Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Where Writers Write: Katherine Scott Nelson - The "Have You Seen Me" Blog Tour


Welcome to the last stop in Katherine Scott Nelson's Have You Seen Me blog tour. 

I thought it would be fun to act as the caboose this time, bringing up the rear of this tour with a special installment of my new blog series "Where Writers Write". A TNBBC newbie, Katherine Scott Nelson is celebrating the release of hir new novella Have You Seen Me, published through CCLaP - a Chicago based small press that specializes in handmade books and electronic "pay what you want" downloads for all of their titles. The book is currently a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. 

Most of the blog tour consists of interviews, and while there is nothing wrong with author interviews, they can get a bit long in the tooth and repetitive for me. So I've asked Katherine to show us where the inspiration to write hits. Where does the writing happen? Why does it happen there? Give us a look behind the book. And what follows is...


Where Katherine Writes



Where I write: coffee shop

I’ve spent a lot of time fantasizing about my dream office. It would look a lot like Hemingway’s studio in Key West – panoramic views, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and ridiculous furniture like chaise lounges and secretary desks. It would have a built-in espresso bar in one corner and a single-malt scotch bar in another. There would be NO wi-fi.

But right now, I live in a 295 square foot apartment. The massive oak desk and the potted palms are going to have to wait.

When I moved to my current place, I discovered a nearby coffee shop with a real “study hall” atmosphere. It has a brick-lined back room that feels like stepping into a monk’s cell – cool and silent. What’s interesting is that everyone seems to respect this atmosphere, whether they’re regulars or not. If someone’s phone rings, they’ll either answer it in a hushed tone, or turn off the ringer and step outside.



The d├ęcor and the layout of the space changes regularly, lending it all a kind of subtle unpredictability that I’ve found really conducive to creative writing. A lot like the low-level conversations that take place all around me, infusing the room with life and energy.



I go to work at the coffee shop regularly enough that I’ve started referring to it as “the office.” I’ve trudged to the office through sub-zero temperatures, three feet of snow, thunderstorms, and scorching heat. It’s taught me to always show up for my writing, no matter what.

Do I have any pre-writing rituals? Obtaining caffeine, mostly.


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 You can catch up on the blog tour and see all that came before by clicking on the links below:

Day 7: Curbside Press sports an outdoor recorded excerpt of Katherine reading from Have You Seen Me

Day 6: Another Chicago Blog plays host to a print excerpt from the book. 

Day 5: Interview at The Orange Alert

Day 4: This Podcast Will Change Your Life from the always excellent Ben "Tanz the manz" Tanzer.

Day 3: Interviewed by fellow CCLaP author Jason Fisk

Day 2: Interviewed by Sassafrass Lowery

Day 1: The Thang Blog interviews Katherine. 


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The book: 
Chris and Vyv have always been close -- as the only two 'weird' kids in their small Midwestern town, they've often depended on each other to survive. But their friendship will be put to the test when Vyv runs away and continues to communicate with Chris in secret. All summer, as the search for Vyv mounts, Chris tries to avoid the pressure by working for Albert, an off-the-grid survivalist writer building an anarchist compound from an abandoned house and barn. But as Albert's plans for the future grow more apocalyptic, and Vyv's emails gradually become more terrifying, Chris will face the complete upheaval of everything he's ever known.

Don't forget to check out the novella Have You Seen Me and download it here via CCLaP's "pay what you want" set up. For real. 


AND.. Even though the virtual blog tour has come to an end, Katherine's (and a handful of other CCLaPer's) real book tour kicks off in NYC this week! Don't miss the grand finale at the KGB bar on Sunday, 6/3, at 7pm. I'll be there so if you do stop by, be sure to hunt me down and congratulate Katherine on the book's release!


(Many thanks to Jason Pettus, the brains and brawn behind CCLaP, for inviting me to be a part of the tour.)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Review: Dogs of Brooklyn

Read 5/21/12 - 5/22/12
4 stars - Strongly recommended to NYCer's and Brooklynites,  wanna-be NYCer's and Brookylnites, and dog lovers
Pgs: 92 (w/ photos)
Publisher: Dog Poet Laureate Press (self-published)

What happens when a professional dog walker from Brooklyn starts writing poetry? Dogs of Brooklyn happens, that's what.

Susie DeFord, owner of Susie's Pet Care, lover and walker of dogs big and small, self published this collection of poetry in December 2011. Offering up a fresh perspective of city life, Susie documents her trials and tribulations with many fur-covered, tail-wagging canines (and some cats thrown in for good measure) while wandering the side streets and green parks of Brooklyn.

I discovered Susie and her poetry through various articles that started popping up in my twitter stream earlier in the year. Dogs was making quite the splash in the "indie" scene. She had been featured over at The Nervous Breakdown in an interesting interview conducted by a traditionally published friend of hers, Melissa Febos. The other, by GalleyCat, highlighted the intricacies of self publishing.

These articles, among others, prompted me to reach out to her and request a review copy. You guys should know by now that I have no shame.

The first thing that struck me upon receiving the book was its design, all bright orange with black trees and white lettering. It stands out above many of the other self published novels I have read and seen. The cover and quality of the binding and paper even rivals some of the small / indie presses I've reviewed.

Score one for Susie for not taking the cheap way out. The first thing to turn away a potential reader, especially for a work that has been self published, is a poorly designed book.

The second thing to turn a reader away from self-published work is poor editing. The concept of editing poetry is an unfamiliar one to me. To be honest, until recently, I had no idea that the content of poems were edited - I just assumed misspellings and bad punctuation were the only things that had a red pen taken to them. (I since have Ryan Bradley to thank for schooling me a bit on what poetry editing looks like.)

