Monday, February 27, 2012

Review of "State of Grace," short story by Tara Fox Hall

It's true that few of us would choose the life of a zombie, mindlessly consuming every moving thing in sight as we rot and shrivel with decay. It's also true that few of us would choose to become a ghost, dolefully watching the comings and goings of the living, unable to touch, to breathe, to feel them in a physical way. But, if given the chance to become a vampire, I think most of us would bite. Vampires make our pulses quicken: whether they are the velveteen figures of Anne Rice or Bram Stoker, or the violent monsters of Stephen King, we don't care. Not the hunters. Not the hopefuls. The real, blood-drinking, neck-biting fiends. Vampires are timeless because they are immortal. And the vampires in these pages may just come back to bite you in the end. These are stories you can really sink your teeth into. Promise.

In “State of Grace,” Tara Fox Hall writes about a rebel vampire and his human compatriot as they rail against the practices of the local vampire brethren. Thankfully, Hall avoids the cliche “forbidden love” angle between her main characters and focuses instead on her daring duo’s attempt to stick it to The (Undead) Man.

Hall’s vampire hero is a teenager and the author is successful in making him feel and sound as such to the reader. Likewise, her human heroine is young and acts accordingly. Sadly, she vacillates wildly between being a tough, spunky broad and a hopelessly inept girl in need of saving. This type of female character, brash enough to run the show but weak enough to constantly need the help of a male companion, has always been a pet peeve of mine. Still, Hall gives her main players enough personality to be interesting and slips the reader just enough background for us to see them as complicated, believable characters.

Stories like “State of Grace” walk a fine line. Right now, vampire stories are incredibly popular. The upside is that people want to read vampire literature. The downside is that it’s hard to write a good one that will set itself apart from the crowd. While Hall’s “State of Grace” is entertaining enough, there is no sophistication to Hall’s writing. The transitions between scenes are often disjointed, even confusing at times, and the author’s writing style seems parroted from what she thinks fantasy fiction should look and sound like.

Though the story is sprinkled liberally with scenes of violence, they feel so forced they fail to have much impact. The author clearly wants to show the brutal nature of her characters’ world, but the scenes read like the violent content descriptions on IMDB: man is stabbed and blood gushes forth, man is beaten with a chain, etc. Likewise, Hall makes a few anemic efforts at creating romantic tension, but they are oddly placed and feel like an afterthought.

In all, the story is amateurish and awkward but not un-entertaining. It has elements of originality and character development that are promising, and for lovers of vampire short stories may be worth a look.

2.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Aubrey Bennet

Buy this collection on Amazon.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Review of "Bones of the Past," a single story in a collection by Jennie Coughlin

Take Jan Karon's Mitford, but add in an edge. Listen to the whispers about the Irish Mob.Avoid the easy answers when Exeter residents run head on into the tough questions of life.  

“Bones of the Past” is one of those stories that you hope has an author biography at the end of it, preferably one that tells you where you can read more of the author’s works. Fortunately, “Bones of the Past,” as part of the series “Thrown Out: Stories from Exeter,” delivers on both counts.

For this story, Coughlin’s combines skilled writing with an interesting subject to create a world so real that the reader feels more like they are watching a movie than reading words on a page. In “Bones of the Past,” a small town’s resident story teller wields his craft for a woman eager to learn more about a dark mystery in the town’s past. The dialogue between the characters is flawless both in its realism and its artistry, and the transitions from the storyteller’s flashbacks to the present are clearly and cleanly done. The characters are so realistic they seem familiar to the reader, the hallmark of a practiced and talented writer.

Everything about “Bones of the Past” is professional grade, from the writing to the story line, the characters to the pace of the story. There is no action to speak of, no gimmicks or plot twists, no sex or violence or touching, tear inducing scenes (well, maybe one) or attempts at social commentary, none of the things that so often provide entertainment for readers. Yet somehow “Bones of the Past” hits the mark solidly and leaves the reader wanting more. 

