Lessons learned from a positive review

I’d like to post a review I received a while back and then discuss it for a moment.

(Reprinted with permission)


  •  Pale Winter Sun

    Intriguing, unique, distinctive

    4.4 stars

    Mick Collins’ book Pale Winter Sun synopsis from Good reads:

    Isolation in the cold of winter. That’s all Mark Jensen has as he fights to survive.

    Living in the small Mormon community of Grason, Idaho, Mark and his best

    friend Trevor have no one but themselves. Both are shunned from their families

    for simply trying to live open and honestly as homosexual. Cold and queer, the

    boys make do with what little they can, counting on no one but themselves in

    the stark Idaho countryside.

    Mark’s struggles increase when he becomes afraid of confiding in his last

    friend. The growing realization that he is bisexual confuses and conflicts him.

    It leaves him feeling more alone than ever. Friendships are redefined and

    stretched to the limit as the two young men scratch by and they ask

    themselves; can they survive each other?

     

    It is very rare to read a book that strays from the normal plotline. Collins’ book

    was definitely different from what I normally read, but it was a breath of fresh

    air. The daily struggles the characters face places ideas in a new perspective.

  • People in similar situations as the characters share the same feelings and

    conflicts. To be able to experience that through the characters was intriguing.

    For the most part, people do not realize the struggle that comes for being a

    homosexual. Collins’ was able to show the internal conflict not only between

    the character relationships, but also the individual themselves. The atmosphere

    of the book (winter, cold, isolation) compares with the feelings of the two main

    characters. They are considered queer, people are cold toward them, and they

    feel isolated from their community. The storyline was unique and it made it

    stand out. Mark was a strong character in the book. He stayed true to himself

    and it stood out throughout the book.

    The reason it did not get 5 stars was due to the writing itself. The writing style

    was not as refined as some other books, but there is emotion and the message

    is clear. If the writing style was more fine-tuned, then the book would have

    been even more captivating.

    Emma Hall (The Kindle Book Review)

    The Kindle Book Review received a free copy of this book for an

    independent, fair, and honest review. We are not associated with the

    author or Amazon.


Ms. Hall wasn’t able to post this to Amazon because it someone from the Kindle Book Review already posted one, apparently.  Amazon (wisely) won’t let me post it under my own name, so I am posting it here. Which does kinda suck, because I lost a few reviews when I uploaded a new edition a couple months ago.

(Updated – the review has been posted to Amazon.  Thanks to G.W. Wright for showing me what to do)

Sales haven’t been great, especially since the new edition came out, and that is partially my fault.  I haven’t been pushing it much, mainly due to work and trying to get over this damned cold. But then again, sales for books, especially self pubs, are down anyway. I have already put in some time to find new and exciting ways to get the word out, but that takes time and money.  I am stock piling both so I can do it right. That includes a push to get the book into libraries and local stores in Allentown.  I’ll keep you fine folks posted on that as developments happen.

Back to the review:
This review is indicative of a common thread I have come across with Pale Winter Sun.  The message, the story, and the characters are engaging and on point. The narrative isn’t typical to the genre and the overall feel of the story is of isolation. Mark and Trevor’s struggle are not trivialized, and Mark’s journey especially, is clear.

This is what I wanted.  I wanted the points to be clear, non-cliched, and the story to be interesting.  I feel that is mission accomplished.  Go me!

….but…

The other common thread is that the writing lacks.  I had hoped that getting it edited again would relieve that particular problem.  And while it was much needed and certainly helped immensely, it didn’t solve it completely.  And if you know writers, a ship full of compliments can sink with one tiny raft of critisism.  We writers are an emotionally unstable and touchy lot.  So yeah, the last bit kinda bummed me out.  I try not to stay down long, or dwell on the negative, despite my proclivity to so exactly that.  Hell, if a lifetime of battling depression has taught me one thing it is DON’T FEED THE BEAST.

