Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sharing an article: Fifteen Funniest Writers of All Time

Today, I'd like to share an article published on

Everyone needs to laugh. It’s pretty much the only thing that separates most people from fully succumbing to the overwhelming tragedy of it all. From the lowliest college student to the stuffiest, wealthiest CEO to the spacey young clerk at the local record store with an ironic moustache and creepy preoccupation with female bassists, we all need a chuckle now and then. Fortunately, all media lends itself to the distribution of yuks. Since reading is fundamental, this list focuses on the funny as it is written rather than as it is told in song, dance and on television.
As with all things creative, comedy comes burdened with a hefty load of subjectivity. What one finds riotously knee-slapping, another will scoff or take offense. So read this list as such rather than something definitive and solid. Anyone who grows irritated over omissions or inclusions should probably just step away from the internet for a while and reassess a priority or two. Follow an adaptation of the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 mantra – "It’s just an article. I should really just relax."
  1. Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series remains a classic of both science-fiction and comedy, with the initial radio series spawning five novels by Adams (and one by Eoin Colfer), a miniseries, stage shows, a computer game, comic books and a feature-length film. Even beyond that, though, he wrote a plethora of other essays and novels, with the Dirk Gently series comprising one of his more famous humorous contributions following the Hitchhiker’s juggernaut. With considerable cheek, wit and irreverence, he relentlessly prodded politics, religion and society, creating some delightfully absurd and memorable characters, situations and descriptions along the way.
  2. Woody Allen: Though known primarily as an influential, if not outright legendary, filmmaker, plenty of Allen’s short stories and essays stand up as some of his most essential works. "The Whore of Mensa" highlights many of his strengths as a writer and comedian. His familiarity with genre literature and films allows him to play with — if not outright subvert — the associated cliches and tropes. The descriptions and dialogue alike crackle with wry, dry delivery spiked with a tinge of neurotic tension, made especially apparent in the sample readings available on his website.
  3. Jane Austen: Contemporary audiences thrill to Jane Austen’s Regency romances, proclaiming them ever so sigh-worthy and clamoring to find Mr. Darceys of their very own. This mindset, unfortunately, entirely precludes the author’s status as one of the sharpest satirists to ever write in English. Beloved classics Emma, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility all humorously pick apart English society, particularly the upper classes, and romances in a way that appears perfectly straightforward on the surface. Understandably, when the books have been completely and progressively further removed from their initial context, it is difficult for most first-time readers to pick up on their abject hilarity.
  4. Michael Ian Black: The State and Stella alum’s bizarre, surreal humor doesn’t appeal to every audience, but his blog and essay collection My Custom Van elicit liberal laughs from the people who find such things appealing. Best described as whip-smart dumb comedy, he gleefully parodies the raunchy observations of his "edgy" mainstream contemporaries — when he isn’t penning some of the silliest, most absurd prose this side of Monty Python, anyways. For fans who enjoy their Cracked splashed with few shots of McSweeney’s, Black is definitely a writer who needs to be read to be believed.
  5. Margaret Cho: Even factoring her stand-up and performance art out of the equation, Margaret Cho is a formidable comedienne. At a time when women receive wrong-headed dismissal regarding their capacity for humor, she challenges popular assumptions with acidic takes on gender, sex and sexuality, race, politics, body image, substance abuse and more. All of Cho’s works — comedic or not — provoke viewers and readers into thinking about serious issues, most especially her memoir I’m the One that I Want and the politically-charged I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight. Neither book is intended to be read as comedy, but her blog certainly delivers a regular dose of both humor and insight.
  6. Warren Ellis: Comic books comprise most of Warren Ellis’ literary output, with Transmetropolitan and Nextwave standing out as the most kinetic and gut-busting of the lot. Frenetic silliness characterizes his more hilarious offerings, with his only novel (as of now) toning it down slightly. Crooked Little Vein injects the writer’s fondness for bizarre, obscure sexual practices into a twisting, deconstructed noir narrative that easily equals his transhumanist and superheroic graphic fare. Even those who have yet to pick up any of Ellis’ printed works still pop over to his blog and Twitter feed for boozy, hyperactive good times.
  7. Sandra Hill: She writes romance novels involving time-traveling Vikings. No, seriously. Cajuns, too.
  8. Christopher Moore: Moore’s books overflow with humor, all of them his love of parody and deconstruction. As of this article’s publication, he has released eleven novels, most notably Lamb, You Suck, Fool and A Dirty Job. Like a hybrid of Terry Pratchett and his hero Kurt Vonnegut, he blends fantasy and humanism into such diverse narratives as a hitherto-unknown disciple dishing on Christ’s childhood and an everyman thrust into a career dealing in souls. At least three of his books have landed on bestseller lists, too — certainly a not-insignificant accomplishment.
