Indie Book Recommendations

Independent authors are often not given a chance by readers because they don’t have a big name publishing house backing them. There’s this idea that the only reason anyone would self-publish or use an small assistive press is that they aren’t good enough to be picked up by a ‘real’ publisher. But in reality there can be many reasons for choosing the indie route: to maintain creative control, to utilise business and marketing skills, to take advantage of higher royalty rates, as the beginning of a bigger venture to become a small press; or, simply because they don’t care for any of that and just want to get their work out there to be read.

Like it or not, the rise of online platforms and just-in-time printers means that the amount of people choosing to publish this way is on the increase. The good thing about this is anyone can have a go. The bad thing is anyone can have a go. Because of course, low barriers to entry also mean lack of quality control.

I believe that keeping the quality high is the key to being successful as an independent author. The best ones are indistinguishable from traditionally published in terms of polish. But not everyone starting out can afford an editor, and I get that. That’s why, in my opinion, a few typos are forgivable if the overall impression is strong, and aren’t even worth mentioning in a review. However, I’ve seen books with holiday snaps as covers and spelling mistakes in titles. I’ve seen multiple grammatical errors in opening sentences and unfinished lines on the first page. I’ve seen books without formatting uploaded straight from Word and blurbs that sound like the very first scribblings of an idea.

I think all of this comes down to one thing: if it looks as though the author doesn’t care about their work, then readers won’t either.

But it would be a huge mistake to shy away from reading a book simply because it is indie or self-published. Independent authors are doing things traditional publishers are not. They are putting out experimental novellas that would otherwise by considered too short to be marketable. They are flowing free between genres, mixing up expectations instead of conforming to trend. They are are blurring the line that isolates literary from popular fiction and producing heartfelt personal content without censorship. They are adding more diversity, in terms of both characters and the writers themselves. And because the independent publishing model allows books to come to market quicker, I would argue they are also more ‘on the pulse’. That takes passion, dynamism, and talent.

Over the last year I have read a fair few indie books, and have compiled a list of ten I recommend. Every author on this list, I have no doubt, is passionate about their work. Every one has wonderful ideas, characters, worlds and attention to structure. Every one I can give an honest 4 or 5 star review. Not ‘good for an indie book’ but good by any standard. So here they are, in the order I read them: Continue reading “Indie Book Recommendations”

Reflections: Reading and Writing Short Fiction

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Writing Short Fiction: The Word Count Limbo

JG Ballard once said in an interview:

“I am very grateful that I started my career as a writer writing short stories because you really learn your craft. You can also explore yourself; if you write a huge number of short stories it doesn’t take you long to realize you have certain strengths and weaknesses and that your imagination leans towards one corner of the compass. I think young writers today are tempted into writing novels far too early.”

That pretty well matches up with my experience as a writer so far. And I would add that short stories are a great way to get your name out there, either by sharing them on a blog or submitting to anthologies and journals.

I started out writing fragments of stories: just ideas, really, but written as prose rather than notes, and usually in first person. I progressed to writing ‘proper’ flash fiction with more curated content between 300 and 1,000 words. I wrote them in great numbers and shared them in multiple formats, so I got lots of feedback on what worked and what didn’t. In particular I learned where the uniqueness of my style shone and where it felt forced or mechanical. Continue reading “Reflections: Reading and Writing Short Fiction”

Almost Surely – Gavin Jefferson

Almost Surely by Gavin Jefferson

When you control the fate of others, who is in control of yours?

One of the things I love about indie books is that they often defy traditional classification. Sure, categories can help us find what we are looking for, but what if we don’t know what we are looking for until we find it? Some stories just beg to be told, no matter what genre we might later decide they should sit in.

Almost Surely is a book that breaks the genre mould. It has elements of time travel, sci-fi and low fantasy, but it feels very much like an old noir film in its styling. The way the scenes are framed, the locations, and the jazz soundtrack all add to this. There’s also a charming Murakami-like focus on the animals in the background of scenes that really brings the whole thing to life.

But onto the story. Here Jefferson has created a wonderful mythology, which I bought into from the very first page. The opening to the book introduces four Heralds, located somewhere apparently outside of our usual realms of space and time. There’s Gift, the authority that governs karma, Collector, who takes care of death, Love, and Watcher, the blind embodiment of fate. While all of these exist, looming in the background of the book, the story follows Anthony Hopper: an Agent of Influence who directs the lives of those selected by Watcher.

