Exciting teen romantic adventure with a good twist at the end. A teenage girl goes on a wild adventure trying to track down the source of the voice in her head. The action is fast-paced, the feelings seem authentic, and the mystery is compelling. An enjoyable read with an unexpected reveal at the end.
This is to the other extreme, shorter than usual. Here is a review a bit longer for ‘Beautiful, Frightening, and Silent’, by Jennifer Anne Gordon.
One of the best ghost stories I have ever read. The haunter and the two men she haunts are rich well-drawn characters. At one point one of them speaks of this being a ménage a trios of guilt. The author blurs the line between living and dead so that at times you don’t know for sure which side of it each character is on. Most times the ghost seems more real than the living. I have never read such a vital undead character. She rules this remote Maine boarding house with an icy grip. Manipulative and revenge-seeking, she twists each man’s guilt into knots. The way the 82-year old ‘slips’ into death rather than ‘fall’ dead shows the border between life and death to be vaporous. A beautiful, frightening, and anything-but-silent haunting book.
My review for ‘No Place’, by Sam Swigood, was a bit longer yet.
Gail, Crow, and Nick make this story rock. These are such rich characters that the story flies past your eyes. Forget about the elements of Wizard of Oz that are in the story. Forget about the Irish mythology of an ancient alien invasion (although that is fascinating). It is when Gail and Crow and Nick share the pages that the story crackles. Such rich characters are rare in dystopian fiction. Most of the time the emphasis in such stories is on the destruction of the planet and the degradation of the surviving humans. The author throws a whacky curveball with this. The conquering aliens sincerely believe they are SAVING the Earth from the humans who are wrecking it. These aliens, the Mori, are one of the most unusual alien races to populate a science fiction tome, unlike any I’ve read before. They possesses advanced tech, sure, all conquering alien races do, BUT the Mori can’t comprehend their tech any more than the humans can. That is a fascinating twist. Not wanting to give away any more of the many twists and turns in this end of the world whopper, I’ll quit. But you should get to know Gail and Crow and Nick. You’ll love them.
I review non-fiction also, such as ‘Factfulness’, by Hans Rosling.
It’s demoralizing to realize I’m not as intelligent as your average chimpanzee. But it’s a relief to realize the world is not collapsing around me. Better yet, the world is inexorably getting better. At a snail’s pace, maybe, but things are definitely on the upswing. Don’t believe me? Read this book. The author’s logic, a Swedish doctor who has traveled the world practicing his craft im some extremely dangerous places, is irrefutably solid. His numbers are beautiful. This book is so reassuring to read. Believe it or not, but I have felt the same way, that the world is slowly getting better for most everybody, but I never had the numbers to back this feeling up. Hans Rosling does, numbers tumbling over numbers, adding up to a wonderful future for mankind. Read this book and rejoice.
There are certain rules I go by when reviewing books. One, never give a bad review. I can usually find something positive to say about any book. If I can’t, I don’t review it. Second, I always supply a link to where the book can be purchased, which is usually on Amazon, where anyone interested can check the book out and read other reviews of it. Third, if I really like a book, I’ll rave about it.
So please take the time to review the books you read. The reviews can be merely a couple sentences. The length and depth of the review doesn’t matter. What matters is your opinion.
I just finished reading the most incredible book and I want to share it with you. First, how I came across it. As you know, my novel ‘Souls of Nod’ was recently published, so I have been promoting it various ways. One way besides Voracious Readers is Sandra Lopez’ site Sandra’s Book Club.
How this site works is you agree to read and write a review of a novel listed on her site, then once you post the review on Amazon you can submit your own novel for review. There is a large selection of novels to choose from, in all genres, so you are bound to find a book to interest you. Me being a history buff, I was intrigued by ‘The Tsarina’s Lost Treasure’, by Gerald Easter and Mara Vorhees.
It took me a long time to read this book. I slowed down to savor every intricate detail. This book is rich with fascinating historical details. I am a history buff, yet there is so much delightful information in this volume I had never encountered before. I would love to see the History Channel do a mini-series on this book.
The book opens with a shipwreck that took place in the Baltic Sea in the 17th century. From there it goes into the life and times of a Dutch Master artist of that time, Dou. He was a pupil of Rembrandt and a contemporary of Vermeer and Hals. Although I had never heard of him, at the time he was highly esteemed, and his paintings were valued more highly than Rembrandt’s. While describing the Dutch city Leiden in the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century, it went into such details as what it was like to study under Rembrandt, even into how they mixed their paints (something I had never even considered before).
