Thursday, December 29, 2011

Trailer for Space Hotel Series

I decided to branch out into the book trailer arena.  It's my very first iMovie project.  Let me know what you think!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Review of "The Restoration Man" by Simon John Cox

One man's obsession with the restoration of a near-mythical car is thrown into sharp perspective following the death of his wife.

After reading this story there is no doubt in my mind that Cox is able to write well.  An author's descriptive ability is always tested in short stories.  And in that area Cox excels.  He does a fantastic job creating a protagonist that you can't help but feel connected to.

Where I feel that this story is sort of lacking is in the obsession department.  It's the main plot point but, strangely enough, is not really focused on.  The protagonist's wife is dead but you never find out how his obsession with the car affected their relationship.  Most of the story centers on his current grief.  There are a few hints that he regrets his past actions.  But if I don't know what they are, how can I tell if he was really ignoring his wife for the car or if it's all in his head?

Story lines like this are tricky.  There has to be a careful balance of past and present information in order to present the inevitable future.  I need to know what role the car played in the past so I can understand his regret now

All that said, this is still a beautifully crafted story and well worth the read.  The fact that it made me think as much as it did is a major plus in my mind.  I enjoy short stories that last well beyond the final sentence.

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this short story on Amazon or B&N.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Reading Short Stories Online

This whole post may seem like I'm pointing out the obvious, but if there's one life lesson I've learned it's never assume people think the same way you do.

I think that a lot of people separate "reading" from "browsing the internet."  Reading involves sitting in a cozy spot and getting lost in your own little world for a few hours.  For many it's an intellectual pastime.  In this mindset, reading things on the internet does not count as "reading."

Browsing the internet is its own activity.  Unless you're trying to research something, internet browsing is usually not taken very seriously.  You end up clicking on random links and before you know it you're up-to-date on Paris Hilton's latest breakup.

I would say that I definitely fall into both of those categories.  But I would like to make people aware of a third option: you can "read" while "on the internet."  Personally, I don't like staring at a computer screen for hours which is why I will step away when I want to read a novel.  But short stories don't take that long to read.  A five page short story will probably take you less time to read than watching the video on the tragic Paris Hilton breakup.

Even better is that there are thousands of free classic short stories online.  You can  find tons of public domain (author is dead essentially) works and not even have to leave your chair.  So if you're in a situation where cozying up with a book isn't an option (say, on a break at work), short stories aren't a half bad way to go.

This isn't intended to be a sermon or anything.  I just wanted to make people aware.  It doesn't have to be mind-improving reading vs. brain-numbing internet.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review of "The Lamprey Stone," a single story in a collection by Maria Violante

It's a side of the southwest never glimpsed by mortal man - a heartless, barren outback riddled with ruthless demons. In its ignorance, humanity is powerless to stop these escapees from Hell and the havoc they create with their dark magic.

Good thing De la Roca isn't human.

A gunslinger with no memories of her previous life, she has fought for the last three hundred years on the forefront of a supernatural war, relying only on her wits, her reflexes, and her own demonic powers - all to pay for her own release from Hell.

The Angels wouldn't send her in alone and unarmed, though; Alsvior, her gifted - if contrary - steed, and Bluot, a legendary revolver with an unquenchable blood-lust, have been with her every step of the way - alone with a series of terrible nightmares that might hold the keys to her past.

Then, an Angel appears with a bargain that seems to good to be true - five final targets, and she is free from her penance.

Quickly, she discovers that her old methods are not up to the task, and she's forced to team up with a mysterious gatekeeper and another mercenary - both of which need her for their own plans. With time running out, she has to figure out who to trust and who to kill, and fast, before she's demon-food.

With over a hundred pages of explosive action, breathtaking visual descriptions, and a host of shadowy players that will keep the reader guessing until the very end, HUNTING THE FIVE is Maria Violante's stunning debut to the De la Chronicles.

A fantastic short story with a kind of Ghost Rider feel to it.  But, thankfully, it has a much better plot and no Nicholas Cage starring in it.

I've read other work by Violante and she has displayed, yet again, that she is highly skilled in short form fiction.  The premise of the series takes a classic plot structure (going on a quest to find specific objects) and adds some fun new elements.  With vampires and werewolves seeping out of practically every paranormal/supernatural story these days, the demon twist was very refreshing.

Violante's writing style is descriptive without being overly wordy.  This is definitely a plus when it came to the action sequences.  I could picture the entire scene playing out in my head.  I also enjoyed how Violante managed to give just enough background to the protagonist as to make her seem real yet still keep her origins mysterious.  This is the kind of thing that makes me want to continue reading the rest of the collection.

I liked how there was action but it wasn't gory.  I loved how the author introduced a very complex supernatural type of universe without ever going into mundane detail.  This collection is definitely worth looking into and a highly recommended read.

Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this collection on Amazon or B&N.

Monday, December 19, 2011

To Translate or Not To Translate

With the latest Spain and Italy Amazon additions, more and more people seem to be looking into translating their works.  I've really been weighing the pros and cons about this in my mind.  I haven't come to any definite conclusions but I thought I would share my thoughts thus far.

On the one hand.... much of a short story author's success is based on their ability to reach their niche audience.  I do believe that this initially requires casting a wide net.  Make your work as available as possible and then earn those one or two fans that will buy all of your work.  So in this sense, translating makes sense.  The "foreign language" markets are much smaller.  So there is the potential to become a big fish in a small pond.  Plus, some countries are far more open to short stories than Americans.  Hispanic cultures, for example, have a very rich background in short stories.

On the other hand... considering how much one makes on a single short story, it would take a loooooooong time to even begin to recoup the cost of paying for a professional translation.  Plus, there's just a smaller online shopping market compared to the USA.  Let's face it: Americans love to shop.  I sell a handful of stories every month in Amazon UK.  But it's nothing compared to US.  I think it's reasonable to assume that the "other" Amazons would eventually come to be like the UK in terms of number of units sold.

If I wrote novels, it would make perfect sense to get my work translated.  But given the more limited appeal of short stories, it just doesn't make sense to me to translate right now.  It would be hundreds of dollars that I may never see back.  If I ever become a more established writer with a larger audience, I might be open to reconsidering.

Anyone else have any thoughts on this?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Concept behind "Shabti" by Alain Gomez

The idea for this story came from a friend who had recently gone on a trip and visited the local museums.  She showed me this whole series of pictures she took of these small, blue Egyptian statues called shabti.  They're really fascinating to look at.  It kind of makes you wonder how the ancient Egyptians got the statues to be that blue.  I mean, the statues are thousands of years old.

Mysterious blue statues practically scream "short story."  So I caved in.  There were a lot of directions I considered taking but ended up deciding on creating an unusual romance.  When I first traveled over to Europe, I very clearly remember having my concept of time change.  I remember standing in Barcelona staring at a cathedral that had been under construction for almost as long as my own country had existed.  

I imagine that it would have been similar for some of the British when they first started traveling to places like India or Egypt.  Being in a country so different from your own changes your perspective.  For the purposes of this story, I liked the idea learning to appreciate the beauty of something. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Short Story Collections

There seems to be a lot of heated debate about collections of short stories.  I think that many new authors or just authors new to writing short stories often try to overcompensate with collections.

Thanks to the publishing industry we have the idea in our heads that more words equals more value.  So I think a lot of writers feel guilty about charging the same for a short story as they do a novel.  So they lessen the guilt by just packing together a ton of stories into what is essentially a novel-length collection.  So everyone is happy, right?

