Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Write On! Indie Book Reviews #2: Exhaust(ed)

If you've been reading this blog, you'll recognize Shoshanah Marohn as the talented artist who not only designed my current page header, but also the cover of my latest book, Mother of Darkness.
Of course, if you've been reading this blog then there is a 25% chance you are a human and not a spambot. If you are human, there is a 25% chance you are Shoshanah, so congratulations, you are not vain, this blog is totally about you.
Not content to simply be a successful artist, blogger, and farmer, Shoshanah has now added bestselling author to her accomplishments. I was lucky enough to receive a copy of her debut book, Exhaust(ed), which I am now going to talk about until you are convinced that your life has a book sized hole in it.

This size, to be exact.

The subtitle is The 99% true story of a bus trip gone wrong. I've been lucky in that I've only ever ridden the Greyhound bus line once and it was a short, uneventful trip. Not so for our poor narrator.

The story takes place in a magical time known as 1993 and our fearless heroine is on her way to grandmother's house, much like Little Red Riding Hood. But Red had it easy. She only had to travel a short distance through the woods and encountered only one predator. Shoshanah's journey begins in Colorado and ends in Western Pennsylvania (another magical place, but it is a magic we shall not speak of). And she meets more than one big bad wolf.

From the moment she buys her ticket, there is groping. Groping becomes a terrifying theme throughout the journey. Terrifying, that is, to Shoshanah. For us, the reader, it is both terrifying and hilarious. No, I don't mean we are a-holes who delight in the discomfort of others. It is Shoshanah herself who makes this funny. Did I mention this is a humor book?

It is, and it is full of one liners, sarcastic quips, and moments that will make you feel guilty about laughing at what had to have been a terrible time.

There's a host of supporting characters including a man who has been everywhere, a drunken groper, a dashing stranger who presents a what-if scenario, and a world wary military woman who imparts wisdom in the way only a stranger you will never meet again can.

The story itself is a short, engaging read, peppered through with artwork to illustrate some of the finer points. If this was all it had to offer, I would still say you need to read this book. But that isn't all it has to offer. What made this an A+, standout book for me is the same reason I've been following her blog for years: The writing is excellent. A perfect balance of insightful retrospection and off beat humor. This isn't a rose tinted trip down memory lane. No, this is a humorous approach to the idea that hindsight is 20/20.
The book is available in both print and Kindle e-book format from Amazon, however, if you are interested in purchasing the print version, consider buying it directly from the publisher, which gives the author a much better royalty.
Overall rating: five stars

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Scent of Smug Superiority (and mildew)

The following is an unapologetic rant and you will get offended. 

This is a book:

This is also a book:

Amazingly, this too, is a book:

It comes as quite a shock to me to realize that in this day and age, there are people who don't consider a book to be a real book unless it's made of paper. I'm not talking about 'old' people who don't 'get' technology. No, to be quite honest, electronic readers are very popular with older readers for a number of reasons: They are lightweight, the font size is changeable, they require no shelf space, etc...

I'm talking about  young folks, teenagers through middle age. I've seen comments online by a number of folks who claim e-books are not real books. I've had people personally dismiss me because I only offer my books in e-book format. That, by the way, is insulting. To insinuate that none of the effort I poured into my work counts because the words appear on a screen rather than paper does not make me want to even consider putting forth the extra effort to publish physical copies. 

The funny thing is, when asked why a paper book is superior to an e-book, I always hear the same answers: 
I love the smell of a book!
I like to feel the weight of a book in my hand!
I spend enough time staring at a screen!

Here is my judgmental and insulting rebuttal:
You are not a reader. You do not enjoy reading. You enjoy the experience of making people think you are intelligent because you have your nose shoved in a book and you have stacks of moldering paper all over your house.

Is that fair? No, of course not. I'm sure many of the people who prefer paper books really do enjoy reading, but I also reserve the right to be as mean and judgmental as they are. However, let me explain my insulting rebuttal in a less insulting way:

When I'm reading a book, especially a really good book, I'm transported into the story completely. I'm not paying attention to the smell of the book. I don't feel the weight in my hand. For that matter, I don't typically register any sensory input around me until someone does something to get my attention. As for the comment about not wanting to stare at a screen, I don't have to tell you that there are countless types of e-reader displays that have been engineered to replicate the experience of reading paper, nor do I have to tell you that reading from a physical book will give you the same exact symptoms of eye strain that reading from a computer screen will for the same prolonged length of time. 

Personally, I prefer e-books for a number of reasons. The strangest of which is that I really do not like touching paper, especially the rough, pulpy paper that paperback book editions are printed on, but that is most definitely a me thing. But there are many other reasons:

Paper books fall apart. You see that copy of The Ship Who Searched up there? Look at the condition it's in. Some of the pages are so brittle that they flake off when I turn them. And that book isn't even twenty years old. Also, it has a book smell. Some people my find it appealing, but to me, its mildew and dust mites. Not exactly something I want to shove my nose into while inhaling deeply.

