Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Book Review: Coast Access

Amazon Link

Got to hand it to Walter Ramsey. He keeps his protagonist, Tucker Lee Anderson, a divorced ex-sports editor now doing investigative journalism with the aid of visions and an ancestral Indian ghost, busy. Coastal Access is the second book featuring Tucker. With the aid of friends, dubious friends, bungling enemies, and a mysterious friend, Doug, Tucker stumbles into a conspiracy that threatens not only his life and the lives of others he loves, but the way of life in coastal Florida.

Truth be known, I read this book in the revision stages, then again, breezed through a published copy. While there are some stretches of believability, beyond the limited paranormal aspects of the story, it is an intriguing read with plenty of twists, turns, and surprise revelations in the taut story. When the action hits close to home, Tucker finally exposes more of himself, deepening the story. I'd like to see more of it in future stories. Some of the secondary characters are not as fully developed as I like, but they serve their purpose to move the plot forward, making it worth rooting for the downfall of the bad guys even when it seems they hold all the cards.

This is a quick summer read that will keep you turning pages. The writing is strong and without grammatical bumps in the night. I found the multiple viewpoints a bit rough to start the story, but it smoothed out quick enough to a comfortable read. With the wide range of characters, there are times when I think Ramsey wants to channel his inner Carl Hiassen. Someday perhaps he will. I can't hang ten or anything else on a surfboard, but I'm hanging a solid "4" for this book. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

MMWUC - What are you doing?

I'm revising my next novel, SECRETS. I received 492 chapter critiques (and counting) from my good friends on the Internet Writing Workshop (IWW). They'll all get a prize WHEN I sell 10,000 copies of this book, which I intend to do. I revised for 1392 minutes this weekend, according to a counter I didn't know was in MSWord2010 -- let me hide all your favorite shortcuts from MS2003. That's just short of 24 hours this weekend.

So, I want to see, in comments, fifty people tell me what they are currently doing to their current Work-in-Progress (WIP) and when we can expect to see it. Telling us, will help motivate you.

Do it!

P.S. Y'all get to high ground down there where H. Isaac is coming.

P.P.S. I still need more guest bloggers for when I'm on vacation. Email me.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Book Review: At Risk

Amazon Link

A mystery about greed and revenge is at the center of AtRisk by Kit Ehrman, but horses dominate the page. I don't know anything about horses other than the one time I rode a horse named Buck. I should have taken the hint from his name. Nevertheless, all the horse terminology and possible horse shenanigans (in and out of the business) kept me in the story despite some level of detail that I didn't fully understand. Make no mistake about it, this story starts out and ends violently. There is a fair amount of foul language and some mild sex scenes. It may not be everyone's cup of tea. If those elements bother you, just find another story. To me, it felt like an honest, if sometimes a bit raw, slice of life given the players involved.

While the protagonist, Steve Cline, acts responsibly beyond his 21 years, he chooses some terrible moments to act clueless. That reversal threw me a few times. Also, I felt the investigation was slightly off, looking for the microscopic evidence when real evidence sat in plain sight as big as a barn. I won't spoil it, because it was good read, but I wasn't super impressed with the professional investigators. It lead to some yelling at the electrons on my Kindle.

Some unanswered questions remain by the end of the story, but I assume a few of these are answered in other books in the series. Not sure why other reviewers (yes, I peeked) had issues with the love aspect of the story. For me, it heightened my interest and gave the story a bit more depth. I did have some difficultly though with character identification and how Steve managed with multiple episodes without sleep (ah, youth). This is a solid read. Horse fanciers might neigh at my rating, wanting it higher, but I think it is a solid "4".

Monday, August 20, 2012

MMWUC - I'm a Meany


I'm a meany. I have an account on the Internet WritingWorkshop (IWW), one of the 101 Best Writing Sites and one of the oldest critique sites on the web. I've been submitting my latest novel chapter-by-chapter for review for several months now, trying to work out the kinks. I'm a great story idea guy, but some of the writing mechanics fail me in spectacular fashion, so I need help. I flog the readers with many chapters per week. Still though, like an army recruit, they keep yelling, "Yes, Drill Sergeant. Can I have more?" And I deliver.

