Monday, April 30, 2012

Choose Your Own Review #1

In a comment on Saturday's post, author Simon Royle suggested a "reader's choice" poll to pick a book to review from the towering stack we've accumulated. I liked the concept, but decided rather than being democratic about it, I'd make it more like a lottery.

Most of you are probably familiar with Rafflecopter, which many blogs are now using for giveaways. This will be done the same as a giveaway with a single winner. The book chosen by the winner will be plucked from the virtual tower of books and be given priority to be read and reviewed a couple weeks later, the week of May 21st in this case. The books not chosen will remain in the to-be-reviewed stack and continue to be available for review. We'll see how this works and, if successful, we'll continue doing them periodically.

When entering note that two of the ways to enter, picking a book you'd like reviewed and tweeting about the contest, can be done daily.

The books being considered are listed below with links to their page on, if you'd like to know more about each book. You've got a variety of genres to choose from.

1) Love and Money by Ruth Harris - Woman's Fiction

2) The Reluctant by C.S. Splitter - Mystery/Hardboiled Detective

3) Sin & Vengeance by CJ West - Thriller

4) Time Zones, Containers and Three Square Meals a Day by Maria Staal - Travel narrative

5) Flaming Dove by Daniel Arenson - Fantasy

6) Reunion by Jeff Bennington - Supernatural Thriller

NOTE: In order to have your vote count you need to use the Rafflecopter box listed below this. This site keeps track of the entries and will randomly select the "winner." Leaving a comment is not counted.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Problem and a Solution

The Problem

Too many books, not enough time, is the essence of the main problem.

I consider our readers as well as the authors who have submitted books for review consideration to be part of a community and believe that being too transparent is better than not being transparent enough. So, this post is going to give much more detail than you might expect. Possibly more than you want.

Over a year ago (yes, it has really been that long), this blog went viral. The book submissions came rolling in and before I realized how many had been received, did some basic math, and closed submissions, there were hundreds. Many hundreds. We’ve now been closed to open submissions for almost a year.

I’ve also allowed a small trickle of books to come in since that time. In most cases, these were books that I was going to read anyway. Given that, I thought reviewing them made sense if they were within the scope of the books that we review. In a few extremely rare instances, I received queries from an author who had been referred by another author, something about the book appealed to me, and I decided to accept the submission.

In most cases, queries or submissions received after we closed them off were filed away in the “not going to review” file. My thinking was that if the author or their representative were able to find the email address for submission, they were also capable of reading the submission page and following directions. Those directions were, don’t submit. Submission inquiries went in the same file.

As of right now, we’ve reviewed a few hundred books (in excess of 250) and have more than that left. Lots of books have come out and are continuing to come out with authors who would like to have a chance to submit their book for review consideration. I’d like to give them a chance. I also don’t want to have all the books we review be those that have been out for a year, if not several. An eBook is, or at least can be, forever. Unlike a paper book competing for limited shelf space, an eBook has more than a couple weeks or months to catch on with readers. This argues against my timeliness concern, or at least tempers it.

That’s the main problem. Too many books and the desire to open for submissions again.

There are two secondary problems. The first is a desire, not just on my part, but also from the readers, to have more frequent posts on subjects other than book reviews. Our weekly author interview series is a start and has proven to be very popular. I’d like to do more. Last, given the ease of fixing problems with eBooks, making them (hopefully) better after their initial release, means that if we’re reviewing a book too long after it was released, what is being reviewed may not be what is actually for sale.

Possible Solutions

The “experts” say that a focus on a specific genre (or group of genres) is best to develop loyal followers. The “experts” may be right, but I feel like there is also a need and desire for an Indie book review site that is open to most genres. I don’t want to limit myself in that way. I like being exposed to other genres and hope our readers feel the same way.

More frequent reviews. That is a possibility and something that may or may not happen. However, I’m concerned that too many reviews are as likely to drive readers away as attract them. Certainly picking up the pace to a consistent one review every day of the week rather one most weekdays is something to aim for. The possibility of multiple reviews per day, while not impossible, presents some problems, but could possibly happen at some point.

