сряда, 26 февруари 2014 г.

Book Review: Leah by Dana K. Haffar

Book: Leah
Author: Dana K. Haffar
Based on the theme: Author Request
Published by: Self-Published
Date published: 2011
Format: E-Book
Length: 173 pages
ISBN: 9781465753342
Genres: Love, paranormal, curse, love, identity, adult fiction, tragedy, suspense, self-published

Synopsis: On the remote island of Puerto Franco, young Leah wades into the sea and disappears. Her body is never found. Thirty years later, visual artist Mar arrives on the island with her daughter, Lemay. She anticipates a haven where she can work on her craft, away from her controlling husband. Instead, Mar finds herself in the midst of a close-knit community haunted by a curse three-decades old.

The Review: (Warning - contain spoilers)
Plot & pace - A wonderful yet haunting story of a community trapped by a curse of betrayal and revenge. The death of Leah had never been explained. Her disappearance has left the people of Puerto Franco disheartened and suspicious. Believing it is a paranormal jinx placed on the island, it is a secret that is not openly discussed or revealed; the truth behind Leah's death.

As a community that is built on knowing everyone else's business, it isn't too long before Mar makes an impact. Mar becomes engrossed in the story of Leah's death as she explores the island and discovers the family home. Through her adventures on Puerto Franco, Leah communicates with her, forewarning her of danger and the identity of her murderer.

Thrown into the mix, is Sebastian, Leah's brother and swooning heart-throb of the island that encapsulates Mar's' affection. Bound by fate and the superstition of the community, he has a black mark by his name. Trapped in a relationship with Manuela, who I would class as the village bike \ bitch, he is constantly reminded of the life he could of had with his sister. 

This a story and plot with a myriad of tales. In some scenes the story relays the historical tragedy and paranormal fantasy of Leah's death and in others it documents the love triangle with Mar, Seb and Manuela and Mar's vision of her own life and future career in art. It's not a 'mid-life crisis' book and likewise I would be hesitant to class it as chick-lit as it somewhat diminishes the skill the author has presented in crafting the story. However, I would have liked a little less 'love' and more paranormal thrown in, near the middle it was in danger of turning into another chick-lit; fortunately the ending was superb, satisfying and saved it; I won't give it away as it will be too bigger spoiler but it was a great finish to the  book.

Setting and description - Aside from the plot itself, the setting was the other particularly strong element. Puerto Franco, Spain was described with such beauty it transported me straight to the island and previous family holidays I've had in the Mediterranean. I could close my eyes and almost touch the tip of the sea and feel the grain of sands between my toes. It sounds very cliched, but it was pure escaping.

The island was so atmospheric. Receiving the hostile, easterly winds, sea mist and storm waves it was an island of two faces; the lovely beach holiday destination and the harsh reality of a community living by the sea. The detachment from the mainland only served to enhance the islands isolation and closeness of the community from the outside world. 

Characters - Though I warmed to the character of Mar, the upper class housewife escaping her prison to pursue her artistic work, I did feel her back-story was somewhat typical. The fact she fell for Sebastian was not altogether surprising, though I must admit how quickly Seb began pursuing Mar was. I really loved Sebs character. He lives in the shadow of a life he could of had, of the family that once lived. And though this haunts him, he doesn't want to leave the island and forget the tragedy. 

Language & dialogue used - The book is neither hard to read nor follow. It does not require too much concentration and you can easily pick it up and put it down (if you can) and set off immediately where you left. The language used is beautiful, particularly the odd bit of Spanish thrown in here and there (which, oddly I didn't know the literally definition of the words I understood the message being conveyed).

Narrative - Told in the third person we follow the two main characters of the book, Sebastian and Mar through their thoughts and how they process the turn of events that befall them. The narrative is expressed very well.

Themes and ideas - Certain elements did feel slightly traditional and safe, such as Mar's backstory. Yet, for a novel with a foundation of a historical curse it packs a punch; we have the love triangle, the ghost-story come mystery of Leah, the middle aged housewife pursuit of a career, all within a sunny, tropical paradise. 

Book cover - I don't usually comment on the front cover of books but I really liked the imagery. It looks as though the girl (Leah), is either walking towards or away from the sea. A good illustration of the paranormal theme of a spirit that is not at rest, one that is lost at sea and those souls which come out the water and haunt.

Overall review - I envisaged that this would make a great holiday read. There's mystery, romance, the beach all rolled into one book. I think this may become a 'guilty pleasure' book; an easy read which though does not push the boundaries does make a cracking good book. 4* Stars. 

