Sunday, July 31, 2011

#SampleSunday: Educating the City Boy from "My Last Romance"

Fifi grew up in a rural Pennsylvania area in the Allegheny Highlands with three brothers who loved country living. She escaped to the city and married Tim who is educated and well-bred but for some reason she just doesn't understand, Tim would rather hang out with her brothers and their friends than stay in Philadelphia. This is a scene from Treat Yourself to the Best, one of the short stories in My Last Romance and other passions:




"Thad," I say, remembering my earlier offer, "what are you doing tomorrow?"

He studies me for a moment. "Depends on what you want."

"I was telling Tim about going woodsing. He’s never been before. Would you take us?"

Thad looks at my drunken, happy husband then back at me. "Woodsing is a guy thing, Fifi. I’ll take Tim but if you come we won’t have any fun."

"You liar!" I stare at him. "You and Simon used to make me go with you even when I didn’t want to and then you’d threaten to leave me out in the woods."

He chuckles. "We weren’t woodsing then. We were just teaching you a lesson." He looks at Tim. "She was the most god-awful pain in the ass. I hope for your sake, she’s changed."

Tim is staring into his empty beer mug as though confused as to how it got that way. Thad, of course, is overly familiar with that circumstance and knows exactly what to do. He takes Tim’s mug and heads for the tap with the two of us trailing behind.

"The thing about woodsing is women just don’t get the good parts like getting shit-faced and driving through cricks and spitting tobacco out the window." As though suddenly reminded, he hands Tim the refilled mug and reaches into his hip pocket for the foil pouch. I can see the words "treat yourself to the best" on it as he reaches inside for a clump of the noxious brown weed. He offers the pouch to Tim who hesitates for a moment, glances at me, then shakes his head.

"There’s a wet t-shirt contest at Sloppy Ed’s tomorrow afternoon," he adds. "If you come with us you’d have to keep your mouth shut and we both know you’re no good at that."

"They still have those?" Tim says astonished.

"Yeah." Thad grins. "What? You thought we didn’t have any cultural entertainment around here? Naw, Tim, you can’t take women woodsing. You can take them spotting deer but not woodsing."

"What’s the difference?" Tim asks.

The old guys by the beer keg have been listening so Boris has to put his two cents in. "Spotting deer is a time honored tradition, son. You need a truck or a car with a good-sized back seat, a spotlight that runs off a car battery, a dark night and a pretty girl. Round here young bucks have been spottin deer with their girls since they invented the automobile."

"If it weren’t for spottin deer, Simon would still be a free man," Thad says just loud enough for Simon to hear. Simon looks up from the basin of ground meat he is kneading spices into and flashes a wide grin.

"Hell, boy," Eben adds. "If it weren’t for spottin deer I’d a never married either of my wives." Boris chuckles. "Can you believe that?" Eben elbows Tim’s ribs. "Getting a woman in trouble when she’s forty years old and you’re past fifty? I oughta had a knot tied in the thing."

"Spottin deer is responsible for half the population of Hamlet," Boris says. "Young guys around here wouldn’t ever get married if it weren’t for spottin deer. Lotta premature babies got started that way."

George, who is glassy-eyed by now, nods solemnly. "Got me one a them."

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Is It Possible To Write About A Negative?

While there is a case to be made that a good writer can write about anything, I've come to the realization that the average writer is undertaking quite a challenge when they decide to write about a non-occurrence. Take this story as an example – I'll call it The Day I Didn't Get To Go To the Beach.

One day when I was a kid all the kids in the neighborhood got to go to the beach except me. I had to stay home. It was a beautiful beach with lots of sand which was ideal for building sandcastles but I couldn't build one because I didn't get to go. The waves were high that day, perfect for jumping-through and body-surfing except I didn't get to do that because I didn't get to go. Everybody got snow cones which came in lots and lots of flavors but I didn't because.... well, you get the picture.

