Wednesday, May 25, 2016

My Guest: Joseph Lewis

My Guest this week is going to touch upon something we find in all the books we read; a factor that can often make or break a novel. Intrigued? Read on... Ladies and Gentlemen...

Joseph Lewis

The Importance of Character Building

This past weekend as Kim and the girls and I were cleaning the house, we had the TV on as background noise. Every so often, I would take a break and watch what happened to be on at the moment. The station was tuned to one of the movie channels that aired the movie, Last Action Hero, billed as a spoof of action-adventure movies. It starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and debuted back in 1993.  I call them action-adventure, while my wife refers to them as shoot-em-ups, and of course, I remember watching it, only once, I think.
Amazon Link
What I didn’t like about it was the cardboard-type characters. Yes, I understand it was a spoof. I get that. But I don’t like movies with characters who don’t feel: or laugh, or cry, or do anything that I can “connect” with. To me, a character has to connect to the viewer in some way. Has to. There has to be more than bullets flying and bombs bursting and cars crashing. Has to be.

Contrast that with the movie, Stand By Me, a Rob Reiner film based on the Stephen King novella, The Body. No real horror, typical of a King novel. No real bullets flying, though there was one gunshot at a garbage can. But the movie, and the book, had so much more. Honestly, who could not watch that movie and not feel for Chris or Gordy? I remember to this day even as I write this, the audible gasp as the movie shifted to present day and talked about what became of Chris. The movie had characters you cared about, felt with, wept with. The characters, on some level, perhaps many levels, were real to the movie viewer, and real to the reader of the novella.
I think what sets apart good writing from poor writing is character development. Beyond the physical or emotional description the author presents to the reader, the writer makes the reader care about the character. A good and apt writer makes the reader root for a character or despise a character. The reader is able to identify with feelings and with conversations, and sometimes with word choices from the character.

In Lord Of The Flies, tell me you didn’t root for Ralph. Tell me you didn’t , at times, get annoyed with Piggy, or feel sorry for Simon. Tell me you didn’t despise Jack. That’s because William Golding fleshed out his characters and made them real to the reader. They weren’t cardboard cutouts without feelings, without emotions, and these characters evoked strong feelings in the reader, and subsequently in the viewer when the book came to life on screen.
Amazon Link
I post to my author page on Facebook regularly, and I recently wrote:  If the writer isn't passionate, the reader certainly won't be either. I believe that, but I believe it even more when it comes to characters and character development. A reviewer of the third book in my trilogy, Splintered Lives, wrote, “It was impossible to read these books and not become emotionally connected to the boys. I cried with them, laughed with them, felt their fear and their pain.” That is one of my favorite reviews because as a writer, I strive to make a connection between the words on the paper and the reader who reads them.

Honestly, shut your eyes and think of any book you really enjoyed. Now, I ask you to picture one character from that book. I’m willing to bet you can see that character in your mind’s eye. I’m willing to bet you can hear that character speak. I’m willing to bet that there are times when, not reading that book, you think of that character as you would a friend. That, in all its glory, is character development at its finest. That is quality writing. And I’m willing to bet whoever authored that book, you find yourself seeking other titles by him or her. That, ultimately, is a great review: the reader coming back for more.
For a thriller-mystery writer like me, the challenge can be viewed as even greater, because a thriller needs to do just that: thrill the reader, and the mystery has to present itself to the reader in such a way that the reader tries to guess what is coming next, be surprised in a good way if it doesn’t happen, and perhaps be shocked with the occurring action. But at the heart of it is the character.

In my own Lives Trilogy, there are two characters that my readers say are their favorites: George Tokay, a Navajo boy from the Navajo Reservation in Arizona, and Brett McGovern, an athletic kid from Indianapolis. Both boys “grow up” before the reader’s eyes from age twelve to age fourteen. Both are faced with a series of challenges and the reader is left to wonder whether or not either will survive the next page. For every setback, there is a success. For every tear, there is a smile, and for every heartache, there is joy. But I had to create both boys in such a way that the reader cares about what happens to them. The reader has to walk alongside them as they encounter struggles and pain and sorrow, as well as joy and happiness. It didn’t come easy for me, but in the end, the reader, like you, find pleasure in the reading. And in the end, that is character development.

