Monday, November 5, 2018

Cool new book box!

Hi all!

I just wanted to let you know about a new subscription crate for books - it's called "Twitterstone" and it's run by Journalstone's Christopher Payne. You may recognize Journalstone as one of the publishers that were negatively impacted by the whole Nocturnal Readers Box fiasco. All of that is still ongoing from what I can see here, but there's one good thing in all of this:

New book crate!

Twitterstone will cost you $38.95 per box and new theme boxes should be shipped out every 2-3 months. They're still offering October's box, which will have one Journalstone title and a few other titles put out by small/indie publishers. You can subscribe or individually order the boxes - the next one will come out in December.

This looks like it will appeal to adult readers in general, which is nice since it fills a need that the NRB poorly filled. Yours truly is heavily debating getting one of the remaining October boxes to feed her hunger for horror books or to pick up the December boxes, since the description for that month says that it has "chilling literary works that are perfect for a cozy night by the fire". Nice.

Monday, October 1, 2018

A third update: Nocturnal Reader's Box and Horror Bees

Hi all! I thought I'd give a third update to everything. There's not as huge-huge an update as the last one, where Journalstone came forward to say that they were pursuing a lawsuit to gain back the $31,000 that Vincent and Jessica Guerrero owe them.

This update mostly looks at Brian Keene's podcast The Horror Show for 9/27, where he discusses recent news with Nocturnal Reader's Box and also reviews I am Providence by Nick Mamatas. If you haven't read this book, I highly recommend it, as it's well worth checking out.

So on with the update.

Brian pretty much confirms what I suspected, that a loss of that magnitude is one that could easily cause a small or indie publisher to close its doors and negatively impact authors, as it cuts into their royalties as well as what authors the publisher can take on or continue to work with.

He also confirms that various authors have come forward to say that they did not give Vincent permission to use their intellectual properties. Also... to no one's surprise, the pin that Brian says infringed his intellectual copyright was in turn taken from someone else, who didn't give their permission for Vincent to use their artwork.

As for Vincent's end, he's been somewhat vocal on Twitter under @nocturnalreads and on Instagram under @vinnychaos, the latter of which he's made private but screengrabs of some of his comments have been preserved like this little gem.

What interests me is that Vincent posted what he claims is the email exchange with Brian:




Playing devil's advocate I can somewhat see how this could maybe be construed as Vincent assuming that it's OK to go ahead with the pin, assuming that this was the only interaction the two had However that said, it's also incredibly foolish for a businessperson to go ahead with this without getting something a little more in writing to show that it's OK and that they don't owe Brian or his publisher anything. I'm familiar enough with copyright to know that it's always best to get as much confirmation as possible. Even if we were to ignore this, there are other things that Vincent included in the box that absolutely violates copyright. Here are two images (taken from TheDarkTower.org's thread on this):

The below image is a patch that is based on the film version of the short story "Weeds" from Creepshow. 



This was actually taken from this image, which was not created by Vincent and presumably not licensed either.


There's also a question of how legal it is to use King's likeness, I suppose. There's more of a rundown of various items at the forum post here.

I don't know if we'll get much more of an update until Journalstone's lawsuit gets more traction and the other publishers start joining in - or when Horror Bees starts suffering the same issues, which it almost certainly will if the claims of Vincent running it are true - and various people are saying that it is. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Nocturnal Readers Box saga keeps on going...

I'm back again like the Backstreet Boys (gee, what a dated reference)!

It looks like the whole case of the Nocturnal Readers Box keeps getting more and more messed up. You can see my first blog about this here

Apparently Journalstone has been in touch with six other publishers who claim that Vincent Guerrero/Horror Bees/Nocturnal Readers Box owes them money. He owes Journalstone the most at $31,000, but it looks like ultimately he's in the hole at $100,000.



In the last post I wrote that the amount of money Vincent owes Journalstone is a very large amount of money for a small publisher, as they don't make the profit margin that one of the mainstream publishers does on an average novel. It makes a potential loss like this that much more horrific, especially as small and indie publishers are the ones who are most likely to take a chance on new and undiscovered horror talents - as well as taken on authors whose novel copyrights have reverted back to them because their prior publisher went out of business or their publisher may have decided to drop them. 

