Self Publishing

A Few Men Faithful

In A Few Men Faithful, Jim Wills introduces the Kavanagh family, the focus of a four-volume saga that spans oceans and centuries to paint a portrait of Irish culture that is as vivid as it is gritty. This volume follows the life of Danny Kavanagh and opens during Ireland’s Easter Rising of 1916. Throughout the novel, the author’s research into the events he depicts bolsters a narrative that is engaging in its own right as Danny struggles to fight for his country’s independence even as he falls in love and marries. The prose throughout is clear and reminiscent of Hemingway, particularly in instances where Wills describes battle: “Stationed twenty yards apart, the brothers watched as the four men advanced toward the old, empty stone tower two hundred yards in front of their position. Cover was not good; progress slow. Lee-Enfield rounds whipped by them, kicking up clouds of rank coal dust, chipping off brick.” By way of a foreword, Wills also provides a brief but helpful primer on events leading up to the Easter Rising of 1916 for those who, like myself, are well aware of the centuries-long tension between Ireland and England but are not clear on the details.

If I have a complaint about this book, it has less to do with the author’s sense of craft than with the overall appearance of the book. The type is set in what appears to be Arial or Helvetica, the text is left-justified (as opposed to full), and the margins at the top and bottom of the page are extremely wide. Combined, these details make the experience of reading the book feel more like reading a manuscript or a Word document. Overall, however, clear writing and strong characters make this a novel (and, presumably, series) worth reading, especially for those interested in the last century of Irish diaspora history.

– Review by Marc Schuster

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A Few Words With GF Smith

GF Smith, the author of the Subjected trilogy, recently dropped in on SPR (in the virtual sense, anyway) to chat about his “sci-phi” series, writing, and e-publishing. Here’s what he had to say…

Thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions for Small Press Reviews. Let’s start with your books. What is the Subjected series all about, and what inspired it?

The cover copy for the first book, SUBJECTED: Eye of God, pretty much gives the overview of the entire series:

*Daniel Jeremy Sayer has gone through more than his share of pain, loss, and frustration. Which leads him to ask some “Big Universe” questions: Why have we been subjected to this life? What on Earth is happening? Why the big mystery? Is anyone out there even listening?

When the answers start coming, in the form of a mysterious, seemingly benign, yet oddly inane individual from another dimension—Alien, or Angel, he’s not sure which—Daniel suddenly begins to question whether he really wants to know the answers after all.

Through tragedy, loss, coincidence and consequence, through frustration, anger, courage and faith, along with a touch of humility and humor, Daniel Jeremy Sayer unexpectedly finds himself being shown the metaphysical edge of human existence, whether he wants to see it or not.

The three book series delves sensitively, objectively, and sometimes humorously into the historically controversial and dichotomous relationship between Religion and Science, though it’s not a proselytizing or dogmatic work by any means. In quick terms, it’s about a guy who genuinely wants to know what life is all about…yet is really ticked-off at God for the way everything is—in his life, as well as in the rest of the world.

The inspiration for the series came from my own, life-long, internal struggle to—as Einstein stated best—to, “understand the mind of God.” On a side note: anyone who has ever been honestly mad at God will love this series, I think.

You describe your writing as “Sci-Phi.” Can you explain what you mean by that, and how it’s different from what might be considered more traditional Sci-Fi?

The term Sci-phi—which I like to use—denotes (as well as connotes) the relationships between Science and Philosophy. Simply put, the science part is like the lines of this text here…the physical part: the words describe, define, and delineate a particular subject or knowledge. Philosophy is like the spaces between the lines: there’s always the supposition that there may be more going on than what we know…more to a meaning. Philosophy asks the questions about the nature of being and knowing—origins, purpose, destiny.

Traditional Sci-Fi (Science Fiction), which is actually a huge genre, covers mostly technological advances—the real, or the imagined real—the future, space ships, space travel, astrophysics, etc. Everything from space operas, to time travel, to dissimilar life-forms on other planets, to whatever we can imagine those advances—realities—might be, given time and creativity. Again, that’s like the words in this text—matter and substance.

