Write, Print, Publish, Promote by Kyle Burbank

Write, Print, Publish, Promote
The complete guide to writing and publishing a book by Kyle Burbank

Write, Print, Publish, Promote

The complete guide to writing and publishing a book by Kyle Burbank

There are a million different do-it-yourself guides to publishing an e-book, and Kyle Burbank’s Write, Print, Publish, Promote is as good as any at introducing authors to the basics of digital publishing.

Burbank published a successful niche book —The E-Ticket Life, about his adventures at Disney theme parks— and Write, Print, Publish, Promote has more of a nonfiction slant than some of the other DIY publishing guides out there. Still, the principles Burbank outlines apply to fiction and nonfiction ooksalike.

Some of the advice is laughably broad stroke, like “learn Photoshop,“ and “learn Adobe Indesign.“ Good advice, akin to “master chess,“ or “learn how to drive a forklift.“ Great skills to have, though some take a lifetime to grasp.

Burbank excels at giving advice on selling print copies of your book at conventions and various distribution models for your work including audiobooks. There’s good advice here at a practical price. In a world of how-to guides, Write, Print, Publish, Promote, The complete guide to writing and publishing a book by Kyle Burbank sticks out for its honesty and feel-good approach to digital publishing.

The Croning by Laird Barron

The Croning by Laird Barron
The Croning by Laird Barron

Something amazing happens in Laird Barron’s The Croning.

The hero saves the day simply by forgetting to act. He agrees to let his mind rot away (perhaps the most terrifying fate of all) while his witchy woman makes off with their newborn grandchild.

That’s the happiest ending possible in this twisted tale that combines the legend of Rumplestilskin, Ira Levin’s secret satanic societies, and Lovecraft’s cosmic horror mythos.

Laird Barron is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. His stuff is way out there, there’s a palpable sense of the strange in his prose, and he uses cools words like sybarites and decorticate.

Protagonist Don Miller is the last to learn he’s a pawn in an ancient game. His wife is a witch hell-bent on double-crossing a race of demons that long to suck humanity dry and wipe the Earth clean.

Every smart husband knows when to back off, and Miller has learned not to pry into his wife’s affairs or ask too many questions.

She’d given him a long, wintry look, the coldest he’d ever received prior or since. Then she said, Leave a girl her secrets, Don.

Miller willfully turns a blind eye, and maybe that’s the secret to their successful marriage. That, and the long absences Don and Michelle take from one another. A nosey federal agent points out what Miller refuses to see about himself:

I’m guessing you’re exactly the rube she needs to maintain her cover as a cute little lady scientist. Who’d suspect her of anything with Gomer Pyle hanging around?

The Ancient Evil at work here is called Old Leech, and it’s straight outta Stoker, yo.

This was a colossal worm that had swallowed whole villages, cities… A leech of nightmare proportions, a constellation rendered against granite, and it had shat the populations of entire worlds in its slithering wake through the night skies.

There is a lot of weird stuff going on here. Hollow Earth Theory. Toothy, limbless creatures that live inside ancient trees. Sacrificial dolmens, like Stonehenge, in the middle of the Washington State. Vortexes to other dimensions.

The conspiracy is everywhere, as Don learns, and his own daughter is not immune. Don’s turncoat boss gives a glimpse into the vastness of the enemy:

“They worship a deity that ate the fucking dinosaurs, several species of advanced hominids and the Mayans. Opened a gate and slurped them through a funnel.”

And as Old Leech’s human servant puts it:

We venerate the Great Dark, the things that dwell there… Our cult is monolithic with tentacles in every human enterprise throughout history, into prehistory.”

“Ah, like Amway,” Don notes.

Barron’s language is equal parts noir and poetry.

You are a mosquito trapped in the sap of a sundew.

And later:

You’re a flea on the belly of a mastodon.

Barron’s writing makes you feel small and frightened, which is all you can ask from good horror fiction.

The Croning can trace its literary roots back to Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife. But Leiber’s “classic” novel is dated and quaint (and more than a little paranoid) by today’s standards. The Croning is a more wholly realized tale that digs deeper into the fertile soil of myth and fairy-tale, and employs more believable characters to deliver its message.

