December 31, 2012

Favorite reads of 2012

It's finally time to reveal my top ten favorite reads of 2012. If there was one theme to this year's list, it was that 2012 was the year of the zombies for me, especially the Rot & Ruin series by Jonathan Maberry, which took the top spot, and with all three books landing in the top ten. In all, zombie books comprised half of my top ten list, including the only indie title here, Amanda Hocking's Hollowland.


1. Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry
The entire series was great, but the first book was still the best. You can look back at my review of Rot & Ruin.

2. Blood Red Road by Moira Young
Check out my review of Blood Red Road. I still haven't read the sequel yet, but it's on my 2013 TBR list.

3. Dust & Decay by Jonathan Maberry
The second book in the Rot & Ruin series is almost as good as the first.

4. Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
Read my review of Under the Never Sky. This is another book with a sequel that I'm looking forward to in 2013.

5. Deadline by Mira Grant
Feed, the first book in the Newsflesh trilogy, was my #3 read of 2011. Deadline, the second book in the series, was just as entertaining.This is yet another case of a sequel I need to read in 2013. There are so many books on my TBR list!

6. Cinder by Marissa Meyer
This re-telling of the Cinderella story was awesome! Part fairy tale and part YA sci-fi adventure, I highly recommend this book. Have I also mentioned that it has a sequel coming out in 2013?

7. Pretties by Scott Westerfield
I read the Uglies series this year, and while I liked all of the books, Pretties was my favorite of the bunch.

8. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
This is another re-telling of Cinderella that's more in line with traditional fairy tales. I recommend this book for readers of all ages.

9. Flesh & Bone by Jonathan Maberry
The third book in the Rot & Ruin series wasn't as good as its predecessors but it still rocked. It was probably the most action-packed of the three, starting with a bang on page one and never letting up.

10. Hollowland by Amanda Hocking
If Hollowland is indicative of Amanda Hocking's talents, I can see why she became an indie publishing legend. This is another great zombie book that fans of the genre shouldn't miss out on.

December 28, 2012

What I read in 2012

Before I write about my favorite books of 2012, I wanted to post some data about what I read in 2012.

I read a total of 82 books this year. 26 of them were indie published vs. 56 traditionally published. This far exceeded my New Year's resolution goal of reading ten indie books.

In terms of the ratings I handed out for the 82 books, they fell into these buckets:
  • 5 stars - 24 books
  • 4 stars - 31 books
  • 3 stars - 25 books
  • 2 stars - 2 books

Not surprisingly, the ratings clustered around 4 stars because my average ratings on Goodreads is 4.01.

Digging a little deeper into the indie books, their ratings were as follows:
  • 5 stars - 6 books
  • 4 stars - 11 books
  • 3 stars - 8 books
  • 2 stars - 1 book

The six indie books that received 5 stars, ranked in order of how much I liked them, were:
  1. Hollowland by Amanda Hocking
  2. Hera by Chrystalla Thoma (note: not a novel but still packaged as it's own book)
  3. Treason by S.M. Boyce
  4. Rex Rising by Chrystalla Thoma
  5. Break You by Blake Crouch
  6. Deadlocked by A.R. Wise

In my next post, I'll list my top ten favorite books of 2012. Will any of the 5 star indie books make the list? Stay tuned!

December 22, 2012

Favorite movies of 2012

I've seen more movies in theaters this year than in any other recent year, and thanks to Netflix, the total number of movies I've watch in 2012 is probably around 100. Here are the top 5 that I've seen this year.

1. The Hunger Games

Have I mentioned before that I love everything related to The Hunger Games? :-)
This was the movie I anticipated the most in 2012 (more than The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, or The Hobbit), and it didn't disappoint. True, the actors they hired didn't always resemble what I pictured in my mind, but I think Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson both did great jobs in their roles. The scene where Katniss volunteers to replace Prim as the tribute makes me choke up whenever I see it.

2. The Avengers

You have Ironman, Captain America, and the Incredible Hulk, three superhero movie characters I enjoyed. (Yes, Thor was there too, but I didn't like his movie as much.) Throw in Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson, and you can't miss! The Avengers was as much of a good time as I hoped when I first heard about the movie. The Hulk stole the best lines, but it was great to see all of these superheroes together.

3. Wreck-It Ralph

I'm a sucker for Disney animated feature films, and Wreck-It Ralph was no exception. For some reason, although companies like Dreamworks can match the level of animation, no one creates characters and stories like Disney can. I also wish that Sugar Rush and Hero's Duty were real video games!

4. Men in Black 3

Maybe it was the time travel element. Maybe it was because there was more emphasis on relationships instead of just special effects. For whatever reason, I thought this was the best Men in Black movie in the series. It was fun watching Josh Brolin portray a young Agent K, and Will Smith was his usual entertaining self. I also liked having Emma Thompson as the new head of the MIB organization.

5. Brave

See Wreck-It Ralph for how much I like Disney animated features. Brave makes it two for Disney in 2012. The cartoon short before the movie, La Luna, was also fun to watch.

December 15, 2012

Favorite songs of 2012

It's that time of year when people share their top <insert topic> of 2012. I plan to write three such posts: favorite songs, favorite movies, and favorite books. So without further ado, let's kick it off with my top 5 favorite songs of 2012.

1. Titanium / David Guetta featuring Sia 

I just love this song! I can listen to it over and over again, and I have on several occasions. I love Sia's voice, especially when she sings the word "Titanium". The video is also pretty cool, which is an added bonus.

2. Lights / Ellie Goulding

I admit that I don't know why I like this song so much, but I do. On the surface, "Lights" is just a typical pop song and Ellie Goulding's voice isn't as captivating as Sia's, for instance, but when you put it all together, you get a song that makes me turn up the volume whenever I hear it on the radio (yes, I still listen to the radio).

3. Somebody That I Used To Know / Gotye featuring Kimbra

I really liked this song when it first came out, and then, when the radio stations played it non-stop, I got sick of it. Now that it's getting less air play, I like it again. Once again, bonus points for a cool video.

4. Good Time / Owl City, Carly Rae Jepsen

Carly Rae Jepsen will undoubtedly end up on many lists of top songs of 2012, except that my list doesn't include "Call Me Maybe". I like "Good Time" a lot more, and while the combination of Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen didn't seem to mesh on paper, they wound up making a good duo.

5. Eyes Open / Taylor Swift

I'm pretty sure that the only reason this song ranked so high was that it was on The Hunger Games soundtrack, and I love all things related to The Hunger Games. Still, this is my second favorite Taylor Swift song of all time after "Love Story."

December 8, 2012

A writing update

I realized that I haven't given an update on my current writing project since September. It's been going well. The end.

Just kidding.

Three months into writing my third novel, the progress has been slower than I'd hoped and I'm less than halfway through the first draft. The last three months have been really busy for me at work and with the family. Throw in a couple of bouts with illness (nothing serious) and I haven't been able to spend as much time writing as I'd like. I should have some more free time during the holiday season, and my goal is to pick up the pace and finish the first draft by the end of February at the latest.

The story itself is coming along nicely, and I still think it'll be my best novel yet. With this book, I'm trying something new that I don't often do: writing in the first person. Initially, I was nervous about it, but after 30,000-plus words so far, it's become second nature. I don't know why I was so afraid of it.

I still don't have a title for the book yet. The working title is Adams and Eves, but I'm not particularly fond of that name. Fortunately, I still have a few months before I need to decide on one.

December 1, 2012

Book review: Treason by S.M. Boyce


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Description:
Ourea has always been a deadly place. The lichgates tying the hidden world to Earth keep its creatures at bay--for now.

