Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reading Recommendations for the NEW YEAR

As I mentioned last week this holiday period I thought I'd bring you something different. The New Year is upon us and there's a great way to acknowledge friends and family's support over the last twelve months while thanking them for future endeavours: gift them an outstanding novel that will let loose their imagination as they immerse themselves in the author's tale. 

To help you with this task I'm going to recommend several 5 STAR stand-alone books I have had the pleasure of reading in recent months. In all cases I'll reproduce the review I wrote (an excellent practice more readers should adopt - it's the writer's lifeblood!) and a link to book's page on Amazon.

I apologize in advance to the authors of many others I've had to leave out through space considerations. In many cases these authors have written multiple novels so click on the author's name to go to their Amazon Author page (where such exist). So, in no particular order (well, ladies first as always), here are my recommendations:

Amazon Link
Thrillers are my genre and my own tend to feature larger than life events, yet that isn't an essential ingredient for a great thrilling read as Ulla Håkanson proved in her debut novel:

"Ulla Håkanson’s ‘The Price of Silence’ is an intimate thriller full of credible characters and nail-biting situations set against the backdrop of Vancouver and the British Columbian wilderness. I say ‘intimate’ because the author’s skill in constructing this tale lies in how believable it is. It is populated by people you feel you could meet on the street any day; people who have unwillingly been thrown into dire circumstances and reach into their very souls to find the means to survive. Håkanson takes the reader on that journey of transition, of personal strife, with an aplomb that belies this being her debut novel. Her descriptions of the rugged Canadian wild, of the small townships north of Vancouver, and of the city itself, immerse the reader not just in the places but in the tribulations her protagonist faces as her comfortable life is radically changed by forces far greater than she has ever faced. We experience her evolution as the trials she overcomes allow her to mature as a person. A great read and highly recommended!"

Amazon Link
Most readers count themselves lucky to find a particular author whose writing they love. But something special happens when TWO of your favourites, John Dolan and Fiona Quinn, excellent scribes in their own right, get together and co-author a novel:

"‘Chaos is Come Again’, the new thriller from John Dolan and Fiona Quinn, is a superb character-driven novel. And what characters! On one side of the Atlantic we have Avery, a literary agent tasked with coaxing polemic author Travis Bishop into completing his sequel novel. In turn, and thanks to the electronic magic of social media, she is connected to Sean in London. He’s a guy trying to reorder his life working in a coffee shop and managing his Dad’s apartment block. Then there are the tenants, especially Teagan, a dysfunctional young lady with her own, very clear agenda and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve her personal goals, aided unwillingly by her brother Clive. Then we have Goose, one of Sean’s work companions, who’s an obsessive conspiracy nut, hell-bent on discovering the identity of the Angel, a serial killer stalking a specific area on the UK’s capital city, and he gets closer than he wants. Although these are the prime movers and shakers of the Dolan/Quinn universe, they are not the only splendidly crafted characters to grace the pages of this intriguing novel. There are some oddball secondary characters helping move the tale along too, creating an ensemble with overtones of Richard Hooker’s ‘MASH’ at times in the way each creation was a gem in its own right.

But great characters alone don’t make for a great novel. The multiple story lines reflect a modern love story, a bloody crime thriller, and quite a bit of sideswiping at social-media and the publishing industry. Each would make an exemplary novel on its own, but here Dolan/Quinn have woven their multiple characters and divergent story lines into a heady mix that will keep the reader guessing the outcome from the start. Even then there are surprises in store. The subtle ending will have you stopping to think. Yes, you won’t just close the book with a sigh as you say goodbye to this collection of memorable personas; you’ll be rerunning what you learn at the end through your mind and smiling at the adept way the authors have crafted this story.

An excellent read for lovers of so many genres. John Dolan and Fiona Quinn take you on a journey of mystery and intrigue that will entertain and amuse, thrill and challenge the reader to solve the mystery. It’s one of THOSE books you wish would keep going… Highly recommended!"

Amazon Link
Ocassionally you come across novels that stay with you long after you've read them. Such is the case with my next recommendation, a gritty down-to-earth crime thriller from Andy Laker. Don't miss it!

"‘Time to Think’, the debut novel of ex-policeman Andy Laker, is a gritty British procedural crime thriller with an interesting twist. As I read the novel I found myself thinking it had a number of parallels with that other popular British crime procedural, this time on TV, the series ‘Luther’. Both take place in that grey area where none of the characters are black or white, good or bad. The writer captures this ambiguity with realistic precision, and so well, I was imagining many different possible outcomes to the story particularly as it neared its end. 

