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Thursday, January 30, 2003

Sherwood Anderson/Gertrude Stein: correspondence and personal essays by Sherwood Anderson and by Gertrude Stein

The letters and essays between these two influential writers form a narrative that reads almost like a novel. I found it helpful for working on my book New Readings of Winesburg, Ohio, but I also found it to be an entertaining document about friendship and the writing craft.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Sherwood Anderson's Secret Love Letters: For Eleanor, a Letter a Day by Sherwood Anderson. Edited by Ray Lewis White.

These letters won't refute Sherwood Anderson's reputation for sentimentality. If you don't mind that, this book gives insight into a writer who greatly loved humanity, especially the woman he called "E." It was a helpful resource for my book New Readings of Winesburg, Ohio. I would suggest it for anyone who wants to know more about Anderson, his views, and his passions.

Sunday, January 26, 2003

Book signing a hit!

Shawna Chandler and I signed copies of The Acorn Gathering: Writers Uniting Against Cancer, Saturday at Lubbock’s Barnes & Noble! I also signed copies of my scifi adventure Degranon, and several other local writers signed their books as well.

Saturday, January 25, 2003

Updates on The Acorn Gathering authors.

Shawna Chandler and I will be signing copies of The Acorn Gathering: Writers Uniting Against Cancer, today at Lubbock’s Barnes & Noble! I can’t wait!

Bill Wetzel, one of The Acorn Gathering’s other authors, just contributed the following opinion piece to the Arizona Daily Wildcat: The art of a bloodless war.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

DVD review: X-Men

This is a review of the original DVD release of X-Men, not the new special edition, X-Men 1.5. Have I mentioned that I hate how the movie studios keep selling DVDs of movies, then re-releasing the DVD with more features? Actually, I just rented the DVD anyway, and also saw the movie at the theater. I loved watching it both times and will probably watch it many more times!

On to the review:
I love every minute of this movie! The acting, the special effects, the action, and the important themes make a great total package. The DVD is a treasure chest of special features, though I would rather view those features without having to endure repeated viewings of the tiresome clip that introduces them.

X-Men 2 opens in theatres on May 2, 2003.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

DVD review: Terminator 2—Judgment Day

The DVD offers one great feature after another! I've owned the DVD for a while, and I still haven't seen all of it. I can't imagine wanting to watch the theatrical cut again, though. The longer version that appears here adds to the character development, making me care even more about what happens to those characters. I just wish all DVD's would offer one frame (without animation) that links to every single feature on the DVD.

With his one liners and even a hint of tenderness in the middle of all the big budget action, most movie goers seem to relate Arnold Schwarzenegger to this role, or the evil Terminator he played in the first movie. Terminator 3—Rise of the Machines opens July 2, 2003.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003


The Return of Innocence.


I’m co-authoring this fantasy novel with Antoinette Davis. A young woman stumbles into wild adventures and learns that, sometimes, going home is the most dangerous adventure of all! Click here to read a draft of Chapter One, and please post your comments there!

Monday, January 20, 2003

Publishing to Aid Cancer Research.

1-18-2003–Nashville, Tennessee: Belmont Circle: Duane Simolke: Publishing to Aid Cancer Research. [Read the scanned article.] You might need to right click your mouse in the corner of the screen, to bring the scan to its full size. It’s a great article, and I appreciate this contribution from Wes Aldridge and Belmont University!

Friday, January 17, 2003

Invading the British!

Degranon has started catching on in the UK, while still gaining more readers here in the US. Though I’m currently co-writing a fantasy novel, ideas for two Degranon sequels keep popping into my head. I’m just glad to finally write (and read) more science fiction and fantasy. I loved working on the two Acorn books and also writing essays, poems, and criticism, but I feel more at home in otherworldly settings, even with the challenges of writing a novel. I see The Acorn Gathering: Writers Uniting Against Cancer as my most important book project, but Degranon as my favorite book project.

Most of all, I appreciate your interest in my work! Thank you for reading!

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Book review: Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

When I discovered this book, I was already writing a story cycle of my own, The Acorn Stories. Winesburg, Ohio became a strong influence on that book, and also led me to write New Readings of Winesburg, Ohio. In Sherwood Anderson’s acclaimed story cycle, a small town finds itself entering the twentieth century with loneliness and confusion. The same industrialism that Anderson would explore so well in his novel Poor White also asserts itself constantly here, turning a beautiful landscape into a sometimes desecrated one.

The young reporter George Willard appears in most of the stories, providing a connection for people who feel they lack connection and a voice for people who feel they lack a voice. Though many readers consider this book a bleak and disjointed novel, I consider it a collection of stories that interrelate in surprising, often brilliant ways. As for the bleak part, please also look at the many moments of comfort, the many sparks of inspiration.

