Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Escaping Barcelona misses

The Dactyl Foundation for the Arts & Humanities just announced this year's winners of the Dactyl Award for Literary Fiction. http://dactylfoundation.org/?p=3602 This years winners are  The Double Life of Alfred Buber by David Schmahmann, published in 2011 by The Permanent Press.  The second award goes to Cocoa Almond Darling by Jeffra Hays, self-published in 2011 on Kindle.

My novel, Escaping Barcelona, was not only one of the nominees, but it made it all the way to the finals. While it did not receive the award, it felt great to learn that my novel was one of three finalists.

I would like to congratulate the winners, and express my heartfelt thanks to all the readers who support contemporary literary fiction.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Silence Before Dawn

It's been a few years since I pulled my poetry collection, The Silence Before Dawn, out of print.

Recently, however, several readers approached me to express their interest in the forgotten book. Some asked me whether it was still available, while others were looking for an ebook edition of the work.

I would lie if I didn't admit that I'm rather pleased by this renewed interest in my poems. Poetry has always been a passion of mine, and although fiction became my main focus as the years went by, poetry still holds a special place in my heart.

While the print edition is no longer available, last night I dusted off the old files, and plan to take a fresh look at the poems. I may add a few more to the mix and release a new, updated edition within the next few months.

On the subject of ebook, however, I've decided not to release the poems in an ebook format. After some rather complicated reading, it appears that poetry formatting for ereaders is neither easy nor desirable. Various ereaders display the text differently and, since the intended line breaks, indents, and punctuation are essential in a poem, this is not something I'm willing to undertake. 

I wanted to acknowledge your comments, and express my gratitude for your interest in my work.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Cosmicomics - a review

CosmicomicsCosmicomics by Italo Calvino
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cosmicomics...my third Calvino. And there I was, the book freshly in my hand, thinking that I had a vague idea of what journey I was about to embark upon. I was wrong.

Borges messed with my mind. Calvino ripped it apart, fucked with it, and gave it back to me. So now, the final page turned and the cover slammed shut, here I am, contemplating what was it that I just finished reading. I know now not to wait too long - Calvino's stories have the tendency to sink deeper, to become more intriguing and less transparent as time progresses.

Cosmicomics defies classification. Part fiction, part science, part scientific theory, and part allegoric fables. He puts humanity in events before humans, emotions in a world without minds. The interactions between characters are phantasmagoric, as are the characters themselves, yet I can relate to all of them. In a way, the stories are profoundly human in their way of touching upon love - an unexplainable phenomenon given the settings.
Where Calvino shines is in the use of language. I can only imagine how beautiful this book must be in Italian, and I almost feel sorry for William Weaver for having to translate this (by the way, I find Mr. Weaver's translations of Calvino most excellent in terms of readability). Even in the mundane, he paints delightful images that spark imagination and bring strange worlds right in front of readers' eyes. The bits of science sprinkled within the text only add to this, rather than taking away from the text.

There were a couple of stories that had me laughing, especially The Light-Years and The Form of Space. Calvino masterfully played with real scientific facts and made them relatable by poking fun at mankind. What was truly amazing about this collection is that, rather than concentrating on facts (as Borges did), Calvino concentrated on characters and their interaction. This, especially, made the stories entertaining and universal.

Sorry for the short review, but I feel at a loss for words.

Cosmicomics is, undoubtedly, the most creative piece of writing I have encountered in my literary explorations. Highly recommended.



View all my reviews

Monday, December 9, 2013

Interview with Karen

My guest today is Karen, currently the " #1 Best Reviewer " on Goodreads.

About:

I am Karen - I have been on Goodreads since 2007. I work for nook right now, making booklists, but before that, I ran the fiction department at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square for about 13 years. I was an English major in undergrad, and I got my masters in library science, and I read and review like a machine. I can be found here, if I need to be found:

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/45618-karen

Now I will answer questions


Do you have specific genres that you review, and what is your favorite one?

Not really. My personal tastes are all over the place, but since I have a background/training in readers' advisory, I think it is important for me to know a little bit about all genres, so I will frequently read outside of my comfort zone. I am in a romance reading group here on Goodreads, because it is not a genre I know much about, so it gives me exposure to books I would ordinarily not pick up. But if you are asking me what is my favorite genre to review, well - that's easy. I discovered monsterotica a couple of years ago, and while it is frequently painful/hilarious to read, it is SO much fun to review. The breadth of material out there is staggering, and I love bringing it into the light of Goodreads. You're welcome, Goodreads!

On average, how many books do you review each month?

Well, before this particular month, when I have become too busy to do much of anything, I was writing a review every single day. It was part of my routine. A routine I hope to get back into, once holiday fever dies down a bit.

Do you accept unsolicited review requests, or do you only review books you select yourself?

I do, when I have the time. I get a lot of review requests on Goodreads, every single day. And with many of them I can tell that I am not the right reader for the book, so I will usually direct them to the readers' advisory group I have on Goodreads, where we have a thread for authors to promote their work, and members who are interested can contact the author for review copies or whatnot. But between the arcs I get at work, and Netgalley, and friends who are authors or publishers wanting me to read their books, my time is frequently not my own. However, right now I am reading a book that was a review request, so it definitely happens.

Considering the recent surge of self-published books on the market, what is your experience with self-published titles?

I have read some great self-pub/small pub books. I have also read some terrible ones. I do think it is exciting that it is now an option for authors - to get their stuff out there without all the hoops of traditional publishing. Although I would like to publicly suggest that before excitedly publishing your work, to just run it by an impartial reader. There are plenty of college kids freelance copyediting for beer money, and I think readers are more likely to take a self-published author seriously if the glaring grammatical errors and typos are cleaned up a bit, and your mom or husband is not likely to give you as honest a reaction as someone who doesn't know you. College kids work for cheap, and it will really make a difference.

As a reviewer, you have to state your honest opinions. Do you publish all reviews regardless of the rating?

I do, but because of my readers' advisory training, I try to cushion my blows a little, because I am well aware that even though the book might not have worked for me, there is someone for whom it will be the best book ever. So I try to be as objective and open-minded as possible, and try to adjust my review to address those people, although there have been times when a book has made me so angry that I had to let out my honesty, and I only felt a little guilty about it.

Is there any particular book or author that set the benchmark for you in a specific genre?

Good question. This doesn't really count as a genre, but I was really snooty about adults who read YA fiction for a really long time. This was all just reactionary jerkiness over the popularity of Harry Potter and Twilight, while authors I loved weren't being read at all, and it made me crazy. And I was really stubborn about it. And then I had to take a YA readers' advisory class for library school, and I started to see that in the contemporary YA market, there is a lot of really good stuff out there - sophisticated, well-written stuff that is completely unlike anything that was marketed for teens when I was young. And while this wasn't part of that class, when I read On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, I was blown away. It was a real eye-opener for me. And now I read plenty of YA, even completely silly stuff that is just fun instant gratification leisure reading. But I still haven't read any Harry Potter. Old habits die hard and all.

What was the catalyst for you to become a reviewer, and what keeps you going?

When I first joined Goodreads, I was totally inexperienced with social media. I am not on facebook, and I didn't understand the concept of social media at all. Goodreads was just a place to record the books I had read, for my own purposes. It was fun to shelve my books and it was just goofy booknerdy times. Then I started writing reviews just as a way to have conversations with my real-world friends. They were terrible - just in-jokes and short little nothings. But then, strangers started commenting on them. And then my bestie Greg got on the top reviewers list one time, and I was like - I want that!! So I started writing reviews that were more involved, because I get a little competitive with Greg sometimes. And then once I started really getting into the readers' advisory thing, I realized how helpful reader-response reviews could be for people, and I started taking it more seriously, and it became something of a mania and a compulsion. And here we are.

In your opinion, do you find the new titles original and creatively executed, or do you see more of a repeat of the same (think Hollywood's surge in remakes)?

I'm not sure I understand the question. I don't think there has been any real change in the ratio of creative-to-derivative titles in the publishing world. And maybe that is just because my tastes are all over the place, so I don't notice it as much, but there are always going to be mass market bestseller page-turners which are usually going to be fairly formulaic, and there are always going to be challenging and experimental books because there is a market for both of them. I think there is a lot more genre-blending going on now than ever before, with crossover genres like paranormal romance and urban fantasy kind of melding into something that appeals to both romance and fantasy readers, and I think that the burgeoning new adult market is blurring the boundary between YA and adult romance, but I think that while there are plenty of books out there that are appealing to readers precisely because they seem familiar and comforting in their sameness, there are still plenty of authors pushing the envelope for readers who are looking for the next thing.

What is the one review you are the most proud of, and why?

Oh, dear. I genuinely do not know. Probably not one of my popular ones. I like the ones that are fun more than the ones that are truly useful, because they remind me of the time when Goodreads was still very small to me, and I was just reviewing for a handful of people. I enjoy this one still:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/646926378

But I have far more useful reviews. I just can't really isolate which is the most shining example of my reviewing mastery, so let's just go with that one. Because it is fun. And I like having fun with reviews.

