Good-By Kindle Unlimited, Welcome Back iTunes, Smashwords, et al.


Emerald CityWhen Amazon launched its Kindle Unlimited $9.99-a-month book subscription program in July, we decided to give it a whirl. For three months (the required minimum sign-up), most of our e-books were sold exclusively on KU. Results? An uptick in profits, but not enough to re-up for. As of this weekend, Boom-Books can be purchased on Smashwords, iTunes, ARe/OmniLit, and Kindle Limited, as well as the nonexclusive $8.99-a-month book subscription service Scribd, with Kobo, Nook, and others soon to follow.

Several factors besides money influenced the move. First: the ethical dilemma. More than one author has admitted: I hate Amazon, but I use it. So does economist Paul Krugman in today’s New York Times. Krugman, though, doesn’t just hate Amazon. He fears it, and believes it should be reined in: “, the giant online retailer, has too much power, and it uses that power in ways that hurt America.”

Random House first edition (1967) of the Marshall McLuhan classic.Second: the practical dilemma. Amazon already has taken a controlling position in the book industry (as Krugman notes). The question is less Will the company achieve a monopoly? than What can be done about it? and, of course, How much does it matter? We already know that

  • the tech revolution has whacked publishing like a tsunami;
  • the medium is shaping the message, in too many ways to list here;
  • as Peter Brantley pointed out years ago, the nature of 21st-century publishing is being determined by tech people, not book people.

If Amazon were reined in, would that bring back a Golden Age when a book is published for its content and prose quality rather than the author’s celebrity, and readers get suggestions from well-read bookstore clerks instead of from algorithms? Unlikely. What it probably would bring is the fast rise of Apple, Google, or some other online rival.

apple pythonSThat said, we would rather continue publishing as an ant in an arena of clashing titans than in an empty street loomed over by a single Godzilla.

One Amazon innovation we find particularly disturbing is the honey pot. Perhaps inevitably, electronic publishing has shifted the definition of terms like royalty and even book sales from literal to metaphoric. Amazon exploits this shift by paying its exclusive authors not a fixed percentage of their books’ earnings, but a share in a pool of money established by Amazon. If you as an author enroll a book you’ve written in Kindle Unlimited or KDP Select (Amazon Prime), you get a payment whenever a subscriber borrows your book (KDPS) or reads past the first 10% (KU). Those exchanges between producer and consumer are not, strictly speaking, book sales. Your customers only “own” your book for as long as they stay in the program, i.e., continue to pay Amazon’s monthly subscription fee.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s payments to you come from a discretionary fund which is not related to your book’s earnings. So far, the amount has been carefully kept above $1.50 per “borrow.” You might call these payments earnings, or bonuses, or (if you’re a cynic) bribes. Bottom line: Amazon has been investing $2-3 million a month to induce authors and small publishers to supply its subscribers with books. Most of the big publishers refuse to participate, so Amazon has to stock the pond somehow.

tunaBut what will happen once it’s full? The lure can be snatched away at any moment. Given that Amazon’s enormous revenues so far haven’t made it profitable, the company may well follow the same strategy as it did with audiobooks: once enough books are in the pipeline, change the payment structure. Amazon started by acquiring the entire vertical chain of audiobook creation and distribution, including buying Audible from Apple. Then its ACX production arm declared: From now on, instead of a 50-50 split, we’re taking 60% and giving you 40%. ACX users fiercely protested. Amazon predictably ignored them.

Serendipitously, as this blog “goes to press,” today’s Digital Book World has published Kobo President Michael Tamblyn’s “32 Notes on Amazon-Hachette-IndyAuthors,”kobo-nyc a series of Tweets warning of exactly the scenario we’ve just described. As we noted here last November, Kobo has acted on its convictions: in partnership with the American Booksellers Association (ABA) and others, the IndieBound program lets readers buy e-books from Kobo online through their favorite independent bookstore, with a share of the proceeds going to the store. Next time you’re thinking of buying an e-book, check it out!



