Friday, August 24, 2007

Interview with the Author

Amy Lane
Author of Vulnerable, Wounded, and Bound, Amy Lane lives with her husband and four children in Northern California.

Tabitha: Why do you refer to your books as The Little Goddess Series, and what inspired that original concept?

Amy Lane: Although I wrote the books with a very specific God/Goddess mythology in mind, the epithet didn’t really emerge until I was halfway through with the second book. My heroine, who is insanely young and doesn’t always remember her manners, is trying to be gracious to a much older man (a vampire). The older man admires her ferocity, her power, and her attempts to be civil, and he calls her “Little Goddess”, sort of as homage to all of that. After I’d written that part, the idea of my strong female lead being a “Little Goddess” appealed to me so much that I named the entire series after that one moment.

Tabitha: Is there a particular, actual person or persons who inspired your lead characters?

Amy Lane: Well, Cory (my lead) started as a tougher, smarter, more open-minded version of myself when I was working my way through junior college right after high school. Of course, I started writing the book about 16 years after I graduated, so the more I wrote, the more of a separate character she became, but her initial defensiveness, her absolute certainty that no one could find her desirable, her anger at being pigeon-holed; all of that was mine, too.

As for Adrian and Green, the short answer is that my husband inspired them both. The long answer, apart from the blue eyes and the motorcycle jacket that still hangs in our closet (and is now several sizes too small) is that he actually inspired the difference between the two characters. I’ve known him since we were eighteen. I’ve seen him mature from a relatively angry young man with the communication skills of a puffer fish (sorry, Mate; I know you’ll read this) to a loving husband and father and the sanest person in our rather crowded house. I wanted a relationship between Adrian and Green to show that kind of change: young and self-destructive to older, wiser, and more concerned with the welfare of his people than with his own shortcomings.

Tabitha: The characters in your books seem to come to life as I hold the books in my hands, reading their conversations. Have you envisioned what a movie version would look like?

Amy Lane: First of all, thank you. That’s a compliment of the highest order. As for envisioning a movie, only sort of: I still haven’t seen the actor that can be Adrian, Green, or even Bracken, and I’d be afraid they’d make Cory too tall, too thin, too leggy, and with too small a nose.

Tabitha: We have always been advised as authors to show, not tell, the characters and storyline to the reader, and you have apparently taken this concept to heart. Did you simply begin composing in this manner, or was it a concerted, learned effort?

Amy Lane: It was both. When I look back at what I wrote earlier in college, I find that I did it naturally as a way of giving my reader my ‘damsel with a dulcimer’ as it were. As I kept teaching, especially when they let me teach creative writing, I found that the more I explained what made good writing and the more that I modeled examples for my students, the more I did it both consciously and unconsciously myself.

Tabitha: When Lou Grant meets Mary Richards the first time, he says he hates spunk, but I bet you admire spunk. Your characters and storylines are as spunky as a garage punk rock band. Are you trying to be the Queen of Spunk, or what?

Amy Lane: (Laughs!) Ah, if only…. As a person I tend to be a little bit passive aggressive. I figured, hey, it’s my book, it’s my fantasy, and I get to write a character who is as brave as I want to be and says exactly what she thinks.

Tabitha: Robert H. Rimmer is a recently deceased author from The Sixties who is best known for The Harrad Experiment. He is one of the few authors to have his early books re-released and his latest books released for the first time by iUniverse. Your characters seem to display some of the same think-outside-the-box sexual mores as his. Have you read any of Robert Rimmer’s books? Has he influenced the creation of your imaginatively promiscuous characters?

Amy Lane: Actually, no… although I have heard of the book. I think a really bad movie was made out of it in the early 70’s. My characters’ ‘fluid sexuality’ comes from a couple of places. One of them is Tanya Huff. Her bi-sexual vampire, Henry Fitzroy, was so old-world gracious that I could not help but be intrigued. The other place it comes from is just my generalized feeling that love is not easily contained, I guess.

Tabitha: Are you a fan of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles? There seem to be several obvious parallels between those books and The Little Goddess books

Amy Lane: I’ve only read Interview with the Vampire, actually. My real inspiration (especially for the first person Alpha-bitch narrator) was Laurell K. Hamilton. She pretty much inspired an entire generation of urban contemporary fantasy writers.

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

Amy Lane: Well, to teach in California, you have to have a BA in your subject matter. Mine is literature. Then there’s my credential work (which takes more units than a Masters) and ¾ of a Master’s degree in creative writing and my CLAD…. I guess it all helped. I must say, there is considerably more truth in my writing about vampires in Nor-Cal than there has been in my credential work and there is considerably more bullshit in my credential work than there is in my work about a hill full of sexually fluid elves.

Tabitha: What about your work career? Has your choice of profession influenced your writing?

Amy Lane: Teaching helps you see people as people, not as what they label themselves as. California is on a testing high now. All students must do well on their tests or we have failed them and they have failed life. I hate that pigeon-holing crap. Some of my best and brightest and most promising students have been the ones that wouldn’t fit in an honors student box, and that sort of philosophy shows up a lot in the Little Goddess books. Also, although I read popular fiction, I spend my work hours not just reading but memorizing the classics. After teaching MacBeth for 12 years, I can quote big ol’ chunks of text by heart. And Hamlet. And Pride and Prejudice. You just can’t help but be a better person, or a better writer, for knowing things like that. (It also explains why Green is constantly quoting MacBeth.)

Tabitha: I see that your hubby has shot the photos used on the covers of all your books. What criteria do you use to select the photos? Are the photos taken specifically for the covers? Were the photos selected from a large number of alternate shots? How much of the cover design was your own?