I would like to thank Karen for answering my questions. If you would like to learn more about her reviews, visit her profile here: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/45618-karen


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Revision - Coffee, Cigarettes, and Murderous Thoughts

Recently, I became aware of a couple of typos in the current edition of my short story collection, Coffee, Cigarettes, and Murderous Thoughts.

The typos have been fixed, and I'm currently working on uploading the corrected edition. If you are a reader who either purchased the book or downloaded it when it was offered for free, I would like to replace your copy with the corrected version.

While the typos are minimal in terms of their impact on the text, I want to stand behind my product. If you would like your copy replaced (either print or ebook), please leave a comment here or email me at: EMAIL with your preferred format, and either a proof of purchase or a picture of the book, and I'll get you a replacement copy at no cost to you. To make it up to you, I'd also like to offer you any of my other titles of your choice as an ebook.

Please accept my sincere apologies for this inconvenience.



 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Interview with Gregor Xane

My guest today is author Gregor Xane. I met Gregor on Goodreads, where he actively reviews and participates in discussions.


About:

Gregor Xane has been reviewing books on Goodreads since March, 2009. He's posted 216 reviews so far (and ratings for well over 500 books). He's also the author of the horror novella Six Dead Spots. You can read his reviews here:

Goodreads Profile: https://www.goodreads.com/GregorXane
Blog: https://gregorxane.blogspot.com


Do you have specific genres that you review, and what is your favorite one?

I review mainly science fiction, fantasy and horror titles. I especially like books that combine elements from all three of these genres. But I'll review anything I read. I don't only read SF/F/H.

On average, how many books do you review each month?

I post around three reviews a month. I'm not a fast reader.

Do you accept unsolicited review requests, or do you only review books you select yourself?

No. But it's not like anyone's asking, either. If I did receive requests to review books, I'd likely turn down 99% of them. I'm very selective and want to read what I want to read when I want to read it. I don't want reading to feel like homework.

Considering the recent surge of self-published books on the market, what is your experience with self-published titles?

I've had good experiences with self-published titles. Like with any book, no matter how it's published, I do my research before I buy. So, I really don't have any horror stories to tell about woefully unprofessional self-published books. I think self-publishing is good for works that a trade publisher wouldn't touch. Ade Grant's The Mariner, is a good example of this. It's a well-executed dark fantasy novel, but the content is very extreme and the narrative is pretty unconventional. I likely would never have had a chance to read it if the author hadn't chosen to publish it himself.

As a reviewer, you have to state your honest opinions. Do you publish all reviews regardless of the rating?
Yes.

Is there any particular book or author that set the benchmark for you in a specific genre?

Clive Barker and Joe R. Lansdale for horror, China Miéville and Jeffery Ford for fantasy, Philip K. Dick for science fiction, and Victor LaValle and Haruki Murakami for literary fiction.

What was the catalyst for you to become a reviewer, and what keeps you going?

A number of years back, I decided to start keeping track of what I was reading. Goodreads was easy to use. I keep writing reviews because I like books, and I like promoting them. Plus, since I don't like to write posts on my blog about my personal life, I can use my reviews as content.

In your opinion, do you find the new titles original and creatively executed, or do you see more of a repeat of the same (think Hollywood's surge in remakes)?

I don't have a problem with fiction that some might call formulaic. I don't read much of it. I think it serves its purpose as literary comfort food. Sometimes you just want to know exactly what you're getting. Is the market over saturated with certain kinds of books? Sure. Zombies are everywhere.

Out of all the books you've read, are there any particular books or characters that stayed on your mind?

Characters: Charlie Manx and Bing from Joe Hill's NOS4A2, Bunny from Donna Tartt's The Secret History, Jim from Jeffrey Ford's The Shadow Year, Anthony from Victor LaValle's The Ecstatic.

Books: The Throne of Bones by Brian McNaughton (Horror), Last Days by Brian Evenson (Horror), Imajica by Clive Barker (Fantasy), Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente (Fantasy), The Silent Land by Graham Joyce (Fantasy), The Scar by China Miéville (Fantasy), The Illuminatus Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson & Robert Shea (SF), We Can Build You by Philip K. Dick (SF), Only Forward by Michael Marshall Smith (SF), 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (Literary), Flicker by Theodore Roszak (Mystery/Suspense)

What is the one review you are the most proud of, and why?

I don't know. People seem to like my reviews of Stephen King's Doctor Sleep and John McNee's Grudge Punk. I think they both do a good job of letting people know exactly what they'll be getting into, should they decide to pick them up.

Doctor Sleep: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Grudge Punk: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

I would like to thank Gregor for taking the time to answer my questions. If you would like to learn more about Gregor, please visit either his Goodreads profile or his blog:

https://www.goodreads.com/GregorXane 
 https://gregorxane.blogspot.com/

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Concerns about self-publishing, paid reviews, and sales rank tricks.

This post addresses some of the things that bother me. Since I'm a self-published author myself, you may call me a hypocrite. Yes, I know the rant is long, but please read on. If you end up finding the post interesting, please feel free to repost elsewhere with a link back to this post. If there is a discussion (and I hope there is one), I would like to keep it all in one place. 


In recent years, we have witnessed an unprecedented surge in self-publishing. For authors, this publishing revolution means a lot more than just one additional option to reach an audience. Many authors have struggled for years to find the right publisher, sending out hundreds of queries and accumulating an equal number of rejections, which arrived, more often than not, as unhelpful form letters. Yet the authors persisted, hoping to catch a break somewhere along the way. To be honest, publishers look for marketability, and profit is their bottom line. The small, independent presses that are more likely to publish less commercial material release only a handful of books each year, yet receive thousands of submissions. Thus, to many authors, self-publishing became a viable option.

To readers, self-publishing offers a never-before-seen choice of genres and styles. As a reader, I can now find books dealing with obscure subjects, twisted tales of any sort, cookbooks from countries I never knew existed, and the list goes on and on.

Then, there is the other side to self-publishing - the traditionally published author whose titles were out-of-print, and the reader who is looking for older works by a favorite author. In this instance, self-publishing is most certainly a viable option, and readers are quite receptive of this. 

Before e-books, when POD (print on demand) first became publicly available, many unscrupulous companies that offered self-publishing packages to frustrated authors arrived with it. Many of them charged hundreds and even thousands of dollars, made the author purchase a bulk of the books, and asked for a list of family members. I won't mention names, but if you were in this business more than five years ago, you can probably think of at least one.
Nevertheless, there were also companies that were honest about what they could do for an author, charged only minimum fees, and are still around today.

At the advent of POD, an author had to typeset the book, design a cover, and pay a fee to access a distribution network. Sure, there were some that did not care, but most did. After all, it was a chance to finally offer a book to the public, to hold one's written words in a book form.

Then came the e-book, and everything changed. An author today can create a digital file, use a stock photo, and publish a 'book' on Amazon in a matter of hours. And not only Amazon, but also just about every major book retailer worldwide. Hail the e-book revolution!

Not so fast.

With e-books arrived a new breed of 'authors'. I use the word authors with caution, and I use it only reluctantly. So, let's call them e-authors. E-authors publish only e-books. "Print is dead!" The shout rings over the digital landscape.
No, print is not dead. Print sells less because it costs more, does not arrive instantly, and cannot be read with the click of a button.

As a reader, you have your own reasons to choose either e-books or print books, and the reasons and choices are yours alone. No questions asked. I, for one, cannot read e-books. I need a paper book in my hand; the feel of pages between my fingers is magical, and there is nothing that can replace it.

Allow me to go back to e-authors. As is true in any business, there are good apples and bad apples. However, since e-publishing does not require an up-front investment, is almost instantaneous, and does not have any sort of "quality control", an author can easily rush to click the "publish" button. Looking at reviews and previews, one can easily find books that were not proofread, edited, or even formatted properly.

Of course this does not mean that all e-books are inferior and formulaic, even though one can easily find discussions about book that were just that. There are many e-authors who take pride in their work and put out quality products. The biggest issues I see with e-books, especially genre e-books, are lack of proofreading and factual inaccuracy. The stories themselves may be great, but the execution could be improved if the author spent more time editing.

So, what is a reader to do? Until recently, readers could rely on two sources - sales rank and reviews. Sales rank (Amazon, B&N, Kobo, et cetera) can tell the reader whether a particular book is selling well. Reviews, whether professional or readers' reviews, can tell the reader what others thought of a book. In an ideal world, those two alone should be sufficient to weed out the inferior books.

Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world. We live in a flawed world full of flawed characters. The e-book revolution brought with it a new industry - an industry catering to authors. There are now companies that offer paid reviews, as well as companies that manipulate sales ranks. This, as one poster recently mentioned, prompts the question: Is there anything real anymore?

In an era where an author with a few hundred dollars to spend has the ability to manipulate the sales rank of their title AND purchase dozens of five-star reviews, where does that leave the reader?

