Category Archives: electronic publishing

8 Award Winning Ebooks

Keith here:  What follows is an announcement about 8 ebooks that were selected as best in their respective categories at the 2012 eFestival of Words.  Moses Siregar III was kind enough to pass this along.  His novel The Black God’s War won in the fantasy category and has been sitting in my electronic TBR stack for a while.  I’m hoping to make some progress on that this fall after I clear some comiitments, so keep your eye out for a review of that title sometime around October.  Anyway, I’m passing this along in case some of you are looking for something to read.

Readers! Eight award winners in the 2012 eFestival of Words “Best of the Independent eBook Awards” have grouped together to offer you an amazing opportunity. They’ve reduced the prices of their award-winning novels to 99 cents for August 27 and 28th!

Whether you like to read mysteries, romance, horror, young adult, women’s fiction, or fantasy, this group has it. Are you a writer yourself? Do you want to learn all about digitally publishing your next masterpiece? They’ve got you covered there too.

Get all eight award-winning ebooks for the price of one single paperback!

Award Winners

Best Mystery/Suspense: Dead is the New Black by Christine DeMaio-Rice

Best Non-Fiction: DIY/Self-Help: Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran

Best Horror: 61 A.D. by David McAfee

Best Romance: Deadly Obsession by Kristine Cayne

Best Young Adult: The Book of Lost Souls by Michelle Muto

Best Fantasy/Urban Fantasy and Best NovelThe Black God’s War by Moses Siregar III

Best Chick Lit/Women’s LitCarpe Bead’em by Tonya Kappes

Award for Best Twist (“I’ve Been Shyamalaned”): The Survival of Thomas Ford by John A.A. Logan

Here’s a one-stop shopping link for your convenience:

Book Blurbs

Dead is the New Black by Christine DeMaio-Rice

Laura Carnegie gave up on the man of her dreams a long time ago. He’s fashion designer Jeremy St. James, and not only is he her boss, everyone knows he’s gay.

When the woman who holds the company purse strings is found dead in the office, and Jeremy’s arrested for the murder, everything changes. If Laura can just solve this crime, keep the cops off her tail, break up a counterfeiting ring, and get the show on the runway by Friday, she might stop being Seventh Avenue’s perpetual loser.

If you love Project Runway, or enjoyed The Devil Wears Prada, try Dead Is the New Black.

Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran

This guide contains over 60,000 words of essays, articles, and how-to guides, as well as contributions from 33 bestselling indie authors including J Carson Black, Bob Mayer, Victorine Lieske, Mark Edwards, and many more.

It covers everything from how the disruptive power of the internet has changed the publishing business forever to the opportunities this has created for writers. It gives you practical advice on editing, cover design, formatting, and pricing. And it reveals marketing tips from blogging and social networking right through to competitions, discounts, reviews, and giveaways.

If you are considering self-publishing, if you need to breathe life into your flagging sales, or if you want to understand why it’s a great time to be a writer, Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should will explain it all.

61 A.D. by David McAfee

61 A.D. For ten years, Taras has lived in the young city of Londinium, feeding off the city’s underbelly. But now Theron, his old enemy, has come looking for revenge, and Taras’ nights of living in relative peace are about to end.

Yet not even Theron can slip into town unnoticed, and the Council of Thirteen sends Ramah to deal with the two renegades once and for all. But unknown to the Council, a much older enemy is also in Londinium, and this time even the great Ramah might not be safe.

Set against the backdrop of the Iceni uprising in Roman-era Britannia, 61 A.D. continues the story of Taras, Theron, and Ramah, as they fight their way through history.

Deadly Obsession by Kristine Cayne

Nic Lamoureux’s perfect movie star life is shattered by a stalker who threatens any woman close to him. When he meets photographer Lauren James, the attraction is instant–and mutual. She’s exactly the sort of woman he craves, but the stalker makes deadly clear Lauren is the competition.

And the competition must be eliminated.

“Stock up on ice cubes because this is definitely one sizzling debut. Readers will be hooked from the first sentence- on the book and on Nic! As rich as a white chocolate cheesecake, Cayne’s entrance into the suspense genre is invigorating, explosive and simply intoxicating.” ~ RT Book Reviews Top Pick

The Book of Lost Souls by Michelle Muto

When teen witch Ivy MacTavish changes a lizard into her date for a Halloween dance, everything turns to chaos. And when no one is powerful enough to transform him back except Ivy, it sparks the rumor: Like father, like daughter. Worse, someone has used an evil spell book to bring back two of history’s most nefarious killers.

Ivy’s got a simple plan to set things right: find the real dark spell caster, steal the book, and reverse the spell. No problem! But first, she’ll have to deal with something more dangerous than murderous spirits: the school’s hotter-than-brimstone demon bad boy, Nick Marcelli. Demons are about as hard to handle as black magic, and Ivy soon discovers it’s going to take more than a lot of luck and a little charm if she wants to clear her status as a dark witch, get a warm-blooded boyfriend, and have her former date back to eating meal worms before the week’s end

The Black God’s War by Moses Siregar III

Against the backdrop of epic warfare and the powers of ten mysterious gods, Lucia struggles to understand The Black One.