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Guest Post: Lorne Oliver on The Writing Process

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What’s the first question anyone asks after finding out you are a writer?  “How do you get your ideas?”  And half of my book is from the view of a serial killer, so in my case they usually take a step back while asking.  Wait till the next one about a serial pedophile killer comes out.

                The second question a published writer is asked is, what is your writing process.

                “I say good sir, be a chap and tell me your writing process so as I may copy it.”

                “Dude, like, do you write in a notebook or on a computer or dude like on one of those typewriter things by candlelight?”

                “I want to be a writer to.  How do you do it?”

                Next month I am mediating a writers circle group and I guarantee that on the first night some form of that question will be asked.  Usually people hate it when you go, “the ideas?  They just sort of come to me.  The process?  I don’t know.  I just write.”

                “You just write?  What the heck is that for an answer?  I hear Stephen King locks himself in a room, do you do that?  Some people have one computer for Internet and another for writing, do you do that?  Do you have a big oak desk and a tweed jacket with patches on the elbows and one of those Sherlock Holmes pipes and a dog named Steinbeck that sits at your feet?  I heard Anne Rice liked to write notes on her walls, computer, posters, well everything in black marker, do you do that?  I need to know how to write.”

                “I just write, man, chill.”

                The writing process is different for everyone.  Right now I am writing this blog in a blue Staedtler triplus ball M pen in a Blueline Miracle Bind notebook while sitting in a chair in the kitchen at the daycare where I am the cook.  My novel Red Island I wrote primarily while working in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island at a restaurant called the Urban Eatery where I was a cook.  I would write it in my black notebook while on break or between customers then go home and type it onto the computer whenever I had the chance.  For my new book I got my best ideas while moving from one house to another and sitting in the truck.

                I’m sorry, writer groupies, but there is no magic process to go from wannabe to prolific writer.  Well, I guess the only magic is to write.  Through trial and error you have to find what works for you.  Computer, typewriter, tape recorder, pen and notebook, marker and roll of toilet paper, pencil and bar napkins…then write.  You will find a process which works best for you.  Maybe you can only write on the train home or early in the morning before the kids get up.  Maybe you need complete silence.  Maybe you need music blaring or the sounds of a full household.  You might be a morning writer or late at night scribe.  Take your top 10 writers and I bet you will find 10 completely different writing processes…and their process changes with each book they write.

                Now this isn’t to say there are not common things that every writer should do.  The first is write!  Write often.  It doesn’t have to be the same epic novel you have been struggling with for years.  Writing about your day in a journal or diary can be a great way to get the creative juices flowing.  Or write blog entries.  The point is to be a writer you have to write.  You sure aren’t going to do it by thinking about writing.

                On the flip side you should also be a reader.  I don’t read as much as I should.  And read more than your own genre.  See how others turn a phrase or describe something.  Just as importantly, see their mistakes.  In Red Island I had (probably still have) editing mistakes.  I miss word or put in in an extra word and sometimes there are spelling mistakes.  Nobody is perfect and after 6 plus people editing it there are still errors.  My thought was, no big deal, then I read another Ebook with the same types of errors.  Now I get what it is like to be reading along then have to backtrack because something doesn’t seem right.

                So…experiment with different ways to write (products, places, sounds, times) until you find what works – and realize it won’t work every time and your own writing process will change and evolve as you and your life does the same.

                Write constantly.  The more practice you get the better you get.

                And Read.  Read the good, the bad, and the ugly to help gain knowledge of the act and develop your style.

                Finally, quit asking where ideas come from and what the writing process is.  Accept that ideas come from Leprechauns and gophers and the writing process is a mythical adventure.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Book Review: Red Leaves and the Living Token by Benjamin David Burrell

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Book: Red Leaves and the Living Token
Author: Benjamin David Burrell
Based on the theme: Author Request:
Published by: Red Earth Press, 3rd Edition
Date published: 2012
Format: E-book
Length: 323 pages
ISBN: 9780615618524
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Children's book, Magic, Mythology, Folklore, Indie Author, E-Book

The Synopsis:
Doctors tell Raj that his son Emret won't survive his illness. As Raj struggles to prepare himself and Emret for the inevitable, he's confronted by Moslin, his son's nurse, who's been filling Emret's head with fairytales about heroic quests and powerful disease curing miracles. Emret now thinks that all he has to do is find the mythical Red Tree from the nurse's stories, and he'll live.
In an attempt to protect his son from further emotional damage, Raj asks Moslin to stay away from Emret. He returns hours later to find them both missing. He searches the fairytales for clues to where they may have gone and stumbles upon stories that, strangely, he already knows. He saw them in a vision just before his son disappeared.