Both of these scenarios are pretty likely in the world of horror publishing, as there aren't as many mainstream publishers (or publishers as a whole) who are willing to take on a lot of horror authors because they're afraid of losing money because of this notion that horror novels don't sell unless you're Stephen King. It's why many stores have chosen to merge their horror into science fiction and/or their main literature sections rather than maintain an independent horror section, as there just isn't as much published as there was in decades past. Grady Hendrix's Paperbacks from Hell gives a pretty good overview of the horror publishing boom from the 70s through 90s.

The point I'm trying to make here is that while it may seem like horror literature is staging a comeback, it's still an insanely fragile situation and horror seems to have really only truly flourished with small publishers. While I'm not saying that all of this will kill off any chance for horror to come around, it will make it far more difficult for the publishers who are in the hole because of the Nocturnal Readers Box to bounce back. 

Now there is some light at the end of the tunnel in that some of the publishers may be able to get back some of their product. Edward Lorne has posted to Twitter that the company that was packing the Nocturnal Readers Box shipments still has some of the books that Journalstone sent to Vincent. Presumably there are books from other publishers as well that could be sent back as well. At the very least these publishers can get back the books they printed so they can recoup some of their losses aside from whatever they may get if things go to trial and they manage to get money out of Vincent. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A quick return from the grave... Horror Bees and Nocturnal Readers Box

Hi all,

I know that I've been inactive for a few years. What can I say - life gets in the way. I wish I could say that I was returning because of positive news, but it's not. I don't know how many will read this, but if this helps even one person then it's going to be a good thing.

My purpose for this post is to make sure that people do not sign up for the subscription service Horror Bees. What is Horror Bees you may ask? This is a monthly subscription box that is focused on B horror films. It's something that in another scenario I'd have loved, since B movies are amazing. The issue, however, is the company's ties to the Nocturnal Readers Box.

The following is a long story of intellectual copyrights, theft, and fraud that includes not only myself, but also the amazing author Brian Keene. Some of this is based on what I've seen myself, but other material is taken from the excellent reporting by Edward Lorn, who has been following this whole fiasco from the start.



The beginning....

The Nocturnal Readers Box was founded by Vincent and Jessica Guererro, who claim to have come up with the idea for the box when they discovered that there weren't any horror book boxes aimed at adult audience, only YA. Vincent, a military veteran, says that he inherited his love of horror from his parents. (Trust me, this sentence becomes important later.)

People could get subscriptions for 1-3 months at a time, which ran between about $30 to $200, not including shipping. It wasn't cheap, but subscribers justified the expense by saying that it was one of the only ones out there that offered books each month and also filled the box with various horror themed items. People could get books such as Stephen King's Gwendy's Button Box as well as a tote bag for Robert McCammon's They Thirst, artwork, and other cool things.

Stuff like this sounded like a dream come true for horror fans, especially when Nocturnal Readers Box announced that they were doing a special theme box with Stephen King. That's right, THE Stephen King, Master of the Macabre. The box's description was as follows:

We are running 2,000 for this printing which will be a limited edition, it will be a beautiful hardcover with an intricate foil design on the boards. Our artist for the dust jacket is currently working on something for us to preview soon. It is a NRB Special Edition. We are working on the final price still, and once we get the green light we will let you know but expect $60-75 for the box. It will include a t-shirt also designed by the cover artist, and another goody we won’t say just yet. It’s not a full monthly box, but trust me, it will be a hot commodity! It will be limited to one per customer on the initial order, but if there are any left by the time we get to general public, you will be free to checkout with however many. We are still working out the contract, but there is likely going to be a small quantity signed. 
With the signed books, there will be a separate link to purchase a guaranteed signed copy (50% of the total signed), with the rest being randomized in the total run.

Subscribers were led to believe pretty early on that the signed books were as good as guaranteed via emails sent out by Vincent and Jessica.


It starts to unravel...


People had been complaining about the boxes being late for months. Others said that boxes contained broken items, things that are not as described, or not getting the box at all. Some unsubscribed while others gave the Guererros the benefit of the doubt. What gave many serious pause, however, was when the Guererros started backtracking on the promises for the special King box. 

In April 2018 the Guererros reported that the signed books was not going to happen because of a signing tour for The Outsider. This upset a lot of people, many of whom purchased the crate for this signature alone. People who requested refunds or wrote to the Guererros to complain reported that the couple were sending them rude, nasty emails in return. Others said that they were told to file a dispute through their payment providers, claiming that the Guererros refused to issue refunds.

Around this time boxes became later and later, until the boxes were months late. As of this writing, the last box that was sent out was June, which people received around August. Some people say that they haven't received this box at all.