The reason I have been thinking about this is because I am reading a book right now about a young woman who has decided to “save herself for marriage”. It is a Christian-themed book and I am reading it because someone asked me if I would please read it and give my opinion. I am over 150 pages into it and this girl, despite a gazillion opportunities, is still a virgin and is determined to remain so. I'm having trouble staying awake while reading.

Now let me hasten to say I have no problem with this girl's choice. I always admire restraint when one is not ready for an experience and I do admire her principles – it's just dead boring to read about. For a few pages early in the book the author spent some time on the girl's emotions around her decision but the thing is she really doesn't have many, she made her decision for religious reasons and she is sticking to it which is fine but there isn't a lot more to say about all of this – except the author has another ±200 pages to fill.

As I was reading last night – and trying to stay awake – I started thinking about why this book is such a snoozer. Most of the characters are okay, her parents are nice, her younger siblings are nice, the boys who are trying to change her mind are pretty nice for the most part. Most of them respect her for her principles except a couple who don't and they'd be creeps whether she slept with them or not. Her parish priest is kind and supportive and admires her. The nuns who teach at the junior college she attends are interesting. This is a nice story about nice people (except for the creeps) and has a nice premise. How on earth anyone will stay awake to get to the end is anyone's guess...

The basis of all story telling is tension – something at risk. The reader reads because they want to know what is going to happen. Maybe this young heroine will slip up and all will be lost but I don't think so because the book's back cover tells us that this is an uplifting story about a young woman's commitment to her Christian principles. So far she has struggled with her sexual desire about as much as most of us struggle over getting another Graham cracker with peanut butter on it (if it was Nutella there might be more tension.)

So how do writers deal with non-occurrences? Over the past few years, as I've interacted with readers on sites like Goodreads and Amazon Discussion Boards, I've discovered that there are a fair number of readers who don't want a lot of tension in stories. They want nice, sweet, charming reads without too much conflict and a happy ending. And there are a lot of writers who write for that audience, I am just baffled by how those books survive.

One reader told me that her life has enough tension in it and that she wants a book that is comforting and heart-warming. She doesn't want sex, violence, swearing, drinking, illegal activities, and she really, really doesn't want suffering or cruelty to animals. Well, I'm betting she will like this book (except for the creeps) but, unless there are a lot more people out there like her, I don't know how books like this one are going to fare. The books I've loved the most in life are the ones that have challenged my thinking, tested my values, and pushed me to consider whether or not I really believe what I think I do.

I believe I will finish this book, send the author a nice polite note encouraging her to keep writing, and then read the new James Lee Burke or Daniel Silva. I know they will write about something and I won't be able to put it down.

Thanks for reading.


Friday, July 29, 2011

For/From Indie Authors: Bradley J. Milton

Business executive, former Deadhead, and '80s technologist Bradley J. Milton is the author of the new psychedelic reality-consciousness novel Huckleberry Milton.



Advice:
  • Use the writing tools you are familiar with. Everyone says to use Microsoft Word. That's ok, but if you aren't familiar with Word, or if you prefer others, that's ok too. Use 'em. I am very familiar with Norton Utilities, WordPerfect 5.1, Lotus 1-2-3, WordStar, PC-Write, Pro-Write, and many others. All of these are not as popular as Word. However, I am good at them. Productive. That's what matters. What happens is I can Create more material with these tools than I could if I were struggling around with Word. "What's this key do? Oops ..."
  • Try to beat outside your genre.  Today, genres are popular. Everybody loves vampires and teen comedies (Chick Lit). Also erotica. But there's more. Think of other monsters: the werewolves and Frankenstein are not as popular. Add them. I have a scene with UFO creatures in my new novel that is unusual, I believe, because they are not current popular. But it is a new Idea. Also, try to mix up Romance with Horror, Action/Adventure with Literary Fiction. Add all the genres, take different parts. Who cares about "pegging" your book into one -- I find that Readers are interested. They want to know. They'll be open. Just try it.
  • Talk to the world on Twitter. I am amazed at the success of Twitter. It is a powerful tool. You don't just put commercials on there, but you can communicate with millions. This happens quickly: as soon as you type out a message, the whole world can see it. Direct messages to the people who interest you. It's nice. I sometimes ask questions, and I learn on there. I tell people what I am doing. I make suggestions. You can see what I have by adding @bradleyjmilton to your list of users to follow. Let me know and I'll look. http://twitter.com/bradleyjmilton
Links:
http://www.amazon.com/Huckleberry-Milton-ebook/dp/B0052TAMDY
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/62016
http://www.twitter.com/bradleyjmilton

