Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Words in conflict: “Gay-straight alliance” vs. “Catholic”


Sometimes, writing about writing and words brings you right to the zeitgeist (there, that’s one for the bucket list: using “zeitgeist” on my blog.)

Bullying is in the news almost constantly. News reports about children committing suicide are depressingly common. High schools are finally taking real measures to stop bullying. And now the Ontario provincial parliament is debating Bill 13, the proposed Accepting Schools Act.

The bill has hit a snag, as the Catholic Church in Ontario has spoken out against a single line in the government’s bill, which would specifically allow student groups to call themselves “gay-straight alliances.” These groups, so-named, already exist in public schools in Ontario. (Breaking news: the Ontario Provincial Parliament has delayed debate on Bill 13; it was supposed to have third and final reading today, May 30, but that’s been postponed, and the government has not announced when it will happen.)

Thomas Cardinal Collins, President of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario, issued a long, rambling statement on the legislation to the government. His problem with the government’s bill is that it specifically mentions bullying of homosexual students and mentions gay-straight alliances. “Certainly that type of bullying is wrong, and must never be tolerated,” the letter states.

“But there are many young people who suffer bullying, and most of them are not represented in the category given special emphasis in the bill [“LGBTTIQ,” or “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, transsexual, two-spirited, intersexed, queer and questioning” people]. The bill should address the way in which our schools may be made more welcoming to all students. None who suffer should be ignored.”

Cardinal Collins proposes that the legislation should not identify “a limited number of highlighted groups,” but instead allow schools to address bullying “at the local level.”

He adds “each school should follow a way in harmony with its underlying principles...Catholic schools have their own highly developed ways of attaining the goal of creating a welcoming school...based upon the Gospel principles which are the foundation of Catholic education.”

At a press conference, the Cardinal asked "Why are Catholics and Catholic schools not free to attain the same goal, of love and respect for everybody, not allowed to attain the same goals in their own different ways?" (CBC News) He also warned against legislation that “overrides the deeply held beliefs of any faith community.”

One principle of the Catholic Church, promoted in Catholic schools in Ontario, is that homosexuality is immoral. Interestingly, the Cardinal never said that.

What the Catholic school boards, Catholic school trustees and others in the Ontario Catholic community want is more “inclusive” groups, which discourage any form of bullying. Commendable.

However, they are also objecting to the term “gay-straight alliance.” Catholic schools in Ontario have expressed their desire to support and welcome gay students. But they do not want to allow the word “gay” in names of school clubs.

This is a complex debate, and the Cardinal has chosen his words extremely carefully. His submission to the Ontario legislature never uses the words “homosexuality” or “gay,” nor does it explicitly discuss the “gay-straight alliance” name.

What’s your take on this? Is the Catholic Church still so terrified of homosexuality? Or are they justified in their opposition to Ontario law?

Read the full submission from the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario.

Read the text of the proposed Accepting Schools Act.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

On the TTC Virtual Blog Tour: Allison Bruning, author of Calico

This week, Written Words is participating in Tasha Turner's Master Koda Blog Tour. It works like this: I'm hosting blogger Allison Bruning, and Raymond Frazee is hosting my guest post.

The first week's topic: what got you into writing? Take it away, Allison!

Passion! It is the heartbeat of any writer, the insatiable hunger from deep within an author’s soul to write. 

Lord Byron once said, “If I don't write to empty my mind, I go mad.” I know how he feels; the flow of words that clutter your mind, urging you to pour out your heart and soul onto a blank piece of paper. The longer you ignore it the more you think you will go insane. Your only relief lies with pen and paper or your computer. Letting go of reality, you allow your characters to tell the story. You draw so close to them and dig so deep into your story you forget time and place. You begin to talk about your characters as if they weren’t fictional but members of your family. The story unfolds before your eyes. Lost within, you are consumed by the story and forget the pen, paper or computer. You know the story is over when you feel it. The journey has ended. Sorrow fills your heart. The writing process is like a drug habit that leaves you craving for more. The American author and editor, E. L. Doctorow, summed up the experience saying, “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”

I have felt compelled to bare my heart and soul into the written word from an early age. The only child of a single mother, I would often spend most of my time at my grandmother’s house. One afternoon after she picked me up from kindergarten, I had showed her a tiny book I had made in school. I was excited about my new book. A few days later, my grandmother surprised me with paper, pen, crayons and construction paper. She wanted me to make her a book. I couldn’t have been more elated! My grandmother had recognized my passion for writing and decided to foster that. For years I would write her a story then I would read it to her.

As I grew older, I tried my hand at keeping a diary but my diary ended up being more of a journal. I began to discover I could write pages upon pages of material in one sitting. I also enjoyed reading. There was never a day that went by where I didn’t carry a book, a notepad and a pen with me. There was just so much to explore and write about! In upper elementary school, I was placed in advanced reading classes. By middle school, I discovered I had a love for research and writing reports. I continued to write fiction and poems but felt a need to further explore the world of writing. 

In eighth grade, I was reading at a freshman college level and was writing reports at a high school level. I was even getting in trouble at school on purpose so I would be sent to Saturday school in order to write reports. That worked well until the principal and my mother learned why I wanted to get in trouble. By the time I was in high school, I had written over 20 books, 2 movie scripts, and over a dozen research papers on my own. I was poet for the literary magazine, a newspaper reporter and a member of the yearbook in high school.