I stood back and looked at this review, and other feedback I’ve received, and put it into perspective. When I wrote PWS, it was message driven.  I had a point to make, dammit, and I was going to make it.  Well that’s great, but in doing so, I let my writing of said message suffer. Another thing I realized; I have only published two books and a few short stories.  Night Shall Overtake was picked up by the first publisher I sent it to. To be honest, I didn’t really expect it to get published in the first place.  Really, I decided to test the field with it while trying to hammer out another project.  While amazing and awesome, it also spoiled me.  Thankful as I am, I’m sure there would have been lessons to learn had I needed to work at getting it published more than I did.  PWS being self published, I think those lack of lessons hurt in terms of the strength of how it is written.

Being the pragmatist that I am, I had to think about what I was going to do about all this. PWS will probably not go though a third edition any time soon.  I’ve too many other projects on the burner right now.  And honestly, I haven’t the heart to rip it apart one more time. (and maybe I’m just a little bit lazy, too) If my writing lacks a little, but the story still holds up, I’ll take it and go with that for now.  I still think it’s a book that can help kids, and parents, dealing with gender, identity, sexuality, and all the components that make up a family.

If PWS is staying put, then where am I employing these learned lessons? The future of course, or really, the present.  Current projects are under severe scrutiny and retooling.  I am still trying to find my voice and become a better writer.  A task that will never end, most likely.  If I focused too much on story, and not enough on style, then I will work hard to get my style down.  Hopping genres probably didn’t help the issue either.  My next novel, A Geography of Purgatory(working title), is back to the dark and gritty and I think it’s the perfect chance to really find myself as the writer I can be. As someone who takes such things seriously, I owe it to myself.  I also feel that I owe it to anyone who decides to take a chance on one of my books.  There is a godawful amount to stuff to read out there, if they do pick up something of mine, I want to make damned sure it’s worth their time.

In case you are wondering: I have no time lines on Geography as it’s still out to the beta readers, but I’ll keep you posted. Going to try the standard publisher route again, then if that doesn’t pan out, I’ll self pub. At least that’s the current plan.

tl;dr – Writer gets a good review, then whines about it.  In the end he learns a very important lesson.

Remember kids: Stay in school, don’t drink and drive, and mistakes are good as long as you learn something from it.

 

 

 

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2nd edition – Pale Winter Sun – Ready for your Consumption

Huzzah!!

Insert fanfare and rejoicing here.

Pale Winter Sun is now the book is should have always been.  A 2nd edition is up and ready.  Many thanks to all those who helped in the process, including Apache and JD, and all those who beta read at the beginning.  I want to especially thank A.M. Leibowitz for the stellar professional proofread and suggestions she made to strengthen this story.

Nothing major was changed in terms of story, but I did tighten up the mechanics and a few points I really should have cross-referenced better before publishing.  That’s the nice thing about self-pub I guess, when someone points out something you screwed up, you can go back and fix it.  I am nothing if not receptive to suggestions and can pack my ego away enough to admit that I done f#^%ed up and fix it.

The plus side (one of many) is that there is already some chatter about this new edition and talk of it taking up residence on some library shelves.  This is something important to me, so I want to get this on as many library shelves as possible.  (I won’t go on about why I think this story is important, etc, etc; because I’m sure you’re sick of me bringing them up)

Let’s keep up the momentum and get this book EVERYWHERE!!

Shameless plugs and links:
For editing work I highly suggest A.M. Leibowitz – www.amleibowitz.com

PWS on kindle – www.amazon.com/Pale-Winter-Sun-Michael-Collins-ebook/dp/B06W551N7L

PWS paperback – www.createspace.com/6477222

 

Remember kids: stay in school, don’t drink and drive, and support your local word slinger.

Updates and all hail the Headphone Bleed.

