Shaken (Quake Runner Book 1) by Kevin Tumlinson— brief review and commentary

This is a pretty good novel. The main character, Alex Kayne, is sassy, super smart, and just vulnerable enough to avoid the “heroine can’t die” syndrome that afflicts almost all comic book super hero characters, or Lara Croft (heroine of the Tomb Raider games/films). Alex is a fugitive computer whiz who needs something to do as she hides from all the forces who want to either kill her or “bring her to justice”, so she kinda does her version of “The Equalizer” in that she helps people who have a specific need. The needy person in Shaken is a surfer/marine biologist named Abbey, who lost an arm to an encounter with a shark. Abbey received a prototype bionic arm, in part due to her high profile injury, and someone stole it. The arm and it’s charger, gone. Who the heck steals a limb from an amputee? (Literate folks might respond with another story, “Good Country People” by Flannery O’Conner, but I digress.)

So, we have Alex Kayne, who manages to change her appearance, her lodging, her cell phone, and her method of transportation more frequently than anyone in any spy novel I’ve ever read. In this book, she is mostly hiding out in Disney World. Other characters include Eric Symon, the FBI agent who nearly nabs fugitive Alex, Abbey who needs her arm back, and a cast of suspects or villains, depending on how the mystery unfolds. The action in this novel is well told, and not quite believable, but that’s part of the fun of it all.

Readers who enjoy puzzles and/or action heroines and want to be entertained for an evening (or two) should try Shaken (Quake Runner Book 1.)

Now, for the commentary. This was my first book by Kevin Tumlinson, but I certainly intend to try another. At the end of this book there’s a note wherein the author explains that he didn’t plan to self-publish this novel, intending to put it in the hands of an agent. However, he thought better of it and put it into his self-publishing stable of products. For many authors (yours truly included) self-publishing is better, due to control of the process and potential financial gain. That decision is understandable, but when the author said he wrote the book in roughly 15 days, I was shocked. Shocked.

Y’all, fifteen days is like two weeks. I can’t edit a book in two weeks, much less go from beginning to end. Wow. I had a whole new perspective on the novel after that. I thought it was a good, if not spectacular read, with very few errors. However, the very idea that such a book could be dreamed up and written in such a short time is simply hard to believe. However, as the author of Ecclesiastes says, “There is no new thing under the sun.” Shaken is a bit like that, in that the elements in the story have been used before, but perhaps not in precisely this manner. The author’s website is a feast for those who want to know more about marketing and branding, especially marketing self-published novels. Clearly, Tumlinson is not just prolific, but also understands how to get the product to customers, too.

Time for Dystopian Science Fiction?

Reader’s Alley, a nifty site for bargain eBook lovers, divides their science fiction offerings into sub-genres: sci-fi romance, sci-fi thriller, and science fiction, dystopian. While those first two descriptors would seem self-evident, the dystopian flavor is considered by some (mostly jaded members of academia) as the only serious science fiction. Typically, I avoid reading dystopias because they tend to be so darned depressing. But, with all that is happening in the news, which I also try to avoid, perhaps it is time to take a look at the genre.

One of the finest books about the history of science fiction is Brian Aldiss’ Trillion Year Spree, which covers science fiction literature from its beginnings to the early 1980s. Aldiss does discuss many sub-genres, but the thread of dystopia runs strongly throughout his encyclopedia of science fiction in printed form. The term, dystopia, is applicable to “a world in which everything is imperfect, and everything goes terribly wrong. Dystopian literature shows us a nightmarish image about what might happen to the world in the near future. Usually the main themes of dystopian works are rebellion, oppression, revolutions, wars, overpopulation, and disasters. On the other hand, Utopia is a perfect world – exactly opposite of dystopia.”

Science has, until recently, been viewed as a two edged sword; while it can make life much better, mis-use of science has been the root of all sorts of evils. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, is often considered to be the first science fiction novel, and the dark side of science is clearly the central theme of the novel. Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment and Rappacini’s Daughter, short stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne, also feature mis-use of science as their main themes. When teaching those stories, which used to be in many American Lit anthologies, one way to make it simple for students is to say, “Hawthorne is basically telling his readers, ‘don’t mess around with Mother Nature’.”