Carole's Vision
Now, the end is in sight. Only four chapters remain. I worry about them--not the chapters, the readers. What will they do with the rest of their summer? When autumn arrives, will they find themselves running inside from work or play, from family and friends, from the onslaught of raining leaves only to remember they have already read THE END? Will there be enough chocolate cake for them in the local bakery to ease their depression?

And what gloom does winter hold for them? Sure they have their own novels to write, edit, revise, and submit for critiquing. But after my story, what magic will the holidays hold? Will they be able on New Year's Eve to pop the cork on a bottle of champagne or just sit there like Lieutenant Dan and wonder what's it all about?

Please, sir. can I have more?
Sorry, I can't keep up this self-absorbed BS any longer. I'm so freaking happy I'm at the end of this go-around of revisions that I gave Sydney Grape Nuts yesterday. He went to Nirvana eating them. And I'm so happy that so many nice people provided such assistance. They praised when necessary and slapped me silly when I got lazy. They made some good suggestions that strengthened the story, and let me know when I'd hit an emotional nerve--good or bad. Carole even went so far as to make a faux cover for my novel. It's not bad.

Do I have a point? Yes, I do. If you are going to self-publish, get thee some mentors and some honest sounding boards so you don't delude yourself into writing something that only your twelve cats, family, and sixteen closest friends will like. If you have a story worth scribbling 60,000 or more words about, make it the best it can be. I want to read those stories. I can think of no better place to excise your own writing demons then IWW. Writing is almost always a solitary activity; revision doesn't need to be, and for most writers, shouldn't be.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Book Review: Dead Men Are Easy To Love

Link To Amazon

This book is breezy, sometimes funny, lacking depth, and thankfully short. Dead Men Are Easy To Love is a somewhat Sex In The City wannabe, borrowing the tone, journaling technique, and bit-sized love tryst formula from that show. In what was a promising premise and good start, it failed to find its own voice. Ariel Roberts finds no joy in the men she dates and finds little joy with life. Quite frankly, I'd run screaming away from her and her negative energy in realty. She lives pretty high on the hog for a constantly broke freelance journalist in New York City when a gypsy gives her a crystal, allowing Ariel to inadvertently time-travel and date the dreamy dead men in their prime while she looks for love.

Hillary Kanter can write and probably had a good editor; however, the fact checking in this book is abysmal. Sadly, some readers won't care, reading it for the man-bashing (and some needed to be bashed) and mild, but fairly well-written love scenes. However, the historical inaccuracies are unforgivable. And what was worse, there didn't seem to be any compelling reason to avoid historical accuracy. Sorry, but we weren't at war when Ariel met Lindbergh in spring, 1939; Beethoven's 2nd premiered in 1803 not 1800; Hemingway was in Paris not Key West in May, 1926; Margaret Mitchell had been married for 14 years and not dumped by a boyfriend the night GWTW was premiered. The inaccuracies went on and on.

Sadly, many of her best lines are really from others in the form of clich├ęs, quotes, and asides. There is a final surprise character late in the story, but again this is a rehashed technique and done better in the hands of more experienced writers. In all, this story has the feeling of being dashed off in a moment of inspiration without the soak time to make it a worthy buy. I should give this book a "2" for all the grief it gave this reader, but the story arc does provide a modicum of growth for Ariel and a message for her to hold on to in the end, though it is weak and somewhat mixed. This is a low-end "3".

Monday, August 13, 2012

MMWUC - The Rating System and Penguins

You only need motivation.

Recently, someone asked me to explain my rating system for the books I review. On the surface, this seems like a straight-forward question. In reality, explaining any rating system these days from crotch-thumping balance beam performances in the Olympics to kids taking a geography test in school has potential issues--mostly pertaining to validity. I admit it upfront: I'm old school. I like grades: A, B, C, D, & F. Sometimes you fail and need to be told, "You failed." I like it when we keep score during games or timed in competition. I didn't want a mossy green ribbon for finishing 2nd to last in the 1/2 mile Presidential fitness race in 1966; I wanted the gold ribbon, but I wasn't worthy of it. A ribbon for finishing--yuck, phew! Mossy green sucks and so did coming in 2nd to last. Yeah, my ego hurt. It should have hurt. I was an out of shape porker and needed to know that when that bear comes and chases the other 158 kids in my grade, it was either me or Augie he was going to eat.

