Review of “The Carrot” by Virginia Gray

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Quite frankly, I never dreamed that I would eventually give this book a five-star rating. I started reading it almost two years ago, 21 months, to be exact. It took me that long for a couple reasons, mainly because at first I couldn’t stand the protagonist, Susan Wade, whom I found horrifically irritating. I thought she was a dysfunctional, self-centered, obsessive, hot mess. Her warped views of the world made me want to slap her upside the head. She hated her roots, the small town where she’d grown up, and was willing to do anything to get ahead in the world. Her priorities were horrible. The plot moved very slowly at first, also, which tried my patience as well. I would set it aside, read something else (or two or three), yet inevitably pick it up again between other reads.

Why?

Because it was so exceptionally well written. The fact the author had developed a character so completely that she got on my last nerve made me feel I owed it to her to keep reading, to see where it was going. Her prose was fantastic, at times poetic, the imagery beautifully drawn. It was a pleasure to read, pure ambrosia, even if Susan was messed up and the plot crawling at glacial speed.

At this point I need to mention that, unlike other reviewers, I try to maintain a sense of objectivity. Not liking a story or its characters is not enough for me to give a book a bad rating if the story is well-crafted. I also care about grammar, typos, and formatting, which I find distracting. Editing, in all its varieties, is important to me. If a story is clever and otherwise interesting, I might forgive some of those things, but in general, I expect a professional product when I buy a book. If a book is loaded with such annoyances I’m likely to never finish it because it’s such a chore to read. There were very few such flaws in this story, certainly not enough to put me off. Rather, I was a bit surprised that they slipped past, based on the quality otherwise. One that really had me scratching my head was how one beautiful sunset painted the eastern sky. Huh? Possible, but not likely. Actually, I wrote a blog about that kind of stuff you can find here.

As I plodded through, page by page, gradually things started to make sense. I began to appreciate the fact that the slow pace was allowing me to get drawn deeply into the story and its characters. The sense of place was amazing. I love it when a book takes you someplace new; by the time I finished, I felt as if I’d spent several months in coastal North Carolina.

When it started to come out why the protagonist was the way she was, I began to be more sympathetic. Maybe Susan put me off at first because there were things about her that reminded me of myself. As her motives and life experiences became more clear, it was easier to care about her, then eventually start cheering her on. Some people are slow to come around such that it takes numerous hard knocks before they learn.

As a professional astrologer I’m a student of human nature and tend to try and place a particular sun sign on characters as I watch them unfold. Fixed signs (Taurus, Scorpio, Leo, Aquarius) rarely change, or it takes great pain and suffering from life’s lessons to do so. The implications of when her birthday was in the book made me think she was a Scorpio. When it said near the end that Pete’s birthday was March 15, making him a Pisces, that made sense, too. It made me laugh, since on my website I have a compatibility section where I say this love match concerns me a lot since I have often seen Piscean men injured horribly by Scorpio women, though there is often a strong attraction between them, both being emotionally driven water signs. Ditto, for this couple.  BTW, astrology works amazingly well for fiction. Just ask Elle Klass.

But I digress.

From about halfway in, the story started to move, and by the time I was 75% through, it was hard to put down. It was touching and I really connected with the characters. The corporate gymnastics and dog-eat-dog environment were well-characterized as well. Having spent over 20 years in the world of NASA contracting, I could definitely relate to some of the games people play.

Probably the underlying theme of this story is “Be careful what you wish for.” Another candidate would be “What you’re trying to escape is exactly where you belong.”

This was an outstanding story that was beautifully written. It has numerous life lessons within that astute readers can learn vicariously. It takes a while to get moving, but all that background is essential and what draws you in until you’re hopelessly hooked. I have two rather minor criticisms. One is the title. Those who aren’t familiar with the tale of the donkey and the carrot may not get it, which could turn away potential readers who would love the story. The new cover helped tremendously; I’ve had the book long enough it has the old cover, which featured–a carrot.

