Saturday, June 22, 2013

Trouble in Taos--a book review

Trouble in Taos: Or the Lowdown, Dirtiest, Boring Gunfighter
by Headley Hauser
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't usually read Westerns. No wait . . . that's not accurate. I never read Westerns. But this one was recommended to me by someone in whom I have the utmost confidence, so I read it. And I'm glad I did; I  enjoyed every word.

It's the story of Slimy Beach, an unlikely gunfighter whose day job is digging holes for outhouses, and is told by his extremely long-lived best friend many years after Slimy's demise. Slimy's not a glamorous hero, despite the juxtaposition of this story against a romantic dime-novel version of Slimy's life. He's short, smells bad, and is, as the title says, "boring." But it's his very unheroic nature that makes this book a fun read. The narrator has a very limited view of the world, but the story is filled with references to historical people and events that only add to the reader's enjoyment.

It's written with humor as dry as a Taos winter. It's a very quick, entertaining read. I recommend it highly as a perfect beach book--though preferably not for a slimy beach.

This is the first in a promised series from Headley Hauser--the so-called genre series. I look forward to reading whatever genre comes next!

Trouble in Taos by Headley Hauser is available as an e-book on

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Writers . . . There When You Need Them

Many lament the life of a writer as solitary, their days spent in a room with only their characters for company. We've heard about writers deserting family and friends when in the throes of creativity. Yet, writers, thanks in no small part to the internet, have a rather close-knit community. They find each other on Facebook, follow each others' blogs, and answer each others' questions on message boards. They console each other during inevitable rejection, encourage each other through the tough patches, and congratulate each other for a job well done. This is even more important as the world changes and the prospects for writers to actually make a living from the craft diminishes. (See Scott Turow's Op-Ed in the April 8, 2013 New York Times.)

David Farland
But the camaraderie goes further. They are there for each other when things go really badly--are are ready to spread the word when one needs help. Take the case of novelist David Farland. He's won prestigious awards and written best sellers. He's been a generous mentor to such authors as Brandon Sanderson, Stephenie Meyer, and Brandon Mull. It sounds like he has it all--but that doesn't mean he doesn't need his friends.
Ben Wolverton
On Wednesday, April 4, 2013, his son Ben Wolverton, age 16, an active guy with his whole life ahead of him, was in a tragic long-boarding accident. He suffers from severe brain trauma, a cracked skull, broken pelvis and tail bone, burnt knees, bruised lungs, broken ear drums, pneumonia, and is currently in a coma. His family has no health insurance, and the cost of his medical treatment is expected to rise above $1,000,000.

To help raise money for Ben, the writing community is having a "book bomb" (focused on Nightingale and Million Dollar Outlines) on behalf of Ben. The general public is more than welcome to participate.

What is a Book Bomb?

A Book Bomb is an event where participants purchase a book on a specific day to support the author, or, in this case, a young person in serious need: Ben Wolverton.

David Farland’s young adult fantasy thriller Nightingale has won seven awards, including the Grand Prize at the Hollywood Book Festival—beating out ALL books in ALL categories. It has been praised by authors such as James Dashner (The Maze Runner), Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn), and Paul Genesse (Iron Dragon series), and has received four and a half starts on Amazon.

Nightingale is available as a hardcover, ebook, audio book, and enhanced novel for iPad. You can purchase it on Amazon:; Barnes and Noble:; or on the Nightingale website:
You can get the enhanced version, complete with illustrations, interviews, animations, and its own soundtrack through iTunes:

If you are a writer, you may want to consider purchasing David Farland’s Million Dollar Outlines instead. Both books are part of the book bomb. Million Dollar Outlines has been a bestseller on Amazon for over a month and is only $6.99. In Million Dollar Outlines, Dave teaches how to analyze an audience and outline a novel so that it can appeal to a wide readership, giving it the potential to become a bestseller. The secrets found in his unconventional approach will help you understand why so many of his authors go on to prominence. You can get it on Amazon: ie=UTF8&qid=1365434120&sr=8-1&keywords=Million+Dollar+Outlines or Barnes and Noble:

If so moved, you can bypass the book bomb and donate money to the cause here: 

If you can’t spare any money, but would still like to help, you can do so by telling others about Ben’s donation page, and/or this Book Bomb. Share it on facebook, twitter, pinterest, your blog—anywhere you can. There is an event page set up on facebook at:

Thank you!