Of note is Laker’s mastery of descriptive narrative which is especially evident in the scenes in the prison where, with clever prose and superb sensory-laden depictions, he stirs-up emotionally charged memories that transport the reader to the scene almost as a hidden participant. I say ‘emotionally charged memories’, and no you don’t have to have been ‘nicked’ to appreciate this, because the author tailors his prose to elicit the response he seeks in his readers using familiar, everyday experiences, transposing them to the scenes he creates. Brilliantly done!

The tale itself is a superb fast-paced crime thriller with a violent undertone that speaks of the effect on the life of a wrongly accused man through two tight tales that constantly intermingle as they race to a satisfying finale. Lots of promise in the characters Laker had created and I hope that we will read more of them in forthcoming novels by this crime and mystery author."

Amazon Link

Sometimes it's the subject matter that makes a book grab your attention. When that's coupled with an author, Mark Fine, whose craftmanship is outstanding, well...

"Many years ago I found myself literally immersed, in every sensorial possibility, in a book set in Africa. Long before Hollywood placed its sugar-coated paws on Karen Blixen’s ‘Out of Africa’, I encountered the novel on the sparsely populated shelves of the house I was staying at in Nairobi. A couple of days later, fate took me to the ‘farm in Africa’ she spoke about and an indelible memory was born; reading about the life and tribulations of this intriguing character whilst sitting outside her house in the Kenyan hills. I thought that instant of my life would never be repeated, despite incessant travelling over the years. I was wrong.

Mark Fine’s ‘The Zebra Affaire’ sparked a similar sentiment. It should be noted I have never visited South Africa, yet his prose took me there, placing me on the streets of Jo’burg as though I had known it all my life. Yet the magic of Fine’s novel did not end there. Not content with transporting me in space to that distant land, he also successfully sought to send me back through time, to the cruel, unreasoning days of Apartheid. 

This book told two tales. First, the bitter-sweet song of love between the white Afrikaner, Elsa, and the Malawian, Stanwell Marunda. The story encouraged hope, in a period when everything was stacked against a mixed relationship, and its telling reflected many parables of the times in which the characters’ lived, the mid 1970’s. The second story, far harsher because it was reality, consisted in the notes inserted in the narrative by the author. Here he gave depth to the fictional tale, painting its backdrop with unerring clarity and perceptiveness, whilst providing the anchors those of us who had only experienced the events back then through news footage from the comfort of faraway shores. This combination must have been a difficult choice for the author in what is in essence a novel, yet it totally works. The incidents in the life of Elsa and Stanwell led support to the readers’ understanding of the real events, and vice versa. 

For me, this book sits proudly alongside Blixen’s autobiographical tales; a worthy recounting of a time and place rife with lessons for all. If I could, I would give it six stars!"

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Not every thriller has to be serious to get the job done. Alan Hardy had me in tears of laughter as his characters sought to solve the murder mysteries he presented:

"Writing a great mystery story full of red herrings and unexpected twists is a hard task. 

Writing a humorous book that will have you chortling constantly is even more difficult. 

Author Alan Hardy in his ‘The Case of the Tattooed Buttocks’ novel has taken on both challenges with admirable success. Not only is this a fast-paced intricate crime thriller, dotted with gruesome murders in a country house, in the most pure style of Agatha Christie, but his comedic approach will have you laughing constantly. 

Hardy’s writing style is reminiscent of the great British mystery writers and adds a comfortable layer of familiarity to his prose. But without an outstanding Poirot or Miss Marple, the tale could fall flat. Not to worry: Inspector, sorry, ex-Inspector Cullot definitely stands there alongside Holmes and the irascible Belgian, as he leads his investigative team through an ever more complex puzzle until all is revealed in a classic climax. His protagonists are superb characterisations: Cullot, a mixture of brilliant mind and perverse addiction, a wonderful Holmes parallel; Sergeant Watkins, the ever faithful number two, with a few obsessions of his own; and the bumbling Constable Blunt, someone who you’ll remember for all the wrong reasons a long time after reading the book. 

A most definite recommendation for all lovers of Mystery Crime novels and those who just enjoy a good laugh. 