Her father-king wants war.

Her messianic brother wants peace.

The black god wants his due.

She suffers all the consequences.

“Moses is a fine writer deserving of success, and I think that it will follow … I really enjoyed Moses’s work.” – David Farland, NYT Bestselling Author of The Runelords

Carpe Bead’em by Tonya Kappes

Hallie Mediate was raised by her (slightly) crazy Great Aunt Grace on the wrong side of the tracks in Cincinnati. Hallie escapes her hometown and never looks back.

That is, until she’s transferred back to the hometown. Not wanting her past to cross paths with her future, Hallie puts her life on hold.

Aunt Grace is still up to her old tricks, but Hallie finds some sanity at a local jewelry-making class where she uncovers a hidden talent for beading.

Will she keep searching for the happiness she may already have found?

The Survival of Thomas Ford by John A.A. Logan

Thomas Ford is the only survivor of the car crash which killed his wife. He is also the only witness who would be willing to identify the young, reckless driver who caused the crash. But the driver would sooner see Thomas Ford dead than ever let that happen.

Happy Reading!

The Authors Guild Shows Where its Loyalties Lie

Paul Aiken, the Executive Director of the Authors Guild sent a letter to John Read of the DOJ addressing the DOJ’s suit against Apple and five publishers.  It’s rather lengthy, but if you wade through it, as I’ve been doing from time to time (when my blood pressure drops to dangerously low levels and I need something to raise it), you’ll find the following quote:

“Amazon’s vertical integration of on-demand printing eliminated the ability of iUniverse, PublishAmerica, XLibris and others to offer authors better royalties when selling through Amazon.  CreateSpace appears to have thrived ever since.”

Now what’s interesting about this is the list of publishers named.  I’m not familiar with all of them, but PublishAmerica has been shown to be a vanity press with little to no editorial oversight.  If you aren’t familiar with the hoax manuscript some members of SFWA submitted, start reading here.

To put it bluntly, what we have here is an organization that purports to speak for authors attacking an organization which has made it possible for numerous authors to publish, some quite successfully, their own work while defending other “publishers” at least some of whom have documented records of mistreating and scamming authors.  Publishers whose authors don’t meet the Authors Guild’s standard for membership, i.e., an author who is published by these publishers won’t be accepted into the AG. 

This double standard flies in the face of how things should be to the extent that I keep expecting Rod Serling to show up at some point.  It’s been suggested by numerous people that AG authors who are so offended by Amazon’s efficient business model pull their titles from Amazon.  Or at least give the royalties from Amazon sales to charity.  Someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but as far as I know, that hasn’t happened yet.

What little credibility the AG had up to this point it seems to have jettisoned out the window.  Not surprising, since the AG tends towards the writers who have the most to lose with a level playing field and is a pretty elitist organization.  One that is opposed to indie authors.  If you’ve been paying attention over the last few months, it’s obvious that the AG’s lyalties don’t lie with the majority of authors.

I’d suggest a boycott of AG authors except I doubt there are any I read.  I gave up on Turow years ago.  In the meantime, I’m going to order some books from Amazon and wait to see what Konrath has to say about this. 

Rise and Fall Heralds the Rise of a Great New Fantasy Trilogy

Rise and Fall:  Book One of the Blood and Tears Trilogy
Joshua P. Simon
Paperback $14.95
various ebook formats $2.99: Amazon  B&N Smashwords

Seeing as how he’s only published one novel and a few pieces of short fiction, it would be understandable if the name “Joshua P. Simon” were unfamiliar to you.  But if you’re smart, you’ll make note of it and remember it.  If you’re smarter, you’ll buy and read Rise and Fall.

In his author bio, Mr. Simon includes among his influences Robert E. Howard and Glen Cook’s Black Company.  Howard is one of my favorite authors, and the Black Company one of my favorite series.  By divulging this information, Mr. Simon set the bar of my expectations high.  Very high.  The question is, did he meet them?

The answer is “Yes, yes he did.”  While the influences of Howard and Cook are clearly seen by anyone familiar with the work of these gentlemen, Simon hasn’t simply imitated.  He’s taken their influence and made something his own.

The story opens with a mage wigging out and killing vast numbers of people.  Actually, this precedes the opening, which is when a group of mages arrive to deal with him.  The evil mage, Nareash, has acquired a lost artifact, Sacrymon’s Sceptor.  The sceptor increases his power, but it also seems to have made him more evil than he already was.  During the course of the battle, all of the mages are killed along with the king, who had been under Nareash’s control.

There are three principle characters in this novel.   Elyse is the princess who ascends to the throne after the death of her father.  Barely more than a girl herself, she is ill prepared for ruling, to say the least.  Yet she has no choice.  It’s time to grow up, and growing up won’t be easy, especially when several nobles decide to make a play for the kingdom.

Her older brother Jonrell ran away from home twelve years before to escape his father and joined the Hell Patrol, a notorious band of mercenaries.  Now he’s their commander.  After learning of the death of his father, he’s coming home.  And he’s bringing his mercenaries with him.

