The “Purrfect” Read for International Feral Cat Day

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Malcolm Gatta’s touching backstory transported me to a fantasy world I’ve not visited in a long time. I lean more toward science fiction and thrillers, not being that much of a vampire or zombie fan, which seem to dominate the fantasy genre of late. But as a cat lover and someone who has often envied my housecats’ idyllic existence, the idea of a cat shifter was intriguing, so I couldn’t resist checking it out. It’s the prequel to a trilogy which I have not yet read, but will probably add it to my reading list after experiencing this beautifully written, albeit heartrending tale of loss and renewed hope.

My only criticism is that I felt the sprinkling of expletives was unnecessary. There were probably only three in the entire story, but they were biggies, didn’t add to the story or characters, and such that I would hesitate to gift this story to my grandchildren. It’s not that I’m personally offended by such language myself. After all, my father was in the Navy and I worked at NASA over 20 years around engineers and such, plus have to admit I drop a few myself from time to time. There’s no question that some situations are best expressed through an expletive. Furthermore, sad but true, coarse language is now a part of today’s popular culture like never before, a possible symptom of what the world has become. However, there are still some who wish to avoid it and/or don’t want to condone much less encourage it. There are also creative ways to include such words in a story without actual use.

I feel crossing the PG barrier can cut off readers from an author’s fan list, which most can ill-afford. It’s apparently still enough of an issue that on sites where books are rated such as MyBookCave, inappropriate language is pointed out along with content related to sex and violence. I didn’t mean to go off on a total rant about it because this story really was outstanding, but it would have been even better to me without the bombs which seemed out of place with the smooth, even poetic, narrative as a whole.

You can pick up a copy on Amazon here.

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Global Cat Day

 

 

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A Cool New Way for Authors to Package Their Books

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What you’re looking at are photos of the latest and greatest way to share your books! As an author I think this is the coolest thing I’ve seen in a long time. Its actual size and dimensions are the same as a credit card, but the awesome part is that it contains a USB drive loaded with my Star Trails Box Set and latest novel, “The Terra Debacle: Prisoners at Area 51”.

These work great for book signing parties, especially for those who prefer an ebook, as well as for giveaways, drawings, and anything else you can think of.  They have a variety of styles, but I thought this particular one was best suited to show my books on one side and have the website and QR Code on the other. Just think how much easier it is to haul a box of these around versus print copies!

I got mine from https://www.usbmemorydirect.com. Check it out!

Attention, Authors & Readers!

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If there’s a story in you that’s not coming out, then you need to register NOW for RRBC’s 2017 Writers’ Conference and Book Expo!

Whether you’re an author or an avid reader, don’t miss out on this exciting event sponsored by Rave Reviews Book Club. The general public is invited, so whether or not you’re a member, right now, before you forget, mark your calendar for October 22-28.

THIS EVENT WILL HELP YOU:
*Get inspired and get to writing
*Market your work to avid readers
*Strengthen your craft of writing
*Network with like-minded individuals

It doesn’t matter if you’re a stark beginner or seasoned professional, there’s something for you! Get inspired, learn new writing skills, how to manage your time or social media, create a press kit, or dozens of other juicy topics. Enjoy browsing the Author Booths for books written by RRBC members as well as the many services available through the Vendor Booths. I’ll be attending several conference sessions, presenting one of my own explaining how you can use astrology to bring your characters to life, and also have an Author Booth to showcase my Star Trails Tetralogy and my latest release, “The Terra Debacle: Prisoners at Area 51.”

If you want a booth to showcase your own book(s), you need to be a member. So, if that’s what’s in it for you, now’s the time to join. (If you do sign up, be sure to mention my name  since we get brownie points for recruiting new members!)  Club services are vast, everything from a radio show and online magazine to a means to support fellow members through social media, reading, and reviewing. You can join here.

General Conference Info

Registration Info

Registration Packages & Pricing

Registration Page

Check it out! I’ll see you there!

#RRBC #RWISA #RaveReviewsBookclub #writers #amwriting

Tips for Indie Writers: How to Create Your Own Book Trailer with Power Point

Okay, just made another book trailer and thought I’d reblog this. I’ve also updated the original links since the original videos were updated and thus removed. My latest and greatest is here: https://youtu.be/G3xRKqmz7qw . [NOTE:–My friends at Fresh Ink Group helped touch it up, but the bulk was done on Power Point. You can find the original on my YouTube Channel here https://youtu.be/jPryRDll9ZQ.]

