Is Publishing Unfair?

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Such was this question floated in The Atlantic:

Last month, the Jamaican writer Marlon James won the 2015 Man Booker Prize for Fiction for his riveting novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings. A spate of articles came out documenting his win, noting the fact that the 44-year-old James was the first Jamaican to win the prize. One article by The Guardian however,focused on the fact that the manuscript of James’s first novel, John Crow’s Devil, was rejected close to 80 times before finally being published in 2005. It also discussed how James had given up when faced with such vast rejection. “There was a time I actually thought I was writing the kind of stories people didn’t want to read,” he said, going on to describe how his desperation drove him to destroy his own work. “I actually destroyed the manuscript, I even went on my friends’ computers and erased it.”

This article was shared among writers on social media with exclamations of, “don’t give up!” and “keep at it!” But this reaction reminded me of the exuberance of many when Obama was elected President: To them, his election demonstrated the country had become blissfully “postracial,” despite all evidence to the contrary.

Time and time again, the literary establishment seizes on the story of a writer who meets inordinate obstacles, including financial struggles, crippling self-doubt, and rejection across the board, only to finally achieve the recognition and success they deserve. The halls of the literary establishment echo with tales of now-revered writers who initially faced failure, from Stephen King (whose early novel Carrie was rejected 30 times before being published), to Alex Haley (whose epic Roots was rejected 200 times in eight years). This arc is the literary equivalent of the American Dream, but like the Dream itself, the romantic narrative hides a more sinister one. Focusing on how individual artists should persist in the face of rejection obscures how the system is set up to reward only a chosen few, often in a fundamentally unmeritocratic way.”

The article author goes on to discuss race and publishing decisions, sans #weneeddiversebooks hashtag. While that is another issue for another time, let’s ask ourselves whether talented writers are being ignored by incompetent publishers who are a) evil, b) incompetent, and c) run by folks who are really, really bad at sales.

Just as occasionally athletes who were undrafted make a huge impact on their team, sometimes authors who were missed by the traditional system will have a second chance self-publishing. Just search for ‘self-publishing successes’ and the names of those who have ‘made it’ self-publishing will be there; many who were rejected so many times they took their shot with the internet, others who got their book rights back or were dropped by publishers, others who didn’t even bother trying.

The thing that drives artists crazy is that art is subjective. Unlike providing accounting services or inventing caffeinated peanut butter or chickpea pasta, there isn’t really any portion that is objective, besides a properly edited book. Even the cover is subjective.

Yes, one can argue that some authors are really exceptional at their craft, or that more people liking a particular story makes it better. Or most people agree a particular cover is better-looking than another. But at the end of the day, art is subjective. Meaning we have no way of knowing whether our work is liked enough to be bought until it’s out there. There has never been a golden age where artists of any kind were appreciated and most artists earned enough from their work to earn a living. We’ve ALWAYS had a few artists making most of the money. I would venture to say the top 50 bestselling authors worldwide earn more from their writing (only their earned portion of the royalties and advances received) than every other author combined, author being defined as having published at least one full-length novel for their genre that is sold for a price besides free.

As publishers are run by human beings, it’s natural like sports scouts, they will miss a particular talent, or choose to overcompensate the latest YouTube celebrity or Wattpad sensation with a bigger advance than could be ever earned back, while authors who could sell more than all of them get a smaller advance, if they even get offered a book contract. No, it isn’t fair, but private companies are not democracies and don’t need to be fair. With limited resources, and with art so subjective, editors and anyone else involved in buying book rights have to take their best guess as to what will be popular in the upcoming years when the book is actually published. Most of the time they guess wrong, occasionally they guess right, and rarely they guess super correctly, but those are the books which keep the company profitable.

Having said that, the author of The Atlantic article is correct in saying that the current publishing system is inefficient and does favor a select few. The few authors who have ‘made it’ happily talk about their rejection letters as proof of their ‘perseverance’. The even fewer who become millionaires from their writing are sometimes even more nauseating, as I have yet to see one of them say the traditional system is unfair, particularly to new writers. Of COURSE they will come out and defend the status quo, because THEY got rich off of it. Since they cannot truly explain why they got rich since art is subjective, they inflate their own writing abilities and defend a mismanaged system.

It should be obvious to every reader of this post why the traditional publishing world and their authors tout their ‘don’t quit’ stories, and this is important for you to understand. The closest I can explain it is a casino. Like respected artwork, winning at table games is largely out of your power. You may know the rules, you may have some experience that increases your chances of winning table games, but most winning is arbitrary. You may win the more you play, or you may not. You could win on your first hand or your twentieth, or not at all. Money you win is paid for by others who have played, or sold books. Bestsellers generally generate enough revenue to subsidize not only those authors’ lifestyles, but also purchase new books that might become the Next Big Thing. This is a lot of why publishers tend not to take risks on new ideas or new authors, sticking with the familiar faces and/or ideas that are like the last bestseller, with some changes in plot and character names. This increases the chances of finding more bestsellers to generate revenue.