Amy Lane: As I write a book I tend to get an idea for what I want on the cover. And then I have to rethink my budget (remember—four kids, two of them are teenagers and one’s still in diapers) and I have to choose something that we can actually do. My husband takes the pictures, because he’s good at it, but I usually tell him what I want. It’s not always what I can get. My idea for Wounded was originally a skyline shot of San Francisco during Christmas. We’ve got two children’s birthdays and several sets of grandparents to appease between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The odds of us getting on the road to take that shot are somewhere between anorexic and transparent. We had to settle for a shot that everyone from my area recognizes, the place in the road where you choose between the Sacramento area and the whole rest of the state. (We actually took a gazillion shots for that one, but I still wasn’t happy with the one I got.) iUniverse pretty much slapped the titles on it. I’m sure an artist could come in and do a better job, but that first picture, the one for Vulnerable? I don’t think any artist could top that. It’s pure Nor-Cal foothills at it’s prettiest.

Tabitha: Did you consider other publishers before you selected iUniverse?

Amy Lane: My husband did the research. I know that’s archaic, but I am simply not that organized.

Tabitha: How satisfying has your experience with iUniverse been?

Amy Lane: Both good and bad. The good is that they do answer your questions when you have them, and some of the people assigned to me have been very helpful and accommodating (especially when it comes to extending deadlines). The bad came with my first book. I signed up for the editorial review service, and you know how you give them a list of books that they should be familiar with before your reviewer reads your book? Well, the closest thing to my book that my reviewer had read was Dean Koontz and Clive Barker. I was told my character was abrasive, unlikable, and unappealing, and I was told that I should probably list the book under homo-erotica because that’s really the only audience that would like it. There was some good stuff in there, too: a lot of stuff about, oh, say, punctuation and proofreading, but I was too angry about some of the other things to pay as much attention as I should have to the constructive ideas.

Tabitha: What is the most significant thing you have learned as a POD author? Do you have any advice to offer to new or prospective POD authors?

Amy Lane: Proofread!!! And more important than that, get some good friends to proofread for you, and if you find a good proofreader, beg them, bribe them, kidnap them, whatever it takes. When I put out Vulnerable, I couldn’t find a proofreader to save my life. Now, I’m hip-deep in people who want to help. I’m taking every damned one of them up on her offer, because damn, do I not want to have to look at myself in the mirror again after having put out a product with as many problems as my first book.

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

Amy Lane: Oooh…Fantasy, Romance, Urban Contemporary Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Science Fiction: it’s all good. As for authors, I guess in no particular order: Laurell K. (the early stuff) Charlaine Harris (everything) Robin McKinley, Patricia McKillip, Tanya Huff, Carrie Vaughn, Lilith St. Crow, Kim Harrison, Barb & J.C. Hendee, Joan D. Vinge, Melanie Rawn, Jim Butcher and Guy Gavriel Kay… to name a few.

Tabitha: What have you been reading lately?

Amy Lane: Not as much as I’d like. (lol) I usually spend part of my summers just totally immersed in literature. This year I had to take 12 units as part of my credential. I’m still bitter. On my plate right now are Guy Gavriel Kay’s Ysabel and the next Dante Valentine book by Lilith St. Crow.

Tabitha: When will the next release by Amy Lane be available? Will it be a continuance of The Little Goddess Series?

Amy Lane: That’s actually more complicated than it sounds. I have planned five more books in The Little Goddess Series. Cory has some very definite adventures in store. But the book I’m going to release in Feb./March is something different. My children asked for something that they could read at school that wouldn’t get them suspended. “Fine!” I said, “I’ll write a short, young adult novel. I’ve got an idea for it; it will be great!” Uhm, seven hundred pages later…. I’m about to finish part one of Bittermoon and send it out to my kind proofreaders for a shakedown while I work on part 2 so I can get it out less than three months later. And the book is not as Young Adult as I’d like it, either. My hero ages 12 years in the course of the novel. Apparently I can’t write about adults without adult relationships, and I guess my kids are going to have to live with that. At least I know from experience that it’s not nearly as bad as about a third of the books in our school library, so I can just chill and treat them like grown-ups-to-be and get my ass in gear and start part two, so I can resume my regularly planned sane publishing schedule. Bittermoon: Part I: Triane’s Star Rising will be out around February, ‘08. Bittermoon: Part II: Triane’s Star Reigning will be out around April, ‘08. Rampant: Book 4 of the Little Goddess Series will be out in early ’09, I hope.

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

Amy Lane: Ooops, sorry! I covered that on the last question!!! I’m averaging about one book a year. Hopefully I can manage two next year and still release the next Cory book a year later on deadline. And after the Cory books (there should be eight total) are done, I have some other things in mind.

Tabitha: Do you have any final words of advice for aspiring authors?

Amy Lane: Besides ‘don’t underestimate proofreading’? Yeah, but I warn you, my ‘teacher voice’ comes out when people ask me for advice. Write everywhere. Write in the car. Write in the shower. Write when you’re taking out the garbage. You don’t have to be in front of a keyboard or a notebook to write. If you have your plot ready, if your characters have had their conversations in your head until they’ve said their lines to perfection, then when you sit down at your keyboard, you can work on the freshness of your language, and that’s important too. Oh yeah; and read Politics of the English Language by George Orwell.

Tabitha: What insightful thought would you like to leave with your readers?

Amy Lane: Know why you’re writing. The odds of being Nora Roberts or Stephen King are not great. The odds of putting out something that you’re proud of are considerably better.

