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Thursday, September 30, 2021

Book Blogger Hop: Do You Prefer Traditional Or Self Published?

 Book Blogger Hop is a series of weekly blog post prompts on a web site called Coffee Addicted Writer. Some people use it faithfully, weekly. I only use it occasionally, usually when I’m low on ideas. I was going to write a post about Richard III, but he is having a birthday this week and I have written quite a few already, so I will leave it for Saturday.

This week’s question/prompt asks,  “Are you more willing to read traditionally published books than self-published (indie) books? Or do you not have a preference?”

I probably should be avoiding this topic like the plague, because there is a lot of argument about it; you can lose friends or get blocked on social media over it if you say the wrong thing at the wrong time. I was once blocked from a blog by a woman who was always snarling against “traditional” publishing and publishers, for commenting that I hadn’t had any of the problems she mentioned with my publishers. I should add that this woman had yet to self publish her first book at the time and, judging by comments she made on other people’s blogs, she still hadn’t done it, well and truly after she bounced me from her blog.

To answer the question as best I can, it depends. Quite a few very good self published books are out there. Some have even won awards. I just don’t go hunting for them. There is so much being published these days that it’s hard to filter the wheat from the chaff. 

I get requests for reviews of self published books all the time, despite my blurb saying I don’t review them. The ones sent by marketing companies give me samples or links to the authors’ websites and I have to say, I have yet to be even tempted to request the books concerned! 

But there are authors who have taken to self publishing after a career in “traditional” publishing. Felicity Pulman, author of the YA  Janna book mysteries, self published the last two because the publisher, for reasons unknown to me, dropped her contract. I bought those for my library because there were kids reading the series. She ended up selling the whole series to an American publisher. 

Another friend, Simon Haynes, had a brief flirtation with the regular publishing industry before returning to self publishing. I never asked him why, but I suspect he found he could publish more by himself. He knew how to do layout and get artists, and he knew how to publicise his work. And he is so prolific that I can’t keep up with his science fiction comedies, and publishers certainly can’t. They have an annual list and you could be waiting two or more years for your book to come out, assuming it has been accepted.

Sometimes your small press closes down before you can see your book in print. You may be lucky enough to find another publisher, but it takes time.

There are a lot of reasons why people make this decision. I know someone, SF author Patty Jansen, who has done very well with it, but Patty has also sold enough short fiction to US markets to be able to join the Science Fiction Writers of America. 

Basically, I will read and review books by authors whose work I have read and liked before, in “traditional” form.

I won’t hesitate to read Barbara Hambly’s Smashwords short stories and novellas. It means I can read more stories about 19th century African American sleuth Benjamin January and his friends, or the wonderful wizard Antryg Windrose after he fled his own universe for ours, or James Asher and his wife Lydia and their vampire friend Simon Ysidro. The stories are too short for a regular publisher, but are perfect in self published ebook. 

I don’t think self publishing a first book is a good idea, but you never know. Matthew Reilly did it, and was discovered. Eragon was first self published when the author was about fifteen, and that was discovered and the rest is history. But these are not the majority, any more than everyone whose work is published by someone else will become a New York Times bestseller. 

I have read some good self published work, but also some truly dreadful books by authors who would have been better to spend their money on writing lessons than marketing companies. 

So… it depends. 

What do you think? 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Puff Piece by John Safran. Penguin Random House Australia, 2021


This is comedian John Safran’s third book. The first one, Murder In Mississippi, had John investigating the murder of a white supremacist whom he had annoyed while filming his TV series Race Relations. 

The second, Depends What You Mean By Extremist, was about racist groups in Australia. He turned up at rallies and took notes.

Both books, despite the serious themes, were very funny, written in Safran’s deadpan style of humour. Really, he didn’t have to do much. The racists in both books opened their mouths and made themselves look ridiculous.