The Guererros had several reasons for why boxes were late. One excuse was that everyone was sick with the flu and couldn't work. Another was that Vincent had been hospitalized because of a mental illness which, if I understood correctly, his military service either caused or made to worsen. Another claim was that their shipping company was holding the boxes because they had not been paid by the Guererros, despite claims from the couple that they were paid up. 

Emails from this time period have been archived by Lorn and can be seen here.


Not so Keene...

In September 2018 multiple award winning horror author Brian Keene posted a blog about his interactions with Vincent Guererro. In this blog he expressed sympathy for the growing number of people who were expressing their not getting refunds, nasty correspondence with Nocturnal Readers Box, and general unhappiness with the service.

The biggest bombshell of the post would prove to be when Keene revealed that Vincent had contacted him in March about creating a pin based on his book The Rising, which had netted him the prestigious Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in First Novel. Keene liked the idea of the pin and also made a suggestion about including one of his books in the box, expecting that this conversation would be followed up with further contact to his publisher over licensing for the pin and book. It wasn't until later that Keene was contacted by a fan, who emailed him a picture of the pin, which was billed as “Based on Brian Keene’s THE RISING”. A print based on his book Dead Sea was also offered in the box as well.

Keene explained that the issue here was that this went beyond fan art, which he absolutely adores and encourages, and became an issue of the Guerreros violating his intellectual property copyright. He also dropped a mention that the box was also doing this to at least one other author, Robert McCammon, and that he doubts that any of the authors whose work was used for the box's themed horror items gave permission for the use of these items.

I should mention that there is a big difference between fan art and what the Nocturnal Readers Box did, as the company was trying to make a profit here. 


This is absolutely not where it ends, by the way. 


What's this charge?!?

On September 15, 2018 people were charged for the next round of subscriptions. This is a noteworthy date indeed, as the Nocturnal Readers Box was two months behind schedule at this point, despite their website claiming that they were only about two to three weeks behind. 

Three days later people received an email officially announcing that the company was closing down. They also went as far as to call Keene a liar, say that the closure was what people wanted, and a whole slew of other things. I'm actually just going to post the email in question: 







Things to specifically note in this is the reserve of cash that they suddenly have and that people could only get refunds by filing a dispute, as the Guererros would not issue them themselves. Remember them charging everyone for a new round of subscriptions?

That's right, dear readers. This money almost certainly came from the people whose accounts they charged. This is about when everything officially hit the fan and people started complaining en masse about the Guererros and Nocturnal Readers Box, especially as filing disputes can be difficult depending on how the person paid. PayPal has marked the company as suspicious and is fully working with people who are reporting them, but some people have reported on the forum TheDarkTower.org that the Guererros seem to be fighting against people who are filing disputes. Bleeding Cool, noticing the train wreck unfolding, wrote a post about the ongoing issues with the company

In the midst of these complaints from not only an author but also angry subscribers, the Nocturnal Readers Box closed their social media accounts, leaving only their website up, which claims that the company is still working on September's box. Attempts by people to contact the Guererros via the Nocturnal Readers Box email address has been met with silence from what I've heard.

But wait... it's still not over! Yesterday, September 25, 2018, people started reporting that the Nocturnal Readers Box was charging their accounts. This wasn't only the people who were subscribed to them up until the end, but also people who had cancelled their accounts about a year prior to the service closing. According to this post on Facebook, people are getting charged anywhere between $7 to $500+.



How it relates to Horror Bees....


So now you're asking "so... how does this relate to Horror Bees?"

There are two answers to this: what Horror Bees will tell you and what largely everyone suspects (and one company claims is the truth).

Horror Bees is claiming to be run by Vincent's parents, the same ones who apparently instilled in him a love of horror. In a now deleted review on the company's Facebook page they reported that he was initially involved but that he is not part of the company. Vincent publicized this service heavily at one point while their social media was up and they were still sending out and responding to emails. 


Now what is largely believed by the subscriber base and people familiar with the saga is that Horror Bees is run by Vincent Guerrero under his parents' names and that he distanced himself so that the company wouldn't be impacted by everything going on with Nocturnal Readers Box. Journalstone, a small publisher, claims to have proof of this and that they're owed $31,000, a princely sum for any publisher and a huge problem for a smaller publishers. 


They don't specify the proof, but I would wager that it's probably something used in the lawsuit they're filing against him. 

