Warlight

Jul 20, 2018 by

Warlight

I read Michael Ondaatje’s book Warlight with great interest and enjoyed it, a lot. What do you when at the end of World War II, you’ve been birthed by two British spies and they’re being hunted by people in Europe who don’t care that the war is over? When their greatest protection for you is to disappear or keep fighting the war as well? When they send you to live with people you’re convinced are criminals?

warlight

Michael Ondaatje’s book Warlight is a great story about post-World War II life in England and how it affected the lives of children of two British spies.

Such is the premise for this book and it read fast. I think it took me a day and a half to read the entire thing. It’s a page turner and as the story unfolds, I felt the emotions Ondaatje wants a reader to feel–how a child left in such a precarious position must have felt–the loneliness, but also the curiosity and longing to figure out just what in the world was going on. From the first pages, the father leaves for Singapore. He’s never heard from again. The mother, however, makes her return and when she comes back, plops back down in the middle of her kids’ lives, but acts almost like she never left. There is resentment, anger, confusion, mystery, and still, the need for secrecy.

Honestly, I do not think there was anything in this book I did not like. It all worked and the story flowed. It made sense. The writing is superb. The storytelling keen and masterful. This is an example of what writing is supposed to look like and how it is supposed to work.

And because I bought my copy at Interabang Books in Dallas, I have a signed first edition. That’s something I’m proud about for my book collection.

I’ve not read Ondaatje’s most notable book, The English Patient, for which he won the Booker Prize, but it is definitely on my list of things to do the rest of 2018.

Conclusion

I highly recommend Michael Ondaatje and his book Warlight. This is a very good book and the story is unique.

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The Immortalists

Jul 18, 2018 by

The Immortalists

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

What if you were told when you were a child the exact day you would die? That’s the premise of Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists. The book shares the story of four brothers and sisters who all visit a fortune teller one day early in their lives and the woman tells them each, separately, the day they will die. The book then goes about telling the four separate stories about how each of the four carry/live out the prophecy of the old woman.

As I’ve said before, I like to read books that make me think when I’m reading them, and makes me keep thinking once I’m done. This is a book that does that, kind of like the death of a loved one makes one think about his/her own mortality while grieving.

Chloe Benjamin’s writing style is good. The story flowed and it took me a day or two to read the book. The cover is beautiful and I’m told mixed with Jewish symbolism involving the Tree of Life. Poetic.

But there were some things that bothered me about the book.

Overt Use of Sex

For one, I don’t know why we needed the description of Varya’s pubic area, breasts and nipples in the second and third sentences. For all the talk in writing schools about needing a winning first sentence and hook, this didn’t set up a dramatic question. Didn’t answer one either.

And then there was the story of Simon, the youngest brother who dies first, of AIDS in the late 1980s in San Francisco. Writer Benjamin decides we need to be taken through explicit descriptions of homosexual love scenes. Call me homophobic all you want, but that’s not something I care to read about and quite frankly, I skimmed through most of that section and it clearly didn’t affect my understanding of the outcome of the book. Ergo, it wasn’t necessary.

Conclusion

I bought the book because I think I saw on Amazon it’s one of the best selling books so far in 2018. As I continue to work toward my reading goal of 101 literary books, I’m varying my scope of what I’m reading. This book was an okay read. Like I said, there were parts of it I could and did do without. But an interesting question nonetheless. Would you want to know the day you were going to die? How would it affect how you lived?

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The President is Missing

Jul 17, 2018 by

The President is Missing

It took me three days, but I finished the 511 pages of The President is Missing by former President Bill Clinton and author James Patterson almost as quickly as the book itself plays out. This is the first book I’ve read by Patterson. I must say first of all, I’m not a big fan of the Patterson book-mill, however impressive it is to churn out novels like he has done. I like my reading to have some lasting meaning, message or something to gain from it. This book does not have that. It’s just a distraction, a sensational escape from reality with a few philosophical messages thrown in, my guess to assuage the former president, and then a wrap of the story. 

