Book Publishers Support White Privilege

At least according to a survey done by Lee and Low, the independent book publishing company:

Lee and Low created and executed a large survey of publishing players in the States. The report tells us that the survey went to “1,524 reviewer employees and 11,713 publishing employees for a total of 13,237 surveys deployed.” With a gratifying 25.8-percent response rate, the team has reason to feel good about how much input they received. I’ll give you the very useful infographic here produced by the company. In addition, the results are set out in a slide presentation you can access here. And the report, itself, from Lee and Low is here, dated January 26: reactions have been coming in for about a week.

Lee and Low’s corporate information makes it clear that the company’s own mission in publishing is “to meet the need for stories that children of color can identify with.”  Writing about the story for Quartz, Amy X. Wang described the Lee and Low ethnic results this way: “In the industry overall, 79 percent of people are Caucasian while just 4 percent are black, 7 percent are Asian, 6 percent are Hispanic, and less than 5 percent are Native American, Middle Eastern, or biracial. Figures on sexual orientation and disability status are no less lopsided.”

Lopsided, clearly, and most of us, sadly, are not surprised at these figures. In such campaign efforts as #weneeddiversebooks and myriad other consciousness-raising efforts, the failures of publishing to serve major sectors of the population adequately have been clear for some time. These are serious, pressing shortcomings and the more discussion about them, the better.

Basically, Lee and Low tells us that most publishing employees are straight, physically-abled, college-educated white women. Even at the executive level, long seen as the domain of men to the exclusion of women.

From the Lee and Low Diversity Baseline Survey (DBS) 2015

Lee and Low are big promoters of the “We Need Diverse Books” campaign (disclosure: I’ve entered in two of their contests) and I do want to address that in a future post, specifically my objections. But basically, the recap here is that they believe authors who fit a mold- college-educated, straight white women, are going to be the most likely to be published, because they look like the typical publishing employee.

I do believe that kid’s literature is too female-dominant. When I went to the SCBWI conference in Virginia in October, it was 93% female (I counted) and almost all were Caucasian. Granted, that tends to be who is most likely to read and want to be authors, not to mention editors and illustrators. Now the members were polite and no one made me feel uncomfortable. But I could see how someone like me might wonder if s/he belongs. The same is true in the indie publishing world. Just about all, if not all, bestselling indies are Caucasians writing primarily from their own middle-class POV.

As a kid I had no problem reading books with girls as the main character. But Goosebumps were one thing: Mary-Kate and Ashley’s Slumber Party is another. And unfortunately, I see too many variants of the latter these days and much less of the former. I personally do not care who runs what in publishing: My contacts, smart white women, are great and I enjoy working with them. But I actually do agree with Lee and Low that there is a bias, however unintentional, that promotes certain types of stories unappealing to boys and certain groups, and favors authors who fit a certain profile and who write a certain kind of story.

If book publishers want to reach boys and increase literacy overall, especially among kids, they have work to do. Now I don’t necessarily want white people getting bumped to fit “affirmative action” programs if the books are inferior. But publishers need to consider making an effort to reach audiences like boys and men if they want to boost sales. This means taking risks on those who may be able to bridge that gap between potential customers and the authors.

The ultimate goal is to get people to read, and be interested. Not to pander to the latest fad of making works shorter and more shallow, or giving up on books to exclusively sell coloring, connect the dots, fill-in-the-blank, and whatever else is popular, or that teaches people that books are outdated and we should just tweet stories instead, but more interesting and more engaging. That does mean embracing technology and maybe making books more interactive, available for mobile devices, and making books cheaper  and somewhat shorter than what they are now so they’re affordable to more people and folks decide to read and not do other things. I saw two kids at the library last week playing games on their phones. The horror.

Indie publishing is different-the only real barrier is cost. That’s not something that can be controlled. For now, I think indie publishing is the domain of middle-class and above authors who can afford to spend several thousand dollars on something that is unlikely to earn money in the short term. That may change, and I hope it does, so more people enjoy stories and the people who tell them.


Do readers prefer longer or shorter books?

Big pile of books

I saw this article from The Guardian:

Books are steadily increasing in size, according to a survey that has found the average number of pages has grown by 25% over the last 15 years.

A study of more than 2,500 books appearing on New York Times bestseller and notable books lists and Google’s annual survey of the most discussed books reveals that the average length has increased from 320 pages in 1999 to 400 pages in 2014.

According to James Finlayson from Vervesearch, who carried out the survey for the interactive publisher Flipsnack, there’s a “relatively consistent pattern of growth year on year” that has added approximately 80 pages to the average size of the books surveyed since 1999.

The literary agent Clare Alexander agrees that long books are more portable in electronic formats, but points out that much ebook reading is focused on genres such as romance, crime and erotica. For Alexander, the gradual increase in size is evidence of a cultural shift.

“Despite all the talk of the death of the book because of competition from other media,” she says, “people who love to read appear to prefer a long and immersive narrative, the very opposite of a sound bite or snippets of information that we all spend our lives downloading from Google.

This would have surprised me. All along I’ve been told short stories are back in style because of declining attention spans and people reading from their phones, on smaller screens unlikely to be suitable for a 500 page turner. Therefore, the argument goes, quit writing those 300 page stories and instead sell 15-40 page short stories at 99 cents a pop.