Tobin is the second son of the chieftain of the Blue Island Clan.  Hated by his brother Kaz, who was appointed Warleader by their father, Tobin is the laughing stock of the elite warriors, the Kifzo.  All he wants is to be accepted by his father.  (Most of the main characters in this novel have father issues.)  His fortunes begin to change when he rescues the shaman Nachun during a raid on a village.

The strength and power of this novel come from the way Simon handles the characters.  In addition to Jonrell, Elyse, Tobin, and Kaz, there are a number of secondary character whose viewpoints the reader gets to see.  Each of them is a real character, with good and bad traits.  The four characters I named in the previous sentence get most of the character development, and develop they do.  They all grow and change.  None of them are remotely the people they started out to be.

While Simon puts his characters through the fire, he doesn’t do it just to see how much pain he can cause them.  They experience joy as well as sorrow.  While pretty dark at times, this isn’t a novel of nihilism.  Instead I found it pretty balanced.

Much of the way Simon develops his characters is through their words.  There’s a difference between writing dialogue that reads like dialogue in a book and writing dialogue that reads like real people talking.  Joshua P. Simon writes the latter.  It’s what brings the characters to life and fleshes them out in this story.

But don’t think that all this book deals with is talking and relationships.  There’s plenty of action, from one-on-one conflicts to epic battles, with sieges and assassination attempts scattered about for good measure along with more than a dash of intrigue.  The supporting cast of the Hell Patrol get their moments, and each of them also changes and grows, most in good ways but some in not so good.  The pace of the battles, particularly as the book progresses is where the Howard influence shows the strongest. I’m glad one night I put the book down before one of the major battle scenes and forced myself to go to bed.  If I hadn’t, I would have been up way to late and then probably been too excited to sleep.

Not all of the characters come together before the end.  There are ultimately two main story arcs that will converge later in the trilogy, although one intersects the other in a way that completely surprised me.  Both arcs end with a twist.  And the twist contained in the final two sentences of the book?  Nicely done, Mr. Simon, nicely done.

A couple of other things I’d like to mention.  First, while I doubt this book was written with the intention of being a YA novel, I would have no problem giving it to someone in the YA or middle grade range, at least not on the grounds of content.  It might be a bit long for some younger readers.  The graphic sex and profanity that make some novels and series unsuitable for younger readers is missing, something I found refreshing after the previous book I read.  If you know a young reader whom you’d like to introduce to epic fantasy, this would be a great place to start.

The second thing that favorably impressed me was the role religion played in the book.  It was an integral part of the lives of many characters, especially Elyse.  The role of religion in pseudomedieval fantasy cultures was mentioned in a post by Theo over on Black Gate the other day as part of a discussion of historical authenticity in fantasy.  Theo has mentioned (more times than I’m willing to look up the links tonight) that one area that tends to get short shrift in modern fantasy is the role religion played in medieval times, objecting to the way it tends to be ignored.  I think he would approve of the way it’s portrayed here.

The only complaint I have was that there was no map.  I would have liked to have seen where Tobin’s home was in relation to Elyse’s.  I’m not sure the  lack of a map wasn’t intentional.  There are strong hints in places that Tobin and Elyse are separated in time as well as in space.  If that’s the case, it has some interesting implications.  I could be wrong.  Nachun says, in the scene in which he – no, I can’t go there.  It would spoil one of the major surprises.

Anyway, I expected I would enjoy this book when Mr. Simon asked if I would like a review copy, otherwise I would have declined to review it.  I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did.  This has been one of the better books I’ve read over the last couple of months.  It’s another indie published book with fine production values: good cover art and copy, well formatted, interesting story.

Oh, and I lied.  There is one other complaint I have.  The second volume won’t be out for a few more months.  Check this one out.  You’ll be glad you did.

Award Announcements and a Few Initial Thoughts

The shortlist for the Hugo Awards was announced yesterday along with the Campbell Awards.  Locus Online (among others) has posted the list.  I’ve included the fiction and some fiction related categories below for easy reference (stolen cut and pasted from Locus Online). 

Congratulations to all the nominees.

Here are a few initial thoughts on some changes I see and potential changes down the road.

First, of the nominees, only two of them have been publishing since I started reading f/sf in my teens.  (It wasn’t that long ago, wiseass.)  Those would be George R. R. Martin and Mike Resnick.  Ryman has been publishing since the early to mid-90s.  Walton, Mie’ville, and Scalzi have been publishing for around a decade, give or take a few years.  The others are either relatively new or have been around for (I think) less than a decade, with the possible exception of one or two I’m not that familiar with.

What does this mean?  I don’t know that it means anything.  A lot of the stalwarts from the 70s, 80s, and 90s who got their start in those decades (as opposed to stalwarts who started in earlier decades) are still publishing, in some cases quite prolifically.  Alan Dean Foster and Orson Scott Card come to mind off the top of my head, although I don’t know if Card published anything during the period of eligibility.  Some of the big names from previous decades have either moved on to other genres, slowed their rates of production, or quit writing entirely.

