Before I forget, Saturday 4/30 is Indie Bookstore day. You may yawn, but it’s a big deal in their struggle for survival. Find a local bookstore and go see what’s happening. Click the poster below to visit a store locator at bookshop.org. Click here to see the full size image. If you have a website or want to send out email about it, copy this section and paste it there.
Scooping Book Reviews
Sometimes the magic works.
It isn’t normally possible for an author to get a new book reviewed in print before it goes to galley, which means you’ve got a publisher or you’re publishing it yourself and it’s all typeset. I’m in a pre-publication limbo, and rather than just twiddling my thumbs til my publisher does their thing, I decided to review my novel myself—but not by itself.
So, last month, after a friend put me on to a British psycho-thriller called Disclaimer that features a book-within-a-book theme similar to one in mine, I wrote a review of it comparing it with my under-contract novel Her Own Devices. It was kind of a cheeky thing to do, but an irresistible challenge.
I was going to post the review on my blog, but then thought of The Write Launch, an internet literary journal that has excerpted chapters of my novel. Unsure what its editor Sandra would think of a self-promoting review, I submitted it with a humble cover letter, asking if she would see fit to post it at her other site, bookscover2cover, devoted to book reviews, interviews with writers, and craft essays.*
My anxiety about my review’s propriety was allayed by her response:
We haven’t published a review on bookscover2cover.com quite like Disclaimer, and your voice in the review has opened up new thinking about a type of future reviews to publish on the review site… I find your review revelatory; that is, the writer shows how a published book generates thinking about the writer’s unwritten book.
She published my review, Two Novels that Strike Close to Home, several weeks later. Revelatory or not, this encouraged me to try again. You see, I have a pretty substantial backlog of essays longing to be repurposed, so onward I went to pester Sandra again.
In 2018, I’d reviewed another book in connection to one I hoped to write, a vague intention that eventually became Her Own Devices. Searching for inspiration, I found a book by author and professor of literature Jane Alison called Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative (Catapult, 2018). In it, she discusses literary analogies to forms found in nature — the ones in the title plus waves, wavelets, and fractals — illustrating each chapter with passages from well known novels and short stories that she analyzed to uncover spatial metaphors.
As a geographer and photographer, I was always drawn to geometries found in nature and the processes that shape them. Alison’s ideas captured my imagination, and decided to try using fractals as a device or conceit to kickstart the novel. I professed my intention in my review of Meander, posted it to medium.com as Tell Me a Fractal, and opened a new novel template in Scrivener, raring to go. But, as I am wont to do, instead of jotting down plot ideas and a list of spatial effects I might use, I proceeded to draft the first chapter, hoping it knew where it was going.
When I described Tell Me a Fractal, to her, Sandra said she wanted to read it. She did, and now wants to reprint it.
I am interested in your combined essay/book review Tell Me a Fractal, in which you review Jane Alison’s book Meander, Spiral, Explode and write about Turkey Shoot and a possible sequel, now titled Her Own Devices. I have read Alison’s book and find her ideas fascinating, just as I find your thinking in Tell Me a Fractal thought-provoking.
Then she said she wanted more:
On bookscover2cover.com we publish essays on “A Writer’s Journey,” and I would like to publish this essay. We could publish a Part I and a Part II. This piece would be Part I and Part II would be an essay about Her Own Devices. It would be interesting to see how you absorbed Alison’s fractals in the sequel to A Turkey Shoot. We would also link to the chapters from Her Own Devices that we have published in The Write Launch.
For two tough weeks I sweated out an essay about spatial metaphors in Devices that concludes, “Jane Alison made me want to tell a fractal. It didn’t quite happen, but that’s okay.” It’s okay because, upon inspection, at least there are wisps of fractals, plus a meander, spiral, and explosion or two. But does that make it any better?
Probably not. That’s about as likely as a second-rate author writing a first-rate book. In any event, I suspect Devices‘ readers won’t notice its structural artifices as they sink into the story, and won’t care as long as it pleases them. Only literary critics and perspicacious editors such as Sandra read fiction to tease out rhetorical devices. They want to tell the world how the magic works, and I’m happy to help.
It’s unusual to have a publishing partner like Sandra who makes magic, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with her. Once she publishes my fractal essays, look for links on the Perfidy Press home page.
* Bookscover2cover is where I learned about Jeff Schnader and his recent novel. The Serpent Papers poignantly tells the tale of a Columbia freshman from the South caught between a military upbringing and angry protests about the Vietnam war. As a Columbia undergrad during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and subsequent escalations, I had experienced the ferment the book so vividly describes, and reached out to Schnader. After a convivial correspondence I profiled his book in last month’s newsletter and placed it in my bookstore.