Tuesday, August 30, 2011

An Interview with Howard Hopkins

I’d like to thank Howard for taking the time to answer some questions.  My review of The Chloe Files #1 will be out in a day or two.  In the meantime, get to know this guy by reading the interview and then checking out the Howard Hopkins Website and Howard’s Blog.

Do you write full time or part time, and how do you manage it?

I’m a full time writer, as well as an editor for Moonstone Books and Comics. It’s tough keeping focus sometimes with all the distractions that go along with working out of the home, but I tend to be driven and better off when I work by myself.

Tell us about your latest book.

I have a number of latest books (one a very special project I am unable to announce, but let’s just give a hint and say—Hi Yo, Silver!) but The Chloe Files #1: Ashes to Ashes is a series I think is a lot of fun and a great escape. It’s about an exotic dancer who chases down supernatural threats, such as ghosts, demons, zombies, vampire. Like “Ghost Whisperer on steroids,” as one reviewer called it. Chloe Everson is an dancer in the burlesque vein whose entire life has been plagued by loss and hardship and just when things seem to be going great—her fiancĂ© vanishes and a demon with a mad-on starts giving her a hassle. There’s also a 600-year-old dead monkey named Bob who helps her out…

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Review of Echoes of Savanna by Lucinda Moebius

In general, if you’re going to write a science fiction book with a strong female lead character you’ve got something working against you when I get ready to read it.  That something is Robert Heinlein.  I was introduced to science fiction with one of his books way back in 1981 when I was eleven.  A few years later, Friday comes out.  Okay, let me restate that.  In 1983, WJ Rosser is right in the early stages of puberty and he read a Robert Heinlein book about an attractive secret agent-like courier who was also a genetically superior clone creature with very liberal policies about sex. 

Bottom line, if you have a female lead in a hard science fiction piece, you’re up against all of my pre-conceived Heinlein-induced puberty-infused perceptions (Go ahead and try to say that ten times fast—start with “pre-conceived.”) about cool female science fiction characters.  I only post a review if I like a book, and you can find out why I don’t give negative reviews if you’d like.  I thought I would be letting the book sink digitally into my recycle bin.  If I don’t like the book, I forget about it.  You’d never hear about it from me.

When I do like a book, however, I write about it here.  I liked Echoes of Savanna.  It’s almost post-apocalyptic in plot.  The year’s 2032, and the world is ravaged by war and terrorism.  A biological weapon has unleashed disease, and everything has just gone to hell in a hand basket.  Enter Moebius’ character Savanna.  She’s a smart doctor doing everything she can to figure out how to rid the world of manufactured illnesses and facing constant scrutiny by a population that still views women as secondary.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Review of Yo A$$ Is Gra$$: Tales from a Redneck Gangsta by Jimmy Pudge

Okay, let me tell you a little bit about myself.  My taste is eclectic as hell.  If you listened to one of my mix tapes (Yes, I’m old.  My kids have playlists; I have mix tapes.) you’d find Creedence next to Metallica next to Sinatra next to Jennifer Terran next to The Pogues next to Clannad.  I like just about every genre, and I appreciate the best of any genre.  Books are the same for me.  That’s why I loved this collection of stories by Jimmy Pudge.  If you’re easily offended—actually, even if you’re moderately easy to offend—you don’t want this book.  Since I’m only offended by poor writing, Jimmy had nothing to worry about.

I remember when I was a kid (I’m talking about in my early twenties.  Refer back to the earlier parenthetical remark.) and I first read the complete collection of Damon Runyon.  The guy created a style of speaking so unique that critics dubbed all further works like his “Runyonese.” If critics can ever get past the fact that every fourth or fifth word shows up as s*** on chat and &@##! in comics, it’s possible there might be literary critics in fifty years referring to Pudgese.  In a recent interview with him, Jimmy said he named the book as he did to make sure nobody bought it without knowing what was coming.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

An Interview with Lucinda Moebius

I had an opportunity to get to know Lucinda Moebius a little bit, and here are some answers she’s provided so you can get to know her, too.  Go ahead and take a look at her website at www.lucindamoebius.com; and at the risk of spoiling the review, pick up Echos of Savanna.  You’ll probably like it.
Where are you from and what do you love most about your hometown?
Currently, I reside in Boise ID.  I grew up in Idaho and Eastern Oregon and although I have lived or visited many other places, I consider Boise my home.  I love the city; it has everything I need to be happy.  My family, except my father and one brother, all live in the same twenty-mile radius.  We are all exceedingly close, some may even say slightly co-dependent, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  We have been there for each other for our life’s major events: marriages, births, baptisms, illness.  Boise is big enough to offer big city options like nightlife hotspots, fine dining, fast food and shopping yet small enough to safely raise a family and have neighborhood block parties.  It’s the place I will always call home.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? How has that childhood dream affected your career?

