Books

 

Since retiring I’ve been reading more. I have been tweeting the title and author of each book as I begin them under the hashtag #AmReading. Much to my surprise, those are the tweets that get the most interaction, and not just retweets from the authors. In fact that is a rarity.

So I thought it might be interesting to make a regular post of the books I’ve read over the course of the month. It will help jog my memory and keep me from buying duplicates. Parteimer’s, you know.

I don’t really do book reviews. Why not? One, I don’t feel particularly qualified, and two, I have a hard time saying negative things about people or the works they produce and not all the books I read are necessarily great. So these will generally be unannotated unless the book was truly exceptional or really needed a lot of work. (And I feel bad about the latter.) Otherwise, you can assume I read and enjoyed them, which means yes, they are worth your time and money.

My October Reads

Rain Girl, by Gabi Kreslehnar, a murder mystery – Kindle.

Realm Shift, by Alan Baxter, an action adventure – Nook

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Stienbeck, an American classic – Nook, from the library. A must read.

Forbidden the Stars, by Valmore Daniels, science fiction – Nook, needed a good editor

Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke, science fiction – Kindle

Tracy’s Hot Mail, by Trevor Belshaw, satire – Nook

Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson, literary – Nook audio

Seven Book Covers, four over three

As the month winds to a close my next book up is an old Agatha Christie novel, but it will wait for next month’s list.

So what have you been reading lately? Have any recommendations for me?
~jon

 

Cover art of Boundary WatersMy friend, Estrella Azul, has a blog post up by the same title as this one. Her post is about the old Guardian survey of 100 famous books. You can pop over to her blog and see which ones she’s read and how many you have in common. But this is not that. Her title simply tickled my muse, and got me wondering about the literal answer to the question.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld. It intrigued me in that it is set in my home town of St. Louis, Missouri. I’d head the author discuss the book on the radio, so when my book club selected it I was more than happy to nab a copy for my Kindle. It is about identical twins, both with physic abilities, and how a prediction one makes complicates the lives of both of them. I did enjoy it, but was left just a little disappointed.

To answer the question more directly, I am currently reading Boundary Waters, by Debra Easterling. I just stated it (still in Chapter One), so it is too early to have formed any opinions. The author spent many years in the Boundary Waters region, so I am looking forward to her description of the area.

I am also currently “reading” Campfire Songs, edited by Irene Maddox and Rosalyn Cobb. As the title suggests, this is a collection of old campfire songs, many of which bring back fond memories from my childhood. I put “reading” in quotes because I am actually just picking out the ones I know and singing my way through the book. My kids think I’m crazy. They’re probably right. Again, I’ve just gotten started and have refreshed my memories on: Get Along Little Dogies, Home On the Range, Red River Valley, and Streets of Laredo. I am embarrassed to say I had to go out to You Tube to find Streets in order to recall the tune. I was singing it to the same tune as Get Along. The words fit, but it sure sounds wrong.

Next up in the songbook is Amazing Grace.

So, to repeat the question, what are you reading right now? Let me know in the comments.

~jon

 

A weasel on a logI didn’t forget. Honest! I mean it is still Wednesday. Right?

If you get a sense of panic in my tone, you are right. You see, I was invited to participate in this wonderful blog hop by Shannon Esposito, someone I respect as a writer and like as a person. TNBT stands for “The Next Big Thing,” and is (was) intended to help spread the word about deserving authors. Unfortunately, Shannon did not count on my absent-mindedness, so I have broken the circle. Hopefully I won’t burn in Hell for it.

As part of the hop I was supposed to have five more authors lined up to also participate. I don’t see that happing at this late hour. Still, I feel obligated to at least try to make amends by carrying on with the spirit of the event.

What spirit is that, you ask?

This post will introduce you to five authors I can personally recommend. It is a way for readers (that’s you) to discover new authors, while revealing a bit about myself (beyond my forgetfulness).

I also want to share the praise of Shannon Esposito, who invited me to this hop, and mention that she is working on her newest project, “The Goddess of War.” You can read about it on her website, Murder In Paradise. Based on her other works I’ve already read I am fairly certain it will be a keeper. You can find her books both at her website and at Amazon. Check them out, please. And tell Shannon to please not stick a pin in that voodoo doll of me.

The Hop Thing

The original TNBT blog hop included 10 questions for me to answer. In keeping with the spirit I will do my best to answer them. Some of the answers may seem weasely, but it can be hard to get specific about the creative process.

The Questions:
1: What is the working title of your book?

The book I am working most actively on and I believe has the best chance of seeing the light of day is tentatively titled “Magellan Star Voyager.” Bet you can’t tell it’s science fiction from the title.

2: Where did the idea come from for the book?
I’m not sure where my ideas come from. (I know, weasely.) I get a notion, then things just sort of build upon themselves. Often times a character springs to mind, almost wholly formed, and they need their story told. I think my main character in MSV, Jenna Yorganson, was just such a person. She is the ship’s medical officer with a story in need telling.

