Monday, November 26, 2007

The Confession of Piers Gaveston

The Confession of Piers Gaveston
by Brandy Purdy

(iUniverse / 0-595-45523-2 / July 2007 / 190 pages / $13.95)

(Please pardon the delay of the completion of this review. The review was halfway completed when a computer glitch caused its sudden, unexpected demise, leaving me in a disgusted funk. The review should be completed as soon as I get my mojo back. Thank you for your patience. The iUBR management.)

Brandy Purdy’s The Confession of Piers Gaveston offers a new spin on an old story. The conceit employed in this historical fiction novel is that the story has been composed as if Piers Gaveston kept a diary of his life and affair with King Edward II. Ms. Purdy researched this particular piece of English history from the 1300’s and composed her tale in the first person as Gaveston is telling his own personal story of tragedy and scandal. Susan Higginbotham’s The Traitor’s Wife offers a broad view of the scandalous, gay affair, including many details involving a soap opera full of characters. I recommend that any potential reader of The Confession of Piers Gaveston read The Traitor’s Wife first to understand the complete background of Piers Gaveston’s story. In the good old days of The Seventies, when rock and roll was enjoying explosive growth, The Traitor’s Wife would be the unnamed band’s hit album and The Confession of Piers Gaveston would be a very good solo album by one of the group’s key members. Once you have come to understand the overall story, Brandy Purdy’s book breathes life into the heart of the scandal. 

Another book I want to mention in comparison to The Confession of Piers Gaveston is Anne Rice’s Cry to Heaven. As a big fan of Anne Rice’s witches and vampires, I read this 1982 book from another genre many years ago. I was distinctly impressed by the quality of the composition and storyline about a kid in eighteenth century Italy who is kidnapped, castrated, and sold to the opera. What does this have to do with Brandy Purdy’s book? I’m not crazy about the idea of reading a book about a homosexual love affair, either, but both books sincerely impressed me with their quality. Both historical fiction novels are better than you might expect from their subject matter.

The painting on the front cover does not impress me, although the overall cover design is quite professionally done. Ms. Purdy has a common comma allergy, too, but neither of these issues does much to lessen the impact of this quality novel of historical fiction. Brandy has already submitted her second novel to iU. The six wives of Henry VIII will be its star characters, and I have high hopes for that book’s quality and success. The Confession of Piers Gaveston is an honor to the iUniverse imprint and Brandy Purdy is one of the brand’s most professional authors.

<>See Also: Nan Hawthorne's Interview with Brandy Purdy
Susan Higginbotham's Interview with Brandy Purdy
Tabitha's B&N Review
Tabitha's Authors Den Review
Brandy Purdy's Website
The Boleyn Wife

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Real Authors

I was a reader long before I was an author. The first book I can actually remember reading was a hardback copy of Black Beauty that featured a few illustrations, just like my fancy, modern edition of The Da Vinci Code. A few Tarzan hardcovers and a bunch of Fran Striker's Lone Ranger books, also hardcovers, became my next favorites. Although The Hardy Boys didn't ring my bell like Tarzan and The Lone Ranger, I did join them on a few of their adventures, too. I certainly wish I still had those antique editions on my bookshelf!

Certainly most of us were avid readers long before we became authors. We wrote primitve, unpolished and unpublished versions of our later books, too, honing our craft sometimes over decades. That's actually what it took to see my first and third books in print: decades. I knew a long time ago that my work would most likely never see mainstream daylight. Like most of my favorite rock bands, my books are difficult to classify. As Clu Gallagher says in one of my favorite difficult to classify movies, Into the Night, my books would fall into the or what category. I have always admired heroes, icons, and entertainers who can think and operate outside the box. What the hell is Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, anyway? Who reads Michael Moore and Pat Buchanan and likes them both? Could it be each of them has valid points to make? Who wants to go back in time with Lestat? Who thinks Robert Rimmer had at least a few good ideas? The best books, and the best writers, have always broken the mold.

Let me get one bit of unpleasantness out of the way. We authors who are considered unreal by many who claim to know everything must, at the very least, offer our products in a manner that is indistinguishable from the products of real authors. Most of all that means we must edit and proofread our work. Unlike all those great, real authors, we must do the job ourselves, or at least pay someone else to do it. We must take grammar and punctuation seriously or they will never take us seriously. We cannot be enamored of ellipses as if they were love bites, and if we do love them to death, we must at least use and punctuate them in the correct manner. We must not be afraid to use commas wherever they are necessary to make the meanings of our sentences crystal clear to our readers. Ya'll ought to know by now that if I have to back up and re-read a sentence in order to perceive its correct meaning just because you thought it stylish to leave out that significant comma, then you can expect a demerit for the omission. If you really must ellipses your readers to death, then I insist that you add a period at the end of what surely must have been intended as a sentence. If one of your country-hick-sleazebucket characters is speaking incorrectly, that's one thing, but if you mix up your adjectives with your adverbs within text outside the dialog, that means a minus point for you. Clean up your acts, people. If you want respect, you have to earn it.