(the above review found on a mahogany table in a study…)" 

[you'll understand the reference when you read the book]. Note: I'm pleased to report Alan has now written a sequel to the above. Check out his Amazon Author page for details.

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Another hard-nosed crime thriller, this time from the versatile (actor, author and aka 'The Greatest Poet Alive')  James Gordon:

"James Gordon’s ‘The Warmest Winter’ is an intricate murder mystery where no one is exactly who they seem to be. As befitting all great crime thrillers, there are more unexpected twists than in a barrel full of red herrings. These serve to maintain reader interest and create the marvellous atmosphere of constant tension present throughout. Yet what drives this novel forward are two masterful traits the author brings to the narrative. The first is the powerful prose that sets the tone in each scene and lends an enviable solidity to the events the writer conjures up. The second, a far more difficult proposition, is the courage to tell this complex tale in the first person. We, the readers, find out what has happened at the same time as the protagonist, and are equally led up false trails with him until the surprising climax is revealed. Our involvement with the protagonist though is not one of an ephemeral observer. Author Gordon places us in his skin, allows us to experience his own troubles as his marriage crumbles and his future prospects appear to disintegrate too. It makes the eyes through which we witness the mystery unravel a very human perspective which serves to colour our own appreciation of the trials and tribulations other characters experience.

If you are looking for a robust murder mystery with a down-to-earth flavour, this is the one for you. Highly recommended! One of my best reads this year!"

Amazon Link

Leaving thrillers aside for the moment, a recent read of one of Owen Jones' cozy Welsh tales got my neurons flowing: 

"Owen Jones’ ‘A Night in Annwn’ is a lyrical mixture of a cozy tale with the intriguing and challenging subject of life after death. Jones’ tackles the story with delicacy and creates a sense of hope within the reader whatever their own beliefs about the subject may be. Unlike other books, usually non-fiction, which treat the concept of life after death in an almost clinical fashion, often citing case histories etc, the use of fiction to relate the simple life led by the protagonist, and how that changes after his experience, is very effective. Jones’ explanations of how matters ‘work’ in Annwn (the Welsh concept for the afterlife) is one which will provoke interest and discussion long after the reader has finished the book." 

My very BEST WISHES to all my friends, readers, fellow writers, and anyone else who happened to pop by, for 2016
May this year bring us all Peace and Harmony.

Eric @

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Recommended Reading for Christmas

This holiday period I thought I'd bring you something different. It's the time of giving and there's nothing like a book for allowing someone you care for the opportunity to let their imagination soar as they traverse the tale crafted by the author. 

This week I'm going to recommend several 5 STAR book SERIES I have had the pleasure of reading in recent months. In all cases I'll reproduce the review I wrote (an excellent practice more readers should adopt - it's the writer's lifeblood!) and a link to book's page on Amazon.

I've chosen six series and apologize in advance to the authors of many others I've had to leave out through space considerations. Please note that often the review reproduced is not for the first book in the series, yet that's where you should start - click on the author's name to go to their Amazon Author page. So, in no particular order (well, ladies first as always), here are my recommendations:

Amazon Link
Judith Lucci's Nawlin's characters move to Virginia for this one, in a crackin' suspense thriller which I reviewed thus:

"The fourth book in the Alex Destephano series, ‘Toxic New Year’ by Judith Lucci has a difficult task to follow the high standard of the author’s previous medical thrillers yet takes that challenge and surpasses the goal with ease. It balances solid, fast-paced intrigue with a character-based story centred round her hospital lawyer protagonist. From the initial pages the reader is steadfastly drawn into the tale as we follow the events leading up to a deadly terrorist bombing. Fans of the author’s previous works will encounter new facets of familiar characters as the events unfold. Even the life of the protagonist is shaken to its core as she encounters her past and makes a series of decisions that take her into uncharted waters.

As usual, Lucci does a superb job of placing the reader in the New Orleans and Virginian society in which her heroine moves. With flowing descriptions and insightful dialogue she relates the hours before the attack, creating a convincing canvas against which the placid life of the New Year celebrations and marriage of two of her characters unfolds, only to bring this crashing down as harsh reality intrudes.