Theoretically, if everyone knew which books were the best, we’d have a lean, efficient system and likely far fewer authors, meaning better earnings for those who do write. But no one has a clue. Not publishers, not editors, not agents, not authors, not the self-publishing world, not readers, no one. Therefore, traditional publishers require these ‘I made it!’ stories to make sure the authors who are talented keep querying agents and waiting for their book to be picked up. If the stories stop coming in, the system as we know it will collapse.

To be fair, indie publishing sort of functions the same way. Not for those who just want to publish their 1 or 2 books and be done with them, but who see writing as a career. You do remove the ‘middlemen’ and go directly to readers. But if you actually believe that you’ll hit it big by your fifth book, you’re fooling yourself. Your book is subjective, and it might hit it off or it might not. Anyone telling you indie is more ‘democratic’ is also not correct. It’s the same principle behind why people fear flying more than driving, even though flying is statistically safer: it’s the illusion of control. Just as we can’t control other drivers, indie authors cannot control whether potential customers (readers) will like their product enough to pay for it.

At the end of the day, book publishing has far bigger problems than if they miss some gems, because they always will. Getting people to read instead of doing other things. That said, the author of this article is partially correct: a lot of great work is being ignored. But a lot of great work has always been ignored, and will always be ignored, no matter what we tell ourselves otherwise.

 

Book Review: If You Love Minecraft, you’ll Like This Book

Minecraft is the game that’s swept the world. Following in the traditional of MMORPG’s, Minecraft is one of those games where you have to build everything from scratch. There is no plot, no particular purpose- YOU create the kind of game experience you want, with only the program’s created elements at your disposal.

It should shock no one that Minecraft-related books are frequently at the top of the most popular kid’s book list, especially for boys. It should also shock no one that a bunch of writers want to cash in on the craze and write their Minecraft-inspired fanfic.

Today’s book is one such fanfic, by author Stone Marshall. The title is “Flynn’s Log 1: Rescue Island”. I read the first book in his series, which is the one being reviewed today.

Where I got it: Free from the Kindle Store off the Choosy Bookworm list.

Plot: In the true tradition of Minecraft, this book didn’t have much of a plot until about two-thirds of the way in. It was mainly about the main character named Flynn running around a Minecraft-inspired world, fighting giant spiders and zombies as he builds his fortress on Rescue Island, where the majority of the action takes place (here’s the map). Later in the book, he meets Zara, a zombie who has been deprogrammed and exists in the game to help the main character escape the digital world and return to the real one.

A true book lover would scoff at the lack of plot. However, in Minecraft fashion, the book doesn’t need one. The world IS the story. 1/2

Style: Another toughie. I abuse the ! more than 99.7% of authors on this planet. And yet, this got on my nerves. If I was eight, the constant shouting would be funny, which is why I’m scoring him for this book as if I was an eight-year-old kid. But every page had some type of shouting action as if this guy, living on a tiny island, was about to die. Otherwise, the style was fine. 1/2

Editing: The book was well-edited. Besides the frequent exclamation point use, I didn’t see sloppy errors or major problems. 2/2

Book Cover: It’s creative, like Minecraft. I will include the pictures he drew within the book for this as well. I’ll give him points for original fanfic drawings. 2/2

Intangibles: The “feel” of the book. I was torn. As a video game fan, I can now understand why kids and adults love Minecraft. If you have a lot of free time, don’t mind the endless world mechanism, and love to build things, this game looks fantastic. As is true of video games, Flynn’s Log shows the main character dealing with the Minecraft world. When he introduces Zara, the portals, and the underlying theme that Flynn must escape, he added an actual story to the Minecraft world.

As an older reader, this was tough. Forget about kids being the target audience- Even Pokemon has a purpose: To catch ’em all, to collect all eight gym badges, and to beat the Elite Four. My main complaint about a lot of games today is, they have no purpose other than filling in free time that ought to be spent reading or doing homework. They become addictive, like World of Warcraft, because you really can never win but if you stop playing, you lose. Reading this story makes it clear the Minecraft world scenario was prioritized over telling an actual story, which is what a novel is supposed to do. 1/2

Overall: 7/10 The book is solid, if not memorable. If you are a kid, or a parent with elementary school children who like or love Minecraft, I would recommend this book. It brings in all the excitement of Minecraft, in an easy to read style, with a lot of cool drawings rendered by the author. The author’s plot points were enough to intrigue me to want to buy the rest of the series, which I probably will now. In that sense, Stone did a great job.

From a literary standpoint, I have to image there is Minecraft-inspired fiction that’s just as good, if not better. Perhaps a fictitious scenario within the world, kind of like a scenario within Sid Meier’s Civilization games. If you or your children/grandchildren are not fans of Minecraft, you will probably not like this book.

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Book Review: The Alien You Wish Was Your Sister

I found a free copy of Molly of Mars and the Alien Syndicate by Wyatt Davenport, and I feel like I lucked out finding that lucky treasure.

