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.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Giving a nod to my better half

She is usually the first person I consult on writing matters and the contributor I trust the most. She is the person most likely to recognize problems in my books because she has read them all and helped fix them all — more times than I can count.

No one else, I think it is safe to say, knows me better as a writer than my wife, Cheryl Fellows Heldt. Then again, no one else knows me better as a person.

Her support for my “hobby” goes back to the beginning. Long before I even dreamed of writing my first novel, The Mine, in the summer and fall of 2011, Cheryl encouraged and supported my career as a newspaper sportswriter, reporter, and editor.

She went through my manuscripts, attended events I covered, and occasionally provided me with story ideas. She also put her own career ambitions on hold for many years so that I could achieve my goals as a journalist, a librarian, and finally a novelist.

Even now, when she is extraordinarily busy blazing her own trails as an educator, Cheryl sets aside blocks of time to help me with various projects. In the past year alone, she has listened to and offered input on the narration of three audiobooks.

So it’s with much love and respect that I recognize my wife today. On our thirtieth anniversary, I have never appreciated her more.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A finished first draft and more

It took seven weeks, a lot of sweat, and some swearing at the cat (just kidding), but I finally got it done. The first draft of Class of ’59, the fourth book in the American Journey series, is a done deal.

I have forwarded the manuscript to the first of eight beta readers and hope to have a finished product by September 20. A cover for the book is also in the works and should be out within a week.

I am also pleased to report news on four other books.

Midwest Book Review, a highly respected and influential book review site founded in 1976, reviewed Indiana Belle this week. The review can be found online in the MBR’s July newsletter.

Narrator Sonja Field is two-thirds of the way through The Show audiobook. I expect to release that title by September.

Chaz Allen, who narrated the recently released September Sky audiobook, has started an audio production of The Fire. I hope to submit that work to Audible by October or November.

Downloads for Mercer Street, yesterday’s featured book on e-Book-Daily have been brisk. The second novel in the American Journey series is available as a free download through Saturday.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Getting a jump on novel nine

Those who know me well know that I rarely keep my word when I say I will take a long break between books. The temptation to jump into the next novel and start writing early is almost always too great.

Such was the case with the untitled fourth book in the American Journey series. I had hoped to put off the project until July 1, but I started early last week when I finished my initial marketing campaign for book three, Indiana Belle, well ahead of schedule.

In book four, two vacationing Alabama sisters, ages 22 and 18, will travel from 2017 to 1959 Los Angeles, meet similarly aged brothers, and immerse themselves in the age of Sputnik, sock hops, drive-ins, and cars with fins. I hope to complete the first draft by Labor Day and publish the novel -- my ninth overall -- by Thanksgiving.

Progress also continues on two audio book projects. Both The Show, narrated by Sonja Field, and September Sky, read by Chaz Allen, should be available to consumers by early fall.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Review: Friction

There’s a reason Sandra Brown, author of more than 50 New York Times bestsellers, is still going strong 35 years after publishing her first novel. Like a lot of authors, she can write a first-rate thriller. Unlike a lot of authors, she can infuse one with a first-rate romance.

So it was with enthusiasm that I downloaded the audio edition of Friction, Brown’s 2015 novel about Crawford Hunt, a troubled Texas Ranger who saves the life of a gorgeous newbie judge moments before she rules in the custody hearing of Hunt’s daughter.

In the week that follows, Hunt carries out a clandestine and ill-advised romance with the judge (Holly Spencer), battles his vindictive father-in-law for custody of five-year-old Georgia, and aggravates lawmen and outlaws alike as he pursues the people responsible for a deadly shooting in a small-town courthouse.

In Friction, Brown gets it half right. The crime drama is gritty and compelling. Though the identity of the ultimate culprit is never in doubt, the roles and motives of Hunt’s many other detractors are. Brown offers two twists at the end that lend poignancy to Hunt’s story as Georgia’s father and the neglected son of a town drunk.

Hunt is less sympathetic as a Romeo. His relentless pursuit of Judge Spencer is comically crude, a Lone Star version of “Me Tarzan. You Jane. Tarzan want Jane. Now!” Spencer, for her part, seems more like a schoolgirl with a crush than a rising legal star.

Even so, I liked Friction enough to recommend it. Sandra Brown may sometimes prompt readers and listeners to roll their eyes and shake their head, but she rarely leaves them bored. Rating: 3/5.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Two more for the audio files

As a reader for the past couple of years, I have really been a listener. More often than not, I have selected audio books over print and digital books because they are flat out more convenient.

