Saturday, August 28, 2010

Book Review - Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane

Over the last year I've gotten to know Stacia Kane a bit via the Absolute Write forum, Facebook, Twitter, and her website, all the usual social networking channels. However, I was very skeptical of urban fantasy. All the UF I looked at seemed the same - a stacked goth Mary Sue in black leather kicking ass with knives and magic. Whatever . . .

But, the buzz intrigued me about the three Downside Magic books from Stacia. I liked Stacia's voice and style in my interactions with her, could it be I would like her books as well?

I decided to start at the beginning with "Unholy Ghosts." Folks, this Clancy/King/Michener fan was hooked. She had me from "Had the man in front of her not already been dead, Chess probably would have tried to kill him."

Chess Putnam is a freewheeling witch with a monkey on her back. In a post-apoc world, she is employed by the Church of Real Truth, ostensibly hunting ghosts, but mostly cashing bonus checks for debunking them. Good work when you can get it. A dependable income and probably medical benefits. Her status, identified by her elaborate tattoos, gives her protected status in the rough and tumble world of Downside. She's safe from everything but her own dark side.

A debt to her drug dealer drags her into an off-the-books banishing. Let's just say that mayhem ensues . . .

A recap of the story isn't necessary. It's rollicking good fun. Don't analyze it, just roll with it. It's the character of Chess Putnam and the dystopian world-building that makes this book stand out in a crowded field.

I am a sucker for a well-crafted flawed and reluctant hero. Chess Putnam pops pills like breath mints and chooses men for their looks and utter inability to commit. Yet, on the flip side, her devotion to the church and its perceived safety reveals a softness and vulnerability to Chess. She looks tough, but it's really a brittle shell.

Stacia has evidently taken some heat for the casual drug use in the book. There is nothing casual about it. Chess is as haunted as the Chester Airport. The pills and thrill-seeking help her chase the demons away for a little while. The fact that I was practically screaming for her to put down the pills and get some sleep just shows that I bought into the character one-hundred-percent. Isn't that the point? If anybody is a walking just-say-no poster, it is Chess Putnam.

However, there is a core of steel and heroism to Chess. When the airport job grows well beyond the original deal with Bump, she risks everything to defend the church she believes in and to release a tortured soul.

Then she pops a couple of 'Cepts and runs off to romp with the sexy enigmatic Lex (one of the guys mother definitely warned you about). BLARG!!! I love it! Kudos to Ms. Kane for crafting a character that drove me crazy. I prefer that to her "coming to her senses" and checking into rehab (sorta like a goth Lindsay Lohan). Puh-leeze, if I want redemption, I'll watch the Hallmark Channel.

Next is the beautifully crafted post-apoc world. Stacia weaves in subtle references to contemporary society and pop culture to ground Chess's world to mine. The thought of the dead rising to slaughter the living is more disquieting when I can look around and imagine it happening here. Stacia's world-building rivals Stephen King's in "The Gunslinger."

The Church of Real Truth is a masterpiece. I love all the subtle pilgrim references - the wide hats, the buckled shoes, the caps, and the Goodys. Where pilgrims once staunchly and narrow-mindedly defended one flavor of truth, Stacia's now defend another. Brilliant and well-done.

This book is a winner and I can't wait to read the other two. I rate this one a full five-stars, two snaps up, and a bag of chips. Go get it now at Amazon!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I Can Haz Erma . . .


My first column in my new freelance gig appears today (08/26/1010) at "An Army of Ermas."
A simple little tale of me versus about a zillion ants. I won't give away the outcome, but it wasn't pretty.

This blog is wonderful. It is a funny and thoughtful look at family life in the new millenia. Good clean humor about everyday life. Check it out and drop a follow, you won't be disappointed.

Thanks to everyone who voted for me in the contest to name to the two new Erma writers. I've had a lot of unfunny things go on in my life in the last year and the ability to write and laugh about the little things has gone a long way to restoring my usually sunny outlook on life.

Monday, August 23, 2010

What Law Students (& Writers) Can Learn From Puppies

This is really cute and very appropriate for the first year of law school.

