Resources for Readers

DaVinciWhat to read? When I was young (a very long time ago) my mother took my sisters and me to visit the public library every week. This was “free” entertainment, and as we were fairly poor, it was a great deal. However, there was that day when I’d read everything of interest to me in the children’s and young readers category. Again, this was a long time ago, when “young adult” publications were not a big category. I remember her guiding me over to the adult fiction section (meaning not for kids, but nothing racy—it was a public library) and she suggested some titles. My first reads from that section were what mom would term “mysteries” although romantic suspense would be closer to the genre of that time. The authors were Phyllis A. Whitney and Mary Stewart, although I can’t remember the titles. So began my transition into reading for pleasure, an activity that is still a big part of my life.

Mom has been gone for a long time, as she had cancer and died before she should have, but there are plenty of other places to find recommendations for reading. I do belong to way too many Facebook Groups, and most of those have advertising that I largely ignore. For a time, Amazon was my favorite place to find books, and while it is a source for content, the weirdo reviews have made it less and less reliable for recommendations. Also, big A encourages authors to buy ads, making it even less relevant. If you are lonely and want to be inundated by promotional emails, there are lots of sites that promote books via that route, but by and large that content comes from paid ads, so it’s not reliable either. I read a lot of eBooks these days, and my public library has a few thousand titles, but I’ve noticed that far too many of them are “reprints” wherein established authors are giving their backlist titles new life, and I have either read those books are wasn’t interested the first time. So, what to do?

There are some solutions. First, check out Goodreads. It’s now owned by Amazon, but it seems to work quasi-independently from big A, so the reviews are more often by serious readers. Authors can have a “page” on Goodreads, too, which can be helpful. If you like a certain genre, typically there are blogs that feature books of interest. As a lover of science fiction romance, I like this blog: SFR Brigade. Some authors maintain a blog or a Facebook group, so check on a favorite writer’s web presence. Often writers will mention fellow writers or their own favorite reads. I’ve really enjoyed Susan Grant’s books and her blog, Come Fly with Me (now found via her website).

In addition to big A, readers sometimes leave reviews on traditional bookstore sites such as Barnes and Noble and Books a Million. As these sites primarily serve readers, the reviews tend to be written more literate customers. There may be fewer reviews, but I believe they are more reliable.

Also, if you know others who like to read, try forming a book club. My sister belongs to such a club, and members propose which books to read. She’s given me some suggestions of books that were well-received by her group, such as my current read: DaVinci, by Walter Issacs. It’s fascinating, and I would never have chosen it without the recommendation of that group over in Richmond, Virginia.

 

 

Resources for writers

Book Covers SFOver my almost two decades of writing and (occasionally) publishing, I’ve learned some stuff. Lots of stuff, actually. Some of what I learned (such as a great place to buy a box for a manuscript) is out of date. However, there are some resources that budding writers should utilize that are still quite relevant, so here goes—

While a novel (or a short story or screen play) is still in the drafting stage, consider getting editorial help. Informally, there are many writer’s groups which offer support and critiques. If you live close enough, consider that as a first source of assistance and career development. I was once privileged to judge a short fiction contest held by the Northeast Georgia Writer’s Group, and all of the entries were quite worthy. The group is active, with contests and guest speakers. Many libraries sponsor such groups. There’s a great list of writer’s groups in Georgia at ReadersUnbound.com.

Depending on genre, there just may be a writer’s conference waiting for you. Such conferences usually feature guest speakers, workshops, and opportunities to meet with literary agents, who are the typical conduits between writers and publishers. I was fortunate to attend a few in nearby Athens (at the UGA campus) which was sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America, but there are a number of conferences, either general or targeting specific types of writing.

When the work is more or less complete, if there is no conventional publisher in the picture paying for it, an author seeking to self-publish or polish a manuscript for possible submission should really consider a paid editor. The Writer’s Digest magazine folks have an entire “store” devoted to such services. When I was working on my first novel, a publisher recommended that I go through a course with Writer’s Digest, and the experience taught me quite a lot about the value of editorial assistance.

