Thursday, December 07, 2006

GRAY HIGHWAY: AN AMERICAN UFO JOURNEY by Matthew Holm and Jonathan Follett (Toadspittle Hill Productions)

Ten years ago, recent college grads Matthew Holm (Penn State) and Jonathan Follett (Boston University) decided to take what they termed a "working vacation", a cross-country journey of finding the most popular UFO sites. Their journey took place during the height (keep your dissention to yourselves) of The X Files, and while interest in aliens may have waned (some) since then, this travel memoir is delightful, clever, and compelling--and here's why:

First, let me say that I'm not that interested in extraterrestrials; most of my attention was drawn to David Duchovny's vague comeliness. What makes GRAY HIGHWAY so accessible is that the authors are not experts (nor even compulsive adherents) on the subject. They are every-day dudes, writing a memoir that is anything but rote.

The story and writing is marvelous; the style, quite assuredly, is an even blend of SIDEWAYS (some of the best sections/writing is what happens between locales), UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN, and STATES OF MIND. And the book is put together well, too (read: not churned out using a basic POD template from one of the big POD publishers), using stylish fonts and maps of the places they visited, and looks (not [intentionally] trying to disparage iU or Authorhouse here) like it was designed by a team of folks at Simon & Schuster or Random House.

The writing is intelligent, and their commentary on the people and locations brings more to light than fanaticism; it's an impressionist painting of this nation. Holm and Follett visit various spots on their quest for alien info: Pascagoula, Murfreesboro, Roswell (of course), White Sands (of course), El Cajon, and a slew of others make an appearance and leave an indelible mark on the reader.

At risk of disparaging the other books I have reviewed here (and I'm absolutely not doing that) GRAY HIGHWAY is one of the most unPODlike books I've read to date. It's fantastic reading--and a must for everyone who likes buddy books, travel memoirs (remember, you'll learn as much about Americana as you do UFOs) and, of course, extraterrestrials. But most of all, it's a highly-memorable book for lovers of literature.

It's $11.95 on Amazon--and the perfect holiday gift for that one open spot left on your list.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Sobol, Simon & Schuster--bedfellows beyond strange, in an orgy of misconception.

I don't care what strides this bogus contest is making; I still hate seeing authors getting ripped off.

If you haven't seen
this article about the Sobol writing contest, then check it out.

So now the winner gets $100,000 and a book deal with Simon & Schuster (Fireside). Sounds sweet? Then you've got some defective taste buds, my friend.

First of all, the remaining authors who entered are getting their pockets lightened by $85--a fee Sobol claims is a necessary administrative fee.

Give me a break.

At the risk of sounding vain, I am going to compare the Sobol awards to the Needles. First of all, I charged nothing--nothing--and never found myself in need of an administrative fee. Secondly, while Alice Hoffman is certainly a respected author and Robert Riger (of B&N) is, I'm sure, a great guy, I would argue that the people I had judging the Needles were solidly more qualified--agents and editors that represent and acquire some of the best literary works on the market today (none of them asked for an administrative fee either). Thirdly, there is this statement:

[EVP Sue Pollack] declined to give an exact number of manuscripts received, but said it was more than 1,000 and that the contest had not been hurt by any criticism.

Eh. Yes, it was hurt by the criticism. The original due date was December 31st, just a few weeks from now (though they extended it to March 31st--what great folks). But most importantly, the statement really means they have between 1,000 and 2,000 manuscripts so far.

You've got to be kidding.

Simon & Schuster vets on a higher level than that every week. Are you telling me that suddenly S&S puts a stat on getting a book published with them at about 1 in 1,500 while the rest of the industry puts it closer to 1 in 25,000? What is S&S thinking? This will not have a happy ending for them. Not to mention that I (one person)
vetted nearly 6,000 pitches (and 1,400 books) last year alone, so many of those coming from authors who put so much effort and energy (and belief) into their works that they decided to publish the books themselves. And if S&S thinks it's such a great idea, why don't they run their own contest? And why are they going to pay a $100,000 advance for the book? Do they really think Sobol does a better job vetting 1,500 manuscripts than, say, any given agent at Writer's House or Trident or Dystel & Goderich? Bizarre.

And lastly--and perhaps worst of all--you end up with Sobol as your agent? Holy cow.

And how, exactly, are they going to afford this venture? If they get a total of 1,500 submissions ($127,500) and have to dish out $142,000 in prize money, do you really think they'll take the difference out of their personal IRAs? No. We call that bankruptcy.

And I've got news for both Sobol and S&S: There is a chance--a very likely chance-- that they will not find a book (let alone three) worth publishing out of the 1,500 (or whatever) submissions. And what if the best title is genre science fiction or horror? Is Fireside going to publish that (since they never have before)? Something is not right here.

Bottom line? This contest sucks--not just for authors, but now for Simon & Schuster, too.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

At once Freyed, now Burroughed.

I have to admit, memoirs aren't what they used to be. Or rather, they simply aren't.

First we had the Frey debacle, and now the fiasco with Augusten Burroughs. Who's next? Will it turn out Dave Eggers really doesn't have a younger brother? That it was really a kitten he took under his wing all those years in his twenties?

What we need are some foolproof memoirs. True? No, I didn't mean that. I meant foolproof, as impossible-to-disprove.

You fiction writers who are bored/exhausted/bereft-of-ideas/mistakenly-think-writing-a-memoir-will-be-easier-to-get-published should try penning some bogus life story. Just make it airtight. Here a few suggestions which you can take and use to pen a masterpiece. It doesn't matter if you've never experienced these things; just remember: airtight.

STRANDED: A Memoir of Being Lost

PARTY OF ONE: My Life Story of Having No Family, No Friends, No Acquaintances, and No Human Contact


HELLO, BEAUTIFUL: a memoir of self-love

NICE GUY: How I Lived a Life of Loving Everyone, Respecting Everyone, and Generally Having Nothing Bad To Say About Anything. Ever.

GETTING AWAY WITH IT: Crazy Things I've Done That No One Can Prove

WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?: An Adventure In Memory Loss

THE NIGHT WATCHMAN: You'd Be Surprised What Goes On When No One Is Around

ONE IN A MILLION: A Tale of Acute Anonymity


Every PODers best friend: Amazon.

Amazon has decided to "kick up" their POD presence/availability/quality by selecting HP's Indigo Presses for its ever growing POD book business.

Amazon is completely focused on the customer experience," said Greg Greeley, vice president of books at "This collaboration with HP will enable us to significantly increase the number of available titles our customers can purchase while offering publishers the highest quality color printing options."

Amazon has pretty much been the main way (fair to say they sell 90% of all POD titles?) for self-pubbed authors to get their product in the hands of the reading community. Follow this statistical nugget and you'll see why they are so committed:

The books-on-demand market is expected to grow from approximately 20 billion book pages in 2006 to approximately 38 billion book pages by 2009.(1) This is due chiefly to the increasing demand for small-volume, rare and self-published books.


Along with Susanne Severeid, you can find another Hollywooder (Hollywoodite? Hollywoodist?) using POD to get a book into the ether: Diana Douglas (the mommy of Michael Douglas). Check it out.


And if you are looking for someone to review your fantasy novel, you might want to check this out.


And if you're simply looking for a little justice in the world . . .