Monday words of wisdom…

May 8th, 2017

A perv, a con artist, and a fascist walk into a bar. Bartender says, “What’ll it be, Mr. President?”—seen on a church sign…just channeling the new Executive Order ahead of time?

***

Aristocrats and Assassins. In #4 of the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series,” Castilblanco and his wife are on vacation in Europe when a terrorist starts kidnapping members of European royal families. Castilblanco and eventually Chen work with authorities to discover the terrorist’s agenda. This fast-moving mystery/thriller/suspense novel is on sale now at Smashwords in all ebook formats; use coupon code VN74R.

And look for this new mystery/thriller/suspense story coming this spring from Penmore Press: Rembrandt’s Angel pairs Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiquities Inspector Esther Brookstone with Interpol Agent Bastiann van Coevorden, as their search for dealers in stolen artwork leads to exposing an international conspiracy. Bastiann first appeared in Aristocrats and Assassins and played a prominent role in Gaia and the Goliaths. Esther made her debut in The Collector. This new team of sleuths discovers that pursuing stolen artwork can become surprisingly dangerous.

In libris libertas….

!Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

May 5th, 2017

A todos nuestros amigos Mexicanos, aqui o en America Latina y el mundo, les deseo a Ustedes un feliz Cinco de Mayo. “Por mi raza hablara el espiritu,” y mi espiritu esta con Ustedes en su dia.

Complexity and story forms…

May 4th, 2017

Fiction writers have their comfort zones. Some love to write long novels; at the other extreme, others prefer short stories. A return to oral tradition like in the Moth Movement emphasizes the latter, but normal fiction that communicates via the written word comes in all sizes. There are constraints imposed by all story forms too, but authors’ comfort zones are just as often evident as they are hidden.

One reason that I refuse to use Twitter is that I can rarely communicate anything without thinking about it and almost invariably that process leads to more than 140 characters. (Many Twitter users’ tweets are knee-jerk reactions without much thought added—our president’s tweets are good examples.) I find a 3K word limit for a short story constraining, but a 10K limit not so much.

The key to my preferences is complexity, and I bet that’s true with many authors. I never start a story with its length pre-determined—it could turn out to be a short story, novella, or novel. And the final choice is easy: complexity leads to more words, even if I’m a minimalist writer. Short stories cannot be complex, although they can contain a complex theme—gun control or spousal abuse, for example. Novels are usually complex and contain a number of complex themes…or they should if they’re worth much.

Damon Knight, like many sci-fi writers, published a lot of short stories. His short, “To Serve Man,” was a famous Twilight Zone episode (you can catch those classic b&w half-hour episodes on several cable channels). He also wrote Creating Short Fiction (the third edition is on my reference shelf), a particularly good guide on how to write short stories. Phillip K. Dick was another master of the sci-fi short story form. His shorts and novellas were discovered by Hollywood and turned into movies.

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News and Notices from the Writing Trenches #142…

May 3rd, 2017

It’s a reader’s world! If you’re an avid reader like me, sometimes you’re overwhelmed with all your choices. Some stats (I apologize for not remembering the source): 300,000 indie books were published in 2015; 75,000 traditionally published print books were published in 2013. How can we swim in this vast sea of opportunity to catch those extra special books that will entertain us and make us think?

First, price. I don’t know about you, but I won’t pay for an ebook that’s almost as expensive as a print book. That just doesn’t make sense. And I’m willing to wait for that traditionally published book to go on sale or be offered in one of those airport racks for a fraction of the original price—books are forever, but prices come down.

Second, genre. Yeah, on online sites, that’s just another key word. I use it more as a filter. I won’t read romance or erotica, for example. You might like those genres—more power to you—and maybe you hate mysteries and thrillers or sci-fi? We both might miss some good books that way, but with all the books out there, who cares? And we should all ignore books by celebs—they generally have nothing to say that will affect our lives, and, if they give advice, it’s highly suspect.