There is a certain validity to this thinking.  And I do think that a short story writer should provide readers with as many options as possible.  However, for the most part, I feel like there are two HUGE issues that are  overlooked when a writer approaches short stories in the manner I just described.

The first problem is an artistic one.  When a writer approaches short stories with the intention of writing as many as they can to put together a novel-length collection I feel that not as much effort is put into each story.  The focus becomes quantity rather than quality.  For a literary genre that emphasizes choice, spartan wording, this is really inexcusable in my mind.  You lose the "story" and just end up writing something that's "short."

The second problem is the idea that by having a novel-length collection you will suddenly appeal to novel-only readers.  This is flawed logic.  If someone is looking for a new novel to read they are not going to think "oh well, this short story collection is really long so it'll do as a replacement."  I like short stories and even I don't do that.  If I'm in the mood for a novel, I'm buying a novel.  If I want a short story, that's what I'm looking for.  Two separate shopping experiences.

Your audience should be those who enjoy short stories.  Since this is your target audience, effort should be put into each short story.  The goal is appeal to customers that go out of their way to find short stories.  Not the ones that are maybe willing to give them a try if they stumble across a collection that's long enough.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Interview with Author Tony Rauch

First, tell us a little about your writing journey. Would you consider yourself to be a "short story author" rather than a "novelist"?

I have three collections of short stories published. Two from Eraserhead Press and one from Spout Press. I have been writing shorts since childhood. In college I had some shorts published, which attracted the attention of my first book publisher. That first book then attracted the attention of my second publisher.

I mainly concentrate on short form because that's all I have time for, and it's the easiest for me. Also, to me long work feels bloated with a lot of useless background filler and could use trimming. Short form gets to the point without messing around and wasting time. There's a lot of power concentrated in the short form. Also, I tend to generate a lot of ideas, so short form allows me to implement them with a minimal expenditure of time. 

I've been working on longer stories though, expanding my tales. So that's been a nice evolution and a happy surprise - to get into 12 page, 18 page, 22, 36, 50 page epics. I think it's good to stretch your wings, grow, and try new things, new forms and formats - to keep things fresh, mix things up.

I have two mainstream novellas no one seems to want. For some reason my speculative short work stands out to someone, so go figure. Maybe because it seems fresh in comparison to my mainstream work.

In the past I've written experimental shorts and main stream shorts. The last two books have been more whimsical, surreal, fairy tale, action adventures bordering on absurdism mixed with sci-fi. You can read samples on my website - 

Tell us about your experiences selling short stories. Any successes? Failures? What has worked for you when trying to find an audience?

Just writing what I want is what seems to work best. I've found that so far, for me there's very little money in speculative short fiction (it's only a matter of nickels and dimes, nothing that would appreciably change my financial situation), so that fact liberates me to write whatever I would want to read.

I write stories to specifically fit into collections, thus the individual collection becomes a document, a piece of art onto itself. So my work is geared to fit with other stories, although they can also stand alone as individual artifacts.

I've had shorts published in journals and a few anthologies, but not in anything that ever paid much. Getting shorts into journals is mostly a marketing device to help advertise my story collections. I have not sold any stories on-line as individual pieces in terms of e-files. I haven't had time to investigate that route. I have some free samples on my website.

Mostly I would hope people would look at my collections and consider them as whole objects, with the stories as pieces of that whole.

Eraserhead Press liked my fiction and was excited to put out some of my story collections. That's the key - finding a publisher who is supportive and into what your vision is. The next step is marketing the book, which is a daunting task with so much competition out there.

My successes include having three collections of shorts published by reputable publishers. I have been interviewed by the Prague Post and Oxford University student paper in England. I've been reviewed by the MIT and Savanna College of Art and Design student papers. I've also been reviewed and interviewed by bloggers and smaller journals. So a degree of peer review is nice.

There are always things that don't work out. For every review or interview that makes it into print, there's at least another that doesn't make the cut. Marketing takes a lot of free time and is a commitment that demands sacrifices.

Mostly I think what has worked for me has been striving to be unique and not a faint copy of something else. I think that experimenting with form, content, genres, and mixing genres into a swirl has caused my work to stand out from the pack a little without having to resort to shock just for shock's sake. Meaning and story craft are also important to me. What is the story arc? What does the story mean? Is it told in an interesting manner? Or if it's just a fragment, is that fragment interesting or thought provoking? Do the pieces make you think? I also write little adventures too. I want them to be compelling page turners. If some of the pieces are similar to previously established genres, then hopefully I'm adding something fresh to that established paradigm.

Do you think ebooks will change the way short stories are viewed by the general public?

I hope so. The internet has helped a great deal in that there are more e-zines out there to promote the art form. So there are more venues with stories readily available to anyone. I think ebooks will serve the same purpose and be yet another venue or delivery system for the art form.

The problem then becomes one of saturation. If there are tons of stories readily available, does that dilute the specialness for everyone? How can a writer stand out from the crowd? You would hope that quality of writing and story craft would make you stand out and thus word of mouth eventually would help sell your book. 

What do you think is the biggest obstacle in introducing someone to a short story? As in, is it the length? The price? Not knowing what to expect?

I think the biggest impediment is people investing the time in reading. How do you convert non-readers and reluctant readers? I fear it's like getting a vegetarian to consume a large T-bone steak. But if you offer an interesting experience, quality writing and compelling stories or ideas, then you are offering something of value. But how do you reach non-readers?

I think people don't read fiction because of a general lack of free time, laziness, or not being inspired enough by what they've been exposed to. But this is where short stories can really fill a void as they don't gobble up too much time.

Potential readers may be hesitant to risk their time in something they don't know will bear fruit. Reading is not a passive activity, like watching a movie or television show (although if someone is a great writer and their words just flow effortlessly like warm syrup, then it's a much easier form to digest as your brain seems to just go along for the ride. But few people can write like that - where the reading becomes effortless).

It's a dauntingly crowded field out there with so much competition for our time, and so many entertainment options. It's a wonder anyone sells any books at all. In the past there were no cable TV or video games or shopping malls. At least now with the internet it's much easier to find your niche market and get the word out about the book to the people who would probably be most interested in it. There are pre-existing e-zines already set up that a writer can market to and readers can find what they're interested in.

So I think that's the hardest part - marketing, getting the word out that the book exists, just fighting your way through the clutter to try and reach potential readers in your own genre.

People are going to spend some money on entertainment anyway, so it might as well be spent on short stories. If someone gets something out of the experience, then it's worth the value - the time and money invested in that experience.

What to expect can be managed by having a blurb about the book on the back or inside cover. Or by a reader reading a few lines or looking on an author website or checking the book out on amazon or the publisher's website.

So I would go back to laziness and lack of time as big reasons people don't read. To some people reading seems like work. Others may be scared off if they feel they're just not knowledgeable about the form - maybe they feel like there's a test to take, or something that would make them feel like they didn't “get it” if they don't understand a story. Why are comic books so successful? That is a simple, but effective short form with complete story arcs. I think because they're easy to digest in a short time frame, the writing is generally simple and direct, and that appeals to people in that it's a style that does not tax the brain too heavily.

If you can offer a potential reader a sense of adventure, fun, knowledge, information, or discovery, they may be more inclined to read. What is their incentive to read? What are they getting out of the experience that they couldn't get from another form of leisure activity?

Many people like to hear stories or go on adventures they otherwise would be unable to experience. So there are pre-existing opportunities out there for writers to find people to read their work. It's just a matter of searching for those people.

