Monday, December 31, 2012

David C. Cassidy's Velvet Rain: an independent novel review

What if you could go back in time and correct your mistakes? Would you?


What would the price be?


In Velvet Rain, David C. Cassidy answers that question imaginatively, realistically and fearlessly.

The answer, though, is difficult and terrifying.

As a skilled writer, Cassidy brings the answer out through the story. He begins with fictitious headlines that we know cannot be true, like Buddy Holly surviving that plane crash or Hitler being tried for war crimes. He then gets right into the story, answering a universal question with a particular story — the mark of the artist.


Kain Richards is a wanderer, a drifter with the strange ability to move back in time, which he uses to hustle pool.


Richards, though, is running from something or someone. He avoids even the most temporary relationships, because he must never be tied down.


Naturally, his heart breaks his rule, and he falls for Lynn Bishop, a single mom with two teenagers, Lee-Anne and Ryan. She’s estranged from her husband, the town drunk and iconic wife-beater, Ray. Her situation and family history cause a tangle of problems that are symbolic of far too many families in the world today. But Cassidy doesn’t preach: he remains focused on the story he’s telling.


Kain’s problems and pain become entangled with Lynn’s, but this never feels forced or artificial. If you can believe in Kain’s strange time-shifting abilities, then the rest of the story falls into place as naturally as rain. And the story reveals the pain and horror that are the price of Kain’s powers.


Cassidy’s story contains a great deal of pain, but the author also captures the simple, quiet joy and pleasure of a simple life, the humour and love of a county fair, an honest day’s work, of the connection between a man and a woman, between youth and maturity. The writing style is descriptive, but never heavy-handed, and it never drags.


And he delivers on the implied promise. What is the cost of the power to change the past? The new present you have created, because no matter what you do, everything has consequences.

5 stars.

You can find Velvet Rain as an e-book from Amazon, or in paper format through Amazon or through the author's own website.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Money Land by RS Guthrie: an independent novel review

How do you follow up a magnum opus?


With the best story you can tell, exploring new literary grounds.

Money Land is the sequel to RS Guthrie’s Blood Land, which was originally titled Dark Prairies. Guthrie himself called it his magnum opus, and any reader can see that the author had poured his heart, soul and sweat into it. It was an ambitious novel that successfully combined a western murder mystery with a deep human tragedy. Between the virtual covers of that one novel, Guthrie took on alcoholism, family estrangement, racism, government corruption, big money, the oil industry and unconstrained greed. He successfully portrayed the character of the independent Wyoming spirit and even managed to evoke old-time Western movies and the very real, if poorly understood Johnson County War.

Money Land picks up three years later, with the protanoist, Sheriff James Pruett of Wind River, Wyoming, having come to terms with his wife’s murder. He has been clean and sober since and has been rebuilding his relationship with his daughter, Wendy.

Guthrie has labelled this novel “A James Pruett Mystery.” It’s not as personal for the author as Blood Land or even as his paranormal/occult horror/mystery-thriller novels featuring Bobby Mac: Black Beast and LOST. Money Land is more of a straightforward mystery, and Guthrie succeeds in keeping his readers turning the pages (or flicking the screens of their e-readers).

Guthrie knows how to create deep, realistic characters that have many sides to them. There are aspects of his heroes that enrage me, and sides to the villains that could make me cry. Even the tertiary characters, like the dirtbags who mostly annoy and distract the Sheriff, have nuances that I admire. Creating a novel filled with complex characters takes a writer of skill and subtlety.

There are a few passages where the story drags: the back-story— or maybe it’s mid-story — where the author fills in the three years between Dark Prairies/Blood Land and Money Land. They’re few, and we can and should forgive Guthrie for these. They don’t detract from a gripping and rewarding novel.

Guthrie skillfully juxtaposes the ugliness of the worst of human behaviour against inspiring and tender relationships and the spectacular backdrop of Wyoming’s plains and mountains.

5 stars
Visit Rob Guthrie's blog.
Visit Rob Guthrie's website.
Purchase Money Land from Amazon.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas, readers! Best of the season to you all. And happy Kwanzaa, best of the Zarathosht Diso, as well as belated happy Yule, Bodhi Day and Hannukah.

Those who've ready this blog know my inclusive attitude toward holiday greetings: we should all celebrate all of them. (More holidays, more food, more festivities — who can argue with that?) And I will not be offended if anyone wishes me a Happy Eid, Passover or Makar Sankranti.

You may not know this, but I'm French-Canadian. One French-Canadian tradition — so traditional that my family wasn't doing it anymore by the time I was born — is exchanging presents on Christmas Eve. 
My seasonal gift to all of you is a story about Christmas, set in the long-ago time of 1991 — when cell phones were rarities, gasoline was 40 cents a litre and times were no simpler, no easier than they are today. 

