Gotta Read ‘Em: Historical Fiction and Science Fiction

I’ve read some excellent books lately, many that are worth sharing. Looking for something to read? Here are a couple of sure winners!

If you like historical fiction with a good bit of romance, then you should definitely check out The Governor’s Sons by Maria McKenzie.

The story starts in 1936 with Ash Kroth, a young law student in a nameless Southern state whose ultimate ambition is the governor’s mansion. He’s smart, white, comes from a well-connected and moneyed family, and is driven to succeed. The only thing he didn’t count on was falling in love with one of the family’s maids – who happened to be black. As the romance develops, so does Ash’s character, as he learns what’s really important, and what isn’t important at all. Then the story takes a somewhat unexpected turn… and picks up in 1964.

Ash is now a popular, segregationist governor with three teen children who all present their own challenges. His son Gavin is getting mixed up with the wrong people – racists willing to resort to violence to achieve their ends. To add to the volatile mix of human conflict, Harland Hall, a well-known, black civil rights leader, is coming to town. As this crucible heats up, we see the effects of lies past and present while the characters all try to cope with the fallout.

Although billed as historical romance on Amazon, I would consider this historical fiction or a coming of age story, because the romance is only the first half of the book. One thing I admired about the book was that the characters used historically-accurate dialogue, rather than terminology that would be politically correct today. Despite the offensiveness of these terms, this added realism to the book and enhanced the reader’s sense of being there. While gripping and emotional, the relationship doesn’t resolve in a way that romance readers typically expect. The book’s description is a clue to this, as the second half takes place almost 30 years after the first half. Thus, I wasn’t too surprised about the romance, and still found the story and its ending satisfying.

The Governor’s Sons is available as an ebook and in print from Amazon.

 


 

Moving in a completely different direction, “The First Key” by Prudence MacLeod is science fiction with a good dose of magic, in the tradition of Star Wars and that universe’s Jedi knights. It’s a short story of roughly 10,000 words, and includes a second, unrelated short as a bonus.

In “The First Key,” Branah is a young warrior mage apprentice who thinks he knows it all – until he’s sent off with a new master, the enigmatic Jen-jen. Recognized as one of his society’s most powerful mages with controversial methods and philosophies, Jen-jen disappeared many years before, and appeared at the former mage-leader’s death to whisk Branah away.

They wind up on a backward planet with a controlling, misogynistic culture, and when Jen-jen unwittingly breaks one of its highest laws, all hell breaks loose, and Branah must pick up the pieces while figuring out where he fits in as both a mage and a warrior.

Jen-jen and Branah are delightful characters, and even in a short story, it was fun to watch their master-pupil relationship develop as Branah discovers that not only doesn’t he know it all, he in fact knows very little. The world is a technologically-advanced one with space travel and also magic, much like the Jedi in Star Wars, and this story will definitely appeal to readers who enjoy that world. I’m glad to see this appears to be the first of a new series, because I’m looking forward to more!

“The First Key” is available on Amazon and Smashwords as an ebook.

Have you read any good books lately? Please share! I’m always up for a good read. 🙂

Dear Barnes and Noble…

For the past couple of days, it seems everyone involved with epublishing has been talking about Microsoft, and their purchase of $300 worth of stock in B&N’s new Nook spin-off company. It will undoubtedly provide Nook with some much-needed leverage to compete against Amazon and Apple, and hopefully provide them with some real competition.

But what does it mean for us readers? All we can do is speculate, but right now, my guess is…

Not. Much.

And it mostly comes down to one area which for me & B&N, has been a big, fat, FAIL: customer service.

First, let’s be clear on one thing – I’m talking online, not the stores. The people I’ve dealt with in the stores have been great – super-supportive of us Nook authors, listening to us, trying to find ways to encourage customers to buy our books in the stores. But I do most of my shopping online, and that’s where the breakdown occurred.

You see, last fall, someone tried to buy a bunch of stuff at HHGregg with my Discover card number. Discover Card knew it wasn’t me, denied the charge, and called me. I confirmed that it wasn’t me, and the Discover Card rep said I’d get a new card in the mail in a few days. (Barnes & Noble.com, are you listening? You can learn something from the folks at Discover Card.)