Any rating is partially subjective. Reading a good book on a day when your hemorrhoids are screaming bloody murder will affect your subjectivity. I try to be as fair as possible, and thank God, I don't have hemorrhoids. I don't feel the need to get fancy with the rating system and went without icons: stars, books, movie reels, thumbs up, thumbs down, etc. My scale is similar to Amazon, and in general goes like this.

1 = Yuck, don't bother. I've never given out a one rating. I know how hard it is to write a novel and publish it, even one that is not very good. I can see me giving a "1" rating, but it'd have to be a deceptively bad, stolen idea rehashed, or misleading book with no redeemable value. They are out there. I have just been lucky enough not to run into one...yet. I have critiqued a novel more than once that might get a "1", but not read a published book.

2 = Only if you have extra time, disposable cash, or are stuck in a Kazakhstan airport. I've redacted the only two "2" ratings I've given. Why? Upon reflection, they were honestly written books, and while they rattled my teeth with glaring mistakes, they completed their mission of telling me a story. I'll let the textual portion of the review give the reader plenty of heads-up before purchasing. Any book that I pick up for the purpose of reviewing and can't finish would probably get a "2" rating or lower.

3 = It's okay, despite flaws. This is an average read. It probably tells a good story, but the execution, writing, or key plot points need help. Still, lovers of the genre or author or subject-matter for a book with a "3" rating would probably forgive and read it anyway. The shame is, many books I rate as 3's appear to have been dashed off and published in haste. This is the curse of too many self-published books. Frustrated and ready to move on (or buoyed by the back-slapping of well-meaning family members), many self-published authors don't refine their stories out of fatigue, delusion, or lack of money to pay for the outside help that would have strengthened their efforts.

4 = It's good and worth reading, especially if it's in a genre you like. When I give a "4" rating, it's obvious the author has tied up the loose ends, had someone competent edit or review the book, and taken care to structure the story for maximum impact. Will the book have flaws? Yes. But unless you get OCD about a particular type of flaw, you can read past it and have an enjoyable read.

5 = Most readers will find superior value in the book on probably many levels. A perfect book does not exist. To Kill A Mockingbird is in the top ten of every survey I've ever seen about all-time great books. It has over 2,000 ratings from 1 to 5 on Amazon. Don't be surprised if you disagree with me, subjectivity and genre preference does play a part in any review. But in my world, in my book rating system, some books speak with a louder voice because the author took time to pay attention to the finer points of the art of writing. Those books get a "5" rating. Books like Little Mountain by Bob Sanchez, Just Like That by Les Edgerton, Child of My Heart by Shelia Rudesill, Red, Green, or Murder by Steven F. Havill, and The Mighty T by Everett Powers. Perfect? No, but damn good. Gold ribbons all the way around.
- - -
No penguins were harmed in the writing of this blog post.
- - -
Beauregard Shamus is a figment of my imagination.
- - -
Still looking for a few more guest bloggers before recess in September. Interested? email me.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Guest Blog: About Beauregard Shamus


I met Beauregard Shamus at the Taj Mahal of assisted living resorts in Cary, North Carolina where my in-laws currently reside. My in-laws had been telling me about him for the past several months. When I finally sat down with the youthful 98-year-old man, his life story stunned me. I concentrated on the literary aspects first. This is the very short version of what he told me. Now, I want to read all his books.

*Mr. Shamus, give me a brief biographical background.*

I'm a bastard in the most correct sense. Mom burped me out June 28, 1914 in Sarajevo. My father, Gavrilo Princip, was busy that day. I never knew him, and he died in 1919 in prison. Such is the life of patriot, hero, and assassin. His life was the backdrop for my first novel, ARCHDUKE ALWAYS. It was published on October 24, 1929 in London, where mumsy and I moved shortly after my birth. I was only fifteen. Let me tell you, writers today are spoiled with their computers and software. Imagine writing a three-hundred page novel by hand, then having to type it without error. Sometimes, I think that's why the older novels are better--more attention to craft. The reviewers loved it; however, the public was preoccupied shortly after that with the depression.

