Wednesday, December 27, 2006

An open letter to any POD author who for some strange reason is not writing about zombies

Pardon by bluntness, but I have to ask. As a struggling POD author, why waste your time writing about love? Why explore worldly cultures or mystical long-ago lands? Why bore us with your character's internal journey of self-exploration?

Why write about anything other than zombies?

A POD author's greatest challenge is attracting readers. Even books from major New York publishing houses struggle for attention. What can you offer that stands out from the POD horde?

Mouldering ambulant corpses, that's what. Because the public loves zombies. More importantly, the public searches them out.

Look up your favorite non-living-dead POD book on Amazon. Chances are that no one has posted a review. Maybe two or three at most.

Now look up the Amazon pages for some POD zombie novels. As of this writing, David Moody's Autumn (a fine novel which I have read) has received twenty-three reviews. Seventy-two people have reviewed Mark Rogers' The Dead (which I have not read but which looks intriguing). Even a widely-reviled POD zombie novel like Aftermath of the Dead (which I also have not read), with its one-and-a-half star rating, enticed nineteen people to read and review it.

For POD titles, those figures represent an extraordinary level of interest.

Need more proof? Soren Narnia is a terrific writer who has published fifteen POD books in a variety of genres, including literary romances, comedy, and horror (I reviewed his slapstick buddy novel Roll! They Cried here.) Fourteen of those books have nothing to do with zombies. Of those fourteen, nine have zero reviews on Amazon; three have one review each (including my review for Roll! They Cried); one book has two reviews; and the last has three reviews. However, Narnia's remaining book, the splendid zombie novel Song of the Living Dead, has eight reviews -- a 266% increase over Narnia's next-most-reviewed work. Math like that doesn't lie.

The lesson is clear. Writhing, squishy zombie bits pave the road to POD glory. (And big-publishing glory as well -- several prominent literary critics have named Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic novel The Road, published by Knopf, as one of the best books of 2006. And it (essentially) includes zombies!)

I think there is a simple explanation for the popularity of the POD zombie novel. For fans of the zombie genre, pertinent POD novels are easy to find. Go to iUniverse, or Lulu, or Amazon, and search for "zombie." It's like a gunshot to the head: quick, easy, effective.

By contrast, if you're in the mood for a quirky POD comic novel with great character development and a madcap denouement . . . well, good luck finding it. Unless you think trolling through piles of POD PDFs and online previews is fun (like I do), you pretty much have to rely on the handful of POD review sites (like this one, and those at right) for guidance. Big, shambling things such as animated corpses are easy to find through a keyword search. Elusive concepts like humor and emotion are not.

In sum, absent a marketing budget (which most POD books do not have), a POD novel needs a way of letting the world know it exists.

Zombies really stand out in a crowd.

Plus -- and let's not forget this -- they're just really, really cool.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

REVIEW: Enola's Wedding by Jack Mauro


An unprovoked bee sting hobbles Enola Tyrwhitt. Drew Morrigan, ever the gallant knight (and, in this instance, the noble steed as well) comes to her rescue, sweeping Enola off her feet and carrying her to safety.

After so romantic a first encounter, what choice do Enola and Drew have but to wed?

In ways both profound and minute, Enola and Drew's engagement reverberates far beyond the happy couple. As does Enola's slow realization that, just maybe, she and Drew are not quite soul-mates after all.


Enola’s Wedding tells several love stories. It tells of love amongst friends, family, and lovers; of love that is returned and that is unrequited; that redeems and that demeans; that persists and that withers.

Contrary to the common edict, Mauro often tells rather than shows. He does simply recount his characters' actions and thoughts. Rather, he comments and philosophizes, observes and contradicts, editorializes and explores. Mauro’s narration dominates the tale.

This approach has its risks. Such an idiosyncratic style can easily descend into irritating self-parody if not handled with consummate skill. Indeed, Mauro’s characters initially wilt into an undifferentiated mass in the shadow of his overwhelming personality.

However, Mauro proves more than equal to the challenge. His writing is, quite simply, glorious. His voice is insightful, funny, and captivating. He swoops in and out of characters’ thoughts, histories and feelings, and then darts into illuminating analogies, reflections and homilies. The reader may constantly be aware of Mauro as narrator. But Mauro understands his characters too well, and talks about them too vividly, for them not to develop as full and sympathetic individuals.

