My Fave Reads of 2014

I’m back (more on that in another post) and the first thing I want to do, before it gets too late in the month, is a quick recap of the books I read last year. I was able to complete my Goodreads Challenge of 50 books (even surpassing my goal by ONE, wow!), which, as you all should know by now, is really important to my emotional well-being. Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order. Check me out on Goodreads to follow all my reviews.

  1. Night Film by Marisha Pessl – Man, I sure started the year off right with this one. Night Film was the first novel I read in 2014 and I awarded it five stars. In fact, it was so good, here is my entire review, “Beautifully eerie through and through with just a hint of a bittersweet ending. There’s nothing more I can say besides this is a 5-star read.” Guys, it was indescribably good. For real.
  2. Hammett Unwritten by Owen Fitzstephen – After trudging through Dashner’s Mazerunner series, followed by Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, I received an email from a publisher requesting that I read and review Hammett Unwritten. This novel completely pulled me out of my reading funk. Another five-star read, I had this to say about it, “This novel takes the reader through the decades following the events of the Maltese Falcon, enveloping Hammett, the main character here, in the mythical intrigue surrounding the falcon figurine. The twists at the end of this novel were mind-boggling enough, but when you get to the Afterward, you’re left reeling at the possibilities, the line between fact and fiction completely blurred.”
  3. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith – After reading this, I had no doubts about Hollywood’s decision to bring this story to the big screen. I found it to be a solid historical thriller, and gave it four stars as such.
  4. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty – As I wrote in my review, at first I felt I had been tricked into reading a chick-lit novel, but The Husband’s Secret turned out to be an intriguing character study full of suspense.
  5. Sand by Hugh Howey – Of course my end-of-the-year reading recap wouldn’t be complete without me gushing about something written by Hugh Howey. My review of last year’s selection begins like this, “Honestly, Hugh Howey is god. He is the be all, end all for me when it comes to books.” Enough said. (And I can’t wait to read The Shell Collector later this year!)
  6. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn – If Hugh Howey is god, then Gillian Flynn is goddess. I just wish she had more books available for me to devour (but at least I have the movie adaptation of Dark Places to look forward to!)
  7. The Cuckoo’s Calling by “Robert Galbraith” – If I’m being honest, I didn’t expect to enjoy this novel, which made it that much more enjoyable. I look forward to reading the next installment later this year. Keep ’em coming, JK Rowling, I mean, Mr Galbraith…
  8. Sister by Rosamund Lupton – This was one of the best books I’ve ever read, right up there with Gone Girl for me. Here’s a snippet from my review, “Written in the form of a letter to the main character’s missing/deceased sister, the format was unique and it perfectly set up the multiple plot twists at the end, which were emotionally taxing to say the least.” Dude, it was amaze-balls.
  9. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn – See above goddess comment about Gillian Flynn. Even the movie adaptation part applies. Yay!
  10. The Son by Jo Nesbo – My favorite Nesbo book yet!
  11. Bird Box by Josh Malerman – This was one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read. If M. Night Shyamalan has some free time, he should adapt this one for the big screen.
  12. After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman – Ms. Lippman is quickly reaching Gillian Flynn status. I mean, I didn’t even guess the ending, which is hard for me because, well, I’m a writer too. Here’s part of my review, “The alternating timelines took some getting used to, especially with the one set in the past being told from several different POVs, however I really enjoyed the different perspectives and the opportunity to piece together the mystery and subplots for myself.”
  13. Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh – This was such an awesome blend of noir and thriller and sci-fi. Highly recommend.
  14. The Accident by Chris Pavone – I almost didn’t read this because I found The Expats so detestable, but I’m glad I gave it a chance because I ended up giving it five stars!
  15. Before I go to Sleep by SJ Watson – The movie adaptation of this novel released late last year and I heard it was terrible. My advice is to read the book and skip the movie.
  16. The Good Girl by Mary Kubica – One of the best books I read last year with a completely unexpected outcome. A fine psychological thriller, and I know psychological thrillers. 😉

