Month: December 2014

Book Review: Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

First, a disclaimer: Not being a book blogger, I decided to confine my book “reviews,” such as they are, to Goodreads, and to focus on books by indie authors. Maplecroft is published by one of the Big 5 and is by a well-known author. But it does fall into the category of science fiction called “Lovecraftian.” Miskatonic University (a venue frequented by one Herbert West, who is near and dear to me) is mentioned. Lizzie Borden meets the Deep Ones! I couldn’t resist.

The plot in brief: after being acquitted of the charge of murdering her father and stepmother, Lizzie Borden is living in seclusion with her sister Emma in a mansion known as Maplecroft near the town of Fall River, Massachusetts. Emma is a learned marine biologist dying of consumption (tuberculosis) and Lizzie has a laboratory in the cellar. The house is occasionally visited by creatures reminiscent of Lovecraft’s “Deep Ones” (from “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”) that Lizzie valiantly dispatches with her axe. This already sinister situation becomes potentially catastrophic when Emma sends a sample of a marine creature found on the seashore near Maplecroft to Professor Phillip Zollicoffer at Miskatonic University. The sample has unique qualities which transform the professor into something weird and dangerous. Meanwhile, residents of Fall River begin to show symptoms of a strange affliction which flummoxes the local doctor, Owen Seabury. The doctor and the Borden sisters end up joining forces (sort of) to figure out the nature of what they call the Problem — the mysterious disease and the threat posed by Zollicoffer. Much mayhem ensues.

My review: Priest’s vigorous prose carries the plot along, despite bogging down at intervals in patches of intense description of actions, emotions and thoughts. Dr. Owen Seabury and Emma Borden are the only well-rounded characters with any hope of being sympathetic. Lizzie (sometimes called Lizbeth) is curiously limited. I did not find myself caring much about her, possibly because when presented with any challenge at all, her first choice is to grab her axe and go after it at a full run. After two or three of these episodes, I got bored. Lengthy and detailed descriptions of physical actions, even those resulting in splattery destruction of eldritch entities, rapidly become a chore to read. But Lizzie is certainly different from the usual Lovecraft protagonist, who at the climactic scene tends to lose consciousness or flee.

The various theories to explain the weird phenomena, however — those are quite interesting, and I wish the author had spent more effort developing them. As does yet another character who appears at intervals — one Inspector Simon Wolf from Boston. The agency he represents is quite mysterious, and I suspect readers will see more of him as the series continues. The Lovecraftian elements, namely the bizarre creatures of marine origin and the professor from Miskatonic, are handled well by Priest. The unfortunate Doctor Phillip Zollicoffer (love that name!) has a deadly charm quite in keeping with his origins. The ultimate threat, apparently resident in the deep ocean, is appropriately huge, formless and terrifying (and probably acquainted with Cthulhu).

The narration is uniformly in the first person, but the characters take turns doing the narrating. The Borden sisters and Dr. Seabury are the primary voices, with telling contributions by Prof. Zollicoffer and cameo appearances several others. I have no trouble with this kind of thing and followed the storyline throughout, but some readers may find it annoying or confusing.

I have to mention a few things I found annoying or that simply didn’t work for me: first, the character Nance O’Neil (an actress who is based, like the Borden sisters, on an actual person). She is Lizzie’s lover, for whose sake Lizzie is prepared to do almost anything. The trouble is, the degree of that devotion comes as a surprise about halfway through the book; at the beginning there is no sense that Lizzie is pining for her company, and when Nance arrives uninvited for an extended visit, Lizzie’s main concern is to keep her out of the cellar which houses the laboratory and some other interesting things. Their relationship never feels real. Second — the laboratory. Emma is the scientist, but has never set foot in the place. Lizzie’s focus of interest is folklore and spells found in old books, so why does she need a laboratory? Third: lye plays an important role in a crucial scene near the end. Despite the lip-service paid to science throughout the book, the lye solution is at one point said to produce a “deadly acid spray.” Huh? Lye is a strong base, quite the opposite of acid. An important detail that should have been caught.

Altogether, this was a compelling read. It’s quite clear there will be more books in a series called the Borden dispatches, which may account for the absence of a real solution to the Problem in this one. I can definitely recommend it to readers with a taste for the weird and violent.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

The Garden in 2014: a backward look at year’s end

The year began with a seriously cold period in early February that caused great anxiety in the gardener, who hadn’t provided wraps and covers for the most tender plants. Fretting lasted well into spring. Did the last Gaura lindheimeri perish? Yes. What about Convolvulus sabatius, the charming blue relative of the hated bindweed? For a long time it seemed so, but on the first of June a sprout emerged.

