Some time ago I redeemed the points from one of my credit cards and treated myself to a book. Not an ebook. An actual book that you can hold and touch. For sheer beauty it’s hard to beat Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style. The eye glides over the creamy pages, the balanced blocks of text elegantly buttressed with marginalia. Bringhurst brings poetry to his subject. When he declares that “the heartwood [of typography] is calligraphy—the dance, on a tiny stage, of the living, speaking hand,” I get shivers.

Bringhurst writes lucidly on the history and aesthetics of typography, technical aspects such as kerning, and the mathematics underlying the design of fonts and pages. I haven’t digested the whole book. Even if I finally do, I won’t be an expert in typography. As with any art, mastery takes years of practice.

Years I don’t have.

Spoof Book CoverAll the reading I’ve done about fonts stresses basic principles: Fonts communicate a message. They should reinforce the meaning of the words. They should be compatible with other fonts in the design. Take the fun book cover to your right. The fonts don’t exactly reinforce the atmosphere of menace, and the two calligraphic fonts together are a bit much.

I had some knowledge of and appreciation for fonts by the time I received four mockups of the interior of Daemon Seer, each with a distinctive page design and font combination. They were created by Morgana Galloway of the Editorial Department. The one that immediately caught my eye paired the workhorse Minion Pro for body text with Akura Popo for chapter titles and headers (or in this design footers). I love Akura. It’s bold, Gothic, and unusual, just like Daemon Seer.

Chapter Title from Daemon SeerMorgana did a fantastic job on the print and ebook editions, both of which have chapter titles in Akura  I checked out Akura online and discovered that its maker, TwicoLabs, offers it for free.

Yes, free!

It will come as no surprise to most readers that hundreds of fonts can be downloaded for free, and hundreds more purchased at a reasonable price. But when I began working with typography, it was a revelation to me. During a shopping binge at MyFonts, I found  Crypton, a sanserif font with edges so sharp they look dangerous, for a fraction of its retail price. I had no immediate use for Crypton but bought it anyway. I can’t resist a sale.

Months later, Cantraip Press, Ltd. (my corporate persona) contracted to publish Letitia L. Moffitt’s paranormal mystery, Trace. I did the interior of the print edition myself, using a purchased template, but Letitia disliked the font used in the headers and titles. “It would be fine for another novel,” she said, “but not this one.” She was right. I searched for an alternative and found . . . Crypton. It captures perfectly the edginess and razor wit of Trace.

Title Page Trace

Is that serendipity or what?

Today’s featured guests, seven prominent indie writers, are here to discuss what ought to change in mainstream publishing. Their limited edition box set—Outside the Box: Women Writing Women—will be available in e-book format beginning February 20 for just 90 days. The set may be pre-ordered now.

The project is the brainchild of Jessica Bell, an Australian writer living in Athens, Greece. A literary author and the Founder/Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves literary journal, Jessica wanted to showcase the most exciting fiction being released by authors who are in full charge of their own creative decisions. “I couldn’t imagine collaborating with a finer group of writers,” Jessica said. “The authors in this box set are at the very top of their game.”

 

The compilation of novels introduces a diverse cast of characters: A woman accused of killing her tyrannical father who is determined to reveal the truth. A bookish and freshly orphaned young woman seeks to escape the shadow of her infamous mother—a radical lesbian poet—by fleeing her hometown. A bereaved biographer who travels to war-ravaged Croatia to research the life of a celebrity artist. A gifted musician who is forced by injury to stop playing the piano and fears her life may be over. An undercover journalist after a by-line, not a boyfriend, who unexpectedly has to choose between her comfortable life and a bumpy road that could lead to happiness. A former ballerina who turns to prostitution to support her daughter, and the wife of a drug lord who attempts to relinquish her lust for sharp objects and blood to raise a respectable son.

Jane Davis said, “This set of thought-provoking novels showcases genre-busting fiction across the full spectrum from light (although never frothy) to darker, more haunting reads that delve into deeper psychological territory.”

But regardless of setting, regardless of whether the women are mothers, daughters, friends or lovers, the themes are universal: euthanasia, prostitution, gender anomalies, regression therapy, obesity, drug abuse, revenge, betrayal, sex, lust, suicide and murder. Their authors have not shied away from the big issues. Some have asked big questions.

 

Orna Ross (founder-director of The Alliance of Independent Authors, named by The Bookseller as one of the 100 most influential people in publishing) selected Blue Mercy, a complex tale of betrayal, revenge, suspense, murder mystery – and surprise.

Joni Rodgers (NYT bestselling author) returned to her debut Crazy for Trying, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection and a Discover Award finalist.