We are also introduced to three new characters, each with interesting backstories to reveal: Digger Stilgrove and his wife Mary each have important supporting roles in the first half of the novel. Stilgrove’s intriguing past is hinted at and I hope we get to meet him again in another novel. The third character, Jacob Stark, had to be the hardest to write, however, and a huge gamble by the author. An ex-CIA man turned co-author of the terrorist attack who, by an interesting turn of events, re-enters Alex Destephano’s life to add even more uncertainty to her future. Stark is a character you have to hate on a basic visceral level for his despicable acts at the beginning of the book, yet we are allowed to see, and even sympathise with, his reasoning. Truly a fine portrait of moral ambiguity by Lucci, one which helps to elevate this series to new heights.

A superlative follow-on for the Alex Destephano series. Highly recommended!"

Amazon Link

Fiona Quinn's Lexi Sobado series exploded on to my reading horizons this year and blew me away. Here's what I said about the latest book in the series:

"Earlier this year I read ‘Weakest Lynx’ by Fiona Quinn, the first novel in a new and original series which cleverly married tough Special Ops missions with a young woman with extraordinary (literally) abilities. The series promised much and I quickly devoured the next two books. They were exceptional, taking the characters and this cross-genre mix to even higher levels. A difficult act to follow, yet Quinn has not disappointed her fans with ‘Cuff Lynx’, the fourth book in the series. In fact, she’s taken everything to a new plateau, and given readers a degree of closure with the ongoing story arc to boot.

The threats this time are off the scale; not just the insidious machinations of the covert organization behind the events of the previous three novels, but a new ‘weapon’ that challenges protagonist Lexi’s own special abilities. The pace rattles along, the tension is everywhere, your emotions will be put to the test. Quinn’s no compromise writing style propels the reader into a frenzy of action and complex plotting. Spyder is back too and we get to see much more of Lexi’s enigmatic mentor. Several twists are introduced that give an entirely new perspective to Lexi’s background.

This series has exceeded all my expectations and this fourth volume is the cherry on top. Don’t miss it! If you haven’t already, start at book 1 and read them all. A 5 Star bombshell!"

Amazon Link

Sci-fi writer Ronel Van Tonder has created a series which will be listed amongst the classics of the genre in a few years. Awesome!

"In the preceding two novels of the ‘Corrupted SUN Script’ trilogy, author Ronel Van Tonder created a dystopian future world, split into factions that she provided the depth and substance necessary to support the complex tale of intrigue and deceit in which the distinct protagonists moved. And move they did, carrying the reader through myriad adventures both inside the domed structures managed by SUN and the wilder, visceral groups living in underground dwellings outside the ‘protection’ of SUN’s artificial intelligence system. The premise that treads through the third and final volume of the series is the conflict resulting from the clash of these different societies and their particular agendas as well as the collision course embarked upon by various dome dwellers.

Van Tonder has ramped up the tension and pace of this last volume to a degree that will have the reader flipping pages well into the night as the distinct storylines race toward the inevitable apocalyptic conclusion that offers both resolution and a small degree of hope and optimism. There are plenty of twists and turns along the way too to keep the reader on their toes and a major surprise as a further ‘antagonist’, replete with their own objectives, is revealed, adding a further element of suspense to this awesome read.

The author’s writing will draw you into the world she has fashioned and have you walking in the boots of the different protagonists and antagonists throughout the book’s pages; such is her power of the written word. You will feel the dry wind of the savannah, the cool air of the domes; you will smell the dirt of the underground dwellings, the blood spilt as the final battle arrives; you will taste the oil from the bakkies and bland food dispensed by the WeEats. Immersion in this futuristic world, via the magic of Van Tonder’s prose, is guaranteed. Remember the name; she’ll be mentioned with the greats of Sci-Fi in the coming years. Don’t miss this outstanding tour-de-force; a Sci-Fi epic to rival Dune or the Foundation series."

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Another discovery this year. Brandt Legg's three trilogies accompanied me throughout 2015 and I'm pleased to announce Brandt will be my first Guset on this blog in 2016, so don't miss it.

"With the pace of a high-speed train, Brandt Legg’s latest trilogy, ‘The Justar Journal’ raced to its climatic finale in book three, ‘The List Keepers’. Fortunately at the controls author Legg guides the tale to a satisfactory conclusion after leaving the reader wondering if the devastation, double-crossing and twists and turns that filled the preceding pages would leave anyone alive in the last chapter. Suspenseful doesn’t describe the emotional drive of the narrative as we follow the distinct protagonists on their respective journeys, each fraught with imminent disaster and death.