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A Magical Crack in Time


Moonalice-vignetteby CJ Verburg

I first met San Francisco almost 50 years ago, and it was love at first sight. I was young; California seemed as far away as Venus. My parents were determined to keep us apart. As soon as I got out of college and earned enough money for a plane ticket and a room at the Salvation Army’s Evangeline Residence, I took off for the Promised Land.

Nowadays “music, love, and flowers” is a cliche, but in the early 1970s it was a multifaceted miracle. Flowers welcomed me from a bitter East Coast February to mellow SFO. I found a studio apartment in a pre-quake building a block from Ocean Beach, complete with Murphy bed, oriental rugs, and a silk-upholstered armchair. When I walked down the street (often barefoot), I exchanged smiles with everyone I passed. On Saturday nights I sat in vast smoke-hazed halls drinking in one psychedelic band after another, watching Da-Glo frisbees sail from hand to hand while neon-bright oil drops pulsed on a giant screen.

MagicBusIn many ways San Francisco has become its own museum, or Disneyland. Discoveries that were revolutionary when I arrived–bell bottoms, peace signs, tie-dyed T-shirts–are symbols marketed now to tourists. Over the years, bands split up; musicians died; political radicals became professors. Pedestrians stopped smiling at each other. Drivers started honking at other drivers. Rents shot up.

Yet in its wizened heart, this is still the City of Love. Every once in a while a crack appears in its 21st-century Silicon veneer, and the old San Francisco seeps or bursts through like Pele’s lava. This past weekend was one such breakthrough: the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, the late Warren Hellman’s gift to musicians and music-lovers. For three days, the leafy midsection of Golden Gate Park overflowed with bands and fans–a lavish buffet, and all free. Taking Hellman’s generosity one step further, local band Moonalice live-streamed much of the festival, so that you could hear and see it even if you couldn’t be there.

Moonalice-sign-croptTonight Moonalice popped up again with a free set in Union Square. The irony of listening to gritty old rock-&-rollers playing in the lavish shadow of Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany’s, and Williams-Sonoma (I kid you not) was outweighed by the magic of the music–and the ghosts it called up: tie-dyed shirts, peace signs, gray-bearded men toking on aromatic Js, time-ripened girls wafting in long wavy hair and skirts. And the children! A two-year old bobbed in his mother’s arms; a three-year-old jumped ecstatically up and down. Four- to six-year-olds made up their own moves. As always, every child felt the music throbbing inside like a communal heartbeat, and had to dance.

When Moonalice rippled out a rambling hommage to Bob Dylan, many of us sang together on the chorus, but in my mind the challenge twisted:
Waiting to find out what price
We have to pay to be able
To go through all these things twice.

Thank you, Moonalice. Thank you, Warren Hellman. Thank you, San Francisco.



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October Olio: Law, Literature, & Love


by CJ Verburg

hall-of-justice-san-francisco“In San Francisco, the DA’s office, criminal courts and city jail are located in a Stalinesque seven-story structure at Seventh and Bryant that is modestly known as the Hall of Justice.” — Sheldon Siegel, Special Circumstances


I had the good fortune to meet Sheldon Siegel at my first Sisters in Crime meeting a few weeks ago. Good fortune because (1) I enjoyed talking with him, and therefore (2) I picked up his courtroom drama Special Circumstances–a gripping read, especially since (3) I was obliged to spend yesterday afternoon in that very Hall of Justice.

Siegel’s character is on trial for his life after being falsely accused of murder. I was on trial for $238 after being falsely accused of running a Stop sign. Hardly comparable, but oddly parallel. What strikes you upon stepping into those marble corridors is that the leitmotif is not Justice For The Accused so much as Convenience For The Employed. The lawyers buzzing around Traffic Court gave the same reassurance to the police officers they were cutting deals with as Siegel’s protagonist gives his client: We’ll get you out of here as quick as we can.

