Friday, February 26, 2010

Free Book Friday

This Month’s Book Giveaway is:

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

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

Our Review can be found here:

To enter: leave a comment on this post by Sunday February 28th. Please comment with a valid email address. A winner will be chosen Monday March 1st. Good Luck to all and thank you for stopping by.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thoughts on The Craft -- c.anne.gardner

Pretty much everyone who knows me knows that one of my all-time favourite reads is The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, and so this week I would like to talk a little bit about the portrait of a character. In mainstream fiction reviews there is always a lot of negative talk about wooden dialog and one dimensional characters, or even worse, caricatures. There is a lot that goes into the perfect portrait of a person, some of it mundane and some of it extraordinary. We need our characters to be relatable on some level, or so the readers tell us, but relatability can come dangerously close to boring. I don’t know about you, but the last thing a book needs is a flat boring character. A boring character just becomes part of the scenery, and I find that boring enough.

So how do we meet these interesting people? The people we find so damn interesting we have to write about them? Well, I meet them just like I meet real people: Happenstance. Basically, they stumble onto the scene while I am mulling over the complexities of my Thesis and how I want to plot that into a story. We knock heads in the street, we spill a drink or two on each other at a party or in a bar, we grab for the same book in the library, and then after the awkward introductions are dispensed with, we play the “get to know me and my friends” game. My characters tend to come at me in dribs and drabs over time, just like in life: a conversation here, and argument there, an accusation, maybe a rebuttal accompanied by a manipulation in the form of a smooth apology. Just like I got to know myself during the process of life, I in turn get to know them through the process of the story, which is their life. And the more comfortable I get with them, the more they reveal themselves to me. In the first draft, I often get just the outstanding characteristics, you know, the snappy things you notice right away about someone, those little things that stand out and draw you to them, but as time goes on during the editing process, other subtle personality traits reveal themselves. People rarely explain their motivations, and the rare occasion that they do, it’s nothing but a muddled mess of delirious guilt with a smattering of justification and delusion tossed in for good measure. You can’t make any logical sense out of it. People are contradictory at best, and because we over-think shit all the time, we are comprised of layers upon layers of conscious and unconscious subterfuge. If it weren’t for the tells, we wouldn’t know anyone at all. People might define themselves and proclaim they are this and that, but in reality, self-perception may be self-serving and gratifying but it’s far from accurate. So we really can’t trust our characters to tell us who they are. We have to glean that from the details.

As for the details, there are a few basics we need to keep in mind while we are exploring our characters as they are exploring us, if you will, and every character, even the author and narrator, will define themselves by the short list, at least:

Immediately we can attend to: Image -- or rather the physical representation of the character in question. How do they project themselves physically, and do they represent some aspect of the story or are they the antithesis of it? How a character appears physically is never an arbitrary choice for me. I have always been a face appreciator. How someone projects themselves in the physical realm is fascinating to me, and so I try to give my characters a presence, one that either compliments or contradicts their nature: Nature being the characters’ emotional attitude and their normal everyday state of mind. Beyond that there are a host of other intricacies to consider: complexities, contradictions, habitual behaviour, style, values, tastes, interests, hobbies, passions, clothing, religious and political convictions ... the list could go on an on as we pick the scabs of their psyche.

It’s a lot to take in, but if we pay particular attention to the little details, we can take all these bits and bobs and create truly believable and fully three-dimensional characters ... and we don’t need a plane crash, dragons, and/or burning children to do it either. Yes, we can use the trivial and the mundane to pull it off. Why someone does something or acts the way they do is a very complicated question to ask. The answer is different from person to person, character to character, and just like in real life, you won’t get a straight answer out of any of them. I know, readers might ask, “How is this possible? You are the author, you created those characters, so how can you not know them?” Well, parents give birth to children, and as they raise them, they project an image onto them. That image being bits and pieces of their own psyche as well as the trickle down from society at large and what they generally think they know about humanity and the collective unconscious. In reality, forty years pass and we can all ask ourselves, “How well do our parents actually know us?” As adults, as the unique individuals we have become, moulded by our own life experiences, they don’t know us at all. This is what happens with characters too. We create them, but as they live in our story, they grow and change ... and oftentimes, they do it in very surprising ways. An author has to be forever conscious of their characters, forever analysing them so that we can make course corrections as we see fit. Yes, we created them, but we only know them as much as they let us, which amounts to as much as we take notice of them.

For example: in my novella The Thin Wall, I noticed a bit of mundanity that upon closer examination really revealed the essence of the relationship between two of my characters. There is a scene early on in the book where Laleana, my POV character, visits her friend Ioan for supper at his flat. She picks up take-out Indian food on her way, and the meal is eaten in silence. After the meal, they share a glass of wine and get into what seems to be a trivial discussion that quickly accelerates into an argument.

I must have read that scene a million times, and it was during that millionth time that I noticed what it said about the characters. Sure, on the surface, it was an intimate moment between friends who rarely got the chance to be alone. But she got take-out? Not that there is anything wrong with take-out, but it indicates that there was no personal investment in the meal, not to mention that he had invited her over ... why didn’t he cook? We can assume she was rushed and that she didn’t call to ask what he wanted because they always did this and she knew him so well, and we can also assume he was a terrible cook, but as the scene progressed, I began to think differently about it. After the meal, which was quick and silent, the conversation they eventually embarked upon was equally impersonal and detached, not about the weather but damn close to it, until one of the parties attempted an underhanded confession of a sort, which only led to a misunderstanding and a subsequent argument. I was baffled: these two veteran friends of twenty years had all the finesse of strangers. The meal, the conversation, the sharing of the same drink ... neither party had invested even the minutest amount of attention to the situation let alone to understanding each other, and this contradictory element plays out over and over throughout the story: as lifelong friends, they all claimed to know each other so well, and yet, they only knew each other’s subterfuge.

Now I could have struck the scene claiming that it was just an everyday ordinary life scene -- two friends eating take-out and talking trash -- but in reality, the scene wound up being very telling. Subtle things had been revealed to me about my characters and their true nature, and no matter how this happens, we shouldn’t arbitrarily write it off because there isn’t enough action. Now this doesn’t mean that we should bombard the reader with character detail either, we just need to sift through it and give the reader what’s insightful. Yes, we need to be a bit Sigmund Freud, because in this case, the devil is in the details.

So my writerly friends, do you checklist your characters or do you discover them over time as I do? And do you find that the most telling characterization comes from the mundane situations or do you find your characters come to life more in the crisis situations? People might say that a character shows their true colours when under duress, and that might be true to some extent, but I think that when a character is relaxed and comfortable -- when their guard is down -- that is when their most interesting personality traits surface. What do you think, and was there a time during the writing process when you took notice of a character and it made you sit straight up with a “Hmmmm, that’s very interesting” smile on your face.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

For those who have dabbled in psychology, the image this week is Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs.” When analysing my own characters during the editorial process, I find Maslow, Jung, and Freud to be most helpful.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wattpad Titles to hit Sony Reader Store

Seems Smashwords has some competition in the ebook distribution arena. I guess they need to get a move on then. They also announced a deal with Sony's reader store and Kobo. Unfortunately titles have yet to appear.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What does a Podpeep Read: c.anne.gardner

Little Birds by Anais Nin

This little book of short stories is by far some of the finest erotica ever written. Nin is a true master of love, lust, and the body’s betrayal of our innermost desires. Nin writes with a simple elegance. Never overdoing the imagery, we get just what we need to feel the work without a crass microscopic examination. Nin plunges deeply into the psyche of her characters, and we get more than an up-close and personal intimate glimpse of their inner turmoil as they struggle to break free of their self-imposed sexual limitations. Her characters awaken, blossom like flowers covered in the morning dew, and perfume the pages before our very eyes.