Personally, I have absolutely no respect for any author who engages in any such activity. I find it dishonest, unscrupulous, and dishonorable. Let's call it as it is: Fake reviews are not worth shit! How can anyone pay for praise and call himself an author is something I will never understand. Yet, looking on Internet forums, one can find authors who not only engage in these activities, but they even boast about it. I can't even begin to tell you how many threads I see daily where authors swap purchases, reviews, Facebook "likes", Tweets, et cetera. And then, to top it off, I get emails from companies trying to sell me their service of "purchase swaps" to boost my Amazon sales rank.

These companies came on the heels of the e-book revolution. Sure, in our consumer-driven world, if there is a market, someone will step-up to offer the service. But is there really a need for such a service? Are the authors who pay for these services truly unscrupulous, or are they just unsuspecting sheep lured by the wolf?

To answer this question, we have to take into consideration the current state of our culture. Mass media has taken hold of the public, feeding us a constant stream of junk that is no more than a popularity contest. On any network, we are barraged with celebrity news, and useless facts about select few who, for some reason, demand constant attention. Opening your Internet browser yields the same results. The last generation has grown up in with information at their fingertips, yet the information is often being used in a meaningless way. The media have created a culture of instant gratification, of entitlement, and of obsession with fame. Emerging authors, more often than not, are trying to compete for attention with established authors. With self-publishing, money is almost always the issue, and professional marketing firms charge more than most budgets allow for. When you have self-publishing success stories openly admitting to purchasing reviews, and not being chastised for it, the newcomers also think this is an acceptable business model.

Thus, the failed circle continues. Emerging authors expect to be noticed. When they are not (and how could they with hundreds of thousands of new titles released each year), they look for other options, for the little something that will help to get them the attention. That's when these companies step in, stroking egos with positive reviews, and promising sales with their trading tricks. And the emerging author? Well, it is easy to fall into the trap.   

So, is there anything real anymore? There is. There are authors who, although self-published, take their craft seriously. There are authors who take pride in what they do. They may not have high sales ranking, may only have a handful of reviews, and not sell a lot of books. But I can almost guarantee you that they sleep well at night.

I have found many self-published authors who write serious, beautiful books that would not have been published otherwise. Their work is often timeless and not whatever the latest craze dictates. They have been publishing for years, submitting to magazines and e-zines, and posting honest reviews of others' books. Although, to tell the truth, I spoke with a lot of authors who stopped reviewing altogether because of the backlash they received for being honest.

So, dear readers and authors, here we are at the end of my little rant. I feel sorry for my fellow readers, because the task of knowing what is real and what is not real is not going to get any easier. Please, don't disregard self-published titles - but do your research. My fellow authors, please take comfort in knowing that you are doing the right thing. Let's be honest - a self-published author cannot make a living off writing alone. Sure there are exceptions, but not many. I can neither tell you what to do, nor have I any right to tell you what to do. Just know that writing is a passion, not a popularity contest.

I hope this post will spark a discussion. I hope this post will make emerging authors think twice before paying a company to buy 'reputation'. I hope this post will resonate with readers who have either positive or negative experience with new authors. At the same time, I know that this post will offend someone. Well, it is what it is.

Readers, has your experiences encouraged you or discouraged you to purchase self-published books?

Authors, how do you feel about the unscrupulous practices taking place?

And overall, what do you like/dislike about the current state of self-publishing? What would you change? 


Thank you for considering my words.

A disclaimer: I am a self-published author. I started with Lulu in 2006 and moved to CreateSpace in 2012. My books are available both in print and as e-books. Even though I enjoy self-publishing, I also have a folder full of rejection letters (mostly form letters) dating back ten years. The only 'social media' I engage in is Goodreads, where I post honest reviews and comments. 

An example of a site offering paid reviews: http://www.paidbookreviews.org/default.html

An article in NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/business/book-reviewers-for-hire-meet-a-demand-for-online-raves.html?_r=0

An example of purchase swaps: http://www.authortrade.com/works.php




Monday, November 25, 2013

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler... a review

If on a Winter's Night a TravelerIf on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler...

Italo Calvino opens up his masterpiece in the second person, addressing and engaging the reader in a very direct way; a powerful, uncompromising way: Here you are - the reader; and here I am - the protagonist; the author is somewhere else, as impertinent to the story as is his publisher. It is what it is, and you, the reader, are here with me, sucked into the depths of my mind, where you'll trip over threads that are seemingly random, unrelated and without ends, yet serve a purpose that you may or may not grasp unless you persist until the closing lines fade away as you turn the last page over and walk away, pensive, wondering whether you can make any sense of this work at all.

You are thrust into the story without any regard for your emotional state. Calvino grabs you and drags you through towns, scenes, countries, and minds -- playing a game of marbles with your emotions. Here now, gone on the next page, the stories unfold, hang suspended in the air for a while, then end abruptly while your frustration spirals out of control, only to confirm that the main thread, the second person you is still a part of the story, the only part that brings any lucidity to the seemingly random order of events. But the events are not random, oh no. The stories are calculated; each revealing a bit more about the plot you are a part of, and each advancing the ever-thickening mystery that surrounds Ludmilla. For it she that you desire, and your desire to continue reading for reading's sake alone is only a farce, because from the beginning you wanted to be with her, to partake in reading while sharing a bed together.

Calvino, however, knows no mercy. I should have known by now that his novels are not an easy read. His novels are complicated, extraordinary puzzles that produce more questions than answers. His prose, however, wraps you in silky-smooth sentences that scream comfort while your inner peace drains out of you, leaving a mess of emotions that you, alone, must piece together when the book ends.

When I've read Invisible Cities, I struggled to describe what it was that I was reading. The same rings true here. If on a Winter's Night a Traveler... is impossible to assess. Is it a novel? Is it a compilation of eleven different novels? Is it a plethora of philosophical arguments? Is it a showcase of Calvino's capabilities as a writer? Is it a lecture on society?

It is all of the above! Calvino is a master, a philosopher, a wandering mind, and an exceptional storyteller.

In today's genre-driven market where plots are recycled more often than not, Calvino's work stands as a prime example of an author who can create original plots and stories while maintaining a strange retrospection to stories we have already read. As a reader, I can relate to all of the opening chapters in this book, to the variety of his plots. As a thinker, I'm aware of the subtle messages about the state of our society, which are sprinkled throughout the book. As a writer, I'm humbled.



View all my reviews

Friday, November 22, 2013

Interview with Feliks

I met Feliks on Goodreads. Wait, let me rephrase this - I stumbled upon Feliks on Goodreads. To be honest, aside from a few interactions in various threads, I know nothing about Feliks. He commented on a thread I started, and contributed to the discussion in a very passionate and informed way. I do not always agree with his opinions, but I have to admit that he makes a convincing case.
Thus, intrigued as I was (and seeing that he has over 200 reviews under his belt), I invited him to participate in my little Interview series.

About: I have nothing to post here. Feliks did not answer this question, his profile is set to private, and he is as elusive as an eel. But behind the (intentional or unintentional) veil of mystery is a well-versed reader (judging by my interactions with him) who fights for what he believes is right, takes a stance and does not buckle, and expresses himself without reservations.  


Do you have specific genres that you review, and what is your favorite one?

Yes. I am fairly well-versed in the espionage genre. If you browse the books of Len Deighton or John leCarre, you will usually see a review of mine. A collection of shorter reviews --dwelling on the primary authors in this field--can be found here:

https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...

https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...

https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...

This came about accidentally but morphed into a mini-tutorial for readers new to this genre. The thread also covers action, mystery, and thriller.


On average, how many books do you review each month?

Three or four at most. I only review books which for some reason, have resurfaced in my memory and spontaneously generated fresh excitement; ideally books which are potential new favorites for readers as-yet-unaware-of-them.

For instance I was musing last month on William Goldman and 'Marathon Man' and then got to thinking that few people these days probably are aware of the very-obscure sequel, and I found myself excited about turning people on to it. So I sat down and did my best to summarize it.


Do you accept unsolicited review requests, or do you only review books you select yourself?

What are 'unsolicited review requests'? I've never heard of such a thing. Do you mean a contemporary author who wants me to read his book on order that I may then, review it for him? What nonsense.


Considering the recent surge of self-published books on the market, what is your experience with self-published titles?

Cynicism. Its like asking me whether I think that the tiny little portable cameras everyone totes around these days, makes average citizens into bonafide movie directors. Uploading videos to YouTube isn't directing; and mere e-publishing isn't 'being an author' (to my mind). Its just adding a push-button automated process to flood the world with mediocrity. Talent isn't distributed in that manner, no matter if 'tools of the trade' are made available in droves. The internet is almost entirely an incubator for dilettantes.

The flip side is this: if a new John Kennedy O'Toole or a new Nick Drake emerge in this landscape, they won't have to commit suicide. But really, is that yet even a justification for the debasement of culture in such massive fashion? Said another way: is it fair to let symphony orchestras go bankrupt so that new, up-and-coming garage bands can get their big breaks?


As a reviewer, you have to state your honest opinions. Do you publish all reviews regardless of the rating?

