Friday, May 28, 2010

Summer Free Book Friday Extravaganza

Welcome to The Pod People: Thank Goodness it's friggin' summer already Free Book Friday Share a Book with Your Friend at the Beach Extravaganza.

Included in this Month's Free Book Friday's giveaway:

The Darkness Within by Joseph S Meraz
Razor Wire Pubic Hair by Carlton Mellick III
Gold Star Wife by LK Campbell
Homicide Insecticide by Orthi Rabbane
Maid for Me by Kat Lieu

Reviews can be found at the links provided. This is quite an eclectic mix of styles and genres,so be advised, this is for adults only.

To enter, comment on this blog post by Midnight Monday, Memorial Day, May 31, 2010. The winner will be selected on Tuesday June 1st.

Good Luck and Happy Reading.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Thoughts on Substance and Style -- c.anne.gardner

The reality of any work of art is its form, and to separate style from substance is to "remove the novel from the realm of art". Art, Robbe-Grillet reminds us, is not just a pretty way of presenting a message: it is the message. Like the world out there, a novel is self-sufficient and "expresses nothing but itself". Its "necessity" has nothing to do with its "utility". Whenever an author envisages a future book, "it is always a way of writing which first of all occupies his mind," which leads Robbe-Grillet to state – provocatively – that "the genuine writer has nothing to say. He has only a way of speaking". Creative writing classes should always start and end on that note.

I ran across this interesting interview over on the Guardian, and since I am all about writing as art, I thought it would be nice to talk about the implications of the closing statement, specifically the separation of style from substance and the writer having nothing to say. For the former, I agree that if all writers follow a bunch of set rules, or rather, write to the same conventions, thus eliminating any sense of individual style, then we strip away the art, and the novel becomes just another mass-produced product, message or no. The art is in "how" the writer expresses his/her thesis, that being the substance. Writing, like all art, is not "paint by number." Every artist, every writer, sees the world differently, and their stylistic approach is directly affected by that viewpoint.

Now when it comes to the "genuine writer" remark, I caution that we probably shouldn't take that statement too literarily. Of course the writer has "something" to say; otherwise the story wouldn't mean anything to him/her, so why bother writing it in the first place. And what they have to say has everything to do with a viewpoint, their own or many different ones. After all, we read literature to experience viewpoints other than our own, sometimes we want it liken to our own and sometimes we want it diametrically opposed to our own. That is what literary fiction is all about: arguing a thesis from one or multiple points of view. Art makes us see the world differently, and each artist has their own unique way of verbalizing their viewpoint. So in essence, how the writer writes -- how they construct and articulate the story -- is what matters, but beyond that it's just fashion. The writer can let the story say what needs to be said. Sure. Even de Sade in his essay on The Novel said much the same thing: the author should never make a statement, they should let the characters and the story make it for them. However, there is some wonderful groundbreaking literature out there were that "rule" is violated to great effect.

As for me, I let the story say what needs to be said. I always have something to say, mind you, because I am arrogant that way, but I let my narrators act as translators. Despite my own tactical approach, I would never take issue if an author decided to act as the translator and chose to address the thesis and the reader directly within the context of the story.

So authors, what's your take on this? How do you interpret Robbe-Grillet's comment? Would you write a story if you had nothing to say? And do you mind if the author interjects their viewpoint into the work directly. If you don't mind, what's your favourite book in which that approach was taken. For me, I loved The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.

The Art this week is one of my all-time top ten favourite narrative painters: H. Bosch, Detail from The Temptation of Saint Anthony. circa 1501

Cheryl Anne Gardner

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

BEA 2010: The Changing DIY Ethos

BookExpo America 2010: The Changing DIY Ethos by Rachel Deahl May 24, 2010

J.A. Konrath is, arguably, the current “it” boy of self-publishing. So who better to help kick off the new DIY conference at BEA? At one of the break out panels during the show’s inaugural DIY Conference Marketplace, Konrath put it out there succinctly and quickly. After telling the long and winding road he took to becoming a traditional author—it included an agent, 10 books over a 12-year period, and over 500 rejection letters—he said there’s a word for writers who don’t give up: “published.” Konrath, who came to self-publishing after a frustrating turn with an established house, added this: “It’s 2010 now, and my story is archaic. Technology allows us all to get published.” Read Full Article Here

Despite his Trad Publishing background and successes, I do like Konrath's closing statement as it applies to traditional publishing and self-publishing: “Don’t publish sh*t,” he said. The quickest way to fail, even in self-publishing, as Konrath explained, is giving the audience bad content. If they buy it, even if they buy it cheaply, and they hate it, they won’t come back.

Now hating the content is an entirely subjective thing. I have disliked some very well written books because I didn't like the content. I am not a Konrath reader because I don't like the content or the genre. I don't read traditional romance either purely because of the content not the writing. It's a personal taste thing, so let's not make that mistake. Shit means badly edited and badly written regardless of the "content." Every Self-published writer needs to know how to make that distinction. If you can't, then you shouldn't be publishing in the first place.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Review: 29 Jobs and A Million Lies

Title: 29 Jobs and a Million Lies
Narrator: Jennifer Topper
Genre: Memoir/Coming of Age Humour
Price: $ 10.00 or eBook .99
Paperback: 146
Publisher: 29JObs
ISBN: 978-0984368105
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed By: Cheryl Anne Gardner

Book Description: Dark, twisted, and outrageous, 29 Jobs and a Million Lies is a glimpse at counterculture's underbelly and attempts to succeed within that world. From demented B-movie, roach-infested film production offices chock full of freakish characters to the Cannes Film Festival; from starting a punk rock record label to its hard but inevitable crash; from a grimy, Greenwich Village restaurant kitchen to failed attempts at joining the Navy, you gotta ask, What's a nice girl from the suburbs doing all of this dirty work for? 29 Jobs and a Million Lies is the gut-wrenching, self-deprecating account of how ambition to stand out was wiped out by clumsy choices, immaturity and self-defeating righteousness.

