Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Thin Wall


The Thin Wall
by Cheryl Anne Gardner

(Twisted Knickers Publications / 0-982-21451-0 / 978-0-982-21451-0 / Second Edition March 2009 / 124 pages / $7.99 / Kindle $2.39)

I think Cheryl Anne Gardner would describe her short novel as an erotic literary novella, and that description is certainly applicable. Ms. Gardner likes to walk on the wild side into brief excursions deep into the psychodrama of relationships, and her fourth book is no exception. Let’s cut to the chase right now and say that I cannot help but refer to Story of O, an earlier work that became quite famous for its descriptions of sadomasochistic relationships. There are two significant differences between the subject matter of the two works, and I feel compelled to let the readers know this in advance. First of all, Story of O is far more a tale of sexual arousal in the classically prurient manner, and secondly, the S/M in that book and movie is far closer to the commonly practiced rituals.

No, I have not read Story of O (at least that I can remember), but I did go to see the movie version with an S/M couple. I am not into that stuff, however you look at it, but only a nut would call me a prude. (Have you read my third book, The Last Horizon?) One of the key issues I remember from the movie is that small whips were often employed and great care was taken to never leave marks or do any significant damage. In contrast to this, although the scenes are very briefly described, the leading lady of The Thin Wall likes to cut herself and bleed profusely. She also likes to be threatened, cut, and abused physically in a manner that would be disapproved by the characters in Story of O. The lady has multiple scars and she is proud of them. I would think that in this time of AIDS and MRSA infections, this practice would be considered incredibly stupid, and I assume that many readers will feel the same concerns. That said, The Thin Wall is not at all repulsive or disgusting in ways that you might imagine, mostly due to the author’s brevity of the descriptions of the sexual encounters.

The Thin Wall is a short story about five old college friends, two women and three men, who are still socializing together at the ripe ages of their late thirties. None of the five are gay, but they are certainly independent singles who have little interest in marriage or children. They meet in the local pub on weekends and visit each other’s apartments and other locations for long-term, yet fleeting, sexual relationships. The plot is set in London and the author is quite obsessed with all things English, including odd spellings and phrases here and there that might easily distract the average American reader. No more plotline or character development will be revealed in this review, but the storyline is as much like The Big Chill or an episode of Friends or Seinfeld as it is Story of O. The five characters interact with each other in personal, revealing ways in a show-don’t-tell, pleasing manner, and there are enough surprises to keep the reader interested until the end.

The biggest complaint I have about The Thin Wall is undoubtedly its brevity. The storyline screams for more detail and the painting of more depth into the characters. Maybe I’m just too old to get it, but I do not understand why anyone wants to write or read such a short book. To me it’s a long short story. Is the book literary and erotic without being tacky or indulgent, just as the author intended? Absolutely. Is it composed, edited, and proofread at least reasonably well? Yes, as long as you include the caveat concerning the British language style, there are few obvious errors. I have to mention one of my favorite books, Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour. At more than a thousand pages, it is the opposite of The Thin Wall in an obvious manner. The Witching Hour contains many chilling actions and events in the storyline, and the slowly creeping, in-depth descriptions of the many settings, characters and background stories effectively propel these shocks into the reader’s imagination. Although I recommend Cheryl Anne Gardner’s The Thin Wall to anyone who wants to enjoy a quick psychodrama, the same story fleshed out to four times its length with more varied settings, additional characters, and more extensive, carefully crafted descriptions would pack a much larger wallop.


See Also: The Kissing Room
The Splendor of Antiquity
Logos
Cheryl Anne Gardner's Website
Cheryl's Articles & Reviews at POD People

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Boogle


I'm not sure exactly why the guy you see pictured here calls his new POD review site The Boogle, but since this is a slow holiday weekend on the web, I thought I would throw my curmudgeon hat in the lake and be nice. Of course this being Memorial Day Weekend, my hat is the only thing I plan to launch in the lake right now. As The Fonz used to say about the Saturday night dating ritual, "It's amateur night". We went out on the lake last Wednesday, and we shall be keeping our hull dry until Tuesday! The only boating I plan to do this holdiday weekend is to work on the new 2009 edition of Ker-Splash! Mark McGinty is a newcomer to the reviewer scene, bringing lots of enthusiasm to the party. He has released only one book so far, Elvis and the Blue Moon Conspiracy on Beaver's Pond Press in 2003. Part of the reason I feel inspired to introduce Mr. McGinty and The Boogle so promptly is the subject matter of his book, which appears to be quite imaginative. You can find his submissions details in The De Facto POD Review Ring Chart. I hope this newbie knows exactly what is about to come his way. I don't want to have to post another review site obituary within weeks of its launch. Good luck in your new endeavor, Mr. McGinty, you will need it!

See Also: Mark's Authors Den Page

Saturday, May 23, 2009

PODBRAM Steps Out


This is not a review of the first book by the funniest author in the world. Don Martin unleashed Fester & Karbunkle in their first full-length feature entitled Steps Out in 1961. I like to pay homage to the master of nonsense words describing funny noises whenever I can.

The main purpose of this post is to republish the review of this website that appeared on the recently discontinued review blog, PODdy Train. Since the links to that site obviously are no longer in service, this is the only way to make this informative opinion from a person not directly associated with PODBRAM available to the readers. From now on, the links will take you back to this page at PODBRAM.

Before that review is reprinted here, I want to bring the readers up to date about some of the recent changes in the POD review industry. Not only has PODdy Train disappeared, but The PODler has ceased offering free reviews of POD books, too. You may have already noticed that there have been a few changes in the listings in The De Facto POD Review Ring Chart, as well as the links to other legitimate reviewers, both active and inactive, in the link list down the left column of this page. There are a few other reviewers whom you may have heard of, but have not found listed at PODBRAM. Maybe you have also noticed that a few of these unmentioned sites have been trouncing submitted books without reading more than a few pages. It's beginning to look a little bleak out there, folks.

The brightest new shining star, at least at this point in the era of POD book reviews, is The LL Book Review (LLBR), the site formerly known as The Lulu Book Review. Shannon Yarbrough's site has been gradually growing and improving over the past year, and a few changes have just been announced. Shannon has added additional reviewers, changed the URL and the website title, and added CreateSpace and Wordclay to his short list of accepted publishers. He has also revamped the site with an all-new, very professional, readable, and comprehensive look. He even scooped me with an interview with Mark Corker, the founder of Smashwords! I wanted to do that... if I ever got the time.

A few other established sites are still moving right along. POD People is still the pioneer of the group, the only one older (by six months) than PODBRAM. Her Odyssey is still a strong alternative site for POD reviews, the weakness being that the site reviews far less books than does PODBRAM or POD People. The Slippery Book Review Blog seems to be less and less interested in reviewing books and more involved with trying to tell other people how to review books. If you want to see just how much the whole industry except for a very few of us seems to have become lost in the Twilight Zone, read this carefully.

