Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Book Review: "Penelope and the Movie Star"

OMG! Penelope In Trouble Again

Tween mystery-solver Penelope Amour rises to the occasion again in Ron D. Voigts' "Penelope and the Movie Star". Back at Tiffin Prep, events unfold with Penelope constantly at odds with Headmaster Malcolm Merriweather, some teachers, cops, bad guys, and many of the other students. But troubles start to mount for Penelope almost from the moment her oversized suitcase pins her to the ground and her mother tells her to stop fooling around. Student alliances are realigned after spring break when a new girl starts classes. Dining is no longer a pleasure courtesy of the new cook who's cooking more than the food. And when a film crew comes to Tiffin to shot a movie, murder is once again in the air. Altogether, this gives Penelope another load of difficult challenges to surmount to solve a murder mystery that baffles the adults. Penelope's penchant for attracting trouble and getting out of it shines, as do the antics of some of the secondary characters. I'm serving PATMS a 4-star rating.

Monday, February 27, 2012

MMWUC - Taking It To The Edge

Your protagonist is in trouble. Things look bleak. And then you write...

Johnny's gone. Standing in the cheap apartment, she sighs. The ragged toe-nail has put a run in her stocking, but she finishes suiting up to do battle with the department store over the shoes she's returning. She finds the receipt in her purse before glancing at her leg. The clear nail polish trick has made the run fade into obscurity, empowering her. "I'm going to get my money back," she says and drives to the store.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? This is your version of taking it to the edge! Harlan Coben is turning over in his grave in New Jersey. Wait! He's still alive? Sorry about that homeboy, but you get my point.

If you want your reader to care, take them to the edge. If you aren't uncomfortable with the big dramatic scene in your book, then your reader probably won't be either. And you want the reader to feel something. In mysteries, you have to make the reader feel as though the protagonist can lose and has something worth losing.

The ragged toe-nail ruins her stockings. She sobs. It's her last pair. Tears fall unabated as her anger chokes her, and the face of that mousy little sales clerk who forced her to buy the shoes she couldn't afford crystallizes in her mind. "That bitch," she screams not caring who might hear her though the cheap walls. The sobs dissolve, and the anger turns to rage. She grabs a shirt and pulls it over her head, slams into jeans, pounds her foot into boots. The shoes are still in the bag, but the receipt is gone. Did she ever give it to me? Purse. She dumps the contents on the unmade bed. No receipt. "Dammit." She opens the nightstand drawer looking for it and Johnny's old snub-nosed .38 rattles in the otherwise empty draw. She hesitates before grabbing the gun and car keys. "Little bitch can have two-timing Johnny, but I'm damn sure going to get my money back, receipt or not."

Friday, February 24, 2012

Guest Blog: Alicia Rasley Defends Adverbs

As You Wish: Adverbing Your Verbs, or In Defense of Adverbs in Dialogue Tags

If we're trying to replicate the experience of a conversation for the reader, we want to convey more than just what is spoken. In an actual conversation, there are actions and body language, both of which can be described in the narrative, and will convey something about what the speaker means. (For example, if he grips his hands into fists, that's going to convey "anger.")

But "tone of voice" is another way we convey meaning in a conversation-- especially a meaning that is in contrast with the words being spoken.  A woman might say, "Of course you're right, dear. You're always right."  And you'd think, oh, she thinks her husband is infallible!

Of course, the speaker probably DOESN'T think her husband is infallible. She's probably saying that-- how? SARCASTICALLY. If we were in the room and heard her tone of voice, we would hear the sarcasm in her words.

In the past, tone of voice was usually conveyed through the quote tag, the actual verb used for the action of speaking.  Remember all those great synonyms for said?  He intoned, or she muttered, or he hissed, or she demanded, or he commanded, or she exclaimed, or of course, everyone's favorite:  He ejaculated. Alas (I love all of those! :), a couple decades ago, many writers reacted against the undoubted overuse of those quote tags and decided the only allowable quote tag was "said".  He said. She said. Simple. Streamlined. But unfortunately, too straightforward to convey any nuance, any subtext, even any conflict between what is said and what is meant.

The way in prose we convey tone of voice (if we don't get to use "expostulated!") is through adverbs. Said + adverb. No, we don't have to add an adverb to every piece of dialogue. Sometimes the speech line itself says all we need to know-- "I don't need any help!" for example. "Luke, I'm your father."

