Monday, December 31, 2012

MMWUC - New Year's Day Resolution

A Monday Morning Wake-up Call (MMWUC) on New Year's Day Eve. I don’t think that's happened to me before. I know I should write about my personal resolutions, but being a few days short of sixty, I've been too disappointed by the number of resolutions I've failed to accomplish, despite attempts to lose weight, exercise more, control temper, get a date for a prom, work harder, blah, blah, blah. I guess I'm just not that big on laying out these self-imposed, stress-filled expectations that try to make one undo what they've become comfortable with--even if what one has become comfortable with is a life-threatening habit.

"Pass the pork rinds and another Bud. I'm breaking my personal best of 36 hours in the port-a-potty lounger. Don't forget my cigs. Hey look, STARS IN DANGER OF THE HIGH DIVE. Now that's entertainment. I'm sure they'll show the best belly-flops upfront. I bet they'll have a wardrobe malfunction with a honey. Damn shame this kind of stuff wasn't around for Marlon Brando, Orson Wells, and William Conrad. Those whales in the 1980s would have cleaned out the pool."

When I was one, I wanted a second pacifier. That was my resolution, as I recall. Did I get it? No. Maybe that set a pattern for me. I don't know why it took me so long to figure out that resolutions should be kept to one or two little objectives--baby steps can lead to great strides in a long trip in the pursuit of personal perfection. But the most important thing is--do something. And yes, I'll use the old Chinese proverb, because it is so true: A trip of a thousand miles begins with the first step. And so it is with resolutions.

I wonder what kind of NYD resolutions James Bond would make? Sherlock Holmes? Nero Wolfe? So writers, what one resolution would your favorite protagonist make?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Book Review: MFA in a Box or Rick Boxed Out

Philosophically Phunny

The book MFA in a Box explains why I don't have an MFA -- I don't get philosophy. I don't get the nuance of the nuance of the pinprick of a needle on the flapping of a butterfly's wing in Brazil that forms a tornado in Kansas in a week and how that affects your characters. John Rember has written a book about why writers write books. He has delved deep into the mythological stories to support his case. It is a case that some people will flock to like bees to my marigolds: others will run to Anne Lamott, StephenKing, and Donald Maass for their thoughts on digging into a characters psyche in more precise and succinct language.

He could have easily written, most writers don't dig deep enough. They are unable or afraid to dig deep enough into the psyche of the character to expose the hell in their soul, and then they don't go below, into the very fires of Hell to identify the source of the fire that rages, and that, writers don't sift through the ashes of that fire to parse out that infinitesimally small glowing ember that explains why not getting a blue fire truck for their third Christmas drove that character to slaughter nineteen women dressed in blue during months in which a blue moon occurred. Or, something like that.

Okay, he makes some good points, but his tortuously elaborate explanations sometimes drove me to drink, and I'm supposed to be off diet sodas. That is part of the reason it took two weeks to read this book -- trying to pay close attention, because I must be missing something. But, I agree with his overall premise: whether you are trying to emulate Jonathan Franzen, writing whirling waltz of his own creation, or pound out a genre book that moves to its own predetermined beat to satisfy the masses that like that familiar beat, both are served by understanding their characters to a level deeper than what we are routinely spoon-fed. I'd fail his class, but I'll give his book four-thumbs up.

Monday, December 24, 2012

MMWUC - Holiday Preparations

Unless your soul is in need of a quick overnight fix, complete with ghosts, time travel, and spirits, there is still time to prepare for the holidays. Yes, pull out that diary that you will write in for two weeks in January, coinciding with your New Year's resolution, and start now. Capture the essence of the holiday spirit while you are within it. You know you will only keep that resolution for a short while anyway. Who'll look back with awe at your new observations in January over weight loss, new friends, digging up old friends who barely remember you, digging up old friends who'd rather still be unfound, musings over the 20 minutes' walk per day you started on January 2nd that dwindled to every other day by mid-January and that was a mythic adventure by time you watch Groundhog's Day on February 2nd.

Write about what is happening right now. Like my wife popping out of bed at 6 a.m. after going to bed at 1 a.m. so she can start the preparations for the Christmas Eve meal. A meal that we could cook in our sleep. A meal that we could start at 3 p.m. and still be ready for the horde at 6 p.m. Write about the 7:12 a.m. call, after rolling over in bed and trying to go back to sleep from Afghanistan. Taliban? Karzai? Nope. Skippy! And it's his birthday. But I already sent him an online message 12 hours before December 24th, because I knew he was that far ahead. So, not being a big telephone talker, I greet him for a few minutes, and then turn him over to wifey who loves talking on the phone. And yes, I get a few more minutes of sleep until Sydney decides it is time for me to arise and start cooking the rice for fried rice. But I know the real reason. Sydney, a 20-y-o cockatiel, awoke and saw the rice cooker. His motivation is simple. Wake daddy. He makes rice. I eat rice. It must be a special day for me. Cockatiels are so egocentric. So the tapping on my forehead forces me to rise. I hear organ music in the kitchen. My wifey was an organist. I get every Christmas choral with the ambiance of the phantom of the opera as a backdrop.

The fire has died. The house is cool, not cold. Wifey stops the nonstop chatter to Afghanistan. "The fire's out. The house is cold." I can take a hint. And so the holidays begins in earnest.

And so should your preparations for the 2013 holiday season. Capture these moments so that in July you can write a 67 page holiday story and self-publish it on Amazon in November for $1.99 and annoy everyone with your emails, tweets, Facebook postings, Linked-In announcements, Pinned pictures portraying and praising your prose, so you too can be declared a best-selling author at capturing the spirit of the holiday. It is about giving, giving back what you experienced so that we can all benefit from the rising spirit, and as George Costanzo would say, "Happy Festivus for the rest of us." Now let's arm wrestle. I know I can take Sydney two out of three times.

Monday, December 10, 2012

MMWUC: Sleeping In

I slept in this morning--to 11:13 a.m. to be exact. Sydney flew over and sat on my head, "Whatcha doing?"

