21.10.11

Read "The Volunteer" (Barbara Taylor Sissel is an indie author who's doing it right)

Barbara Taylor Sissel released her second (of many, I hope) book on Kindle and Nook this week. The Volunteer is a compelling novel about a psychologist who's been sought out by the family of a death row inmate after he declares his wish to be voluntarily executed. Playing out alongside the heartrending plight of his wife and children is the search for the ancient Mayan artifact for which this guy was apparently willing to commit murder and the dark private history of the psychologist herself.

The author does an amazing job of first making us care about these people, pinging curiosity just enough with the mystery surrounding the codex, then pretty much tearing our hearts out with the beautifully written final chapters. She weaves the story from fine, unexpected threads. Characters are complex and thoughtful. Places are fragrant and real. Conversations ring true and meaningful. Plots unfold with startling but graceful turns. She's a terrific author I want everyone to discover -- especially readers who love issues-oriented, character driven fiction by authors like Jodi Picoult and Anita Shreve.

THE VOLUNTEER is a satisfying read, and that's enough in itself, but I think book clubs will find a whole additional dimension for discussion. Beyond the big questions that gray the core topic of capital punishment, there's the complicated realm of family relationships, the definition of "the honorable thing" and whether or not it's even possible to redeem oneself by living or dying for a private cause.

This is the kind of indie fiction I'm thrilled to see: a beautifully crafted book by a creative, accomplished author. Accessible literary fiction of quiet depth -- that's a tough sell in the present market. Midlist authors are always in the first wave of casualties when the publishing industry gets into economic funk, which is why midlist fiction -- from the readers' standpoint -- is such a Gobi desert right now. Indie ebooks by established midlist authors are a treasure trove for intelligent readers who aren't interested in the Real Housewives of Devil Wore Snooki Vampire.

I'm sad to say I don't love this cover -- I fear it won't appeal to male readers and doesn't capture the intense, clock-ticking quality of the book -- but it does fit well stylistically with other books on her web shelf. I have a lot of admiration for the decision-making process that went into it. No short cuts were taken here. BTS worked hand in hand with an artist who created a painting of a crystalized moment from the book.

This is the sort of subjective issues indie authors have to take by the horns. I've known Barbara for a long time and been inspired by her artistic integrity and uncompromising dedication to her craft. She's taken on the indie adventure with a profoundly healthy energy, and other indie authors would do well to follow her example.

Buy the book from B&N

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