With audio, I can “read” a novel while driving my car or walking the dog or resting my eyes after a long day. I can can consume quality literature at times that work best for me.

Aware that many other readers prefer to do the same, I have sought ways to turn my Kindle novels into audio novels. Thanks to reader Aaron Landon and Podium Publishing, I succeeded in 2014 with the release of The Mine. Thanks to reader Caroline Miller and an unexpected stipend from Amazon's Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), I succeeded again, last fall, with the release of The Journey.

I am pleased to report that two more books will soon join their ranks.

Chaz Allen, the producer of Little Known Facts, a nationally syndicated radio program, is about a quarter of the way into September Sky, my longest novel and the first in the American Journey series. The Oklahoman has narrated fifty-four audio books.

Sonja Field, a classically trained actress from Philadelphia, has just started recording The Show, the third novel in the Northwest Passage series. She has narrated twenty-seven audio books.

I hope to release both novels this summer. When completed, they will be available through Amazon, Audible, and iTunes.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Putting disaster on center stage

One of the things I enjoy most about writing time-travel novels set in twentieth-century America is learning about the people, customs, and events that defined particular eras. This is particularly true with events like natural disasters, events no movie studio could improve.

I found many of these cataclysmic events to be fascinating stories in their own right and did my best to incorporate them into my books. In four of my eight novels, in fact, I have used natural disasters as backdrops, starting points, and/or climactic turning points.

In The Journey, I bring my protagonist in close proximity to the May 18, 1980, eruption of Mount St. Helens. In The Fire, I devote several chapters to the Great Fire of 1910, a relatively little known but widely destructive inferno that charred three million acres of pristine forestland in Washington, Idaho, and Montana.

In both books, the main characters know a disaster is coming but can do little more than spare a precious few from harm. The same is true in September Sky, where a reporter and his college-age son try to minimize the impact of a hurricane they know will strike Galveston, Texas, in 1900 and claim several thousand lives.

I like incorporating natural disasters into my stories because they provide added drama, sharpen distinctions, and bring out the best and worst in people. Timid men and women become heroes in an instant, while some of the cocky and powerful become cowards.

I learned this when researching The Fire, set in Wallace, Idaho. As the flames closed in on the isolated and vulnerable mountain town on August 20, 1910, many men helped women and children escape by loading them onto trains. A few acted less nobly. They pushed others out of the way in an effort to save themselves, much like some men did on the RMS Titanic less than two years later.

I didn’t use a natural disaster to draw out heroes and cowards in Indiana Belle, but I did use one to get the novel off to a roaring start. A few chapters into the book, my protagonist comes face to face with the Tri-State Tornado, a mile-wide tempest that killed nearly seven hundred people in the Midwest on March 18, 1925.

Reading about these disasters made me appreciate modern technology all the more. People who confronted wildfires, hurricanes, and tornadoes in the early 1900s did not have television, smartphones, the Internet, or Doppler radar to alert them to pending doom. They faced nature’s wrath blindly.

Part of the fun of researching the books that featured the disasters was visiting the disaster sites themselves. I visited Wallace in 2013, Galveston in 2014, and southwest Indiana earlier this year. The first two venues offer several museums, historical sites, and attractions that commemorate their respective calamities.

I visited Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument -- pictured above in 2005 -- several years before writing The Journey. It is an attraction no one with a memory of the May 1980 eruption or its aftermath should miss when visiting Washington state.

Friday, April 15, 2016

A book with a bit of everything

If there is one thing I’ve learned in four years as an indie author, it’s that people like certain things in the books they read. They like appealing characters, drama, humor, history, a quick pace, and a healthy dose of intrigue. They like a satisfying ending.

While it’s easy to incorporate all of these elements into a series, it’s not easy to incorporate them into a single book. Doing so requires planning, patience, and imagination. It means finding a balance.

With Indiana Belle, I think I found that balance. My eighth novel, the third book in the American Journey time-travel series, is one that hits all the right notes.

Like September Sky, Mercer Street, and the novels of the Northwest Passage series, Indiana Belle looks at the past through the eyes of the present. Unlike the other books, it offers a glimpse of the distant future too.

On Valentine's Day 2017, Cameron Coelho, 28, is a quiet loner working on his doctorate in history in Providence, Rhode Island. Then he receives a package from an old woman in Indiana that turns his world upside down.

Armed with revealing letters, diary pages, and a mesmerizing photograph of Candice Bell, a society editor murdered in 1925, Cameron follows a trail that takes him to Geoffrey Bell, the “time-travel professor,” and the age of flappers, jazz, and Prohibition.

