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Carrie Rubin and Audrey Driscoll — Authors Who Deserve More

Audrey Driscoll is a blogger/writer who has followed my blog for some time. I have always appreciated her likes and occasional comments, but I only recently returned the favor and started following her blog a few months ago.  It’s the kind of writer’s blog I appreciate. Most of the time you don’t even realize she has pursued publishing efforts because much of her blog is dedicated to her other pursuits.

A few weeks ago Berthold Gambrel posted a review of one of Audrey’s books, The Friendship of Mortals. Interestingly, Berthold learned of Audrey from my blog, likely because of a comment she left there that he then followed down the WordPress trail. His review inspired me to read The Friendship of Mortals. And I don’t know why. I’ve never read Lovecraft and haven’t the foggiest idea about his (her?) books and stories, although I’ve heard the name occasionally over the years.

Actually, I do know why. I wanted to show some support for a fellow writer and I hoped for a good story to go along with it.

So, I downloaded the Kindle version of The Friendship of Mortals and spent the next few weeks reading it. I’m ashamed it took me so long to read it because it was a book I could have easily read in a few days or a week in my earlier years. It was that good. I really didn’t want to put it down. But these days, my reading time is limited to the few minutes I can keep my eyes open when I head upstairs at the end of the day, and some occasional opportunities on weekends. Sitting and reading for a couple of hours is a rare occurrence.

Regular readers know that I don’t write typical book reviews. That, in my mind, requires more work than I’m willing to put into reading a book. To do so would, potentially, destroy the joy I experience when I read a good book, and I don’t want to risk losing that joy — a thing that has stayed with me for much of my 53 years on this planet.

The Friendship of Mortals is a well-written tale. I don’t know if it is true to Lovecraft, although Berthold certainly thinks so. What I do know is that I really enjoyed the story and believe Audrey Driscoll deserves more attention than she gets for her writing. The Friendship of Mortals is a book that in a different, better world would be traditionally published and would find an audience. More people should be buying and reading it. If you want more details, you should read Berthold’s review — he’s much better at these things than I.

As the days rolled on and I worked towards the end of Audrey’s book, I knew that I had to finish the book to move on to the next one. The Bone Curse was a-coming, just in time for our trip to Sedona.

I’ve been following and reading Carrie Rubin for years now. The Bone Curse is her third book. She writes medical thrillers and The Bone Curse promised a stretching of her boundaries. A trip, not just through medical mysteries, but also a bit into the supernatural and mysterious world of the vodou religion. After reading her first two books — The Seneca Scourge and Eating Bull — and continuing to read her blog and following her on Twitter, Carrie has become an author I want to keep reading. I want to see how she grows as a writer and what she comes up with next.

It’s an odd thing. There are very few times I’ve viewed writers in this way — wanting to see how they grow. But I think that’s one of the things that e-books and all of the ways books can get published these days has done. Much like Spotify and streaming services have opened many doors for musicians I would have never heard of under the old regime, publishing has been blown wide open as a result of the internet and technology. Carrie is an author I likely would have never heard of in the “old days,” but through social media and less traditional publishing routes, I did.

Carrie very clearly cares about her craft and the quality of what she puts out into the universe. Each of her books has shown her growth as a writer as she spins more complex tales. I can’t wait to see what comes next, but first … The Bone Curse.

The book arrived in the mail a couple of days before we left for Sedona. I took four books with me on the trip, but I knew which book would be first. I started reading The Bone Curse while we waited to board our plane. After the 90 minute flight was over, I was 100 pages in and I wouldn’t have minded hurtling through the rest of the book to the end.

But I was on vacation and we were pretty busy over the next few days. Always, in the back of my mind was the thought “when would I get to pick the book up again.” The Bone Curse is just absolutely relentless. There is no break, no time to relax. Carrie’s ability to just keep moving the action forward, to keep ratcheting up the tension, is displayed from beginning to end in The Bone Curse. If you want a taut, well-written medical/supernatural thriller that will demand your attention and commitment, pick up her book and get started.