But longer stories also sell better, according to Mark Coker at Smashwords:

Longer books sell better than shorter books.  This finding is consistent with each of the prior year’s surveys, though as I mention in the presentation, this year’s finding comes with a lot more caveats.  In a nutshell, I suspect the rise of multi-author box sets, often at deep discount prices, is probably throwing off the data this year, and as I discuss in the presentation, some of the dynamics will cause it to understate impact of longer books and some will cause it to overstate it.

I think this is what’s happening: Casual readers who would rather watch TV or play video games prefer shorter works, because they can finish a book or short story in an hour or less and feel like they read something to completion. But passionate readers prefer a story they can connect to, and more often than not shorter works don’t do that in fiction. Now that doesn’t mean shorter is worse: Animal Farm, The Notebook, The Alchemist, The Old Man and the Sea, MacBeth, are all examples of shorter works which told stories most readers still remember today. Animal Farm and The Alchemist are considered among the best fiction works ever written. That said, some of the best-selling works are longer and it does mean I believe a well-written story is more important than a short one, even if some are emphasizing shorter over quality.

As readers, do you prefer shorter or longer works?




I Interviewed a Woman and She Nearly Killed Me. Here’s Why.

Shocking Finds

Today I interview Marin Yarthine, the main lead in Shocking Finds, a Finder’s Keeper’s novel. She has superpowers but isn’t quite up to Superwoman level yet. Or…is…she? Muwahahahahahaha .

S: In the beginning of the book, you were described as having the ability to move a Toyotal with your mind. What was that like?
Marin: Whoa, whoa whoa… if you’re gonna start with insane questions, I need another cup of coffee first. *sigh…
S: Can we get Miss Yarthine some more coffee. Okay… while we wait, why don’t you tell me about the Toyota?
Marin: Fine. But there really isn’t anything to tell. That wasn’t me. I may accidentally shock people, but I’ve never moved anything with my mind. And you can call me Marin. Besides… Kyland says my last name is actually de Platadreki.
(At this juncture I put down my recorder, cried onto my YouTube channel for no reason, then rechecked my questions)
S: Speaking of Kyland, he informed us that the first time he saw you, you were flipping a car through the air, managing to save your own life.
Marin:… (like in Final Fantasy when you know an imposter’s coming and you’ll have to fight its outrageously high HP)
S: Marin… are you alright? Ouch!
(The Interviewer dropped the now smoking recorder, and shook the sting out of his hand before picking up one of the spare recorders Kyland had suggested he have on hand.)
Marin: Sorry. *ducks to hide her flaming cheeks… I still have a lot to learn, and I guess no one has gotten around to telling me that part. Not that I can’t remember the moment vividly. It was the first time I ever allowed my anger to show, to reach the surface. I remember thinking that the anger, or some large power, was moving through me, flying off to bat the Toyota away. It was so strong that I got slammed backwards into the parking lot. And yes it freaked me out. But then, a lot of this magical stuff freaks me out.
(The Interviewer slowly placed the recorder on the table sitting between them.)
S: Sooo… Take us through your mind the first time you met Kyland. How do you
feel about him now?
Marin (A big smile on her face): I absolutely love that Fae. Don’t get me wrong, he drives me crazy… but he also gets me through all the changes in my life that would have sent me into hiding without him. When I first met the man, he was saving my faux-aunt. He didn’t have to do that, but he worried about how me. As for my part, I was in the middle of a nightmare, afraid my only family would die before my eyes. And still, my hormones – my previously thought dead hormones – perked up and took notice. But come one. Have you seen him? The man is absolutely lickable.
I even found him to die for when I woke up to find he had stolen my clothes. Don’t ask.
S (stunned): If you could have one additional enhanced sense you don’t currently
have, what would it be, and why?
Marin: Wow. Now that’s a horrible thought. I already have all five of the human normal senses. Plus the Fae ability to sense emotions. Well, I can sense them sometimes. That one is the most annoying. I mean, who wants to sense emotions without contexts. I guess it would be nice to sense curses and spells, like Kyland. Not only to I have enough curses to live with, that I am still trying to get rid of, but knowing if an attacker was under a curse would be helpful. I hate the loss of innocent life more than anything else about my new reality.
S: What is the best part of being a Princess now?
Marin: That’s a tough one. I’m not sure I even want to be a Princess. I’ll have to get back to you after I’ve gotten used to the idea. Though being noticed by those around me, being seen… even though it freaks me out a little, it’s nice to be a part of the crowd.
S: How did you feel when Lindal revealed her true nature?
(Marin flinched a little. Sparks started flying off her fingers, but one deep breath and the sparks died down. The recorder was still working, but the Interviewer gave Marin a moment to calm down by switching to a new recorder and handing off the current one to his assistant.)
Marin (looking off to the left): My heart broke. I was angry and lost, and I wanted someone to tell me it wasn’t true. It isn’t like Lindal even pretended to love me. She was just the only family I had ever know, the only acceptance no matter how abusive. And yes… I now know without a shadow of a doubt that the way she treated me was abuse.
(Marin feel silent. After a few minutes, the Interviewer decided to continue.)
S: What’s the Queen’s real name? We won’t blab to the whole world, promise.
Marin (Shaking her head): I’m sorry. What did you ask?
S: What’s the Queen’s real name? We promise not to repeat it.
(Marin opened her mouth to answer, but stopped and looked over the Interviewer’s head as a gruff male voice answered for her)
Kyland: I warned you what would happen if you strayed from the list of approved questions.
S: (trying to get over tingling electric shock): Sorry. I didn’t think that one would hurt.
Marin: It doesn’t matter. No one will tell me anything other than Queen de Platadreki.
At that point I tried to politely end the interview before a dude seven feet tall tried to kill me. All the lights in the studio exploded and I was thrown from my chair by another electric shock. Marin growled, “Mine!” and stomped from the studio, dodging the Fae medical staff they hand on hand for just this reason, and knew that Kyland would follow. That’s all the questions I got. The takeaway: sometimes it’s better to ask fewer questions, especially when your guests have superhuman powers and you don’t.
In the meantime, follow Marin’s journey and read this book before it hits the USA Today and New York Times bestsellers lists and those who haven’t purchased a copy will find out what it’s like to face a human who can electric shock you at will. And before Dogbert takes over the world 😉.

