Saturday, October 30, 2010

Author Interview w/ Benjamin Percy

I had the pleasure of listening to Benjamin Percy read from his novel The Wilding at the Brooklyn Book Festival this September during the "What Fresh Hell Is This" author panel. Already in the middle of the story when I went see him, his deep, dark voice fit the story so well that I heard it in my head for the remaining days it took me to finish reading!

Author of the short story collections Refresh, Refresh and The Language of Elk, Winner of the Whiting Award and Plimpton Prize, and Assistant professor in the MFA program at Iowa State University among so many other things, The Wilding is Ben's first novel. His second, Red Moon, should be released sometime late 2012, early 2013.

Ben was wonderful enough to take time out of his very busy schedule to humor us at TNBBC and answer a few questions! Here they are:

When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer?

Not until I was in my early twenties. It never occurred to me before then. I was working at Glacier National Park at the time—which is where I met my then girlfriend, now wife—and she said to me, after reading all of these horrid love letters and poems I scribbled for her, “You should be a writer.” That’s the first time it ever crossed my mind. No kidding. So it’s all an attempt to impress a pretty girl.

When I attended the “What Fresh Hell is This” panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival on Sept 12th, you mentioned that your father thought your stories were too short, and how that comment was what prompted you to write the full length novel “The Wilding”. How was writing this book different from your previous short story collections?

Well, that was just a passing joke. I’ve been working on novels for years—I’ve written four others that will never see the light of day. I only mentioned the comment my father made because The Wilding began as a short story—called “The Woods,” which was published in Amazing Stories and then collected in my book Refresh, Refresh. I couldn’t get the characters out of my head. So I gave them a larger bit of acreage to roam around on—and the story became first a shnovel, and then later, after severe revision, a novel.

I could write several craft essays on how short stories differ from novels in their composition. I learned so much bullying my way through all of those manuscripts. How the rich, intense language of short fiction will exhaust the reader if used in a novel. How the elliptical way I compose short stories does not create the causal sense of momentum necessary in a novel. Etc.

Describe your book “The Wilding” in 5 words.

I’ll do it in three: Menace, menace, menace.

How long have you been teaching fiction and non fiction to college students?

Since 2001. Almost 10 years.

I understand you were recently wandering around Paris as part of your book tour. What was that experience like?

Yeah, I had a week in Paris and week in Bordeaux, not for my new novel but for my short story collection, Refresh, Refresh, which was translated there and featured at several festivals. I’ve been everywhere in the states—but I’ve never been to continental Europe, so it was amazing, getting introduced to France as a writer. I felt very spoiled and thankful. And, after so many four-hour meals, fat.

As a child, what your favorite book, or type of books?

Like everybody, I grew up on genre. I went through different phases—books with dragons on the cover, ghosts on the cover, cowboys, detectives, spies, robots. Horror, though, was the genre that I kept coming back to—reading my way through all of Stephen King, Peter Straub, Dean Koontz, starting around fifth grade.

What are you reading now?

I usually jump between novels and short story collections, reading both at the same time. Right now I’ve got in hand Marcel Theroux’s Far North and Anthony Doerr’s The Memory Wall, both of them excellent.

During your latest recording on NPR, you spoke about a book you consider your “Guilty Pleasure” – Haunted Wisconsin. Do you really believe in the supernatural? Have you ever experienced anything otherworldly?

I want to believe in ghosts and demons and ghoulies. Because it’s fun to think about. And because that would mean there’s something else—another layer beyond this world. But no, I’ve never experienced anything supernatural (though I’ve heard some convincing yarns). Just last month, in Paris, I was down in the catacombs alone, surrounded by thousands of skeletons and I stood there for several minutes, concentrating, thinking all right, if there’s any place in the world where I might find something otherworldly, it’s here. I actually willed something to come rushing out of the dark. No dice. And then I ascended into the day with corpse mud on my boots and ate a crepe.

When you aren’t writing, I understand you enjoy hiking, canoeing, and fishing. What was the strangest or scariest thing that ever happened during one of your trips?

Oh, I’ve had many tense encounters with moose and grizzlies. I’ve got an essay in the Paris Review that touches on this – called “Me vs. Animals” – if you’re bored and looking for something to read.

So Ben, congratulations on your success in landing a publisher for your newest novel. What can you tell us about it?

Thanks. The novel is called Red Moon—and it’s coming out with Grand Central/Hachette in late 2012, early 2013. It’s the same sort of writing I’m always doing—but the subject is supernatural: a reinvention of the werewolf myth. These past few weeks have been quite the ride—touring through my new publisher’s digs—seeing the novel picked up by all of these foreign territories—having phone conferences with studio execs at Paramount and Lionsgate. Crazy. Can’t tell you how excited and thankful I am.

What is your take on eBooks and eReaders, as both an author and a reader?

I don’t own an e-reader, but I understand why somebody would want one, especially a student or agent or editor or frequent traveler reading so many books in passing, books they might want to discard once finished. I listen to a lot of audio books, when I’m on the road or at the gym, and if I enjoy the book, I buy a physical copy. I hope the same will be true of e-readers—that when somebody encounters a electronic title that really moves them, they’ll invest in a copy for their library.

What books/authors/websites would you recommend to our audience?

So many. So I’ll stick to some new and emerging talents you should keep an eye out for: Alan Heathcock ( ), who has an epic, gripping story collection called VOLT coming out with Graywolf Press in March of 2011; Michael David Lukas ( whose historical novel The Oracle of Stamboul comes out in February 2011 with Harper Collins; and Siobhan Fallon ( ), who has a wonderful book of short stories out in January with Amy Einhorn called You Know When the Men are Gone. Look them up. They’re going to make waves in the coming months.

