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Review: Atlanta Burns

Atlanta Burns (Atlanta Burns #1-2)Atlanta Burns by Chuck Wendig

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Atlanta Burns is what Veronica Mars would have been if, instead of growing up in sunny California with an understanding father, she’d been transplanted suddenly into “Pennsyltucky”—the rural/backwoods center of Pennsylvania—with an impoverished lost-soul mother and no one to fall back on. Atlanta Burns is Veronica Mars with red hair, a cut lip, dirt all over her face, and the vocabulary your momma wouldn’t approve of.

The story is good, but rough, hard to take. Atlanta is still recovering from the sexual assault she suffered at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend, and her unwanted legendary status she earned with a well-placed shotgun hit to his bait-and-tackle. It is in part because of this reputation, however, that she attracts the downtrodden, the friendless, and begins to help them fight back, too.

The only thing you can really say Atlanta has going for her is grit. She’s not always the smartest girl; she’s into way more drugs than I am even familiar with, often in tandem; she makes really shitty decisions and has a hard time remembering who her friends are. But she doesn’t give up, doesn’t back down, even as she stumbles into bigger and greater crimes against those who can’t fight back.

Chuck Wendig spins a good story, but I think he inserts a little bit too much of himself sometimes, making his agenda too clear and creating a gap in the fourth wall, like when his drug-dealing lowlife happens to be a frequent reader of Margaret Atwood. I don’t disagree with his message, and, true, it’s one of these clear agenda items that makes up the overall story arch, but there were times it drew me out of the story and had me rolling my eyes.

Overall, Wendig does good work here: it doesn’t always get better. Sometimes the bad guys are too big to fight. Sometimes you’re the dog in the ring, just having to fight to survive. It’s a good story, with a hard message to swallow, but it’s a bit too gritty and intense for me. Tread carefully, readers; this is a solid book but you’re going to need a steel stomach to get through it.

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Money, Money, Money: Amazon vs. Publishers

For a writer on the sidelines (*ahem* not yet published, I mean), it’s an interesting time. Self-publish, indie publish, Amazon CreateSpace, imprints, university presses, Big Five… it’s sort of a mess right now. The Amazon-Hatchette showdown is definitely the matchup to keep an eye on right now: worst, I don’t even know what side, if any, I’m on.

If you haven’t been keeping up with the news, Amazon–the big gorilla in the current publishing market, dominating ebooks, self-published, and even books published more or less traditionally under their imprint–is duking it out with Hatchette, publishing’s fourth-largest company. We don’t know for certain what they are fighting about… well, we know they’re fighting about money. But we don’t have details.

Some folks have guessed that Amazon wanted to own 50% of every book sold, instead of 30%. That’s a big price hike, particularly in an industry that hasn’t been doing that great. (But, says Amazon, most of your customers are buying from us anyway. Without us, you will fail.) Because Hatchette didn’t budget, Amazon has been slowing down the deliveries of customer orders.

This tactic may have backfired, however; authors big and small, including the likes of Stephen King, got together to sign a petition against Amazon, complaining this tactic is anti-consumer (and anti-author). Amazon lashed out, saying Hatchette was using authors as “human shields.” (Woah now.) [Hugh Howey and Chuck Wendig have also both weighed in, on opposing sides of the debate, despite being published by Amazon.]

The big publishers (and especially the small publishers) say they can’t afford any more fees, that Amazon is a near-monopoly and a “bully.” Amazon claims the publishers don’t treat their authors well enough, that they can’t keep up with the times, that they are an obstacle to affordable and accessible literature, and basically just need to put up or shut up.

I…don’t know what should happen. Amazon’s demands do seem extreme to me, and I am deeply concerned with the idea in which Amazon were the only “publisher” left. It also alarms me that Amazon might one day turn on their authors; perhaps they’ll have a bot they think can churn out better fiction? And then they’ll see no need for us. Then again, I think traditional publishers don’t do enough for their authors anymore (both in support and in money). [Here’s the chart featuring how much in royalties you can make in different formats.]

I’m still on the fence about my publishing path, but I have recently been leaning ever-closer to self-publishing. It’s not a free and easy path, however; just different.

What do y’all think of the recent controversy between Amazon and the publishers?

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Review: Blackbirds

Blackbirds (Miriam Black, #1)Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s got to be hard to find work when your main talent is coming up with detailed, grisly, and inventive ways for people to die. (Though I suppose it’s possible your accountant or barista is also imagining all the ways you could bite it…) However, Chuck Wendig seems to have figured it out with the incredible Blackbirds.

Let’s just say this wasn’t a typical book to be enjoying beachside, and I was more than a little worried that someone would notice I was reading about murders, suicides, and horrible accidents and out me as the weirdo I am.

I’ve never read Wendig before, though I have long intended to. What an introduction! Blackbirds features Miriam Black, one of the most original characters I’ve ever encountered.

Miriam is a deeply disturbed girl, and for good reason: she can see how people will die. The slightest touch sends her a detailed view of death; something she cannot avoid and seemingly cannot stop, despite her efforts. In fact, she has long since given up, and lives as a carrion bird, taking just enough from the dead to get by herself, flitting from place to place, foul-mouthed and alone.

She is a tragic figure, and yet likeable. She’s vulnerable, though she’d hate for anyone else to really know it. She’s an absolute trainwreck and she has a terrible past that we see in fragments. Poor girl; her whole life is fragments.

Through a variety of accidental encounters, Miriam finds herself caring for someone for the first time in years. This, however, is also unfortunate: she has seen that he is going to expire (in a truly macabre way) with her name on his lips. Even before he is dead, he haunts her nightmares.

Miriam is an incredible character, and I can’t wait to read more of this series (even if it does leave my stomach swirling at times). Wendig is an inspiration, and a reminder that stepping outside the bounds of normal can reap huge rewards. He earned at least one fan in me.

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