Without further delay, here is the review of PODBRAM written by the anonymous reviewer formerly known as PODdy Train. Thank you for the glowing words, PODdy Train, wherever you are.

PODdy Train Review of PODBRAM (4/11/09)

Another POD review site came onto the scene shortly after POD People. On July 12, 2006, a man by the name of Floyd M. Orr put a call out to iUniverse authors asking if they'd like a review. His introduction states...

Would you like an online review of your iUniverse book? The evidence suggests that tens of thousands of you would. After careful study of the POD market for about seven years, I am considering entering a new hobby, just to see where it leads me.

Floyd was smart and started by concentrating on only one self-publishing company, iUniverse, and it was a company he knew something about since he had published four books with them. Based on a search at Amazon, Floyd's books never caught on. Two of them only have one review each. But that doesn't matter. The popularity of his review site definitely makes up for it. It took a month, but Floyd's first post attracted 18 comments.

In August, his first 2 paragraph review went live. Though his introductory post spelled out quite a few of Floyd's guidelines, more specifications fell into place just two months later. And today it appears Floyd still gives books quite the white glove treatment - examining both the content of the story and the physical formatting of the book itself - but his tedious dissection of both plot and all the self-publishing faux pas didn't make authors stray away. I have always admired Floyd's blatant honesty: "I am looking for proof that iUniverse authors are capable of writing great books that deserve to be discovered and read."

Over 100 reviews later, a handful of author interviews, and countless posts about the POD Experience in general, Floyd now has eight other reviewers under him and calls himself the Editor-in-Chief-Curmudgeon. His blog has received much praise across the WWW, mainly for his detailed De Facto POD Review Ring where he outlines all of the other reviewers out there, whether or not they are open to submissions, and including a detailed list of genre codes for each review site.

Recently, Author Solutions bought iUniverse and it appears it had an affect on Floyd's review site also, but for the better. He changed the name to POD Book Reviews & More and opened his parameters to include all POD books, not just iUniverse authors, and more except for Lulu.com authors for some strange reason. Sorry, Lulu's.

His official guidelines include some tongue-in-cheek humor which I've missed from Floyd lately. It appears he truly has become the man behind the curtain while his review team pumps out quality reviews that don't oversell and aren't very biased. But that's too bad. I miss his dry wit that often shined in posts like the one outlining why he counts errors in books he reviews. Along with Floyd's "no holds barred" honesty and refusal to take place in the "slap fights," PODBRAM's consistency is a trait to be admired and other reviewers out there should take note.

The quality of book reviews, mainly those concerning POD books, has often been questioned. Reviewers have regulary been accused of overselling reads, but Floyd and I actually see eye to eye on the subject. Why bother with a bad review? Here's my thoughts exactly straight from PODBRAM...

I shall not give any book I review for PODBRAM less than three stars at Amazon or B&N. No book will ever receive a distinct star rating for its PODBRAM review, either. As many have said in this discussion, why would I choose to read a two-star book in the first place? Let me add, why would I go to all the trouble to create and edit PODBRAM just to damage, instead of help, the marketing of books I so carefully select to review? That's what the selection process is supposed to accomplish before the book is even accepted for review at PODBRAM.

And that's why you won't be disappointed with the outcome should your book be honored with a review from Floyd or the team at PODBRAM. In my eyes, he IS the leader in indie review sites on the net today, even when he was just devoting his time to iU.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Mysterious Magical Circus Family Kids


Mysterious Magical Circus Family Kids:
The Chocolate Cake Turkey Lip Crumb Trail Mystery Adventure
by R. Hawk Starkey

(Outskirts Press / 1-432-73096-7 / 978-1-432-73096-3 / December 2008 / 192 pages / Ages 9-12 / Amazon $13.95)
Reviewed by Donna Nordmark Aviles for PODBRAM

Author R. Hawk Starkey grew up in the creative and unique environment of the circus where his parents performed as acrobats. Drawing from those early life experiences, Starkey delivers an adventurous tale of magic and mystery as the Circus Family Kids and their traveling caravan head over the mountains for a show in the next town.

The Circus Kids, with names like “Goodnight Irene”, “Sweet Lips”, and “Bobby Sock”, each have special powers that audience members assume to be illusions of some sort but which are, in fact, true magic. These magical powers come in handy as their travels lead them through one unexplainable encounter after another. Following a trail of ever moving chocolate cake crumbs which seem to point the way, the kids and their family caravan are met with quicksand, dinosaurs, storybook characters come to life, loss of gravity and much more as they forge ahead toward their destination.

Starkey has a unique, familial writing style and frequently uses nonsense expressions that may prove entertaining to the 9-12 year old reader. Throughout the fifty-eight short chapters, the author interjects some of life’s important lessons through the voice of the children’s Grandfather: Be kind to those who are different from you…Consider the power of your words…Protect our oceans and forests…Turn problems into adventures, just to name a few.

The illustrations throughout the book, by artist Gary Potratz, are quite enchanting. The portrait of Grandfather is especially well done. While I enjoyed the five young characters in Mysterious Magical Circus Family Kids: The Chocolate Cake Turkey Lip Crumb Trail Mystery Adventure, as well as a few of the magical encounters, I felt that the never ending stream of obstacles was a bit much. Everything and anything that could possibly have gotten in their way, showed up. One central mystery, as opposed to a multitude of quickly solved encounters, would have made for better plot development and a fuller, more intriguing story. As written, I would say the storyline is appropriate for the 6-8 year old reader if it were slimmed down and set in a larger font. A more concise, memorable title would be beneficial as well.


See Also: The Outskirts Press Release
R. Hawk Starkey's Tutor Page
R. Hawk Starkey's Photography Page

The Loose End of the Rainbow


The Loose End of the Rainbow
by D. B. Pacini

(Singing Moon Press / 0-977-04972-8 / 978-0-977-04972-1 / March 2009 / 232 pages / Ages 9-12 / $12.95 / Amazon $10.15)
Reviewed by Dianne Salerni for PODBRAM

White Eagle and Paints-With-Words were born in the exact same minute while their tribe resided temporarily in a magical place known as The Loose End of the Rainbow. These special children were gifted with extraordinary powers and destined from birth to fulfill a prophecy. Seventeen years later, when all the adults in cultures across the world vanish in a single night, White Eagle and Paints-With-Words lead their tribe of children on a mystical odyssey to rediscover the Loose End of the Rainbow, while telepathically communicating with similar teenage leaders around the globe. The tribes of children encounter natural hardships and evilly enchanted obstacles on the way to their goal while learning lessons about man’s relationship with nature and the Earth.

