Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Review: Don't Kiss on the Lips...

Read 9/27/11
3 Stars - Recommended for readers familiar with genre (and who can find the humor in networking)
Pgs:84

Early one morning, while hanging around the author booths in the back of Javits Center during this year's BEA,  a woman approached me with a copy of this book in her hand. "The author is signing this book right now, if you would like a copy, " she said. I flipped through it quickly, saw that no one was in the line (hence the reason the woman was pitching it to passer-bys) and decided to grab one.

The title is catchy enough.. "Don't Kiss on the Lips and Other Networking Tips" sounds like sound advice, right? And it immediately made me think of my former place of employment.

We didn't kiss each other on the lips... well, that I know of anyway.... but there were times where, at my old job, all members of management met in the upstairs office for hand-off meetings between shifts. And during those hand-off meetings which occured before a holiday, we were subjected to huggings and "cheek kissings" from our respective counterparts, managers, and building manager- much to my dismay - as we wished each other "a happy insert-the-current-holiday-here".

Most people don't mind this display of friendly affection and well-wishing. But you have to understand something.... I am extremely fond of my personal space. I feel most comfortable when coworkers, and any other non-member-of-my-immediate-family for that matter, remain a good arms-length away while conversing with me.

These holiday hand-off meetings at work were sheer torture for me. I referred to them as "greasy cheek" meetings. Because - after the rubbing of many cheeks against my own cheek - it felt as though the side of my face was buried beneath a layer of everyone's oily dead skin and face sweat. (Excuse me while I attempt to swallow the urge to vomit...) I always felt the dire need to run home, strip off my clothes, and scrub my cheeks raw with bleach under a boiling hot shower.

Don't Kiss on the Lips is an extremely quick read, meant to be flipped through in preparation for a business dinner or networking event. Short, simple, and very much to the point. And also, at times, quite humorous.

See, the introduction states that this book is meant for both the seasoned professional and the networking newbie (my term, not theirs). And therein lies the issue. While some of the tips make smart powerful statements, others fall too far off the mark and should be considered "common sense" instead of "networking tips".

Here, let's test a few. I'll share a Networking Tip with you and you have to tell me if it's a smart statement, or    if it should be considered common sense. Ready?

Tip # 1 - Most job openings are filled by networking - It's one of the most valuable skills you will ever develop.  (what do you say, guys? Smart Statement, or Common Sense? Definitely smart, right? Right!)

Tip # 3 - People are more likely to remember how you said something than what you said. So speak with confidence. (Smart Statement or Common Sense? I'm sticking with smart again. It's good advice.)

Tip # 7 - Ask the person you are talking to how they like to be contacted.  (I think that is an extremely smart statement. Are you with me so far?)

Tip # 11 - Do not be a stalker. (Oh shit..... can you define stalker..?)

Tip # 15 - Send handwritten thank-you notes telling people why it was good to meet them, and include your business card so they will remember you. (That's another smart statement. We could always get better at this one!)

Tip # 22 - It's never OK to lie. (Really? Like... never ever? Damn... I was saving a coupla good ones up...)

Tip # 25 - Your business card should not be so thin that it gives anyone a paper cut. (I'm torn on this one. On the one hand, it's a smart statement, right? I mean, we certainly don't want anyone bleeding all over the place because we were too cheap to purchase quality cards... yet on the other hand, you'd have to be a complete moron to hand those razor-wanna-be's out, right?)

Tip # 32 - When someone hands you a business card, take time to read it. (Totally smart statement.)

Tip # 37 If the person you would like to meet is in the middle of a conversation, do not interrupt. (uhm.. duh? Common sense. Move on.)

Tip # 42 - Brush your teeth before you go to a networking event. (No wonder everyone was staring at my mouth as I spoke.. I had this HUGE ASS piece of spinach between my teeth! Why didn't anyone tell me??)

Tip # 82 - Try not to swear. (Ok, I'm screwed. I mean, between the whole "it's never ok to lie" thing, and the fact that stalking is frowned upon, and now the not swearing thing.. Hell, am I allowed to breathe? Are you going to to try to take that away from me too? Geesh!)

So, you see what I mean? There are 84 tips in all... and while there are a lot more smart statements like the ones I've shared above, there are also a handful more of those completely unnecessary tips that made me chuckle. Maybe that's why they are in there? To lighten the mood, to add a little comic relief? To give this book cross-genre appeal? To make it impossible for the employees at the book store to determine whether it should be shelved with the humor books or the informative ones? All of the above?

Whatever the case, I found it highly entertaining and may even photocopy a few of these pages to display in my office window. To give the guys something to think about as they go from meeting to meeting, and person to person... Something to influence the building's morale. God knows we've all got to take a good look at what we are doing right, and what we need to do differently. And sometimes, we just gotta learn how to laugh at ourselves too!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Indie Spotlight: Wink Publishing

The world of publishing continues to evolve - to meet the needs of todays writers and readers.

I have a special new publisher I would like you to meet. Their called Wink Publishing, and they are asking for your help in deciding which new books they should publish.

Yup, you heard me right. A publisher who is asking for reader input on which breakthrough new novels get published. Check out their guest post explaining it all....


The problem with publishing.


Wink Publishing shouldn’t exist.  Its purpose, the problem it was created to solve, shouldn’t exist, but it does.  So Wink Publishing is here, looking for the best undiscovered writing talent and offering something more to new authors than traditional publishers currently do.

There is a problem at the heart of publishing which eBooks have brought into sharp focus.  It’s a problem which has always existed, but the accessibility to sales platforms such as Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iBooks has brought the issue into the dazzling sunlight.

