Friday, June 28, 2013

My kids are writing books

Aww, isn’t that cute? My mighty sons are both busy writing novels. Thinking about that raises a whole bunch of different emotions.

Their books actually seem like good ideas. Evan, the elder, is writing a spoof of 50 Shades of Grey, set in Montreal and involving pirates. The hero is a lifeguard, of course (Evan is a lifeguard and chief proponent of the idea that Jesus Christ established the lifeguard vocation when He walked on the Sea of Galilee). What Evan has let me see so far looks hilarious.

Super Nicolas is writing a satirical science-fiction novel about a revolution in Canada, in which the wise-cracking leader, named Nicolas (of course) takes down the tyrannical government.

They’ve both put a lot of work into their respective tales. Seeing them tap away on their keyboards evokes a storm of different emotions. First is pride that they’re applying themselves to such intellectual pursuits.

Then, I remember those hours when I was a teenager or twenty-something, scribbling down prose as fast as I could think about a story. I remember all those ideas I had for the beginnings of novels, novels that I never finished — mostly because I did not have a clear idea of the ending, just what I thought would be a cool opening.

I also think: I hope they don’t try to become full-time writers as careers. It’s certainly not a reliable way to make a living.

I sometimes wonder whether they were inspired to write by my example. If I hadn’t published two books, would they try to write, themselves?

Photo: Henry Bush, Creative Commons
via Jeff Goins, Writer
Then I think that lots of people write — millions, actually — whose parents did not write. I’m one. Whether my parents wrote books or not had no bearing on my decision to do it.

Then I think that I must be really conceited. My children are not necessarily following in Dad’s footsteps. In fact, their chosen career paths could not be more different from mine.

Ah, emotions. I guess I’m just a typical suburban father, unable to deal with emotions.

But I will say this: I’m proud of you, boys. Whether you write books or not. You’re awesome.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

On the Collateral Damage blog tour

Collateral Damage is the third thriller in the best-selling Annie Ogden series by Frederick Lee Brooke, fellow member of the BestSelling Reads group. I'm proud to participate in the blog tour launching this exciting title.
How good is Fred Brooke's Annie Ogden series? You could read my review of the first book in the series, the gripping and hilarious Doing Max Vinyl. You could follow the blog tour, starting with Chapter 1 on Shannon Mayer's blog, continuing with the Chapter 2 excerpt below, and then follow the tour according to the schedule, at the bottom of this page.

Or the best way: buy the books!
What's Collateral Damage about?
A love story.

When Annie Ogden’s ex-boyfriend Michael Garcia reappears, she has to confront a lie dating back to her time in Iraq. Will she go back to hot, passionate Michael, who has developed a disturbing interest in meth, or will she stick with her pudgy PI partner and fiancé, Salvatore?

A murder.

The calculus changes when Michael is arrested for murder. When Salvatore refuses to help investigate, Annie is forced to try to find the killer herself. Meanwhile her sister’s creepy husband, Todd, is making more of an ass of himself than usual.

An obsession.

Annie's problems with three obsessive men suddenly pale in significance when she realizes the killer has set his sights on her. 
Follow the blog tour every day, and leave a comment on each participating blog to win a $25 Amazon gift card AND a free signed paperback copy of any of Fred Brooke's books.
Now, get into it with this excerpt from

Chapter 2—Annie

I worked it up to a sprint for the last five blocks, rising onto the balls of my feet. Various people with toddlers and old people with canes moved aside. My attacker was watching. He could have ditched the mask. I wouldn’t even know which man he was. He knew where I lived, who I was.

I opened the door with the brass nameplate engraved with D’Angelo/Ogden. Salvatore had affixed the nameplate within three weeks of my moving in. At first, it bothered me. Was I some kind of territorial prize for him to mark on his door? Alison said I should be happy it was my own name. People wrote Mrs. John Ogden on letters to my mother. My mother left her last name and her first name at the altar.

Coffee perfumed the kitchen. I peeled off my training jacket, looking for signs of my man, but the only sound was the clicking of the steam radiators. I saw the bedroom door standing ajar at the angle I’d left it. Salvatore cherished his morning sleep.

I brought my mug in the bathroom and cranked the shower. How many times in Iraq, all I wished for was a shower. We’d be out on patrol somewhere, all night and then into the morning. We’d set up and wait all day for nightfall. You’d watch and wait for hours at a time. At a certain point, you started to itch. You’d be thinking a shower would feel pretty good about now.

I could make a list of the things I will never again in my life take for granted. Showers would definitely be on the list. Maybe not at the top of the list.

Salvatore stood there in boxers when I came out of the shower, all cheerful and hangdog at the same time, blocking my way to the towel. Normally I hang it on the peg by the shower door, but with the events of this morning, I’d forgotten. I stood there offering a full frontal, dripping clean.

“Happy anniversary,” I said.