Plot: Molly Lennox and her step-sister Pirra live on Mars with their mother, Naomi, whom Molly discovers is not her real mother. Molly doesn’t like her step-mother, and eventually Naomi gets the idea to send Molly to school on Neptune in order to get rid of her.

One day she sees an abduction and tries to reason with Naomi and the others on the mars colony, but no one believes she has seen anything unusual. They figure she’s looking to cause problems. She soon learns about the Syndicate, and discovers they are planning something awful. Molly, Pirra, and their mutual friend Vicky travel the colony before learning what the Syndicate is and why it must be stopped.

The book was a good length for 8-12. The characters were fairly well-developed and the plot was well-executed. It will not win points for originality, but that was unnecessary here. The hardest part for any writers is to write characters which readers will care about with a storyline that makes sense. Wyatt nailed it here. 2/2

Style: I like Wyatt’s writing. he writes the way I write MG fiction, with characters who speak naturally, not that much time bantering or filling in space with narration, and characters were not one-dimensional. This is usually a big problem for a lot of authors, but not the author. 2/2

Editing: Absolutely solid. No major errors. 2/2

Book Cover: The style fits a 5th-8th grade level. If I was critiquing it, I think the cover is a little too girl-oriented, and if I were a young boy I might not pick this up by the cover alone. But it fits. 2/2

Intangibles:  The ending is solid. You can feel for Molly as she tries to avoid being sent to Neptune, and we learn more about the deep connection between Molly and Pirra. Adding the Syndicate keeps the element of mystery without being too complicated. 2/2

Overall: 10/10 I don’t know what to say. It is true this book is not as good as Harry Potter, largely because it is shorter and spends less time on character development. Do not buy this book expecting to find the next Harry Potter or Percy Jackson. But I do believe the traditional publishers missed out on a chance to get a solid book by a guy who, like most indies are, outgunned by the big players. Responsible for his own editing, book cover, and writing technique, Wyatt knocked this out. I bought book 2 and I can’t wait to review that one.

download his book free here

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Book Review: Percy Jackson, the All American-Greek God-kid

The Last Olympian " Signed "

For my first book review at the rebranded site Bradan’s World, I want to focus on a hyper popular book which already has so many purchases I doubt Rick Riordan gives a darn if I steer a few more his way. But here is a review for his last book, The Last Olympian.

Where I got it from: I picked up the copy from an indie thrift store, and they just had the last book in the series. I guess I got there before the other fan finished book four.

Scoring: As you know, I give 0, 1, or 2 points for plot, style, editing, book cover, and intangibles. Book Cover replaces belivability, which is hard to be precise about. Instead, I’ll put that towards intangibles. Every review has some spoilers, so read at your own risk.

Plot: You may need to pick up books 1-4 to figure out everything that happened, but Rick’s writing is good enough that I got the plot without needing to go back. At this point, Percy Jackson, the son of Poseidon, is trying to figure out a way to stop Kronos, Lord of Time, from destroying Olympus where the Gods are. Apparently Greek Gods looove Manhattan and so this is where Mount Olympus is, along with the last half of the novel. After a losing battle with Kronos, who is using the body of Luke Castellan to do his bidding, Percy goes to camp Half-Blood to regroup. He and his friends eventually go to Manhattan where a dark battle is brewing. It’s up to Percy and his outmanned friends to stop a very powerful army, led by Kronos, at the feet of Olympus.

I will judge this book as a standalone, and I can see why it hit the bestseller’s list. It’s really good, the plot makes sense, even if the ending is not quite as dramatic as I would like. 2/2

Style: This is where Rick’s writing stands out from every other kid’s book I’ve seen. It’s really funny. The entire thing is a comedy, but he does a great job at making the dramatic scenes dramatic when he needs to. At times his serious parts were weak because of all the jokes, but no complaints with his writing. 2/2

Editing: I am generally lenient with minor spelling, punctuation, or grammar errors. If you are an indie author or small publisher, I give a lot of leeway. For a traditionally published dude? Not so much. I found a few typos and punctuation errors. Not enough to ruin the story, but come on, Disney. 1.5/2

Book Cover: I loved the cover of the reprint edition, which is the one I have. So much so, I wanted to find John Rocco (Riordan’s cover artists) and ask how much he charged to do a book cover for a comparable novel. 2/2

Intangibles: This is the “emotional” pitch of the book or other factors. Familiar readers know that if you make me cry or feel something in my stomach, you will hit the bestseller’s list. I want to lock that in as a fact.

This book needed to be a little darker towards the end. While the plot and the romantic angle did work, it just came up short. Much as I hate giving halfsies, I have to. 1.5/2

Overall: 9/10 Only a little too much out-of-place humor and a few typos missed by editors from a big publisher kept this from being a solid 10/10. But this book is really, really good. It’s unique (enough), creative, and fun. I can get why kids love it, and I’m sure a fairly high number of adults loved the book and the series too. Good job Rick.

Be one of over 35 million and buy a copy of his book:

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Is Harry Potter a sacred cow?