Examples of meaningful quote tag-adverb combos, from a few of the best dialoguists:

"I wish you'd go home," said Lethbridge wearily. (Georgette Heyer)

"Dad," she said, as gently as she could, "I don't need your support." (Susan Elizabeth Phillips)

At last she said unsteadily, "It's such a beautiful dream!" (Susan Howatch)

"Come now, John Bell," said the bosun reproachfully. (Patrick O'Brian)

"No, no," said Alverstoke soothingly. "No one is as stupid as Endymion." (Georgette Heyer)

Sure, if your characters say only what they mean, and are never mistaken, and never raise their voices or ask questions, or characters who don't always tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth, you can probably get away with using only "said."  But if you're writing characters with conflicting desires and mixed motivations, who sometimes lie or sometimes express skepticism or sarcasm, or just have eloquent and expressive voices, well, consider amplifying the "said" with a handy adverb-- just when you need to, when the words they speak aren't enough to convey all of what is really meant.

Bio: Alicia Rasley is a RITA-award winning Regency novelist who has been published by major publishers such as Dell, NAL, and Kensington. Her women’s fiction novel The Year She Fell has been a Kindle #1 bestseller in the contemporary fiction category, and her newest book is Poetic Justice, available on Kindle. Her articles on writing are collected on her website.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Book Review: "Sleeping With Patty Hearst" by Mary Lambeth Moore

About ten years ago, my book club read six books in a row, all women's fiction, in which all the male characters were scum of the Earth. As one of only two men in a group of fourteen, my testicles were constantly on the chopping block. "Sleeping With Patty Hearst" by Mary Lambeth Moore made me think of those days. In Lily's coming of age story, no man has a positive character litmus test, and I saw it coming early on. She does, however, rise up over my lowered expectations of male bashing and weave a story about two half-sisters with a Patty Hearst fixation. Moore draws us in with details, details, and more details into small southern town life, painting a strong picture of Lily's attempts to have some measure of normalcy in a dysfunctional family. Her mother, Lorraine, clings to a dubious past and hopes for rescue for a glorious future while Lily's sister, Connie, seeks to chart her own course in the world. At times funny and at times heartbreaking, the story pulled me on longer into the night than I usually read with some well-played twists and turns. For this reader, the ending felt abrupt, and I'm not entirely sure I understand the Patty Hearst relationship, which, at times, seems up front and center, and at other times, seems to fade into the background of the story. Nevertheless, these are minor criticisms of a strong debut novel with well-drawn characters and vibrant images. If your taste runs to women's fiction, this is a solid 5. For me, it's a really, really high 4.

Monday, February 20, 2012

MMWUC - Free Versus Paid

Yesterday, I took a look at the top 20 mystery novels on Amazon by sales ranking. It was interesting to see so many FREE books with 4.0, 4.5, or 5.0 ratings, while so many books that had to paid for had rankings of lesser stature. In fact, the book ranked 18th overall, OVERALL for all Amazon mysteries had a rating of "2" out of 24 reviews.

How does a novel, with mostly scathing reviews, end up as the 18th overall best selling novel on Amazon?

It snowed for the first time this winter here. I need to set a story in the bitterness of a harsh and unexpected winter snowfall where everyone is inappropriately dressed and have forgotten the ability to drive and people sit on hoards of bread and milk going to waste while others survive on sardines, the only food left in the emptied southern grocery stores when the "s" word is mentioned in the forecast. Why is it that my memories of snowfalls in my youth weren't this traumatic to the structure of the world? We shoveled. Dad's went to work. School sometimes closed. We played. Built igloos. Sled on unplowed streets, down small hills, or off the low-hanging roof of a shed down at the end of the street. Heck, maybe I should write a snow memoir instead. So, what wintry mix story invades your frozen brain on a snowy day.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Guest Blog: Jeannette de Beauvoir asks "Why Write Historical Fiction?"

It’s a valid question. It’s hard enough telling a story in the here and now … without contending with whether or not some style of clothing, a city’s layout, or the presence of a certain technology is going to be anachronistic and break the spell one hopes to cast over the reader.

And yet I find myself constantly drawn to write stories that take place in the past.

Note that I didn’t say I’m writing about the past. That’s for nonfiction writers, academics, those who want you to understand what life was like then. I’m happy enough to give you a window on what life was like then, but the real function of the past, I think, is in its role as backdrop to the issues and drama that I want to explore with the story’s characters.

