2017 YITB Review

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This is the smallest update/year in review I have ever done, and I want to take a minute to apologise to loyal readers of the blog.  It would seem that my bloggers have been in a pretty constant state of flux over the past year with lots of changes (some good, some not so good) and we’ve just let reviewing books slide by the wayside.

I am actually ashamed to say that I only managed to read about half a dozen books last year.  But this year seems better.  Things are leveling out.  I’ve made a list of the things that really matter in my life and I’m going to be doing a big push at the blog.

 

Thus, this year’s list is small but mighty.

The top Book in the Bag Books of 2017:

  • Go To Sleep, Little Farm – Mary Lyn Ray
  • Mix It Up – Herve Tullet
  • Owls Don’t Blink – A.A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner)
  • Desert Solitare – Edward Abbey
  • Lexicon – Max Barry
  • Idolators of Cthulhu – H David Blalock
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Writer Wednesday – H. David Blalock

Who are you?
H. David Blalock

What type of stuff do you write? (Besides shopping lists)
I have published everything from novels to non-fiction articles, but I mostly write short stories in the speculative fiction genre. I know that’s a broad term, but it covers the majority of my fiction quite well.

What do you want to pimp right now?
My latest novel is the third and final volume of the Angelkiller Triad, Doom Angel. It wraps up the story begun in Angelkiller and Traitor Angel. I believe this series gives a reasonable answer to the age-old question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” in that it explains how, in the war between the Angels of Light and the Angels of Darkness, it was really the Dark that won. Since then, humanity has been conditioned to believe the opposite and has suffered for that illusion.

What is your favorite book? (Okay, or two or three or… I know how writers are as readers.)
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein is probably my all-time favorite. Then there is The Traveller in Black by John Brunner and the Slan series by A. E. Van Vogt. I enjoy how each of these writers took ideas of basic human need, greed, and ambition and turned them into something visceral.

What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
For the past 5 years or so I have been trying to help other writers through the Imagicopter network (www.facebook.com/Imagicopterand www.imagicopter.com) by keeping them informed of events and new venues for their writing. Hopefully, Imagicopter has been useful to the hundred or so members we have across the country.

What link can we find you at?
My personal website is www.thrankeep.com and I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Writer.HDavidBlalock.

*****

On Rejection, And Stuff…

As a writer for the better part of 40 years and editor of my own and others’ work for at least that long, I’ve been on both sides of the rejection issue. For those of you who are just starting out, there are a few things I’d like to pass along.

  1. You cannot publish what you do not finish. Before anything else, finish what you write. Don’t consider anything else until then. Not who will publish it, not how will it get reviewed, not what will your family think of it. Nothing else. Finish the piece, but remember one thing: finish first, then edit.
  2. Don’t edit your piece until it is finished. Editing as you go along prevents you from doing what you want most, that is, have a piece ready for submission. Even the great masters could ruin a piece by constantly making “just one more improvement”. Trust your instincts. Only critique and edit your work after it’s done.
  3. Do not trust spell check as your only proofreader. There are several ways to double-check your spelling and grammar. I recommend reading your work aloud to yourself. This will give you an idea of the flow and readability of the work. Make changes as you go at this point.
  4. Have a disinterested reader look over the work before submitting it. Don’t give it to your mother, father, sister, brother, or even your best friend. And don’t trust writers’ groups to give you more than a cursory idea of what needs to be done. Most of all, remember that whatever feedback you get from proofreaders is just their opinion. You should carefully consider whether their suggestions will improve or hurt your work.
  5. Research the markets for your work and read the guidelines carefully before submission. I cannot stress this enough. You can hurt your ego and sometimes your reputation by not reading the guidelines. Editors do talk among themselves. They will relay information about writers who do not follow guidelines to other editors. It’s a smaller community than you might think.
  6. Be professional! You are going to receive rejection letters. This is part of being a writer. Not every publisher is going to want your work. This is not personal. Publishers have a business to run and to make that business successful they need to cater to their audience, meet deadlines, word limitations, budgets, any number of other factors. Your work may hit them at a bad time or simply may not be what they want. Do not take rejection as a personal attack. Most of all, do not react unprofessionally to rejection by sending the editor a nasty or snide response. I can guarantee this will be passed along to other editors as evidence of your lack of professionalism.
  7. If and when your work is accepted for publication, check the contract closely and don’t sign anything immediately.It’s easy to get excited about the prospect of seeing your work in print but remember that writers get paid, not the other way around. If the publisher expects you to pay to be published, best pass on that one. Unless you are self-publishing for personal reasons, avoid that kind of contract.
  8. Expect the possibility of further editing for word count or content from the publisher. At this point, it is important to remember the publisher’s job is to sell your work. However, you still have the right to remind them you are the writer and your name will be associated with it. Most reputable publishers will work closely with you to find a satisfactory compromise.
  9. Once your work appears, send a note of thanks to the publisher/editor. A good working relationship is based on courtesy and communication. You have built a bridge. Don’t burn it first thing out.
  10. Finally, be prepared to promote your work yourself. Even the big publishing houses do very little promotion for their authors. Learn about book signings, events, conventions, anything that will get your name and work before the public. Make yourself as available as possible. The success of your career as a writer is, in the end, up to you.