It’s interesting, Audrey’s The Friendship of Mortals is a bit different. It’s a bit slower. In my Amazon review of the book, I compared it to baseball. There’s a bit of leisure to it, a bit of poetry. To carry the sports analogy a bit further — Carrie’s The Bone Curse is like an NHL playoff game that’s gone to overtime.

Both Audrey Driscoll and Carrie Rubin are the types of writers who deserve more attention than they’re getting.  These ladies are incredibly talented. They are committed to their craft and they write stories that deserve a much larger audience than they are getting. It’s great that the technology-driven explosion of publishing has given them a platform. Now, it’s time for their platforms to expand.

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On Books and Beer

I was sitting there having a beer, doing what I do. I had a book. Actually, I had three books. The only problem is that none of them were the book I was actually supposed to be reading.

Weeks earlier, I had bought six books in preparation for a trip to Arizona for Spring Training. Since then I worked my way through five books — all of which were interesting, compelling, and worth the read. Then I got to the sixth book.

We were in Santa Cruz for a few days of ocean, sunsets, and relaxation. The Queen Midget and I. I had that sixth book and I was gonna get it done.  Imagine Me Gone.  I was trying, but I was struggling. Then on Friday, we did the thing. The one she likes to do. We walked through downtown Santa Cruz, where there are lots of shops. Antiques and clothing stores.  And shoe stores.  Oh my!

We walked through one and afterwards my wife asked me about something she saw in the store. I mentioned that it may look like I’m looking at things in those stores, but, no, I’m actually not. It’s pretty much close to torture for me, this thing.

But at one point we walked by a book store. “You wanna go in?” she asked.  “Sure,” I replied. I knew what would happen. 20 minutes later, I walked out with three books, after finding about 8,763 books I would have liked to buy. When I was ready to check out and found my wife, I showed her books.  “I see,” she said.  “What? You know what happens if I’m gonna go in a book store,” I replied.

Even though I had bought Imagine Me Gone with us on this little side trip to downtown Santa Cruz, I left it in the car because I decided to try to do the walking/shopping thing with her instead of what I normally do. Which is this. “Oh look, a bar. I’ll go have a beer while you walk around.” She’s patient with me and says “okay.”

I had my three books, but we had plenty more walking to do. I went with her. I avoided the bars and restaurants and walked the streets and went into the stores. Until I could no more.

“I’m gonna go over to 99 Bottles now and have a beer.” We were going to meet my nephew there for dinner in a little bit. I thought I could have a beer and then hold a table in case the place got crowded. “Okay,” she replied.

I settled in at the bar. 99 Bottles pretty much describes the place’s approach to beer. It has at least 99 different options in the carbonated alcoholic beverage category.  Probably about 20-30 on tap and the rest in bottles. I ordered something and looked at my bag of three books. I pulled one out and started reading. The Revenant, which Leonardo DiCaprio recently starred in a movie adaptation of.

I read the first chapter. It’s short. And then set the book to the side. I talked a little bit with a guy sitting to my left. And then another guy pulled out the stool to my right. He pulled out a tattered piece of paper with all sorts of numbers and many of them checked off. “Let’s see,” he said to the bartender, “I think I’ll start with 47.”

The paper represented 99 Bottles ultimate challenge — to drink every one of the beers they have to offer. Check the number off each time and achieve fame on the walls of the bar. There are some people who have completed that little challenge more than 50 times. One or two have done it 70 or 80 times. Think about that. Do the math.

Judging from his paper, the guy to my right was about two thirds of the way through it.

We’re sitting there. Me, with The Revenant in front of me. Guy to my left who talked about history and how much he loved it and said something I thought meant he was a history teacher, prompting me to think that I should talk to my un-motivated older son who likes history to see if maybe he had thought about being a history teacher.  But later guy on the left revealed that it was his dad who was a history teacher. Guy on the left was, in fact, a long distance truck driver.

And guy to my right, with his beer-drinking challenge, who suddenly asked me, “How’s the book?”

To which I replied with a chuckle, “I don’t know yet, I just started it. Only finished the first chapter, but I’ll let you know once I read more.” Wink, wink. I then told him what the book was about — a true story about a man in the early 1800s who was attacked by a bear and left for dead by the trappers he had been with and who then crawled out of the wilderness to revenge their treachery. And as I finished this summary, I said, “And the first chapter ends with him beginning to crawl.”

