Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Karin Kallmaker on good manners by authors

Karin Kallmaker posted this on her blog today and I think it deals with an important subject.  At any rate, it's coming from a major author who also happens to be the Editorial Director at Bella Books.  I think that makes her worth listening to.
Lacking in Graciousness and Generosity, Part 2

Creative people rest in a unique position in society. Until very recently, with the explosion of "independent" artists, we have been expected to create art for the sake of art. We haven't been expected to be business people and I have been, at times, made to feel less "artistic" for being concerned about getting paid for my work. Talk to any musician about how it feels at the end of the gig to have to hunt down the organizer to ask for the check and go through the standard "it's here somewhere, can we mail it?" routine.

Everyone around us is allowed to worry about their bottom line, but not the artist herself. I wrote a lengthy rant on this subject when a bookselling gateway wanted me to basically work for free while he made money off my efforts and then chided me for lacking in generosity when I refused.

This rant is a little closer to home. I may come off like a self-satisfied "I've got mine now you get yours" bee-yotch but bad manners are bad manners. Rachel Spangler wrote a marvelously wise blog about the soft sell that has spurred my thinking, and I want to credit her for that, but my mention of her does not imply that she agrees with anything I'm saying.

I was once a first-time writer. That was twenty-mumble years ago. Back then, had I gone to an event at a bookstore and walked up to the table where the featured writer was sitting, placed my book on that table, announced to the crowd that I was there, then sat down alongside and refused to move, it would have been career suicide. The pond was very small, and my talent was not so exceptional that I could rise above being a known monumental jackass. I'd have never seen the inside of a women's bookstore again and my publisher would have heard about it--my contract would have been in jeopardy. In addition to a 7 a.m. lecture about my jackassery, Barbara Grier would have told me that such behavior did not sell books

Of course, I hear you say, no one would do such a thing. It's the height of rudeness. Who crashes someone else's space like that? Yet--and we have reached the point of this blog--all over the Internet authors have set up their own spaces, the Facebook walls, their blogs, their wherevers. These spaces are carefully crafted to represent the books and they took the author's time and money to create.

And I don't know an author who hasn't had another author post BUY MY BOOK links on their space. Cover art, links to buy, promotional copy, the works. This happens to me at least once a week.

It's rude. Just as rude as crashing a reading would be. I don't care if you're new and I don't care if you can't get anyone to notice your book and I don't care if someone said you should do it and I don't care if you see other people doing it who claim it works, they're lying to excuse the fact that they're being rude.

It pisses people off. It pisses readers off. It does not sell books. It makes you look desperate. It also makes you look like a liar, to wit, "I need to hijack Karin Kallmaker's name because my books are best sellers!" Right.

Unfortunately, in today's world there are few reprisals for being rude. I wish I could send you a 7 a.m. phone call from Barbara Grier. Alas. All I can do is delete your post, take time away from my maxed out schedule to diplomatically ask you to stop, deal with your emotional angst when you respond that you never meant to bother me, or I eventually block you and risk, of course, being thought lacking in graciousness and generosity for not wanting you to plaster your poster over mine when I bought the space, big meanie that I am. This is what the other authors I know do as well. But we don't forget your name and you may never know that's why you're not asked to play reindeer games down the road. The pond is not as small as it used to be but word still spreads.

Kindness and courtesy still matter. They will always matter. If you can't practice them for their own sake consider this: Readers notice

Above Reproach by Lynn Ames

Publisher:                   Phoenix Rising Press

Above Reproach is book two in the Mission Classified series by Lynn Ames.  It’s another action/suspense story that reintroduces the reader to Vaughn Elliott, one of the major characters in the first book Beyond Instinct.

Sedona Ramos works for a government agency and sees satellite images from Iraq that she wasn’t meant to see.  A nuclear facility that she helped to deactivate years before is showing activity again.  Sedona immediately becomes the target of a group that goes high in the US government and that wants to stop her from revealing what she’s seen, but she’s able to reach the president first.  That leads to Sedona making contact with retired agent Vaughn Elliott and a hand-picked team of super agents.  They are tasked by the president to go to Iraq to find out what is going on and are hunted by killers the whole way.  Sedona has a secret power though that will guide and protect them along the way.

For people who have read many of Lynn Ames’ books, this one is difficult to evaluate.  It’s certainly far better than her first books, but it doesn’t show the promise or ability of her recent work, especially Beyond Instinct.  The dialogue isn’t very good between the characters and there’s never really a feeling of suspense in the story.  The “bad guys” are supposed to be super-secret plotters who have tremendous resources available to them, but they are extremely inept at stopping the agents from achieving their goal.  Vaughn and her group have little real trouble confusing and evading their opponents and getting into Iraq.  The way they deal with the facility is probably meant to show their level of training, but it doesn’t create the suspense that a reader would expect.  The rate that a relationship develops between Sedona and Vaughn doesn’t match with the feelings they each express about past relationships, so their situation doesn’t feel “real.”  The story might have been stronger if the relationship had been left out.  Finally, there is a supernatural aspect to the story that, for those who don’t believe in that type of thing, can be very trying and contributes to the disjointed feeling of the book.

