Ebook Review: Apocalypse: Diary of a Survivor 2

apocalypse_2Apocalypse 2: Diary of a Survivor by Matt Pike

“I thought I had already seen the best and worst of humanity. But I was wrong.”

When a rogue comet smashed into Earth, Jack Baldwin’s life changed forever. In a single night of carnage, the vast majority of the world’s population was obliterated, while those who survived were all but sent back to the Stone Age. The lucky ones? They don’t necessarily see it that way. Especially Jack, whose dreams of a happily ever after – well as happily ever after as Armaggedon gets – were shattered in a senseless act of violence. With everything and everyone he fought to build and protect now gone, Jack is left truly and utterly alone. And with food supplies growing ever scarcer, and fellow survivors getting more desperate and aggressive by the day, it’s going to be a long way back from the brink. Can Jack find himself again, find new purpose and carve out a way forward? Maybe. But first he’s going to have to ask himself the biggest question of all: Why?

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Guest Post: Shifting from Writing Literary to Commercial Fiction

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By Tantra Bensko

Tantra Bensko is a talented writer and wonderful teacher. In fact, she taught me how to write experimental fiction at UCLA Extension. She is the author of numerous books, including her latest, Glossolalia, a psychological suspense novel that is part of her Agents of the Nevermind series. Below she shares her experiences her shift from writing Literary to Commercial fiction, and gives great tips on how to succeed. Find out more about Tantra on her Facebook author page.

In the olden days, masses of people enthusiastically read poetry, Literary Fiction, academic criticism, and in-depth analysis of profound novels. Now? You’ve got to be kidding. No way.

Statistically, Literary interests have dipped so far down as to be arguably pathetic. What to do? If you grew up inspired by the geniuses taught in school, and you hoped to write books that would be classics included in anthologies of great American thought, you may have realized by now that emulating those authors is no longer likely going to get you many readers. That’s OK. But still…

Have you ever secretly considered switching allegiance from Literary Fiction’s beautiful language, artistic sentiments, profound subtle themes, startling metaphors, intensely unique narrative voice, conceptual brilliance and meaningful structural innovation to – just plain Genre entertainment? Fast action, pop sensibility, sex and death, splashy heroes and heroines and adrenaline-based excitement? I know. It’s like becoming a new person to make that kind of change. But it’s actually possible. I know because I did it.

Granted, my novels aren’t simple entertainment. There’s a political analysis and history there. But otherwise, they follow The Mighty Formula instead of veering from it meaningfully like my earlier writing did. They titillate. Things explode and there are chase scenes and fight scenes. The endings are not ambiguous and gray like real life. They’re victorious, straight up.

To make the transition, I made myself watch popular movies and novels in the genres I was exploring instead of my usual foreign art film and avant-garde literature fare. I no longer read Experimental Lit for fun. I embraced uber-conflict and linearity. I followed trends (God forbid.) I literally set out to change my taste and I had no idea it was actually so possible that a personality could be so malleable. And while I’m very glad I was the previous me—previously, I’m thinking the new me might possibly make more money—or, at least rationalize spending more money on advertising because there’s some chance the ads will lead to a reasonable ROI. Yeah, marketing jargon everywhere. Instead of creating a plot organized in concentric circles, I’m now “splintering the tripwire.”

I used to embrace my obscurity. Now it leads to gnashing of teeth. Bruxism was never a way of life for me before, but now, bring it on! Who needs sleep? I’m going to be “famous”: in other words, I’m going to watch my Amazon rank rise when the Kindle Select books are set to free for five out of every ninety days and they’re announced to the free-book groups.

I have a strong, solid reputation in the Innovative Literary Fiction world, have spoken on panels at conferences, guest edited a magazine, teach Experimental Fiction, had hundreds of publications and won awards. But if I offered the influential free-book groups about my previous books of short stories that subverted the dominant paradigm with kaleidoscopic perspectives and an avant-garde novella that collapses time, the group members would have made funny faces that could have gotten plenty of hits on YouTube.