I rolled over. "Not much," I replied.

And therein summed up the whole situation.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Book Review: Two books--Seasonal and Thriller

Buy it here.
It's that time of year, so I read a holiday-themed collection. Seasons Readings - A Collection of Holiday Themed Short Stories popped onto my Kindle. And you can't go wrong with the nine offerings in this holiday-themed collection. Though none of the stories really break any new or startling holiday territory, they're a solid grouping of stories. The opening story, Home for Christmas by Lia Fairchild and the last one, Kate and The Irishman by Mary Pay Hyland give us our sugary sweet Hallmark treat for the holiday romantics.

Nestled between these to anchoring stories, we have an assortment and some with a mystery bent. Though I liked A Basketball, A Storm Drain, and a Choo-Choo Train by Sue Owen, it seemed odd to savor the holidays with a serial killer. Another strong mystery story with a Twilight Zone twist at the end was The Jade Elephant by Libby Fischer.

Eleanor's Christmas Surprise by Tania Tirraoro gives us a story with a sharp reversal at the end. I felt that if the author would have dug a bit deeper, this story could have commanded space and dollars at some of the better print magazines. The bugaboo I had with it is why give away the story with the title--drop 'Surprise' from the title--and don't tip your hand. Rounding out the selections were stories that will satisfy most readers. The collection rates a "4".
- - - 
Upfront disclosure: I read Premonitions when it was a head dump of a few chapters; read it again when it was a complete novel in need of love; months, years whiz by. Read Premonitions when was being shopped around by an agent. Ran through it again recently.

Buy it here!
There is something satisfying in watching the evolution of a head dump into a full-fledged novel of power and sass, tenderness and carrying, and, of course, much danger, death, and destruction. The author has woven a story that is every parent's nightmare on steroids where bad guys hold all the cards and their opponents are little kids and one kick-butt lady named Mallory with attitude to spare when it comes to her kids and her premonitions.

Like many thrillers, this is one best served and read in a single sitting. I'm not a devotee of thrillers. They rely on me suspending too much of my disbelief as my anal retentive, procedural-oriented brain sniffs minor cracks in the plans of both the bad and good buys. However, I never waived though in my belief that the author was going to take me on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and then some. Take Premonitions with you when you have the time to feast on the words and enjoy the story as a single meal. It is a solid "4".

Monday, December 3, 2012

MMWUC - Handicap Your Protagonist

Me and the missus have been very sick. We've gone to the doctor. She has the flu and is recovering nicely. I have the "respiratory infection from Hell" (the doctor's words) and am a step away from living out a Stephen King horror story, BYLINA AND THE GIANT BITE-ME BUG THAT HAS NO NAME OR CURE. Great. Now, I'm a step away from the CDC coming to quarantine my house. But, I do have some meds that hold the promise of me getting some sleep tonight.

Doctor's rendition of the
infection he saw.
(bylinous supersillious)
But fighting this superbug with a lack of sleep has given me a new perspective to our crime fighting heroes and their seemingly endless good health. My next short story book, Super Good Guys with Bad Hair Days, features the following--

* watch as Columbo, everyone's favorite rumpled detective, turns an hour long episode into a made-for-TV movie, when a bad case of incurable hiccups forces every interview into a word-pulling marathon. Rather than be subject to another long-rambling, stuttered accusation, the killer reveals himself by killing Columbo. Adrian Monk has to finish up the case. Killer commits suicide.

* stuffed-up with a bad flu for which he refused the help of Doctor Watson, Holmes misses the telltale sign of the dead woman's perfume on the suspect/waiter, fails to hear the drop of the small syringe on the floor, and doesn't detect the acrid taste of the poison injected on his breakfast muffin. Holmes dies; Watson emerges from his shadow.

* observe as 300+ pound William Conrad of Jake and theFatman runs down a another black urban youth and sits on him to await the cops. In my version, he limps from gout for 50 yards as the youth taunts him by running backwards. The Fatman grabs his chest, a heart ache in the making, the kid whips out a $50 from the stash of money. "Buy a Richard Simmons tape tubby." The money floats to the sidewalk, the kid steps backwards into small hole, and twists his ankle. Conrad stumbles forward, face crimson with pain and falls on the kid, trapping him for the police.

I'm rambling, but I have an excuse. What's yours? Throw your good guy a health-inspired curve ball when he least expects or needs it. Up that ante just one last notch.

And as a bonus, you can give him the eye infection I also have for which I have to put drops in my eyes. For me, this is a torture of unbelievable dimensions, but Sydney is not prepared to be a seeing-eye bird.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Book Review: Angela's Song

Angela’s Song is a well-written and superbly researched book--no doubts there. However, I found the overall story a bit sluggish and without much tension as a I waited for a more compelling story arc to form. It never did. Other than Jack’s initial rejection of dating Angela, this story was a straight shot to an end that was never in doubt. The real problem was Angela’s internal spiritual growth in a cocoon of Catholic spirituality, almost completely unthreatened by or unchallenged by outside elements or people with other persuasions, beliefs, or social statuses. The story was insular on that level and that’s a shame. The true strength of any conviction is not when it is supported on all sides, but when it is challenged by opposing forces but stays true to that conviction. That is the missing element here.

This message might be fine for Catholics looking for a book that reinforces the best of the Catholic beliefs, but it needs more heft to engage other readers with its positive and life affirming message. When mild hiccups in the relationship occurred or Angela had doubts, Jack always had the right answer, solution, or financial wherewithal to right the ship without breaking a sweat. It bordered on being annoying at times. Angela’s situation was a difficult one, dealing with the death of a spouse. (My latest novel deals with the same subject matter.) The authors did a good job with the stages of grief. Another solid effort was with the introduction of the back story. A lesser novelist might not have been so restrained. Finally, the authors did a good job tracking and using the little story promises along the way, including Angela’s song.

I’m Catholic, and Catholics looking for a validation of their beliefs will crown this a “5”. But from a story perspective and analyzing it as a general read, this is a tepid “4”.

