Thursday, July 31, 2014

Visit the 1940's in "Murder at the Ocean Forest"

Murder and mayhem set in the WWII era - that's what we have today in Robert "Digger" Cartwright's mystery Murder at the Ocean Forest.  Joining us once again is guest reviewer, Gary Cummings, who has graciously assisted in reading a few novels from my never-ending review pile.  Gary is well-versed in the noir and 1940's murder mystery mindset, and I knew he'd be a perfect fit for Murder at the Ocean Forest.

Book Blurb:
When Faye Underwood, a distraught young woman, disappears from the elegant Ocean Forest Hotel, Feltus Boone LaMont, the quintessential Southern hotel detective, is drawn into the emotional drama surrounding the guests.

As Feltus conducts his investigation into Faye's apparent murder, her husband, Terence, is found murdered in their suite-with the door locked from the inside.

This draws Feltus further into the intriguing web surrounding the Underwoods and their acquaintances-Lord and Lady Ashburn (a British couple on holiday), Ms. Elizabeth Bascomb (a blind clairvoyant), and Preacher Cooper (a devout man of the cloth).

The intricate plot that stretches from Myrtle Beach to the battlefields of World War II unfolds as a very persistence Feltus eventually uncovers the skeletons in the closets of all his guests.

Gary's Review:
In Murder at the Ocean Forest by Robert “Digger” Cartwright we’re treated to a murder mystery set in South Carolina in the1940’s. We have a list of suspects which include an aristocratic married couple from Britain, a bickering husband and wife from South Carolina dripping with Old South money, a preacher who is not afraid to break a few rules while doing the Lord’s work, and a world-renowned clairvoyant.

Most of the action takes place at the elegant Ocean Front Hotel on the Atlantic Ocean. Woven throughout the story are three elements which seem never too far from the action: a gathering storm that threatens to turn into a hurricane, a painting with eyes that seem to follow guests as they pass through the hotel’s corridors and a supernatural entity named the Grey Ghost which is said to haunt the beaches outside the hotel. We’re given detailed backgrounds of the main characters before anything sinister takes place.

Lord George Ashburn and Lady Jane Ashburn had embarked on a trip to the States while Lord Ashburn was recuperating from wounds suffered on the field of battle in World War Two. Here Lord Ashburn recounts the events leading to his injuries:

“Accident in the battlefields of France,” he continued as though she would be interested in learning of his misfortune. His voice was strong and authoritative, giving way to his military experience and his own belief that when he spoke people should listen. “Lost most of my men there. Good soldiers they were, but the Nazis had us outnumbered three to one. I caught a bullet in my leg and some shrapnel in my back. Doctors on the field nearly lost me, but I was too stubborn to die.”

A nasty rumor has followed Lord Ashburn alleging that the platoon of Allied soldiers massacred at the hands of the Germans may have met their demise due to either his incompetence or his duplicity. 
Lady Jane Ashburn has borne the burdens of maintaining the home front while her husband was at war. Now she struggles with her emotions as she has had to take the lead on helping with her husband’s recuperation.

The war, of course, had changed people for the worse it seemed, especially those directly involved in the conflict; those individuals returned home with a cloud in their eyes that seemed to prevent the horrors of the fields from escaping from their minds. They were never free again; rather, they became prisoners of their own experiences that had been captured in their minds almost photographically. Most of those people afflicted as such never recovered, forcing their families to suffer with them in some private hell. She had been determined to save George, even if it meant dragging him halfway around the world, and all the better if she was able to kill two birds with one stone.

Faye and Terrence Underwood appeared to be the perfect couple. Terrence was a dashing fighter pilot, bred from moneyed stock, and Faye, so beautiful and refined, a perfect match for her perfect husband. On the train ride to the Ocean Forest hotel, however, turbulence bubbled beneath their perfect personas.

“Faye,” Terence continued, “we’ll be there in about an hour. Perhaps you’d like to join me in the club car for a drink before we arrive. I’ve met some very interesting people who will be staying at the hotel as well.” 

“I’m sure you have,” Faye said with the slightest touch of sarcasm in her voice, but enough to make her husband take notice of her displeasure.

 Terence’s entire body stiffened at the remark. “What is that supposed to mean?”

Faye gracefully moved her tongue over her dry lips. “I’m sure you have already met some interesting women, Terence. Tell me, how many have there been on this trip?” 

Sighing at this accusation, Terence stepped away from her chair and turned his back to her. “There have been no women on this trip, you know that.”

Preacher Cooper was returning home to South Carolina from war-torn Europe, his suitcase containing Bibles never far from his reach. The good reverend recounted his easy passages through international checkpoints:

Preacher Cooper smiled. “When I tell them I like to keep my books near me, they understand completely. They hardly ever even ask me to open my cases, but if they do, they see The Bibles and immediately let me pass.” It had always been that simple, from the very first time he had brought cargo from France to the United States. Most people never doubted a man of the cloth, especially if he was doing the good Lord’s work. If there were any trouble, he would simply charm him with some blessings and talk of his humble deeds in the battlefields.

Elizabeth Bascomb’s place as the America’s premier clairvoyant had been cemented after helping law enforcement all across the country solve murders. Elizabeth’s prowess was celebrated for two reasons: even though Elizabeth was of an advanced age she was prolific at solving here-to-for unsolved murders, and because she was blind. She had lost her sight in her youth in a terrible auto accident at the hands of a drunk driver. That driver was rumored to be a guest at the hotel. Not long after arriving at the Ocean Forest, Elizabeth sensed all was not right at the grand hotel.

