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.