Monday, November 26, 2012

MMWUC: Santa Claus, Christmas, and the Groundhog

The proliferation of holiday stories is like clockwork, and maybe I'll join in some day after the trend has weened, and I'm once again in the dust of the marketing strategy like a salesman for public pay phones. I don't have a holiday story again. I tried to write one, and maybe still will, but I haven't a clue when I'll find the time, and the story I started morphed into something where everyone dies and zombies make presents of brains to each other, each zombie hoping for Einstein's brain, still locked away somewhere. The stories of holiday mirth, redemption, and, sometimes, murderous Santas, are selling on Amazon and elsewhere for $.99 to $5.99 (seriously now!) and are from six (you kidding me) to sixty pages.

Blatant Plug For My Book (quadruple
hubba-hubba for the prairie dog)

Great stocking stuffer...really.
I've sampled a few, but I have no patience for something written in a fifteen minute morning break from the tin cup production line that was never vetted, proofread, or given more thought than the fate of Tibetan monks living without Twinkies is given. And that is really something to think about. And being original for the holidays is not an easy task.

I say, boycott the sham stories (but not mine should I write it), and stick with the tried and true: Alistair Sims in Scrooge, Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed (hubba-hubba) in It's a Wonderful Life, or Gary Grant, David Niven, and Loretta Young (double hubba-hubba) in The Bishop's Wife.

More so to the point, start working on your Groundhog Day story now, despite the fact that one of the cinema's masterpieces covers the holiday well, Groundhog Day with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell (triple hubba-hubba). Or maybe write a May Day celebration story. At least then they may be edited in time for release and be longer than six pages. Perhaps I'll start a marketing trend for a change.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Book Review: Best Books for 2012

I never understood why the "best of" lists come out in late December or early the following year. What people really want to know is: "What were the best books for the past twelve months so I know what to order over Thanksgiving when the real buying season begins." Well, here you go.

Best I Read in 2012
First off, order my books so I don't have to be a door greeter at Walmart for four months next year to pay property taxes because businesses don't hire former technical writers past a certain age.

Secondly, I've only been given one of these books by the author. In fact, most of these books have been blindly picked from various sources to the surprise and delight (and sometimes consternation) of the authors. I will admit to downloading some "free" books.

Thirdly, I've blogged my rating methodology. I've climbed on Amazon to the 11,082 ranked reviewer. I'm still not entirely sure what that means, but it feels good. My wife was unimpressed until I pointed out that there are more than 12,000,000 ranked reviewers on Amazon. So, I must be writing reviews that people like to read. And, I try to keep my reviews honest--no gimme "5" ratings. And not every book with a "5" is a perfect book. Get over yourselves. There are no perfect books, just books that someone thinks are at the top of their class. And when I do review, I take into account the genre in which the book resides. It would be foolish of me to downgrade a YA book because it lacked the intensity of a King novel. And I don't only read mysteries.

Fourthly, I've met my goal of a book per week although some have not been self-published, which was the other half of the goal, and yes, a few were short story collections. There were not 52 reviews. I struggled mightily with several books that were such a mess that I didn't bother to finish or review them. In hindsight, maybe I should have slapped a "1" or "2" on the book, but you know, sometimes you just have to be ready to read that particular book. For example, I love the movies. I have now seen all but two movies in the AFI100, but yet it took me over thirty years before I saw "The Godfather" trilogy even though I knew intuitively they were great movies. Go figure.

So, in no particular order, the "5" rated, best of the best books for 2012 are:

* Red, Green, or Murder (Posadas County #10) by Steven F. Havill - unmasking murder.
* The Might T by Everett Powers - sometimes even bad guys have a real point to make.
* Just Like That by Les Edgerton - gritty, tough, and real.
* Child of my Heart by Shelia Rudesill - heartbreaking and uplifting.
* Little Mountain by Bob Sanchez - classic internal and external struggle for justice.

The best book I read this year: Little Mountain. Other fine books from 2012 to consider:

* Storm Surge (a Jonie Waters mystery) by Tamara Ward - stay out of the water.
* Bigfoot Hunters by Rick Gualtieri - stay out of the woods.
* Murder Deja Vu by Polly Iyer - stay out of the way.
* Wind Over Troubled Waters - Book One by Edith Parzefall and Francene Stanley - stay out of trouble.

What did I learn? Most self-published "stories" are as good as those stories championed by agents and published by publishers; however, self-published books were rarely as polished in production value, as well edited (though overall quality is down), nor as tight plot-wise as those put out by major publishers. Self-published authors, in general, are still too impatient and too self-reliant (Rick raises his hand) with getting their books out there, and there are still some self-published authors that don't want to hear that message. Being a self-published author, I DO understand the frustration with that message. Several "3" rated books just needed to be beaten like a dirty rug a few more times to truly shine. I'm only beginning to understand the time lag necessary between writing, editing, revising, and publishing. I have no idea what the timeline is to becoming independently wealthy from writing.

Now, what are you waiting for? Buy, read, and eat turkey.

Monday, November 19, 2012

MMWUC: Damn I Need One

I was just reminded that it's Monday. What, were all you sleeping? How come no one told me it was Monday. I thought it was weird when my wife left early this morning. I began to think that maybe she was giving platelets or had a recorder gig or maybe her choir was singing somewhere or she was playing games with her parents in the assisted living center or maybe she went shopping for turkey or Christmas-related bargains (I've learned not to ask to many questions at this time of the year.).

Sydney didn't tell me. Everyday is the same to him unless it's different by means that he just doesn't understand.

Oh, well. Hope you had a respite from all the usual nonsense I spout here. BIG, BIG news coming soon.

