Every once in a while, I post on my Facebook page, asking friends and strangers for volunteers in a writing exercise. Essentially, I write an intro for them into a non-existent novel. It's a fun exercise for me, as I try to use what I know about the person to inform, not only their entrance, but the style of the book or story that I think they'd best suit. About two weeks ago, singer/songwriter and actress Kate Eppers graciously allowed me to use her likeness in this, a scene from a fairy tale/fantasy. Be sure to let me know what you think!
Mila’s heart was pounding in her chest. Fear screamed for her to run onward, but her brother’s desperate cry forced her to turn. Elias was on the ground, his legs entangled in fallen branches. Beyond him, still hidden by the forest, bodies crashed through branches and underbrush. The goblins were nearly upon them.
She ran back and pulled on the branches, but they were woven tight. Elias’ face was streaked with tears, his legs scratched and bloody.
“Come on!” Mila cried, tearing at the branches. It was no use – it was an enchanted trap and there was no immediate escape. Even as the first goblin appeared, a nightmarish creature all teeth and claws, clutching its club and screeching in triumph, she knew they were lost.
“Mila!” Elias pushed her off. “Run!”
“No!” She grabbed a fallen branch and held it ready as more goblins appeared. She wouldn’t leave her little brother and if they had to die, at least they would die defending themselves.
The goblins screeched in triumphant unison and scrambled towards them, teeth bared and mouths dripping in anticipation. Cold fear drenched Mila’s body and she stepped forward so that she could absorb the first blow. The nearest goblin launched himself at her, so close she could see the black flecks in his glowing red eyes and… suddenly, everything changed.
A song rent the air, high, delicate, and gorgeous. A shimmering translucent wall of pure energy sprung up in front of Mila. The goblin hit the wall, hard, but didn’t go through. He fell to the ground and rolled away, his skin black and sizzling from where it had made contact. The same thing happened when the other goblins touched the wall, until they were all burning. They ran along the wall, looking for entrance, but it stretched far out of sight and the song held it strong. Finally, burnt and angry, they disappeared into the forest. And Mila, still reeling from this sudden change of events, turned to see singer.
A woman stood behind the two children. Even her hand had not been raised for the spell, they would have known it was she who conjured the wall, for she resonated with pure energy and song. She was of medium height, with loose blond hair, dressed a white robe. She lowered her hand, finished the song, and then smiled brightly at the two frightened children.
“It’s all right,” she said. “You’re safe now, in my kingdom.” She made a motion with her finger and the branches released Elias.
“Who are you?” Mila stammered, as Elias got to his feet.
When the woman said her name, it was so long and complicated that the children could only stare in confusion. The woman laughed.
“Just call me Kate,” she said and reached for their hands. “Come on! We’ve got places to go and things to see!”
By Ta-Nehisi Coates
This brush with death births an urgency in Hiram and a daring scheme: to escape from the only home he's ever known. So begins an unexpected journey that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia's proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the Deep South to dangerously idealistic movements in the North. This is the dramatic story of an atrocity inflicted on generations of women, men, and children - the violent and capricious separation of families - and the war they waged to simply make lives with the people they loved. Written by one of today's most exciting thinkers and writers, The Water Dancer is a propulsive, transcendent work that restores the humanity of those from whom everything was stolen.
The Water Dancer teeters delicately on the line of historical fiction and fantasy. It's a fascinating, in-depth look at slavery and bondage and what these concepts can do to a man. One of the most compelling sequences was when the protagonist and narrator, Hiram, begins to realize what his bondage, a fact since his birth, truly means for him in terms of freedom of love and movement. It's also a terrific look at the progressive movements in America at the time, which included everything from abolition to suffrage to free love.
It's a great set-up, but the novel falters in several areas, including prose. Hiram has such a ruminative voice that its occasionally difficult to tell when an actual action has taken place (revenge against a particular foe was so lightly touched upon that I didn't realize until much later that it had actually happened) and Coates tries to fit so much philosophy and politics and awakenings into his story that it can feel a little bloated. Everyone, from high or low in society, tends to talk in speeches, all of which feel the same. The dialog only seldom allows for differences in class or accent, which is a true shame, given the variety and caliber of characters presented here. There is magic in this book too, invoked by memory, which was promising but ultimately not terribly useful concept in the book- everything that was done seemed capable of being done through ordinary Underground methods.
