Category Archives: book lovers

Book lovers warm to Iraqi Icicle

No Life of Pi at Pine Rivers Art Gallery Launch of Bernie Dowling’s Iraqi Icicle

Bernie Dowling launched his neo-noir novel Iraqi Icicle at Pine Rivers Art Gallery on April 20, 2013.

It was not quite the fanfare you might associate with Life of Pi it does have the memorable background of Amada Van Gil’s touring exhibition In Between Places.
Ms Van Gil created the works by interpreting photos of landscapes taking from moving vehicles.
In Between Places is also a cornerstone of a branch of Celtic philosophy which fits in neatly with Dowling’s Irish heritage.
At the launch, Dowling explained his neo-noir novel was at in-between place among the crime thrillers.
Iraqi Icicle can be ordered at any bookshop and from on-line retailers.
AND here is a classic countdown of Aussie in-between places.
Apologies to non-Aussies but with a bit of an Atlas and a lotta luck you might be able to navigate the song. The journey is worth it.

Seeking serendipity

Apple Blossom Vodkatini 
based on Serendipity Green Apple Sorbet

VISIBILITY and curation are the two big buzzwords of book publishing today. I cannot see myself writing on visibility in this column so let’s talk curation.

Whatever way you slice it, when it comes to books, curation means book reviews.
Book reviews can take many forms. A news story saying the Fifty Shades of Grey trio have sold 40 million is a review telling the reader the series is most popular. Similarly a news report on a book winning a significant literary award  is a review telling readers  professional judges have declared this book a fine work, indeed.
At the other end of the scale, an author tweeting the assessment their own novel  is brilliant is a review, probably not effective as an impetus to sales, but a review.
Curation as a prod to buying a book is what both authors and readers want.
A reader wants a critic they can trust.  An author wants a kind reviewer and on the internet they usually get one, with kindness beyond the call of  fair assessment.
Many readers have a healthy suspicion of internet book reviews. As an exercise, compare the film reviews onRotten Tomatoes. Assessments of the general public are markedly more positive than those of professional critics. The number of first-time authors gathering four and five-star internet reviews are astounding. Few reviewers refer to typos or plot flaws which abound in many books not professionally edited.
Reasons for these glowing reviews include politeness to strangers;  friends submitting reviews and cognitive dissonance where the book buyer wants to reaffirm the shrewdness of their purchasing decision.
Producing informed objective curation was a thorny problem before the explosion of ebooks.
I have never worked on a newspaper with professional book reviewers. Instead the literary editor, if there was one, or the chief of staff or a general editor if there was not, would hand out books  to journalists on the understanding the critic would read them in their own time and the only payment was keeping the book.
This hit-and-miss system was one of the most disheartening facts of literary life for mid-list authors who, if they were lucky enough to achieve a review, it was likely to be from an unqualified critic.
On the internet, I would suggest the most valued (by readers) reviews  and the most valuable (to authors) are those on book-lover sites such as Goodreads and Shelfari.
I quit Shelfari  because I was miffed at continual rebukes for my trying to promote my own books.
I see now that I was in the wrong. It would be a tragedy if Shelfari or Goodreads were subverted by us author-trolls. The most effective way an author can gain a loyal following is by serendipity, happenstance, the good fortune to be noticed by an influential critic, usually an informed amateur.
One strategy for a writer is to hop off the relentless promotional treadmill of trying to manufacture the one-book wonder.  The more books you have out there, the better odds of attracting serendipity.
Another ploy is to be more creative in seducing serendipity than by endless tweets and Facebook posts.
A third is to seek the guidance of readers as to how they came by a book which they found a minor treasure. 
A fourth is to use a big word like serendipity in your blog on the basis that only confirmed readers will understand what the hell you are talking about. That’s the strategy I am going for, here. 
 Send me your thoughts on seeking or finding serendipity.

Today’s musical vignette is a serendipitous offshoot of our most  recent selection of Johnny Cash performing the standard, 16 tons.
Wiki tells us the song is about mine “workers (who) were not paid cash (but) with non-transferable credit vouchers which could be exchanged for only goods sold at the company store’’.

The message of the song is easily translated: workers will rise up in violence unless they receive wage justice. Check out how the elite of two countries, the U.S. and Russia, get off on a song which is basically against them.
I love both these versions of 16 Tons and I can see why the elites did too. But I love even more the exquisite irony of the former cold warriors culturally united. These back to back videos are a rare treat when you savour the audience reactions.

Less is more if light on your feet

American ballerina Gillian Murphy
is part of an allegory for independent authors
I LIKE this story because I see it as an analogy of how to make a success of independent writing.
Throughout the world arts organisations are struggling as we seem to be near the bottom of the sponsorship – government and private – cycle.
So how does a ballet company survive let alone thrive in a New Zealand city such as Wellington with a population of 364,000 people. A tiny population by city standards but it gets worse.
Here are the priorities of the Wellington Regional Plan 2010-2012

