Today’s Writing Tip

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Another remedy for “writer’s block” is to read a book about writing. I recently read “Emotional Beats” by author Nicholas Rossis. While it didn’t necessarily help move my story forward, it gave me a plethora of ideas for polishing what I already had. In the process of doing that, I got back my momentum and was able to move forward with the story.

This book particularly focuses on capturing emotion. This is where “showing” and not “telling” really counts. If you have trouble with this, which can be particularly challenging for new writers, I highly recommend Rossis’ book. There’s also an excellent section on analogies as well as a few parts that are loaded with useful synonyms for over-used words like walking.

You can find it on Amazon here.

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“Flipping” by Eichin Chang-Lim: An Unforgettable Story in a Class by Itself

5stars

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5stars

This is, by far, one of the greatest books I’ve read in a long time. I’ve read numerous “good” books that I thoroughly enjoyed and awarded 5-stars, but this one went so far beyond that as to stand out in a class by itself. It truly is, as its subtitle states, “An Uplifting Novel of Love.” I wish there were a category above 5-stars because it deserves to be in that class. And that is why you see 10 stars above!

The story encompasses the multi-generational saga of two families whose destinies eventually become intertwined. It starts out in Taiwan where a young couple in love defy family wishes and flee to the United States, where they work hard “flipping” houses in California at a time when such an endeavor was very profitable.

Change scenes to another family who, as they prepare to welcome their first child into the world, wind up in a situation where they adopt the child of a woman who had been a Chinese foreign exchange student in their home years before. While the first couple defied tradition and family, this young girl honors it and gives up her “mistake” to the family she knows will give her child a loving home, after which she returns to her homeland, her secret intact. The couple’s natural born daughter, Christa, and adopted daughter, Jadelynne, are six months apart in age, and very different, yet close, loving sisters.

The developmental stages of the two toddlers contrast sharply, leading the parents to discover that their natural child, Christa, is deaf.  They proceed to get her a cochlear implant, which uses electronics to simulate the nerve and replicate hearing.

As it turns out, Christa has a natural talent and love for gymnastics. This is her sanctuary and escape, her determination taking her to great heights of achievement in competitions, and providing another perspective on “flipping.” The girls grow, eventually in high school, sharing friends, in particular a young man named Wynson. Who just happens to be the son of the couple we met in part one.

I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, so will stop there. The strength and beauty of this story lies in the underlying currents of love throughout and how it helps the various characters deal with the adversity in their lives and ultimately drive their decisions. And I must say, in this story, that’s Adversity, with a capital “A”. Yet the characters confront and ultimately prevail over the many unfortunate circumstances thrust their way.

The characters in this story were so well-developed as to virtually come alive. The prose was smooth, beckoning you into the story without undue distraction, showing the exceptionally strong writing skills of the author. This feat is one often unattained by even experienced authors, but considering that English is the author’s second language is absolutely mind-boggling!

Another dimension that made this story so real is the incredible amount of research involved regarding both the medical issues as well as the particulars of gymnastics competitions. These details provided authenticity, making it read more like a biography than a novel. Such facts were integrated in such a way as to increase the story’s credibility, but never slowed it down or felt cumbersome. The clever title is the coup de grace of this incredible story.

I found this story nothing short of a masterpiece demonstrating exceptional writing skill, creativity, impeccable character and plot development, as well as research. It has already won one award, but I hope the author submits this great story to the various other contest venues available, because it is deserving of additional honors which I know it can win effortlessly.

If you want to see what an exceptional, unforgettable story is all about, don’t miss it. In a word: Wow!

I was fortunate enough to be gifted a copy of this book, which in no way influenced my review. I would buy this book in a heartbeat. You can pick up a copy on Amazon here.

 

 

Review of “Half Life” by Scott Skipper

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The premise of this story is that a brutal earthquake and tsunami, similar to what happened to Japan a few years back, strikes California, causing a meltdown at a decommissioned nuclear plant. Due to various political stalemates, the fuel rods had been left on-site rather than being transported to a permanent storage location, causing considerable havoc as radiation saturates the populated area around Los Angeles. The credibility of such an occurrence is so high, that I can’t help but wonder how much of this book will turn out to be prophetic.