I don't understand the question. If I've rated a book I don't care who has an issue with it. If I'm bruising someone's feelings, tough luck!


Is there any particular book or author that set the benchmark for you in a specific genre?

Certainly!
LeCarre, best espionage fiction
(his 'Honourable Schoolboy' gets my vote for best modern British novel as well as best spy novel ever written)
Dickens (Little Dorritt) best 19th C Brit Lit
Thomas Mann, ('Magic Mountain') best 20th C. pre-war European lit
Thomas Pynchon ('V.')... best postwar American novel
Melville's 'Moby Dick', best 18th C American novel
'Gatsby', best American novel (pre-war)
'The Friends of Eddie Coyle', best American crime novel (post war)
'Red Harvest' best USA crime novel (pre-war)
'The Last Good Kiss' ..best modern USA crime novel
Evelyn Waugh's 'Black Mischief' best black comedy
Joan Didion, best American nonfiction essayist
Shirley Jackson, best American author 20th century (post-war)
Shirley Jackson, best horror novelist
Shirley Jackson, best female author all-time, USA.

...and on and on and on.


What was the catalyst for you to become a reviewer, and what keeps you going?

Just naturally gabby, I guess?


In your opinion, do you find the new titles original and creatively executed, or do you see more of a repeat of the same (think Hollywood's surge in remakes)?

Formula rules today's markets. Its depressing and shameful. Genre authors are one of three things:
1) money-grubbing
2) cowardly
3) Unequipped with the proper powers an author should possess

Its a dodge, a cop-out ...to write in genre-fiction. It didn't used to be that way; but then in traditional publishing ruled by the Great Houses, your stuff had to be blazingly GOOD. E-authors copycatting each other's formulaic boilerplate templates and foisting it off on the unwitting public of today--via any unscrupulous and deceptive means possible--is a travesty.


Out of all the books you've read, are there any particular books or characters that stayed on your mind?

See above list in question #6.


What is the one review you are the most proud of, and why?

John LeCarre, 'The Honourable Schoolboy'.


I'd like to thank Feliks for playing along and sharing his opinions with me. If you have any comments, please share them here. 

 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Interview with Robin

My guest today is Robin, one of the top ten reviewers on GoodReads.


About:

I absolutely love to read! I love to learn something new and I love to be thrilled by that perfect turn of phrase.

Do you have specific genres that you review, and what is your favorite one?

I review whichever genre is most important to my work. When I was an elementary school librarian, I read and reviewed just about every picture book, beginning reader, and middle grade novel I could. As I got to know my students, I narrowed my focus to the genres they favored; it was wonderful to be able to make spot-on recommendations and to chat with them about the stories they loved.

When I became a middle school librarian, I began to read a lot of YA, especially ‘books about love’ as my 8th grade girls requested. During this time, we started a goodreads account for the school where the kids could talk about the books they thought were great. I used what they shared to make collection development decisions for the school library. It was fabulous to have that input from the teens, and even better when they found the genres they loved on the shelves at school.

Now, I’m a public library librarian, and I get to read anything and everything I want! I still read a lot of YA fantasy and adventure stories. So many YA authors really know how to craft a gripping story and a character you can’t stop thinking about. I also especially love popular science and biographies. I love it when an author takes me somewhere I didn’t ever expect to go or teaches me something.

On average, how many books do you review each month?

I write a review of just about every book I read. Not all reviews are comprehensive -- I write them primarily for myself, as a place to keep my thoughts and impressions and to store those delicious quotes I want to remember.

Do you accept unsolicited review requests, or do you only review books you select yourself?

Typically, I review books I’ve chosen myself. Recently, I’ve begun having authors approach me to read and review their books. If they are interesting to me, I will.

Considering the recent surge of self-published books on the market, what is your experience with self-published titles?

As large publishing companies buy out smaller ones and are less inclined to take risks on publishing titles that might not make piles of money, the ability to self publish seems like a great thing. There could be some great gem out there that, otherwise, would never see the light of day. That said, we’ve purchased quite a few self-published titles for our library, and none have knocked my socks off. They suffer from an absence of good editing and design. It’s interesting that the self-publishing surge has resulted in an explosion of niche erotica, and that reading it seems to be much more socially acceptable than ever before.

As a reviewer, you have to state your honest opinions. Do you publish all reviews regardless of the rating?

I publish all of my reviews, regardless of the rating. I write my reviews for myself, as a personal record of my reading life, so that I can look back and remember what I thought and who in my life might enjoy a particular book. However, I do try to be polite. I always have in the forefront of my mind the simple fact that the author has written an actual book and I have not. The accomplishment itself counts for something.

Is there any particular book or author that set the benchmark for you in a specific genre?

I have my favorites. In particular, Ursula K. LeGuin continues to set the bar for thoughtful and mesmerizing fantasy. She is unmatched in world-creating and looking at the various ways human society can be.

What was the catalyst for you to become a reviewer, and what keeps you going?

I became a reviewer in order to do a better job of making reading recommendations to the kids I taught. I continue to keep a record for myself of the things I’ve read and what I’ve thought about them.

In your opinion, do you find the new titles original and creatively executed, or do you see more of a repeat of the same (think Hollywood's surge in remakes)?

I think there are only so many themes and scenarios; what make a book great is the author’s interpretation and skill with language. More than once I’ve read something with a derivative theme that turned out to be just a better book than the one that originated the concept.

Out of all the books you've read, are there any particular books or characters that stayed on your mind?

Harry, Hermione, Ron, Neville, and Luna! I was lucky enough to work with kids when these books came out. They are powerful! Readers continue to be engaged with these characters, wondering what they are doing and how they are faring, even years after the last book came out.

What is the one review you are the most proud of, and why?

I am proud of any review that encourages another reader to pick up the book.

I would like to thank Robin for answering my questions and for sharing her opinions regarding reviews. If you would like to find out more about Robin and her reviews, please click the following link to her profile: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/1146532-robin

If you would like to see someone featured here, drop me a line. Also, you can learn more about reviewers' opinions by clicking the "Interviews with the Reviewers" tag on the side bar. 
 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Blood-stained Symphony

A room...a dust covered incandescent bulb radiates a stream of tired lumens outwards into the space framed by four walls, one ceiling, and some kind of a floor. There are neither windows nor doors—how did I enter...how am I going to exit? The floor squeaks but, since the light doesn’t reach the floorboards, I am not destined to find the source of that noise. What am I walking on?

The walls, unable to decide whether to be yellow or orange, finally settle on an awkward shade of ochre. It reminds me of the desert—the desert I never visited and never really intended to see. There is something about scorpions that makes me uneasy.

The ceiling hangs above me like heavily siliconized nipple–less breast. The plastics always scared me, unnaturally pointing forth...always forward, as if they had a place to be; like they were about to burst through the fabric and I was in the way of their freedom. Destination plasma. The ceiling bulges but remains above my head, its purple paint sparkling like a nest of freshly born stars.

I feel something warm in my hand. I take a few steps to-ward the light to see what it is. A parakeet. Its pale eyes stare at me from the round hole between my thumb and index finger. Its body shivers. Pacing back and forth, I begin to hum a lullaby. In the middle of the room, where the shadow is almost impenetrable, I trip. The Parakeet flies out my hand. It smashes into the wall with a muffled thump, and falls onto the floor. It’s no longer visible—does is really exist?

What did I trip over? I lean down and flick my lighter. A dark mass of twisted wood surfaces before my eyes. Running my fingers along the curved lines, I realize it is a chair. Strange...a chair in the middle of a room. Why is it here? I grab it by the backrest, kick its legs from side to side, (not to inflict pain, just hard enough to let it know who it is that is in charge here) and mount it. It tries to spring up to kick me off. I intertwine my legs underneath the seat. After a few minutes filled with heavy breathing and wood cracking, the chair gives up. It’s calm now.

I slide off, get down on my belly, and slither across the room, feeling my way around. On the twenty–eighth pass, I stumble upon the Parakeet. I pick it up, hide it in the palm of my hand, and mount the chair again. This time it knows better than to fight back. The chair, the light bulb, the Parakeet, and I...we spend a few minutes contemplating upon the ochre on the walls. Neither of us likes it. The Parakeet begins to shiver.

I move my hand closer to my mouth and breathe on him. Intoxicated by the fumes, he relaxes and lets out a peep. I run my finger through the soft feathers on his head. He peeps once more, as if clearing his throat, and then lets loose, filling the room with the most intricate symphony. The chair moves its legs, the ceiling sways, and the light bulb flickers—all in perfect rhythm with the bird. For a moment, it matters not that we are together, parts of a nonsense trap. As the finale builds up, the parakeet releases the final note with an extraordinary tension, then falls silent. The room follows suite.

The chair no longer moves, the ceiling stops swaying, the light bulb once again casts its tired light. Exhausted by his performance, the bird breathes heavily. It was so beautiful! His act touched me so deeply that I want him to be a part of me...forever. I lift him up, his tiny head poking through the hole between my thumb and index finger, and bring him close to my mouth. He looks at me, his small shiny eyes full of confusion. I bring my hand to my lips. I feel his head in my mouth; I feel his sharp nails scratch at my hand. I shut my teeth together.