As I mentioned in my review of a prior novel in the series, I found myself supporting not just the obvious protagonists but characters who had clearly been antagonists throughout as Legg threw spin after spin into the tale. Yet at no point did the solid storyline, replete with some very serious themes and warnings, suffer in the slightest, such is the mastery Brandt Legg exercises in his creations. The characters, as always, even the ‘Bad Guys’, were cleverly crafted to remain believable despite their incredible escapes from mortal danger. This trilogy has to be the author’s best yet.

I would make one observation to anyone unfamiliar with Legg’s work: read both the ‘Inner Movement’ and ‘Cosega Sequence’ trilogies first. Your overall enjoyment and wonder at the epic tale woven in these nine books will be further enhanced once you reach this final volume of ‘The Justar Journal’. Here is a true master of modern fiction at work."

Amazon Link

That Man hisself, Scottish author Seumas Gallacher's latest volume in his Jack Calder thriller series pits his hero against corrupt cops and deadly drug lords:

"‘Killer City’, the fourth book in writer Seumas Gallacher’s Jack Calder series, scores a bullseye in the crime thriller genre. In it he pits the might of International Security Partners against corrupt cops and deadly crime lords in the North of England and Tajikistan. The tale is a solid page-turner, with plenty of intrigue, betrayals and bodies to satisfy the most exigent of his fans.

As usual, the pace in Gallacher’s tale is superb as it moves us from Manchester to London then to Spain and Eastern Europe. The writing is taut and straight to the point, reminding me of the earlier Lee Child novels, wasting no time plunging the reader into the plot. The characters, for the most part, will be familiar to followers of this series, and there are several convincingly-crafted villains to make the storyline more interesting.

In my opinion, Gallacher’s Jack Calder novels have come of age with this one; it’s easily the best of the four books published so far. Looking forward to reading the next. Highly recommended for lovers of compelling crime thrillers."

Amazon Link
And last, but by no means least, John Dolan's latest incursion into the life of his off-beat Private Investigator. This time we discover his backstory:

"‘A Poison Tree’ is billed as the third book of the ‘Time, Blood and Karma’ series yet, in a sense, it’s also both the fourth and the second. That may sound odd to any reader who’s not read John Dolan’s previous works, so I’ll explain my reasoning. The author’s first tale, a short humorous romp featuring Jim Fosse and an interchange of communication over an expense claim that ends in a highly unexpected fashion, introduces the reader to a strong character whose presence is a driving force in this novel. Fosse possesses the despicable intelligence of the psychopath and is a master puppeteer who manipulates people and situations at whim. Here his spider web lands the protagonist, David Braddock in his third outing, in an almost untenable position. So in that sense the Fosse-centric book becomes part of the series, making this the fourth.

Then there’s the foundation stone that cements Braddock’s current existence in Thailand, which is the essence of this novel. It’s almost as if the author had a need to explain the why’s and how’s of his protagonist’s Asian sojourn through this peek into his backstory, before continuing with the chronicle of Braddock’s life in future novels. Chronologically, this novel takes place before Braddock leaves the UK for Samui Island and the more exotic adventures related in the ‘Everyone Burns’ and ‘Hungry Ghosts’ novels. That would make this book the second in the series.

Irrelevant mathematics aside, author John Dolan’s tale of infidelity and frustration is an intricate interweaving of relationships that seems to become more complicated with every new chapter as the reader discover matters are never quite what they seem. As usual with Dolan’s work, the characters are exceptionally solid, realistic and well-drawn and the scene-setting provides a credible backdrop for the events that unfold. The author expertly manages the reader’s emotional reaction through exemplary prose, so be prepared to laugh a few times, grin a lot more, and feel the contrasting emotion of deep sadness as some secrets are revealed and others kept.

Overall this novel is far more than an explanation of David Braddock’s presence in Thailand; it adds further dimension to the already complex character that Dolan had birthed and sets the stage for future episodes in the protagonist’s life. I have only one request of the author: please bring back Jim Fosse in a future tale: he’s a modern Moriarty, the villain whose deeds we love to hate whilst simultaneously admiring his cunning guile. 

Despite this book being the second, third or fourth in a series, it can be read as a stand-alone with ease. I would thoroughly recommend it to all lovers of exceptional fiction. Looking forward to the next from this author."

I'll be back next week with some more recommendations; next time it will be stand-alone novels I recommend as New Year reads. 

