Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Vanguard of Hope, by Kathy Steinemann

Vanguard of Hope, by Kathy Steinemann, the first in her Sapphire Brigade series, is a melodrama set in the late 19th century. I have had quite an internal struggle over how to rate this book. Because I determined that several of the problems I had with it were probably personal taste issues, I'm giving it three stars instead of two.

One thing that Steinemann could easily clarify at the beginning with a quick edit is the location of the story. I was very confused--there were references to "Free Negroes" and the 13th Amendment, implying the United States, most likely in the South. But the spellings are often British, there is a reference to British tutors, and Peter, the husband, is described (too far in) as having a British accent.

There are also some other editing issues like verb tense inconsistencies and confusing shifts in focus from crucial plot points to details about a secondary character's appearance and personality.

But now, on to the major issues I had with the novel...

[Warning: Spoilers abound in the next few paragraphs]

First off, Steinemann sent me the book to review, and she probably didn't realize I am a historian, or she might not have. There were a few distinct, well-researched passages, but the book had so many anachronisms as to completely throw me out of the story. Finally I decided to pretend that it was set in 1958 instead of 1890, which took care of almost all of the problems. For one thing, the term "paedophile" was not in common use until the 20th century. I am not convinced that people in the 1890s would have reacted to Hope's confession about her secret as they did. Perhaps one or two exceptionally advanced thinkers might, but the vast majority would have labeled her "hysterical" and locked her away in a room with yellow wallpaper.

The concept of "racism" as a bad thing is also far more recent than the turn of the century. At that time and well into the first half of the 20th century "racism," and specifically "scientific racism," was widely accepted as an appropriate world view, not as something to condemn. Read some of Teddy Roosevelt's writings on the topic of race sometime. By the mid 1920s literally millions of people, including a half a million women, belonged to the KKK. It became something you had to do in order to make it in a career--even Harry Truman joined for a brief time. Had the novel been set in the late 1950s or in the 1960s, after the Civil Rights movement had begun, it would make a lot more sense to me that Hope would want to reject racism. And it would still make a lot of sense to me that she and those around her might suffer retaliation for it.

Terms like "cheating" and "stalking" are also later 20th century terms, for what it's worth. The book is full of language inappropriate to the time.

Another issue I had was that I thought I was reading a romance, and as romances go, Vanguard doesn't follow the rules. Some readers may enjoy this as a step away from convention. However, I like romance conventions. Introduce the main love interest at the beginning and that's who I want the main character to end up with. But Hope had not one, not two, but three loves. Hey, I'm all for polyamorous love stories, but this really wasn't one of those (way too much talk of offending God for that). The introduction of Owen in the last third of the novel really threw me off. I never trusted him. It didn't help that he kept breaking into her house and surprising her when he 1) knew she was a victim of sexual assault and 2) was a doctor who counseled her sister about her own assault and should have been a lot more sensitive to the repercussions of violating Hope's space and safety like that. On top of that, Hope's reactions to this violation didn't ring true for me. She wasn't the least bit unnerved. Maybe if she had met Owen before Solomon or Peter, if there had been established sexual tension with him from the start, I might have been able to hang in there. And it didn't help that I found their playful sexual banter awkward (they had names for their body parts) and tiresome (there was far too much of it).

Click on the image to purchase on Amazon.
I was disappointed because in the beginning of the novel I got hooked despite the anachronisms and minor editing problems, which is saying a lot for me. I get frustrated with that sort of thing usually. But I was impressed because the story of Hope's affair with Solomon was compelling and I thought that would be the focus of the book. Also, Steinemann has a good grasp of how to throw twists into a plot. In fact, I think she does it too much (he was murdered, no, he killed himself, no, he's not actually dead--that one annoyed me particularly because I was invested in the hate crime aspect of the murder scenario). But by the last third of the novel, I felt that the tension just wasn't there. The only looming threat was Hope's illness, and that wasn't enough for me. I needed something else to threaten her--the illness was just saddening, not exciting.

