practicality for me. I don’t tend to get all starry eyed at the bells and whistles, so when looking for an ebook reader, I had to carefully analyze my reading habits and then decide what I “didn’t” need, because let’s face, the sales and marketing people will try to sell you exactly what you don’t need. Straight away, I knew I didn’t need to be locked into a proprietary format -- hello Amazon.
As far as my e-reading habits go, I really wanted an ereader for review books and new author books. I review mostly in PDF now, and I give away any ARCs I receive that are affiliated with reviewing. As far as book purchasing habits, I am a hoarder. I buy a lot of books, but my library can’t accommodate them all. Some I give away, but I would really like to restrict my library space for the classics and the antique books I purchase, books I know I am going to read again and again. That said, I don’t need mega space on an ereader because I generally read and get rid of my ebooks immediately. So that meant I didn’t need huge memory on the reader or an expandable memory card slot. Then I thought about how I buy books. Mostly I am an online buyer, and I don’t impulse buy: the front table at Barnes and Noble is wasted on me. I use Amazon exclusive and use their recommendations as a guide. I also keep a running wish list based on fellow reviewer/friend recommendations. When my TBR pile gets low, I make a purchase, so why would I need a 3G wireless network and instant downloads on the fly? I would not, even if it was just to say that I could. I doubt there will ever come a time when I am stranded in the urban wilderness and feel the need to throw my arms in air and scream, “I need an ebook now!!!” That is just not likely to happen. I don’t read magazines or newspapers either. I am pretty much a fiction straight text reader, which means I need a crisp clear screen for the sole purpose of displaying words, and I don’t need anything huge, so touch screens are out as clarity is compromised slightly because of the extra layer of screen material needed to accommodate the abuse a touch screen takes: body oils, dirt, etc. Now, I read on my computer too, so I certainly don’t need a screen the size of a laptop screen. I don’t need a web-browser, don’t need a flashy store browser, I don’t need to check my email on it, or play DVDs. Lastly, I have an mp3 player, and I plan on turning the friggin thing off when I walk away from it, so I don’t need a screen saver with jpeg uploading capability or colour.
After listing all the things I didn’t need, the list of things I wanted became real short and real simple: clear screen, easy to access menus, book marking capability, multiple format capability, compact size, and lightweight. What I wound up with was the Sony PRS-300 or the Pocket Edition. It’s very small. The menu access buttons are easy to use, and it reads ePub; Bbebook; PDF, which it converts to word; word .doc; and text files. The software works exactly the same as iTunes, wherein you can buy books with one click from the Sony ebook store in ePub and BBebook format -- depending on what the publisher offers -- and you can buy books from anywhere else and import them into the reader. It has a sync option, which I found slow, and it hung up on me a couple of times, so I disabled it and used the drag and drop method to load the books to the reader from the library. I don’t need the sync really, since I plan on deleting the books when I am done with them, anyway. You can do this right from the reader, and yet the original file stays in your computer library as backup. I had this same issue with the iTunes sync as well. Moving on, all software and devices need to be registered just as they do with iTunes and the iPod, but this was a simple process addressed during the installation of the software. Purchasing books from a variety of outlets was also a snap. Sony downloads the books directly into the reader software, others download to your computer, and then you just need to import them. Easy as … well it was friggin easy.
As far as reading the actual content, I did a test run on a couple formats with my books and others I purchased from various places. The Sony proprietary format BBebook or .lrf files look the best on the device, obviously, and it looks exactly like the word .doc I uploaded to Smashwords, except for the occasional rogue hyphen, which are not present in the source file. The ePub version of my books and others look slightly different than what I uploaded, and in some areas seem a bit wonky. As for the PDFs, well, don’t bother. I uploaded the print PDF of one of my books and it converts the file to a word .doc. As you can imagine, the fancy formatting in the PDF made for some interesting issues on the reader. So even with your meticulously Smashwords formatted word .doc, what you see is not always what you get. Each format is just a little bit different, and that was expected due to the sheer number of reading devices out there. The only thing I wish the device had was a user replaceable battery, but what can you do. At this point, only the Nook has that, and it would be nice, but it’s not critical as the batteries last for a long time.