Readers who like natural disasters, like those presented in The Journey, The Fire, and September Sky, will get one here. The Tri-State Tornado, one of the most destructive storms in history, gets ample play. So do speakeasies, car races, and religious revivals.

Readers who like murder mysteries, like the one in September Sky, will get that too. They will also get a love story and a snapshot of a rebellious era that is still firmly etched in the American imagination.

In writing Indiana Belle, I pulled the best elements from each of my first seven novels and put them in a story that I hope will entertain, inform, and amuse. The work, available as a Kindle book on and its international sites, goes on sale today.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Touting the tools of the trade

As one who came of age in the early 1980s, I remember what writing was like before Microsoft Word, spell check, and the Internet. I remember manual typewriters, correction ribbons, card catalogs, and clunky, dog-eared monstrosities called dictionaries.

Even as a newspaper editor as in the mid-1990s, I kept a dictionary close. It was the last line of defense against errors that readers -- usually elderly Scrabble-loving women -- liked to circle with red pens and offer as proof of Western civilization’s decline.

Things are much better now. When I write a book, I can count on a number of Internet resources to make an otherwise difficult task easy and even enjoyable. These resources include not only online dictionaries but also search engines, grammar guides, and specialty web sites that don’t get even a fraction of the love they deserve.

My Elite Eight, ranked in no particular order, are as follows:

1. Google Books: Ever wonder whether a phrase has been used by others, is still in vogue, or is even grammatically correct? This is one place to find out. I often use this tool to see how publishers treat words and phrases. The Ngram Viewer is a nice side feature.

2. Library of Congress: Though I wrote about America's library last year, the institution deserves another mention. There is no better place in the world to get an authoritative answer to a question.

3. If you're a writer who strives to avoid repetition, this is a site you cannot do without. In two or three clicks, you can go from a good word to a great word to one that is perfect.

4. Grammar Girl: There are more grammar sites on the Internet than adverbs in Stephen King’s proverbial road to hell, but few are as enjoyable or helpful as this one. Creator Mignon Fogarty provides useful tips and guidance in language anyone can understand.

5. Wikipedia: Some people consider this Internet mainstay an unreliable ending point. I consider it a useful starting point. Most articles are thorough and clearly written and feature extensive bibliographies that can be used to explore a topic in depth.

6. OneLook: Why search just one dictionary when you can search a thousand at the same time? This versatile tool provides quick, clear results. And, unlike many other dictionary sites, it is not cluttered with annoying advertisements or cumbersome graphics.

7. Online Etymology Dictionary: This is an indispensable resource for any writer of historical fiction. Want to know when carpetbagger and scalawag were first used in literature? OED has the answer.

8. Daily Writing Tips: On the rare occasion I stray from Grammar Girl, I head to this site. Operated by a team of credentialed writers and editors, the resource is user-friendly and highly informative. The contributors regularly tackle grammar issues that others do not.

I recommend these sites to those who take writing seriously and want to improve their craft. They are as essential now -- at least to me -- as the typewriter and dictionary were a generation ago.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Review: The Martian

When it comes to movies and books, I’m not a first-run or first-edition kind of guy. I will almost always wait until the works are inexpensively available before taking a look at them.

Such was the case with The Martian by Andy Weir. I wanted to jump into the story as early as 2013 -- when I first became aware of a self-published novel that was taking the nation, or at least its science-fiction community, by storm -- but it wasn't until recently that I did so. And when I did, I picked the picture over the words.

I finally saw the movie, based on the New York Times bestselling novel, last night and must say it is every bit as good as most people say it is. With an 8.1 average rating on and 92-percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, it has drawn almost universal acclaim.

The story of Mark Watney, an American astronaut stranded on Mars, The Martian covers familiar ground. It is a little Robinson Crusoe on Mars and a lot of MacGyver with some high-tech spin. Watney survives by using his wits and does so with humor and flair.

The Oscar-nominated movie, directed by Ridley Scott, succeeds on several levels. The cinematography is breathtaking and the acting is compelling. Matt Damon is superb as Watney, a wisecracking loner who looks at every deadly challenge as an opportunity.

(Those who watch this film, released last fall by 20th Century Fox, will never again look at potatoes and duct tape the same way.)

As one who knows the challenges of writing, publishing, and marketing an indie novel, I can only admire Weir’s rags-to-riches success. In fact, I am somewhat indebted to him.

