Why Read Indie?

Why read indie, indeed? Aren’t self-published authors losers who couldn’t get a big publisher contract? Won’t I get a better book from a mainstream big corporate publisher?

As a reader, I can say one thing for sure: you’ll pay more money for the book you’re buying from the big corporations. And that is about it.

A few days ago, Jack Tyler posted on the Facebook public group, The Steampunk Dominion, his thoughts on the subject. Before we go any further, let me give you Jack’s post in its entirety:

WHY INDIES?

A simple question. Why should you, an experienced reader, carry a selection of independent authors on your reading list? For a very good reason. Originality.

What was the last original movie you saw? Can’t think of one? That’s because no one is making them anymore. That’s why we’re inundated with remakes of old movies, re-envisionings of old TV shows, old, popular books “brought to life” by the “magic of Hollywood,” episode CCXLVII of the big Space Saga. No one will take a chance anymore that something, God forbid, might not rake in a billion dollars a day.

Books have gone down the same path. Publishers, unwilling to take a risk, compete with one another to shovel out copies of copies of copies of The Last Big Thing. Where is the grand fantasy tale that doesn’t follow Lord of the Rings to the letter? How many versions of Twilight can you read before you can recite the plot points before you come to them? You may be surprised to hear that those cutting-edge stories and novels are out there waiting to be read, and I’m going to tell you where to find them.

In the files of independent authors. While traditional publishers cling to the center of Writingtown, searching the carefully tended lawns for the next retelling of a tired old tale, independent authors, just as independent filmmakers and musicians, are out on the fringe, past the edge of the map, chronicling the tales that no one has yet heard, that have yet to be told. These are the stories you want to read, the stories that are worth finding, the jewels that you’ll remember long after the last elf/dwarf/human/orc slashfest is in the landfill and long forgotten. These are the heirs to the tradition of storytelling.

Authors decide to self-publish for any number of reasons. Some because we have been rejected by traditional publishers, often for being too original to suit their no-risk publishing model. Some have gone indie because we didn’t want to get involved with the “you do the work, and we’ll keep the money” policy of the big publishers. Some of us are well-known traditionally published authors who have been screwed out of our due one time too many, but we all have one thing in common: We answer to our creative muse, and no one else.

We have all had an experience, maybe more than one, with an independent author who had no business writing a grocery list, let alone a book, and some of us may have said, “Enough of this! I’m sticking to the Big Five from now on.” That’s your choice, but you do yourself a grave disservice by that reasoning.

We all try new products every day. Whether it’s a new makeup, pain reliever, pipe wrench, or ball-point pen, we have all gotten our hands on one that doesn’t do what the advertisement said it would. But do we then say, “I’m never wearing makeup again!” Of course we don’t. We learn to be more careful consumers. There are many ways to carefully consume books, one of them being to never stray from the big names. Again, that’s your choice, but there are ways to find the quality indies as well, and if you want to read the books that are telling the new stories, you must include indies on your reading list. How do you find quality indies? Amazon.com is a huge help. Most of us publish there because they make it so easy, and they provide useful tools. Look for an indie who has high ratings, even if there aren’t too many of them. A low rating isn’t a deal-breaker either, unless that’s all there are, but ratings can help. Then once you find a book that looks interesting, use the “Look Inside” feature. Yes, it only shows you a few pages, but if the author can’t write, you won’t need more than a paragraph to determine that. Then, of course, there’s the tried and true method, word of mouth. If someone you know and trust is recommending an indie, by all means, take a look. You may discover worlds beyond imagining that lie at the tips of your fingers. So, come on out to the fringe; we’re waiting to welcome you.

As a reader of my fellow indie authors, I have to largely agree with Jack. Self-published authors, or Author-Publishers as I like to call them, can write and publish works no major or even small press would touch. Not because of quality, but because the publishers aren’t risk takers, or they have no idea how to market the book.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t indies who ride the current waves, for there are and their name is Legion. They are also the ones, who tend not to be very good.

Several of my current favorite authors are indies and I look forward to their new releases, because I know I’ll get a good read. One that will be entertaining, fresh, thought-provoking, and stimulating.

As a reader, I’ve been disappointed by too many big corporate-published authors. A writer who perhaps starts out promising and then fizzles by book three. Or a writer who never really starts out at all and I close the book only partly read and ask, “Why the heck did they publish this?”

By way of example: I love the TV series Midsomer Murders (well, until John Nettles retired). So I bought the first three books of the series on which the TV show was based. Carolyn Graham’s first book was great. The second book was so boring I put it down with only a quarter of it read. I loved the TV episode, though, which was based on the book.

Another example is Murder in the Marais by Cara Black. I stopped reading when Aimee Leduc (the detective) just so happens to have a neo-nazi outfit in her closet to wear when she tries to infiltrate a neo-nazi group in Paris and the group readily accepts her! Obviously Ms Black has no concept of how closed extremist groups are, and we all have neo-nazi outfits in our closet just in case we might need them. Right? Sheesh.

Yet, the Big 5 accepted Death of a Hollow Man (as boring as it is) and Murder in the Marais (as preposterous as it is) and published them. Why? Because they are easy to market. The fit conveniently on the bookstore shelf.

One more example. I love SJ Rozan’s private detective Lydia Chin. I’m less enthralled with her PI Bill Smith. The Chin books are fresh and interesting. The Smith books are typical and I’d even have to say average PI fare. Yet which books garnered the awards? Why the Bill Smith books, of course. Go figure. Not even the award givers want to go out on a limb!

I know readers frequently bash indies for typos. But seriously? Have they read current Big 5 books? Typos abound! And we get to pay big bucks for the privilege to read them!

Good indie books are out there in abundance. And they are very often at least half the price of the books put out by the Big Boys.

