Saturday, April 1, 2017

Review: The Johnstown Flood

For me, each new novel begins not with a keystroke on my laptop but rather with a book, a web site, or even a movie. It begins with an effort to learn about a place and a time I have often never seen.

My current project is no different. When I set out to learn more about Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1889, I went first to the definitive source on that place and time: The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough.

Like The Big Burn by Timothy Egan and Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson, which I read while preparing The Fire and September Sky, respectively, McCullough’s nonfiction work reads like a novel. Thorough, balanced, and fascinating, it guides readers through the deadliest flood in U.S. history and provides a poignant snapshot of western Pennsylvania during the height of the Gilded Age. Personal anecdotes share space with clear — sometimes cold — statistics.

When reading the book, I felt like I was a part of a growing community that thrived on steel and commerce but lived in constant fear that a poorly maintained earthen dam, just fourteen miles up the Little Conemaugh River, might someday fail and take that prosperity away.

Like Egan and Larson, McCullough does more than describe a historic disaster. He provides a veritable college course on an era. I would recommend The Johnstown Flood to any student of history or anyone who simply likes a good story. Rating: 5/5.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Review: The Black Widow

When it comes to reading thrillers, I must admit I’m a creature of habit. I am far more likely to read the ninth novel of an author I like than try a first novel by someone else. And so it was this month with The Black Widow, the blockbuster bestseller by Daniel Silva.

Silva begins the novel, the sixteenth in the Gabriel Allon series, in the aftermath of a devastating terrorist attack on a Jewish cultural center in Paris. Allon, the legendary Israeli operative, responds to the attack by recruiting and training an agent he will send into the heart of a global terror network. The agent, a beautiful young doctor who poses as a "black widow" out to avenge the death of her husband, is at the center of a story that held my interest from the first page.

One reason I enjoy Silva’s novels is that they are relevant to the times. The author writes stories that are torn from today’s headlines and present a frightening and seemingly realistic take on safety and security in a turbulent world. He has no peer in the genre.

In The Black Widow, Silva presents Allon, the aging spy, in a fresh light and opens the door to new possibilities in this seemingly endless series. As before, I look forward to the author's next read. Rating: 5/5.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Book tag: a new Q and A

As a blogger and an author, I am occasionally invited to participate in activities designed to raise the profiles of bloggers and authors. So when I was "tagged" by fellow novelist Maureen Driscoll this week on Facebook, I knew my time had come again.

Driscoll, author of the Kellington and Emerson regency romance series and a longtime friend, challenged three others to answer a specific set of questions making the rounds. I thought the questions were pretty good, so I jumped right on them. Here they are:

What book has been on your shelf the longest?

Truth be told, I don't have many books on my shelves or in my Kindle. I borrow most of the books and audiobooks I read from local libraries and have done so for decades. Two books I have kept over the years are anthologies of short stories I read in college.

What is your current read, your last read, and the book you’ll read next?

I am currently listening to The Black Widow by Daniel Silva, one of my favorite authors. When I finish, I plan to reread The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough and other books on that historic natural disaster. All are part of my research for my next novel, set in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1888 and 1889. Before The Black Widow, I read Deceived, the debut novel by Heena Rathore.

What book did everyone like but you hated?

I don't know that I've ever "hated" a book that most people loved -- or even liked. I do know that I never warmed up to the Harry Potter series, even though I read the first book, saw most of the movies, and appreciated the brilliance that went into them.

What book do you keep telling yourself you’ll read but you probably won’t?

I put The Fault in Our Stars on my reading list several years ago, in part because of its astonishingly good reviews, but I doubt I will ever get to it — or at least get to it anytime soon. I saw part of the movie based on the book and did not care for it much.

What book are you saving for retirement?

There is no one book I am saving for retirement or even the distant future, but I do hope to return to the classics at some point. I have read only a few of the hundred or so great books people are supposed to read in their lifetime and want to remedy that.

Last page: Read it first or save until the end?

I never read the last page first and can't understand why others do it. The fun of reading a story is not knowing how it turns out in advance.

Acknowledgement: Waste of paper and ink or interesting aside?

I think the acknowledgments section is important because it tells readers a little about what went into producing a book. I like to know how an author got from Point A to Point B in a book that I liked.

Which book character would you switch places with?

I wouldn't mind spending a day in the shoes of John Corey, the cynical, wisecracking detective in several novels by Nelson DeMille.