Immediately upon setting foot into the renowned section of the hotel, Elizabeth began to experience another vision, surprising her by the frequency with which they had appeared to her during her stay here. It was if she had found a place conducive to such activities, though she attributed much to the troubled young woman who she had befriended. This vision was short but harrowing; there was a man, whom she recognized as an aviator, in his plane with a beautiful, wealthy woman at his side. While they conversed, the plane began its descent without the aviator’s control.

When greed, lust and revenge converge in a murder mystery, people are going to start dying and people are going to start lying. When the dying starts at the Ocean Forest, Hotel Inspector and member of the local constabulary, Feltus Boone La Mont is called to the crime scene to unravel the tangled details. A high-profile case at such a storied venue would draw a huge amount of publicity to the small town and make the investigation a nightmare, but Feltus was confident he was up to overseeing the investigation.

It really was quite inconsiderate of these supposedly “upstanding” people, whose wealth and social status permitted their vacationing here, to hover like vultures awaiting the news of a peer’s misfortune, even if this was the most exciting event in their relatively dull lives. He knew immediately that the suspicions were already circulating among the guests and that they only needed confirmation in order to aggrandize the entire miserable affair. Unfortunately, he would also be the center of attention for the next day…

The waves pound the shoreline of the majestic Ocean Forest while the Grey Ghost taunts those foolish enough to challenge the coming storm. The eyes of two figures in a painting seem to watch over the guests within the sturdy walls of the hotel. The walls provide protection from the power of superstition and the violence of nature, but unfortunately they can offer no protection from the force of human nature.

I can’t recommend Murder at the Ocean Forest. It was very difficult to read. Many sentences were torturously long. The same story could have been easily written cutting out two thirds of the text.

Written from an omniscient point of view, as murder mysteries tend to be written, the reader hears the thoughts of each character as we enter their point of view. However the book floods the reader with the point-of-view character’s thoughts, some relevant to the story, some not. Sometimes a sentence would begin with a character thinking about one thing and taking almost a contradictory position by sentence’s end.

The lovely scent of the fully blooming roses of all colours imaginable and robust gladiolas floated through the air and filled her nostrils with the aroma that soothed and relaxed both the mind and the body yet instilled in her a sense of foreboding and doom.

The long sentences, many fifty, sixty,  and seventy words and longer (a few coming in at over a hundred words) melded together to build towering paragraphs that only the most determined reader would scale. Paragraphs such as these can be discouraging and invite the reader to skip long sections of an author’s work. A reader who has to jump over sections of an author’s work is not likely to be a return customer. There were beautiful descriptions in Ocean Forest, however those descriptions tended to be lost within the many superfluous sentences and may go unread by the reader who wants to find out whodunit.

There were many opportunities for action given the cast of characters and the setting but most of Murder at the Ocean Forest was written as “telling, not showing.” Within the “telling” were annoying examples of author intrusion.

“Mr. Underwood, I has your baggage, sir,” he said with a strong Southern accent and improper grammar, given that he had had no formal education as a child.

The reader is capable of surmising that hired help at a hotel in 1940’s South Carolina has not had benefit of a good education just from the character’s words. Again:

     “How are you enjoying yourselves?” Terence asked. 

     “We’re having a splendid time,” she replied then added as if to insult her admirer, “though it is quite unfortunate that my husband couldn’t be joining us on the floor tonight, given his condition and all.” 

“Oh, yes,” he agreed with emphasis and false sincerity.

The dialogue could have been written in a manner which allowed the reader to discern tone and attitude from the characters without the narrative intruding. A reader doesn’t want to pause and say to himself, “Why did the author write it like that? Does he think I can’t figure it out for myself?”

Another reason for the very passive tone of the novel was an avalanche of adverbs. “Ly” words weighed the story down from the beginning. The abundance of the words “quickly,” “slowly” and “perfectly” stood out.

The setting for Ocean Forest was laid out nicely, though it used too much exposition. A murder mystery set in an environment of extreme wealth which exists alongside extreme poverty and populated by class-conscious people who invade good-old-boy country is intriguing. The backdrop of World War Two and the recent Great Depression seemed to offer great story possibilities for the reader.

Avoiding unintentional humor in a novel is one of many reasons I believe that writers should involve themselves in a critique group. A writer has a dozen other things going on in his head while trying to construct a plot, build believable characters, fact check, etc. Without good friends of like mind a writer can miss something. Here’s an example of unintentional humor that might not have made it into Ocean Forest’s manuscript if a couple of extra sets of eyes had looked over it:

Her mouth dropped open, revealing her white teeth and thick tongue, but she immediately moved her hands to her face to conceal her expression, though it was evident she was already greatly surprised.

Murder at the Ocean Forest was cumbersome to read and at times boring. One-and-a-half stars.

Thanks again to Gary for taking time out of his busy schedule to read and review for us here at the blog.  If Murder at the Ocean Forest sounds like something up your alley, you can pick up a copy by clicking on Amazon.