Take Jack’s suggestions and go hunting. A few of my favorite authors are J. Evan Stuart, Steve Bargdill, Chad Muller/CM Muller, Janice Croom, Ben Willoughby, Crispian Thurlborn, Erik Ga Bean (he’s not on Amazon), Renee Pawlish, and Sophia Martin (her Raud Grima series). And there are more!

Jack Tyler makes a great case for readers to venture outside of our little boxes and to read books written by indie authors. Independent author-publishers. The writers who are responsible only to themselves and their readers. Instead of the corporate bottom line.

You can find Jack’s series Beyond the Rails on Amazon. Here are links:

Beyond the Rails

Beyond the Rails II

Beyond the Rails III

Comments are always welcome and, until next time, Happy Reading!

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Nothing Beats A Book

Last week I talked about being a multi-genre reader and writer. This week I’d like to focus on the reader part and next week on the writer part.

There are readers who basically read just one genre. Whether it’s romance or mysteries or fantasies or westerns or horror, they are satisfied with the variety their chosen genre provides. And there is a certain comfort in knowing what the book will be like even before you start. There are enough writers out there that one will not exhaust the possibilities in any given genre.

Other readers like variety. They’ll read a horror novel and follow it up with a mystery and then a mainstream novel and will read a biography after that. These readers like to experience the limitless variety that is the reader’s world. And, as they say, variety is the spice of life.

I liken it to the person who wants meat and potatoes for every dinner and the one who wants spaghetti one night, cabbage curry the next, sausage and potatoes on the third, and Lobster Thermidor on the fourth.

We like what we like, after all. It is a reflection of who we are. And whatever one’s choice of reading material, if it works — it works.

From my perspective, when it comes to reading, less does not equal more. For me, more genres equals more pleasure. More adventure!

This partly reflects, I think, my broad range of interests.

After a long period of not reading non-fiction, I’ve started to get back into it. I’ve picked up a biography of a WW II German U-Boat ace. The travelogue of the R34’s flight from England to America and back. I’ve read a book and articles on marketing. I’m getting back into philosophy. I’m partway into a book that is part biography and part history of the zeppelin by Ernst Lehmann. And recently my nephew was showing me his copy of the Encyclopedia of Ships and I know I have to get myself a copy so I can read it in more detail. These books reflect some of the wide range of topics I’m interested in.

On the fiction side of things, I’ve been reading horror and dieselpunk of late, but also some libertarian science fiction, a fantasy mystery, and am currently reading a coming of age literary novel.

And I don’t just read what I like. For example, I’m not partial to YA (young adult) literature. Yet one of my favorite authors is YA writer Daniel Pinkwater and one of my all time favorite books is his Wingman. Last year I read Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I’m also not partial to coming of age novels or stories and yet I bought and am currently reading Billy Maddox Takes His Shot by Jay Lemming. And again, am enjoying this read by a new indie author.

Reading is, in my opinion, the best way to explore possibilities. Movies can do that to some degree, but not as well as a book because of how one approaches the two forms. With movies, the viewer is essentially passive. He or she is acted upon by the film.

With a book, the reader must use his or her mind. There is a collaboration between reader and writer that is needed in order to reach an understanding of the text’s meaning. No matter what the author intends, I as reader can’t approach the text with the author’s experiences. I can only do so with mine and therefore what I get out of the book is unique to me.

A friend of mine and I were discussing a poem I’d written. He made the comment, “I don’t think you understand what you’ve written.” He clearly saw something in the poem I didn’t. His experience picked up on the words I’d written and he saw something that I didn’t intend in writing the poem, which came from my experiences.

I don’t think that happens very often when we watch movies due to the passivity of the experience. Movies are passive entertainment and books are active entertainment.

Because of the active engagement, I think reading is the best form of entertainment — and it needn’t be a solo endeavor.

Family reading time is a wonderful way to spend time together. With or without popcorn!

I introduced my daughter to some of my favorite books during family reading time. She shared books with all of us that she wanted to read, such as Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster. An aside here. Jean Webster’s heroines are strong young women in an age when women weren’t expected to be. Her books are very readable today. Webster died in 1916 at 39 years of age in childbirth.

My wife and I read The Hunger Games out loud together. A great way to spend an evening or several evenings.

If you aren’t an avid recreational reader, I encourage you to rediscover books. Add books to family or couple time. Like bread, books really are the staff of life.

Comments are always welcome and until next time — happy reading!

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How I Choose What To Read

The other day I finished reading a novel (An Unsubstantiated Chamber by William J Jackson — do yourself a favor and get a copy) and was looking over my library to see what I wanted to read next.

With a couple thousand titles to choose from I was having a bit of a dilemma. Fiction or nonfiction? Sci-fi or mystery? Fantasy or horror? Or maybe a classic? I couldn’t make up my mind.

Then I got to thinking about Kate Summer’s article, which I’d talked about previously. I re-read the article and discovered, after I thought about it, in the matter of choosing books I was no different than most men.

I’m not a bookclub member. I don’t look to Twitter, Facebook, or G+ for recommendations. I can’t stand the clunky and cluttered layout of Goodreads and no longer go there.

Instead, I get recommendations from friends, online book reviews, or online recommendations from blogposts, podcasts, or the like. I also search Google or Amazon for books related to my interests, both fiction and nonfiction. For example, I like airships and regularly look for fiction and nonfiction books related to airships.

Of the methods listed above, getting recommendations from friends is probably the method I use the least.

Women, on the other hand, tend to be very social and tell others what they’re reading, or want to read, or freely ask who’s reading what. That is something most men simply do not do.

When I look at my own habits regarding reading, I do not usually talk about what I’m reading. On occasion I will tweet #amreading. But that has more to do with helping spread the word about other authors’s work, than it is me wanting to share with the world what I’m reading. The same with the writing of reviews.

So I find that I’m pretty much like most men when it comes to choosing a book to read and talking about what I’m reading, or more accurately not talking about what I’m reading.

