Indie Spotlight: Mackenzie Leanne and Swimming in the Black

My fifth indie spotlight is about Mackenzie Leanne and her debut collection of poetry Swimming in the Black.

About the book:

Swimming in the Black is a collection of poems and prose chronicling thoughts of spiraling into heartbreak, anxiety, and depression; the feelings relating to searching for someone; emotions of love; and life as a new adult.

My review:

Swimming in the Black is a collection split in to five parts, chronicling the different emotions in love and heartbreak. Mackenzie’s poems are often short and punchy, and the natural order they’re written in feels less curated than other collections, which I ended up really liking!

There’s great use of page layout in the book- poems aren’t all situated on the same place on the page, which drew me to certain poems throughout. I never really consider the ways in which layout makes an impact until I see it done well!

The collection might not resonate with everyone, as is the way of all poetry, but for anyone who has experienced heartbreak or a relationship that drains your soul- especially if you’ve later found love or fulfilment- there’s likely something that will strike a chord.

Interview with Mackenzie Leanne:

I chatted to Mackenzie Leanne about her experience of publishing independently!

How have you found indie publishing so far?

Independent publishing is tough. Word of mouth is the most important way to get your work noticed, but as an independent author this can be difficult without an established following. Sharing my work is something very new to me, so finding that audience has still been an endeavor. It may have been best to try to form that audience before publishing, but I was impatience and excited. I am just starting to realize however that there are a niche of people who want to help indie authors succeed, and that has been really great to see and gives me hope.

So what made you choose to go the independent route?

I went with self-publishing because I wanted to share my work. It is uncertain of if, or when, an author will hear back from a publishing company, and I no longer wanted to keep my poems to myself. It may be the harder path, the least likely to succeed path, but I am still happy with my choice.

Any experience of the other side of the publishing coin?

The only traditional publishing experience I have is through being a co-author on two psychology research papers. In my undergrad at university I was involved in a research lab, and through that experience I coded data and edited a paper for publication. That experience does not allow you to be creative, and it is kind of hard to compare it to publishing novels.

So speaking of word of mouth and finding a new audience, tell me about your debut and where people can find your work!

My debut poetry collection, Swimming in the Black, is more poetry than prose, but I think that is the new trend with poetry. In fact, that is what got me interested in writing poetry. Before, I was not interested in writing in the genre. I have written drafts of dystopian, fantasy, and contemporary, but never poetry. Realizing I did not have to write something that fit a certain schematic in poetry, really opened my eyes and my creativity. It has been an interesting experience to realize I like writing in this genre. The themes that I cover in this collection are related to anxiety, depression, heartbreak, love, and life as a new adult. They are based upon my own experiences – sometimes directly and sometimes more loosely. Swimming in the Black can currently be found on Amazon.

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Indie Spotlight: Jenn Gott and The Private Life Of Jane Maxwell

My third post is all about fantasy indie writer Jenn Gott! I read her superhero inspired novel, The Private Life Of Jane Maxwell, so scroll down for my review and a superhero-based mini interview!

About the book:

As the creator of a popular new comics franchise, Jane Maxwell knows a thing or two about heroes, but has no illusions of being one herself. All of that is shattered, however, when she finds herself swept into a parallel world-one where her characters are real, and her parallel self is their leader.

There’s just one problem: that Jane is missing.

Under the growing danger of a deadly new villain named UltraViolet, the team has no choice but to ask Jane to do the impossible: step into the suit left behind by her double, become the hero that they need her to be. But with budding powers that threaten to overwhelm her, a family she only half-recognizes, and the parallel version of her dead wife staring her in the face, navigating her alternate life proves harder than she ever imagined…

My review:

I was sold on Jane Maxwell the second I read the blurb; alternate universes, an unlikely heroine, a lost love suddenly back in the flesh? What’s not to love!

The Private Life Of Jane Maxwell actually took me quite a while to read. I think for the bargain price of £2.99 I hadn’t expected quite so much story to be packed in to the pages! The story is fast paced, but like all good superhero movies there’s a lot of twists and plots to make the story more than just a sequence of villain-hero battles.

I loved the subplot of Jane and her late wife, whose parallel self plays a vital role in the greater story. Whilst there is some focus on Jane’s grief after her childhood sweetheart unexpectedly dies in a car accident, the story is more about her gaining the confidence to be the hero of her own story.

Some parts of the dialogue are a little cheesy, but honestly that just plays in to the genre for me. Who doesn’t love some cheesy banter between arch enemies?

