NEW RELEASE: “To Catch A Marlin” By TK Toppin

Don’t you just love the cover?

I don’t make it a practice to hawk new releases without a review, but I can’t wait to finish writing the review before I tell you the exciting news about TK Toppin’s latest release TO CATCH A MARLIN that hit the stands today.

I was fortunate enough to beta read this book for the author, and even in its rough drafts it captured my imagination in a way that…well, let’s just say I have been counting the minutes until I could order this completed, polished novel for my very own! I really believe this is the author’s best work yet!

It’s a lighthearted adventure with parts that will make you laugh out loud and other parts will keep you turning the pages well into the wee hours of the night. I just bought my copy for my Kindle. I’ll be purchasing the paperback as well. This is one book I want for my permanent library. Keep an eye on this page for the review, hopefully next week. I can guarantee 5 Stars.

Congratulations to TK Toppin on her newest release and best of luck.

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In the tail end of the 24th Century, Special Inspector Michael Pedroni pursues a beautiful and elusive vigilante, Jax Marlin, in a wild cat and mouse chase that will take him from Earth to the Bacchus Dome and beyond.

Jax Marlin is not your average criminal; she seeks out evil-doers and law-breakers, doling out justice in whatever way she sees fit. But lately, she finds she’s been gift-wrapping criminals specially for her favorite copper.

Four of the world’s leading criminals are determined to form an alliance. Jax is determined to stop them. Hot on her heels, Inspector Pedroni finds himself questioning the difference, if any, between her justice and his. More than that, he wonders why, when he’d had her in his grasp, he was unable to slap on the restraints and bring her in.

Both want the same thing–to stop criminals. But the growing attraction each has toward the other becomes a dangerous hindrance.

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Pick up your copy of TO CATCH A MARLIN here

From Bones to Hair: Building a Story

When I write a new story, I approach it like constructing a building or a living organism. First you lay the foundation (premise), then you build the framework, which I envision as the bones. At this stage, I have the main plot points down and the major scenes are in their place to push the rising and falling action to the climax and the denoument. Some scenes are fully realized, others are brief narratives that describe the action and the purpose of the scene. Anything goes at this point. Anything, no matter how bizarre or disjointed is allowed. That’s the first draft.

The second draft is where the meat and connective tissue are added. In the second draft, I focus on transitional scenes and place the actions and dialog that foreshadow coming events. I beef up and write the scenes that are simple narratives and I look for plot holes and dropped plot lines. Simple scenes that were mostly dialog get blocking and characters start moving around the space. Scenes that do not serve to advance the plot in any way are cut, but saved for reference or re-purposing.

The third draft gets skin. The “skin” hides the technique. Scene and sequel should flow seamlessly. Transitions are smoothed. Passive voice is removed. Grammar is analyzed for consistency. Character reactions are analyzed and tweaked for appropriate response. Stilted dialog is reworked to sound more natural. Characters’ mannerisms and subtle gestures are tweaked. Setting and descriptions take center stage.

The fourth draft is the hair, makeup and clothing. In the fourth draft, typos, overused words and phrases come out. The fourth draft is where the little details are added to ensure that readers are emotionally involved in the story. Everything that doesn’t create immediacy or place the reader in the middle of the action comes out or gets reworked. This is the devilish draft because it takes  so long to complete and the results are not readily apparent to anyone but me. The devil is in the details and the fourth draft is all about the nit-picky details. Upon completion, this is the draft that goes to the beta readers for a final look.

A fifth draft goes to the editors for a figurative photoshopping, and becomes the final draft that makes it to publication.

I don’t know if all writers work this way, but this technique has worked for me because it allows me to write cyclically. Once I have the main points in, I can jump around in the story as details for plot threads solidify in my mind, returning to key points to make sure there is a coherent flow from one to another.

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The first draft of THE BROKEN WING is complete and revisions have already begun on the second draft. Still no concrete date set for its release.

Patrick Stutzman: Do You Have To Be Female To Write Female Characters?

There was so much positive response to a recent post on women and science fiction that when I had the chance to invite a male author who writes strong female leads beautifully, I jumped at it. Here is Patrick Stutzman, author of ALONE ON THE EDGE and his new release ALONE IN PARADISE.

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Writing can be a lot of fun, but it can also come with its challenges. Among those challenges can be making your story and/or characters believable, getting the story to flow smoothly and logically, and avoiding the pitfalls into which many authors inadvertently fall. My primary problem involves being a man and writing about a woman.

