Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Castle Review: Still

Last night was so awesome.

First of all, best line of the night has to be when Castle is bummed she didn't call him and Beckett says, you had a chapter due and Castle's response is, "That's writer-speak for all procrastinations welcome."  HAHA  So freaking true.  I love how they're dialed in to what real writers think and feel and say it on television.

I loved Castle and Beckett's little argument about who had feelings for each other first and the reminiscing was awesome.  I have to say I think the first season Beckett was more realistic looks and dress-wise than she is now.  She looks so model-like in the current season, but, you know, I don't mind that.  As for who had feelings first, I think it was Beckett.  She'd been his fan for years, said that his books got her through her mother's death.  I really hoped they'd address that last night and have her tell about waiting in line for him to sign one of her books.  Alas, they did not.  But it was still good.

They did some of my favorite Castle moments in the flashbacks, but I had almost forgotten how naughty Castle was in the beginning.  All the innuendo and fun-loving bad boy. He's grown up a bit, but it was still fun to see how far he's come in those flashback/montages.

I loved that Castle wouldn't leave her no matter the risk to himself and the tension ramping up when they found the timer.  Of course, I sort of thought they'd be searching for the story a little sooner, but you know, the last ten minutes works.

The end was cute with the captain, but there's just something that makes her come across as stiff and not part of the team.  She's getting better, though.

As for best kiss, I couldn't decide either.  I hope there's many more to come.  Overall, a great flashback episode with a good storyline for a foundation.

What do you think about flashback episodes?  Love or hate?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Book Review: Esther the Queen (And A Book Announcement)

The book I read this week was Esther by H.B. Moore.  It is a rich historical about Queen Esther, one of my favorite biblical heroines, and really made me stop and think about how courageous this woman had to be in the face of what she was asked to do.

The thing that always impresses me about Moore's work is how meticulous she is in her research.  I felt like I was there, down to the small details of the pistachio trees and food that was eaten.  It adds so much to the story when you have a background like that.  Esther is portrayed as a woman of faith, but someone who has hopes and dreams.  She wants to follow God's will, but she's afraid.  She loves her family, cares for those around her, and does her best to follow the commandments, but sometimes doesn't quite measure up to what's expected.  I loved how relatable she was and how much better I felt like I understood her, though the book is fiction.

It starts out with Esther's normal life, helping with children and going to a festival to possibly find her future husband.  Through a chance meeting, King Xerxes takes an interest in her and she is asked to join his harem.  There are so many political and spiritual threads at play from that moment on, it was hard to put the book down.  The characters are three dimensional and the issues facing them in their personal choices and where they will draw the line are still some of the same issues we face today.  This is a book that will make you think while making you laugh and cry along with the characters.

Highly recommended for anyone who loves historical fiction.

Here's the back copy:

She is a beautiful young Jewess, content in her life of anonymity.

He is the most powerful king in the world.

When chance brings the two together, the course of history is forever altered.

The glittering court of the Persian Empire serves as the backdrop for one of the most poignant tales of courage in the Bible, brought vividly to life in the pages of bestselling author H.B. Moore’s sweeping saga.
And it begins on a dusty road in the Jewish Quarter . . .

An unexpected meeting between Esther and King Xerxes results in an immediate and unmistakable connection. When Esther is summoned to enter the king’s harem—the first step toward becoming his wife—Esther is torn between her desire to be with Xerxes and the knowledge that they will forever be divided by the secret of her Jewish heritage. Encouraged by her family to do what she must to help her people, she deftly navigates her new position in the palace, quickly becoming beloved by all—including Xerxes.

But when a treacherous plan threatens to engulf the kingdom in violence, Esther must choose between love and duty. Is she prepared to sacrifice all that she holds dear in order to save her people from certain annihilation?

The other book isn't quite a review, but more of an announcement of a spinoff novella to Evertaster, but I'm excited to read it (and so is my 10 year old!)  Here's the info:

The Buttersmiths' Gold

Everyone knows the most coveted treasure of the Viking Age was blueberry muffins. Blueberry muffins so succulent that if you sniffed just a whiff, you'd want a whole bite. If you bit a bite, you'd want a batch; if you snatched a batch, you'd stop at nothing short of going to war just to claim them all. 
Young Torbjorn Trofastsonn comes from the clan that makes them. He's a Viking through and
through – he's thirteen winters old, larger than most respectable rocks, and most of all, a Buttersmith. That's what he thinks anyway, until a charismatic merchant makes Torbjorn question his place among the muffin-makers. When Torbjorn lets the secret of his clan's muffin recipe slip, he calls doom and destruction down upon his peaceful village and forces his brother Storfjell and his clansmen to do the one thing they are ill-prepared to do: battle for their lives.

About The Buttersmiths' Gold
The Buttersmiths' Gold is a spin off novella in the Evertaster series that tells the story of two Viking brothers and their adventurous past. The Evertaster series (Book #1 released June 14, 2012) is about Guster Johnsonville, who goes searching for a legendary taste rumored to be the most delicious in all of history. Along the way he meets a slew of mysterious characters, including two Viking brothers Torbjorn and Storfjell. The Buttersmiths' Gold is their story. 124 pages. By Adam Glendon Sidwell. Published by Future House Publishing. 

Evertaster, Book #1:

A legendary taste. Sought after for centuries. Shrouded in secrecy.
When eleven-year-old Guster Johnsonville rejects his mother’s casserole for the umpteenth time, she takes him into the city of New Orleans to find him something to eat. There, in a dark, abandoned corner of the city they meet a dying pastry maker. In his last breath he entrusts them with a secret: an ancient recipe that makes the most delicious taste the world will ever know — a taste that will change the fate of humanity forever.

Forced to flee by a cult of murderous chefs, the Johnsonvilles embark on a perilous journey to ancient ruins, faraway jungles and forgotten caves. Along the way they discover the truth: Guster is an Evertaster — a kid so picky that nothing but the legendary taste itself will save him from starvation. With the sinister chefs hot on Guster’s heels and the chefs’ reign of terror spreading, Guster and his family must find the legendary taste before it’s too late.

Friday, April 26, 2013

First Page Friday

So excited for another installment of First Page Friday.  We're talking about tenses again and I learned something new.

As always, thank you to our amazing editors who put forth a lot of time and effort each week and to the writers who are brave enough to submit.

See you next week!

The Entry
Christopher Hitchens at Heaven
by James Workman

“Hello darkness, my old friend.” This was the outcome he anticipated if he didn’t beat the cancer. He has fulfilled his intention to “do death”—to look it in the eye. With just enough morphine to dull the pain, he would doze off, but wake up for talk with family and friends. But, this time it is more than dozing and he will not awaken.

This is not quite the end; it is the transition—the passing. He is very dimly aware of disliking, as he once said in an interview, being unconscious.

A malignancy brought the darkness; the transition toward death is marked by the dawning of a benign light. The light is insistent and Christopher Hitchens opens his eyes to a landscape. He is standing on a dirt path. An appealing meadow of lush grass opens out before him with a small river flowing gently through it. A deep forest is off to the right.

And there’s company—two men have come out of the forest and wade across the river less than a hundred yards away. One remains at the crossing, but the other one approaches Hitchens. Hitchens pegs the man’s appearance as Semitic and strong, with a full gray beard.

“Hello Christopher,” the man calls out while still a little distance away.

“How in blazes do you know my name?”

The man says. “That will be obvious in a moment.”

“Fine, I’ll play along. What’s your name then?”


“Oh, this is rich. Saint Peter, I’m bound to guess. Just like all the jokes. And doubly rich for being my brother’s name. And that other chap there is Jesus of course.”


