Monthly Archives: February 2007

Pursuing Your Dream

Recently I was asked to give a motivational speech for a group. My subject was never giving up your dream–something I know plenty about.

My entire life I’ve wanted to be a writer. I wrote stories as a child, put out a magazine as a teenager and wrote plays for the neighborhood children to put on. When I got married at 18, my writing life was put on hold. Oh, I kept my hand in all right, besides giving birth to and raising five children, I produced the PTA newsletter and wrote plays for my Camp Fire Girls to star in, and I still churned out a bit of fiction.

Finally, when the kids had grown quite a bit, I started writing an historical family saga based on my family genealogy. When it was finished, I began the process of sending it to publishers. This was back in the days before computers and copying machines. This book was rejected nearly thirty times before it found a publisher. By this time I was in my late forties. I sent the next book to the same publisher, but the editor who had accepted the first one was gone and the new editor wasn’t interested.

I did find a publisher, but the owner of the publishing company turned out to be a crook. Instead of sending royalties, he was using his profits to gamble at Vegas. He was arrested and I was sent all the books he’d produced.

I’d written a Christian horror novel and searched hard for a publisher. The Christian publishers thought it was too scary for their audience and the secular publishers felt it was too Christian for their readers. Finally a small, independent publisher told me he’d love to print it but I needed to get it camera ready first. Yes, we had computers by this time but no easy program for publishing. For months, I went to a computer store at 6 a.m., worked on the computer there to make the book camera ready until 9 a.m. when the store opened. When it was finally done, I called the publisher only to find out that he’d died.

I’m not sure where this falls in the sequence of things, but I’ve had at least four agents over the years. The first one was handling one of my historical family sagas and he taught me a lot, but never sent the book out once. The second agent didn’t know what she was doing. The third represented my Tempe Crabtree series and in four years only sent the book out three times. The fourth agent loved the titles of my books but only sent them out a couple of times. I figured if I was ever to be published again, I needed to take the reins into my own hands.

My first mystery was published by another crooked outfit. This time I had a booksigning, fifty books arrived, all of them were sold, but the company had pulled up stakes and no more books could be found. A small independent publisher offered to re-publish the book. She did the first printing sold out. She then published four books in my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series. We had a terrific relationship, then she died of a stroke. I lost a good friend.

This meant I had to locate another publisher for my Tempe series. Fortunately, I’d met the publisher of Mundania Press at a couple of writing conferences and was impressed by his grasp of the publishing world and he offered me a contract for the next two in the series.

Before most people knew anything about electronic publisher I signed on with to do my Rocky Bluff P.D. series. This was before anyone had discovered the POD technology or handheld devices for reading books. My books looked wonderful but no one was interested in reading a novel from their computer screen. That publisher faded away. I eventually found another electronic publisher who was also using POD technology to print trade paperbacks. The first two book in the series were published, looked great, but the royalties didn’t arrive and the third book didn’t look like it would be printed any time soon. Once again I searched for another publisher. Tigress Press accepted and published Fringe Benefits which is available now as an e-book and a trade paperback from my website and

Hard Shell Word Factory, one of the oldest and best of the electronic publishers, published Kachima Spirit and the prequel to my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series, Deadly Trail, as well as the electronic versions of the first four books in that series.

My other two Christian horror, Deeds of Darkness and Cup of Demons, found a home with Treble Heart Books and are available as e-books and trade paperbacks from and my website.

If I had let rejections, crooked publishers, agents who didn’t do anything and deaths stand in my way, my dream of being a published author would never have happened. Life is full of disappointments and set-backs, but don’t let any of them stop you from hanging onto your dream.



Filed under The Writing Life

Is it art or is it commerce?

It’s a given that you know how to write, at least to some degree. The fact that you’re reading is a dead give away. Readers can also write. How well is another question entirely. But we all have to start somewhere. So write away. Don’t let anything stop you. You may also have a clue as to what you’ll write. Although the answer to that question is tougher than most people give it credit for. Are you planning on specializing or casting a wide net? There are good cases to be made for either approach. If you’ve got the stamina to become an authority on the fascinating hobby of butterfly collecting, there is without a doubt at least one publisher who has a home for your work. But you might prefer tap dancing back and forth between that butterfly collectors article and a series on classic car restoration – followed by a piece on responsible parenting – which leads to a shot at interviewing Justin Timberlake on the transition from child performer to adult stardom.