Green's Hill - The Little Goddess Website
Yarning to Write - Amy's Personal Website

How to Strip-Search a Book

A very flattering article posted about this website by Dave Schleicher has inspired me to explain exactly how the reviews here are created. Although this is Texas, we are not The Bush Administration. We at iUniverse Book Reviews have very few secrets not shared with the authors, readers, and general audience. The few secrets we do retain are mostly related to our awareness of the sensitive egos of authors. There are some things we disclose only in direct e-mails to the authors being reviewed, and there are a few things we keep to ourselves. Descriptions of these few secret elements will be mentioned in this post. Everything else outside these particular, discreet cordialities are being explained in this post. All books accepted for review at iUniverse Book Reviews receive exactly the same treatment. The details are explained here in chronological order.

The Request: When I receive your request for a review, I immediately begin a research effort to determine if I want to accept your book for review. Acceptance is probably a lot easier than you think.

The Research: I look at Amazon and B&N to see what sort of reviews you have already received. I rarely actually read any of these word-for-word because, if I do accept your book for review, I do not wish to risk being influenced by plot details or opinions expressed in those reviews. What I am looking for is the type of reviews you have. I know who the volume and paid reviewers are, and you don't earn diddly-squat for brownie points with me with a five-star review from any of these guys. You are actually the most likely to be accepted by iUniverse Book Reviews if you have no other reviews at all. Of course, the main way to be declined is to write a book about a celebrity or a get-rich-quick scheme. If I cannot find out enough to make a decision by looking at Amazon, B&N, or (obviously) your own website, I search Google for photos of you, details about your work, or even comments by others concerning your work.

The Acceptance: If I accept your book for review, you will be notified by e-mail immediately. I try to notify authors of the progress of their books through the queue, too. You can generally expect an e-mail from me when I accept your book, after you have notified me that the book has been sent, when I receive the book, what the book's timetable looks like, when I have completed the reading of the book, and when all the reviews have been posted.

The Log-in: Every book gets a folder, a Word document, and cover photos from Amazon and/or B&N. I verify the release date, page count, ISBN, and price at Amazon and B&N, as well as from the actual book. So far, I have discovered only one discrepancy, and I notified that author of the problem. The data from the paperback is always used, not that from the hardcover, if one has been published. The page count listed at Amazon nearly always includes the front and back matter, and I post that count on the website review. The page count without the front and back matter is entered into a separate document (to be discussed later in this post).

The Books Reviewed Chart: I keep track of all the activity pertaining to the website in a separate Word document. This data includes the actual, numbered page count mentioned above. It also includes the font size (for general word-count comparisons). The actual error count is added at the completion of the reading, and this allows an Error Quotient comparison with the other books reviewed. Each book's submission information is kept in the proper order on this page, from the date the initial request has been made until all the reviews are complete. If the author has an Authors Den page, it is noted on this chart. Each book is tracked and moved through the chart simply so I can keep things straight and remain fair and impartial to all submissions.

The Reading: Each book is read, cover-to-cover, word-for-word, in the order in which it was received, no matter how bad or how good the book may be. When I go see a movie, I have made all my preparations, and I am in my seat when the first credit rolls. I don't talk through it and I don't get up in the middle for popcorn, either. I'm just anal that way. I think if you really want to experience any piece of art or entertainment, you have to give it your best shot. You have to give it your full attention and try to retrieve the full experience in the manner intended by the creator. I don't leave the theatre until the last credit has rolled, and I don't skim over any pages. I examine the cover carefully and I read every bit of front and back matter.

The Error Count: For many of you, this is the big deal. The gremlins are loose in the theatre! You know that part of the strip-search that you don't like? I have to do it. We all know that this is the Achilles heel of iUniverse, and indeed, all, POD books. If you're going to ask a reader to pay full retail price for your custom-printed, and somewhat overpriced, book, you can at least minimize the typos. Only the errors that I can personally swear in court, that to the best of my ability, were boo-boos created by the author are counted. If there is any doubt as to stylistic choices or other details causing the error, it is not counted. If I stumble through the sentence after reading it a second time, the error gets counted. If the sentence is just a little funky and barely acceptable as correct, it is not counted. If a character is speaking, and that person may not be displaying perfect English, it is not counted. There are three comparative elements to keep in mind concerning the error count. These are the actual error count, the types of errors (as described below), and the Error Quotient, which is the error count divided by the page count without front and back matter. You can do the division in the other direction, too; it doesn't really matter as long as the figures for all books are compared in the same direction.

Error Categories: There are three types of errors, in ascending order of criminality. (a) Punctuation styles that may be repeated many times throughout your book, but clearly are more of a stumble for your readers than they are a poetic license are the most benign type. By the sheer numbers, these are also the most common, since there can be a hundred of exactly the same incorrect punctuation in a single book. (b) As stated elsewhere on this blog, iU authors need to be especially cognizant of misplaced and misused common words. No matter how stupidly unlikely this sounds, Word will not underline this type of boo-boo! Every one of these brings an obvious demerit because they are the direct result of lazy, hurried, or incomplete proofreading on the part of the author. (c) When you misuse words such as lie and lay, led and lead, and a long list of other statements from Hicksville, the demerit is the most severe of all. Whether or not these happen to be the result of sloppy proofreading or not is irrelevant. Every one of these reloads the slap-fighters' bandolier like nothing else!

