Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My Christmas Gift to You

The other day, I was thinking about an interview of Stephen King I saw many years ago. He said something along the lines of “I used to tell interviewers I write every day except Christmas and my birthday. But that was a lie. I write on Christmas and my birthday, too.”

I can’t say I write as regularly as he does. He’s probably stopped writing more novels than I’ve even started to write. But I can say that I think about writing every day, including Christmas and my birthday. I turn scenes over in my mind, imagine characters in new situations, mull over what people on the train do when they’re not commuting, and create new people out of nothing or out of a hodgepodge of folks I’ve met.

That’s not writing per se, but it’s part of the process we all use as writers. Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter doesn’t matter; we all must allow our minds to play.

As Christmas arrives, I’d like to give you all a gift. It’s not big, so feel free to pop it in a pocket and use at your leisure. I didn’t wrap it; the gift is the permission to imagine at any time of day. Whether you’re at work or driving or taking a shower or even asleep, you have permission to imagine. Don’t feel guilty that you didn’t give me anything, because you’re wrong about that. You’ve given me increased confidence. I really appreciated the encouragement I got from the comment you wrote months ago. I loved the funny remark you posted on Facebook because it got me thinking about something in a new way. And I thank you so much for the feedback you offered on my story. 

And here’s another gift: my promise to pass along the same gifts you’ve given me to other writers.

Thank you and Merry Christmas, everyone, whether you celebrate the holiday or not. 

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Might that be worth something to you, Laddy?

I'm a bit of a Star Trek geek, and I also am involved in a Scottish organization, so Mr. Montgomery Scott pops into my radar often. He did so again today and I was reminded of an old blog post I did for From The Write Angle, so I've decided to revive it here. 

What sells you when you decide to buy a book? Perhaps you were drawn by the cover art. Did the title catch your eye first? Was it a blurb on the back? You may have read a review and decided long before you ruffled the pages that this was the next item for your to-be-read pile.

As an author, all these are valuable tools to employ. Some are harder to come by. Not everyone is going to see their book reviewed by the New York Times. For self-published authors, a mention there might happen only if the book becomes a surprise hit and warrants a news story. To be sure, that’s quite valuable in itself, but again not a likely outcome.

Reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are something all of us should be seeking for our books. But even these might be hit or miss. To be sure, it’s nice when people indicate a book is now on their “Want to read” list, but it’s more significant when “AvidReader123” writes a three paragraph review of glowing praise, especially if Avid has written half a ton of other reviews that people found helpful.

Let’s go back to the blurb. These are certainly nice to have. And for the unknown writer, they can be more than just nice. Imagine how helpful it would be if your publisher got Stephen King to blurb your debut psychological thriller. That could certainly translate into sales. It could even generate buzz. 

But blurbs from brand name authors are awfully tough to get, too. Agents know to protect their authors from blurbing too often. I know writers who are kept on a strict one-blurb-a-year diet.

Ok, so Stephen King won’t blurb your book and neither will his son Joe Hill. But what if one of those guys tweeted your book’s debut? Might that be worth something to you? What if George Takei shared mention of your novel on Facebook? Think his followers might take notice? Honestly, I think those might be more valuable than a blurb these days.

Of course, such electronic real estate is also hard to come by. Heck, finding a twenty dollar bill on the ground might be more common. But it still might be easier to get a tweet or retweet from one of your writing friends than a blurb from an established author with an audience. Might that be worth something to you?

Think of your own social media habits. Don’t you share things you found interesting? You’re writers: what are you reading? That’s a form of endorsement in itself. If you tweet out what you’re reading, some of your followers might check it out, too. Perhaps you’d enjoy sharing a bevy of your favorite covers on Instagram.

The key is having a well-stocked toolbox. Some tools are sharper than others, some cost more or have limited use. But assess what each one can do for you -- and for others. In the end, you get back what you give.

Monday, November 30, 2015

EBP's Year-End Push

If you're like me, you're often surprised when you turn to the final page in the calendar. It's not like I didn't know that December was coming after November, but it's still a shock to see that there are just a few weeks left in the year. Yet, there's just not enough time in December to accomplish all I set out to do in the dwindling year. I put together New Year's resolutions; I usually start preparing them in October, actually, and I've already embarked on some of my 2016 goals.