Either way, you’ll find your fingers on the keyboard and your brain stretching to find the right words ahead of your deadline.

Perhaps the least asked question writers ponder is the least obvious. Why write in the first place? You may choose to write in order to vent your considerable passion for the arts – or to fill your wallet. Neither choice is wrong. Although to be honest, the financial motivation is considerably more difficult to satisfy than the creative impulse might be.

Ideally, the work will find a balance of those two opposing forces.

The drive to create has its place. It’s this insatiable yearning that causes us to write, rewrite and if necessary, rewrite again. When we finally read our finished piece in print, we may feel a sudden twinge at finding that our editor has made even more changes to our finished product, however slight. But that public lesson in grammar and sentence construction sticks with us. We vow to do a better job next time, to write a perfect piece. And we set out to do just that. Often we fall short. But on occasion we hit the mark and we find confirmation in that fact. Writing is our destiny.

But life in the real world has a price. There is no shame in sitting down at the keyboard with an eye on ultimately cashing a check in exchange for the work being committed to the page. The publisher is in business to make a profit, as is the distributor of the magazine you’re submitting your work to. The magazine stand that sells the copies your name is so proudly carried in is also hoping to see a positive cash flow from their efforts. Why not you too? Writing is a job as much as it is an art form. So why not acknowledge that fact from the outset. The act of attaching a dollar figure to your work may be a real motivating force for some of us. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that the work matters in ways beyond our own ego. There’s cash at stake. Do a good job and there may be more. Fall down on the job and there won’t.

The question has always been there. It will always hang over our heads, our hands and our hearts. Do we write for art or are we driven to create by our hunger for compensation. The honest answer just might be, both.

So be it.

Jamie Beckett

Author – Burritos and Gasoline

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How do you characterise?

What makes you believe that the character you’re reading about is a real person? And what makes you want to find out more about them?

For me, these are two crucial factors for a fiction writer to consider. If you don’t believe in the character, you won’t be interested in what they’re doing or care what happens to them. And if you don’t want to find out more about them, then the story will have no real ‘guts’.

So how do you establish a level of characterisation?

There are two main tactics that writers can employ: speech and action.

When our characters speak in inverted commas, we hear them directly. There is no mediation by the author, no commentary by someone telling us what to think – we simply ‘hear’ the person speaking. So to make our characters real, they must use the language we expect them to use. Crooks don’t, on the whole, talk like college professors, and vice versa. Consequently we have a number of tools we can use:

– diction: the choice of words
– pace: the length of sentence together with punctuation
– structure: how the words are put together


“‘Man, I don’ lend my sled to nobody!’
‘Then who’d you lend your 12-gauge pump shotguns to? Boy, you spill on that.’
‘Man, I tol’ you I don’t own no shotgun!’
Jack stepped in. ‘Tell me about the Purple pagans. Are they a bunch of guys who like purple cars?'”

(James Ellroy, LA Confidential)

Here, the contrast between Jack’s slang-free speech and that of Leonard and Denton, crook and cop, sets him apart and is a ‘voice of reason’ whom the reader can identify with. Whenever he speaks, we listen and know that he’s using logic and rationality to gather evidence and filter information. He’s characterised as the good guy.


“‘Well, that’s a barn all right, and a beautifully drawn barn. I very much like the pattern of light and dark. You’re very talented, Sanford.’
‘And that’s a tobacco plant growing. That’s what they look like. See, it’s shaped like a triangle. They’re big. That one’s still got the blossom on top. It’s before they top it.'”

(Philip Roth, The Plot Against America)

Here the Rabbi’s more languorous sentences are compared to the young Sandy’s, which are choppy, eager, each sentence replicating a thought as it occurs to the young mind. The immaturity of his teenage mind is captured in sentences which also are immature, not shaped in the same way as the rabbi’s are. Notice also the rabbi’s more mature diction – ‘I very much like’.


“‘What do you think?’ he demanded imperiously.
‘About what?’
He waved his hand toward the book-shelves.
‘About that. As a matter of fact, you needn’t bother to ascertain. I ascertained. They’re real.’

‘Who brought you?’ he demanded. ‘Or did you just come? I was brought. Most people were brought.’

(F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby)

In this extract we see the man characterised by his repetition of phrases. Fitzgerald has structured his speech to show how the man’s mind works. He makes an observation, then uses the same word to enlarge on the observation – ascertain, ascertained; brought, brought. This slight structuring of his dialogue is enough to fix him in our minds as someone probably small-minded or precise and probably a little smug.