Amazon Link


Joseph Lewis has published four books so far: TakingLives, (August 2014) a prequel to the Lives Trilogy; Stolen Lives, (November 2015) Book One of the Lives Trilogy; Shattered Lives, (March 2015); and Splintered Lives, Book Three of the Lives Trilogy (November 2015), all in the thriller/mystery genre, and each has garnered outstanding reviews.  Previously, Lewis published a short story, Dusty And Me (1989).  He writes a weekly inspirational blog, Simple Thoughts From A Complicated Mind, Sort Of located at .

He can be found on Twitter at @jrlewisauthor and on Facebook at:

Lewis has been in education for 39 years as a teacher, coach, counselor and administrator.  He is currently a high school principal and resides in Virginia with his wife, Kim, of 23 years, along with his daughters, Hannah and Emily.  His son, Wil, is deceased.

Thanks for an insightful post, Joseph. I'm sure many will be bookmarking this for future reference.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

My Guest: Barb Taub

My Guest this week caused people throughout the World to succumb to attacks of hysterical laughter when last on this blog. Today she's going to reveal the secret... No wait, I'll let her tell you. Ladies and Gentlemen...

Barb Taub

Want to write that next Young
Adult Dystopian Paranormal Urban
Fantasy Romance blockbuster?

Who doesn’t?  Of course you might be worried about all the YA tropes that have become cliches. Or not. (Certainly the writers who have been flooding my inbox with their latest YA opus are not the least bit concerned with cliches…)
But that gave me an idea. Why shouldn’t I be the one to pen that next best-seller and get the TV and licensing deals? I already know most of the tropes involved. I’d just have to be careful to avoid a couple (okay, a lot) of YA cliches.
I’ve totally got this one!
My de-Clich├ęd YA Paranormal Urban 
Fantasy Novel – Draft 1

Susie Smith is a sixteen-year-old girl whose family disappears for two months. Nobody notices because it’s summer and school is out and she isn’t really all that popular.
Tragically, her parents don’t die and leave her an orphan compelled to excel at martial arts while concealing her dark secret identity. (Heartlessly, her parents even make their mortgage payments, hold down normal jobs, and contribute regularly to her college fund, making it impossible for her to take on the adult role of paying bills and taking care of the house and her younger siblings.) Instead they all go on vacation together to her grandparents’ house, where Susie does not meet a sexy boy with a devastating secret and bizarrely pale skin. She has a good time, and comes back at the end of the summer with her virginity and all her blood volume intact. Oh, and she still has her soul. Plus she is not secretly revealed to be the love child of a powerful member of the fey domain. Or a princess.
She catches sight of herself in the mirror and instead of spending the next few minutes cataloging the ways she is a totally and completely normal girl (who happens to have long red hair, big green eyes, pouty lips, and black hole of darkness within her very soul), she leans in to plop some Clearasil on a couple of pimples, pulls her shoulder-length brown hair into a ponytail, and then heads off to school, surreptitiously humming Abba songs along with her phone.
There is a sexy new guy with a devastating secret sitting behind her in class. They pay no attention to each other, and she sits with her best friend, who is gay, but isn’t a fashion expert or a good cook. Neither one of them flips their hair. That night, Susie wakes up to find the sexy guy watching her from the rocking chair in the corner of her bedroom. He whispers that he’s been in love with her all his life, or at least since he saw her in third period history class. She screams, and her father runs in and beats the hell out of him.
At school, the head cheerleader and sexy captain of the football team break up because of his devastating secret. He tells Susie he’s always noticed her and thinks she would be stunningly beautiful if she let her hair down, stopped wearing baggy jeans, and took off her glasses. But since Susie is not preternaturally intelligent and thus has to work hard for her grades, she doesn’t want to be late for biology class. She leaves, and they never speak again. In class, she practices her DNA testing and discovers that she is, in fact, the biological child of both her parents and not the offspring of a god or paranormal creature.
In calculus class, a sexy boy with a devastating secret tells Susie that she has been chosen to help him save the universe and that she’s going to get some secret powers any time now, so she must reject the advances of his rival, the sexy captain of the football team. Further, he tells her their last calculus test was really The Test and they are now the Chosen Ones and must forever more wear only their team’s Chosen Colors (him: purple and red, her: blue and silver). She tells him that her only secret powers are a double-jointed right thumb that allows her to scoop ice cream really quickly, and the scary ability to memorize Abba lyrics. She’s late for her part-time job at the ice cream store, so she takes a raincheck on universe-saving. He decides that it doesn’t make sense for the universe to depend on a couple of teenagers (plus the thought of a lifetime of wearing purple and red makes him slightly nauseous), so he joins Susie’s study group instead.
They get into the same University and occasionally share a ride home for the holidays. She heads back east for graduate school, and he ends up taking over his family’s business, a small group of painting & decorating stores, which he sees as a brave stand against a gloomy dystopian future, plus it’s free. She gets tenure. He gets a boat. The Universe doesn’t end.
They meet again at their tenth high school reunion, and she introduces him to her partner, a woman from the Classics department. He’s married to the former head cheerleader from their high school, and they have three daughters, the youngest of whom occasionally turns into an owl and flies around the house. Someone else saves the universe. Probably.
The end? Oh, please. This is just Book One. Of at least a 28-book series… We haven’t mentioned sexy vampires with a devastating secret. Or alien mind-control. Or even were-badgers.