This book does have humour in it, though not the laugh-out-loud kind, but despite the author telling  interviewers he hoped people would enjoy it, it feels, to me, at least, that the author is truly angry. He doesn’t mention a personal reason for this, no relatives who have died of cancer, but - angry.

This anger is directed at Big Tobacco, specifically Philip Morris. See, Philip Morris has a new product called a Heat Stick. A Heat Stick is supposed to be less bad for you than regular smoking but is, in fact, indistinguishable from a cigarette. 

It is competing with vaping - and John interviewed quite a few people selling vaping products in the course of the book. He also attended a vaping conference where he picked up samples. I don’t think he actually smokes, but he became hooked on nicotine toothpicks and tried out a lot of items he picked up there, over the course of the book. 

He bought some shares in Philip Morris so he could attend a shareholders’ meeting to ask questions(they wouldn’t let him into their premises when they found out he was doing a book), but when he attended the Zoom meeting, he didn’t get a chance to ask his question. 

He discovered in his investigations that a lot of health organisations had been given money by Philip Morris - in fact, he found out, to his horror, that his superannuation investments included a company that had Philip Morris lurking in their background. 

It seems to be almost impossible to avoid the tentacles of Big Tobacco. I’ll have to check out my super fund, though we were assured at a seminar that they only invest in ethical companies. 

One thing I have to say for John Safran is that he is very good and thorough at doing his research, both in his other books and this one. It’s a real eye-opener. I don’t think he could have done this as a TV comedy show. 

Definitely worth a read, as long as you don’t expect it to be hilarious. There isn’t a bibliography or list of suggested web sites at the end, but there is enough information there for you to do your own looking up.

I bought my copy at Apple Books, but you should be able to get it at your local good bookstore or on line, though.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Retro Review: The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay by Michael Chabon. London: Harper Collins, 2001

 I bought this book in paperback some time ago, started reading, mislaid it and bought the ebook. The print copy has turned up again, but I finished it in ebook. It’s quite a read! 

Two young Jewish men, cousins, work on comic books in 1930s/40s New York. One of them, Josef Kavalier, is from Prague. He is a trained stage magician and escape artist(a huge fan of Houdini) who has escaped the Nazis with the help of his fellow magicians, in a coffin holding the Golem, the 16th century clay defender of the Jews, which was still hidden away in Prague. Joe is also a terrific artist who has a great imagination. Sammy Clay, his cousin, helps frame the stories and writes the scripts. Together they create their first comics superhero, the Escapist. The novel goes through the early history of the American comic book industry, till 1954. 

I thought at first it might have been inspired by the two Jewish boys who created Superman, but they are mentioned and Joe and Sammy are asked to create something like Superman. The difference is that they get a warning against the error of handing over all their rights, so do much better financially than Siegel and Shuster! 

However, Joe and Sammy have many personal issues, even as the stories of their superheroes are read and loved by children around the country. Joe is worrying for his family in Europe, and desperately wanting an excuse to kill Germans, while Sammy has even deeper personal issues which could get him into deep trouble in 1940s America…

Interestingly, they are told not to have stories with Nazi villains, at least until America enters the war, something that did happen in the real world of comics. In fact, the characters and story are inspired by real Jewish comic book creators of the time. 

There are some delightful humorous side characters in this book, such as their bosses at Empire Comics, part of which started life as a seller of novelty gadgets. They can’t figure out how it all happened, but the comics are selling very well, so why not? 

If you are interested in a part of American Jewish history, this is not only instructional, but thoroughly entertaining. If you are a fan of speculative fiction, you will also enjoy it, though I do have to say there is only one fantasy element, the Golem; the rest is straight historical fiction. 

Michael Chabon is a third generation comics fan - his grandfather worked as a typographer at a plant producing comic books, which he brought home to his son, Michael’s father, who also gave comic books to his son, Michael. What a family tradition! 

It won a Pulitzer Prize in 2001, which might interest you if you are a literary fiction fan. I’m not, but am glad that such a wonderful book that I found enjoyable, got an award and was short listed for several others.

