Today’s Writing Tip

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Details and descriptions are important to support imagery, but balance is required so they enhance, rather than slow down, a story. This is genre-dependent, however, because some, such as romances, thrive on description. Thrillers should have less, but enough for readers to envision what’s going on.

Integrating details into the action is a challenge, but a skill serious writers must develop. This is where strong verbs are essential. A diligent author will take the time necessary to find the exact word needed to convey action and imagery with an economy of words. This is part of your job as an author.

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Today’s Writing Tips

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When you write a murder mystery, you must keep your readers guessing. Any “whodunnit” story needs red herrings to place doubt in the reader’s mind regarding who the culprit might be. No matter how many novels your readers have experienced, they shouldn’t be able to easily predict how it will end. Readers thrive on suspense and wondering what will happen next.

These red herrings may necessitate a few characters who are technically extraneous. These, of course, are the exception to the rule to not include people with no function in your story. The fact of the matter is that they DO serve a function, and that is to keep the reader guessing.

A Sexy Paranormal Sci-Fi Thriller Mystery Romance

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5stars

This book crosses so many genres that it’s bound to have something for just about everyone. Alma is a widow with young children, struggling to make ends meet while she takes care of her two young children. However, she’s haunted by strange dreams of a sexy, mysterious stranger. Imagine her surprise when one day she encounters him in the flesh! It gets better and better from there as she discovers that the life she thought she’d been living was but an illusion, a shadow of her true identity and mission in life.

This fantastic story progresses at a fast-pace with surprises at every turn. Alma’s anxiety as her life turns upside-down is palatable. The imagery is fantastic, the plot complex, the characters engaging, the other worlds vivid and believable.  I don’t want to say any more because it would constitute spoilers and ruin the enjoyment of watching this fascinating tale unfold.

Many elements of this story are the exact fantasy of so many women caught in a mundane, unsatisfying world where her day to day routine is somewhere between boring and depressing. It’s a great read with something for everyone who likes sci-fi, romance, mystery, and characters to die for. The best part is that there’s more to come, this only the beginning of this delicious tale. Don’t miss it!

You can pick up a copy on Amazon here.

My Favorite Zombie Story of All Time

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5stars

This is my very favorite zombie series of all time. Okay, I’ll admit, it’s the only zombie series I’ve read. Truth be known, I’m not usually a zombie fan, but Elle Klass is one of my very favorite authors and thus I’ll give just about anything she writes a try. Her characters absolutely jump off the page,  plots complex and full of surprises, writing style saturated with luscious descriptions and subtle humor.

This is the final episode and completes the Zombie Girl trilogy. This exciting conclusion is loaded with suspense regarding the fate of the numerous characters after they leave the African continent bound for the USA through various means. Tidbits include fascinating explanations regarding what caused the lethal pandemic that resulted in some people turning into zombies while others recovered or were immune. If you liked the movie “World War Z” you’ll probably love this story.

The action never stops, the suspense sustained beautifully. It had been a while since I read the previous books, so it took me a while to remember who some of the characters were and where they joined the story. This is a series best read straight through, which can now be done with all three books now available.

Whether or not you’re a zombie story fan, I definitely recommend this series. I’m usually pretty bored by the usual zombie tale, but Elle’s characters are so real, the personalization of the plot so well done, that I thoroughly enjoyed it. The descriptions are gross enough to make a point, but not so disgusting as to be too much. Some are downright funny, actually, and make perfect sense with the primary character, Maddie, a teenager who would undoubtedly see the humor in it to maintain her sanity. She’s a great kick-ass heroine who refuses to cave into the worst of circumstances and definitely runs the show.

Now that this entire series is available, grab the three of them and get ready to enjoy a great tale that keeps you turning the pages from start to finish.

You can pick up a copy on Amazon here.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Another complaint that keeps a story from getting 5-stars is too many characters. I would amend that by saying too many extraneous characters. Every person should be tied into the plot in some way and stand out as an individual. If they don’t, ditch him or her. If you really like the person, you can always use him or her for another story.