One flip through Dogs and you'll see that Susie formats her lines differently from poem to poem. Some are in paragraph form, some grouped in twos, others in threes. Her sentences keep your eyes moving. Her poems tell stories of places marked (or made magic) by the dog she has with her at that moment. She pulls you along... between tall buildings and past local bakeries, from home to home as she dog-sits, out into the cold and the rain and the sunshine. Her poems write us through a year's worth of Brooklyn, in and out of puppy love, from the discovery of new and homeless four legged friends to the death of the ones who have stolen her heart.

Dogs of Brooklyn delivers on all levels. Susie writes to the every-man, her poems are accessible. This is a collection of poetry that city dwellers and animal lovers will definitely appreciate - she's captured the animal essence hidden within a very human world. And manages to make the animals more human, for a time...

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Review: My Only Wife

Read 5/15/12 - 5/19/12
4.5 Stars - Highly Recommended to everyone. Period.
Pgs: 168
Publisher: Dzanc Books

Jac Jemc paints a devastating picture of what happens to the one who gets left behind in her debut novel My Only Wife .

First, a confession: By sheer coincidence, I read Jac's novel on the heels of Amelia Gray's Threats, and while I promise this review will not be spent dissecting how similar the two novels are to one another, there seems no better way to start than by making some basic comparisons. For starters, they both wrote their novels from a male perspective. Both of their leading males are suffering the loss of their wives. Both perspectives are extremely constricted and unreliable, not to mention how eerily similar their writing styles are to one another - tight, teasing prose and extremely short chapters. Though Jac and Amelia have been published before, these are their debut novels and they were released within months of each other. I knew none of this when I picked them up. I'm tempted to use the phrase "bookendipity" for these "strange reading accidents".

All similarities aside, My Only Wife is the magnifying glass under which an abandoned husband grieves and mourns the disappearance of his wife. Ten years have passed, and it appears our nameless narrator is still reliving the memories of their failed marriage in an effort to discover exactly where things had begun to disintegrate between them.

It is obvious from the very beginning that this was not your normal, every-day sort of relationship, though the further down memory lane we go, the more fucked up and unusual it becomes. The wife, cold and withdrawn around her husband, apparently has this uncanny ability to get complete strangers to open up to her and spill their life stories, which she then repeats into a tape recorder behind the closed door of her closet. Preferring to carry the weight of strangers' secrets, she seemed to have little interest in those of her own husband, unless she was looking to start a fight. An overly particular and inflexible woman, the wife sometimes barked at our unnamed narrator over anything and everything, no matter how large or small. The engagement ring he bought from a mall jewelry store; watching her while she swam at the beach; her refusal to show him the inside her closet of other people's secrets or the painting she was working on in her art class; how she walked out of the movie theater if she got bored.

And to hear our narrator tell it, he was the ever patient, ever loving other half. A man willing to accept his wife's eccentric ways, tip toeing around  and keeping the peace. He worshipped her every breath. He soaked in every minute they spent together. He accepted her as she was. And he has collected these memories. And now he torments himself with them, because they are all he has left.

Jac doesn't make you wait until the end of the novel to see the writing on the wall; it's been there in day-glo colors from the very start. But she does let our narrator help us connect the dots in his own slow and sensitive way. As he comes to terms with the fact that she is gone, we come to terms with the fact that we might not be getting the entire story.

Reviewing these type of novels are always tricky for me. The simplicity of stories like these tend to make me feel as though I am missing something... That there must be something deeper, some additional meaning or message that the author has buried beneath her words that I just haven't uncovered yet. And then, when I see reviews like this one from html giant and this one from nouspique, I realize I am not the only one who feels it. And it makes me feel better. But then I laugh at how crazy we will drive ourselves in the search for these hidden messages.

If you read their review, Html Giant found a double "and" in the second to last paragraph of the book. They called it the perfect stutter and hoped beyond hope that it was intentional, rather than a serendipitous typo. They assigned the double "and" meaning. After reading their review, I admit that I flipped back through my copy of the book, fearing that I missed this obviously important hiccup, only to discover that, in the finished copy, the double "and" had been removed, and it was ... despite their discovery ... an accidental typo.

So you see what I mean? We will go to incredible extremes searching for what isn't even there, when sometimes, the story we are reading is the whole story and nothing more. No hidden meaning, no deep and existential messages buried beneath the words. No smoke and mirrors. Just the words we are reading and the pages on which they are placed.

And Jac can correct me if I'm wrong, but I'd like to think that My Only Wife is simply as straight-forward as it appears. No tricks or sneaky agendas here. I think it's really just the story of a hurt and dejected husband pining for a woman who probably never really loved him the way he loved her, living in the past because for him, it's preferable to living in the present without her.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Indie Spotlight: Ryan Quinn


In talking with authors, I always enjoy hearing how their novels came to be. Especially the rags-to-riches stories in which an author didn't give up on their book, even when the odds were stacked against them. 

How many times can an author hear "I'm sorry but your novel is not a good fit...." or "I can't back this one up..." or "There isn't an audience for this type of..." before they give up, tuck tail, and chuck their manuscript in the bottom of a desk drawer, where it will never see the light of day?

What if the author believed in his novel so strongly that he wouldn't let those naysayers derail him. What if he took all of that feedback and made it a better novel, and then self published it? What if the book, in its initial "indie" form, sold well.. so well, in fact, that a publisher finally turns around and requests to re-release it under their name? Well, then that author might look and sound a little bit like Ryan Quinn

Ryan describes his novel's difficult journey - from seeking out an agent and a publisher to making the decision to self publish, and the wonderful, rewarding things that came out of it all:

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The term “published” used to have a very narrow definition. It meant that an author, usually a writer with social or professional connections inside the publishing industry, was offered an advance from a corporate publisher in Manhattan, who would then edit the manuscript, design a cover and the interior, and print anywhere from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands of copies, depending on some educated guesswork about sales expectations. The publisher ensured that the book was reviewed in newspapers and magazines as it landed in bookstores across the country, where the author was sent to give readings and sign copies.

