Now, one more new book cover

At a recent online writers’ conference, I was convinced to bite the bullet and release my novels at goliath Amazon in addition to the alternative ebook retailers where they’re already available. As I began pondering the new hurdles and strategies, I looked at Hometown News as a first offering.

A few years ago I had replaced the original cover, which sought to convey a sense of an idyllic small town where children could grow up safely, at least at the onset, with another of more urgency, reflecting the broader sense of the ultimately dystopian novel.

The new photographic image, though, was problematic.

The flames coming out of the residential window had the emotional message I wanted to convey, but they kept eating up the title and author credit, no matter which color I tried.

So I came up with this, trying to employ a trendy design element:

Returning to it now, though, I still felt an unease. The solution, in the end, was to make the artwork a bit smaller to give it more impact. Got that? It doesn’t make sense, but here’s how I’ve gone:

By the way, it’s now also available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon, as well as at Smashwords and affiliated ebook retailers.

What’s your take on the new design?

Deep in the throes of fiction

I was in the midst of revising what’s now Nearly Canaan and found myself surprised to find myself living vicariously in the minds and hearts of the villains. Well, three of them. (I won’t name them, since they all start out as darlings. Don’t want to spoil your reading.)

Yes, I was even looking for reasons to like them.

Not so, their real-life counterparts.

The villains, eh? Never expected that!

Apparently, Tolstoy never knew about kefi

In my novel What’s Left, Cassia’s clan wasn’t like a typical happy family. Hers was more like a hippie circus extending from the restaurant they jointly owned and operated. Much of their joy sprang from the fact they were different.

Only when tragic events rocked their course did they begin to resemble others around them.

It’s an inversion of Tolstoy’s great opening to Anna Karenina.

Likewise, their road to recovery includes their distinctive application of kefi, a Greek approach to living that defies precise translation. Still, I try in my novel. Cassia’s aunt Pia embodies it.

What would you suggest as a secret to happiness?

An aside on poetry readings

Catching up on my stack of Harper’s magazine, I came across a remembrance of the poet Etheridge Knight, and it stirred a long buried memory.

Etheridge? I paused, before remembering he was a black inmate of the Indiana State Penientiary when he began writing seriously. Damn good stuff, as I discovered.

My introduction came in the mid ’70s when Roger Pfiingston asked if I wanted to go with him up to Indianapolis, aka Naptown, to a reading and open mic. I was free that night. The trip from Bloomington was a little over an hour, and he was driving.

The event was at a bar in the inner city, not a familiar terrain, and Etheridge was hosting. I should go back to my journals for details, but I recall it as a warm and comforting evening. I think Jared Carter was the featured reader. Another damned good Indiana poet.

I was a bit nervous about one of the pieces I’d brought with me, one that quoted a friend’s father about a lover in the ’30s, but I read it anyway.

The line in question triggered delighted, loud laughter from Etheridge, especially. I was sooooh relieved!

Looking back, I see it as one more confirmation – and welcome – as my identity as a poet.

What a wonderful community!

What I’m encountering in a raft of ebooks

As an author of ebooks, I’ve been lately engaged in an orgy of reading works by my fellow Smashwords writers. Admittedly, many of my selections have veered toward writings that reflect topics in my own novels – hippies, yogis, subway riders, millennials, Buddhists, Greek-Americans, and the struggles of new adults, especially. Still, it feels good to get a sense of what others are up to, and their formatting does give me a better sense of my digital options.

As I do so, I often leave brief reviews as a guide for other readers with similar interests. You have no idea how much these mean to a writer, so let me urge you to do the same whenever possible. As one responded, just knowing that she was heard was warm and welcome affirmation.

Just because many of these books are what the big imprints would deem “not viable for commercial publication” does not mean they lack value.

One of my favorites is a two-part memoir by the daughter of Lebanese immigrants who wound up in Nebraska somewhere around the turn of the 20th century. Her candor and details, however simply told, strengthen my understanding of what I present as Cassia’s ancestry in What’s Left. I dread to imagine what would have happened to the memoir in an attempt to jazz it up for wider sales. We should feel honored being allowed in behind the doors of a particular family history so honestly revealed.

It’s something like visiting artists’ studios or art galleries rather than going to the big museums. The scale’s definitely different.

One thing I’m finding is that I apply a more laid-back standard in reviewing these volumes. Yes, they are cheaper, for one thing, but I also read these more like manuscripts than finally processed books. I’m looking especially for freshness and energy, the edge often absent in the book industry. Remember, the big houses no longer nurture talent in the hopes of reaping a hit five books later. Everyone has to start somewhere, and this is where the action is now. Besides, even commercially published works these days aren’t particularly well edited. Alas.

Still, I’m having some common complaints, the pet peeves of an aging copy editor.

“Grey” instead of the American “gray.”

“Towards” rather than the American “toward.”

“That” instead of “who.”

Punctuation errors, especially with single and double quote marks.

Short stories posing as novels. Admittedly, I’m frugal, but these short entries are rarely worth the same as a fully fleshed out book.

To see what I’ve been reading, go to the book reviews at my Jnana Hodson at Smashwords page.

Got any favorite ebooks to recommend?

Kinisi, from Greek for ‘motion’

I’ve long been fascinated by the inner workings of English in very short segments. Typographical errors, for instance, when they seem to release some other possibilities. Aram Saroyan’s Lighght would be a prime example, presented as a poem in its entirety.

We accept the silent “gh” without question in conventional writing, but a second one brings us back to the perplexity we had as children learning some very strange spellings. And then, maybe, it points to the wonder of light itself.

There’s also the question of just how short a poem can be. One word? Two? A single line? Two lines?

Beyond that is the concrete poem, including those where typography itself seems to embody its own beauty, apart from any obvious meaning.

More recently, I’ve become fond of two or three synonyms or antonyms in juxtaposition.

I’ve played with all of these concepts, some of the results now appearing in my Thistle Finch chapbooks and others in my Kinisi series here.

And some of them could simply be prompts for a writing exercise.

Trying to figure out what to call them has always been a challenge. I wound up with Kinisi, from the Greek root for kinetic, when I noticed what attracted me to these fragments was some mysterious innate motion generated by the bits.

Here’s hoping they leap and dance in your imagination, too.