I knew what I had to do when we got back to our room after dinner with the nephew. Go back to Imagine Me Gone. I was committed to the book, having got about halfway through. I read a bit more that night, but it was hopeless.

This is all a long way to explain why I never got to the 6th book in my Spring Training series. The next day, I moved on to The Revenant, because it seemed to promise something far more interesting and compelling. That promise was fulfilled. It’s a stunning story of survival and revenge. I highly recommend it. I won’t say more about it. Just go read the book.

Now, I have to decide whether to go back to Imagine Me Gone.

Truth is, I read another book in the in between. Differently Normal by Tammy Robinson. It’s a short, quick, easy read. She’s a self-published author I discovered through the WordPress blogosphere and my own self-publishing efforts. I love her stories and Differently Normal is no exception. She writes modern day fairy tales of two people finding companionship and love when they weren’t looking for it and weren’t expecting it. And frequently, rather than living happily ever after, Tammy is willing to give the reader an unhappy, bitterly sad ending and I give her great credit for that.

But now … it’s time to decide whether to go back to that other book. Or give up.

I’ll let you know what I decide.

Into The North Wind by Jill Homer

I went to Spring Training in Arizona this past weekend.  In preparation for the trip, I decided I needed some books.  Yes, I’d be watching a lot of baseball.  Maybe doing a few other things.  But, while the other guys were playing golf, I was going to have some down time.

I golfed at one point in my life.  Five years or so when my kids were just in the process of becoming members of the human population.  I gave it up because I took it too seriously and had neither the time nor the money to get any better at the stupid sport.  I’ve golfed rarely since then, and not nearly enough to justify spending the money needed to golf in Arizona in March during Spring Training.

So, I thought I might read a bit.

Or maybe I might write.  I took my laptop, too.  Never cracked it open.

To ensure adequate reading material, I found a couple of books on a list I thought were interesting.  I also asked Cinthia Ritchie for some recommendations.  Cinthia is a writer, runner, reader, and just all around fascinating person — one of those people I’ve “met” through blogging that intrigues me.  She occasionally writes about the books she has read and she always seems to have a good mix of books to recommend.  So, Cinthia, what should I read?

She offered me some suggestions, I took almost all of them.  Before I left for Phoenix, I had ordered six books — four of with arrived before I left, two of which arrived after.  I plan on posting about each of these books as I finish them in the next few weeks.

I began with one of the books I know was a Cinthia recommendation.  Into the North Wind by Jill Homer.  In Cinthia’s words, once she started this book, she simply could not put it down.  I’ll have to agree.

I never knew this was a thing.  A mountain bike race.  Across 1,000 miles.  Of Alaska.  In winter.  Alone.  Virtually without support.  And that’s what Into the North Wind is about.  Jill Homer’s 10-year fascination with this challenge.  The race follows the Iditarod trail.  It’s relentless.

I do have a couple of issues with the story.  One that is really just me being picky — there’s some repetition here in Ms. Homer’s struggles across those 1,000 miles.  That’s kind of understandable, so I’ll let it go.

My other issue relates to this.  The annual challenge along the Iditarod trail involves a number of different distances and options.  There is the 100 mile distance, 250 miles, 350 miles. And the full-blown 1,000 mile trip through a frozen hell.  And, really, any distance in between if the participant so chooses.  The distances can be accomplished by running, walking, skiing, or mountain biking.  There’s a whole lot of flexibility here.  Which isn’t the problem.

What the problem was is that in the initial reading, the impression is made that once you get past the 350 mile point, you are utterly and completely on your own.  You are in a vast wasteland for 650 miles until you get to Nome.  The only problem is that once Ms. Homer got past the 350 mile point, there were still villages, there were still shelters dotting the trail.  This is a minor quibble — it doesn’t really minimize the accomplishment described in the book — but it just felt like a little bit of false advertising, a little bit of making it sound much worse than it really was.  Which made me wonder what else might have been an exaggeration.

So, you’re probably wondering if you should read this.  I’d heartily recommend this book to anybody fascinated by such things.  These extreme adventures people put themselves into fascinate me.  Into the North Wind is a really good story about the extremes some of us humans put ourselves through to achieve these odd dreams.

