Monday, December 27, 2010

True Crime Top 30

The True Crime Books Reviews site is taking reader votes on their top 30 picks of TC books for 2010. I rarely read this genre, and was surprised/pleased to see two authors I know.

Phyllis Gobbell (A Season of Darkness) and I have been friends for several decades, and Amanda Lamb (The Evil Next Door) I met (in cyberville) just recently.

Congratulations to both of them.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tidbits 12-20-2010

For first time since 1378, total lunar eclipse of full moon to fall on winter solstice. It happens tonight! Learn what you can see (and when)


If you think the younger generation has totally gone cyber/electronic/plug-me-in, check out Matt's blog, "Adventures in Typewriterdom."


It's an ereader, for pity's sake. I don't want mine attracting any attention, or someone might try to steal it. But other people... Of course, you could always get a leather-bound (rarely found any more) flip-the-page book, if that’s the "feel" you want.


I checked out those Top Twenty-five book covers at Huffington Post. Yuk. I only found two that were compelling. Most had too much clutter, and the fonts were really hard to read. Here are books with covers I find rather dynamic: I haven't read this book and David Dalglish's book, which I have read (bought it because of the cover!).

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Grave Undertaking Character Perspective - Review

In the contemporary mystery Grave Undertaking, protagonist Barry Clayton has returned home from several years of police work to help with the family funeral business. His father has Alzheimer's and decisions have to be made. While attending business at the graveyard with a local minister, the grave diggers unearth a murdered corpse on top of the burial vault they had come to move. A wallet in the murdered man's pocket reveals a photo that shocks Barry—it's of his girlfriend, Susan.

Susan immediately becomes a suspect in the murder, and Barry is drawn into an "unofficial" investigation to protect her and her family from scandal. As he develops clues, interviews people, gets shot at and beat up, he also must continue his mortician work and decide if selling the business to a national funeral home chain is in the best interest of his family.

I was struck by the fluid and spare way the author got from one segment of the story to another. I think this element stood out for me because a book I had attempted right before this one had been ponderous in its story movement.

In one section (of the book I didn't finish), it took several paragraphs for a character to get out of his car, up the steps, through a series of doors and into his apartment. Yet nothing was revealed during those paragraphs that brought nuances or information to the story or the characterization. Details were given like stage settings. Another segment had: "I stood and extended my hand to her. Laura took it, and then used it to slip her arm around my back." Not only is this hard to visualize, but it doesn't advance the story. These sentences were part of five paragraphs at the beginning of a chapter that were merely setting a scene--a scene the reader had been in for the past fifteen pages. When dialogue that would get out information did begin, it was repetitive and stilted. Also "I extended my hand. She took it," shows up at least four other times in what I read. Hence, Castrique's book seemed swift and lively by comparison.

Grave Undertaking involved the first person protagonist in all aspects of the story, even the descriptions. In the other book, the protagonist seemed more like a camera lens, showing the details without any invested emotion. Even when "to slip her arm around my back" happened, it wasn't followed with how that made the protagonist feel. Castrique's book had only one hand-holding sentence and it told a lot in eleven words. "I reached down and grabbed her hand with a gentle squeeze." The action words--grabbed and squeeze--give expression to the line; gentle lets you know his tender feelings.

Writing style and presentation carry a lot of weight with me, and even when I don't intend to, I analyze these characteristics in every book I read. I imagine most readers do, in their subconscious at least, and their reactions to these elements result in a positive or negative response to the book.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Top Picks in Books

No, I'm not giving my top picks. But a flurry of "tops" are available online. Here are a few

I'm certain even more suggestions or declarations will come forth in the remaining December weeks.

What would your picks be? Come on, tell me. I'm really interested!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Why are Bookstores Closing?

Can ebooks be the total blame? I think not. There's a lack of logic in many of the chain stores. For instance, Why have 40,000 titles on shelves for people to browse, and probably not buy? Not only are you in debt to your earlobes to publishers and distributors (Joseph Banks reportedly owes nearly $200,000 to Ingrams), but many of those books can't be returned. Also, many large chain bookstores are set up like a library; you can sit and read—have latte.... If you went every day or so, you could finish a whole book and not have to buy it.

The "chummy" attitude is also lost in large chain bookstores. Very few have knowledgeable sales people who will recommend a title, or, more importantly, who know what you read last and ask if you liked it. Hmm, Amazon does all that electronically, offering suggestions, and encouraging reader reviews. But Amazon doesn't supply the human factor that you can find with smaller indy booksellers.