I’ve had the thing for a week now, and all I can say is that I totally love it. I don’t even have trouble reading it in the low light of my house in the evening. However, the screen is much clearer in the daytime or with proper ambient light for reading. You can buy a little booklite for it, but I have a reading lamp in my library, so I didn’t need one. Along with the reader purchase, I also downloaded the Kindle reader and the Adobe Digital Editions reader to my computer so I can compare and contrast all formats, not to mention read all formats in a variety of settings. This comes in handy while formatting. I eventually resolved the rogue hyphen issue. In the original manuscript, I had inserted optional hyphens to even out the text in some areas and break words across the line when word did not. Even though I normalized the text and removed the hyphenation function, those optional hyphens remained as actual characters, and when I shifted margins, word inserted those characters randomly throughout the text, unbeknownst to me. The only way to get rid of them is to search them down and eliminate them manually. You won’t see them in the word doc or the HTML version, the only way to spot issues like this is to turn on the character mapping in your word program. I also found that em-dashes and ellipses work better with spaces before and after them. Ereaders reflow the text; they do not hyphenate or break words across the line, so it treats em-dashes with no spaces as all one word, including the word before and after it. This can and will cause spacing issues in the lines of text, so be watchful of this.
Aside from the nightmare that is formatting, the plus side to owning an ereader is that now I can review ePub and Sony .lrf books as well as PDFs, so get those queries in. As far as shopping for books, I loaded my own of course, but I bought four books to start with, reviews on the indie ones will be forthcoming:
- The American Book of the Dead by Henry Baum -- purchased in ePub and BBebook format from Smashwords
- 600 Hours of Edward by Craig Lancaster -- purchased in ePub and BBebook format from Smashwords
- Wolfkin by Emily Veinglory -- purchased in ePub format direct from the Sony ebook store.
- Do The Math by Philip Persinger -- purchased in ePub format direct from the sony ebook Store.
In the image, my book The Splendor of Antiquity is a trade-paper 5.25x8 for size comparison. The standard size font for the unit looks almost the same as the font size used in the book.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Author: Bonnie Kozek
Price: $ 11.95
Point of Sale: Amazon
Review By: Cheryl Anne Gardner
Deviant, damaged, and a not so pretty personification of obsessive need: meet hard-ass Honey McGuinnes who is the trash-talking street-wise ex-junkie narrator of this emotionally charged thriller. Yup, Honey has been on the receiving end of a cosmic high colonic, and she doesn’t mind giving you all the gory matter-of-fact details of her damaged psyche. Nope, Honey couldn’t give a shit when it comes to what people think of her because, as she so adamantly states throughout the story, she couldn’t give less of a shit about herself. She’s been fucked up, screwed over, chewed up, and spit out by life, and so she has checked out, preferring the company of her own kind: the equally demented and damned of skid row. She has joined the Naked Lunch witness protection program, and her only connection to the world is the sewer, really. By day Honey works at the local mission serving food to the indigent, and by night she holes herself up in her dilapidated warehouse apartment and chills by playing sexy-hooker dress up by herself and getting psycho-sexual gratification with a nice warm enema. Yes, I said enema. Honey definitely has enough freaky fetishes and misanthropic drug-addict bravado to land herself the well paying gig of poster child for A&E’s “Intervention” series. Honey is my kind of main character. She’s a rubber-necker’s dream come true.