The Final Analysis: I judge each book on its overall merit. If it contains a hundred errors of the same punctuation incorrectness repeating throughout the book, I keep a record of that number, but the error count is weighed against the other characteristics of the book. If the errors are less in number, but greater in severity, as noted in the descriptions above, the count is recorded, but the smaller number of more critical errors will be weighted accordingly. For many reasons, all actual error counts are kept private. The plot, characters, and writing style are all examined and weighted, too. No book is given a higher or lower rating just because I happen to like, or not like, reading that book's particular genre. I prefer to reveal only the minimal amount of plot details in any review. The focus instead is on whether or not a person who reads this book is likely to enjoy it for its quality or disparage it for its lack of same. Of course there is a lot of simple opinion involved. I'm a critic. What did you expect? I give points for high word and page counts and demerits for short books with low word and page counts. I positively recognize research and originality and negatively make note of ho-hum plots, stilted dialog, boring sentence structure, two-dimensional characters, and generic covers created by the iUniverse staff. Make me like your sleazebucket characters. Send me through an amazing plot maze that somehow makes sense. Show me the magic!

The Reviews: One of our leading claims to fame here at iUniverse Book Reviews is that we write three or four separate, original reviews of each book. The Authors Den review is usually posted first, and it is usually the shortest and simplest of the four reviews. The B&N review is posted next, and this review is usually slightly longer than the Authors Den review. Not appearing for several days due to B&N policy, this review will usually compare the book to known books and/or movies. The Amazon review is usually two or more paragraphs and the emphasis is on selling the book, since we all know that Amazon is the main retailer of iU books by a huge margin. The review put on this site is generally the longest and the most critical. The time I spend thinking about what I want to write usually increases as the book moves through this process.

The Closure: As soon as I have posted the final review, I send an e-mail to the author. A Word document is attached containing all four reviews, so the author can cheat instead of waiting on pokey B&N. Sometimes I feel like commenting on the book personally to the author, but sometimes not. If I do so, it is usually because there is some bit of advice I want to impart privately to the author. The personal service stops there only if you want it to do so. If I think you really have something to offer, I may invite you to participate in the Interview with the Author series. I have continued communications with many authors I have reviewed. A number of authors have asked that I review further books, and I have done so. If you want, I'll be glad to communicate with you by e-mail until the cows come home. That is, afterall, one reason I do this project. I want to get to know iU authors who have gotten so much less attention than they deserve.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


A Low Country Novel

by D. A. Welch

(iUniverse / 0-595-41271-6 / April 2007 / 224 pages / $15.95)

Flashback takes the reader on a modern adventure through the beachfront island communities of South Carolina and neighboring areas. The title derives from the nightmarish flashbacks experienced by one of the four lead characters in the story. Ex-Navy SEAL Nate Dunlevy has been unable to rid his mind of an experience he lived through in his recent military past, affecting his lifestyle even to the point of temporary impotence. The plot of Flashback rapidly takes on the nature of a feminist romantic fantasy, as two brothers meet two sisters and they flit from one exotic locale to another, bagging up the bad guys for the FBI and entertaining themselves in the sack. Imagine a Lifetime Channel movie with R-rated sex scenes and you'll get the picture.
D. A. Welch has produced an especially professional-looking product for a first POD book. The gorgeously appropriate cover shows off the photographic talent of the author's significant other, and the editing and low error count are admirable, too, although the proofreading still leaves this professional product just a little scarred. The consistent use of the third person in past tense makes for a competent, but unimaginative compositional style. I shudder to think of the magnitude of the proportion of other POD authors who could take lessons in professionalism and maturity of product from Ms. Welch.
Flashback is most certainly a book modern women will love. I'm not so sure about the opinions of male readers. The lead characters in the story are just such perfectly disgusting Yuppies. The men have impeccable tastes, chiseled muscles, and heroic military experience. The women have glamorous, high-paying jobs in exquisitely artistic fields they love. Both sexes may have had a few bad experiences in their past mating rituals, but when the panting turns to touching, nothing seems to get in the way of good old American lust. The ubiquitous predictability of a Lifetime movie is the one thing that weakens the punch of Flashback's plotline. I would have preferred somewhat less perfect lead characters to add a bit of morality play to the story. This is the only factor that knocks the whoopee out of Flashback. How many perfect romances have already been written by and for women readers?
The conclusion is that Ms. Welch has missed catching the brass ring only by a whisker, and many of you, of whom I suspect are mostly female, will accept the book just fine the way it has been written, no warts and all. The clever inclusion of the opening paragraphs in each chapter describing the climate and landscape of South Carolina's laid-back Low Country certainly adds to the novel's charisma. In defense of the Yuppiefication of the characters, I know that Hilton Head Island is not famous for po' folks. I just hope that when Deb Welch reads Flashback to herself, she pronounces the name of the car as it matches the name of its creator. The name is Por-shuh. Most Yuppies think it's the back porch.

See Also: Tabitha's B&N Review
Tabitha's Authors Den Review

Interview with D. A. Welch

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

McReviews in the Age of Wally-World

A lot has changed recently in the world of reviews for POD books. Several topics need to be discussed within the framework of their relationship to each other and a few issues stand alone. Let's get the unpleasant stuff out of the way first.

Many of you may feel as if I am too critical of the high incidences of grammatical and typographical mistakes found in far too many POD books. Yes, the Uppity Fathead Police may arrest me, but my own Proofreading Police record is mostly clean. No, my record is not perfect: I have found about seven errors in each of my four iUniverse books. The problem is that only a few of you have matched that level of proofing perfection. Any number less than ten can be considered acceptable for any traditionally published book, and that is the holy grail I seek. Asking a buyer to pay a premium price for a badly edited book is not only tacky, but it feeds ammo to the slap-fighters who want to tell the whole world how not published we all are! There is no downside to the issue of adequate proofreading. I have explained a good way to accomplish this task in the article, The Proof is in the Nitpick. All you have to do is simply show a little extra patience and do it. I have just finished reading Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. Not only is it a Big McWhopper of a good book, I think I may have found one error, and this is a book crammed to the buns with fine print, technical references, and footnotes! Yes, I know that Mr. Schlosser had a whole team of proofreaders and fact checkers working on the project, but a book is a book. Get real, people. You'll have to pay twice as much for my latest book with its seven errors. We must whip this problem! How can we ever get any respect until we do? Please believe me when I say I am on your side. After your mom, I'm the next person who most wants to see you succeed.