There is a crunch. The small bones in his neck are no match against my bite. His legs twitch...once, twice, then grow quiet. My mouth fills with a warm iron taste. I chew, crushing the little bones before swallowing. The head is inside me, part of me, one with me. The symphony is mine.

I open my mouth to release the tones, but all that comes out are a few green feathers stained with blood. Disgusted, I bring my hand closer to my eyes and stare at the neck–less body lying there. A streak of dark colored blood gushes from the cavity, staining my iridescent skin.

Suddenly inspired, I stand up and rush over to the wall. Poem, I must write a poem! I dip my fingers in the blood and set to write upon the wall. The ugly ochre is a better background than none.

His omnipresence reigns through the notes,
when the orchestra pays homage to his genius.


I stop. These words have no meaning...I am a failure. How could I ever commemorate the talented bird? A feather flies out of my mouth when I try to argue with myself. I throw the dead body in to a corner and turn around.

First step, I trip over some dark mass that was hiding behind me. The chair! The damn chair followed me here. I turn ninety degrees and walk six steps to the left. Tamed and no longer rebellious, the chair follows me like a beaten dog. I turn sixty–three degrees to the right and then run until I reach the opposite wall. When I turn, the chair is right beside me. What if it bites me?

Unwilling to take a chance, I grab it by the backrest and throw it across the room. “I’ll show you who’s in charge here!” I leap forward, land next to it, roll my sleeves up, and get to work. The chair lies legs up. I grab two and start twisting them. The chair fights back, silently. The old dried wood holds together strong, but after a few well–placed kicks, the fibers give way. The chair lets out a loud crack.

I fight with it for what seems like eternity, but when I finally manage to break the joints and emerge from the fight holding one leg in each hand, the chair has no other choice but to concede. Before it does, it pays me with a large splinter under my nail. I hold my tears back and give it one more kick. The remaining two legs fall off and the spindles roll away from me.

To celebrate the victory, I kneel down, throw the legs away, and raise my hands. The ceiling looks at me with a certain suspicion, but I am already prepared for that. Audiences never bothered me. I open my mouth.
From deep within my throat, the parakeet’s beak comes up and settles on the tip of my tongue. I stick it out. The beak opens and lets out the beginning tones of a symphony more beautiful than the last one. He is part of me!

The light burns with a newfound intensity. The lumens, released from their glass prison, dance insanely around the room bouncing off the walls and the ceiling. On the tip of my tongue, the beak keeps opening and closing. Just then the ceiling splits open, and I burst into tears as I float on the heavenly tones up, up, up...toward the star–studded night sky, while the blood stained feathers drift back into the room.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Interview with Althea Ann

My guest today is Althea Ann, one of the top ten reviewers on Goodreads. I reached out to her via GR and she accepted my invitation to participate in this project of mine. Her reviews not only span many genres, they are also well written and honest. If you enjoy reading reviews, the link at the end of this interview will take you to 1100+

About:

I'm a librarian/archivist who specializes in digital asset management. I do work in publishing, but as it happens, there’s zero overlap between anything I deal with professionally, and anything I might review; my reviews are purely a leisure time hobby. Besides reading, I also enjoy travel (not just the armchair variety!), seeing the world in all its variety: nature and festivals, cities and ruins, museums and beaches… amateur photography, Gothic events, good food and drink, good friends, and since moving from NYC’s east village to a place with a bit of a yard, I’ve taken up a bit of gardening…

Do you have specific genres that you review, and what is your favorite one?

I’d like to say I read anything and everything, but there are definitely themes that catch my interest. Most of what I read falls into the ‘speculative fiction’ container. In addition to the primary goal of entertainment, I like books that I feel give me a new perspective on the world – I like to see through eyes different from my own; to have new ideas introduced to me in a compelling way, and have horizons broadened. Many of my favorite books have been described as character-driven and ‘anthropological’ in focus. I’m also very interested in mythology, in stories that tap into the stories that are underlaid with the universals of human experience. I enjoy interesting settings, whether historical, far-future, or purely imaginary – I generally find contemporary realism a bit dull.

On average, how many books do you review each month?

Around 12-15.

Do you accept unsolicited review requests, or do you only review books you select yourself?

I review what I read. I have gotten a few books through Goodreads giveaways, and I have put those to the top of my to-be-read list – but I’ve only entered giveaways for books I’d be likely to want to read anyways.

Considering the recent surge of self-published books on the market, what is your experience with self-published titles?

I always want self-published titles to be good, as, on principle, I think self-publishing is a wonderful idea. But, in my experience, they rarely are. I have encountered a few self-published titles which had a lot of potential – but were still in need of a professional editor. For me, ‘brand’ does still mean something – I’m far more likely to pick up titles from certain publishers, if I’m not yet familiar with the author, and I’m likely to avoid self-published works.

As a reviewer, you have to state your honest opinions. Do you publish all reviews regardless of the rating?

Yes. My reviews are my thoughts – they’re worth no more and no less than anyone else’s thoughts. There’s no book (or any creative work) out there that will be universally loved. If creators can’t handle the fact that they aren’t going to receive universal love, and aren’t going to be handled with kid gloves, then they shouldn’t release a work to the public. Honest opinions are vitally important – and without negative opinions, positive reviews are nothing more than empty blandishments.
That said, for purely selfish reasons, I don’t go out of my way to read books that I expect will rate less than three stars (my rating for a good, average book that met my expectations). Of course, sometimes I misjudge, and am disappointed.

Is there any particular book or author that set the benchmark for you in a specific genre?

Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea trilogy. Both are fantasy, but each takes a very different approach – and each demonstrates some of the most valuable (I would say, essential) things that fantasy can do. Both merge story with language in a synergistic way, going beyond mere tale-telling to create new mythology – something that resonates on a deeper level and can be a guidepost for living.

What was the catalyst for you to become a reviewer, and what keeps you going?

Ha! My poor memory. I have a tendency to buy multiple copies of the same book, because it looks interesting every time I come across it! I started reviewing to have a quick reference to refresh my memory, since title and contents tend to come uncoupled in my head. That was around 10 years ago now, and I’m still writing. My reviews tend to be informal, but I also like taking a bit of time upon finishing a book to mull it over and collect my thoughts. My reviews are primarily for me, but I certainly also enjoy having others read them, and perhaps starting a dialogue with other who may have had either different or similar perspectives on the same work.

In your opinion, do you find the new titles original and creatively executed, or do you see more of a repeat of the same (think Hollywood's surge in remakes)?

I don’t read all-new books – if a book is new to me, it’s new to me no matter when it was originally released. Sometimes I specifically enjoy reading older books just because they’re so illustrative of the ideas and zeitgeist of a certain time period. But I certainly think there are many brilliant and original authors currently working – Connie Willis, Guy Gavriel Kay, George R.R. Martin, Patricia McKillip, China Mieville, Tanith Lee, Kazuo Ishiguro, Kelly Link, Theodora Goss, Paolo Bacigalupi, Sarah Waters, Nicola Griffith, and many, many others. Of course there are also those where you have to say “When is a new book coming?!?!? (Maureen McHugh, Rosemary Kirstein), and those who have left us too soon (Iain Banks, Kage Baker, Octavia Butler). If you feel the books you’re reading are too derivative, you’re reading the wrong books.

Out of all the books you've read, are there any particular books or characters that stayed on your mind?

Well, of course characters get into your head – they’re like people you’ve met, and I do think about them. But I don’t go around obsessing about them – I generally finish a book, and then it’s on to the next…

What is the one review you are the most proud of, and why?

I don’t really think of reviews as something to be proud of – as I said, I tend to regard them as mainly a functional aide-memoire. But, over time I’ve amassed quite a body of them, which is something to have a bit of pride in, I guess!

I would like to thank Althea for playing along and answering my questions. You can read her reviews here: Goodreads 
  

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Literary Fiction in the current genre market - review difficulties

At the risk of coming across as someone who disagrees with reviewers (which is not the case), I decided to write a discussion topic pertaining to a recent experience I've had. For the record, I discussed this post with one of the reviewers in details, and shared it with her before posting it. Like me, she thought it would be a good start for a discussion.

Literary Fiction in the current genre market

The idea for this post arrived at the heels of three separate discussions I had with reviewers who recently reviewed my books. Its purpose is neither to soothe my ego, nor to disagree with the reviewers' assessments of my work but, rather, to invite an open discussion.

As you might have guessed by now, the reviewers referenced here did not receive my work with open arms. This, however, does not bother me, as I am a firm believer in honesty, and I embrace any review whether good or bad. Rather, I look at my recent experience as a learning opportunity. For all intended purpose, my subsequent discussions with the reviewers were nothing but pleasant and civil.

Part one: What had I learned?

I've learned that many reviewers are not familiar with the terms 'literary fiction' or 'literary novel'. This does not come as a surprise. Despite reading literary novels for over two decades, I can only name one review site devoted to the genre - Dactyl Review. A lot of reviewers who have their own blogs these days are fairly young and have never read authors like Hamsun, Camus, Handke, Cossery, Kafka... Having said that, the three reviewers I spoke with had no idea what literary fiction is.

