Review: War by Simon and Manzetti

Beautiful words for an ugly topic—War by Marge Simon and Alessandro Manzetti lay bare the bones of conflict and display them, every detail, for us to examine from the safe confines of our living rooms.

Raw, political and very real, these poems don’t hold back with their messages. The imagery is vivid, painting a mural of death across the reader’s mind. The poems don’t focus on any particular war, but offer a varied box of experiences. From jungle to desert and everywhere between, we are given a glimpse of the tragedy we wreak upon ourselves.

Without sounding like a 70s protest, the verses in War don’t come across as judgmental. They state facts and provide the experience so that we may judge. Besides the lovely writing, I have to give major credit to the illustrator as well.

Stefano Cardoselli has taken my breath away with his complex and engaging images. Darkly humorous, I found myself spending as much time looking at his art as I did reading and thinking about the poetry.

A wonderful book, I highly recommend it and wish Simon, Manzetti and Cardoselli all the best with this powerful book.


Links to explore…

Find War by Marge Simon and Alessandro Manzetti here.

Learn more about the creators of War here:
Author Marge Simon
Author Alessandro Manzetti
Illustrator Stefano Cardoselli

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Productive Week, Suite & Sour Sneaks

I’m starting to acclimate to the full time writing schedule. The last three days have been intensely productive. I started and finished two short stories, a poem and wrote the first chapter to Suite & Sour, the Bitter Suites follow up. I’m happy to have the follow up in production and I’m really happy with how it is developing.

Of course, the first chapter is our “popped guy.” He has no name and has never meant to have a name. His chapters are the only ones in first person. His character is designed to be an outfit the reader can slip on. Through him, experience addiction from the inside. Books were the first virtual reality.

I watch the sheep line up and I can’t help feeling a little jealous. I’m not all about the Jesus stuff but I totally get why they are here… why they cry and yell. This is the most holy thing I’ve ever done.  All my life I’ve just been that nameless guy no one remembers. No purpose, no future.”

During my research I stumbled across an audio file for the mass suicide-murder in Jonestown, Guyana under the spiritual leadership of Reverend Jim Jones. It’s pretty chilling. The first chapter has been colored by this… but it’s not all just horror and doom. Today I was asked where I was in the story.

“Oh, this woman is laying on her side starting to convulse. She has red and pink foam squeezing through her clenched teeth and it reminds the protagonist of a sunset.” I note the shocked look and uncomfortable silence.

“Oh, she’ll be okay as soon as the resuscitators get in there. I mean, they’ll be busy but it’s what they do. She’ll be fine, don’t worry.” Awkward silence.

“She chose this,” I say, one last attempt to excuse myself. “It’s for life enrichment. And it’s her religion.” I give up.

Maybe it is all just horror and doom.

Here’s a peek at the rough first draft of the opening to Suite & Sour. The first chapter is called Pop Rocks.

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Power of the Blurb

I recently came face to face with the power of the blurb. For me, the blurb is something I churn out during the book publishing phase without much thought. Of course I knew it was important. I just didn’t realize how much power that little paragraph wields.

This week I sent out over 1,000 emails to the general population of horror writers to hawk Bitter Suites in hopes of grabbing some attention for award recommends. Its something many of us do each year. There are guidelines in place to make sure we aren’t just spamming and some pretty strict etiquette in regards to form.

Of course, my email is pre-written and copypasted. It was pretty general. Most of our emails look like this:

Dear Member,

In accordance with yada association rules, I would like to offer you a complimentary copy of BITTER SUITES for your consideration in the Long Fiction category. Please reply to this email with your ebook format of choice (PDF, Mobi, ePub) and I will be glad to send it.

I added a link to the book on Amazon, my web page of critical reviews and my author page. I sent it to the first 150 emails and received three requests.  I’ve only done this once before, but that was pretty much the ratio I experienced last time. As I copypasted this time, I started thinking.

The title “Bitter Suites” doesn’t say what it is. Is that a musical number, a kind of candy…? I should add the book blurb in so people can get some idea, I thought. I pasted my blurb into my boilerplate text and continued. The blurb reads:

Book a stay at the Bitter Suites, a hotel that specializes in recreational suicide experiences. Whether you schedule your demise as therapy, to bond with a loved one or for pure recreation, your death is sure to give you a new lease on life. Renewable death is always beneficial… at least to someone.