So, there's no time like the present to get moving on my goal of posting at least one blog entry per week. Yes, that's a 2016 goal, not one for 2015, which would have been truly pathetic given how few posts I've written this year. One thing I can confirm is we'll be setting Battery Brothers by Steven Carman to free for a few days in the middle of the month. If you haven't read it, that can be your gift to yourself!

One thing that has been adding to my gray hair is deciding whether the time has come to publish one of my novels in 2016 through Elephant's Bookshelf Press. While I've served as the editor for nearly all the EBP anthologies, as any author knows, that's not the same thing as writing a novel. I suspect the time is not quite ripe for one of my novels. I'm not sure I remember where I hid the key for the trunk it's in. But when I unlock that trunk, I'll definitely take a look.

Looking at 2016, however, EBP has a lot in store whether I finalize one of my novels or not. In the spring, we'll release the next Billy Bobble novel, which I'm very excited to share with everyone. I expect to create a new anthology that'll be released probably in the late summer/early fall. And we may have another novel that isn't mine that'll be ready before the year ends. I've also been toying with some other ideas that may result in short story and/or novella collections -- and maybe even some nonfiction -- for 2016 or early 2017.

All exciting stuff from my perspective. But I'd love to hear what you guys have in store for the final month of 2015 and into the new year. Please share!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

I've Gone and Done It

I said it would happen and now it has. I've created a newsletter for Elephant's Bookshelf Press. I don't think anyone has seen it yet, since I am just starting to create an email list. I'd love to have you sign up at the EBP website where it says "Get your elephant updates!" (Ok, it doesn't actually have an exclamation on the site, but I'm excited about it.)

In fact, I'm so excited that in the first full-fledged newsletter I'm going to offer one of the EBP anthologies to new subscribers for free! No, it won't be Spring Fevers, since that's already free. But one of those that ordinarily requires a reader to plunk down a few bucks. I'm not being cagey, I just haven't decided which book to offer.

As this EBP newsletter thing grows, I'll be sharing interviews with authors as well as information on new and upcoming books and good news from some of wonderful writers worthy of an elephant's trumpet. And there'll probably be other free things because free is my favorite four-letter F word.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Review: Making Maxine's Baby

There’s something preternaturally “New Yorkish” about the poems in Caroline Hagood’s collection Making Maxine’s Baby that I can’t help but think I’ve passed her main character on the sidewalk. At least once. And if I’d spoken with her, I’m sure I would have both liked her and wanted to help her, though I’m not sure I’d have been capable. Indeed, I might have had those feelings and still followed my own path.

The highly readable collection follows the mental meanderings of the nomadic Maxine. Though the character is clearly well read and intelligent, she chooses to live on the streets and in the subways of the city, sleeping on rat-pee-saturated mattresses. Within the collection, images of mermaids, horror movie intestines, and zombies are interspersed with real-life horrors of murders, sexual abuse, and gore.

While at times it is hard for me to believe that a creature like Maxine could exist – how could such an insightful, intelligent woman choose to live such a life of instability? – I suspect it says more about my ignorance of the thorough damage that abuse and neglect can deliver. At times, the collection reads like a fast-paced novel, and I needed to slow down, as there was so much going on that even now I feel insecure and inadequate to describe. Hagood’s deft writing takes classical and contemporary imagery and weaves a poem in danger of being a page-turner.

Beneath everything is lust
for the slurp and suck
of changing molecules,
extreme makeover shows,

the lure of the beyond. It’s why
Maxine hitchhiked America the summer
after freshman year, but now she lives
in a subway tunnel, simultaneously seen
and unseen, an undetectable horse leaving
mysterious tracks in the mud.

She used to be on the honor role
but now she does Dante in different voices,
had to go down, ask the dead for answers.

Throughout the collection, Hagood sprinkles common images, themes, and mythologies. Mermaids, internal organs, blood, bees, duality, horror movies, trauma, and, of course, children populate her world of ideas and metaphors.

Perhaps my dual comfort and awkwardness in Maxine’s presence is summed up in Hagood’s description of her as

the kind of person
who’s always ripped open.

She knows no other way.

Indeed, if I had passed Maxine on the streets of New York, I’d have felt guilty for both looking to see if I recognized her and for avoiding her; I’d pray the poor creature could find solace and safety and I’d hate myself for being incapable of offering any. And had she read my mind, perhaps she’d have spewed scorn upon me for thinking any of her troubles were about me, per se.

