Thursday, March 28, 2013

Have you checked your reality?

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve given up on a book or a film – often because it’s just ‘too silly for words’ - and, from reading reviews, I know I’m not alone in that respect.

But why? Why is it silly?
I think there used to be an unwanted princess living here.
Is the answer (as some people would say) because it’s ‘not realistic’? No, we buy countless thousands of books in the genres of fantasy, super-heroes, vampires, historical romances and so forth. Fiction is big business and the public’s appetite is insatiable.

By the very definition of fiction, no matter how well researched and no matter how 'true to life' a story is, come the diurnal/nocturnal interface (that's a pseud's way of saying 'the end of the day'), it's pure invention. It’s not reality, it’s make-believe, so the answer as to why we find a book or a film silly isn’t because it’s not like reality.

Fiction has its own dynamic which can be called ‘plausibility’.

Note that I said ‘plausibility’ not ‘realism’. The words ‘logical’ or even ‘natural’ (albeit ambiguous under the circumstances) would also have sufficed.

Some authors see 'plausible' as meaning that they have to stick to known facts e.g. the Earth has one moon, that World War 2 finished in 1945, and that nothing can travel faster than light.

Wrong.

Plausibility means that wherever the story leads, it has to be in keeping with whatever you have told the reader beforehand. Consequently, it is perfectly permissible for an author to digress from universally accepted facts, as long as the reader has been properly prepared.

Plausible does not mean that it has to be capable of coming true.

The key to getting away with having superheroes fly and zombies walk the streets is not to just state that's what they do, it's to have some train of logic which supports your character's attributes. Such fantastical creatures will not appeal to everyone but it's exactly the same deal with everything from costume dramas to police procedurals.
Seen any zombies?
If you want a princess to elope with the second gardener's assistant, that's perfectly OK as long as you make it plausible. Their original meeting must not appear contrived, the subsequent conversations must be totally natural (as much as such a thing could be) and the affair must find a way of blossoming.

It's just the same if you're writing Westerns, war stories or space operas. The majority of your audience will forgive a great deal of 'spurious science' and will stick with you if what you write is plausible based on the parameters that you have set (usually in the opening chapter). If you want your six-shooters to be eight-shooters or you want your tanks to have turrets fore and aft, that's OK. Yes, if you're looking for realism, this won't win any prizes, but a story doesn't need realism to be plausible.

That's the point.

When it comes down to the wire, you set the scene and define the parameters. It's your story and people will enjoy it if you stick by the rules which you set for yourself.

Reality relates to non-fiction; fiction needs to be plausible.

Biography
Clive West is a successful novelist, short story writer and publisher. His full-length and much-acclaimed novel, The Road, tells the story of the petty corruption that surrounds the construction of a new ring road and the unforeseen and uncared for tragedies that this deceit causes to ordinary people.

Apart from writing, Clive runs Any Subject Books Ltd along with his wife and co-writer, Damaris West. New writers are always welcome at the agency.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The long and the short of it

After an extended dalliance away from the genre, short stories are becoming increasingly popular again. With hectic personal schedules and the hurly-burly of the 21st century world, modern readers like the idea of picking up their book, tablet, Kindle, e-reader to enjoy a complete story without the hassle of having to remember numerous characters, complex plots or who is doing what to whom and why.

I'd like us now to look at the basic limiting factors of a short story in more detail and see where they lead us:
         A short story by its very definition is short (!)
         There must be a complete story within its pages even if it's part of a series centered around the same characters or setting
         The author must describe the location and the key protagonists in sufficient detail as to bring them to life
Keep it short!
Some writers seem to think that a short story is merely a highly-condensed conventional novel or an extremely short novella when it's neither. Because of the limitations imposed by the three above criteria, a short story takes a single thread and explores it to completion in the space of a few pages. There can be no complexity of plot, diverse parallel storylines, or switching from one exotic venue to another as per James Bond, Ludlum etc. If you are going to write a short story, you need to think tight, compact and bijou.

The knack to writing a short story which your customers will want to read is to concentrate on:
         Creating a few simple but interesting characters
         Choosing a setting which is quickly visualised by the reader and which will not overpower the characters or the storyline
         Finding a story which leads the reader through
         Sending the reader away with something memorable which makes them want to read more of your stories
With a short story, there is a real need to 'hit the ground running'. You do not have the luxury of long preamble-style descriptions of the characters executed through rambling explanatory dialogue so you have to create a clear image of the protagonists very quickly and without overdoing it on the adjectival front. Likewise with the places; you will rarely have the word count for more than a cursory description giving a generic location such as 'on the bus', 'at the beach', 'visiting the zoo' and so on.

We'll look at how to draw up plots, construct openings and decide upon endings for short stories in subsequent postings.
Clive West is a successful short story writer, novelist and publisher. He has produced a bestselling anthology of short stories which all have a twist-in-the-tail and which is for sale on Amazon. He is a strong believer in the non-reliance upon low-grade authorial devices such as creating a mystery out of nothing and deus ex machina denouements. Apart from writing, Clive runs Any Subject Books Ltd along with his wife and co-writer, Damaris West. New writers are always welcome at the agency.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

5 Reasons to Use the 5 Senses in Your Writing

This is a repost of a great blog piece by one of my favorite bloggers, Kaye George. In this article she explains why a writer needs to use all five senses during the writing process.--Mary Ann


It's rare that I can get all five in, but I always try.