The second tool we writers have at our disposal, apart from speech, is action.

We get involved with the lives of a character when they do something out of the ordinary – whether it’s risky in a physical or psychological sense, or simply unusual in that we couldn’t see ourselves behaving in the same way. When that happens, we try to attribute a motive to their actions because it’s a human trait to want to understand why other people behave the way they do.

Why does Gatsby say he was driving the car that killed Myrtle Wilson instead of Daisy? Why does Yossarian act the way he does when asked to fly more missions? Why does Holden Caulfield abscond from school to visit his sister Phoebe? All of these are actions that help characterise the hero as ‘different’. And in the same way that we’re attracted to the ‘bad’ boys and girls at school, this refusal by our characters to follow a traditional, safe pattern of behaviour is what draws readers to them.

So characterising our heroes and heroines, and the lesser personae, isn’t just a case of making them look different physically (a common trait of beginning writers). It’s also a case of putting them in situations where they can make strong decisions that we don’t expect or even understand. And making them speak in ways that differentiate them from each other using different vocabularies, length of sentences and structured phrases. Then the reader begins to really see how they are different from each other – and interesting to want to read more about.


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Más que leer

A veces un libro es algo más que una obra escrita o algo que leer, que se puede tocar u oler, algo más que un regalo. Entre los renglones escritos duermen aromas de otro tiempo, cuando germinaba la idea o brotaba la luz primera entre nubes de silencio. Una compañía que ahuyentaba la prisa y nos reconciliaba con la soledad, cómodos y absortos, entretenidos de nosotros mismos. Y es que leer, a veces, es algo más que navegar renglones y surcar horizontes de páginas, sobre olas de letras, a merced de la marea de las palabras. A veces nos gustaría que leer fuese vivir así siempre…

Los relatos contenidos en “PARA EL ALIVIO DE INSOPORTABLES IMPULSOS”, han colocado a su autor, Nathan Englander, a sus veintiocho años, entre los elegidos como uno de los veinte escritores para el siglo XXI. Recientemente ha recibido el premio Pushcart y sus relatos ya han sido traducidos a muchos idiomas. Desde una óptica judía innova situaciones, historias, personajes y modos de expresión, que lo vinculan a la denominada “Generación quemada” norteamericana, en donde aborda la naturaleza humana que explora con un interés universal.

POZOS DE AGUA BLANCA”, es el primer libro que sale a la luz de la mano de Liliana Rodríguez, una cubana entrañable –antes Venezuela, ahora Miami, en su vuelo vital- de quien me puedo jactar, con humilde satisfacción, por contarme entre sus amigos. Su aparente facilidad para la rima musical no deja de ser un don, la convierte en una artista de las décimas, arte que domina con virtuosismo de sentimientos, como tuve ocasión de comprobar hace algún tiempo, cuando compartimos espacio virtual con un trabajo poético, titulado “Dúo de gaviotas”, que sirvió para edificar esta amistad a ambas orillas del charco. Sentirse poeta se nota en estos textos que, para mí, adquieren un valor todavía más personal. Gracias, Lily, por el detalle de incluir mi nombre entre tus letras. Un regalo que sabes, sin duda, guardaré como tesoro entre mis preferidos.

La escritora australiana Jackie French nos muestra en “TE EXTRAÑO SOFÍA” un tema demasiado frecuente de nuestro tiempo. Sofía relata en primera persona la historia de su hermana, quien salió a realizar unas compras y desapareció. Las dudas sobre si fue decisión propia o un secuestro o, tal vez, un asesinato rodean la desaparición. La tensión e incertidumbre sobresaltan al lector que asiste, igual de impávido que la policía, a la inutilidad de toda pesquisa y a la impotencia de toparse siempre con el silencio. Un mundo de sentimientos, tanto personales como familiares, se descubre y extiende ante la ausencia de un ser querido y, de este modo, Sofía le escribe cartas a su hermana, testimonios hasta entonces ocultos que, sin embargo, nunca llegarán a destino, que nunca recibirá, ni tampoco traerán respuesta.



Filed under Autores, Book, Books & Authors Carnival, Luis Tamargo, Nuevos Libros

Looking for inspiration

Many new, young writers wonder where others find their inspiration. Unfortunately many new writers spend so much time focusing on story ideas that they miss the “muse” that can be right in front of them.