The Museum of Fractured Lives…What a Great Title

I’m going to take a break from blessing you all with my complaints and various insights on life to allow my friend and fellow author, Sally Jenkins, to chat about her collection, The Museum of Fractured Lives, which is just about as awesome of a title as you could come up with. Sally Jenkins is a British writer (so I didn’t “correct” anything she wrote up)  specialising in shorter length fiction. She blogs about all things writing related at http://sallyjenkins.wordpress.com so give her a visit after you read this. And after you buy her book.

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Have you ever loved and lost?

Do you still have an object that reminds you of that special but ill-fated relationship?

It might be a piece of jewellery, a cuddly toy or even an unworn wedding dress.

Letting go of these significant, emotional souvenirs is difficult but sometimes it helps. Once these objects are gone, moving forward with life and starting afresh is much easier.

In Zagreb, the Museum of Broken Relationships will accept these special objects for display.

As a writer (and even though I have never been to Zagreb, Croatia) I have been intrigued by the concept behind this museum. Its exhibits must form a wonderful treasure trove of emotional stories.

This intrigue has resulted in the fictional Museum of Fractured Lives, based in London and, so far, three stories behind the objects donated to this establishment.

Maxine’s Story – Several years ago, Maxine and Kaspar experienced the turbo-charged emotions of teenage romance. But the consequences of their relationship cast a long shadow into Maxine’s adulthood and now she is about to reveal something that she has never told a soul …

Karen’s Story – Karen appears to be a confident business woman in her late forties but her story is pure selfishness. It is the tale of a single woman’s quest to find a man to father her baby. She tempts a work colleague to commit adultery. But he has a secret and their affair has devastating consequences …

Pete’s Story – Pete fell in love with Sarah almost thirty years ago when he was twenty-one. He was singing in a band and living in a bedsit. Sarah was eighteen and had just left school. They planned their life together. Sarah would manage the band and it would become a worldwide success. But the couple’s future goes awry…

Now these three stories are available together in The Museum of Fractured Lives Omnibus along with a prologue which tells how this fictional museum came into being.

The good news is that The Museum of Fractured Lives Omnibus is only 99c until Saturday 4th October.

So why not take this opportunity to indulge yourself with an emotional read which will touch your heart?

Why not indeed. I have had the pleasure of reading Maxine’s Story quite some time ago and will be picking up the Omnibus for myself this week, as I hope you will as well.

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Being a Method Writer

Many of you who have been following this blog know that I, much like a method actor, often inject personal experiences into my writing. The opening scene of Blood in the Past, where Jillian and Mel are mugged, was based on my own mugging (I was the muggee, not the mugger, of course). A colorful gym-rat nicknamed Sonny Short Shorts is based on a guy that frequented my own gym. And let’s not forget that one of Lyla’s targets was based on a regular at the restaurant where I tended bar. He became a bit of a stalker, so he had to go, even if only in the pages of my book.

So it should come as no surprise that I find myself here, freshly arrived in Georgia (we just moved here from New Jersey a couple of weeks ago), staying at a motel (until we find a house), observing all the little things that will surely make it into the next installment of my Blood for Blood Series, my pet project, The Word and the Way, or even a short story or two. For example, my hubby-pants and I are staying at an extended stay motel and, last we left Officer Brighthouse, he was also taking up residence in a motel. Since I’m a method writer, here are a few of the things I’ve noticed that might be used to describe his stay:

  1. Because of the economic downturn, there are quite a few long-term residents. A school bus even makes an official stop at one of the locations. Sadly, their situation is understandable. The same reasons why hubby-pants and I are staying here (weekly rent + utilities included = less money than an apartment), surely apply to those hit hardest by the economy and in need of a place to stay that doesn’t require a credit check. One tenant has even been here seven years. SEVEN YEARS.
  2. The toilet runs. Seriously, it runs like someone or something is f**king chasing it. It often sounds like the faucet has been left on. This little issue irks my hubby more than anything and I’ve decided it will bug Officer Brighthouse as well. I might even have him drunkenly wonder if he’s left a faucet running.
  3. The temperature dials on the air conditioner and the two-burner stove are worn away from years of cleaning. It’s difficult to regulate the temperature of the room, and equally difficult to make a grilled cheese. Officer Brighthouse doesn’t exactly know his way around a kitchen (motel or otherwise), but I foresee him waking up freezing one morning and sweating the next.
  4. The walls are extremely thin. I suppose I should feel lucky that I can’t hear the exact dialogue of our neighbors’ TV sets, or their own dialogue for that matter, but I can hear when they flush their toilets, their muffled movements and conversations, and…how springy their beds are…
  5. The kitchen sink is smaller than even the bathroom sink, and pots and pans often have to be cleaned in the shower. Again, Brighthouse probably isn’t going to be doing a lot of cooking, but I have to find a way to sneak this detail in there because it makes for a hilarious visual.

Okay, now that you all know just how rough we have it down here in Georgia (a bit of TMI in this post, huh?), don’t worry at all. It’s only temporary. And it’s giving me fodder for future writing, which is the shiniest silver lining on the cloud of life. And speaking of experiences mined for story plots, I have a short story in a nostalgic, pulp-fiction-feeling anthology entitled Amazing Adventures. It’s available now on Amazon in paperback (and will soon be available in e-book), and my particular story is told from the point of view of a sentient handgun tossed in a dumpster following an armed robbery, and later sold to a small child. I got the idea from a Facebook prompt about telling a story from the POV of a weapon, plus a fuzzy memory of seeing someone toss a gun into a dumpster when I was a child living in the Bronx. I also remember my grandmother hurrying me along and understandably shushing my questions. Of course, I didn’t  later go on to buy the gun off the street, but the thug who sells it in my story, Mettle on Metal, is also based on a real-life person, whom I met much later. I hope you pick up a copy of the collection and if you do, please let me know what you think!

Masterful Storytellers

Even though I haven’t been writing recently–this move is proving to be both stressful and time-consuming–that doesn’t mean I won’t have anything new out for you to read!

First up is an anthology being compiled and edited by the esteemed author/screenwriter Joel Mark Harris. Myself and twelve other authors have come together to write a dozen gritty mystery and adventure tales, all with a heavy, pulp fiction feel. Look for the Amazing Adventures Anthology next Tuesday, August 19th!

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Isn’t that a beautiful hand-drawn cover? (And as a contributor, I’m considered a “masterful storyteller! Hot damn!) We have the very talented Elyse Bruce (she’s also one of the authors) to thank for that. And if you like the cover, you’re gonna love the customized, hand-drawn illustrations she created to accompany each story! Can you guess which one is mine?

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One of My Biggest Literary Pet Peeves Done Right

Those of you who know me in person, or know me a little better than just reading my blog from time to time, know that I’m pretty picky. This goes for books too. For example, I really love mystery/suspense/thrillers, but I really HATE (with the flames of a thousand campfires) when the main character/investigator is a civilian/layperson without even the tiniest bit of tangential experience. I’m talking about major crimes and conspiracies that are solved by bike messengers and cab drivers and grocery store cashiers. And it’s not like the bike messengers and cab drivers and grocery store cashiers are taking evening or online classes in law or criminology. No, they go home and watch The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones like the rest of us.

So, to sum up, I hate those novels.