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Header and Creekers by Edward Lee

Header by Edward Lee
Header by Edward Lee
Creepers by Edward Lee
Creepers by Edward Lee

There is something beautiful and poetic about  the splatterpunk redneck fiction on display in Edward Lee‘s novella Header (1995) and the long-form novel Creekers (1994).

Lee’s redneck horror pays homage to Richard Laymon‘s novels of backwoods terror as well as James Dickey‘s classic, Deliverance. Lee’s work is violent and nasty, but his pacing and dialogue are so swift and on-target, you’re knee-deep in foul shit before you even know what happened.

Headers is a twisted novella about rednecks that drill holes in peoples’ skulls and stick their erections inside. Creekers is about backwoods inbreds, and the slick tight rope they walk between an ancient evil and the modern plague of drugs.

The drug trade is the backdrop in both Headers and Creekers. Both stories have lawmen protagonists who are down on their luck and looking for redemption. It doesn’t work out so well for either guy.

Both of these novels are rollicking fun, even if they’re bloody disgusting. Like a Quentin Tarantino movie, Lee’s work seems to revel in a cartoonish level of violence and gore while searching for some kind of existential meaning beyond the mutilation and torment of the physical body. There are lots of dirty sex scenes, too. What’s not to like?

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Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1 – 5) (Silo series) by Hugh Howey

Wool by Hugh Howey
Wool by Hugh Howey

We all want to be Hugh Howey when we grow up. Howey is a folk hero to those of us who dip our toes in the waters of self-publishing.

After publishing Wool with a small press, Howey self-published his post-apocalyptic sci-fi series on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, where it found a huge audience. The following year, Howey sold the film rights for Wool to 20th Century Fox, and inked a print distribution deal with Simon and Schuster. Howey reportedly turned down a seven-figure offer in favor of a mid-six figure sum in return for maintaining e-book rights.

Howey is one of the most successful self-published authors of all time, along with Amanda Hocking and mother/daughter Elf On The Shelf authors Carol Aebersold and daughter Chanda Bell. How did Howey do it? What’s the secret to his success?

His first step was writing a damn good story. Howey’s got storytelling chops, with cool characters to root for, evil villains to boo, and enough intellectual meat and moral fiber to leave readers feeling full.

Wool’s characters are likeable, believable, and keep the story moving. They walk the classic tightrope of all action heroes, from the stars of swashbuckling radio serials to the survivors of The Walking Dead. They fight on, even when hope no longer makes sense.

Despite its warm and fuzzy title, Wool ventures into some dark and dangerous territory. There are all kinds of political overtones, undertones, and sub-tones at work in Wool. It’s a classic class battle of the haves and have-nots, but here the currency is knowledge. The haves are in on the big secret of the silo(s) and the have-nots are kept in the dark about their own existence.

Spoiler alert! One of Howey’s well-drawn secondary characters spills the beans about halfway through.

“We are the seeds,” he said. “This is a silo. They put us here for the bad times.”

He also points out that seeds left alone for too long tend to rot, and Lord of the Flies-type hijinks inevitably ensues. Mankind’s war-like nature is on full display in Wool.

They all knew, instinctively, how to build implements of pain. It was something even shadows knew how to do at a young age, knowledge somehow dredged up from the brutal depths of their imagination, this ability to deal harm to one another.

This is a story about political power, intrigue, and grassroots revolts. Within Wool’s compelling story structure there are meditations on:

Revolution

Metal would snap if you could wiggle it even a little bit, if you did it long enough. She had felt the heat of weakened steel countless times while bending it over and over until it broke

Genocide

There’s fear that small pockets of survivors might be holed up elsewhere around the globe. Operation Fifty is completely pointless if anyone else survives. The population has to be homogenous…

Life under totalitarian rule

They put us in this game, a game where breaking the rules means we all die, every single one of us. But living by those rules, obeying them, means we all suffer.

Wool reminds me of E.M. Forster’s classic The Machine Stops, but then a lot of good dystopian science fiction does. We are all becoming more and more like Forster’s underground society of hive-dwelling, WiFi-sucking hermits every day.

At least I am.