So, no problems there.

Until I went to buy some ebooks and my default credit card – yup, Discover – was denied, because I’d forgotten to update it.

Amazon sent me a polite email informing me that the charge had been denied, and suggesting that I update my payment method, and re-place the order. Which I did.

When I tried to order from Barnes & Noble, they emailed me too – informing me that my credit card was denied, my account was locked and I’d have to call customer service to get it unlocked.

WTF???

OK, I get that they don’t want to take a bad credit card, no problem there. But really? LOCK my account??? And they expect me to CALL to get it unlocked, just so I can switch out my credit card and SPEND MONEY??? Just do a quick search on that one to see what B&N’s customer service is like – stories of hour+ hold times abound.

I admit I didn’t even try to call. Did I mention I’m not fond of talking on the phone? And if I wanted to, you know, talk to someone, I might have just, oh I don’t know, gone to a STORE? And the big question: Why bother calling at all when a couple clicks will take me to AMAZON?

So that’s my story. How about one of my friends’? She started out with a Nook reader, and loved it – for about three months. Then it stopped holding a charge. Could she take it back to the store? NO! Granted, this was probably because she’d bought it at Best Buy, not B&N, but still… so she shipped it back. And waited for a replacement. And waited. And waited. Finally, her new, refurbished Nook came a month later.

Which she again loved. Until it, too, stopped holding a battery charge.

To make a long story short, she ended up going through this twice more. When she was on her fourth Nook, she finally said screw it and bought a Kindle 3, which she’s been enjoying without problems for over a year.

So do I think that the Microsoft infusion will cure these ills? I’d love it if they did, because really, competitions is good for everyone (well, at least for the consumers). If B&N stepped up their game, it would keep Amazon better as well, and the readers would continue to have choices, something I’m definitely in favor of. Of course, I’d be even more in favor of a universal ebook format (like that’s going to happen anytime soon). But failing that, choices are good. But my skepticism meter’s pegged out. I’ve used Windows computers since 1997. Customer service? If I have problems with Windows, I go look it up on a web forum. So hopefully if nothing else, the Microsoft partnership will spawn a bunch of those, where we can get self-serve support.

Because I really like that Nook Touch with Glow Light (with expandable memory!). But until the support situation improves, I’ll keep reading Kindle books on my Android phone. 😀

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you! Do you think Microsoft’s buy-in to the Nook will make things better for the customer? Do you have any other crystal ball revelations? Please share!

The Book I Waited Years to Read

A couple weeks ago, a book was published on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords that I’d waited for for years. No, not the latest installment in George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. It wasn’t by a big name author – in fact, until a few months ago, I didn’t even know the author’s name!

Every winter, I judge in the Golden Heart®, the Romance Writers of America’s annual contest for unpublished romance. In this contest, the first three chapters and a synopsis are judged – up to 55 pages total. There’s no commenting – each entry gets a single, numeric score ranging from 1 to 9, with 9 being the highest. Little direction is given beyond that we’re supposed to be choosing “the best in unpublished romance fiction,” and that each entry should be judged on its own merits, not against the others in our packet of 5 – 7 entries.

I’ve been a member of RWA since 2000, and probably have judged the Golden Heart for ten years. Based on the 1-9 scale, I’d consider a 5 to be “average” unpublished romance fiction, a 1 to be unreadable, and a 9 to be can’t-stop-thinking-about-it, want to read the rest NOW. The lowest score I’ve ever given was a 2.5. I’ve given several in the 8’s, but only one 9 in my ten years of judging. That entry was a paranormal romance called Ashes in the Wind.

The story was about a young noblewoman in the Roman empire who found herself inexplicably drawn to a gladiator slave and begged her father to spare the man’s life. For the next two chapters, she bargained her jewelry and other valuables for a few stolen moments with her gladiator here and there, unaware she and her love interest were under the care of a pair of guardian angels who’d been tasked with getting them together. But the bumbling angels didn’t count on one thing: Mount Vesuvius, and their charges die a horrible death in each other’s arms while trying to escape.