Many thanks to Benjamin Percy for the awesome opportunity to interview him, and we wish him lots of luck with the new novel!!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What I Want to Know

Welcome to TNBBC's "What I Want To Know" - a mini series of sorts that will hopefully answer some of the questions and quiet some of the concerns I know fellow bloggers, authors, and publishers have regarding how to choose a reviewer or book to review, review etiquette, how to pitch and be pitched.. among other things.

Last week we heard from the bloggers on what they look for in a review pitch. This week I throw it back over to the authors and publisher and want to know:

How do you decide who you will pitch for a review of your novel?

Here is what they had to say:

"I look for magazines, journals and online sites that have reviewed work I feel is similar to mine. In the case of my poetry, the publications who regularly review confessional, experimental and free verse poetry. For my novel Conquering Venus, we looked at sites and magazines that focus on gay and lesbian writers, as well as those willing to read debut work and literary fiction." - Collin Kelley, Poet, journalist, social media consultant, author of Conquering Venus

"Familiarity and history with our genre. Mostly we just look for someone who reviews our genre, which is literary work for younger adults. So, if they review that, we'll pitch them. Since we're new and indie, we'll pretty much take any review we can get :)- VagabondagePress, Arts/Lit Online 'Zine The Battered Suitcase

"I sort of started from the bottom rung, so my only needs were: did they review books; did they cover the kind of book I write; do they have an email address. The size of the audience didn't matter, which is to say that while of course a reviewer with a very large platform is important, I wouldn't turn down a review from a smaller site. From my perspective, exposure is key." - Gene Doucette, author of Immortal

" Word-of-mouth and recognition in the blogosphere." - Lucinda, Book marketer

So there you have it! Familiarity with their genre and your ability to spread the word tend to be the number one factors that influence an author or publisher when it comes to pitching you. And this makes absolute sense, because if I was looking get people to talk about my novel, I want to make sure I am marketing it towards an audience that is going to be most open and interested in it. If someone dislikes memoirs, and I pitch them one, my chances of getting a positive review are very slim.

As an obsessive reader, and reviewer, I make it as easy as possible for authors and publishers to see what my reading preferences are as well as how I plan to spread the word about their novel. Taking the guess work out of it and being honest goes a long way. And once you start getting pitches, don't feel you need to say yes to each and everyone of them. Research the author, publisher, and novel to see if it is going to be the right fit for you. If it isn't, email them back and thank them for the opportunity by clarifying what you're most interested in reading, so they will continue to pitch you novels closer to your tastes.

What did you think?

Was this post helpful and insightful? Was there anything here that shocked you? What interactions have you had with publishers or authors that support or negate what you read here?

Next week, we will find out just what the bloggers are willing to accept pitches on, and how they decided what they say yay or nay to. So authors and publishers, be sure to check back next week to see what they say!

Indie Spotlight: Jason Letts

Trying to get a book published in this day and age is hard work. So many authors are going the DIY and Indie routes, taking control of the writing and editing process, in an effort to get their novels released under their terms. They don't have to compromise the story lines, they hold the reigns when it comes to marketing their product and interacting with their audience, they determine the extent of their success.

Jason Letts (pictured here with his girlfriend Hannah) is a great example of an author taking control of his future by releasing his Young Adult Fantasy series Powerless independently. The first two books of this 5 book series - The Synthesis and The Shadowing - are available for purchase now. Jason expects the third book to be released sometime in December.

Powerless is the story of Mira Ipswich, a normal girl who exists" in a world where everyone is imbued with a wondrous natural gift" - except her. It illustrates her struggles to fit in and coexist in this new world, and her journey towards understanding and conquering the dangerous forces that threaten her homeland.

Prior to working on the Powerless series, Jason wrote short stories focusing on young adults, seeing his work published in the fiction journals Entelechy and Edna. He had the honor of being named a Glimmer Train Finalist, and the first Powerless book, which won the Webb Weaver's 2010 Writers Competition, recently old it's 500th copy.


I had the pleasure of asking Jason a few questions about his series:

Where did you get the inspiration for your Young Adult Fantasy series Powerless?

I love stories in which a character makes a startling discovery that completely changes his or her world. It struck me though that these discoveries are often a great boon, making the eventual victory less impressive and our ability to relate more strained. I wanted to read about someone who fought tooth and nail despite her own insecurities, which are so much like our fears of being different or insufficient. “Powerless” is the defining characteristic of the story’s protagonist, Mira Ipswich. It’s something that’s always in her mind, picking at her even when her peers seem no different than herself. At times she’s able to rally against it, and other times it overwhelms her, but it is always indicative of how she stands apart.

What was the writing and editing process like for you?

I started writing this series when I was living in Japan teaching English, and it was a great way for me to relieve tensions or cultural difficulties. It was one of those things where the story just came into my mind so strongly that I had to get it out. I had so much fun watching all of the pieces fit together and seeing the characters grow and develop. If readers have half as much fun reading as I did writing, I think they'll be in for a treat. Revising is a long arduous process, almost an adventure in itself. I was lucky enough to find a guide, a great editor named Chuck Wightman, who showed me the ropes and helped make the story better in one hundred different ways.

How did you come to release this series independently?

Becoming an "indie author" and releasing my series independently was the result of a lot of thought concerning what I wanted for my series. For me, it was something fun that I worked hard to develop, and I want to stand by it as it gets out to readers. From the point of publication, I've seen over and over again how it only takes one reader to have a fan, and I love being directly involved in getting a story out to readers who will enjoy it. Author, book, reader: those are the only things you need to have success.

If you were a traveling salesman, how would you talk this series into strangers’ hands?

The Powerless series has numerous points of interest that are appealing to readers. The story of Mira's discovery of the world around her she never knew was there and the way she has to compete with her classmates echoes both Harry Potter and the Hunger Games. The novel also won the Webb Weaver 2010 Writer's Competition, which amazing considering the huge number of books submitted. But at the core of it, I'd point to the characters and the struggles they endure while growing up, and Mira who wants to be accepted even though she feels different, and those are things we can all relate to.

List 4 things we can learn more about by reading this series.