Third, read the book’s blurb and use sampling features on your favorite online site (“peek inside” on Amazon), and pay less attention to reviews. So many online reviews aren’t honest, or even they’re paid for by either publishers or authors, and those one- or two-line endorsements of a book by some “famous author” are practically worthless—s/he’s not you, the reader; s/he doesn’t know your preferences; so who cares what s/he thinks? Finally, along with reviews, forget about the rankings if you’re on an online site. A popular vote doesn’t work well with Dancing with the Stars or American Idol; it works less well with books.  Some books have thousands of four- and five-star reviews on Amazon. They might be great books, but they’re not that great!  Even hundreds of reviews are evidence for readers climbing on a bandwagon.

Use information available to make your own choice—don’t depend on others to make it for you. You’ll be a happier reader. And one last suggestion: if you start a book and find it doesn’t resonate with you—the extreme case being you can’t bear to even finish it—put it down, give it to some unsuspecting schmuck, or offer it as a gift to be used in a library or high school book sale. The next reader might like it. Or maybe not, but that’s not your problem.

Have great reading experiences this spring and summer!

Why traditional publishing? Why not? Some readers might have noted that my new novel, Rembrandt’s Angel, will be published by Penmore Press, a traditional publisher. First, I wanted the experience. My great relationship with Carrick Publishing (almost all my previous books) has been more of an equal collaboration, a more personal and friendly one than I think I could achieve with Draft2Digital, for example, but close enough that I have no desires to try that or any other online publisher, considering the long and productive tradition with Carrick. Second, I reviewed one of Penmore’s books, Aegir’s Curse by Leah Devlin, and liked what I saw, both novel and publisher. When a publisher has a good catalog, that says a lot.

The experience with Penmore has also been great. I’m glad I’m having that experience, and I’ve come to know some great people there. (Like Carrick Publishing, based in Canada, the relationship is an online one—the publisher is located in Tucson, home to some of the greatest scenery in the U.S. but far, far away from New Jersey.) I’m happy Penmore has had enough confidence in me to publish my book. Because it’s the one I’ve had the most fun writing so far (all of them have been fun, of course), that confidence is like frosting on the cake.

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One hundred days…

May 2nd, 2017

OK, Trump has had his chance at the honeymoon waltz after winning an election. He can’t dance. He’s all but admitted he’s not up to the job. He’s created a lot of noise—sound and fury signifying nothing. He has failed and will continue to fail. He can’t bring the country together and has no desire to do so. In fact, he has polarized it even more. His cultish base still thinks he walks on water, but he has the lowest approval rating overall than any president since approval-rating polls started, even Gerald Ford after Watergate.

Enough about Trump. I wrote him off as a narcissistic, two-bit, wannabe Putinesque tyrant long ago, a man long on braggadocio and short on brains. What’s more worrisome to me is that the country has no faith in the people running government now—the two-party system is definitely in trouble because Dems think the Dem leaders aren’t leading the country and the GOP voters think the GOP leaders aren’t either. No surprise there, because they aren’t. Congress is still a joke—mostly a bunch of failed lawyers who are incapable of accomplishing anything.

People look at the goings-on in DC and scream, “SOS!”—but that means a lot more than “Save Our Ship!” A scurrilous class of politicos still caters to lobbyists and special interests, Wall Street and Corporate America are still doing what the hell they want, and discourse at all levels has turned into red-faced screaming matches. America and the rest of the world is coming apart at the seams, descending into chaos at precisely the time when we need to all come together to solve very important problems, from exterminating the ISIS infestation (Trump isn’t the Orkin man by any means) to coming to grips with a changing climate and why it’s changing (Trump believes it’s all a hoax).