My thirst for writing never left me after high school. It was only intensified as I discovered the English Department at Sul Ross State University. There I was taught how to compile a writing profile. Every English professor required one for their class. In my advanced English 101 class, my professor noticed my talent and told me I should pursue a writing career. She urged me to keep writing and to take as many English classes as I wanted. I eventually accumulated enough hours to have English as my major but never sought the degree. Instead I graduated with a degree in Theatre Arts and a minor in Anthropology. Yet I never lost my passion for writing.

My professional writing career began three years ago when my husband and I moved from Texas to Kentucky. I felt the urge to write a story. I spent the entire summer researching and writing Calico. My story was over 500 pages long. At the advice of a publisher, I split Calico into several different stories that eventually lead me to a complete series of 11 books. I named the series Children of the Shawnee. Children of the Shawnee, follows twin sisters, Calico and Rose Turner before, during, and after the American Revolutionary War. The second edition of Calico was Little Acorns Publishing House in April of 2012.

About Alison

The Executive Director of the Kentucky Young Writers Connection, a non-profit agency of writers who promote young authors throughout the state of Kentucky. Allison originally hails from Marion, Ohio. Her father, Roland Irving Bruning, was the son of German immigrants who came to the United States at the turn of the 20th century. Her mother's family had been in the United States since the 17th century. Allison is a member of the Peter Foree Chapter of the Daughters of American Revolution. Her linage traces to Private Reuben Messenger of Connecticut. Her educational background includes a BA in Theater Arts with a minor in Anthropology and a Texas Elementary Teaching certificate. Both acquired at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas. Allison received National Honor Society memberships in both Theater Arts and Communication. Allison was also honored her sophomore year with admission into the All American Scholars register. She holds graduate hours in Cultural Anthropology and Education. In 2007 she was named Who's Who Among America's Educators. She is also the recipient of the Girl Scout Silver and Gold Awards.

Allison lives with her husband in Kentucky. Calico is book one from the series, Children of the Shawnee. It is available at She is currently working on the sequel, Rose. She is also working on another series, The Secret Heritage, which traces the life of her great great grandmother at the turn of the 20th century in Ohio. Allison's interest includes Ohio Valley history, anthropology, travel, culture, history, camping, hiking, backpacking, spending time with her family and genealogy. Her genres include historical fiction, paranormal, romance, and suspense.

You can reach her at:


Facebook Fan Page

Twitter: @emeraldkell



And check my entry on the Virtual Blog Tour. This week, I'm hosted by Raymond Frazee on Wide Awake But Dreaming.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Writing about sex

Sex (In A Book) — how much is too much?

That’s what Russell Blake, author of Geronimo Beach and other action novels, asks in his guest blog post on the World Literary Café.

When is everyone’s favourite passtime in page form too much, whatever that is? I'll admit I don't read bodice rippers or erotica, so that's not what I'm talking about. I'm asking the open question: when does spice stop being seasoning, and instead overpower the main dish in general fiction?

As you can imagine, the post sparked a debate. When you’re finished with this post, read the whole thing.

Meanwhile, a controversy has erupted in my home town, Ottawa over Sex: A Tell-All Exhibition at the Museum of Science and Technology.

The exhibit was designed by the Science Centre in Montreal, where it ran to great success but no controversy. It has also been shown in Regina, Saskatchewan, again without eliciting a lot of opposition.

But once it came to Ottawa—in fact, even before it opened to the public — it encountered loud opposition. The federal (Conservative) Heritage Minister, James Moore said it was “insulting” to taxpayers. In an email to the museum’s director, Moore’s assistant quoted the Minister as saying it was “inappropriate for young children.”

The Museum of Science and Technology describes the exhibit this way:
It is an award-winning educational exhibition that answers the main questions young people have about sexuality. It imparts what science has to say on the topic, conveys a positive image of sexuality and, ultimately, helps young people hone their judgment skills so they can make responsible and informed decisions.
Image courtesy
(Luc Robitaille/Montreal Science Centre)
I haven’t seen it, but I plan to soon. And I’ll be taking my teenage son. The vast majority of comments about it, on the Museum’s website, in the mainstream media and elsewhere, are in favour of the exhibit. There are very few opposed to it. Yet the museum caved into the pressure, removing a section on masturbation and raising the age at which children can visit without a parent from 12 to 16.

The trouble with the latter change is that children whose parents will not take them to the exhibit at age 14 are exactly the ones who need accurate, unbiased information the most.

Discouraging opposition
The opposition to the exhibit is, unfortunately, easily predictable. Before you read some of the comments I gleaned from some easily accessible websites, try to imagine what they might be.

From Peter Baklinski, commenting on the Museum’s website:
I must inform you that me and my four children will not visit the museum again while the sex exhibition is running.

The sex exhibition is a travesty to the majority of Canadians who believe that sexual activity is reserved for spouses within the context of marriage.

Thank you for telling all of us how to have sex, Peter. 

From Ken Quick on Sun Media’s web page:
Perversion masquerading as "science" and "education". Your tax dollar at work.

The only reason I give more attention to idiotic comments like Quick's is that we need to understand the full range of opinion. 

I stress that the overwhelming majority of comments on all media (except maybe for Sun Media’s website—but remember that fora like these are moderated, so the published comments do not necessarily reflect the range of comments submitted) are positive. People in Ottawa generally support the exhibit.