SIGHT
That's the easiest, of course. Writers have to describe what the characters are doing, seeing, where they're going. That's the difference between fiction writers and play/screen/TV script writers. The reader sees only what we permit them to see. Do you always remember to orient the readers at the beginning of each new scene and tell them where they are? I was told, once, to cut way down on my adjectives--I describing a little too much. (Janet Reid's exact words were, "Were they having a sale on adjectives?") One adjective per noun is enough. Even better if you can find the perfect noun, the one that doesn't even need any adjectives. The same thing for verbs, actions. The less adverbs the better. Notice, I don't advocate cutting adverbs out entirely. Sometimes you need them. But IF you can find a vivid enough verb, you won't need one for that sentence.

HEARING
When your characters enter a new scene, close your eyes and put yourself there. Are they in the woods? Is the wind stirring the leaves? Are birds twittering? If it's nighttime, do you hear frogs or cicadas? In the city there's usually traffic noise, sometimes a distant siren, or a noisy bus pulling out of the bus stop. Inside a quiet room a clock might be ticking, or the refrigerator might cycle on.

SMELL
This one isn't too hard, either. Outside there are flowers and new mown grass to smell. If the nearby water treatment plant isn't overpowering them. Each house has a distinct odor--pets, dust, cooking, cigarettes, baby powder.




TOUCH
It's a little harder to work touch in, but if you are outside, the wind can caress your cheek, riffle your bangs, or blow your hat off. A fence post will feel rough, a tree trunk a different kind of rough. Barefoot characters will feel dirt or hot pavement, or cool tile floors beneath their soles. The touch of another person is often needed in an intimate or emotional scene. Tell the reader if the other person's hand is warm or cool, leathery or soft, gnarled or smooth.

TASTE
This is the hardest one. In an eating scene it's no problem, but we're told eating scenes are boring, right? Not always, but you don't want too many of them. Extreme emotion will put tastes in your character's mouth, though. Something that turns her stomach makes bile bubble up into her mouth. Biting his lip or tongue puts the metallic taste of blood in his mouth. Sweat comes with exertion or heat. Go ahead and let some run down his face. Let him taste the salt when he licks his lips nervously.





There are other senses you might try, too. ESP, gut instinct, the internal reaction to fear. In other words, things you feel inside yourself, or on the surface of your skin. A racing heartbeat, throbbing temples, but in less clich├ęd phrasing, of course.

 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Learning To Not Write

I can't not write. I'm sure some of this blog's readership would say the same thing. We writers are an obsessive lot. We have these... ideas. An entire plot just pops into our heads (or so it feels like) and we must write it down. It's catharsis for us. It helps us keep the world in order. And it gives us hope that someday, our books too will be on shelves.

But what about when we can't write, meaning: the time or energy just isn't there? Sometimes for weeks. Perhaps even months. This used to drive me bananas! All these stories clamoring to get out and here I was embroiled in equations, or some such activity. I needed to get the stories down and the queries sent or nothing was ever going to happen. The frustration would nearly cause my brain to rupture. Of course, that's when you sit and check your email every 30 minutes to see if you've had any replies. Not a healthy situation!

For some time now I've been unable to write. Due to our current political situation, the funding for the satellite development program I was working on dried up rather suddenly in early November. One would think that would give me more time to write. Actually, the opposite is true. With bills to be paid, I suddenly had to engage the hyperdrive to find new business. The added anxiety took care of any free time by draining my creative spark. I even had to fall back on one of my hobbies to help bridge the gap.

However, I am now very much enjoying myself and have discovered that I can make money building cabinets! More than I can make doing engineering. The trade off is, it takes a lot of time and energy. Fortunately some consulting work also happened to pop up, working on a proposal for a DOD program. It has been long hours too. Very long. But also pretty darned satisfying. Not only do I get to do some engineering and keep that part of the machine well-oiled, it is, surprisingly enough, a lot of writing!

Of course, while all this is happening, I have absolutely no time to work on my writing. It's been frustrating. I'd been pouring a lot of energy into my writing for about a decade. Pushing hard to get out the next book. Sending out those queries. Marketing my work that is out there. Somewhere in the midst of this flurry of activity, it hit me. All that rushing, all that fighting the order of events, hadn't done me a bit of good. It was like swimming up stream. Maybe I'm just getting older, or maybe I'm growing, but I backed off the writing and just decided to let things unfold as they will.

The transformation in my own life has been remarkable. I sleep better. My wife sort of likes me again. Exercise is more enjoyable. The work I am doing is more satisfying. I get more relaxation from just reading, instead of constantly comparing. Sure, sometimes I get hit with that frantic feeling that I'm missing writing opportunities. That if I had just sent that query!!! But then I force myself to remember that hurrying doesn't help. I've tried it. Things will unfold as they will. I will write when I can. Market when I can. But live TODAY.

At the moment, I'm wrapping up two projects and have no time to write. At the same time, one of my books is a finalist for an award. Sales aren't too bad - considering I'm doing ZERO marketing. Some incredible (non-writing) opportunities have sort of materialized out of thin air. And, I'm making great progress on my next novel. That's right. I'm writing my next novel. Or rather, doing some reordering and revision of the last draft. Without all that frustration and anger I find I'm able to get a lot more done in my head. So, in the next few weeks when things calm down a little, I can start fresh and ready, with a host of ideas to turn this next project into what I really want it to be.

All of which leaves me wondering: Were I writing in frustrated anger, forcing out pages, would I be able to convey the messages I really want to share? Or would my frustration come out, and chase everyone away? Maybe sometimes, not writing is good. You just have to learn how to do it.


Until next time,

John C. Brewer is the author of Multiplayer an MMOG YA SF novel, and The Silla Project, a North Korean nuclear romance. You can learn more about him and what he is doing at his website, JohnCBrewer.com

Friday, March 15, 2013

Dream On by Renita Pizzitola--a review

Ah, dreams! What they show us can sometimes be amazing and bring clarity to a difficult situation. I'm a vivid dreamer and definitely have figured out how to solve a problem or two in my waking life during my dream one. I think that's why the premise of Renita Pizzitola's latest book, Dream On, really caught my attention. It sort of reminded me of a sexy version of that Eighties movie, Dreamscape. Here is the publisher's blurb:




Her quest begins when she closes her eyes.

Emory Bennett owns a lucrative dreamwalking business. Trained in weaponry and Muay Thai, she spends her nights entering the dream realm resolving her clients’ nightmares, whatever they might be: bad guys, scary beasts, or the classic forgot-to-wear-my-pants nightmare. Her jobs get complicated when a gorgeous man keeps appearing requesting her help.

Grayson, a fellow dreamwalker, is stuck in the dream realm while a stranger inhabits his body. He needs Emory’s assistance in the waking realm, which he can’t visit if he can’t get back into his body.

Once Emory is convinced Grayson’s not a figment of her imagination, they concoct a plan to lure the body snatcher out. But as Emory begins to fall for Grayson, the line blurs between him and the stranger who inhabits his body. She must keep it together to get close enough to discover his secrets, or divide her very soul if she can’t bring the man she loves back.

WARNING: Strong language

A Lyrical Press Urban Fantasy Romance
 
So was Dream On as dreamy as the publisher's blurb? I'd have to say yes!
 
It's a fast paced, romance/action thriller with strong characters that held my attention. I thought the idea of owning a dream walking business where you actually help clients solve their problems was a good one. I liked that Ms. Pizzitola helped the reader understand Emory's character by allowing us to see her in action several times as she helped out her various clients. I particularly enjoyed the opening dream sequence with its reference to the movie Scarface. You gotta love a book that can blend in some great pop culture! I don't care what age you are--everyone knows Scarface.
 
I wasn't sure about Grayson at first--is he the good guy or the bad? His character made me think that he might have the potential to be the bad guy in disguise. Without giving more away, Grayson kept surprising me.
 
In fact, there were a few peripheral characters that I was unsure about when it came to their motivations. There's a best friend who falls for a psychic who too sweet to be a total bad guy. I really enjoyed the development of these friends and the way their plot lines were weaved flawlessly into the story.
 
The only thing that disappointed me was...well...it has to be said....the sex. There were lots of lingering looks, lots of hot descriptions about mugging down, and one "pretty close to the deed" scene that faded to black. I felt a bit cheated as I wanted more of the scoop on Emory and Grayson's sex life.
 
But then again, I'm nosy like that. And it did not deter my enjoyment of this story!
 
If you'd care to "Dream On" yourself, click on the Amazon link below or go to the author's website to learn more about her. I know that she is also on book tour all this month, too, and doing a giveway.
 
 




 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Something for nothing? (Part 2 of 2)

Continued from last week ...

I hear a lot of nonsense about giving books away in order to get reviews and I'd just like to clarify that one while I'm at it. It's estimated that less than 1% of buyers bother to leave reviews and, of course, there's no guarantee that they'll be good. It's nice to see that Amazon have finally added some commentary in the reviewer's box advising against commenting upon Amazon's own services. I've already blogged about seeing 1-star reviews for products which have been delivered late or in damaged packaging (i.e. nothing to do with the author or manufacturer).
Have a cigar
 
I'm equally sure about Amazon knowing this percentage and, if the algorithm's got any sense, it'll be looking for anomalies in the percentage of sales resulting in reviews for a specific book. If that rises above a certain level (4 standard deviations above the mean I'd suggest), the reviews are likely to get scrutinised for ‘sock-puppet’ tendencies.

In any case, there are plenty of books which have made it to the top with lousy reviews and even more ones with cracking reviews that never see the light of day.

Continuing on the subject of nonsense, I'd like to dispel another little myth and that's the one about DRM which, for those who don't know, stands for Digital Rights Management and is intended to protect electronically-delivered goods (such as e-books) from being ripped off. I can tell you now that it's a very easy matter to get through the DRM blocking and so gain full access to the book's make-up file. Thus a book can be downloaded in mobi (Amazon's Kindle) or ePub format and, even with DRM, be turned into a Word document or HTML within a few seconds.

Having done that, the content can be used in any way the hacker sees fit.