Buy the book at Amazon HERE or at Barnes and Nobles HERE

Visit the author’s webpage HERE or the webpage for the Finder’s Keeper’s books HERE

toad photo:

If Book Publishers or Amazon did this, they could solve our reading deficiency problem

It’s not looking good for authors who seek to make money from their writing. Recent data from Author Earnings shows a growing gap between authors who self-publish/go with a small publisher vs. those who receive a contract from a “Big Five” publisher or one of their imprints. And the obvious takeaway: Writers are really, really, really, really, really, really unlikely to make money from their writing, despite the vague “more writers earning a living from their writing than ever before” meme pushed out by a few top authors.

Books have never been the most popular form of entertainment and while there’s been a bounce with people buying more work, particularly from indies, the long-term challenge of encouraging a reading culture remains. The problem is, the literary world is ill-equipped to overcome these challenges. There are many reasons, but today we’ll focus on what book publishers can do to improve the quality of their product.

As a newbie writer, I have no ill will towards publishers, nor do I believe an author is wrong for choosing traditional publication. But I do follow publishing news, and I get the impression the major publishers (other than Amazon) have no idea how to consistently build readership. I say to build a readership, they need to develop the talent who can build the readership. So I propose the publishers…

create an Author League.

The concept is simple: publish fewer books, but invest more in their talent to develop. I got this idea from baseball. Players are drafted and nearly all go into the minor leagues. The goal is to develop the players and see who is good enough to become a pro. While most will never make it that far, at least they get some level of coaching. And those who DO make it are better because of the training, the experience, and the commitment to the player from the organization.

Here’s the plan: Sign an author to a contract and place that author in a ‘league’. The expectations and money goes up as the author’s writing improves. Authors who don’t improve or who miss objectives get cut.

Pros: Reserved for only the top few authors who either have, or are capable of, massive sales. These authors seldom need coaching, though having some from time to time never hurts. They have big platforms and really need help distributing their works, primarily in print. These authors are fully ready for international tours, major Hollywood movie deals, merchandising opportunities, and essentially running a medium business. Authors who can sell 50,000 or more copies a year belong here.

AAA: Authors here are emerging breakouts, but not quite mega stars. These authors are well-known in the literary community, and they have a solid fanbase who will come to their book signings or other events, though they may not be household names and blockbuster franchise-ready yet. These authors are experienced and skilled writers who may or may not need additional help with their prose. The main challenge here is helping them improve their storyboarding or getting their careers to the breakout level. They may be ready for minor movie deals or limited merchandising/licensing opportunities. Expectations are high and advances and contract perks are higher as well. Authors who sell between 15,000-49,999 belong here.

AA: The next level up for authors. These writers have some type of working platform, some level of public speaking ability, have shown a greater range of talent needed for major publication, and are taking the craft more seriously. Authors here tend to not be the best at marketing themselves and still need help improving their craft and productivity.  Authors here typically sell 5,000-15,000 books per year.

A: The lowest tier for all authors who are ready for professional publication and don’t qualify for Rookies. These authors typically lack previous writing experience, including coaching or supervision. They also lack the star power needed to move lots of copies. Expectations are lower, but so are advances. Authors here have some talent, but need help improving their writing. That may mean improving productivity, forming outlines, or platform building. Publishers will dedicate help to authors who land here. An author who would sell between 2,500-5,000 books per year would be best suited here. Note that authors who really could not move at least 2,500 copies (smallest possible print run for a publisher) are not worth the publisher’s time and would be better off self-publishing or doing something better with their time.

Rookie: Reserved for new authors under 30 who aren’t ready for higher levels. This is more of a “career development” than anything. Not just improving writing, but helping young talent adjust to becoming a professional. The truth is, few teens and twenty-somethings are fully prepared to be working professionals, putting in all the time needed to be a full-time author, and even fewer would be prepared for celebritydom if their novel took off. The goal here is to seek publication for short stories or small works and build their platforms.

This is only a base guideline, but it’s something to think about. Whoever comes up with this idea is in great shape to retain talent and cut into losses. If you give every signed author some marketing help and lowered expectations for smaller players, the industry would be more likely to break even or profit from work rather than lose significant money on most books. Publishing a book with almost zero marketing help is totally worthless.

What would you add/subtract to my list?

Author Interview: Robert Krenzel, A Veteran Who Helps Veterans

Today’s author interview is with Robert Krenzel, former Army officer who served in the Balkans, Iraq, and Afghanistan with a specialty in Armor and Cavalry operations. He focuses on writing and helping fellow vets suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a serious problem that sadly goes untreated in too many vets. I spoke to him about his new book and his work.