One of the reasons I choose to review only iUniverse books is that I know the technical details of the entity to which we submit out manuscripts. I know most of you do not like having to edit and market your own books, but that's just tough bananas. You would have to do a lot of this stuff with a small, boutique publisher, too, and Random House isn't interested at all, so quit your whining and just deal with the reality we have. One of the reasons I started this blog was to provide an unbiased viewpoint of the iUniverse experience.

The POD review business is rapidly becoming ludicrous. Yet another reason I began this blog was the founding of a POD review business which I refuse to name because the last thing I want to do is to give the company more publicity. This review company operates practically from my own backyard, and they have created a new low in paid, plastic, illegitimate, reviews for POD books. The highly unfortunate issue is that Amazon's new manner in which the company places reviews on the page will automatically accentuate any reviews by this particular, despicable purveyor of Pabulum. This is because Amazon's review placement is now heavily biased toward reviews listed under the same, high-volume names, and the despicable one utilizes a whole herd of patsies, many of whom are teenagers, to actually write their reviews, but all the reviews are cataloged under the company name, not the individual reviewers' names. The stink really begins to permeate the Amazone when you realize how many POD authors just want good reviews so they can sell their books. They don't give a ratt's ass about quality, truth, or integrity. These are, indeed, the reviews Made in China and sold at Wally-World. The ones who get burned are the customers, the readers, the buyers. Like Ronald Reagan, the despicable company has discovered the soul of the modern POD era, and it is rotten. I hope this is not the path we are about to follow, but I sincerely fear that it is. In the same way the $29.95 DVD players built by slave labor in China and sold at Wally-World have replaced quality consumer electronics built by highly educated workers at Sony and Technics in Japan, I fear that this new tonnage of frivolous and misleading book reviews will become the norm for Print On Demand book reviews. The best comment I can make about this disgusting phenomenon is that the grossly overpriced Kirkus Discovery reviews sold by iU to its most naive authors will probably be squeezed from the marketplace.

Meanwhile back at the legitimate review ranch, where all our beef roams free and our reviews are free, too, the choices are rapidly diminishing. We have a new reviewer in The Ring, but The (official) De Facto POD Review Ring is all but defunct. POD People and Leo Stableford are still in business, but Leo is currently inactive and the People have closed all submissions. You can visit Odyssey Reviews to read her submission guidelines, but the short version is that she, too, accepts only paper copies. All the quick-submit, digital submission sites are closed to submissions or defunct. Her Odyssey prefers the standard fiction genres, so she's currently your best choice for those sci-fi fantasies. As you are probably already aware, I review those genres, but they are not my favorites. Generally, the more difficult a book is to classify, the better I like it. With her genre preferences and a small cadre of three reviewers, Her Odyssey seems to split the difference between POD People and iUniverse Book Reviews. You may want to refer to Coming Attractions to get an accurate picture of the current state of this review site. The short version of this one is that I am open to submissions, but the queue could quite quickly back up to a point a few weeks into the future. Two of you have been approved for review submissions, but I have not received your books yet. As I have always said, I don't count books until they are holding down my bookshelf, so iUniverse Book Reviews may or may not be booked up for the forseeable future. The first books to arrive are always the first to be read and reviewed. Thank you for your continued support of the premier legitimate review site for iUniverse authors.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Survival Op

Survival Op:
The Fear in the Wilderness

by Scott Allen

(iUniverse / 0-595-42062-9 / March 2007 / 156 pages / $12.95)

Middle school coach and English teacher Scott Allen has released his first adventure novel for young adults. The Fear in the Wilderness is his first book in what he plans as a new series for teen readers. Judging from the many open-ended issues left at the conclusion of this first installment, as well as the numerous online, five-star reviews from his students, I would suppose that Scott's Survival Op series is well on its way to becoming a fave rave of the author's young fans.
The storyline is a variation on the plots of the television shows, Survivor and Lost, and the Tom Hanks movie, Cast Away. With its boy-and-girl pair of lead characters, the book even flashes back to the 1980 movie, The Blue Lagoon, although the sexual innuendo of that movie has been replaced by gratuitous violence in Survival Op. Marcus and Lynn are thirteen-year-olds who have been stranded on purpose on a remote island in The Bermuda Triangle by a nasty horde of corporate, militant contractors to the U.S. government. Soon after Marcus and Lynn have been given just enough time to learn how to eat berries and sleep in a cave, the villains intend to hunt and kill the teens for sport. The plot is built around a secret, government-sponsored, survival training operation in which no one knows where the kids are except possibly an FBI operative or two and a mysterious monster who lives in the forest wilderness.
The plot and storyline of Survival Op are perfect for the age bracket at which the book is aimed, and the characters have been well chosen by the author to appeal to this audience. Scott Allen wants his students to enjoy reading, and he has provided them with an impetus to do so. The weakness of this book is its lack of adequate proofreading. (Where, oh where, have I said this before?) Survival Op is crammed to the island's edge with misapplied grammar, commas that have apparently been lost in the wilderness, and too many short, declarative sentences containing stilted dialogue. Please, Mr. Allen, spend considerably more time proofreading the next book in the Survival Op series! We don't want to have to call the Proofreading Police on you, do we?
Scott Allen has the best of intentions. Anything that encourages teenagers to unglue their eyes from the television or pry their fingers from the video game controllers is a very good thing! Teens that dare to read The Fear in the Wilderness will probably love it. The book has enough guns, knives, Snakenators and Bursting Berries per page to please even the shortest attention span. Let's show them correct spelling and grammar, shall we?