The Review:
Plot & Pace - A story of folklore and mythology surrounding the mysterious Red Tree; the bringer of life to the creatures of Petra, Bota and Zo.  Emret has an illness which is feared to be terminal and his nurse, Moslin, has told him of the story of the Red Tree.  If the Red Tree is found this would ensure he would survive the disease which plagues his body; and so they embark on a quest that leads them to cross their continent to find the mythical tree.

Close behind them is Raj, Emret's dad, who fears the mythology is a lost cause and sets out with his butler Rinacht after his son with the guidance of the Token; a religious book that offers the owner the gift of foresight. But these aren't the only people after the Red Tree. The evil Lord Valance, a powerful politician and entrepreneur are keeping a close eye on both parties. For is Valance gets his way, the Manea, the fuel for which all creatures depend on, will be limited and the Red Trees belong to him. The only question is who will get to the Red Tree first.

The story of a three-sided quest was very good; I thought the chase and adventure as they all started their journey was fast-paced and cleverly thought out. Though at first I didn't really like it, I warmed to the book the more I read as each page gripped my interest and imagination. 

Throughout you have to pay careful attention to the plot as there are many underlying themes and sub-stories. These include the three main religious artefacts:

  1. The Token - the mysterious and rare Journal of the Reds; a book whose purpose and critical function had been neglected and unfulfilled. Whoever holds The Token can find the path to The Reds. 
  2. The Manea - a plant that is both the vital food and fuel which all living things depend on. At the time of the book, the resource is scarce. 
  3. The Reds - a symbolic plant that represents God. It is immortal and unending, transcending time and space. The plant has not been seen for thousands of years. When the Gods return, they will avenge those that betray and desecrate. The Keepers of the Reds live at the Temple of the Order of the Reds; a shrine of gold and treasures.
I'm not entirely certain I followed the complete story, from start to finish so the above may not be 100% correct. This was main due to three main reasons; first, sometimes there was a lack of description between the dialogues. I didn't get a clear picture of the setting or surroundings of the characters between each scene. Second, was the mystery which comes with the mythology. These are myths and legends that the characters do not know the full story of and likewise this translates to the reader. The third is that the story was full of politics and debates, especially in the early stages of the book before Raj set off after his son. At every obstacle there wasn't much action just debates and I felt my interest wane after a while. These three factors did detracted from my enjoyment of the story.

Characters - There are three different races portrayed in this book:
  1. Petra - creatures that have a body of stone
  2. Bota - green limbed creatures with tentacles
  3. Zoen - hunchbacked, furry animals with snouts
Not much else is given by way of description of the three races and their looks \ appearance. It made me think of them as almost human by way of stature and stance. Raj is a Zoen, a courageous and strong being who comes across as loving but also someone who gets very easily distracted. Though he loves his son he doesn't display the emotions and behaviour of someone who is desperate to find him. His search is more trying to find the medicines and tools to cure him. 

Lord Valance is the evil mastermind of the story that is like the puppet master trying to control all the characters in the book. If he has control over the production of Manea he can dominate who gets the supply. To do this he needs control over both The Token and The Books of the Reds. But as he doesn't have The Token he cannot find the path to the Reds; so he must follow Raj. Valance is a great character, full of malice and wickedness, the perfect bad guy.   

Setting - The magical world in which the book is set is split into the countries of Petra, Bota and Zo. I loved the names of both the places and characters in the book; they are unconventionally and unique. But that is about it as far as the setting goes. I know little of the society and environment regarding the countries concerned so I can't really expand much more. 

Language Used & Dialogue - I thought the language and dialogue was the weakest part of the novel. Some events such as the visions Raj experienced left me feel disorientated as I felt these were not explained well. In other examples, the same description was repeated during the same scene: "dwarfed by the size of the tree". Using the same adjective of dwarfed elsewhere made me feel as though the author was running out of words to describe the setting. There are also a few typos here and there but you do have to look hard to spot them.

Narration - Told in the third person and follows all the different main characters.

Themes & Ideas - The main theme I picked up on in the book is the parody on Christianity: the religious symbols of The Token reminded me of the Bible; the Reds avenging made me think of the Apocalypse; the fighting between the races felt like the historical disputes between Catholics and Protestants; the black sky which appeared after the stealing of the Crown seemed like one of the plagues and the medical vs nature reflects the current debate of science vs God.

Book Structure - I enjoyed the prologue; it set the scene of the School Master as he read the Token. Someone's coming, filled with anticipation and suspense and appreciated that the book was something of great importance and meaning.

I liked the map at the start of the book, it helped to visualise spatially where everything was in relation to everything else and to keep track of whether the characters were at particular points in the novel. I did think it was slightly bare and could have done with a bit more detail.