My series of novels revolves around a woman who finds herself left alone, away from civilization, and must cope with her situation to the best of her abilities. I have received compliments from a number of women that I have somehow managed to pull off the ardent task of hitting the nail on the head as far as accurately portraying female characters. Those that don’t know me figure it is because I am secretly a woman or that I am gay. The last time I checked, I am a male; I have guy parts. And, my wife can assure you that I am not gay.
How do I do it? No, I don’t follow Jack Nicholson’s formula in As Good As It Gets where he says, “I take a man and take away reason and accountability.” It all falls down to observation and error-checking.

As a gamer, I liked to play female characters in my games. I create women player characters in my Dungeons & Dragons and Star Wars roleplaying games, and I have a female character in World of Warcraft and Skyrim. Why? Most of the other players played males. I wanted to have women come along on the adventures, too. With characters like Red Sonja, Wonder Woman, Jean Grey, and Sheena as inspiration, women have just as much capability to kick some major butt as the men.

I live in a house with three other women: my wife and my two daughters. Learning what women are like and how they think, though it is still an exercise, comes a bit easier for me because of that. When I create the women in my books, I take what I know from the three ladies in my life and apply parts of them to the characters.

I cannot honestly say that it’s that easy. After I complete the story, my editor steps in and checks my portrayals for accuracy. It really helps that my editor is a woman, too. If something seems askew, we discuss it and make any necessary changes to finalize the character’s depiction.

I am not the only man that creates female characters, but I am willing to bet that I am one of the few that does not make my women damsels-in-distress or really butch. I have always strived to be as realistic as possible in my stories, and having women properly represented is something I am proud to do.

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Please feel free to visit each blog on the appropriate day and comment about the blog post, the book, me, or whatever you choose. One lucky person that comments on the blog stop that day will win a free e-copy of the book. Spread the word to your friends and come read about the continuing adventures of Anna Foster in the exciting sequel, Alone in Paradise.

Girls Don’t Like Sci-Fi! Do They?

Sometimes it’s hard to remember how far we’ve come until you look back at where we’ve been.

When I was a kid, growing up on STAR TREK, WONDER WOMAN, SPACE 1999, THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, THE BIONIC WOMAN and BUCK ROGERS women were still pretty much objects to be kidnapped, tied up, held for ransom and eventually rescued by the big strong man. While women and girls were fans of science fiction, it wasn’t really written for us, with us in mind. The general consensus was that science fiction fans were primarily male, intelligent, between the ages of 12 and 40 and virgins living in their parents’ basement.

I was frustrated that there was precious little out there that depicted kick-ass women as heroic figures. So I started writing my own. That’s how Bo Barron was born. Even then, I realized that it would be impossible to find a market in the male-dominated science fiction market. I was ready to give up the idea and bow to pressure to go to college to be an English teacher. Fortunately, I found the Rissa Kerguelen series of books by F.M. Busby and held fast to my original plan.

Until I sat down to write this post, I’d pretty much forgotten those books, which is a shame, considering how many times I read and re-read them in high school. It was 1984, Bo was already cutting a wide swath through my friends who clamored for more of her adventures. It was a stinky boy who told me no one would ever buy a science fiction book about a girl warrior. College loomed. I had to declare a major. While browsing in a bookstore I found Rissa. She was so different from Bo and while I tried to really like her, something about her fell flat. I later came to realize that was because she was written by a man, from a man’s perspective. But what kept me going was knowing that here was a character who had a lot in common with my own. If she could see the light of day, so could Bo.

Over the years, I heard over and over that “women just don’t read science fiction” and “women aren’t into science fiction.” I did and I was. What was I? Chopped liver? I would argue with whoever held still long enough that the reason more women weren’t into science fiction was because men were writing science fiction for men. If more women wrote science fiction, more women would read it. But it was the 1980’s and gender lines were still clearly drawn.

The movie ALIEN started things changing. Ripley was a kick-ass heroine that men loved and women related to. It was a slow process, but by the 1990’s, the sub-genre of Science Fiction Romance was on the rise and traditional romance publishers were taking a chance on it. However, the mainstream SF publishers still didn’t want anything to do with it. Hard SF, cyberpunk and technothriller were all they wanted to see. Space Opera? Forget it.

