Monday, June 24, 2013

Trifecta - Early Summer Book Reviews

Greetings readers!

Summer is officially here, and I hope it is treating everyone very well. I haven't read much indie fiction in a while so tonight I have no insights to share on obscure authors barely floating along in the same rickety boat as me. However, I have been burning through audiobooks from more recognizable authors like mad, especially since I discovered the awesomeness that is the portable Playaway mp3 players available at the library. They're perfect for listening to audiobooks at work (if applicable) and in the car. Anyway, here are three short reviews on books that I finished this month.

by Dean Koontz

The cover and description of this book would have you think that it is traditional horror tale about a haunted hotel in the vein of Stephen King's The Shining, but in reality this is a sci-fi novel. Now, I like science fiction mind you, however, I like good science fiction. Koontz raises some interesting questions about the future of technology, but ultimately the plot is predictable and slowly trudges on.

Stars: 2/5

by Paulo Coelho

This is a short book -- only two hours in audio and read by Jeremy Irons! It's really a philosophical book written in a pesudo-parable style. The "manuscript" in question is supposedly one of those found with the Dead Sea Scrolls that records the sayings of a 'teacher' written during one of the crusades. The teacher is a foil for Coelho to pontificate on what makes life worth living, but I feel his thoughts on the adventure of life are very uplifting and inspirational.

Stars: 5/5

by Bill Bryson

This was my first foray into the wonderful world of the travel essay. I enjoy traveling and discovering new places very much, so hearing Bryson's adventures on the Appalachian Trail was sort of a mental excursion for me. Bryson writes in a light and humorous style, and he manages to blend (quite beautifully I might add) the shenanigans he and his travel partner get into with a more serious and informative discussion about the AT's history and the state of nature in America.

Stars: 5/5

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Writer vs. The Day Job

Writing is a solitary and time-consuming profession. Only a lucky few of our number are able to carve out a living from their pens. The rest of us have to juggle writing around a full-time job and the rest of our busy lives.

Suppose you work 9 to 5 Monday through Friday, and let's be honest, you're lucky to have such a regular first shift schedule. You get home at 5:30, well what then? You need to eat so that's at least an hour, if you're trying to lead a healthy lifestyle you'll want to work in a little fitness time, and then there's social obligations to factor in. If you're a writer with children (as I am about to be) then the demands on your time increase drastically. When/how are you supposed to write that novel?? It seems it's 11 o'clock before your have-to's are done, and by then you're getting ready to do it all over again in the morning. The cycle can be so frustrating!  

I'm not sure there's an answer to this writer's conundrum. There might always be some element of robbing Peter to pay Paul, whether that's cutting down the workout regimen or eating frozen pizza instead of cooking. I recall once seeing a picture of Stephen King (I believe from his memoir On Writing), in which he could be seen writing a draft of Carrie. King had turned his laundry room into an office. With a chair against one wall and scarcely enough room for his legs, King used the washing machine as his desk. At the time, he was writing late in the evenings after work, after the chores and after the family had gone to sleep. Do you necessarily have to camp out in the laundry room? Certainly not. But the point is if you're passionate about writing, you will find a way to finish your project. You may not get the runaway success of Stephen King, but you will end up with a completed manuscript.

Beginning next week I'm going to start getting up fifteen minutes earlier every day and using that time to write on my tablet. (By the way, My Writing Nook has a great versatile app for this type of thing. You can even use it on your phone!) If I can even jot down only 50 words at a session, that's 250 words or an extra page every week on top of my normal writing. So, a little home following this post: what can you do to squeeze in a little more writing time each day?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

New Review: Syd & Marcy by Beaird Glover

by Beaird Glover

If Quentin Tarantino tried his hand at Bonnie and Clyde, this is what it would look like. Beaird Glover's SYD & MARCY is a gritty novella set in the American South. Sydney and Marcy are two broken lovers who have the grand design of one day moving to Hollywood and making it big. But they need money for such a trip and they go about funding their exodus the only way they know how: robbery, murder and fraud. Their lawbreaking eventually makes them the subject of local police, in particular a detective with a flair for vigilantism.

As badly as this duo wants out of their Appalachian backwater, they are very much a product of the region's (at least as it is commonly portrayed) low education, poverty and hillbilly culture. Having grown up with a prostitute of a mother, Sydney suffers from alcoholism and also the gambling addict's persistent belief that "today's my day," while Marcy displays definite psychological baggage, including apathy whenever she takes a life, all of which is related to her abusive father and contributes to her devotion Sydney and his unrealistic grandiose schemes. 