While you’re waiting for me to finish my YA opus, why not take a look at my other books?
Null City Series—Urban Fantasy with humor, romance, a sentient train, a great dog, and a seriously big cat
In the world of Null City ‑
Superpowers suck. If you just want to live a normal life, Null City is only a Metro ride away. After one day there, imps become baristas, and hellhounds become poodles. Demons settle down, become parents, join the PTA, and worry about their taxes. In a dangerous game that pits heaven against hell, the three Parker siblings each hold a key to Null City’s survival. And outside of Null City, an uneasy peace is policed by Wardens under the command of the Accords Agency.
Click for preview, reviews &
a free copy from Amazon!

One Way FareGaby Parker and Leila Rice: two young women confronting cataclysmic forces waging an unseen war between Heaven and Hell. Someone should have told them the angels were all on the other side.

NEW! Round Trip FareWarden Carey Parker’s to-do list is already long enough: find her brother and sister, rescue her roommate, save Null City, and castrate her ex-boyfriend. Preferably with a dull-edged garden tool. A rusty one.

Click for preview, reviews &
buy links from Amazon

Don’t TouchHope flares each morning in the tiny flash of a second before Lette touches that first thing. And destroys it.

Click for preview, reviews &
buy links from Amazon
Tales from Null CityTwo novellas from the Null City world. Now that the century-long secret Nonwars between Gifts and Haven are over and the Accords Treaty is signed, an uneasy peace is policed by Wardens under the command of the Accords Agency.

§  Just for the Spell of It: They’ve worked cases for the Accords Agency before, but with war between realms looming and her baby sister as bargaining chip, partnering just got personal.

§  Payback is a Witch: Claire Danielsen is a young witch whose goddess is house cat of unusual size. Peter Oshiro is a Warden policing a delicate truce between those who are human and those who… aren’t.


In halcyon days BC (before children), Barb Taub wrote a humor column for several Midwest newspapers. With the arrival of Child #4, she veered toward the dark side and an HR career. Following a daring daytime escape to England, she’s lived in a medieval castle and a hobbit house with her prince-of-a-guy and the World’s Most Spoiled Aussie Dog. Now all her days are Saturdays, and she spends them traveling around the world, plus consulting with her daughter on Marvel heroes, Null City, and translating from British to American.

Here is where she hangs out, and she’d love to hear from you!

Thank you, Barb, for a wonderful post. It's so motivated me, I'm going to start my own YA dystopian whatnot immediately. Watch out world... By the way, you win the prize for the longest Guest post title since I created this blog!