The stereotype of the awkward, but brilliant male adolescent SF fan living in his parents’ basement was still the target market of SF publishers. Funny, but during that time Romance sales soared and SF sales did not. Film and television tapped into the female market with shows showing women in heroic roles like SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND and BABYLON 5 and STARSHIP TROOPERS. In fantasy and other genres there was XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, NIKITA, and even the X-FILES, which switched the gender roles with the skeptical scientist played by Gillian Anderson and the wild-eyed paranormal expert played by David Duchovny.

Fast forward to the 21st Century. SF Romance still struggles to find a market as Romance publishers are reluctant to deviate from their formula and require Happily Ever After endings or at least Happy For Now, and Science Fiction publishers are more reluctant than ever to sully their reputations with that tripe. Of course, the beautiful thing is, SF authors are no longer dependent on the hallowed halls of traditional publishers to get their work in the hands of eager readers. There is an awful lot of self- small- and indie-published SF out there, a lot of it Space Opera and SF Romance.

You see, the nasty little secret that mainstream SF publishers never realized is that no matter the situation, be it war, politics, or business, no matter how complicated it is at the outset, all you have to do to really screw it up is to throw a woman and romantic element into the mix. It doesn’t necessarily make it a romance, but it does complicate your story nicely. That’s the kind of thing women love to read. Even Homer understood how women can complicate and cloud the issue. After all, he told the story of the Trojan War, which, according to Homer, was all for the love of a beautiful woman.

As for women being fans of Science Fiction, just take a look at current trends in cosplay.

Yeah. Women love SF. Women love a good story. Women don’t necessarily need a Happily Ever After. If we did, GONE WITH THE WIND wouldn’t have sold so many copies and CASABLANCA wouldn’t be considered one of the most romantic films EV-AR!!

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What do you think? Are girls into SF? Has traditional Science Fiction publishing met the needs of female fans? Or are they hopelessly still operating on an outdated business model?

Is Ignorance Truly Bliss?

I miss the good old days before I supposedly knew what I was doing.

Back in the last Century, at the end of the 80’s, I was a happy wannabe writer. A new invention had sprung up and I was having oodles of fun using my secretarial skills that I’d made a point to learn in the 9th grade to help me in my future career as a writer. My skills as a touch typist landed me clerical jobs and my boundless curiosity drove me to learn various computer programs. My dad enlisted my help keeping the books for his company on his brand-new TRS-80 computers. One of the perks was that I could have one of those 8” floppies to store my writing on, and print it up on his dot matrix printer for editing and archival! Those computers spoke TRS-DOS and I became proficient with the language. (If you’ve read SOVRAN’S PAWN you’ll understand the significance of that.)

In those days, I just told stories. I didn’t worry overly much with “hopping heads” or “pacing” or “plot reversals.” I just threw things at my characters and let them deal with them, developing along the way. It was raw and it was fun. It was also very, very bad writing but I didn’t care. Ignorance was bliss.

The 90’s rolled around and computer disks shrunk. WYSIWYG replaced dot matrix, and a magical little thing called Windows appeared on the horizon. That was when I lost my innocence. I went to my first writer’s meeting and I had my very first critique – not only by published authors, mind you, but authors whose books I had read and enjoyed. I was intimidated and terrified. By the time they finished their very gentle, but honest critique, I felt stripped bare, humiliated, dejected and a complete failure. I wanted to crawl away and lick my wounds in private.

I will be forever thankful that my then-husband had the foresight to accompany me to that meeting and sit through the critique at my side, listening to every word. When it was over, he could see how shattered I was. Putting his hand over mine, he leaned forward and said, “May I ask you a question?”

I cringed. He wasn’t exactly the most diplomatic sort. At their nods, he picked up my submission and set it on the table in front of him.

“Please be honest. Do you think she has talent to pursue writing, or do you think she’s wasting her time?”

The question took them by surprise, I think. They looked from me to my husband and then to one another, shifting uncomfortably in their chairs. Slowly the nodding began.

“She has talent…”

“This is an excellent beginning. She only needs to learn a little more about storycraft.”

Then they explained to my husband and to me, because I hung on every word, that the things they had pointed out in the critique were common among newbie writers. I was guilty of passive voice, shifting from one POV character to another within a scene, letting the reader stay just outside the action as an observer and not a participant, telling and not showing.