Getting back to that book that I wanted to read, I ended up choosing Terry Newman’s Detective Strongoak and the Case of the Dead Elf. Now you may ask why did I choose that particular book and the answer is pretty simple.

Sometime ago Mr. Newman followed me on Twitter and we got to talking about our books and interests. I went over to Amazon and took a look at his book, read the reviews, took a look inside, and liked what I saw. In addition, Harper Collins only wanted $2.99 for the Kindle edition. $2.99 from a Big 5 Publisher is a rarity and I decided to buy. Even though I have a no new Big 5 book purchase policy.

My discussion with the author got me looking, but it was the writing and the reviews that got me buying. Pretty much a solitary decision-making process.

And if you’re looking for a book to read, take a look at Mr Newman’s fantasy mystery, it’s very good. And it’s still only $2.99!

By the way, if you have any recommendations for those you-just-gotta-read-this-book books, please tell me about them in the comments.

Until next time, happy reading!

PS — The 8-Fold Path has moved to Thursdays. See you then!

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My Notable Reads of 2016

We are three days into the new year. There are 355 days until Christmas. Just in case anyone was curious. Most of us aren’t quite yet looking in that direction. We’re still making the adjustment from 2016 to 2017, still writing 2016 half the time on whatever we need to date. So I’m going to take one more look back at 2016 before I shove off on my 2017 adventure.

For me, 2016 was a good year. Especially in the reading department. I read some really great books and stories. There are a lot of good writers out there. I mentioned a few in a previous post. Classics, new releases, traditionally published, and self-published. In fact, I was very impressed with most of the self-published books I read.

At the end of this post, I give you my list of 2016 reading material in case you want to check out some of the great reads I came across; links are included where available.

Today, I want to highlight for you what I thought were the best of the lot, the cream on the milk.

Non-Fiction

I read a lot of non-fiction in 2016. Most of it was in the form of online articles as part of my research for my books. I did, however, read two non-fiction books out of general interest in the subject matter.

The more enjoyable of the two was E.M. Maitland’s The Log of HMA R34: Journey to America and Back. This book is a day by day and sometimes hourly by hourly chronicle of the historic 1919 round trip flight of the rigid airship R34. The R34 was the first aircraft to make the difficult east to west flight across the Atlantic from Europe to America and was the first to make a complete round trip. Her flight demonstrated that trans-Atlantic commercial flight was possible.

Commodore Maitland’s style is at once informative, lively, witty, and entertaining. Making it an excellent travelogue.

The book is available for free and every airship enthusiast and armchair traveler should have a copy.

Short Stories

I love short stories. Perhaps more than novels. Even in a good novel, my interest at time lags. Especially when the author hits a dull patch of road, which inevitably happens. Sometimes even with the best of writers. Rarely does that happen, in my experience, with a short story. Even a mediocre one.

All of the short stories I read this past year were good. The ones of exceptional merit (aside from generally recognized classics) were

Wasteland” by R Entwisle

SoulWave” by RR Willica

The Garden and the Market” by Richard B Walsh

The Room that Swallows People” by G Jefferies

Cinder” by Crispian Thurlborn

Of those five excellent tales, I do want to single out “Cinder” by Crispian Thurlborn. It is an exquisitely lyrical story of terror that is replete with haunting atmosphere, incipient dread, and unrelenting suspense. It is by far one of the most well-crafted stories I’ve read in a long time.

But do check out the other 4 on the above list. They are all well-written, imaginative (especially “SoulWave”), and prove that indies can give us a story as good as any publisher or magazine editor can.

Short Story Anthologies

Anthologies are at best uneven. Even if the stories are by a single author. No one is consistently at his or her best. And that goes without saying for the 4 anthologies I read.

On the whole, they were good and are worth getting. The one I enjoyed the most was The Spike Collection by Martin Skate. Mr Skate’s hilarious slice of life vignettes are highly entertaining. A collection not to be missed.

Novels

The two dozen novels I read were a mix of speculative fiction, mysteries, humor, horror, and historical fiction.

There were two clunkers in the lot: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne, and The Time Machine by HG Wells.

The Verne novel was my third reading. The first time, when a kid, I love it. The other two reads were as an adult. The old translation was ponderous and boring. The modern translation was better, conveying some of Verne’s humor, but the story remained dull and boring.

The Wells story was my second time through. Dry as two day old toast. Endless description, little action, and the only character I cared about, Weena, the author did not. Thoroughly and hopelessly dated. The movie was better.

On the Beach by Nevil Shute was at times slow and almost dull. And then Shute uncorks the most emotionally moving conclusion I think I’ve ever read. It literally had me sobbing. Powerful is wholly inadequate to describe it.

John Wyndham’s cozy catastrophe, The Day of the Triffids, was at once a testament to the dangers inherent in our monkeying around with Mother Nature and to our penchant for creating weapons of self-destruction — as well as to our unrelenting will to survive and better our lot. A classic and deservedly so.

There were, however, a few books that were on the top of the pile. Books that were thoroughly entertaining or thought-provoking. Well crafted tales that prove the Big 5 publishers do not have a corner on giving us good books.

These indie authored gems were

Banana Sandwich by Steve Bargdill

Wasteland by Steve Bargdill

Daddy’s Girl by Ben Willoughby

Death of an Idiot Boss by Janice Croom

Bargdill’s two books are dark and gritty mainstream novels that give us plenty of food for thought. At the same time there is humor and hope. Well crafted. The Big 5 are missing out here.

Willoughby’s ghost tale is suspenseful and has a happier ending than many such tales. For those who like their terror not so dark, Daddy’s Girl fits the bill perfectly. Willoughby’s style is lean. Not excessive. He gives us just the right amount to produce the desired effects. I’m looking forward to reading more from this guy.