Now, some people will still think the new books are too niche because they question US policy rather than just setting up the secret agents to be glorious good guys; instead, they’re the antagonists. But at least mainstream readers of my new books won’t be twitching, belching, backing away and staring out into the distance with their eyes unfocused while they regroup and try to forget what just happened.

My personality hasn’t changed completely. I still don’t go to the latest blockbuster movies in the theaters or read Stephen King. I have no idea what most people are talking about when they’re on the topic of current pop culture. I still do aim to veer the dominant paradigm of spy novels to ones that acknowledge the messed-up US policy. But I’m starting to allow myself to get that people like reading books that have a buzz right now, because they want to talk to people about them at work, at coffee houses, on dates. I can now even look at the covers of commercial fiction without a twinge of nausea.

I already knew the rules of all the genres well, as I’ve taught them for many years. I’ve had stories published in most genres, to at least demonstrate I know what I’m teaching. But I narrowed down to only one of them for The Agents of the Nevermind series and lo and behold, I actually like it. It’s not constricting at all. And it doesn’t feel shallow or like I’m selling out. In fact, it’s liberating to feel I’m an insider instead of an outsider with my nose pressed against the window of all the Genre authors networking, advertising, and gaining visibility on Amazon.

Lit Fic is known in the Commercial circles as “those books where nothing happens.” Or, “all the thoughts of academic professorial characters experiencing existential angst in middle aged crisis.” “Language being inexcusably flowery.” “The land where semi-colons go to die.” “Snob city.” It’s nuanced motifs and ambiguity. Depressing endings and lots of pondering.

Conversely, commercial fiction is happnin’. Commercial fiction is hip. It’s action; it’s triumphant battles of good vs evil. It embraces a predictable formula instead of fighting it tooth and nail to create something new and fresh and unlike anything ever seen before. The audience is wider and to really succeed, needs to appeal to people of average intelligence and lower as well as higher. This is the part I personally find most difficult, because the ideas I want to get across take a lot of brain-power to absorb, and guessing solutions to the mystery puzzles in the plots requires earnest conjecture. Getting my books requires going against propaganda and assumptions, stereotypes. They’re thrills for thinkers. I have to have faith there are lots of readers out there interested in the world around them, intrigued by going deep and using their smarts.

Apparently, however, most people don’t want to think too deeply about what’s behind the scenes in politics, details that call into question popular memes, international economic realities, and true history which has instead been changed by the Pentagon in its presentation in popular movies. But then, most Literary readers don’t either. Not really. Some people do, however. And I want to give them something to revel in. Just like I did with my Lit Fic, in a different way. And I want to make it fun.

What’s a simple universal formula for Commercial/Genre Fiction? The main character, who is usually the protagonist, is seen at first in regular life, with a hint of a flaw that makes the reader wish the character would grow up, get a life, and listen to her ideas about how he should change. Good. OK, then, the inciting incident, bam, the requisite hesitation, the First Plot Point, in which he decides to take the plunge and enter the adventure, after which there’s no going back, and bam, the story has begun in earnest. The tension builds, of course—we all know that. But how it builds has been carefully analyzed by many authors, including the midpoint in which there he actually or symbolically looks in the mirror to assess the reality of who he really is.

The Second Act (out of four) has him reacting to the events and the Third Act shows him becoming more proactive, but he’s still learning from his inevitable mistakes. He’s in a pickle because of that particular tendency for mistakes, so he makes lot of wrong decisions, and learns from each one. Each encounter with the antagonist teaches him new lessons and he veers off on his approach, creating Plot Reversals. There must be plenty of zigs and zags as the protagonist learns the skills he will be called on to come out of the terrible Crisis and successfully fight the antagonist in the Climax in Act Four, ideally making a difference to the world at large.

While Literary Fiction can target only above average English skills because there’s little hope of being a best seller, anyway, obscurity being an acceptable status, fiction meant for a large audience statistically needs to be able to be understood by people who have average and below average as well as above average IQ, education, reading abilities, and understanding of the English language. Prose accessible by ninth grade reading level is generally recommended. Showing rather than telling directly is good, so the readers can figure things out on their own, but some amount of hand-holding can help people who are a little slow follow along with enjoyment.