Overall Jane Maxwell is a fun, action-packed book that’s opened up a whole new genre for me; sapphic superhero novels, which I’ve now discovered is a thing!

Interview with author Jenn Gott:

As Jane Maxwell is such a fun comic inspired novel, I spoke to Jenn Gott about the genre!

If you were going to enter the world of a superhero, which superhero would you choose?

Honestly, like Jane, I’d must rather visit superhero worlds through fiction than deal with them in real life! That said, there are days I would happily trade in this world for Wonder Woman’s home of Themyscira. And of course, who wouldn’t want to visit Wakanda at least once, after seeing Black Panther??

Do you have a favourite comic series or publisher?

I tend to favor “smaller” comic publishers, rather than the big(gest) dogs of Marvel and DC. So for recurring comics, I gravitate toward Image Comics. Saga, Paper Girls, Monstress, Rat Queens, Sleepless–they tend to publish a lot of imaginative sci-fi/fantasy with gorgeous, sprawling graphics. BOOM! Box also does some great work, notably Lumberjanes, Giant Days, and Goldie Vance. For standalone graphic novels, I love some of the work that First Second Books have put out, especially Lucy Knisley’s autobiographical comics.

And, of course, I am always up for a good indie-published title.

Recommend us something you think could be the gateway comic for people who wouldn’t usually pick them up.

The thing that a lot of people don’t realize, if they’ve never looked at comics before, is that the field is WAY more complex than superheroes and spaceships. Really, whatever interest in you have in prose books, you can find in comics. There’s YA, romance, mystery, nonfiction, horror, slice-of-life, sports… it’s endless, really. So for things that are a little different than you might expect, try: “Princeless” volume 1, by Jeremy Whitley and M Goodman; “The Prince and the Dressmaker” by Jen Wang; “Drama” by Raina Telgemeier; or “Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride” by Lucy Knisley.

Jenn Gott’s superhero-inspired Jane Maxwell novel and fantasy Beacon Campaigns series can be picked up from Amazon, or her website!

Indie Spotlight: Elle Bennett and Hammers and Heartstrings

Today’s post is all about brand new author, Elle Bennett, and her NA book Hammers and Heartstrings, which was released on 3rd April!

About the book

Ipressed down on the keys and heard the notes resonate from inside the piano, the hammers and strings straining to work after years of sitting in dust.”

April O’Connell never expected to be on tour with a band. After all, she’s not a musician anymore. Her piano is in the past, and her future is listening to music, not making it. When she runs into Andrew Washington at a show, she finds herself doing two things she swore she’d never do – dating a musician and going on tour. But his band is local, small, unsigned. She doesn’t think that dating him could possibly turn her past into her present, let alone into her future.

But April’s heart will forever belong to the piano, whether or not she likes it.

My review

Hammers and Heartstrings is a fun, well written debut. There was something about the narrator, April, that should make her come across as unlikeable, but the story is so tied to her character development, and the exploration of the things from the past that still haunt her, that I couldn’t help but want to carry on with her story. She’s developed as a character determined not to get hurt by those around her.

I’m glad the book isn’t being pitched as a romance because I definitely think the story has a lot of value as one about a woman learning to put herself first. Some parts are a little uneven as April struggles with her past and present, but it comes to satisfying conclusion!

I loved the use of music in the book. I could completely picture April playing her piano, and Peristerophobia leapt to life as a small town band hoping to make it big.

Interview with the author

I asked Elle what her experience has been so far of publishing independently.

I’m still very new to this whole publishing game, so my experience is very little! Right now I’m concentrating on marketing for Hammers and Heartstrings, and working on the second draft in the series that will hopefully hit shelves by 2020.

Tell me about the book!

Hammers and Heartstrings is about a girl called April O’Connor, a girl in her early twenties, who used to play the piano and sing, but stopped because of some personal issues. She’s still in love with music, but insists that she’s not a musician anymore. I’m trying to be really open about it not being a romance. More than anything, it is a book about April and her piano and her journey back into music. It’s coming of age and it’s new adult, but it is not a romance.

What was your inspiration behind writing a book about a musician?

I decided to write about a musician because music has always been a part of my life. From my very first album (The Monkees self-titled) to the last album I bought (the new Kacey Musgraves), music has always been there for me. It inspires me. It gives me life. There’s a magic to it all, and I really wanted to capture that in novel form. I like to think I succeeded doing that in Hammers & Heartstrings.