But here is the kicker, it’s all just show, a persona she clings to so she doesn’t have to admit or face the guilt and shame she feels for abuses suffered in childhood. So she wisecracks, cuts-up her fellow inmates, and works in defensive posturing like a sculptress with a dull chisel. She even adopts a less educated slangy dialect full of “cuzes” and whatnot, but it reads fake and it feels fake, especially when she slips out of character and uses words like “nonplussed” and “picayune.” Not sure if this was a misstep on the author’s behalf or if it alluded to some background about Honey the reader is not privy to. Either way, this had an affect on the way I felt about her. At times, Honey came off to me like a bad pity party, and so I didn’t really have much sympathy for her in the long run. But I don’t need a sympathetic protag, so even with that, it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story any; although, I did have the plotline figured out about mid-way through: The crooked land developer/equally crooked cops paradigm is a staple for TV crime dramas. That said, I liked Honey, so I kept reading.
Now Honey isn’t all asshole and elbows, underneath her soiled persona is a quirky soul -- almost child-like in her anger -- who truly has genuine concern for the dregs she considers her kindred spirits, Billy in particular, who is sort of the skid-row rainman of poetry. But Billy is blissfully unaware of his lot in life and contents himself by spewing forth at full volume an endless stream of seemingly random rhymes. His innocence and his utter lack of awareness are irresistible comforts for Honey, so much so, she believes she actually feels romantic love for him in some twisted far off fairy land sort of way. It’s a love she can escape into, and Billy can be whatever she needs him to be. It’s fantasy of course, and Honey understands and admits her need for it. She knows nothing will ever come of it and never deludes herself about it. The fantasy is a respite, and it’s a hell of site better to be addicted to love -- even fake love -- than addicted to drugs or booze or cock. Shame really, because reality has a way of crashing even the most well-intentioned party. Honey’s loosely threaded existence begins to unravel when she finds Billy wired for sound and shot down on the street.
Unable to accept the death of her only friend, Honey launches her own badly thought out and badly executed pseudo-investigation into Billy’s death and a series of other peculiar incidents happening in her beloved neighbourhood. The crack-addicts are multiplying and getting more aggressive by the day, the cops’ efforts seem deliberately ineffectual, and the tape she confiscated from Billy’s blood-soaked body makes no sense at all. Seems as if Honey finally found something in her life worth fighting for.
In her feebly justified quest for vigilante reparation, Honey encounters all manner of resistance: from her neighbours, from the crack-heads, from the drug dealers, from the land developer, and from the cops. No one, including Honey, is what they appear to be, and despite her heightened sense of awareness of this fact, Honey makes some really, really, bad decisions, but once an addict always an addict, right? She has an invincibility complex, and that, coupled with the vengeance and the bad reasoning skills, puts Honey in a dangerously precarious position. Good thing she stumbles face-first into Skinner: an idealistic cop, an all around old dogma and old religion family sort of guy, who still believes in right and wrong. Skinner has his own issues, even if he isn’t aware of them until the end, so he and Honey don’t really form any sort of partnership as one might expect: most of the time, Skinner has no idea where Honey is or what she is doing at any given moment. They just wind up muddled up together in the same mess because they each feel a misguided need to save the other from their particular delusions.
Honey, as predicted, makes a rather speedy no holds barred flailing descent back into the drug scene. Her rather shabby notions of righteousness fail her almost instantaneously, and her world becomes a hedonistic nightmare replete with opiate delirium, back alley sex trade, degradation, grand epiphanies, and sodomy. The cast of villainous characters is pretty stock and trade, and they play their parts to perfection, each a dualistic balancing act that sends Honey almost over the edge.
The plotting and the characters in this story are basically archetypes of the hard-boiled detective fiction genre, so expect a certain amount of familiarity. The psychology is deep and dark much like you will find with Chandler’s Phillip Marlow, and you can see a bit of him in the character of Honey. As for the rest of the story, well, let’s just say that if Mickey Spillane took a hit of crack and met Burroughs in a back alley this is what you would get. A hell of a ride, but not for general audiences: the psychodrama part of the story is rather disturbing, with language and imagery to match.