S: You have some great military experience which suits you to write novels based on the battlefield. Can you tell me about how your experiences shape your writing?

RK: I think the equation goes something like this: Experience + Research + Imagination = Story. I have been around soldiers most of my adult life so my experiences with them obviously color my approach to writing about them. For example, I can’t write about British troops without balancing the research I have done (not all of it casts them in the best light) against the incredibly positive experiences I had with British troops in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan! On top of that there is a warm place in my heart for American troops; for one thing you never know what is going to come out of their mouths! In my upcoming novel there are a few scenes that are based on actual conversations I had with members of my tank crew in Kosovo. I think things like that add some color, warmth, and realism to my work…and I think they are a fitting tribute to my brothers and sisters in arms. Oh, and I know what it is like to be absolutely terrified, although that never really happened in combat (it was in an airplane).

S: PTSD is such a major issue, but one which unfortunately is not well understood by the public at large and is not well treated by the VA. Did you ever suffer from PTSD, and/or do you mentor other veterans, but in particular those who have PTSD?

RK: First of all, every war is different for every soldier, and PTSD is not something that goes away. I have seen and done things I would really have preferred to not have experienced, but I know men and women who experienced far, far worse. Yes, I have been diagnosed with PTSD, and it has been a rough road, but I am doing very well now. I try to help others, and I try to raise awareness of this issue in my books. I also support organizations like Invisible Wound, a non-profit founded by friends of mine, Adrian and Diana Veseth-Nelson. Adrian and I served together twice in Iraq; he was decorated for valor (a well-deserved medal, by the way), and experienced some horrific things along the way. Check out their FaceBook page at (BW note: Consider supporting veteran organizations which work directly with vets, such as Invisible Wound)

S: Tell us your thoughts about the self-publishing vs. traditional publishing path for authors. Why did you choose your path?

RK: My genre is not one of the most lucrative, and I was spending more time trying to convince agents that my book was worth their time than I was making the book worth the reader’s time. I also think independent publishing has a tremendous future. To top it off, the process of publishing was both fun and rewarding!

S: Have you ever attended a writer’s conference? If so, what was your experience?

RK: I have never attended a writer’s conference. The closest I came was taking an online course on writing improvement; it involved a great deal of writing and feedback from other writers. I really enjoyed the interaction with other authors and potential authors. That course was so helpful in fact that the opening scene of “Times That Try Men’s Souls” originated as a homework assignment. I got feedback from my peers, developed it further, and am very pleased with the results.

S: How do you deal with negative feedback about your writing? Do you get back more positive or negative feedback?

RK: I have been fortunate to get mostly positive feedback. What negative feedback I have gotten has been constructive; I have been able to learn from it and use it to improve my writing. I also bear in mind that no matter how well I write, not everyone is going to like my work. Many people do, and I love writing, so that is what really matters.

S: How many Gideon Hawke novels do you intend to write? And tell us a little more about Gideon.

RK: I will write until the story has told itself. I have ideas for several more books in the queue, and it was a very long war! As long as Gideon remains committed the Cause I will continue to write about him.

Tell you more about Gideon? I will give you a little teaser about “Times That Try Men’s Souls”: Gideon’s biggest flaw is that he is too protective of those he cares about. He is willing to take risks, but he holds back others who are willing to do the same. Let’s just say that causes conflict.

Check out Robert’s website and Facebook page:

You can find “This Glorious Cause” on Amazon at:   

Find Out What Happens When You Click Bait a Book Title

To Kill A Mockingbird Link-Baity Title Remake

Today’s post is brought to you by the hashtag #clickbaitnoveltitle, courtesy of Hootsuite.

More than likely, you clicked on this post because I click-baited you. Since you are already interested in books, what happens when you try to find out when you click bait a title?

From Hootsuite, junior lieutenants of click baiting, serving Buzzfeed, the Lord of the Click Bait and Meme Realm:

“Love it or hate it, so-called click bait has become part of content marketing. While many people see these types of social messages or headlines as a trick being played on the consumer, the reason that they’ve become the norm is that they work. And they don’t just work once, they work over and over again.

This is not unlike classic literature, many examples of which have graced the high school desks of children, their parents and even their grandparents. The themes we see in Shakespeare and George Orwell were relevant when they were written and they are equally relevant today.

But as kids become more tech-savvy, many are turning away from reading as a means of education and entertainment. Just in case literature really starts falling by the wayside, here are 10 classic books reimagined with click-baity titles:

How not to end a relationship

A.K.A. Romeo & Juliet

These two kids were attacked by a racist. You’ll never believe who stepped in to protect them.

A.K.A. To Kill a Mockingbird

Old school Wolf of Wall Street? This author uses “damn” 85 times in one novel

A.K.A. The Catcher in the Rye

The “Rich Kids of Instagram” have nothing on this guy

A.K.A. The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby Link-Baity Title Remake

Can you create a better clickbaited title than these ones? Don’t forget to use the hashtag #clickbaitnoveltitle. And don’t forget to follow my page so you won’t miss any of the latest news, tips, and fun stuff!

Book Review: If You Love Minecraft, you’ll Like This Book

Minecraft is the game that’s swept the world. Following in the traditional of MMORPG’s, Minecraft is one of those games where you have to build everything from scratch. There is no plot, no particular purpose- YOU create the kind of game experience you want, with only the program’s created elements at your disposal.

