Tag Archives: book

The Birth Day Giveaway

In the past it was customary to give out cigars to celebrate the birth of a child. However since times have moved on, and since I don’t smoke cigars and don’t know many people who do, I decided to do something else instead.

So for the next few days, my stories A Prairie Home Apocalypse: or What the Dog Saw and The Mulch Pile are available for free from Amazon.

What’s that? Why yes, this does somewhat lessen the incentive to enter and win the flash fiction contest I’ve got going on. I’m just peachy with that. And let me anticipate your next question and firmly deny that this is anything like a veiled attempt to use my newborn son’s cuteness to get you to check out my books.

Just look at the little fella. Look at those cute little duckies on that….cute little sleeping bag with arms? I’m not sure what’s going on with that.

Anyway, what manner of person would dare use the power of such cuteness to suggest you might read his stories and write a nice review (assuming you like them) or maybe click that little “Like” button on the top of the books’ Amazon page? Not this guy. And furthermore I would never stoop to adding that the more books I can sell the less likely it that this innocent little baby will die of malnutrition.  No my friends, I have higher principles than that.

So snap up this offer while you still can. If you need a format other than Kindle, feel free to shoot me an email.

Here’s to you Baby AJ. May you live long and live well. And just between you and me kiddo, I’ve got about as much idea of what I’m doing as you do right about now. We’ll figure it out together, okay?

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From the Mailbag: On Originality

The other day when I strolled across the information highway to check my digital mailbox I found that someone had written to me asking for advice. That’s right. Advice. From me. Can you imagine?

Taking pity on this poor misguided soul, I responded back as best I knew how. And then, since I am basically lazy I thought, Hey, free blog post!

So now, for your reading amusement and amazement, feast your eyes as Albert the Great answers his mail!

Dear Purveyor of Internet Awesome, [okay so she didn’t actually start like this. I let it slide, but in the future ya’ll need to be remembering my official title, okay?]

I heard about you from your blog on writing and I would like to ask you for some advice.

I’ve had many ideas for stories and I would really love to finish them but after I’ve spent some time writing, I notice that there is another story out there just like mine.

I personally think mine is kinda original, but other people say it isnt and that I’m just trying to get in on money that authors are making by writing about popular things; be it vampires, werewolves, magic, etc.

I wanted to know… Do you think I should continue my story even though it might not be original? Should I just forget about other people’s opinions?

Please help! Thanks for your time.

Sincerely,

Green

Ah, yes. The originality issue. I’m pretty sure most of us who have been writing for any time at all have faced this one at least once. I believe I even wrote a blog post about my own trials with the same problem a while back.

If you happen to be facing a similar dilema here is my advice to Green, and to you.

Dear Green,

I am of two minds on this issue. Okay, three minds, but the third one is Herbert and we aren’t on speaking terms at the moment.

On the one hand, you have to be practical and realize that books with supernatural romance themes are flooding the market at the moment. If you were trying to ride that wave, it almost certainly wouldn’t work.  There are already way too many vampire/werewolf/bigfoot/whatever romance stories out there.

Even if you did somehow break through and sell such a book you’d be competing against so many other similar works, it would be an uphill struggle to stand out.

But on the other hand…there’s a golden band…

Wait, sorry. Stupid country music flashbacks.

On the other hand on some level what you write needs to come from what you love. And if what you really love is supernatural romance, then you should go for it.

It may not be salable, but hey, neither was my first book. In fact, in my experience most first books end up being “training books.” That’s not fun to hear if you’ve spent a lot of time on a book thinking its going the be the greatest thing ever, but the truth is you’re going to need to move on and keep writing whether you sell the first one or not.

The bottom line is, as always, balance. You can’t write a book thinking about whether or not there is going to be a market for it. You need the write the book that you would want to read. But eventually, someone is going to have to think about selling your work, so maybe try not to be too derivative, yes?

Sincerely,

The Great and Mighty Purveyor of Internet Writing Awesome.

So there you have it.

If you have a question for Albert the Great, don’t hesitate to shoot it my way. Who knows? I might just answer. And then I might just parade it in front of  everybody on the internet. With minor modifications for entertainment value of course.

Also, I got Green’s permission first. So there’s that.

Bizzaro Book Review: The Kingdom Beyond the Waves by Stephen Hunt

You know that movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind where Jim Carry has his memory of a bad relationship erased? Only as he travels backward through his memories he realizes that there were some genuinely good times that came before the bad, and that those times were worth enduring the bad for?

Oh you haven’t seen that one yet? Um…spoilers?

Anyway, that’s exactly how reading The Kingdom Beyond the Waves was. In the end it left a bad taste in my mouth, but thinking back over the whole experience there were some genuinely wonderful things to be found.

