Book Reviews and Writing Tips

Book Reviews and Writing Tips

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Writing Anywhere

Apparently a writer can write anywhere they happen to be. I came across this trivia I thought I would share about famous writers who wrote from prison. This experience must have inspired them in some way to come up with the following books while incarcerated.

Personally, as a writer, I can see how your mind can go all over the place because my mind does that all the time. But, surprisingly, not all of these works are coming from a dark place, like perhaps you’d expect if you are writing from a dungeon or stone cell looking out through bars. You would be expecting the heart to be full of vengeance, but not so with everybody.

Voltaire spent 11 months jailed in Bastille, Paris, for writing poems against the regent. His epic poem was titled Henriade.

John Bunyan was jailed for 11 years for holding Puritan services which were against the Church of England at the time. While in prison he wrote Pilgrim’s Progress, published in London in 1678.

Miguel de Cervantes was jailed in 1597 for deficits as the naval quartermaster. The three months he was incarcerated, he wrote Don Quixote.

John Cleland was jailed in London for debts. A publisher, Drybutter, offered to get him out of prison for 20 guineas, if he would write a pornographic novel, so he wrote Fanny Hill or the Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure in 1750.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Remembering the Service and Sacrifices Made by our Veterans

Arlington National Cemetary

Most of us relish having the day off work and the long weekend to have barbeques, family gatherings, eat watermelon, drink alcohol, go to the beach or park, and play Frisbee or other games. But we should take a moment away from the hot dogs and hamburgers and remember what Memorial Day is really for and while we’re at it, to make sure the kids know why they have the day off from school.

Originally called Decoration Day and celebrated on May 30th, Memorial Day is celebrated the last Monday in May in order to give everyone a three day weekend. It’s a day to remember those who died serving our country and paid the ultimately price for our freedom.

Here are a few facts about Memorial Day:

Many cemeteries place flags on the headstones of veterans for Memorial Day. If you wanted to volunteer some of your time to do this, I’m sure it would be appreciated.

Remember if you attend any parades to place your hand over your heart as the flag passes you.

Flags are flown at half-staff until noon to remember the fallen veterans and then raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day to honor the soldiers who continue to fight for our liberty and our freedoms today.

This is something we can all do. At 3pm, local time, there will be a minute of silence to remember the veterans and those who have fallen in battle. This is nationwide and was started in May 2000. So take a moment from all your festivities to observe this important time and to give thanks for the freedom we enjoy here in the USA as a result of the sacrifices made by our soldiers.

Be safe everyone.

“The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender, or submission.”

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Snippet From One of My Books.

I thought I’d post the first chapter of my first novel here today. It’s a haunted house story. I hope you enjoy it and, as always, comments are welcome.



A cold wind blew and it rained steadily, leaving everything shrouded in a misty veil, the day of the funerals. It was an unusually wet September in New England with one storm after another battering the area. The marble headstones emerged from the fog to stand in streaky shades of gray and pale pink as they rose out of the neatly trimmed grass in the Ravensdam Cemetery. But this wasn't a funeral in that pristine, orderly cemetery where loved ones were laid to rest in peace. It was a funeral for three in the Haversham family plot deep in an age old forest; a place some three hundred years old set on uneven ground and covered now with thickets and briers. This was an unkempt graveyard behind scrolled iron gates rusted and creaky from the elements; a resting place known only to a few although rumors of its existence persisted in the towns and villages nearby.

The only mourner at this funeral was the brother and uncle of the deceased. He was a well to do business man from Boston. This was apparent in the custom made suit and top hat he wore. A long, black trench coat with the collar turned up against the rain hung almost to his polished imported shoes. He stood somberly looking down at the graves of his sister and his niece and nephew as the vicar said a few words over the plain wood caskets.

The gravedigger, a well-muscled black man, stood back in the thickets his forearm resting on his shovel; as he mopped his face with a soiled white handkerchief. He wore faded jeans with holes in the knees and frayed at the bottom. His wet shirt hung over a nearby gravestone. Rain ran down his muscled chest and fell onto the ground. His eyes were huge in his face with whites showing all around as he looked over his shoulder wishing for a speedy service so he could be on his way. He could feel the spirits hovering here causing the hair on the back of his neck to stand on end.