As for the technical stuff, the 6x9 size is a detriment to the visual appeal of the book, but since it's the words that matter, the editing was quite clean and the proofreading was way above par. I noticed only one wrong word: crouch for crotch, and one sentence with an accidental repetition. I like starting out the year with a stellar read. This one had everything I wanted: it’s short, so you get just what you need without being bludgeoned by character motivations or overindulgent scenery; the story itself is dark and deeply psychotic; the writing is raw, and the narrator is full of piss and vinegar. Ms. Kozek definitely has a talent for writing in this genre, and I think she will do well if she can move beyond the archetypal characters and TV plot-line. If you are looking for a frail wounded bird waiting for her cop in shining armour to whisk in and save the day all manly and chivalrous like, you won’t find it here. If you are looking for pulp in an angry pair of red stilettos, then you will love this book.
This book was purchased at retail by the reviewer and will be offered during one of our Free Book Friday contests, so stay tuned.
Thursday, January 07, 2010
I understand completely what Kundera is saying here. For me, my characters are a way of exploring the big “What if?” They allow me to bend time and space and logic. They allow me to investigate the philosophical conundrums of life, and they allow me to do it outside of my own “I.” They allow me to indulge the darkness and expand and exaggerate my own idiosyncratic view of humanity. I can take an existential theory and push it to excess, push it beyond mere obsession, push it into that dark place where every human thought and action is sublime and grotesque at the same time. I can give them the superhuman ability to endure and the enlightenment to rise above their own mortal reasoning.
For me, my characters are the embodiment of an idea: its knowledge, its feeling, its concepts, and its truth. In order to do this, I must first understand the idea, and in order to understand anything, I must tear it apart: deconstruct it down to its intrinsic elements. Then, and only then, can I not only see but also embrace its extremes. Eventually, while exploring these extremes, I inevitably stumble across something dark. Now, I am no vulgar ghoul. I desire a happy ending and sympathetic characters as much as the next person, but I cannot let my mind find itself lost amongst folly so much so that I deceive myself and forsake the truth. The darker extremes of humanity -- the unsympathetic characters -- make for compelling art, for they invoke emotion at its deepest, basest levels, and that depth of emotion creates profound impact. Whether the characters be vile and depraved or ethereal in nature is really irrelevant. Pushing the boundaries of the extreme with my characters allows me to experience the emotion wholly, unrestrained by fears and beliefs, unrestrained by my "I". Would we fully appreciate the warmth of a sunny day had we not reluctantly savoured the savagery of a stormy night? By that logic, all things in life, especially human emotion, have an extreme duality: a dark and a light. With my characters, I seek to embrace that philosophy by exploring those extremes of human emotion—its treachery—and that is the “what if” I attempt to answer with my characters.
Some of my characters and their motivations may disturb the reader to the point of revulsion, but sometimes it is necessary to push beyond the boundaries of an idea in order to achieve clarity of emotion, an understanding of its duality: tenderness and violence, trust and betrayal, sacrifice, triumph and suffering. We instinctively fear certain aspects of human nature, aspects that appear base, almost monstrous, and that is why when we are confronted with them, in life as well as in art and literature, we recoil violently. We resist our need to understand them. There is no less stress for a reader to read the darkness than it is for the writer to write it. There are no radiant princesses in my stories, no heroes no heroines, no knights in shining armour, and no divine intervention. My characters are, in actuality, studies in truth however abstract they may seem. The characters presented in my stories are very, very human—including the immortals—, and to me they are flawed, pathetic, and monumentally beautiful even in their moments of madness. They suffer beautifully, torturing themselves and each other, and by consequence, saving each other and their own souls. In their moments of enlightenment, I seek to expose the dichotomy of the human condition, the divide between thought and action, between reason and indulgence, and between death and sensuality.
Sure, every single one of my characters starts with a bit of me at the center, one aspect of my “ID” if you will, and so my stories revolve around the idea of “what if” this character lived and breathed by that bit of “id” in the extreme. How would they live? How would they justify their actions? How would they, could they, achieve enlightenment in that state of obsessive being. Can they endure and survive themselves in a world that they, by their own choices, denials, and refusals, have turned into a trap?