You can get it in ebook or print from Amazon, or ebook in Apple Books. Book Depository also has it, in print and audiobook. 

Friday, September 03, 2021

On Bingeing On Streaming Services!

 What are some ways of coping with lockdown? Well, one way is to catch up with shows and films you missed when they came out. And we in Victoria are on our sixth lockdown! So, I’m doing streaming. 

I am now up to my fourth streaming service. I never intended this, but it happened. I started with Prime to see the wonderful adaptation of Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Then I discovered there was another Neil Gaiman adaptation, American Gods, a book I loved. I intend to see The Man In The High Castle as soon as I reread the Phillip K. Dick novel. There are many other things, including some Star Trek stuff, such as Picard, written by Michael Chabon. 

And there’s Shakespeare! Well, it’s The Hollow Crown, which shows some of the history plays, even if they are cut down a bit. I’ve seen Henry IV Part 1, Henry V and am now watching  Richard II, with Ben Whishaw in the title role, and Patrick Stewart as John of Gaunt, doing that gorgeous speech that ends “this England.”

Plenty more, but let’s go on. My next subscription was Disney+, which has all the Star Wars material as well as old Disney movies(I finally found the Richard Todd Robin Hood, but only watched about fifteen minutes when I concluded it was truly awful. But I also discovered they had 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, with Kirk Douglas as Ned Land the harpooner, and yes, he could actually sing! 

I’ve watched Chariots Of Fire, with Ben Cross, and Ladyhawke, both beautiful films, though very different. 

What I have really been doing, though, is bingeing on the Marvel movies and TV series, which have impressive cast lists and directors such as Kenneth Branagh and Joss Whedon. But I’ve mentioned those before, so on to the next steaming service.

That’s Apple. I’m planning, when time, to watch For All Mankind, an alternative universe in which the Soviets got to the moon first. I do love that sort of alternative universe! I read a novel by Stephen Baxter, Voyage, in which Kennedy survives and the space program goes to Mars instead of the space shuttle. A woman is the first astronaut on Mars. That would make a great TV series! Mainly, though, I subscribed because that is where I can watch the adaptation of Asimov’s Foundation. I really need to reread that before watching! 

Most recently, I have subscribed to National Theatre At Home, which shows filmed versions of plays by a Britain’s National Theatre. They did it free on YouTube during the first big lockdowns, but now it’s streaming and you can watch stuff they have performed to live audiences. Not cheap, but I have so missed my theatre subscriptions over the last year and a half! 

And there are some big names in British acting. I have just seen Coriolanus with Tom Hiddleston and the multi talented Mark Gatiss. I performed that play when I was at university, playing the role of Third Citizen and a Roman standard bearer in the battle scene(I got killed after waving the flag a bit, as well as nearly choking  on my breastplate in rehearsal when I “died”), and it was fascinating to see what the NT did with it. Coriolanus, that brilliant general who is not much good at anything else, is killed in the last scene, of course, but as I recall, it ends with the person who did it saying (in Shakespearean language) “Oh, dear ! I really shouldn’t have done that, he was such a hero, let’s give him a fabulous funeral.” He is carried off with a fanfare(in our production it was “Fanfare For The Common Man”). In this production he is knocked to the ground, then strung up and has his throat cut… yuck! And no apologies or heroic funeral.

I see the Ralph Fiennes film is currently on ABC iView, and will watch that. 

I’m currently watching Antigone by Sophocles. It’s set in a government office. The Chorus are a bunch of public servants. And we have two Doctors in the lead roles, the ninth and the thirteenth! Christopher Ecclestone played King Creon and Jodie Whittaker was his niece, Antigone, daughter of Oedipus, who gets into huge trouble for burying her brother, the one who fought against Thebes. They are both brilliant, playing with their own Lancashire and Yorkshire accents, and why not? 

Next planned show will be Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch as the creature. 

Not quite as good as going to the theatre, but at least I get to see it!