Fred and Joe deserve Doggie Treats!

Fred and Joe deserve Doggie Treats!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

How real is real-world fiction?

I've long loved to write and tell stories, but I've had a lot to learn, over the years, about how to write and tell stories. First there was that great head-teacher who made me choose between the pencil and microphone, thus teaching me to write. Then there was the brother who told me all fiction is lies, thus teaching me not to write. Then a friend suggested how wrong it was that people never go to the bathroom in children's novels. "Maybe they do in grown-up ones," she suggested. So I started to read the library  book under Mum's bed while I dusted her room. Nobody went to the bathroom there either. So I start to write "real" stories where every detail was told, and then I learned it's better to "show now tell," and then... Well, I learned, slowly. And people don't go to the bathroom much in my books, children's or adult's. After all, I don't tell how many breaths they take from morning to evening either.

But how real should novels be if they're set in the real world? I've read a fine collection of real-world, gritty-world, wounded-world novels recently, and they all feel real, and they're all very different from each other. Somehow I suspect it's the characters and the way we view the world through the characters' eyes that makes it real, but what do you think? Grab a coffee and read some book reviews while you decide.

First in my list is Hot Start by David Freed, another novel of aspiring Buddhist agent-turned-flight-instructor Cordell Logan, as he steps in, again, to help someone who can't (and rather seriously won't) help himself. The California heat, the heat of politics and murder, the warmth of unworkable love, or the purring warmth of the very strange cat called Kiddiot -- all of these combine in a tale of murder with multiple red herrings, scary dangers, flights to Europe and back, all told with Logan's convincingly low-key, gently humorous, self-deprecatingly natural written voice. Enjoy this smooth, warm read with a smoothly elegant and complex 4-star coffee.

Then there's Blacklist by Sara Paretsky, part of a much longer series, with serious popular acclaim. I'd already enjoyed the beginning of the series, but this novel will have a much more special place in my memory, combining present-day, post-911 concerns so effectively with McCarthyism of the past. The mystery is filled with twists and turns, the rooms are filled with rich and poor, and the reading is filled with thought-provoking dichotomies, and a welcome reminder that rushing to judgement is almost never right. Enjoy some more complex 4-star coffee with this literarily pleasing and complex tale.

The mystery is much smaller and more personal in Coincidences by Maria Savva, where a young woman searches for her father, inspired by strange dreams of a stranger on the news. Meanwhile her mother struggles with questions of how to hide daughter from the father who betrayed her. And a friend urges honesty. The story delves into issues of secrets and lies, protection and truth, and twists through its own strange coincidences on its way to a final resolution. Sometimes predictable, but filled with very real-world believable characters, it a good book to read over a well-balanced three-star coffee.

Finally a wonderfully English novel evokes the countryside in a way rarely seen, with dark honesty, intriguing personality, and hauntingly evocative description. The Burnt Fox by Neil Grimmett invites readers to explore the real world of caring for the rich, preparing for the hunt, country farming, isolation, forestry, and life away from the brutal misery of a council housing estate. Perhaps there's something brutal and miserable in old-world realities too, or something dark in this home, or maybe just the darkness of human nature. It's cool, dark, scary, humorous, and an absolute treat to read. Enjoy with some complex, elegant 4-star coffee.

Of all these worlds, the fourth might perhaps be most real and the first most thoroughly intriguing. But how real is your world?

Friday, July 22, 2016

Wish you could visit Krakow?

I love to collect guide books from places that I visit. I like them to have a nice mix of pictures and writing, and I like to feel I've maybe had a guided tour, even when I haven't. But I don't often read guide books to places I haven't visited, unless a good friend is sharing their joy in a trip.

I love to read fiction about fascinating characters, but I've never been so enthralled with biography. Real characters live such messy lives compared to those of fiction, their stories blurred by paths not taken, and their patterns and symbols jarring when too much is known. That said, I've read a few really great biographies, and one of them is first in today's list of book reviews...

Except, it's also a history book, and a guide book, and more. So... if you've ever regretted the fact that you'll probably never see Krakow, or if you're planning a visit, or if you want to know the longer history of the world Pope John Paul II grew up in - the historical and social dynamics that led to the miseries of Poland perhaps - or if you'd like to know more about a sainted Pope and his teaching, City of Saints – a pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Krakow – by George Weigel is surely the book for you. Enjoy an amazingly smooth read, a deeply fascinating trip into history and geography, a genuinely interesting exposition of streets and buildings, and a wonderful quiet step into the life and works of a truly holy man. And drink some truly elegant 4-star coffee.

Where Love Begins  by Donna Fletcher Crow takes readers into the past of Methodism, another great Christian faith. The novel is fictional, though many of the characters and situations are real. And the theme of the rich and influential denying faith to the poor, administering weakness where God promises strength, might seem not so different. Where Love Begins is an enjoyable, thought-provoking historical romance, bound up in faith. Enjoy with some more elegant 4-star coffee.

Tracy Krauss' Neighbors is set in present-day America, in a neighborhood filled with everyday characters whose hurts and joys inspire a fine collection of stories. I've only read the short Volume 1, but already I like the people and want to know more. Enjoy these tales with some lively easy-drinking 2-star coffee.

Then there's Bellanok the Reluctant Savior by Ralene Burke, a novel that juxtaposes a pleasingly mythical version of Eden (replete with fairies, unicorns and more) with a darkly everyday earthen reality. Evil is invading Eden, and a human savior has been chosen. Not that the wounded Pastor Brian should care, as his faith in heaven's Savior begins to slip. The novel is only the first part of a much larger story, but it's an intriguingly different tale, easily read, and well-suited to an easy-drinking 2-star coffee.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

What genre do you publish?

Strangers, on learning that I'm a published author, frequently ask, "What do you write, then?" They probably want me to answer with a nice simple genre - mysteries say - and I almost wish I could oblige. But instead I tell them I write novels and children's fiction, then elaborate, if they ask, with the fact that my second novel, Infinite Sum, has just been released, and that I have children's books with two different publishers. One children's series (with almost enough books now for a book-a-month club) is the Five-Minute Bible Story series, published by Cape Arago press. And the other is a series of animal stories from Linkville press, with only one book (Tails of Mystery) out so far.

