“Queens are Wild” is “a ripping yarn!” (5 stars) …

Review of “Queens are Wild” by: Eric Harding on Aug. 25, 2012:

star star star star star
“A ripping yarn! Great characters that grow throughout the story, intriguing and compelling plotting, and some great one-liners to boot. It’s also a trenchant statement about our society’s fascination with and adulation of celebrity at any cost: this story is sadly not that much of stretch.

By the conclusion, I didn’t want it to end — could a sequel (prequel?) be in store?”

Eric Harding, a graduate of Yale University, is the managing editor of the Premium Services department at TheStreet.com

Chaucer pens wildly entertaining trip to 2036

By Alan Bisbort

With a title like “Queens are Wild” and an author named Chaucer, readers might expect a bawdy novel filled to bursting with at least 25 shades of gray. Indeed, this “poli-sci-fi” novel delivers on the bawdiness but in totally unexpected ways that are in keeping with the dictates of the plot. And admit it. You’d be disappointed if a novel with a title like this didn’t have some nudity spiced with language that would be bleeped on “The Jerry Springer Show,” wouldn’t you?

However, Jack Chaucer — in contrast to Geoffrey Chaucer and his 14th century masterpiece “The Canterbury Tales” — has more than a friendly pilgrimage to a cathedral in mind for the brave new world he’s conjured in “Queens are Wild.” His pilgrims are, literally, unsuspecting pawns in a cosmic game of chess or poker (you find out which in the book’s chilling last pages).

The novel, which uses Vonnegut-like flash-backs and flash-forwards, ultimately takes readers on a pilgrimage through time and space to the year 2036, when a megalomaniacal media mogul from Australia named Robert “Balls” Ballentine (sound familiar?) declares himself king of the United States of America. This dude makes Donald Trump appear humble by comparison (he possesses a 202-foot yacht called “Sheworthy”).

With the help of his ally China — then the most powerful nation in the world — King Ballentine easily takes over the U.S. and declares its new name is the United Kingdom of America (UKA).

Prior to this chaos-inducing coup — during which President Margeaux Quigley is shot and taken hostage, and scores of government workers are assassinated by North Korean mercenaries dubbed the “Black Death” — we meet Margeaux as a precocious 17-year-old high school senior who has just won a full soccer scholarship to Stanford in 1984 (hmmm, that date seems to ring a dystopian bell). We also meet Robert Ballentine, who was born on Jan. 1, 1984 (hmmm again), as a third-grader in Melbourne, where he tells his teacher, “One day I will be king — king of the world.”

Out of the mouths of babes and straight to Chaucer’s ear. By 2036, Ballentine is dangerously close to realizing his regal dream. In Chaucer’s futurist world, the U.S. is paralyzed by national debt and jokingly called the “Divided States of America” by Ballentine. Social Security no longer exists (but CNN does!) and there is now an Area 52 in Nevada to house the spillover from extraterrestrial unidentified flying and/or crashing objects, one of which, named Gatherer 52, comes to the aid of President Quigley.

People possess things like “ST-Warp 5 mobile devices,” Dick Tracy-like “iWatches,” Clone Adapter Rockets (CARs) and web clouds instead of websites.

While this all might seem confusing, Chaucer is a sharp enough cookie to keep the action moving and the dialogue snappy, slipping his satire in on the sly. Particularly hilarious and painfully true to life are the scenes from Margeaux’s high school class, in which zit-covered losers in Motley Crue T-shirts vie for attention by tormenting a hapless Spanish teacher.

Blend in some plot devices that recall “The Matrix” and “The Manchurian Candidate,” plus a soundtrack by Nine Inch Nails (one of whose songs provides the inspiration for the book’s title), and you have a wildly entertaining page-turner.

You are not likely, for example, to read another novel that contains this line of dialogue: “Your swim cap will keep your brains from exploding.”

The e-book publisher smashwords.com makes it easy for potential readers to access and sample the text of this novel, providing both short and extended descriptions, and then allowing the first 20 percent of the text to be read before deciding whether to purchase.

In the case of “Queens are Wild,” readers are definitely going to want to punch the “purchase” button.

(Jack Chaucer is the pen name of Republican-American copy editor/page designer John Cullen.)

My 3 questions for Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords …

My e-mail interview on July 22 with Mark Coker, founder and CEO of Smashwords:

Q. Has Smashwords exploded in line with your initial expectations since you launched in 2008 or has it exceeded them? Why do you think your website has become so popular? 

Coker: The business has grown beyond my expectations.  We’re now publishing over 140,000 ebooks from over 45,000 authors around the world.  In our first year, 2008, we published 140 books from 90 authors.

Back in 2008, we initially focused on helping authors publish ebooks that we’d sell in the Smashwords store at Smashwords.com.  In 2008, we were lucky to sell $10 a day worth of books.  I knew the world’s writers needed a free and easy publishing platform like Smashwords, though it was clear that selling books on our own website alone wasn’t enough to accomplish our mission of connecting the world’s writers with the world’s readers.

In 2009, I realized we needed to get our books to the major ebook retailers, since they were attracting millions of customers to their online stores.  We made the decision to expand into ebook distribution. That was the watershed event that led to our growth. At the time, the major book distributors weren’t serving self-published authors. At first, I wasn’t sure if the major retailers would want self-published books.  I quickly learned they were hungry for them.  In the span of a few months in late 2009, we signed agreements to distribute our books to Barnes & Noble, Sony and Kobo, and then in early 2010 we began distributing to Apple.  Since we were one of the first companies to focus on distributing self-published books to retailers, we had a significant head start at opening up mainstream retailers to self-published ebook authors.

Today, we’re selling over $1 million worth of ebooks each month.  Our books are rising in the bestseller lists at major retailers, and we’ve enabled thousands of authors to publish and distribute their books.

2. You really are the savior of the frustrated author who suddenly can be his/her own publisher instead of being ignored in the slush pile. Is there an anecdote you can share about an author (other than yourself, I know you were frustrated, too, at one point) who was saved by Smashwords and propelled in a big way? 

Coker: I love the story of Brian S. Pratt, a writer of epic fantasy novels.  He’s a single father of three.  A few years ago, he was living below the poverty line.  Publishers weren’t interested in his books.  So he self-published.  His first quarter, he earned $7.82.  Most authors would have been discouraged, and many might have given up.  Brian kept at it.  His attitude was that as long as people were buying his books, he’d keep writing.  Today, he’s one of our bestsellers.  He’s a fabulous writer, he’s earning a great income, and he’s the captain of his own destiny.  His best years are ahead of him, without a doubt.  I look forward to introducing him and authors like him to millions of readers.

It takes great courage to self-publish.  Authors like Brian are an inspiration to me.  He illustrates the lesson that if you work hard and write great books that readers love, readers will find you.

3. Where do you see ebooks and the traditional publishing industry headed 3-5 years from now? 

Coker: Four years ago when I started Smashwords, the prevalent attitude toward self-publishing was that it was the option of last resort for failed writers who couldn’t get a traditional publishing deal.  Today, that  attitude is changing, due in part to the great commercial success of many Smashwords authors like Brian S. Pratt, Ruth Ann Nordin, R.L. Mathewson, S.C. Stephens, Randolph Lalonde, or Amanda Hocking who inspire the next generation of writers.  We’re also seeing an increasing  number of traditionally published authors at Smashwords who are  embracing self-publishing as their preferred route for the future.  These authors include Bella Andre, Julie Ortolon, and hundreds of others  too numerous to name.  Three to five years from now, self publishing  will be the option of first choice for most authors.  Authors will  publish directly to their readers and bypass traditional publishers