Open Wounds

Book Reviews

My Favorite Novels of 2013

The only book in order is my top choice for the year and one of my favorite of all time (I know its only been out a few months but I read it over two years ago and it rocked my world then and continues to so do or do so or doe-si-doe). The rest are arranged in the order that I thought of them.

wingerWinger, by Andrew Smith. This is a great book that perfectly captures the voice of adolescence. Ryan Dean’s voice is wonderful and authentic and did I mention there’s rugby in the book? Everyone should read this book. It is poetic and brutally powerful.

The Chaos Walking Trilogy, by Patrick Ness (including The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men). I’m cheating. This is three books but they really are one epic science fiction story that will make you cry and break your heart and keep you turning the pages right up until the end. This is how great sociological science fiction is written. And it happens to be a YA book. The gender politics (everyone can hear what men think but nobody can hear what women think) and the commentary on the nature of being human cuts through you right from the beginning. Then there’s the alien race and consciousness. Wow.

Railsea, by China Miéville. I have to say right from the start that this author is not everyone’s cup of tea and… I read another book by him that I liked and another that I couldn’t finish (rare for me). What does this mean? The language is difficult to get the hang of but once I did I really found this story of White Whale hunting and metaphor mapping to be a wonder. But the language… stay with it. I found it an original work of really great and unique science fiction.

11-22-6311/22/63, by Stephen King. Two friends recommended this to me. I held off until I was ready to travel to Seattle and had 5 hours on a plane facing me there and 5 hours back. So… I have to say this is vintage King writing historical fiction with a vengeance. I loved the main character and would have followed him anywhere after the first couple of pages. Early hook, King never let me go. Time travel, butterfly effect, the 1960s (I was born in 61) all used to good effect. I was sad to see this one end and I’ve recommended to everyone I know since. It’s a long novel and that is a very good thing.

The Wind Through the Keyhole, by Stephen King. First know that I love a good western and I love the Dark Tower Series. Given that then you can understand why I loved this King coming of age again story. It is chilling and beautifully written.

outOut of my Mind, by Sharon Draper. The story of a disabled child stuck in a wheel chair, unable to speak or communicate yet incredibly smart and aware of what’s going on around her and nobody knows it. This story is so powerful. It’s told from inside the young girl’s head, how she sees and knows the world rather than  from the outside in and this makes the experience raw and challenging. I especially liked the ending and its realistic, no Disney fireworks conclusion.

The Dust of a Hundred Dogs, by A.S. King. Reality Boy was terrific too (so I’ll sneak in a quick recommendation as A.S. King rocks with all her books) but I have to tell you Dust of 100 dogs just rocked my boat. I’m a sucker for a western but I’m also a bigger sucker for a pirate story. And this is a love story also! This is told from the protagonist’s point of view from three unique angles (many dogs perspectives, a modern-day teenager, and a pirate from the days of swashbuckling). This is not a story for the squeamish (rape and pillaging abound) but man did it grab me. I saw the ending coming but felt so satisfied when it arrived that I didn’t care.

Calico Joe, by John Grisham. I know I know. John Grisham? Hey, what can I say. I really enjoyed this baseball book about father-son relationships. I can’t believe how fascinating this story was. My father-in-law hated this and I loved it. The insight into why players do what they do was terrific.

buddhaBuddha, by Osamu Tezuka (including Volumes 1-8, yes, you read that right, 1-8). I’m cheating but I’m not really cheating. It’s one long epic graphic novel in 8 volumes. And it’s the story of Buddha. And the covers were all designed by Chip Kidd. How can you go wrong? This is the Buddha story with a vengeance. It’s all manga from the grandfather of manga, filled with inside jokes about school in Japan, and part Monty Python’s The Life of Brian. It’s also a deep book about religion, it’s uses and misuses and yes, about why we fear death and how we as human beings can come to terms with it. My son and I read these together. Take your time reading the story and enjoy the pen and ink on the full-page panels. The detail is incredible. This is an amazing lifetime achievement.

The Drowned Cities, by Paulo Bacigalupi. Even more brutal and disturbing than Ship Breaker – more violent if you can believe it. And so disturbing reading about children making war on children. This is total heart of darkness time. Keep one eye half closed as you read, but do read it and hope that Bacigalupi writes another story that takes us back to this world. Just… no more chopping off of fingers, please! Ouch.

Well, that it for 2013.

I’m looking forward to the reading list for 2014.

And my own work moves forward, slowly, but surely. If I can just keep at it I should have two books in to my agent this year. Fingers crossed. Nose to the grindstone.


10 – Part 2

Here’s my second set of five. Make of them what you will, but in no particular order:

Spartacus (Paperback) ~ Howard Fast (Author) Cover ArtSpartacus by Howard Fast is a great book and a great piece of literature. I read this about fifteen years ago and was blown away by how evocative it was and how many layers it carried on it’s scarred shoulders. I loved the movie Spartacus (I’m Spartacus! The watches on the Roman soldier’s wrists in the big battle. The crucifiction after the horrific fight between Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis who still sounds like he’s in Brooklyn) and only saw the novel while digging for gold at a used bookstore on 19th street near 5th avenue. I couldn’t put this down. As a piece of historical and political fiction (yes and swords and sandals action – though less than you’d think) it blew me away. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy writing historical fiction. Note I’ve also seen the first season of the TV show and had a hard time watching it as the violence was incredibly intense and the story so upsetting. But then when was slavery ever anything but? This is the only novel I’ve read by Fast and it’s a keeper.

stand The Stand by Stephen King is wonderful. I’ve read it twice, once when I was a teenager when it struck me as the ultimate teenage angsty end of the world story. I loved the characters, was terrified and caught up in the story, and completely satisfied with the ending. This is King at his best. Then I read it again some twenty years later when he reissued it with an additional 400 pages in the “uncut” version and I loved it even more. This had one of the most gripping opening 50 pages ever. I can still picture the guys at the gas station watching the car with the… and the guy waking up at the hospital…

 

 

 

captain bloodCaptail Blood by Rafael Sabatini surprised me when I read it. I had seen the Errol Flynn film of the book when I was a kid about a dozen times and knew it by heart. When I wrote my novel Open Wounds I used the movie and the book as key plot points. The first half of the book Captain Blood, is almost word for word the screenplay of the movie. But, and here’s the good part, the second half of the book takes Captain Peter Blood to the edge of madness and home again. You’ve missed out on a terrific read if you haven’t taken this step past what is already a great movie story. I’m a sucker for a good pirate story.

 

 

 

make roomMake Room, Make Room by Harry Harrison is absolutely brutal. The movie Soylent Green (Soylent Green is people food! says Chuck Heston from his stretcher) was made from a small piece of this massive, thought-provoking, and yes, depressing and dark science fiction novel. I picked the book up because it said, “Movie based on…” and because I’d read and liked Harry Harrison (Bill the Galactic Hero is a favorite). This is a gritty and powerful and cautionary tale all wrapped up into a crowded, unable to breathe in, novel.

 

 

 

papillonPapillon by Henri Charriere is a magnificent adventure novel based on the life of the author – the only man to escape from Devil’s Island. Because of Papillon I wanted to get a tattoo (thought my wife wouldn’t let me – I know I know). “Welcome to the penal colony of …” from the Steve McQueen movie of the same name is just about perfect accompaniment also. This was one of the first real adult novels I read as a teenager and it fired my imagination.
There’s the last of my ten. Next week as I lie about on vacation (I will not check my work email) I’ll come up with my ten favorite reads of 2013. Never done it before so it ought to be fun.