Not having a lawyer, I was the next-to-last defendant in the courtroom to get out. Experienced perpetrators know that hiring a lawyer jumps you way up the priority list, and strongly inclines the officer who accused you to request a dismissal. Are the scales thereby tipped heavily in favor of the guilty? I can’t answer that, but I know I got lucky in being assigned to a judge who truly was committed to justice. Of course, once all the pleas and dismissals were negotiated by the hundred or so lawyers, officers, and defendants in his courtroom, only five of us were left for him to try. We were out of there by 3:30.

1booktoberfest2014Much more elevating was last Friday’s fourth annual Booktoberfest at the Mechanics’ Institute Library. For one night, the third-floor reference library became a feast, where a capacity crowd browsed samples of locally produced beer, wine, munchies, and (of course) books. With UC Berkeley Extension as the event’s main sponsor, local literary organizations from Litquake to Zyzzyva (see below) staffed tables with information and giveaways. 2booktoberfest2014Meanwhile, in a nearby classroom, almost two dozen member authors gave three-to-five-minute presentations of their work. The impressive roster included novels, memoirs, chronicles of adventures, even an app. Kudos to librarian Taryn Edwards who masterminded this delightful “Buy Local” celebration–which originated with the motto, “Put the PUB back into publishing.”


luxy-bannerLast and certainly least is the news from Mark Morford at SFGate of a new dating service called Luxy which touts itself as [sic] “TINDER MINUS THE POOR PEOPLE.” Is this for real? The San Francisco Bay Guardian’s Rebecca Rowe wondered that, too. Rowe quotes ‘the (poorly copy-edited) website: “Our members include CEOs, entrepreneurs, investors, millionaires, beauty queens, fitness models, Hollywood celebrities, pro athletes, doctors, lawyes [sic] and successful people, juast [sic] name a few. . . . The average income of male users on LUXY is over $200k and those who are unable to keep up financially are immediately removed from the service.”’

Prank or not, Rowe notes that ‘actual people are signing up for it.’ Morford adds that Luxy may be most useful as a filter, to help users ‘weed out exactly the type of human you want nowhere near your world: entitled, vacuous, vain enough to think an app like this is exactly what they need but cheap enough to believe it should be free (Sign that Luxy is bulls–t No. 27: Any real dating app for rich people would cost $500 a month and ask for your dental records and two years’ of tax returns).’

For a different angle on the love-and-commitment question, see yesterday’s SFGate post by Tony Bravo. According to a recent survey by the Daily Mail and Jezebel, ‘half of all married women have a backup husband in mind.’ And, no–nobody asked what married men have in mind. Some lids are better left unlifted.


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The Future of Reading: E-Books, Audiobooks, Multimedia, and Beyond


Buffalo_bill_wild_west_show_c1899by CJ Verburg

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the literary world is in flux. Book publishing is the 21st-century Wild West. It’s the Gold Rush. Meaning, fortunes are being made and lost, and since nobody’s sure where the next big thing will come from, many ambitious Argonauts are looking for their payoff in the crystal-ball market.

Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped:

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped:

The first question I would ask before making any predictions is, Why do we have books? What do we want from them? Is a story printed on paper pages more powerful in some way than one that appears and disappears on a screen between phone calls? Is a book simply a content delivery system, or is the medium part of the message?

These are bigger questions than I can analyze here and now, but some intriguing clues have emerged. Data show the classic book form is thriving. Reliable figures are sparse, but we know the self-publishing boom has exploded the number of books produced per year, adding around 400,000 to the million or so total in 2013. Traditional publishers’ output continues to rise, although the heavy competition has kept earnings flat. Print book sales remain vigorous; and while e-book sales are no longer skyrocketing, they’re strong and rising.