And that was where the entry ended. I was choked up (something that doesn’t happen to me easily!), and even though I had the synopsis and knew how the story ended, I thought about this book for days afterward. I judged it in 2005 or 2006, I think. I was astonished when it didn’t make the finals (what were the other judges thinking???). Some entrants put their names on their entries, but most don’t, and RWA doesn’t release names of judges or entrants, nor will they forward emails. I hoped this book would be published, and that I’d hear about it, because that was the only way I’d get to read the rest. Even years later, I remembered it, especially each year when I received my GH packet and wondered if I’d get anything that good.

After I decided to take the independent route with my books, I joined a Yahoo Group for indie romance authors. New people joined every day, and often answered the invitation to introduce themselves. A few months after I joined, an author named Lori Dillon joined and described her book, a reincarnation romance set in Pompeii. It was that book! I couldn’t believe it, and I emailed her. We have something else in common in that we’re both graphic artists-turned-web designers. She also read my book Time’s Enemy and gave it a wonderful review.

The book was released as Out of the Ashes earlier this month, and I bought it right away. It didn’t disappoint! You can read my review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads. The book is also available on Smashwords. If you enjoy an emotionally-rich romance with a paranormal element that’s not the same-ol, same-ol, Out of the Ashes is a must-read!

Have you ever picked up a book that for whatever reason, you didn’t finish – only to find it again years later? Did it meet your expectations?

From Stagecoaches to Starships: Author Cynthia Woolf, with giveaway

Today I have a special treat on my blog! Cynthia Woolf writes western historical romance and science fiction romance – cool combo, huh? I recently read the first in her science fiction romance series, Centauri Dawn, and really enjoyed it! If you always wished there were more romance in Star Trek, then you really should check these books out. I know I’ll be reading the rest of the series, and I want to give her historicals a read too.

JMP: Cynthia, how long have you been writing? How many books did you write before publishing?

CW: I’ve been writing seriously to publish since 1990. I had finished 2 books when I decided to publish them on my own. The first one I published was actually the second one I finished.

JMP: Have you been published by a big publisher? Small press/epub? Independently? Please share your publishing experience.

CW: I published my books independently. I couldn’t find a traditional publisher who wanted my books, so indie publishing was the only way that my work would ever see the light of day. I’ve been very, very lucky in that my books are being well received. I’m always surprised that others like my work. 🙂

JMP: I know the feeling!  I love how indie publishing has opened up opportunities for sooo many wonderful books that didn’t fit the NY mold. Yet, some indie writers are still looking for that elusive contract. Now that you’ve tasted the control and flexibility that comes with indie publishing, are you still pursuing a traditional publishing contract, or perhaps an agent?

CW: I am not pursuing a traditional publishing contract. I’ve already made more than I would with an advance from a traditional publisher and my books will be out there forever, earning me money and making people happy.

JMP: That’s awesome! And inspiring for those of us still working to build readership. Especially the part about “earning money and making people happy.” I love it! Tell us about your current or upcoming release.

CW: My current release is TAME A WILD WIND. It is the second in my western romance series set in southwestern Colorado in the late 1800’s. It is the story of a widow with two children who meets a widower looking for resolution.

JMP: Sounds like a good read! Do you read or write series books? What do you love or not love about series?

CW: I do write my books in series and I like to read series. The reason for both is that I love to revisit old characters and see what they are doing now.

JMP: Me too. Tell us about a really fantastic novel you’ve read recently?

CW: I just finished While You Were Dead by CJ Snyder. Excellent romantic suspense novel. She keeps you on the edge during the whole book and I never saw the villain coming. Great book.

JMP: I downloaded that when it was free. I’m looking forward to reading it! Does your significant other read your books? What about your parents? Your kids?

CW: My husband does read my books but not until they are finished and he doesn’t want to know anything about them before hand. Not even the blurb. The first one he read, Centauri Dawn, he loved and he doesn’t read romance. It was very gratifying.

My extended family also reads my books, Some love them and some (the older relatives) think there is too much sex in them. LOL

JMP: LOL, I can relate to the latter! And now for the authors that are reading: what are some things you did to build your readership? What’s worked? What didn’t?