Death of an Idiot Boss by Janice Croom has one of the best titles I’ve come across in a long time. But the goodness doesn’t stop there. We get a hilarious, at times thought-provoking, good old-fashioned whodunit and a memorable protagonist in Kadence MacBride. Croom is a very good writer and I’m looking forward to reading more of Kadence’s adventures.

Don’t miss any of these novels. Really. Don’t miss out.

Hopefully I’ve sown a few seeds for your 2017 reading. Let me know what you’ve read. I’m always looking for a good book.

The Bibliography

Non-Fiction

The Log of HMA R34: Journey to America and Back by EM Maitland

How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis by Bryan Cohen

The Journal of Submarine Commander von Forstner by Georg-Gunther Forstner

Short Stories

Curse Upon a Star” by Sylvia Heike

Goodbye, Sunshine” by Sylvia Heike

The Red Lady’s Wedding” by Deina Furth

The Otherlife” by Dot Dannenberg

The Adventure of the Fatal Glance” by August Derleth

Wasteland” by R Entwisle

The TNT Punch” by Robert E Howard

The Highway” by Ray Bradbury

Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway

The Garden and the Market” by Richard B Walsh

“Test Piece” by Eric Frank Russell

Bone White” by Sarah Zama

SoulWave” by RR Willica

Confession” by Micah Castle

The Room That Swallows People” by G Jefferies

Ghost Carp” by G Jefferies

Cinder” by Crispian Thurlborn

Short Story Anthologies

Defiant, She Advanced: Legends of Future Resistance, ed. by George Donnelly

Oriental Stories: Five Complete Novelettes by Robert E Howard

The Spike Collection by Martin Skate

Den of Antiquity by Jack Taylor, et al

Novels

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

Banana Sandwich by Steve Bargdill

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Wasteland by Steve Bargdill

After London, or Wild England by Richard Jefferies

Daddy’s Girl by Ben Willoughby

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

The Time Machine by HG Wells

On the Beach by Nevil Shute

Deluge by S. Fowler Wright

The Killings at Badger’s Drift by Caroline Graham

Death of an Idiot Boss by Janice Croom

Beyond the Rails by Jack Tyler

Perilous Ping by William J Jackson

Killing Floor by Lee Child

Die Trying by Lee Child

China Trade by SJ Rozan

Start Right Here by Martin Skate

Concourse by SJ Rozan

This Doesn’t Happen in the Movies by Renee Pawlish

Reel Estate Rip-Off by Renee Pawlish

Mandarin Plaid by SJ Rozan

Dawn by S. Fowler Wright

Dust and Kisses by Dean Wesley Smith

 

Mincemeat Pie Update

I made my mincemeat pie using Crosse and Blackwell mincemeat. I have to say None Such brand is better. The saving grace was the brandy butter. 🙂 Brandy butter is easy to make: cream together butter, sugar, and brandy. Voila!

Until next time, happy reading!!

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Good Writing Means Good Reading

Don’t you love a good book? One that draws you in and lets you forget the day to day? I certainly do and I think you do too. In fact, reading is my preferred form of entertainment. I’d rather read than do just about anything else, except perhaps eat and drink tea.

But what is a “good book”? That is a difficult question. It’s like trying to define “beautiful”. There is no objective answer. Which means the answer is subjective. In other words, it’s personal.

What is a good book for me, may not be for you.

But in order to have good books to read, there have to be books that are well written. On that I think we can agree.

Good Writing = Good Reading

But what is good writing? And we are back to the same old conundrum, aren’t we?

I read a fair amount of self-published books and stories. And I have to say there are some very good writers out there. And you’ve probably found that true as well.

I also read quite a few traditionally published books. There are some really mediocre writers that give me cause to wonder where the editor’s head was when their books crossed his or her desk. You’ve probably wondered the same. Maybe even said, “Shoot! I can write better than that!” You’ve said that, right?

I’m noticing more and more a disturbing trend, especially among self-published authors, and that is bling, glitz, and flash are taking the place of good writing (IMO, of course). Into the inbox come wonderfully flashy emails and some of those websites are awesome. But when I read one of these author’s books, it’s all I can do to keep my eyes open or not barf. For all the glitz and flash, these authors haven’t mastered the basic craft of storytelling. Have you had the same or similar experience?

In the race to be noticed and become a best-selling author (whatever that means these days when every nobody is one), writers are, it seems to me, forgetting the first rule of writing; which is, to write well.

As readers, we want good books to read. Not publisher hype. Not flashy emails. Not techno-wonderful websites. We just want a good story. A story with fabulous characters we love and love to hate. A story with a beginning, middle, and end. A story that moves us at some level other then to put the book down.

Over the past year I’ve run across a few authors who I think know how to craft a good story. Who know how to create characters I end up thinking are real people. Writers who I think are a cut above. And I’d like to share five of them with you. Let me introduce you to them.

Crispian Thurlborn writes fantasy and horror with such lyrical finesse I have to admit I’m jealous. His style is literary and magical. The humor is subtle. He can tug at your heartstrings. He can give you much to ponder. My only complaint is I’d wish he’d publish more. Take a look at Crispian Thurlborn’s website and do buy his books. They are truly reader heaven.

Ben Willoughby writes horror and fantasy, but I’ve only read his horror. And not even all of that, for which I’m glad — because that means more good reads are ahead of me! Willoughby has a crisp, no nonsense style. He knows how to tell a suspenseful story, with characters I care about, that keeps me on the edge of my seat. Check out his Amazon page for his titles. Please, don’t miss the treasure this guy has given us.

Steve Bargdill writes literary fiction that is dark, gritty, and edgy. He knows how to write a story and he gives us characters that are real. We care about these people, even if they are very flawed. His Wasteland reads like a modern Winesburg, Ohio. Take a look at his Amazon page. This guy is good. Don’t miss him. You’ll regret it.