The rain came down in a constant cold drizzle and didn't let up the entire time. It seemed a fitting day for a place such as this where it was incessantly quiet as the excess water gathered in the low spots forming muddy pools. The only sound was the splashing of the rain as it hit the standing water. Mist hung in the trees and around the old markers adding to the dreariness of this painful ordeal. Merrill was in a depressed mood having lost the last of his relatives.

As the vicar finished speaking and stepped back, Merrill cleared his throat and threw three white roses into the new graves. He had decided he would sell the three-hundred-year-old mansion, located on these grounds. It had been erected by his relatives in the sixteen hundreds. He would not be coming back to Haversham Hill, letting the legacy and all the legends die with his sister and her children. For years he had tried and was successful in separating himself from the spirits that lingered here and from the lifestyle his sister lived. So this was the last of it then.

Slowly he stepped away and back to the forest path, pulling his coat closer against the wind as the gravedigger finished his work. He didn't look back when the gates clanged shut behind him, but he heard the shovel make a dull scraping sound as it dug into the mounds of dirt.

Stepping quietly he maneuvered his way around the pools of water and back to the house, his shoes tapping gently as they touched the packed wet earth. His intention was to dispose of any personal items that would cause needless family embarrassment and brand his sister for what she was. He wanted to make haste back to Boston and wouldn't be coming this way again.

The gargoyles looked at him knowingly as his shoes clapped across the wet boards of the old porch. Their evil faces glared down as the wind sent a shower of fall leaves skittering by. Merrill pulled the collar tighter around his neck and ducked his head down against the chill as he reached the door, pulling it open to reveal a different world than his own. This was a world of dark, evil forces that seemed to hang thick in the air around him.

He worked quickly, his thin frame moving easily through the darkened rooms, as he pulled books and papers on magic from the shelves and cupboards. His long fingers removed jars of unknown items along with implements and candles that his sister used in her craft. All these items came to rest in a pile on the wood plank floor. He worked room by room gathering things to join the pile that was getting higher as the afternoon wore on. He was hoping the weather would clear so he could carry out his plan of burning everything that could link the family to witchcraft.

It thrilled him when the rain clouds lifted and he was able to light the fire at dusk. He stood huddled against the chill with his overcoat held snug as he watched the flames flicker and dance in shades of orange and yellow. He was satisfied of a job well done as the pile was gradually being reduced to black ash. He felt contented he found everything and didn't think he missed anything in the secret hiding places deep in the house.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Staying Focused

I decided to post about this today because I’ve been so scattered I haven’t accomplished much and have been going in circles. Usually I’m not that way but today has been a day where I’ve gotten distracted by other things all day long. It’s like the old email that goes around from time to time that I’m sure all of you have seen. You start out to go and do something only to see something else that needs doing when you get there, so you start that task, perhaps picking up something that belongs elsewhere, yet once you get to where it belongs, you only find something else that needs to be taken care of. At the end of the day, everything is still out of place and you never did finish one thing.

Now usually we can stay focused if we avoid distractions. In my opinion these are the biggest offenders:

1. Noise pollution (TV, videos, radio, etc.). This is really a biggie for me. I need the quiet to stay focused on writing, so I can think straight.

2. Getting caught up in a family “crisis” or a friend’s drama. Of course sometimes this is hard to avoid altogether. But family and friends should know you need your quiet time to write, yet I know they don’t always realize why. Believe me, sometimes getting any quiet, uninterrupted time is a premium when you have a retired man in the house.

3. Failure to set goals and set aside time. I think making a list of priorities here would help. Try to stick to your list by looking at it frequently, checking off what you’ve completed.

Indulging in distractions will blow the whole day and at the end of it you’ll be drained and disappointed in yourself for not accomplishing what you set out to do that morning when you got out of bed.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Is Self Publishing Becoming Accepted?

The book world is always changing and I was excited to see one big name who has decided to go with those changes and try something new by self publishing her next book. I think this is a giant leap forward and perhaps in time will help all of us indies as the idea of a self published book becomes more mainstream.

I wanted to pass this article on to all of you. Joan Collins is working on her 29th book and has decided to self publish, although she still has a contract and good relationship with her publisher. I think she realizes we have more control over our work and our earnings as self published authors and that self publishing is becoming the way of the future, especially with the surging sales of ebooks.