I thought the glossary should have been provided at the start of the book. It is not cross-referenced or made reference to throughout the book and as it was an e-book the only way I found the glossary was at the end when I finished reading the book and the whole point of having the glossary was undermined i.e. it was there after I read the book not when I needed it. A table of contents or perhaps moving the glossary to the start would rectify this.

Overall Verdict: It's an intelligent and unique story mixing many elements of a dad trying to find his son with a religious quest. The plot itself is very good but I think the execution at times lets it down. That said, it is still a novel that has great potential and is full of fun. 3* Stars.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Book Review: Red Island by Lorne Oliver

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Book: Red Island - A Novel
Author: Lorne Oliver
Based on the theme: Author Request
Published by: Lorne Oliver
Date published: 2012
Format: E-book
ISBN: 9780973813210
Length: 213 pages
Genres: Adult Fiction, Horror, Thriller, Murder Mystery, Detective novel, suspense, indie author, graphic novel

The Synopsis: Was it the nightmare that woke him or the late night phone ringing that brought on the dream? Sgt. Reid of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police brought his family to Prince Edward Island, “The Gentle Island,” to get away from crime and homicides. He had to get away from the nightmares and concentrate on his family. PEI is a lovely place to live. The sound of the ocean crashing against sandy beaches, sand dunes covered in tufts of dancing green grass…

…And then there was the young woman hanging from a tree. It wasn’t a gentle island any more.

The Review:
Plot & Pace: A brilliantly paced, well executed detective novel that leaves your heart thumping page after page with the suspense and thrill of the story. Sargent Reid moved away from the busy city life for a quiet rural existence; mainly due to suffering what I believe was post-traumatic stress syndrome after investigating the murders of four young girls. The family life is starting to wane, there's no excitement, no passion with an Island that is as calm as the waters which surround it.

That is until he dreams the murder of a girl that turns to reality. Chloe is the first of a serial killing spree which begins to consume the Island, it's residents and Reid himself. Trying to separate his personal feelings from his job gets increasingly difficult with each new murder; Johanna, Nichole... as the killer gets more confident and more cocky, the ground underneath Reid's feet and the foundations of his investigation begin to crumble.

For we meet the killer as a young boy to the current day man he has become. Alienated from his peers, with a self-image that he's "pathetic" and a deeply disturbing mentality, Ben's psychotic behaviour and thoughts develop with age. Being in control in his own world, making his own law and order is how he copes and in doing so, he believes this gives him the licence to torture, mutilate and kill women.

As his confidence grows it's clear that he is clever and cunning, with no set pattern or clues that the police can latch onto. For at first it was a one off murder, now a series of bodies, then the possibility he isn't acting alone, there's more than one killer, he doesn't appear to have a unique 'type', the methods of the torture and killing evolves... there is little for Reid to go on. That is, until the hunter becomes the hunted and now it turns personal.

Fast paced, with twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat and up all night till you finish the last page. The plot though quite typical of the genre, was still incredibly gripping and entertaining. There were a few minor details within the plot which would need to be ironed should the author write another detective novel but these are hardly worth of note to the average reader.

Setting: For me the setting of the book, on Prince Edward Island, located off the coast of mainland Canada, was brilliantly atmospheric. The island seemed to be the typical ghost town; eerily quite during the off-peak tourist season and where everyone knows everyone else's business but still manage to keep themselves to themselves. The red sand and references to red throughout the novel really create this feeling that there is a deep disturbing secret underlying the island which no one wants to admit; (plus leading to a great title for the book itself). I almost had a strange sense of deja vu when reading the novel; the setting really reminded me of the film Insomnia - if you've seen the film you'll understand what I mean.

Characters: If the plot was slightly stereotypical, the characters took it to the extreme. I had issues with Sargent Reid from the start; he clearly had PTS and his own psychological problems to contend with; part of me wandered why he was still employed as it was obvious from the beginning the boundaries of his professional and personal life were becoming blurred. I don't know why none of the other detectives picked it up. That said you knew he would be a digger, contemplating the minute details of the case and really give you an insight into the detective world. The use of Police acronyms also added to the realism.

The serial killer, Ben, was also very cliched; he started killing animals first (a typical personality trait in psychopaths), had issues growing up, was not accepted by his peers, was sexually frustrated etc. On the other hand, we also saw how he had used these traits to blend into society so that no one suspected him; he had a dual personality in a sense or was a very good actor. It gave a different perspective other than he was just born to kill; he was born with the traits but society turned him into the killer.

Language Used & Dialogue: The description was absolutely wonderful and the literary techniques employed by the author were great. To give one example, when the pathologists are examining Chloe at the site of her hanging, we are given a description of her body that is used to inform her personality. This departs from the usual formal identification by family member, researching into her life etc.