If this is all true - and to be honest, I strongly suspect that it is - signing up with a membership with Horror Bees would be incredibly foolish since the troubles that prompted all of the issues with Nocturnal Readers Box will undoubtedly rear their heads with Horror Bees, including the allegations of intellectual property theft. 

I'll try to update this as I discover more, but so far I've been gobsmacked with everything that has happened. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Review: Oh Joy Sex Toy Volume 3


Title: Oh Joy Sex Toy volume 3
Authors: Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan
Publisher: Oni
ISBN: 978-1-62010-361-6


When I selected this, I knew I was getting into a series that I had not previously read, however I assumed that the series would be one that would lend itself easily to new readers coming in with random volumes. Not only was I correct in this, but OJST itself even addresses this point.

On a side note... don't read this at work or in any location that you think might not be overly appropriate for strong sexual matter. This sounds like a no brainer, but I'm somewhat used to having some things along these lines be more cute diagrams and speech bubbles than fairly detailed pictures of people getting it on with other people and themselves. This book has those detailed pictures, which in my opinion is kind of a selling point - you can't educate unless you show what you're writing about, right?

Erika & Matthew think the world of sex is pretty rad.

Using humor and research, their awesome comics are about everything that relates to sex. They review sex toys, share sex education, interview sex workers, and crack horrible, horrible puns, all in the name of promoting sex positivity.

In this third volume they visit a swingers’ house party, a queer porn set and cover all sorts of topics like HPV, foreskins and UTIs, in addition to the newest and oddest sex toys. Each volume is a unique dive into the world of sex, making this book a great standalone addition to your shelf whether you’re already read the rest of the series or this is your introduction.

Can I just say that it's the sex positivity alone that made me want to read this? There are far too many things out there that treat sex like it's something to be objectified or despised. Even worse are the ones that try to pass themselves off as open minded or positive, only for the work to have various "buts" and "ifs" thrown into the work. The romance genre is especially notorious for this, as it's common for the book to treat sex like it's liberating one or more of its characters... but usually only if it's between a committed pair. It's heavily frowned upon for a character to enjoy sex with multiple characters and when it is done, it's typically done to illustrate how the character is a "slut", "cad", or something wrongfully deviant from the ideal, which is a character that is only interested in sex with their One True Love. I don't mean to digress, but I need to stress how common it is to find works that, while being more sexually open than some of the other works out there, still aren't entirely sex positive and put certain negative connotations on things deemed socially incorrect by the mainstream populace. (And by this I mean things like multiple sex partners, open relationships, and the like - not things that are out and out morally and legally wrong, such as pedophilia.)

That being said, on with the review.

The artwork in this book is incredibly playful, which suits the tone and mood that its creators are going for. They want you, the reader, to have fun looking at the book, learning from the successes and failures. With some of the topics in this book it could be all too easy to use a darker and more serious artwork style, which would potentially run the risk of making something seem less open or negative, so the lighthearted style seems to be very deliberately done. The volume features a wide range of topics, some of which I'm actually glad to see in print somewhere. It's refreshing to see someone cover vagimus, for example, something that effects a lot of people and isn't covered all that heavily anywhere.

I was partially afraid that Oh Joy Sex Toy would just be a complete love fest for everything and everyone. By this I don't mean that it'd be awful to have a "yay for everything" book, but it's good to have a critical look at some aspects of sex and we get this to a degree with the sex toy reviews and Erika debating whether or not to star in an adult film. It's interesting to hear her reasons for not going through with everything, which is part of what makes this book so cool to read - that we get these different perspectives.

This series might not be for everyone, but it's something I wouldn't mind getting the complete set of, just because it's so nice to get a wide perspective on things.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Surprising Book Facts and a reflection

I came across the following image on my Facebook feed today:



The image comes from a blog post by Robert Brewer, a motivational speaker. Brewer wrote the blog post years ago, but later removed said image after he received complaints and discovered that the research he had used to create the image was bad. He even wrote a follow up post in 2015 about the lessons he learned from the experience. I have to tip my hat to him as it's not easy to admit when you're wrong, especially in a situation like this where you didn't intentionally set out to spread misinformation. 

However the diagram did remind me of things I'd heard from various people throughout the years. I remember working at a video store and recommending books based on customers' video rentals, only to be told that they hadn't really read anything since school (college or high school) beyond magazines or the occasional textbook. I've also heard people say that they haven't been to a bookstore in years, although I wasn't always able to ascertain the context and whether they meant that they hadn't read anything since then or that they got their books from somewhere else. I'd had many situations where it looked like it could be a case of either. 