The problem is that while many writers don’t write for the money, the majority of publishers publish for profit.  This misalignment of interests has shaped the publishing world for years.  While publishers haven’t taken advantage of author’s lack of commerciality, their financial imperatives have coloured their title list.  An editor will usually stand behind only those novels which will at the very least break even, unless it is seen as a loss leader to a franchise or a continuing body or work from that writer.  The plethora of celebrity titles, ghost written fiction and formulaic genre bestsellers are evidence of publisher’s mercantile mindset.

But literature has nothing to do with money.  In its purist form it is the most efficient, entertaining and everlasting way to share ideas and emotions.  It allows one person to share their unique view of the world with people they will never meet and never know.  If asked, most writers would happily give away their work if they didn’t need to eat as the spiritual nourishment of sharing their work would be enough.

Until the advent of eBooks, there were no credible alternatives to the publisher’s way of publishing for authors to take advantage of.  Publishers controlled the supply chain, had the financial resources to all but guarantee a books success and kept civil and profitable relationships with all of the books shops, both independent retailers and chains.  The system was designed to benefit everyone except writers, who were expected to give up control of the work that they had spent years crafting in return for a fraction of the income it generated.  While it was ideal for publishers, it was simply the better of two ills for writers, the alternative being eternal obscurity.

Everything changed when Amazon arrived.  While it just sold print books, publishers only noticed the increase in sales.  They didn’t notice any change in the overall landscape, not even when the Kindle eReader was launched.  Neither did they spot the potential risk to their way of doing business when Kindle’s Direct Publishing was launched, followed by Apple’s iBooks and iBook Store.  It was just another fad which would fade into the landscape.

But it hasn’t.  When the history of eBooks is written, Christmas 2010 will be marked as the watershed, the time when it all changed.  Whether it was because of the launch of the iPad, the lower price of the Kindle or simple zeitgeist only time will tell, but 2011 has shown phenomenal sales increases for eBooks.  The income has, belatedly, convinced publishers of the benefits of this new way of enjoying literature.

It has also seen the rise of the best-selling, self-published author. The number of writers who have sold over a million books without the aid of a publisher so far this year is almost as many as in the entire history of publishing.  This is all because of eBooks and shows no sign of slowing down.

While this trend is welcomed by struggling writers, it also accentuates the oldest problems in publishing.  The problem which Wink Publishing exists to solve.  How does a reader discover a new writer? 

Traditionally, a publisher would back a writer with the necessary marketing campaign and financial resources to ensure that the author becomes well known, thus ensuring steady sales.  However, with more writers choosing to eschew publishers in favour of going it alone, the reality of becoming a lone voice in a deafening chorus clamouring for attentions bites early and bites hard.  How does a new writer, without a big budget marketing campaign, find their readers?  How does a new writer become discovered?

It’s an old problem, but a problem, which, thanks to technology has a new solution as well as providing Wink Publishing with a reason to exist.

If the main purpose of a publisher is to sell books, and to do that readers need to want to buy that book, why take a risk on a novel?  As a publisher, why not take out the guesswork about which books will be popular and only publish those with a proven track record?  Until now it has been impossible to do this with an unpublished writer, but we’ve found a way to do just that.

Wink Publishing doesn’t choose which books to publish, we let readers do that.

We select a number of titles which have been well written and then ask readers to vote for the one which they want to see published.  No other publisher is doing this.  It’s scary for us, but the benefits will, we believe, far outweigh the drawbacks.

But we’ve decided to go further than that.  Not only do we offer undiscovered authors another way to connect with their readers, we offer a fairer deal.  Whatever income their debut novel generates is split 50/50.  Any costs of generating that income is taken from our share, so the writer always gets half of the income we receive.

We also do more than just publish their book.  We try to find people who are interested in filming their work, or people who want to serialise or use the novel in another way.  In this respect we fill the role of the writer’s agent.  Again, something no other publisher does at the moment.

The new publishing landscape opens lots of possibilities for publishers and we have only scratched the surface so far, but if you think we’re doing something worthwhile, please help us help new writers.

We don’t want your money or even much of your time. 

All we need is your vote.

Please read the entries for our current contest here and then vote for your favourite.

Without you we won’t have anything to publish.

Without you a new writer may never be discovered.

(Wink Publishing can be found on twitter and facebook as well as on their website.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Giveaway: Damascus

TNBBC has the incredible honor of hosting a mid-month Author/Reader discussion with Joshua Mohr 
and you know what that means......!!

In order to stimulate discussion,
We will be giving away 10 domestic copies of his newest novel 


(domestic means US residents only)
(sorry, international followers!)

It's 2003 and the country is divided evenly for and against the Iraq War. Damascus, a dive bar in San Francisco's Mission District, becomes the unlikely setting for a showdown between the opposing sides. 
Tensions come to a boil when Owen, the bar's proprietor who has recently taken to wearing a Santa suit full-time, agrees to host the joint's first (and only) art show by Sylvia Suture, an ambitious young artist who longs to take her act to the dramatic precipice of the high-wire by nailing live fish to the walls as a political statement. 
 An incredibly creative and fully rendered cast of characters orbit the bar. There's No Eyebrows, a cancer patient who has come to the Mission to die anonymously; Shambles, the patron saint of the hand job; Revv, a lead singer who acts too much like a lead singer; and Owen, donning his Santa costume to mask the most unfortunate birthmark imaginable. 
 Damascus is the place where confusion and frustration run out of room to hide. By gracefully tackling such complicated topics as cancer, Iraq, and issues of self-esteem, Joshua Mohr has painted his most accomplished novel yet.