Some things to consider doing if you are feeling stuck in your writing or feel that you lack good ideas:

1. Get out: Go for a walk, run some simple errands, anything. You may be surprised at how productive this can be for your writing.

2. Read the paper: Find something within that sparks your creative juices. Reading helps to keep your mind active.

3. Write anyway: Write through it and you may find a few gems.

These are just some simple things that many artists learn right away and pass along.

No matter what you do, realize that all writers experience a lag every now and then. If you have the talent and take the time to hone the necessary skills, you will eventually find the right method that works for you.
Nancy O. Greene


Filed under Writing


From Linda’s opinion page:

blogthumbl.jpg You have literary work, finally out of your mind and onto paper or anxiously awaiting rescue from your hard drive. Now, how do you share the story you spent months or years tediously toiling over if you have ‘no name?’ Not too long ago, I facilitated my “Bumpy Road Toward the Land of the Published” workshop in my hometown for a writers group who are a little up in age. I shared with them different approaches toward getting published, to include a variety of vanity presses and self-publishing methods that I support as acceptable, suitable trends and realistic paths for first time authors. I overheard one lady tell another “Oh, that’s not for you. Your work is much too good for that.” When I looked at the lady receiving the advice, I felt saddened to think she may never see her story in print. What a shame to miss that joy. I firmly believe that if you have a story to tell, people somewhere want to read it. Finding those people without the traditional publisher backing will be a challenge of course, but marketing is another issue. It’s quite evident from the comment made during the workshop that, for a variety of reasons, the debate rages on between those choosing to self-publish and those who believe traditional publishing is the only venue with any credibility. It’s more a personal choice than a debate, really, but unfortunately the self-published, quite often, end up paying a higher price than the fee recorded on their invoice for the POD package they chose. Those who self-publish also risk being viewed with less respect by those who harshly perceive the unread self-publisher’s work as not “good” enough to be considered by a TPH. Since written work is so subjective; interests and tastes so varied, “good” or even “great” by whose standards? I’ve read many a book, traditionally published and extravagantly hyped, that left me wondering, why(?). And don’t people know and maybe they don’t, that Lewis Carrol, Mark Twain, Zane Grey, Upton Sinclair, George Bernard Shaw, Edgar Allen Poe, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Virginia Wolf and the list goes on, all self-published? Yes, they represent a different time and times are definitely different now, or maybe it’s the people who are truly different now. I’ve spoken with some “writers” who care more about the possibility of a windfall than their art or the message they wish to convey. In the case of the elderly folks in the workshop, I think they were just unfamiliar with the progressive choices. The bottom line is, traditional publishing houses are in the business to make money, not to turn out literary masterpieces. The dollar is their focus and as many dollars as possible their goal. Traditional Publishing houses have no interest in me if I’m not a celebrity or affiliated with those of celebrity status, unless I managed, through some freak incident, to capture fifteen minutes of outrageous media attention. Those anonymous chunks of fifteen minutes happen quite often in the world and afford traditional publishers the convenience to fish out of a fairly congested barrel. Let’s be real. If I were walking alone through a meadow and accidentally fell into an uncovered but brush hidden, wet well, was unable to climb out and had to tread water for fifteen days, subsisting only by catching minnows with my teeth as they swam past my mouth before my rescuer, a seven-year-old Asian boy who’s only been in this country for a week, found me while playing with his dog, Lucky Penny, who he just saved from euthanasia two days ago, some “Traditional” publishing company just might want my story. I would have to be one of those extremely rare fortunates or unfortunates. Every time I watch a talk show and see an author promoting their new book, I always wonder (if I haven’t seen that person in the headlines in the last year or so) what connection they have with the talk show host? It usually comes out during the segment. Oh . . . she’s the wife of the chef of one of Martha’s favorite restaurants. Oh . . . he’s the brother of the lead singer of a band that Ellen is so crazy about right now. Oh . . . she’s the Mother of the guy Oprah is trying to fix Gail up with. Our lives are the stories we share and sharing life through fantasy or reality is what writers and storytellers are compelled to do. Written work becomes something personal between the author and the reader. I don’t know why we should or would allow traditional publishers, solely, to decide for us what is publication worthy. The traditional process is also very time consuming, and time is a commodity most of us don’t like to waste. As a first time author, sending your manuscript to a traditional publisher when you don’t have that “Kevin Bacon” connection, is very much like buying a lottery ticket. I think we all know the odds aren’t in our favor. Since I had my druthers, my choice was to stay out of the barrel and still take the opportunity to tell my story. Self-publishing, especially for the first time author, just might be “Intelligent and Realistic Publishing.”