Anyway, I think others may enjoy this novel more than I did. Anachronisms really bug me (unless it's an alternative history) and I don't think they bother non-history buffs nearly as much. So if you like melodramas with lots of twists and prefer romances that stray from the usual conventions, you may enjoy Vanguard of Hope.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

We have a winner!

Well, the Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia is officially closed. The good news is, I ran the names of all the lovely people who commented on the previous post in order to enter the drawing to win all the episodes of The City Darkens (to download the first episode free, go here) and we have a winner! Lisabet Sarai, please stand up and claim your prize!!! Applause!!!

Okay, so in real life I'll be emailing Lisabet. Thank you all for reading and participating in HAHAT this year. Let me know if you do anything wonderful to promote acceptance of LGBT people in the coming months!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

HAHAT: Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia

Hello all! I'm happy to say that I'm participating in the Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia this year. I only just came across it about a month ago, so this is my first year both as a blogger and a general participant.

I had a friend named Rufus when I lived in El Cajon many years ago, who was a sweetie. He liked to flirt with me which I enjoyed very much since my first husband, who I was married to at the time, was pretty lame at making me feel pretty, etc. Rufus was married and had a child, but he also had a boyfriend; I'm not sure if his wife was okay with this or even knew about it. In any case, one night around 2am Rufus and his boyfriend were walking down a street in El Cajon (a low income neighborhood in San Diego known for its white supremacists) hand in hand. Witnesses saw several men stop them. They shot and killed them both execution-style.

The perpetrators were never caught.

I'm deeply happy to be away from El Cajon, but I've found that in NorCal there is still a lot of homophobia. Many people I encounter who don't live in California think that it's a great place for LGBT people, but while you do have pockets like SF, West Hollywood, and Hillcrest in San Diego, there's still a lot of progress to be made.

Friday is International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (May 17th). Consider doing something to spread the word about LGBT rights. Got ideas? Post them in the comments!

A couple of other questions to consider for commenting:
Have you ever known anyone targeted with violence solely for some aspect of their identity? Tell us what happened.
What's the best way to handle hate crimes? Should they be punished more severely than other crimes or treated the same?

Comment on this post and add an email and a preferred ebook format. I will do a random drawing of names (using an online utility) and the winner will receive free copies of all of the episodes of The City Darkens, which is LGBT fantasy. You can read more about the first episodes here. Some episodes are not yet out. The winner will receive them as soon as I'm done editing and formatting them.

The contest ends late in the day on May 27th.The winner will be announced on here on the blog (on May 28th, barring some unforeseen obstacle) and contacted via email.

Want to comment but don't want to enter the drawing? Post away! I love reader comments.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Quality Control for Indie Authors

I've read some bad ebooks.

I never post reviews for them, just because I don't want to hurt some poor struggling author's feelings. I admire anyone who puts themselves out there, you know. Sometimes, I email the author with notes for improving the book, but other times I just don't post anything. I've had folks send me novels to review who are probably scratching their heads.

However, my policy on this is probably going to change, because I just can't stand how badly written ebooks reflect on all ebooks. It's not something that only makes the author of the flawed book look bad. It makes all self-publishers look bad. How can I expect readers to wade through the bad to find the good, when I myself can't seem to do it? It's frustrating, because the best thing for ebooks sales is word of mouth, but you don't get word of mouth until a certain number of people read your book, and a lot of people are just avoiding self-published books because they think 90% of them are crap, and they're right.

I've been talking about this on one of the groups I belong to on Goodreads. It really surprised me when several fellow members posted answers to my initial post saying that they don't see what the big deal about good grammar is, and that some readers/reviewers suddenly think that they are "English teachers" as soon as they pick up an indie book, and that there are too many grammar Nazis. What this tells me is that these authors don't care if their books have major grammatical and stylistic flaws. The fact that they view people who care about grammar as "Nazis" and, worse, "English teachers"... well. I say, if an English teacher reads one of my novels and thinks it's good, then I've really done a great job. And I want that. I want my books to be that good.

