Tuesday Twaddle: Reading Class Hero

Yesterday was the 34th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder. A typically somber day, made all the more gloomy by this recent weather. Seems depressing to have gone thirty-four years without the music that could have been, and occasionally I’ll wonder about Lennon had he lived. He’d probably be on Twitter, that much I can predict with confidence. Would he and Yoko still be married? Still touring? Waving signs in Union Square, pleading for us to Occupy? Who knows. Some people had hinted of Lennon’s closet conservatism before his death, but I doubt he’d align with the Tea Party. Then again, I never met the guy. I can’t say what he’d be doing now or what he’d say about fracking or Ferguson.

I can, however, recommend some books to you. I’ve been reading about the Beatles for thirty years. I’ve torn through several Lennon bios, fiction, band theory, and even a graphic novel. For somebody who didn’t live very long, he led a life interesting enough for print. I have a Lennon story in the back of my head and one day it will go to print as well. Why not? People write One Direction fan fic and get book contracts. What’s stopping me?

Want to read some Lennon? Here’s my Top 3:

The John Lennon Letters by John Lennon and Hunter Davies, ed. – The John Lennon Letters has the look and feel of a coffee table book – you could probably jump back and forth reading the letters and notes, but reading all the way through creates a more rounded picture of Lennon by Lennon. If you are mostly a digital reader now, as I am, you’ll find the price for hardcover well worth the investment. My full review(AMZ / BN)

Shoulda Been There by Jude Southerland Kessler – Author Kessler has taken on the incredible project of novelizing Lennon’s life story. So far she’s three books in, and Shoulda chronicles Lennon’s birth through meeting Brian Epstein. It’s probably the book of most ambitious scope since it covers nearly half his life. Great attention to detail and authenticity. My full review.  (AMZ / BN)

Starting Over: The Making of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy by Ken Sharp – For readers interested in Lennon’s later history with a concentration on work rather than gossip, Starting Over is a nice “oral” history, but may come off as a bittersweet read given how the story ends. My full review.
(AMZ / BN / KOBO)

What will next year bring? Hopefully peace.

Tuesday Twaddle: Serial Killers and Dirty Pigeons

I set a goal of 125 books this year via the Goodreads Challenge, and exceeded. However, there’s nothing like viewing the winning roster of the 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards to make you feel as though you haven’t read jack all year. Of the winners, I read two: the Stephen King one and the dirty pigeon kid’s book. While I liked Mr. Mercedes, I voted consistently for The Silkworm to win that category. My write-in votes during the first round amounted to zip, so I just need to remind myself that I’ve often floated a different current. Some people don’t read one book a year, and once I managed to write two within 365 days. Perspective.

Since we’re nearing the end of 2014 and I don’t anticipate reading any more new releases before January, seems like a good time to share my Best Of list. I didn’t think it was a bad year for books – discovery, however, is something altogether different. I didn’t get to BookExpo this summer, and certain bookstores want to skew algorithms to favor the books in which they have a greater stake, so whatever. I tend to find books I want to read either through Goodreads or Twitter these days. I would strongly advise that if you enjoy an author definitely favorite them on store sites so you can keep track of new releases.

My top picks for this year – and they are worth heeding because I’m an Important Industry Person:

Such Sweet SorrowSuch Sweet Sorrow by Jenny Trout

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Imagine what would happen if Romeo survived (physically, anyway) the double suicide that took away Shakespeare’s famous star-crossed lovers. Imagine what might happen if a certain Danish prince with his own family problems steps in to assist the mourning Italian, all the while hoping to accomplish revenge on his father’s untimely death. Jenny Trout’s Such Sweet Sorrow takes two Shakespearean heroes out of their element and thrusts them on an otherworldly adventure to save Juliet, and ultimately to save themselves.

The core of this story reminded me a bit of the film What Dreams May Come, where Robin Williams travels the afterlife to retrieve his suicidal wife from her personal hell. Sorrow blends the Shakespearean lore with Scandinavian mythology, prophetic witches, and lots of swordplay. I don’t want to spoil the story, but while it might not have the ending most would want (and it appears this may be the first in a probable series) Sorrow does end on a note of hope. I liked the paranormal twist to the stories and the characterization of the leads. Hamlet is appealingly arrogant, Romeo loyal to a fault, and Juliet is just kickass.

