Sunday, February 26, 2012

REVIEW: Sleep of the Gods by James Sperl

Description: It had been six long years since Catherine Hayesly’s last vacation. In another few weeks she and her family would finally commence their dream trip of a lifetime. But then came the call. The one her high-ranking military husband, Warren, had warned might someday arrive. With a fateful string of cryptic words, and violating every security protocol, Warren informs Catherine of an impending world-altering event.

With the clock ticking and her mind reeling, Catherine finds herself suddenly thrust into a nightmare of global, apocalyptic proportions. Left to fend for herself and her three children in the wake of Warren’s information, Catherine must abandon any semblance of her former life and commit to the only thing that now matters: survival. But confronting her at every turn is the event itself and the enigmatic origins surrounding it and all that it has wrought.

My Thoughts: The world-building and ultimate big bad of this book is fantastically original. Human instincts are geared towards avoiding the dark and sticking in the light as much as possible; by turning daylight into the enemy, Sperl creates an imaginative and suspenseful dilemma for our heroes. I also loved the idea of a parasitic but sentient life form being the thing that ultimately took out humanity, the parallels to our own effect on the planet were obvious. It also gave the villains some damned chilling lines.

If I sound a bit lukewarm about the book, I have to admit that Catherine herself is my main problem. For a good two-thirds of the story, she's completely insufferable. She's okay with leaving people to certain death, but don't they dare point out they she and her daughters would have been raped to death without them! She spouts lines about tough utilitarianism (an ethos that doesn't particularly bother me, as they can save a few or they can save none in the book's scenario), but then risks the entire group so that her children won't have to witness the death of someone that they cared about, AND she smugly congratulates herself on being so good and warm in helping them. The hypocrisy became more and more grating as the book wore on. I'd still give the book a good 3.5 out of five stars for the supporting cast and for a spectacular and imaginative chase scene through a pile of stacked cars, but Catherine requires a pretty strong stomach.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Smashwords begins to censor its erotica titles.

Further details here.

Selena Kitt also weighs in here. (Following the link embedded in the first article doesn't take you to the correct page.)

I don't think that it's helpful to be pissed at Smashwords, as they are clearly unhappy with the decision. The only online vendor in my memory who has stood up to Paypal making an ultimatum like this is the Dreamwidth journaling service, which has an ideologically unique and dedicated user base that was willing to tolerate a lot of inconvenience while Dreamwidth found a new payment processor. Smashwords can't claim that; users are not going to wait weeks for a $.99 impulse title. And I'm honestly not sure what a good plan of action would even be to deal with this, except to spread the word and get an especial chill at the inclusion of BDSM titles under "rape." While rape, bestiality, and incest are all illegal and immoral in their real-world incarnations, consensual kink is not, but practitioners are still often targeted for persecution.

Anyway. I'll defend to the death your right to say it, then they came for me, I'm sure you can fill in your own cliche at this point.

Edited for my inability to walk away from ANYTHING: It has been pointed out hither, thither, and yon that this is not a First Amendment issue of free speech. This is true; a retailer does not have to carry any products, or businesses entertain any customers, that they do not wish. The First Amendment protects against government interference in free speech under most conditions*. It does not guarantee that your speech is protected from criticism or that you are guaranteed an audience. However, the fact that there is no real legal issue of free speech at work here does not mean that there is no moral one. Acts depicted in fiction, no matter how personally distasteful you might find them, do not do material harm to real world persons. I don't like tapioca pudding. (WHY WOULD YOU EAT SOMETHING THAT LOOKS AT YOU.) Without being able to come up with a rational and verifiable basis for its causing harm, though, I cannot on moral grounds object to it being sold. This is most apparent with the inclusion of BDSM in the list of banned themes. (I'm still waiting for one of the pro-Paypal people to provide a good explanation for this on moral grounds, by the way, or even to address it at all.) Incest, rape, and bestiality practiced in the real world would cause material harm to persons and animals. Though I think that it can be successfully countered, the argument can be made that the portrayal of these acts in a fictional context encourages their real-life practice. Consensual BDSM, however, is neither illegal nor immoral in its real-life context. It is simply, to some, "yucky." Yeah, that's not an impressive ethical or moral stance among grown-ups.

*Stop citing the Miller Test until you know what it means, though. Just stop.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Does it? Or at least, the way you say?

Telegraph UK: the paper book survives yet.

Gracefully, they do admit that the title of "recreational reader" is snobbish. They are correct in stating that making citations, looking for quotations, etc., is much easier in a physical book. Those of you who adapt to new technologies more easily than I will be quick to point out how easily the Kindle, Nook, and their like allows you to make notes and find quotations, but I will counter-argue that most academic writers work by spreading sources around themselves in a quasi-religious halo of productivity. Even the technology-forward and easily-accessible JSTOR articles wind up being printed out. This could, granted, be changing as tablets become more and more available (and colleges start pushing their use as incentives for attending as they do with laptops). However, I've read more classical literature over the past year than I did during the previous ten due to an e-reader, specifically because the classics are out of copyright and thus free or at least very cheap. (I will not begrudge some poor volunteers their three bucks for formatting the entirety of Shakespeare, come on.) I raise an eyebrow at the article's assertion that some literary in-jokes from the days of authors breaking the fourth wall and addressing readers directly being lost, however: give people some credit for being able to understand metaphorical language, please. Paper books aren't going to disappear from the collective consciousness for a long time yet.

What do you think?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Heads up, buttercups.