 

A Conversation With Kevin Brennan, Part Three

Part One.

Part Two.

MP. In your last comment, you mention that you like to think of your books as deceptively simple.  You also clearly like “journey” stories.  Somewhere I have read that there are only a handful of story plots that drive just about every story ever written.  One of those story types is “journey.”  It can be a physical journey, a mental journey, a journey to find the truth.  There are all sorts of journeys that can form the structure of a story.

Thinking about Fascination, I realized that all of your novels stem from the journey concept.  And in Fascination, it seems you have doubled down, or tripled down, on the format.  All of the main characters are on journeys of different types, and even many of the minor characters are on journeys of their own.  The question is whether this was intentional or whether it just happened.  The second question is whether you ever found yourself tempted to go away from the “deceptively simple” structure of the story.  There are so many places in Fascination where you could have started to wallow in a scene or a concept.  Do you ever want to stay there for a bit and wallow?

KB. I guess when you think about it, most stories are at least partly built on a journey of one kind or another. Sometimes metaphorical, but often literal. That’s because life is that way. When we meet someone, we’re on our journey and they’re on theirs, and we travel along together for a while until our paths head off in different directions.

There’s also the practical fact that, in fiction, the journey is a terrific plot engine. Things have to happen as a matter of course.

I’m not sure all my books are journey tales. Occasional Soulmates not so much. Town Father only partly. Yesterday Road is for sure, but it’s both a physical journey and one through time. My next book is definitely not a journey, though one of the characters fantasizes about one — to get the hell away from her family. (More on that in the coming months …)

On the question of “staying and wallowing,” I’m usually concerned with keeping up a lively pace, so when I do linger a little bit I want to make sure it serves the story well.

Do you have an example of “staying and wallowing” in other books? I don’t think you just mean a digression from the plot. More like longer internal monologues or poignant flashbacks?

MP. A lot of what you say here makes sense.  Every story is, in the end, a journey.  But what intrigues me about Fascination is just how many journeys there are in this one novel.  One could argue that Mason Speck’s piece in this really isn’t a journey, but to me it is.  It’s a journey to the life he believes he wants for himself.

Fascination is essentially a physical journey that wraps itself around a whole lot of internal journeys.

When I referred to “staying and wallowing,” what I meant was that there are so many places in which you could have stopped and spend so much energy and detail to explore more in depth one of Sally’s stops along the way.  In New Mexico, for instance.  There’s detail there for sure, but so many writers would have, could have written an entire novel based on just one of Sally’s stops along the way.  That’s what I refer to as “staying and wallowing.”  What you seem to have mastered is the ability to bring the reader to a place, raise the questions that place or plot turn brings out, and then moving on to the next, without wasting time or words.  It’s one of the things I really appreciate about Fascination.  You let the reader decide where they want to wallow rather than forcing it on them.

I don’t necessarily have examples of “staying and wallowing” from other published works.  But I will say that it is one of the reasons I’m struggling with my own writing.  As I write more, my stories become more complex and I find myself getting far too much into the details.  I’d like to avoid the wallowing.  😉

Let’s move to guerrilla publishing.  As far as I know, your first novel was published the traditional way.  By William Morrow, which is no small thing.  But then it seems you left the world of traditional publishing behind and have self-published since then.  Is this remotely accurate?  Before I get to your guerrilla publishing stage, is there any story there about why you went from the traditional approach to self-publishing?

KB. I see Fascination that way too — a baker’s dozen journeys. Even Matt Damon is on a journey of sorts.

And you’re right about how any of Sally and Clive’s stops along the way could have become its own novel, but I saw this as kind of like “The Game of Life,” that old board game, where you don’t stay in one place very long. Pretty soon you have to spin again.

As for your question about traditional publishing, I’m the first to admit that any writer — or better yet, every writer — would prefer to land a contract with one of the Big Five. The truth is, I was unable to persuade them to take a chance on a second novel. I think I had three different agents after Parts Unknown, and none of them was able to make the sale. So, because I wanted to get my work out into the world, I decided to go indie, and the rest — say it with me — is history. Or my story, anyway.