 

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Book Review – Southern Haunts

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Title: Southern Haunts
Editors: Alexander S. Brown & J. L. Mulvihill
Published: 2013
Format: Trade Paperback (& eBook… but just until I got the print copy)

Y’all, this is one of those reviews that you need to stick with through the end, but I promise it’s worth it…

Okay, I’m going to be honest here.  I’m one of those people who only sometimes likes anthologies.  Yeah, I’ve reviewed other ones that I’ve really liked, but there are also quite a few that I’ve picked up, couldn’t get through two stories, and sent it back.  And when you review them, it’s a whole new kettle of fish.  Because, really, how do you review such a thing?  Do a writeup about each short story?  Overall opinions?  A little of both?  Gah!

And so, this one… This one I was really looking forward to.  For starters, I know the editors.  I’m jealous that I didn’t get to submit something to it.  And, you know, I was just excited about this one.

I have to admit, as I worked my way around the book, I found issues.  (As I told the editor, I’m probably the toughest reader/reviewer he’ll ever get…)  There are a couple editing problems that seriously need fixed.  This book also has the absolute worst story I have ever read in print.  Seriously.  I reject betters submissions for my own publishing company.

But for the problems it has, there are also some real gems in here.  H David Blalock’s An Eclipse Over Elmwood was awesome, for instance, and my favorite story in the book.  [Note: Check our archives and you’ll find a feature interview with him.]  There are a couple other stories where I saw the ending coming, such as Roland Mann’s Haints, another favorite in this antho, but I still really liked the characters and how the stories were written.  And you have stories like Diane Ward’s The Shack which was good, but totally too short – I was sad that it ended so quickly and think another bit of story would have totally added greatly to what she already had going.

So my bottom line is this.  The book is decent.  If you manage to get your hands on a copy, it’s great for those times between novels or when you don’t want to dedicate that much time to one piece of writing.  My best advice is to pick and choose, to read a little at a time here and there, and to not be afraid to skip a couple stories that you might not like or fall a little short.  It’s worth being able to read the few gems that really shine.

Writer Wednesday – H David Blalock

Perhaps he’s not a good musician, but getting H David Blalock to toot his own horn is often next to impossible. (I was going to do some sort of metaphore/simile there, but I thought I’d spare you thoughts of “pulling teeth from an amoeba” as a comparison.)  In his many years as a published author, HDB has dozens of short stories and poems to his credit, and several novels.  One of which was turned into a short film.  He’s a Darrell Award winner, and has been nominated for several others.  This is H David Blalock.

Who are you? Tell us (briefly) about you and a bit about what you’ve written and what you’re working on right now.

I am a writer of speculative fiction and editor of parABnormal Digest. I go by the moniker of H. David Blalock, but in essence I am more a part of my work than vice versa. Over the years I have written novels, novellas, short stories, poems, articles, commentary, and reviews. Currently I am involved in writing two novels and several short stories for different anthologies.

What are your earliest book-related memories?

My earliest is reading The Red Planet by Robert Heinlein at the age of about 12. I had read books before, I’m sure, but Heinlein’s work first touched that place that eventually would lead to me to pursue a writing career. I was caught up in the adventure and simplicity of the story.

What are your three favorite books?

That is impossible to answer. I can give you the titles that immediately come to mind when the question is asked, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I like them more than any other. I prefer speculative fiction, but literary and mainstream works still hold special places in my bookshelves.

