For Me, 2014 Was The Year Of Audiobooks – part 2

As promised, here’s part 2 of 2014 in review:

“Skingame” by Jim Butcher. It’s no secret I’m a Dresden Files fan. I’ve posted about the series here. I’ve posted memes on social media. I’ve referenced Jim Butcher’s stories as examples in writing discussions. This one was a hard copy. It’s also number 15 in the series and the latest published. I won’t delve into any details, but I enjoyed the book. There were a few things that left me scratching my head such that I had to chat with other fans to figure out, but hey, it left me talking about the book days later.

“Pines (Wayward Pines #1)” by Blake Crouch narrated by Paul Michael Garcia. What can I say about this story besides wow, what a head spinner. Although this is the first of a series of books, I stopped at the first one. I have not yet decided if I’ll continue the series. The narrator did an acceptable job, but did not leave me with a memorable performance. Crouch does a great job with descriptions, but some of his plot enforcing seems a bit, well forced.

“Kiss the Girls (Alex Cross, #2)” by James Patterson narrated by Robert Guillaume and Chris Noth. I was disappointed in the narrators’ performance. I can’t put my finger on whether or not the switching between narrators for hero and villain threw me off or I had Charles Turner’s performance as Alex Cross stuck in my head. The story itself was an admirable follow up effort to “Along Came A Spider.” Perhaps this was one best left for hardcopy.

“Die Trying (Jack Reacher #2)” by Lee Child narrated by Jonathan McClain. Thus begins the McClain era of Jack Reacher. At first I wasn’t sold on McClain as Reacher, but he grew on me. The story is well plotted out and begins to show that Lee Child has hit on a formula that works. His trademark descriptions continue and weave a tale that keeps me coming back for more Jack Reacher.

“Tripwire (Jack Reacher #3)” by Lee Child narrated by Jonathan McClain. McClain’s character voices truly shine through in this performance. I think “Tripwire” is my favorite in the Jack Reacher series. The villain, Hook Hobie, is a memorable one who deserves a place among other great literary blackguards.

“Joyland” by Stephen King. I had high hopes for this book. It was published in 2013 as the second book for the imprint Hard Case Crime. I have enjoyed King’s evolution into mysteries and thrillers and away from the purely supernatural horrors he started with. The descriptions are great. The concept is great. The execution, eh.

“The Cold Dish (Walt Longmire, #1)” by Craig Johnson. I picked up this book for no other reason than I’m a fan of the TV series “Longmire” on A&E. As I read, I could easily hear most of the characters’ voices in my head. The writing style is unique at times, so unique I was left confused on a few pages and had to thumb back and read again to figure out what was being said. Despite that problem, I did enjoy this book. If you’re a fan of the TV show, read this book.

“Mr. Mercedes” by Stephen King narrated by Will Patton. Of all the books that blew me away in 2014, this was near if not at the top of the list. I love watching Will Patton on the screen, but listening to his narration was a whole new experience and really made me a bigger fan of Patton. As of this date, this performance is the only one that has made me actively search for a way to leave this narrator a love note for his reading. Now, King did an admirable job as well. I loved this story and found myself conversing with a stranger in an airport over the book. If any book could bring back the age of Stephen King movies, this would be it.

“The Dragon Factory (Joe Ledger, #2) by Jonathan Maberry narrated by Ray Porter. What can I say about this book that I didn’t say about “Patient Zero.” This is my new favorite series. The descent in madness of the world around Joe Ledger is near palpable in this book. Read this series.

“The King of Plagues (Joe Ledger, #3) by Jonathan Maberry narrated by Ray Porter. Maberry wrote a “love letter” to Ray Porter on Audible.com saying that when he writes Joe Ledger’s lines now, he hears Ray Porter’s voice in his head. What bigger compliment could a narrator receive. I loved this book, but its reach for a global scale nearly slipped through Maberry’s fingers. Some of the plot points were confusing. Some of the chapters unnecessary. But, I’ll still pick up book 4 for a listen.

“Locke & Key, Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft” by Joe Hill. I was turned on to this graphic novel after having read Joe Hill’s “N0S4A2.” The art is wonderful and the story gritty and magical. I’d love to see this come to the small screen. If you don’t mind a little horror and gore in your comics, pick this up. Disclaimer: not safe for the kiddies.