It should shock no one that Minecraft-related books are frequently at the top of the most popular kid’s book list, especially for boys. It should also shock no one that a bunch of writers want to cash in on the craze and write their Minecraft-inspired fanfic.

Today’s book is one such fanfic, by author Stone Marshall. The title is “Flynn’s Log 1: Rescue Island”. I read the first book in his series, which is the one being reviewed today.

Where I got it: Free from the Kindle Store off the Choosy Bookworm list.

Plot: In the true tradition of Minecraft, this book didn’t have much of a plot until about two-thirds of the way in. It was mainly about the main character named Flynn running around a Minecraft-inspired world, fighting giant spiders and zombies as he builds his fortress on Rescue Island, where the majority of the action takes place (here’s the map). Later in the book, he meets Zara, a zombie who has been deprogrammed and exists in the game to help the main character escape the digital world and return to the real one.

A true book lover would scoff at the lack of plot. However, in Minecraft fashion, the book doesn’t need one. The world IS the story. 1/2

Style: Another toughie. I abuse the ! more than 99.7% of authors on this planet. And yet, this got on my nerves. If I was eight, the constant shouting would be funny, which is why I’m scoring him for this book as if I was an eight-year-old kid. But every page had some type of shouting action as if this guy, living on a tiny island, was about to die. Otherwise, the style was fine. 1/2

Editing: The book was well-edited. Besides the frequent exclamation point use, I didn’t see sloppy errors or major problems. 2/2

Book Cover: It’s creative, like Minecraft. I will include the pictures he drew within the book for this as well. I’ll give him points for original fanfic drawings. 2/2

Intangibles: The “feel” of the book. I was torn. As a video game fan, I can now understand why kids and adults love Minecraft. If you have a lot of free time, don’t mind the endless world mechanism, and love to build things, this game looks fantastic. As is true of video games, Flynn’s Log shows the main character dealing with the Minecraft world. When he introduces Zara, the portals, and the underlying theme that Flynn must escape, he added an actual story to the Minecraft world.

As an older reader, this was tough. Forget about kids being the target audience- Even Pokemon has a purpose: To catch ’em all, to collect all eight gym badges, and to beat the Elite Four. My main complaint about a lot of games today is, they have no purpose other than filling in free time that ought to be spent reading or doing homework. They become addictive, like World of Warcraft, because you really can never win but if you stop playing, you lose. Reading this story makes it clear the Minecraft world scenario was prioritized over telling an actual story, which is what a novel is supposed to do. 1/2

Overall: 7/10 The book is solid, if not memorable. If you are a kid, or a parent with elementary school children who like or love Minecraft, I would recommend this book. It brings in all the excitement of Minecraft, in an easy to read style, with a lot of cool drawings rendered by the author. The author’s plot points were enough to intrigue me to want to buy the rest of the series, which I probably will now. In that sense, Stone did a great job.

From a literary standpoint, I have to image there is Minecraft-inspired fiction that’s just as good, if not better. Perhaps a fictitious scenario within the world, kind of like a scenario within Sid Meier’s Civilization games. If you or your children/grandchildren are not fans of Minecraft, you will probably not like this book.

don’t forget to follow my page and offer your comments. They help other readers make informed decisions. Thank you!

Buy the book at Amazon here
check out Stone’s fan club here

Book Review: The Alien You Wish Was Your Sister

I found a free copy of Molly of Mars and the Alien Syndicate by Wyatt Davenport, and I feel like I lucked out finding that lucky treasure.

Plot: Molly Lennox and her step-sister Pirra live on Mars with their mother, Naomi, whom Molly discovers is not her real mother. Molly doesn’t like her step-mother, and eventually Naomi gets the idea to send Molly to school on Neptune in order to get rid of her.

One day she sees an abduction and tries to reason with Naomi and the others on the mars colony, but no one believes she has seen anything unusual. They figure she’s looking to cause problems. She soon learns about the Syndicate, and discovers they are planning something awful. Molly, Pirra, and their mutual friend Vicky travel the colony before learning what the Syndicate is and why it must be stopped.

The book was a good length for 8-12. The characters were fairly well-developed and the plot was well-executed. It will not win points for originality, but that was unnecessary here. The hardest part for any writers is to write characters which readers will care about with a storyline that makes sense. Wyatt nailed it here. 2/2

Style: I like Wyatt’s writing. he writes the way I write MG fiction, with characters who speak naturally, not that much time bantering or filling in space with narration, and characters were not one-dimensional. This is usually a big problem for a lot of authors, but not the author. 2/2

Editing: Absolutely solid. No major errors. 2/2

Book Cover: The style fits a 5th-8th grade level. If I was critiquing it, I think the cover is a little too girl-oriented, and if I were a young boy I might not pick this up by the cover alone. But it fits. 2/2

Intangibles:  The ending is solid. You can feel for Molly as she tries to avoid being sent to Neptune, and we learn more about the deep connection between Molly and Pirra. Adding the Syndicate keeps the element of mystery without being too complicated. 2/2

Overall: 10/10 I don’t know what to say. It is true this book is not as good as Harry Potter, largely because it is shorter and spends less time on character development. Do not buy this book expecting to find the next Harry Potter or Percy Jackson. But I do believe the traditional publishers missed out on a chance to get a solid book by a guy who, like most indies are, outgunned by the big players. Responsible for his own editing, book cover, and writing technique, Wyatt knocked this out. I bought book 2 and I can’t wait to review that one.

download his book free here

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Author interview: Francis Powell, the Interesting Chap

If you don’t know Francis Powell, you should. He is an interesting chap, a man who attending a British boarding school NOT named Hogwarts and, like Harry Potter, didn’t have a great time for the most part. He is published by Savant Books and was kind enough to speak with me.

