Review: I am My Own Cousin by Jacqueline Helbert

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Family drama abound in this blog series that reads like a family vacation cramped into a mini van.

As I write this review, April 8th, 2014 marks exactly two years since the first chapter of I am My Own Cousin was released online, in a new kind of self-published format: a blog. A free blog. Yes, I am My Own Cousin is published and put online absolutely for free, accessible to anyone with an internet connection and an interest. Currently hosting five chapters, it’s reminiscent of pre-19th century Russian novels that were published in newspapers by the chapter, that is, if pre-19th century Russian novels were raunchy, carefree exploits complete with illicit Dunkin Donuts mascots and tequila fueled comas.

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From the first few lines of Chapter One, “over forty medical professionals watched our birth, as if it were the opening ceremony of the OB-GYN Olympics,” it’s clear that the story is, just like it’s formatting, fun. It’s a frolicking romp through the life of an open-minded triplet, not quite chronologically accurate, not quite with a set plot, like a highway that diverges into twenty backroads, some with grimy potholes, and others shockingly well paved, that all seem to merge back together occasionally, only to veer off again, leaving the reader a little confused, a little frustrated, but always ready to keep plowing on through the pages posts.

The honesty of I Am My Own Cousin is what holds the reader so strongly. The cast of characters is painfully endearing- a hardworking, young couple with three identical triplets (and later three more); girls who dress alike and have a bond so strong they don’t understand why sharing answers on tests, just like they share their dresses, is wrong. It’s this connection and interest in the girls and their stories that holds the reader when the going gets tough.

Painful hurt and betrayal go beyond the happy family dynamic that shines through the first few posts. Issues ranging from abuse, pregnancy, and devotion to a Church that later turns the girls away, create a powerful narrative. They challenge a powerful bond which, at sometimes, seems like it might shatter at any time. Instead of brushing off the hardest issues, the author, along with several guest posters, turn each trial of pain and family woes into a dialogue. Included along with family photos, pictures of the author’s first trailer, and a smattering of other images, are facts about teen pregnancy, abusive relationships, and other resources that are thoughtfully laid into the beautiful writing. While the girls might not have learned from their mistakes (and truly, the story sees these mistakes as pieces of a journey) they are accompanied by reflections, excerpts and inserts that create an even more powerful dialogue.

Yet the stories do not seek to strike some moral high ground. They are just as much about human error as they are about approaching life with humility and a sense of searching for beauty in every situation. Each character brings to the table ideas about relationships with friends, family, and even God, with honesty and tact. They are insightful stories without preaching, and beautiful without feeling like they are trying to eek out some moral or ideology. While some works become flawed in trying to find a meaning for each action, I Am My Own Cousin reflects on a life without drawing rights or wrongs. It leaves a gray area that the reader can eek out and relate to.

Certainly, anyone, from any walk of life, can reach out and be touched by a chapter of this blog. Family is an aspect of life we barely understand- a collective of individuals sometimes related by blood and not much else- yet one that has an incredible significance from birth to death.

Read with an open mind and an open heart. Perhaps the contents will shock you, upset you, make you joyful, but they will certainly make you feel connected to this family and their story. It’s one worth sharing. And one worth following up on- the end of Chapter 37 details where each character currently is.

I am My Own Cousin is a tribute to the variety of forms that self-publishing can take. It’s a story that does incredibly well in a format used for everything from mom’s blogs to politico pieces, due to the incredible amount of personality packed into every post. The personal pictures, ranging from selfies in the woods to personalized oil paintings, complement the down-home jargon and the shameless tell-all of each post, that create something more than could be stuffed into a traditionally printed book. The fluidity of the story, and the format of the blog that allow the reader to jump around, to click back and forth between Chapter 34: The Young and the Feckless, and Bonus Chapter 4: The GREAT Lesbian Adventure, add a new dimension to the reading experience.

Indeed, a non-linear story should be explored at the reader’s whim- for no matter which post one begins at- it will all be good fun.

Number of chapters: 37 (for now)

Where to find it: http://iammyowncousin.blogspot.com

Also read: https://www.facebook.com/pages/I-Am-My-Own-Cousin-Dear-Jacqui-Lou/147068215454522?ref=br_tf

This is the rebuttal blog written by Jacqui’s father, his own portrayal of the family.

Recommended for: Anyone and everyone, there is something to get out of this blog no matter whether you are just beginning your family, or absolutely fed up with your relatives.

Enjoy it with: sweet tea, brownies, and a box of tissues.

 

 

 

Review: The Youth Prescription by Dr. Flynn Geissel

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The Youth Prescription lies somewhere between a historical narrative, a textbook, and a comic.

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Most importantly, it is a discussion that spans the realms of psychology, alternative health, and modern medicine that investigates our culture’s obsession with youth. The author immediately suggests that this is not the obsession we should have- instead, we should focus on health, and turn our quest for the fountain of youth, to the journey to healthier bodies, which, in turn, age more gracefully.