Simple change, major results! In just a few days I’ve had 33 requests—a huge improvement from three. At least 10 of the requests actually mention the blurb as piquing their interest. Here was the latest:

Hi Angela, I would like a copy on .mobi format. It sounds very different and interesting. And just for feedback: I found your blurb effective in hooking me.

This got me thinking… how else can I use my blurb to get my book out there? Social media, of course. I searched through my reviews of Bitter Suites, found a nice sentence and pasted it as a comment. I used one of the canned backgrounds Facebook has enabled.

I linked the book for sale on Amazon in the comments. Then I shared that post, which now acts like an image, and in the comment I pasted the book blurb. I linked the book link on Amazon afterwards. To the right is a screenshot of the result. Click to enlarge.

And… what were the results? Sales! You can see how my ranks jumped right after I did this, and they are continuing to move positively. This was an extremely simple thing I did. It was fast and free and it apparently works. I’ll keep experimenting with this and post my findings at some point next week.

Bitter Suites started this experiment at…

An hour or so later…

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Thankful for Corpses

E. Corpse courtesy of Kyra Starr

Submit your line now for November’s edition of Exquisite Corpse. Send me your line via email—angelayurikosmith@gmail.com with EXQUISITE CORPSE in the subject line.

Please add your line and your name to the body of the email. Deadline is this month’s full moon—November 22nd. The poem will be posted on November 30.

The names of contributors will be added in order of contribution. I’d also like to include our poem in my next poetry collection, Altars and Oubliettes.

And there will be a prize! I have made a few necklaces that contain real dirt sustainably harvested from Edgar Allan Poe’s original grave site—the perfect lucky charm for horror writers.

I’ll pick one line at random and send the creator a necklace in a gift box. Congratulations to Danielle DeLisle for winning last time!

Aaaaand… in case you don’t know, an Exquisite Corpse is a collectively assembled poem. You can read more about them here.

Read past corpse creations…

Exquisite Corpse #1: Collaborative Poem

Exquisite Corpse #2: The Daunting Riddle

Exquisite Corpse #3: Toxicated

Exquisite Corpse #4: Deceptions

Exquisite Corpse #5: Final Chimes

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Space & Time to Cease?

I just stumbled across a startling announcement: Space and Time Magazine will cease publication after 52 consecutive years. Hildy Silverman, who has been running S&T for the last 12 years, made the announcement two months ago.

“I haven’t made this decision lightly,” says Silverman in the announcement. “But after looking at all possible alternatives, there is simply no path forward.” Space and Time will cease publication in 2019 with the 133rd issue.

I feel like a crime has been committed by all of us. Silverman cites lack of subscribers for the magazine’s closure. That is on us.

I talk about the importance of publications like this for our genre all the time, but I have no subscriptions to any of them. We mourn the loss of print but refuse to support it. A subscription to Time and Space is just $18 a year.

S&T is 52 years old, started in 1966 by Gordon Linzner. This magazine has been the venue of literary greats like Jessica A. Salmonson, Norman Spinrad, Jack Ketchum, and Aliette de Bodard.

In fact, it was running across a video of the 50th anniversary of Space and Time, sponsored by The New York Review of Science Fiction Readings, that convicted me. I popped over to the video out of curiosity.

To the far right, I saw a familiar couple of faces. There is Jack Ketchum and Linda Addison chatting. Jack is no longer with us and Linda’s hair is just at the beginning stages of the gorgeous, technicolor long locks she now sports.

This is history, essential stepping stones that have made our underdog genre what it is. Space and Time have been around before many of us have been writing. It was here at the beginning, laying down the foundation for future generations. It has remained as a venue for literary exploration.

I’m not sure if anything can be done to save the magazine, but we should at least be aware of its passing. I hope, somehow, life can be pumped back into this publication so it can one day celebrate a 100th anniversary at a time-to-be when the science fiction of today reads like history.

Watch the 50th anniversary celebration here.

Read Hildy Silverman’s announcement of closure here.

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When I’m Not Killing People…Fictionally

I worked for regular print newspapers and online publications for years. When I ‘retired’ from that world to play with fiction I found I missed deadlines, interviews and research.

The balance that works best for me is mostly fiction, but my blog and a few freelance assignments a month keep me in that sense of urgency. Here’s the story I did for Simplykc for their November issue.

The layout, graphics and content in this magazine are all excellent and I’m happy to have the opportunity to be a regular contributor. So now you know… this is what I do when I’m not killing people…fictionally.

You can read the entire issue here on Issue.