Books are sold because of the stated title, subtitle, and subject matter. Manuscripts are purchased by the big guys simply because the big guys think they can sell lots of copies. As I have stated many times before, that was then and this is now. Authors who attempted to begin writing careers even five years ago had it better. The beginners of ten years ago had it even better than that. Most of the great successful authors of today released their first book back in The Sixties, or maybe The Seventies. Before there was POD, there were many thousands less books on the market looking for readers. Before there was Amazon, B&N ruled the world. Before there was George Bush, many youngsters grew up wanting to be readers. You get the picture.

We are all squirrels looking for a nut. Or we are all nuts looking for squirrels. Sometimes I'm not so sure which we are. Have I expanded my horizons by reading the iU books I have reviewed? Absolutely. Are many of these books by real authors? Absolutely. Are some of them by not so real authors? I'm afraid so. Let's keep on trying to separate the nuts from the squirrels.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Cibolero by Kermit Lopez
(iUniverse / 0-595-43567-8 / August 2007 / 182 pages / $13.95)

Add Kermit Lopez to the list of competent professionals. His second book, and the first with iUniverse, is relatively indistinguishable from a traditionally published book. This is a quality that is always appreciated and awarded at iUBR. With its relatively low error count, well-designed cover, and competent storyline, Cibolero deserves whatever sales attention it gets. The mystery at this point is why has his first book not attained more recognition? The Prodigy (1st Books, 1999) is twice as long and in a different genre than Cibolero. Is that the reason? Visit the author's website and you will see that it has been unusually designed, too.
Kermit has researched his ancestors who lived in New Mexico in the tempestuous days just prior to statehood and produced a new spin on the old Western drama. The plot revolves around a poor farmer and ex-cibolero whose teenage daughter is kidnapped by a gang of thuggish Texas Rangers. In his younger days. Antonio Baca had been a buffalo hunter, a dangerous job fit only for a strong, young, single man. When his daughter Elena is taken after an attack on his family in his absence, Antonio retrieves his retired buffalo lance and begins the task of tracking The Rangers back into Texas territory, in hope of saving his daughter. The plot contains many flashbacks into Baca's earlier days, explaining the many ramifications of the tenuous relationships between the Spanish-speaking New Mexicans, native Indians, and the white settlers emerging from the east.
There is only one critical issue I have with Cibolero, and it is truly a small nitpick. Probably because of the short length of the book, the specific intent of the book, as well as the designation of its target readership, seems to leave me wanting just a little more in the way of descriptive depth. As you can read in my other reviews of Cibolero, I found it just a bit difficult to read the book and smoothly absorb its dialog and ruminations. I compared the book to the movie Soldier Blue because Mr. Lopez is attempting to show an accurate view of a dark period in U.S. history. Like that movie, Cibolero's same weakness seems to stem from the compromises it must make to reach its target audience, leaving many characters drawn in a two-dimensional manner. I think I would have preferred the story to be told more in the manner of the book and movie, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Cibolero is a story about Mexicans, not Indians, but I cannot help but feel that many of the same emotions over a twisted history have spawned both of these delicate Western tales.
Kermit Lopez is obviously a credit to the iUniverse field of authors. Cibolero is a well thought out and composed history lesson, and a story that has not been often told. It seems surprising that there is such a gap in genre and release date between The Prodigy and Cibolero. It really makes me wonder how good that first book might be.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Danielle Steele

Did any of you happen to see Danielle Steele interviewed by Larry King recently? Listen up! This is a special message to those of you who may think you're going to grind out your bestseller with a couple of months' work. Ms. Steele told Larry she spends one year on an 80-100-page outline; then a second year on the first draft; and finally, two years editing each book. If it requires Danielle Steele four years to produce a quality product, how long does it take you?

Here are the coming attractions in November at iUBR:

Kermit Lopez' Cibolero review
Interview with Susan Higginbotham
Brandy Purdy's The Confessions of Piers Gaveston review

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Independent Authors Guild

I hope I am not premature in introducing the newly formed Independent Authors Guild to my little handful of readers, but I would hope that many of you would like to step onto the ground floor as soon as the concrete dries. The IAG is a brand-new organization that is currently being formed to further the progress of POD, self-published, and small-press authors. I have composed a brief history of the formation of IAG especially for my readership.
Back on July 8th, Dianne Salerni, the author of an iU book entitled High Spirits, introduced herself on the Amazon Historical Fiction board with a post for POD authors. This message (of course!) became the most frequently read message on that board, concluding with a total of 1878 posts. After a point, Dianne joined forces with the other six active members on that board to form IAG, although it took a number of months to develop into the IAG as we know it now. At first these were just some inexperienced authors with the same old idea of not exposing their POD company affiliations, but their ideas continued to mature. I long ago reviewed Susan Higginbotham's book, I just recently did Barry Yelton's, and at least one more of these IAG authors have books waiting in my queue. This is how I happened to be paying attention to the organization as it was formed.

