Thursday, May 29, 2008

Historical Meditation: Elizabeth and Victoria

As part of the required head-games involved in being interviewed for a job, a number of years ago, I was once asked which historical figure that I identified most with, and the person who of course popped into my mind was the great Queen Eliza, Elizabeth I, of England, Wales and Ireland. There is probably some wish-fulfillment there, what with identifying with a tall, willowy and commanding red-head, an accomplished scholar and incomparable statesman, especially since I physically rather more resemble Victoria—short, plump, prim and domestic, with light-brown hair.

But the two of them, Elizabeth and Victoria are an interesting contrast, in the feminine exercise of power and authority, even allowing for how mores and politics changed over the three centuries separating their glorious reigns. Both came to power and the throne as young women, both died of old age, in their beds (or in Elizabeth’s case, in her bed-chamber) after decades of political and diplomatic success, wielding power in their various ways, earning glory and honor both personally and for the nation, so much that each of their reigns was in turn looked back upon as a golden age.

Elizabeth took a poor, fractious and schism-ridden nation, on the fringe of Europe in every sense, and saw it emerge as a major political power, a naval power, and a Protestant counter-balance to the land-power of Spain and militant Catholicism. Victoria ruled at the high-water mark of an empire that covered a quarter of the globe, saw her grandchildren married into the royal families of Europe, and technology move from that powered by horses, to that powered by great steam-powered engines, on land and sea, and even begin flirting with the idea of powered flight. Both of them distrusted their presumed successor: Elizabeth, childless, held off officially designating her heir, and jealously held power to herself and herself alone, and Victoria thought her son, Edward was an irresponsible wastrel and only allowed his participation in matters of state in the last years of her reign, when he was himself in late middle age.

Both of them, in their prime, displayed immense self-assurance, what an old Scots friend of my mothers’ called “a guid conceit of themselves”. That is, they appeared perfectly at ease with who and what they were, confident in the respect they were due as monarch of a unique people, and cognizant of the duties and responsibilities expected of them. They moved confidently among the trappings and obligations of their respective ages, although the circumstances of their lives differed in as many ways as they were similar.
Victoria, although she lived an almost suffocatingly sheltered life as a child, was clearly marked early on as the heir to her uncle and her succession was uncontested, a straight paved road to the pinnacle of the monarchy.

Elizabeth, the younger daughter of that much married Henry VIII, survived the reign of her Protestant little brother, (and the short-lived interregnum of her cousin, Lady Jane Grey) the almost equally disastrous reign of her older sister, the rigidly Catholic Mary, a couple of insurrections, a really nasty sexual scandal centered around a supposed affair between herself and the husband of her last stepmother, Catherine Parr, a stint in the Tower of London, and the abiding and deadly suspicions of a whole range of political enemies. The fashions of the age played in Elizabeth’s favor, though: she had the education worthy of a Renaissance prince, supple and subtle, whereas Victoria had only that which was thought suitable to a lady of good family in the early 19th century. But what education they were given, served them well: Elizabeth survived, and ruled. Victoria inherited and ruled. Both were respected, both worshipped by some, and feared by others.

Victoria, I surmise, was much more immediately trusting of others; the penalties for political miscalculation during her reign being immediately much less unpleasant; a matter of being "Not Received At Court and By Respectable People", rather than "A Short Stint In the Tower Followed by An Appointment With A Man With a Really Sharp Ax". Victoria was also fortunate in her marriage, to a competent and politically astute man whom she (to judge by her deep and demonstrated grief on his death, and the fact that she produced nine children with him) deeply loved and trusted unswervingly. But Elizabeth was known as “The Virgin Queen”, and I think it altogether likely that was more than just a politic bit of court flattery. When one considers how many women close to her as a child and teenager came to grief and an untimely grave through unwise affairs, ill-considered marriages, and perilous childbirth: her own mother, a stepmother and a cousin died on the block, another two stepmothers died agonizingly in childbirth, the marriages of both her sister Mary and cousin Mary diluted the political authority of both those Maries, and allowed factions to form around a royal spouse or court favorite…no, it would have been absolutely clear to Elizabeth that sex=death, actually and politically. But flirtation, and a rotating stable of political suitors, all played off against each other for England’s gain--- Her personal inclination was perfectly matched to political expediency, and allowed her to keep the reins of power firmly in her own capable hands. She survived, by keeping it that way, and becoming an icon.