Thursday, July 28, 2011

So long, Bill, thanks for all the music...

Last week through all the sadness over Amy Winehouse's untimely death another great singer/songwriter left this world, too. Bill Morrissey was only 59 and he leaves behind an awful lot of awful good music. I've got to say, of the two, I'll miss him more.


The first time I saw him was at Passim in Cambridge some time in the late 1980s. It was incredible to me that this slight, shy man could make the kind of music he could. His voice was raspy, broken, but so filled with poignance -- a perfect accompaniment to his lyrics. And, oh, those lyrics. His lyrics were just these stunning little glimpses into the lives of the people I, for one, had grown up around. Like Bill I grew up in a rural small town, a Catholic kid with dreams beyond the town limits. So many times, when I listened to the CDs of his music that I bought (actually I think it was tapes back then) I'd think "I know these people, how can we know the same people?" Nobody understood human vulnerability like Bill.


Later, when I was living in Marblehead and spending every Friday night at the me and thee Coffeehouse, I got to see him again -- several times. He was funny and witty and surprisingly warm, too. He was a drinker -- who wasn't back in the day? That's, well, it's part of the way these things seem to work. You've got to go through some bad stuff to bring the good stuff out it seems. He was one of the singer/songwriters that inspired me when I was writing The Old Mermaid's Tale and, in the acknowledgments I thanked him along with Jack Hardy and Garnet Rogers and the rest of those wonderful artists.


So Bill is gone and, though people will still be able to get to know him through the songs, that sly, dry, deadpan humor is gone. The video below was shot at the me and thee a few years back. The song is a beautiful one, about a tired wife who wants to remember what it was like to be a girl again. Typically, it is just beautiful.





And this song, Handsome Molly, is one of my favorite of his - "I park my cab on Water St. waiting for a fare, watching young girls in their first heels step like colts across the square..." My God, how his eyes saw things:

Garnet Rogers wrote a lovely tribute to his friend on Facebook: Bill In it he mentions the beautiful tribute Russell Brand wrote for Amy Winehouse which I posted on my Facebook page earlier this week. Heaven has a lot of great musicians up there -- now it has 2 more.



Thanks for all the music, Bill. You'll be missed.


Update: This is the song I was trying to find earlier --this is a real heart-breaker...


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Living Dead Girl & the Lolitas of the 21st Century

Last month I made a post on this blog called Romance Novels and Rape: Stuff I Didn't Want to Know in which I talked about a bizarre (to me) situation I got into on an Amazon Discussion Board in which my questions about why some women found rape romantic was met with an astonishing amount of hostility. A week or so later I got into a discussion on Goodreads about Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita. Some of the women had just read it, were disgusted and horrified by it and we talked about that. I subsequently wrote a post on Boomers & Books Blog about it, Re-reading Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita”… Both blogs generated a fair amount of discussion on various web sites.

Yesterday an anonymous comment was posted to the blog about Romance Novels and Rape. In it the writer proposed a defense of those who enjoy rape literature and she was quite articulate and made some interesting points. In the course of her comments she made the following statement: I love the Sleeping Beauty books, as well as books such as The Psychology of Gang Rape, and Living Dead Girl (a kidnapped middle schooler made to be a sex slave and stay young by waxing and starving). She also mentioned that she had just turned 18 so I assume she has been reading these books for awhile. I did not know anything about the book Living Dead Girl so, of course, I looked it up. It was written by a woman named Elizabeth Scott (above, right) and was published in 2008. It is the story of a ten year old girl who is kidnapped by a man named Ray who uses her as a sexual slave until she is fifteen when he begins to lose interest in her (Lolita was 12 when Humbert took her and sixteen when he began to lose interest.) Descriptions of the book are disturbing to me but what is even more disturbing is that it listed as a Young Adult book – its target audience being “Grade 9 and up.” Honestly, I just don't know what to say about this.