This is not to say that a meaty plot shouldn’t have a vast array of characters. However, the number should be proportionate to the complexity of the plot and length of the novel. Populating the story with a bunch of people with no story function only keeps the reader wondering what they’re doing there in the first place. For example, if your protagonist’s job is one of the settings, you don’t have to give everyone a name unless the person relates to the story.  In fact, if their place of work doesn’t relate directly to the story, why is it included, anyway? The movie “Nine to Five” certainly was an exception, as well as the TV show, “The Office.” But if it’s not directly related to the plot, minimize it or leave it out completely.

If you do have a long cast of characters and you can justify their existence, then include a dramatis personae in the beginning to help your readers keep them straight as far as where they fit into the story and relationship to one another. A confused reader is inclined to become a lost fan.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Next up on the list of reader gripes is when the characters are all the same. This occurs primarily with inexperienced writers who don’t know how to develop a character properly and just plug a name into the action without bringing him, her, or even it, to life.

Characters should be as distinctive as possible. They shouldn’t look alive, talk alive, or behave alike. The more contrast, the better. Best case, the reader should be able to tell them apart from their dialog alone. Give them speech patterns and mannerisms that make them into a unique person. Interesting characters are what draw readers into the story as much as the plot line. If you don’t care about the people in the story, it has little impact. Building memorable characters is a skill every author should develop.

“How to Crush Social Media in 2-Minutes a Day” –Yeah, right.

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I generously gave this book two stars when I reviewed it on Amazon, only because the author does demonstrate knowledge of the subject. While she has numerous good ideas in this book, I did not find any advice on how to “crush social media in only 2 minutes a day.” While the advice given for the different social media apps is probably sound, it would take considerable effort and, in many cases, a steep learning curve to implement.

Face it, there is no way to do as the title promises unless you hand it all over to a promoter or admin assistant.  Being able to deal with your social media promo nightmare in a few minutes a day is nothing more than a pipe dream unless you dump it on someone else. MAYBE if you spent six months or a year, laboriously implementing all her ideas and putting them on auto-pilot, if even possible, you could make progress. But the way I understand time in the real world, that is a far cry from two-minutes a day.

Thus, I find the title entirely deceptive because it does not deliver on the hope that drove me to read it. Okay, believing such a thing was even possible showed incredible naivety on my part, right up there with people who expect to solve their financial owes by winning the lotto. But that is only part of why I was so irritated. On top of being a big fat lie, it appears that the author is not a native English speaker. The grammar is atrocious and often makes it even more difficult to understand what is being said. Intensive editing by someone more familiar with the language is definitely called for.

Looking at the ranking of this book on Amazon, clearly this author does know how to play the social media game. For example, including this book in the “finite mathematics” category is ridiculous. I suppose if nothing else, it’s an example of the low standards people maintain these days for honesty and proper delivery on a promise. The lesson here is the way to get a best-selling book on a hot topic is to promise something everyone wants but can’t have, then not even bother to polish the prose. Then you categorize it in obscure, remote niches where it can obtain a high rank. Nice.

Then there’s the matter if this book were made into an audio book as it’s written–it would be hilarious.

If the first book in this series is anything like this one, I have no idea how it got so many 4 and 5 star reviews, other than to say those people either didn’t read it, were semi-illiterate, or were friends of the author.

I will admit, the advice is sound. However, good luck putting it all in place. I suspect this book is part of the author’s MBA and does show research and knowledge. It would probably work if you got through it all. But to me, I find the title so irritating along with its contrived rankings that I consider it an example of an indie snake oil salesman. It does demonstrate, however, that you can sell anything if you know how to promote it. The inherent dishonesty, however, as you can probably tell, really pisses me off.

If you feel inclined to wade through the fractured English, you can find a copy on Amazon here.

