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Stay tuned for reviews on:

Posted: January 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

Tom Franklin’s Hell at the Breech

Frank Bill’s Crimes in Southern Indiana

Donald Ray Pollock’s Knockemstiff

Matthew McBride’s Frank Sinatra in a Blender

I don’t know John Locke, but I’d like to. I’ve read the same derogatory reviews you have, all of them about how he tackled acquiring reviews for his books on Amazon. Personally, in deciding to read How I Sold 1 Million Ebooks in 5 Months, I put all of that aside for a few reasons. First, I’m an author. All other things equal, if I could have fifty perfect reviews for my novel overnight, it would accomplish nothing. No one would know about it. Reviews, by themselves, are not a marketing plan and anyone who trashes How I Sold 1 Million eBooks because it “leaves something out” isn’t thinking clearly. Second, before reading John’s how-to, I learned he was a highly successful businessman in the same industry that I’ve spent the last fourteen years. My suspicion was that he applied a businessman’s mind to a problem, and found a solution. Last, I read somewhere that he didn’t actually demand good reviews. He merely tried to direct his books to readers with a propensity for liking his work, which is what any marketer, anywhere, does every time. Lastly, his famous line about the other guys needing to prove their books were worth ten times as much as his, priced at 99 cents, also made sense in terms of me buying this book. What’d it cost? 3.99 or so? Not enough to remember. So in value, I got a lot more out of it than I paid, which incidentally, is part of John’s premise.

John comes across as a genuine good guy who applied principles of success he learned in other business ventures to his career as an author. I found it refreshing to read because John gets it. Meaning, he knows his client and seeks to make his client happy. He knows his readers and his enterprise is entirely focused on those readers–identifying them, reaching them, developing relationships with them, encouraging their participation, etc.

What he doesn’t do, which I also greatly appreciate, is come across as pretentious. He’s blunt about his success but hey, that’s way better than false modesty. Nor does John equate sales success with writing the great American novel. So many aspiring writers lament that their work is great, but no one will read it. The game is rigged, etc. Writing is inherently a marketing business as much as it is an art. If the author doesn’t have other people to do the marketing, it falls on his/her shoulders. And in some cases, such as John’s, it’s more advantageous to assume the entire burden–and profit.

John’s insurance business background comes through in this way: insurance sales is about not just finding the right market and gaining access to it. It’s also vital to build real relationships with people. That’s the only way to earn trust, and there is no lasting approximation of it. The insurance business is rife with how-to books about sales presentations and magic techniques and systems, but I suspect John built his insurance business one relationship at a time, just like he built his readership for his books.

I recommend this read to both aspiring authors and anyone who is interested in marketing through social media. John’s insights about online relationships should be worthwhile to just about everyone in business, these days. A final note: I finished this book feeling like I’ve known John ten years. He’s got heart and values, so forget about the detractors that pop up all over the place. If you don’t know anything about building relationships through social media, give How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months a try.

 

Almost all of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is backstory; the novel is only bookended and punctuated with present action. For purposes of characterization, it works fine. Most of the backstory is devoted to characterization, and the characters are believable and highly sympathetic. If you’re the kind of reader who wants to know your characters deep down, you’ll love Crooked Letter Crooked Letter.

Structurally, there are a few key story questions that keep the reader wondering. What happened between the protagonist and his former friend that caused the present day rift?

The story is constructed with a blink spot—the identity of a young girl’s boyfriend on the night she was murdered. I’m calling it a blind spot because the author doesn’t make it a compelling story question, which I think shows admirable restraint. (Having the reader asking the wrong questions would have diluted the strength of the more compelling, literary, character-motivation based questions.) However, when Franklin fills that blind spot, he provides a great ah-huh! moment, and cements the reader’s trust in the all-sensing, all-knowing authority of the author. You’ll know you’re reading a master of the craft.

There is no doubt Franklin is a master. In spite of my gripes, which result from personal preference, I read the novel in two days and enjoyed it. I was a happy reader because I’m usually incapable of reading bestsellers because they so often compel me only to get out a red pen and edit them. This was not the case with Franklin. He’s smooth as Makers Mark.

My gripes have to do with structure. I anticipated the answer to every single story question. Every one. Franklin telegraphs everything and the result was that I read to have my suspicions confirmed, instead of to be surprised. I’m confident Franklin knew he was telegraphing, and that his higher purpose was to write an in depth character study, not a thriller/suspense. As a character study, you won’t find one finer. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter will make you think, and it’ll make you feel. However, the novel probably won’t make you bite your nails.

My advice? If you want to see how an absolute master develops characters, then Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter will deeply satisfy. Franklin is perfect at creating compelling characters and revealing their thoughts, emotions, and woes in a way that keeps the reader involved. I’m looking forward to reading Franklin’s other work, particularly Smonk and Hell at the Breech.

 

Good writing. Amazing writing. Stylistically Donald Ray Pollock has a lot going on. He makes better use of exposition than any author I’ve ever read, mostly because he’s willing to show the reader things that are… unusual and interesting. It’s like reading a train wreck.

I’d prefer that if an author is going to put two Christian symbols on every page, that at some point he address something about Christianity. I din’t get much depth there. Felt like watching a porn star with a crucifix around her neck–makes you wonder if she believes Christ is her savior, or if she wears the cross for some other reason.

I’ve read other reviewers of this book who note that Pollock puts ugliness on display without a hint of moral judgment, and if I would have quit in the middle of the novel (and I could have, because I didn’t give a damn about any of the characters) I would have believed that to be true. However, the end leaves me feeling that Pollock does have a moral view of the situations he presents.

Long story short, the writing is stylistically brilliant and the story will stick with you long enough that if there is any higher message to come from it, you’ll remember the story long enough to get it. Driving home from work the other day I saw a deer that someone had hit on the on ramp to the hi-way. It sat upright on folded legs, pan eyed and terrified, blood all over its mouth. I’ve thought of it many times, not because the guy who hit it was trying to say something, but because the image is brutal and hard to forget. I just don’t know yet whether Pollock’s writing is brutal with a message, or just brutal.

Author Interview

Posted: December 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

Many thanks to Justin Bienvenue for the linked interview: http://jbienvenue.webs.com/interviews.htm