See Also: Tabitha's Authors Den Review
Lost in the Blue Lagoon (Tabitha's B&N Review)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Thief Maker

The Thief Maker
by D. H. Schleicher

(iUniverse / 0-595-40518-5 / October 2006 / 222 pages / $14.95)

There are several phrases that I must use to describe this book: plot twists, psychodrama, and morality play. The plot, concept, and style of The Thief Maker demand that these three be applied in any appropriate review. As far as I am concerned, D. H. Schleicher should be crowned the new King of the Plot Twists. There are so many of these, and they have been utilized so effectively, that they literally define the book. The Thief Maker is not exactly a thriller or a mystery, within the standard confines of these genres. The story is all about the characters and their complex and unexpected relationships with each other. Much of the action takes place within the characters' thoughts, emotions, and dialog. All the characters except for one young, innocent boy have morality issues. Each reader will have to decide for himself exactly how he feels about each character. The lead characters are good and bad at the same time, and each has his reasons for the justification of his actions.

There are three negative points that need to be mentioned. First of all, the dense plot jumps back and forth at various points within a timeframe of 1983 to 2007. The point of view changes from one character to another as it follows the bouncing time points. The combination of these two constant changes may demand a lot from a reader who is not paying close attention, and sometimes even the diligent reader could lose his point of reference. This is not to be construed as a very serious criticism, however. The book demands a certain level of attention and intelligence from the reader, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. The plotting is so good that I would not desire any changes in this department. I would even go so far as to say that Mr. Schleicher has created a genuinely original niche for himself with this style of storyline.

The remaining two negatives are simply common problems with some iUniverse books. The cover doesn't effectively communicate anything to the reader concerning the plot or genre. The all-important blurb on the back is in small, red text that is difficult to read on its black background, leaving the glaring-white UPC label to stand out instead. The cover looks stylish, but it does little to expose the wonderful book within. The Proofreading Police have been kept very busy with this book. Unlike any other book the force has yet to encounter, the author has stated that iUniverse proofed the book via the company's optional service. The author is duly upset that he paid for the high-priced option, but he got a ticket anyway! The lesson here is to never buy any radar detector but an Escort or trust a corporation to do your proofreading for you. (If this topic requires further discussion of the quality of the services provided by iUniverse, I shall do so in a separate article on this blog.) The errors in The Thief Maker are no worse than those in many other iU books, but, as with the books by Lorrieann Russell and Amy Lane, the errors glare at the reader simply because the writing is so outstanding.
D. H. Schleicher has written three books previous to The Thief Maker. I have not read those books, but their reviews on Amazon and B&N are quite positive. The author himself views this fourth book as his best. The Thief Maker has earned a place among the top tier of the books reviewed here. Neither the confusing timeline, the blase cover, nor the traffic stop by the Proofreading Police is enough to keep it out of the five-star rating bracket. All three of these together cannot bring it down. The storyline, characters, and subplots are just so stinking good in The Thief Maker that I cannot help but give it my highest recommendation.

See Also: Tabitha's B&N Review
Update, 4/13/08: Finalist in the 2008 Eric Hoffer Award for Independent Books

Interview with D. H. Schleicher

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Portrait of Her

by Ellen P. Bloomenstein
(iUniverse / 0-595-38747-2 / February 2007 / 327 pages / $19.95)
The cover of Ellen P. Bloomenstein’s Portrait of Her invites the reader into a delicate world of introspection, romance, and relationships. The storyline and personal point of view present the lead character in a sort of Woody Allen state of mind. There is an endless questioning of actions and the motives for them. The NYC backdrop is certainly similar to those of Woody’s most famous films. It’s difficult not to see mental images of Sex and the City and Seinfeld, too, when reading Ms. Bloomenstein’s tale of tempestuous love affairs and inquisitive neuroses. Ellen Bloomenstein knows her angst in New York subject matter so thoroughly that the reader wonders how much of Portrait of Her is really an autobiographical Portrait of Ellen. There is little doubt the author has Woody Allen’s talent and persona wrapped in a cloak suitable for the current millennium.

Alas, there is a problem in The Big Apple. Ellen’s rather recent Masters Degree in Creative Writing seems to have blinded her common sense a bit. Behind the alluring cover await multiple fonts such as Courier and Times New Roman intertwined with bold, italics, all-caps, and mixtures of various type sizes. Accented words have letters spaced across the page, without notice of properly utilized line breaks. When a character is angry, the words are repeated endlessly, generally without the basic necessity of punctuation. There is no doubt that Ms. Bloomenstein used her creative writing degree to show off her imagination on purpose. Unfortunately, the result is a book that is very difficult to read. How can this be a good thing, especially for a new, unknown author?
Enough complaining, already! Is Portrait of Her worth reading, or not? Well, it certainly is not the worst book I have reviewed on this blog, but I doubt that it will score very highly on your satisfied reader scale unless your name is, like, Heather or Britney. Ellen Bloomenstein is clearly intelligent, but misguided in her overuse of fonts, footnotes, repetitions, and other conceits. Her true writing talent filters through the cracks, anyway. The world could use some fresh chicklit. The Sex and the City reruns are growing tiresome. Woody has already tossed his bananas. There’s always room for Jell-O.

