Tuesday, August 30, 2011

IBC's Blog Talk Radio & ME!

Tonight, I made my very first radio guest appearance! Rachel in the OC and Amber Scott of the Indie Book Collective invited me to spend some time on their blog talk radio show tonight to discuss some do's and don'ts for authors on Goodreads.

(Phew! That was link-heavy sentence, wasn't it?!)

I met the lovely ladies of IBC at the Indie Book Event which I attended as a panelist last month. They are all about empowering indie and self-published authors by teaching and developing skills in branding, social media, and good ole' networking.

I have been quite taken with both of them, and was thrilled to be able to participate in their show tonight, discussing how authors can improve their Goodreads presence. The conversation was great! I loved the questions Rachel and Amber had for me, and I really enjoyed hearing their perspective on Goodreads - not just as a website for books, but also as a social media platform for authors. You can hear us chat it all out here.

I had written out a list of 5 do's and don'ts, though of course, these things take on a life of their own and while some of the points I had wanted to make made their way out... others didn't. So I hope you will humor me as I share them here:

The 5 Author Do's and Don'ts of Goodreads

Tip 1: Don't join a group to simply pitch and run.

This goes for both authors and readers. It's totally see-through and will never provide you the attention you think or wish it will. If we don't know you, or haven't seen you around the group before, where is the incentive to check out your book/blog/website/whatever? Best case scenario, you get ignored. Worst case, we get a stern talking to by the group moderator and your post is deleted. Repeated "pitch and runs" will get you kicked out of the group and banned from re-entry.

Instead, DO Read the group rules. Find out what the group etiquette is like, what the moderator and members have outlined as "norms". I would also recommend locating the section where members are encouraged to introduce themselves. A quick post that tells the group who you are, what you like to read, what made you want to join, is all it takes to begin building relationships and discovering common ground.

Tip 2: Don't start a discussion thread about your own book.

Tacky! Nothing says "Who cares about you, let's talk about me" than when an author asks readers to talk about their novel. Not only do you run the risk of coming across as abrasive and self-serving, you can also negatively impact your future potential readership. (It may also be against group policy)

Instead, DO participate in other book discussions the group may be hosting. Share your thoughts and insight with the members, it will help them get to you know better as a reader and a writer. Also, consider partnering with the group moderator to discuss ways they may be able to help support you and your novel. Within TNBBC, I love hosting "sidebar group reads" where an author offers up a small giveaway of their novel and then the winners, the author, and any additionally interested readers meet within the group for an entire month to discuss the book
and "pick" each others brains.

Tip 3: Don't pollute a group poll if your book is nominated (or self-nominated) by soliciting all of your friends to join Goodreads just to vote for it.

Tipping the polls is a horrible, distasteful thing to do. Most members and moderators are quick to sniff the forced votes out, and their wrath is swift and painful. Not only is it against group policy, it is also against Goodreads policy, and accounts have been deleted for similar offenses. Why push your book to the top of the polls to become a group read when the actual members of the group didn't vote for it? Who will be reading and discussing it? It just doesn't make sense to do that.

Instead, DO vote on someone else's nomination or book. One that you may have read already or have an interest in reading. Then, join in the discussion for that book. Cultivate a readership of your own naturally, through common interest and conversation.

Tip 4: Don't reply to or comment on less-than-stellar reviews of your novel on Goodreads.

This is bad form no matter what social media or review site you are using. Reviews are someone's personal opinion, and personal opinion will never be swayed if you berate or harass someone, or attempt to convince them otherwise. It can only lead to ugly things.

Instead, remain silent. Be open to the feedback. Hopefully the review has some constructive feedback that you can take away from it. Now, if the review is a positive one, DO reach out and thank them for their kind words, and for reading your book. Readers love to hear from authors! Goodreads is an excellent platform for fostering and encouraging reader/author interaction.

Tip 5: Don't be a rebel and a rule breaker.

Always look for the group rules, guidelines, and "norms" before posting. Can't find them? Reach out to the moderator to ask what things you should be aware of. When you break a rule and are called out for it, simply apologize and correct the faux pax. If you don't like the rules, or can't work within them, then perhaps the group is not a good fit for you.

These are quick tips, and they are not a true reflection of every group moderator on Goodreads. For me, they are the things that I find are best avoided for new members, and helps to cut down on some of the resulting embarrassment and bad feelings.

I hope you enjoyed the radio show, and feel free to leave a comment or question if there is something you want to know more about! I'm feeling kinda chatty after that radio-high!

Audio Review: Pygmy

Listened on 8/22/11 and 8/26/11
2 Stars - Recommended Lightly / Not as intro to author
8 Hours (7 discs)

Oh Chuckie P. You and me, I thought we had a good thing going?! I thought we had an understanding, a mutual love thing going on? We had our first date with Invisible Monsters. Remember how I fell head over heels for you but didn't want to appear too easy at the time, so I allowed you to wine and dine me with Survivor a week later?

How could you do this to me? I mean, after all the great times we shared, and late nights we had, reading Diary and Haunted, Choke and Lullaby until the sun came up...? Sure, I wasn't terribly impressed with Stranger Than Fiction, but I thought we worked through that. Was it something I said? Something I did? Help me understand what would make you treat me this way.....

Ok.. ok.. I admit that I was kind of unsure about Pygmy. I had questioned for years whether or not it was a part of you I wanted to expose myself to. It seemed like a part of your personality that I was better off not knowing.

But when I saw the audio book sitting there, on those sad Borders bookcases, marked down to 40% off the original price, I couldn't help snatching it up and taking it into the car with me. The fact that I've had less than favorable experiences with audiobooks should have also warned me away from your book.

Perhaps I am a glutton for punishment.

But, all of that aside, I can't help but wonder if this was all just an elaborate test of my love, and if so, did you anticipate me failing horribly? Were you trying to rid yourself of me completely? I bet you didn't expect me to finish it, did you? I imagine you and your buddies took bets on just how far I would make it... $10 bucks says she doesn't get halfway... $30 bucks says she won't make it past the first disk... How much did you lose, Chuckie? Huh? How much? Did it surprise you to hear that I listened to every single, painful, nearly-indecipherable sentence?

And that poor poor narrator! How he managed to speak for 8 hours in that god-awful broken english you wrote in is a mystery to me. This is enough to break anyone, I think:

"Tongue of operative me lick, licking, touching back tooth on bottom, molar where planted inside forms cyanide hollow, touching not biting. Not yet. Tooth wet smooth against lick of tongue. Swallow, spit, say counting, one, two, counting on fingers of hand until six. Tell passport man, to be exchange student with host family six month.

Passport man strike paper of book with ink, marked good to enter nation. Slide passport book returned to this agent. Man say "Welcome to the greatest country on Earth". Press button and doors allow way inside, accessing target family to harvest." - and this example, one of the more decipherable moments in the book!

