Book review: Autumn In the Abyss by John Claude Smith

I should preface the review by saying that I had decided a few years back not to review short story collections because I’m not all that fair to the format. I’d changed my mind by reading some flash fiction collections, and I found certain books that I enjoyed quite a bit. But I can’t say I enjoyed much of this collection, and I admit my issues with it are more about my biases than anything wrong with the writing.

I did enjoy the first story in the collection, which bears the same name as the book. But the reason why Autumn In the Abyss worked for me is in its length, being a novelette that builds on a mystery slowly to reveal the fate of a poet who went missing in the sixties, Henry Coronado. The narrator is an agoraphobic shut-in who has become obsessed with solving this mystery, which is surrounded by names of many writers from the same era. This is another reason why the story works for me, because it wraps itself in history in such a way that I can almost imagine that this is something that really happened. It wasn’t until close to the reveal that I guessed the ending, and by then, I was so invested in the story that I didn’t mind finding out why Henry vanished, and why his works slipped so rapidly out of the public eye. There’s also some interesting concepts about the power and purpose of words that tickles at my brain with possible inspiration for stories, and so yes, I really did enjoy this story. If I were giving a score based on this one story alone, Autumn In the Abyss would be a 5 star book.

Then comes Broken Teacup, and I didn’t like it at all. It’s fairly short, and the plot follows men who make snuff porn films. This is the kind of horror story where one should hate the characters and root for the monster which we know is coming for them. But this kind of story rarely has the right impact on me. I think it’s because on any given day, I see similar real news stories about the worst humanity has to offer, and there’s no shock value in seeing these kinds of people starring as the main characters. Similarly, I feel no satisfaction at these characters meeting their demise. To truly horrify me, you have to give me someone to feel invested in, and to feel afraid for in the face of danger. That doesn’t have to be a good person, either. It just has to be someone compelling enough to make me see the threat through their eyes. But Broken Teacup doesn’t give me any time to understand the characters. It’s too short to allow for emotional investment of any kind. There’s these guys, and they torture and kill women for custom porn videos. Then they meet a monster, and that’s the end of the story. This really doesn’t work for me. Continue reading

Blog bookstore updated…

This is a job I’ve been meaning to tackle for some time now, but I had so many other projects going on that I kept putting it off. But today I buckled down and forced myself to make an update to the blog bookstore. In addition to adding a few books from my catalog that I’d somehow missed on release, I’ve added cover thumbnails for all the books and brief descriptions to let you know what they’re about before clicking the link to Gumroad.

With that major project done, hopefully tomorrow I can get back to writing. I’m this close to finishing a new WIP called The Dragon of Divinity, and I’m also close to writing the last of two new Sex Doll novellas, which I’ll be adding to the original book and uploading at an updated edition. Then I’m going to try and write the last Zombie Era novella, and those three books following Susan’s story after she and Kate left G will be combined into a single volume.

Even before I wrap up these projects, I already have enough books in the queue to schedule new releases into 2015. I’ll be wrapping up a couple series, and putting out some new standalone stories as well. If anything, it should keep me busy.

Book review: Fledgling by Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler is an author I’ve been meaning to read for some time now, but didn’t know quite where to begin with her work. Then I saw a retweet expressing displeasure with Fledgling, and as has become a habit for me, I decided to make it my first effort. (How do you get me to bump a book up in my TBR list? Complain that you hate it. I’ll come running to see what all the fuss is about far faster than I would if you told me to read it because you loved it. Yeah, I know, I’m weird like that.)

There was only one complication in that the Kindle edition I wanted wasn’t available yet. I paid for the preorder, and the book was delivered to my phone at the end of March. (Isn’t technology grand?) I still had to clear out my other current reads, but as soon as that was done, I began the book curious to see what had displeased the other reader.

Well, I found it, and this is the first caveat I must warn other readers about. The main character, first called Renee, and then by her true name Shori, is a child despite being fifty-three years old. She is a child by the standards of her people, the Ina, who humans would call vampires, and she has severe amnesia after almost being killed at the start of the story. To my mind, this makes her even more of a child. Almost as soon as the story starts, Shori finds a human named Wright, and she feeds from him. Her venom compels him to follow her orders, and soon after traveling with him to his home, they have sex. Continue reading

Standing out in an outstanding crowd

It’s been a while that I let myself coast without trying very hard on promotions or writing anything here aside from reviews. It’s not that I don’t have things I want to talk to y’all about, but more that I wasn’t sure how to say anything without coming off as a grumbling fogey or an unappreciated jeenyus.