Nin is not merely writing about sex or sexual taboos in these stories; she is writing essays on humanity’s constant battle to reconcile our inner longings and emotional conflicts concerning sex and death. She definitely pushes the boundaries, but she does it with such nuance and such poetry and such innocence that the disturbing subject matter feels tempered in order for us to achieve a greater understanding of themes presented.

This is a wonderful introduction to Nin’s work. I highly recommend that all authors read her work, specifically authors who are interested in exploring sexuality in their own material. Her approach is genuine: voyeuristic without being intrusive. Those who are already familiar with the great erotic enchantress know this. This book is a must have for the collection. It is a book to return to with a blush and a smile over and over again. However, if you are looking for graphic depictions of sex, you will not find it here, for this is true erotica, and it takes a deeply subliminal approach, not plot laden poke and jab.

To me, there is a huge difference between erotica and pornography. Erotic doesn’t even necessarily have to be about sex, and as a reader and a writer, I don’t need it to be. I find that erotica tends to titillate at a deeper more emotional level, and ambiguity can be used to great effect. Well-written erotica affects the reader beyond the physical, and often times that affectation is so powerful that the physical can be left out entirely. As for my own work, I do write a fair amount of sex, and it’s never comfortable no matter how many times you do it. Each scene feels just like the first time you did it yourself. It’s awkward and fumbling and downright un-poetic, but just like the rest of the story, sex scenes evolve during the re-writes. Sex for your characters can be a well-spring of self-discovery, and if done well, they can deepen the experience for the reader and move the story beyond the plot-line. Sexual motivation is deeply rooted, and exploring your character’s Id can be quite fulfilling, if not a bit frightening. Just watch your language, erotica can turn into cheap porn with just a few puerile words … it doesn’t take much, and not every story needs sexual exploration. You are the author: you know the story and the characters … you will know if the story needs it or not depending on your overall Thesis. The trial and error part comes in deciding how deeply to explore. Don’t justify the need: be sure it’s worthwhile for your characters to go there; otherwise it will just read like a bad segue.

Of course, I am speaking of literary erotica here. If you are writing erotica for sexual titillation, meaning that you are writing pornography for the sole purpose of arousing the reader, then have at it: But you had better make it good. Clichés only leave my head throbbing and me longing for an aspirin. Spare me the twenty-inch manhood and the weeping multi-orgasmic vulvas paleeease.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sure Mr. Big Publishing House, of course we will let you set your own price for ebooks ... wink wink.

If the publishing houses thought Amazon was the monster in the closet, I think they have a lot more to worry about ...

Self-POD Forums?

A few years ago there were very few blogs that discussed self-publishing or self-published books. In a fairly short period of time this had changed. Now there are many blogs that vary in content, angle, tone and presentation. What still seems to be lacking, however, is a good all-purpose online self-publishing forum. I have belonged to several forums over the years but they all seems to either fade away, descend into acrimony or become wedded to a certain company or dogma.

For some time I was fairly happy at the Lulu forums but I find I just can't learn to love their new format. So, can anyone out there recommend a forum good for keeping up with the world of self-publishing? Or would you like to start one? (I sure as hell am not going to.) Failing that I might settle for a good yahoogroup or similar mechanism. All I ask is that the topic be self-publishing, at least a few of people participating should have some idea what they are talking about, and that I don't have to drink the KoolAid or bring pom poms.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thoughts on The Craft -- c.anne.gardner

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved ... Jack Kerouac

I pretty much feel the same when it comes to the characters in my stories, especially the part where they are mad to be saved. Salvation is a reoccurring theme in my novellas, and at the start, my characters are often at their lowest point. Now that I think about that a bit, I am not much for showing someone’s descent into Hell with the exception of Sin-eater, my yet to be finished manuscript. In that story I seemed to have gone in the completely opposite direction from my own normal approach: no love, no sympathy, no compassion, and no salvation ... at least on the surface. Must be why I had to put the damn thing away for a while.

As for whether or not my characters are “normal” I would say they definitely are. The reason they appear obsessive, bat-shit crazy, and eccentric is because they don’t hide the darkness. They are not afraid of it, are not afraid of how society might label them for it. As Jung would say, they have come face to face with their shadow and have embraced it. Is their suffering extraordinary? No, it’s not, but what is extraordinary -- and I feel this way about characters in general, not necessarily my own -- is their willingness face the suffering: to live it, to talk about it, and more importantly to be changed by it, not necessarily to defeat it, but rather to appreciate the suffering and thus rise above it. Camus’ The Stranger always comes to mind, but the world of literature is filled with mad characters. Many of the Indie books I have reviewed on this site are littered with them, but of late, the main character in Choke by Chuck Palahniuk, Victor Mancini, has been one of my favourites to analyze along with the unnamed narrator in Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson. All of these protagonists display psychopathic tendencies to a degree, and I think that is what makes them so compelling.

So, who would you invite to your tea-party? I know Dorian Gray would be on my list, along with a few hundred others.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

The Art is Alice at The Mad Hatter's Tea Party by John Tenniel

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Review: The American Book of The Dead

Title: The American Book of the Dead
Author: Henry Baum
Genre: Literature/Apocalyptic Drama
Price: $ 10.04
Publisher: Backword Books
ISBN: 978-0578026930
Pages: 248
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed By: Cheryl Anne Gardner

The year was 2020. Except as I write this the year is 2008.

Don’t try to make any sense out that, by the end you will understand, but for now the first person narrator/author of the book is just letting you know that he basically wrote a premonition, not a novel. Now I certainly don’t mind a little Nostradamus, even if the narrator claims it’s merely Cliff’s Notes from the future, and after the “end is near” prologue, we move into a more traditional narrative and a more linear timeline. In chapter one our protagonist Professor Eugene Meyers, who teaches creative writing at the local University, inadvertently discovers that his teenage daughter seems to have taken an interest in making internet porn. And this really is the straw that broke the camel’s back. Our narrator is full on in the middle of his mid-life crisis and is having some difficulty dealing with the aftermath of youthful delusion. Blows to the ego like a stagnant writing career, a failing marriage, and the public domain sexual promiscuity of his only daughter are never taken lightly. But all this is just a device to introduce the reader to a viewpoint, one that will be vigorously challenged throughout the course of the book.