That formula might still work for well-known authors and surefire bestsellers, but for everyone else almost everything has changed. Newspapers don’t review books anymore, advances are shrinking, and many bookstores are facing an existential crisis. To the publishing establishment these might look like symptoms of a problem. I think they’re symptoms of progress.

My debut novel, TheFall, was published this month. I’m not well known, and The Fall’s chances at bestseller-dom are far from surefire, at least from the perspective of a traditional publishing house. The simple truth is that a book like mine might never have had a chance to be published in the publishing world of five or ten years ago.

It has always been the case that any literate person could write anywhere. What changed so dramatically for writers in the last decade is the relationship between writing and publishing. The old model of publishing was built, by necessity, around a chain of printers, distributors, and brick-and-mortar booksellers that presented prohibitively high barriers of entry. Only a big publisher with industry relationships and capital to invest could afford to pay authors an advance and then print books and ship them around the country to bookstores where they could then be discovered by readers.

The basic process of getting a book from an author to a reader no longer depends on that particular distribution chain and all the middlemen that prop it up, thanks to the rise and convergence of four disruptive technologies: the Internet, the e-book, the e-reader, and print-on-demand book printing. This doesn’t mean that the old model is dead. In fact, it still accounts for the bulk of sales at the “Big Six” publishers. It simply means that there are now alternative paths a book may take to be published.

That "publishing" is now more accessible to more people than ever is a wonderful development for the democratization of reading, writing, and—at the most fundamental level—ideas. It gives life to super-niche books of high quality but low commercial viability; it keeps books in print indefinitely; and it allows readers to discover authors who might never have had the opportunity to win the approval of the traditional publishing gatekeepers in Manhattan.

And, perhaps most significantly, the new indie publishing scene serves as a sort of farm league for cultivating and discovering up-and-coming talent.

That’s how my debut novel was discovered.

More than five years ago, I sat down in a coffee shop and wrote the first chapter of The Fall, a coming-of-age campus story about the fateful relationship between three friends whose lives become intertwined during their final year of college at a university with a dark past. It took me about a year to write the first draft, which weighed in at a not-very-reader-friendly 500 pages. At the time, I worked in book publishing in New York, and having one of the “Big Six” publishers publish my book seemed like the only way to go. So I started to send out query letters to literary agents. First I targeted well-known agents at the big agencies, and then quickly widened the net I cast to include young and unknown agents, some who even (gasp!) resided off the island of Manhattan. The rejection letters came back by the dozens.

Eventually, one agent saw something promising in my writing and we started working together on revising the manuscript. It was a grueling process. I revised the book, then got more feedback from her, then revised it again, then put it away for several months, then came back to it and revised it again. Like any good agent, she was a talented editor and helped me to slash away over 100 pages of excess backstory and tangential plotlines. After many months of revisions, I felt good about the book and wanted to take the next step: submitting it to editors at major publishing houses to see if we could land a deal.

Then I received an e-mail from the literary agent. She was concerned that publishers might not see enough commercial potential in a coming-of-age campus novel written by a first-time author. She was sure I was a promising writer, she said, but she wasn’t prepared to take this book to market with her own reputation behind it.

I was devastated. I knew how subjective publishing could be and that with my improved manuscript I had a good chance to secure representation elsewhere. But I was emotionally drained. I had written and rewritten and revised and cut and re-revised the thing so many times that I was sick of it. I wasn’t sure I could face that process again. I went on with my life, and the manuscript sat on my hard drive—untouched.

When I opened that Word document ten months later, it was mostly out of curiosity. Time had given me some distance from and perspective on the book and I wanted to see if it was writing I could still believe in, or if it was something better left buried in the cemetery of old documents on my computer’s hard drive.

I started reading. I did not made it past the first paragraph before I reached for the mouse and keyboard to make a small revision. A few pages in, I was still making changes. I realized I wasn’t going to stop. I was going to revise this book again. Was I a masochist? Maybe. It didn’t matter. I was a believer. This book could work. I just knew it.

One thing I came to understand while working in the book publishing industry is just how mysterious publishing success can be. Every day, publishers have to bet on the future sales records of many books, and more times than not, betting on an unknown, first-time author who’s not writing formulaic genre fiction is not a confidence-inspiring business decision. The risk that it will tank is high, the likelihood of a big upside in profits is low.

On my second go-around with The Fall, I believed more than ever that I could get an agent who could sell the book to a major publisher. But, Then what? I thought. My book would be on a list of dozens of other books, some written by successful authors whose profitable track record would naturally make them a priority when it came to allocating the publisher’s time, money, and enthusiasm as the list was pitched to booksellers.

My gut told me to do it myself—to self-publish. Or to publish it independently. Whatever you want to call it. There are several names for it, and all of them are derogatory to most people within the traditional publishing establishment. I wouldn’t be impressing anyone in Manhattan, but at least it would have a chance to be discovered by the people who really mattered—readers.

I asked more people read the manuscript and give me feedback. I had the final draft copyedited. I designed a cover. I made sure every single page was in the best shape it could possibly be. I made a website. I worked my connections (and plenty of cold calls) to get some modest review and publicity coverage.

Then I made The Fall available in both paperback and e-book formats everywhere.