Require some kind of qualification, such as minimum number of reviews on Amazon, before considering a book for review. This has some good arguments for it. The most obvious is removing some of the worst books from the review pool. However, I also have issues with this and would rather not limit us in this way, at least for now. I’ll keep this idea in reserve for future consideration.

An aging process that would drop a book from the review queue after some amount of time if it hasn’t been selected for review. This is at least part of the solution.

We have a lot of smart readers out there. If you have any ideas, I’m always open to suggestions.

The Solution …

… at least for now. Effective immediately, we are open for new submissions. Authors can get the details on the Submitting a Book for Review page, one of several links on the upper right of every page on the site.

For those who pay attention, there are also a few other pages that have been added or revamped, including one for anyone who thinks they might be interested in an new hobby in the wonderful, exciting, and highly non-paying world of book reviewing.

Friday, April 27, 2012

In the Past Imperfect / Isabelle Solal

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Literary Fiction/Women’s Fiction

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: NO  Smashwords: NO  Paper: YES
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store


“Isabelle, like her main character in Past Imperfect, grew up in one too many countries but feels most at home in Paris... or London... or New York - although currently she's hiding away somewhere in the Swiss Alps, where she practices as a lawyer.”
Isabelle has a blog where she chronicled her first “100 days in Kindle publishing.” Although now beyond the 100 days, she still occasionally posts there.


“Thirty-something Alina is at the top of her game as an international litigator - until she loses a client, finds herself sobbing in a bathtub, gets sent off to France to stay with her younger sister Margot and comes face to face with the man whose heart she broke seven years ago. In the Past Imperfect, a re-telling of Jane Austen's Persuasion with a twist, is about the choices one woman must make for herself, the people she re-discovers in the process, and why true love isn't as easy as it looks.”


I’ve come to the conclusion that it is harder to write a positive review than a negative one. Figuring out and articulating what is wrong or what I didn’t like about a book with problems is usually easy. But what if the writing is solid and the story is a good one? How many times can I say I liked the characters I needed to like and not those I shouldn’t? That’s what we expect from a book. Sometimes there will be some specific examples to point to, maybe a line that hits me just right. Something like near the end of In the Past Imperfect, where the protagonist, Alina, is reviewing in her mind all she has experienced in the last six months and thinks, “if this was a novel, it would be a bit much.” That made me laugh, not only for the obvious reason, that it was a novel, but because while I was reading, Alina’s story was true to me, which is the most critical characteristic of all.


Uses UK spelling conventions and slang.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four stars

Thursday, April 26, 2012 / RW Bennett

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Thriller/Mystery

Approximate word count: 100-105,000 words

Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: NO  Smashwords: NO  Paper: YES
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store

A former businessman and restaurant owner, RW Bennett is in the process of writing his second novel. For more, visit Bennett’s website.


As Director of Marketing for, Marsha Underwood is happy at the success the new internet dating service started by her old college friend, Paul Latimer, is having. People are meeting, falling in love, and getting married in unheard of numbers. But Marsha knows her great ad campaigns and their superior matching algorithms can’t account for this much success.


My natural inclination is to be intrigued and generally enjoy novels that explore the impact, positive and negative, of new technologies on everyday life, especially those made possible by the internet. It is a rare day when I don’t marvel at how the internet has transformed life in how we gather information and interact with each other, but not without paying a price in privacy, to name just one area. The plot of is a perfect fit for my tastes in the way it combines technology and romance into a thriller. The big picture is good, but the execution falls short in the details.

While reading I kept hitting speed bumps, errors or clunky sentences, that would throw me out of the story. The biggest offenders were verb tense errors, unnatural dialogue, and unneeded detail, which bogged the story down. A representative sample of the kind of issues I saw in dialogue is this conversation between Paul and Marsha:

“He’s already on board, Marsha. I would love to tell you about it. Can we meet for lunch or dinner in the next few days to discuss it?” “Sure, Paul. Dad tells me you’re starting an Internet dating service. Is that right?” “Marsha, I think I’m on to something big here. Can we get together this week to discuss it?”

These characters are friends. They’ve known each other since college and still get together to play tennis about once a month. Besides the obvious problem of using the other person’s name every time they open their mouth, which is not how real people talk, the entire quote sounds too formal and contrived. This was a recurring issue.