Later, we moved to Wareham. I was working at Anglebury House, when Mr. Lawrence took a shine to me. He would talk about the desert and gave me motorcycle driving lessons. He had seven of them, you know. He inspired my second book.

*MOTORING INTO MADNESS, correct?*

Yes, again I was the victim of bad timing. Mr. Lawrence had a horrendous accident the day after the book came out and died six days later, May 19, 1935. Mr. Lawrence wrote a short forward, Critics loved the book, but the public began a dreadful campaign against motorbikes. Thank God, for the book advances.

*I understand that's when you met Missy.*

Ha. Missy Chesterfield hit me over the head with an anti-cycle sign at a rally. Being a minor teenage movie star and an American shooting a movie in England, she made nice. I leveraged my swarthy good looks and the reputation-damaging photograph of the incident for a date. We fell in love. She proposed to me one day while fishing on the wharf, but it meant emigrating to Hollywood. Mom was furious, but it was love and fate.

Acting parts were hard to come by for Missy. We had a one-bedroom, cold-water flat, but space for a small garden. People don't realize how much you can save if you eat what you grow. I did most of my writing in a coffee shop near the studios, waiting for Missy and trying to make contacts. My next book, DESERT WATCH, had a lot of Lawrence in it. It was a huge hit in the Middle East until King Abdulaziz discovered oil. He decided the book was too liberal for the regime. It's still banned.

*And that's when the Big Five befriended you.*

Yes, William FaulknerHumphrey Bogart, and Howard Hawks took me under their wings along with the Hustons (John and Walter). God those guys could drink. They pushed my writing, but weren't very generous with sharing credit. I should have had partial credits for Jezebel, Juarez, and Angels with Dirty Faces. Bogie told me that I was too lyrical. "Fish or cut bait," he said to me. Missy wasn't getting any roles so we went to New York where she got steady work on the stage. But the Big Five experience generated two of my best books, THE CUCKOOS and IN THE BOTTLE. (He laughs heartily.)

*Is that when you met Albert Einstein?"

England...Europe was at war. I wanted to go back, but Missy got pregnant--not mine I found out forty years later. I couldn't leave her. Pressure was on for me to become a citizen. New York City seemed a likely war target should America be dragged into the war. We needed to get out. That's when I dashed off ENEMY ON THE DOCKS about espionage. It didn't sell much, but the movie rights were snatched up and butchered into several war time movies. With the movie rights money, we moved to Lawrenceville, New Jersey, near Princeton, and I taught English at a private school. During a Sunday outing, Einstein and I crashed bikes together at a blind corner. He was funny. "In all the dimensions in all the universes, you come smashing into mine." We had some drinks, and we ended up in the same class for citizenship, which we achieved on October 1, 1940. I talked to Michael Curtiz, another friend of the Big Five, about meeting Einstein. Watch CASABLANCA and see what he did to Einstein's line. He even got me a bit part, handing Captain Louis Renault, Claude Rains, a note. Claude was the nicest guy.
- - -
His story goes on and on. He published twenty-five novels, knew seemingly everyone, and is working on his memoirs. His generosity with helping other screenplay writers, often without recompense, is supposedly legendary. And to his friends, enemies, and strangers alike, he will always be known as BS.
- - -
Still looking for more guest bloggers. Email me.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Book Review: Wind Over Troubled Waters

Amazon Link

Two heads can be better than one, especially when writing about a dystopic future that just might have some promise, that is, if the engaging cast of characters can reach their ultimate goal. The tag team of Parzefall and Stanley gives us a story, Wind Over Troubled Waters, framed by current events (global warming) and one possible future arising from the devastating flood it triggers. Mankind is back to the beginning...well...a medevial setting in the future, at least, where the remnants of mankind are but legends, curiosities, and a fair number of twisted sayings for the current players to use, abuse, and ponder. Cerridwen, a 17-year-old healer with special powers and wisdom beyond her age, makes a death bed promise to her mother and kicks off the first book in a promising series.