3: What genre does your book come under?
I’m not saying (but you might find a hint in answer 1).

4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Good ones. (Weasel!) Seriously, I have no idea. I know actors like I know neuroscience, which is not at all. Trust me, you never want me on your trivia team. Forewarned is forearmed.

5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Bad things happen when an interstellar colony ship gets whacked by a particle travelling at 250,000 km/hr or there abouts, particularly when there is a psychotic killer on board.

6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?
None of the above. It is currently in rewrite. That’s not being weasely, it’s the simple truth.

7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I’d guess about three months. If I have a story I can run with it generally takes me two to three months to hash out the rough draft (sometimes 30 days if it happens to be November), but the rewrites can take forever.

8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Oh, God. (You can see the weasely stuff coming, can’t you?) I don’t know that I can compare it to any book specifically. It draws on many universal tropes of both science fiction and mystery. Perhaps Alien, only the killer isn’t another species, but one of our own. Yes, Virginia, there really are monsters – they are usually human.

9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I think this story was just something in me that needed to come out. As I said earlier, I get a vague notion, sometimes just a character name, or an idle ‘what if?’ thought, and I start mulling it over. The more I think on it, the more it grows until I finally have a rough idea of what I want to do in way of developing the story, and I can begin to write. What inspires me? Just about anything. This book in particular? Not sure, but I think it was Jenna, just popping into my head.

10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Magellan Star Voyager is a cross between an old fashioned murder mystery and science fiction action adventure. The crew of the Magellan are people much like ones you probably know, thrown into a near impossible situation. As in real emergencies some people rise to the occasion, and some crack. The active crew of the Magellan must try to salvage the ship, save as many of the colonists as possible, while trying to save themselves from one of their own.

If I had my act together you would have found five fellow authors joining in this blog hop next Wednesday answering ten questions about themselves. But there is no time to line them up, and I’m not about to blind-side them. So I give you the next best thing: five authors I think you should visit and get to know. Do be sure to bookmark them and check back with them often to see what they are up to. I only hope Shannon will forgive me for dropping the ball.

Five authors you ought to check out (and support!). Happy reading.

1. Kevin J Mackey, was an early adopter of Friday Flash and is one of the nicest people on the web. I have always enjoyed his flash fiction, haiku, and photos. I was excited to learn he has a novel coming out, and can’t wait to get my hands on it. The book is “Not By Dark Alone” and is being released even as I type. You can follow Kevin on his blog, or join in on his book launch right now over on Facebook.

2. Jeff Posey has a true talent for a good tale, well told. I enjoy his stories set in the world of the ancient Anasazi of the desert southwest the most. I became a life long fan while following his old Anasazi Stories blog. Jeff has since gone on to develop a wonderful indie online bookshop, with full fledged novels both ancient and contemporary, as well as collections of his short works. His debut novel, “Less than Nothing,” is the fruit of those old Anasazi Stories, and is my favorite.  I also thoroughly enjoyed his modern novel, “Anasazi Runner,” a story of personal perseverance and triumph. He also still posts flash fiction on his website. Be sure to check him out.

3. I quite enjoyed Clive Martyn’s debut novel, “Sunset Hotel.” Clive does a nice job of developing his characters as the suspense builds and the mystery unfolds. Don’t get me wrong, it is not a mystery – rather a horror/suspense, but mysterious things are happening. He keeps his readers apprised of his current works in progress (WIPs) on his website, where Clive bills himself as an author of dark fiction and poetry. From the synopses he is a man of his word. The two WIPs that seem to be furthest along right now are “The Hospital,” and “The Spirit of Trees.” “Sunset Hotel” is available from Amazon US, Amazon UK, and  OmniLit.

4. I thoroughly enjoyed G. P. Ching’s young adult debut novel “Soul Keepers,” the first in her Soulkeepers Trilogy. With her first trilogy behind her she has embarked an a new YA series to keep her fans sated. The series, “Grounded,” begins with a novel of the same name and is set in the year 2067. The story revolves around a young Amish girl, Lydia Troyer, and a secret Government plan gone awry. Book One is available now. You can read more about it on Genevieve’s website, and like her Facebook author page.

5. Finally I want to recommend M. R. Sellars, the author of the well known Rowan Gant mysteries. I’ve known Murv for years, and while I can’t claim him as a close personal friend (more’s the pity), I have spent some time talking with him. He is always very gracious and giving and this is my opportunity to send some good karma his way. I highly recommend the first in his new Constance Mandalay series, “Merrie Axemas.” His latest Mandalay novel, “In the Bleak Midwinter,” is on my personal Christmas list. I also recommend the Rowan Gant novels. I’ve read them all. Murv’s books are available at fine bookstores everywhere and as ebooks. Visit his website and have a look around.