It’s something that historical fiction has in common with fiction that takes place “somewhere else” — it seems to me that putting one’s characters and stories against an unfamiliar backdrop serves to strip away readers’ assumptions and help them see the people and situations for what they are, unclouded by the presence of the familiar. The past is indeed a foreign country, and it’s sometimes by going somewhere else that we really understand who we are.

And it’s that connection that’s at the core of historical fiction. Look at it this way: we all keep photographs of our family, including our ancestors. It really doesn’t matter if Uncle Ernie was a terrible black sheep or if Grandmother’s eyes were slightly crossed … they’re part of who we are. Our family’s history is intrinsic to the persons we’ve become, and knowing about it is, in a way, knowing about oneself.

And in a sense the whole of history is our story, not just in the grandiose “birth of a nation” sense, but in the small things, the intimate details of life. We have a great deal more in common with people who live apart from us—whether the distance is created by miles or by centuries—than we may think. In one of my novels, one beginning in 1305, a father frets about his daughter’s involvement with unsuitable men, a young anarchist challenges the status quo (occupy the middle ages, anyone?), a sister-in-law gets nasty with her brother’s wife, a mother falls in love with the wrong person, and an unhappy cousin decides to get revenge over a property deal.

Could be 1305. Could be 2012.

What sparks my interest, as both an author and as a reader, is the thought of what people might do under certain circumstances, how they might react to certain events. The wealth of choice presented by history makes it easy to find a time and situation that presents any given challenge. How could someone choose betrayal? Place that character in an occupied country in WWII. How does someone cope with loss? Give her a ship’s captain husband in the 1700s. It’s easy to choose a backdrop where the character will absolutely be faced with the issues that I want to explore in my novel or short story.

So if you don’t already read historical fiction, consider it. It’s not just the dreaded list of England’s rulers, or the myriad battles waged by Napoleon, or the dates you were forced to memorize in school. It’s people, people dealing with the same issues, emotions, and decisions that we’re dealing with today.

And you may just learn something. If not about history, about yourself.

Jeannette de Beauvoir helps writers find their voices at Customline Wordware and writes her own historical fiction at and

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Book Review: "Volk's Game" by Brent Ghelfi

"Volk's Game" by Brent Ghelfi has the kind of plot twists that thriller readers will love, but that's where the love stops. VG is grim, violent, and with many events (the impromptu NYC to Moscow trip comes to mind) that snap the suspension of disbelief. The hero knows how to find anyone. He can go anywhere unimpeded or disappear into the shadows at will. And it is hard to root for a trained psychotic killer, existing in a world of paranoid, sick, and ruthless people. Despite some nice attempts to give us the feel of Moscow and St. Petersburg, and some past and recent history that shapes Russia, he sparks no desire in me to travel to such a cold, drab place where, seemingly, everyone is corrupt, bitter, or just plain evil. And though the author tries to show the human side of the protagonist, it's crumbs at the feet of a starving man. No one is left unscarred by the end of the book. Thriller lovers may like it, but it's a 3 from me.

Book Review: "Awakening Evarun (1 of 6)" by Tom Barczak

I should have looked more closely. "Awakening Evarun (Part I of VI)" by Tom Barczak is not the first novel of six, it is the first four chapters (30 pages) of the book. A marketing hook, I have to presume, like the old serials. While the first few pages of AE start out promising, it devolves into a series of fast-paced but confusing incidents that tap into a veiled reworking of dramatic incidences in the life of Jesus for meaning. Repeated imagery, vague scenes, a confusing stoning, and a boy (and angels) who come and go with no inherent logic pepper this teaser. Fantasy lovers may like the ploy and vague story line, but it's a 3 from me.

Monday, February 13, 2012

MMWUC: Literary Guild Gives Thumbs-Up for "One Promise Too Many"

On Thursday evening, 02/09, I met with the Oxford Hunt Ladies Literary Guild. They had chosen One Promise Too Many as their February read and invited me to their first grilling of the author. Fortunately, the spit I rotated on turned out to be only warm and toasty, peppered with interesting and probing questions, and seasoned by some insights to my book that warmed my heart. They read and understood the story, even down to some rather subtle details. What did I take away from the wonderful evening with the bakers dozen of avid readers? They loved the details; research counts kiddies. They loved the suspense; hold back, hold back, hold back turns of fortune or vital information--make the reader sweat with concern. They loved the hint of more to come; leave them wanting more. And in the end, I got brave. I asked, "What could I have done better?" I think the question surprised them, but I want to give my readers my best. After a long minute, they thought of two things: fewer named characters to follow and consistency when mentioning a character by name, that is, either the first name or last name, but don't alternate in a pattern only the author sees. Live and learn. Write and write better. Write on!