Even since I could remember I wanted to be a teacher.  I love the idea of working with children and teaching them something that will stay with them forever.  There is an almost magical feeling when a student gets a concept and has that Ah Ha moment.  It is like a light bulb goes off and their eyes light up.  I teach high school and college in addition to writing novels.  My students always ask me if I get rich from my writing would I give up teaching and I tell them no.  One of the reasons I write is to demonstrate

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Review of The Lonely Mile by Allan Leverone

It took me longer to read Allan Leverone’s newest than is ordinary for me.  I usually tuck into a book like a fat man confronted with barbecued beef brisket.  (Hey, I’ve been fat.  I’m allowed to make a simile with that reference.)  Don’t mistake that to mean anything negative about the book.  The book’s great.  The problem is this:  As I wait for the world to realize how brilliant my writing is and how everyone should buy my absolutely Pulitzer/Nobel Prize quality material, I support myself by ghostwriting.  Right now, I’m in the middle of writing two different suspense novels and one hardboiled crime novel.  I read four or five chapters of Lonely (Well, if famous books get shorter, intimate nicknames, why not?) and then sat down to work.  The problem?  I couldn’t give a damn about the characters in the novels someone (three different someones, actually) had paid me to write.  Instead, I found myself wondering how Leverone’s characters would react.

Take Bill Ferguson, for instance.  He is the everyman hero in The Lonely Mile.  He’s well developed by Leverone.  In some ways, he’s a typical stereotype, the small business owner struggling to keep everything together, the normal everyday guy in strange circumstances, the man with the kidnapped child; but don’t let these common thriller norms fool you.  Leverone didn’t paint the guy in such broad strokes.  As evidence, I present…an air conditioner.  Bill’s daughter is kidnapped, and in the midst of

Monday, August 22, 2011

An Interview with Allan Leverone

I was fortunate enough to get a chance to parlay with Allan Leverone, the author of The Lonely Mile and a bunch of other books.  My review of The Lonely Mile will be up in a day or two.  Take a look at what he had to say and then go pick up a book or two.  You’ll enjoy them.

Where are you from and what do you love most about your hometown?

I grew up in a very small town in central Massachusetts named Harvard (no relation to the much more famous university outside Boston). It was the kind of place you could leave your front door unlocked and not have to worry about someone busting into your house and sticking a gun in your ear. Of course, that was a long time ago. Everybody knew everybody else and while that was sometimes not a good thing, I wouldn’t trade my childhood for anything.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? How has that childhood dream affected your career?

As a young child I was convinced I would be the shortstop for the Boston Red Sox, and as bad as they were when I was a kid, I probably could have. I always wanted to write, but it never occurred to me until much later that I might actually have anything to say that anyone else would want to read.

Tell us about your latest book.  Do you have anything new in the works and can you tell us a bit about it?

THE LONELY MILE tells the story of Bill Ferguson, a regular guy who does something extraordinary, breaking up a kidnapping and saving a teenage girl from a horrible fate. He reacts the way we all like to believe we would. But in so doing, he places his own family directly in the sights of a psychopathic kidnapper/murderer. When his daughter disappears days later, he must battle his own feeling of guilt and responsibility even as he races to save his only child. But there are forces at work which go much deeper than just one kidnapped girl, and Ferguson may not be able to save his daughter or himself.

I’m always working on new material, and in September, my novella, DARKNESS FALLS, will be released by Delirium Books as part of their limited edition collectible hardcover novella series. The hardcovers are sold out, but an ebook version will be available beginning late in the month. I’m very excited about it.

Why did you write this book?

I wanted to write a thriller featuring a regular person as the protagonist, someone like you and me, someone who’s not a superhero, who’s not bulletproof, who questions himself and is uncertain and blames himself for his daughter’s disappearance. I wanted a guy who, despite all these doubts and uncertainties, fights his way through them because he simply has no choice. The question is, will he be able to succeed?

How did you come up with the title?