I particularly like this question. There is something of an education aspect to the story, and so I'd say first there's something to learn in the way Mira uses science to lift herself up. Second, it's a great study in how teens respond to challenges. All of the students have the same goal, but they respond to it in vastly different ways. Third, the fantasy setting and the society depicted will make readers wonder about how cultures evolve. For example, what would be different if people were able to move things with their minds? Fourth, parenting and family are huge aspects of the series, and every book broaches the questions of proper parenting and how a family works. I certainly can't claim to have all the answers on that one, and neither do the characters, but that's part of what makes it fun.


You can read the first chapter the Book One - The Synthesis - here.

The first two books of the series can be purchased at any of these websites: , B& , , and


Jason is generously giving away one eCopy (of your choice) of
Book One - The Synthesis - of the Powerless series.

In order to be considered for the contest, here are the rules:

1- You must post a comment to this thread describing which superpower you wish you could have, and why.

2 - You must include a way for us to contact you if you win.

The contest ends November 2nd!
So get those thinking caps on.

Jason and I will determine the winner and notify them once the contest ends. May the best superpower win! In the meantime, please help spread the word about Indie author Jason Letts and his very powerful young adult fantasy series!

Friday, October 22, 2010

"The Wishing Trees" Giveaway

I am thrilled to be working with author John Shors this month.
He has agreed to offer up 3 signed copies of his newest release -The Wishing Trees - for a sidebar group read in TNBBC in the month of December.
Here is the book description as found on John's website:

"Almost a year after the death of his wife, Kate, former high-tech executive Ian finds a letter that will change his life. It contains Kate’s final wish – a plea for him to take their ten-year-old daughter, Mattie, on a trip across Asia, through all the countries they had planned to visit to celebrate their fifteenth anniversary.

Eager to honor the wife and mother they loved, Ian and Mattie embark on an epic journey that retraces the early days of Ian’s relationship with Kate. Along the way, Ian and Mattie leave paper “wishes” in ancient trees as symbols of their connection to Kate and their dreams for the future. Through incredible landscapes and inspiring people, Ian and Mattie are greeted with miracles large and small. And as they celebrate what Kate meant to them, they begin to find their way back to each other, discovering that healing is possible and that love endures – lessons that Kate hoped to show them all along…"
But that's not all! He has also agreed to plant a Colorado Blue Spruce sapling in the mountains (through the Arbor Day Foundation) for every person who participates in the group read. So even if you do not win a copy of the novel, by participating in the group read and discussion on TNBBC, you are giving back to Mother Earth!

This contest will remain open until November 1st.

In order to win one of the three signed copies of this book:

1- You must post a comment to this thread including a way for us to contact you if you win.

2- You must agree to participate in a group read book discussion that will run during the month of November over at TNBBC on Goodreads. John has agreed to participate in the discussion for the first two weeks of December and will be available to answer any questions you may have for him.

3 - The contest is for US / Canada residents only. Sorry guys!

By commenting, you are agreeing to read the book and join the group discussion at TNBBC on Goodreads (the thread for the discussion will be emailed to you at the first of the month).

I will choose the three winners randomly and notify you via email and a comment here when the contest is over.

Good luck!!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Review: Empty the Sun

Read 10/14/10 - 10/20/10
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended

Either I am getting better and better at knowing what I like, or everyone is writing really amazing books lately. (or I am getting softer and easier to please as I age, but we won't go there!)

Empty the Sun was a book I stumbled across accidently, and it looked interesting so I reached out to Tyson Cornell of for a review copy. No, I am not ashamed to put myself out there like that. Yes, he was an absolute peach to agree to ship it out. So Tyson, I'm blowin' a little kiss your way as my way of saying thanks!

Joseph Mattson does an outstanding job of infusing reality with an alter-reality, creating a protagonist like none that I have read before. A guitar fiend with a penchant for whiskey and a strong dislike for God - our main man finds himself backed between a rock and a hard place time and time again.

Playing gigs with a guy known as Sweet Julio gets him in a heap of trouble when some not-so-straight cops chuck him in the back of a K-9 van to question him in the presence of a caged and agitated German Shepard. Unable to give the cops the information they want, they feed his left index finger - the most important finger, the fret finger - to the dog and throw him out onto the street.

In shock and bleeding heavily, traveling down the center lane of the highway, he is rescued by Hal and Little Pam, and the threesome become fast friends.

6 nights ago, he dreams of God. God tells him the world will end in 6 days. God tells him he might as well end it now.

Upon waking, he goes to see Hal to discuss the dream, and finds his friend dead. Rather than call for help, he wraps Hal up in a blanket, tosses him in the trunk of his car, and heads out of Los Angeles on a mission. A mission that involves drugs, drinking, elephant seals, knuckle bones, music, a blind Blues guitarist, and a long lost love who lies dying, and God.

Once I started reading this novel, it was easy to see why it has garnered such great reviews.

Joseph deals with things like addiction, religion, and love in very real terms. He impregnates his characters with these failings, allowing them to wallow in their inadequacies. Heck, they even see themselves as failures, as lost souls, hopeless and unfixable.

Hal, who we come to know through a series of memories (or flashbacks), punished himself his entire life for a mistake he made 40 years ago. He prefers the dark of night, cursing the sun, sleeping in late and staying up all night, filling his veins with the mind-numbing power of heroin.

Our main guy loses his ambition and focus when he loses his fret finger, living the drunk life of one who will never see better days, pining for the old days and listening to Hal's twisted words of wisdom. Though he has no respect for God, he seems to find him in everything he does, feels God watching him, believes God is taunting him on his runaway mission. He hallucinates meetings with God, who challenges him during these final 6 days.

Mattson's writing is thick and chunky - he produces paragraphs that almost need to be chewed, before they can be swallowed. He is another very quote worthy writer. He are some beautiful lines from the story (that I just couldn't help tweeting):

"I did not look up because if there was a heaven I did not want any part of it".

