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Security was re-established by midday Wednesday. However, because the recipients were not on any list of ours, and we have no way to identify either the recipients or the sender(s), we are unable to issue any warning other than this one.

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Heart of Darkness: A Voyage through Paradigms & Metaphors – Review by C J Verburg

Heart of DarknessHeart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

This is a difficult book to appreciate if you care more about racism, sexism, and colonization than intricately crafted metaphors. Conrad seems aware of the layers upon layers of contradictions that envelop his characters, yet insofar as he confronts them, he does it by observing and reporting rather than judging. For instance, the condescension of Brits to Africans is blatant and grating. Yet the narrator Marlow doesn’t remark on it, either when these events took place or now, as he recalls them: he simply describes it, and leaves any judgment to us.

Marlow is a sailor, privileged by his race and gender but not by his social position, which presumably in the Britain of Conrad’s day counted just as heavily. This short book is a story he’s telling to a crew of old sailing comrades about a voyage up an unfriendly river in a wild land that was being exploited by his shipping-company employers. His task was to find Kurtz, the company’s most effective ivory collector, who’d evidently “gone native” (= turned traitor to his race, class, etc.). Before he could take command of his assigned boat, Marlow had to dredge it up from where it sank when the previous captain beat a local chief and was killed. So, as in Melville’s Moby-Dick, we’re traveling among misfits and renegades obliged to obey an arbitrary leader.

However, unlike Ishmael et al., Marlow and his listeners are old friends (not a motley crew of strangers) waiting on a yacht (not a working boat), in the safe comfort of London’s Thames River mouth, for the tide to change so they can set sail. The prose is suitably languid for men who are in no hurry. And the multifaceted paradox of Kurtz makes a neat paradigm for the larger paradoxes Conrad describes, or delicately alludes to.

It’s a book so full of arrogance that I had a hard time with it.

View all my reviews

C J Verburg’s Mystery Review of A House of Her Own by Patricia Dusenbury

A House of Her Own: A Claire Marshall NovelA House of Her Own: A Claire Marshall Novel by Patricia Dusenbury
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This multilayered New Orleans mystery weaves together suspense, romance, and superstition in a colorful setting filled with diverse characters, including a possible ghost. When Claire Marshall buys a bargain house to restore, she doesn’t know what a Pandora’s Box she’s opening. Embarking on a practical project, she finds herself responsible for decisions that will change the people around her, as well as her own future. I enjoyed every twist in both the action and the love story, and was happily surprised that all my guesses turned out wrong. A House of Her Own is a book worth reading not just for the fast-paced plot, but for its insights into the powerful struggle that each of us confronts over trust vs. betrayal. The evil here doesn’t come from villains, just ordinary people whose bad experiences and fears scare them into deadly choices.

View all my reviews

Edward Gorey On Stage now available from Ingram

Good news! CJ Verburg’s newly revised Edward Gorey On Stage: A Multimedia Memoir is now available from Ingram.

Praised by reviewers as “delightful,” “a joy to read,” and “a must have…[for] all Gorey enthusiasts,” Edward Gorey On Stage follows this legendary artist and author through half a century of theatrical adventures, from the Poets Theatre he helped co-found at Harvard University to the numerous “entertainments” he wrote, designed, and directed on Cape Cod. It’s a treasure trove of original drawings and script notes, rare color photos, even film clips and music.

If you’re a reader, your favorite bookstore can now get this “thoroughly enjoyable” mini-biography for you faster than you can get it online.

If you’re a bookshop proprietor, you can skip right over Amazon and order returnable copies from Ingram at 55% booksellers’ discount.

Enjoy this fascinating peek behind the scenes at a unique artist at work, narrated by Edward Gorey’s close friend and collaborator CJ Verburg.

“All you could ever want from a murder mystery” – Review of Another Number for the Road

Thanks to writer Leigh Verrill-Rhys for this generous review of Boom-Books author CJ Verburg’s new Cory Goodwin mystery!

Featured Book: Review

CJ Verburg’s Another Number for the Road  has all you could ever want from a murder mystery set in two iconic periods of American history: the 1960s: Free Speech, Free Love, Stop the War, Civil Rights and sex, drugs, rock and roll; and 1980s: Reaganomics, Cold War Collapse, Punk Rock, big hair and bigger shoulders.