My hope is that people will read more in the future as other forms of entertainment become more stagnant. How many sitcoms can you watch before they all seem the same? Reading offers unique adventures that are very direct and immediate. A reader is living inside of a book, whereas other forms of entertainment have built-in distances to experiencing them.

The potential for readers to experience other forms of writing has never been better with the internet offering exposure to an expanse of genres. So hopefully this will expose the non-readers and reluctant readers to other forms of writing they may not otherwise come across. Though in the end it's up to a potential reader to take a chance on something and invest the time to investigate a piece of writing.

Friday, December 9, 2011

What I Read vs. What I Write

There is something of a discrepancy between what I read vs. what I write.  This never fails to surprise me on some level.  I always thought the stories that would be the easiest would be the ones that are of a similar genre to what I read.  Not so!

I actually read quite a bit of British literature.  I'm particularly fond of 19th century British literature (maybe +/- a decade on either side).  This isn't to say that I don't read other things.  That's just generally what I lean toward when I'm browsing for a new book.

So when I really started writing with publication in mind, I just kind of assumed that I would probably end up creating a whole bunch of Regency romance novellas or something.  I even tried starting one but then I got stuck.  I will resurrect it eventually but I just hate forcing plots that aren't ready to be written yet.

Which brings us to what I actually really enjoy writing right now: science fiction and fantasy short stories with strange twists to them.  Now, I love reading stories with strange twists.  But they occupy a very small percentage of what I actually do read on a regular basis.  Same thing goes for sci-fi and fantasy.  I watch a lot of movies that fall in those two genres but don't actually ready it very much of it.

Going back to my attempt at writing a Regency romance, I found it to be surprisingly difficult.  Maybe just because my standards were set high?  Or I was locked up from trying to be historically accurate?  Maybe deep down I'm really just more geek than romantic?

Has anyone else noticed this with their writing?  Do you mostly write in the genre that you read?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

November 2011 Short Story Sales Stats

Since my last post, Smashwords has decided to start posting the date sold for ebooks.  How convenient!  I will continue to list B&N (sad tale that it is) but I also wanted to add my Apple, Sony and Kobo sales.  Since Smashwords updates their numbers at a slower pace, I will be listing the previous month for Apple, Sony and Kobo.  That way it will be a more accurate report.

Once again, all of these numbers that I list are for my under 10,000 stories plus collections.  I don't list my novella sales since the general public already knows that novellas can sell.  Also, I only list numbers for stories that I actually got paid for.  Not the free downloads.

Total number of short stories and collections available:  23

Amazon (US, UK, DE, FR):  29

B&N:  1

Apple (October):  2

Sony (October):  0

Kobo (October):  2

Now on to some interesting things of note...

I made my first Amazon France sale this month.  This was cause for much rejoicing.  I also took away the free status for Celebrity Space.  Since doing that, I've retained a steady number of consistent paid sales for the story.  Even though I made no money off the story by having it set at free, the large number of downloads was enough to feed it into Amazon's "also bought" system.  So I'm hoping that it will stick.

Monday, December 5, 2011

NaNoWriMo Follow-Up

So my goal for November was to write 10,000 words into my new novella.  All I can say is: FAIL!

In my defense, I actually started out pretty well.  I was writing every day and it felt kind of nice.  And then... I hit a wall.  It got to the point where I knew exactly where the story was headed but I wasn't exactly sure how I was going to get there.  For two days I tried to work through it by just writing down whatever with the intention of going back and fixing it.

But then I had a wake up call.  After the second day's attempt, I thought to myself: "Wait a minute... I hate forcing plots and writing whatever garbage comes to mind."  I mean, it was for that exact reason that I decided to not major in Literature in college.  I knew I would get burnt out if I was constantly required to churn out what was, in my mind, sub-par work.

So I put the novella aside for a little while to let it marinade.  But it wasn't a totally unproductive month!  Here's the tally:

  • 3,000 words into new novella
  • 2,000 word short story written and published
  • 1,000 word description for sci-fi blog written and published as free ebook
  • 2 short flash fiction stories for new collection I've slowing been putting together
  • 300 more words into non-fiction ebook I've been putting together
  • Numerous blogs
So I was just shy of 10,000 words.  Whatever.  I feel no remorse!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Last Moment by Alain Gomez

She places her hand in his.

Fingers twine together.

So many memories it makes them both smile.

He closes his eyes one last time.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Review of "Dramatic Solution & The Allergy Factor" by Robert Collins

Two Frigate Victory short stories.

Dramatic Solution: The Terran Federal Republic frigate Victory is escorting colonists to their new home world. Upon arrival they find a pirate ship orbiting the planet. Dealing the the pirates is easy. How can the crew prevent the pirates’ leader from finding his missing ship?
First published in “Just Because,” September 1998.

The Allergy Factor: There’s trouble on the colony world Vliets between settlers and a mining company. Captain Jason Ayers and the Victory are sent to resolve the dispute. One of his crew falls ill from a sip of beer. Could the explanation point to a solution?
First published in “Hadrosaur Tales,” Volume 17, 2003.

This collection is composed of two stories, “Dramatic Solution” and “The Allergy Factor,” both part of a series entitled “Frigate Victory.” The sci-fi shorts follow the adventures of the crew on the frigate Victory, particularly Lieutenant Shannon Fournier and Captain Jason Ayers. The episode-like format, as well as the setting and plots, are strongly reminiscent of the Star Trek series, with the crew serving as escort, bodyguard and peacemaker for individuals seeking to expand the colonization of space. This lends an air of familiarity to the stories, yet they remain fresh and interesting in their own right.

The first story in the collection, “Dramatic Solution,” is a bit overwhelming initially, as Collins introduces a full cast of characters within the first paragraph, making it hard to keep track of who is who. However, Collins manages to make the characters, particularly Fournier, both realistic and intriguing. The author has a good thing going with this series, and I hope to read more “episodes” in the future.

Interestingly, Collins provides almost no backstory for either the characters or their mandate on Victory. Normally this would bother me, as the right balance of plot and background information can add depth to short stories. However, in this case backstory is rendered unnecessary by Collins’ skillful writing and would, in fact, drag down both pace and plot.

If you can get past the initial character bombardment, the Frigate Victory series is well worth reading. 

3.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Aubrey Bennet

Buy this story on Amazon or B&N.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hosting a Drawing on Short Story Symposium

I just wanted to announce that I am hosting a drawing/sweepstakes event on Short Story Symposium.  To enter  the drawing all you have to do is Tweet a blog link or share a blog link or Facebook.  As prizes, I'm giving away a $25, $20 and $15 Amazon gift card.

Here's the link to find out more details:

I figure it's kind of a fun way for everyone to help each other out.  The authors get more publicity, readers could find new reading material and the general public could become more aware of short stories.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Previously Undisclosed Publishing Goal: I want to do it my way

As far as short stories go, there are some pre-prescribed methods on how you should go about promoting your stories.  It's generally suggested that you use magazines (or e-zines) to your advantage.  Submit your story to the magazine and if they accept it and publish it you get a little bit of freelance money plus a way to introduce your work to new readers.

Once the one year (or whatever) contract with the magazine is up, you are free to publish your short story on your own as an ebook.  Then you use the usual internet promotion methods to further yourself as an author.

I feel like this is good advice and not at all a bad way to go.  However, I decided almost as soon as I first published that I'm not going to listen to it.  Here's why:

I want to see if it's possible to just be a self-published short story writer.  I kind of want to test the system.  There's a lot of chit and chat about how ebooks could revitalize the short story.  I want to see if this is true or not.