Do you have a book that reminds you of something specific in your life?

I still have a copy of The Pacific, Hugh Ambrose's non-fiction account of World War II and the companion to the celebrated HBO miniseries. I did some research for Mr. Ambrose when he was writing the book and am listed in the credits as a minor contributor.

Name a book that you acquired in an interesting way.

On a few occasions, other authors have emailed me entire books for review. Otherwise, I have obtained almost all of the books I've read through a library,, or a bookstore.

Have you ever given a book away for a special reason to a special person?

I recently bundled all ten of my novels in a Kindle and gave them to my daughter Heidi for her twenty-fifth birthday.

Which book has been with you most places?

Without a doubt, it has been the two anthologies from college. They have survived a dozen moves and are still in mint condition.

Any required reading that you hated in high school that wasn’t so bad two years later?

I didn't like The Catcher in the Rye when I read it the first time. I liked it and appreciated it more when I read it the second time.

Used or band new?

I like new books, but I almost always read used books — whether obtained from a store or the library.

Have you ever read a Dan Brown book?

Yes. I have read five: Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol, Digital Fortress, and Deception Point.

Have you ever seen a movie you liked more than the book?

Yes. The Bridges of Madison County comes to mind.

Have you ever read a book that’s made you hungry, cookbooks included?

My wife purchased Taste of Home Slow Cooker Classics a few years ago. I often open it just to look at the pictures. It's that good.

Who is the person whose book advice you’ll always take?

As an author, I solicit advice all the time, but I don't always take it. That said, I almost always take advice offered by my wife, Cheryl; my editor, Aaron Yost; and Maureen Driscoll. All three have steered me away from literary trouble on more than one occasion. As a reader, I'll take advice from almost anyone who is passionate about a book.

Is there a book outside your comfort zone you ended up loving?

I don't read much non-fiction, but I recently read and loved Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. I am looking forward to seeing the movie.

Okay, now I get to do the tagging . . .

Michele Bodenheimer at

Angela Kay at

Heena Rathore at

Mike Siedschlag at

These are all thoughtful, interesting bloggers and blogs. Give them a look when you have the opportunity.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

March roundup and more

If there is one thing I’ve learned about readers in the past five years, it’s that they like books in bunches. So for the second time in two months, I have bent to the market and compiled a boxed set.

Northwest Passage: The First Three Novels offers The Mine, The Journey, and The Show in one package. I released a set of the first three American Journey books on January 4.

Planning continues on my next novel and series. I hope to start writing in May. In book one, five siblings will begin a time-traveling odyssey in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, on the eve of its 1889 flood.

I also hope to complete at least one more audiobook project by the end of July. Veteran actor and voice over artist Allyson Voller will begin work on The Mirror in the next few weeks. Indiana Belle debuted on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes on February 20.

Finally, a big thank you to the bloggers and readers who have read and reviewed Hannah's Moon. In large part because of your efforts, the book had the best first month of any of my ten novels.

Here's to a happy spring for one and all!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

An American Journey ends

Like every other writer on the planet, I am often advised to write what I know. For more than five years, I have proudly ignored that advice and written what I didn't know. Or at least know firsthand.

I have written about times I’ve never seen and places I’ve never been. Only when writing The Journey, a novel based loosely on my high school years, did I draw more from personal experience than from reading and research.

Hannah’s Moon, the final book in the American Journey series, is different. Inspired by actual events, it is a deeply personal work — one that takes readers through the peaks and valleys of difficult pregnancies, adoption, and parenthood. It is a tribute to the mothers and fathers who have traveled the same road, including the protagonists of my tenth novel.

In 2017, Claire and Ron Rasmussen find themselves at a crossroads. After trying for years to start a family, they turn to adoption — only to find new obstacles in their path. Then they get an unlikely phone call and learn that a distant uncle possesses the secrets of time travel.

Within weeks, Claire, Ron, and Claire’s brother, David, take a train to Tennessee and 1945, where adoptable infants are plentiful and red tape is short. For a time, the three find what they seek. Then a beautiful stranger enters their lives, the Navy calls, and a simple, straightforward mission becomes a race for survival.

In Hannah’s Moon, readers will see America in the tense final months of World War II, when victory was assured but the safety of soldiers and sailors was not. They will also see the end of a series that began with September Sky and continued with Mercer Street, Indiana Belle, and Class of ’59. They will get the answers to many questions and see every major character from the previous books one last time.