Linda Bergman-Althouse, author of ‘Save Them All’

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Filed under Articles, Essays, Publishing

The benefits of having a clean desk

I will be honest with you. My desk is not clean. It wasn’t clean last week, or last month or last year. As a matter of fact, I think it’s fair to say that my desk is kept in a constant state of unkempt glory. I make no apologies for this absolutely true detail of my working life. I also take no pride in it. It is merely a fact. Take it or leave it.I must admit however that I enjoy the surprises I get when I attempt to reorganize the clutter that clings so precariously to my desktop. That goes double for the explosion of papers spilling from my file cabinet.

This isn’t a task I take on with any joy or regularity. But when I do, I am constantly surprised by the cast-offs and unfinished work I find laying there, forgotten, unedited, unpublished. My most recent foray into the lost art of cleaning happened just this past weekend, as I completed a move of my office from an unused bedroom in the house to a new addition my wife and I have recently completed.

Hidden in the piles of receipts kept for no apparent reason, school records that have long since become unimportant and financial records that I really need to keep a handle on, I found stories. Lots of stories actually. Most were copies of published work, saved in the format the editor first saw. A few were outlines of ideas that went either went nowhere, or worse, somewhere I didn’t care to go. But a few were gems. In rough form, certainly. But gems nonetheless. Perfectly good story ideas that have been patiently waiting for me to rediscover them at some undetermined day in the future.

That day was yesterday. The work to resurrect them starts tomorrow.
It’s for this reason that I write virtually all my story ideas down with a fair level of specificity. I may forget my phone number, or my anniversary, or even the exact age of my children (although in my defense, that hasn’t actually happened yet) but I never lose a story idea. Not completely anyhow. I’ve got a storehouse full of them scattered across my desk, under a book I stopped reading a few months ago and in my now somewhat lighter filing cabinet – freshly relieved of a good ten pounds worth of unnecessary paperwork. All of which may point to a sloppy work ethic that allows me to build up a disturbingly large collection of scrap paper that’s only cleared away under the most unusual circumstances. Or it may be my insurance against writers block. Having reams of stray ideas laying all over the desktop does tend to keep me from taking a day off with the excuse that I’m blocked and can’t think of a thing to write.

It does keep me from cleaning, however. It’s too hard to separate the wheat from the chaff on the average day. So it stays, accumulating for months, even years at a time. Until the day comes when I rediscover an idea that I’d previously cast off. With enough care and polish, some of those ideas find life when viewed from a new perspective.

At least that’s what I’m telling myself today. My desk is at least a bit more tidy than it was at this time last week. I make no promises for the future, however. None except that I will continue to have ideas, sketch them out and collect them for future consideration.
Who knows where today’s stray thought may lead?

Jamie Beckett –
Author – Burritos and Gasoline

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Filed under The Writing Life, Writing

Take Advantage of the Web

From my personal blog: 

A website really is one of the best marketing tools a writer can have.   I’m an author and speaker, as well as a ghostwriter and editor.  I use my website to promote not only my books, articles and media appearances, but also my work in collaborative writing and editing. After all, that’s what working writers do.  We write (or we edit), but we also have to promote and market ourselves. After all, no one knows more about our books or our skills than we do ourselves, right?  So it’s important – especially today – to take the advantage of the opportunities the web provides.   

A website is particularly important to an author because it’s the window through which the world sees you.  It challenges you to think about how you’d like to be viewed as a professional, and provides you with a way of presenting that vision.  It can also be a great way to establish an audience, or keep in touch with the one you already have. 

I’ve been online with since 1997. In my case, I’d already published three books by the time I first launched the site. I had a sense of who my readers were and what they liked about my books. That gave me a chance to tailor my web site accordingly. Toward that end, has sections devoted to each of my books. Since I write a lot about television, each of my books on TV features the jacket blurb from the book, links related to that particular TV show, and last not but least, information on how to order the book.  In the case of my latest, Thirty Years of The Rockford Files, I included the Introduction as a PDF file, so that folks can sample the book before deciding whether to purchase it. For The Ethics of Star Trek, I included the back matter, a selection of reviews, as well as links to my publisher and a few other Star Trek websites.  I also have a page called Autographed Editions, where folks can order signed copies of my books directly from me if they so desire.   