I feel like I'm as good a candidate as any for an experiment such as this.  I really don't like writing novels.  I could see myself writing more novellas but 80,000 word epistles are not my cup of tea.  Plus, the topics I choose to write about don't have immediate appeal (as in, they're not about sparkly vampires).  I was also unpublished before I self-published my first ebook.  So in terms of name recognition, I started from scratch with no cult following already buying my stuff.

But I do have a secret weapon: I can be extremely patient if the situation calls for it.  I have also already set up my own private teaching studio business.  So I've literally experienced the process of "word of mouth" kicking in if you give it enough time.

Basically, I want to try this my way and see if it works.  I don't want to be a novel writer that just crams short stories in here and there to help sell more novels.  I don't want to speedily pack together 100 short stories in an effort to make a collection that is novel-length.  And I don't want to spend most of my time submitting to magazines and writing by their guidelines.

Every story that I write is designed to be stand-alone or a complete experience.  I only put together collections if there is a connecting theme.  I want to see if all of this eventually appeals to a targeted niche audience.

Friday, November 25, 2011

2012 the Year of the Short Story?

A few days ago I came across a link shared on Twitter by James Everington.  It was called "Is 2012 Going to Be 'The Year of the Short Story?'" and you can read the article here if you like.

First of all, the title made me laugh.  It sounds like the a Chinese zodiac sign or something for the year.  The article itself doesn't really break any new ground either.  It basically just talks how traditional publishers have not been interested in short stories until this point because they cost too much to print.  Well, duh.

What is interesting about the article is that it suggests at the end how ebooks are changing the availability of short stories which has caused a renewed interest for publishers.  Now this is what short story authors have been hoping for since the beginning.  What's significant about this article is that it's a sign that our dreams could become a reality.

Articles such as this show that short stories are now becoming a market presence.  A viable market presence to boot.  So it's no longer just short story authors shouting "ebooks will bring back short stories!" with novel writers giving us patronizing chuckles.  Now the publishers are starting to realize that we may actually have a point.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Review of "Ratticus: A True Tale from Critter Corner" by Raymond Birdsell

The true short story of one family, one critter, and one month's worth of problems.

A comedic look at the travails of being a homeowner and dealing with the occasional uninvited houseguest.

In this story, homeowners do battle with a very determined rat who has moved into their home. Having an older home myself that seems to be prone to critter invasions, I fully appreciate everything the author and his family went through. Picturing Birdsell catching mice with a colander and chasing rats with a golf club reminded me of my own adventures: trapping mice in tupperware and driving to the park in my pajamas to release them, using a tennis racket to scoot a possum out from behind the dryer, etc.

As Birdsell points out, many people have similar stories of critter or bug invasions. If the individual is a good storyteller, as Birdsell clearly is, such tales are tailor made for amusing blog posts or a comedically dramatic retelling while out to dinner with friends.  However, as a short story, “Ratticus” doesn’t quite make it.

For starters, the author tries to combine too many side stories into the plot. The piece starts off talking about water-themed disasters then suddenly segues into the world of critter trouble. Here, the story again loses its continuity as Birdsell becomes sidetracked with other, parallel stories of mouse and chipmunk invasions. This gives the story a choppy feel and distracts from the main plot line. This proves the case of too much information not always being a good thing.

Second, the author tends towards long-windedness. While the story contains a good deal of humorous imagery, the wordy, almost formal writing style is at odds with the friendly, witty voice Birdsell employs as narrator.

While a funny tale, as a literary piece “Ratticus” feels choppy and forced.

2.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Aubrey Bennet

Buy this story on Amazon or B&N.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Review of "A Jalapeno for the Vampire" by Daniel Roberts

Kidnapped and thrown into the lair of a deadly vampire, Susan Smith fights through the terror of her plight to survive. Will the evil creature get her in the end or will she find a way to defeat him?

I was a bit reluctant when I was given a vampire story to review. Veins make me queasy and I don’t like anything touching my neck, so it comes as no surprise that the recent trend of “sexy vampires” holds no appeal for me. In my mind, vampires will always be gross and scary.

Fortunately for me, Roberts’ story “A Jalapeño For The Vampire,” is a modern nod to the good old days when vampires were terrifying. The story follows the capture and imprisonment of a young girl, named Susan, who is doomed to be a vampire’s snack. Though Roberts does an excellent job of crafting interesting characters, setting the scene and building suspense, Susan’s dialogue is sometimes forced. Instead of sounding like a spunky young girl, she sounds like a grown man trying to sound like a spunky young girl. In this aspect, Roberts has some growing to do as a writer.

The plot is intriguing, and the fact that almost the entire story takes place in one room but remains interesting is impressive. The mental game of cat and mouse played by Susan and the vampire is entertaining, and Susan’s refusal to go down without a fight ads drama and suspense to a seemingly hopeless situation.

The conclusion is well conceived, though hardly unexpected. With all the hints Roberts drops along the way it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put two and two together and figure out her plan. The ending may not be a surprise, but the story remains a good concept and the writing skillful enough to make it an enjoyable read. 

3/5 stars
Reviewed by Aubrey Bennet

Buy this short story on B&N.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Short Stories Are Perfect For....

  1. Long trips to the bathroom
  2. Doctor appointments where they are only running "5 minutes" behind
  3. Obscenely long lines at the grocery store because the person in front is trying to win the exact change award
  4. Pretending to look like you're important and busy because you're staring at your phone
  5. Extended family get-togethers and you're not too keen on talking to any of your relatives
  6. Improving your vocabulary during a boring class - at least you're learning something, right?
  7. Waiting for your fashionably late friend to show up for your dinner engagement
  8. Actually putting your iPad to good use
  9. Lunch breaks where you don't want to look like a loser by just sitting there alone and chewing
  10. When you're not focused enough to read a novel but don't want to tell people that you just sat around and watched TV the whole weekend
  11. When you can't decide if you're in the mood for a rip-your-heart-out horror story or a rip-your-heart-out sappy romance
  12. Appearing artsy at trendy coffee shops

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review of "A Car Crash of Sorts," a short story by Frank Marcopolos

The only soldier in the history of the Army to bring both MACBETH and DUINO ELEGIES to boot camp, Dante Kronos recruits his best buddies to establish "The Reading Maniacs Reading Group" on Fort Bragg. When a barracks brothel-ring threatens to annihilate his team, can Dante destroy the threat and save the brotherhood?

"A Car Crash of Sorts" is a case of surprisingly rich plot and depth that is somewhat marred by a disjointed writing style.  My biggest beef was with the general "flow" of the plot.  The author would only sometimes add asterisk to mark large changes in time or point of view.  

The rest of the time there would be scenes where, for example, one paragraph would be describing Dante going over to his girlfriend's house.  There would be a paragraph break and then the next line would be the same set of characters only an hour later.  I found this to be distracting as I was frequently pulled out of the story trying to figure out what was going on.  It's the kind of thing that could have so easily been avoided with a "Dante sat there talking to her for an hour."

In retrospect, the story concept as a whole is very good.  The ending (which I won't spoil) is really what takes the entire plot to the next level.  Once my brain had time to fill in all the gaps, I would say that Marcopolos can certainly weave a tale.

In this story's case, the end justifies the means.  Yes, the process of figuring out what was going on made for a rough read.  But after everything ties together you can't help but think that it was a really good story.