Below is a sample of the story. The full text is in the tab, "Christmas 1991" at the top of the page.

Enjoy!

 

My Christmas Story for 1991


 

By Scott Bury


Snow spun, spiraled, swirled downward, slowly covering the lawns and avenues, the roofs and pathways of a suburb. In the morning, commuters would curse as they dug their cars out of the drifts and banks, brushed it off their hoods and headlights, then clutch their steering wheels white-knuckled as they slid to work.

But tonight, tonight all was quiet. All the houses were dark. All except one — one window was lit, the curtains flung aside, the light streaming out, illuminating the falling snow as it flickered past the window pane.


Through the window could be seen the head of one man, hard at work: leaning forward, shoulders and back bent over a slanted table. The head was handsome, seen in profile, if tending toward the corpulent. The forward tilt pushed out the beginnings of a double chin. The hair was dark, the nose long and straight, the mouth full and sensitive. 


His name was Andrew, and he was a draftsman. His job was to make an architect’s drawings and an engineer’s proofs into final drawings for the construction crews. Andrew was good at his job, and knew it.


Around him was the darkness and stillness of a sleeping house. If he had listened, had paid attention to the world around him at that moment, he would have heard the small sounds of the night: the intermittent click and hum of the furnace, the rattling of the windows in the winter wind, the rustling from the bed in the room next door as his wife, Lana, turned over, the faint sighing of his five-year-old daughter, Marla, in the other bedroom.


But Andrew was concentrating. He had a deadline to meet on this project, a complete set of plans for a power building at a factory. It was still a week away, counting the day whose morning he was working through, but there was a lot of work to do yet.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

American Goddesses: a high-octane superhero story for grown-ups

Independent book review: American Goddesses


By Gary Henry


Gary Henry’s American Goddesses is a book that’s a lot of fun to read, and you can tell the author had a lot of fun writing it.

The premise of American Goddesses is this: what would happen to a marriage if the wife suddenly developed super-powers? One answer: super-powered lovemaking.

Megan Harris is a slim, 40-year-old book editor from the Midwest who develops super-powers after an experimental medical treatment. She has super-strength, the ability to fly and can win a football game single-handed against the defensive sides of two professional teams.

While the love-making may be super, her husband, John, feels emasculated by his wife’s awesome power. His insecurity drives him into the arms of another woman. Of course, there’s no hiding infidelity when your wife has super-powers. Megan deals with the other woman, has it out with her husband, and then ... has her way with him.

That was fun, but Henry knows that there’s much more ore in this vein, and he exploits it. What follows is a high-energy superhero story that doesn’t let the reader go.


Author Gary Henry
A skilled writer, Henry reveals the back story as the readers need it in the course of telling the tale. That makes for a much more entertaining read than having to wade through long info-dumps that explain how the current situation came about.

One refreshing aspect of this super-hero story is that almost everyone is a believable character, people like those we’ve all met. Megan, as mentioned, is a book editor. I’ve met a number of those in my time, and I have been one, too. Trish, another woman who gained her powers at the same time as Megan, is a waitress.

The villains, Maunov and Melnikov, have depth, history and deep, powerful feelings. You have to disagree with them, but you can also understand them. And the crazy baddie, Skinner, made my skin crawl — partly because in him I recognized traits I had seen in reality.

The only flaw is that some of the later characters, brought in near the end, are a little stereotypical, almost right out of central casting. Henry could have put a little more reality into this part.

Summary: if you’re looking for entertainment in your reading, but want your fantasy written for grown-ups, turn to Gary Henry’s American Goddesses.

You can find Gary Henry's American Goddesses on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the Diesel e-bookstory and Smashwords.

Visit Gary Henry's Honest Indie Book Reviews blog.
Follow Gary Henry on Twitter @LiteraryGary.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Wodke Hawkinson on style


With six books, dozens of short stories and two blogs, the writing team of Wodke Hawkinson is widely recognized as a force in the independent author community.
Wodke Hawkinson is actually the writing team of Karen Wodke and PJ Hawkinson, two lifelong writers who, after each publishing a book on her own, teamed up to produce the thriller Betrayed, three collections of short stories, the genre-smashing Tangerine and their latest, Zeke, a novel of suspense and sexual tension.

The team not only writes in different genres, their individual works combine genres, cross genre boundaries and indeed invent whole new kinds of fiction. So naturally, I had to bring them back to Written Words to ask about their writing style.


How would you describe your own writing style?
K  I feel like we have a rather direct style of writing. We like to paint a clear picture of what’s going on (usually) and if we are vague about anything, it’s intentional. We like our books and stories to flow; we don’t want reading them to feel like work.

PJ I agree with Karen. I personally don’t like something that hasn’t been in the story, or is barely mentioned, and then it ends up being a major part of the plot.