Nor does Mauro's inventiveness hide his fundamental compassion for his characters. This empathy does more than soften Mauro’s often arch tone. It elevates Enola’s Wedding from being a mere stylistic showpiece into being a truly moving, wonderful meditation on the manifold nature of love.


Enola's Wedding is available through iUniverse and Amazon, as is Jack Mauro's stylistically similar, and equally wonderful, Spite Hall. Mauro’s decision to publish through iUniverse is fortuitous; as I discussed here, iUniverse allows customers to preview the books it publishes, so you can check out Mauro’s writing before laying down your money to confirm whether you find it as enthralling as I do.

Additional information about Mauro is available on his homepage, although as of this writing its current focus is Mauro's upcoming guide to online dating (due to be published by Simon & Schuster in 2007). I wish Mauro the best of luck with this book, but must admit I hope he returns to fiction one day.


David W. Jacobsen is a singer-songwriter with a distinctive voice, both in terms of his vocals and his compositions. Jacobsen’s quirky edge sets him apart even when addressing well-worn matters of romance and loss. His virtues come to the fore on The Chasm.

As Jacobsen notes on his website, The Chasm is “about the gap between people who are trying to connect.” While a bit overlong, the album is a fine tribute to the humor and pain of love. Among several highlights, “Jacqueline” beautifully elegizes a relationship that cowardice killed before it could even begin; “Dry Spell” is a humorous folk mock-anthem about Jacobsen's solidarity as “one of many not getting any” (sex, that is); and album-opener “10,000 feet” rages, in a polite folk-rock way, about a woman trying so hard to be special that she isolates herself from the man who is trying to treasure her.

The Chasm, as well as other Jacobsen albums, is available for purchase on CD from CDBaby, or as MP3 downloads from eMusic, or, if you don't mind being subject to Apple's DRM restrictions (which I personally find abhorrent), from iTunes. Just like iUniverse, all of these sites offer previews, so you can sample Jacobsen's voice before you buy.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

REVIEW: Skinny by Dana Donovan


John Beckman has humiliated himself. A fishing buddy nearly drowned during a camping trip because John was too scared to take action, or even to call for help. Only the fortuitous intervention of a third friend averts tragedy. Ashamed of his cowardice, John leaves the campsite in the dead of night to head for home.

Unfortunately, John takes a wrong turn. He ends up in the backwoods town of Plenty, where food is in abundance, the Festival of Feasts is rapidly approaching – and the porcine local population don’t take kindly to outsiders who are skinny.


There is much to like about Skinny. Dana Donovan’s writing is brisk and assured, and he instills the entire novel with an unnerving sense of otherness. John is a sympathetic and smart narrator. The people of Plenty, though somewhat bumbling, are truly menacing. And the action scenes, as John tries desperately to escape from Plenty, are clearly rendered and nerve-racking.

Unfortunately, all of that excellence services a plot that is a bit too lean. Once John arrives in Plenty, he is jailed and forced to eat. He escapes. He is recaptured. He is forced to eat again, with some torture thrown in. Then he escapes again. Then he is recaptured again. And so on. And on.

Each of these iterations, standing on its own, is well written. However, although the specific events differ in each cycle, the narrative as a whole never seems to advance. Nothing ever really changes.

An inescapable nightmare can be terrifying in short fiction. A novel, however, needs more. In order to stave off boredom, a novel needs a complete story. Unfortunately, Skinny doesn't quite have one.


Skinny is available from Lulu (as are other Donovan titles), both in paperback and download form. The download, at $1.25 at the time of this writing, was well worth the cost even with my reservations. Dana Donovan also maintains a website here.


Existo chronicles the adventures of a left-wing musical performance artist in a near-future right-wing America. The film has a great premise, great production values, a great soundtrack, and a great failing: it goes absolutely nowhere. We follow the characters through a roughly related series of events, but there is no real beginning, end, or forward momentum. The film just happens to start and stop.

However, the filmmakers behind Existo obviously have tremendous talent. If you are not as hung-up on plot as I am, you may want to check out the Existo website, which has video clips and extensive supplemental material. But for me, there was simply too little story to hold my interest.