Again, the Philosophy part is the between-the-lines part: are the advances good, bad, infinite or finite? Are they purposeful? Do they enhance, or advance the Spirit, the Soul? Do they change us for the better…or the worse? Does the end justify the means? How did it all start in the first place, and where’s it going to end up?

Given this distinction, do you still see yourself as writing with the sci-fi tradition? Or do you see your work as separate from that genre?

Good question. I love both… always have. To me, the physical and the between-the-lines spiritual/essence side are not dichotomous at all—I personally can’t divide them into two mutually exclusive areas. So, I will be writing about both as long as I can. However, since a large portion of society still seems to suffer from the memetic programming of the past, and hence seem to prefer adherence to either one or the other, exclusively, I think I will continue to write about both as being two sides of the same awesome coin.

Along these lines, who are some of your favorite writers, and what books have influenced your work?

Oh, let’s see… Heinlein, Hubbard, Weber, Koontz, Roddenberry, Serling, Bach, Brown, Redfield, Cussler, Ludlum, Crichton, Carr, King, Baldacci, Von Däniken, to name only a few. I even like Sparks, Patterson, and Albom. Different books have influenced me for different reasons, as I suppose is the same with most people. Although they didn’t exactly write books, the most influential writers relative to my writing would be Gene Roddenberry (along with his show writers), Rod Serling, Dean Koontz, David Weber, and probably… I don’t know, all of them have had a huge influence on me.

I’d say I’ve read more of Dean Koontz than anyone else, though I don’t think I pattern my writing after his. I’m not into horror, but I love his other-than-natural, paranormal stuff: Watchers, Odd Thomas series, the Taking, Sole Survivor, One Door away from Heaven; there are a lot of them. And Robert Heinlein’s, Stranger in a Strange Land gave me a lot to think about. And of course, Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone and Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek series’ helped give me that between-the-lines curiosity and insatiable drive to question, which is dominant in my writing.

Where else do you find inspiration?

My own studies of Cosmology, Astronomy, Physics, and the Earth & Space Sciences have given me a lot of inspiration. I’m a big fan of Einstein, Hawking, Kaku, and of course Galileo, Copernicus, Hubble, Kepler, Newton, etc. all those guys from history. I also cherish the stories of the Bible, the life and passion of Christ, of Paul and the Apostles, and several of the Old Testament characters: Ezekiel, Moses, Enoch, David, etc. All of these—especially Christ—have driven me to question life, and purpose, and what the future holds for us…in life and after life.

But, I find inspiration from a lot of alternative things as well: Eastern and Islamic faiths, some new age stuff, mystical stuff, though it all makes me wonder about the nature of reality and being. I have to be humble and hold in reservation that my perspectives and interpretations may in fact be in error; just because I believe it may be so, doesn’t necessarily make it so!

How do you approach writing? In other words, how did you learn the craft, and where does it fit into your life?

I approach writing fairly methodically; this comes from the analytical/business side of me. When writing fiction or nonfiction I like to know where I’m going…for the most part. I like to have an overall understanding of what I want to accomplish and where I want to end up. But, within this method I still enjoy and employ the spontaneous eruptions of creativity that happen. And sometimes, these will even change the overall outline I’ve initially set. I try to be humble in my writing, and with the creative process. I think a balance of both brings about the best results. And it’s what makes writing such an enjoyable experience.

Writing, nowadays, is a huge part of my life. My children are grown and I feel a compulsion to get some of these things out of my soul and share them with others—especially my children and my grand kids. And, I somewhat feel a sense of obligation to do so as well. If it weren’t for all the aforementioned writers…I wouldn’t be who I am today. I just want to give back to life…not just be a taker, if you know what I mean.

At present, the Subjected is series is available only as an E-book. Why did you decide to go with this format, and do you have plans to publish a print version of the series?

Ebooks are the future. No different than Digital over VHS. It offers so much customization: font size, color, background, and style adjustment; they provide bookmark solutions, word meaning lookup, go-to page options, etc. It’s really a reader’s dream, and also the fact that I spent years querying agents and not getting one single request for even a chapter for them to review. Though I understand, it’s a tough business—publishing. They can only accept the best of the best to work with under their current business models.