My tangled answer got me wondering, do we ask publishers what genre they publish? Technically we authors research our publishers, determine they have an interest in the sort of thing we write, and then submit. But what if the publisher's interests are as eclectic as our own.

I decided to read some books from Linkville Press and see what else they publish, besides my sweet animal tales. So choose your coffee, fill your mug, and pick your next book to read.

Fate’s Crossing by J. R. Smith has the feel of a California-based Shannara, with a modern-day student traveling to California and finding far more than she expected.The story's stold with pleasing humor, and enticing touches of mystery, and Liana slowly learns there is far far more to her life than the surface allowed. It's a complete enough story in itself, but it's clearly part one of something bigger. Enjoy its light-hearted tone with some 2-star easy-drinking coffee. But darkness awaits.

Killing from the Inside by Bea Brugge is a much darker tale, inviting readers into the wounded mind of a serial killer. The splatter-movie road-trip feeling is counterbalanced by a dogged detective seeking to catch his criminal, and the somewhat haunted touch of a love interest. But it's a truly dark tale, best enjoyed with a seriously dark 5-star coffee.

A novel in a very different genre is The East End Beckons by Ian Parson, which recreates a well-researched and fascinating world of Cornwall and London in the 1800s, as governments bow down to the rich, globalization threatens livelihoods, and the poor are reluctantly drawn into politics. It's a world not so different from today, and it's deeply enthralling. Enjoy this complex tale with some complex 4-star coffee.

Then there's Different ways of being by Alan Balter, another very different novel that invites readers into the world of the Deaf - not a people deprived of hearing, so much as a people differently gifted than the rest of us. The novel explores other "handicaps" too - from mental illness to paraplegia. It's filled with fascinating facts, making it a curious blend of fiction and information, but it's a fascinating read that will leave you thinking you've really met some of the characters. Enjoy with some complex 4-star coffee.

Then, of course, there's my beloved Tails of Mystery, wagging their way toward volume two, a Nose For Adventure. I guess my publisher's answer to "What genre do you publish?" will be as mixed as my answer to "What genre do you read?" But perhaps that's not so surprising. After all, will you answer with one simple word when I ask, what genre do you read?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Will You Identify With These (Prime) Characters?

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Dan O'Brien to my blog. His new book, first in a new series, is about to come out. It's called Sixth Prime and... well, it's sci-fi, mystery, galactic war, and... well, and something different, plus that interesting question, are you Prime? So, over to Dan, and thank you for visiting my blog.

When I started writing Sixth Prime, I decided early on to do something very deliberate: I would make half the main characters female; I would make sure the personalities better reflected the myriad of the human experience; and I would describe characters without using skin color or any physical identifiers.
You might be wondering: what exactly is the point of that?
Women represent half the population
I would be remiss if I ignored the statistics right in front of me. 82% of readers are female, so why wouldn't you include female characters when so many readers are women. I don't mean the traditional roles of queens and romantic interests; I'm talking about adventurers and villains, scientists and soldiers, and everything in between. The goal should be to tell the best possible story. I waited until I had outlined everything, and then randomly assigned characters as men and women (this includes romantic relationships as well, so buckle your seatbelts).
Personality guides behavior and decision-making.
I went to graduate school for psychology, and as such I've always had a fascination with why people do what they do. This, naturally, translated into thinking about how I could smuggle personality psychology into a narrative. The Prime saga, beginning with Sixth Prime, is an attempt to do just that. I wanted readers to feel like they were represented by one of the characters in such a way that the decisions and consequences felt more real to them.
The reader should decide how the characters look.  
I know it's a long shot, but maybe (just maybe) the Prime Saga becomes a movie or limited series. I bring this up because nothing is worse than people arguing how characters should look or the kinds of actors or actresses who should play them. Really, even if an adaptation is not in order, I love the idea of people coming to their own conclusions about how a character should look based on their choices, personality, and behavior. I want the characters to be defined by how they make readers feel; I want a reader to be able to see themselves in the character and as the character.
 I agree with you Dan. Even when the author tells me what a character looks like, I still frequently end up with an entirely different image. And seeing yourself in the character is half the fun. So... reading Sixth Prime should be a lot of fun. Good luck with the release.

A war brews as a galaxy struggles to maintain a peace treaty signed in haste. The Commonwealth boasts sprawling cities built upon slums. The Sovereignty has placed the yoke of industry upon its citizens. Sixteen men and women are connected in a way they cannot yet understand. A murder of a prominent artist begins a chain of events that will ultimately determine the fate of the universe.
Only thirteen will remain.
In the end, there can be only one Prime.
Are you a Prime?

If you're looking for something to read, Dan has a really cool preview plus excerpt at I really recommend it!


It's coming soon... but you can already pre-order the Kindle version for only $2.99


Monday, June 27, 2016

Dedicating a Red Lotus?

R.J. Sullivan's Commanding the Red Lotus Blog Tour!
June 27 to July 3, 2016


Today I'm delighted to welcome RJ Sullivan to my blog, author of the Red Lotus stories. The books are fascinating, of course. But RJ is here today to tell about those often-skipped, hugely important lines that come before the story... the novel's dedication. So... over to you RJ, and I for one am very much looking forward to what you will tell.

Anatomy of a Dedication

by R.J. Sullivan

If other authors are like me, behind every dedication is its own story. Here is the story about the one in Commanding the Red Lotus.

Understand as you read that I am reflecting back over thirty years and through rose-tinted glasses. I was also a kid, and as such, not privy to all the details of extended family politics. So I’ll start by saying this is the best that I can recall and I may have it wrong. The worst that may happen is, that after this is published, my cell phone will ring with some honked off family members on the other side, which is strictly my problem. Enjoy.