Victoria also became an icon, a bourgeois icon, surrounded by her children, very much in contrast to Elizabeth, solitary in jeweled and glittering splendor, but there was one more likeness; their imperishable sense of duty. Both of them had a job to do, a lifelong job, and they did it appropriately and suitably to their time, but in two vastly different and interesting ways. It amuses me, sometimes, to wonder if the two of them could have a conversation together, what would they say?

(Originally posted at The Daily Brief)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Normandy to the Bulge

I just finished watching the National Memorial Day Concert on PBS, so it seems like the right time to tell you about my uncle’s book, Normandy to the Bulge: an American Infantry GI in Europe During WWII by Richard D. Courtney. I had read the book when it was first published by Southern Illinois University Press in 1997, fifty-one years after his service ended, and my eyes were opened for the first time to the sacrifices the greatest generation made for our country. After I finished publishing All on Account of You on Lulu, I realized that I had to help get my uncle’s book back into print.

Normandy starts off with the excitement of a young man just graduating from high school and starting off to war. It goes through his grueling basic training, then his passage on the ship on his way to Europe. The mood changes as he and his fellow soldiers realize for the first time that they could be in real danger. The action begins as they exit their landing craft onto the beach at Normandy in France. Over the next two-and-a-half years, he loses dear friends and has many close calls, but his faith gets him through even the worst of it. He is involved in the liberation of more than one concentration camp, and he and another soldier accept the surrender of the 11th Panzer Division at the end of the war. He comes home much wiser but, surprisingly, not bitter. He is grateful to be alive and to be back home with his family. He cherishes his country and the freedom he helped to protect.

I re-published my uncle’s book for him last November, just in the nick of time. He’s 82, and not long after he got books in hand and starting selling again, he lost his voice. He is now in a rehab center after a lengthy surgery for thyroid cancer. His recovery has been fraught with complications but, tough guy that he is, he’s giving it his all. He still has a tracheotomy and can’t speak yet, but my aunt called a few weeks ago to order more books for him. She says he uses a white board to write on, and told her that he could still sell to his visitors, and to the medical staff. His six sons and one daughter are visiting as often as they can.

Last fall, before he lost his voice, Uncle Dick was interviewed about his combat experiences, and the writing of his book, by The Bob and Tom Show in Indianapolis, the number one syndicated radio show in America. He was supposed to do a live show with them during the winter. Because he could no longer speak, the show played part of the taped interview, and put some audio clips, his picture, and a link to the book on their website. His books are now selling very well online.

If you have a moment, listen to the audio clips. If his story isn’t inspiring, I don’t know what is.

On this Memorial Day 2008, God Bless all of our vets and their families.

(Previously posted at Quite Something)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Booklocker and Amazon Developments

Just when I was beginning to think the whole Amazon-Booksurge-POD ruckus was dying down, now it begins again. Angela and Richard Hoy of have filed a class action lawsuit against Amazon. Com (details here)

I had begun to hope that Amazon had seen the error of their ways, deafened by the level of outrage expressed by the many, many, many POD small presses and niche writers like myself, as well as professional associations like the The Author’s Guild, the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), The Small Publishers Association of North America and was going to rethink their policy of demanding that all POD books sold directly through be printed by their in-house print service. Well, there was certainly no more talk of any more POD houses caving in , under threat of having the “buy’ button turned off on the Amazon page for any authors’ books published by those houses.

At the Independent Authors’ Guild, our members are terribly split over how to respond. Not in the sense of “I’m going to take my marbles and go home” sort of split, more the “everyone decides what is in their best interests” in the way of response. We are an association of equals; there is no corporate line to be toed. Some of us do not give a rat’s patoot if we have any sales through Amazon or not, especially after this greedy grab. Others care very much, since they make the bulk of their royalty payments through on-line retailers, of which is the 800 lb gorilla. One very dedicated member felt that she had no choice but to sign with Booksurge to publish her historical novel, into which she had put too many years of work to put at risk. Others of us are boycotting, and switching any links in our book-marketing materials to Barnes & Noble or Booksamillion. It’s not just buying books and other goods through – I’ve stopped posting book reviews there, participating in any of their blogs or discussion groups, or asking my readers to post reviews for “To Truckee’s Trail” there; I’d much rather throw my custom and marketing interests to Barnes and Noble. (They answer emails about my book page there much more readily than Amazon does, oddly enough. Amazon’s ‘author tech help’ runs the gamut between unresponsive and non-existent)