Well now, Hitchens thinks, Wouldn’t Freud be proud! I’m dying and my bloody super-ego is forcing me to deal with this prime figure of my arguments.

Comments from Angela and Heidi from Eschler Editing

What’s in a Name?

Okay, I got a chuckle at the initial premise. Personally, I think Christopher Hitchens is a rather bellicose, irascible, and misguided piece of humanity, and it’s fun to imagine the conversation that took place shortly after he went the way of all the earth in 2011. (And you have some delightful ways of doing that thus far.) However, making an actual person the protagonist of your story, especially when his body is barely cold in the grave, poses certain problems, both social and legal.

For the sake of argument, I’ll agree there are precedents. C.S. Lewis made George MacDonald a character in The Great Divorce; however, by that time, George had been deceased for forty years. Dante used Virgil in The Divine Comedy—he’d been dead considerably longer. Katherine Neville uses well-known historical characters in her archeological adventure The Eight. Other writers use the roman a clef technique to hide, rather thinly at times, a real person under the guise of fiction. Primary Colors by Anonymous (aka Joe Klein) in which the character Jack Stanton stands in for Bill Clinton is an infamous example of this genre. Despite these, however, see my reasons below to reconsider using Hitchens’s actual name:

Mark Fowler, an attorney with experience in the publishing industry, indicates that there is practically no chance of having a libel judgment against you if you use a real person as a character in your fiction work, but notes that lawsuits do happen occasionally (regardless of the slim chance of winning), and in that case, you may be liable for attorney’s fees.

Hitchens was preaching to his own choir; your story is slanted to a completely different audience—at least it appears to be so from the first page’s satirical fantasy. This creates an audience problem. When I asked people if they had heard of him, I got a lot of “huhs?” If a large percentage of your readers simply don’t know Hitchens, the gimmick loses its impact. I was aware of who he is, and I thought it was funny, but even a few readers knowing who he is isn’t enough to sustain the story. Using a real person limits the character development and story options. Using an everyman atheist as your character will give you greater flexibility and freedom to develop your protagonist (who can still be based somewhat upon Hitchens) as well as your story, without the baggage that comes with using a real person.

There are two other real characters in this opening: Jesus and Peter. St. Peter is probably a safe choice. Jesus has been used as a character in novels before, but that’s a little trickier. You risk alienating a portion of your audience who may think you are treating sacred things lightly (given that the audience who might most enjoy seeing Hitchens “proved wrong” would be Christians). These are all issues for which you’ll want to weigh the benefits and risks before proceeding.

Finally, you’ll want to remember, even if he was a rather unpleasant person, Hitchens was someone’s son, brother, friend. Hitchens may be dead, but his brother and other family and friends aren’t. In the name of being sensitive and respectful, given how recent his death, you should probably reconsider.

Tense about Tense

When picking a tense, you want to be sure that your choice is a good fit for your story. You shouldn’t pick a tense just because it has a veneer of popularity. One drawback of present tense is that humans have a hard-wired perception that any story being told has already happened. Some writers pick present tense because they think it will make the ending more suspenseful for the reader, but the truth is, you can have a surprise ending or an ambiguous one even with good old reliable past tense.

Present tense is oddly centered on the moment. This creates a lack of context for the story. It can create awkward problems when the narrator has to switch back to past tense to relay information that has already happened. So the pacing of the story is affected, as well as the ability to foreshadow and to create emotional depth and intimacy between the reader and character.

Present tense can become irritating to the reader, getting bogged down in sentence after sentence of what’s happening this very moment. It isn’t the “natural” story-telling tense. Several authors/editors have articles on the drawbacks of this. Phillip Pullman’s piece in the Guardian is a good take on the subject:  Les Edgerton’s take is can be found here.  Orson Scott Card notes that “when we want to tell something important and true, we always tell it in past tense.”

Should you never use past tense? Never is a dirty word for writers. There’s an exception for every rule. But you can’t break the rules, or determine if you are the exception, unless you know them very well and why they exist. Do your writing a favor—study the pros and especially the cons. If you fully understand them, and still decide present tense is what you want for your story, go ahead. At least you’ll be informed and ready to deal with the limitations it poses. (As a side note, two of our editors read the beginning of your story, and due to tense, found it very unclear and confusing; it took several readings, forward and backward, for your meaning to come together. You definitely don’t want your opening hook to be confusing and off-putting to the reader.)

Final Thoughts

Your scenario is interesting, your character’s point of view “voice” is engaging and funny, and your attention to narrative detail will prove to be a useful writing tool. But consider experimenting with other tenses, as well as a different protagonist—one who will let the reader focus on the story, not the novelty of your choice of character. Make choices that will serve the story, and your story will be stronger for it. Happy writing!

Cover Reveal for Fun New Spy Novel---Don't Miss This One!

You all know I am a huge Alias fan, (spies in general really), and this book has all that sort of spy goodness (great secondary characters, kick-butt heroine)  (and in Canada no less!) with romance and a great sense of humor to boot.  You won't want to miss it when it comes out!

I, Spy by Jordan McCollum—Coming June 5, 2013!

About the Book

Canada is probably the last place you'd expect to find an American spy. But even idyllic Ottawa has its deadly secrets—and so does CIA operative Talia Reynolds. She can climb through ventilation shafts, blend in at the occasional diplomatic function, even scale buildings (small ones). But there’s one thing she can’t do: tell her aerospace engineer boyfriend Danny about her Top Secret occupation. It worked for a year, keeping Danny in the dark, keeping him away from danger, keeping her secrets. And then Talia finally catches a hot case: Fyodor Timofeyev. Russian. Aerospace executive. Possible spy? She can make this work, too—until Danny needs her at the same time her country does. And when Fyodor targets Danny? Suddenly her schedule isn't the only thing suffering. Now to save her secrets and her country, Talia must sacrifice the man she loves.

Add I, Spy to your Goodreads to-read list!

Advance praise

The edge-of-my-seat undercover operations kept me turning pages, and just when I thought the story would go one way, plot twists sent it down another path. Thrilling, adventurous, and romantic, this book has it all for an Alias fan.
Jami Gold, award-winning author

Jordan McCollum’s debut novel is a delightful combination of mystery, action, and romance. Talia’s CIA training and almost OCD caution feed her quirky humor while exposing her very human fears and insecurities. Add in her boyfriend Danny, and it's enough to twist your heart.
Donna K. Weaver, author of A Change of Plans

Clever, suspenseful, and charged with political intrigue and romance, I, Spy is the perfect combination for a fun and captivating read!
Michelle Davidson Argyle, author of Monarch

About the author

An award-winning author, Jordan McCollum can’t resist a story where good defeats evil and true love conquers all. In her day job, she coerces people to do things they don’t want to, elicits information and generally manipulates the people she loves most—she’s a mom. Jordan holds a degree in American Studies and Linguistics from Brigham Young University. When she catches a spare minute, her hobbies include reading, knitting and music. She lives with her husband and four children in Utah. Follow Jordan on Twitter, like Jordan on Facebook and add I, Spy on Goodreads today!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Final Edit---Practically Perfect In Every Way

As I mentioned yesterday I've been doing the final edit and the book will go to press on Monday.  Yay!

It's always such an interesting process for me.  I go over the book a million times and I always think to myself, "it's perfect."  After all, I was a professional editor for many years, there can't be many mistakes in there.

Then my critique group goes over it and they always find mistakes, and, of course, I fix them.  And then I think, "it's perfect."

But when it goes out to beta readers, they inevitably find mistakes.  And I fix them.  And then I think, "now it's perfect."