Fall is here and as most people start to get snuggled in for the winter, it’s just getting busier for me.  Pale Winter Sun hit with a splash and I just want to keep it going.  I have gotten a lot of feedback on it and most of it is not only good, but that this book could be a big help to people.  That’s all I wanted for it; to help people. So I ask, if you have read it, please write a review and recommend it to others.

One of the reason’s I’m not able to hunker down for the cold weather is that we are moving next spring.  Not just across town either.  We are getting up and out of Austin and heading north to the wilds of Pennsylvania.  Austin will always have a huge place in my heart, but its time to move on.  The city is changing and I’m not crazy about the direction it’s going, not to mentioned there are getting to me way too many people.  So come spring: Keystone State, here we come!  I’m very excited about the change of scene and interested to see how it will effect my writing.

Insert fanfare and rejoicing here.

BIG ANNOUNCEMENT TIME:

I’m sure some of you have noticed that I haven’t done a Headphone Bleed show in awhile.  Astute listeners will know that I had some sort of new development in the works.  Unfortunately, it looks like that isn’t going to happen like we thought.  It’s just as well, with my increased focus on writing and the impending move coming, I’m not sure I would have to time for it.

The show has always been a labor of love for me, these last few years, but it is time to give it a rest.  As of right now, there will be no new Headphone Bleed episodes in the foreseeable future.  It pains me to write that, but it is the truth.  It’s time put it to bed.  My love for music and bad jokes hasn’t subsided, but I have to refocus.  Now, that’s not to say that it’s gone forever.  I’d like to start it, or some version of it, back up at some point.  There are rumors that live365 might start back up, and if nothing else, I could bring the station back.  Either way, we will see.

The Facebook and Twitter accounts will still be active as promotional entities.  I still want new and interesting bands to expose to the world.  My website szheadphonebleed.com will be up until I have to pay for web hosting again.  Fanboytv.com still has old shows up for the time being also.  Please continue to visit and enjoy.

More updates as they happen.

Remember kids: stay in school, don’t drink and drive, and dance like no one is watching.

 

 

 

Bi Week musings and why I put a list of resources in Pale Winter Sun

This week is Bi Week.  It’s a week where bisexuals try and remind people what the ‘B’ in LGBT means and raise awareness to tear down some stigmas.  I suppose it seems fitting that Pale Winter Sun came out just a few weeks before, especially since one of the characters is coming terms with his bisexuality.  It can be a tricky thing to do, coming to terms with who we are.  More so when we are young and not to the standards of the status quo.  One of the biggest concerns with bisexual youth is violence, depression, and abandonment.  But it is far from exclusive to just bi youth.  Teenagers in general have staggeringly high statistics in these areas.  LGBT+ youth doubly so.

I wrote PWS because of this.  To be honest the idea fills me such sadness and anger.  Our youth deserve better, as do we all.  I also wrote PWS because of an amazing young woman that I am blessed to have in my life.  I just wanted to do my part, using what meager abilities that I have, to make the world a little bit better for her.  To show her that things are dark but there is hope.  That life can kick you around, but strength and resilience can pull you through.  I can only hope that others see it similarly as well.

My friend, and Bi-activist extraordinaire, Lynnette Mcfadzen suggested adding resources to the book.  I couldn’t put them in fast enough.  A story is one thing, even with a good message.  But sometimes people need help, a hand to hold, and there are a lot of people and organizations out there to do that.  The list I added is far from comprehensive but for those who might need it, it’s a start.  I’m going to add the list here as well.  I may do my part for the bi community, but in the broader view, I don’t give a shit about your sexuality, religion, race, gender, shoe size, or preference of toothpaste.  We’re all in this together and we need to start working as one if we’re going to do anything worth a damn.  I believe that with all my heart.  If we can’t foster that in our youth, then when else to we start?

So hats off to my other bisexual peoples on this Bi Week and any other week.  I hope we can soon come to a time when such things are needless and archaic.  That for once and forever we finally stop squabbling over stupid shit and concentrate on more important issues.  (Like buying books from starving authors or buy them a beer once in awhile.  Things like that)

Resources for LGBT+ youth and beyond.