Review of “The Contract Between Heaven and Earth” by Gwen Plano and John Howell

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I really enjoyed the original premise of this fast-moving thriller. I must admit that it is the first book in quite a while that I stayed up into the wee-hours of the night to finish. The characters were well-developed and engaging. I also appreciated the fact that it was nicely edited, thus lacking any typos or other issues that tripped up my engagement with the characters and plot.

It was truly cross-genre, not only of two, i.e. thriller and romance, but also a paranormal/spiritual element as well, all of which were nicely intertwined in a non-contrived manner. I have only two criticisms, one of which is I would have liked to have seen a bit more plot complexity for something that supposedly had the potential to destroy the world. Exactly who, how, and why were never satisfactorily revealed. My other criticism is that there was at least one major loose end dangling at the end, which was another thing that I found slightly disappointing.

These are minor issues with what is otherwise a well-written story and I hope that perhaps the authors plan to deal with them in the sequel. As with all reviews, this one is subjective. I’m a detail-oriented person who loves a meatier plot (think Tom Clancy) and saw so many ways this could have been a more expansive story. However, for those who like a straight-line, predictable plot, it’s a smooth, enjoyable read.

Pick up your copy on Amazon here.

Great Fodder for my Inner Geek

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4.5* for The Mystery of the Higgs Boson by Bettina Roselt  & Axel Ewers

This is the first volume in the Science Quest series. As a physicist and science fiction writer, I need some brain candy from time to time to clear out the dust bunnies collecting in my brain and this book was my snack for the summer. It refreshed my knowledge, albeit somewhat limited, of particle physics, but my favorite part of that field has always been Einstein’s infamous E=mc^2.

This book did an excellent job of getting into that quite nicely by explaining particle collisions and the various “decay channels” observed through research at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and how they eventually found the Higgs boson. It provided details and information I really enjoyed on the process for looking for such things. There was also a sprinkling of humor here and there, which is always appreciated in an otherwise dry read.

There is still so much we don’t know, which it seems is often forgotten, especially for people who are not scientists. While some scientists can be rather arrogant regarding the lay public, in reality it seems that those who know the least out there seem to think that all the mysteries of the universe have been explained. Yet, it took around a half-century from when the theory for its existence was put forth in the 1960s until  scientific evidence for the Higgs boson was found. It’s situations like this which make me roll my eyes as a physicist and professional astrologer when skeptics dismiss astrology.

For instance, take gravity. We all know it’s there, can calculate its effect, but still don’t understand its mechanism on a detailed, scientific level. Quantum mechanics and the possible link between consciousness and matter is a fascinating field about which we still know relatively little. No telling what’s lurking in that domain along with psi phenomena.  I loved it when they stated, “The discovery of the Higgs boson is a striking example of how much we have to stretch our imagination to reveal nature’s secrets just a little bit more.” Another jewel is, “In fact, the current physical models and theories aren’t sufficient enough to explain all the phenomena we observe in the universe.”

The one thing about this book that bothered me slightly was the fact that in a few places it was obvious that its author is not a native English speaker.  Far be it from me to criticize people who are bilingual; I have tremendous admiration and respect for those who speak more than one language. And chances are the version of English the author knows is UK, not USA, so that also throws some differences in there. However, there were a few places where the syntax, and in some cases, word choice, made it a bit more difficult to understand. Fortunately, there were only a few places where this was the case.

Face it, this is pretty heavy stuff that only geeks like myself would read in the first place. Furthermore, expressing something in words which is usually expressed mathematically or perhaps via Feynman diagrams is difficult enough in your own language. Nonetheless, when you’re occasionally tripping over word choices and general sentence construction, it makes it more difficult to follow. As a physicist and writer myself, I could probably do a pretty good job editing it. But the author certainly did far better in English than I would with German where what little I know, thanks to my German neighbor, comprises spinnst-du, bitte, kartoffel, auf weidersehen, sauerbraten, and a few others, some of which aren’t appropriate for polite company.

If you have a rudimentary knowledge of particle physics and want to get into the sordid details of how they figure this stuff out at the LHC, you’ll probably enjoy this book. It definitely satisfied my scientific appetite for the summer and the insights will come in handy in writing my current science fiction novel. I do look forward to more books in this series.