I also really liked how the author used all of your senses in the novel. Drip, red and other adjectives were used really effectively so that it bought the story to life.

The dialogue was good but not fantastic. Mainly as the stereotypical personalities of the characters also came out in some of the dialogue: "Somebody saw something. Someone is talking out there" and "I want to
know these women better than I know myself". It's slightly cringe-worthy which is quite disappointing.

Narration: The chapters alternate between Reid's narrative in the first person and Ben's in the third. The narrative itself is very good especially in regards to the build up and back story to Ben's life. Following both the detective and serial killer meant you could piece together little bits of the puzzle as you went along. Firstly, (when not knowing that Ben was the serial killer) you try to find clues and work out how he's involved in the plot. Then later, you try to jump a step or two ahead, work out his next move and when the two main characters will collide.

Themes & Ideas: Though the book is not remarkably original and in some case quite obvious there is still an element of unpredictability. I think if you really like the good guy vs bad guy, similar and familiar characters and detective novel set up, you'll love it. But I don't think it pushes the boundaries hard enough.

Overall Verdict: All in all a very enjoyable and gripping book which delivers on many levels. Though in some instances it was very stereotypical of the genre, it is still a great detective thriller in it's own right. I would love to see a follow-up and turn Reid's character into a detective series. Definitely an author to watch out for. 4* Stars.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Interview: Michael Diack on advertising - is it worth the investment?

2 people left their Verdict here
Verdict has interviewed Michael Diack on advertising for self-published authors and whether it is worth the investment. Michael Diack is a 26 year-old graduate of Geology from the University of Manchester. Working for the geophysical company Oman, one of his mains ambitions is to be a volcanologist like Pierce Brosnan in Dante's Peak. Outside of work, Michael enjoys table tennis, music, films, football, sailing and writing about magical potatoes with a taste for adventure and humour. His debut novel, The Super Spud Trilogy was released in April 2012 and is out now, available as a paperback and e-book for Kindle. 

1. This interview is surrounds the theme of advertising, a key element to the success of any book. How have you advertised your book?

Online I’ve been busy creating and advertising my blog, Facebook page and Twitter.  I’ve also been active on the Goodreads and Book Blogs forums for nearly a year now.  I’ve done giveaways to create exposure and hosted competitions.  I created lots of flyers and press releases to approach book stores with.  At the moment I’m busy building up the reviews, ultimately it will be the reviews in the long term which determine the success of the book.  I’m sure there are lots more websites out there to help me promote my book; Pinterest seems to be one of them which I’m probably not utilizing properly.

2. Have you hired any third parties such as publicists or have you done all the advertising for the book yourself?
My small press publisher helped massively to get me into a few magazines and my local paper, but most of the advertising and getting the reviews I’ve done myself.  I’ve literally contacted hundreds of bloggers asking for reviews and perhaps only half reply, and then half of those don’t accept the book for review.  It’s a tough, hard slog to get reviews and to stand out from the crowd. My book is currently involved with a blog tour which is generating increased traffic and making me some sales.

3. Have you noticed an increase in sales since adopting the above methods?
It’s hard to say.  Initially there was a spike in sales in the weeks after the release, but since then it is difficult to judge.  My Goodreads page has certainly increased through hosting giveaways and competitions.  The blog tour has been very good because it is continuous exposure one day after another. I’m certainly not making a sale a day, perhaps one a week (on a good week).

4. What has been your best advertising method in terms of the amount of sales generated?
The blog tour was very good for me and I saw a direct increase in sales and traffic to my websites.  However, I honestly think the best way is to interact with bloggers and talking to people and making a more personal connection than just posting a link to your book online. Book bloggers are very passionate about their blogs and books, of course, and making a connection with them is vital.  The best advertising method is just getting those good reviews and then showing them off to give your book credibility (as long as they are not fake!).

5. What are the key factors to consider when advertising a novel?
It’s important to know your target audience and focus on them i.e. making sure you comment in the appropriate forums and don’t waste your time or money on people who simply won’t even consider your book in the first place. However, my genre is humour and it’s for most ages over 12, so I had difficulty zoning in on one age range and some people contacting me weren’t sure if this book was supposed to be for them, so I struggled sometimes in that regard. You need to treat advertising as a job, working away at it every day.