As I've also blogged about, I belong to a commercial writing site from where I've taken on the odd job. In the last two years, there's been a phenomenal growth in spinning - the act of taking a document and, through the replacement of proper nouns, verbs and adjectives, turning it into an (almost) unrecognizable document which effectively says the same thing as the original. Spinning software is readily available and spinners (the workers) are cheap to hire. Thus a book can be downloaded, ripped off, spun and resold for no outlay (or virtually no outlay) whatsoever.
That could be your book. Think about it for a moment.
The long arm of the law won't reach them
It's no good consoling yourself with the notion that you'll just get hold of your friendly ambulance-chasing, pro-bono, bloodsucking legal-beagle either. Firstly you've got to spot the rip off (it may not be on the original book site - it might be a downloadable file from another website) and, having done that, you've then got to track down the author. My guess is that you'll be thrashing around in a thick fog. Even if you do catch up with the 'thief', you've got to find a way of punishing them. Well, good luck. I've had my stuff ripped off far too many times and never once been able to get anything done about it.
Opting out of the freebie days and ensuring that your book always has to be paid for in hard currency is, of course, no protection against this happening but it does discourage. A few dollars may not be much to you but it's more than a day's wages to the typical spinner. When there are easier pickings to be had, they're going to target those books instead.

I've no doubt whatsoever that some people have benefited from following the giveaway route but I've also spoken to many who haven't. This, of course, begs the question "How many of those who succeeded by using free giveaways would have done so regardless?". Every author must make their own decision and I'm not wanting to tell anyone what to do (or not to do) but I am urging caution and for you to go into the arrangement with your eyes open in just the same way as you might regard our anonymous benefactor whom I described at the outset of this article.
If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Clive West is an author himself and understands what it's like to be a writer. He also runs a book publishing company alongside his wife and fellow author. Any Subject Books is always pleased to hear from new authors.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Screenplay v. Novel Writing

With SXSW upon us here in Austin, the film scene is going crazy. Directors, actors, writers--they're all here this spring break and rarin' to go. I thought it would be nice in honor of that to repost this fabulous piece about the difference between screenplay and novel writing. This was written by Steve Metze.---Mary Ann

As someone with an MFA in Film and Video production, I’ve written a few screenplays in my time. Only optioned one, and any movies made from them I made myself, but still. I’ve also written my fair share of novels, with about the same amount of success, although I do feel my craft has improved consistently with every word I’ve written.
Having hammered out both, I wanted to take a moment to compare and contrast the two in case you were debating writing one or the other.

First, some basics.

Novels are long, screenplays are short. Novels tend to be in the past tense, screenplays in the present. Novels have some leeway for structure, although generally lean towards something with three to five Acts and a hook of some sort at the end of each chapter. For screenplays the structure is much more rigid, with painful scrutiny placed on pacing. Novels have many niche markets, while screenplays always seem to be aiming for that PG-13 audience.

Now let’s dig a little deeper.

With a novel, you are the creative overseer. An editor might make suggestions, but they won’t go in and re-write the entire ending with a new flashy location or three times the stakes. When you’re done writing a novel, you own it. Your style drips from every page. Your ideas, your characters, your detailed descriptions, they remain, all yours.

In a screenplay, you are, at best, writing a suggestion for others to go by. You’re creating a blueprint from which hundreds of others will tear off pieces and then rework those bits in their own image. If you want something that stands out as yours, screenplays probably aren’t the way to go.

As far as money goes, don’t be fooled. Novels actually published will make more money than most screenplays sold, and certainly more than those optioned. I’ve known many screenplays to option for as little as a dollar while a hopeful director holds onto to someone else’s work and shops it around looking for financing. A screenplay “hit” can sell for six figures, but then that’s it, the money stops. A novel “hit” can go well beyond that, and the money is open ended. Assuming you sell more than any advance you might have gotten, sales will drop down to a trickle and slowly fade rather than having a hard stop after a single lump payment. In addition, there are thousands of books published every year, and only hundreds of movies made.

But as a writer, someone who loves the act and craft of writing, they really are different animals. Novels can be internal or external stories, with action optional. They tend to focus more on characters and the true details of their lives. Screenplays can only suggest actions that suggest internal thoughts and feelings – you can’t even write what the character is thinking to help out the actor. The characters can show it or say it, but with very few exceptions (and then usually only in an opening or closing voice over) the omniscient point of view is right out. As far as descriptions go, you get a few lines to sum up the setting, and then it becomes someone else’s job to give that location or character life. This is not to say that screenwriting is easy, or that there aren’t opportunities to write creative character-driven works you can be proud of. In both cases clever dialogue goes a long way, but in a novel, the dialogue doesn’t have to be the primary form of transmitting information about thoughts and feelings.

So, bottom line, you’ll end up writing what you wanted to write, but my final piece of advice to you is pick one and stick with it, or at the very least don’t try to hop back and forth between the two. They are both skills, and both crafts, and even though they both tell a story, they use completely different languages to do it. Find out which one you’re best at, and focus on it. When you’ve had a real “hit” and can quit your day job, then you can dabble in the other…

Enjoy

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Different Kind of Writing

I hated English in high school. Middle school, too. Oh, and "Language Arts" as we called it when I was even younger. To be perfectly honest, I still don't know what a verb is. I know what a verb does, but point me at a sentence and ask me to pick out the verb and I'm going to struggle. I can get easy ones, and easy nouns as well, but ask me about adjectives and adverbs and I find myself recalling the jingles from Schoolhouse Rock and working from there!