The work then focuses on the connection between health and appearance, and the ways that youthfulness can be restored through healthier habits- whether focusing on the skin, or what lies beneath the epidermis. Treatments from magnets, to yogurt, to what the author hails as the holy grail of healthy supplements- bovine colostrum- are explored, and the author investigates the benefits of each of these supplements in layman’s terms. The descriptions are accessible to any audience, written in clear language (or as clear as writing about bifidobacterium infantis can possibly be). Yet what is lost in translation from scientific knowledge written in peer-reviewed papers to easily understandable terminology is important information. The common issue with diluting scientific research into summaries absorbable by those without understanding of the terminology, is that key points, and important ideas are lost. Generalizations, that can be loosely interpreted, and therefore have the possibility to be misleading, take the place of specific caveats that apply to research. Therefore, the written warning while reading The Youth Prescription is that outside research might be necessary- consult the original papers regarding the treatments prescribed by the author, along with a doctor’s approval.

Dr. Geissel successfully navigates the challenge of dumping products onto the page. She describes the ideas behind each of the remedies that she writes about, alone with personal experiences, and how the health benefits of each supplement, mask, and pill are connected to the anti-aging benefits. This results in a holistic view of aging that our society seems to be lacking. Instead of stressing picking up a needle and injecting poisonous botox into a forehead to eliminate wrinkles, Dr. Geissel takes the pages to describe how the effects on cells of medicines translate into aesthetic benefits. It is a look beyond the superficial interest in beauty of our society, and towards the wellbeing that we should strive to achieve.

Included in each chapter are cartoons, which, in many ways, seem to echo the irony of the subject that Dr. Geissel writes about. These tiny black and white snapshot portrayals are dispersed throughout the work; they are humorous reminders of the absurdity of the emphasis that our society places on aesthetics- and not the functioning body beneath our skins.

Therefore, The Youth Prescription should be treated as less than a prescription, and more of an anthology, an encyclopedic collection of possible remedies that target different issues associated with aging (or, as the author strives to connect- the health that indirectly affects the appearance of aging). It is a valuable resource of ideas, but is in no ways the magic pill to conquer aging once and for all. Read it for what it is: a well-researched description of the far reaches that our society is willing to take to conquer our obsessions with beauty. With that in mind, many of the treatments are expensive. They require a slew of pills taken in the morning, of careful dosages and doctor’s appointments.

While the book may be written in terms that are easily accessible, many of the treatments are not. This is in no way a flaw of the author, but is important to note that the audience may be able to internalize the ideas behind the research- but may not be able to reach out onto the shelves and use these ideas.

Therefore, what The Youth Prescription is lacking is a stronger analysis of the psychological factors that are more applicable to readers who do not wish to spend money on supplements, creams, and other treatments that may prove to be ineffective. A deeper conversation on ways to end the negative self-talk that allows people, including Dr. Geissel to become incredibly nervous when noticing a single age spot, would be a helpful supplement to the rest of the text. How can we end these perceptions as a society? How can we end them on a personal level?

The Youth Prescription is worth reading as an introduction to the ideas behind anti-aging. It is most certainly focused more towards middle-aged women who are the brunt of the aging crisis in our society, but can be a valuable resource to anyone interested in the connection between overall health and appearance. It is not a cure-all, but it is a good first appointment, with the treatment left in the hands of the patient.

Number of pages: 235

Recommended for: women facing their first aging crisis, students

Enjoy it with: a bottle of body lotion, a cup of yogurt, and a capsule of colostrum

Best place to buy it: http://www.amazon.com/The-Youth-Prescription-Anti-aging-Sourcebook-ebook/dp/B00HX3RMTY

Review: “Black Coffee: The Killer” by Nathan Evans

Black Coffee: The Killer is a stark look at the perversion of our society, and the ties that hold us together despite the darkness of the times.

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Beginning with an intense exposition of a battle between the Allies and the Germans during WWII, the young soldier Virgil watches the slaughter of his trench-mate, and, upon return to England, commits a murder of his own.

A classic gun-for-hire, Virgil receives his assignments in a diner where he orders black coffee. No cream. No sugar.

And while Virgil may be desperate, parking his rusting car alongside junkies in the English town of Bludstone, his compelling backstory describes the root of his desperation, and it is here, in the tortured past of the contract killer, that Virgil’s character becomes clear, and the reader somehow fights through the atrocity of the murders Virgil has committed to understand his true self.

The ruins of Virgil’s life become clear, yet in the desolation and emptiness of Virgil’s cheap motel room with the grimy yellow towel, it is clear that there are pillars of life running through his life, pillars that encourage him to go on, and which transform him from the apathetic villain he may first be seen as, into a powerful and passionate figure with a backstory more traumatizing than most will ever know.

The dualities of the story are clear, and are the strongest aspect of this chapter-length installment of the Black Coffee series. The backstory is stronger and more captivating, while the events taking place in the present seem somehow distant, even though they are written as a stream of consciousness. Indeed, the plot points seem disjointed, but this adds to the story- while the reader may be confused as to how elements of the story relate to each other, each plot line is resolved at the end, and the rather schizophrenic jumping of the storyline directly relates to the battle being waged in Virgil’s own mind.