Kara Magari ignited a war when she stumbled into Ourea and found the Grimoire: a powerful artifact filled with secrets. To protect the one person she has left, she strikes a deal that goes against everything she believes in. But things don't go as planned.

Braeden Drakonin can no longer run from who--and what--he is. He has to face the facts. He's a prince. He's a murderer. He's a wanted man. And after a betrayal that leaves him heartbroken, he's out for blood.

To survive, both Kara and Braeden must become the evil each has grown to hate.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review:
In May, I reviewed Lichgates, the first book of the Grimoire trilogy. I liked Lichgates, but Treason is even better!

Treason began where Lichgates ended. However, without having to go through the process of world-building that Lichgates was required to, the story picked up right away. We got to know Kara and Braeden better and witness the ebb and flow of their relationship. S.M. Boyce did a great job of conveying the characters' feelings. I could feel the conflict brewing inside Kara as she struggled between her feelings for Braeden and carrying out her mission of peace as the Vagabond. We also explored more of Braeden's character, and the author was able to portray two separate three-dimensional people with their own personalities.

I also thought the story moved at a good pace, combining action with character exploration. There were lots of twists and turns, including a surprising reveal (which I won't spoil) near the end. For a book of over 400 pages, I didn't get bored. If anything, by the time I reached the end, I wished there was more.

After reading Treason, I can't wait for the final book in the Grimoire trilogy.

November 24, 2012

I'm an international author?

Every month, Amazon provides a sales report for authors who use their Kindle Direct Publishing platform. This month, I noticed something interesting in my October report. I sold two copies of In the Hands of Children in the UK! And I didn't do anything special to promote it there.

This attests to the power of the Internet and an international retailer like Amazon. When I submitted my book to Amazon, I had the option of making it available on all their international sites, so I did since I had nothing to lose by doing so. And when it comes to interacting with authors, bloggers, and other folks on social media sites, I don't know where most of them are located. I've chatted with folks in Canada and the UK, but I wouldn't be surprised if I've come into contact with others around the world without knowing it.

My long-time dream of being a published author came true in early 2011. Now I can say I'm an international author too. :-)

November 17, 2012

Book review: The Paradise Prophecy by Robert Browne


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Description:
When God cast the archangel Satan into Hell, ending the War in Heaven, peace prevailed on Earth. Until the fallen angels took revenge in the Garden of Eden. Ever since, mankind has been in a struggle between good and evil, paradise and apocalypse: the fall of Rome, The Crusades, World Wars, nuclear proliferation, the Middle East Crisis... The War in Heaven never really ended-it just changed venues. For millennia, God's angels have been fighting Satan's demons on Earth, all in hopes of bringing about Satan's greatest ambition, the Apocalypse.

The Reality

Satan has never been closer to his goal than right now.

Agent Bernadette Callahan is a talented investigator at a shadowy government organization known only as Section, on the trail of a serial killer with nearly supernatural abilities. Sebastian "Batty" LaLaurie is a religious historian who knows far too much about the other side- and that hard-earned knowledge is exactly what Callahan needs. This unlikely duo pair up for a race across the globe, decoding clues left in ancient texts from the Bible to Paradise Lost and beyond. In the process they stumble upon a vast conspiracy-one beyond the scope of mankind's darkest imagination.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review:
I have only heard of Milton's Paradise Lost and have never read it myself, but if it's anything like The Paradise Prophecy, then I'm interested in reading it. I don't know how much of what was said of Milton was accurate in the novel, but I'll take it on blind faith because The Paradise Prophecy was damn entertaining regardless of historical accuracy.

If, like me, you're a fan of The Da Vinci Code and other books about Biblical prophecies, secret societies, and the end of the world, then The Paradise Prophecy is for you. I found the book to have a good balance of controversial theories, exciting plot lines, and interesting characters. Although I didn't agree with all of the religious views expressed by the author, I was able to put my bias aside and treat this as a work of fiction, something I often have to do when reading books in this genre.

As a thriller, The Paradise Prophecy fulfills its goals. There were very few dull moments in this 400-page book. The story moves between different characters and story lines, but I rarely felt lost or confused. In the end, of course, all of the story lines converge to provide readers with a satisfying conclusion.

November 12, 2012

Amazon deleting reviews

The indie author community is up in arms over Amazon's recent removal of book reviews without any apparent rhyme or reason. There's a thread on the Kindle Boards about it, some articles about the practice, Joe Konrath weighed in on the topic., and there's a good post by author Renee Pawlish about the issue.

I recently lost reviews for my books from Amazon. Since I didn't have many reviews to start with, it hurt. And the reviews that were deleted were all 5-star reviews. Double ouch!

I sent Amazon an email asking why they deleted the reviews for my books, and I received the same standard response that a lot of authors got.

Hello, 

I'm really sorry for the inconvenience caused. I can tell you that reviews are removed from the Amazon.com website for three reasons:

1. The review conflicted with the posted guidelines, found here:  http://www.amazon.com/review-guidelines/ 
2. The review was removed at the request of the customer who submitted the review
3. We discovered that multiple items were linked together on our website incorrectly. Reviews that were posted on those pages were removed when the items were separated on the site

I sent a followup message asking for more explanation but haven't heard back.

Whatever the reasons were that prompted Amazon to scrutinize the reviews posted on their site, I hope they now examine the alleged cure. They're cutting off their noses to spite their faces, upsetting authors who contribute to their book sales and also customers who find their legitimate reviews suddenly gone without explanation. I don't expect that Amazon will ever restore the reviews I've lost, but I can hope that they don't delete the few reviews I still have or the future ones I'll get. If so, it may be time to move my books to another platform.

November 10, 2012

Happy birthday, George!

One year ago today, George and the Galactic Games hit the virtual bookshelves. It was the first novel I ever published. In fact, it was the first novel I ever finished writing! Although sales of George and the Galactic Games have been modest at best, the book still holds a special place in my heart. It won't matter to me how many copies of the book I sell. I'll always be proud that it's out there.



November 3, 2012

Book review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas


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Description:
After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.

Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king's council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she'll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom.

Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilirating. But she's bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her... but it's the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead... quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Review:
Last month, I reviewed Graceling and gave it 5 stars. I was hoping Throne of Glass, another YA fantasy novel about a woman skilled at killing, would be just as good. Unfortunately, it fell just short of the mark.

There was a lot to like in Throne of Glass. The idea of the tournament to find the next King's Champion was interesting to me. I usually like stories where a tournament/competition forms the main plot line, e.g., The Hunger Games and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The scenes revolving around Celaena's training and participation in the tournament were my favorite parts of the book, not only because they were more exciting, but because they described the assassin part of her character that I wanted to learn more about. The subplot regarding the mysterious deaths of the contestants was also interesting if predictable, and it was nice how the author tied the two together at the end of the book.

What disappointed me about Throne of Glass was the romance between Calaena and prince Dorian. The relationship felt forced the entire time, as if the author put it in there just so there would be a love triangle. Every YA novel does not need to have a love triangle! Whenever I started to read a scene between the two of them, I found myself hoping it would end soon. They only detracted from the rest of the book. Not that I think romance is bad, only romance that doesn't make sense. For instance, the budding relationship between Calaena and Chaol was enjoyable because that one felt natural.

Ill-conceived romances aside, I found the rest of the book to be an entertaining read. If you throw out the pages with Calaena and prince Dorian, it'd be worth 5 stars. Or if you're the type who must have love triangles in your YA novels, you'd probably enjoy it more than I did.

October 31, 2012

Win a copy of my book (and other marketing exposure)

Happy Halloween, everyone!