“Running Blind (Jack Reacher, #4) by Lee Child narrated by Jonathan McClain. This book is the last of the McClain era, but his performance holds true. One of the parts of Child’s Reacher formula is that he’s always on a deadline. And those deadlines can be tight at times. This story had Reacher flying all over the place to talked to witnesses, potential suspects, etc as he worked with the FBI. Having faced first hand much of the read tape and the slow moving bureaucracy of the U.S. Government, I found it hard to believe he was able to jet all over the country at a moment’s notice so easily. Good story, Lee Child. But, keep it closer to home next time.

“Echo Burning (Jack Reacher, #5) by Lee Child narrated by Dick Hill. The return of Dick Hill. I don’t know if the fans spoke out for Dick Hill’s return or if the author did, but either way, he’s here to stay. I listened to this book out of order, but it didn’t matter. It still worked out just fine. Apparently, Lee Child took my advice from #4 and kept everything in a much smaller locale, although that locale was Texas. Reacher faces off against a killing team with high stakes if he fails…formula complete.

“Without Fail (Jack Reacher, #6) by Lee Child narrated by Dick Hill. Reacher is haunted by the life of his brother. This time, he interacts with the Secret Service and provides advice on how one might kill the vice president of the United States. At this point, Child may run out of government agencies to call on Reacher’s expertise before he even reaches book 10. But, as I said before, the formula works. Child’s writing is solid. Dick Hill’s performance is superb.

“The Curse Merchant” by J.P. Sloan. I picked this book up at a book launch at a local brewery. The author let each person who bought a book pick a tarot card. If they chose a particular card, they got the book for free. Very cool. I don’t want to say much about this book at this point because I intend on doing a full blown review and author interview on this book. Yes, J.P. Sloan is in my writing group. Yes, I’m doing a little sucking up. But, I don’t care. I liked the book. You will too.

Check out some of these books.  Heck, check out all of these books, and leave me a comment to say what you think!


Video Saturday: Advice on #Writing – How to Get an #Agent (and of course, the dreaded #query letter)

Okay, today’s Video Saturday is about how to get an agent. We picked three short quick videos for friend-of-the-blog (and guest posterTony Dobranski who is in the middle of this process right now. Who better to hear from than the prolific Stephen J. Cannell (one of my favorite inspirations for great dialogue), “Literary Agents: The Best Pitch Letters They’ve Received,” (with some fun examples), and “2 Quick Tips on Writing Query Letter from Agent Kristin Nelson.”   Good luck, Tony!

Stephen J. Cannell

 

Literary Agents

 

Kristin Nelson


For Me, 2014 Was The Year Of Audiobooks – part 1

2014 was the year of audio books for me because of an Audible subscription. I did manage to read a few books both electronic and old fashioned paper. I also purchased a new Kindle Fire HDX this past year as well. And, I discovered I truly enjoy a new genre: thrillers. All in all, 2014 was a year of change.

“Storm Front” by Jim Butcher is the first book in The Dresden Files series. The narrator is actor James Marsters of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame. I listened to this book as my first foray into audio books at the beginning of 2014 to see if I had the time to listen to a book and if I could pay attention to an audio book during my morning and evening commute. Marsters does a decent job of reading the novel, but does fall a bit flat on the ears. I have talked to friends regarding his continued reading of the series and have been told he develops different voices and cadences for the different characters in the book. I am already a big fan of The Dresden Files and have reviewed here.

“Dracula” by Bram Stoker was a lovely surprise. The narrator was mainly Alan Cumming, but also included Tim Curry as Van Helsing. I’ve read “Dracula” in print form, but was quite curious about the narration by Cumming and Curry. Curry’s voice was unrecognizable as Van Helsing, but the Germanic accent used was engaging and entertaining. Cumming’s performance held my attention. Even though Stoker’s writing can be stilted and rife with troublesome words, Cumming made the story fun and the archaic speech understandable. Overall, an audio book I strongly recommend.

“Patient Zero (Joe Ledger #1)” by Jonathan Mayberry is my favorite new series this year and Ray Porter my new favorite narrator. Porter’s delivery of Joe Ledger’s lines is natural and shows the snark and control of the protagonist. Mayberry has created a great cast of characters that make you want to continue following their adventures. “Patient Zero” revolves around a terrorist plot to unleash a bio-engineered threat against the United States. Joe Ledger and the Department of Military Sciences must stop them. I love Ray Porter’s narration, but this is a series that I recommend in both audio and print form.