I don’t play any instruments these days, but I did play piano in elementary school and I played the guitar (badly) in high school. I was in choir for ten years, so there was that as well. I can still play part of Ode To Joy on the piano and I can play all of one chord still on the guitar. Piano remains my favorite instrument, and that is why April is a pianist.

Do you have a favourite local/small town band?

I actually don’t have any local bands to recommend right now! I moved to Knoxville, Tennessee a few years ago with my husband and unfortunately, the music scene out here is not quite what it was in my hometown. I can recommend the new Wonder Years album, though. I’ve listened to it on repeat all day.

Do you have a go to kareoke song? If you were singing at Cranberry which song would you choose?

My go-to karaoke song would have to be “Our Song” by Taylor Swift since that’s the only song I’ve ever done karaoke with. My biggest diva song is “See I’m Smiling” from The Last Five Years and I ROCK OUT to it in the car on a regular basis. I’d probably sing that or a cover of whatever song was stuck in my head that day. Right now that would be “High Horse” by Kacey Musgraves.

Did you have a band in mind when you wrote Peristerophobia’s lyrics?

Peristerophobia is the band I had in mind while writing the lyrics. I didn’t want to copy any other band’s style. But I did listen to a whole lot of music to get inspired to write the lyrics. A few of the bands I listened to were: Andrew McMahon’s various projects, Paramore, Alkaline Trio, The Wonder Years, Motion City Soundtrack, Fall Out Boy, The Academy Is, Green Day, Jimmy Eat World, Eve 6, New Found Glory, The Spill Canvas,The Hush Sound, Polar Bear Club,Taking Back Sunday, MxPx….and ABBA. Of course ABBA.

Hammers and Heartstrings is available now! If you want to see more from Elle, check out her blog: ellebennettauthor.wordpress.com

Indie Spotlight: Fariha Khayyam and Shards

So this is the first in a series of posts I’m making highlighting independent writers that deserve more recognition! First up is Fariha Khayyam and her collection of poetry, Shards, published through Createspace back in December 2017.

About the book

This girl,
is shattered
and broken.

Yet,
she fights back
to rise
and reform.

This is
Her journey…
Her Shards…

SHARDS is a modern-poetry collection.
It is about the journey of a girl as she struggles to come to terms with what she has endured. It is divided into four sections, where each section covers a major aspect of her journey. And how she gains the courage to stand up and give herself second chance at life and people. It explores various topics such as: solitude, abuse, racism, suicide, grief, and negativity.

My review!

Shards is a beautiful book. It’s both hopeful and painful at the same time, covering such deep topics as abuse, suicide and building yourself back up after trauma. It’s always difficult to be objective when reading poetry that taps in to such personal experiences, but for me it’s an incredible thing to be able to get insight in to another’s experience, whilst also being able to relate at times. Personally, it spoke to me.

Modern poetry often gets, unfairly and unjustifiably, a bad reputation. But Shards is proof that the style is meant to portray something deeper than critics assume. It’s raw, it’s heartbreaking and it’s uplifting all at once.

Being an independent writer.

I talked to Fariha about her experience of independent publishing so far, why she took that route and what’s in store for the future.

It’s been a learning curve, really. I had heard mixed things about self-publishing before, but upon doing it myself, I’d want to stick to it. It’s the flexibility I like in it. You are your own boss, no deadlines, no long waiting duration, unlike traditional publishing, where querying can easily take up to three months.

I always wanted to write a book, and I always wanted to self-publish it. (which I did!) but going forward I’d like to take the more traditional approach, however if that doesn’t go too well, I’ll be happy to return to self-publishing.

I am working on two very different genres. I’d like to publish them once (if ever) I finish writing them. I also occasionally write short stories. You can find them all here: http://www.farihakhayyam.com/my-books/

What about advice to aspiring writers looking to go down the independent route?

I’d say go for it. Though you’d have to work extra hard on your marketing skills to get the book out there in the hands of your readers, but other than that, all other steps will be considerably easier, than traditional publishing.

And finally…

If you want the chance to win a paperback copy of this gorgeous collection then you have until 7th April to enter the Goodreads giveaway!

Best Book Subscriptions for Adults!*

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*Or anyone who doesn’t want a YA box, or anyone in the UK!

Sometime in 2015 I got very jealous of all of the book subscription boxes that seemed to be in the US. I loved the idea of getting surprise book post, but didn’t like the idea of paying ridiculous postage costs only to get a YA fantasy book I probably wouldn’t read (it’s the one genre I just can’t abide, with very limited exceptions.) Those boxes are great, but they aren’t designed for my kind of reading, which is fine, but I wanted a similar experience too! So I went on the hunt for UK based subscriptions that would be geared towards adult readers. Here are some of my favourites from along the way, and a couple that I am desperate to try!