The Eternal Question for the POD Reviewer

All POD reviewers face a fundamental question. Do I post negative reviews of books that I didn't like, thereby potentially reinforcing the (frequently accurate) stereotype that all POD authors are, to be blunt, unskilled? Or is it better to try to elevate perception of the medium by focusing solely on works that I can wholeheartedly recommend? There plainly is not a "right" answer to this question, and the POD websites I've seen run the spectrum of review philosophies.

I follow a "does it deserve to be taken seriously" approach. That is, I am not limiting myself to wholly positive reviews, or even to works that I can recommend at all. Rather, I will review a POD book if I feel, in my sole and unscientific discretion, that the writing is at such a level that the book deserves to be taken seriously as a work of art. This obviously is a wholly subjective question. But that, of course, is almost the definition of the reviewing game.

Thus, the question of whether I ultimately agree with all of an author's choices, or enjoy his or her style, plainly will impact the substance of a review. However, so long as I feel that I can treat the author with respect, and a book appeals to me enough that I feel I have something worthwhile to say, I'll review it. To use a very non-POD example, I personally can't stand James Joyce's writing. But even I, begrudgingly, will acknowledge that he had, maybe, a little bit of talent. So I would review A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

But that doesn't mean I'd have to like it.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

REVIEW: Other People's Heroes by Blake Petit


Josh Corwood reports on Siegel City's resident superheroes for Powerlines magazine. From epic battles to the latest superhuman couture, Josh covers it all.

Then Josh discovers that he too has superpowers. Even more surprising, Siegel City's heroes and villains are not in fact adversaries in an eternal fight between good and evil. Rather, they are all players in a grand and not-so-sinister charade, designed to amuse the public and turn a quick merchandising buck. No one gets hurt, and everybody wins.

Until things start going wrong. Superhumans are becoming violent for real. It's up to Josh to figure out what's going on, save his beloved from her nefarious boyfriend, and uncover what really happened to Lionheart, the greatest hero of all.


If Other People's Heroes were a Hollywood superhero film, it would be Sam Raimi's Spiderman. In both stories, an average guy gets extraordinary powers, and then has to confront an even more extraordinary threat. Although these characrers are superhuman, both heroes (and their respective allies and adversaries) breathe as real people, not cartoons. In addition to plentiful humor (with a tinge of pathos for color), both stories feature numerous well-realized action set-pieces, and both climax with an extended, bang-up brawl that is truly exciting (as opposed to just loud). Finally, both tell self-contained stories, but leave dangling threads for potential sequels (a promise that in each case was quickly fulfilled).

There have been many other superhero movies, but none are quite as close in spirit. Heroes is frequently funny, but is not slapstick like Batman (1966). Heroes also has a few dark moments, but is free of the pervasive gloom of, well, Batman (1989). Heroes doesn't take itself as seriously as X-Men (or 2, or 3) (2000; 2003; 2006), but doesn't try as hard (and fail so miserably) at being hip and funny as Mystery Men (1999). Unlike Superman Returns (2006), Heroes' protagonist is not a flat and emotionless bore, and, unlike The Punisher (2004), Josh also is not a psychopathic lunatic. And Fantastic Four (2005) just stank.

Other People's Heroes does not quite scale the heights of The Incredibles' (2004) astounding blend of humor, action, emotion, and philosophy. But Blake Petit has produced a novel that is extremely accomplished. And in the world of superheroes, Spiderman is mighty fine company to keep.


Other People's Heroes is available through PublishAmerica or at Amazon. You can read more from Blake Petit, as well as links to his prolific reviews and columns, at his LiveJournal blog Evertime Realms. Petit used to offer an online sequel, 14 Days of Asphalt, which was also well worth reading (even though Petit maintained that it was only a draft). Unfortunately, 14 Days is no longer available.

However, Petit's very amusing NaNoWriMo novella from 2005, A Long November, is still available online (parts one, two, three). A Long November tells the story of a genuinely good man who just can't relate to Christmas, and the Christmas spirit assigned to do whatever it takes to bring him around. Following NaNoWriMo rules, A Long November was written in only thirty days. As a result, it's not quite as developed as Other People's Heroes (or 14 Days of Asphalt). Nonetheless, A Long November is an outstanding accomplishment and a lot of fun, and I heartily recommend it for this holiday season.