D.B. Pacini’s fantasy, set in prehistoric America, strives to recapture the style and themes of many Native American legends. The Loose End of the Rainbow has received accolades from Gathering of Nations, WRITE ON, Shadagea Music, and many other sources, commending the quality of the author’s story-telling and positive themes of youth leadership for children and harmony with nature. The writing is carefully edited and often beautiful. The theme of the book is worthy of examination, and yet, overall the novel did not work for me.

One of the cardinal rules of writing is: show, don’t tell. I felt there was simply too much “telling” and “teaching” in this novel for it to engage young readers the way the author intended. There are copious footnotes explaining all references to names, plants, and animals – not to mention modern references to Martin Luther King, global warming, and more – which might have been better placed in a glossary at the end. Plot events do not drive the action inevitably forward; instead, each one is individually designed to promote a lesson from the author. Every event is explained to the reader as it happens, so that there is no suspense or mystery to the story. The author states her theme directly multiple times, rather than letting it subtly develop as the novel progresses. This might work for a children’s picture book or a fable, but not in a 200-page novel for intermediate readers who are accustomed to discovering theme and thinking for themselves.

Of course, this is only one reviewer’s opinion, and from the number of pre-publication endorsements received by this novel, other reviewers have felt differently. I would suggest that interested readers check out the links to other reviews before making their decision.


See Also: More Reviews of D. B. Pacini's Book

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Fixin' Things


Fixin’ Things:
A novel of women at Gettysburg

by Peggy Ullman Bell

(Writers Club Press / 0-595-21841-5 / 978-0-595-21841-7 / February 2002 / 278 pages / $17.95 / Kindle $3.96)
Reviewed by Dianne Salerni for PODBRAM

For three days in July of 1863, war raged in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. When it was over, thousands of men on both the Union and Confederate sides of the conflict were dead or dying, and the lives of the residents of Gettysburg were changed forever. Fixin' Things, by Peggy Ullman Bell, is a tribute to those residents, especially "all the women who sacrificed their health, their lives, and their sanity to keep the [Gettysburg National Cemetery] from being a hundred times larger."

The story centers on the Loren family and their near relations. Like many people who lived close to the Mason-Dixon Line, their loyalties were mixed. The Loren women, Kathin and her younger sister Megan, secretly operated a station on the Underground Railroad. Kathin's sister-in-law, although born in Philadelphia, thoroughly adopted the slave-owning society of Maryland, where she lives with her husband Jason Mercer. Jason, a colonel in the Confederate army, is a kind and intellectual gentleman, while Kathin's husband Edwin, a captain in the Union army, is an abusive and foul-mouthed tyrant. When war comes to Gettysburg, family relationships and loyalties are strained. The Loren farm and their townhome, rented to a female blacksmith and a schoolteacher (tacitly recognized as lovers), become field hospitals and refuges for wounded soldiers on both sides.

In this well-researched novel, readers will grasp the immensity of this historic event, and recognize at once how the small community of Gettysburg was devastated. Churches and schools were desecrated and dismantled, overflowing with blood and offal and stuffed to the seams with the dead and dying. Fields and crops were trampled; wells and streams were fouled. Larders were emptied; supplies raided. And rather than fight back or protect their possessions, most residents of Gettysburg gave all they had and more than they could afford. They baked the last of their flour into bread for the hungry men, nursed the wounded in their own homes, and ripped up their petticoats and linens for bandages. In turn, many of the desperate soldiers became attached to their resident saviors, who hid them and shielded them from enemy soldiers and, in some cases, from their own army that would have sent them back into action.

Even after the battle, the horror continued in Gettysburg. The wounded were legion; the town was bereft of supplies, and thousands of dead needed to be buried. (And, in a few weeks, orders arrived to dig them up and rebury them elsewhere.) In Fixin' Things, author Ullman-Bell explores the impact of this event on the fictional Loren sisters and their friends. Readers are transported back to an event of huge historical consequence in our country, viewed through the eyes of people who lived it personally, with all glamour and patriotism stripped away.


See Also: The Author's Website
Ms. Bell's Authors Den Page
Review of Peggy Ullman Bell's Sappho Sings

Monday, May 18, 2009

War on the Middle Class


War on the Middle Class:
How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups Are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back
by Lou Dobbs

(Viking Adult / 0-670-03792-3 / 978-0-670-03792-6 / October 2006 / 288 pages / $24.95 hardcover / $19.96 Amazon / $7.19 Kindle / $4.99 Amazon Bargain Priced Paperback)

Lou Dobbs has become quite a controversial figure over the past few years. I have been watching his shows since practically the beginning of his Moneyline program back in 1980, but I have always weighed his subjects and opinions against an opposite reality. I like to see what I would call rational Republicans present their views in an intelligent manner, and Lou has done a lot of that these past twenty-five years or so, allowing for the breaks between his various positions at CNN. Let me make it clear that I like his friend Ted Turner considerably more than I like Dobbs, and I totally agree with Ted that Lou has recently somewhat lost touch with his own persona. That said, allow me to critique his third book, which happens to be the one released at the time I was most a true fan of Lou. For a little perspective, consider that although I acquired the book soon after its release, I did not get around to reading War on the Middle Class until now, after Lou has already tossed his cookies again.

I am retired from a career in various aspects of the financial services industry, and I been reviewing all sorts of books for my blog over the past three years. I have been a prognosticator of the doom and gloom scenario for decades. Some of my favorite authors and economists are Nouriel Roubini, Paul Stiles, and Paul Krugman, so the subject matter of Lou’s third book fits squarely into my interests. The catch is that The USA Titanic has already hit the iceberg and now everybody has been talking the doom and walking the gloom. To my mind, Lou stepped off the wagon when he began is Independents Day rants and plugs for his fourth book on his daily show. He was at least on the right track with this one before the iceberg hit, but then he started to just sound like a closet Republican hawking his book.

Lou Dobbs did the citizens a favor when he began publicizing the Dubai Ports deal, the H1-B Visa scam, the comprehensive illegal immigration scam, and most of all, the Ramos and Campean debacle. These issues desperately needed someone to bring them to the public’s attention.

There is very little new information in War on the Middle Class if you had been watching Lou Dobbs Tonight regularly in 2005-6. All the usual suspects have been included for your repeated amusement: Dubai, H1-B, the Sensenbrenner bill that caused such an uproar, NAFTA, CAFTA, and Lou’s disdain for the teachers’ union. One of my minor complaints is that although the page count of the book is 276, Lou’s actual, composed text ends at page 212. The remaining sixty pages include a reprinting of The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, The Bill of Rights, and The Amendments, followed by Notes and an Index. I have no problem with this normal set of back matter in such a book. I especially prefer that all of what would have been footnotes interrupting the reader have been compiled into the Notes at the end. The reprinting of the legendary documents, though, could have been forgone. Call me uppity, but when I buy a book by Lou Dobbs, I want to read as many words composed by Lou Dobbs as possible. I’m sure I can find The Constitution reprinted online somewhere!