In short the field is changing.  Whether for good, bad, or neutral will remain to be seen and depend on what your tastes are.  Except for the novels, I’m going to try to read the nominated fiction by Worldcon.  Not that I can afford to attend or anything, but so that I can cheer (or rant) from a position of knowledge after the awards are announced.  I intend to read Leviathan Wakes and A Dance with Dragons, just not sure I’ll have them read by the time the awards are given out.

I have to admit I haven’t read any of the nominees this year.  That’s unusual.  Usually, I’ve read a few, at least.  I don’t know if that means that I’m out of step with the rest of the field or that the rest of the field hasn’t caught up with me yet.  

The thing that got me thinking about the awards was this post about writers making a living by publishing online rather than through traditional venues.  More and more authors seem to be sidestepping New York or at least publishing some stuff on the side.  As far as I know, and you can correct me if I’m wrong on this point, none of the major awards recognize indie published works.  I’m wondering how long that position is sustainable if the awards are to be taken seriously.  If some of the top selling titles in the field aren’t considered for the major awards (Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, etc.) , how meaningful are the awards?  At that point, I think the awards become an elitist exercise of self-congratulation within a small group.  I’m not saying we’re at that point yet, but we seem be moving there fairly quickly, as these numbers and these numbers indicate.

Print still dominates overall sales, but that’s changing. Perhaps it’s time for the field to change how it recognizes quality.  I’ll have more to say on this topic at a later date.  This has just been a snapshot of the direction my thoughts have been going in the last few hours.



  • ‘‘The Ice Owl’’, Carolyn Ives Gilman (F&SF 10-11/11)
  • ‘‘Countdown’’, Mira Grant (Orbit Short Fiction)
  • ‘‘The Man Who Bridged the Mist’’, Kij Johnson (Asimov’s 10-11/11)
  • ‘‘Kiss Me Twice’’, Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s 6/11)
  • ‘‘The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary’’, Ken Liu (Panverse Three)
  • Silently and Very Fast, Catherynne M. Valente (WSFA)


  • ‘‘Six Months, Three Days’’, Charlie Jane Anders ( 6/8/11)
  • ‘‘The Copenhagen Interpretation’’, Paul Cornell (Asimov’s 7/11)
  • ‘‘What We Found’’, Geoff Ryman (F&SF 9-10/11)
  • ‘‘Fields of Gold’’, Rachel Swirsky (Eclipse Four)
  • ‘‘Ray of Light’’, Brad R. Torgersen (Analog 12/11)
  • ‘‘Movement’’, Nancy Fulda (Asimov’s 3/11)
  • ‘‘The Paper Menagerie’’, Ken Liu (F&SF 3-4/11)
  • ‘‘The Homecoming’’, Mike Resnick (Asimov’s 4-5/11)
  • ‘‘Shadow War of the Night Dragons, Book One: The Dead City (Prologue)’’, John Scalzi ( 4/1/11)
  • ‘‘The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees’’, E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld 4/11)
  • Mur Lafferty
  • Stina Leicht
  • *Karen Lord
  • *Brad R. Torgersen
  • E. Lily Yu
  • Apex Magazine
  • Interzone
  • Lightspeed
  • Locus
  • The New York Review of Science Fiction 

New Links to Reviews of Small Press and Indie Books

It seems I’m running perpetually behind these days.  I’ve been intending to put links to all the reviews I’ve done of indie and small press books in the sidebar.  Tonight I finally got around to it.  You’ll find it just above all the other links to posts on various topics.  I’ve included links to some essays (rants?) as well.  The links are grouped by broad category, either fantasy/adventure or science fiction.  One of the reviews I did for a different site.  I thought about creating a separate list for YA books, but for now I’m going to group them in with whichever category they best fit. 

I’ve got a number of indie published books in the queue to review, if I can ever get to them.  That perpetually behind thing again.  Right now I’m reading Mark Finn’s revised biography of Robert E. Howard.  Or at least trying to; daily life things keep getting in the way.  I hope to have the review done by the time I go to ConDFW next weekend.  Anyway, I intend to review a great many more indie published work over the course of the year.  Some of the most exciting work seems to be published by indie writers these days, and I intend to share as much of it as I can with you.

Now, back to trying to get some reading done.

Dunsany’s Heir

The New Death and Others
James Hutchings
0.99, various ebook formats (Kindle)(Smashwords-various formats)

About one hundred years ago or so, give or take a decade, there was a fantasy writer named Lord Dunsany.  Some of you may have heard of him.  He wrote a couple of novels, but most of his reputation was built on short stories, many of them about a chap named Jorkens who had all sorts of fantastical adventures.  Other stories, though, the ones that weren’t about Mr. Jorkens, ah, those were a delight.  They were often brief, what would be referred to today short-shorts.  Dunsany was known for his irony and wit.  And while writers who wrote witty, ironic tales, often about chaps who have fantastical adventures, have continued to this day, none have mastered the short-short the way Dunsany did, certainly none with his bite.

Until now.  James Hutchings has taken up that mantle, and he wears it well.  The New Death and Others contains 44 short stories and 19 poems.  And to quote from the promotional copy, there are no sparkly vampires.