The last couple of weeks have been the best by far for me in terms of getting exposure.

First of all, as the title of this blog post implies, you can win a copy of In the Hands of Children or George and the Galactic Games! The folks at Me, My Shelf, and I were nice enough to have me as part of their My Indie Monday feature this week. Their post contained a short biography, a description of In the Hands of Children, an excerpt from the book, and a giveaway. You can read it here and enter the giveaway, which ends on Saturday.

Today, the Predatory Ethics blog also featured me, or rather, In the Hands of Children. They have an Indie Author Feature that runs every Wednesday and Sunday.

Lastly, my first ever review to be posted on a book blog appeared 2 weeks ago at The Indie Book Blog Database. I was super excited when I saw it, not only because it was my first blog review ever, but also because the reviewer gave me 4 1/2 stars!

October 27, 2012

Working with book bloggers

Before publishing In the Hands of Children, I didn't reach out to any book bloggers. I used to think that people wrote book reviews because they bought and read the book and decided to post a review. After all, that's how the reviews on this blog come about. :-)  I didn't know that authors and publishers contacted book bloggers, I didn't know what ARCs were, and I didn't know how many book blogs were out there.

As part of my growth as an author, I learned the role of book bloggers to my writing career. Shortly after releasing In the Hands of Children (still too late, I eventually learned, because I didn't have a "book launch"), I began looking for book blogs and contacting them in the hopes of garnering a review. I don't know what the experience of other authors have been, but I found it to be both frustrating and rewarding.

The frustrating part has been how few reviewers returned my emails. Out of the hundreds of book blogs I visited, I sent emails to about fifty of them or submitted their online forms. Of those, I heard back from less than ten. To date, two have posted reviews.

The rewarding parts of the experience are the interactions I've had with the people who have responded. They've all been very nice, even when they tell me that they'll add my book to their TBR pile and don't know when they will get around to reviewing it. I try to be courteous in return, and I hope that these relationship won't end with this one book review.

When working with book bloggers, I try to follow these principles:
  • Always read their review policy - The reason I filtered down my initial list of hundreds of book blogs to the fifty or so that I contacted was because of their review policy. If a blogger isn't currently accepting review requests, I won't send them one. If they don't review books in my genre or they don't review indie authors, I won't ask them to. After all, if they took the time to write a review policy, I should take the time to read it and honor it.
  • Be polite and helpful - I feel that the book bloggers are doing me a favor, so it's my job to do anything I can to make it easier for them to review my book. That includes making sure I send all the information they're looking for, not pestering them (where's my review? where's my review?),  thanking them for their help, and just being a nice person in general.
  • Keep expectations in check - I went in thinking I'd get a ton of reviews, but I haven't. And I have no idea what kind of reviews I'll get from the bloggers who agreed to read my book. Fortunately, the two who posted reviews of In the Hands of Children liked it, but I'm preparing myself for the nasty review that I'm bound to get one day.

What's been your experience with book bloggers? Or if you're a blogger, what's been your experience working with authors?

October 20, 2012

Free short stories this weekend

My two short story collections are free this weekend on Amazon. Numbers Plus Four is free today (October 20) and With Five You Get Fortune Cookies is free tomorrow (October 21). If you missed these free days, but you're an Amazon Prime member, you can borrow both of these books for free in October and November. Enjoy!

October 14, 2012

Dean Wesley Smith's blog

This is going to be an unusual blog post because all I'm going to talk about is another author's blog.

I don't remember how I stumbled across Dean Wesley Smith, but his blog has become a must-read for me. If you're an indie author (or any author for that matter), I recommend that you read it too. His posts are like an anchor when, as an author, you're buffeted by a million pieces of advice and feeling like you don't know what to do.

When I come across a really good article about indie publishing, I add it to my browser's bookmarks. This doesn't happen often, maybe once or twice a month. As of this week, guess which blog has more bookmarks associated with it than any other? Yup, Dean Wesley Smith. Even more than Joe Konrath, whose blog inspired me to be an indie author!

Here are my favorite articles from DWS, listed chronologically:


October 7, 2012

Why are some books so long?

Is it me, or has the average length of a novel gone up? I don't know if I'm reading different books than I used to, but it seems like most books I read nowadays are over 400 pages, and it's not rare to pick up a book that's over 500 pages long.

The length of a story in itself isn't that important to me. Some of my favorite books are over 400 pages. For example, my edition of Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring clocks in at over 500 pages, and it's one of my all-time favorites. However, what bothers me about some of the long books I've read recently is that they don't need to be so long. It's as if the author stretched out the story on purpose or the editor did a poor job trimming it down. There have been two occasions this year when I gave 4 stars to a novel that was potentially 5 stars, but the length/verbosity slowed down the flow of the story. In those cases, if the author had cut 20% to 30% of the book, I believe the story would've been a more interesting read without losing any substance.

Why are authors and publishers releasing so many unnecessarily long books? Do they think that length is a proxy for quality and that they can charge more for books like are longer? Are they just not doing as good a job editing? I will gladly pay for a 300 page book if it's good. For instance, all three books of the Hunger Games trilogy fall under 400 pages, and I don't regret paying for any of them.

If a story requires more than 400 pages to tell, by all means make it as long as it needs. However, I hope that authors are conscious that writing overly long books doesn't make them better. Oftentimes, they are worse because they are longer.

October 1, 2012

Book review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore


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Description:
In a world where people born with an extreme skill - called a Grace - are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of the skill even she despises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to execute his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him.

When she first meets Prince Po, who is Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.

She never expects to become Po's friend.

She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace - or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away...a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.


Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review:
When I first picked up Graceling, I didn't know what to expect. Goodreads recommended the book to me, and I'd read a few glowing reviews, but frankly, the description didn't sound all that interesting.

Well, the reviews were right, and I'm glad I read this novel. After the first few pages, I had trouble putting this book down. The plot became more interesting as I continued reading it and as the author introduced new elements to the world with each passing chapter. The story moved at a pretty good pace that kept me interested.

It took me a while to get into the characters, but once I did, I really liked them. I think that one of the reasons why I didn't take to them right away was because I didn't understand how the graces worked. There were times in the first third of the book where I wondered "Why didn't so-and-so do this?" with his/her grace or "Why didn't so-and-so do this?" to combat a grace. It wasn't until later that I found how how graces in general worked and the graces of the main characters in particular.

I recommend Graceling for all readers. This book is the first in a series, but from the book descriptions of Fire and Bitterblue, it appears that Katsa and Po's story ends here, while the sequels focus on different characters in the same universe. It's a shame because now that I'm fond of the two, I would've liked to read more about them.

September 27, 2012

The Casual Vacancy

J.K. Rowling's first book for adult readers, The Casual Vacancy, officially releases today. I am a big fan of the Harry Potter series. I've read all the books, seen all the movies, and even read The Tales of Beedle the Bard. At first, I was excited to hear that she had another book in the works, but now, I'm not planning to rush out to read The Casual Vacancy. I'm sure Ms. Rowling wrote another fine work of fiction. I don't question the quality of her work, and I don't think Harry Potter was a one-hit wonder... or is it seven-hit wonder.

It's just that I don't think The Casual Vacancy is for me. When I finally read the book description earlier this week, nothing about it appealed to me. If it wasn't for the fact that J.K. Rowling wrote the book, I wouldn't even give it another glance.But I wish Ms. Rowling the best of luck, although she doesn't need it. The book was #2 on the Amazon top-seller list even before it was published, and it's #1 this morning. Just her name alone should guarantee that the book is a commercial success. Now, I just wish she'd get on with writing Harry Potter: The Grownup Years.