Author Bio:
Digger Cartwright is the author of several mystery stories and novels, including Murder at the Ocean Forest and The Versailles Conspiracy. As a noted industrialist, investor, and director of several private companies, Mr. Cartwright has written numerous articles on a wide range of financial, strategic planning, and policy topics and has contributed editorial content for the independent think tank, Thinking Outside the Box. He is also the contributing author of several finance and economic books. He divides his time between Washington, D.C., South Carolina, and Florida.

Author weblinks:

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Little Romance with Anna Faktorovich

With my review quota on maximum, I was pleased my next guest graciously agreed to an interview.  Tonight let's sail back in time as author Anna Faktorovich takes us on a historical journey with her debut novel Romances of George Sand.

DAB:   Where do you come up with ideas for your novels?

AF:      I’ve published a few academic books and essays, and as part of these projects, I have done a lot of research into popular and classical fiction. I have read widely in most genres, periods and national literatures. Across all of my readings, I have picked out the styles, genres, techniques, and other elements that I find to be appealing in literature. I have also come across topics and ideas that have not been covered widely in literature and should be. My research focuses on the study of literary formulas and genres, and when I dissect a formula that I like, such as the one for the rebellion novel for my Rebellion as Genre, McFarland book, I make a mental note to attempt writing a rebellion novel myself, as both an academic and a creative exercise. I prefer writing historical fiction, so coming across an interesting historical event or person also prompts ideas. I used to rely on inspiration in the first dozen novels that I wrote, but I have not attempted publishing any of them because they don’t reach my standards; thus, I’ve stopped relying on the muse, and only trust in logic when I choose a topic.

DAB:   What was the catalyst for this novel’s premise?

AF:      This novel began when I fell in love with George Sand’s works in college. I found her after reading through the entire collection of Alexander Dumas, pere, novels (over 40) because she was basically the only female novelist in the French Romantic Movement. Then, I recently had an idea about writing a romance series, and I wanted to do something a bit funny, so I decided to do a series where the heroine keeps finding in the happy ending the one-true-love in each book in the series, and then begins a search for the next true-love in the following book, and George Sand was the perfect heroine for this plot. But, when I read her biography and autobiography, I realized that she might have been asexual, or she might have failed to find love in each of her dramatic affairs, so I realized that this was going to be a single anti-romantic novel, and not a formulaic romance novel series.

DAB:   Do you ever have difficulty writing from the point-of-view of a member of the opposite sex?

AF:      University of Ottawa Press is currently reviewing my new academic book, Gender Bias in Mystery and Romance Novel Publishing: Mimicking Masculinity and Femininity. This book is about this very question, how authors mimic genders in fiction and non-fiction, and this is both in dialogues and in the narrative or authorial style. My Romances of George Sand novel also presents an interesting study of gender in dialogue because the heroine is a cross-dresser, as she dressed as a male to participate in politics and literature. So, Sand’s voice is not exactly “feminine.” I have studied the various stereotypes about gender bias, and how women are supposed to talk, and occasionally I do mimic gendered points-of-view in my fiction. The only difficulty I have is with finding motivation to create a gender divide in points-of-view, as I naturally don’t want to make women sound dimmer or more flighty than the men.

DAB:  How long did it take for you to craft this novel?

AF:      This novel was a special experiment for me. I took around a month (while I was also working on some other projects) to slowly do my research into George Sand and French history. Then, I set a 5,000 words per day goal and finished writing 110,000 words in this novel in the 20 days I set aside. Then, I spent a couple of days on design, and a couple of days on editing. The marketing, so far, is the most time-consuming task, as it’s tough pushing a novel published with my own independent press out there. In addition, the novel is anti-formulaic and radical, so pop reviewers think it’s too dense for them.

DAB:   Tell us about a typical day in your writing world.

AF:      On a typical day, I wake up at around 10am. Spend a couple of hours waking up. Reply to the 100+ emails I get daily. Post updates on social media. Complete new editing, design, formatting, etc. projects that come in that day to my Anaphora Literary Press. Spend some time on marketing, or coming up with new promotion methods for my books. When my backlog of practical projects for the day is done, I do some writing. When I was writing Romances of George Sand, to finish 5,000 words+ daily, I spent the entire day writing (at least 12 hours), and did not begin any new projects, only spending a few hours on catching up with essential Anaphora projects.

DAB:   What kind of research practices do you utilize for writing?

AF:      I prefer to do a lot of research because I want to create a realistic world that readers can trust. If it's a historical novel, I research the general history of the period, as well as all of the key historical figures, monuments, locations, and sometimes the weather on a specific day, if it's relevant and I can find the information. I use Google Maps to see street-views of locations I'm describing, and otherwise try to always be specific in all descriptions with the help of research.

DAB:   There's the eternal debate whether to outline or not.  What is your preference?

AF:      When I was younger, I believed in free-writing, or writing without an outline, just letting art happen.  Recently, I've decided that it is the writer's job to be in control of their novel, and that readers enjoy novels that are logically organized. So, I have started doing very detailed outlines, and I plan on doing detailed outlines for all of my future novels.

DAB:   What are some things you've done to get the word out about your novel?

AF:      Since this is my first novel, I'm especially excited to promote it.  I've created giveaways on GoodReads and LibraryThing, on the latter over 450 people have requested the novel so far. I have also created a YouTube trailer, upon a request from a reviewer: I've also sent out 30 print review copies, and around 100 electronic review copies, and some reviews have started to come in. Here is one from the Examiner:

DAB:   Care to tell us what is next on your writing horizon?