There are a few reasons I have this trouble. For one, I was pretty much blind through 6th and 7th grades. At that age image and appearance are everything and no way I was getting glasses. I'd seen other kids crucified for wearing glasses and dang if it was going to be me. But I couldn't see the chalkboard. When the teacher was diagramming all those sentences it was all just a blur to me. I didn't even copy down the homework most of the time. Memorizing the eye chart helped beat the crude screeners at school and kept me out of the optometrists office. Eventually an adult at church found me out at a Wednesday night bowling league. The jig was up though it was nice to be finally able to see. I got razzed a bit but it didn't change my fortunes with the girls at all. I was still dismal.

I said there are a few reasons and here's the other one. My brain doesn't work that way. Period.

However, my dad always said that writing was important. I didn't know what he meant at the time, but having become a writer myself, I now wish I'd gone to glasses a bit earlier. Perhaps diagramming those sentences at school would have made a tad more sense. but then again, my brain doesn't work that way, obviously. Which is why I became a rocket scientist.

I'm not going to go into how I wound up writing and loving it, but I can go into how being a rocket scientist really helped my ability to write novels. Much of what I did, and still do from time to time, involved developing mathematical models of aerospace systems, like missiles and aircraft and satellites, and translating those equations into computer simulations. These simulations could be hundreds or thousands of lines long and contain dozens of separate variables and modules and subroutines. It is critical to hold all of this in your hear and how it relates to the overall structure of the program.

Sound a bit like writing a novel? It is. Characters, setting, and plot all require us to hold a lot of interrelated information in our heads so we can complete the story and have it make sense. Then, when we have to "go back in" and make changes, we must remember everywhere that change then effects the story. Just like in code. Sure, there are a lot of things about writing a novel that have nothing to do with computer programming, like lines of tension, drama, and character development, but I got plenty of that working for the DOD as well. Talk about characters!

I'm now starting a bit different part of my professional career. Having done the simulation thing for a long time now, I've found a way to combine my two loves; writing and technology. I'm writing proposals. The government and the Department of Defense release a lot of RFP's or Request for Proposal. When they need something built, everything from a new jet fighter to a redesign of the Army's shovel, the contract it out. Companies spend a lot of money writing proposals, competing with other companies, to prove they are the ones that can do it the best. It isn't writing novels, but just as coding helped me in my novel writing, novel writing has helped me in proposals.

One of the things that was hardest to get through my head when I began writing, besides nouns and verbs, was the idea of audience. I would write stuff that I thought was cool, and my friends thought so, but it didn't really have an "audience" as we writers understand it. Everything from word choice, to plot complexity, to characters define your audience. I'd finished three novels before it finally dawned on me: yes, I'm writing for me, but not just for me. If I want to share my ideas, I have to express them in a way that draws in an audience.

So, when I began writing proposals, I immediately thought of my audience. While I strongly feel that our team is the best for the job, I needed to make sure the people reviewing this proposal realize that. So I ask: Who is going to be reviewing this proposal? What are their problems? What kinds of programs have they funded in the past? Have previous contractors done a bad job? How are we different and, more importantly, better than the competition? They are the same questions we ask about characters, setting, and plot as we develop a story for a specific market.

It was some time before I realized I was doing this and the surprise was pleasant. As a result of this kind of thinking, I feel we are shaping what is ultimately going to be a winning bid that's going to result in my client receiving about a $70,000,000 contract. I was also quite surprised when I realized that I was really enjoying this! It is, in fact, a great complimentary 'day job' to my 'night job' of writing. I get to hone my ability to string together words, focus on audience, hold a lot of variables in my head, and work on something with a beginning and an ending.

Sure, it's a much different kind of writing, and I don't like it as much as writing novels, but there is something that I really enjoy about it... Getting Paid To Do It!


Until next time,

John C. Brewer is the author of Multiplayer an MMOG YA SF novel, and The Silla Project, a North Korean nuclear romance. You can learn more about him and what he is doing at his website, JohnCBrewer.com

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Skeoch: Our new life on a Scottish hill farm by Jennie Phillips--a review

I'm not a world traveler. Mostly, this is due to lack of money and a fear of flying on planes. I love reading about other countries and Scotland is a place that always excites my imagination. When Any Subject Books, the publisher of Skeoch: Our new life on a Scottish hill farm, sent me a review copy of the book, I was excited to begin reading it. However, I knew it was a memoir, and in my experience, that can be a good thing or a bad thing.



In this case, it was a delightful thing!

Here is the blurb for the book:

"I have to state right now that we never had any intention of buying a farm. Least of all in South West Scotland. It wasn't one of those nice, rational decisions that we all think we will make, when the time comes. It was totally irrational and made absolutely no sense at all - but we made it just the same!”

 So begins a new life for Jennie and her actor husband Conrad, star of the long-running TV series, William Tell. This is the story of their titanic struggles against cold, wind, drought, disease, illness and ill luck of every kind in their establishing of a home and a viable farm against the backdrop of a mountain called Skeoch. We feel with the author the joy of bringing a newborn lamb back from the brink of death, and the anguish of losing a herd of dairy cattle to brucellosis. There is the day when the hay garnered at great pains blows away along with the barn in which it was stored, and times when financial ruin threatens. There are deprivations, born with fortitude and good humour, but also the delights of introducing two small daughters to life on the farm and the natural world around it. This is an inspirational book which envelops you in its world and has you feeling every disaster and every triumph as if you had lived it.