The book sold dozens of copies. Then hundreds. Once the number had grown well past the number of friends and relatives I had, it kept selling. Not at a bestseller clip, but steadily. People were discovering it, and they were leaving good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

The book was out on the market for about six months before a senior editor at Amazon's AmazonEncore imprint noticed The Fall’s sales and the positive reader reviews, and reached out to me to say that they wanted to publish the book.

This is the main point of this article: I think this is how publishing is supposed to work. Just like an indie band or an indie filmmaker, it makes sense to embrace a model that encourages first-time authors to take charge of their career, to write and revise and edit and promote themselves until they’ve built up a following that demands to be noticed.

Much like an indie band who is picked up by a major label, I was thrilled to sign with Amazon and work with them to get the book into the hands of more readers. This month, The Fall launched with a stunning new cover, some editorial improvements, and some marketing help from the data wizards at Amazon.com. I couldn’t be happier with how things have gone so far.

There is no inherently right or wrong path for a book to pass from author to reader, which, perhaps, is the new, broader definition of “published.” Whatever the book, there are more options, and it’s clear that certain types of books now thrive where they otherwise never would have been given a chance.

Indie authors might not yet be thought of as cool in the way that indie bands or filmmakers are. But we are a new—and significant—force in book publishing. Don’t take my word for it, and don’t hold your breath waiting for approval from the publishing establishment in Manhattan. Just ask the readers.

Bio:

Ryan Quinn grew up in Alaska. He attended the University of Utah, where he was an NCAA champion and an All-American athlete. After graduation, he worked for five years in New York’s book-publishing industry. His debut novel, The Fall, was originally self-published. This month it was published by AmazonEncore. Quinn currently lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at www.ryanquinnbooks.com.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Review: Threats

Read 5/7/12 - 5/14/12
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to everyone. Period.
Pgs: 278
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

My first experience with Amelia Gray's writing was listening to her read from her collection of flash fiction at the 2011 Brooklyn Book Festival. Her's was the last panel of the day - sharing the stage with Alan Heathcock and two male writers I had never heard of - and what a panel it was. She read from AM/PM (which I hadn't read but of which I had heard countless good things). Her stories were tender and sweet and strange and a little screwy. They were amazing to listen to; the stories pushed quickly out of her mouth, the moments in between as we waited while the pages were flipped through as she decided which one to share next...

So during my most recent visit to NYC, when I stumbled across Threats (her newest release and first novel) while wandering the many tables and stacks of book within The Strand, I knew immediately that it would be coming home with me.

Amelia writes the story from the point of view of a confused and distraught husband. David, our protagonist, is trying to come to terms with the fact that his wife is dead. That she has, in fact, died right beside him on the hallway stairs and has since been delivered back to him, as a box of ashes, that sit on his kitchen table. The days immediately after her death are a mystery to David, wrapped inside one big cloud of fog. He can't seem to get his brain to behave; he's misinterpreting things, he's paranoid and his memory is unreliable.

It doesn't help that, as he wanders from room to room inside his home, he's begun to uncover cleverly hidden threats written out on scrap pieces of paper. Are they clues? Are they from his wife? While David is being questioned by the police regarding the strange circumstances surrounding his wife's death, he sets out on his own determined to find an explanation for those horrid, hurtful notes.

Right from the very beginning, it's obvious that Amelia's magic is in her timing. She draws information out of her characters slowly, teasingly. She's letting out just enough line to allow us to get hooked, and then once the bait is taken, toys with us relentlessly, right up until the very last page. The tight constraints of perspective, the limited and somewhat warped peephole view she allows us, keeps us from ever getting too far ahead of her. Her short chapters (anywhere from one to three pages long) yank us along in fits and starts. Make no mistake. Amelia holds the reigns in this one, and she's not afraid to choke us if we get out of line.

See, for me, it's all about the writing. Amelia's writing is elegant and sparse. The power of her words lie in their simplicity. The story she placed us in reads like one of those horrible nightmares in which you are aware you are dreaming and yet you know there is nothing you can do to wake yourself up. Everything's familiar but.. something's off. It looks like home but it doesn't smell quite right. Maybe the furniture is a tad bit too dusty, or the rug is slightly too worn. It's like you're living inside a memory, breathing stale old air. She creates in you that feeling of unease and dread that you just can't seem to shake.  

While reading this book, I often found myself wondering how my own husband would react were I to pass away before him, before my time. Would he begin to fall apart at the seams like David did? Would he, too, start to unravel and lose his mind to paranoia, loneliness, and fear? There's a part of me that wants him to, that foolishly hopes that I am his whole life, and that without me, he wouldn't be able to function. There's something incredibly romantic about that... That a man could so completely depend on his wife, need her soo badly in his life, that when she is no longer there, he begins to slowly disintegrate before everyone's eyes...

Run, readers. Run out to your local bookstore and get this book. You don't want to miss it. And to entice you even further, here is a cute video of Amelia, on a moped, as she recites some of the threats David uncovers in the oddest of places:

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Where Writers Write: Collin Kelley


Welcome to TNBBC's 3rd Installment of Where Writers Write!

Where Writers Write is a weekly series that will feature a different author every Wednesday as they showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where some of TNBBC's favorite authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happens.

This is Collin Kelley, a novelist, poet and playwright from Atlanta, Georgia. His second novel, Remain In Light (Vanilla Heart Publishing), was a finalist for the 2012 Townsend Prize for Fiction and is available in eBook format and trade paperback. His critically acclaimed debut novel, Conquering Venus (Vanilla Heart Publishing), was released in 2009 and an Amazon bestseller.

He is co-director of the Atlanta Queer Literary Festival, sits on the board of Poetry Atlanta and on the advisory council for Georgia Center for the Book. By day, Kelley is the managing editor for Atlanta Intown newspaper. He has been a journalist for more than 25 years. 