I’m only too proud to be a Booklocker author, and to continue to be published by Richard and Angela: Adelsverein Trilogy (aka Barsetshire with cypress trees and lots of side arms) will be available from Booklocker in December. I got my ‘economic stimulus’ tax rebate this week and am using the largest portion of it to get started. Who says that the gummint doesn’t support the arts and literature?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Writer's Digest website contest

The Writer's Digest magazine editor, Maria Schneider, is running a contest on her blog, The Writer's Perspective. It just started this week--here's her post. You can nominate your website or blog (or another writer's) and it will be judged based on presentation, ease of use, and marketing effectiveness. Winners will get some pretty cool prizes such as a listing in their October print issue, their e-newsletter, and on

The website must be created and maintained by you personally. (Read the comments to her blog if you're not sure what that means. She answers several questions about it.) Unfortunately mine doesn't qualify because I have both a designer and a webmaster. :(

Don't be shy--nominate yourself! You may also get some traffic to your site from the people who read her blog. Good luck!

(Previously posted at Quite Something)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Who Will Review Our Self-Published Fiction?

If you write a novel, you have to get it reviewed. A nonfiction book can succeed without reviews if it fills a niche and is written by someone with special expertise. But a novel—even if it's a great story, well-written, edited and professionally designed—won't get far without reviews. Few people will know about it—or believe it's any good—if you don't get it reviewed. So do you just send your book off to the New York Times (like one of my friends suggested I do) and wait for the review to show up? Or do you face reality and look for other possibilities?

More and more newspapers are eliminating their book review sections, and those that remain get hundreds of review requests every week, so unless you're a celebrity, your chances of getting a newspaper review aren't great. And then there are the big pre-publication reviewers—Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and ForeWard Magazine—who require a specially prepared review copy four months in advance of the book's publication date. So if your book is already published, they are out.

And what if your book is self-published? That limits your review opportunities even more. Many newspapers and magazines have a policy of not reviewing self-published books.

In recent years, online book review sites have jumped in to fill the demand. After my novel, Too Near The Edge, was published in October 2006, I sent email queries to 15 online review sites requesting that they review my book. Of those, ten replied with requests for me to send a review copy, which I did. I got five reviews, the first within a few weeks from when I sent the review copy. I did not pay anything for any of these reviews and none of them took more than a month to complete. I did pay one site $22 to post the review their reviewer had written on Amazon and several other online sites. As far as I can see, the reviewers from the sites I used are volunteers who love books and care about writing useful reviews.

But the online review scene is changing all the time. New review sites continue to crop up and those that have been out there a while continue to change their requirements. I recently did a search on—a site where you put in the type of book you've written and it spits out a list of possible reviewers for you. I put in "Fiction," "Mystery / Thriller / Suspense," "Published hardcover or softcover book," and the site came up with 129 review sites for me. And at least one of the sites that reviewed my book quickly and for free a year ago is now saying that they are limiting the number of free reviews they do each week and that they highly recommend that authors pay for an express review to get the review in a timely way.

I'm seeing discussion on author groups about the problems of paid reviews, how this cheapens the process and how these reviews are worthless. Some review sites are careful to say that the author is not paying for the review, but for getting it done quickly or posting it at various online locations. But others, including some that are subsidiaries of the most prestigious reviewers, are openly offering reviews to authors for a fee. For example, Clarion, a fee for review service now offered through ForeWord Magazine, offers authors "a professional review of your title, with the same quality and word length offered in the magazine and very often by the same reviewers" for $305. And Kirkus Discoveries is "a paid review service that allows authors and publishers of overlooked titles to receive authoritative, careful assessment of their books," for $550 (reviews completed in 3-4 weeks) or $400 (reviews completed in 6-8 weeks).

The author has the right to use these reviews as cover blurbs, in publicity materials, etc., and, if the author agrees, the reviewer will post the review in other locations. Assuming you pay the fee and get a good review is the review worth the price? Will it help your book get credibility or will it make you look desperate? Are we better off with no reviews if we can't get them from mainstream sources?

(Originally posted on The Populist Publisher)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Spell Checker Blues

Eye halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite
Its rarely ever wrong.

Eye have run this poem threw it
I am shore your pleased two no
Its letter perfect in it's weigh
My chequer tolled me sew.


(I thought this was a hoot, having been there on many occassions. Link here and found through courtesy of the Protein Wisdom blog. Look, I am coming down the home stretch of volume 3 of the Verein Trilogy. Places to go, self-imposed deadlines to beat)