writing

Great reviews are essential... for an author’s ego

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Last year, when my third novel became available for sale, I had the foresight to reach out for some professional reviews on Wish To Die. I actually got some unsolicited, and solicited, none of which I actually paid for. By solicited I mean, I asked a few people for their reviews. Some were well worth reaching out, some weren’t. You can tell an honest review from a dishonest one. The honest ones reveal the mistakes, and their dislikes as well. They tell it like they see it, not how they think I want to see it.

Those honest ones really boost my morale, make me feel like I have something to offer readers. I love writing, I love the process, the editing, the publishing, and I really like the after-work; the selling, as it’s called. Going on signings, speaking engagements, and the like. But I do like writing, unlike Dorothy Parker, co-founder of the Algonquin Round Table, writer, poet, and screenwriter of such films as 1937’s A Star is Born who once said, “I hate writing, I love to have written.”

As reviews go, below is a link to a site that offers reviews from avid readers for anyone willing to pay the minimal expense to submit their book to be read and reviewed.

https://forums.onlinebookclub.org/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=91982

https://forums.onlinebookclub.org/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=91982

If you go there and scroll down you can see all the comments on this reviewer’s review of Wish To Die

I even asked one reviewer, whom I happened to see write reviews for books similar to mine, if she would do me the favor. She did so without question. I even offered to pay for the book for her, but she didn’t want to hear about it. That can be found below in the body of this text. It is quite lengthy so read it at your own risk, so to speak.

If you are a fan of archaeology, history and mystery, I would recommend you give Robert Walton and his Harry Thursday series a try! In the tradition of some of my fave adventure authors like Clive Cussler, Ernest Dempsey and Nick Thacker, Robert Walton’s Wish to Die, is chock full of hidden treasure, history, beautiful settings and exciting adventure as the good guys race to get to the goal before the bad guys. An excellent way to escape for a few hours and enjoy a different time and place without leaving the comfort of your favorite reading chair. Especially, enjoyable given the rash of thunderstorms, tornadoes and flooding we have been experiencing here in the Mid-West!
Wish to Die is the third book in Robert Walton’s Harry Thursday series. Yet, I had no trouble reading it as a stand-alone novel. While Mr. Walton, does refer to characters and adventures from previous novels, he provides enough detail to understand where the characters come from and how they fit into the scene. It might help the reader understand Harry’s personality better, if the books were read in the order written. In Wish to Die, Harry Thursday, a real rogue adventurer and not so lucky in love, helps the daughter of a WWII Russian art expert, responsible for cataloging and shipping Russian art back to Nazi Germany in the waning years of the war. She is trying to locate the lost Nazi art before ex-Nazi Erich Koch, who is has been hiding in the States for years under an assumed name. The problem is that are many people after the same treasure.
Jules Verne took us around the world in 80 days, but I think Robert Walton can take us around the world in 80 pages! Harry and our female heroine, Elina, encounter many different characters from Greece to the United States and back again. On the way they pick up allies such as Harry’s ex-girlfriend Sara, working for BAR and Jack , Harry’s friend from MI-6. There is also some secret societies much like Illuminati, as well as double agents involved. I did have moments when I stopped and asked “Wait a minute! How did we get here?” or “What?! How did that happen?” I found myself at times re-reading chapters just to get a fix on the timeline. However, I am not convinced that my problem was all the fault of the author and poor transitions from one action scene to another. Once I re-read certain sections, I realized that I may be suffering from “old brain syndrome”, I am just not as good as I used to be with multi-tasking and cataloging facts as I used to be! I may be giving up my coveted championship title as “World’s Greatest Clue Player”! There was enough action in the book to keep me enthralled into the wee hours of the night. Yet I found if I was the least bit distracted or tired, I just had to put the book down or be forced to re-read whole chapters again. I would recommend you read the book for yourself and see what you make of the transitions.
I loved Harry Thursday and the many characters he encountered on his adventures. But for a super intelligent world renown archaeologist, he was very easily duped when it came to time to sort the good guys from the bad guys and was very unlucky when it came to protect his lovers from harm! He seems to be a magnet for trouble, especially trouble in the form of bullets, explosions and crashes! I found myself wishing he would use some of that fact-finding archaeology sense to ferret out the liars around him. Somehow his vulnerability only seems to make Harry more lovable! Robert Walton has a way of making his characters come alive, and I found myself having conversations with Harry as though I was there. I believe strongly that a good book should have the capability of sweeping you away to another world, another life, another time. This book definitely did that!
I am a fan of books that have a “Happily Ever After” ending. Wish to Die, did not leave me with that warm , fuzzy, feeling. It did end on a probably more realistic hopeful note. It’s the kind of ending that makes you sure that “…the sun will come up…” and somehow goodness and love will eventually triumph.
I would recommend this book to other adventure mystery readers like myself. I am eager to read more about Harry Thursday and his friends in the future. Overall, I would say Robert Walton has earned himself a place on my bookshelf and I am looking forward to seeing what other projects he may have.