I can agree to some extent that the book is a bit twisted. It certainly has attitude, as it is written in a very confrontational ranty style, but even so, this is still one of those: Been there, done that, Damn the Man, now I am looking back on my Twenties and it sucked total ass memoirs. There is nothing wrong with that at all. It’s a snapshot of the youth mindset, a social satire, if you will, but it's not really counter-culture as much as it is just twenty-something angst. Objecting or opposing the dominant values and behaviour of society at large is a typical characteristic of youth. The desire to be unconventional is not the same as true counter-culture, as in the movement. As for the Angst: I had it, everyone I know had it, and kids today have it. And I, just like many others, can tell you outrageous "how I survived long enough to find my place in the world" stories.

The 60s brought the first wave of real counter-culture, where the "graduate, get married, buy a house, take a job and stay there all of your life” mantra became the American Dream of the past. Free love and independent thinking called everything into question. Censorship, racism, the war in Vietnam, the draft, the sexual revolution, feminism, civil rights, and the libertine attitudes burgeoning within the youth movement brought about the desire to break free of the rigid puritanical cultural and social restraints of the time. Individual freedom and freedom of expression were the order of the day, by any extreme deviation that was necessary to subvert the current fascist regime. My husband can attest to that since he was the youth of the 60s. However, the attitudes and the struggles of today's youth are not exactly the same as they were then. Counter-culture then was world changing, today, not so much, and that is part of the problem. Counter-culture today is just trendy, so I guess we could call that narrator delusion number one.

This memoir focuses more on the delusions of youth, rather than true counter-culture, and by using a self-deprecating approach, the overtly caustic nature of the writing is tempered somewhat, but the story is not uncommon. Ask any college graduate who has a degree they don't know what to do with and you will certainly get a story similar to this one. Now I am a decade-plus older than the narrator here, and I also didn't have some of the privileges that this narrator had, i.e. the wealthy family and the proper four-year college education that I could take a lackadaisical approach to, skiing in Austria in 1987, or softball in Paris in 1989. If someone had told me no jobs were available, I wouldn’t have just passively believed it. There were jobs in the 90s, and I should know: I had been in the working world since 83 and had changed jobs six times by that point on my way to my current career. This illustrates the generation gap very nicely, and generational differences aside, I found the narrator very relatable because she showed an independence and an honesty that we are seeing less and less of these days. The fact that the will to survive was strong enough to combat the delusion of youth is something to take note of here. We all made bad choices. We all have had our egotistical moments where we thought: I am better than this, better than what I perceive to be a menial job. I am NOT common or average. I will not compromise. My immature philosophies are valid so damn the dogma. It's a rare few who walk out into the world at twenty-something years old and have their life satisfactorily mapped out for them. If that were the case, people wouldn't have a mid-life crisis either. No matter the generation, we all had youthful delusions, but the delusions made us fearless to some extent; well, it did for those of us who were genetically predisposed to the idea that with a little outside-of-the-box thinking, we could make our own way. Most of today’s twenty-something college graduates saunter into the world with delusions of grandeur. Delusions that they will be significant, that they will make some monumental impact on the world, and that they are just that special they can do it, but eventually the realities of life have to kick in and they realize that their definitions of significant and impactful are a bit skewed because of their over-inflated opinion of themselves, the fact that they don’t know what they don’t know, and that their few real world experiences aren’t worth the salt they base their belief system on.

The meaning of life is subjective and always will be. Real impact is measured on a much smaller scale. It’s made in tiny increments. Of course no one knows that when they first start out all ass-holes and elbows, because wisdom only comes with age. That is a fact. One that our narrator here is very aware of. I found a few telling passages that really epitomize today's youth, except here, the narrator is looking back with some perspective:

“We all have a selective way of listening and retelling the "truth." We retain the things that we want to retain, and we reject the rest. That's how our social fabric doesn't come apart, because we are all totally insane freaks who have the most bizarre routines, quirks, fantasies, fetishes, perspectives, and opinions. If we weren't all totally different, life would be a George Orwell story. That's why each of us creates our own alternative universe to find satisfaction. Actually, no, happiness isn't really the motivating factor here... I'm a realist, so the underlying impetus to create the alternative universe -- the ultimate lie -- is so we can think that we are actually in control of our own destiny.

"I made a bad choice, followed by a series of worse choices. Perhaps this is the turning point that I should analyze a little more -- my total inability to make a decent, long-term decision in my life that will lead to a satisfying future. Facing these facts is somewhat satisfying -- like I found the thing to blame for so many wrong turns. But it doesn't make right what I made wrong for so many years. As I got a little older and approached 30, perhaps my willingness to start out at the bottom and learn everything in sight was curtailed. And logic would dictate that as well, since there should be a sequential series of life choices, right? Instead of climbing the ladder of success, I was floundering around the bottom for way too many years without building any foundation for the future.