Collin wrote a guest post for TNBBC back in April of 201o on unconscious connections, and also submitted a previously unpublished poem to our Tell Me A Story feature. 

I'm excited to share today's Where Writers Write post with you because Collin took things up a notch and shot a video for us!!! Check it out....




Where Collin Kelley Writes




Check back next week to see where TNBBC newbie Katherine Scott Nelson works HER magic!!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Author Spotlight and Giveaway: Lauren Carr


To authors, it can be an uncertain world out there. If you've written and published a book (whether it's your first or twenty-first), you want nothing more than for the whole world to fall in love with it. 

At the same time, you wish you could clutch it to your chest and refuse to let it go because, let's be honest,  there's always that fear that someone, somewhere, won't like it. And they might just try to tell the whole world about it!

Lauren Carr, author of the Mac Faraday Murder series, is not one to hide her books from the public. In fact, once she got over her first bad review, she's come to appreciate them for what they are... and wants to help other traditional and self-published authors come to the same realization. 

Fear not the reviewer. Set your novels free... Check out Lauren's take on authoring up and getting your books out there:

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Writers! It’s Time to Author-Up and Get Your Books Out There


The number one fear of any author is—Reviewers.

It’s bad enough if a reader doesn’t like your book. Most readers, if they don’t like your book, will keep it to themselves. Or, at the worst, they will keep it within their immediate circle of friends. Or, if they have a big mouth, they’ll keep it within their book club or community.

Since it’s their job, reviewers will broadcast their dislike of your book to the whole world! Their distaste used to be confined to the subscribers of whatever publication they were writing for. But now, with the Internet, a reviewer’s hatred for a particular book is broadcasted throughout cyberspace for everyone in the universe to see exactly how bad your book is.

That’s enough to scare any writer into wanting to lock their baby up behind closed doors and never let anyone read it.

Yes, you can do that.

But, like a parent protecting her child from the outside world by locking him up in his bedroom and never letting him step outside, it’s not a realistic option. Children who are over-protected don’t develop a tough enough skin to deal with all that life has to throw at them. As scary as it is, sending them out there where they can fall down and skin their knees is a good thing.

Likewise, any writer wanting her book and career to be all it can be, needs to “author-up” and get her book out there into the hands of reviewers…who may or may not like it.

Yes, some reviewers may not like your book.

I was surprised to learn not too long ago that many authors don’t send their books out to reviewers for precisely that reason. One author shocked me with the announcement, “I don’t let strangers review my books.” I was still wrapping my head around that statement when he went on to say that he knew several authors who don’t solicit book reviews. Those who did would stipulate to the reviewer, “If you can’t give me 5-stars, then don’t bother posting any review at all.”

Yet, these same authors scratch their heads and wonder why they have failed to find their audience and can’t break through to have good book sales.

Book reviews are FREE advertising. With every review site that your book is featured, more and more people are learning about it. I have had reviewers contact me asking for copies of my book as a result of reading about it on other book review sites. I send them the books, they read it, and then yet another review is posted for even more readers to learn about my books.

All it costs me is the cost of the book and postage, unless it’s an e-book, in which case, it costs me NOTHING! Beat that price for advertising!

Based on successful reviews for my previous books, I have over fifty reviewers WAITING for the advanced review copy of Shades of Murder, which will be out in a couple of weeks. That’s over fifty websites that will publicize my new book as soon as it is released. Many of these reviewers will read the e-book version, which means it will cost me nothing.

Do I have a guarantee that all of these reviewers will love Shades of Murder as much as they loved the other books in the series? No. Most likely they will since they loved my previous books, but there’s no guarantee. I consider it the chance I have to take to be a professional author. It’s worth the risk to get the word out there about my books.

Here’s the way I see it. I publish my books because, in my heart, I know I’m a great writer. If I didn’t think I was good, I wouldn’t be investing my time and effort into writing and publishing my books. To me, authors who clutch their books to their breasts and refuse to show them to reviewers have a lack of confidence in their own writing.

Breaking through to the big time is not going to happen if you keep your book a secret from reviewers.
What if the reviewer doesn’t like your book?

That is one thing that I can guarantee. Not everyone is going to love your book.

Being a Mom, that’s something that I can understand and deal with.

The other night I prepared Tuscan Ribeye for dinner. I marinated the steaks for four hours before putting them on the grill. They came out juicy and melt in your mouth delicious. I also put equal amount of love into preparing garlic mashed potatoes with fresh garlic and butter drizzled in it. I topped off the mashed potatoes with fresh chives. They were so beautiful I didn’t want to eat them!

Then, for the vegetable, I broiled parmesan tomatoes. The parmesan and tomato were the perfect accompaniment to this a meal that had my husband rubbing his tummy saying, “I can’t wait to see what you come up with next.”

My son shrugged his shoulders and said, “Eh!”

Lesson: You can’t please everyone.

I put my heart and soul into that dinner. It was with pride that I presented it to the world (okay, the dining room) and only pleased half of my audience. My son would have been happier with a cheese dog and fast food fries.

Likewise, you can spend months slaving over a storyline, invest money in an editor, and hand picking a cover, and have a reviewer say “Eh!” She would have preferred it if your deep thinking, spunky protagonist that saved the world was a vampire with big boobs.

All right, so you’re thinking, “Yeah, Lauren, you don’t have to tell us that not everyone will love our books. We know that. That’s why we’re keeping them locked up in the trunk of our cars and not telling anyone about them. If a reviewer doesn’t like them, THEY’LL TELL SOMEONE ABOUT THEM.”

Here’s a news flash for you: As long as your book is for sale to the public, bad reviews can still happen—even if you aren’t soliciting them to reviewers.