3/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this story on Amazon or B&N.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Interview With Author Declan Conner

First, tell us a little about your writing journey.

Where to begin? I guess the journey spans many years. From early childhood, we always had books around the house, so I picked up the habit of reading, which I think is critical for anyone going on to write. I read most of the classics, but my first love was the Famous Five Stories. Of course, as you go through life, interests and reading habits change and I gravitated towards the thriller genre.

I have always had a fertile imagination as a child and used to love English lessons when we were given short essays to write. I hope my sister doesn’t mind me saying, but when I was thirteen and she was at Grammar school, she couldn’t craft stories to save her life. When she was given homework, I used to make up her stories for her and she would write them out in her own hand to correct the Grammar. As a team, we always achieved top marks. Trust me, that experience taught me the value of editorial input. Even now, I wouldn’t publish anything that had not been through the hands of an editor and without my sister casting an eye over it for a final proof reading.

Like many authors, I came to serious writing late in life. The joys of bringing up a family and earning a living to put money on the table made it difficult to chase my dream of writing stories. I still managed to write a full length book, but it took many years. Fortunately, I am now in a position that I can write full time.

What sparked my interest in short stories was a competition held by Harper Collins for one of their clients. I made the finals with a short 3,000 word story, The End or a New Dawn, a disaster thriller. To think it made it to the final with a panel of judges made up of some of their editors’ and authors’ gave me the idea to continue writing short stories. I was pleased when their client chose a poem and a rehashed nursery rhyme for the publication as I would have had to give up copyright. It also meant that what was an original 5,000 word story, could be published in full.

Would you consider yourself to be a "short story author" rather than a "novelist"?

I consider myself a bit of both, but maybe my readers have other ideas, when I consider my sales statistics. I have one full length book out, Survival Instinct (The dark side of dating) a serial killer thriller. I am currently 50,000 words in to the follow up, with the provisional title of Russian Brides.

As for short stories, I just can’t stop writing them. Ideas for for full length thriller stories pop in to my head whilst I am completing my full length novels, that if I didn’t outline the stories, they would be lost forever and before I know it I have so many plotted, that I couldn’t possibly make them all in to full length books.

I published twelve of them at an average of 5,000 words each story as a compilation with the title of Lunch Break Thrillers. I was staggered when on the day I published it as an eBook; it went straight to number 4 in the UK Amazon kindle charts for, Crime/ mystery thriller/shorts. I was even more amazed that it spent 7 seven months of this year in the top ten and rubbing shoulders in the rankings with the likes of Stephen King and Agatha Christie.

Following exchanges of emails from readers, I have since published all the shorts individually to give readers a choice of package.

When Amazon kindle Germany opened its doors, I didn’t expect to sell any and so I had two of the shorts translated to German and hoped for the best. I was taken aback when not only did the German translations sell, but all the individual English ones hit top ten rankings for their category.

At the moment I am working on a series of paranormal thrillers at anywhere between 7,500 and 10,000 words. I have just completed the first story, Amnesia of the Heart, a paranormal romance thriller, which I am quite excited about. The verdict is out on whether or not I should publish it now, or to wait until I have enough for a compilation. For now I have published it for a limited period at 9,500 words so it can be read for FREE, unedited and in full on the Authonomy writers’ site, for beta readers to critique.

Any successes? Failures? What has worked for you when trying to find an audience?

I think what I have outlined could be considered my successes. As for failures, it is all down to expectations. If I only ever have one reader enjoy one of my works, I would consider that a success, so I don’t like to think in terms of failures.

Finding an audience is the tricky part. I have a page on my blog which is dedicated to short story writing that attracts quite a number of hits. Most of my blog is dedicated to providing information on free guides to how to format eBooks, POD and other advice, so most of the people who visit are authors, Although saying that, authors still read books and many will have written, or have an interest in short stories. I only use twitter if I publish something new, or I have achieved something, I consider being a milestone. Other than that, I post on the various territory Amazon forums and Nook Boards.

Making one of the shorts, Where there’s a will, there’s a war, FREE has helped me to find an audience, which may have otherwise, not considered buying a short story. The story is published individually and as part of the Lunch Break Thriller compilation. What I am finding is a correlation of free downloads to an increased sale of Lunch Break Thrillers.

I also publish the individual shorts with both an American English version and a UK English punctuated version in the one eBook, with internal links for the customer to make the choice. I always add “short story” in brackets to the title and state the approximate page count in the description. I think this is so important in making sure you don’t find the wrong audience, who have the potential to write a bad review because they were not expecting a short story. 

Do you think eBooks will change the way short stories are viewed by the general public?

I think they already have changed readers’ views. Before Amazon came along, publishers would only consider compilations of short stories if you were already famous and individual shorts would have been out of the equation as uneconomical to print. Just as the book market has seen changes, I feel that readers’ habits are changing. In these busy times we live in, short stories are an ideal medium to read a story to its conclusion in a lunch break, or on the Beach, or during a short commute. Hand held devices such as iPhones and the like have made this possibility even more accessible. 

What do you think is the biggest obstacle in introducing someone to a short story? As in, is it the length? The price? Not knowing what to expect?

All of those are obstacles that we face and they can only be overcome by honesty. Short stories are part of a small but growing niche market. I personally think that perceived value for money is the biggest obstacle. The lowest price you can charge on Amazon is 99 cents for any work, unless you are lucky enough to have one made free by them. So basically, you can be competing against full length books. That situation doesn’t worry me, as just as readers have price points, they also have preferences for genre and story length. Where I think some short story writers go wrong, is in setting their work against full length books and feeling self-conscious about the price. A short story can be worth its weight in gold for reader enjoyment. I personally think that 99 cents is reasonable price for a short, of around 2,000 words upwards, and anything less should be a bundle of stories.

The problem seems to me is in what people think constitutes a short story, when you have flash fiction from 500 words, to say a novelette at up to say 25,000 words. I think the first thing is to ensure you clearly state what it is you are offering the reader. I also think that if you have a compilation, you should also publish the stories individually, if for no other reason than they can sample all the stories in the compilation.

This brings me on to the price of compilations. If you are to publish individually, then it gives you the opportunity to represent the compilation as value for money at a higher price.

Check out all of Declan's work:

Friday, November 11, 2011

Review of "Laundry Day" by Stacy Juba

A short story by mystery author Stacy Juba. When Gregg accidentally discovers his neighbor's lingerie collection drip-drying in her shower, he stares in fascination at a scene that looks like laundry day at the whorehouse. After his neighbor is found dead - strangled with her own fishnet stocking - the next victim might even be closer to home.

**While this review does not completely reveal the story’s ending, it does contain some spoilers.**

In “Laundry Day” a man’s chance discovery of his neighbor’s lingerie collection leads him to make some other unexpected discoveries, primarily about his relationship with his wife. He soon finds that beneath the placid surface of neighborly friendliness lies a hotbed of betrayal, lust and murder.

Here, Juba crafts a gripping tale with realistic characters and a fast paced, thrilling plot. There are few things I love more than a good murder mystery, and that is exactly what the author has created in “Laundry Day.” With its suburban setting and middle-aged characters, Juba explores the seedy underbelly of middle America without stooping to the use of trite stereotypes or descending into crass sensationalism.

In fact, I was on board the entire way, until the climax. That’s where things became dicey to me: wouldn’t a man who was happily married act first and ask questions later upon finding a man he disliked and distrusted attempting to kill his wife of 18+ years? Instead, according to Juba, he would stop and listen to the man’s accusations and weigh the pros and cons of letting his wife be murdered. To go from doting spouse to cold fish in the span of 30 seconds, based on the word of the neighborhood jerk/murderer, is a bit extreme to me.

