Monthly Archives: May 2014

Thrills, Chills, and Romance on Long Island’s North Shore: THE FLIP by Michael Phillip Cash

I love a classic ghost story. Creepy old house. Trapped souls. Likable characters with no idea what they are getting themselves into. Michael Phillip Cash’s THE FLIP has all of this and more. Brad and Julie are a young married couple trying to make a living flipping houses. This is no early-morning infomercial glamour couple. Brad, a former soldier back from Afghanistan, is a guy from a humble background trying to find a place for himself. Julie is a little more upmarket–surface details matter to her–but she’s working full time to support them until the flipping business takes off. Buying the Hemmings place, a dilapidated mansion on Long Island’s north shore, is her idea. Brad holds a lot of resentment about being talked into it. This resentment fuels much of the drama, as the energies at large in the house amplify and twist his negative feelings. There are times when I doubted whether Brad and Julie’s marriage would survive.

The Flip

The Flip

The two ghosts, Tessa and Gerald, hail from the era of the American Civil War. They have their own romantic drama that has been playing out. These phantoms start out a bit on the campy side, especially man-eating Tessa, but they develop their own charm over the course of the novel. There are also other supernatural beings in the house. The Sentinels seem to be guardians of some sort, but their exact nature and function, and why they are so interested in Brad and Julie, is never made quite clear. Cash does a great job creating a thick, menacing atmosphere. There’s a sense that many layers of supernatural activity inhabit the house…that the structure is literally alive with history.

I do wish THE FLIP was longer. It isn’t that the pacing is rushed, but rather that there’s too much story, too many tantalizing plot threads left unexplored. At one point, Cash alternates his chapters between the present day and the Civil War. We get to see Tessa and Gerald alive, which is great, but it opens up the plot in a way that, for me, is too quickly resolved. I would have preferred he either kept us in the present and left the ghosts’ pasts more of a mystery, or added thirty pages to the book so that past and present seemed more in balance.

Taken as a whole, THE FLIP is a fantastic book, and The Hemmings Place is the sort of house I’d love to visit again and again.

Time Management For Creative People: A Review of MANAGE YOUR DAY-TO-DAY (Edited by Jocelyn K. Glei)

If “procrastinator” isn’t my middle name, it’s only because my parents didn’t want to embarrass me. I am a strange hybrid–a creative person who is also a type A++ personality. I do not perform at my best without some sort of structure. When I left graduate school for the life of a freelance writer, I found myself drowning in “free” time with little sense of how to reach my ever-growing (because I never actually reached one and got to cross it off!) list of goals. It took me years to develop the discipline and solid work habit that came to me so naturally as a student.

Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind (The 99U Book Series)

Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind

MANAGE YOUR DAY-TO-DAY isn’t a long or exhaustive exploration of time management and life balance. It’s a tiny, targeted little primer full of good advice on building a solid work routine, focusing creative energy, surviving constant connectivity, and generating new ideas. Each section includes short articles by working artists and contemporary thought leaders that get straight to the meat of the given topic such as Harnessing the Power of Frequency, Making Room for Solitude, Learning to Create Amid Chaos, and Using Social Media Mindfully. At the end of each section is are specific “Key Takeaways”–action steps the reader can take NOW to improve his or her day-to-day.

What’s great about such a little dynamo of a book, is that I can revisit it whenever I feel my old habits (or lack thereof) sneaking up on me. The result is immediate and relatively painless course correction. The way I see it, the only people who won’t profit from this book are the producers and stars of reality television. I know my viewing hours of popcorn television have gone down…and my writing output has gone way up!

Five Ways to Make Your Editor Cry

What I like most about editing is getting to work closely with writers. I love the energy that’s generated as we slog through a project together, discussing and debating all possible solutions to the endless riddles posed by a newly completed (but not quite polished) novel, memoir, or short story collection. Ideally, the process of editing a manuscript, though laborious, becomes a true partnership, the coming together of the objective and the subjective, the critic and the creator.

That said, there are ways to crush the author-editor relationship before it’s sprouted, much less grown strong roots. What follows are the top five ways a client can make me sorry I ever said “love to!” to their book.