The contest will run through September 27th. 

 Here's how to enter:

 1 - Comment here stating that you would like to receive a copy of the book.

 2 - You must be a resident of the US and leave me a way to contact you.

 3- Agree to participate in a group read book discussion that will run during the middle of October  through the middle of November over at TNBBC on Goodreads. Joshua Mohr has agreed to participate in the discussion and will be available to answer any questions you may have for him. 

 *If you are chosen as a winner, by accepting the copy you are agreeing to read the book and join the group discussion at TNBBC on Goodreads (the thread for the discussion will be emailed to you by the 15th of the October).

 Winners are chosen randomly 
and will be announced here and via email on September 28th. 

 Good luck!

Review: Damascus

Read 9/09/11 - 9/20/11
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended
Pgs: 208
Publisher: Two Dollar Radio

*Damascus (noun): The “road to Damascus” is an image for a sudden turning point in a person's life.

I am no stranger to San Franciscan author Joshua Mohr. I read and adored his 2010 novel Termite Parade, dubbing it "The Next Best Book"; hosted a week-long interactive interview with him over at the TNBBC goodreads group; and was beyond thrilled to kick off a brand new monthly short story feature on this very blog by premiering his unpublished short story "Family"!

So it should come as no surprise when I tell you that his upcoming novel Damascus was at the tippity-top of my must-have list when I attended BEA this past May, and have it I did!

The book borrows its title from the little dive bar that serves as the epicenter of the novel... (and it's also quite the little play on words.  Joshua is one of the few authors I've read who seems to take joy in  aptly naming the people and places that populate his stories.)

In Damascus, we meet a rag-tag set of incredibly flawed and fantastic characters:

There's No Eyebrows, a stage four lung cancer patient who walks into Damascus after walking out on his family, sparing them the pain of watching him die. He seeks relief from his illness at the hands of Shambles, the patron saint of the hand job, who invites men into her "office" (aka the bathroom) to jerk them off for a living (Shambles is another play on words... the word, defined as "a confused mess", quite fittingly bestowed upon herself after leaving her boring marriage and accidently falling into her new line of work).

Owen, the bar's owner, attempts to hide his hideous Hitler birthmark beneath a grungy old Santa Suit after being humiliated by an 8 year old on the street. As a favor to his niece Daphne, Owen agrees to host Syl's art show in his bar, Damascus, who's upcoming project includes nailing live fish onto plywood paintings of soliders who've died during the War in Iraq. During this time, Syl becomes taken with Revv, a part time bartender who has a thing for self mutilation and art that stirs shit.

One night, after closing up the bar, Owen and Daphne bump into Byron -  an ex-solider with a dark, personally shameful past - who lives the "rebellious and unconventional lifestyle" his name implies. Owen takes Byron in temporarily while he works things out with his wife after an all night binger. Already unstable and unable to fully assimilate back to civilian life, Byron learns of the art show and the feelings it triggers in him cause a chain reaction none of the Damascus patrons can see coming.

Brilliantly written, Mohr gracefully deals with the heavier issues - such as cancer and the War in Iraq - by dispersing them with moments of pure beauty: Shambles photographing the female cancer survivor and sharing the pictures with No Eyebrows in an attempt to show him how beautiful his disease can be; Owen and Byron camping out on top of the pool tables in Damascus, with the candlelight reflecting off of the shards of broken mirror Owen had glued to the ceiling of the bar, resembling stars...

Joshua has this uncanny knack of creating characters that reflect those personal, private pieces of  us, and by doing that, he makes them live and breathe. They climb off the page and into our lives. Or rather, they reach out and pull you in... They are familiar to us, similar to us. They could be your friend or relative or neighbor. They could be you.

I dare you to show me someone who is baggage free, who is not hiding something, or hiding from something. Joshua knows the darkness that lurks within us, and like a good magician, he never fully shows his hand... he never stops weaving his magic spell on us.

*so says Dictionary.com

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

2011 Brooklyn Book Festival, FTW

What happens when you give a bunch of publishers, countless authors, and book lovers and bloggers like TNBBC and BookSexyReview free reign of Brooklyn's Court Street? The 2011 Brooklyn Book Festival, that's what!

I was horrible about taking photos this year, so rather than write a super long, not so interesting post about everything that happened, I'm gonna break my BKBF experience down into a list of highlights and lowlights:

BKBF11 Highlights:
  • Hanging with Tara from BookSexyReview, my literary partner-in-crime! We drove into the city together, so we had loads of time to girl-talk and book-talk and enjoy the festival.
  • How about that weather, huh? Not a drop of rain! A bit windy at times, but a totally gorgeous day to be out among the bookish!
  • Meeting Richard Nash of Red Lemonade and Jessica Deutsch of Coffee House Press - two publishers I began working with this year, and look forward to working with again and again.
  • Seeing Erin from Graywolf Press and Erica from Harper Perennial again. I love these ladies! Show me someone who doesn't, I dare you!
  • Meeting Alan Heathcock, author of Volt. Alan and I have communicated online many times over the past year and I just happened to catch him walking by me at the festival (hours before his scheduled panel). He is extremely cool in person and wrote a lovely little message in my copy of his novel when he signed it. BTW, we will be giving away copies of his novel and hosting a discussion of it with him in the coming months! We are extremely excited and hope you will be too! 
  • Listening to the Getting To It and Getting Through It and the Short and Sweet (and Sour) short story panels. I enjoyed seeing Alan Heathcock's read from Volt, and got to hear Amelia Gray read from her flash fiction collection AM/PM.
  • Accidently asking for two tickets to the Colson Whitehead / Patrick Somerville panel, when all I needed was one, and being able to pass that extra ticket on to Levi Asher when he tweeted that he had no ticket and couldn't get in! How's that for an accident?! 
  • OMG, the food trucks! I had no clue NYC had such deliciousness driving around on 4 (or is it 8 or 10?) wheels! Tara enticed me into ordering from a grilled cheese truck that made a to-die-for short rib sandwich, and then talked me into ordering an angus burger from Frites N Meat - which initially looked and sounded scary but ended up being quite tasty, and had the best employees in the food business. 
  • I know this defeats the purpose of the Festival and goes against everything the publishers are trying to accomplish, but I did not buy ONE book! I was surrounded by millions of awesome looking novels and quelled the urge to spend all of my money on them, and by god, It wasn't easy!. There is no way my TBR pile could have handled any more additions..... 