The book’s strength is in it’s plot and structure. As a writer still grappling with good structure myself, reading this book was something of an education. Each chapter raises the stakes to a new level in such a compelling manner that you find yourself wondering how the author could possibly top it.

The writing is…there. It’s not great, but it’s not bad either. Hunt uses words like a framer uses wood. It doesn’t have to be pretty. It just has to hold the house up. And in a sense his minimalist approach to prose serves the story well. Once you let yourself become enveloped in the plot the words don’t distract from it.

Of course possibly the greatest strength of the book is the sheer force of creativity brought to bear in creating a world with a thousand miriad wonders. This book has dragon things, steam powered self-aware robots, a hive-mind forest, and…well I won’t go on for sake of time, but trust me: there’s more.

The problems arise in the latter parts of the book. After spending more than four hundred pages on one quest, the protaganists goals are completely reversed. Worse yet, one character who’s delightfully ambiguous moral position made him one of my favourites, is turned into a cartoonish villian with the speed of flipping a switch. Because of these issues I was scarely able to enjoy the climactic third act at all, which is a shame, because, as I said before, the vast majority of this book was excellent.

Let this be a lesson to all of you writers out there. Endings matter. A lot.

Craft a compelling story, but tack on an unsatisfying ending and you’re going to end up with disappointed readers.

Ultimately, The Kingdom Beyond the Waves was good. I don’t regret reading it. As a writer I found it held valuable lessons for me, both positive and negative. As a reader I really enjoyed the story and the fantastic world Mr. Hunt created from the spare parts of a hundred other mythologies. But then there’s that ending.

I won’t make any definitive recommendations here. Instead I’ll just say that if this sounds like the kind of book you might enjoy you probably will. If not, then give it a pass.

Where Have All the Good (Young) Men Gone?

I don’t know if you’ve heard it yet, but there’s been something of a buzz going around the internet about YA books lately.

(Apparently YA stands for “Young Adult”, and not “Yankee Angler” as I had previously supposed. This might explain why my previous attempts at writing YA literature failed so miserably.)

The buzz started as a low thrumming sound surrounding this article published by the Wall Street Journal which implied that maybe YA books had become too dark over the past few years. The buzz increased to a cacophony when Chuck Wendig released his tiny leather winged minions to roam the Twitterverse with his message of “Hey, adolescence is very likely going to be the darkest time of these kids lives, why shouldn’t their books reflect that?”

For what it’s worth I’m sort of in the middle on this issue. I think that writers should be able to write what they want to write and parents should be able to draw the boundary lines for their children and have the intestinal fortitude to enforce those lines. Stop trying to get the school to do your dirty work for you, parents (a mantra that applies to far more than this.)

But that’s not what I want to talk to you about today. I think in all of this hullabaloo about darkness in YA we’re missing a far more vital problem.

This problem can be summed up in this one picture:

Look at that picture. Look at it long and hard.

This is a picture I took of the book nook at the Wal-Mart where I work. This is the entirety of the YA section. This is the place where Wal-Mart consolidates all of the most popular books in the nation into one tiny little microcosm of the book selling industry.

Notice anything strange?

Not yet?

Keep looking….there! See it?

There’s no books for dudes! Not one!

Now I’m not saying this is Wal-Mart’s fault. They’re just buying the books that are big sellers. But what’s up with this? Why aren’t my slightly younger brethren sinking their teeth into daring accounts of manly exploits in fantastic places with the same ferocity as the females our the species seem to bestow on brooding tales of dark romance with forbidden creatures?

Have all the men migrated to their game consoles to control space marines with their thumbs, leaving behind the kinds of stories with “words” and “pages” to be completely overrun by the fairer sex? I don’t know. And frankly maybe this isn’t a new phenomenon. But it doesn’t seem like so long ago, that Harry Potter (Harry not being short for Harriett in this case) enchanted the world with his wizardly exploits.

I’m not trying to be sexist here, but the inequality of the situation astounds me. Because if guys aren’t reading when they’re young, then what’s the likelihood they’re going to start later?

I don’t have the answers. Maybe you do. Please to leave a comment and enlighten me with your wisdom.

Bizzaro Book Review: Scoop by Kit Frazier

We’re in dangerous waters with today’s review folks. I’ve left the safe harbour of nerdy dude fiction and ventured out over the deep and shark infested seas of…Chick Lit.

Why am I reviewing this book again? Two reasons:

1. I’m a sucker for obscure authors with a great voice.

2. I’m an even bigger sucker for ebooks with a 99 cent price point.

So, without further ado lets get on with the show.

Scoop is a book about a reporter named Cauley McKinnon who has made some…less than stellar choices in her love life which in a roundabout way has led to her working at the obituary desk of the smallest of Austin’s newspapers. And that would be Austin as in Austin, TX, a town so clearly realized in this novel that it comes to feel like a character in and of itself. In this and other things Scoop is a clear example of the old mantra, Write what you know. It was clear to me when reading the author was drawing many of the details of her fictional surroundings from real life, and that realism of setting made the story all the more believable.

The author’s writing style is both clear and compelling, which was really one of the first things that made me want to buy the book. The second reason is that from the first page the characters seem to leap off the page and into your mind.

The books characters are both its greatest strength and greatest weakness. On the one hand the main cast is strong and well developed, filled with well rounded villains and subtle flawed heroes. On the down side the supporting cast of characters, mainly represented by Cauley’s friends and family, are also fully developed. You may be wondering why I’ve put this down as a negative. The essential problem is that while this cast of miscellaneous characters are both colorful and interesting, they do almost nothing to move the plot forward. Occasionally they provide support to our heroine in her times of trouble (and Cauley McKinnon has loads of trouble on her plate) but they do very little to push the story forward which by the end of the book leaves the lot of them looking decidedly superfluous.

As to the story itself it was compelling enough as both a mystery and a romance, keeping me turning the pages till the very end. Unfortunately once I got to the end I found the resolution to both threads to be slightly underwhelming. On the one hand Cauley solves the mystery and ostensibly finds the right man for her but her happy ending feels somehow shallow and tacked on.

And of course since this book is partially a romance its time for my to insert my obligatory rant about such things here. Cauley McKinnon suffers from what I will call Bella Swan syndrome. Bella Swan syndrome is when a female character downplays her own attractiveness and then every single unattached guy she meets wants to jump her bones. And I know I’ve complained about the double standard before but I’m gonna hit it again here:

Ladies, don’t tell me you want me to love you for who you are and not what you look like and then write stories in which your heroine has guys drooling all over her because of what she looks like. Your desire to be desired is practically omnipresent in the books you write for other gals.

If you really meant what you said you would write characters that are truly unattractive, that don’t get noticed by guys, that have to prove their inner beauty over time to win the heart of the man they love. Or better yet, write a guy character who isn’t superficially handsome. If what’s the inside is so much more important than what is on the outside then why aren’t there ever any nerdy, balding, overweight male love interests in your books? (wrote the nerdy, balding, overweight male)

Okay I think that’s all the soapboxing you can handle.

In the summation Scoop is fun book with great writing and believable characters. The plot tapers off a little toward the end, but on the plus side this book has a sequel so hopefully the intrepid Cauley McKinnon will get a more satisfactory resolution in that one.

I already mentioned the 99 cent price point and Scoop is more than worth that. If you like romantic mysteries or mysterious romances this book has got you covered. You can get it for your eReader type devices here.

The Jacqueline Howett Guide to Becoming a Better Buzzard

A week or so back (I honestly can’t remember; time’s fun when you’re having flies) everyone, and I mean everyone in the writing community was talking about Jacqueline Howett and her angry tirade on the Books and Pals Blog review of her book The Greek Seaman (no I’m not doing any puns. All the good ones have been used up anyway.)

It was like the rotting corpse of some animal bringing the buzzards far and wide to feast upon its stinking goodness. And before you go off mad, I’m one of those buzzards too. It’s not an insult. They’re an important necessary part of our ecological system. Fascinating creatures. For instance, did you know that the buzzard’s head lacks feathers because-

[Tangent Alert! Tangent Alert! Tangent Alert!]

Okay, okay! Keep your britches on! Anyway. The Great Jacqueline Howett Meltdown got me to thinking: Jacqueline Howett is a person.

Which hopefully everyone knows. I mean no one thinks she’s some kind of alien robot sent to sow discord on the internet or anything like that. But sometimes even though we know we don’t really know.

There’s something about distance that keeps us from seeing other people as real people. I still remember the moment when as a child we were driving down the road and I looked out at all the other cars and realized that each and every one of those people had a life every bit as real and full and complex as mine. But I also realized it was easy for us to ignore that fact because each of us was encapsulated in our own little climate controlled pod on wheels with the radio on, drowning out the our thoughts, letting us think we were the only real people in the world.

The internet is a lot like that too. Each of us sitting here at our own glowing screen interacting with others, but not really grasping the fullness of the truth that all those other words represent living, breathing, hoping individuals just like us.

I’m not here to defend Ms. Howett. I’m just here to remind you that she’s a person. She is more than the sum of her words.

Writing a book, even a bad one full of mistakes and errors is a lot of work. If you don’t believe me you should try it some time. And especially that first book…that sucker is like pulling teeth and giving birth at the same time.

Worst. Dentist appointment. Ever.

And when you’re finally done you print it all out and look at it in all of its grandeur and you think, “This is possibly the greatest thing I have ever done.” And you know what? For most of it, it probably is the greatest thing we’ve ever done.