This book comes at the “end of the world” scenario from all kinds of different angles: war, terrorism, religious zealotry, vanity, greed, delusion, the death of innocence, and how TV is rotting our world ... etc.

The writing style has a stream of consciousness chop to it -- lots and lots of fragments: fragmented thoughts, philosophies, moralistic viewpoints, ideals, and our narrator is very self-centred, not in a arrogant way or a narcissistic way but in more of an introverted way: “I didn’t understand how other people’s lives worked without me,” he says. And as for the end of the world and the survivor society that would come after World War III, his thematic vision for his book validates his bleak yet optimistic way of thinking. As a juxtaposition to this way of thinking, we cut to the Whitehouse in order to jump into the mind of current lunatic President Charles Winchell, who is going to bring people back to their faith “even if it means killing them.” Initially this character sort of reminded me of Sheen’s character in King’s *The Dead Zone*. After we have been sufficiently frightened by Winchell’s cultist mentality, we then cut back again to Eugene doing a little detective work, trying to find the scumbag that filmed his daughter. He does, of course, and it doesn’t end well.

After Eugene is pummelled and subsequently released from the hospital, he finds that he is having visions, well, more like dreams, but in his dreams, he dreams of real people, complete with names and addresses. On the other side of the universe, President Winchell’s old man tells him that UFOs exist and that the “people from the other side” told him death isn’t an end. He is also under the impression that a mass holy war needs to come to fruition in order to save the world after the apocalypse. Yea, it’s a lot to take in with this book. Even looney tunes President Charles Winchell has doubts about his old man’s sanity, but I found the satirical stretch funny and alarming at the same time. Charles may be blinded by vanity and egomania, and Eugene may be prophetic in some way, but prophecy is really only a casual glance back over our shoulders. History divines the future; we are just too ignorant to pay attention to it. Much like in this book, we can travel through time to a different dimension and learn from our mistakes. As Eugene’s premonitions begin to come true via bombings that annihilate NYC and Washington D.C., he begins to seek out the people in his dreams. Good thing the dreams give him names and addresses, because Eugene feels an unnatural compulsion to find and collect these people and bring them together, even if the reason why isn’t clear to him just yet.

As for the set-up and the story, it was a little reminiscent of Stephen King’s *The Stand* sans the elaborate characterization and world detail, but then again, The Stand was over a thousand pages. Every single character was critical and had their own front story and back story and separate plotline with all plotlines affecting one another and eventually converging. This book is more concerned with the two divergent Points of View. This isn’t a plot-driven story, it’s an idea driven story, and much of it is in the form of Eugene’s treatise on religion and politics, genocide and the de-evolution/evolution of humanity, and zealotry in all its forms, so -- to the chagrin of the show don’t tell folks -- most of the book is in essay format. The two main characters are very well actualized, and again it reminded me of The Stand where Eugene is sort of Mother Abigail and Winchell is Randall Flagg. The minor characters are all incidental, even Eugene’s wife and daughter are dispensed with fairly early on and the thought of them lingers about as long as any interaction the reader had with them, everyone else is irrelevant as Eugene and Winchell get the most characterization in the book. This is in keeping with the narrator’s very self-centric view of his predicament.

The book explores a lot of Theological and Political theories with respect to the two conflicting views on Utopia and how to create it. We have the right-wing view through the biblical eye, but since Winchell is delusional and his father is a sociopath, the Bible is used rather haphazardly here to validate some really radical measures. For instance, President Winchell declares that he is the anti-Christ, believing that once revelations comes, he will be given the title and the power of Christ the King to rule over those who have survived the apocalypse. Basically, Winchell and his staff read into the Bible exactly what they want it to mean. But things don’t work out as he had envisioned or as quickly. He feels his faith challenged particularly by his father’s belief that a spiritual cleansing is necessary so that there is no religion in the world when the aliens finally make contact. Not to mention the war he helped orchestrate has left him high and dry. After all the bloodshed and destruction his war has left in its wake, he can’t help but feel cheated out of his personal battle between light and darkness. When he finally declares himself the second coming of Christ, the applause is a bit thin, his nemesis is AWOL, and all he is left with is his father’s slash and burn and the possibility that it all was a metaphor. Winchell hates metaphors.

On Eugene’s side of the fence, he is having an entirely different identity crisis. He doesn’t want people to see him as a savoir even if he did infiltrate their dreams and write the book published twenty years early that predicted the events they were currently witnessing. And the world, or what’s left of it, is witnessing some pretty freaky stuff including living creatures telekinetically birthed into the world from inanimate objects, UFO contact, multi-dimensional time travel, and a whole lot of really good lessons in the strength, faith, and the determination of humanity.

I noticed some fiddly editorial issues, but what was more problematic for me was that the barrage of fragments and chop and odd sentence structure, often seen with stream of consciousness styled writing, also often made the text difficult to read. There were points where if felt that the stylistic approach diminished some of the clarity. As for the ePub format, it had a few glitches of it’s own, specifically with the italics and some inconsistent spacing between chapters. On my little reader, there were huge gaps between the chapters.

All in all, I really enjoyed the book. I don’t normally go for dystopian or apocalyptic fiction, especially when it comes dangerously close to reality. But this book really touched on a broad range of ideas, and some of those ideas were very non-conventional. I really liked that. The alien thing almost had a Scientology taint to it: Satire of this sort definitely hits the hot buttons. Even so, it had a very open consciousness to it, and the point it was trying to make was driven home successfully: Humanity needs to evolve because even if you believe some higher power will come to save us, be it Aliens or God, it might just be too late. As for the story, this could have been an epic adventure, but instead the author decided in favour of a tighter focus by picking two diametrically opposed philosophies and slamming them into each other. Some readers might think it’s a bit thin on character and plot development, but like I said earlier in the review, this is not a plot driven adventure story. However, if you like *Naked Lunch* or *A Clockwork Orange* in style and theme, and you like the lengthy exploration of ideas, and you don't mind a bit of soap-box and politically cutting satire, then you will appreciate what this book offers for contemplation.


This book was purchased by the reviewer from Smashwords at a set your own price. I paid $3.99 for the copy and it was read in the .lrf and .epub format on a Sony ereader.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lulu forums Locked?

I just checked in on the Lulu forums and they all seemed to be locked. Or is that just me?

Edited to add: the Lulu forums are sort of back. I doubt I will be spending much time there any more. Ew.

Thoughts on The Craft -- c.anne.gardner

You must read, you must persevere, you must sit up nights, you must inquire, and exert the utmost power of your mind. If one way does not lead to the desired meaning, take another; if obstacles arise, then still another; until, if your strength holds out, you will find that clear which at first looked dark. -- Giovanni Boccaccio

In my time on this blog -- in the self publishing arena in general -- if there is one thing that I have noticed about serious self-published authors is that they don’t lack perseverance. Notice I used the word “serious.” Just take a walk around the Lulu forums and you will see what I mean by not serious. Serious = Successful. There is a lot to deal with for a self-published author: they know the stakes and the stigma going in. They know it’s not just about working on your manuscript and slapping it up over on Lulu with a stock cover and then getting your friends and family to write reviews for you on Amazon. Being a successful self-published author is about more than paying a subsidiary press to do all the work for you, as well. A successful self-published author is not a stat monger either, nor is it about book sales or reviews or anything like that. A successful self-published author might even be a little nutty in the ole noggin. Why you ask, and what on earth does that have to do with being successful? Well, in my eyes, no matter the obstacles involved, the successful self-published author always seems genuinely happy with what they are doing and how they are doing it. Not in a trying to prove something to somebody sort of way, or a prove something to themselves sort of way, but a happy because they love what they are doing way. They’ll say it’s satisfying on whatever masochistic level you rate these things and that they are truly happy.