Rock journo cum detective, Cory Goodwin (who has as many names as identities) goes on a “Magical Mystery Tour,” and then some, to recover her true inner self which has been consumed and subsumed by the demands of her multimillionaire son-of-the-founder-of-a-cosmetics-conglomerate husband’s boardroom betrayal of all they meant to each other as writing romantics who eloped in creative Paris and crashed in corporate necessity in Boston.

Cordelia Goodwin Thorne had many years of protest activism and rock star groupie antics to keep her from sinking into the paradox of her journo daydreams and her cosmetic charity dinner reality.

She joins the “Magical Mystery Tour” when she learns that The Rind is the mystery band—a group she interviewed for a magazine as a teenager. She aims to rekindle her past admiration for the much-maligned strongman of the band, the appropriately named, Dan Quasi, who, after the brutal murder of his friend and co-band member, Mickey Ascher, takes a runner and hides out for the twenty year hiatus, having lost his wife and his French bit to aforementioned co-band member.

Did this Quasi musician kill his best friend? Or was it the French bit? Or possibly her jilted lover and third band member, also appropriately named, Roach? Or has the mild-mannered Terry, fourth band member, been hiding a violent temper all these years?

The process of discovery is further energized by the author’s experience as a playwright and director. CJ Verburg makes use of the theatrical technique of juxtaposing two scenes on stage at once: flashbacks, backstory, supposition and real time, one upon the other, while skillfully  juggling a cast of characters that would daunt Cecil B. DeMille and D.W. Griffiths.

Another Number for the Road  will satisfy all fans of complex, convoluted whodunits who remember the Sixties with longing and survived the Eighties, Nineties and are in deep with the Twentieth Century.

Up Sides of the Digital Revolution: #1: The Lazarus Back-List (from DBW)

Digital Book World (an indispensable resource for 21st-century publishers) posted this succinct advice in April 2014. Still valuable today.

Three Tips for Monetizing Your Back-List

By: |

Back-lists offer a potential “pool of resources…to mined based on movements and trends in [the] mercurial marketplace” of digital publishing. That’s how Ed Nawotka, editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives, put it in his introductory remarks at the “Monetizing the Backlist” conference in New York City yesterday. The trick for publishers — and the focus of the day’s talks and panel discussions — is turning those resources into revenue.

Experts from across the digital publishing community suggested a number of methods for doing that successfully. Here are three that stood out.

Related: Selling Back-List Titles? Think Audience and Metadata

1. Free samples: “The way to make money off of your back-list titles is giving people free samples,” said Amanda Mecke, ebook rights and contracts specialist at unglue.it. “You used to be able to sample an entire book in a bookstore when you stood there and flipped through it.”

Not only can replicating that experience for digital content keep readers engaged, it can help them discover things they otherwise might not. According to Mecke, that’s especially true when it comes to back-list titles.

2. Look at the numbers: Publishers eagerly devour all the metrics they can get on best-selling and front-list titles–more often than not, they’re still left hungry for more. The same data-based approach can be taken with back-list books. Neil Baptista, CEO of the discovery platform Riffle, suggests looking closely at the available information to identify “latent demand for a title, then [to] unlock that demand with a price incentive.”

The results of such investigations can sometimes be unexpected. Baptista admitted he was startled to learn that there was an apparently disproportionate demand within the thriller and crime fiction category for Mario Puzo’s The Sicilian long after its original publication. But, given a special price promotion, the book sold briskly all over again.

3. Keep it in perspective: Corey Pressman, president of Exprima Media, put it this way: the front-list is the portion of the human population consisting of celebrities, and the back-list is everyone else. That tiny sliver gets a lot more attention and always will, but it’s still a tiny sliver.

Much the way the digital technologies made it possible for regular folks to raise their profiles and attract an audience, digital publishing–through many of those same technologies–can lift back-list content out of obscurity. And since there’s just so much of it out there, a little boost in a lot of places can make a big difference.

In support of that point of view, Sherisse Hawkins, co-founder and CEO of Beneath the Ink, remarked, “There’s a magical aspect [to] rediscovering something…an emotional connection” that’s absent from the first-time encounter publishers strive to create for readers with their front-list titles. The term “back-list” doesn’t do justice to that special feeling, but it’s one publishers should promote with equal enthusiasm.

A New Way to Publish E-Books: Pronoun

In our six years as an indie publisher, Boom-Books has experimented with a variety of ways to create and distribute e-books.

Whether you love or hate Amazon, we all know it dominates 21st-century book publishing. Amazon created Kindle, the top vehicle for buying, reading, and publishing e-books. Most e-publishers start there, and many end there, too. Boom-Books currently distributes Charisse Howard’s spicy “Regency Rakes & Rebels” romances only through KDP Select, which offers them free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers and for $2.99 on Amazon.