AF:      I plan on writing a series of historical novels. Romances of George Sand is the first book in this series, and the next one will be a novel version of my poetry collection, Battle for Athens. This book will be about an anti-corruption rebellion in Athens, Tennessee by veterans in post-WWII America.

DAB:   Now's your chance - give us the final plug for your novel.

AF:      The Romances of George Sand takes the heroine from a childhood in the aristocracy amidst the Napoleonic Wars, to an unhappy early marriage and eventual divorce, to her careers as a country doctor, pharmacist, lawyer, and most successfully as a romance novelist. This is a story about the revolutions in a woman’s heart as she goes through dozens of love affairs. It is also about George’s involvement in violent, political revolutions of her time, including the July and June Revolutions and the 1848 Revolution; in the latter, she served as the unofficial Minister of Propaganda. The story is full of military battles, coup d’etat maneuvers, duels, malevolent plots, infidelity, artistic discussions, monumental legal cases, and reflections on the nature of love, family, romance, rebellion, and femininity. The history behind each of the events depicted is researched with biographical precision, but liberty is taken with some events that have been contested by historians, including the lesbian affair George had with Marie Dorval and the identity of the real father of her second child. Students of literature and history will recognize many of the central characters, as George befriended Napoleon I and III, Alexander Dumas pere and fils, Frederic Chopin, Alfred de Musset, and a long list of other notables.

Author Bio:
Anna Faktorovich is the Director and Founder of the Anaphora Literary Press. She taught college English for three years before focusing entirely on publishing. She has a PhD in English Literature. She published two
scholarly books: Rebellion as Genre in the Novels of Scott, Dickens and Stevenson (McFarland, 2013) and The Formulas of Popular Fiction: Elements of Fantasy, Science Fiction, Romance, Religious and Mystery Novels (McFarland, 2014). She completed two other scholarly books: Gender Bias in Mystery and Romance Novel Publishing: Mimicking Masculinity and Femininity and Wendell Berry’s New Agrarianism and Beyond, for which she received a Kentucky Historical Society fellowship. She also published two poetry collections Improvisational Arguments (Fomite Press, 2011) and Battle for Athens (Anaphora, 2012).

For more information about Anna or to pre-order her novel, click on any of the links below:

Anaphora Literary Press:
Amazon Pre-Order page:

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Searching for Spare Change w/ Ken Dalton

It's welcome back time here at the blog!

Author Ken Dalton has written a hilarious series of books - the Pinky and Bear Mysteries - that I've had the pleasure of reading and reviewing.  When the Tribute Books call went out for his latest offering, I immediately chimed in and claimed a spot on his blog tour.  It's always nice to revisit fun and enjoyable characters and read the sharp wit with which Ken writes them.

And this time you, dear readers, can help determine the outcome of the cliffhanger at the end of Brother, can you spare a dime? - but you've got to read it first.

Cliff hanger contest:
Brother, can you spare a dime? ends with a prize winning cliff hanger that defies all logic.

Let Ken know how you would answer the question and he will choose the two answers he likes the best.  Both winners will receive a complete paperback set of his Pinky and Bear mystery series.

The Bloody Birthright
The Big Show Stopper
Death is a Cabernet
The Tartan Shroud
Brother, can you spare a dime?

Five books, each one personally inscribed!

Email your cliff hanger answer to and in a couple of months Ken will post the winners' names on his Facebook page.

So now that we've got this little contest to whet your appetite, let's move onto the novel, shall we?

Book Summary:
Bear’s planned afternoon of beer and baseball is interrupted by a phone call from a man he hardly remembers from their years at Elko High. So begins the tale of a cold-blooded murder and the theft of a dime worth two million dollars!

Faced with bi-coastal murder suspects, Pinky hands Bear, and Flo the sweaty task of tracking down one of the suspects along the hot, humid North Carolina shoreline while he chooses to pursue the other on the Kona coast of Hawaii. But Pinky, after imbibing too many Mai Tai’s with a bevy of sky-goddesses, and a moved-up court date, is forced to return to Carson City, sans suspect.

Bear and Flo hit pay dirt and with the identity of the killer in hand they fly across the Pacific Ocean to the smoggy Beijing airport where they meet Joe, the uncle of Pinky’s Chinese secretary. The enigmatic Joe quotes Confucius and Shakespeare as he purposefully guides the dynamic duo to their final destination— oxygen sparse Lhasa, Tibet.

My Review:
Like I said before, it's always nice to revisit familiar characters I've grown to love.  We've got J. Pincus Delmont - or Pinky - that narcissistic, blowhard of a lawyer or enjoys nothing more than fleecing his clients in order to afford his favorite blend of expensive coffees.  Then there's Bear, the loveable oaf of brawn and little brain who likes nothing more than beer, baseball and staring at Flo's boobs.

Who's Flo you ask?  She's the feminine side of the dynamic duo with the smart-as-a-whip mind and equally smart and acerbic tongue to go with it.  Flo is the love of Bear's life and the bane of Pinky's existence.  She's a force to be reckoned with because only she can slip greenbacks out of Pinky's tight fist faster than a Midwestern tornado.

And in this book, Flo is given some major page time.

Which did make this story feel a bit different from the prior novels in the series.  The mystery really isn't a mystery that has to be solved but more of a chase as they cross the globe to bring the assailant back and save Pinky's client - and Pinky's perfect acquittal record.