I was adamant in my stand to NOT be self-published. But, after seeing the trends of publishing (Amazon just announced that they are now selling more ebooks than printed books) I changed my mind. Art is art, and all art is appreciated at varying levels of development. Ebooks are art, and although they should be as professionally created and rendered, as printed books historically are, I hold the belief that all art should have its forum. The art lovers have spoken! Plus, it’s a green technology, and that means a lot to me as well. One day my works will be available in print, but not until the demand requires it, and probably only in limited printings.

What projects are you working on now?

I’m working on marketing right now, for the SUBJECTED series. However, I am also outlining my next novel. No comment on the particulars, yet.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Just a question (and possibly an encouragement) for your Readers:

Which is more precious: a thousand answers, derived from one questions, or, one answer…from a thousand questions? (*Hint, read between the lines…)

Thanks for reading, everyone!

A Few Words with Steve Almond

A lot of readers probably know Steve Almond for  his fiction collections The Evil B.B. Chow and My Life in Heavy Metal (published by Algonquin and Grove respectively) and his nonfiction titles Candyfreak (Algonquin, 2004), (Not That You Asked) (Random House, 2007), and Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life (Random House, 2010). Yet while maintaining a high level of success with works from major publishing houses (including a forthcoming fiction collection due this Fall), the author has also gone the do-it-yourself route with his most recent titles Letters from People Who Hate Me, Bad Poetry, and This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey. With these DIY endeavors in mind, Almond recently took some time to answer a few questions about self-publishing and the effort that went into his labors of love.

You’ve published three DIY titles—Letters from People Who Hate Me, Bad Poetry, and This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey. What led you to publish these titles on your own rather than seeking a more “traditional” publishing arrangement?

Initially, I did it because I sensed that it didn’t really make sense to partner up with a corporation to make these little, idiosyncratic books. The editors I spoke to didn’t get what I wanted to do, or how it was supposed to make money. They were probably right about the latter. But now that authors can make books pretty easily, I just said, The heck with it, and did it myself. Here’s a more lengthy explanation: Presto Book-O (Why I Went Ahead and Self-Published)

I love the dimensions and overall design of This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey. The book has the feel of something religious zealots might hand out on the subway, or something meant to be concealed due to its subversive content. It also gives off a strong pulp-fiction vibe. How much of a hand did you have in the design? Was there dialogue between you and book designer Brian Stauffer? What was your process like?

Oh, totally. I always had in mind a book that would fit in someone’s back pocket, that folks could carry around. We experimented with a smaller size, then a bigger size, and finally settled on 4.5″ by 6.5″, which feels perfect. Brian’s a genius, so I let him do the interior design and covers. But I did talk with him a lot. It was a real artistic collaboration. As an example, in one early version of the cover for Minute, Honey, the lady in black is holding a “marital aid.” We both felt that was too overt, so Brian made it a whip instead. Much better.

Along similar lines, did you seek any outside help with editing your DIY titles? With marketing?

I show the manuscripts to my wife and three or four friends, all writers, all sharp editors. And I look over the inaugural edition of the book. As for “marketing,” I don’t do much other than look for opportunities to read from the books, and talk about them.

I notice your DIY books don’t have ISBNs. Was there a reason behind this decision?

Mostly sloth. But I also want the books to be regarded as artifacts more than commodities, and that ISBN number, with a serial code, is one of the things that signals that something is for sale.

Do you regard your DIY titles any differently than the books you’ve published through established houses?

Well, yeah. I think of them as much more personal and idiosyncratic projects. My intention isn’t to create a bestseller, but simply to find readers who might dig them. It’s a huge relief to set the bar a little lower in that way, to detach the work from the sales numbers.

Did you learn anything from publishing these titles on your own? Any advice you can give to authors or would-be publishers who might be thinking about doing the same?

All I’d say is that writers in the early stages of their career should really focus on the work, on making the best decisions they can at the keyboard, and not on how a book is going to move into the world. Those are separate issues. Also, as much fun as I’ve had with the books (a lot), it’s been a lot of work to take on the duties (design, printing, distribution, etc.) that a traditional publisher would handle.

To keep up with all of the latest news on Steve Almond, you can visit him on the web at stevenalmond.com. You can also click on the following titles to order copies of his DIY work: Letters from People Who Hate Me, Bad Poetry, and This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey.