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Ready Player One Review: A Must-Read For Anyone Who Grew Up In The 80’s, Loves Videogame Culture, Or Who Always Roots For The Underdog.

February 10th, 2016 No comments

Book cover, Ready Player OneThe world is a crappy place in 2044. People are starving. Indentured servitude is a thing. Murders are so common they barely make the news. The one escape is the Oasis, a massive virtual reality world teeming with possibility. Within the Oasis, a clever avatar can gain power, prestige, and just about any ability they can imagine.

In the real world, Wade Watts is a chubby, shy, and impoverished orphan trapped in “the stacks.” In the Oasis, however, he is Parzival, dedicated Gunter. Both Wade and Parzival have one singular purpose in life. They will find Halliday’s egg.

Five years in, most people assume that Halliday’s egg is a fantasy. When co-creator of the Oasis, James Halliday died, he hid the egg somewhere within the Oasis, trapped behind three gates that can only be opened with three keys. The one who finds the egg, earns Halliday’s massive fortune, and – even more valuable – control of the Oasis. For five years the first key remained hidden, that is until an avatar’s name finally hit the scoreboard. That name was Parzival.

When Wade discovers the first key to the gate, the race is on to find Halliday’s egg. Wade will have to use all of his cunning not to mention his encyclopedic memory of 80’s pop culture to stay ahead of his fellow gunters, as well as Innovative Online Industries, a merciless business enterprise that is willing to find the egg (and take control of the Oasis) at any cost.

Ready Player One was a constant and enjoyable adrenaline rush. Author Ernest Cline does a fantastic job of creating a believable and fantastic world, where reality and fantasy merge so deeply that the line is hard to distinguish. The Oasis springs vividly from the MMORPGs today, and is kind of like World of Warcraft mixed with Second Life mixed with Cline’s own imagination. The fact that these kids of the future are steeped in 80s trivia just adds to the fun. The clash of past and future works in dazzling fashion.

The exciting plot and engaging characters of Ready Player One is worth the read on its own. Wade is a sympathetic character, and it won’t take you long to start seriously rooting for him to somehow outsmart the well-moneyed and malicious IOI. However, there is a lot more to this novel if you want to dig deep. Cline challenges us to consider the risk of giving into the siren’s call of technology as a cure-all and of ignoring the decline of our real world in the process.

A must-read for anyone who grew up in the 80’s, loves videogame culture, or who always roots for the underdog.

I’ve Just Realized That I’m A Total Review Hypocrite

February 4th, 2016 1 comment
Embarrassed baby

Total review hypocrite here, nothing to see! Photo credit: Mandajuice via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Trying to get reviews for my books is kind of the bane of my existence. Reviews are more important than most readers realize. They help give an ebook credibility. Think about the last time you scrolled through a list of books on Amazon. Your eyes scanned the title and the book cover…and the star rating. You probably looked at the number of reviews too. It’s hard to miss, since the book’s rating is right at the top of each book’s page.

Reviews are also important, because many of the best advertising opportunities for authors only accept books with a certain star rating (usually at least 3.5 stars) and a minimum number of reviews, (anything from 10 reviews to 50). This is the reason you’ve probably noticed that most indie books, (including mine), conclude with a slightly desperate request from the author for their readers to leave a review.

<<< Want to write a review, but not really sure how? Here’s my quick and easy guide to writing an awesome book review>>>

But Writing a Review Is Hard…

Here’s the rub…writing reviews more than kind of sucks. At least for me. I always feel like I have to be thoughtful, clever, and insightful in my reviews, but what I really want to do is just start reading the next book in my list. Writing a review seems like homework, and once I’ve got that thought in my head, it gets lodged there. Writing a review becomes just about the last thing I want to do, along with cleaning the grout in my bathroom and clipping my bunny’s nails (which he treats with the same amount of hysterics as if I were giving him a live autopsy).

Manning Up….er, Womaning Up

But I know that reviews are incredibly important, so my goal this year is to write a review for every book I read. I’ve come up with a fail-proof system for accomplishing this – I simply won’t start a new book until I’ve written and posted a review for the previous one.

Imagine how smug and self-congratulatory I felt after making this resolution. Yeah, J Bennett’s getting serious this year. Helping authors. Doing her part. A hero? No, no, well, maybe a little.

Then, this morning, a realization hit me with the gentle tap of an aluminum baseball bat. I am a total review hypocrite.

Books Aren’t the Only Things That Deserve Reviews

This whole time, I’ve been patting myself on the back just for writing a handful of book reviews, as if books are the only things in the world that need reviews. All around me, every day I consume media, use products, and patronize businesses that live or die in a big part on reviews. Have I written a positive review of the CrossFit gym where I’ve been a dedicated member for over two years? What about the brilliantly made podcasts that I gobble up like the last chocolate cupcakes on the planet? Or any of the myriad things that find their way to my Amazon cart?

I never once considered writing reviews for any of them.

Shame on me.

My rating and review might convince another person to try out a product, business, or media that I love. That person could then become a loyal fan and continue the positive cycle.

My new challenge to myself is to be an equal-opportunity reviewer, to support all the things I really like, whether it be a book, my dentist, or the new headlamp I just bought on Amazon. I encourage you to consider posting more positive reviews as well and give a little boost to the businesses and products that have served you well.

Categories: Essay Tags: ,

Book Review of The Book Thief

January 28th, 2016 No comments

Cover of The Book ThiefDeath has a lot on his plate, especially in the 1940s as Europe erupts into war. And yet, every once in a while, Death gets distracted. One of those distractions is Liesel Meminger, a young girl who lives with foster parents in a small town outside of Munich. Liesel is a strong-willed girl who discovers the beauty and the power of words after her caring foster father, Hans, decides to teach her to read. Liesel is also a thief. Her first stolen treasure is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, snatched from the snow besides her brother’s grave.

As Liesel grows, reads, plays soccer, collects laundry, and avoids kissing her best friend, Rudy, the guns of war begin to erupt all over Germany. A promise Hans made many years ago leads him and Liesel to keep a very dark and dangerous secret, one that could save a life or put theirs in jeopardy.

Author Markus Zusak has woven a rich tapestry of words, images, and social commentary all bundled together into a few years of Liesel’s life. His ability to create complex characters and force them onto morale precipices in such a dangerous and uncertain time keeps The Book Thief moving at a good pace.

However, Zusak has a tendency to get drunk on his own words, swooning into melodramatic cascades of contemplation and constantly interrupting the story with special asides – some of which add substantially to the story and others that are as annoying as flies landing on the page.

Still, I can’t help but give this book five stars for the brilliant cast of characters Zusak created, for the intimate German town he built, and for ringing a good many tears out of me at the end.

How The Movie Ant-Man Kinda Sent Me Into A Spiral Of Despair

January 17th, 2016 1 comment
I just want to ruin your PB&J sandwich. Don't send me into battle against my will! Photo credit: Thomas Shahan via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

I just want to ruin your PB&J sandwich. Don’t send me into battle against my will! Photo credit: Thomas Shahan via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Ant-Man. Dude gets small. The premise seemed simple enough. Given that it was a superhero movie, there was no notion that I wasn’t going to get around to eventually seeing it. In my typical six-months-behind-the-curb-of-pretty-much-everything fashion, I finally saw the movie last weekend, even though it hit theaters in July of 2015.

My friends said it was okay. Amusing. Not as good as Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy, but worth seeing. I believed them. I watched the movie. I spiraled into an ever deepening hole of despair.

Take One on Ant-Man – The Non-Hyperbolic, Normal Person’s Rendition

Scott Lang (played by Paul Rudd) is just your average hottie thief (not robber!) with a Robin Hood complex looking for a second chance after a prison stint. Too bad his ex-wife won’t let him hang with their daughter, and – oh yeah – she’s dating a cop.

Fortunately, it just so happens an eccentric rich scientist named Dr. Pym (Michael Douglas) needs a guy with Scott’s unique talents to stop his power-mad protégé from recreating his too-dangerous-for-the-world shrinking technology. (Peter, debauched, wreck-of-a human-being from House of Cards graduates into a lamb-slaughtering, mad scientist for this role). Why, out of all the people in the world – including Black Widow, Captain America, and Samuel L. Jackson – does Pym choose Scott?