CW: I tweet like a mad woman, every 3 – 4 hours about my books. I’ll tweet about other things in between and I retweet for anyone who retweets me. I figure that’s the best thank you I can give someone is to tweet about their books. I also facebook. And I blog. I’ve found these to be the most effective for expanding my readership. The things that I’ve paid for tend to be the least effective. It may just be me, but so far I haven’t seen any increase in sales for the paid advertising that I’ve done.

JMP: That’s encouraging! Especially for us who are also working to build a blog readership as well. But most of all, I love reading about success! Thanks so much for being here, Cynthia!

You can find out more about Cynthia and her books at her website: www.cynthiawoolf.com.

Tame a Wild Wind is available at Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and AllRomance Ebooks.

So what about you? Do you like a little romance mixed in with your science fiction? Or a little science fiction mixed in with your romance? Or if you prefer something more real-world, do you like historical settings or contemporary?

Got a question for Cynthia? Anyone who comments will be entered into a drawing for a free copy of her latest release, Tame a Wild Wind. I’ll do the drawing between 6PM and midnight (EDT) on Friday using random.org, and either Cynthia or I will email the winner, so speak up to win!

 

UPDATE: The winner of Tame a Wild Wind is Coleen Patrick! Coleen, Cynthia will email you your prize! Thanks for all your comments, everyone!

ROW80 Update: Eat Lunch In

One thing that’s helped me achieve my fitness goals on the intake side is that I stopped going out to lunch. It helped a lot that my coworker who was the main instigator of lunch out, also wanted to lose a few pounds and stopped, well, instigating.

Also, I can leave early = more writing time. I don’t usually eat at my desk, as part of the purpose of having a lunch break is for workers to get away from the work for a short time, and hopefully come back a little energized. But instead of going out, I usually go to the kitchenette area and eat with coworkers. Side benefit? I eat with some really cool people, and two of them are now my readers!

Granted, this is not a very useful tip for those who work at home (including stay-home parents) but for us paycheck peeps, it’s a great way to save a half hour or more. And every half hour counts, right?

ROW80 goals this week:

  1. Finish read-aloud of Time’s Fugitive (about 10 hours)
  2. Read one Golden Heart entry
  3. Three interval workouts plus two short workouts
  4. Write and post review on Amazon & B&N of a friend’s book I just finished re-reading
  5. Bonus: type-in changes from read-aloud and send Time’s Fugitive to beta readers
  6. Bonus: dog walk or other activity in addition to #3

I did not get to either of the bonus items, but didn’t really expect to; hence why they’re bonuses.

I got in all three interval workouts, but missed one of the short ones due to the fact that I was gone all day one day, and wasn’t feeling well a couple of other days. But the writing got done!

This week, I’m going to spend getting caught up on related stuff. Here’s what’s on tap:

  1. Type in changes resulting from read-aloud of Time’s Fugitive and send to beta readers (finally!)
  2. Read one Golden Heart entry (#3 out of 5)
  3. Three interval workouts plus two short workouts
  4. Write and post review on Amazon & B&N of book I offered to blurb
  5. Finish web design side job I took on to pay off my publishing company start up costs
  6. Guest blog post I offered to do for my friend Michele Stegman (in addition to my own blogs)
  7. Go over two chapters for critique partner
  8. Cover design tweak promised to friend
  9. Tweak & validate epub file of Time’s Enemy and upload it to Lightning Source for distribution
  10. Go over stuff I learned with the release of Time’s Enemy plus stuff I’ve gathered from email lists, blogs, etc. and put together a launch plan for Time’s Fugitive
  11. Bonus: do anything that’s on the launch plan list
  12. Bonus: dog walk or other activity in addition to #3

It looks like a lot, but it’s mostly little stuff. How about you? Got any time saving tips for lunch, whether you’re a paycheck peep or a stay-homer?