I eventually lost track of how many times I read Winesburg, Ohio. I just know I’ll read it again.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Book review: Everything You Always Wanted To Know About POD Publishing But Didn't Know Who To Ask by John F. Harnish

Finally, a resource book for print book writers that doesn’t assume they use a traditional print book publisher! With all of my books published POD (print-on-demand), I often find expert advice of “how it’s done in the business” worthless. The rules for traditional publishing differ from those for POD publishing. Both offer unique limitations and unique freedoms. John F. Harnish explains all of that, and proves how POD actually offers more than traditional publishing on many levels.

Anyone considering using a POD publisher needs to read this book first, then read back through sections of it during and after the submission and publication process. Any writer, or any publicist, already involved with POD in any way should read this book now. Harnish gives all of the ins and outs of the POD industry, both as an employee of Infinity Publishing and as a POD author.

I can’t say that I agree with all of Harnish’s views on POD books or POD authors, but I can’t say that I agree with all of anyone’s views on anything. However, Harnish makes a bold and unusual step that further enriches an already valuable book: he brings in the views and experiences from dozens of other POD authors, in their own words. As I read those words, I kept making observations like “Yes, I know what you mean,” or “I wish I would have thought of those points before wasting that time or money.” The whole book seems like an incredibly helpful writer conference, one where everyone leaves feeling more informed and empowered.

Monday, January 13, 2003

SciFi updates

As many of my readers know, my real love is science fiction and fantasy, and I plan to mostly write in those genres from now on. I got sidetracked from that pursuit in college, because most academic types frown upon scifi, fantasy, and horror. Never mind that one of the most loved books of the twentieth century was Lord of the Rings, or that many of the works in the literary canon are scifi, fantasy, or horror (1984 and A Clockwork Orange, for example, or certain works by Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Jonathan Swift). Of course, most profs come up with convoluted ways of not referring to them by their genre.

I’ve just added more sf/f resources to my sf/f page.

Thursday, January 09, 2003

Huda Orfali’s book projects.

I wrote the following reviews of Huda Orfali’s first two books. Huda was the first author to join my project The Acorn Gathering, a fiction anthology that raises money for cancer cure research. She wrote three of its stories.


Book review: Blue Fire by Huda Orfali

The character Marc (or, Marco) drifts through Orfali's stories, bringing hope and compassion to often hopeless or brutal situations. Orfali is the real Marc, in that she gives a devastatingly honest view of life's cruelty, yet brings optimism to that view. However, she does so without giving easy, contrived solutions. She also does so with charming characters and believable dialogue.

Her poems range from depictions of her Syrian homeland to scenes from treasured myths and legends. My favorite of the poems is "Flip, Flop." The narrator of that poem forces us to consider the results of violence, who is to blame for it, and who can help stop it; yet the poem also manages to surprise the reader. For that matter, Orfali's work is a constant surprise.

Book review: Flower in the Cold by Huda Orfali

Orfali's second book offers stories of people learning to deal with the harsh realities of life and death. Relying heavily on dialogue, Orfali shows people who must confront unexpected changes, including some tragic changes. The characters range from a ballerina, to a camera man, to a vampire.

One of my favorite selections is the title story, in which a father's letters help him examine his feelings about his son's illness.

Orfali gives realistic glimpses at the more difficult moments in people's lives. Still, she also celebrates the strength of human relationships and the protective love of parents for their children.

These stories reflect a deep understanding of human nature and a deep love for the written word.

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Christopher Reeve returning to familiar place

Actor Christopher Reeve is filming an episode of the WB’s series Smallville. That popular show stars Tom Welling as a teen Clark Kent, before he became Superman. Set to air in late February, the episode will feature Reeve as a scientist who helps Clark.

While Reeve stopped playing Superman long ago, he can’t escape the character. At times, he couldn’t find other roles, because so many people saw him strictly as the man of steel. After his accident, though, his fans began seeing him as Superman in a different way: someone who faces impossible odds and refuses to accept defeat. I saw him in an interview recently in which he seemed embarrassed by that popular sentiment.

Still, no one can deny his heroism, in his ongoing recovery, in his activism for people with disabilities, and in his determination to give others hope.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

KC & the Sunshine Band: 25th Anniversary Edition

CD review: 25th Anniversary Edition, by KC & the Sunshine Band

This two-CD set includes many songs that I hadn't heard in years. I've enjoyed hearing them again. As a teenager, I loved KCSB, even after their popularity faded. I eventually quit listening for a while, but now I don't know why. This is fun music, and I still hope to one day see KCSB in concert.