Then there are other factors in the bookstore-closing dilemma. John B. Thompson’s book Merchants of Culture (Polity Press 2010) covers a lot of them. This interview tells more. "The publishing industry is in trouble—but not just because of the digital revolution."

Some other reasons? You tell me.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Fluke Opportunities

Six rounds down and four to go in the National Finals Rodeo. This might not seem related to writing and books, but...Rodeo has been very good to me.
Back in the 1990 when I lived in Tennessee, I freelanced in action photography and writing (huh, I still do). I shot saddle club shows, 4-H shows, hunter-jumper and dressage competitions. I had horses, one I was training for endurance riding. Another was a good "ranch horse," and since he seemed pretty smart, I senet him off for extra training. The horseman training my gelding to be a header (rodeo term) suggested I take pictures at his ranch for a charity team-roping competition. 5-time NFR All Around Cowboy Larry Mahan would be there. 

"Oh yeah!" 

Not only did I have fun meeting and chatting with Mahan, but I realized these competitors were anxious for pictures of their sport. I also realized I enjoyed the quick shooting, fast moving team roping much more than the horse-club shows and hunter-jumper gigs I'd been doing. 

Next thing you know, I was a card carrying in-the-arena rodeo photographer. My photos and many articles were published in the rodeo magazine (International Professional Rodeo, not PRCA) and they called me to cover the regional finals and write a few spotlight pieces. That was my weekend work. At this same time, I was an assistant editor for a national sports publication where I learned to "write on the fly" and work with Quark layouts.

These two involvements sparked a great deal of what I do today, and it started when one of the area rodeo companies asked if I would help them produce a program for their next season. Hey, why not. I wasn't sure all that would entail, but I agreed. I didn't actually aid them, though. I did the whole dang thing! Ninety percent of the photos were mine, I shot products for advertisements, I wrote 98% of the text; I designed the cover and layout, and oversaw all the production. "Do a brochure, too," they requested. "A tri-fold." So I did. This in the days of four-color separation and graphics programs that contained only a smidgen of today's capabilities.
The work was a real challenge, and I realized this new experience was something I enjoyed.

The year of the rodeo publication, I relocated to Montana and although I continue to shoot action photography, rodeo isn't a big part of it. But I bought my first dot com and published a web site that's still around. It included a rodeo sub domain (that I've since abandoned). At the turn of this century, there weren't many rodeo sites, and my photos gained popularity on the Web. I enhanced the rodeo terms I'd written for the Lone Star program and put them online. Not only have I sold photos from this site to a few international magazines, but the Idaho High School Rodeo Association bought one-time rights to my "terms" page to include in their Rodeo Queen pamphlet. I also used my rodeo knowledge to give color to sections of my contemporary novel Blood and Bond. It's not a rodeo story, but several scenes take place in that setting.

All of this spurs me to make note of the NFR (and the IPRA finals in January). I like rodeo, and the fluke opportunities that got me involved have blossomed into a many positive enterprises.

A note to writers just starting out: Don’t turn down any chance to try something different. You never know where it will lead, and if nothing more, the experience can possibly be used to enhance your writing projects.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Poetry Forms

In a lot of modern poetry, form and structure seem to have disappeared. I like reading it, though. I often use traditional poetry to jump start a prose project; word usage is crucial in poems and the discipline gets me focused.

Poetry comes in many forms, some of which have been around for centuries. The sonnet dates back to 13th century Italy. Japanese haiku: evolved from the 16th century; this form and tanka were favorites of the ruling courts. Other poetry styles are newer structures. Free Verse: is the English for vers libre; the term was coined by French Symbolist poets in the late-19th century.

The limerick dates to the mid-19th century. This humorous and often ribald style of poetry was popularized in 1846 by Edward Lear's A Book of Nonsense. A limerick consists of five lines, and thirteen beats (3, 3, 2, 2, 3), and the rhyme scheme is a, a, b, b, a. The first line most often ends in a place name, and the last line ends with the same word as the first line. Puns and plays on words are usually included. Here's an example:

There once was a man from Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket;
But his daughter named Nan
Ran away with a man,
And as for the bucket, Nantucket.