This book would definitely receive a hard "R" if it was a film, and readers should be aware for lots of language, frequent instances of sex and violence, and even incest and human captivity. I'm typically not a fan of this kind of fiction (I don't even really care for Tarantino to be honest) so it took a little while for me to begin to appreciate the story. Character development is the author's greatest strength. These characters range from depraved to disturbed, and in the case of Syd and Marcy, they really act as their own worst enemies throughout making bad decision after bad decision. While this can be frustrating for someone with common sense to read, it is refreshing to get away from fiction archetypes and see flawed characters making flawed decisions. This story's most noticeable weakness is that the ending seems a little rushed, and the resolution, while fitting, is only about half a page. As far as theme goes, I don't believe fiction always has to "say" something (sometimes a good story is just a good story), however I did detect some slight commentary on the part of the author on the impact of violent culture in media on youth development when he explains Marcy's blase attitude to taking life is related to her view that it is just acting.

All in all, SYD & MARCY is intriguing yet uncomfortable, and its length makes it short enough to not be an onerous commitment while long enough to be worthwhile investment.

Stars: 4/5

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Cover article in Toledo City Paper

I had the opportunity to write the cover story in this week's Toledo City Paper. This is their annual green issue which focuses on environmentalism and sustainability as it pertains to Northwest Ohio. This particular issue, "Waste Not," looks at four businesses in the Toledo area that are trying to model an eco-friendly business model. Check it out!

Saturday, April 13, 2013



by David B. McCoy

"Oliver Hazard Perry: The Hero of Lake Erie" is a short bio on the life of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry which can be read in one or maybe two sittings. It is for the most part well-written and informative. I learned a great deal, especially on Perry's early life. I definitely wish I had read this before I wrote "Waves and War," since there are a few factoids about the Commodore I learned from this book that I would have liked to feather into my story. Unfortunately, "Oliver Hazard Perry" was published four months too late. 

The book does have a few glaring issues that can't be ignored. The first is that despite having a sizable bibliography for a work of this length the author uses only a minimal amount of citation in his text. I feel that when writing a biography some kind of notation is a must. Also, for the actual Battle of Lake Erie, the author defers wholly to an inserted description provided by the park service at Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial. I would have liked to have seen the author tackle the battle and describe it in his own narrative style. 

All in all, this is a quality "on-the-go" style read, and I look forward to reading more of McCoy's "In Your Hand" digital history series. Someone already familiar with Commodore Perry and his role in the War of 1812 might want to seek something more in depth, but for the uninitiated looking to broaden their knowledge base, especially as we enter the bicentennial of the Battle of Lake Erie, this is a perfect choice. 

Stars: 4/5

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Meet Wil Driscoll of SEVEN OUT

I'm proud to announce that my main character, Wil Driscoll, and I did an interview for Wise Words Book Blogger which ran today. Special thanks to Louise Wise of WWBB for the opportunity to do an interview. Check out the interview below:

Also here is a link to my latest Kindle book, SEVEN OUT, in which Wil takes the lead:

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Adventures in Writing - My Latest Discovery

Those of you who know me personally know that the last two to three months of my life have been dedicated to writing my master's thesis, and most of my time over the last two years have gone to keeping up with graduate school work. Thus, fiction writing has taken a back seat. While I have managed to dip my toes into the world of online self-publishing and blogging, I actually haven't really written anything new in quite a long time. I'm excited that in the coming weeks I can resume writing fiction with both feet running!!

But that's not what I want to talk about in this post. As things have been winding down with the thesis process, I've been looking into new ways to promote my work. Love you all as I do, I need to build a broader audience. I've gathered from my online research that getting blogger reviews for your work is one of the most productive and cost effective forms of self-promotion you can do. My more Internet savvy and bibliophilic friends are probably well aware of all the reader blogs out there, but I for one was surprised. There is this whole sub-culture online of people who have turned their need to read endless stacks of books into a part-time job that grants them both publicity and a nice side income. Here is a list of over a hundred such blogs. As I spent the better part of a day sifting through it looking at those bloggers whose interests match my new ebook, Seven Out, for a possible review, I was amazed to find that a few of these people have developed large enough fan bases to quit their day jobs!