EGOS_wpIn June 2012, when I published my multimedia e-book Edward Gorey On Stage, it was pioneering to include hyperlinks in the text and photo captions to take readers to film clips, related websites, music, and more. So many startups were creating interactive book technology that I half expected a paradigm shift to a hybrid between an e-book and a video game. We’re seeing some of that, in children’s books and textbooks and some other niches, but on the whole it hasn’t happened. To my surprise, several reviewers of Edward Gorey On Stage wished it were available in old-fashioned print on paper. So I asked myself how I could do that, and now there is a full-color multimedia print version as well as an e-book. Still, it’s not the links people respond to as much as the content. Readers want information, and they want a story.

LBBschoonerAReSo what I think we can look forward to, for now, is most adult fiction and nonfiction published in three formats: print, e-book, and audiobook. Our multitasking zeitgeist means that a lot of people read while they’re doing something else, such as commuting, exercise, or housework. The structure of the story won’t change much, because we humans exist in time, so every experience has a de facto beginning, middle, and end. LBBaudio2And as Joseph Campbell has pointed out, the same basic story lines show up in all different cultures, because every community struggling with this vast and chaotic world wants to know what the heck is going on. Birth and death. Love and work. War and heroism.

Where do the bells and whistles come in? Peter Thiel, a techno mogul who cofounded PayPal, has a new book out called Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. In his opinion, tech and the tech industry have a better shot than money at bringing about change in the world. That impact includes books.

Right now we’re seeing a tech crossover less in book format than in book marketing. In a short piece that just came out September 24 in Digital Book World, Rich Bellis notes that media tie-ins power half of this week’s best-selling e-books. OutlanderThis isn’t a new trend, but it’s the highest proportion so far of digital best-sellers linked with movies or TV shows. With the film version of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl hitting cinemas on October 3, the e-book version is back at #1. “Eight other titles within the top-25 (The Maze Runner, three titles in the Outlander series, If I StayThe Fault in Our Stars, This Is Where I Leave You and Dark Places) have current or upcoming film or TV series tie-ins.”

What does this mean for books? If you’re in movies or TV, books have become an increasingly valuable slush pile. The Outlander series running on Starz is based on a book series by Diana Gabaldon that dates back to 1991. Most of the popular British mystery series on American public television began as books, by authors from 21st-century Ann Cleeves back to Agatha Christie almost a century ago. All this exposure boosts book sales, and we can hope demand, at least for genre books, along with the prospects for authors. On the other hand, Bellis observes, “It can sometimes feel as though the ebooks are ‘tie-ins’ to the TV shows and movies, and not the other way around.” The book may be the seed, but its cover and PR are more likely to feature the star than the writer.

Meanwhile, the consumer gets to have his or her cake and eat it, too. Because our minds process information differently in different formats, there’s a separation between words we read on a page, words we listen to, and moving images. We can enjoy all three, or even two at once; Kindle’s Whispersync touts itself as a way to read the e-book while you’re listening to the audiobook. Still, the external picture supplied by actors on a screen isn’t the same as the internal picture that erupts like a genie from a magic lamp when we read. Whether you’re hooked on the heft of a paper book in your hands, or addicted to the convenience of ebooks or audiobooks, a tale told by a storyteller remains a unique and irreplaceable pleasure.

crystal ball(Note: I’ll be presenting a shorter version of these comments at Booktoberfest 2014; see previous blog for time and place.)

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September Book Events in the San Francisco Bay Area


2013: Adele Fasick, Carol Costello, Mary O’Toole, Jon Foyt, Jackie Davis-Martin

by CJ Verburg

September is the busiest month! Coming up next Friday is the fourth annual Booktoberfest at San Franciso’s legendary Mechanics Institute Library. If you’re a Bay Area publisher, author, editor, literary agent, book designer, or reader, September 26 is your night! Stop by 57 Post St. from 5 to 7:30 PM to quaff a locally brewed beer, taste a locally created snack, read a locally written book, hear about new developments in your field, and compare notes with others who share your interests.