From Cathy Payne, who commented on the CBC’s website:
The “insult to taxpayers" argument was rejected as an "attack on freedom" when the Heritage issue was championing the sport where two men go into a cage and try to kick one another to death.

That level of violence had no opponents from the "family values" champions. But while viewing an inanimate art exhibition they see vile sex.

Well said, Ms. Payne!

Your turn to weigh in:
What do you think? How should we talk about sex? From my point of view, sex is a complete normal, and wonderful thing. However, we learned very early that we’re supposed to be embarrassed by it. It’s something kept behind closed doors, under covers — literally. “Wheresmycountry,” a commenter on CBC’s web page, put it perfectly:

The more taboo and forbidden a subject is, the more fascinating it becomes. If you want to foster increased interest about sex among curious young minds, tell them it is something they are too young to know about. Works every time!

Please readers, share your thoughts. How can we talk about sex, write about sex, teach children about it so they don’t have shame, guilt and deeper problems with it? Write whatever you want. However, I will give you one warning: I will have no hesitation in tearing apart the argument that “sex education should be left to parents.” The empirical evidence is incontrovertible: that strategy has never worked.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

At Road’s End: A perfectly woven, rich tapestry

Zoe Saadia is clearly a very good writer. She has succeeded in a difficult task for a writer — I know, because it’s very similar to what I tried in my own writing.

In At Road’s End, Zoe Saadia presents a historical story set in a time, place and culture that are, as far as I know, unique in fiction: the Anasazi cliff-dwellers of what’s now the south-western USA and northern Mexico. Without needing a prologue or foreword, Saadia brings the people, their environment, culture and even some of their history to life.

And most important, she tells a story that you just can’t put down.

The story centres on Tecpatl, an elite-trained warrior from the Azcapotzalco culture, who live, according to the story, on the shore of Lake Texcoco (site of the later Aztec capital). He is escorting a trading mission across the desert to a city of cliff dwellers, called Great Houses.

Readers quickly learn that Tecpatl’s mission is punishment for a mistake he made, the full nature of which is revealed where it has maximum impact in the novel.

On the way, the group encounters a village that’s been raided and pillaged. There’s only one survivor, a woman with a command for languages. She helps guide the trading partner and its warrior-escort to Great Houses, her origin.

Saadia skilfully presents the complexities that people in this situation faced: great differences in language, culture and assumptions. One of the main drivers of the dramatic tension in the story, in fact, is the main character’s frustration in understanding the speech as well as the behaviour of the Anasazi he encounters.

A well-woven story

Presenting this complexity as an integral part of the plot requires great skill as a writer as well as a lot of research. Saadia has learned a great deal about the technology, economy, sociology and cultures of the people in her story, and all this adds to the realism. It’s actually entertaining to read about the characters’ attempts to navigate the chasms between them. Tecpatl’s most frequent refrain seems to be “I will never understand you.”

Equally believable are the relationships among all the characters. The social gap between Tecpatl, the elite warrior, and the merchants he’s escorting is even wider than the linguistic and cultural gap between Tecpatl and the Anasazi girl he rescues, Sakuna.

And the romantic relationship that develops between Tecpatl and Sakuna is equally skillfully done. There’s nothing cloying or Hollywood about this relationship, nothing coy or phoney. These are two adults who are eventually attracted to each other despite their differences. While that sounds like a cliché, in Saadia’s hands (or under her fingertips, anyway) the developing relationship rings absolutely true.

For example, we learn that Sakuna is the daughter of a prominent and wealthy man in Great Houses. He marries her off to a man in an outlying village—the one that is sacked at the beginning of the story. While the marriage is not Sakuna’s choice, and she’s clearly not in love with her husband, she accepts the marriage. But that’s couched in the realism of the character and the author. After her rescue, Sakuna becomes much more assertive. It’s completely believable. She sides with her rescuer, eventually, and the way she comes around to his side of things is also realistic.

Her father is presented just as believably. In fact, I’m sure I’ve met him. He’s self-assured and arrogant to the point of endangering himself and his whole community.

I won’t belabour the typographical and minor grammatical errors. There were only a few, and they did not detract from the enjoyment of this story at all. One more good edit would have fixed them, I’m sure. (And I’m also sure that my book could have used one more good edit, as well.)

Saadia has woven together many threads: exposing this era of pre-Columbian North America; cultural gaps; the struggle to assert oneself; redemption and so much more, and (minor grammatical and typographical mistakes notwithstanding) without a flaw.

If you want a really good read that brings a really exotic time and place to full-colour life, pick up At Road’s End.

5 stars

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Guest blogger: Martin Crosbie, author of My Temporary Life

This guest post is from Martin Crosbie, the Kindle Select sensation whose excellent My Temporary Life (I'm reading it now) hit number 1 on Amazon a couple of months ago. Below, Martin explains how he did it.
Martin also interviewed me about my first novel. That interview is on his blog—but read Martin's tale of hitting number one first.


In early February, I enrolled my ebook in KDP Select. Did much happen because of it? Yeppers, in three weeks I experienced more personal accomplishments than I ever could have imagined. First of all, “My Temporary Life,” became available as a free download in an Amazon promotion. The idea is that folks download it for free and with the momentum that builds, when it becomes a paid download, it sells. Well—IT WORKED! It became the most downloaded ebook in North America for one day, a few Sundays ago.

