Saturday, June 29, 2013

Guest post with AJ Knauss author of Room Four

Today's guest is author AJ Knauss author of the medical comedy Room Four.

What happens next?

To answer that I need to go back to how it began.  ROOM FOUR is technically my third book.  Before I knew better, I thought that to be a writer one typed and typed and one day typed the magical phrase “the end” and then, well, I supposed there would be a psychic link to a NY Times book reviewer.  They would knock on my door and the world would swoon at my authorly feet.  So the first book I wrote lives only on dot-matrix printer paper in a file drawer.  The second book I wrote still lives on my computer desktop.  It may yet get edited again and be published.  I learned a lot about the publishing industry with that book by going through the rejection letter getting process.

All of which is to say, writing the first book taught me how to write the second book.  Writing the second book taught me how to write the third book.  And along the way life happened and inspiration happened.  More than one agent who read the manuscript to ROOM FOUR came back with versions of “I love it, it’s quirky, it doesn’t fit a genre.”  With “publish novel” on the bucket list before an army deployment, I went indie and the rest is history.  What happens next depends.  I have a sequel to ROOM FOUR half outlined.  I have another novel (sarcastic spy thriller) also outlined that keeps me up at night much more than the sequel; that project will likely win as “next”.  And then there is always reworking novel number two again.

I wouldn’t do any of this if it wasn’t a compulsion.  Fortunately it is also a lot of fun.

How much of ROOM FOUR is true?

The emergency department is a noisy place.  I tried to capture the layers of sound…seven different conversations, alarms, phones ringing, and to keep the dialogue real.  People are at their best and worst in the ER and that includes both patients and colleagues depending on the moment.  The anecdotes are all inspired from things I’ve seen, except for the financial scandal.  I don’t have any knowledge of a scandal like that but I wanted to paint a bad guy that Jerry and Alan could battle that would be universally disliked.  A botox-obsessed CEO seemed to fit the bill.

Between driving an ambulance in Chicago to now practicing medicine in Milwaukee, I’ve been in so many different hospitals.  People I’ve worked with in different locations have gotten in touch with me to say “Dr. Maglio is based on Dr. X isn’t he?” and then they’ve named five different people.  There are some archetypes in medicine that ring true.

I did actually witness an argument between an ER physician and one of the admitting docs about an elderly man who had been admitted to hospice.  He had indeed died while still on the gurney and they were arguing about who had to fill out the death certificate.  I thought, what if bureaucracy was so bad it could hold up your soul?  That was the inspiration for Jerry.  And he was a lot of fun to write.  He gets away with saying anything.

AJ Knauss practices emergency medicine and serves in the Army reserves under a slightly different name.  She is not nearly as grouchy as her book characters but has often wondered whether the long arm of bureaucracy extends into the afterlife.  She'd like to point out that it is someone else's turn to clean out the work fridge. She has a soft spot for curmudgeons.  This is her first novel.  For more info she blogs about writing, medicine, bureaucratic headaches and more at www.ajknauss.weebly.com.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Review - Liar's Harvest by Michael Langlois

Abe put an end to the threat of the Devourer once and for all.

So why does the world keep getting more dangerous?

Unsettling events pile up one after another: animal corpses appear on the front porch each night, an abandoned graveyard in the North Carolina woods is now home to something unnatural, and wooden men with eerily familiar faces are spotted lurking in the nearby town of Halfway.

Abe finds himself caught in a game set in motion long before the rise of mankind. A game in which even the Devourer was merely a pawn and where losing means the death of every man, woman, and child on earth.

Standing with him are the survivors of Belmont: Anne, Chuck, Leon, and his old squadmate, Henry "The Professor" Monroe. Together they intend to hold the line against the encroaching darkness and prove that there are still things in the light to be feared.


Review by Scott

5 stars

Liar's Harvest by Michael Langlois is the second book in The Emergent Earth series.  After the horrifying events that took place in Bad Radio Abe and the rest of the gang are living with Henry trying to figure out their next move.  It seems like the world is getting worse and they are pretty sure it relates to the events that they had a part in.