"I shortly realized that everything is a priority to me, I can't adequately prioritize issues so that I can appropriately pick my battles, which was why I was having such a hard time getting through the muck of life's challenges. I made those challenges harder than they needed to be; and in a way that's what made things so much more gratifying. But mostly, it left me tired, worn-out and drained of my motivation and positive energy.

"The fear of success -- or contentment or just status quo -- was and still is penetrating. I learned about myself a lot through experiencing less-than-riveting jobs. In order to not be identified with the job, I leave it. I have a weird distance between me and consistent ideals. But in order to have a happy future, I thought, I have to keep pursuing something grander. Only in retrospect did I realize that I was setting myself up for disappointment by setting such lofty and intangible goals.

These epiphanies just prove that when things come easy, when there is little to no culpability for one's actions, where immediate gratification and an aversion to responsibility is the norm, and when the world has perpetuated a sense of entitlement then we have a society that tends to produce more delusion than not. It’s all about expectations. For some it’s about unrealistic ego-centric expectations, and for others, it's about survival; it’s about finding a way to have a life without compromising one’s principles. It's not about finding the perfect job that appeals to their sensibilities, it’s not about some obscure sense of being better than someone else, it's not about some arbitrary definition of success, it’s about finding something that pays the rent, puts food on the table, a job where, with hard work and determination, they could maybe move on to something better. College doesn’t teach survival skills, only life does. And nothing teaches compromise like a hard life.

In my day, with my particular upbringing, we quickly discovered that anarchy was for art and people who could afford it. However, viewpoint aside, it was interesting to watch the narrator's transformation from delusional self-righteous idealism to a true understanding of the apathy that infiltrates everything in the world as we know it. By the end it seemed like the narrator had come to the understanding that there is a difference between selling out and taking a more passive aggressive approach. Being arrogant and confrontational, even if you are right, might make you feel liberated, but it isn't always the best way to affect change for the better. The real counter-culture of today attempts to subvert from within.

All in all, the book is written with a militant's flair for exaggeration, in a very fast, conversational, ranty-styled diatribe with a lot of finger-pointing and language, which lit readers might find unsuitable. It read like a drive-by shooting, but sadly, the editing was a bit rough: I noticed a few minor issues here and there, specifically pervasive typos. As for the content, well, depending on your own personal experiences, this book might be a difficult read, and in some cases, it might make some people downright angry. When a narrator basically states that any job other than the ideal fantasy-land one she had in her naive head is stupid, brainless, and nothing more than a poverty-level day job that warrants little respect from her is bound to alienate a few bazillion people, including myself, who was and is a tattooed artistic anarchist who by will and savvy manipulation alone managed to turn one of those want-ad day jobs into a successful career so that she could eat, have a nice roof over her head, and have all the free time and money she needs to be the real anarchist she is at heart. So the moral of the story is: life is what "you" make it. Our narrator here made a mess of hers because she didn’t understand that a successful life has nothing to do with wealth, privilege, education, or experience. If anything, those things are handicaps. Life has everything to do with attitude. It’s about making the best of the system and making it work for you versus living in a delusion and complaining about it. It's not about ambition; it's about passion and optimism. An optimist will always find a way to better the life experience and so they will always find value and significance and gratification in whatever they do. Their passion comes from within ... They know what will make them happy because they spent less time ranting and more time becoming self-aware, and they will do what needs to be done to be happy, even if it isn't ideal, fashionable, pleasant, left wing or right. Even at the end of the piece, it didn’t really seem like the narrator had a firm grasp on what would make her truly happy, other than motherhood. She mentions publishing, a restaurant, a shop to sell homemade baby clothes, and my favourite: Farming, because, and I quote: “since dirt is good and growing things is fun.” I wonder how many actual farmers would agree that it is fun, especially after they experience devastating crop loss due to a million things beyond their control. Even in the end, the fickleness of youth is still there, and that’s what makes this social commentary so dead-on honest: Most people don’t figure out what they really want until they reach 40 anyway, and therein lies the irony of the mid-life crisis.

My only real complaint about the book is that there was so much ranting, we didn’t get enough description of the narrator’s world to really feel connected to it in any intimate way. Each chapter was basically: I got this job, and it sucked; I met these people, and they sucked; I made this decision, and it sucked; I am a deluded moron, and I suck. As for the dark, twisted, and outrageous counter-culture's underbelly description, well, you won't find that here. Compared to say Augusten Burroughs' Running with Scissors this isn't all that outrageous, and compared to William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch or Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, it isn't all that dark or twisted or counter-culture either, but again, the claim that it is reflects the narrator’s youthful idiocracy at the time. On a final note: If you have a regular "job" and don't particularly care for someone calling you a corporate sell-out, or worse, then I would pass on this book because you might just take offence if you don’t look at it objectively. However, if you were yammering "revolution" in high school without having a fucking clue what that meant and you want to reminisce on how shitty and absurd your debut into society was, how delusional you were in your twenties, and how ill-prepared you were for the realities of the world, then this book might make you say, "Right on. Been there, done that." If you are twenty-something right now, then you will probably be able to relate better. Despite the in your face “fuck you” attitude, the book has some really insightful things to say, and I think it is an accurate portrait of, and I will let the narrator describe herself here:

“The Generation X, Y or Z, or selfish ingrates who don't have any respect, or the overeducated TV generation, or the materialistic little bastards. But we are a generation of people whose parents got married, started a lifelong job, bought a house (within a reasonable commuting distance to the city), and lived there for 40 years until they retired with their pensions and moved to Miami. Well here's where things change: we don't have pensions anymore, houses are unaffordable unless they come on wheels and are temporarily located in rural Oklahoma, companies don't advertise or encourage lifelong employment, Jim X and Jane X majored in Anthropology and Comparative Literature instead of Business, took a year off after college because they were told there were no jobs in the early 1990s so they backpacked through Kenya, then still couldn't find jobs when they returned so they rented a cheap, roach-laden apartment on Avenue C and got robbed of the few dollars they earned waiting tables and selling string on the street.