All that said, I stuck with the book. I started it on Friday night. I finished it at 0200 hours Monday. So whatever was on those pages, hooked me enough to sit there straight and read, read, read.

The Plot

I won’t give that away, suffice it to say that someone has contacted the president with code words they should not have. Code words only a small circle of people know, and because someone on the outside knows them, that means someone in his inner circle has committed treason and set the country on the brink of a catastrophic collapse from a cyber attack. The president is the only person who can save the country. And so he goes about doing trying to do that.

Reviews on Amazon

There are reviews on Amazon (the three star ones are the ones I tend to focus on since they’re the middle of the road) thought the book was too wordy, that the end speech by the president to the Congress was too inflated, blah, blah, blah. I thought those criticisms were a little too stern once I finally got to the parts that were most critical. In fact, I thought they were misplaced and not all that accurate.

This is not a book that’s going to win any literary awards. It’s not meant to. It’s meant to make Clinton some money, (It has backfired in bringing up the Monica Lewinsky stuff by including the mention of impeachment in it) and it is meant to be another book for Patterson to sit on top of the New York Times Bestseller List for a while. What I thought was funny in a way was that I bought my copy of the book from Barnes and Noble in mid-June and it still bears a “50 Percent Off” red sticker on it. So while it is selling, no one appears to be making the top dollar off it they’d hoped.

Conclusion 

The book is worth buying and worth reading. It validates the premise of my first novel draft I have written, The Privacy Patriots, which I need to revise.  In that book, the president and the NSA are ready to launch the world’s first quantum computer and China, Russia, Iran and North Korea (I call them CRINK) find out and launch an all out cyber attack on the US. Because when we do get the first quantum computer activated, it’s going to render all the passwords we all have today useless. So after reading The President is Missing, I see it is time to dust off that draft and get it ready for querying.

A quantum computer will take down computer security. What was wrong with The President is Missing is that Clinton and Patterson forget that the whole world and USA is not dependent on Microsoft computers so a virus with a .exe suffix wouldn’t affect Linux-based servers and machines like Macs, and even the host this website is kept on. There would be problems, but not all the world would be affected like they proposed. But the problems would be bad and we’re supposed to suspend reality in reading a book like that and of course, we should all be worried to some degree because at some point, some kind of cyber attack is likely to affect us. Numerous government officials in the US have long-said it’s not a matter of “If,” but a matter of “when,” and when that finally does happen, Lord knows it’s not going to be pretty….

 

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The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut

Jul 2, 2018 by

The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut

This weekend I finished reading The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut. I enjoyed her book. It made me think a lot about about chance and choice, the two pivotal points that intertwine the two main characters of the book.

Imagine the person you had a crush on in high school, the one who never paid you any attention, but they filled your most every thought and desire. And then years later, you’re working as a prison psychologist and they’re bought in for murder.

The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut

The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut is a great read and one that will have you thinking about chance and choices.

Now the first thing that should happen is the shrink should never see the inmate for ethical reasons. But this is fiction. Or maybe it’s a close parallel to reality. The doc wants to find out why the inmate committed the murder. IF the murder was committed by the inmate, after all, that didn’t seem like it could happen in high school.

And of course, the inmate doesn’t remember the doc, but all of a sudden has this guy bending over backwards to help.

There, you have chance. The rest of the book are the choices the two make because of the chance situations.

The Passage of Time

Debra Jo has written for years. In fact, she said the other night during a signing at Interabang Books in Dallas that she began writing the book almost 20 years ago and queried it and got nowhere with it. So she put it in the drawer and let it breathe while she had a life. She got married. She had a son. The story itself matured, as did her writing.

So many years later, she revised the story and made some changes, queried, and found an agent for the book.

The rest is history.