The Espresso prints books on the spot @ McNally Jackson, New York

Booktoberfest was first conceived as a grand finale for the Self-Publishers’ (now Indie Publishers’) Working Group, launched in January 2011 to help MIL members explore the 21st-century Gold Rush of print-on-demand and e-books. O brave new world! Kindles were new; the Espresso Book Machine was a sci-fi-class rumor; iPads didn’t exist yet. Booktoberfest began with two working mottos: Buy Local and Put the Pub Back into Publishing. From that sprout, librarian Taryn Edwards has grown Book’toberfest 2014. And as we near the end of our fourth year, members of the Indie Publishers’ Working Group have published enough books to fill a library shelf.

This year, in addition to display tables for Bay Area publishers, a side room will house 5-minute presentations by two dozen Mechanics Institute authors and other book artisans.

SinC-9-14This past Saturday in Berkeley, the September meeting of Sisters In Crime celebrated three particularly illustrious members: Rhys Bowen, Priscilla Royal, and Camille Minichino, gracefully interviewed by chapter president Susan Shea (backed up here by Diana Chambers) and hosted by Terry Shames. Rhys’s latest mystery is Queen of Hearts Priscilla’s is Covenant with Hell; Camille’s (as Margaret Grace) is Madness in Miniature. Although the day’s honorees were induced to sign books afterwards, the focus was on sisterhood, in the metaphorical sense (men too are welcome as Sisters In Crime): mutual support, inspiration, and celebration.

Lurking around the corner in October: Litquake!


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DANGER! Behind Romance & Mystery – Book Stealing


image from (uncredited)

by Charisse Howard

Cybercrime. That’s a problem for high-profile corporations, right? Not for an author of historical romantic suspense novels.

So I thought until this morning, when I Googled to check if the audio version of Lady Barbara & the Buccaneer is out yet, and discovered someone’s stealing my books.

It appears my second Regency Rakes & Rebels romance is quite the hot ticket. Currently exclusive to KindleUnlimited, Lady Barbara & the Buccaneer‘s sales for September on Amazon (list price $2.99) are zero. That’s surprised me, since the comments I’ve heard from friends, as well as the online ratings at Goodreads and elsewhere, have been very positive. Could the reason I’m not earning any royalties be those illegal pdf copies? which were downloaded for free by 106 readers today, and 776 readers so far this week?

Here’s a peek at the pirates’ website, which I hope will have taken offline by the time you read this:PrintScreen from cybertheft site
For me, the most galling datum on this page is that 214 readers rate the book 9.1 out of 10; yet Lady Barbara & the Buccaneer hasn’t got a single review out of all that enthusiasm.


image from (uncredited)

One can argue that freebies are a popular, even essential, part of book promotion. To that I’d counter: How likely are thieves to turn into buyers? Aren’t the people who deliberately stole a book they could have bought for le$$ than a slice of pizza liable to be the same freeloaders who e-mail me to say they loved my last book, and will I please tell them when I do a giveaway of my next one?

What I’d like to tell them is this. Writing a book, especially a good book, takes time–a lot more time than reading one. Your favorite author has bills to pay, same as you do. If you want her/him to keep entertaining you, then shell out a few bucks to help keep him/her at the keyboard. If you can’t afford to buy the print book, buy the e-book. If you can’t afford the e-book, check out a copy from your local library, or pick it up for free with an Amazon Prime, KindleUnlimited, Scribd, or Oyster subscription.

And what I’d like to tell my fellow writers is: Keep an eye on your books. We can’t track them everywhere; that way lies madness. But with Amazon encouraging readers (and authors) to believe Free Is Cool, who but us cares if we get paid for our work?

StealThisBookWe have other (and better) choices besides KDP Select giveaways. One is the contests and lotteries on Goodreads and other sites where you can donate a limited number of free copies to be won by people who truly want to read your book, and are likely to review it. Another is Kindle Countdown. Another is Smashwords’s “choose your price” setting, where the author can recommend a price but allow readers to pay whatever they can afford. This tactic recently shot to the top of my faves list when it brought Lady Caroline, the Corsair’s Captive a glowing 5-star review.