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Aubrey Bennet

Buy this collection on Amazon or B&N.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Hard Sell

I may not know the secret to selling lots of books.  But what I do know is what doesn't work.  The hard sell is definitely one of those things that doesn't work anymore.  "Hard sell" means a direct "try my book out!" sales pitch posted/said anywhere.

When I first started publishing about a year and a half ago, I was at the tail end of this tactic still working.  As in, I could go on Facebook, offer to gift copies and then reasonably expect one or two people to take me up on my offer.  But this doesn't work anymore.  You could say your entire collection is up for free forever and it would land on deaf ears on Facebook.

Same goes for Twitter.  If I had a penny for every author posting book links, I'd be a lot richer than I am selling short stories.  This type of approach doesn't work if you're an unknown author and it really doesn't work if you're an unknown short story author.

And don't think "well it doesn't hurt to have those buy my book auto tweets, it takes no effort and there's always the chance..." It does hurt you.  A lot.  Because the people who actually read tweets start to ignore you.  They learn to associate that anything with your name by it is usually just a sales pitch.  It would be better to just not tweet for the day.

Find other ways to attract attention.  Don't tell people to buy your book.  Make them want to buy your book.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Writing the Story that Wants to be Written

One of the things I enjoy the most about being self published is the lack of pressure.  Any deadlines that I have looming before me are completely self-imposed.  The only reason to conform to current popular book genre trends is to make money.  So the genre that you write is, again, self-imposed.

This really gives one the freedom to write that story that wants to be written.  The sole reason why I did not want to study literature in college was that I hate being forced to write about topics that do not interest me at the time.

Non-fiction I can somewhat handle.  Even if the topic is dry, there is some enjoyment is learning new facts during the research process.  But it still didn't completely dull the throbbing headache as I stared at my computer screen late at night trying to find some way to turn my six page essay into a ten page one.

I could only imagine how fiction would have been worse.  Being forced to come up with characters, plots and twists for subjects that you can't abide.  And all due tomorrow!

I think true creative writing is a process and not one that can be forced.  Ideas have to sit for awhile and ferment in your head.  My policy is that if you pull the idea out and and it doesn't flow easily from the get-go, it has to go back and ferment some more.  Every time I've tried to "force" a story, I regret it and end up deleting most of what I wrote.

E-book publishing is a fast business and there is a pressure that we tend to put on ourselves to produce works quickly in an effort to keep up with the competition.  But don't cave in!  Short stories get enough guff as it is.  Make every effort to have each story be your best work.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, Book Brouhaha!

.... more or less.

My first blog post was 2/12/11.  So I missed it by a few days.  But it's the thought that counts!

I'm having this strange sensation of it already being a year since I first started blogging and only being one year at the same time.  But I would like to thank all my wonderful readers.  I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to meet all you fellow short story authors.

To all you who have submitted your stories for review: thank you for allowing me to read your work.  Yes, I have opinions on what I like/don't like.  But it never ceases to amaze me the range of stories that I get to read.  There are some truly creative authors out there.  Who says that the word count limits the story ideas?

I'd like to ask for any suggestions and comments about how I could make this blog better.  Any type of post you would like to see more of?  Less of?  Thoughts?  Ideas?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Making Money With Short Stories

Short stories are often dismissed by authors because they aren't "money makers."  Ok, so maybe that's true to a certain extent.  Chances are pretty slim that you'll be hauling in millions of dollars with them.  Slimmer than the chance a novel has, at least.

But let's crunch some numbers, shall we?

The biggest advantage a short story author has is being able to publish new content a lot faster than an author that writes only novels.  Say you publish one short story.  It is reasonable to expect that that given enough time the short story will eventually sell one copy a day.  Much of a short story's selling success is age dependent.  My new stories almost never sell.  My older stories sell on a somewhat regular basis.

So if you can get one story to sell one copy a day at 99 cents you've made about $10 that month if you're selling on Amazon.  $10 is enough for Amazon to cut you a royalty check so don't sneer at the amount.  That's money you didn't have before.

If you can get two stories to sell one copy every day, that's $20 a month.  Remember, as a short story writer, you have the advantage of being able to put out quantity.  Therefore, if you continue to produce work which, in turn, allows your older stories to age a bit, it's not unreasonable to eventually expect to have 30 stories that roughly sell one copy a day.