Next, it described the Russian court in the 17th century, and how even though Peter the Great had Westernized his country the rest of Europe considered Russia to be a barbaric land. The book went on to relate how Catherine the Great came to power, and what her reign was like. Power at that time was centered in Petersburg (Petrograd), so this locale and time was well described.
Also, the authors wrote about how fine art was used as symbols of power by the courts of Europe. Whoever could assemble the greatest collection of art had the most imminent court on the continent. At the time this competition was going on, the paintings of the Dutch Masters were the crème of the crème. Catherine the Great was determined to win this competition, and amassed a huge treasure trove of Dutch masterpieces. Dou’s masterpiece was a triptych called ‘The Nursery’. Catherine acquired it, and it, along with a vast collection of other art she had purchased, was shipped by boat from the Netherlands to Russia via the Baltic Sea. Where it was lost when the boat sank in a storm off the coast of Finland. Although the boat was never located, the authors described if it had been found what the salvage techniques of the time would have been employed to bring it to the surface, another of the many interesting little side trips this book takes you on.
From there the book details the ups and downs of Dou’s reputation through the centuries. Apparently, this painter (which I have never heard of) was spurned not long after his death, but recently he has had a resurgence, and his works are once again highly esteemed. The book also describes the ups and downs or the royal art collections of Europe. Following the French Revolution, most European monarchies went into decline. Their vast art collections were either sold to private collectors or taken over by the state to put in museums.
The book then jumps to the mid-1950’s and details the many attempts to locate the ship. This lost art treasure trove drew wreck hunters like a magnet. In the 17th century, when paintings were shipped overseas great care was taken to remove them from their frames and store them securely in watertight containers. There was a good chance they could have survived being underwater for centuries (this is also because the Baltic Sea is much less salty than most seas, another fact I now have in my possession from reading this book). But no one could find the sunken ship.
Until Saure arrived on the scene near the end of the 20th century. Another short detour is taken in describing Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union, and the relations between it and its neighbor Finland. The book describes how Saure located the sunken ship, but was unable to salvage it. Not only that, but the ship was in water so deep and cold that divers could not retrieve the crates containing the art treasures. In order to retrieve them, the ship would have to be raised. The government of Finland stepped in to save what it considered a cultural treasure from glorified treasure hunters. While doing this, the authors also describe modern-day Finland.
The book then relates the bureaucratic and legal nightmare that took place over the first two decades of the 21st century. Not only did Saure have a claim (as the salvager he should have taken possession of the ship and its contents from the ancient maritime law of finders keepers), and Finland, since the wreck was in its territorial waters, but Sweden also had a claim, since at the time of the wreck Finland had been a part of Sweden, and the Netherlands, as the ship was carrying art treasures of Dutch Masters, and Russia, as Catherine had purchased the paintings. I won’t go into how all these claims were resolved since that would be like giving away the ending of a book.
If you enjoy history, if you enjoy art (the Dutch Masters in particular) and art history, if you enjoy reading about life in Europe in the 17th century (with life in the Netherlands at that time in particular), if you enjoy the royal court intrigues of that time, if you enjoy reading about treasure hunting on the sea floor (apparently the Baltic Sea is lined with wrecks, from Viking times up to World War 2), if you enjoy reading about power struggles between modern states over possession of what could be an art treasure worth hundreds of millions (if they have survived), you will enjoy reading this book. This is the most astounding history book I have read in a while.
I post reviews of books I greatly enjoy, so I would have posted this no matter what. I hope you take the time to post reviews of books you like. They don’t have to be as lengthy as this, they can be only two or three sentences, but an honest review is appreciated by all authors.
It is to be included in their anthology Off The Beaten Path 4, with a release planned for April. The cover of Off The Beaten Path 3 looks pretty cool (especially if they put my name on the cover).
I’ll post the cover for 4 whenever they come up with it, and a link to 4 as soon as they publish it.
In the meantime, I thought this a good opportunity to go over contracts. I hope you are familiar with them, at least literary contracts, because that would mean you have been published. First off, you have to sign them and get them back to the publisher. That part is easy. The publisher sends the contract as an attachment to an email. I then print it, sign it (initializing every page of it that I don’t sign), scan it into my computer, then attach it to a reply to the publisher.
The difficult part is understanding them. This contract was short and sweet, only 2 pages. Some of them can get lengthy.