Later novelists fine tuned dystopian themes, with societies becoming more and more restrictive upon the populace. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984 share these themes, “including the consequences of totalitarianismmass surveillance, and repressive regimentation of persons and behaviours within society.” Kurt Vonnegut’s short story, Harrison Burgeron is one of the most widely read dystopian stories, due to its inclusion in anthologies for students, and I recently read a news story liking our current government policies to Vonnegut’s didactic work. Y’all, it is scary when dystopia becomes reality.

Of course, many fans of science fiction today seldom, if ever, read it. Instead, what they know of utopia and dystopia is presented via video. Early episodes of Star Trek explored both sides of the scientific divide. The Ultimate Computer, rather dated today, explored the man vs. machine conflict, using future war games as a setting for its rather disturbing premise. Various dystopian novels have been adapted to long form (movies) video, including everything from 1984 to Planet of the Apes. There are literally dozens of dystopian sci fi films. Some are rather laughable now (Mad Max?) but others are quite troubling.

My own fiction, which has many conflicts for characters to attempt to resolve, certainly isn’t “happily ever after, ” but it isn’t as dark as some of these works, and that’s because my outlook on life is more pragmatic. Hopefully, there will be some gravitation away from the totalitarian policies of modern politicians and administrators. But, when I consider what I am seeing when I do go out and about, I wonder. I really do. Remember this: In each fictional dystopia, the goal was to make things better for certain segments of the population, and bad outcomes are unhappy accidents. Be careful what you wish for—

Retro Review: Moondust and Madness by Janelle Taylor

MoondustA friend (a generation older than I am) recommended books by Janelle Taylor, saying she is a prolific series romance writer from Georgia.  That’s true. Goodreads lists lots and lots of titles by Taylor, and apparently she sold quite a few books in her heyday. The series my friend recommended was “western” but as I am a science fiction fan, I chose to read book one in the Moondust series, Moondust and Madness.

Reviews for the ebook, which I read, are not plentiful, but are mostly positive. However, a deeper dive into those reveal that the positive reviews are mostly by readers who remembered this yarn from way back, whereas younger, first time readers are not impressed. I understand both points of view.

Moondust and Madness is a traditional 80s bodice ripper novel, which just happens to be set in space. Heroine Jana Greyson is a scientist who is abducted by an alien gathering up human mates for a large system of planets in another galaxy. These alien abductions are sanctioned by the alien powers that be due to the devastation of an engineered virus which caused a lack of fertility amongst the alien females. BTW, these aliens look just like humans, and can breed with them, so the only thing Jana (and her five hundred companions) need is an inner ear translation device and some brainwashing to help her get ready for her new life. Much of the science fiction trappings seem to have been lifted from Star Trek, from “Star Fleet” to transporters. That could be viewed as “ripping off” Trek, but I think it was more to give readers some familiar science fiction props. This is a romance novel, so there are very few explanations of how gadgets or space ships work.

Lots of political intrigue and the on-again off-again romance between Jana and her captor, Varian Saar, make up the more than five hundred pages of this novel, which begins a series featuring other characters set in the same universe. While I liked the book at times, it is just too retro for most readers. I won’t continue the series, but I did finish it.

For readers who like alien abduction and then fall in love plots, Myra Nour used this same basic plot for her much better novel, Love’s Captive. And, if you want a dose of reality wherein the heroine doesn’t fall in love with her captor, try my novel, Trinity on Tylos.

 

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.

 

So you want to be a successful author—

book and moneyWhile I am pretty sure I don’t qualify as successful in the author department, I made enough mistakes to write (or rant) about the topic. Here are some tips, in no certain order, for those who are writing with the intent to publish a book, or for those who have published but are lacking in sales.

First, write the best book you possibly can. Yes, that should go without saying, but writing is like photography or cooking in that no matter how good you have done it, you can get better. There is no such thing as perfect in any of those endeavors. However, don’t publish unless it is really ready. Mistakes in print are embarrassing!

Next, find a real publisher if you can. Not necessarily one of the big companies (although if that happens for you, whoo hoo!) There are a lot of small and micro presses that can get a book into print and into at least some distribution channels, which leaves more time for the author to help with promotional activities and keep writing. A small company, Whiskey Creek Press, published my second novel, and while my sales were low, any money I spent on promotion was voluntary. My debut novel was initially accepted by a micro press, but when it failed, I ended up using a self-publisher called Booklocker.

