Review: Shadow of Time, by Jen Minkman

Shadow of Time (2013)
By Jen Minkman
How did I get this book? The author sent me an advance review copy in exchange for an impartial review.
Available on Amazon.

Disclaimer: Jen Minkman is an online acquaintance of mine; some months ago, she reviewed my first book.

Shadow of Time coverOkay, I’m just going to come right out and say it: Shadow of Time is my favorite paranormal romance ever! What did I like so much about it? Its seriousness.

I don’t mean to make Shadow of Time sound like a bore. It’s not in the least. It’s an involving, well written story with characters I cared about and rooted for at every turn. It’s exciting, with threads of mystery and action/adventure underlying the romance in a stimulating way. It’s also movingly sweet and tender. And the paranormal elements are c-r-e-e-p-y!

No, by “serious” I mean that the book carefully situates its romance plot in Native American history so as to make the characters’ future matter not just to them and their friends/families, but in a bigger way.

When I first realized Shadow of Time‘s hero and heroine were a Native American man and a white American  woman, I was a little worried. I’m not a fan of Native American romance as a subgenre. (Not aware that there is such a subgenre? Oh yes, there very much is. Google it and check out the hundreds of books Goodreads-shelved as “Native American romance.”) Here’s Sherman Alexie lampooning the subgenre:

I was a little Spokane Indian boy who read every book and saw every movie about Indians, no matter how terrible.

I’d read those historical romance novels about the steroidal Indian warrior ravaging the virginal white schoolteacher.

I can still see the cover art.

The handsome, blue-eyed warrior (the Indians in romance novels are always blue-eyed because half-breeds are somehow sexier than full-blooded Indians) would be nuzzling (the Indians in romance novels are always performing acts that are described in animalistic terms) the impossibly pale neck of a white woman as she reared her head back in primitive ecstasy (the Indians in romance novels always inspire white women to commit acts of primitive ecstasy). (quoted from “I Hated Tonto (Still Do)”)

That pretty much says it all. So, I thought, is Shadow of Time going to be one of these? That would suck.

Well, it’s not. Not in the least. I don’t want to go into too many details, because they’d be spoilers, but I will say this much: Minkman has done her research. Serious, in-depth research into Navajo language, mythology, place, and history. The romance she’s crafted is inextricably woven through with the tragedy, bravery, resistance, survival, and present-day life of the Navajo people. The Native Americans in Shadow of Time are not exoticized. They’re normal people trying to lead normal lives in the complicated junction where Native American culture meets the steamrolling force of white America.

That’s what I mean by “serious.” This is a book that combines the joyful escapism of the romance plot with some serious historical heft. It’s satisfying on multiple levels at once. What a treat. I loved it.

Needless to say, I highly recommend this book. It’s appropriate for adults and young adults, including (I think) readers on the younger end of the young-adult spectrum.

Guest Post: How to Crack the Market in Your Own Country, by Jen Minkman

Shadow of Time book blog bannerI have been writing paranormal romance for almost three years now. When I first learned about the genre, it was through Stephenie Meyer’s books, which were a huge hit in Europe at the time, my own country, the Netherlands, included. Inspired by the storytelling and sheer scope of possibilities within the genre, I started writing my own book. The story was called Shadow of Time and it was a paranormal romance set in Navajo Nation, heavily influenced by Native American spirituality, mythology, and history. I wanted to do something that hadn’t been done yet, and in a sense, I was already doing that by writing in this genre — I was (to my knowledge) the first writer of the genre in the whole of Holland. So when I sent out the manuscript to several publishing houses, I more or less hoped they would jump at the chance to publish something in this bestselling genre which was written by one of their compatriots.

minkman_author-picI was wrong. Rejection after rejection found its way to my mailbox, and most of those rejection letters weren’t even saying I couldn’t write — they just said they couldn’t sufficiently market my book. Slowly, it started to dawn on me: why would publishers invest in a nobody like me when it was so much easier to acquire translation rights for a bestselling book from the U.S. or the UK? Goodbye, Jen Minkman, hello L. J. Smith.