Although I've written and published poetry, I've never been able to come up with a limerick ("An old woman lived north of Helena/ and went to the..." duh, what rhymes with Helena?)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mystery Definitions

A few years ago, Steven Womack invited me to the opening autograph party for his book By Blood Written, from Severn House. In the 1990s, Steve and I were both part of the indefatigable still-in-existence Nashville Writers Alliance (the group started in 1978). He knew I couldn't get to the event (1800 miles away) but he usually keeps me in the loop on writing endeavors. About By Blood Written, Booklist wrote: "Chockablock with unusual twists, the tension is palpable, and the denouement is terrifying. An edge-of-the seat thriller."

Thriller? I had thought it was a Suspense novel. I sent him congratulations and decided to get his take on the mystery subcategory of suspense/thriller, since he's an Edgar Award-winning mystery writer. He responded:

"As for the difference between mystery and suspense (or suspense/thriller) [aha! all one category!], I tend to fall back on a Hitchcockian perspective. To Hitchcock, mystery was primarily an intellectual exercise or a puzzle. A crime is committed and you, as the reader or viewer, get to put all the evidence together and see if you can figure out the murderer before the protagonist does. It's a game... "Suspense, on the other hand, is where the audience knows more than the protagonist. We know who the bad guys are, we care about the good guys, we are emotionally engaged with suspense on a level that we aren't in traditional mystery. And suspense depends less on surprise than on emotion; Hitchcock's classic example is where a couple sits over the kitchen table sipping coffee and suddenly there's a terrible explosion. That's surprise. But if the audience or reader knows that in the husband's briefcase under the kitchen table, someone has planted a bomb and neither one of the couple knows it's there, and we know the bomb is going to go off at nine a.m. and we can see on the kitchen clock that it's now 8:56, then for the next four minutes our stomachs are going to be in our throats waiting to see if the bomb goes off. "It's a visceral/emotional connection rather than an intellectual one, which is why, I think, suspense has proven to be more popular than ever these days."

Steve's reference to Hitchcock are not surprising. Womack teaches scriptwriting at Nashville's Watkin's College of Art & Design Film School. He's written a few TV scripts, too. He's won the Edgar, and has been nominated for numerous other international mystery awards, including the Shamus, and the Anthony. Can't wait for his next mystery, suspense/thriller or whatever.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Early American Writer

James Fenimore Cooper is one of America's first novelists. In his first series, The Littlepage Manuscripts, Corny Littlepage was the hero of the Satanstoe. Other books in the series, (written in two years!) are The Chainbearer and The Redskins. All the novels deal with the anti-rent controversy of the mid-1840s.

Cooper's strong political feelings in favor of the landed gentry progressively colored each book until the last is considered more of a diatribe than a novel. Since he favored the "landed gentry" they obviously favored him, by publishing his books that espoused their needs with no care to the essence of a good novel. (Even then, it paid to have connections!).

Cooper's best known and hallmark Leatherstocking series wasn't named for a character. The protagonist was Natty Bumppo--a"natural man." The five books tell Bumppo's life from his youth (Deerslayer) to his death (The Prairie). The Leatherstocking series also includes The Pioneers(1823), The Last of the Mohicans (1826), and The Pathfinder (1840).

Cooper was a family man; he married Susan DeLancey in 1811.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Active Senior

Now that I qualify for this marketing category of "senior," I'm really conscious of how my peers are represented in books. Several mystery writers have had senior protagonists, but most often in the Cozies and the protagonist is a bit ditzy and whimsical. The Man from Yesterday by Seymour Shubin offers a a fresh character with senior status.

In this mystery, retired police detective Jack Lehman becomes embroiled in investigating a heist that hasn't yet been reported to the police. In his seventies, Lehman can't always recall details on demand, and the local constabulary thinks he's a bit balmy--even when his life is threatened. Nonetheless, Lehman is doggedly active, aggressive and creative in his search for the truth. His emotional relationships with wife and son, as well as memories from the past, are also interesting.

Shubin has created a believable character and good supporting cast in this intriguing story.

Friday, November 26, 2010

GITP Guest Linda Sandifer on Platform

Thanks to Linda Sandifer for providing this Guest Post.

Linda Sandifer is author of thirteen novels in various genres, mostly western romance. She is a member of Western Writers of America, Women Writing the West, and Idaho's Blue Sage Writers. Her latest release, The Last Rodeo (contemporary fiction) is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble online. It is also available in the Kindle Store. Learn more about Linda's books at her Web site.

