Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Missing Peace of a Heritage Puzzle

The Missing Peace of a Heritage Puzzle:  
A Memoir Uniquely Set in a Vanished Sudetenland  
by Frank Koerner
(iUniverse / 0-595-33344-3 / March 2005 / 196 pages / $16.95)
I was very pleasantly surprised to find another iU book that shares certain rare qualities with my first book, Plastic Ozone Daydream. Both books are compilations of previously published articles and both have a number of b&w photos scattered throughout the text! These are the only two iUniverse books I have seen that include photos.

Missing Peace
cannot be discussed without mentioning Schindler's List, since it is the work most familiar to readers seeking knowledge of a similar subject. Although everyone knows about The Holocaust, few are aware that over three million ethnic Germans were thrown out of their homeland when the nation of Czechoslovakia was formed after World War II. These displaced people once lived in the area then called Moravia. Most were deported to Germany and other areas. The author's parents left Moravia for a new life in the U.S. Frank Koerner and his two older sisters grew up in New Jersey in the '40's and '50's with all the attendant influences of American life. Mr. Koerner's first language is English. He also speaks German and a very little Czech. He long ago envisioned himself as a future pro baseball player, but as he matured, he became increasingly fascinated with the tragic history of his parents in the Moravia they so grudgingly left behind. They had had no choice except to see their homeland disappear. Frank takes the few ancient b&w photos he owns of his parents and their lives in the old country, and goes with his wife to Sudetenland, another name for the area in which his parents lived, to discover as many details of his family history as he can in a short vacation period.

Although not particularly large, this is a very complete book. Frank Koerner's story is told in the form of articles previously published in the U.S., Canada, and Germany. Many reproductions of his original family photographs are included, as well as additional photos Frank took on his vacation to Sudetenland/Moravia/Czechoslovakia. Although the core of the story represents a bleak and depressing issue, Mr. Koerner tells the tale in a delightfully personal and pleasant manner. His eccentric use of humor and the English language keeps the subject matter of his 1992 European vacation bouncing along. Missing Peace is part autobiography, part history, and part genealogy, and all three components blend smoothly together. The seventeen separate sources in which the stories were originally published are listed in the back, along with a bibliography. The cover is nicely designed, and the aptly credited painting on the cover is significant to the story line. The author's research and dedication to his subject come shining through!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Portraits in the Dark

Portraits in the Dark  
by Nancy O. Greene  
(iUniverse / 0-595-39280-6 / August 2006 / 96 pages / $9.95)

Nancy O. Greene has released her first book, a collection of short stories mining the vein opened by Richard Matheson, Dean Koontz, and Stephen King. The cover has a classy design and the price won't break the bank, although the page count is skimpy, even at this price. Ms. Greene has assembled nine stories ranging in length from two to seventeen pages. Fortunately, the better stories are the longer ones. My favorites are A Guy Named Pierce and The Affair. Although The Descent of Man and Down the Rabbit Whole are the most original of the nine stories, I was somewhat left in a fog by the author's intent with these two; i.e., I am not sure that I got the point.

The author used a few big words that sent me to my dictionary, but she also used a few common words incorrectly, leaving me uncertain as to the real quality of Portraits in the Dark. A few of the characters displayed thoughts racing through their minds concerning crimes they may or may not have perpetrated, but they could have done so in sentences of normal length and structure. Even a long-distance swimmer could never take one breath deeply enough to read one of these marathons of racing rumination. Most of the technical discrepancies are displayed in the early parts of the book, so if you are tripping over one of these, take heart that the bumpy ride smooths out in the latter half of the journey. Perhaps the author has been just a bit too naive about story development and editing....

Portraits in the Dark is just the kind of book I liked to read back during my under-thirty years, when I was a little naive myself. I liked any sort of story of dark humor with a twist at the end. I have seen every episode of The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Night Stalker. I still have a paperback copy of Matheson's The Shrinking Man that cost fifty cents in 1962, and I have read numerous Hitchcock collections. Ms. Greene is seeking the high ground these classics inhabit. She just hasn't yet made it past the quicksand pit. If you are a fan of this genre, you will enjoy this book for the originality of some of the ideas. Maybe you are still young enough to get the point of each and every story.

Monday, October 16, 2006

More Info About Tabitha & This Blog

Tabitha was born in October of 1990. She is a Balinese, which means she has the coloration of a Himalayan and the musculature of a Siamese. In other words, she is slender with long fur....

That's enough about Tabitha. Let me tell you a few pertinent things about myself. The original version of my third book was written in 1966-74. I totally rewrote it in 2002 after I had gained a lot of experience with my first two books. Most of the content of my first book was published in a local newsletter as short articles and stories in 1985-95. I spent an enormous amount of time re-editing and organizing this material into Plastic Ozone Daydream. I am retired and I spend 4-12 hours a day at my computer. I am not writing. I am researching. I have spent more time than you would ever believe trying to learn about POD publishing and marketing. Without looking it up, I cannot remember how much I have spent on the marketing of my four books, but I can swear in court that it has been a lot more than you would ever believe. It would be the understatement of the century to say that I have learned a lot about the POD market.