Filled with suspense, romance, humor, and heartbreak, Hannah’s Moon is a poignant snapshot of an unforgettable year in American history. The novel, available as a Kindle book on and its twelve international sites, goes on sale today.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Having fun after five years

I remember the day like it was yesterday. I clicked a button on a web page in the morning, waited impatiently for several hours, and finally noticed a subtle change shortly before taking my wife to dinner.

The Mine, the first novel in the Northwest Passage series, was no longer "in review." It was no longer an idea or a rough draft or a work in progress. It was live on It was a published book that was subject to the scrutiny of potentially thousands of readers.

I've learned a lot since February 13, 2012, when I joined the ranks of published authors. I've learned that covers matter, that marketing is a never-ending job, and that readers like happy endings and characters they can relate to. I've learned that producing a novel is time-consuming, humbling, often frustrating, and infinitely rewarding.

It is also a lot of fun. For that reason alone, I intend to keep at it and steadily add to a collection that now consists of ten Kindle books, a boxed set, and six audiobooks. As long as stories keep popping in my head, I will keep turning them into full-length novels.

To mark The Mine’s fifth anniversary, I am offering five selected audiobooks and compete sets of both the Northwest Passage and American Journey series. Each set consists of five ebooks. The giveaway invites participants to suggest settings for novels two through five in my next series. I plan to set the first book in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, on the eve of its great flood in 1889.

The contest is open to the first forty entrants and will run no later than February 15. To participate, go to my author page or contest page.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Planning a series the right way

The first thing I learned when creating the American Journey series was that writing a series was much different than writing a single novel. I had to observe different rules and plan much further into the future or run the risk of painting myself into a corner.

Having more or less cobbled together the Northwest Passage series around a few common themes, I tried to do better with the AJ series. The result, I think, was a better collection, one that comes to a conclusion with the release of Hannah’s Moon in February.

Now, as I consider yet another series, I’m faced with the same challenges. How do I map out three or more books that meet the minimum requirements of a compelling collection of fiction? One way is to look to others for guidance. One of the best resources is online.

Now Novel’s How to Write a Series is filled with commonsense advice that every author should take to heart. The writer’s group, which offers a course and resources for budding novelists, advises authors to avoid eight specific mistakes when crafting a series. Its guide stresses continuity, consistency, and openness to change.

These tips resonated with me. When I plotted the American Journey series in 2014, I knew how it would begin and end but not how it would develop. The order of the books was left open every step of the way. Even as I followed a fairly tight script, I wanted flexibility.

I will take the same approach when I create my next series. Set initially in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1888, the collection of stories will revolve around five modern-day siblings, all young adults, who search for their long-missing parents in the corridors of time.

I plan to begin the third series in June. In the meantime, I hope to put the second series to bed and convert The Mirror and Indiana Belle to audio. All three projects should be finished by the end of April.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New goals for a new year

I have never been a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. All too often, they are not realistic. They are things we should file under "Good Intentions," "Wishful Thinking," or even "Mission Impossible."

Even so, they serve a purpose. When we make resolutions or set goals, we force ourselves to evaluate our respective situations and consider what is possible in the coming year.

As an author, I have several goals for 2017. Some I expect to meet in the coming three months. Others may take longer or prove to be more of a challenge, but I will pursue them nonetheless.

One objective in easy reach now is the publishing of Hannah’s Moon. With a first draft in hand and several beta readers lined up, I should be able to release the novel, the fifth and final book in the American Journey series, in March.

Then I'll have to decide what comes next. Though I'm still keeping all options open, I've started to sketch out another five-book series that will focus less on time travel and more on historical fiction.

The idea I have in mind now is a family saga that begins in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1888, the year before its historic flood. I hope to make a final decision on the series by April 1.

I also intend to do more with my current books. Sometime this month, I will release American Journey: The First Three Novels, my first Kindle boxed set. In the middle of next month, I will sponsor some giveaways in conjunction with the fifth anniversary of The Mine.

If all goes as planned, I should also have two more audiobooks by the end of April. Chaz Allen has already begun production of Indiana Belle. Angel Clark will do the same with The Mirror in a few weeks. I hope to have all ten novels in audio by December.