Being a successful self-published author is about more than a passion for the art. It’s about passion for the business model. It takes an ungodly amount of perseverance and it also takes an anarchist’s entrepreneurial spirit. It takes thick skin and broad shoulders, and more importantly, it takes humility, not vanity. Delusion doesn’t work, and the combative nature of arrogance doesn’t work well either. The writers I have reviewed on this site might think deeply and appear generally affected most of the time, but when you manage to wrench them away from their muse long enough to get a smile out of them, you know instantly where their heart is and why. It’s on the craft and anything that directly affects them. Anything that helps better their approach or get their art into the world is acknowledged and accounted for with style and grace.

I have met many such authors. Yes, you will rarely see a bad review from me on this site. I’ll be honest and say I don’t like wasting my time writing bad reviews, and I don’t like wasting the blog reader’s time either. The reason I don’t like writing them is that I am a hard-ass reviewer. I don’t have time to read crap, slapped together, poorly edited, poorly written and executed self-published work. I am not talking about a typo or two, those get by no matter what. What I look for in a self-published book is high concept and a command of the language. I want fearless, edgy, not necessarily overt, though I don’t mind explicit content. I want to think when I read. I don’t want to read a mass-market action-film styled book or some tarted up cliché romantic comedy or anything even remotely like *Twilight*. They might be good, but I am just not into them. I think Indie art is about being different than the mainstream, in subject matter and in narrative style and voice. That of course is just my opinion. I am sure there are Indies who write mainstream and do it well. It’s just not my thang. I am more of a drama gal, and I like books that dig deeply into the socio-political psyche of humanity: Think American Psycho or Fight Club and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what I like. I like gritty, satirical, overtly sexual, statement making books. I like ugly unsympathetic characters too, and I love high philosophy with the romantic leanings of an existentialist. I don’t need a catchy opening line, I don't need the characters' motivations drilled into my head, and I don't need a plot driven manifesto. I just need to feel that the author had command over and an appreciation of their concept, and I can tell that from the first couple of pages. During my tenure as a Peep, I have been lucky that most of the books I have read and reviewed have fit that dictate -- tall order that it is.

The reason why most of the books I have reviewed here fit is because the authors who wrote them are serious, and I selected them because I am a serious reader. These Authors are well read. They have a deep respect for the language and the craft, and they are savvy when it comes to the industry. A serious self-published author is always asking questions and looking for new ways to express their concept. They have tenacity and a willingness to walk down the less travelled path. They are also willing to make course corrections along the way.

With the ebook pricing war in full swing, Indie authors are in the best possible position when it comes to filling the market’s need for content at a reasonable price. Reading habits are changing; purchasing habits are changing, and I feel a short fiction revival coming on. Once Smashwords gets their distribution kinks worked out, they will be the premier Digital Distribution source for Indie Authors. Serious Indie authors are nimble enough and open-minded enough to seize the opportunities that the changing marketplace is offering. And they’ve certainly got the chutzpah to do it too.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

The Art this week is “Sisyphus” by Franz Von Stuck 1920

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Upside to the Ebook Revolution -- c.anne.gardner

I posted a comment the other day over on Joel Friedlander’s The Book in an article discussing the perceived demise of the book.

Ever the optimist that I am, especially when it comes to progress, I don’t see the ebook affecting the industry negatively. I see change, of course, but it’s all good. Epublishers have known this all along.

I don’t really think the concept of “the book” will ever be eliminated. I also don’t think much of the infrastructure involved in the print publishing world will be eliminated either. Everything is just going to change a bit and there will be downsizing in some areas and upsizing in others. There will still be a need for typographers, cover designers, editors etc … and as far as libraries and book stores, I think the inventory model will change. Less books will make it into print, but more authors will be published via straight to ebook contracts, resulting in more art and a more diverse voice. Print runs will get smaller, store inventory will get even more selective, and there will be fewer returns and waste. I see Pod kiosks as well as digital kiosks not only in libraries but in books stores.

Everything about the book is going to change. For the better, I think, as we become more content focused and less object focused. And reducing a book to a virtual byte, as we are seeing in twit-land, is at least as old as Cliff’s Notes. There will always be people who want to “experience” a story, and there will always be people who want to speed read.

Regardless, the three most important and most beneficial aspects of the digital content age, as I see it, are:
  1. The out-of-print model will change. Titles won’t ever have to be taken out of print when they cease to turn a profit. Ebooks are all profit after the conversion, and so authors and publishers will continue to earn on their entire collection for eternity if they want to.
  2. The risk of taking on new talent would be lessened. Straight to ebook contracts would become a viable way for publishing companies to expand their catalogue with more new authors.
  3. Short Fiction and Poetry, as well as other experimental content, will no longer be considered profitably unfit to publish, and the readers of such short fiction will be elated.

The possibilities are endless, and the hardware companies and content retailers already know this. The devices are being customized for a variety of different readers and different reading styles from text only e-ink models to elaborate colour devices with all kinds of bells and whistles. Publishers aren’t taking the long view here. They are running scared and trying to put a strangle hold on emerging developments. It won’t work, and they should be using this time to evaluate and restructure in order to capitalize on the industry’s inevitable evolution.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The eBook Pricing Debacle -- c.anne.gardner

As most of you know, I have been very vocal about the ebook price debacle over the last several weeks. And frankly, and this is only one podpeep’s opinion here, I don’t feel bad for the publishing houses at all, and I always feel bad for the authors. Publishing commercialized art and now they are reaping the rewards of that. They tried to make rock-stars out of writers and are now getting the same kick in the teeth that the music industry felt a few years ago when Mp3s got popular. Oh, they try to spin it claiming that the retailers are devaluing the author’s work, but if an ebook price that is less than the paperback price is devaluing the work, well, publishers have been devaluing their authors for years then. I’ll explain later in the article.

First let talk about business models. Under the current publishing model, it costs X amount to produce a hardback book. Of course, this varies from book to book depending on length and other fiddly packaging and marketing costs. The publisher knows what it costs to make the book, and so when they set the retail price for said book, it is an inflated number based on cost plus expected profit margin. The reason for this is because the retailers who will be placing orders for that book generally want a wholesale discount. Makes sense, because if the retailer buys the stock from the publisher at retail cost, they are then forced to sell it at retail cost and yet make nothing on the deal to cover their own expenses such as warehousing, shipping, and infrastructure expenses while still making a profit for their shareholders. If the publisher gives a 50% discount off the retail price, they still make more than what the product actually cost them. In this scenario, as with most retail models, the retailer then has the right to set their own sale price to the customer. This is a standard retail business model. They can’t sell to the consumer at their cost, because they need more than their discounted price from the publisher, and they can’t charge more than the publisher's retail price point: who would buy anything greater than retail. So, most retailers will often discount the publisher’s retail price but not to the extent they received from the publisher. A savvy retailer rarely ever charges full retail price because they know customers like the idea that they are getting a bargain. More customers means more sales and more sales means more profit because the customer is likely to become faithful to the store and purchase items that may not discounted in the future.