Literary Fiction can get away with lots of internal dialogue, plots resting on epiphanies, long descriptions of landscape, older main characters, language-driven or character-driven material, Genre Fiction needs action. Thriller/Suspense, which my series falls into, needs explosions, chase scenes, fight scenes, sex scenes, lots of twists and turns, a ticking clock, urgency of solving the problem to save the world or at least a life. Murder is almost inevitable. However, Psychological Suspense is the closest to Literary in that it explores issues such as identity and self-delusion, is focused on a complex personality, requires long suspension of understanding, and has to be character-driven to some degree. Suspense is slower paced than Thrillers, which is an accepted trait of Literary as well, and while in Thrillers, something big needs to happen, in Suspense, the dread of something happening, even if not much ever does, is key. So Psychological Suspense is a good move for Literary authors trying to branch out for a larger audience.

Advertising the books is completely different. Before, I networked with the Literary Community, such as at local readings and on Facebook, where we shared and commented on each other’s links, reviewed work we loved, interviewed authors we liked, all for small press magazines.

Now I use Facebook ads, for example, bringing attention to my new Tantra Bensko Author page, and entice people to my newsletter with lead magnets of the first chapter with illustrations of the characters as well as videos, slideshows, and more. I create sleek images for the ads, Twitter posts, etc. with Canva, using the 20 % text rule, instead of painting avant-garde works on actual canvases. I used to make surreal trailers for my books myself and now I hire professionals and license the music.

Glossolalia_Cover_for_Kindle

I spend a lot more money on the Genre writing than the Literary, based on continually studying marketing, especially for authors, and I make sure to use the right color CTA button in the location on my website proven to get more clicks. I analyze the different interest groups I target in marketing for who signs up for my newsletter most often. I’ll be setting up ads, targeted to the specific audiences, that say “Fan of Barry Eisler? You’ll love Glossolalia.” “You liked Eyes Wide Shut? Read the book that finishes what that movie tentatively started.” I feel like a businesswoman my father would have been proud of while maintaining the integrity of my art that my mother would have been proud of. It’s actually possible to do. I know I’m facing competition of authors putting hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising and box sets to give away as lead magnets. I’m competing with authors who outsource all their books and put out new ones in popular genres every month.

People who want to support my efforts to write about the reality of US foreign policy, corruption in intelligence agencies, media lies, and heroes who expose propaganda will buy my books and if they love them, word of mouth will set the novels free to make a difference to the world. In the Literary community, controversial political topics are taboo but in Thrillers/Suspense it’s becoming a possibility now indie publishing means we don’t have to kowtow to censorship by the domination of the Big 5. And I like that. I like the new me, and I like my new readers and fellow Genre authors. I still like the Literary crowd too. My world just expanded, is all. And that’s a good thing.

tantrabenskoauthorTantra Bensko, with an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop, teaches fiction writing at UCLA Extension Writing Program, Writers.com, Writers College, and her own Online Writing Academy. Her Agents of the Nevermind series begins with Glossolalia: Psychological Suspense, about the lives of secret agents who are so secret, even they don’t always know that’s what they are. http://www.insubordinatebooks.com/

An Interview with Eric Lotke, author of Making Manna

MakingManna1600CVR

Eric Lotke is the author of Making Manna:

Libby Thompson is just fourteen years old when she flees her abusive home with her newborn son, Angel. Now they must build a life for themselves on hard work and low wages, dealing with police who are sometimes helpful—but not always—and a drug dealer who is full of surprises. As Angel gets older, he begins asking questions about his family, and Libby’s tenuous peace threatens to crumble. Can a son without a father and a young woman without a past make something beautiful out of a lifetime of secrets? Making Manna explores the depths of betrayal, and the human capacity to love, flourish, and forgive in the face of heartbreaking odds.

Read on for an interview with Eric, as well as an excerpt from his book. Continue reading

Resources and Advice for Writers

Albert Anker [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Albert Anker [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There are many types of writing: novels, short stories, articles, technical documents, copywriting, business plans, and the list goes on. Looking for some inspiration or help in your writing career? Here are some programs and pieces of advice from fellow writers. Continue reading

Ebook Review: Three (Book 3 of The Godslayer Cycle)

three_ron_glickThree by Ron Glick (Book 3 of The Godslayer Cycle)

Everyone has a past that affects their present – but not many have their present affect their past.

