Tuesday, December 12, 2017

All the world's a baseball field

I like sports. I played them as I kid. I tried to play them as an adult. I watch them now. I like everything from the competition on the field to the spectacles in the stands. Sports events, whether Little League games or Super Bowls, are among the world's greatest stages.

For that reason, I have used them as settings in my books. Those who have read The Mine may remember that Chapter 34 is set at a minor-league baseball game in Seattle in 1941. In this chapter, the longest and arguably the most entertaining in the Northwest Passage series, protagonist Joel Smith tries to win over a reluctant Grace Vandenberg with humor and bravado and eventually succeeds.

Baseball, in fact, is a recurring theme in my works. In Mercer Street, three time-traveling women, long-suffering Chicago Cubs fans from 2016, watch the Cubs play in a rare World Series game in 1938. Later in the novel, they go to Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939, and listen to Lou Gehrig declare that he is "the luckiest man on the face of the earth." In Chapter 64 of Hannah's Moon, history teachers David Baker and Margaret Doyle discover a mutual love of the national pastime at a minor-league game in Chattanooga in 1945.

Two books feature chapters set at college football games. In The Mine, Joel Smith tries to start a "wave" forty years before it becomes a stadium staple. In Mercer Street, Amanda Peterson makes a new friend at the Yale-Princeton clash on November 12, 1938.

In other novels, characters make social inroads at a bowling event (The Journey), a tennis match (Class of '59), and the Indianapolis 500 (Indiana Belle). Other characters in other books sail (The Mirror), roller-skate (River Rising), ride horses (The Fire, River Rising), or pedal a bicycle-built-for-two (September Sky). Only in The Show do the main characters refrain from sports events and recreational activities. And even then, Joel and Grace dream of going snow skiing.

Will I do more sports settings? Without a doubt. When people go to Pamplona, they run with the bulls. When they travel to Chicago, they check out Wrigley Field. Few devices in fiction writing lend themselves more to humor AND drama than sports and recreation.

College football will make another appearance in the second Carson Chronicles book, set for a summer 2018 release. After that, I will have to conjure more possibilities. Perhaps bobsledding. Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

No for now to NaNoWriMo

Each autumn I hear its siren song -- and each autumn I resist it, though I must admit it's getting tougher. Despite the allure of being a part of something big, there are always other, more important things to do. For that reason, I do not plan to join thousands of others in writing a 50,000-word manuscript in the next four weeks. Instead, I intend to enjoy a pleasant lull between novels eleven and twelve.

November will not be a time I rush headlong into National Novel Writing Month but rather a time I scan articles, read books, and write emails in preparation for the second Carson Chronicles book. I will do what I have done a dozen times in six years. I will dive into the glorious past.

Learning about distant eras, places, and events is half the fun of being a writer of historical fiction. When I lay the groundwork for a novel, I become a student again — a person who embarks on a series of new and interesting journeys.

This fall such journeys have taken me, figuratively, to Tijuana and Ensenada, Mexico; San Diego, California; Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; Flagstaff, Arizona; Duluth, Minnesota; and war-torn France in the summer and fall of 1918. I hope to gain what I can from each of these trips before I begin writing the sequel to River Rising in early January.

I also hope to aggressively market some of my older novels and see two audiobook projects through to their completion. Chaz Allen, who narrated The Fire and the first three American Journey books, has already begun recording River Rising. Allyson Voller, who narrated The Mirror last summer, will start Hannah's Moon later this fall.

One of these years I will participate in NaNoWriMo, if only to be a part of a creative writing event that has grown into a phenomenon since 1999. This year, however, I am content to let others have the fun. When taking a breather between 140,000-word novels, the temptation to write even more words on demand is one I can still resist.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Review: The Cuban Affair

If there is one thing I like about Nelson DeMille, it’s that he manages to get my attention just about when I am ready to give up on him. Two years after reading Radiant Angel, my fourteenth DeMille novel, I was beginning to think that the author, now 74, had retired. Then he came out with The Cuban Affair and all was right with the world.

In The Cuban Affair, DeMille introduces us to Daniel “Mac” MacCormick, a 35-year-old army veteran who operates a charter boat in Florida. Cynical but honorable, like the protagonists in DeMille’s earlier works, Mac searches for ways to retire crippling debt when one comes walking through the door of his Key West watering hole.

The contact convinces Mac to participate in a covert mission to liberate millions in hidden assets left behind by fleeing Cubans following the rise of Fidel Castro in 1959. With the help of a beautiful Cuban architect from Miami, Mac travels to Havana with a tour group and begins his biggest adventure since returning from Afghanistan.