That was the beginning of my professional writing career. Starting that day, I threw myself headlong into learning everything I could about story craft. From that day, the sheer joy of writing and spinning stories diminished a little more every time I sat down to work. Now I spend more time thinking of my writing as rising and falling action, goal-conflict-disaster-repeat, scene and sequel, plot points, inciting incident, dark moment, resolution, reward, than I spend just telling a story.

I do hate the middle part of the story. That’s where you torture your characters to prepare them for the grand finale. You have to move them ever onward towards that grand decision that makes the climax worthwhile.

Fast forward to 2012. SOVRAN’S PAWN is the first book in a series. It’s Act I and as such, was fun to write. BARRON’S LAST STAND is the Final Act. The big finish and also a lot of fun. Book Two (let’s try out the title THE BROKEN WING) is Act 2 in the overall series arc. I hate the second act. This is where story craft is vital and plot and pacing are of primary importance. The action MUST rise and fall. The plot MUST reverse at the right time or the reader will lose interest.

I stared at my storyboard until my eyes crossed. I filled index cards with scenes and notes until I ran out of them. I had a beginning and an ending, but a convoluted path between the two, with holes large enough to fly a Tau-class cruiser through. I was beginning to despair ever making sense of this story when the advice came in from another writer to stop planning and just let the story unfold.

So simple, yet sitting on this side of the last twenty-two years, it’s much more difficult than it used to be. I sat down, put my notes aside, and just started writing, letting my characters tell their story without worrying about how many words I was racking up or how passive the voice. Since I started doing that, I’ve added more than ten thousand words to the manuscript and I’m falling in love with the characters again. I know much of it will be cut and revised in the editing process, but for now, the story is unfolding and it’s poignant and funny and lovely and sad. I hope I can stay out of my own way long enough to tell it all the way through.

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How has learning the “proper” way to do things changed your outlook on your work or hobbies?

Title-Challenged Writer Seeking Help

No, goofy, not that kind of help – although that really isn’t a bad idea – I’m looking for help naming my second book. You guys did such a great job with SOVRAN’S PAWN, I figured I’d hit you up for another go-round.

The response was so much fun with the poll to choose the title for SOVRAN’S PAWN, let’s try it again with THE BLACK WING CHRONICLES: BOOK TWO! Here are a few possible titles to choose from. Which one do YOU think sounds like the most interesting title to follow SOVRAN’S PAWN?

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What did you like about your choice? Didn’t like any of them? What do YOU suggest? I really want to know! No, really, I do because I’m wandering in the dark with my pants over my head on this one.

Time To Vote For Sovran’s Pawn!

It’s live! Let the voting begin!

I mentioned last week about the coming cover contest on You Gotta Read’s web site. Well, it’s here. The You Gotta Read cover contest is now active! If you love the artwork for Sovran’s Pawn, please stop by and vote for #15.

Please, please, Pleeeeeeeez!!!! Thank you! Tell a friend, share it, vote early and often!!

Here’s the link:  http://yougottaread.com/category/cover-contest/

SOVRAN’S PAWN Cover Art – Hot or Not?

Nothing is what it seems…

FINALLY!! An election EVERYONE can agree on! SOVRAN’S PAWN is  entry #15 in You Gotta Read Website’s Cover Art contest for August! Voting begins August 21 and runs through August 26. Get your voting fingers ready to click!! You’ve all told me now stunning the cover is, help me (and the delightful artist who created this cover) by voting and taking a friend or two to the polls along with you!
http://yougottaread.com/august-entry-15-sovrans-pawn/

How I Spent My Summer Vacation #1: Visiting Mondhuoun

I crave the mountains. Not just any mountains, mind you, I want the Blue Ridge. More specifically, I pine for upstate South Carolina.

Spoonauger Falls

My parents both hail from pioneer families whose ties to that part of South Carolina stretch back to when this country was not only a colony but a wild and woolly wilderness. They left the area shortly before I was born, forever dooming me to a bit of an identity crisis. School holidays always brought out the suitcases and the general understanding that we were “going home” to South Carolina. As one Florida born, I never really understood, but I didn’t have to. Those mountains are in my blood. They’re in my very DNA.

My father is a mountain man born out of time. Every chance he gets to this day, he takes off for the land of his birth, finding solace and comfort in the unchanging wilderness of the Sumter National Forest and the Chattooga river. Coming off the trails his arthritic legs can no longer negotiate with ease, he scans the roadway, telling stories of mountain folk long gone, stores and landmarks so buried in time that not even the current residents remember them anymore.