One example of unneeded details was when a character named Devin was signing up for a new account at The description of the process tells every excruciating detail. Most readers understand what is involved in setting up an account online. Why do we need to know every screen involved and what was entered? Does the logic Devin used in picking a password and what it was matter? The only part of this section pertinent to the story is that Devin opened the new account, possibly what he chose for his screen name and why (since this provides some characterization), and the terms and conditions of the site, which is important later in the story.

Other examples of too much explanation are explaining that some men are turned on at the thought of having sex with a bisexual or lesbian woman (people know this; don’t explain something most readers already know), or a character making a wisecrack and then explaining it. The wisecrack was funny without the explanation. Knowing that it was a Seinfeld reference and what happened in the scene it was referencing might make it funnier, for those who understand from seeing that episode. But if a joke can’t stand on its own without an explanation, you’re better off without the joke. In this case, I think it could have stood alone.

Although overall I enjoyed, I also found it frustrating at times for the kinds of reasons cited above.


A small amount of adult language and adult situations.

Format/Typo Issues:

A large number of copy-editing and proofing misses.

Rating: *** Three stars

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Redemption of Mr. Sturlubok / Daniel Pitts and Rudolph Kerkhoven

This review marks the debut of SingleEyePhotos, formerly of Red Adept Reviews, as one of BigAl's Pals. Please give her a warm welcome.

Reviewed by: SingleEyePhotos

Genre: Humor

Approximate word count: If you manage to find every route to the end of the book you’ll read between 100-105,000 words. In this book, your mileage can and will vary.

Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: NO  Smashwords: NO  Paper: NO
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store


I was unable to find any detailed information about the authors.  The information on their Amazon author page was written tongue-in-cheek. They also co-authored another “Choose Your Own…” story (The Adventures of Whatley Tupper) which is geared towards a somewhat younger audience than this book was. Both authors are residents of Canada and have ‘day jobs’, with writing being more of a hobby. You might find a little information about Rudolph Kerkhoven on his blog.


Mr. Sturlubok is very proud of his elevation to acting assistant principal at an elementary school. He is prepared for every eventuality except the one that occurs. What should Mr. Sturlubok do? You decide!


It’s very difficult to give just one appraisal of this book because there are so many options. Since it’s literally a choose-your-own-story book, there are a myriad ways that the story can play out. Some are funny, some less so, others not at all.  I tested about 6 different variations for this review.  There were a couple that really didn’t seem to go anywhere with the story; there was one that got a little ‘naughty’; and there was one that ended up being a fairly substantial, although still ‘fluffy’ story. This is most certainly not a book that you sit down and read straight through, nor will it be the same for any two people.  There are multiple options throughout the book to choose (and change) the storyline, which makes for a fun diversion, but definitely a non-traditional read for an adult.

The characters are relatively two-dimensional – most likely due to the constraints of the choose-your-own format – and almost come across as stereotypes.  I personally didn’t find that a bad thing in this particular case, though I wouldn’t like it in a more traditional novel format.  The whole point of this book is to have fun with the story, rather than to engage with the characters or the plot.

Format Issues:

None noted. The links to select the next part of the story work well, although they tended to be on a separate page – one section would just end, with Mr. Sturlubok needing to make a decision on how to proceed, but the links to actually select his decision and move the story forward would be on the next page, which was a little confusing at first.  Also, there are apparently random words and phrases underlined throughout the story.  I found those annoying and distracting until it dawned on me that they were links too – then I started checking those out, and discovered that they led to humorous little ‘asides’ by the authors or to a tidbit of additional information.

Rating: **** Four stars

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lessons IV: The Dead Carnival and Other Morbid Drabbles / Michael Crane

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Horror/Flash Fiction

Approximate word count: 4-5,000 words

Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: YES  Smashwords: YES  Paper: NO
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store


Michael Crane is a graduate in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago, his hometown school. In addition to the first three Lessons volumes, Crane has a short story collection, In Decline, and a novelette, A Gnome Problem, available for your Kindle. He has also been featured in many short story anthologies. On rare occasions, Crane will post on his blog


This is the newest collection of Crane’s series of drabbles, which are flash fiction stories of exactly 100 words. This volume focuses on stories from the carnival. Also included are bonus drabbles and other flash fiction from seven of Crane’s indie author peers: Daniel Pyle, M.P. McDonald, M.S. Verish, J.L. Bryan, Robert J. Duperre, Daniel Arenson, and Jason Letts.