Usually in these reviews, I give a run down of the stories, listing them and perhaps saying a thing or two about them.  I won’t do that here.  Not with 44 stories, some of them only about a page in length.  Instead, I’ll try to give you a feel for the book.  For starters, this is the second book I’ve read in the last couple of weeks that made me laugh out loud.  (The first was Giant Thief.) The humor is wry, ironic, and at times biting.  I loved it.

Oh, and puns.  Did I mention puns?  There are number of them.  One example, in “Sigrun and the Shepherd” unkind shepherds are sent to angora management classes.  There are more where that came from; “The Adventure of the Murdered Philanthropist” is a Sherlock Holmes spoof that contains a whole string of them.  Now, there are those who say the pun is the lowest form of wit.  You need to remember that these people only say that because they aren’t clever enough to think of puns themselves.

Four of the poems are retellings of fantasy stories by famous authors, one each by Lovecraft, Howard, Smith and the aforementioned Dunsany.  And they’re good.  I haven’t read all the originals, but the Howard poem, based on “The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune“, captures the spirit of the original exceedingly well.

In fact all of the poems, whether short or long, are worth reading.  These poems have rhyme and meter, and more than once I found their cadences echoing through my mind after I had finished them.

Many of the stories concern the fiction city of Telelee.  (This is a different spelling than the author has on his blog, but I checked the book to make sure.)  These are among the most Dunsany-esque tales in the book.  Telelee is an imaginary city in a world that never was.  Every story (and poem) set there was different, exotic, and fascinating.  I want to visit this world many times.

Don’t think, though, that Hutchings has merely recycled old tropes.  While his love and respect for the source material he draws on is evident, these are stories for the twenty-first century.  Many of the puns and jokes would have been incomprehensible to Dunsany, Howard, or Lovecraft.  Computers and modern technology appear frequently, and a number of the stories are set in present day.  Huthcings has built on what has come before, paid homage to it, and expanded it.  In doing so, he has made this style of writing his own.

One final word regarding the production values of the book.  This is one of the most professional ebooks I’ve seen in a long time.  Certainly more professional than the last ebook I read from a major publisher.  I don’t recall any formatting errors.  There is a fully interactive ToC, which worked every time I used it.  Hutchings has clearly put the time and effort in to produce a superior book in terms of production values.  And the cover fits the book to a “T”.  At ninety-nine cents, it’s a bargain at twice the price.  (No, James, I’m not sending you more money.)

I’ve somehow found myself with a pretty heavy reviewing slate.  Enough to keep me reading for the next six months.  I’ve got half a dozen books I’m committed to review, either to individual authors who have requested reviews or to publishers who have been kind enough to send review copies.  That’s not a bad situation to be in mot of the time, but if I’m not careful, the commitments can take the fun out of reading and make it seem like homework.  The New Death reminded me why I started doing this in the first place.  The humor and exotic settings were a breath of fresh air.  Many of the stories and poems are, like I mentioned, only about a page in length.  This is the perfect book to read when you only have a minute or three.  I recommend the book highly and will be following Hutchings’ blog from now on.

Franzen Says Ebooks not for Serious Readers

Literary author Jonathan Franzen says that ebooks aren’t for serious readers.  You can read  his comments here.

As a person who considers himself a serious reader, I take great offense at these remarks.  The medium through which a person chooses to read, whether paper, electronic, or (as in my case) a combination of both, is in no way a reflection of whether that person is a “serious reader”. 

Of course, Mr. Franzen doesn’t define what a “serious reader” is.  Is it someone who places a high priority on reading and buys numerous books every year or month or in some cases every week?  Or perhaps it’s a person who only reads serious Literature?  (Capitalization mine.)  

Aside from the brain-dead connection Mr. Franzen tries to make between paper books and responsible self-government, his remarks show just how out of step he is with vast numbers of readers, both here in America as well as other parts of the world.  Franzen is a darling of the literati, those arbiters of taste and snobbery, most of whom wouldn’t deign to read genre fiction.  At least not in public.  Franzen clearly seems to share this elitist view, despite the fact that his books are available in electronic editions.  He states that paper books provide a level of permanence.  He’s also gone on record saying that “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.”  I strongly beg to differ, but good fiction is in the eye of the beholder.

Still, I doubt Franzen would recognize good fiction if it bit him in the ass. 

Of course, Franzen’s remarks illustrate one of the results of a recent survey by Verso Digital.  Among their findings was that resistance to ereaders is growing, even among avid readers.  If I’m understanding the survey correctly, the resistance is from people who have never been inclined to read on an ereader.  Frankly, I don’t care what format you choose for reading.  Just don’t take a condescending attitude toward those of us who don’t choose the same as you.

Franzen also says that if printed books become obsolete, he’s glad he won’t live long enough to see it.  Given his attitude, I find it hard to disagree with that statement.  In the meantime, I’m going to read some good indie fiction.

On my ereader.

Entering the Dark Realm of the Fey

Feyland:  The Dark Realm
Anthea Sharp
Various ebook formats, $3.99 (B&N, Amazon)

It’s been a while since I read a YA novel.  Not quite as long as it’s been since I was YA myself, but close.  (Don’t even think about asking how long that is; I’ll only plead the fifth.)  But there’s been some exciting writing going on in the YA world for some time now, and much of it is either science fiction or fantasy.  Since my son will soon be moving into that age bracket, I’m going to be familiarizing myself with what’s out there and passing on some of my recommendations to you.