What follows is DeMille’s most enjoyable story since Wild Fire, which I read shortly after it came out in 2006. Like the novels of the John Corey series, centered around a former NYPD homicide detective, The Cuban Affair offers the kind of suspense, thrills, and humor that have made DeMille a bestselling author for nearly thirty years.

I recommend the novel — and the unabridged audiobook narrated by Scott Brick — to anyone looking for a literary adventure and a revealing glimpse at the enigma that is modern Cuba. Rating: 4/5.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Review: American Ulysses

In rankings of U.S. presidents, Ulysses Grant typically finishes at or near the bottom. Most contemporary historians have little use for the Civil War general who served in the White House from 1869 to 1877.

In downgrading the eighteenth president, many point to the scandals that rocked his second term. Others cite Grant’s hands-off leadership style. A few draw inordinate attention to his personal failings.

Ronald C. White is not among them. In American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant, the author gives us a man that modern historians and scholars, often driven by modern biases, tend to overlook.

To be sure, White, the New York Times-bestselling author, does not sweep Gilded Age corruption under the rug. He describes the unethical behavior and influence peddling that occurred under Grant’s watch in great detail, but he does so in a way that exonerates the two-term chief executive of everything but misplaced trust.

White’s Grant is a study in contrasts: a fierce, dogged warrior who loathed violence; an inarticulate speaker who was an eloquent writer; a man who hated conflict and controversy but invited both as a champion of newly freed slaves, Native Americans, and women.

The Grant is this thoughtful work is also a compelling figure: a boy who favored reading books over hunting animals, a young soldier who fought loneliness when separated from his bride, and a poor man who struggled most of his life to make an adequate living.

In short, White fills the gaps left by all too many texts and history books. I recommend American Ulysses to anyone who loves history, underdogs, and new takes on old subjects. Rating: 4.5/5.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Heading down a different road

If there is one thing I like about being an indie author, it is having the freedom to dance to my own drum. Last spring, I faced a choice — start a third time-travel series or create a family saga I have wanted to write for years. Had I been bound by the rules of traditional publishing, I would have had to pick one or the other. Because I was not, I was able to do both. I was able to produce a work that takes readers down a different and compelling new road.

Say hello to River Rising. Like the novels of the Northwest Passage and American Journey series, it follows contemporary time travelers to America’s past. Unlike The Mine and September Sky, it launches a series where my protagonists — two Arizona professors and their five grown children — march through time together. It begins a family saga that I hope readers will enjoy and embrace.

On December 1, 2017, Adam Carson, 27, is an engineer trying to hold a family together following the unsolved disappearance of his parents from a Sedona trail. Thrust into an uncomfortable role when he is still recovering from another loss, he inadvertently learns that his conventional parents aren’t so conventional after all. They are time travelers who, unbeknownst to family, friends, and authorities, have traveled to — and become stuck in — the 1880s.

Armed with the information he needs to find them, Adam convinces his younger siblings to join him on a rescue mission to the nineteenth century. While Greg, the adventurous middle brother, follows leads in Arizona and California, Adam, ambitious journalist Natalie, and high school seniors Cody and Caitlin do the same in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Like the residents of the bustling steel community, all are unaware of a flood that will destroy the city on May 31, 1889.

In River Rising, readers will see America in the heady, reckless days of the Gilded Age, when coal was king, robber barons ruled the roost, and railroads stretched from the industrial East to the untamed West. They will see five young adults adapt to challenges, find friendship and love, and grow in ways that surprise even themselves.

The 139,000-word novel, the first in the Carson Chronicles series, is my largest and most ambitious project to date. Inspired by the works of John Jakes, author of the celebrated North and South trilogy, it lays the foundation of a multi-genre series that will span nearly a hundred years and take readers across the United States and beyond.

Filled with history, fantasy, adventure, and romance, River Rising is a poignant, sometimes humorous, portrait of a family, a country, and a time. The novel, available as a Kindle book on Amazon.com and its twelve international sites, goes on sale today.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Review: Endurance

History, I think it is safe to say, favors the winners. It remembers and rewards those who try and succeed, not those who try and fail — or at least not those who fail to do anything but simply survive.

There are exceptions, of course. The British at Dunkirk come to mind. So do Washington’s army in the Battle of Long Island and the crew of Apollo 13. But for the most part, history does not smile on those who fail to accomplish the one thing they set out to do.

On occasion, however, the stories of those who fail persist and become the stuff of legend. The tale of Sir Ernest Shackleton, leader of the doomed Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, is a case in point.

The famed British polar explorer did not achieve his goal of leading his team across Antarctica in 1915. He instead lost the Endurance, his three-masted sailing ship, before his party even began its trek across the southernmost continent.

Yet Shackleton is remembered and revered today because of his efforts to save his crew, including an 800-mile, open-boat voyage through the most treacherous waters on earth. These feats are the focus of a riveting audiobook I enjoyed this week.