Overall, The Water Dancers is an evocative, fantastical, but somewhat underdeveloped insider's look at the slave system and the Underground system. An enjoyable read, but perhaps not a destined classic.
by William Kent Krueger
Forced to flee, he and his brother Albert, their best friend Mose, and a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi and a place to call their own. Over the course of one unforgettable summer, these four orphans will journey into the unknown and cross paths with others who are adrift, from struggling farmers and traveling faith healers to displaced families and lost souls of all kinds. With the feel of a modern classic, This Tender Land is an enthralling, big-hearted epic that shows how the magnificent American landscape connects us all, haunts our dreams, and makes us whole.
The story of four orphaned runaways, This Tender Land is a sweeping epic with heart, a truly American odyssey. Odie (short for Odysseus) is a yarn-spinner of the best kind, a brave if occasionally brash young man whose heart is as big as the American landscape. His brother, Albert, is the mechanical genius with a responsibility complex. Mose is the silent giant with a mysterious past and an uncertain future. Emmy is the hopeful, happy little girl whom they all adore - think Shirley Temple with second sight.
But the true joy of this novel isn't the characters or the landscape or the attention to historical detail: its the sense of adventure and hope that is imbued throughout the story. While the occasional heavy-handed moralizing is mildly distracting, the prose, pacing, and good-hearted nature of the story rivets you to the page. When asked by a friend of mine, the best comparison I could come up with was, if Mark Twain decided to write his own American version of the The Oddessy, it'd feel something like this. For all the darkness this novel unblinkingly faces, it's a hopeful story about home, family, and adventure.
Rejection is part of the game of life. But what does it actually mean about you, personally?
As part of my new 2020 initiative, I decided (among other things) that I was going to be braver, that I was going to put myself and my work out there a little more. I've always wanted to be a published author (hooray for Amazon!), which I managed, but I wanted to reach out and try it a different way. I decided I need to query more literary agents.
Now, for those of you who don't know, when you write a fabulous new novel, authors these days have two options: they can publish it themselves, using Amazon or WattPad or any number of platforms, or they can do it the old fashioned way. As I've always had a not-so-secret hankering to be published by HarperCollins or Penguin, I decided to pursue this route, which entails writing a synopsis of your book, a query letter for said book, and then sending query letters and samples to literary agents who, if they like it, will sign you on as a client and then shop your manuscript around to publishers like Penguin and HarperCollins.
I've been down the query road many, many times before. My twenties is a decade papered over with rejection letters. It hurt back then, when I was a tenderfoot, but now, I decided, I was tough. I've gotten bad reviews. I've gotten rejected, both to my face and online. I can take whatever is dished out. Accordingly, I lovingly crafted my letter, my synopsis, and triple-check my sample and then sent it out to a number of agents. I got back the usual auto-letters, thanking me for my submission and politely informing me that I can expect to hear back from them in 2-8 weeks. "Fine," I thought, "I can wait."
Not an hour later, the first rejection letter came in. One particular agent couldn't wait to clear my query out of her inbox. As it turns out, I was wrong - you're never too tough for rejection to sting a little.
To be absolutely fair, the pre-filled rejection letter was polite and even encouraging. My story was not to the taste of this particular agent, but fret not, for surely the perfect agent must be out there! I was not inclined to take this part of the letter to heart. All I could see was the sentiment "Thanks but move along."
Turns out, this reaction of mine is not uncommon. Being cautious creatures, who long ago were at the bottom of the land-based food chain, we tend to focus on the dangers and the pains rather than the bright side of any situation. But just because we initially do, it doesn't follow that we have to stay there.
In real terms, however, this one pre-filled rejection letter does absolutely nothing (except sound the death knell on a potential business relationship). The literary agent was quite correct in saying that just because my story didn't appeal to her, it doesn't mean that it doesn't appeal to anyone. But let's say the worst happens. Let's say no one wants to publish it. What then?
I realized very quickly that, if every literary agency in New York City rejects my manuscript, if Penguin or HarperCollins never learn of my existence, if every troll on Amazon puts my work at the top of their target list, none of that really changes anything. I'll still write. I'll still pepper my friends with questions like, "Would this work?" "What do you think of this plot twist?" I'll still type until my eyes are so tired until they feel like they are going to fall out. I'll still day dream and compose and make up brand new worlds in the privacy of my own head. It's what I do. It's what I've always done. Rejections sting, 'tis true, but they don't actually change much. I'm still me. I still like what I do and what I write, and lucky for me, I can still do it, regardless. There is great power in realizing where the real power lies.