Moving along to the new model: In an email to agents this evening, Hachette Book Group USA CEO David Young announced a shift to an agency model for eBook pricing.

Here's an excerpt: "There are many advantages to the agency model, for our authors, retailers, consumers, and publishers. It allows Hachette to make pricing decisions that are rational and reflect the value of our authors' works. In the long run this will enable Hachette to continue to invest in and nurture authors' careers--from major blockbusters to new voices. Without this investment in our authors, the diversity of books available to consumers will contract, as will the diversity of retailers, and our literary culture will suffer." And he added this point about eBook releases: "Another great benefit to our consumers is that we intend to release HBG e-books simultaneously with the hardcover (or first format print edition)." The article then states: This makes Hachette a valuable ally for Macmillan in their price feud with Amazon (AMZN). In a paid advertisement about the Amazon debate, Macmillan CEO John Sargent defended the agency model: "Under the agency model, we will sell the digital editions of our books to consumers through our retailers. Our retailers will act as our agents and will take a 30% commission (the standard split today for many digital media businesses). The price will be set the price for each book individually. Our plan is to price the digital edition of most adult trade books in a price range from $14.99 to $5.99. At first release, concurrent with a hardcover, most titles will be priced between $14.99 and $12.99. E books will almost always appear day on date with the physical edition. Pricing will be dynamic over time."

Ok … so under the new model for ebooks, retailers are no longer retailers. I can see where that makes sense to some degree: they don’t have to buy stock, but they still have to deal with shipping (via network) and infrastructure costs, and now, under the new model, instead of receiving a 50% wholesale discount, which they in turn can pass along to consumer thus increasing their sales and profit margin, they now only get 30% profit on the retail cost, which they cannot adjust to market conditions or pass along to the consumer. Of course, the spin on that is that Amazon will make more profit, but that is not entirely true. The inflated retail cost might actually decrease book sales, and if that happens, everyone takes a hit. And here is where I want to talk about Dynamic Pricing. This is something the authors, the publishers, and the consumer should be able to live with. First a bit of pricing commentary:

Madeline McIntosh from Random house "sees the need to maintain control over pricing but admits that publishers have very little pricing knowledge, primarily because they don’t have a relationship with the end user."

No Shit! $15.00 bucks for an ebook clearly shows they have very little pricing knowledge, but hey, you know who does have pricing knowledge and a relationship with the end user: the friggin’ retailers like Amazon you idiots.

Over on Teleread Chris Meadows outlines some of the disparity nicely: "So, why would publishers NOT want Amazon to find the optimal profit-maximizing price? Because, like many entrenched media companies, they have massive legacy cost structures that don’t support selling books at, say $6 wholesale. They offer many unreasonable arguments against this: books are “worth” more, authors won’t make enough money, it’s bad for the industry, etc. These are not economic arguments, but are meant to maintain the status quo economics as long as possible. And it’s ultimately bad for them."

And David Neal says, "It is difficult enough to put a price on something that is commonly traded, handed over, shared, and used to prop up table legs, never mind protect the rights of its original author. So how do you value something that can't be shared, can't be re-sold, and is unsuitable for making improvised furniture...adjustments? $14.99 sounds like a lot of money for an e-book to us, so who wins when the publisher sets its prices high and the bookstores complain that this alienates readers? It can’t be the authors, the booksellers, the readers, or the literary agents. So who does that leave? Ah yes, the publishers."

Stripping Amazon of its $9.99 price point while jacking up the retail price on the ebook version isn’t going to win anyone any customers. And don’t start whining about devaluing the author’s work. That statement is pure publisher spin so your authors will think you have their best interest in mind, nothing more. If a hardback book, as an example, is priced $26.99 retail, and the subsequent paperback is priced $15.99, regardless of windowing, is the publishing company saying the author’s words are worth less? Of course not. Between the two editions nothing has changed as far as content, editorial services, cover design, etc. So why is one priced lower than the other if the content is exactly the same? In the simplest of terms, the packaging has changed. Paperbacks are cheaper to produce, and because they have a lower cost associated with them the retail price point is adjusted accordingly. But the dynamic price does something even more beneficial here: people who couldn’t or wouldn’t pay the hardback price are generally more willing and able to pay the paperback price. More readers find the adjusted price economical, and so more books are sold and authors gain more readers. So, just because someone is able to buy an ereader does not mean they want to be robbed for their content. Most people buy an ereader because they don’t want to pay for the packaging. They just want the words, that’s all. So it stands to reason that if the publishing house can reduce the retail price from hardback to paperback because the packaging is cheaper, then ebooks should be dynamically priced less than the paperback because there is no packaging. We all know ebook conversion is cheap. Now if the publishing house wants to opt out of the windowing scenario and release the ebook on the same day as the hardback and charge the full retail price for both, well, it’s idiocy. But if the ebook price drops dynamically over time to what it should be -- less than the paperback -- then I am ok with that. I will wait. If some schnook wants to pay full retail for a virtual book, then that’s up to them. I at least want a nicely bound book to show for the money. Anyway, to illustrate my point here, I purchased a mainstream book over the weekend for my Sony ereader. I bought Drood by Dan Simmons. I have wanted to read this for a while. The book has been out for a year already, but I don’t buy new releases, and I rarely buy hardback editions of any book. I usually wait for paperback, and then I buy it from whoever has the best price. Sometimes I pay full retail but most often I don’t. Now I chose Dan Simmons’ book because he is an author who warranted a mainstream hardback contract, so we can see the full windowing and dynamic pricing thing in action. Again, we have to get out of the content-centric mindset here. We are not talking about content and what an author’s words are worth, we are talking strictly about packaging here, so I wanted to use this book as an example because it is a mainstream author, mass-market fiction, and is already a year old.