Roz Morris (ghost writer and teacher of creative writing master classes for the Guardian newspaper in London) presented My Memories of a Future Life, the haunting story of how one lost soul searches for where she now belongs.

Kathleen Jones, best-selling award winning author, Royal Literary Fund Fellow, whose work has been broadcast by the BBC, contributed The Centauress, a compelling tale of family conflict over a disputed inheritance.

Jane Davis (a British writer whose debut won the Daily Mail First Novel Award) nominated An Unchoreographed Life, an unflinching and painfully honest portrayal of flawed humanity.

Carol Cooper (author, doctor, British journalist and president of the Guild of Health Writers) provided One Night at the Jacaranda, a gripping story about a group of people searching for love, sex and everything in between.

For Jessica Bell (Australian novelist, singer/songwriter, Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and whose award-winning poetry has been broadcast on ABC National Radio), her latest novel White Lady was the obvious choice, an intense, suspenseful ride rife with mystery.

Each of the authors addresses this question:

If you were Queen of Publishing for a day, what’s one thing you’d change about the industry as a whole?

Orna: The reason I love self-publishing so much is that it’s democratising and it encourages diversity. Readers and writers together are now creating new genres and books that London and Manhattan would never have published. If I were Queen of Publishing for a day, I’d make it much more diverse. I’d love to see a greater variety of voices at every level of the industry.

Jessica: That’s a tough one. Can it stop being such a popularity contest and get back to its roots? Focus on the writing, not how many followers the author has on Twitter? In an ideal world…

Roz: I would ask for more literary awards to open up to new writers. Not just to indies, but to all the new talent that comes along. Too many literary awards are given on the basis of pre-existing fame. If those authors genuinely wrote the best book of the year, then they deserve the prize, but otherwise we should give awards to the genuinely surprising, interesting and wonderful – not the usual suspects. Sometimes the best book has been written by Hilary Mantel, Julian Barnes or Neil Gaiman – but sometimes it’s been written by someone relatively unknown. And those are the books that awards should be finding for us.

Carol: Although it should be obvious that there’s more than one way to publish quality books, some people in both camps sadly take up entrenched positions. Those in traditional publishing especially tend to snipe at the other side, and the antagonism does nobody any favours. We shouldn’t be at war, because in the end it’s all about the reader. I’d like to bring in a lot more enlightenment and a bit more peace, but I may need more than a day to achieve it.

Kathleen: I’d ban accountants from the commissioning meeting! Books should be accepted on literary value alone; it’s the only way to get a quality product. Readers quickly tire of being sold ‘the next best thing’. They want variety, good stories, original, surprising prose – they deserve the best, not some publicist’s idea of what they can be conned into thinking is the best. Not only that, but many of the books they buy purporting to be written by celebrities are in fact written by someone else – usually a professional writer whose own work has been rejected but who needs the money. To pass off a book in that way is fraudulent – at best a con trick. We need to take the fake out of the fiction industry and writers need to be free to write the books they want to write and readers want to read.

Jane: The options for those wishing to publish are now wider than ever before, so I don’t think it’s the publishing industry I would change. It is the perception of publishing and the value that we place on books and art that I’d like to target. This year, I’ve been out speaking to librarians and booksellers trying to encourage them to stock – and read – more indie titles. If Andrew Lownie’s prediction is right, over 75% of books will be self-published by the year 2020. Any outlet that refuses to stock indie titles will be doing readers an enormous disservice by restricting choice. The other thing I’d like to be able to do is to get out there and sell my books for the listed price. I hear parents talk about spending £120 on trainers for their children – something that will be outgrown in 6 months. People will fork out over £50 to see a band play, they’ll happily pay £2.45 for a coffee or £3.60 for a pint of beer, and yet they throw up their hands in horror at the idea of paying £8.99 for a paperback. Is the real issue that readers’ needs are not being catered for? £8.99 may seem a lot of money for something you don’t enjoy. I found the results that Kobo have collated about books readers give up on half way through very telling, with The Goldfinch and Twelve Years a Slave topping the list (the books readers were told they should be reading), whilst the book they were most likely to finish? Casey Kelleher’s self-published thriller Rotten to the Core.

Joni: Oh, Lord, I’d tell everyone to take the day off and read a book. That’s the single most important thing writers can do—for ourselves and for the book culture at large—but we leave ourselves so little time for it.

On February 24 my new novel Daemon Seer will be available in paperback and in the Kindle store. Daemon Seer picks up Lu’s story ten years after the events of Talion. Now twenty-fiveshe and Lisa still suffer from the trauma of being taken by serial killer Rad Sanders. Talion is back, too, but he’s no longer the kind spirit who helped Lu survive the kidnapping . . .