Build Your Platform Today
© 2010 Linda Sandifer

We writers continually face the challenge to keep our writing fresh for today's readers and also to be knowledgeable about new technology and marketing trends. We are expected to be able to describe our book and its concept in one line and to state our platform right up front. The platform has, in fact, become increasingly important to agents and editors before they will consider a contract. They want a ready-made audience and a way to create a buzz for your book. In this tough market, it isn't sufficient anymore to assume the publisher will handle the marketing so you can sit back and write your next book. They want you involved.

So what is a platform for a writer? According to Merriam Webster, a platform is simply "a plan, a design." It is: (1) "a declaration of the principles on which a group of persons stands," (2) a "device or structure incorporating or providing a platform," and (3) a "place or opportunity for public discussion."
We spend months, sometimes years, plotting our books. When the book is finished, it's time to take a good hard look at ourselves. What have you got going for you--other than having written a marvelous book--with which to get readers' attention? If you look through Writer's Digest Magazine, you'll see some of the "Breaking In" writers state their platforms as social networking; i.e., a blog and an audience on Twitter and Facebook. This might also include doing guest blogs and having a website. Some writers write articles for magazines, ensuring a byline. Other writers speak at conferences and talk to writers' and readers' groups, or they teach writing classes. It's always smart to join a writer's organization that reflects your genre. This will open more doors with which to reach readers. If you have special expertise pertaining to your book it will give you more credibility. For example, you're a doctor and you've written a medical thriller.

What if you feel you don't have any particular expertise with which to build your platform? No title behind your name. No Masters or PhD. Does it doom you and your book? No, just dig deeper. Be creative. Perhaps you did an incredible amount of research for your book. Perhaps you spent a year talking to locals and exploring the Australian outback where your book is set. Is there a way you can "brand" yourself? To identify yourself in some unique way?

A platform boils down to any means you have to get your name and your book out there. Start building your platform early on, even before your book is finished. A solid platform will help you get published and maybe even become a "name brand" writer. But, first and foremost, write the best darned book you can! Everything else aside, your book will stand on its own legs. It will be the foundation for your platform.

Here are two of Linda's platforms: her blog and her Web site.



3 comments on original post:

  1. This is so true, Linda - and not easy for us "breaking-in" authors. It can take years to get a name for yourself, I think.
    Great, and interesting, post.
  2. Thanks, Sue. Glad you enjoyed it. I think it's hard for all authors, even those of us who have been around for awhile.
  3. Thanks for this post! Lots of good information to think about.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Telling the BackStory

Here are two books that have different and effective ways of telling the backstory. The tactic often used is a direct narrative about the past, but these authors were more creative.

In the historical piece, The Diezmo, Rick Bass used a first-person narrative, and the reader learns right at the beginning that the story is a remembrance, told fifty-years after the fact. This allows information to be presented that the narrator wouldn't have known at the time, and we're told that:"...he always paused near the end. It was not until much later...that I found out he had been skipping a sentence..." (page 11). Background information about characters is given ("$1400 worth of jewelry…")--precise facts that the narrator wouldn't have known at the time. Bass could also relate incidents about other people who weren't in the narrator's presence--information the narrator learned during the ensuing 50 years ("John Alexander and his group spent the rest of the day lying in that pool...In the meantime--never dreaming of Alexander's success...")

The book's Epilogue reinforces the fifty years that have past before the telling, and gives closure to the story.

The other title is contemporary. In Blue Dog, Green River author Brock Brower chose to make his first-person narrator the recipient of a story. The "I" character is river rafting with a friend, and the friend, Paul, tells the story. Opening lines: "'I spaced the dog [Blue Dog].' Paul Nozik started telling me his story up on a Navaho sandstone ledge..."

The narrator isn't really a participant in the story, but the verbose Paul tells it all, including the background of other characters, the geology of the region, and more. The reader is reminded of the passive narrator on occasion: "Paul stood up, dusting his palms, you could see excited. He does love to tell you the best part of a story…He got me up, politely dragging me along for company, talking his way around to the far side of this squared-off limestone." Brower breaks up Paul's storytelling with chapters from Blue Dog's perspective, in an omniscient narration rich in language and detail.

Both authors kept their stories short (Blue Dog, Green River - 108 pages, The Diezmo- 208 pages) and I enjoyed reading these well-crafted books.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Contact-- Finally

I while back I contacted the Barnes & Noble "corrections" department and asked them to consolidate my meager titles under one name. Contact was made by e-mail with an addie given to me by the rep in the distribution department. I hadn't been able to find a single link on the site for "customer" or "author" service.

