Full Week Planned!

This week should be pretty full–I have posts planned for almost every day. Deborah has a review and so do I (just finished a fantasy!), plus, we have Writer Wednesday (yay!) and I believe I am expecting one more review. I may even review my laptop. Should be lively.

Now that I taken an extensive fantasy break (I read four mysteries in a row!), I returned to fantasy last week with a novel from Small Beer Press. It was a non-western novel, and I do love to explore other cultures through reading. Also, I’m going to sample some enovels (is that a word yet? If not, can I make it one?) as soon as Carina Press opens one week from now. I think I have already identified a whole bunch that I want to read, but I’m going to start with a novella, because I’ll have to read it on this laptop and I’m not sure how that experience will go. I still want to get a Kobo, but boy have we been wearing out our savings, so that might have to wait another half-month or so.

Hmm. I suppose I could read it on my iPod; that didn’t work out bad last time I tried it. In any case, I’ll keep you informed.

I finally broke out Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey and I read the opening chapters. I may do a Reading and Tweeting on that one, but it doesn’t come out until August, and I don’t want to be too premature.

See ya around!

Publisher Review – Mundania Press

I was vetting a book submitted via my Debut Informer form, and I thought I’d go ahead and do another Publisher Review. This time, I am reviewing Mundania Press. Here are my findings.

  • Website geared toward readers or writers?Readers. There are nine new releases front-and-center, and at first glance, the covers look pretty good. This is definitely a presentation that puts the reader first.
  • Visibility of submissions link?Visible on the menubar, but does not call a lot of attention to itself.
  • Submissions Currently closed. When they are open, they are picky about following their formatting guidelines. Selective is good. Royalty rates are generous, but I don’t know if that is off cover price or sale price.

I spend a lot of time looking at the way the site presents itself because I will only consider publishers who are looking to sell books to readers, not make money off writers. Yes, every publisher makes money off writers, but the question is are they doing it in an exploitative way? Mundania Press is definitely showcasing their writers and trying to sell them to readers.

  • Does it look like a serious business venture?Yes. Tis is a well-designed site and there is a full staff shown on the About page. Does not appear to be run by hobbyists.
  • How well are they publicizing their author’s work?Looks good. They have a nice page for each book, and someone is paying attention to the reviews because the lists of excerpts can get extensive. The also have excerpts.

A hobbyist isn’t going to spend a lot of time on the website or scouring the internet looking for reviews. In this case, I have not had contact with their editorial or publicity department, so I can only judge their publicity from their website and how much I see on the web about them from a Google search.

They have a Facebook page, and they keep an active Blogspot blog, but their Facebook widget is cut off on the right. The posts are up-to-date, but the sidebar contains dated information. The Facebook page is also up-to-date. I found an undated interview that referred to May of 2005 as being in the future.

Mundania Press seems to be well-regarded. I found announcements about them at Romantic Times Book Reviews, a few reviews at BSCReviews, and a review at Graeme’s Fantasy Review. These are all sites I respect.

  • Covers – Professional or Amateur? Mixed. Some of the covers are awesome, and some look too computer-generated. Overall, I liked the covers.
  • Availability of booksAvailable, but not timely. I could not find their most recent book at Amazon, and their second-most-recent book was missing the cover at Amazon. At Barnes and Noble, the most recent books were not available, except the Bad-Ass Fairies anthology. They have a Fictionwise bookstore, but again, their most recent book was not available there. Offers returns to bookstores, and they have distribution arrangements.
  • Price of booksGood. The price of trade paperbacks is on par with major publishing houses.
  • Is an excerpt available?Yes, but not every time.
  • Is the excerpt professionally written and presented? The writing is ok, but nothing held my interest. I think some more attention could be paid to the dialog.

Finally, I scrutinize the product, itself. I had a hard time finding the most recent release anywhere but mundania.com. They do eventually make it to the online bookstores, but I’d prefer to see the books available for pre-order before the publication date rather than a month or two afterward. Do they keep newly-released books exclusive to Mundania at first? It’s possible.

  • Random impressions – Freebies and Calendar pages have no content. Has a large selection of books that appear to be good quality. Their reputation is clean. They were originally started to publish some of Piers Anthony’s novels, and have published dozens of authors since then. Their anthologies appears to generate some good exposure for them.