It’s a rough world for everyone.  More so for those who don’t fit in gender and orientational norms.  I’ve listed a few resources if you feel alone and need some help.  While this list is geared toward youth in need, parents and adults who would like to some understanding can also check out these as well.  If you are in crisis or in trouble, always try to reach out.  If you feel there is no one to reach out to, keep the below in mind.  Just know: THERE IS ALWAYS SOMEONE TO REACH OUT TO!

LGBT+ Youth Resources

Rainbowhealth.org

Advocatesforyouth.org

Liveoutloud.info

Bi+

The BiCast.org – (podcasting for the bisexual+ communtiy)

BiNetUSA.org

Biresource.net

Asexuality.org – (Asexual Visibility and Education Network)

Interactoadovates.org – (Intersex youth)

Transgender

http://www.transyouthequality.org/

http://www.translifeline.org/

Trans Student Educational Resources

Runaway

www.1800runaway.org

nationalsafeplace.org

Suicide / Crisis

http://www.thetrevorproject.org

Home

Text anonymous crisis counselor 741741

 

Remember kids: stay in school, don’t drink and drive, and let’s be safe out there.

 

 

 

 

Cover Reveal: Pale Winter Sun

Okay, so I’ve been blathering about PALE WINTER SUN for over a year now.  It does exist, I promise, but it’s been a rough road getting out there.  I’m happy to say that it’s almost ready.  I’m just waiting to get it back from some last minute edits and then after that it will be a matter of getting it to the publisher.  My goal is to have it out by the end of July.  It’ll be a great summer read about cold weather. (why the hell not, right?)

Not only will this be my first self-published novel, it’s also my first cover design.  Lot of firsts here.  The whole thing could crash and burn, or be a glorious success.  Or a glorious crash and burn.  Either way; here it is.  Front cover for PALE WINTER SUN.

coverPWS

Remember kids: stay in school, don’t drink and drive, and don’t judge a book by it’s cover.

Pale Winter Sun Redeux (excerpt)

As of this month, I’ve been trying to get Pale Winter Sun published for a year.  A year goes fast and slow at the same time and 2015 made a good example of that.  I realize that lady luck slapped me up side the head with Night Shall Overtake; it was picked up by the first publisher I sent it to.  Much love to Nick and BBS for that.  I suppose this is the karmatic balance of it; needing to work harder to get PWS published after such an easy time with NSO.  That being said, after this round of publishers if it still doesn’t find a home, I will seriously consider self-publishing.  I’ve been kicking the idea around for side projects (that I still haven’t gotten off the ground yet, surprise surprise) and maybe it will be a good option for PWS.  The beauty of all this, despite the nice collection of rejection notices, is that I do have options and it’s only a matter of my choices the dictate the direction I go.  So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

I submit for your approval, the first chapter of Pale Winter Sun.  Enjoy!

I.

            On Tuesday Hannah Robinson was caught in a heavy make-out session with her best friend Lindsey Smith. Hannah’s brother, Mitchell, took credit with the discovery by walking into her room without knocking. His sibling disregard for her personal space yet again disrupted her plans. On Wednesday she was not allowed to leave her house. On Thursday, her best friend Lindsey had been taken out of school. On Saturday night Mark Jensen sat in an abandoned house, lit by a full September moon shining through a naked window. Across from him floated a pinprick of orange light in the dark.

            “I guess Lindsey is on suicide watch,” Mark said. “They won’t let her get near Hannah. She may be a cutter, but I doubt this is enough to kill herself over.”

            “Mitchell told me that Hannah finally admitted to her parents that she is a lesbian.” A voice said behind the lit cigarette. Trevor Buell leaned forward into the light. His face a mass of smoke and shadows.   “When she told them that Lindsey was her girlfriend they flipped out. Bishop Johns has spent the entire week going between Lindsey’s house and Hannah’s house.”