If I ever figure out how to earn a living from writing books that nobody pays for, I’ll happily join up with the 21st century’s Abbie Hoffmans. Until then, literature has enough problems without being plundered by latter-day Jean Laffites.







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Free Vacation Reading with Kindle Unlimited


KU logo

Hot vacation tip: sign up for a month’s free trial of Kindle Unlimited before you travel. Amazon’s new subscription service lets you load up your e- or audio-device for the beach, airplane, or campsite with unlimited books — including Boom-Books! Been wanting to read CJ Verburg’s “Croaked: an Edgar Rowdey Mystery” or listen to Charisse Howard’s “Lady Annabelle’s Abduction”? Now it’s easy and free.

Just make sure to read at least 10% of each book you download. Unless an author is published by a big commercial house, that’s the requirement for them to get paid.

When you return home, $10 a month will keep your Kindle, Galaxy, or iPad full of virtual adventures. Or switch to Amazon Prime, if you’d rather read just one free book a month but have your other Amazon orders shipped for free; or try a different subscription service with Scribd or Oyster.

And don’t forget your local library, the ultimate source of free books!

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Pros & Cons of Kindle Unlimited vs Scribd, Oyster, Prime, or Playing the Field


tankSo Amazon’s launched another invasion of the literary world.  Kindle Unlimited, its new subscription service, allows members to “buy” as many of the alleged 600,000 e-books for sale on Amazon as they wish, all for a monthly fee of $10.  Also included: more than 2,000 audiobooks.

“Buy” means that the books you acquire stay on your e-device for as long as you keep subscribing.  Discontinue KU and your shelves go empty.  That’s to stop readers from signing up for a month (or a month’s free trial), loading their Kindle or iPhone with thousands of titles, and jumping ship.

How does KU compare with existing subscription services Scribd and Oyster?

  1. gaiman_bookshelvesMore books.  KU offers 600K, Oyster 500K, Scribd 400K.
  2. Audiobooks.  KU has them, Oyster and Scribd don’t.  In this respect, KU’s chief competitor would appear to be Audible, also an Amazon company, which offers a $14.95 monthly subscription.
  3. Different selection.  The Big 5 traditional publishers (Random House-Penguin et al.) have opted into Oyster and Scribd but out of KU.  Indie/self-published e-books on Smashwords are available on Oyster and Scribd; for KU to include an indie e-book, it must be enrolled in KDP Select, i.e., available only on Amazon.  (It may be sold elsewhere in print and other forms.)
  4. Sampling.  You can read an excerpt before buying on KU or Scribd, but not Oyster.
  5. Price? $8.99 for Scribd, $9.95 for Oyster, $9.99 for KU. [Updated 9/15/14]
  6. Flexibility?  All three services let you read on whatever device you like.
  7. Quality?  Oyster and Scribd both get some books direct from the publishers; others come from Smashwords, which processes self- and indie-publishers’ Word or EPUB files through its own “meatgrinder.”  The result on the e-page depends on the compatibility of the original file with the processing system(s) as well as the user’s e-reader.  A few early e-books on Scribd were badly distorted (they’ve made progress on this, but see the cover L); harder to check on Oyster, with no sampling before you buy.  KU’s e-books are the same ones it’s already selling on Amazon, which means they’ve had to pass Kindle’s quality-control check as well as its customers’ scrutiny.