The priorities for 2010 – 2012 are
  • more people get into work and stay in work
  • more children are safe
  • more young people stay on track
  • reduced reoffending by young people
  • improved quality of life for older people
  • communities are better able to support themselves.
Notice any mention of fostering the arts? No!
Well what does the government see as the backbone of the Wellington economy?
Our economy
The key industries and employers in the region are:
  • public administration and safety
  • professional, scientific and technical services
  • healthcare and social assistance
  • education and training
  • retail trade.
Any mention of the arts or even entertainment? No!
A born-again Oliver Cromwell would seem to fit in here.
But perhaps it is the government not the arts community of Wellington which is out of touch with reality.
In November American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Gillian Murphy will perform in  a new staging of Giselle,  co-produced by Wellington based Royal New Zealand Ballet artistic director Ethan Stiefel and internationally acclaimed principal dancer of The Royal Ballet, John Kobborg.
The production will be in the home of the Royal New Zealand Ballet, St James Theatre Wellington.  The London Evening Standard newspaper described the RNZB as “a text book case of how a small company can defy the debilitations that size usually brings.”
For the Standard, bigger is not more secure. Bigger is more precarious.
Notice also tha,t for the NZRB, smaller does not prohibit international co-operation.
How does the company do it?
For a start, the St James Theatre  was designed for vaudeville. Maybe the Cromwell ruin song was performed there. As a music hall, the St Jimmy is lower and broader than usual ballet houses and it enhances intimacy between performers and audience.
St James Theatre is surrounded by bars and restaurants, many of which offer special pre-theatre dining menus and deals. As an example,  Logan Brown at 192 Cuba St offers a three-course bistro menu for $45 and a $55 ballet package which includes an additional glass of champagne and taxi to theatre. 
The City Life Wellington  Hotel  at 300 Lambton Quay  offers  weekend packages from $179 for a studio room, subject to availability.
The point of this story is not that Asians, Aussies and Kiwis should rush to the season of Giselle though they can book at
Rather it is that indie authors can ci-operate with one another and relatewd industries to makes less more.
Instead of more of the same offer less of the different

So U Wanna Write Sumthun

Albert Jarry author of the short story  
The Passion Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race.
IF there is an author’s grand plan for successful writing practice we would fail to have the rich diversity which makes literature a thing of beauty.
I write all the time: it is my day job and often my night occupation. Deadlines focus the mind but when I set out to write something which I suspect might turn out above average, I let the work ferment in my mind, and perhaps my heart and soul.
Once the idea is ripe I tend to write it all out without revision until the end. It kind of works, but I suspect some semi-scientific creative process works  on the raw idea before I put finger to keyboard.
Today I came across an article which might have some of the processes I employ  sub-consciously.
The article is by a media editor, but I imagine it could assist authors of short stories, novellas  and full-length books.
The article is called  6 questions journalists should be able to answer before pitching a story.
Below is the reference. You can either read the thing whole or my derivation for book authors.
First, you will note the title has a number in it, a strategy beloved by internet marketers. Everybody seems to be on that sort of stuff these days including the article’s author, Tom Huang, is Sunday & Enterprise Editor at The Dallas Morning News.
Even indies should be pushing their story to their publishers, themselves.
Si here are the six questions with my thoughts on them.
1.       What piques your curiosity about the story?
This is will be the theme of your story or the underlying reason you are telling it. You do not need to write down that theme or even understand it completely as you will tweak it in the writing process.  Be aware that it is there; it is basic; it is important.
2.       What’s new about the story, and why do you want to tell it now?
Most good stories are universal and timeless, but geography and timeliness will make readers more perceptive to them. Is this the right time and place for your story?
3.       Why will the reader or viewer care about the story?
There are two answers to this question. The first is because it is well written. The second is because it speaks to some readers who hear it clearly. A book has never been written which every reader hears. If you try to please everyone you end up pleasing no-one.
4.       How can we tell this story digitally?
Critics of eBooks are quick to affirm their drawbacks, such as their lack of the comfort of physicality. But eBooks have comforts hard copies do not – the ability to link anthology authors to their stories and bios, as an example. Linking to other digital works is another. It is early days for eBooks. Be aware of break-throughs in formatting and linking
5.       What questions will you need to ask to get this story, and what sources will you need to consult?
This is the basis of your research. If you do not enjoy research, you might need to change your mindset. Similarly if you enjoy research too much, you may delay the telling of your story.
6.       How much time will you need to produce the story, and how much space/time do you think the story deserves?
If you set out to write a novel, your story had better be up to that length. If you are writing a short story, it needs to be compact, even if told in a light style.
It is a good idea to set yourself a minimum number of words a day. If you write 1000 words a day, your first draft of a novel will take about 90 days or 4 months, given that you are unlikely to write seven days a week when starting off. Four months for writing; eight months for revision and  editing will give you that book in a year, the goal heritage publishers love,
If you set a deadline, you will likely fail. If you do not sett one you will certainly fail.
Remember even the Boulevard of Broken Reverie has an end to it.

Billionaires bewail the eBook

I HAVE been pondering the real agenda behind the big publishers’ constant whingeing about eBooks eroding the literary standard.
The Big Publishers – there is only a half-dozen throughout the world – go by other names such as legacy publishers or heritage publishers which makes you think they belong in a museum.
I’ve decided the BPs have a short-term objective of retaining reader loyalty to their brands as the literary world goes digital.
The BPs are making a killing from the very eBooks they are raising hysteria over. They receive more than 52% of  eBook cover price and their authors receive less than 18%.
(Speaking to one author, I found there is confusion out there because some writers think their cut is 25% of eBook cover price. It is actually 25% of the 70% publishers receive from eBook retailers such as Google and Amazon.)
If the BPs can convince readers to pay $15 to $25 for an eBook to reward literary talent (which receives less than $3-5 of the purchase price) the money will keep rolling in during the short term before Amazon develops a winning strategy to drive down prices.
I believe the median-term strategy is for the BPs to retain their best-selling A-List writers.
The A-listers could be getting the full 70% royalty from Amazon.
Sure they would have to pay for their own editing, layout, cover design and promotions. But 52% of a best-seller can buy top quality in those services.
The authors would then broker a print-only deal with a mid-range publishers to ensure book-shop distribution..
All of this is a bad scenario for the BPs.
Rumours abound the BPs are cutting loose or are about to cut loose their mid-list authors.
No doubt they will tell their A-listers it will allow the publishers to devote more resources to them.
But what if they A-listers bail anyway? Where are the mid-listers to take their place?
Such interesting times ahead while the humble self-publishers go about their toil.