Convolvulus sabatius in September 2013

Convolvulus sabatius in September 2013

After putting on a pleasing show in 2013 the blue poppies failed to bloom. Lots of leaves, no flower stalks. Was it because of the cold in February, which delayed sprouting out? Or the gardener’s failure to supply extra nutrients, especially considering that the plants grow on top of the roots of a large magnolia. These poppies refuse to compete with roots. They would rather die, and there’s every chance they will not appear next spring.

Not this year!

Not this year!

Then came a warm, dry summer. Not hot, but definitely warm. It was a great summer for tomatoes. By September the ten plants in large pots were producing well — nice ripe tomatoes.

Perfect Tomatoes!

Perfect Tomatoes!

Roses did well too — the anonymous pinky-white climber slung over one of the Norway maples, and even Fragrant Cloud, which got deer-chomped in 2013.

Climbing rose in maple

Climbing rose in maple

Rose "Fragrant Cloud"

Rose “Fragrant Cloud”

Deer were not much of a factor this year, after being a huge one in 2012 and 2013. The flimsy deer fence put up at their preferred entry point did the trick, but more fundamentally this area seems no longer to be on their route. Even so, a couple of hostas, formerly large and prosperous, were not helped by being chomped just as they were dealing with what must be a fresh invasion of maple roots into their bed.

Asters did especially well, especially the two large clumps of a purple variety (name unknown) in the front garden.

One of the better scenes in the front garden this year

One of the better scenes in the front garden this year

In late September was the Coming of the Dog — Nelly the Newfoundland puppy.

Nelly 2014

The back garden is now a maze of small fences intended to prevent casual incursions. They seem to be working, but give the place an odd look. It remains to be seen how garden work will go in the vicinity of these barriers.

December 26, 2014

December 26,2014

But the Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis) has set more buds than it has ever managed to before. Some of them are preparing to open, unfurling threads of yellow.

Witch hazel buds

Witch hazel buds

…a Champion Simian among Simians… Written Acts of Kindness Award… the Storyreading Ape…

2014 was a lucky year for me because I discovered the most deserving of Literary Apes. Congratulations, Chris! And good on you, Seumas, for bestowing the award.

Seumas Gallacher

ape

…many times growing up this ol’ Jurassic has been accused of indulging in ‘monkey business’… but, none of it was even within an orangutan’s reach of the type of constant positive activity indulged by today’s recipient of the Written Acts of Kindness Award

Written Acts of Kindness Award

…indeed, his outreach to others who practise our quill-scraping gig is right up there among the best supporters we Authors could ever wish for… the Storyreading Ape, whose ‘Clark-Kent-type-alter-ego’ disguises himself in human form as Chris Graham… the Ape reblogs… the Ape refers articles… the Ape prompts indies.. the Ape guides scribblers toward sensible sharing stuff from a huge range of other writers on the internet… in fact the Ape is the best kinda Guerrilla Gorilla on behalf of so many of us… yeez can follow the Ape here:

Blog              : thestoryreadingapeblog.com

Twitter        …

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Laying a Foundation, Building Scaffolds, Writing a Novel by Guest Author Audrey Driscoll

Written as a Guest Post during the latest NaNoWriMo. Thanks, Chris, for giving it house room on your blog. BTW, looks like I’ve opted for the prefab option for the work-in-progress.

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

audrey-driscollSo I’ve finally started writing another novel. (No, it’s not a NaNoWriMo project; you can’t get word-count updates when you write longhand). To date I have 20 pages of scribble, and when I look at them from a certain angle I get a feeling of total futility.

The thing about writing with a pen on paper is that I’m not tempted to go back and read what I’ve laid down so far and either start tinkering with it or give up. As I push the pen, though, I keep thinking, “This isn’t going well. In fact, I think this might just be crap.” I compare the plodding feel of the writing with my plot aspirations and get that “Let’s crumple now” feeling.

But wait! I tell myself. This is a first draft. It’s supposed to be imperfect. In fact, it’s not so much the novel I want to write as…

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No More Gatekeepers?

Until a few years ago, aspiring writers sought out advice on how to query agents and publishers, spending fortunes on big fat books full of names, addresses and tips, not to mention all those expensive conferences where writers could sign up for a 5-minute encounter with (gasp!) an actual agent.