So who’s likely to get the most out of Kindle Unlimited?  Well, any of these subscription services is a good deal for readers who spend more than $10 a month on e-books.  After that it’s a matter of preference.  If you read mostly New York Times best-sellers, which are mostly published by the Big 5, you won’t find them on KU.  If you prefer how-to books or genre fiction–romance, mysteries, thrillers–KU’s pool is wide and deep enough to feed the largest appetite.  After all, Amazon does (like it or not) sell more e-books than anybody.  So the vast majority of non-Big 5 e-books, from Avon romances to Mysterious Press crime fiction to The Hunger Games and Life of Pi, can be read or listened to for free by KU subscribers.  For occasional readers, the combination of easy online ordering and free shipping, plus one free book a month, may make Amazon Prime a better choice.

science-writerWho else benefits from Kindle Unlimited?  Independent authors might.  Normally non-famous writers form the bottom of the food chain.  Right now, in this highly competitive start-up phase, KU is (however grudgingly) subsidizing authors–who are, after all, where books come from.  Will this new Amazon spinoff pull the same kind of bait-and-switch as ACX/Audible, which took a huge bite out of its authors’ royalties a few months ago?  Maybe.  For now, though, writers willing to swallow the exclusivity clause are cautiously hopeful.

The-Circulating-LibraryMedia reports tend to compare book subscription services to Netflix.  Another way to look at this phenomenon is as a throwback.  Before public libraries existed, lucky readers could pay a fee to borrow books from a private library.  Possibly, as present-day public libraries get up to speed with e-book and audiobook lending (as some are doing), they could pose the stiffest competition for Scribd, Oyster, and Kindle Unlimited.


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Ear Holiday! Four Audio Treats


by CJ Verburg

Summer! Whether you’re in the car, at the mall, or on the beach, an absorbing CD or audiobook can screen out boredom and crank up the fun.  Here are two exciting music albums, one multimedia Irish memoir, and one short spicy Regency romance to sweeten your commute, work, or vacation.



FactFlavoredFiction(s) by L.A. virtuoso rock/pop/R&B composer & guitarist Ira Ingber
“[A] masterfully written, crafted and recorded effort from Ira and friends….Our praises start with the writing — Ira has painted a picture here with his words. Close your eyes and you can practically see the story unfold, as if in a movie.” — Recording magazine, cut #7, “French Kissing on the Staten Island Ferry”

Listen to samples or buy the album on CDBaby, iTunes

nicolenoelchancemeyerA Thousand Ways Down by Nicole Noel & Chance Meyer
We wanted to draw lines through time, between our lives and a bygone musical era, by finding their common themes and making music at the intersections…. While our music might tend to drift down through some of the broken places in the world, we hope it ultimately lands you somewhere joyful.”  With a background from jazz to pop to gospel, Nic and Chance have created a wonderful multi-traditional synthesis.

Listen or buy on CDBaby, iTunes, Amazon


renee-audibleLonging for Elsewhere: My Irish Voyage Through Hunger, History and High Times by Renee Gibbons
“Born in a Dublin tenement in the middle of the 20th Century, this dead-poor, curious Irish girl escaped to Paris when she was 17 with the help of a nun, a Hollywood actor, and a kind stranger. … On a ship bound for Egypt with her year-old daughter Aisling she fell in love with a radical longshoreman from San Francisco.” A rollicking memoir punctuated with traditional songs.

Listen (or read) on Audible or Amazon – or see Facebook


Lady Annabelle’s Abduction (Regency Rakes & Rebels, I) by Charisse Howard, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman
In one week, Lady Annabelle Chatfield will marry to save her desperate family. But oh, if her reckless brother Stephen had to die in debt, couldn’t he have picked a younger, handsomer creditor than the Earl of Brackenbury? Then a ruthless stranger climbs into her chamber at midnight, launching a passionate adventure which will turn Lady Annabelle from a girl into a woman.  5 stars!

Listen for $6.95 (or read for 99¢) – Audible, Amazon, iTunes

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The Regency Era in America, or Happy Independence Day!


by Charisse Howard

redcoats1Hard to believe it’s been well over 200 years since thirteen British colonies agreed to “dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth [a] separate and equal station.”

