Shaun Tan’s The Arrival: Best Non-Text Book Ever

The Arrival is one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read–all without reading a single word. Shaun Tan delivers a pictorial account of a man immigrating from his home town and living in a new country. Throughout the entire book, readable text isn’t available. There are no words. Everything is expressed through Tan’s realistic drawings.

When a man leaves his wife and daughter home and travels to a foreign land, he struggles to do the simplistic of tasks. He can’t read signs, pick up groceries, or get reliable work without encountering communication problems. Luckily, he comes across some friendly faces willing to help him make his new life as an immigrant more comfortable. Along the way, he learns of his new friends’ pasts, each one prompting a strong desire to immigrate to their present location.

Because The Arrival is a picture book, picking up on the main character’s situation is easy for readers. For complicated issues, some scenes are depicted in great detail, almost frame by frame.

The best part of the book is how easy it is to fall into the story without feeling forced. Tan injects layer upon layer of reality throughout the whole book, allowing the first layer to soak in before placing another layer of information onto the viewer. While the main character is going through his obstacles as an immigrant, Tan creates a subtle atmosphere for viewers, furthering connecting the viewer with the character. In places where the character couldn’t read the signs, the viewers couldn’t read the fictional dingbats. It wasn’t until Tan provided a visual prompt—like drawing a picture of a bed in order to find lodging—that both the character and the viewer can understand.

Alongside the strong visual content is the Surrealistic presence. The animals look more like moving plushies and origami papers than realistic animals. Big government is portrayed as gigantic people in welding suits. It’s like Tan knew exactly what was in the viewer’s dreams before pulling out a pencil and illustrating dream-like scenes.

The Arrival depicts a departure from text-reliant books and an advent of powerful picture books with realistic themes.


Review: Buzz by Robert Zverina

Anyone who has read Buzz by Robert Zverina probably wonders the same thing.

“Houston, we have a problem. Why isn’t this book under a big publisher?

Orbiting the moon landing of the U.S. Apollo 11 in 1969, Buzz tells the ordinary tale of Buzz Polstar, the son of Czech political refugees, and his time growing up in Long Island. Buzz showcases Polstar’s nostalgic childhood in the 1960’s, his mundane college career, and his apathetic adulthood.

What makes this book a brilliant read is the witty yet reflective narrative voice of Robert Zverina. Calm and collective with a trace of humor, Zverina delivers an easy, relative read for people looking for a break from the extraordinary. His stream of consciousness throughout the book pounces back and forth between the present and the past, giving few clues to the future. Though Zverina has a unique style, Buzz is imbued with John Fante’s somewhat-sober optimism and Charles Bukowski’s poetic play on words, minus the perversion.

Although Polstar is a great main character, his life’s story is common compared to his family’s history. Polstar’s stepfather, mother, and father escaped the Czech Republic under political pressure, landing in the U.S. as political refugees. Even Buzz’s birth during the moon landing was remarkably climatic over Buzz’s unexciting life. However dull Buzz’s life seems in the book, it’s easy for readers to see themselves in his life. If readers are looking for a less-whiny, contemporary version of Catcher in the Rye starring a regular person with a realistic perspective on a New Yorker’s life, Zverina’s Buzz is it.

In spite of being an indie author, Zverina is light-years away from the average indie author—and it probably comes from his well-rounded background. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in English from Cornell University and a Masters of Fine Arts in Poetry from Brooklyn College, CUNY. Even if anyone subtracted his educational background, Zverina has another trick up his space suit sleeve: he was mentored under the late Allen Ginsberg, one of the leading figures of the 1950’s Beat Generation. The anti-materialism, anti-conformism, and pro-drug theme—remnants of the post-World War II writers—shines through Buzz like a satellite in the middle of space.

Like its name, Buzz should be buzzed up by all readers needing a small step away from the mediocre in indie books.

Post notes:

Does this book fit into magical realism? There are some scenes that are told in reality, but they have a magical, inhumane element that changes the meaning (and the seriousness) of the scene. However, I still think Buzz is closer to a slice-of-life drama than magical realism.

How to do a Book Review Request (and the Hidden Etiquette)

It seems easy to just email a blurb about your book to any reviewer with a blog, but there’s an unspoken etiquette that surrounds the “Send” button at the bottom of your email. 

Picking the Right Reviewer

Free book reviewers get swamped with hundreds of requests a week, and one way to filter out requests is by genre. Most reviewers post a review policy outlining what they accept and what they don’t accept. If your book doesn’t fall within the “what they accept” category, it’s better to submit your book to a reviewer who does. There’s a lot more good that comes out of submitting to a book reviewer in your genre, like having your review recommended on their website versus only on Amazon.

Sending the Request

After you’ve found a book reviewer that fits your book’s genre, look at their review policy to see how they want you to submit the request. Instead of saying things like, “This is the best book ever!!!” say things that will help the reviewer learn about your book without having to click on the Amazon link. Already, when a reviewer finds that you can’t follow simple directions, it makes reviewers believe that you’re not a professional. If the review policy states that they don’t take attachments, don’t send them an email with your e-book. On the flip side, don’t send more than what the reviewer asks for. If the reviewer requests hard copies of your book and not e-books, don’t send an e-book; ask the reviewer for their address.