Janice Croom writes romance and the Kadence MacBride cozy mysteries. I haven’t read her romance novels. I have read the first Kadence MacBride mystery and loved it! It’s a winner — and I don’t especially like cozy mysteries. But I love Kadence. She is thoroughly lovable. Croom is a master craftswoman at giving us wonderful, wonderful characters. If you don’t love the people in Kadence’s world, then you probably don’t like fried chicken either. And the humor! OMG, Croom’s writing is hilarious! I laughed my head off. Visit her website and treat yourself to Kadence MacBride. You won’t be sorry.

S.J. Rozan is a traditionally published author of the Lydia Chin/Bill Smith private eye mysteries. These are superlative reads and she has many awards for her writing. That usually doesn’t impress me, but in Rozan’s case I can clearly see why. Her writing has just the right amount of everything. It’s not too lean and it isn’t at all flabby. With an economy of words she paints the most beautiful pictures. Her characters are so real. Their world is so real. IMO, she is one of the best traditionally published authors I’ve run across in a very long time. She is truly a cut above.

These are five writers who I think are fab and think you’ll agree. No glitz, no bling, no flash. Just doggone good writing. And that’s what we readers want.

As always, your comments are welcome and until next time — happy reading!

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Do Men Read Fiction?

Do men read fiction? This is a question traditional publishers have asked and decided in the negative. No. Men do not read fiction. The conclusion is based on numerous surveys that have been conducted concerning adult reading.

Now I find this to be a rather disturbing conclusion, because I’m a man and I read fiction. As of today, I’ve read 19 novels and 11 short stories this year. In fact, I just finished a novel yesterday. I also write novels. So how on earth did traditional publishers arrive at such a bizarre conclusion? Am I an odd ball? Or are traditional publishers mistaken?

Traditional publishing tends to be dominated by women and that may influence what ends up getting published. (cf, Where The Boys Are Not.) After all women do tend to read differently than men. And if women are functioning as agents and editors then their interests can’t but help have some influence as to what gets represented and what eventually gets published.

Porter Anderson, writing on Jane Friedman’s blog, disputes the notion that men don’t read fiction. And indie author Mark Dawson has statistical evidence that his John Milton thrillers are read about equally by men and women.

Nevertheless, there is a deluge of novels with strong female leads coming out of traditional publishing and indie publishing. Both men and women authors are cranking out novels where the protagonist is a strong woman. Myself included. I can’t help but think that this deluge is due to the notion that men don’t read fiction.

As a reader, a male reader, I don’t mind reading books where there is a strong female lead. One of my favorite characters is Robert E Howard’s Dark Agnes. Better known as Sword Woman. But quite honestly, I’m getting tired of reading books that only feature a strong female lead. After all, I am a guy and I’d like a little guy fantasy every now and then.

So I ask myself, why? Why all the strong female leads even from the pens of male authors? It’s not that I don’t like women, because I do. So what is the reason?

I think the reason, in part, is because there is a very strong trend, which has been going on for years, to have the main character — whether male or female — to be very touchy-feely. Perhaps this trend is due to a female dominated publishing industry. Because women tend to like their protagonists to be touchy-feely.

Lee Child made note of this in his introduction to a new addition of his first Jack reacher novel. What had started out to be a good thing, pretty soon became a bad thing because so many people were copying it and not doing it so well. In other words it was no longer innovative. The sensitive and troubled main character had become hack. A stock character. So Child made Jack Reacher not quite the opposite. Reacher is something of a man’s man and yet there is enough sensitivity to him that a woman reader could find him attractive.

I think the other reason, in part, is the perception that men don’t read fiction. If men don’t read fiction then why have a male lead in the first place? However this perception may not be true. The popularity of Jack Reacher and Mark Dawson’s John Milton would seem to indicate that both men and women like a male protagonist and one who is something of a man’s man.

In doing a bit of online research concerning the question, I ran across a wonderful article which indicates men do read fiction. However, they’re reading habits tend to be less flexible than those of women. The article is by Kate Summers and is on the Reference and User Services Association website.

In addition to being less flexible readers than women, men tend to be far less social concerning their reading habits. In other words, men tend not to talk about what they read. Something Anderson alludes to in his post which I referenced above. Consequently, surveys indicating men are less likely to buy and read fiction may be skewed in favor of women simply because men don’t answer them! Women are much more likely than men to be in bookclubs, tweet what they’re reading, or share book recommendations on Facebook, Goodreads, and Google Plus. All of which gives the impression men don’t read fiction.

Additionally, young men may not be as attracted to a touchy-feely main character as are young women. And if young men get the impression that novels are only for “girls and sissies”, then we are going to lose male readers of fiction. Which argues for the need to have — especially in YA books — strong male protagonists, written by male authors. Because young men tend to read male authors over female authors. Think about comic books here. Comic book heroes by and large are not touchy-feely and boys love comic books.

As a writer, this is an important question to me — because it impacts both what I write and how I market what I write. However, I’m glad to say I’m no longer overly concerned. I think it’s clear men do read fiction. Even adolescent boys will read fiction if there’s a strong male protagonist and lots of adventure. What is also clear is that men and boys just don’t advertise what they read. For whatever reason. They are also more set as to what they will read, than are women and girls. As a writer, I need to keep this in mind.

Do men read fiction? Yes, they do. Perhaps writers need to include strong male leads in more of their novels. After all, men spend money too. Why not have them throw a little bit in the fiction writer’s path?

As always, comments are welcome! Until next time, happy reading!

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It’s A Great Time To Be A Reader!

books

Now is a great time to be a reader. With the advent of the Kindle, followed by the iPad and a host of ebook readers, we who love the written word, who love stories, are happier than a duck on a rainy day in California.

The choices available to us are, well, they might as well be infinite. We are in a bookstore or a library that never ends. We have all the free books we could ever want. We have bargain books beyond count. And the books just keep coming.