When Podium Publishing contacted me three years about turning The Mine into an audiobook, it noted a link between readers who liked Weir’s self-published work and those who liked mine. Ten months later, in January 2014, The Mine was released on Audible.

I don’t know if Weir, a California computer programmer, plans to write more books, but I hope he does. His first novel, and the blockbuster film it inspired, are each worthy of a sequel. Rating: 5/5.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Pictures, words, and covers

According to a saying popularized by newspapers, a picture is worth a thousand words. It can say things that even a hundred words cannot. It sends messages, creates impressions, and sets tones.

But when I set out to find a cover image for my eighth novel, I did not need one that was worth a thousand words. I needed one that was worth only two: Candice Bell. She is the wholesome but flirtatious 25-year-old society editor who is at the heart of a time-travel story set in Evansville, Indiana, in 1925.

I found the right picture last month on a stock image site. Thanks to illustrator Laura Wright LaRoche, the photo is now the centerpiece of a cover that does justice to a lively character and her times.

In the past, I have shied away from using photographs on covers or have used only ones that show people in shadows or silhouette. The reason is simple. It is difficult, if not impossible, to find images that even loosely resemble the characters described in a book.

I made an exception this time because the woman in this photo matches my heroine to a T. The faded sepia image also resembles a photo mentioned in the opening chapter, a portrait that draws Cameron Coelho, my time-traveling protagonist, to 1925.

Indiana Belle, the third novel of the American Journey series, is now in the hands of editors and beta readers. It is set for a May release.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Review: Of Mice and Men

I barely remember the first time I read Of Mice and Men. It was one of those classics I read in school because I had to. As a teen in the 1970s, it was not easy to relate to two drifters in the 1930s.

But when I read — or listened to — the novella again this month, I needed only a few minutes to see why so many consider it a masterpiece of literature. Published in 1937, it is the story of George Milton and Lennie Small, California migrant field workers.

As is so often the case, the friends are polar opposites. George is “small and quick and dark of face.” Lennie is a mild-mannered giant with a low IQ and penchant for petting small animals to death. Together they work toward a shared goal of financial independence.

When they land jobs on a ranch in the Salinas Valley, this goal appears to be within reach. But it isn’t long before Lennie’s habits and limitations invite trouble and put a happy future at risk.

The thing I liked most about Mice was the author’s description of time and place. I could almost smell the stench in the bunkhouse and see the dust roll over the fields. No one described the United States during the Great Depression like John Steinbeck.

I also liked the narration by Gary Sinise, one of my favorite actors. He nailed the accents and demonstrated impressive vocal range, though I must admit his portrayal of Lennie sounded an awful lot like Patrick Star, the dimwitted starfish in SpongeBob SquarePants.

I didn't care as much for the novella's rough language, which I found authentic but distracting. It is one reason that Mice, unfortunately, is among the most challenged of books in schools and libraries.

That said, the virtues of this timeless work, both the print and audio versions, outweigh its vices. I recommend it to anyone who likes stories about a difficult time in American history. Rating: 4/5.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Review: The Nightingale

Near the end of The Nightingale, a novel by Kristin Hannah, the protagonist, an old woman, makes an observation in 1995. Looking back at her life and her role in the French Resistance during World War II, she observes that war is essentially a guy thing.

When it comes to remembering wartime contributions, it is men who get the parades and the medals. It is men who write the books, make the speeches, hold reunions, and seek the glory.

It is men who get the credit.

But as The Nightingale reminds us, women -- in this case, civilian women -- fight wars too. They do it quietly, bravely, and usually with little fanfare. They do it in ways that are no less important than the men fighting for God and country on the front lines.

In The Nightingale, the No. 1 New York Times bestseller, two French sisters, Vianne and Isabelle Rossignol, take up the fight against their Nazi German occupiers in different ways and at different times. Both succeed to different degrees.

Vianne, the go-along-get-along school teacher, at first seeks accommodation with the enemy. She tries to ride out the war from the family home as she takes care of Sophie, her young daughter, and awaits the return of Antoine, her French soldier husband.

Isabelle, the rebellious younger sister, jumps right into the fight. A beautiful misfit battling a host of personal demons, stemming from a lifetime of neglect, she joins the active resistance and repeatedly risks her life guiding downed Allied airmen to Spain and freedom.

Telling the story from the perspective of both sisters, Hannah produces a novel that is poignant, captivating, and informative.

Many have compared this book to All the Light We Cannot See and The Book Thief, the recent and widely celebrated novels by Anthony Doerr and Markus Zusak, respectively. All three works paint a compelling picture of occupied Europe during World War II.