“Be mooooved by my sacredness!”

Today’s post is rated E for everyone, but also is rated H for Harry. As in Britain’s real Harry, Harry Potter (We all know Harry Styles is a make believe tale we tell children, like the tooth fairy and Easter Bunny).

As a middle grade fantasy writer, I, and all the other genre writers, know we pale in comparison to The Greatest Book Ever Written, My God (TGBEWMG).

How many people do you know who read the books didn’t like it? The sales, the fandom, the theme park, the movies, the story, all back up the success. It was well-written and cleverly thought out. JK Rowling is awesome with the English language, and, as I’ve said before, no one will ever recreate that level of excitement or sales success ever. I’m serious; it was one of those once-in-a-lifetime books that you just consider yourself lucky or amazed to be alive in when people lined up at midnight, in costume, to pay $30 for a hardcover book, when people around the world were begging for the next copy and crying when the series ended and then the movies too.

I was 10 the first time I had heard of HP. There were three books out and everyone in my elementary school was reading them. Only I, feeling cool, decided not to bother reading them until I think I was the last in my 5th grade class to pick up a copy. Surprisingly, it was interesting and different, more so than most other books I had read*, and I was a huge Goosebumps/Hardy Boys/Encyclopedia Brown fan growing up. Yes, I had read about other magical schools, but not to HP’s level. They really were magical.

*Did I, the video game junkie, just admit to READING?

Along with immense success comes fandom and respect. Even Fifty Shades, much maligned for being half Twilight Fanfic, half softcore porn for women, deserves credit for being able to do what no other book has done since HP and Twilight; cross the 100 million sales barrier for a series (In fact, I’m pretty sure no book will even hit 100 million again, but it’s possible a series could do it. Maybe), especially in an age where the diffusion of entertainment options, decline in reading for pleasure, and massive competition between books make finding those gems much harder.

Well, I have learned that there is a group of Harry Potter have, for whatever reason, decided that because the books were so great, now no one can write a children’s fantasy series, especially if a magical school is involved, and not automatically have either complaints or comparisons to Harry Potter. And in this case I’m referring to those who will dismiss any middle grade fantasy novel the moment they sense “similarities” between your/my story, and HP.

Don’t misunderstand, those of us who write in this genre (middle grade fantasy) would be happy with that level of respect (and sales-even a tenth of them) Rowling received. If someone wants to say “This is the best book I’ve read since Harry Potter” (and one kid DID say something like that to her parents a few months ago during a first read), I’d be thrilled.

But we who write kid’s fantasy like the genre and have our own stories, separate from HP. Will stories have similarities? Of course. There are about 12 unique story ideas in the world, and every story everywhere is a derivative of another one. Every idea builds upon another one. Even my idea, which I know for a fact has never been done before in the way it’s been done (when the story’s completed), is a cobbling of other people’s ideas synthesized with my own. It’s just “First to Market” who gets to claim originality.

Check out Viktor Kloss’ page, Middle Grade (MG) fantasy author. To be fair, I haven’t read his book just yet (will do so soon). But check out his comments- you can’t go more than a few before someone either decides: a) this is too “Harry Potter” and this is an issue, or b) has to plead with fellow posters that is is NOT Harry Potter and they should just like the book. I’d guess at minimum 40% of the commenters feel the urge to mention Harry Potter and try to argue the similarities and difference. Which wouldn’t be necessary if so many folks just didn’t get bothered by similarities.

Read the plot and tell me if it is:

“Two years ago, Ben Greenwood’s parents walked out the door and never returned. The police have all but given up finding them when Ben stumbles upon a peculiar letter addressed to his dad. “You are the most wanted man in the Unseen Kingdoms. Unless you come to us, we cannot help. For your child’s sake, tell us what you know.”

The letter is from an organisation called the Royal Institute of Magic and is dated a day before his parents disappeared. Like most people, fourteen-year-old Ben hasn’t the faintest idea what the Royal Institute of Magic is, but he has his first clue: the logo on the letter.

Armed with nothing but his wits and the help of his good friend Charlie, Ben sets out to find the Institute and, through them, his parents. To succeed, he will have to navigate a land filled with fantastic creatures and Spellshooters, where magic can be bought and sold, to unravel an ancient family secret that could hold the key to defeating an evil the Institute has been fighting for the last five hundred years.”

Sure, you could argue his magic or parts of plots come from other sources…Dungeons and Dragons, Lord of the Rings, et cetera. But notice in the comments what one book gets mentioned as being “too similar” or “this book is NOT Harry Potter! Only a few similarities please like it!”

*Update: Victor sent me a blogpost. I’m glad he got some people who like it the way they liked Harry Potter, which he notes. But he also has to feel the urge to specify how his book is a) NOT Harry Potter and b) not using concepts not already used, such as the “world within a world”. Apparently some Harry Potter fans also believe the ideas in the novels were original to her, and forget about the great writers before her who shared ideas which laid down the groundwork.