The point I most want to make is that Lou Dobbs has an intelligence and depth of experience that is more often than not pushed aside by his many detractors to make way for the single-minded slap-fight over illegal immigration issues. Yes, I am as mad at Lou right now as anyone, but not over his stance on illegal immigration. What part of illegal don’t you understand? Lou’s wife is Hispanic, for gosh sakes! How is illegal immigration from a single country fair to all the legal immigrants from the same or other countries? How can the left-wingers be so in favor of a policy that Wall Street loves? I am so far left that I am holding on to the left wing by my fingernails, but Lou is on the money on this issue!

Taken at face value as a 2006 release, War on the Middle Class hits the target with a bull’s eye. The disgusting part comes from having watched Lou degenerate into secret messages sent to the craziest of conservatives over the past two years. As much as I loved Lou Dobbs Tonight back in 2005-6, I generally cannot bear to watch the show in ’09 without a handy barf bag nearby. Now I’m just waiting for the old pseudo-Republican gasbag to retire so the news program can become sane again as The Kitty Pilgrim Hour.


See Also: The BNN Review

Friday, May 15, 2009

Interview with the Author


Michael R. Hicks

This Interview with the Author should also be considered an installment of The Kindle Report.

Michael R. Hicks released his first book, In Her Name, in April of last year, and his second, Publish Your Work on the Amazon Kindle: A Practical Guide seven months later. It is, of course, this second book that has inspired the timing of this interview, fitting appropriately into The Kindle Report series of articles here at PODBRAM. This self-proclaimed computer geek has a degree in Russian, and he spent one summer during his college years studying the language at Leningrad State University in the USSR. Do I have your attention now? After graduating from college and the ROTC program, he began working for the Department of Defense in Maryland, where he still resides today with his wife, two stepsons, and two large Siberian cats. Did I mention that he has been particularly successful at marketing his two POD books?


PODBRAM: Let’s begin by your giving us a little background on your life and writing. Aside from spending a summer in the USSR, you have been quite a traveler, haven’t you?

Michael: Well, I actually hadn't done much traveling until college, although I guess I can claim a suitably unique childhood! I was born in 1963 in Maryland, the only child of an elementary school math teacher (who, ironically enough, had a masters in zoology) and a pathologist and former Navy officer. We lived together with my dad's parents for most of my growing-up years, with the family raising a variety of varmints including Weimaraner dogs and Arabian horses (think Noah's ark without the ark and you'll get the picture). While I was born in Maryland, we moved out west to Arizona about six months later, and that's where I lived until I graduated from Arizona State University in '85 with a bachelor’s in Russian. I was also an Army ROTC grad, completing all four years in my first two years at school, getting my commission in '83 as a military intelligence officer in the Army Reserve. I had an opportunity to spend the next summer studying Russian at Leningrad State University in the USSR, and couldn't pass it up: that was my first time traveling outside the United States, and it was quite a trip!

When I graduated from Arizona State in '85, I got hired by the Department of Defense as an analyst looking at the Big Bad Bear, and have since then worked a variety of jobs in DoD from database project development to management (which is where, alas, I am now). Aside from my junket to the USSR back in the mid-1980s (with a side trip to Finland), I've been to Europe a number of times, visiting various spots in England, Germany (West), and France. I also had the privilege of going on a trip with my parents (who are literally globe-trotting travelers) to central Africa, visiting Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda (before the genocide there). My family comprises my wife, Jan - we've been married seven years now - and her two boys (my stepsons) Ben and Samuel. Add on a couple of feisty Siberian cats, and that makes up the home team complement!

PODBRAM: Let me guess: The Hunt for Red October, No Way Out, and Gorky Park are three of your favorite movies, right?

Michael: Oddly enough...no! I really enjoyed Hunt for Red October, and No Way Out was good, but I never even saw Gorky Park and I don't own any of these movies. I enjoy thrillers, including all the Clancy-based movies, through more recent fare such as the Bourne movies and Vantage Point. But, much as I hate to admit it, my favorite movies - those I've bought and will pop into the Blu-Ray player any time the mood strikes - tend toward what might be called fairly cheesy sci-fi sorts of things like Stargate, Independence Day, and Armageddon, just to name a few. Sure, I also enjoy more meaty fare like Master and Commander and Gladiator, along with The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Star Trek, and so on. But in terms of the movies I've watched and typically enjoy the most: cheesy sci-fi!

PODBRAM: Some people might expect from your lifestyle and career choices that you might have written in the same genre as Tom Clancy, rather than the SciFi/Fantasy one. What are your thoughts on this concept?

Michael: Based on what I've heard from readers, there are probably a few Clancy-inspired elements sprinkled throughout In Her Name (the original trilogy novel), and probably more in In Her Name: First Contact, the new novel I'm working on now. My two favorite novels by Clancy are actually Red Storm Rising - wish they would have made that into a movie, although the ending was disappointing - and Without Remorse. Despite the military aspect that seems to pop to the fore from my background, as a kid there was a lot of science fiction mixed in. My favorite TV times were Friday nights (at the obscenely late time of 10 p.m.) when one of the local stations would play a sci-fi or horror movie, and then World Beyond, a show that ran at 10 a.m. on Saturdays with all kinds of sci-fi movies. And then there was Star Trek, Space 1999, you name it, I watched it (at least back then). I loved model rockets and followed the space program pretty close back then.So in combination, my writing is probably a lot closer in theme to military science fiction than anything else, but mixes in other elements, too.

PODBRAM: What sort of educational experience do you have, and is it relevant to your writing or the subject matter you have chosen?

Michael: Aside from attending Arizona State University and my training in the Army as a military intelligence officer, I haven't spent much time on formal education. Much of what I've learned over the years has been self-taught, which probably explains why I can't be trusted with power tools! As far as my literary background, I took the minimal requirements for English; most of the literature I've studied has been Russian.So, I don't have a lot in the way of educational credentials that I can wave around to proclaim myself a literary genius. I'm just me.

PODBRAM: What about your work career? How has your choice of profession influenced your writing?

Michael: Well, that's a bit more problematic, since I can't really talk much about my work except to say that I have done - and still do - a lot of writing, although none of it's fiction (despite what my bosses might sometimes say!). A lot of technical writing, project proposals, and personnel evaluations is how I spend most of my day at work. Boo.

PODBRAM: Do you have any hobbies other than writing, publishing, and computers?

Michael: I enjoy reading a great deal (although I always wish I had more time) on my Kindle; watching movies at home and in the theater; kayaking and fishing (the fish just laugh at me, but I enjoy it anyway); and fitness in general (my wife and I are both independent Beachbody coaches). I'm also a certified geek and green guy: we've done just about everything we can to green up our lifestyle, and my wife and I plan on building an earthship after we retire so we can go completely off the grid. After seeing the electric bills go up in the last few years, I can't wait!