However, I think it applies to writers who are deep in their manuscript as well. Short post, check it out!

What 1Ls (and writers) can learn from puppies.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Essential "Little Black Dress" Books Part 2

My thanks to everyone who commented on part 1 of the LBD book series and who emailed me with suggestions.

Today is Part 2 of the LBD series discussing my favorite sprawling epic stories. To qualify, the book must be able to do double duty as a doorstop while keeping me enthralled all the way from start to finish. So, join me in celebrating awesomeness on an epic scale.

These books would go with me to a desert island and at least two have weighed down my carry-on bag to Europe (and I have the stiff shoulder to prove it). These monster books are the reason the e-reader was invented!

1. Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy and Larry Bond.

Weighs in at 736 pages. The ultimate Cold War combat book. Sabotage at the refinery that the USSR depends on for fuel threatens to cripple the superpower. A secret plot to seize the resources of the Persian Gulf ignites WWIII.

Clancy and Bond put you in a tank roaring 50 miles per hour over the farmland of Germany. Experience the deadly silence in the cockpit of the B-2 Stealth bomber. You are under the polar ice pack as Russian killer subs pick of the damaged members off your convoy. Heavy on plot and action with only enough character development to give the reader a stake in the outcome. Written in 1986 and still in print. Class lasts.

2. The Far Pavillions by M.M. Kaye.

Weighs in at 960 pages. I'm usually not a big fan of romance. However, this book is a sweeping saga that introduces you to the hidden and mysterious world of India under British rule.

Ashton is a British orphan raised by his Indian ayah in the household of a Rajah until she is forced to return him to his relations in England. Ten years later Ashton returns to India as an officer in the British Army. His upbringing clashes with his training and threatens to split his loyalties.

Serendipity, in the form of an assignment to shepherd a royal bridal party, reunited him with his childhood playmate, the daughter of the Rajah. Anjuli has grown up and grown beautiful. However, she, along with her sister, is promised to the Raj. Mayhem ensues . . .

A true Victorian romance full of action, adventure, danger, and drama. Historical accuracy is superb. You can feel the sun and smell the incense in this lush saga. Perfectly paced. Even after nearly a thousand pages, I didn't want to see it end. Written in the 1980s and still in print.

3. Hawaii by James Michener.

A hefty 960 pages. Of all the brick-o-michener books, Hawaii is the most accessible. The story is irresistible. From the discovery and settling of the island by a tribe of Polynesians seeking to escape religious persecution, to the arrival of the missionaries, to the evolution of the present day polyglot civilization, the pace is long and slow, but never lags.

The story focuses on the founding of family dynasties. The strength of Michener's magic is that you believe they are real people and you are reading history, not fiction. An amazing feat that he maintains for nearly a thousand pages. Written in the 1950s and still in print. An epic and a classic.

When I do these reviews, I like to read the "hated it" reviews to see what they have to say. I'll admit, Hawaii isn't for everyone. One of the 2-stars summed it up by saying,

"i laos enjoyed the leaper partsd and the trials and tribulations of the chinese and Japense people. the problem here is that the auther gose on and on about pointless stuff we will soon forget. This novle could easly of been 500 pages but it's over 1000. I was dissapointed but it wasent entirley a bad book it was enjoyanle at times."[sic]

As I said, Hawaii isn't for everyone, but it is for me.

4. Shogun by James Clavell.

I hope you have a comfy chair, this one comes in at 1210 pages. The first novel in the Clavell Asian saga, Shogun delivers the feel and spirit of medieval Japan and samurai culture. Full of action, drama, romance, and conflict. I've read this book a half-dozen times and the star-crossed romance of East and West in the form of Mariko and Anjin-san never disappoints.

If you are looking for a spot on history of Japan, look elsewhere. Clavell doesn't have Michener's fanatic attention to detail, but I don't care. Shogun is where you start and don't stop until you finish Noble House. The books cleverly weave together and are best read in sequence. Has stood the test of time. Still in print since 1975.

