I’ve decided to start my monthly newsletter in earnest … just as soon as I figure out the proper format for it! Writers newsletters in general can be rather boring, so I’m trying to make mine brief and interesting. I’ll be including a very short story in each of them – 200 words or less. Readers are welcome to submit prompts for the following newsletter’s story.
Intrigued? Well, of course you are!
Join up here. I pledge to only use it for occasional contacts and to keep you email confidential. Think Fort Knox, here.
If you join via my listing on InstaFreebie you will also receive a free book of fantasy short stories by yours truly and co-author Janet Loftis.
As far as fiction writing goes, I’ve been largely stalled, going over and over the first few chapters of my next book while weeping piteously and rocking in the corner like a war-traumatized orphan. Why no, that’s not an exaggeration at all.
When it comes to watching TV, though. In that I have succeeded wildly. And so in an effort to do some sort of writing other than what I do at my day job, here are a few reviews of TV shows I’ve binged on lately.
The Sinner (Netflix)
Super hot Jessica Biel, who spends most of her time looking disheveled and depressed, stars in season 1 of this 8-episode why-did-she-do-it (as opposed to who-done-it). When she visits a crowded beach with her small son and husband, she proceeds to murderize some young guy trying to get it on with his girlfriend. Here’s the kicker: she doesn’t know why she did it. A perverted detective played by Bill Pullman digs deep to try to discover just what was going on in the head of the murderous beauty.
This moody, addictive drama peels away the layers of the murderesses’ past with patience and a sense of looming disaster. Her psychology, revealed in snatches about her family life growing up, involves a fair amount of dysfunction, especially when it comes to religion (thus the series’ title). One of my personal pet peeves is that 98 percent of the time when religious characters are shown in modern media, these characters are evil insanoids. It’s become a cliche, even. Is there no one who goes to church, a la The Andy Griffith Show, who is a decent human being? Not if modern media is to be believed.
The culmination of the mystery is a bit of a letdown but despite this every episode was strong enough that I watched the whole season within a period of 5 days.
I give this series 4 out of 5 stars, for an interesting premise, great acting, and fascinating execution. I will definitely watch the 2nd season, which has recently been announced. It will feature different characters than the 1st season.
Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan (Amazon)
Hunky Jack Ryan, portrayed by John Krasinski, is not just a rehashing of Harrison Ford’s Jack Ryan of days gone by. He’s taller, more muscly, and scarred from past traumas. He’s still super smart and not too thrilled to be cast in the action hero roll, though. Unlike in the films, he has a rocky relationship with his mentor and boss James Greer, who is as scowly and grumpy as they come. Cathy Mueller is an infectious disease specialist who becomes Ryan’s love interest. The antagonist is Mousa Bin Suleiman, a coldly intelligent Islamic terrorist who he loves his brother and his kids. He’s less fond of his doe-eyed wife Hanin, who is instantly sympathetic as a character.
The show gives equal screen time to the bad guys and the good guys, which I liked. It relies on fast-moving military action, a number of explosions, murders here and there, and various and sundry other types of violence. Tension is skillfully maintained over the first season’s 8 episodes to an emotionally satisfying, if abrupt, ending.
This gets 3 and a half stars out of 5, for great characterization and plenty of twists, turns, and surprises. If there’s a second season I will probably watch it.
On the lighter side of things is this comedy about a high-functioning autistic boy, his family, and their friends and love interests. Sam, a senior in high school with autism, is obsessed with Antarctica and its penguins. He has at least one major freakout per show, and also regularly says and does inappropriate but hilarious things. His sister Casey is perhaps the show’s strongest character as Sam’s younger sister, a track star who dresses (and wears her hair) like a 12-year-old boy from 1975, complete with striped socks. Elsa, the overprotective mother, is played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, who at 56 years of age, does not have saggy skin or wrinkles, but does have that weird look of not entirely successful plastic surgeries. The temptation she faces by a sexy Latin bartender is a major plot point. Doug, an EMT, is Sam and Casey’s good dad and Elsa’s lackluster husband. He has as much charisma as a soggy bowl of oatmeal.
Sam’s attempts to deal with the “neurotypical” world is showed through interactions with his cute-as-a-button therapist Julia, his quirky support group filled with fellow students with autism, and his job at Techtropolis where his best friend Zahid dispenses hilariously bad advice. Girlfriend Paige is energetic, endearing, and amusing. Each character has their own distinct personality and struggles within and outside of the family during the show’s 8-episode first season and 10-episode second season.