280 Foot Sea-Level Rise
As Cerridwen begins her journey through a wondrous and sometimes dark and brutal world, the expected and unexpected happens. She meets others (what would a journey be without others) and some choose to follow her on her journey: Trevly, highly tuned into nature; Sasha, the materialistic sex kitten; and two "knights" of dubious honor and conflicting temperament. They champion Cerridwen's promise and, more or less, suppress their own wishes. Despite obstacles in their path and philosophical differences, the group clings to each other for their own purposes and find hidden strengths and human frailties along the way. Who lives, who dies, and what lies ahead is well set up in this story with the individual situations supporting the overall thrust of the story.

The writing is strong and precise. I could quibble over some of the science, but it is a dystopian fantasy, science sometimes bleeds away to allow the human side of stories to take over. If you're a fantasy lover with a bent for speculative fiction tinged with a hint of romance to come, this is a book you should take on vacation with you to Cornworld or elsewhere. It earns a high 4 rating from me.

Monday, August 6, 2012

MMWUC: Chocolate Chip Cookies Create Chaos


The smell of chocolate cookies baking is messing with my concentration on writing, editing, and critiquing. How can I be on a diet and she be baking the most chocolate-filled, chewy, yummy, and huge cookies. It's all about good and evil. The good of chocolate versus the evil of calories, but I digress.

I was writing about writing, which I found out this week that a blog that writes about writing is as boring as a day without chocolate chip cookies, and the secret ingredient is not lard. I measured it. She didn't dip into it or even try to be clever by taking an even scraping and then smoothing it out to look like nothing was taken. No. I've gotten smarter over the years. I also weighed the canister, not to the ounce, but the gram. It was the same as before.

Before. Yes, the sage advice about not writing about writing seems a bit silly to me because, I suspect that most of the people who come to my blog are there on Mondays to get inspired to write, on Wednesdays to find a book review about a book they might like to read, and on Fridays to see what other writers have to say -- whether they agree or disagree with other writers while secretly (or not) promote their books. They should always be promoting their books and let the readers decide whether to crown them with glory or drown them in gooey delight. Oh, damn the cookies.

I know you didn't come here for the cookies, but they're out of the oven now. They call louder than any werewolf howl (wouldn't you like a werewolf who howled like an opera singer?), louder than any Herculean siren, louder than the blast from the nuclear power plant when they're having a drill. But, you don't come here for the cooking, whether it be the chocolate chips or caramels or my veggie eggs or my turkey gravy that could make Chef Ramsey give up swearing. You come for writing advice.

So, here it is: Writers write.

Still Outselling Me :-(
But I'm hungry now, and a well-rounded writer has other interests. Like soft chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven. Aren't you glad that the good triumphs in most books -- well, except Rosemary's Baby, but he didn't have chocolate chip cookies. That's just plain evil.

And what are you doing right now?
- - -
Yeah, still trying to fill up my calendar with guest bloggers. Email me.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Guest Blog: B.F. McCune on Paths to Publication


Authors quickly learn that they are responsible for a great deal of marketing and promotion, no matter if they’re represented by a major publisher or have self-published. Book signings are chancy; no one wants to sit alone at a table in a bookstore, looking ignored and neglected.

A Saint Comes Stumbling In
Another option to consider is creating a program for the public, combining entertainment, education, and marketing.  I participated in an event earlier this year, shortly after the publication of my first novel, A Saint Comes Stumbling In.  And if the program includes several authors, there’s even more benefit.

Our program was entitled “Paths to Publication:  panel with Mystery, Humor and ROMANCE.”  The organizer was my friend and critique partner Suzanne Young. She assembled a diverse panel. We knew that some potential audience members would be interested in mysteries, some in romance, some in nonfiction. She also insured that the panelists had a variety of publishing experiences. One is with a traditional small publisher, one was self-published electronically, I’ve gone with an electronic publisher, and Suzanne has switched to electronic self-publishing after being with a small press.

The event was relatively easy to organize. Steps included:
Find a good venue/sponsor, preferably one with a membership and ways to reach out to those members and the public (we used the Denver Woman’s Press Club).
Select a date and time (not too late at night) that most people will favor.
Divide responsibilities for sign-ins, refreshments, books sales, etc.
Insure the program provides equal opportunity for each speaker (NOT just reading from our books) as well as questions.

The challenge, as usual, was marketing. With four speakers, we were a step ahead of the game. Each of us has separate elists, mailing lists, and other contacts. Those of us with connections to the media or additional organizations, took responsibility for reaching them.