Can I make this one-hundred words, like each drabble in this collection? We’ll see. While I wish Crane would apply his demented mind to something longer (a novel, or More Declined, my title for the follow-up to his short story collection with tales of normal people, down on their luck), his fans keep saying “more drabbles.” I see them as bite-size stories. Crane’s typically end with a demented twist. Find out what being a “mark” means and why a blowup doll is a bad date. Pyle’s bonus story shows why you shouldn’t mess with the short guy. Yup, one-hundred words.


Some adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five stars

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Higher Court / John L. Betcher

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Religious Fiction

Approximate word count: 50-55,000 words

Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: NO  Smashwords: NO  Paper: YES
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store


John L. Betcher graduated with a degree in English from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota (which shouldn’t be confused with the fictional hometown of Rose Nylund, Betty White’s character on the Golden Girls). Betcher continued to the University of Minnesota Law School and settled in the Mississippi River town of Red Wing (famous for shoes). In addition to this book, Betcher has written three additional novels, all thrillers, along with two non-fiction titles. For more, visit the author’s website.


“My name is William Kensey. I have a wife and two great kids. Until very recently, I was a well-respected and financially successful trial attorney.
I was also a man who was comfortable with his religion. I preferred it served at arm's length from the pulpit on Sunday morning. And would rather not discuss it the rest of the week.

The circumstances that led me to write A HIGHER COURT changed all that. The entire experience was both bizarre and unavoidable. You see, I was summoned to serve as a juror in an improbable trial -- a trial to determine whether God exists.”


I love the concept of this book. It’s an excellent example of how fiction can educate. In this instance, on the arguments both for and against the existence of God (or Allah, The Flying Spaghetti Monster, or whatever name the world’s many religions attach to their Deity of choice). In this book, which reads like a legal drama with a supernatural leaning, Betcher lays out the arguments for both sides. I stole this quote from the book, which seems to describe most people:

We are Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Atheist, Agnostic, or whatever other label we have selected for ourselves. We are comfortable with our chosen viewpoint, and uncomfortable with any idea that might pop our theistic or atheistic bubble. So we avoid controversial ‘proofs’ of ‘God’ or ‘No God,’ choosing to remain blissfully unaware of any challenges such writings may pose to our beliefs.

There is no shortage of books that argue for the existence of a God,  or against. But many people find these too dry for their taste.

A Higher Court does an excellent job of laying out many of the arguments for either side in the guise of a court case, although one that takes a slightly different form than normal, and does so in a way that is entertaining, or at least more interesting than dry facts and proofs. I felt the “trial” also presented the “facts” in an even-handed and reasonably comprehensive fashion.

I think understanding the arguments both for and against your personal beliefs is a good thing. It is conceivable that reading this could challenge or even change those beliefs. That also seems like a good thing.

While I would recommend A Higher Court to anyone, regardless of which side of this question they currently stand on, I do have one complaint. The author did a great job not taking an obvious position either way throughout the trial portion of the book. He even managed to tie things up in the trial without announcing a verdict. Then the book took a decidedly partisan turn. I won’t say which direction, because it doesn’t matter. I think it would have been a much better ending leaving it to the reader to decide which side made the better case without attempting to push them in either direction.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four stars

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Author Interview: Jeffrey Miller

"What a long, amazing journey it has been."

You’re originally from LaSalle, Illinois, which is part of the quintessential American Heartland John Mellencamp has made a career singing about. Now you split your time between South Korea and Laos. An obvious first question is, what brought that about?

A lot had to do with wanting to see some of the world after I graduated from graduate school in 1989. Having been a big fan of Gary Snyder and Ezra Pound, I set my sights on the Far East. At the same time, I was very interested in writers like Yusunari Kawabata, Kobe Abe, and Yukio Mishima, not to mention film director Akira Kurosawa, so I decided to teach English in Japan. I ended up teaching English at a small school in Hamamatsu, Japan for about one year. As I look back now, I see it impacted my writing a lot, just as much as studying Pynchon, Joyce, Steinbeck, Didion, and Cather in grad school.