Write on! Write o!! Brothers and sisters, amen. Write on!!!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Guest Blog: Why I'm not coming out of the closet

Not me!
It's dark in there. I like the dark. And when I don't like the dark, I know that Rick will be there to bring me out of the dark. The closet is warm and cozy. I sleep on the folded towels, and I love when they come from the dryer, because they are so nice to be on top off, and the warmth oozes into my body. The closet is huge, and there is so much to explore with its secret corners of stuff untouched for year after year after year. I'm tempted to chew through the lids to find the treasures within them. The only downside is that there is no food in here. Other than some chewing on the wooden shelves and drywall, the pickings are fairly slim. But, I can sleep just fine in here until I hear the writing chair squeak, and I know that Rick is working on something wonderful. That's when I scream bloody murder, and I know he will come. He always does.

Me. I am the People Whisperer!
I've trained him well. Because, after all, I AM the people whisperer.

Next week...exciting news. I can tell. He keeps me up until 2 in the morning working on something. If I could read, I'd tell you about it.

I am, Sydney!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Review: 2 4 1--Cats and Publishing Hell

If the cover art didn't tickle my fancy, I doubt I would have picked The Girl with the Cat Tattoo by Theresa Weir as a read. But I did, and I'm glad I did. This novella was listed as a romance, I guess it's because the cat, Max, is trying to set up his owner, Melody, with a new boyfriend two years after his first owner and her husband, David, a cop was murdered. You got all that. Good. I liked Max. He moved and thought like a cat, not that I'm a cat whisperer.

Amazon Link
Though the subject matter underlying the story is quite deep, getting back into life after the death of a spouse, it is given broad brushstrokes for this story. The story also leaves little doubt what the outcome is going to be. Just how we get there is the somewhat interesting part, especially with the odd costumes that the heroine wears as part of her job that are very inappropriate for the situations in which she ends up.

While the mystery was nicely woven into the story, the ending was a bit ho-hum with a character out of the blue and the final solution not as sharp as it could have been. It felt a bit like a test case for a line of stories with only so much time invested and a bit of an attempt to steal some thunder for a similarly titled novel (cat=dragon). Still if you like cats, a little romance, and mystery light, this could be your cup of tea for a short drive to grandma's for Thanksgiving. A solid "4" from me.

Bonus Review

How the HELL Do I Do This? A Blogging Writer's Tiny Guide for Self-Publishers By Kareen Wade is a non-fiction advice book targeted for self-publishing authors. It took the time to eat two egg McMuffins, two hash browns and one refill of an extra-large diet coke to go through the book. The bottom line: Uneven, but for $.99 you could do worse, and I have found many books of lesser value for similar price on the same topic.

Amazon Link
This one was part cheerleader and part marketing guide with an uneven mix of emphasis on a few topics and drive-by hits on some topics. The big thumbs-up for the book were many of the links to other sites and the author's enthusiasm to help everyone maximize their sales. The downside is the material felt like it was gathered in a rush and lacked some focus on maximizing your effort except for a huge pump-up of Google+. It was also a bit of a mixed bag for the reader as to the knowledge base necessary for the writers to even address some of the advice.

But like most advice in the fast-paced world of self-publishing, what's hot today is old news tomorrow. Writers venturing into the world of self-publishing need to be on their toes for those tidbits that have true value in selling their wares. If you're a newbie, this might be your grab-bag of information and techniques worth a "4", but overall, it is a slightly better than average source of publishing advice, a strong "3," with the hopes that if it is re-issued with a clearer sense of direction and prioritization, it can move up in ratings. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Monday Morning Wake-up Call

It's Monday. It's morning. This is your wake-up call. Since most times this blog is about writing, the craft, inspiration, stories, events, failures, or successes, I'm going to try and inspire you with the movement of dirt.

Well, not just any dirt, North Carolina dirt, which if y'all are from here, you might recognize it as most parts clay, heavy, wet gray clay or the heavier and denser than a neutron star, red clay. The road I live on is a private road, apart from the much larger part of our exurbia development. Each of my four neighbors and I own this road, which means we have to maintain it along with the beautification alongside it so it doesn't look like the setting for a horror movie like "Last House Down the Lane" or a backwoods thriller such as Deliverance. In all we do a good job of the 1/3rd of a mile long black-top road that ends at Randy's house.

But, I've had a pile of dirt alongside my road frontage. I paid a six-pack of beer for it to a tired driver who had just wanted to dump his last load of the day from the deforestation project known as the next housing development about four miles away. When I waved the common late Friday afternoon currency, he delivered. The pile sat. Oh, I'd take a wheel barrel full of dirt once in a while, separate the rocks out, and spread the dirt at the edge of the blacktop to keep it from caving in the low spots. But it was long, slow, hard work. At the rate I worked through the pile, Sasha Obama would be looking for her second term as President, and I would probably have forgotten why I was moving the dirt in the first place.

The pile loomed as a constant reminder of things undone, like a good story that needs a strong revision that you just can't seem to get enthused about. Water pooled in front of the pile, which had become a dam in the deep V ditch alongside the road. Thousands of frogs played all summer long in the rich water (clay has a lot of minerals), a black snake enjoyed them thoroughly until a broad-tailed hawk enjoyed the snake. All kinds of water plants nestled along the shoreline of the fifteen-foot long, six-foot wide impromptu pond. I even saw two small fish in the pond one day unclear how they arrived there. I was even considering leaving the bottom portion of the pile as a dam and make the pond a permanent feature, but my sister-in-law, who does not live in our development and was aghast that I'd let the pile sit for 18 months, threatened to call our Homeowners' Association and complain.

I turned to my sister-in-law, "I am the Homeowners Association Board."

It's a small association. I duly noted her complaint then ignored it.

Still, when Randy offered to help me move the pile with his baby backhoe and scoop, I took him up on his offer.

So yesterday, Sunday, we moved the pile. At some point in the four hour long process, all the other neighbors stopped by to watch the progress, catch up on each other's news, suggest ways to break up the bigger clumps of red clay, including dynamite. I thought a block party was going to break out.