Smartly, you may have assumed I would cringe at hearing this terrorist agent speaking in abstract present tense, referring to himself in broken third person. If that didn't turn me off, I am certain you thought I would run screaming from the whiz bang nasty anal rape scene that takes place within the first few chapters, didn't you? Or how about the part where pigdog face brother and cat sister discuss with little Pygmy their mothers obsession with dildo's? I bet you thought I wouldn't have stuck around to hear that part....

But I did. I hung in there. I suffered through all of the Comrade this and next now that. I listened to the flashbacks that clarified just how this little hater came to be, he and his comrade terrorist soldiers who were sent from their country into ours to infiltrate and destroy our kind. I listened to that sexually depraved misfit plotting how he would impregnate his host sister to spread his seed and infect us at a deeper level. I did. I hung in to the very end. And I hated nearly every minute of it.

But Chuckie, my dear. My dear sweet Chuckie P... I forgive you. I do. I will try to put this all behind me. I will clear my mind of this horrid, disgusting, insane side of you. It may take some time... but I think my wounds can heal. They will heal. And when they do.... my signed copy of Damned will be waiting.....

Monday, August 29, 2011

Indie Spotlight: Liz Bartucci

Liz Bartucci is the self published author of The Secret Lives of the Unemployed, which is based on her blog by the same name and was released this past July as an eBook.

No stranger to the written word, Liz is a screenwriter and playwright. She is a graduate of the Actors Studio MFA Program, as well as a former Disney Studios/ABC Entertainment Writing Fellow, and her screenplay "Everything's Going To Be Alright" (which was nominated for the Emerging Narrative Award in the IFP Market Conference) is in development with Roadside and Cyan Pictures.

She is also a multiple Heidemann Award nominee (Actors Theatre of Louisville) and a former Walter E. Dakin Fellowship (Sewanee Writers Conference). Her play "Steve" is published in Smith & Kraus' The Best 10 Minute Plays (Contemporary Playwrights Series).

In this spotlight, Liz shares with us the catalyst for the novel and what readers are saying so far:

It All Began With a Broken Heart

"I had just had my heart broken and had emptied out half of my 401k. I was at a loss both emotionally and financially. I knew I had to–as Hunter S. Thompson had once said–to write myself out of the hole.' I first tried writing about "Secret Lives...", much in the fashion like the character Grey, trying to investigate people's lives and how unemployment induced some odd habits and behavior, but because instinctively I am a creative writer, I began to write a fictional story, loosely based on how I was feeling. Characters, dialogue came easily like they often do for artists during bleak times.

At around the same time, a friend of mine insisted I rejoin the world by joining Facebook, which I was initially against, but eventually it was the gateway drug for a life online. I decided to make my time on the web useful by putting up installments of a short story, which eventually became "Secret Lives..." There was demand from readers who lived even more digitally than myself to have the entire series available for their ereaders.

Personally, I prefer a book you can smell, one you find in a creaky floor bookstore, but I decided to self-publish it with that goal in mind, that with enough readership, interest and buzz, "Secret Lives..." can become the paperback that the lead character Lucy actually writes in the story. Reaching that goal would literally be writing the future, perfect."

The Sub-Title

Why is it 'Kind of a Love Story'? "Well, isn't every good story? There is a love triangle that develops between the three characters, Lucy, Grey and Zac. Like most single folks who are also unemployed, the feelings of being unwanted, and rejected are also explored. We haven't even begun to discuss the deep emotions that are being experienced during this recession. There is an almost an insurmountable sense of loss during these times. But sometimes, just the right person at the right time helps to carry you through. It's important not to self-implode but to reach out and risk, like these characters decide to do."

The Content

"We are the ones we have been waiting for..." Obama had said. If this were true, Lucy knew she was in big trouble...

The goodreads description: This is the story of three Brooklyn neighbors, who after a year of being unemployed, decide to stop looking for work and instead embark on a life of permanent hooky – only to find themselves and each other.

Having lost hope and the desire to become part of the workforce again, the three decide to “to abandon the world like the world has abandoned us,” and embark on adventures that they only promised themselves that they would take when they were overworked desk jockeys.

Funded by their Unemployment Checks and cashed out 401(k)s, the quirky team develop an unlikely friendship and an unplanned love triangle as they trip their plight–fantastic.

The Word on the Street

Liz says it's been getting great reviews. "People have been identifying with the characters, and have reached out to me about how inspired they are by the book. All the characters become employable by their own means. At one point, Zac tells Grey and Lucy that the 'jobs' are gone. And unfortunately I think they are, the only jobs that are out there, are the ones people are creating. It's actually just what the characters and myself have done. Despite what Obama is doing or not doing, he was right, WE really are the ones we have been waiting for.

There is interest, because my background is in film, in having "Secret Lives..." developed into a TV series or a movie. And I am also working on that. Whatever form it takes, as its writer, it would be a privilege to inspire people in these times, to help them 'work their way out of the hole."

It's Available ...

You, dear reader, can get your hands on a copy through Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook for $2.99, and it will also soon be available at GoodReads and for the iBookshelf for the iPad Crowd. Anyone looking for those formats, can 'like' Secret Lives of the Unemployed on its Facebook Page and will be alerted when it happens.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The David Maine Blog Tour: In Review

It's the end of the line, folks! The David Maine Blog Tour bus has pulled into the station. I don't know about you but I couldn't have asked for things to have gone any better.

Thanks so much to the book bloggers, authors, and readers who participated this past week and made the whole thing possible. I couldn't have done this without you and your interest in David and his novels! You made creating and hosting this blog tour such a wonderful experience. I hope I didn't micro-manage you all too harshly!!!!

And many thanks to David, who agreed to be tormented and tortured by the group of us as we prepared for our portions of the tour.

If you happened to miss a stop in the tour, or .... if you prefer to peruse the tour after it's been posted in its entirety, here's the quick and dirty download:

I hope you've enjoyed viewing the posts as much as we did creating them. We thank you for the support.

Review: Ayiti

Read 8/21/11 - 8/25/11
3 Stars - Recommended to readers familiar with genre

Ok guys, help me out on this one. I suffer a severe form of geographic retardation, and the internet does not seem to be much help tonight... is Ayiti a part of Haiti, or simply the word Haiti spelled out phonetically in Creole? I'm thinking it's the latter...

See, Ayiti is the upcoming first release from Roxane Gay, and it's a collection of her fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. The entire collection takes place in Haiti or deals specifically with the cultural differences of Haiti natives who attempt to assimilate themselves in North America.

Some of the stories resonated strongly with me: Motherfuckers tells the story of a young Haitian boy who becomes nicknamed by his classmates as HBO for his body odor. Voodoo Child is about a Haitian college student whose roommate wrongly assumes she practices voodoo and rather than correct her, she plays the part to keep the fear simmering. In Things I Know About Fairy Tales, the main character explains how women in Haiti are prepared by their mothers for their eventual kidnapping, referring to bits and pieces of the fairy tales she grew up loving and applying them to her life during and after the abduction.

Other stories, like A Cool Dry Place, All Things Being Relative, and Gracias Nicaragua Y Los Sentimos, while well written, for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, simply did not catch my attention the way the others did.

