Book Review – Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Title: Afterworlds

Author: Scott Westerfeld

Format: Audiobook

Published: 2014

 

Generally speaking I do not make a habit of listening to books I have not read first. It is a weird rule of mine. When I listen to books I’m traveling to work and am stuck in massive traffic jams. I need to many times keep my attention on the road and not on what is coming out of my radio. It is why I pick books with which I am familiar that way I do not get caught up with the story and neglect to pay attention to the road before me and the jerks who suddenly decide to cut me off.

 

Yet, I reached a point where the book I was familiar with was not in yet and I had just finished the previous book, I was in a bind and I needed something good and I needed something fast. So desperately I took to looking at the books that were in at my library and my eyes fell upon Afterworlds. I debated for a very long time. Should I go with something new or rack my brain for something old that I enjoyed. In the end I choose after worlds and I’m glad I did. The book was rather good, though I admit it was a bit of a mind screw at the same time.

 

The premise of the book is two stories at once. The first story is of Darcy a young girl who wrote a novel in November for National Novel Writing Month. (Funny that’s going on right now!) Once completing the novel she submitted her story to an agent for publication and got signed for an amazing deal not only for the one book but for a sequel as well. To be honest, the deal she got was a little too good to be true based on my experience and research of the publishing industry. The other story is Darcy’s novel Afterworlds about a girl named Lizzie who has a harrowing experience where she should have died but instead can will herself between the world of the living and the world of the dead.

 

Throughout the novel the story goes back and forth between the two plot arcs. Darcy’s world is one of deep fascination. She is navigating waters that are still foreign to me but I have read a lot about, the world of publication. As I read her tale I found myself sitting there going ‘Is this what it is really like? Or is this a convenient plot point?’ I always asked that question as I struggle to believe the reality of the generous contract Darcy received at the start of the story. Yet I know there has to be some nuggets of truth littered in the story as the author Scott Westerfeld is a seasoned published author.

 

The other half of the story about Lizzie was creepy and gripping as well. I loved the fantasy element and the picture that was painted of the afterlife in this world. I was gripped by this story as well as it was filled with intrigue and suspense. The story came to a nice end which was built up as in Darcy’s story she debated the end most thoroughly. I do know that I wonder if there will be a second book simply because Darcy was signed for a sequel and she had an interesting start of an idea to write for her next book.   If there is you can be assured that I will want to read it because I enjoyed this story and would give it a 4 out of 5 pages and because it is a story by my all-time favorite author.

 

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Writer Wednesday – John Allen

Who are you?

My name is John F. Allen and I’m an American Speculative Fiction writer who resides in Indianapolis, IN.

What type of stuff do you write?

I write across the genres of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery and Comic Books.

What do you want to pimp right now?

My latest release is a novella titled, “Codename: Knight Ranger”. The book follows the origin of Captain Alexandre “Neal” Du Bois aka Knight Ranger, a former soldier whose unit is ambushed by supernatural forces while in Afghanistan. Du Bois, whose body is destroyed, is the sole survivor and receives a new, superhuman, bio-engineered body thanks to a shadowy government agency. He is then forced to act as an agent of this organization in exchange, while coping with the loss of his unit, being estranged from his family and finding his place in the world as a new man in a world where the supernatural is a reality.

What is your favorite book? (or three)

The Widening Gyre by Robert B. Parker, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley.

Besides the author hat, what hats do you wear?

Editor and Publisher (of my own independently produced works), Artist, Marketing Agent and Mentor.

Where can we find you?

Please visit my website: http://www.johnfallenwriter.com. There are links to my twitter account, facebook and other social media sites I’m affiliated with.

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HOW TO CREATE A WRITER’S PLATFORM AND WHY?

As writers, we’re inclined to devote much of our time in the pursuit of our main objective and that’s to write. Most writers make lousy business people, unless their background is in a business related field.

We are imaginative people who have a passion to create, so we tend to be oblivious to the business of writing. However, one of the first things that writers need to understand is that they can write eight million stories, but if no one knows about them they won’t get published and no one will read them.