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

Friday, May 21, 2010

Reviewer's Guilt

When Cheryl posts a new lot of queries I always feel a little guilty. In the average week I don’t request any books. At my current rate I review about one book a month (50 since 2006), and about half of those are books I bought for myself. On one hand I feel guilty for the wasted effort that authors put into writing the queries, on the other hand I figure it is good practice and better than having actual unwanted copies of the book floating around.

In some ways it is even worse if I do like the look of a book. I have a job, books to write, blogs to run and a to-be-read pile that doubles as a (somewhat lumpy) coffee table. There is just no way in the world that there is enough time to read all the intriguing self-published books that we are offered. Which, I guess, as problems go—isn’t a bad one. It is not just the volume of self-published books that has increased over the years but also the diversity and the quality.

In the end all I can promise is that I read every query and I seriously consider requesting the book, as—I am sure—do Chris and Cheryl. If your query was unsuccessful this is almost certainly down to a matter of genre, or taste, or sheer lack of time. And if you know of anyone who would like to join our reviewing team, send them along. There is no shortage of books for them!

Spots the Space Marine

M.C.A. Hogarth, whos work I've reviewed favorably before, is writing an online science fiction serial, Spots the Space Marine. She's "crowdfunding" it (AKA, "set up a tip jar"), and new episodes come out when the jar gets full. If you are interested, drop on by.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Thoughts on The Indie Path -- c.anne.gardner

Over on Pimp my novel: Prithee Convince Me, The blog poster wants self-published authors to “convince him” that self-publishing is a viable alternative to trad publishing. Now this is not the first time this blogger has declared open season on the self-publishing industry and self-published authors, but I can't really understand why, since the blogger's bio states that he works for a traditional publisher. He's got his nice little job in the "real" publishing world, so why does he care so much about what we are doing?

This topic has generated some interesting discussion, and I decided to chime in over on Zoe Winter's blog. Why her blog and not his? Well, I will let my comment to Zoe answer that:

“Convince him?” Oh now that is rich. We will never be able to convince him or anyone in the traditional publishing industry that’s it’s a viable option, and the reason why we can’t possibly convince them is because they do not and cannot understand that “we” True Indie Publishers do not want the same things that those seeking traditional publishing want.

Our values are different, our goals, and our ideas about what success means are different than theirs, and they just can’t understand why we don’t want the same things they do.

And frankly, we’ve got better things to do than waste our time trying to convince people who are only going to mock us anyway. We are happy with what we are doing, and we don’t need to “convince” anyone.

Check please.

As an aside to that discussion, I wanted to take note that traditional publishing and authors struggling through that process need a bit of a reality check as well. It ain't all green grass over there, either. In this article, Lit Agent Julie Barer tells trad authors to keep their day jobs: “I know it’s somewhat of an unpopular opinion, but I think it’s unrealistic to expect that you can support yourself solely as a writer in this economy. Most of the writers I know teach, or have other day jobs to support themselves, so the best way to avoid eating ramen noodles is to not rely completely on your book advance to pay your bills.”

Now sure, I can agree that many self-published authors walk into the process completely delusional, with little to no knowledge of the craft and theory let alone an understanding of what being an Indie means, so yes, there is a lot of badly written, badly edited crap out there, but it's not like the traditional publishing path is delusion/crap free either.

Anyway, We shouldn't even be having this debate. Neither is viable. It's not like traditional publishing or self publishing are making millionaire authors every day. Authors are working their asses off in both industries, there is no job security, and but a rare few are making money hand over fist, let alone, writing for a career. Sure, if you want to become a mega-millionaire best selling author, your odds are better in traditional publishing, but the odds are still a long shot. Sadly, that's not even the point here. The point is that I am so tired of the “If you don’t do it like I do it then you are doing it wrong” mantra. (Our society, in general, seems to be stuck in that mindset for some reason.) That’s just insecurity talking half the time. If you know what you want, if you have educated yourself on the process, and the process and the end result make you happy, then you are not doing it wrong. Sure, there are plenty of ways to “do it wrong” but if you are putting out a professional product, well edited, well designed, well written etc. and you are happy with it and your readers are happy with it, then what’s the problem? Fact check here: There is no problem except the one certain people have created in their own minds to justify why they chose the path they chose. It’s all because they think if we are right then they must be wrong, and that’s because they don’t understand that the word “conventional” does not mean "right." It just means different. Same with unconventional; it doesn't mean "wrong."

Just because my vision is different than theirs and my methods are different than theirs doesn’t make me wrong, and it certainly doesn’t make my art less worthy or less arty than theirs. And on the flip side, if someone needs validation from a publishing house to feel they are a good writer, ok, that’s what they need, fine. Doesn't mean they are wrong either, and we all need to keep in mind that not everyone needs that, and by no means does wanting or not wanting something make someone wrong or right. Art has always been about anarchy, rule breaking, and spitting in the face of convention. If it weren’t, we would all be matching our shit to the drapes.

