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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Judith Stanton - Horse Woman, Author, Editor, and Lecturer
—Qualifying for the Olympics can be deadly for woman and horse.