Whether self-publishing a novel or developing a website and/or a social media publicity campaign, hiring a professional graphic artist is really important. For a web only publication, such as Kindle Direct, I might try the do it yourself method, but even then, it is good to use a site such as Canva.com. However, if there is any serious money going into the project, such as self-publishing in print or multiple platforms, then a cover artist is very helpful. Both The Gift Horse and the second edition of Trinity on Tylos have covers designed by an independent artist. There’s a list of cover artists over at The Creative Penn. By the way, I’d steer clear of Fiver. I tried that, and got nothing, not even a refund for my initial payment.

Once a book is in print or available as an eBook, most writers will want to help with marketing. This can be rather daunting for many writers. The publisher of The Gift Horse (Booklocker) has a companion site, Writer’s Weekly, which has some links to paying markets for shorter works, as well as articles about writing and marketing.

There are a lot of companies that offer “services” to authors. Be very careful to choose wisely, or money that should have been spent on editing and cover design will be frittered away on something else. While some of these resources have costs, others are cheap or even free. Regardless of how much money you spend, for a novelist the two most important resources are editing and cover design—in that order.

 

Free for Three promo

For those who prefer to shop at home on Black Friday, here’s an unbeatable deal—my science fiction novel, Trinity on Tylos, is free for three days. Why run it for free? That’s simple, really. More readers should mean more reviews and some word of mouth testimonial. So, here’s a link to the novel, which is free on November 29, 30, and December 1.

Trinity is Free for Three (days)

Beginning at midnight on July 14, the giant-sized internet seller of books and other sundries will be offering the eBook version of my science fiction novel, Trinity on Tylos, for free! I’ve seldom used this option, but as their Prime Day promotions will be going on, I thought I might get a few people to download it. If I’m really lucky, I might get another positive review, too. Anyway, here’s the book cover; just click for a link to the sale.

ToT_cover_final_webLG

Here’s an excerpt of my favorite review of the novel:

TRINITY ON TYLOS… is instead a thought-provoking book that will challenge one’s beliefs about the importance of motherhood, duty, and sacrifice. At times, the choices made by Venice and even Allie are ones the reader will disagree with and perhaps even be angered by them. However, one of the trademarks of a well-written novel is its ability to inspire others to debate. TRINITY ON TYLOS accomplishes this and so much more. Pamela J. Dodd has truly demonstrated her gift as a writer with this stunning book.” —

A romance from the grave

Texas FreeRecently, I updated my credentials to virtually check out books from my local library. Free is a good price, right? Unfortunately, apparently, there is little demand for science fiction at my library, so I looked at titles in the romance genre.

When I first read romance novels, I had a list of authors who were my “go to” writers. One of them was Janet Dailey. Generally, she did a good job of integrating setting, plot, and character, and that’s no easy task, because romance writers are under a lot of pressure to produce, produce, produce. Romance readers seem to be perpetually thirsty for new novels, and I saw a new series by Janet Dailey, so I checked out Texas Free,  copyright 2018.

The opening states that the events happened in 1985, which would have been at Dailey’s peak, in terms of both popularity and proliferation. The story is actually a good one, if a bit formulaic. Rose Landro returns to her childhood home in Texas, on the run from a Mexican drug cartel. Unsure of her welcome, but desperate, she stakes her claim on land that should have been hers, as it belonged to her grandfather who had intended to deed it to her before his untimely demise. As the land is an access point to water for cattle, her stake is controversial, and the reader follows the twists and turns of the plot, wondering if Rose will succeed in establishing a homestead, and if any of her neighbors will assist her in her quest.

Janet Dailey has penned a great many books, but the copyright page indicates that this one belongs to a “Revocable Trust” created by some folks who share the same last name. So, is this “Tylers of Texas” series a repackaged group of novels from earlier, or are her heirs using a ghost writer? I suspect the latter, as Janet Dailey died in 2013.

Ghost writing has been around a long time, and there are sometimes very good reasons for using the process. Celebrities who are good at something else often write books, but the more honest ones have a “with so and so” under the author line. Both Tom Clancy’s and Robert Ludlum’s publishing careers have gone on without the author as other, named writers, do the work, but these ghost writers are a least named in the fine print. As I have the eBook version of Texas Free checked out, I might not be seeing it, but if there is an acknowledged ghost writer I didn’t find it. On the other hand, authors I know have reprinted their books with new titles to “up date” them. I kinda think that is cheating a bit, but reputable writers do it.