But it's still a ride worth every second.

Once again, Bear's perfect afternoon of watching his beloved Red Sox while Flo is spending a day at the spa is interrupted by a murder.  An old high school chum calls to beg help after visiting his coin collector brother only to discover a bullet through said brother's brain.  The news gets worse when the chum admits to touching the gun, stepping in the blood, and leaving all sorts of forensic evidence all over the crime scene.

Oh, and there's a dime missing.  Not just any dime.  A rare dime.  A very rare dime.  A dime so rare it's worth two million dollars.

At that price, it's well worth Pinky's time to take on a new client, even though the interruption just put a damper on Pinky's lunch with Willow, his favorite ex-wife and Carson City's District Attorney.  With the DA nearby, just speak in hypothetical terms, please and thank you, until the brother is officially a suspect.

Brother captured, Pinky, Bear, and Flo jet set across the fruited plain to track down two possible suspects to protect Pinky's precious reputation and record.  But Willow throws a wrench into Pinky's plans and forces him to return from Hawaii, providing Bear and Flo carte blanche to take a little vacay from North Carolina to Hawaii then China and Tibet, with Pinky yelling along the way about the cost of business class.

Will they capture the real criminal in time, or will Bear die first from oxygen deprivation among the ridiculously high altitude of Tibet?  And when will Pinky ever be able to keep a legal secretary longer than a week?

The back and forth among the characters is always the best fun when reading a Pinky and Bear novel.  It was also nice to see Flo actually get a point-of-view scene when Bear took a nasty turn in Tibet.  But as I said before, this novel did feel a bit different from the priors in the series due to the focus shifting more toward Bear and Flo and not as much with the haughty Pinky.  There was really no mystery to solve either, but the globe-trotting to China and Tibet was amazing - especially with the fact that Ken Dalton wrote these scenes from personal experience.  Can I have an oxygen mask please (and not just for Tibet)?

 One thing I also appreciate going into a book by an author I've previously read is that Ken knows proper structure when it comes to showing vs. telling and proper point-of-view delineation.  The only thing negative I'd say is that this novel had quite a few more editing errors than I'm used to seeing in this series, but these could easily be fixed in later editions.

Once again, thumbs up on a job well-done in this latest installment of the Pinky and Bear Mysteries.  Now if I can just figure out how the cliffhanger should continue in the next release.  Hmmm...

Prices/Formats: $4.99 ebook, $14.95 paperback
Pages: 310
ISBN: 9780578140391
Publisher: Different Drummer Press
Release: April 9, 2014

Kindle buy link ($4.99):

Amazon paperback buy link ($14.95): paperback buy link ($14.95):
personalized inscription and free shipping

Author Bio:
Ken was born in 1938 at Hollywood Hospital. He grew up in Los Angeles with his parents, his older sister
and younger brother.

In a turn of bad luck, the dreaded Polio virus attacked Ken at the age of five. By the age of sixteen, after eleven years of operations, therapy, and braces to mitigate the effects of Polio, Ken’s luck changed when he met the girl of his dreams. A few years later they married, produced three wonderful children, and settled into a happy life in Southern California.

In 1966, Ken and his family moved to the green hills of Sonoma County where they bought a home surrounded with apple trees.

Some time later, Ken, designed, built, and operated a small winery that produced award winning Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

Then, in a moment of madness, Ken began writing. His first article was published in Golf Illustrated. Many more golf articles followed in national and regional magazines including Golf Magazine and Fairways and Greens. Eventually Ken felt the urge to write his first novel.

Now, after the publication of The Bloody Birthright, The Big Show Stopper, Death is a Cabernet, and The Tartan Shroud, Ken has published his latest Pinky and Bear mystery, Brother, can you spare a dime?

Follow the Tribute Books blog tour:

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Interview with Jason D Morrow

It's time for another author interview!  Today I'm pleased to bring to you Jason D. Morrow, author of several fantasy and paranormal novels.  He's a voracious writer and has released the Marenon Chronicles, the Starborn Uprising and Starborn Ascension in the last couple of years.  Join me in welcoming him to the blog.

DAB:   Was there a point in your life that prompted your desire to write or have you always wanted to be an author?

JDM:    I have always wanted to be an author. Ever since I can remember I was always trying to create stories with my imagination. It started with drawing, though I was never any good. I was about five or six years old when I came up with the character named Zack. I would steal my dad’s computer paper (the kind with the perforated edges. Remember those?), and draw out these stories. This square-headed individual and his pet ant went on many adventures together, and my parents were more than happy to encourage my creativity. I look back and am deeply moved at how nice they were about it. I’m sure it got annoying with “another adventure with Zack and Anty!”

Once I was old enough to really delve into novels, I would get lost in them. I loved how an author could just suck me into a world I had never seen before. I decided as a kid that I would try to do just that someday. Finally, I’ve done it, and so far I am pleased with the results. As of right now I’ve got seven books on the market and am currently writing my eighth.

DAB:   Do you ever have difficulty writing from the point-of-view of a member of the opposite sex?

JDM:    Actually, four out of the seven books I have out are from the perspective of female characters. I have to say, before I decided to go on this journey to try and write from the female perspective, I was more than a little nervous. I have read so many reviews of other authors who have tried to do it. Some seem successful while others seemed to have struggled.