Bonus. Doubleday's Literary Guild page picked up my tweet. Sweet!

Double bonus. Writing buddy, Ron D. Voigts, published on Saturday the third book in the YA mystery Penelope series, Penelope and the Movie Star.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Guest Blog Day - Ashley Memory asks, "Who is Your Publicist?"

I was recently amused when another author posted the following comment on my LinkedIn wall: “Who is your publicist?”

This may or may not have been a compliment, but since it fell on the heels of a blog post on special events to promote my new novel, I had reason to believe that she meant well. My answer was short and to the point: “Me!”

While I’m very fortunate that an independent publisher agreed to publish my novel, nearly every event that I’ve attended has been scheduled by me. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Not only have I learned a great deal, I find it quite liberating not to be dependent on someone else’s labor.

Three Quick Hints for Finding the Publicist in You

1. Where are other authors going? Join a local writing organization (such as N.C. Writers’ Network) and find out where other authors read. I’ve been amazed by the variety of businesses and organizations that seek out writers, from bed and breakfast inns to retirement communities.

2. Find a connection between your book and a local business. My most lucrative event so far has been my first, when a local restaurant specializing in my main character’s specialty—French crêpes—agreed to host a signing and serve dessert crêpes for free.

3. Contact local civic clubs and ask to speak at their events. They’re always seeking speakers and are grateful for your time and expertise. Some will say no but all it takes is one yes. My first Rotary appearance led to three more invitations to speak.

Hollywood celebrities can afford to hire publicists because let’s face it, they’re far too busy to make cold calls but more than one of these relationships has ended acrimoniously. Fortunately for me and “my publicist,” we can’t part ways so easily. While not every event is a wild success at least I only have myself to blame. And if someone asks me who created this cheesy People magazine cover, I’ll just roll my eyes and say: “That crazy publicist of mine!”

Ashley Memory is the author of Naked and Hungry, which was named as one of the season’s most promising debut novels by The Library Journal on October 2011. For more questionable writing and promotion tips, visit her blog.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Book Review: "Just Like That" - Edgerton Hits Hard

Les Edgerton's "Just Like That" opens the door to the mind of a felon who lives by a code of ethics authored by the hardscrabble life with a meandering family in the post-WW2 era and edited by the schizophrenic penal system of the 1960s where "...the best blacks and the worst whites got to be hacks...." The protagonist, Jake Mayes, is the embodiment of Les from his time in prison. I love the Elmore Leonard directness and in-your-face style of this story, but am mystified why this was touted as an on-the-road buddy story--more than half of it is set in prison. Still, it comes at you relentlessly with tight conversational writing and Jake's own brand of truths. Incidences in Les' life are strung together to give us a strong story of finding freedom and tranquility within oneself in the most restrictive of environments by being the baddest mother around. While it is easy to get caught up in the story and root for Jake on many levels, one has to be reminded that on the street, Jake would rob you, stomp you, and maybe even kill you, just like that, amigo.

For me, this story flows with just enough blood, guts, and spare writing to dribble into the five star bucket.

Monday, February 6, 2012

MMWUC - The Groundhog's Super Bowl Valentine's Writing Day

Wake up! Groundhog's Day is over. We have six more weeks of wintry weather. That's some good writin' time. Super Bowl is over. Congrats Giants. Green Bay next year. 2016-it's the Detroit Lions vs. Jacksonville Jaguars. Yeah, Valentine's Day is coming up-a card and a few flowers covers it for most guys-it's a quickie. Some dead guys get celebrated-as they should-but now it's time for real writers to get to work. Seriously, we need some good indie books written.

Pretender's pepper their New Year's resolutions with goals like lose 100 pounds without being on America's Biggest Loser (can you imagine the pitch this guy had to do with that as the title), climb the highest peak in each of New Jersey's 21 counties, and write a best-selling novel. Real writers' mind closets are bursting with new story lines, characters, places, events rendered differently than the history books suggest. Real writers take a short vacations from pressing keys, but they are always writing. Real writers never run our of ink, they just find another tool. Give me that chisel and hammer. I've got an idea.