In the meantime, keep reading, and my very best wishes for the Holiday season to you all.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

My Guest: Eric J. Gates

As Christmas approaches, I need to save a few pennies for gifts for the family so my Guest this week is myself. But I'm taking advantage of the forum to tackle head-on something that's been bugging me for a while...

Eric J. Gates

Why you SHOULD Self-Edit!

If you are an Indie author or aspiring to become a novelist you probably have trawled the Interweb looking for sage advice on many different aspects of writing. One subject you will repeatedly encounter is the matter of editing the drafts of your completed work. Almost all (not to say one hundred percent) of what you will read about this important aspect of the writing process will insist you search out a professional editor and decry any mention of doing the job yourself.

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Now if you were to be a little cynical, you might note that almost all of these articles are written by… you’ve guessed it… editors, some blatantly offering their services at the bottom of said diatribe. Okay, so what’s wrong with that? Before I go into this I have nine words to say to those ‘Editors’ who are about to stop reading and pen an irate comment – STOP! Read to the end of this article first.

So what is wrong with editorial services being cited as the only way to create a ‘real’ book? Well, in my opinion, a number of issues.

Firstly, the editors you generally find (not all, please note, just a notable majority) fall into two camps. The first is the ‘I used to be an editor for a famous Traditional Publisher and have lots of experience’ people. Then there’s the wannabes, often attracted to the ‘profession’ of editing by the large sums of money the former group commands for their services.

Okay, let’s take a step or two back and look at the ‘business’ of editing, especially in today’s publishing paradigm, with a little more objectivity.

So just what IS editing?
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Okay you Google ‘Editing’ and are confused and lost almost immediately. Yes, you’ve just discovered there’s no such thing as a simple edit.

I was told, shortly after Man became bipedal, that editing was all about the four ‘C’s’ – Consistent, Concise, Correct and Clear. This will help you understand the different types of professional editing available:

Developmental editing is the most all-encompassing, consisting in revising the entire narrative to detect where improvements can be made in its structure. It will endeavor to root out plot-holes, inconsistencies in the storylines and their order, incorrect facts, shoddy writing, characters that just don’t convince, terrible pacing, waffling, and overlooked opportunities in the narrative. Yes, it’s a big job and usually the most expensive.

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Copy-editing will devolve around spelling and grammar essentially as well as Formatting and Style and is often confused with…

Line-editing which is the most invasive of the edits and will examine word choice, use of Passive tense, sentence flow and paragraph structure, overall pace, in short a very detailed analysis/rewrite of the prose itself.

Proofreading is the top level, the least incisive in the editing spectra. In Traditional Publishing, it is usually done just before publication and after all other editing has taken place. In essence it’s a hunt for errors in the text (spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, use of abbreviations, how you represent numbers and dates, in short, the nitty-gritty).

Now you’ll note I mentioned TradPub again. The World has changed since TradPub was the only solution to offering a ‘real’ book to an expectant readership. And, in the same way the TradPub houses are so slow to revise their methods of work (it takes eighteen months minimum to get a book from manuscript to the bookstore? Really? Have you noticed how many TradPub outfits run book
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competitions to help discover new talent? In most cases, within two months or less of the winner and runner-up being announced, their respective books are on the shelves in store! Inconsistent is the word I’m looking for, I think) their approach to editing is invasively being applied to the Indie world. 

But ‘Things’ are now different…

Most Indies work on tight budgets, after all they do everything themselves, so not only are they looking to produce an outstanding finished product (it’s their reputation on the line, not some anonymous worker bee in a huge TradPub firm) but they want to do this as cheaply as possible (Why? Remember all those surveys that say most Indies make about $500 a year from their books, then stack that up against an editor asking $4,000 for a Line-Edit. You don’t have to be a math genius to see which way the decision is going to go.)

This is how many are approaching the need to have in-depth editing of their work.

‘Beta-readers’ (often fellow writers) are given early drafts – never should be the first draft though (more on this in a minute) and these people are trusted to undertake a critical read-through, noting anything and everything that gives pause for thought. Typos, inconsistencies, grammatical errors, facts that are blatantly wrong or that need to be checked, punctuation, the rhythm, pace and flow of the tale, and even suggestions for improvement both in storyline and character development should be annotated). Some charge for this, fees considerably less than TradPub’s editors I might add; others do it for free on a reciprocal basis (something that you won’t find anywhere in TradPub).