I think The Nightingale holds up well against the other books. As a work about the role of women in the French Resistance, it also compares favorably to Jackdaws, a novel by Ken Follett, and Charlotte Gray, a 2001 feature film starring Cate Blanchett.

I recommend The Nightingale not only to readers who like riveting accounts of civilians in wartime but also to those who are drawn to celebrations of the human spirit. Rating: 5/5.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

American Journey, Take Three

I didn’t quite match the frenetic pace of some in the NaNoWriMo crowd. It took me five weeks to write fifty thousand words and eight to write eighty, but I got it done. On the fourth anniversary of the release of my first novel, I finished the rough draft of my eighth.

AJ3, as I often call the third book in the American Journey series, is now ready for a revision process that will take twelve to fifteen weeks. At eighty-two thousand words, or about 275 Kindle pages, it will be my second-shortest work, after The Journey, and the first that takes on not only the past but also the future.

It is the story of Cameron Coelho, a loner who stumbles upon an old photo while studying for a doctorate in history. Mesmerized by the beautiful woman in the picture, a society writer murdered in 1925, he contacts Geoffrey Bell, the “time-travel professor,” and soon finds himself on a train to Evansville, Indiana, and the Roaring Twenties.

I hope to choose a title and a cover image by early March. In the meantime, the drive to turn a good draft into a great book begins.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

One (hundred) is not enough

There are days I think Nora Roberts isn’t real. No one, I am convinced, could write 214 books, including 195 New York Times bestsellers, even over thirty-five years. Any novelist that prolific must surely be a software program or a committee of twenty authors writing with a common purpose and a common voice.

Yet writers like Roberts really do exist. They produce full-length novels at a pace that is both mind-boggling and inspiring.

Stephen King has more than sixty full-length works and 200 short stories to his credit. R.L. Stine has penned hundreds of children's books. For them, National Novel Writing Month is every month.

And that’s just the current crowd. A few writers from the past have set records that may never be broken. Barbara Cartland wrote 723 romance novels, including twenty-three in a single year. She left 160 unfinished manuscripts behind when she died in May 2000.

Charles Hamilton, another Briton, wrote 100 million words, most in short stories for magazines. That's the equivalent of 1,200 books.

Science fiction legend Isaac Asimov published more than five hundred works in half a century. His output covers nine of the ten classes, or primary categories, in the Dewey Decimal system.

Corín Tellado of Spain wrote more than four thousand novellas before her death in 2009. That's thousand with a T.

I don’t plan to write four thousand of anything. I like sleep too much. I do, however, plan to write several more books, including at least three more novels in the American Journey series.

Work on the untitled third book of that series, set in Evansville, Indiana, in 1925, is under way. I hope to have a first draft out by the middle of March and a finished product out by June.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The best in Christmas movies

I like the Christmas season. I like the music, the lights, the festive spirit, and, of course, the holiday itself. No other time of the year quite compares to the stretch between Thanksgiving (some would say Labor Day) and New Year’s Day.

A favorite activity for me growing up was watching an endless steam of specials, such as A Charlie Brown Christmas, which turned 50 today, and Rankin/Bass productions like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Later on, movies became part of my holiday regimen.

Some programs were one and done. I never warmed up to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, for example, or 1983’s A Christmas Story, despite its off-the-charts reviews. Home Alone, Elf, and The Santa Clause have lost their appeal over the years.

Other movies and programs, however, continue to grow on me, including several I consider holiday essentials. Here are ten I would strongly recommend to get into the Christmas spirit.

1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). There’s a reason NBC shows this twice in December. Flat out one of the best movies ever made.

2. A Christmas Carol (1951). Dickens’ novel has been adapted many times to film. This version, starring Alastair Sim, is the best.

3. The Polar Express (2004). The animated classic, based on the children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg, is cinematic eye candy.

4. Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966). This animated musical TV special has no peer. Boris Karloff beats Jim Carrey seven days a week.

5. Miracle on 34th Street (1947). A must-see for fans of the late Maureen O’Hara. Natalie Wood’s first major role.

6. The Holiday (2006). Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet exchange homes over the holidays. A movie that will stick with you.

7. Trading Places (1983). My favorite comedy is set against a Christmas backdrop. Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy at their best.

8. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). If there is a bad Muppets movie out there, this is not it. Michael Caine is perfect as Scrooge.