Screw you and your credentials.
I have an MFA in vapor and urban
reek, have been featured in anthologies
of knock-knock jokes and engine
sounds, have a degree in failing
spectacularly, won a Pushcart Prize
for blowing a man in one of the last
subway bathrooms. Oh the faces
he made, like a Halloween mask.

To me, Maxine is not an every woman. Whether the quest for motherhood is universal among women is not a topic of debate in this collection. Rather, Maxine explores herself, her world, her desires. It may indeed be hell this “Sorceress, scullery maid, poor excuse for a mer-thing” walks through, but her story draws me into a quest that may be my ruin.

I look forward to more from this talented writer.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Horrors: Real, Imagined, and Deadly

Perhaps more than any previous EBP book, the upcoming horror anthology created a myriad of monsters that haunted my summer. But we have managed them (you never quite tame powerful monsters) and are ready to reveal the stunning cover that graces the stories within. Created by the multitalented Charlee Hoffman, this cover conveys a level of creepiness that I'd only hoped to capture. Well done, Charlee!

Monday, October 05, 2015

What I've learned during my summer workation

I'll admit, I'm a little surprised at how long it has been since I last posted at this blog. I will most assuredly post more often in the coming weeks, as I have many posts in the works, including a review of a book of poetry, a Q&A with an author friend, and -- most likely the next post -- the cover reveal for the next book by Elephant's Bookshelf Press: Horrors: Real, Imagined, and Deadly.

Over the past couple of months, I've been working on the horror anthology and editing the next installment of the Billy Bobble series (another post or two to come as the fall progresses). But I've also been studying more about the publishing industry. Leading into 2016, I anticipate that you'll see some changes on this blog, but more significantly there'll be improvements on the EBP website, where I'll alter the way I use it -- in short: less billboard, more community.

With that in mind, I'd love to hear what you all have been doing. Feel free to share your goals for the rest of the year, or what you've accomplished so far. My goal with EBP has always been to help aspiring talented authors gain an audience, so let's work together. Indeed, our goals are often similar!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

I've Landed

It's one of those days that I'll forget later was really successful. So I figured, since I actually have time and I'm always bemoaning to myself the fact that I don't blog as often as I should, I'll recognize it here.

I've written and edited nearly all day. I sent off a piece of memoir/nonfiction to Red Fez, which I hope will be published in the not distant future. I've finished an initial edit of the Billy Bobble sequel (still aiming for the end of the year on that one!), and I also finished a book review and a Q&A for work.

It's nice to mark "Done" on my list of things to do for a day or a week. I add things as I go, too, so those lists are never really done. But that's the way it is with anything. Whether it's doing the laundry, feeding the kids, cleaning the cats' box, tasks both enjoyable and uninspiring greet us each day. I've been able to accomplish ones that meant a lot to me today. And I've even been able to blog about it.

To be sure, I have loads of things to do still. We've closed on submissions for the horror anthology, and while our review team and I check the stories out, I just want to say it's been wonderful to discover new voices. We'll be trumpeting a bit more this year at the Elephant's Bookshelf.

Hope your Sunday is at least as successful as mine has been and that your week is even better!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Giving Back and Giving Credit

As anyone who knows me well is aware, I'm a strong believer in giving back to one's community. It's something that I've been able to incorporate into Elephant's Bookshelf Press, with perhaps the most obvious example being Steven Carman's Battery Brothers, for which all the profits will go to the Starlight Children's Foundation, which fulfills wishes of sick children and works to improve the lives of kids and families overall.

We all belong to many communities. It's not just about where we live or where we work, but also the places where we thrive and help our peers survive. In that light, I'd like to call attention to R.S. Mellette, who was recently recognized for his volunteer efforts with his local chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

R.S. is an important part of the EBP family, but he's also become a huge part of the SCBWI community out in California. I wanted to call attention to his dedication to writers; it's at least as strong as his faith in readers. Great job!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Catching Up

I never realized when I launched Elephant's Bookshelf Press back in 2012 how busy I would become. Without a doubt, a big part of all that activity is due to my love of short stories and my belief that great shorts can pave the way for wonderful novelists. (Case in point, see A.T. O'Connor's Whispering Minds and R.S. Mellette's Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand; and we'll see it also in Cat Woods' Abigail Bindle and the Slam Book Scam later this year.) Another big part of it is because there is so much that goes into the production and promotion of books that it never seems to stop.