PODBRAM: How long have you been writing? Has In Her Name been planned for a long time? Did you expect that your second book would be a Kindle how-to?

Michael: I began In Her Name around 1991, and completed the rough draft in 1994. I shopped it around to several publishers, but didn't get any nibbles. There were some tumultuous things going on in my life at that time, and I shelved the project. It sat under my desk gathering dust until early 2008, when I discovered Amazon's Digital Text Platform publishing process for the Kindle. I figured, "Hey, why not?" and set about getting the book ready for publication, publishing the first iteration in April 2008, following that up with a print version through Lightning Source, Inc. Then, after spending a lot of time on the DTP forums, both learning and helping others, I wrote and published Publish Your Book On The Amazon Kindle: A Practical Guide to help folks get their books onto the Kindle platform. Did I expect my second published book would be a Kindle how-to guide? Not on your life! But I knew that a lot of other folks were having the same troubles as I had gone through, and if I could help them through the process, so much the better. Unlike me, very few authors have a lot of experience with techno-junk like programming, HTML, and computers in general: they want to write, not deal with a bunch of technical agony getting their books published.

PODBRAM: Your genre of choice is obviously science fiction. Who or what were your earliest inspirations in this direction?

Michael: That's a tough one: there were so many! But I think the biggies are clearly Robert Heinlein, Larry Niven, and Jerry Pournelle. If I had to pick two of the most critical works, it would be Starship Troopers by Heinlein and The Mote In God's Eye, by Niven and Pournelle. Starship Troopers was a landmark not so much for the sci-fi aspects, but the sociological commentary Heinlein embedded in it. (Note: this wasn't just glossed over in the movie with the same name, but totally twisted around, in my opinion.) And The Mote In God's Eye is my most-read book, by far. It's some of the best and most imaginative hard sci-fi ever (just my opinion).

PODBRAM: Were you more influenced by books or movies in the science fiction genre?

Michael: I'd have to say books, by a long shot. The sad fact is that there are tons of good sci-fi books out there, but there are pathetically few really good sci-fi movies by comparison. There are some, yes, but the ratio is pretty darn low. While I enjoy the visuals of the movies (the ones that don't stink), good books really work your mind a lot more without letting you know that it's doing any more "work." That's actually one of the things that's a key part of the hero of In Her Name when he was a boy (but no spoilers!).

PODBRAM: What do you think your sci-fi work offers to readers that others do not?

Michael: Based on what readers have said, I think the main thing my work offers, least with the In Her Name series, that's unique is what I guess I'll call a "multi-genre" appeal. Yes, it's got science fiction elements, but it also mixes in things you'd normally see in high fantasy (without using "magic"), some elements that would be at home in a political thriller, and just to round things out, a thread of romance. So it's gotten a lot of positive feedback from sci-fi and fantasy readers, but quite a few folks who don't normally read those sorts of books have really enjoyed it, as well. That's not necessarily going to be the case with all my books (I have some ideas for historical romances, among other things), but it is for the In Her Name series.

PODBRAM: I see that the michaelrhicks.com name has already been claimed by a noted piano composer. Is that why you chose kreelanwarrior.com as your website? Have you experienced any miscommunication issues with your online fans due to the same name?

Michael: Well, funny you should mention that. The short answer is no, I haven't had any connection problems with readers because of that, at least that I've heard about. But here's an interesting anecdote on "my" name: a few years ago I got an email from a guy named Michael Hicks. He sent it to a bunch of other folks, all named Michael Hicks, asking if we wanted to form a "Michael Hicks club”. I think he really needed a hobby! And no, I didn't sign up for the club...

PODBRAM: Your website is named Kreelan Warrior. Could you explain the origins of this title and URL to our readers?

Michael: KreelanWarrior.com is taken from In Her Name. The antagonists in the story are from the Kreelan Empire, an ancient warrior race that's been fighting, and slowly wiping out, the human Confederation. So Kreelan warrior seemed a logical name for the site. Not necessarily the best marketing strategy in the world, perhaps, but there it is!

PODBRAM: My wife and I are the parents of eleven kitties and I have a section on my site called Cat of the Day. I see on your website that you have a page called Funny Cat Videos. Everyone should go look at your videos because they are a hoot! Would you like to tell us about your cats?

Michael: My wife grew up with cats, I grew up with dogs (remember the menagerie?), so I didn't have a natural inclination toward cats. We would have loved to have pets, cats or dogs, but my wife's older son Samuel was very allergic to both. So we reconciled ourselves to never owning pets (since neither of us like reptiles!). But it turns out that Siberian cats are quasi-hypoallergenic, having far less of the protein in their saliva that causes the allergies. After visiting some folks nearby who owned some Siberians, it was clear that it might just work: Samuel had no reaction whatsoever. So, we went to a local breeder and picked out a pair of kittens, Sasha and Nina, brought them home, and the rest is history. They're great fun and very affectionate pets (well, technically we're the pets, since cats are the dominant life form on the planet!), and Samuel hasn't had a bit of trouble with his allergies because of them.

PODBRAM: Did you submit one or more manuscripts to traditional publishers in the beginning, before deciding to join the ranks of self-publishers?

Michael: I submitted In Her Name to several publishers back around 1994, but unsurprisingly, got nothing but rejection letters. Now, to be perfectly honest, I didn't try as hard as I could have, largely because there were a lot of distractions that came up at that point in my life. But there was a lot of frustration in getting the book published, regardless. So I shelved my publishing aspirations for about a dozen years until the Kindle came out and opened up some interesting self-publishing opportunities.

PODBRAM: Have you expended much effort seeking out an agent, and have you had much success in that regard?

Michael: To be honest, no. Part of that is because I'm a hardheaded do-it-yourselfer (although I wouldn't turn down a decent publishing contract!), but part of it is also a question of margins and value added. The publisher is already going to take the lion's share of any profits, and if you add an agent on top of that, there goes more of your birthday cake. As for value added, while I know that some agents add tremendous value, I also know that there are tons of authors who have retained agents and their books still haven't gotten published, even after a few years. Getting published is a lottery, with about the same odds, and finding the "right" agent is part of the lottery process.

PODBRAM: Did you expect to get as involved with electronic books as you have, or did you set out to become a POD author?

Michael: I had no idea what "POD" meant when I first started getting In Her Name ready for publication for the Kindle and, shortly thereafter, Mobipocket. My goal was simply to get In Her Name published, because that was one of the things that I wanted to say that I'd done in my lifetime, that I published a book. It didn't matter to me then if it sold a single copy: it was still technically "published”. The fact that people started buying it, and that they really liked it (it's currently got a five-star rating on Amazon and has gotten very positive independent reviews) came as a pleasant surprise. While I can certainly use the income from sales, I still regard every penny I get from the novel as a gift, because it almost didn't happen at all.