Happiness isn’t a best seller or a million dollar book deal. When happiness becomes about validation and monetary gain then it’s time to rethink the priorities. Success is happiness and success comes in all kinds of forms. Success is the idea. It's the job well done, and "well done" has a lot of different meanings. So, if you are happy on the Indie path, then you are successful, and if you aren’t happy, well, then try a different path. If you are not happy on the traditional publishing path for whatever reason: lack of creative control, royalty rates that are not satisfying, too much "face" time taking away from the writing, the query process is impersonal, confidence stripping, and seemingly futile, and you think you might die of old age before you ever see your manuscript in print, then maybe it's time to try a new path. If your sense of self-worth requires that you be "accepted" by anyone but yourself, then you might need a new outlook in general.

There are leaders, and there are followers, so you can either get busy waiting or get busy doing. It's a choice: individual choice. Neither one nor the other is right or wrong; It's just a matter of choosing the one that is right for you. My reasons are my reasons. They are unique to me, and I don't have to convince anyone of their validity. Both methods of publishing have their place, always have had, and as long as art is free from constraint, then everyone benefits. Society benefits. I don't want my art stamped "fit for consumption" by any corporate or governmental agency. That's just me. I think it's fine for Food and Drugs, but not for art. Other authors need the stamp of approval, and that's fine too, and art lovers (readers in this case) are smart enough to decide for themselves. If they want something to match the drapes, then fine, if not, at least they have a choice. When we clutter things up too much with rules, fashion trends, and bureaucracy, we diminish it's potency, we objectify it, and take away it's freedoms. Freedom of expression and independent thought, that is. Art is subjective; let's keep it that way.

As for choosing a path: Traditional Publishing works for some people, and self-publishing works for others. Making the choice has nothing to do with anything except your own reasons for choosing one over the other, and really, you don't need to choose either. You can do both at the same time, and believe me, both take just as much hard work.

The art this week is Braque: Woman with Guitar 1913

Cheryl Anne Gardner

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Barnes & Noble Announces PubIt!(TM)

Barnes & Noble Announces PubIt!(TM), An Easy-to-Use Digital Publishing and Distribution Platform for Independent and Self-Publishers.

Seems like B&N are going to platform like Kindle for their Nook. Not much info yet, but as we get more we will pass it along. For now, here is an excerpt:

The announcement marks Barnes & Noble's latest move to continue to build one of the world's largest digital catalogs, spanning eBooks, journals, periodicals and other types of reading material. PubIt! titles will be distributed through BN.COM and Barnes & Noble's eBookstore, which currently offers more than one million digital titles to millions of dedicated customers in-store and online.

Independent publishers and writers will appreciate PubIt!'s simple and competitive royalty model and compensation process, the details of which will be available in the coming weeks. Content owners' intellectual property will be well-protected with Barnes & Noble's best-in-class digital rights management technology and offered in the industry standard ePub format that allows publishers' works to be enjoyed by millions of Barnes & Noble customers on hundreds of the most popular computing, mobile and eBook reading devices.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Self-Publishing Forum

Okay, after flouncing from one forum and being banned from another I have gone ahead and started a self-publishing forum.  I am seeking co-administrators and moderators.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Amazon, Smashwords and Free reads

Amazon has recently announced that they will no longer be listing free Kindle edition books on their Kindle best seller list. The use of separate free and priced bestseller lists will make it clearer which books sell in volume based more on appeal than price point.

The change may reduce the promotional clout of free editions somewhat, but a more serious obstacle would be the Amazon-gatekeeping of free Kindle content. Despite the existence of a distibution agreement, Amazon continues to be spotty in their uptake of ebooks from Smashword-- and the reportedly refuse to list their free content at all.

There are arguments that Amazon should not have to carry free books and so be required to cover their nominal wireless cost for download. However they are hosting free books for large presses, so why is this reasoning applied only to small presses and self-publishers whose works, realistically, probably represent a smaller download burden?

Friday, May 14, 2010

2010 IPPY Award Winners

The Independent Publisher has announced the winners of the 2010 Independent Publisher Book Awards or IPPY.

The Podpeople would like to congratulate all the winners, especially Henry Baum from The SelfPublishingReview for winning the Gold in the Visionary Fiction category for his novel The American Book of the Dead, which I reviewed here.

The Entry period for the 2011 IPPYs begins in June.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Thoughts on Literary Fashion -- c.anne.gardner

Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly. -- Franz Kafka

I ran across an article a few weeks ago on the Writer’s Digest blog titled: The Biggest Bad Advice About Story Openings, and I think it fits perfectly with that Kafka quote and my own personal feelings about style advice. Sure, we have all heard this sort of advice being bandied about -- have heard so much of it that we cringe when we hear new authors speak them aloud as if they were the 10 commandments.

I could go on to make a list, but it’s not really necessary. The list would be painfully long and rather off-putting. What really warrants clarification here is that most of these so-called rules for writing fiction are not rules at all. Are not now and never were. What they are is the latest fashion. And more often than not, the new writer takes these mantras as gospel before they even understand exactly what they mean, and so the writing winds up worse off than what it might have been if they had just gone with their gut. Certain genres have certain writing conventions and one would be wise not to ignore them entirely, but conventions are not rules, either.