There are a few folks on GR who are talking about putting together some sort of consortium of authors/readers/reviewers who would evaluate books for their writing quality (not in terms of content, but in terms of grammar etc.). I may participate in that. I'll keep you posted.

How about you? Do you care about grammar and style when you read a book, or does story just trump everything else? What sorts of things make you pause when you're reading (not in a good way)? If a consortium formed to evaluate books on their writing quality, would their seal of approval make a difference to you?

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Twitter: Spam vs. Marketing

A few months ago I took down all of my programmed tweets that directly marketed my ebooks. I did this out of frustration with how many of these tweets I was seeing in my own stream. They vastly outnumber tweets where anyone actually says anything about how their day is going or whatever. When I attempted to make  list of tweeps who "tweet real stuff" I only managed to accumulate 24 people, out of a potential group of nearly 2000. This makes Twitter really boring to me. I felt like I was just looking at a stream of spam, and it didn't help that 4 out of 5 of these marketing tweets used quotes from the novels with grammar errors or style issues in the quotes. One vampire novelist's quote said something along the lines of, "A dead body! Someone sucked his ass dry!" Now, just give that one a minute to knock around in your head. Not a pretty picture, is it? A couple of times I couldn't help myself--I had to @ the person with the troublesome tweet and point out the problem. This was never received very well (I can't imagine why!). Seriously, though. You're tweeting something from your book. Why not choose a line that actually flows well?

Yeah, that's what I end up thinking, too. They've probably already chosen the best line in their book.

But I digress.

Back to my point: I got fed up with all the marketing tweets especially since most of them seem to come from people who otherwise are not engaged with Twitter at all, or very little. I nixed my own, and kept an eye on my sales. At first, nothing changed. Then I had a couple of pretty dry months. Then, April happened. In which I more than tripled the the best month of sales I ever had before on Amazon, and had my second best month ever on B&N. What changed?

Well, in April I was giving away two books. I released The Plane and the Parade so I was giving away The River and the Roses. And I had just started giving away Myadar's Snare then, too (I still am; get it here.) And because I wanted to be sure everyone knew about these giveaways, I did a lot more tweeting about them than I had been. I also sent out some direct messages--I really hope those didn't annoy anyone, but since what I was DMing about was free, I decided it was a risk worth taking. Since the free books are located here on the blog, I can't be sure that the tweets led directly to the sales--after all, for that to be the case, a lot of people would have had to click through on the pictures in the margins here or on the links on the ebook description page or something. I also joined several Goodreads groups in April and added my books to a few bookshelves, so it's quite possible that made a big difference--although I only did that with the Myadar books, and I sold a bunch of Veronica books as well as Broken Ones, too, which I didn't post.

So I've decided to give marketing tweets another try and see what happens. Right now, I'm only going to send out 2 or 3 a day. This is extremely low. Michael Hicks, who is my hero because he started out like any indie publisher and worked his way to where he quit his day job and bought a house in Florida with a pool, for pity's sake, sends them out every 60 to 120 minutes, for instance. He's being moderate compared to some of the spammers I mentioned above. I just really don't want someone who only has three dozen followers to open their Twitter account one morning and have to scroll through my fifty marketing tweets clogging their stream.

So we'll see if these tweets do anything. I may eventually up it to 6 a day, although I'm going to give it some time first. I'll give an update when I've seen what happens. By the way, if you don't already follow me on Twitter, you can do so here.

How do you schedule your tweets? Have you found that one kind of tweet is more effective for your sales than others (a book description, a quote from the book, a quote from a reviewer)?

When you see promo tweets, is there one kind you prefer? How do you feel about seeing a lot of promo tweets in your stream?