PODBRAM: Have you attended any writers’ classes or workshops? Have you taught any?

Michael: Nope. I probably should attend some, because I know there are some things that I really need to do better, but I don't really have the time right now. Also, while such things can certainly be extremely valuable to improve your writing skills, I think some folks fall into the trap of letting what they learn there dictate their writing. What I mean is, the techniques and skills are the tools you use to tell the story. But the story really has to be within you. On top of that, you have to do what I didn't for so many years after I wrote In Her Name: you've got to write. As the owner of a bike shop I frequented when I was in college used to say, if you wanted to become better and faster at cycling, "Ride lots!" That applies to anything you want to get better at: you've got to do it, and do it a lot.

The other thing I'd say is that if you are going to use these sorts of skill improvement opportunities, follow through and have someone critically evaluate your work. Every time somebody points out something that you're doing wrong is a chance for you to improve. People get too wrapped up in their egos and get offended if someone suggests improvements or points out weaknesses. I say bring it on: I can't improve otherwise!And no, I've never taught such a thing. The results could be too terrible to contemplate!

PODBRAM: Have you attended any book festivals or live events other than standard book signings to promote your books?

Michael: I actually haven't done any of those, at least not yet. I've totally focused my promotional efforts on web-based opportunities, looking for review sites like PODBRAM to help get the word around, as well as forums and social networking sites like Facebook and Goodreads. I'm an introvert (despite what my friends may say), and doing in-person things is hard for me. And with a full-time job to pay the bills and the other things we do as a family, time is always at a premium.

PODBRAM: I have noticed that you are not listed at Authors Den. Do you think that author networking sites such as this are not effective marketing tools, or do you just not have time for them?

Michael: It's partly a factor of time, to be sure. I probably spend most of my on-line time on Facebook, although I dabble on other sites like Goodreads, as well (and since you mentioned it, I'll have to take a closer look at Authors Den). I think networking with other authors is a great thing in and of itself, but I don't really consider that as book promotion; it's more like professional development and networking. While authors are also readers, I value my relationships with them for the professional and inspirational support we can provide each other, not as a significant potential market for my books. For real promotion, spending quality time at reader venues like KindleBoards.com has been very beneficial. The only thing you have to keep in mind is that you have to become a member of the community first, and not flog people with the fact that you're an author trying to peddle books.

PODBRAM: Have you tried promoting your books through the social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, or Twitter? If so, how well did that plan work for you?

Michael: As I mentioned, I spend a fair amount of time with Facebook, under the suitably dashing user ID of Michael R. Hicks, and dabble a bit with Twitter as KreelanWarrior. I haven't set up anything on MySpace simply because I don't have time. My wife and I have talked about these things a bit with regard to one of our other business endeavors, and we decided that it made the most sense for her to concentrate on Twitter, where she has been picking up a following fairly quickly, while I'd concentrate on Facebook, where I've got a decent-sized set of friends and contacts. Now, I'll say that I'm not an expert at promotion by any stretch; I can certainly attribute some sales to networking on those sites, but it's impossible to tell how much.

PODBRAM: Some readers might be a little confused by your Omnibus Edition of your first novel, In Her Name. It looks like you are splitting what was one book into three or offering three volumes as one Kindle edition. Could you clarify this for us?

Michael: Most authors publish individual novels that are part of a series, and then later they may bundle a few of them together into a single "omnibus" volume. Unfortunately, I did exactly the opposite: I published the omnibus first, which contains the trilogy that is now being released separately as In Her Name: Empire, Confederation, and Final Battle. So, the good news is that if you buy the omnibus edition, you'll get all three novels for a much lower price (although be prepared: if you get the print version, it's a two pound tome!). The other good news is that if you don't want to pay the price of the omnibus just to see if you really like the story, or want a book that's just easier to hold while you read, then you can grab Empire, which is the first book of the original trilogy and is a lot cheaper, and scope it out. Then get the other books if you enjoy it. Does that make sense?

PODBRAM: Have you created any or all of your own cover designs? From what I have already seen elsewhere, you have devoted a lot of talent and energy into the development of multiple cover designs for your books. Would you tell us about these?

Michael: A good cover is essential. It doesn't matter if you have the best story in the world: if your cover looks terrible, people are going to pass it by. I know just enough about Photoshop to be dangerous (although fortunately my wife knows a lot more), and it took me a while to get the sort of look I wanted with the original cover for In Her Name (omnibus). Since I'm on a nonexistent publishing budget and couldn't afford a pro to do the design work, I had to use stock royalty free images and play with them in Photoshop. But that's okay, because there's a surprising amount of really good images and artwork out there that you can have for a song. Oddly enough, a lot of folks who have read the IHN omnibus didn't want me to change the "blue chick" on the cover to be more in line with the new covers I designed , with the help of some friends on KindleBoards, for Empire, Confederation, Final Battle, and First Contact. I also did the cover art for Publish Your Book on the Amazon Kindle: A Practical Guide.

PODBRAM: Have you ever considered starting your own small publishing house, as so many other POD and self-published authors have done?

Michael: I'd love to, but as with many things, it's time, always time. It's been hard for me just to balance writing new material with trying to promote what I've already got out on the street. I've spent virtually no time promoting the publishing how-to book except for the time I spend on the Amazon DTP forums helping folks. I'd love to publish works by other authors, but that's just not in the cards, at least until I retire in another ten years. Unless I get a major break from my writing, I'm holding out for a movie contract with Peter Jackson as director!).

PODBRAM: You published your first book using your own imprint, but you released Publish Your Book on the Amazon Kindle: A Practical Guide with CreateSpace. What would you like to tell us about your publishing experiences?

Michael: Beyond the hoopla last year over the whole business with Amazon trying to mandate that POD publishers go through their companies like BookSurge and CreateSpace, I have to say that CreateSpace has been pretty easy to work with. I've also worked with Lightning Source, Inc. (LSI), which prints the In Her Name omnibus. My recommendation for authors going the do-it-yourself route is to start with CreateSpace, because the cost of entry there is very low (a total of about $50 with everything wrapped together), and if you have to do any modifications you only get dinged the cost of a proof copy. LSI has wider distribution options, but higher cost: about $200 to get started, plus comparatively hefty fees of at least $40 each to modify the cover or text of your book. The print quality is roughly the same, and the CreateSpace route also automatically gets your book into the Search Inside The Book program, which is a nifty marketing feature on Amazon. Like many other things, there are pros and cons of the different paths you can take, and you just have to do some research and figure out how to match those up with your own strengths and weaknesses.

PODBRAM: How satisfying has your experience with CreateSpace been? I realize that your how-to book applies to readers who are already customers of Amazon, but do you have any regrets about forfeiting Ingram distribution with this book?