My Temporary Life, built up momentum like a rocket taking off. There was nothing gradual about it at all. By the second day, it was second overall in free downloads. On the third day, well you know what happened, because you heard me. Yep, doesn’t matter where you were, you probably heard me. We hit #1 overall.

So, then, “paid” day happened. It changed over at midnight on Sunday and paid sales slowly started to trickle in. The next morning I expected to see 15 or 20 sales. We had over 200. Over 200 folks pulled out their credit cards and took a chance on my self-published book, which over 120 publishers and agents had turned down. (Oh, did I forget to mention that part?)

Sales continued all day, and the days after. We peaked in the overall rankings at #9, but it didn’t stop there. An independent website emailed to tell us that we were the #7 most downloaded independent ebook of the week; we did a bunch of online interviews, emails and reviews stacked up like crazy, the momentum was deafening.

We hit 60,000 downloads, 51,500 of which were free. There were so many requests for information that we issued a press release. Yep, we issued a press release talking about the book that I wrote in the spare bedroom of my house. A Dallas, Texas television station ran the story. They were interested in the fact that over 120 agents and publishers rejected “My Temporary Life,” yet all these folks were downloading it. We were on the Movers and Shakers list. We were one of the top 10 self-published ebooks on Amazon. We were #2 in Romance/Suspense. We were #2 in Mystery/Thriller. And more 5-star reviews came in every day. 
At dinner one night, Jacquie and I sat and read the newest reviews. Two of them made us cry. It’s an amazing experience to read about how your work can touch another person. The sales figures really are amazing, but the almost overwhelming part is that you have an opportunity to touch so many people. 

Helping things along

Now, while all this momentum was happening, it was also getting a little help: I was spreading the word. You see, although I do trust in Amazon, I was helping it along. I was posting interviews, sales figures, anything I could. I was on Amazon discussion boards, Kindleboards, KDP’s Community site, Facebook, Twitter, even Craigslist! All I wanted to do was tell people about my book. And, in doing all of this, not a lot of other things were happening, including writing. And, you see, there are a couple of things that I have to do in my life to function. One of them is sleeping, and the other is writing. I was sleeping a little bit-four or five hours a night, but not writing at all. That was the first problem. The second problem was the pirates.

“My Temporary Life” showed up on a piracy site. Someone had taken my work, changed some things, and was giving it away. So, we quickly sent a letter to them, and the owners of the site were kind enough to take it down right away. I remember years ago, sitting in front of my computer and playing with Napster, and I felt karma kicking me solidly on my rear end.

The next thing that happened was we started receiving a lot of emails from other authors asking me what I’d done, or more specifically what I did differently. There are two things that I can definitely recommend. One is Bob Mayer and Jen Talty’s The Shelfless Book. This is it:
The book is actually the contents of their course that I took just before my epbublishing adventure began. 
My other recommendation is to do everything you can think of to spread the word. I can tell you that it truly does make a difference when you have a Facebook event or tweet it, or come up with some other novel and original way to reach readers.

Currently, over 90,000 people have downloaded My Temporary Life. Our sales have tapered off a little bit lately, but we are still high in the rankings and we have over 80 five-star reviews now, too, and, oh yes, the sequel has been started. My Name Is Hardly is underway. I’m aiming for a December release (gulp). So, thank you everybody for Facebooking, and Tweeting, and emailing your friends. Every time you’ve told someone about my book it made a huge difference, and the book that over 120 agents and, oh never mind, that doesn’t matter now, the word is out there, and people are enjoying the book. Thank you all, it’s truly appreciated!

Martin's interview of me is on his blog, here.
My Temporary Life is excellent. I recommend it. You can find it on Amazon, of course.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Enemy in Blue: a tough story, a great read by a brave author

With Enemy in Blue, Derek Blass does what indie authors should do: he ignores conventions and tells a tough story the way it deserves to be told.

I don’t know why I’ve been reading so many cop stories lately. I’ve begun to notice that many of the authors seem to be trying to write an episode of their favourite cop TV show. They’re often formulaic and boring.

Enemy in Blue is anything but formulaic. It’s very cinematic in its set-up and description, but Blass does not worry about cop story conventions. I think that a creative writing teacher would tear it apart on the basis of its structure and some modern writing conventions that Blass defies. But he holds true to the only rule that matters: he tells a good story. I could not stop reading Enemy in Blue.

Quick synopsis: the story centres around a digital video. It begins with a camera-man for a TV show called Police—obviously referencing Cops. The camera-man follows a SWAT team into a spurious raid on a family home and records a brutal, racially-motivated murder of an old man by the SWAT commander. Immediately, the corrupt cop begins chasing down the video, and two other cops try just as hard to keep it away from him and the corrupt, racist Chief of Police.

The second part of the book deals with the trial of the murderer. Again, Blass breaks rules by introducing new major characters quite late in the story. But he manages to make them real people. You don’t necessarily like them, but you will recognize them from your own life.

Blass’s experience as a trial lawyer is evident in the detail from police and trial procedures. It never bogs down the story; instead, it adds believability. He’s not afraid to explode some myths about courtrooms perpetuated by TV shows. He’s also not afraid to hold a bright light to the racial divisions that still have such a huge effect on daily life for so many Americans.

There’s action, there’s romance, there’s details about guns for those interested in such things. In short, there’s a lot here to like.