Here’s the header:
Prospective Press LLC
(hereinafter called the “Publisher”) and its assigns and successors
Mike Sherer (writing as self)
(hereinafter called the “Author,” which term shall be deemed to include the Author’s executor, devisees, heirs, and literary assigns and successors)
THIS AGREEMENT (hereinafter called the “Agreement”) on this
Twenty-ninth (29th) day of December, 2020
NOW THEREFORE in consideration of the promises and valuable considerations hereinafter set forth, the parties agree as follows:
This above pretty much self-explanatory. Here comes the legalese:
1. The Work
A. This Agreement pertains solely to the Author’s textual work titled Estate Sale (hereinafter called the Work.) The Work is approximately 10,000 words in length and an original work.
B. Publication of The Work in a single anthology on the theme of Gothic Horror tentatively to be titled Off the Beaten Path 4, (the Anthology), for planned publication on or before April, 2021.
This merely describes the story and their plans on publishing it.
2. Grant of Rights
i. This Agreement is not a transfer of the copyright to the Work, and the Author retains all copyrights in and to the Work.
ii. This Agreement does not permit the Publisher to publish the Work except as part of the Anthology as a whole or in any other anthology unless explicitly granted by this Agreement or a separate written agreement.
B. All rights not expressly granted by the Author in this agreement, including but
not limited to dramatic adaptation (movie, TV, live theatrical, and other performance), radio, multimedia, game, interactive, commercial and merchandising, graphic novel and comic book, translation, first serial, and second serial rights, reside exclusively with the Author. Any rights that may be developed after the date of this Agreement shall reside exclusively with the Author.
C. Print Book, Electronic Book, and Audio Book Rights for ORIGINAL WORK: The Author grants Worldwide First English Language Anthology print, electronic book, and audio book rights in the Work to the Publisher for inclusion in the Anthology, for publication in the English language.
D. The period of exclusive grant of rights shall encompass the pre-publication period and the six (6) months following publication. Subsequent to this six (6) month period, the period of exclusive use shall end and Author may further dispose of the previously granted rights; however, Publisher may continue to publish the Work non-exclusively in the stated anthology for an additional nine and one half (9.5) years, after which all rights in the Work shall exclusively revert to the Author. At the end of this ten (10) year period (the Expiration Date) the Publisher may not print new copies of the Work in the Anthology, either via Print-on-Demand (POD) or in a traditional reprint of the anthology in a new print run. Copies of the Anthology printed before the Expiration Date may be sold after the Expiration Date. The Expiration Date may only be extended by the written approval of the Author.
The above section declares that the publisher has exclusive rights to the story for 6 months following publication. Now the non-exclusive rights extending for an additional 9 and a half years seems extreme, but that has never been an issue before so I see no problem with it. This also declares that the publisher is only securing first time print rights as part of a specific anthology, and all other rights, including the copyright, remain with me. If someone wanted to use this story as part of an episodic TV show, for example, like Twilight Zone, that would strictly be up to me.
3. Exclusive Use
As Author has granted first rights and/or exclusive rights for a limited period of time, Author agrees to not publish or to enter into any agreement giving any other the right to publish the Work prior to its initial publication in the Anthology and throughout the exclusivity period granted to the Publisher thereafter, without the prior written permission of the Publisher. If the Work is selected for a “best of the year” or an awards anthology, the Publisher agrees to waive this clause, provided the Author gives the Publisher prior written notice of the selection by such an anthology.
The above section reaffirms exclusive right for the story to the publisher, with the exception of the story being included in some ‘best of the year’ honor.
A. For the rights granted to the Publisher in this Agreement, the Publisher shall pay the Author the sum of $56.70 as payment in full no later than January 30th, 2021, conditional upon successful crowdsource funding of the Anthology. Prior to payment, Author shall provide the Publisher a copy of this contract signed by the Author. If payment is not received as required by this paragraph, all rights granted by this Agreement shall immediately revert to the Author.
This states how much and when I’ll get paid. The crowdsourcing is a new twist, but the publisher previously contacted me to make sure I’d be okay with this stipulation. I’m good with it. If the crowdsourcing falls through and the anthology is never published, then the rights to the story revert to me after 6 months, not an unreasonable amount of time. Besides, these people have a track record – they’ve already published 3 volumes of their anthologies, so the crowdsourcing thing must work for them.