Michael: As I tell people, it's not really an either/or situation. You can publish your book using CreateSpace, and then if you decide you want Ingram distribution, you can publish it through a company like LSI. The only catch is that you can't use an ISBN assigned by CreateSpace, as ISBNs are unique to the publisher. You'd have to buy your own from Bowker, which is $125 for a single ISBN. Personally, I think that's a real racket, but that's the way it is.

But this brings up a good point: a lot of indie authors get hung up on the Ingram distribution issue, because Ingram is the primary distributor for brick and mortar bookstores. My view is this: if you don't have a full-fledged marketing campaign that can convince bookstore chains or independent owners to carry your book, which is very rare in the indie author world, from what I've seen, the only time it will appear in a regular bookstore is if somebody special orders it. And they can do that easily enough with books published through CreateSpace: the bookstore just searches the Books In Print database, and will find your title and ordering information there. Bookstores simply aren't normally going to pick up titles printed by CreateSpace or Lulu or any of the author-services POD publishers. Why? Because they're all self-published books, and aren't put out by the "big" publishers. So the bookstores ignore them when looking for books to fill their shelves.

PODBRAM: You have posted how-to articles on your site explaining how authors can set up accounts with Lightning Source. What have you discovered that you feel would be helpful to authors attempting to enter this new field of endeavor?

Michael: As I mentioned, I strongly recommend going with either CreateSpace or Lulu first, unless you have a really compelling reason to go with LSI. This is partly based on cost of entry, but also because any changes you make to your book gets expensive with LSI (a minimum of $40 a pop). Also, CreateSpace has a very nice administration panel that's easy to use and gives you near-instant feedback on sales. LSI's admin area isn't quite so clean for the small publisher or independent author.Also, while I don't claim that my experience is typical, I've made far more sales from the Kindle store and Mobipocket than I have from print. So the moral of the story here is to make sure you get your book published in those venues, too!

PODBRAM: I realize that you may be so proficient at the technical formatting issues that you haven’t seriously considered publishing with the traditional POD imprints such as iUniverse, but how would you compare the more self-service plans at Lulu and CreateSpace?

Michael: I did a lot of research into the traditional PODs when I was getting In Her Name ready for print publication. The bottom line for me is that the math for traditional PODs just doesn't work. You, the author, are going to pay somebody a pile of money to take your manuscript, which is most likely in a Microsoft Word file, do a little formatting magic, and then send it to a printer (most of them actually use LSI!). And guess what? You, that would be the author, are going to have to sell a TON of books just to recoup your costs. On top of that, the price point for books published by traditional PODs are outrageous compared to what you can get with either CreateSpace or LSI. I was looking at a plan with one POD publisher, checking out one of their cheaper plans, and figured that I'd have to sell over three hundred copies of my book at a price of $24.95 for my royalties to cover the initial up-front cost charged by the POD, and some people pay thousands of dollars to do this! Bah.

In a way, Lulu is almost as bad, but in a different way: they don't charge the money up front, but they tack it onto the back end. I priced In Her Name (omnibus) at Lulu, and the minimum retail price for me to make any profit at all would have been nearly thirty dollars. My mom wouldn't even buy a copy of my book for that much money, let alone somebody I don't even know who's never heard of me. Come on!

With Lightning Source, I could bring that as low as $15.95 by playing with the retailer margins (the cut the retailer gets as a percentage of the retail price), which for a book almost seven hundred pages long isn't bad. CreateSpace's pricing options aren't as flexible, and I think the lowest I could reasonably get there was $21.95, but even that's not totally out of the ballpark, especially after Amazon discounts it. And, in fact, I decided to price it at $21.95, anyway. After all, you're really getting three novels for the price of one. The individual novels like Empire are listed at $10.95 (minus whatever discount Amazon slaps on), so they're a lot cheaper individually, but it would be cheaper to buy the omnibus. It's just all in how you want to go.

PODBRAM: What is the most significant thing you have learned as a combination POD and Kindle author? Do you think that Kindle is the wave of the future? Do you think the future of the self-published POD industry is bright or bleak?

Michael: It's not fair to judge by my example, probably, but I've had far more Kindle sales than anything else. Mobipocket sales rank a fairly distant second, and print sales a very distant third. I suspect that's more a factor of where my marketing focus has been than anything else, but I believe that e-book sales, Kindle and otherwise, are going to grow exponentially in the coming years. I think there is always going to be a print market - it's one of those "use the right tool for the job" things - but tons of people are taking the plunge with the Kindle and other e-book readers. In our case, my wife and I each own a Kindle and we haven't bought a single "dead tree book" since we got our little beige wonders, except for a handful of "how-to" books that were only available in print. So I'll continue to make available every book I write in print form, but as things stand most of my sales are clearly coming from the Kindle store.

PODBRAM: What has been your single most successful marketing tool or tactic?

Michael: Getting involved in forums where eager readers abound and not making a pest of myself there has been my best investment. That's been a very valuable experience, and a very rewarding one, not just in terms of sales, but in terms of meeting some really cool people and gaining a small following. Authors should understand that they don't have to "market" their books in forums or other sites like Goodreads, as one example. Those places are filled with people who love to read, and just mentioning that you're an author in the "tell us about yourself" area and adding a signature block about your book is going to get you noticed. Just talk to people and get involved, and you'll get noticed.

PODBRAM: What has been your least successful marketing method? What do you think most POD authors try that is rarely successful?

Michael: My least favorite method is any type of paid advertising. This isn't specific to book promotion, but is something I learned in a previous business endeavor my wife and I embarked upon a few years ago that, alas, failed. It was a great learning experience, and one of the things I learned is that paid advertising, unless you have serious money and can get major exposure, is rarely worth the investment. It goes right along with all the seminars and whatnot on network marketing and other "how to make money" money-makers. They make money, all right, for the people who put them on (just my opinion!).

PODBRAM: How important is it that an unknown author’s e-books be priced low (under $6) or very low (less than $2 or free)?

Michael: This is a perennial question on the various publisher forums. I think the right answer is the one that any business has to find for a given product. What price point will bring the most total revenue, assuming revenue is your goal? Some authors don't care about the money angle. The sages seem to say that if you price a book too high, nobody will buy it; price it too low, and nobody will buy it. Price it somewhere in the middle, and somebody will probably buy it at least once. In Her Name (omnibus) is an interesting example. I've played around with pricing quite a bit, ranging from about $5.99 up to $8.99, and it generally sells better when it's priced higher! At the other end of the spectrum, you've got authors like Boyd Morrison whose novel The Ark, which is a great read, by the way, if you enjoy techno-thrillers, is priced at $1.99 in the Kindle store (discounted to $1.59) and has been selling like hotcakes (way more than my books!). Oddly enough, he also offers his novels for free on his web site! So he's got a very different approach that seems to be working extremely well for him, although he's been in the game at least a year longer than I have. Should I give away my books for free? I honestly don't know. There's part of me that says, "Hey, if it would help long-term sales, why not?" Then there's another part of me that says, "Yeah, but I did spend a heck of a lot of work on this, isn't it worth at least something?"So, that one's a tough call for me that I still waffle back and forth on.