The show gave me plenty of laughs, and an escape from the drudgery of life, so I give it 4 stars out of 5. I’ll definitely watch a third season if it continues.
From the first page, the novel weaves a spell of another world – a harem in the Ottoman Empire, filled with the scents of cinnamon and cloves, and heavy with desire. Young eunuch Olin fights his lust for the beauties around him while navigating the Byzantine politics that pit wives and mistresses against one another to win the favor of their opium-enthralled sultan. The atmosphere of luxury is enhanced by Neil’s talented descriptions and impeccable historical accuracy. The names of the harem women, such as Crimson Petal, Red Tulip, and Peach Blossom, serve to add to this atmosphere, and to the lyrical quality of the writing. Sex is currency here in the harem, and death, if one is not wary.
Olin is a well-rounded, sympathetic character who struggles with courage, duty, and honor. When the beautiful odalisque Dark Star offers him a magical pendant he unleashes the power of the jinni, one which will change his world forever.
If you like your historical fiction with a touch of magic you can’t do better than this addictive novel.
Photo by Dustin Davis, story by Tom Demerly of tomdemerly.com.
It is an image of fierce defiance frozen in a terrifying moment. A powerful vision of what many people see as the American condition. As I type this, over 15,000 people have shared it from my Facebook page across social media that I can track. As of Monday night, another person shares it every 15 seconds. While I despise the colloquialism “going viral”, there is no doubt something about this image has resonated again and again with the current collective American consciousness.
It is the Taylor Creek Fire “Don’t Tread On Me” photo.
Dustin Davis, 32, of College Place, Washington, shot the photo of a rattlesnake frozen in its fiery death throes on Wednesday, August 8th, 2018 at 12:55 PM local time during the early stages of the Taylor Creek fire in Oregon. Davis was fighting the fire as a…
If you want to discover Alaska without breaking the bank, that 99 cents will pay for itself many, many times over. The book includes tips on finding good cruise prices, how to anticipate or avoid hidden costs, information on public transportation, and many ideas of great things to do in port for little or no money.
I highly recommend an Alaska cruise, especially if you like wildlife and nature. If you dedicate some time to watching the water, you’re almost guaranteed to see marine life from the deck of the ship. If you want to see a glacier, Alaska’s the place…
Since the founding of the thirteen colonies in America, settlers have pushed west relentlessly, hungry for land of their own, with little regard for the native inhabitants except as obstacles. This land hunger, combined with a gold discovery on Cherokee land in Georgia, prompted the 1830 Indian Removal Act. The US military forced Indian peoples in Georgia and other areas on a 116-day march in the winter of 1838. For more than 800 miles around 100,000 American Indians traveled through heavy rains, ice storms, and rough terrain to Oklahoma territory. Children and the elderly suffered greatly. Overall, more than 15,000 Indians died.
The scale of the forced march of Arizona’s Navajos was much smaller, but it was also tragic. The National Archives covers it in a fascinating blog post published today, titled The Navajo Treaty Travels to the Navajo Nation. Perhaps this incident is covered in Arizona schools these days, but I was born and raised there and this is the first I have heard about it. I hope it is not the last.
I saw on my reading list where one blogger did a “What I’m Reading Wednesday” post. Brilliant idea, thinks I. It’s not always possible for me to work up a book review post, but I am constantly reading one book or another — usually nonfiction — and I can certainly post about them. So here it is.
When I first heard the term Exodusters I thought it was some sort of sci-fi like title: Exo- Dusters. I imagined a Morpheus-like fellow, complete with long black coat and sunglasses, blasti bad guys while flipping through the air.
Yeah, I know. I am taken by fancies quite often.
A little googling told me that the term came from Exodus, as in the book of Bible. Therefore, Exodus-ters. Exodusters were poor black families who left the South after the heartbreaking failure of Reconstruction, following the Civil War. As the South descended into an abyss of white supremacy, violence, fear, and pain, news of hope came from Kansas. It was the land of John Brown, that fiery abolitionist who denounced slavery with violence, and died for his crimes. Families who had emigrated there wrote to those still oppressed in the South and encouraged them to flee, to come to the Promised Land. Many thousands did just that, the Exodusters.