As I have a back list title that I republished as an eBook (Trinity on Tylos) I am not complaining about republishing, but unless there is a dusty old manuscript, or computer file somewhere, a back list title should be just that. A novel written by someone other than the named author breaks the contract between a publisher and the reader. If I see an author’s name, I expect that the author wrote the book, and I doubt that I am alone in that expectation.

The entire Tylers of Texas series has publication dates after 2013. FYI.

Claimed by the Warlord— a quick review

WarlordRecently, I read a science-fiction/fantasy romance by Maddie Taylor. Overall, this novel was a good read, but some reviewers gave it a thumbs down due to the “discipline” used on the heroine. And, I totally get that, as the character didn’t really do much to warrant that behavior on the part of the alpha male. On the other hand, I read (some years ago) the science fiction series by Sharon Green wherein there is one heck of a lot of love/abuse in the tumultuous relationship between the heroine and her lover. I’d call this one “Sharon Green lite” in terms of spanking. There’s not much else for the “me, too” set to object to. However, this novel does have other, somewhat graphic, scenes associated with the precarious situation that sets the action of the novel in motion. Indeed, the author’s ability to describe the effects of terror inducing situations upon Princess Aurelia is the best part of the novel.

As many stories do, this one begins in medias res, where the Princess has been captured, auctioned to the highest bidder, and awaits her fate at his hands. There is intrigue and treachery aplenty, and the plot does have some twists and turns. Although this is more romance than science fiction or fantasy, it has enough suspense to keep readers swiping the electronic pages. The author does have a way of making the cold seem colder, the hot seem hotter, and the terror seem, well…I’m sure you get the picture.

For readers who like a blend of steamy hot romance, a dash of space opera, a good sprinkling of fantasy, and some scenes that are not necessarily comfortable (but totally fictional) then Claimed by the Warlord is a good read. For readers who are made of sterner stuff, Sharon Green’s Terrilian series is now available in eBook form, as well as in  vintage paperback.

Classic YA fiction by Elizabeth George Speare

Calico CoverI was watching the grandkids play and perusing a shelf of older books. A title, Calico Captive by Elizabeth George Speare, caught my eye. Before long, I was reading and glancing over at the kids from time to time. When I taught middle grades (long, long ago) I used Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond as one of my class novels. I’m not sure that all of the students liked it, but I did. Calico Captive, like “Witch” is an historical novel, with a young adult protagonist.

Nowadays, many novelists write for younger audiences, and the readership is quite broad for such novels. Everything from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to The Hunger Games (Book 1)to The Princess Diaries  are squarely aimed at YA, but caught on with adults and movie audiences, too. Speare’s novels are very well written and could have a varied audience of entertained readers. Instead of re-cycling old television shows, maybe some film makers will decide to put Elizabeth George Speare’s tales into production. This novel would make a great movie!

Calico Captive tells the story of a young woman, Miriam Willard, living on the frontier in the 1700s; first captured by Indians, then held more or less as a prisoner of war by the French, during what historians now call the French-Indian War. According to my research, this is Speare’s debut novel, and it is based on a real life story. Miriam and her fellow captives are portrayed in a manner that held my interest. Okay, it is not quite a page turner, as it strives for some historical accuracy meaning that this all takes a while to resolve, but this story also helped me learn about a period of history that I don’t know well at all.

Readers who love history and are looking for a well written novel with adventure and a hint of romance will really enjoy this story. Speare’s later, better known works, are good reads also, but I have genuinely enjoyed this window into another time.

Netflix? Hulu? Amazon? Come on, let’s get these stories into production!

Found Girl— review and commentary

For me, the works of Pauline Baird Jones are hit and miss. My favorite of her stories is the first one I read (The Key, also known as Project Enterprise, Book 1). I’ve read several other of her novels, and her style is generally a blend of snappy dialogue, kick-butt heroines, romantic suspense, and sufficient action to keep the reader entertained.

My most recent read is billed as Book 6 in the Project Enterprise series. The main character is Arian Teraz, a young woman whose place in the universe is destined to be an arranged marriage a tilling some farmland on a rather primitive planet. Right before she must marry, a mysterious ship lands in front of her and invites her to take a chance on another life. As the ship leaves her home planet, they are attacked, and somehow she steers the ship through a wormhole. On the other side of that is a pilot named Cooper. This is where fans of Project Enterprise novels will see how this story fits into the series.