Blass’s characterization of Max, the camera-man and Cruz Marquez are very good. Sandra Guiterrez, the beautiful TV anchor, though, came off a little flat—it would have been good to get to know a little more about her, particularly her failings. She was just too good.

And the Chief of Police was just too bad. Again, more details about him would have rounded out the character and made him more believable.

But Blass really deserves full marks for his villain, Sergeant Shaver. Blass made it easy for me to picture him, his bristly blond hair, his brutal musculature and his icy blue eyes. This is a truly memorable monster.


I liked the book, but I thought as I was reading it that it really could have used one more edit. Yes, I know you can say that about any book, and sometimes I think that of my own. But there were sentences that seemed awkward, or long, or too short. Still, this did not detract from the story at all.

This is a story that Americans, especially, need to read. Yes, it’s fiction, but it comes from a real place. As mentioned, there’s lots of action for the reader who wants a fast-paced cop drama; but the real value lies in Blass’s brave examination of blatant racism in the modern USA.


Enemy in Blue on Goodreads
Enemy in Blue on Amazon

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

This reviewer’s perspective: What a book reviewer looks for

This week’s guest post comes from Laurie Jenkins, the prolific blogger and book reviewer who writes reviews of a range of books from independent authors on her own blogs as well as other prominent blogs.

Laurie has graciously agreed to divulge exactly what it is that she, as a book reviewer, looks for in a book. And of course, she has reciprocated by hosting my post on her Paranormal Features blog. But first, read her thoughts, below:

First let me say thanks for giving me this opportunity to talk about myself and my preferences. I will do my best to respond as candidly and honestly as possible, but like everything, there are always exceptions—for example, memoirs are not generally a favourite genre of mine. I rarely pick a book if the genre isn’t appealing to me personally, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t read some wonderful memoirs over the years. Also, I am speaking only for myself. Other reviewers may disagree or place a higher value on certain attributes than I do.

First, the blurb is extremely important to me in deciding whether or not I want to read the book. I love a pretty cover, and it may entice me to read the blurb, but if the blurb bores me, or is too long, or is too short, or simply doesn’t grab me, then I move on to the next selection. It’s unlikely I will read a book if I don’t connect via the blurb.

Next, I’ll read at least a few paragraphs or pages from the Kindle free sample. The story must grab me quickly. This is difficult to quantify; sometimes, I may think a story starts off wonderfully, while some other reviewer will claim it was slow and dragged for her. I guess there’s no accounting for taste. LOL

I almost forgot to mention another big consideration for me. I have to constantly take into account how many other books I’ve promised reviews for and how loaded up my reading schedule already is before I promise another book review. I feel terrible when I’ve promised a review by a certain date and I am not able to meet that commitment on time. Right now, for example, I’m behind schedule and feeling the pressure. Mostly, it’s pressure I put on myself, but I know I’m disappointing authors waiting for reviews, and I hate being in that position.

Cover art

I love reading books by new authors or small publishers. They may not have the resources to put into a snazzy cover. I like to see beautiful cover work when it’s there, but when deciding whether or not to pick a book for review the cover graphics rarely play much into my decision one way or another. It’s just not that important me, personally. Other reviewers may feel quite differently.

Likes and dislikes

I want to read a story that flows easily—that is not choppy or disjointed. Passive voice can have its place, but excessive use can make for a very boring story. As a general rule, I don’t care for a book that incorporates lots of changes in the point of view. I enjoy stories written in third person, and I enjoy many that are written in first person. In conversations, I like to know definitively who’s saying what—I hate having to guess.

Sometimes words just pop out at me as I am reading. For example, I just finished reading a book I enjoyed, but the author often referred to a creature’s “appendages” when she was talking about its “wings.” It got old quickly for me. Sure, wings are appendages, but not all appendages are wings. Another writer, a favorite author of mine actually, tends to describe folks “skittering” around a lot. That just rankles: mice skitter, but people generally don’t. I also often see authors using the word “chortle” when they mean “choke.” That’s just wrong—a chortle is a kind of laugh.

Poorly constructed sentences drive me bonkers, as well as common grammatical problems. I’m not an English major, and I know I make more than my fair share of mistakes, too. I read to be entertained, but I do set the bar rather high when it comes to line editing. I realize it can be expensive for independents to get their book professionally edited, but I do feel a well-edited story is just as important as the story itself when it comes time to peddle it to readers. One sure way to get slammed in reviews is to publish a poorly edited book—you can make corrections after the fact, but your reputation will have still taken a beating.

I often see one paranormal reviewer complain in her reviews that the heroine is so blasé about all the strange new powers she gets, or whatever. “How can she just shrug it off and move on?” is her oft-repeated reframe. I am just the opposite: I hate whiny, “why me” heroines. I prefer strong females. Suck it up, accept your new circumstances, and let’s move on to the action and saving the world. Though I suppose I’d be pretty doggone whiny too, if it were me. So there you have it: I relate to characters who are strong and courageous in the face of adversity, and who are loyal to their friends.

I love authors who find interesting, relevant, and creative ways in which to torture their characters.

Slow reads

I don’t have time to get bogged down for too long. If I find a book slow or dull, I’ll set it aside and move on to something that is more entertaining. Sometimes, it isn’t the book; it’s just that I’m in the mood for something lighter or darker, as the case may be.