5. Author Copies
A. The Author shall receive two (2) free copies of the first print edition of the Anthology.
B. Additional copies will be made available at an authors’ discount of 50% off list price.
C. The Publisher shall notify Author of all subsequent editions before their
publication, and whenever possible, send the Author one copy of all subsequent editions or versions of the Anthology.
I get 2 free and additional copies 50% off.
6. Non Publication
A. If the Anthology is not published within twelve (12) months of the date of this
agreement, all rights hereunder shall immediately revert to the Author. In such event, the Author shall retain any and all payments made under this agreement prior to such reversion.
B. Should the Publisher wish to extend the publishing deadline, Publisher shall pay Author an additional fee equal to fifty (50) percent of the initial fee, unless explicitly waived by Author. Any extension of the deadline, and any changes to this clause, must be in writing.
The publisher has a year to publish the anthology; 6 months prior to publication and 6 months following publication. Rights after publication hasn’t ever been an issue with me. I have only ever had 1 published story reprinted. Most publishers want only new unpublished works.
7. Advertising and Promotion
Arising under and terminating with the grant of rights to the Work in this Agreement, the Author grants Publisher the right to use the Author’s name, image, likeness, and biographical material for all advertising, promotion, and other use of the Work. Upon request, the Author shall provide the Publisher with a photograph of the Author and appropriate biographical material for such use. The Publisher shall use only the Author’s name, image, likeness, and biographical material provided and approved by the Author.
Merely states I will assist the publisher in promoting the anthology.
8. Author’s Warranties and Indemnity
A. The Author warrants that, as of the date of executing this agreement, he or she is sole author of the Work; that he or she is the owner of all the rights granted to the Publisher hereunder and has full power to enter into this agreement and to make the grants herein contained; that the Work is original and any prior publication of the Work in whole or in part has been fully disclosed to the Publisher and that to the best of the Author’s knowledge the Work does not infringe upon any copyright or upon any other proprietary or personal right of any person, firm, or corporation.
B. The Author will indemnify the Publisher against any loss, injury, or damage finally sustained in a court of law (including any legal costs or expenses and any compensation costs and disbursements paid by the Publisher) incurred by the Publisher in connection with or in consequence of an intentional breach of one or more the foregoing warranties, for which the Publisher has no coverage under its insurance policies. The Publisher will add the Author to any insurance policy it may have which representation and the decision to settle will be made in consultation between the Author and Publisher, and neither may proceed without the approval of the other, not to be unreasonably withheld.
States that this is my short story and it contains no copyrighted or libelous material. If you are going to write you need to learn copyright and licensing law. It’s not complicated. Don’t use real people and don’t quote from any published material without permission.
The Publisher will make no alterations to the Work’s text or title without the Author’s written approval in e-mail or hardcopy. Author will be provided with the Publisher’s proposed version of the work prior to publication and given ten days to review text and return any corrections. The Publisher reserves the right to make minor copyediting changes to conform the style of the text to the Publisher’s customary form and usage.
I like this part. The publisher will make no changes without my okay. I’ve had publishers edit my story on their own. I don’t like it. If it’s on the page, it’s there because I want it there.
A. The volume as a compilation shall be copyrighted in the name of the Publisher. Acknowledgment of the Author’s copyright shall appear in all editions of the Anthology in the Author’s name or designated pseudonym, unless otherwise specified here.
B. The Author will be credited on the table of contents page and at the beginning of Date: 12-29-2020 the story by the Author’s name or designated pseudonym, unless otherwise specified here.
I get credited for the story.
12. Care of Work
A. The Publisher shall not make the Work available to any distributor, catalogue, service, or computer program which alters the text of the work or the display of work, beyond typographic or formatting changes that do not affect the meaning of the work, or facilitate such changes—including but not limited to removing or changing profanity—without written permission of the Author. Should the Work be so listed without the permission of the Author, the Publisher shall ensure its removal.
B. Unless the Author specifies otherwise, Publisher will take reasonable care to ensure that the Work is not archived on the bright net by the Internet Archive or similar archiving web site and is not displayed in its entirety by any other bright net web site, including Google, Amazon.com, or the like.
The publisher won’t allow anyone else to make changes to the story. If I choose to cuss, damn it, then I think it’s important to the story to cuss.
13. Successors and Assigns
This Agreement will be binding upon and inure to the benefit of the executors, administrators, and assigns of the Author and upon and to the successors and assigns of the Publisher.