5. Come into the relationship without understanding what an editor does–especially YOUR editor.

As a content and development editor, my job is to take your “final” draft and show you where it falls short. The opening passage that fails to entice. The sagging middle or undeveloped subplot. Characters who take up precious space but offer little to nothing in return.

Line editing/proofreading focuses on spelling, grammar, and punctuation. This vitally important final step makes a book ready for public viewing.

If your book has a cracked foundation and damaged framing, you can’t come to me expecting a lick of paint and some pretty curtains. If you refuse to see the problems in your work, I cannot help you address those problems. That will make me sad.

4. Expect a fully re-worked manuscript for the price of a proofread.

Few writers have an unlimited budget for editing services. Yet thorough editing takes time. The more work the manuscript requires, the longer it will take the editor–and the bigger the blow to the writer’s wallet.

There are ways to ease the financial strain. Buddy up with a fellow writer who is as good as OR BETTER than you are. You will each bring an objective eye to the other’s work.  Take an editing course through your local community college. Write more. The more books you write, the better each one will be. Over time, you’ll notice you need less and less help with your basic structure and content. The point is to get your work as close to DONE as you can before you seek an editor.

What you should not do is come to me with a book requiring a major overhaul and ask me to cut my rate by a third or a half (or more!) with promises of “many more manuscripts to come.” What you are actually offering me is a lot more labor at under-market rates. That will make me cry.

3. After an editor quotes a turnaround time of three to four weeks, call, email, text every other day to “just to see how it’s going.”

I get it. Your book is your baby. You’ve trusted me with something precious to you, and you need to know that it’s okay.

Your book is important to me, too. I want to give it the attention it needs. I want to become engaged by it, build a relationship with it. I can’t do that if I’m being interrupted or need to spend editing time returning dozens of calls and emails. This will lead to tears.

One-on-one discussions are an important part of the editing process. To offer the most value, they need to be focused.  After working through your manuscript, I want to be excited to sit down with you (in person or virtually) and tell you everything I’ve discovered and show you chapter by chapter how to make the book as good as it can be.

2. When an editor is in the middle of your project, send her new/re-worked scenes or chapters.

Have you ever seen a toddler break down in the grocery store? Wild screams. Pounding fists. Face red and twisted.

That’s what happens to me, internally at least, when I’ve spent hours working through a section of a manuscript and the author emails me to say, “Hey, I had a great idea for when Reginald betrays Marigold in chapter five. I mailed it this morning. Oh, and I’ve added a scene to Josephine’s stage debut in chapter nine.”

Don’t do this. Just. Don’t.

1. Call demanding to know why your beautifully edited manuscript was turned down by an agent, publisher, or movie producer.

The reception of any creative work–a book, a film, a symphony–comes down to personal sensibility. The best editor in the world cannot make an agent fall in love with a novel. Nor can we turn a published book into a bestseller.

What we can do is set the stage for success.

Working together with respect and understanding, the writer and the editor can make a novel, memoir, or short story collection shine its brightest, so that it has the best chance possible of catching the attention of publishing professionals and, ultimately, readers.

 

Powerful Back Story Drives Plot and Character: A Review of BURSTING WITH LOVE by Melissa Foster

BURSTING WITH LOVE is the eighth book of Melissa Foster’s Love In Bloom series of contemporary romances and book five of The Bradens sub-series. It also provides a bit of a prequel for her new subseries, The Remingtons. Though, there’s one more Braden book (HEARTS AT PLAY) before the torch officially passes to this new family of attractive-if-romantically-challenged individuals.

Bursting with Love (Love in Bloom #8, The Bradens, #5)

Bursting with Love

In this book, entertainment lawyer Savannah Braden, smarting from the disastrous end to a romance with one of her high-profile clients, seeks to gain a little distance from her harried New York City existence. She signs up for survivalist-type outdoor adventure in the mountains of Colorado. Jack Remington leads the jaunt. In the universe of romantic fiction, Jack’s what I like to call a “wounded alpha.” Assertive, brave, protective, but its all wrapped up in a world of hurt left over from his wife’s death, which he feels responsible for.