And then my final editorial people read it and even with all the other eyes that have been over it, they still find mistakes.  Extra words, a typo, missing quotation marks, and the like.  So today, I am fixing all of those and I am thinking to myself, "after today, it will be perfect."

But the sad fact is, it will probably never be perfect.  But it will be as close as I can make it.  As Mary Poppins would say, "practically perfect in every way."  (Love that show.)

Which brings me to the point of this post---always have other people read your work.  Multiple people, if possible. It will amaze you what different people will find that needs to be fixed.  No matter how great of a writer you are, you can't see the mistakes because your mind will read what you meant to say.  Every author needs an editor.  At least every author who wants to have a polished product.  I am so grateful for the people in my life who so graciously read and edit and critique my work.  I wouldn't be where I am without them.  Worth their weight in gold!

I am so excited to be at this point in the process.  It's hard for me to believe this book is almost done, but I'm glad and sad all at once.  Mostly glad.  At least for today, being an author is wonderful as I finish up this practically perfect book.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Word Count Wednesday

Today I am at a crossroads.  I'm doing the final edit and one of my editorial peeps said the kisses in my new book were too Harlequin-y, so I've been looking at them, analyzing them, and deciding what, if anything, I should change.  I personally don't see the Harlequin-y (what is that anyway?) but I want the kisses to be well done if you know what I mean.

So, my word count is small because it's little tweaks here and there, but this is the best part of being an author, when the book is *thisclose* to being held in my hands.


How did you do this week?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Castle Review---Eric Vaughn vs. Rick Castle

Well, I'm not really sure how I feel about last night's Castle.  I know this wasn't the original episode that was supposed to air, because the one that was had to do with a bomb, so they showed this one instead in deference to what happened in Boston.  Maybe if it had been the original episode I wouldn't have felt so conflicted?  I don't know.  It's not that it was bad, it was a good episode overall, but there were some things that bothered me.

At the beginning when Castle is gaming with some kid and more or less ignoring Beckett, I was like, really? After all he went through to get her, the ups and downs and horrible heartaches and almost losing her, he's ignoring her?  For a game?  Maybe that's realistic, but I didn't think so.

Then, when we are introduced to Eric Vaughn, the genius billionaire and both Beckett and Castle are giving him those looks (I'd never heard of your last supper list---twelve people you'd like to eat with, but it's a cool idea) I could see where this episode was headed.

I generally hate it when they portray Castle as a bumbling idiot.  He started out as a smooth lovable guy and that's what I loved about his character.  But every now and then they throw in these episodes where he's just falling all over himself like an idiot and it's not really him.  And there were moments like that in this episode.  Ordering the boys around, (as an aside, what was up with Esposito's hair last night?  Just wow.) the coffee with the homeless guy.  Maybe they're going for funny and I'm just not getting it, but it doesn't seem true to his character.

What I did love was the honesty we got from Beckett.  She called him out on trusting her, and when Vaughn asked her what was between her and Castle she said it was serious, but that she didn't really know where it was going because they hadn't discussed it.  I had to admit when Vaughn kissed her I shook my head.  I knew Castle would find out and I was hoping it wouldn't be an obstacle between them, especially with how Castle had been acting.  When they're taking the statement and Beckett is completely honest with Castle about what happened, I was so glad  It feels like the relationship is truly growing and I loved that.  (I did have to sigh a little with how Castle bounded into that hotel suite after the shooting to make sure she was okay.)

The murder mystery was good, but I called the murderer early on.  This episode was definitely about the relationship.  I thought the elevator scene was interesting because Castle was self-assured at first and I thought the writers had redeemed themselves from the bumbling Castle of earlier in the episode, but then they ruined it by having him look at Vaughn as the door closes.  Vaughn seems so manly and in control and Castle just seems so boyish.  But it wasn't always like that.  Castle used to be that guy in the elevator.  In season one he was more self-assured and confident.  Now he's a cross between boy/man.  Especially in this episode.  What a contrast between him and Vaughn.  *sigh*

I did like the ending where Beckett is asking where this is going.  You know the season finale will have a lot to do with that.

So, there you have it.  The good, the bad, and the ugly.  Did you watch last night?  What did you think?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Book Review: Emergence

Emergence by C. Michelle Jeffries is a book about a futuristic hit man, Antony Danic.  He's good at his job, and is able to compartmentalize it when he goes home to his wife.  Elite is the woman of his heart and he would do anything for her, but she wants to be married in her church, or "bonded" and to have a child. Antony is an atheist who doesn't feel like he belongs in a church, especially with what he does for a living.  Elite also wants children and it's a battle within himself to make her happy and still be true to what he is and the emotion inside him about home and family.

A thread through the story is that Elite is crossing off an adventurous bucket list and while they are in Tahiti, (which is really hard to visit in the future, it took them five years to get visitors visas) Antony gets a death threat.  Suddenly everything he once thought to be true about his life and job fades away and he's desperately trying to figure out what he should do and where he should turn.  Who can he trust? The rest of the book is the journey Antony takes for redemption from his sins and the price is very high.  There's obviously a religious bent to it as Antony tries to find peace with what he is and what he's done.

I liked the depth of Antony's character and the way the issues surrounding his job were addressed.  There was a lot of action, which I love, and some great emotional scenes as well.  Sometimes the flashbacks drew me out of the story because there were a lot of them, and there were a few editing issues, but other than that, I enjoyed the story.  The ending is satisfying, but it's obvious this is a series and I'll be looking forward to reading more.

Here is the back copy:

Assassin Antony Danic has never killed an innocent man. At least, the corporation he works for has never given him a reason to think otherwise--until now. Reeling from a series of demanding assignments, Antony is desperate for some downtime. As he sits on a beach in Tahiti watching his wife play in the ocean, a messenger delivers a death threat. In a matter of seconds, the hunter has become the hunted. While Antony scrambles to find a way out of his "till death do us part" contract, he's faced with the decision of a lifetime: kill another innocent man, or do what's right--even if it puts his family in jeopardy

Friday, April 19, 2013

First Page Friday

It's Friday so that means another installment of First Page Friday!  Hooray!  A day when we can sit at the feet of a national editor and learn how to polish our work.

Thank you so much to Ms. Shreditor and to Peggy for their hard work.  If you'd like to have your first page critiqued, please follow the guidelines in the sidebar.

See you next week!

The Entry
Choices Made
by Peggy Anne Allred

Two years ago, I made a choice that would forever shape my future. I could have chosen the easier path, full of family and friends, living in the peace of Camelot’s third age.

But I didn’t.

Instead, I agreed to go back in time.

Legends said that the Annihilation filled with the world with death and destruction, crushing human civilization so thoroughly that archaeologists still labored to find history within the stories that survived.

But hope was also in those stories, tales of the second age of Camelot when King Arthur and the Knights of the New Dawn rode forth to return honor, justice, and chivalry to the land.

That sounds exciting. Important. Noble.


Moments ago Merlin told me a secret about legends and stories. He said that living during a time of legends just proves how wrong they are and that even supposedly accurate histories could be very different than you expected.

I’m not sure why he chose to tell me only moments before sending me back to the 21st century. Had he feared that knowing would turn me from the harder path? Or did he hide this truth because he himself had come from the future?

It’s too late to ask.

As I stand in a tangle of spells that glowed brighter every second, I wonder which path I would have chosen if Merlin had revealed his secret when this began. I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter anyway. The spell is cast, my choice made.