The Captives

You will enjoy reading The Captives. The writing is good. The tension is steady and there are good twists in the story.

Reading it also reminded me of Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen, (BTW Ottessa will be at INTERABANG BOOKS in DALLAS on JULY 21) which I read two weeks ago. It, too, is about a person working in a prison and involves a shrink/educator. But the ending is far different.

Debra Jo is an excellent writer and encourager. We talked about my present plight. I’m querying for my second written of three novels, The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club, and as she signed my book, reminded me that the journey along the path to getting published is key. And even as I write this post, another rejection just came in. But I forge on. I simply must.

You can order your copy of The Captives from Interabang Books, by visiting their store, or of course, via Amazon, but if you’re local in Dallas, I encourage you to visit the store. You’ll love the people there and the atmosphere is wonderful. When I am published, I will be having signings there, as sure as the sun comes up in the east.

(What else have I read lately? Here is my Reading List on my way to my first 101 counted and reviewed books….)

 

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The Overstory – A Great Book

Jun 28, 2018 by

The Overstory – A Great Book

Between my love affair for the woods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the Mariposa Grove of Yosemite, (really all the trees of Yosemite) I have long had a thing for trees. But Richard Powers’ novel The Overstory, I must say, has me looking at them in a whole new light. This 501-page book is wonderful and a really great work of art. I highly recommend you read it.

The book is divided like a tree, into sections–root, trunk, crown and seeds. At first, I wondered where the vignettes were going, then in the trunk I began to smile with glee. Things began to make a lot of sense and the magic of storytelling really began to unfold.

The Overstory

The Overstory by Richard Powers is a beautiful book and one of the best written works I have ever read.

The Overstory is an effort to help remind we the living that trees are critical to the future of our success as humans. And while environmentalists rant and rave about how killing the trees is killing the planet, part of what Powers writes suggests that when we do away with what is keeping us alive as humans, trees and forests, the things that have been around for millions of years, long before us, will rejuvenate. Those that we kill off may not, but then again….

Stories

There are some great quotes in the book I just had to pull and share that won’t give away the book. Really good lines that are very true to heart.

“And what do good stories do? … They kill you a little. They turn you into something you weren’t.” pg 412

Amen to that. And that’s what reading this book did to me. At the end I felt a little sick in my heart. I think that was the grieving part I felt. An unsettled anger from reading what happened to the characters.

“Noah took all the animals two by two, and loaded them aboard his escape craft for evacuation. But it’s a funny thing: He left the plants to die. He failed to take the one thing he needed to rebuild life on land, and concentrated on saving the freeloaders!” pg 451

Powers is clearly a science guy. I don’t know how spiritual he is. But what’s clear about this, what Noah didn’t do, is things worked out well regardless. Trees and grasses and all that worked out well even if Noah didn’t take them on the ark. That says something about the staying power of Nature, does it not? The character who said that in the book, I’m not sure understood that point. Maybe that was the point she was making, that plants and particularly trees, they have a power we do not understand and they are going to be around and are going to adapt to this world despite what we do.

“The year’s clocks are off by a month or two.” pg 452

He dabbles in the climate change, global warming argument here. I won’t get into that briar patch.

“The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.” pg 488

Richard Powers presents some great arguments in this book by telling a masterful story. The problem with helping spread the word of this story is that it’s 500 pages long. Few people are going to dedicate that long to reading something that long in this day and age. But those who do, I promise, are in for a treat.

I loved this book. Someday, I may read it again.

The writing is rich and colorful. When characters spend 10 months on a platform in a great redwood out west living 20 stories above the forest floor, you feel like you’re doing the same. His writing is superb. I highly recommend this book. I just wonder, if the intent was to move people to action, if it had to be so long. But as a writer, don’t know where I could or would cut a single thing.

The writing is poetry and it was a story worth telling from beginning to end.