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Horns by Joe Hill

Horns by Joe Hill
Horns by Joe Hill

Every single one of us has got the devil inside, and nobody knows it better than Ignatius Parrish the narrator of Joe Hill’s novel Horns. Ig wakes after a night of sorrowful drinking to find he’s grown horns on top of his head. Worse yet, the horns bring out the worst in everyone Ig encounters.

Ig isn’t a very popular guy. Most everyone in town suspects he murdered his girlfriend, Merrin — even his own parents. The horns give people permission to tell Ig how they really feel about him. It isn’t pretty.

But Ig’s horny head is a blessing, too. The horns allow him to get to the truth behind Merrin’s murder and mete devilish justice out on the guilty.

Horns has excellent plot and pacing, especially in the first half of the novel. Paired down to its bare bones Horns is a balls-out revenge novella, something straight out of EC comics. But Hill adds depth through flashbacks and character development. Merrin and Iggy get fleshed out nicely, and their story takes on the homespun sweetness of a high school romance.

Hill visits delightfully dark places in Horns. (How fun would it be to push your annoying grandma’s wheelchair down a hill and into a fence?) Hill brings some metaphor to the mayhem, too.

It was something, the way the wheelchair picked up speed, the way a person’s life picked up speed, the way a life was like a bullet aimed at one final target, impossible to slow or turn aside, and like the bullet, you were ignorant of what you were going to hit, would never know anything except the rush and the impact.

Hill finds ways to weave thoughtful contemplation into his revenge narrative.

Pi is an irrational number, incapable of being made into a fraction, impossible to divide from itself. So, too, the soul is an irrational, indivisible equation that perfectly expresses one thing: you.

Even though Iggy’s gone demon, he hasn’t forgotten what it means to be human.

I want you to remember what was good in me, not what was most awful. The people you love should be allowed to keep their worst to themselves.

Some of the symbolism in Horns is a little heavy-handed (Ig’s father and brother are both accomplished “horn players”), but overall Hill brings the story home in fine style. While Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box staggered to the finish line, Horns is a fiendish read with a satisfying conclusion.

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The Woman by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee

The Woman by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee
The Woman by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee

Remember the fine young cannibals? Not the band that sang, “She Drives Me Crazy” and “Good Thing.” The band of cannibals that ate tourists along the coast of Maine in Jack Ketchum‘s classic novels, Off Season and Offspring. (Know by fans as Ketchum’s Dead River Series.)

The Woman is back in all her feral glory, and authors Ketchum and Lucky McKee put her through the paces in The Woman. The last surviving member of her cave-dwelling, people-eating clan, the Woman is captured by a country lawyer / mad man who locks her up in his basement. Creepy Christopher Cleek, Esq. kicks it up a notch by getting his wife and kids involved in the fiendish torture, which gives The Woman some of the same sadistic feel that permeated Ketchum’s landmark novel, The Girl Next Door.

Cannibal girl isn’t the only one suffering at hands of Cleek (and his growing-up-creepy son, Brian). Father and son feed a corpse to a pack of wild dogs (and another, far more disturbing animal that shares the pen), and then sit back to soak in the soothing truth of extreme violence.
There are bits of her scattered everywhere.
“Doesn’t even look real anymore,” Brian says, “does it, dad.”
He’s every bit as engaged as Cleek is.
“Does to me,” he says. He doesn’t know particularly what he means by that but it has the ring of truth so he says it again. “Does to me.”
Cleek’s wife, daughters, and secretary are all victims of his manipulation. His teenage daughter wonders if the cycle of abuse can ever be broken.
Would she inherit this?  And gradually melt into the ghost of some unknown man’s desires?
And later she considers the deepest scars of all.
When you’re young pain can take a long time to go away.  And leave its residue forever.”
But the women in The Woman are all fighters and survivors, with the Woman representing raw feminine power at its most primal. Even as the Woman is brutalized, Ketchum and McKee celebrate her power, survival skills, and cunning. She is the true hero here and it’s a blast when she finally breaks free and kicks ass. Ketchum and McKee know revenge is a dish best served cold … and bloody. The Woman leaves readers wickedly satisfied.
Besides, there are worse things than being a cannibal cavegirl. At least The Woman has a moral compass and a sense of family. Peel back the onionskin veneer of small-town lawyer Christopher Cleek and you’ll find the true heart of darkness.
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The Devil of Echo Lake by Douglas Wynne