BKBF11 Lowlights:
  • There just are not enough hours in one day to contain all of the author panels and signings, the networking with the publishers at the booths, the eating, the peeing, and the standing in line for tickets! Hell, there aren't enough minutes in between each event to even get from one panel to another without missing a signing or a reading! I would have to recommend splitting out the events across two days, with an hour-long break between each panel.
  • The damn weekend Subway changes! Making adjustments to the trains and which lines they are running is hell for a subway-challenged individual like myself! Thank god Tara knows what she is doing! We got on the C train under Port Authority, headed to Brooklyn, and then realized it was running the F line, which was cool till it parked it's ass in the middle of the trip and never started back up again. After losing 20 minutes just sitting there, we jumped over to the R line (I think?!) and had another 20 minutes to kill while we waited for it to arrive. Fuck public transportation! I am convinced I could have walked to Brooklyn from Port Authority quicker than those subway rides got us there.
  • Making an ass out of myself at the PM Press booth. I introduced myself and thanked them for a copy of a book they don't publish! I mixed them up with another relatively new publisher to me - both mailed me books at the same time -and I walked away feeling like a complete nube! That's never happened to me before. Oy! 
  • Carrying around copies of books by A.M. Homes, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Ben Lerner all day - expecting to crash the signings - and never making it to a single one! See the first bullet point; something had to give, some things just didn't make the cut. (sigh) Last year I had loads of books signed. This year... only one!
  • For me, the lowest of the low: The fact that the day finally, grudgingly, had to come to an end!!!!
Were you there? What was a highlight for you? 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ben Spivey 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.

Ben Spivey is Co- Founder, Co-Editor and Publicist for Blue Square Press, which was established in 2010. He is also the author of Flowing in the Gossamer Fold, which was reviewed here back in March. And he blogs at Your Brain's Black Box.

Ben's novel was partially influenced by photographer Yelena Yemchuk and the beautifully uneasy feelings her artwork created within in.

Today, he shares with us this thoughts on the term "Indie" the personal impact of such labels.





I am not purposefully trying to be "indie." What I write—what I am doing—is what I love to do, it is what I believe to be important, and however that is classified is whatever to me.

While I do not label myself I understand the importance of such distinctions.

I've heard the kids with the shoulder bags talking on the train—people who enjoy being able to say they like writer X, "haven't you heard of X?" And when their friend says, "who?" They say, "X is an indie writer. Where have you been?"
            
I'd be just as happy as an Oprah book-of-the-month as long as my vision and my words and my passion was not compromised in the process.
            
The "indie world of books" is what excites me right now. Is it an entire world? Feels like it sometimes. It can be overwhelming, like a table full of BBQ nachos can be overwhelming.
           
People become board with "mainstream literature" but that doesn't mean there are not great popular fictions, just like anything there are good and bad, worthwhile and not. "Indie," can be more exciting and feel more personal, but it can be just as bad as anything else.
            
So what is being "indie?" If it's being independent, then I am not. If it wasn't for fellow writers, authors, designers, publishers and close friends, I'd be nothing.
            
A lot of the people I am involved with support each other in someway. It's a network. Maybe it should be called "being collective."
            
When I think "indie" in the conventional sense I think small press and all of the beautiful works that a lot of those hardworking people produce, distribute and love.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Book Giveaway: The Bee-Loud Glade

I am especially thrilled to be able to offer following giveaway !

Steve Himmer's novel The Bee Loud Glade will be featured in
 October as part of TNBBC's Author/Reader discussion 


In order to stimulate discussion,
we have 5 books to give away for US residents
and 2 books to give away Internationally!!



Here is the book description as it appears on Goodreads:
 When Finch, a recently fired marketer of plastic plants, takes a vow of silence to live as a hermit on an eccentric billionaire's estate, he finds that his attempt to contemplate nature and deeper truths is foiled by his noisy inner thoughts and his new employer's booming demands.


The contest will run through September 20th.

Here's how to enter:

1 - Comment here stating that you would like to receive a copy of the book, and tell us what you would consider taking a 7 year vow of silence for. 

2 - Pleas tell us if you are a resident of the US, or if you are international (In this case, Canada is considered international) and leave me a way to contact you.

*If your comment is missing any of this information, it will be considered ineligible.

3- Agree to participate in a group read book discussion that will run during the month of October over at TNBBC on Goodreads. Steve Himmer has agreed to participate in the discussion and will be available to answer any questions you may have for him.

*If you're comment is chosen as a winner, by accepting the copy you are agreeing to read the book and join the group discussion at TNBBC on Goodreads (the thread for the discussion will be emailed to you at the first of the month).



Winners are chosen randomly
and will be announced here and via email
on September 21st.