5. Trinity by Leon Uris.

A worthy entry at 894 pages. Let's see. We've been to WWIII in Europe, Victorian India, Hawaii, and medieval Japan. I finish up today's list with a trip to Ireland during the beginning of "The Troubles."

History changed the day the first Irish farmer found black spots on the potatoes. With frightening speed, the primary staple of an entire country became inedible. The resulting famine helped destablize the British Empire and sparked a mass migration to the United States. The politics of potatoes.

Uris makes no apologies. If you are expecting a well-balanced analysis of British and Irish interests, you won't get it. Uris is on the side of the Irish and it blasts through in the book. However, the clash of wealth with poverty, aristocrat with plebian, and Protestant with Catholic is a thinking man's drama. Throw in action, adventure, star-crossed romance, and Trinity is a gripping read. First pubbed in 1976 and has stood the test of time. Still in print.

Thanks for sticking with this post. I've presented about 5000 pages of some of my favorite storytelling. The common themes are historical upheaval and political intrigue. Some have a romantic element, but it is not the primary component of the story. One thing I noticed is that the newest one was written in 1986. Most are from the 1970s. You've seen what I like. Any suggestions on newer books that pack the same political and historical punch? Let me know, I am curious.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Just Clowning Around . . .

Had some fun this weekend with the clown blog. I took ten of my favorites from the Creepy Clown Continum and introduced them to the world via Buzzfeed.

Buzzfeed is a meme pool where the coolest, strangest, bizarrest, funniest, and all around viral interwebz content hangs out. It's sort of Grand Central Station for web buzz.

I'm very proud and pleased that "10 Creepy Clown Paintings" is being well received by the denziens of the web. It was chosen for front page placement by the editors and had over 3000 page hits in the first 24 hours.

If you have a little web time to sink, buzz by and drop a like or a retweet. It would be much appreciated!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Publish America versus Createspace

Why Createspace Is Better Than Publish America.

Reams have been written about Publish America and why it is a bad choice for book publishing.

It is a vanity press in cheap clothing. PA’s blaring red, white, and blue website promises the moon, but, in reality, delivers a big wheel of moldy cheese.

While true commercial publishing, through a publisher with editorial standards and distribution should always be the goal, sometimes a project is more appropriate for self-publishing. My book has a niche appeal to a specific group of collectors. It made sense for me to be able to control all aspects of marketing and distribution. I was free to include advertising for my company. I could set the price . . . and so on and so forth. Definitely not a Random House project.

I had choices with this project and one of those choices could have been Publish America. I chose to go with Createspace. Here is the rationale behind that decision and why I recommend Createspace (CS) over Publish America (PA).

Note: This analysis concerns the true self-publishing part of CS. They have pay-to-play options such as cover design, formatting, and copy editing. I did not use those services. I felt that if I wanted to produce a book myself, then I needed to learn how to produce the print ready files. CS has a thriving forum full of people ready to help with the technical side. A good crit group and the ability to copyedit are necessary to all writers! If I'd felt the need for outside help, I would have contracted for it on the open market.

That said:

1. Retail Price: I was completely free to set the retail price for my book. I balanced factors such as shipping costs, shipping materials, costs to use payment services such as PayPal, costs to list on internet auction sites, the royalty to my illustrator, and the advance I paid to my illustrator. I was able to price my book at $7.99 retail and make a fair profit on the project. I've read where PA writers are selling their books for $14.00 to $17.00 and still not seeing a profit. Outside of the advance I paid to the illustrator, I saw a profit inside of 24 hours.

With PA, my little book would have retailed for a minimum of $24.95 unless I gave in to one of their pay-to-play author purchase hard sells. The lowest price I could have seen from PA was $9.95. My max royalty from PA would have ranged from .80 - $1.95 per copy. Without revealing all my secrets, I can say that I make more than that on every copy regardless of the sales channel.

I did this project to get books out to collectors, not to see it posted on a retailer’s website to show to my mom. I didn’t “just want to hold a copy in my hands.” I wanted collectors to hold it in their hands. To mix my metaphors, at the end of the day, the bottom line is price. All the hyperbole about how customers will pay more for “quality stories” is wishful thinking for an unknown writer.