The pile was moved, the pond drained, sister-in-law overjoyed, and wife relieved that the second-longest item on the to-do list was vaporized. Neighbors seemed happy that the black-top is now supported better. But this morning I was a bit sad to see the pile gone. The dirt had accidentally created an environment that made frogs, snakes, fish, and hawks thrive. Now, it's just another ditch on the side of the road like thousands of other ditches, wishing they could be more.

I guess I just miss my dirt.
- - -
Now, don't tell me you can't think about something in your life about which to write. Time to write.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Book Review: Killer Twist

C. A. Larmer has woven an intricate plot for Killer Twist that unfolded a bit too slowly for my taste, but was, nevertheless, well done overall. Once it got going, she threw in more twists than a Chubby Checker revival dance. I must confess I did catch on to the primary and secondary bad guys early in their introductions, but the reason why they did the nasty wasn't clear until the big reveal to Roxy Parker, the amateur sleuth who took risks I'd never be caught taking, especially at the end. That woman's nuts.

Well composed and without mechanical hiccups this was a solid read. Even the slang and unusual accents were carried off much better than most writers. The author made Roxy well rounded enough, but missed a good opportunity to put in more of the Australian scenery and atmosphere for a story being sold elsewhere in the world. It did not affect the rating, but I hated the cover.

Some harsh language early on would probably put-off some of the cozy mystery readers, but woman amateur sleuth readers should flock to Rozy Parker, a heroine in heels, with a seemingly never-ending and over-sized closet--but this is from a guy's perspective. The overall impact is not quite enough for a "5," but I have no problem with a solid "4" rating for this down-under mystery.

Monday, November 5, 2012

MMWUC - It's not a NANOWRIMO blog

Okay, so you're not doing NANOWRIMO. That's just dandy. It's not for everyone nor is the timing always write (sic) to set aside a month to start another project that might not lead to anything. BUT, But, you can still feel the energy from NANO by signing up and getting into conversations with fellow writers that might lead you to riff a story idea for the future.

I'm struggling this year with NANO because I've got several irons in the fire, but it didn't stop me from joining the fray and riffing an idea that might, just might become something new down the road. Okay, yeah, it's weird, but for writers, the Gordon Gecko creed of choice is "weird is good."
- - -
Suck it up, McCabe. - - - - The two-dimensional vampire was trying hard, but couldn't penetrate any of the flat characters she wrote. Woe is me, the vampire thought, as the hunger drove him to desperation, sucking the life out of an unwary semi-colon and two oblivious chatting colons, misplaced at the beginnings of a pair of lists. He eyed McCabe's whining over the crappy writing she was layering on page after page. For thirty days and nights he would have to suffer this plot full of heroic werewolves. He'd never met a courageous werewolf. They were all neurotic roustabouts, running hither and thither once a month during the full moon, and then, as if no one noticed, they would sit in their own stool during the new moon when their manic stage ebbed, and they became true tortured souls. And why do all the girls they get seem so zaftig? How come after thirty days of being two-dimensional, the bloated, yummy muse with no insight gets bumped off by a pasty-faced internal editor with more opinions than craters on the moon? He sighed and the paper floated off the table. McCabe picked it up. "Harrumph. The one good line I right and it falls to the floor." She read: "The time of desperation, when the black moment overlaid the darkness, only then will we be able to see where the speck of hopeful light shines like a pinprick for us to use as a moral and physical signpost." She kissed the line on the paper and felt a sting.

The two-dimensional vampire feasted again.
- - -
There's at least three potential stories in that three minute riff. Go forth and let your writing mind expand via inspiration and silliness with other writers.
- - -
Oh yeah, my new novel, All Of Our Secrets, is available on both Smashwords and Amazon in e-book format. Paperbook format comes late this week. Enjoy, it's the best yet. And you're beating the big marketing push.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Guest Blog: On the Value of Book Clubs, Part 2

Author Judith Stanton, in part two, tells us the other side of the story

Have you ever been a featured author at a book club? I have, not nearly often enough, and I’m afraid the opportunities to do it may be dwindling. As we shift our advertising focus to blogs, Facebook, tweets and Pinterest, it may feel like a poor investment of your time to take an evening off to talk to half-dozen to a dozen readers who just read your book. Too much time for too few sales.

Amazon Link
But if you want a rejuvenating fix there’s nothing quite like it. So here’s how, and why, to do it.

The how. If you haven’t yet made the best seller lists are won the National Book Award, you’ll have to reach out to find some clubs. Ask people you know, and ask at local book stores—chain or independent—what reading groups are near you. Don’t forget used book stores. Some owners have a good line on their local clubs. If you feel funny making a cold call or email to introduce yourself and your book, perhaps a mutual acquaintance can recommend you, perhaps even that bookstore person.

Be willing to travel, maybe an hour or two there and back, but start as near home as you can. You’re not in this for profits, but overnighting in a B&B isn’t worth it unless you and your spouse are celebrating your twentieth, thirtieth, whatever, anyway.

And keep an ear out. With my novel I met a lot of people doing field research. When I’d mention I was writing my novel, they’d mention their book clubs. I kept a little list. Some of them live farther away than I would normally go, but live close to a horse competition I need to research. Two birds, one stone.

With my first couple of novels, I visited a few book clubs. Had a grand time, and learned a lot. To my surprise, some of the most hard core readers have never met an author, and certainly not in their own home. They made me feel like a star. I started off talking about how I came to be a novelist and came up with the story they’d read, but really all I needed to do was open the floor for questions and let ‘em rip! Which character did they like best and why? What surprised them about the story? Is this the kind of book they usually read, and how did they like it?

Bottom line, with any readers, and certainly book clubbers, I make sure I say early and often, as writers we LOVE our readers. We write for YOU. We don’t EXIST without you. You bring the books of our hearts and our imagination to life.

Believe me, they will never have thought of how critical they are to the entire creative enterprise. It’s a conversation, it’s symbiotic.