September 23, 2012

Book review: Shakespeare Undead by Lori Handeland


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Description:
Something wicked this way comes . . . and it keeps coming and coming and coming. . . .

William Shakespeare was one of history’s greatest writers, a master of words with a body of work that is truly impressive . . . some may say a little too impressive for a single man to accomplish in one lifetime. Perhaps, as many have speculated, he had assistance. Or perhaps the explanation is more . . . unusual.

Who was William Shakespeare?

Who was the Dark Lady of the Sonnets?

Why are the undead stalking the alleyways of London?

And can they be stopped?

Something is definitely rotten in the state of Denmark.

So brace yourself for a wild ride through twisted streets and shadowed graveyards of Elizabethan London, where you’ll discover how the Bard got his Bite. 

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review:
Zombies, vampires, and the Bard. What more can a reader ask for?

I stumbled upon Shakespeare Undead at my local public library, and I'm glad I did. I picked it up because of the zombie factor, but it turned out that the story is so much more. While zombies played an important part in the plot, the novel is really about Shakespeare's relationship with the Dark Lady, Kate.

The book was fast-moving and very entertaining. I found that what I liked most about the novel didn't have to do with the zombies but were the sprinkles here and there that poked fun at William Shakespeare and modern pop culture. It made me wonder how many inside jokes I missed because I don't know more about the Bard. Shakespeare scholars may not like this book or may point out historical inaccuracies, but for someone whose exposure to the playwright is limited to what I had to read in school, I found Shakespeare Undead to be a great read.


September 21, 2012

Latest KDP Select free promotion results

On Monday and Tuesday, Numbers Plus Four went free under the KDP Select program. On Wednesday and Thursday, With Five You Get Fortune Cookies went free as well.

Compared with previous times when I made Numbers Plus Four free, I had similar results. The first time that the book was free in January, Numbers Plus Four averaged over 40 downloads per day. The highest ranking for the book on the free listing was #1,800 overall and #47 within the Short Stories category. This time, there were about 30 downloads per day. The overall ranking got into the 2000's, and the ranking within Short Stories peaked in the 40's.

With Five You Get Fortune Cookies did a little better. It had 34 downloads per day. While it's overall ranking among free Kindle books barely surpassed 2000 at one point when I looked, it was ranked as high as #9 under the Anthologies category! (see image below)

What does all this tell me? Other than that there appears to be fewer books under the Anthologies category than the Short Stories category, I'm not sure. I didn't see much difference between this week's results and the first time that Numbers Plus Four was free. The proof will come in the next few days. The first time around, I didn't get any additional sales as a result of the promotion. If having my books available for free this week results in just one sale, it will have been more successful than the last time.


September 15, 2012

Trying KDP Select again

I enrolled Numbers Plus Four in the KDP Select program again and With Five You Get Fortune Cookies for the first time. That means that Amazon Prime members can borrow either book for free. Additionally, there will be days when both books are FREE to download.

I'm happy to announce that the first of the free days are coming up. On Sep. 17 and 18, Numbers Plus Four will be free. Following on its heels, With Five You Get Fortune Cookies will be free on  Sep. 19 and 20.

This is a great opportunity to try out my books. They are both short story collections for grownups, which isn't the same target demographic as my novels, but you can get a feel for my writing style. I hope you enjoy both books!

         



September 8, 2012

What some fresh air can do

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I decided on the story that I want to write next but there were some problems with the plot. It turned out that those problems were more nagging than I thought. For days, I couldn't get the story to make sense end to end. I tried re-working it and changing the backstory that it relied on, but I never felt satisfied.

Then one day, I decided to take a walk outside. Maybe it was the fresh air or just being away from my notebook, but during the walk, I thought about the plot anew and changed the premise a little. Pieces of the story suddenly fell into place. Plot elements that didn't work before either started working or became unnecessary to the new universe I created in my head. As soon as I returned from the walk, I wrote down a new outline for the story.

When I was blocked, it was a scary feeling because I'd never felt that way before. With my first two novels, the initial ideas I came up with worked from the start. All I needed to do was fine-tune them and add the details. The skeleton never changed from the moment I started working on it. However, in this case, I felt like a paleontologist trying to piece together a  fossil where the pieces didn't quite fit until he realized that it belonged to a different species. At least I think I've got the correct species figured out. Now to finish putting the rest of the skeleton together and fleshing it out.

September 1, 2012

Book review: Rex Rising by Chrystalla Thoma


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Description:
In a world where parasites create new human races, Elei leads a peaceful life -- until a mysterious attack on his boss sends him fleeing with a bullet in his side. Pursued for a secret he does not possess and with the fleet at his heels, he has but one thought: to stay alive. His pursuers aren't inclined to sit down and talk, although that's not the end of Elei's troubles. The two powerful parasites inhabiting his body, at a balance until now, choose this moment to bring him down, leaving Elei with no choice but to trust in people he hardly knows. It won't be long before he realizes he must find out this deadly secret - a secret that might change the fate of his world and everything he has ever known - or die trying.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review:
In April, I reviewed Hera, a short story that's the prequel to Rex Rising. I liked it so much that I got Rex Rising, and after many weeks, I finally got around to reading it.

While Rex Rising doesn't pick up where Hera left off, I found it useful to have read the prequel first, if only to get more insight into Hera's motivations. The writing, character development, and pace in Rex Rising were similar to Hera, which is to say very good. I very much enjoyed the book and I'm glad I picked it up.

The aspects of the novel that I liked the most were the universe and the characters. The premise of parasites shaping new human races was intriguing. It was critical to the plot, but the author didn't try to over-explain it or hammer the reader over the head with it, which I appreciated. The characters in Rex Rising were also well differentiated with good depth. I felt like I would be able to tell Elei from Hera from Kalaes just from the way they talked. The only drawback I saw were that some story elements that I assume were supposed to be surprise twists were telegraphed too much, so that by the time the surprise was revealed, it wasn't much of a surprise.

I thought Rex Rising was a great book overall and recommend both it and Hera to everyone.

August 26, 2012

What next?

It's been two weeks since In the Hands of Children first became available for sale. What have I been doing since then? Kicking back and basking in my accomplishment? I wish!

First, I've been doing some marketing and promotion for the book. I suck at marketing and freely admit to it. So far, the extent of my marketing efforts have been to email my friends and relatives, post about the book in this blog and on Facebook and Twitter, and sending queries to some book bloggers asking if they want to review In the Hands of Children. I know this isn't enough because to date, I can count the number of sales on my fingers. :-(

I've also been working on the idea for my next novel. Whenever I come up with an idea, I jot it down in a notebook. After In the Hands of Children was published, I went through the notebook to figure out what I wanted to write next. Some ideas were no longer interesting to me, and others didn't have enough substance to become a novel. (I will likely turn the latter into short stories in the future.) In the end, two ideas stood out. I spent a few days outlining each one. In the process, one came forward as the story I want to write next. I now need to flesh out the outline and figure out the answers to some plot problems that I ran into.

I have hopes that my next novel will be better than anything I've written so far. The story has the potential, and with two novels under my belt, I should be a better writer now than before I started my first book. We'll see, and as always, I plan to keep you updated on my progress with novel #3.

August 21, 2012

In the Hands of Children print version

One thing I learned from publishing my first novel, George and the Galactic Games, was that I should make my books available in print version. I got lots of messages from friends and relatives who didn't want to buy George and the Galactic Games in e-book format because they didn't have a e-reader or they didn't like to read books electronically. After looking around, I wound up using Createspace to publish a print version of the book.