So if you like what you're doing, keep on keeping on. Keep working it, keep growing, keep learning, keep trying, and remember: no amount of rejections can stop you from doing what you love. It may lead you to a new or different way of expressing your passion (you may not work with Leonardo DiCaprio, but you can still be in some pretty cool indie films), but in this day and age especially, there a more avenues for creative expression than ever before. So stick with it and keep going.
So I guess I better keep on keeping on. And while I'm at it, I'll treat myself to a chocolate bar tonight. Because rejection, even if it doesn't mean all that much in practical terms, it still has a sting.
So, one of my many New Year's Resolutions (I'm sort of a masochist, I guess!) was to refresh and revitalize my look and website. And lo and behold, I actually did it! Along with the new look, I'm hoping to post more book reviews and the occasional article and clips from The Early Late Night Live Show, as well as news about our film, The Dinner Party, and the new episode of Felson and Company. Also new is the fact that I'm writing now for a new publication called LogoSophia Magazine, so be sure to check out their website here: logosophiamag.com.
As for new books, I'm happy to report that there are a few in the works! One of them has just received an intense re-write (hooray for patient editors!) and there are several in the outline-stage, including a few new Encounter Series books. Speaking of the Encounter series, Margaret and I had a blast at Super MegaFest and would love to do more comic cons - any suggestions on where we should pop-up next?
As always, I'd love to hear from you all! Got suggestions, comments, feedback, complaints, cunning plans? Let me know! And good luck in 2020, everyone! Lets get this decade off to a roaring start!
By Monica Hess
On a routine delivery, a client asks Hanneke for help. Expecting to hear that Mrs. Janssen wants meat or kerosene, Hanneke is shocked by the older woman's frantic plea to find a person--a Jewish teenager Mrs. Janssen had been hiding, who has vanished without a trace from a secret room. Hanneke initially wants nothing to do with such dangerous work, but is ultimately drawn into a web of mysteries and stunning revelations that lead her into the heart of the resistance, open her eyes to the horrors of the Nazi war machine, and compel her to take desperate action.
Girl in the Blue Coat is a fast-paced, exciting adventure story that will grab you by the heart strings. Hanneke is a sympathetic lead, a young woman whose idealistic outlook has been severely damaged by the realities of war. Living in an occupied country means confronting small acts of treason every day, performed by friends, neighbors, relatives, even loved ones. But Hanneke's new-found cynicism doesn't account for the other side of the truth: that even in the midst of a great evil, great courage still exists. As she goes deeper into Amsterdam's resistance movement, she's forced to face not only great danger - but her own deeply buried guilt.
This is simply a great story, a roller-coaster ride full of intrigue, romance, and classic adventure, from stealing Nazi uniforms to infiltrating enemy offices and solving murder mysteries. Warning: once you get thirty pages in, you won't be able to stop reading, so set aside enough time.
I love it when a book defies my expectations and takes me to a terrific place! So imagine my delight when Risah Salazar of Reader's Favorite reported the same thing happening to her in her review! Below is the full review. Many thanks to Reader's Favorite for the review and remember folks: if you need a Christmas Gift, Universal Threat is at your disposal! #shamelessplug
Reviewed by Risah Salazar for Readers' Favorite
When Heather Miller introduces Jeff Levinson to her family as a friend, her brother, Nick, doesn't buy it. And when she tells them they're going hiking up a mountain, Nick had something else in mind. The three of them were supposed to trek up Lorne Mountain but Nick, in the hopes of wanting to see Jeff give up, took them to the steeper and wilder Stark Mountain instead. Heather protests but soon gives in, and the next thing they know, they are carefully treading up Stark Mountain. With Jeff getting excited, Nick feels defeated but doesn't lose hope. However, Nick's plans are put on hold when they hear a not-so-successful landing of an alien spaceship nearby. Universal Threat by Killarney and Margaret Traynor will make you scared yet have you clinging to hope at the same time.
First of all, I did not expect anything big from this book but I was wrong. This story was exciting and action-packed. I loved all the characters and how they developed throughout the plot. Though they made some pretty bad choices that seemed impractical and naive, I was still able to relate to them in some ways. Nick meant no harm, he just wanted what he thought was best for his sister. Jeff is not afraid to express himself although sometimes his personality makes others uncomfortable. Heather sees the good in everyone and believes that good will triumph over evil every time. The underlying concept of love and unity amidst conflict was evident. Killarney and Margaret Traynor's Universal Threat will help restore your hope in humanity. Trigger warnings include divorce/broken family and violence.