The story takes place during a gubernatorial election year and the political issues associated with this disaster are paramount. One thing potential readers need to know about Scott’s books is that they are extremely political incorrect. If telling it like it is bothers you, then don’t even try reading one of his books. It will just piss you off, you’ll miss the entire point, and then you’ll give him an abysmal review, which will be totally undeserved. Why? Because his books are well written, witty, boast clever plots, are populated with convincing characters, and don’t shy away from some of the political issues in the news today. Personally, I find them hilarious, albeit painfully true.

This complex tale not only covers the political and conspiratorial aspects of such a preventable catastrophe, but its impact on the main characters, the agendas of those running for political office, and those trying to clean up the mess. The technical details were absolutely outstanding. As a science geek myself, I ate them up, because I’m one of those weird types who loves to see science tightly woven into a plot. It lends authenticity, and when well done, is instructional. Obviously, he did his homework researching such a mess and what it would take to clean it up.

Scott Skipper is one of my favorite authors, especially his “Alien Affairs” series, which I love. This story isn’t quite as enchanting and took a while to get rolling. The “travel-log” chapters near the beginning moved pretty slowly, even though I could understand he was trying to demonstrate the frustration and complexity of Eric and Jamie’s convoluted  trip home, which required a jaunt through Mexico to skirt the “hot zone” left by the power plant meltdown. If you get stuck somewhere in Mexico, somewhere around Guadalajara, skip ahead–you won’t miss much and the rest of the story is well-worth it.

About a third of the way through the story it really took off in typical Scott Skipper style with the sarcastic humor and snarky characters I love. One secretary, Enid, served as great comic relief with her British slang and often racist and bigoted remarks. This story would make a fantastic movie, the main problem being that the political leanings of those in Hollywood wouldn’t touch this story if they were wearing a hazmat suit and wielding an insulated barge pole.

Since I think the story could use a bit of tightening of those early travel-log chapters and would like to see a more sophisticated cover worthy of what is really a great story, I can’t quite give this story five starts, but certainly 4.5. Just be warned, if you’re easily offended, don’t even bother, unless you’re open-minded enough to recognize the many truths embedded in this thought-provoking, cautionary tale.

You can pick up a copy on Amazon here.

5-stars for “The Anesthesia Game” by Rea Nolan Martin

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5stars

This amazing story revolves around a terminally ill fifteen year-old girl, Sydney; her clinically depressed mother, Mitsy; her somewhat-flakey-but-well-meaning aunt, Hannah; and a somewhat fallen-from-grace mystic, Pandora, who has succumbed to indulgence in some substances that compromise her many talents. The story’s viewpoint rotates by chapter from woman to woman, and I must say that I almost didn’t make it past Chapter 1 where I met Hannah, since she was such a piece of work I wasn’t sure I could handle an entire book about this self-centered, dysfunctional woman.

We all know that there’s nothing more boring than perfect people, especially in a novel, but sometimes they can be so flawed that you just want to slap them upside the head. Fortunately, I usually give a book three chapters to grab me, and I’m glad I persevered, because it got better and better after that.

Nonetheless, the dysfunctionality of this group was rather extreme, though I suppose credible; there are plenty of people out there that are that messed up. The only thing that keeps Mitsy sane as she deals with her daughter’s horrible illness is her phone consultations with Pandora, a psychic who’s really out there, but that’s what makes her good at what she does. Being in touch with other dimensions and the etheric plane is what defines a psychic’s value. Hannah, however, thinks she’s a fraud, a complete unbeliever in such hocus-pocus.

Everyone’s life in the story revolves around Sydney, a feisty, wonderful teenager with some horrible disease the name of which they refuse to say or even think, though the implications are that it’s leukemia. When Sydney goes in for treatments, she plays the “anesthesia game”, where she asks Hannah to mention a place for her to “visit” while she’s unconscious, then come back and report what she finds.