Connor Mackenzie could be Josh Corwood's West Coast cousin. By day, he is a mild-mannered mid-level marketing executive. By night, he is the Velvet Marauder, an up-and-coming superhero with mid-range super strength, increased resistance to harm, and a mild envy of his more well-regarded brethren. Connor also keeps a blog. Like many bloggers, Connor recounts the daily highs, lows, and day-to-day minutia of his life. Unlike most bloggers, that life includes fights with robots and carnivorous plants, romance with a mystical hottie, and ordering super-supplies while watching sports on the TV in his secret lair (hidden within his suburban home).

The Velvet Marauder is a creation of David Campbell, who also runs Dave's Longbox, a comics review site. Campbell updated the Velvet Marauder regularly for nearly a year. Although the full run is still available online, Dave stopped posting new entries in mid-2005. That was a tremendous loss. The blog perfectly blends the Velvet Marauder's superheroics with the quieter moments in Connor's life. Although the adventures recounted in the blog are largely episodic, Campbell also included an overarching conspiracy plot which developed nicely over the life of the blog and which received at least some closure before Campbell pulled the plug. As a result, the entire run can be read together as a nifty little novella. I continue to hope that one day Campbell will again take up the Velvet Marauder's adventures, either on the blog or in novel form.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

If I Had A Million Dollars (I Would Not Invest In A POD Empire)

My Fantasy

I sometimes wonder what I would do if I had a million dollars. Actually, a million dollars isn't that much these days; let's say a hundred million.

I sometimes think that if I had a hundred million dollars, I would start my own media company. I would buy the rights to my favorite POD books, music, and movies (paying the artists fairly, of course; my media conglomerate is not evil). I would give these works the full-scale distribution that my favorite artists plainly so richly deserve. My taste, of course, is impeccable: just cutting edge enough to be exciting, but still accessible to the masses. As a result, money would come rolling in. The CEOs and bean-counters at those other media companies would tremble in envy, splittle delicately frothing from their lips and splatting on their expensive baby-cow leather shoes. And I, like a wise and loving father (but without even a hint of superiority, because I'm not one to gloat) would patiently explain that they, too, could have such success, if only they stopped releasing the same boring formulaic novels, top-40 pablum, and mindless action movies, and started releasing good stuff (you know, the stuff I like).

Then, aliens from Nemo Loquitus IV would fly down from the skies and give me the power to shoot diamonds out my butt (without the chafing that would probably normally result).

My Problem

That last bit is actually the most realistic part of my fantasy.

There are some in the world of POD (as I use that term) who revel in obscurity. (MC Frontalot deflates this pompous mindset in his hilarious nerdcore hip-hop song "Indier Than Thou.") However, I suspect that most POD creators and fans want the works they create or admire to be popular. That's perfectly natural. We all want to be loved for what we do, or at least for what we buy.

However, many people believe that their POD art (or favorite works of POD art) in fact would be enormously popular if given half a chance by The Establishment. That's a load of butt-diamonds.

I certainly don't deny that corporate backing and media exposure frequently accompany, and can significantly contribute to, mass popularity, or that some successes are largely manufactured. However, backing and exposure do not guarantee success. Otherwise, every major label book, film and album would be raking in the cash, and that simply is not true. Moreover, outsider artistic visions frequently scale the heights (or at least the middles) of popularity without big-money backing, particularly in the age of the Internet.

A popular work of art is popular because it appeals to a lot of people. I realize that this statement is both simplistic and naive. But I believe it also contains a grain of bitter truth. On some fundamental level, people like what they like. And while I like them very much, I don't know that a lot of other people are looking for a novel about a misanthrope bonding with the ghost of a long-dead warrior, or a no-production-value serial-killer parody that includes a sock-stealing monster (down at the bottom of the page) , or jazzy compositions about subjects like abject poverty (ditto).

My Rant (an aside)

However, I do believe that people are entitled to like what they like, without shame or apology. It annoys me when a band expresses frustration that its polyrhythmic "new sound" is not as commercially successful as the old. It irritates me every time a literary author bemoans the state of reading in this country because people choose to purchase chick-lit novels over his or her masterpiece. And critics who complain that people are getting the films (or television or whatever) that they deserve because they refuse to support the critics' own preferences absolutely infuriate me.