My father, Robert Alton Sullivan, was career U.S. Navy, and finished the last couple years of twenty years of service at Ft. Harrison, Indiana, teaching journalism classes. The Sullivans were an extraordinarily large clan of Irish decent that had taken over several blocks of a neighborhood in Holyoke, Mass. I later learned that my mother made extraordinary efforts to lay down family roots in Indiana while I grew up to later justify not returning to Holyoke after my father retired from the Navy and started his second career in public relations.

As a result, several summer vacations involved traveling north to Massachusetts so Dad could touch base with his six brothers and the expansive nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts, uncles, second cousins, and all the etceteras that all lived within several blocks driving distance of each other. The familial closeness (read gossipy nosy-ness) was something my mother didn’t want my brother and I drawn into.

Dad’s only sister, my “Aunt Dolly”, had also “escaped” beyond the familial borders and married my “Uncle Mick” and they resided in Pennsylvania. Mick and Dolly’s home was a convenient halfway point on the drive to Massachusetts, and so, during these summer vacation trips, we’d stay overnight coming and going to family reunions.

The typical Sullivan mentality tended toward practicality in life as well as in play. Sullivans love their card games and those who were readers loved murder mysteries and contemporary fiction. I, however, grew up with Star Trek reruns on extraordinarily high rotation and with Star Wars becoming a movie phenomenon when I was age 9. So as a middle-schooler, I gravitated toward Star Trek and other media tie-in books such as Space: 1999. And while my parents did not turn such programs off or discourage me from reading this apparently endless stream of paperbacks, it was clearly an indulgence they assumed I would grow out of. I could also buy those Spider-man comic books, as long as I didn’t read too many, and balanced those with books without pictures. Star Trek novels didn’t have pictures, so I was good here. Taken all together, along with reruns of Adam West’s Batman and new shows such as the Six Million Dollar Man and Wonder Woman making a splash I quietly started laying the foundation for a lifelong interest in media SF and fantasy.

            My Uncle Mick, not being a blood relative, was an oddball amongst the Sullivans. He was an avid reader, and he worked for IBM in the early days of computing. He also worked at a used bookstore on the weekends, and personally had a huge library of mysteries, westerns, and other contemporary paperbacks. He kept Mom supplied with stacks of Agatha Christie cozy mysteries, so Uncle Mick was aces in her eyes.

He was also a huge SF fan, knowledgeable of the classics of the genre. And I didn’t know it, but he had been watching my steady devouring of the modern media books with some interest and maybe some concern.

During one of our visits, I’m guessing I was 14-ish, he came up as I was reading a photonovel (Google it, kids) in which Mr. Spock was shooting his phaser at the 15-foot caveman. He said to me, “Bobby, it’s time to take your science fiction farther. Follow me.” He led me to his basement door, and I followed him down a set of stairs to his personal book collection.

I came down the stairs to see shelf after wooden shelf after wooden shelf of paperbacks, each one lovingly bagged in plastic. He waved a hand at one bookshelf set off to the side. “Here’s my duplicate SF.” With that, he started pulling titles out and handing them to me. H.G. Wells’War of the Worlds, Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, and three other books. “This is Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. It’s pretty famous, you should check it out.” I stared at the odd covers as he added Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451—I’d heard of that, as well as the Martian Chronicles. I walked out with a grocery bag full of books.

           Isaac Asimov became my favorite author and I sought to read all of his books. As it happened, the Good Doctor was returning to writing new science fiction after a long hiatus, so I read the last several novels “fresh,” starting with Foundation’s Edge and reading each one until his death in the early 90’s. I read Andre Norton’s Sargasso of Space (which I suspect influenced Gene Roddenberry more than a little), the novelization of 2001: A Space Odyssey, some EE Doc Smith (one of the greats who doesn’t hold up these days—sorry). “The Girl Who Folded Herself” was another amazing discovery (part of a Tor Double paperback (Google it, kids) with Vonda McIntyre, no slouch herself) that led to my finding the classic anthology Her Smoke Rose Up Forever and where I learned more about the sad and fascinating life of Alice Sheldon, who wrote under several pseudonyms, including James Tiptree Jr., and of course, Robert

            All of this serves to offer further insight into the dedication of my SF adventure novel Commanding the Red Lotus, which reads as follows:

Dedicated to Lou “Uncle Mick” Blanchard. One day, Uncle Mick told my middleschool-aged self that it was time I moved beyond Star Trek and Star Wars. He sent me home with a bagful of books by H.G. Wells, Andre Norton, Isaac Asimov, and many more. From that day forward, media novels became a small part of a much larger landscape.

My Aunt Dolly passed away a few years ago, but Uncle Mick still putters around in his home in a state of busy retirement. I sent him a copy of the book a few weeks ago. He helped open this boy’s eyes to the larger world of SF literature and showed me how important it is to pass these ideas forward. Commanding the Red Lotus is my first humble contribution to the genre I love, but it will not be the last.

 Wow. Thank you for reminding me of those favorite series and novels. I still have lots of those books, shared favorites with my husband, still in their old original paperback covers on our shelves. In fact, we still have occasional duplicates from when we combined our libraries.

RJSullivanAuthorPic  About the author: Best known for his ghost story thrillers, Commanding the Red Lotus is R.J.Sullivan’s fifth book and his first release in the genre he most adores. R.J.’s critically acclaimed, loosely connected ghost story trilogy and his short story collection are all available in paperback and ebook though Seventh Star Press. R.J. resides with his family in Heartland Crossing, Indiana. He drinks regularly from a Little Mermaid coffee mug and is man enough to admit it. 