Roxane's stories impart a wisdom that appears to have been gained through difficult and challenging life experiences. (I say "appears" because I am not entirely sure which stories are true and which are fiction.) Her view of the world is unique and beautiful and, at times, even quite painful. Her writing offers a fresh perspective on a frequently misunderstood culture.

I want to thank Ryan and his publishing company Artistically Declined Press for allowing me the opportunity to review Ayiti.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

David Maine Blog Tour: Wrap Up

Have you enjoyed our week full of David-centric blog posts? Have you gained some new insight into the mind of this amazing author? Have you marked each of his novels as To Buy and To Read on your goodreads shelves? If you answered yes to each of those questions, our jobs here are done!

For the final leg of the tour, I wanted to wrap things up by discussing each one of David's novels.

First, I bring you my review of David's first Sci-Fi / Fantasy novel, The Gamble of the Godless.

Read 8/7/11 - 8/14/11
4 Stars: Strongly Recommended
Pgs: 347

For those of you who have read his previous novels, when you think of David Maine, you think literary biblical fiction, because in your mind, the two have always gone hand in hand.

And ok, if you're a fan like me, you could argue that his 2008 release Monster, 1959 was a departure from his bible-related past, although I would argue back that it still held it's own in the literary arena.

Well, folks, David has turned the tables on us, yet again! Not only has he temporarily left the realm of St. Martin's Press - publisher of his 4 previous novels - he also leaves behind traditional paper novels for eBooks (GASP!) and plunges head first into an entirely new genre - one that is filled with characters and situations typical of science fiction and fantasy books.

Now, while I tend to get extremely upset when my favorite bands change their musical style (I'm looking at you R.E.M. and U2 - who kicked ass in the 80's and early 90's, then sold out and left me angry and confused from the mid 90's straight through to present day) I tend to be more forgiving with my favorite authors.

A departure from what was once an author's niche may run the risk of alienating readers, yet if done well, can demonstrate their flexibility and increase their readership. I am convinced that The Gamble of the Godless will prove to be the latter.

If I'm being honest, and my near and dear TNBBCer's know I am nothing if not honest, lovers of the science fiction and fantasy novels are among the most passionate, if not sometimes incredibly odd, readers. I'm thinking Star Trek, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings kind of readers... "Thou shalt not take JRR Tolkien's name in vain" kind of passionate!

While I am not sure David's Godless will spawn fan-fiction hard-core groupies, I do know that it is an excellent gateway novel for those who are considering testing the Sci-Fi / Fantasy waters. And from the reviews that are quickly pouring in, it's quite the hit with genre fans as well. Like any sci-fi novel, Godless requires some suspension of belief to fully enjoy the adventures that our protagonist Avin and his friends find themselves in the thick of, it's a fun read that you will find yourself easily slipping into.

Avin, a simple naive farm boy who does as he is told, heads out into Animal Territories when he discovers that his older brother ran off to join the Humans against their war with the Wolves. As he and his new friends Ax the Warrior and Jocen the One-Armed Sorcerer head out in search of Drew, they acquire a rag tag team of animals who accompany them on their journey - an owl who cannot lie, a drug addicted Cheetah, a sling-shot toting Raccoon, among others. Of course, the deeper they tread through the animal cities, the more they discover that this war may be much bigger and more sinister than they had originally suspected.

At it's core, it's a story of friendship and loyalty, and of not judging a book by its cover. It puts family and trust at the forefront, though it does come with its wicked little web of secrets as well. And for David, it's a return to a genre he has loved since he was a little boy.

And now, some mini-reviews, featuring David's 4 previous novels, in the order which I had read them:

2005 (click title to see google preview)

A unique spin on the Cain and Able tale - modernized and told in reverse, beginning with Cain awaiting his death in a cave and ending with Adam and Eve in Eden. At times incredibly breathtaking, David manages to capture human emotion unlike any other author. I fell in love with David and his storytelling within minutes of cracking this novel open. And it was one of the first books I ever pushed relentlessly on the member of TNBBC on goodreads, because it was just. that. good.

The Preservationist
2004 (Click title to see google preview)

The hardcover of this book has the coolest, most artistic dust jacket I have ever seen - and quite possibly my favorite of all his novels - Told in turns by each of the characters in first person (except the chapters for Noe which were told in narration), we are introduced to the family who was chosen by God to survive the Flood in an interestingly modern telling of the biblical story. Maine gives each character depth and reason, showing us thier inner strengths as well as thier faults... thier histories as well as thier present lives.

The Book of Samson
2006 (click the title to see google preview)

The narrator (Samson himself) has a very unique voice, which pulled at me once I began reading and would not let go. An intriguing look into the life of a mass-murderer in the name of THE ONE TRUE GOD - to see things from his side, as a man who believes he is doing the work of god. An amazing must read, even if you have no interest in religious novels or previous knowledge of Samson, as, in my opinion, this book can be read by anyone, at anytime.

Monster, 1959
2008 (click title to see google preview)

Set in the mid to late 50's, Maine introduces us to K. A King Kong/Godzilla-esque monstrosity living on an island that was at one time used as a testing site for nuclear bombs. Written in true campy, B-movie style, Maine shows us the world from K's view. A uniquely refreshing, if at times, saddening, perspective -- His thoughts, or lack thereof, his painfully limited understanding of the world in which he lives, and how he reacts when faced with the tiny human intruders who turn his life upside down. A cool spin on a classic horror flick, in part as told by K, if he had the knowledge and capability of speech and was able to tell his tale.

Join David Maine on his blog tomorrow as he puts the final touches on the blog tour!

For additional reviews and interviews with David Maine, check out these posts:
Mandy the Bookworm and The Indie Book Blogger both interview David.
The Best o' Books has a guest post from David.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Indie Spotlight: Red Lemonade

One of the things I adore about the indie market is how on top of their shit they are! Forever thinking outside the box, indies are unapologetic as they push and mold and shape and redefine the future of publishing.

Red Lemonade is one of those publishers. Come, meet them, and fall in love with the ways in which they challenge the current world of publishing.

The Man Behind it All

Red Lemonade is the brainchild of Richard Nash , an independent publishing entrepreneur, presently launching Cursor, a platform that will power the world’s next 50,000 independent publishers, the first of which, Red Lemonade, launched in May 2011. For most of the past decade, he ran the iconic indie Soft Skull Press for which work he was awarded the Association of American Publishers' Miriam Bass Award for Creativity in Independent Publishing in 2005.

Books he edited and published landed on bestseller lists from the Boston Globe to the Singapore Straits-Times; on Best of the Year lists from The Guardian to the Toronto Globe & Mail to the Los Angeles Times; twice on the cover of the New York Times Book Review; the last book he edited there, Lydia Millet’s Love in Infant Monkeys, was selected as a 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist.

In 2006, Publishers Weekly picked him as one of the ten editors to watch in the coming decade. Last year the Utne Reader named him one of Fifty Visionaries Changing Your World and Mashable.com picked him as the #1 Twitter User Changing the Shape of Publishing.