I hope it was the right one.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

First, I’d like to address the use of verb tense in this piece. In most cases, you want to pick the present or past (or, if you’re feeling really experimental, the future) tense and stick with it. However, a skilled writer can shift between tenses. Here, we have a narrator who exists in the present and reflects on the past, and the writer is able to navigate pretty efficiently between the two. However, there are some hiccups. The beginning of the piece tells us that the narrator made his or her key choice two years ago, and at the very end he or she wonders if that choice was the right one. However, the casting of the spell (which I assume to be the choice made two years ago) unfolds in the present tense. This page will need some tweaking to address these tense issues.

One trend here concerns me: the use of short paragraphs. This can be a very effective mode of suspense building when used sparingly. However, it can become more of a tic when used to excess. You can build suspense effectively in other ways—with language, with sentence structure, even with punctuation—without constantly interrupting the flow of your narrative with short paragraphs.

With that in mind, consider restructuring/consolidating the first three paragraphs. Here’s my suggestion: “Two years ago, I could have chosen an easier path, full of family and friends, living in the peace of Camelot’s third age. But I didn’t. Instead, I agreed to go back in time.” Notice the changes to the first sentence. I cut “I made a choice that would forever shape my future” because it’s somewhat cliché and implied in the text that follows. Restructuring this way emphasizes at the outset that the narrator was once at a crossroads.

One copyediting note: Avoid “different than.” “Different” isn’t a comparative adjective; therefore, it shouldn’t precede “than.” In most cases, something is different from something else. So you might recast the sentence this way: “...accurate histories could be very different from what you expected.” The syntax in this sentence is a bit muddy overall, so consider trimming unnecessary words/phrases so that the reader cannot mistake its meaning.

Reimaginings and retellings of classic tales are hot right now, particular in the YA market. This reimagining of Arthurian legend can work if it 1) reflects a fluent knowledge of the original story, 2) provides a fresh take on a classic character or plot point, and 3) manages to be more than just fan fiction. (Though perhaps the meteoric rise of repurposed, “pulled to publish” Twilight fan fiction nullifies my third point. But that’s another column for another day.) If you haven’t done so already, consider reading other retellings to get a sense of how other authors have navigated charted territory. The writing here is generally quite good, so the challenge will be offering a fresh-but-faithful take on a classic.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

My New Book---Reviewers Wanted

So, I've been kind of giving stuff out piecemeal and today I thought I'd put it all together for you in a nice tidy blog post.

Here is the cover for my new novel, set to be released in May 2013

Here is the back copy:

Are you ever really innocent before proven guilty?

Sophia Naziri is wanted for questioning in the murder of a U.S. senator.  She’s worried the police will show up on her doorstep any moment, but when Detective Colby Black appears, it’s to help her put out a kitchen fire, not arrest her.  Yet.  His easy smile and persistence in getting to know her put all her troubles to the back of her mind until an Iranian hit man tracks her down.  Getting arrested becomes the least of her worries and the handsome detective could be her only way out of this¾if she tells him the truth.

Colby Black’s sniper skills have been a blessing and a curse to him.  As a member of a Hostage Negotiation Team, he can use them to save people, but sometimes he can’t protect the innocent despite his best efforts.  Yet, when Colby gets pulled into a web of deceit and lies surrounding his mysterious next door neighbor, he has to make a choice¾ guilty or innocent, should he protect her or let her go?  As Colby gets deeper into the conspiracy, he’ll have to use everything he has, including his sniper skills, in order to survive.  But when he’s faced with the moment of truth, can he trust the woman at the center of it all?

 You can read the first chapter here

Can I just say what a great feeling it is to be able to post these things?  There were days when it didn't feel like this book would ever be done and I'm so excited it is!  And I can share them with you!

I can't wait to hear what you think of it.  Really.

Okay, now let's get down to business.  If you would like to review this book in May or June, please comment below (or email me privately at juliecoulterbellon@gmail.com) and give me your email addy so I can email you details.  I'm looking for people who would blog about it and be willing to leave a review on Amazon and Goodreads.  Let me know if that's you!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Word Count Wednesday & A Thank You

Well, this past week has been very productive.  I finished the book.  There's still one more round of edits, but it's done.  Finito.  And it feels sooooooo good.

So, today, I want to thank all of you for your support and encouragement through all the sprints and terrible word count weeks and all the pats on the back for the great word count weeks.  You are awesome.  Thank you.

I know there's another story to come, but today I am basking in the glow of a finished novel and great bloggy friends.

How did you do this week?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Castle and Hawaii Five-O Review: The Light & the Dark

I watched Castle first last night.  I was in the mood for something light-hearted and I knew that episode would fit the bill.  Plus, I have family members who love the idea of Sasquatch hunters and the promos drew us all right in.

Castle is almost always at the kid at Christmas end of the spectrum when it comes to believing in fanciful things.  Like a time machine, when they had that 200 year old bullet, the zombie case, ghosts, and now Bigfoot.  But Nathan Fillion does such an amazing job, it is completely believable.  I loved the talk between him and Beckett about believing in magic.  Beckett was her level-headed self that believes in the magic you can see and touch like green shoots through the snow in February and listening to Coltrane, but Castle believes in the possibilities of things like Bigfoot.  Their banter back and forth throughout the case as to whether Bigfoot could really have killed the victim was hilarious.

I think the funniest part of all when when Castle is confronted by the bigfoot while he's in that hole.  The look on his face when it falls in with him and he's screaming for Beckett to shoot it was so funny.  I think the funniest thing, though, was when Castle was "talking" to Moonshine and the ape made that slitting motion across his throat.  Oh man, I laughed so hard.

I did call the murderer pretty early on, but they had some good twists.  Ryan and Esposito had some good moments, (their meeting with Perlmutter), but Alexis annoyed me to no end.  She lied to her dad and didn't even have a good reason.  Spoiled was the word that came to mind.  Although the booby trap Castle set was funny and the rest of the episode was stellar, so I'll overlook that part.

Hawaii Five-O was serious as Steve and Catherine were exchanging prisoners for a Navy SEAL's remains.  It was one of Steve's closest friends from BUD/s training, and was like a brother to him.  He saved Steve's life during an undercover op, but died in the course of it.  Steve realizes the remains they were given weren't his friend's, so he decides to go into North Korea and get the remains himself.  Catherine goes along with him, (loved that) and they meet up with Jimmy Buffett for guns and a way into the country.  The flashbacks to Steve's mission were amazing and I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.  It was a prequel to the first episode of Hawaii Five-O, when he was escorting the brother of the man who killed his father.  Heartbreaking.

Catherine and Steve manage to kidnap the North Korean man who was there when Steve's friend was killed and he eventually shows them the SEAL's grave.  After a car crash where Catherine cracks a rib and they end up getting captured after some really awesome gunfights.  It was really amazing, like a mini-movie.  Right up my alley with action and people who love each other.

It wrapped up with the funeral for the returned remains and Steve presents the man's dogtags to the daughter his friend never got to know.  Emotional and heart-wrenching.  I wish they could have had another hour to really tell the story and how they got out of North Korea, but I loved the balance with action and emotion and I especially loved that Steve and Catherine were on a mission together.  So, so great.  Definitely one of my favorite episodes of the season.

What did you watch last night?  Anyone watching Dancing with the Stars?

Monday, April 15, 2013

My New Cover! I'm So Excited!

I am THRILLED to share my new book cover with you.  I can't wait to hear what you think of it.


Book Review: The Cure (Unbounded)

Well, if any of you know me, you know I'm not a huge urban fantasy fan, but the back copy to this book intrigued me.  I like strong heroines and I like great action stories. This seemed right up my alley.