Like one of the other reviewers, I am especially grateful for the inclusion of "I Betcha Didn't Know That." The lyrics to that song go way beyond the usual party songs we expect, and they help produce a ballad that's as beautiful as the more popular "Please Don't Go." In fact, I mostly like this collection for the less popular songs, as the mega-hits appear on literally dozens of other CD's.

I still hope The Painter comes out on CD. That album went mostly unnoticed, and I've never seen any of its songs on CD. However, it's KCSB's most diverse album and definitely worthy of a second chance.

Saturday, January 04, 2003

DVD review: Circuit, directed by Dirk Shafer

Director Dirk Shafter offers a beautiful, glossy nightmare, with a dazzling soundtrack and wild camera angles. When John, played with perfect innocence and occasional disgust by Jonathan Wade-Drahos, suffers a gay-bashing at the hands of the very police force he serves on, he decides to move to L.A. and spend time with his gay cousin, Tad. Driving down the streets of L.A. and seeing openly gay men holding hands in public makes John smile. But then, when he arrives at Tad’s house, he receives his first glimpses of a party scene that can destroy relationships and lives.

Despite his attempts to the contrary, John soon becomes caught up in the drug culture of Circuits—huge weekend parties for gay men. Besides making an incredible amount of money for the organizers, these events often provide a setting for drug trafficking, often leading to unsafe sex. Considering that the events cater strictly to gay men, all of that leads to the spread of HIV. As one character ironically points out, the events sometimes promote themselves as fund-raisers for AIDS, or as places where condoms and safe-sex messages make their way to the gay male community.

I keep saying “gay male,” because lesbians are at much lower HIV risk than gay men, bi women, heterosexual men, or heterosexual women. Then again, I doubt most lesbians would support events so centered on youthful, physical perfection, or that most lesbians would endanger their bodies through steroid usage. In the culture depicted in this movie, steroids seem more like a requirement than an indulgence; each man must look like a young, beautiful Adonis, but with garish and absurdly expensive clothing that will make him cringe when (and if) he gets older. Of course, Shafer never makes it appear that all gay men like the circuit scene, but he shows how it can easily draw them in by the hundreds.

John has two tender, stabilizing relationships: one with his former girlfriend, and one with Tad’s former boyfriend. Unfortunately, the less healthy relationships threaten to destroy him. While focusing on that plot, the movie also focuses on Tad’s work as an amateur filmmaker who wants to make a documentary that exposes the dangers of the circuit scene. Even while filming interviews that show it at its worst, Tad still sees the scene’s appeals, and the surprisingly positive sides of it. Will the two men survive their party world? I won’t give that away, but I will say that the movie raises valid questions about a real scene with real allure and real dangers.

The acting needs more emotion at places, but Dirk Shafer does a great job weaving his tale through the music and images that attract certain gay men to the circuit.

One complaint about the DVD—a “play all” option always helps when offering a long list of deleted scenes or other features; hitting the remote every few seconds can get tiresome, even for people who usually commit channel surfing. Repeated viewings of this movie shouldn’t get tiresome, though. Shafer offers a controversial depiction of a segment of the gay male community, one that will probably receive more recognition as we examine the impact of the circuit scene on a group that already lost way too many people to drugs and AIDS.

Friday, January 03, 2003

How the Internet Changed My Writing Career
(Updated from previous postings.)

II began writing at a young age and constantly submitted my work to a variety of publications, sometimes with success. While those publications never paid more than five dollars, if anything, they helped get my name and my writing to the public. I also edited or wrote for various college publications while attending those colleges. Still, my attempts at finding a book publisher led nowhere, except for offers from people who obviously wanted to rip me off.

When I began exploring the internet, I quickly found e-zines (web-based electronic magazines) that featured work by unknown writers. Internet newsgroups, message boards, and mailing lists offered more outlets. Some people even asked me for permission to post my essays or poems on their websites.

Those venues not only gave me new places to get published but also led to feedback from people around the world. The feedback included questions, encouragement, and criticism, all of which pushed me to expand and improve the writings I posted.

Soon, I tried publishing collections of my work as e-books (electronically published books). Though some writers reported great success with e-book publishing, I found little reception for my e-books. In all honesty, I wouldn’t buy an electronic document either. Also in all honesty, most of the people whose books sold well in e format were already well-established authors, such as Stephen King.

During all that time, I continued to submit my books to traditional (print) publishers, with no takers. I also found new readers by continuing to submit my work to newsletters and other smaller publications that would give unknown writers a chance. Many of those readers asked when my books would appear in print. That became possible when I discovered print-on-demand (POD) publishing, a technology that allows the printer to only make copies of a book as people order them.