Are there any authors whose style you admire? Do you try to emulate them?

K - I admire so many authors; it would be hard to narrow it down. I don’t feel like we consciously emulate anyone, but I’m sure that we’ve been influenced to a degree by some of the great books we’ve read.

PJ - Again, I agree with Karen. While I don’t try to emulate other authors, I think it is nature of the beast that authors can’t help but use someone else’s techniques on occasion. After all, writing is writing, and there are only so many ways to put words to paper.

Are there authors whose writing style you dislike?

K  Without mentioning names, yes. I dislike writing that’s so verbose it’s a chore to wade through. I also dislike pretentious writing or vague writing.

PJ  Also, without mentioning names, I find some writers to be overly descriptive. There’s no reason to beat a dead horse.

How important is your writing style to you? Are you happy with your style, or are there aspects of it you try to change during rewriting or editing?

K PJ and I have very similar writing styles and this makes collaboration easier for us. I’m pleased with our works. That said, we are always looking for ways to improve the story during editing.

PJ Karen mentioned the similarity in our writing style but I’d like to also mention the different ways we have at looking at a situation. While we basically think the same on most things, we have also led completely different lives and thus can each bring our own points of view to the table.

How can readers identify your writing style? Are there particular words or kinds of words that you tend to favour? Sentence structures? Or is it more in the story, the pacing or the characters?

K & PJ  We’re not sure we have a style distinctive enough it could be recognized sans our name. We tend to favor an approach that carries the reader along, with just enough detail to set the scene, and with characters who may not always be likeable but act like real people in believable situations.

Do you think writing with a female protagonist and POV, as opposed to a male POV, changes the style, in terms of word choice, sentence structure or other language elements?

K Yes. Absolutely.

Karen Wodke, left, and
PJ Hawkinson
PJ  I think it depends upon the character you are writing about. Not all females act like one and nor do all males act masculine. Writing style, word choice, and sentence structure all come together with the character, not with the gender. And in my case, I worked with mainly men for many years and believe I can see, at least to a point, their way of thinking.

Do you think your audience responds to your writing style, consciously or unconsciously?

K & PJ  It depends on the book. With a couple of our books, Zeke and Betrayed, audiences tend to have a strong response, either positive or negative. But we believe that has to do with the content (violence) more than our writing style. Not all of our works are suspense/thrillers, but the ones in that genre garner more passionate reviews.

How important do you think writing style is to an author's commercial success?

K & PJ  It could be very important. We feel that style is defined by the way an author handles the telling of the story. That would include many elements. If you gave the same exact plot to ten different writers, the tale would be told in ten entirely different ways. So style does matter. But we also have to say that sometimes the story itself is what matters. Some stories are so compelling they are able to transcend poor writing and appeal to a wide audience.

About Wodke Hawkinson and their books:

Wodke Hawkinson is the name under which writing duo PJ Hawkinson and Karen Wodke produce their collaborated works. The authors have been friends since high school, and began their co-writing partnership in 2009. Before combining forces, each completed a solo project in addition to publishing various short stories and/or articles. PJ published Half Bitten, a novel of vampire revenge and teen angst, and Karen completed her book for young readers, James Willis Makes a Million.


Both PJ and Karen attended school in Kansas. PJ graduated from Hutchinson Community College, and Karen attended HCC and Kansas Wesleyan University. Both reside in different Midwestern towns, and do much of their collaboration via telephone and the Internet. However, they have been known to discuss ideas while casting their lines at a quiet lake, as they both enjoy fishing.

Along with several short story singles, the books they have published as a team include:

Tangerine  Romance and intrigue in a future where space travel is commonplace and aliens a part of everyday life.

Betrayed  Brooklyn is taken captive during a botched carjacking. And so her nightmare begins.

Betrayed  Alternate Ending  Written especially for readers of Betrayed, this publication begins at chapter 49 of the original novel and takes the story in a completely different direction.

Zeke  A dark novel of sexual obsession and psychological suspense. How could a man who looks so good be this wicked?

Catch Her in the Rye  Selected Short Stories Volume One  Thirty-one short tales from various genres.

Blue  Selected Short Stories Volume Two  Eighteen short stories, three of which are novelette-sized. A cross-genre reading experience.

Alone  Selected Short Stories Volume Three Eighteen genre-spanning works of short fiction that include drama, humor, sci-fi, and paranormal.

Website: http://wodke-hawkinson.com/

Readers' and fellow indie authors' site: http://findagoodbooktoread.com/

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Wodke-Hawkinson/e/B00572KLX2/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Smashwords author page: http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/wodkehawkinson

Barnes & Noble page: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/wodke-hawkinson

Yahoo Contributor profile: http://contributor.yahoo.com/user/1167577/wodke_hawkinson.html

Twitter ID: @WodkeHawkinson

On Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/wodke.hawkinson  





Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Independent book review: The Funny Adventures of Little Nani

The Funny Adventures of Little Nani

By Cinta Garcia de la Rosa


Cinta Garcia de la Rosa remembers what it means to be a child.  Her book, The Funny Adventures of Little Nani, proves this not only through entertaining and hilariously preposterous stories, but by engaging children in the creative process of her book.

Little Nani is a young girl with an irresistible and irrepressible positive outlook on everything that happens. She derives infectious joy from helping other people — or at least, trying to help.

At some point just before the action of the book begins, Little Nani has ordered a magic wand over the Internet. It arrives, and it has power; but Nani, as a child, does not have the patience to read the instruction manual or go through the online training program. So, she does not learn the spells properly. Thus, the results of her efforts are always a little different from what she intended, or indeed, what the objects of her help ever wanted.

With Little Nani, Garcia demonstrates fine craftsmanship as a writer and a storyteller. Her professionalism as a writer is demonstrated in the care that shows in the prose, and in the fine colour illustrations by Almudena Romero. 

The book comprises 10 stories about Little Nani: turning her friends into ostriches, meeting the world’s fastest turtle, getting a complete set of the novels of Jane Austen for her friend, the horse.

Where Garcia goes beyond what most writers do is firmly rooted in her understanding of children. What do children want to do when they read, watch or hear a story they like? They want to create more of it, of course. Garcia gives them the opportunity to participate in the creation of the Little Nani legend: every chapter has at least one spot where the author invites the reader to draw their own illustrations of the events of the story.

The only criticism I can offer is that it could have used one more edit. Garcia’s choice of prepositions is odd in some places. It may be a European thing, because it’s never wrong or illogical — it’s just not quite the choice of someone whose first language is English. But I cannot fault Garcia for that.

To sum up, kudos to Cinta Garcia de la Rosa for creating a wonderful children’s book that not only entertains, but also engages the audience in telling the story.


Disclaimer: Cinta Garcia de la Rose, like me, is a member of Independent Authors International, a cooperative organization of writers unaffiliated with any major commercial publisher.

Find The Funny Adventures of Little Nani on Amazon
Visit Cinta Garcia de la Rosa's blog. 



Friday, December 14, 2012

The Independent Authors International iAi holiday book Extravaganza


You’re an awesome gifter — you got someone special a brand new e-reader. But what’s a great e-reader without great reads?

Just in time for the holidays — Independent Authors International brings six great books from six great, independent authors for just 99 cents each.


On Unfaithful Wings, by Bruce A. Blake —
Icarus Fell was alive, then he was dead, now he’s stuck somewhere in between. Icarus Fell is a harvester, brought back to Earth by the archangel Michael to collect souls and help them on their way to Heaven. If he gets enough of them before the bad guys do—if he does a good job—he can have his life back. But people he knew in life are dying, killed by a murderer’s knife, their bodies defiled, and the cops think he’s the killer. How does a man who no longer exists stop a psycho? Icarus Fell know he has to stop him before the killer gets to his son.


“Icarus Fell is officially my new favorite anti-hero.”


The Bones of the Earth, by Scott Bury — Eastern Europe, the Dark Age. The earth besets human civilization with earthquakes, floods, famines and new plagues that wipe out nearly half the population. Half of the mighty Roman Empire disappears. And the only man who can save humanity is one society rejected because he’s different.

“A marvelous read. I spent most of a day in The Bones of the Earth in spite of the things I had to do!”

 Velvet Rain, by David C. Cassidy — Kain Richards is the last of his kind--and a man on the run. So when this mysterious drifter falls for a beautiful and sensible Iowa farmwoman, he knows full well the perils of getting too close. And yet, for the first time in his miserable existence, life feels normal ... feels real. But as those around him soon realize, reality is not what it seems. For when a tragic accident forces Kain's hand, his astonishing secret--and godlike power--changes their lives, and the world, forever.

“It took my breath away right from the first line."



The Funny Adventures of Little Nani, by Cinta Garcia de la Rosa, illustrated by Almudena 
Romero Sánchez — Little Nani is a little girl who likes helping people, but when she does, the results are unexpected. Why? Because Little Nani is a witch! Or at least she wants to be a witch. She tries to cast spells to help her friends, but she didn’t finish the magic spell course. Little Nani’s extraordinary friends include funny ostriches, horses that love reading, super-fast turtles, grumpy zombies ... Little Nani has lots of friends! You can also draw your own characters! Little Nani is willing to become a good witch. Will she manage to do it? Who knows?


“Children will love this book of short stories and they will fall in love with the beautiful images.”