Lu owes her life to the daemon Talion, and now he demands repayment — she must bear him a child.

As a teenager, Lu Darlington attracted national attention when she and her friend Lisa escaped a sadistic killer known as the Professor of Death. She never told anyone about the daemon who saved her life that day.

Ten years later, Lisa shows up at Lu’s door, fleeing another psychopath stalker. But Lisa’s not the only one seeking Lu after all this time. One by one, the daemons descend:

Voracious Chama. Sinister Black Claw. Beautiful Talion.

Chama wants Lu, but Talion claims her. The women of Lu’s family have always belonged to Talion—and they’ve suffered deeply for it.

As the human threat draws closer, Talion demands that Lu bind herself to him in a harrowing ceremony that will destroy an innocent man and change her forever—but might save Lisa’s life.

Can she navigate the violent intrigues of the daemon world without being consumed by its terrible, all-consuming demands?

Now available for preorder in the Kindle store.

Buy the Book Button

 

Late last year, Awesome Indies published Awesome Allshorts: Last Days, Lost Ways, the first of a series of planned anthologies. Last Days, Lost Ways contains stories by 21 authors, including Tahlia Newland, Dixiane Hallaj, Bill Kirton, Shauna Bickley — and me. I’m honored to have my story “Smilin’ Mike” published in the company of stories by so many accomplished indie authors.

“Smilin’ Mike” is one of several stories I wrote about a nine-year-old girl whose life is disrupted when her parents divorce. The girl and her mother move in with Nana, her eccentric paternal grandmother, in a quiet suburb of San Diego. (The stories are set in the 1950s, when San Diego had quiet suburbs.) Nana harbors the hope that her son will come to his senses and the family will reunite, a hope shared by the little girl but not her embittered mother. Caught up in the tension between two adults who love her, the child must negotiate a world far more complex and uncertain than the one she has known. When Nana meets one of her favorite TV personalities, Smilin’ Mike, a professional wrestler known for his humor and geniality, the girl discovers that people aren’t always what they seem and even adults can be fooled by a false image.

Last Days, Lost Ways is available as a paperback and ebook from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online booksellers.

 

checking your grammar day and night

She’s back! Grammar Nazi is here to remind me that, no matter how hard I try, I’m doomed to be a screw-up and a loser. And the worst part is that no matter how mercilessly she harasses me, I need her.

 

If a writer must mark a character for death, it’s safer to choose one that readers hate. In my novel Talion Norlene Jakes falls victim to the sadistic serial killer Rad Sanders, the Professor of Death. Rad kills her to make an impression on her stepdaughter Lu, for whom he has special plans.

Norlene is hard to love. She boozes and does hard drugs and cheats on her husband. She feels endlessly sorry for herself. Listen to her bemoaning a hangover:

Used to be you could have a few Coke-and-whiskeys without paying for it with this torment. Not anymore. You’re old and worn down by life. Sex is like taking a shit for all the pleasure you feel. Wake up every morning with a truckload of shit piled on your chest. A loser husband and a crazy stepdaughter and just enough money to scrape by. Might as well put a bullet in your brain.

Oh yeah, she has a mouth on her. I blame Norlene for all those readers who complained about the bad language in Talion.

She vents her rage on Lu, abusing the poor kid emotionally and physically. Norlene is not very bright, but her real problem is lack of self-awareness, which isn’t the same thing as intelligence. Self awareness requires the honesty to look within yourself and understand how you came to be who you are. Only once does Norlene have a flash of insight that she abuses Lu because she herself suffered abuse as a child:

Today Lu knew better than to answer, “It’s not a house, it’s a trailer,” or some other backtalk. She needed a smacking now and then to make her behave.

“Look at me when I’m talking to you.”

Lu obeyed with her face showing there was no sass on it. Norlene used to face her own mother in the same humbled way. The recognition stabbed like a needle. Why should the girl be anything to you? You ain’t blood.

Norlene immediately dismisses the parallel because she and Lu aren’t “blood.” It never occurs to her that the biological connection never stopped her own mother from beating on her.

Later in the story, after giving Lu a whipping that will leave scars, Norlene puts on a dress that hides her thick waist and shows off her still-shapely legs, and goes off to turn a trick with Rad. Readers know what’s coming. I doubt many of them care what happens to her, but in case they forget Norlene is a human being, there’s this:

Norlene started walking along the highway’s narrow shoulder. Meeting down the road from the lodge was his idea. “We don’t want to compromise your reputation,” was his excuse, but most likely he was scared of Duane. The high roadside weeds tickled her arm with stalks and pods and shriveled flowers. Grasshoppers jumped up and rasped her legs. The weeds were thick with them. When she was little, Norlene thought grasshoppers grew inside weed pods and hatched out like birds. Kids got some strange ideas.