The Kingdom of Ass-holes

Assholes: A Theory

I know. I know. But tell me if you saw a book like this in the bookstore, that you wouldn’t pick it up to at least, you know, look.

I’ve been reading a book called, Ass-holes, A theory, by Aaron James and thoroughly enjoying it. James is a Harvard educated philosophy doc and takes a philosophical approach to looking at assholes and you either go with it or you don’t. I did. It reminded me of an extended, funny Monty Python sketch. He’s not going to tell you how to deal with assholes. He’s just going to examine them and identify them, and try to figure out why they appear in our world in such large numbers.

I can honestly say I have never seen the work asshole used in combination with so many other words so many different ways, all in one place, before. For example there is asshole management, are assholes shaped by enabling cultures,  self-aggrandizing assholes, reckless assholes, delusional assholes, an asshole population, asshole CEOs, assholes within, corporate assholes, royal assholes, royal royal assholes, presidential assholes, asshole bosses, smug assholes, boorish assholes, borderline or half-assed assholes, the supreme court of assholedom, kingdoms of assholes, small assholes, full-sized assholes, individuals who have an inner asshole, moral assholes, have a proliferation of assholes, be a mere asshole, or be a part of asshole capitalism. And that’s just stuff from the first half of the book that caught my eye.

James sets up a hypothesis for what makes up an asshole as opposed to a psycho, tyrant, scumbag, or jerk. He likes to work from the middle of the spectrum of assholedom.

Why am I writing about assholes? It occurred to me while I was contemplating reading Ass-holes, that I should buy the iBook version and read it on my iPad – one less book to carry around while traveling. Then I realized once again – for I go back and forth on this over and over again – that if I continued this pattern I would not longer buy books from independent bookstores – which, if they no longer exist, would be the end of civilization as we know it.

Besides, I bought Ass-holes because I saw it in the window of Kramer Books on Dupont Circle in DC – a great bookstore, coffee shop and diner.  They earned the purchase by their display, their wonderful sales help, allowing me to wander through their aisles for an hour, and their all around awesomeness.

So in a way, if I didn’t buy the hardcover I would have been an asshole without a cover.

It’s my rationalization and I’m sticking to it.


The Dust of Dogs and Human Insight

  I’ve been reading A.S. King and learning how to write. Every one of her books is a meditation on the art and craft of the novel. She is wonderful. I just finished her first book, Dust of 100 Dogs, and her latest, Reality Boy – back to back. I’ve read all of her books inbetween also.

Dust is part pirate tale (female protagonist), part coming of age story, part love story, part dog story, part modern and part historical. How would you take being born aware that you were a pirate and then, because of a curse, forced to the live the lives of 100 dogs, before you were again born into present day remembering each of your previous iterations fully?

The pirate story and the modern story are told in parallel as are a number of dog stories. You know the ending at the beginning but it doesn’t matter because you still don’t know how exactly King will get you there. This is a great technique and very hard to pull off yet she did this with her first novel and in such an engaging way. I was so caught up in the story I kept thinking to myself, maybe it won’t end the way she said. I knew the way the story ended. She’s cursed and lives the lives of 100 dogs. But still… I knew how it ended in general, guessed the specifics, and still felt a lump in my throat when I got to the last page.

reality  Reality Boy is so different and so visceral. You can read the synopsis on Goodreads. I’m not going to give it to you. It’s still too fresh for me. A good book will do that to me. It has to settle. I found tears on my cheeks a few times reading Reality Boy, and not because I felt manipulated but because the authenticity of Gerald’s (the protagonist) situation made me – feel. King is expert at capturing what it’s like to be in late adolescence (17). As an example. Gerald has a developmental insight at one point (he sees the world from someone elses point of view). I know this sounds  mundane, but it’s hard to explain this kind of world view to adults and for me, King really puts us inside Gerald’s head and shows us his realization in such a painful and amazing way. And it is amazing, in a story telling world accustomed to cartloads of over-the-top action, explosions, and gun-play, how powerful a single moment of genuine insight from a character we care about can be.

What will she write about next?

 


Chasing the Moldy Warpe

Product Details

Reading Railsea by China Miéville is like taking a course in world-building.

I loved this book. It is the kind of book that took me 50 pages to get hooked on but I was intrigued enough from the opening line to get there.

This is the story of a bloodstained boy.

Spectacular opening line.

The reason it was challenging to get into was the same reason it was so fascinating. Miéville creates a world that is told to us by a narrator using a language similar to English but different enough from it that I stumbled through it until I caught its rhythm. I can truthfully say there are a number of things that I read that I truly still do not understand after finishing the book but I don’t care and it in no way took away from the beauty of the book for me. Actually I liked it even more.

Yes, it’s a dystopian world and I like them. Period.

Yes, it has to do with trains and trains are cool.

Yes, it has to do with Moby Dick and the searching for a philosophy or white whale. I liked Moby, even the whale parts.

And yes, the main character is not a superstar, gun and sword wielding hero. He’s pretty mundane, and every-boyish and that’s what makes him so wonderful.

Look at what Miéville does with point of view. It’s 3rd person omniscient through Sham (the bloodstained boy) Ap Soorap’s perspective through the half-way mark and then the narrator tells us it’s time to switch – as if he’s an actor talking to the audience and breaking the 3rd wall. Then the story splits into three stories until they all converge back into Sham. It’s an incredible narrative risk that works spectacularly.

So listen to his narrative. You don’t even need a context:

“No such animal’s crossed our paths,” she said. “Be assured I know now your vehicle’s name, & at the first sign of that beckoning metal in a sinuate mustelid eruchthonous presence, I shall take careful notes of locations. & I shall get you word. On my honour as a captain.”

And then there’s this one from captain Naphi about her “philosophy” the great moldy warpe Mocker-Jack:

“How meanings are evasive. They hate to be parsed. Here again came the cunning of unreason. I was creaking, lost, knowing that the ivory-coloured beast had evaded my harpoon & continued his opaque diggery, resisting close reading & a solution to his mystery. I bellowed, & swore that one day I would submit him to a sharp & bladey interpretation.”.

He uses the symbol & instead of the word and, and then two-thirds into the book explains why he does.

From word choice, to the rhythm of the narrative, to the way characters speak, to the characters themselves. This world is built from top to bottom and bottom to top. Read it as a reader for pleasure. Read it as a writer for a course on world-building. Read it for the bloodstained boy and the moldy warpe.


Eat Sympathetic Gurus

May I be Happy: a memoir of love, yoga and changing my mind, by Cyndi Lee is a memoir about why women hate their bodies and a primer on how to take your yoga practice and use it in your daily life.

Let me put this out there.

I picked this up because Ms. Lee is a yogi who is internationally known for her teachings (yoga and mindfulness meditation) and I’ve read and enjoyed two of her previous books, Yoga Body Buddha Mind (which I loved as a book about yoga and practice and mindfulness) and Om Yoga: a guide to daily practice (which I have used in my own daily practice). I took classes and workshops at her Om yoga studio (before she lost her lease last year and now has a wandering studio) and it was one of the nicest studios I’ve ever been too.