It definitely made me more aware of my surroundings, the use of a new language, learning a new culture, and adapting to an entirely different lifestyle. There was a lot of sensory input which I would be able to draw upon one day. And of course, there was the romantic side of being overseas, of embarking on this great adventure, which after 22 years has never ceased to amaze me.

After a brief time back in the States, I returned to Asia, this time South Korea in 1990. Just as much as my time in Japan affected my writing style, the time I have spent in Korea gave me the chance to write—first as a feature writer for an English-language newspaper and blogger and then as a freelance writer and author. Without question, my development and maturity as a writer would not have happened had it not been for living in Japan and Korea.

Splitting my time between South Korea and Laos is by design, not choice. My family resides there for the time being (my wife is Laotian) and we have just built a house there. At some point they will join me here in Korea.

On the other hand, this could very well be the next chapter of my continual evolution as a writer when I finally decide to move there permanently. I am fascinated with Southeast Asia’s history and at some point, I would like to write a history of ancient capitals in the region. I am in awe of places like Angkor Wat, Luang Prabang (Laos), Ayutthaya, and Sukhothai (Thailand).

I’ve made a few big moves, geographically and culturally, and managed to stay in the US. I can’t even imagine what a shock it would be to move to Japan and South Korea. What changes were the hardest to adapt to?

It wasn’t that much of a shock. I’m a migratory bird by nature. I have two chapters in my memoirs, Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm which describes my first weekend in Seoul and how surreal it was to travel halfway around the world and, once I got to my apartment, just down the street from Olympic Stadium, to be able to watch David Letterman.

I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force while in high school and after I completed basic training and technical training school three short months after I graduated in 1976, I was sent to Panama where I spent the next two years. Although not the same when it comes to immersing one’s self into another culture, it laid the groundwork for future excursions overseas.

I believe I adapted quite well—language, food, notwithstanding—in the beginning and never really experienced any significant culture shock. I’ve always tried to keep an open mind about everything. Living in Japan was much harder than Korea because I lived in a small town where I had to learn Japanese if I was going to survive—from being able to buy kerosene for my heater or a bag of rice. On the other hand, living in Seoul was much easier, given the wide usage of English.

What were the biggest positives of the move?

The two most obvious ones (not including meeting my wife in 2006) were the chance to travel around Asia and the chance to write for the Korea Times. Had it not been the chance to write for the paper, I don’t think I would have stayed in Korea for as long as I have.

When I started writing for the newspaper as a feature writer, I “rediscovered” Korea. I think a lot of expats go through a series of peaks and valleys with living overseas. I was in one of those “valleys” toward the end of the 90s when I was feeling a little jaded and disillusioned with where my life was headed. Then all of a sudden, I am writing Op-Ed pieces and book reviews and the next thing I know, I am standing in line waiting to shake Kim Dae-jung’s hand during a ceremony to celebrate the Korea Times’ 50th anniversary on November 1, 2000.

In the past 21 plus years, I’ve got to see a little bit of the world and be a part of history. To paraphrase The Grateful Dead, “what a long, amazing journey it has been.”

You mentioned above that The Korea Times is the largest English-language newspaper in South Korea. Who is the primary audience for English language news in South Korea? What are some of the favorite feature stories you did while writing for them?

Back in 1998, when I first started submitting Op-ed pieces and later in 2000, when I became a feature writer for the paper, there were only two English language newspapers in Korea. You have to remember that this was a time when the Internet was still in its infancy and blogs were still a few years away, so all expats got their news from these two papers. Additionally, a segment of the audience was also comprised of Korean readers, many who used the papers to improve their English, including former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung who was an avid reader of the Korea Times.

Without question, some of my favorite articles and the ones very near and dear to me, were the articles I wrote from 2000-2003 when I covered the Korean War commemorative events in South Korea, which became the inspiration and the basis for War Remains. I met many returning veterans and it was an honor to meet them and listen to them talk about their war time experiences. I’ll never forget interviewing Oscar Cortez, a former POW, on the way to Chipyong-ni, one of the battlefields of the war (that interview and others are featured in Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm).