“Don’t bother getting dressed.” Salvatore handed me the towel, showing the dimples under his three-day beard.

“Listen, I really can’t right now.”

“Okay. I was just thinking.”

“I was attacked.”

“No way.”

That got his attention.

Dressed in my towel, sitting on the bed, I described the Romney mask, the heavy arm, and my aggressive response. Salvatore is a former cop. He was on the Oak Park force for seven years, and he’s been a private investigator since he quit. He wanted to know details, as if we were going to go after my attacker.

“What about the shoes? Did you notice the color? The brand?”


“Think, Annie. Close your eyes. Picture him in your mind.”

I did what he said. I saw the dude backing away after I kicked him. I saw him taunting me as I prayed for the bus to send him to kingdom come.

“I didn’t focus on the shoes. Some dark color, like gray. Not white or orange or anything.”

“Did you recognize the voice?”

I shook my head. He was trying to put together enough detail for a police report. He asked about rings, tattoos, scars, or piercings. He didn’t lose patience at my negative answers. He didn’t, but I did.

“It happened too fast. I just reacted. He hit me, I hit harder. I think I got him in the nose. You know, through the mask.

“So we’re looking for a guy with a broken nose?” We sat on the edge of the bed. Salvatore’s hands provided bookends to my face. He looked into my eyes. “How’s Annie Ogden, after this? Ready to take on the world?”

“It makes me furious,” I said.

“I can imagine.”

“No you can’t. You always say that, but you really can’t imagine what it’s like to be a woman and be attacked. To be stared at just because you have blond hair. You can’t imagine what it’s like to wonder if every stranger would be a rapist if you gave him the chance.”

“I’ve got no hair.”

“You know what I mean.”

He wanted to joke around. I can’t stand it when people are always cheerful. I put on my clothes while Salvatore took his shower. Later we had another cup of coffee in the kitchen.

“I’ve got something for you,” he said.

We sat at the kitchen table, and I picked up the little box. It looked like jewelry. The kind of jewelry spelled R-I-N-G. Not on the day when I am attacked, I thought. I wanted to postpone our half-anniversary. I wanted to postpone this box.

He was asking me to marry him. When you decide to marry someone, you go a long way toward defining the principal arc of your life with that one decision. With that one word. Fine, I thought, but I was attacked. When are we going to talk about that? How could I think about getting married when I had adrenaline gushing out of my eyes? How could he not see that?

I lifted the lid. In a pretty velvet holder nestled the biggest diamond I’d ever seen, the kind a movie star would wear. I turned the ring over and over in my fingers, admiring the sparkle. I felt its weight. It brought back the memories of another ring, another place and time, and the last time I was asked. It’s eerie how the past trails you into the present, silent and unseen, like a stalker. The stalker takes his time, he’s got all the time in the world, but one day, I thought, he’ll pull the trigger on me. I repressed that thought, those memories. Salvatore deserved better.

Salvatore slid the ring on my finger. He waited till I looked up.

“I love you, Annie. I’m ready.”

I kissed him. “Me too. Just not the same day I’m attacked.”

Win a $25 Amazon gift card AND a signed paperback edition of any book by Frederick Lee Brooke!

To win, all you have to do is visit every blog on the 26-day Collateral Damage Excerpt Tour and leave a comment showing that you read the excerpt. That’s it! See the blog list and join the tour ...

Monday, June 24: Chapter 1 on  Shannon Mayer's News Blog

Tuesday, June 25: Chapter 2 on Scott Bury's Written Words 

Wednesday, June 26: Chapter 3 on Raine Thomas's Write as Rain

Thursday, June 27: Chapter 4 on Emily Walker's Self Publish or Die!

Friday, June 28: Chapter 5 on Simon Jenner's Escaping Life by Writing Action Thrillers