I write this because your humble, lonely, merely “aspiring” author has written his own book, also MG fantasy, also with a character who is sent to a preparatory academy, who also receives a letter (in her tree-shaped mailbox) saying she and her sister were accepted to this school, which is not for everyone. That’s honestly about it for the similarities. I have no wizards, witches, dragons, ghosts, trolls, or elves in mine (In book 1, the only one written), no one picks where they live at school, the main character has a separate life than Harry, and the main villain is not an evil wizard who wants to live forever/destroy the world (in fact it’s not even human). In addition to writing my own ideas, I did as much as possible to avoid the comparisons, and I would think and hope on its merits the book will be well-received, or poorly received if it sucks that bad. If anything, I might guilty more of being too influenced by Naruto than Harry Potter.

I can only wonder, though, if my editor was right after she read my first draft, and I’m just going to get the “Harry Potter did it! Harry Potter did it!” comments. If you think this doesn’t matter to a MG fantasy writer, picture review after review of people wasting time talking about how this book is/is not like TGBEWMG, as opposed to saying what it is about my book they liked/disliked, independent of other works.

The thing is, the series I’m writing has no relation to Harry Potter, or Naruto, other than some occasional similarities. But will readers give book 2 a chance if book 1 is a “knockoff?”

For the record, I wonder how many of these “You just stole from Harry Potter” types thought the same when Hunger Games was accused of ripping off Battle Royale, or when Divergent was accused of ripping off Hunger Games (to be fair, I did not read Divergent, nor do I know what the plot is about; it’s anecdotal what I’ve heard from readers). Somehow that didn’t impact sales for Suzanne Collins or Veronica Roth. So why do some Harry Potter fans treat the series like it’s a sacred cow that cannot be replicated in any way?

(Okay, rant over, off the soapbox. Now time to get back to work)

Please someone, prove me to be a ranting jackass. Find me proof of diehard Potterfans who WANT to find a new MG Fantasy series to fall in love with, the way they fell in love in Harry Potter.

Image is from www.robertscottbell.com. I have no ownership rights, and I am not making money or benefiting from using that image.

Book Review: Impulse

Happy Independence Day weekend for all you Americans!

If you missed my author interview with Iffix Santaph over his debut novella, Impulse, check it out here.

As promised, here is my review of the novel, which I received in exchange for an interview and review. Like last time, I’ve divided into five categories, and each was worth 0, 1, or 2 points. Scored on a scale 0-10.

Plot (semi-spoiler alert): The reader is introduced to the Gwalf, human-like creatures who live in the city of Trounador. Jendra is the main character and heroine of the novel. She and her friend Leon discover a human body which is unconscious at the start of the novel, and they want to find a way to find out where the human is from. Together with Leon’s cousin Toby, they search for a way to help the alien.

To do this they must dodge obstacles, like the Je’ rax. We soon learn a Je’ rax is NOT a dinosaur, but a scorpion-like creature with huge pincers. Jendra is caught by one, but Toby manages to make its head explode. Kids will love that line.

Along with Toby and Leo, her “just friends” friend (spoiler!) They run into the Lizan and have to be ready for the their attack, which is set up nicely for book 2.

The intended audience is “middle grade”, but I felt like this was more a YA (teen) novel than middle grade. Some of the dialogue was okay, but at times it was confusing. The author sometimes didn’t explain things well, like when he mentions the squig (half squirrell, half pig), brings it up several times, then never fully explains what it is or why it’s relevant to the story. The plot itself is not the most straightforward, and in the writing style space below you’ll see why. It’s unfair to give this a 0 or 1, so I’m going half. 0.5/2

Writing style: If you read my last review, you know I am not a huge fan of multiple points of view, and this book had even more than the last book. Whereas John was good at separating POV’s by scene, Iffix did not do as good a job with this. We got in to too many character’s heads, sometimes on the same page, and it made the story hard to follow. For adults, this isn’t a huge deal, but 11-14 year olds, the intended audience, will simply be unable to keep up. Honestly, this was a tough read, and I am an adult. 0/2

Editing: The editing was really well done. I didn’t spot any missed proofreading marks, or they were so few in number it didn’t bother me. The page layout was great. This was by far the best part of the book; effort was clearly put into this. 2/2

“Believability”: This varies from genre to genre, but the point is, can I believe what’s going on? I honestly struggled with this. The book is fantasy, so nothing was “unbelievable”, but I think there could have been a better job selling its concepts.

For example, the author talks about aliens such as the Lizan, who are clearly distinct from the Gwalf, but for some reason different species all speak the same language and the same way; the same was true with the humans. I was trying hard to figure out exactly where I was, Earth, or somewhere else.  The plot itself is fairly believable; if you were trapped in a city surrounded by caves and waterfalls, wouldn’t you want to escape and explore the rest of the world?  1/2

Emotion: This is another made up section, where I give my emotional feel for the book. I have a saying: If you, the author, can make me cry, you will write a book as successful as Twilight. I’m not joking; emotions besides hot and cold are not easy for me. This section can be for any emotion, though.