Because of those articles, more doors were opened for me and soon I was flying into Panmunjom with CNN in a helicopter to write about the Joint Security Area, covering former President Jimmy Carter’s visit to Korea for Habitat for Humanity, and thanks to some articles I wrote about the U.S. Air Force, including a feature article about female F-16 pilots at an air base in Korea, I got the chance to fly in an F-16.

And what makes all of these stories interesting for readers in my recent book are the back stories for them. For example, when I flew down to Kunsan Air Base to interview the three pilots, it was the day after 9-11, so I describe what it was like hearing the news of 9-11 and then the next day, flying down to this air base and as far as I know, being the only civilian allowed on base (all the bases were locked down) to have my interview.

Some other favorite stories include, covering the 25th Anniversary of the 1976 Panmunjom Ax Murder Incident on the site where it occurred with North Korean guards watching us through binoculars, Yoko Ono’s first visit to Korea, an interview with the U.S. Second Infantry Division Commander, which included a lesson in tomahawk throwing, being a member of the press pool for President George Bush’s visit to Korea in 2002, and my interview with Johnny Grant, a USO entertainer during the Korean and Vietnam Wars, who later became the honorary mayor of Hollywood (he was the person who emceed all the Walk of Fame ceremonies).

How do you think this experience has helped (or hindered) you as an author?

Just as Hemingway perfected his craft as a writer by being a journalist, I also feel writing for a newspaper helped me to become a better writer. However, I was never any good at writing a news story and filing it in time to make a deadline. My style of writing was better suited for feature writing, or creative nonfiction. Interesting, there are parts of War Remains which have a sort of a feature story feel to them. I don’t think that was unintentional on my part; I think I was really trying to capture the feel of writing a feature story and discovering this so-called forgotten war like I did when I wrote those feature articles, and in many ways, mirrors how Michael also discovers the war in the course of the novel.

Without question, I cut my teeth as a writer for the newspaper the same way I did when I was in graduate school.

It also made me hungry for audience. Writing three or four articles a week, I knew there were people who were regularly reading my stuff. A couple of times on the subway, I saw people reading one of the articles I wrote. That was such a thrill for me to actually see someone reading something I had written.

You currently have four books, two short story collections, War Remains, your Korean War novel, and the last is a memoir. Tell us about each of these.

My first novel, War Remains came out in 2010. I wanted to write something for the 60th anniversary of the Korean War. Originally, I was going to compile all the articles I wrote, but when I re-read the interview I had with Oscar and another story about two men who were reunited after 50 years, I felt that there was something there—there was a story waiting to be told. In fact, when I started writing the novel, I saw it as a movie. I saw the beginning, a battle scene and I also saw the ending. That’s how I started to write the story.

I’m really proud of this novel. Not that it was my first one, but the story I tell with it. I wanted to call attention to the fact that this conflict has been wrongly referred to as a “forgotten war” and that for many families, the war has not ended. It is not a “war story” in the strictest sense of the term. It is just as much a novel about the battlefields of that forgotten war as it is about the home front and the aftermath of the war.

Last year I was honored by the Military Writers Society of America (MWSA) with two awards: Gold for Literary Fiction and Silver for the Korean War Book Award (the first year it was offered).

My second book, Invaders from Mars and Other Tales of Youthful Angst, is a collection of essays about growing up in America’s Midwest during the 1960s and 1970s. It is sort of like The Wonder Years meets Dave Barry and Bill Bryson. Many of the stories in this collection were originally blog posts, which I later revised and edited for this collection.

Damaged Goods is a collection of short or flash fiction. While I was writing War Remains, I was also writing a lot of flash fiction to clean my writing palate when I needed a break from my novel. Just as writing for the newspaper helped to sharpen and define my craft, so did flash fiction. It helped me to tighten up my sentences and paragraphs. Almost all of the flash fiction in this collection was published online or in journals, including the 2010 Micro Award Nominee, “Scent of a Woman.”