I think that part of the explanation for reluctant adult readers is because of the lack of variety of reading materials in high school. Not every student was encouraged to read at home and/or have access to reading materials. Their parents wouldn't necessarily discourage it, but they wouldn't always have access to reading materials and their parents wouldn't always encourage them to read things that interested them. I've heard multiple people say that they found reading in high school to be dull and boring, as they just didn't connect with the characters in the classic works you typically find in North American classrooms. This was possibly because of the subject matter, but also possibly because teachers couldn't go into the more salacious subject matter out of a fear of losing their job. It's likely why none of my history classes during my public education discussed the fact that Benjamin Franklin was a huge ladies' man or that he played pranks like his life depended on it. Even the whole Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings thing was covered quickly and swept to the side, lest a parent complain about their child learning about Presidential sexual shenanigans. (And potential rape depending on what materials you read about Jefferson and Hemmings.)

This is why it's so important for classrooms to allow their students to explore literature on their own before starting in on the classics. A student will best appreciate something if they appreciate reading to begin with and they'll also be more likely to continue reading as adults. Using a variety of reading materials can also help, as more reluctant readers might be more open to reading a story in graphic novel format. This is a format that has long been maligned as "frivolous", however any comic book or graphic novel fan can easily attest to the fact that graphic novels can provide a rich and insightful look into various different cultures and lifestyles. It can also help provide training of a sort, as I introduced a friend's child to manga. The traditional right to left reading format helped the child, who suffered from mild dyslexia, form an attachment to reading. Once she got hooked on reading graphic novels, she branched out into YA novels and the like. Now a beautiful young woman, she's a voracious reader of anything she can get her hands on. 

I'm glad to say that many schools are trying to allow their students the freedom to read whatever they want rather than pointing them only at specific books. More schools (and parents!) need to do this in order to keep things going. Keeping the chipper spirit going, there are also more adults reading. Whatever you might think of stuff like Fifty Shades and Twilight, it did get a lot of adults to start reading. I'm also happy to say that there are far more initiatives aimed at children and teens, where the goal is to provide them with free reading materials and inspire a love of reading. Lots of local groups tend to donate books to schools, hospitals, or other locations where children can go to pick up books - however unfortunately the areas that tend to need this the most are usually the hardest to reach. 

I suppose the only thing we can do is to continue reading and try, when possible, to encourage others to pick up a book. I remain adamant in my belief that there's a book out there for everyone. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Graphic Novel Review: Monstress Volume 1: Awakening by Marjorie Liu




Title: Monstress Volume 1: Awakening
Author: Marjorie Liu
Artist: Sana Takeda
Publisher: Image Comics
Publication date: Out now


I think that the best endorsement I can ever give a work or product is when I'm willing to keep reading beyond my initial requirement and/or purchase it with my own money. In this case, I was barely started with the first issue of Monstress when I requested the other six issues. A few pages later I ended up buying the first volume because I liked it so much. That's as good of a recommendation as any, that I spent hard cash to collect the first volume.

Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900's Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers.


I can't even begin to tell you why I fell in love with the comic without discussing the artwork. It's lavishly detailed and absolutely gorgeous. The story is fantastic as well, but I've gotten into more than one series just because I loved the art style. It also helps that it suits the story very well, as there's something unique and well, "old" about the style. It's polished in its own way while avoiding the slick feel you get with some of the contemporary graphic novels and comics in the genre - this last part isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's not always the right fit for every story and I'm glad that Liu went in this direction with the series. I hope that she sticks with Takeda for the series' length, as series art tends to do better when you have the same crew working on the piece from beginning to end, at least on the main pieces.

Story-wise, this is fantastic and what you'd expect from Liu's work. She does an excellent job with Maika, as the character is sympathetic without being a woobie. You can feel sorry for her without feeling like she's an absolute victim, which honestly has become fairly important to me over the years. Maybe it's because we've had so many works of fiction where the author crafts the character as someone everyone should feel sorry for because reasons - we get far too much of that and in many cases very little reason to actually feel sorry for the main character because somewhere along the line the author forgot to make the character actually sympathetic or anything beyond what's been done to them. (cough*Anita Blake*cough) In any case it's just great when we have a character that isn't written solely to garner sympathy and reduced to what things have been done to them.

I can't recommend this enough, especially to fans of series like Saga.

5/5 stars

(ARC provided by Netgalley)