The most important thing I have learned is that the #1 element that sells an iUniverse book is a title and subject matter with which a certain segment of the reading population is obsessed. People do not buy iU books because the writer is a genius or the material is the most carefully crafted in the world. They buy them because the title and genre indicate a subject that they want to read. The second element is subject matter that the reader cannot readily find anywhere else. Other than many nonfiction releases, the biggest sellers at iU in this category are male gay fiction. Look it up. The third issue, quite unfortunately, concerns what I call the slap-fighters. These are the same type of people as those who are feeding the social and political civil war the US has been engaged in throughout this millennium. On one side we have the innocent, naive iU authors who think their books should sell easily with very little effort. On the other side, we have a pack of smarmy fatheads who simply live to insult and crush the first group. All the second group can say is how the first group is incapable of writing or editing, and therefore, they deserve all the derision they get. The fatheads' mantra is all about typos in the text and fonts chosen for the covers.

Have you noticed the disproportionate number of reviews of POD books at Amazon that are either five-star or one-star? How many of the five-star reviews are by the authors themselves or their friends? How many are by people who have not actually read the book cover-to-cover? How many are copied and pasted from paid review sites? If you want to see how out of control the reviews at Amazon can get, look up Solomon Tulbure's books. The bottom line is that when I see an Amazon review pattern of a large number of five-star and one-star reviews, with very few ratings between the extremes, I cannot help but think the one-star reviews must be saying at least one thing that is correct about the books, even though we know at least a few of these are simply posted by slap-fighters. Remember, I have been studying these patterns since 1999. I know that many of the Amazon reviews for iU books are not really legitimate in one way or another. I feel that by providing a little constructive criticism in my reviews, I provide credibility to my blog site, which of course, it desperately needs if I am to really provide any useful aid to the iU authors I am trying to help.

I cannot tell you how much I despise the slap-fighters. I feel the same way about our politicians. Instead of trying to do something honorable, they just want to stand there and slap each other in the face with insults. I do not feel that way at all. I think our corporations have destroyed us. I think iU is one of the best outlets we have for fighting back. As a wise person has said, POD books are like indie bands. Without either, the publishers and record companies would give us nothing but worthless trash to read or hear. We need to normalize the market for POD books. The slap-fighters will ruin the market for us if we let them, just as surely as our current music market is nothing but rap noise and country drivel. (Remember, I am a 58-year-old white man who has seen Jimi Hendix and The Allman Brothers live numerous times.) My goal is to be the voice of reason for deserving iU authors. I want to be the dim little lamp hidden in the nasty, murky swamp of POD denigration by fatheads who just want to proclaim themselves kings of the publishing world and declare all iUniverse authors misguided losers.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Lyda Phillips

Lyda Phillips has released a pair of short novels for young adult readers. Like many legendary Disney movies, these books should appeal to not-so-young adults, too. Since I am of that persuasion, I was not expecting to enjoy these two nearly as much as I did, but the author's sensitive handling of the mature subject matter easily won me over.

Mr. Touchdown by Lyda Phillips
(iUniverse / 0-595-35900-0 / July 2005 / 182 pages / $13.95)

Mr. Touchdown is the fictional recreation of a common type of event that took place throughout the Deep South in the Sixties as all-white schools were integrated. A small number of exceptional black students are transferred to Forrest High in Memphis in 1965. The lead character is an athlete who has lettered in several sports at his old school, but the football coach at Forrest won't let him off the bench, even though the team is good only at losing. The story takes us through the many conflicts these kids experience in their first year at an all-white school. The actions of the revolting rednecks are realistically described and the story has a pleasant ending. I do wish, though, that the book was much longer, with a lot more detail. The story is one that needs to be told.

If you want to further explore the subject matter, I recommend you watch the movies, Hairspray and Remember the Titans. These two examples are not better than Mr. Touchdown, but they are a little different in that they do not capture the deeply rooted essence of The South. This book shows how truly hardheaded people can be, even at the expense of their beloved football team. The poignant emotions described during the football action bring Mr. Touchdown up to the level of Remember the Titans, and for me at least, this is the best recommendation I can give. Since I lived very close to the action of the civil rights movement in that time period (I even spent the summer of '68 in Memphis), I can honestly say that Ms. Phillips has captured the era perfectly.

Peace I Ask of Thee, Oh River by Lyda Phillips
(iUniverse / 0-595-36172-2 / August 2005 / 120 pages / $10.95)

Ms. Phillips takes us to a girls' summer camp in this misleading title that sounds like something a neocon soccer mom would like her daughter to read. Fortunately for us all, this summer camp is full of teenage angst and realism. The characters are more akin to the kids at Ridgemont High than those at church camp. The title is derived from a campfire song the girls sing. The action is focused on the camp counselors more than the girls, with the exception of one particular problem child upon whom the whole plot hinges. As in the movie, Little Darlings, the lead characters are busy trying to get laid while the campfire patrols are up to the usual summer shenanigans. The author has crafted an engrossing short novel about the way teenagers really feel, think and behave. You will be wishing the story went on much longer. Ignore the blah cover and the holy-moly-difficult-to-remember title and you will discover a story with the depth of Stephen King's movie, Stand By Me.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Interview with Tabitha

Interviewer: Is your name really Tabitha? From looking at your website, I thought you were someone else.