One thing I learned making this video that wasn’t necessary for the others was the need for transitions from slide to slide. If you use the same background for the entire video, it’s not necessary. But if you change the pictures, you need a transition. It’s a whole lot of fun to do and exercises another part of your creative side. These are very basic, but tremendous fun. Give it a try!

Marcha's Two-Cents Worth

booksinboxBook trailers have become a popular means to draw attention to your book. The main advantage they have over other types of promotional material is their ability to include sound, specifically music. As I’m sure you’re aware, music can set a mood quicker than anything else and reaching a person at the emotional level helps prepare them to receive and accept your message. You can hire a professional to create a trailer for you or you can put one together yourself. If you have Microsoft Office then you should have Power Point which is the only software you need to create a simple but effective video trailer. Besides that you only need three things:

  1. Background picture
  2. Music
  3. Catchy phrase, quote or other hook

Yes, it really is that simple to get started. Don’t worry, I’m going to take you through the process, step by step.

Background Picture

This should be…

View original post 2,877 more words

Describing a Sci-Fi story as “Unbelievable” is NOT a Good Thing

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** Review of “Return of the Sagan” by Neil Patrick O’Donnell

I don’t enjoy giving a book a bad review. As an author myself, I know it hurts, unless someone has such an iron-clad ego that they don’t believe it and thus fail to heed what it’s saying. Thus, when I do so, I try to stick to the facts of what a book’s deficiencies are so the author knows what to fix. Of course any review will always have a high level of subjectivity, but I try to judge a book as fairly as possible, based on its merits.

This story got off to a good start and has tremendous potential to become an epic saga of a starship gone for 300 years and now returning to Earth, only to find the human population extinct. That’s a big story. The main character, anthropologist, Francis Burns (no relation to Frank Burns of M*A*S*H fame), is believable and endearing with his OCD and quirky obsession with Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica and Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was a nice affirmation for gender equality that men and women shared high military rank in the story. The names of the vessels were well-chosen and credible. Authors are always advised to “write what you know” and O’Donnell did a great job with OCD and the geography of the Niagara region as well as military jargon and protocol. Generally, I believe that the world of “fandom” would particularly enjoy this story and would make a good target audience.

However, there are numerous things that need to be fixed before this story can be taken seriously by true science fiction fans. It’s important to note that “fandom” comprises individuals who are very well-versed on details and to earn their loyalty and respect you’d better get the particulars right. Unfortunately, I would give an “F-“ to some elements in this story, which I’ll explain farther down.

I must say that I truly hope the author can take my comments as constructive criticism as opposed to bashing, which is not my intent. I believe this story deserves serious editing at the line, copy and content levels so it can become the great saga for which it holds promise. If I were its editor, here are some of the things I would suggest to bring it to its potential glory.

1. It’s best to open a story with the main character, not someone who will largely disappear or be absorbed. Furthermore, there were too many characters, especially in the beginning. They weren’t all faceless, but most didn’t have a distinct personality. Due to the scope of the story, several characters are justified, but they need to be humanized and developed to hold the reader’s interest.

2. The author’s writing style is reasonably good, almost to the point of what I would call “strong.” However, there are few relatively easy to fix stylistic issues that would result in considerable improvement. Probably the most noticeable would be to eliminate the repeated use of the POV character’s name. Interestingly enough, this didn’t occur until later in the story. It’s distracting for a name to be repeated a half-dozen times or more in a single paragraph, especially in places where the person in question is the only one involved. That’s why we have pronouns. If there are two people of the same gender involved in a scene, a reminder of who’s talking or doing what from time to time is useful, but effective pronoun use is essential to readability. You don’t want the reader thinking, “Yeah, yeah, I know it’s him already!” or, conversely, having to stop and reread a section to figure out who’s speaking or prevailing in a fight scene.