Written by Alfred Lansing and narrated by Simon Prebble, Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage is a triumph in storytelling — one that describes the misery of 29 men and 70 dogs in excruciating detail as they battle for survival on a frozen sea.

Readers and listeners who favor nonfiction works like Unbroken, Into Thin Air, Shadow Divers, and The Perfect Storm will find much to like in Lansing’s account, published in 1959. Ordinary individuals, with temperaments and shortcomings we can all relate to, endure conditions and events that would break even the heartiest of souls.

I would recommend Lansing's timeless classic to any fan of history and adventure. Endurance offers both in shiploads. Rating: 5/5. (Photo of Endurance in 1915 courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.)

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A find that could not be eclipsed

While most news organizations this past week focused on two objects in the sky, at least a few paid lip service to an object in the ocean and a truly remarkable discovery. Thanks to an expedition team led by Paul Allen, the fabled warship USS Indianapolis has been found.

A research vessel owned by the Microsoft co-founder discovered the heavy cruiser last Friday in 18,000 feet of water in the Philippine Sea. Sunk by a Japanese submarine in the early hours of July 30, 1945, the Indianapolis has been the subject of countless movies, news articles, debates, and books, including my own Hannah’s Moon.

Informative articles on the ship’s discovery can be found on the CBS, Chicago Tribune, CNN, Discover, New York Times, Seattle P-I, and KOMO-TV (Seattle) web sites. Many thanks to readers who brought this story to my attention last week. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons and the Naval History and Heritage Command.)

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The traveling road show (2017)

For most of my life, Las Vegas, Nevada, has been a footnote.

In 2001, I spent part of my fortieth birthday at Treasure Island and beat the slots — the nickel slots, mind you — for the only time. My twenty-dollar payout was enough to finance a buffet dinner and a cocktail and that was somewhere between splendid and sublime.

Nine years later, while traveling from my home in Helena, Montana, to my in-laws’ house in Mesa, Arizona, I purchased a new pick-up truck. I had scoured the four corners of the globe for a black Nissan Frontier with a manual transmission and found one on a lot in Vegas.

With those two exceptions, Sin City has been Flyover Country, an afterthought, a place I’ve seen on television, movies, and postcards but rarely up close. For the past three days, however, it has been something more than that. It has been my home.

Thanks to my education-warrior-new-Masters-degree-packing wife, who starts a teaching position in Las Vegas this week, I am now a resident of the Silver State. As such, I hope to blaze new trails as a writer, a researcher, and a person who loves to learn and explore.

I know I did plenty of learning and exploring as a resident of Alabama. In my three years in the South, I immersed myself in the history, music, food, and culture of a different region and came away more educated. As I result, I was able to write more knowledgeably about Galveston and Chattanooga, the settings of two novels, and even places beyond Dixie that were suddenly within reach of a car.

Las Vegas presents even more opportunities. Located in the heart of the Southwest, it puts deserts, mountains, California, the Pacific coast, and nearly a dozen national parks in play. I look forward to setting at least a few future novels in some of these places.

In the meantime, I have a two-bedroom apartment to settle, a job market to test, and a vibrant city to explore. Inspiration awaits.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Writing in a single-genre world

I admit it has always been a challenge. When you write multi-genre books in a single-genre world, you sail into the headwinds of an industry that thrives on classification. Libraries of all kinds favor the categorization of fiction literature. So do bookstores, online retailers, and advertisers. They favor it because it is the quickest and most efficient way to bring readers and books they might like together.

As a former librarian and a consumer of literature, I like this system. I like knowing that if I read and enjoy a book like Amish Vampires in Space, I can probably find a similar work in a matter of minutes.

As the author of eleven multi-genre novels, however, I take a more nuanced view. I care less about an industry with scores of genres and sub-genres than about marketing my books to the right readers.

Anne A. Wilson, author of the multi-genre book Hover, identified some of the obstacles in an interview last year. She noted that Library Journal and Booklist reviewed her book as women’s fiction, while two other publications treated it as romantic suspense or a thriller.

I can relate. On Amazon alone, my books have been classified as historical fiction, time travel, romance, coming of age, fantasy, literary fiction, teen and young adult, and mystery, thriller, and suspense. On occasion, The Journey, my second and shortest novel, is listed in the Ghosts and Haunted Houses sub-genre because it features, among other things, a bad-tempered spirit in a creaky old house.

Readers, of course, assign their own labels. Goodreads members have placed The Mine, my first novel, on no fewer than 647 top shelves, including time travel, sci-fi fantasy, and ... (sigh) ... chick lit. If I were asked to put this book on a single shelf, I could not do it.

