Month: January 2014
I received a free copy of Rejean Giguere’s Endpoint as a review copy. An interesting thriller/mystery with a twist, Endpoint introduces us to Gary and Chantal, two special people who get caught up in a byzantine mystery that is part detective story, part science fiction. When they’re mugged the first time, it’s just life in the big city, but when it happens again, they know there’s something far more deadly afoot. Gary, with his long-time connections with the Russian mob, goes to them for help, while Chantal, who suffers ‘special’ migraines, becomes the target of a research project that is using human migraine sufferers as guinea pigs.
Fully fleshed characters and vivid, accurate descriptions mark this story from page one to the end, and will keep you turning pages. I’m not normally a fan of mixing genres, but Giguere does a fairly good job of it. It would actually have been a great story without the ending.
Review of ‘1,000 Character Writing Prompts: Villains, Heroes, and Hams for Scripts, Stories, and More
Bryan Cohen, he of the ‘writing prompts’ series of books, is back – this time with 1,000 Character Writing Prompts: Villains, Heroes and Hams for Scripts, Stories and More. I just finished going through a free review copy of Cohen’s latest offering, and, as usual, he does not disappoint.
Included in Character Writing Prompts are enough hints, tips, and starters to keep your writing juiced up with memorable characters into the next millennium. Just as in his earlier prompt books, Cohen provides just enough to get your brain cells pumping in high gear, and he does it in an easy-to-read style that won’t strain those cells.
Whether you’re a neophyte looking for that first great character, or a seasoned writer looking for a little variety, you’re sure to find something worthwhile here. The neat thing about these prompts is, rather than being just a list of characteristics, they’re given in situations that also help in getting a story line going. Read, and reap the benefits.
As an aspiring artist growing up in the 40s and 50s, I was, like many artists of that period, greatly influenced by Norman Rockwell. Despite the fact that the Saturday Evening Post, which regularly featured Rockwell covers, had a policy of only showing people of color in menial roles, other than Ebony and National Geographic, there was little else being published that an artist could look to for inspiration.
As an artist, though, I am probably more observant than the average person, and I’m aware that Rockwell on occasion had people of color, African-American, Native American, or Asian, in his paintings. I wasn’t aware that he was thought of as a painter of a ‘white’ America – but, I was looking into his paintings, not just at them.
You can imagine, then, how surprised I was to receive a free copy of Jane Ellen Petrick’s Hidden in Plain Sight: The Other People in Normal Rockwell’s Paintings. This compelling account of Rockwell’s career, viewed from the perspective of the models he used for his work, exposed a side of the artist I had never been aware of. Petrick has clearly done her research, adding an invaluable dimension to our knowledge of one of America’s artistic icons. Knowing his views on civil rights and equality makes me appreciate his work all the more, and his battles with ‘the suits’ who make editorial decisions makes the battles most of us freelancers fight pale by comparison
My only complaint about this wonderful volume is that it didn’t contain more Rockwell illustrations.
My Water Path by Timothy Joseph is a story of an era of madness in America, told from the point of view of Jory Sheppard, a white orphan, who, while running away to keep from being put in a foster home, gets caught in a storm on the Mississippi River that drives him into the arms and home of a kindly black man, Moses Kent, who teaches him about life.
Joseph paints a starkly realistic picture of life in Mississippi during the time leading up to and during the Civil Rights era, not in terms of headline-making events, but in how ordinary people coped with those events. With the exception of one or two characters that might seem a bit one-dimensional – they’re actually very realistic, but unless you lived through that era it will be hard to believe – he takes us under the skin of the characters and into their hearts and minds.
I received a free review copy of this gritty novel, and found that once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down until I was done. A well-written piece of fictional history of an all-too real time in American social history.
I received a free review copy of C. Edward Baldwin’s Father’s House, which I read with rather mixed emotions. It was difficult to like at first – confusion in character names, and a few too many plot twists – but, with just enough mystery and cliff-hanger episodes to keep me reading.
Ben Lovison, an attorney in the Duraleigh County DA’s office is faced with a series of perplexing cases. Baldwin takes into a world of intrigue and violence that is all too real, intertwined with hints of the supernatural and macabre in this tale that revolves around ‘Father’s House,’ a facility for troubled boys run by the enigmatic Mayo Father – a figure from Lovison’s past.