2. Price for Self-Purchase: Really, I could begin and end the analysis here. CS uses a pricing calculator based on the number of pages. For books under 110 pages, the price is $2.15 per copy under the “Pro Plan” (one time fee of $39.00). I can order any time without waiting for a promotion email (although with PA, those come almost daily).

I can order one or a hundred and immediately know what it will cost. I sell my books through my website and at trade shows. I also want to be able to give them out as contest prizes and promos. The price per copy was very important in my decision.

Don’t think this doesn’t apply to novels. Say I had written an 80,000 word novel and wanted to publish through CS. Using the general formula of 300 words per page, the book would be approximately 270 pages long. The price per copy is $4.09.

Compare this to PA. The best self-purchase offer I have ever seen is 50% off, buy-one-get-one-free. Now, on a $24.95 book, that is still $6.23 per copy, or almost three times what I pay at CS. Also, to get a deal like this, PA requires the writer to purchase a minimum number of copies.

CS allows for the purchase of one or a thousand and the price never changes. On that 80,000 word novel, the PA price would have been more like $29.95 or $7.50 per copy on the BOGO offer. That’s minimum! These days PA is only offering a single 50% discount, so the price range is more like $12.50 - $14.50 per copy. This is a recipe for economic disaster for a writer who wants to self-market. The array of sales gimmicks sent to writers by PA is dizzying.

3. Shipping Costs: With PA, you pay up to $3.99 per copy to ship your books. With CS, you pay weight based shipping and have the option to choose your shipping method. Not in a hurry? Pick media mail. In a hurry? Pick Priority Mail and pay a premium.

My last order was 25 copies via Media Mail. With CS, I paid $6.00 for shipping. With PA, shipping costs could have been as high as $100.00.

4. Shipping Times: The PA message board often contains posts about waiting weeks for orders of books. They rationalize it to themselves by saying the PA has to handcraft their books and hand pack each order. That is, before the posts are deleted or whisked off to the private message board.

Pfffffttt . . .

Here is my experience ordering from CS. I placed an order on Monday morning. On Monday afternoon I had confirmation that the package had shipped. I had it in hand on Friday (I had selected the more economical and slower Media Mail). On my most recent order of 25 books, order-to-delivery time was eight days (again by Media Mail).

I’m ordering books from a company that makes books. Not hand-thrown pottery from an eccentric artist with a waiting list.

5. Customer Service: Again, the PA message boards are full of people begging for answers to their questions. Literally begging.

Their response? Rude, condescending, ugly, insulting rants comparing them to stupid children who don’t understand how business works. Disgusting treatment for asking legitimate questions.

Now, contrast that to CS. I had a problem getting my file set up. It was a stupid mistake on my part that concerned my middle initial (I know!). CS has a system where you email them between 8:30 and 5:30 EST and they will call you back. It took fifteen minutes for my phone to ring. The tech was able to answer my questions and clear up the problem in minutes. He was helpful, knowledgeable, and cheerful. It was a pleasure.

7. Distribution: The bane of self-publishing. Not a huge worry for me, as I had my distribution plan in place. I had a platform, a mailing list, and a target audience. However, I still needed mechanisms for fulfillment.

With CS, I had a personalized vendor page within minutes. I was able to distribute this link to my mailing list and begin making sales within an hour. It took three days for my book to be indexed and live on Amazon. CS also has options to distribute via Ingrams, but that wasn’t necessary for my book. Had I gone for this option, bookstores could order it at the industry standard 40 – 50% discount with returnability.

With PA, writers are required to buy copies of their book to “activate” it on Amazon, and have it “recommended” to Barnes & Noble, and have it “donated” to bookstores, and “pitched” to Stephen King and Tom Hanks. PA writers are constantly inveigled to “promote, promote, promote” because no publisher supports its writers and all writers have to do this!