3. Typos are almost inevitable in any novel, my personal favorite in this tome being “zero-gravy” which would probably slip past a spell-checker, but some were grating such as the consistent use of the wrong homonym. One or two I can handle, but this was excessive. I’ve never seen so many. I suspect a good grammar checker would catch these since in most cases they represent an entirely different part of speech. For example:

solar flares, not flairs

waver in the limited light, not waiver

reigned in magnificence, not reined

soul was allowed to leave his care, not sole

waved Francis to take his seat, not waived

pour out of the satchel, not poor

higher branches, not hire branches

fell from the satchel right past Francis, not passed

4. The military jargon and procedures were convincing and came across with an air of authenticity. Good job there. However, the technical aspects were so far beyond feasible that it detracted from the rest of the story. One minor example is the use of paper onboard a starcruiser, which is beyond doubtful.

5. And speaking of a starcruiser, no matter how much of a conspiracy buff you might be with regard to UFOs, it would be more credible for the ET’s from Zeta-Reticuli to provide Earth with a ship with interstellar capability with the volume of three aircraft carriers than for us to suddenly acquire one, much less populate it with F-15E Strike Eagles. I would think that most people, particularly sci-fi fans, would know that these aircraft could not possibly fly in space. Just out of curiosity and as a detail-oriented person myself, I asked a friend who’s a former pilot about that. Here is what he said:

“The F-15 could not be controlled outside the atmosphere as the airplane’s control surfaces depend on air flow to cause changes in roll, pitch, and yaw.  Thrusters are required to maneuver in space.  If it had thrusters, I suspect that the structure would overheat and breakup during reentry.  Initial reentry mach is far higher and would generate far more heat than the F-15 materials could withstand.  The engines are air breathers and can’t burn the kerosene without oxygen.  Then there’s the little issue of gravity.  The fuel tanks, lubricating oil tanks, and hydraulic reservoirs depend on gravity to operate.  The pickup points are in the bottom of the tanks.  The fuel tanks have baffles to keep a small amount of fuel available for negative-G use.  The engines are okay with the oil on them for a short time and there is pressurized hydraulic fluid in the system. 

“The fighters and trainers that I flew were limited to 30 seconds negative-G or inverted flight.  Zero-G is not negative-G, I’m not sure if there would be any difference.  The F-15 cabin is pressurized to 5 psi above ambient at altitude.  (It is unpressurized to 8,000 feet, maintains 8,000 feet until it requires 5 psi, then maintains 5 psid.)  There should not be any issues with DCS if the pressurization were functioning but it won’t be because it uses bleed air off the jets and the jets won’t work in a vacuum.  Therefore, the crew is exposed to vacuum with probable deleterious results. Another issue: the generators are driven by the engines and if the engines aren’t turning you are down to battery power which will only power essential systems for a short duration.  The longer I think about this the more reasons I come with as to why the F-15 isn’t a spacecraft.”

 

Yes, there are readers who are acutely aware of such facts and inaccuracies of this magnitude detract from the story as a whole. It would be more credible to make up an entirely new craft (think X-wing or Tie fighters) than use one inappropriately. Even a mention of the aircraft being retrofitted would have helped, even though that would be extremely unlikely due to what it would entail.

6. Some plot angles, such as the potential for a conspiracy on the part of political figures, were dropped. If this will be developed in a sequel then that should be implied more clearly.

If I were to deduct one star for each of the above points, the book book have a negative rating. Of course all the work the author put into it is worth something and it did have some redeeming value, even though reading much of this book was downright painful. Nonetheless, I persisted to see how it would end, which was handled reasonably well and provided fertile ground for a sequel.

As noted earlier, the premise is interesting and has tremendous potential, but the execution left far too many shortcomings if you’re picky about the science being accurate and expect proper grammar and style that doesn’t keep tossing you out of the story, shaking your head. These issues require attention to pass muster with the ranks of true science fiction fans. Besides some good editing, a cadre of good beta readers are a valuable asset that I highly recommend.

If you’re so inclined, you can pick up a copy on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Return-Sagan-Neil-Patrick-ODonnell-ebook/dp/B00SP4BOZS/

5* Review of Kristina Stanley’s “The Author’s Guide to Selling Books to Non-Bookstores”

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If you’re an author who wants to get more print copy book sales but don’t know where to start, Kristina Stanley’s guide is the book for you. While everyone has undoubtedly noticed books for sale in establishments other than bookstores, how to go about getting your book in such a position is often an enigma, if you’ve never been involved in sales.