“Killing Floor” by Lee Child is the first book in the Jack Reacher series. If I have a guilty pleasure in 2014, it’s Jack Reacher. The narrator’s have changed a couple of times through the series, but Dick Hill is definitely the voice of Jack Reacher for me. If you’ve watched the Tom Cruise movie, “Jack Reacher,” please don’t take that as representative of this series. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the Tom Cruise movie as well, but I keep that completely separate from the book series. The myriad of voices Dick Hill produces is nothing short of amazing in this performance and is an narrator I will continue to look for in other audio books. The plot of “Killing Floor” is a bit predictable in places, but the story remains enjoyable. Lee Child has created a truly memorable character worth reading, or listening to in this case.

“Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel” by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris was a book I read in January of 2014. I reviewed it in February here. I am enthralled with many things Steampunk. But, “Phoenix Rising” was my first foray into the literature. Ballantine and Morris are authors to watch.

“Feed, Newsflesh Trilogy #1” by Mira Grant and narrated by Paula Christensen and Jesse Bernstein has a unique take on the Zombie Outbreak. Instead of the action, gnawing, and shoot-em-ups a zombie novel normally consists of, “Feed” is based on a group of bloggers struggling to be legitimate journalists as they are chosen to follow a Congressman on the Presidential Election trail. The zombies are merely a backdrop for the world Grant has created. The constant checking of characters for the zombie virus does become a bit tiresome by the end of the book, but the plot was engaging enough to follow the book to its conclusion. The narration switched back and forth a few times between Christensen and Bernstein which broke the mystique for me. If I had been reading the book instead, this might not have affected me quite so much. If you’re looking for a fun and different read, check out “Feed.”

“Steelheart, The Reckoners #1” by Brandon Sanderson and narrated by MacLeod Andrews was my first superhero/villain novel. You might recognize Sanderson as the author chosen to complete “The Wheel of Time” series. His great storytelling talent brings to life a comic book world which leaves you wanting more and wanting more again. Andrews voices a myriad of characters believably and is a pleasure to listen to. If you’re looking for a book that’s just plain fun, pick this up.

“N0S4A2” by Joe Hill was my slip back into reading horror. You can see my review for Unleaded here. After reading “N0S4A2” I followed it by several other horror novels (2015 reviews to come soon :). I blame you, Joe Hill.

“Casino Royale” by Ian Fleming and narrated by Simon Vance was another of my eccentricities as I explore the original books of famous movies. I’ll start with Vance. He seems to be the go-to British narrator these days. And there’s a reason; he’s quite good. If you haven’t heard any of his performances, you’re in for quite a treat. Now, to Fleming. If you pick up “Casino Royale,” you must keep in mind the time frame the book, published in 1953. Bond’s language and view of women are absolutely in touch with the times and absolutely out of touch with today’s views. Don’t let those facts nor the existence of the movies dissuade you from reading or listening to this book.

“Wolf Hunt” by Jeff Strand … what can I say about this book except, go get this book now. I loved this book. It has its horror moments; it is a book about a werewolf. It has its humorous moments; no I won’t spoil them here. The premise of the book is that two organized crime heavies are hired to drive a man in a cage who claims to be a werewolf to a mob boss in another city. Horror and hilarity ensues. I would love to see this story turned into a film.

“Along Came a Spider (Alex Cross #1)” by James Patterson narrated by Charles Turner. This was my first James Patterson book. I was not disappointed. Similarly, I was not disappointed by Charles Turner’s performance either. This is a reverse situation in my movie/original book theme. I have not yet seen the movie starring Morgan Freeman, but after having heard this book, it is in my Netflix queue.

“Mitosis” by Brandon Sanderson. This novella takes place right after the events in “Steelheart” and fills the gap between “Steelheart” and book 2, “Firefight.” For my thoughts on this book, I point you to my notes above for book 1.

“A Kiss Before Dying” by Ira Levin narrated by Mauro Hantman was the book that most disturbed me in 2014. This book has been made into a movie several times, but I was unaware of that until after I had listened to this book. Hantman’s performance was a pleasure. Levin’s story is, as I said, disturbing. But, isn’t the trait of a good author one that leaves you emotionally touched after reading their work? If you’re unfamiliar with Levin, he is also the author of “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Boys from Brazil,” “Sliver,” “The Stepford Wives,” and the plays “No Time for Sergeants” and “Deathtrap.”

 

More to come…


Rewrites! The Bane of (some) writers’ lives

pile

 

The more I’ve talked to other writers, the more convinced I’ve gotten that there are probably as many different ways to write as there are writers.  The process is a lot different person to person.  Even the parts that people enjoy vary a lot.