I do admit that I agree with Ms. Collins in regards to holding a physical book and curling up in your reading chair, immersing yourself in the story, but times are changing and to succeed we all have to keep up with the changing marketplace.

This story intrigued me, so I did some investigating to see if there were any other big names out there that had self published or were considering it. Of course, as we all know, I found there were many authors who self published their books years ago and then became famous once their books were popular enough and they caught the eye of a big publishing house. We could all wait forever for that to happen because the big pubs want to know they have a sure thing. It’s time to take control and get your book out there for the masses to read.

Here are a few of the authors who self published books before getting picked up by big publishers and becoming household names: Beatrix Potter, Mark Twain, Edger Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, John Grisham, TS Elliott, David Thoreau, Amanda Hocking, Stephen King, Jennifer Colt, James Redfield, JA Konrath and Virginia Wolfe and this is only about half of the list.

It makes you wonder how many of these people would have gone unnoticed and never gotten a book deal if they hadn’t put their work out there. This is certainly something for all of us to think about, especially the ones sending out all those query letters only to be rejected over and over again. I believe that it is a myth that self publishing will mark your work as tainted in the eyes of the big publishers and you’ll never get that desired contract. In my opinion, this certainly isn’t true. You just have to have a good book. This means a great story that has a good edit, so get writing and never give up!

Read entire post here:

Friday, May 4, 2012

Put Your Time to Good Use

Picture courtesy of oilbac at Flickr

Happy Friday! Today I thought I’d share a quote with you by Earl Nightingale.

Put Your Time to Good Use!

"Don't let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use."

So however you’re spending your Friday, or this weekend, keep that in mind.  We may not all be writing, but this time of year there is plenty of gardening and other chores to take care of, so if that’s on your list, go out and enjoy nature.  Most of us get too busy and caught up with our daily lives to enjoy all the beauty around us.  No matter where you live, you’re bound to find beauty in something.  If nothing else, we can rejoice in spring and warmer days ahead.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Descriptions in Writing

This is something that I’m very guilty of in my own writing – too much description. Although, in my mind, I don’t think there is really such a thing unless you use too many adjectives all run together and keep repeating yourself.

Description is very important in your writing and draws the reader into your story. I really like to know everything about a story I’m reading, so I can be right in the place with the characters. What do you fellow writers think about this? I think all the senses should be covered. There are many possible situations when it comes to writing. Let’s look at a couple of simple scenarios to explain my point of description.

If you’re at a carnival you want to get caught up in the excitement with your characters. You should be able to feel that thrill and smell the onion and mustard wafting from the food carts, hear the screams of the carnival riders and get caught up in the street scene.

If it’s a nice day, feel the sun on your back in the summer and the dirt between your toes as you shuffle between the rides and the food booths. Listen to the vendors calling people over and the rattle or thump as people toss balls or coins to win prizes.

In my opinion, it is so important to see, smell, touch, taste and hear every scene. Of course that doesn’t mean to overdo it. Once the scene has been set up, there is no need to go over all the details again.

Let’s take another scenario. It’s summer in a suburban neighborhood. As you walk down the street or sidewalk, someone is mowing the lawn. You want to smell that new-mown grass, hear the whirr of the motor and feel the sigh as the person works hard and looks at the great expanse of lawn yet to be mowed.

Perhaps someone is watching from the porch, sitting in the shade sipping lemonade. You can hear the tinkle of ice in the glass and the satisfied swallow on a hot day. Down the street kids are playing ball. Their laughter almost drowns out the birdsong in the trees overhead.

As you walk along someone else is hanging out clothes to dry on an old fashioned clothesline. The breeze brings you the fresh scent of soap as they flutter in the wind. You notice the woman’s frustration as she wrestles with the clothes pins and stray strands of hair blowing across her face. She wears a white, ruffled apron over a plain housedress. For a moment this takes you back in time with some brief snippet of your childhood.

A story should draw your interest. Is this woman like your mother or another acquaintance you have known? You remember playing ball as a kid and mowing the lawn for spending money. Summers were a great time, especially for kids, even if there were chores to do.

This looks like an ordinary family doing things that ordinary families would do on a summer day, but we all know there is always more to any story. So what is in store for this family? What issues do they have to face and overcome?

The bottom line is to set up any story with places and characters that can be related to in some way. As the reader, we want to be walking along with them through all the drama they may face in their lives.

Description should be right up there after believable characters and a great story.