The significance of the title, THE LONELY MILE, is revealed toward the end of the book, so I won’t say it here, but I wanted a title that would convey the sense of bleak desolation Bill Ferguson feels when he realizes his actions have been directly responsible for the disappearance of his only child.

The manuscript was untitled for a very long time while I was writing it as I struggled with potential titles, but I believe the title I ultimately decided on very much conveys the mood of the book. By the way, the cover design by StoneHouse Ink perfectly captures what I wanted; I’m thrilled with how it turned out.

How did you choose your genre?

I’ve always been drawn to horror and thrillers, to stories about people being pushed beyond their limits. Even as a young child, I read Edgar Allan Poe at the same time I was reading the Hardy Boys. I’m fascinated by the dark side, which probably says something I’d rather not acknowledge about my personality, but which is very definitely there.

What inspired you to be a writer?

The ability of talented writers to draw the reader into worlds which may be totally foreign to them is almost magical. When I’m reading and absorbed in a book, time flies by at a rate which seems impossible. Some of my earliest memories as a reader are of shaking my head and thinking, “Man, I wish I could do that.” Finally I decided to try.

Who is your favorite character in your books? Why?

I like characters who must rise above and beyond what they’ve ever believed they can accomplish. To me, it’s much more impressive for someone to have to face his or her fears than to stand there, barrel-chested like Superman, while bullets bounce off his chest. This is a common theme in pretty much all my fiction, both long and short, and while I’m not going to name any specific characters here, you’ll recognize them if you read my work.

Have you ever used contemporary events or stories “ripped from the headlines” in your work?

Not really, although much of the inspiration for any writer of fiction, I believe, necessarily comes from things they have seen and heard. FINAL VECTOR, for instance, involves terrorists and airplanes—we’ve obviously all heard that story before—but the plot of the novel is totally unrelated to the events of September 11, 2001.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging about writing?

I like to write every day, at least six days a week, and with a full-time job and a family which deserves my time as well, carving out the portion of a day to write is not always easy. Sometimes actually sitting down and getting started is almost impossible, but once I do, within minutes I’m completely absorbed in whatever world I’m trying to create.

What advice would you give to writers just starting out?

Write, write, write. Writing is no different than any other endeavor—if you want to be good at it, good enough to set yourself apart from the pack, you have to dedicate yourself to it. Elite athletes have an innate ability, but unless they work to develop that ability, it’s mostly going to go to waste. I believe writing is no different.

Do you ever suffer from writer's block? If so, what do you do about it?

I don’t know if I believe in writer’s block. Sometimes ideas come easy and sometimes they don’t but the process of writing always remains the same—you have to sit your ass down and do it. I will say this: some days are a lot easier than others. At times I sit down and the story just flows out of me, almost like magic. Other days, it’s nothing but a struggle. The key, though, is simply to keep going. Writing is about revising and editing and polishing, and there’s a writers clichĂ© that says, “You can’t edit a blank page.” So even if you believe what you’re writing on any particular day is total crap, keep at it, because out of five pages of crap might come a paragraph, or even a sentence, that shines like gold in coal.

Who is your favorite author and why? What books have most influenced your life?

I have a ton of favorite authors, so narrowing it down to one is probably impossible. But someone like Lawrence Block, who has worked at his craft for a lifetime and supported himself with that work, is impressive as hell to me. He’s created marvelous characters and series, his dialogue crackles both with realism and originality, and in my view, any writer could do a lot worse than to emulate him.

As far as books are concerned, it’s again difficult to narrow them down, because I’ve read so many. But Stephen King’s THE STAND has it all, in my opinion: memorable characters, a compelling plot, and a well-constructed story.

How did you deal with rejection letters?

I’ve always tried to remind myself that it’s not personal. I fully understand my work will not appeal to everyone, and even the most successful or most critically-acclaimed authors—people who could write circles around me without even breaking a sweat—have their share of detractors. Just because one person doesn’t like my work, or even one group of people, that doesn’t mean it won’t find an audience. I look at reviews the same way. It’s just not possible to make your work palatable to everyone.

If you’re going to put your work out for public consumption, you either learn to accept the bad with the good pretty quickly, or you’re going to find yourself miserable a good part of the time.

What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?

Fearlessness, a great imagination, and a reliable thesaurus. The ability to survive on very little sleep doesn’t hurt, either.

What's the weirdest thing you've ever done in the name of research?