Stop asking stupid questions!

I suppose you also want to know why Pym doesn’t just give Scott a ring and ask, “Hey, I’ve got a bad-ass suit that shrinks and an army of ants to control. You in?” This, instead of paying a woman to talk up his massive safe to some dude who talks to other dudes who just happen to eventually talk to Scott’s adorable, hilarious, and utterly scene-stealing roommate (played by Michael Pena), who then mentions it to Scott who just so happens to shortly thereafter arrive at a key personal crisis that launches him back into his old criminal ways. Pym then allows Scott to steal his previously stated extremely dangerous, seemingly irreplaceable, and oddly perfectly fitting suit and just try it on wily nily. No worries that Scott could up and die or kill someone or simply run away with the precious suit.

Well, the answer to that is…STOP ASKING STUPID QUESTIONS. It was all part of Pym’s brilliant plan to recruit Scott, train him in the uses of the suit, and inadvertently set up a tepid romance between Scott and his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lily) which possesses all the tension of a wet noodle.

Oh, and one other thing. In no actual relation to the technology surrounding the suit, Pym has also – just as a hobby – discovered a way to mind control ants to do his bidding. Can he control other things that might be additionally useful for Scott’s mission, like hornets, black widows (not the kind in skin-tight body suits) and mosquitoes carrying loads of dysentery?

What did I say about asking stupid questions? The movie is called Ant-Man. ANTS! The guy controls ants. Okay, so cue the training montage. Failures. Everyone is all frustrated because Scott keeps running his handsome face into doors. But then, poof, he gets it. He’s ready to go.

What follows is sometimes massive but usually very tiny fighting and lots of ants getting fried in the quest to help Scott.

Yep…here we go.

Take Two on Ant-Man – My Horrified Viewing of Unnecessary Ant Slaughter

If you are of a certain generation, then Ant-Man will not have been your first introduction to ant violence. That’s right, I’m talking about Antie from Honey I Shrunk the Kids. I consider it my pre-Mufasa Mufasa moment. At least in Antie’s case, he was killed protecting one of the kids from a scorpion.

In the case of Ant-Man…well, the dude straight up mind rapes ants all over the place and makes them put their little ant lives on the line to help him in his quest. Ants die. The ants were totally minding their own business, doing their thing of getting in everyone’s way and ruining picnics, when Scott up and enslaved them.

For all its silliness and the fact that I was completely aware that all the ants were CGI (I promise I’m not writing this from an anti-ant violence picket line of one in front of Marvel studios), Ant-Man made me think of how easily we dismiss insects. By “dismiss,” I mean squash them and swat them and squish them. If someone leaves their dog out in the cold, the internet is up in arms, but we kill bugs without remorse, without even a thought.

Couldn’t Scott have, I don’t know, shrunk a motorcycle and grappling hook and pretty much done all the same stuff the ants did for him? Look at Yellowjacket. Yeah, he be crazy and not at all a friend to lambs, but at least the dude realized – hey, instead of inventing a way to force ants to do my bidding maybe I just add an awesome jet pack to the suit and lasers. Cause we all know lasers make everything better.

I’m even thinking Ant-Man could keep his name without the ants, because he still gets small. Makes a certain kind of sense if you like doofy, completely un-intimidating superhero names.

So, Ant-Man, how about not killing lots of CGI ants in your next movie? I’ll let you keep the almost-painful-to-watch romance with the if-being-annoying-was-an-Olympic-sport-she’d-get-the-gold Hope. Be a hero. Free the ants!

Categories: Essay Tags: , , ,

Book Review of Dreamland By Sam Quinones

January 14th, 2016 No comments

Cover of Dreamland

Rating: 5 Out of 5 Stars

Last year, I started seeing news stories popping up about middle class kids in the middle of the country dying of heroin overdoses. It didn’t make any sense. I always associated heroin with crime-infested urban areas in the 70s.  How could it possibly be ending up in the veins of cheerleaders, football players, and college kids who grew up on Main Street?

Dreamland gave me the answer. Author Sam Quinones, a veteran journalist, dug into this story and what he found was both fascinating and depressing. Dreamland takes readers down a peculiar journey were two potent forces – big pharma and a novel new take on drug dealing – inadvertently collide. The results created a massive plague of addiction and death across the country. People got hooked on OxyContin and then switched to the potent, readily available, and cheap black tar heroin which was streaming across the border from a single small county in Mexico.

Throughout the book, Quinones gives readers a series of heartbreaking vignettes. We meet the confused and devastated parents of dead kids, young Mexicans for whom heroin dealing represents the only path out of poverty, and the small circle of police officers, drug rehab workers, coroners, and judges who fought to bring a voice to this mostly silent plague.

Dreamland was fascinating in the same way of an oncoming train wreck. I wanted to look away…but somehow I just couldn’t. Quinones is a masterful storyteller who follows a complex, sometimes bizarre web of people and circumstances. This isn’t just a book about junkies, dealers, and the people trying to stop them. It’s a book about circumstances. Quinones links the heroin epidemic to the decay of middle America, to the privilege and boredom of today’s youth, to the masterful and manipulative marketing campaign of Purdue Pharma, and a legacy of shame and embarrassment that kept parents from speaking out about their children’s problems.

Dreamland answered my questions about why kids were dying of heroin overdoses in America and gave me so much more to think about. If you can excuse the inappropriate pun, I was hooked from start to finish. I saw an ugly side of America, but one we can’t afford to ignore any longer.

(Note: Links in this post are Amazon affiliate links.)

The Ten Best Books I Read in 2015

January 11th, 2016 2 comments

One of my favorite blogs of all time is Wait But Why written by the indomitable and endlessly hilarious Tim Urban. Recently, Tim wrote a post called The Tail End, in which Tim depresses the hell out of all his readers by calculating how many occurrences of a given activity they have left in their life. Example – Tim is 34 and, optimist that he is, uses a 90-year life expectancy for his calculations. That means, he’s got 60 Superbowls left and 15 more presidential elections. He also calculates roughly 1,220 Chinese takeout meals. Then Tim goes deep. Realizing that he visits his parents about five times a year and assuming they both also live to 90, he calculates that he’s got only about 300 visits left with them optimistically. One take on the article is to realize how precious your time is and spend it with the people you love. (Cue willowy violin music).  The real point, however is – holy crap, I don’t have that many books left in my life!

I read, on average three books a month. I work out, eat healthy, and floss every day (okay, almost every day), so I have a shot at making it to 90. That gives me just 2,160 books left to read in my life. That may seem like a lot, but consider that in 2013 Forbes estimated that up to 1 million books are published each year…and that’s on top of all of the books that are already floating around.

In other words, you and I need to start being more picky about which books we decide to spend our precious, precious time with! No more trying to drag our eyes through War and Peace out of stubborn pride or sticking with something that is okay because we’re too lazy to find something else. The best way to find awesome new books? Recommendations from people you trust.

With that in mind, here’s a quick list of the ten best books I read in 2015.  Any one of these would be well worth your limited and valuable time. (Note: It was hard enough culling this list down to ten. I’m not going to stress myself out by trying to rank them. They’re listed in alphabetical order.)

Cover -- All the Stars in the SkyAll the Stars in the Sky, Book 3 in the Until the End of the World Series

Author: Sarah Lyons Fleming

Genre: Dystopian, New Adult, Zombies

The Gist: In the third and final book of the Until the End of the World series, Cassie is determined not to lose anyone else she loves. She and her small band of survivors are on the run from ever-growing mobs of Lexers (AKA zombies) as they desperately search for a new sanctuary.

Why I Love It: Sarah Lyons Fleming has a gift for writing extremely real characters. Cassie feels like my best friend throughout the series. She’s a kick-ass kind of girl but also thoughtful and awesomely sarcastic. Her setbacks and tragedies are my own, but luckily so are her triumphs! If you want to give this book a try, start at the beginning, with Until the End of the World. At the time of this writing, the book is FREE! No excuses.