Good luck!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Review: A Burden To The Earth

Read 8/31/11 - 9/7/11
4 Stars - Strongly Recommend
Pgs: 279
Unpublished

TNBBC is breaking new ground! I had an opportunity to beta read Michael J. Sullivan's manuscript A Burden to the Earth. The pre-edited, unpublished book found it's way to me during a break in the action at the 2011 Indie Book Event (IBE) that took place in NYC this past July.

Michael's wife, Robin, was sitting front row in the audience at the event. Though I had never met her in person before IBE, we have quite the history together. Robin is a long time member of the TNBBC goodreads group. After the initial Hi, so great to finally meet you's, Robin and I discussed her publishing company and the authors she represents. Conversation eventually turned to her husband, who is enjoying his success as a sci-fi writer. Unlike his Riyria  books, she informed me that the book he had just finished writing was literary fiction, which is a new genre for him. She asked if I would be interested in giving her and her husband some feedback on it. Once she delivered the elevator pitch, I couldn't say no.

The book focuses on Elliot, a forty year old man, single and still living at home with his mother, who harbors a hatred for a world that he feels left him behind. Very much wishing things were still as simple as they were when he was growing up, Elliot struggles to adjust and adapt to life in the 1990's. Always a bit obsessive over women - he still has the unopened bottle of Coke that a girl he crushed on in middle school had given him and stalks the cute waitress who humors him with conversation at the Fox Den -  he damages the only friendships he has when he finds out that the two people he cares most about, Rachel and Randy, have begun dating behind his back. In his mind, their friendship is no longer equal and he nearly loses his mind after Rachel refuses to give into his demands that she pay him the same "attention" she does Randy.

Beta reading, while exciting to be one of the first few to see a book before it passes into the hands of the publishers, can also be a frustratingly long and tedious job. Reading between the lines in search of character development, pace, and overall story arc is fun. Discovering grammatical and structural errors and communicating the adjustments, removals, and recommendations - not so much. I found more of my time was spent typing up the edits than reading the actual content. And this is where I think beta reading works for me, and where it might not work for others. I know many a blogger who cannot STAND it when they come across a poorly edited sentence, let alone page, and don't get them started if it's poorly edited all the way through! Yes - it is important to know the difference between their, they're, and there. Yes - it is important to understand comma placement and how improperly placed commas can impact the performance of a sentence. And in a finished edition of the novel, those things are certainly much less acceptable, and reflect negatively on the author and editors for having let those things slip by. But in these early stages, with a manuscript or review ARC, I can see beyond all of that, into the meat of the story, and see the gem that is hidden beneath. Though, if I'm being honest, I have always been able to look past the typo's and still find nothing but love for the content. It's this ability to separate the two - the grammatical errors from the story's content and development - that allowed me to see this novel for what it really could be.

Exceptionally well paced, A Burden to the Earth delves into the flawed and fractured mind of a man who is frighteningly close to the edge of losing everything, including himself. As the cracks in his reasoning become more obvious and worrisome to others, in Elliot's mind things are simply starting to appear more clear. "Life is a joke God plays on people...", and Hell be damned, he has finally become tired of being God's little punch-line.

I thought Michael did Elliot a great deal of justice when he wrote him - there is so much wrong with Elliot that readers will find themselves wondering what is wrong with them for not loathing him. He is completely dependent on his mother for room, board, food, and conversation and hates himself for it. His friends and family see him for what he is, and he hates them for it. Yet, we all know someone with some of the same qualities, don't we? Just a little too obsessed with a new girl he has just met, just a little too easy going within small groups of friends when things are going fine but then just a little too mopey when things don't work out the way he anticipated, a bit of an over-reactor to change.... There is something creepily familiar about Elliot... and therein lies the rub.

When you've finally had enough of feeling like you're always pulling the short straw, to what lengths would you go to show people you've had enough?


Monday, September 12, 2011

AudioBook Review: City of Thieves

Listened 8/28/11 - 9/7/11
5 Stars - Highly Recommended / The Next Best Book
8 Hours

This is a book that sadly sat on my "to buy" list for years. From the moment I read the jacket copy, I knew I had to read it and I was certain I would love it. Every time I stepped into a bookstore, I would pick it up, read the jacket and carry it around with me as I browsed, but something else always caught my eye and forced me to put City of Thieves back down. Then, for an incredibly long time, I stopped shopping in bookstores. (Part of the yin and yang of being a book blogger... most of the books I have are courtesy of wonderful indie publishers and authors looking for reviews, while the rest come from the endlessly overflowing local library book sales, thus rendering me incapable of purchasing brand new books for lack of time and space!)

But the recent Borders "Going out of Business Sales" enticed me to enter through their doors in search of some audiobooks to snag at a discounted price. I was about to leave home for a week, embarking on a 5 hour drive up to Massachusetts for a work thing, and I wanted something good to listen to on the way there and back. (God only knew how many radio stations I would pick up and lose on the trip. I have no patience with searching for new stations every 10 miles....)

Wait...I don't think you realize how big of a thing this is for me, shopping for audiobooks.

See, for most of my life, I've had a difficult time with them. Remember when we were kids and you could buy those books that came with audio tapes? They were so cool because you could follow along as you listened to the book being read to you. For me, it helped to keep me focused on the story - without the book, within 5 minutes of pressing the play button, I would suddenly find myself zoning out and completely lost, not having heard a word that was being spoken. And this habit has carried itself with me throughout my adult years as well. I'm an excellently disciplined reader. Plop me on a couch with a book in my hands and nothing can break my concentration. Not even sitting in the middle of kids screaming and fighting over the tv channels with the phone ringing off the hook! But put me in a silent car with an audiobook, and the entire thing is lost on me. My focus is out the window the moment the narrator's voice kicks in and I'm mentally listing off grocery items I need, thinking about upcoming episodes of True Blood, or quietly cursing the traffic. (I swear I am not like this when people are standing talking right in front me, or talking to me on the phone!) And then suddenly I remember - Oh Shit! I'm supposed to have been listening to this fucking book! How much did I miss? What the fuck is he talking about? How do I rewind? Did I rewind far enough? Fuck!