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FT Writer Life: Month #2

Bree has been teaching me how to look like a horror writer.

What’s it like to be a full time writer? That’s like asking what’s it like to be a man or a woman. No one has a definitive answer—it’s different for everyone. I can tell you, however, what it’s like for me.

Month two of writing full time has been much better despite some major apartment moves and buying a house. The first month was more stressful as I felt like I needed to jump right in and be writing every minute to justify my existence. This month hasn’t had that pressure—that I’ve noticed anyway.

Despite all the rush of packing and unpacking I can feel the creative flow happening again and I feel solidly back in my own skin. I just finished some big projects hoping to set Bitter Suites up for a Stoker notice, entered it in 2018 Book Pipeline Competition, wrote a short story for Fright Club, finished my piece for Ladies of Horror, did a page layout for Evolving Magazine, added to the poetry collection I’m putting together for 2019, finished edits for R. A. Smith’s upcoming dark fantasy… I’m feeling good about this last month.

I look forward to closing out 2018 on a strong note. I’m finding the rhythm of this new non-schedule. I’ve experienced some of the pitfalls (my bathrobe!) and some of the great joys (dropping everything to follow some side inspiration when the muse calls). It’s intensely rewarding to spend hours writing.

What’s coming next month? We will probably be moving yet again before the year is through, but this time to our new house. We should soon have some idea of what our book and absinthe tour looks like next year. On Nov. 15 I’ll be opening up submissions for another round of exquisite corpse. On the 20th I’ll be raving all about what it was like to meet Neil Gaiman in person and soon after reviewing his newest book Art Matters.

I’ll close with some news… Remember when I said I’d give away a $100 Amazon gift card when I reached 50 reviews on Amazon? Well, forget it. I’m tired of trying not to spend this gift card. I’ve changed it to when Bitter Suites reaches 20 reviews. With 11 reviews up, that means I’m giving it away after just nine more reviews. Find out all about that giveaway here. 

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Lies My Bathrobe Tells Me

This week I enjoyed one of the biggest benefits, and pitfalls, of being a work-from-home writer—the bathrobe.

The week started with a full load of projects for me. One magazine page layout, a poem, a short story and a newspaper article were all due by Friday. No problem… I had hours of work time scheduled. The week began with a snowfall.

“How cozy,” said my bathrobe. “Since no one will see you working in your living room, you can skip getting dressed and just hang out with me.”

I buzzed through the first items on my list. I made a celebratory pot of coffee and took a break sitting in front of the window to watch the snow. With my phone as entertainment, I soon drained away the pot and the afternoon. When I noticed the sky darken I realized I’d spent an entire day lounging in my bathrobe.

“No big deal,” said my bathrobe. “You still have three, full work days scheduled and have already gotten so much done. You can afford to relax for a few hours.” Bathrobe was right.

The next morning I got up early, downed my coffee and sat down to work. I again skipped getting dressed and stayed in my bathrobe. At the computer, I opened my project for the day and started… listening to my bathrobe.

“Just leave your work tab open on your desktop and you can go back to it anytime. Let’s surf videos of funny dogs instead.” I titled the short story page and popped over to Youtube to watch dogs. Bathrobe knows best, right?

Before I knew it, evening had fallen again. Me and my bathrobe had rediscovered old bands, caught up on music gossip and learned about the hundreds of cat mummies just found in Egypt. My story tab sat untouched, title only.

“Don’t worry about it,” said my bathrobe. “You still have two entire days and you’re a fast worker. You needed this break after all the moving.” I agreed, but I couldn’t help thinking I also needed to get all those assignments done.

The next morning I woke up determined to get back on track. I wrote out my essential task list for the day over coffee, balanced my checkbook and set in. I left my bathrobe hanging on a hook behind the bathroom door. I got a few projects done and went for a cup of coffee and a break. I heard my bathrobe call me from the next room.

“Hey, are you feeling chilly out there? I’m just hanging here by myself, all warm and fleecy. Let me know if you need my help.” I fetched my bathrobe and snuggled in. I was back in work mode anyway. Nothing was going to distract me.

Cup of coffee down, I sat back at my computer and dug in to the unfinished story. Half way through I wondered at the proper usage for some word and I tabbed out. My bathrobe started muttering to itself.

“Working all the time will just make you sick. What’s the point of work anyway? To create quality of life. If you’ve got that, why work so hard?” My bathrobe is made of fuzzy, grey fleece with a hood that cradles my neck like a thick scarf. It wrapped snug against the back of my head like a pillow and started singing soft lullabys.