If I should die and never wake…
14. Gender and Plurality
For the purposes of this Agreement, the masculine will be held and construed to include the feminine and neuter genders, and vice versa, both for individuals and for corporate entities. Likewise, the singular will be held to include the plural, unless otherwise required by context.
This is a new one for me. I guess it means if it turns out I’m really a she and not a he, all the clauses still apply?
The failure of either party to exercise any of its rights under this Agreement for a breach thereof will not be deemed to be a waiver of such rights, and no waiver by either party, whether written or oral, express or implied, of any rights under or arising from this Agreement will be binding on any subsequent occasion; and no concession by either party will be treated as an implied modification of the Agreement unless specifically agreed to and reduced to writing.
If I choose not to use my story in any way after the agreed upon period it belongs to the publisher has expired does not mean I am waiving the right to do so. Legalese.
No amendment of, addition to, or modification of this Agreement will be effective unless reduced to writing and signed by the parties hereto.
More legalese. Necessary, I guess. Stuff like this keeps lawyers gainfully employed.
17. Laws Applicable
This Agreement will be interpreted according to the laws and statutes of the United States of America and of the State of North Carolina, except that its conflicts of law provisions will not apply. Any litigation relating to this Agreement will be pursued in the Superior Court, State of North Carolina.
The contract cannot supersede any laws.
In the event one or more clauses of this Agreement are declared invalid, void, unenforceable, or illegal, that will not affect the validity of the remaining portions of this Agreement.
19. Entire Agreement
This Agreement sets forth the entire agreement of the parties, and replaces and supersedes any previous agreement between the parties on the subject, whether oral or written, express or implied.
What language is this?
All that’s left is to sign and date it. Believe me, this contract is short compared to some I have on file. I hope this has given you an inkling of what you’ll have to sign if you want to have anyone publish something you have written.
This week has been upsetting, to say the least. The Trump presidency has reached a new low. A protester was shot dead, and a Capitol police officer has died from injuries incurred during the riot. It is not the scope of this newsletter to discuss politics. You can find much better informed facts and opinions elsewhere. I regret what has happened and am deeply concerned about our future. Hopefully, the worst days will be over by January 20th. Until then, I am in no mood to write about writing. Keep safe, and try not to worry yourselves sick. See you later.
Out with the old, in with the new. A brand new year. It has got to be better than this last one, right? You can help make it so with an outline. When you start a new writing project, while you are staring at a blank white screen on your computer, what is the first thing you do? You do an outline, a document that frames the basic concepts of the story you want to write. So while staring at a blank calendar of the coming year, let’s do an outline.
First off, what kind of story do you want to live? For me, next year will be science fiction, since I hope to complete and promote the science fiction novel I am currently writing. At this point, the first day of this new year, I have completed the third draft (or fourth, perhaps fifth draft, I have a difficult time keeping track of how many times I have rewritten it, they all bleed together, by now I have re-read this book so many times I’ve nearly memorized the 114,603 words (the current count)). So most of this coming year will be devoted to finishing the book, securing a publisher, then marketing it. Science fiction indeed.
Next, theme. Success. Not necessarily monetary success, though I won’t complain if it happens, but literary success. I will consider the publication of the science fiction novel I’m writing a major success. I also will try to get an agent for it. I have tried this before, with no success, but I believe I have a winner here. Of course, I’ve thought that before. Also, I intend to polish up the next two installments of the MG ‘Shadytown’ series that I have already written, ‘Time Tripper’ and ‘Genamarie’, just in case my new novel is successful enough to generate interest in the series. Also, I have recently read a superb short story writer, Kelly Link, and her collection ‘Get In Trouble’, that has both inspired me and discouraged me.
Inspired me to try to write some new short stories because hers are so so good, and discouraged me because I know I can never write short stories as good as these. Also, I plan to conclude my American Locations trip I am blogging about, and to continue this newsletter. Whether I will undertake beginning a new novel before the end of this year, I will leave that undecided. It’s good to not strap yourself down too strictly. I believe in doing just a sketchy outline. Besides, some totally unanticipated opportunity will pop up during the year, it has in previous years, so I have to leave space for that to happen.
Now I need characters. I believe the main characters I have crafted for my current science fiction novel, Mickey and Eden, are the best I have ever come up with. It will be hard to top them. Here’s Mickey:
Before the chalkboard stood Mickey Haiku. Late twenties, short (slightly over a meter and a half) and skinny, brown hair of no discernable cut, wearing too-long pants rolled up at the cuffs and cinched tight with a much too long belt, a once-white short sleeve button up shirt, and paper-thin double-knotted tennis shoes. As for his face, there was a hint of whiskers upon the lower half of a round pale pasty glob. Weak eyes squinted behind heavy industrial-strength glasses.