Book and A Brew

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This was the first subscription I ever signed up for, back in October 2015. Since then I’ve had every box (Including their one-off Halloween special!) and I absolutely love them. I’ve blogged about them a few times already but the premise is quite simple; every month they’ll send you a hardback book and a box of tea to complement it. As someone who drinks tea like it”s going out of fashion it’s perfect! The price is well worth it too; most of the tea they’ve sent I’ve later seen in the supermarket for upwards of £5 a box, so £12.99 for that and a hardback is a bargain!

Subscribe here.

Book Voyage UK.

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Please note that I no longer recommend BookVoyageUK as they have not sent out any boxes from October or November despite taking payment and are not responding to customer messages. I will update this page if the situation changes.

As part of my ongoing Read the World Project I’m constantly on the look out for recommendations for books from different countries so when I found out about this subscription I was so excited! I think I ended up getting the very first box and again I’ve subscribed ever since. Similar to Book and A Brew, there is tea (or often coffee) involved, but with a twist. Each month they’ll send you a book from a country in the world (in translation), a snack from that country and a box of tea or coffee from the country too. Again, it’s well worth it price-wise, at £14.99 you get a monthly surprise and treats!

Subscribe here.

Ninja Book Box

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This is another favourite that I’ve subscribed to since the beginning- when I joined the Kickstarter back last year. Bex puts together a fantastic box each quarter; each with an independently published book and gifts that fit around a theme. Gifts are handmade, specially made for the box or from small businesses so it’s truly a celebration of small-businesses and small press! The theme each time is unique and well thought-out so I’d thoroughly recommend subscribing!

Subscribe here.

Persephone Books

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Now for something slightly different- publisher subscriptions! Persephone Books is a small, independent publisher in London that are always worth a visit. They publish mainly out of print female writers, but each book is produced so beautifully- with an endpaper based on a fabric produced at the time the book was originally published. They also offer a subscription service, either as a gift or for yourself, whereby they’ll send you a book from their catalogue a month for 6 or 12 months.

Subscribe here.

Tilted Axis Press

otilted

Another publisher-based subscription! I met some representatives of Tilted Axis at Bare-Lit festival this year and fell in love with the idea of a small press publishing books in translation. I purchased their 2017 print subscription when I got home and so far have received two of their 2017 releases on release day! The subscription includes all of their 2017 releases, straight to your door (as well as any that have been published already this year) and they’ve got a fantastic catalogue!

Subscribe here.

The next two are subscriptions that I haven’t tried out yet, but I am absolutely desperate to because they look so good!

Moth Box Books

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Moth Box Books is another independent publisher inspired postal service that’s still very unique. On alternative months they’ll send out a box with two independently published novels or two independently published short story collections. They’re not technically a subscription service- you have to purchase one-off boxes that sell out very quickly- but I’ve got my thumb poised for 1st June when the next Short Story edition goes on sale!

Buy here from 1st of each month.

And Other Stories

otherstories

And Other Stories is a publisher that I’ve actually read a few times (One of my- many -current reads was published by them) but I’ve had my eye on their subscription for ages. It’s more of a reciprocal agreement; being a small press they rely on support from readers to source, translate and publish a wide range of international titles so your subscription directly supports individual books. They’ll print subscriber names at the back of each book they publish and send copies to you too so you get a real sense of involvement!

Subscribe here.

Books in the cover photo of this post all came from subscriptions:
The Impossible Fairytale: 
Tilted Axis Press 2017 print subscription.
Dragon’s Green: Ninja Book Box ‘Magical Lands’ box.
Raised From the Ground: Book Voyage UK ‘Portugal’ box.
Songs of Willow Frost: Book and a Brew Feb ’17 box.
NOS-4R2: Book and a Brew Halloween ’16 special box.

Ninja Book Box: Blog Tour


I’ve been really excited for this one for ages now. My friend Bex (who also organises the London Bookshop Crawl and the Ninja Book Swap) has started up a UK based book box subscription and it’s so exciting to have a book and gift subscription box that isn’t subject to ridiculous shipping from the US and isn’t exclusively one theme.