I'm not advocating that anyone reading this quit their day job to start a review blog, but I thought it was one of the interesting discoveries I've made on my writing journey that was worth sharing. Perhaps, if you're a writer, this will help you as you work through your own efforts to promote your books, and if you're one of those avid readers maybe some of the blogs on that list will point you in the direction of some hidden gems.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Review Nation

We live in the information age. As a result, we as a people want to be informed about the decisions we make. We educate ourselves to be informed voters. We read magazines like Consumer Reports to get performance reviews and safety information on comparable products. Apps like Yelp, Rotten Tomatoes and Goodreads exist almost entirely for the purpose of allowing us to make better informed choices. This isn't a bad thing by the way. There is such a staggering variety of products to choose from, and with a poor economy many of us don't have the dollars to risk on a product that might just be so-so. It makes very logical sense for us to turn to online reviews to get the opinions of those who have come before us before we make a commitment. "Reviewers said this restaurant has okay food but terrible service, maybe I'll pass. Turns out the movie I wanted to see only earned 45% among moviegoers and comments agree all the funny parts were in the trailer. This book was interesting, but could have been 200 pages shorter."

Earlier generations would have relied on the word of mouth of their immediate social circle if they were looking for a review, and the dedicated hobbyists and enthusiasts among them would have sought the thoughts of professional critics. But we live in a digital world. We have access to a global array of entertainment, products and information that eclipses the limited experience of our immediate friends and neighbors. While something can be said for the expertise of critics, it's likely you and I don't share that level of training and refined taste. So where do we turn? The Internet has provided for the democratization of the review industry. We have access to the perspectives of hundreds of thousands of movie junkies, foodies, bibliophiles, etc. Some of their analyses give the professional critics a run for their money. With a couple of easy clicks on our phone, we can see the average rating of ten thousand happy or disenchanted consumers.

But I think this level of convenience also comes with a certain amount of responsibility. From the perspective of producers, Review Nation is the way customers today will decide to pass on a product or make a purchase. Restaurants, filmmakers, small businesses and of course writers desperately need reviews to further their reputation for quality. While all of them certainly want positive ratings, most are far more interested in honest, genuine feedback. The more legitimate feedback a business or artist receives, the better its credibility with future customers and the more opportunity that business or artist has to improve. We may not like to hear it, but people do tend to have a herd mentality with their buying habits. Think about it. Have you ever passed over an item with only one or two glowing reviews in favor of something a few hundred people thought was pretty good? I have. Finally, this new online era in consumer-buyer relations gives the people a forum to be heard. Embrace that. If you got lousy service at dinner, say so. If you loved some sleeper film, give it five stars. So hop on Amazon, RT and Goodreads and give your opinion. Future patrons will benefit from your input.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Poll Breakdown: How do you read your books?

In January's poll I asked: How do you read your books? According to respondents, the Kindle, Nook, iPad and "other e-reader" all tied for second place with 20% of the vote. The clear winner was old fashioned ink and paper. What can this very scientific poll tell us about reading trends? It tell us that among the literary crowd who visit writing blogs, the print book is alive and well. However, in light of recent news that Barnes and Noble will be closing 1/3 of its stores, it appears that ereaders have a stronger hold on the market than my poll would suggest. Ebooks are not solely responsible as you have to factor in online shopping as perhaps the biggest diversion of sales from brick and mortar stores. In less sobering news, no respondents selected "I wait for the movie version" so at least we can sleep soundly knowing there is a brief glimmer of hope for the future. Leap-frogging off this post, please take part in February's poll (located on the right hand side) where I ask what the bookstore in 2023 looks like.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Submission Process - Reflections

I've just finished all of my revisions to my latest short story, SEVEN OUT, but now it's time to submit it. My goal is to get into the Kindle Singles program, and like most other selective venues there is a submission process: you need a query letter, synopsis, etc. This is my least favorite part of being an aspiring writer.

I sent out numerous query letters for my novel a couple years ago with no luck. Essentially the query process is sales: you struggle to even get a meeting with your potential customer, you only have a limited window to make your pitch and often the deal is settled on first impressions. Agents, publishers and their assistants receive thousands of query letters from hopeful authors trying to sell their work. Many agencies list that they accept maybe a couple dozen projects a year. That makes it extraordinarily difficult for literary professionals to sift through the mountains of submissions they receive. From the research I've done, even though your rejection letter says something to the effect of "we've carefully reviewed your submission," odds are the agent or publisher (likely their assistants) didn't even get to the end of your query letter, let alone read your synopsis or attached manuscript chapters, before making his or her decision. If you're like me, your thought is, "Well, if you'd read my actual work you'd like it!" We're both probably right, they would. The salesman could say the same thing if the potential client would actually give the product a chance. But publishing is just like every other business. Time is money, and literary professionals are short on both. So, we writers are stuck having to wow the reader of our query letters in the first sentence. We need to make that good first impression.