9. Holiday Inn (1942). This is worth seeing for Bing Crosby’s performance of “White Christmas” alone.

10. Holiday in Handcuffs (2007). Melissa Joan Hart stars in this made-for-TV comedy, the one guilty pleasure on my list.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Review: Unbroken

As a reader, I am not easily impressed. I have read more than 500 books and wouldn’t consider more than 30 great works of literature. Every now and then, however, I read — or listen to — a book that makes me shake my head in awe.

Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, is one such book. Subtitled “A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption,” it is a triumph of storytelling, one I would recommend to anyone who is drawn to celebrations of the human spirit.

The story of Olympic runner and prisoner of war Louis "Louie" Zamperini, Unbroken is a mix of history, drama, and inspiration. Like many, I was vaguely familiar with Zamperini’s story. I had read reviews of the 2014 movie based on the book, but nothing quite prepared me for the book itself. It was, in a word, an experience.

Three things stood out for me.

The first was Hillenbrand’s prose. Lean, direct, and yet sufficiently descriptive, it brought Zamperini’s story to life. Hillenbrand exceeded even her effort with Seabiscuit: An American Legend, another non-fiction work that made its way to the big screen.

I also enjoyed Edward Herrmann’s narration. Herrmann, the late American actor, director, writer, and comedian, brought gravitas and sensitivity to a story that demanded both.

Both author and narrator did justice to a man whose life was just flat out amazing. Zamperini, who died last year at age 97, deserved a book for his athletic career alone. An aimless, troublemaking teen in the 1930s, he made a nearly seamless transition from the streets of Torrance, California, to the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin.

But it is Zamperini, the U.S. Army airman, crash survivor, and POW, who shines in this book. He quickly becomes larger than life as he fights a multitude of battles, both large and small, just to stay alive.

When listening to this book, I was constantly reminded of the saying that “cats have nine lives.” In Unbroken, Louie Zamperini has no fewer than twenty. He is the dictionary definition of “survivor.”

I plan to see the movie, starring Jack O'Connell and directed by Angelina Jolie, at the earliest opportunity. Until then, I will savor one of the best stories I’ve ever consumed. Unbroken should be recommended reading in every American classroom. Rating: 5/5.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Remembering our veterans

If there is one American holiday that never seems to get its due, it is Veterans Day. Lost in the maze between Halloween and Christmas, it is often confused with Memorial Day — if it is remembered at all.

Which is a shame, of course. If anything, we should dedicate a week to those who have served in the armed forces. Even a month would not be too much, at least not in my opinion.

I don't mention Veterans Day or even Armistice Day, as it was known from 1919 until 1954, in any of my seven novels, but I do play up the event that inspired it in one of the books.

In Chapter 35 of The Show, time traveler Grace Vandenberg comforts a friend by telling her that a war raging in Europe will end "on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.” She is later witness to an impromptu parade that breaks out in Seattle when the armistice of November 11, 1918, is announced.

Grace's love interest in The Show is a wounded officer who has just returned from the battlefields of France. John Walker, a U.S. Army captain, plays a small but relevant part in a book that is, in some respects, a tribute to those who fought in World War I.

Jack Hicks, a retired admiral, plays a similar role in Mercer Street. He serves his country admirably by advocating peace through strength at a time (1938-1939) when many Americans preferred to ignore or play down growing militarism in Germany and Japan.

In other books, I mention veterans of the Civil War, the American Indian wars, the Spanish-American War, World War II, and the conflict in Vietnam. Those serving in more peaceful times also get their due. Brian Johnson, the nerdy high school senior in The Journey, tests his mettle by joining the Rangers in the 1980s.

I have also used civilian characters to honor vets. In The Mine, Joel Smith, a 22-year-old time traveler in 1941, wonders whether he can measure up to those who have served. He is haunted by memories of grandfathers who fought valiantly in World War II and by knowledge of the fate that awaits his Army-bound best friend.

I don't know whether I will feature veterans in the remaining books of the American Journey series, but I do know I will look for opportunities to do so. I think it's important to draw attention, even through fiction, to those who have done so much for so many.

Happy Veterans Day to the millions of men and women who answered the call. This civilian is grateful for your service.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Halloween treat for the ages

If there was one event that dictated the primary setting of Mercer Street, released last week, it was a radio broadcast that was supposed to be no more than an early Halloween treat.

When Orson Welles took to the airwaves on an otherwise quiet Sunday evening seventy-seven years ago, he intended merely to entertain an audience. Instead, he turned a nation upside down.