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There’s even an odd bunch called ‘Alpha-readers’ who will help out a fellow author when they have lost the thread in their novel to such an extent, they are not sure how to get back on the right track. I’ve done a few of these myself for aspiring authors and they take much, much longer than a Beta-read because you are applying your own knowledge and experience to help someone who hasn’t been on the same learning curve. You’re providing a serious shortcut!

The idea behind this phenomenon of ‘authors-helping-authors’ in the Indie world is simple: most of us do not see our fellow Indies as competitors but as allies; we are all fighting the same battles, maybe for the same audience of readers, but that doesn’t mean we have to be at each-other’s throats. This very blog, which has hosted fellow writers and their work for more than four years now and actively promotes my ‘competitors’ and helps them sell more of their books, and all this for free, is an example of how this philosophy can be extended beyond Beta-reading.

Now I’ve mentioned you should never ask a fellow scribbler to read a first draft; why? You, the author, have a responsibility to make that as good as you can, which implies polishing and fine-tuning. Otherwise it’s like dumping a wrecked car on an auto-savvy mate with a ‘sort that out, will you’ attitude.

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Just a mo’, you cry. I’m new to this and have no idea how to edit. Me inglish ai’nt up to it, bro!

And guess what, you are also missing out on something very important. Improving your writing skills! Interesting, yes? Learning to do an optimal self-edit will highlight the mistakes you make and thus help you get better at the craft of writing.

So how can you perform an exhaustive self-edit, evolve your writing technique in the process, and still maintain your sanity? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the Interweb. No, I’m not referring to spell-checkers, or bits of software that are little more than Word’s own spell-checker.

The danger of using the tools built into your writing software or just re-reading the manuscript yourself can be summed up by the following:

I have a lovely spelling check
That came with my PC,
Witch plainly marks, four my revue,
Miss takes I can not sea.
I’ve run this poem threw the thing.
I’m sure your please too no.
It’s latter perfect in every weigh.
My checker tolled me sew.

Or this:

Your memory will recognize the
the words and convince your
your brain it is reading what should
be on the page.

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And this will blow your mind:

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteers be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Yes, a spell-check should have a fit over the last one.

So what do you need? For a number of years now I have been a fan of ‘Stylewriter’ (just click on the name to go to their website – yes, it’s an affiliate link – this is a business for me as an Indie too; the business bit is not just the purview of TradPub. Plus I will never recommend anything I haven’t used myself and which I don’t fully support). Now don’t be put off by the ‘serious’ nature of their presentation – yes it does look like they market primarily to large enterprises and governments rather than the lonely writer ensconced in their garrets seeking salvation, but, believe me, their software does have enormous benefits for the novelist (just click on the fiction option from the pull-down menu at the top, then, with practice, turn on those editing options you are interested in from the many on offer). Expensive? It might appear so, but here’s a couple of tips: there’s a free trail period where you can test drive the full package, using it against your work – you’ll be convinced! There are three versions on offer too. From experience, the basic one falls short for our needs and the most expensive just adds a lot of statistical data that I personally find useless, so the mid-range option is the best choice for a writer.

Now, I’m expecting a lot of comments on this post, mostly from irate Editors; I am apparently attacking their livelyhood after all. Perhaps if they took another, less avaricious, approach to the changes in publishing, they would gain new clients from the Indie world. And, not all TradPub editors are equally expert either. Last year I read the latest novel from a top bestselling writer (who shall remain nameless for reasons that will become obvious) and came across a whole paragraph (eight lines) of sheer nonsense that read more like the Cambridge University study sample above than anything else. Supposedly that paragraph had ‘passed’ all four editing phases with flying colours during the eighteen months to two years it had taken to produce the book! We can all have bad days, but software has far fewer than humans do, and using an outstanding tool such as the one I recommend you’ll improve your skills too while not losing any control over what you write.

Best wishes to all my fellow Indies, Beta-Readers, and friends in the new writing world out there. Remember the words of Don Quixote’s sidekick, Sancho Panza: 

“Patience, and shuffle the cards!”


Eric J. Gates has had a curious life filled with the stuff of thriller novels. Writing Operating Systems for Supercomputers, cracking cryptographic codes under extreme pressure using only paper and pen and teaching cyberwarfare to spies are just a few of the moments he’s willing to recall publicly. He is an ex-International Consultant who has travelled extensively worldwide, speaks several languages, and has had articles and papers published in technical magazines in six different countries, as well as radio and TV spots. His specialty, Information Technology Security, has brought him into contact with the Military and Intelligence communities on numerous occasions.