American Goddesses, by Gary Henry — When two small-town women find themselves with nearly unlimited powers of mind and body, their lives get complicated. Things turn nasty as a shadowy organization attempts to use Megan and Trish for their own evil ends, and destroy them, their town and the USA in the process.

“A ton of girl power … Highly recommended!”




Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula, by Elise Stokes — Fourteen-year-old Cassidy Jones wakes up the morning after a minor accident in the laboratory of a world-renowned geneticist to discover that her body has undergone some bizarre physical changes. Her senses, strength, and speed have been radically enhanced.

After exploring her newfound abilities, Cassidy learns that the geneticist is missing and that foul play is suspected. Terrified that her physical changes and Professor Phillips' disappearance are somehow connected, Cassidy decides to keep her strange transformation a secret. That is, until she meets the professor's brilliant and mysterious fifteen-year-old son, Emery. An unlikely duo, they set out to find Emery's mother and are forced to confront a maniacal villain willing to do anything — including murder — to achieve his goals.

"Elise Stokes ranks up there with other YA masterminds! This is a definite must -read book!”

Looking for more great fantasy from independent authors? Check out the eBooks Make Great Gifts book blitz from the Guild of Dreams fantasy authors collective.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Minimalism and action: Best-seller Seb Kirby on writing style

As soon as I started reading Seb Kirby’s Double Bind, I thought: “Yes! Here is a writer who knows how to waste no time, nor words in getting to the action.” Double Bind grabs you immediately and whips you along.


Seb's style seems to blend genres seamlessly. I wondered, "How does he do that so easily?" So naturally, I subjected the author to my interview on his writing style.

How would you describe your own writing style?

I like to write short chapters, short paragraphs, short sentences. I agree with Louise Brooks that “writing is 1 percent inspiration, and 99 percent elimination.” and with Alfred Hitchcock that “drama is life with the dull bits cut out.” I also like Blaise Pascal’s comment: “I have made this letter longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter.” I spend a great deal of time editing (which Stephen King calls “polishing”) what I've written in order to try to live up to these views.

Are there any authors whose style you admire? Do you try to emulate them?

I discovered Ray Bradbury when a teenager. I appreciated his writing then for its strength in storytelling. I admire it now for its minimalism. This arises, I think, from the fact that Ray Bradbury wrote short stories. (Even novels like Dandelion Wine or The Martian Chronicles read like collections of short stories with a common narrative.) Then, the writing needs to be expressive but succinct. I try to write like that.

I also admire thriller writers Harlan Coben and Robert Harris. Both have a talent for creating a vivid sense of place without detracting from the plot flow that is so essential to a good thriller.

Are there authors whose writing style you dislike?

Well, I think that writing style is a very personal thing and that every author will have their own take on this. There's no right or wrong way. As W. Somerset Maugham said: “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no-one knows what they are.” So, I end up liking Ray Bradbury's style but I wouldn't want to dislike any writing on the basis of a style different to that. The only recent read in which I found it difficult to stick to this long held view was Cormac McCarthy's The Road, which I found stylistically annoying. But then it went on to win a Pulitzer and get turned into a successful movie, so it's clear that one person's style hate is another person's literary classic in the making.

How important is your writing style to you? Are you happy with your style, or are there aspects of it you try to change during rewriting or editing?

I'd say my writing style is still evolving. I try to set myself a formal challenge in each new story. This can be a simple thing, like “Write the whole book without using any ‘said’ attributions in the reported speech.” Or it can be something more complex, as in my second thriller, Double Bind where I set myself the challenge of writing as much of it as possible in the first person present tense. Either way, I hope that this keeps my writing fresh.

Overall, I'm a keen follower of Stephen King’s approach as set out in his On Writing. In terms of writing style, there are two of his comments that I take seriously. The first: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” So, where at all possible I don't use them. The second: “Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.” I never use a dictionary or a thesaurus.

How can readers identify your writing style? Are there particular words or kinds of words that you tend to favour? Sentence structures? Or is it more in the story, the pacing or the characters?

My writing style is, then, I think, readily recognised by readers. It is often commented on in their reviews. About ten percent deduce that this writing style is poor and not for them. But a majority seem to get what I'm aiming at and say that the pace and tension of the thriller is enhanced and that enough space is allowed for the reader to make up their own mind, for example about the appearance and mannerisms of the characters. That's what makes a minimalist approach like this worthwhile.

Do you think your genre imposes certain restrictions on writing style?

There are bound to be restrictions involved in writing thrillers. After all, the main aim is to entertain and, if you're lucky, thrill. But that's good discipline. It restricts the temptation for the author to intervene too much.

Do you think your audience responds to your writing style, consciously or unconsciously?

