I had this book on my reading list for a long time, feeling that I should go beyond what I was taught in school. I have always enjoyed biographies, but rarely find the time, because I am a huge consumer of fiction. Once I started listening to the unabridged audio version, my concern about being bored and continuing out of a feeling of obligation vanished. The narrative style was interesting and well paced. I learned a lot about Lincoln’s early life and his development as a politician. Lincoln’s story is truly an American tale. Abraham Lincoln came from humble beginnings and rose to greatness, despite the first impression he made on people due to his large, rough physique and unruly appearance. Self educated, awkward in romantic situations, and an idealist, he changed the world. I was surprised to learn that his political career had often been disappointing and that he stepped aside when needed for the good of his party. He earned the name Honest Abe because of his decision to pay his debts, rather than pack up and move as many people did during this time of rapidly expanding frontier. He also wondered about his heritage, a detail I would not have thought about. Abraham Lincoln was a dedicated abolitionist, but strove for a moderate position, often angering other abolitionists, but in the end, he achieved what no one else could. The limitations of his views on equality were somewhat surprising, but in accordance with the times he lived in, and also, I believe, meant to pacify those who would fight his abolitionist goals. He has always been portrayed as a social equality saint, so when I heard some of his letters and speeches on this topic, I was surprised. During the most dangerous stage of the development of the United States, he set a precedent of honoring the constitution and what today is often referred to as “…the intent of the framers of the Constitution…” when wrestling with constitutional law. Lincoln redefined and expanded the role of President, sometimes in ways people disagree with. He became the first true Commander in Chief, first learning about military strategy and tactics, and then involving himself in every stage of the Civil War. He listened to his advisors, but did not always follow their recommendations. One scene which amazes me is when he went to visit General McClellan at his house, and was sent away because the general allegedly felt under the weather. Regardless of how sick General McClellan was, I cannot imagine the audacity of how he sent his President and Commander and Chief away. What was further surprising was how Lincoln reacted. There is a great deal more that could be written about this book, but it should suffice to say I recommend reading this. A. Lincoln, by Ronald C. White Jr., teaches us not just about Abraham Lincoln, but about the development of the United States.
Elements of Style (William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White)Elements of Style is a small book, less than one-hundred pages. I find it an invaluable tool, because it strikes to the heart of style issues and is decidedly unpretentious. If you are like me, there are too many books, blogs, and newsletters to read. This book can be read over and over, helping any writer craft powerful writing.Self-Editing for Fiction Writers – Renni Browne, Dave KingI highly recommend this book. There are clear examples of how to improve a manuscript through editing and revision. Familiar topics such as ‘showing versus telling’ are handled with fresh clarity, and though I have heard the advice hundreds of times, I found Browne and King’s discussion of the topic exciting to read. The examples and analysis are helpful. (I did not do all the exercises, because I wanted to apply the techniques to my writing rather than labor over the text provided in the book. I plan to read the book several times, and may do the exercises next time.) From the table of contents: Show and Tell, Characterization and Exposition, Point of View, Proportion, Dialogue Mechanics, See How it Sounds, Interior Monologue, Easy Beats, Breaking Up is Easy to Do, Once is Usually Enough, Sophistication, VoiceI began implementing the advice immediately. I enjoy writing dialogue and was not seeking help in this area; however, I used their dialogue tips (especially beats) and found them useful. Other areas that are more difficult, such as Sophistication and Voice, improved with application of their suggestions. If you are interested in improving your writing, or editing for someone else, I would make this book part of your collection. New ideas: I experienced a light bulb moment when Browne and King explained how repetition of an effect can weaken the writing. This can occur on a large scale or a small scale. After reading the examples and seeking similar sections of my own writing, I saw these little quagmires of weak writing are easy to miss. I tried a few changes and was pleased with the improved result. Check this one out: borrow it from a friend or find it at the library if you must. The title might be misleading. The book does not suggest