Serious Reading Book Review Interviews

Whose work do you enjoy reading the most?

I’d have to say Tolkien. I have read him at least a dozen times. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I could live in that world. It is perfection.

How important is research to you when writing a book?

The first thing that will turn off a reader is inaccuracy. If the plot smells of untruths, or obvious misrepresentation, or makes no sense, the reader will lose interest quickly. It’s like watching a film about the Vikings and seeing a car drive by in the distant background, you know the director didn’t do his job. Especially today with Google maps and the vast world at our fingertips, it takes a little effort to bring up enough information to give a sense of truth to the story.

Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?

I can’t get enough reading. If a writer is suffering from writer’s block, he isn’t reading enough. You aren’t reading to find your voice, but to fill your brain with perspective. I love Kurt Vonnegut. I love Cormac McCarthy, Bernard Cornwell, Martin Cruz Smith, AA Milne, John LeCarre’, Michael Crichton, Mary Renault, and not least of all, JRR Tolkien.

What is your take on the importance of a good cover and title?

So I’m browsing a bookstore looking for something to read with no clear idea who, what author, I want to read. Sometimes I can’t remember his or her name, or I really don’t have anyone in mind. The color of the book certainly stands out. But it’s the image on the cover, or quite possibly the design, that make me pick it up. Then I want to know about the book, and the title should do that. James Patterson is possibly the most well-known thriller writer today. I might pick him up but the title tells me what it’s about; Take Honeymoon. Well Patterson is not going to write about romance, is he?

Any advice you would like to give to your younger self?

Stop screwing around with dead end jobs and booze and keep writing. When I had my heart broken, I started writing, poetry mostly but a few short stories. I liked what I wrote and decided to submit one of the stories to an agent. I can’t even remember how I picked this one agent out, (well before computers) but he actually replied with a personal note telling me that though not bad it need a bit of work to make it worth publishing. I put it aside and never wrote another word for 30 years. That is the biggest mistake of my entire life.

Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?

Well as a matter of fact, I am writing the third Harry Thursday novel about stolen Nazi art. These stories take place in the late 70’s and Harry, an archaeologist, returns home to the States after his only living relative, his rich uncle, dies. When he finds out what he has been up to Harry’s world takes on a dangerous turn of events.

Must all writers have had their hearts broken at some point in time, does that remain true for you as well?

Not necessarily. But in my case it sparked an attempt at poetry, and short stories. Melancholy tends to force one to look inward. That is where you can find stories waiting to come out like magma out of the Earth.

Poets and writers in general, have a reputation of committing suicide; in your opinion, why is that the case?

Yeah, I don’t know first-hand. We tend to look at ourselves too closely, and it can be ugly.

Is it true that authors write word-perfect first drafts?

Oh hell no. I never worry about perfection until around the third draft. And then I defer to my editor.

Which of your books took you the most time to write?

I am willing to guess that it is the same with most authors. My first book took 3 years to write, and only because I had to find the time to sit down and do it.

How did it feel when your first book got published?

I was ecstatic. I couldn’t believe it but I was so busy writing the 2nd and 3rd novel at the same time I pretty much forgot about it for a while until I actually had copy in my hands.

Which book would you want adapted for the silver screen?

 Definitely Fatal Snow. I could see Quentin Tarantino making a bloody mess of Wyoming. My unfinished novel, The Gods Among Us, a science fiction would be a real doozy of a movie.

Did you ever have a rough patch in writing, where nothing in the story seemed to fit or make sense?

Not often. If that happens I usually realize something is wrong a few chapters later and go back to fix it, or throw it out; I’ve done that before.

Do you often meet with younger writers and discuss their ideas to help polish them?

Once a month a group of writers meet to critique one another’s work. Very often new aspiring writers come along. Those that stick it out usually produce something.

Do you prefer being intoxicated to write? Or would you rather write sober?

Hemingway said, “Write drunk, edit sober.” Works for me.

A common misconception entwined with authors is that they are socially inept, how true is that?

I have always had a hard time mixing with people I don’t know. Over the years I’ve taught myself to walk up and talk to a complete stranger. Easy enough, but once in a while some butt-head looks at me like, “Who the hell are you?” Which sends me into a fetal position in a corner somewhere to rock and suck my thumb.

Have you ever left any of your books stew for months on end or even a year?

Yes, I have a science fiction, The Gods Among Us, the first I have ever written, sitting in 300 pages of a nightmare. My first published novel took a back hand to that one for a while until I realized that The Gods needed to ferment.

Do you have a daily habit of writing?

At my best, I set aside time to write. I used to pump out 20 pages every morning at 6 AM, but things have changed and right now it’s approaching mid-night.

Have you ever taken any help from other writers?

Critiquing is vital to a well-rounded book. I may not like what they say, and it helps sometimes to realize they don’t know what they are talking about. But very often there are good bits of advice. Sometimes we can’t see our biggest mistakes, and another set of eyes will point out those mistakes.

Are you “there” where you wanted to be?

Not yet. Not by a long shot.