I just cannot say I was moved enough to become emotionally attached. It wasn’t that the book was bad, only that it was not spectacular. Again, a 0 is unfair, but it really was not quite a 1. 0.5/2

Overall grade: 4/10.  

I don’t like giving mediocre grades, especially since I do talk to Iffix online and he’s a genuinely sincere guy and very proud to be an indie author. The book is not terrible; the book was well-edited and his vision for Troundador City is exciting, with the caves and waterfalls. It reminded me of Pokemon, moving around in caves with mysterious creatures lurking about. The Gwalf are a society worth exploring in further. I just wish he had done so, and eliminated the too-often multiple POV’s between characters. Even if he wants us to know what’s going to happen, it’s often better if the reader does not. Hopefully the next books in the series will let the reader get to know Jendra and Trounador City further.

I will add this though: Check out his website and look at his Impulse Gallery, where he obtained artwork from DeviantArt artists. It’s really good. if only he had made his story a graphic novel…

You can also find his book at Amazon or visit his website iffixysantaph.com

Author Interview: Iffix Santaph

Back to the author interviews! Today we have Iffix Santaph, indie author, on his new middle-grade novel, Impulse, which is book 1 of 6 in the Forgotten Princess series. Here’s my interview with Iffix.

S: Give us the inside scoop on Jendra’s relationship with Toby and Leon, her “just friends” friend.

I: Jendra is the doctor’s adopted daughter, and Leon is destined to be the next town doctor, so they see a lot of each other. Jendra has been searching the underground city for her father since he disappeared ten years earlier, and since Jendra is nearly expert at parkour and “not the sort to fall and bruise her ego”, Leon has been there to rescue her on many occasions. Beside this, the two “just friends” are more than close. There are some interesting secrets regarding Toby, though Jendra and he haven’t met before the ride on the ferry where Leon took Jendra to escape the “angry city dwellers” whose glares may or may not be all in her head. Toby is Leon’s cousin and a criminally-minded youth who dreams of being a pirate someday. In truth, though, Toby just knows that his father’s river ferry is getting old and will eventually be decommissioned. Toby might have been the perfect best friend for Jendra had he been six years older, but they cultivate a relationship closer to siblings, and Toby loves to drive Jendra nuts.

S: What was the inspiration for Tranoudor?

I: Actually, this stems to the top secret origin of the story itself. The story is loosely based on a fairy tale which featured characters who spent an abundance of time in caves, and as I endeavored to incorporate some of these details, I thought it would be fun to build an entire underground city which is slowly falling apart.

There were events in Tranoudor that I based on my own life. For example, I there were more than a few trips in my early life when I had the opportunity to explore caves, particularly in Minnesota and in the black hills. My love of waterfalls is based on the number of family trips we took to Niagara falls, though the waterfall in Tranoudor has slightly smaller. I once was traveling through northern Missouri where the bridge had been out and I needed to cross aboard a ferry. There was also a rickety old bridge in central Honduras that felt about to cave in, which proved to be the inspiration for another scene.

S: When I saw the Je’Raxs, I kept thinking Jurassic Park, especially with the timing of the movie. Will we see dinosaurs?

I: The Je’rax was more like a super-sized scorpion. Before I began to write the story, I approached a number of artists on the popular web-based community DeviantArt. I told them I would love to use their artwork as an inspiration for a roleplaying game; I was taking a break from my then 18 years as a sci-fi writer and attempting to learn to write tabletop games. And the response was incredible. I gathered a large collection of concepts. From these things, I learned who the arch-villain really was, I learned what my gwalfling characters looked like, I learned about the galaxy as a whole, enough to immerse myself in a really incredible world which I am very happy to share. There are a few dinosaur-like creatures in my bestiary. Impulse opens on Gavyn, the shadowman, who is essentially a sentient dinosaur.

S: Did you show this to anyone before publishing it? What was the response to your novel?

I: I actually had a number of beta readers who considered the project and were eager to read more. I showed it to a wide variety of potential agents, on the other hand, who sent the usual response. “This is a great story… for someone else.” So I decided that the someone else would be me. After all, if I had a group of betas who said “I’d buy this.” So I took a risk. I knew I had to start somewhere. If you ever take a real look at the publishing industry, it’s one gigantic circle that will make your head spin. You can’t be published without drawing and audience, and you can’t draw an audience without getting published. So now, when I pitch to agents, I can tell them “I have published Impulse, a middle grade novel, and this is my next project.” That means something. It’s an opening I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t jump into the publishing arena. Of course, I am always looking for a sincere agent. But one of the best things about being an Indie is knowing who I am and not having it taken away because the publisher wants a different story with flirtatious vampires I’m not willing to tell.

S: Which character was your favorite to write about, and why? Least favorite?

I: I loved so many characters when I was writing Impulse. Of course, Toby speaks to who I was at his age. I wasn’t criminal minded, but I was devious and to this day, I’m most content goofing off. It’s easier to write in his mindset. I am also really enjoying the evil queen. Part of enjoying the unlikeable characters is understanding what they’re so determined to accomplish. I know why she is who she is, and when the story reaches that point, I will be happy to fill in those details.