Above Reproach is not a poorly written book.  For someone who is looking for a quick read that is fairly entertaining, it will do fine.  For anyone who has read Ames’ recent books, it doesn’t quite come up to the ability she has shown recently; therefore, the book may be somewhat disappointing.  For fans of suspense novels, this one is tepid and there are others that demonstrate the genre better.    Those who are Ames fans and follow her work will read and enjoy this.  Those who are genre fans may want to find something else.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Everything Pales in Comparison by Rebecca Swartz

Publisher:                   Bella Books

Everything Pales in Comparison is Rebecca Swartz’s debut novel and a strong entry for a new author.  It’s a traditional romance with some mystery added in.

Constable Emma Kirby is working on the security detail at a concert by Daina Buchanan when an explosion rips apart the stage, trapping the popular singer beneath the debris.  After she rescues Daina, Emma becomes part of the investigation into who would want to kill the entertainer.  The case takes an unexpected twist when the person who is trying to kill Daina also threatens Emma.  The women go into witness protection while the police try to find the stalker and have to live in the same house.  Emma likes a quiet life, which makes living with the head-strong Daina difficult, especially when Daina won’t accept how much danger exists for them.  The attraction that begins to grow between them bothers Emma because she’s afraid the distraction may cost one or both of them their lives.

The story itself isn’t unique and follows a regular pattern for romances.  The characters are well drawn though and the pacing is appropriate for the book.  The story also isn’t cluttered with unnecessary scenes, so it moves quickly.  Everything Pales in Comparison is excellent escapist reading and shows that Swartz has potential for the future.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Raid by Lee Lynch

Publisher:                   Bold Strokes Books

Every movement needs its historians, especially those who were in the actual vanguard of the activities.  People need to remember what came before them so that they can appreciate what they have because new generations tend to take what they have for granted and forget the struggles that led to their situation.  Lee Lynch is a name that belongs in the same category as Andrew Young and Jesse Jackson, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.  She was in the gay rights movement before the infamous Stonewall riots and can speak to those struggles as the others can to civil rights, feminism and the Latino labor movement.

The Raid is the story of the Old Towne Tavern, an establishment in a part of a Massachusetts town that has seen better days.  As the neighborhood has transformed so has the bar that caters to people who work and live in the area, especially the gay community.  Although not billed as a “gay bar,” that is who makes up most of its clientele.  The cast is large – Murph, who has a story for everything and a hopeless love for a woman from her past; elegant Lisa; Rocky, the mild mannered narrator; Deej, the newly minted lesbian who isn’t sure how to fit in; the queenly Norm, who owns the bar with his closeted college professor boyfriend; and an assortment of friends, gay and straight.  Early in the book there is a police raid on the tavern that is brutal.  The rest of the book shows how these characters deal with their feelings about the event and how it changed their lives.

Anyone who is familiar with the events in 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in New York will recognize what happens at the tavern in the story.  The value of the book comes for those who don’t remember.  Lynch captures perfectly the fear of discovery that gays lived with and their difficulty in knowing who they could trust.  This was the time when homosexuality was still considered a crime and a mental disease.  Gay people had no rights and could lose their homes, their families and their freedom quite easily.  The changes going on so quickly in the US now obscure just how recently ago things were very different.  One of the most poignant themes of the book is how gays have always formed “families of choice” because they couldn’t rely on their blood families for support.

There is a drawback to the book however.  The old saying is that an author should write what he or she knows.  What should be added to that is the caution that an author shouldn’t over write either and Lynch does some of that.  Lynch has a message to impart, but she can’t seem to do it and move on.  There is episode after episode pointing out basically the same thing; it was difficult and dangerous to be a homosexual in the early 1960s and politicians often exploited them for their own aims.  The book goes on and tries to tie up each character’s story and what is going to happen to the tavern.  None of the characters are uniquely compelling or interesting, so the story seems to drag.  A tighter framework might have made the story itself hold the reader’s attention more.

The Raid is important because it creates a very powerful picture of the emotions, frustrations and political realities of the time.  No one can read this book and not feel the fear of some of the characters radiating off of the pages.  Because Lynch lived long enough, she’s also able to inject some hope into the story by having her characters wish for things that have now become possible.  This book might better have been written as a straight work of history.  That’s why it should be read.  The fact that it’s written into a work of fiction makes it more palatable for readers who might not try it otherwise.

