an author’s dream come true: a generous, thoughtful review of small, fierce things

an author’s dream come true: a generous, thoughtful review of small, fierce things

A review of small, fierce things by Andrew Hamilton at maryjournal.org
A review of small, fierce things by Andrew Hamilton at maryjournal.org

This morning, my colleague, publisher, and fellow scribbler Jason Buchholz emailed me to ask if I had seen the review of my recent book of flash fiction, small, fierce things in Mary: a Journal of New Writing.

I had not.

As the writers out there know, and most readers probably don’t, the publishing world is not what the shelves at Barnes and Noble might imply. If you are not a Stephen King or a JK Rowling, (which 99.9999999999999% of us are not) finding a publisher for your book is not the domino that sets the rest in motion: it is only the first step. The next is a lonely, shameless, and grueling campaign of self-promotion and self-marketing through any and all means, such as selling your book out of your backpack, bringing your book to local shops to see if they are willing to sell on commission, posting relentlessly into the general cacophony of social media, begging your former teachers to consider teaching the book, inviting yourself to open mics and readings, and hoping your family, friends, and people from your writer’s group are not the only people who read it. In my case, I had the help of Achiote Press and my colleague Jason, who showed up at my readings, blasted his own social media to promote my work, and as this post shows, was out there looking for reviews of my book in his spare time (when he isn’t working full time, raising a child, co-running his small press, and writing his own novels.)

How does one get reviewed if you are a small, fierce mouse and not a large, visible elephant? You beg. You send out email queries and never hear back. You mail out free review copies to anyone who will take one, and then pass out after holding your breath for a few months waiting to hear back (while sheepishly googling your book title to confirm that no one has reviewed it.)

Then you give up.

And then, if you are really really lucky, a kind soul not only reads it, but reads it closely, and writes their observations down, and publishes it. In my case, that kind, generous, thoughtful reviewer is Andrew Hamilton at maryjournal.org.

I don’t know Andrew, but I would like to say this: writing book reviews for small presses is the literary equivalent of volunteering to get up and sing your heart out to an invisible crowd who may or may not be there, and who may or may not be paying attention. Most reviewers of fiction are not paid for what they do… except in review copies, a very small per-review stipend ($25-$50 if you write for say, Publisher’s Weekly) and the author’s undying gratitude (even negative reviews sell books). Book reviewers, in my opinion, work harder than the authors themselves… putting their craft and art into a piece of writing about someone else’s piece of writing. They are the (mostly) unsung heroes of the publishing world. Those who do have high visibility, like NPR’s Maureen Corrigan, give solid but eventually predictable and repetitively-styled reviews as bookends (yup) to Terry Gross’ show Fresh Air. If you are everyone else, you are competing to be read by an audience terminally distracted by the sheer white noise of the net. And don’t get me started on the reviewers who treat reviewing as an exercise in cynical showboating.

So, if you’ve read this far, please doff your hat to those book reviewers out there who do this work as a labor of love, a masochistic reflex, an unspeakable kindness, or whatever it is that makes them kind enough and crazy enough to donate their precious mental resources in this act of service. Andrew Hamilton, and maryjournal.org, thank you. 

This Terrible Symmetry: a review of Helsinki, by Peter Richards

This Terrible Symmetry: a review of Helsinki, by Peter Richards

by Peter Richards

I rarely have a viscerally bad reaction to a book, but when it comes to connecting with a reader, I find it frustrating when surrealism is confused with, well, confusion. Other reviewers describe this book as containing an “exuberant grief,” but in my review this month in Gently Read Literature, I argue that there is a way to use surrealism in poetry to heighten and clarify awareness, particularly when writing out of grief -T.S. Eliot did it in The Wasteland– but Richards does not sustain it in Helsinki.

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Sharks in the Rivers at Gently Read Literature

Sharks in the Rivers at Gently Read Literature

While reading Ada Limon’s Sharks in the Rivers, I shapeshifted into a bird, a fish, a river, a horse, a desert, and another woman.  I took on other forms but those are secrets. If you want to try on wings or fins yourself, you should check out the brand spanking new May issue of Gently Read Literature, and read my review.

Crooked Hills, Book One, by Cullen Bunn (earwig press)

Crooked Hills, Book One, by Cullen Bunn (earwig press)

Crooked HillsCrooked Hills by Cullen Bunn

At some point, the head noise of adult life dulls out a vital sense that kids know deep down in their bones: sometimes what you’re looking for is also looking for you.

Charles “Charlie” Ward is almost 13, and newly-made man of the house after his father’s recent death in a suspicious hit-and-run “accident.” Charlie’s a Chicago kid who’s looking forward to losing his troubles in a summer of video games, horror novels, ghost stories, and baseball with his friends, until certain doom hijacks his plans: a family vacation in the Ozarks with his mother and annoying eight-year-old brother, Alex. But the summer has its own plans for Charlie, who finds himself headed for Crooked Hills, the most haunted town in America, and home to Maddie Someday, a spirit who wanders the woods at night, in search of children she find by the blood-red light of her ruby ring.

Cullen Bunn, who has written for Marvel and DC Comics, Wildstorm, and IDW, is also author of the horror noir series, The Damned, The Sixth Gun, and Like a Chinese Tattoo. His new juvenile fiction series, Crooked Hills, is a cobwebby trap-door that suddenly appears in the ceiling of your clean, new, suburban home: a portal for children to climb into the ghostly back rooms and hidden spaces of supernatural fiction. And unlike the recent turn that tween supernatural fiction has taken into bodice-ripping, fashion-conscious, narcissistic soap-opera, Cullen Bunn delivers the real goods: worms, spiders, headless chickens fleeing bloody axes, kidnapped little brothers, and girls with slingshots who can track ghost dogs by moonlight.

Crooked Hills is a series you’ll want to kid to read, or better yet, to read together, because all horror and supernatural fiction fans know that the prickling, shuddersome feeling that comes from a good ghost story is no cheap thrill, it’s a vital connection to something larger and and deeper and more shadowy: a key to what’s haunting you.

Forthcoming in February 2012: Cullen Bunn’s,“Creeping Stones and Other Stories.” Individual stories to appear digitally leading up to book’s release.