Ben and his family greatly appreciate your support, and so do all who care about them.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Where do you buy your books?

I used to work for Barnes & Noble--and I really loved it. I was actually paid to be surrounded by books and readers. (By "readers" I mean people who read, not devices that contain electronic files of books.) Not that retail work is uniformly great. I had my share of disgruntled customers and holiday shifts, but for the most part, it was work I enjoyed among people I liked.

The perks were great. Employees earned full benefits if you worked 30-hours a week, and all employees, regardless of the schedule worked, received the employee discount and the opportunity to borrow hardcover books. (I really loved the perks!)

I left after a couple of years, but I still look back on it as the ideal retail job--if there is such a thing.

When I worked at B&N, outside of the cafe it sold only books, magazines, music and movies, and a few "gifts for writers" including journals, pens, bookmarks, greeting cards, etc. After I left, I saw a Nook-selling section take over where the magazines used to be, and watched as the welcoming upholstered chairs were removed to make room for games and educational toys. I noticed the backlist books were harder to find. Books that had only been out a year or so were nowhere to be found. And I missed the old just-books feel of the place; the store had lost some of its soul.

When the Great Recession hit, it became apparent that bricks-and-mortar bookstores were in trouble--especially independent stores. When Borders went out of business, it proved big-box stores were vulnerable, too, but I didn't see it as a harbinger.

I still went to my local B&N to go to the cafe, meet friends, pick up a gift, or just browse. It wasn't the same, but it was still fun to visit. But I noticed that the store wasn't as busy as I remembered it being, and that managers were handling the routine tasks I used to do. (When things aren't busy enough, salaried managers are called into service on the sales floor to cut the shifts filled by employees paid by the hour.)

I should have realized that B&N, too, was fighting for its survival. Its corporate headquarters recently announced that retail sales dropped 10.9% in 2012, and Nook sales dropped 12.6%. And I am part of the problem. After leaving the B&N workforce, and losing the employee discount, I shopped for my books by price rather than convenience. Amazon often had the better price, so I joined Prime and shopped online. When I got an e-reader, it was a Kindle.

In the meantime, B&N has closed many of its less-profitable stores, and plans to close even more. I seriously doubt my book budget could keep my local B&N afloat, but I'd really like it to survive. So far, the stores in our area are still there. But who knows for how long?

And what will that mean for book buyers? Will Amazon, already the book sales leader, become a virtual monopoly? Or will the market adjust, as it often seems to do, to create new sources for those who hope to buy books?

Since monopolies are bad for consumers (and suppliers like publishers and authors), I certainly hope B&N survives. But I have to admit--I still love my Kindle.

What do you think? Is there any way to save bricks-and-mortar bookstores? Would it be cataclysmic for them to disappear?

And, where do you buy your books?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Vote! We need to get this over with!

This election concerns some very important issues, and the differences between the candidates are, at times, stark. With the polls showing that the outcome is just too close to call, I guess it shouldn't surprise me that passions are running high. But this election has brought out the worst in us, rather than calling us to be our best.

Can't we please try to remember that every one of us hopes for a better future? Each of us believes in America and our potential to do good in the world. While some vote for self-interest, many do not. Many are concerned with the greater good, both domestic and foreign. And while we might differ on which candidate can best lead us in the next four years, we're all trying to do our best.