What I like about Foster’s characters, especially in this book, is that it takes more than finding one’s soul mate to fix all the breaks. Love may conquer all, but Happy Ever After takes a lot of ancillary work…including facing one’s biggest fears and harshest critics. Foster makes Jack’s back story throb with realism. His dead wife doesn’t just cast a shadow; she’s a true presence. This makes Jack’s conflict genuine rather than a mere plot point.

Foster extends her clever use of realism to the setting. Her Colorado Rockies is picturesque, sure. It’s also a scary, untamed landscape, which allows the characters to develop close personal relationships quickly but naturally. This holds not just for Savannah and Jack, but also for the other characters on the trip. Foster doesn’t give us stock characters pulled dusty and wrinkled from her romance author’s trunk. We’re treated to quirky individuals, interesting in their own right.

If I have one quibble, it’s with the erotic element of the novel. I’m used to the moderately graphic sex in Foster’s books. It tends to be more than I prefer, but the other qualities of her work (characterization, tension, pacing) usually make it easy to read past this. BURSTING WITH LOVE gets a little raunchy. Early on, too. This is not quite the Savannah Braden I’ve come to know reading through the previous books. For me, it dulled a little of her shine. To be fair, Foster’s book descriptions warn readers that the work contains sexual situations and is intended for mature audiences. In any case, I found the book entertaining and am eager to meet the rest of the Remingtons.

The Tragedy of Henry VIII Lives Again in a Contemporary Family Drama: Terry Tyler’s KINGS AND QUEENS

I was very much looking forward to Terry Tyler’s re-envisioning of the story of King Henry the VIII and his six wives–the original dysfunctional family! Tyler has gift for presenting “big themes” in a fresh, contemporary style that keeps readers turning the pages. KINGS AND QUEENS, an ambitious undertaking, largely delivers what it promises–a tense family drama populated by complicated and uniquely flawed human beings.

Kings And Queens

Kings And Queens

Harry Lanchester is a wealthy property developer in the south of England. Tyler’s novel follows him from 1971–when he unexpectedly inherits control of the family firm–to 2007. Harry is a compelling character, though not particularly likable. He’s rich, handsome, and clever enough to know how to win people to his way of thinking, however wrongheaded his position may be. Harry loves to be in love. In many ways his romanticism is his biggest weakness. Coupled with a serious lack of empathy, it leads to a series of great “loves,” but the actual emotional connections prove tenuous. For Harry, people really don’t exist outside of their relation to him. Even his own children are mostly extensions of himself…evidence of where he’s failed or succeeded. What’s wonderful is that Harry, once he gets past the flash and glam of his early adulthood, is fairly aware of his weaknesses. There are times when he appears to wish he were a better person, but he’s rarely moved enough by these insights to try and be better.

Harry’s wives match him in complexity. Tyler gives each woman a worthy and believable back story that accounts for how they end up caught in Harry’s web, though they should probably have known better. She also gives each a clear voice, allowing them to narrate a large part of their own story. First wife Cathy is especially compelling. Her relationship with Harry is forged in grief and ends in such pure betrayal, I found myself plotting Harry’s death on her behalf. The usurper of her happiness, Annette, gets her comeuppance in spades. Oddly, there’s nothing satisfying about her fall, just a sense of waste that is echoed again and again in her successors: Jenny, Hannah (not an actual wife though she certainly functions as such), and Keira. Kate, Harry’s last wife, is the only one to escape relatively unscathed, though one has the sense that her future happiness will be tainted by alliances and rivalries developing among her step-children as they come into their own and take on the family business.

If I have one criticism of the book, it is the amount of exposition, especially in the opening chapters. There are great big blocks of back story–largely provided by Will Brandon, Harry’s friend and lifelong confident. Tyler faced quite a challenge orienting readers in a book that spans so many years. Will’s voice proved a little distant for me. He’s too far removed from the real actors, and so he delays the reader from making an emotional investment. Will is a great foil for Harry, certainly, but I think allowing Cathy to start the narrative might have given readers an easier entrance into the drama.