This is a very good question that I don't know the answer to. Maybe it's something that writers don't give enough attention. Certainly it's not something that there's much room for in the writing process where the story takes on a life of its own. For a thriller writer, the issue most often becomes: “Can I really do that and make it seem consistent and believable in the context of the whole story?”

How important do you think writing style is to an author's commercial success?

Yes, it's important. To be clear, easily understandable and inspiring are worthy aims of any writer and the means with which you try to achieve this has a real influence on how successful you might be in achieving those aims. Most would say that there is a great deal of serendipity and hard work involved in whether this translates into commercial success or not. But without it, that success is much less likely.

Seb Kirby's debut novel, Take No More, has been widely acclaimed as a first-rate mystery thriller. Drawing from his love of classic books from H G Wells to Charles Dickens, he has mastered the art of storytelling. His second novel, Double Bind, is a psychological sci-fi thriller filled with twists and turns, a hallmark of Kirby's gripping imagination. A sequel to Take No More will be available in early 2013.

Find Take No More on Amazon.
Find Double Bind on Amazon.



Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Independent book review: Russell Blake’s Jet

If you haven’t yet heard of the force of literature named Russell Blake, crawl out from under that rock and check out his website, blog and pages on Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Amazon and the other usual e-book sellers. It’s time to be brought up to speed.

Blake writes a new novel every couple of months. Notice I didn’t write “churns out”; his pace is amazing, but every work is inspired and professional. He’s not a hack, not a wannabe; he’s the real thing, living the writer’s life somewhere in Mexico.

For his current series, Jet, Russell Blake wanted to create a female James Bond-like character. His heroine, Jet, is highly trained in all the military skills; she's lethal, unstoppable and never makes a mistake. I found myself asking: do people like that really exist? But I almost immediately answered: who cares? Jet is not a deep analysis of the human condition — although there are philosophical aspects to this work. But essentially, Jet is a thrill ride as only Suspense Writer Russell Blake can do it.

Jet has all the elements readers can expect from Russell Blake: it's captivating from the first page, there's action all the way through and the pace never slows down. Bullets fly, bombs explode, Jet kicks high in a tight black leather jumpsuit. I kept imagining Milla Jovovich with long hair, even though I've never seen a Resident Evil movie.

Blake seems to know his way around some exotic locales: Trinidad, Belize, Venezuela, even Tel Aviv and Algiers.

Blake's writing chops are well evident: constant action, a good pace, and lots of details about weapons and tactics that action fans love. I had never heard of SIG guns before reading Jet. The plot is gripping, complex and complete  no plot holes or bizarre coincidences that are hallmarks of writers less skilled than Russell Blake.

Sometimes, it felt like he was showing off with his command of the language. He starts by breaking Elmore Leonard's rule he opens with weather. It takes some skill to pull that off and keep readers reading.
At other times, it reads like Eddie Van Halen's guitar writing: fast, thrilling, but really, Russell, do you have to show off this much? Take this:

The fountain in the middle of the square, thick calcium deposits crusting the pitted centerpiece, hosted a squabble of sparrows intent on bathing in the rainwater accumulated in its base. Drawn by their raucous chirping, he slowed to watch them enjoy their brief reprieve from the oppressive heat.
Or

A pair of flying fish catapulted out of the water off the bow, keeping pace as they surfed the glistening spindrift that danced above the waves, to the steady accompanying throb of the boat's motor.
But it's almost flawless. Really, I found seven typos in the whole book. Yes, I counted.


Story:

Jet, the first book in the series, starts with Carnival in Trinidad. Maya owns a small Internet café, which seems like something hard to make a profit with in a third-world country. She's attacked by professional killers, fights back, killing the whole team, or at least all but one. She then flees the country, which sets her on a course back to her past and to figure out who's trying to kill her, and why they're going to such lengths to do it.

We quickly learn that Maya was actually an Israeli super-agent code-named Jet, part of a super-secret, super-skilled and super-effective team with similar hotshot code names like Rain, Fire, Tiger and Lightning. Some time before the action of the book starts, she had faked her own death to get out of the whole assassin trade. She wanted a quieter life, and tried to create one in a tropical backwater.

Of course, life doesn't let her settle down. It turns out that one of her targets as a Mossad assassin had a brother, a Russian multi-billionaire oil tycoon and all-round bad guy. He wants revenge and has hired a top team of assassins to kill Jet. They track her down through the only person who knows that Jet's death was phoney: her old boss and lover, David.

Apart from Jet, all the characters are three-dimensional and believable. My favourite was Dr. Rani Stein, the obese general practitioner  heart of gold, deeply flawed, terrified yet brave. I felt like I knew him, or someone very much like him.

Jet, though, is a different story. She's almost perfect, apart from her aloofness and lack of compassion for just about anyone. I guess if you want to be an unstoppable assassin, you have to be a complete bitch.