            “Why did they have to get caught?” Mark anguished. “Church tomorrow is going to suck.  It’s going to be all about ‘coming together’ and ‘call upon each other to help them in their time of need’.”

            “I’m sure coming together is something those two don’t need help with.” Trevor said then offered his cigarette.  Mark waved it away.

            “My mom will give me crap for smelling like smoke as it is, I don’t need it on my breath.”  He put his head back, the sound of it hitting the wall echoed in the empty house.  “You know what this means?”

            “Witch hunt.” Trevor answered.  “It’ll be like when they found Jeordie Ward’s older sister smoking weed behind the seminary.   They’ll shake us all down, ask us a million questions, but this time check our phones for pictures of dicks instead of our pockets for drugs.”  Mark heard the chains of Trevor’s biker jacket jingle.  No one was more amused at Trevor’s little jokes than Trevor.

            “Speaking of Jeordie,” Trevor continued, “you two better watch out.  They’ll be checking your breath for penis.”

            “We haven’t gone that far,” Mark said, glad the night hid the reddening of his cheeks.  “Besides, it’s not like we’re dating; we’re just…hanging out.” He stood up; he didn’t like talking to Trevor about his non-relationship with Jeordie. He always had something mean to say about it.  “Let’s go.  If my mom catches us in one of her empty houses again, she’ll kill me.  And don’t put that out in here.” Trevor grunted and followed him out. Mark often took advantage of his mother’s job in real estate, but rarely did anything more than sit and watch Trevor smoke.

As soon as they stepped outside he flicked the butt into the overgrown back yard. An unseasonable cold front settled on southern Idaho and northern Utah. The crisp fall leaves were crisper than usual as they crunched underneath the teenage boys’ feet. Their jackets were open though, despite the chill that nipped at their nose and face. The two fifteen year olds walked casually with one another, though they were an exercise in differences. Both of them had dark hair that danced in the breeze but the similarities ended there. The taller of the two wore a black and white Adidas track suit with an army-style jacket over it. His deep eyes occasionally darting around, as if searching for something to search for. The other boy wore a scuffed and worn leather biker jacket. His shaggy hair hung down hiding his piercingly blue eyes but not the permanent grin that always seem to inhabit the corners of his mouth.

            “I don’t know what you see in him.  He’s about as smart as a box of rocks and not that cute.” Trevor complained.

            “He’s nice.  And he’s good looking; in a…I don’t know…”

            “We’re stuck in Idaho sort of way.” Trevor finished for him.  Mark gave him a shove as they emerged onto the street.  As the teenagers walked towards their respective homes, the air chilled and they hugged their jackets around them tighter, unprepared for the coming winter.

             When Mark entered the warmth of his house he was immediately greeted by his father sitting in front of the news and his mother finishing up dinner. The house was a cozy three bedroom that his parents bought right after his older brother Isaac was born. Four years later Mark came along and they talked about getting something bigger for their growing family. They continued to talk about it until it became apparent that their family might not be growing anymore. For his parent’s deep Mormon beliefs, this caused years of prayers and consternation. Up until six months ago, that is, when his mom came home from the doctor’s office, completely beside herself with happiness. She was finally pregnant again. Since his brother Isaac left for college, the house felt empty. Tonight it felt stifling.

            “You just missed Isaac’s call.  He wanted to talk to you.” His mother wiped a crumb off of the counter and leaned against it, her pregnant belly weighing on her.

            “I’ll talk to him next time.” He said quietly and tried to slip past her.  Her sense of smell had become stronger in the last couple months and he wanted to get Trevor’s smoke smell off before she picked up on it.

            “You haven’t talked to him once since he left to Brigham Young University.  I know he has called your cell phone.” Mark just shrugged his shoulders in reply and continued inching down the hallway to his room.  Even with Isaac off to school, he felt under his shadow. “Where were you, by the way?”

            “Just out with Trevor,” he said then regretted it, knowing where the conversation heading.

