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!