Your website not only promotes what you’ve already done, but what you’re currently doing. And because it’s online, you can point people to it in real time during a phone conversation or meeting.


For example, a few months ago, I got a call from an agent who was looking for a writer to work with one of her clients.  We got to talking, and she said, “Okay, I have your books, I know what you can do, but my client still needs a little convincing.  Do you have something that spells out exactly what you can do for him?”  I said, “Are you online?”  She said, “As a matter of fact, I am.”  I said, “Okay, if you go to my website, you’ll find a button called Collaborations.  That has a thumbnail description of the kind of projects I’ve done, what my interests are, and how I work.”  And so, right on the spot, she went online, and said, “This is perfect!  This is exactly what I’m looking for.”  Long story short… she called the client and pointed him to my website while she had him on the phone. Bingo. The client then called me, and we proceeded to work together.


So if you haven’t got a website yet, what are you waiting for?  Now more than ever, it’s the most essential tool a writer can have.  

Ed Robertson

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Filed under Articles, Entries by Ed Robertson, Essays, Nonficition, Publishing, The Book's Den Newsletter, The Writing Life, Writing

Books Carnival – February 18, 2007

Photography by: Herman Hooyschuur

Welcome to the February 18, 2007 edition of books carnival. We look forward to share with you every other week great links to authors and writers around the world. Please comment on how you like the edition.

Vinod presents Free Technical Books on the Internet posted at Free Technical Books on the Net, saying, “Free Engineering/ Medical/Technical/Mathematics Books on the Internet”

book reviews

emigre presents In The Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami at posted at emigre, saying, “A book not for the faint-hearted!”

Matthew Paulson presents Kiyosaki’s Cash Flow Quadrant: A Book Review posted at Getting Green.

John Ottinger presents Condensed Knowledge posted at Grasping For The Wind.

David Maister presents Making A Difference posted at Passion, People and Principles, saying, “As an author, or as a speaker, you never know the influence you may or may not have had. Here are two emails I received this week which are immensely gratifying.”

Matthew Paulson presents The Truth About Dave Ramsey posted at Getting Green.

Jokes Humor presents The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros posted at Michelle’s Book Reviews, saying, “My reviewof House on Mango Street. Comments on my blog welcome.”

GrrlScientist presents Pox: Genius, Madness, and the Mysteries of Syphilis posted at Living the Scientific Life, saying, “by Deborah Hayden was an interesting biography of a bacterial infection that has baffled doctors for hundreds of years; syphilis.”

GrrlScientist presents The Republican War on Science posted at Living the Scientific Life, saying, “by Chris Mooney, this book argues that the disregard for scientists and the scientific method has been carefully nurtured by the modern conservative movement.”

book clubs

The Book’s Den presents Book Club News – Meet the Author Night “Don’t miss out in this great opportunity The Book’s Den is offering their readers. Their contributor authors are eager to meet with Book Clubs!


Will Chen presents Ethnic Markets: Feel worldly for cheap posted at Wisebread, saying, “Tannaz is working on a Jewish-Iranian cookbook in order to preserve the rich (and delicious) cultural heritage of her people. You can find early drafts of her work on and”

special promotions

LolaLondon presents 5. Last Words posted at L’undone, saying, “Here is a tale of high-weirdness, big love, cyber-crime and the mutual insane obsession of two people that never even met. This blog is the true story of how it happened.”

Sagar Satapathy presents Regal Royalty Tips posted at Self Publishing Blog.

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of
books carnival
using our
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Past posts and future hosts can be found on our

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Twelve Months Buried in the Pages

The following was orignally posted on my personal blog last month: 

As a writer one of the most common questions I get is “what do you like to read?”  I typically read five to ten books a year.  I always like to have a collection of short stories on hand as they serve as great inspiration before writing sessions. In the past I’ve spent many months (in some cases, depending on how thick the volume, over a year) with the likes of Edgar Allen Poe, Ann Beattie, Russell Banks, and Shirley Jackson—all of them short story masters. I feel you really get to know a writer when you settle down for a long tenure with their short stories that are often more varied and daring in topic and plot than their novels or other forms. When it comes to full length books, I tend to lean more towards nonfiction (a habit I picked up from mandatory reading in college) with history and psychology being my favorite topics.  When it comes to novels, I like to keep up to speed with the competition and typically read contemporary best sellers or the occasional literary classic.