Real writers just write. As we say on Twitter #amwriting. Outta my way blank page.

February 2, 1887, Fred and Ernie lay in blissful slumber in the frosty domain until the mayor of Punxatuney ripped Fred from his beloved partner, held him up in front of a bunch of drunken Methodists, and proclaimed, "Six more weeks of Winter. Let's eat." Ernie bit the mayor on the ankle. Fred wiggled free and dove for cover deeper than before in their hidey-hole where they lay in each others loving embrace for another six weeks.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Friday: Guest Blog Day - by Nell DuVall

Given the opportunity to write on anything related to writing is daunting. However, considering this last year, one word comes to my mind: Persistence. I've been writing fiction for twenty-two years with indifferent success on the publishing front. Yet others have had similar experiences. Sue Grafton didn't sell until she wrote her sixth novel. J.K. Rowling suffered from many rejections. However, both women persisted.

What follows is my own saga. I started with short stories and found I enjoyed writing, but, despite sporadic efforts, I never managed to sell any. However, I won first place for a children's story that paid more than most magazines.

Turning to novels, I began with a sweet romance of around forty-thousand words. Then I progressed to several long novels over 120,000 words. Still no sales, but with a demanding, full-time job, my submission efforts were sporadic. I received a few letters beyond the generic rejections, but no acceptances.

Meanwhile, I wrote and sold several successful nonfiction books while also starting a small print-on-demand press to provide a place for local writers and artists to publish.

Determined to sell my novels, I approached a respected small publisher and sold one novel for a modest advance. It also made it into large print.

When that publisher discontinued the line, and, with my past lack of success with major publishers, I decided to try ebooks. I found a couple of ebook publishers looking for stories that fit some of mine and submitted two stories to two different publishers. Both accepted the stories. So, I sent off another four and three were accepted and published in a single author analogy. Best of all, both publishers liked my writing.

I've since written and submitted other stories, all accepted. So, I submitted novels to both publishers and they both accepted them. These were over 100,000 words and will appear in May 2012. In addition, another novel is scheduled for August.

Reviews have appeared of the three analogies and all gave favorable mention to my stories. As to money, that is yet to be seen, although I received an advance on one of the novels.

Writing is a craft and takes time and effort to learn. We have to expect rejection and still persist. Unrealistic expectations defeat a lot of writers. However, those who persevere and grow can succeed.

Some may ask why I choose to use an epublisher instead of the do-it-yourself approach. I'd sort of done that with my small POD efforts and wanted an established base and copyediting for my novels. I'd rather write than spend my time formatting and moving the product into the publication stream, something I share with Amanda Hocking who recently switched from successful self-publishing to a traditional publisher.

I and others on the Internet Writing Workshop are proof that persistence pays off for hard-working writers who want to be published. You can do it.

Nell writes romance, mystery, and speculative fiction. You can find her at Her works include Train to Yesterday Lrg Prt,Thorndike Press 978-1-4104-0878-5, Rg Prt(Five Star (Cengage)) 978-1-59414-663-3, "Corpulent Chiropteran" in Curious Hearts, Melange ISBN 978-1-61235-207-7, "Saving Christmas" in Warm Christmas Wishes, Melange, Dec 2011, When Lilacs Bloom, etopia, May 2012, Beyond the Rim of Light, Alex Stone, Melange, May 2012, Selvage, Melange, Aug 2012.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Book Review: Beneath the Dune

Walter Ramsay's slim book, Beneath the Dune, packs a lot into a small space as Tucker Lee Anderson, a local sports writer, is thrust into covering the finding of a skeletal body that is identified as the missing fifth victim of a convicted serial murderer of children. Tucker investigates beyond the surface facts of the case after meeting the death row inmate and feels that not everything is right with the official version of the investigation. Along for the ride, we are introduced to his family and a host of other key players that fill up his life that's on cruise control.

Soon, events have Tucker looking for answers using visions from a distant Indian relative at night and trying to keep the investigation alive in the daytime. Late onset maturity and a growing sense of civic responsibility might push Tucker in the right direction or into the path of the rich and powerful who play by a different set of rules.

A quick summer read, Ramsay gives us easily-identifiable characters, a few unexpected twists, and a final twist that was, well, a bit twistier than believable to this reader. Still, it is a solid, well-written debut novel that touches many sidebar life issues and provides some insight to this part of the Florida coast. A Solid four-star book.