So I think she’s great.

But here’s the thing.

This memoir is written by a dancer, yogi, celebrity with connections to Cyndi Lauper and Jamie Lee Curtis, who travels to India and is in Japan (Tokyo to be exact) during the horrible earthquakes two years ago. She meets famous gurus (because she can). And is obsessed with her body – she has been taught, to just like so many women by our wonderfully patriarchal misogynistic society. She comes from a privileged position at the top of her field so take that into consideration too.

What am I saying?

I tried to read Eat Pray Love twice and both times I couldn’t get more than twenty pages in. Why? Because I just didn’t care about the main character. She was like the three women in Sex and the City – I just didn’t care about them. Okay, okay. I’m a guy so that’s a problem too. It was hard for me to connect but still. The Sarah Jessica Parker character always complained about her life and I found it hard to feel sorry for her. She lived a good life, in a comfortable home, had plenty of money, dated lots of men, had good friends. What was she complaining about? Anyway a sympathetic character helps to keep the attention of this reader. Also, I know, I’m not the target audience for these shows/books so know that too.  As a reader I’m in the minority as the book Eat Pray Love is a best seller and people have told me how much they loved it – just not me.

Back to Cyndi Lee before I go off again. I read within the context of my experience. I can’t help that. But I also can learn. That I can help.

So Cyndi…  She wrote her memoir about why she hates or why “women” hate their bodies because she does and was taught to. As a “role model” to so many women, she thought it would help other women to explore this issue. Again, I had a hard time during the first part of the book because she is so successful and whining about her squishy parts (her term). This is a woman who does not have visible squishy parts. But she is also dealing with aging, and a mother who is dying, and a husband who has issues – let’s just leave it at that. These aspects of who she is, when taken as a fuller tapestry of who she is were fascinating and brave to speak about. I read on because I wanted to learn more about her. These other stories made her more vulnerable to me, as a reader. She puts herself out there and that is a brave thing to do.

But the most interesting aspect of the book and the main reason I read on was because she used a yogic filter for all of her experiences and that filter was fascinating. I teach in yoga class that we practice in class so that we can take it out into the world. She does this and uses herself as an example. She lives what she teaches and this direct application of yogic philosophy hooked me. Anything else would have been an interesting memoir but this raises it above that status and into another – at least if you’re a yogi or yogini.

One other thing from a writer’s perspective also caught my eye. She leaves out information about her relationship with her husband at a key point of the book which I will not reveal as it’s a spoiler for the memoir. But the absence of information is powerful in how it allows me to see her. Deep pain can be described or it can be inferred. It’s like in a movie when the director has a choice to either show the murder or show a shadow of the murder. Each can be powerful but what is  not shown is filled in by the imagination of the reader. Some readers of Cyndi’s memoir may get angry because she leaves this out. As a writer I was fascinated by the story the shadow told me.

Now here’s a question for you. With a little punctuation, how many different meanings can you make with the title of this blog post?


Breaking Bread not Heads

ASK THE PASSENGERS by AS King

I finished Ask the Passengers a few days ago by A.S.King. I’ve been letting it percolate and settle. Her novels do that to me. I won’t tell you what the ending is but I will tell you it is perfect. I didn’t expect it, the way A.S.King wrote that ending – having her cake and eating it too. If you read the book, and I highly recommend you do as it’s wonderful, I’d like to know what you think about the ending.

But that’s not the only thing, however veiled I’m being about gobsmacking perfect endings, that I learned from her latest book. Actually all three of the books I’ve read of hers, Everybody Sees the Ants, and Please Ignore Vera Dietz, included, demonstrate a great narrative writer’s technique.

I’ll get back to it. Hold on.

I met a Flannery O’Connor award winning author early in my writing career (long aside in progress so watch out for piratical brussel sprouts) named Rita Ciresi. I met her at a writer’s conference in Connecticut – but I don’t remember the name of it as it was a good 20 years ago. In one of her workshops she said, “One of the things I like to do the most is put my characters in a room together and let them eat. All kinds of things happen.” Let them break bread not heads. Now I know you’re thinking, he couldn’t remember the name of the conference but he could remember what Ciresi said. Hmmm. Well, deal with it.

Now it’s back to Ask The Passengers. A.S.King uses meal time – who eats what, with whom, in what room, with what drinks – to paint a tapestry of relationships that are mostly dysfunctional – though watching how they change over the course of the book is one of the subtle joys of the story. They do dishes, cook sometimes, go out into the backyard, lie on the picnic table and stare at the planes passing overhead and send them the love they cannot give to the ones they want to. She is brilliant at creating situations at home that cause her characters to interact. As a writer and reader I watch and marvel at her ability to do this.


Hookers, Language, and Naked Acrobats

Memoirs of a Rugby-Playing Man by Jay Atkinson is not your ordinary memoir – at least not here in the US. In England there are plenty of memoirs of famous ruggers but here in the US? I don’t know if there is even one – either famous ruggers or memoirs about them. Regardless, Atkinson surely has the credentials and the longevity in the sport to be an expert voice on it.

A friend of mine – someone I faced on the rugby pitch many times over the years and with whom I share a love of the sport – gave me this book for the holidays and I read it quickly and with great enjoyment. I especially enjoyed the perspective of a hooker (a position in the scrum that is responsible for “hooking” the ball back to his teammates when the ball is sent into the scrum. It’s a brutal position simply because of the physics of the scrum (all the pressure of eight players pressing into the shoulders and necks of the front three players and the front row center player is the hooker). I played rugby for 13 years and for all but maybe four or five games played with the backs at wing, fullback, or center. I played 2nd row once (my ears wouldn’t allow me to do it a second time) scrum-half once (now that was fun even if I was terrible) and flanker two or three times. I say this because as a back I especially enjoyed the peek into what it was like to be in the front row and hook.

Memoirs of a Rugby-Playing Man: Guts, Glory, and Blood in the World's Greatest Game

But what does all this mean? It means Mr. Atkinson had a tough sale to make about a sport that is not real popular here in the US. And he sold it anyway. It helps that he’s published a few novels, some of which have been successful critically and sales-wise (I’m going on record to say that I’ll be reading one of his novels this year …)

What I was amazed at was how heartfelt the memoir is. Now hear me out. Heartfelt and rugby don’t necessarily go together but let me see if I can explain. Atkinson’s book wades through drinking, partying, and sex scenes (there’s one in particular with a naked hand-standing acrobat… ) one after the other for most of the first two-thirds of the book – which is a lot of what rugby is about – mayhem – but it is a bit of an onslaught. Still it is not a sport for the faint hearted and does linger in alcoholic mayhem post play. I think I’m too attached to that word, mayhem. But war stories like this can be tiresome after a while. What’s the point? How do they build the overall story of this man’s life? In a novel wouldn’t some of them be cut to make sure the narrative moved forward?

Atkinson’s story snuck up on me. The backbone of the rugby life laced with stories of his family and his writing is what did it for me. His relationship with his father and with the writer Harry Crews (his teacher) became the emotional thread that built and peaked the narrative in the third act. It made his story a coming of age story that resonated with me deeply. It gave the memoir shape, it gave it form.