There is still some strange stuff going on around the group, especially with Abe.  I'm not going to go into any major detail due to the fact that it could really spoil some stuff from the first book.  When an old human foot shows up on the porch one day Abe, Chuck, Leon, and Anne head to an old cemetery and are attacked by creatures that pull themselves out of the ground.  During the melee a fox drops a delivery off for Leon on the battlefield and it begins a whole new adventure.

Once again Michael has written a fantastic horror/action novel.  This is a great example of the second book building off of the first wonderfully.  With the majority of the character's personalities already being established the story and interactions really shine.  There is some pretty amusing dialogue that works well to break up the tension of what is a very serious situation.  The plot of the book also really stood apart for me.  I haven't read anything remotely similar to this and very much enjoyed it.

I'm very impressed with this author and will be checking out his other series, starting with Walker, soon.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Guest post with Dominic O'Reilly author of Witches and Bandits and Swords Oh My

Writing A Choose Your Own Adventure Book

Certainly writing is challenging: you need things like plots, character development, thorough research into anything from which flowers blossom at which time of year, to the sort of weapons related matters that might result in some very serious men knocking at your door. But is it really enough? Have you ever wished, not just to paint a picture for your readers, but to plonk them in the midst of the action and let them wander into however many dangers and traps you choose to throw at them? If, like me, you're a power-hungry sadist who spent large chunks of childhood drawing maps for Legend of Zelda and the like, then writing a Choose Your Own Adventure game might just be the answer.

For anyone unfamiliar with the concept, these game books are written in small sections which end by giving the reader a choice of actions which move them on to different parts of the book. In a regular paper book, they'd do this by flicking through the pages, but with an e-book, they just have to click the links. My own game, Witches and Bandits and Swords Oh My (out now on Amazon at a very reasonable price for 20,000 words, hint hint) has a traditionalish fantasy setting, but you can use this format for any genre. To pick a film at random, a Home Alone adventure book might read:

"Section 1,
You are in your large family home by yourself, your extended family having accidentally left you behind while going on holiday. Several preceding incidents have led you to conclude that two burglars are about to rob your house. Do you…

Attempt to contact your family? Go to section 154
Find a local friend's house, or trusted adult to visit? Go to section 23
Contact the police with a detailed description of the felons? Go to section 70
Set about on a murderous campaign of violence against said felons? Pick up a blowtorch and go to
section 13"

Assuming you'll want to write something more complex than this, first of all, you'll need a map. Depending on how you structure your game, this could resemble an original Zelda view (i.e. squares arranged in a grid pattern), interconnected spider diagrams, or even an MC Escher-style mind flip if you really dislike your readers. Keeping these linked in with your prose sections is absolutely essential. It really can't be stressed enough that a single broken link has the potential to ruin your game.

The format has other challenges to keep you constantly frustrated entertained. How and when to introduce information, for example, is difficult enough with regular prose, but when the reader can reach the same point through different paths, this becomes more of a challenge. If you decide to introduce the feared purple-tentacled monster of Xhighazyx as an opponent, then you'll need a system for fighting. Requiring the readers to use dice, and to keep track of their health is one idea, but I favoured keeping it simple and giving options based on items you may have picked up beforehand, some of which result in instant purple-tentacled death. In all cases, fairness is key and dropping some preceding hints can help. Having a high difficulty level is one thing but, like a murder mystery novel that wheels out a long-lost twin brother in the last three chapters, nobody wants to feel cheated.