"The heart is a wonderful and stubborn beast".

"Have you ever been in love? The kind of love that feels so good and bad at the same time that you just want to punch yourself in the face forever?"

Empty the Sun is packaged with a music CD by the band Six Organs of Admittance. I had never heard of the band before reading this book, and I had a hard time listening to the music AND reading the book, because my brain wasn't sure which thing it should be focusing on, so it attempted to focus on both at the same time. #readingfail.

I read a good chunk of the book first, then familiarized myself with the band's music, and happily married the two together for the final stretch. The instrumental guitar sounds of Six Organs of Admittance was a nice compliment to Mattson's book.

Which, of course, then led me to searching the internet for more instrumental music that would compliment all of the other novels that are patiently waiting to be read. And that search, well, it led me to creating this post about music to read to.

So I thanked Tyson at the beginning of the review, but I also owe a thank you to Joseph Mattson (1) for writing such an amazing novel and (2) for rekindling an old old old obsession of mine, music to read to.

Check out these links that support the novel, author, and band.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Music To Read To

If you are like me, you can read a book almost anywhere, under almost any circumstance. I can read in the car, in the bath, in the living room with the tv on in the background, in a noisy sweaty gym while my kids are rolling around practicing Jiu Jitsu, even at a Yankees game in NYC (yup, that was me!).

But the one thing I cannot read around is music. I usually end up listening to the words and have to reread the same sentence over and over again before it sticks. I am not sure why my brain treats music differently than any other background noise, but there you have it.

I do find that certain types of instrumental music works, if I pair the pace and mood of the music to the pace and mood of the novel:

Zoe Keating - Contemporary instrumental cello music. Haunting, subtly powerful, unlike anything I have ever heard before. Her new self-released album Into the Trees is amazing. Click here to listen. Zoe creates every sound you hear herself, with the help of her trusty laptop.

Six Organs of Admittance - I just found out about these guys. Their music is part of the novel the I am currently reviewing for A Barnacle Book. The novel is "Empty the Sun" by Joseph Mattson, and the book came with a CD of instrumental guitar music from this band. It fits the mood of the novel very well, and caused me to seek out similar music (hence the inspiration for my post on music to read to!). You can sample their stuff here.

Jeff Ball - Contemporary Native American Flute music. I love this stuff. I always have. Many years ago I bought a CD from a group that was playing at a local fair, and was just blown away by the sound. Jeff's music incorporates other instruments, but the flute is the spotlight. It's soft, sexy, and smooth. Take a listen to it.

Beyond Six Strings - Instrumental Harp guitar music. Slow or upbeat, there is a mixture of both in this collection of different musicians. It gives you a sample of what is out there.

So there's a little taste of what is available out there for those of you who are like me... requiring some good music to read to -minus the vocals. Music that fades easily into the background yet also enhances your reading experience.

What do you listen to when you are reading? Classical? Contemporary? Danny Elfman movie soundtracks? Post links to them so we can all give them a shot!

Author Interview: Les Plesko

Les Plesko, author of The Last Bongo Sunset, Slow Lie Detector, and the upcoming release Who I Was, has held quite the variety of jobs -"DJ, pool cleaner, cotton shoveler, cropduster flagman, furniture refinisher, messenger, phone sales and other stuff he's forgot. Now he's editor of a medical journal and teaches at UCLA." (job information lifted from

He is a down-to-earth kind of guy, who lets his characters inspire him, rather than trying to inspire his characters. He teaches his students to write with an emotion in mind, rather than a plot. His writing is like no other.

I want to thank him for allowing me the opportunity to get to know him better by participating in this interview!

When did you first become aware of your love for the written word?

Always. I was a big reader from the time I learned to read.

Who are some of your greatest influences?

The earliest I can recall are Lawrence Durrell, who wrote The Alexandria Quartet; Jean Genet, Our Lady of the Flowers, but by now there are too many to mention. On the reading list I keep for students at UCLA, there are three hundred books I’ve read and loved and that have all been an influence at one time or another.

Right now, I’ve rediscovered Richard Brautigan, who’s most famous for “Trout Fishing in America.” I also read a lot of philosophy, Slavoj Zizek-type stuff. Also, art has been a big influence.

Right now I’m really digging the painter R.B. Kitaj. And music: used to listen to jazz but now I like punky stuff again. For movies, I really like Wim Wenders old stuff, and the experimental filmmaker Jonas Mekas.

How would you describe your writing style?

Others have said it’s like jazz, or like the beats. It used to be poetical with lots of imagery and metaphor -- what could be called “flowery.” But now it’s a pretty stripped-down style, taking out all the extra words. It seems like, today, everybody has seen and heard and read and said everything; there’s an oversaturation of sensory input. So I like to leave out all the stuff everybody has already seen and heard and said.

When researching your history as a writer and an instructor for the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program, I came across this quote:"Writing is not about having "ideas," about plot, structure, or narrative. It is the creation of a feeling, a nuance, a brief picture recalled, and establishing it, letting one scene suggest the next, allowing the work to create itself.” How does this apply to the way you create your stories, and how do you teach your students to do the same?

I try to see a picture, or rather, to picture a mood, the mood of an emotion, and to discover characters who embody that mood, then set them in motion and see what they might want to do. That’s where my plots now grow from. I want to let the characters find their own answers, without me getting in the way or pushing them around. I’ve never had a “great idea” for a book that’s worked out. As far as how I apply this to teaching, I try simply to aim the students toward what seems to be the most emotionally resonant in their work, and I urge them to keep writing in that direction, toward what’s working best. Typically, those are the parts of their work that have the strongest voice. At the same time, I do pay a lot of attention to the basics like sentence construction, because writing is also a craft.

When I read your novel SLOW LIE DETECTOR, I noticed it was published without a jacket blurb. What was the reasoning behind the lack of summary?