The Cure (Unbounded) by Teyla Branton opens with Erin Radkey watching a couple argue on a park bench.  She can sense that something is terribly wrong and she's proven right when they are attacked.  She's outnumbered by the Hunters, but that isn't what worries her.  It's the phone call that says their lab in Mexico has been attacked.  That can only mean one thing---the Emporium has found them.

Erin races against time to save her friends and those she loves, but the road has a lot of bumps, and she doesn't know if anyone she cares about with come away from this without scars they'll live with for the rest of their lives.

I loved the character of Erin.  Her voice was unique, but the things she struggles with are easily identifiable for everyone.  There's a great supporting cast, with Keene and Ritter, her two possible love interests, Ava, Erin's brothers, Chris and Jace, Chris's children, and even the dog.  The core group gives this story depth and color and the author does a great job in making them all relatable.  There's lots of great action, some romance, and an adventure that left me anxiously waiting for the next installment in this new series.  (Although first I have to go back and read the first one, The Change.  It's free today on Kindle, too, so score for me!)

Here's the back copy for The Cure:

Even When You CHANGE, Some Things Remain the Same . . .

Erin Radkey’s life has altered completely since her Change made her one of the Unbounded. Yet she has learned the hard way that some things never change.

Greed. Over the centuries the long-lived Unbounded have divided into two groups, the Emporium who craves money and power and will do anything to achieve its ends, including experimenting on its own people, and the Renegades who protect humanity.

Power. Now the Renegades are close to discovering a cure that will save many dying mortals, and the husband of Erin’s closest friend is first in line to receive the formula. But Emporium agents will stop at nothing to destroy the cure—until they realize the research might be exactly the weapon they’ve been searching for.

Love. Erin’s new abilities are tested as she and fellow Renegades fight the Emporium in a struggle that soon becomes all too personal, and where lines of loyalty are blurred by relationships of the past. Everything is at risk, including the lives of her friends—and the love of Ritter Langton, the Renegade Unbounded who both infuriates and excites her.

From the busy streets of Portland to the jungles of Mexico, The Cure is a page-turning urban fantasy that will keep you riveted until the end.

Friday, April 12, 2013

First Page Friday

Thank you for your patience today.  This critique was definitely worth the wait, since it made me really think about how I present ethnicity as well.  A great First Page Friday, that I learned from, as usual.  Thank you to Brian and to Ms. Shreditor for their efforts.

See you next week!

The Entry

Ethan Crane
by Brian Crosby

Walking into the dining room, Ricki Candarossi sat at a large mahogany table and crossed her arms tight against her chest, her dark Asian eyes glowing pale with emotion. It was not the headlights that raked across her ceiling that caused her heart thump madly. Nor was it the hushed voices that she heard in the entry way a minute later. No, it was that her family was on the verge of being torn apart, and there was nothing she could do about it.

A moment later, her husband turned on a light. He walked into the kitchen and pulled a beer from the fridge. He popped the top and then, tipping back his head, he glimpsed his wife, just sitting there in the darkness by herself, almost startling him. Swallowing both the beer and the anguish in his throat, he reluctantly joined her at the table, removing his suit coat and loosening his tie before sitting down at the other end.

He took another sip, and Ricki watched as he examined the label on the bottle as though he was refusing to look at her, while all she could do was glare at him in utter disapproval.

“So, is it true, Mitch?”

Mitch didn’t look up but after pausing, his head bobbed in confirmation.

Her husband was only a couple years older than her forty-eight, but he’d taken good care of himself. With his thick dark hair, deep set eyes, and his muscular frame, Ricki had always thought that he looked young for his age, and much better looking than the political riffraff, strategists as he called them, that frequented their home. But now, disoriented, damaged, his jaw dark with a whiskery shadow, his voice having lost its normally steely edge, he looked like he’d just survived a train wreck, just barely survived.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

Before I begin my critique proper, I wanted to address the length of the sample that came to me. When I formatted it in Microsoft Word according to Julie’s submissions guidelines, it was nearly two pages long. In this case, because the sample ran so far over the allotted length, Julie and I decided that it would be best to critique just the first page of the sample. There were three additional paragraphs in the original excerpt that have been excised here.
This piece has a lot of potential. There are kinks to be worked out, but before I address those issues, I want to talk about what does work here. I feel like I prattle on and on about the rhythm of a narrative, but I do so because it’s such a key element. A good piece of prose generates rhythm, momentum. If you’ve varied your sentence length, if you’ve weighed your clauses and commas and em-dashes carefully, you’ve created a rhythm that carries the reader across hundreds of pages. This piece accomplishes that end.
I believe that dialogue should be used sparingly on a first page, and the author has done exactly that here. We get one line of dialogue: “So, is it true, Mitch?” With just five words, the story has generated enough suspense to hook the reader. The reader can’t help but wonder what might be true about Mitch. That Mitch responds without words, that the story doesn’t swerve off-course here into what I call “dialogue dumping,” shows a lot of restraint and maturity on the author’s part. Mitch says more with his nod than he could with words.
Now to address some of the kinks: Be careful with syntax. There was one sentence that felt like a momentary head hop to me: “Swallowing both the beer and the anguish in his throat, he reluctantly joined her at the table, removing his suit coat and loosening his tie before sitting down at the other end.” If the story is unfolding from Ricki’s point of view, how can she know that there’s anguish in his throat? Be careful when stringing together participial phrases, too. Unless there are prepositions involved (e.g., “before sitting down at the other end”), participial phrases and main verbs don’t show a sequence of events; they denote simultaneous action. Mitch can’t be swallowing his beer, joining Ricki at the table, removing his coat, and loosening his tie at the same time, so this passage needs reworking. Excessive use of participial phrases to create prose rhythm is a common writing tic. Study up on their proper use and function to avoid dangling participles or chronological impossibilities (i.e., a participle and a main verb strung together that cannot happen simultaneously).
Lastly, weigh imagery carefully to ensure that it makes sense. I couldn’t readily envision what dark eyes “glowing pale” would look like. More important, watch ethnic descriptors. “Asian eyes” is very vague, and it’s the kind of trap a writer can fall into that might inadvertently upset some readers. Asians aren’t interchangeable—there are dozens of ethnic groups on the Asian continent, each with distinctive physical traits—but Western people tend to lump them, particularly East Asians, together. There is an entire school of literary theory, orientalism, devoted to Western interpretations of Asian cultures in literature and art (explored most notably in literary theorist Edward Said’s Orientalism). This is a testament to how challenging it can be to write convincingly about other cultures. The bottom line: I think it would be better to introduce Ricki’s ethnicity in some other way so that she doesn’t seem typecast based on the shape of her eyes, and so that the reader is clear on her exact heritage.
Otherwise, there are some copyediting-level issues that a good line edit would address. I must reiterate here the potential of this piece. It plants a lot of seeds and sets the stakes high from the beginning. It draws the reader into what appears to be a very troubled marriage. The reader can’t help but wonder what Mitch has done and whether or not any political intrigue, as hinted at by the mention of strategists, might be involved. Overall, this piece feels pretty close to ready; it just needs that final polish to up its odds of catching an agent’s or editor’s attention. 

First Page Friday---Coming Soon

Because of a mix-up, First Page Friday won't be posted until tonight.  I apologize to everyone who was waiting for it, but it couldn't be helped.  I hope you'll check back tonight.

See you then!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Ashes, Ashes . . . First Chapter Reveal

Okay, I am so excited to share the first chapter of my new book, Ashes, Ashes . . . with you!