The other criticism is that it wrapped up rather quickly and was a bit confusing at the end. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, so won’t say more, but I’ll just say I had to go back and reread a few parts to figure out who was doing what. Considering how slowly and patiently the story unfolded, it could have wound down at a less frantic pace so as not to lose track of what was going on.

That said, it was still a great read. If you love well-developed characters, outstanding imagery, and a rather common situation regarding the balance of career with relationships, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Pick up your copy on Amazon here.

P.S. As I got ready to post this review I discovered that there is now a prequel to “The Carrot” called “The Interview.” So you might want to start with that. You can find it here.

It’s that Time Again: The Cosmic Season for Editing and Revising

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If you’re a writer it would be to your advantage to know a little astrology. Not only can it help you develop your characters as noted in a previous blog but there are actually three times a year when the cosmic climate is particularly conducive to editing and revising. If you don’t believe in astrology, that’s fine, I didn’t used to either. But you might want to give it a try because most writers, myself included, can use all the help we can get. So what exactly is this spell and why is it helpful? Stay tuned, I’m about to tell you.

It starts with the planet Mercury. In mythology Mercury a.k.a. Hermes was the messenger and the only one who could come and go to the Underworld. In astrology he rules communications or all varieties including your thoughts, ideas, writing and paperwork in general. In this day and age he also rules electronic communication devices such as cells phones, computers, television and the internet to name a few, plus anything mechanical, i.e. with moving parts, such as your lawnmower, small appliances, automobile and so forth.

If you’re already familiar with some astrology you’ve probably heard of Mercury Retrograde. While it’s intuitively obvious (or should be) that the planet Mercury does not reverse the direction of its orbit, as a rule three times a years he appears to move backwards in the sky compared to his usual direction. The reason for this is easily explained as similar to when you pass a car on the highway. You’re going faster so it appears the other is moving backwards, even though it’s not. Thus, when the Earth passes Mercury in its orbit you get the same effect.

So what? Hang on, I’m getting to that.

As I write, Mercury is currently in this state which started on 5 January 2016 and will last until 25 January. Astrologically when a planet is retrograde (yes, they all do the backstroke from time to time) it internalizes its energy. During this spell you may notice more computer problems than usual, things may break down more often, traffic is often worse and so forth. Anything ruled by Mercury bogs down during this time. If you buy something ruled by Mercury during a retrograde period it’s likely to be a lemon. Furthermore, anything initiated during Mercury retrograde seldom comes to pass. For example if you interview for a job you’re less likely to get it with one possible caveat, that being if it’s a second interview with the same person. It’s also not a favorable time to sign a contract or lease.

Why? Because during Mercury retrograde it’s a time to rethink, redo, reconsider, revise, refine, repair and so forth. This is a time to slow down, stop, and look over past work, thoughts and decisions. For a writer this is an awesome time for editing and revising. This is when you go back and see your work through different eyes, giving you the ability to make positive changes. It’s not uncommon for writers to dislike this phase because you may feel stuck, your brain may not work as efficiently and your computer may be on strike. Any new endeavors started at this time are likely to bomb out and relate to yet another “re” word, i.e. regret. This is because you’re resisting the cosmic flow. Reviewing, revising and editing your work from time to time is essential if you want to produce professional quality work.

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If you’re suffering from writer’s block, this is the ideal time to look over what you have and see if it’s on the right track. You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll be able to improve it, perhaps even make some critical changes you didn’t think of before. Don’t expect to make much progress with new endeavors which are likely to be an exercise in futility. Submitting work at this time is not likely to bring results or, if it does, they’ll be delayed. Rather, use this time to rework and refine.

Will you be out of the woods for new projects come 25 January? Possibly not. Until Mercury gets back to the zodiacal position where he stationed retrograde he’s in his “shadow period” when things are still stalled. This lasts until February 15, at which time once again it will be “all systems go.”