By Richard Roper
From the back cover:
Andrew's been feeling stuck. For years he's worked a thankless public health job, searching for the next of kin of those who die alone. Luckily, he goes home to a loving family every night. At least, that's what his coworkers believe. A misunderstanding has left Andrew trapped in his own white lie and his lonely apartment. When new employee Peggy breezes into the office like a breath of fresh air, she makes Andrew feel truly alive for the first time in decades. Could there be more to life than this?
But telling Peggy the truth could mean losing everything. For twenty years, Andrew has worked to keep his heart safe, forgetting one important thing: how to live. Maybe it's time for him to start.
This book made me want to laugh, cry, and hug everyone I know - all at once! Mr. Roper's debut novel is a surprisingly moving story of loneliness and hope. Andrew is a lovable loner who spends his free time listening to Ella Fitzgerald records while building and adding to his train collection. His social circle is limited to his quirky co-workers and the anonymous forum of train enthusiasts that he interacts with online. His days are filled with death - his job is to bury the forgotten and the lonely. And that's his existence until a series of events, including the arrival of the irrepressible Peggy, shakes his world and leaves him wondering: could he had more?
The prose is both hilarious and heartbreaking and the characters a lively and easy to like. Told in a distinctly British style, Anglophiles will especially love this story. But what's best about How Not To Die Alone is the heart, humanity, and hope that it leaves the readers feeling. Death may be the end, but there's an awful lot of living to do in the meantime and that living can be rich and full of love. Highly recommended.
My friend, Chuck Miceli, offered me an advance copy of his new book, "Wounded Angels", available everywhere on 01-14-2020. (I'd previously reviewed his first book, Amanda's Room.) The following is my review!
Wounded Angels is the love story of Frank and Maureen Russo, two young people who meet and fall in love at a skating rink in New York City just before the outbreak of World War II. Maureen Bower is a product of the Great Depression, a young woman whose early life was rocked by the ruin and suicide of her beloved father. Frank is an Italian American whose great personal confidence is nearly broken by the horrors of war. They marry and are separated by war, then reunite after to form a family. Enduring the ups and downs of American life in the fifties and sixties (Vietnam enters with its usual tragic results), Frank and Maureen’s relationship deepens and develops over time. They move to Connecticut and look forward to a long, happy retirement when the worst happens: Frank unexpectedly dies of heart failure. Abandoned again, Maureen sinks into a deep depression that isolates her from her daughters and friends... She is lost – until she discovers an unlikely friend in spit-fire Doris Cantrell, a woman whose drifting, hard-loving lifestyle differs greatly from Maureen’s own. As their unlikely relationship develops, Maureen begins to wonder: is there life after death? Can the assistance of another wounded soul help her see through her loss to the life left behind?
Miceli’s story of love, loss, and recovery unwinds like a tale told during a long afternoon’s visit over a cup of coffee and the reader reaches the final page reluctantly, feeling as though they are leaving a new-found, long-sought friend. It is moving, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting, and yet there is nothing truly remarkable about Frank and Maureen’s story. They are like many couples all over the nation: hardworking, loving, ordinary people leading ordinary lives with ordinary problems. And yet that in itself is the charm and the magic of this tale: it dives deep into the often overlooked lives of the ordinary and finds the extraordinary. Miceli’s light and often humorous touch is much in the manner of Erma Bombeck or Frank Capra and his world feels whole, real, and fully realized.
To quote “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” Frank Russo may have been ordinary, but his loss gouges a deep hole in the lives of his wife, children, and community. As Maureen begins to heal, she learns that loss isn’t the end of the story. The end may also be a beginning. Wounded Angels is about imperfect people in an imperfect world, learning truths about love, loss, and beginning again. It will leave the reader satisfied and with a sense of hope, a truly fine story told in a loving, thoughtful manner.
From now until September 2nd, download Michael Lawrence: The Season of Darkness and Necessary Evil for FREE on Amazon Kindle! And if you're in the mood for something spookier, be sure to check out the Encounter Series while you're on Amazon.
