About four months ago, I wrote a post requiring a lot of humility and courage, because if my kids ever read it, they will know I chewed tobacco for years and years. Perhaps I was being a good parent by not allowing them to see the huge mistake I made and kept making. Either way, I never looked forward to seeing the disappointment or even anger in their eyes.I have not touched any form of nicotine or soda, diet or otherwise, this year. If I ever claim this is a result of my iron determination and strength of character, please remind me that it is in fact a miracle and a blessing. I attempted to quit so many times before. I tried everything I could. Apparently, January 1, 2015 was just my day to really make a change for the better.Each day was hard for a while, then it got a bit easier except for trigger events, like having to work a shooting call or an abduction. The thing about any addiction is the total irrationality of the problem:feeling bad? Make it better with chew. Win the lottery? Celebrate with chew. Too tired to make the drive home? Pop that can open and get some nicotine power in your veins. Chewing tobacco is your friend. It’s not that disgusting.So I am doing well, only struggling a few times a week, more or less.This weekend I will attend the OWFI writers conference in Oklahoma City. Guess what I did a lot when I was there on two previous occasions. That’s right, chew on the drive, chew all the time that I don’t have to worry about my family seeing me do it. Chew because I am happy to be a writer. Chew because I am stressed about pitching a novel.Please wish me luck. I don’t want to fall off the wagon. If you have beaten your personal addiction, congratulations and God bless you. If you are struggling, understand that it can be done.
The Talisman (by Stephen King and Peter Straub): Insights of Book Architecture: Part 1
Like any good author in his mid-forties, I have read The Talisman. Being me, I’ve also listened to it. Two things drive me to write about this book, one of King’s best in my opinion. The first is that I am listening to the audio book again. Frank Muller is the narrator; his incredible performance may be responsible for my ever-increasing love of the audiobook medium, but I digress.At the same time, I have been reading an ARC of Book Architecture by Stuart Horwitz. He also wrote Blueprint Your Bestseller, so I knew I was going to learn a lot of good technique in his most recent work.So here it is, the laydown, the straight dirt. The Talisman contains so many powerful Series that listening to it while studying Book Architecture seems like proof of divine intervention, or at least some kind of fate. (If I can pull from one of my recent blog articles–The Pale Horseman–“Destiney is everything.”) There is a reason King rose to the top of popular fiction. He can make multiple timelines and back story dance, two things that few writers do well. The secret, whether Mr. King and Mr. Straub know it or not, is in their mastery of Series.According to Horwitz, a Series is something that repeats and varies in a way that develops the theme or a character arc. It something like a “through-line” but for some reason I am able to get my head around the concept of Series easier (at least the way he explains it). When a writer does a good job of foreshadowing, he is using Series.I am not really doing Book Architecture justice at this point, but will try to review this very interesting writing tool. The examples that Mr. Horwitz uses really show how an emotionally powerful story uses Series, whether intentionally or not.I can’t help but think my writing life would have been a lot easier had I known the concept years ago. (Now I know it, but must fully understand and master it–can anyone say practice, practice, practice?)My favorite Series in The Talisman is what I call the Travlin Jack Series. If you have read the novel, then you must be familiar with this often repeated phrase. Speedy Parker, Jack’s mentor, says it all the time. There are many Itertations of this Series (repetitions and foreshadows). The Travlin Jack Series is an easy example, because it obviously means more than hello.Jack is going to travel between worlds and across the United States during his adventure. The catchy phrase runs like a lifeline through all of Jack and Speedy’s scenes.”Why I got me some company. Good ole Travilin Jack. Little Travlin man he is. Speedy done some travlin his-self, he has…” (This is an approximate quote from memory; no offense to Mr. King or Mr. Straub if I got it wrong. I figure there is no harm done, since I am praising their story craft from here to there. And, I’d like to do some travlin myself, I sure would, see the Territories that’s true.)Another Series is the My Mother is Dying Series. This has an obvious cause and effect on the plot. There are several other Series that I have began to hear clearly as I listen. Currently I am on chapter four and The Talisman Series has just been identified.This series will end, you guessed it, when Jack finds the Talisman, learns what it is for, and uses it. A lot of really bad Stephen King stuff will happen to Traviln Jack along the way.Stephen King is a self-admitted, non-planner. His book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is still one of my favorites, even though writing by the seat of my pants had gotten me in a mess of trouble from time to time.Perhaps Book Architecture will allow me to write freely again and still make sense of the imaginary places and the people I find when I hop-scotch across my own version of the Territories.Please leave a comment on what you think of The Talisman. What is your favorite character, scene, phrase, item or place? If you have questions about Book Architecture I would be happy to share my experience (though I do recommend reading the book yourself as well). Or, if neither The Talisman nor Book Architecture interests you (gasp!) please say hello. I’d love to hear from you.Last but not least, I just learned that in 2014, King and Straub announced that they are working on a third book in the Talisman trilogy. This, dear readers, is good news!