In contrast, Boom-Books author C J Verburg’s mystery novels and theater memoir originally were published on Kindle, Nook (Barnes & Noble), Kobo, iTunes, Google Play, and the diverse smaller outlets available through Smashwords. Smashwords is a both a distributor (selling e-books from its own website) and an aggregator (distributing e-books to other sellers). It’s less aggressively commercial than Amazon, but it too can be a one-stop shop for an indie publisher. You upload your book files, Smashwords runs them through its Meatgrinder, and out pops an e-book, which the publisher can choose to sell through any or all distributors from Amazon to Apple.

The up side of one-stop publishing with Smashwords is not having to set up and monitor each individual book with each individual distributor. The down side is that Smashwords’  Meatgrinder treats all books alike. We found that if a book wasn’t formatted very simply, or if it failed to follow Smashwords’ long instructions exactly, it might come out looking different on different sites and devices (for instance, on Nook vs. iTunes), or develop a weird glitch, such as random indents on Kindle. Although Smashwords has continually improved its manufacturing and distribution, we concluded over time that it works better for some genres than others, and wasn’t a go-to site for most of our mystery or memoir customers.

So we were intrigued to discover Pronoun, an e-publisher and aggregator launched in 2015. We’d investigated its innovative parents: Vook, a digital book publisher that combined text, video, and links to the internet and social media, and Byliner (now an imprint of Pronoun), home of yellow-covered “long-form journalism for a short-form world.” They developed such impressive analytics — which they plowed into Pronoun — that the new company was immediately acquired by Macmillan.

This was the e-publisher we chose for Zapped, C J Verburg’s second Edgar Rowdey Cape Cod mystery. Here’s the book’s Pronoun page:

Publishing on Pronoun is free, as it is on most reputable sites. Books are sold through the five major e-retailers: Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and Kobo. Unlike most aggregators, Pronoun pays the author 100% of royalties after the retailer’s cut.

In the 21st-century spirit, Pronoun’s website encourages potential users to sign up first and ask questions later. The tone is on the twee side: customer service comes from an Author Happiness Advocate. Instead of a Smashwords Meatgrinder turning diverse manuscript formats into one, Pronoun offers its authors six format templates: Shelley, Didion, Austen, Lamott, Rowling, and Sandberg. During the upload process, it provides useful data feedback on the popularity of sales categories and keyword options. We were particularly pleased to be e-mailed a link upon publication for free review copies — not available from Amazon, where even the author has to pay for the book.

Another Pronoun feature is its often helpful blog, The Verbs:

How to Use a Rafflecopter Giveaway to Promote Your Book

Sales since Zapped‘s November 29 e-launch have been modest, but we’re cautiously optimistic. If you’ve tried Pronoun, we’d love to hear about your experience.

Because I Was Asked How White Dakotans See Natives

by Romalyn Schmaltz

This Facebook post by San Francisco artist and writer Romalyn Schmaltz is reprinted by permission. Respectful sharing is welcome.

Veterans arrive at Standing Rock 12/4/16 to reinforce Water Protectors. Photo: The Daily Beast
Veterans arrive at Standing Rock 12/4/16 to reinforce Water Protectors. Photo: The Daily Beast

I grew up among the Sioux.***

The largest city in South Dakota is called Sioux Falls. In its second-largest town, my hometown of Rapid City, we have Sioux Park, the Sioux Sanatorium hospital, and countless other appropriations of the name that originated as an insult (see footnote below). Even the great life-sized concrete apatosaurus that overlooks the western slice of the city is nicknamed Siouxsie.

I write this having just learned, with very cautious enthusiasm, that the Army Corps of Engineers has denied the easement that the Dakota Access Pipeline expected to be granted tomorrow against the will of the Standing Rock water protectors there. It would appear that the human shield created this weekend by thousands of veterans may have played a critical political role in this decision. While I’m grateful for this news, and want badly to cry in joy, I can’t do that just yet, because the United States government is infamous for its retreat from its treaties with the great First Nations. I grew up with more examples of this plain fact than I could possibly recount. Every day of the 18 years I spent in western South Dakota were reminders that the U.S. government—and even more so the South Dakota state government—views Native Americans and their traditions as antique and marketable to tourists at best (get your dreamcatcher at the roadside Shell station!), and as funny, backward, and an impediment to progress at worst.

rom-siouxlandsA few days ago, a friend told me he’d heard that white North and South Dakotans largely resented Native Americans, and that a certain air of schadenfreude was coming out of Bismarck and beyond—a kind of hope that the A.C.E. would hand them their asses, and that the militarized and largely illegal mercenary police forces would begin to mow them down on December 5th, as Dakota Access projected. That the North Dakota white man couldn’t wait to see the red woman’s ass handed to her in a Hollywood-worthy showdown. He asked whether I, as a white born-and-raised South Dakotan, could verify that claim.