For now, that’s all. But like anyone who has ever vowed to travel more, lose weight, read certain books, or work on a bucket list, I reserve the right to change my mind. I hope 2017 is a happy and productive year for all of you. Let the resolutions begin!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Behind a holiday masterpiece

One of the things I like most about this time of year is that people and organizations focus more on disparities in society and the needs of the have-nots. They give generously of their time and money and often find creative ways to improve the lives of others.

We are used to seeing acts of kindness at Christmas time because they are a part of our traditions and culture. For this, we can give many thanks to a troubled man who published one of the great treasures of English literature 173 years ago today.

When Charles Dickens released A Christmas Carol in 1843, millions of people in Great Britain and America, including a great number of children, lived in poverty and squalor. Life, for them, was a daily battle with joblessness, hunger, and disease.

Dickens’ classic, published at the end of the Industrial Revolution, directed public attention to populations that this revolution had left behind. The result was a legacy of awareness and compassion that is still with us today and manifests itself in countless ways.

The novella, which has never gone out of print, has been adapted many times to film, television, radio, and theater, among other media. I recommend the 1951 film, starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge, but many other adaptations are worthy of attention.

Some background on the book and the author can be found online at Literary Traveler, the (UK) Telegraph, the British Library, Wikipedia, and TIME magazine, which produced a fine article on the classic this month. I encourage you to check the sources out.

So in the spirit of Charles Dickens, his causes, and his signature work, I wish each of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

(Credit: Image of Charles Dickens from Wikipedia Commons.)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A first draft for a last book

Fifty-five days after telling others I would not begin writing the fifth American Journey book until January 1, I have finished its first draft. Weighing in at just over 100,000 words, it is the fifth longest of my ten novels, the second to complete a series, and the first to feature chapters set in another part of the world.

Set in Chattanooga, Southern California, and the Pacific Theater of World War II, Hannah’s Moon will follow a childless couple and the wife’s brother from 2017 to 1945. I hope to find a suitable cover in the next three weeks and begin the editing process in January. The projected publishing date of April 1 remains unchanged.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Starting down the final road

There is nothing like bringing a series to an end to focus the mind. Authors pay more attention to details and getting it right because they know they won’t have another chance to get it right. When a series is done, it is done. There are no second takes.

With that in mind, I have paid attention to the little things in writing the fifth book of the American Journey series. Questions will be answered — including a big one — and problems explained. In the series finale, I will bring back each of the time travelers from the first four books and borrow a few names and themes.

I am currently 35,000 words into the 100,000-word work. Set mostly in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the novel will follow a young childless couple from 2017 to 1945. Driven to adopt a baby in an age where babies were plentiful, the couple and the wife’s brother will find themselves caught up in the tense final months of World War II.

I hope to finish the first draft of AJ5, as I call it now, by Christmas. I intend to publish a Kindle edition of the book by April or May.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Review: Edge of Eternity

I am not a fast reader. I almost never finish a book before it’s due at the library and usually max out my renewals before bringing it back. Even so, I normally finish a work before the seasons change.

That was not the case with Ken Follett’s Edge of Eternity, part of his Century trilogy. I started listening to the audiobook on May 17, when green leaves began to appear on trees, and finally finished the novel on Wednesday, when those same leaves started to yellow.

One reason was that I simply had other things to do — like write and edit Class of ’59. Another was that Follett’s latest work was long — as in 1,136 print pages or nearly 37 audio HOURS long.

But the biggest reason I didn’t rush to finish the book is that I didn’t find it as compelling as Follett’s previous works. I have read nineteen of the Welsh author's novels and loved most. I consider The Pillars of the Earth my all-time favorite book.

Edge of Eternity, unfortunately, did not measure up. Unlike with Fall of Giants and Winter of the World, the series’ first two novels, Follett tried to take on too much. That can happen when you try to follow seven families and dozens of others, including real historical figures, through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War, Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra, and the fall of Communism.

But Follett compounded his challenge by turning his characters into cliches and giving his work a partisan edge it didn’t need. For much of the book, it seemed the author was more interested in sending a message to his readers than in connecting with them.

I hope Follett returns to writing shorter, more focused novels, like Eye of the Needle, Jackdaws, Hornet Flight, and Night Over Water. I know I will be ready to read them when he does. Rating: 2/5.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Review: Timeless

Like a lot of people, I love time travel. I’ve written nine time-travel novels and read or watched everything from A Sound of Thunder, Timeline, and The Time Machine to Outlander, Somewhere in Time, and The Time Traveler’s Wife. In short, I can’t get enough of it.