Stubborn as I am, I just wouldn’t give up, though. I started sending my manuscript to publishers known for their publications of original Dutch and Belgian work. And the hard work paid off: in the summer of 2011, I found a small independent publisher who liked my manuscript enough to publish it. However, I had to take a detour. Since Ellessy Publications hadn’t published any paranormal romance books yet, they asked me to write a ‘normal’ romance first, in order to prepare their market segment for me and my work. I wrote a chicklit in one summer, and Back to School! (set in a Dutch high school in The Hague) saw the light of day in September 2012. My first book (which would be my second published book) is scheduled to follow later this year, in September 2013.

Shadow of Time coverIn the meantime, it had occurred to me that translating my own book into English might prove lucrative. At the very least, it would reach far more people than just the 23 million Dutch-speaking people in Holland and Belgium. So I took it upon me to re-write and translate my book into English (I come from a family of English teachers and am a teacher of the language myself) and asked a freelance editor from the U.S. to have a thorough look at it.

This is why the book is already available in English, but not yet in my native tongue. It turns out self-publication works a lot faster, despite all the hard work it took me to prepare the book for its international appearance.

The upside? I am already getting very good reviews for Shadow of Time, and this makes me more confident the book will sell well in my own country as well.

The downside? I feel like foreign readers will probably appreciate me and my books more than the people from my own country ever will, and that somehow saddens me. Who knows, though? They might learn about the title because of rave reviews abroad!

Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and the 70% Royalty

I’ve read a few recent articles that make things sound pretty damn ominous for Barnes & Noble. The company’s been closing storefronts all over the country, so perhaps it’s no surprise that revenue from that segment was down almost 11 percent in the last quarter of 2012. What’s more surprising is that the Nook segment’s revenues were down over the holidays as well — by 12.6 percent. (These numbers are drawn from the article in Publishers Weekly.) It sounds as though the Nook is not competing all that well, at this point.

The closure of B&N would be a bummer for many readers. The majority of people still prefer paper books, and many people enjoy shopping for them in bookstores (though perhaps quite a few of them actually buy the books they’ve found through Amazon). I myself love browsing in B&N. I’ve always loved the big-box bookstores. Even back in the 1990s, I wasn’t one to think they were wicked for driving indie bookstores out of existence. I was too busy being excited about the ability to walk into a bookstore and walk out ten minutes later with exactly what I wanted — Book 5 out of eight in a fantasy series, a piece of literary theory, an obscure magazine, a map of a foreign country, whatever — instead of having to special-order it. That was what made the big stores attractive to me: selection, selection, selection. And they let you drink coffee around their merchandise. That was nice.

Then along came Amazon and put everyone else’s selection to shame; as you might expect, that’s where most of my book-shopping dollars began to go, especially after I moved to a small, rural town and signed up for Prime. Poor B&N.

But when I take off my reader hat and think like an author, I find B&N’s position not just sad but alarming. Here’s the thing: Amazon has recently opened virtual storefronts in Brazil, Japan, and India that do not permit authors to receive the normal 70 percent royalty on books unless they’re enrolled in the exclusive KDP Select program. (Books enrolled in Select may not be sold or given away in electronic form through any other site or vendor.) Amazon has not made membership in Select a precondition for the 70 percent royalty in the U.S., Canadian, or European stores. In those stores, any book priced between $2.99 and $9.99  is eligible for the 70 percent royalty.

But if Amazon’s largest epublishing competitor founders, who will provide pressure to keep royalties up? I’ve read that Amazon is currently pursuing the holy grail of same-day deliveries to major metro areas. To pull that off, it’ll need more major new distribution centers. That’s expensive. Really expensive. And Amazon has always operated with a tiny profit margin.