30 stories selling one copy a day is $300 every month.  This is definitely not something to sneer at.  $300 takes care of several bills or one car payment or a few nice dinners.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Review of "Pryde's Choice," short story by Kevis Hendrickson

After committing a horrible crime against the Gaiad, the eternal guardians of the woods, a remorseful knight is forced to confront his demons. Pryde's Choice is a heroic tale of redemption and hope reminding us that it's never too late to make amends for the past.

I have read/reviewed other works by Mr. Hendrickson and I have to say I was quite impressed with this latest story.  Hendrickson always has excellent plot ideas but his skill as a writer has certainly evolved since his earlier works.

"Pryde's Choice" is an interesting tale that uses a fantasy backdrop to tell a much deeper story of revenge and remorse.  Despite the appearance of elves and archaic sounding language, you never get the sense this is a typical fantasy story of good vs. evil and the battle for our immortal souls.  Instead, it's about a man essentially battling himself.  The knight made a choice that anyone could have made and then had to live with the consequences.

What I enjoyed about this story was that there wasn't really a "moral to the story" at the end.  In a way it's very detached.  There's a kind of cold reality to the scene when Pryde must face the music.  You feel sorry for him but at the same time understand the justice of his fate.

Overall, an excellent read.  Again, despite the fantasy elements, this is not your stereotypical fantasy tale.  I would recommend it to anyone that likes one of those "thinkers."

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this short story on Amazon or B&N.

Monday, February 6, 2012

January 2012 Short Story Sales Stats

So I've started out this new year focusing a lot on my non-fiction writing.  In my enthusiasm to push my pen name on the world, the non-fiction stuff kind of got knocked to the wayside.  An oversight I've been meaning to correct.

I don't know if any of my blog readers care but all of my non-fiction is in the short story length realm as well.  They tend to be like manuals.  There's definitely a market for short non-fiction.  All of my works sell pretty regularly.

But, as per usual, these sales numbers are for my fiction, under 10,000 words only.

Amazon (US/UK/DE/IT/ES):  23

B&N:  1

Kobo (December):  0

Sony (December):  1

Apple (December):  1

Of those Amazon sales, 2 are from Germany and 6 are from the UK.  I've definitely noticed a slooooow increase in non-US sales.  I think there's something to be said for that.  US consumers tend to fixate on getting large amounts for the cheapest price possible.  This tends to warp their views on the short story.  But just because US buyers do that doesn't mean the rest of the planet sees short stories in the same light.

So be sure to spread your reach out as far as possible.  Make yourself a global name, not just one that's well-known in your country.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Review of "Abomination," short story by R.J. Creaney

In 9th century France, the zealous warrior Ragenard is finally within striking distance of his greatest enemy, a necromancer dead-set on disturbing the natural order of Creation. Their final battle ensues; one combatant fights with wrought iron and the other with the risen dead, although all is not as it seems about the two opponents and their enmity.

A fun, interesting tale by Creaney.  Despite the modern publication date, it felt reminiscent of Old English lore (i.e. Beowulf).  While those old tales were created to make larger than life heros in a clear battle of good vs. evil, Creaney adds a subtle twist to his own story making it more "psychological" rather than "horror."

In the popular warrior vs. necromancer fantasy battle, the warrior is almost always seen in a good light. The warrior represents everything that is pure, the necromancer messed around with dead stuff so, obviously, he must be bad.

What Creaney presents to us is a warrior that is so self-aware of his own righteousness that he believes himself to be a saint of sorts.  Nothing he does could possibly be viewed as evil.  The necromancer, on the other hand, is not totally evil.  His toying with dead people is a result of his deep religious conviction.  It provides an interesting scenario because neither side is really "good" or "evil."  Creaney takes a classic black and white battle scene and turns it into what is perhaps a more realistic shade of grey.

Overall, definitely worth a read.  I would highly recommend this story to anyone interested in fantasy and/or psychological stories.

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this short story on Amazon or B&N.