Passive Voice Blog takes on the latest Authors Guild post.

My personal favorite is the takedown of this statement:

Without it, browsing in a bookstore would become a thing of the past for much of the country, and we would largely lose the most important means for new literary voices to be discovered.

Yes, the thousands upon thousands of people finding money (maybe a little, maybe more) and fulfillment through self-publishing that they almost certainly never would have managed by going through traditional channels, they don't exist, right? I'm imagining 85% of the books on my ereader? Gotcha.

Look, Amazon has no one's best interests at heart but their own. They're an amoral entity in the truest sense of the word, and I don't for a second think that zealotry should overtake common sense in working with them. However, they've done more and for more authors than any other publishing breakthrough in the past fifteen years. Lining up with the monster book chain that actually put more independent book stores out of business than any other against Amazon and pretending it's a moral crusade is a bit silly.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

And now for an experiment.

In an effort to avoid the dreaded February/March sales slump that so many have gone through before me, I lowered the price of Super to $.99 here. I've talked about ebook pricing briefly before from the perspective of a reader, but this is my first time experimenting as an author. The price has actually been lowered for about about a week without a big enough hitch in sales to make up for the fact that I'm getting one-sixth of the money per book sold, but that brings me to my next part: I'm taking the plunge and enrolling in KDP Select. I've been reading a lot of blog posts by people both in favor of KDP Select and against it, and I think that I have enough information to cautiously give it a try. And to be quite honest, save for a handful of sales on Smashwords during the first month, every single one of my sales thus far has come from Amazon. All of them. So I've put in my opt-out request on Smashwords and will un-publish there just as soon as they notify all of their various distribution partners. In the meantime, everyone who agreed to review Super has already collected their copy, and I'm not taking it out of my archive altogether. It will still be available to anyone who has already purchased in one form or another to get an additional copy if they need it. If you prefer epub format, just shoot me a line via email (, Twitter (MariStroud), or right here on this post and I'd be happy to help. (Actually, I'm still fairly impoverished when it comes to reviews--I had a high number of acceptances when I first made the rounds, but I'm of course at the bottom of all of their TBR ples--so if you're the type who likes to talk about books while getting free stuff, I might cling to you like a baby monkey. But gently.)

So, rawr. *makes grar fingers* The next few posts will get back to business with book reviews for the Apocalypse/Dystopia Challenge, writing check-ins, and a tale of the day I finally snapped and threw out my day planner like the neurotic heroine of a rom-com. (The last being something that everyone should do at least once.)

In the meantime, check out Super for just $.99: costs less than a soda, has no high-fructose corn syrup.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

REVIEW: I Would Find a Girl Walking by Kathy Kelly and Diana Montane

Wait, it turns out that I really do remember how to do reviews! And a good thing, because this book is a stellar one.

Product Description: What made me kill and kill again?
I can't answer that except like this...

Culled from interviews with the lead investigator and the victims' families, and exclusive access to the killer, this is a revealing, shocking, and unflinching portrait of Gerald Eugene Stano, a man who fancied himself one of the greatest lady-killers of them all.

My Thoughts: Gerald Stano was a man who hated and feared women. Rather than going to therapy or just nutting up and going to live on an island alone or something, though, he raped and murdered them. With over forty known or suspected victims in an active killing period lasting less than ten years, he was one of the most prolific serial killers in US history. This book details his best-known victims one chapter at a time, choosing to focus on them in the same order that Stano revealed them to police rather than chronologically, with clarity of description and immense sympathy for the victims and disgust for Stano that still doesn't trip over the line into sensationalism. More than crime reporting, however, Kelly and Montane offer a cogent picture of rape culture and, in reproducing Stano's letters to Kelly in full at the end of the book, a chilling look at a sociopath. Stano didn't seem to realize (or if he did, he didn't care) that his infantilizing "girl" and "young lady" in reference to Kelly (who was that point a professional crime reporter and grown-ass woman) was the same language he used to refer to his victims. He doesn't actually call her a woman until he thinks he's punishing her by withdrawing his affections (after she spent over a year maintaining a professional relationship and nothing more). Too many men hold the same attitude. Luckily for all of us, vanishingly few take it as far as Stano did.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Burnout or Laziness: How Do You Tell?

Y'all, I have a confession to make. While the sales on Super are going better than I had anticipated (considering, y'know, that I my online presence is still in its infancy and I only have the one book out) and that success is fueling my enthusiasm towards editing Fire with Fire...Siren is not going nearly so well. I only broke 28,000 words today; I should be more along the lines of 40-45K by this point. At first I thought that my issues were a combination of laziness, some strife taking place in my non-computer life right now, and a little dash of Naomi just being a difficult character to write.

And then a friend gently pointed out to me that I've been stalled about two-thirds of the way through the outline for Bulletproof, Bonnie's book, for the last two weeks, and I love Bonnie. I've been doing a happy dance at the mere thought of starting her book ever since I decided to turn Super into a series. Oh. I don't get burned out that often; you might have noticed that I'm, ah, kind of a Type A personality who gets crap done rather than waiting for muses who might change their minds at any moment. However, that my no means indicates that I'm immune, so I'm taking a week's break to read, watch terrible television, and, as King so delicately put it, spend a little time drinking at the myth pool. (If there's a more poetic way to describe being a lazy so-and-so, I haven't heard it.)

So, friends, neighbors, and country-persons, what's your writing routine? How do you tell a desire to faff from an actual need to stop and recharge?