6. How much investment have you put in to advertising your book? How much time and money is feasible to spend on advertising?
I’m fortunate to have a good job which pays the bills and allows me a little extra to spend on my book.  At the moment, I’m spending a lot of money on paying the airmail postage sending my novel out to reviewers and giveaway winners in America or across Europe.  I’ve easily spent a few hundred pounds and certainly way more than I’ll ever receive in royalties for the copies sold. 
However, I’m hoping that just through sheer persistence and long term marketing I could catch a break and sales will increase.  With my current job and lifestyle this approach is OK for me as I’m not doing this for purely financial reasons.  I want people to laugh and enjoy my book and to be entertained.  You have to spend money to make money, but I’d certainly be restricted I didn’t have my current job and the income available. Relying on book sales is simply not an option.  As for your time, I’d say a few hours a day accessing the forums, promoting your links and contacting reviewers.  My job is just sitting in front of a computer for 12 hours a day, so I get to use the internet and market my book when my boss isn’t looking.  I’m unconvinced yet about paying certain high traffic websites to post your book or tweet your link.  I did it once and saw no increase in sales or comments on the websites.  There were five or so other books the same day as mine, every day, being promoted and it was just money down the drain.   I won’t do that again.

7. Why are blogs such as Verdict good platforms for advertising?
Contacting bloggers is essential I think and being included on their blogs through a guest post, interview, review or excerpt are vital to gaining exposure and potential sales.  I’m always very grateful to bloggers for their time and effort in helping promote debut authors like myself.  Blog tours are good because it’s being featured on one blog after another, but by far the majority of blogs I’ve been featured on I didn’t have to pay anything and I’ve seen great results and gained new followers and friends.  It’s far better gaining a more personal exposure on blogs and then interacting with all their followers, who are sometimes their friends in real life, and who will be more likely to buy the book based on their friend’s recommendation or review.

8. If you published another novel, what would you do differently in regards to advertising?
I will be releasing another Super Spud novel soon and I’ll probably do the same advertising.  The key thing is I will have two books to my name now and this will all help increase exposure and more tagging on Amazon.  I’m not sure what I could do differently; I need to perhaps have a dedicated website to my book rather than a blog as it seems more professional.  I’ll be a lot more focused on which methods worked best the first time and re-doing that.

9. When you advertised your novel, what elements did you push i.e.
the synopsis, the price, the front cover and so on?
I guess I pushed the synopsis quite far.  When contacting people or posting on forums I’d always mention walking, talking crisp packets as soon as possible to raise the reader’s attention to something unique and quirky.  I’d also mention the fact that it is three books in one to make the price seem more reasonable.  Ideally I’d have liked a Super Spud on the front cover, but I’m hopeless at drawing and I’m happy with the design – simple but interesting.  Certainly the synopsis is the key thing, drawing in the reader to at least make them stop and consider your book rather than a passing glance.  A catchy cover is also essential and I guess it’s just the right balance of everything.  As an owner of a Kindle myself, I know price would probably be the ultimate factor for me regardless of how much I liked the synopsis or cover.

10. What have you learnt through your personal experience in the world
of book advertising?
It’s harder than writing a novel in the first place!  You need to be prepared mentally for spending both your money and your time and then not seeing any results sometimes.  I sold a few copies when I didn’t do much advertising one week and then I sold zero copies after I’d pushed hard.  It’s just so up and down and one big rollercoaster ride.

Writing a book and publishing it is a great achievement, but if you’re serious and passionate about it you have to devote your every spare moment to marketing.  It’s also good to have a strategy and to try to build up a following months before you release your book.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Book Review: The Super Spud Trilogy by Michael Diack

Book: The Super Spud Trilogy
Author: Michael Diack
Based on the Theme: Author Request
Published by: Pen Press
Date published: 2012
Format: E-Book
ISBN: 9781780033273
Length: 262 pages
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Humour, Comedy, Fun,

Synopsis: Genetic engineering has accomplished many things, one of which has been to create the Super Spud! The humble potato elevated to new heights, creating the most flavoursome crisps ever known to humankind! But that's not all - A magical transformation occurs to all Super Spud crisps not eaten before their use-by date. They take on a life of their own. And so long as they remain undetected by humans, they enjoy life in their own Super Spud cities, take part in major Super Spud sporting events and even start the odd Super Spud war or two. Join Colin, Cougar, Hannibal Vector, Generals Rock, Jock and Strap and all the others in their rollicking adventures. You'll never look at a packet of crisps in the same way again! Fun, quirky and totally original, Michael Diack's debut is strictly for those who are still big kids at heart.

The Review:
Plot & Pace - The Super Spud Trilogy is a fun loving, engaging series of books with a manic sense of child humour and wonder. It is not very often that I agree with the authors / editors synopsis of a book but in this case I can make an exception; it is "fun, quirky and totally original".