The customer reviews for Living Dead Girl on both Amazon and Goodreads are mixed – some are horrified by it, others praise it. Most everyone compliments the writing and the quality of the storytelling but the reactions to the content are mixed. Some find it too graphic, others not explicit enough. As I thought about this I did a little exploring on Amazon and came across a few more novels that deal with sexually abused adolescents – Such A Pretty Girl by Laura Weiss and Stolen by Lucy Christopher among them. I have not read these books and I am only going by the Product Descriptions and the Reader Comments but it seems there is an entire genre going on here that I was oblivious to: Girl Kidnap and Rape Novels. They are very popular to judge by their Amazon ranking and are getting high ratings.


I'll be honest – this bothers me a lot. On the one hand I feel we live in a time when the abuse and sexual exploitation of girls is so ubiquitous that I am gratified to know that people are writing books about it and readers are responding to them. However, I also worry about the eroticization of the kidnap and rape of young girls and how this will operate in the psyche of the young people who read them. This is uncomfortable territory for me. I'm opposed to censorship but I fear that girls who do not have good parental guidance will read these books and sublimate the helplessness, submission, and powerlessness into their own sexual development.

My eighteen year old anonymous commenter also said: if you're like me and you say f*ing instead of making love, bite, lick, and don't mind a few bruises as battle scars of a great lay, then you should look into the forced romance scene. While I've never thought of myself as a starry-eyed romantic when it comes to sex I'm not particularly interested in “battle scars” either. But more than anything it is unsettling to me that girls are reading about “forced romance” (shouldn't that be an oxymoron?) and finding it arousing.

There is something wrong here and I'm a little appalled to think that maybe I'm just too old to even understand it.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

For/From Indie Authors: Rob Cornell

Writing should be fun, not a chore. Sure, it can get a little frustrating at times, but I don't believe in the "struggling artist" model. If you aren't having fun on the page, your readers aren't going to have fun either. The easiest way to have fun is to write something you'd like to read yourself. Entertaining the writer = Entertaining the reader. An accidental nomad, Rob Cornell grew up in suburban Detroit, then spent five years living in Los Angeles before moving to Chicago to receive a BA in Fiction Writing from Columbia College. He has traveled full circle, now living in rural southeast Michigan with his wife, two kids, and dog, Kinsey—named after Sue Grafton’s famous detective. In between moving and writing, he’s worked all manner of odd jobs, including lead singer for an acoustic cover band and a three-day stint as assistant to a movie producer after which he quit because the producer was a nut job.
 

Advice:
  • Trust the process. It's easy to let self-doubt creep in and undermine your writing, especially on a longer project like a novel. But if you trust the writing process, keep pushing forward, you'll find you aren't as bad as you think you are. And you can always edit.
  • Know where you're going. If you don't like to outline, fine. But at least have an idea of where you're headed. It will save you time in editing and help out with tip #1. It's a lot easier to trust the process if you aren't flailing about, wondering what the heck you're writing in the first place.
Links:
Website
Facebook
Amazon
Barnes and Nobel
Smashwords

Monday, July 25, 2011

Books I Loved As A Girl

Recently, the writer Jewell Parker Rhodes made a post on Goodreads about having just read The Witch at Blackburn Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. Since this was one of my favorite books when I was a girl I commented on her post and Ms. Rhodes responded that the book held up pretty well even after all these years and was a wonderful commentary on prejudice. I remember reading that book and it made me think about other books I loved when I was young.