The first of these recommendations is Feyland:  The Dark Realm by Anthea Sharp.  Before I discuss the book’s plot or its themes, I want to say something up front.  I have no sisters, my wife has no sisters,  we have no teenage daughters, nor have I ever been a teenage girl.  Teenage girls are some of the hardest characters in fiction for me to relate to.  I can usually relate to children or women, but teenage girls don’t think like I do.  At all.  I taught high school for a couple of years, so I have spent time around them.  They just weren’t on the same planet I was much of the time.  (You could argue I’m not on the same planet as most people most of the time, but that’s the subject of another post.)

Why do I bring this up?  Ms. Sharp has created two distinct characters, one male and one female, and not only made me care about them but made me see the world through their very different eyes.  I had some reservations when I first agreed to review this book because I wasn’t sure I would be able to relate to the teenage female character.  I’m very glad to say those reservations turned out to be completely unfounded. Continue reading

We’re not Divorced Yet, but We’re Definitely Separating

It began like many relationships do.  At first there was the allure, the excitement, the promise of adventure and romance and suspense, of new experiences and unique horizons opening up.  As time went on, the relationship deepened and became one of the central focuses of my life.  There were many good years together.

But as often happens, one party began to take the other for granted, with give and take becoming less give and more take.  I was expected to take what was offered, with little or no input.  And what was offered weren’t the things that drew me to the relationship in the first place.  The relationship became stale, predictable, dull.  Furthermore, my wants and needs meant less and less to the other party, with decisions about the things central to the relationship being made with the apparent expectation I should be thankful the other party was there at all.  Everything became the same, and I began to be unfulfilled.

I began to seek fulfillment elsewhere, with new partners.  And I found it.  All the adventure and excitement that first attracted me so many years ago were there, all the-

What’s that?  My marriage?  It’s just fine, thank you.  Why do you ask?

Anyway, we were talking about books and publishing, not my marriage.  Over this last year I’ve turned begun to read more and more indie published books, in a variety of formats.  I’ve reached the point where I’m really not interested in reading many books published by the big New York houses.  It’s all the same stuff, and frankly, most of it doesn’t appeal to me.  I mean how many sex-with-dead-things novels can you read without puking?  In my case, not many.

And yes, I’m speaking in the most general of terms here.  There are exceptions to the above statement; for example I will continue to read Jack McDevitt in hardcover as long as someone publishes him in that format.  And I’ll continue to read other a few other authors and books published by the big houses (especially if Barnes and Noble sends me a coupon), but for the most part, I’m going to stick with small to mid-sized presses and independently published authors or authors who are publishing their own backlists.  And I’m going to read as many as possible in ebook format.

Ebooks I most definitely will not be buying from major publishing houses unless they’re on sale.  Because in addition to publishing the same old same old, the major publishers are gouging on ebook prices.  Don’t think so?  Then read this post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, in which she shows that publishers aren’t hurting from ebooks sales as much as they would have us believe.  In fact they’re making a profit, and they’re doing it on the backs of their authors, as Kris ably demonstrates.  More on that in a minute.  My point is that ebook prices are overinflated, and they’re only going to go up, which isn’t sitting well with some people

I had a chat about ebook prices with Lou Anders at Fencon a few months ago.  It was a brief conversation, taking place in the hall at the end of the convention with both of us having to go do other things.  Now I like and respect Lou a lot, but he and I aren’t on the same page with ebook pricing.  However, to be fair, the conversation was rushed, and I would like to discuss it further with him.  Also, he talked about doing ebooks right.  Something many of the major houses aren’t doing.

Case in point:  A few weeks ago, I was browsing in B&N and came across The Spy Who Came for Christmas by David Morrell.  There was an ebook version reasonably priced ($3.99 IIRC) which I bought and downloaded, thinking it would be a nice seasonal read that wouldn’t be too sappy,  something not related to either of my blogs that I would simply read for my own pleasure.  I’ve not read a great deal of Morrell’s work, but I’ve liked everything I’ve read.  The book was 240 pages, according to my Nook.  As I got further into the book more formatting errors crept in, words without spaces between them, new paragraphs starting in midsentence, that sort of thing.  As I got into the 130s page range, the story seemed to be winding down.  I expected a plot twist, something to keep the tale going.  Nope, it ended at page 140.  I thought maybe there was a second story included.  Wrong again.  The last 100 pages of the ebook were the last 100 pages of the story, simply reprinted to fill space and make the book appear to be longer than it was.

Yes, you read that correctly.  The publisher included the last 100 pages of story twice, and since the story was only 140 pages, including an afterward by the author, that almost doubled the length of the ebook.   Either the publisher tried to make the book look longer than it was, or the person responsible converting the book to ebook format didn’t have a clue what they were doing (or both).  Regardless of the reason, that’s just completely unacceptable.  As I’ve pointed out previously, none of the indie published ebooks I’ve read this year were anywhere near that sloppy.