However, as it turns out, these are not hallucinations or dreams, but excursions to another place and time during which these women were also connected, though this is not obvious to her.  At some time or another, all of them have the same dream, though the only one who comprehends its significance is Pandora. The entanglement of these four women throughout the ages has involved repeated tragedies and problems, which have again manifested in their current lifetime. Pandora believes it’s her mission to heal the root cause, once and for all, through identifying the problem at the energy level.

The main story targets whether or not Pandora would succeed in healing Sydney, but there were subplots galore. These characters were not only 3-dimensional, but possible 4 or 5, given the full scope of the story. Each has a distinct personality, the imagery vivid enough that I could easily imagine what each looked like, to say nothing of the glorious vistas describing the various settings in Connecticut, Virginia, and the Lake Tahoe area.

There’s a heavy dose of mysticism, which is why I loved it. The author did an outstanding job capturing Pandora’s spiritual connections to this other world with all its metaphysical characteristics. As someone who has similar beliefs with regard to who and what we are, including the fact that we’ve all lived multiple lifetimes, I was thoroughly sucked in and enchanted. Like Pandora, I believe that our physical bodies, spirits, and minds are intertwined at a mystical energy level that touches on the world of quantum physics. As a physicist, I loved the particle/wave duality references. Good job!

Readers of the same mindset as Hannah who aren’t into the paranormal may do a lot of eye-rolling at these mystical elements, but I ate it up. These are obviously the types who gave this great story poor reviews. Undoubtedly, it had too much depth for the casual reader.

This story took me on a magical journey that was part soap opera and part fantasy adventure, of which I loved every moment–at least once I got past the somewhat awkward introduction to Hannah. Of course this is only my opinion, but I think I would have started the story with Sydney, since in many respects she was the central character and built a lot more reader sympathy off the bat than her crazy aunt. But the good news is that she and Mitsy shaped up considerably by the mind-bending end of the story.

I’ll definitely be looking at other novels by this author. She really nailed it.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Ending a book in a series with a jaw-dropping cliffhanger comes with a risk, especially if the next episode isn’t yet available. There’s a fine line between leaving a reader intrigued versus frustrated. The latter may lose a potential fan.

If the sequel has been released, this is less risky. If not, and you absolutely want to end it that way, consider waiting to release the entire series at the same time. If the ending isn’t so abrupt that it drives readers crazy, then it’s not quite as hazardous to your fan base if they have to wait a while for the next episode.

However, there is nothing more disappointing to a reader than really getting attached to a great story that doesn’t have a satisfying ending. If there’s any doubt you’ll complete the story properly, especially within a reasonable amount of time, then avoid cliffhangers. Use a reasonable, albeit soft ending, you can pick up from later.

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.

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.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Next on the list for scratching 5-stars is no challenge. If the protagonist breezes through the entire story without any obstacles or personal growth, it’s pointless. Whatever it is s/he wants, the harder it is to get it the better.

Most of us are somewhat annoyed by those who have everything they want handed to them, perhaps on the proverbial silver platter. Starting out a story that way is fine, but then having your protagonist lose everything and get a hefty dose of the real world will get your reader involved.  An example of where this is well-done is the relatively new sit-com “Schitt’s Creek”, where a family formerly in the millionaire range loses everything and is living in a cheap motel.

The harder your protagonist has to work for what he wants, the better. This also builds suspense, a critical ingredient in any story.

Today’s Writing Tip

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The last complaint was directly related to style and the skill of the author, i.e. too many adverbs. While useful, they shouldn’t be overdone. Before using one, see if you can find a better verb. More often than not, this can be done and eliminate the need.

For example, instead of saying “she walked slowly” how about “she trudged”, “she strolled”, or “she moped, dragging her feet”? See how the verb also implies imagery and mood? Economy of words increases their impact. Verbs are powerful. Make sure you use them to make your story more vivid. Scrutinize every one to see if you can replace it or really need it.