self-editing only. All writers should be masters of self-editing, even if they have a good critique group or money to pay professional editors.Writing the Blockbuster Novel (Albert Zuckerman)Albert Zuckerman, a literary agent, provides excellent advice on how to write a blockbuster novel. He breaks down several best sellers, including The Man from Saint Petersburg (Ken Follett) and The God Father (Mario Puzo). On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (Stephen King)King’s book is full of sound writing tips, including his recommendation of Elements of Style by Strunk and White. He tells a great story and the result is a book that motivates writers to write. Writing the Breakout Novel (Donald Maass)This is probably my favorite book on writing, though I am also very fond of Stephen King’s On Writing and Strunk and White’sThe Elements of Style. The first two books are both inspirational and informative. Strunk and White has a straight forward approach with no fluff, however I have recently come across a blog, Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, that is not so enamored with the book. I still like Strunk and White. One must remember that it is a style guide and that rules are made to be broken. The premise of Writing the Breakout Novel is that a writer has control of his or her career merely by writing the absolute best novel possible. Less encouraging is his suggestion that the mid-list is dead and that it is harder to stay published than get published. He provides expiring examples of writers who had been successful, floundered, and seemingly at the end of their careers, and became even more successful by writing their breakout novel.This book is a must-read. I used to read from WTBN for thirty minutes just to get inspired before writing; this practice really worked.Plot & Structure (James Scott Bell)This book starts with a great message about being a writer. Bell advocates studying the craft. His story is inspirational and the techniques and examples he provides are excellent.2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love – Rachel AaronI really like Aaron’s writing triangle: Knowledge, Enthusiasm, Time. Having recently dragged myself through painful re-writes of two novels, I have become a believer in planning story structure. Like many writers, I have written outlines and strayed when my imagination takes hold. Aaron’s suggestions on story knowledge and structure are helpful and not too ridged. The section on developing knowledge of the story before writing is well done and seems like solid advice. This book is motivational and entertaining, but I enjoy success stories and agree with her ideas about writing happy. Aaron also has a nice section at the end of the novel (advice to new writers) about the writing police: there are none. The theme of this section is that we should write stories we want to write, and not be discouraged because of genre (whichever that may be) is not selling right now. Aaron’s section on editing seems well thought out and efficient. I already use scene maps and can vouch for their usefulness during editing and revision. Timelines are probably a good idea. I combine the To Do list with my scene map. The book could use a proof reader. There are some missing words and misspellings. Overall, I found this book very useful and motivating. 2K to 10K exceeded my expectations.
Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly by Jim Denney is a well researched and motivational account of the creative process. Denney relates accounts of several renowned authors such as Ray Bradbury, Michael Moorcock, and Stephen King to name a few.Included in the book are many examples of how writing quickly, getting in the zone, and trusting your Muse produce quality fiction. I was amazed at how Michael Moorcock wrote his early books. There is also a wonderful story of Ray Bradbury and his classic work Fahrenheit 451. I was surprised at how quickly such enduring classics were created. Denney provides tips for breaking writer’s block and eliminating needless work. My favorite piece of advice for writing quickly and freely concerned focus on the main plot line of the story (especially during the first draft). I learned that subplots can lead to dead ends (which I have experienced in my own writing). For some reason, this particular section was liberating. I could almost feel myself writing faster (and I am already a quick writer).As a “cliff-jumper” or “panster” I have grown fond of plotting, outlining, and story structuring. Denney discusses the benefit of planning a story; at least enough fend off writer’s block. Much of the message in this book concerns finding the right mixture of narrative push methods (cliff jumping or writing by the seat of your pants) and planning. Denney has clearly studied successful writers and done a considerable amount of writing fiction and non-fiction. Writing in Overdrive relies on many stories of famous writers. These were entertaining and often inspirational if nothing else. I look forward to reading other books by Jim Denney.