Candidates, who pour forth millions of words (along with a billion dollars on this year's presidential campaigns), are bound to state things awkwardly now and then. Their faces will take on an unfortunate expression from time to time. They will have supporters make an a** of themselves and the candidates they support. But does this election have to be about who said the stupidest thing in an off-the-cuff moment?  Or whose surrogate used the most unfortunate turn of phrase? Or which campaign has the most Super PACs funding the most negative ads? Or about the most outrageous misstatement of the other person's position that the campaign wizards can construe?

Can't we at least maintain a veneer of respect--for self and others?

Instead of respect, I find that the longer the campaign season goes, the less civil we become. States try to limit the franchise believing, perhaps correctly, that having fewer voters gives their party an edge. We're no longer "for" our candidate; we're against the other one--with a disgust that includes everyone who thinks the other guy is worth voting for. Reputations are scorched, and our society is coarsened. Friendships are broken over it (and Facebook is nearly unbearable).

It wasn't always this bad. Perhaps the fact that the midterm elections seem to be the starting gate for the next presidential campaign is one reason things have gone to such an extreme. With two full campaign years to fill, talking about issues loses its punch. But Congress has no impetus to limit campaigns, and the Supreme Court wouldn't uphold it if it did (as it proved in the Citizen's United v. Federal Election Commission case that struck down limits on campaign contributions by corporations and unions, calling it speech protected by the First Amendment).

America has held an exalted place in the world in the last century. We have been seen as a "light on a hill," offering a land of opportunity--an equality-seeking, peace-loving haven for downtrodden. But with the rhetoric of this election we have proven ourselves to be far less than our ideals.

We're America. Can't we do better?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Top Ten Ways to . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Procrastinate

Procrastination is one of my greatest talents, so I thought I would share some terrific methods to avoid writing, editing, or any other work you know you must do, but would really rather not.

10. Housework. Even with the kids grown and gone, there's still an awful lot of housework to do. I don't actually do any of it, mind you, but I think about it a lot. A big job like that requires a plan. 

9. Email. I belong to a bunch of authors' lists, and get dozens of emails from other writers each day. Reading all those messages and following their links could take me a week, if I pace myself properly.

8. Facebook. There are far more authors out there than I can keep track of by email. The ones I don't hear from directly, I'll find on Facebook. If I really need to procrastinate, I'll post comments on their walls, then check back every twenty minutes to see if anyone "liked" what I said! 

7. Chatting on the phone with my son. He's an actor in New York which means he needs someone to help him fill the time when he should be learning his lines. A mother's work is never done.

6. Texting with my daughter. We can keep a conversation going for hours, or until our cell batteries die. If she's not available, I'll just poke her on Facebook. (She's also a writer. Need I say more?) 

5.Training the dogWe have a puppy--he's a mutt, but such a cutie. We've been taking him to obedience school, but he can still be a handful, especially as he's gotten bigger. He needs his training every day, or he'll never pass his Canine Good Citizen test. Of course, he can always take the test again later. 

4. Clearing off Tivo.
It doesn't clear itself, you know! Well, actually it does, but if I let it do that, I might lose some long-lost adaptation of a Jane Austen novel picked up by my wish list. As a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, I would consider that quite a monstrous thing indeed!

3. Digging up ancestors. Well, not literally. My mom gave me a subscription to to learn more about our forebears. But it's a never-ending chain. There are always more ancestors to discover. Upside? I've located several distant cousins whom I now track on email and Facebook!

2. Talking with my husband. A good marriage requires work, so we'll often sit around and talk about the work we plan to do when we're through sitting around talking to each other. Yup. He's a writer, too.

1. Making up Top Ten lists. 

Phew! That was exhausting.

. . . I believe I'll take a nap. 