Find him online at:

Author Links:
Twitter: @RJSullivanAuthr


redLotusCover1200X800About Commanding the Red Lotus: Money Can’t Buy Respect
Sayuri Arai, privileged daughter of a corporate mogul, abandons a promising career to find her own path. She invests in a broken-down asteroid mining ship and steps in as the commander of its crew. Every day presents a new challenge just to keep her ship from falling apart and the bitter crew from killing each other. Can Sayuri unite the feuding factions, or will her rivals turn the entire complement against her?
Commanding the Red Lotus offers a classic sense of wonder for today’s science fiction readers.
Volume one of the Red Lotus Stories, now in softcover for the first time. Commanding the Red Lotus includes the previously released ebook novelettes:
Fate of the Red Lotus
Red Lotus: Innocence Lost
Plus the brand-new novella Mutiny on the Red Lotus

Find Commanding the Red Lotus at:

Amazon Links for Commanding the Red Lotus
Print Version
Kindle Version
Barnes and Noble Link for Commanding the Red Lotus:

Tour Schedule and Activities
6/27/2016 Sheila's Guests and Reviews Guest Post
6/28/2016 Deal Sharing Aunt Interview
6/29/2016 Cover2Cover Guest Post
6/29/2016 I Smell Sheep Guest Post
6/30/2016 Jordan Hirsch Review
7/1/2016 Jorie Loves A Story Guest Feature/Interview
7/2/2016 MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape Interview
7/3/2016 Swillblog Review
7/3 Jorie Loves A Story Interview

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Why Romance?

When I was a kid, I used to help out with the cleaning at home. I discovered serious fiction by cleaning my big brother's room very slowly, wafting a duster and devouring pages of his "classics of modern fiction." Meanwhile I found a novel called "Oil" under my dad's side of his bed. Many years later I watched a movie and recognized the tale. And under Mum's side of the bed?

That was where I found my first romantic fiction. Soon I realized books under Mum's bed were pretty much the same as Gran's magazines, except a book told the whole story while a magazine only offered a chapter a week. I liked Gran's magazines and would take whole collections to college with me, to read in my down time. I liked Mum's books too, but felt oddly guilty about reading of people falling in love. They were "safe" books of course - no long explicit details of stuff a daughter might not need to know. And they were comfortable in a way my brother's classics could never be. The worlds of romance always end up just the way they should, making the books feel like comfortable slippers, welcoming the busy daughter at the end of the day. The worlds of classics would leave me puzzled, disturbed, and pondering the meaning of life. Much deeper stuff.

Of course, modern romances have far more explicit details, and are listed on websites as "hot," "red-hot," or sometimes "sensual" or "sweet." I'm trying to learn the language so I can write the right reviews.

If my spiritual speculative romances ever get republished, I thing they'll be sensual, probably not sweet, but surely not hot... I think. Perhaps I ought to reread them sometime. But when would I find time? Meanwhile, other people's romances give me a break, a unbreakable promise of right outcomes, and a snack between novels that might demand more of my time. Romantic tales recently read include:

Warrior’s Surrender by Elizabeth Ellen Carter combines mystery, history and romance in a north-of-England package, around the time of the Norman conquest. It certainly has its "sensual" and detailed love scenes, but it also has great descriptions of time and place, and a red-herringed plot. Enjoy with some lively, easy-drinking two-star coffee.

Where Love Illumines by Donna Fletcher Crow offered a pleasing mix of historical religious fiction and romance in a story of the early days of Methodism. This one's probably "sweet" since it doesn't include any more details that those books I used to "borrow" under Mum's bed. Enjoy this one with some elegant complex four-star coffee

Moving to the present day, The Best Bet by Hebby Roman, is a light-hearted fun read, set around Las Vegas, where two people, neither of them looking for love, find the best of all isn't one played with money at the tables. This one's definitely sensual rather than sweet, and it's a feel-good, pleasing read to enjoy with some pleasing, feel-good two-star coffee.

The Two Miss Parsons by Jill Marshall takes place mostly in New Zealand, and weaves a rather complex comedic romantic web as Cally and Paige depart England in order to let a daughter meet her unknown dad. Of course, this also means mom meets people loved and lost, revisits decisions of the past, and struggles with decisions that might affect everyone's future. Light-hearted, fun, and probably sensual, it's one to read with a lively two-star coffee.

Finally, here's a novel that blends science fiction, fan fiction, teen mystery, and a touch of romance. The Traveler: A Conflict of Interest (Traveler Chronicles volume 1) by William Pattison invites readers into an almost Dr Whovian world, where an alien time-traveler is intent on saving our world while his nemesis tries to destroy it to save the future. The love interest is dead in the present, but who is the student who looks so much like her, and will these two ever admit their feelings for each other. Answers probably lie in later volumes, but for now, the story's fast, fun and intriguing, best enjoyed with a lively two-star coffee.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Does fiction lie, or tell truth through lies?

When I was a kid, writing and telling stories and dreaming of being a famous author one day, my brother told me girls could only be author-ess-es. The word was too hard to say. I decided he was wrong.

One day I showed him one of my written stories, instead of just telling my curious tale out loud. He wasn't impressed. He told me fiction is lying, and lying is sin. But fiction was so much a part of me, I had to believe my brother was wrong again.

He's now a retired teacher of history and politics, belongs to a writing group, and occasionally pens some really intriguing fiction. Meanwhile I still weave my webs of lies, trying to let the story reveal the truth behind, and dreaming of being a famous author still - not an authoress!

And I'm writing book reviews, so find a coffee, join me and choose your read.

Where Love Illumines by Donna Fletcher Crow is a beautifully researched story of the early days of Methodism. My beloved Cambridge plays its part, and feels evocatively real. A story that rings true, that surely can't be entirely the truth (for who can know the inner thoughts of a woman falling in love or falling into faith), and that imparts an important truth to the reader, in the guise of fiction. No, it's not lying. And yes, it's a really cool read (my Mum says so too!). So pour a mug of rich elegant four-star coffee and enjoy.

Etched In History by Amanda Marie is another novel of historical Christianity, set this time in the US, following the trials of two displaced families, one of farmers and one of former slaves, as they settle in a small town in Oregon. It's a tale of travel, sickness, healing, love and prejudice, told with sympathy and some great (if slightly long) wedding sermons! Enjoy with some full-flavored three-star coffee, though the balance is awkward at times.