Through the last two years, I’ve often felt encouraged by seeing reviewers and readers asking for more diversity in their fiction, and I took this as encouragement to keep writing to put out more options instead of focusing on any one genre or market. At the same time, I felt that I needed a message more developed than “I’m different” to stand out from the crowded markets.

The thing is, I’d really rather not resort to dissing the work of others or being jealous of their success. In my own way, I’ve tried as a reader to support everyone from the big name authors down to the first-time indies just dipping their toes in the writing pool. When it comes to social media, when someone asks me for reading recommendations, I will first offer up a list of other authors I enjoy before asking if it’s all right to suggest something from my catalog. It’s strange, but even after years of being so deeply invested in this global writing competition, I still feel awkward actually trying to compete.

Maybe it’s all those years of abuse that keeps a voice alive in me, constantly insisting “I’m not really good enough to compete with these people.” Maybe it’s empathy knowing how hard it is to make even one sale that prevents me from saying “My book is better than X-book.” Maybe some of it is respect for the other authors, even those I don’t like or find their work repugnant to my own tastes. Continue reading

Changing promotional tactics

Lately, I haven’t had nearly as many sales through Twitter as I was making last spring, and at times, I thought that was a side effect of my reduced promotion efforts combined with my lack of new releases. But as of last month, I put out a new book, and I put out another this month, with another planned for May. I returned to putting out one ad per hour, and I got a decent number of retweets. Despite having good exposure, I still wasn’t finding nearly the level of success I’d had last year.

One of the people I follow on Twitter has been emailing me about making changes to my Amazon tags and blurbs to get better visibility, but even making some changes like he suggested, it doesn’t seem to help pull me up into a high enough ranking to break through the competition. In talking over my promotional strategies with him, I’ve come to realize one possible cause for my diminishing gains on Twitter: I’ve lost my credibility and my connections to my followers.

What happened was, I started retweeting books for other authors because I wanted to get their help promoting my stuff. But this added exposure isn’t helping, and if anything, tweeting for others has diluted my stream to the point that my own ads are being completely lost in the shuffle. Continue reading

Trans minor to be sent to adult male prison…

This is going to be a very short post. This morning someone I follow on Twitter brought this story to my attention. The minor is so young, the law prevents anyone from mentioning her name, but the state of Connecticut is going to place them in a male prison, misgendering them and exposing them to even more abuse from violent inmates. The story says this teen was the victim of childhood abuse, and that they’ve been in custody for half their life. They must have PTSD already, and the proposed solution is even more violence against them.

I can’t say much else about this. I want to. I want to yell and scream. I want to storm someone’s office and demand that this mistake is corrected. I want to whip people into a frenzy and convince them to do something to stop this kind of thing from ever happening again.

But I’m just a broken little nobody on the other side of the planet from where this is happening. Even if I were closer, why would anybody listen to me? I have no money, no political power, no leverage to make this better. I feel tiny, helpless, and powerless. I can’t think about this without feeling sucked back to my own useless struggles against a system that offered neither compassion nor justice. All I can do is bring this to your attention and then sit back and shake.

God, where is the humanity in humans?

Book update: Rot by Michele Lee

While browsing the blog Wag the Fox, I ran across an entry for Rot by Michele Lee in a new Kindle edition. This is good because as far as I’d known the book had gone out of print, and I’d had to give up on recommending it to readers. I even emailed my ebook copy to someone because I wanted them to read it. (I deleted my copy because I respect copyright, and because I still have an original print copy.)

Michele and I no longer talk (no use rehashing old shit, so I won’t), but this is one book I’ve reread multiple times and still tear up at the ending. Briefly summing up, Rot is a unique take on zombies because it involves the undead being reanimated by way of magic. These zombies are aware, but still quite prone to violence and munching on raw flesh. Most are kept in a retirement home of sorts, but the people running the home are doing some rather unsavory things with the undead whose families can no longer afford the rent. It’s a story that makes every zombie’s suffering personal and easy to empathize with, and even years after first reading the book, it sticks with me as one of the best zombie stories I’ve ever read, if not the best. (I waffle on whether I love Rot or John A. Lindqvist’s Handling the Undead more, but both are fantastic and worth your time.)

So, knowing there’s a Kindle reissue for this book, I’m happy to once again recommend it to everyone, not just fans of zombie stories. It’s reasonably priced, a good short read with a gut punch of an ending. So please, do check it out and add it to your to-be-read pile. Trust me, you won’t regret it.