With In the Hands of Children, I prepared a print version along with an electronic version and submitted them at the same time. Due to the rate at which the different platforms process manuscript submissions, the Kindle version hit Amazon first. However, I'm happy to announce that print versions of In the Hands of Children are now available on Amazon and Createspace!

Enjoy!

August 18, 2012

Book review: The Declaration by Gemma Malley



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Description:
It’s the year 2140 and Anna shouldn’t be alive. Nor should any of the children she lives with at Grange Hall. The facility is full of kids like her, kids whose parents chose to recklessly abuse Mother Nature and have children despite a law forbidding them from doing so as long as they took longevity drugs. To pay back her parents’ debt to Mother Nature, Anna will have to work for the rest of her life. But then Peter appears at the hall, and he tells a very different story about the world outside of the Grange. Peter begs Anna to escape Grange Hall, and to claim a life for herself outside its bleak walls. But even if they get out, they still have to make their way to London, to Anna’s parents, and to an underground movement that’s determined to bring back children and rid the world of longevity drugs.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Review:
I looked forward to reading this book. I noticed it on my list of Goodreads recommendations a few weeks ago but hadn't gotten around to reading it until recently. From the description, it sounded like the kind of YA dystopian book that I'd really enjoy.

In many ways, The Declaration didn't disappoint. Several contemporary themes were woven into this story: depletion of natural resources, global warming, class warfare, and immigration to name some of the obvious ones. But underlying all of the political rhetoric was the idea of parents' love for their children, and the love of children in general. Throw in the often-used YA call for freedom of choice, and you have everything a good YA dystopian novel needs.

The main problem I have with The Declaration is its length. I can't decide if it's too short or too long. I know that sounds paradoxical, but the plot of the story is pretty simple. Not a lot goes on in the roughly 300 pages of text that make up the novel. That was a problem, because it definitely felt long at times. On the other hand, if the book contained more scenes and more action, I could see it easily being over 400 pages and forming an epic story.

I do recommend The Declaration to lovers of YA dystopian novels. It doesn't make my top five, but it is one that I wouldn't mind reading again.





August 12, 2012

In the Hands of Children

My second novel, In the Hands of Children, has been published!
It's currently available on Amazon and Smashwords in e-book format. Other retailers will be added in the near future, as well as a printed version.


Here's the description of the book:

The H5N1 virus was the deadliest disease in the history of mankind. Not only did it spread rapidly, reaching every corner of the globe, but it also resulted in an inconceivable 100% mortality rate among adults. Within a month, almost every human being became a victim of the virus.

All that remains of humanity is a handful of "immune" children. Except that they aren't truly immune. The virus lurks in their bodies, ready to strike when they reach maturity.

Kyle, Hannah, and Amy are three immune kids who find themselves thrust into a lonely world after losing the people they have known and loved. No longer able to rely on the company, wisdom, and experience of adults, they must survive in the harsh post-pandemic world with only a handful of other immune children. But the trio soon learn that dying from H5N1 isn't the only thing they have to worry about.

August 8, 2012

Title and cover reveal

Things have progressed quickly with my second novel in the last month, and I'm happy to say that I'm in the process of putting the finishing touches on it. I plan to submit it to the various publishing platforms this week, and hopefully it will be available for purchase on at least one retailer's site this weekend!

In the meantime, here's a sneak peak at the cover of my new book, titled In the Hands of Children.


Someone on Fiverr created the image for me. I hope you like it, and I hope you'll like the book when it comes out!



August 6, 2012

Characters making stupid decisions

I recently finished a book that was very well written and could have rated 4 or 5 stars if not for the fact that the story hinged on the stupid decisions made by the main character. The character made one major bad decision early on in the book, and I kept waiting for her to fix it, but whenever an opportunity came up, she decided not to and just made things worse. In the end, her decisions damaged her life and the lives of those who love her. What was the point? Why did the author write a character like that? My opinion is that her decisions are what drove the plot, and without those decisions, there wouldn't be much of a plot.

As an author, I've read that a good story is one where you put your characters in extraordinary situations and see how they respond. A good example of this is The Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen started out as just another citizen of Panem, but she winds up being heroic because of the Hunger Games. Her decisions in the face of her circumstances make sense, from the beginning (*spoiler alert*) when she sacrifices herself for Prim to enter the Games until the end when she threatens to defy the Capitol. The way that the author created a believable but admirable character is one reason why I love The Hunger Games so much.

On the other hand, some writers try to tell a story by putting their characters in situations and having them behave in inexplicable ways. Consider horror movies where a victim who knows about the potential dangers of his/her surroundings decides to wander off alone in the dark anyway so that the killer/monster can butcher him/her. If they were smart and stayed away from the haunted house, dark alley, or creepy campsite in the first place, then we wouldn't have a story, but at least the characters' actions would make sense. Instead, we don't sympathize with their fate.

Maybe some readers enjoy it when characters make stupid decisions, but I don't. I want to read about characters who are praiseworthy. I want to root for them, like I did for Katniss, not hope that they get killed by the bad guy in the end.

August 2, 2012

Zombies update

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my love of zombie books. Since then, I've read two other zombie stories, one that's a short story and the other a full length novel. The short story, Deadlocked by A.R. Wise, was great. I'd give it 5 stars out of 5. The zombie novel, on the other hand, was a disappointment. I won't mention the name of the book, but I'm glad I didn't have to pay for it (I picked it up when it was free on Amazon). Despite its high ratings, I found the story to be aimless and not very well written. On top of that, there were numerous formatting errors in the book. Paragraphs would be indented incorrectly some of the time, and a whole portion of the book was in bold type. That really threw me off.

The morale of the story is... not all zombie books are awesome. I expected that, but I didn't think I would find an instance of a bad zombie book so quickly. I've got another one on my to-be-read list and I'll still look for more. One book isn't going to spoil my appetite for the living dead.

July 28, 2012

What stars mean in my reviews

In March, I began reviewing books. My intention was never to become a full time book reviewer, but I wanted to share some of the books I read. So far, I've only reviewed books that I thought warranted 4 or 5 stars. This is because there seems to be a stigma against 3 star reviews (or God forbid, 2 and 1 star reviews). From what I've been reading in forums and on blogs, some authors freak out when someone gives their book a 3 star review. It's as if 3 stars means the book is horrible. Not so! To me, three stars means it's OK, not bad.

This is the way I rate books:
  • 5 stars: The book was great! I'd recommend it anyone. I'd read the book again. Everyone, go buy this book now!
  • 4 stars: The book was really good. I'd recommend it to my friends who enjoy books in the genre. If I had time, I wouldn't mind reading the book again. At the right price, you should buy this book.
  • 3 stars: The book was OK. If you really like the author or are looking for something to read, I'd probably recommend it. It was worth my while to read the book, but I probably won't read it again.
  • 2 stars: The book wasn't good. I wouldn't recommend it, and I feel like the time I spent reading this book could have been better spent.
  • 1 star: The book was awful. Don't read it. I shouldn't have.
The fact that I only post 4 on 5 star reviews on this blog means that every book I review is one that I would recommend to someone!

July 21, 2012

Book review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo


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Description:
Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Review:
Imagine an orphan who grew up living a hard life. Then one day, the child discovers that he/she has magical powers and is whisked off to a place where others with magical powers live. There, he/she learns to harness those powers and that he/she is the object of an old prophecy. Sounds like Harry Potter, doesn't it? But it also describes the plot of Shadow and Bone.

I'm not saying that Shadow and Bone is a Harry Potter ripoff, but there were certainly elements that reminded me of Harry Potter. However, Leigh Bardugo's novel is entertaining in its own right. The story is interesting and fast-moving for the most part, and Alina was a character that I grew to like. You can say that Shadow and Bone is for fans of Harry Potter after they become older.