Out to Lunch sign via Microsoft Office Images

Reading Outside Our Usual Genres: Northcoast Shakedown by Jim Winter

I first read Northcoast Shakedown by my friend Jim Winter, back in 2005, when it was first released in print by a small press. It’s a fast-paced, engaging story with a quirky main character who’s so real, it’s hard to believe he’s fictional. Upon the re-read, my original opinion stands: P.I. Nick Kepler’s a piece of work (in a good way!) and never fails to entertain.

The majority of my reading consists of romance, suspense, fantasy and science fiction; preferably a combination of two or more of these. However, it’s good to take a departure from the usual every now and then and try something different. For me, the occasional “different” is usually a cozy mystery or straight fantasy, or perhaps something more mainstream. Occasionally, I pick up something more straight-suspense, usually upon the recommendation of a friend, or in this case, something written by a friend.

Northcoast Shakedown is crime fiction, a P.I. story with a bit of noir that doesn’t cross the line into too dark and dreary. Main character Nick Kepler is a P.I. with the perfect, cushy gig of tracking down workers’ comp fraud and the occasional cheating spouse. When the book opens, he’s investigating just that, plus a questionnable life insurance claim that’s more a matter of saving an underwriter’s job than saving the company money. But the more he digs in, the more questionable the life insurance claim appears, and not for the reasons the company thinks. Before Nick knows it, he’s in over his head in a world of swingers’ clubs, political cover-ups, and murder, and finds himself next on a killer’s hit list.

What made this book really enjoyable was Keper himself. He’s a very relatable character, a regular guy who just wants to get his job done and kick back with a beer and watch baseball afterward. His quirky dislike of SUVs and ability to be distracted by an attractive female are among the little details that make him real and fun. He has certain principles that he refuses to compromise, and others that aren’t so rigid, and reading him wrestling with these choices is what really made me want to root for him, especially when he deals with the aftermath of a choice between shitty and shittier. While totally a man’s-man, his emotions are 100% real and believable, and Winter didn’t pull any punches getting them on the page.

I had a few nits with the book, although they may be more genre conventions than anything else. One thing I’ve noticed is that mystery writers sometimes spend a lot of words getting a character from one place to another, nothing street names, traffic patterns, and scenery along the way. For the most part, that stuff works in Northcoast Shakedown, as Nick’s often being tailed (or fears he is). I’ve read other books where the driving becomes a travelogue (and a place to skim).

Another genre thing is the need for suspects and red herrings in a mystery often results in a large cast of characters. Northcoast Shakedown is no exception. However, there are so many minor/extra characters in this book, I found it hard to keep track of them. In this case, I’m not talking about the long list of persons of interest – the book does very well there. But Kepler is a former cop, and has associates in several different departments in addition to other government types and colleages/customers at the insurance company – enough that they eventually ran together in my mind.

Finally, I’ve talked about dated books before here. In his author’s note, Winter mentions that the book was written in 2002. There’s definitely the occasional reference to outdated technology (Windows 2000? Firewire?). Kepler also doesn’t appear to have a smartphone, GPS, or even an MP3 player – and while I can see Kepler as a guy who refuses to use a smartphone, I can’t imagine him not owning an mp3 player these days (or at least using his computer as a stereo while he works). Knowing that the book was written ten years ago, I could deal, but stuff like this did momentarily take me out of the story. Still, these things are minor, and Northcoast Shakedown was as enjoyable a read now as it was when initially published. So if you’re looking for an entertaining, fast-paced suspense, check out Northcoast Shakedown at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Do you stick to mostly one genre when you read fiction? If so, do you occasionally step outside? Do you notice things that you think are probably genre conventions, but clash with what you’re used to?

A Binge that Won’t Hurt Your Waistline – or Your Wallet

The Buffet opens today – the Booklovers’ Buffet, that is!

Nearly 100 authors of  Romance, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Historical Romance, Inspirational, Mystery, Suspense, Thrillers, Women’s Fiction, Young Adult fiction, and non-fiction team up to offer the Booklovers’ Buffet, the buffet where you can load up without gaining a pound! Even better, every ebook on the buffet is only $.99, so you can load up without hurting your wallet, either. A great way to find new (or new-to-you) authors! So stop by BookloversBuffet.com today and stock up!