Saturday, June 29: Chapter 6 on Amberr Meadows' Amber Is Me blog

Sunday, June 30: Chapter 7 on Anne Chaconas' blog

Monday, July 1: Chapter 8 on the BestsellingReads blog

Tuesday, July 2: Chapter 9 on Tyler-Rose Neath's The Reading Pile

Wednesday, July 3: Chapter 10 on Naomi Leadbeater Naimeless blog

Thursday, July 4: Chapter 11 on Mohana Rajakumar MohaDoha blog

Friday, July 5: Chapter 12 on Helen Hanson's blog

Saturday, July 6: Chapter 13 on Marilou George's Confessions of a Reader

Sunday, July 7: Chapter 14 on  J.C. Martin's blog

Monday, July 8: Chapter 15 on Corinne O’Flynn's blog

Tuesday, July 9: Chapter 16 on Tawdra Kandle's blog

Wednesday, July 10: Chapter 17 on Martha Bourke's blog

Thursday, July 11: Chapter 18 on Connie M. Chyle's blog

Friday, July 12: Chapter 19 on Cyndi's Reduce Footprints blog

Saturday, July 13: Chapter 20 on Kenneth Hoss's blog

Sunday, July 14: Chapter 21 on Andrea Kurian's Mommy Adventures with Ravina

Monday, July 15: Chapter 22 on Andy Holloman's blog

Tuesday, July 16: Chapter 23 on Marilyn Diekman's blog

Wednesday, July 17: Chapter 24 on Christine Nolfi blog

Thursday, July 18: Chapter 25 on Patricia Sands blog

Friday, July 19: return back home to author Fred Brooke's blog for Chapter 26

Frederick Lee Brooke is the author of the widely-acclaimed Annie Ogden mystery series, which includes DoingMax Vinyl, Zombie Candy, and Collateral Damage. The books do not have to be read in order.
Having lived in Switzerland for the past two decades, Brooke has taught English, run a business and learned French, German and Italian. You can find him online at Sign up for his newsletter and read all about his travels, recipes, and upcoming works!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Montreal means funny

Guest post by Stephanie Noel

Let me be honest. I don't like winter; I don't care if the Montreal Canadians make it to the series or not and maple syrup, although delicious, is not something I pour on everything (I will, however, defend ours as the best in the world. Take that, Vermont!) Yes, I am French Canadian, why do you ask?

When Scott asked me to come up a guest post about the influence of Montreal in my writing, I was delighted. Then, after telling everyone that cares (or doesn't, really I didn't give them much of a choice) that I was going to write a guest post — moi! — I started thinking about how I was going to tackle this topic. It would have been easy to write about the first few things that come to mind when thinking about Quebec (aside from the three listed above and poutine): the English/French rivalry the province's desire for independence and the fact that our students demonstrate with little red square pinned to their clothes while banging on pots and pans.

Those topics I discarded as overdone. I kept on brainstorming.

I could also have talked about the realities of a Francophone writing in English in a province that will die defending La loi 101. This too, I felt had been explored numerous times. So I went deeper (insert Inception joke of your choice here). What is it that living in Montreal brings to my writing? What is so typical of Montreal that it permeates almost all spheres of our lives? When I found it, I realized that it had been staring me in the face all along.

What really influences my writing as a Montrealer is humour.
Humour is so natural to me that I take it for granted. I'm not saying that Montreal (or Quebec) has the monopoly on humour in Canada (I enjoy the acts of many English-Canadian stand-up comics, such as Russell Peters), but it is definitely an important part of our lives. We have the biggest humour festival in the world (Just for Laughs), a stand-up comedy university (our ratio of stand-up comedian per capita must be unusually high), and many girls will turn down a good-looking guy because he doesn't make her laugh. I know I have.
Montreal's Just for Laughs is the world's biggest comedy festival.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Being funny is what allowed me to survive high school relatively unscarred and has allowed me to make friends easily despite my shyness. I always felt that making people laugh was half the battle. Lastly, I'm convinced that our dads make the worst puns in all of Canada (my dad has shamed me more than once at the supermarket.)

I can't speak for everyone, obviously, but for me, it translates into a quirky writing style, infused with humour and wisecracking. There is of course a big difference between trying to be funny on purpose and just ending up being amusing. I am deadpan and quick with repartee, but I can't write comedy. I have never really tried, but I know it would just end up being boring because I can't be funny on demand. I need context, someone to give me something to work with. That's what happens when I write. I do a lot of automatic humour when working on the first draft and as a result, my characters do things that make me smile, even sometimes laugh. I don't try; it just happens.

Maybe this constant desire to be funny is a manifestation of the traditional Quebec underdog mentality. For a very long time, the province had an inferiority complex (and sometimes still does); while Anglophones were, historically, white collars with two kids, a dog and a white picket fence, Francophones plowed fields, manned assembly lines and reproduced as fast as bunnies. It's possible that humour was a way for French Canadians to defend themselves by mocking the powers that be. Moreover, as I mentioned earlier, people can't antagonize you if you make them laugh. As Jimmy Carr (famously controversial British stand-up comedian says, "I write these jokes so that you'll love me."
Yes, Stephanie Noel is a Montrealer — which is why she's always
fashionable, even to wash the champagne glasses.

To sum it all, I could say that although I write in English and hardly identify with most of the French-Canadian culture, I think that Montreal has contributed to make me a writer with a sense of humour. A twisted and very dark one, mind you, but a sense of humour nonetheless.

Allow me to babble a little more to thank Scott for this great opportunity to reflect on the influences Montreal has had and still has on me.

Thank you, Stephanie!

Stephanie Noel is an avid reader, inspired writer and seasoned traveller based in, of course, Montreal, Canada. She graduated from Université de Montréal with a degree in East Asian Studies and Anthropology. She recently came back to Canada after five years spent teaching Japan. She’s currently working on different fiction and non-fiction projects. You can follow her on her blog, A Truth Universally Acknowledged, on her Facebook page, and on Twitter @atuaStephanieN. Also, leave a comment, below!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Communicator's Toolbox review: Belkin's Ultimate Keyboard and Case for iPad

The Communicator's Toolbox

One of the original goals of this blog was to review technology developed for professional communicators. While I have reviewed digital cameras, laser and inkjet printers, software and even the iPad 2, it's been a long time since I've focused on the writer's tools.