~

Photo by Kevin Law, via WikiMedia Commons.

 

 

 

 

 

Cover of Less Than Nothing by Jeff Posey depicting a close up of a Native American in full headress.This post isn’t so much a book review as a reconnection.

I just finished reading “Less Than Nothing, A novel of Anasazi Strife” by Jeff Posey. If you’ve followed this blog for a long time, or been a #FridayFlash fan back in the day, that name may strike a bell. Jeff used to post flash fiction related to his WIP (work in progress for those who wonder) and they were always very well received. Good writing begets good reception.

At any rate his WIP is no longer a WIP but a full fledged novel, the aforementioned “Less Than Nothing,” available as an ebook from Amazon, SmashWords, and Barnes & Noble. I assure you, it is very much more than nothing.

Jeff’s posts were usually character studies or experiments to see what worked and what didn’t. I always enjoyed them, even if he sometimes seemed a bit less than satisfied with a given effort. I was one of many who told him I’d buy the book when it was done. Well, I have, and I am not disappointed.

One thing I wondered about was how much I’d enjoy it as a novel. The thing about novels is the reader’s sense of discovery as the novel progresses. Since he posted many shorts related to the work I was not sure how much discovery would be left. I needn’t have worried. While a few of the scenes harken back to those flash fiction stories this is much more than a bunch of shorts bundled together. Jeff has done a wonderful job here of weaving a seamless and complex tale involving many fascinating characters wrapped in layers of intrigue. One word of warning for the squeamish, there is a lot of violence. I would not call it gratuitous, but it is prevalent throughout the book.

I suppose a short synopsis is in order even though this is not a book review.

The story takes place in the desert southwest, near present day Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. It is set just before and in the wake of the 1057 A.D. Crab Nebula Supernova, an event that sets off a wave of violent upheaval in Anasazi society and surrounding areas. In the midst of this crucible Tuwa, a young man discarded by his father as an infant, is thrust into a struggle to free his people from the brutal rule of Chief Warrior (and obvious sociopath) Pokunyesva, or Pok.

After Pok kills those Tuwa loves most, Tuwa and several of his orphaned friends take up with a long distance trader who teaches them to how to survive and adapt in a brutal world. His trading years takes place mainly off stage, and the story takes up when the trader’s business brings them back to Tuwa’s homeland.

Tuwa and his compatriots return to Center Place Valley seeking revenge. They are but a handful of young adults and children who attempt the seemingly impossible – to overthrow tyranny of Pok, and in doing so unleash a series of events which will shake the Anasazi world to its core.

I was gripped by the story of Tuwa and his friends. I had come to know them back in Jeff’s flash fiction days, and missed them. It was such a pleasure to rediscover them, not just as a series of shorts, but a full fledged, fully realized, and very well executed novel. Well done, Jeff Posey. I am so glad I have rediscovered you and look forward to reading you newest works.
~jon

 

Today my publisher (God that sounds good) is having a Kindle Free Day book promotion. There are two anthologies on offer, and I have a story in one of them. So beat a hasty path to Amazon an nab these puppies up for free while you can.

KINDLE LINKS

The Red Book

The Yin and Yang Book

WHAT MAKES CHINESE WHISPERINGS ANTHOLOGIES UNIQUE

Each anthology is a collection of interwoven short stories by emerging writers handpicked from across the English-speaking world. Unlike other anthologies, Chinese Whisperings is created in a sequential fashion and each story stands on its own merits while contributing to a larger, connected narrative.

The Red Book, the first of the anthologies has each successive writer taking a minor character from the preceding story and telling their story as the major character in the next story. Each writer also references events from the preceding story to tie the ten stories together. The anthology can be re forward, or backward, or begun in any place because of its circular nature.

The Yin and Yang Book (the one I’m in) takes the concept a step further, with the anthology played across parallel airport universes stemming from a decision to retrieve a stolen painting or to leave without it. It’s a sliding doors/spider web hybrid. Readers will see common characters slipping across the two universes, some of them behaving in slightly different ways. The parallel universes are anchored between a common prologue and epilogue.

The Red Book

In a small North American university town ten lives are intersecting…

Miranda reaps what she has sown.
Mitchell understands there is no resisting fate.
Clint dreams of forging a violent destiny.
Elizabeth is about to make a discovery.
Robin hides a terrible secret.
Simon hasn’t slept in ten days.
Sam is pursued by nightmares.
Susie has lost everything.
David has just been found.
Jake atones for past evils.

Ten ordinary people struggling to keep their sanity in an insane world.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Mercurial Jodi Cleghorn (Ed)
Something Mean in the Dream Scene Jason Coggins
Kraepelin’s Child Annie Evett
Discovery Paul Servini
Innocence Tina Hunter
Not Myself Dale Challener Roe
Not My Name Jasmine Gallant
Out Of The Darkness Rob Diaz II
Heartache Emma Newman
One in the Chamber Paul Anderson (Ed)

The Yin and Yang Book

7.30AM. THE INTERNATIONAL TERMINAL OF A MAJOR EUROPEAN AIRPORT IS POISED ON THE BRINK OF CHAOS.