The latest sword has awoken, but it is unlike any of the others that have come before. Three is not a sword that controls perception or elemental power, but instead gives its wielder mastery over time itself. What better way to destroy a Godslayer than to send him to a time before he ever was one?

And without the Godslayer in the present, who can possibly stand against a conspiracy of immortals seeking revenge against their errant parents, the Gods themselves?

Three is the third volume of the Godslayer Cycle, the nine book epic destined to redefine the power of divinity within fantasy fiction forever.
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Ebook Review: The Novel, Kunzman, the Novel!

kunzman_novelThe Novel, Kunzman, The Novel! by Larry Lefkowitz

The assistant to a known literary critic suffers from the domination of the critic. After the critic’s sudden death, the assistant believes he has been freed from the critic’s dominance. However when the critic’s beautiful wife asks him to complete an unfinished novel written by her late husband, the assistant finds himself still under the influence of the critic as well as his wife.

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Ebook Review: My Life As A Sperm

imageMy Life As A Sperm by William Darrah Whitaker

Buddy Price, a Hollywood agent, dies in a car crash and finds himself in Heaven. There, he discovers God’s had enough with people and plans on pulling the plug if we can’t learn to get along – a ‘love thy neighbor or else’ sort of message. An unlikely hero as there ever was, Buddy convinces God to let him fix things and gets a second chance. From the first few lines of the book, we know that he’s probably the last person we’d want to depend on to save the world, but God’s got his plan. Our fate rests in Buddy’s hands… or, who knows, maybe he’s just crazy and needs lithium or something.

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Ebook Review: Apocalypse, Diary of a Survivor

Diary_Survivor_coverApocalypse: Diary of a Survivor by Matt Pike

“I guess it was inevitable – the end of the world we know – the end of humanity.

Finding out early was a gift, surviving impact night was a miracle, living to tell the tale, well, that was the price I will pay, forever.

There’s no going back now.”

Award winning author*, Matt Pike, takes you on a journey to the end of the world and beyond, as told through the eyes of an Australian teenager, who records his experiences day by day in a survival diary. From the social chaos in suburban Adelaide in the lead-up, a night of total global catastrophe and the aftershocks as community and humanity crumble around him – the world changes forever. What’s left is a place where the conditions can kill you just as easily as the other survivors.

Everything our teenager relied upon for survival in the pre-disaster world falls apart – utilities, community, environment – the only things that can keep him alive are his resources and resourcefulness.

*2013 Global Ebook Awards: Gold Medal – Teen Literature Fiction for Kings of the World Continue reading

An Interview with Khaled Talib, author of Smokescreen

Smokescreen_Khaled_Talib

Khaled Talib is the author of Smokescreen, a suspense thriller published by Typhoon Media about a journalist being set up as an assassin as part of an evil political plot. Purchase your copy at either Amazon or Smashwords. Continue reading

An Interview with Freddie Owens, author of Then Like the Blind Man: Orbie’s Story

Then Like the Blind Man 7 Freddie Owens is the author of Then Like the Blind Man: Orbie’s Story, a coming-of-age novel about a boy who learns of his family’s dark secrets that has been highly rated by Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, The San Francisco Book Review, and Kindle Nation. You can purchase your copy from Amazon here.

See below for the official book trailer and book description from Amazon:

If you wanted to destroy something, why would you want to save it too?

A storm is brewing in the all-but-forgotten back country of Kentucky. And, for young Orbie Ray, the swirling heavens may just have the power to tear open his family’s darkest secrets. Nine-year-old Orbie already has his cross to bear. After the sudden death of his father, his mother Ruby has off and married his father’s co-worker and friend Victor, a slick-talking man with a snake tattoo. And, when Orbie crosses paths with the black Choctaw preacher, Moses Mashbone, he learns of a power that could expose and defeat his enemies, but can’t be used for revenge. When a storm of unusual magnitude descends Orbie stumbles on a solution to the paradox, one both magical and ordinary. Question is, will it be enough? Continue reading