But recently, after attending the BEA and unexpectedly finding myself the owner of two free audiobooks, I decided to give them another chance. It's a miracle I still want to listen to the damn things after the shit I put myself through with these audiobooks - take a look at attempt #1, and attempt #2 to see why!

But I digress....

I popped into Borders, and headed over to their audiobook section. Being so late in the closing sale, the shelves were mostly picked through, and there wasn't a heck of a lot of fiction audio left. I did, however, find a copy of City of Thieves, which I happily grabbed. And this time, I did not let go! (I also took home an audiobook of Pygmy, which I absolutely do not recommend to anyone.)

The book is narrated by Ron Perlman - the odd-faced man behind HellBoy and the Beauty and the Beast series, who, believe it or not, has a wonderfully deep and lovely reading voice - and could easily become a contemporary classic lit novel.

The author, David Benioff, did an excellent job infusing this story of two Russian criminals - sent out on a dangerous journey in search of a dozen eggs during the Nazi's siege of Leningrad - with humor, culture, and pride. Young Lev, arrested by his own people for looting a dead fallen German solider, is a cautious worrywart. His cellmate, the cool, calm, womanizing Kolya, counts off the passing days based on the last time he has taken a shit and waxes poetic about an unknown novel entitled The Courtyard Hound.

Rather than face execution, which is the sentence for anyone arrested during the war, A Soviet colonel promises to set them free in exchange for a dozen eggs, which he needs in order bake a cake for his daughter's upcoming wedding. The kicker - there are no eggs to be had in the frozen city and the boys have less than a week to find them.

City of Thieves goes beyond the long, cold journey of these two strangers, peering straight into the heart of survival, the need for physical romance in a time of emotional upheaval, the lengths people would go to in order to ensure a meal awaited them at the end of the day. It deals with the suffering, mistrust, and hatred that the Nazi siege inflicted and infected Russia with.

Buried within the pages, or in this case inside the discs, there are encounters with cannibals, a rooster named Darling, discussions about sex and how to woo a woman, a chess game where life and death are on the line, and an extremely difficult passage for me to listen to involving a dog with a bomb strapped to his back.

Ron Perlman did a phenomenal job with the narration. His character voices were natural and subtle, so you always knew who was talking without being distracted away from the story. Unlike most of the other audiobooks I had listened to, he didn't attempt to make the women sound like women - those nasally, high pitched, whiny voices I had begun to believe were mandatory when narrating - and I love him for that.

I am really happy I picked this up as an audiobook because it's a great example of how audiobooks SHOULD be. And it finally gives me hope that I may find some others out there that are just as good. I am also thrilled to be able to move this book from my "to buy" shelf and into my "read" shelf!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Review: Stories for Nighttime and Some for The Day

Read 8/27/11 - 9/7/11
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended
Pgs: 208

Ben Loory's Stories for Nighttime and Some for The Day demonstrates the power and beauty of the english language when it's stripped down to its very core.

He plays endlessly with our notion of reality; twisting it, turning it, bending it, burying it and digging it back up again. His stories are bred of magic and mystery, dreams and nightmares, fears and hopes. They are wonderful and frightening, all at the same time.

Many of his stories serve as cautionary tales: such as the man who has a public pool drained when he sees a monster swimming at the bottom, only to realize too late that he has released it of its prison.... or the octopus who sacrifices the quality of underwater living to live an eternally bland life on land.... or the woman who unintendedly increases sales of a book she despises simply by speaking out against it. They warn the reader to be careful of what you wish for, to curb your curiosity, to weigh your options carefully.

His collection reminds me of a darker, more twisted play on Aesop's Fables, in that his stories mostly seem to end on a bitter note. I say mostly because, with some of them, I am not always sure what sort of ending his characters were dealt. Though it is always clear.. I would not have done such things if I were you!

As I devoured each tale, many of which I read out loud to my eight year old son, I recall the feelings and thoughts they stirred within us. Quite a few of them resulted in mid-reading conversations, the two of us trying to determine what might happen to each of the characters as they moved throughout the story. Other times, as they ended, we would just look at each other, shrug, and move onto the next one.

Extremely well written and cleverly executed, with a gorgeous cover to boot, Stories for Nighttime and Some for The Day is a collection everyone should own. Young and old alike can find something to enjoy within the pages of this book. Bigfoot, aliens, and magical shields are waiting to share their stories with you... I'll let you decide which are best read under the cover of darkness, and which should be let out into the light.

Many thanks to Ben Loory, who so willingly shipped over a copy of his book for review!








Thursday, September 8, 2011

Indie Spotlight - Rae Bryant

 Rae Bryant believes in writing about the things most people would prefer to shy away from. Her newly released collection of short stories, The Indefinite State of Imaginary Morals, which deals heavily with magic realism, surrealism, satire and postfeminism, was nominated for the Pen Hemingway award.

No stranger to writing and publishing, Rae's short stories have appeared in BLIP Magazine (formerly Mississippi Review), Opium Magazine, and PANK, among others. She is also the founding editor of Moon Milk Review, a nonprofit print and online literary and arts journal.