7.35AM. PANGAEAN AIRLINES, EUROPE’S PREMIER CARRIER, IS PLACED INTO RECEIVERSHIP, CANCELLING ALL FLIGHTS AND IMPOUNDING THOUSANDS OF ITEMS OF LUGGAGE.

The Yin and Yang Book follows the complicated web of events stemming from a suitcase, a stolen van Gogh painting, one woman on the run from her employers and the consequences of her decision to stay or go.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Prologue Jodi Cleghorn (ed)
Three Monkeys Paul Servini
Three Rings Chris Chartrand
Dogs of War Tony Noland
This Be the Verse Dan Powell
Providence Dale Challener Roe
No Passengers Allowed J.M. Strother
Thirteen Feathers Rob Diaz II
One Behind the Eye Richard Jay Parker
Chase the Day Jason Coggins
Somewhere to Pray (Kurush) Benjamin Solah
The Guilty One Emma Newman
Excess Baggage Carrie Clevenger
Where the Heart Is Tina Hunter
The Other Side of Limbo Claudia Osmond
Freedom Laura Eno
Cobalt Blue Jasmine Gallant
The Strangest Comfort Icy Sedgwick
Lost and Found Jen Brubacher
Kanyasulkam Annie Evett
Double Talk Lily Mulholland
Epilogue Paul Anderson (Ed)

You can use the Twitter hashtag #chinesewhisperings to help spread the word.

Happy reading.

~jon

 

Badge for The Split Worlds, an urban skyline under stars with the text "The Split Worlds it begins..."I am pleased to be hosting novelist Emma Newman today. If you don’t know Emma, she is charming, very talented, and author of the novel, 20 Years Later, a post apocalyptic mystery set in London . She is now working on what she describes as “a quirky urban fantasy” dubbed The Split Worlds. In the run up to the novel she is releasing a new story every week on different blogs around the world. I am fortunate to have her here on Mad Utopia this week. So, with no further ado I give you, Emma Newman.
~jon

This is the twenty-sixth in a year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds. It’s also the second part of ‘The Necessary Witness’ which you can find here if you need to read that first.

If you would like me to read part two to you instead, you can listen here. You can find links to all the other stories, and the new ones as they are released here.

The Necessary Witness – Part Two

Martin regretted the decision to chase the runaway shadow two minutes after they’d left the house. His chest burned and his feet hurt; he’d picked the leather brogues for a day of sitting at a computer, not impromptu heroics.

Paul was starting to leave him behind, but then it was his shadow, he was more motivated. That and the fact he played football twice a week let Martin forgive himself for wheezing so much. He worked long hours. He earned more too.

They had no choice; they could hardly hail a taxi and ask it to follow a rogue shadow. As the twilight deepened it was getting harder to keep it in sight, on a couple of occasions Martin thought they’d lost it, only for Paul to shout, point and take off again. When he stopped outside a terraced Georgian house in Pimlico Martin nearly cheered.

“It went down there,” Paul said, pointing down the steps leading down to the lower ground floor, presumably once a servant’s entrance.

Martin just nodded, propping himself up on his knees as his traumatised thigh muscles twitched. “What do we do now?” he panted.

Paul looked down the steps. “We sneak in down there.”

“That’s breaking in.”

“You want to knock on the door and ask them if we can look for my shadow in their basement?”

“Good point.”

They looked up and down the street, just like people who were about to do something illegal, then tiptoed down the stone steps. Paul tried the door, it was locked, unsurprisingly. Martin felt a surge of relief as Paul moved away from it. The urge to understand what was going on had been dampened by the fear of being caught.

Paul peered through the window then tried to lift the sash which only moved half a centimetre.

“Let’s go,” Martin said, ducking down as a car drove past.

“Hang on, there’s just the old catch, I can open it.”

He was getting a credit card out, Martin kept watch, feeling like he was ten years old again, stealing penny sweets whilst his best friend distracted the shopkeeper.

The window opened behind him. “C’mon,” Paul whispered and climbed in. Martin swore and followed him, not moving from the window until Paul had located a light switch and flicked it on.

The basement room was undecorated, cold but not damp, and filled with rows of bench tables like a school science lab. Shelves of bottles and small boxes filled one wall, there were test-tubes and beakers and round-bottomed flasks held in clamps on the tables, containing all manner of coloured liquids.

“It’s like that Hammer horror film,” Paul whispered.

“Which one?”

“I dunno, the one with the mad scientist in it.”