In the Trad Pub era, supply was controlled by those gatekeeping dragons. Most aspiring writers’ hopeful submissions were relegated to slush piles and recycle bins. A few wannabees were seduced by vanity publishers, but no one took them seriously. Then came the internet. Self-publishing became respectable (and a source of income for those catering to the self-publishing crowd). The floodgates opened.

One of the bonuses of publishing your own books is that you, the writer, are in charge. You hire the editor, you decide what the title is and what the cover looks like. You set the price and carry out the marketing plan. No more rejections from agents and publishers.

No more gatekeepers.

Well… no.

There are still barriers between writers and the blissful state of success, except instead of big, iron-clad gates, there are a lot of little hurdles and pointy-picket wickets. They’re called book bloggers, reviewers, publicity agents — and readers!

Many readers seek the help of critics and reviewers to guide their reading choices. Amid the welter of star ratings and “reviews” by anyone, including grumpy people and trolls, an authoritative voice recommending a book can make a huge difference. But a good review is hard to find.

The blogosphere is full of advice on this point. Don’t scream “Buy my book” on social media. Don’t plaster links to your books all over the place. Be subtle. Figure out your target market and frequent online discussions populated by those folks — for example, middle-aged, golf-playing men who like to cook. Or cat-loving video gamers. Or cello-playing spelunkers who also collect stamps. You join those groups and lurk. Occasionally you contribute to discussions, demonstrating your expertise in the subject of interest and your writing style. Never mention your books. Make yourself so interesting that the bloggers, reviewers and readers find you irresistible and want to know more about you. Once they seek out your blog or website they’ll discover your books.

This reminds me of advice once doled out to women about enticing a man — don’t throw yourself at him, don’t seem desperate, talk about interesting topics to show your intelligence and sense of humor in order to make him want to know you better.

Hmm. Given our short attention spans these days, be prepared for a long campaign and don’t be surprised if you don’t get 100% results.

You see, the fundamental problem hasn’t changed: too many writers, too few readers.

So if the subtle approach isn’t for you, what about advertising? There’s BookBub, a book discovery service that sends recommendations to readers. Authors can purchase their services, but money doesn’t guarantee admission. They have a Submissions form. This is from their website: “BookBub employs an editorial team to review the many submissions that meet our requirements and select those they feel are the best fit for our readers to be featured in the BookBub email.” They actually send out rejections. From their Submission Tips: “Certain genres and subgenres perform better with our readers than others. There’s a chance we simply don’t have a good place for your title right now or that the particular subject matter of your book isn’t as good a fit as others in the same category.”

What does that remind you of? (I wonder if they end with “Good luck with your writing efforts”).

But really, these gatekeepers are pussycats compared to the dragons of former days. They’re not keeping writers from getting their works out of the bottom drawer and the cardboard box.

My advice, for what it’s worth: Fellow indies, don’t get desperate. Remember why writing is important to you. Adjust your expectations. Even more, don’t put yourselves into a situation that generates desperation by going into debt with your self-publishing efforts. That way you can afford to take the long way around, assuring yourself that at least your works are published and available for readers to discover — somehow.

Will the cream really rise to the top? Is there too much cream? Only time will tell.

 

Now In Print!

The first book of the Herbert West Series, The Friendship of Mortals, is now available in print!

Book 1

Book 1

Arkham, Massachusetts, 1910. Charles Milburn, a cataloguer in the Library of Miskatonic University, meets Herbert West, a medical student with compromised credentials.

Herbert West can restore the dead to life, he says, and he persuades Charles to be his assistant. Their secret experiments achieve success, but with a taint of disaster. Charles finds himself caught between the demands of his fascinating friend and his growing attraction to Alma Halsey, daughter of the Dean of Medicine.

In 1914 West joins the Canadian Army as a medical officer to pursue his grisly research on the battlefields of France. His letters to Charles reveal a disturbing mixture of cynicism and black humour. Left behind in Arkham, Charles catalogues the books of an eccentric professor and develops an interest in alchemy – a process to transform the base into the excellent.

Returning from the War, West becomes a surgeon, utilizing techniques perfected on the maimed, dying …and dead? Rumours of illicit experiments overshadow West’s spectacular public successes. With his career in shambles and showing signs of mental imbalance, West appeals to Charles for help. Charles is sympathetic – until West reveals the details of his plan.

Caught between horror and hope, Charles must draw on his knowledge of alchemy and his tottering faith in powers beyond himself if he is to save his friend’s life. Only his conscience stands in the way.

 

If you’ve always wanted to read this book, but aren’t a fan of ebooks, here’s your chance! Get thee to my Amazon page and enter the adventure.