Other than that one hiccup, “Laundry Day” is a well-written, entertaining story with a truly unexpected twist. No easy task, Juba crafts a quality, satisfying mystery in an impressively short space. 

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Aubrey Bennet

Buy this short story on Amazon or B&N.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"End Behavior" by Alain Gomez and Aubrey Bennet

"End Behavior" is an an action serial designed to be completely ridiculous.  I'm co-authoring it with my good friend and lovely fellow reviewer here on Book Brouhaha, Aubrey Bennet.  Aubrey and I originally started this story back in college for our own personal amusement.  Both of us have a weakness for cheesy movies.  The goal was to create a story that kind of played up every single James Bond/Clive Cussler/Robery Ludlum stereotype.

Lo and behold the e-book revolution came around years later.  So we decided to turn "End Behavior" into a campy serial with "Will our hero ever esacpe?!  Tune in next week!" types of endings.  As of right now, the plan is to do eight episodes in this series.

I have no idea if the series will ever catch on but they're really fun to write.  The general policy when putting together episodes is: subtle yet over-the-top.  Our main character never drives any car worth lesson that $150,000 and of course has to run around with the brilliant but sexy women.

I really think that this is kind of the epitome of why the self-published e-books are so great.  Writers are now totally free to write what they enjoy no matter how off-beat it is.  It's very liberating.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Grammar Rules: Italics, Quotation Marks and Boldface, guest post by Purity Jones

The need to express emphasis, emotion, private thoughts, titles and proper nouns in written works often results in the rules of English grammar being blurred or broken. If your uncertainty has left you with a combination of italics, boldface, and creative punctuation, use these rules of thumb to bring your writing back to shipshape.

1. Stay away from bold. Period.

2. Use italics or quotation marks to denote thoughts. If you use quotation marks, make it clear that the quoted text is not spoken aloud. Example:

Incorrect: Steve picked up the broken vase. I hate Linda. The vase was priceless. Of course I forgive you.

Correct: Steve picked up the broken vase. I hate Linda. The vase was priceless. “Of course I forgive you.”

Correct: Steve picked up the broken vase. “I hate Linda,” he thought viciously. The vase was priceless! “Of course I forgive you,” he said aloud.

Correct: Steve picked up the broken vase. He really hated Linda. The vase was priceless. “Of course I forgive you,” he said bitterly.

If you do not explain to your reader why you transition from the third person to the first, his unconscious involvement in your story will be interrupted while he does your work for you, and then you will have to start all over drawing him into Steve’s despair.

3. Refrain from overemphasizing dramatic speeches or turns of event. It looks unprofessional and can be very distracting. Let your writing speak for itself. Examples:

Incorrect: Everything finally made sense!! Edward was a VAMPIRE!!!

Correct: Everything finally made sense. Edward was a vampire!

Incorrect: “I hate you, Mom! How did you get so UNCOOL?!?!!”

Correct: “I hate you, Mom! How did you get so uncool?” –If this seems too tame, convey the character’s passion through additional description (Maggie screamed hysterically), not additional punctuation (??!?!!1!).

Incorrect: But it WAS a problem.

Correct: But it was a problem.

4. In general, the titles of longer literary works like books will take italics while shorter ones like sonnets will take quotation marks. Other examples:

I have been watching American Dad all day. I paused between “Stanny Boy and Frantastic” and “Pinata Named Desire” to have dinner.

I have always felt that Help! would be my favorite Beatles album if it weren’t for ”Dizzy Miss Lizzy.”

My political ideology runs more along the lines of Common Sense than “I Have a Dream.”

I was surprised that “Dance Teacher Still Cutting the Rug at 86” made the front page of the Los Angeles Times, although I wouldn’t have thought twice if I saw it on my church’s newsletter.

Friday, November 4, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011

National Novel Writing Month or "NaNoWriMo" is a writer's challenge that started a little over a decade ago.  It goes for the entire month of November and challenges authors to write 50,000 words of a new novel.  If you want to be super official about the whole thing, you're supposed to register on the NaNoWriMo website and keep track of your progress.

I'm not a super official kind of person.  Plus, I always forget to update progress bars and stuff.  And I don't write novels.  However, I believe that the spirit of NaNoWriMo is to really push yourself as a writer.  In other words: set a challenging goal for yourself for the month.

So I'm going to have my own little NaNoWriMo challenge for myself but it's going to be for a new novella.  I've recently outlined one but have yet to really get started on it.  So I figure this is as good a time as any to get my rear in gear.

My novellas tend to average about 20,000 words.  So my goal is to write 10,000 words into my new novella.  Sure, it may not be very much for some writers.  But I like to mull.  I'll mull over a short story for a month before I finally sit down and write it.  So considering my writing habits and work schedule for the month (it's gonna be crazy), I feel like 10,000 words would be a good challenge for me.

Anyone else taking on any writing goals for the month?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

October 2011 Short Story Sales Stats

October seemed to be a slower month.  Anyone else notice this?  I heard rumors that there was some big Amazon book sale going on but was too lazy to investigate.

Several interesting developments have happened this month.  But first, the sales report:

Amazon (US/UK/DE/FR):
    # of works:  20
    # of sales: 11

    # of works:  20
    # of sales:  1

Ok, so the first big thing was that I made my first sale on Amazon DE this month.  W00T!!!  So it is actually possible to sell stuff there, apparently.  The Berlin Wall has finally crumbled.  France... we shall see.  I kind of want to make an invasion of Paris joke now.  But I won't.

Which leads us to the second, more interesting, thing.  My Smashwords sales report finally updated and I've not only sold more even more books on Apple but I'm also starting to pick up sales in the Kobo and Sony stores.  What annoys me is that Smashwords doesn't list the date that the sale was made.  So there's not way to place which sale is related to which month.

I believe that I first formatted everything for Smashwords distribution back in June/July of this year.  So five months later (ok, more like three months later because it took forever for my stuff to be "shipped" to all the Smashwords channels) I have accumulated 6 Apple sales, 3 Kobo and 1 Sony.  There were actually more "sales" but they were free downloads so I didn't count those.

This is significant, guys.  These numbers mean that they are going to outstrip B&N for me in terms of units sold.  Not only that, but there are untapped short story markets out there.  So if you haven't done so already, admit yourself to the Smashwords premium catalog!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Review of "A Fitting Tribute," a single short story from a collection by Andrea Janes

Boroughs of the Dead is a collection of ten short horror stories set in and around New York City.

Beneath its modern facade, New York City teems with dark secrets, faded spirits, and unnameable horrors. Boroughs of the Dead weaves fact and myth, fiction and legend to tell ten of the most terrifying tales of the haunted metropolis.

A medical doctor abandons all rationality when he falls in love with the spirit of a murdered woman. The nightmares of an adolescent boy come to life and stalk him to the deadly, polluted waters of Newtown Creek. A cholera demon wipes out the thieves and murderers of the Five Points.

From ghost stories to zombie narratives to weird tales, Boroughs of the Dead contains evils as diverse as Gotham itself.

For me, one of the most interesting things about short stories is how they don't always clearly fall under the predefined genres.  When you see a fantasy novel you can make some pretty safe guesses about what kind of entertainment it will deliver.  This is almost never the case with short stories.