I can’t say how Shakespearean purists will like this, but if you’re looking for a good young adult fantasy it’s worth the read.

City of JasmineCity of Jasmine by Deanna Raybourn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

ARC received from the publisher.

In post-WWI Damascus, aviatrix Evie Starke receives mysterious missives that clue her to the possibility that her husband Gabriel wants to connect with her again. It’s odd, considering that Gabriel died after the sinking of Lusitania, leaving Evie to her own devices (and flying skills) to survive. The transcontinental trip in her private plane with her adventuress aunt, planned for global publicity and income, is set aside indefinitely until Evie determines exactly who is “stalking” her.

The search for answers leads her to a entirely different adventure: the search for a holy relic, skirmishes with thieves, and a second chance at love. I have read Raybourn previously (A Spear of Summer Grass), and while I enjoyed parts of that first book I was a bit reluctant to try again until I saw the premise of this one. I’m glad I decided to give it a read. City of Jasmine is adventurous and witty with a smart heroine. The romantic elements are lightly threaded throughout the story and don’t overshadow the action. Overall, a great story and one I’d recommend to anyone who reads historical fiction.

Please Be with Me: A Song for My Father, Duane AllmanPlease Be with Me: A Song for My Father, Duane Allman by Galadrielle Allman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review also on Books That Rock Us: http://booksthatrockus.blogspot.com/2…

I should know more about The Allman Brothers Band than I do, which (until I read this) isn’t much. I’ve lived my entire life south of Mason Dixon – with half of that spent in areas still affected by Allman influence. Indeed, while reading Ms. Allman’s biography it surprised me to find so many coincidences:

The author and I share a birthday (August 25), though we’re separated by a few years.
Her uncle Gregg received a liver transplant at the Mayo Clinic right around the time my father did.
She lived eleven years in Jacksonville, FL. I lived there for 22.
Duane and Gregg Allman lived very briefly in Virginia Beach as children, not far from where I live now.
In the book’s prologue, Ms. Allman talks about finding a Rolling Stone with her father on the cover in an Athens, GA thrift shop. I lived in Athens for a time, and I have a good idea which store she mentions.
Spooky, eh? Maybe the last two tibits are a stretch, but seeing the birthdate was pretty wild. I also share the day with Gene Simmons and Gopher from The Love Boat.

Coincidences aside, I still acknowledge I should know more about The Allman Brothers. While not a Jacksonville-based band like Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet, the ties the brothers had to the music scene there shaped the legend. Perhaps for a long time, Ms. Allman knew as much about her father as I do – she was only two when Duane Allman perished in a motorcycle accident in the early 70s, a few years shy of the mystically unlucky 27 that stalks troubled musicians and shortly after the band’s grand commercial breakthrough. Please Be With Me is the culmination of her journey to meet a man everybody else (even strangers) knew and loved.

To complete the puzzle, Ms Allman relies on the memories of colleagues, family friends, and relatives to recount Duane’s life story in vivid, lyrical prose. You can taste the salty air of Daytona Beach, where Duane picked up chords through his adolescence, and follow the scents of bougainvillea, whiskey, and weed all the way to Macon and back. When you read stories of rock legends, however, you wonder about the accuracy of detail when everything comes to you second and third-hand. One reviewer on Goodreads of this book voiced some skepticism that Ms. Allman’s book holds 100% accuracy. I don’t know if this opinion is based upon further research on Duane and the Allmans, or just conjecture. I say, sometimes an urban legend holds a kernel of truth. Did a brother really arrange to severely injure himself to get out of the draft? Were there tensions with the Grateful Dead and in Clapton’s Layla sessions? Chances are, you’d learn of different opinions as these events happened.

I thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Allman’s book, which is partly a biography and partly a tribute not only to her father but the family that surrounded them. The strength of the narration carries you deep into the story that, for a moment, you almost forget the tragic outcome and want to remain where the music plays.