One of these guys discovered the Yahoo Groups in late October, so the group moved from Amazon to Yahoo on October 23rd. This new Yahoo Group was active for only one week until Halloween, when Nan Hawthorne split the original Yahoo Group into two Yahoo Groups, a Members IAG Group for any author outside the realm of the major publishers, and a private, Board IAG Group for the seven founders to communicate with each other and govern the new organization.

My main interest in all this is that I know what I do is helpful to a very select few POD authors, but the numbers must remain tiny by design. Others we know, such as the paid review sites, have aided larger numbers of authors, but we know the nature of that aid leaves a lot to be desired. The sheer volume of books discussed on these sites makes their opinions seem suspect, at least if and when the reader realizes how little time and effort has been allowed for each review. Raise your hand if you think a review paid for by the author is as legitimate as an unpaid review. IAG is approaching the problem from a new angle, and I have to admire their spunk, if not their naivete. Will IAG be able to successfully limit their endorsement to only the best self published authors, and will that endorsement increase book sales? That is the question of the day.

What the IAG people don't realize is that many others have already set up similar operations to achieve the same goal, and all have failed in one way or another. Some groups have dissolved into a swamp of slap-fighting; some have dribbled into personal small-talk; and some have simply tired of the massive amount of work producing so little reward. The Yahoo Print-On-Demand Group has been around for years. Just ask Janet Elaine Smith: she's been there even longer than I have. I started my own POD Yahoo Group years ago, but I finally had to dissolve it in disgust. I wanted to trade useful marketing information, but all I got was drivel. You can still read lots of that here at WritersNet. Many other message boards for POD authors have come and gone since 1998, even one hosted by iUniverse.

I sincerely hope the new IAG is the one that breaks the mold and succeeds in the manner in which its founders naively expect. I refer to them as naive based on several facts. First of all, as far as I can ascertain, the seven founding board members have together published less POD books than I have. Secondly, their collective experience in the actual marketing of POD books is miniscule compared to my own, or even more so compared to a veteran such as Janet Elaine Smith. The final point I wish to make is probably the deadliest of all. Many of the most successful POD authors attained their individual pinnacles within small market niches before there were so many POD books flooding the market. When you realize how many of these new POD authors have attacked the limited marketing and retail resources available like a school of hammerheads, the true depth of the dilemma becomes clear. If this was simply the end of the story, the future of IAG might be a little more assured. Unfortunately, we all know there is a great big elephant standing in our jar of JiF. Massive numbers of these new POD authors have produced Hyundai products with BMW prices, and most of the reading public has been made aware of this fact by the slap-fighters.

Allow me to offer an analogy with which I hope to make my point crystal clear, although the solution is as muddy as a Mississippi lake bottom. I have been following our current housing bubble and bust for a number of years. Yes, I am one of those few who saw it coming from a mile away and adjusted my lifestyle plans accordingly. Most of the commenters on the many housing bubble blogs are exactly the same as the people I call the slap-fighters on the POD message boards. Those on the housing blogs want you to know that you are a fool for purchasing a home in California in 2005 with an ARM mortgage loan. Those on the writer blogs want you know you are a fool for publishing with a POD company because everybody knows that most POD books are trash. There can be no denial that most of these bloggers are right most of the time. The problem is that if everyone thought and acted as they do, our world would become nothing more than another Fox News celebrity slap-fight. Someone has to be a positive leader. Someone has to actually try to accomplish something, instead of just mouthing off at the person next to you. We all know that if we let the traditional publishing industry control all the books published, eventually there will be nothing left in the stores but ghost-written, celebrity bullcrap. Inch by painstaking inch, Barnes & Noble is becoming more and more like Fox News. Of course I don't mean to imply that B&N has any sort of right-wing bias like that of the fair and balanced news channel, but there is a celebrity bias. With each passing year, fewer and fewer books reach bookstore shelves because the author displays the imagination of Kurt Vonnegut or the storytelling acumen of John Grisham. More and more books occupy those shelves because the author's face is on television and millions of morons recognize it.

Unless POD can somehow break out of its conundrum with books that sell because they are well written or the subject is adeptly handled, we are all doomed to see only Ann Coulter's latest piece of trash promoted at the local B&N. How can IAG separate the good books from the trash heap? That is the question for us all to ponder.