It also reminded me of what a writer friend told me once when critiquing my “rugby” novel a long long time ago (it was a novel that never sold but got me my first agent), “Put in all the rugby language and don’t worry if people don’t understand exactly what it means. Fuck ’em.” What I see in Atkinson’s use of the language of rugby – which by the way is the same language that Andrew Smith so skillfully uses in his book Winger – which has its main character play rugby – is how beautiful language can be when it’s unique to an activity – even when it’s brutal. It is language that even if not understood in a direct word for word translation tells a story with texture and depth.

Oh. And what about that kick-ass cover? I remember one game almost drowning in a good foot of water and mud on a flooded field in Bayonne New Jersey…


Ciaphas Cain, Rob Petrie, and Unreliable Narrators

For The Emperor: A Ciaphas Cain Novel

What do Dick Van Dyke and Ciaphas Cain have in common?

Who the hell is Ciaphas Cain? Though it’s a terrific name, don’t you think?

And why oh why is there a brussel sprout on my shoulder?

Why do I read memoirs or biographies? Especially of actors? Mostly because of the story they tell of time and place. Dick Van Dyke was born about the same time as my character, Cid Wymann in Open Wounds, was born yet his life was so different. Dick Van Dyke  as he says, was in the right place at the right time to be chosen for some choice roles – from Rob Petrie to the chimney sweep Bert in Mary Poppins. When actors tell their own story I learn about their character from how they portray themselves, how they seem to want to be seen, what they leave in and what they leave out. For example, Van Dyke starts off saying he’s not writing a tell-all with lots of dirt to uncover then tells – in his first bit – how he found out when he was in high school that he was conceived out-of-wedlock. Memoirs are great for teaching me how to not only get inside someones head but how to shade a narrative so it presents (either knowingly or unknowingly) a certain face to the reader.

For the Emperor is a story set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. It’s a memoir translated through a narrator who has edited it and included footnotes and other accounts to balance out the memoirist point of view. The author has done a fascinating thing with Ciaphas Cain, the writer of the memoir – a Commissar (high-ranking Emperor’s man usually working with Imperial Guard units across the galaxy). Cain is an unreliable narrator. Here’s how he starts his narrative:

One of the first things you learn as a commissar is that people are never pleased to see you; something that’s no longer the case where I’m concerned, of course, now that my glorious and undeserved reputation precedes me wherever I go. A good rule of thumb in my younger days, but I’d never found myself staring down death in the eyes of the troopers I was supposed to be inspiring with loyalty to the Emperor before. In my early years as an occasionally loyal minion of his Glorious majesty, I’d faced, or to be more accurate, ran away screaming from, orks, necrons, tyranids, and a severely hacked off daemonhost, just to pick out some of the highlights of my ignominious career. But standing in the mess room, a heartbeat away from being ripped apart by mutinous Guardsmen, was a unique experience, and one that I have no wish to repeat.

And so we are introduced to a character who is heroic in spite of what he says, self-serving, caring, and always trying to surround himself with warm bodies in case the bullets start flying and he needs a shield to protect himself from them. It starts off with perspective, clear voice (amusing also), and action.

The narrator who finds and annotates Cain’s memoir is a colleague of his – only to what degree, we have to wait until the end of the story to find out. Short asides of secondary characters are inserted to fill in information about what is happening in other parts of the city Cain ends up in. They give us further views into Cain’s world, Cain, and the narrator. It leaves me with a fuller picture of what probably happened and keeps me smiling at the number of times Cain would like to (as in a Monty Python movie) run away, but ends up charging forward instead.

Finding new ways to tell a story is like stealing a golden chalice from Smaug’s treasure horde under the Lonely Mountain – satisfying in the dark and even more so in the light of day.

 


There Ain’t No Sanity-Clause

I’ve thought about this a lot.

There are a lot of writers out there writing about how to write novels, how to write stories, how to write right, how to write wrong.

I’ve written some posts about the writing process in this blog and as a guest poster for some friends but no matter what angle I write about I just don’t think I’m bringing much new to the discussion. The best of them, like Andrew Smith’s “How to Write A Novel parts 1-4 and counting…) make me laugh at the absolute insanity (there ain’t no sanity-clause) that is the world of publishing and the writing life (whatever that is).

But I keep feeling like there’s something I can offer. I’m just not sure what I can bring to the table.

Salt and pepper?

Artichokes?

Brussel sprouts? Okay I really don’t like Brussel sprouts so let’s not talk about them ever again. Seriously. I can eat just about anything but brussel sprouts. I get a gag reflex just thinking about those little green balls of sprout. So let’s stay off the brussel sprouts.

Here’s two bits of advice I can give. It’s not much but it’s only January 20th so work with me.

Both bits of advice you’re heard a million times before – I’m sure – so I’ll try to give each a different context to make them sound important and fresh. Or at least not stale. I’m not sure why I’m stuck on food analogies but hopefully they will work their way off… the table.

The first bit of advice comes from a man named Pattabhi Jois who died in 2009 and was one of the great yogis (not as in bear but as in the yoking of the physical and the spiritual) of our time – and developed the style of yoga called Ashtanga yoga. I never met him but I wish I had. I have been to yoga studios that he taught in and spoke in so I got to soak up some of his vibe but that’s about it. Still his influence on yoga in the 20th century has been great.

Anyway I digress. Whenever students asked him when they would achieve the next level of anything in their yoga practice (or their life) he would say, “Practice and all is coming.” I think it works the same way for writing.

The other bit of advice I’ve been told and passed on to others just like many many other writers is if you want to be a writer you need to read – a lot. The only thing I can add to that is to read everything, not just the classics, but all genres, good writing and bad writing. I say this because it has worked that way for me. Everything I read is like a short course in how to write, what works and what doesn’t. I can’t help myself. If I was a Brussel sprout farmer I would see all food through the lens of a brussel sprout. As I writer I read on two levels, for pleasure, and to understand why I like or dislike what I’m reading. This can be summed up as, do what works for you as a reader and don’t do what doesn’t.

For example, I read Robert Jordan’s first book in the Wheel of Time Series (many friends recommended it to me) and was driven crazy (there still ain’t no sanity-clause) by the number of characters that muttered. He muttered. She muttered. We muttered. They muttered. You familiar muttered. So… I try not to have characters mutter. I also learned from that book (I only read the first book in the series so I can’t say if this is so about the other books in the series) to make sure that things happen in my writing. Jordan was a beloved writer, just not by me. Little happened in that first book and it was a long book for little to happen in. So… having things happen is good. Not having things happen is bad. I try to make sure when I write that things happen.

So this year I’ll be trying something new on my blog in my own personal attempt not to mutter, to make things happen, not to eat brussel sprouts, and to bring back the sanity-clauss.

I’ll be writing about the books that I read during the year and telling you what I learned from reading each of them. And if there’s one thing I know about my own writing it is that I have a lot to learn.

Maybe this is something I can bring to the table.


Winger, Pizza, Jobs, and Helsreach Ants

As a writer I love to read and I read a little of everything with a lot of YA, some non-fiction (biographies too), and a graphic novel when I can find one that hits the sweet spot.

I’ve never done a top ten list before on books but there’s always a first. Here are my favorite books that I read this year (some are from prior to 2012 and some will come out in 2013) in no particular order except for the first one – which is hands-down my favorite and I even read it twice, once in 2011 and once two months ago.