In The Witch at Blackburn Pond I had my first understanding of the craziness of religious prejudice. In school we'd heard about the Puritans but not about how merciless and humorless they were. But in this book a young woman, raised in the Caribbean, now an orphan had to come to Connecticut to live with her aunt and uncle who were strict, dry, joyless Puritans. Young Kit has been raised in a much freer culture where she learned to swim and dance and enjoy the natural world, all of which is regarded as potentially demonic by her new fundamentalist community. Eventually Kit meets and befriends and old Quaker woman who is regarded as a witch by the community.

As a girl I remember the outrage I felt at the injustice and intolerance of the Puritan community. I think it was my first understanding of how merciless and unjust some people could be in the name of beliefs that were, to my young mind, the opposite of what God intended for his children. That book has stayed with me over the years and I think it is time to re-read it.

Another favorite from that period of my life was Gene Stratton-Porter's A Girl of the Limberlost. It is the story of young Elnora Comstock whose widowed mother is so angry and bitter over the loss of her husband that she neglects her daughter shamefully. This results in Elnora being ridiculed and harassed by the girls in school because she has shabby clothes and pitiful lunches and cannot participate in the activities most girls do. But Elnora has a secret treasure, a wooden chest deep in the limberlost forest where she keeps rare butterflies that she finds in the swamp and sells to help improve her life. I remember loving this story and dreaming of that secret chest (left to her by a man named Freckles who once lived in the Limberlost). I can still recall scenes from that book in vivid detail and, because I grew up surrounded by woods that I knew in intimate detail, I often imagined that somewhere in my woodlands there was a secret trunk full of treasures waiting for me, too.

I loved Little Women, I read it over and over, and also Jane Eyre. I think I was always attracted to stories about girls in impoverished circumstances who overcame great odds through their own ingenuity and cleverness. One of the books I remember well, however, I can't remember the name of. It was a collection of short stories but each of them concerned the famous (in Pennsylvania where I grew up) Russian prince and priest Father Demetrius Gallitzin. All were set in the Loretto, PA area during the time that Prince Gallitzin lived and worked there and all were about poor people whose lives he touched.

The story that stands out most in my mind was about a girl from a poor family who was very very beautiful but also very poor. She was an accomplished seamstress and sewed for other people saving the scraps of fabric to make things for her own family. The book was in the library at Queen of the World School where I was a student and I remember taking it out several times just to read that story and its descriptions of the gowns she made. I wonder if I'll ever discover the name of the book and find a copy of it.

I'm very glad Jewell Parker Rhodes made her post because it brought back a lot of treasured memories. I have to add that I read all three of Ms. Rhodes' books about Marie Laveau and loved them, too. Books have always shaped my life and it is a delight to remember the early influences of my writing life. I hope I find that Prince Gallitzin one some day. You never know.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

#SampleSunday: The Last Dance from "The Old Mermaid's Tale"

This is a scene from my novel The Old Mermaid's Tale. Clair and Baptiste don't know if they will ever see each other again:

On our last day we took a bus to a beach on Lake Ontario. The air was glassy and Toronto glittered on the far horizon. We stretched out beside each other on blankets in the sun just touching, barely breathing. We pretended that an afternoon of such perfect, still, heat-drenched beauty could last forever. When long blue shadows of late afternoon cooled our burning skin, we went off in search of a beach bar for refreshment.
It was little more than a shed painted parrot blue and tropical pink with screened rooms on three sides. People crowded around picnic tables with mugs of beer and platters of fried shrimp. A juke box played dance band music over the sound of the surf and the seagulls.
We found seats at the bar and ordered cold beer. He stroked my face and kissed my sun-burnt cheeks.
I have something,” he said reaching into his pocket.
Baptiste! You’ve given me too much already!” The days had been filled with little presents—antique books of fairy tales from other lands, silk pretties, and bottles of potions that smelled like lilies of the valley or jasmine and lilacs.
He shook his head and produced a small black velvet box bearing a ring of gold set with a scintillating aquamarine stone surrounded by diamonds. “It is to remind you...” he said as he took my hand and slipped it onto my finger. “... of the blue of the lake and of the stars—and that you are always and for eternity dearly loved.”
I stared at it and then at him. “I don’t need reminders of that... but I love it.”
As I drew back from kissing him I caught sight of myself in the glazed mirror behind the bar. My face was burnt and my hair was windblown.
Wait here,” I said.
Where are you going?”
I kissed his cheek. “Wait here.”
Across the parking lot little shops displayed beachwear in their windows. If this was to be our last evening together then I would be beautiful.
I found a white sundress splashed with pale pink peonies. The skirt was full and the bodice low with thin spaghetti straps. I stuffed my shorts and halter into my bag and bought peony-pink lipstick and a mother of pearl clip to twist my wild hair up off my neck.
Something special going on?” the shop clerk smiled raising her eyebrows.
I smiled back at her. “Something very special.”
Here.” She picked up a glass atomizer. “Put some of this on.” She puffed a fine spray of a musky fragrance onto my neck and shoulders. “And try this new mascara. It’ll really make your eyes look great.”
Thanks,” I looked into the mirror and brushed it along my lashes. I never much looked at my own face—but now I stared into my eyes and suddenly thought that I looked lovely. I squeezed the gold nautilus shell that always hung at the base of my throat and smiled.
The clerk grinned. “Knock em dead, kiddo.”
The hem of my skirt danced around my bare legs as I walked toward the bar. As I opened the screen door he sat turned toward me, watching.
You are breathtaking,” he said reaching for my waist.
So are you,” I said snuggling against him.
We ordered clams and ate then dipped in hot, lemon-tinged butter as the sun slipped into a pool of rose along the horizon. Neither of us seemed able to think of anything else to say until the darkness over the lake was deep and stars sparkled in the waves.
He drew a deep breath. “We should probably be going.”
I took his hand. “You owe me something before we go.”
He tilted his head and smiled. “What is that, cher?”
You owe me a dance.”
What?”
The night you took me to the Winter Castle... I was dying to dance with you. I bought that velvet dress so you’d love the way I felt in your arms.”
He smiled. “But I do love the way you feel in my arms.”
I stood up and tugged at him. “You’re not getting off that easy. You owe me a dance.”
Cher.” He resisted. “I am sorry but I do not dance.”
Tonight you do,” I said. “Come on.”
He rose and looked down at me. “It is not such a good idea, cher. I could fall.”
I looked up at him. “I’ll catch you.”
I dropped a dime in the juke box and selected an old song I remembered my mother singing to in our kitchen.
He took my hand and there was a tremble but I didn’t know if it was mine or his. We moved against each other and his hand slid down my back as mine slipped upward over the muscles of his arm to rest against his shoulder. He folded my hand over his heart where I could feel the beating that could have come from the drums as easily as from his own internal music. Once I had asked him if he had dreamed of doing something he would regret for the rest of his life—once I had vowed to do that myself.
As our bodies touched, as I felt myself folded to him and enfolding him I thought that this was the rest of our lives—this—the two of us, breast to breast, belly to belly, thighs to thighs. This was the deliciousness and the darkness. This was the passion enfolded in the regret. Wherever we went, whatever we became, somewhere the two of us, entwined, danced in a spiral of our shared music, and that, as much as whatever came to pass, was the rest of our lives.
In the curve of his neck I breathed the last of the day’s sunshine and the luscious maleness filling my senses, saturating my cells and my blood. The music wove around us—a trumpet soared, a drum quivered, a string vibrated. We turned together holding onto silky strains, clinging to fragile notes. We turned together while moments, like music, undulated through the soft night and melted. His breath stirred curls along my cheek. Love is like music. It swells beyond the tangible. It flows through what seems real. It is the pulsing of blood and the shudder of tears. It is neither beginning nor ending. It is who we truly are. It is breath. It is soul.
The music softened and his body throbbed against mine. I turned my face up to him and his mouth was right there waiting for mine. The rest of the story....