One of my writer friends and Twitter superstar, Lilo Abernathy, was chosen by Amazon for the much coveted Kindle Daily Deal. Her book, The Light Who Shines, will be featured for one day only at a price of $1.99. So Why am I writing a blog post about another writer’s work?First, she’s a great writer. Second, she’s very supportive of other authors. Here is the book description from Amazon:When Supernatural Investigation Bureau agent Bluebell Kildare (a.k.a. Blue) arrives at the scene of the crime, it’s obvious the grotesquely damaged body of the deceased teenage boy was caused by far more than a simple hit and run. Using her innate sixth sense, Blue uncovers a powerful magical artifact nearby. She soon discovers it acts as a key to an ancient Grimoire that was instrumental in the creation of the Vampire breed and still holds the power to unravel the boundaries between Earth and the Plane of Fire.Blue and her clever wolf Varg follow a trail that starts at the Cock and Bull Tap and leads all through the town of Crimson Hollow. Between being sidelined by a stalker who sticks to the shadows and chasing a suspect who vanishes in thin air, the case is getting complicated. If that isn’t enough, Dark Vampire activity hits a record high, and hate crimes are increasing. However, it’s Blue’s growing feelings for Jack Tanner, her magnetic Daylight Vampire boss, that just might undo her.While Blue searches for clues to nail the perpetrator, it seems someone else is conducting a search of their own. Who will find whom first?Danger lurks in every corner, and Blue needs all her focus in this increasingly dangerous game or she risks ending up the next victim.Reviews:The Light Who Shines has 154 reviews, with a 4.7 star average. Not bad for a debut book!From Amazon:”The book abounds with action, supernatural creatures and tinges of sexiness . . . and will please readers looking for a gun-toting, magical hero who’s independent yet yearning for companionship.””Bluebell Kildare, a Gifted human with blue eyes and a streak of blue hair, fights crime as a member of the Supernatural Homicide Investigation Unit . . . An often enjoyable delve into urban fantasy.””As much as she’s defined by her butt-kicking attitude, Kildare is complex, confident and introspective . . . She has the ability to sense souls.”—KIRKUS”Bottom Line: Excellent novel . . . Highly recommended and will be continuing with the series, great new world.”—Douglas C. Meeks, Amazon Top 500 ReviewerAs a writer, I wish Lilo Abernathy the best. I’ve just started reading the book, so I can’t give a review yet, but I will in a future blog post.
(In the spirit of streamlining this website, I am systematically moving archived book reviews and other posts to this section, then deleting the archive.)A Game of Thrones begins with a mysterious attack north of The Wall and establishes that something supernatural or perhaps magical is threatening the world. With the prologue out of the way, the Starks are introduced (and six dire wolves) and the story moves into the family drama and political intrigue that make up the scaffolding that the (many) characters live and play on. What makes the book so enjoyable? It is easy to suspend disbelief. People in the story believe in magic, but rarely experience it. The lives of most people, even the nobles, are desperate and survival is hard earned. Martin has an excellent command of world building, down to the smallest detail. He writes dialogue that seems effortless and natural. Characters stay true to who they are and point of view is controlled, which is no small task with the multitude of main characters in the book.Since so many people have read the first book or at least seen the HBO series, I am not going to worry about spoilers. When Eddard Stark dies, I knew this book was different. I had been trying to decide who was the main character, and was leaning toward Eddard. I liked Eddard, I respected Eddard. Everyone in the story depended on Eddard. But the plot demanded he die, and he did. As I came to truly believe that Martin had the courage to slay any character, I started making bets with myself as to who would live and what they would do. Currently I don’t think that Daenarys or Tyrion can be offed. But I have read all five books and been wrong about many other major characters. In this book, the stakes are real.A Clash of Kings – George R.R. MartinA Storm of Swords – George R.R. MartinA Feast for Crows – George R.R. MartinA Dance with Dragons – George R.R. MartinI have listened to these audio book three times and purchased the Kindle version. I strongly recommend this book and plan to write a review after I read it again.