 

Cover of DauntlessDauntless, Book 1 in the Lost Fleet Series

Author: Jack Campbell

Genre: Science Fiction, SciFi Military

The Gist: John Geary wakes up from survival hibernation to discover that 100 years have lapsed and he is now revered as a hero by a society that has been mired in constant war during the entirety of his Rip Van Winkle routine. When a massive offensive charge ends in crushing defeat, Geary must take the reins and use some of his old-school knowledge to get the battered Alliance Fleet back home before his enemies, including some within his own fleet, succeed in destroying him.

Why I Love It: Sure, the characters are a little flat, and John Geary is an utter Boy Scout, but the rip-roaring plot makes up for the lack of character subtlety. This is popcorn in word form, and it’s oh-so-good. I gobbled up all six books in The Lost Fleet series and loved every minute of it.

 

Cover -- Dragonfly in Amber

Cover — Dragonfly in Amber

Dragonfly in Amber, Book 2 in the Outlander Series

Author: Diana Gabaldon

Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction, Highlanders

The Gist: An accidental tumble through a magical set of stones takes Claire Randall 200 years into the past and into the muscly and delicious arms of the enigmatic highlander, Jamie Frasier. In book two of the Outlander series, Claire and Jamie travel between Scotland and France in a desperate bid to prevent a disastrous battle that will forever destroy the highland clans.

Why I Love It: I’m not usually one for mushy, mushy romance, but author Diana Gabaldon has an amazing gift for capturing even the smallest detail in the most fascinating way. She cooks up multi-faceted characters who caper through a plot that never slows down. The solid, passionate bond between Jamie and Claire provides the foundation for this endlessly enjoyable tale. Give yourself plenty of time to savor this book and make sure to start at the beginning with book one, Outlander.

 

Cover, One SummerOne Summer: America, 1927

Author: Bill Bryson

Genre: Non-Fiction, American History

The Gist: Author Bill Bryson proves that some years are just special. 1927 was one of them. Bryson weaves a fascinating tale stitched together by Charles Lindbergh’s groundbreaking flight across the Atlantic. Bryson takes us through Babe Ruth’s quest for the home-run record, to prohibition, and the introduction of The Jazz Singer with his signature humor and eye for the absurd.

Why I Love It: I love history not for the huge, big events but for the people who make them happen. Bryson sucked me right into 1927 with his trademark narrative voice that can paint a scene in vivid colors and make you laugh the whole time. You will be transported.

 

 

Cover, ShogunShogun, Book 1 in the Asian Saga Series

Author: James Clavell

Genre: Historical Fiction, Adventure, Ancient Japan

The Gist: When English pilot John Blackthorne washes up in feudal Japan, he must learn fast how to survive in this alien culture built on honor, obedience, and rigid ritual as he becomes a pawn in an epic battle of wits, deceit, and blood.

Why I Love It: Up for an epic adventure? Then you’ve come to the right place. Author James Clavell pulls off a stunning achievement in crafting this fascinating, intricately detailed novel that brilliantly clashes two very different cultures against each other. This is one of those amazingly rare books that changed the way I see the world. (See how jealous I got of Clavell’s talent after reading this book.)

 

Cover, SoullessSoulless, Book 1 in the Parasol Protectorate Series

Author: Gail Carriger

Genre: Paranormal, Steampunk, Vampires, Werewolves

The Gist: Being soulless is the least of Alexia Tarabotti’s worries. Not only is she uncomfortably independent-minded and unmarried at the advanced age of twenty four, but she is also, embarrassingly, half-Italian. When a rogue vampire oversteps all rules of social etiquette to try and make her a snack, Alexia is caught up in the middle of a grand supernatural conspiracy, one that will force her to work in tandem with the loud, shaggy, handsome werewolf, Lord Maccon.

Why I Love It: Let me try and count all the reasons that I love this book. Strong-willed heroine? Check. Uppity British manners? Check. Werewolves and vampires running around in cravats? Oh, you betcha! Author Gail Carriger gives us a delightful protagonist, some seriously steamy romantic tension, and a fascinating supernatural take on London. I couldn’t stop myself from reading every book in the Parasol Protectorate series back-to-back.

 

Cover, Spring ChickenSpring Chicken: Stay Young Forever (or Die Trying)

Author: Bill Gifford

Genre: Non-Fiction, Health, Science, Aging

The Gist: Getting old and dying sucks, which is why people have tried from time immoral to cheat this seemingly inevitable process. Author Bill Gifford explores humanity’s quest to stay young forever, examining historical efforts to beat aging and explaining the latest and greatest developments in this field.