  9. Terry Pratchett: What Douglas Adams did to (and for) science-fiction, Terry Pratchett did for fantasy. The highly immersive, engaging and absolutely hysterical Discworld series turns all the familiar elements of the genre upside-down, inside-out and probably some directions that have yet to be invented. Running amongst the eponymous land (which rests upon the back of four elephants, who in turn balance themselves upon a giant tortoise) with some of literature’s most memorable and absurd characters.
  10. Amy Sedaris: Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello, both of whom could have easily forged a spot for themselves on this list, teamed up with this amazingly funny lady for the after school special send-up Strangers with Candy. They also collaborated on a novel, Wigfield, about a small, fictional town cowering in fear over the announcement that a nearby dam is scheduled for demolition. But her deliciously twisted literary career extends beyond that particular team effort. Sedaris once penned the hilarious "Sedaritives" advice column for The Believer, continuing the subversive, politically correct spirit of her television show. For crafty types looking to add a lot of cheek (and more than a bit of naughtiness) to their projects, I Like You and Simple Times make for required reads.
  11. David Sedaris: His charming essays about dysfunctional family life and periods of self-doubt and self-delusion charm audiences who see a little bit of themselves in his work. David Sedaris specializes in wonderfully self-deprecating essay collections, with Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day standing out as two of the more popular. NPR listeners catch him as a frequent This American Life guest, where he ruminates on many of the same subjects found in his books — expatriate life in Paris, homosexuality, drugs, odd jobs, family, mistakes and plenty more. Along with blisteringly brilliant sister Amy, they’ve written a few plays under the banner of "The Talent Family."
  12. Jonathan Swift: When Ireland faced a nasty famine thanks to British meddling, Jonathan Swift’s suggestion poked the perpetrators by snidely suggesting his people nosh on babies for sustenance. "A Modest Proposal" stands as one of the finest examples of English-language satire ever published — a must-read for anyone searching for a few yuks that transcend time periods. The sprawling epic Gulliver’s Travels also continuously attracts fans in the modern age, painting English society in an escalating series of absurd, thoroughly delightful adventures. Though published in 1726 and altered in 1735, many of the classic’s themes and razor-sharp observations on human behaviors resonate loud and clear even today.
  13. Mark Twain: Samuel Langhorne Clemens — better known by his pen name — possessed a legendary wit that served him quite well in his writing career. His short stories and novels especially exhibit his flair for equal parts whimsy and wryness. Most literary aficionados consider "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" his first notable publication and an essential example of Twain’s heavily celebrated humor. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, an undeniable classic of American literature, blends comedic elements with action, absurdity and a relatable depiction and celebration of youthful imagination. However, his talents extended far beyond his more playful prose. Many also forget that Twain could fire off acidic, sarcastic barbs of comedy gold just as well as he could more lighthearted fare.
  14. Sarah Vowell: Like David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell’s appeal comes from her wry, intellectual recounting of life’s little weirdisms. Everything from visiting famous presidential assassination sites to her obsession with The Godfather yields plenty of amusing anecdotes. An unapologetic history buff, readers fascinated with learning about some of the stranger corners to be found in the country will certainly find Vowell’s short stories and essays both delightful and informative. But, as with Sedaris as well, her most poignant works revolve around her family, most especially the interesting relationship with her father. The pair stand diametrically opposed when it comes to religious and political topics, and tales culled from the Take the Cannoli collection wring humor and pathos from the strain. Some may nod their heads and chuckle accordingly as she comes to terms with her American identity in the funny, highly provocative The Partly Cloudy Patriot as well.
  15. Kurt Vonnegut: Even the most ardent detractor of the science-fiction genre can likely appreciate this author’s famously sharp observations about pretty much everything. Considered one of the most influential English-language writers in existence, enduring classics such as Player Piano, Breakfast of Champions, Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle boil over with pitch-black satires of religion, politics, society and plenty more. He dissects preconceived notions, ideas and practices about the world and challenges readers’ assumptions about the nature of all that surrounds them. And all throughout his impressive oeuvre, Vonnegut infused the narrative with a humanistic spirit that undercuts some of the overarching darkness.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Costs of Professionally Self-Publishing Your Book