I've been using the Belkin cover/keyboard combination for about a month, now, since the company sent me a demo at my request for a review model. Overall, I have to say I'm thrilled with it.

I got my iPad2 about two years ago, just before a trip to Austria and Switzerland. With it, I bought a Kensington KeyFolio case with an integrated Bluetooth keyboard for two reasons: first, I wanted a sturdy protective carrying case for the iPad; and second, I wanted a real keyboard, as opposed to a virtual one.

Compared to Kensington case

The Kensington KeyFolio fulfilled its purposes well. Its tough synthetic leather construction has protected the iPad well. However, Kensington made some compromises with the keyboard to get it to fit in a space the same width as the iPad itself. There is only one Shift key, for example, and the apostrophe/foot mark key is one row lower than on the standard QWERTY keyboard.

Those don't seem like huge issues, but it took me a while to get used to it. Only after I started using that keyboard did I realize that I use both Shift keys, depending on which letter I'm trying to capitalize. Also, getting a semi-colon every time I expected an apostrophe was annoying.

The other drawback to the KeyFolio was its size. The synthetic leather is pretty thick. I thought at first that would be a better protector for the fragile-looking iPad. But the KeyFolio makes the iPad a bulky device, hard to put into an already overstuffed briefcase.

It's also heavier. At 567 grams (1.25 pounds), the KeyFolio is almost as heavy as the iPad2's 601 grams (1.33 pounds). Suddenly, I was toting over a kilogram of tablet computer — heavier than a MacBook Air laptop computer.

The new protector

I heard about the Belkin Ultimate Keyboard Case for the iPad through a press release in my Mailbox (I get a LOT of press releases). When the item itself arrived, I was instantly delighted. Belkin designed the case to preserve the iPad's thin profile and form factor — two of its main selling points.
The base is made of aluminum alloy, and it's so thin, it's almost not there. Belkin says the keyboard is only 6.4 mm thick. The top is a textured rubber-like substance that provides adequate protection, at least in my experience so far. It has holes for the iPad's switches, camera, and earbud and power ports.

One of my greatest fears since getting
my iPad2.
Image source: 

Open it up and that same rubbery material is the hinge that attaches the two halves of the case: the rubber-backed shell that holds the iPad itself, and the aluminum-backed keyboard half. This is the only part that worries me — the rubber is very flexible and I always imagine it tearing.

But this flexibility is one of the great features of the case. On the keyboard side, above the keyboard itself, are three magnetic strips that hold the iPad up at your choice of three angles.
Belkin also uses the magnetism to power off and on the iPad when you close the case, just like with Apple's own tri-fold iPad cover.

A fully functional keyboard

The keyboard is smaller than the standard for a desktop computer, of course, to match the width of the iPad itself (or height, depending on how you hold it: 24.1 cm or 9.5 inches), but the layout is the QWERTY standard. It has two Shift keys, as well as Command, Option/Alt, and Fn keys. Overall, the typing experience on it is not much different from typing on a desktop computer's keyboard, except that the keys are a little closer together. The keys click satisfyingly when you depress them — unlike the standard Apple keyboard.


The aluminum back is prone to scratching, like all aluminum. After a month, there are several noticeable scratches and scuff marks on mine, and I don't consider myself a rough user. The hardest surfaces my iPad has touched are desks and tables, and the inside of my briefcase or pannier saddlebags.
Getting my iPad into the case was tricky, and getting it out again almost as hard. However, I can't imagine when that would be necessary.

Bottom line

Belkin's Ultimate Keyboard Case for the iPad is a great accessory for the professional communicator who wants to use the iPad — or for anyone who uses the iPad, travels or commutes with it, prefers a physical keyboard and is as worried about dropping or damaging the iPad itself. It's very lightweight, almost unnoticeable in my hands. It doesn't interfere with the operation of the iPad at all. In fact, I typed this review on my Belkin Keyboard Case. Plus, it provides peace of mind about damaging the tablet.
While it is prone to scuffs, it has protected my iPad. For a hundred bucks, no iPad owner should be without one.

Find out more on Belkin's site:

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Quit being a dumb app: Guest post by Lloyd Corder, PhD.

I've followed communications professional Lloyd Corder's email newsletter, C-Note$, for years. It's always full of clear, useful advice—the kind that makes you say, "Of course—why didn't I see that before?"   I asked Lloyd to weigh in on how today's communications technology, including social media, e-newsletters (like his), blogs and so on have changed the way he communicates. As usual, he came back with some useful, clear advice. And as usual, I reacted with "Of course. Why didin't I think of that before?"