Third, if you end up self-publishing, do so at minimal cost. Many authors have published via the Amazon Kindle Direct program, which is free. Yep, that’s right, free. I published the second edition of Trinity on Tylos via KDP, and my only expense was a fancy new cover by Dawn Seewer (which was entirely optional.) I disliked the first cover, which was done by an artist at Whiskey Creek Press, and I thought the book deserved a better effort, and Dawn did a great job for me. Another self publishing program that I am considering is Smashwords, which offers many free services. For most self published authors, the distribution channels associated with Smashwords are fantastic.

Fourth, once the book is ready to debut, get the marketing plan in motion. There are lots of books on this topic, as well as a gazillion websites. I’ve had some success with using Facebook groups, such as Ebook Rave, Kindle Book Authors, and Sci Fi and Fantasy Authors . Those have worked well in conjunction with sales and freebie promos, but bear in mind that I have low cost Kindle titles. Under “links of interest” on this site I have a few other spots that I’ve used for promotion, including “Book Goodies” and “Goodreads.” Having an author page on such sites is not necessary, of course, but doing so usually offers links for anyone who “googles” your author name.

Finally, the most important pillar in promotion is reviews, and lots of them.  If friends and family will write a review on a vendor site, such as Amazon or Barnes and Noble, that’s great, but most of us don’t have that many friends. Also, such reviews don’t carry as much cashé as a professional or semi-professional site. Do send your books to as many of those as you can find and afford. Don’t ever pay for a review, beyond giving a copy of the book. Paying for reviews is wrong on both sides of the equation. If the author pays for a review, then there’s a bias that makes the review worthless for the reader. Unless the book is an eBook only, then there is some expense in distribution of the ARC (that’s advanced reading copy) or published book, so it is best to send the book(s) to appropriate sites, because some sites only review certain genres. There are any number of review sites, and these do come and go fairly frequently. My first novel, The Gift Horse, had several reviews online within a year or two of publication, but apart from those on Amazon and one archived on The Midwest Book Review, they are gone! Therefore, if you get an online review, don’t just save the link, but archive the content, too!

When I first published The Gift Horse, I was invited to do some speeches to local clubs, and I sold a few books via that avenue, but as publishing and self-publishing became more common place, those opportunities dried up faster than blackberries in late August. I also got a book signing at a book store after Trinity on Tylos came out, but it was a very lonely afternoon. If those opportunities come your way, enjoy them, but books and eBooks must be purchased via online vendors in order to make any real money, and that means social media marketing. If you are here, clearly you know what a blog is, of course, and having an author website is usually a good idea. Marketing is an ever changing field, but as of this post, you must get to know Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and other modern means of communication in order to build an audience for your books.

Oh, and as footnote to “finally” when readers like a book, they usually look for another book by the same author, so you’d best be writing another book, too.


A few books on marketing:

How to Market a Book

Guerrilla Marketing for Writers

The Frugal Book Promoter

Book Marketing 411 for Authors

And a couple on having a book worth the effort:

Don’t Sabotage Your Submission

Writing the Breakout Novel

Want a book? Check eBay before you check out!

My daughter and I have been using eBay as our “go to” bookstore lately. As an eBay seller, I’ll assure you that the fees are far less when selling used items, including books, on eBay. When selling via the big A marketplace, the fees start at about $4, and go up incrementally. Obviously, selling anything other than textbooks or other high end items on the big A marketplace is not worthwhile. However, eBay’s current fee structure is 12% for books, which means sellers can offer better prices to customers. Also, big A has a flat fee of $3.99 to ship a book, unless the seller offers “free” shipping. As USPS offers “media mail” rates for smaller books, the shipping can be cheaper via eBay. Win-win, right?

Here’s an example of a book that I have placed on the marketplace for a client; basically big A gets $6 of the $17 price:

Amazon fee

The fee for that book on eBay would be $2.04. The difference between selling via eBay vs big A is 23%, which is about $4 on a book that costs $17.

Let’s say you’re a bottom feeder looking for a deal. Here’s what happens with a $5.50 book listed via the big A marketplace:

Amazon fee 2

The sale price is $5.50 and the fee for selling it via the marketplace is $4.21, which means the seller gets $1.29. Not many sellers will opt for such a small amount, which is bound to drive up the prices of used mass market paperbacks and/or popular hardcovers. By the way, as of this post, this same book is available for $3.34 on eBay, while the lowest possible price on big A is $4.75. Clearly, bottom feeders need to go to eBay for book purchases. And, while there, check out all the other goods available, from electronics, to clothing, to collectibles— often at better prices than you’ll find anywhere other than the neighborhood yard sale.