My wife, Emily, did a lot to calm my nerves. When I was writing Out Of Darkness, I was constantly asking her what she thought about certain phrases and feelings. She helped coach me through it in the first book. On into the second and third, I feel like a got a really good grasp on the character and realized that that was what it is really about. Being a male and writing from the female perspective really has nothing to do with gender. It has everything to do with knowing your character. The question is “What would so-and-so do in this situation?” rather than “What would a female do in this situation?”

DAB:   How long did it take for you to craft this novel?

JDM:    The Deliverer two about two years from its first concept all the way to final published book. That includes sitting in class during college and dreaming about the world of Marenon and the characters that should be in it. Once I was confident in the story and decided to get it all down on paper, it took me about six to eight months to write it, get it edited, and finally publish it. And I am more than happy with the result.

Right now, that seems like a very long time. And it is. Typically I can come up with a concept and finish a novel in about a month’s time. From concept to publishing, it’s more like two months before it is done. But while it’s off to my editor, I’m already working on a different project, or working on the sequel.

The Deliverer took me about eight months. It’s sequel, The Gatekeeper, took me about four months, and the third installment, The Reckoning, took me about two months. I always say, once the first book is written, the next two (or however many sequels) are much easier to finish.

DAB:   Tell us the moment you received your first real fan correspondence.

JDM:    One of my favorite aspects of being a writer is receiving emails from fans. I read every single one of them. One of the first emails (not sure if it was the first) was from a retired teacher who just loved The Marenon Chronicles. It warmed my heart to read the things that she liked the most. When I received that email, I knew that I was on the right path.

Another email I received was from a woman who was sick and had to spend most of her days in bed for her recovery. She told me that she loved the characters in The Starborn Saga and how they had to face such adversity. It made her feel like she could do it too.

Anytime I get an email of encouragement like this one, I am inspired to write more:
“I am a avid reader and l love your books. I am truly conveyed into your new worlds. What a wonderful talent you have. Your main characters charm and amaze, not an easy task when I have read So many books. Fantasy at it's best. More please.”

DAB:   Tell us a typical day in your writing world.

JDM:    I have a plan called: A Million Words Per Year. It’s a plan that pushes me to write 2,000 words per day. Now, I know to some of you, 2,000 words doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you take 2,000 words and multiply it by 365 days, then you’ve got 730,000 words. Now, that’s not quite a million, but I’m leaving room for the fact that I know I won’t simply stop once I reach 2,000 words. Many times when I hit 2,000, I keep going and going. It’s not unheard of for me to hit 8,000 words in a day (that’s stretching it, however).

So, I get up in the morning, have coffee and breakfast with my wife, then it’s time to write. I usually read over everything that I wrote the day before, just to get everything fresh in my mind. My stopping point usually depends on how I’m feeling once I reach 2,000 words. If I’m in the zone, I keep writing. If it’s a struggle to get to 2,000 words then I know that I’ve reached a stopping point for the day and the rest can be tackled the next day.

Interrupt all that with a lunch, taking our collie (Winnie the Pooch) out for walks, it makes for a pretty full day.

DAB:   Do you write full-time? If so, tell us about the journey to full-time.

JDM:    Yes, I write full-time, but it hasn’t always been that way. My wife and I have always had adventurous spirits. When we graduated college, we were both working at a small newspaper in Georgia. The job was fine, but we felt that we were rapidly falling into a life of the same old nine-to-five (really eight-to-five). We wanted to do something different. So, we moved to South Korea to teach English.

I was already working on The Deliverer and living in South Korea really gave me more time to work on the novel. About halfway through the year, I finished it and started working on the second one. The Deliverer didn’t do much at first. It was a very slow process, but I didn’t expect it to be a best-seller right off the bat. I spent the next four months working on The Gatekeeper and finally, I released it. The next month, I went from making about $20 to about $1,000. I was shocked, but I quickly started working on The Reckoning. The results were pleasing.

We started a second contract in Korea and stayed another year. Inspired by the sales of The Marenon Chronicles, I started on a new set of books called The Starborn Uprising. It had a different tone altogether and was something completely different for me. It was less fantasy and more dystopian/paranormal, and the main character was a female. This series took off and people loved it. Along with it came enough money that when we got back to the United States, we eventually decided that it would be best for me to take on writing full-time so I can build up the writing career.

And I must give credit to my wife, Emily, here because I could not have done The Starborn Uprising without her. She gave me inspiration, helped me with writing from a female perspective, and ultimately, the concept of the story was hers as well. She was a great help that might have changed our lives forever.

DAB:   Have you ever experienced writer’s block?

JDM:    Ah, the dreaded writer’s block. I think every writer experiences it at some point or another. I remember a few months ago, I got cocky and toted how I never got writers block because I have so many ideas in my head, all I have to do is start writing.

It was about that time that I hit the wall. It was with the current series I am writing called The Starborn Ascension. I wrote the first book, Anywhere But Here, in about a month and was extremely pleased with the result. I still think it is my best book so far. Then it was on to book two. Now, I’m a planner, and I like to have my books outlined. When I start a series, I already know how it’s all going to come together and how everything is going to end. That’s the same case with The Starborn Ascension, but when I got to book two, some things had changed in book one that made book two have to be different.