Even if you think that astrology is a bunch of myth and superstition, give this some thought. Observing the world around you and how people behave is part of your job as a writer. See how many events and situations you can find which reflect this internalized energy, the cosmic climate designed to rethink, reconsider and revise. Few of us get it exactly right the first time and the Universe is well aware of our human frailties. Use these spells as they’re intended by the Universe and you’ll find they can become some of your favorite times when you can polish your work to perfection. Use this one to your advantage.

As previously noted, Mercury does this approximately three times each year. Here are the other times he’ll be doing the backstroke. Mark your calendar now!

28 April – 22 May 2016 (Shadow until 8 June 2016)

30 August – 22 September 2016 (Shadow until 8 October 2016)

19 December 2016 – 8 January 2017 (Shadow until 28 January 2017)

If you’d like to learn more about such things you’d probably enjoy my astrology website www.valkyrieastrology.com.  Which reminds me I have some updating to do on the retrograde planets page, perfect for Mercury RX.  Timing is everything.

“The Calm Before the Storm: Evan’s Sins” – Nail-biting Murder Mystery Suspense

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If you like extreme suspense that lingers somewhere in the dark with The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock and Mary Higgins Clark, then you need to check out Elle Klass’ latest chiller, Calm Before the Storm: Evan’s Sins. There were parts of this book that were simply too much for this faint-hearted reader to handle!

There were a few scenes I contributed to via my Whobeda persona. I had fun doing this interview for Elle’s blog with the fictitious Whobeda which you can find here. After we discovered that astrology works on fictitious characters (see my previous blog on the subject here) Elle decided what we’d discovered was too good not to include in the book as part of its occult angle. Stay turned for an excerpt that contains some of the results. It wasn’t originally intended to be a blatant plug for my book, Whobeda’s Guide to Basic Astrology, but it turned out that way. In fact, the reason it’s now available in print as well as an ebook is because Elle wanted to give away an autographed copy as part of her book launch activities. Talk about motivation!

It’s no surprise that Elle’s a night-owl whose imagination feeds off shadows and creaks in the attic. Her previous works include As Snow Falls (which I loved); Eye of the Storm Eilida’s Tragedy (creeped me out), and the Baby Girl series (if you haven’t met Cleo, you need to). Eye of the Storm Eilida’s Tragedy, first book in this new series, is a Reader’s Favorite Fiction-Paranormal Finalist in the 2015 Reader’s Favorite Awards. The Calm Before the Storm Evan’s Sins is a worthy sequel (prequel, actually) that’s even creepier. Elle has a gift for suspense which in this series has turned lethal. (It’s moderately graphic in the sex and violence department to say nothing of nail-biting suspense so I’d rate it in the “R” range.)

Visit her website at https://elleklass.weebly.com.

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Video Trailer

Blurb:

Evan O’Conner isn’t a normal child. His father’s alcoholism and mother’s abuse drive him to concoct a plan to rid his life of them permanently. The night is fraught with a horrendous storm, thunder and lightning as the beast inside him is born. Even in her death his mother won’t leave. She haunts his subconscious as he attempts over and over to kill her.

Evan meets his match when Officer Burkhalder enters the picture. One of her closest friends and his family fall victim to violent deaths during the worst hurricane Billows Hollow has ever seen. With only a sketch she learns the identity of the perpetrator and digs into his life, pries into his past – hunting him. Will she stop him? Or will somebody else?

Excerpt

Eilida yelped at the chance to make the OPA conference and her chance to meet nationally renowned Patrice Renard. The 9th annual professional astrology retreat in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. She flew down the stairs and flopped her body on the couch next to Sage. Leaning her head against her friend’s shoulder she blurted her news. “I did it. We’re in!” She lifted her head to gauge Sage’s response.

“OMG!” The two women leapt off the couch and jumped up and down like two school girls going to see their favorite band. Both women believed there was more to life, something brewing beneath the surface, or in this case above the surface – dictated by the stars and planets of the vast universe.