            “I’m not sure I want you hanging out with him so much.  Sandy, his mother, says he comes home smelling like smoke and…well…with what happen to Lindsey…” she struggled for the words as he took another step backwards.

            “Sometimes when he talks, he sounds a little light in the loafers,” his father finished for her.

            “LaVell!” she chided him

            “It’s the truth.  I’m not saying he is, but I haven’t seen him with any girls either,” he continued, not even looking away from the television.  Mark could see the top of his head, thinning hair desperately doing its best to hang on.    

            “I don’t have a girlfriend, does that make me ‘light in the loafers’?  Would you rather I knock some girl up now, at fifteen?” Anger was rising in Mark and he was doing a poor job at containing it.  He had been unduly tense lately. Since Lindsey and Hannah had been caught, he felt smothered in his own skin. He hated having to hide who he was to his own family, but he couldn’t see any scenario where coming out could possibly go well for him.

            “Of course not,” she said quickly.  “I just worry, that’s all.  There are a lot of negative influences out there.  This life is full of trials and sometimes it can be hard to make the right decisions.”  Mark grit his teeth, sensing another one of his mother’s dining table sermons.

            “Mark clean up and then set the table for dinner,” LaVell said standing from his chair and shutting off the television.  Grateful for the respite, Mark quickly did as he was told.

            After dinner, Mark lounged in his room, reading. His room was a typical teenager’s room; some clothes that hadn’t made it to the hamper yet, books and video game covers scattered about, and posters on the wall.   He had adorned the walls with a number of pictures of gorgeous super novae and space shuttles. His prized possession was a vintage Star Trek poster from the original motion picture. He turned the page on the book he was reading: Dahlgren by Samuel Delany.

It wasn’t a difficult book to read, but it was slow going. The story of a post-apocalyptic city in a non-post-apocalyptic world wasn’t the problem. An immense world of freedom resided in the pages, a freedom he yearned for, with little accountability for its main character. But there was also a sense of madness, of danger that lurked in the chaos that Mark wasn’t so sure about. He wanted freedom, he wanted a little chaos but he was afraid of the danger, and of the price. Grason, Idaho seemed too small for him, but it wasn’t the town, it was the people. Some days it felt like the entire population of fifty thousand suffocated him as he hid. He wasn’t just hiding behind a bedroom door, or behind a book; he was hiding inside his own skin. Every day and in front of almost everybody he pretended not to be gay and pretended that he wasn’t going against the church’s teachings. His family wouldn’t understand, they were Latter Day Saint and Idaho bred. Grason wasn’t some tiny hick town, but it wasn’t far off and bigger ideas sometimes took awhile to settle in.

            Few people knew his secret. Trevor and Jeordie obviously knew, as well as a couple of his classmates. None of his family knew, but he often wondered if his brother Isaac suspected. He never said anything outright, but Mark always got the feeling he knew something. It didn’t matter much as far as Mark was concerned. Isaac held rank as the Golden Boy in Mark’s mind.   He was the football and basketball player, got fantastic grades, and everybody loved him. But he wasn’t here anymore, he had gone off to college. Despite it all, Mark carried a sense of abandonment since his brother left to college. This abandonment was slowly turning to resentment, but it wasn’t personal, it was feeding a bigger discontentment. It felt as if he was crawling around in his own skin, suffocating and struggling while he died incrementally every day.

            Attempting to read to escape this scatter-shot mix of uncertainty didn’t help as much as he hoped. The main character of the story lived between lapses of time and in those lapses he found himself between beds of both a man and a woman. Something deep within Mark shifted and tried to come to the surface. With more practice, it became easier to swallow it down, but it was getting harder each time. The ease in which the transitions between loving man and woman occurred left him uncomfortable as he read on. If gay is a one-way street, he wondered, why am I always wanting to look both ways?

Remember kids: stay school, don’t drink and drive, and Jimmy crack corn and I don’t care.