I am appalled by these people's lack of respect for others. Taste is a personal matter. To be sure, the works that dominate pop culture often are not to my tastes (although often I do enjoy them). But that fact is irrelevant. I do not expect anyone to apologize to me for having different or less esoteric tastes than I do, just as I have no intention of apologizing to those whose tastes are even more outre or otherwise different than mine. It is the height of condescension for anyone to say "This is a legitimate piece of art, and therefore you are wrong to like something else." We all work hard ay our jobs, and face daily strains and pressures. We are all entitled to seek pleasure and spend our entertainment dollars as we see fit. No one has the right to decide what should entertain, enlighten, or move another human being. And certainly no one has the right to make others feel guilty about their choices.

My Acceptance Of Reality

Because taste is a personal matter, I acknowledge that my fantasy media empire is doomed to failure. I like what I like, and I'm realist enough to admit that what I like probably is not going to attract legions of other fans.

I would be delighted to be proven wrong as to even one of the works reviewed in this blog. Maybe one day I will be. But I doubt that I'll be proven wrong as to all, or even most, of them.

So my dream business would not be a good investment. Even the big media companies, which specifically try to release only the most commercial works, do not have continuous success. My enterprise, which would release products based on my idiosyncratic tastes, certainly would fare no better (and, in fact, certainly would do much worse).

This is not a total defeat. I take heart in the hope that the media conglomerate business model may be dying. Through the Internet, people can find what they like, on their own, without big business -- or me -- aggregating and distributing the product for them. My prospective media empire may be going down in flames, but the big media companies are going down with it. And that's a good thing.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

REVIEW: Sway by Mike Preston


Stan Johnson has never connected with another human being. And that’s fine with him. Stan just wants to be left alone. He buys a small house in the middle of nowhere to pursue this dream.

But Stan’s new home comes with a companion: the spirit of a primitive (and not very bright) warrior. The ghost (who Stan calls Tonto) likes loud noises. He likes watching bad television. He likes starting fights.

In short, Stan and Tonto have nothing in common. But Tonto won’t go away.

Now on death row, Stan recounts the story of their relationship – and its murderous consequences.


Sway is a twisted update of the old “Little Miss Marker” (or “Punky Brewster”) story. Traditionally, an adorable child redeems a grumpy recluse through the gift of love. Here, the "adorable child" role is filled by a slovenly, loud, and violent (not to mention hirsute) ghost. And rather than an appreciation for life, the characters’ relationship leads to serial murder and animal mutilation.

Surprisingly, the story remains as heartwarming as ever.

Sway is a comedy, which is fortunate. A novel about an unemotional recluse, a petulant ghost, and the murder of the people who come between them, shouldn’t take itself too seriously. Mike Preston, a stand-up comedian, succeeds in pulling a lot of laughs out of the escalating disasters that result from Tonto’s invasion of Stan’s world.

However, Sway is also a love story. Actually, it is two love stories, one platonic and one romantic. First there is the relationship between Stan and Tonto. As improbable as it may sound, the story of how these two lonely souls, who cannot even communicate with each other, learn to value companionship over continued isolation, is genuinely moving. Second, there is the story of Stan’s burgeoning affair with the checkout woman at his supermarket. Sway is funny, to be sure. But the novel is most memorable for these relationships, and for Stan’s growing realization that he does not want to remain isolated.


Sway’s tone is somewhat inconsistent. For the most part, Preston’s humor blends well with the story of Stan’s two relationships. However, the slapstick (or attempted satire) of the novel’s framing device, in which Stan is hustled by his incompetent death row attorney, is jarring. (As an aside, I realize this is a nitpick, but no one in the United States goes from trial to actual execution within a matter of weeks.) Moreover, although the murder victims are generally unsympathetic, the deaths, though essential to the plot, still stick out a bit awkwardly. Nonetheless, I enjoyed Preston’s relaxed and conversational style, and do not hesitate to recommend the novel as a whole.


Sway is available from iUniverse (and Amazon). As far as I can tell, Mike Preston does not have his own website, although a small amount of information about him is available here.