Sure, there are a lot of real fiction writing rules, and much of what I consider “fashion” statements are valid advice-wise to a certain degree, but we need to proceed with caution here as it can sometimes get confusing when it’s difficult to distinguish a real rule from the latest overworked fashion statement. I can tell you, most of the advice you will hear is just fashion.

That said, we can proceed to the First Line Hook. Now, I will agree, the first line is the toughest to write, and many writers will slap something down to get started, but in the end, it will be the single most rewritten line in their entire book. However, that doesn’t mean we need a shocking one liner. The first line should fit the story, as it sets the mood and tone of the narrative right from the start. You don’t need a gimmick; you just need a first line that is intriguing enough to start the story off. As a reader of many thousands of books, I can safely say, I have never put a book down after the first line because I was disappointed in it, and actually, when I am shopping for books, I would rather just plunk it open and read any random passage from the middle. The middle of a book is a better indication of the writing than the beginning or the end. And no matter what you do with that first line, not every reader is going to get “hooked” by it no matter what, so in reality, it’s just silliness to obsess over it. If it was a dark and stormy night, then it was.

As for Start With The Action, I feel pretty much the same as Jane over on Writer’s Digest. Not every book is meant to begin with an action scene, and an action scene out of context can be more annoying than it can be intriguing. Not to mention that action doesn’t necessarily mean a combat scene, sometimes starting in the middle of the action simply means starting your story at the most critical moment, which will later allow you to move back and forth exploring the why and what if.

When it comes to Show Don’t Tell, well, I have talked about this ad nausea already, and again, most new writers are simply confusing descriptive language with dynamic language. Exposition should be just as lovingly crafted as the dialogue and the physical action sequences. But you are not writing a screen play, you are writing a novel, and exposition is an integral part of storytelling. And speaking of dialog, I know we hear all time that we should use the word “said” because it is invisible to the reader, and while that might be so, it’s nice to have a little a variety, providing you are using conversational verbs. Please do not have people laughing their words. And as for adverbs, well, I love them. But like anything else, overuse -- while the writing might appear to be succinct -- will leave you with prose lacking the dynamic action we need to fully understand a character or a scene: the movement. So instead of stripping out every adverb you see, just take a step back to determine which ones might be better animated. However, you don’t want to slow the pace by putting in too many beats or pages and pages of objective descriptions. If the character retorted, then they retorted. But they don’t retort angrily. That would be redundant.

When it comes to Passive Voice, Wordiness, Dense ‘purple’ Prose, or even, god forbid, Pretentious Prose, well, I am reading a book not watching an action film. I don’t want my literature dumbed down. A novel is not a screen play. Write in the language and style your ideal reader would want to read. Write in the language and style that fits the story. Use your own language. As an example, I will share a short passage from The Splendor of Antiquity. Now I could have said that my character Joliette often struggled with her emotions and that she also spent a great deal of time torturing herself by trying to apply logic to them. Had I just said that, if would have been succinct and certainly unpretentious, sure, but it wouldn’t have fit with the narrator’s voice and style, and it would certainly not have fit with the poetry of the story. It would have been telling, most definitely, but telling isn’t always a bad thing ... and so it was written like this:

Mercy’s gift, a flood of tears, or so Joliette had always wanted to believe, abacus in hand, as she knelt down and looked out over the edge: A fortress wall—tall and proud. A jagged edge—steep. An edge where chill winds score the soul, its lamentation quick and deep. The edge of infinity, some might say, one devoid of idolatry, whereupon reaching dizzying heights, she could stand perched precariously upon a life full of truisms and negate her own will.
Of course, I am still telling you of Joliette’s internal struggle, but hopefully the telling has been elevated to some degree beyond the mere exposition that it is ... or maybe not. Now, not everyone likes to read prose like that, doesn’t mean it’s bad or that I have violated some writing rule. My style may not be the current fashion, nor may it be fit for mainstream consumption, but that is all it means. If someone should think it’s pretentious, that’s fine. It’s a subjective opinion. You see, fiction is an abstract expression of life: Everything is stylised and exaggerated to a degree. It’s not supposed to mirror real life. It’s only purpose is to imply it through an alternative perception of it. So the writing can be as elaborate or as simple as you like, and the characters do not have to be sympathetic. They can be caricatures, archetypes, martyrs, saviours, or fiends. They don’t have to grow, and they don’t have to be an accurate representation of humanity. So if the fiction story has only to imply life, then all the characters have to do is articulate it. How they do it is up to you. They have to be appropriate to your story. They don't have to be good or decent, they just have to be the right character. They just have to be significant in some way, that’s all. And that goes for the theme, the language, and the story arc. Not every story is going to be significant, thought-provoking, or entertaining to every reader, so why on earth would we think that by trying to mimic the latest fashion we will make it so. It won’t. Learn the real rules, stay true to your story, develop your own style and voice, and leave the fashion to Rupaul’s Drag Queens.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

Monday, May 10, 2010

Update: Alembical 2

Last month, I reviewed the wonderful novella collection Alembical 2, and gave it a 10 out of 10. I an now pleased to announce that the book is officially for sale at the publisher's site.

ETA: Lawrence Schoen, publisher of Paper Golem, writes to say that, in celebration of the pre-release of Alembical 2, the press is offering free shipping on all of their books! This is a limited-time offer, so if you were waiting to buy, don't wait.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Questions for Lulu

Recent changes at Lulu have caused a wave of discontent. Until recently it was confined to a thread on the forums--however Lulu in their wisdom decided to summarily delete that thread. Therefore I will re-post the most pithy summary of author and customer consternation that had been offered therein, by Julie Anne Dawson:

"1. Why is there a $1.49 surcharge added to ebooks?