Birthing a Publishing Company

Richard explains how it all came to be: "While working at Soft Skull, juggling the little details of running an independent publisher, I became aware that the only thing we knew for sure about what we were doing is that we had to connect writers and readers. Going through the slush pile, speaking with folks who read our reading letters to our writers- it was the interaction of the people around the books as much as, more so than the books on their own. This idea was crystallized in my mind by a comment by a reader in England, commenting on a blog post in The Guardian asking what books got you laid. “Anything published by Soft Skull.” That kind of power comes from more than just thin paper surrounded by cardboard sheets. It’s well known, an oft repeated, that writers are often great readers, but readers are often more than not writers also, it’s a continuum. I realized that that the content provides the energy for the connecting line between all the parties involved in making, producing and reading books.

I left Soft Skull with this idea in mind, surrounded by the rise of technologies on the internet that can facilitate and encourage these kinds of connections without geographical limitations. We all wish we could be part of a group of creative individuals, the Beats in the 50s, Paris in the 20s, Soho in the 70s, and have a meeting place that can facilitate conversation centered around the creative process and the books themselves. My business partner and co-founder Mark Warholak was actively engaging travelers at a major travel site. As we discussed these ideas about connecting and engagement, our company Cursor took shape. Red Lemonade is the first imprint of Cursor, that is an online application and site that provides content to allow for community, people connecting with people. So, Red Lemonade has been percolating a long time from my experiences with readers and writers, but our beta site didn’t go live until May 2011."

Dotting the I and Crossing the T

For Richard, putting it all together - the book production process, the software technology, and the community - is the key. He says, "The means of production, the creation of books is something that our world has spent five hundred years refining and has gotten pretty damn good at, like making chairs and tables. E-books just add more content to the abundance of data. The vastness of supply shows that the desire for books, story, content is not the issue- what’s at issue is the ‘rest of the iceberg’ so to speak, getting all the bits in line, working together with the audience, the folks buying the books, the individuals talking about books, sharing a favorite line, quote or short story from a favorite author. Red Lemonade and Cursor hope to restore the reader-writer equilibrium."

Pulling the Readers into it

In his speeches, Richard shows a slide which is a quote from E.M Forster’s novel Howard’s End: “Only Connect.” Those two words say a lot about what Cursor stands for and believes in. He continues, "As for Red Lemonade, its “edgy alt lit,” literary fiction that takes on questioning cultural assumptions, rethinks memory and examines how we come to understand our understanding. Our first three authors, Kio Stark, Lynne Tillman and Vanessa Veselka flesh and flush out the early gleanings of what we are about and serve as a guidepost for what the community will produce. And that’s been thrilling: it’s one thing to yap about the future of publishing, or post on the blog about how Cursor works, or berate the industry for overlooking the very folks who keep them in business- but to flip the switch and open the doors, terrifying and magical, exhilarating and nerve wracking! Members are joining, they are making comments and they are going into the manuscripts on site and making comments, editing, and asking authors questions—connecting in ways that have gone on for hundreds of years, but now online with easy access.

And we’ve already had our first success. Matthew Battles, whose book, The Sovereignties of Invention will be published this January 2012 by Red Lemonade started as an uploaded manuscript like hundreds of others. Our members liked it—they read it, they commented on it, they asked questions, they suggested re-workings and re-writes, the work ‘gurgled up’ from the community and it was the members of Red Lemonade who selected that title, I simply encouraged and agreed with the “maddening crowd.”

And that’s why other readers and writers and people who like to discuss books, or fans of literary fiction, or even more technical folks interested in online communities are flocking—and will continue to flock to Red Lemonade. And later on, to community specific sites which will generate their own content and their own reader-writer relationships! I'd add, for the sake of clarity, that the value is in the community, because it is uncopiable. You can get content on a torrent site, but to connect around content, you need community. There are lots of tools and online applications out there and I see new publishing platforms almost weekly, but Red Lemonade is founded on the idea of community, even that human connection between book lovers which enlightens your mind makes you question your belief/maybe even helps you get the girl/boy of your dreams."

The Power of Community

Community is such a buzzword, though, that Richard warns, "We have to be extremely careful to live up to what the term promises. Critical in that is to ensure that we can all speak truth, not just to power, but to one another. We have a feedback form, or entry panel on each of the sites pages, and members can easily report issues or make suggestions. Members— I’ve christened them The Fizzy Ones, as Red Lemonade is an actual drink that happens to be carbonated—post comments on people’s work, make announcements about their current projects or ask about current reading material or magazine. We’ve included book tour dates and even interviews with authors. Red Lemonade is reaching out through social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to speak with the world outside; you can easily tweet or like a manuscript right from the page. While we are still in Beta our goal is both help Red Lemonade thrive and provide information, strategy and guidelines for creating further sites on the Cursor platforms."

A Powerful Statement

"...Red Lemonade is not just another indie press, it’s a prototype for publishers to come."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Reviews: Piano Rat and The Chapbook

Read 8/20/11 - 8/21/11
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended
Pgs: 64
Publisher: Curbside Splendor /Oct 2011

Victor David Giron - publisher, editor-in-chief, publicist, author and accountant for Curbside Splendor - sent me an advance PDF of this collection of poems by first time published poet Frankie Elliot. Piano Rats should be available sometime in October.

From page one, her honesty and ability to drop an F-Bomb won my heart. Here is a woman who is no stranger to love - She’s suffered its beauty, its jealousy, and its brutal end. Her poetry is like a mirror hanging on my wall, reflecting my own emotions and thoughts back at me.

She makes me want to scream "Fuck You" to every guy I dated who didn't "get me". She makes me want to get behind the pretty words people throw around, quit beating around the bush, and see things for what they really are. She creates a language of her own, breathing out lines like: "Love sometimes is just another word for jealousy", and "We can't save ourselves from anything that's supposed to happen".

Frankie finds beauty in pain, and I want her to show me how.

Read 8/21/11
3 Stars - Recommended for readers familiar with genre
Pgs: 69
Publisher: Curbside Splendor / 2011

The Chapbook, poems by Charles Bane Jr, is the complete opposite of Frankie's collection (reviewed above). Where Frankie's poems created clear images in my mind, Charles's poetry is much more abstract. Beauty, for him, appears to be in everything. At times it is overwhelming gorgeous. At others, it is so dense and complicated that I admit to not always understanding what he is trying to tell me.

An example of the beauty in his clarity: "I wander the beach sometimes where men stand with pants rolled fishing for a shark. And I think I can find you in the wandering night and set you close and kiss and, as we close our eyes, make another universe in our private dark."

An example of the abstract beauty: ""It must be carried in the hands, this such as never was. Allowed in shadow, a second of nevermore? Out from the shadows this precious, darling lamp".

His poems range from romantic to dedications to moments and memories.

His poems are paired with illustrations (perhaps colored pencil or pastels) by Canadian artist Isabelle Pruneau.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Review: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Read 8/14/11 - 8/20/11
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended
Pgs: 272
Publisher: Harper Perennial 2010

Every once in awhile, I find myself reading a book I would not normally have chosen for myself. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is one of those books.