One of the biggest challenges, beyond selecting a genre — Amazon lets authors pick two — is coming up with a cover that at least pays lip service to the labels. When a novel is equal parts historical fiction, fantasy, romance, and mystery, it is difficult to find images that do justice to the entire book. For that reason, I have leaned toward simple, abstract covers that evoke a variety of themes.

Despite these challenges, I have resisted the temptation to scale back and write for a single audience. I favor multi-genre novels because, like life itself, they are complete stories. They are not just one thing or the other. They are a bit of adventure, romance, good times, and bad times. They are a combination of many things.

Last week, I finished the rough draft of River Rising, the first book in the Carson Chronicles series. As with the ten novels that preceded it, it will combine history, family relationships, adventure, romance, and suspense in one time-travel stew. How I will classify it when it comes out this fall will be a problem. But it’s a problem I’m glad to have.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Getting a start on summer

Summer, I think it is safe to say, is not the productive season. People take vacations in summer. They set school aside. They leave the heavy lifting for fall. Unless, of course, they are the hard-working audiobook producers who have recently helped me bring three new titles to the listening public. In that case, they work as hard as ever.

Thanks to Chaz Allen and Patrice Gambardella, Mercer Street and Class of ’59 are now available on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. Thanks to Allyson Voller, The Mirror, which is now in the final stages of production, soon will be. All three talented producers beat their production deadlines by several weeks, for which I am especially grateful.

I have been busy myself. Three months after starting River Rising, my eleventh novel and the first of the Carson Chronicles, my third time-travel series, I have completed a first draft. I hope to publish the Kindle book, my longest at 138,000 words, by early October.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Finding answers in Johnstown

Like most writers of fiction, I prefer to see a town before I write about it. There is nothing like walking the streets, smelling the air, and speaking to the locals to get a feel of a particular community.

For that reason, I traveled to Wallace, Idaho; Galveston, Texas; Princeton, New Jersey; Evansville, Indiana; and Chattanooga, Tennessee, before writing novels that brought their features to the forefront.

Last weekend, I continued that tradition by visiting Johnstown, Pennsylvania. As was the case with the other towns, I'm glad I did.

When you step into this mountain community of 20,000, you step into history. For much of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Johnstown was synonymous with the steel, coal, and railroad industries. It was a symbol of America’s strength and spirit. It was also a reminder of one of our greatest tragedies, a disaster of nature and man that captured my attention long before I considered writing my current book.

Much like Wallace before the Great Fire of 1910 and Galveston before the hurricane of 1900, Johnstown in 1889 was an accident waiting to happen. Located 14 miles downstream of a reservoir held in place by a poorly maintained dam, it lived in fear of a breach. One hundred twenty-eight years ago today, those fears were realized.

Unlike the other towns, Johnstown had little warning of impending doom. By the time a forty-foot wall of water and debris reached the city, the fate of more than 2200 people was already sealed.

I went to Johnstown not because I needed facts and figures but rather because I needed understanding. I found it in visits to two museums, conversations with area residents, a walking tour of the town, and even the rainy weather, which provided an authentic backdrop.

I am currently about halfway through the first draft of River Rising, my eleventh novel and the first in my third time-travel series. I hope to finish the draft by early July and publish the book by November.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Review: The White Queen

I like history. I like it so much that I majored in history in college, read a hundred historical fiction books as an adult, and wrote ten more as a novelist. I revere the past like some people revere fine wines.

Television is another matter. I tend to avoid it unless the network news is on — or a baseball game or a particularly good movie. Like a lot of people, I would rather devote my time to other things.

Every once in a while, however, I find a program or series worth watching. More often than not, it is a drama rooted in the past, like Homefront, American Dreams, or Downton Abbey.

The White Queen, a 2013 British drama based on three bestselling novels by Philippa Gregory, is no exception. I discovered the ten-episode series this month and went through it in a week.

Set against the backdrop of the War of the Roses, a civil war that raged in Britain from 1455 to 1487, the story is told mostly from the perspectives of three women: Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret Beaufort, and Anne Neville. Each manipulates events behind the scenes so that men in their lives can attain or retain the throne.

As best I can tell, the series sticks close to the historical record, though it does take liberties in places. Those who know Richard III through Shakespeare's play, for example, will find a kinder, gentler king in The White Queen. And the fate of one of his nephews, one of history's great mysteries, is made clear in television production.

I would recommend The White Queen to anyone who likes history and intrigue. I hope to find similar series in the future. Rating: 5/5.

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, Amazon.com, 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 www.mikishope.com

Angela Kay at angelakaysbooks.com

Heena Rathore at thereadingbud.com

Mike Siedschlag at mikestheaterofthemind.blogspot.com

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 Amazon.com 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 Amazon.com. 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.