Of course, you'll face other obstacles too. One significant problem I found (that my test readers didn't always appreciate) is the difficulty of introducing the same section after an event- let's say that the reader's meeting the High Priestess Doris, but may have stolen her chocolate biscuits in another scene. Clearly, if she knows about the biccie theft then the scene would have to be written differently, but allowing for both events is tricky. The most naturalistic way of doing this (for the reader) would be to duplicate the whole book with the new sections following a path from stealing the biscuits, to Doris being annoyed with you. It doesn't take a High Priestess, however, to realise that this isn't a sensible idea, and the book would exponentially increase in size every time you had to do this. Other options include leading into the section by asking the reader whether or not they stole the biscuits (not ideal as this gives too much warning) or writing your book in short, standalone chapters (the downside being that this reduces the reader's freedom to explore). One device I used was to lead into a similar section with an apparently unrelated question; let's say, "Have you acquired the blue ring"? If you've made it so that the blue ring could only have been obtained from the biscuit theft- don't ask me how, maybe it was a free gift in the pack or something- then that solves the problem without giving too much away.

There will be plenty of other hurdles too, not least when you attempt to format the thing (here speaks the voice of bitter experience), but I find that one of the great joys of writing is solving problems your own way; there's something special about that moment when you feel the whole project's hopeless and then an idea strikes you that sorts it all out.

Hopefully this hasn't put you off too much, just let you know what you're getting into. Choose You Own Adventure games are tough to make, but rewarding. No other style of writing allows you to have quite the same relationship with your reader, nor them to experience the story in quite the same way.

* * *

Author Bio

Born to the mean streets of Stoke on Trent, Dominic is now an economic immigrant in the Manchester area; living in a box in Stockport and jumping around various temp jobs which range in excitement from typing address information for the Royal Mail, through typing Census forms, all the way up to typing railway station surveys.

When he can clear his mind of postcode information and defective platform copers, he writes stories in genres including horror, humour and erotica- typically depending on what mood he's in. Prior to the release of his first novel, Shadowed, his total career earnings amounted to 33 US Dollars, for which he was very grateful.

Dominic also writes about himself in the third person for no apparent reason. Feel free to visit him at his blog.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Review - Into the Desert Wilds by Jim Galford

Having survived the war near Altis, Estin and his family must make a new life in the desert lands near Corraith more than a thousand miles from home. Unlike Altis, these lands fully accept wildlings, giving hope for the future.

Starting to find her own life, Oria has no expectations of a future. She lives day to day in this new land. What it means to be an adult is as elusive as safety had once been, after growing up watching her friends die.

Surely so far from the invasion by the Turessians, Corraith is safe from the horrors they have already seen elsewhere...

Review by Scott

5 stars

Into the Desert Wilds by Jim Galford is the second book in his Fall of Eldvar series.  It continues to tell the tale of Estin and Feanne along with their kits.  They have left there normal home mountain range and are now struggling to survive in the desert.  They stay reasonably close to the city of Corraith, but as wildlings they don't fit in very well and Estin is hesitant to stay.

Even though this is the second book in the series it almost works as a standalone.  It has been quite some time since I read the first book and some of the character references took my a while to remember the majority of the story flowed just fine.  The animal nature of the characters continues to lend them extremely entertaining personalities, especially the paradox of Estin.  He is an animal the would be considered prey to most predators, but his life and relationship with Feanne have been enough to override all of his natural instincts and make him a deadly predator himself.

The thing I enjoyed most about this book was the flow of the story.  After the introductory phase where everything gets established there is a steady build of anticipation.  Every confrontation between Estin or his family and the necromancer leads to a ramped up desire to see what happens next.  A lot of stories feel repetitive when there are multiple confrontations between protagonist and antagonist and Jim manages to avoid that beautifully.

This is a great book for fans of fantasy, especially if you enjoy anthropomorphic characters.

Review copy provided by the author.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Review - Diary of the Displaced Omnibus by Glynn James

Diary of the Displaced Omnibus by Glynn James

Review by: Daniel - visit his website here

A DRM-free dark fantasy/horror diary... I mean book... I mean omnibus.