S: First tell us what made you want to be a writer and what prompted you to write Flight of Destiny.

F: I moved to a remote village in Austria. It was not far from Vienna, but a very oppressive and strange environment. I thought I should try writing a book. I launched into it…nothing came of it. I do many creative activities, painting as well as writing music. Writing lay dormant, put to one side. Then later, living in Paris at this point in time, via an advert, I made contact with a man called Alan Clark, who had a literary magazine called “Rat Mort” (dead rat).  I submitted four short stories for this magazine, encouraged by Alan, I began to write more and more short stories, and developed a style…When I had a stock of short stories, it seemed logical to try to put them all together and find a publisher.

S: Your novel is actually a collection of 22 short stories, but the kind of world you create is described as “reflections of a parallel, but darker, often fatalistic noir that proceeds quite independently by its own machinations to grind away at the grist of humanity for what appears to be no apparent reason.” I read some of your stories and they just drove me crazy, with how sharp you twist your writing, especially near the end. What was the motivation for your style?

F: I suppose I like the idea of writing  a short story in the same way a fisherman might fish, enticing and luring a reader then hooking them (I am against all forms of hunting by the way).  I suppose with my style I like to play a bit with the reader, lay false trails…to tantalize readers, and then at the end of the story turn the story around with his unexpected twist, which is the ultimate aim with this type of short story.

Like with other creative activities, painting for example, often a painter tries different styles before they truly develop their own style.  Sometimes this style can come about due to an accident, or coming across something that leaves a deep impression on  them…for example the painter Francis Bacon, in his early career had an obsession with Picasso,  his horrific images came about having bought a second hand book of diseases of the mouth, added to the fact that he greatly admired Eisenstein‘s Battleship Potemkin,‪ particularly the scene of the nurse screaming on the Odessa steps.  Why are my stories so dark?  Perhaps writing is for me a bit cathartic and I need to draw out my deep dark thoughts, some of which have been latent over a period of time.  I like creating and developing despicable characters…this seems to quite easily for me.   We live in this horribly cruel world, full of people who are oppressed, for one reason or another …and this runs through my stories.  There is a kind of social commentary that runs through some my short stories…One of the good things that came out of my education was studying Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray  and his character Becky Sharpe, archetypal  social climber. I think my stories are very “British” in character. It is true to say , I have many motivations behind my writing.

S: Would you ever experiment with a style of writing that isn’t dark?

F: I always love a challenge, but it might be hard, I have tried writing Children’s stories and even they turned out a bit “dark” however children seem to like dark stories.  To write a story, with a happy beginning, happy characters, and happy ending, it could be possible, I would have be very disciplined. I do a lot of blogging and enjoy writing factual articles, which require research.  It is great to learn new things.

S: You talked about Roald Dahl’s Kiss Kiss as having an influence on your writing. Was he your favorite British author, or did you have another one who influenced you the most?

F: I love the work of Rupert Thomson, who wrote “Dreams of leaving” as well as other books. I met him when I was a new student at Art College and he and his writing has made a long lasting impression on me.

S: We want to know: Why did you not enjoy your time in boarding school?

F: For me it was a bit like doing a stint in prison…in fact people sent to boarding schools, during the period I was there, easily adapt to prison.  There was twelve in a dormitory, you never have time for yourself.  You had to match all the conventions of such an institution or you would be become an outsider and quickly become the victim of all kinds of abuse.  Most of the boys were destined to join the military, or go into comfortable nine to five jobs…there were a few artistic/creative types, but these were few and far between.  Then there were the punishments, most of which are outlawed in this day and age.  Running up a hill, without a shirt, whatever the weather, then having a cold shower, was supposed to toughen you up.  If you were caught smoking for example you would be caned.  Boarding schools are supposed to be character building, but mine just affected me in this negative way.

S: Was your childhood an easy one, or a rough one, in your view? (minus boarding school)

F: My childhood was dominated by Boarding School, however I had some wonderful holidays in Cornwall. However compared to many childhoods, mine was not an easy one…

S: Have you ever been flattered by a comparison to a well-known author or by a review?*

F: An editor compared my work to a re-incarnated Edgar Alan Poe.

S:You have a traditionally published novel, although with a smaller press. Why did you choose Savant Books to publish your book?

F: I guess I encountered Savant by chance. They showed an interest in my work.

S: For all our readers and writers who never got a book published with an actual publisher, take us through the process from the time they acquired your novel until publication.

F: It is a long drawn out process…for me it was complicated by the fact that I am British, my publisher American, so different spelling, grammar, ideas came into play.  E-Mails were sent over a period of three years, shaping a reshaping the book. I must say I was a real novice concerning this process of editing and polishing and proofing. A writer thinks about stories, and the precious sentences they have put in their book, a book publisher thinks about readers, selling books, reaching a certain market.
S:What are some future projects you’re working on?

F: At the moment it is full on promotion of my book Flight of Destiny.  I would love a follow up to it, I have reserve of stories lying in wait.

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“Palace” of the “King” part 2 of 6

Below is part 2 of my short story, appx. 7 pages. Feel free to comment or share. Enjoy!