While this blog has been relatively quiet for much of 2015, we haven't been. In fact, EBP is taking giant strides to getting our books out in front of more and more readers. If things go as planned, we'll be on shelves in a couple independent bookstores in New Jersey and another down south.

I think it may happen in time for the releases of Abigail Bindle in late August/early September and the as-yet-unnamed horror anthology in late September. Plus, we're editing the next installment of the Billy Bobble series.

In the meantime, we're still accepting submissions for the horror anthology. If you haven't heard back recently, don't dismay: we're still reviewing stories and we've learned over the years not to send acceptances out too soon. But the deadline is fast upon us; they're due on June 8, which is right around the corner. I haven't even revised my own story yet to submit to reviewers yet, so I'm sure you'll be able to get something together.

We hope to hear from you all soon. Lord knows you'll be hearing from us throughout the year!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Q&A With Leopold McGinnis, publisher of Red Fez

In my literary travels, I’m fortunate to e-meet lots of interesting people. Sometimes they even reach out to me. Earlier this year, Leopold McGinnis and I started communicating. He’s the founder and publisher of Red Fez, an online literary journal. (Full disclosure, this week they published a piece by me, though he and I had agreed to do this interview before I’d written anything for Red Fez, and he was not involved in the decision to accept or reject my submission, for which – like all Red Fezers – I wasn’t paid.)

Elephant’s Bookshelf Blog: What is Red Fez and how did it begin?

Leopold McGinnis: Red Fez started as an online literary ‘zine in 2002. We were looking to explore and exploit the strange new world of online publishing. At that point in time, we were digital cavemen and the biggest concern for writers of the day was ‘but what if someone copies my stuff?’ Nowadays people can barely be asked to read work, let alone steal it, so it’s non-issue.

Publishing very long work (because it was cost-neutral on the web) and using yellow text on a red background were two other innovations that didn’t really pan out as ‘good ideas.’ I think we can put that second innovation squarely in the 'bad ideas' box, actually. On the other hand, having a searchable database of authors, and the ability to categorize and find work by themes and genres has worked out great.

Nowadays, we’re somewhere between a literary magazine and social media hub for people who read and write. People can participate in the ancient art of reading in a very modern way: follow authors, comment on work, like, share, make lists and engage in all sorts of technicoliterary wizbangery.

EBB: I like wizbangery. What do you publish?

LM: We publish fiction, nonfiction, poetry, art, film, and audio works. Stylistically, we’re quite open-minded. We believe art should be interesting and engaging at its first level, but, ideally have a further depth to it, beyond its yummy outer layer. We try to keep a healthy mix of high-brow/low-brow and have published those who have been highly schooled in making art to those who’ve learned it on the streets. You can think of us as fans of Mad Magazine who went on to discover great literature. We have an appreciation for the range...and especially those things that can bridge both extremes.

EBB: When did you become a monthly publication?

LM: We started publishing monthly (except January – that’s our break) back in 2011. I was initially against it, but our editor-in-chief at the time, Michele McDannold, convinced me (and the staff) that we could do it. We’re totally volunteer run, so that’s a lot of work, and I always kind of freak out that we’re not going to make it. But after four years of freaking out I guess that I have to accept that we’re pretty equipped to do this! Our 78th issue just came out today.

EBB: How many of your authors are frequent contributors?

LM: Oh boy. I could probably give you an exact number if you gave me some time to do research. But I’d say about half of each issue is people we have published before, and half are new to us. We have been publishing for twelve years so we’re increasingly seeing repeat offenders, which is natural. If by frequent contributors you mean people who submit once every two to four issues, I’d say maybe 10 percent?

EBB: Have any of your authors gone on to literary fame or infamy?

LM: We have definitely published some heavy lifters, both in the underground and academic circles. Whether we were responsible for their fame, or whether they carried fame with them when they came by is up for debate. Definitely people have gone on to find book deals and increased infamy after publishing with us.

Last year, we published the guy who wrote the screenplay for Kickboxer (Glenn A. Bruce), and a couple of our other authors have had Hollywood level film scripts produced. Comic artist/writer Jeff Lemire published with us before he was big. We have a lot of infamous undergrounders in our published ranks as well – Misti Rainwater-Lites, Noah Cicero, Josh Olsen, William Taylor Jr. On the academic side, we’ve published Richard Kostelanetz and a couple of others.

EBB: Looking in your crystal ball while wearing your red fez, what do you see in the future for your publication?