Somewhere I read 3,000 books a day are being published. Certainly I won’t want to read more than a fraction, but in the course of a year—that is 1,095,000 books published. Even if I were to attempt to read only 1%, that would mean I’d need to read 10,950 books or 30 books a day. Not possible, unless I was a speed reader in overdrive with the afterburners kicked in and I had nothing else to do in the day.

The choices are amazing. The indie revolution is a readers dream. The publishing world’s Big 5 hegemony has been broken by the DIYers. Anyone can now write and publish a novel or short story or a work of nonfiction. No longer is an editor sitting behind closed doors determining what we can read. The marketplace is like a ginormous bazaar and we the reader make the decision who we want to read, who we are going to support with our hard-earned dollars.

There’s no censorship either by some unknown editor, following some megacorporation’s rules. The megacorps have been defeated by the lowly indie revolutionary putting out his or her own ebook for sale on Amazon, iBooks, Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, Drive Thru Fiction, and a host of other sales sites — including one’s own blog, website, or social media platform.

The marketplace rules and corporations drool!

I’m a libertarian. That simply means the power and the rights belong to the people. Not the government with Comstock-type censorship or internet censorship, nor megacorps with their own agendas. We the reader, have the right to buy and read whatever we want as long as no one is hurt in the process. I repeat, it’s a great time to be a reader.

Recently, I read Death of an Idiot Boss by Janice Croom, an indie author. Ms Croom’s novel provided everything I wanted in a mystery story. It was a satisfying read. By contrast, I started reading Cara Black’s Murder in the Marais. A Random House megacorp book. I so wanted to like Ms Black’s book, because I love private detective mysteries. Sorry Ms Black, even though you are supposed to be a NY Times and USA Today bestselling author, your book was boring and I set it aside, only partly read, for a rousing steampunk adventure by indie author Jack Tyler: Beyond the Rails. A great read. Like Firefly gone steampunk.

Who’s going to get my reading dollars in the future? I can guarantee you, it won’t be Ms Black. Now I might try another Aimee Leduc mystery in the future, but I will buy a used copy. My dollars going to the independent used bookstore and not to Ms Black or Random House megacorp. Or I might save my money altogether and go to the library.

Traditional publishing no longer has a stranglehold on what we can read. I read somewhere that less than 200 writers each year are accepted into the Big 5’s hallowed halls of officially sanctioned authordom. And notice most are passed over for the advertising money and their books are soon found on the remainder table.

In the wake of the Big 5’s collapsing market share, the small press is gaining ground. And that is a good thing. Competition is always a good thing. However, writer’s be warned: the small press is small for a reason. That reason is lack of money, financial clout. Be careful going with a small press. Make sure you can get your book back if they go belly up.

However, in spite of Barnes and Noble’s woes and the Big 5’s woes, they aren’t going away anytime soon. Which only means good things for us readers. And that is there are LOTS of books available for us to buy and read.

The Big 5, the small press, indie author/publishers are producing new books at a phenomenal rate and that is good for us. Power to the reader! It’s a great time to be a reader.

As always, comments are welcome and until next time — happy reading!

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Reading

Reading is a joy. I prefer it to watching movies or television. I can’t say I’ve ever been a voracious reader. Mostly because I’m slow. But I generally have at least one book I’m in the process of reading at any given moment.

Recently, I counted the number of books I read last year. The count might be incomplete because I don’t record the books I read and one or two of them might have slipped my mind. Nevertheless, as I recall, I read 25 books. Two of them were non-fiction. Three novels I started and didn’t finish. I also read at least half a dozen short stories.

Thirteen of the novels were by indie authors. The remaining 10 were by two traditionally published mystery writers. The quality of writing across the board was in the main good. The books I quit reading I did so due to my losing interest in the main character or the writing was not up to par.

I was surprised to discover I read more mysteries than anything else, 12 books. Followed by 6 science fiction novels (2 were steampunk). The remaining books comprised 3 works of fantasy, 1 horror, and 1 humor.

To satisfy any curiosity, the authors of the works I read are J Evan Stuart, George Wier, Marcia Muller, A A Fish (aka Erle Stanley Gardner), Crispian Thurlborn, Ben Willoughby, Felix R Savage, Chad Muller, Tim McBain & LT Vargus, Karen J Carlisle, Alice E Keyes, and Erik Ga Bean. The non-fiction was by James Scott Bell.

Reading, I find, exercises the imagination. Video, I think, tends to stultify it. The key word is “tends”. Video doesn’t have to chain our imaginations, it’s just that it too often does. Money is poured into special effects and little thought is given to the script.

The movie Twelve Angry Men is a study in what can be achieved with a good script and no special effects. The movie delves into the character’s psychology, it’s thought provoking, and a doggone good story.

When I read A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, my imagination soared. When I recently saw the movie John Carter, while I enjoyed it, something of the tragedy in the book was lost. The special effects were great. However, the story suffered. And while the movie’s special effects made for some exciting eye candy, the book was better because my imagination made the story mine.

For the rest of the year, I intend to review at least one book a month so I can share with you some of the good reads I found last year and perhaps this year too.

Feel free to share some of the good books you read last year.

Until nest time, happy reading!

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Reading is Still the Best

I’m a reader turned writer, who still reads. Why? Because fiction is still my favorite form of entertainment. Not movies. Not computer games. Not TV. Not sports. It is a good book or short story. And because I like reading good stories, I started writing stories I would like to read. Consequently, I’m under no delusion that everyone will like what I write. I do know I will. And hopefully others will too.

So what do I like to read? I took a look through the BISAC subject heading list and came up with the following 10 genres/categories and listed a few favorites to go with each. The list is not exhaustive and the moment I post this, I’ll probably remember a delightful tale I forgot to include.

Action & Adventure

This is a broad category. I prefer my action/adventure to be a bit dark and touched with the fantastic or the supernatural.