Even so, KINGS AND QUEENS is a superior novel filled with emotion and suspense. It is based on and informed by historical fact, but it doesn’t allow those facts to overwhelm the plot or the reader. I’m glad to hear that Tyler’s planning a sequel.

The Most Intense Michael Prentiss Yet: A Review of RULES OF THE GAME by Andrew French

I’ve reviewed all three of the previous Michael Prentiss Stories and had the pleasure of interviewing the author behind these pressure-cooker spy adventures right here on this blog. One thing I’ve learned is that, when reading one of Andrew French’s books, I need to be ready for anything and leave my squeamishness behind. I’m able to do this because these books are powered by beautifully layered characters, and the violence comes out of character–whether it be protectiveness, greed, madness or desperation. This holds for RULES OF THE GAME, probably the scariest book of the series.

Rules of the Game

Rules of the Game

Our favorite gang of three–Colonel Mabbit, Former agent Richard Jordan, and “Unofficial” agent Michael Prentiss–return to battle their most challenging nemesis yet. Cillian Rainey is a high-level IRA baddie. Though, one could argue that he’s getting more out of the terrorist organization than they are from him. Clever, creative, and with icicles in his veins, Rainey is the worst kind of villain. He’s sick of Mabbit’s unit interfering with his efforts to make the streets of England and Northern Ireland run with blood. He and his psychopath girlfriend have planned a major crime against humanity. And this time, they’re going to neutralize Mabbit and his merry men for good.

Atrocity by atrocity, Rainey eludes and isolates Mabbit. At times it’s uncertain whether even the skills of Jordan and courage of Prentiss will carry the day. Worse than the physical violation is the psychological assault carried out on civilians and agents as loyalties are attacked and innocent loved ones become “collateral damage.” Michael Prentiss will be lucky to escape with his sanity. And a newcomer–Special Branch Officer Angela Lane–is unprepared for the lengths “good men” must descend to in order to defeat evil.

RULES OF THE GAME is both an intense, disturbing novel and a modern morality play. I highly recommend it.

A Complex Character-Driven Mystery: THE CUCKOO’S CALLING by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

For such an engrossing mystery-thriller, THE CUCKOO’S CALLING has very little violence and mayhem. Through excellent plotting and master character building, Robert Galbraith (J.K. ROWLING) manages to take a subject that has been explored over and over in contemporary crime fiction–the dark side of celebrity culture–and make it fresh.

The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike, #1)

The Cuckoo’s Calling

Cormoran Strike is not like any down-on-his-luck Private Eye I’ve ever read about. The son of a Rock Legend and the very worst kind of music groupie, he’s been a misbegotten soul from his very conception. Strike is a hairy mountain of grief, resentment, gentility and hope.

Robin, Strike’s “temporary solution” of a secretary, has no idea what to make of her sort-of boss. He won’t be mothered or seduced or pitied. And yet, the attraction between the pair is evident from their initial meeting–when he grabs her breast to keep her from falling backwards down a flight of steps. An outrageous, unromantic beginning to what promises to be an intriguing and complicated relationship. Even thought Strike and Robin’s do not become romantically involved during the course of the novel, there’s a compelling intimacy to even their smallest interactions. It gives you the sense that if anything did develop between them, it would be HUGE.

The case has to do with a supermodel’s apparent suicide. Her brother believes she was murdered. Strike’s investigation takes him into the very public universe of the outrageously famous. Co-workers, fans, friends and family–everyone the model knew is a suspect. In the process of drawing out the killer, Strike must grapple with his own dubious link to the cult of celebrity and evaluate his natural place in the world.

This was a truly fabulous read, and I’m glad to hear that it is only the first of a planned SEVEN-book series. I can’t wait to read THE SILKWORM.

Warning–Valuable Information Overload! Joanna Penn’s HOW TO MARKET A BOOK

I’ve read quite a few guides to publishing and marketing books, and Joanna Penn’s is one of the best. She covers a broad range of topics and goes into each in considerable depth. The sheer quantity of information might have been a little overwhelming, but Penn starts with a well-conceived introduction outlining the main sections of the book and cautions readers to begin with ONE thing and “see how it works for a specific length of time, rather than attempting everything at once with a scattergun approach.”