On the positive side, I found the book to be entertaining. It was definitely worth my time and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys the genre. However, I found the story to be somewhat shallow and predictable. Nothing came as a surprise to me and I found myself waiting to get to the part where such-and-such happens because I knew it would.

A solid four stars for the entertainment value but not great enough to warrant five.

July 14, 2012

Zombies

I've read four zombie books so far this year, and they are all among my favorite reads of 2012. I'm no longer in denial about liking zombies.

I'm not sure why I like zombies so much. Is it just because the books I happened to read were really well written? They all have high ratings on Amazon (averaging 4.3 to 4.6 stars out of 5), so that's a possibility. Or maybe zombies are the kinds of monsters I like. I don't care for vampires or werewolves, but I blame that on the popularity of Twilight, which turned vampires and werewolves into objects of romance rather than monsters to be feared. Not so with zombies. And the zombie stories I've read don't have much romance in them. Maybe that's the key.

If there's one thing that I'd like to see in the zombie books, it's to have a consistent set of rules. For example, I wish there were ground rules for:

  • The cause for the rise of the living dead - Did zombies come about because of a virus? Something from outer space?
  • How do ordinary people turn into zombies - Do you have to be bitten? Do you have to die first to re-animate as a zombie?
  • What can zombies do - Can they think? Can they run?

Not having consistent rules won't ruin the books for me, but they make things a bit confusing when I start reading a new book. ("What do you mean the zombies are running? Zombies are supposed to be slow!")

Now that I know I like zombies, I'm going to look for more books in the genre to read. I hope they are as enjoyable as the ones I've read so far.

July 7, 2012

Edits and more edits

I finished my third round of edits on the 4th of July. (Yes, that's how authors who have full time jobs spend their holidays.) It felt like I revised about ten percent of the book. Most of it was minor, especially compared to the big changes I made the first and second times I went through the manuscript. I just started editing it for the fourth time. I'm pretty sure that after this round, I'll send it to some proofreaders to review because I'll need another pair of eyes to see the mistakes that my eyes are becoming blind to.

As I've mentioned before, I don't like the editing process. I'd much rather be writing something new than to comb through something I've already written for the umpteenth time. But I know that editing is necessary if I have pride in my work. I don't want to publish a sloppy story because I wasn't willing to work on making it better. That wouldn't be fair to my readers.So I'll keep going, probably for another two or three months, until I feel that the story is about as good as I can make it.

July 1, 2012

Book review: Blood Red Road by Moira Young


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Description:
Saba has spent her whole life in Silverlake, a dried-up wasteland ravaged by constant sandstorms. The Wrecker civilization has long been destroyed, leaving only landfills for Saba and her family to scavenge from. That's fine by her, as long as her beloved twin brother Lugh is around. But when a monster sandstorm arrives, along with four cloaked horsemen, Saba's world is shattered. Lugh is captured, and Saba embarks on an epic quest to get him back.

Suddenly thrown into the lawless, ugly reality of the world outside of desolate Silverlake, Saba is lost without Lugh to guide her. So perhaps the most surprising thing of all is what Saba learns about herself: she's a fierce fighter, an unbeatable survivor, and a cunning opponent. And she has the power to take down a corrupt society from the inside. Teamed up with a handsome daredevil named Jack and a gang of girl revolutionaries called the Free Hawks, Saba stages a showdown that will change the course of her own civilization.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review:
This book was recommended to me by GoodReads, and I'm glad it did. I loved it. It's one of the top three books I've read this year. If I could use only one word to describe how Blood Red Road was written, it would be fluid. The prose just flows, as does the action. At no point in reading the book do I remember being bored. Moira Young wrote the book from Saba's point of view, and while her dialect and lack of proper punctuation threw me at first, once I got used to reading it, the rest of the book went quickly.

Without giving away too much of the plot, I enjoyed how each scene in the story led to the next. The characters were also engaging for the most part. I felt sympathy for Saba, her sister, and Jack. Even the Free Hawks. In some ways, Blood Red Road reminded me of the Chaos Walking trilogy, but better. It's what I hoped the Chaos Walking books could have been.

As with many books in this genre, there is an element of romance in Blood Red Road. However, unlike some other books, the relationship between Saba and Jack seemed to happen naturally. As a reader, I knew there would be sparks, but it felt like their bond made sense to the plot. It wasn't forced, and it didn't make you think the author put it there because there had to be romance.

The only unfavorable thing I can say about this book is the dialect it was written in. For me, it took a while to get used to. At the beginning of the book, I kept pausing to understand what was written, but once I got the hang of it, I think the dialect actually made the story flow better.

I highly recommend Blood Red Road. There's a sequel coming out in October, and I can't wait to read it.

June 23, 2012

How I choose what to read

Last time, I talked about how I read both print books and e-books. The process by which I choose what books to read differs depending on the format.

The print books that I read are all traditionally published. A majority of them come from recommendations by friends or via GoodReads. I joined GoodReads about a year ago, and as I add more books to my list, I've been getting more and better recommendations. Of my favorite books read this year, about half came from GoodReads recommendations. I also visit my local public library every weekend. A few months ago, I decided that I would pick random books from authors I've never read and give them a shot. I've been trying to do this once a month. Most of the time, these random books have been so-so, but occasionally, I'll stumble across a gem. The remaining print books that I read are ones that look interesting when I browse the library or bookstores.

On the e-book side, my selections are based on electronic sources: blogs, forums, Twitter, free e-books on Amazon, etc. I tend to favor indie authors when I read e-books. One reason is that there are a lot of indie authors on the websites that I go to. The other is that I will only buy an e-book if its price is significantly less than the print version, and that tends to happen with indie books much more so than with traditionally published ones. As part of trolling blogs and forums, I'll also hear about books that are available for free on Amazon. I probably wind up downloading one free e-book a week, but they tend to go to the bottom of my to-be-read list and will bubble up only when I run out of paid books and previously downloaded free books on my Kindle.

I'd be curious to know how other people pick the books they read.

June 16, 2012

E-books vs. print books (or, how I read)

There's no question that e-books are here to stay. Last year, Amazon reported that they sold more e-books than print books. This has led to a religious war about which is better for readers, e-books or print books. E-book supporters point to the convenience of carrying many e-books on one device and their (sometimes) lower cost. Those who prefer print books cite that print books feel better and they're easier to share.

Where do I stand on the e-books vs. print books debate? Honestly, I like both. It may sound like a cop-out, but I like having both formats and would be sad if one of them went away.

When I have at least half an hour to read, I prefer print books. There's nothing better than curling up with a paperback in bed before I go to sleep. I'm in the camp that believes that print books feel better. I like the feel of the pages between my fingers, sometimes even the smell of paper. Also, dropping a paperback on my face when I fall asleep hurts less than when I drop my Kindle reader. :-)

On the other hand, during the day, it's inconvenient to carry a print book around with me, but I always have my phone, on which I installed the Kindle app. So during the day, whenever I have a few free minutes, I whip out my phone and read.

In the end, on any given day, I'll be spending time reading a print book and an e-book. I've been doing this for several months now, and it seems to be working out pretty well. I wind up reading about 4 print books and 2 or 3 e-books each month. Nowadays, I can't imagine having just e-books or just print books to read.

June 10, 2012

Book review: Origin by J.A. Konrath



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Description:
When linguist Andrew Dennison is yanked from his bed by the Secret Service and taken to a top secret facility in the desert, he has no idea he's been brought there to translate the words of an ancient demon.