Today, my guest is Mary Babic, PVVA, Professional Author's Assistant and Owner of A Writer's Assistant.  Mary is sharing her expertise about:

The Costs of Professionally Self-Publishing Your Book

Especially if you self-publish, you will want to set up a financial model.  While no one can tell you with any certainty how many books you can expect to sell, you can be precise about what you will spend to get an idea of how many books you must sell to break even and then turn a profit.

More important, you need to consider opportunity cost.  The time away from your business that you spend authoring a book will be time away from clients.  But it is time invested in the intended return of more and usually larger client projects once you are recognized as an author.

It is a reasonable strategy to decide to break even on a book (or possibly take a loss) on your first book on the basis of book sales alone.  Your real financial gain may be to your primary business, and your book may be one method of marketing for that business.

Big chain stores and have significantly changed the publishing industry over the past decade.  The good news for the consumer:  Books are less expensive and more readily available than ever. regularly discounts 30 percent off the retail price of books.

Where does this 30 percent come from? It comes directly from the publisher’s profits and ultimately from the author’s royalty. It is estimated that only 10 percent of books published are profitable to both publishers and authors.  Because this leaves about 90 percent of books that either break even or lose money, publishers have had to decrease their costs in order to stay in business.  Cost reduction usually takes the form of offering fewer services to authors, especially first-time authors. Unfortunately, they are essential services that formerly helped increase the odds of success. For instance:

·        Publishers now give surprisingly little editorial guidance.  Writers must be able to communicate and organize their ideas in a marketable way, a skill relatively few authors have developed.

·        Writers face the significant hurdle of having to market their books. Even if an author writes an outstanding book and isn’t a promotions expert, the book may only sell a few hundred copies. 

Because publishers are no longer able to help bridge the gap between author and reader, the author must be able to do it all or have the budget to hire the help she needs.  Of course, this assumes she can find the right people. The learning curve is so high for a first book that most writers end up frustrated. If they’re willing to tough it out, though, they may be more successful with a second book…or they’ll never try again.

The Costs of Publishing a Book
Book publishing costs arise from three areas, and the costs can be substantial in all three whether you traditionally publish or self-publish. Here’s the story on each cost area:

1. WritingIf you publish with an established publisher, they may pay for most of the editorial costs, but you may still be responsible for some.  For example, you will still spend money for book proposal coaching if you need it or for someone to write the proposal for you.  You may also want to hire your own editor before you send the manuscript to the publisher.  You pay any costs associated with permissions and indexing.  In addition, if you make too many changes once the book has been designed, you may be asked to shell out more money for some of the corrections.

2. PublishingIf you publish with an established publisher, you won’t incur the costs of production.  But if you self-publish, you must consider the expense of book design and layout, book cover design including back cover copy, prepress production, indexing, proofreading, and printing.  After books are ready for sale, there are the charges of carrying inventory (unless you use a print-on-demand process), packing, and shipping (although shipping costs are ultimately passed on to the purchasers).

3. MarketingEven if you use an established publisher, you will be responsible for most of your own promotions and any travel you do to represent the book.  For the vast majority of books, a publisher will allocate a budget of $1,000 or less for marketing the book, and that just isn’t enough.  The publisher may also do some collaterals—bookmarks, event posters, one-sheet flyers—but generally very few.