So I e-mailed my request. Received nada in return and after two days with no changes to my B&N page, I assumed my missive didn't get through.

So I emailed my request again--this time with a delivery confirmation tag and a return receipt request. Ah! Delivery confirmation! but that was it.

Yet when I visited my B&N page the next day, my titles were consolidated as I had asked.

Wouldn't you think a company with a big online presence would at least have an auto-responder to let people know they "heard" you?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bright of the Sky - Review

Bright of the Sky (Entire and the Rose, #1)Bright of the Sky by Kay Kenyon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I downloaded this eBook after reading a blurb about it in Kindle Nations (I think).

I liked the writing, the concept and the characterizations. The beginning was a bit slow, with the introduction of characters that weren't even necessary to the true story. The point of view shifted a lot, and it took me many pages before I realized who was the main protagonist. Once I got to that point, I found the action very dynamic; it kept me "turning" the pages and wondering what would happen next.

Why isn't this a 4-star or more? Partly because of the tedious beginning, and then because of several glitches in the storyline where information seemed thrown in or inconsistent with what was previously told.

I imagine I'll read book 2--again, because of the good character development. I want to know what happens to these people.

View all my reviews

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Incredible Premise

A number of years ago, I read The Discrete Charm of Charlie Monk by David Ambrose and I recently revisited it. The book is incredibly inventive--filled with VR, biogenics and more. A mystery with political overtones and families in distress. Each page brings something different.

Product Description from the publisher:

"Charlie Monk is the ultimate spy, willing to do absolutely anything to accomplish his mission. He has no conscience, no fear...and no memory. Charlie's friend, Dr. Susan Flemyng, thinks she may have found a way to give him his memory back. As the two of them embark on a series of scientific experiments to try and recover Charlie's long-lost memory, they find something terrifying in the deepest recesses of Charlie's mind. Their discovery will turn science on its head, call reality itself into question-and force Charlie and Dr. Flemyng to risk their lives for the entire human race."

"The entire human race." Now there's a broad statement. One which many SF books fall into—perceiving the intricacies of western civilized endeavors as really having global impact. ENTIRE is too massive a word. Ethnologists are still discovering "lost tribes," so it's a bit over the top to think that some Dr. Frankensteins in D.C. will really be able to make changes in the entire human race.

Oh well, it's a premise that has been used for decades. A premise that repelled me from SF books in mid-twentieth century when everything was male-driven and western Judeo-Christian driven. I find fault with it, but books sell because of it. Most readers are, after all, part of the societies that consider themselves the "entire human race" and so if they see a threat to their niche, they assume it's global.

Reminds me of that great movie "The Gods Must be Crazy."

Ambrose, nonetheless, continues to create upbeat, nervy, and intriguing stories. They are often marketed as mainstream and not SF or mystery, even though his web site's sub title is "Hitchcock meets Hawking."

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Public Libraries

I really enjoy reading books. I'm usually reading two or three books at a time. You'd think my house would be overflowing in books. But only one wall of one room has filled bookshelves. I used to have many more than that, and I also once vowed I would always buy a copy of my friends' books. There is a long shelf on my wall filled with autographed books of friends. But I couldn't keep that up; so many of my friends are writers—rather successful writers, too—that I would have gone broke in two years.

But I'm able to appease my reading habit (greatly increased in the winter months) by going to my Public Library. The "New Books" shelves are where I start browsing. Every week I'm there, returning five or six books and borrowing six or seven more. I recently came across mention of a title online that I thought I'd enjoy. My library didn't have it. BUT, they ordered it for me on Interlibrary Loan. No charge. I used that service quite a bit when I was doing research for a science book I wrote. I borrowed books from Portland and Chicago, from military libraries and universities.

Our local library foundation is oldest in the state, dating back to the mid-19th Century—one of the first libraries West of the Mississippi; the building that holds it now is much newer and was recently updated. The library fills other of my needs, too, with lectures, workshops, visiting authors and more.

When I was a kid, the town library was a Carnegie Library--an impressive place with a Greek colonnade at the front doors. I remember the doors as being massive, although I'm sure that's a trick of time. Inside the floors were marble tile; I think of the whole building as one big room with the ceilings fifteen feet or more high. In cavernous spaces like that sound bounces around and intensifies. No wonder librarians have the "shhh" reputation.