To me, Jet was not a believable character: she's too fast, too accurate a shot, too smart ... I mean, how does a single unarmed person kill six professional assassins in a matter of minutes? How can one person be so supremely good at not just planning but also executing an operation where two people eliminate a score of adversaries on their own turf? But then, no super-spy characters are believable. James Bond certainly isn't, no matter how hard actors try to make him so.

And that's not the point of this novel. Jet is a series for lovers of kick-ass action, and Jet delivers a boatload of kickass. No, she's not invulnerable: she has a couple of weak spots, which almost undo her before the book ends. So, while Jet is not believable, she is fallible; the reader can identify with her at a few places in the plot mind you, for me, it's not when she's killing a gunman with one of those pointed receipt-holders you see on a store counter.

So, I'll give this book four stars for its airtight plot, flawless expression, non-stop action and solid characterization; I take one away because I just cannot believe in these superhuman killing machines. They make great movies, but are less satisfying on the printed page.

Once again, Russell Blake proves that the independent author can, and does, deliver a good read.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Who was the hot mom on your street? A Six Sentence Sunday sample

Picture courtesy Synthesis by shafeen charania
This week's Six Sunday sample is another from my work-in-progress (almost done!), One Shade of Red. It's a parody of Fifty Shades  but I know you figured that out.

This selection is a little different from the excerpts I've posted over the past few weeks. Here, the protagonist, Damian, is doing the most difficult sexual activity of all: talking about sex with his mother. Damian is trying to explain his relationship with his girlfriend, Kristen Petri, and Damian's mother contrasts the girl with her mother.

Mrs. Petri was the “hot mom” of the neighbourhood. My friends used to make jokes about how lucky I was to go to their house when I was 13 and 14. She didn’t dress like her daughter: she was attractive, even beautiful, and she knew it. She did yoga and played tennis and always had her hair done fashionably. She liked to wear tight blouses and tight pants, high heels and jewelry. “I’ve seen your father looking at Mrs. Petri, you know,” my mother said.
 

 

For more great (and mostly spicy) six-sentence excerpts, visit http://www.sixsunday.com/.

And leave lots of comments!




Friday, December 07, 2012

The best and worst of Bruce Blake

Bruce Blake is having a significant impact on the independent author scene. In addition to writing some innovative fantasy and horror novels, he has founded the Guild of Dreams fantasy writers’ collective, which has a Facebook group page as well as a blog, where members take turns posting very interesting ideas, opinions, interviews, excerpts and lots of other stuff. Check it out — AFTER reading Bruce’s addition to the confessionals series, “The best and the worst I’ve ever done — as a writer.”

When Scott asked me to write a few words about the best and worst things I've done as a writer, it took me a while to come up with something that didn't sound cliché and lazy. How easy would it have been to say the best thing I ever did was to self-publish and the worst was to wait so long to self-publish? Both of those answers are valid, but I'm aware of the quality of Scott's writing and blogging, so I thought, “No, Bruce. That's not good enough. Scott's readers will demand more.”

 

So here's the real deal.

The best thing I ever did was to keep working on, reading about and learning my craft. Too broad? Let me narrow it down to a single incident. I took a writing course by mail through a major writing publication some years ago, which included one-on-one instruction from a published author in my genre. Part of the deal was that I could ask the instructor questions when I submitted my exercises, so I asked this gentleman about how much editing an author typically does. His response? “Most of the published authors I know have their first drafts published almost as-is.”

A book that changed Bruce's
writing life.
I was devastated. I hadn't been writing seriously for long at that point and was still pretty new to the idea of writing to be published, but I knew enough to realize my first drafts weren't good enough to go to print. Not by a long shot (and they still aren't). But I didn't let that deter me. I kept writing and, more importantly, kept learning. Soon after, I came across a book that changed my writing life: James A. Michener's Writer's Handbook: Explorations in Writing and Publishing.

The book included his first draft for a novel and you know what?

It sucked.

Photo of Stephen King
from Wikipedia
Commons

Photo of Ray Bradbury  from Wikipedia
Commons

Mr. Michener, author of dozens of bestsellers, proclaimed that writing really came together during the editing process. (An amusing side note: Mr. Michener wrote by hand. An assistant typed the manuscript, which the author would then edit by literally cutting and pasting with scissors and scotch tape). He said that a first draft is just about getting words down on paper, no matter whether they are good or not, and that editing and rewriting are where a writer breathes life into his work. Since that moment, I've read interviews and books by other writers who say the same thing. You know, hacks like Stephen King and Ray Bradbury.

By the way, years later, I finally tracked down a copy of one of my instructor’s books ... I couldn't get through it.

Ah, sweet vindication.
Other “best things” I've done would have to include realizing that any good writer needs the assistance of others in the form of professional editors, proofreaders and cover artists; exposing myself to other writers (though the other writers might not like it so much when I expose myself, wink wink nudge nudge); and taking it seriously enough to lose sleep and skip social functions to just get it done.