Sage and Eilida arrived at the convention center and took the nearest escalator to where the conference was being held. They stepped inside the vendor room, eyes soaking in the activity around them. The huge room was divided into several aisles with more vendors lining both sides as well as the perimeter. Astrology related materials, from jewelry to crystals, were everywhere. As they strolled the aisles, Eilida tried not to be too obvious ogling the name badges of those around them, looking for someone whose name she’d recognize. Some astrologers looked appropriately weird in long, flowing skirts matched only by their hair, with more rings than fingers while others were in jeans and others still in business dress. The men were mostly in casual dress, though one in particular was wearing a kilt. Her eyes took in his strong, muscular legs and sent a quiver bounding through her as she imagined the kilt tossed on the arm of a chair and… She shook the image from her mind.

The pair perused the plethora of goodies, Eilida dragging her friend by the hand when she saw a crystal table, spending a good bit of time examining the many offerings. She felt drawn to certain ones, slips of cardstock the size of a business card accompanying each one describing the stone’s influence.

She stood there a while, admiring one in particular for its odd shape. The card said it was a desert rose, good for transmuting hatred into love and healing past conflicts. She took it in her hand to see how it felt. It felt good but she could see the vendor guy was occupied with other customers so set it back carefully, deciding to come back later.

Another table caught her eye, this one apparently occupied by an astrologer. The lady behind it had shoulder length salt and pepper hair, maybe a bit more salt than pepper. Her genuine smile and attentiveness to those talking to her attracted Eilida. While other patrons talked to the astrologer Eilida browsed her books, one of which was entitled Whobeda’s Guide to Basic Astrology. She picked it up and flipped through the pages, reading sporadically.

As much of an astrology buff as she was, most of it really confused her. Written in terms that made sense, Eilida decided to buy one and waited in line to get it autographed.

At last it was her turn and she handed over the book, grateful no one was behind her so she could chat a bit.

“Hi,” the woman said with a smile. “Would you like me to inscribe it to you personally or leave it plain so you can sell it on eBay when you’re done?”

Eilida laughed. “I wouldn’t do that!” she responded.

“Yes, you would,” Sage muttered, giving her a friendly nudge.

Continue reading

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

Some things are too weird to explain. Now before I step into territory that’s way, way out there, let me preface it with the fact it takes a lot for something to be so off-the-scale that I can’t even explain it in a fictitious manner. After all, among other things I AM a science fiction writer who has come up with all sorts of things. But this is real. At least if you believe in stuff like astrology.

You may or may not know that I’m a professional astrologer, another hat that I wear when I’m not writing science fiction. Yes, I have a physics degree, and yes, I worked at NASA for over twenty years and yes, there actually is a thread albeit a tenuous one, holding those three things together in that they all involve space in one form or another.

8489944_sIn college I was “taught” that astrology was nothing more than myth and superstition and I believed them. I believed them so much that when I was writing a novel several years ago that had a physicist protagonist I decided to make his ex-wife into astrology to make her as annoying as humanly possible. Wanting my book to have the details correct meant I had to learn a little bit about astrology, so I found a used paperback copy of “Sun Signs” by Linda Goodman as a start. And much to my shock, I discovered that it worked!

It was several years before I got into astrology more seriously but a year or so before I retired I started studying with the International Academy of Astrology, eventually graduated from their professional training program and started practicing via my website, ValkyrieAstrology.com. This course of study took years and felt equivalent to a bachelor’s degree. I was astounded (and still am) about how much there was to learn and how much I didn’t know (and still don’t).

As a writer, I immediately recognized that knowing the characteristics of the different sun signs can come in very handy for developing characters. I even have a blog about it called “Creating Star Characters.” Then I did a character interview for Susanne Leist’s “The Dead Game” character, Shana Logan. I created the astrological chart from scratch based on how Shana acted in the book. It was apparent she was an Aries due to her impulsive sense of adventure and her bright, flashy manner of dressing threw some Leo in there, too. She was creative and multi-faceted in a way that hinted at a Sagittarius Moon. I plugged the data into my report software and a complete description came out that was very much as expected and surprised Susanne.

shanaloganNCSince the chart was fabricated entirely by me including selecting a birth date and tweaking the timing to fit, this wasn’t that much of a surprise.