I can think of one place where huge profit margins are available. Ebooks. Sure, Amazon has some costs in running the KDP publishing platform. It’s a good platform, so it must’ve cost a chunk to develop it. KDP provides has pretty good customer service for its authors. And I’m sure it needs a whole bunch of servers and so forth. But surely the costs don’t compare to those incurred by traditional publishers, which provide editing and design and distribution of a physical product. Not to mention remaindering. If Amazon begins to pay royalties on ebooks similar to those paid by traditional publishers, a whole lot more of that income will represent profit.

As part of the general entity of “authors publishing on Amazon,” I suddenly feel a bit like a goose with a golden egg in my nest. (Well, my personal nest has something more like a brass gumball in it, but there are thousands of indie authors out there who sell a shitload of books.) Amazon’s too smart to kill its layers. But it could well take a much bigger bite of each egg. A 65 percent bite, to be exact. We’re already feeling that bite in three storefronts. It’s hard to believe Amazon wouldn’t like to impose it universally.

That’s why the possible loss of B&N alarms me so deeply. Amazon is an amazing company, but it’s already dominant enough to give me the heebie-jeebies. Once it becomes the only mass distribution point for paper books other than super-sellers, that dominance will progress from heebie-jeebie territory to the land of shaking-like-a-bowl-of-Jell-O. If the Nook goes under along with the brick-and-mortar stores … well … I can’t come up with an adequately quivery metaphor. It’s scary.

We call ourselves “independent” authors, but we’re only independent in some senses. In many others, we’re highly dependent. By and large, Amazon is what we’re dependent on. With every alternative publishing venue that proves unable to compete with Amazon, that dependence grows. It’s not a good feeling.

So come on B&N! Come on Nook!

(Of course, what do I own? Two Kindles. Sigh.)

Review: Vampire Underground: Rescue, by Anthea Kage

Vampire Underground: Rescue (Book 1) (2012)
By Anthea Kage
How did I get this book? I downloaded it when it was available for free on Amazon.
Available on Amazon.

Vampire_underground_rescueThis book is a lot of fun. A steamy paranormal romance novella, Vampire Underground: Rescue does a great job balancing hotness, story, and world-building. The result is a satisfying romp.

Tess seems to be your everyday office girl, but by night she’s something else entirely. Her day job at the Vampire Disposal Agency is merely an opportunity to gather information for the opposing side — the vampire rescue movement, which is dedicated to saving vampires from execution at the hands of the government, which has wrongly convinced most of the population that vamps are too dangerous to be allowed to live.

Author Anthea Kage draws on strands of recent American history and culture, including the initial hysterical reaction to the AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s and homophobic parents’ rejection of their gay children, in constructing this novella’s world. She does a nice job of it. The vampires’ persecutors run the gamut from the grossly prejudiced and vicious to the virtuous but misinformed to the willfully blind. The vampires, far from the dangerous blood-suckers of much urban fantasy, are hounded and frightened young people much in need of help. Though vampires here stand in for a real-life persecuted group, the underlying seriousness of the message comes through.

Kage balances this nice set-up with some good characters: Tess, wrapped up in her rescue activities due to her own personal history, has gone too long without physical companionship. When her day job and her real job put her in close proximity to two very different (and, of course, very attractive) males, she finds herself unable to resist. Some hot, fun sex ensues. These portions of the book are a blast.

What Kage has pulled off, here, can’t have been easy to do. The book’s set-up, and the is-there-a-mole-in-the-organization? plot that runs through it, are serious stuff, but the erotic and romance elements are relatively light-hearted. Tess isn’t angsty; she’s not plagued by self-doubt. She doesn’t moon over things. Yet the book’s serious and exuberant elements don’t clash. Instead, there’s enough substance to hold one’s mind and enough titillation to satisfy one’s … well, you know. Non-mind.

Definitely recommended! The book’s sequel, Vampire Underground: Resistance, is available as well. I’ll certainly be picking it up!