Well, I think we simply didn’t think of it. While I like jacket blurbs that give me a sense of the style of the novel, I don’t care for descriptions of the plot. That doesn’t interest me. Someone once asked Martin Amis, “What’s your novel about,” and he said, “it’s about 440 pages, you’ll have to read it to find out.” I really hate the emphasis that’s put on synopses and summaries. They don’t really tell you anything about a book. But I always know after reading a page from anywhere in a novel whether it’s going to interest me.

What can you tell us about your latest novel WHO I WAS?

It’s the unmediated thoughts of a college girl during her love affair with a college guy. I tried to write it completely from her head, without any authorial intrusion. Corny as it sounds, I channeled her.

As a writer, I am sure you get your fair share of feedback. What is the best compliment you have ever been given? What was the hardest constructive criticism you were ever given?

I gave a 16 year old kid “Who I Was” and he said, “this is really about me.” That was awesome. I knew I’d got it right. The most constructive crit has always been, “what’s going on here? Where are we?” To generalize, the best criticism (positive or negative) lets me know how the novel is being perceived. For example, if a reader thinks my main character is 19 but I’ve intended her to be 35, that lets me know I can do one of two things: try to make the character seem more 19-ish, or: I guess she’s 35 after all! And then I take it from there.

What books are you currently reading?

A short story collection, “Daddy’s” by Lindsay Hunter, published by Featherproof Books. Also, rereading The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony by Roberto Callasso, a retelling of the Greek myths. He is a genius.

As an author and a reader, what is your take on eBooks and eReaders?

They’re not for me. They give me a giant headache. The paper book still does the best job of presenting fiction.

What authors/novels/websites would you like to share with our audience?

Richard Brautigan, who I first read in college, really knocked my socks off all over again, if I wore ‘em -- particularly “A Confederate General from Big Sur,” “The Abortion – a Historical Romance” and the short stories, “Revenge of the Lawn.” They’ve all been recently reissued in nice paperbacks. A couple of really cool websites are, which has thousands of vintage photos, and Overheard in New York, which has great quotes right from the streets of New York and all over.

What was the best question that an interviewer asked you? What was the worst? How did you reply to them?

The best was, if you were to meet your 12 your self, what would you tell him? My answer was, don’t be a wuss, do what you want to do. The worst was, “what’s the difference between men and women,” in the sense that I’ve been trying to figure that out in my books my whole life.

What is one thing that no one knows about you?

Come on. Why would I tell? Everything anyone wants to know is in the books.

What I Want to Know

Welcome to TNBBC's "What I Want To Know" - a mini series of sorts that will hopefully answer some of the questions and quiet some of the concerns I know fellow bloggers, authors, and publishers have regarding how to choose a reviewer or book to review, review etiquette, how to pitch and be pitched.. among other things.

Last week, we heard from the publishers and authors on what they are looking for in a reviewer. Today, I am turning the tables and asking book bloggers:

What do you look for in a review pitch? What catches your attention?
What turns you off?

Here's what the bloggers had to say:

"I have all of my authors or publishers fill out the same information when requesting a review, so it's not necessarily about how they approach it, it's more the content they supply. I will immediately disqualify a book if the synopsis is sloppy (ie: full of grammatical errors or basic spelling errors.) My thought is... If they are unable to write a proper synopsis, chances are their novel is just as sloppy. I also have them submit their cover art, which is an instant attention getter or turn off. (I hate to say that we judge a book by its cover, but that's life.) I do not disqualify because of bad presentation, but I will mention it in my review." - Misty Baker,

"A big turnoff would be if it was a genre that I don't read. My review policy is pretty accessible on my blog, so I'd be a little annoyed if they didn't bother to check. If I'm a big enough deal to warrant a pitch, check the review policy. I'd definitely notice if it were by an author I like (or had been mentioned/given a blurb by an author I like). I'm definitely one of those people who will try something new if an author I read said the book is good. A synopsis would be important, obviously, and if the book were by a new author, probably a comparison to similar authors." - Kelly Hager,

"I prefer something that is clearly thoughtful and at least somewhat personalized demonstrating WHY I might like this book or why this book would be a good fit for my blog and the readers of my blog. I work in marketing, and I'm not an idiot, so I know when you have just copy and pasted the same message to everyone. Having a template for a review request is fine but at least know my name and what our blog is about. A picture of the cover will catch my attention as well as a succinct summary of the book including the genre, the reading level and the page number. I like when you tell me what authors or books it might be similar to so that I can get a feel for it and that shows thoughtfulness to the fact that you've seen what types of books I enjoy. One thing that turned me off was an author sending me a long summary and then a half page worth of quotes from other people telling me how AWESOME the book is. I do not care what other people think. Maybe one or two but a half page? Particularly when it could be made-up quotes that you and your family sat around at a table and constructed. No thanks, tacky authors." - Jamie Bennett,

Bloggers LOVE getting pitched for books. We enjoy knowing that our blog is catching someone's attention, that the reviews we are writing are being read, and that authors and publishers out there are paying attention.

And when a publisher or author matches their book to our taste, it's a win/win for everyone!

I especially love to get pitches from authors who are friends with, or have read with, other authors that I have previously reviewed on my blog. I find some of my favorite indie literature that way.

I prefer seeing my name at the top of the email pitch, instead of the generic "Dear ," and if they mention my blog in there somewhere, I at least know they took a minute to check it out and learn who I am and what I read. That bumps you up on the consideration scale!

If you link me to the book, I will definitely check it out, so don't feel you have to summarize it or copy and paste the blurb into the pitch. I'd rather get an idea of what you are like, what you are looking for from me, and what I can do to assist getting the word out. I may not choose to read the book myself, so it helps me to know if you are willing to free up a few copies for a giveaway on the blog to try to generate interest for you.

There are so many things that publishers and authors do right when they pitch bloggers. And we all so grateful for making these books available for us to review, and for taking us seriously.

Keep our suggestions in mind the next time you pitch a blogger, and we look forward to working more closely with you in the future.