  1. Winger, by Andrew Smith is the first and easily worth two readings. It hasn’t been published yet but is coming out in 2013. If you’re not already an Andrew Smith fan this book will make you look up all the rest of his work and start reading them one after the other. The main reason I loved this book was the voice of the narrator. He is 14 and Andrew really captured the voice of this boy perfectly. It is incredibly funny and sad for different reasons at different times. Did I mention the protagonist plays rugby? And that it is illustrated perfectly (the narrator draws so “his” drawings are included throughout). This is storytelling at its finest.
  2. The Maze Runner (trilogy and prequel – 4 books total), by James Dashner is rough reading. This is really four books but it all starts with The Maze Runner. My son read it first (might not have been such a good idea as he’s 10 but…) and when I finally got to the first book I had to read through them all. Do I have gripes about the storytelling? Yes. Was it one of the most compelling reads of the year? Yes. Is it good sci-fi? Yes again. Thought provoking? Brutal? Depressing and terrifying (especially the prequel)? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.
  3. Helsreach, by Aaron Dembski-Bowden is a Warhammer 40,000 novel about space marines called the black Templars. I know, I know. Space marines? Warhammer 40,000? Hey, the man can write and as far as these novels go this is a keeper. Hordes of orks (don’t ask) in a Waagh (don’t ask again) swoop down onto a planet that is protected by the black Templars and they fight the battle literally to the last marine. Absolutely fascinating novel of warfare in the 41st century with some interesting work on the writer’s part in bringing out multiple viewpoints. This book was just plain muscular fun.
  4. The Wind Through The Keyhole, by Stephen King is wonderful, vintage King. The Gunslinger series is my favorite of his works and this adds another notch to the belt of the tale. This is a haunting tale of Roland as a boy out on his first mission. I don’t read King too often any more but this one just sang.
  5. The Drowned Cities, by Paolo Bacigalupi is a challenging read. I bought it for my son because we both read his other great book Shipbreaker and this continued the tale of the bioengineered war beast Tool. How could you turn that down? Then I read it quickly to screen it before I allowed my son to read it and I’m glad I did. Wow. The violence depicted is absolutely brutal. Children doing horrendous violence to children during a time of total war. This is a great book, wonderfully written, visceral to the point of making me put the book down and cringe at least three times. It is also a book of great, harsh, truth. The scope of the story is small and the pace is quick. It is an exercise in focus. This guy is good.
  6. Everybody Sees the Ants, by A.S.King is simply wonderful. It’s the first book I read by A.S. King and I immediately picked up Please Ignore Vera Dietz as soon as I was finished. Ms. King is another writer (like Andrew Smith) who nails the teenage voice (in her case both male and female in different books). Writing well, with a ring of authenticity from a young person’s perspective is a huge challenge and this story of a boy who has been bullied and his family just broke my heart. What I especially like are the realistic adult characters and how they give such great texture to Lucky’s story.
  7. Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A.S. King is the second King book I read and it was also a powerful tale of loss and coming of age. She’s got a new one out in hard cover called Ask The Passengers that is going on my to-read list for 2013…
  8. Passenger, by Andrew Smith is a follow-up to The Marbury Lens and is a hallucinogenic thrill ride that is deeply frightening and moving. This is a painful book to read, brutal, gory, with imagery that made me squirm. If you read Marbury then you owe it to yourself to read this as it makes the wonderful worlds created in Marbury expand into even larger more epic (does that even have meaning?) proportions. This book and Smith’s Winger are on two ends of the spectrum in style and content yet they both move from that same incredible strength of voice in their main characters. This book has already won a bunch of awards and I won’t be surprised if it wins more in 2013.
  9. Playing for Pizza, by John Grisham. Okay, okay. John Grisham? I’ve never read a book by him (nothing against him and I’ve seen his movies just never had the urge to read him) but my father-in-law recommended this book and it was a lot of fun so for its uniqueness it makes the list. This is a book about a football player from the NFL who ends up playing for beer and pizza in Italy. If you enjoy football stories (I do) and Italian food (I do) then you will enjoy this quick and smile inducing read. Something tells me this will be made into a movie…
  10. Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson is an exhausting read but well worth the trouble. Steve Jobs was not a nice guy and it’s hard reading about your hero and seeing all his warts but if you can get past that it is really a fascinating story of Apple, the computer industry, and Steve Jobs all wrapped up in one. You will never look at Apple the same again (and you will probably still buy ’em or change to them if you have never tried Apple products before).

There you have it. The literary might of the year from my perspective (as limited as it is).


Chop, Chop, Burn…

I’ve been reading a lot.

I read a lot normally but I especially enjoy reading when my day job gets me down. Grant writing, something I have to do to keep my day job, does indeed, gets me down. But it pays the bills so I do it. It’s a particularly stressful and challenging writing exercise that is usually done in some kind of collaborative trance amidst the silent screams of those engaged to tango.

I do not enjoy them, Sam I am, I do not like green grants and ham.

So to keep my sanity I read and write. Because I work so much during these time periods, the writing gets sidelined much of the time but… nobody takes away my subway reading time – that’s gold. Here’s what I’ve read in the last couple of months.

The Drowned Cities

The Drowned Cities, by Paolo Bacigalupi – This is a novel not to be taken lightly. There are severed fingers, death and destruction on a cosmic scale and the re-emergence of a favorite character from Bacigalupi’s award winner Ship Breaker, a dog-face named Tool. This book is an incredibly brutal war story where children are the warriors and children are trained and taught to kill children. It is palpably haunting and way too disturbing for my son to read. Sorry, Max. This one you have to wait on. It’s a book that provides me with reason to screen some of my sons book selections – even though the selections are stellar. For anyone else with a strong stomach, this is a beautifully written winner that you will not easily forget.

Furnace (Lockdown book I, Solitary book II, and Death Sentence book III) by Alexander Gordon Smith – There are five books in the series and seriously, how could you not pick this series up? I found it while I was in the Andrew Smith section. I just happened to see books by an Alexander Smith about a prison named furnace that seemed incredibly hellish and was filled with boys and – it looked terrific. What I will say about this series – which I have stopped reading in the middle of book III – is that it is compelling and fascinating and bloody, and brutal. What I will also say is that I didn’t care so much about the main character and that made it hard to read on. By the middle of book III I just didn’t like him any more. And so Furnace has gone the way of The Game of Thrones, put down because I didn’t want to read about the main character(s) anymore. I think I’m more likely to come back to Furnace though, because I see where Smith is going, I just don’t want to go there right now. I’ll leave this one up to you. If you’ve read the books, let me know what you thought.

I just finished Steve Jobs. I’ve talked about Jobs before, though, and that’s probably enough for the time being. Firm thumbs up on the biography.

The Ranger's Apprentice Collection (3 Books)

My son bought me the first book in The Rangers Apprentice Series by John Flanagan and I have to say it’s shaping up to be a fine fantasy read. Only a few chapters in and I’m totally engaged with the two main characters. I’m a sucker for swords and bows, long knives and shields – though not particularly in that order. More to come when I’m finished.

More book talk later in the week. There’s another one my son swears by and I always read what he thinks is good just as he does with me. I’ve got him reading The Bartimaeus Series by Jonathan Stroud. One of my personal favorites. He’s ripping though the second book as I write this and the moon rises over Jackson Heights.