Ashes, Ashes . . .
by Julie Coulter Bellon
copyright 2013

Chapter One

It was gut-check time.
Colby looked down the scope of his rifle, a bead of sweat running down his back. It felt like they’d been there for hours, but the afternoon sun still beating down on his head told him it’s only been an hour or so.
“Black, you got eyes on this guy?” his captain’s voice came over his earpiece.
“Affirmative.”  Colby had hardly been able to take his eyes off the stringy-haired
guy with the gun who was pacing behind his hostage, shouting at her and anyone else within hearing distance. The shrill ringing of the phone on the wall behind them punctuated whatever the man was yelling at her.  “He’s still pretty agitated.  You think he’s going to answer that phone anytime soon?”
A shot rang out and the ringing abruptly stopped. He’d shot the phone.  “I guess that answers that question,” Colby muttered to himself.
“Stand by for orders.”  The captain sounded calm, but Colby knew him well enough to hear the thread of frustration.  If they couldn’t make contact the entry team would be sent in, and it was game over for any type of negotiation. 
Colby flexed his wrist before hunkering down once again.  From the little they knew about this guy, he’d already killed two store clerks today and shot an officer in the thigh.  When he’d barricaded himself in the house with his wife and two kids, the Hostage Negotiation Team that Colby was a part of had been called.  In the hour that Colby had been there, the guy had shot out two windows and screamed obscenities at the cops outside as he fired his gun randomly.  Colby always hoped the situation stayed controlled and they could get everyone out safely, but his instinct was telling him this one could get out of control fast with how erratic this guy was acting. 
Colby adjusted his earpiece a bit, but didn’t miss a syllable of Claire Michaels checking in with the team.  She was the main negotiator and was good at her job, but she was always a little anxious until they established contact with the hostage-taker.  Once that line was set, then she calmed right down.  Colby clenched his teeth together, hoping she could figure out a way to make contact so the patrolman using the bullhorn could stop.  The man’s grating voice coming through the bullhorn was getting on his nerves. 
Colby was grateful for a straight line of vision into the kitchen where the subject had holed up and he looked into the scope again just in time to see the man grab his wife by the hair and haul her against him, still screaming in her face.  He waved his .40 caliber handgun in front of her before pointing it right at her temple.  “Sir, he’s got the gun to his wife’s head,” he reported. 
He kept a close watch, waiting for orders, but sucked in a breath when he saw a child around four years old enter the room right next to the hostage-taker.  “Sir, we have two hostages confirmed.  Woman and child.” 
“Colby, the entry team’s about ready.  They’ve got a flash-bang coming through the back as a diversion.” Colby heard his captain’s words, but knew it was the wrong move to make.  This guy was on the edge and if they entered now, it would end badly, Colby could feel it.  He squinted to see if he could get any better view, anything that would force the entry team to wait and give them a little longer to try to get him to negotiate.  “Come on,” he said to himself.  Nothing.  “Sir, does Claire¾
His sentence was cut off at the sound of gunfire and the scream that followed it. 
“What’s going on in there?  Anyone got eyes?” his captain barked through his earpiece. 
Colby looked through the scope, dreading what he might see.  Pushing his emotion down, he did a sweep of the small area.  “Got a visual on both hostages,” Colby said, keeping his voice neutral.  “Hostage down.  Looks like the female was shot in the shoulder.”  The woman was bloody, but conscious and talking to her husband while holding her arm.  He was still yelling at her.  Why isn’t that guy hoarse yet? Give the woman a break, Colby thought to himself. 
The man moved over to the broken window and shoved his wife in front of him.  “I’ll kill her, do you hear me?” As he screamed, Colby was struck by the fact that the woman seemed fairly calm as she stared at the men surrounding her home.  Then he saw her hand reach down and push her child back.  She’s protecting her kid.  His stomach twisted.  They had to get them out fast.  The hostage-taker pulled the woman back and two shots came through the window toward the patrol cars, close enough to the uniform with the bullhorn that he crouched down quick.
“Do you see the child?” the captain asked.
He wasn’t in Colby’s line of vision anymore. “Negative.  He was there a second ago, though.”  Where had the kid gone? How much of this mess has he seen? 
“The suspect isn’t making demands, he’s not talking, and he’s already shot four people today.  He’s a convicted felon and isn’t going to come quietly.  Negotiation isn’t an option, so we’re going with the entry team.  Colby, if you get the shot, take it because he won’t hesitate to take our guys down and kill the hostages.” 
Adrenaline ran through Colby at his captain’s words.  No matter how long he’d been in the business, he never liked hearing that.  But if it could save an innocent life, he would do what he could.  He got ready and he didn’t have to wait long.  The man was holding out his arm, pointing the gun at the woman.  “Suspect is holding gun on hostage, he looks ready to shoot.” 
He heard the flash bang at the back of the house.  Colby knew it was coming and he drew in a deep breath, then expelled it in increments until his lungs were nearly empty.  With the wife still held in front of him, the only shot Colby could take would be a head shot and that was always risky, but he didn’t have a choice.  He could hear the yelling as the entry team came in and, as expected, the hostage-taker opened fire on them. “I have the shot,” he said with his last breath.  He held his empty lungs and everything stopped.  There was no sound, nothing to take away his focus, until he felt the trigger on the rifle release.
In the half a second it took to squeeze the trigger, the suspect moved his head forward and Colby knew instinctively that he hadn’t killed the man, only wounded him.  “Suspect is wounded but not down.” 
His words seemed drowned out by the gunshots from inside the house.  One resonated with Colby.  It’d come from a semi-automatic .40 caliber handgun¾he would bet his life on it. Another one followed soon after, but then all he could hear was the team yelling for him to put it down.  Closing his eyes for a millisecond, he steeled himself for what he would see when he opened them and looked through the scope.
It was carnage.  Blood was everywhere and both the suspect and hostage were down.  From the way their bodies had fallen, it was obvious he’d shot her and then himself.  But the worst was seeing the little boy standing there, looking down at his parents’ bodies, bewildered and crying.  “Somebody get the kid,” Colby murmured.  “Get the kid!”
Just as he said it, an officer scooped the boy up.  Colby sank back against the shed he’d been perched on.  He’d missed and because of his mistake a woman was dead, her son a witness.  If only he’d been half a second sooner.  He ground his teeth together and rubbed his eyes as if he could erase what he’d seen, what he’d done.  Why?
His partner, Bart Guitterez, found him like that a few minutes later.  “It’s not your fault, man. It was his.  He wouldn’t negotiate and he knew he didn’t want to go back to prison. He was so hopped up on drugs, it would have been a mess no matter what we did. We tried.”
“I could have saved the hostage if he hadn’t moved. I missed the shot.” Standing up, Colby looked toward the house.  “The kid was there. Saw the whole thing.”
“Yeah, I know.”  Bart gave him a pat on the shoulder.  “You did what you were supposed to do. Didn’t save everyone, but two kids are still alive. Remember that.”
Colby started toward the house, but Bart held him back.  “I’m going in, Bart.”
“Why? They’re processing the scene.  Let them do their job first.”
Colby knew Bart meant well, but he had to do it.  He didn’t want the last image to be of the little boy standing over the bodies.  Not that the scene inside would be much better.  This case would live with him, he knew that, but he didn’t want it to haunt him.  “I’m going in.”
Bart followed him inside.  Shabby furnishings and filth covered most of the floor of the small house.  Dirty diapers and used syringes lay out in the open.  Colby walked through the room trying to imagine children living here when he could see animal feces mixed with the garbage.  The smell was overpowering.  He moved faster, but stayed out of the way as much as he could, until he was standing in the doorway of the kitchen. 
Both bodies lay on the floor, but for some reason it gave Colby a tiny amount of satisfaction that the gunman had scratches on his face.  No matter what, she’d fought him.  She’d fought for her life.  But his satisfaction quickly drained when he looked at her face, her eyes empty.  She’d lost that fight and he hadn’t been able to protect her.  With a sigh, he turned his back and went outside.  Thankfully Bart hadn’t said a word. 
The captain met them on the lawn.  “What happened?” he asked quietly.
“The suspect moved just as I got the shot off,” Colby explained. 
“First reports say you got him in the neck and nicked an artery.  He would have bled to death anyway.”
“Not soon enough to save the hostage,” he said.  Bitterness colored his tone.
“It was clean, you know that.”  He touched Colby’s shoulder.  “But you also know the drill.  Make an appointment with the counselor.”
Colby nodded.  “I’ll do that.”  He glanced back at the house, wanting to get away, but knowing there was still a lot of clean-up to do.
The captain seemed to read his mind.  “Why don’t you head back to the station and start the paperwork.”  It wasn’t a question.
Colby gave him a grateful glance.  “Yes, sir.”   
The captain gave him a nod before heading to the command center, and Colby could see Claire approaching.  Bart headed her off and he couldn’t hear what they were saying, but he could imagine and he didn’t want anyone’s sympathy right now.  He quickly headed for the car.
Claire was faster, though, and intercepted him.  “You okay?”
“Fine,” he ground out.  He opened his trunk and started putting his gear away.
She tilted her head to try and make him meet her eyes.  “It wasn’t your fault this went south.  It was a team effort that didn’t work.  You know that.  The guy wouldn’t talk.  He was on the edge, high on drugs.  He probably planned this as a murder/suicide.  There wasn’t much we could do.”
“I had an opportunity, Claire, and I blew it.”  The image of the kid rose in his mind, but he pushed it back.  “Any news on the other kid?  I thought there were two.”  He didn’t really want to know, but deep inside he knew he had to ask.
“Safe and sound in a closet.”
“What’s going to happen to them?  That kid who witnessed the shooting will need counseling.”  A lot of it.
 “You know how this will go as well as I do.”  Claire’s voice was soft.  “The Department of Children and Families will do all they can making sure the kids are safe and taken care of. Hopefully they have some family who can take them in.”
Colby slammed the trunk closed.  “Yeah.  I hope so.”
She gave him a hug and he held her for a moment.  There was a time when he thought his feelings for her were more than a big brother, but that had passed.  They were family, the things they’d been through making them closer than some brothers and sisters he knew, and he valued that.  But right now he needed to be alone.  “I’m heading back to the station to get the paperwork started.”  His voice was gruff, but he knew Claire understood.
She pulled back and gave him a little smile.  “Okay.  I’m sure we won’t be far behind you.  But take the advice you’re always telling us and don’t do anything on an empty stomach.”
Colby shielded his eyes from the sun, knowing her teasing was good-natured.   “Hey, it’s a proven fact people work better when they’re fed. I’ll get us some takeout just in case.”
Claire chuckled.  “You and your comfort food.  Now if you start cleaning the station or baking, I’m going to know you’re really stressed out.”
“I never should have told you that,” Colby said.  “Everyone has their stress relief.  And deep down you know you like it.”
She held up her hands in surrender.  “You’re right.  No one makes homemade cinnamon rolls like you.  And you can come over and clean my house anytime.  Just don’t try to cook anything.  Baking is definitely your specialty.”
He gave her a grim smile before he opened his car door and slid behind the wheel.  “See you in a few.” 
He could feel her eyes on him as he wove in between the emergency vehicles that surrounded the house.  It was obvious she was more worried about him than she let on. He appreciated her concern, but he needed to deal with this on his own.  It was that kid witnessing it all that was affecting him the most.  All that innocence lost.  His life would never be the same after seeing something like that.
As soon as Colby was clear of anyone he knew, or anyone who might see, he slammed his fist into the steering wheel, again and again, until his hand hurt so much he had to stop.  It felt good to release a bit.  Even though his head knew it was the nature of the business¾that they couldn’t save everyone, but his heart was in a different place right now. 
Glancing in the rearview mirror, he pressed on the gas pedal.  He needed to compartmentalize what had happened and get it out of his head.  The sooner he could get his mind involved in something else, the better.  And he’d make that appointment with the police psychologist.  Couldn’t hurt. 
 He pulled into the parking lot of the station, but didn’t get out of the car.  Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath.  In and out.  In and out.  He was going to be okay.  His thoughts turned back to the little boy from the house and knew he wanted to follow-up, make sure the kid got taken care of.  He couldn’t do that for every case, but in this instance, he knew he needed to for his own peace of mind.  