Unholy Trinity by K. R. Morrison starts further in the past, offering an enjoyably nuanced version of the Biblical Cain and Abel story, and threading some serious scares in the growth of evil. A trinity of tales reveals an unholy trinity of souls, and covers the centuries from creation to Vlad the Impaler. Details are nicely researched and convincing, and the blend of history and horror might best be enjoyed with some fine dark five-star coffee.

Stephen England's Embrace the Fire, by contrast, is set close to the present day, in a world beset by terror threats, corrupt politicians, media frenzies and all the paraphernalia of present pain. I'm including it here because the author offers nicely nuanced and sympathetic insights into the faiths of people on all sides of different terrors, while following the protagonist's inexorable path to revenge, and leaving open, always, the question of whether a divine power really does take a hand. It's set in England, and it's distinctly unsettling. Enjoy with some dark five-star coffee. It definitely offers a sense of truth through the "lies" of fiction.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Crossed any good genres recently?


Today I'm delighted to welcome Dan Jolley, author of Gray Widow's Walk, to my blog. He's known for comic books, video-games and more, and Gray Widow sounds like the perfect blend of superhero and haunting protagonist... or cross-genre, horror, scifi, cool, intriguing... Yeah, so what genre is it really, Dan?


Dan Jolley

I knew, when Stephen Zimmer at Seventh Star Press agreed to publish my new novel, Gray Widow’s Walk, that categorizing it might present a problem.

People, humans in general, love to categorize things—animals, plants, food, cars, each other, themselves. One of the things I learned when I took a class on horror movies in college was that, when something crosses from one category into another, it makes people uncomfortable. That’s just a built-in psychological feature of most sentient minds. Zombies: are they alive or dead? That freaks me out! Werewolves: are they human or animals? I’m scared!

(I’m afraid that that mental tic may be why people who don’t conform to binary gender roles have been wrongly persecuted and demonized for…well, for as long as there have been societies. “That person has qualities that I consider both male and female! Aaaaargh!”)

Gray Widow’s Walk focuses on Janey Sinclair, a young woman whose life has been hell. She lost her mother to cancer at age nine, watched her father get shot—and was shot herself and left for dead—at age sixteen, and lost her husband in a devastating way when she was twenty-five. Janey makes her living as a fine artist, has never felt as if she fit in anywhere, and would probably have settled into a life of relative isolation…

…if she hadn’t mysteriously developed the ability to teleport from one patch of darkness to another. Given that power, Janey realizes she has an outlet for all the repressed rage she’s built up over many, many years, and decides to take it out on the criminal element of Atlanta, Georgia. She can’t right the wrongs done to her, but she can sure as hell prevent as many injustices as possible from happening to other people.

Knowing that her newfound endeavor will be intensely dangerous, and not wanting to get shot or stabbed to death, Janey steals a suit of prototype military body armor. This protects her, but the helmet/mask also conceals her identity, so that when what she’s doing goes public—and it goes public immediately, courtesy of social media—the press ends up calling her “the Gray Widow.”

Now, if that were all the story involved, I probably could’ve just called the book “superhero fiction” and been done with it. But it’s not. Janey soon encounters a young runaway named Simon Grove who, unknown to either of them, has been changed by the same mysterious force that gave Janey her teleportation ability. Simon’s alterations have turned out a great deal more chaotic than hers, though, twisting his body in ways that mirror his damaged mind, and while Janey uses her “augmentation” to pursue the righting of wrongs, Simon’s bloodthirsty, homicidal nature combines with his new ability to take him over.

If I’ve done my job right, most of the scenes involving Simon fall squarely into the “horror” category.

So now it’s a superhero/horror book? I guess?

But there’s also a relationship story in there—a “love story,” if you will, that begins when Janey meets a guy named Tim Kapoor and, for the first time in years, sees a chance to connect with someone. That’s a torturous prospect, though, because of the way she lost her husband, and Janey basically goes to war with herself over the possibility of letting herself be genuinely happy.

I wouldn’t call that part of the story “romance,” exactly, at least not of the Harlequin variety, but it’s there, and it’s vital to Janey’s character. So where does that leave the categorization now?

(A side note: when I was telling my manager what the book was about, I was up-front that it was cross-genre, and that that presented its own obstacles to publication. He said, “Why would you write it that way if you knew it was going to make it harder to publish?” I said, “Because this was the story I wanted to tell.” He said, “God, you’re such an artist.”)

If I had my way, I’d call the whole thing “science-fiction.”

The vast majority of superheroes fall squarely into the science-fiction category anyway. A billionaire who invents a new kind of energy source and uses it to power a suit of armor that turns him into a flying tank? Science-fiction. An alien rocketed to Earth, where the rays of the yellow sun affect his extraterrestrial physiology and give him amazing abilities? Science-fiction. A guy receives a ring that creates physical manifestations of his imagination from an alien corps of intergalactic law enforcement officers? Totally science-fiction. (And taken largely from E.E. “Doc” Smith’s seminal Lensman series.)

Not only that, but a lot of science-fiction characters qualify as superheroes. Steve Austin in The Six Million Dollar Man? Unquestionably a superhero. Felix, in John Steakley’s Armor? Put him on Earth by himself and he’d fit the bill perfectly. Gil Hamilton, in Larry Niven’s The Long A.R.M. of Gil Hamilton? Not only is he a superhero, he’s one that I would give a pinky toe to be able to adapt into a feature film.

Okay, but what about the horror aspects revolving around Simon Grove? I direct you to Alien. Or Event Horizon. Or John Carpenter’s The Thing. There are many aspects of science-fiction that lend themselves to, and often lead directly to, horror. Stephen King’s short story “The Jaunt” is a good example of that. Read at your own risk, if you haven’t already.

As far as the love story, romantic relationships go hand-in-hand, have always gone hand-in-hand with science-fiction. Leia and Han in Star Wars. Kyle Reese’s longing for Sarah Connor (or, one could argue, the idea of Sarah Connor) in The Terminator. Hell, Frankenstein would’ve been a very different story if the good doctor hadn’t loved his wife.