However…I just finished reading Sister by Rosamund Lupton. And it was amazing. It was definitely the second best book I’ve read this year and probably one of the best books I’ve ever read. Period. And guess what? The main character, Beatrice, “investigates” her sister’s disappearance/murder and she isn’t a detective, a lawyer, or even one of those plucky reporters. In fact, she worked for a business design company, creating logos and ad copy. Why didn’t throw my Kindle across the room and take a long walk to calm my rage? Well, for one the Kindle was a gift from Hubby-pants a few years ago, but I mostly didn’t rage out because I LOVED the way the book was written. It was Beatrice’s love for and intimate knowledge of her sister that propelled her and kept her from accepting the police’s version of events. The characterization was done so well that I never questioned her lack of experience. I mean, she suspected everyone in the whole book! She looked crazy in the process! She never gave up though. And that’s what made it believable. Add in the fact that it’s formatted as though Beatrice is writing a letter to her lost sister, recapping the events that led to her finding the killer, and there’s so much to love about this story. I highly recommend you give it a read. I stumbled across it when my local library suggested it because I’d enjoyed Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and they were spot on.

So, readers, do you have any literary pet peeves with exceptions? Any novels that, though they exhibit something you normally hate in a book, you ended up enjoying the novel anyway? I’d love to hear about them!

Do Readers Know the Difference Between Thrillers and Mysteries?

Last week I posted about the four types of serial killers and how I knew my stuff and people should just step off. Well, I wasn’t quite that harsh about it, but you get the idea. Not to harp on one terrible…let’s say interesting…beta reader experience, but that post reminded me of something else that person had trouble with. Besides questioning the motivations of my main character and the catalyst to her becoming a serial killer, the person also didn’t understand why there were sections of Blood in the Paint told from my killer’s point of view, why her full name was routinely used, and why the reader knew so much about her. She kept referring to Blood in the Paint as a ‘mystery.’

And that’s where she messed up. I don’t write mysteries. I don’t write whodunits. I write thrillers. When I set out to write this series years ago, my main inspiration was to pen something that colored the killer in a sympathetic light by writing from their POV.  I mentioned in my other post that this particular beta reader hadn’t read Blood in the Past prior to volunteering to be a beta. Perhaps that was part of the problem. But I have never billed my books as mysteries and I even shy away from describing them as suspense. So I have to wonder: is all my careful genre specificity wasted because readers think ‘mystery’ and ‘thriller’ are synonyms?

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According to Jodie Renner, author of Writing a Killer Thriller, readers were always more familiar with mysteries than with thrillers. She goes on to point out that some bookstores have a ‘Mystery’ section, but not a ‘Thriller’ section, which leads to both genres being shelved in the same space. In the rest of her guest post for DP Lyle’s Writers Forensic Blog, she talks about the two main differences between mysteries and thrillers.

First, in a mystery, neither the reader nor the protagonist knows who the killer is. The whole idea is to figure out “whodunit,” then apprehend the bad guy. In a thriller, the reader often knows who the villain is early on, and sometimes the hero does too. The object is for the hero to outwit and stop the killer before he kills others, including the hero, or endangers the world. Also, in mysteries, the protagonist is not usually in danger, whereas in thrillers, the protagonist is almost always directly threatened, fighting for his life as he matches wits with a clever, determined, amoral villain.

The other main difference between mysteries and thrillers is in the delivery—how they are told. Mysteries are usually more cerebral, for readers who enjoy solving puzzles, whereas thrillers are more heart-pounding, adrenaline-raising, appealing to the emotions and a yearning for excitement, a desire to vicariously confront danger and defeat nasty villains. A mystery, especially a “cozy” one, can unfold in a leisurely fashion, but thrillers need to be much more fast-paced and suspenseful.

Given these points, Blood in the Past and Blood in the Paint are most definitely thrillers. Even though one of the main characters becomes a cop and investigates the series of suspicious deaths, the reader knows who the killer is the entire time. (It’s in the blurb for frick’s sake!) In addition, reviewers have said that the pacing of Blood in the Past is downright page-turning. But I’m not one to brag…

Enough about me and my books. My question is: are readers aware of these differences or do they suffer from the same confusion as my beta reader? And if they do, what is the likelihood that they’ll leave less than favorable reviews as a result?