Here I am, setting myself and my work up for yet another rejection. The realist in me understands the unlikelihood of SEVEN OUT getting accepted, but I'm also an optimist and I know there are people who get accepted. Failure is good. That is how we learn. In hindsight, I've seen how my past letters could have been stronger, and I've since worked to improve my new query letter to make that great first impression. Two great resources I'd like to share are Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb and The book is a few years old, but it's written by an author and an agent and it gives a great sense of what goes on on both sides of the agent's desk. AQ is a community website for writers and features several forums where your writing peers can critique your query letters and synopses before you send them. I've found both to be tremendously valuable, and I can see a marked difference in the quality of my submission materials for this go around.

This is part of the writing game. You put yourself out there and get shot down, but you pick yourself up and try again. Hopefully, with the improvements I've made, this attempt will be a success. I'll be sure to keep you posted! Wish me luck!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

by Ransom Riggs

This book was a refreshing read. It's been a little while since I've dabbled in YA Fiction since I've been on a history and historical fiction kick, but this was a good choice to get back into the genre.

No spoilers, so newbies to this series (yes, it is going to be a series) feel free to read on.

Our protagonist is Jacob Portman, who is a stereotypical teenage American boy. Jacob grew up listening to his grandfather's stories from his youth as a Jewish refugee who escaped the Nazis to live in a home for special (i.e. "peculiar" children) on an island off the coast of Wales. Jacob's grandfather's stories were accompanied with a collection of old photographs of his bizarre housemates: a girl with two mouths, a boy covered in bees and a girl levitating. Once Jacob is in his teen years and knows better, he believes his grandfather's stories were nothing more than cheesy fairy tales. But when Grandpa Portman dies and Jacob believes he sees the culprit, a hideous inhuman and non-animal creature, Jacob shuts down and enters therapy. As he struggles with what he saw, he begins to question his earlier assumptions about his grandfather's stories. 

Jacob, his parents and his therapist decide it would be good for the grieving process if Jacob and his father (Grandpa Portman's son) travel to the Welsh island for closure. Jacob, of course, has the ulterior motive of investigating the home where his grandfather grew up and trying to locate the old head mistress, Miss Peregrine, who used to run it. It would be difficult to continue to summarize the plot from here without giving away some spoilers, but it should be obvious to everyone that Grandpa Portman's wild tales are proved true and Jacob ends up meeting Miss Peregrine's peculiar wards.

This story falls into the vein of the superhero team story arc, which anyone who likes X-Men or the Avengers might enjoy. Any story with a band of superheroes or mutants or "peculiars" is bound to have some similarities. However, there are many different directions an author can go, and I feel Ransom Riggs offers an original and fresh take on what is becoming an overdone concept. What I like about the peculiars and their peculiarities is that they are relatively low-key, and most of them are not what we would identify as a "superhero." Olive, for example, cannot fly but rather she is as light as a feather and would float away if she wasn't weighted down. Her peculiarity can come in handy but it's also a handicap. I think if you liked Heroes or Alphas, you will appreciate this aspect of the book. 

I think the novel's biggest strength is the way the children live in the home. To describe it further would be to give away what I think is one of the book's most clever twists, but I'll simply say I did not expect the book to go in this direction when I picked it up. It offers some very interesting prospects for the next installment. By the same token, the cover and YouTube trailer sell the book like it is a bizarre and creepy paranormal tale and that's pretty disingenuous. I'd say the book is in reality closer to the sci-fi genre than to paranormal or horror.

All in all, the book was imaginative, fun and engaging. I gave it four out of five stars for story, characters and creativity. My holdout to giving it five stars was the writing. It seemed a little bland at times and left me thinking there were more compelling prose the author could have used. But like I mentioned earlier, I did pick this up after reading several historical fiction books so it's important to remember that the target audience for this book is teens and young adults. As a note on formatting, the book includes the creepy black and white photographs from Grandpa Portman's collection and I thought that was an excellent touch. I'd never heard of Ransom Riggs before this, and I think this was his debut work, but I was thoroughly impressed. I'll definitely be reading Book 2.

Stars: 4/5

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Welcome to my new blog! If you're reading this let me begin by saying thank you for checking out my page. I'm an author/historian from Toledo, Ohio and this is my way to document the adventure of being a new writer and to keep in touch with my readers. From time to time I'll post news about my writing, reviews of other authors' work and general commentary to get a conversation going. Please explore this site. Feel free to check out my books, see my Top 10 in the book market, and participate in a monthly poll. Once again, thank you for checking out my new blog and I look forward to hearing from you.