The Devil of Echo Lake by Douglas Wynne
The Devil of Echo Lake by Douglas Wynne

I love rock n’ roll horror. It’s an under appreciated subgenre rich with untold stories. There isn’t enough quality musical fiction out there. Joe Hill’s Heart Shaped Box is an obvious exception. Anne Rice’s Vampire Lestat fronted a rock band in The Queen of the Damned, as did the pre-emo bloodsucker of S.P. Somtow’s Vampire Junction. Stephen King, Peter Straub and Gary Braunbeck have all made excellent contributions to musical literature, and don’t forget Jeff Gelb’s Shock Rock anthologies.

Douglas Wynne loves rock ‘n roll horror too, and you can feel his passion for music drip off every page of The Devil of Echo Lake. The novel has a retro grunge feel (there are no cell phones and the musicians still record on analog tape) and uses all the rock ‘n roll archetypes — the wicked producer, the brooding rock star, and the overtly sexual groupie.

The story focuses on rookie engineer Jake, who finds himself caught between sinister producer Trevor Rail and tortured artist Billy Moon. Toss in a haunted converted church/recording studio, a couple of savage murders, and a showdown with the Great God Pan, and Jake’s got his hands full. It’s no wonder his love life is falling apart.

Fortunately, love conquers all — with assistance from a ghost and a satyr — and The Devil of Echo Lake ends in perfect harmony, with Jake learning a valuable lesson about the music business.

“You may find that records are kind of like hot dogs. You enjoy them a lot more before you know how they’re made.”

Douglas Wynne has a great sense of character and pacing. Jake is a sympathetic hero, and Billy and Trevor (even grizzled engineer Eddie) are larger-than-life figures that avoid becoming stereotypes. The Devil of Echo Lake hums along nicely, building a nice rhythm of action sequences and suspenseful passages. Wynne’s got style — it’s no surprise The Devil of Echo Lake was named JournalStone Publishing’s First Place Horror Fiction for 2012. The honor is well earned, and I look forward to more musical explorations from Mr. Wynne.

(Unabashed Plug: My own contribution to musical fiction is a novel called Hangman’s Jam. H.P. Lovecraft meets Motley Crue!)

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Digitize Salinger and Other Literary Pursuits

JD Salinger
The elusive J.D. Salinger

I was going through a “Why Didn’t I Read This in High School?” phase, and J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye was up next on my reading list.

I was eager to download a copy of Salinger’s classic novel onto my Kindle. I’m a firm backer of the digital publishing revolution, since ebooks let you:

  1. Change the size and style of the text.
  2. Look up word definitions and background info on the spot.
  3. Highlight, makes notes, and export chunks of text.

These features are incredibly helpful when I’m writing book reviews (bobsbookblog.com), and must be a major timesaver for students working on school essays. (Back in my day we had to write out notes and quotes by hand on index cards, whippersnappers!)

But The Catcher in the Rye isn’t available on Kindle. You can’t get it on your Nook or iPad either. J.D. Salinger never allowed any other editions of his novel other than the one published by Little, Brown and Company in 1951. The breakout success of The Catcher in the Rye spooked Salinger, and he retreated to his rural Vermont home after the book’s publication. Salinger produced three additional books, but didn’t publish again after 1961.

Salinger died in 2010, but his estate still closely guards the copyright on his work, and had never allowed any adaptions. Film directors from Elia Kazan to Steven Spielberg have been turned away, and the Salinger Estate still hasn’t sanctioned audiobooks or digital editions.

If you want to read The Catcher in the Rye (or Salinger’s other work) you have to order the same Little, Brown and Company mass market paperback (now in its 98th printing) that’s been kicking around classrooms since forever. It’s got the original 1951 orangey cover art by E. Michael Mitchell — an ink sketch of a carousel horse and the NYC skyline — on both the front and back. Besides the title and “a novel by J.D. Salinger,” there is no other cover text, no sales copy, no About the Author copy, no blurbs from other authors or academics, and no “New York Times bestselling author.” Nothing.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

The interior of the book is equally sparse. There is no forward or afterword. No advertisements for other books, no offers to join Little, Brown and Company’s Readers Club. There is no About the Author page here either. The Catcher in the Rye is 214 pages of Holden Caulfield’s inimitably cranky narrative, presented exactly how the author intended, and it’s been this way, unchanged, for nearly fifty years.