Why I Love It: I’ll admit it, growing old is not something I particularly want to do, including the part where I spend my days telling and retelling the epic story of that time the dryer broke and how I was on the phone with the Sears service technician for two hours. TWO HOURS! Didn’t he know it was time for my nap? Bill Gifford weaves science and history into an informative and understandable story that manages to be amusing the entire way through. I listened to this book as an audio book, and it was a fascinating driving companion.

 

Cover, The MartianThe Martian

Author: Andy Weir

Genre: Science Fiction

The Gist: Mark Watney has a problem. That problem is Mars. Specifically, the fact that he is on Mars, accidentally abandoned by his crew that are now on their way back to earth. With unrelenting determination, endless MacGyver-like tricks, and an indefatigable sense of humor, Mark will find a way to survive…or die trying.

Why I Love It: I want to marry Mark Watney. The Martian is filled with his journal entries as he tries to survive on a planet that is constantly trying to kill him. I was instantly sucked into his plight, rooting for him despite the seemingly hopelessness of his situation. Author Andy Weir does a “stellar” (har, har) job of crafting a believable story filled with intricate details that are (usually) understandable to all the non-rocket scientists reading it.

 

Cover, Writing From the HeartWriting the Heart of Your Story

Author: C.S. Lakin

Genre: Non-Fiction, How-to, Authorship

The Gist: Author C.S. Lakin offers up this short but powerful guide that shows authors how to craft a story with heart, feeling, and depth.

Why I Love It: In a self-publishing world that sometimes seems obsessed with figuring out how to write faster and pump out more and more books, Writing the Heart of Your Story is a refreshing book that focuses on the craft. Many of Lakin’s lessons are not new, but she has a way of making them feel profound. This was my favorite writing book of the year. If you’re not an author, you are grudgingly allow you to skip this book.

 

 

Cover, XenocideXenocide, Book 3 in the Ender Quintet

Author: Orson Scott Card

Genre: Science Fiction

The Gist: One little planet in a vast solar system could hold the key to finally discovering a way for different sentient creatures to live peacefully together. Too bad the Starways Congress sees Lusitania as a perilous threat and is intent on destroying it. Ender and his small circle of friends and family work against the clock to stop the oncoming Armada, figure out how to control descolada virus, and keep the peace on a very divided planet.

Why I Love It:  Okay, so my “Gist” for Xenocide doesn’t even come close to giving this book its due. I can’t say much more than read it! Even if you don’t normally pickup science fiction, read this book. Along with Shogun, this was the only other book I read this entire year that reached all the way into my soul and left it changed forever. This book is about more than aliens and spaceships and faraway planets. It’s about how we treat those who are different than ourselves and our potential as a race. So, you know how I was all like, “Read this book!” I lied. You really want to start with book one in this series, Ender’s Game. Read that. Then Speaker for the Dead (book two)…and then read Xenocide.

 

So, there you have it, my book recommendations lovingly placed into your keeping. I hope that I can be the instigation for a little soul soaring, big belly laughs, and maybe even a few tears wrung out for characters in their greatest times of need. Remember, your final book tally is a finite thing. Recommendations are a gift, and I hope you’ll spread the love by recommending your favorite books to your reader friends, family, and acquaintances. Happy reading!

Teeny Tiny Note: All of the Amazon links in this blog post are Amazon Associate links. That means if you use the link and make a purchase on Amazon, I get a teensy commission. I only use Amazon Associate links when I am already planning on linking to Amazon. The links do not affect my opinion or my book recommendations.

Forgiving Tarren — (aka A Frustratingly Vague Blog Post About FLYING)

October 18th, 2015 1 comment
Sad Statue of Man

Kind of a little drunk on PicMonkey photo editing service right now.

I’m worried about Tarren. Okay, holding the truth stick now, I’m always worried about Tarren. He can be exhausting sometimes. How he shoulders all the responsibility for keeping his family safe, and how he has internalized the guilt about what happened with his sister, Tammy. How he pushes, pushes, pushes himself and still never feels like he’s doing enough.