I’m disappointed in Dems. They pretend to be liberal and progressive, but they’re neither, especially the latter. Most are still wringing their hands and trying to blame anyone they can for the election loss, from Sanders to Comey (the expose in the NY Times was the sleaziest example of reporting I’ve seen in years). If they want to know who is to blame, they need to stand in front of a mirror and point their index finger. A recent book, Shattered, points out the chaos in the Clinton campaign, but she was a flawed candidate to begin with, with more baggage than a European snow-princess on a holiday to Mediterranean climes. She was the Edsel of the Dems presented as a Porsche. Biden or Sanders could have done better against Trump, and the book shows Clinton’s campaign staff was inept as hell. She failed by believing them.

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Monday words of wisdom…

May 1st, 2017

Don’t go on automatic when listening to a fanatic.  The bet’s on the horse with thoughtful discourse.

***

Aristocrats and Assassins. In #4 of the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series,” Castilblanco and his wife are on vacation in Europe when a terrorist starts kidnapping members of European royal families. Castilblanco and eventually Chen work with authorities to discover the terrorist’s agenda. This fast-moving mystery/thriller/suspense novel is on sale now at Smashwords in all ebook formats; use coupon code VN74R.

And look for this new mystery/thriller/suspense story coming this spring from Penmore Press: Rembrandt’s Angel pairs Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiquities Inspector Esther Brookstone with Interpol Agent Bastiann van Coevorden, as their search for dealers in stolen artwork leads to exposing an international conspiracy. Bastiann first appeared in Aristocrats and Assassins and played a prominent role in Gaia and the Goliaths. Esther made her debut in The Collector. This new team of sleuths discovers that pursuing stolen artwork can become surprisingly dangerous.

In libris libertas….

Old v. new mysteries…

April 27th, 2017

I’m finishing another P. D. James’ mystery, A Certain Justice (Adam Dalgliesh #10); some Big Five subsidiary has decided to make more money by (finally!) releasing the James’ mysteries in inexpensive ebook editions. I’m not proud—if I missed it, I’ll buy it, if it meets my less-than-$5 criterion for ebooks!

The first part was tedious enough that it set me thinking: there’s a big difference between the “classic” and modern mystery writers—at least in what I’ve read. James’ book spends the entire first part in what today would be called back story—tediously describing both the victim and the suspects. Dalgliesh doesn’t appear until Part Two, and I’m now enjoying the novel as he and his squad do their sleuthing.

There are several differences between old and new mysteries. The first is general and can be described as reflecting the difference between American and British writers: the old novelists weren’t minimalists. Hammett, Chandler, and other American writers were minimalist writers—often called “hard-boiled” in the mystery literature. The idea is to get the reader involved early on, keeping descriptive narrative to a minimum by letting the reader participate in the creative process, letting him or her form their own mental images with only a few prompts from the writer. Dialogue is kept to a minimum too, becoming brisk and to the point.

Both Christie and James are almost the antithesis of minimalist, James more so than Christie. The old minimalists wrote “pulp fiction,” a derogatory term; the non-minimalists wrote “literary fiction” that happened to be mystery stories (of course, I consider literary fiction to be an absurd genre, if we can even call it that). Minimalists aren’t verbose; non-minimalists often are. I’m not saying the latter’s stories aren’t good—I just find myself skipping over pages and pages of verbose description when reading them. Minimalists are more journalistic; non-minimalists are the pride and joy of MFA writing programs. I don’t want a lot of description and ancillary background when I read fiction—it gets in the way of the story. Of course, that makes my reading of the classics a bit inefficient and stressful, becomes sometimes I miss a key clue in all that background verbosity and have to return to it—definitely not a good thing for speed readers! (A minimalist author could be defined as one who’s nice to speed readers.)

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Corporate atrocities…

April 25th, 2017

Americans are under attack by corporations every day and from many different directions. Are you tired of those “Do Not Call” lists not working and being bombarded by local and national shysters? We all know about the abuses of Wall Street from 2008-2009; these continue—banks with egregious charges, financial investment firms with hidden fees and charges, exploitative loans, and worse. Communication giants like AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and others add their hidden fees and charges too (Verizon, for example, has data plans of 1 gig, 3 gigs, etc—what happened to 2 gigs?); now they can also sell our browsing histories, thanks to President Trump, although data-mining firms started collecting our personal info long ago, and I suspect that any wireless (Blue Tooth) product is sending your usage info to that company. Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft are so big they think they can do whatever they want with consumers, but we do it to ourselves by using their infamous clouds.