Salinger’s over-protectiveness guarantees his work is uniformly consumed. I experienced The Catcher in the Rye the same way, in the same font and format, as nearly everyone else who ever read the book. I dog-eared pages, underlined in pencil, and scribbled notes in the margins, the same way lit students have for decades. Salinger’s format constraints demand it.

According to a new documentary on J.D. Salinger, the late author left specific instructions for five books to be published between 2015 and 2020. I don’t know the Salinger Estate or Little, Brown and Company’s publishing plans, but launching new Salinger titles is an ideal time to bring all the author’s work into the digital realm. Contemporary literature should embrace contemporary formats, and ebooks are here to stay. Salinger’s work needs to be readily available, brought into the digital realm, and forever preserved in binary code.

Digitize Salinger! And Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, too!

Check out my review of The Catcher in the Rye here.

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11/22/63 by Stephen King

Stephen King likes to travel back in time, and the creamy, apple pie era he enjoys visiting most often is America between1955 and 1965. King himself came of age during those years, and his personal nostalgia transforms into potent prose in works like “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” “The Body”/ Stand by Me, Christine, The Green Mile, Hearts in Atlantis, and It.

11/22/63 by Stephen King
11/22/63 by Stephen King

In 11/22/63 King tackles a time traveling tale head on. Our hero, Jake Epping / George Amberson, finds a loophole that allows him to travel from 2011 to Sept 19, 1958.

Jake/George heeds Jethro Tulls’ advice, and goes ” living in the past,” embarking on a five year journey to stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Along the way our hero falls in love, which, of course, nearly ruins everything, but ultimately saves the day.

Unlike some of King’s fantastic flights, this one is firmly rooted in fact, and his impressive research into the Kennedy Assassination and Lee Harvey Oswald gives this novel a muscular framework. King’s familiar narrative tone and comfy characters are his trademark, and fans of his folksy style (of which I am one) will have fun with 11/22/63.

As Todd Rundgren suggests, “The whole universe is a giant guitar.” But in 11/22/63, too many trips through the time-trippin’ wormhole creates too many strings, and everything gets thrown out of tune. Curse you, butterfly effect! Ashton Kutcher, too!

There are shades of Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time and Don DeLillo’s Libra here, as well as dozens of other time-traveling / alternate universe / historical fiction novels. King’s contribution to the genre is a fine one.

Kudos to the enhanced ebook for including a 13-minute King-narrated video about 11/22/63, audio clips read by King, an interview with the author, a readers group study kit, a playlist of songs mentioned in the book, and recipes for the artery-clogging Southern fried food served up in novel. Enhanced, indeed!

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I’m Not Sam by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee

I'm Not Sam by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee.
I’m Not Sam by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee.

What if you awoke one morning to find your wife — your soulmate, the love of your life, the person you know better than anyone else — is no longer herself? Instead, she insists she’s a seven-year-old named Lily.

This is the simple-yet-effective premise that drives I’m Not Sam by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee.

Narrator Patrick Burke (a nod to fellow novelist Kealan Patrick Burke) wakes after a night of passionate lovemaking to find his wife, Sam, is gone, and Lily has apparently taken over her body. What do you do when your wife breaks from reality and insists she’s a little girl? Take her to a doctor … then take her toy shopping!

The horror of caring for a loved one who is “gone, yet still here” lies at the heart of I’m Not Sam. The relationships we cherish most in life are frail, and without warning a loved one can suddenly become a stranger. Don’t think so? Talk to anyone who loves a person with mental illness or Alzheimer’s disease.

Patrick is able to “cure” his wife using a chilling and disturbing brand of therapy. Unfortunately the cure may cost them their marriage, and will forever change Patrick and Sam’s perceptions of one another.

The novella’s close, told from Sam’s point of view, feels a bit forced, but Ketchum and McKee deliver with the meat of the story, and its haunting look at the inherent frailty of our most cherished personal relationships.

BOBBY’S BOTTOM LINE: This terse thriller will leave you wanting to hug your loved ones!