Here is a rough estimate of the expenditure to produce a professional-quality soft cover book in which you do most of the writing and you self-publish:

    • Expected editing costs:.......................................... $2,000
    • Self-publishing production, book interior
      design, and layout:............................................... $2,500
    • Proofreading: ........................................................ $750
    • Indexing: ............................................................. $500
    • Cover design, listings, print prep: ............................ $3,000
    • First Printing:  ....................................................... $600
      (200 review copies at $3 per book,
      high-quality, on-demand)
    • Collateral materials for book events:........................ $2,000
    • Small book launch publicity effort:
      press releases and follow-up to trade journals
      and targeted media, some local speaking
      and exhibiting: ...................................... $3,000 to $5,000

You can expect to spend from $10,000 to $15,000 and up to self-publish a book and do some modest marketing.  Additional outlay may be incurred if you desire additional help. And, of course, you can spend a lot more at each stage of the process if you don’t find a high-quality professional to work with the first time and have to redo some of the original work.

If you have any questions please visit

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Interview with author Garasamo Maccagnone

Today, my guest is author Garasamo Maccagnone.

Born in 1959, Garasamo Maccagnone studied literature and journalism at Macomb College, Wayne State University, and Western Michigan University. Garasamo has enjoyed writing since the age of sixteen. He is inspired by the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, and Jack London, and is currently working on his next book, The Fish and the Fox. Garasamo's most recent work, St. John of the Midfield, was inspired by a meeting with a former world class soccer player named Jordan Mitkov.  Garasamo has owned a soccer club and coached and trained players for over twenty years. He lives with his wife, Vicki, and his three children, Garrett, Anthony and Sophia, in Shelby Township, Michigan, where his daughter plays soccer for the Michigan Gators.

Penny: Tell me a little about your book.
Garasamo:  St. John of the Midfield is narrated by Mario Santini, the father of a youth soccer star. He recounts his meeting with Bobo Stoikov, a world class Bulgarian soccer star, who escapes communism to play in America. During his escape, he is injured, and must rely on coaching to make a living in America. Though the story weaves a few different threads, the lives of Mario, Bobo, and the sinister Sonny Christopher all intertwine near the end. The result is tragic and the ending is unexpected.  
Penny: What gave you the idea for this particular story?
Garasamo:  I worked with a Bulgarian soccer trainer for years. The idea incubated in me ten years earlier and then festered until I had no option but to write the story down.
Penny: Are you a full-time writer or part-time, and how do you organize your writing time?
Garasamo:  I write during the day full time. I coach part-time in the evenings for various sports organizations.
Penny: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
Garasamo:  I was hooked in 10th grade after reading The Great Gatsby in Mrs. Balch's American Literature class.
Penny: What do you hope readers will take from your writing?
Garasamo:  First and foremost, I want them to be entertained. I'm not trying to pioneer anything.  It's more about taking the reader on a satisfying journey with believable characters and action that isn't contrived.
Penny: Which genres do you write, which do you prefer, and why?
Garasamo:  I like general fiction, though I have written one children's book entitled, The Suburban Dragon.
Penny: What is the toughest part about being a writer and how do you get past it?
Garasamo:  Doing the hard-core writing is stressful to me. Often times, I really have to push myself to sit at the computer. More than anything, I had the editing process. It takes much longer than the writing and by the time you're finished with the book, you don't even want to pick it up to look at it. You've just been around it for too long.
Penny: Is there anything in your story based upon a real life event? If so, tell me about it.
Garasamo:  The man who inspired the story, Rocco Mitkov, actually played in Bulgaria and escaped like the main character. After that, the story is all my imagination.
Penny: How much is your protagonist like you? How different?
Garasamo:  Mario Santini is a lot like me. He wants to good but in the end, due to his heritage, or his natural inclinations, he reacts sinfully, and suffers a great deal emotionally from his actions.
Penny: What kind of research did you do for this type of story?
Garasamo:  With St. John, I basically lived the story for 10 years.  As a youth soccer coach, I was writing scenes from first hand experience.
Penny: Do writing violent or highly sexual scenes bother you? Why or why not?
Garasamo:No. I look to the Bible. David massacred and crucified all of his enemies. David has an affair with Basheba.  Moses kills a man and I believe Noah's daughters have an incestuous relationship with him. There is more violent crimes or sex scenes in the Bible than I could ever write. I'm not in to being provocative simply for the sake of it.  The scenes need to be genuine and must lend to the story.
Penny: What about your book makes it special? 
Garasamo: Bobo, who speaks with a childlike sincerity, introduces the apostolic metaphor to Mario and Luca in chapter three. As Bobo sees goodness in Luca, which he believes to be the main attribute for a great interior mid-fielder, he compares him to St. John, who Bobo feels was the most like Christ. Thus the book moves beyond the simplicity of your basic sports novel. It takes on its own course and strays away from the typical.
Penny: What is your marketing plan? 
Garasamo: I've been advertising in various well know soccer on-line magazines. I've done two viral campaigns and plan on marketing on fb or another social network.
Penny: Where can people learn more about you and your work? Please go to or
Penny:  Any tips for new writers hoping to write in the genre of your book?
Garasamo: Be content in writing a great story. Don't look to be the next innovator or pioneer of literature. There's too much of that going around.  Your story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end along with credible characters and believable dialogue. If you do that well, you'll entertain a lot of people. Peace.