(In the spirit of streamlining this website, I am systematically moving archived book reviews and other posts to this section, then deleting the archive.)Blue Hearts of Mars, by Nicole Grotepas, is a science fiction, YA romance about a seventeen-year-old girl and an android that fall in love. The girl (or young woman rather), Retta, goes to school and works to support her family. She encounter’s a boy who exposes a world of prejudice and unfairness. Androids are a crucial part of society and Mars would never have been colonized without them. They are so human in appearance that most pass as humans. This gives rise to an interesting question: can an android have a soul? They are thinking, feeling, living entities with the capacity for love…They are also smarter and stronger. It is not surprising that some humans fear and resent them and would not want their daughters (or sons) dating them. The boy, Hemingway, seems the less powerful character, even though he has perfect memory and superhuman strength. But Retta makes all of the hard choices and stands up for what is right. I mention this because Hemingway fades in and out of the picture, allegedly to protect Retta from the perils loving and android will bring. This is good, honorable, and realistic because human / android relationships are taboo in this story. Fine. Retta is the protagonist after all, so she should be center stage. I guess what I am trying to say, is that I like Retta better than Hemingway in this story.I enjoyed Blue Hearts of Mars quite a bit. The book description sounded interesting and I was curious, though I almost passed on the book because Hemingway, as a character name, jolted me. Once I started reading, however, the name stopped distracting me and I began to like both the name and the character. One of my favorite scenes is when Retta tells off other students in her class, choosing to stand up for her teacher who many believe is an android. This demonstrates her strong values and willingness to take risks. Retta stands up to her friends, her boss, and her father. I would recommend this book for fans of science fiction, YA romance. If a reader is seeking hard science fiction about the colonization of Mars, this may not be the right book. The depiction of life on Mars is entertaining and the moral and social issues concerning androids that can pass for human (and some believe to have souls) is thought provoking.I obtained a free copy of this book through Goodreads in exchange for an honest review. I am glad I did.
In the spirit of streamlining this website, I will be systematically moving archived book reviews and other posts to this section, then deleting the archive. So let’s get started with:The Day of the Jackal, by Frederick Forsyth, stunned me at the end with its resonance.I began reading this novel after Sol Stein recommended it in his book Stein on Writing as an example of structuring a story for suspense.At first, I was a bit confused because so many of the “rules” of writing were violated. A great deal of narrative summary padded the beginning of the book and many uses of the passive voice existed.What made Forsyth’s tale a modern classic and basis for popular movie versions?I wasn’t blown away, but the story and the historical references interested me. So I continued listening to the audio book.Enter the Jackal. At first, this character seemed like a modern anti-hero like so many assassins portrayed as good guys in movies. Forsyth showed him as a skilled professional not to be messed with. When an identity forger tries to double cross him, the Jackal ruthlessly takes him out.A gunsmith treats the Jackal honestly, and the Jackal spares his life. Not every character is so lucky. Let’s just say that at a certain point, I thoroughly turned against the Jackal and wanted him to go down hard for his crimes. Police Inspector Claude Labelle is introduced well in to the story, but quickly becomes a major character. By the end of the novel, I’m cheering him on and growling at everyone who seeks to destroy his reputation.The Day of the Jackal entertains from start to finish, though I found the second half of the book exceptionally good. This is a novel I will read again for enjoyment, but will also study as an example of good writing. Simon Preble performed the audio book. He’s one of the best readers I have listened to, and I devour audio books one after another.
Photo obtained from JoshHayesWriter.com What are some elements of good, entertaining fiction? For me the list starts with compelling characters, conflict, suspense, and a setting exotic enough that I’d like to go there and have an adventure. Hayes put all these pieces into the story, and I want to see more of these characters and this place they have found. I obtained this as a free advanced reading copy in return for an honest review, and thought I knew the gist of the story before I began, but I was delighted and surprised by the end and can’t wait to read the next installment. I wish I had thought of the science fiction Neverland concept. This series is going places, and should be full of fun. I recommend this story for fans of science fiction / action adventure genres.You can learn more about Josh Hayes and his works on his web page, Josh Hayes Writer.com. He is an active member of the indie writing community and does a lot more than just promote his own books. His site is full of author interviews and book reviews. In fact, I am going to try and get an interview set up up with him soon.Second Star: Breaking Through Kindle Link (I like to use Amazon to see other reviews, download a free samples, and make purchases.)