Mine Arse On a Band Box

King's Captain: An Alan Lewrie Naval Adventure

I always look for new books to read. I’m a fan of historical fiction and am on the constant lookout for the next stand alone or series that I can sink my teeth into. My favorite series over the last fifteen years has been by a little known author named Dewey Lambdin. The series is about a man named Alan Lewrie who starts out in the first book as a seventeen year old midshipman and moves (so far) through fifteen plus years of his life to a position of post-captain of a frigate in the English navy during the years of the American Revolution and through the Napoleonic Wars.

The larger story of this man’s life is epic. Each individual book is unique yet adds depth of character to Alan mine-arse-on-a-band-box Lewrie. And Lewrie is an imperfect soul with a temper for violence and lack of skill in decision-making when it comes to women and relationships. He makes mistakes and pays for them. He’s a rake. He does good sometimes selfishly, sometimes for profit, and sometimes without knowing it. And sometimes he is very, very bad. But he is always like-able – especially because of these character flaws. I have followed him over 18 books, one more or less a year per year, every year of both mine and his life. It is like reading one long novel about one human being whose life is painted large on canvas. It helps if you like nautical, bawdy (there is sex and violence a-plenty), funny, adventure stories.

I found the series browsing through the new mass market paperbacks in a Barnes & Noble, looking for something good to read. The first book, The King’s Coat grabbed me from the opening scene when Alan’s father catches him in bed with his step sister, steals his inheritance and railroads him into the navy. I’ve loved every minute of each book ever since.

Two novels especially stand out (some in the series are better than others but all add in some grand way to the larger story line). One, Havoc’s Sword spends the first third of the book detailing a duel with pistols in which Lewrie is one of the duelists seconds. It is a wonderful piece of writing and takes place all on dry land. Another is a The King’s Captain in which the last half of the book takes place at anchor during the mutinies at Spithead and Nore – something I knew nothing about and found absolutely fascinating.

And here’s the coolest part. We had the same agent once a long time ago for a short period of time (about two years). I’ve corresponded with him ever since and last year he wrote a blurb for my novel. He writes all correspondence on a typewriter and has replied to every letter I’ve sent. My dad reads his books too. Every February (when the next book generally comes out) we race to see who will find it on the shelves of a bookstore first. This is as it should be.

My son is already asking when he gets to start reading them. He’s going to have to wait.

 


Ship Breaker and Bacigalupi

Ship Breaker (Paperback)
Ship Breaker (Paperback)
Ship Breaker (ebook)
Ship Breaker (Ship Breaker, #1)
Ship Breaker (MP3 CD)I just finished a great book by author Paolo Bacigalupi called Ship Breaker. My son (9) read it first (and that’s only because he stole it from me when I wasn’t looking – seriously he did – and then told his mother that I said it was all right to read it. For the record I told him it was all right to read the first chapter because he had no other book to read at that time and he had fifteen minutes to kill and who am I to stop a boy from reading? Seriously. I’d already read the first 8 pages and he doesn’t read that fast and I figured how bad could it be…)

So my son read it first. He loved it. He’s getting into sci-fi and this was a deep sci-fi experience in world building. I finally got my hands on it and finished it yesterday. If you haven’t read it yet, got out and get it. It’s for the 13 and up crowd for the violence and deeper themes of loyalty, family, and what it means to maintain your humanity in a world that has gone over to the dark side with global warming. This is the best kind of science fiction – thought provoking with an eye for the larger epic picture yet solidly focused on character – on the lives of only a few characters, one main and several minor. My only complaint is that, like many good books, it ended too soon and I was left with the wonderful question of what happens next?

The follow-up to Ship Breaker is coming out in the spring called Drowned Cities following the tale of the half-man, Tool, one of my favorite secondary characters from Ship Breaker and whose fate is not known… I can’t wait. Neither can my son.

Here’s the link for the book: Ship Breaker


Four Letter Words and Vicodin Cocktails

I just finished my first book of 2012. Last Words by George Carlin is in the can.

It was an incredible sortabiography (his own word), telling his memoir through the story of his creative life as a comic. The second half of the book is a tough read. Carlin had a bad cocaine, alcohol, vicodin habit and only really got sober the last five or so years of his life. What especially fascinates me is his writing about his creative process. He wrote things down to capture them and hone them over and over again until they were perfect. He lived most of his life on the road performing and working, writing and capturing, honing and perfecting.

And he came up with some good shit. He was also highly political but only evolved into that over time. And he was one angry, angry man. His rage fueled many of his pieces and large parts of his performances. It provided focus for his fascinations. It provided incredible articulation. I think he had tremendous insight into the human condition and into how storytellers in particular, manipulate their audiences to follow them down into other realities.

Carlin also specialized in the use and etiology of curses. I learned about curses from Carlin. I knew about them before but he demystified them for me. He introduced them to me as full-bodied words and made me laugh at the ridiculous censorship we place on them. He increased my vocabulary ten-fold even if it was mostly in my mind.

I use the word fuck in my book, Open Wounds. I haven’t counted how many times.

When people ask me if the book is okay for their teen I always tell them it’s a 13 and up read or a 15 and up read because of the language and the violence. Most people don’t mind but some do. I think the word fuck is used sparingly in my book, not because I thought it would get me in trouble if I used it too much, but because it was only needed when it was needed by the characters who used it. I remember watching the movie Platoon the second time – with my grandfather – and squirming in my seat at the number of times the word fuck or some derivation of it (fucker, fucked-up, fucking, motherfucker, fuck-wad, etc…) was used. Almost every other word that came out of every character’s mouth included some version of fuck. The first time I saw the film I didn’t notice the language at all. The second time, with my grandfather beside me, I couldn’t hear anything but it.

I also remember reading a book last year by Cynthia Kadohata called Cracker: The Best Dog in Vietnam that, although I enjoyed, found it strange to read a whole novel about soldiers in Vietnam and not read one curse. I wonder if she consciously chose not to use the word fuck. I remember asking myself how not one soldier in her reality could get through a conversation without saying fuck at least once. It felt like a spice was missing from the narrative – some dark mole sauce.

I had one person, a friend, tell me his daughter, who was a teen, put my book down because she found the word fuck in it. Another, an adult, told me she finished it but was really shocked that the book contained such language.

What would George Carlin say to all this? Well, his now famous list of the seven words you can’t say on television no longer has any relevance. Because any and all of them can be and have been said on cable and HBO for over a decade. He stopped doing the bit after his own first HBO special.

One in which he used material that he had captured on paper, honed through practice and rewriting over and over again, and finally… perfected.


First Words, Last Words

I ended 2011 and began 2012 reading the sortabiography of George Carlin, Last Words, in my opinion one of the most ingenious wordsmiths ever. I admired his love of words, his use of them for comedic and political purposes and his ability to rant and curse like no one else. I knew this man only through his live appearances, his albums, and his books. His, as he calls it, sortabiography, is brilliant, funny, and filled with his gift of words.

If you’ve been reading my blog in 2011 you know how much I like and how important I think first sentences of a book are. Here’s the first sentence of Last Words.

Sliding headfirst down a vagina with no clothes on and landing in the freshly shaven crotch of a screaming woman did not seem to be part of God’s plan for me.

From this place we can all only go forward.