“Look,” Martin pointed over at a large glass bowl at the end of one of the tables. The foot of Paul’s shadow was draped over the edge, looking like a lone sock hanging out of a bowl of darkness. “It looks like it climbed in there.”

The rest of the shadow’s form was indistinguishable. “What the hell is going on here?” Paul said, staring at it.

Martin went to the shelves, reading the labels on the bottles. ‘Self-loathing’ described the contents of an elegant blue glass bottle with a wax seal over its cork. ‘Bitter regret’, ‘infatuation’, ‘sigh of broken-hearted’ – all the bottles seemed to have emotional descriptions. He picked up one of the packets and read ‘powdered iris-reticulata petals’ before putting it back. He noticed a box full of small purple perfume atomisers and a piece of paper resting on the top. “Fifty bottles of “Love’s First Bloom” – 5000 of the Queen’s pounds” was written in the same fluid script as the label on the packet. “I think this is a lab for making some weird-assed perfume,” he whispered, then heard voices coming from the other side of the door leading out of the room.

“Dr Tate,” a man said. “You’re teasing me.”

“I wouldn’t do that,” a woman replied. “I’m too professional. Let’s just say I work very hard to get the quality of product you expect.”

“Someone’s coming!” he hissed at Paul and hurried to the window. “Come on!”

Paul wasn’t moving. “I’m going to ask them what the f-”

“Come on!” Martin already had one leg out of the window, the high heels clipping down stairs making him sweat again. But Paul wasn’t moving, instead he was trying to grasp the sock-like shadow, his hand passing through it again and again. “Twat,” Martin spat and tumbled out of the window onto the flagstones outside. It was dark and getting cold and his brother-in-law was going to be arrested with the worst excuse in the world for breaking and entry.

Martin crouched below the window-sill. He heard the creak of a door and a pause that seemed to last a year. “Not you again,” the man sighed.

“Again?” Paul said. “Who are you? Why is my shadow here? Why do I even have to ask that question?”

“This is the third time this has happened,” the man sounded bored.

“Really? How tiresome,” the woman replied. “You do realise only the deluxe fool’s charm works with a shadow severance subject, don’t you?”

“Well that explains it.”

“Excuse me!” Paul yelled. “Will one of you please-”

His words were cut off somehow. “I have an alternative solution,” the woman said and then after a few moments; “Go home little mundane, and sleep it all off.”

Martin heard footsteps approaching the window and slid sideways, pressing himself as flat against the wall as he could. Paul climbed out and headed straight for the steps. The window was slammed shut and locked, Martin waited as long as he could bear to then darted up the steps back to the street.

“Paul!” he called and hurried to catch up with him.

“Martin?” Paul smiled at him, all surprise. “What are you doing here?”

“We were looking for your shadow, don’t you…” Martin trailed off, Paul looked like he was stoned.

“Come back to my place for a beer, the football’s on tonight,” Paul said and started walking again.

Martin watched, his guts churning. He turned his collar up and followed, watching his brother-in-law’s shadow restore itself with every street lamp they passed. He didn’t know what he was going to do, or even understand what had happened, but he knew he wasn’t going to forget about it.

Thanks for hosting Jon!

I hope you enjoyed the story. If you would like to find out more about the Split Worlds project, it’s all here: www.splitworlds.com – you can also sign up to get an extra story and get each new story delivered to your inbox every week. If you would like to host a story over the coming year, either let me know in the comments or contact me through the Split Worlds site. Em x

Author Emma Newman peeking ove the top of an open book

www.enewman.co.ukTwitterFacebook

 

Cover of Ghost Betweens depicting a haunted house with a flash of lightening over it.Fellow Friday Flasher and creative spirit Eric J. Krause has announced the pending release of his of his young adult paranormal novel, Ghost Betweens. I’ve known Eric for several years now and do not hesitate in recommending his works to anyone. He is having a Facebook book launch party this week, so drop in and wish him well.

Here is the description he has posted regarding Ghost Betweens:

The spooky farm in the middle of suburban Citrus Valley has long been rumored to be haunted. After taking pictures in the abandoned fields, Josh Hart and his buddy, Zach, find the stories to be true. They want to learn more, and are joined in their quest by Zach’s girlfriend, Kendra, and the new girl in school, Whisper Douglas. Josh and Whisper find they’re not only drawn to each other, but they also have superpowers when it comes to the supernatural. Their history teacher proves to have an unusual knowledge of their powers, and guides them to better utilize their newfound talents. And they need all the help they can get when Zach and Kendra are possessed by a powerful demon at the farm, who plans to use the teens to escape her prison and take over the world. Now Josh and Whisper, the newest Ghost Betweens, not only need to save their friends, but the entire planet, as well.

Sounds pretty exciting, doesn’t it?

You don’t have to go into this blind. Eric has posted several sample chapters on his website. If you are undecided go give them a read. You can also read some of his latest flash fiction while you’re there. You won’t be disappointed.