So what did you think?

Did Misty, Kelly, and Jamie do a fair job letting the authors and publishers know what bloggers are looking for in a review pitch? Was there something you didn't see that you want to share? Is there something that the publishers and authors are doing well that you want to commend them on? Comment here to get the discussion going. I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Now that we've discussed what authors and publishers look for in a reviewer, and we've seen what bloggers look for in a pitch, next week we will take a look at how authors and publishers decide who they will pitch for a review.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I've Been Tagged!!!

Ashley at Books From Bleh to Basically Amazing tagged me yesterday!

The Rules:
(1) Accept the tag and link to the tagger at the beginning of your post.
(2) Answer the questions honestly in your post by listing four things.
(3) Pass on the love by picking four other people to tag and listing them at the bottom of your post. Notify them that you tagged them.

Four Things In My Handbag:
  • Cell phone
  • Chapstick
  • Wallet
  • Gum

Four Favorite Things In My Bedroom:
  • Book on the nightstand
  • Wall hanging of my oldest sons handprints when he was a baby
  • My king sized bed
  • Black and white photos of my hubby that I took for my college photography class

Four Things on My Desk (kitchen table - I have no desk):
  • My laptop
  • My current read (when it's not on my nightstand)
  • Lots of pens/pencils
  • candles

Four Things I've Always Wanted to Do (But Haven't Yet):
  • Work for a publishing company, in some capacity
  • Travel to Ireland and Italy
  • Kiss Johnny Depp (what?!?!)
  • Visit famous authors gravestones (traveling throughout the US)

Four Things I Enjoy Very Much At The Moment:
  • Curling up with a good book
  • Blogging and Tweeting
  • Attending book festivals and author readings
  • Watching my kids when they get along (it's rare, so I enjoy it when it happens)

Four Songs I Can't Get Out Of My Head:
  • Like a G 6- Far East Movement
  • Bad Romance - Lady Gaga
  • Orange Crush - REM
  • Can't Get You Outta My Head - (hahaha.. just kidding!)

Four Things You Don't Know About Me:
  • I am addicted to chapstick. I carry about 3 of them in my purse, and have countless tubes all over the house and in the car.
  • I'm terrified of spiders. Like, to point where I get nauseous when I see one. I'm too scared to kill one because I am afraid I will miss, and it will get away, and then I will have to worry about where the heck it is until I find it again.
  • I hate shopping for shoes. I am picky as all hell when it comes to shoes, and I can never find what I want. So I wait until my shoes are literally falling apart before buying new ones.
  • I have a truckers mouth. I drop the F-Bomb so often I don't even hear it half the time. If I go a whole day without cursing, It's a god-damned miracle.

Four Bloggers I'm Tagging:
Thanks again Ashley, that was so much fun! And be sure to check these ladies out - They work hard at reviewing and creating great blog posts!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Scary Story Retro Review: Pet Cemetery

The deeper into October we go, the cooler the nights become. The heat is turned on to keep us toasty warm inside our homes, fireplaces fill the night air with the smokey smell of burning wood, the leaves - once a vibrant display of yellows and reds - now turn to brown and crunch beneath our footsteps.

When I think of October, I think of Halloween. Halloween, of course, brings to mind ghosts and goblins, zombies and cemeteries. And of course, when I'm thinking of cemeteries, I think of Stephen King's Pet Cemetery.


Read (??)
3 Stars - Recommended to readers familiar with author

Typical of most of the books Stephen King writes, Pet Cemetery ran a few pages longer than necessary. Good ole wordy King, right?

I read this novel back in middle school, during my 8th grade year. I remember living in Carmel, NY. At the top of my street sat a small cemetery. Which never really bothered me until I began this book. Only Steven King could get me to break into a near run when walking past the cemetery every day on my way to and from the bus stop. And keep me from sneaking out at night, for fear of what was waiting for me at the top of the block behind those black gates.

The death of an innocent young boy, the heartache a parent feels, the guilt, the pain of losing a child... If there was a way to bring them back, would you take it?

That is exactly the situation King creates for his characters here. An ancient burial ground, sacred, not to be abused. Legend says if you bury someone there, they will be returned to you. But will they be the same?

Prepare for chills, and for the unexpected (unless you've seen the movie, of course). And I promise you will never look at a cemetery the same again!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Review: Slow Lie Detector

Read 10/13/10
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended

I wasn't always sure where this book was headed, what the characters were doing, or even what their purpose was... But I loved the ebb and flow, and the amazing sentence structure. Les Plesko's chapters were a short page and a half each, the words woven together so fluidly that I had finished reading the novel before I had even really begun.

The cover caught a lot of attention. I was reading it at the gym while my kids were practicing their Jiu Jitsu, and though I read there every night and no one usually says a word, on this particular night everyone was asking what the book was about. They wanted to see the cover, feel it, they were interested to hear what it was about. They saw me jotting down notes and asked to read them. I was slightly embarrassed and secretly thrilled that a book could draw so much attention - at a GYM no less!

Les Plesko's novel doesn't need a summary, heck - it doesn't even have a cover blurb, it really doesn't matter what the story is about. But I can't look at someone and say "I just read the words and let them take me where they will".

So if I had to sum it up, here is what I would say:

It's about this guy, Max, who wants to make a film. A film about real things. A film that catches every moment of everyone's lives. A documentary of life. And while he is driving and filming out the window of the car, he stops and picks up this chick, Winn, who he falls for, but she is married to a sailor. Somehow her sailor husband tracks her down, and finds her with Max. And then there's this weird love triangle between Max, Winn, and her husband. Then Max knocks up Winn, and her husband accepts this, until Winn has the baby, and tells her husband that the baby looks like him, which pisses him off and he leaves.

The story then follows the roller coaster of a relationship between Max, and Winn, and their very many additional 'partners'. It deals with infidelity in such a real yet abstract way.