Bottom line? Them’s the breaks, I guess. At least I can publish my books on my own terms now, on my schedule. And I’ve enjoyed it too.

MP. Well, if it’s like the game of Life, where are all of the kids?  Oh wait, scratch that.

I wonder if we writers are making a mistake in our belief in the holy grail of a publishing contract.  It’s kind of what motivated me to self-publish initially and why I still aim towards that with my future efforts.  There is something about traditional publishing that seems to be just a one-in-a-zillion crap shoot.  Unfortunately, self-publshing has become the same thing.  There are so many of us writers now publishing their own works, it seems impossible to make the noise that will create the attention to really attract an audience.  It’s particularly difficult when you try to occupy some space on the literary fiction shelf as you and I do.  It seems to be a forgotten genre in the world of indie publishing.

So, you indie published in the traditional way for a few books and now you’ve launched this book via what you have termed guerrilla publishing.  I know you’ve blogged about this on your own site, but for anybody visiting my site who doesn’t know about you, can you explain what guerrilla publishing is and why you decided to try it?

KB. I do think the nature of traditional publishing has changed over the last ten to fifteen years. As a bastion of literary fiction, it was geared toward building writers’ careers, so there was no expectation that a debut novelist had to sell a lot of copies. As my own agent told me, publishers didn’t expect writers to have much of a following till their fourth or fifth novel. It’s different now. If you don’t hit that home run on your first at bat, it’s back to the minors for you.

So that’s why indie was attractive, but you’re totally right on two counts: that the field is unbelievably crowded now and that there’s not very much literary fiction in the indie world. What there is seems really hard to find, except by word of mouth.

And that’s why I landed on #guerrillapublishing (I use the hashtag in case it catches on over at Twitter …) as an alternative. To my mind, #guerrillapublishing is simply a way of getting books out into the world without relying on anyone but ourselves as writers. No corporate platforms, no cover designers (unless you want to use one), no ebook formatters. And, like the old Soviet samizdat, where people passed around typed copies of banned books, this work is completely dependent on the efforts of readers to spread the word. If they like it, they tell someone else about it.

But another interesting slant here is that readers buy the book directly from me, via PayPal. I sign and inscribe each copy to the buyer (electronically, anyway), and deliver the book myself. It’s hands on. Plus, if you have any trouble getting the book onto your e-reader, I’ll walk you through it because I want you to read this book.

Who knows, this might be my only #guerrillapublishing attempt, but Fascination felt like the right kind of project to experiment with.

MP. Your description of the why of #guerrillapublishing is exactly why I came up with the idea for myself a couple of years ago.  After my second indie-published novel, which was much more literary than the first, completely and totally failed to attract any readers beyond people who knew me or followed my blog, I despaired.  And then there is the fact that the reading public basically expects that indie authors will charge a minimal amount for their book — or nothing at all.  And I despaired again.  A potential solution to all of that despair is what you have done with #guerrillapublishing.  Sell directly.  Cut out the middlemen, Amazon, the publishers, the agents.  Charge what you can, or invite the reader to pay what they believe your work is worth, and keep it for yourself, instead of the fraction you get through all of the other avenues.

There has got to be a better way for this to work for both the reader and the writer.  I hope your experiment opens some doors.

So, let me end our conversation here.  Not that the conversation you and I have about writing and publishing will end, but this small chapter of it needs to close.  One final question for you … is there anything else you want readers to know about Fascination and #guerrillapublishing?  Here’s your chance.

KB. I would add to everything we’ve already talked about that I hope readers out there — and maybe writers too — can become more open-minded about what books can be and where they can be found. With all of the tools available to us now, writers don’t have to limit themselves to traditional publishing or to the Amazon model — not if those don’t suit their needs or their material. We can publish on our blogs, via Tweets, on thumb drives — the possibilities are many, and many of them might just be better for the author than the current models.

As I say about Fascination, you don’t know till you try.

 

 

A Conversation With Kevin Brennan, Part Two

Part One is here.

MP. As the author of Fascination, is there something about the story that you particularly like?  Is there a part of the story, or an element of it, that you think you got particularly right?