BUT…people see Gray Widow’s Walk, and they understand that it involves someone wearing an identity-concealing “costume,” acting as a vigilante and possessing superhuman abilities, and they don’t think “science-fiction.” They think “superhero,” and as I’ve recently come to find out, a lot of people concretely equate anything superhero with material aimed at children.

Believe me, folks, please—Gray Widow’s Walk is not for kids.

So what do I call it? Do I give it a big mish-mash of descriptors, such as “sci-fi/action/superhero?” Do I try to tie in to a popular genre, and call it urban fantasy? I guess it could sort of fit, but not completely. Do I stick to my guns and call it “science-fiction,” even though to most people that means space ships and laser guns?

I’d love to just tell people, “It’s a really good story, I’m incredibly proud of it, just give it a chance and see if it grabs you.” But I can’t do that, at least not on an official, public scale. So I think the best label, if it has to have one, is probably “superhero noir.”

I hope you give it a look, and decide for yourself.

(Also, please feel free to bug me about it on Twitter. I’m @_DanJolley.)

Dan Jolley's Gray Widow's Walk Blog Tour
June 20-26, 2016

danjolley_smallerWebAbout the author: Dan Jolley started writing professionally at age nineteen. Beginning in comic books, he has since branched out into original novels, licensed-property novels, children’s books, and video games. His twenty-five-year career includes the YA sci-fi/espionage trilogy Alex Unlimited; the award-winning comic book mini-series Obergeist; the Eisner Award-nominated comic book mini-series JSA: The Liberty Files; and the Transformers video games War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron. Dan was co-writer of the world-wide-bestselling zombie/parkour game Dying Light, and lead writer of the Oculus Rift game Chronos. Dan lives somewhere in the northwest Georgia foothills with his wife Tracy and a handful of largely inert cats. Gray Widow’s Walk is his first adult novel.

Meet the Author:

Twitter: @_DanJolley

Gray Widow_s WalkCover1200X900About the book: Gray Widow’s Walk: “The only thing in this world you can truly control is yourself.”

Janey Sinclair’s ability to teleport has always been a mystery to her. She tried for years to ignore it, but when tragedy shatters her life, Janey’s anger consumes her. She hones her fighting skills, steals a prototype suit of military body armor, and takes to the streets of Atlanta, venting her rage as the masked vigilante dubbed “the Gray Widow” by the press.

But Janey’s power, and her willingness to use it, plunges her into a conflict on a much grander scale than she had anticipated.

Soon she encounters Simon Grove, a bloodthirsty runaway with a shapeshifting ability gone horribly wrong…

Garrison Vessler, an ex-FBI agent and current private defense contractor, who holds some of the answers Janey’s been searching for…

And Tim Kapoor, the first person in years with a chance of breaking through Janey’s emotional shell—if she’ll let him.

But as Janey’s vigilantism gains worldwide attention, and her showdown with Simon Grove draws ever closer, the reason for her augmented abilities—hers and all the others like her—begins to reveal itself. Because, high above the Earth, other eyes are watching. And they have far-reaching plans…

Gray Widow’s Walk is book one of the Gray Widow Trilogy, to be followed by Gray Widow’s Web and Gray Widow’s War.

Read the Book:
Amazon Print Version
Kindle Version
Barnes and Noble Link for Gray Widow’s Walk

Find out more: Follow the Tour

6/20/2016 MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape Interview
6/20/2016 Beauty in Ruins Guest Post
6/21/2016 SpecMusicMuse Interview
6/22/2016 The Word Nerds Guest Post
6/22/2016 I Smell Sheep Interview
6/22/2016 Cover2Cover Top Ten’s List
6/23/2016 Sheila's Guests and Reviews Guest Post
6/24/2016 Deal Sharing Aunt Interview
6/24/2016 Infamous Scribbler Interview
6/25/2016 Jordan Hirsch Review
6/26/2016 Jorie Loves a Story Review/Interview
6/26/2016 Swilliblog Review

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

What a Strange Strange World We Live In

Tomorrow I'm hosting a guest post from the author of Gray Widow's Walk. He ponders whether his real-world/different world (maybe even strange world) novel is science fiction, horror, romance, or a blend of more; but best of all, he ponders the strangeness of humanity which always wants to put things in boxes, label them and make them safe. When something's truly strange, when it doesn't fit in the box, then we get scared.

And so it's hard to get a cross-genre novel published, the author claims. It's hard to advertise a story that can't just be labeled on put on the shelf. It's got to be hard to ask the library to shelve something inherently unplaceable. And...

Well, really, we authors don't want our books on shelves so much as in readers' hands. And in this strange strange world, sometimes it's reading about something stranger that makes us see our fears as the follies they are. Just because someone looks differently, acts contrary to popular assumptions, or doesn't seem to fit, it doesn't mean we should be scared.

I've been sadly remiss in posting book reviews recently, and I have to confess I'm reading a very strange novel at the moment - Justin Cronin's City of Mirrors. I love it, but I shan't be reviewing it yet awhile - 600 pages or so is a long long read, even for me! Still, here are some reviews of tales set in strangely different or normal worlds. Find some coffee and enjoy.

First is A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court, edited by Scott M. Sandridge, a really fun collection of smoothly written, distinctly odd takes on adult fairytales (or tales of fae - not quite the same), which entice and satisfy the reader, even leaving a pleasant taste in the mouth (if also the odd dead fairy on the doormat). Enjoy with some well-balanced, full-flavored three-star coffee, and pet the nearest feline gently as you drink.

Jane Blonde: The Perfect Spylet by Jill Marshall offers young readers, probably girls, a very strange world that crosses Harry Potter with James Bond. It's kind of confusing - so many unexplained details to this world - but it's a fast fun tale of a small girl saving a small part of the world. Enjoy with some easy-drinking two-star coffee, but keep a dash of complex four-star coffee on hand to untangle the plot.