The Tyrant's DaughterThe Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C. Carleson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

15-year-old Laila comes to Washington, DC with her mother and younger brother following the deposing and assassination of her father, an unnamed dictator of an unnamed Middle Eastern country. Moving from the grandeur of a luxurious palace to a cramped apartment with bare cupboards takes some adjustment, but Laila comes to adapt to life in an American high school while young Bastien dives headfirst into cartoons and toys. Life remains restless, however, with a CIA agent shadowing the family during clandestine meetings with people from her country – who may or may not be allies. Laila’s mother carries her regal air and drinks as though disillusioned with this new life, but Laila suspects her mother is more enterprising than she lets on.

When I receive pre-approval for this title on NetGalley, I didn’t expect The Tyrant’s Daughter would be marketed as YA. It’s a riveting story about a young woman, an Invisible Queen of another land who learns how others have viewed her life and people from afar. Laila is not shunned by her new peers but earns sympathy despite her heritage. I enjoyed the work right up to the ambiguous ending – we may not know Laila’s definite future in a country where her younger brother may last in a puppet regime, but we sympathize with her desire to take control of her life.

The Pink SuitThe Pink Suit by N.M. Kelby

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A lovely story, partially based on actual events, about the people responsible for creating the First Lady’s iconic suit. A good mix of romance and introspective drama surrounding Camelot.

Citizen Hollywood (Hollywood's Garden of Allah #3)Citizen Hollywood by Martin Turnbull

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve looked forward to this book for some time, and I wasn’t disappointed. The third Garden of Allah story takes us out of the GWTW era and deep into the intrigue surrounding Orson Welles and Citizen Kane. The lives of the three friends – Marcus, Kathryn, and Gwendolyn – have dipped professionally for various reasons as each deals with a frenemy of some kind.

Really, if you enjoy old Hollywood, pick up this series. Only disappointment is I have to wait for Book four.

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike, #2)The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I enjoyed The Silkworm more than The Cuckoo’s Calling because this book centers on familiar ground – the publishing world. A notorious but not necessarily famous writer is missing and Strike is hired to find him. It’s a case he takes on despite the dubious chances of getting paid – beneath his surly exterior you see hints of a person with heart. With the second book we’re more comfortable with regular characters and the promise of more rumblings in personal lives to come.

Just a solid detective procedural.

PerfidiaPerfidia by James Ellroy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have so few auto-buy authors these days. I used to have many, but one by one I drop them when the stories turn predictable and the writing stale. One actually died, but anyway…

Ellroy is heavy reading, and his dirty staccato style is what makes the scenery come alive. If you’ve glommed the rest of his catalog you know several players here – Perfidia is a prequel of sorts to his other series. It begins just before the attack on Pearl Harbor with the murder of a Japanese family in LA. Throughout the investigation the story peels away layers to reveal corruption within the police force, sympathies for opposing forces, and a lot of bad language. Ellroy doesn’t write rainbows and unicorns.

The only problem I have with Ellroy’s books is I have to go back and read the others again to jar my memory. One day I’ll sit and have a good binge.

~

Okay, 2015. Don’t disappoint me.

Tuesday Twaddle: Spoilers, Said River Song

What do you do when a project flops? If you’re a masochist like me, you move on to the next thing. While I await the fate of my most recent story submission, I’ve started a new story and new direction. This will be more romantic and less mysterious. It also means, sadly, I have decided to cancel any remaining Lerxst Johnston stories I had planned.

Hurts to do it, but when something doesn’t stick to the wall you need to reach for a better glue. I enjoyed writing Rock Deadly and Rock Til You Drop – I don’t think I ever had as much fun with a character as I did with Lerxst. I don’t have a son, but I would definitely have welcomed a young man like him into my family. Would I want Lerxst to one day date my daughter? Well…

Anyway, for those of you who did read the first two books – thanks for taking the time. Hope you enjoyed them. I’m sorry to disappoint anybody who hoped for a longer series, but the sales history doesn’t support a third book. If a miracle happens, maybe I’ll revisit Lerxst at a later time, like Agatha Christie did with Tommy and Tuppence.