Don't let that be the selling point though. Take a look at the writing:

"The best understanding that he had of himself was always second hand".

"Bad thoughts were alright, only what you did counted, not what you thought, how you felt".

"Did you drink because you felt bad, or did the drinking become the badness"?

"He did ordinary things that were made extraordinary from it".

The novel takes each character's personal emotions and exposes them for everyone to see. The author cracks open each person's chest, and allows the reader to pull back the skin and crawl inside. To live in the moment with them. To know what they think, and what they feel, and why they act the way they do. His characters are vulnerable, and honest, and as real as his words can make them. They are ugly, damaged, ruined people - these characters - and they are unapologetic. They are human, and make mistakes, and accept each others faults.

And that is what makes this novel such an amazing read.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Review: Termite Parade

Read 10/11/10 - 10/13/10
5 Stars - Highly Recommended/The Next Best Book

Do not let the book cover of Termite Parade turn you off. Seriously.

If you are like me, and hate anything that creeps and crawls, this book cover will make your stomach turn. You will take one look at that wide open mouth with termites climbing out of it, and want to gag. Your hands might shake, and your knees might get weak, and your upper lip and forehead might bead with sweat, but do yourself a favor and GET OVER IT.

Grab a copy of this book.
Here's why:

Have you ever been in a crappy relationship, one that was just too much work, one where your girlfriend/boyfriend was crazy jealous and never trusted you, wanting to know who you were on the phone with, who you were texting, who you were going out with, how long you were going to be gone...?

Have you ever been mortified by this girlfriend/boyfriend, embarrassed to the point where you wish you could just rip open a hole in the universe and be sucked into it, when they would make off the wall comments and false accusations in front of people, people whose jaws would drop and hit the floor, people who would feel sorry for you because of the scene your other half was creating?

Have you ever gotten to the point where, knowing the relationship isn't working, knowing the effort you are putting in will never equal the effort coming back out, knowing that you will never leave them, you decide you have finally had enough, you decide to do something you ordinarily wouldn't ever do, something you know you shouldn't but you just can't help yourself, you tell yourself they deserve what they have coming, and then you just do it, without thinking about it?

Have you ever done that thing that you knew you shouldn't have done, and then lied about what it was that you did, and the person believed you, right from the start, and never questioned you about it, and you thought, phew! That was too easy, but then the longer you went living and supporting the lie, the worse and worse you felt, the guilt over the thing you did and the lie you told to cover it up begins to eat you up, from the inside out, gnawing and chewing at you, day after day, until you couldn't even look at her/him without the guilt causing you physical discomfort, until you finally decide you have tell them the truth, not because you want them to know, but because you are convinced that telling the truth is the only way to get the lie to stop eating you up inside?

If you were shaking your head as you read all of that, nodding in agreement, laughing because yes! I have done that, I have felt that, I have been on the receiving end of that, I was lied to, I told a lie, I was in a shit relationship - if you felt anything at all while reading all of that, then you NEED TO READ THIS BOOK.

This is the twisted, terrible story of Mired and Derek, and their awful relationship - a relationship they both want so badly that they are willing to attend couples therapy for. It's the story of the thing that Mired does to push Derek over the edge. It's the story of the thing that Derek does to Mired. It's the story of the lie Derek tells Mired to cover up the thing he did. It's the story of the guilt that eats Derek up from the inside out like termites.... chewing his bones to splinters.

Oh, and how awesome was it of the author, Joshua Mohr, to name his leading lady Mired - which means "entangled, hindered, to involve in difficulties"? Our damsel in distress, named for the hell that her life has become. Is that not poetic? Not to mention this guy can write! He gets it. He knows what a shitty relationship feels like. He knows what it's like to want something to work so badly you are willing to put up with all kinds of nonsense for it. And he's throws it all out there in black and white for you to experience.

Need more before you commit? Check out the book trailer:

Huge hugs and kisses go out to Two Dollar Radio for sending me this review copy. Watch these guys, they know good literature and are not afraid to publish it!

The Naked Gardener Giveaway

Author Laura B Gschwandtner and I are very excited to announce a great giveaway opportunity!

Laura has offered up 10 copies of her new novel The Naked Gardener, which was released by CreateSpace this past August, to be read and discussed as part of a sidebar group read for TNBBC in the month of November.

Here is the book description as found on Goodreads:

In a remote forest of northern Vermont, Katelyn Cross takes five women on a wilderness canoe trip where they hope to come up with ideas for saving their dying town. Although the river is not always what it seems and the women have not left their problems behind, a painting ritual creates a new way to look at the world - and themselves.
Artist Katelyn Cross loves Greg Mazur and he loves her. He wants to be married but a previous relationship that went sour has made Katelyn overly cautious about any permanent commitment. And what about Greg's first wife? He lost her to cancer and Katelyn worries that he's only looking for a replacement. What's a girl to do? Canoe down a river with five gal pals, camp out, catch fish, talk about life and men. The problem is, a river can be as unpredictable as any relationship and just as hard to manage. On their last day, when the river turns wild, the women face the challenge of a lifetime and find that staying alive means saving themselves first while being open to help from a most unlikely source. As Katelyn navigates the raging water, she learns how to overcome her fear of change in a world where nothing stays the same. When Katelyn returns to her garden, she'll face one more obstacle and the naked gardener will meet the real Greg Mazur.
What readers are saying about The Naked Gardener: Lyrical ... Scandalous ... Empowering ... Exhilarating ... Honest ... Sensual ... Fun ... Gentle ... Pleasurable ... Transporting ... Timeless
In her first novel, award winning writer L B Gschwandtner explores the push and pull of love, a woman's need to maintain her individuality within marriage, and the bonds that can make women stronger even when the world feels as if it's breaking apart.

Laura has agreed to ship 2 of the 10 copies of The Naked Gardener internationally.

In order to win a copy of this novel:

1- You must post a comment to this thread including a way for us to contact you if you win, and what country you live in.