Poor Norlene. Maybe things could have been different.

Bill Kirton’s The Darkness charts the moral journey of a doctor who succumbs to fantasies of revenge. Dr. Andrew Davidson seeks justice for his brother, who commits suicide after his wife and daughter die in a car crash. He wants to punish not just the drunk driver who caused the accident, but other sociopaths who destroy lives and evade punishment. One by one, suspected criminals begin to disappear from the streets of Cairnburgh, Scotland.

Inspector Jack Carston, charged with investigating the disappearances, has mixed feelings. He isn’t sorry to have rapists, child molesters, and killers off the streets, but whoever has taken them is equally a criminal. He and his partner set about solving the cases in their quiet, methodical way.

The Darkness pits a compelling antihero against a reticent hero. Both are intelligent and likable. Davidson is kind to his patients, considerate of his coworkers, and sweet to his girlfriend. Carston loves his wife and enjoys his work. But the doctor eclipses the inspector through most of the story.

The doctor becomes the dramatic center as soon as he appears, largely because of the narrative point of view. Most of the narrative is third-person omniscient, but the doctor addresses the reader in first-person, which is direct and intimate and places him at the emotional core of the story. Everything happens around him. Eventually we learn that we’re reading his confession, addressed to Carston. This device links the doctor to the detective and underscores their shared need to see justice done.

Once the investigation begins to break, Carston’s role becomes more active and his character takes center stage. Still, the doctor remains the heart of the story. What will he do with the captives in his basement? Will his sanity survive the trauma of the crimes that he commits in the name of justice?

Kirton writes elegant prose and creates memorable characters. Even secondary players stand out. I won’t forget the prostitute Rhona or her devoted boyfriend, Billy, for a long time. The Darkness might confound some readers who expect mystery novels to follow a conventional pattern, but those who enjoy intelligent psychological suspense are in for a treat.

The Awesome Indies is getting a brand new website. Tahlia Newland (coordinator), Ruthanne Reid (designer), and a team of volunteers have been working hard this past month to get ready for the opening on the 1st of November.

The new look site will be set up as a shop with purchase buttons linking to all the major ebook sales outlets as well as the Book Depository (free shipping worldwide) for those who like paperbacks. The Amazon and iTunes links will be global links that will automatically send customers to their local store — no more ending up in the wrong store. And those with reading devices that take epub files will find plenty of books for their devices on the new site.

Books to suit your taste will be easy to find by searching categories and tags. And books can be listed in more than one category, making it easy to see exactly what mix of genres you’ll find inside. This is particularly important for Awesome Indies’s  books because some many of them cross genres.

Books will have their own product page with a great deal more information about them than on the present site, so you won’t have to leave the site to find the information you need to make your decision.

Reduced books will appear on a sale page and in a featured spot on the front page, making the bargains easy to find, and a streamlined menu will make negotiating the site a lot easier.

These are the books from the independent publishing industry that readers should be buying. These are the books that will not disappoint with poor editing and underdeveloped story lines. And if you’re looking for something different, the Awesome Indies is the place to find it.

To mark the opening of the new site, over 50 books will be on sale for November 1st and 2nd — many of them rarely discounted and all priced under $3. And one lucky reader will receive a Kindle Paperwhite ereader. The giveaway closes at the end of the weekend.

Visit Awesome Indies Books next weekend to see the new site, show your support, and pick up a bargain.

When I wrote this post, my blog was called Ancient Children.  The photo above shows me with a friend back in the 1970’s.

I named this blog Ancient Children for a couple of reasons. One is that it gives me an excuse to use an old photo of myself, taken when looking good required no effort. Another is that Ancient Children is the title of my first novel, which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and almost got published.

Ancient Children is a typical 70’s novel. It tells the story of a crew of aimless dopers who devise a harebrained scheme to kidnap one of their friends whose parents happen to have money. Since I was more into realism than plot back then, the scheme never really comes off. Too bad. If it had, maybe the novel would have got published. It also might have helped if the protagonist were more likable. She’s a cynical little shit.

I haven’t looked at the manuscript for years, but I remember the beginning: “Maggie steps into her shadow.” As a young writer, I wanted every sentence to be fraught with symbolism.