In case you missed the post title, this is a review of a single story in a larger collection.  "A Fitting Tribute" could be shallowly described as a fantasy horror story.  In actuality it was an engrossing tale about vanity and revenge.

Essentially this is the story of a beautiful, vain sixteen year old girl who is accustomed to getting exactly what she wants whenever she wants.  And she has the means to "ensure" that her wishes come true.  I simply loved her character.  She was so perfectly nasty.  A beautiful face concealing a monstrous personality.

All too often the reader can't help but feel sorry for characters because of their youth.  I found it refreshing that the author chose to avoid that route.  While you definitely become sucked into the story, you are able to view the protagonist's fate with a kind of heartless indifference.  This made the ending all the more chilling.

This story alone would make the whole collection worth buying.  "A Fitting Tribute" was interesting and different; creepy yet satisfying.

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this collection on Amazon and make a point to check out Andrea's site.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Interview with Author Cora Buhlert

First, tell us a little about your writing journey. Would you consider yourself to be a "short story author" rather than a "novelist"?

Both actually - and an occasional poet, too.

I started writing short stories after a few abortive attempts at novels and plays in my teens. However, while all my pals at the university creative writing workshop were writing flash fiction pieces whittled down to the absolute minimum, my stories tended to run several pages. The professor never quite knew what to do with me, especially since I insisted on writing genre, too.

Eventually I gravitated towards novelettes and novellas, which - as you know – are next to impossible to sell. Though I still wrote short stories, too, because I had started to sell them. Then I started and finished a novel, took a break from fiction writing to finish my MA degree and started another novel afterwards. However, I found that I missed the change of pace and quicker gratification offered by short stories, so I began writing short fiction again in addition to longer works.

Nowadays, I consider myself a jack of all genres and lengths.

Tell us about your experiences selling short stories. Any successes? Failures? What has worked for you when trying to find an audience?

I started writing before the e-book revolution and initially submitted my stories to traditional magazines. Writing in English in a country where English is not the majority language (I live in Germany) used to further limit your access to the market, particularly in pre-internet times. As a matter of fact, my first two sales (sort of, since they only paid in contributor's copies) were to the English language literary magazine of my university.

Via the internet I also got access to the wider world of short fiction markets. I submitted to the big name magazines at first, Analog, Asimov's,Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, etc… with zero success. Eventually, I found my niche writing for small magazines that focused on adventure fiction in the style of the old pulps and had a bit of success.

I was very sceptical about e-publishing at first, but then I started following the blogs of Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch and decided to give it a try with one of my out of print short stories. Now I have nine short stories and novelettes available for sale under my Pegasus Pulp imprint. So far all but two are backlist stories, but I also plan to e-publish more new works as well as those formerly unsellable novellas.

Like you, I write in multiple genres which makes finding an audience more difficult. So far, my historical adventure fiction sells best and there seems to be some crossover readership between those stories. I hope that some of those readers will follow me into other genres as well.

I believe that even in the age of electronic self-publishing, it still makes sense for a short story writer to submit to traditional magazines and anthologies. Appearing in a well regarded magazine increases your visibility and – depending on the genre – also gives you a shot at being nominated for awards. Besides, magazines and anthologies usually only ask for limited rights and a certain period of exclusivity – they don't do a rights grab like many traditional book publishers these days. I don't think that indie or traditional has to be an either/or question, especially since we short story writers can have the best of both worlds.

Do you think ebooks will change the way short stories are viewed by the general public?

The internet in general has given the short story a shot in the arm. Back when I started writing, there were only a handful of pro magazines and several smaller 'zines that published short fiction at all. Nowadays, we have a huge range of short story markets and many of them are electronic. Furthermore, electronic submissions have levelled the playing field for international writers such as myself, because submitting to magazines based in Britain or the US has suddenly become a lot easier and cheaper.

As for e-books, though the conventional wisdom is that short stories don't sell in e-book form, I believe that e-books are ideal for short fiction. Because one of the big advantages of e-books is that length ceases to be a factor. There is no longer such a thing as "too long" or "too short". With e-books, a story can be exactly as long as it needs to be, whether it's a short story or a 200,000 word doorstopper. Besides, there are times when shorter works are ideal. A short story is just long enough to read during your commute to work. A novella is ideal for a two hour train ride or a short haul flight.

E-books are also ideal for novelettes and novellas, which used to be almost impossible to sell, because they were too long for most short fiction markets and too short for stand-alone novels. I already have several novelettes for sale, including one that was never previously published, and there are more coming.

Finally, e-books are perfect for reviving your dead backlist. It used to be that once a short story was published and you had been paid for it, that was the last you'd see of it. If you were lucky, you might sell reprint rights. And if you were very lucky, had a lot of short stories as well as a "name", you might even sell a short story collection to a traditional publisher.

In the age of e-publishing, however, you can bring back all of those out of print short stories that are clogging up your harddrive or gathering dust in a box of contributor's copies. You can republish those old stories either as standalones or collections, gain new readers and earn a little money, too. What's not to love?

What do you think is the biggest obstacle in introducing someone to a short story? As in, is it the length? The price? Not knowing what to expect?

There is an attitude stemming from traditional print publishing that the longer the book, the more bang for buck the reader gets. This is the attitude that eventually led to bloated epic fantasy doorstoppers. Now I believe that every story has its ideal length. Some ideas turn into flash fiction, while others grow up to be trilogies, and trying to turn one into the other usually doesn't work. But short story writers still have to fight against the attitude that a longer book is automatically a better book. There are plenty of readers who claim that they don't like short stories and won't read them. Once they give short fiction a try, they usually enjoy it. Nonetheless, many readers hold a prejudice against short stories that writers have to overcome.

The price can be a problem as well. Because in a world where writers are routinely selling full length novels for 99 cents or even giving them away for free, some readers will balk at paying 99 cents for a short story. Though at least in my experience, the price isn't that big of a factor. My personal bestseller is a 99 cent short story, but my worst seller is a 99 cent short story as well. Meanwhile, my second best seller is a novelette that sells for 2.99. One thing I have learned in four months of independent publishing is that it is next to impossible to predict what will sell and what won't.

I believe it's very important to clearly label short stories for what they are, so a potential reader won't feel ripped off. I always state in the description that the book in question a short story or novelette and also give an approximate word count. To avoid further confusion I also put "A Story" somewhere on the cover.

One problem with short stories is that the samples offered by Amazon are often very short, not more than a few paragraphs, so readers don't know what to expect. I wish that Amazon would allow publishers to determine the length of the sample themselves like Smashwords and OmniLit/AllRomance. Because that way, a potential reader would get a clearer impression of the story. Well, maybe someday.

Thanks, Cora!  Check out Cora's personal website here or take a look at some of her works in Amazon US or Amazon UK.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Different Motives for Reading

Writing and (hopefully) selling short stories has really made me think about why people read.  As unrealistic as it seems, every author, I think, secretly hopes to create that ONE book that is universally loved and immortalized by literary history.  Most of us are practical enough to realize that will never happen.  Even JK Rowling has haters.

Subject material is definitely something that affects how readers will perceive your work.  If a reader doesn't like fantasy, there's not much you can do about that.  But a lesser thought of concept is why people read.  This actually varies almost as much as subject material.

Some people read almost exclusively to inform themselves.  They love non-fiction.  The idea of reading about dragons or lasers seems like a silly waste of time.  Some people only read entertain themselves.  They want a really shallow book that doesn't take very much thought juice to figure out.