A little bit about St John of the Midfield: 
St John of the Midfield . . .
World-class soccer star Bobo Stoikov makes an escape from communist Bulgaria and finds his way to America. Landing a job as a youth soccer coach, Bobo builds a reputation for himself as a successful, yet unorthodox, coach who propels his team to the championship title. But things go far beyond the soccer field when arch rival Sonny Christopher seeks to destroy Bobo's reputation, along with that of his best player, Luca, and the player's father, Mario. Before he realizes how serious the situation is, Bobo finds himself in sudden death and soon realizes there is more at stake than just a soccer game.  


 Chapter 1

It didn't matter that he was one of the greatest soccer mid-fielders in the world. If he wanted to live in America, Georgi "Bobo" Stoikov and his older brother Jordan had less than fifteen seconds to decide if they were going to jump off the train or be returned and tried in the Bulgarian city of Stara Zagora as "Enemies of the State."

"Go, go, go!" Jordan screamed, pushing Bobo out of his seat toward the door. Bobo almost tripped down the aisle as the train rocked. A guard shouted for them to stop or he would shoot. Bobo and Jordan ignored his warning. They ran like Olympic sprinters through the car, through the open door, and were air-borne before the guard could raise his pistol.

There is no training in soccer that prepares anyone to jump off a train moving sixty miles per hour. As Bobo and I sat in Mancini's, one of suburban Detroit's better Italian restaurants, he told me about his escape to freedom and said it looked easy in the bootlegged American westerns he had watched as a kid.

"You supposed to tuck and roll," he said in his thick, gravelly Bulgarian accent. "I only tuck."

It had cost him dearly. When Bobo hit the icy snow, he skidded like a motorcyclist onto freeway pavement after being tossed from the seat of his bike. Bobo's back hit hidden rocks, jagged ice, and chunks of cement left in the ground from a sewer project. In the darkness of the Bulgarian wilderness, the two brothers lay some sixty yards apart, with Bobo at the bottom of a deep ravine, torn up, bleeding badly, unable to move.

"My back was broken," said Bobo, from the table in the non-smoking section the day he told me the story. Our waitress, a woman of around fifty, with rugged facial skin like the under-belly of a rhino, refilled our water glasses.

"My spine compressed. My brodder Jordan carry me on his back---hour at a time."

Bobo looked at me while he spun his fork in his pasta primavera. It was difficult for me to comprehend what this must have been like for the brothers. "Did they stop the train? Did they ever come after the two of you?"

"No. They figure we would die anyway. No one crosses Pirrin Mountains at that time of year. We were lucky---we made it through the mountain to Macedonia in five months."

"Did your back heal?"

"Once we get to Macedonia, we go to American embassy. From there, they fly Jordan and me to New York where I had to have surgery. The American coach prayed I would recover."

Bobo put his fork down and dropped his head. I knew he was weeping. "Jordan try to save me. He lost three toes on his right foot from frostbite. His soccer career was over too."

I waited for a second. I didn't know what to say. We both sat silent, each with our own thoughts. The restaurant became so quiet that I could hear forks and knives clinking against plates ten tables away.


Other written works by Garasamo include, The Affliction of Dreams, a collection of short stories and poetry,  The Suburban Dragon, a children's book, and For the Love of St. Nick, an illustrated short story about two boys who seek the help of St. Nick after the tragic loss of their mother.