Ninja Book Box is a new quarterly box shipping worldwide from the UK and featuring books published by independent publishers. We aim to introduce excellent books (both backlist and new releases) particularly those which our team & the publishers we work with feel haven’t received the recognition they deserve, and help you find favourites in genres you wouldn’t necessarily pick up for yourselves. Supporting primarily UK based small businesses, each box will contain a book (often signed by the author & with additional material) plus at least two gift items and lots of other fun extras and will take its theme from the book. We want to support excellence and promote exploration and discovery in all aspects of the box. Subscribers will also gain access to lots of additional community perks. For more information sign up to our newsletter, or check out our website for details of how to get the first box! 

Now that the Kickstarter has finished there is a mini box available to get the first book so check out the website for more information!

As part of the Ninja Book Box Blog Tour I was asked to get into the spirit of independent publishing and talk about my favourite indie titles. I’ve gone one step further to also talk about my favourite independent bookshops from around the world too!

My Top 5 Indie Titles

Humans by Matt Haig
One of my all time favourites. An alien takes the form of a disgruntled university mathematics professor in Cambridge and eventually writes a love letter to all humanity. It’s a wonderfully uplifting book that makes me glad to be human.
[Canongate Books Ltd, London]

On the Shores of Darkness There is Light by Cordelia Strube
I reviewed this one some time ago but I feel like it’s still worth coming back to. Harriet and her brother Irwin’s story is heartbreaking and raw, reflective of the kind of family that doesn’t make for happy endings but still deserve to have their story told.
[ECW Press, Toronto]

Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo
A horrifying anti-war novel about a soldier left with no limbs or face after a mine explodes on the last day of WW1, Dalton Trumbo’s raging novel was one of my absolute favourites as a teenager. It’s almost stream of consciousness in parts, a righteous rant on the hypocrisy of war in others.
[Kensington Books, New York]

The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood
I can’t stop thinking about this one since I read it recently. It’s a stunning imagining of a horrific logical extreme and a very important feminist novel. To me, it’s an instant classic and I want it to be in people’s minds.
[Allen & Unwin, New South Wales]

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
Another novel that I loved because it was an uplifting love story about humanity. And not a romantic love story: AJ Fikry’s life is forever changed when a baby girl is left in his bookshop. Overnight he learns to love life again and his book recommendations to see his daughter through life both make and break my heart.
[Algonquin Books, New York]

My Top 5 Independent Bookshops

Baggins Bookshop, Rochester, England
The largest second hand bookshop in England is actually a five minuted walk from my flat. It reminds me of a setting in a Discworld novel in that I’m pretty sure it is bigger on the inside and that the layout changes with the power of books. They have thousands of second hand books ranging from fiction to military history, local music to philosophy. Their catalogue is probably the most extensive I’ve ever seen and they also have search service for out-of-print titles on their website.

BMV Books, Toronto, Canada
Technically a set of I think three or four shops in Toronto, but I’m still counting them as they’re still independent of the big names. I visited BMV Books over summer and loved their mix of second hand books, new titles and more obscure cheap books. I picked up a few in excellent condition for a fraction of the price but the range was unbelievable; I lost track of how many sections they had available. The staff were also very friendly!

The Book People, Austin, Texas
I spent a lot of time here during my brief stint in Texas; partly because my friend worked here, partly because the cafe was excellent, partly because the air conditioning was saving my life but overall because it was just a pleasant place to be. It’s huge, and like Baggins and BMV the sheer range of books is fantastic. Not just the obvious sections, there was also a cubby hole between bookcases of books based on television and film trivia, gifts, beautiful local publications and an extensive and well-thought-out young people’s section. It’s an absolute joy right in the heart of the city.

Persephone Books, London, England
One of our London Bookshop Crawl finds, Persephone books is both a bookshop and a publisher. They specialise in mainly out-of-print, mainly female-written books with their signature grey cover. It’s a beautiful store because every book features an endpaper based on a fabric created the year the book was first published. So the whole place is both quaint, simple and colourful all at once. Again the staff were wonderful but this time, being such a small shop, they treated us a full tour and talk about how they work so it really felt like joining a new book family.

The Bookmark, Rainham, England
This one is a deeply personal one for me because it’s mine and my Grandma’s favourite second hand bookshop. It used to be owned and run by a lovely old man who would play jazz all day and could tell you that he last sold the book you were looking for on a Tuesday (incidentally, Johnny Got His Gun). Sadly, he passed away many years ago but the bookshop and his spirit in it still remain. It doesn’t so much have shelves, more like tower of books and I think I bought probably 80% of my books here as a teenager. I have many, many second hand books dating back to the sixties or forties that have been lovingly passed on to me through The Bookmark.

So, join us in celebrating more things independently published by checking out the rest of the blog tour!

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