The glowing white light resolved into a definite shape. Then human. Then female. As the resolution grew finer it became a young woman. It resolved no further. She remained diaphanous. This ghost-like apparition was wearing the pink robe Mickey had selected for Priscilla after her shower. Yet she was the opposite of Priscilla. Where Priscilla was tall, she was short. Where Priscilla was thin and shapeless, she was full-bodied. Where Priscilla had short chopped-off hair, her full hair flowed down over her shoulders. She hugged herself and stooped, as if trying to draw herself into a ball. She appeared terrified. “It’s so big.”
Next, genre and plot. I work in basically 3 genres: science fiction, horror, and suspense. So whatever I do this coming year will most likely be in these fields. I have tried to stretch the envelope and try other stuff, but few of these attempts have been successful. The most successful effort outside of my comfort zone was my published novella ‘Dummy’s Dummies’, published online by Terror House Magazine. I know, published by such a magazine makes it sound like a horror story, but it is actually a dark comedy. It is available online for a free read.
Now, setting. That rarely changes. I plan on living out the year in my house, and spending most of my free time at my desk in the basement staring at a brick wall. I also will do some writing on my laptop at the table in our motor home if we get to take a cross-country camping trip this year. Once we get inoculated against the plague we should be good to go.
This is about how structured my outlines usually are. I improvise a lot along the way. Not disciplined, I know, but it works for me. I hope you come up with an outline for your new year, too.
Does anyone hate to see this year end? I doubt it. Plague, death and illness of loved ones, isolation, overwhelmed hospitals, economic stress, loss of jobs and income, protest and rioting in the streets, minorities under attack, election debacle, attempted Presidential coup, record number of forest fires and hurricanes, sports disrupted, no new movies. Was there anything good about this year?
Well, yes. Personally, I had a productive year. Since early March I have been pretty much stuck at home. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a writer. I have spent a lot more time writing than I normally would have. There have been disappointments, sure. In April, I and several other writers had 2 tables reserved at Dayton, Ohio’s Gem City Comic-Con.
Which, of course, was cancelled. I had all kinds of promotional material prepared for my MG novel ‘Shadytown’, which is now gathering dust on a shelf in my basement. Also, the twice-monthly meetings of my writing group Cincinnati Fiction Writers went online to Zoom.
But the good this year, as far as my writing went, greatly outweighed the bad. For starters, I held a book launch for my MG novel ‘Shadytown’ at Book Bums in my hometown in West Chester, Ohio, on Jaunary 25th, before everything was locked down.
The second half of the year I have been working on a science fiction novel, ‘Flatlanders’. I have nearly completed the first draft, so will be posting bits of it in this newsletter.
Although I am sad about all the misery this year has brought and as tense as everybody else about how the election will turn out, personally I am happy about all the writing I’ve gotten to do. It’s been a great escape from all the misery.
This being the last newsletter before Christmas, time to talk about Christmas stories. I found this card online, and it came with the caption: He Lost An Arm. She Had A Double Mastectomy. This Is Their Christmas Card
Although it captures the spirit of giving wrong gifts, as happened in the classic O. Henry story ‘Gift of the Magi’, it totally misses the real theme of the story, which is making a great personal sacrifice in order to give a gift to a loved one which you believe they will cherish. Of course, ‘Gift of the Magi’ has to be the most ironic story ever written.
Which brings me to the point I’m trying to make. The classics, even in parodies like this, are hard to beat. Every year there are seasonal calls for new Christmas stories. Every year Hallmark comes out with a slate of new Christmas movies. To me it’s a waste of time to read such attempts, or to attempt a new Christmas story myself. Personally, I prefer to re-read (or re-watch) a classic. So here’s my list of my 15 Christmas favorites.
1. ‘The Gift of the Magi’. A short sweet read. Every word is a chiseled gem.
2. “A Christmas Carol’. I have not seen any movie adaptation come close to the power of the book. Dickens depicted Victorian London with an immediacy no movie has ever conveyed.
3. ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’. I don’t know if there have been any remakes, but definitely the 1946 original (in black and white). The first time I watched this I was surprised. I was expecting a sweet confection, but this was intense and took on some honest moral dilemmas. Of course, most people only remember the happy ending, and the angel part.