I could not even begin to imagine leaving a comfortable life  to begin farming in a remote area. I did grow up in a small farming town and glimpsed many of my classmates raising animals to show at the local livestock show, but that is nothing compared to what Ms. Phillips and her family did. They left all creature comforts behind and bought a farm in the middle of nowhere! And they loved it!

Reading her descriptions of the Skeoch, it's easy to see why. The author is one of those rare storytellers who knows how to make you feel as if you were actually in the place she is describing. It was easy to visualize the farm and the way it looked in all seasons. In fact, her descriptions made me so curious that I went to check out her website which has some lovely pictures of the house they lived in.

I found myself laughing at some of the situations and people that she and her husband encountered from the local village, too. Lots of fun characters who kept life interesting!

As I was drawn more and more into the tale, I found myself feeling all kinds of emotions for this brave family. The attachment the author felt for one of her sweet cows, the frustration of spending all that time in the fields making hay--only to have it all blown away in a fierce windstorm, the hardship of having no water due to a drought--it really made me admire the courage it takes for anyone who is a farmer or rancher. Mother Nature is not always the kindest of beings!

I also found it fascinating that her husband was able to balance being a working actor and a farmer. It didn't sound like an easy feat, but somehow they managed to make it all work.

This is a book I would definitely recommend for those looking for a lively tale about life on a Scottish farm or who enjoy a well written story sure to keep you turning the pages. Thank you, Any Subject Books, for sharing this one with me!

Here is the Amazon Link:

AMAZON LINK FOR SKEOCH

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jennie Phillips lived her early life in London before moving to Skeoch and then emigrated from there to Northern France where she and her actor husband, Conrad, set about restoring a dilapidated farmhouse. This was all despite neither of them speaking French. After 20 years spent in France, she now lives in Wiltshire where, apart from writing, she also sells paintings (mostly landscapes), plays music, knits (including copious numbers of sweaters for her grandchildren) and cooks. Among Jennie’s favourite authors are Maureen Lipman, Derek Tangey and Ken Follett and she particularly likes reading about the emotional lives of people and poetry. Her particular and heartfelt thanks go out to her family and her husband, Conrad. for all their support and encouragement towards writing Skeoch. Follow Jennie on her blog: http://jenniephillipsblog.wordpress.com

Friday, March 8, 2013

Watershed by Cd Brennan--a review

I've always wanted to go to Australia. The country and the stories I've read about the place fascinate me, though I doubt I could ever live there for a long period of time. I'm too much of a Texas girl! I also have always wanted to visit Ireland. I have to admit that's mostly because I watched Darby O' Gill and the Little People a million times when I was a kid and became convinced that leprechauns were real.

When I picked up Watershed by Cd Brennan, I knew it was a romance, but for some reason, I thought it was going to fall into the category of paranormal romance. I've  been getting a lot of review requests for that genre lately so that's kind of where my mind was at. However, Watershed is a straight forward, lovely romance that I really enjoyed. Here is the publisher's blurb:


She left home to find herself...and found love along the way.

Maggie isn’t looking for love on her backpacking trip through Australia. She’s got enough man troubles back in Ireland. Australia is her escape, a place of adventure where she can create memories to last a lifetime.

But some memories won’t be left behind.

Gray is ready to quit hiring backpackers to help with the work on his remote Queensland cattle station when Maggie turns up. She’s just passing through, but the connection they forge during the long nights herding cattle won’t be so easily cast aside.

CONTENT WARNING: A strong-willed Irish heroine, a stubborn Australian hero, and oceans of difference to bridge for love.

A Lyrical Press Contemporary Romance


Maggie is a great character. Witty, down to Earth, and willing to try new things, I think she embodies what many women strive to be. She is a bit down on her luck when the story begins, but is immediately attracted to Gray, the brusque rancher who is tired of all the backpackers that pass through his land. However, she soon shows him that she is capable of carrying her own weight--despite being bitten by a snake and not having any experience with cattle herding.

Gray is what all romance heroes should be--built, mysterious, and at times, a little bit oblivious to the obvious romantic overtones that Maggie is making. Of course, in the end, he realizes he can't be without her!

If you are a romance fan, this book will meet all your requirements: passion, characters who grow together, a twist where their future is shaken, and then a fabulous happy ending.

For me, this book went a step further. I really enjoyed the way Ms. Brennan blended the culture of Ireland with Australia. She really captured the Irish lilt of Maggie and the strong Australian accent of Gray. I could clearly hear their voices in my head as I was reading. They both use slang terms  that are common for the their native countries, but may not be as familiar to readers. Both characters explain what some of these terms mean, and I felt like I'd been to Australia by the time I finished the book. Her description of the cattle drives and the country itself were very well written!

I look forward to reading more of her work. I've also included an excerpt from Watershed to tempt you into exploring the Amazon link for the book.

AMAZON LINK FOR WATERSHED

Excerpt:

“In Ireland we have the Banshee.” Maggie broke Gray’s daydreaming with a start. “She is the omen of death and the messenger from the Otherworld.”

She continued in a whisper. “Often she appears an old hag. Folklore says she may also appear as a stunningly beautiful woman.” Maggie raised her brow at him, her eyes twinkling with fun.

Gray threw his head back and laughed, and she joined him. There was no shaking her. He decided he wasn’t going to best Maggie, and for the first time in a long time he was content with that.