The story sometimes feels as though it is brushing off its characters, jumping over details that could add depth in order to get to the next story line, and creating clichés where more intense emotional involvement is necessary

The strength of the story is evident in the glimmers of hope that shine through the depressing tone and aching heartbreak that fill many of the pages. The darkest depths of society have lightness shone upon them, and the strength of love over time, even in pain and suffering, are clear.

Black Coffee: The Killer is the perfect read for a lazy Sunday morning, a book to make you think about the people around you and their stories, their lives, as you sip on your morning java.

 

Number of pages: 32

Enjoy it With: your morning coffee. Hold the cream. Hold the sugar.

For fans of: Psychological thrillers

Best place to buy it: http://www.amazon.com/Black-Coffee-Killer-Nathan-Evans-ebook/dp/B00F4IXUV4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1392926012&sr=8-1&keywords=black+coffee%3A+the+killer

Helpful Tips for Effective Social Media Promotion of Your E-Book!

Recently, Pubbed had the opportunity to work with Anna Fox, who runs a wonderful blog on increasing productivity (let’s be honest- this is something we all struggle with) over at Manifest Connection.

Here are her tips to use social media to help promote your E-book to a broader audience than ever before!

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Writing a superb piece of fiction is no easy task, requiring any writer to offer up the very best in imagination, knowledge, and the ability to compile a truly interesting book that prompts readers to continue turning pages; don’t waste that effort by allowing it to go unread!

While writing may be your first and foremost line of work, every successful self-published author knows that there comes a time to put down the pencil and pick up the marketing plan. With no publishing house standing behind you, every role in the selling of books is yours to fill, including that of advertiser.

Luckily, the ever-growing social web had made it easier than ever for anyone to become a marketer when the need arises. In order to get you started on the right path, here are five helpful tips for effective social media promotion of your ebook:

1. Use Your Imagination

The first step in any successful endeavor is usually planning, and that is very true where marketing your ebook is concerned. While it may very well be unknown territory for you, the setting of goals and making of plans will help to keep you focused and organized throughout your marketing campaign. This is an opportunity for you to get creative, utilizing the same imagination that allowed you to create the work of art that you’ll soon be delivering to the masses. There is nothing so unique as work of fiction, and that means that no one will know better than you how best to sell it. As a writer, it’s very likely that you also at least an occasional reader, and that very fact gives you exactly the insight that you need to creatively market your work to others of similar interests.

2. Begin with the Obvious…

While “social media” is a term that encompasses a wide range of websites and activity on the internet, it instantly brings to mind names like Facebook and Twitter, and with good reason; there are nearly 1.5 billion users active on those two platforms alone. With that huge pool of potential readers in mind, it’s clear that tackling the big players on the social media landscape is a must, allowing your ebook to be exposed to the greatest number of people in the smallest amount of time.

3. …But Think Outside of the Box

While it makes sense to turn your immediate attention to key social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, you should never forget that the online social landscape is much broader than just the big names, with an array of websites out there that have the potential of serving your cause even better than those boasting hundreds of millions of users.

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For example, the popular guest blogging website MyBlogGuest offers up a promotional category for ebooks in particular, helping you to connect your published work with people who are looking for exactly that.

Sure, millions of possible buyers should have you frothing at the proverbial mouth, but hundreds or even just tens of people who have ebooks on the brain can prove much more valuable in the short-term, especially when you’re just starting to get the word out about what your ebook has to offer.

4. Always Be Engaging

Whether you find yourself hanging out on major social platforms like Facebook, or smaller ones like the aforementioned MyBlogGuest, the key to being successful in your marketing campaign is being a human being.

Web surfers can go just about anywhere for an overview of your book – what they’re looking for on social media is to be engaged. In order to ensure that every visit to your social profiles is a worthwhile one for visitors, make yourself available to drop plot hints, answer questions, strike up open conversation with commenters, and perform just about any other social duty that is asked of you.

In order to create a bridge between your social media presence and your own personal website, consider using widgets and feeds to bring your social media activity to your search engine visitors, making it easy for them to make the jump from reading about your book and its content to diving into the midst of your fans. Besides encouraging followers to check out all of your offerings on the web, you’ll almost certainly increase the number of people who make a point to personally engage you this way, opening the door to even more of the type of conversation that has the best chance to lead to conversions.

This will go a very long way towards getting people excited about not only what your book has to offer, but also you as an author; while it may not be necessary for you to like an artist as a person in order to enjoy their work, it most certainly doesn’t hurt!

5. Keep Up the Good Work

 

When sales finally start racking up, you may have the urge to let up on the marketing gas pedal and take it easy, allowing word of mouth to do the trick on your behalf, but this is no time to slow down! You’ve finally achieved some momentum, and now is the time to take advantage of that.