It’s not that uncommon for me to be reading two or three books simultaneously. That was especially the case before I became addicted to my Kindle. I had a book at home, one for the car, and another in my purse. Now, I just make sure I have my Kindle (and my backup Kindle) always with me.

I make an effort to get a good feel for whether or not the book is one I think I will enjoy reading before agreeing to read it. Truth is, I absolutely don’t want to read a book that’s not interesting, so I am pretty picky about which ones I select to read. Sometimes a book will surprise me by turning out better or worse than I expected. I try my darnedest to keep the bad surprises to a minimum.

I dislike writing bad reviews. I think there is little purpose to it. Just because a particular book did not appeal to me, doesn’t mean a whole slew of other readers might find it wonderfully original, or creative, or whatever. Also, I try to have empathy for the authors, who have (in most cases) put their heart and soul into the story. It’s their baby; who am I to tell them they have an ugly baby?

If I am forced to write a less than favorable review, then I will try to offer specific details about the issues I ran into while still trying to stress the aspects that worked for me.

Reviews—good, bad and ugly

I despise reviews that sound like personal attacks. I heartily dislike reviews that contain major spoilers or read more like book reports. I don’t want to read a synopsis of the book, I want to know what feelings the author was able to evoke in the reviewer. I dislike reviews that nit-pick every little thing—it just seems harsh and inappropriate to me. Sometimes, if there are specific things that bothered me, I prefer to email the author directly and privately about it. Most are gracious and seem to appreciate the insights. Stuff like that, imo, has no place in a public review. I know others will disagree and that’s okay, but I prefer not to participate.

Unless I am required to, I will not post a 1 or 2 star review—it takes time and effort to write each review, time I would rather spend reading. I want my efforts to be geared toward helping talented authors improve name recognition, and not embarrass those who may not make the cut. There are plenty of others who tend to jump at the chance to demean, belittle, or degrade the efforts of others. These days it’s sometimes referred to as snark. I do not go along with any of that.

Competition is tough and reviewers are overloaded—What can you do to get your book noticed?

Write your story so it flows energetically and smoothly. Make it entertaining to read. Never publish a first draft. Edit for content, edit for grammar, edit for little typos and misused or missed words. From what I’ve heard from many successful authors, belonging to a writer’s group and having critique partners is very important. I also think beta readers can help, but only if you are willing to incorporate some of their suggestions.

I know that getting those first few glowing reviews is important, but be wary of getting too many of your friends to write a review for your new book. Reader backlash against that practice can really hurt new authors.

Write the best blurb you can. Make sure your book is well-edited. With the barrage of self-published books and the explosion of new writers, readers and reviewers can afford to be selective about their reading choices. Never turn down the opportunity to promote your book via interviews or guest blog spots. I am constantly searching for books and authors to feature on my blogs. I enjoy most fiction genres. If you would like to be featured, just fill out my Feature Request Form ( I generally reply back within 24 hours, or less.

I also think a virtual book tour can be a really good investment. Shop for best value, not simply lowest price, or you will most likely not get the results you hope for. I love finding new stories and new authors and helping them spread the word about their creations. Unfortunately, I haven’t the hours needed to personally read every book that I find appealing—I wish I did.

Now, visit Laurie's blog, where I explain why I wrote the book that I did.
Laurie’s Paranormal Thoughts and Reviews

Laurie’s Non-paranormal Thoughts and Reviews

Twitter : Lauriej170

Facebook: Laurie’s Thoughts and Reviews on Facebook

I review for: Night Owl Reviews, Coffee Time Romance and More, World Literacy Café, Independent Book Collective

About Laurie:

I am retired from Verizon Communications where I mostly worked as the Senior Accountant handling employee benefits in corporate books. Through the years I assisted and/or worked with various teams writing policies, procedures and lotsof responses to audit questions. This experience has been beneficial to my review writing skill-set since I am accustomed to writing concise and specific narratives.

I love to read and as a result I have read many, many reviews. When writing, I make the effort to give my personal, honest appraisal of the book without giving away any particulars of the story line. My goal is to provide valuable information from a fresh, candid view point that will help the perspective purchaser make an informed decision.

I like reads which flow smoothly and logically from one point to the next. I like authors who take me into their worlds; who can cast the line and hook me with their ideas. I'll go almost anywhere in my imagination through books but the author must set it up and make it believable.

My husband and I live on a little private lake 100 miles east of Dallas, Texas. We enjoy our quiet, small community and share our home with several curious, quirky, beautiful felines. We enjoy retirement and love being able to do things and go places on the spur of the moment.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Six-sentence Sunday: The Mother's Day edition

Since today is Mother's Day, this six-sentence sample from The Bones of the Earth is an interaction between the main character, Javor, and his mother, Ketia (remember, no matter how outlandish they may seem to you, all the names are historical).

This is from a flashback, where Javor remembers helping his mother pick beans in the garden just before his birthday. 

Ketia stopped picking beans and reached up high to touch Javor’s cheek gently, tears wetting her face. “You’re so big,” she said with a sad smile. “I never would have thought my baby would grow to be so tall.” She turned away and pretended to look under the leaves for more beans, but Javor heard her sniff.

Sitting in the darkness beside the snoring Photius, Javor scolded himself. Why did I make my mother cry? Idiot!

Liked that? The Bones of the Earth is available on iBooks, Amazon and Smashwords.

For more great six-sentence samples, visit (warning: some adult content).