Traditional big publishers are scared (and they should be), which is why they’re handing authors increasingly draconian contracts.  They’re also behind in the game; they should have had ebooks ready to go a long time before now.  There’s no excuse for pushing shoddy, poorly formatted product and charging the same amount as a paper copy.  Lou Anders talked about Pyr including some interactive formatting that would do things like resize maps when the font size was changed, something I haven’t seen yet in other ebooks.  That would be worth paying more for, although not as much as a paper copy.  But then Pyr, while priced higher than I would prefer, doesn’t charge as much for their ebooks as they do their print versions.

Understand, I’m not asking for ebooks to be free or only a dollar or two.  Much of the cost of the book is in the editing, proofing, copy editing, etc., which is the excuse the major publishers use to justify their ebooks prices.

Yeah.  I get that and don’t have a problem with it.

I also get that you’ve got to pay rent on your Manhattan offices.  And keep happy your corporate overlords who expect growth every quarter.

Not my problem.  There are more quality books published than I could possibly read in two lifetimes, never mind however many years I have left in this one.  There’s no reason I should pay those prices for that quality when there is a growing selection of ebooks with more variety (see Emily Casey’s Venn diagram) that are just as good and better formatted being published by small presses and indie authors. 

So, not that you’re likely to care, but I’m putting you on notice Tor, Ace, DAW, Del Rey, Harper Collins, Spectra, and all other publishers who think I should pay premium prices for shoddy ebooks, or who charge just as much for a paper copy.  I’m not buying from you anymore.  In print or electronic formats.  At least not unless there’s a coupon or a second hand shop involved.

I can hear the outrage from some of you, saying that by doing this I’m hurting authors.  Oh, really?  Let’s look at that statement a little more closely, shall we, because by that logic I hurt authors every time I walk into a bookstore.  What I’m doing is deciding where I’m going to spend my money based on perceived value of the product.  When I go to a bookstore to buy a book, I consider several things, such as author, genre, subgenre, and price.  And I buy what I consider to be the best value.  I leave all the other volumes on the shelves.  Am I hurting some authors because I decide their books aren’t a good value for me and don’t buy them?  No more than anyone else does who chooses one book over another.

And by saying I’m not buying anything from certain publishers (other than a few exceptions for favorite authors and bloody few of those), I’m not hurting those publishers’ authors for the reasons explained in the previous paragraph.  Instead I’m helping other authors who are publishing their own stuff, who get more money from the sale (even at a lower price) than they would with a large publisher.  As I understand the math, if I spend the same amount of money I have been, only I buy more books at lower prices, more authors will make more money per sale than they would through a traditional publisher.  In my economy that’s a good thing.

I’m still going to buy from traditional publishers, just not most of the big boys.  I’ll have a list of publishers I’ll be buying a lot from in 2012 in an upcoming post.

In the meantime, I’ve got indie/small press published books by the following authors to read (in no particular order; links are to author pages rather than books):  Ty Johnston, Charles Gramlich, David J. West, Barry Nugent, Stephen D. Sullivan, Ken St. Andre, Chris Northern, Katherine Eliska Kiimbriel, Todd Shryock, James Hutchings, Moses Siregar III and Charles R. Saunders.  Just to name a few.  If you’re name is in this list, and I choose to review one of your books, I’ll send you an email.  Please be patient; that’s a lot to read, and those are only the indie/small press items in the TBR stack.

For those you who are gluttons for punishment interested, here are links to all the reviews of indie/small press books I’ve done in the last year in reverse chronological order:  The Paths of Righteousness by James Reasoner, Strange Worlds edited by Jeff Doten, Stones by Gerald So, Dark Heroes edited by Jessy Marie Roberts, Age of Giants Awakenings by Rob Reasor, Tisarian’s Treasure by J. M. Martin, Dreams in the Fire edited by Mark Finn and Chris Gruber, Gods of Justice edited by Kevin Hosey and K. Stoddard Hayes, The Ladies of Trade Town edited by Lee Martindale.

I also published a review of The Roads to Baldairn Motte by Craig Comer, Ahimsa Kerp, and Garrett Calcaterra at Rogue Blades Entertainment.

A Review of the Final (?) Issue of Realms of Fantasy, Plus Some Suggestions

Well, I had hoped it would never come to this.  While Realms of Fantasy hasn’t exactly been my favorite magazine, I’m very sorry that it has ceased publication and this will be my final review.  For the time being, at least.  It’s come back twice before, so we can always hope. 

This issue wasn’t planned as a final issue, so I don’t know if there were any stories still in inventory.  I imagine if there were, the authors were paid a kill fee and hopefully some of them will see publication elsewhere.

Publisher William Gilchrist said in his farewell post on the magazine’s website that the October issue would appear in print and would be late. He indicated that the issue should be available by November 15.  I haven’t seen it, but it might not have arrived yet.  B&N tends to be late getting the print copies.  I bought the PDF version from the website.

Anyway, let’s look at the fiction.

There are five stories in this issue.  We’ll take them in order.