I guess children's books are often set in strange worlds, but this next really only seems strange, and the story includes lots of real-world interest and detail. The Magical Mango Tree by Agronomist – Avilak certainly taught me a lot about our own very real and strange world, how plants grow and how industry works with farming. The text has a few complications, but the illustrations really bring the world to life, and the information will enthrall young listeners. Enjoy with some slightly complex four-star coffee.

Randy Ingermanson's Transgression is set in a strange real world too--the world of history in Jerusalem, in the time of Paul. But it's also a tale of modern Jerusalem, conflicting religious views, and people who are, after all, not so different now from long ago. It's a time-travel tale--definitely strange--which invites the reader into fascinating musings on the nature of free-will. And it's very cool. Enjoy with some very elegant, complex four-star coffee.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Between The Lines - Sheila's Guests And Reviews

At ten I dreamed
perhaps I'd be
a teen, and double figures not enough
to comfort me.

At twenty, now
I'd learned somehow
those teen years really couldn't be all they're
cracked up to be.

At thirty, married,
kids and harried,
chasing through the years and tears that trucked
and parried me...

At forty life
begins, they said
so leave behind the things, and overhead
the airplane bins

fall open. Fifty,
scared and thrifty.
Coming soon, retirement, nifty dream
I thought, but how?

And sixty's dark desire to live again
won't comfort me.
At ten pm
I guess I'll dream, and then...

I was meant to write a blogpost about how I feel, blogging at that certain (getting ever more certain) age. But then I wrote a poem about how I feel as that certain (scary) age approaches, so I hope that's okay. As to how I feel about blogging, can someone please tell me why hours as well as clothes shrink as the years go by? If there were more or longer hours I promise I'd blog more regularly and even write more books. Instead, like the red queen, I'm running as fast as I can and not quite staying still. How about you?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Do kids know how to kare?

Today I'm delighted to welcome Charles Salter to my blog. He's the author of the Kare Kids Adventures series, and the first installment, The Secret of Bald Rock Island, has just been released. These books are aimed at fans of adventure fiction such as The Magic Treehouse series, so read on, find out more, and enjoy an interview with the author.

Years ago, Kelcie's father disappeared at sea. Now that she's ten, Kelcie wants some answers. With the help of her father's lifelong best friend, Mr. Bartleby, Kelcie crosses the island in search of clues to what may have happened the night her father disappeared which seem strangely linked with the legend of The Bald Rock Monster. From learning how lobstering works to understanding Mr. Bartleby's past, Kelcie pieces together the mystery and thinks she knows where she can find the ultimate answers: the forbidden area of the island, Bald Rock.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR... Well, pour a coffee, pull up a chair, and let's chat.

Thank you so much for visiting my blog, Charles. Can you tell us what inspired you to create this series?

For the past few years I have become increasingly concerned about the trend in our society to infantilize young people and make them dependent on the ‘nanny state’ rather than independent and mature adults who can help lead our society into the future.  I hope my series will help young people realize they do possess heroic qualities and can make a difference by standing for what they believe and seeking to help others.

That sounds a really good aim, and it's something kids do need to learn. What is your writing process like? Did you plot the entire story of The Secret of Bald Rock Island before you began writing or did you come up with it as you wrote?

I know some people like to outline their entire novel before starting to write, but I like to begin by dreaming up imaginative new characters and putting them into an exciting new situation or crisis.  They soon begin to take on a life of their own and seem almost real to me, and they’ll tell me how they want to resolve the problem. Early on they will tell me what the ending is, but it is always an exciting adventure for us to discover together how they will get there.

That's how I like to write too. The characters have to be real enough to argue with me before I can make them real to readers. And, thinking of characters, who inspired the character of Kelcie?

Kelcie is a composite of my two daughters.  Out of the entire series so far, volume #1 is the only one set in the past—about one generation ago.  At that time, my now-adult daughters were children and we often went to Maine (the location for this novel).  We saw and experienced the kinds of places described in the book!

How cool! And how cool that your daughters don't mind being part of your writing (I suspect my sons would never talk to me again if I suggested I'd used them in a book!). Presumably Kelcie shows some traits you would like young children to emulate. Can you describe them?

Kelcie may be only ten years old, but she knows how to think for herself and decide how she can best help others.  She is a true “Kare Kid” who not only has a caring attitude towards family, friends, animals, and the environment, but she translates that concern into real action to accomplish her goals.  In the surprise ending of the book—when she finally confronts the mysterious island creature face to face—her beliefs and principles about life and nature lead her to suggest an amazing solution to the adults on the scene.

That sounds intriguing. I'll have to read the book to find out what you mean, and I must admit, I'm looking forward to reading it. What do you hope both your young readers and the parents of those readers take away from the books?

Family and friends in this series clearly cherish and care for each other.  I would hope these stories would encourage both parents and young readers to do the same.  I would hope that young readers would learn the importance of going beyond having a good attitude about others and translating that into real action to help when needed.  And I hope parents will learn the wisdom of sometimes stepping back and letting kids work through their own solutions to life’s problems and issues…yet also be available when those kids ask for help.

Independence is a huge theme in Kare Kids Adventures. To what extent did you or did you not experience independence as a child?
My parents were absolute models for fostering independence in me and my siblings…often to a degree which would be considered illegal these days!  I had my first paying job when I was about age 5—babysitting the infant of neighbors who lived in the same apartment building where we did.  My mother was in a nearby apartment in case a real problem developed, but I sat with this wonderful kid and read books and took care of him otherwise.  Later that year I took sole care of my baby brother (about age three) when both my parents worked.  I dressed and fed and entertained him when I was only 6 and my mother was at work for three hours each morning.  A few years later, on non-school days I and my brother or friends would be on our own all day, playing in the woods or riding bikes or playing sports.  No cell phones in those days, and we were on our own until meal times.  By age 19, I went to England for my college junior-year-abroad and toured all of western Europe with just my friends.  During that year I experienced the amazing adventure in Norway which lies at the heart of book #4—THE TRAVEL TWINS AND THE LOST SECRET OF THE VIKINGS.