2. Why has it taken five years for lulu to "consider" offering the ability to generate coupons or offer gift certificates?

3. Why are mainstream publishers being given tools such as the ability to show a sales price, when WE have been told that we are not allowed to sell our books for less than retail on the Lulu storefront?

4. Why is Lulu's print price structure so much higher than other similar services, particularly in light of the fact that most of these services are all using the same printers! (LSI, etc).

5. Why were we told by Sherri that Lulu would have a booth at the London Book Fair, only to discover that there was in fact no booth. In fact, why is lulu "selling" book fair services at a higher price than authors can do it themselves, but still requiring the author to do all of the actual work to make sure the books arrive at the book fairs on time? Many people ordered books through Lulu to have them shipped to the London Book Fair. They followed Lulu's guidelines on timetables, and Lulu failed to deliver.

6. Why was the ability to search for only Lulu books eliminated, after we were told it would be part of the site's search functionality?"

See also:
April 26, 2007 I've Been Suspended from

The Self-publishers's Quick Guide to Copyright

Our fellow bookblogger and friend of the peeps Joel Friedlander over on is giving away his Quick Guide to Copyright for those who subscribe to his newsletter.

Joel's site has been redesigned and offers a plethora of information on Book design and self-publishing in general.

So stop on by, read the article, and subscribe for your free copy.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Publishing in Pictures

Thoughts on The Craft -- c.anne.gardner

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths [...] I would spread the cloths under your feet: But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams." -- William Butler Yeats

Well, the ole noggin is a bit frazzled this week, so I will leave you with Yeats and a short thought. As an author, I hear all the time that we need to develop a "thick skin." That people are going to criticize our work and we had better get used to taking the good with the bad, the adoration and the abuse. And while this is true and I agree with it, the fact of the matter is that a writer's work exists in their heart and mind. It is their dream. So as a reviewer, I try to take a gentle approach with any negative commentary I might have on an author's work. As a reviewer, I want to help the writer by offering my feedback and pointing out any critical issues I might have discovered during the reading. Being blunt and honest is not the same as being snarky. I also want to make sure I balance the subjective and the objective opinion, and I want to be open to varying perceptions of the work. The only time I will generally refuse to review a work is if the editorial issues are so pervasive that it appears that the author has wilfully ignored the craft. Sure, I have been frustrated during a read before but never so frustrated that I feel I must give the author a sound public thrashing. I find that uncalled for. It's a book, that's all, and I would rather devote my time to the books that don't frustrate me, which means I read reviews and I read excerpts. If the style suits me and the cross-section of reviews doesn't put me off in any way, I will give a book a try. If I like it, I will review it and make a big deal out of it, and if I don't like it, I won't. If there are typos and grammatical errors and inconsistencies of logic littering the work, chances are, I will get frustrated.

As a reviewer and a reader, I have an obligation to remain objective. Many reviewers in the blogosphere are not compensated for the time and effort they put into their reviews. They do it because they love literature, like myself, and most of us try very hard to tread softly. As an author, I try to write the reviews I would want for my own work. Critical commentary is difficult to take. We all know this, and while the sting can be unbearable at times, the pain is fleeting, and we are better for it in the long run. Of course, that is just my opinion as an author, an editor, and a reviewer.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Hey Wait ... Don't These Words Sound Familiar?

Stumbled over this article in my feed: Wait, Could Editors Be the Saviors of Book Publishing? (A Self-Interested View) Posted by Jane from the Writer's Digest Blog

I almost fell out of my chair when I read this:

Editors ought to start taking the advice they give authors: build a platform, gain visibility, and look at the long-term trajectory of your career outside a specific publisher.

And isn't this the Indie Mantra to begin with?

Editors who depend on the publisher to provide the credibility and authority for what they do feels like a model that must change—and fortunately it can change, if authors value them.

And in the end...

I hope to see a movement—a revolution!—of editors who are willing to stand up and be known for something, who create communities of their own, maybe even form their own independent publishing operations.

From Writer's Digest's 101 Best Sites for Writers

Another critique group/workshop worth checking out:

Description: Mike's Writing Workshop

One of Writer's Digest's 101 Best Web Sites for Writers, as well as the Best Writers Workshop in the 2007 Preditors and Editors Readers Poll, this group offers all writers a place to post work, ask questions, and discuss ways to improve at the art, craft, and business of writing.

New Launch: Peer Critique Studio

Now, to be upfront, yes there is an annual fee if you are not participating in one of their workshops. However, $19.95 for 12 months is a steal, and it keeps out the hacks. Here is some more info from the website:

Why Peer Critique Studio?

You depend on the feedback of others to improve your writing, and you learn to be a better writer by reading and critiquing the writing of others. In Peer Critique Studio, new from Writer’s Digest University, we offer a moderated critique zone where you can receive critiques on your work, and offer feedback on the work of others.

Why Join Peer Critique Studio?
  • Unbiased guidance. Unlike a friend, spouse, parent or coworker, members of a critique group can give you honest, unbiased feedback. Plus, members of your critique group are focused writers who know what works, and what doesn’t.

  • Support. The writers in your critique group are in the trenches with you. They not only provide guidance for your writing, but guidance and encouragement in the writing life.