How to keep your smart phone from screwing up your relationships

Lloyd Corder, Ph.D.
Recently, I got this note from an entrepreneurial client and friend of mine who started a metal powders company that makes high tech parts for spaceflight companies like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin:  
I have to tell you, that I think of you more than you realize I'm sure. Every time I'm going into a meeting with someone, I pull my phone out and turn it off or to vibrate. You did that one time we met and I never forgot how I felt "Wow, he's taking this very serious and only wants to concentrate on me while we're meeting." Very powerful stuff.
That made my day.

I’ve spent my professional career helping others become better communicators. It may be called marketing research, ad testing, strategic marketing planning, leadership communications or even university teaching, but it boils down to figuring out how you can be better today than you were yesterday. Slight, continuous improvements lead to big results over time.
In working with hundreds of clients over the last 25 years, I’ve come to believe that the most profound gift you can give someone is your time and complete attention.
Within in your grasp—every day and at multiple times—you have the power to show you truly care…you are a great listener…you can accept someone for who and where they are in their life…you can show and be loved…and—most importantly—you can make someone’s life better.
But giving your time and complete attention is darned near impossible if you’re spending all your time fiddling with your phone.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my smart phone. I can reply to clients faster. I can delegate projects instantaneously. I can update my social media status like no body’s business.
But smart phones have a dark side, too: 

  • Smart phones are the single biggest distraction in our lives. For many of us, instead of us being “all in” when we’re meeting with someone we know is important—like our friends, family members, coworkers and others—we are only partly paying attention. We may be there physically, but mentally and emotionally we’re thinking about emails, texting someone miles away, surfing the Internet or wondering how many likes we’ll get from our latest post. Our smart phones make it seem like we are afflicted with some form of attention deficit disorder.
  • Smart phones mess up our eye contact. We trust people who look at us. It’s tough to read someone when they are constantly looking away or at their phone. It suggests they would rather be somewhere else or doing something different. Smart phones are seductive. They trick us into thinking that I’ll just look away for a moment, and then I’ll be able to refocus. Forget it. You’ll want to check your phone every few minutes. It will become such a force of habit that you won’t even realize you’re doing it.
  • Smart phones make us feel like we have more control, but we actually don’t. We have so many new communications tools available to us. But are we any better communicators? Are your relationships better now than they were five years ago? Does it really matter to you that you now know the minutia of other peoples’ lives through their barrage of posts? Wouldn’t you rather understand the big picture of the people you care about?
Well, what should you do about all of this? Especially if you’re younger and have spent your entire life online, taking a break from your phone may be an out-of-body experience for you.
From my vantage point, you have two basic options.
First, you can go on letting your smart phone be the boss of your life. Bring it everywhere you go. Never turn it off. Let it distract, seduce and control you to your heart’s content. If you chose this path, don’t worry. A lot of people are on it. You’ll blend in fine and most people won’t notice the difference anyway—since they will be on their smart phones doing the same thing.
Or, if you dare, you could decide that maybe part of the purpose of your life is to help make the world you’re living in a little better place, if just for one moment or one minute or one hour or one day.
You can do that by sharing your time and complete attention with the people you’re in front of. Forget about your smart phone for a minute. Silence it and put it away. Be totally in the moment.
If you’re in a business meeting, require that everyone put their “screens down” and give their attention to topic at hand…especially if you’ve spent a fortune getting them to the meeting.
What I’m suggesting may sound like it’s easy to do, but it’s easier not to do. You will struggle. Your smart phone will tempt you to pay more attention to it than who you’re meeting with. But don’t you do it!
Just try getting through one meeting without your phone. If you falter, forgive yourself and try again with your second meeting. Like any important change in your life, it will take two or three weeks of diligent effort, then it will start to seem totally natural to put away your phone and get focused on the conversation at hand.
You will also quickly find yourself in the top five percent, separated from your competitors and everyone else…and being noticed by important people and people who are important to you. You’ll seem like a natural winner.
And at that point, you may just find that your influence, impact and life are exponentially better than they were when you were playing with that dumb phone all the time! __________
Lloyd Corder, Ph.D. is founder and CEO of strategic marketing research firm CorCom, Inc. and teaches at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. He is a frequent keynote, convention and motivational speaker, and he has appeared on business-oriented radio and television programs. Corder’s studies have been published in more than 500 magazines and newspapers. For additional information and resources, please visit or contact him at

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's day sample: Advice

For Father's Day, I present a fatherly excerpt from my latest book, One Shade of Red.

Picture: Wikipedia Commons
Sunday dinner with my parents followed a routine that varied only with the seasons. I’d usually show up after 6, when my Dad would have almost finished barbequing the steaks to black shoe-sole consistency. But since I had come early this time, I had to help out like I had when I was 14.