 

To that end, keep up your engaging behavior, maintain your presence on all of the social networks that you’ve conquered, and continue to be the kind of author that you wish all of your favorites were, as well. While there’s no need to hover endlessly over your profiles, make a point to maintain a healthy update schedule, letting your fans know that you’re just as dependable and engaging now as you always were. Exactly how much time you spend updating is up to you, but a commitment to update at least once per week is an easy way to set a tone with your readers while maximizing the time that you spend writing.

 

This will go a long way towards helping you to maintain a healthy level of sales for your book, not to mention the extreme benefit that it will have if you plan to write a sequel – or three.

 

Review: The Fire Truck and the Moon by Chris and José Dunst

We could not have asked for a more charming, interactive, and imaginative story book to be our first children’s book review.

From the first page, which announces, “this is a retelling of a story my son shared with me when he was two years old,” it’s clear that The Fire Truck and the Moon is a story of zany possibilities and laughter, taken straight from two year old José’s bountiful imagination.

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What makes children’s books sometimes difficult to relate to is the gap between the audience and the readers. While some stories (think Jan Brett, Dr. Seuss) manage this gap beautifully, others (think Steinbeck’s The Red Pony) seem to broaden this gap, allowing the writer’s adult perspective to overcome the interests of the child reader.

Written by a two year old with a love of dinosaurs (especially the T-Rex), snowy mountaintops and winter weather, and featuring a cast of machines including a firetruck and train engine, the bright imagination thought out by José shines on every page, and eliminates this gap in a way no other storybook truly can. The fantastic subject matter is on par with every conversation in every preschool around the world, set to enthrall and capture any young audience.

Beyond the text, which reads something like a more sophisticated Dick and Jane trainer, with rhythm and repetition that is perfect for any youngster learning to read, or first being introduced to the artistry of children’s books, the illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to the magical journey of the characters.

Drawn first by hand before being transferred to the iPad, and touched up on Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, each page features a full-size illustration that wonderfully reflects the text below. The illustrations themselves are whimsical outlines filled in with bright textures. Beautiful colors and detailed shapes convey the progression of the story. The most entertaining of all the pictures are easily the dinosaurs, a herd of which roam the pages, sure to inspire the imagination of any child. The drawings easily succeed in visualizing the story on each page, allowing for connections between the words being read aloud and the illustrations. And, when kids start to read on their own, the book’s illustrations give the perfect feedback, as the pictures are a visual interpretation of the words on the page, allowing young readers to reinforce their skills on every page.

One of the strongest elements of the book is this repetition. A page featuring a single dragon in a house becomes a page featuring a multitude of dragons in a house, sticking out from every door, window and chimney. When learning to read, this simple repetition allows young readers and listeners to fully understand the story and its progression. It shows the plot building and the story changing, and is graspable to any young child.

When sharing the story with a youngster, I noticed how, after our first time reading the story book to her, she took the liberty of replacing “Abuela Susi” from the book with “Nana Barb,” who, she thought “looked a lot like Abuela Susi. Connecting the story to her own life made reading the picture book that much more exciting, and she happily read it aloud twice more.

Overall, The Fire Truck and the Moon is a whimsical adventure through the imagination of a child that is a wonderful addition to the library of any child who is learning to read, or about to be. With simple repetition that can be memorized after a few readings, and illustrations that guide the reader through the book, it will instill confidence into any beginning reader, and encourage many more readings.

Number of Pages: 30

Recommended For: a babysitter, before bedtime, anyone beginning to learn to read

Enjoy it With: milk and cookies, vitamins (of the dinosaur variety)

For fans of: Easy Readers, Dick and Jane, dinosaurs, trucks, machines

Best place to buy it: http://www.amazon.com/Fire-Truck-Moon-Chris-Dunst-ebook/dp/B00HERCIH0, or, on iBooks, where an edition that features José telling the story aloud can be purchased.

To read the author’s take on the journey behind the story, please read his blog post here: http://y2kemo.com/2013/12/fire-truck-moon-story-fantastical-story-by-two-year-old/

 

The Commonplace Book: Inspiration on Index Cards

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Recently I was inspired by the following article on ThoughtCatalog, titled “How and Why to Keep a Commonplace Book.”

(Read the fantastic article here: http://thoughtcatalog.com/2013/how-and-why-to-keep-a-commonplace-book/)

I realized that for many years, I have indeed been keeping a Commonplace Book, one scattered around in one of the several agendas that I have kept. You know, the ones that begin with a single purpose (budget tracking) and slowly morph into a fantastically interesting but disastrously unorganized collection of notes, lists, dates to remember, phone numbers to call, and the occasional quote.

My New Year’s resolution, therefore, is to create a true Commonplace Book, one that I take the time to craft and tend to, whether by writing fragments of interest down on post-its to come across later, or typing out quick stickies on my desktop.