  • Hardback retail release price: $26.99 published Feb 2009
  • Paperback retail release price: $15.99 published Feb 2010

Ok, so the paperback retail price is 40.75% less than the hardback price. Is the publisher saying that the author’s words are worth less? Of course not, they are saying that the paperback is a cheaper product, that’s all. It’s cheaper to produce and uses cheaper materials. So as a consumer, I am not getting all the fancy packaging that comes with the hardback, so it, again, stands to reason, I wouldn’t be charged for gilded pages if I didn’t get gilded pages. However, here is where things get a bit scary when it comes to ebook pricing. Logic doesn’t enter into the scenario here and it’s no wonder why consumers are pissed:

Ebook price for Dan Simmons Drood:

  • Amazon Kindle: $9.71
  • B&N $9.71
  • Sony: $18.89
  • Fictionwise: $26.99 or if you are in the “club” $22.94
  • Kobo Books: $12.59

Both Amazon and B&N are locked in the battle of the ereaders here. Marketplace competition has always affected pricing models. It eliminates price fixing and offers customers choice outside of a monopoly. Amazon and B&N are content companies first and foremost, and they want people to buy their reader and lock into their proprietary format and content, so both of them having the lowest and equal price makes sense. Sony on the other hand, well, they are a hardware company, not a content company. Their readers use the open format .epub, and so they knew by doing this customers wouldn’t necessarily buy from the Sony store, even if it’s as convenient as using iTunes. They relied on the open format to attract more hardware buyers, not content pricing. They don’t care about the content and hope consumers will just be lazy. Apple will run into the same situation, so it is to the publishers and the Agent’s – Apple here -- benefit to price fix at retail. If there are no bargains to be had, customers will just buy from their hardware provider. This is bad news for the consumer, and bad news for content only providers.

Now I don’t have a Kindle and I don’t have a Nook, so I couldn’t take advantage of that nice $9.71 price point, so I wandered over to Fictionwise – owned by B&N now – and had a coronary. Fictionwise is exclusively a content provider, much like Kobo, so I was expecting something roughly in the 9.99 range. Well, I almost put my PC through the wall when I saw they were charging full hardback retail price for a virtual book that is already a year old. After I regained consciousness, I ended up purchasing the book over at Kobo for $12.59. It is a 774 page book, so even though it wasn’t $9.99, it still seemed fair to me if one takes into account the Dynamic Pricing Model, which is based on “packaging.” It’s less than the paperback retail price of $15.99 – about 18% cheaper -- and that is what matters to me. We are not buying a physical copy of the book, so don’t charge us for one. We know ebooks are cheaper to make. I would have liked to see the same discounting percentage held over time though, which at the 40.75% would have looked something like this: Hardback $26.99, Paperback $15.99, and ebook $9.50. But as long as the ebook costs noticeably less than the paperback edition, publishers have some wiggle room before the consumer gets outraged.

Perhaps the best summary of this situation was written by Steven Pearlstein at the Washington Post, who recognizes that this is a technological transformation, and while it may be messy in the interim, the end results should be quite positive: While markets have their flaws, over the long run they are good at executing these technological transformations.... Reports of the death of book publishing, like those of music publishing and newspaper publishing, are greatly exaggerated. Business models will change, companies will come and go, and people will lose their jobs. But at the end of the process, there will be fewer people who will be paid higher incomes to produce a wider array of products at lower prices. There's a word for that -- progress -- and it's exciting to see it unfold right in front of us.

In the end, an accessibly priced book means more readers. More readers mean more profit for authors, retailers, and publishers. The business model has to change. We are not devaluing the art here, as you can see by the examples. We are devaluing the packaging. That’s all it amounts to folks. As I said over on Ditchwalk: I don’t know if $9.99 is the right number. It may not be for all ebooks, but whatever percentage is used to adjust this so-called Dynamic Pricing, it had better be consistent. As for me, I will not pay $14.99 for an ebook because that is a paperback price. I will only purchase an ebook if its retail price is 15-20% discounted off the paperback retail price. It's not worth it to purchase a virtual book at a physical book price. So, I'll just buy the paperback and then sell it into the used secondary market. Publishers went through this already when mass-market or grocery store paperbacks came into being by saying it would cannibalize the sales of other editions, and you know what, it didn’t. Trying the same tactic now isn’t going to work any better. And if you are trying to kill ebooks in order to preserve print, take a long hard look at the future. A straight to digital contract is a viable option, and some authors -- short fiction authors -- would benefit. Even the movie industry was able to make that work with straight to DVD.

Edited to Add: And don't worry publishers ... you can still make money hand over fist here by putting all your backlisted titles into ebook format. Those are almost 100% profit, and I am sure the authors would love to see new life breathed into their languishing titles. But then again, the authors could do that themselves if their rights have reverted, now couldn't they????

Cheryl Anne Gardner

Review: Hauling Checks

Title: Hauling Checks
Author: Alex Stone
Genre: fiction
Price: $12.95
Publisher: AWS Books
ISBN: 978-1449563332
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

It’s a little-known fact, but for many years, every check written at a bank had to be physically air-freighted back to the original bank it was drawn on. Modern technology is slowly phasing this out, but in the meantime, a group of airfreight companies make a living flying this “work” around. These pilots refer to themselves as freight dogs. It’s a tough business, consisting of flying small turboprops out of secondary airports at night for little money.

It’s the world of Alex Stone, author of the new novel Hauling Checks. This short work (166 pages) is ostensibly the story of Checkflight, a (hopefully) fictional airfreight company swirling down the corporate drain. In reality, the book is an excuse for Alex to tell fictionalized exploits and anecdotes of his flying career. Very entertaining anecdotes, I might add.

Alex is an engaging writer, aiming at a general audience, so there’s no “I did a second IFR on the PDQ” technobabble. What aviation lingo you need to understand is explained. Even then, most of the entertaining stories aren’t about flying; they are about characters, from a copilot who’s afraid to fly to a company chief who dabbles in illegal activities and a senile dispatcher.

Now, the author is a young man, apparently single, and he hangs out with a young crowd, so there are a few adult words and situations. Having said that, Hauling Checks is an entertaining and quick look at a less-than-glamorous side of being a pilot. I’m very fond of Patrick Smith, who writes “Ask The Pilot” for Alex Stone shows the writing potential to be another Patrick Smith.


Friday, February 05, 2010

Review: Leather, Licking, and Lawnmowers

Title: Leather, Licking, and Lawnmowers
Author: Dusk Peterson
Genre: GLBT Fiction/BDSM Dark Sexual Comedy
Price: $ 1.99
Publisher: Love in Dark Settings Press
Pages: 50 in .epub format
Point of Sale: Amazon
Review By: Cheryl Anne Gardner

Book Description: Leather, Licking, and Lawnmowers takes leathersex out of its usual bars and back alleys, setting it in unexpected locations: A 5&10. A potluck. A hamburger joint. A college waltz party. Even when the leatherman who narrates these stories returns to the Eagle bar, things don't go quite the way he expected. . .

I have wanted to read this collection of interconnected short stories for quite some time. With a title like that, who wouldn’t, but don’t be put off by the description. It might say leathersex, but in reality, there is very little sex in the book, and what there is of it isn’t explicit by any means, and I found myself reading passage after passage aloud to my husband. To me, the book had more to do thematically with identity and one’s own comfort level with one’s sexuality than it had to do with the act of sex itself or the BDSM gay leather lifestyle. Sure the lifestyle was showcased, but the reader is definitely not bludgeoned with a membership card. Now I don’t read too much in the erotic genre because I find the language puerile in most cases and the scenarios just seem fake and orchestrated, but Peterson’s writing style is casual, and the approach to the subject matter is very free form, almost experimental in an innocent sort of way, and that lent a certain amount of intrigue to it. In each of the stories, the characters, while reaffirming their principles and justifying their life choices on the surface, were actually discovering themselves in the process. The reader was given a very intimate view of the characters’ philosophies and personal struggles, but the stylistic approach was campy and darkly comedic, so the reader never feels aggressively accosted with the satirical social commentary. I have to applaud Dusk Peterson, because that is hard to do without sounding preachy.