Finally, Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm is not only a memoir about my life in Korea but it’s also a modern history of Korea. The book is divided into  several themed sections: “Welcome to Korea” looks back on Korea in the 1990s and what it was like living and working in Seoul ; “How I Discovered a Forgotten War” is most of the articles I wrote about the Korean War commemorative events I covered for the Korea Times; “The Accidental Journalist” is a selection of feature and news stories I wrote; “Witness to History”” is about all the times I journeyed to the “scariest place on Earth”—Panmunjom; and finally, “Literary Stylings” is a selection of prose and poetry about Korea.

There’s something for everyone in this book. I’m really proud I put this one out and that more people will have the chance to read articles that are no longer available (the Korea Times changed servers and did not back up many files; almost all my articles from 2000-2003 were lost).

I ask most of the authors interviewed about their route to becoming an Indie author. Tell us about yours?

It all started with Archie Comics! Back in 1969, my letter to the Archie Fan Club won top prize, and my first royalty check of $5.00.

I’ve always loved to write and wanted to be a writer, but it wasn’t until I went to college and later graduate school when I became more serious about my writing. Also, working as the editorial assistant for the Mississippi Valley Review, put me in contact with a lot of authors as one of the magazine’s readers. I believe that one learns the craft of writing by what we read. We have to have the desire inside, but to perfect one’s craft we have to read as much as we can. There’s no substitute.

I wrote a lot in grad school; however, it would not be until 1998, almost ten years after I graduated when I started to write again. To be honest, I don’t know why there was such a long dry spell. I wrote a poem here and a poem there, but nothing more. Maybe it had to do with immersing myself in the culture and living for the moment as it were. You know, you have to live life in order to write about life—something like that.

Of course, that would all change in 1998 when I sent off my first Op-Ed piece to The Korea Herald (interestingly, the Korea Times didn’t accept my first three Op-Ed pieces). I haven’t stopped writing since. I am finishing up my fifth book now, a novel and have four more books in the works, including a novella and a cold war history book.

One difference between you and most authors I’ve interviewed is those who have paper versions of their books typically do this through Createspace, a POD (print on demand) service that is a subsidiary of Amazon. You do your print versions using, an older company in the same business. What were the factors that led you to that decision? Is involved in getting your eBooks to Amazon or any of the other eBook retailers?

I chose Lulu on the advice of a friend who also self-publishes. He had checked out Createspace and felt that Lulu was better. I’ve been pleased with Lulu, but what it all comes down to is getting my books to market and marketing them. Lulu does offer a service that prepares digital versions of your book for Apple and Barnes and Noble (though I prefer Smashwords for your one-stop digital needs) so that is a plus in that column. The downside is that Amazon is a trusted name and folks might feel more inclined to buy a book through them than the publisher.

How do you think the process of publishing your books is different for you than for authors in North America or the UK?

It’s harder, no question about it. I don’t have the chance to do many book signings or release parties here, and because my books are POD/BOD I don’t have copies to hand out or sell. The shipping costs to Korea are horrendous. It’s not surprising then that most of my sales are eBooks.

Promoting my books is the hardest part. I use social networking media as much as I can as well as my own website.

I wish I could have book signings and the chance to meet folks to talk about my books. I’m missing out on those two things living here in South Korea.

Although eReaders and reading eBooks on other devices such as Smartphones and tablet computers is becoming commonplace in North America and the UK, it is still far from the norm. How does this compare with what you see in South Korea?

Everyone is connected in Korea. All of my students have Smartphones and many have iPads. WiFi is everywhere. I am seeing more and more people using these phones and tablets for reading books.

For More Jeffrey:

For more visit Jeffrey's blog, like him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter.


War Remains   Review Amazon US UK B&N Smashwords Paper

Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm
                               Amazon US UK B&N Smashwords Paper

Invaders from Mars and Other Tales of Youthful Angst
                              Amazon US UK B&N Smashwords Paper

Damaged Goods        Amazon US UK B&N Smashwords Paper

Friday, April 20, 2012

Raising the Next Generation of Readers

Today we have a guest post from author Leah Petersen

You’ve got a lot of competition these days. Kids have more to do than ever.