~jon

 

 

Books on a shelfI went to my book club Saturday and enjoyed an evening of good conversation and good food. We always have food at these things. Sometimes we spend more time discussing the food and life in general than we do the book, but Saturday night we spent a fair amount of time on the book. I hated it, so I won’t bother to mention the title or author, but everyone else in the group enjoyed it. In fact one person said it was possibly the best book choice of the year. No accounting for taste. Since I was in the distinct minority, I’ll accept the I may have missed the boat – but I don’t think so. :)

During the course of the conversation, probably somewhere around the third course as a matter of fact, someone made the comment that they read fiction with an eye to learning something new. Not learn something new as in the intricacies of human interaction, but something factual. Considering the book was about Zombies I was a little surprised he found any facts at all. In truth maybe he didn’t, it was a broad statement about reading fiction in general.

That got me wondering: Why do people read fiction?

I know some folks who never read fiction. I can’t imagine living that way, but there they are – walking, living, and breathing. As far as I can tell they are not zombies, though some of them do root for the Cubs.

When it comes to fiction what are you looking for? Are you looking for escape? Do you read simply to relish well written prose? Or, like my friend, do you read with an eye to lean something new?

For me, I’m afraid I’m pretty prosaic. I read fiction for escapism, pure and simple.
~jon

© 2011 by J. M. Strother. Photo by J. M. Strother.

 

Photo of author India DrummondToday I have an interview with sometimes #FridayFlasher, and soon-to-be best selling author, India Drummond. Her newest book, Ordinary Angels, is due out April 4th. I met India a year or two ago via her writing prompt challenges and the two of us have been more or less following each other ever since. Not the creepy stalker type of following, mind, just popping in on each other’s blogs now and then. India is one of the nicest people on the net, so if you get a chance you should get to know her and buy her book when it comes out.

Jon: Hi, India. How are you doing today?

India: Great! Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited about the book release–but a little scared too. I suppose every writer feels that way on release day. It’s a bit like waiting to go out on stage on opening night.

Jon: I can tell your excited about the pending release of, Ordinary Angels. What’s that release date again? ;)

India: April 4th. I can’t wait!

Jon: Can you tell us a little about it? Share the “elevator pitch” with us if you would.

India: Ordinary Angels is a paranormal urban fantasy novel in which Zoe Pendergraft falls in love with an angel, frees a soul from necromancers, releases a ghost trapped in the Void, and saves his living grandson from demons.

Jon: Wow. That’s quite a pitch.  If the cover alone is not enough to make someone pick up your book then the pitch ought to do the job nicely. Speaking of which, who did your cover? I think it’s beautiful.

India: Renee Rocco does most of the covers at Lyrical Press, including mine. It took a bit of getting used to. The woman on the cover isn’t exactly what I’d pictured for my main character, but it’s such a striking photo that I’ve come to love it.

Jon: The release date is drawing close. What are you finding the hardest to deal with while waiting for the big day to arrive?

India: Staying organised! I have been coordinating with reviewers and book bloggers, doing author spotlights, interviews, and trying to get the word out as best I can. It’s fun, but sometimes seems like a lot to juggle. I have spreadsheets and documents and calendars… I consider myself an organised person, but this has been a real challenge.

Jon: There must be some unexpected high spots as well. What kinds of pleasant surprises have you run into on this journey?

India: The amount of work required AFTER my publisher accepted my novel was a bit of a surprise. I’d made the novel as good as I could, written, rewritten and polished, so I had no idea there could possibly so much work left to do to really make the manuscript shine. But all of that effort seemed like no trouble at all when the first reviewer got back to me, saying how much she’d loved the book. I nearly cried! (Don’t tell anyone.)

Jon: OK, it will be our little secret — promise. What books and authors did you read when growing up that you feel made a lasting impression on you either personally or professionally?

India: I went to a very strict religious school growing up, and my reading was closely monitored and restricted. It really wasn’t until I got into my late teens that I discovered the wealth of stories that were out there. But I’ve done my best making up for lost time. I feel like every book I read changes me a little bit. I think that’s why I love the power of stories so much.

Jon: If you could meet one of your favorite authors, which one would you choose? What kind of things would you like to talk to him or her about?

India: One of the things I love about modern social networking is the accessibility of authors. There was one author whose work I had just devoured… I couldn’t get enough and read everything she’d had published. I found her on Twitter and felt like an utter fangirl. I was so nervous about approaching her! But she’s turned out to be so sweet and friendly, and now we chat occasionally on Facebook and Twitter. I think that’s such a powerful thing—realising that the people whose work we admire really are just like us.

Jon: So, what’s next with India Drummond? I know you are always writing. Are there any other projects lurking in the wings that you are free to talk about?