I started to panic and I didn’t know what to do. The characters weren’t doing what I wanted them to do, and I was stuck. I still had the ending, but I was stuck. Then I started working with a new character, and I had to make a tough decision. In order for the story to work, something else was going to have to change. And I can’t really go into detail about it, because it might give something away, so all I can say is that when you come to writer’s block, make the tough decisions to cut a character, change a character, or change a storyline no matter how much it hurts. Eventually, everything will fall into place, just as it did for me. Now I’m more excited than every about the new book coming out, as well as book three.

DAB:   Have you ever written to music?

JDM:    Yes! I have a whole playlists in my iTunes library dedicated to my writing. The playlists are characterized by emotions. So one list might be sad, while another is titled, hopeful, intense, or action. For the Starborn books, Hans Zimmer from the newest Batman films really hits the spot, and I’m not sure why. For the Marenon books, it was everything from Armageddon, to The Island, to Lord of the Rings.

But truly, most of the time I like complete silence. But when I need a kick in the pants, some good music will always jumpstart my creativity.

DAB:   There’s the eternal debate whether to outline or not. What is your preference?

JDM:    I don’t know how to write without outlining. For me, it’s a balance, though. I think every writer should outline, but allow the story to bend as it unfolds. If a great idea strikes, don’t throw it out because it doesn’t fit to your outline. Explore it and see where it can take you. You will find out quickly enough if it works or not.

I find that if I don’t outline, I’m all over the place and there is more of a danger of leaving things out or putting yourself into a tough situation that you otherwise could have avoided.

DAB:   How to do you handle negative feedback about your novels?

JDM:    Bad reviews are tough, especially for a beginner. And don’t fool yourself into thinking that you won’t get a negative reviews. Every person is different and someone will hate your book. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best things since Dickens, someone will hate you and your book. But that’s okay. You have to have a tough skin.

I’m still at a point where I do read the reviews online. I want to know what people are thinking about the books. I’m eager to know what people liked and didn’t like. But I’m finding more and more that reading reviews just becomes a distraction that should be avoided. It is discouraging to read from someone that thought your work was “drivel” but there are so many more readers that loved the book, so I’m okay with it.

DAB:   What are some things you’ve done to get the word out about your novels?

JDM:    On my website I have a contact form where readers can sign up to be notified once I’ve released a new book. The email list has grown since its inception, and that is always a nice boost when I release something. I simply send out an email letting them know that a new book is out, and my sales boost almost immediately. But if you’re an author and you have this feature, be sure not to abuse it. I only ever send out an email when something important is happening or I have a new book out. (PS - something important happening is not a new blog post!)

I also like to contact book bloggers about my new releases. It’s like sending a letter to a potential agent or publisher. You have to let the book blogger know why they will want to try your novel out. There are plenty of rejections, but for every three or four rejections, there is someone who is interested in reading the book. 

DAB:   Do you have any writing pointers for the authors in our audience?

JDM:    First, write. Write, write and write some more. It doesn’t matter how uninspired you feel, you must write today. If the creativity isn’t flowing for you, it doesn’t matter…write! It is far too easy not to write. But you can’t fall into that trap.

As for selling your written work? Invest in a good cover artist. I work with Melchelle Designs and she sells you artwork at a great price.

More important than that? Invest in an editor. It’s fine to read over it yourself, in fact if you don’t you’re doing it all wrong. I read my books about three or four times before they get to print, but I still use editors. If you aren’t investing in an editor, you’re doing it wrong!

DAB:   Okay, final plug for your novel.

JDM:    I like to write fast-paced novels. The Deliverer is set in a fantasy world unlike any other. I hope you
are interested in reading it. Maybe the description will interest you:

First they chase him through the mountains for days. Then they murder his grandfather. And just as seventeen-year-old Silas Ainsley is about to escape his nameless enemies, he is killed.

This is where it should end, but Silas' journey is far from over.

He wakes up and finds himself in a realm called Marenon; a place where humans are not the superior race, where magic is a way of life, and war is threatening to destroy it all.

Forced to make his way through the afterlife alone, Silas joins with a band of lawless mercenaries who claim they can help Silas find his murdered grandfather in exchange for his help on one of their more dangerous missions.

Along the way, Silas discovers he is part of an ancient prophecy declaring that he is the only one who can deliver Marenon from the enemies that wish to extinguish its people - the same enemies that killed Silas and his grandfather.

Thanks again, Jason, for taking time away from writing to participate in this interview.  For more about Jason and his novels, click the links below.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Diamonds All the Rage in "The Hard Way"

Do you wanna ski the slopes in Las Vegas?  How about strap on a pair of ice skates and slide across the outdoor rink?  You could do all that and more at January Resort and Casino, the luxurious locale in Cathi Stoler's novel The Hard Way.

The Hard Way Summary:
Private Investigator Helen McCorkendale’s childhood friend, Jimmy Scanlan, has just opened January, the most lavish casino and hotel resort on the Las Vegas Strip. After attending the grand opening, Helen returns to New York and encourages her friend, Laurel Imperiole, Senior Editor at Women Now magazine, to create a get-away contest for readers offering a weekend at the hotel as the grand prize. The winner, Dawn Chapman, a jewelry store employee from Cincinnati, denies entering the contest and initially refuses the trip. Finally persuaded by Laurel to accept, she arrives at the hotel and nearly faints when she passes the hotel’s elite meeting rooms where the International Diamond Dealers Consortium is holding its annual meeting. She insists on returning home immediately.