I grew up in a subdivision of a tiny town about seven miles northwest of Rapid City called Black Hawk. It was largely a trailer park community, with tracts of housing nestled higher up in the hills where my parents bought a house in 1978. Tourism was the keystone industry there, and still is, mostly due to one thing: Mount Rushmore.

rom-rushmoreThe “Shrine of Democracy,” as it’s often called by tourism boards and chambers of commerce, was a sacred Native mountain known in Lakota as “The Six Grandfathers.” Its designer (some say ‘sculptor,’ but ‘designer’ is a better word, since hundreds of men were paid very little—some dying—to actually ‘sculpt’ the mountain), Gutzon Borglum, was a member of the KKK.† Despite outcry from the Native community who by the 1920s had already been persecuted and devastated by imperialists for hundreds of years, Borglum emblazoned the sacred mountain with white men: a couple of slave owners (Washington and Jefferson) and a flamboyant war monger (Roosevelt) among them. Gold having dried up and farmers struggling in the economic wasteland of the 1970s and 80s, this unimaginable eyesore was the lifeline for the economy I grew up in. Most of the people I knew were supported, however indirectly, by the tourism created not by the sylvan beauty the Black Hills is known for, but by the ultimate and permanent homage to Manifest Destiny as imagined by a white supremacist in a county named after Mr. Manifest Destiny Incarnate, genocidal maniac General George Armstrong Custer. To many of us white Dakotans of conscience, you may as well name a territory ‘Hitler County.’

The first memory I have of noticing local treatment of the Natives came about, of course, at school. I was fortunate to come from a family that treated all people equally, so I didn’t understand the concept of race until I began the process of institutionalization, and my introduction came on September 7, 1981—my first day of Catholic school. By the end of that first day of kindergarten, I noticed that one of the boys in my class was being ignored by most of the others. Recalling my mom’s instructions not to bother with the people who already had a lot of friends in favor of those who seemed lonely, I went over, introduced myself, and asked him why he wasn’t playing with the others. He told me it was because he was an Indian.

12lakotavirtuesI can safely say that in the ensuing thirteen years, not a day passed where I didn’t see at least one example of anti-Native rhetoric—be it perpetrated by the white folk or internalized by the Native herself, as was the case with my classmate. Mostly, they were encouraged to stick together, and the segregation was really visible. Moving into junior high and high school, well-meaning teachers (and not all of them were well-meaning) were helpless to silence the epithets and threats foisted upon Natives by whites. I recall cringing as end-of-day announcements were read over the loudspeaker asking students to come down to the office for messages before leaving (long before parents could contact their kids directly via cell phones). Every time a Native’s name was read in translation, giggling and even outbursts of laughter rose out of many classrooms. Lori Afraid of Lightning and Harold Dismounts Thrice didn’t stand a chance against the Johannsens and Knutsons and Grundstroms.

rom-raidersFor Pete’s sake, my high schools mascot was The Stevens High School Raiders. A wild-eyed white gizzard in a ten-gallon cowboy hat is mounted on what appears to be a rabid donkey, sword in hand and charging an enemy I find it all too easy to picture. A friend of mine from back then recently commented that with a mascot like that, it’s a wonder they didn’t hand out ‘free smallpox stadium blankets’ at football games.

The term ‘drunk Indian’ was synonymous with the homeless and downtrodden souls who congregated around parks and ravines on the city’s poorer north and eastern sides. I recall, in the 8th grade, my English teacher having to rebuke a student for calling a rusted-out Fiero a ‘Pine Ridge Porsche.’ Pine Ridge is the reservation nearest Rapid City, and with a poverty rate of at least 50%, is often cited as the poorest county in the nation. Very few white Rapid Citizens have ever even been on a reservation, where alcoholism has been institutionalized by the United States government as the easiest means of controlling them. To many of the white folk I knew, people from ‘The Rez’ were pariahs not just to be ignored, but to be ridiculed. This was not just adolescent sport—the racist kids I grew up with all derived their world views from their racist parents, and it was quietly encouraged by our very conservative, very white, very culturally isolated social order, and from what I’ve seen on visits back, it still is to some extent very much business as usual.

rom-avery-l-white
Reprinted from Vice, 11/1/16. Photo by Avery L. White.