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Is Mad Men missing?

Mad Men became a sensation five years ago with its first season. Whoever watches it, even now, is captivated by its setting, its style, its story, its acting ... it all fit together. But with this season, something’s missing. Is it the writing?
Mad Men really captured the attitudes of the early 60s.

What made Mad Men work from the beginning was the writing. Meticulously researched, the writing reinvigorated the ideas, the slang, the concerns of 1960s New York. Creator and writer Matthew Weiner, who was the head writer for The Sopranos, was rightfully lauded for his authentic recreation of the advertising business in 1960.

I have loved the show since. If I don’t watch it Sunday night, it’s on my PVR for the next day. But the latest season doesn’t meet the same standard. It’s almost as if the writers have lost their passion for the show. Or perhaps now that they’ve reached the mid-60s, the feeling about the time is different. It’s now in the height of the flower power era, the era that baby-boomers like to think changed the world, the era where they made their stamp.

In contrast, the early 60s was like a continuation of the 50s. Men wore grey or blue suits and ONLY white shirts. Everyone who wanted to be taken seriously wore a hat. And women competed to see who could have the highest hair. The USA dominated the world in every aspect, and no one questioned whether any of that was right or wrong.

The series reminded me of my grandfather and his things: his fedoras, his narrow ties, square-faced watches and big, long cars—all things that seemed so hopelessly old-fashioned by the late 60s and early 70s. Now, I think that’s all so cool. When I have to wear a tie these days, it’s skinny.


What’s wrong

Why do I think something’s off in the writing room?
New characters just don’t seem believable. The show has taken a lot of flack from the Internet over the character of Michael Ginsberg, who comes across as “too Jewish.” The real problem is that he’s a cliché, a caricature: nervous, nerdy, short, whiny ... it’s just too easy, compared to, say, Joan or Peggy or the most complex character in all of television, Don Draper himself.

Then there’s Megan Draper, Don’s new, young, French Canadian wife.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a less French-Canadian character on television. I at first doubted whether the actor was French, but a little research proved that, indeed, Jessica Paré IS French-Canadian. She’s even a little like her character, Megan: her father, Anthony Paré, is a professor at McGill and her mother, Louise Mercier, is a translator.

So why doesn’t she ring true? Well, there’s the name, for a start: no French-Canadian intellectual of the Quiet Revolution generation would name his daughter Megan. Yes, there was a trend in the 60s where French people gave their boys very English- or Irish-sounding names. There are many French men and women of my generation in Quebec with names like Patrick, Douglas or Edward. (I haven’t personally met any women with English-sounding names, come to think of it.)

The episode that aired a week ago brought Megan’s parents from Montreal: a university professor trying to publish a book and his wife. Again, something was off. The actors’ accents weren’t right (and I know: I have a lot of French-Canadian relatives). Again, they’re flat, stereotypes — but stereotypes of the wrong category. The dialog was forced, completely unlike the usual quick flow I've come to expect from Mad Men.

Mad Men is in danger of veering down the worn-out Hollywood paths with predictable stories, cartoonish characters and complete misrepresentation of reality. It’s too bad, because the show began as almost an expose of a reality that most people preferred not to recognize.

Now, it threatens to turn into an adult version of Bewitched.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

6-Sentence sample: The lost patrol

This week's six-sentence sample is designed to make you shudder. It comes from Part 2 of The Bones of the Earth. Valgus, the Roman Legate posted to the edge of haunted Dacia, tells the main character, Javor and his mentor, Photius, how he got that wound that would not heal.

He begins with a little background about a lost patrol in the mountains.

“Then, high in the foothills of the Montes Serrorum, they came upon something, I know not what, that destroyed them utterly. Ten heavily-armed cataphracti! One man came limping back to tell us the news. All he could tell me was that the patrol had been wiped out by a group of something. But he couldn’t say what it was before he died in my arms.” Valgus closed his eyes and shuddered.

Want to read more? Get The Bones of the Earth from AmazonSmashwords, or on iBooks (search for Scott Bury).

And for more great six-sentence reads, check out Six Sentence Sunday.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Writers, assemble! against the nefarious threat of EMPTY WORDS

The useless and the pretentious: disposable words

What’s the greatest threat to clear communication today?

It’s not using “lay” instead of “lie” (“Lay your shield here, Captain America, next to Mjolnir, mine enchanted hammer, as we lie down for a moment’s respite” is correct).

“Just between you and me, Natasha,
not everything on the Hulk grows
proportionally” is correct.
And it’s not writing “between you and I.”

The biggest problem: empty words. When we throw empty words at a communications challenge, it’s like Iron Man with dead Evereadies, or Hawkeye shooting duds.

Villains love to use lots of empty words to disguise their true intent. So read on, True Believers (nod to Mr. Lee) with some examples and strategies to foil supervillains and their superfluous sophistry.


Empty words

There are two categories of disposable words: those that add no meaning, and those that pretend to have meaning, but blur meaning more than clarify it.

Some words do nothing but take up space and time. High school students use them to pad out their assignments to the required length. Corporate writers and other grown-ups use them to aggrandize their writing.

They're trying to disguise meagre thinking with empty words. Try taking them out. If there is no less information in the document, you don't need those words.

Here are some of the most common:

In light of this — see what happens when you delete this phrase.
“In light of this incoming flaming ball of wreckage, we need to get out of here!”