H Rider Haggard so often fits the bill. King Solomon’s Mines is difficult to beat.

Robert E Howard in his short life wrote in a wide array of genres/categories. Some of my favorite stories feature his character Solomon Kane. Dark tales, touched with the supernatural, and with plenty of action.

Alternative History

I’m actually new to the genre, having come to it via steampunk. I haven’t read many alternative history stories and those I have read haven’t been overly memorable. The one I’ve enjoyed the most is Sydney Padua’s The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage.

However, the one story that does stick in my mind is not something I read. It’s the original Star Trek episode “Bread and Circuses”. A very fine alternative history story indeed.

Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic

I admit I’m fussy when it comes to this genre. What I like is the cozy catastrophe, that sub-sub-genre which focuses on the aftermath of the disaster and what the survivors end up doing.

There are some notable classics here, such as The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham and The Earth Abides by George R Stewart. Terry Nation’s book Survivors is disturbingly dark.

Fantasy

A very broad genre this, with many sub-genres. I confess I don’t read much fantasy anymore. I got burned out on all the magic and uninspired Tolkien rip-offs.

Generally I like my fantasy dark, sliding off into the horror genre, with a touch of the supernatural.

My all time favorite here is the gothic novel Dracula. However, I very much enjoyed Artemis Fowl. Very imaginative.

Ghost

Who doesn’t enjoy a good ghost story? One of the best I’ve read of late is Crispian Thurlborn’s A Bump in the Night. Very funny and philosophical.

Generally, though, I prefer my ghost stories over in the horror genre. One of the best is Robert E Howard’s “Pigeons from Hell” and he even includes a zuvembie, another name for a zombie.

Horror

I love a good psychological horror story with supernatural overtones. Slasher stories stay away. Can’t stand them.

Ben Willoughby’s recent contribution Raw Head is a well-done riff off of an old Southern legend.

One of my favorite stories is T.E.D. Klein’s “The Events at Poroth Farm” and the novel expanding on the story The Ceremonies.

Robert E Howard’s story “Black Canaan” is superb, as are so very many of his other tales. And many of H P Lovecraft’s stories are well worth re-reading, such as “The Transition of Juan Romero”, “The Call of Cthulhu”, and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”.

My interest in horror goes all the way back to my elementary school years and a slim paperback of Edgar Allan Poe’s tales. Add to that Conrad Aiken’s “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” and Saki’s “Sredni Vashtar” and I was hooked.

Mystery & Detective

I’m very fussy when it comes to mysteries. In fact, I don’t like mysteries per se because I’m not all that fond of puzzles. What I like are detective stories, preferably private detective stories, with a little bit of mystery tossed in.

I suppose Dupin and Holmes are to blame for this bias on my part. After all, they are very often more interesting than the mysteries they solve! Quite honestly, some of Holmes’ adventures are not very good and how Poe could bore us with “Marie Roget” is a question worth asking. Nevertheless, Dupin and Holmes live on. They are eternal.

My favorite private detective is Nero Wolfe, created by Rex Stout. Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are my dynamic duo.

Noir

Cornell Woolrich is perhaps the noir writer par excellence. Rear Window is a modern classic. I don’t read a lot of noir. But if I do, Woolrich is first in line.

Science Fiction

Like fantasy, like mystery, the science fiction genre is huge, with many, many sub-genres. I tend to prefer space operas and harder sci-fi as opposed to science fantasy.

The Player of Games by Iain Banks and Men, Martians, and Machines by Eric Frank Russell are favorites. So is Groff Conklin’s superb collection of short stories Omnibus of Science Fiction, which contains one of the finest stories H P Lovecraft ever wrote “The Colour Out Of Space”.

Sea Stories

“I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by…”

Masefield had it right. The lure of the sea and a tall ship, sails filled with the wind. The list of classics is endless. Yet, as much as I love sailing ships, I haven’t read any sea yarns for quite awhile.

The ones that stick in my mind are The Dark Frigate by Charles Boardman Hawes, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym by Poe, and Conrad’s The Secret Sharer and The Nigger of the Narcissus.

Of course there are many more great stories I didn’t list. Share your favorites. I’m always on the lookout for a good story or book to read.

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What’s Cooking?

Today is the last day of June. Half the year is over and I thought I’d give an update as to where things are at in my little corner of the world. You can read here what I planned for 2015 and make comparisons, if you like.

Writing

Thus far, I have 8 books published in 3 series with a standalone novella. Sales are exceedingly modest, but then I’ve done little to advertise them. Right now I’m writing and to be honest I feel the weight of years. Statistically speaking, I have about 20 years remaining. Morbid sounding, I know. But as Eeyore said, I’m not complaining, that’s just how it is.

I have so many book and story ideas, I don’t know if 20 years will be enough. So at present, I feel compelled to write and not do much marketing. But there is also the fact that while I have 8 books published, they are in 4 different genres and sub-genres.

My contribution to post-apocalyptic cozy catastrophes, The Rocheport Saga, has 3 books thus far. My mystery series, Justinia Wright, PI, stands at one novel and a novella collection. The dieselpunk alternative history series From the Files of Lady Dru Drummond also consists of a mere two books. And then there is the one psychological/supernatural horror novella, Do One Thing For Me.

Looking at it by genre, I don’t have many books in each genre. Hugh Howey had 7 science fiction books published when Wool appeared. I have a little ways to go to reach 8 books in one genre/sub-genre. So, taking a page out of Howey’s book, I’m writing now and marketing later.

But most importantly, I’m having fun!

Works in Progress

I do not have a dearth of ideas. If anything, I have a surfeit. Makes it difficult for me to focus at times. At the moment, I’m trying to concentrate on three stories.