It gained a lot of mainstream buzz prior to its release, and of course, once it hit shelves, I couldn't go very far or long without hearing mention of it. Typically, that's a sign that I should stay far far away from it. My tastes tend to travel off the beaten path, and in the past I've found that I don't usually agree with the general consensus.

In this case, however, fellow blogger and co-creator of "One Book, Two Blogs" (a brand new face-to-face evening book club) Tara and I decided that a mainstream paperback book was needed to kickstart our book club - one that had the potential to draw in some male members, and that also had cross-genre appeal - and we felt that Crooked Letter would fit the bill.

(We all know that not everyone is as passionate about indie literature as I am, nor translated and international literature like Tara. Though you can bet your bottom dollar we will find a way to work both of those into the live book club as the months move on...)

The novel certainly has all the elements of a solid southern story. Spanning over a period of 25 years, author Tom Franklin tenderly deals with friendship, racism, murder, and small town secrets. The characters all speak with that familiar southern twang, simple to detect, filling your head as you read through the novel. While the who-dun-it is easy to determine, it's the atmosphere that draws the reader in, keeping those fingers dancing from page to page. His writing, his use of flashbacks - specifically for Larry Ott, who remains unconscious for most of the novel - keep the characters alive and active in our minds as we follow them along their murky and twisted paths to the truth.

Larry is a character who begs to be loved from the very beginning. From a young age, he suffers an incredibly lonely existence. He reminds me of the kid everyone sees sitting by himself in the cafeteria, feeling badly for him, but not badly enough to invite him over to eat with you. His childhood friend Silas is likable from the start but carries an obvious dark weight around with him. This contrast between the two plays heavily against the plot as the story slowly unwinds itself.

I am looking forward to discussing this novel on September 1st, when the members of "One Book, Two Blogs" met for the first time. I think this is an excellent entry novel for us, and there are unlimited topics we can pull from the book to allow for heady and passionate conversation.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Party Starts Here: David Maine Blog Tour

Welcome to the first stop on the David Maine Blog Tour!

A long time fan of David's, you can imagine my excitement when I heard he would be releasing a new novel this summer. Unlike the biblical literary novels he is best known for, his new eBook is heavily steeped in Sci-Fi and Fantasy - picture a Lord of the Rings style story with talking animals instead of orcs, elves, and hobbits.

The Gamble of the Godless is a story of Avin - a young farm boy who heads out on a quest to find his older brother, who ran away to join in the war between Man and Wolf. Along the way he befriends an owl who cannot lie, a drug addicted cheetah, the warrior Ax, and the one-armed sorcerer Jocen, among others. All have their own reasons for accompanying our protagonist across the animal territories.

What neither Avin nor his companions yet understand is that the real force behind the Free Plains attack is neither canine nor feline, nor yet crocodile, insect, raptor, bear or shark. Far to the east, in the scorched wasteland known as The Barrens, lives the ragged clan that calls itself The Godless. There, Avin will confront his brother, his companions and himself, and discover two truths: one that changes everything he understands about himself, and another that threatens the balance of the entire world. - jacket copy

To get this blog tour party started,
I am pleased to present you with David Maine's essay on what "Being Indie" means to him.

“Independent” is one of those loaded words. Everybody likes to be independent, right? We fought a war for independence, right? And celebrate Independence Day as a result. Dependence, on the other hand, is a downer. Who wants to be dependent on someone, something, somebody else’s charity? Blecch. And what do you call those diapers for incontinence? Depends. Who wants to wear those? Not me, man. And don’t even get me going on co-dependent.

It’s funny though—when we talk about independent movies, independent record labels, indie rock bands and, increasingly, indie authors and publishers, I rarely stop to think about the other side. What is Random House, then—a dependent publisher? Does Warner Bros make dependent movies? Or maybe dependable ones? (Hell no!) Are bands like Led Zeppelin dependent and therefore less desirable than indie bands like The Coathangers? (Don’t worry—I pulled a completely obscure band out of the darkest recesses of my memory.) My point is, are indie things better just for being indie?

Obviously, the answer is no.

Let me make something clear: I love publishers. Big, New York- or London-based, high-rise-inhabiting, 300-books-a-year publishing, ridiculously-inflated-advances-offering publishing houses like HarperCollins and Knopf and Simon & Schuster have published tons of books—literally tons, as in thousands and thousands of pounds, if you stacked them all on a scale—that I have read and loved over the years. Until this recent small-press and e-publishing wave of the past few years, I could probably have said that every book I ever read (apart from some small-press poetry and theatre stuff in college) was published by a big-name publisher. These are the folks who published the books that made me want to be a writer in the first place. Genre specialists like Del Rey and Tor put out the fantasy/sci-fi stuff I inhaled like oxygen as a teenager, while my mainstream heroes—Flannery O’Connor, Langston Hughes, John Steinbeck—were ably supported by devoted editors at publishing houses like Farrar Strauss.

But times change. These days, publishers are being squeezed from all sides—fewer people read books every year, even as the number of wannabe writers graduating from MFA programs swells. The internet offers plenty of reading matter free of charge, while movies and TV have been joined by video games, social media sites and the likes of YouTube in clamoring for the time and attention of potential book-buyers. Amazon, of course, slashes prices and margins.

From what I can see—and this is only one guy’s perspective—all this has led to an sort of entrenchment in the publishign industry. Years ago, screenwriter William Goldman (Marathon Man, Butch Cassity and the Sundance Kid, The Princess Bride) told a bunch of us students at Oberlin that the movie industry was predicated on fear. Everybody in Hollywood—I’m paraphrasing, but this was the gist—was motivated primarily by a desire to not lose his or her job. This meant that the movies that got greenlighted were the ones most similar to the previous year’s hits. If a movie bombed even though it was a carbon copy of the previous disaster hit or rom-com, well, no one could be blamed. On the other hand, if a movie bombed and it was a unique, one-of-a-kind production with a quirky worldview and a demanding storyline that the audience had to pay attention to—well, that failure could be ascribed to the studio exec who had given the go-ahead. That exec wouldn’t be around long enough to repeat the mistake.

From what I can see, the publishing industrty is moving toward this studio-movie model. If The Da Vinci Code is one year’s surprise hit, you can be sure to see a string of books about Knights Templar and lost prophecies and whatnot. If you like Harry Potter, don’t sweat the end of the series—we’ve got Percy Jackson lined up. If Twilight is your thing, you’ll be happy to peruse through several thousand vampire boks in this aisle over here…

Of course this has been true for a long time, but the pattern is accelerating now, or so it seems.

When I think about “indie” publishing, I see an opportunity, both as a writer and a reader. The opportunity comes from the chance to hear and tell stories that might otherwise get overlooked. Indie books, like indie rocks bands and indie movies, don’t represent a break from traditional patterns of storytelling so much as a return to them—a return to the primacy of character and plot over spectacle, or in the case of music, to musicianship over video posing. Indie hip-hop acts like The Coup and Sage Francis comment on economic theory and socialized health care; indie movies like Winter’s Bone tell stories about actual people who are of little interest to the execs greenlighting Iron Man 2 and Transformers III.