The Rating: 4 stars out of 5
The Price: $6.16 ($3 each sold separately)

Did you ever keep a diary as a kid (or maybe still do as an adult)? When keeping a diary, what are most afraid of? That someone will find it, right?  Not only will someone know all of your deepest and darkest or secrets, but in today's society they may also post it on the Internet in the form of an ebook for anyone to read. At least that's what Glynn James would do... (you sneaky bastard, you). The question then becomes, however, is your diary worth reading? What's going on in that head of yours? Do you just have a boring old life where all you talk about is what you ate fore breakfast (like too many Facebook updates and tweets out there), or do you like in a strange world where light and food are the two most precious commodities. (Okay, so maybe that part isn't too strange. I think that light and food are important, no matter what world you come from/live in.

The Good:
Diary of the Displaced - Omnibus is a collection of the first three books in the DoD series, and it seems like Glynn James is off to a great start. The book opens with a guy who is lost in a dark world and must find a way to survive, battling starvation and the strange creatures of this land he finds himself in. The first half of The Journey of James Halldon (book one of the omnibus) does a great job at describing this struggle through the journal entry style. When reading it truly feels like I am James Halldon, recounting the events of the previous day as I write my journal entry. Often times the reader is brought out of the action as James says things like "and how I found time to write this journal entry, I'll never know" or "and now I sit to write this journal entry." This narrative style, though it seemingly breaks up the action, puts a fresh twist on the POV that maybe James feel like a real character who is actually writing about his experiences.

A big question I had by only a few "days" into the book was, "I wonder how Glynn James will tackle dialogue in this narrative style?" I couldn't conceivable see a way to maintain the outof-body-diary-writing format while dealing with dialogue. By about half way through The Journey of James Halldon, the reader is introduced to another character, thus dialogue ensues. Unfortunately, Glynn James dealt with the dialogue in the regular "put in in quotes" fashion, thus taking away from the diary narrative style a bit. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and does not take away from the book in any way, but I, personally, was hoping to see some innovation when it comes to dealing with dialogue and heavy action scenes to make the whole book carry on the definitive and distinct narrative style that the tale starts out in. One thing that I loved concerning this was when a character had to tell a story. Instead of the story being a series of paragraphs in dry dialogue, Glynn James starts a new chapter entiteled "Adler's Tale" or something of the like. The POV then changes to the "diary" of this other character, and they retell their tale. This kept with the "diary" style nicely, and I applaud the author for this unique and intriguing narrative mechanic.

I found that Glynn James not only had a good handle on how to keep the action moving, but he did an excellent job at keeping the dialogue fresh and exciting. I enjoyed some of the subtle humour that was employed, and found James Halldon's internal monologue about the scene added nicely to this. Such monologue also allowed for great character development of Halldon, who is telling a story of self-discovery (having lost his memory and all) just as much as survival.

I was a little concerned when reading the Omnibus that it would simply be a case of "this should just have been one book," especially when I was almost half way through the Omnibus and hadn't finished the first book, seeing no conceivable conclusion in the near future. I was, however, pleasantly rewarded with a definite ending to the first book leaving room for more questions to be answered as the series continued, but also giving be a sense of completion plot-wise. The style of the storytelling and even genre of the book changes a lot as the Omnibus progresses into the second and third books of the series. The first book (especially the first half) tells a nice survival/horror tale (if horror can be "nice") with elements of fantasy thrown in. The second and third books hold to a more standard third person narrative style and move away from survival into a dark fantasy/sci-fi genre.

The Bad:

First things first. Why are there three books? The Broken Lands and The Ways should really have been one book. Though the first book has a nice conclusion, the second does not. Also, the first book is as long as the second and third put together. The Broken Lands ends on a cliff hanger, which isn't bad in itself, but a cliff hanger is not synonymous with, "I didn't conclude the plot at all guys! Stay tuned!" From hence forth I will consider The Broken Lands and The Way to be one entity, because they just make more sense that way.