PODBRAM: What is the most common technical mistake that authors make when trying to format their books for the Kindle?

Michael: This isn't a mistake, but a lack of knowledge: not knowing basic HTML. It's a pain, but just getting a basic HTML primer and going through it would help people enormously. Past that, I don't know what the most common formatting mistake might be, because people have trouble with lots of different things, but almost all the issues boil down to something that even a basic knowledge of HTML could help solve.

PODBRAM: Havee you uploaded your books at Smashwords or Mobipocket? What helpful hints can you tell us about using these alternate formats?

Michael: Mobipocket is fairly easy using their Creator software, and this is actually one of the things I lead folks through with my Kindle publishing how-to book. I've heard of Smashwords, but haven't put any of my books there yet (not for any particularly good reason, I just haven't gotten around to it).

PODBRAM: Are there similar sites other than these two that you would like to discuss with us?

Michael: Between the Kindle store and Mobipocket, which also distributes to not only the Kindle store (Mobipocket is owned by Amazon), but a bunch of other on-line retailers, you've got the biggest e-book sellers wrapped up. There are lots of others out there, but these are the biggies.

PODBRAM: What is your opinion of the Sony e-Reader system?

Michael: I've heard nothing but positive comments about the device, but to me it has a big disadvantage: it's not plugged into Amazon. I know some people think Amazon is an Evil Empire, but I look at its market share and massive leveraging as an opportunity, both as a reader and as an author/publisher.

PODBRAM: What has been your best sales outlet for your books? Do you think the e-book formats and sites other than Kindle are worth the effort?

Michael: Again, Kindle sales have been my "bread and butter", followed by Mobipocket. The trick is that you can put your book out there in a million places, but you've got to put a promotion campaign in place to let lots of folks know it's out there and is worth their time to check out. I've spent a lot of time with Kindle users, so that's where my sales happen to be strongest. But for other authors who have a different promotional angle, things are likely to be very different.

PODBRAM: Do you think the Kindle 2’s audio capability is good or bad for the future of the publishing industry and authors in general? Do think the company will continue to develop this capability or do you think the recent dustup will stifle its development?

Michael: I think the hoopla over the text to speech feature was a bunch of hogwash. Publishers are selling a textual copy of the book in electronic form. People are buying said textual copy. Whether buyers read it with their eyeballs or have a computer chip synthesize the text into speech, what difference does it make? I personally think it's a great feature, although I haven't experienced it myself (we still have Kindle 1's). But I personally think this should be refined in future Kindle firmware and hardware releases.

PODBRAM: Who are some of your favorite authors and books? What genres do you like to read?

Michael: That could be a long list! But a few of my favorites, aside from the ones I've mentioned already, would have to include the Genellan series by Scott G. Gier (wonderful stuff!), Fred Saberhagen's Berserker stories, the Bolo stories started by Keith Laumer, the Posleen War books by John Ringo, and just about anything by David Drake, David Weber, or Steve White. I also enjoy some of the horror/thriller offerings, particularly by Stephen King (hard to choose a favorite!), Robert McCammon (Stinger), and Dean Koontz (Phantoms), not to mention the classics of H.P. Lovecraft. Techno-thrillers are also on the menu, particularly by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (I still think their first, Relic, was their best), and I also have to say that The Ark by self-published author Boyd Morrison (whom I mentioned earlier) is also pretty darn good.

PODBRAM: What have you been reading lately?

Michael: The Ark is what I'm reading right now, with great satisfaction. I just finished reading Duma Key by Stephen King, and a few other odds and ends.

PODBRAM: I read that you enjoyed Robert McCammon’s The Wolf’s Hour. I thought that was one of the best werewolf books I have read. Have you enjoyed any other noted horror writers, such as Anne Rice, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, or George R. R. Martin?

Michael: Oh, yeah! As I mentioned earlier, I've read quite a bit of King and Koontz, and The Wolf's Hour is a fantastic book! I just wish it was available for the Kindle. I'd buy it and read it again in a heartbeat. I read some of Anne Rice's earlier work, like The Vampire Lestat, but she sort of lost me after Queen of the Damned. And I have to confess that I actually haven't read anything by George R.R. Martin, at least not yet. But it's interesting that one of the reviewers who looked at In Her Name thought that readers who enjoyed Martin's work would enjoy mine, so I took that as a compliment!

PODBRAM: Do you have any further books in the pipeline?

Michael: Yes, indeed! My current project is a prequel set in the In Her Name universe called In Her Name: First Contact, that tells the story of, as the title implies, how humanity meets up with the Kreelan Empire. I'm about a third of the way through the rough draft, and hope to have the draft completed by mid-summer this year for release in the early fall. After that, I have a few more book ideas lined up in that series, plus a couple of other totally unrelated fiction stories I'd like to explore. So many books to write, so little time!

PODBRAM: What’s next for Michael R. Hicks?

Michael: That's always a tough question to answer, since it always seems to be a combination of what we want to do mixed in with what life throws our way (good or bad). But my plan for the next year or so is to get the other two books of the original trilogy, Confederation and Final Battle, out on the street and, as I mentioned above, get First Contact finished and out the door, then get them all circulated around for reviews. On a purely personal level, my wife and I have a goal of running a half marathon in November, and continuing to improve our fitness and health. I'm doing P90X right now, if you've seen the infomercials, and it's tough! My long-term goal is to hopefully make enough income from writing and/or my other business pursuits to be able to retire early from the government, but we'll see how that goes. But most importantly, I just plan on enjoying life as much as possible.

PODBRAM: Do you have any final remarks to address to your readers or our audience?

Michael: To my readers, I'd like to say a big "Thank you!" for taking a chance on an unknown author, especially in these economic times when so many people are having a rough go of things financially. The comments and feedback I've received have been really heartwarming and encouraging, and were what really got me back into writing after letting it go for so many years; I'd forgotten just how much fun it can be.

To the audience here at PODBRAM, supporting independent authors is one of the best things you can do for yourselves as readers. As I'm sure some of you have discovered already, there is some amazing talent out there in the self-published world, and your patronage can help shift the business paradigm of publishing to get more of that talent into the hands of more readers who can enjoy it. Like everything else, money talks, and every time you buy a book published by an independent author or publisher, you're voting with your wallet. And make sure to tell your friends and family about the good books you've read, and blog about them, too. Indie authors depend heavily on word of mouth for promotion, so if you enjoyed an "indie book", pass it on!Other than that, thanks very much, PODBRAM, for giving me the opportunity to be your guest and taking the time to put this interview together!

See Also: Michael's Website
The PODBRAM Review of In Her Name