 

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Three Rejection Letters – Finding an Agent 

Jun 22, 2018 by

Three Rejection Letters – Finding an Agent

Yesterday I received three rejection letters for my novel, The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club. One of them I took pretty hard. I’d pitched the agent at the recent DFWCon in early June and had really hoped she’d rep me. 

In her rejection letter, she said, “This story has all the elements I love—an interesting premise and a well-built world. The writing is solid with a nice voice. A dynamic, interesting protagonist.” She concluded by saying she didn’t feel the love she needed to sell the story. 

The two others were more to the point. 

Voodoo and Explorer.

The intersection of Voodoo Avenue and Explorer Street, KI Sawyer AFB, Michigan.

“I’m afraid this doesn’t seem like the right project for me, but I’m sure other agents will feel differently.” 

“Unfortunately, I’m afraid I’m not the right agent for this project. I wish you much luck in getting THE VOODOO HILL EXPLORER CLUB published.”

I still have several queries out and there are other agents who have asked for pages, so all is not lost. 

I am early in the query process. Just a few months in, and in that time, my query has improved. 

Because of what the first agent I mentioned taught me at DFWCon, my query letter is now a mere NINE sentences. It’s tighter, to the point. It targets what is important to the structure of the story and I don’t get into the subplots and things that might confuse a slush-pile gatekeeper in New York deciding whether to read more or not. Since DFWCon I’ve also gone through the book and cut 10,000 words. If it was not about four boys in the woods building a treehouse near a Russian spy, it went. Period. My inciting incident is in the first 25 pages. Boom. 

I learned these important things from the agent who said my story has the elements she loves. 

For that I am grateful and a thank you letter, I send them typed on my 1948 Royal Quiet De Luxe typewriter, will say that. She’s like that high school English teacher we all had. The one who was the hardest on us. In the end, the one who taught us the most, and not just about literature but life itself. 

Finding an agent is like asking a pretty girl to dance in middle school. You know so little about her. You’re nervous. You think you know how to dance. You’re worried about your blemishes, if your hair is straight, pants and shirt are fashionable, if she will say “yes.” Whether she will fall in love with you just the same. The odds seem so remote and extreme. On one hand, it seems like the best thing to do is sit on the bleachers and watch the cooler kids dance. But at the same time, you know you can dance. You’ve been watching yourself in the mirror for weeks, months, years. And you’ve gotten better and better and better. It’s time to be under the disco ball at center court with a pretty girl.

I am a good writer and I have a solid book and I will get published. I know I will. 

I didn’t meet my match yesterday, but there is always today. There is always tomorrow. And I have more books to write. I have two other books already written needing revision.

What I learned yesterday is that I am looking for LOVE. I want to hear a reply that says, “I LOVE YOUR BOOK.” Hedging, doubt, all of that, won’t do. I very much respect and enjoyed the agent who wrote me. I will keep her as a friend. But there wasn’t a spark. There are others to dance with. There must be love or the result will not be good in the end.

And thank goodness, I have other writer friends I have talked with overnight who are in the same boat, beating on against the current….

My current query/pitch: 

THE VOODOO HILL EXPLORER CLUB

In 1977, four teen boys, led by KIRK CARSON, build a tree house near the secret hideaway of a Russian spy. The historical commercial fiction work is 88,000 words.

Kirk is fighting his own Cold War among friends, a bully, and himself. He tries to type “I’m trying to change my life,” but instead his typewriter clacks out, “I’m trying to change my lie.” He wishes he could use white out on the whole year.

How Kirk handles the ultimate test of a December blizzard in Upper Michigan and the Russian spy who has been trying to scare them all out of the woods means life or death for his friends.

THE VOODOO HILL EXPLORER CLUB is a nostalgic reminder of an America where kids played outside until their mothers signaled a summer’s day’s end by turning on the porch light.

I have written in journalism and public relations, and for governors and school superintendents for more than 30 years. Since 2014, I’ve been part of Southern Methodist University’s Writer’s Path program. 

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