The Pale Horseman (by Bernard Cornwell): A Master Payoff
Image URL from Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Pale-Horseman-Warrior-Chronicles-Book-ebook/dp/B002RI91BW Welcome.This is my third blog post regarding The Pale Horseman (book two in the Saxon series by Bernard Cornwell). I began with observations on character and the complex protagonist that is Uhtred of Bebbanburg. In summary, I found that while I liked Uhtred from the first book, I was developing a strong desire to punch him in the face, or worse yet, quit reading. I persevered, which is a good thing, as I will discuss later.The second article on The Pale Horseman discusses the voice acting skills of Jonathan Keeble. Summary: he’s awesome. Very powerful and expressive.Now we have arrived at the payoff. Why describe the story arch and character development as a payoff? That makes it sound shady, doesn’t it?Bernard Cornwell developed all of the characters in this book honestly, except for some of the cookie cutter priests–minor characters without much spine or depth. But I digress.Uhtred, Son of Uhtred of Bebbanburg, is a twenty-year-old saxon raised from the age of ten by Danes (called Vikings when they are raiding from the sea). He’s seen his father die and fought in the shield wall. Over the years, his survival has depended on his own strength and cunning. He is proud, violent, and a pagan like the Danes who raised him. The tender years of his youth were spent looting churches and killing priests.Why wouldn’t he be a total barbarian? (I’ve always liked barbarians in stories, but Bernard Cornwell has a talent for showing how brutal life was in the 9th century, regardless of who you were or what God / gods you worshipped.)By the end of The Pale Horseman Uhtred earned much more of my compassion and made me want to see more of his journey. I cared about the people he cared about, admired his strength and courage, and began to hope he will reclaim his ancestral home of Bebbanburg.Readers who enjoy George R. R. Martin (The Game of Thrones) or Ken Follet (The Pillars of Earth) won’t go wrong picking up a copy of The Pale Horseman.
It’s ARC Time: Book Architecture – How to Plot and Outline without Using a Formula
Some weeks are harder than others–full of bad news and unexpected expenses; you know, dropping your smart phone in a puddle during a rainstorm, learning that the vehicle you just paid off has a cracked radiator, power steering leak, and main oil leak. You work long hours and get nowhere.But as we all know, life is full of ups and downs. The older I get, the easier it is to recognize that better times are just around the corner.I have been struggling with several major writing projects and revisions. Thus, I was totally jazzed when an advanced reading copy of Book Architecture: How to Plot and Outline without Using a Formula, by Stuart Horwitz, arrived in my in box.You’ve got mail!Yes. Yes I do.As you might remember from Blueprint Your Bestseller: Organize and Revise Any Manuscript with the Book Architecture Method, also by Stuart Horwitz, there are three foundational concepts used in book architecture: scene, series, and theme. I remember reading Blueprint and then watching World War Z. The plot points were perfect and I suddenly had a better understanding of why I loved the movie so much.I knew about scenes, and thought I knew about theme. Horwitz explained both in a way that opened my eyes to new things. And I got to learn about the series concept, which was the first new thing in books about writing that I have seen for a while.I haven’t decided if Blueprint made writing easier, but I know it helped me grow and improve. I’ve never shied away from working hard, as long as I’m working smart. Blueprint definitely gave me a lot more bang for my buck, as in, the time I invest in every novel. I can barely wait to read Book Architecture and apply it to my current project(s).