The Carnegie Library concept really made books accessible to more people, but back in the early twentieth century when Andrew Carnegie opened one of his libraries in Pittsburgh (his home city), many authors weren't too keen on the idea. According to the Carnegie site, local mystery writer, K.C. Constantine, wrote: "Any writer who sees that one copy of one his books in one library has been lent twenty-six times in one year…and knows that he was paid only one royalty check from the time the library made the original purchase knows plenty about involuntary servitude…"

I appreciate my books being in libraries. When I go to other towns and cities, I check the shelf or computer inventory to see if they have my titles. If I sold to every library in the country, that would be a nice dividend. Occasionally I find a real gem at the library, a book I read and am so taken with that I BUY THE BOOK.

Now, with the eBook evolution, I admit I don’t visit as often; and this winter, when slick roads and whiteouts will make driving the 15 miles to town a treacherous proposition, I will snuggle up with my eBook reader and a steamy mug of tea, glad not to be going out.

But I won’t ever stop going to the library. I like the eBooks, and I also like holding and flipping pages of a dtBook.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Watch the Hour

Watch the Hour
J. R. Lindermuth
Kindle edition: April 15th 2009, Whiskey Creek Press LLC

I downloaded this eBook because I like J. R. Lindermuth's writing style, although the subject matter is quite different from his mystery series.

Watch the Hour is historical fiction, but with Lindermuth's usual depth of characters and story. The sense of place is excellent, truly placing me in the early Pennsylvania coal-mining towns. Information about mining was deftly inter-worked with the story, which takes place during the time of the Mollie McGuires and attempts to unionize the mines. The development includes the clash of cultures, several families, mine owners, foremen, Irish workers, and law enforcement. I often felt there were too many viewpoints.

The ethnic tension is punctuated with a cross-culture romance that seems destined to fail. Most of the characters were very sympathetic, and the bad guys were--really BAD guys. The depiction of Father Delaney was particularly good.

Roll all this in with rich language and volatile weather (always one of my favorite characters) and Watch the Hour is an exciting, well-wrought read.

I give a +5 for writing, +4 for character development, +3 for story line, +5 for historical content.

Learn more about J. R. Lindermuth at Lindy's Lair.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

TV Great Cannell

I always got a smile when seeing the Cannell icon come up at the end of a program. I'd think, 'No wonder I liked this so much.' My favorite was "Greatest American Hero," followed closely by "The Rockford Files". I still watch Rockford when I see a rerun.
Reruns will have to do from now on, as TV writer/producer Stephen J. Cannell passed away on 1 October 2010.
Here is a remembrance from someone who knew him, and not just his programs.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Covers for Wheeler's Books Completed

Richard S. Wheeler's latest Kindle offerings are up. The three-book Sam Flint series. It took me forever to complete the cover. I'm never totally satisfied. All three covers have the same setup, but with the name of the newspaper changing with the title. A Fun series.
Flint's Gift, Flint's Truth, Flint's Honor

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Parttime Pet

I moved furniture around in the living room today, getting ready for my house guest--my neighbor's little Chihuahua, Paco Laco (or maybe it's Pacolaco). He stays at my house rather than a kennel when his "folks" go on trips.

You can't tell from the picture, but Paco is blind, so kennels confuse him, and staying with the neighbors who have big dogs is a disaster. So he comes to my house, where he knows his way around and all.

The furniture was always in a certain pattern on his last visits, so I've put it back to that configuration so he won't bump into things. I'll get out the little bed I made for him and keep in my office. He knows right where that is, too, and sleeps away while I'm busy at the computer.

I do have to walk him on a leash; the yard isn't fenced, and there's the danger of eagles, ravens or fox seeing him as prey if he were out on his own. We have a morning and evening ritual run up the driveway and back (maybe 1/8 mile RT). In the evenings when I'm watching TV, he toddles in and jumps onto the sofa and snuggles (another reason to have the sofa in the same place he's used to}.

For me, this is the best way to have a dog -- part time. Like I've heard people say about grandkids: right when they start to be an aggravation, you get to send them home. :-)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

September 25 - October 2, 2010

Banned Books Week starts today and runs through next week (September 25 - October 2, 2010).

This annual event celebrates the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Promoted by the American Library Association, sponsors are many, including Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

What to do during this time? Find a title that has been banned somewhere, and read it. I'll probably read an Alexie Sherman title (pick one, any one, and it's probably been banned); maybe Huck Finn, or Animal Farm. I already have Ayn Rand's Anthem on my Kindle.