There are many reasons that it is necessary for writers to create a platform. The most basic reason is to inform the public—your potential audience—about your writing. However, the concept of a platform is a bit deeper than merely letting people know you’re a writer, it’s also your ability to personally sell books through:

Your own individual merit

Networking—personal and professional connections

Media outlets which can be utilized to sell your books

How well people know you and know of you, is extremely important as it relates to establishing a platform.

Well before I signed the contract for my first novel and short stories, I began using as many resources as I could think of to let people know that I was a writer and I had work to sell!

I instinctively got out in front of creating a platform for myself and my writing. Mostly I was simply geeked about the idea of people reading my work. Now, I am developing, maintaining and utilizing my platform for more focused reasons.

For the purposes of this blog post, I will assume that most of my readers are new writers or those who are just now accepting their calling. Although anyone, at any stage in their writing career needs to create a solid platform—if they haven’t already—and could benefit from the information contained here.

The following is a list of the most basic and common building blocks necessary for creating a platform.

A website and/or blog—the goal is to build and maintain a large and loyal readership

Social media—this is one of the most important aspects of building a platform as it allows for the most immediate and wide-reaching exposure you’re likely to get

Blog posts—this is how you are able to relate your writer’s journey to your readers and help them to learn from your experience(s)

An e-newsletter and/or mailing list—this helps you to maintain your readership and keep them informed of important info pertaining to your writing

Guest post on the blogs of other writers—this is a way for you to broaden your readership and outreach

Memberships in writing organizations—this helps to establish your standing and credibility within the writing community

Media exposure—writing articles for media outlets, public speaking and media appearances (here the BIGGER the better)

While not all of these components are going to be relevant to you and/or necessary, they are the most important to consider. In today’s market and society, a website/blog, mailing list and social media are the three most important building blocks to consider in my opinion. These three components are the ones which will account for the maximum amount of exposure you get and the farthest reaching attention you receive.

It’s important to understand that building a platform takes time and effort.

This doesn’t happen overnight!

Developing a following/readership takes perseverance and dedication. It is a continuing effort which happens daily.

The amount of effort and foresight you put into it, is directly indicative of the gains you get out of it. Simply creating a website/blog and being on Facebook or twitter doesn’t constitute having a platform.

Simply writing your novel or short story isn’t enough. Even getting it to the publisher or self-publishing isn’t enough. You have to establish an identity/brand, own your marketability and work diligently to cultivate your readership with every opportunity available.

In closing, I’d like to encourage any writer—new or established—to consider taking the time and making the effort to build and maintain a solid platform. It is a highly essential component of selling your books/stories and connecting with loyal and well entertained readers.

 

Writer Wednesday – Stephen Zimmer

Who are you?

I am just a guy who keeps moving forward.  But a major part of me is being a writer.  I love the creative possibilities and the call to living that writing offers to me.  

My works span several genres, from epic fantasy (Fires in Eden Series) , to cross-genre (The Rising Dawn Saga), to steampunk (the Harvey and Solomon tales), to horror (the Hellscapes short story collection), to sword and sorcery (the Rayden Valkyrie stories).  I have a wide range of interests, from practicing martial arts, to a love of history, travel, motorcyles, music and guitar playing, movies and filmmaking, and other activities.  All of it is a part of who I am, but like I said, at the end of the day, I’m just a guy who keeps moving forward.

What type of stuff do you write?

Epic fantasy, sword and sorcery, horror, steampunk and sword and sorcery are the genres I have been published in.  But I do have writing projects developing in YA dystopian and paranormal romance areas, though I do not have a projection just yet as to when I will be able to get those focused on (as I’m working on the followup to Heart of a Lion and the 4th Fires in Eden books right now).

What do you want to pimp right now?

At the moment, I’m touring in support of Heart of a Lion, which is the first book of the Dark Sun Dawn trilogy.  It is hard-hitting, dark fantasy/sword and sorcery that stars my heroine Rayden Valkyrie.  It is very action intensive and I feel that Robert E. Howard fans definitely would love it.  

I also had a brand new release last week, Hellscapes, Volume II, the second in my horror collection featuring tales that are set in various visions/depictions of Hell (hence the title!)

What is your favorite book? (or three)

My favorite book or three is the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  That lit the fire in me at the age of seven.  But we will count that as one and mention a few more.  The Chronicles of Narnia we will also count as one.  The Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia were at my foundation, in my childhood, and will always be the root.  Since then, there have been many works that have influenced me, from Clive Barker’s Books of Blood short story collection, to George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, to, more recently, The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo, which was an amazing read.  