Leading the way, and supplying the newly United States with four of its first five presidents, was the Commonwealth of Virginia. Ironic, since this colony was named for Elizabeth I, England’s “virgin queen.” The Declaration of Independence penned by Virginia planter Thomas Jefferson was carried out by his neighbor General George Washington. As president of the new nation, Washington was succeeded by New Englander John Adams, followed by Jefferson and then two more Virginians, James Madison and James Monroe.


George III in his coronation robes, painted by Allan Ramsay

The British king who lost this valuable chunk of real estate was George III. While the American states struggled to form a viable union, King George struggled with mental problems.  That battle too he lost.  In 1811 his son (also George) took the reins as Prince Regent–launching the period we know as the Regency.

A farm similar to Washington’s Mount Vernon and Jefferson’s Monticello is the setting for my novel Dark Horseman; Mystery, Adventure, and Romance in Regency Virginia. The Ballards of Belmont, however, specialize in raising horses . . . which were not pets or a pastime in that era, but an essential source of transportation and labor.

King George III had more real-estate problems than just the American colonies. After they revolted, so did the people of France. The French overthrew their king, but soon found themselves ruled by Napoleon Bonaparte. Hungry to expand his empire, Napoleon decided to conquer Britain.

USmapRegencyThis is how the United States annexed the Louisiana Territory:  Napoleon sold it to the Americans in 1803 to pay for his planned conquest. President Jefferson was no empire-builder, but he recognized a good deal: $15 million to get France out of not just Louisiana and surrounding states, but large parts of what is now the midwest and Canada.

The American takeover brought important changes in the Louisiana Territory. The clash between the still rather Puritanical culture in the United States and the French colonial culture in and around New Orleans affected everyone from priests to pirates. This is the chaotic moment when my Regency Rakes & Rebels romance Lady Barbara & the Buccaneer takes place.

BlanchardchampdumarsNapoleon tried every possible angle of attack on Britain: massing armies at French ports along the English Channel, building a National Flotilla of invasion barges, erecting a triumphal column, even appointing balloonist Sophie Blanchard to help with an air assault.  His hopes died in 1805 when the British Royal Navy kicked French stern at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Part of Napoleon’s plan was to distract the British by attacking their North American possessions.  Britain still hadn’t entirely accepted losing its mainland colonies to the United States, and kept a death grip on its share of Canada, Bermuda, and the West Indies.  So determined were the British not to cede any more turf–but to get back some, if possible–that they cosied up to their longtime enemy Spain, which still held West Florida.  At the time Lady Barbara & the Buccaneer takes place, in early 1814, Britain was moving its North American forces from Halifax (Canada) to Bermuda, and lobbying to share the Spanish HQ at Pensacola.

DeppvsBlackbeard-IAN-McSHANE-in-the-captains-cabin-Disney-960x638Piracy had been rife in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico some 200 years earlier, since the first treasure ships started hauling booty back to Europe which the colonizers had plundered in the New World.  The “Pirates of the Caribbean” era died out when the nations of Europe got tired of having their ships captured by each other.  Collectively they agreed to quit issuing the lettres de marque under which pirates had claimed to act as agents for one or another government.  But the treasure ships didn’t stop sailing; and as alliances changed, along with local economic circumstances, a new kind of piracy emerged.  LafitteKing

Jean Laffite and his brother Pierre headed a buccaneering operation centered at New Orleans.  They themselves weren’t so much pillage-and-burn pirates as rogue merchants.  The islands of Barataria Bay made an ideal hiding place for ships to smuggle in goods; and when the city of New Orleans got too hot for them, the Laffites established the offshore island of Grand Terre as their central market.  This map from William C. Davis’s excellent book The Pirates Laffite shows where the Regency-era buccaneers plied their trade.  It’s here that Lady Barbara goes to celebrate Carnival (the Puritanical Americans having outlawed Mardi Gras) and finds more adventures than she bargained for.

Barataria Bay, where the Regency-era buccaneers plundered and traded; (c) William C. Davis, "The Pirates Laffite"

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