Like I said, this is a tough story to get into – it takes the first three chapters to really hook you – but, if you persist, it’s ultimately worth it. I’m still not sure just how to categorize it – supernatural thriller, paranormal mystery, or what – so, I’ll just say it’s a pretty good read
Colin Wylie, as a teenager, has a crush on Natalie. He’s at a loss as to what to do about it until a disembodied female voice, Christel, pops into his head. From that point on, Colin’s life takes one strange turn after another. When Natalie is kidnapped, the voice tells Colin how to find and rescue her.
Years later Natalie’s case pops up again, and now Colin, a successful money manager – all with Christel’s help – must find out what really happened.
I received a free review copy of David Balzarini’s Discretion, and after reading the first ten pages, decided that, even though it’s not what I usually read, I liked it. Balzarini has a skill at writing tight dialogue that keeps the reader interested in the story and the characters, and a way of describing the setting that puts you in the picture, so to speak. Most interesting is how he deals with Christel in the story, – this disembodied voice; is she good or evil – leaving the reader wondering about this enigmatic character until the very end. While at times it’s a bit too much like a Greek deus ex machine, if you pay close attention to each of the voice’s appearances, it helps a bit in explaining subsequent actions.
All in all, a competently crafted first novel worthy of an evening’s read. It shows the author has the potential to do better.
I’m writing this blog-post from a hotel room in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. As I try to collect my thoughts, the night-darkened street below me is full of the sounds of people, mopeds and tuktuks making their way home – and I am acutely aware of how far home is for me. How did I get here; what brought me to be sitting in this hotel room many miles from Australia? Why am I here?
Writers, and bloggers, struggle with the ethics and consequences of knowing how much to reveal to the world. What can be shared, especially when others are involved. I know I do. Over the past year of blogging I’ve been very cautious, being mindful of what is my story, what I can share – and what isn’t. The past week I’ve been wanting to share a very personal thing that has happened, whilst also respecting others. I’m…
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If you’ve ever read and enjoyed Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer stories from the old days of pulp mysteries, you’re sure to enjoy Dark Fantasy by David H. Fears. I just finished reading a free review copy, and couldn’t put it down until it was done. I even went back and re-read a few chapters – just for the hell of it.
Mike D’Angelo, aka Mike Angel, is a private detective in the mold of Mike Hammer, but with a few distinctive differences. For one, he has a partner, former NYPD detective Rick Anthony, an erudite, girl-chaser who serves as the contemplative counterpoint to D’Angelo’s tendency to kick in doors and crack heads. Their office manager, and D’Angelo’s love interest is the irrepressible Molly, who in her own way is as tough as nails, as sweet as honey, and is someone you probably want to think twice about getting cross-wise of.
When Rick gets a call from a strange woman informing that one of the Avery Twins – beautiful fashion models – can be found dead in a Portland apartment, the two private detectives find themselves in the middle of one of their stickiest cases. It gets even stickier when the model agency retains them to work alongside the cops in investigating the murder – and, the cops would prefer they kept their noses elsewhere.
Dark Fantasy has everything you’d expect to find in a hard-boiled, gritty story about no-compromise PIs who just want to see justice done for the little guy. Dialogue that is pure 1960s schmaltz, hard-drinking, chain-smoking, girl-chasing, and bad guys who’d just as soon stick a shiv in your gut as say hello. After reading this story, you might think twice before visiting Portland, Oregon; or at least make sure to update your insurance policy before you go. Non-stop action, even when they’re doing nothing but conversing, it’ll keep you thumbing pages to see what happens next – welcome back to the world of mystery as conceived by the masters of yore.
When I received a free review copy of James Bruno’s Havana Queen, I looked forward to reading it. Already familiar with Bruno’s writing skills from the time he served as head of the political section of the American Embassy in Hanoi in the late 1990s, I knew for sure he would know what he was talking about in a story of international intrigue. The only question in my mind, having not read any of his previous fiction, was whether or not he could translate the skill in drafting compelling analytical reports into a credible work of fiction.
I need not have worried. He batted a clean thousand. In this nail-biting story, FBI agent Nick Castillo, a Cuban-American immigrant, finds himself in the middle of momentous events in the failing socialist state as forces for change imperil the Castro regime. With the kind of knowledge only an insider could possess, combined with a skill in weaving a story that reads like it could have been ripped from the Washington Post, Bruno introduces us to anti-communist revolutionaries, brutal dictators scrambling for power, moles inside our own government, and scheming and murder that spans continents.
Havana Queen engages all the reader’s senses – from its gritty portrayal of Havana’s slums to the sterile confines of Washington cubicles where spies and bureaucrats go about their seemingly mundane tasks; often with deadly outcomes.