“You should go sit in the big leather armchair, pop the footrest out and watch the sun melt away the snow…. just for a few minutes. You’re just about caught up.” I conceded and my bathrobe and I spent much of the third afternoon watching deer pick their way through the falling leaves. I composed poetry on my phone. Suddenly, it was night.

“What the Hell, Bathrobe? You tricked me!” Now I was behind again. My bathrobe didn’t say a word, just nestled me in the ample folds and I forgot why I was mad.

“Go to bed early and make a fresh start in the morning,” said my bathrobe. “I promise not to distract you.”

The final morning of my work week, we broke up. I folded my bathrobe and tucked it in a drawer so I didn’t have to see it waiting to envelop me. All morning I heard muffled murmurs from the bedroom as it tried to entice me back, but I wasn’t having any of it. I’m done with listening to the lies my bathrobe tells me.

…and I got all my work done.

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Neil Gaiman Birthdays & Electric Blankets

Courtesy of Sasha Maslov/The New York Times

Sometimes all it takes is one song to be awestruck and reduced to tears. As I did some research (procrastinated) this afternoon I came across this video. Warm, dark and lovely… everything about this video was love for me. The dog in the trash can is my tears started.

Then came the surprises. I went to Facebook to give this girl, Amanda Palmer, a like and realized she is half of the Dresden Dolls. No wonder this video resonated with me so well. I used to love the Dresden Dolls.

Then I found out she’s married to Neil Gaiman. And, by the way, it’s his birthday today. I did already know that. So lots of bombshells over here while I should be working on a story about monster cereal with a deadline of today.

The important thing to take away from all of this is… Neil Gaiman is older than me, and I adore his wife, her music and his books. Enjoy this video.

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Blues Over Fake Reviews

Ever since I addressed how to keep your Amazon reviews safe a few weeks ago (read that post here) I’ve been getting messages on the topic—most of them complaints against authors they think buy fake reviews.

I have a dozen plus emails with links asking me to investigate and expose. I apologize, but that is not what I do. But… let’s talk about fake reviews.

It used to be pretty easy to tell a fake review. They were five stars and one or two lines. Often the review came from someone anonymous.

Here’s a good example of this type of review. Not all of them are fake. I have one of these myself on Bitter Suites and I do know who left it. Very funny, D.

I’m probably damning myself here because so far Bitter Suites has all five star reviews, but all five star reviews is another sign of potential review fraud. It’s unlikely that everyone loves a product without complaint, especially books. When you see nothing but gold, start looking critically at these reviews.

A lot of times these fake five stars are easy to pick up because none of them talk about the book’s details. They will give general, glowing statements like “best book ever” or “will change your life.” But… there is another way around that.

Now writers can essentially write their own reviews about their books and pay someone else to post the review. Great deal for the fraudsters—they don’t even have to do any work now—copy/paste for pennies.

Click to enlarge. Courtesy of USA Today

These fake reviews are much harder to tell because they do give details about the book. You can find offers for reviews like this on sites like Fivrr.

Unless you have a big name and following, it seems painfully hard to drum up reviews. People are happy to stand in the coffee line and tell you how much they loved your book but these verbal reviews don’t do much except boost the ego (and if you’re a seasoned writer your ego got crushed to dust long ago so there isn’t much left to boost).

So how do the mid-level writers get these glowing reviews by the hundreds? According to research done by Matt Moog, CEO of Power Reviews, a company that makes ratings and review software, only 5-10% of customers actually write reviews. So to get 500 reviews, around 5,000 books need to be sold.

I get why someone would want to just buy reviews. Each review is vital. Just one increases the rate at which online window-shoppers actually click the “buy” button by 65%, says Moog. The magic number for reviews of any product on Amazon seems to be 20.

“You need to get 20 reviews and you’re golden,” said Keith Anderson, strategy officer at Profitero. Bad reviews get absorbed into the cushion when you have that many and you look established. My oldest book available, End of Mae, has just 28 reviews. It’s taken me eight years to gather that many reviews.

So here’s what I’d like to know… how do we get the big numbers of reviews honestly? I’d like to see comments left here or sent to my email sharing your best review snagging strategies. Don’t ask me to go on a witch hunt for fake reviewers… let’s just figure out how to get the reviews honestly… and share the knowledge.

I’ll let you know what I can find out.

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