Book Swap Musings

I’ve published two books that I wrote. Since doing that I’ve developed an appreciation for self-publishers and self-published books. (Would now be a good time to mention that my Acts of the Apostles won Writer’s Digest’s National

Self Published Book award, first in a field of over 300? No? It wouldn’t?)

Anyway, from time to time reports of various self-published books have caught my eye, and I’ve written to the writer/publishers to suggest a book swap. In this way I’ve grown a collection of about 20 self-published books. Some of them have been awful, none have been great, but a few have been not bad, not bad at all.

Lately I’ve been thinking about a technoparanoid thriller about nanotechnology gone amok, written by a guy about my age in Wisconsin.

The author’s name is John Jurek, and his book is called Kaelf Skin. Here’s a brief rewiew that I wrote for some book review site, which John copied and pasted on Amazon:

I liked this book a lot. It has a few problems, and I’ll start with those so that you know this review is legit. But its strong points far outweigh its weak points, and I recommend it highly.

It has some of the problems associated with first novels, especially self-published first novels: namely, the prose could stand to be trimmed a fair amount, and there are some extraneous subplots that clutter up the main story. I got the impression that the writer didn’t believe that the main story was sufficient, and thus kept adding on sub-plots– an overly earnest priest, a lost love who emerges from the foggy mists of time, and so on. I think a hardnosed editor could have cut the book by 25% without changing the story in any significant way.

But the good news is that the main story IS good enough to carry the extra weight. The central conceit is a programmable frabric (the “Kaelf Skin” of the title) of incredible strength and subtlety. It can be used for therapy. It can be used to enhance the wearer’s physical apperance. OK, fair enough. It can be used for erotic stimulation. . . hmmm, this is getting interesting. . . It can be used to electronically connect two-wearer’s suits for mutual programming. . . *very* interesting. . . It can be used to enduce trance-like states that make its wearers susceptible to manipulation — a little over-the-top, perhaps, but Jurek makes one willing to say “OK” and go along for the ride– Now then: It can be programed to chemically bind with the wearer’s own human skin–creepy. It can be used to control prisoners. It can be used to kill. It can be used to torture and permanently imprison. . . It can be programmed remotely. Without the wearer’s knowledge. This Kaelf Skin is some wacky, sexy, creepy, seductive, scary stuff.

Jurek takes this premise and runs with it. Who would be interested in such a fabric? Fashion designers. Clothing manufacturers. Physical therapists. Prison wardens. Sadists. Quasi-legal secret government agencies. Sex-obsessed hedonists. Jurek’s book has all of these kinds of characters, and a few more for spice. For example, he invents a cult centered around the fabric. While most of the actors in the book– the protagonist, the villains, and those in between– want to exploit the fabric to their own ends, the Kaelf Kultist literally worship the fabric and submit themselves to its control. I thought this was a great touch, both funny and creepy, and altogether plausible.

Jurek clearly is concerned with the problems of runaway technology. The questions that he implicitly raises are good ones. But this book is not preachy, and one never gets the impression that one is listening to some soapbox speech. Quite the contrary, in fact: Jurek is a very playful author, and his tongue is planted firmly in his cheek throughout.

This is an author with great imagination and heart. I’m looking forward to his next book, and I hope it comes soon.

Frankly, I was being a little generous in this review. The writing in Kaelf Skin was pretty amatuerish — cliches, coincidences, flat prose, predictable turns, and lots of bloat. An editor could have made it much better by wholesale pruning. But an editor cannot come up with the perfect detail or simile, the unexpected juxtaposition, the aposite irony — that’s called writing. I think that my Acts of the Apostles was a better-written book, but I had the benefit of a great editor, who force-marched me through thirty or so rewrites of the entire book. John never had that benefit.

Nevertheless, I liked the book well enough to read all 660 pages of it. It had some really nifty conceits, and it really was wacky, sexy, creepy stuff. I corresponded for a while with John about maybe doing a rewrite, and I offered lots of suggestions. I hope I wasn’t too brutal, but I may have been. After all, I’ve been a manager of writers for twenty years, and I’m used to tearing apart peoples’ writing. That’s what I do for a living. But I try to do it


John was depressed by the poor reception that his book got in the marketplace. Of course, the best book in the world, if it’s self-published, can expect a poor reception.He confessed to me that he was spent and didn’t expect to write again.

Then I got a note from him — in a slightly inebriated state, he said — telling that Kaelf Skin had been mentioned on the front page of the Wall Street Journal in an article about nanotechnology. For one day he had hit the big time. He was front-page news.

After that we fell out of touch. I sent him notes from time to time, but never got an answer. I wonder what became of him. John, if you’re out there, send me a note!

John Jurek wrote a very kind review of my Acts of the Apostles, before we ever met, that was published in the Midwest Book Review, and which he later posted to Amazon. I feel kind of bad that he saved some of his most persuasive writing not for his own book, but for a review of mine. Or maybe that’s only the way it sounds to me, becuase, like anybody, I’m susceptible to flattery.

By the way, any other self-publishers out there care to do a swap? What choo got?

One Comment

  1. Video meliore proboque, deteriora sequor, eh?

Comments are closed