Rae joins us on TNBBC today to discuss why she writes about sex and violence, why she enjoys experimental writing, and how being a woman, wife, and mother is affected by these choices:


 "I should state, first, that it seems sex and violence for some writers are the bad or taboo or closeted things in other people’s narratives. It is a literary conceit, I think, this notion that serious literary writers should disengage with the “sex” and the “violence.” 

"Imagine the words whispered like unmentionables around the MFA workshop table. Writers who do engage directly with sex or violence or alternative forms are often termed the “others” or sometimes the Experimentalists, sometimes a dirty connotation in and of itself. And it is true, sex and violence and Postmodern structures can have different voices in narratives than say the conventional love affair as told from first person or the man walking his dog through life in third person or a retro landscape of a US town gone to ashes, but I like the different. 

"It is what makes the written word necessary for me. I can engage with conventions in real time. When I immerse in a story, I want to be taken to a place where I must engage creatively and rigorously with the work. I want to face and question my sense of convention and morality. And don’t get me wrong. I enjoy and seek more simplistic and realistic narratives. It is a style I sometimes prefer writing when the story requires it, but for me, the “other,” the edge, isn’t an optional engagement. It is ingrained, a way of organic crafting for me.

"I must admit. I do have a twisted sense of creativity. I blame Swift, mostly. Fell in love with “A Modest Proposal” at an early age, works by Woolf, Poe, any mythology I could get my hands on, and so the “other” has been imprinted on me. As a result, I often consider how normal scenarios would smell and taste and sound in a strange land, with a bent perspective. 

"My one standard is language. I like attention to language. I want unrelenting rigor and music, and I’m not afraid of fusions. Prose and poetry combined is a beautiful experience, albeit reading or writing. It disappoints me when readers and/or writers limit themselves to only one or the other to the detriment of a fuller exploration.

"And the female question? The mother, wife question? Should it matter in the realm of creative properties?

"Chaucer, Swift, Nabokov, O’Connor, Oates, Vonnegut, Woolf, Williams, Gaitskill, McCarthy... A small sampling of authors who pushed or push edges with an elegance and wit beyond me, and their works stay with me each time I sit with a book or pen in hand. Each time I return to them, I learn a little more about the writer I want to be. "

Her book, The Indefinite State of Imaginary Morals , is a "visceral collection of stories that explores the wits, moralities, edges and sometimes broken realities of lovers and friends, life and death, and the mundane tragedies in a normal day. From detachable women to cow tipping, kingfishers to drive-thru sex, Bryant pushes the boundaries and creates for her readers the amusing, the heartbreaking and the magically bizarre conditions of woman and man." - Book description from Goodreads.com

You can find out more about Rae by visiting her website, "liking" her on Facebook,  and following her on Twitter

Monday, September 5, 2011

Review: Broetry

Read 8/ 25/11 - 8/27/11
3 Stars - Recommended to readers familiar with genre
Pgs: 121

Welcome to a whole new world of poetry, as told from the "man's man" perspective. Say so long to the flowery, romantic, whimsically girly prose you've become accustomed to! Brian McGackin's laying down brand new rhymes that speak to the heart of all of us... in terms we can all relate to.

With a manly flair, Brian pulls much of the content for his broems from past experiences - spelling out his dating horror stories, addiction to video games and beer, and unhealthy obsession for Taylor Swift for us in neat, concise lines that drive straight through to the heart of it all.

Poking fun at the format, Brian pretends he is a guest on Jeopardy in his broem "I'll take Crazy Bitches for $200, Alex", where he answers questions like...
"Crazy  Bitches for $400. Usually referred to as "zero," "nonexistent," or "the same as that of Hell freezing over," her family still calls it "pretty good." What are the odds of us getting back together? Correct. "
Sweetly demonstrating his sensitive side in "Whorecrux", he lists out all the girls he's dated over the years that have broken his heart, beginning with the red head in first grade who put him off Snack Packs and ginger hair for the rest of his life.

"Modern-Day Heroics" finds him pondering the act of killing a spider for a sex reward, though he ends up feeling extremely guilty over the dead arachnid.

I don't know why, but I had fully anticipated opening this book up and finding myself bombarded with a collection of pensive poems about farting, and scratching, and masturbating. And to be honest, I am a bit disappointed that I didn't come across much of that. What the hell does that say about me?!!

My personal perversions aside, this book is a must buy for the man in your life. As a stocking stuffer, birthday gift, anniversary present... you can't go wrong with a little Broetry.

Many thanks to Eric over at Quirk Books for making this review copy available to me. I look forward to reading more of their catalog in the future.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Journey to A Greater Monster

David David Katzman is on a journey. It's a journey many authors have made before him, and one that many shall make in his wake. He is on the journey of self-publishing.

Like most journeys, the path is well worn, one footprint indistinguishable from the other; the territory, though familiar, remains frightening. It's a trip that is not taken lightly, humbling the traveler. It requires an inexhaustible amount of exertion and effort, an incredible amount of preparation, and a tireless determination to succeed.

This specific type of journey, however, also requires something of us, dear reader. It requires our support. Without our support, self published authors will have made their incredible journey for next to nothing.

Author of the independently published Death by Zamboni, David has completed his second novel - A Greater Monster. After researching countless publishers and carefully submitting his novel for consideration, receiving little to no response, David has decided to self publish.

Watch the video below for a little history on David and his new novel:


 David has created a Kickstarter page, where people can fund his efforts by donating money towards his goal of $3000 - the estimated cost of generating a print run of 1000 copies of his book on 100% recycled paper.