Enjoy the long weekend, everyone!
by Stephen Lomer
rom the book jacket:
The quest to find Anton Nym and his errorist army are put on hold as Typo Squad is called away to London to help one of their own confront a villain from his past — a mysterious foe known only as the Wordmonger.
Joining forces with Her Majesty’s Royal Typo Brigade, Typo Squad takes up residence in Buckingham Palace to try and draw out this dangerous madman.
With the lives of the royal family in their hands, will Typo Squad be up to the challenge of finding and capturing the Wordmonger? Or will history repeat itself?
In a world where typos kill, the one thing standing between civilization and chaos is Typo Squad, a crack team of specialists whose immunity to typos render them the only people able to battle Errorists.
A worthy follow-up to Lomer's first novel, Return of the Wordmonger takes the wise-cracking team of American misfits and drops them in the posh world of British etiquette. The Wordmonger, an old foe of Ewan Hoozami, has returned to threaten Princess Anne and the entire royal family. Invited to work with the Royal Typo Brigade, Typo Squad, led by the now-legendary Dick Shonnary, find themselves fishes out of water in a world run by rules of decorum. Shenanigans, faux pas, and puns abound as they hilariously try to bring the Wordmonger to justice while not jeopardizing Anglo-American relations. Too bad they had to bring Chris "Big" Whig along.
Fans of Mel Brooks and Monty Python will especially enjoy this outing. Hilarious, irreverent, and highly recommended.
The Dinner Party is getting a sequel!!!
I'm so excited I can barely stand it! Most of the cast is returning to reprise their original roles, plus we have a bunch of fun, new characters, so you'll want to stay tuned for that. There'll will be laughs, drama, merriment, and more: the Progressive Era really is a blast!
A Book of the Month Club Selection
By Riley Sager
FROM THE BACK COVER:
No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents, all of whom are rich or famous or both. These are the only rules for Jules Larsen’s new job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan's most high-profile and mysterious buildings. Recently heartbroken and just plain broke, Jules is taken in by the splendor of her surroundings and accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind.
As she gets to know the residents and staff of the Bartholomew, Jules finds herself drawn to fellow apartment sitter Ingrid, who comfortingly reminds her of the sister she lost eight years ago. When Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her, Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story...until the next day, when Ingrid disappears.
Searching for the truth about Ingrid’s disappearance, Jules digs deeper into the Bartholomew's sordid past and into the secrets kept within its walls. What she discovers pits Jules against the clock as she races to unmask a killer, expose the building’s hidden past, and escape the Bartholomew before her temporary status becomes permanent.
Lock Every Door is a carefully plotted, slow-burn thriller featuring little-lost-girl Jules, a young woman whose past is marred by tragedy. Lured by both the Bartholomew's mystique and her own financial hardship, she quickly becomes mired in a labyrinth of mystery and suspense, searching for a missing girl even while trying to keep her own sanity. Despite some well-placed flash-forwards, the first half of the novel can feel slow - I put the book down a few times before committing to finishing. I'm glad I did, because the last third of the book introduces a few truly surprising twists and one heck of a grand finale. In an era where the third act final twist is fairly dependable, this book is a stand-out. Highly recommended (though those with weak stomachs might wish to look else-where).
A Book of the Month Club Selection
From the Book Jacket:
Not all secrets are meant to be found.
Nolan Moore is a rogue archaeologist hosting a documentary series derisively dismissed by the "real" experts, but beloved of conspiracy theorists. Nolan sets out to retrace the steps of an explorer from 1909 who claimed to have discovered a mysterious cavern high up in the ancient rock of the Grand Canyon. And, for once, he may have actually found what he seeks. Then the trip takes a nasty turn, and the cave begins turning against them in mysterious ways.
Nolan's story becomes one of survival against seemingly impossible odds. The only way out is to answer a series of intriguing questions: What is this strange cave? How has it remained hidden for so long? And what secret does it conceal that made its last visitors attempt to seal it forever?
Rutger's novel is fast-paced, hilarious, and a nail-biting story of survival. His sharp-witted main character and narrator, Nolan Moore, is a delightfully sarcastic story teller, and the supporting cast is strong as well. The first half of the book is a strong adventure story with a touch of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's awe and wonder. The second half is still strong, but the plot twists and ultimate conclusion might be a little too far out there for some readers. But it's one heck of a fun ride and this reader is delighted to know that this is the first in a serious. Recommended.
Available NOW on Amazon!