S: What’s next for you?

I: Impulse marked the first in a series of six books in the Forgotten Princess series. Deception is the second book, released in July of this year. I am nearing completion in the writing stages of Conspiracy, the third book, then I will be editing, sending to betas, editing, more betas, etc, etc, until October-ish, when the book will be released and I continue with Retrospect, Stratagem, and Nemesis to complete the base series. Also, as was evidenced last week when Teddy Bear Junction was released (a markedly different story for me), I hope to release an occasional children’s story or short story here or there as the opportunity arises. If those stories relate to Forgotten Princess, I will likely be releasing them on my website: iffixysantaph.com

Check out Iffix’s book at Amazon.

Book Review: Skeleton Run

Happy Father’s Day to all the great dads out there, including my own. 🙂 I will be with him today, at a pancake house with family.

If you missed my author interview with John DeBoer over his debut novel, Skeleton Run, check it out here.

As promised, here is my review of the novel, which I received from John’s publisher, Red Adept Publishing. For convenience, I’ve divided into five categories, and each was worth 0, 1, or 2 points. Scored on a scale 0-10.

Plot (semi-spoiler alert): The plot centers on four friends: Doctor Jim Dawson, Alan Granger, Bob Kretchman, and Tom Webster. An accident occurs where someone dies and the friends harbor guilt about the death. They later discover the baby of the deceased survived, and is engaged to a woman who later learns the truth. This will affect the plot at some level.

Enter Wendell Logan, billionaire casino magnate. He is frustrated by previous failures to get politicians to “buy” into his vision, which means his money, your vote. After years of failure (who knew George W. Bush wasn’t a team player?) he finally finds Alan, who left his Philadelphia law job and is now Governor of Pennsylvania. The goal? Get Alan re-elected in 2018 (PA’s next cycle), and then have him run for President in 2020, where he will agree to be Logan’s vassal in exchange for money. To help, Logan gets rid of Alan’s only real challenger.

Dr. Dawson, who is the main character, tries to keep his friends together as relationships fall apart. Alan is turning from them, focusing on his political ambition more than anything else. Logan, who wants to make sure no one threaten’s Alan’s chances of winning, begins eliminating characters. Soon only Dawson is left to face Logan’s minions. It will be up to the Doctor to find a way to keep himself, and his family, alive.

If you like political thrillers, this one is a sound, if not epic, page turner. Even when the plot was somewhat expected (too many Points Of View), I still found myself finishing chapters quickly to see what happens next. 2/2

Writing style: It was okay, not noteworthy. However, I am not a huge fan of multiple points of view, and this book had a couple too many. The main character was the Doctor, whose POV was first person, but more than half the book It made what should have been a fanatically thrilling ending a little more obvious because we, the readers, knew what was coming in the Doctor’s house when he went back. He also had a lot more narration in places than I normally like, which slowed down the flow, especially in the middle. 1/2

Editing: The editing was really well done. I didn’t spot any missed proofreading marks, or they were so few in number it didn’t bother me. Luckily for the author, and for future authors whose books I read, I’m a little more tolerant on proofreading errors than most. 2/2

“Believability”: This is a category I invented right now. This varies from genre to genre, but the point is, can I believe what’s going on? In John’s novel, I would say yes, I believed what I read. It is not implausible to think that a billionaire casino magnate might want to influence a particular race, and since I understand for book purposes, only focus on one race. Was it a little weird that Alan Granger’s opponent was as controllable as an RC car? Yea. Did ot seem at times like John used a POV for some characters who really shouldn’t have had them? Yea. But four friends, one accidental manslaughter, and a politician desperate for power are completely believable. 1/2

Emotion: This is another made up section, where I give my emotional feel for the book. I have a saying: If you, the author, can make me cry, you will write a book as successful as Twilight. I’m not joking; emotions besides hot and cold are not easy for me. This section can be for any emotion, though.

John’s book moved well and while I would have liked to see stronger emotional language in a few places, I think he captured the feel well. No, I did not cry. But I noticed that I rarely put my Kindle down once I started to read, and I was finishing chapters. That’s a great sign. 2/2

Final grade: 8/10. This is a solid book, not a blow-me-away, but one worth reading. The editing is excellent, the writing is not bad, and the plot is comparable to most bestselling thriller novels, if not exceptional. Even when you know what’s coming, John has a good way of keeping you interested. Will not top the bestseller’s lists, but this is a book worth reading if you’re into political thrillers.

Visit the Red Adept Publishing website for more information.

Author Interview with John DeBoer

For the first in the Author World Tour series which I just made up now, I had a chance to interview John DeBoer about his new novel, Skeleton Run, published by Red Adept Publishing. This is a political thriller for those of you who are into political conspiracies an d a behind-the-scenes tour of how money affects the election process. I spoke with John about his debut novel:

S: Let’s start out with the inspiration for your novel, a political thriller. What made you choose Pennsylvania as the setting for much of the novel, and why?

