Shake Down

“Slaughterhouse Blues” by Nick Kolkowski is definitely an in your face book with two character, Bill and Fiona, good-bad guys, not the bad-bad guys that they take on in an all to brief effort to extract a fortune of gold, a sort of revenge reward for another deal gone bad. And that is the tone and background of the story—past bad deals gone wrong, narrow escapes in the here and now, and some improbable poundings that would have had Rocky Balboa throwing in the towel. It’s a good story. I like Fiona, but for the life of me, I can’t see why she schleps around with Bill. It’s a good story, not great, with a more or less single focus after the odd forays in the beginning. One which was background; one that I knew was a trap to begin with. Still, it was written well and would be worth a lukewarm 4 rating if that was the end of the story.

 But…I’m getting more into the story and at 62% of the way through the e-reader, the story just ends. Then comes a lengthy promotional pitch. And then comes the teasers for not one, not two, but three other books. I felt suckered. The whole package is now a deflated 3.

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Not Under Its Spell

Tried a witch cozy, “Mojitos & Murder,” just for the heck of it. That won’t happen again soon. While the writing is fine, the depth of the story and the characters just isn’t there. I suppose that is okay if you have an hour to waste, but I like my cozies, with a bit more heft than what was presented here. Okay, she’s an out-of-place witch, a suspect in a murder, and assisted by an alien (really?). The story just pops along so much so that it is hard to deal with the jumps. And why is it up to her to solve the mystery? What was the sheriff doing all this time? And did they or did they not help the cat out? He seemed to get lost in the plot line along the way. And in the end…no, I won’t give that a way. It’s silly fluff, and sometimes that’s all someone needs or wants, but it had a lot of room for improvement even as silly fluff. An average read, a three.

“The Drowning” – review

I asked for suggestions, and I got “The Drowning.” I liked the story, but I felt after the inciting incident, it kind of muddled along for a while. And I was not prepared for all the Point-of-View (POV) characters. There were, at least, eleven in the story, and some were one and done minor characters. The saving grace was that they were fleshed out as real-world people you could identify with and understand. Still, I feel the book was a bit bloated, and like the initial investigation into the disappearance of Magnus, waffling for direction early on. I also wanted to scream investigative tips to the supposedly competent cops.

 On the plus side, it was an engaging plot, with satisfying twists. The main characters had to deal with real world problems. Superman didn’t live in the area where the story took place. I liked that. The second half of the book came rushing at you like a runaway train toward a conclusion that was somewhat shocking. Hitchcock would have made this into a great movie. The tragic tagged-on ending seemed superfluous, and I’m not sure that I understand what the author’s intent was in doing it…sales pitch for the next book? Several of the chapter or scene endings were weak with the character suggesting they understand something without giving us the benefit of connecting the dots. Still, this is a top-notch mystery, but I can’t quite slap a five rating on it, but it is surely a top-shelf four star book.

Not a Blind Policeman At All

“Nightblind” is an enjoyable read about the shooting (and eventual murder, no spoiler here) of a police inspector and the efforts of his subordinate to find the shooter. It is somewhat different in that there are six POVs (points of view) through which the imperfect lives of some of the people involved are told. The author dropped a number of clues along the way which are used to wrap up the case in an Agatha Christie type of inscrutable logic manner. Icelandic investigations are lax compared to most American investigations, but there is a sense it might be more a case of big city versus small town investigative techniques. While I enjoyed the intricacies of the personal stories of the characters involved, there are times when I wondered, “well what does that have to do with the crime?” But in the end, understanding the nature of people is important on some level to get behind Police Office Ari Thor Arason and his investigation. Somewhat unique. A solid four from me.