I entered the kitchen from the back yard at the same moment that Dad came in from the hallway. “Hey, big guy!” he boomed, as usual, while opening the fridge and taking out a big, flat dish. Four big, red steaks marinated in a thick, red sauce. “Came early to help out?”

“Helping” Dad meant starting the barbeque — no propane for him. He insisted on charcoal, and that meant starting an hour before you wanted to eat, pouring briquettes into the ball-shaped bottom of the barbeque, dousing it with some liquid that smelled suspiciously like gasoline and trying to touch a lit match to the fluid while standing as far back as you could. After that, “helping” would involve fetching barbeque utensils, barbeque sauce, another bottle of beer and anything else that came to his mind.

“Sure,” I said, reaching for the tray. That brought me close to him, and I realized for the first time that day how reluctant I was to stand next to him, now that I was taller than him. I had outgrown Dad in height a couple of years ago, but being able to look down on him did not make me feel any stronger than him, not with his wide shoulders and forearms like wrestling anacondas. But for how long had I been so loathe to stand close enough that my height superiority was obvious?

“It’s too soon to take the steaks out, son. You can start the briquets burning.”

My heart sank.

While we waited for the briquettes to turn gray, I sat on a patio chair and chatted with my Mom. I was guiltily aware that I didn’t do this much, and she loved it. “So, how’s the book?”

“Exciting. Lots of action, and I can really see eye-to-eye with the character. Sometimes, I’d like to do the things he does.”

“It doesn’t seem like your usual reading material.”

“I’ve read everything by Bulgakov and Nabokov and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I thought I would try some of these new writers for a change.”

At supper, my little sister and I dutifully chewed through the steaks and kidded Dad about his complete lack of barbequing ability, as usual.

“What are you talking about? They’re perfect!” he argued, as usual.

At least I could wash it down with beer. Diana, my sister, wasn’t old enough, yet, but Dad let her drink some of Mom’s wine.

Supper over, Dad said he had to work on a contract and went upstairs to my old bedroom, which he had converted into an office. After Diana and I cleaned up the kitchen, I went up to my old room, too.

“Dad, I need some advice.”

I have never seen anyone simultaneously look so surprised, gratified and thoughtful. He put down his mechanical pencil and took off his bifocals. “About?” Without glasses, his hazel eyes squinted a little.

I sat down in the “guest” chair in his office — an antique foreman’s chair, made of solid oak or something. It weighed a ton and was as comfortable as sitting on stone. I had always wondered where he had found it. It was as far removed from his desk chair as a feather bed from a Catholic altar.

“You know I hired Tyler to help with cleaning pools. And I set him up with a bunch of clients.”

“I’ve never found it wise to hire your friends. It never works out,” Dad said.

“What? But you’re friends with John Andrienos, and he’s your foreman on half the jobs!”

“I hired him and then made friends with him,” Dad answered. “That’s okay. That works: you work alongside someone, come to respect them, become friends. It’s natural. But when you hire a friend to work for you, they seem to think your friendship is a free pass or something.”

“You’re right. Tyler isn’t working out.”

“What do you mean, specifically?”

“He’s always late. Half the time, he doesn’t show up at customers’ places. When he does, he never does a full job. The customers are getting pissed off.”

“Have you spoken to him about this?” Dad leaned back in his comfortable, ergonomic chair and swung his glasses between his fingers.

Dad loved being asked for advice.
Photo from Noel Kingsley's blog.

“Yah, I told him the issues. I even gave him a warning.”

Dad looked out the window, where the setting sun made the sky pink and orange. He pushed his thick grey hair back from his forehead before answering. “I’ve heard he’s had some employment problems, already.”

“He’s been fired three times already this year.”

“Hmm. Sounds like Tyler has a problem. Three employers already have had enough of him, and now, you.”


“So, what do you want advice with?”

This was hard. Dad had this annoying habit of making you voice exactly what you mean. Using real words.

“What should I do?”

Dad looked at me with his unnerving look. “What do you want?” he asked finally.

“Huh?” God, you can be lame, said my brain.

“What do you want for your pool-cleaning business?”

“Geez, Dad, why do you always have to make these talks a lesson? I want it to succeed.”

“Good. And what does that mean?”

I knew this answer from years of business lessons from the city’s most philosophical contractor. “Profits.”

“Let’s cut to the chase, son,” Dad said. “You have a problem: your employee is causing customers to complain. What is the outcome you want from this?”

“I want my customers to like me again.”

“So, what do you need for that to happen?”

Dad: always making me confront reality. “I need ... to get rid of Tyler.”

“Not necessarily. Do you think that Tyler can change? Can he behave differently, so that he doesn’t make your customers leave?

“I don’t know. Anyway, I’ve decided I don’t need to worry about that anymore. I need someone to replace Tyler. I just can’t take back all his clients — there aren’t enough hours in the day.”

“So, you’ve decided to let Tyler go?”