Cutter allowed himself three minutes to recover. When he felt as good as he figured he was going to, he lifted the wood panel off and moved back into the living room towards the kitchen. He moved briskly to the kitchen window and peered out: four Closterim, performing what appeared to be patrol duty. He spent the next five minutes studying their movements until he figured out a path he could take to sneak past them and make it to the other side of the street. There were three houses but one of them looked destroyed; Spezzna was not likely in that one. One of the other two had boarded up windows which Cutter, knowing Spezzna, took to mean that was where he was hiding until help would arrive.

He picked a precise time when the Closterim split into two pairs and had their backs turned to each other. He jumped out the window and navigated around broken glass and burned-up cars until he was halfway across the street. A Closterim guard suddenly turn its head towards him and Cutter ducked underneath the engine of one of the smoldering cars.

“Is something there?”  The Closterim said in a metallic voice as Cutter’s heart almost stopped at the sound of it. A couple of seconds passed, and he felt a rush of adrenalin enter his blood. As the cyborg approached his hiding spot, Cutter prepared himself to get up and fight, but the Closterim guard walked by without looking underneath.

“What did you find?” Another Closterim said from far away in the same metallic voice.

“Nothing alive.” The Closterim near Cutter kicked the ground and a small piece of hard dirt popped up. A Sun Sword slammed into the ground and twisted around to form a small hole but, just as suddenly as they had come, the Closterim patrol moved away and Cutter breathed a sigh of relief.

He waited a few more seconds and slowly moved out from underneath the engine, his eyes darting in all directions for any signs of other patrols. They were moving closer but they were still not facing him. Cutter crawled back underneath the smoldering vehicle and went out the other side. He crawled fifteen yards until he was on the blown-up pavement on the other side of the street; the Mirror Suit was successfully hiding his body from the cyborgs.

There was another smoldering vehicle- a minivan- half-way on the pavement near the house Pyrotek assumed Spezzna was hiding in. Cutter moved to the side of the minivan facing the house and waited for the Closterims’ patrol route to take them away from his side of the road. He pulled out a Finger Mirror-named for its three-way angles and finger size- and peered around the front passenger’s side of the van. Once he was certain no one was looking, he crawled through the grass until he reached the front door of the house directly across the street from him. Incredibly, despite the immense destruction to North Point, the grass in this yard was still green.

An underground water system, he thought as he used the ASL to cut a hole in the door. After entering he used the green laser to seal the hole. That means the original source of water is still clean and flowing. If I find it we can get drink refills before moving on to Red Valley. That thought reminded him of how very thirsty he was.

Cutter heard a chirping sound behind him and he jumped; he instinctively reaching for his K-24 and pointing it into the empty, broken down house in front of him. The chirping disappeared and was replaced with the eerie silence of an abandoned house which had gone through more than most houses go through in their lifetimes; the ceiling had several cannonball-sized holes, exposing the orange sunlight from the outside. Furniture was overturned and on the ground was a photo which had only the bottom half of people’s bodies visible. Cutter had the feeling something else was in the house with him. The Closterim were patrolling the street outside, so it couldn’t be them; his thoughts turned to the Delightful Devils Platoon- four women who had been sent to Hell and back and, in their rage and misery, allowed their bodies to be transformed into machines in order to let their human bodies live their remaining days as physically pain-free as possible while they searched for the one responsible for their agony. And Cutter had heard, because he had been involved in blowing up a nuclear power plant near New Davenport where the women were from, that he was the one they held responsible-

The chirping came again and sounded like a monkey this time. Cutter tapped his built-in phones. “You can send KeyKey,” he said to Pyrotek. “I’m alone.”

“I saw,” Pyrotek said as the two-foot-tall robot monkey rolled up on its tiny rubber wheels and gave him a happy look using neon lights embedded on its face. “KeyKey tracked the Closterim’s movements and uploaded them to Brickwall.” This was the name of Pyrotek’s computer server, named so no one would be able to identify his computer system unless he wanted them to. “There are still eleven Closterim in town, eight on patrol, and three breaking through houses. Cutter, I think they know some Chameleons are still alive and around. The three Closterim got rid of their Sun Swords and are carrying FAMAS G-5’s instead. That’s a newer assault rifle model which works better in dark places.”

“What are you saying?” Cutter gripped his K-24 more tightly and moved closer to a wall parallel to the front door where he could get the first jump on anything which entered it.

“Cutter, you had better find Spezzna, and fast.” The urgency in Pyrotek’s voice was unmistakable. “Based on data KeyKey sent me you have…about six minutes, I’d say, to find Spezzna and get out of there. I’m sending a Magpul Bushido Series X motorcycle into the backyard of the house you’re in now. Hurry! The Closterim are about to enter the house right behind you.”

“Got it,” Cutter said. He picked KeyKey up and the cyber monkey giggled happily as though it was a real animal and not a robot. “KeyKey, track the Closterim and send their movements to my GPS.” KeyKey’s voice recognition receptor translated Cutter’s words into something it could understand. It darted into the living room and through a hole in the wall leading to the outside world, using its tripod-like leg sections to lift itself into the exit.

Cutter pulled out a Wave Reader, another one of Pyrotek’s inventions, designed to convert transmitted signals into written intel, as though a radio signal could arrive and form a website page. He would use this to translate KeyKey’s radio waves into a map he would use to track the Closterim’s movements.