Personally, I love doing my first draft.  I get an idea, and away I go.  I don’t outline, I frequently don’t even know what my next sentence is going to be, I just forge ahead.  That works for me, but I know even the thought of that makes some writers’ skin crawl.

What gets to me are rewrites and edits.  Don’t get me wrong, I know they need to happen.  I’m far from a perfect writer, as my large and growing pile of rejections reminds me every time I add to it.  But I also know I have some skill, as my smaller but also growing pile of sales illustrates.

One of my big projects for this year is rewriting one of my novels.  This book has been through two different writing groups, a few beta readers, and part of it got gone over by a workshop led by a NYT best-selling author (thanks again, Jody Lynn Nye).  It’s had a lot of eyes on it, and a lot of suggestions.  And that’s part of the problem.

You’ve heard the saying about “Everyone’s got an opinion?”  Well, that’s nothing like what you get when you turn readers and writers loose on a novel.  If you’re lucky, you get tons of comments and notes back, and have some ideas where to go.  If everyone says roughly the same thing, or even a majority, there’s a really good chance that’s a change that needs to be made.

In this case, I have lots of conflicting opinions about the structure, pacing, and plot of the novel.  And I don’t just mean they’re saying things slightly differently, I mean diametrically opposed, irreconcilably different suggestions.  I always think my writing can be improved, and I respect the opinion of just about everyone who’s chimed in on this.  So what do I do with such widely varying views?

What I need to keep telling myself (and other writers do, too) is that, end of the day, it’s my story.  Unless it’s someone I’m trying to sell it to (and not all the time then), I’m the one who decides what’s right here.  I’m doing my best to look at every single comment I’ve gotten, and weigh it in my mind.  Does this make the story better?  Clearer?  Do I agree with it?  Is it a change I want in my story?

There are a lot of choices to be made, and it’s going to take a while.  I gave myself all of 2015 to get it done, and I’m already wondering if that’s going to be enough time.  As you can see from the attached picture, I’ve got a big pile of notes, and that doesn’t count the comments from one entire writing group that functions online.  For scale, that book next to the pile is a roughly standard sized soft cover.

So, I’m going to spend a lot more time rewriting than I am writing this year, at least on this front.  Can’t say I’m thrilled about it, but it needs to happen.  I’ll be sorting, rereading, reading out loud to myself, looking for grammar mistakes, pronoun errors, all that fun stuff.  Hopefully, I make the story better.  At the very least, I don’t want to make it worse.  But that’s part of the “magic” that the casual reader doesn’t really get– writing is a LOT of work.  And I’m going to get back to it.  If you see me, send caffeine.  It’s gonna be a long year.

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(Non) Video Saturday: #HarryPotter Plot Spreadsheet

When writing, we all have different ways of organizing our thoughts and ideas. Below is a fun little piece of history from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  This page (you can click to view it in a larger format) covers chapters 13 through 24.

You can find more details at Endpaper but I’ll quote just a little from there:

Part of this page’s charm, of course, is it’s roughness. It’s handwritten in cursive on loose leaf paper; the column lines weren’t done with a ruler; many words and paragraphs are scratched out or re-written. She may be J.K. Rowling, brilliant best-selling author of the Harry Potter series, but a document like this can be created by anyone…

…Note that some columns have nothing written in them and others vary from having complex to simple details. (The initial “Order of the Phoenix” columns have very simple details: Chapter 13 is called “Recruiting”, chapter 14 says “first meeting”; chapter 20, on the other hand, just says “big meeting”.)

JK-Rowlings-Phoenix-Plot-Outline


Video Saturday: Short Stories versus Novels – Michael Levin

Considering one of the last meetings of the Cat Vacuuming Society Writers Group of Northern Virginia there was a big discussion about our writing preferences: long-form versus short-form, I thought Michael Levin’s quick video about “Short Story vs. Novel – What’s the Difference” might be one answer.

He focuses on definitions and what is included in each rather than writer-preferences and how to work to change what you do to be more inclusive. The description of the video:

What’s the difference between a short story and a novel? My 10th grade English teacher, Miss Harte, provided definitions that make the difference clear. Discover what Miss Harte told her class back in 1974 (we had big hair back then!)…with New York Times best selling author, Shark Tank contestant, leading ghostwriter (www.BusinessGhost.com), and America’s writing teacher Michael Levin, because “Books Are My Babies.”

So what do you think?  Do you agree with Michael? What do you think is the difference and which do you prefer to write? Short stories or novels? Why do you think that is?

 


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