My first book, A Small Case of Murder, has a couple of really horrible reviews posted on Amazon. The first one appeared over a year after its release. I was depressed for a week before my husband suggested I look up the other reviews this reviewer had posted on Amazon. I found that she had posted one. It was a five-star review for a rap CD entitled something along the line of “Kill All the People”. Of course, someone like that would not like a book about a functional family with a Christian protagonist.

Every bad, spiteful review I have received, I did not solicit. They were posted by readers who had come upon the book themselves and felt compelled to vent about their hatred for it.

As I have learned from readers and reviewers, hateful and spiteful reviews are not taken seriously by readers. The best way to combat them is, when you find such a review, to click on the button below the review saying that it was not helpful, and have your friends and family do the same.

The second line of defense against unsolicited bad reviews is to solicit reviews that will be positive from professional reviewers.

Generally, professional reviewers do not post hateful criticism. They will find something good to say, or say nothing at all. Yes, they will be honest, but they won’t be hurtful and you may find the criticism helpful.
I have had a couple of reviewers comment, nicely, that they would like to have a cast of characters listed in the front of the book. So, in Shades of Murder, I have listed a cast of characters, and will do so with future books.

Here’s another surprising note about criticism, it gives your book creditability in the eyes of some readers. Believe it or not, I was dancing around the house a few weeks ago when I received my first two-star review for It’s Murder, My Son, which was released over two years ago.

Have I lost my mind? I was dancing about a two-star? Yep.

Here’s why? Many readers view books with only positive reviews with suspicion. Maybe it’s the society we now live in. A while back I had read a thread in a book forum in which a lot of writers and readers commented that when they come upon a book on Amazon with forty or fifty 5-star reviews touting the book as the best thing since Gone With the Wind, they regard the reviews with suspicion, especially if there are no four, three, or two or one-star reviews. The suspicion grows deeper if the book and author are unknown. How do you get so many highly positive reviews without anyone knowing about you or your book? There are many readers who will assume all of the reviews were by family and friends of the author. When I brought up the matter in my book writing class, I was surprised to find that many of my students feel the same way.

I read not too long ago about an author who went into Amazon, using various different accounts, and posted dozens of five-star reviews for his own book. Then, he bragged about it on a blog. Amazon found out about it and pulled all of the reviews.

Reviews that state some form of objective criticism for a book gives it credibility. Readers take that book and the reviews listed for it more seriously. Thus, when I got my first two-star review for It’s Murder, My Son, I proceeded to dance around the house. After two years, It’s Murder, My Son has credibility!
Lesson to be learned: Even a critical review can be good for your career.

What are you waiting for? You have a book that you’ve labored over and now it’s ready to push that baby out of the nest and send it out into the world to the applause and acclaim of reviewers—who will pass on the word to your audience—which will open the doors to the authorship that your books and you deserve.

Go get ‘em, Tiger!

Lauren Carr fell in love with mysteries when her mother read Perry Mason to her at bedtime. The first installment in the Joshua Thornton mysteries, A Small Case of Murder was a finalist for the Independent Publisher Book Award. A Reunion to Die For was released in hardback in June 2007. Both of these books are in re-release.

Lauren is also the author of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, which takes place in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. The first two books in her series, It’s Murder, My Son and Old Loves Die Hard have been getting rave reviews from readers and reviewers. The next book in this series, Shades of Murder, will be released May 2012. This will be Lauren’s fifth mystery.

Lauren’s sixth book, Dead on Ice, will be released in Fall 2012. Dead on Ice will introduce a new series entitled Lovers in Crime, in which Joshua Thornton will join forces with homicide detective Cameron Gates.

The owner of Acorn Book Services, Lauren is also a publishing manager, consultant, editor, cover and layout designer, and marketing agent for independent authors. This spring, two books written by independent authors will be released through the management of Acorn Book Services.

Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She also passes on what she has learned in her years of writing and publishing by conducting workshops and teaching in community education classes.

She lives with her husband, son, and two dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Visit Lauren’s websites and blog at:
E-Mail: writerlaurencarr@comcast.net, Website: http://acornbookservices.com/ ;                  http://mysterylady.net/
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Giveaway

Where are all the murder mystery fans at?!!

TNBBC is happy to offer a set of all three Lauren Carr "Mac Faraday" novels 
to one lucky US resident!


This giveaway will end on May 28th.
Winner will be announced here and via email on May 29th.

Here's how to enter:


 1 - Leave a comment stating why you believe the Mac Faraday series should go to you.

 2 - You must leave me a way to contact you (email is preferred). AND you must be a resident of the US!!!!



Good luck!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Audioreview: Open Your Eyes

Listened 5/7/12 - 5/11/12
2.5 Stars - Recommended lightly: Fans of sci-fi / nightmare / deus-ex-machina space stories
Audio Download (approx 3.5 hrs)
Publisher: Iambik / Apex Book Company


Now, I know I am not the only person who's ever picked up a book and been like "Ok, so this is totally not what I would typically read but man, the cover is kinda creepy and the story sounds kinda interesting so I'm going to give it a shot" only to turn around once you start getting into it and think "what in the holy hell have I gotten myself into this time?!"


Those were the thoughts that ran through my head as I listened to the Iambik version of Paul Jessup's Open Your Eyes - a self described "space opera". This short, dense story begins with a woman named Ekhi  having sex with a star that suddenly goes supernova. Yes, that's right. She's having sex... with a star... you know, those little pinpricks of light in the sky at night?


She - now empregnated, floating naked and unconscious  - and her ship are found some time later by a group of space scavengers. The scavenger ship is piloted by a captain, suspended in a container of sticky goo that feeds her visuals  and sensations through small spider-like machines and sends out creepy dolls to do her bidding, and crewed by a very strange cast of characters indeed - including a woman with a half metal face and a violently jealous brute of Hulk-ish proportions. They, with Ekhi in tow, are driven deeper into space on a rescue mission of romantic proportions. 