While it is true that self-publication means self-promotion, I am helped by CS rather than hindered. I am able to set a good fair price. I have a fully functional ecommerce shopping cart. I have the ability to offer bookstores order fulfillment with professional discounts. Should lightning strike and a large retailer want to buy in bulk, CS has an app for that! CS is part of the solution, not part of the problem. I have all of this at my disposal without the purchase of a single book.

8. Reporting: Back to the PA message board. Post after post begging for information about royalties. Then when the raft of $2.00 checks arrives in the mail, there is an angry barrage of posts about errors in the royalty reports. PA royalties are paid twice a year.

CS is completely transparent. They tell you upfront it takes two to five days to update the royalty reports. I launched the book on August 7th in the evening. I had my first royalty report on August 9th. CS royalties are paid every month.

9. Editing: Neither CS or PA edit. PA may run a spell check and often introduce errors. Your requested corrections may or may not be implemented. At CS, you purchase a proof copy of your book and when you see it as it will be published, you correct your own files and reload them. Want to dump chapter three after seeing it in print. Do it! Other than the initial Pro Plan fee, there is no charge for changing and reloading your files during the proofing process.

There’s more, but this post is long enough! If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I will answer it there.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

I Am Proud & Pleased To Present . . .

My first project from the "Circle X Ranch Press."

A little backstory for my new readers. When I'm not lawyering, I run Marx Toys - Circle X Ranch, a small company dedicated to bringing back the iconic 1960s cowboy action figure Johnny West. My website is Better known as "Johnny West's Home On The Net," it is also the kick-off point to our vibrant on-line collector club, Circle X Ranch.

I teamed up with one of our collectors, an insanely talented artist named Mykol Blackwell, and together we created the Johnny West Circle X Ranch Coloring Book. Twenty-five original drawings featuring our favorite characters, including Princess Wildflower, Sam Cobra, Jesse James, Jane West, Fighting Eagle, the Fort Apache Fighters, and the West kids. The cover is an original painting by Mykol, done in a pulp 1960s style.

The coloring book is now available for sale through Amazon-Createspace for $7.99 plus Amazon shipping charges.

A sample of this fantastic project:

Order now from Amazon-Createspace!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

There Is Cool . . .

Then there is super-liquid-nitrogen-absolute-zero-cool. Whoever, created this image, I give you the Star Trek Vulcan salute and hope that you live long and prosper.

Star Trek meets Firefly

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Blast From The Past . . .

Hi Gang!

Instead of being a responsible blogger and working on my little blog family today, I meandered around the interwebz and, for no apparent reason, started googling friends from high school. Now, it's the class of 1978 I'm talking about, so some detective work was needed.

I've run across my former best friend's info on the web a few times. However, until today, via the wack world of Facebook, I've never reached out to her. She accepted my request and we exchanged a couple of short notes, the first in over thirty years.

Emboldened, I searched a bit more. Lo and behold, there was one of my best friends from grammar and high school. I remember being sent into the hall in Dottie Francis' sixth grade reading class for pantomiming the story that was being read out loud by the teacher. We were perfect little mimes until the giggles got the best of us.

I found an alum site for my high school, joined up and read discussion posts on favorite teachers and fond memories. Just seeing names like Max Lemon, "Roy's EZ Mart," and "Brown's Drive-In" sent a wave of weird down to my toes. But weird in a good way.

High school was bittersweet for me. A very odd and unhappy family situation made me an unusually odd and geeky kid in a time when conformity was a premium. We were poor, we lived in the "trailer park," I didn't have a mom, and some life experiences had left me both too wise in some ways and utterly clueless in too many others. Nobody really knew what was going on and, in those days, you just didn't tell.

But thirty-two years can put a balm on all but the worst memories and I found myself almost nostalgic for a time and place I swore I'd never visit again. So, my thanks to you Michi. Some of the best times of those years were visiting you and your mom. I've thought of you many times over the years.

Here's hoping that Dave and Rayme friend-me-up as well. Old home week? No. New talk and becoming reacquainted again? Here's hoping.

So, my post on my take on the future of ebooks and how the technology for the ultimate enhanced ebook is already here, will post this week. Thanks to new friends and old.