Worrying about Tarren is about as normal as breathing for me. But this time it’s different. As I slowly turn all the thoughts that have been spinning around my brain for years into the first draft of FLYING (the final book in the GIRL WITH BROKEN WINGS series), I’m extra, double worried for Tarren. His secrets are finally coming out, and they’re not all flattering.

Tarren has always held himself to an impossible moral, physical, and mental standard, and Gabe and Maya are often the victims of his burdensome expectations. Behind his back they call him a robot, and sometimes it seems so easy to believe this is true.

But Maya, Gabe, and you, the reader, know better.

Tarren has done such a good job of playing the hero, but every cape has its unraveling threads. In FLYING, you will see the threads of Tarren’s cape, and I hope you won’t be disappointed in him.

I hope you can forgive him for being wonderfully, beautifully, tragically human.

(Look for FLYING to swoop in the first half of 2016.)

Why Every Indie Author Wants You to Sign Up for Their Mailing List

September 14th, 2015 No comments

When you finish reading any of my books or short stories, you will always be confronted with the same request on the final page. I ask you to sign up for my email list.

Eye roll.

I know. Who wants to get stuck on another email list? Exactly no one.

So why do so many authors ask/beg/plead/bribe their readers to join their email lists? You’ve noticed this haven’t you? If you’ve read any amount of books written by indie authors, you’ve fielded dozens, possibly hundreds of email list requests.

The truth is that we authors love you…but we don’t exactly trust you to come back. It’s not that we think you’re flakey by any means. We just know that you’re busy being a superstar in your own life. When you are confronted with a commotion of new TV shows (anyone else excited about Jessica Jones on Netflix?), work, and an ocean of other books to choose from, can you blame us for being a little nervous that you might, well, forget about us?

The next time we launch a new book, will you notice and rush to grab your copy? Will you stay excited even if ahem hypothetically it takes us a year to craft another book?

Sure, we can Tweet. We can update our Goodreads threads, and our Facebook page, but we can’t know if you’ll even see these posts. And so, we authors like to play it old school – through email. Building an email list of our enthusiastic and die-hard fans is something that we can own and control. Most importantly, it is a way in which we can reach you directly.

We know that you don’t like your inbox stuffed with a never-ending stream of emails – we totally don’t either – which is why most of us try to only send you interesting and useful stuff. We let you know when we’ve posted new blogs, when we’re giving away books, and when we release new works so you can dive right in.

I send out quarterly emails to let my readers know I haven’t croaked over my writing desk and am still hard at work on my next project (currently FLYING, the final book in the Girl With Broken Wings series!), and I always let readers know when I’ve published something new so they don’t miss it. That’s it. No obnoxious daily or weekly newsletters swamping your inbox. Just a few howdys, hellos, and guten tags every once in a while.

Again, I know joining email lists isn’t as awesome as rescuing a kitten from a house fire, getting a promotion at work, or finding that favorite pair of underwear you thought was lost stuck inside the leg of your jeans. But it means a lot to us authors, and if you want to get fun updates from your favorite authors and be in the know when they launch something new, joining their email list is the way to do it.

And if any author abuses your trust by spamming you with vapid quotes or their million and one vacation photos, that’s what the “unsubscribe” button is for.

Oh, and just in case this blog has given you a hankering to join an email list, jump aboard mine. (I know, sneaky, sneaky). Click on the box in the top right corner to sign up.

Categories: Marketing, Writing Tags: ,

Reading The Masters…And Trying Not to Get too Jealous Along the Way

July 25th, 2015 No comments

Cover of ShogunFor the last month, I’ve been reading and obsessing over the book Shogun by James Clavell. In case you didn’t know, this book is good. Really, really good. I absolutely love the clash of cultures and the fish-out-of-water perspective. Through the eyes of protagonist John Blackthorne, we fall in love with the imperial Japanese culture based on the twin foundations of honor and death. The Japanese believe that life is death and embrace the suicide of suppoko with great dignity and composure, often even with pride.