Sometime later, however, in working with fellow author, Elle, Klass, it inadvertently went to the next level. Elle had given her characters an actual birth date and place as part of her character development process. First, I must explain that Elle is not an astrologer. She didn’t specifically decide that Eilida would have the traits of an Aries when she chose April 5 as her character’s date of birth. Having read the book (“Eilida’s Tragedy: Eye of the Storm Book 1”), however, I had already pegged her as one so had to smile when Elle told me the date. The character’s penchant for detail implied Virgo so I arranged her time of birth to provide a Virgo ascendant. I ran another natal report. Not only was the character’s backstory implied but it also included allusions to events to come in the next book in the series. We were both astounded

Having had that work so well, we decided to run a report for her antagonist, Evan O’Connor, as well. I gotta say he’s one of the nastiest villains ever to grace a fictitious page and I’m glad he’s not real. And lo and behold, the results fit him just as well, right down to his attachment to his mother.

CBS teaser 2Like I said earlier, Elle loves details, which is one thing that makes her such a superb writer, so she had dates of key events in her book as well so I ran what is called a transit chart and compared it to the character’s natal charts. (For those of you unfamiliar with astrology, a transit chart is the position of the planets at a given time and place. These interact with the horoscope of the person and create certain energies which fit the archetypes of events and situations around them.) Again, the fit was so accurate that it was downright creepy.

How could it be?

These were fictitious characters involved with fictitious events fabricated by a very human author yet they fit as well as if they were real.  Huh???

That certainly introduces some extremely interesting philosophical and metaphysical speculations. As an author myself, I know how characters take on a life of their own. After you’ve been writing for a while you learn to let them be born as opposed to created and watch them spring to life endowed with a personality that often brings surprises as you turn them loose within the framework of your plot. But how could these characters have a natal chart that then proceeds to fit the transits of subsequent events in a novel?

Frankly, I have no idea. I do maintain that whether real or not each moment contains a certain unique energy. As a physicist I believe that astrology’s mechanism resides in the mysterious world of quantum mechanics and the concept of quantum entanglement. When a baby takes its first breath, leaving his or her previous home in another dimension to be joined with a physical body, s/he takes the cosmic energy of that moment with him or her. Then, as the planets move through their cycles those changes are felt by the original imprint. I know that is probably a stretch but hopefully someday we’ll know for sure. Until someone comes up with something better it seems to fit.

To make a long story short, my astrologer persona, Whobeda, eventually became a character in Elle’s upcoming book, “Calm Before the Storm: Evan’s Sins,” to be released next week along with some of the astrology we pursued along the course of the story. You can find her interview with Whobeda on here blog here. The beauty of it is if any of her readers are into astrology they’ll recognize it as accurate, even if they go so far as to check the charts.

CBS award ebookWhile I may not be able to explain why it works, nonetheless it does. As a fiction writer myself I definitely plan to use this to my advantage in upcoming works. You can find “The Calm Before the Storm” via links below.

VIDEO TRAILER:

https://youtu.be/fVZG22ydbM0

Amazon – http://amzn.to/1FECDEx

Amazon.co.uk – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Calm-Before-Storm-Ruthless-Trilogy-ebook-x/dp/B015VD6856/

Amazon.ca – http://www.amazon.ca/Calm-Before-Storm-Ruthless-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B015VD6856/

Amazon.com.au – http://www.amazon.com.au/Calm-Before-Storm-Ruthless-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B015VD6856/

Smashwords – https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/571520

Google Play – https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Elle_Klass_The_Calm_Before_the_Storm?id=JlufCgAAQBAJ

Kobo – https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/the-calm-before-the-storm-evan-s-sins

Barnes and Noble – http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-calm-before-the-storm-evans-sins-elle-klass/1122731283

iBooks – https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/calm-before-storm-evans-sins/id1045083502