When I wrote FINAL VECTOR, a portion of the action takes place inside an air traffic control facility. I happen to be an air traffic controller. So I took a notebook and pen and walked around the facility examining things, taking notes, etc. The facility is protected 24/7 by armed guards, and I fervently hoped none of them had itchy trigger fingers as they tried to figure out what the hell I was doing.

You can get more information about Allan at his website, http://www.allanleverone.com.  Also, be sure to check out his   books on Amazon.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ferris Bluff by Fred Limberg


First off, does it say something bad about me that I enjoy a first sentence that has both “goddam” and “hell” in it?  Ferris Bluff starts out that way, and it immediately sets the tone for the book, a gritty novel set in a completely non-gritty place, the titular location being a small, beautiful, Arkansas town that still uses mechanical gas pumps and seems like a throwback to a quieter, older time.

Limberg does an excellent job with his character, Ace.  A misunderstanding at the front of the book immediately lets the reader know Ace has a violent past, and the character’s development throughout the book is unrelenting and continuous.  The suspense doesn’t let up either.  Even when the action isn’t front and center, there’s an undercurrent to it that doesn’t give in. 

The best thing about this book, though, is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Limberg has no illusions here.  He’s written a thriller, and a damn fine one with plenty of action, plenty of violence, and plenty of chest-thumping excitement.   He’s not, though, trying to make some astounding and significant point.  It’s a great escape, not a “yeah, I know it’s just a thriller, but I swear it’s more than that so notice how smart I am” pretentious kind of book that so many bestsellers are these days, the books that seem to try to apologize for their genre.  He makes fun of conventions, and I like that.

Take this passage for example:

Mournful swamp-blues rolled out of the old jukebox teasing danger and mystery in the night. Ace leaned over and said, “This is the crossroads, kid. This is where you go to sell your soul for what you can get for it. This is danger and death, boy.” Nick looked out at the crowd on the porch and realized there wasn’t a white face in the bunch. It didn’t look sinister. It looked like they were having a party. Ace laughed out loud. “I’m just messin’ with you, Nick. This is just The Jook.”

We’re so used to being told how to react to a scene, that we get pulled in like Nick, ready to believe that we’re at a crossroads, and then Limberg chuckles at us with a great big “gotcha!”

No, the book’s not perfect, but it’s perfect for the genre.  Yes, the bad guys are a little one dimensional, but for Heaven’s sake, this is a thriller, not a deep psychological exploration of the nature of humanity.  Buy this book.  It’s worth the money and worth the time you spend reading it.  I don’t know why Limberg isn’t a bestselling author yet.  He should be.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

19, by Aaron Patterson

I love Amazon’s Kindle Singles.  The short story is, unfortunately, a dying art.  Edgar Allen Poe was a proponent of short fiction, actually claiming that the form was better than any other was from a literary standpoint.  I agree with that, and I find it sad that today most authors follow a path of writing short stories in order to establish themselves in journals so they can sell novels as they gain acceptance and an audience.  Unfortunately, that usually means the short stories leave a lot to be desired.

Thankfully, Aaron Patterson does not fall into this category.  “19” is a well-crafted short story, complete with a tightly woven plot, a well-crafted setting, and characters that follow Stephen King’s regular person stuck in extraordinary circumstances rule.  It makes for a great read.  The basic premise of the story revolves around a woman who finds special significance in the number nineteen.  No, it’s not an original concept.  Yes, there have been about a bazillion books giving significance to a specific number in a character’s life.  No, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it.  Read this short story.

Patterson has an ability (you can see it in all of his novels, but it is remarkable to get it done within the confines of a short story) to make his characters believable and normal even in extraordinary circumstances.  Take a look at this:

Elvis ended his tribute to Christmas and I lit another pine tree candle and heard the chipmunks come on. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Alvin and the chipmunks sing Christmas carols. I walked to the front window, looked out through the thick falling snow, and saw Ben lying on his back twitching in the snow, shovel thrown to one side and my heart leaped into my throat—I screamed.

This really is good.  At first, the simplicity of the passage belies the brilliance of it.  In three sentences, the reader hears Elvis fade away, smells pine-scented candles, hears Alvin telling Santa not to be late, gets a horrible image of a dying man, and screams along with the character.  You cannot help but be engaged when Patterson writes.
Amazon occasionally offers this story (and others like it) free, but do yourself a favor and take a look at other Aaron Patterson books as well.