Saturday, September 19, 2009

Pirates of the Narrow Seas Wins Sweet Revolution Award

The Sweet Revolution Award is for same sex romances published on, the archive for the original draft of Pirates of the Narrow Seas. PoNS 1 was nominated and won in the category of 'best full cast' and was a special judge's pick as well.

The complete series is now hosted at Pirates of the Narrow Seas, PoNS 2 : Men of Honor, and PoNS 3 : Iron Men.

Thank you, readers. I'm glad you're enjoying the novels.


Friday, September 18, 2009

How I Decide to Buy a Book

Recently I've been musing over posts on Twitter's #writechat related to blurbs and associated marketing materials, and perusing their blog posts and comments on the same subject. That got me to reflect not just on blurbs, but the whole process of deciding whether or not to buy a book.

The first thing is the type of book. If I go in to buy a nautical adventure, I'm probably not going to come home with a Harlequin romance. On the other hand, if Harlequin ever published a romance with a picture of a sailing ship on the cover, I would stop dead in my tracks to check it out. I would probably buy it just to see what Harlequin has done with my beloved ships :)

This brings us to covers. A good cover represents the book and gives the reader some inkling as to what's inside and how its treated. If the cover features a naked male torso and a swooning woman, that tells me something. In my case: keep moving, not your kind of book! Don't get me wrong, I like naked male torsos. I like them quite a lot. (We're talking about the aesthetically pleasing male torso, of course; the rest of us can keep our spare tire to ourselves!)

The title matters, too. The title shows if the writer can come up with an original idea, or at least one that isn't hoky and hasn't been done a million times before. This is much harder than you think. First time authors often have amateur titles. There's nothing wrong with being a first time author, but I'll weigh that in my decision-making. I (usually) prefer somebody who is a master of their craft. It can be neat to see a new voice in a familiar field, but again, I want them to be a GOOD voice. There's a reason why most first time authors don't earn out their advance and don't publish a second book.

Sometimes titles are just way too clever or obscure, which indicates that the rest of the book is probably much the same, and I'm not keen on that sort of thing. No, I'm not a follower of whatshisname and his DaVinci Code and other obscure historical thingamubobs, even though I love history. Then again, if it twigs my interest, I might go for it after all.

Next I flip to the back cover and read the synopsis, look at the art, and any blurbs or comments there. I want to know what this book is about, what makes it special. I don't want to be told, "It's a fantastic story with engaging characters" because it damn well ought not be in print if it isn't! I do want to know that it's "Adventure on the high seas when the brave but self-doubting Lt. Horatio Hornblower battles the French."

Okay, now I'm hooked. I like the high seas, and given the cover art, I'm pretty sure we're talking the Napoleonic Wars--classic British naval action--but 'self-doubting?' Here is an imperfect hero, and they are much more interesting than perfect heroes.

If the book has flaps I'll read what's on them, and I'll be particularly interested in the author's bio. If it's the usual academic sort of bio about what university posts they've held, awards they've won, and books they've published, it will put me off. I'm not interested in the Academy. No, I'm much more interested in an author who has actually lived something having to do with what he's about. Alan Villiers actually crewed aboard sailing vessels, so when his book tells that he spent 1938 crewing aboard dhows in the Indian Ocean before writing Sons of Sinbad, that matters!

Academic credentials do matter if they're germane to the subject; if for example, you teach forensic psychology and you're writing a murder mystery, that's going to pique my interest. I'm going to wonder what you know about a well-worn genre that the rest of the writers, who aren't forensic psychologists, don't know. I'm going to assume you're going to show me something new.

I also like a biography that gives me a sense of the personality of the writer. Is this person witty or stuffy? That will probably manifest in his/her prose. Can this person write an engaging biography? If s/he can't retain my interest in a short piece whose subject they know very well, that doesn't augur well for their ability to maintain my interest through 300+ pages.

I open the book and read the front matter and the back matter. If reader comments are included, I skim them. I look to see if the author has written other books and what sort. How many printings has this book had? Was it translated from another language? The more it has been reprinted, the more people have liked the book and bought it. I'm particularly intrigued by books originally published in 'obscure' languages. If the book has made the leap from Romanian to English, there must be something special about it. I also like originality, and I'm pretty sure a Romanian author is going to be approaching the material in a different way.

I also read the dedications--does the author acknowledge those who helped him? That indicates that s/he did the research necessary and has the human consideration to share the glory. Somebody who cares about real human beings probably cares about his characters, too. On the other hand, if the dedication or acknowledgment is pat, hackneyed, and insipid, that makes me fear that maybe the rest of his writing is, too.