KB. It’s not always easy to be super-objective about your own work, but in this book I like the overall tone most of all. I set out to write something in the mode of, say, Tom Robbins (without trying to imitate him, of course), but I wasn’t sure I could carry it all the way through a 300-page book. I hope readers think I succeeded!

I think the main thing I got right was telling a sprawling, convoluted, funny story that also gives the reader some interesting things to think about by the end. Ultimately, as the characters come to understand, the journey to heaven is heaven.

MP. It’s interesting that you describe Fascination as a “sprawling, convoluted, funny story that also gives the reader some interesting things to think about by the end.”  I want to use that comment to finally get into what I thought about the story.

When I think about what to write about Fascination, I struggle with how to describe it and why I think it was so good.  What I come up with is that it is an engaging story.  And that’s how I have felt about most of your previously published novels.  It’s engaging and entertaining.  And the other thing is that Fascination is actually a pretty simple story.  I hope you don’t find that offensive, but it’s one of the things that attracts me to your writing.

There are times when I read something that just strikes me at my core.  Stories that speak so incredibly to where I’m at with the issues in my life.  Everything Matters by Ron Currie and The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein are two examples of this.  There is this quality to both of those stories that made me want to wallow in them and left me in tears by the end.  And then there are the stories that are just a joy to read.  They are the stories that I think of as “race to the end” stories.  And Fascination, as well as Town Father and Occasional Soulmates fit that description.  There is something in these stories you write that just catches the reader’s imagination and, for me at least, makes me want to soar with the words and the tale that follows and get to the end and see how it all comes out.

Sally Pavlou and Clive Bridle and, yes, even Sally’s not so dead husband and his baby mama are characters that are, on one level somewhat odd and not really relatable to me, but on another level, they are.  They are just people, human beings like the rest of us, on this journey called life.  And each of them was on a different journey, but each of their journeys was related nonetheless to the other.  You drew me into these characters and their journey with lighthearted fun, without going into too much unnecessary depth with each stage of their journey (which would have been yawn-inducing for me at some point).

In some respects, Fascination is a story that a reader who is looking for light entertainment could enjoy at the same time a reader who is looking for something deeper also could enjoy.

I don’t really have a specific question here, other than to ask whether any of that has any meaning to you?!

KB. I’m glad you put Fascination in the category of a “race to the end” story. Thanks. I was trying to pace this book in a way that would make readers wonder what the heck could possibly happen next, and even though there’s kind of an inevitability about the plot, I wanted enough surprises along the way to interest all kinds of readers. And it’s not offensive to call it a “simple story” — not at all. I like to think of most of my books as “deceptively simple,” so that they can be read in a more casual way or with an eye toward themes that aren’t necessarily megaphoned through the books.

In Fascination, buried in a fun tale of “self-realization and vengeance,” are themes about the pursuit of happiness, personal identity, religion, social groups, self-delusion, and family, but readers are free to nod at them as they go through the book or to think about them in detail — and relate to them in their own lives. It’s always, at least casually, a fun road story.

As a writer, do you find that you gravitate to characters who have some kind of relation to your own life and issues? In some ways, writing fiction can become a way of working through things and trying different strategies to see how they might turn out.

MP. When I first started writing, I began with situations or characters that I could put myself into. I thought that would make the writing easier to accomplish since I had no idea if I would be able to write a story.  Once I established I could do that, I wanted to see if I could write characters who weren’t me and the stories that are as far removed from me as possible are the stories I am most proud of .

It’s interesting that you refer to fiction as being “a way of working through things.”  One of the struggles I have had over the last couple of years is that every new idea I have had for a story has quickly become about the same theme.  About characters who yearn for the thing that is missing from their lives.  And that is really about solving my own personal issues and I’m done writing that story.  So I haven’t written much in the last couple of years.  I have some WIPs that are about other themes, but they’re a struggle too, unfortunately.

One final comment before we take a break…  You say there is an inevitability to the plot.  I can’t disagree with that, but one of the story’s strong points is that there is always a surprise around the next corner.  Sally obtaining her vengeance may have been inevitable, but the manner and style with which she did it was a complete surprise.

Next up:  More on Fascination, journeys, and guerrilla publishing.  And if you haven’t already, here where you buy it.

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