(This originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, a publication of the Bethlehem Writers Group, LLC.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Advice to the graduates--and to writers

Garry Marshall
At the Lafayette College graduation ceremony last Saturday, famed producer/director/writer/actor Garry Marshall was the speaker. You might expect an entertaining speech, and would not be disappointed, but he also had a message that's good for graduates and for writers: "You gotta know that sometimes you're gonna get whacked, something's going to go wrong, and you gotta bounce back," (You can see a video of Garry Marshall's speech here.)

Mr. Marshall is known for his numerous successes as a producer of the iconic sitcoms of the 1970s and 1980s Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley (starring his sister Penny Marshall), and Mork and Mindy. He wrote for The Lucy Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and The Odd Couple. He directed hit movies including Pretty Woman, Beaches, Runaway Bride, and The Princess Diaries. It's tempting to think that he was lucky, that he got all the breaks, that he never knew what it was to struggle. Other people's successes often look easy. On the contrary. he said he was once "fired by a piece of cloth" when Shari Lewis's hand puppet Lambchop told him to hit the bricks.

And he is far from alone. Nearly all artists get whacked repeatedly along the way. According to, Meg Cabot, the author of The Princess Diaries on which Garry Marshall's movie was based, collected her rejection letters in a mailbag she stored under her bed. She had planned, once she was published, to use it as a visual aid to take to schools to inspire children to never give up on their dreams, but she received so many rejections that the bag is too heavy for her to lift.

A half-written novel shoved in a drawer, a completed draft that everyone thinks needs a rewrite but no one agrees on why, distractions from loved ones and life's trials, rejections from agents and/or publishers--each of these can "whack" a writer, sending him or her off track, thinking about the advantages of almost any other line of work. And even when a writer doesn't give up and finds a publisher and sells a book, the per-hour wage most authors earn is less than the guy washing windshields at the traffic light. And he doesn't have to give 15% to an agent. And he gets to work outside.

The life of any artist is one of getting whacked. The life of a successful artist is one of  bouncing back.

What are your strategies for bouncing back after you get "whacked"?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

When Should the Body Drop?

Nope--not talking about middle-aged spread here. This is about when the reader of a traditional murder mystery expects to come across the first victim.

Since authors are told to begin their novels in media res, literally "in the middle of things," some believe that in a traditional mystery the body should appear in the first chapter. Nothing can be a stronger hook for a reader than that, they argue. And it is a truth universally acknowledged that a reader in possession of a new book must be in want of a strong hook to keep them reading.

But is it always necessary to kill someone off in chapter one? Many don't think so. I just read a Carolyn Hart mystery where the body doesn't appear until page 81. It didn't feel like it took too long to get there. As she shows us, there are other ways to hook readers than by killing off a character.

In one typical story arc, we meet all the people in the closed community, learn about their mutual anger and distrust. Then the most hated character is found dead about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way through and everyone is a potential suspect. Think Murder on the Orient Express. This only works if the reader is fully engaged by the setting and characters as Christie enables us to be.

A twist on this is that a popular character is the one to die, making the act more heinous and finding the culprit more imperative. But either way, we have to come to know the characters before we can feel strongly about the murder.

In another typical story arc, a body is found early on and there is one obvious suspect who, of course, turns out to be innocent and would have been railroaded were it not for the protagonist's tireless investigation. This sort takes less time to get to the murder, and the bulk of the story is unraveling who really dunnit.

There are even some where the dirty deed is accomplished before the story opens. This story line can pick up with the victim's funeral, or even later with someone being (wrongfully) charged with the crime. It's harder for readers to have a strong feeling about the victim with this story arc, so the author needs to make us care more about the innocent person who's behind bars.

If you think about it, you've probably read each of these stories many times. Yet, each time it's different because of new characters, setting, and plot details.

I think I'm like most readers who choose traditional mysteries for their characters and the puzzle. For a first book in a series, I like to learn about the setting and become invested in the main characters. I know I'm reading a mystery, and eventually one of these folks is bound to drop dead. Sometimes figuring out who the victim will be is as much fun as figuring out who dunnit.

What do you think? When do you like to see the body drop?