I think that the integral part of the Commonplace book is that, just like a writer’s notebook or a bookshelf, it’s organized with the creator in mind. Until my junior year of high school, I never understood why the method of carrying around one huge binder with all my class notes and papers didn’t work for me. Not until one of my teachers, bewildered at how long it took me to flip through my notes each day, gifted me with a plain manila folder and a $0.99 notebook. With these tools, I realized that the binder method, which seemed to work for everyone else at school but me, didn’t work for my learning style. It was more valuable for me to have things spread out into different physical locations, with my notes in one area and the teacher’s notes in another, than to have everything in one convenient place.

Therefore, for my Commonplace book, I’ve decided to use the format of index cards. Separable, fibrous little pads that can be folded, bent, but most importantly, organized and reorganized as the collection of wisdom and intrigue from my book list grows. They’ll be handwritten, in one shade of pen (a fragment of OCD developed a years ago that pairs specific notebooks with specific pens) and stuffed into a cheap card organizer picked up at Target.

Consolidating all of the wisdom I’ve picked up through the years, wisdom taken from my favorite novels, random magazines (yes, there is even an anecdote from People magazine in June 2011 stuck in there), and random conversations with others, I hope the Commonplace book to serve as a source of inspiration in the future, but also something to guide my writing now.

Noticing the most powerful passages of prose and what stands out to me (particularly in a 700 page tome like The Goldfinch that is currently underway.

Perhaps after a year or two there will come a time when I need to organize the quotes into categories, sections like “people watching” or “thoughts for the nighttime,” but for now, I want to focus on the raw material that inspires me, so that one day it might creep into a project or venture.

For now, I’ll begin writing my first index card:
“He would have to stop writing and quit playing chess, and instead he would have to join some sort of a boxing team, or an ultimate fighting club. He would dream of getting even… his whole life would turn into an ultimate fighting competition, and for what? For whom?!” –  Marina and Sergey Dyachenko

After NaNoWriMo: How to Motivate to Keep Writing through the Holiday Season and Beyond

Another NaNoWriMo (for those not familiar with the term, that’s short for National Novel Writing Month, which, for those not familiar with the tradition, is the month of November, during which ambitious writers plan, plot and draft a full novel) has come and gone, leaving writers with a lack of structured writing incentives, and maybe a lack of ideas or ambitions to jumpstart creative juices, especially around the holiday season.

It’s too easy to become bogged down by the holiday checklist. Between gifts, flights, and black forest hams, it can be difficult to schedule time to write, and even then, to motivate yourself to take that “me time” to hack through plot lines, edit, or even scrawl words other than holiday lists.

Here are a few ideas, meant to spark creativity, and stay productive during the holidays.

1. Work towards keeping a specific writing schedule. There are the vacation weeks when you can sprawl out, pen in hand, and scribble away to your heart’s content. But with limited time, and added stress, creating more methodical schedules for your writing can hold you accountable to the goals you made in times of more creative potential. Whether this means sacrificing an hour of TV time to work on editing the first chapter of your novel, or grinding out a character description on the train to work, setting aside specific times can keep you on schedule. Try blocking out your day in a calendar, and using a timer (check your phone!) to hold yourself accountable. If you’re feeling too distracted, use the Pomodoro Technique (see: http://pomodorotechnique.com) write or edit for twenty-five minutes, then take five minutes to browse the web, write another holiday list, or brew a cup of coffee. Just a half an hour a day can help lead you to your long-term goals, and keep you focused on your project.

2. Journal your holidays. Put aside what you’re working on and focus on personal writing for a few weeks. Work to improve your technique and try different points of view, new voices, and even changes in sentence structure. Need a prompt? How about one of these?

What would your ideal holiday meal be? Who would be invited? What would be served? What would the conversation steer toward?

What is the most memorable present you’ve ever received? How can you recreate a similar experience for someone else?

What about your heritage is passed down through the holidays?

What is the voice of your holiday season? (Mine is frenetic, rushed, and completely in the first person).

3. Read. While practice makes perfect, inspiration will always have its place. Check out new authors from your local library. It’s a free treat that’s perfect for a few hours after Christmas dinner, or the wee hours of the New Years day.

4. Invest in new technology to help you write. What do you want to see in your stocking? What about a Kindle, to read on the go, and even export your PDF’s to work through your own work on-the-go. Or a tape recorder? Give your hand a break and explore a stream of consciousness style by recording yourself speaking aloud on all things writing for a few hours. My personal favorite, though, is the USB typewriter (http://www.usbtypewriter.com) a connection that allows you to write on a beautiful, classic typewriter, and see your words appear on an iPad or Kindle, editable, savable, and exportable.

5. Reach out to your guests. Don’t be afraid to ask for constructive criticism. As you gather with family and friends, put your ideas (or maybe even projects in the works) out there. Share your passions with those closest to you, and offer to send them materials after the holidays. You may not find anyone willing to edit your 600,000 word manuscript, but you may discover alternative perspectives on characters, and find out what catches on with an audience. After all, if you’re looking to self-publish, you’re looking to reach an audience. Find out what appeals to your friends and family, they’ll be the softest critics, and they may also be the most helpful.