Book 2-3 moves much quicker than book one, which is not bad in and of itself. It fits well with the narrative style and genre shifts, but it is implemented in a way that make the story feel rushed. Book one introduced concepts/people/places in a well paced manner, but book 2-3 does not. Everything moves so fast and new concepts/places/people are introduce so quickly that it can be difficult to keep track of everything at times. I say "at times" because it does not detract from the book a whole lot and I only felt that as a whole the pacing seemed a bit off, though nothing specific stood out while I was reading it. If Glynn James spent more time
explaining or using these new concepts that were introduced, I feel like it would have flowed better (and added more words to read, which is never a bad thing... well, I shouldn't say never. Words just for the sake of words is a bad thing). Even in the final chapters (days) of the book there were concepts set up/explained that felt rather shoved in just to tie up loose ends or aid the plot and/or questions the reader might still have.

One minor gripe I have is that there are two "ghost" characters that to me felt like the same "person." When one or the other were talking/doing things (omitting their separate introductions) there was no reason to make any distinction. Glynn James could have said "one of the ghosts" and been set. In fact, once both characters are in the story, they mostly remain together leaving absolutely no reason to differentiate them.

However, this minor gripe leads into a bigger issue. Though the character of James Halldon was well done... no one else's was. Every other character felt distinctly like a "side character" so much so that I had no reason to distinguish one from another or care about them, their story, or motivations individually. Basically James Halldon has a mission and the story revolves around that so exclusively that nothing else is really important. The exception to this is James family who the reader is only interested in because they have a connection to
Halldon.

A few spelling/grammar errors take the polished feel away from this work, but nothing too major stands in the way of the reader, and the errors are few and far between. An interesting stylized "error" is dropping the person pronoun I/me from the beginning of sentences. At the beginning I thought this to be strange, resulting in many fragments, but as the story progressed I found out that this is Glynn James writing style, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is seeming on purpose and works well mostly, only rarely making paragraphs feel
disjointed.

Conclusion:

Glynn James paints a beautiful dark fantasy world that any horror or fantasy fan will feel right at home in. There are still enough questions unanswered at the end leaving room for side books / sequels, but the story does have a definite and satisfying conclusion. I do feel that these books should be read together as an Omnibus and not individually as they play off of each other in a brilliant way that I feel would be lost if read on their own. The first book can easily be read as a separate entity, but book 2-3 demands that you read the first and does not work on its on. Overall a great book that I thoroughly enjoyed. As a side note, not only are all works of Glynn James DRM-free, but I have heard from him personally that he considers himself a "DRM hater." Amen to that.

Where you can find it:
Amazon.ca
Amazon

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Review and Giveaway - The Northern Star: The Beginning by Mike Gullickson

2058. As the struggle for dwindling resources plunges the world into chaos, and "Mindlink" technology opens cyberspace to the masses, injured soldier John Raimey is transformed into a powerful bionic warrior (known as a Tank Major) to retrieve the King Sleeper: a computer hacker so devastating on-line, he can decimate government infrastructure, subliminally persuade the masses, and even kill.



Review by: Scott
4 stars

The Northern Star: The Beginning takes place in the not so distant future.  The oil is gone and travel has almost ground to a halt.  Not long ago a technological discovery came about that changed everything.  A helmet that allows people to plug into a virtual universe where they can do all there interacting in whatever environment they would like.  This discovery has allowed society to continue even with the virtual cessation of international travel.  However like all technological improvements there are people who can twist it to their own ends.

One of the major themes of the The Northern Star revolves around a new battle suit that has been developed by the Americans.  This suit is designed to replace an entire army and be controlled by a person melded to the frame.  There is also an autistic child who has what basically amounts to super powers in the virtual landscape that will have an unbelievable affect on the world.

The story has a decent pace though there are spots that slow down a bit to fully explain all of the tech.  The battle suit made me think of the Mech Warrior computer games that I used to play a long time ago.  It really brought a vivid image of the suit to my mind.  The majority of the characters were very obsessed with their own thing which led them to feel a little undeveloped.  There were a few standout characters that really helped to flush out the world of the book.

This has been a pretty strong start to a series and I'm interested in seeing what the second book has to offer.  From my understanding it is currently in editing stages so it should be out fairly soon.