I read any notes the author has included. I like it when authors take the trouble to inform the reader about something they think matters. That shows attention to detail and concern for the reader. I may not really care that the author has rearranged the sequences of events in the War of 1812 for the sake of his/her novel, but I'm glad that s/he did it on purpose and not through blundering ignorance. I'm willing to suspend my disbelief to see what they've wrought because they've done me the courtesy of thinking that I'm an educated reader who will notice.

On the other hand, if the author's note is way too long and pedantic...

Next I open the book to a page at random. I don't open to the first page because first pages are often misleading. Some authors--especially modern ones--begin in the middle of some whizbang mysterious action to get you hooked. When I was young that worked on me. Then I discovered that just because you have an exciting beginning doesn't mean you have an exciting middle or a satisfying ending. Way too many modern authors think you have to keep throwing in exciting things to keep the reader's interest. In this cinematic age, maybe you do.

But I like novels in which the characters engage me. I want to know what happens to them--the little stuff, the funny stuff, the odd stuff and the sad stuff, as well as the big stuff. Captain Frederick Marryat's nautical novel Frank Mildmay, Or, the Naval Officer, is a string of trivia and anecdotes--and it works. His hero is present for the Battle of Trafalgar, which action he renders as, "But everybody already knows what happened there, so there's no need to repeat it."

Yes, by god, we do know! The British whipped the French. There were lots of booming cannons and Nelson died. All hail Britannia. It's been done a million times--except that, it hadn't been done a million times when Marryat was writing--he was a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars. Still, he didn't feel compelled to give us exciting scenes of things blowing up and men dying and so forth. No, he tells us things nobody had talked about: how the frigates--whom we all think of as dashing and heroic--scuttled along behind the lines, fished survivors out of the water and delivered dispatches and tried not to get run over by the big boys. It's singularly unheroic and riveting because it's real.

Marryat is a guy that can make a boy stealing chickens hysterically funny. And he is the same guy that can make a man's death quietly tragic and irrational, without spending lots of fulsome words to paint the horribleness of war. All of this with a personableness that makes you feel like you just sat down next to your best friend from high school.

The passage that made me decide to buy Frank Mildmay was one I opened to at random. Two boys on the ship have captured one of the ship's kittens. They proceed to hold a court martial, put the hood over the kitten's head, use a flute full of flour to imitate the salute gun, and hang the cat. They carry out their mock court martial and execution in full solemnity. They are not cruel or boisterous. They are boys, imitating and practicing what they have seen their elders doing. They are boys learning to become men.

What a chill went up my spine! I flipped back to read the court martial and execution, and then I had to buy the book.

The book is witty, funny, and in places, laugh out loud amusing. Our hero gets into scrape after scrape, experiences a variety of colorful and interesting situations, beds and deceives numerous women, meets remarkable individuals (who are believable people with their good points and their bad), and suffers the often simultaneously tragic and comic consequences of a hormonal young man acting without thinking. The book is a romp.

Yet by the end of it, the reader is not only entertained, but has been convinced of Marryat's underlying thesis: that the traditional way of 'forming character' in the navy has the opposite effect and produces men in whom all decent feeling has been stripped and debased, and it is a rare man who can rise above it. Slowly, the British came to agree, and the naval system evolved into a more humane and decent institution.

And this was the man's first novel!

When I was young I read everything cover to cover. Now that I'm old I don't have the time to spend on books that aren't worth my time. I spend a lot of effort looking at books before deciding which ones I'm going to buy. I get very annoyed when a book doesn't live up to my expectations. (Yes, Dudley Pope, I'm talking to you. Ramage and the Saracens was crap! Rad Marryat and try again.)

I spend a lot of money on books, and I make use of resources to help me find books I want to own. I found Frank Mildmay through a Google booksearch and bought it. (Publishers, please make your books readable and searchable online! I'm not going to buy your book if I can't tell what's in it for me.) I read reviews (when they exist). Even a bad review is not necessarily going to put me off as long as it's a fair review; something that doesn't appeal to somebody else mighty very well appeal to me. Effusive praise or unbounded condemnation doesn't tell me anything about the book. (Book reviewers: your job is not to write free marketing copy for your author friends. Your job is to help the reader figure out which books they want to read.)

But there's a role for readers, too. Especially with the Internet. Don't just be passive consumers of books. Make a comment. Post to your blog. Comment on somebody else's blog. Post a review on Discuss it in your e-list. You can make it as short or long as you like. You make a few casual remarks or a full blown review. All that matters is that you identify something noteworthy about the book and describe it. "It kept me turning pages" doesn't really say anything, "Each chapter ends with a cliffhanger so that I can't wait to find out happens next" is much more descriptive.