One reason buyers flock to big A is the user reviews. Unfortunately, those reviews are not particularly reliable. Big A is purported to fighting this issue, whether banning reviews by customers who have not purchased the item being reviewed, or attempting to  control “paid” reviewers. Lately, the issue with reviews on big A is a problem with “hijacked” reviews, where in a product’s reviews are actually for a different product. Certainly, if you must read those reviews, really read them, and don’t be fooled by the number of stars highlighted. All in all, while there may be more variety available on big A, the prices are probably better on eBay.

As a matter of full disclosure, I sell on both big A and eBay. My eBay store is here:

The Alternative Article

My video is reaching students!

NASA nebula

A still shot from NASA

Way back I took classes in “podcasting” and “movie-maker.” Afterward, I came home and practiced what we’d learned in class. I made three videos, which are a lot closer to Powerpoint presentations, if the truth be told. Anyway, one of them has had a bit of success—”A Brief History of Science Fiction.” This video was designed with a few still images, mostly screen shots from NASA such as the one I featured on this post, and two audio tracks. We’d been warned in class about using commercial music, so I downloaded a freebie track that I thought sounded dramatic. The second audio track is my voice, reading story boards, in my rather strong Southern U.S. accent. I did write the story boards, based upon my study of the science fiction genre, my training in English literature, and what of that matched up with the still images that I managed to acquire at the time.

Science fiction is an ever changing literary and film genre (with more than a dash of animation) so my video is already a bit dated. Still, I was most gratified when reading a very valid complaint about the loud musical soundtrack. The complainant stated that my little YouTube video was required for class. Gosh darn! My Brief History of Science Fiction is required by a teacher (somewhere?) for a class (in something?) I’m flattered. Really.

If you don’t mind hearing that awful musical track, head over to YouTube and see A Brief History of Science Fiction. While you are there, the link to my “book trailer” for The Gift Horse is still live also.

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.

Nook—a second look at the eBook app

NOOK-feature-300

Nook is an app and a device!

Since big A decided to fire me as one of their “Associates” I have set aside my K—  library for the moment, and am re-reading some older titles via the Nook app on my iPad. For readers who aren’t familiar with this, it is basically the eBook platform used by Barnes and Noble. While I have not purchased many books via B & N, I was once a very loyal customer at Fictionwise. When B & N bought out Fictionwise in 2009, I was able to keep some, alas not all, of the content I had purchased, by adding the Nook app, so those books became part of my Nook library. And, as there are quite a few titles there, I am looking through the library, seeing if anything is worth a second read. One of the best aspects of eBooks is that the “keeper shelf” takes up no room in my house!

The Nook app works like other eBook apps; the raw file format is ePub. In their review of eBook apps, CNET judged it as #3, and it is quite good. I find the animation associated with page changes very pleasing; it looks just like flipping a physical page! I also like having basic info at the top of the screen (date, time, % of battery are all available) as well as the typical (in print format) of two facing pages, with the title on one side and the author name on the other. Apart from a page number, which is not possible as the file must adapt to the reader’s screen size, the interface is very book-like, and I mean that as a compliment. As an app, it is a bit quirky, however. For instance, getting back to the library can be a bit of a chore, as one must first get a more info screen, and then the option to move around a bit becomes available.

There is a library screen, a bookstore screen, a quick link back to the current book being read, and something called “Readouts” which is a bit of sales pitch mixed with freebies and information. The library screen shows “Recent Reads” and “Recent Purchases” as defaults, and there are tabs with “All titles” and “Shelves” which are, of course, organizing tools. Unfortunately for me, the only way I can find some of the oldies is via the “search” feature, but it works quite well. For instance, I didn’t finish my last name before both of my titles popped right up!

I use my iPad (mostly) for reading, so I’m using the free app, but Barnes and Noble is currently offering a 7 inch screen Nook for about $50, and a big screen (10 inch) for $130. When eBooks were new to the market, most were priced substantially lower than their print counterparts, and sometimes that is still true. Lots of classics are free, of course, but lower priced options can be, well, garbage. Overall, the prices at B & N are a bit higher than their ginormous internet competitor, but the store’s interface is elegant. Also, the content is a bit more “curated” than the content over at Big A, where just about anyone can sell anything, regardless of quality.

Since I’ve been reading via the Nook app, I have begun researching the possibility of pulling Trinity on Tylos out of the K— exclusive program and publishing it via ePub to other bookstores. Perhaps Barnes and Noble readers would buy a few digital copies. Stay tuned….