India: My second novel, Blood Faerie, will be out this summer. It’s an urban fantasy set here in Perth, Scotland. Here’s the blurb: Eilidh was cast out of the kingdom lands in the forests and forced to live on Perth’s city streets. She survived alone for years, but when a human is killed below the abandoned church where she lived, she recognised it as the work of one of her own kind. To stop the murders, she must tap into the forbidden magic that cost her everything.

Blood Faerie will be out June 1st, and a third book, Haywire Witch, will be released toward the end of the year. I’m writing as fast as I can! =)

Jon: Wow, you are incredibly busy. I’ll certainly be looking forward to those.

Well, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. Is there anything else you’d like to add in closing?

India: I just want to thank you for having me on your blog today. One of the truly wonderful things about this writing journey has been making friends with great writers like yourself. I admire your writing so much, and I count it an honour to be here.

Jon: Good luck with the book launch. It’s a long flight, so I’ll be there with you in spirit only.

India: Thank you, Jon!

Cover of Ordinary AngelsYou can find out more about the life and times of India Drummond on her website, conveniently called India Drummond, where you can read the first chapter of her forthcoming book, Ordinary Angels. You can also find India on Facebook and Twitter. You can find out more about Ordinary Angels on Goodreads.

Lyrical Press, Inc
ISBN-10: 1616502584
ISBN-13: 978-1616502584
ASIN: (TBD)
Price: $5.50
Publication Date: April 4, 2011

 

 

5 Thing ThursdayThe five top lessons I learned in doing the Best Of Friday Flash – Volume One:

1: Word Processing Beyond The Basics

If you are like me there are style controls built into your word processor that you’ve never used and may not even realize were there. It turns out these style controls, for headings and paragraphs, are essential when laying out a manuscript if you want to avoid stress induced insanity. Some of the key styles I discovered are well worth setting up include:

  • Heading 1 – for story titles, or chapter titles if doing a novel instead of a collection of stories
  • Heading 2 – for authors
  • TOC Heading – for maintaining sanity and generating the TOC (see 2, below)
  • Body Text First Line – Used to make the lead paragraphs non-indented and with a little added space between it and the author’s name.
  • Body Text Indented – Used to indent interior paragraphs, rather than using vertical white space to set them off. It is important to minimize vertical white space where practical as over the course of a manuscript extra white space can significantly add to page count, and thus to list price.
  • Body Text Scene Break – At scene breaks you need a little extra vertical white space to cue the reader on the shift.
  • Body Text Minutia – In addition to indentation and vertical spacing, Styles also defind such properties as Font, Typeface, and Size. I set up Minutia to handle all the text on the copyright page so it did not take up too much space.
  • Body Text Bio – I used a slightly different style for the author’s bios to help set them off from the main text of the stories.

Both Microsoft Word and OpenOffice have Style settings. Until this project I never used them. Now I would not layout a manuscript without them. The advantage is once you have them set up, and you decide you’d really like all those authors to be in Comic Sans instead of Arial Narrow, you change it once in the Style and it applies to the entire manuscript. This saves you a ton of work. Get to know your Styles, they will become your best friends.

2: Table of Contents Tricks

There are two methods for laying out tables of content, one for ebooks and one for print books (see 3, below, for other ebook vs print variations). For ebooks your table of contents should not have page numbers. Readers of ebooks can adjust font size, which of course effects page layout. For most ebook formats page numbers are meaningless (PDF being the exception). Instead, the table of contents should be hot-linked to jump to the title within the text. That is one omission I made on the BOFF, I did not hot-link the TOC. I was simply too frustrated at that point to deal with it. I hope to update the BOFF ebook with a hot-linked TOC sometime in the future, and if you have already bought a copy I will replace it for free at that time.

Print books, on the other hand, need tables of contents with accurate page numbers. Fortunately most modern word processing packages will automatically generate tables of contents for you, based on the styles (see 1, above) you’ve set up. This works pretty well out of the box for most situations, but there is one major oversight. If you try to set up a multi-line TOC (i.e. a TOC based on Header One for Title and Header Two for author) you end up with an horrid academic paper type of TOC. To wit:

Her Migration ……………. 11
Shannon Esposito ……… 11
In Memory Alone ……….. 13
Al Bruno III ……………… 13

and so on.
I’m sorry, that looks like crap in a collection of short fiction.

What I wanted was:

Her Migration | Shannon Esposito …………… 11
In Memory Alone | Al Bruno III ……………… 13

Trying to do this out of the box with the TOC layout tools available in your word processor will drive you nuts. I spent days on this little problem. Finally someone on the OpenOffice forums offered a work around that does the job for print versions, though I would not like it much for PDF. His solution: create a tiny line of text at the top of each story with the title, a separator (I used a pipe | ) and author. Set it up as a special header type in your Styles (see 1, above), and make the text white. The faked out header will not be visible in the printed version and can be used to set up the TOC with the out of the box tools. This will work with PDF output too, but a reader could “discover” these fake headers when selecting text. It’s a rather kludgey solution, but it works.