So to say that a character is a direct reflection of the author would be an egregious misstep. Even if it’s a first person narrative, the character the author has created has -- if the author was careful with their explorations -- moved well beyond the “I” of the author’s nature. Those are the characters I want to read as well and will be reviewing one such book next week, so stay tuned.
The Art this week is "The Silence" by Johann Heinrich Fussli 1799-1801
Cheryl Anne Gardner
Tuesday, January 05, 2010
I came across this in an article at The Wilson Quarterly and found myself quite disturbed by the reality of it, and I quote: “It’s not that Americans aren’t interested in the world at all. It’s just that we seem to want someone else to do the heavy lifting required to make a cultural connection. As the Peruvian-born writer Daniel Alarcón observes, Americans would rather read stories by an American about Peru than a Peruvian writer translated into English.”
Of course, this reality doesn’t exist in my world, as I read mostly foreign translations anyway, and the reason I do -- well, there are several reasons -- is because I want to experience humanity outside of my own cultural biases. I want to appreciate the language differences and the differences of opinion. Now don’t get me wrong, there is a place in literature for what I call “the tourist eye” and by that I mean when writers set stories outside of their native lands, as do I in all my novellas. But you have to take care when you do that, especially when you are espousing opinion on the culture or the politics of the land you are using as the backdrop. I, myself, try to focus on the characters so that I don’t accidentally misstep. If you take care, the tourist view can work quite well, depending on the nature of the story. Character-centric stories can get away with the tourist eye, but cultural and socio-politically-centric stories cannot.
But back to translations ... Over the holidays I finished reading “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera, which is one of the finest existentialist novels of all time, originally published in French and then in the author’s native Czech. This is another book I am ashamed to admit I didn’t get around to reading until now. In this case, seeing the movie doesn’t count.
The story, taking place in the Prague Spring of the Russian occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968, tackles a lot of heavy subject matter, and the major theme, at least how I saw it, was oppression: the oppression of love, marriage, sex, family, war, religion, and the communist regime. Each of the main characters is oppressed in their own way by their own ideals, philosophies, and their own idiosyncratic view of the world. The way Kundera blends all these elements effortlessly into the lives of just a few interconnected people is sublime. Our story beings with Tomas, a Czech surgeon and intellectual. Tomas is an unrepentant womanizer. His philosophical view is that sex and love are two distinct affairs with little contradiction between them. His conquests are many, but each situation -- each woman -- has something unique to her womanhood, and that uniqueness is like a secret, one that can only be revealed during the act of sex. So by this perspective -- the devout appreciator of a woman's unique sexual identity -- his adulterous escapades have become justified explorations of humanity. He feels no love for these women; his only aim is to metaphorically dissect the essence of their being. Love he reserves for his wife, Tereza.
Tereza comes to Tomas a wounded bird, a symbolic image we see later in the story. She is a gentle soul, though neurotic to the enth degree from a childhood of oppression at the hands of her mother. She perceives herself as weak. She is ashamed of her body and feels disconnected and unworthy of her own soul, so she never condemns Tomas for his infidelities, instead preferring to suffer as a martyr in silence. Tereza is a special character in this story as she is the only character where we have full access to her subconscious mind. Kundera here allows us to psychoanalyze Tereza through her dreams, which are very disturbing. Equally disturbing is the dissident photojournalism Tereza becomes preoccupied with early in her marriage: Prostitutes and Russian tanks. Again here, the oppression of her marriage juxtaposed against the oppression of the occupying regime is portrayed very skilfully by Kundera. Tereza’s oppression in life manifests itself in these photos and in dreams of death, actually dreams of execution, for she is no more than a burden, a weak pitiful soul and one who Tomas feels obligated to take care of. Tereza really doesn’t understand that Tomas truly loves her, and this is one of many misunderstandings Kundera opens up for discussion in the novel. The most monumental of them all being when Tomas likens the Czech Communists to Oedipus. It was an unintentional comparison, but Tomas would still suffer greatly for it at the hands of the Communist propaganda machine. During the ensuing interrogations, we get a true taste of Tomas’ convictions, and in that, we the reader, can find it within our boundaries to put our faith in Tomas’ love for Tereza, no matter his actions to the contrary.