The Pale Horseman (by Bernard Cornwell): The Power of Jonathan Keeble
In the previous post, I discussed the characterization of Uhtred, Son of Uhtred, of Bebbanburg and his tendency to act rashly. Today, I want to switch it up a bit and discuss a topic near and dear to my heart–the audiobook version of The Pale Horseman as narrated by Jonathan Keeble.I listened to the sample of Jamie Glover reading this book, and thought it sounded good–a style and cadence of speech that I could listen to for a long time. Ultimately, this is the litmus test for audiobook readers.The version I am listening to, however, is read by Jonathan Keeble, who burst into my favorites list like an axe wielding Viking of the vocal world. He doesn’t just read, he acts. It really sound like he is putting body-English and facial expression into the microphone.This blog article is particularly meaningful today, to me at least, because I am listening to the final version of one of my own books, Son of Orlan. Most writers dream of seeing their books in print. That definitely gets me jazzed up like a monkey full of Starbucks go-juice, but hearing a talented professional narrate my stories–well, it’s like going to Disney Land after winning the world series.Many, many times I have blogged about my love of the audiobook medium. Why so serious?In the past, I’ve talked about convenience and how great it is to listen to a book on a long drive. Yes, yes, that is true. But there is a lot more to my obsession. I think the spoken word is good for writers; storytelling began as an oral tradition of great importance to the tribe. When done correctly, the rhythm, range, and tension of the narrator brings good (and sometimes bad) things to life.All of this, I have said before. This morning, it occurs to me that there is a much simpler explanation. When I hear an audiobook, I slide effortlessly into the story world. It relaxes and excites me, encourages visualization, and takes me away like a genre-hopping time machine.Audiobooks are great. I hope you will try one out, and if you do, look for my top seven list of great narrators (which is kinda-sorta in order by the voice actor, not the actual stories):The Pale Horseman by Bernard Cornwell (as narrated by Jonathan Keeble) (The Last Kingdom is book one in this series),The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen (as narrated by Henry Strozier),Cop Town by Karin Slaughter (as narrated by Kathleen Early),The Pillars of Earth Ken Follet (as narrated by John Lee),A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (as narrated by Roy Dotrice),Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian (as narrated by Simon Vance),Wool by Hugh Howey (as narrated by Amanda Sayle)If you listen to the above series, I am confident that you will share my deep appreciation for the spoken word! (I have no financial affiliation with any of the above works, just a deep affinity for awesomeness and the need to share what I like with you, dear reader. If they wanted to send me a check, I wouldn’t say no, but I ain’t holding my breath:)I also have three audiobooks available thanks to the talented new voice actor and musician, Reece Allan Morse: Dragon Badge, Dragon Attack, and also Enemy of Man. Son of Orlan will be available soon.The more traditional versions of my science fiction and urban fantasy books are available here. The Kindle editions are available through Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Prime as well.Thanks for stopping by,Scott Moon
The Pale Horseman (by Bernard Cornwell): My thoughts on a complex protagonist named Uhtred
The Photo url is from Bernard Cornwell’s web site: http://www.bernardcornwell.net/books/the-pale-horseman-2/
The Pale Horseman (book two in the Saxon series by Bernard Cornwell) continues the bloody life chronicles of Uhtred of Bebbanburg. Why does this matter? Is this just another book review?Let me address the second question first. This is the start of a book review; I will be sharing my thoughts as I venture through Cornwell’s books. He is one of my favorite writers of historical fiction. Today, while listening to the audiobook on my way to a second job, several things struck me about The Pale Horseman.This matters because Uhtred is a complex protagonist. He has many traits that are common to heroes in other books: strength, bravery, a vicious brand of loyalty, and a sense of justice that should make him easy to appreciate. Yet he is not always likeable. In fact, I would say I dislike him more often than not–and yet I continue to listen to the story.The Pale Horsemen starts with Uhtred foolishly drawing his sword on his rival, Ealdorman Odda the Younger, during a religious ceremony, thus offending King Alfred and violating the king’s laws. Uhtred is not dumb. He should know better, but his “monstrous pride,” as Cornwell describes it, constantly gets Uhtred in trouble. By the end of chapter one, he has committed an unjustifiable murder (both by modern standards and the laws of the time) and put himself and his household in danger of retribution. Why did he commit such a crime? Because he was pissed of and full of, you guessed it, pride.This is good for moving the plot and keeping “tension on every page,” as Donald Maass, author of Writing the Breakout Novel, advocates. It is not good for my feelings about the protagonist. I’d like for someone to take Uhtred in hand and teach him some humanity. Yes, he is essentially a Viking and their moral code at the time of the story is different than mine. Yes, he is true to his character and possesses many positive traits. I still struggle with the heartless brutality of Uhtred. It is kind of a love-hate relationship with this character that drives me to read on. So in the grand scheme of things, Bernard Cornwell has again proved himself a master writer.Please check back for future articles on The Pale Horseman as I strive to improve my writing, and possibly share some useful information on anyone thinking of reading the Saxon series.My science fiction and urban fantasy novels are current available here.