If you’re a geek or nerd looking for a pretty good science fix presented with a slight German accent, you can pick up your copy here.

“In the Shadow of Lies” by M.A. Adler: Outstanding Depiction of California in the Early 1940s

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5stars

This book reminded me of butter, the writing style was so rich and smooth. It is one of the most skillfully written books I’ve read in a long time. The prose was like ambrosia, the imagery vivid and memorable. I always appreciate an author who can render emotions properly and thus draw the reader into the characters. Again, Adler did a stellar job.

This story is far more than a murder mystery. Its coverage of the early 1940s, i.e. the historical period during the early days of WWII, was outstanding. That was such a different time and so much has changed since then. I was particularly drawn in because I have personal connections to the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Area as well as that time period through family and in-laws.

For starters, my father was in the U.S. Navy during WWII. He had fond memories of his time on leave in the Bay Area, so much so that many years later, in 1960, our family moved from New York State to the East Bay. However, it did not turn out to be the Utopia he had imagined. He’d been a diesel mechanic for the New York Central Railroad in New York for a decade and assumed he’d be able to get a job, possibly with a trucking company. As it turned out, however, the labor unions at the time made this impossible. To get such a job you needed to be a union member, and to be a union member you had to have a job. The ultimate catch-22 supported by pure nepotism. As the cliche says, it’s not what you know but whom you know. My father had a few insignificant jobs, like working for a lawnmower repair shop, then eventually transitioned from unemployment to retirement. This had a devastating effect on our family.

But I digress.

Back to the story. Even though I was a teenager in the 60s, I had no idea how bad racism was a few decades before, much less that the KKK had been so active there. I also had no idea how badly Italians were treated during the war, due to their assumed sympathy toward Mussolini. I had in-laws who were Hungarian and some married Italians. Now I understand why some of them were so resistant to providing information when I was doing genealogical research back in the 70s. It’s sad they didn’t share their stories, but they may have been too painful for them to recount. On top of it all, some were Jewish, and had fled Europe just in time; some left behind were exterminated by Hitler.

I’ve never been a history buff. The way it was taught when I was in high school was a horrible bore. Even as a child, I preferred to learn about history through historical novels and this one definitely provided a treasure trove of information for a period I didn’t know much about. For that I am most grateful to the author for her meticulous and comprehensive research. This made reading the book an actual experience that had a strong impact on my understanding of the world at that time.

There were a lot of different characters in the story. I mean LOTS. So many that they were a bit difficult to keep track of. Fortunately, the author included a dramatis personae in the beginning, but this was not that easy to access with an ebook; I wish I’d read this in a print book, where I could have flipped back to refer to it more easily. I know I would have been doing a lot of highlighting and dogeared many pages in an actual book. Since I don’t exactly have what you’d call a “steel trap” memory, I probably should have taken notes while I was reading. LOL. Okay, I’m weird like that, when I really get into a book. This one and some others I’ve read recently (more specifically the “Finding Billy Battles” series by Ronald E. Yates) have reminded me of why I should be reading more historical novels; usually I prefer science fiction.

The one thing about having so many characters with their own prejudices and agendas is that it does make the story seem very real. My familiarity with the East Bay Area added to this, especially when references were made to streets and other areas with which I was familiar. This made it very easy for me to connect to this book.

I’m grateful the author used multiple viewpoints in different sections to get into the characters’ heads as opposed to omniscient, which would have been entirely mind-boggling. She is a very skillful writer. The story did wander about somewhat, yet it added to its rich texture and sense of real-life as opposed to one with a classic, straight-line plot. She broke some rules, but did so in such as way that it worked, which is exactly how it should be done.

This book would not be for everyone, especially those that want to whip through a story and not wander about, really getting into the time, place, and people. However, if you appreciate a well-written, complex story with considerable historical significance, I highly recommend it.

Pick up your copy on Amazon here.