Part two: What is literary fiction? 

This is a loaded question. Instead of supplying some generally accepted definition I could find on Google, I'll present my own interpretation: Literary fiction or a literary novel is a written work where the protagonist's state of mind and resulting actions take precedence over the plot itself. I realize that this definition may not suit everyone, and I'm open to a discussion on this.
My second criteria would be that the book is as true to life as possible.

For me, literary novels are packed with emotions and real human experiences. The protagonists are not always likeable, the villains are not always bad, but we experience the world through their eyes and thoughts, which, in turn, teaches us something about our world. Such is life.

Part Three: The Critique.

All three reviewers mentioned that my protagonist was "an unreliable narrator". Upon further exploration, I had learned that this meant my protagonist did not contain his narrative to the main plot line only but rambled and spoke off topic, and that his point-of-view was compromised with internal monologue.
One other issue mentioned was that some instances and events in the novel were not very much fiction-like, because there were random actions too true to life.

Writing in a first-person narrative is not an easy task. Actually, writing is not an easy task no matter what narrative the author decides upon. For me, in this particular story, there are two simultaneous narratives: One of the plot relayed through the protagonist's sensory receptions, and one of the protagonist's internal monologue - his mental state. A character driven to the edge of sanity by his ordeal reflects upon his inner thoughts in random, while not leaving the plot. My protagonist, by all means, fits the preceding sentence. He has dreams, nightmares, opinions. He reflects, he desires, he muses. But he continues to narrate the story all the while. In my humble attempt to delve into the human psyche, I selected a scenario and a character that work well together. From the onset, the protagonist shows signs of paranoia. After his ordeal (the plot thickens), he has to deal with a lot more than he can handle; thus he retreats to his safety zone, his mind.

On the subject of being too true to life, I was told that there were instances when the reader expected something different to happen. In an example, the protagonist reaches out to a former boyfriend and ask for help. The boyfriend ignores the request and the protagonist, not having any other choice, goes back to his ordeal. A reviewer expected the boyfriend to make things happen, to come for the protagonist. After all, the reviewer has read many fictional books where this would be the norm. Shall I call it a happy Hollywood ending?

In realistic fiction, however, this does not happen often. Sure there are instances where a happy ending is warranted. There are instances when magic and miracles truly happen. Nevertheless, these instances are rare, and life as we know it is not as easy as a happily-ever-after story. When I was writing this particular novel, I wanted to explore the limits of human endurance, of human spirit. After all, the blurb states: "This is a story of humanity's worst nemesis - itself." With a description like that, there has to be drama.

For me, it was important to write a realistic book with realistic characters. It's a slice of life, albeit not everyone's life and certainly not everyday life. If it comes across as "too real", then I'm happy.

Conclusion:

Overall, this entire experience has been very pleasant. When I set out to find out more about what the reviewers meant, I had no idea that we would engage on the level we did. I had no idea that a week later we would be sending emails back and forth, talking about styles, literature, writers, and yes, even exchanging cooking recipes. I had learned some things I was unaware of, and the reviewers had learned a bit more about different literary styles.

I had not asked any of the reviewers to reconsider their reviews, nor do I plan to do that. Their opinions are what they are, or were when they reviewed my work, and I respect that. It was never my intention to challenge or discredit those opinions.

So what is the purpose of this post?

A discussion. Hopefully this topic resonates with someone who reads this, be it a reviewer or an author. If you write Literary Fiction, have you encountered similar issues? If you reviewed literary fiction and did not know what you were getting into, what was your experience?

If you decide to engage in a conversation about this, it should remain civil. There will be no author or reviewer bashing here, no name calling, and no personal attacks.

Please keep in mind that when it comes to reviewing, there are no wrong opinions. Tastes and interpretations vary greatly among readers, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

I would appreciate to learn your take on this. If you have something to add, if you agree or disagree with something I have said, or if you just want your opinion to be heard, please comment here. 

For all intended purposes, the discussion has moved here: https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1562629-literary-fiction-in-the-current-genre-market---review-difficulties#comment_id_86417497

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Authors to Watch: Interview with Henry Martin

Authors to Watch: Interview with Henry Martin: Today, we're visiting with Henry Martin, author of Mad Days of Me series, including Escaping Barcelona ... Trapped in the stree...

Interview with Florence Osmund

My guest today is the amazing Florence Osmund, who, aside from being an exceptional author, devotes her free time to offering advice to aspiring authors. She is also very active in the literary community.

About:
After more than three decades of working in corporate America, I retired to write books. I earned my master’s degree from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management and built a career in administrative management that culminated with a senior management position in a major insurance company. I currently reside in Chicago where I am enjoying all the things this great city has to offer, and (of course) reading and writing.

I devote my website primarily to new and inspiring writers where I offer substantial advice on writing techniques, the pros and cons of self-publishing, getting started, how to avoid scams, and promoting and marketing your book. Itʾs advice I wish I had received before I started writing my first book, and itʾs all free. Please visit http://www.florenceosmund.com

Do you have specific genres that you review, and what is your favorite one? 

    My favorite genre is literary fiction, but I will also review young adult fiction, dramas, mysteries, and womenʾs fiction.

On average, how many books do you review each month?

    I average about one book a month, sometimes more depending on what else I have on my plate     at the time.

Do you accept unsolicited review requests, or do you only review books you select yourself? 

    Occasionally, as a favor I will review a book for a fellow author if asked. However, the vast majority of books I review are for indieBRAG, a privately held organization that has brought together a large group of readers, both individuals and members of book clubs, located throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe. Book Readers Appreciation Group recognizes self-published authors by reviewing their books and judging each oneʾs merits based on a proprietary list of criteria, the single most important one being whether three out of three of their reviewers would recommend the book to his/her best friend. Less than 15% of the books submitted receive this honor. When Iʾm ready to review another indieBRAG book, I am given a short list from which to choose.

Considering the recent surge of self-published books on the market, what is your experience with self-published titles?

    Unfortunately, I see an alarming number of self-published books that have not been professionally edited or proofread. It doesnʾt matter how skilled a storyteller you are, if your book violates standard writing rules, or worse yet, contains grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors, it will not be very marketable. Based on an obvious lack of professional editing, more than 30% of submissions to IndieBRAG are rejected before they even reach a reviewer.

    Professional editing is expensive. The cost to have an 80,000-word manuscript professionally edited (content, line, and copy edited) is a minimum of $2,500. Not everyone can afford that, especially if itʾs their first book and they havenʾt realized any revenue yet. Itʾs a frustrating situation to be in—you have this compelling story to tell, but you donʾt have the upfront money to make it marketable. This, of course, is one of the disadvantages of self-publishing—you have to front all the expenses.

As a reviewer, you have to state your honest opinions. Do you publish all reviews regardless of the rating?

    If a book has at least some redeeming qualities, I will publish the review on both Amazon and Goodreads. I always begin with what I thought to be favorable about the book, and then I talk about what I found lacking. My experience has been as long as I state the criticism constructively, the authors appreciate the feedback, even if itʾs negative.

Is there any particular book or author that sets the benchmark for you in a specific genre?

    I really admire the way Dennis Lehane crafts a story. The one that stands out for me is Mystic River in which he does a remarkable job developing a unique cast of characters. The way he unfurls the plot is genius, and his ability to evoke a wide array of emotions from his readers (at least this reader) is powerful.

What was the catalyst for you to become a reviewer, and what keeps you going?
    If you visited my website, you know one of my goals is to help new authors, especially self-published ones. Being a reviewer for indieBRAG helps me achieve that goal.

In your opinion, do you find the new titles original and creatively executed, or do you see more of a repeat of the same (think Hollywood's surge in remakes)?

    I see significant creativity and originality in the books I review, especially from authors who dare to be different. But I also believe a truly talented author can take an old concept, reshape it so to speak, and still produce a compelling story.

Out of all the books you've read, are there any particular books or characters that stayed on your mind?

    Searching for Lincolnʾs Ghost, is a book I reviewed last year for self-published author Barbara Dzikowsky. Itʾs the story of a young girl who is faced with adult social and philosophical issues that many grown-ups would have difficulty managing, and it is her innocence and unrelenting drive to understand things that help her get through them. This heartwarming coming-of-age story, expertly crafted by Dzikowsky, will stay with me a long time.

What is the one review you are the most proud of, and why? 

    One of my Amazon reviews includes strong criticism of the bookʾs lack of any meaningful action in the first half, causing the story to get off to an incredibly slow start. The author publicly responded by thanking me for taking the time to provide an honest opinion and for including what I felt she did well instead of merely focusing on the negative.