The reason to support indie publishing, then, is the same as the reason to support any writer, anywhere, who is telling a story that you think deserves to be heard: because someone has taken the time to tell you something that you could not hear from anyone else. This is not some blanket admonition to go read obscure self-published books that you don’t like, or to ignore great novels being published these days by traditional publishers (David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet was the best book I read last year, and it was put out by Random House). It’s just a gentle reminder that not all stories follow the same route to publication, that some take a little longer than others, or require a little more sweat than others to see the light of day, or maybe demand a little more of their readers than others.

For my own part, I started The Gamble of the Godless over fifteen years ago, and wrote an early version of the sequel three years later. In the intervening years I’ve moved intercontinentally twice, written a bunch of stuff that never got published and then a few books that did—books that inadvertantly got me catergorized in a particular way, as a particular kind of literary writer. Being the short-attention-span kind of guy I am, I knew I wasn’t going to stay happy writing Bible lit forever, but I was surprised at the resistance I found in the industry when I tried to move to another genre. This is a shame, because epic fantasy is what I grew up on, and I humbly submit that The Gamble of the Godless is a pretty great one.

I guess that’s the last reason to throw some support behind indie writers from time to time: because maybe, just maybe, they can be trusted to know their own work, and their own talents, and their own strengths as storytellers, as well as or even better than the editors and marketers in the publishing industry. Are some of us deluded in that regarded? You betcha. Are there editors out there who do good work? Absolutely. As I said before, indie authors aren’t better just because they’re indie. But that said, there are writers out there doing good work, and the indie movement is an unprecedented opportunity in the history of publishing—an opportunity for readers to directly support those authors who are doing work worthy of their attention.

That sounds like the kind of movement I could get behind.

**Be sure to join us tomorrow over at Indie author Steve Himmer's blog for the second stop of the blog tour. **

Friday, August 19, 2011

Get Your Literary Punches

Just another great example of why Independent Publishing rocks my world!

The concept is familiar to us:

Subway, Rita's, too-numerous-to-name coffee shops - they reward their loyal customers with a punch card. Every time you show up and make a purchase, you get a punch. Fill up your card and you get a free drink or ice cream, or your next purchase at a discount.

But the application is entirely new:

Graywolf Press, Coffee House Press and Milkweed, along with Rain Taxi Review of Books and Loft Literary Center, have joined forces in the Twin Cities to offer a Literary Punch Card.

After its Sept 14th launch, attend any literary event at Magers & Quinn in Uptown Minneapolis, and Common Good Books and Micawber's in St Paul, and a present your card for a punch. Buy their featured book and get another punch. When you fill your card, you're rewarded with a $15 gift card.

See the original article here.

Chalk another one up for the indies, ya'll! And now go out and support them!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Better World Books Goes #bookforbook

Alright, guys. Time to step it up! Better World Books, self-dubbed as "the online bookstore with a soul", has initiated a wonderful new project, but they need your help to make it a successful one.

For every book you purchase through them, they will donate one to Books For Africa or Feed the Children. Help promote literacy and fight poverty with words!

Take a look:

Book for Book™ by Better World Books from Better World Books on Vimeo.

Better Word Books was founded back in 2002 by a couple of friends who were selling their textbooks online for some extra cash. They are driven by a sense of social and environmental responsibility. Everything you purchase through them is shipped FREE worldwide.

To see a list of the funds they've raised so far, click here.

Follow their #bookforbook hashtag on twitter. Shop at their online store. Help spread literacy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

David Maine Blog Tour is Nearly Here

After months of organizing and patiently awaiting the eBook release and bound review copies of David Maine's newest novel, The Gamble of the Godless, our blog tour is nearly underway!

Prepare yourselves for a week of all things David Maine - reviews of some of his previous novels, reviews of the much anticipated The Gamble of the Godless, interviews, and guest posts.

I had the honor of meeting David quite a few years ago in NYC under strange circumstances. His generosity, appreciation, and refreshingly humble attitude resonated with me as a reader and a human being. He is the author of the biblical literary novels The Preservationist, Fallen, and The Book of Samson, the 50's B-movie novel Monster 1959, and the book that is bringing us all together, his first eBook release and Sci-Fi Fantasy novel The Gamble of the Godless.

I am extremely excited to be hosting a week-long tour in celebration of David as a writer, teacher, reader, and lover of literature.

Allow me to introduce you to the wonderful folks who shall help bring this blog tour to life:

Sunday 8/21
The TNBBC Blog Tour Kick Off - A guest post from David Maine on "Being Indie"

Monday 8/22
Author Steve Himmer hosts David Maine

Tuesday 8/23
Author and founder of Tiny Toe Press Michael Davidson expresses thoughts on Godless

Wednesday 8/24
Bibliophiliac Blogger Lisa Sumner reviews Fallen

Thursday 8/25
BookSexyReview Blogger Tara Cheesman reviews Godless

Friday 8/26
Author Rena Rossner interviews David Maine

Saturday 8/27
I will post mini-reviews of David's 4 previous novels, and a full review of Godless

Sunday 8/28
David Maine wraps up the blog tour!

We hope you will join us back here this Sunday for the kick-off and take part in the celebration of David Maine and the release of his first eBook The Gamble of the Godless!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Steve Himmer on "Being Indie"

On "Being Indie" is a monthly feature that will be hosted here on TNBBC. It is my hope that we will meet a wide variety of independent authors, publishers, and booksellers as they discuss what being indie means to them.

Meet Steve Himmer, author of exceptional indie hermit tale The Bee-Loud Glade, and quite possibly the most tea-drinking-finger-etiquettely correct man I have ever tweeted with.

His short stories can be found all over the internet, which he has quite neatly collected here for your reading pleasure.

And it is my pleasure to share this essay Steve that has written for us, discussing his take on the term "Indie" and how it is comparable to... skateboarding?? Read on, loyal TNBBCer's. All will become clear. I promise!

After I wondered aloud on Twitter recently if it matters that “indie” has come to describe both small press publishing and self-publishing, Lori invited to think it through here at TNBCC. I said I’d be glad to, but warned it wouldn’t be a polemic — I’m not interested in pitting one group of writers against another or laying claim to words in exclusive ways, and flexibility is more compelling to me than lexical purity.

The truth is, what first comes to mind when I hear the word “independent” is a company that makes skateboard trucks, the metal axles mounted under the board to hold the wheels. There’s no reason for it, because I was a lousy, cowardly skater. I couldn’t convince myself to risk more than an ollie and was persuaded away from rail slides and half-pipes by injuries I could imagine too well. Sure, I might have learned a decent trick or two given time, after plenty of practice guaranteed to be painful, but even the mildest mastery would be hard won, never mind the level of mastery that might interest anyone else. Call it an intuitive risk/reward assessment. Still, my feeble attempts at skateboarding have their legacy, because while I might like to say “independent” calls up something noble like patriotic feelings or romantic notions of art, no, it’s skateboards... and not even skateboards, but the less glamorous hardware that lets the deck get the attention. The delivery system for something ultimately more interesting.