6. Start a new project. Nothing is quite as motivating as having something fresh to work with, especially if you’ve looking at the same pages in the same font for months. Excite yourself with a new short story, scrawl out the first few plot lines of a new epic. Anything to excite yourself to the point where writing becomes a priority in your day.

 

 

Review: Please Laugh at My Funeral by Kole McRae

From the beginning, it’s clear that Please Laugh at my Funeral  is setting out to be an investigation of the very base of human consciousness- of the lengths that one will go to when there is nothing left. It’s a lofty idea, to explore the most primitive wants and needs of a person with no responsibilities and no ties- not even to life. This promising theme is explored as Steve, a formerly depressed and suicidal twenty-something fresh out of a relationship with her, fired from his job, and evicted, decides after a failed suicide attempt that he will continue the sad pains of existence for just thirty more days. Thirty days to live to the fullest, before ending his life. Dying to live. The idea is poetic, romantic and appealing.

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“Dying to live” seems like the perfect motto of Generation X. Filled with Pinterest pinners throwing down quotes about leaving tomorrow to Wanderlust about the globe, mixing new cocktails that are nothing more than vodka and a mélange of drugs, believing that life is only worth living if one fulfills every one of their self interests, those are the ideas of Generation X. And those are the ideas conveyed in this novel.

The concept is so promising that the slow unveiling of the plot in the first few chapters seems to offer a snapshot of a generation. Unfortunately, this powerful idea to describe a generation of people, of modern day society in which we live to fulfill ourselves and no one else, suffers almost immediately, as crude humor and vaguely underdeveloped action overtake the plot.

In the first of one of many escapades, Steve makes his way to the local zoo with his only friend, Frank, only to scream at a baby to shut up. It’s relatable and grotesque all at the same time. It’s the unveiling of our inner impulses, to give away the requirements of society and for once scream our minds to the unsuspecting victims that may cross our path.

The humanity that is unveiled in scenes like this describes both Steve and Generation X, and, while disturbing, enriches the plot, which other times falters through its vague descriptions of scenery, and lacking dialogue.

Written almost as a journal entry from each day in the month leading up to Steve’s planned death, the book is written as a third-person narrative. And perhaps that’s what Please Laugh at My Funeral is missing. The third-person makes the story feel cold and emotionless, a superficial investigation of a series of pop culture events that are clichéd.

In the course of a month, Steve and Frank manage to explore every contemporary issue of our society, from homosexuality to a skirt with religion that ends in a day, to blackmailing, to death by pills, to social media frenzies, to addicts and grungy underground clubs. Loaded with every grimy pop culture reference that could fit into the pages, none of the adventures that Steve and Frank embark on have the depth nor the reflection to make a meaningful impact on the reader.

While the concept is immensely moving and powerful, the problem with the story is that it is perhaps too Generation X: it is self-fulfilling for Steve, but it leaves everyone else wanting more than the superficial plot riddled with questions, that, instead of intriguing the reader, merely create distance and confusion from the plot.

In the first few chapters of the story, Steve admits to a love interest he met earlier in the day, “It’s the finality of it. We are scared of our own deaths.”

Yet Steve is fatalistically committed to killing himself after living for one month, unafraid of death, perhaps because in this time he manages to complete all of the most clichéd extravagances of the twentieth century.

Without requiring emotional investment, Please Laugh at my Funeral is easy to get through, a quick read if you’re willing to be left wanting, not by the ending, but by many of the pages.

 

Number of Pages: 227

Recommended For: a commute, a plane ride

Enjoy it With: Zoloft, Shiner Bock

For fans of: Generation X, video games, pop culture, Andy Warhol

Best place to buy it:

Talking the Trade with D.M. Livingston, author of “Nyx”

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The first time we saw the Amazon blurb for Nyx I was immediately intrigued.

“Nyx, a sarcastic, mouthy fairy, is hurled into Hell, but instead of damned souls and devils, she finds only a group of confused, young human witches.”

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Talk about a strong opener. Blending fantasy, witchcraft, and teenage hormones is a wild ride, and one we knew we wanted to hear more from the author about. He was kind enough to talk about his experiences writing this quirky novel, and his experiences on the self-publishing grind.

He has been a pin monkey, nude model, logic tutor, pizza maker, graphic designer, and web developer.

Growing up in the sparse beauty of the Mojave desert, his first school was actually called Tumbleweed Elementary. Since then, he has lived in San Francisco, Brooklyn, and Hollywood, before settling down in the lush beauty of Oregon with his wife and son. Being from the desert, the rain doesn’t bother him. In fact, he thinks it’s still kind of exotic, as are all the green things growing right out of the ground.

What is your favorite book?
I could make a list of perhaps my favorite 200 books, and they’re favorites for all sorts of different reasons. Great stories, fascinating characters, exotic settings, guilty pleasures, and difficult but fulfilling works. One of the most inspirational books I’ve read is Imaginary Cities by Italo Calvino. It blew my mind when I first read it. It’s a conversation between Marco Polo and Kubla Khan where Marco describes wildly fantastic and impossible cities to the fabulously wealthy ruler. I’ve always put it on a pedestal as an example of a writer with a great imagination.
Do you have a day job? What is it?
 