I took a deep breath. This was still hard to say. “Yes. But who can I get to take his place?”

“You want a recommendation?”

I nodded. “You know a lot of people.”

Dad looked at the sunset again. “You know, the construction business has slowed down a lot, lately. I haven’t had enough work to give out to my usual crew.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, son. You know, I’m glad you’ve found a new way to make money this summer. It’s taken a lot of pressure off my shoulders.”

“So, do you know anyone that could help me?”

He looked out the window again. “You know Philip Lamontaigne? Bob and Maureen’s son? He’s a bit older than you, but he’s a good worker. I have not had enough work this year to be able to hire him, and he’s been looking for work.”

I remembered Philip. One of those skinny guys with a skanky beard. He always had weed on him, always had a new girlfriend and a next girlfriend. “Phil is a good worker?”

“I had him on-call last summer. He never failed to show up on time, always did more than asked of him.”
Note to self, by S@Z, creative commons license

Wow. Phil Lamontaigne, professional dirtbag, was a good worker. “So, you think he’d be a good pool cleaner?”

“Can you show him the ropes?”

“No problem.”

Dad flipped through screens on his laptop and wrote a phone number on a post-it note. Dad has always loved post-it notes.

One Shade of Red is an erotic comedy e-book, available from Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, the iTunes bookstore and other e-retailers.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Independent book review: Reckoning, by RS Guthrie

 With Reckoning, RS Guthrie takes the fiction writer’s rule book, shreds it in mighty fingers and reassembles it into a new way of engaging audiences.
Reckoning is the third of Guthrie’s books to feature Denver Detective Robert Macaulay, also known as Bobby Mac and also known as the heir to the occult power of Clan MacAulay.

Busting through the genre boundaries

Reckoning, like Black Beast and LOST, the previous Bobby Mac novels, is a noir cop thriller, a police procedural whose villain just happens to be (spoiler alert!) a demon.
Right there, he’s broken the artificial boundaries imposed on genres. Guthrie’s Bobby Mac novels read like gritty cop stories, yet somehow the supernatural elements fit perfectly.
Another rule that he breaks: modulating between the first and third person perspective. Most of the book is narrated by Bobby Mac, and Guthrie’s command of the tough, no-nonsense cop dialect (ever notice how cops all sound the same, no matter where they come from?) is flawless. But where the story needs a third-person omniscient POV, Guthrie smoothly shifts for exactly as long as he needs to.
He has created his own style here. It's as if Bobby Mac is sitting beside you on the porch, telling you what happened. No, actually, it's more like he's sitting across a campfire on a moonless night, telling you about what is deep in those shadows. At times, Guthrie gets a little too philosophical, waxing about the relationships between parents and children or mentors and protégés; occasionally, I started to lose patience. But for all that, Guthrie kept me flipping pages (or flicking my iPad screen, to be precise).


This trilogy is all about the battle between a demon, Samhain, who is opposed on earth primarily by the Clan MacAulay of Scotland. Today, that clan is represented by Detective Bobby Macaulay of the Denver police force, who has inherited the Clan’s ancient weapon against Hell, the Crucifix of Ardincaple.
Decades ago, Pink Floyd said "One day you find, 10 years have got behind you.” The story of Reckoning picks up where LOST left off, but 10 years later. Bobby Mac has remarried, had another family — triplet girls — and is starting to think about retiring from the police force. Evil returns in the form of a serial killer plaguing Denver. In a nod to noir thrillers of yore, the first case mimics the Black Dahlia.
Like any good police procedural, the story follows Bobby Mac tracking down clues and fighting against the awful realization that the enemy he knows best, and thought destroyed, has returned.

Best and worst

The best part of Guthrie’s stories are the relationships between the characters. They’re all combinations of positive and negative qualities, inconsistent and flawed. You never really know their motivations, because the characters themselves are never really sure just what combination of attitudes, fears, desires and blindnesses are driving them.
I have always enjoyed Guthrie’s descriptions of Bobby Mac and his son trying to communicate through all the layers of love and mistrust and history and baggage. However, as mentioned, this time it seemed to get a little long. The narrative seemed to keep veering off onto tangents.
Also, I felt that with this installment of the story, you really had to have read the first two books to understand what was going on.
For example, as the book approaches the final confrontation between good and evil, Bobby Mac explains "the whole story" to his partner, but not explicitly in the story. The book reads more like "I told him the whole story,” rather than recapping it, or describing some action that would encapsulate the conflict. While this technique is a good way to abbreviate another info-dump and avoid rehashing stuff that loyal readers already know, it also risks alienating those who have not read the previous installments. (Maybe it's a clever way of boosting sales of the other books.)
Overall, Reckoning, the finale of the Bobby Mac trilogy (although Guthrie keeps saying he'll have other stories about Bobby Mac) is an enjoyable, satisfying completion to the trilogy. It wraps it all up in Guthrie's lean, aggressive writing style without missing a beat or leaving a loose end untied.
And it's engaging, one of those stories you can't put down.
If you want a good read that breaks all those worn out conventions of genre boundaries and unnecessary rules, read Reckoning. But you should probably read LOST first, and probably Black Beast before that.
To get the books, the best place to start is Guthrie's website or his blog. Or visit his Amazon author's page.
You can also get a signed copy of Reckoning directly from Rob.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Brevity infused with vision: Independent author Benjamin Wretlind on writing style