North Dakota governor hack Jack Dalrymple has shown zero empathy for the historically unprecedented gathering of these tribes. Not only did he order them to evacuate the camps last week, he authorized such use of force that resulted in dog attacks, rubber bullet arsenals leading to what might be the loss of one activist’s arm, and the spraying of the crowds in freezing temperatures with water cannons, causing dozens of hypothermia cases. He has also shown complete disregard for the First Amendment (but in unsurprising cherry-picking, is an avid defender of the Second). Like almost all of North and South Dakota’s heads of state, he is pro-business and disinterested in ecological realities, to say nothing of honoring treaties. Like many of the kids I grew up with, his actions announce that he does not see Native Americans as Americans, nor as North Dakotans, nor as fully human. They are vermin in the way, the law be damned. And when I heard that the same white Bismarck residents who refused to allow the pipeline to pass by Bismarck were demonstrating in support of the illegal militia attacking the protectors at Standing Rock, I realized that these are probably those racist kids like I grew up with, middle-aged now and filled with fear that a Native win at Standing Rock and in Cannonball will snowball into more Native wins, and they can’t have that. They can’t have the ‘injuns’ taking back what’s theirs. I’ll bet this was the first time most of those hypocritical pieces of shit ever demonstrated for anything in their lives, and it was to foist upon Native ground what they refused to allow on their own (stolen) property.

So my answer is yes—as someone who grew up with white people in the region of the great Lakota nation, I fully believe that racism remains rampant in the Heartland, and that the resentment will continue to build with each Native victory, however bloodily won. I believe, moreover, that this hatred will become far worse as Trump ascends to the presidency he did not win, and I expect to see atrocities never yet fully articulated in my time as a South Dakotan. So it is with a very cautious enthusiasm that I share the news that the A.C.E. has declared that the Dakota Access Pipeline will not cross the Missouri River. Our nation’s only precedent in these matters is of deceit and revocation, and until it proves me otherwise, it can never even aspire to be healed, let alone be ‘great.’

I grew up among the Sioux. It wasn’t even until I left South Dakota to go to college that I learned that this was not their name. And I look forward to learning about—and fighting for—their great nation as much as I can. Mitakuye Oyasin.

 

*** “Sioux” comes from two words.”Nadowessi” from the Chippewa and “Oux” from the French [combined into] “Nadowessioux.” Sioux has no meaning in either the Chippewa or French language. [It] does not come from the Lakota, Dakota or Nakota. Oglala Lakota Oyate is a proper name, not Oglala Sioux Tribe. Tatanka Oyate (Buffalo Nation) or Oceti Sakowin (Seven council fires) is our proper name not Sioux Nation. http://www.lakotacountrytimes.com/…/2009-03-…/guest/021.html

Indie or Traditional Publishing: 6 Things You Need to Know Before 2017

milpartyHave you discovered the Mechanics’ Institute? Along with a fabulous library, this SF landmark is a long-time active supporter of writers as well as readers. Their Indie Publishers’ Working Group launched in January 2011 to explore the brave new world of print-on-demand publishing. Their Writers’ Lunch is a monthly noontime forum for insights about the art and craft of creating books.

At noon on Friday, December 16, Boom-Books author C J Verburg and 3 other panelists will talk about “Indie or Traditional Publishing: Six Things You Need to Know Before 2017.”

If you’re a writer struggling to adapt to the constantly shifting landscape of publishing, or a reader frustrated by the challenge of sifting through an endless influx of new books in search of a great story, these four authors with diverse expertise may be able to help. Come listen, munch, mingle, and ask questions!

Get ZAPPED at Borderlands – Holiday Party Sat. 12/10

borderlands-booksOne-stop shopping for mystery fans!
2-4 PM Saturday, December 10
Sisters in Crime of Northern California and Mystery Writers of America
ANNUAL HOLIDAY PARTY
Borderlands Books, 866 Valencia St. (betw 19th & 20th), San Francisco
Join the fun for food, drink, & thousands of great books!

zapped-frontcover-3x4Get ZAPPED: an Edgar Rowdey Cape Cod Mystery — new from Boom-Books author CJ Verburg

Meet all your favorite Bay Area mystery writers!

For a quick preview:
Sisters in Crime of Northern California