Found Girl contains the snappy dialogue, action, and Jones’ trademark blend of science fiction and fantasy elements. I read an eBook version, which is $4.99 at this writing.

Dirty Dancing— commentary

Dirty DancingSome of y’all are going to laugh, but I watched this 80s heartthrob flick for the first time this week. A local theatre is featuring the touring version of Dirty Dancing next month, so I did a bit of research on the story and was intrigued enough to look for the original film.

As for Dirty Dancing, the movie, it is a period piece anyway, as it is set in the early 60s, but the cast (and Jennifer Grey’s hair) made me think 80s, regardless. The Dirty Dancing soundtrack works great, regardless of the era, especially the Oscar winning finale, [This is the] Time of Your Life. Although the story is supposed to take place in the Catskills, the movie was actually filmed near Lake Lure, North Carolina and in Mountain Lake, Virginia. Having vacationed in North Carolina and Virginia, I enjoyed the visual feast, too, but the lack of high def photography reinforced the retro feel of the film. Another facet is the “please the crowd” ending, which is entirely unrealistic, but oh, so Hollywood, at least, as it was when their business was entertainment.

Patrick Swayze is very convincing as the working class dance instructor, and Jennifer Grey gives an amazing performance as “Baby,” alternating between the shy upper class school girl and a young woman with grit and enough determination to learn the complex dance routine. The dancing is, of course, quite good, as are some of the performances by the supporting cast. While I won’t be joining those who view this as a see it over and over again cult classic, I really did enjoy it.

I haven’t decided to buy tickets to the live action version (not yet, anyway) but I am glad I spent an evening seeing this now iconic film. And, gosh I love the music.

Trading for a Dream— review of book 2 in the Yrden Chronicles

TradingDreamcoverSince I first began reading eBooks on my iPad, I’ve used Amazon’s Kindle more than any other app, because it works well and the content is both plentiful and inexpensive. An early favorite author was D.A. Boulter, whose novel Courtesan impressed me quite a lot. I’ve revisited his work from time to time, and recently I read the latest entry in the series that began with CourtesanTrading For A Dream (The Yrden Chronicles Book 2).

Boulter’s Yrden books are based upon the idea that somewhere in the future, Trading Families will own fleets of cargo ships that not only carry paid cargo, but that there would be trade representatives on board who scout for local merchandise at each port of call, buying and selling or bartering, providing new goods for their customers as well as adding profit to the Family. Of course, the Yrden Family is the core group, but Courtesan is a stand alone book which occurs some generations before the events in the two available Yrden Chronicles novels. Trading For The Stars (The Yrden Chronicles Book 1) recounts the story of Clay Yrden and Colleen Newborn who meet on a primitive planet, Erin.

Trading for a Dream continues their story, but the main point of view character is not one of the Family; instead, as the novel opens, the reader meets Adrian Telford, who is engaged in arranging an accident (i.e. he’s a hit man.) However, when the victim’s wife and son witness the “accident” Telford loses his taste for a life of crime. In an effort to clean up his act, Telford rides a shuttle to Liberty Station, a space station which is on the trade route of Blue Powder, a Yrden Family ship.

(spoiler alert)

When Blue Powder docks, Clay and Colleen soon meet Mr. Telford. Clay sees him as too risky due to his past association with criminals, but Colleen sees a desperate man in need of a hand up. Needless to say, the interactions between the Yrdens and Telford make up the rest of the novel. The yarn is suspenseful due to the efforts of the baddies to make Telford go back to his former profession, as well as an attempt to relieve the Yrdens of some of their goods.
While there are some mostly stereotypical characters, the author does a reasonable job of creating engaging characters, including the folks on the ship, the bad guys who used to be Telford’s business associates, and other folks who get involved, so there are quite a few of them for the reader to keep straight. Having read the other novels in the series helped me a bit in that regard.

I’ve enjoyed Doug Boulter’s stories, and I really liked this one, too. The only caveat I have in recommending these is if you want sex scenes, you’ll be disappointed, as these stories are remarkably clean without being intended for a young adult audience. These stories are reasonably priced on Amazon, and I encourage readers to discover this relatively unknown author. I am so glad I did.