Scribbling Scrivener Reads: The Duke Don’t Dance by Richard G. Sharp

The Duke Don’t Dance by Richard G. Sharp spans more than fifty years following the lives of a group of friends representing the Silent Generation. The book opens with the funeral of Frank as the group is reunited for the first time in many years. But even though it’s a funeral and it’s been a long time since everyone has seen each other, the air is thick with tension as old wounds, rivalries, and loves (or flings really) come together. Beginning with chapter two, the rest of the book spends time recounting the long, varied, and chaotic history of these people while major historical events play on in the background.

The book doesn’t have one main character as each chapter head hops between at least two characters, sometimes more. While it’s Frank’s funeral which brings everyone together, he is not the main character although much of the early parts of the book features him more. Overall the book follows the lives of Frank, Lillian, Ted, Sam, and to lesser degrees, Inga and Beth. The relationships in the story quickly become convoluted with Frank having been married to Inga before divorcing and marrying Lillian who had had a fling with Ted and Sam who then in turn both had crushes on Ari who later uses Frank as her baby daddy. Throw in some other minor characters who are either married, had had some kind of relationship, or who pokes their nose into the personal lives of other characters, you get a confusing and messy set of “friendships” going on. And I use the term “friendship” loosely because honestly I have no idea when any of these people talk to each other let alone hang out.

The book doesn’t also center on anything I would consider an actual plot which makes it really hard to consider it a novel at all. The reality of it is The Duke Don’t Dance is a series of vignettes with the only connection being we are following a group of friends. Often times this group goes years without seeing or hearing from each other so then the reader gets another vignette to get us caught up with the lives of everyone else. Often times these vignettes felt like an opportunity to use a major historical event or time period to give the reader information rather than developing characters. There is no climax to the story and therefore no real resolution which again makes it difficult for me to consider it a novel.

This lack of a plot and a main character is one of several issues I had with the book as it felt very hard to refer to it as a novel despite involving fictional characters. Overall the biggest problem I had with The Duke Don’t Dance was the writing style. It’s all exposition and telling the reader rather than showing the reader who these people are. There’s also very little dialogue and when there is dialogue, it’s a scant few sentences that does nothing for the story or characters. The detached, head-hopping narrator style doesn’t really work for me as a reader as it was impossible for me to develop any kind of emotional attachment to anyone in the book. Even the historical events are treated in a detached way despite the fact the book spans the ’60s to 9/11. That’s an incredibly tumultuous time in American history with major events which have had long-lasting impact upon American culture even in 2016.

The characters themselves are hard to care about as they all sound the same. I think this is because of the narrative style which doesn’t allow for each character’s voice to come out. As a result, everyone sounds and thinks the same and with an ensemble this large, everyone starts blurring together. For example, up until the very end I had a hard time keeping Sam and Ted straight. It didn’t help that much of the time their stories intertwined and they both were half in love with the same woman from their college days.

I also found it difficult to relate to any of the characters because pretty much everyone is rather unlikeable. Everyone has their guard up and is so emotional stunted and angry for reasons not quite clear in some cases that it becomes incredibly taxing to the reader. Many times I wanted to tell these people to get over themselves and get into some therapy. All the women hate their mothers or are hated by their own daughters. Somehow the male characters with children were at least liked by their kids when we do see father and child together. It’s hard to believe all these people could be this monumentally messed up and I don’t think being part of the Silent Generation is the reason why.

Overall, this book simply didn’t work for me. At times the prose itself is quite lovely but when all of it is exposition and telling the reader then that gets overshadowed. I as a reader had I been shown who these characters are and formed my own opinion, I would have enjoyed a lot more. While I don’t shy away from large ensemble books, I think in the case of The Duke Don’t Dance it would have been better if the book had focused on two or three characters especially given the book is about 232 pages. It’s a lot to cram into such a short space with as many characters there are in the narrative.

On a scale of one to five pencils I give The Duke Don’t Dance two pencils.

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Weekly Musing: What is Partnership Publishing?

Since one of my goals this year is start learning more about the publishing business, I thought I would spend this week’s musing explaining what partnership publishing is. Honestly, even though I re-read the November/December 2014 Writer’s Digest article by April Eberhardt which inspired this post, I was still a little bit confused. Looking up additional information helped as did figuring how it differs from vanity and some other forms of non-traditional publishing.