And then someone comes along and shoots it full of holes.

It’s easy to make that person into the enemy. Because that criticism can hurt, especially at first. It doesn’t matter if it’s right or not. It doesn’t matter if the person giving the criticism is trying to help. It still takes a knife and shoves it right through our ego.

Like I said already, I’m not here to defend Ms. Howett. What she did was wrong on any number of levels.

But the next time something like this happens, think before you flame. Remember that the one on the other end of your criticism is a person too. It doesn’t mean you have to censor yourself. But maybe stop and think: “Would I be willing to say this to their face?”

Always remember to “speak the truth in love.”

Bizzaro Book Review: The Frankenstein Papers by Fred Saberhagen

[Spoiler Alert: this review contains spoilers. However this book was first printed in 1986. I gotta figure, if you haven’t read it yet, you’re probably not going to. Still, if you want the summary of my review without spoilers, I’ll tell you now. You should buy this book and read everything but the last chapter. Trust me. You don’t want to know.]

Before I say anything else about this book, I have to tell you that it pulled me out of a slump. I hadn’t read all the way through a book for more than a month and I was getting a little discouraged about it. Reading has always been important to me, but lately I had been having trouble really getting into it. I got bogged down somewhere in the middle of a book about the philosophy of science called Blast Power and Ballistics by Jack Lindsay and after that failure I was having trouble getting into reading anything at all. Then as I was browsing through the stacks at my local used book store I came across this little gem.

I was instantly intrigued by the unique concept. An epistolary novel set as a sequel to the original Frankenstein, with the monster telling the story in his own words? Count me in.

There are so many things that are right about this story. Firstly, and most important to me, it is well written. Fred Saberhagen does a wonderful job of recreating the voice employed by so many Victorian era epistolary tales, and that adept handling of the prose really helped to draw me in to the verisimilitude of the novel.

The story too is well handled, for the most part. Its focus on the monster’s quest to understand his true origins drew me in, making me share in his burning desire to know from whence his consciousness came.

The bulk of the novel consists of entries in a journal made by the monster himself. If you’re surprised that Frankenstein’s monster can read and write, it may be that you’ve been watching too many movies.

The monster’s journal is interspersed with a series of letters from the illegitimate son of Benjamin Franklin to his father. Franklin’s son is investigating the rumors of the monster’s existence at his father’s request. These portions of the book are pure genius, in my opinion, because they give Saberhagen the opportunity to pick at the niggling threads of the original story, plot elements which make very little sense when given closer examination.

By pointing out these inconsistencies, Saberhagen is then able to make the leap into claiming that the entirety of the original manuscript is untrustworthy, a fabrication plucked from the clutches of the truth by nefarious men with a dark purpose. The monster is not a killer, Frankenstein is not dead. All these things are made up by men who desperately hope to capture the monster and divine his secrets.

Saberhagen begins by calling tiny details into doubt, but gradually his rationalistic probing widens its scope calls into question the most important detail of all: could Frankenstein really create life? Could a Victorian era doctor truly hope to call a ghastly assemblage of corpses into renewed being?

Of course the answer is no. At first this might seem unfair. The story is about the creation of the monster. No matter how improbable it may be, that is the drive of the narrative. But on closer examination such a question of the doctor’s abilities bring about the books greatest moment of genius.

Frankenstein has not created life. But he believes that he has. He believes that he has called a soul into his rotting assemblage of corpses. And he believes he can do it again.

The pathos evoked by Frankenstein failing again and again to bestow life upon dead flesh while the apparent evidence that he is capable of doing so lurks outside his window is powerful stuff. The image of limbs rotting away on his operating table while Frankenstein endlessly attempts to shock them into life is profoundly disturbing.

But, you’re asking, if Frankenstein did not create the monster where did it come from? This, this is the book’s failing. The question unanswered throughout the narrative, the burning drive in the monster’s own heart: “Who am I? What is my name?”

The answer? He’s an alien.

No. I’m not making that up. It makes sense (sort of) in context. But it totally shatters the mood of the book. For three hundred pages Saberhagen weaves a classic Victorian tale of grotesque monsters, revenge, and betrayal. Then he slashes it to ribbons by having the last chapter of his novel being written on board a flying saucer. I understand what he was trying to do, but…

It just

Doesn’t

Work.

I feel bad about ending on a negative. In spite of the failings of the ending, this book is really a great read. Saberhagen clearly studied the original source material thoroughly and he spends a lot of time layering in details of the era that make the book seem remarkably vivid and believable. This isn’t a bad book. It just has a bad ending.

I would happily recommend that you read it in spite of its few failings. The book is out of print now, which makes me more than a little sad, but you can pick up the used copies cheap from Amazon.