I’m a web developer, and have been for almost 20 years.
When you began the process of writing your book, had you ever heard of self-publishing? 
I became interested in self-publishing when I couldn’t get an agent to give me anything more detailed than a form rejection letter. While I was writing, I knew self-publishing was an option, but I tried to focus on the story instead of worrying about publishing.
What are the benefits of self-publishing? 
 
The main benefit is that the book actually got published, with a cover I love, and I didn’t have to wait for someone else’s approval to get that done.
I wouldn’t say that self-publishing gives you a more flexible schedule, since it requires a lot more time than traditional publishing, since you have to lay out the book, get the cover right, and create a properly formatted e-book. That part of the process took me months, and that doesn’t include any of the marketing you have to do yourself, too. Marketing is hard, too. It’s hard to find access to an audience and get people interested in reading Nyx.
What is the greatest struggle you find as a self-published author? 
The writing itself takes the most time, of course, but it’s also the most fun. For me, marketing is the hardest part. The goal of my marketing is  to figure out who would be interested in Nyx and then letting them know it exists. I’ve used Facebook, Amazon KDP promotions, Reddit, and giving a copy to anyone in my life who seemed interested. Sales are slow, but at least I’m still selling a book every so often, and people keep putting it on their to-read shelf on goodreads, so I’m optimistic.
Did you work with a paid editor? 
 
My editor is my wife, so while I didn’t pay her, other people (like Disney) have. The best way to handle criticism is to just take your ego out of it. It isn’t fun, but it’s absolutely vital. When it comes to listenting to an editor, pride is poison.
What about the book cover? 
 
I tried to design it myself, but it just ended up looking cheap and clearly self-published. I ended up hiring a small design company to do the cover. It was spendy, but I’m thrilled with the result, and I expect I’ll use them again.
Did you purchase your own ISBN, or work with a company to purchase rights and an ISBN?
 
I bought a pack of 10 ISBNs in an abundance of caution of wanting to own my own work, but I’m not sure that was really necessary.
Do you have more e-Book or hard copy sales? 
 
Definitely more e-book sales, maybe four to five times as much.
How do you market and brand your stories? 
 
I only have one book out there, Nyx. I’m an unknown author hawking a self-published fantasy novel, so people are understandably leery of picking it up. Self-published novels have a terrible reputation, and that’s not totally undeserved. Since my major obstacles were obscurity and reluctance (due to being self-published), I decided to give away as many copies of my books as I could, in order to build as much word-of-mouth as possible. I might have lost about 50 or so sales with that tactic, but my goal isn’t to sell 50 books, it’s to sell 50,000. Many of my Facebook friends got a free copy, as did all of my real-world friends who wanted one. One of my friend’s teenage daughter liked Nyx so much she’s dressing up as the character for Halloween, which I’m pretty honored by. To overcome the reluctance to pick up the book, I got the best cover I possibly could, since when I’m looking for new books to read, I absolutely judge books by their cover.
I’ve also contacted about 125 book bloggers and sent a nice email, asking if they’d like to review it. Only about ten said they’d review it, and maybe four have actually reviewed the book. I haven’t noticed any bump in sales from those reviews, so I’m not yet convinced that book review blogs are worth the effort.
Did you publish through Amazon?  
I did publish through Amazon, since that’s the largest marketplace for books. I used Createspace (which Amazon owns) to make Nyx a print-on-demand book, and they make the process pretty easy.
How did you decide to price your book? 
I priced the paperback so that I’d make about a dollar for every sale, and that came to $12.99. I set the e-book at $2.99, which seemed like a good deal for a 480-page book.
What kind of support would be most helpful to self-published authors?
 
Marketing support would be the greatest help. Help getting reviewed would also be nice. Unfortunately, marketing for fiction is a lot harder than for non-fiction. With non-fiction, you can have a blog that regularly expounds on the subject matter, extends the message that’s in the book, hold workshops and such. With fiction, who cares about a blog? I’ve never looked at an author’s blog – I don’t care. I just want to read their books. The most consistent advice I’ve heard about marketing self-published fiction is, “Write another book.” I’m working on the sequel to Nyx, so I’ll let you know how that works out.

Check out Nyx on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Nyx-D-M-Livingston-ebook/dp/B00C81V1LG/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=

And look at his author’s page here: http://dmlivingston.com

The List: Gifts to Go Along with our Favorite Self-Published Reads

Need a gift for the avid reader on your list?

Check out these gift ideas, the complete package based on our favorite reviewed self-published workers, spanning a variety of genres. Whether a complete package tied up with ribbons, a quick stocking stuffer, or an Amazon e-gift, treat someone on your list to a self-published work this holiday season!