4. ‘Miracle on 34th Street’. The 1947 original, of course. Best Santa Clause ever.
5. ‘Bell, Book and Candle’. James Stewart again. Ever wonder what witches do at Christmas? This quirky romantic comedy movie tells you. There are so many great performances here (including a very young Jack Lemon) I don’t know where to begin. So here’s a clip of Kim Novak casting a spell on James Stewart with a haunting tune she hums (and with the help of Pywacket).
6. ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’. Best animated Christmas story ever (I consider ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ a Halloween movie). It’s short and sweet, with the best animated music (Schroeder on piano) ever. You probably don’t consider Charlie Brown as being politically incorrect, but how many animated Christmas shows have you seen that quotes from the Kings James Bible? No happy holidays here, it’s all about Christmas.
7. ‘How The Grinch Stole Christmas’. My second favorite animated Christmas story. I’m glad Boris Karloff did the narration since he didn’t get to say a word in ‘Frankenstein’. Once again, short and sweet and not a big demand on your time.
8. ‘The Nutcracker’. I usually just listen to the music, but here is a short clip from the ballet.
10. ‘Christmas Vacation’. Hilarious adult comedy. Trilogies usually don’t end well (think ‘Return of the Jedi’). It’s difficult to believe this is the 3rd installment of National Lampoon’s vacation series. It tops the 2 that came before and the one after by leaps and bounds (although the first 2 were hilarious, too), this one leaves you gasping for air. Warning: do not drink eggnog while watching this, unless you have a good stain guard on your furniture.
11. ‘Home Alone’. You know the story. Young boy has dream Christmas and sets up the best booby-traps since ‘Swiss Family Robinson’.
12. ‘Bad Santa’. Not really much of a Christmas movie, but so damn funny
13. ‘Elf’. Just when you thought no one could make a good Christmas movie that was sweet and heartwarming and funny anymore, this came out.
14. ‘Die Hard’. Everyone insists this is a Christmas movie, and I really like it, so it’s on my list.
15. ‘Love Actually’. If ‘Die Hard’ can be included, then this can be, too. Lighthearted romantic froth too classy for the Hallmark Channel.
I’m sure you have a list of holiday favorites, too. I’d like to hear what they are.
How I found publishers for my 3 novels was a little different from how I found them for my short stories and novellas. Duotrope was involved, but indirectly. I found them through my short stories, which I had gotten published through Duotrope. James Ward Kirk Fiction published my first novel, ‘A Cold Dish’.
is listed on their site. Here’s what happened. I submitted my short story ‘Beauty and Death at 70 MPH’ to them through a lead on Duotrope. It was included in the ‘Ghosts Redemption/Ugly Babies 3’ dual anthology.
When I informed the publisher what a novel I had written was about, he asked to see it. Then he sent me a contract, and not long after that he published ‘A Cold Dish’.
The publication of my second novel, ‘Shadytown’,
went a little differently. I submitted the first chapter as a stand-alone short story to INtense Publications.
It worked as a short story since the chapter was self-contained. INtense Publications specialize in children’s and middle grade fiction. ‘Shadytown’ is middle grade fiction (often denoted as MG). They responded favorably to the story, and when I informed them it was the first chapter of a full-length novel, they asked to see it. Then they published it.
They published 2 of my short stories. ‘Campground Host’ in their magazine The Scribe.
The issue my story was published in is the sailboat issue. The other short story they published was ‘Church of Lost Souls’, which was included in their ‘The Hollow 5’ anthology.
So when I informed them I had a novel I was trying to get published, they asked to see it.
This is yet another reason I enjoy writing short stories. They are a way to showcase your writing to publishers. A short story is much less of an investment of a publisher’s time. Sure, you can submit the first few pages of your manuscript to show off your writing ability. But with a short story you are crafting a complete tale, with a beginning, middle, and end. If a publisher likes the way you tell a brief story, he’s more willing to devote the time it takes to read your book. A short story makes a better calling card than a blurb. Believe me, publishers have read hundreds of excellent blurbs that are much much better than the books they represent. With a short story they can judge a completed work.
To emphasize the point, here is a story I read online. The Wachowski brothers wrote the screenplay for ‘The Matrix’. They shopped it around Hollywood with the demand that they direct the movie.
Every studio seemed to like the script, but were unwilling to entrust what was obviously a big-budget production to such young untested directors (the brothers had never previously directed anything). Including Sony. But Sony didn’t give up on them. They gave the Wachowskis a chance to prove themselves. They were contracted to make a movie with a budget of $5 million. They came back to Sony with ‘Bound’. If you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s a stunner. Here’s the trailer.