You don't even need to use your own name. Create a handle and be brave. Authors want to know what you think and so do other readers. There's so much out their in the world that we can't possibly read it all, so if you have read something that struck you, take a few minutes to say so. That's the best way of all to encourage the writing and publication of the sorts of books you want to read.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

#Gayfiction on Twitter

Hey, if you're a fan of gay fiction, and you're on Twitter, let's use the hashtag #gayfiction to chat. I know there are other gay authors out there, as well as fans of gay fiction, so let's network!


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Heart of a Sailor reviewed online

Hyperbole Poetry Magazine online published a short review of Heart of a Sailor by M. Kei at <>.

"you'll find M. Kei's tanka poems to be as full of passion as they are nature and beautiful language" -- read the complete review at the link above.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Heron Sea, Short Poems of the Chesapeake Bay

I have decided to make my first collection, Heron Sea, Short Poems of the Chesapeake Bay, available for free online through You can access it by clicking on the title of this post.

Blurbs for Heron Sea:

“Heron Sea is a rich word-tapestry of the Chesapeake Bay area. M. Kei’s attunement to environment and the life it engenders is remarkable. Here is a sensual experience so lovingly detailed that the reader is left with a sense of being there. Do visit the world of Heron Sea, see/feel for yourself.”

Larry Kimmel, editor of Winfred Press

“M. Kei’s collection, Heron Sea, is a wonderful read on several counts. The poems, primarily tanka and haiku, add up to more than their sum; each is a pleasure to read but all together they comprise a startlingly moving look into the heart of the poet and at the incomparable beauty of the Chesapeake Bay. A Bay dweller, myself, I can attest to the accuracy of M. Kei’s eye and pen. Kei has tapped into the magic of short verse and presented the reader with a collage of amazing depth and insight. Poetry lovers, sailors, everyone in Bay country, and anyone who wants a powerful and beautiful read, should buy this book!”

—Denis M. Garrison, Editor, Modern English Tanka

“M. Kei’s collection is a gem. The personal anthologies of haiku/tanka that I think are best contain a sharp picture of the poet. His is among the best. An authority on Chesapeake Bay, an authority on certain types of boats, an authority on the history of oyster fishing, he is a modern who knows the importance of global-warming and saving the environment. He is never sentimental, and his poems have a special quality of honesty and integrity. The last section on ‘Threnody’ is totally moving. In other words, Kei has written a unique collection whose voice is like that of no one else. I admire it enormously. Kei is coming into his own, and should become one of the best haiku/tanka poets of the decade.”

—Sanford Goldstein, co-translator of Midaregami, Tangled Hair

“In Heron Sea, M. Kei has crafted a poetry of place with lyrical intensity, placing the reader somewhere between the author's heart and the Chesapeake Bay. No cheap sentimentality here—the verse within these pages is filled with hard-earned love, adventure, tragic loss, and wry humor. Kei’s prose Introduction to the book is every bit as moving as the poems that follow. It’s hard not to read this collection without thinking, ever after, that you've been to the Chesapeake Bay area. An impressive achievement.” —Dave Bacharach, tanka poet

I hope you enjoy reading it!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Montserrat Review Honors Take Five : Best Contemporary Tanka

September 1, 2009 Perryville, MD

Montserrat Review, one of the most prestigious literary journals in America, publishes 'Best Reading' each spring and fall in which the Book Review Editor Grace Cavalieri presents her recommendations for the best reading in a variety of categories.

With the tens of thousand of poetry books published by presses small and large in North America, selecting works to recommend is no easy challenge. Best Reading for Fall 2009 honors Take Five : Best Contemporary Tanka in the category of Best Tanka Poetry.

Take Five was edited by a literary team consisting of M. Kei as editor-in-chief, Sanford Goldstein, Pamela A. Babusci, Patricia Prime, Bob Lucky, and Kala Ramesh. They set themselves the goal of reading all tanka published in English during 2008 with the goal of selecting the best to present in an anthology showcasing individual tanka, tanka prose, and tanka sequences. 321 individual poems and 138 poets were honored with publication.

Grace Cavalieri is the host of the 'Poem and Poet' program at the Library of Congress, as well as having published fourteen books of poetry of her own. She has been honored with the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award, The Corporation for Public Broadcasting Silver Medal, and many others.

To read the complete recommendations, visit the web page at

For further information about TAK5, visit the publisher's web site at . For interviews, contact M. Kei, editor-in-chief, at Take5Tanka (at) gmail (dot) com.