A matter of timing

The worst thing I have ever done as a writer, on the other hand, is more difficult to nail down. If I had to pick one, I think it would involve timing.

I published my first novel, On Unfaithful Wings, to Kindle in December 2011, but resisted enrolling in Amazon's KDP Select program until April (to be part of the program, your novel has to be exclusive on Kindle. I struggled with that concept, despite the fact I've sold a grand total of five copies through other venues). Doesn't sound like such a bad thing, does it? Not until you know that something changed significantly about the program around the end of March. Up until that time, copies given away during KDP free promos counted as sales. That meant independent authors could give their book away to thousands of people (my first free promo, I gave away just shy of 10,000 copies) and end up on the Kindle bestsellers list...the list paying customers see and often use to determine what books they are going to buy.

Around the end of March, the giveaways stopped counting as sales. I did my first promo two weeks later. That hesitation cost me hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of dollars. That would have to be the worst thing I've done as a writer.

Unless you include the time I killed a man in Reno just to watch him die.

Bruce Blake lives on Vancouver Island, which the rest of us Canadians know as the tropical part of Canada. When pressing issues like shovelling snow and building igloos don’t take up his spare time, Bruce can be found taking the dog sled to the nearest coffee shop to work on his short stories and novels.

His first novel is On Unfaithful Wings: An Icarus Fell Novel. He released his newest, Blood of the King, on Amazon in October. A promotional preview excerpt appeared in Written Words on October 1.


Follow him on Twitter @bruceablake.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Welcome to Charity Parkerson's The-Adonis Blog Tour


I’m happy to host best-selling author Charity Parkerson once again.

This time, she’s announcing the release of her latest scorching love story, The-Adonis.

Charity Parkerson is the author of several books, including twelve Amazon bestsellers. She was born in Tennessee and she still lives there with her husband and two sons. Her “Sinners series” was voted one of the top ten best books in 2011by the Paranormal Romance Reads blog. Charity was also named as one of the top three Indie authors of 2012 by The Book Connection.

The new, short book The-Adonis, is romantic, compelling and very hot. Here is Charity’s description:

Grecian Fantasies hosts one of the hottest balls in town, a naughty Nobody-Knows-Your-Name masquerade that is not only exclusive, but is also not for the faint of heart.
Pleasure, fantasy, fetish, and vice are all on the menu at this ball. The only thing not up for grabs is the notorious woman behind its creation, but that is about to change.

Get a glass of ice water before you read this excerpt: 
“I’m Weston,” he said as he wound Rob’s ribbon around his neck, tying it in a neat bow, and making himself appear as a giant unwanted present. “What’s your desire?” Rob started to tell Weston that he desired for him to go away, but a bright yellow feather caught his eye once more, and his gaze found the Goddess across the room.
“I need you to fetch someone,” Rob answered, deciding to use the awkward situation to his advantage.

“Oh, yay, a threesome,” Weston cheered. “May I suggest Mike over there,” he said, pointing to a gigantic man wearing a plain black mask. “He has lumberjack hands,” Weston added cheerfully.

Rob paused. Lumberjack hands? No, he was not going to ask. “What are lumberjack hands?”
“You know, he can wield his . . .” Weston began before Rob waved his hand, cutting him off.
“Never mind, I get the picture.” And he did, too. He would never be able to wash this moment from his mind. Getting back on track before things got out of hand, Rob pointed across the room. “Bring her to me,” he ordered.
Weston’s face fell as he caught sight of the woman to which Rob referred. “I cannot,” he stammered, sounding horrified.
“What the hell? I thought you were supposed to fulfill my desires or some shit?”
Weston seemed honestly distraught over Rob’s aggravation. “I’m sorry. If you ask me to fetch anyone else for a bit of fun, then I am at your service, any service,” he added, raking Rob’s body with his eyes. “However, that is Theadonis and I cannot do as you command.”
“The Adonis,” Rob repeated, sounding ridiculous even to his own ears. “I thought Adonis was a man. That is no man.” As the words left Rob’s mouth, he found himself tilting his head to one side and studying the woman closer just in case he was wrong.
Weston rolled his eyes. “Not ‘the Adonis.’ Theadonis. That’s her name. She is the owner of Grecian Fantasies.”

Get the whole story at a very reasonable price from:
  • Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/The-Adonis-ebook/dp/B00AD9J414/ 
  • or Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Adonis-ebook/dp/B00AD9J414/ 
  •  
    Be sure to visit Charity’s site at http://www.charityparkerson.com and read her blog at http://charity-thesinners.blogspot.com. You can Like her at http://www.facebook.com/authorCharityParkerson.