LM: Great fame and infamy! Actually, we have grown tons in the last few years and we have begun introducing a members system. Currently it’s only available to authors who have published with us, but it really expands the kinds of things readers and writers can do on Red Fez. I’m super excited to launch that to everyone in the not-too-distant future, as it will allow authors to promote themselves and their work, and help readers wade through everything we publish to find the work they will really enjoy. But right now we’re just really focusing on making sure the experience is simple and error free – so my crystal ball just looks like a lot of work for the next few months. I can’t really see through that work fog at the moment, but I’m sure behind that lies fame and infamy. Or a handsome stranger riding a horse. The ball is not quite clear on that front.

EBB: So, were you named after Leopold Bloom?

LM: Funnily enough, yes. My father was a big fan of Ulysses (plus he was Irish). My mother had loved the name Leopold from a Cary Grant movie called Talk of the Town. Strangely enough, they found each other and I emerged. Thankfully I was a boy, otherwise I would have been called Leopoldine. True story.

EBB: As they say, truth can be stranger than fiction. Thanks, Leopold for sharing with us!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Tales from the Bully Box available for 99 cents!

We all love our children, right? We hurt when we discover that they've been bullied -- or if they've bullied other kids. Offering help in dealing with such painful situations is at the root of our latest anthology, Tales from the Bully Box, which was edited by MG and YA writer (and all-star mom) Cat Woods.

For a very limited time, we're making Bully Box available for 99 cents. So pick up a copy and feel free to share it with others who might need it for their kids. The stories depict youth who are being bullied, who are bullies, and who see bullying around them. We don't pretend to have all the answers, but the stories offer a way for children and those who care for and about them to discuss the issues. A portion of the proceeds will go to support of the PACER anti-bullying program.

And if you pick up a copy, please share a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Every little bit helps.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Request for HORROR stories

What are you afraid of? What causes the hair on your neck to stand up? Is there a room in your childhood home that always gave you the creeps, or are there personal demons you’ve never quite exorcised? We may have a way for you to combat your fears – or perhaps you’d prefer to inflict a little horror on someone else.

Elephant’s Bookshelf Press is launching its next anthology, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, we’re looking for horror stories. There are no real restrictions in terms of genre – science fiction is just as welcome as general fiction – and they can include monsters, the occult, paranormal investigators, kids exploring the attic, you name it. Psychological horror, physical, metaphysical. All are welcome. (Except for erotica; we still don’t do erotica.) Our review team will determine whether something goes too far over the line, but we all love a good scare.

We are looking for stories of no more than 5,000 words. We expect to publish it in September. Authors will receive a copy of the printed book but no financial compensation. (For those new to EBP, we do both print and electronic roughly at the same time.) The stories must not be published elsewhere (if it’s something that appeared on your little blog, let me know; we’ll assess that on a case-by-case basis). And the rights to the individual stories will revert to the author.

Submission deadline is 6/8/15.

Limit is one story per author. Send submissions to anthologies@elephantsbookshelfpress.com.

Let me know if you have any questions (publisher@elephantsbookshelfpress.com). 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Battery Brothers Discounted!

With just about a month until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, we decided to discount Battery Brothers by Steven Carman for a couple days. So, if you're looking for a wonderful YA read, please take a look at it on Amazon, where it's in the midst of a countdown deal. Basically for the rest of today and tomorrow, it'll be available at $1.99 (down from its customary $4.99).

It's a wonderful story about two baseball-playing brothers, the elder of whom -- Andy -- was physically scarred by his now estranged mother. Beset by a bully, self-doubt, and a catastrophe for which he blames himself (though no one else does), Andy must find the strength to keep striving toward the goal he and his brother set for themselves.

It is a YA story, but we've received dozens of reviews that speak to how it's a story that works for multiple audiences of almost any age, whether they're baseball fans or not.

I hope you love it as much as I do. Tell a friend!

Friday, January 09, 2015

Welcoming in the new year

Howdy, folks! I thought I'd just touch base and see how everyone's new year is beginning. I'd love to hear what your writing goals are, what you'd like to see on this blog (personally, I'd like to see more posts; I'm open to guest posts, if anyone is interested), and other topics you want to address related to the writing world. I know I intend to offer more book reviews, interviews, and general observations on the publishing world.

Feel free to share in comments, or reach out to me at matt@elephantsbookshelfpress.com