Dog Poop and Hummingbirds

On the way back from Aldi’s (I love saving money on groceries so I can continue to live the life of a starving writer), I saw two people picking up dog poop. I got angry, contemplative, and amused within microseconds of each emotion. How many times in my life have I had to scrape dog poop off of my shoes, flip-flops, or bare feet? Too many. And yet, while I find the legal duty of dog owners to be on poop patrol to be a blessing for the obvious reason, poop picking is the number one reason aliens don’t attack us–and you know they are watching. Trailing behind a four-legged animal and picking up their waste in plastic baggies must really confuse them as to who is the dominant species on the planet with whom to make contact. The cows must have been a giant disappointment to the aliens. Cows are poor communicators. My funny-bone was tweaked by the diminutive Asian woman being torn in half by two, large, black bear imitations of dogs (mastiffs?) while attempting to bag their quarter-pounders with stink. And the reason for the dogs attempting to tear her in half was the 6’7″, 300+ pound mountain man across the street restraining his teacup, attack Chihuahua while also bagging the dog’s poop.

On a separate but related note, I put up four hummingbird feeders this Sunday morning after Saturday evening’s near disaster of 31-degree temperatures and 2-4 a.m. snowfall, which caused me to rise in the middle of the night and cover dozens of plants. And damn if I didn’t step in some rabbit scat. I didn’t bag it. It is fertilizer for the flowers the hummers love and more evidence to the observing aliens that dogs must be the real Earth rulers, because it is the only crap the bipeds stoop to collect. Clever dogs. Patient aliens. Happy hummers. Obedient humans.

Let the Good Times Roll

Late Christmas present for me. Thank you readers for pushing me over the 1,000 mark for sold copies of “Paper or Plastic?: The Grocery Store Chronicles”. Yippee! No, it’s not the NYTimes Best Sellers list, but it’s a start. Working hard on two more novels for late 2018, and maybe a new short story collection.
 
“…I’m so excited, and I just can’t hide it
I’m about to lose control and I think I like it
I’m so excited, and I just can’t hide it…”
 
The only rule: writers write! Everything else is a guideline.

Book Review – Talking to Luke

Luke, I am your Lover

Full Disclosure. I purchased the book to support where the proceeds would be going—animal rescue. I’m not a reader of most love or paranormal stories, and have a hefty skepticism regarding ghosts. However, if you are into paranormal romance, this is a five-star book for you. I did find the protagonist, Tania, a bit too reluctant (dense) to accept the realities (real and paranormal) of what was happening around her. Her foot-dragging made the story grind a bit for me in places. The paranormal science was well done and explained nicely what Tania believed was happening as she was pulled ever deeper into her paranormal research, whether it be for research or her own personal survival. The ending, which I could see coming from early on, did stretch the bonds of the suspension-of-disbelief for me. All-in-all, well done without the messiness of some self-published books. A sold four from me.

It’s All Happening at NCWNFC!

I attended the North Carolina Writers Network fall conference in Raleigh, North Carolina the past three days. My head hurts, but I learned much, and now I’m torn:

  • start editing so I don’t forget all about subtext.
  • drink long and hard to kill brain cells and build weird, new synaptic connections.
  • catch up on my sleep.
  • leave the writing cave and market as I’m supposed to be doing:
    • Create a website. check.
    • Create a blog. check.
    • Blog. Duh! What do you think I’m doing.
    • Re-connect with:
      • old business associates
      • high school friends
      • college friends
      • military friends
      • writing colleagues
      • friends
      • fishing buddies
      • family (at least those who still speak to you)
      • neighbors
      • the list goes on.
    • Use social media
      • Facebook. check.
      • LinkedIn. check.
      • Twitter. check, but under-utilized
      • Snapchat. What the heck is that?
      • Google+.
      • the list goes on.
    • Spend time in front of an audience (any audience)
    • Tap into Meet-ups.
    • Tap into Book Clubs.
    • Never miss an opportunity to read.
    • Never miss an opportunity to participate in any writing activity.
    • Put bumper stickers on cars.
    • (My wife wants me to paint a logo on the car.)
    • Drop business cards like snowflakes. (I’ve been known to put them into envelopes when returning bills.).
    • AND THE LIST GOES ON.

Whew! I’m exhausted. <sips chocolate milk–the hard stuff> Maybe after a nap about the subtext of this blog I’ll get to the marketing, and then I’ll write a book about the book I didn’t write because I was marketing a book that really needs to be edited for subtext.