Book Review: A Closer Look by Karen DelleCava

Karen is one of my fellow WestSide authors and I recently had a chance to read her debut novel, A Closer Look. My review follows:

A Closer Look – By: Karen DelleCava

This is a wonderfully poignant book about a teenage girl named Cassie who in addition to dealing with the normal challenges of growing up in suburbia, has alopecia, a disease that causes her hair to fall out prematurely. When this happens to Cassie she is just starting high school, getting a boyfriend, and starting track. In a society and an age group focused on looking good, Cassie must deal with the stigma of being not just different but “ugly.” Cassie is a heroine you completely root for from the first page. Ms. DelleCava’s voice for Cassie is impressive, pitch perfect in it’s ability to show us what goes on inside this teenager’s head. The struggle she goes through, and her parents, to accept the loss and change of identity is wrenching. The use of the track team and Cassies’ ability to lose herself in her running is especially effective. The secondary characters, from the boyfriend, Tommy, to the best girlfriend, Tara, to Cassie’s mother and father, are all well developed and stay away from stereotypes, providing support to Cassie in different and sometimes unexpected ways. This debut novel shows a sure hand at handling this difficult material, keeping it real, at times funny, and finally when all the tears are dry, hopeful. I’d recommend this to readers 12 and up.

Karen’s book can be purchased at indie-bound or amazon.

You can also check out Karen’s website/blog at karendellecava.com.

Product Details


Quick Review: Amulet Graphic Novel by Kazu Kibuishi

The Stonekeeper (Amulet, Book 1)

My son and I are reading a graphic novel series together. He gets to read them first and I get them when he’s finished. We both polish off each book in about an hour. There are only four books in the series so we’re hungry for more. I love a good graphic novel. I was never big into comic books but I have always loved longer , book length works. There’s something about both the visual and textual elements of them that really brings a smile to my face.  Here’s what we’re reading now:

Amulet Book 1: The Stonekeeper

Amulet Book 2: The Stonekeeper’s Curse

Amulet Book 3: The Cloud Searchers

by: Kazu Kibuishi

Here’s the book description for book 1 from Amazon: After the tragic death of their father, Emily and Navin move with their mother to the home of her deceased great-grandfather, but the strange house proves to be dangerous. Before long, a sinister creature lures the kids’ mom through a door in the basement. Em and Navin, desperate not to lose her, follow her into an underground world inhabited by demons, robots, and talking animals. Eventually, they enlist the help of a small mechanical rabbit named Miskit. Together with Miskit, they face the most terrifying monster of all, and Em finally has the chance to save someone she loves.

What did I love about this? The opening is harrowing and real, and very, very dark. I love the artwork. Perspective is very effectively used to show the world from different characters ponts of view. I love that there is a young girl who is the protagonist. I love the world-building that Kibuishi does in creating a place for these characters to exist in. A walking house, ferocious adversaries, the lure of power over others, and a mom who is not a stereotype who worries about her children and actively protects them are all bonus features. And we haven’t even been through book 4 yet. I hope to pick it up tomorrow. Only, my son gets to read it first.

Age is 9 and up but keep in mind the opening is rough.


The Review Hat-Trick

A third review in one week! The Gods are smiling on me. It’s a reviewers hat-trick (three goals in a hockey game).

This is a review from Bryan Russell, writer, blogger, and one of the alchemists of Alchemy of Writing blog. Bryan’s review is one of my favorite. The last paragraph about historical novels in general and how Open Wounds fits into his view of them is all by itself, worth the trip to his blog. It’s insightful and wonderfully specific. Thanks, Bryan, for the kind words about my book.

Bryan mentions that he usually doesn’t read YA and that he was surprised by my book. So many people don’t read YA books because they perceive them as children’s books or not adult books and so not worth reading. I wish there was some way to help people get past that. My life is richer for reading books such as, Ghost Medicine, Marbury Lens, Stick, Sunrise Over Fallujah, The Subtle Knife, the Edge Chronicles, Hunger Games, and Crossing the Tracks.

Targeted marketing or the creation of genre ghettos?

I wonder which it is?

OWS

 


On Stick by Andrew Smith

Stick

Stick came out today, a new novel by Andrew Smith, the author of Ghost Medicine, In the Path of Falling Objects, and The Marbury Lens. These are three of my favorite books, each for different reasons but more than anything they are three books about the relationships young men have with each other, and more specifically, brothers. Stick is similar in that it explores this territory, Andrew Smith territory, but it is, like each of Andrew’s other books, different.

Synopsis from Amazon: Fourteen-year-old Stark McClellan (nicknamed Stick because he’s tall and thin) is bullied for being “deformed” – he was born with only one ear. His older brother Bosten is always there to defend Stick. But the boys can’t defend one another from their abusive parents. When Stick realizes Bosten is gay, he knows that to survive his father’s anger, Bosten must leave home. Stick has to find his brother, or he will never feel whole again. In his search, he will encounter good people, bad people, and people who are simply indifferent to kids from the wrong side of the tracks. But he never loses hope of finding love – and his brother.

This is a subtle book beautifully written, sensitive, and innocent. But what I like more than anything are two things Andrew does: 1) His uncanny ability to write from the perspective of fourteen-year-old Stick. It is his trademark as a writer – to be able to get inside the heads of these protagonists. There are no wrong turns in the story because Stick does what he needs to – nothing more and nothing less. This is an incredible feat of writing. The second thing that Andrew does that makes him stand out is write beautiful prose. Some writers write pretty words but you notice them because they write that way for the sake of writing that way. Andrew crafts every sentence and every sentence sings as part of a larger tapestry that is his novel. His prose seems effortless and his narrative flows without a hitch because of it. And this is not just the way he writes Stick’s thoughts, jumbled up sometimes and filled with holes another as if the words bang around inside and can’t exit – an ingenious technique he uses to show how Stick hears and perceives the world.

Here’s one of my favorites: “And none of what happened to us would ever make sense if I didn’t let the biggest monsters that swarm in my head come up and reveal their teeth there is no love in our house only rules.” When you read the context for this it will blow you away. In the land of realistic fiction for  young adults, Andrew Smith is king.

Stick on Amazon

Stick on Indiebound

 


Crack for Writers

Goodreads is like crack for writers.

I’m serious.

It’s not like crack for readers, but it is for writer’s – at least it is for me.

I didn’t do Goodreads until my book was going to be published. Then I got on, got in, and started being a part of the Goodreads world. I smoked the pipe. I joined the YA Historical Novels group. I settled into the background after a short comment or two and didn’t even mention my book. I played by the rules.

Then I got my first review and it showed up on Goodreads. It was five stars.

That’s when I knew I was in trouble. First I only looked at the site a few times a week. But when my book came out and the list of people reading Open Wounds or who put it on their book shelf grew and more reviews came in – I started checking ever y day.

Then it was twice a day – every day.

I started noticing the details about the site. I checked to see who was new on the to be read list. Did I know them? I got an adrenaline surge every time a new person was added to the list. I checked that number first, then checked the date of the most recent addition to the list. And I kept waiting for more reviews.

Five star reviews made me feel euphoric. It would last a few hours. Then I developed some tolerance and it lasted less. Now I needed them just to feel normal.

Four stars send me right into withdrawal.

One reviewer said she wanted to give me four and a half stars but since Goodreads only allowed full stars she gave me four. Why didn’t she just give me five? Why can’t the cup be half full and not half empty? Doesn’t she know that reviews are crack for writers and no matter what anybody says, we live and die by them? Is it just me?