My possible ratings:

  • Highly Approved – I would review one of these books.
  • Approved – site meets my stringent requirements.
  • Cautious – has red flags, but nothing onerous.
  • Disapproved – You don’t want to associate yourself with these guys.
  • Avoid – I don’t even want to send web traffic to these guys, they’re so bad.

With Caveats – This will enable me to give a higher score to a publisher, but to add a caveat.

My rating for Mundania Press:

~*~ Approved, With Caveats ~*~

Mundania Press looks to be highly selective; they are doing a great job with their presentation and their covers, and they genuinely are trying to get good books out. I’d like them to explain the delay in making books available elsewhere–even a simple statement saying something like, “For a limited time, available only at Mundania Press” would help; otherwise it looks like inefficiency. They need to fix the “under construction” parts of their site, and keep their blog sidebar up-to-date. I would be happier seeing them a little more “out there” in terms of exposure for themselves and their authors. I was only able to find their Twitter feed then I Googled the Publisher’s name, and even then, he doesn’t tweet anything. Twitter is a great publicity tool, especially since it is so easily fed elsewhere like Facebook.

Since I may have simply caught the publisher at a bad time, I’ll revisit it in six months or so.

I would review one of their books, but only if I liked the excerpt and if the publisher sent the book (which demonstrates commitment on the part of the publisher). I do confess that I don’t like their name. It makes me wonder if the books they publish won’t be . . . well, mundane.

Check them out: Mundania Press.

Brand-New Email Newsletter

I read something somewhere that if you take yourself seriously, others will as well. To that end, I’ve decided to create an email newsletter about my writing endeavors. I’ve already written most of the first issue, because May was such an action-packed month for me. The newsletter will have articles that I won’t post elsewhere. To use marketing lingo, the content will be exclusive (wince).

To subscribe, just look to the far right sidebar of this blog, or the far left sidebar of my homepage, fill in the blanks, and push the button. (Note: if you are a reviewer for this blog and are logged in, you will just get a yes/no question.) I don’t use an outside party for my newsletter, so the only one who will get your email address is me. I promise I will not use your email address for any other purpose than sending my newsletter, and I promise I won’t send a newsletter any more often than once a month.

I’ll be posting the first issue during the first week of June. At this time, I have no plan of making back-issues available on the web.

Thank you in advance for subscribing!

Debut Review: Embers by Laura Bickle

EMBERS
by Laura Bickle
Juno Books – $7.99

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Review by Deborah Blake

Anya Kalinczyk is an arson investigator with the Detroit Fire Department. She is also a Lantern, a type of psychic medium so rare that as far as she knows, she is the only one. When not at her day job, she works with DAGR, the Detroit Area Ghost Researchers, an eccentric bunch of ghost hunters. Anya’s rare talent allows her to absorb malicious spirits into her own core, thus extinguishing them forever; a mixed blessing, and a last resort.

An unusual increase in malevolent spirit activity and a series of mysterious fires send Anya on the trail of a supernatural arsonist—who just may be a Lantern like her. Both attracted to and repulsed by this dangerous adversary, Anya jeopardizes her friendships and her budding relationship with one of the DAGR members to try and handle the crisis on her own. Using only her salamander familiar and her own uncertain gift, she battles demons both real and emotional, slowly getting in further and further over her head.

In the end, she must reach out for help or risk losing not just her life but the city she has fought so hard to defend. On Devil’s Night, her foe will attempt to summon an ancient entity to consume Detroit and all those in it, unless Anya can find the strength to stop him.

EMBERS is a strong debut; well written and peopled by diverse and intriguing characters. Anya is a tortured soul—in more ways than one—and often her own worst enemy. As a reader, you sympathize with her friends’ frustration as she pushes away those who would help her, insisting on doing everything by herself. But once you learn her history, it becomes clear that Anya is damaged; and this story is as much about her own redemption as it is about her fight to keep her beloved city safe.

The unexpected beauty of the fiery entity, the playful malignance of the demon that inhabits Anya, and the flashes of humanity demonstrated by her enemy all enrich this book. My only complaint (and it is a small one) is that Bickle occasionally displays some of the writing flaws of a beginning author; words repeated too often or too closely, and once a contradiction that temporarily threw me out of the story. But overall, this is a winner, and I look forward to reading Anya’s further adventures. And her familiar Sparky is one of my new favorite paranormal creatures.