Now for the giveaway part!!  Mike has generously agreed to provide 5 signed print copies of his book to some lucky readers of this blog.  Contest open only to residents of US and Canada.

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, June 3, 2013

Review - The Heart of Darkness Club by Gary Reilly

In this third book of novelist Gary Reilly's Asphalt Warrior series, Murph once again fails spectacularly at staying out of the lives of those he transports the second he picks up a "mover" named Trowbridge. "Movers" in Murph's world are not to be confused with "movers and shakers." Trowbridge pays his fare with a crisp five-dollar bill. Later, Murph finds an enigmatic hand-written note on the bill. Murph can't get the message out of his head, believing it was specifically directed at him. He sets off in search of his passenger, the meaning of the message, and the inner workings of his very soul.

4 stars

The Heart of Darkness Club by Gary Reilly is the third book in the Asphalt Warrior series.  Murph continues his streak of pledging to not get involved in the personal lives of his fairs and continues to fail.  Murph once again finds himself involved in a police investigation due to involvement with one of his passengers.  It's a bit hard to say anything more than that without giving anything away.

Though I haven't read the first book in the series the second and third work well as standalone books.  The sense of humor that Murph has really makes the book stand out.  There is always a bit of a serious situation going on and it makes the irreverent thoughts and comments by Murph that much more amusing.  I really enjoy the writing style that Gary used for these books.  This is another series that I will be keeping an eye out for future releases.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Review - Restrike by Reba White Williams

Money and murder go hand in glove in the rarified art world of Reba White Williams's exciting first novel, Restrike.

Cousins Coleman and Dinah Greene moved from North Carolina to New York after college to make their mark on the art world: Coleman is the editor of an influential arts magazine and Dinah is the owner of a print gallery in Greenwich Village. But their challenges are mounting as one of Coleman's writers is discovered selling story ideas to a competitor and The Greene Gallery is in the red because sales are down.

When billionaire Heyward Bain arrives with a glamorous assistant, announcing plans to fund a fine print museum, Coleman is intrigued and plans to get to know Bain and publish an article about him. Dinah hopes to sell him enough prints to save her gallery. At the same time, swindlers, attracted by Bain’s lavish spending, invade the print world to grab some of his money.

When a print dealer dies in peculiar circumstances, Coleman is suspicious, but she can’t persuade the NYPD crime investigator of a connection between the dealer’s death and Bain’s buying spree. After one of Coleman’s editors is killed and Coleman is attacked, the police must acknowledge the connection, and Coleman becomes even more determined to discover the truth about Bain. In an unforgettable final scene, Coleman risks her life to expose the last deception threatening her, her friends, and the formerly tranquil print world.

Review by:  Scott

4 stars

Restrike by Reba White Williams is the first book in the Coleman and Dinah Greene Mystery series.  Telling the story of the Greene cousins who grew up in a poor family, but have turned things around and are both heavily involved in the New York art scene.  Dinah runs a small gallery specializing in prints while Coleman runs an art magazine featuring East Coast artists.

When a rich man moves into town with plans on opening a print museum both of the Greene women are drawn into the drama that follows him.  Bain is buying some very rare prints at auctions for well over the estimated sales value and when one of the sellers winds up dead Coleman begins to look into it for her magazine.  She is unable to come up with anything on Bain and has to fight her attraction to him to investigate him honestly.

I was a bit hesitant about this book after seeing the cover (I have an ARC and the cover is slightly different than the one pictured).  I actually put off reading this for a timed review until darn near the last minute, as it turns out that didn't end up being a problem.  I really enjoyed the book and had fun reading it.  Reba did a good job providing a lot of suspects to keep the reader guessing about what is really happening.  Each of the characters also has a strong personality and rich backstory.

I can't speak to the realism of the story as I have never been to New York and have absolutely no experience with the kind of art that is discussed.  Even without a background in the basis of the story it is easy to enjoy.  If you enjoy stories with strong female characters and a good amount of mystery this is a book to check out.