When I was a child, my father took me into the woods and tried to impart his backwoods wisdom. Much of it stuck. On our recent camping trip there, my sons were impressed to learn that my fire-building capabilities surpassed those of my husband, who is no tenderfoot. I can survive a backcountry trail quite comfortably if I had to. At my age, I no longer want to.

I grew up in those mountains, like my parents… like their parents.

Even when you write science fiction, one way or another, you end up writing what you know.

As I’m working on the second book of THE BLACK WING CHRONICLES, the story takes me to places both familiar and distant. When I try to picture the Gallic Highlands of Mondhuoun, the land of Bo’s birth, I can’t help but picture the ancient and rugged terrain of the Sumter National Forest and the Chattooga River. Gallic bluestone was inspired by the blue granite of those mountains.

Like Bo, I was exiled from that land I love. Like Bo, I treasure every visit home.

How Old Is Too Old For An Idea?

If you follow me, you know I’m devoted to participating in Science Fiction/Fantasy Saturday. This past weekend, I included a snippet from a book I started writing twenty-five years ago. One of the authors who commented on the snippet pointed out that he wouldn’t develop an idea that was twenty-five years-old. I have to say the comment got in my head and won’t leave me alone.

How old is too old for an idea?

I have many completed novels that for one reason or another never got published. I think cyberpunk was all the rage at the time. One is a romantic thriller, contemporary in the early 90’s, and very reliant on the prevalent technology of the time:  pay phones, floppy disks, slow modems, fax machines, 35mm photography negatives, and that’s just off the top of my head. Drawn from my experiences writing for the Tampa Tribune newspaper at the time, the story itself is pretty good. It’s paced well. The characters are well developed. I could publish today… except for the fact that the dated technology is integral to the plot. Perhaps I’ll publish it at some point as a period piece.

My  point is, that it’s an idea I wouldn’t make a priority out of developing due to its dated content. But the science fiction romance I posted on Saturday is another story entirely. Drawing inspiration from Terminator, Flash Gordon, and Total Recall, it was an idea I’d toyed with, off and on, since 1987 before it got archived with The Black Wing Chronicles in 2002. For that matter, I first conceived of The Black Wing Chronicles in 1980. Sovran’s Pawn only published this year. That’s a thirty-two year-old concept that got developed.

If a story is compelling and interesting to the writer, shouldn’t it see the light of day? A good premise is timeless and resonates. Sure, Star Wars was exactly what sf fans everywhere needed at the time. Most sf of the period had become painfully socially conscious, with accusatory messages of total annihilation and the inherent evil of humankind. Star Wars was a breath of fresh air — a lighthearted adventure. It was the Hero’s Journey. Would it be successful if released for the first time today? If you take into account how very groundbreaking it was in special effects technology, I believe it would be. No one had seen anything quite like it. Star Wars made science fiction fun again, taking it out of the hands of the ivory tower bunch and putting back into the hands of adventurers, pirates, cowboys and damsels in distress. Would it be a blockbuster? I don’t know, but if the cult success of Joss Whedon’s Firefly can be used as a measure, Star Wars would find a devoted audience.

How old is too old for an idea?

I suppose that for every writer, that’s a personal decision. For myself, I believe that good ideas are timeless. As far as The Lost Domina is concerned, I’ll let YOU decide. Here is the blurb. Tell me what you think.

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Riding high on the sale of her first novel, science fiction author Analise Trujold tries to rescue her failing marriage with a trip to the countryside with her husband to watch a meteor shower. A close encounter with an alien hit squad who murders her husband, and the sudden appearance of Admiral Faran Hagon, the hero in her novel, ensnare Analise in a hotbed of interstellar intrigue. Characters from her book are more real than she ever could have believed and her mundane life on Earth has been nothing more than implanted memories to keep her safe during her exile.

The Universal Congolmeration of Systems is under attack from within.  As the Lost Domina, Ana is the only one who can hold it together. But with her memories suspect, she’s not sure who she can trust. Even though she’s drawn to Faran, she can’t help but wonder if he isn’t somehow angling to rule in her stead. If she hopes to survive, Ana must rely on her wits and creativity to uncover the truth behind the fiction.