How To Market A Book

How To Market A Book

Creative types tend to be either put off by the idea of marketing or simply clueless as to how to go about it. Penn reminds readers that the point is not to scam people or try to sell them something they don’t want. It “is about sharing what you love with the people who will truly value hearing about it.” As readers progress from marketing basics and No Platform Needed techniques (book reviews, paid advertising, traditional media exposure) to more advanced and involved platform-building activities such as creating a home on the internet, building an Email list, and the use of audio and video content, Penn is right there reminding us to jot down notes about exactly how we might use these ideas in our own situation. A bonus for those who choose the e-book format, is that Penn elucidates and expands on key points through plenty of direct links to articles, specialist advice, and other features on her website (www.TheCreativePenn.com).

As good as this book is, the information piles up quickly. I took it in small doses, writing notes as I went, and I STILL need to go back and re-read some sections. What I find really amusing is that now, whenever I’m in the midst of some new and complicated aspect of building my publishing business, like developing my website or establishing myself on a new-to-me social media site, I hear Joanna’s voice in my head: “Pace yourself. You don’t have to do it all in one day. What, exactly, do you want to gain from this?” It could be just some weird psychological quirk caused by excessive author isolation. On the other hand, who knows? Try this book and maybe you’ll end up with a mini-Joanna coaching you, too!

Atmosphere Hooks From Page One: A Review of CLOCKWORK ANGEL by Cassandra Clare

I came upon CLOCKWORK ANGEL by accident. I’d never read anything by this author, nor did I associate the movie trailers for THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS with her. I signed up for the Simon & Schuster e-mail list and got to choose a “free” e-book as a gift. I learned later that this publisher’s idea of “free” does not include the ability to download the book onto my Kindle. I had to read the book on the BookShout! web reader. As I don’t have a laptop or an ipad, this was a huge inconvenience–we’re talking HOURS sitting at my desk. I really only planned to take a cursory look at the first couple of pages and then email the publisher a terse note about misleading innocent consumers.

Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices, #1)

Clockwork Angel

But the first couple of pages is all it took.

Cassandra Cass’ stifling, soot-filled Victorian London is beautifully rendered. She manages to create an historically accurate world and then populate it with the most outrageous collection of characters. Shadowhunters, vampires, warlocks, demons…they flit in and out of the swirling fog living right along side the clueless mundanes.

Tessa Gray is a wonderfully reluctant heroine. Cass makes her true to her era–one of limited options for women. Tessa comes to England from America because, being poor and female, she has to move in with her brother. And yet she is strong enough to meet the challenges thrown at her. She’s kidnapped and abused by people trying to exploit an ability she never knew she possessed–she can change into anyone, living or dead, whose personal items she touches.

Her rescuers from the Shadowhunters London Institute are a great group of characters. Will and Jem–Tessa’s romantic interests–are well-developed and engaging, though I think Will is a little more fully realized. Jem is supposed to be a on the ethereal side, creating a foil for Will. This works to a degree. Both of the boys have deep and fascinating back stories. Though, here as well, Will’s story is far more complex and mysterious than Jem’s. Jessamine (another Shadowhunter) and Nate (Tess’ brother) are the least convincing of the author’s cast. Jessamine is quite a cliched version of a spoiled young lady. And Nate is too easily picked out as a cad.

The villains are many and (except for Nate) not so easy to recognize. I certainly had no idea of the true identity of the evil “Magister” until the end. Even so, the final scene between Tessa and the Magister is somewhat anti-climactic. I thought Cass could have strung it out a little longer. As it is, the Magister seemed a pretty toothless predator. Then again, there are two more books in this series. I’m sure Cass has plenty in store for Tess and her friends.

In the end, I’m glad that I went through the trouble of reading this book. I now have two more THE INFERNAL DEVICES adventures to look forward to. And then there’s the entire MORTAL INSTRUMENTS series. I can promise you that I will NOT be reading these on my desktop!