If you’ve been thinking about giving Time’s Enemy a read, here’s your chance to do it on the cheap! Or, if you’re in the Dayton area, you can now check out the print version from Dayton Metro Library!

  • The sale price is for e-books – many are also available in print, at higher prices.
  • Most books are offered through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords, so readers have a choice of retailers and formats.
  • The Buffet includes full-length novels, novellas, and short stories – most are novels.

This is a limited-time offer, so don’t wait too long!

ROW80: Need Headphones

On Sunday, I got the troublesome scene that needed to be inserted, written. Monday is paperwork day, so no writing then, but that was expected. Today I got a little done on the rewrite on the following scene, but had to stop before I finished it.

It’s the husband’s TV night, and the only way I get writing done then is with headphones. Only problem is, my headphones are wireless – and they needed to be charged. They can’t be used while charging, so…. no headphones. I could have taken my netbook and gotten the writing done elsewhere; instead, I got caught up on other related activities, including one I’d put off for a long time.

I just uploaded the files for Time’s Enemy to Lightning Source for additional ebook distribution. They distribute to over two dozen outlets, including Kobo and Powell’s. So, more places to buy the book = better. I may not sell anything through those outlets. But who knows, maybe I will. And hey, it’s free, since I use Lightning Source for my print books.

So I may not be where I wanted to be with the writing, but I got other stuff done. Lesson Learned: charge the headphones before the battery runs out.

How are you doing on your goals this week?

Story: Does Size Matter?

I’m talking about word count, or length of a story. If you’re an author trying to sell to a traditional publisher, then yes, it matters quite a bit. Traditional publishers have guidelines, and most include a word-count range. Too short, and you’re not giving readers enough story for their money. Too long, and your book’s going to cost the publisher more to print and ship, and fewer will fit on the rack at the grocery store (or space allotted on a bookstore’s shelf).

image of books & ebook readerWith ebooks, printing, shipping and shelf space are no longer applicable. A longer book may take up a few more bytes of disk space, and a couple more seconds for the reader to download, but disk space is continually becoming cheaper, to the point that it’s negligible. With increasing bandwidth and cell phone network capacity and speeds, download speeds don’t matter so much either. Where most publishers of genre fiction hesitate to take on books much longer than 100,000 words (epic fantasy and historical fiction being the main exceptions), publishers and sellers of ebooks aren’t operating under the same constraints. Likewise, few readers will plunk down enough cash for it to be worthwhile for a publisher to print a single novella or short story, but with production and shipping not part of the equation, ebooks are a viable medium for short fiction. So does word count matter?

I say it does, but for different reasons. When a reader buys a book from a physical bookstore, s/he can pick it up, flip through the pages, and judge by the thickness of the book, the size of the print, and the amount of white space on the pages how long this book will take to read – or more importantly, how good an entertainment (or informational) value the book is for the asking price.

The reader has no way of telling this for ebooks, unless the online retailer or publisher includes it in the book’s product description. Often, a reader shops with a goal in mind – not necessarily of a specific book, but for something to read while waiting at the kids’ sports practice, or while walking on the treadmill, on vacation, etc. – and might want a story to fit the amount of time available to read. If the reader was expecting a novella she could read in an hour, only to find when the hour’s up that she’s only halfway through it, that could be a bit jarring. Or worse, when the reader’s looking to be entertained during a long flight, only to have the story run out halfway through it, with nothing new to read and no wifi/cell connection with which to download something else.

The main situation where this is a problem is when the reader feels s/he hasn’t gotten a good value for his/her money – for example, many readers consider $2.99 a fair price for a novella, but would feel ripped off if they expected a full novel or novella, only to get a short story a fraction. In fact, I’ve read of many an ebook author getting dinged with 1-star reviews for this very reason – the reader expected a full novel, but got a novella. Sadly, in some cases, this was clearly spelled out in the book’s description, and either the reader failed to notice, or didn’t even read the description. In other cases, it wasn’t noted – and IMO the reader is justified for feeling cheated.

So what do you think – does size matter with ebooks? Or does it only matter in relation to price and value? I normally prefer longer books, but lately I’ve been enjoying some darned good novellas while on the treadmill. What about you?