POD publishers tend to rely on their websites and the online bookstores for selling their books, so it is a largely web-based industry, with sales mostly coming through the sites, the various online bookstores, and the efforts of the individual author. Most on-demand publishers won’t publicize their books outside their website.

Also, brick-and-mortar bookstores usually won’t stock POD books, largely because—with a few exceptions—POD publishers won’t take returns and don’t offer enough profit for the bookstore. I’ll accept those drawbacks for now, because the benefits outweigh them for someone who hasn’t yet found a traditional publisher.

I only recently discovered Everything You Always Wanted to Know About POD Publishing But Didn't Know Who to Ask!!!, by John F. Harnish. That book explains POD publishing and marketing in ways that would have saved me a lot of time and money if I had known the secrets it reveals before writing four POD books and co-authoring another. Still, I certainly wouldn’t change my decision to use my POD publisher, iUniverse.

Thanks to on-demand publishing, readers can now order all of my books at online or brick-and-mortar bookstores. The creation and constant expansion of my website has helped me promote those books, especially since that website contains information that consistently attracts a diverse audience.

Aside from my site, I use the following methods for promoting my books. From book sales and e-mail responses, I know that all of them help.

1. Continuing to contribute to websites, especially Amazon.com, AuthorsDen, StoneWall Society, and my own site. People keep seeing my name at those places, and often read more about me—including information about my books.

2. I mentioned that I also co-authored a book. That one, The Acorn Gathering, raises money for cancer cure research. John Mudd, the publicist for that book, suggested new ways to make my Acorn Gathering website more effective (study the site to see what I mean) and also introduced me to blogs (weblogs). Blogs, a growing trend, help active writers, critics, hobbyists, etc. constantly provide a fresh exchange of observations and ideas. They appear more quickly in search engines than traditional webpages appear, and they form quite a community. I created three blogs at Blogger. John Mudd also helped me network with media people, which means more exposure for an important project.

3. Advertising my books in the classifieds sections of various print publications. The expense more than cuts into my royalties, but the publicity allows me to reach outside the net and gain a larger audience. Besides, classifieds cost much less than other forms of print advertising. I choose publications that somehow relate to the book I’m promoting. For example, my first book, The Acorn Stories, uses a West Texas setting, so I advertise it in Texas publications. Of course, I usually include my domain name, to make my writing easy to find.

4. Sending review copies of my books to people who might write about them or help me schedule a signing or reading. More than half of those review copies result in nothing. But a single review copy will sometimes yield considerable results. I receive much better results if I contact the person in advance and ask for permission to send the review copy. I eventually learned not to bother with the leading magazines, as most of them will only review books from the leading publishers (i.e., the ones that advertise in those magazines). Smaller publications often take interest in unknown writers. As John F. Harnish’s aforementioned book points out, most newspapers won’t review POD books; I wasted a lot of money by not knowing that simple fact.

5. Holding local signings or readings. For an obscure writer with no financial backing, going on the road costs way too much and offers way too little. However, many people will take interest in local writers. While newspapers and other local publications tend to ignore POD books in and of themselves, most of them will write about an event that involves those books. The article will include information about the book.

6. Using press release services to submit news about my books. This procedure can prove costly, but it gets the word out quickly to people I wouldn’t otherwise reach with my website. I hear from many people who say they purchased my books after reading one of my press releases.

7. Adding link pages to my site, where I tell people that I will (with reasonable exceptions) link to their site after they add a link to one of my webpages, or to an online bookstore listing of one of my books. A quick Google search will reveal many other link trades sites, which is how mine grew so quickly. I also trade links with the writer sites that will list my biography, my books, and/or my home page; such sites help writers and deserve our support, even if that support comes only in the form of website traffic. Breeze through my link trade pages, and you’ll find many such sites.

8. When people write to me with praise of one of my books, I kindly ask if they would submit those comments as reviews for Amazon.com or bn.com. They often say “yes,” increasing my exposure on those sites.

I will continue to explore the possibilities of publishing via websites and POD publishing. Still, I hope to eventually see my books published by traditional publishers, so they will find their way to the shelves of bookstores everywhere!

The internet has allowed me to not only find more readers but also become friends with them, as well as with some amazing writers. I soon learned that such friendships with readers and writers can hurt me, if I foolishly agree to proof or critique their books or “help with” (which usually means “do”) their research or critical studies. However, with reasonable boundaries in place, we can mutually benefit from shared contacts, ideas, and encouragement.

I could go on about other ways the internet helps me as a writer. In fact, I can’t measure all the ways it affects my life and my work. As my books continue to sell and my audience continues to grow, I remain constantly aware that the internet has changed my writing career.

Visit DuaneSimolke.Com to see examples of the approaches I discuss above; that page includes links to The Acorn Gathering site and my links pages.