He shifted so she had to settle against him. He heard her sigh as he wrapped his arm around her. They sat watching the fire, listening to the sounds of the bush settle for the night. It was peaceful and, Gray had to admit, romantic. He smiled, fulfilled after a long day’s hard work, some good bush tucker and a beautiful woman by his side. He had almost worked up enough courage to kiss her when she shivered, wrapping her arms around herself.

“I’m going to sleep.” Pulling off her trainers, she climbed into her swag. “Goodnight.”
 
About the author:
 
Having traveled and lived all over the world, Cd Brennan now talks with a strange accent, a mix of distant terminology, a blend of culturally cute but confusing euphemisms that leaves everyone looking at her with a blank stare. Luckily, her Australian husband (who she met in Ireland) and her two Aussie/Yankee sons have no problem understanding her – well, except for the word “NO”.
Now settled back “home” in Michigan, she enjoys reliving her glory days by writing about them. She considers the last fifteen years abroad the perfect research for her Love Where You Roam series; matchmaking women and men from different cultures, even different hemispheres, helping them find their true one across oceans of difference.
As destiny plays a hand in all the stories, Cd Brennan truly believes that what is for you, won’t pass you by. She hopes to inspire others to get out there: “Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” [Mark Twain]  And of course, fall in love.
Get in touch with her at www.cdbrennan.com

 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Something for nothing? (Part 1 of 2)

If a complete stranger tries to give you something free of charge, what thoughts would normally go through your head?

  • There's a catch
  • Something is wrong with it
  • The thing's been stolen
  • It's got no value
Don't believe all you see.
Yet, despite this instinctively suspicious reception, authors are forever being encouraged to give away their books in return for enhanced rankings and thus more sales in the long term. It's a nice idea but, like communism, it's largely doomed to failure because of the inherent self-seeking nature of the human race.

If there's an easy way of making money, someone will give it a try. That's a simple fact of life.
So, what do I have against the freebies?

For those who don't know, the principal (although not sole) source of free books is that made available by authors who've signed up for Amazon's KDP program. This 'allows' them 5 promotion days (when they can give their books away for free) in a 90-day period. It's carefully controlled and 5 days is the maximum for everyone. The author decides which days and then does all the pre-promotion awareness-raising. In return, Amazon's algorithm gives a partial credit (how much is a carefully guarded secret) for every book that's given away. The result is that, after the promotion has terminated, the book is left floating at a higher level than before its free promotion.
There is one other salient fact to be taken into account. During the promotion, the book's normal ranking is suspended and it is given a temporary 'freebie' one instead. At the end of the promotion, the book's 'permanent' ranking is recalculated and that determines the mid-term visibility of the book.

But what does all this mean in terms of sales?
The answer is a mixed bag as it depends on the permanent ranking before and after. Given that there are millions of books available now with thousands more being uploaded every day, it's obvious nonsense to think that every promoted book is going to get into that magical top ten thousand with its more or less guaranteed sales. However, if you believe everything you read in the writers' groups, you could be forgiven for thinking that there must be a hundred thousand books in the top ten thousand.

If you see such things (like I do all the time), restrict any comment to “Uh-huh. Really? Well done”, and hang on to your cynical and suspicious instincts for all that is holy to you. Everyone has an agenda and, if you’d just discovered the magical elixir or the formula for the alchemists’ touchstone, would you go blabbing the formula to all and sundry? Exactly.
You want to gamble?
I could be even less charitable by saying that if I do something foolish, I’ll feel a lot less of a fool if I’m surrounded by fellow fools who’ve made the same mistake. Read Aesop’s Fable of the fox without a tail.

Returning to the mathematics of it all, if your book started off by ranking well then the promotion day is undoubtedly going to give it a boost. You've presumably got a readership already and a good promotional day will only serve to consolidate your position.
Going into the freebie day with a low-ranking book is another matter. Unless you've somehow managed to get loads of publicity, all you're going to do is to give free copies to people who don't mind taking a chance on an unknown author if the book doesn't cost them anything. There won't be enough of those to make a difference and your hard work will almost certainly go unrewarded and unnoticed.

Continued next week …

Clive West has written a novel, a collection of short stories and two non-fiction books. He now runs a publishing company called Any Subject Books along with his wife, also an author.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

On Being Irish by CD Brennan

Today's guest blogger has written a delightful novel called Watershed. I will be reviewing it on Friday. In today's post, she touches on something I wondered about while reading the book: what prompted her to write about an Irish woman hooking up with an Australian man? Is she from either place? The answer surprised me! -- Mary Ann
 
 
The very wee island of Ireland has had a mighty impact on the development and population of our world today. Physically, it is about the same size as the state of Michigan, yet Irish culture, music, literature, language and even drink and cuisine (Guinness anyone?) is infused into not only Western society, but all over the world. Infused, like a good cuppa tea.
 
I have traveled all over, and have yet to step into a country that hasn’t an Irish person on board, in one way or the other. Whether it is a great-grandparent or a cousin three times removed, everyone is keen to show their Irish colors. Over 36 million Americans and over 2 million Australians, including Aboriginal Australians, claim Irish ancestry.
 
Am I Irish?? Nope. Mostly Dutch with a dash of German and a pinch of English. Do I have Irish heritage that I can trace back to the O’Mahoney’s of County Laios, or the Kelly’s of Galway? Not a blood ounce.
 
