Friday, August 5, 2022

Short Book Reviews: Dr. Moreau in Yucatan

 The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Ballantine)

My introduction to the Mexican-centered fantasy of Silvia Moreno-Garcia was her re-telling of the Cinderella story, Gods of Jade and Shadow. Now she offers a fresh interpretation of H. G. Wells’s classic novel, The Island of Doctor Moreau. Instead of retreating to a hidden island to perform his experiments, this Dr. Moreau seeks the relative solitude of the Yucatán jungles, on an estate owned by a wealthy man in search of cheap, malleable plantation laborers. Under the pretense of developing such workers, Dr. Moreau creates human-animal hybrids from various animals. They are, alas, less than functional, with rapid aging, joint problems, and other issues. Only his beautiful, meek, and secretly rebellious daughter, Carlota, is perfectly human. Dr. Moreau needs a majordomo to run the estate and care for the infirm hybrids, so he hires Montgomery Laughton, a drifter heavily in debt and drowning a broken marriage in drink. Isolated and surrounded by lush forest and fascinating creatures, Montgomery begins to slowly form a friendship with Carlota and to heal.

When the landowner’s charming and egotistical son arrives at the estate, he is instantly smitten with Carlota, thereby setting into motion a cataclysmic chain of events.

Like other of Moreno-Garcia’s adventures, The Daughter of Doctor Moreau is strongly character-driven. Maturation and healing are the twin lenses that focus the action, which begins slowly in the near-static serenity of the estate and builds to a breathless climax. At first, I found Carlota childish, especially her constant verbal sparring with her two closest hybrid friends. Her flirtation with the landowner’s son struck me as dangerously naïve. As the story went on, however, I noticed the parallels between her increasing understanding of the world at large and of herself. Her capacity for acceptance—of her friends, of her father, of Montgomery with his tortured past, and of her own true nature—emerges as the moral and emotional center of the book.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Auntie Deborah is Still Giving Writing Advice

Dear Auntie Deborah...

I wrote a story using another person's characters, even though they said not to. Can I publish it since their book isn't copyrighted?

If the author has published their story in any form, it’s copyrighted. That, however, is beside the point. It’s just plain unethical to do what you suggest. It’s a great way to make enemies in your genre and create a horrible reputation that will haunt your career, assuming you still have one after such a bonehead move.

Create your own characters. Write your own stories. Treat your colleagues and their work the way you would like to be treated. Pursue your career with integrity and generosity.

Are self-published books inferior to professionally published books?

It all depends.

Not that long ago, self-published or vanity press books were assumed to be of inferior quality, that is to say, unpublishable by “real” (traditional) publishers. There were exceptions, of course, but that was the conventional wisdom.

Today, however, many self-published books go through the same rigorous editing and quality standards as traditionally published books. Some genres, like romance, are especially friendly toward self-pubbed projects.

With modern publishing technology (ebooks, POD printing), there are many reasons why a pro-level author might want to self-publish, including:
  • Niche projects, like memoirs or family histories.
  • Series that were dropped by trad publishers but that have an enthusiastic fan following.
  • Well-written books that don’t fit into the NY “best-seller” model.
  • OP (out-of-print, rights reverted to author) backlist.
  • Great books that straddle genres or otherwise confuse traditional marketing/sales departments.
That said, many self-published books are dreadful. They aren’t good enough to attract the interest of an agent or publisher to begin with, they aren’t professionally edited or proofread, the covers are amateurish, and so on. The challenge for the reader is to sort out those books that are truly a wonderful reading experience.

Does reaching a certain number of reviews increase your indie sales?

The short answer is that nobody knows. Theories abound, usually to line the pockets of the “experts.” “Gaming” the Amazon system is a losing proposition. What might have been true 2 years or 6 months or last week no longer works — because thousands of self-published authors have tried it, thereby flooding the system with meaningless tweaks.

If you want to increase your sales, write a great book. Publicize it. Get stellar reviews on Publishers Weekly and the like. Write an even better book. Rinse and repeat. Even then, there are no guarantees when it comes to sales, but you’ll have the satisfaction of writing really good books.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Book Reviews: Naomi Novik's Deadly Magical School

The Last Graduate
, by Naomi Novik (Ballantine)

I’ve loved Naomi Novik’s work since discovering her “Napoleonic Wars With Dragons” series (Temeraire). It seemed to me that with each book, both in that series and more recent publications, she has grown in skill and depth. I read the first two volumes of “Scholomance” back-to-back. It’s fair to say I inhaled them, they were so good.

I’ve been reading a bunch of magical school stories recently, and the Scholomance books redefine the genre. Many of the other books use a boarding school-like setting, whether it’s Hogwarts or the school of magical juvenile delinquents in Promise Me Nothing, by Dawn Vogel or the more troubled environment of D. R. Perry’s Sorrow and Joy. The schools and their teachers are charged with educating (and sometimes reforming) their students. Not so the Scholomance. Created by elite wizards to protect their adolescent offspring from being the prime targets of supernatural nasties (“maleficaria”), the school exists in a pocket carved out of the void, with only a narrow access to the outer world. There are no teachers, mail service or messengers except to a limited degree the incoming freshman classes, and the school may be sentient, trying to do its job regardless of the cost. Students take their classes as seriously as if their lives depended upon them, which they do. At the end of the senior year, the doors of the graduation hall open and all the incoming and resident nasties flood in, forming a gauntlet that only a few students survive. Even so, their odds are better than if the kids had stayed at home.