And that’s an amazing bond. After that, they love to hear about nitty gritty research problems, which characters surprised you, who got away from you, who wouldn’t come to heel and so was interesting. Field trips, surprise library finds, how the Internet has transformed research. In the end, they relish our journeys, just as much as we relish theirs as they take our books in their hands or our books in their Nooks or Kindles. They take us on vacation. They take us to their doctor’s waiting room, sit by their loved ones in ICUs and read our stories. They take us to bed. They fall asleep with our books on their chests, and wake, and pick us up again, escaping to worlds we create for them.

I love my readers. Visit a book club, and love yours too, face to face, handshake to handshake, and sometimes hugs. AND SIGN ALL THEIR BOOKS. Be sure to ask how to spell their names.
- - -
Judith Stanton - Horse Woman, Author, Editor, and Lecturer
—Qualifying for the Olympics can be deadly for woman and horse.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Book Review: Four Days with Hemingway's Ghost

Amazon Link
I try to review fairly. But I goofed and must atone for it. I misread the ad for this book. It was the author's other book that was compared to CITR and TKAM. While most of my review is focussed on what was between the sheets, I can't deny my goof influenced me. I'm bumping this up to a low 4.
- - - The original review - - -
Four Days is an nice book with a unique premise, but it is not the next Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird as advertised. If you're looking for social epiphanies, look elsewhere. This story is about Jack Phalen's potential and an unclear atonement for Ernest Hemingway's life that I never did quite understand. The author has woven his version of the magical dream that many novelists have about writing a killer first novel and pulling their financial situation out of the fire by some miracle of divine intervention--here supplied by Papa. He helps Jack believe over a four day period in his innate abilities as a writer (with very, very thin skin) while he clings to life in a coma caused by his own stubbornness.

I'm not a Hemingway expert, but the story needed to delve deeper into Hemingway's life to raise this story to its lofty goals. Only the time spent in Cuba truly seemed filled with some magic and insight. Interesting dead people pop up during Jack's coma-induced journey with Papa, and though at times it felt like name dropping, some characters reinforced common writing tips Jack needs should he decided to remain amongst the living and write rather than go to the hereafter. However, the choice to remain never seemed in doubt.

And here's where Jack's journey falls off the map for me. I didn't care for the whiny Jack upon his return, the Jack who feels he's a modern day Job, beset by the recent economic difficulties while contemplating larceny when things get tight, needing not-so-subtle reminders that he's broken bread with a 50 year dead Ernest Hemingway and been in the unseen presence of the Lord. As a writer/reader, I'm a bit put off by Jack's hubris in dashing off a book, expecting instant success, and well, you'll not get the unrealistic spoiler from me. Suffice to say, I was left with a less than solid message from a book about messages. Four Days is a straddler. For some uniqueness and magic upfront, it could garner a four, but taking the whole book, it rates a top-notch "3".

Monday, October 29, 2012

MMWUC: What if?

Hurricane Sandy is here. NANOWRIMO is knocking. Halloween is grabbing me and tossing Frankenstorm in my face. You don't need a Monday Morning Wake-up Call from me. The Dragon capsule is back on Earth with its own Andromeda strain. Should we worry that 10-20 million people will be without power as the virus spreads? Only those NANOWRIMOites will survive to an uncertain future, ensconced in their hidey-holes typing about vampires and werewolves and wizards and people on strange planets with strange names who act like your snotty little cousins down the street. We know these characters too well.

And what if this Andromeda strain is the good strain? And the bad good people are trying to save us from the hope that it brings to everyone. Maybe the strain makes us all vegans and that saves the Earth or maybe we mutate to the point where we can blink to where we want to go. No, that won't work. A couple million horny young men crashing into each other over the newest Playmate. Silly thought. But it could work.

Everybody now: put two wild ideas together and make a story. Hurricane Sandy causes the electrocution of all the wall streets bankers. Does that make the world economy better or worse?

Yes, this wake-up call is about nothing, but, what if...

Friday, October 26, 2012

Guest Blog: On the Value of Book Clubs, Part 1

Judith Stanton sez...While revising my latest novel again, it occurred to me I’d lost sight of my core readers—you know, the passionate obsessive-compulsive real human beings we writers long for, write to, and depend on to buy our books, recommend them to friends, buy more for birthday and holiday presents.

I work hard at my craft. My critiquing buddies who are steeped in good book-writing theory have scrupulously analyzed my current novel. My New York City agent and his brilliant interns also held under their microscope. They expected a blockbuster bestseller. I wanted one too. So do we all, perhaps, in our heart of hearts. But not at the sacrifice of our stories. Over several revisions, they suggested that I convert my adult Southern family saga horse story with a sabotage theme into—get this—

1) Young Adult fiction. Like National Velvet. Sooo not today’s teenage market. Maybe I should have invented a vampire horse!

2) A redo of The HorseWhisperer. So I read it and watched it again. Downer. It’s not about the horse, it’s about a not very interesting dysfunctional family (the central character a New York City magazine editor—guess who that appealed to!) It took Robert Redford to power it out of its improbable horse story and soap opera of a human tale.

Or 3) Get rid of the “horse stuff” altogether. Ditch the family saga, develop only three key characters into a sicko love triangle, and make it a thriller like The Girl With a DragonTattoo.

Lordy. The books and movies they pointed me to had only one thing in common—their track records—NYTimes Bestseller list (except Velvet but that’s longevity), blockbuster movies, and boatloads of money paid out to authors, agents, directors, and actors and a supporting cast of hundreds.

They were not my story. But my NYC agent seemed wildly out of touch with my horse story and the real audience I believed longed for horse stories.

But what if I was the one wildly out of touch with readers’ deepest dreams? So I asked myself:  what do readers want? And where better to find out than a book club? Clubbers read a book a month for the club alone. Big thick fat expensive books. Serious books. Award-winning books.
I asked about joining a couple of old, established book clubs within driving distance. But book clubs are limited to how many members can fit into someone’s living room, and they were filled.