Tabitha: That is correct. I have published four books for iUniverse and contributed stories to a pair of traditionally published coffee table books, all under my real name. Tabitha is my sixteen-year-old Balinese cat. I am much older than Tabitha.

Interviewer: How did you choose iUniverse to publish your books?

Tabitha: I completed my first manuscript in about 1972, but I felt it was practically unpublishable due to its obtuse eccentricity. The Corvette Chronicles began as a long series of stories in The Longhorn Corvette Club Newsletter in 1985. I had planned from the beginning to edit the whole series into a book called Plastic Ozone Daydream. By 1999, iU had been established, and I had learned enough about computers to begin my publishing journey. I had always had in mind the complete package of Daydream. I wanted the cover to look a certain way; I wanted the order and structure of the stories to be a certain way; and I wanted to market the book in a particular manner. iU offered me the freedom to do things my own way, and the company seemed far ahead of its competition in most every facet of the business.

Interviewer: How did you get published in those coffee table books?

Tabitha: A publisher of that type of book for car enthusiasts read Daydream and wanted to buy a particular story from it for his next project. I don't know exactly how he came to discover Daydream. I followed that project with a pair of stories written exclusively for Mustang Legends. That release was very convenient for me because it gave me a small publishing project during an extended period (2002-06) when I was not planning another iU book. This was a clear case of bringing a POD author to the attention of a traditional publisher.

Interviewer: What became of your first manuscript?

Tabitha: After a total rewrite in 2002, that manuscript became The Last Horizon.

Interviewer: What is the single most important thing you have learned about POD publishing and marketing?

Tabitha: The #1 element that sells books is the fact of the title and description of the book fitting within a genre that a particular consumer audience is obsessed with reading. Nothing sells like a celebrity scandal or a get-rich-quick scheme. Starting a good slap-fight over religious issues will do the job, too. From the online retailers, what I think is by far my weakest book has been consistently my best seller. I think that is because I wrote Ker-Splash! to fill an open niche in the market. There are a zillion books about fishing, sailing, and classic wooden boats, but there are almost none about common, recreational runabouts and ski boats. Ker-Splash! docks right in that slip! My other three books are more esoteric, to say the least.

Interviewer: How much do you think a bad review hurts the sales of a book?

Tabitha: As long as the one bad review is not alone on the page, I think it matters very little. I think it matters more when your review space is empty. (Look at my books!) That is why I began this blog. A wise person has said there is no such thing as bad publicity, and I generally agree with that. For the thousands of POD books listed on Amazon, I am far more skeptical of those with a long list of five-star reviews than of those with only a few, or with a range of stars in their review list. Even with all these generalities stated, I do not intend to ever post a really bad review for someone unless they sign off on it first. After all, my goal is to help iU authors and enhance the reputations of all of us.

Interviewer: What is the most common editing mistake you have found in iU books?

Tabitha: The repetition, deletion, misplacement, or otherwise misuse of the most common words in the English language is far and away the most common mistake. We seem to get the punctuation and sentence structure right just about every time. It's the the's, an's, and's, a's, and other common words that trip us up. We tend to read right over the mistakes when we are proofreading. We also tend to make more mistakes toward the end of the book, as opposed to the beginning or middle. I suppose the proofing is getting overly monotonous by the end of the process.

Interviewer: Why are you writing these reviews when so many other online sources are doing the same thing?

Tabitha: Very few of those sources are actually reviewing in the same manner as I am. Review for hire sites are popping up like mushrooms in cow patties. How accurate can a supposedly unbiased, but paid, entity be? How many of you would buy a book based on a review if you were aware the review had been paid for by the author? Many of these reviews are purchased in an indirect manner, such as a part of a marketing package. How many of the unpaid reviews were written by friends and associates of the author? My research has shown to me that many of the reviews of iU books you find on the net fall into one of the above categories. Certainly some of these reviews are legitimate, but my guess is that number is a small fraction of the total, especially among the endless parade of five-star reviews on Amazon. My reviews are the real deal. This is not a business, and I am not a personal friend of any of the authors I review. You won't find me telling you about the horde of trashy POD books that caused me to barf on the first page, either. Those books, if they exist at all, do not exist on this website. I am not in this project to stuff my wallet or my fat head. Let's face it: we all know many who are. If you want an honest review, let me know.

Interviewer: How does an iU author secure one of your extensive, four-part reviews?

Tabitha: I invite any iU author to reply to this or any other post on the blog site. You can see examples of the previous reviews by visiting the same books found on this site at Amazon, B&N, and Authors Den. Please read the submission guidelines first. You can find them in the first post and in a later update. The early bird gets the juiciest worm.

Miss Stephanie: Eeeeeuuu!!!