You can find more about Florence Osmund by visiting her website: http://florenceosmund.com/
Or visit her Amazon page to learn more about here amazing titles: Amazon  
Also visit indieBRAG to learn more about what they do. It's a great organization: indieBRAG


Please show your support for my quest by visiting their links and leaving a comment. 
If you would like to see someone featured here, drop me a line. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Interview with Will

My guest today is Will, whom I stumbled upon on GoodReads, where he posts well-crafted, meaningful reviews. With over 700 ratings and 2000+ books on his 'to read' list, you are bound to come across one of his reviews sooner or later. 

About:
I'm a 36-year old composer of contemporary concert music (what “classical” music is called now) just outside Chicago, IL. I do a little reviewing when a publisher sends me a book now and then, and I have just recently been appointed/elected to my local Library Board of Trustees.

Do you have specific genres that you review, and what is your favorite one?

I try to review anything I read, and I read a great deal of literary fiction, history/biography, poetry, and the odd book sent to me by authors or publishers. I try to read only the best books, but I'm willing to try any book that I can have a reasonable suspicion of the writing at least aspiring to greatness, so I read quite a few that fall short. I do also read a great deal of sequential art, or graphic novels. It's a hot button topic in the community, and like anything there's a great deal of junk, but it really is a medium where some creators are making significant artistic contributions. This did lead to a public argument that involved Captain Underpants at one point, and people are very slow to accept that there are graphic works that don't involve children's themes or superheroes and capes that are at the level of high art. I also want to add that the Captain Underpants person is a good friend of mine now!

On average, how many books do you review each month?
It changes quite a bit from month to month but between 3-8 books a month

Do you accept unsolicited review requests, or do you only review books you select yourself?

I tend to get very few offers to review books, perhaps fewer than 10 a month (which seems a lot to some, I know) but with a to-read list currently standing at 2,038 books I'm not worried about having nothing to read. I will admit most of the books I review that are given to me tend to be from traditional publishers, either sent to me or from giveaways I expressed interest in to the publishers, and one or two from entered giveaways from non-goodreads sites. I think I won a goodreads giveaway only once, a long time ago. I've recently done two from Random House, and I have one in the pipes from Henry Holt and Co. I tend to get new history and poetry books as it seems there aren't a ton of people willing to write reviews for them, and those are two genres I read and love a great deal. But I will consider any book thrust at me, so if you're an author reading this, I can't promise I'll accept it, but I will give it the same squinty look a Pulitzer winner gets. Finding and helping a truly great book reach a wide audience must surely be the dream of any reviewer.

Considering the recent surge of self-published books on the market, what is your experience with self-published titles?
My father is a self-published author, and he had an actual printing run of his novel, so I know all the things that go into doing that, and I've received a number of self-published books from self-published authors. There's a great many problems I see from cover design, font choices, material selection, and the ever-present editing (or lack of) problems. More often than not I see the author shooting themselves in the foot before the words have a chance to make an impact, and that's a shame. I'm also involved a little in the world of the more professional reviewers and small publishers, both of whom go even further in their disdain. I wonder whether a publishing collective might be a better route, offering a standardized set of publishing conditions (paper stock, cover materials, collective funding of cover design and editing, etc) The things I hear from the minor publishers about SP works is pretty rough, and I think a majority of terrible books is muddying the waters for the better ones. It's a terrible shame in that I'm sure there's some great writing that just needs some better materials and some editing. The current angst we're seeing with authors making outrageous comments for attention or engaging in all-out warfare with reviewers lately really isn't helping either. The mood in the online literary world seems to be shifting towards an Us vs. Them on every forum and website, and I point out to authors that you're trying to sell a product, not create an enemy. I understand their angst at the same time, as a professional artist selling a product that I spent months and years creating alone in my studio, it's easy to get very touchy about your work. It's not a good policy if you want to actually SELL your work, however.

As a reviewer, you have to state your honest opinions. Do you publish all reviews regardless of the rating?

I do, but I'll admit I rate a little differently if it's a book given to me from a SP author. I will usually give no review or stars if I think it's just bad, and I will bump it up a little bit compared to the rating I'd give if it comes from a traditional publisher. Often times we're speaking about a difference in editing rather than the writing, so they get a little credit there. However, that said, that's the rating and not the review. The review will reflect my honest and considered opinion, and I don't shy away from calling a spade a spade. Thus far this hasn't been the source of any problems from authors, as I generally won't review something I don't think COULD live up to a high standard, but I have gotten some trouble, such as a twitter attack from 20,000 followers of a celebrity whom I apparently offended and the celeb in question threatened to quit twitter because of it, so I had a lot of very threatening private messages on twitter and across several other sites. It died down within a week or so, but it means that at this point I don't fear any new controversy...after all it probably can't be WORSE than that. I'll also say that I sat down and wrote a nice note to each and every one of those people who said some horrible things to me to express that I was sorry I "ruined the internet" or "ruined their entire day" or whatever each person said but I wrote what I thought was the truth and can't take that back, and wished each one that I hope they understood and that their day got better. Except for a few, almost ALL of them wrote me back and even apologized for reacting emotionally and that they felt bad for saying something terrible if they did.

Is there any particular book or author that set the benchmark for you in a specific genre?

First I'd like to say that there's actually a review that set my benchmark for writing reviews, and that's Ursula K Le Guin's review of Peter Carey's “Parrot and Olivier in America”. I read and reviewed the book during a group read of it, and afterwards I read Ms. Le Guin's review online in The Guardian and I hope that someday I write reviews as well at that. I try to write shorter and far more direct reviews than many of my friends who do so professionally or get a lot more attention than I ever will, and while this style doesn't get a lot of "likes" or acclaim, this is my standard for how it's done.
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/jan/30/peter-carey-parrot-olivier-america


I do want to mention a couple of really lesser known books for hardcore history (lacking literary-style narrative effects) I have to mention “From Prairie To Corn Belt: Farming On The Illinois And Iowa Prairies In The Nineteenth Century”, by Allan G. Bogue, and “Their Number Become Thinned: Native American Population Dynamics in Eastern North America”, by Henry F. Dobyns. Both are amazing and somewhat hard to find texts on subjects that you might not think are compelling but are. If you can get a reader to turn a page and really FEEL the deaths of 27 million people over a very short period of time without using emotional language, you're good at conveying facts.

What was the catalyst for you to become a reviewer, and what keeps you going?

Really just the challenge of having to compose thoughts on each book. I try not to allow myself to get wrapped up in anything past that.

In your opinion, do you find the new titles original and creatively executed, or do you see more of a repeat of the same (think Hollywood's surge in remakes)?

I see some of both. I think there's a major argument going on in the literary community that I see playing out at all levels, with the writers (Zadie Smith wrote extensively for the NY Review of Books in 2008 on this), with the publishers, and at the local Library level on what direction fiction is taking, and the role of technology in the composition, publication, promotion, and reading of books. E-readers are something publishers and libraries worry about constantly, and libraries are facing pressure from some people in their communities to take a smaller share of the tax levy and essentially give up on physical books. I suspect less from a devotion to a futuristic vision of a paperless library, but because they'd like to see that money get spent elsewhere. Despite the average citizen overwhelmingly preferring a paper book, these ideas still need to be combated actively to preserve the depressingly tiny amount of resources available to libraries and to a lesser extent the smaller publishers.

Out of all the books you've read, are there any particular books or characters that stayed on your mind?
To be honest, whatever I'm reading at the moment dominates my thoughts, so I'm thinking about James Madison quite a bit right now. He's a Sphinx-like figure with remarkable discipline, but it also makes him somewhat unknowable.

What is the one review you are the most proud of, and why?

In all honesty, no. Reviews are a service in the hands of able practitioners and a weapon of malice in the hands of the incompetent. I aspire to someday approach the former and always avoid becoming the latter. I suspect I'm firmly in the mediocre. I DO try to do something a little different in mine, which is to keep it short, and to keep it about the writing and my general impressions. I want to give somebody like myself a quick idea of whether or not the book is worth my time, and not write some high-handed literary essay. I know some excellent reviewers I consider friends who often seem to try to outdo the book with the review. I just want to tell a friend I haven't met yet whether or not they'd enjoy reading the book themselves. This deliberate choice of style probably precludes me from ever reviewing professionally, but oh well.


I'd like to thank Will for sharing his thoughts with me and for all of his reviews out there. Reviewing is often a thankless and hard work. Please show your support for my guest by either visiting their links or leaving a comment. 