Thanks for reading.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

For/From Indie Authors: C.M. Barrett

When I left the 9-to-5 workplace environment to open a metaphysical store, I put out a monthly newsletter that had thousands of subscribers. After I moved my business to the Internet, I began writing two email newsletters with a combined readership of 20,000, representing subscribers all over the world. My involvement in metaphysics and self-healing fuses with my long-time love for fantasy fiction. When I added my love for animals as the third ingredient for a writing focus, I began the first in a projected series, A Dragon's Guide to Destiny. Book One, Big Dragons Don't Cry, is now published.

Advice:
  • Writing is lonely, and promoting can be lonelier. Get to know other indie writers. Before you publish, get familiar with the KDP Community discussion board at http://forums.kindledirectpublishing.com/kdpforums/forumindex.jspa and Kindleboards at http://www.kindleboards.com Both sites are loaded with information about self-publishing and, perhaps more importantly, with friendly people.
  • Don't become overwhelmed with promotional ideas. It's good to have a long to-do list, but set yourself realistic goals. Decide how many things you'll accomplish each day or week. Choose those you feel most inspired to fulfill.
  • Be patient. Your book doesn't have a short shelf life, after which it will be moved aside for more recently published works. Understand that it takes time for people to become aware of your book and that you have time. Don't judge your sales by those of anyone else.
Links:
Buy from:

Friday, July 22, 2011

Clever Murder Mystery or Cheesy Romance Novel? You Decide.

Because it is so hot right now I got this bright idea to cool things off by reading a book that had a very chilly setting. I'd read good things about Julia Spencer-Flemings In The Bleak Midwinter and, since I had a copy handy, I decided to give it a read.

As a murder mystery it is pretty good, clever, well-paced – I didn't figure it out prematurely. The setting, in the Adirondacks in winter, was excellent, the writing was good, the plot moved along. I very, very much liked the charcter of Russ Van Alstyne, the local sheriff. He was charming and smart and had a nice balance of brains and bluff. There were some interesting, sympathetic minor characters.... and then there was Clare Fergusson. Excuse me The Reverend Clare Fergusson, the town's new Anglican priest. Former military helicopter pilot, gourmet cook, wise-cracking smart-mouth who wears cool clothes (when not in her clericals), listens to cool music, drives a very, very cool car, and is a tough don't-mess-with-me cookie.

In my frequent rants about annoying heroines in some kinds of romance – and other – novels, I have often complained about the three things that can cause me to heave the book at a wall:
  1. the scene where the hero just happens to see the heroine dancing (for sheer joy) without her knowledge and decides she is just too adorable.
  2. the scene where the hero says or does something relatively innocuous and the heroine takes umbrage and stomps off in high dudgeon like a spoiled brat.
  3. the scene where the heroine does something ridiculously impulsive that no woman in her right mind would do thus putting herself in peril so that the hero has to rescue her and make everything all right (and notice how cute and vulnerable she is in the process.)
Sad to say, Reverend Clare, the Episcopal priest, does all three. One I could have handled but all three??? 

One night good old Russ (who is a married man, by the way) stops by the rectory and, through the kitchen door, just happens to witness the Rev. Clare, in a cut-off sweatshirt, dancing while she whips up a gourmet meal – which she subsequently feeds him. A few scenes later the Rev. Clare gets her patrician nose out of joint because she thinks Russ was being rude and she stomps out into the snowy night in her adorable designer suede boots and leather bomber jacket and stomps all the way back to the rectory, refusing Russ's offer for a ride when he followers her. And finally, after a torturous ride back from Albany, worrying all the way about her adorable little sports car in the on-coming blizzard, the Rev. Clare finds a mysterious message for her to meet someone at a cabin deep in the woods (in an area she has never been to) and, instantly, jumps into said adorable sports car and zooms off to the rescue. Luckily, good old Dudley Dooright Russ finds out in time and comes to the rescue – which gives him the opportunity to get her out of her flimsy, ice-caked clothes. Sigh.