Besides the author hat, what hats do you wear?

I am one of the principle individuals with Seventh Star Press, a small press based in Lexington Kentucky focusing on speculative fiction that has about 20 authors and eighty titles at the moment, including several anthologies.  I am also the founder and director of the Imaginarium Convention, a convention all about creative writing that is held annually in Louisville, Kentucky.  The third year is coming October 7-9 of 2016.  I also serve as a volunteer literary programming director for Fandom Fest Louisville and Tulsa, as well as the Fright Night Horror Weekend.  I am also a filmmaker, and am in the process of developing a TV pilot project based upon the Rayden Valkyrie character.

Where can we find you?

The principle areas I maintain online are:

website:  www.stephenzimmer.com

Facebook:www.facebook.com/stephenzimmer7

Twitter: @sgzimmer

Instagram: @stephenzimmer7

Blog: stephenzimmer.blogspot.com

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A Call to Live – The Real School of Writing

One of the core things about writing that I have come to realize and appreciate is the call to live that is inherent within it.  Experience is one of the best teachers out there, and life experience provides an abundance of invaluable lessons for writers.

Getting out and meeting people from all walks of life, traveling to numerous different places, trying out different activities, and taking risks all contribute to the growth of a writer.  From experiencing different kinds of people to different kinds of cultures, life experience offers an education unparalleled for developing your writing.  

A great many writers are introverts, so this is not the easiest path for some, but the rewards for one’s writing are tremendous.  Having extensive life experiences helps you to create realistic characters and cultures.  It helps you bring realism to the action and atmosphere of a story.   It inspires you in an abundance of ways, and even gives birth to new ideas.

Over the years, and now at the stage where I have eleven books in print, I have come to realize that being a writer involves a call to living.  I encourage all writers to try new things, go new places, and meet new people.  I am absolutely certain your writing will be the better for it.

Book Reviews: Challengers of the Unknown AND Groucho Marx, Secret Agent by Ron Goulart

Title: Challengers of the Unknown

Author: Ron Goulart

Format: Paperback, published by Dell

Published:1977

challengersa

Title: Groucho Marx, Secret Agent

Author: Ron Goulart

Format: Hardback edition by Thomas Dunne Books

Published: 2002

groucho

No, you aren’t seeing double in an odd way. Or a glitch.  And No, this isn’t something I will be doing on a regular basis.  But, Yes, there are two book titles with accompanying information and cover shots at the top of this review and I will be reviewing them both in combination.   Now, it would seem obvious to the observant that the reason for doing this may be simply because they are by the same author. Not just any author, but the well known and prolific author, Ron Goulart, known for tackling stories for decades of all sorts, from noir to adventure, from original characters to media tie ins, from shorts in magazines like Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock to novels.  So, it’s true in part that this combined review is related to the same author being responsible for both books.

But, there’s more to it than that.

In the two books in question, Goulart tackles very similar things.  Groucho Marx, Secret Agent is Goulart’s fifth book in a series about the Hollywood icon solving mysteries with crime reporter turned script writer Frank Denby.  This volume opens up with Groucho and Frank at a Halloween party in 1939, a party thrown by a millionaire type with connections to Hollywood.  Although Goulart describes him as “darn close to being a Howard Hughes doppelgänger”, I’d say he falls more in the William Randolph Hearst category as the book goes on.  Among the attendees at this party are the millionaire’s star actress for his studio and her British director husband.  The husband ends up dead after the party and the actress, an old friend of Groucho’s, pulls the comedian philosopher and Denby into the case, a suicide that looks much more like murder.  What unfurls is a case involving spies, actors, assassins, and enough perfectly aimed Marx humor to make a reader think the man himself wrote the book.