My favorite part about this book was that it felt as if you were sitting around a kitchen table having a friendly conversation with Kristina. I loved the way she admitted to being nervous about such an endeavor and how her hand was shaking the first time someone asked her to autograph one of her books. I could so relate! So many of us authors are uncomfortable with self-promotion and it’s encouraging to know that this can be overcome so it no longer stands in the way of what we really want, which is to sell books.

Since Kristina was originally nervous about selling her books face to face, if you’re in that category, she makes you feel comfortable and not self-recriminating. It’s just where you are, but don’t have to stay there. She was able to get over it and be successful, so her example builds your confidence that you can do it, too. She explains how to approach store owners and managers and even includes important information such as the different types of contracts, e.g., direct and consignment sales. She talks about what percentages to offer and how to calculate what your actual book cost is, plus she even provides suggested layouts for spreadsheets to track your sales.  There are check-lists for sales calls, book signing events and more, as well as tips for marketing materials.

Most importantly, she helps you see things through the store owner’s eyes and determine the correct “what’s in it for them” approach, key to successful sales of any kind. By sharing her experience and lessons learned, Kristina helps you not to feel clueless and thus nervous about attempting to hawk your print books in such a way to gain community support for your work. Ideally, you’ll create a reciprocal relationship where they sell your books and you, in turn, point potential readers to their establishments to buy them through your marketing plan.

This book is a jewel that every author should read, whether published independently or traditionally. Taking that first step away from your writing sanctuary out into the public to promote your work can be a daunting task if you’re an introvert at heart like myself. This great guide provides a warm and friendly tutorial that includes the know-how, confidence and courage to take that important step. I give it 5 stars, but it deserves at least 10.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

 

Review of “His Revenge” by John W. Howell

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This fast-moving, well-written and nicely edited thriller keeps you turning the pages as you wonder how hero, John Cannon, is going to get out of his current dilemma. In the first book in this trilogy (My GRL), Cannon foiled a sophisticated group of terrorist’s insidious plan. Needless to say, they’re out for revenge and manage to capture him after which they force him to be part of another devious plot aimed at destroying the economic viability of the west. The suspense is well-sustained, dialog gripping, and characters convincing. The action level was breathtaking. Having not read “My GRL” it was nonetheless relatively easy to follow what had transpired previously. Descriptions of Cannon’s recovery from injuries sustained in the previous book were extremely well done.

However, there were various gaps typical of a serial where the author doesn’t remind a previous reader (or enlighten a new one) with regard to details such as what the characters look like. For example, while it was implied in this volume that the terrorists were of the Middle Eastern variety, their names were not indicative of that heritage. Rather, they had names that suggested European or even American origin. There was also no physical description with regard to their appearance, so they were a faceless enigma. This left me scratching my head throughout the story, wondering “Who exactly are these people?”

I can definitely understand this tendency myself since I’ve written a serial. In the author’s mind it’s one, continuous story and easy to forget to include details that seem redundant, yet they’re essential. I’ve covered some of the things I’ve learned in previous blogs for serial writers such as this one and its follow-up. I’m sure my readers can find similar oversights in my books, so I mention this in all humility.

The motivation for their heinous acts was touched on, but not demonstrated in their personal behavior. While I would expect lethal passion resulting from intense anger, hatred, and a visceral need for revenge, the antagonists behaved more like corporate executives out to annihilate a competitor to keep their stockholders satisfied. They were definitely cold-hearted, but the expected fury at Cannon’s previous actions didn’t come through.

Maybe this was covered in the first book, but evoking the emotional drive behind their acts could have added considerable intensity and additional suspense. If the bad guys were true terrorists, you’d expect that pissing them off further would result in chopping Cannon’s (or a loved one’s) head off on YouTube, but that type of potential didn’t come through. Emotional connection is what really grabs a reader. They need to love the hero and hate the antagonist, or at least fear him/her. This is what makes a story real and comprises a gripping tale.

I hate to get on the soapbox again, but I find it helpful to to assess a book during the content editing process using the acronym IDEAS where I stands for Imagery; D stands for Dialog; E stands for Emotion; A stands for Action and S stands for Suspense. Depending on the genre, a certain balance is required of these elements. Action and dialog often come easily for thriller writers, so going back to include the others is often required. Of course you don’t want to slow the story down, so it needs to be done with finesse, not long, drawn-out descriptions that cause the reader’s eyes to glaze over.