A word like independent and its shortened form “indie” (which of course conjures the archaeologist with his whip and hat) aren’t so different from skateboard trucks. Calling yourself independent isn’t an end but a means, a way of describing the approach a writer takes to delivering their work, albeit a means lacking an agreed upon meaning. In the circles where I’ve done most of my publishing, webjournals and small-run print magazines, indie isn’t a single aesthetic, exactly, but a DIY attitude that often goes hand-in-hand with embracing styles and subjects assumed unlikely to catch the attention of large publishers or audiences. There’s a community ethos, even if that community is fragmented and contentious and multivocal, as the most productive communities are; what better demonstration of that than the group blog HTMLGiant, where posts range from erudite to juvenile to creepy to brilliant often in the course of a couple of hours, and though the comment threads almost always scare me off before I add anything, they’re full of diverse, rewarding ideas. Still, as much as I value the excitement of a community under constant construction, I’ve resisted applying the indie label to my own work because there’s an uncomfortable sense of being judged by the guys at the record store inherent in the term, and perhaps an assumption of eschewing a focus on storytelling in favor of linguistic and formal experimentation that doesn’t quite fit my goals as a writer.

Now that other use I mentioned above seems to be catching on: “indie” as interchangeable with “self-published.” First it was Kirkus Indie, a section devoted to reviewing self-published books. Then IndieReader, which describes itself as “a venue for discriminating book-lovers to find and purchase books published by the people who wrote them,” which seems called for when according to TeleRead, as of April 2011, “28 out of 100 top e-books in Kindle Store are self-published; 11 are in top 50,” and for the most part that’s happened independently of major reviewers. Yet James Frey, about as visible an author as there is and one whose Full Fathom Five fiction factory is as corporate-minded as literature gets, self-published his latest book with international media attention that is anything but indie.

Perhaps because of that flexibility, the question of how much the difference between one definition and another matters seems a non-starter: if someone says they are indie, whether they self-publish or publish with a micropress distributed by hand or an autonomous imprint distributed by Random House, well... how can you prove otherwise? It’s like trying to convince someone they aren’t a nice person. Maybe there’s only one thing being independent requires: something to be independent of, and asking what that something is raises much more interesting questions.

In the small press world, there’s often a degree of pride in not being driven by commercial taste and by the horrifying notion that books are products equivalent to crackers and widgets. That pride is shared in self-publishing, where authors commit to getting their personal vision of literature in front of readers exactly the way they want it to be read, for better or worse, without letting other voices dictate their vision. At their best, self-published books are as carefully edited, designed, and produced as the best of small presses, and the worst of both groups are equally bad. Independence from syntax and spelling and attention to design and detail don’t strike me as freedoms worth fighting for. And as much as I love radical, experimental work that breaks with the canon — and breaks with the assumption there could or should ever be a single canon — it’s awfully hard to read something that makes a total break with traditions of literature and culture and thought. That’s where scary manifestos come from.

What no writer wants to be independent of is audience, whether you aim for wide distribution to general readers or focus on readers (often fellow writers) most likely to get what you’re doing and enter a conversation about it. I worry sometimes that small press writers, myself included, don’t always reach for an audience beyond other writers, the same writers we’re publishing stories beside in journals and on websites and who are already inclined to know where we’re coming from and support it. I worry that having such a community ethos, such an assumption of buying each others books and supporting each other regardless, mitigates the risk of sharing the work at the time it reinforces or normalizes certain types of writing, creating less room for risk and surprise — less room, in other words, for voices independent of the existing conversation.

On the other hand, novelist Ron Tanner wrote recently of what happened when Amazon accidentally offered not the intended sample of his novel Kiss Me, Stranger as a free download, but the whole novel: the book was rated and reviewed at Amazon and Goodreads by readers unlikely to have read it without the error. Readers perhaps unfamiliar with the literary traditions Kiss Me, Stranger is part of, and not necessarily those author and publisher expected. That doesn’t mean those readers should feel unwelcome — far from it — but the risk of reaching unlikely readers when their reviews carry such weight is that those ratings impact the decisions of readers otherwise more inclined to pick up the novel. Not to mention the inevitable flattening of ratings toward the meaningless middle as more reader reviews appear for a book. And if you’re telling stories that are inherently risky, about lives often menaced by mainstream culture, why would you reach out to readers who don’t even acknowledge your right to speak?

Whatever readership you’re aiming at, if being indie is only about style and content and purity of vision, it doesn’t much matter how a book gets distributed as long as it does. But if your version of being indie is political, too — if you’re more Dead Kennedys than Green Day — how you get the book to your readers matters a lot. It’s no secret the big, commercial publishers are tentacles of much larger corporations involved in everything from lightbulbs to biscuits to atomic rayguns (okay, maybe not rayguns), and there are a few writers who refuse to work with big houses because of those things. Would that we all had the choice. Yet the financial ramifications of that choice might mean those writers teach, as I do, at colleges and universities dependent on research funding and institutional support from those same corporations or others like them.

If you do stay away from big houses, online bookstores — Amazon chief among them — are great levellers of access to small and large press books, but how independent is it possible to be when you sell or even publish your books through one of the world’s most powerful companies, one with corporate practices destructive of or indifferent to writers and publishers alike? Yet Kickstarter, one of the most popular tools for requesting financial support to make bigger, bolder projects possible by shifting the financial risk from publisher to would-be reader, invokes that community ethos while using Amazon to accept payments. For that matter, several of the most popular self-publishing options seem to be owned by a single private equity investment firm, and another company refused, at one point, to reveal the name of its CEO. To be clear, my point isn’t that these companies are all up to nefarious things, just that most of the available options for publishing and selling a book inevitably leave you independent of more or less nothing.

A small press or self-published author might choose to avoid bookstores altogether, because as Engine Books noted recently publishers benefit far more from direct sales to readers than from sales via Amazon or even brick and mortar stores, making it easier to remain independent. But if being locally- and community-minded are important aspects of your own indie ethos, as they are mine, you’ll want to shop at a community bookstore. Perhaps through Indiebound, which does terrific work to support and connect those stores. Yet even Indiebound doesn’t extend that focus to independent publishers and writers — not that they don’t sell small press or independent books, but only the biggest of small presses get on the radar of their monthly Next lists or earn a prominent place on their website. Despite decrying behemoths like Amazon, Borders, and Barnes and Noble, Indiebound doesn’t appear so concerned about the even larger behemoths publishing books (though individual Indiebound member stores, in my experience, can be incredibly supportive of small presses and local writers). They decide what being independent means to them, as we all do, to avoid getting paralyzed in that lexical, ethical snarl. And unless you’re printing books with your own press, binding them in the garage, and selling them all hand-to-hand, you’re probably equally tangled in all these overlapping, contradictory choices of what independence is and what you’re willing to do, or not do, to maintain it.