Read it for the history though……………..and remember.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Lemon Reef by Robin Silverman

Publisher:       Bold Strokes Books

Seldom does a book with so few pages, approximately 250, contain so many topics.  Childhood friendships, sexuality, family relationships, first love, coming out, child endangerment and murder twine around each other creating this story.  The wonder is that Robin Silverman is able to do this in an effective manner without confusing the reader completely.

Jenna Ross is called back to her hometown after the death of her childhood friend and first lover Del Soto is ruled an accidental drowning.  There are people who question that because Del was an excellent diver and she was not getting along well with her husband.  As Jenna investigates the incidents in the present, they conjure up stories from the past she shared with Del.  Flashback scenes explore the relationship that existed between Jenna and Del, while the current scenes involve solving the mystery of what happened to Del and the effort to save her daughter Khila.

Lemon Reef is a complex story.  It ties together themes of poverty, abuse and sexual discovery with murder.  At times that makes reading the story difficult.  There is so much going on in the book that issues are watered down.  In the beginning of the book the pacing is uneven and the timeline seems to be confused, but these problems disappear as the story goes on.  There are also a number of extraneous scenes that don’t add to the story, but lengthen it and sometimes get in the way.  Taking those out would make the story more powerful and to the point.

This isn’t an easy book to read because it touches on a number of painful topics.  Del suffers from abuse most of her life, first from her family and then from her husband.  She has to deal with that as she and Jenna try to come to grips with their sexuality.  The girls present a study in contrasts that are too familiar to many people.  Del decides to suppress her homosexuality and try to fit into a world where she really isn’t comfortable, while Jenna takes on the struggle to fight for who she is and try to exist in that same world.  There is an inevitable sense of doom that hangs over their young love.  Many lesbians and gays can identify totally with what the girls go through.

Lemon Reef is not a depressing book however.  It’s thoughtful and it’s instructive and it’s an interesting story.  Sometimes it cuts close to the bone with the emotions it exposes, but ultimately it’s a positive story.  Younger people who read it may not understand the angst in the book.  In this time when things are beginning to change rapidly for gay people, it’s easy to forget what life was like not so long ago.  This isn’t exactly light reading, but it’s good reading and it deserves a chance.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Keepers of the Cave by Gerri Hill

Publisher:                   Bella Books

Sometimes an author steps out of the box and writes a book that is different from her others.  This can be stimulating to creativity, but fans of the author may not appreciate what she does.  They’ve come to expect a certain type of book and they find something else disconcerting.  Gerri Hill did not follow her usual formula for Keepers of the Cave and there have been readers who have panned the book for that reason.  Different isn’t always bad though.  Give it a chance before passing judgment.

When a senator’s daughter disappears near Hoganville, Texas, FBI agents CJ Johnston and Paige Riley are assigned to go undercover to see if there is any connection between that case and others going back over fifty years.  CJ and Paige go to work at a correctional school near the town on what appears at first to be a useless mission.  It takes on a new dimension when they realize that the people in the town are just plain creepy.  They appear to be dominated in a cultish manner by the matriarch of the town, Mother Hogan, who is determined to block whatever the agents are trying to do.  As they poke around and make friends with a townswoman who teaches at the school, two things develop.   A sense of foreboding develops about the case and the women have to deal with a growing attraction between them.  Eventually they find themselves in a death race against an element that is the key to everything.

This may be one of the best books Gerri Hill has written.  It tells a fully comprehendible, if bizarre, story while making the readers think at the same time. The characters are fully drawn and complex.  The secondary characters are the ones that provide the real meat of the book.  Mother Hogan, as despicable as she is, is also fascinating as a study in extremism and of someone who will do whatever is necessary to achieve her ends.  The complete obedience shown to her by the rest of the town sets the unique atmosphere of the book.  CJ and Paige provide the romance in the book and the introduction to Hoganville, but they are pretty standard characters.  They are obviously there to satisfy Hill’s romance readers.  It’s the rest of the book that is an unusual type of story for Hill, which is probably why some of her usual readers have reacted poorly to it.

The writing in Keepers of the Cave is tight and well-paced.  There is a supernatural aspect to the story that could be expanded or at least better explained, but this is a page turner.  The story stays interesting from beginning to end and a reader can’t ask for much better than that.  If you’re looking for a regular Gerri Hill romance, this isn’t it.  Hill may be trying her hand at something new.  If that’s true, she should be encouraged.  Any writer should be applauded for expanding her abilities, especially if she does a good job of it.  In this case, Hill did.

Give Keepers of the Cave a chance.  If you approach it knowing what to expect, you shouldn’t be disappointed.