Deborah Blake is an award-winning author with five books on modern Witchcraft. Two of these are coming out this year: EVERYDAY WITCH A TO Z SPELLBOOK (Llewellyn, July) and WITCHCRAFT ON A SHOESTRING (Llewellyn, September). She also writes Urban Fantasy and is represented by Elaine Spencer of The Knight Agency. Deborah gives a number of highly successful online writing workshops and has a loop, THE CREATIVITY CAULDRON, for paranormal authors. Her website is www.deborahblakehps.com.

Debut Graduate: David Williams on Completing a Trilogy


David J. Williams writes hard-hitting, military science fiction. The first novel was Mirrored Heavens, which I reviewed at Fantasy Debut. Since then, he’s written The Burning Skies and his final book, The Machinery of Light, comes out today. When I asked him to pen a guest post, I never expected this subject, which has not come up on any of my blogs before. Here is David Williams on completing a trilogy.

~*~


A novel has a certain mystique.  A trilogy, perhaps even more so.  Though as Oscar Wilde once said, anyone can write a trilogy, so long as he/she is deaf to life and art.  (People look askance at me when I tell them that – um, it’s supposed to be a joke.)  At any rate, with Bantam’s release of THE MACHINERY OF LIGHT, my Autumn Rain trilogy is officially d-o-n-e…. and it’s been a long strange trip.  Not just since the release of the first novel, THE MIRRORED HEAVENS, two years ago .. . but, really, since I started writing, almost ten years back (in September of 2000, to be precise).  I have no massive trunk of unsold novels/stories; these novels are the only ones I’ve ever written–they constitute my journey thus far as a writer.  And finishing them up is a very weird feeling.  In three ways in particular:

1.  Now I have to say goodbye to my characters. I didn’t think it would be so tough, because in a sense I never said hello to them in the first place.  They are, after all, imaginary.  And yet it’s hard all the same.  They took shape in my head across so many years — went through so many iterations.  I’ve heard the French writer Honore de Balzac inquired on his deathbed as to the health of characters in his novels; I think I know where he was coming from.

2.  I can’t change anything anymore. Anything I hadn’t handled in the first book, I could handle in the second.  Anything I hadn’t wrapped up in the second, I could get to in the third.  But now that the third’s in stores, it’s going to be awfully difficult to make any more revisions.  Not that I want to make any. . . but you know how it goes.  Writers don’t exactly write.  They just revise.  Until they no longer can…

3.  The secret’s out. The books built toward a huge reveal that redefined everything that had gone on across the trilogy.  A trillion dollar enchilada moment, as it were, one that my evil subconscious cackled maniacally over for years.  But now it’s seen the light of day.  And in fact Publishers Weekly blew the whole thing in its review a few weeks back.  So don’t google it.  Just read the books.

Anyway.  I’m sure more weirdness will be settling on me in the next few days and weeks, but that’s probably enough for now.  Thanks a ton to Tia for the space, and all of you for reading!

~*~

David will be hanging out, answering comments so don’t be shy. He’s a very approachable guy.

Check out this book trailer for The Machinery of Light, which is available today at stores everywhere.

THE MACHINERY OF LIGHT trailer from Claire Haskell on Vimeo.

What I've Been Up To

One problem with being a book blogger is that when you’re not reading much, you don’t have much to write about. Sometimes my life is like an overfull cup–just as soon as I drink some off the top, the tap opens and pours more water inside. I just need to learn to drink faster.

On Friday, my husband deemed that I needed a laptop. Who was I to argue? I had gotten my edits back from Carina, along with a very tight deadline. So off we went, and he examined the specs of laptops in four stores before he found one that met his expectations and my price demands. The store was HHGregg, and the laptop is a Sony Vaio. It’s red and shiny and I’m all comfy as I sit here and type this.

Last week, my youngest sister turned 40. Therefore, we of course had to have a bash on Saturday. My laptop and Ihad not even had a chance to get acquainted. I loaded up a zip drive with essential files, installed Office 2003 and Oblivion, and off we went. (No, I haven’t had a chance to play Oblivion yet, but I did get some edits done.)

At the party, our daughter spent 90 percent of the time either in the pool, or asking to go in the pool. Who needs to eat? Not her. I saw cousins aplenty, and my husband discovered that no, he has not yet met all my cousins. After 20+ years of marriage.

In order to fully enjoy the weekend, we decided we absolutely had to have a beachfront hotel room. We definitely don’t do this every time we go visit family, but we were due. We ended up getting a lovely room with a wraparound balcony. We both did time with my daughter in the ocean and in the swimming pool, but my husband took the greater share this time. He discovered that yes, the ocean can bite. Not a creature in the ocean, but the ocean himself as he got keel-hauled back and forth across a hidden rock in the midst of some brutal waves. My daughter too.