We are introduced to the world of the 'Super-Spud', a genetically engineered living crisp packets that is governed by three key rules:
1) Once the foil packed is sealed, it cannot be opened or punctured.
2) The Super-Spud cannot, in any shape or form, come into contact with humans.
3) Once surviving without being eaten past the 7 day sell-by-date, the Super-Spud can develop limbs.
Now instantly I thought point 3 contradicted point 1 as surely sprouting such limbs they would puncture the packet. Else how could they start moving and transport themselves from place to place?

Aside from the technicalities we are introduced to the Super-Spud way of life, from the their creation on the conveyor belt, to the landfill sites where disposed Super-Spuds live, to royal families, to wars between rival clans and so on. It's enjoyable and amusing throughout due to many elements; the personality traits of the Super-Spuds that are based on different seasoning, the parallel human to spud cultural personalities and events, the use of the setting of landfill sites due to the lack of humans, the child-like imagination and the general joy of the story. One of my favourite parts was the Super-Spud Olympics; one event was the javelin in which pencils were used. It really reminded me of The Borrowers by Mary Norton in that sense (not the writing, more so the similarities in the characters statures).

Though it is enjoyable, the plot does ware a little thin after a while. This is mainly because I think the book is too long when considering what the stories have to deliver. There are a great number of both characters and mini-adventures that the author crams into a trilogy consisting of 262 pages. Instead of 3 books, I thought this should have been a collection of mini-stories, around 20-30, which are rolled into one another. The only connection feature between the three books is that the characters are Super-Spuds and a few characters; there is no one overall plot or clear direction. It seems a bit pointless in these stories being put together in three books when they could have been separate and termed 'The Adventures of the Super-Spuds'.

Characters - As stated, there are many characters that we meet in the book due to the short life expectancy of the Super Spuds, who, on average, have a likelihood of a few hours to a couple of days in their life span. Hence, the moment we are introduced to one character, he or she soon dies. This doesn't have a huge impact in terms of following the story as each flavoured crisp packet tends to have the same personality controlled by their flavouring. For instance, salt & vinegar flavoured crisps tend to be arrogant and good with the ladies, where as stake & spinach flavours tend to be strong, brave and natural leaders. The similar characteristics of the flavourings, dare I term it as the race of the Super-Spuds, means it feels as though you are only following a handful of characters, that any new ones which are introduced have some ground of familiarity to them.

Setting - Due to the number of characters and events in the book there are a number of different settings. My favourite setting by far was the landfill. I thought this was a particularly clever and funny environment for which the Super Spuds could sprout their colonies without the watchful attention of humans and the incorporation of litter within their environment made the Super-Spuds seem even more silly and funny.

Narrative - The narrative for me was the strongest part. The comical undertone of the novel in a few instances reminded me of Douglas Adams. It had the same strange sense of irony that sometimes made you laugh out loud. To give one example, I loved the part where the Roman's were battling the Super-Spuds; when you picture it in your head, Roman Super-Spuds it seems so daft but funny. I loved General Spartacus as well.

Language Used & Dialogue - This was not a hard book to understand nor read. But it did lead me to think at what age group these books are aimed at and I drew together a conflicting view. On the one hand the stories themselves are suited to a young audience due to the child-like humour and I doubt walking and talking spuds over 262 pages would appeal to an audience of 12 years and above, more so 8 - 12 years. On the other hand there is quite a lot of violence (albeit spuds killing one another), the trilogy is quite lengthily and those in the younger of the age brackets of 8-10 may struggle with reading it themselves.

Themes & Ideas - You cannot detract points from this novel when considering this category. The concept itself is completely original and different to anything else out there at the moment.

Overall Verdict - In short, I think this is a very amusing and entertaining novel that young children would love. I'm unsure that it will sustain and hold the readers interest for the entirety of the three books. But it is definitely a collection which parents would find enjoyable and funny when reading to their kids. 3* Stars. 

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Interview: Mik Everett on the story behind Turtle

Mik Everett is a native of Wichita, KS, and lives in Longmont, CO with the love of her life and their two three-year-old children. She is a former logic instructor, model, and college student, and is opening a bookstore with her family this winter. Her novel, Turtle: The American Contribution of Franz Ferdinand, was recently reviewed by Verdict and this interview aims to delve a little deeper to find the story behind the book.

The naming of the book is unusual; how did you first develop the title and why did you decide to use it?
The name went through several working titles. I believe the first, back in 2005 or so, was Foreigner, from a since-deleted line. Then Self-Portraits of a Fictitious Character. Maybe I should have kept that one. Blame It on Franz Ferdinand was the title for about 3 years. Ultimately I had to decide on a title because I had made up my mind that I was publishing my book right then and there and I couldn't do so without a title. More important than blame, I wanted to emphasize the concept of contrition. 