“Miserable Girl” by I Hate This Place is a bouncy synthpop ode to two miserable, misanthropic people coming together to form a somewhat less miserable union. The song never fails to cheer me up. It is available on iTunes on the One More Minute album (which can also be bought in its entirety on CDBaby).

Sunday, December 03, 2006

REVIEW: When Graveyards Yawn by G. Wells Taylor


The rain is constant. People have stopped aging. The dead have returned from the grave to resume their former lives.

And there are no more pregnancies. No births. No babies.

It can be depressing. But life goes on – and on, and on – after the Change.

Wildclown is a private investigator. His clown makeup hides more than his face. It masks the two souls that share his single body. Still, Wildclown gets by.

Then a murdered lawyer hires Wildclown to find his killer. The job is straightforward.

Until Wildclown hears a baby crying in the distance . . .


G. Wells Taylor is Virgil to my Dante. Yeltsin to my U.S.S.R. Angel to my Faith (Buffy, not Bible). Taylor led me through the darkness to a gleaming truth. He taught me that POD novels could be just as good as any contemporary fiction.

I do not recall how I stumbled across When Graveyards Yawn, or what possessed me to purchase it. However, I do know that until Graveyards, I believed that all POD books were garbage. Why else hadn’t a real publisher snatched them up?

By reading Graveyards, I discovered that a great novel is a great novel, no matter the route by which it becomes available. Sometimes books just fall through the cracks of the commercial publishing industry. Or maybe Taylor had reasons for not even submitting it. Whatever the reason for its POD status, I loved Graveyards, and it cured me of my anti-POD snobbery. (Unfortunately, like many self-appointed boosters for alternative media, I have contracted an equally stupid anti-big-publisher bias. But that is the subject for another post.)

Inspiration is a personal matter. Graveyards probably won’t have the same impact on you as it did on me. Nonetheless, there is much here to enjoy for anyone who appreciates hard-boiled mysteries (especially ones infused with apocalyptic overtones). There is real tension and menace to the world of the Change. The violence is abrupt, brutal, and convincing. The mystery of the murdered lawyer and the baby's cry, although essentially a MacGuffin, is well-handled to the very end. And Graveyard's other mystery, about Wildclown's past and the two minds that inhabit his body, gives the novel the emotional heft of a true noir classic.


One of the things I appreciate about Graveyards is its subtlety. That may be a strange comment to make about a novel that includes harrowing torture. But Wells treats his audience with respect. He does not spell everything out. He does not engage in random bursts of didactic exposition. Taylor wraps up the central murder mystery, but does not resolve all of the mysterious goings-on. Rather, he leaves the reader satisfied, but still searching. As a good writer should.


When Graveyards Yawn is available from PublishAmerica (or Amazon). Taylor has also published Wildclown Hard-Boiled, a collection of Wildclown short stories and a novella, through PublishAmerica. These stories are welcome, but on his website Taylor has been promising a real sequel for years. (Actually, the website describes two separate lines of forthcoming sequels: once focused on Wildclown himself, and one on the world of the Change). I’ve been waiting a very long time. But hope springs eternal . . .


The movie Hey! Stop Stabbing Me tells the story of Herman Schumacher, recent college graduate, as he tries to cope with life, a serial-killer roommate, and a monster that steals his socks. It is unlike When Graveyards Yawn in almost every way. Where Graveyards is essentially serious, Stabbing is a slapstick “kitchen-sink” comedy. Where Graveyards is polished and professional, Stabbing is amateurish and juvenile. Where I would wager that Graveyards took months (or longer) to create, Stabbing probably took a few weekends (or less).

However, just as Graveyards inspired me to explore POD novels, Stabbing taught me that microcinema films can be extraordinarily entertaining. The two together changed my life. They are jointly responsible for the untold hours and dollars I have spent searching POD and microcinema websites for my next POD art fix. Thanks, guys!

I make no promises that you will enjoy Stabbing as much as I did. But I found it hilarious, and if you’re after a good-natured, silly little serial-killer comedy and are willing to overlook the nonexistent production values, you may like it too.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

An Open Letter To People Who Debate Endlessly About Whether PublishAmerica Is A POD Publisher

Dear People Who Debate Endlessly About Whether PublishAmerica is a POD Publisher,

Hi. The weather is beautiful here in New England today. Sunny and fairly warm. I hope the storms of this past week in other parts of the country haven't caused you too much trouble.