On that night, Welles directed and narrated a radio adaptation of H. G. Wells' novel The War of the Worlds. The realistic performance, broadcast to 12 million listeners on the CBS radio network, sparked a mass hysteria unmatched in American history and catapulted the 23-year-old Welles (pictured below) to international fame.

I played up the event in Mercer Street because I thought it perfectly captured the tenor of the times. Many Americans believed "Martians" had invaded New Jersey, despite numerous disclaimers, because they lived in a world where scary things happened every day.

Hitler had just annexed a chunk of Czechoslovakia and looked at the rest of Europe with hungry eyes. America was militarily weak and still mired in a decade-long depression. Fantastic claims could not be disproved by searching Google or even turning on the news. On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles WAS the news.

As a result, many people took what they heard seriously. Motorists near Grovers Mill, New Jersey -- the extraterrestrial invasion's launching point -- jammed local roads and highways. Others overwhelmed switchboards with frantic calls to police. People in other parts of the United States responded in similar fashion.

The radio performance even created a stir in Concrete, Washington, nearly 2,400 miles west of Ground Zero. Some residents fled into the mountains when a power failure during the broadcast plunged the small community into near total darkness. Chaos reigned.

Researching the episode was a memorable experience. When reading dozens of newspaper, magazine, and online articles describing the event, I was able to immerse myself in a simpler, less cynical, more innocent era. I was able to easily understand how up to one million people had simply lost it, if only for an hour.

Much has been written about the broadcast, its aftermath, and its impact on everything from Welles’ career to the radio industry itself. I encourage those interested in this fascinating chapter in our nation’s history to learn more.

Thanks to the magic of the Internet, you can even listen to the entire War of the Worlds broadcast. It can be found at

(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Driving down a different Street

I admit I resisted writing this book. Even as one who had written six novels set in the twentieth century, I resisted writing about the 1930s. The thirties, I thought, were too drab, too colorless, and far too uneventful for the kind of story I wanted to write.

Then I researched the year leading up to the outbreak of World War II in September 1939 and found that the United States was anything but drab, colorless, and uneventful. It was a deceptively interesting and active place, a cauldron of political, cultural, and social activity in a world that was slowly but surely coming apart.

In Mercer Street, the second novel in the American Journey time-travel series, three strong-willed Chicago women, representing three distinct generations, jump into that cauldron and commence vastly different journeys of discovery.

For one of the ladies, the leap is a tentative first step as a widow. Weeks after her husband dies in the midst of an affair, Susan Peterson, 48, seeks solace and hopes to find it on a Santa Barbara vacation with her mother Elizabeth and daughter Amanda. The romance novelist, however, gets more than she bargained for when she meets a professor who possesses the secret of time travel.

Within days, the women travel to 1938 and Elizabeth's hometown of Princeton, New Jersey. Elizabeth begins a friendship with her refugee parents and infant self, while Susan and Amanda fall for a widowed admiral and a German researcher with troubling ties. Each finds love, adventure, and intrigue in the age of Route 66, Big Band music, mesmerizing radio broadcasts, and frightening headlines.

Like September Sky and the five novels of the Northwest Passage series, Mercer Street presents the twentieth century on a twenty-first-century stage. Like the other titles, it is available as a Kindle book on It goes on sale today.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Back to the Present Part II

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Back to the Future Part II. Maybe twenty years, in fact. But today, the movie is fresh in my mind, if not front and center on my television screen. Marty McFly and Doc Brown traveled to October 21, 2015, in the popular 1989 flick.

Many news sources are commemorating the day with feature stories. Some of the best are from CNN, CBS, The Telegraph, and Vanity Fair. Most focus on the accuracy of the movie’s depiction of life in 2015. Several predictions, it turns out, were spot on.

I’m still holding out on Part II's most famous claim. The Chicago Cubs, down three games to the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series, have some work to do if they hope to meet the film’s lofty expectations. They must win four straight to reach the World Series for the first time since 1945.

I plan to publish Mercer Street, a book that mentions the Cubs, once Chicago’s playoff fate is known. Look for a weekend release.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Making The Journey to audio

Of the six time-travel novels I have published in three and a half years, The Journey is perhaps the least like the rest. It is easily my shortest work at 244 pages, by far the most contemporary, and arguably the most serious and poignant. It is the only one of my books set in a fictional town and the only one inspired by personal experience. It also offers the fewest points of view at two.

Published as a Kindle book in November 2012, it is the story of a 48-year-old Seattle widow who finds a second lease on life in 1979 Oregon, the time and place of her senior year in high school. Only Mercer Street, scheduled for publication later this month, features a similar theme. No other novel has a comparable ending.