He joins pretty but cold veterinarian Sun Jones, eccentric molecular biologist Dr. Frank Belgium, and a hodge-podge of religious, military, and science personnel to try and figure out if the creature is, indeed, Satan.

But things quickly go bad, and very soon Andy isn't just fighting for his life, but the lives of everyone on earth...

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Review:
Joe Konrath is somewhat of a legend among indie writers. His blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, was one major influence on my decision to self-publish. His blog is known for being controversial, sometimes offensive, but informative. Likewise, the two previous books I've read by Konrath are also offensive yet entertaining. I don't read one of Konrath's novels because I'm looking for good writing. I read it to be entertained. So when Konrath made Origin free on Amazon, I snapped it up.

Reading Origin was like reading two different books. The first half, unfortunately, was not that good. Konrath spent too much time going into the backgrounds of the people working at the secret facility where the story takes place. The back stories were forced and didn't flow with the rest of the novel. Even the relationship between the two main characters was hard to believe, as if Konrath threw it in because you have to have a romantic relationship in every story.

Then, once hell breaks loose, the story takes off. It becomes the entertaining joy ride that I hoped the book would be. There's a good bit of gore, so I don't recommend the book to those with a weak stomach, but if you can handle it, you'll probably find this book a fun, fast read.

I couldn't decide between giving this book 3 stars or 4. If I could rate each half of the book separately, I'd give the first half 3 stars and the second half 4 stars. In the end, I decided on 4 stars for the book overall because my intention in reading it was to be entertained, and in that respect, Origin did a pretty good job.

June 4, 2012

Done with first round of revisions

Thanks in large part to my productive Memorial Day weekend, I'm done with the first round of revisions on my second novel! I estimate that I changed about 30% of the text during the editing process. A whole new chapter was written from scratch, and large parts of three other chapters were re-written. I also resolved a plot problem that nagged me when I wrote the first draft. In the end, I believe that this second draft is significantly better than the first.

Now comes the hard part. The easy fixes have been made to the manuscript. Every round of editing from here on will only result in minor (albeit necessary in many cases) changes. The book will never be perfect, but at some point, I will have to decide that it is good enough to hand to beta readers. When they provide me with feedback, I'll undoubtedly revise the book some more until I deem it good enough to be published. Like many authors, I don't believe that I'll ever achieve perfection, but the question is how good is good enough.

But I don't have to worry about that for another few weeks. Now it's time to start the second round of revisions.

June 1, 2012

Five things a writer should and shouldn't do

I came across a blog post on author Tonya Kappes's blog titled "FIVE Things a Writer Should and Shouldn't Do NOW!" that I wanted to share. You should go read the blog post, but to summarize, here are the 5 things.

Things a writer shouldn't do:
  1. Stop quitting
  2. Stop treating your body bad
  3. Stop writing what you hear is going to sell
  4. Stop dreaming and start doing
  5. Stop worrying

Things a writer should do:
  1. Recognize that you are a writer
  2. Read more
  3. Give back to others
  4. Work hard
  5. Just do it

I think it's a good list, and one can certainly add more to each category.

From the "shouldn't do" list, I'm pretty good about not doing all of those things except for the worrying. I can't help it. I'm a natural worrier. I worry about everything. I won't stop worrying even if I sell a million books.

As for the things you should do, I didn't score as high. The only item on that list that I think I do well is reading more. On average, I read five to seven books a month, which I consider pretty good for someone who works full time, has a family, and also writes. Clearly, based on the list, I still have room to improve, but I feel like I'm still in the first or second inning of my writing career. It'd be interesting to look back on this list in five years and see how well my future self is doing.

May 29, 2012

A productive Memorial Day weekend

What a difference a weekend makes. Last week, I found myself having a hard time getting back into writing mode after taking two weeks off. This weekend, I forced myself to work on my novel, and now I'm more than 70% done with my first round of edits! It's been a very productive three days, and the best part is, I'm excited about the writing process again.

I expect that after I'm done with my edits, I will need to go through the novel a couple more times before I feel it's good enough to show a beta reader. I'm hopeful that I'll get to that point by the July 4th holiday.

May 26, 2012

Book review: Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry


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Description:
In the zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic America where Benny Imura lives, every teenager must find a job by the time they turn fifteen or get their rations cut in half. Benny doesn’t want to apprentice as a zombie hunter with his boring older brother Tom, but he has no choice. He expects a tedious job whacking zoms for cash—but what he gets is a vocation that will teach him what it means to be human.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review:
I never thought I was a big fan of zombies, but looking back at the zombie books I've read the last three years, I found that they have been among my favorite reads. At the top of that list are Feed and Deadline by Mira Grant and Max Brooks's World War Z. Rot & Ruin is now at the top of that list.

Rot & Ruin is a zombie book for young adults. As a fan of young adult fiction, that might be why I like this book more than any other zombie book I've read. What's also different about Rot & Ruin compared to other zombie books and movies I've seen is how this book treats zombies. The undead aren't just monsters. They used to be people -- our family members, friends, and neighbors. The level of humanity that the book brings to the zombie genre is both unique and refreshing.

Add to that an exciting plot and a likeable cast of characters and you've got a book that you can't put down! I highly recommend Rot & Ruin, whether you're a fan of zombies or not.

May 19, 2012

Getting back to work

It's been a little over two weeks since I last worked on my novel. I finished the first draft and wanted to take a break from it before proofreading and editing. I'd say that the time off has successfully taken my mind off the story. Perhaps a little too much, because I'm having a hard time getting myself motivated to start proofreading. Writing is a lot like exercising. It's hard to start, but once you've developed a regular routine, it's not hard to continue. However, if you do stop, it's difficult to start up again. I guess I should stop blogging or procrastinating and get back to work.


May 16, 2012

Book review: The Grimoire: Lichgates by S.M. Boyce


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Description:
The Grimoire turns its own pages and can answer any question asked of it, and Kara Magari is its next target.

Kara has no idea what she's getting herself into when she stumbles across the old book while hiking a hidden trail. Once she opens it, she's thrown into Ourea: a beautiful world full of terrifying things that want the Grimoire's secrets. Everyone in this new world is trying to find her, and most want to control the new-found power the book bestows upon her. Even if Kara does escape, Ourea will only drag her back.

Braeden Drakonin grew up in Ourea, and all he’s ever known of life is lying. The Grimoire is his one chance at redemption, and it lands in his lap when Kara Magari comes into his life. He has one question to ask the book—one question that can fix everything in his broken world—and he’s not letting Kara out of his sight until he gets an answer.

There’s no going back now.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Review:
The Grimoire: Lichgates is the first book in a new fantasy series by S.M. Boyce. Most of the story takes place in a world called Ourea, and the main character, Kara, stumbles into that world from ours.

It took me a while to get into the book, probably because it starts in our world and returns to it for an important scene near the beginning. As a result, I found that I couldn't submerge myself in the world of Ourea and its characters until about a third of the way through the book. It's tricky for fantasy novels to explain the universes that they take place in, especially when those universes are populated with non-human races and magical creatures.

Once I got used to Ourea and the story moved along, however, I found myself enjoying it. I zipped through the middle part of the novel, which is a good sign that I've lost myself in the story. By the end, I wished that it wasn't over.

If you're a fan of fantasy, I recommend this book to you. The story is engaging once it gets going, and the world of Ourea is populated with diverse and interesting creatures. Now that I'm familiar with the universe and the characters, I'm looking forward to the second book, which will be published later this fall.

May 12, 2012

With Five You Get Fortune Cookies

My new short story collection, With Five You Get Fortune Cookies, is now available for sale! The collection contains five stories and costs only 99 cents! You can buy it from Amazon or Smashwords. It will be on the e-bookshelves of other retailers in the days or weeks to come.