Then a consummate reader and book-clubbers I’d known for decades had room in her busy life for a new club. She invited four gals, and I asked four more. Amazingly our friends knew each other. More amazing, one year later, I realize I’m getting exactly what I need. One night a month with voracious, articulate, open-minded readers. Their passion for story, character and style blows me away. Their tolerance—even desire for—brutal honesty validates my work.  Their freedom from theory and the technical details I’ve come to obsess over gives me freedom too.

So, fellow writers, think about joining a book club of real readers to get a fresh feel for your audience, to  free yourself from other writers, from agents and editors, and to rediscover the joy of reading. Not drafting. Not critiquing. Not revising.

But reading for fun, reading for adventure, reading to learn and laugh and cry and even worry—How is this character going to get out of that fix? Isn’t that where all of us writers started?

As my book club starts our second year, my fellow readers are directing me to books I never heard of. I’m finding a reawakening of my creative spirit that the only genius of a newly discovered author can inspire. On that note, if you haven’t read Elizabeth Spencer, if you haven’t even heard of her, buy her 1956 The Voice at theBack Door. It is as fresh and relevant today as it was then. It is said that the fiction committee nominated it for the Pulitzer Prize, but the overall committee awarded no prize that year—too controversial, perhaps. Which was a crime, and one we can rectify a bit by reading her now.  You can thank my book club for the recommendation. And think about joining one.
- - -
Judith Stanton - Horse Woman, Author, Editor, and Lecturer
—Qualifying for the Olympics can be deadly for woman and horse.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Blog Hop: All of Our Secrets

I'm honored to be chosen to be part of this blog hop, and I'd like to thank Wendy Laharnar for tagging me to participate. This gives us all a change to view new releases from authors we admire as well as introduce us to some works in progress.

Ten Interview Questions for “The Next Big Thing” are as follows:

Q. What is the working title of your book? I was going to call it, Gone With The Wind, but decided to make it more relevant to my story. So the title is All of Our Secrets.

Q. Where did the idea come from for the book? Well, I expand on this question later on, but the truth is it came about with some frustration over speeding up the pace of getting to the opening death of lead character. It's in the first sentence now...that's hopefully soon enough.

Q. What genre does your book fall under? It's definitely a mystery, but it has a lot more depth to it concerning overcoming grief.

Q. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? One of my final readers suggested a slenderized Philip Seymour Hoffman for the protagonist. Jessica Biel might be nice for his much younger wife. I had David Spade, toned down, in mind when I thought about Chad, Bruce's attorney. When I started this, I thought about Wilford Brimley, playing against type, and taking on the antagonist Detective, Mort Meeker.

Q. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? Bruce Neumanski didn't kill his secretive wife, but her unsavory past cripples his defense against a ruthless detective. 

Q. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? I will be self-publishing through Kindle for e-book; CreateSpace for paperback; Smashwords for all other platforms.

Q. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? The first draft took about two years, and it was kind of funny how I ended up with the first draft. I was up at the family cabin in northern Wisconsin typing away when all of a sudden, I released I was finished, then type: The End. The first draft was 126K words, which I shrunk to about 90K words, and, when all was said and done, it ended up about 108K words.

Q. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?  Anita Shriver's "The Pilot's Wife" has been mentioned as a book with similar overarching themes, a mystery that slowly comes to fruition and the process of grieving over the unexpected loss of a loved one.

Q. Who or What inspired you to write this book? I was told after the first draft of another book I wrote that I needed to step up the first chapter of my next book. In a huff, I started writing with the main character awaking with a dead body, turned out it was his wife. I thought, well if that's not early enough in the book, then I don't know what anyone wanting a mystery would want. Then came the hard part about how did she died. I saw a news item about a man falsely accused of murder, and it was his story that gave me final pieces to the mystery puzzle.

Q. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? I reviewed several multi-step programs about grief. While the mystery is at the heart of the story, how Bruce deals with his grief is the pulse for pushing the story forward.

On October 31st, my dear friends will be answering the questions about their fabulous novels. so for a treat, hop over and visit them...or, you can go visit them right now.

Ron Voigts
Amber Collen

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book Review: In Roswell Re-Abucted

Once again, I need to read the fine print. That's on me. In Roswell, Re-abducted is a short story or a long chapter in a book that's being serialized; it is not a novel. While the author has some nice plot twists in this little chapbook, the story is in desperate need of an editor. Way too many simple grammatical errors and story-telling issues for such a small story. There were a half-dozen missing or extraneous quotation marks, a he became a she, and it was difficult at times to follow the story due to some abrupt scene changes.

The author has some good dialogue and turn of phrases. The scene setting was okay, but it needed to be beefed-up so readers who haven't been to Roswell could feel like they are there. The author brought up some the kooky places in the town, but stopped short of bringing us fully into the Roswell world and allowing us to accept the off-beat nature of the story. Cobbled together with the rest of the chap-books, I could probably get behind the twisty story with odd-ball characters and growing mystery about Cinnamon's mother.

But without stronger editorial guidance, this story is just another example of why the traditional publishing industry chuckles at self-published authors. This chapbook is average with strengths and weaknesses that cancel each other out. It is a 3. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

MMWUC: The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

Friday night was horrible. Actually, it was more than horrible. It might be a self-published authors worst nightmare. My new novel (currently titled "Secrets") comes out in a few weeks, and this is what happened...

I'm watching cable television and the new Amazon Book Show on channel 832.3, showcasing new books every five minutes. Simple format: a 30-second snippet from the author, another thirty seconds with the host reading the back-of-book blurb followed by a one-minute excerpt from the book read by either a gravelly-voiced man or a sickly-sweet sounding woman. Finally, there is a two minute Midwest Book Review or Kirkus talking head, and then it's back to the host for a few seconds before the "word from our sponsor." There is a running ticker across the bottom the screen showing the last five books reviewed, and below it, the top five books for the past 24 hour and their sales. Below it, the Amazon Book Show Facebook page displays for everyone to go to and see all the reviewed books.

"Secrets" comes on as the featured book, but the author is some guy by the name of Sy Sakes.

"Damn, the other writers were right. The title is too common." I pound the arm of the couch. Startled, Sydney, my 20-y-o cockatiel, nips at me.