The Journey was also the last of the five Northwest Passage books to receive a cosmetic makeover. Illustrator Laura Wright LaRoche produced a new cover, based heavily on the original, just last month.

Today, the book, the second in the series, gains yet another distinction. Thanks to Caroline Miller, a veteran voiceover artist from Missouri, The Journey is now available in audio.

Miller, the narrator of more than 90 titles, recorded the novel more than three weeks ahead of schedule, making an October release possible. I found Miller through the Audiobook Creation Exchange, an program designed to match authors with audio professionals. This was my first experience with ACX.

The Journey is available through Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. It joins The Mine, released by Podium Publishing in 2014, among the Northwest Passage books that have been converted to audio.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Review: Radiant Angel

I never tire of reading Nelson DeMille. There is no one in the business who combines suspense and humor as well as the New York novelist, who has been entertaining readers since the 1970s.

DeMille’s latest offering, Radiant Angel, picks up where The Panther, his 2012 thriller, left off. Retired NYPD detective John Corey has taken a new job with the Diplomatic Surveillance Group, where he is charged with watching Russians working at the U.N.

Corey considers his job ho-hum until he stumbles upon a senior Russian intelligence officer posing as a diplomat. When Colonel Vasily Petrov disappears from a Russian oligarch’s party on Long Island, Corey takes it upon himself to find Petrov and determine whether he is part of a possible attack on the homeland.

This is the seventh novel of the John Corey Series and arguably the best. Just when you think DeMille has run out of compelling assignments for his crusty, sarcastic, rule-breaking protagonist, he finds another. I would recommend the author and the series to those who like thrillers with a humorous edge. Rating: 4/5.

Friday, September 4, 2015

When life influences art

As a sports fan, I generally root for the underdog. If my favorite team is not playing in a game or in the hunt for a playoff spot, I side with a lowly team that is.

Earlier this week, I was set to root for the Chicago Cubs. With my Seattle Mariners going nowhere in the American League West, I was ready to adopt a usually hapless team that is suddenly a favorite to make the National League playoffs.

I saw no downside to siding with baseball’s lovable losers.

Then I remembered I was in the final stages of writing a time-travel novel where three Chicago women from 2016 go back to 1938 and do something that no baseball fan has (presumably) done since 1945: watch the Cubs play in the World Series.

Should the Cubs reach the World Series next month, Mercer Street, a novel slated for publication next month, will have to undergo emergency surgery. I will have to acknowledge 2015.

I should have known I was in trouble when I read a news article in March that refreshed my memory of a favorite movie. In Back to the Future Part II, a hologram informs time-traveling Marty McFly in 2015 that the Cubs have won the World Series.

The lessons are clear: Don't ignore Michael J. Fox movies, don't put eggs in one basket, and don't assume anything. Nothing in sports is a stone-cold lock. Not even the Chicago Cubs missing the World Series for the seventieth-consecutive year.

Fortunately for me, the part of Mercer Street that deals with the Cubs is minor. Whether Chicago goes on a roll and reaches the Series or fades in the playoffs, I will be ready to give the story an appropriate spin. Thank God for alternate histories.

One way or the other, Mercer Street, the second novel in the American Journey series, will be out in October. Until then, I am more than content to root for the boys in blue. Go Cubs!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Heading down new roads

One of the first things I learned as a self-published author three years ago was that I was more than an author. I was a businessman who had to package and promote his books as effectively as any Big 6 publisher to succeed in a competitive industry.

I also had to seek new markets. Through, I’ve been able to sell e-books in places I’ve never visited, such Britain, Australia, and Southeast Asia. Through Podium Publishing and Audible, I've been able to offer an audiobook of The Mine.

Last week I started down yet another road by signing a contract with Natasha Soudek to create an audiobook of The Journey. Soudek, a Los Angeles-based actor, narrator, and songwriter, has already begun work on the project, which should be completed by early October.

Through the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), an Amazon platform, I hope to convert each of my six — soon to be seven — novels to audio. With the exception of The Mine, all are available only as Kindle e-books on Amazon.

Readers and listeners can also expect to see three new covers. Laura Wright LaRoche, who created or modified the covers of The Show, The Fire, and September Sky, is currently updating the cover of The Journey and creating a new one for Mercer Street.

LaRoche recently finished an elegant new cover for The Mirror (above), the fifth book in the Northwest Passage series. A cover reveal for Mercer Street, the second book in the new American Journey series, is scheduled for the middle of September.

I plan to release the novel itself on October 30.