This are extreme examples and most of us tend to vary in what we feel like reading at different times.  But I think that this is really important to keep in mind when writing.  Just because you write that fantasy doesn't mean that all fantasy readers will love it.  Some fantasy readers love the heavily detailed worlds that require the reader to make charts in order to figure out.  Other fantasy readers may just want a more straightforward good guy vs. bad guy story.

All aspects of your potential reader should be considered.  Don't just market to a fantasy audience only.  Think about the other elements too.  A reader that's in the market for light, fun fiction might be willing to experiment with a different genre so long as your book provides that type of entertainment.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Review of "Three Avenues of Escape," a short story by Elmore Hammes

A short story about a young man's utilization of several items left to him by his older brother as a means to escape his father's bigotry.

This story was quite good and surprisingly deep.  Though it is the story of an abusive home, this is a tale of resiliency rather than pity.  I liked that.  I liked that it didn't try and wring sobs out of me.  In many ways, it made the protagonist that much more real.

Hammes appears to be quite adept at spartan description.  Nothing is delved into about the scenery and yet you can feel like you're sitting in the room watching Jeff figure out ways to evade his father.  The subtle shift in Jeff's character at the end is just so simple and yet at the same time speaks volumes for both his present and future circumstances.

I would definitely recommend giving "Three Avenues of Escape" a shot even if you feel like the subject material might not be of interest.  A story well told is always worth reading.

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this short story on Amazon or on B&N.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Congratulations, Amazon. You've reinvented the magazine.

For those that do not know, Amazon has been managing to sell lower priced Kindles by giving readers the "special offers" edition.  Also known as ads.  So a Kindle that is normally $109 can be purchased for the low price of $79 if you're ok with having advertisements as your screen saver.

How generous of Amazon.  How generous of those advertisers to help make up the difference! As if.  I highly suspect that Amazon probably doubles what they make on each Kindle when they add those special offers.  Between production costs and the advertisers, they are making a killing.

What cracks me up is how a lot of people seem to be in awe over how business savvy Amazon is.  Like putting ads in things to lower cost is a new idea or something.  Come on, guys! They basically just reinvented the magazine.  I actually had a post a while back about the magazine vs. the short story.

The primary source of income for magazines is not the well thought out articles and it's not the subscriptions (though that does help).  It's always been from the ads.  Amazon just took a widely accepted practice and packaged it in the form of the Kindle.

Will ebooks basically just become giant magazines?  I doubt it.  At least, not completely.  The sheer number of ads these days has created a generation inflicted with ad blindness.  We pause TV shows to fast forward through ads, we can read web pages without even being aware there are ads, and most people are generally really annoyed by pop ups.

With this in mind, I think we can all rest easy in our beds.  There may come a day where authors will have the option to sell their ebooks at a cheaper price with ads included.  But I'm willing to bet all the ad money I would have earned that in cases like that, most readers will spend the extra money to not be annoyed.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Free Story of the Week

I found a cool new site from a Google ad.  It's official: Google, Netflix and Amazon now know my interests better than my own mother.  Scary.

Anyway, the site is a project of a non-profit publisher called The Library of America.  You give them your email (yes, just your email... no extra billing information) and every Monday they send you a free story.  

The "story" they send could be a short story, poem, essay, etc.  I haven't been subscribed very long but it seems like most of the stuff they send are from authors that are now dead (as opposed to contemporary). The selections are never very long and it's kind of a fun way to expand your reading.

Click here to go to their sign up page.

Monday, October 17, 2011

iBooks vs. B&N

It seems that Amazon is becoming increasingly dominant in this ebook market.  They have stayed competitive in both product and price.  But what really has managed to make them kind of the lions is their online shopping experience.  They were already designed to make money online.  It's easy to find things and the reviewing community there is awesome.  500 reviews on a product totally makes up for not being able to see the thing for yourself.

For awhile, B&N was keeping up nicely.  I actually still think that Nooks look better than Kindles.  They feel more high quality and the ebook actually looks like a book rather than a data pad.  What's killing B&N in this race is their inability to streamline the online shopping experience.  I know I'm not alone here when I say that I actually go to Amazon to shop and then if I find a book I'll go and buy it for my Nook.

I just do not understand why B&N has been slacking off in this area.  For the past eight months they seem to just keep adding gadgets to their site that just kind of make it look like Amazon but aren't nearly so efficient.  What the heck?  If they want to mimic Amazon, just start from scratch.  I'm pretty sure most customers would not complain if there was B& for the regular brick and mortar stores (like to maybe check if they have a book??) and then B& which links directly to the Nook.

Whatever.  The point of that tirade is to call to attention that the available search engine seems to be the thing that is a make or break point for ebook competitors.  Which leads us to iBooks.  There are some major drawbacks right now that are holding them back.  Apple, being Apple, is trying to pull their usual stunt about where iBooks can be downloaded.   They are also obsessed with pricing things with a .99 at the end.  This means they will never be able to keep up with Amazon in that regard.

But they do have the online shopping experience.  It's primitive, to be sure, but at least you can find stuff.  I think with a few tweaks here and there they could give B&N a run for their money.  It doesn't even matter if they charge a few cents more for books because they already have a fan base obsessed with buying everything Apple.

Writers need to be keeping these things in mind.  Don't put all your eggs in one basket.  Just because you're selling well on Amazon doesn't mean you shouldn't try and venture out to other retailers.  You need to stay on top of this if you want to be independently published.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Review of "Love, Everlasting," a short story by Maria Violante

When Cole Harper wakes up in a cabin, gun in hand, he moves quickly to dispose of his girlfriend's body in the woods. Too bad she has other plans.

"Love, Everlasting" was twisted, creepy, mysterious... I liked it.  I feel I should clarify that this story is about a cocaine addict.  Normally druggie stories are not really up my ally.  More often than not I find myself losing interest as the story unfolds in a tedious manner with the protagonist trying to find more drugs.  But this was definitely not the case with Violante's short story.  I was actually irked when I had to pause reading it (something came up) because I wanted to find out what happens in the end.

Violante has a wonderful style of writing.  She obviously "gets" how to create mood with minimalist description.  Her story is face-paced but still feels like a complete experience at the same time.   I was a little worried while reading that it was going to have a cliche Hollywood-esque ending.  I'm happy to inform you  that "Love, Everlasting" falls into no such trap.  I was very much impressed by the messed up little twist at the end.  

This story is well worth reading if you are a fan of horror fiction.  It very much reminded me of an X-Files/campy zombie kind of movie.

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this short story on Amazon or B&N.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Review of "Hard Creek Bridge," a short story by Issac Sweeney

Friendless and shy, Slim Jackson enters his second semester at Abe Lincoln University. He gets lost on an unknown path, comes to a strange bridge, and has the struggle of his lifetime.

An interesting short story with more depth than the summary gives it credit for.  Oozing in symbolism, this is a tale of change and maturity.  Slim Jackson must decide how to approach this "life bridge."

Sweeney's story is a quick, pleasant read.  I feel that his style is geared toward "literary" rather than "entertainment."  I would say that Sweeney seems to be done an injustice in the ebook format.  If this story were bought as an instant gratification purchase, it would be easy to completely dismiss "Hard Creek Bridge."  

On the surface it's overly simple.  The reader has to want to put some effort into figuring out what Sweeney was driving at.  With this in mind, I almost wish I had been given this story to read in a reader's magazine or something.  A story such as this deserves to be approached from an intellectual standpoint rather than just "entertain me."

3/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this short story on Amazon or B&N.  Or purchase the story in the collection "Evolvement."