J: Pennsylvania met the requirements I needed – reasonable proximity to the other locations, an important state electorally, and one with which I had personal experience. New York and New Jersey could have been used instead, I suppose, but their governors get a lot more national press than that of Pennsylvania, and I thought this might make my fictional governor easier to accept.

S: Was the villainous Wendell Logan modeled after any particular casino magnate? I keep thinking Sheldon Adelson, but maybe I’m wrong.

J: I kept thinking of Sheldon Adelson, too! But I wanted my Las Vegas billionaire to be younger and physically more robust.

S: Following up on Logan, why did you decide to give the reader a view into his head, as opposed to telling the story from the Doctor’s point of view?

J: One of the reasons I like to write in the Thriller genre is the freedom to get into the heads of the bad guys, to show their POVs out of the awareness of the protagonists. Nelson DeMille, Greg Iles, and John Sandford, among others use this device, which I think actually ramps up the suspense rather than mitigating it. In this particular novel, I use more POVs than my usual, but I felt I needed all of them for the story. My editor did make me eliminate one of them, though!

S: How long did it take you to write this novel?

J: More than six months, but less than a year, I think. I workshop my novels online. I write as I go, posting one chapter at a time. The back and forth reviewing/revising process this entails adds to the time, but then when it’s done, I end up with a fairly polished product – subject to my publisher’s editors’ input, of course.

S: Did you show this to anyone before submitting it for publication? What was the response to Skeleton Run?

J: Eleven other authors reviewed the novel from start to finish when I workshopped it, and all of their responses were very positive. I don’t let my wife read my novels until they’ve been published!

S: Which character was your favorite to write about, and why? Least favorite?

J: I had the most fun writing Logan’s character – ruthless, powerful, obsessive in his Machiavellian scheme – he represented evil self-fulfillment, and I enjoyed showing this. I also liked creating Granger’s character, beginning as a teenager and developing it into middle age. His personality was probably the most distasteful, but it made him the character he grew into.

Then we have the moral ambiguity of Luke Elliot, the hit man.  All are characters with flaws, tarnished in ways big and small, which make them more compelling as personalities. In one of my novels, The Flame, the antagonist – a femme fatale character in the vein of Matty Walker in Body Heat – actually got more print space than my good-guy protagonist. And in Skeleton Run, the narrator and putative protagonist, Dr. Dawson, though smart and able to rise to the occasion when push came to shove, has a less interesting character overall than those he must contend with. But since he’s a little bit of an alter ego for me (as are all my physician/surgeon protagonists to one degree or another), he also has to, by definition, be one of my favorites! Tom Webster, one of the boyhood pals of Dawson, has to be my least favorite character to write, only because I knew what I had to do to him, and that wasn’t pleasant.

S: What’s next for you on tour? your next book?

J: I’m about a quarter of the way through my blog tour, which will end on July 5. I’ve got interviews, like this one, guest posts, and reviews of Skeleton Run lined up to keep me busy until then.

My next completed novel, now titled, How Little We Know, does not yet have a publication date. A woman hiding from not only the mob via Witness Protection, but an incident from her earlier past,  meets Luke Elliot (the hit man from Skeleton Run) in Seattle, where he has gone to start a new life after a personal tragedy. Both have secrets to guard as they begin a relationship, in the course of which Luke has to call upon his past life to keep his love interest out of harm’s way.

My current WIP involves the ISIS threat to Americans and is tentatively titled, When the Reaper Comes.

S: Thank you for your time, John.

J: Thanks, Sam, for the interview.

I’ll post my honest review of Skeleton Run on Sunday.

Buy John’s book on Amazon by clicking HERE

New Publisher Book Review Partnership

I’m excited to announce that I will review my first novel from Red Adept Publishing as a book reviewer for select books they publish and send to me. I will read the book and interview the author as part of their author’s blog tour.

I am not being paid or otherwise compensated in any way to offer these reviews or interviews, but this gives me a chance to build my blog platform and give you, the reader, a chance to know what other books and authors are available besides ones from “Big Five” publishers.

The first book I will review and post an interview for is Skeleton Run by John L. DeBoer. I will have two posts: First, the interview, and then, my honest review of the novel. It’s a political thriller and I look forward to reading it. My interview will be published June 18 and the book review right after, so mark it down on your calendars because I’m sure you’re all so excited to hear my thoughts about other author’s work :D.

I am available as a book reviewer elsewhere (for now, anyway), and I don’t charge but of course not everything is free in this world (including your e-books) and so I generally will ask a favor later, such as, reviewing my books on your blog when they are finally published sometime later this year. Or, some other minor favor TBD.

In the meantime I’ll review some other books I’ve read recently. For Thursday I’ll review the book Shadowland, by Peter Straub. This book is going to be made into an NBC TV Series, expected to be out later this Fall. I’m looking forward to this series, and I hope you will catch me on Thursday when I release this review.