Checking Your Ego

Reviewers don’t like getting more than one email that says, “Have you read my book?” They also don’t like pretentious authors pushing accolades and quotes by famous authors into their faces. “Did I mention my book won the Best Indie Book on Twitter Award?” doesn’t tell a reviewer anything about your book. Also, some reviewers are kind enough to provide constructive feedback on your book that maybe you should heed. Grammatical mistakes, weak spots in the plot, sudden twists that aren’t believable, and complete genre change in the book are things picked up by all readers–and things the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads will reflect. Send a completed copy to the reviewers, but keep your ears open for the criticism.

Remembering the 2 P’s

There are 2 P’s that reviewers ask for without asking for it: patience and professionalism. Reading books takes time, especially if the book is submitted in a format that the reviewer doesn’t read often. For instance, it takes me months to read a single e-book, but I can read traditional paperbacks  within two weeks. Some reviewers prefer a certain format so that authors can receive a prompt review. In any case, you should prepare to wait anywhere from two weeks to four months to get a book review. Since most free reviewers are emailed hundreds of requests each week, be prepared to be on the waiting list for a while.

Professionalism also goes a long way, especially when it comes to review requests (both from the author and the reviewer). If a reviewer says that they can’t review your book because it falls outside of their genre preference, it’s good to maintain your bridges. You can even ask the reviewer if they know of other reviewers or people who would be willing to read and review your book. Also, some authors have gotten snippy over sending paperbacks versus e-books, mostly because the cost and energy of mailing a paperback or the fact that e-books are eco-friendly paperless options. It’s not a good idea to provide comments that can be viewed as unprofessional (this includes rhetorical questions and snide remarks). Not only do you burn a valuable bridge, but you also risk creating an enemy with some leverage. As an indie author, you can’t afford to do that. It can make or break your image, and re-building it takes thrice the work to undo the damage.

Another part of professionalism comes from your writing. If your request reads like you didn’t click the “Spell Check” button and your book isn’t under a publisher, the reviewer will think that you didn’t have an editor and you’re probably not a great writer. Review your grammar in both your book and your book review requests.

While You’re Waiting

Once you’ve picked a reviewer in your genre, sent a professional and informative request in their preferred format, you’ll need to wait. Sometimes, general responses can take up to months if the reviewer is swamped with other requests. In the meantime, you can build a repertoire with the reviewer through their social media networks. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter, comment on their posts on their blogs or websites, post their link on your Facebook, and become their fan on Goodreads. It helps reviewers–who are probably authors themselves–see a person who is serious and professional about promoting their book.

Anthology for Hurricane Sandy Relief

This was sent to me via email from author, R.T. Kaelin.

“A day or so after the storm hit, I wrote this at my blog:

So, like most of you over the past few days, I’ve been watching the terror that was Sandy rip through the northeast. The images coming out from the region are astounding.

In past tragedies, I’ve donated some money to the Red Cross, but I’ve always felt like it was inadequate.

“Hey, you lost your home? Man, that stinks. Here’s fifty bucks. I gotta hop in my car now, get a cup of coffee and go off to work. What’s that? Your car and job are gone? Ooohh…”

This time, I’d like to do something more.

So, fellow authors. I’d like to put together an anthology of donated short stories, sell them via eBook, and donate 100% of the proceeds to the Red Cross for relief efforts. Granted, this will take time to put together, but I’ll bet you people will still be struggling with things a couple months from now.

I’m reaching out to the few folks I’ve come into contact with in the past few years, but would love to hear from anyone interested. Share this post.

The theme of the anthology is simple: triumph over tragedy. Fantasy (traditional or urban), sci-fi, mystery, pulp, romance, action…I don’t much care. The more variety, the better. I would love for this to appeal to a wide fan base to get as much money as possible for the victims of Sandy.

If interested in donating a story, 3-5k words in length (after all, we want to get this together quickly), contact me at Or send me a message via Twitter @AuthorRTKaelin

Good days ahead.


Within a few days, I had 30+ authors volunteer to help, including Hugo and Nebula award-winner Robert Silverberg,Michael J. Sullivan, Bradley P. Beaulieu, Phillip Athans, Stephen D. Sullivan, Jean Rabe, Maxwell Alexander Drake, and many more.

While we’re working on our stories and compiling the anthology, we’ve set up a site at IndieGoGo to gather donations (where you can also see the just-released cover art).

100% of the proceeds go to the American Red Cross.

 Spread the word if you can. Blog about it, tweet about it, post it on Facebook. People can donate money to help and will get a massive collection of short stories to enjoy.”

I plan to contribute a sci-fi story to this anthology. Please contribute as well, whether it be through monetary funds or providing a story. Re-blog this or press “like” for Facebook and Twitter. Get the word out!