If you’re a fan of the international thriller written with authority and credibility, don’t miss this book. It will leave you panting and wanting more.
When FBI agent David Cortez gets a strange email from an old girlfriend, Cara Fenton, claiming that her life is in danger, leading to his acquisition of the journal of a dead Nazi scientist and a strange vial of powder, he finds himself plunged into a 70-year-old plot by the enigmatic Odessa organization for world domination that had come back to life. Cortez is puzzled by what he reads, but concludes that it is somehow related to the sniper attack on a U.S. congressman – a case he has been working on.
What he finds, though, when he goes to Colombia to aid his old friend, is something much more sinister. Very quickly, Cortez finds himself in a situation that he finds at first hard to believe; until he encounters a world of werewolves and a deadly plan that soon leads to a global crisis – with him at its center.
William Inman’s Wolf’s Lair Conspiracy: Book One is a roller coaster of a tale that includes international intrigue spanning seven decades, and a murky world of creatures beyond his imagination. Inman will keep you on the edge of your chair as you wonder if Cortez can survive, or, will Odessa finally achieve the Nazi goal of a New World Order of racial purity, with it at the helm. Tight dialogue and non-stop action, written in such a fashion that you find yourself glancing over your shoulder at the slightest sound. It’s just that real, taking from current events that are all too familiar to those who recall the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, or who are familiar with reports of Nazi experimentation. This story includes everything, from suspension of civil liberties in the wake of an international crisis to economic instability and panic. Inman might have made all this up, but the man knows what he’s talking about.
Angelo Bastillo is a mess. He’s just starting high school and the girl he’s had a crush on forever has just dumped him. To further complicate his acne-infested life, he is picked on by twin sadistic bullies, and his cheapskate stay-at-home dad forces him to call a suicide line to discuss his adolescent problems because he’s too cheap to send him to a real therapist.
Once in school, Angelo and a bunch of his misfit buddies stumble upon a cache of drug money belonging to a student drug dealer and decide to heist it. From that fateful decision, things get even more complicated for Angelo, as things go from bad to unbelievably bad.
Anyone who remembers the first year of high school – even without the drug connection – will instantly identify with Alan Gallauresi’s Heist School Freshmen. The author taps into the angst of that turbulent period in a teenager’s life in a way that will have you nodding in agreement, your stomach bubbling with anxiety, and laughing until you wet your pants. And, if you were lucky enough to not have experienced high school as hell, you’ll finish the book hopefully with a bit more sympathy for those of us who did.
I received a free review copy of Heist School Freshmen – not in time for Christmas, but it was a great present anyway.
Have you ever sat down to write and found yourself staring at a blank screen – with a blank mind? At some point in our lives all of us who write have been faced with at least a moment in time when we were at a loss for something to write about.
Well, that never need happen to you again. I recently received a free review copy of a book that is guaranteed to fill in those blank spaces in your mind and have your writing machine humming at top speed any time, day or night. Four Seasons of Creative Writing: 1,000 Prompts to Stop Writer’s Block by Bryan Cohen comes four years after his popular 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts. Seasons is as the name implies, a series of prompts tied to the four seasons of the year, beginning strangely enough with summer. It is further subdivided into headings like Weather and Nature or Sports, and is a series of questions designed to jump start your creative writing muscles.
The real value in this book is that it should also stimulate you to come up with your own specific questions or thoughts, so it, in effect, is many more than a mere thousand prompts (by the way, Cohen doesn’t number his prompts from 1 to 1,000, but separately under each subhead, so I’m taking his word that the book contains that promised thousand). If you want to forever banish the fear of writer’s block from your mind, this is the book you should have right next to your computer – or, if you’re really old-fashioned, your typewriter.
Jack Stone, an ex-soldier turned private investigator, is back in his old Newcastle neighborhood. Things have changed, but most of the people from his past remain the same – complete with all the old grudges and hatreds. When a questionable hood named Lenny Parker makes a deal with Jack; Jack finds a woman from the past in return for forgiveness of an old man’s debt; the troubles of the past rise quickly to the surface.
Northern Soul, written by Steven Savile and Steve Lockley, is British mystery at its modern, gritty best. Follow Jack through the gritty, soot-filled streets as he tries to save his friend and keep from getting himself killed. Hard-core dialogue and grimy descriptions plunge you headlong into a story that will keep you turning pages until you reach the end, drained of all emotion but the desire for the next Jack Stone mystery.
I received a free copy of Northern Soul for review. A total five-star story!