One of the main metaphors or comparisons used in the book is between the narrator and main characters with that of a turtle. Why did you decide to use a turtle? I presume this was in some respect to protection, the shell on the outside and so on. 
I chose this metaphor, and use it in the title, because I knew that would be the assumption. Girls are turtles because they hide in shells. But, in the anecdote from which comes the term 'turtle-bitch,' the girl is called that because she is defying authority and conformity by playing with a turtle in the sand. That false dichotomy was important to me. 

Your references to women throughout the novel were quite derogatory; bitches, whores, witches and so on. Yet the women themselves are portrayed as though strong, victimless and in some cases quite unemotionally dependent upon anyone. What did you want the lasting impression of the women documented in the book to be?
Once again, that was done to make a false dichotomy, to lend a sense of irony. I've spent a lifetime telling people I hate women, I hate feminism, women are pathetic, etc, because only when it comes out a woman's mouth do people really realize how engrained sexism really is in our culture. I want people to see words like 'bitch' and 'whore' and think, no, that isn't right. So I use them. 

The premise of the book is the acceptance and dismissal of rape. This premise is carried throughout the whole story, with the narration and plot not really dealing with the subject in hand. This was a brave thing to do; were you concerned that not openly discussing the main context of rape would detract the readers interest from the story?
Quite the contrary. If anyone picks up that book because they want a graphic description of the physical act of rape, they've got the wrong book anyway. Besides, I did something much more graphic, I think. The mental act of trying to 'get over' a rape is so much more brutal and revolting. And, as you pointed out, if rape is so dismissed in our culture, why should we have to discuss it? You know? That's what happens in court rooms every day. We make our victims into whores, and the rape disappears. That's what happens in children's homes and in the school system, and especially in universities. We don't talk about rape. We dismiss it. There's no reason to talk about it. Why should I?

You make numerous references to drowning in the book; in particular this feeling of having to be in control. The idea of drowning seems to of had a significant impact - can you explain this in more detail and why so many references were made throughout?
Put simply, drowning is the opposite of being baptized. It's what happens when you are submerged and then things go wrong. Many characters in this book are looking for baptism; they want to be clean and absolved of their sins, or more accurately, others' sins who are tacked onto them. I'm sure you noticed the Catholic/ Puritan imagery throughout the book; it's a sort of mindset that pervades our society. We must be washed clean of our sins, right? Only, what happens if, every time you try to absolve yourself, you wind up killing yourself? This isn't a new idea. I mean, Ophelia tried it. 

For me personally when reading the book, the people in the narrative seemed very detached as though it were written in a more factual manner. As such I felt these were more fictional characters than actual real-life people. Does this reflect your feelings and attitudes towards those subjects in the book?
You can blame this one on Hemingway. Or too much of his influence. His voice is strong because he essentially learned to write as a journalist, and even as a novelist, he used the guidelines set forth by the Kansas City Star. I wanted to write this story as journalistically as possible; I didn't want to be accused of being biased or playing favorites. I wanted to let the readers develop their own emotions about the story, rather than handing them some frilly emotions on a little doily or something. 

Why did you decide to write an autobiographical novel? What was the turning point that made you want to write your story into a book?
I think I was about fourteen, and I wanted to be emancipated from my parents. I thought if I could write a novel, I could argue my case for emancipation, and then possibly have some income when the court proceedings were all done. Kill two birds with one book, ya know? I was never emancipated. I didn't finish the book till I was twenty. All sorts of things happened. I spent most of high school in a basement, writing to try to get out. No one believed me. But I kept writing it and revising it, even after I moved away. I think it was cathartic; more of a diary than a novel. Some 200,000 words were deleted to make this a novel. It just got to the point where one day I said, this book has been sucking my blood for six years. It's time I live off it for a change. 

How was the process of writing the book; was it easy to confront the past?
I wrote most of the book as it was happening, so as far as my story goes, I didn't have too much past to confront. As for the parts that happened before I was born, or when I was too young to remember, it was more like I had to catch the past than confront it. I had to do a lot of research, I had to interview a lot of people. I had to be sneaky. Stories didn't add up, and when they did, they didn't match up with county records or what was in the newspaper. That became a major theme in the story.  

What have you got out of the book since writing it? 
I've gotten, thankfully, a lot of positive reviews. It's really helped to validate me as a writer. My dad read the book and he liked it, which was big. The rest of my family doesn't know I've written a book about them. My dad said he felt like I did a good job of being accurate, which was huge to me. Writing it made me feel like I'd lost any sense of accuracy. Nothing ever seemed to match up.

What do you want the overall message of the book to be?
That's really up to the reader to decide. Not me. 

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