Corporate atrocities can be hidden internally too, and employees suffer. The recent case of Wells Fargo showed the extent that a corporation will go to in order to make a buck, and they were already involved in the loan scandals of 2008-2009. Whistleblowers aren’t protected at all—if an employee blows the whistle, s/he’s toast, and forget about approaching your HR rep because every corporate HR is working for the corporation and its stockholders, not you.

The atrocities can carry over to the environment. Mr. Trump AKA Narcissus le Grand AKA Il Duce seems bent on destroying the planet for future generations as his removal of corporate regs allows polluting and destructive corporations to run amok. His recent gift to the coal mining industry is just one example—let’s keep our status as the most polluting nation in the world. His goal is to make America great again? That’s a laugh. Maybe he’s planning a future business that will sell gas masks and biohazard suits?

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Monday words of wisdom…

April 24th, 2017

A bean supper will be held on Tuesday evening in the church hall. Music will follow.  (Seen in a church bulletin.)

***

Teeter-Totter between Lust and Murder. Detective Chen is framed for the murder of a U.S. senator. As her partner Castilblanco moves to prove her innocence, they uncover a complex plot involving the underbelly of NYC as well as the overbelly corresponding to the rich and powerful. #3 in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series,” this book is now on sale at Smashwords and is available in all ebook formats. Use coupon code XW55G. Last week on sale! Also coming soon this spring from Penmore Press: Rembrandt’s Angel, an international tour de force involving a Scotland Yard expert on art heists and an Interpol agent. Chasing down some dealers in stolen artworks suddenly becomes very dangerous!

In libris libertas!

Mini-Reviews of Books…

April 21st, 2017

The R.E.M. Effect. J. M. Lanham, author. In this novel, the reader will find entertaining reading with some serious themes interwoven. Because my very first book Full Medical was a sci-fi thriller of this type, I’ve always been particularly fond of this subgenre which mixes sci-fi with thrills and suspense. This is one you don’t want to miss.

Mind-altering drugs are more common in real life than most people think. Big Pharma loves to peddle them, especially when they find out that their drug has other applications like alleviating pain by turning off the human brain’s ability to receive pain signals. Drugs for various brain problems like seizures find a new market amongst pain sufferers in this way. They aren’t necessarily addictive, but they’re still scary.

What happens when a drug to cure insomnia gives outliers in the test population of a clinical trial ESP powers as they dream? This sci-fi theme might become a newspaper headline in a not too distant future as Big Pharma strives to broaden its markets and create drugs with many application. The novel answers that question and adds duplicity by the pharmaceutical company as it colludes with the CIA, because the latter is interested in mind control for political purposes.

Channeling Crichton and other authors who have written tales describing future events that aren’t that farfetched, I found this book a good read that is well worth your time. My only complaint—and it’s a minor one—is that a lot of things are left unresolved at the end. To avoid spoilers, I’ll refrain from making a list. Of course, some of the best sci-fi stories share this feature as their authors leave their readers wondering.

I hope to read more by this author in the future, though, because he is a gifted storyteller.

***

Teeter-Totter between Lust and Murder. Detective Chen is framed for the murder of a U.S. senator. As her partner Castilblanco moves to prove her innocence, they uncover a complex plot involving the underbelly of NYC as well as the overbelly corresponding to the rich and powerful. #3 in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series,” this book is now on sale at Smashwords and is available in all ebook formats. Use coupon code XW55G. Coming soon this spring from Penmore Press: Rembrandt’s Angel, an international tour de force involving a Scotland Yard expert on art heists and an Interpol agent. Chasing down some dealers in stolen artworks suddenly becomes very dangerous!

In libris libertas…