The first Wednesday in 2014 was a holiday, so the first Wednesday Blog For Insecure Writers is being done on the second Wednesday. If that doesn’t confuse you enough, read on – I guarantee that my offering on how many words you should write will send you screaming to the liquor cabinet.
There’s this joke; a priest, a nun, and a rabbi walk into a bar. The punch line is ‘it’s not long enough.’ Now, for the life of me, I can never remember what comes between the opening line and the punch line – but, that really doesn’t matter, because thinking of that joke, I started thinking about another ‘joke’ – how long should your book be? Well, that’s not really a joke, is it? I mean, we writers have to think about such things.
Browsing my social media sites for writers, I’ve seen this question come up from time to time, and back in the days before I decided to self-publish, length was a big issue, whether it was writing a book or an article for a magazine.
So, let’s talk about that, shall we? How long should your written work be? The answer is, it depends. If you’re writing an article for a journal, print or online, the publisher will have specified lengths, and if you wish to be published you’re well advised to comply with those specifications. When writing your novel, on the other hand, you’re sailing in completely different waters.
If you research it, you’ll find a number of different views on the appropriate length for fiction (nonfiction as well). Novels, it is maintained, should be anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000 words. Some say a novel is 50,000 or more, and others insist that a real novel is 60,000 to 80,000 words. Less than that, and they maintain that it becomes a novella or even (shudder) a novelette.
I have a different view. I hew to the answer to the question, ‘how long should a man’s legs be?’ The answer is credited to either Abraham Lincoln or J.D. Salinger – it really doesn’t matter which said it, but it was ‘long enough to reach the ground.’ And that, my friends, is the answer to how long your story should be – ‘long enough to get from opening to conclusion in a rational manner.’
The length conventions, established by the traditional print publishers, were often based on economic considerations more than anything else. For a print publisher, it is more economical to print a book that ranges from 200 – 300 pages because of the amount and size of the paper used. Of course, for authors with an established track record and audience, exceptions have always been made. Another belief is that readers will feel cheated by a book that is too thin – say under 200 pages.
My own experience has been different. I’ve written books of just under 40,000 words (call them novellas if you wish, I just call them stories) which have done as well as those I’ve done that were over 50,000 – in the case of my historical fiction/western books about the Buffalo Soldiers, better in fact. I just map out the story, beginning with how I want it to end, going back and coming up with an opening scene, and then writing until I get to a logical stopping point. My Buffalo Soldier books come in normally at 45,000 – 55,000 words. I have a mystery series which tends to average 50,000 – 65,000 because of all the plot twists. Using print-on-demand, I don’t have the problem of having to economize on printing costs as much as a traditional publisher who has to establish a print run for each edition, and each book is also available in e-book format where length and thickness isn’t an issue – well, thickness isn’t.
What I’ve concluded, though, is that if the story is well constructed and well told, if readers can identify with the characters, and the storyline is credible, no one complains about how long it is. It’ll be a long time until we’re no longer guided by the conventions of the past, but I’ve noticed more and more independent authors who are following the new rule – make it long enough to reach the ground. Who knows; when the next technological advance once again changes the publishing industry, maybe we’ll be the ones out of step. In the meantime, I’ll just keep writing from the beginning to the end, and stopping.
Tax Break, by Jay Williams, is set in the 1980s – the story of an alienated Vietnam vet, Jim Greenwald, who rebels after being jerked around by the IRS. Williams places a caveat in the beginning of his book – “Don’t try this at home.” In the post-9/11, post Oklahoma City bombing world, the things Greenwald is able to do would be nearly impossible to pull off.
When the IRS takes Greenwald and his partner Lenny Manning, a fellow vet, to court to seize their bar for nonpayment of back taxes, Greenwald is driven to the point of desperation. “How,” he asks, “Can the government that sent them to the hell of Vietnam, now that they are rehabilitated and off the streets, throw them back out on the streets?” The answer, as Greenwald discovers, is that the government – or the minions who make up the government – is not looking at the individual, and in missing this, takes actions that end up hurting the individuals it is supposed to help. Greenwald vows to give a little payback.
What will resonate with today’s reader, though, is the sense of government bureaucrats who care little about the people they were hired to serve, and self-serving politicians who are willing to sacrifice the greater good for short-term political advantage.
Williams paints a compellingly realistic picture of the individual against the system, and the alienation of people from their government. Gritty dialogue and believable characters march across the page, dripping real sweat and crying real tears. This is a genre-defying novel that you’ll find impossible to put down.