See also: Tabitha's B&N Review

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Interview with the Author

Anthony Livingston Hall

Author of The iPINIONS Journal: 2005: The Year in Review and The iPINIONS Journal: Commentaries on Current Events Volume II, Anthony Livingston Hall is a lawyer, syndicated columnist, and certified fitness trainer. He lives and works in metropolitan Washington, D.C.

Tabitha: What inspired you to begin writing your column, The iPINIONS Journal?

A. L. Hall: Would that I could chalk it up to inspiration. In fact, I was effectively drafted after an associate set up the blog platform, invited me to her office and commanded me to write! She did this in utter exasperation because, for months, she’d been making futile appeals to my political conscience to “launch [my] unique voice into the Blogoshere”.

Tabitha: I understand that you have many readers and fans in The Caribbean. Is your column available in print form outside your blog or books?

A. L. Hall: Yes. It is distributed through a syndicate to regional newspapers. Although a number of editors (of newspapers and online news-sites) routinely republish my articles without regard to this formal arrangement. But I don’t mind – so long as they give proper attribution….

Tabitha: Do you think these publications have helped establish your status as a writer or increased interest in your two books?

A. L. Hall: Absolutely…to the limited extent I am established. After all, even though I appreciate comparisons to people like Maureen Dowd and Tom Friedman, I am acutely aware that I’m not even on the same planet when it comes to literary status - to say nothing of book sales.

Tabitha: Since your first book has not been reviewed here, would you like to describe or critique its content as being in any way different from that of Volume II?

A. L. Hall: In form, my first book is the same – hence the “Volume II” designation for this one. In substance, however, the material difference can be seen in the table of contents; because each volume differs as the world turns. And that reflects the joy I derive from writing and compiling my commentaries. l hope my books constitute a user-friendly anthology of contemporary world history. But I have no doubt that they provide readers the most portable access to the most noteworthy events of our times – hopefully in compelling essay form.

Indeed, besides their literary merit, the following story illustrates an entertaining reason to buy my books. A reader shared in an e-mail that, shortly after reading my first book, she hosted a dinner party in NYC (in the Fall of 2005) for a group of friends – almost all of whom she (reasonably) assumed were far more well-read and knowledgeable than she was about world events. And, in an innocent attempt to contribute to the dinner conversation, she asked if anyone could recall any of the major events of March 2005. But after only awkward silence and deflective laughter ensued, she went over to her coffee table, picked up my book and read aloud (from the table of contents) the title of each commentary from that month. A reading which, I was very pleased to learn, was greeted with applause and solicitous enquiries about my book….

Tabitha: You state in your book that you come from a place called The Turks and Caicos Islands. Where exactly is that? Would you describe life on a Caribbean Island away from the cruise ship gangplank?

A. L. Hall: The Turks and Caicos Islands are situated perpendicular to the Southern tip of the archipelago of The Bahamas. I appreciate this question especially because too many tourists who visit us via floating cities (and even some who stay at curiously xenophobic “all inclusive resorts”) see little of our islands and interact even less with our people. (With the complicity of venal government officials, many resort operators actually import cheap(er) and more exploitable help from even poorer regional countries. Therefore, it’s possible for tourists to vacation there and never meet a native person….)

But our islands retain much of the provincial charm that has been despoiled by overdevelopment elsewhere. In fact, many of our settlements compare to those one might find in quaint sections of Cuba. However, the joy of freedom is clearly manifest in the faces of our inhabitants. And, of course, we have some of the best beaches in world: And that’s no jingoistic bunk; that’s according to Condé Nast Traveler. I would be remiss, however, if I did not take this opportunity to convey the genuine affection and appreciation we have for the tourists on whom the vast majority of us rely for our daily bread. And this is reflected in the unvarnished hospitality we offer each and every visitor.

Tabitha: As a columnist covering many different political arenas with your commentaries, how would you describe your political leanings?

A. L. Hall: Progressive libertarian: On some issues, I might seem like an arch-conservative. But on other issues, I might seem like a flaming liberal. This, of course, renders me an apostate according to both Democratic and Republican orthodoxy, which makes me very proud indeed.

Tabitha: After the bellowing, bellicose, one-sided political pundits have yelled us into the ground, your attitude seems to be a breath of fresh air. How much of this benign outlook was born on Caribbean island soil?

A. L. Hall: Hmmm, what an interesting association that is. It has never occurred to me. But I can see how the laid back nature of my Caribbean upbringing may now contribute to the unflappable character of my articles. (I’ll have to give that one a little more thought….)

Tabitha: If you could suggest to George Bush one thing that he could do to improve his standing in our minds and the world, what would you say to him?

A. L. Hall: Lift the embargo against Cuba!

Tabitha: What is the best advice you could offer to the U.S. Congress?

A. L. Hall: I fear it would be wasted. After all, Congress seems even more politically tone deaf than the White House has become. Indeed, Congressional leaders appear completely oblivious to the fact that the American people are even more disgusted with them than they are with President Bush. But to answer your question, I would advise members of both parties to stop carping at Bush about Iraq; especially since they are clearly not prepared to do anything to force him to change course (e.g. as Rep. Kucinich keeps goading them to do). Instead, the Democratic leaders (including Speaker Pelosi and Majority leader Reid) and Republican leaders (including Boehner and McConnell) should hold a televised summit at which they pledge to the American people that they will enact legislation on at least one of the following before the ’08 election, or they’ll resign: comprehensive immigration reform, comprehensive health-care reform or comprehensive social-security reform!