He took a quick look around the house and checked the second floor to see if Spezzna was here, which he was not. He had now four and a half minutes until Pyrotek estimated the Closterim would reach him. Cutter went back to the first floor and faced the southernmost wall-perpendicular to the front door-on the opposite side of the house. He used the ASL to open a hole in the wall. He didn’t bother to seal it; within the next ten minutes he would either be fleeing by motorcycle to the Red Valley, or he would be dead.

Cutter ran fifteen feet to the next house and began cutting through this wall. As he worked he heard heavy footsteps- the Closterim patrol was approaching his location.

Cutter kept his calm and kept chipping away. His chest was pounding harder than usual- his body had been healed but the surgeons had never been able to completely put him together again…

The footsteps became louder and the sound of a FAMAS G-5 firing sounded far too close for comfort. Cutter took a look to his left, and then channeled his impulse to panic into an even more zealous focus on the wall he was busy opening. Without hesitating or worrying about the Closterim he finished opening the hole- just as the Closterim’s footsteps indicated they were now within view. Without looking, he leaped through the hole and tumbled along the floor of what appeared to be a dining room as a siren-the Closterim’s signal to alert allies of a living, hostile body-wailed from outside.

“SHIT! PYROTEK!” Cutter yelled into his built-in phone. The wails grew louder and from outside more earth-pounding footsteps were heard. He heard some heavy panting from outside the wall where the hole was- the Closterim who had spotted him would soon attempt to face him one-on-one and keep him occupied until they could overwhelm him by numbers alone.

In front of him the dining room had an open wall which appeared to cave in a little like a hallway- that was probably the basement. He moved towards it and looked to his right. There appeared to be a staircase on the other side of this wall- the steps to the second floor. He coughed hard; the pain in his back was getting worse.

If Spezzna was in this house and fully understood Chameleon evasion tactics, he was likely on the second floor- near a window where he could jump out if he was otherwise trapped. Cutter darted to the right and heard the Closterim behind him slash through the wall. In a few seconds they would completely cut through and begin to track any skin that shed to pinpoint his location. He moved to the right and turned out to be correct; there was a narrow wooden staircase, with fifteen steps, to the second floor. He bound up, three steps at a time, until he reached the top. Below, the Closterim’s footsteps were heard from the dining room.

There were four rooms on this floor and their wooden doors were all closed. Cutter held the Wave Reader and moved its rotating button until he was able to locate KeyKey’s radio waves. Within four seconds he detected a faint signal in the third door down.

He charged the third door and simply plowed through it. Wood splintered and the brass doorknob rolled onto his foot and away. He fell onto a piece of jagged wood still attached to the door frame when he hit it and felt it jut his rib cage. He fell awkwardly onto the jagged wood piece and felt it jut into his ribcage. He groaned in pain and fell to the ground.

“Cu…er!” Spezzna’s energetic voice rang in and out of his ears. Cutter’s eyes became blurry but he saw a mop of brown hair come towards him. “You c…n m…ke it!”

Cutter ripped the wood piece out of his ribs but he knew immediately there were splinters. He was going to need medical attention before travelling to the Red Valley. But for now he just had to find the motorcycle and escape-

Spezzna got up and Cutter saw he was limping; Spezzna still managed to toss one of his EIG’s towards the staircase. They heard an explosion and what sounded like Closterim mechanical suits getting fried. Spezzna was only about average height, and his legs were not strong enough to carry his sturdy, muscular upper body, but he had no trouble picking up the taller, but feeble, Cutter and moving him to the window.

Hang on, Cutter!” Pyrotek exclaimed. “KeyKey’s coming!

Get ready!” Spezzna shouted. He dropped Cutter to the ground and shattered the glass with a sidekick. Cutter felt tiny shards hit his Mirror Suit and bounce harmlessly off. Spezzna picked him up again and they moved slowly out the window.

A shrill mechanical pitch whirred and Cutter knew KeyKey had caught up to them. The cyber monkey emitted a pitch which knocked the Closterim down and made them clutch their ears. The sound was harmless to human ears but, as the Closterim were mostly machine now, their sound receptors could not handle high pitches nearly as well as humans.

Spezzna moved them to the roof. Cutter struggled to speak, but he managed to find his voice: “Spezzna! There’s a motorcycle one house down to the right!”

Spezzna grunted but he managed to carry Cutter in his arms until they reached the end of the roof.

“Get ready Cutter, I’m dropping you,” Spezzna warned.

“Drop? Wait, Spezzna-“ Cutter tried to grab Spezzna’s flak jacket but he missed and was dropped to stories onto the grass below.

He rolled around and immediately sensed no broken bones- whatever underground irrigation system was keeping the grass moist was doing its job. Spezzna tumbled himself and they both rolled around until they were able to stand up. Above them KeyKey’s high-pitched wails shattered glass and the Closterim screamed even louder; their cries sounded robotic, but Cutter knew, from his experience facing them, their pain was human.

Cutter felt like his brain had moved a bit around his skull. He held his head with one hand as he and Spezzna raced towards the house.

“Incoming!” Pyrotek’s voice said through the built-in phone.

Cutter looked up and saw a crate crash into the ground and break open break open, revealing a large, black motorcycle that had its engine running. Above them a silver drone the size of a four-door sedan flew off, leaving behind a trail of wake turbulence.

Spezzna, who was less injured, reached the motorcycle first. The moment Cutter successfully stumbled to the motorcycle and sat behind Spezzna he yelled “hold on!” and they took off, racing off westbound into a setting sun. Somehow-barely-they would survive to see it rise again.