As for posting this week, it’s going to be anything goes!

Series Review – Gaslight Mysteries Volumes 7 – 10

Gaslight Mysteries
by Victoria Thompson
Berkeley

I was hankering to read me some Gaslight Mysteries, so I spent the last week and a half gobbling up a bunch. Here are my impressions.


Murder on Lenox Hill

This volume was a great choice to restart the series after a half-year lapse. In it, Ms. Thompson takes on something other than a murder mystery for most of the novel. A mentally handicapped girl has turned up pregnant and cannot name the father. There is no murder at all until well into the book, and most of the mystery surrounds the girl, the pastor of the family church, a gang of boys who idolize the pastor, and the web of lies they are all involved in.

As far as the relationship between Sarah and Malloy goes, it continues to grow almost imperceptibly. Sarah is now busy with her foster-daughter and now has a homelife. In fact, her homelife is beginning to hamper her ability to solve murders.

This volume was excellent, but I wish it had not cut off so soon at the end, when Sarah and Frank were beginning to enjoy a tender moment, it it is not referred to again in subsequent volumes.

~*~


Murder in Little Italy

Unfortunately, I was not as happy with this volume. It was still a quick read, but it was entirely too plot-driven, and the ever-romance between Malloy and Sarah hardly progressed a nudge.

This is a fairly standard murder mystery. A new Irish mom has turned up dead in Little Italy, and a war between the Irish and the Italians is about to break out. Malloy is under a lot of pressure to solve this case. The members of the Italian family are prime suspects, and they don’t like either Sarah or Frank poking around. You get a taste of the predecessors of gangsters in this novel.

It was during this volume that Sarah’s fostering of a little girl, which took place in an earlier volume, starts to seriously hamper the plots of this and subsequent novels. While it was touching for Sarah to take the girl in, I think it would help the plot if a pair of loving parents turned up out of the blue to take her away. Sarah was funner when she was independent. The mysteries are becoming more and more Frank’s concern, and while I love Frank, I read these books for Sarah.

~*~


Murder in Chinatown

Unfortunately (and I’m using that word a lot, I know), I think Murder in Chinatown is Murder in Little Italy, remixed with Chinese instead of Italians.

In Chinatown, a lot of Chinese men have Irish wives. It seems that a lot of Irish girls have determined that Chinese men make better husbands than Irish men, which are in short supply anyway. In a comfortable, middle-class Chinese-Irish household, a teenage girl goes missing. Then, she turns up dead.

Unlike Murder in Little Italy, it is the Irish wife who keeps getting Sarah involved in the mystery, despite the fact that this makes Frank very cranky. It was a bit refreshing that Sarah didn’t have to be a busybody here, but it still seems that Frank is taking over all the investigations now that Sarah has a child to be responsible for.

This novel is almost entirely plot-driven. I hate to say it of a series I love, but you could skip this one and miss almost nothing of the over-arching story.

~*~


Murder on Bank Street

The title here is misleading — the murder didn’t take place on Bank Street, but since Sarah lives on Bank Street and this is the mystery about her husband’s murder, you know right away that this novel takes on his case at last.

The novel begins with a prologue, so right away you get the sense that this story is going to be different. And it is. Sarah is mostly on the sidelines in this story, which is fine because she could never been a good investigator into her husband’s death. Maeve, the nursemaid for her foster child, becomes a point-of-view character, and as such we get to learn a bit about her. Which is good because this series really needed some additional characters. (I still would like to see a friend for Sarah who is her own age.)

A good possibility might be a female private detective employed by the Pinkerton Agency, who helps Frank with this case. I really enjoyed reading about the Pinks and I hope they show up in future volumes.

One thing I object to is the way it ended. After ten books, we readers deserve a kiss between Malloy and Sarah. Surely Ms. Thompson doesn’t think that just because they kiss, we will lose interest in the novel. In fact, the opposite is true. If Ms. Thompson persists in the glacial pace of the romance, she will lose me.

Otherwise, I’m glad the Dr. Brandt storyline is over, and that it resolved so satisfactorily. Ms. Thompson got her groove back with this novel, and I’m looking forward to the next one.

New Feature! Publisher Reviews – Small Beer Press

An email from Kimber An has inspired a new feature: Publisher Reviews!