Now the manuscript sits in a box in the storage area of my office along with other writing that’s unfinished or unpublished, or both. I think of the film The Hunger, with Catherine Deneuve as a beautiful vampire whose lovers succumb to old age but cannot die. She locks them in coffins and finds someone new, but she can’t forget them. They call to her constantly, a chorus of voices in her head, begging her for release, reminding her of the love they shared. Ancient Children calls to me occasionally, but it’s mostly silent now. I’m afraid to look at it. If you saw The Hunger, you know why.

Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger

Billy Land wins the $25 Amazon gift card. Everyone on my mailing list was automatically entered in the drawing, which was done at Random Picker. I’ll be having more of these, so if you’re interested in receiving occasional news about me, why not sign up? You’ll find the subscription form for my mailing list on the upper right of your screen.

In other news, the release date for The Memory Pool: Reflections of Past~Forward grows nearer. The advance reviews are in. Read them here at the Cantraip Press website.

 

Haley Molnare can’t inherit her father’s estate until she runs his company for two years. Her father has been absent from her life, and the little she knows of him comes from her embittered, narcissistic mother — hardly a reliable source. Haley’s idle, materialistic lifestyle suggests she will become much like her mother. She dreads the two years of hard work but wants the money.

Kirsten Mortensen’s Dark Chemistry is the story of Haley’s entry into her father’s world. No more partying every night, sleeping in every morning, or taking her survival for granted.

The company makes raw ingredients for cosmetics companies. Its research department has developed a dangerous and potentially lucrative chemical, and the current CEO intends to profit from it. He will do whatever is necessary to get Haley out of the way. She lacks the experience and knowledge to fight him, so for much of the story the CEO manipulates and uses her. She turns away from her new friend, Donavon, even though she cares for him and he cares for her.

Her weakness could have made her unsympathetic, but one of Mortensen’s strengths as a writer is her ability to get inside a character’s head. Readers experience Haley’s struggle to understand what’s happening and her newfound determination to succeed. Mortensen brings the same insight to the other characters, even the villainous CEO, who is loathsome but also pitiful.

For a moment I doubted the story’s premise, the discovery of a chemical that has the potential to change the world, but the author’s research and careful plotting won me over. Besides, I was already hooked.

Dark Chemistry has the essential ingredients of a page-turner — professional prose, a gripping plot, interesting and believable characters, and a love story that’s touching but never sappy.

Every evening I looked forward to reentering the story, and I read late into the night to reach the ending.

It did not disappoint.

Dark Chemistry Cover

 

 

A weird thing happens when I take a walk after spending several hours staring at a computer screen. The world becomes stereoscopic, the kind of artificial, exaggerated effect you get watching movies in 3-D. And as with those movies I’m slightly off keel. Not dizzy, exactly. Floaty.

Hannah Eads-5For the past few weeks I’ve spent most of my waking hours in front of the computer. I plowed through a line edit of my new novel Daemon Seer, knowing I had to finish by a certain date. Another task loomed — to create the interior of The Memory Pool: Reflections of Past~Forward, an anthology that Cantraip Press, Ltd is publishing this fall.

Despite being an S-corporation, Cantraip Press is just me, Mary Maddox.

Hannah Eads-6The Memory Pool contains the work of the Past~Forward Memoir Group, begun several years ago by students who had taken a course in memoir writing with Dr. Daiva Markelis. Daiva’s memoir, White Field, Black Sheep: A Lithuanian-American Life, was published two years ago by The University of Chicago Press. Passionate about memoir, she inspired her students to keep writing and learning. The group flourished and their writing became better and better.

Hannah Eads-7The Memory Pool is the group’s second book. The first, Occasional Writers: Bringing the Past Forward, also published by Cantraip Press, is available online and through special order from bookstores.

Creating the book’s interior took me a week of steady work. I haven’t worked with Hannah Eads-8InDesign enough to know the program inside and out, which slows me down, and the process requires an attention to detail that becomes exhausting after a while. But I’m happy with the result. The anthology contains some fascinating old photographs supplied by the authors and wonderful photos and drawings by local graphic artist Gaye Harrison, who also created the cover.

Hannah Eads-9The book still needs to undergo a final round of proofreading, but I’m posting the pages of one piece, Hannah Eads’ “My Mother,” to give you a taste. (Click on the images to make them big enough to read.)

The Memory Pool is a local project. The Past~Forward group is sponsored by the Coles County Arts Council, and almost everyone involved in it lives in this area. One exception: our proofreaders, who work for The Editorial Department, a company I’ve worked with before and come to rely on and trust.

Hannah Eads-10The book’s interior is finished and copies have been sent to reviewers. After a day of downtime binging on episodes of Supernatural, I’m ready for my next challenge—preparing to bring Daemon Seer to market. Hard work is, well, hard and often isolating. But for me it’s the only way to get things done.