Another problem with that book is that I spent $5 for it at a used bookstore. Of that $5, the author received $0 because I bought the book second hand. E-books are inexpensive. Even the large publishing houses have seen the merit of reducing the price of digital versions of their books. With an e-book, I know that the author (or their estate in the case of older books by deceased authors) is getting a royalty for every purchase. 

But people buy used things all the time! Yes, we do, and I do a lot! But one of the main reasons for this, besides thrift, is that it is better to get all of the use out of something before it finds its way to the landfill. E-books do not end up in a landfill. There is no physical waste. And before you begin your argument about electronic waste, please take a look at that high end smart phone in your hand. You know, the one you are waiting to trade in for the newest model when your contract is up. E-waste is a huge problem. But it is a huge problem that would not be impacted at all if e-readers did not exist. 

For me, downloading the Kindle app in 2010 increased not only the volume of what I read, but also broadened my tastes. There are millions of books out there and there are thousands of free books by authors I may never have heard of otherwise. For  good many of them, I've gone on to purchase all of their works based on those they've offered for free. Reading independent authors is the electronic equivalent to shopping locally. You are directly supporting said author for their work and trust me, we thank you for it!

Yes, downloading the app and seeing that self publishing of an e-book was within the realm of possibility was very much an influencing factor in my finally getting around to finishing the story I began in 2004. Thousands of people have downloaded my first book and those downloads in time turn into sales of my other books. Sure, thousands sounds small when you realize that best sellers do that in a day, but I can guarantee that if my only option was to publish hard copies, the number of readers I'd have would be closer to ten and that may be generous. 

Also, I carry a small purse. I don't like being burdened with a whole bunch of heavy objects, but I like to have something to read when I've got down time. E-readers do that and smart phone e-reader apps do that even better. The shelves in my house now display art and other decorative items alongside a handful of books that I've kept because I can't get them in electronic format.

I'm not saying to shun physical books. Love books, love all books, but think before you judge someone as beneath you for reading e-books. If the number of offerings on Amazon are any indication, there are more of us than you might think.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hasn't Everyone?

Like an urban legend with just enough creep factor to make you wonder if it's true, the issue of privacy on the internet is making the rounds again. You've probably seen at least one post on Facebook by a supposed teacher who wants to show their students how far their private posts can spread. You might have also seen the countless videos of random people being told important things about themselves, scraped from their social media footprint. These are, of course, meant to shock you into thinking twice about what you post online.

And I think the whole thing is kinda dumb.

Don't get me wrong, there's a reason you keep certain things private. Things like your bank account, social security, and other sensitive information aside, I'm not advocating for the #YOLO mentality.
(For those of us over the age of fifteen: #YOLO is the millennial varient of the baby boomers' Sha la la la la la live for today and Gen-X's F*ck that noise.)
Posting a manifesto-length rant about how much you hate your boss on social media is probably a really bad idea. But you know what else is a bad idea? Spouting the same rant in real life over happy hour drinks to your coworkers, even if you are 100% sure they agree with you. Why? For the same reason: it could come back and bite you in the ass. This is not what I'm talking about when I say worrying about online privacy is dumb.

Confession time: I have said and done a lot of dumb, embarrassing, poorly thought out, and terrible things online. I have also said and done a lot of dumb, embarrassing, poorly thought out, and terrible things in real life. Sometimes my brain even likes to be evil and remind me of those moments and yes, I squirm a little on the inside when I think about the fact that I can be a complete idiot without extolling much effort. But do you know what I don't do?

I don't think about the dumb, embarrassing, poorly thought out, and terrible things YOU have done.

You, in this instance, refers to everyone in existence. I'm not judging you because you once made a questionable fashion choice and posted pictures online. I'm not judging you for the phase you went through in junior high. I'm not even judging you for posting a facebook check in to a Nickleback concert (not much, anyway).

Yes, there are people who will, but you should probably understand by now that THEY are the ones with issues. Too often I see people post pictures they took of people they don't even know just for the sake of making fun of them. It's a despicable practice that should be illegal, but good luck getting that one to stick in an age where all of us are armed with a camera at all times.

Less hateful, but equally embarrassing is the oblivious friend who tags you in the least flattering pictures, or the older relative who is just tech savvy enough to post a Throw Back Thursday picture of your toddler self running naked through a sprinkler, or worse, your awkward phase.

There is nothing you can do about this except let it roll off your back. There is a whole world of random, stupid, and time wasting things on the internet. Let's just say you did something idiotic and it went viral. Okay, sure, you are going to be the butt of jokes for a few days, maybe even a few weeks. Should this ruin your life?

Absolutely not.

A week later, someone else will do something that will get everyone talking and no one will know who you are once again. Lather, rinse, repeat. This is the internet. All of our shameful secrets are out there for anyone to see at any time, but let's be honest: no one is looking for them.

But just in case you are, here's my school picture from eighth grade, the year I was bullied into transferring to private school and yes, I thought that hair style was a good idea at the time.