For the fantasy lover:

A Touch of Magic by Gregory Mahan

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This fantasy novel focuses on a young boy, gifted with the powers of magic in a land where sorcery is illegal and punishable. Bringing in a trio of bawdy companions on the run from the secret police, this is the perfectly paced dose of fantasy, applicable to teenagers and adults alike. It’s worth staying up past bedtime to follow Randall’s misadventures and mishaps.

Buy it at: http://www.amazon.com/Touch-Magic-Llandra-Saga-ebook/dp/B006ETGELA

Pair it with: The rest of the Llandra Saga, available on Amazon.

Honey-matured mead, an archaic drink long looked upon fondly by Tolkien and the like.

Live Action Role Playing armor and weaponry. Spur imagination and creativity with this detailed set of protective shields, detailed swords and knives, and even historical replicas of the most distinctive armor. Our favorites are the gothic armor package and the Black Ice Light Armor Set! Check out: http://www.larping.org/larp-shop/

A trip to Ashford Castle: http://www.ashford.ie. This beautiful Irish castle offers the medieval getaway of a lifetime. Set on over three hundred acres near a fjord, with impeccably manicured lawns and an ancient castle with modern amenities, Ashford Castle is sure to delight any fantasy lover.

The Dwarf Weeping Larch Tree for the green thumb on your list. Started from seeds, this wily plant will grow into what can best be described as a fun-sized weeping willow, with seeds available to purchase from small business owners here: http://www.etsy.com/listing/86394960/15-dwarf-weeping-larch-tree-seeds-1233?ref=shop_home_active

Tolkien T-shirts, complete with everything from Smaug to Frodo’s toe hairs, the perfect rollable stocking stuffer! Get them at: http://www.redbubble.com/shop/hobbit+t-shirts

For the 20-something:

Three For Ship: A Swan Song to Dartmouth Beer Pong by Crispus Knight

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As inspiring as it is tragic, this tale of college days gone awry is filled with ironic humor, honest observations, and will have you hooked as it pulls away the curtain on alcoholism and fraternity life behind the brick walls of the Ivy League. Perfect for any recent graduate, this memoir reflects fondly, and with morality, on the end of the university era, and the struggles with the adjustment from the ivory tower of college, into the real world.

Buy it at: http://www.amazon.com/Three-Ship-Swan-Song-Dartmouth-ebook/dp/B00EA9TM56

Pair it with: A french press, the perfect accoutrement to any caffeine addict’s first kitchen: http://bodum.bodum.com/us/en-us/shop/detail/10938-01B/

Noise canceling headphones, a need for any gamer, computer programmer, music fanatic, or frequent flyer. For those moments you need some peace, whether reading, or navigating a flight across the country. The top-rated headphones from CNET are available here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007TTD7VO/ref=asc_df_B007TTD7VO2862848?smid=A2H3DYB5PUVNNI&linkCode=asn&creative=395129&creativeASIN=B007TTD7VO&tag=cnet_mp-3161-20

Notebooks. Moving on from the day’s of scribbling papers in the library at four AM, to faxing papers at the first desk job is a big switch. Bring back the university feeling with legendary Moleskine notebooks, perfect for everything from detailed sketches to late-night journaling. The extra large soft notebook has plenty of room for inspirations and aspirations: http://www.moleskine.com/en/collections/model/product/plain-soft-notebook-extra-large

An oversized poster featuring the entire text from a classic novel? Check. Poster books make it possible to have a full piece of literature hanging on the wall. Create a sophisticated conversation piece to cover bare walls. Magnifying glass not included. http://postertext.com

For the action fiend:

The Full Contact Series by Daniel Kucan

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Full Contact is a whirlwind boxing adventure for the gritty realist. Trekking around the globe, but always in the ring, the series of ten short chapters offers love, heartbreak, intense, pounding action, commentary on the state of boxing, and of humanity, all with a suppressed humor that makes the brutality of the stories bearable.

Best place to buy it: http://www.amazon.com/Full-Contact-Chapter-One-Thailand-ebook/dp/B00845OWKC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1386196464&sr=8-1&keywords=daniel+kucan

Pair it with: A bungee jumping or zipline adventure. The highest bungee jump in the United States, at 321 feet, is located at Royal Gorge Park in Colorado. The adventure begins the moment you jump: http://royalgorgebridge.com

Swiss Army Knife. The classic Hiker pocket knife is perfect for everyday use for the adventurer. With a variety of tools for everything from cutting cord to opening a bottle of wine, it’s a handy tool and the perfect stocking stuffer. http://www.victorinox.com/us/product/Swiss-Army-Knives/Category/Everyday-Use/Hiker/53831

For men, skincare from Kiehl’s in the Energizing Kit, perfect for cleaning up even the dirtiest messes: http://www.kiehls.com/Energizing-Mens-Kit/100093,default,pd.html

Vibram Five Fingers for the long run, when you want the feel of the pavement under your feet, but protection from the elements as well. http://www.vibramfivefingers.com/index.htm

Support self-published authors this holiday season, and make a present out of it, with these gift packages that are the perfect additions to any hard or E-copy!