Mind you, I’m not of the we-walked-three-miles-to-school-uphill-both-ways generation. Technology came along in my day. We had computer games (so maybe they were DOS based,) cable TV, console games (Atari, anyone?), even handheld games (TETRIS!)

But I don’t think anyone’s going to argue that kids today don’t have much more, much cooler stuff than we did. And it’s everywhere. Kids are watching DVDs in the car, playing handheld games or games on their parents’ iPhones in line at the grocery store, even at the table in family-friendly restaurants. Everywhere there’s a TV. It’s insane.

So where, in all of this, are children ever going to pick up those non-flashy, black and white things called books that take forever to get to the end of, unlike the next level of angry birds?

The simple answer is, you have to be a mean parent. That’s right, you have to deprive your little darlings of unlimited access to all that other stuff long enough for them to realize how AMAZING books are.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a struggle. I’m raising my 2.5 kids through this time in history, and I know exactly how hard this is. And yet, my kids love to read. This was hugely important to me. I would have been devastated if they didn’t. So I put a lot of effort into it. Here are some of the things I did:
  • Limited “screen time,” the all-inclusive term for TV, computers, and any form of electronic game. They got thirty minutes a day when they were younger and an hour now. All the rest of the time they’re free to play as they choose, with toys or outside, or reading. I made sure not to set reading up as the bad guy by letting it be perceived as the reason they weren’t allowed on the screens. There were plenty of other things they were encouraged to do when screen time ended. Reading was just one of them. 

  • Read to them. I don’t just mean Green Eggs and Ham. In fact, I do it more now that my kids are into chapter books and beyond. My son’s reading Young Adult books now and my daughter is plenty old enough to enjoy them being read aloud to her. Now I get to share my favorite stories from my childhood with them. A Wrinkle in Time, the Dragonsinger trilogy by Anne McCaffrey, and on and on. 
  • Read in front of them. This one I think was a big deal. They saw me putting a high priority on my reading time and encouraging them to spend time sitting with me reading their own things. It was something people did. For fun. Even if they could have all the screen time they wanted. It was something they chose instead. 
  • Shared my excitement over a good book. As they got older, this includes reading amusing or interesting bits to them as I come across them. 
  • Didn’t allow reading to become a chore, or worse, homework. There’s this thing they do in school to teach reading, and it’s require a certain amount of reading time per night and the kids have to log this by listing the book read and having the parent sign off that they did their time. Well, I very politely told their teachers that I wasn’t going to do this. I don’t read every night myself, certainly not for a regulated slice of time and then stop because I don’t HAVE to read anymore. I want reading to be perceived as fun, as play. I worked hard enough at promoting reading as a fun activity that my kids probably ended up reading more than their peers. If it was no reading at all for two nights in a row and then a straight hour of not being able to put a book down the next night, then that’s how it was. I have never regretted this. 
  • Let them stay up late, but only to read. Maybe some won’t agree with this, because bedtime is important, but I allow them to stay up as late as they want after I tuck them in, if they are doing it because they’re reading. This wasn’t a deliberate choice I made, exactly. But one night after I’d tucked them in more than an hour before, I went to check on them and was met with a frantic hiding of books under the covers and not-that-great attempts to pretend they were sleeping. I said, “Are you two hiding books under your covers because you’ve been reading past bedtime???” They said, “Yes.” I said, “Good, I’m proud of you.” They thought that was really funny, and really cool, this thing they could do to cheat bedtime. They don’t always stay up reading, so I’m content that they’re not being harmed by this. On the contrary, they’re READING.

I was so terribly afraid that the changes in the world and the explosion of technology in our daily lives was going to take reading away from my children. Well, rest assured, it doesn’t have to. Just make it a priority.

Have fun!

About Leah:

Leah Petersen's debut novel, Fighting Gravity, was released earlier this week by Dragon Moon Press. You can get your copy directly from the publisher or from Amazon in either paper or eBook versions (paper or eBook for those who use Amazon UK).

Author JM Frey describes Fighting Gravity as "... touching, emotional, and a comfortably domestic love story set against the backdrop of politics in an empire that spans the Galaxy."

For more, visit Leah's website, follow her on Twitter, or like her page on Facebook.