The best way to define what partnership publishing is the author pays a publisher, either up front or from profits from book sales, to have their book published. This sounds very similar to the definition of a vanity publisher however, there are several large differences.

With a vanity publisher, a term that’s been around since 1941 although the concept has been around far longer, the only way the “publisher” turns a profit is from how many authors it convinces to give them money to physically publish their book. The vanity publisher doesn’t care if the book is good is properly edited, nor do they help with book cover design, distribution, or marketing. Essentially the author gives the publisher a certain amount of money in exchange for the publisher printing out a certain amount of books for that author. After that, it is up to the author to sell their own book to recuperate their costs which rarely happens.

In partnership publishing, an author approaches a publisher to possibly publish their book. The publisher reads and reviews it to see if it has merit. Then they work with the author and come up with a plan for cover design, marketing, publicity, and distribution. The catch is the author does bare part of the cost for all of this. From my research, partnership publishers are often willing to stick with an author beyond the initial release of their book. I guess in traditional Big Five Publishing, it’s not uncommon for the publisher to give a book a big push for six weeks and if it hasn’t gotten any traction, then that’s it in terms of promotion and marketing and most likely, their contract with the author.

If some of what I described about partnership publishing sounds similar to self-publishing it’s because it does. However, with self-publishing you are doing all of this on your own meaning you are hiring and paying for an editor (and please get a quality editor!), a book cover designer, as well as marketing and publication. Also, unlike either traditional or partnership publishing, you don’t have the backing of a publishing company who will do both print and digital publishing.

So now that you’re probably a bit confused, let’s refocus on partnership publishing. I’ll admit, the first time I read the Writer’s Digest article I was very skeptical. I still am even though it sounds like it is different enough from vanity publishing to be legit, different enough from self-publishing to shake off the DIY stigma that still exists, and different enough from traditional publishing where the author might actually be allowed to have a say in each step.

Publishing a book is a team effort no matter which route you take. But I guess what concerns me the most with partnership publishing is how much money it costs the author. On average, according to the Writer’s Digest article, it can cost $5,000 to $10,000 and that’s not including printing costs. If an author wants to focus strictly on digital, then the average costs are $3,000 to $5,000. Of course, as mentioned above, these are to pay for services such as editing, cover design, initial marketing and promotion, and distribution. Some of the websites referenced in the article I took a look at and some only provide a few of these services while others provided all of them or would work with places that handle marketing, for example. So in a way there could be multiple companies involved beyond the publisher.

Another concern I have is how is partnership publishing different from an author approaching a small or medium-sized publisher? Some of the authors I know who are with small to medium sized publishers have mentioned they were involved with the cover design decision as well as marketing and promotion. That’s one of the draws many newer authors have to a small or medium-sized publisher is that more personal relationship. So instead of paying a publisher to help with marketing and promotion, which many authors are expected to be responsible for regardless of who has published their book, to do this, why not pursue a small to medium-sized publisher?

I’ll be honest, partnership publishing doesn’t make much sense to me especially in light of small to medium-sized publishers. I understand and appreciate that within a partnership publisher that the author retains the rights to their book, rather than the publisher, and that it is a team effort with the author having input along every step of the way. But there is an alternative that exist which can allow for the author to not pony up the money directly. Or why not just self-publish? Of course, self-publishing doesn’t allow an author to distribute paper copies of their book unless they partner up with an independent book store.

Perhaps I’m missing the appeal of it which is fine. If this particular business model works for an author, and it’s legit, then go for it. Personally I’d rather save that several thousands of dollars I don’t have and take my chances in the future either doing parts of it on my own or going through traditional or smaller publishers.

Nyght Acolyte in Lorelei Signal

Now appearing in the January to March 2016 issue of Lorelei Signal is my short story Nyght Acolyte. And yes, Night is intentionally misspelled. Read the story and guess why.

Also, take a moment and click on the Donate button located on their website. By donating whatever you can to Wolfsinger Publications, donations collected will be split amongst the authors of the most current issue as royalty payments. Support the writers and artists that were picked for the issue with a little extra love.