Dusk Peterson follows our blog, and recently, we had a comment discussion on transgressive content in literature following my last Thoughts on The Craft article. Peterson knows I read and review GLBT books, so when I was offered an .epub version of this for my ereader, I snapped at the chance to sample the work. I really didn’t know what to expect from the title, but I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be a black comedy, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. I could easily see Leather in Lawnville as a successful cable TV program, much like Queer as Folk.

As our book starts, our unnamed first-person narrator is looking for “clothesline” at the hardware store when he runs into his neighbour Gerth. (Love the name) Anyway, Gerth isn’t quite “out” as a leatherman or a BDSM appreciator at this point. He is repressed, sexually and otherwise, so there is a lot of innuendo and double entendre littering the seemingly innocent and casual man/tool conversation. A conversation that continues back in Gerth’s basement. A grey hankie, a bicycle chain, and a spin cycle on the washer later, Gerth is well on his way to making peace with his inner submissive. Our second story finds our narrator at friend’s house during a leatherman club party, and there really isn’t any way to describe how the event goes without Peterson’s words:

Thinking about it, I've decided that bringing Jell-O to a gathering of leathermen wasn't my big mistake. My big mistake was bringing it on the night that Master Trent was attending.

Of course, our narrator and Mr. Trent eventually get into a heated discussion about stability versus spontaneity. Master Trent takes a moment here to fondly remember the day when sex didn’t come with hours of negotiation and directives. Master Trent remembers when sex happened organically in a crazed and wild fit of discovery. So our narrator should have watched his words:

It must have been the Ho Ho. Sugar rushes cause madness, right? Because I promise you, "Anything you want," is not what you say to Master Trent. Not when he has his black handkerchief sticking out of his left back pocket.

He smiled and put his arm around my shoulders. I'm not into that touchy-feely male bonding stuff, so I tried to shrug him off, sort of like a fly might try to shrug off a bull. I saw Gary suddenly turn his gaze our way, as though alerted by a signal. Trent raised his voice above the chatter.

"Gentlemen!" he announced. "My dear grey-hankied friend here has just offered to let me do anything I want with him. That's right, isn't it?" He turned to me for confirmation.

It was right about then that the Ho Ho turned into a ten-ton cast-iron ball in my stomach. I made the mistake of trying to answer. "Well, yeah, but—"

That was as far as I got. Trent picked me up by my back collar and belt and threw me onto the table.

And if things couldn’t get any weirder, we move to the local Hamburger joint to appreciate a little Homophobic rhetoric. Ignorance is bliss, especially when you are being made a fool of, and here our narrator goes all out. I can’t say too much without plot spoilers, so I won’t.

We have a few more tales after that -- the waltz at the college cotillion being the most sentimental -- and at the finish, our collection of stories, I think, ends on a fine moralistic note. There are a lot of Aunt Abigails in the world: those who appreciate every human as a unique individual; those who understand that everyone has preferences, and that some are a choice and some are not; and lastly, those who fervently believe: to each his own -- among consenting adults of course. Life is about living it; sex is about discovery. Both of those themes are addressed very eloquently in this book. No, this is not a how to manual. Peterson is subtle when it comes to outlining the rules of engagement in the various vignettes. This reader felt that the existential undertones were much sharper than the lapel pins, and that is what worked for me. These stories have purpose beyond amusement, and yet, enlightenment is only a laugh away.

Yes, I really loved this short little book, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys dark sexual comedy with principles and heart. You don’t have to be gay, and you don’t have to be in the BDSM or the leather scene to enjoy these stories. The writing is simply wonderful: campy, self-deprecating, sarcastic, and very, very funny. It’s light-hearted and conversational. Each story flows smoothly into the next, and every story has some sort of epiphany, but in the end, it’s all about finding yourself and finding others who can appreciate you. I like that message.

The reviewer read this in .epub format on her Sony reader, and had no trouble with the font or the rag-right text. I noticed no digital formatting atrocities, either.

9.75/10 simply because I wanted more.
This book was reviewed from an epub file dowloaded free from the author's website.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Thoughts on The Craft -- c.anne.gardner

An artist is a creature driven by demons. He doesn’t know why they choose him, and he is usually too busy to wonder why. -- William Faulkner

We have all heard the clichés: suffering writer, tormented artist, etc. etc. ad nausea, and to some degree there seems to be a correlation between artistic inclination and psychopathology: eccentric, demented, or just damned depressed, whatever you want to call it, it happens more with those inclined towards the arts. Whether or not genetic disposition or post-traumatic stress plays any part it in or not, I don’t know. Bonnie Kozek wrote an interesting article over on her site about the matter, but I don’t always try to pin a medical diagnosis on things. I am more of a Karma kind of person when it comes to ethereal bits and bobs like art.

For me, my love of art -- all art -- started when I was fairly young. In my years, I have dabbled in a variety of things with varying degrees of success: sculpture, illustration, painting, photography, and writing. Of them all, writing just felt the most right. It came naturally, or rather, easier than the others, and I was a big reader as kid. My brain is geared towards language -- I excelled in English -- and to me painting with words was as artistic as painting with paint. The palette was slightly different, but the same effects, the same illusions, could be achieved with words on a page as they could with paint on a canvas. I never had trouble imagining the written word, and I have never had trouble deciphering what the words actually mean. So my artistic inclination was not a choice. It runs in my family and seems to attach itself to the first born females for some reason. So choosing art as a medium for self-expression seemed natural, because in fact, it chose me. I can understand art, even in the most abstract sense, and yet in stark contrast, mathematics looks like an alien language to me, and I just can’t wrap my head around it.

Now, even though writing chose me, I, as a writer, do make some choices, or rather, I micromanage a bit of the process. I choose the subject matter I wish to write about, and I tend to choose subject matter that not only inspires me but affects me deeply -- subject matter that stretches my mind and pushes boundaries. I have a passion for philosophy and psychology, and I look at the world through those eyes, and because those eyes are also the eyes of an artist, I see things in garish detail with all the fiddly philosophical and psychological stuff gnawing for notice just off in the periphery. Much of the time what I see is beautiful and disturbing, and this is strictly my opinion here, but I think that is why artists suffer so: we just see things differently, and it affects us. We not only see the love and the truth, but we also see the motivation and the need, or rather, we can see the rose, the compost, the decomposing rat, and the maggots squirming beneath. We can see cause and effect, and as we write, we can feel the emotional impact of that on so many different levels. How could it not make a person feel a little bit insane? All those voices, all those emotions, all those infinite existential and philosophical choices we must make -- all the paths we must take a cursory glance down before we choose to wander, or not.