Oh wow! So Book 4 is already on its way! How did your experience as a parent and grandparent influence The Secret of Bald Rock Island?

I have always tried to encourage my own children and grandchildren to become independent and make their own decisions about which sports, activities, and careers to choose.  I taught them to stand up for what they believe.  And this is exactly what Kelcie’s mother and dear family friend, Mr. Bartleby, do for her in this book.  As Kelcie comes to grips with the loss of her father years earlier, both adults encourage and help her to work through that process in a mature way.

I hear you have a background in psychology too. Did this help you when writing this series? If so, in what way?

As everyone knows, much of psychology focuses on mental illness and other pathological conditions.  But part of the field focuses instead on fostering close and healthy relationships, particularly among parents and children.  One area of thought and research in psychology which has always interested me is that about not simply telling kids what to do, but rather encouraging them to think through problems and issues so they can come up with their own insights and solutions.  And that is exactly how the adults in this book handle Kelcie’s quest to solve the mysteries of Bald Rock Island.
So, thinking of how you said the world, and treatment of children, is changing, how do you think technology and the age of the helicopter parent have influenced independence in children today?
Everything seems different these days compared to when my generation was growing up.  Technology certainly has its advantages, but it can also isolate children from healthy and beneficial social relationships.  If you’ve ever seen a bunch of kids sitting together, but with each one lost and alone in his/her own electronic device and virtual world, you can sense the downside of technology.  Doing things by oneself is not the same as independence.  True independence does not imply social isolation but rather the ability to think for oneself and play a leadership role in a social situation.

Parents who want the best for their children will not become over-protective and smother their development by always being present and doing everything for them.  Children need to mature by becoming self-reliant and capable of doing things on their own, but they can’t accomplish that if a helicopter parent is always hovering around and making all the decisions.

And thinking about that fact that you already know where Number 4 is set, when will the next installment of the Kare Kids Adventures Series come out?

In book #2, CHARLOTTE AND THE MYSTERIOUS VANISHING PLACE, Kelcie is now grown up and her 9-year-old daughter is the star.  Charlotte discovers a serious environmental danger in the woods and does everything she can to alert authorities and rescue two trapped puppies.  This book is due out on July 1 of this year.  In book #3, HOW THREE BROTHERS SAVED THE NAVY, Charlotte’s three cousins uncover a terrorist plot to destroy their navy father’s ship.  They show great courage and ingenuity in ferreting out the details and then thwarting the plot.  That book is due out in early August.  Charlotte’s twin brother and sister should be coming along some time in early fall in book #4, in THE TRAVEL TWINS AND THE LOST SECRET OF THE VIKINGS.  This book’s plot unfolds on a scary (but real) train winding its way high in the beautiful mountains of Norway.  Felons with mysterious motives have stolen the famed Leif Erikson Sunstone from their uncle’s Viking museum in Oslo, and the twins decide to get it back.

In all of these books, the Kare Kids can’t rely on magic or super powers to solve their problems.  They are realistic kids who live in the real world…BUT they know how to act independently and to translate caring from a mere attitude into genuine action to solve the problems they encounter.

It sounds a really cool series. Thank you for dropping by to tell us about it, and I hope you find lots of eager readers, ready to become genuine independent heroes in the real world.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

When the Point of View isn't You

I read a lot of books that are written from a female point of view. I guess a lot of them are children's books (mom-based), romances (woman seeks love), adventures (look--we women can have adventures too), etc. But four books this month were definitely guy-centric and great fun. Three of the four were also written by guys, which begs the question: d'you suppose it's easier for a guy to write from a guy's point of view and a gal from a gal's? Or would it be true that, since we're writing different characters in our heads, we can write from any point of view that works for the story being told.

My next novel (after Infinite Sum... still "coming soon" from Indigo Sea) will be titled Subtraction and is told from the point of view of a guy who feels like he keeps losing everything. He takes a road trip and just might find himself, or true love, or a lost child. His point of view most certainly isn't mine, but I certainly feel like I know him well, having traveled with him (in my head) for a long long time.

Still, here are the novels I've just read, starting with the one that's written by a woman. Bring your coffee mug:

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman is actually told from two points of view - a Jewish boy escaping the ghetto of 1900s New York tailoring, and a lonely girl trapped into believing she might be a monster. On Coney Island, all sorts of mysteries gather and seek resolution, while an omniscient narrator sets the stage. It's an odd, absorbing tale, thought-provoking and fascinating, best read with an elegant complex four-star coffee to hand.

Michael Ryan's Guy Novel is, of course, told from the point of view of a guy. Its protagonist is a Californian comic who ends up traveling the world, equally threatened and enticed by bikini and gun. He tells his tale with great humor, some irreverence, lots of honestly human observation, and a very cool touch of personal growth as he wends toward truths about himself and others--maybe even about love. Enjoy with some well-balanced full-flavored three-star coffee, a latte with a touch of zing perhaps.

Shadow of Death and the Saturnalian Effect is the first of Frank Ruffalo's Jack Stenhouse novels, and includes nice touches of romance among the police procedural mystery, again told from the guy's point of view. The protagonist tells his tale with an LA Noir type voice, a deep admiration for the female form, and a surprising willingness to respect the skills of his female colleagues as well, making this a fun pair of stories, told by a fun guy who really likes his girlfriend pair of... she's called Didi. Enjoy with some lively easy-drinking two-star coffee.

Finally,there's Deadly Gold by Ken Baysinger, a novel set in Oregon, filled with Oregon characters, history and politics, plus the occasional dead body, some serious IRS deceit, and a hint of romance. The story's told, again, from the male protagonist's point of view. He's a private detective, good at his job, and a good neighbor, but his politics do tend to get in the way. Great dialog, great characters, sensible detection, and a wonderful sense of place make this a good novel to enjoy over some well-balanced three-star coffee (though the politics might be a little off-balance).