Clavell has brought his world to life and filled it with vibrant characters like Mariko, Yabu, and Toronaga. The Japanese culture is so exotic and insensible to Blackthorne when he first encounters it, but slowly he begins to understand and respect their ways. We readers travel with him, learning to watch rocks grow and drink cha from an empty cup.

This book has been a joy to read, but I can’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy as much as I try to squelch it. Here is a master wordsmith. A man who dominates his art. Chapter after chapter reminds me of where I want to be and how far I still must travel. I feel this way when I read George R. R. Martin and Orson Scott Card. These authors exist on an entirely different level of brilliance and talent.

I’d like to climb up those steps one day, but not today. Today I read their words. I tumble headfirst into their stories. I learn. Grow. And exalt in the joy of reading.

Are you reading anything good?

My Recipe For Not-So-Instant Novel

June 30th, 2015 No comments
Keyboard

Go on, start typing. You know you want to.

You have a bucket list. Don’t deny it. Even if you haven’t written it down or saved it on your phone’s note app, you’ve got a secret list beating away inside of your heart of accomplishments you want to hit before the coffin closes. And, since we’ve already gone this far, you might as well admit that writing a novel is on that list.

A perennial bucket list favorite, writing a novel is a secret dream for a huge portion of our population. Why? Simple. We all have a story to tell. We’ve watched a less than impressive movie or read a mediocre book and thought, I could do so much better! Some of us dream of amazing fantasy tales or a detective novel with a plot so twisty that even the greatest minds won’t see the ending coming. Others of us have experienced incredible events in our own lives or reached a new understanding of life after many knockdowns, and we want to share our unique story with the world.

So, if writing a novel is on your bucket list, then why is that box still unchecked? Why is it clanging around in your head, all sad and haunty, like Marley’s ghost?

You can write your novel.

It’s easy, I swear!

Here is my famous recipe for not-so-instant novel:

Step One: Go to bed one hour earlier each night.

Step Two: Wake up one hour earlier in the morning.

Step Three: Spend that extra hour in the morning planning/writing/editing.

Step Four: Repeat until book is complete.

There, novel in a box. You’re welcome.

The truth is that writing a novel is no different than any other major undertaking. Generally if you set aside a certain amount of time, even just one hour a day, to focus solely on the project, you’ll eventually get it done. Writing a novel isn’t sexy. It’s about creating a habit and putting your butt in the chair over and over again.

In other words, just write. You will never, ever, ever write your novel if you only talk about it.

Here are a few more tips that will help you along your novel-writing way:

  • Outline your novel first so you know where you are going.
  • Take time to develop your characters so you have a good feel for them. That may mean interviewing them, writing a day in their life, or finding a celebrity who they look like. None of this will make it into your novel, but understanding your character will help them come alive.
  • Write your first draft with reckless abandon. Don’t worry about whether it’s good or not. Don’t overthink it. Just write, write, write.
  • Edit the hell out of your book. Unless you’re working on your 30th novel, your first draft will probably be utter crap. That’s fine. If you even created a first draft, you’re amazing. Now, go back and clean it up. Fill in plot holes. Tighten every chapter, paragraph, and sentence. Make sure your characters are consistent. Cut out all the extra stuff your novel doesn’t need.
  • Find other writers to critique your book. You may be able to find a writer’s group in your area. You can certainly find them online. Writer’s Café, Goodreads, Facebook, and LinkedIn are all great places to start looking for critique partners.

When you complete your first book, congratulate yourself. You did the thing that 99% of the population secretly wants to do but never will. Now, throw it in a drawer, forget about it, and start on your next book.

What? Don’t publish? After all that blood, sweat, and tears? Yep, my fingers didn’t stutter on the keyboard. For all but a few writers, their first book is utter swill. Yours probably will be too. That’s because writing is a craft, and getting good at a craft takes a lot of practice. The Mona Lisa wasn’t Leonardo Di Vinci’s first painting.

Trust me, this advice is for your own good. My first book was so terrible, I think it would have melted any Kindle unfortunate enough to download it. It will never see the light of day.

So, please don’t stare wistfully out the window at work and think, if I had more time, I’d write a novel. (Or insert other secret wish). You do have enough time. Anyone can find at least one hour a day. No excuses. Your bucket list is waiting.

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