Continue reading “Almost Surely – Gavin Jefferson”

Eudaimonia – Micah Thomas

The Little Demons Inside by Micah Thomas

Eudaimonia: Having a good attendant or indwelling spirit.

The Eudaimonia books by Micah Thomas so far consist of a novel (The Little Demons Inside), and two collections of connected short stories (Evidence of Changes Volumes 1 and 2). The second novel (The Ghosts We Hide) is out in a couple of weeks. I binge-read the first three books back to back, and wanted to tell you all about them.

From the back cover of The Little Demons Inside:

This is not a love story, but there is love. This is not a horror story, but there are horrors. This is not a true story, but there is truth.

In 2017, something went wrong with the world. Or, at least, in 2017, everyone finally saw it. Henry needed to get off the streets to avoid the heat and volunteered for an experimental drug trial. The permanent side effects made his life dangerous and unpredictable.

Henry doesn’t know what to do, doesn’t know his place. He’s a broken version of a wandering superhero. Then he meets Cassie. Their connection is brief and intense. These two lost souls are propelled together, apart, and together again in a mind-bending adventure that challenges them to face their demons.

Content Warning: This book contains vulgar language and depictions of violence and moral decay against humans, including but not limited to psychic possession and sexual acts under said possession.

We have long been obsessed with the idea that there are spaces, dimensions, or worlds beyond the physical. It is one of the things I repeatedly reference in my own fiction, and something I’ve been reading a lot about recently in terms of consciousness theories and psychedelic research reports. In the Eudaimonia series, Micah Thomas explores the possibilities of such spaces, and he does so beautifully. You see, not only do these stories have a strong socio-philosophical element, but they are also gripping, accessible and heartfelt: something that makes a book irresistible to me. Continue reading “Eudaimonia – Micah Thomas”

Mind in the Gap

I’ve been busy working on my second book, Mind in the Gap, and it is finally at the stage I can share some details with you!

My first book, Fragments of Perception, has been a great success as far as I’m concerned. What I’m getting from the feedback, however, is that my readers would like to see my next ideas expanded into longer pieces. So, that is what I have done with Mind in the Gap.

Never content with something straight-forward, I decided I wanted to create stories that are individually entertaining and thought-provoking, but collectively reminiscent of a many-faceted reality; the truth cannot be found in any one story we tell ourselves, only in the whole collection. I doubt whether the un-enhanced human brain has the capacity to perceive the complete picture of our world, so we have to make do with Fragments; one-off polaroid shots at single moments in space and time. But that will never stop us from making a puzzle of it all, and therein lies the nature of being human. Mind in the Gap, therefore, is layered and full of Easter eggs.

Here’s the blurb (subject to change) and the cover, designed by the talented Natasha Snow:

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“The body likes continuity. It’s part of the deal. But the truth is, there are gaps everywhere. Gaps only the mind can slip through…”

Follow M – a strange and chaotic being who professes to be the outcast of a black hole – on a journey like no other. Flowing freely through the back streets of hidden realms, she drives her companion to meet the commuters who cross dimensions, embody future technology, and peek behind the scenes at consciousness; all with one purpose in mind.

Inventive, zany, and often surreal, C.R. Dudley’s style melds the metaphysical with the technological to create dazzling architectures of thought. Mind in the Gap is an extraordinary book of diversions, circular routes, and infinite possibilities. A collection of 14 unique stories and 14 alternate realities with more to connect them than meets the eye.

The edited manuscript is currently with my trusty advance readers, and if there are no major hiccups, it will be released on 23rd September: a significant date for my characters. I can’t wait!

An Interlude

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I thought since I have come out of hibernation, it might be a good time to tell you about a few things I’ve got going on. As I don’t do this too often, you could consider it a bumper newsletter! Here goes:
Writing

While giving the draft of my novel, The Enlightenment Machine, some space to breathe, I ended up plotting and starting to write another in the same world. Technically it tells the story of events preceding The Enlightenment Machine, so working on that has given me a good idea of what needs changing on the first for consistency and a stronger story arc. I also have a vague idea for how a third might go, so it’s looking like this might be a trilogy. I know how to set my targets high, that’s for sure!