Ben Wretlind has broken new ground as an author with his novels Castles: A fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors and Sketches from the Spanish Mustang, and with his collection of short stories (which he wrote over several years), Regarding Dead Things on the Side of the Road.
All his writing displays a distinctive, poetic style of writing prose. I asked him about how he developed his style, and what it means.

How would you describe your own writing style?

I can't describe my own writing style any more than I can describe myself in the mirror. What I see is different from what the world sees. If there was a gun to my head, though, I might say "character-driven."

Your style has changed between what shows in the Regarding Dead Things collection and Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors. How much of that was intentional, and how much was a natural evolution? Are you happy with your style, or are there aspects of it you try to change during rewriting or editing?

We grow. Physically, of course, we grow from birth until death, but in terms of putting words on paper we grow by our experiences. If I showed you a story I'd written as an 8-year-old and one that I'd written as a 41-year old, you'd—naturally—see a shift in style. The stories written in Regarding Dead Things reflect my state of being during my twenties and thirties. Castles was written
over seven years, and in fact, I couldn't finish it until I had developed a style that was uniquely Maggie's (the main character). I had to grow to finish Maggie's story. There was nothing intentional about it.
But am I happy with it? To be happy with my style means I must have grown up, shed all of my skin, and completed my journey. I'm just not there.

What are the important elements of your style? What are you trying to achieve?

Brevity infused with vision. I want you to read what I see in my head.

Your two major works so far revolve around female characters: Maggie is the protagonist of Castles, and the stories in Sketches from the Spanish Mustang are linked by the Artist, also a woman. Why did you choose to base these stories on female characters? Did you find a special challenge in writing from a feminine point of view? Did that decision affect your writing style?

I've often said that the voice of Maggie in Castles is not my own. She "spoke" to me, and I wrote down what she said. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. The Artist, however, was a deliberate attempt to write as a female character because I knew it would be a challenge. To "write what you know" isn't always the best option, in my opinion, because then you're never growing.

How can you expand your horizons if you're simply spouting off your own truths?

Find the truth in others, visual the quirks, feel someone else's pain for a moment and then open your eyes.

Are there any authors whose style you admire? Do you try to emulate them?

Ray Bradbury taught me more in the first chapter of The Martian Chronicles than any other writer before or since. "Rocket Summer." I haven't gotten it out of my head since I was a wee one stealing my brother's paperbacks.

Are there authors whose writing style you dislike? 

Not really. I won't say there are authors I can't read—there are many, actually—but to each his or her own. To dislike a writer's style because it is trite or flowery or morose or disjointed is akin, in my opinion, to disliking a person's face or ears or their hair cut. We all grow, and even the most accomplished writer who might be a household name grows as well. That doesn't mean I'll be able to read it, though.

How can readers identify your writing style? Are there particular words or kinds of words that you tend to favour? Sentence structures? Or is it more in the story, the pacing or the characters?

I would hope it's the characters that people relate to. If people remember me for writing character-based novels that speak directly to them (or through them), then I've achieved something.

Do you think your audience responds to your writing style, consciously or unconsciously?

Both. I want Maggie to stick with your unconscious until you're driven mad. I want the Artist to make you think consciously until you see with someone else's eyes. Audience response is really hard to gauge in 20-word reviews, but I see success and I see failure. You can't reach them all.

How important do you think writing style is to an author's commercial success?

Commercial success is a nasty thing. I've always believed, from my earliest years, that those authors who achieve commercial success are driven by outside forces to remain inside the lines. When you go outside the lines—when you grow as a writer—your success won't be possible unless the airport-novel-creating-machine wants you to be successful. Just look at a list of "Top 25 Beach Reads." Ugh. Don’t get me started. Is there a stupid virus out there?

Do you think your style will change in the future? Is there something different you would like to do in terms of style in a future book?

It'll change as we change. I can't say what the future holds in terms of style, however, but if you put that gun to my head again I would have to say I would like to write a multi-lingual novel and see just how well that's received.

Thanks, Ben!

Benjamin’s books include: Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors
Available on Amazon Sketches from the Spanish Mustang Available on Amazon
Regarding Dead Things on the Side of the Road: Collected Stories
Available on Amazon And his work in progress, Driving the Spike, is excerpted on the Guild ofDreams fantasy authors’ collective blog.  

Ben's blog is Drippings from the Mind of Me
Follow Ben on Twitter: @BXWretlind