By the way, the reason for the pipe instead of , by as a separator is it saved horizontal space, meaning some of the longer Title/Author combos did not wrap onto two lines for a more favorable aesthetic.

3: eBook Formating vs Print Book Formatting

I covered a good portion of this when discussing the table of contents, but there are two other main differences between digital and print worth noting – page breaks, and footers. Generally you don’t need page breaks in an ebook. As mentioned before, readers are likely to monkey with their font sizes, which may blow your nicely laid out page breaks out of the water. Avoid the frustration, both on your part in setting them up, and on the readers part when the turn the “page” only to find the last word of the last paragraph in that chapter. Instead, rely on your Styles (See 1, above) to give the reader a satisfying white space separation between between scenes and chapters. (Don’t quote me on that, I am not 100% sure ebook readers respect Style spacing, but I think they do. I’ll know more once I actually have an ebook reader.)

Footers are used to place and format page numbers. Thus you need them in print books and you need to eliminate them for ebooks. Yes, you will end up with two separate and distinct copies of your manuscript when done, one for print (and PDF), and one for digital.

4: Project Set Up At CreateSpace

I could do a 5 Things on CreateSpace alone, but in all fairness, they are very responsive to feedback. The main thing you need to do with CreateSpace is get familiar with their set up menus. I suggest you do this with a fake book you work end-to-end, with no intention to actually print it, and then delete the project once you’ve got it all figured out. The main problem is that CreateSpace uses multiple steps and it is all menu driven. Some of the menu choices are not obvious, some of them are downright frustrating. For example, when setting up CreateSpace insists on an “Author”. I am not the author of the BOFF, I am the editor. There is a sub-category for “Editor”, but it seems to be for listing the editor in addition to the author, like you might see on a textbook. In the post process survey I mentioned this little problem and was please to get a response from CreateSpace informing me that if this should crop up in the future all one need do is request they manually change you to Editor before you commit to print. As I said, they do seem to be quite responsive.

The other problem with CreateSpace is if you make a change to your cover or your content, or if they find a error in your uploaded manuscript which violates one of their set up rules you have to fix it and then wait up to 48 hours to have it reviewed again. It was not until layout was completed that I discovered the bar code box overprinted the bottom text of the back cover. I had to contact the cover artist and ask her if she would move the bottom text up some to eliminate the overlap. Then I had to upload the new cover. Then if they find another error you repeat the cycle. I did three or four cycles, which chews up considerable calendar time. So what kind of errors are we talking about here?

Your cover indicates your are J. M. Strother, and your copyright page indicates you are Jon M. Strother. The author must match between cover and copyright. My bad. 48 hours.

Your cover indicates you are J. M. Strother and your copyright page indicates you are Jon M. Strother. The author must match between cover and copyright. What? Oh no, my name is in the minutia twice. I only fixed one! My double bad. Another 48 hours.

We have found a reference to Amazon.com in your text body. If you list Amazon.com you must indicate at least two other markets your manuscript is available from. Say what? That one just seems insane to me, but who am I to argue. I deleted the reference to Amazon.com (sorry Christopher) and resubmitted. Another 48 hours.

You get the idea. In the post process survey I suggested they point out multiple errors the first time around so they could be fixed all in one cycle. They got back to me right away and said they would look into doing just that. I kind of like these CreateSpace folks.

5: Book Pricing

CreateSpace has a list-price estimator. It’s kind of hard to find, and not all that accurate. It guesstimated the BOFF would cost $8.99, about two bucks more than I would like, but a price I could live with. But when I got done and asked to finalize it the actual list price came out to $10.99. I was dismayed. As much as I love the BOFF I thought most folks would pass at that price.

I expressed my dismay online and Laura Eno suggested I try a different format size (6” x 9” instead of 5” x 8”), and to use Arial 10pt instead of Times New Roman 11pt. I made those changes, which significantly reduced the page count. This was accomplished in no time via (drum roll please) the Styles (see 1, above). Then the cover had to be resized and both cover and content uploaded again. Doing all this brought the BOFF in at $7.99, much better than eleven bucks. At this price we make 5 cents on each copy sold via Amazon, and $1.65 on each sold through our CreateSpace eStore. (By the way, adding just two more pages to the BOFF would knock that Amazon royalty down to 1 cent. Tightening up stories by controlling vertical white space is critical.)

Conclusions

So, the lessons learned here are: get to know your word processor’s Styles and Table Of Contents tools, preplan your manuscripts both for print and digital formats, and try to minimize your page count. I suggest you make a fake book and take it up to, but not including, the approval stage at CreateSpace so you can familiarize yourself with the menu structure. Then just delete the sample project and go for it. Also, ask for help when you need it. It will save you untold amounts of hair.

Let me know if any of these points need further clarification, or share your own tips in the comments below.
~jon

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