Suspicious of her behavior, Jimmy visits her suite to encourage her to attend the Saturday afternoon pool party, saying she can leave on his private jet the next day. Later in the afternoon, he finds Chapman’s dead body by the pool. She’s been murdered—an unusual double poisoning by cyanide and diamond dust.

Dawn Chapman was not who she appeared to be, and therein lies a mystery. But to Helen and Laurel, the main task is to take Jimmy Scanlon off the suspect list and clear his name. Will their luck hold? Or will it be a crap shoot, as they roll the dice and do it ‘the hard way,’ going for doubles when the odds are against them. Losing may mean losing their lives.

My Review:
We open with a lavish affair as Jimmy Scanlan, New York PI Helen McCorkendale's childhood friend, whisks her away to Las Vegas for the grand opening gala of his flagship January Resort and Casino.  Rub shoulders with the likes of music moguls, politicians, famous actors, and Keith Richards as they take in the incredible array of an indoor ski resort, an outdoor ice rink, the Igloo restaurant, and the Blue Ice Nightclub - January's soon-to-be-famous watering hole made entirely of ice.  Accommodations are fabulous.  The food to die for.  Success is certainly on the horizon.

Until death threatens Jimmy's precarious empire.

Laurel Imperiole, editor of New York's premier magazine Women Now, thought she had a great idea to help Helen's friend get his new casino off to a great start - a spread featuring the winner enjoying a free weekend trip to January.

But no one expected the contestant to be murdered - and right in the middle of the International Diamond Dealers Consortium.

All the while Jimmy's arch enemy, Clive Drummond, hopes he'll get first dibs at the dying carcass that was once January.  After all, he had big plans for that location until Jimmy swept it out from under him.

The Hard Way is the third book in a series, but it's pretty much a standalone as far as the mystery, with only a little bit of some of the side stories from events in the first two coming into play.  The first novel in the series was pretty much focused on Laurel with Helen's character more of an afterthought.  The second had more equal parts with Laurel and Helen, but Laurel was still the driving force leading the story.  This third novel was focused primarily on Helen, which felt a little more accurate since she's supposed to be the private investigator here.  Helen is also a bit more refined and likeable than Laurel, which is why I somewhat liked this one a bit more than the first and second.

The story here is pretty simple.  There's not really a whole lot of tension.  It's easy to figure out where everything is headed and who the bad guys are, so it's relaxed reading for those who like a cozy mystery that doesn't require much thought.  I typically like something with a bit more grit.  But then again, I'm a little weird for a girl.

My biggest issue with The Hard Way is that it is written in very passive voice.  It consists mostly of telling instead of showing, which frustrated me.  Most scenes started out with a character rehashing what previously happened while the reader apparently had their eyes closed or took a nap.  Such as one character was getting ready to head into a dangerous situation at the end of one chapter, and then the next chapter opened with that character waking up the next morning and reviewing the events of the previous evening either in their mind or over coffee with someone else.  This happened over and over throughout the story.  Why did I as the reader not get to experience said events as they were happening instead of merely having a character tell me about it later?  This deflated any semblance of tension or character empathy throughout the entire novel, leaving me feeling like a good storyline idea never lived up to its potential.

Even after reading the first two books I felt no connection to the characters.  The decisions they made to lie to those around them and to hide evidence from the police (and then wonder why the police weren't able to do their job) really kept them in the doghouse for me - and yet, neither Helen nor Laurel pay any sort of price for their constant deceptions.  The main storyline is quickly wrapped up with little to no resolution of many other outstanding questions.  I closed out The Hard Way feeling rather dissatisfied.

However, point-of-view usage was spot on.  Change in character POV was properly delineated with a scene or chapter break - very refreshing to an anal nut like me.  Descriptions of the casino were vivid and I could easily imagine what it would look like in real life.  Editing was fairly clean with only a few noticeable moments (IDCC instead of IDDC a couple of times - very understandable considering the close proximity on the keyboard) and formatting was just as clean.  I appreciated that, and wished very much that the story would have flowed better with more showing instead of so much telling.

But again, if something simple is your fancy and an escape from reality tickles your brain, you might enjoy the vast descriptions of January Resort and Casino enough to take a gander.  Now that's a place I'd like to check out some day - if only it existed in the real world.  Sigh!

Prices/Formats: $4.95 ebook, $14.95 paperback
April 15, 2014
Camel Press

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Author Bio:
Cathi Stoler’s mysteries feature PI Helen McCorkendale and magazine editor, Laurel Imperiole. The Hard
Way is the third book in the series. The first, Telling Lies, took on the subject of stolen Nazi art. Book 2, Keeping Secrets, delved into the subject of hidden identity. Stoler’s short stories include: “Magda,” in the Criminal Element Anthology Malfeasance Occasional: Girl Trouble, “Out of Luck,” in the Anthology, Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices, “Fatal Flaw,” a finalist for the Derringer for Best Short Story and “Money Never Sleeps” both published at Beat to A Pulp. Cathi is working on a novella, Nick of Time, which features International gambler, Nick Donahue. She is also starting a new series, Bar None, A Murder On The Rocks Mystery, with female bar owner, Jude Dillane. Cathi is a member of the New York/Tri State chapter of Sisters In Crime. She is also a member of Mystery Writers of America.

Connect with Cathi at

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