 

 

 

 

How I Got My Book Into an Actual Bookstore!

I cheated. Plain and simple.

Okay, maybe I just cheated a little bit. It’s not like I had a friend distract the shopkeeper (Do people still say ‘shopkeeper’?) while I shoved a stack of Blood in the Past paperbacks on a shelf between Gillian Flynn and Dean Koontz.

You see, I belong to a couple of local writing organizations and one of them recently gave me a job. Of sorts. You’re now reading the blog of the South Jersey Writers Group new Account Manager! Please hold your applause. As such, I’m in charge of stocking the local bookstores and cafes with the group’s anthologies and any other books published under their press company, Hypothetical Press. Last Saturday, the president of the group, Amy Hollinger, invited me to join her to have coffee and meet a couple of the vendors, in the hopes it would make the transition easier (meeting the vendors, not drinking coffee).

The first contact I met was the owner of The Book Asylum in Blackwood, NJ. Amy gave her spiel and the owner readily purchased five copies of the current anthology, Tall Tales & Short Stories, as well as five copies of a member’s book, What to Expect When You’re Dead.

I must admit, I was a little nervous to even bring up the fact that I had a few copies of Blood in the Past in my purse. After all, I’m not published under Hypothetical Press, I’m published under my own company, Blood Read Press. Plus, the shopkeeper (Yes, I’m sticking with this antiquated term for now.) had already shelled out quite a bit of money to pay for the other titles. But it turned out that the woman was very nice and we ended up staying to chat and we even tried to get a little writing done, which really only led to more chatting. Then a regular customer joined us and we were all having a merry ole time when the newcomer asked me what I was writing. I immediately pulled out a copy of Blood in the Past for her the flip through and, wouldn’t you know it, the shopkeeper (Stop judging me, it’s my new favorite term.) immediately asked if I wanted her to stock my book as well!

Over the moon, I handed her the other two copies in my purse and quickly decided the affiliate price would be $5/copy so she could sell them for $7 and make a little profit. Yay!

I know. It’s only two books. That’s all I had on me at the time, besides the one the customer was looking at that I’d hoped she’d buy, but didn’t. But it gets better. While discussing that I was working on the next installment in the series, she offered to host a new release signing in her store! Yippie! (Keep checking the Events page for details!)

I plan to drop off more copies in a month or so when I stop in to iron out the details of the signing, but it looks like it might be as simple as finding a friendly shopkeeper and talking up your work! I’m sure it also helped that I’d showered and dressed somewhat nicely, too.

If you plan on doing this with your own work, might I suggest the following:

  • Create a spreadsheet listing all the businesses you intend to visit. Include the name of the point of contact (AKA shopkeepers), phone number, address, email, and a running tally of how many books you last stocked them with, as well as whether or not they paid you in advance or on consignment.
  • If someone pays you for your books up front, write them up a receipt on the spot (I believe you can find receipt pads at any office supplies store) or email them one later THAT SAME DAY. Don’t dilly-dally because you don’t want them to forget about the transaction, delete the email because they have no idea what it pertains to, and then have no record of your arrangement.
  • Keep a folder where you store your copies of the receipts. You might need them to prove your arrangement to another worker in the store and you might even need them at tax time.
  • I didn’t have these at the time (It was snowing and there was only so much I could tuck safely into my purse), but I recommend creating a flyer about yourself and your work and having it on hand so the store can create more of a display and shoppers know they are supporting a local author. You might even want to invest in some upright plastic sign holders in case your books are going to be displayed on a shelf.
  • Be friendly! If you’re gonna walk in there like the grumpy starving artist we all know we can be sometimes, you’re probably not going to get anywhere. Just saying.

Now, before you guys head over to The Book Asylum in Blackwood, NJ and fight over those two copies of Blood in the Past, does anyone have any questions?