Josh Hayes, author of Second Star: Breaking Through
Five years of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes, including countless lessons and sparing matches brought me to a goal I’ve pursued for a long time. When I first became interested in BJJ, there were no instructors in the region. Royce Gracie was dominating the UFC and the martial arts community was scrambling to reinvent itself. It took several years before qualified instructors started opening schools in the area, and I trained at several.I stopped and started several times, bowed to the responsibilities of work and family again and again. Now that I have moved from white belt to blue belt, I feel a stronger obligation to attend class regularly. The past three weeks have been excuse-busting tests of dedication and logistical skills. With the exception of being sick, I have made every class I set out to attend. Training three days a week will not make me the top grappler in my rank, but should give me the skills to proudly say “I am a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu blue belt.” What does this have to do with writing? This web site is named Scottmoonwriter, after all.I always believed that living a responsible, adventurous, and productive life helps any writer. At the same time, the competition is fierce, especially for indie writers. There are days I wish I could do nothing but write, read, and work on my craft.That way lies madness, like as not. After family and God, there are only a few things that matter to me. Like most writers, I often test the patience of my family and give my faith less work that it deserves. I’m only human. Maybe God didn’t put me on this Earth just to write, maybe he did. My fiction is meant to entertain. I don’t write to push a social, political, or religious message, in case you were wondering.When I write, when the story is growing naturally, I feel complete. I don’t worry about the through-line or the moral premise or the plot structure. Each time those issues push to the forefront, the process seems more like work–and I do it because I strive not just to express my creativity, but for professionalism.When I am on the mat, sparring or learning a new technique, there is no opportunity to worry about getting the oil changed in the car or paying bills. There are days when I get submitted time after time and wonder why I put myself through the ego crushing abuse. Just like writing or anything else, there are moments when the work put in seems crazily out of proportion to the reward gained.Over time, progress is realized.That is a reward. The journey is a reward. At least I am not sitting around.Earning a rank in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a lot like publishing a novel. Certain expectations come with the accomplishment. I am about to have a birthday, and each year I set goals. So here is my resolution. I will write when it is time to write, train when it is time to train, and never take the people I care about for granted. Without them, it is all meaningless.
Everyone likes #free, right. There was a time, let’s say 2012, when Indie authors were using Kindle Direct Publishing free days to promote books. I was new to the realm of digital self publishing, and gave it a try. The result was about 18,000 downloads of Dragon Badge, an urban fantasy crime thriller, and over 2,000 actual sales. I thought it was pretty neat, since I was ecstatic to have people reading my first book! (Well, not the first I wrote, but the first I published on KDP. I’ve been writing for over thirty years.)Dragon Badge also received fifty-three (53) reviews, with a 4.1 star average. Heady stuff. I assumed all my books would get reviews quickly. Enemy of Man currently has thirteen (13) reviews with a 4.4 star average. I’d like to have more.We know everyone likes free, but maybe deeply discounted is also good?The first thing I noticed when I published Enemy of Man, was that it immediately out sold Dragon Badge. There may be no way to understand the reason, but I think it is a factor of genre and the larger readership of science fiction. To be honest, Dragon Badge doesn’t fit neatly into urban fantasy or crime thriller, but I digress. I also think I learned a lot about writing during Enemy of Man, and the use of a professional editor helped a bunch. (Dragon Badge and Dragon Attack were proofread and edited by several individuals, including a trusted reader with a baccalaureate degree in English literature and a doctorate in education. Dragon Badge is scheduled for a serious re-write and at least one round with a professional editor before I start on book three of the series.)And now to the point of this post; I didn’t do much in the way of free days for Enemy of Man. Why? All the book marketing blogs (and books–I’ve spent a small fortune on “how to market your ebook” material) suggested that the free day strategy had outlived it’s functionality. The biggest problem with giving away free books is that many people, myself included, tend to download more than can be read in a life