This is a Freedom issue. If there's someone reading this who thinks book banning is okay, think of the other types of bans that could be forced on us that would take away our right to choice. If you don't like a book, don't read it. If you find a certain title offensive, that means your curious self probably DID read it, and now you're in a tiff. Get over it. And don't attempt to proscribe for others what they should or shouldn't do.

For sensible thinkers, trot off to your public Library and Indy bookseller and get involved. Click here for lists of Banned Books.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Serpent in the Thorns

Serpent in the Thorns
Author: Jeri Westerson
288 pages, published September 2009 by Minotaur
I plucked this book from my Public Library, New Book shelf.

On occasion I enjoy reading books set a very different locale. Since I write American historical fiction and science fiction, I'm drawn to something that isn't in my bailiwick. Serpent in the Thorns certainly fit that.

I was immediately swept into the 14th century London setting. Jeri Westerson does a great job conveying sense of place--one of the keys to keeping me a happy reader.

The mystery involving series protagonist Crispin Guest, was intricate and filled with action as Guest is drawn into political intrigue of the Court (Richard II) and dealings with France--the very type of situation that had Guest's knighthood stripped from him seven years earlier. So rather than being part of the Court, he lives in a poorer part of London and employs himself as a "tracker" (a PI, if you will).

All the characters were smartly drawn and distinctive. I felt some loose ends in the story development, but I nitpick on these things.

This is a good action mystery--well-written and vivid.

You can learn more about Jeri Westerson and the Guest series at her Web site

Monday, September 13, 2010

Rolling Thunder - Book Review

I'm playing catch-up with reviews previously posted on Goodreads.

Rolling ThunderRolling Thunder by Thomas C. Stone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I downloaded this Smashwords book after reading reviews and comments from the author, Thomas C. Stone. As a writer of SF and a reader of SF, I couldn't pass it up. And also, the title was the same as a book I already owned--not SF--about a 1970's American Indian spiritual leader (Rolling Thunder, by Doug Boyd).

Smashwords books are often limited in aesthetic "real book" look, but that didn't matter. Stone's Rolling Thunder was compelling enough to read even if it had been in longhand.

I give 5 stars for character development. Jacqueline Judson and T.L. O'Toole are vibrant and well defined, as are all the sub-characters, from TL's companion Sera to a not-so-nice Acala. When I wasn't reading, I often thought of them, and wondered what would happen next—anxious for free time to get back to the story.

In SF, an important "character" for me is the world. Stone's Pax Noma was as interesting and well described as the flesh-and-blood characters.

For the story line: I'd only give 4 stars. The action was well done and believable, but the tie-in to what was happening politically on Pax Noma didn't show up until very close to the end. I'd say more about the actual "rolling thunder" but that would lead to spoilers. The ending pushed the envelope a bit on believable development, and this only hit me after I'd finished the book and pondered it for a day. That a book makes you ponder after reading it, is a true positive.

When all was factored in, I rated this book that in the way IRS reckons taxes; my 4.6 becomes a 5.

Stone has written several SF books. Visit his Web site

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Charlie Parker Mystery

Deadly Gamble: The First Charlie Parker Mystery (Charlie Parker Mystery Series)Deadly Gamble: The First Charlie Parker Mystery by Connie Shelton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I appreciated the first person presentation in Deadly Gamble. I don't usually like first-person stories. First person is hard to do, and Shelton got it right.

The story, with who killed sleaze-bag Detweiler, gets Charlie involved because an estranged childhood friend is involved and comes to her for help. Lots of good descriptions of Albuquerque's various neighborhoods as Charlie does her first sleuth work.

I was moderately dissatisfied with the conclusion, mostly because it seemed almost an after thought. But I'm really picky. This is a good, fast-paced, well-written mystery.

View all my reviews

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Plot or Characters, the Challenge of Writing

I've read many stories where I'm not even fond of the main character, but the situation is dynamic enough to keep me turning the pages (or click the right arrow in e-books). I wonder what will happen, and mostly, how the character will develop. Having the story line build around the strengths and weaknesses of characters is a big part of this urge to keep reading.

Several years ago, a blogger ran a "which comes first" series of interviews with different authors, asking if their novels have started with the character or with the plot. The answers were interesting, and nearly 60% have said plot comes first.