Tabitha: Your worldview is international, indeed, and you have condensed the key elements of many complex news stories into easily comprehensible articles. Would you like to elaborate on this concept for us?

A. L. Hall: I believe that no matter how complex, no issue is (or should be made) incomprehensible. And I cannot abide blowhards who think the only thing anyone ever wants to hear about in their presence is the one thing about which they can talk ad nauseam. Likewise, I have little regard for encyclopedic nerds who can cite facts, but can’t express an opinion, about anything. My eclectic mix of articles reflects my general interests. And, if nothing else, I hope their comprehensive and comprehensible nature empowers readers to at least ask informed questions that others would least expect of them.

Tabitha: Since your books are essentially news commentaries, what is your favorite source for news?

A. L. Hall: Online newspapers. Not so long ago I used to think people who claimed to read several newspapers everyday were either liars or braggarts. But the Internet makes this so easy to do. For example, I take about 30 minutes in the morning to read a fair amount of at least 4-5 online newspapers, and then 10 minutes here and there throughout the day to read several others (and that includes their gossip columns).

Tabitha: If we surprised you by busting into your home or office, which cable news channel would we be most likely to catch you watching and why?

A. L. Hall: (LOL) At the office – C-SPAN: It’s occasionally informative, but most Washington law offices run it the way building managers run Muzak in elevators. I also try to schedule meetings around the midday re-broadcasts of Tavis Smiley and Charlie Rose on PBS. Both talk shows are terrific because they feature interviews with prominent politicians, CEOs, scientists, writers, entertainers, et al.

At home – (depending on the night) CBS (CSI - Las Vegas), FOX (24, House), NBC (Law and Order): In fact, I have precious little time to watch TV at home. But when I do, I prefer to be entertained, and these shows do that for me. And since I read news and editorials online, I steer clear of canned news programs and screaming talking heads on TV.

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

A. L. Hall: BA- political economics; JD – international business transactions. And, I’m sure my formal education helps me to parse news reports on current events to distill what I consider most relevant and the proper perspective to have about them.

Tabitha: What about your work career? Has your choice of profession influenced your writing? Has one part of your varied career influenced your writing more than another part?

A. L. Hall: Well, perhaps holistically. But I’ve always been interested in current events. In fact, I consider sitting before my computer to write each night rather like visiting an intellectual spa…relative to my day job.

Tabitha: I find the cover of The iPINIONS Journal Vol. II to be simply elegant and eye-catching, a professional entrance to a serious book. Who exactly is the K. Kisovec noted for the cover graphic, and how much of the cover design was your own?

A. L. Hall: You have no idea how much I appreciate this question…. Because K. Kisovec has been the unqualified love of my life for the past 22 years. She is the person to whom I dedicated my first book. The cover graphic was entirely her creation, but it gives only a glimpse into her creative genius. Where she’s concerned, I am a fortunate man in so many respects!!!

Tabitha: Who is Mary to whom Volume II has been dedicated?

A. L. Hall: Mary is a very dear friend of many years. And, as a native of Haiti, she shares not only my Caribbean heritage but also my interest in issues that affect our region and the rest of the developing world. Indeed, she is one of the most dedicated readers of everything I write.

Tabitha: Did you consider other publishers before you selected iUniverse?

A. L. Hall: No. In fact, I never entertained the idea of publishing a book until the same ambitious (for me) friend who launched my blogging avocation brought up the idea of publishing my articles as a volume of contemporary history. And once I complied, she presented iUniverse as the most suitable publisher….

Tabitha: How satisfying has your experience with iUniverse been?

A. L. Hall: I should first say that POD publishing is a Godsend for aspiring authors. And this fact was brought into stark relief recently when an avid Jane Austen fan submitted manuscripts of her most successful novels, with literally no material changes, to 18 major book agents and publishers. Because, of the snobbish lot, only one had the elementary knowledge to recognize the submission as Austen’s. The rest simply rejected it as unworthy of publishing: How’s that for pride and prejudice?! Meanwhile, these same ignoramuses would no doubt salivate at the prospect of publishing Paris Hilton’s next tome on her simple life….

But I fear the thoroughly satisfying experience I enjoyed with iUniverse (in particular my PSA, Janet) on the first book may have spoiled me irretrievably. Because, quite frankly, the experience this time around left a great deal to be desired.

Tabitha: What is the most significant thing you have learned as a POD author? Do you have any advice to offer to new or prospective POD authors?

A. L. Hall: A professional proofreader is worth the investment!

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

A. L. Hall: Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing consent; James Baldwin’sThe Fire Next Time; Wole Soyinka’s The Interpreters; V.S. Naipal’s A Bend in the River; Gore Vidal’s Live from Golgotha; and Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet. The genres I like best are non-fiction, biography and historical and philosophical novels. Although I like spy novels as well: John le Carre, Graham Greene, and Robert Ludlum.

Tabitha: What have you been reading lately?

A. L. Hall: I am currently reading The Man Who Ate Death by Mihajlo Pantic and The First American by Christopher Hardaker.

Tabitha: When and where will the next release by Anthony Livingston Hall be available? Will it be a continuance of The iPINIONS Journal?

A. L. Hall: I’ve actually been contacted by a non-POD publisher. So, we shall see. But, yes, I shall continue my chronicling of these our times in Vol. III and hope to complete the manuscript by March 2008.

Tabitha: What’s next for Anthony Livingston Hall, the writer?

A. L. Hall: Publishing daily commentaries, which I enjoy thinking makes established columnists look like slackers….

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

A. L. Hall: Thank you for your interest. I truly appreciate your support.