If you were given the opportunity to form a book club with your favorite authors of all time, which legends or contemporary writers would you want to become a part of the club?

Hemingway, Twain, Vonnegut, Steinbeck. Oh yes Edward E Cummings, Alan Morehead, and Will Shakespeare. Oh let’s go back a few years, how about Herodotus, and Plato. And for a living author, Martin Cruz Smith, Bernard Cornwell, and Cormac McCarthy. I could go on but I think they might be a bit too busy.

What are the non-fiction genres you enjoy reading?

I love history. I read the entire 11 volume set of Will and Ariel Durant’s History of the World. Biographies are fascinating as well. Barbara Tuchman wrote about the middle ages in a great book titled A Distant Mirror.

“Those who do not learn from history, are destined to repeat it.”

How to create realistic characters

Hot and sexy characters win out

How does life differ from fiction, you may find yourself asking yourself. The most common answer I’ve heard at least is that fiction has to make sense, life does not. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of novel writing are the characters and what do you do with them.

 

We can gain insight into our characters by looking within ourselves.

As the Greek gods are doing in the photograph, we must find within ourselves something we can believe in.

Not only must we find the character, we have to build him, create his life much like God created Adam out of clay, for indeed we are playing at god when we write. And as we play at god, we should make sense out of the lives we create. I mean they can’t just start begetting people. They are not to be taken on faith, because faith has no place in fiction. They must be drawn from within our own souls.

Hemingway said, “…Whatever success I have had has been through writing what I know about.” And then when we do that, we can make them real.

Truth, is the most important part of writing. For, as Mark Twain once said, “If you always tell the truth, you never have to remember anything.”  How true. For example, in literature at least you shouldn’t have your killer do some good deed like save a tiny bird from a cat, and have him in the next chapter, mutilate a young woman and enjoy it. You could have him love and cherish his pet birdie, only to cook alive it in the next chapter. That would be cool.

Building an outline often helps. Starting from the bones, and adding flesh. James Patterson works religiously with this method. There is a man I admire greatly. I actually know him on a personal level. I once took his online course in the Master Class series, “James Patterson Teaches Writing,” and I felt a personal connection. He actually talked to me, though like on TV he couldn’t see me, but I could see him. 

That's the truth.

IF WRITING WERE LIKE PIES, WE'D ALL BE DOING IT!

Writing is like eating pies; sometimes it's all you can think of.

Writing is like eating pies; sometimes it's all you can think of.

When asked what it takes to be a good writer, Ernest Hemingway said, “A lousy childhood.”

He is also quoted in a great book, The Green Hills of Africa, p. 22, as saying this:

“All Modern American Literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. If you read it you must stop where the Nigger Jim is stolen from the boys. That is the real end. The rest is just cheating.

 But it’s the best book we’ve had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.”

He’s being modest of course. Hemingway fits right in there between “before,” and “since.” I personally can think of two authors who fit into the “since” category. One is Cormac McCarthy, and the other is Kurt Vonnegut. American, mind you -- and since I am telling this story, no others count.

So before anyone can write a book, a short story, or a sentence, they have to read. Read. Read. A good place to start is with any book I have written. Since they pale in comparison to any of the authors I’ve just mentioned, I won’t look too bad. But seriously. Start with Huck Finn. Twain is Shakespeare simplified. Reading should not feel like you are reading, and that is what Twain does.

After Twain, Ernest is right. There is a void in American lit. And then came, A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway’s third novel about a soldier and his love of a nurse he meets while being treated in a hospital during WWI. Hemingway's art is in his dialogue. He has a style of writing so different from anybody before or since. If you were to write like him today, it would be difficult to get published. It’s tough enough, and today’s editor, trained in today’s educational system, would not know what to do with it.

 Kurt Vonnegut with The Sirens of Titan.  writes in his own genre. He talks of his early years when publishers wanted to place him in the science fiction genre. But they were wrong. While a lot of his story lines were of a fantastic theme, he wrote about the human tragedy. But he did it in a philosophically humorous way. And with a sardonic twist which always leaves us smiling. And if we read it again and maybe once more, we may get it.

Cormac McCarthy’s, The Road.  is written with a reality and truthfulness that makes us think. I guess you can call it "literature.” The Road" pulls us into the mind of a man tortured in a post-apocalyptic world with the task of keeping his son alive in hopes of finding a place where good might still trump the evil that has taken over the few humans left alive, where life as it was might still be. A place where mankind hasn't been stripped of civilization - that outer shell that binds us to what Spinoza referred to when he suggested that God has determined the universe down to the last detail. McCarthy's protagonist holds the belief that God still exists regardless of the lack of civilization. He is put to the test - down to his last breath. It is one of the few books that literally left me crying. Not because of its philosophy, but because of McCarthy's ability to put it into words.

What tells of a good author is what McCarthy did in this book. He did all this, told a story and never once does he explain what caused the apocalyptic event that ended life as we know it. And you know, I don't remember asking that question either. He told his story through his frank and simple prose. 

That answers the question; "What does it take to be a writer?"