You can find more about Will on his website: http://www.willmego.com/ 
or on his GoodReads profile: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/7101513-will 
 

If you would like to see someone featured on my blog, drop me a line. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Invisible CitiesInvisible Cities by Italo Calvino
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You past adolescence and enter the world of adult literature. At first, you read anything and everything that found its way to your hands; then, slowly you begin discovering your own, unique literary taste, and you become selective. The more you read, the more selective you become. Your list of favorite authors and genres grows; you find literary voices that speak directly to your soul. By now, you have reached mid age, and you have over two decades of serious reading under your belt. Any new book that you open, any new author that you discover is judged against your favorites, against the voices that stimulated your mind over the years. Words and phrases are judged against those that provided comfort when you felt down; ideas and executions are compared against the benchmarks established over the years. You think you know what you like; you think you know what to expect. Well, perhaps you do. New books come along, and some attempt to quietly sneak in to your consciousness, while others attempt to shatter your world. Most, if not all, pale with your favorites, do not fit with your ideas, or leave you cold.
Then, one day, you come across a gently used book. It's small, it looks interesting, and you buy it. That book manages to get under your skin in a very inconspicuous way, without you even noticing. Such was my encounter with Invisible Cities.
My first Italo Calvino. He arrived on the heels of Bolaño, Borges, Ungar, and Girondo. Good company, you might say. I say no. Bolaño left me lukewarm—I was expecting more. Borges blew my mind—but only temporarily—he is amazing, but very systematic. Ungar was great—while reading him. Girondo was thought-provoking—entertaining but not mind-altering.
Calvino managed to deliver where all of the above failed. He did not force his way to me, he came unsuspected, veiled in beautiful prose. All of the aforementioned authors wrote fine literature, amazing actually. Yet, they were all "in your face" at times. Calvino is like a spy who sneaks in under the cover of darkness. And here comes the strangest part: I haven't even noticed.
To be honest, I cannot quite describe what kind of book is Invisible Cities. At first, I thought I knew. Then I thought I did not know, then I thought I knew again, and, in the end, I was reminded that I did not know.
The book is simply beautiful. It is irrelevant and relevant at the same time, pointless and necessary at other times, while remaining non-contradictory. Does this make sense? I thought so.

To me, Invisible Cities is not a single book, but three separate books.
The first one is a wonderful study of humanity. These are the cities that reflect human behavior, the cities that serve as metaphor for greed, anger, vanity, et cetera.
The second book is a book of cautionary tales. These are the cities that tell a story, a story of what will happen if we, as humans, do not change our ways.
The third book is a book of philosophy. These are the cities as metaphors for mortality, actions and consequences, continuity, faith... To this book also belong the conversations between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan, for these are truly philosophical.

Then again, I am probably wrong on all counts. One thing is certain, and that is the undeniable truth that Italo Calvino was an amazing writer. His prose is magical.

So now, after more than two decades of reading what I consider to be quality literature, I have to shuffle my mental shelf and make room for Calvino, right next to my all-time favorites where he belongs.




View all my reviews

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Interview with Michelle Abbott

I discovered Michelle Abbott on GoodReads where she is a regular poster. Besides being an author and a reviewer, Michelle runs a rather interesting blog series where she interviews fictional protagonists. I found this to be a breath of fresh air in the blogosphere saturated with author interviews. Thus, when she wanted to interview one of my characters,  I gladly accepted. I found the whole experience so different from the typical interviews I've done in the past, that I decided to bring Michelle into the spotlight. So, if you are remembering my post about a character interview I've done with Michelle, this is not a case of manus manum fricat. In the interest of full disclosure, I have done the above-mentioned interview with Michelle and she has read a couple of my books. Yes, full transparency! That being said, I am here interviewing her as a reviewer only.


About:

I live in the UK and am a self-published romance author. I love to read and I enjoy travelling and seeing new places. I'm somewhat quiet and reserved. I enjoy spending time with my family and curling up on the sofa in the evenings with a glass of wine and a good book.

Do you have specific genres that you review, and what is your favorite one?

I will review most genres of fiction if I like the sound of the synopsis, though I tend to avoid horror. 

On average, how many books do you review each month?

When I'm writing my own books I don't get as much time to read as I would like and at those times I review one to two books a month. When I have a break from writing I can get through a book or two a week.

Do you accept unsolicited review requests, or do you only review books you select yourself?

Usually only books I select myself as I have so many I want to read and limited time, but I try to find time to read a book if someone has requested it for a character interview on my website.

Considering the recent surge of self-published books on the market, what is your experience with self-published titles?

I am selective about what I read and so far the quality has been high, equal to any traditionally published books I've read and generally far more interesting. I've read many self-published books and there have only been a couple that I couldn't finish: one due to bad formatting and the other, though well-written, dragged a little for my tastes.

As a reviewer, you have to state your honest opinions. Do you publish all reviews regardless of the rating?

If the book is written by a traditionally published, or well-known and successful author, I publish my review regardless of the rating. If the book is self-published with only a handful of reviews and my rating would be less than 3 stars, I will refrain from rating or reviewing it as I appreciate that the author may not have had access to an editor. In that instance I would contact the author directly.

Is there any particular book or author that set the benchmark for you in a specific genre?

Yes, Thoughtless by S. C. Stephens. I love to experience a character's emotions and her writing made me feel like I was in the characters skin.

What was the catalyst for you to become a reviewer, and what keeps you going?

Joining goodreads, I wanted to share my reading experience with others on that site. What keeps me going is my enjoyment of books and when I've enjoyed a story, I want to let the author and other readers know how good I think it is.

In your opinion, do you find the new titles original and creatively executed, or do you see more of a repeat of the same (think Hollywood's surge in remakes)?

The titles I've come across seem to be original and creative.

Out of all the books you've read, are there any particular books or characters that stayed on your mind?

Yes, a character called Caleb from Captive in the Dark. For three quarters of the book I thought the character was sick and depraved and I hated him with a passion. Toward the end of the book the author revealed things about him that changed my opinion and I ended up hoping things would work out for him. I've never experienced that before, my opinion of a character is usually consistent throughout a book.

What is the one review you are the most proud of, and why?

I guess it would be my review of Beneath the Willow by Gemma Farrow, because I think I explained clearly what I liked about it and it's a review of a horror book, which usually I do not read or enjoy. This one was an exception.

Aside from reviewing books, you have done a substantial number of interviews both with authors and their characters. This is a rather innovative approach to book reviews. Why did you select this route, and, do you find that you learn more about a story this way?

I thought it would interest visitors to my website. Yes, I think you can learn much more about a story from an interview because an author can tell you things about their character, or plot, that you may not find in a synopsis or a review. After all, an author knows their characters better than anyone else.


I would like to thank Michelle for answering my questions, and for all the hard work she does on behalf of independent authors. You can learn more about Michelle by visiting her website: http://www.michelleabbott.com
Character Interviews
Author Interviews

Please show your support for my guest by visiting their sites and/or leaving a comment. If you would like to see someone featured here, drop me a line.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Thank you

Through my various writing endeavors, I was blessed with meeting many a fellow artist, as well as reviewers and readers. Some offered words of encouragement, some offered support in various forms; others, in good spirit, offered words of criticism. As a writer, and hopefully as a human being as well, I’m constantly evolving, and therefore, I’m grateful for both the kind and the not so kind words, for it makes me think. Think about my own work, think about the motives behind my writing, and think about where and how I can improve. And believe me, there is always room for improvement.
    One person in particular, whom I met through a mutual acquaintance, has enriched me in countless ways. Whether we discussed a certain writer, a book, or our own texts, I could always rely on her honesty and literary taste when it came to recommendations, and on her unbiased opinions when it came to my own material. Over a period of about two years, we’ve shared many a heated moment dissecting our own texts, which is something I will always remember.
    When I struggled with revisions to the Mad Days of Me, she offered her help, both as a reader and as an 'unofficial' editor. One chapter at a time, I would sent her the finished chapters, only to receive them back some days later with her suggestions and recommendations. This relationship, albeit very informal, has helped me to get back on track with writing. Perhaps, her words of encouragement helped me overcome the disgust I initially felt when revising; perhaps, the persistence with which she attacks her own writing has inspired me.
    In any case, having this ‘second set of eyes’ readily available has made me want to sit down and write, to tackle the revisions one at a time, and to desire, once again, to complete the project. This false sense of security has helped me see clearer. 
    Then came a time when she has dumped me. (and I deserved it) Not in the literary sense, for she remains someone I consider a friend, but she no longer wanted to look at my ‘chapters in progress’. At first, I was extremely disappointed. Not because she didn't want to look at my work as it happens, but because I have gotten so used to having here there, that now I’ll miss it. Which brings me back to ‘this false sense of security’: My mind, my creative mind that is, is cluttered. When I write, I do not think about rules, about clarity, about a message. I vomit my ideas on paper. Then, when I re-read what I wrote, I nip and I cut, I move and I add, until it is what I perceived it to be in the first place. Sounds messy? Well, when we worked together, I could rely, as I have said already, on her unbiased opinions to point out where I had screwed up. I did not have to question my own words for extended periods of time. Now, that I no longer have this luxury, I question everything.
    One of the most difficult things for me, as a writer, is to read my own work. Usually, I put it off until the end of a piece, or end of a book. This means, that sometimes I do not read what I had written for months. During the time when she graciously helped me, I had the benefit of not only the needed ‘second set of eyes’, but also of seeing my work more frequently and with fresh, critical eyes. 
    So what is the purpose of all this? I guess this is my way of thinking things out and in a way, saying ‘Thank You’ for all she has done to help me get back to that hot seat in front of a blank page. I never took you for granted, and I never wanted to make you feel that you were being taken advantage of. 

Thank you for being a good friend and an inspiration.

And while we ventured in separate directions, I will always remember.