Into this world comes Galadriel (who hates her name, so she’s “El”), daughter of an unrepentant hippie witch who lives in a yurt in Wales (wrap your mind around that!) and gives away her best spells for free in a world of precisely measured tit-for-tat. A prophecy has marked El as destined for destruction and dark magic, and she’s become a self-isolating pariah noted for her uncensored rudeness. When heroic Orion Lake keeps saving her life, she can’t get rid of him. Gradually, they become friends (and more than friends). Much to her amazements, El gathers together a small team of fellow students, since cooperation and coordination will provide their only hope for surviving the graduation ordeal. At the end of their junior year, El and her friends joined forces with the graduating seniors, with surprising success.

Now it’s their turn, as graduating seniors. El has grown from a grouchy recluse to a young woman of courage and compassion, a born leader. She can inspire, cajole, and persuade the other seniors to work together to save the entire class, but that will leave successive generations of students to face the same heavy mortality. El wants to save them all and put an end to the yearly massacre. She comes up with a plan to graduate every single student, culminating in a mass extinction of the maleficaria. Her scheme will take every scrap of ingenuity, persuasion, and sheer magical power she possesses. To make matters worse, the school itself seems to have turned against her…

Novik combines a different and much grittier take on the “magical school” trope with a compelling central character who changes and grows. El faces her fears and insecurities, as well as the temptation of evil sorcery, to become a passionate and compassionate leader. Her voice drives the movement of the books. I can hardly wait to see what impossible-seeming tasks she tackles next!

Monday, July 25, 2022

[author squee] Sweet Words about The Children of Kings

Here's what Goodreads reader Marie Parson said about The Children of Kings. This review made my day!

Darkover stories have always at their heart been about transcendent acceptance-not only
one's own acceptance of who and what one is, and not only the acceptance, of one, by others. Darkover's tale of acceptance is the story of how, in the very act of accepting oneself and of the other--which too often is perceived as an act of weakness or simple naivete--instead, brings about a unity of soul and spirit that carries with it immense power and purpose.

The Children of Kings definitely does not disappoint, in this regard. It opens another brilliant chapter into a world of future possibilities, where not only do humans travel between the stars, not only find destiny and heart's home in the strangest of places, but also, find that they can do anything wondrous, build anything marvelous, if they find the way to do it together.

Well done, Children of Kings. Be warned, once you begin this book you will want to continue through to the end.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Book Review: Overcoming Deepest Grief, by Mary Aviyah Farkas

Overcoming Deepest Grief, A Woman’s Journey: Grief, Acceptance, Gratitude and Joy
, by Mary Aviyah Farkas

Mary Aviyah Farkas’s book, based mostly on her journal entries, is an intensely personal record of her passage through grief. It begins with a stark retelling of three major losses: the death of her sister, with whom she was very close, followed by discovering the dead body of her long-time lover and the consequent removal of her lover’s possessions from their home by the lover’s family, an incident she describes as “a rape.” The opening essays, written after the journal entries, speak eloquently of the depth of loss, the shock and the grief—experienced by the author. The simplicity of her diction expresses the complexity of her emotions, stemming not only from the deaths of two people she dearly loved but also from the sense of violation when her home was invaded by her in-laws in what she experienced as a callous and rapacious manner.

I think every reader would identify with Farkas’s feelings of shock and horror. As much as we might like to think that physical possessions aren’t important, when we have suffered the loss of someone we love (in this case, two people), items that they owned or shared become precious. Most of us aren’t ready to let go of them until we have done considerable grieving. (Example: I still have my mother’s aprons, 40 years later!) As someone who has experienced grief under complicated circumstances, I understood why Farkas didn’t respond with legal action or even simply kicked them out, and why she could no longer remain in the home she had shared for decades.

The remainder of the book consists of essays and poetry in chronological order, written as Farkas struggled to rebuild her life and rediscover joy and connection. Here is where the universality of the opening shifts into the specificity of her experiences and beliefs. Farkas states clearly that her book is not intended to be a “how-to,” although a few sections contain suggestions; this is a record of what comforted and helped her. Some of her experiences may fall outside the interests or means of ordinary people, for example, her sessions with her bodyworker or her guru. So, too, her use of capitalization denotes esoteric definitions of otherwise common words. I wondered, for example, what was the precise difference between accepting a loved one’s death and Accepting it. Clearly, the choice of diction and punctuation has special meaning for the author, reinforcing the presentation of her unique, personal experience.

Farkas offers her healing journey with remarkable honesty and courage. She is as open about her anguish as about her renewed joy. The importance of her spiritual life shines through the pages. The book won the Silver Nautilus Book Award for “books that support Nautilus’ Four Pillars: Conscious Living & Sustainability; High-Level Health & Wellness; Spiritual Growth; and Positive Social Change & Social Justice.”



I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.