Not only are you helping David bring his groundbreaking multi-media novel to life, but if you check out the right hand column of his Kickstarter page, there are cool gifts associated with your donation. So, for example, if you were to pledge just $10, David will write a unique stream-of-consciousness email that is inspired by your name. Pledging $25 will land you a signed copy of A Greater Monster....

Here's the kicker... He needs to hit $3000 in pledged donations by September 26th, or his journey will come to an end. If he fails to reach $3000 by his deadline, he receives nothing. nil. nada.

As of this posting, David has generated a total of $2,021 towards his goal! Can we help him get all the way to $3000?! I think we can!

Help support the journey to A Greater Monster. Every dollar counts.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Tell Me a Story - Matt Micheli

Welcome to the next installment of TNBBC's Tell Me a Story!


Tell Me a Story is a monthly series that features previously unpublished short stories from debut and Indie authors. The request is simple: Stories can be any format, any genre, and any length. And many amazing writers signed up for the challenge.

Todays story comes from the wildly unpredictable mind of Matt Micheli. Matt is the author of Memoirs of a Violent Sleeper, and coins himself as "a transgressive fiction writer out of Austin TX who deals with lead characters that don't quite fit the norm". His analytical, sometimes satirical, and often times blunt views of religion, love, loss, life and beyond are expressed through his storytelling. For him, writing is an escape from the confines of a consistent and ordinary normality. He is currently working on final edits for a new novel titled SMUT.

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Pennies

Her:
Is this supposed to taste good? Because it doesn’t. It tastes like shit. Am I doing this right? Maybe I’m doing something wrong. But then again, how else would you do it? How else is there? This is the only way. It’s no rocket science. Jesus. Eugh. Mother . . . fucker, this is gross. I always thought it’d taste like pennies. Or at least that’s how I remember it as a kid. Like pennies. Not like fucking . . . rotten shit. This better work. For all this? This shit better work. How am I supposed to know? Am I supposed to feel something? Is it like drugs or something? I always heard it was like drugs or something. Like Ecstacy. Well, I don’t feel it. I don’t feel anything, yet. Or does it take a while? Maybe it takes a while. Eugh. How much am I supposed to drink? Maybe I need to drink more. But, I don’t know if I can. This is awful. Absolutely awful. Maybe my senses are heightened; that’s why it tastes so bad; so . . . strong. Is that what happens? I always heard that your senses go crazy. Maybe that’s what it is. Maybe that’s why it tastes so . . . bad. Sniff. Sniff. I don’t know. I can’t really smell or . . . see anything differently. I don’t . . . think, I can hear anything differently. Maybe I need more. Maybe I haven’t had enough. Oh God, this is disgusting. Gulp. Absolutely . . . disgusting. I thought this would be easier. I didn’t realize it would be . . . like this. I mean, was it like this for you? For your first time? I don’t know how you did it. Or . . . why you did it. Eugh. I guess I’ll drink more. Cause I haven’t felt anything . . . yet. Or . . . maybe, I am feeling . . . something. Yuck. Maybe we could’ve gotten a . . . a slightly higher quality. Maybe the quality isn’t good enough. Maybe that’s why I’m having to drink more than I thought. Maybe, it’s the low-quality. How much did you have to drink . . . your first time? And was it low . . . or high quality? Or does it matter? Maybe it doesn’t matter. Eugh. This is . . . gross. But, I guess we gotta do what we gotta do. And what do we gotta do . . . after this? I mean, I have my suspicions, but . . . Is it always like this? Does it always taste like this? Like crap? Does it ever taste like pennies? That’s what I always remembered as a kid. The taste of pennies. Gulp. Eugh. It’s sticking to my throat. Smack. Smack. Is that supposed to happen? It’s like . . . coating it. Ew. It’s thick. I think its . . . thickening. Should I keep drinking? It’s starting to stink in here. I think my senses are heightening because it’s starting to stink. Alright. I think I can feel it, maybe. Or maybe not. Or maybe . . . well . . . Maybe. I mean, I feel . . . something. Eugh. It’s really starting to stink in here. Does it always stink like this? Maybe it’s always gonna stink like this. Is it? Eugh. Ok. It’s getting thicker. How much more do I need to drink?

Him:
We barged in and found her there, sitting on the floor, buck naked, covered in blood, talking to no one. There was blood everywhere. It stank to high-heaven. I threw up. Actually I think we all did from the smell but I was the first one to enter. The first one. I don’t know how long she had been in there but it must’ve been several days; the body was decomposing and looked bruised and sunken in and the odor wasn’t from, how should I put this, fresh kill. There were chunks of flesh missing from (the officer swallows and looks down) the victim’s arms and legs. The girl’s mouth was covered in blood; she had obviously been drinking and eating from the corpse. (Still looking down, he shakes his head back and forth) Sick. I’ve seen some sick shit in my day (he looks right at me nodding his head up and down) but never have I seen anything like this. Her mouth: I remember her teeth. It looked like there were pieces of flesh between them: her teeth. I have never (he shakes his head and looks off) . . . never seen anything like that. (His head still shaking) And her eyes; like a cat in a headlight. Wide open, but . . . empty; dead; (he pauses to think) like mirrors. That crime scene; that smell, it still keeps me up at night. That girl’s cat eyes and her mouth smeared in blood and her talking some uncontrollable gibberish and the smell. (He shakes his head looking off at nothing) I still see images of it every day. (He looks down again, contemplating) I still smell it. I taste it . . . like pennies.

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I want to thank Matt for participating in TNBBC's Tell Me a Story. If you like what you've read, please support Matt by checking out his website and book. Help spread the word by sharing this post through your blog, tumblr page, twitter and facebook accounts. Every link counts! And be sure to check back with us next month for the next installment....