time.I still have more reviews for Dragon Badge than Enemy of Man. The later book has sold more copies with less promotional effort, but lacks reviews. Were the free days the secret to getting book reviews? Have people become exhausted with reading and reviewing so many independent authors? I’m not sure I will ever have the answer, but I do know I have at least a hundred books on my Kindle account that I won’t have time to read. It is safe to assume many other readers are in the same situation.So where does that leave an indie title?The alternative to glutting the market with free books seems to have become the Countdown Deal. Amazon actually has a Countdown Deal Page, which is more than can be said about free books. I am keen to learn if KDP Free Days or Countdown Deals will boost Kindle Unlimited (KU) downloads of Enemy of Man and Son or Orlan…and dare I say it, the next two books in the series which should be done in 2015.During the last two months, Kindle Unlimited sales have accounted for half my income. Occam’s Razor would suggest that KU must be part of my marketing plan. I think either Free Days or Countdown Deals would increase visibility and improve KU performance as well.Shall I go with Free Days?Or try a Countdown Deal?The winner is, a KDP Countdown Deal starting on October 16th at $0.99. This is the first discount I have done for Enemy of Man for several months. It hasn’t been free for a year. I hope this works.I hope this get some reviews.Several things have changed in my marketing plan during 2014. I spent a significant amount of money on an Orangeberry Blog Tour and a few other promotional sites with good reputations. I have not tried Book Bub, because I was saving that for the day when the series is complete. At that point, I plan to really follow the author marketing best practices and get serious about writing as a career. The results of spending money to promote have been decent. I think having a larger back list will make each dollar spent more effective. So the big change is this; I save ninety percent of my profit for editing and book cover design. What does this mean for Enemy of Man in the free day / Kindle Unlimited experiment?I need your help. Please share the news of the Enemy of Man free day with anyone you know who likes science fiction. October 16th, 2014 Enemy of Man will be $0.99 for a limited time.ENEMY OF MAN – sampleSON OF ORLAN – sampleDRAGON BADGE – sampleDRAGON ATTACK – sampleDIE LIKE A MAN – sample
Yes, I must admit, I am fanatical about George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. How fanatical? I just spent $40 on maps and ordered The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire). Now I have to quit eating out for at least a week.Totally worth it.For the last two years I have developed the habit of Googling Westeros maps as I work my way through Mr. Martin’s books again and again, and I am telling you the world is hard to make sense of on a smart phone screen. I haven’t yet obtained my collection of hardback copies. I have all of the Game of Thrones books in audio and ebook formats. Starting next month, I plan to buy a hardback Song of Ice and Fire book a month. Had I done this earlier, I would not have as much confusion with the maps as I sometimes do while driving and listening to the story.Anyway, I am anxiously awaiting my copy of The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire). I pre-ordered. I also just learned that J. R. R. Tolkein was a devout Catholic. How did I not know that?
Have you ever heard of the Amazon Top Reviewers? I have, because I’m an author who would desperately love to get their attention, especially if they decide the like my books. A lot of marketing gurus will make a fuss about finding the right reviewer and then sending a polite email asking if they would like to review your book. This is definitely a good practice, or so it seems. Many authors have had good luck. The Amazon Top Reviewers are serious about what they do. They want readers to mark their reviews as useful, which would suggest they would only give honest reviews.I am taking a short break to daydream about all of the top one hundred finding my book and giving Dragon Badge, Dragon Attack, Enemy of Man, Son of Orlan, and Die Like A Man five star reviews.Ah, that was a nice fantasy.Perhaps I would have more luck if I sought reviews (as every book marketing expert suggests). Unfortunately, there is only so much time in a day and I enjoy making up stories more than marketing best practices. Which brings us to the reason we are here today, good reader. I recently left a review for Kinslayer: Book Two of the Lotus War series by Jay Kristoff. Book reviews for traditional and indie authors is something I do whenever I can. Just now, I saw that forty-five people have found my recommendations helpful. Cool beans! My Amazon Reviewer Rank is…not “Top” to say the least. Currently, I’m sitting at 95,717.There are a lot of people doing a lot of reviews! That’s great. To reviewers everywhere, good work! Keep it up! Writers love you.