In case you're wondering, With Five You Get Fortune Cookies is indeed a play on the title of the 1968 film, With Six You Get Eggroll. I chose it because there are five short stories in the collection and the first one is named "Fortune Cookies". Get it?

Now that I'm done with this little project, it's time to go back to proofreading my novel in progress.



May 5, 2012

First draft done, and now for something (not so) completely different

Thanks to my productive Spring Break, I'm done with the first draft of my second novel! Instead of jumping right into proofreading and revisions, I'm going to take a couple of weeks off from working on it. Other authors have suggested I do this so that when I re-read it, my mind is fresh.

What am I going to do for two weeks? Sit on the sofa and watch TV? Play video games? No! I'm going to publish another book! I've been meaning to go through some short stories that I wrote in the past and publish them in another collection. Like Numbers Plus Four, I anticipate that this collection will contain five stories and sell for 99 cents.

Stay tuned for an announcement when I publish the new book!

April 28, 2012

What I did on spring break

A couple of weeks ago, the family and I went on a spring break trip to the east coast. It was fun and educational, as it was the first time that my kids had been to our nation's capital. It was also the first time that I've been to Washington, D.C. in many years, and the history I learned on the trip was more interesting than I remember it being when I was younger. As I get older, I appreciate history more than when I was forced to learn it in high school.

The trip was also very productive for my writing. Every night, after the rest of the family went to sleep and I found myself still awake with nothing to do and not wanting to wake anyone else in our hotel room, I would write. Sometimes I would wake up before anyone else and write some more. The best part was that my brain was churning the entire week and I didn't have to pause because of writer's block at any time. I wrote more during that week than in any other week that I can remember. As a result, I'm almost done with the first draft of my novel, a month ahead of schedule!

Maybe I need to take more vacations.

April 21, 2012

E-book pricing

One of the advantages that indie authors have over traditionally published authors is that indies can set their own prices. Traditionally published authors are at the mercy of their publishers, who care more about maintaining fat margins than what's good for their authors. Unfortunately, most indie authors have taken that freedom to mean pricing their books as cheaply as possible, or even giving them away for free.

I admit that I started out in the same "cheap e-books" camp because I thought that was the only way I could sell any books. My short story collection, Numbers Plus Four, is priced at 99 cents, and my novel, George and the Galactic Games, sells for $2.99. But the more I read about various indie author success stories, the more I believe that cheap prices only devalue an author's work. If you've spent months (or years) writing a book, why do you think it's only worth a couple of dollars?

Earlier this year, Dean Wesley Smith published his thoughts on pricing indie books in 2012. With traditionally published e-books selling in the $7 to $12 range (yes, $12 for an e-book!), there's plenty of room for indies to play in the $7-and-under price range. According to him, my books are priced at about half of what they should be. However, I realize that I'm not Dean Wesley Smith. I'm still an unknown author with just two books under my belt. I also don't think I'll raise the price of the two books I've already published. The pleasure of publishing them and seeing them on virtual store shelves is enough reward for me. However, with the novel I'm writing now and future books to come, I plan to start testing higher price points.

April 14, 2012

Book review: Hera by Chrystalla Thoma


Buy from Amazon

Description:
Hera, member of the Gultur race governing the Seven Islands, thought she knew right from wrong and what her future held in store. A chance meeting with a lesser mortal, though, will turn her world upside down and force her to see her race and the laws with different eyes. For Hera, knowledge means action, so she sets out to put things right and change her world.

Taking place in the World of the Seven Islands almost three years before the events in Rex Rising, this is the story of Hera's first confrontation with the truth.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review:
Despite not having read Rex Rising or any other novel set in that universe, I found Hera to be a great short story. It sucked me in from the start, and I found that I could follow it easily without requiring any additional background information.

The author did a great job of creating interesting characters in the short framework of the story. I found myself understanding Hera and sympathizing with her within the first few pages. The plot was entertaining and well-paced.

Several authors have suggested the strategy of pricing a story at 99 cents or free to attract new readers to their other works. Ms. Thoma has done a nice job of that with Hera because it certainly made me want to read her other books!

April 7, 2012

Young adult dystopian rankings

You've read The Hunger Games or watched the movie or both, and you loved it. Now what? Well, I was in your shoes after reading the Hunger Games trilogy last year. I searched for other YA dystopian books and read a bunch. Here's how they rank IMHO. I hope this list helps you fill the hole that The Hunger Games has left.



1. The Hunger Games trilogy - Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games trilogy is simply the best set of books I've read in years. It's deserving of all the praise it's been getting, and I recommend the books to everyone. If you've never read it before, do yourself a favor and buy it or borrow it.


2. Unwind - Neal Shusterman
Unwind tells the story of three teenagers who are destined to be "unwound", a process where their body parts are harvested and continue to live on in other people. In addition to an exciting plot and straightforward narrative, this book came as close as any to creating engaging characters that I cared about like The Hunger Games did.


3. Under the Never Sky - Veronica Rossi
This is a new book that I recently reviewed if you want to learn more about it.


4. Partials - Dan Wells
Partials was also recently published, and I just finished reading it. The story takes place in a future where an engineered race called the Partials turned against their makers and killed most of the humans through warfare and a virus called RM. I admit that part of the reason why I like this book so much is because the universe in which it takes place bears some resemblance to the universe of the novel that I'm writing now. My main complaint with Partials is that I felt it was a bit too long at 480 pages. IMHO, cutting 10% of the book would make it more interesting without losing any effect.


5. Divergent - Veronica Roth
I had a hard time deciding which to rank higher, Divergent or Partials. In Divergent's dystopian society, sixteen year olds must choose which faction to serve for the remainder of their lives - Candor (the honest), Abegnation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), or Erudite (the intelligent). The story follows Beatrice, who turns out to be Divergent, which is a dangerous thing to be.


6. The Maze Runner trilogy - James Dashner
For me, there's a noticeable drop-off between Divergent and The Maze Runner trilogy. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend any of the first five in my ranking, but starting with The Maze Runner, I would only recommend the next three books/series to fans of YA dystopian. The Maze Runner isn't bad -- it's just not as good as the others ranked higher than it. Furthermore, I think that while the first two books in the trilogy are good, the third book is only mediocre.


7. Chaos Walking trilogy - Patrick Ness
The Chaos Walking trilogy is well written with an interesting plot. Many readers liked it more than I did. The reason why it didn't hook me more was because I didn't feel much sympathy for the characters. I wanted to root for Todd and Viola, but they kept doing things that either made no sense (except to move the plot along) or that bothered me.


8. Gone - Michael Grant
The premise of Gone was promising - one day, all of the adults in a California town disappear, and the remaining kids can't leave the town. But the story was too long and the explanation for what happened was unsatisfactory for me.


9. Escape From Furnace series - Alexander Gordon Smith
The first book in this series was OK, the second one was worse, and I didn't want to finish the third book. I'm not even going to waste my time reading the rest of the series.


In addition, there are three YA dystopian books on my To-Be-Read list:
1. Insurgent - Veronica Roth
Insurgent is the sequel to Divergent. It comes out in May, and I'm waiting in anticipation.

2. The Uglies series - Scott Westerfield
I've read Leviathan from Scott Westerfield and didn't think much of it. I've heard good things about his Uglies series, so I plan to give it a try.

3. The Host - Stephenie Meyer
I've never read the Twilight books, don't have the urge to, and didn't like the movies. However, I'm willing to give Stephenie Meyers a try by reading The Host.


I hope this post has helped you quench your thirst for YA dystopian books!