            Feeling a bit better, he got out and went inside.  The paperwork was waiting.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Word Count Wednesday

I have had a very productive week, but it's been all in editing so my word count was low.  I am so close to being done with the editing part, though, it makes me smile just to think of it.  I cannot wait to share Colby's story with you.  Hopefully I'll be showing you the book cover soon.  Yay!

How did you do this week?  How are your stories coming along?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Castle & Hawaii Five-O---Action vs. Romance. What Draws You?

No new Castle or Hawaii Five-O to talk about this week, but next week's episodes look dang good.  But I got to thinking last night, what is it that really draws me to these shows?

I started watching Castle because it was about a writer and it was sort of like living vicariously for me.  I would love to follow a police detective around for a while.  But then I really started to love the characters.  Nathan Fillion is adorable and plays being a writer so well.  I loved the sparks between him and Beckett from the very beginning and that she was a fan of his books, but didn't want to let him know (since he's got a bit of an ego.)  I've loved seeing their relationship evolve from sparks to something much deeper.  So, yes, the cases are fun and have led to great moments, but it's really about the relationships for me not only between the main characters, but the whole team.

Hawaii Five-O is sort of the same.  I was drawn to a Navy SEAL heading up a task force in Hawaii.  I've loved the cases that show things unique to Hawaii and yes, I love all the scenery they show every week (I love you Hawaii) not to mention all the beautiful people.  The explosions and car chases and gunfights are also pretty cool, but lately, I've loved seeing how Steve has interacted with Catherine.  There's just something about a romance being added to the action that draws me in deep.  It just brings another dimension to the table that I love and makes for must-see TV for me.

As I thought about all my favorite shows, I realized it's been that way for a long time.  Scarecrow and Mrs. King, lots of action with a side of romance.  Alias, TONS of spy action with a really great angsty romance.  Even 24 had lots of gritty action and some romance for poor Jack.  (RIP Renee).

Not surprisingly, that's how I write my books, too.  Lots of action with a side of romance.  The story that I'm almost finished with follows that pattern, as well, and so, for the most part, I'm producing books that I'd like to read.  Or writing books in the same genre as shows I like to watch on television.  Which is probably a good thing, since I'm doing something I love and that hopefully others love, too.

What about you?  Do you love romance more than action?  What genres are your favorites?  If you're a Castle or Hawaii Five-O fan, what draws you?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Book Review: Lost Then Found

I'm not usually a fan of novellas, but I've been following this Aliso Creek series and I have loved every one.  Lost Then Found was no exception.

This is the story of Arie, an up and coming realtor who loves her job.  She's thirty and the book opens with her date telling her she's not the sort of girl he'd ever introduce to his mother.  Her reaction is funny and definitely deserved a slow hand-clap from the crowd that would grow into huge applause as she gives him what-for.  She's a feisty girl and that serves her well for when she meets Dustin Jacobs, a big-time movie producer who is demanding that someone bring the real estate papers over to his house immediately.  Without being able to contact her boss, Arie takes the papers over and is struck by how annoying and demanding Dustin is.  Not to mention that he's requested her to be his agent from now on and Arie knows that's going to cause a lot of headaches between her and her boss.