I'm in the minority again. I'm one who answered characters first. Most of my novels have started with definite features of the protagonist. As I think this through, I began to know all my characters as if they were kin: their family situations (siblings, and extended family); if they're passive or aggressive, and whether or not something helped shape them that way. I know their favorite foods and pet peeves, and pretty much know how they will respond to stress, adversity, surprises, joy.

With these traits firmly in mind, I then form a story that will test my characters. Usually I have a backdrop, because that's part of the character's life. But the puzzle and mystery of forming this story is the enjoyable challenge of writing. Very often the characters surprise me, by responding with a few wrinkles I hadn’t conceived. These add complexity to the story and characters; and I write away—smiling, certain I'll have characters that will compel a reader.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mark Twain's Year

Did you know?

The year 2010 marks the 175th anniversary of Samuel Langhorne Clemence’s (Mark Twain) birth, the 125th anniversary of Twain’s pinnacle work Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and the 100th anniversary of his death.

Various celebrations are listed at Hannibal MO website.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

To Tell or Not to Tell

© 2010 Kae Cheatham

Through open invitation on a forum on Kindle boards, I submitted bits about my book Child of the Mist to Vicki Leiske's blog Victorine Writes. It's a neat concept she has to see if the first 400 words will "hook" her into wanting to read more. I've enjoyed reading the hooks of other writers, and also enjoyed Vicki's comments.
With my piece, she wondered about a certain action of my character--hacking off bits of her hair and saying, "for you, Mother". What I had written (or hadn't written) is a good example of an author assuming too much. I wrote that section assuming readers would know the character was mourning for her mother. In many American Indian cultures, cutting hair is a way to show grief for the loss of a loved one. Silly me, to expect everyone to know that, and I could have explained it with just a few more words.
Often reviews and critiques mention how too much is explained, or the wordiness of a passage because it's stating the obvious. But exclusion and too much brevity can also be a fault. Writers of historical fiction often get caught by this. All their research and years of reading history makes them forget that everyone doesn't have this knowledge--maybe explaining a tad more might be helpful.
This is also true for those who write about anything fairly technical, be it sail boating or the possibility of wormholes. What the author knows almost innately, doesn't always translate someone who is unfamiliar with the subject.
It's a tricky area: don't tell enough (as I did not), and readers are a bit confused; tell too much, and readers are bored. Learning how to tread that fine line takes practice, and still doesn't guarantee you'll get it right.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

E-book Layout. Is it Right?

Ah, the eBook revolution. You grab it for free, or for less than $2.00 or for less than $6.00. But the price doesn't always make a difference in what you see. We're talking book layout, here, not the actual read.
Get It Together Productions (GITP) has produced several eBooks, and we know the translation from text to the eBook platform can be—interesting. All the more need to carefully peruse the reproduced product; not just a few pages at the beginning, but study all of it. Even the Smashwords manual’s recommended example of a "good layout" went along fine until about a third of the way through, and then all the words to the end were capitalized. Not good.
Once your manuscript is "published" take a close look to be certain it's the way you want it. All publishing companies recommend this in their manuals, but it seems many authors miss the tip. After multiple re-reads and edits, it probably looms as too much effort to go through the entire book—again.
Often books are without copyright information. Yikes! Even if a book is a "freebie" and not DRM protected, the copyright information should be at the start of the book. A title page, too—please!
GITP creates an eBook layout to look like a print book layout—that is, first line indents and no spaces between paragraphs. Some readers don't mind the block form where the text looks like it was lifted from a Web page, but that's no reason to do it. Make the book look professional.
Since each eBook publisher has a different production process, the results will vary. Just because a book looks good in Smashwords, doesn't mean it will be okay on Kindle. This means checking each format. It might mean four or five proofreads. (Oh, groan!)
There is a positive to all this. You can always utilize that great advantage of eBook publishing—Republishing—to be certain your final product represents you in the very best way.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Getting Paid By the Word?

Several books I've recently read (or tried to read) by well-established authors have been grossly overwritten. I wonder if they've convinced their publishers to return to the payment style in the days of Dickens--by the word.

Or, more probably, their "big name" makes editors careless with their suggestions, comments, and editing: The "Oh, he's got 15 published titles in the last 4 years...he must know what he's doing" syndrome. As overworked as most editors are, I can see them not editing for these big names, just pushing the manuscript through to proofreading and copy editing.

That makes it pretty hard on the readers who have to wade through paragraphs of redundant phrases and narration.