The definitive study of this group of people is by historian Nell Irvin Painter in Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas after Reconstruction (New York: WW Norton & Company, 1976, 1986), and it is brilliant and dense. Painter puts into words concepts and ideas that have, in less than three chapters, made her one of my history heroes. For instance, for years I have been taken aback by the term “white trash” because it assumes that everyone else, who is not white, is naturally trash. But I could not articulate this feeling. Painter, speaking about a similar concept, does so succinctlyThis political conflict between masters and slaves, so often identified as a racial conflict, was, at bottom, a conflict between workers and employers, between poor people and wealthy people, in which race functioned as the idiom for discussion of class. Unless the terms of the discussion were modified–“poor” white, “educated” Black–the word black meant poor and white meant rich. (p. viii)
As a historian myself, there’s nothing more thrilling than to connect the thread of some unwinding truth from age to age, as Painter has done here and with many other such revelations. But she also includes heart, as she quotes Louisiana farmer John Solomon Lewis in 1879 as he and his family fled the oppression of the deep South for Kansas.
“When I knew I had all my family in a free land, I said let us hold a little prayer meeting; so we held a little meeting on the river bank. It was raining but the drops fell from heaven on a free family, and the meeting was just as good as sunshine. We was thankful to God for ourselves and we prayed for those who could not come.
“I asked my wife did she know the ground she stands on. She said, ‘No!’
“I said it is free ground; and she cried like a child for joy.” (p. 4)
It will take me quite a while to get through this book, and as I do so I will be underlining and making notes and pondering what Painter says, but as I read the pleasure is all mine.
Estrid by Johanne Hildebrandt. AmazonCrossing, 2017. 524 pages. ISBN 9781503943575.
The second book in the Valhalla Series (after The Unbroken Line of the Moon), Estrid follows Queen Sigrid of Svealand, her twin children Estrid and Olaf, and Sweyn Forkbeard, Sigrid’s long-ago lover and now the exiled king of Denmark. Sigrid, Estrid, and Olaf are not your everyday family in the neighborhood, though, as they play the power games of royalty—for indeed the Vikings portrayed in this title are bloodthirsty, foreign, and driven by strange passions.
The title character, Estrid, is flawed by mental instability and physical weakness and resigned to a brief life of duty. She has been pledged to the dark goddess Hel, to whom she is faithful—at first. Taking place at a time when Christianity was making inroads against native Scandinavian gods, the book effectively shows the Vikings’ pre-Christian culture, most jarringly when Christians are referred to as “evil cross-worshippers.”
Although it deals with Christianity, this is not a Christian book, and those readers that cannot separate their personal belief systems from the world portrayed here will likely be offended by its content. However, they will be missing out on a tale that winds around and about in fascinating, surprising, and touching ways. A solid, well-crafted read with an exciting balance of action, romance, and intrigue, it provides a fascinating look at Viking society and the daring characters who ruled it.
Flight of the Hawk: The River by W. Michael Gear. Five Star, 2018. 271 pages. ISBN 9781432840679.
The fur trade in 1812 Missouri takes center stage in this tale about hardscrabble business, ruthless politics, and the untrammeled majesty of nature. Mysterious John Tylor signs aboard a trading expedition helmed by Manuel Lisa, a well-known figure of the era. Andrew Jackson, William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame, and John Jacob Astor are other important figures who make appearances as Tylor flees from his past to battle nature, a mentally unstable pursuer, and destiny itself.
From the first page, author Gear’s prose reflects confidence, skill, and solid research, making it easy to imagine and enjoy the difficult, desperate setting. The protagonist, Tylor, is revealed in dribs and drabs. A veritable baker’s dozen of other major characters—French, Spanish, Scottish, and Native American—are introduced in bewildering succession. Because many of these characters come with little background, readers without at least a passing knowledge of the time period may find themselves struggling to get their bearings. Once they settle into the story’s rhythm, though, they will enjoy a plot-centric, high-stakes tale that moves as quickly as the swift-rushing Missouri River.
Discovering reader preferences, habits and attitudes
Readers and writers – a symbiotic relationship. Ideas spark writers to create stories and build worlds and characters for readers’ consumption. Readers add imagination and thought to interpret those stories, deriving meaning and enjoyment in the process. A story is incomplete without both reader and writer.
What then do readers want? What constitutes a compelling story? How do men and women differ in their preferences? Where do readers find recommendations? How do readers share their book experiences?
ANNOUNCING A 2018 READER SURVEYdesigned to solicit input on these topics and others.
Please share the link https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/68HL6F2 with friends and family via email or your favourite social media. Robust participation across age groups, genders, and countries will make this year’s survey – the 4th– even more significant.