Then we have Sabina -- Tomas’ favourite mistress -- the artistic anarchist who finds satisfaction in the act of betrayal. She has declared war on everything in her life that she considers “kitsch” including her privileged puritan ancestry and Socialists. To Tomas, Sabina is the singing, soaring bird of freedom, and Tereza, the injured crow on the verge of death. For Tomas, Sabina is the manifest expression of one’s subconscious desires, which is in stark contrast to his own nature. Tomas seeks to expose in others that which he cannot express in himself, so in Sabina, he finds the self he will never truly know. This self-discovery by proxy plays out again in the interactions Tomas has later with his estranged son.
Our fourth character is Franz: Sabina's lover after Tomas. Franz is a learned man, a professor and an idealist to self-destructive proportions. Sadly, Franz falls in love with Sabina, not for who she really is but for what he idealizes her to be: a romantically tragic Czech dissident. Sabina is not a liberal nor is she even one iota romantically inclined, but this doesn’t stop Franz from placing her on a pedestal. How could he not? Franz’s wife and daughter are social sycophants, and his life outside of Sabina disgusts him, so Sabina makes logical sense to him. He is a kind and compassionate man, but a life of books and academia, sans all visceral experience, have left him devoid of the great kindness and the great compassion he aspires to, not to mention: the great love. Shame really, and the reader can feel for Franz when the ideal comes crashing down around him. During a sexual epiphany, he feels confident that Sabina has fallen in love with him as well. He promptly confesses his indiscretions to his wife and leaves her only to find that Sabina had already made up her mind to leave him, and leave she did -- disappeared from his life in a breath. Franz takes another lover -- a homely student of his -- although he continues to pine for Sabina, and he proceeds to live as an outcast, fallen from grace until he decides on a whim for the first time in his life to actually participate in a political march from Thailand to Cambodia. Here he finds that the courage of his convictions is nothing more than fallacy. Here, the man of long wanderings will return to where he never felt he belonged. A man of delusion returns to reality.
Lastly, and my personal favourite character in the entire novel: Karenin, the faithful canine companion to Tomas and Tereza. This part of the story was really heart wrenching, and I fell to tears many times over the course of the Karenin chapters. Kundera talks a lot about religion in these final pages, specifically man’s dominion over beast, and he makes it clear that our translation of that proclamation is a bit misguided. The beasts were not thrown out of Eden. So, Karenin, to me, represented true freedom, purity of spirit, and the opposite of oppression. Much like Winnie the Poo, Karenin was happiness in life simplified: routine, devotion, and unconditional love without selfish motivation or personal prejudice. Tomas and Tereza both, in the end and in their own ways, come to realize Karenin’s significance, as will the reader, no doubt. "Here lies Karenin.” His tombstone says. “He gave birth to two rolls and a bee.”
One can appreciate this novel on so many levels, technically for the non-linear plotline, the various points of view represented -- political, theological, and philosophical -- and the third person omniscient narrative that is biased to the core so we can appreciate the direct interjection by the narrator who never once attempts to hide that he is the author. At the heart of it, it is an essay about the human condition, but its scope is much broader in that it dissects, much as Tomas would have, the unique effects various forms of oppression have on that condition. Kundera’s passion for his characters is duly noted in one of many interjections by the author directly into the narrative. In addition to the very human story of relationships gone astray, we are allowed the privilege of experiencing that moment in Czech history where the country had lost its will and its identity. We are allowed to experience it not through the eyes of a journalist or a tourist, but through the eyes of a true witness. And that is why I love foreign translations. It’s not just about different scenery. It’s about a connection, and in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, readers should have no trouble making a connection, cultural or otherwise.
Cheryl Anne Gardner