While in this story the terrorists used the fate of loved ones to drive their captives’ cooperation, it seemed that the good guys may have gotten around it a bit too easily, if these terrorists were as smart or well-connected as implied. Especially if the antagonists had as much clout and the ability to infiltrate so many organizations to effect Cannon’s capture, which was not explained, either. Including such things increases a story’s credibility.

Perhaps this was covered in the first book, which would make it required reading to fully appreciate this one. The author has an excellent writing style with a talent for developing a fast moving story with convincing dialog and viable characters. By filling in some of these gaps, kicking up the emotional drive a notch, and a bit more imagery, Howell could easily approach the level of Tom Clancy or John Grisham. I see tremendous potential in his writing that could go from great to outstanding with a bit more attention to detail, though many readers may not care and simply enjoy the fast action. I, personally, like to know the how and wherefore, which is what can drive a great story up a notch to the best seller list.

The Devil’s in the Details

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Berncastel, Germany

Embellishing your story with the right details can make the difference between being vivid and memorable versus slipping away like a boring stretch of highway in the rearview mirror. Finding the correct balance is not always easy, however, since there’s no perfect level; it’s not only genre-dependent, but subjective. Some readers expect more while other’s complain about their eyes glazing over. I tried to read a novel a while back that was so loaded with specifics that I felt as if I were there and could map out the entire area.  However, the plot moved so slowly, if at all, I was never able to finish it. Other readers felt differently, however, as it enjoyed several favorable reviews. Nothing is ever simple about writing. Like they say, you can’t please all the people, all the time.

A skilled writer, however, knows when to get down to the nitty gritty details, such as what color blouse the heroine is wearing or what’s on the menu for that romantic dinner at The 21 Club. There’s no greater way to build mood and imagery, but bogging down an action scene, whether physical or emotional, is a definite no-no. Get your reader familiar with the territory beforehand, then fire away.

A sense of place is another important element that can greatly enhance your story. Street names, specific restaurants (whether real or not), historical landmarks and even the weather can take your reader on an excursion to somewhere they’ve never been, adding depth and character to your story. Cities have personalities, too, which can add to the mood if exploited properly.

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New York City

If your story takes place somewhere you’ve never been, there are various online resources that can provide the information you need. If you can’t afford to hop in your car or on an airplane to see for yourself, you can still obtain vital details. Wikipedia provides historical and demographic information for most cities and localities around the globe. Whether your hero or heroine has lived there his or her entire life or is visiting for the first time, a sprinkling of details will bring it alive for your readers, giving them the bonus of vicariously visiting someplace they may never get to in person. If, perchance, they have been there, you want them to recognize it, which will give you increased credibility.

Writing a chase scene? Google Earth is a fantastic way to roam the streets yourself! If you’re a visual type like I am, you’ll thrive on this blast of input. Research doesn’t have to be dry, boring or expensive. It can be fun as well as informative while providing inspiration and plot twists along the way. Give it a try and see if it takes your scenes to an entirely new level.

(Pictures by the author)

The Best of Times and the Worst of Times

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Forgive me for borrowing the title from Dickens. As you may have guessed, the context, however, is entirely different. I’m talking about publishing.

Truly it’s the best of times for those of us who burned out trying to find a commercial publisher. I remember how excited I was when I found out you could publish your book on Kindle and even more excited when Create Space came along so you could actually hold your book in your hands. Long ago I discovered that, like so many other parts of life, finding an agent, much less a publisher, was quite political. I’m sure you’ve encountered books that were commercially published that sucked worse than a day-old calf. Just the memory of a few I remember is enough to make me shudder. So bringing the DIY world to self-publishing without the thousands of dollars required for a vanity press was like a gift from Heaven.

However, there was definitely a downside. First of all, there’s the competition. In the days when books were only available in, well, bookstores, there was limited shelf space. Thus, most books had a shelf life of about six weeks with a print run of a few thousand copies. Then they were remaindered, i.e. sent back to the publisher, sold to the highest bidder or perhaps the covers ripped off and tossed. Bookstores could only hold so many books and your chance at fame were thus limited.