So sure, I can be a bit eccentric at times, and sometimes I can be moody and manic when I am in it. I pace the floors, I talk to myself, I live through my characters occasionally, and more importantly, I re-live emotionally brutal episodes from my own life in order to feel what I need to feel in the words. Hell, my novella Sin-eater has been sitting in a drawer for a year. With that one, I felt the fear. I lost site of the context when I found myself frightened by my own words. Yes, I had a few months where I bottomed out, and I mean bottomed out. It could have gone very wrong, but I have a few writer and artist friends who can relate. I also have a very patient husband, so I got the support I needed to get my head back on straight. I too tend to isolate myself when I am in the throes like that, and isolation isn’t good when one finds themselves affected in particular way. It’s here that I think modern writers have some advantage over the writers of old. Most of us also have day jobs, which gives the mind a chance to reset itself. It also brings with it a world of interaction, for good or for bad, as does the internet. Writer groups and friends are only a click away. The odds of reaching out when we are in dire need and slamming into someone who can understand and help us is much greater today than it ever has been. Alone doesn’t have to mean completely shut down and shut out anymore. Our idiosyncrasies don’t have to haunt us anymore or make us feel like outsiders and freaks. We can rise above the rejections. We can just be writers and artists. We can be different and be ok with it. All the truths, the lies, and the conflicts that seem to bleed from us to the page don’t have to consume us in silence as they once did.

Now I am not saying that camaraderie is a cure for the isolation and rejection one feels as an artist. It’s not, but it can help, and should the artist also be predisposed to depression or other psychopathology they should seek relief from a professional. However, I am always on the fence when it comes to the chemical altering of the mind. If you blur the mind, then wouldn’t you also blur the vision? I don’t know. Where does the line between imagination and second-sight become indistinct, and if you alter one, where does that leave the other? Again, I do not know, but I will leave you for now ... it’s time for me to sit in my corner, drool, and pick scabs. Anyone for Yahtzee?

“Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence -- whether much that is glorious -- whether all that is profound -- does not spring forth from disease of thought ...” Edgar Alan Poe

The Painting is titled “Nachtmahr” by Johann Heinrich Fussli 1802

Cheryl Anne Gardner

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

And How Does This Make Sense -- c.anne.gardner

I ran across a couple of interesting articles last week, and while they might not seem related, they most certainly are. First, we have an interview with a book pirate over at The Millions posted by By C. Max Magee on January 25, 2010

TM: What changes in the ebook industry would inspire you to stop participating in ebook file sharing?
TRC: This is a tough question. I guess if every book was available in electronic format with no DRM for reasonable prices ($10 max for new/bestseller/omnibus, scaling downwards for popularity and value) it just wouldn’t be worth the time, effort, and risk to find, download, convert and load the book when the same thing could be accomplished with a single click on your Kindle. Even in this situation, I would probably still grab a book if I stumbled across the file and thought it might interest me – or if I wanted to check it out before buying a paper copy.

Then we have a commentary on the Macmillan/Amazon debacle by Cory Doctorow posted on January 29, 2010 in response to the NYT article.

If true, Macmillan demanding a $15 pricetag for its ebooks is just plain farcical. Although there are sunk costs in book production, including the considerable cost of talented editors, copy-editors, typesetters, PR people, marketers, and designers, the incremental cost of selling an ebook is zero. And audiences have noticed this. $15 is comparable to the discounted price for a new hardcover in a chain bookstore, and it costs more than zero to sell that book. Demanding parity pricing suggests that paper, logistics, warehousing, printing, returns and inventory control cost nothing. This is untrue on its face, and readers are aware of this fact.
Now one might, on the surface, think that these two articles are unrelated, but in the book industry, they are related. Readers are well aware that it costs more to make a physical book than it does an ebook. And with the reduction of cost by the elimination of printers, delivery systems, warehousing, and the cost to deal with the pulping of remainder books the consumer, and with good right, would assume that that cost savings would be passed along to them via a reduced retail price. It makes sense. I am not getting a physical book, so why should I pay for one???? Why on earth can’t traditional publishers understand this and let go of their old-fashioned economic business practices? $15 dollars is too much to pay for an ebook. It’s as simple as that, and sticking fast to this outdated pricing structure only perpetuates piracy. Not to mention, I would be willing to read a lot more books and a lot more books by unknown authors if the price was reasonable. I am certain that I am not alone in my logic here. As for holding back on ebook releases, well, that too is absurd. I'll friggin wait you morons, while I watch you shoot yourself in the foot. And don't get me started on DRM. DRM is another manipulative tactic to strong arm the consumer, and again, another tactic that makes piracy seem like an economical choice, which is why Amazon’s decision to allow Kindle publishers to choose whether or not they want DRM was tactical brilliance on their part. I opted out of the DRM as soon as they made it available.

Now I am not trying to diminish the labor and talent it takes to create a book. I am an Indie author, so I know what things cost: ISBNs, editorial services, software, distribution costs, etc., and I am also a literary appreciator to the magnitude of thousands of dollars a year. Authors deserve to get paid, as do all artists. Publishers, editors, and everyone else along the way also deserve to get paid, but you cannot use the same cost to profit ratio and rational for digital content. They are different, and so the retail pricing structure has to be different. It’s not about the value of the thing in an abstract sense. Putting a price on art is difficult at best, but putting a price on a commodity that has quantifiable costs related to it is a much easier calculation to make. If Stephen King were to sell a million ebooks at an appropriate adjusted retail price, then everyone would make the same as if he had sold a million physical books. And in actuality, there would be less waste and more readers. The adjusted retail price would attract more readers and the paradigm would shift. More readers means more books sold, less piracy, and more profit. Reduced retail price does not = less profit. Not when in comes to digital content. Even I, of the economically challenged, can make sense out this. As for Macmillan, I guess they haven’t realized that they are not strong-arming Amazon, they are strong-arming the consumer, and we won’t stand for it. They can charge $15 bucks for an ebook, but I certainly ain’t gonna buy one, especially if it’s DRMed and I don’t technically own it.

That, my friends = less profit. Less readers for the author and less profit for all. Seems like Amazon understands this as it states in their recent letter:

"We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles. We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan's terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books. Amazon customers will at that point decide for themselves whether they believe it's reasonable to pay $14.99 for a bestselling e-book. We don't believe that all of the major publishers will take the same route as Macmillan. And we know for sure that many independent presses and self-published authors will see this as an opportunity to provide attractively priced e-books as an alternative."

So hoorah for Amazon! They may have had to concede here, but their self-serving principles, despite their big-brother tactics, are in line with the consumer. As a shop owner, if Amazon feels they cannot sell a product because it's priced too high, they have the right not to stock it as far as bandwidth space is concerned. Sure Macmillan can charge whatever they want, it is their product, but as far as this consumer goes, they can take their $15.00 per ebook pricing structure and shove it where the sun don’t shine. The readers have the final say.

Cheryl AnneGardner

Monday, February 01, 2010

We Have A Winner

The winner of our Free Book Friday contest is Kylee! Congratulations!

Also, David Drazul would like to remind readers that the first three chapters of his book are available for free at his website.

(Random numbers courtesy