Despite aiming to complete some longer works, I still love writing short fiction. I have so many ideas for new stories; if I stopped giving them a platform, they’d sneak their way into the novels and that would get messy fast. So, as well as the standalone pieces I post on the blog, I am working on a new collection. It’s going well so far, and I have plans to release it at the end of summer. This time it will be completely new material. These stories are a little longer than my usual flash – in the region of 2,000 words each – and have a running theme and a thread connecting them all. I’m really excited about it and can’t wait to tell you more.
Editing

I’ve done more beta reads over the last couple of months, as well as some full critiques and editing jobs. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the latter. They have been a great exercise in improving my craft as well as hopefully helping others. I look forward to doing more of this sort of thing. Thank you also to those who are helping me to see my own blindspots.
Fragments of Perception

Fragments of Perception has been out for 4 months now and I am thrilled with how well it is doing. Thank you so much to everyone who has bought a copy and recommended it to your friends. I have 7 reviews on Amazon and 8 on Goodreads, all claiming the book was thought-provoking and unusual, most giving 5 stars.

If you have read the book, please do consider leaving a review as they make a huge difference to indie authors. If you haven’t read the book yet, you can find the full blurb and buying options here.
Book Reviews

My ‘to read’ pile (OK, bookcase) is still ever-growing, but I do love to have unread books around me; I find it inspiring. I’ve just finished Otherworlds by David Luke, and have started on Narrative Machines by James Curcio. The new Borne story by Jeff Vandermeer also just arrived on my desk, along with Brett Anderson’s memoir Coal Black Mornings.

I have decided to lose the ‘marks out of ten’ method for rating books here on the blog in favour of letting readers make their own decision from the words I use. I want Orchid’s Lantern reviews to be respected for their in-depth and well-rounded approach, and I think the score being so prominent was going against that a little. I may still use the traditional 1-5 stars in the footer if people prefer that?

I am open to review requests, but they must be within my genre interests for fiction (metaphysical, sci-fi, fantasy, weird) or for non-fiction (philosophy, psychology, mysticism). As always, I will give a full review to anything that gives me enough to say without spoilers, and a ‘group spot’ for brief reviews of everything else.
Orchid’s Lantern

I have been thinking about where I want to go next with Orchid’s Lantern, and it seems that the natural progression would be to invite guests to share stories and reviews on the blog. I am still working out the details of this, but watch this space if that sounds like it could be of interest to you.
Virtual Futures

On 20th February the first Virtual Futures Near-Future Fiction event of the year took place at Library London. Geoff Ryman was guest speaker, and several other authors were in attendance (including me) to share their fictional interpretations of the future of disease. I’m not a public speaker, so thankfully the organisers paired me up with a talented actress who read my story Toxic Duck Inc to the live audience. It was a great venue, a great bunch of people, and a very high standard of writing. I was honoured to be involved. Recordings of all of the stories will be soon available to view on the Virtual Futures YouTube channel, which is well worth checking out anyway.

If you are local and missed this event, the next one is happening on 20th March. The theme will be Virtual Persons, and I have another brand new story called The Test which will be featured. Tickets are available now from Eventbrite.

And that’s it for now. It sounds like there’s a lot going on, and there is, but I’m loving every minute of it. The light is coming back and I’ve found my most productive rhythm – dream and draft in the morning, edit and proof in the afternoon.

I love to hear your comments, so please do keep interacting on the page and anywhere else you can find me. I am on Facebook, but I’m a bit more active on Twitter.

The Surrogate – Gavin Jefferson

C.R. Dudley author Orchid's Lantern blog

The Surrogate is a science fiction novella and debut release from author Gavin Jefferson. The setting is a world in which obesity has been eradicated, leaving behind a ‘healthy, beautiful, and promiscuous’ populous. All, that is, except for one man: a man named Ronald Calico, a.k.a. The Surrogate.

This book grabs the reader from the intriguing first scene where we meet an old man (with a much younger public face) boarding a cruiser with his robotic assistant. It is through his eyes that we are shown the way society has developed, and through his conversation that we learn who The Surrogate is and how his unusual career came about.

This is a straight forward read, and a quick one at just 100 or so pages. What amazes me is that in so little space, and without being immediately obvious, Jefferson skilfully poses important questions about the way we interact and, in particular, the way we perceive intimacy. The Surrogate addresses such issues as body image, sexuality, personhood, and the messages filtered down to the masses from powerful decision-makers. I was left contemplating the role direct and diverse human contact plays in our sense of connection, and whether it could be considered endangered as we reach new levels of scientific and technological discovery.

The characters are well-rounded: likeable but realistic, and the ending made me a bit emotional!

There is also a bonus story included in the book called ‘The Collector’, which is a great teaser for Jefferson’s next release ‘Almost Surely’. I am very much looking forward to reading that and more from this author.