Sony was so impressed with what the brothers had done with $5 million that they gave them a blank check to make ‘The Matrix’. The rest is history. But the point I’m making is ‘Bound’ was the Wachowskis’ short story. Sony like it so much they agreed to let them do ‘The Matrix’.
Since I just had my third novel published, let’s talk about publishers and where to find them. First off, do you even need a publisher? I believe you do. Self-publishing has become too easy. Too many impatient authors rush their books to print before they are ready. I know you can hire editors, but they aren’t really invested in your book. You pay them a fee, sure, but for what? When your book is published, do you give the editor credit? Is the editor’s name on the inside page? Is there somewhere in the front of your book that states ‘this book was edited by Danny Ding-a-Ling’? I’ve never seen it on a book. So if your book crashes and burns, Danny can merely shrug his shoulders and snark, “He didn’t take my advice.” No investment.
On the other hand, when a book is published the name of the publishing house is emblazoned on the cover, usually on the back or on the spine, or both. Their name is forever linked to your book. They are declaring they believe this book is worth publishing. The publisher is invested in your book. Also, the publisher prints your book, designs the cover, offers revisions, posts it on Amazon or some other commercial site, and helps to promote it. And how much are you paying them to do all this? Nothing, if they are reputable. So my advice is to seek a reputable publisher.
How to go about this? Strategies have changed over the years. When I first started writing, the Internet was merely a gleam in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye. The best way to find publishers was to buy a book.
I’m surprised Writer’s Digest still puts this out. As you can see, this is the 99th edition. I bought several of these. Inside were listings of every publisher in the English speaking world, with names and contact info and what each publisher was interested in. So I would pour over the listings, pick out who I wanted to submit to, then type (on a typewriter) up a one-page and mail it off. It was difficult, time-consuming, and expensive, but the only way. On the rare occasion when a publisher replied with a request for a manuscript, then I had to mail it in. Thankfully, there was a manuscript rate at the time, so it wasn’t as expensive as you might think. I don’t know if the post office still offers that. That was then.
This is now. Google makes it insanely easy to locate publishers interested in the kind of manuscript you have written. Of course, I’m talking about small indie publishers. Forget the big houses. You need a long track record or an agent to get any of them to even accept a query from you. Luckily, there are a lot of indie publishers looking for good stuff. Go with them.
Okay, so how to find them. My best suggestion is Duotrope.
Nearly every thing I have ever published has been a result of a lead supplied by this site. I highly recommend it. It has listings for magazines, anthologies, and novel publishers, and agents. There is a nominal annual fee, but I believe it is well worth it. Disclaimer: Duotrope is not paying me for this (I wish!), I’ve just had good success with them.
But there have been other ways I’ve gotten things published. That’s for the next newsletter.
As you can tell, I’m pretty excited about it. This is the 3rd novel I’ve published. If any of you would be willing to read it and leave a review somewhere, I can provide either a paperback copy or a PDF. The book is a paranormal suspense of app. 67,000 words. Here is the back cover:
In the paranormal suspense/thriller novel ‘Souls of Nod’ five members of a soul family gather to carry on a conflict that has been repeated since the dawn of time. One of them will murder another member of the group, and there is seemingly nothing any of them can do to stop it from happening.
In 2010, Hester has recently married Paul and moved into the house he previously shared with his former wife Flo, located in a suburban Ohio neighborhood decimated by the real estate crash. Many of the houses stand empty, and Hester has encountered ghosts in some of them. Paul scoffs, but neighbor Chanti and husband Clay have seen them, too. Hester learns from them and others about violent deaths that have happened on this land that had once been a prosperous farm, killings involving people who seem strangely familiar. Chanti tracks down Millie, an old woman who appears to know what is going on. Millie tells her about a soul family of the five ancient elements: fire, air, water, earth, and the void. In each incarnation each member of the soul family can be either man or woman, husband or wife, brother or sister, father or daughter, mother or son, or totally unrelated, or any combination of these. No matter how they are incarnated, each generation the five souls are drawn together to carry out the violence they seem destined to commit. In this latest incarnation the gathering is complete when Paul’s ex-wife Flo returns. Will they continue the age-old cycle of violence they seem doomed to commit? Or will this time be different, allowing the soul family to advance on its path to Nirvana?