Anyway, I'm writing to let you know that I'm going to be reviewing a PublishAmerica book tomorrow. It's actually one of my very favorite books, and my review is going to be so relentlessly positive that you're going to assume that the author is paying me. (He's not. I wish he were. He's more than welcome to. But, sadly, he's not.)

However, I know that there is an endless, raging debate about whether PublishAmerica is a legitimate publisher, a POD publisher, or a particularly sleazy POD publisher. I don't want to get involved in that debate. Although my review is going to be so favorable that you may assume the author is my secret lover (which he's not - you've always had a dirty mind!), some people are going to be offended that, by reviewing this book, I've implicitly labeled PublishAmerica a POD publisher. Others will agree with the POD characterization, but object that, by giving a PublishAmerica novel a positive review, I'm just validating them. Most people, of course, really won't care one way or the other.

My point is that I don't want nasty e-mails either way. Please just accept that I consider PublishAmerica to meet my definition of a POD publisher. Please just accept that I like this particular book, and want to promote it. Please just leave me out of it.



P.S.: OK, if you want my real opinion, I think this says it all.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Why I Like -- And Hate -- Shopping At iUniverse

iUniverse POD books are particularly well-represented on my bookshelf. It’s not that iUniverse authors are uniquely talented. Every POD publisher has a few great books, and a whole lot of dross. It's certainly not that iUniverse produces an especially beautiful physical product. iUniverse's cover art is as unforntunate as any POD publisher's.

Rather, I like iUniverse because it allows me to read several pages of the books I'm interested in before I purchase them. Other POD websites offer less extensive preview functionality. For example, Lulu (which I also really like, and which will be the subject of a future post) recently began providing pages from most (but not all) of its newer offerings. AuthorHouse sometimes provides a few random paragraphs. But iUniverse lets you check out the first several pages of all of its books.

This obviously does not advantage every iUniverse author. I've often passed on a book that initially looked intriguing after I've read the first few pages (or sentences). However, the fact that iUniverse gives me the opportunity to make this assessment is what makes me willing to buy its books at all. If I bought every POD book that caught my eye without further investigation, I'd be broke (and my house would be filled with awful fiction).

However, as much as I appreciate iUniverse's preview policy, its absurd e-book policy drives me crazy. Because POD paperbacks are expensive, I only buy a novel if I am very confident that I will enjoy it. However, I would be happy to take chances on more novels, ones that I am not quite as certain about, if I could purchase them in the cheaper e-book format.

In this regard, ordinary pdf e-books are convenient: they can be printed, read by a variety of software on a variety of systems, and freely transferred between all of my computers and handheld devices. Indeed, several POD publishers (like Lulu) distribute their e-books in basic pdf format.

Unfortunately, all of iUniverse's e-books are sold in Adobe Ebook format. Adobe Ebooks cannot be printed, which is a huge inconvenience for me. Moreover, Adobe EBooks can only be read using Adobe's own proprietary Reader software. The Adobe Reader must be installed and registered on every computer or device on which you want to read your Ebooks. If Adobe doesn't make a reader for your device, you're out of luck. If you buy an Adobe Ebook but then change your system someday so that the Adobe Reader no longer works or is not available, your investment is gone. You can never read your EBook again.

This is unacceptable. Why shouldn't I be able to print my e-books to read in the bathtub? Why shouldn't I be able to read my e-books on any program I want, and on any computer I want, without registering my every move with Adobe? Why should I have to worry about someday losing access to my EBooks altogether? Is iUniverse really that afraid of POD e-book piracy? I'm as big a POD novel booster as there is, and I truly believe that some POD novels are as good as any contemporary popular fiction. But let's be honest: the demand for these books in the black-market underground just isn't that great. All that iUniverse has succeeded in doing is alienating me and reducing its own sales.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

REVIEW: Roll! They Cried by Soren Narnia


Years ago, pro baseball player Ben “The Blemish” Glinton disgraced himself through a particularly boneheaded performance during game seven of the World Series. Broke and humiliated, Ben now seeks to recapture fame and fortune by staging -- and winning -- a national tabletop "baseball" simulation championship. Accompanied by his biographer (who is seeking an explanation for Ben's foul-ups all those years ago) and the members of his tabletop baseball club (including a three-time Pulitzer-prize winning novelist and a twelve year old genius), Ben sets off on his cross-country quest, with glory, redemption, and $19,450 of his own money on the line.