  • Learn by sharing feedback. When you’re reading the work of another writer for a critique, you’ll identify problems with transition, flow, character development, point of view, and more. The lessons you learn from reading their work can help you revise your own as well!

  • Access to genre-specific forums. You can choose from 16 different writing critique forums, each focusing on a different genre of writing. If you want to focus on nonfiction, poetry, or children’s writing, there is a studio just for you. Or, if you’re interested in a wide variety of writing, you can participate in all studios!

Why Pay for a Peer Critique Forum?

  • Moderated critique zone with high-quality participants. In Peer Critique Studio, each writer is treated with respect. Personally disparaging remarks, argumentative behavior, inappropriate language, and just plain rudeness are not permitted. By participating in a moderated and gated forum, you can get the quality feedback and guidance that you need without personal attacks or irrelevant commentary. It’s a place for serious writers to focus on the craft.

  • Access to premium content. As a member, you’ll have access to a PDF version of The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide (a $19.99 value) to help develop your critiquing skills. This product alone equals the value of your annual membership. We also offer all members a PDF version of Query Letter Clinic, from Writers Market 2010.

  • Added value for WDU students: By joining Peer Critique Studio, you’ll be able to continue valuable relationships with other writers in your classes in a private environment. You don’t have to relocate or find another forum—you can stay right here!

How to Join

Membership to Peer Critique Studio is included in your enrollment in any workshop from Writer’s Digest University.* If you’re not currently enrolled in a workshop, or want to make sure you have access, you can sign up today for just $19.99 for 12 months.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Review: The Baby Jesus Butt Plug

Title: The Baby Jesus Butt Plug
Author: Carlton Mellick III
Genre: Bizarro Fiction
Price: $9.95
Paperback: 104 pages
Publisher: Eraserhead Press
ISBN: 978-0972959827
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed By: Cheryl Anne Gardner


Step into a dark and absurd world where human beings are slaves to corporations, people are photocopied instead of born, and the baby Jesus is a very popular anal probe. Presented in the style of a children's fairy tale, The Baby Jesus Butt Plug is a short dystopian horror story about a young couple who make the mistake of buying a living clone of the baby Jesus to use for anal sex. Once the baby Jesus clone turns on them, all hell breaks loose.

I can’t really write a long drawn out review for this book simply because it is a short Aesop’s sort of fairy tale, illustrated and all. However, if you have no aversion to worlds where children are extinct, adults are photocopied into existence as adults, and everyone works mindless drone jobs at huge corporations in a viscous cycle of slave the day away and then spend your money on food, useless possessions, or pet babies -- because that is all the satisfaction you are going to get in life, and so you might as well shove it all up your ass -- then you will love this little absurdist allegory.

Our poor couple just feels so empty that they decide to go a backyard breeder to pick up a pet baby. You can even get a clone baby of someone famous, if you like, and the baby Jesus clones are all the rage. But there is a dark side to this pet trade: the heinous abusers who use the pet babies as anal sex toys, and our loving couple is no different than any of the other Joneses on the block, except their little pet baby Jesus turns out to be something like Chucky.

This book has been in my TBR pile for a while, and I had lost track of it until Emily recently reviewed Razor Wire Pubic Hair. I have been recommended several of Mellick’s books on Amazon, and I can say that as a writer of reactionary literature, he has a gift for using the dark, the disturbing, and the ridiculously offensive to state the obvious when it comes to drawing parallels to the ludicrous idiocracy of our modern world. Nothing in his writing ever seems gratuitous or all that shocking when you stop to think about what he is actually saying. This is conceptual art at its finest and its most deviant and its most perverse and subversive. It’s art with purpose, and I like that ... a lot. Not to mention the illustrations are just wonderful. There are a lot of psychological, theological, and sociological themes being explored here, like the feeling of insignificance we have as just one of the many amidst the masses, or how humans have an innate capacity to pervert and abuse everything we can get our hands on in order to either make a buck or get gratification, or how every human has the subconscious desire to submit to a narcissistic need to “love thyself, plus a whole lot more, and all of the exploration is done quickly, so you have to pay attention. The writing has a deliberate lack of finesse, as if an 8 year old adult wrote it -- oh yea, our main character *is* an 8 year old photocopied adult. My only gripe was with the huge font. I understand it was to mimic a children’s book, for obvious reasons, but I think a smaller book size and a denser font would have suited this story a bit better, say for instance a pocket size book, then the author could reduce the price to something more reasonable for its length. If it had been done as a proper children’s book with a hard-cover and colour illustrations then it would have warranted a $10-15 dollar price tag. As it stands now, 7.99 would have been more appropriate considering the page count for the actual story. As for the subject matter, if you think South Park is obscene you might want to pass on Mellick. But if you like dark satire, absurdist humour, with a shot of blasphemy thrown for good measure, then you will love and appreciate this book. Some reviewers likened the thematic approach to Cronenberg, Burroughs, and Lynch. I would have to agree with that. This is hardcore punk literature for sure: definitely intellectual and not for the overly sensitive. Do not molest the Baby Jesus, you have been warned.


This book was reviewed from hardcopy purchased at retail by the reviewer and will be donated to an upcoming free book Friday.

Monday, May 03, 2010

And The Free Book Friday Winner is ...


Congrats! Please check your email for instructions, and we will send the book out right away.

Stay tuned for our next Free Book Friday on May 28, 2010.

Happy Reading Everyone! Thanks for stopping by to support Indie Publishing.