If you’re curious, I had planned to set the third story in Central Virginia, in wine country. I never detailed the actual mystery, but the story would have involved the family of Lerxst’s late mother – and this grandmother is the complete opposite of Grandma Johnston, perhaps the one person in Albemarle County who doesn’t approve of the Commonwealth’s agri-tourism efforts, to say nothing of Chad Johnston’s personal life.

Normally Lerxst wouldn’t visit his other relatives, but their desire to meet granddaughter Jules brings them into the story. They would have been like the Westboro Phelpses, only a tad lovable. Lerxst’s aunt, disapproving of her sister’s choice of husband, would have scoffed at her nephews, particularly Lerxst’s long hair. Her son, affectionately nicknamed “Sling Blade” by Lerxst and Chad, is the apple of her eye and can do no wrong, so naturally Lerxst will assume he’s the bad guy. Lerxst’s father would be deep in a relationship with the lady detective (now leaving the force to pursue her dream of owning a bakery) from the second book, something that irks his younger son.

Grandma Johnston’s friend owns a winery and is co-hosting a festival similar to the popular Floyd Fest, which would explain Lerxst, Diane, and Jules performing there. I hadn’t decided who would die – it wouldn’t be anyone in the family, but Grandma’s friend would have been held under suspicion by local authorities.

I had jotted down some sample dialogue to use early on in the book:

“Chad,” I said, “if you let me tell Grandma Swathmore that you’re gay I will give you one thousand dollars.”

“What, and cancel the flash mob musical number I’ve been planning all year?”

It would have read funnier in the final draft. I had envisioned the opening scene to mirror some part of my own life:

“Just to warn you,” I told Diane as I slipped the ring on her finger, “I don’t intend to retire.”

My new fiancee fanned her hand out in front of her face, admiring the bright yet small sparkle of the green stone that once belonged to my mother. “That’s perfectly fine. I’ll Skype you from Hawaii.”

“I’m serious. Retirement equals death. Look at Charles Schultz.”

She glanced over her shoulder. “Is he here, too? I figured he’d be haunting some golf course in Pebble Beach.”

“The day his final comic runs, he drops dead.” Seriously, look it up. So long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, good grief. Missed that last football and kicked a damn cloud.

There’s more, but I forgot it.

So, puritanical grandparents, a goofball cousin or two, a murder, and a wedding at the end. I won’t detail too much, because I may go back one day and weave some of this into flashbacks for a book. For the most part, everybody is happy and healthy.

I can’t say much for the characters in my next book, though.

Tuesday Twaddle: A Nun and a Beatle Walk Into a Bar…

Can I just say…Kirk Cameron doesn’t speak for all of us.

I don’t mean to pick on him in particular. The paranoid Catholic in me is tempted to snark that a guy like Cameron might think I’m doomed along with you non-Fundamentalist / non-Protestant folks. I can’t speak to his beliefs on that, though, and he’s not the official spokesperson of All Things in Christendom. I only mention him here because he’s flooded one of my social timelines by saying something outrageous or whatever, and it was shared by a number of ath/ag friends pulling a Nelson Muntz taunt. “Ha-hah! Christian guy said something dumb. Don’t they all?”

Really. I don’t concern myself with where others go to church, if you go to church, if you worship a tree or nothing at all. If you don’t like/participate in a certain faith, don’t assume all the people there are the same. I know people are sick of the “Not All Men” defense when it comes to general boorish behavior, but I consider myself a person who strives to live by example. I’m no saint…oh, boy am I no saint, but I won’t think less of you if you aren’t, either. Unless, maybe, if you kick puppies for fun or do something equally loathsome.

Some of my books touch on faith, but I don’t typically discuss mine in social media. When I do, it seems to invite debate, which I’d rather avoid.

  • People have accused me of being too Catholic.
  • People have accused me of not being Catholic enough.
If I’ve learned anything discussing religion, it’s that asshats exist in every sect. Christians, Jews, atheists…they’re everywhere, and they insist they are right and everybody else is an idiot. I don’t like stagnancy. You may live your entire life as a believer or not, that’s fine, but leave room to grow.