The mission isn't really what matters, though. The book is driven by the ebb and flow of the characters aboard the ship, and the ways in which they find themselves pulling each other together and suddenly tearing one another apart. Throw in some "pirate ships" run by odd elephant-headed space creatures, a weird brain virus that forces our crew members to carry others' consciousnesses around in their heads, and the fact that our scavenger ship appears to have a heart and agenda of its own ... and you're going to be one completely confused reader, like me.  

The downfall of this novel, which sounds fun and unique in summary, is how much it attempts to do and in how few words it attempts to do it in. Time and time again, I found myself absolutely lost in the thick of things. Jessup, much like a tour guide who reminds its participants to keep up and remain close to one another at all times at the risk of being left behind, refuses to slow down and allow his readers to catch up to his lightening quick plot schemes and changes of scenery. There is no time to 'stop and smell the roses' because Jessup and his characters are off and running and will leave you standing there to suck in great lungfuls of their dust without a second thought. Jessup does not waste words on bringing his readers up to speed. You are either with him or not. You either "pick up what he's laying down" or you don't. 

I think it also didn't help that I was listening to this (1) on audio and (2) that the audio was narrated by Tadgh Hydes, who I admittedly dislike as a reader. So to be fair, with one strike against it, it was already doomed before I even began. 

So here's the rub, right? Since I didn't read it in print and had it read to me by a narrator I don't care for, I am not 100% comfortable recommending this book, which is why I gave it a very 'light' rating. I would certainly not recommend the audio version - not through any real fault of Iambik. The recording was clean, I just don't think the reader matched the story. 

Interested in checking it out in print and giving me your opinion on it? You can read the book in its entirety through the goodreads book page. How can you argue with that? A free read of a book that I just didn't dig, and a chance for you to yay or nay my review of it? Go on... do it.  What do you have to lose... 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

and the IBBA Adult Fiction Winner is....

... no, not us!

But I am stoked to congratulate Susan of The Insatiable Booksluts, my book blog crush, and her blogmates for winning the Goodreads.com Independent Book Blogger Award!

~**Throw the confetti and streamers if you got'em!!**~



Not only do they win a cool award, which is awesome in and of itself, but Susan gets a free ride to NYC for BEA (air fare, hotel, BEA and BBC pass all included). I think she even accepts her award at the Book Blogger Convention. Holy moly right??

How did TNBBC do, you ask? Well, we made it into the finals - one of 60 finalists from a combination of 4 categories (one of 14 in the Adult Fiction category.. whoot whoot!) out the hundreds and hundreds that entered! That's nothing to sit in the corner and cry about, am I right?

And we never would have made it that far if it wasn't for everyone who went out and voted for us! So thank you! Truly. Your support means the world to me, and it let's me know we've got something here that people want more of. If I could reach through the computer screen, I would give you all a great big hug (greasy cheek be damned!) (inside joke... ). But since I can't, please except this post as a virtual one instead!!

You couldn't have gotten a better winner in the Adult Fiction category, to be honest. Susan and her team take blogging to the level I wish TNBBC could be at. Their energy, insight, incredible honesty, and healthy dose of cursing is something we should all strive to achieve when blogging. And did you know they aren't even a year old yet? Holy moly again!!

Show them the love by stopping by their blog or tweeting a big ole congrats to them!

Congrats to the winners of the other categories too:

Adult Non-Fiction: Sophisticated Dorkiness
Children's/Young Adult: The Nerdy Book Club
Publishing Industry News: Writer Beware Blogs!

Where Writers Write: Patrick Wensink


Welcome to TNBBC's brand new blog feature!

Where Writers Write is a weekly series that will feature a different author every Wednesday as they showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where some of TNBBC's favorite authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 



This is Patrick Wensink. Patrick wrote a collection of bizarro fiction called Sex Dungeon For Sale a few years ago. He just released a new novel and book-on-cassette titled Broken Piano For President (which I am really excited to read). He also makes his own Wentastic BBQ sauce, and from time to time might be found authoring greeting cards. He made his TNBBC debut back in 2010 when we interviewed him here


Today, he joins us again, to show off his extremely green and incredibly messy writing space!






Where Patrick Wensink Writes





Love the green walls and index cards

My office is a shithole.  Or so my wife tells me a couple times a week.  To me, it’s not so much a shithole as a meticulously managed chaos, all neatly packed within square footage smaller than most bathrooms. And for reasons that would require a stunningly large therapy bill, this cyclone of crap is the only place I can focus.

A quick survey of this room finds:

  • A half-bag of confetti.
  • Dozens of crumpled pastel Post-its (Featuring such stumble-drunk bits of wisdom as “There is a loop and I am out of it” and “Big Shadow Shits Little Shadow.”).
  • A plastic tiger mask.
  • Crumbs.
  • A rumpled souvenir flag from Turks and Caicos.
  • An On the Road with Charles Kuralt DVD.
  • A seafoam green suitcase filled with an ancient 4-track recorder. Plus, dozens of tapes from back when I was in bands that I don’t have the heart to throw away.
  • A fantasy football trophy I was supposed to pass on several years ago (My team, the Unicornholes, was something like the 2009 champions).
  • Crumbs.
  • Easily, 1000 CDs (I was a rock critic for many years). All of which I have listened to.
  • Hundreds of books. Maybe half of which I’ve actually read. (Just stacked on my desk, we have Roget’s Thesaurus, JA Tyler’s A Shiny, Unused Heart, Tim Kinsella’s Karaoke Singer’s Guide to Self Defense, Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop and John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.)
  • A broken DVD player.
  • Some contraption called “The One-Armed Boozer,” which was some 1970s gag gift that converts a liquor bottle into a slot machine that doles out shots.
  • More crumbs.
  • An enormous cardboard poster of Sting encouraging literacy.