Now, thanks to e-books as well as print on demand (POD) publishing, books are available ad infinitum, both in time and number. This is a good thing because it gives you all the time in the world to hawk your book. It’s a bad thing, because now there are literally millions of books competing with yours.

Of course when a market is saturated, that also drives down the price. It’s never been easy to make a living as an author and it’s even more difficult now. Readers have come to expect their books to be free, maybe 99c for an author they love. Even if they pay more, especially if it’s someone who prefers print books, selling a print book via Create Space’s “expanded distribution” usually earns you something in the neighborhood of $0.18.

Yeah.

And if the book is used, the author won’t even get that. Bear that in mind the next time you buy one.

As if that’s not bad enough, it costs money to be an author. Having a computer and word processor software is assumed in today’s world. But unless you can do everything yourself, there’s a matter of line editors, content editors, copy editors, book interior designers, and cover designers, perhaps even voice actors. Then there’s the expense of maintaining a website and a presence on social media, which seem to be spawning new platforms like mushrooms after a spring rain. There are book promoters, book fairs, and marketing classes, plus, to maintain your sanity, you may need to hire a personal assistant to keep up with it all. The bad news is that everyone makes money but you. The good news is that it’s a good tax deduction. Just don’t ever make the mistake by referring to it as a hobby with the IRS.

blackboard_writer2So why on Earth do we write? Because we have to. It’s something inside us that needs to come out. It’s that creative spark of self-expression that makes us feel alive. If we can share it with others, all the better. But the fact is, it’s something we’re born with and can’t deny.

Yes, it’s the best of times and the worst of times.There’s a whole lot to bitch about. But when all is said and done, being able to hold your book in your hand is priceless. The only thing better is finding a five-star review.

The Importance of Formatting

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Typos, grammar and such are an amazingly common complaint in reviews, something which many indy authors encounter at some point. However, there’s another issue that can get you a bad rapp (or rep, as the case may be) that you may not even be aware of–formatting.

The guidelines for a printed book with an interior that looks professionally done are substantially different than those for an ebook. Considering how there’s a good chance most of your readers are going to opt for the electronic version, it’s in your best interest to make sure that it looks professional as well, not like an afterthought.

I suspect that numerous indy authors, after getting their book set up on Create Space, simply hit that button on the last screen to publish their book in Kindle format. This is all well and good, but don’t trust that automated process to produce an electronic version that looks anything like the printed one. At the very least, check it yourself, especially if your printed version has dropped caps at the beginning of each chapter.

The first thing you need to do is save a second copy of your book to use for the electronic version prior to formatting it for print. Then you can add headers, footers, chapter headings, dropped caps and so forth to the printed version without introducing potential corruption into the electronic version. If you’ve already done the formatting, then obviously when you save that second copy it will be to remove such things. typewriterEither way, it’s a lot easier than the old days, when authors wrote on a device like the one shown to the right. Those of you who haven’t had that experience don’t even want to know what it was like handling simple revisions that changed the pagination. Gives me a panic attack just thinking about it.

If you want to produce a professionally formatted ebook, the best guide for doing so is the Smashwords Style Guide, which you can download for free from their website here.

Even if you don’t use Smashwords’ service (perhaps because you’ve opted into Kindle Unlimited, which requires giving Amazon exclusive rights to sell your work), the instructions will enable you to format a clean version that won’t aggravate readers enough to blast you with a bad review. It takes a little extra work, but it’s worth it.

Writing a book entails a lot of hard work, but that’s just the beginning. If you want it to be well-received by readers, it also needs to provide a comfortable reading experience. It’s not difficult to do and will be worth it. If it’s not something you care to tackle, then check into some of the services that will do so for a reasonable price, such as Fiverr.com.

Showing respect and appreciation to your audience starts with clean copy. Getting yanked out of a story by errors of any type, whether they’re typos, incorrect spelling, punctuation problems or formatting in nature, is not only distracting, but annoying. Some readers are more forgiving than others in overlooking such things, but sure as death and taxes, sooner or later, a reviewer will say so.

After all the time, sweat and blood you’ve put into your story, don’t let its message be diluted or even lost due to careless formatting. Take care of your readers and they’ll take care of you.