Effective Opening Novel Lines

An author the other day posed a question about writing effective first lines. My answer.

I don’t believe there is a single rule that can be applied to writing a compelling first line. That being said, most of the best seem to be short in nature, pithy, and a declaration of sorts, a challenge for the reader to discover within the words that follow something that invalidates the position taken (1,2,6,10), confirm the contrasting statement (3,4,6,8,9), or understand the emotional upheaval (5) of the author’s opening lines. And who the hell knows what Pynchon was writing about.

You have to go down to #33 of the American Book Review to find one that starts with dialogue, something many novice writers like to do and which rarely helps with the context of the story situation.

  1. Call me Ishmael. —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)
  2. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)
  3. A screaming comes across the sky. —Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)
  4. Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. —Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967; trans. Gregory Rabassa)
  5. Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. —Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)
  6. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. —Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877; trans. Constance Garnett)
  7. riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. —James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (1939)
  8. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. —George Orwell, 1984 (1949)
  9. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. —Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
  10. I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952) TOP 100 Novel Opening Lines.

Another writer pointed out that great opening lines are over-rated and that the body of the text is what is important, and that what we may “list” as great opening lines are just the opening lines of great novels.

To the average reader, I agree that the “first line” business is over-rated. I’ve never stopped at a first line but have stopped at first paragraphs, pages, and chapters.

To the agents I’ve met, articles I’ve read concerning this aspect of writing, and seen on panels, “first lines” do matter relative to continued reading of a submission from the author. (Admittedly, some of the panel displays might be for show about how quick they are able to judge the value of the material–much like the old game show about naming a song with the fewest notes.) But the prejudice is real. A bad first line IS a death blow in this day and age where there is almost no support for the mid-list author whose sins can be cleansed by in-house editors who spots a diamond in the rough despite a bad opening line.

Another writer suggested that great endings are even more difficult to write and are what will make or break the book.

Great endings are important and indeed a challenge, especially if you want the reader to return for the next book. But as related to great openings, they second or third in comparison to the value of a great opening line. You can have the best ending ever, but if your opening line(s) sucks, few will ever get to that ending, brilliant or otherwise.

My best guideline: Beat every line until it is the best it can be. Make the 1,604th line be as hook worthy as the first line and as compelling as the last line. To paraphrase John Donne: If a line be wothless to the reader, the book is the less.

Two books that might help writers to think about their openings are Hooked by Les Edgerton and The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman.

For compairson and contrast, the opening lines to my novels are:

One Promise Too Many – I was eight-years-old when Mother capture Father’s dimpled smile with her camera just as I had reached for his red hair. The next day, someone murdered him.

A Matter of Faith – In the lulling warmth of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, sweat beaded on the brow of Faith Moreno, the 25-year-ol parish music director.

All of Our Secrets – Terrified, I counted to six, and then begged Heather, “Just Breathe.”

Kill All Cats – I jerked open my front door, not caring if the Grim Reaper or a Girl Scout had interrupted my sleep with insistent knocking.

Write on! Write on!! Brothers and sisters, amen. Write on!!!

 

 

Memoir

Paper or Plastic? The Grocery Store Chronicles is my memoir. Being a mystery writer, I never thought I’d write a memoir sandwiched between my current mystery, Kill All Cats, and my next mystery, Don’t Fear the Reaper (Summer, 2017). Interestingly, the process was somewhat similar. Write the pieces of the story, make them interesting, and then ensure that there is some common thread throughout the story until you get to the conclusion.

It’s not a biography, because it doesn’t start with my birth, one cold, snowy night, or my first memory, awakening from a horrify dream about a bear and a tiger trying to get me, only to awake screaming, my mother running into the room to save. I was nine months old! It’s not a piece of creative non-fiction. I’m not trying to force the facts into a story using fiction writing techniques. Everything (well 99.37%) of what I wrote happened just the way it did–even the conversations, because I always had paper and pen with me. What writer doesn’t?

POP is up on Amazon.com and when I get my butt in gear and stop writing other tales and poetry, it will be up on other sites soon.

There is only one rule: writers write! Everything else is a guideline. Write on!