Where has my time gone?
This one goes out to my fellow writers. Do you have a magic trick to increase productivity? How about a daily goal? The most common goal, promulgated by Stephen King and his book, On Writing, is to craft a certain number of words each day. The master of horror reports to write 3,000 words every, single, day. Do the math; that’s a lot of words at the end of the year. Over the course of a career as long as Mr. King’s bestselling super-stardom, the total creative output staggers the imagination.And I say it’s totally doable.Another method of prompting productivity is to track time. I was at the Oklahoma Writers Federation, Incorporated (OWFI) 2013 where a bestselling romance author mad this claim: “Show me a writer to writes twenty hours a week, and I’ll show you a New York Times bestselling author.” She went on to clarify this meant actual writing time, measured to exactitude, and not fiddling around with quasi-writing activities. “Time yourself, and turn the timer off when you get up to go to the bathroom…” (When I get home, I will dig out the workshop handout and credit the author who said this.)For the last several years I have strictly logged word count and writing time. At the zenith of my efforts, I was putting in twenty-eight hours a week. Daily word count averages went up and down, depending on the level of editing I was doing. (I had negative word counts during many editing sessions, which I countered by writing a little something new on the side when I could.)About six months ago, the numbers started to slide–twenty eight hours a week to ten hours a week, sometimes less. At first I blamed this on a change of work schedule, yet I had also resigned from two parts of my job that subjected me to call-outs anytime day or night. It had been my goal for nearly a decade to normalize my schedule, get into a steady routine, and really start to follow my dream. So now I have the same days off every week, at the same time each day, with one of my days actually landing on a real weekend (Saturday).Where has my time gone? Why is it so much harder to get a couple, or perchance a few, hours of solid time at the keyboard each day? There must be thousands of writers with the same challenge. I’d love to hear from you if you are one of them.In the mean time, I am sitting down with pen and paper to simplify my goals in life. Stephen Covey would be so proud. I have been very goal oriented since grade school, so it amazes me that I haven’t gotten this right. Perhaps I have too many interests (duh). Today I will consider things I really need:1) I need to spend time with my family,2) I need to pay the bills,3) I need to write,4) I need to read,5) I need to exercise,6) I need to study martial arts (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu).This is as short as I can make the list today. Unfortunately, number 2 takes a disproportionate amount of my time. Welcome to the American Dream, right?Please leave your comments bellow. I’d love to hear from you. If you have time and are looking for something good to read, click on the Scott’s Amazon Author Page button above.Thanks. Have a great day.