The response in terms of audience was excellent--an attendance of about 45 on a hot summer’s day. About half of those left their emails for future contacts. Book sales were moderate, but that wasn’t the main motive for the event. We found that electronic self-publishing was the primary interest from the audience. And for the speakers, we gained experience in making public presentations and tailoring presentations to potential writers.

c. 2012, all rights reserved, contact author for permission to reproduce.
- - - 
B.F. McCune, author of A Saint Comes Stumbling In, lives in Colorado. Her newest publication is IrishEpisode. Email her at Bonnie@BonnieMcCune.com or visit her website. She has been writing since age ten, when she submitted a poem to the Saturday Evening Post. Immediate rejection. This interest facilitated her career in public relations and also in freelance news and features. Her true passion is fiction, and her pieces have won several awards. Her other fiction credits include publications in Infectiveinkwomen’s anthology Calliope, Overtime chapbook series, On the Premises, and the website Alfie Dog.  In fall 2012, one of her stories is to appear in Best New Writing. For reasons unknown (an unacknowledged optimism?), she believes one person can make a difference in this world.
- - - 
A SAINT COMES STUMBLING IN


Tagline:  Can a discarded wife find confidence, success and even a new love?  A patron saint might help.

Blurb:   Thirty-something Joan Nelson has more to contend with than a biological clock or an identity crisis, for her husband of twelve years has fled.  Despite her ardent belief in a conventional marriage, she finds herself deserted for a younger, slimmer woman. Lacking any skills or education, she's thrust unprepared into the nightmare challenge of making a living for the first time in her sheltered existence.
     A job as a receptionist in a law firm is the first rung on the ladder to her independence.  Yet the taste of success sours when Joan considers the emptiness of her personal life.  How can she reconstruct her damaged life and heal her bruised ego?  Ill-equipped for the singles scene, she embarks on a confusing, sometimes frightening, lifestyle.
     But when Joan stumbles on a crime perpetuated by a charming cad, she must defy her boss, jeopardize her newly won stability, and reject her friends.  Her namesake, Joan of Arc, provides a model of courage and insight.  If she risks danger and uncertainty, will she discover that independence and adulthood can be both enjoyable and fulfilling?  Does optimism beat pessimism?  Who would have dreamed her final victory could solve a childhood puzzle while it brings her true love.
     A Saint Comes Stumbling In features a strong, down-to-earth heroine full of hopes and dreams who unexpectedly and humorously becomes the heroine of her own story, in the manner, if not the scope, of Saint Joan.
- - -
Want to be a guest blogger? Email me at anilyb@earthlink.net. That's what B.F. did.
  




Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Book Review: Strange in Skin by Sara V. Zook


Strange in Skin is a well-written story, edited to keep out most grammatical and production hiccups, and should appeal to younger audiences, wanting to escape the day-to-day and fantasize about "first" or "true" love along with youthful rebellion. Though the heroine, Anna, acts more like a lovesick puppy of sixteen in the beginning than a dowdy 22-year-old ready to bloom, the author provides a story line that gives her the opportunity to grow. That's the strong upside.

I don't read or review fantasy often, but dipped my fingers into this book because of the mystery aspect. It's almost a shame the fantasy element is there at all. Fantasy really doesn't show up until 40% through the book, and isn't really that central to the overall themes of good over evil and love conquers all. This would have made a solid coming-of-age mystery without the fantasy. Plenty of human evil needs to be overcome (deceit, prejudice, controlling and bad people, etc.). The fantasy element is the stuff of love struck teenagers but has little bearing on solving anything in this story. The fantasy, in my opinion, just messes up the message with should do in reality of doing what's right or following your heart.

Maybe books two and three will be more revealing, but each book needs to stand on its own merit. And in this one, Anna does a lot of moaning, crying, wailing, kvetching, internalizing, and falling in love with some "blue eyes" as she grows. She never attempts to investigate Emry's crime to help him. And some of her other investigative adventures harkens back to Nancy Drew with hot flashes. Two plot holes stopped me cold; however, I read on. To me, this is a 3, average, and that's not bad. But I suspect for the target audience, it's probably a middle-grade 4.