The book gave us a peek into what's happening with the other Aliso Creek series characters and it was the type of sweet beginning to a romance that gives you butterflies.  There are some really great one-liners in the book and even better kisses.  I think this is the first book in the series that I really wanted to have just one more chapter on, especially as a new character is introduced near the end and has so much storyline potential.  I hope we'll see these characters again (I would actually love a book two with this one) but I'm really looking forward to the next book in the series.

Here's the back copy:

Liz, Gemma, Arie, Jess, and Drew have been best friends since creating “the Five” at Aliso Creek High School. But that was over ten years ago, and each is still trying to find that perfect someone... if perfect is even possible.

Arie, at the top of her career as VP of an established real estate company, discovers that her success has led to a less-than-successful dating life. But she may have just met the ideal man in work-a-holic film producer, Dustin Jacobs. Seeing each other once a week, or even once a month, is no big deal since they are both ambitious… until Arie realizes she wants much, much more.

Friday, April 5, 2013

First Page Friday

Yay, it's Friday and we have a really great First Page Friday today.  I'm so grateful for authors who submit their work so we can learn from each other through the critiques.

If you would like your first page critiqued, please follow the guidelines in the sidebar.  See you next week!

The Entry
by Linda Unsicker

For a full two seconds Nate's senses appeared to be failing him. The brilliant flash of lightning had rendered him momentarily blinded, and he felt as though he were staring at the negative of a photograph. The blacks and whites of the ship's deck were oddly interchanged, with shades of gray blurring the edges. His dreaded anticipation of the imminent crack of thunder seemed to mute all sounds around him; even the chaotic waves in the black sea below were strangely silent for those two seconds. He longed to plaster a wet hand over each ear, to squeeze his eyes shut and will away the present terror.

During one of the explosions of light, Nate had found a rope tied to a railing and had grabbed for it, steadying his feet on the tipping deck. He knew nothing could persuade him to let go of that rope, even the upcoming thunderous crash. He steeled his senses and closed his eyes as if to lessen the blow to his ears.

After three or four more bursts from the heavens, with ears ringing in protest, he realized with alarm that there were no lifeboats or life preservers in sight. Nate called out, but the sound of his voice did not even reach his own ears as the storm raged around him. He had been asleep down below the now-abandoned deck as the storm increased, and now he knew that the shouting and tumult of his dreams had been reality.

He dared not release his grip on the rope as the ship tipped precariously from side to side. Where had everyone gone? he wondered with a growing panic. He couldn’t decide which frightened him more: an abandoned ship in a terrific storm or the hateful water around him. And then the lightning revealed a large, black wave bearing down on the ship, about to engulf him.

With a fleeting thought of self preservation, his mind almost numb from fear, Nate threw himself over the side of the doomed boat, hoping that he would be clear of it when it went under. After the tumultuous crashing of waves and thunder, the muffled silence under the ocean seemed unnatural. He surfaced, kicking furiously, just as another intense flash showed the ship upended in the churning blackness.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

This first page fires on a lot of the right cylinders. For starters, it’s really clean. I might tweak a few minor things here and there, but I’m impressed with the quality of editing in this sample. It’s not just the grammatical nuts and bolts; it’s also the way the prose flows as it’s read aloud. There’s a wealth of sensory imagery to make the unfolding scene more vivid, from the crashing waves and thunder to the explosions of light.

The pacing in this scene works quite well, too. There is a lot of physical movement as Nate tries to save his own life, and this helps to create a certain momentum in the narrative itself. My one concern is that the scene is so action-oriented that we can’t surmise much of substance from it. Is Nate alone on the ship? If so, why? Where was he headed before the storm struck? What are some of his circumstances? Character traits? Personal conflicts? It’s hard to see beyond the impending shipwreck in the absence of such details. That doesn’t mean, of course, that you have to cram everything on the first page, but you might consider dropping a few clues there to raise the stakes from the beginning.

Watch verb tenses in italicized thoughts. Where did everyone go? or Where has everyone gone? would work better in this instance. We rarely think in the past perfect tense (e.g., had gone); to the contrary, we often think in the present tense. Make sure that expressed thoughts in a narrative employ the appropriate tense. When in doubt, put yourself in your character’s shoes and think his/her thoughts yourself to gauge whether or not the verb tense feels natural.

Beyond the aforementioned suggestions, there’s not much I would change here. The most important order of business: Add some more personal details about Nate to help the reader forge an instant connection with him. The more we know about him from the outset, the more invested we’ll be in his story. Dropping character-defining details without information dumping is a delicate art, but I have every confidence that the author of this sample can walk that fine line and make it happen.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Anyone Can Write a Book, But Should They?

I get asked a lot of questions by aspiring writers.  Just last week I had a man ask me how important setting is to a story.  "Why can't they just imagine where they are?"  Which is a very good question.  Maybe he'll be the first author to write a story with no setting and do it well, who knows.  But for me, setting is how I get lost in the story and escape to another world, so I highly recommend it myself.

But last Sunday I had someone say that the publishing world had changed so that anyone can write a book and make enough income to get out of debt.  A few people looked over at me for my reaction and the first thing out of my mouth was, "Sure, anyone can write a book, but you still have to have a sellable product and know how to market it."  

Amazon has changed the publishing market to be sure.  There are thousands of self-published authors appearing almost daily it seems, and they don't have any clue what they're doing.  I've seen some books that had no formatting, some that were all one long paragraph, and others that didn't really make sense.  Authors are rushing the publishing process before they even have something publishable.  So here are two tips for you, if you are thinking of self-publishing.

Do not publish your first draft.  You might want to because of all the good feelings that come with finishing something, but don't do it.  Get some beta readers to read it over and point out the plot holes or places that don't make sense or where you have characterization issues.  Then read it out loud to yourself---you'd be surprised at how many errors you can find that way.  Step away from it for a few days, then come back with fresh eyes.  Use a scene chart like we talked about last week to make sure you've balanced plot/characterization/setting.  Know and use grammar and punctuation rules and DO NOT rely on spell check.  

Once you've gone through several drafts and made revisions to your story, get an editor.  I know everyone says they're too expensive, but if you look, you can find one in your price range.  I've known people to barter for editorial services, but whatever you have to do, it is worth it.  An editor polishes your work so that it shines and make people want to buy your book.  And your next book.  And your next.  If you have a poorly edited book out there, it is highly unlikely people will buy from you again because you have a reputation for not being well-edited and believe me, readers hate a ton of typos and bad grammar. Please, use an editor if at all possible.  

To sum up, revise and polish.  More than once.  Make your manuscript the very best it can be before you hit that publish button.  If you're not sure how to make your plot stronger or your characters more realistic, there are tons of great writing books out there.  Read some.  There are so many resources for newer authors. Use them.  Jordan McCollum's free PDFs are great and there are lots of things like that out there.  They aren't hard to find and will only help you as you work toward making your manuscript shine.

Writing is an art and not everyone sees things the same, but there is a framework to work in if you want to make money on it.  I have heard several authors wonder why they're not selling, but when I download a sample I can see from the first pages why they're not selling.  They haven't polished their product and the readers know it.  Do the work beforehand so you can reap the benefits.  

So, yes, anyone can write a book, but not everyone can write it well.  Do your homework and make your book the very best it can be before you share it with the world.  Then you can reap the benefits.