Sy says, "I wrote this during NANOWRIMO last year as my first novel." He looks at the camera with derision. "It was so easy, I didn't bother to edit it." He sighs as if he is bored. "It is the greatest book ever written." He yawns.

I scoff at his claim then laugh at his arrogance. Sydney cackles along with me. The host reads the back-of-book-blurb.

"Damn, that blurb is almost identical to mine. Don, Edith, and Peter were right. Mine was too generic. Just like this guy's blurb. Can I stomach to do it again?"

The book cover comes up onto the screen. I gasp. The gravelly-voiced man speaks:

Chapter 1

Terrified, I counted to six, and then begged Heather, "Just Breathe." I pinched her nose and covered her mouth with mine. Each time I did this, her cold lips almost made me retch from the reality of why I was doing this. I blew again. No response. My breath was returned without the hope with which I had sent it. Again.
“Please. I’ll be lost without you.” I counted while stroking her hair. Outside, the siren of an approaching ambulance pierced the pre-dawn quiet. The 9-1-1 operator kept calling my name over the phone I’d dropped onto the floor.
I blew again. “God, help me.” I rechecked her pulse. Nothing. I shook her and small items on the shelf tipped over from the force of my shaking. “Breathe, Heather, breathe.”
Desperate, I tried chest compressions on the sloshing waterbed, trying to recall first aid from Army basic training thirty years ago. “Stay calm. Think. Move her to the floor.”
Someone knocked on the front door I had left ajar. It squeaked open. “EMS,” a male voice said.
“In here, quick!” I yelled.
Two paramedics rushed from the foyer into the bedroom.
"Please. Help her."
“Come, sir.” The short paramedic pulled me away. I didn’t want to leave her, but they were the experts. He sat me at the bay window seat facing the foot of the bed. I was shaking.
A large, heavy-set man in a rumpled brown suit entered the room and stood barely inside the door frame. His walrus face was droopy and whiskered. Was he here to help?
The short paramedic waved his hand in front of my face to get my attention. “Sir, what’s your full name?”
“Bruce Wayne Neumanski.”
The heavy-set man by the door looked at me.
“And hers?”
“Heather Rachel Neumanski, my wife. Please, save her."
My eyes shifted focus to the tall paramedic bent over Heather, shining a penlight in her eyes.
"Well?" the man in the brown suit asked. His eyes were sloe-eyed, sleepy dull.
The short paramedic spun around and stepped towards him. “Detective Meeker. Where’d you come from?”
Meeker waved him off. “I was in the area and heard the emergency call.”
The tall paramedic leaned over to Meeker and spoke in a hushed manner. "No pulse. No respiration. Gray pallor, and cold. No blood or obvious wounds, but some petechial hemorrhaging in the eyes. I can’t declare her, but…."
Despite his whisper, I heard his words to Meeker.
“Oh God, it can’t be.” I folded my arms across my chest and rocked in place. “She was so full of life. She was my life.”
The paramedics looked at me. Meeker pushed through them and stared at Heather. His eyes widened. "Holy shit." He backed away, grabbing the tall paramedic by the shirt. "Bring her back!”
"But she's dead."
"Do it."

Gravelly Voice applauds this reading then salutes the author. I fall out of my chair in shock. Sydney attacks the television. "That's my book!" I scream

The reviewer comes on. "What can I say? This IS the greatest book ever written."

The host reappears. "Wow. It must be good. That is the shortest review we've ever had. And now a word from our sponsor."

I watch in horror. Some guy names Sy Sakes has stolen my novel and put it up on the Amazon Book Show claiming he wrote it. I'm freaking! The sales counter is going nuts. I never knew this show existed until now and was so popular. I'd only installed cable a week ago. In three minutes, over 100,000 orders have come in for the book. The counter is flipping over faster than the date clock on Rod Taylor's time machine in the classic movie "The Time Machine".

I dash to the computer in the office and go to the Facebook page. I can't get on. Too many people accessing it. I hear from the other room the host come back on the television.

"Due to the excitement over this book, we are rerunning the last segment again."

Obscenities fly out of my mouth like prayers from the Pope on Easter Sunday. Sydney squawks and runs for cover. I get on the site. The online tote board shows over 400,000 orders at $5.99 for the e-book and $21.99 for the paperback. "Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Oh, my God." I've heard about these book thieves before, but never thought it would happen to me. Somehow, somewhere, he got my book. One of my first readers, I'm thinking, must have been hacked. It can't be me. I'm too cautious.

Finally, I find the number for the Amazon Book Show (ABS). I call. "Do to the high volume of traffic for orders for "Secrets," there is a four hour delay to reach an operator." I don't hang up. I wait while I think what else I can do.

After an hour of online searching and digging and hacking, while still on hold for the ABS, I find Sy Sakes. There's a picture. It's him. The bastard only lives an hour away. Keeping the call to ABS alive on my cell phone, I hop into my car and drive to Lizard Lick, North Carolina. I find his house and rush up to the door.

"Sy answer the door," I shout.

He does.

I shoot that dirty egg-sucking dog down dead.

"Welcome to Amazon Book Services, how can I service you," is the last thing I remember from Friday night.

I'm out on bail now. It's eleven at night on Sunday. Over 24,001,046 books sold in 48 hours before they halted sales. Amazon efficiency has exported the money to an off-shore account already...$84 million. Sy's wife claimed no knowledge on Saturday at my hearing, but today, Sunday, she fled on a late afternoon flight to Belize according to the cops. Her attorney vows to continue the fight for the rights to the book. My lawyer says, despite all my drafts, reviews, critiques, and copies, it will be hard for me to prove the book is mine with Sy dead. "Hard to cross-examine a dead man."

Amazon bans me from their site forever. Barnes and Noble follows suit.

Lawyer says, "Should have changed the title when you were told to do so."
- - -
I awoke from the dream in a river of sweat a few moments ago and penned a new title for my upcoming November book release, "All of our Secrets"