When someone asks me to review a book that is through a publishing house I never heard of (not that Kimber did this), I have distinct criteria. I decided to go public with these criteria in the form of Publisher Reviews. I will review two types of publishers here: Small Presses and E-Publishers. (I will not be reviewing my own publisher, Carina Press.)

Rather than tell you how I’m going to do this, I’ll illustrate it with my first victim: Small Beer Press.

Disclaimer! I have already agreed to review novels through Small Beer Press. I was familiar with them when I accepted the review copies, and I was familiar with the editor. I didn’t vet them like I would an unknown. Therefore, I am going to put them through the process now. However, my initial impression is already highly favorable.

Here are the criteria I look for:

  • Website geared toward writers or readers? My answer: Readers.

If it looks like the website is trying to attract writers instead of readers, then that’s a big red flag because it could mean that their customers are writers instead of readers. If they’re just launching, that’s different. But once they have a product to show, I expect it to be front and center.

  • Visibility of submissions link? My answer: Nonexistent. Submissions link is buried in the About page. Furthermore, no submissions are accepted — writers must query by mail.
  • Submissions – terms, exclusivity, rights purchased, etc? My answer: Unknown. Publishers usually don’t make all this available, but sometimes they have a FAQ. I don’t see one here.

The harder a publisher is to submit to, the more impressed I am. This tells me that they get lots of submissions, so they must make the writers jump through some hoops in order to submit. Of course as a writer, I find this irksome, but as a reader, it impresses me, and in this case, I must act as the reader.

  • Does it look like a serious business venture?  My answer: Yes. This is definitely a professionally designed webpage, and a lot of thought went into it. Also, the fact that they also run a well-respected magazine — Lady Churchhill’s Rosebud Wristlet — is highly in their favor.
  • How well are they publicizing their author’s work? My answer: Could use improvement. They pack a lot of information on the page, including a bunch of blog posts. The three most recent releases are at the top, followed by a blog posts, and then a lot more books. I almost overlooked those books on the bottom.  However, there is a Books link at the top of the page, and I didn’t miss that. I would be happier to see another row of books along the top. They appear to be trying to cram too much “above the scroll”.

Also, in this case, the editor contacted me about reviews. This is an automatic plus, because the bad publishers would never do this.

  • Covers – Professional or Amateur? My answer: Professional. It looks on par with literary books by major publishers. Were I one of their authors, I would be pleased with their artwork.
  • Availability of books online – On Amazon and elsewhere? My answer: Readily available.

Books should be available in more places than just the publisher’s website.

  • Price of books – my answer: Typical to a bargain.

Lots of POD novels are overpriced. Small Beer Press had some excellent prices for trade paperback and hardcovers.

  • Is an excerpt available? My answer: Occasionally.

If a publisher is unwilling to put any excerpts online, then I tend to conclude that there’s a good reason for this — they don’t want you seeing it until it’s too late.

  • Is the excerpt professionally written and presented? My answer: Well written, but presentation unknown. The two books I have now have crisp black text that is easy to read. However, I cannot get a sense of the typography and layout from the website alone.

This is not necessarily a red flag, I’m mainly looking at the quality of the writing, here.

  • Random Impressions: I think the link to Kelly Link’s site on the front page ought to be removed. It looks out of context here, and it’s also available in the About page.

Rating

I’m going to be rating publishers on a five point scale:

Highly Approved – I would review one of these books.

Approved – site meets my stringent requirements.

Cautious – has red flags, but nothing onerous.

Disapproved – You don’t want to associate yourself with these guys.

Avoid – I don’t even want to send web traffic to these guys, they’re so bad.

With Caveats – This will enable me to give a higher score to a publisher, but to add a caveat. For example, I might rate a publisher Approved, With Caveats.

My rating of Small Beer Press:

~*~ Highly Approved ~*~

(Now I need to make graphics for these ratings.)

I had a great opinion of Small Beer Press from my first contact with them, and my scrutiny of them for this post has not changed that initial impression. You could be proud to have your book published by them, and I would be willing to bet that they put out some well-written, thought-provoking novels and nonfiction books. In fact, you’ll know for sure next month, when I post my first review.

They also have an imprint for children’s books (age 10 and up) called Big Mouth House.

~*~

Publisher Reviews will be an irregular feature, but when I get a few of them done, they will appear automagically on the sidebar. My next review will be coming quite soon, and it won’t be nearly this favorable.

Check them out: Small Beer Press