And if you still don’t have the ebook, you can download it for free!

Chasing Nonconformity Cover Reveal!

Mere weeks after revealing the new cover for Imminent Danger And How to Fly Straight Into It, the industrious Michelle Proulx is about to do it again — this time for the sequel, Chasing Nonconformity.

Michelle’s successful IndieGoGo campaign (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/book-imminent-danger-ya-sci-fi/x/1220764) has made it possible to commission splendid covers from designer Ravven (http://www.ravven.com/)

Chasing Nonconformity will be published in Spring 2015. In the meantime, read the teaser, admire the gorgeous cover and make sure you’re up on all the details by visiting michelleproulx.com

Still reeling from accidentally marrying an exiled alien prince named Varrin, and from almost getting her head blown off by a six-armed lizard man with anger management issues, seventeen-year-old Eris Miller is ready for a vacation. But Varrin is desperate to rescue his beloved spaceship, the Nonconformity, from the clutches of the galactic government, so her vacation will just have to wait.

 While Eris and Varrin chase after the stolen ship, they’re unaware that trouble is brewing on the other side of the galaxy. The villainous Emperor of Rakor has assembled a task force, led by the commander of the deadly Skin Slicers, to hunt Varrin down. With enemies closing in and the Nonconformity slipping further and further from their grasp, Eris must ask herself: how much is she willing to sacrifice to ensure her happily ever after?

chasing_ebook

 

 

 

Morphing into Print

Fourteen years after I started writing it, my first novel. The Friendship of Mortals, is about to appear in print! It has existed as an ebook since 2010, but suddenly the time seemed right to turn it from electronic blips to a physical object. It should manifest on Amazon within the next week.

It’s been a bit of an adventure making the transition. Other authors reassured me that the document formatting would be a snap. If I had successfully negotiated Smashwords’s “meatgrinder,” I would have no trouble at all turning my Word document into something acceptable to the equivalent program at CreateSpace.

Not. It was a struggle of epic proportions.

When you want your Word document to become an ebook, you strip out all kinds of details — page numbers, headers, footers, section breaks, etc. You want the thing to become liquid, so it flows along like a scroll. A Word document destined to become a printed book needs all that stuff, in the right places and combinations. Page numbers go in the footer. There should be two headers, one with the book’s title, the other with the author’s name. They should appear on all pages except those that start a new chapter or other section with its own title; on those pages, you want a page number only. And of course headers, footers and page numbers must be absent from blank pages and front matter (title page, dedication page, contents page, etc.)

About blank pages — in a scroll-like electronic document, they don’t exist. A printed book, however, is printed on paper, and a sheet of paper has two sides. Brainlessly obvious, you say, but this physical reality is hard to envision when you’re looking at your Word document, even after you’ve selected Mirror Margins in Page Setup. In a book, each page has a front and a back (or, as cataloguing librarians and bibliophiles call them, a recto and a verso). Odd-numbered pages are the ones on the right hand side (recto, get it?) and even-numbered pages are on the left. But an even-numbered page is the verso of an odd-numbered one. Getting confused yet? Just wait.

When you’re looking at your document, now with two pages on the screen, odd and even are reversed. The odd-numbered recto page is the one on the left, the even-numbered verso is on the right. You have to think of those two pages as the front and back of a physical piece of paper. That’s why the page numbers appear to be on the wrong side of the page. You want them on the outside corner, but there they are on the inside. Ah, but once that odd-numbered page is on the right side, the page number will be on the outside. So will the even-numbered verso page’s number.

Once this particular light bulb comes on, you can confidently go ahead and divide your 500+ page novel into (in my case) 18 sections, each with its own combination of headers (two of them, remember!) and footers. Oh, and there’s the matter of the difference between odd- and even-numbered section breaks. I’m amazed I have any hair left.

Once I figured out the above, formatting went fairly smoothly, except for Word’s inexplicable tendency to forget some details until reminded of them, firmly, three or four times. I uploaded my document to CreateSpace and was pleasantly surprised when it passed through with only one “issue” noted.

Now I’m just waiting for the final version of my cover. I had professionally designed cover images created for all four of my ebooks earlier this year. The talented Alisha at Damonza.com has now created a print cover for The Friendship of Mortals. It will look like this:

The Friendship of Mortals - Paperback

I can hardly wait for all the components to come together!

Anyone who has missed out on reading The Friendship of Mortals because ebooks aren’t your preference, here’s your chance to remedy that. Look for it on Amazon later this week.