2- You must agree to participate in a group read book discussion that will run during the month of November over at TNBBC on Goodreads. Laura has agreed to participate in the discussion and will be available to answer any questions you may have for her.

3 - You must be one of the first 2 people internationally to comment in order to qualify for the international copies. You must be one of the first 8 people in the US or Canada to qualify for those copies. Yup! It's first come, first serve!

Remember to put your country in the comment! If you do not tell me which country you live in, you will not qualify for a copy.

By commenting, you are agreeing to read the book and join the group discussion at TNBBC on Goodreads (the thread for the discussion will be emailed to you at the first of the month).

This giveaway will remain open until the 10th copy has been claimed. I will confirm the copies that have been claimed in the comment section here so you can see how many copies are left to claim.

Upon it's close, I will email all the winners and announce them here on my blog. Good Luck!!

In the meantime, check out these links: The and Laura's Twitter page.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What I Want To Know

Welcome to TNBBC's "What I Want To Know" - a mini series of sorts that will hopefully answer some of the questions and quiet some of the concerns I know fellow bloggers, authors, and publishers have regarding how to choose a reviewer or book to review, review etiquette, how to pitch and be pitched.. among other things.

I sent out a request via Twitter a few weeks ago, soliciting feedback from various publishers, authors, and bloggers to get their take on 5 specific questions. Those that expressed interest were emailed the same 5 questions and asked to answer them openly and honestly.

My hope is that this series opens up some discussion - Share your thoughts and feelings on the questions and topics we cover here, recommend other topics or questions to help the series grow and evolve!

Let's get started!

The first question I wanted to tackle was this:

What do you look for in a reviewer? What catches your attention? What turns you off?

This question was sent out to the authors and publishers, and I thought it was a great place to start because, really truly, as bloggers, how can we ever stand a chance at building a relationship with them if we don't even know what they want from us? What is it about us that makes them agree to ship out review copies? What can we do to keep them coming back?

Here is what they had to say:

"At Graywolf, we really try to be selective about only approaching bloggers to pitch our books if we think the book is a good fit for the publication/blog and that publication’s audience. We don’t want to waste a reviewer’s time by sending a poetry collection to a reviewer/blogger that only reviews mystery novels, for example. So we try to pay attention to what the publication seems to focus on.

Enthusiastic blogs really catch our attention. Certainly we love getting coverage in a publication with a huge circulation rate or a huge audience, but you don’t always have to have the biggest circulation to have the most passionate readers. Even if a blog has only ten followers, if those ten followers are all voracious literature lovers that are going to read your book, get behind it, and tell everyone they know about it, then you have an extremely valuable readership. Word of mouth goes a long, long way in selling books
." - Marisa, Graywolf Press

"Traffic numbers, word-of-mouth recognition, a vibrant community, and a destination site." - Lucinda, Book Marketer

"I like reviewers who are succinct and can sum up their thoughts in 2-3 paragraphs, because when I'm reading reviews I like to read quite a few to get an idea of the range of emotions and ideas that a book can inspire. I understand that there is a market out there for longer, critical reviews, but I wonder if blogs or GoodReads etc. are the appropriate place for such analysis--I personally don't have the time to read multiple reviews that are 1000 words or longer. I would rather devote that time to reading the book in question." - Andrew Shaffer, HuffPost columnist and author of GREAT PHILOSOPHERS WHO FAILED AT LOVE (Harper Perennial, Jan '11)

"I want someone who is going to read the entire book, not just skim it. It's easy to tell when a reviewer has only read part of the book and relied on other reviews, jacket copy and publicity material to flesh out the piece. I HATE reviews that move into personal attack, rather than offering critique of the work. It seems lately that many reviews have become more entertainment writing than actual critique." - Collin Kelley, Poet, journalist, social media consultant, author of Conquering Venus

"Comments and interaction from and with readers, Interest and familiarity with our genre, and Google Page Rank.

We look to see if the blogger has lots of visitors and interactions with their readers. The more readers, the more likely we will want to pitch them. So, lots of comments catch our interest. We look and see what kinds of books they review and if they review the kind of work we publish. We check their google page rank, which is the number that indicates their traffic and how likely they are to come up in the top for listings on search engines." -
Vagabondagepress, Arts/Lit Online 'Zine The Battered Suitcase

"Obviously a certain amount of erudition is something I look for. If the reviewer writes well, doesn't make spelling errors (for self-edited blogs) and can describe why they liked or disliked the book without at the same time revealing too much of the plot, that's a rare and good thing. Turnoffs would be if the reviewer has basically the same thing to say about each book." - Gene Doucette, author of Immortal

I was amazed by the similarities, and the differences, in what publishers and authors look for.

Sometimes bloggers get hung up on their blog stats - # of comment, # of unique hits, # of returning hits, # of sites that get traffic through them - and while these comments give some weight to stats, it appears that publishers and authors are more interested in YOU and how you blog. They understand the power of a review, and pay attention to what you are reading, and what you like.

When I first started blogging, I pitched publishers and authors for novels to review more often than they were pitching me. Even though I had been running TNBBC on goodreads for 3 years, I was still fairly unknown in the publishing community - at least concerning my status as a 'reviewer'. I had no stats to speak of, so I had to sell myself, my confidence in what I liked, and my ability to give them the word of mouth their novels deserved.

Don't sell yourself short, and assume that if you aren't raking in 100+ hits a day, and have less than 500 followers, that publishers and authors won't take you seriously. Work hard at developing your writing and identifying a unique style, create a niche to market yourself through or an easy way for authors and publishers to know what you types of books you like to review, and those review pitches should come pouring in!

What did you think?

Was this post helpful and insightful? Was there anything here that shocked you? What interactions have you had with publishers or authors that support or negate what you read here?

Next week, we turn the tables, and ask the bloggers what they look for in a review pitch. So authors and publishers, be sure to check back and see what they have say!