In the month of — Correct me if I’m wrong, but “September” is not anything but a month. And writing “during August” will not make anyone wonder if you mean Mariska Hargitay’s son.

Similarly, "in the State of Ohio" – what is Ohio other than a state? And trust me, you don't have to tell readers that Nova Scotia is a province. They'll know. And don’t you dare write “twelve in number.”

“Note that I am wearing the latest
Stark Industries Iron Bra.”
 Note that / It is to be noted that — just get to the information.

In a nutshell — If you're trying to summarize, why extend the length of your document?

At the end of the day — Not only does this phrase do nothing but add to the word count, Ricky Gervais says it. Do you want to sound like Ricky Gervais?

The information that you requested is below — Your readers will figure that out.

Undertaking to do the following — How about just “undertaking” or better yet, “doing X.” Drop the “following” bit and tell us what you’re doing. Or, you’re not really doing anything? You’re not hiding it well.

Phrases from the Trickster God

Worse are the phrases that pretend to add meaning, but actually make communications less clear. These are harder to fix, because you can't just drop them. To make the message clearer, you have to add specific information.

Some examples:

"On the ground, there sure is a lot of debris."
On the ground — This supposedly means "in action," or where things matter. It sounds significant because it brings to mind the idea of soldiers fighting a battle, and what the writer is writing about will be something concrete that will help them. But the words are still vague. What ground? Where? If you mean you will bring more ammunition for the soldiers, say that.

As such – a linking phrase, but it’s often misused.

Consider this example: “A stable IT system depends on the ability of its users to make informed decisions, particularly when adding functionality. As such, we are proposing the following changes."

"As such" is a linking phrase, but it doesn't belong here. "Therefore" is the right word. Don't use phrases just because you once heard a smart person use it. You're smart; use your own words.

Issue – Do you mean “problem,” “challenge” or “edition”? “I have issues with that option.” In other words, something makes you uncomfortable, right? How uncomfortable? And is it a problem for just you, or for me, too?

S.H.I.E.L.D.'s flying platform always provides
a high-level perspective for those high-level
High-level – "High-level objectives" or "a high-level perspective" is just a fancy way of saying you're going to be vague. On the other hand, if you assign high-level objectives to me, just about anything I do will be satisfactory.

Areas of priorities – Another example of telegraphing to the reader that you’re going to be vague. You won’t list the priorities, just which general region they’re in. Remember, anytime you write about "area," you're being vague.

Keep it simple, right?

Do more than that. Think deeper. Make certain your message is clear in your own mind, that there is no vagueness. If your message can be interpreted in two ways, half of your readers will get it wrong. And whose fault will that be?

Loki’s. Right.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Castles, by Ben Wretlind — an independent book review

Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with ScissorsCastles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors by Benjamin X. Wretlind

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Often, you can tell on the first page whether a writer knows what he or she is doing. There’s a flow, a grace to the way these writers construct their sentences that makes reading a joy.

Ben Wretlind is one of those writers, although his story is anything but joyful. Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors, fits into the “magic realism” category, although I did not know that when I started reading the book.

The story begins with Maggie at age six, living in a trailer on the edge of the desert, somewhere in the US, in fear of dust storms and her drunken, abusive mother. The only light in her life comes from her Grandma, who protects her from her mother’s worst and advises the young girl to listen to the voices in the wind. When Grandma dies, Maggie is literally on her own.

Maggie learns quickly to stay out of her mother’s way, not to engage with her mother’s boyfriends and how to “clean up her messes.” That’s the central theme of the novel.

This novel is one of those where you can take the possibly magical elements and view them as only symbolism, and as a childish or psychologically damaged mind’s interpretation of strange events. For example, there’s the old school bus on the edge of the desert, just outside the trailer park. It’s irresistible forbidden adventure to children, whose parents tell them not to go inside for their own good. Of course, the kids can’t resist it. It represents forbidden adventure, the dangerous wild beyond the fences, the untameable forces of nature that erode anything made by humans.

And it’s also a portal to the unknown and to the underworld. You can take it literally or as just the way that Maggie sees it. Beyond the bus is the desert. It periodically sends dust storms that smash through windows and clean up messes.

As I said, this is not a joyful book. Maggie is abused by her mother and others, she’s raped by her mother’s boyfriend, her boyfriend disappears, presumably murdered, her dog is butchered and she takes a series of abusive boyfriends, herself.

On the surface, it’s a story of a girl in a very hard life, learning how to cope with pain and terror — how to “clean up her mess.” And she also learns how to integrate the unknown terrors of the world beyond the abandoned . Maggie learns also to listen to the wind, finally. And within the wind and the dust storms, she discovers … well, I don’t want to spoil it. Let’s just say that within the storms, she finds the agents of just retribution and the strength to clean up her mess and take control of her own life.

And yet, you can also read this as the warped interpretation of a woman forced through years of abuse to do … again, I don’t want to spoil it.

There’s a lot to like in this book. It reminds me of Palahniuk in his darker moments. Wretlind is not afraid to put his readers and his characters through horrible situations, and to describe them clearly, without pretense and without squeamishness. But if you’re squeamish, you might have trouble in some parts.

Wretlind writes with that fluid, clear, spare style that the big publishing houses all say they demand (and then publish crap that does not adhere to it). So, even though the situation was horrible, Wretlind tells the story very, very well.

5 stars

Highly recommended

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