Sting promotes reading!
I purchased that ridiculous Sting poster at a Dayton, OH library sale in 2002. It is the centerpiece of the room. The poster features the man born Gordon Sumner, wearing some leftover costume from Game of Thrones, reading a book next to…a castle. Nice work, Sting. It’s not like reading doesn’t already have a pretentious enough reputation amongst America’s youth.

During my decade of Sting-ownership, especially the past six years, he’s helped me write my latest novel, Broken Piano for President (Lazy Fascist Press). “READ” it says in enormous blue letters above the Brit’s bleach blonde mane. The poster has hung in every pseudo-office I’ve ever scraped together since starting the book in 2006. From that crumbling duplex, to that house with no heating where I wore a winter coat while typing, to that walk-in closet I used in Portland, to my current shithole in Louisville, KY…Sting’s always looking over my shoulder, forcing Charles Dickens down my throat.

And Sting will stay if this cleaning lady’s nightmare of an office ever moves again. In some weird way, Sting is motivation. Not because his lacy cuffs and collar promise a whimsical world hidden within literature, but because he sucks so badly. (Remember, I was a rock critic. “Sting Sucks” is embossed on the back of our business cards. Union rules.)
I was born to do the exact opposite of what Sting asks. If he sings, “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You,” I lose faith faster and change the station.

When the king of new age prisses—a man who once titled an album The Dream of the Blue Turtles for God’s sake—urges me to donate to UNICEF, I hunt down a Filipino sweatshop to invest in.

meticulously managed chaos
Whenever the former Police frontman has told me to, “Read,” I’ve defied him. Instead, I force myself to “Write.”

Broken Piano went through about 25 revisions during its lifespan. And as the garbage piled higher in my office, the novel got better. I’d like to think if Sting and his smug face weren’t watching, I might have given up, or worse listened to his music. Instead, I penned a book I’m very proud of, concerning such un-Stingly topics as productive alcoholism, noise rock bands, hamburgers more addictive than meth and cosmonauts.

Sting, you might have just earned yourself a half-bag of confetti to say, “thank you.” Watch your mailbox.


Check back next week to see where Collin Kelley works HIS magic!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Review: Manual of Painting and Calligraphy

Read 4/21/12 - 5/5/12
3 Stars - Recommended to hard-core Saramago fans / Not recommended as an intro to this author
Pgs: 242
Publisher: Mariner / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Letter to an Author I Thought I Knew Better:

Jose. You horn dog, you! I didn't know you had it in you, man. And here I thought, after having read you for so many years, that you were this compassionate, emotional, political, yet purposefully sexless author. Well, your Manual of Painting and Calligraphy certainly showed me differently, didn't it?!

I mean, ok, I'm not completely blind to the fact that you liked sex, and had sex, but seeing it written out on a white page in all of its stark and egotistical glory was a bit jarring. Almost like walking in on your parents doing the horizontal mambo. You KNEW they did it, you just never wanted to PICTURE them doing it, and now here you are, standing in the doorway SEEING them do it, in total shock and feeling slightly sick to your stomach.

To be honest, I think I prefer the older, wiser, 'sex-as-a-form-of-power' version of you over the first time novelist, 'I'm-a-sexual-being' version of you. As you matured as a writer, your take on sexuality matured as well. I feel as though sex is at its most powerful when it's hiding beneath the surface of your stories and not displayed as an intimate part of the story.

I wonder what your influences were here. I mean, sure, painting and writing and the pains of trying to define your character as one or the other were the catalyst behind the story, since it appears your character - who refuses to allow himself to be named - is unable to carry the burden of being both a painter and a writer. I am also certain that the sexuality of your character is bred from the school of thought that painters are hyper sexual creatures. Perhaps that has something to do with the texture and slippy-ness of the paints, the slathering of oils against canvas, the passion the artist exudes over the object of his attention, the fact that painting aligns itself more in the physical world vs. writing which is incredibly more cerebral?

I see this internal struggle in your character - the definition of himself in relation to his choice of medium. As a writer he focuses more internally; he can express his demons smartly, exorcise them more precisely through the words that drip from the tip of his pen. As a painter he emits an arrogance, a pettiness, and displays this pent up aggression at his inability to paint perfectly - hence the two paintings of the same sitting at the start of the novel - in a more physically degrading way. It seems the painter in him is more about 'marking his territory' and 'sexual conquests' than the writer in him, which is about emotional connectivity. And so there is this almost imperceptible shift that begins to take place within him as he moves from painter to writer to painter again...

Dueling personalities. MoPaC certainly delivers those.

Your writing style managed to shock me as well. The Saramago I've loved all this time, the man who creates those uniquely beautiful run-on sentences that deliberately distracts his readers with parallel trains of thought, that Saramago isn't here yet. This Saramago, the Saramago of MoPaC, hasn't found his flow yet. He's still feeling it out, experimenting with it. I can see him in there, like the caterpillar that's about to emerge from its cocoon as a butterfly, flexing his wings and stretching against the paper-thin boundaries that currently constrain him. I can appreciate what I'm reading, but it's missing that something special that finds its way into your writing later on. You're still developing your "you-ness".

I'm writing to tell you to keep pushing, Jose. Move out of the sexual predator phase quickly, it's not becoming of you. It's not who you really are. I'll be waiting over here... don't rush on my account. Perfection takes time, and you'll get there. I promise.

Love, your biggest fan.