In Challengers of the Unknown, Goulart takes on the only novelized adventure of DC Comics’ classic team of adventurers.  Four men, with the later addition of a female member, who were each experts in their fields of specialty, and pretty much anything else they needed to be experts in as well, who all beat death when they shouldn’t have.  The four original members were all survivors of a plane crash that in no way they should have survived, so they took that as a sign to team up and take on challenges and issues that only men on borrowed time would confront.  This may sound corny to modern readers, but it’s a perfectly workable…and quite well loved comic book formula if you talk to fans of such things.  In the novel, the Challengers are called on to go to a South American country initially to investigate the alleged attacks of an ancient creature risen once more from the depths of a lake.  This all while there are hints and innuendo about there being more going on in this small country on the brink of revolution that point the Challengers not only to mythical monsters possibly made real, but also even scarier truly human monsters from the past.

Both of these books, in a sense, are media tie-ins.  The Challengers book, if rumor and memory are to be believed, was developed in 1977 because the idea of a Challengers film project of some sort was a potentially hot property.  The Groucho Marx book is also wrapped up in media simply because its central character is Groucho Marx.  That in many unfortunate ways, for at least one of the two titles, is where most of the similarities between these two Goulart works ends.

Groucho Marx, Secret Agent is a page turning passel of fun and action, with not only a great mystery as its spine, but enough intrigue of the spy variety to make it work well in that vein as well.  Groucho is expertly portrayed by Goulart, both the very public Groucho and the lesser known, more personal side of the legend, given name Julius.  Goulart moves through Groucho’s various ‘stage’ faces, what he showed the world, both real and contrived, with an elegance that makes Marx in this book not only someone readers engage with and enjoy, but someone that readers want to know more about.  Reading Goulart’s books about Groucho, the entire series, make me want to go rematch Marx Brothers movies and You Bet Your Life reruns for weeks, just to catch glimpses of the true genius that was Groucho, on stage as well as off.

And Goulart doesn’t stop with Groucho. Derby and his cartoonist wife Jane as well as the other supporting cast members, both real and conceived by Goulart,are fully realized characters and add a snap to the story that keeps the reader interested. Also, this particular book works enough tropes in from PI and Spy books to keep any fan happy, and it also allows Groucho, Frank, and others to openly poke fun at said tropes.  This novel, of the six in the series, is also one of the most action packed of them all.  It moves with the pacing of a thriller, closer to a fast moving hard boiled mystery than the general armchair detective clip you would think a book like this would have.  Groucho Marx, Secret Agent definitely fires on all cylinders.

Challengers of the Unknown, on the other hand, misses every target it shoots for.  Now, it can be argued that Goulart wrote Challengers in 1977 and the Marx book 25 years later, so obviously he could have learned things between them that he applied to the second book.  Even saying that, though, even assuming that I wasn’t a Challengers of the Unknown fan, owning most of their original adventures and a fair number of their following stuff, this book still strikes out.   What could have been a wildly pulpish over the top adventure was little more than a bastardizing of known characters as they were originally presented and a whole lot of off page action leading to little to nothing happening for the reader to actually enjoy.

Perhaps the tale of this novel being a work up for a proposed movie or tv project is correct based simply on how Goulart portrays the central characters.  Although none of them were fleshed out to a grand extreme in the comics, the Challengers Goulart presents here are not only contrary to their original characteristics, but they are blatant action adventure stereotypes, from Ace Morgan being the bland cardboard leader to Prof Haley being an over the top womanizer and as dense as a box of Rocky Davises.  I found myself almost from the introduction of each Challenger yelling at the book, something I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve done.

Not only that, but the central core of the story is not only ill conceived, but it’s boring.  When we finally get to the bottom of the mystery of the lake monster and are confronted with the source of the trouble, what should have been an unbelievable action scene turned into a laborious drudging through of near misses and poor character execution.  Add to that the rather shoddy handling of the second mystery, the other reason the Challengers were there, and this book fails on all counts.  There were numerous opportunities for Goulart to push this story’s boundaries in ways that would make readers really unsure if the Challengers would survive or not, but he never ever got close to doing that at all.

Two books. One author.  All aces with one.  A total strike out with the other.  What makes that interesting….obviously that can happen and does happen to any author, especially prolific ones… is how the things one book gets so wrong, the other gets right in every single way.

Challengers of the Unknown gets one page from me, and that’s gracious. Or, in my terms, I don’t even draw my gun for this book. No bullets out of a possible six.

Groucho Marx, Secret Agent is five pages for sure and more if the powers that be here would allow them.  Six bullets out of a six, a fully loaded gun for this one and dead on with every shot.

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