This is a very funny book. A slapstick buddy film in novel form, Roll! They Cried is consistently good-natured and high-spirited (and would, in fact, make an outstanding film). The humor may be broad, but Soren Narnia carries it off with wit and style. Not only are the jokes easy and unforced, but, impressively for this type of narrative, Narnia also tells a real story, with real characters (broad characters, but characters nonetheless) and a satisfying third act. Roll! They Cried may not be profound – indeed, it actively mocks profundity at several points – but it embodies “wacky hijinks” done right, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

A final word for non-sports-fans: don’t be put off by the baseball framework. No one could care less about baseball than me, but it truly is only a framing device, and enjoyment of the novel does not depend upon an appreciation of (or extensive knowledge about) baseball.


Narnia's writing is thoroughly professional. Stylistically, Narnia writes with confidence and maintains a consistent, light-hearted tone throughout the book. Editorially, Roll! They Cried is equally accomplished. The iUniverse print version of the novel is a tight and satisfying 173 pages. There are no loose ends or extraneous characters or plotlines, and typos are extremely minimal. Narnia’s proficiency is perhaps unsurprising: he is a prolific, experienced author, with at least twelve other POD titles (in a variety of genres) to his credit. That experience shows here.


Roll! They Cried, like most of Narnia's works, is available as of this writing for free at his website. If you like what you're reading after the first few chapters, I encourage you to support Narnia’s efforts (as I did) by buying a copy of the book through iUniverse or Amazon.


I am not a baseball fan but enjoyed Roll! They Cried tremendously. Similarly, I am not a jazz fan, but am a huge fan of Elvis Sinatra's off-kilter -- but thoroughly professional -- pop-jazz-vocal compositions, all of which are available as of this writing for free download from his website. Whether singing about the plight of us exceptionally attractive men (“Handsome Guys”) or about a man in love with a fish (“Pisces”), Elvis Sinatra has the musical and vocal chops of a serious Sinatra (Frank, that is) style musician combined with the wit of Dorothy Parker and the playful darkness of Lemony Snicket.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Personal Outlay Developed ("POD") Reviews: An Introduction

This blog is dedicated to POD media. The "POD" acronym traditionally refers to "publish on demand" books, and books will, in fact, be a primary focus of this blog. However, I use "POD" to refer to a much broader category of outsider pop culture: all books, movies, music, comics and other media where the creator, propelled by personal vision (and perhaps by the fact that no one else is willing to advance funds), personally assumes the monetary risks and rewards of creation, publication and/or distribution of art. In other words, POD media is, for me, Personal Outlay Developed media.

Several POD book review blogs already exist, including the ones linked to the right. Yet I believe there is room for (at least) one more. With tens of thousands of POD books published every year (including at least a couple dozen good ones), only a very small fraction of even the best POD novels receive any attention whatsoever. My own bookshelf is stands in silent, faux-wooden testament to this fact: most of the POD titles that I personally have most enjoyed remain unreviewed anywhere. If I can help spread the words about even some of these books, then my time here is well-spent.

Moreover, I have a gimmick. Because my interest in POD media extends beyond books, this is going to be a full-service blog. Although the focus of each entry is going to be a novel, I, like a sommelier of the "do-it-yourself" world, am going to push a POD movie or album to complement each literary main course. Ideally, this will create an overall experience that is thematically coherent and brings out the full flavor of the novel being reviewed. In reality, I’m sure that the link will generally be as strained as this dinner analogy.

So there you have it. If the movie "They Live" were POD, I would close this introduction by paraphrasing "Rowdy" Ruddy Piper's famous quote: I’ve come here to chew bubblegum and write some reviews . . . and I’m all out of bubblegum. However, this sounds much less impressive than in the original version (where Mr. Piper said "kick some ass" rather than "write some reviews"). In any event, "They Live" was a major studio motion picture (even if it had a decidedly POD sensibility), so it is not really appropriate here. But as always, even if I break my own rules, my heart is in the right place.