The KDP Select Question
On January 15th, 2015, J. A. Konrath and Mathew Yglesias (editor of Vox) participated in a debate with former New Republic editor Franklin Foer and Scott Turow in New York. The topic selected was “Amazon is the reader’s friend.” The full (very long) debate is on You Tube. I watched several short samples and then the entire video; I’m trying to decide if I agree with the vote of the studio audience. Should I put three of my books back in Kindle Direct Publishing Select (KDP Select)? Recently, I did a free day promotion with Enemy of Man even though I had planned to move it out of KDP and look for a wider distribution. EOM is my best selling book, though it has the fewest reviews. Dragon Badge was published during a time when the KDP Select free day promotion worked well. I gave away over eighteen thousand copies of DB. It has almost four times the number of reviews (good reviews, for the most part) than EOM. I wanted to get more feedback and social proof for EOM, so I thought I would try what worked for DB even though the times and the publishing industry have changed. I also like the “borrows” from Amazon Prime and Kindle Unlimited customers; which make about 40% of this month’s sales. But what brought me to the edge of the cliff with Dragon Badge, Dragon Attack, and Die Like A Man? Why pull them from the wider distribution network provided by Smashwords (and their submission to ebook outlets like iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, and Kobo)? And what about my civic duty to resist a potential monopoly? An eloquent answer to the first question: I have never received a check from Smashwords or Nook (which I published through Nook Press instead of using SW for that distribution channel, just to see what it was like.) To get paid, you must meet a sales threshold, which is not very high. Someday I will get that twenty dollars Barnes & Noble is holding for me. (smiles) As to defending the free market, I am not sure that my burgeoning career as a writer will make a difference at this point. When I sell millions of books, perhaps I will have a greater responsibility to offer stories on a broader platform. I write because I love to write, I love stories, and spend a lot of time daydreaming. Publishing is merely an attempt to get paid for doing what I love. That part is a business. A true businessperson would make decisions base on what works. Right now (I almost, accidentally, wrote write now, lol) Smashwords and all the distributors that come with its service are not working for me. Should I feel bad for bending the knee to Amazon’s awesome galactic power? I would like to hear what you think.In a few weeks all of my books should disappear from Nook, iTunes, Kobo, Sony, and Smashwords. Am I doing the right thing? Your opinion is appreciated.
Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon (Professor Suzanne M. Desan)
I love history, despite the fact that the more I learn, the more I need to learn. For example, I have heard the term Jacobin often–but never fully appreciated their origin or their role in the French Revolution and The Terror. Listening to this audiobook, I thought Robespierre was two words. The first half of this book is an interesting portrayal of how the drive for egalitarianism also led to the Terror, where opponents of the new French Republic were guillotined without mercy. So now I am reading about Jacobins, The Terror, and several historical figures I never knew were interesting. The rise and fall of Napoleon Bonaparte was almost anticlimactic in comparison to the amazing turmoil of the the French Revolution. Almost. This audiobook also taught me several things about Napoleon.A new part of history has been opened up to me. I can’t wait to learn more.
Kicking the Cans
This year, I have quit drinking diet soda. Wow, you say. So what. Or perhaps you understand my addiction to artificial sweetener. Prior to 2015, it was common for me to drink a case of Diet Coke a day, every day. My life revolved around emergency runs to Dillons or Quick Trip. Everyone in the family was drinking soda, though no one had it as bad as I did. In short, I used diet soda to cheat Father Time. (Or did I?) Working bad hours, staying up late and getting up early when I actually had a chance to sleep, was breaking me down. I had heart palpitations, headaches from too much and headaches from too little caffeine / artificial sweetener. I also chewed tobacco, which is something I never talked about on line before because I’ve been embarrassed to admit to such a bad habit to my kids. It’s been fifteen days since I’ve had either one of these poisons. A friend at work recommended a site called www.killthecan.com where I learned that nicotine causes caffeine to be used more rapidly than normal. Which means I was chewing tobacco and drinking caffeine so that I could function on four hours of sleep (or less) a day. The joke was on me, because I was chewing more and more without realizing that this was causing me to drink additional caffeinated beverages with less effect. I learn something every day. This caffeine / nicotine interaction was definitely not something I expected. Without nicotine, I found a cup of coffee made me really jittery and kept me wide awake for hours longer than expected. It was tempting to blame this on withdrawal symptoms, but actually I was feeling the full power of coffee for the first time in years. Wow! What does this have to do with writing? For the first two weeks, I had one goal, and that was not to cave and return to my old ways. It turns out that getting motivated is one of my strongest triggers for nicotine. I remember reading that Stephen King quit smoking and how hard he said it was. I refuse to believe my creativity relies on any chemical, even one as commonplace as nicotine. The fog of withdrawal is starting to fade. I am reclaiming my motivation, while focusing on leading a more balanced life. Family, friends, work, and other hobbies (exercise and taking time to relax) are taking their proper places in my writing life. Today, I am continuously experiencing a true miracle. Quiting chewing tobacco is almost impossible. Ask anyone who has done it. Turning away diet soda after thirty years of total reliance on the drink may be harder yet. Quiting cold turkey has never worked well for me. Yet it is happening now. Fifteen days? I never lasted fifteen minutes before. I believe in God, though I have struggles with understanding the mysteries of faith. Organized religion has committed foul crimes (just like every other organization or individual has) throughout history. But there is good in the world, and I feel it is often associated with religion done right. I feel blessed, though I don’t deserve it.