He is also an expert martial artist, holding 14 black belt degrees in distinct disciplines. He has taught his skills to Police and Military personnel, as well as to the public.

He now writes thriller novels, drawing on his experiences with the confidential and secret worlds that surround us.


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By the way, there are a few subtle suggestions for Christmas book gifts in the above article. Just saying...  AND they are all FREE with Kindle Unlimited!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

My Guest: Fiona Quinn

My Guest this week chose to put into words what many are feeling in their hearts at this moment. Ladies and Gentlemen...

As I write this article, the Friday 13th massacre in Paris just happened. Whenever there is a disaster either natural or man-made, I feel much more vulnerable and as a coping mechanism, I focus on the heroes. The ones who, while running for their lives, turn and grab the hand of someone. That choice often means life instead of death for a total stranger.

I was reading about a man at Bataclan who had been shot in the elbow and fell to the floor. From that vantage point, he could see the three gun men cold-bloodedly shooting those who lay around him. He rose up and ran for the exit, which was blocked by all those who were desperate to be outside and away from the deranged terrorists. He worked at moving forward and finally he felt the night air on his hand. And he thought, this is how I’ll die. Then, from outside, someone grasped his hand and pulled mightily. Pulled him right out of the body-parts-jumble that kept the people from escaping, and he landed, free and alive in the alley.

I watched a video of a pregnant woman dangling inexplicably from a window sill far enough away from the ground that if she lost her grip would mean her death. She held there for long moments.  I found myself counting the seconds under my breath because, from my time in the gym, I knew that after thirty seconds of holding one’s weight, things get dire pretty quickly. She held and called for almost two minutes. Finally, a stranger made the terrifying journey outside of the windows toward her, reached down, and suddenly she was safe.

These are the extremes hopefully none of us will experience. But as I learn about these events, it stirs a memory for me. One that to this day, ten years later, when I think about it, affects me as if I’m back in that moment. My eyes are red now, tears streaming down my face, it is that strong of a memory. I experience this overwhelming emotion every single time this event bubbles up for me.

I had surgery on my knee and my husband took me home. As I came back to awareness from the pain killers, I looked at my little girl, and I knew that she was about to die. I knew it as sure as I knew that I had a heart pumping blood.

It took me some time to convince anyone to listen to me – understandable to anyone who’s been near someone coming out of surgery. It took some more time to get the doctor to come to the same conclusion that I had come to. And it took time to get my daughter into the emergency department and under the care of the doctor who ultimately saved her life.

In all of that action and noise and horror, there was a moment which I would like to share. The doctor realized that my daughter had keto-acidosis -- a life threatening event which often precipitates the diagnosis of type-one diabetes. The ED doctor called my pediatrician so that she could be the one who broke the news to me, I guess because we had a rapport and I trusted her. The nurse who came to bring me to the phone must have known that the life-changing message was going to be passed through that receiver. And when I put the phone to my ear, she lined her body up with mine. She didn’t hug me, or lean on me, or invade that moment. But there was no space between where she stood and where I did, no light or air between our bodies.

I honestly don’t know what would have happened to me in that soul-fragile moment had she not done exactly that. It was so deeply human. It kept me sane. Thinking my six-year-old was going to die and then knowing that if she didn’t die that day, then she would be faced with this terrible disease . . .well you parents know. I don’t need to say anymore from that perspective.

But I’m telling you this story for a writerly reason. Sometimes the hand that is held out saves a life in an overt way like the heroes in Paris, and sometimes the gesture seems smaller – but it’s not. I can’t think of a time in my life when I have been touched so meaningfully -- that was as poignant to me. I never knew the nurse's name. I can’t remember her face. I was in shock, and I was desperate, and she was my anchor. That’s all I knew then, and all I know now.

When writing moments of personal desperation -- scenes that are explosive like the night of the Paris attacks, or scenes that are quiet like a mom, standing with a phone pressed to her ear at the hospital nurses' station – I always think about how I can include a tiny-gesture hero. The hero that with a brief moment of contact changes things enough that they are forever a vivid part of that recipient's story.

May you be blessed (whatever that might mean to you) and safe.

Fiona Quinn

(Message from Fiona to Eric: I would prefer not including anything with this article that would promote me or my books - I just wanted to share it as is)

Thank you, Fiona.