So why did I have my heroine in WATERSHED be Irish? I wrote the book when living in Australia, having married an Australian man (with Irish heritage) and we had just moved to Queensland to start our own flock of Aussie ochers. I had met my Aussie husband when we were living in Ireland. I still felt Irish, as I has assimilated and braced that country as if it was my own. Just over seven years, Dublin was my home. I worked and commuted along the Dart. I found friends and lost others, I fell in love so many times with, yes, lovely Irish lads, but also places and ideas. I celebrated birthdays, I went to weddings. I sailed boats and rode horses. I cried over silly things. I got drunk at the pubs and belted out the Fields of Athenry, as if I too, recalled the pain and suffering of years past.
 
So ask me again. Am I Irish? Hell, yes - in heart and soul. I’ll be there rooting for them come rugby or soccer world cup time. I celebrate their victories, and am saddened by their setbacks. I wear my Irish jerseys proudly and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with an enthusiasm greater than the Dubs themselves. Even today I can put on an Irish lilt that comes back to me with the first phone call from a mate back there. The heroine, Maggie, is a combination of many of my Irish girlfriends, who are still dear to my heart, who I still think about daily.
 
 
Being Irish, I believe, is not so much about bloodline, but so much more about heart. It’s about embracing the spirit of an Irishman or woman: courage, integrity, fun, music, and yes, a good pint. And as they say, “a bit of craic”.
 
I hope you enjoy WATERSHED, a romance of the Irish spirit set against the stunning backdrop of Queensland, Australia. Sl?inte!
 
About the author:
 
Having traveled and lived all over the world, Cd Brennan now talks with a strange accent, a mix of distant terminology, a blend of culturally cute but confusing euphemisms that leaves everyone looking at her with a blank stare. Luckily, her Australian husband (who she met in Ireland) and her two Aussie/Yankee sons have no problem understanding her – well, except for the word “NO”.
 
Now settled back “home” in Michigan, she enjoys reliving her glory days by writing about them. She considers the last fifteen years abroad the perfect research for her Love Where You Roam series; matchmaking women and men from different cultures, even different hemispheres, helping them find their true one across oceans of difference.
 
As destiny plays a hand in all the stories, Cd Brennan truly believes that what is for you, won’t pass you by. She hopes to inspire others to get out there: “Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” [Mark Twain] And of course, fall in love.
 
Get in touch with her at www.cdbrennan.com

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Silla Project and the Montaigne Medal


As an independently published writer, I don't get a lot of accolades. Those of you who have taken the plunge understand what I'm talking about. You know your work is good but for whatever reason, it hasn't caught on with a large publisher yet.

Regardless of the reason you go with a small publisher, it means you're got a tough road ahead of you. As with a large publisher, the author is responsible for the bulk of the marketing. However, without a large publisher you don't have something that traditionally published authors do - cred. Short for, credibility. This is unfortunate since some of the best books I've read in years have been independently published.

At the same time, some of the worst books I've ever read are also independently published. Often, seemingly, without even running spell check. And that alone wouldn't have fixed the massive grammatical and continuity errors in the even the first few pages. Aside from the nonexistent plot and playing-card thin characters.

But being independently published, even if your work is good, the feedback comes slow. Getting reviews is hard. Getting reviews from established and respected reviewers is even harder. Getting the word out to buyers seems even more impossible at times. So each one of those positive reviews can be like gold to the indie-pubbed writer. But even those can get old when sales are lagging. You can get to doubting yourself and wondering if your work is any good.

With that in mind, and knowing that feeling only too well, I was delighted to get an email today from the Eric Hoffer Award for Books. They've been around for a dozen years now and have grown to be one of the largest and most respected indie book awards out there. Each year they get thousands of submissions and pick just a few for a variety of categories. The grand prize even has a $2,000 cash award. So hearing that my novel, The Silla Project is a finalist for the Montaigne Medal was quite a rush! 

In addition to the normal categories, the Eric Hoffer Award for Books gives out several medals for special categories. The Da Vinci Eye goes to the best cover art. The First Horizon Award goes to exceptional work by debut authors. And the Montaigne Award is given to a few books that best exemplify the ideals of the great, French Renaissance philosopher Michel de Montaigne, as works that illuminate, progress, or redirect thought. I can't be more proud and thrilled that The Silla Project is a finalist for this respected award. But then, I've known for some time that no one who reads The Silla Project comes away unchanged.

The Silla Project is not a normal book. It began as a dream. A way out of having to rely on engineering to pay my bills. I was going to write thrillers and be the next Tom Clancy! It was a twist of fate that led to my choosing to set the story in North Korea. It was the plight of the North Korean people that redirected my thoughts to telling their story.

After four years of intensive - some would say obsessive - study of North Korea and nuclear weapons, I had lost all interest in writing a mass market thriller. It became my mission to do what I could to bring the horror of that evil regime to light in a way people could relate to. To help the people trapped in that real-life Zombie apocalypse. So it is with tremendous hope that the honor of being a finalist for the Montaigne Medal might help The Silla Project achieve a wider audience and help others to come to understand North Korea for what it is. As my friend, fan, and inventor of high-temperature conductivity, Dr. Jim Ashburn said, "It may be the largest hostage crisis of all time."

Until next time,

John C. Brewer is the author of Multiplayer an MMOG YA SF novel, and The Silla Project, a North Korean nuclear romance. You can learn more about him and what he is doing at his website, JohnCBrewer.com