Boneshaker (Cherie Priest) #Steampunk
Photo credit http://theclockworkcentury.com A little over a year ago, I purchased a book in the Steampunk genre that caught my eye. That book was Dreadnought, by Cherie Priest. As I worked my way through my to-be-read digital stack, I came upon the book and thought it might also be a good candidate for an audio book, since I had some credits waiting to be used. Then, I realized that Dreadnought is not the first book in the series. I did some research, visited the web site of Cherie Priest, and decided to start at the beginning with Boneshaker.Here is the premise for Boneshaker.During the 1860’s, the Russian government holds a contest to see who can create a mining machine best suited for escalation of a gold vein in the Klondike. A scientist by the name of Leviticus Blue takes the challenge, but his creation does terrible damage to Seattle, forcing an evacuation due to a release of toxic gas that has some seriously catastrophic side effects, i.e. people turned in to “rotters.” The area is walled up. Some people remain inside to contend with the gas and the undead.The main character, Briar Wilkes, pursues her teenage son into the city as he imparts on a foolhardy quest. Each has dangerous adventures and learns things that perhaps they might have feared to learn, had they known what they were really looking for.All in all, I enjoyed Boneshaker and plan to continue with the series. Some of the writing is good, some is excellent. The story is a basic action adventure plot that moves at a good pace. I read some reviews after I started listening to the audiobook, and that might have prejudiced me negatively. For some reason the negative reviews stuck in my mind and I viewed each character and plot device through that tainted lens. I finished the book and was glad I did. The only other Steampunk books I have read have been Japanese Steampunk (Stormdancer and Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff). So far I have enjoyed the genre and recommend these books for those who enjoy speculative fiction.
Blueprint Your Bestseller: Organize and Revise Any Manuscript with the Book Architecture Method (Stuart Horwitz)
Photo credit: http://www.bookarchitecture.com From time to time, a book on writing competes for my top five selections on the craft of writing. Like many Indie authors in the current publishing environment, I’m aware that competition is fierce. I first heard the number one rule of book marketing from Donald Maass, “Write the best book possible.”One way to do that is to study the craft of writing a novel.Blueprint Your Bestseller, by Stuart Horwitz, now has an honored place in my top five books on this subject. Why?Horwitz teaches the Book Architecture Method, which complements all I have learned about writing over the years and clears a few things up.The BAM focuses on finding the right scenes in the right order. I am breaking my current work-in-progress into scenes, polishing the good, discarding the worthless, and fixing those with potential. Great stuff! I plan to revise previous works using this process. Needless to say, the future of writing is bright and exciting.But wait, that’s not all. Horwitz ties the concept of scenes together with series. Briefly, series are the aspects of scenes that tie everything together and give a story cohesion and richness. The concept of series has clarified many stories in my unpublished backlist.Horwitz also drives home the point that theme maters. He’s fond of saying your book can only be about one thing. Theme has always been hard to pin down, since I spent the first thirty years of my vocation writing by the seat of my pants, with only a few guilty attempts to outline after the fact.The BAM made theme much easier, and more friendly, to work with.The final game changer for me was Horwitz’s discussion of limitation. Without going into detail, I say now that this concept has made my work-in-progress tighter, clearer, and more powerful.Reading this review, you might wonder if I have a financial interest in Horwitz’s book. I don’t. It is not the only method I find useful, but it is in my top five.The BAM is work, don’t get me wrong. But I think it’s one path to great writing.
A. Lincoln: A Biography – Ronald C. White Jr.
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.
Books That Will Make You A Better Writer
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)
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.
The Light Who Shines – Lilo J Abernathy
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.
A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin
(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.
Blue Hearts of Mars – Nicole Grotepas
(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.
The Day of the Jackal – Frederick Forsyth
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.
Book Reviews from the Moon: Second Star: Breaking Through
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