So when I heard that NBC was rolling out a new time-travel series called Timeless, I knew I had to check it out. As it turned out, the series, or at least its first episode, lived up to its considerable hype.

Goran Visnjic stars as a sophisticated criminal who steals a time machine in order to change the course of American history and destroy the country. In last night’s series pilot, he goes back to May 6, 1937, in an attempt to prevent the Hindenburg disaster.

Kept in the dark until Visnjic takes the time machine from the private company that developed it, the Department of Homeland Security quickly assembles and deploys a team to retrieve the criminal and the device. The team includes a history professor (Abigail Spencer), a soldier (Matt Lanter), and a scientist (Malcolm Barrett).

Almost from the beginning, the best-laid plans go astray for both the hunters and their prey. People live who were not supposed to live, timelines are changed, and little is resolved. The butterfly effect and the grandfather paradox are trotted out like show ponies.

There were a few things I didn’t like about the pilot. Timeless relied heavily on trendy sayings and cliches and its pursuers more often resembled cookie-cutter action heroes than normal human beings, but the story itself was superb and the visuals arresting.

I have been looking for a quality television show to watch since Downton Abbey faded into the English countryside last season. Thanks to NBC, I think I’ve found it. Rating: 5/5.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Review: Brooklyn

I don’t watch a lot of movies these days. One reason is that I don’t take the time to watch them. Another is that I don’t find current offerings all that compelling.

Every now and then, however, I see a film that makes me think I should give more motion pictures a chance. Brooklyn, a romantic drama directed by John Crowley, is one such movie.

Set in Enniscorthy, Ireland, and New York City, Brooklyn is the tale of Eilis Lacey, a humble young Irish woman who immigrates to the United States in 1951. She finds employment in a department store and love with Italian-American plumber Anthony "Tony" Fiorello.

Saoirse Ronan and Emory Cohen are magnificent as Lacey and Fiorello, respectively, but both take a back seat to the story itself. In Brooklyn, one gets a sense of what thousands of Irish and Italian immigrants experienced in the early postwar years.

Though Lacey makes a fairly smooth transition to American life, she feels the constant pull of Ireland in the form of a controlling mother, an ill sister, and a would-be suitor. From the moment she arrives in the U.S., she struggles to reconcile her two worlds.

Based on Colm Tóibín's novel, Brooklyn wowed audiences at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and earned three Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actress. I strongly recommend it to any fan of historical fiction. Rating: 5/5.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Finding fun in the Fifties

In every series there is usually one novel the author looks forward to writing the most. For some, it’s the first book, the one that sets the tone. For others, it’s the last book, the one that brings a story to a conclusion. For me, it’s the book that brings the most enjoyment.

And this one, folks, was just plain fun.

Say hello to Class of ’59. The fourth novel in the American Journey series and my ninth overall, it is a book that breaks new ground, answers old questions, and takes readers on a T-Bird ride through the era of Happy Days, Pleasantville, and American Graffiti.

Like in September Sky, Mercer Street, and Indiana Belle, people from the present access a portal to the past in a Victorian mansion in Los Angeles. Unlike in the first three books, they do so without the knowledge and assistance of Professor Geoffrey Bell.

On March 21, 1959, Mark Ryan, 22, is a focused college senior, an engineering major with an eye on building rockets and missiles. Then he explores an old desk in his family’s new home and finds a letter and two crystals that give him the means to travel through time.

On June 2, 2017, Mary Beth McIntire, 22, is an Alabama woman headed to medical school. Her life seems set when she takes a trip to California with her family. Then she sees a man in 1950s attire outside her vacation house and her world turns upside down.

Mark and Mary Beth share their startling discoveries with his adventurous brother (Ben) and her sensible sister (Piper). Within hours, four young adults throw caution to the wind and plunge into the age of sock hops, drive-in theaters, hot rods, and jukeboxes.

Class of ’59 is the first of my books set almost entirely in the Golden State. Instead of scattering across the country to places like Texas, New Jersey, and Indiana, my time travelers stay put.

From the streets of Hollywood to the high schools of Pasadena to the beaches of Santa Monica, they see Southern California in its storied prime. They experience the fifties up close and personal.

Filled with history, romance, humor, and suspense, Class of ’59 provides readers with a nostalgic snapshot of an unforgettable era. The novel, available as a Kindle book on and its international sites, goes on sale today.