I’ve acted like a bitch in my youth, and now I’m an old lady seeking a blissful afterlife. I can’t count on sainthood yet, but I’m happy for the freedom to seek it. Purportedly, George Harrison’s last words were, “Everything else can wait, but the search for God cannot…love one another.” I’ve read that Mother Teresa, one person you’d never think wavered in faith, experienced dark nights of the soul. I’ve had my share, and sometimes I’ve turned to saints like Teresa of Avila for inspiration. The bookmark above, I had kept for years. I should go look for it.

Time, though, is better spent in other pursuits. You can snark another person’s faith or lack thereof, or you could help somebody. Feed the poor, clothe the shivering, shelter the homeless.

The first commandment of any faith ought to be: don’t be a jackass. The second: do something constructive and beneficial.

Be excellent to one another. Bill and Ted 3:16.

This is probably all you’ll get out of me with regards to religion and faith.

~

The more I give thought to it, I’m inclined to write something for free. I need to write fiction as a mental exercise and as a healing process. My romance novella remains in limbo – I’m tempted to do more with it, but it’s still out somewhere so I will wait. I found a fan artist and would like to offer commission work for graphics.

For now, just need to think about what to write.

Tuesday Twaddle: Postcards From the Curb

I feel twenty pounds lighter. I just sent a shit-ton of expired book promo to the trash. Yessir, yessir, three bags full.

When I attended my first book festival about ten years ago, people told me, “Oh, you have to have promo.” You have to print postcards, make key fobs with your book cover, hand out pens with your URL engraved on them. You have to spend all this money to produce crap that a person might look at once before tossing in the garbage – just like I did today.

I don’t want to know how much money I’ve spent in the last decade on promotional items for my books. I definitely know I didn’t see a good return on investment. Over the years, too, I’ve had to throw out much of it because the postcards had book covers I no longer use, or had URLs that no longer exist, or promoted books now out of print. Also, I tossed out a bag of promo from other authors, collected at the last book con I attend. Barely looked at most of it. Sorry, guys.

You’re asking, “Why did you take it if you were going to throw it out anyway?” Well, much of it came in the registration bag, and often I’ll give away a con bag with goodies as part of a contest. What I had here, mainly leftovers.

It occurred to me that I have yet to buy a book based on the blurb found on a keychain or emery board. What are the odds somebody has done differently for me?

See the pic? That’s all the promo I took to the last event I attended. I hope some people kept my stuff and have remembered my name. At least I get to write it all off on this year’s taxes.

Now, some authors may feel the opposite about promo, and perhaps some saw a good ROI on postcards and buttons and whatnot. I’ve bought ads in magazines, bought into group promotions, printed sample booklets. People have snatched up stuff at my book tables in the past, but I can’t say it’s translated well into sales. Somebody told me once a person has to see a brand or product 5-7 times before they decide to buy. I guess one ad once in a blue moon doesn’t cut it, but I don’t have the budget for that kind of promotion.

Hell, I can’t afford the Pure Buttons anymore, with the discount code.

I can tell you, though, what I will keep. Pens. We don’t throw out pens in this house. I always have pens in the car, in my purse, at my desk. I may not follow through on buying a book because of a pen, but I’ll see your name on it.

Lip balm. Again, tubes in the car and purse. Lip balm costs money, especially the expensive Burt’s Bees stuff. I’m cheap. If you’re giving me lip balm I’m keeping it.

Mini hand sanitizers. The world is full of germs. My husband sneezes a lot. I coat myself in this stuff.

That’s pretty much it. I don’t know if I’ll buy promo again, but eventually some site will send me a sample and a good deal, and I’ll auto-click. I don’t want to discourage you authors from buying promo if you have an event coming up. I can only offer you my experience with it. Some authors don’t do the bulk items, but maybe order one awesome thing – like a few etched shot glasses or a blanket with an embroidered logo – and win fans one at a time. It sounds like a good way to build up a street team, if there’s value in one.

Me, I’ll spend the money on wine. And chocolate.