I tried to quit. I tried to stop looking at Goodreads, just for a couple of days. So I turned to Amazon. Amazon was like methadone, only it didn’t work as well because methadone is for opiates and crack is a stimulant. I should have known better. I do drug prevention work in my day job.

Goodreads called to me.

So I went back. But this time I think I have it more under control. I’m taking a harm reduction approach. I took it off my toolbar bookmark. I went on to write reviews of books I’ve read so I keep the site in a positive light. I tell myself the number of stars isn’t important. I keep myself busy. I occupy my mind.

Then I check it… just… one… more… time…


Amazon, Goodreads, and Subsidiary Rights, Oh my!

I don’t do well on labor day. See this post on my Zen Dadd-itto blog for the reason why. So I didn’t post yesterday or the day before.

But today I’ll finish up with groups three and four, business people and reviewers.

Group three is made up of editors, publishers, media folks (movies, audio, book club, the same folks in other countries) who might take an interest and buy subsidiary rights. These are paperback, audio, e-book, world rights, movie rights, and book clubs. I might be missing one or two but you get the idea. How do you reach these folks? Either through your agent (if you have one – hence the importance of having an agent) if you retain the rights, or the publisher if they retain the rights. How else can you influence these folks? You can sell books. A lot of books. Print runs these days for a small press and even medium or large presses first authors can be 2-3,000 copies hard cover. If you want to get noticed the first thing to do is sell through your first print run, then try to hit the 5,000 mark and then the 10,000 mark. That will get you some notice. Dewey Lambdin, a bestselling author of a naval series called the Alan Lewrie Naval Series (one of my favorite historical novel series) told me he was told by an editor about his fifth or sixth book (he’s got over a dozen by now) that he needed to hit the 50,000 mark to get noticed.

Let’s start with the number 10,000. It’s a big number. You have to reach a lot of people and convince them to buy your book in order to reach 10,000. Still, if you get there, selling a second novel will be that much easier as will selling subsidiary rights. Which, once sold, help you sell more copies of your book. It’s synergy – as far as I can tell.

Group four is reviewers. Reviewers reach a lot of people. I’ll say that again. Reviewers reach a lot of people. Good reviews are important but getting reviewed is even more important. Internet reviews by bloggers who have 100 or 300 or 1000 followers get you visibility in different parts of the country that you wouldn’t get in any other way. It can also start word of mouth from blog to blog. You can reach people fast and with a review with information about your book that some percentage of people will hopefully use to buy it. Other good places to be reviewed include Amazon (because it’s used as a barometer of how well your book is doing and people from group three browse it to see how books are doing.) and Goodreads. (By the way if you haven’t reviewed Open wounds on either Amazon or Goodreads please do – I can use all the reviews I can get!). Goodreads is another story worthy of a blog entry all by itself. Andrew Smith recently commented on his relationship with Goodreads and I have some similar and lively things to say about my relationship with it too. Still, readers and group three media and group two booksellers also look at Goodreads so it’s worth getting on and asking people you know who read the book to post there in addition to Amazon.  It’s all about visibility. In order to sell 10,000 copies of your book you probably have to reach ten times that number of people (100,000). I’m only guessing. It could be more or less depending on how targeted your market is.

But what does it all mean? It means I’m overwhelmed as all hell with the odds against selling well and the tremendous amount of work that needs to be done to sell books. In other words when the writing is done and the book has been bought – it’s not over. If anything, a new kind of work has just begun.


From Ship Breaker to the Lightning Thief

I spent a few hours yesterday writing follow-up emails to all the store owners and booksellers I met on the road trip. There were about a dozen from that many indi bookstores. So here’s what I’ve figured out about this whole marketing thing. If I’m going to sell my books I have to reach four different groups.

The first group is readers. I have to let potential readers know about my book, that it exists. The internet is a wonderful tool for this as are bookstores. You would think reaching all the people who are potential readers would be easy but… it’s not. You have to get their attention and give them a reason to look at and buy your book as opposed to the hundreds of others staring at them in the bookstore or on the online page. Which brings us to group number two.

The second group is booksellers. They can be in bookstores or they can be on the internet. But the internet acts as a bookseller all by itself only it’s harder to figure out. On Amazon there are sections like, “People who bought this book also bought the following…” This is cool because I can see that people who bought my book also bought Forever by Maggie Stiefvater, Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, and once but only once, Rick Riordan’s Lightning Thief. But how does this play out for new people finding my book? Hopefully I’m showing up on other book’s lists. Still, it’s not like you’re in a store and ask a bookseller what they read lately and like or if they can recommend a book for boys, or a new historical novel, or a book with sword fights and suspense with a touch, just a touch of family drama. Which is why as cool and helpful as the internet is, reaching bricks and mortar stores and developing relationships with bookstore owners and sellers is so important. It’s slower, but it builds over time. So far I’ve been to 23 stores (seventeen of which are independent bookstores), in nine states, and I’m just getting to my hometown, NYC this month.

As they say, people can’t buy your book if they can’t find it. It’s available over the internet, yes. But in bookstores… I’m working on that one store at a time.

Discussion of the third group, the business (agents, publishers, film, audio, and all the possible buyers of subsidiary rights) people, and fourth group, reviewers, tomorrow.


Reviews and Interviews

I’ve been busy these last two weeks. Two weeks ago I was in DC and in addition to presenting at a National Association for Drug Court Professionals conference on Teambuilding and LGBT sensitivity issues had the chance to fence with the DC Fencers club (more on that in another entry) and visited a few bookstores to talk about Open Wounds. I’ve also been doing a lot of interviews – each different in its own way and worth checking out to find out how Open Wounds and its cast of characters came about. I’m going to list them below and give you some background on each.

Two local papers start things off:

The Queens Tribune – Jason Cohen did a piece on me titled Renaissance Man (I’m getting a swelled head already) that is only available in print and not on the internet – so no link. But it’s been fun having some neighbors come up to me and tell me, “I didn’t know you wrote a book!” I didn’t know so many people I knew read the Queens Tribune!

The Queens Courier – Salimah Khoj a wrote a nice piece on their online magazine called Jackson Heights Author Finds Inspiration in Childhood. We had to phone interviews and some written responses in order to get this one down and I think she did a great job.

Followed by two blog interviews:

Nikki Meiggs’ Wicked Awesome Books book blog just reviewed Open Wounds and today put out the second of two parts of an interview (part 1 and part 2) we did together. She has  a contest open until August 16th – simply comment on part 2 by answering this question: If you could live in any time period or historical event what would it be and why? She’s giving a free signed copy of Open Wounds to the winner! I met Nikki at BEA in the late spring and she has a great blog on YA books and really loves books. I also love the title of her website – who wouldn’t?

Cynthia Leitich Smith blog Cynsations also just put up an interview called New Voice: Joseph Lunievicz on Open Wounds. What’s interesting about Cynthia’s interview were the questions she asked. There were easily thirty different questions from various categories and I was able to choose two, and only two, to respond to. These are different from any other interview questions and I found them challenging and interesting to answer. She also did a wonderful job with pictures to complement the interview of books I mentioned and supplemental posts I have out on other sites.

And one review…

There’s also a short review of Open Wounds by Jodi Reszotaarski on her blog Book Eater – A novel test kitchen. She’s a high school media specialist in Lake County, Ohio. Thanks, Jodi for the great review!

Next up some fencing stories.