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?

I typically read from three to five books at a time. Currently, I am fighting deadlines so I have little time for reading. Before the pressure built, I was involved in re-reading Good Omens, reading American History: A Survey (a textbook), The Gods of Eden by William Bramley, and The Collected Writings of Ambrose Bierce.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___

usually fall asleep. The inference of “curling up” indicates I’m set to take a nap (which I find myself doing more often nowadays).

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.

Re-read. I often find myself re-reading a book I enjoyed before and finding more in it to enjoy.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?

Depends on who recommends it. Usually I accept recommendations and try to get to the book as soon as I can thereafter, but that’s not always possible.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?

Not very likely. I don’t assume that anyone else shares my tastes. If I ever do recommend a book, it is usually when I am asked, and then I always issue the caveat that it’s just my opinion. And we all know what they say about opinions.

What do you look for in a good book?

Substance. Good writing touches the reader at some basic level. I believe that, if the book doesn’t challenge or touch me emotionally, it’s not good literature.

Why do you write?

Because I have to. I have stories to tell, opinions to express, and too small an audience around me. I’m not looking for fame and fortune. I’m looking to do what our educational system no longer does: make people think.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?

Frustrated. I might become an artist (I have a modicum of basic talent) or musician. I would need an outlet that wouldn’t land me in jail or an asylum.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Personal observation of people, events, and beliefs. I am an avid fan of ancient history and military studies. I draw from personal experience in building characters (what writer doesn’t?) and try to accentuate the differences to create identities for each. Tritely spoken, life is the greatest inspiration.

What has writing taught you about yourself?

That I need to listen more closely to others, observe life more closely, and spend more time in meditation of the importance of the individual. We are each of us alone inside our shell, the center of our own universe, and the real need we have to break through that barrier is what drives our lives, makes us seek out relationships with others, and defines us personally. I have learned how to more effectively communicate and better understand others.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?

They all think it amusing. I am viewed as the eccentric of the family, the odd duck who is to be tolerated because of his interesting but relatively useless career. After all, how many people actually make a living as a writer of tall tales?

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?

We’re not all alcoholics. Just most of us (smile). We aren’t all introverts. Just most of us. We aren’t all shut-ins or sociopaths or even highly intelligent. We’re just folks. More’s the pity.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?

Getting up the courage to submit for publication. Everyone has a novel or poem in them, but few people ever consider trying to get their work published. For those few who actually finish something and get it down on paper (or in a word file), the real problem becomes “Do I really want other people to see this?”

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?

Trying to write what I don’t know. Early on, I discovered that there were things I needed to learn more about before writing about them. It was a hard lesson emotionally and led to many rejection letters. I have since come to esteem research and observation much more highly.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?

I would love to work on a full length motion picture. Preferably based on one of my own works, of course. I love movies and am fascinated with how the story becomes real through that medium.

How do you deal with your fan base?

I am unaware I have one. If there are those out there who enjoy my work, I am delighted.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.

Anything. As I said, if I have fans it is a surprise to me.

You’re one of the brains behind Imagicopter. Tell us about it.

Certainly. Imagicopter is an author and artist network whose purpose is to promote their own and each others’ work. This is done by sharing information about the participants at the Imagicopter website, through announcements in press releases, and helping participants become involved in local conventions, events, and book signings. It began in 2009 with only half a dozen participants. Today there are 97 participants in 17 states, with hubs in Memphis, Jackson (MS), and soon in St. Louis. Because no one has deep pockets, the idea behind Imagicopter is to help the participants find or generate events inside a reasonable distance from their homes. This cuts down on expenses. To add to the exposure, wherever Imagicopter events are held we try to promote those who cannot attend by distributing bookmarks, business cards, and other promotional material.

Anything else we should know?

I appreciate the chance to connect with your audience.

To all the readers out there, don’t neglect the talent you can find in small press and independent publications. There is a huge pool of magnificent talent out there ignored by the mass marketers because they are not well known. You will encounter the full range of expertise, from rank amateur to polished professional, but you will not be bored.

To the writers and the aspiring writers, keep writing and submitting. We need to keep literacy high, because it is through the written word that civilization retains memory of its greatest achievements and most horrendous mistakes.

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