First out of the gate is “Return to Paraiso” by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz.  I’ve not read anything by Ms. Loenen-Ruiz before.  This was a well written piece about a girl who is brought back to her village by the army in an unnamed Central American country.  She’s pregnant and kept in a cage.  She may also be the consort of a god and carrying his child.  This story falls into the nature mother’s passivity defeats the evil of masculine machines, a type of story that really doesn’t appeal much to me.  However, this one was better written than most things in this vein, and I rather liked it.

“The Man Who Made No Mistakes” by Scott William Carter is by far the most ambitious and morally complex story in this issue and arguably in any issue of the magazine since its last resurrection.  It concerns a young man with the ability to go back in time and change the course of events.  The only catch is he can’t go further back than the most recent change, whether that’s five minutes ago or five years.  He’s in something of a quandary because he’s committed a horrible crime and the way a certain person is affected by that crime is the only thing that keeps civilization from collapsing.  Every attempt he makes to undo the crime ends in major disaster.  It’s one of the strongest stories I’ve read in months, and I expect to see it on the awards ballots and in some of the Years’ Best anthologies next year.

“Second Childhood” by Jerry Oltion is a ghost story of a sorts.  Oltion is a writer that doesn’t always connect with me, in part because I find his work too preachy at times.  This particular story isn’t as bad as some, but not a lot happens in it beyond the narrator’s mother comes back from the dead and various discussions the narrator has with her husband about the implications of that event.  While some men might find the situation to be a horror story, I couldn’t get too excited about it.

The cover story, “Sweeping the Hearthstone” by Betsy James, is what I think of as a typical RoF story.  It’s about a girl who comes to work in an inn, only to discover there’s a spirit inhabiting the hearthstone in the main hall.  A spirit who is romantically interested in her, an interest that turns out to be mutual.  This one is about emotions.  While competently executed, it’s not the sort of thing I prefer to read.

The final story is “Barbie Marries the Jolly Fat Baker” by Nick DiChario, in which the toy knight runs away from home because Princess Barbie is getting it on with the baker toy.  Given the author, I expected this one to be competently executed (in this I wasn’t disappointed) and something more original (in this I was disappointed).  The ending gave me the impression the author got bored with his scenario and didn’t know where to take it, and so just stopped.

So that’s an overview of the stories in the October 2011 issue of Realms of Fantasy.  This is (for now) the last issue.  With the exception of the Carter, and to a lesser degree, the Loenen-Ruiz, there isn’t a lot here to recommend it.  I realize your mileage may vary.

I hope RoF returns.  It’s happened twice before.  Maybe it will again.  If it does, I’d like to make a couple of suggestions to any potential buyers/publishers.

First, go digital.  Several prominent magazines began as print and are now electronic only, including but not limited to Fantasy, Something Wicked, and Apex, while others such as Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Lightspeed, and Heroic Fantasy Quarterly started out electronically and seem to be doing just fine. I can’t imagine all the color illustrations are cheap to print.  You can get the same quality of illustration electronically.  You also don’t have warehousing, shipping, returns, paper, or printing costs.

Second, stop trying to be the one stop shop for all things fantasy.  This issue contained 84 pages.  By my count, 26.5 of them were fiction, with words from the story on the page.  Each story had a full page illustration (not included in the previous page count), plus there were several pages of ads scattered among the fiction.  There was more nonfiction relating to fantasy in this issue than there was fantasy itself.  I can’t speak for most readers, but I never bought RoF for the reviews or columns.  I bought it for the fiction.  With less than half of the contents being fiction, even taking ads into account, it doesn’t seem like a good buy for the money.  The nonfiction columns, such as “Folkroots” or art features, are fine, but really, do we need 15 pages reviewing games, books (3 columns: general fantasy, urban fantasy, and YA), plus graphic novels?  This issue was typical of most I’ve seen.  Decide what you want the magazine to focus on, fiction or reviews, then do that better than your competition.  Don’t try to be all things to all people.

Finally, get a new editorial team.  Shawna McCarthy has been the editor of the magazine since its inception.  Every time the publication has been sold, the new owners have kept her on.  While I don’t question her credentials, I have reservations about her taste in fantasy.  The stories all seem to be about the same.  One of the commentators on the Black Gate post about the closing of the magazine called it chick-lit fantasy.  I’d have to agree.  The primary content seems to be about the emotional lives of women, with fantasy elements thrown in. 

I realize there are a number of people who like that type of fantasy, not all of  them women.  But it doesn’t seem to be a successful formula commercially.  If it were, why does it keep failing.  I have no problem with one of the stories in each issue being in this vein, and while it’s not my preferred subgenre of fantasy, I do read widely enough that I would read, and possibly enjoy, something along these lines if there were plenty of variety to go along with it.  There’s virtually no sword and sorcery in RoF, and what little I’ve seen this past year has been marginally S&S.  And while I don’t think each issue should be only S&S either, I do think there should be a great deal more adventure oriented fantasy in the magazine. 

To sum up, the final issue, with the exception of the Carter story, was nothing particularly outstanding.  Writing that sentence gives me no pleasure, nor does the fact that the magazine has failed again.  I do hope someone will bring it back.  I think it could survive, given a change of emphasis and direction, especially if published as an e-mag.