Currently I’m working on typing and editing/revising book number four in The Rocheport Saga. Word count thus far is at 15,000. The series is my best seller to date. And there is a lot more manuscript material to go through. I’m guessing I wrote something over a half-million words (2200 handwritten pages) and the three novels out at this point comprise about 160 to 170 thousand words. So I’m guessing the series will have 9, maybe 10 novels when it finally ends.

I’m writing Justinia Wright, PI #3. After several fits and starts, I think I finally have a handle on the story. To date, I have 10,700 words typed and much more handwritten. I’m hoping to finish the book in the next month or two.

My new dieselpunk tale, featuring a new character, Rand Hart, stands at 14,300 words written and typed. Given where I’m at in the storyline and how much I have written, the story might reach novella length. Otherwise it will be a long novelette. And it too I hope to have out by September.

Future Books

If I get my wish, there will be lots. I’ve recently completed 3 flash fiction pieces (or short short stories as they used to be called) which I intend to include in a short story collection, hopefully published before year’s end.

In addition to the short story collection, I’d like to try to bring out The Rocheport Saga #5 before January 1st.

I have a completed short novella which might be the start of another post-apocalyptic series of possibly 7 books. Instead of waiting to publish it when I have additional books written, I’m thinking of publishing the tale as a standalone in the fall.

Lady Dru Drummond fans, do not despair! I have two ideas for further adventures of our intrepid reporter and once Rand Hart and Justinia Wright are completed, I intend to focus on Lady Dru.

In addition to the above, I have two potential space opera series on which I’ve spent time writing. These are incomplete and I’d like to return to them at some point. I also have partially completed: a fantasy novel, sci-fi historical novel, a seafaring novel, and a bunch of short stories.

In short, more is a comin’.

KDP Select

As of today, my books are no longer enrolled in KDP Select. I’ve written about that here, so I won’t spend much more time on it. In the coming weeks, they will be available in other markets.

I believe the free market is the best economic model. But the “free” in free market means everyone gets to compete without government control (which is fascism, by the way) and monopolies are not tolerated, because monopolies are just another form of control.

Amazon has taken over the book business. Everyone has to deal with Amazon. Whether we want to or not. Also keep in mind no monopoly or near monopoly is our friend.

So I’ve decided it is time to put my eggs into more than one basket and to give Amazon a bit of competition. Which I’ve also taken to a personal level: if I can get anything at a vendor other than Amazon, I will. The only way to beat a monopoly is to support the competition. Which is why I will also encourage folks to buy my books from vendors other than Amazon.

Draft 2 Digital

After researching Smashwords and alternatives to Smashwords, I’ve decided to use Draft 2 Digital as my aggregator to reach other markets.

Why not Smashwords? I think The Passive Voice article and the comments (link below) make the case why Smashwords is not my aggregator of choice. Take a moment to read MCA Hogarth’s “Leaving Smashwords”.

A friend recently uploaded her book to D2D and was done in half an hour or less. No problems whatsoever. Within several days, it was on Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Scribd, and the other vendors D2D contracts with. I like no problems.

D2D takes 15% of net royalties (or about 10% of gross). But it saves me time uploading to the vendors myself, which leaves me more time to write.

Other Formats

For the remainder of this year, I will be working on putting out paper versions of my books. I know there are folks who truly prefer paper books. There is a tactile experience with a paper book that one doesn’t get with an eReader. Personally, I like looking at shelves of books and holding a book in my hand. So paperbacks are coming. Although, ironically, I read more books on my iPad.

I’m also exploring audiobooks, because I have friends who prefer to listen to a book being read. The problem is production of an audiobook is expensive. Three to four thousand dollars. So I’m exploring doing it myself. As this unfolds, I’ll keep you all in the loop.

My Reading List

Like most writers, I like to read. In fact I enjoyed reading before I ever considered writing. So if you have a great book you’ve read, please share it with me! So what’s on my reading list?

Fiction

  • The works of Kazuo Ishiguro. That’s 7 novels and a short story collection.
  • Robert Louis Stevenson: Thrawn Janet and The Suicide Club
  • The White Company by Arthur Conan Doyle

Non-Fiction

  • Simon Garfield’s We Are At War and Our Hidden Lives
  • Because this is the centenary of World War I, The Beauty and the Sorrow by Peter Englund
  • And re-read David Shi’s excellent studies in simple living: The Simple Life and In Search of the Simple Life

Life In General

Being retired is wonderful. I recommend it to everyone. Work is so very much overrated! I think I’m enjoying retirement because I planned for it. Throughout 2014 I worked on my novels, built my website, learned social media, and prepared for my new career as an author. When I left work Friday afternoon on the 23rd of January 2015, I had a few regrets — after all one makes friends working at a place for 30 years. But when I woke up on the 24th, I sat at my desk and put pencil to paper. And when Monday rolled around, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had no virtual clock to punch. I WAS FREE!! And I put pencil to paper and wrote.

April, May, and a week in June I spent with my sister. It was a wonderful time. Then I spent a week with my dad in Arizona and finally returned to Minnesota.

Life is good. Life is what you make it. And right now, writing everyday, I’m having the time of my life.

One downer is that the freighter cruise to Samoa I so much wanted to take, doesn’t seem to be offered any longer. A whole bunch to China, but I’m not interested in seeing China. I want to see Samoa! More research is needed on that front.

Now that I’m back home, I am going to go bicycle shopping. I’d like to get a nice used bike and take advantage of the summer to get out from behind my desk for an hour or two each day.

One thing I have found of interest is that since I’ve retired, I’m seeing everything in somewhat of a different light. I’m more content and satisfied. I truly have time for enjoying il dolce far niente — the sweetness of doing nothing. And I love it! I find little things are very satisfying. To watch a favorite show on TV. To read that book, or write a letter. To just sit and listen to a piece of music. Or to drink tea and savor it or cherries (I so love cherries!). Even grocery shopping is a delight.

Life is what you make it. Make it good.

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