Being indie is like the fear that drove my early abandonment of skateboarding: an assessment of what risks are required to attain what reward. Are you willing to break an arm or a leg to master that trick? Are you willing to wait years or even decades to have that novel published, maybe, by a big house? Writing, like all art, requires risk, whether it’s fearing your story won’t speak to anyone else but telling it anyway, or stripping away the safe, comfortable elements of language to make the mundane become new. Maybe it’s spending your personal savings to publish books you believe in without knowing there’s an audience for them, or spending thousands of a company’s dollars and risking dozens of jobs on a book you sincerely hope and believe will speak to the culture at large. It all requires risk, but it doesn’t require all of us to take the same risks in the same ways.

Small press, big house, or self-published, I don’t think it helps one camp to diminish the others, or to insist on indie meaning only one thing. I’m suspicious of outright dismissals that tell us anything reviewed in the New York Times is automatically bad, or anything not reviewed there isn’t worth reading, or anything self-published is trash. It’s a big tent, literature, with plenty of room, so why not have more conversation across the corners? With all the flexibility and opportunity afforded us by innovations (and collapses) in publishing and distribution, there’s no reason for a one-size-fits-all approach to being a writer or reader. What could be more indie-minded than everyone deciding individually what indie means? And besides, every writer worth reading — every person worth listening to, for that matter — is independent by definition, while sycophants can only be boring.

A few weeks ago, I went to a cocktail party thrown by one of the biggest of the big publishers to promote an upcoming novel. Months before its release the author is traveling the country, meeting booksellers, and building buzz. At first glance I was envious, considering how hard I’ve been working to promote my own small press novel; as enormously supportive and dedicated as my own publisher is, I wondered what I could do with those deeper resources. But I’m not sure I’d want it, not at this stage in my “career,” because the pressure must be intense: if a book that big doesn’t sell right away, it’s a flop, whereas a small book like mine, with no expectations, can build momentum slowly (I hope) while I ease my shy self into the world of promotion. Or it can fail, if it’s going to, in a quiet way hardly noticed by most of the world. It’s a level of risk, and a definition of “writer,” I’m comfortable with at this point, and I’m glad to be working in a cultural moment that gives me any number of options for self-definition and self-direction, and gives those to other writers, to publishers, and to bookstores, too. Some of us shoot for high risk artistic stakes, while others aim for large audiences and big royalty checks. Some want to be the voice of a generation and others just claim the right to have a voice. Like I did on my skateboard — though more bravely, I hope — we can decide for ourselves how much we want to risk and what we value most, and can make our decisions accordingly.

Publishing a book, or just writing one, is a lot like dropping the nose of a skateboard over the lip of a pool or a pipe without knowing if you’ll roll or wreck, trusting that your experience and practice have prepared you for the height of that particular ramp and the risk of the trick you’re attempting, and that you’ve assembled the right hardware beneath you for support. But once you’re ever the edge it’s all up to you and it’s too late for changing your mind. What could be more independent than that?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Reviews: Zazen and Sensation

Read 7/21/11 - 7/29/11
5 Stars - Highly Recommended / The Next Best Book
Pgs: 257
Publisher: Red Lemonade

The first title published under Richard Nash's newest publishing platform is a poetic, obsessive, unsettling novel that details the chaotic small town life of Della, a twenty seven year old waitress dealing with the fear and anxiety of a country on the edge of war.

Zazen, by Vanessa Veselka, is a powerful look at what society could do to itself in uncertain times. In dystopian America, where its remaining citizens wait for the real bombs to inch closer and closer, Della calls in bomb threats to pass the time. But when the businesses she targets with her pranks suddenly begin exploding, she is sucked into a situation that may be very difficult to escape.

An incredible first time novel that knocks the wind out of you, Zazen is unapologetic and honest. Veselka creates a world where emotions appear more real than the actual situations her characters find themselves in. It's a story that ebbs and flows, that's felt rather than read. It's impossible and totally plausible at the same time.

It is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful novels I've read this year. It was also one of the biggest buzz books within my indie circle (and rightly so). Did you know that I was apparently within shoulder-bumping distance of it's author at one of the BEA after-parties? Neither did I, and I have been smartly kicking myself in my ass since discovering this fact.

Read 7/30/11 - 8/6/11
3.5 Stars - Strongly Recommended to readers familiar with genre
Publisher: PM Press

Sensation by Nick Mamatas is a first for me in many ways. It's my first encounter with this publishing company, who publish political, edgy fiction and non-fiction. It's my first experience reading the author, who has two previous novels under his belt. AND - probably most importantly - it's the first time I've ever willingly read a novel whose story line revolved around spiders and wasps.

If you are familiar with me and my irrational fears, you'll know that spiders top the chart of things I am terrified of. Thank god the book didn't have one sitting menacingly on the cover, because I don't know if I would have had the courage to look at it, let alone pick it up to read it.

Sensation, like Zazen, is set in a parallel America. In this one, humans are not the only intelligent species - although they think they are. There is an age old war brewing between spiders and wasps, and our unsuspecting characters are about to find themselves smack in the middle of it all.

The story is narrated by the collective consciousness of the spiders, who are walking around amongst the public , spying on them from within the brainpans of men of indeterminate ethnicity. They report on the whereabouts of Julia, a woman who was stung by a wasp - get ready to be grossed out - that laid its eggs in the sting wound. These eggs, which send out certain chemicals that change the behavior of their host, compel Julia to kill a man, which inadvertently begin a nationwide sans nom movement. The spiders, in their human transports, whisk Julia away to the Simulacrum in an effort to contain and protect her. But the movement continues, and with it, so does the war between insect and arachnid.

Many, many times as I read, I found my skin crawling. Just the thought of spiders being these hyper-intelligent super-spies turns my stomach. Every time I see one now, I think - What are you looking at, you little fucker? - right before I smear its guts across the wall.

This novel was, by far, one of the stranger ones I have ever read. Readers must be able to suspend their own realities in order to experience its full effect. It certainly poses the question of free will vs. puppetry. Are the decisions we make truly our own, or are they a result of someone or something else's influence over us?

Which also ties Sensation back to Zazen. Both novels deal, in part, with underground, controversial movements that are started unintentionally by our leading ladies, who then find themselves swept up in the chaotic aftermath.

In Zazen, Della finds herself tied to a group of people who plot setting off small bombs and taking out transmission lines in an attempt to cripple what little parts of their America are still functioning. Her bomb threats appear to be the catalyst for this little group of anarchists, and Della goes along with the group until she realizes just what it is they are after.

For Sensation, it's the message Julia leaves on the side of an unwanted stadium that is still under construction. The message filters through the country slowly, and soon becomes a media and internet movement set on bringing the world down to its knees, sucking Julia back into the fray, whether she likes it or not.

Whether it's bombs or warring spiders and wasps, both novels demonstrate the speed at which humans react and society collapses when left to their own devices. They also show the speed at which people can come together and join forces to make positive impacts as well.