Below is a run down of what I read during the last twelve months (done in an end of the year awards show fashion).

The Great Escape by Kati Marton
Marton’s book is a fascinatingly detailed and lovingly researched look at a group of Hungarian Jews who escaped their homeland just before the Holocaust and went on to do amazing things while living in exile (among them renowned scientists Edward Teller and John Von Neumann, film makers Michael Curtiz and Alexander Korda, photographers Robert Capa and Andre Kertesz, and writer Arthur Koestler).  Marton’s vivid descriptions of Budapest during its golden era at the turn of the twentieth century and the harrowing times of fascism that followed make you feel like you were there with these amazing survivors. She shows a great respect for the people and places she depicts. This is a must read for any person of Hungarian heritage and WWII/Holocaust buffs, but also for movie lovers, as it discusses the lives of two of the most influential film makers from that time period; Korda who produced The Third Man and Curtiz who directed Casablanca. It also goes into detail how famed war-photographer Robert Capa’s tortured romance with international movie star Ingrid Bergman inspired Alfred Hitchcock to create the seminal characters for his classic suspense film Rear Window.

Whispers: The Voices of Paranoia by Ronald K. Siegel
Whispers is an uncompromised series of case studies involving severely paranoid patients.  Due to the fact that many are paranoid from excessive drug use, there’s often a sarcastic, cold, and detached narration to the stories.  The descriptions of insect infestation hallucinations are particularly graphic, but also darkly humorous.  This is a must read for those studying abnormal psychology.

Love & Hate in Jamestown by David A. Price
Love & Hate is a vividly detailed and meticulously researched account of the early years of the Jamestown settlement, the life of John Smith, and the legend of Pocahontas.  I came across an add for this while writing my review of Terrance Malick’s movie on the same subject, The New World, on the Internet Movie Database.  I had to have it, and loved every interesting tidbit of history and fact it provided.

The Complete Short Stories of Graham Greene
Best known for his novels (The Quiet American, The End of the Affair, The Power and the Glory) or his film treatment for the The Third Man, Greene was also a master of the short story form.  He’s one of my favorite writers and he’s quite astute in discussing religion, politics, spying, bourgeois guilt and ennui, and pragmatic romances.  This is a rather large collection, close to 50 stories, and with the reading of about one story a week, it has found what seems like a permanent place on my coffee table.  My favorites from the collection are “The Basement Room,” “The Blue Film,” “The Little Place off Edgeware Road,” “The Innocent,” “Across the Bridge,” “A Drive in the Country,” and “Cheap in August.”

The Ruins by Scott Smith
The Ruins is disappointing popular fiction of the most abhorrent kind. Don’t get me wrong, Smith is a decent enough writer and this was a page-turner in the sense that he was crafty enough to trick me into thinking this was going to lead somewhere. His tale of a group of college-age pals getting trapped on a hill in the middle of a Mexican hell plays out like Hostel meets Day of the Triffids. And that’s the major problem: this seems more inspired by recent horror movies and films in general than by anything of literary merit. There’s some really gross-out stuff, and some sustained suspense, but it all becomes extremely repetitive, and the characters grow more and more unlikable with each unbelievable twist, and the whole book literally leads nowhere. Nothing is explained. No interesting plot point is explored (even Stephen King would’ve known to make something out of the second mind shaft and where that might’ve lead or given some flashbacks to the archaeologists or some sense of history behind this horrible place), and, hell, there aren’t even any god-damned ruins! Avoid at all costs. It’s worse than the worst Stephen King book, and not half as clever in its central conceit as the recent horribly-written mega-stinker The DaVinci Code.

So what am I reading now?  Once I’m done devouring the short stories of Graham Greene, I look forward to stalking the short stories of Kurt Vonnegut (a much slimmer volume).  I’m also currently leafing through Catching the Big Fish by David Lynch (yes, the film director).  Lynch takes a look at how transcendental meditation has influenced his film making, art, and life in general.  I can only recommend it to those with a big interest in meditation (I prefer sleep to meditation), or those who love anything that has to do with the enigmatic Lynch (count me in!) The best line thus far from the book is page 115, Lynch’s one page chapter on the explanation of the box and the key in Mulholland Drive, and I quote “I don’t have a clue what those are.” I laughed out loud for a good minute.

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