Look, this was a good story and there were some good characters in it and, for the most part, I liked it. I will even go so far as to say that if Clare had been a social worker or a new cop or a teacher or anything else, I might have liked her a little better. But a priest??? Yes, I know priests are people, too – heaven knows I just wrote a book about an all-too-human priest. What really bothered me about it was that, other than going to parish meetings, saying a few prayers here and there, and mentions of services she was officiating at, this priest had not the faintest evidence of any level of spirituality. Consequently, every mention of her “priesthood” might as well have had blinking letters that read “gimmick, gimmick, gimmick.”

Obviously people like these books as there are more in the series. Chances are I might even read another one myself but when are genre writers going to stop concocting these formula-driven, ridiculous, insult-to-womanhood characters?

As a mystery, I give this book a 4. As a romance, I give it a 2. So I'm splitting the difference with a 3 – because I like Russ. But I think he's headed down a dangerous slope and I don't think the local priest is going to help him avoid any more near-occasions-of-sin.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

For/From Indie Authors: David Gaughran

David Gaughran is a 33-year old Irish writer, living in Sweden, who spends most of his time travelling the world, collecting stories, and writing about them. His first e-book was released in May 2011. If You Go Into The Woods is a collection of two short stories for $0.99, available from Amazon and Smashwords.

One of these stories was chosen to appear in the Short Story America Anthology, Volume 1 a collection of their best stories of the past year, published May 2011. The other – The Reset Button - is published for the first time in any format.

Advice:
  • Write What You Want To Read: Everyone always says "write what you know". I don't think that's bad advice, but it can be limiting. Better advice is "write the book you want to read". Look at your bookshelves, that should give you a clue. Pick your favourites, break them down. Copy them for practice. Try out their techniques. See if you can reproduce the same effects. Then, writer your own story. When it's ready, get a beta reader or join a critiquing circle. Listening to feedback is a crucial part of a writer's journey. Learn how to self-edit, it will improve your work immeasurably, and save you money when you put it under the nose of a real editor.
  • Be professional: Some people refuse to read self-published work because they think it is poorly written, hasn't been edited, the formatting is all over the place, and the cover is awful. Don't add to the stigma. Your beta reader is not your editor. Your friend who is kind of good on Photoshop is not your cover designer. Use professionals (and learn the formatting). This small investment will be worth it. If you do it right, your book will look exactly like it came from a New York publishing house. Readers won't know the difference, and your sales will reflect that.
  • Get connected: A lot of people are put off from self-publishing because they are worried about drowning in a sea of millions of Kindle titles. This is the wrong way to look at it. There are over a trillion unique web pages with billions being added every day. People still find stuff and buy stuff. How? Signposts. Every link is a signpost to another page. Google is just a very fancy collection of trusted, interactive signposts. People can create their own, and they do every time they post something to their blog, Facebook, or Twitter. People love sharing signposts. Get involved in the conversation and soon those signposts will be pointing at you.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How 5 People in a Tiny Boat Saved A Humpback Whale

This is such an extraordinary video I had to share it. Five people in a small boat encountered a humpback whale that was dying tangled in nylon gill net. All they had was a small knife but they worked until the whale was free. Wait until you see how the whale rewards them!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ernest Hemingway 'driven to suicide over FBI surveillance'

Yesterday I wrote about my admiration for Ernest Hemingway in a review of Paula McLain's The Paris Wife. Today someone sent me the following story from The Telegraph, a UK newspaper. I read Hotchner's book a long time ago and liked it. This is very sad and disturbing:


Ernest Hemingway 'driven to suicide over FBI surveillance'

Ernest Hemingway may have been driven to kill himself because of his surveillance by the FBI, his close friend and collaborator has said.

Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway:The FBI had compiled a 127-page file on the Nobel Prize-winning author Photo: GETTY IMAGES

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