I know the basic formula for a book review. Stay focused on the book, say what was great or not so good, briefly review characters and plot, don’t give away the whole story, and so on.
But River People by Margaret Lucas sent me spinning off in multiple directions, so I’ll throw away the formula and write this blog about it.
First, a traditional summary. The year is 1898 and in the lingering shadow of the US Civil War, people are moving west and scratching out lives, many suffering unimaginable hardships. Most of the narrative is focused on two young women/girls and the unspeakable humiliation and abuse they incur. Bridgett, age 11, is an orphan adopted by a cruel minister looking for a servant. The minister has taken a wife, 17 year-old Effie, whose function is Biblical, to bear sons.
More about how this ends later, but first, here is one way my head spun. I have often enjoyed certain kinds of “what if” conversations with friends and family. What if you could have lived at some other time and place? Male friends often choose one of the glorious empires, Greece, Rome, or the native Americans before the Europeans came. One guy is convinced that it’s all been downhill since the hunter-gatherers, and would have loved to help build Stonehenge.
Women almost never weigh-in on the topic. I’ve become aware that they know history better than I do, at least about what it was like for most women in previous times.
Back to Effie and Bridget. Together they survive with the help of an unlikely and reluctant hero who expresses the soul of the book when he says “time will come when you will have to make a choice about what you will build: coffins or arks.”
I know that quote lacks context. It’s worth reading the book to find out how it fits. And put the time and place of Effie and Bridgett’s life on the no side of the “what if” question.
Going further, my head spun with the stunning writing by the author in describing the natural world where the human stories take place. The river and the life around it achieve character status in the detail, mystery, and beauty in the way that world is painted.
Finally, I lived the first 12 years of my life in a house without modern comforts. When Lucas describes some of the day-to-day tasks of living without indoor plumbing, heating with wood fires, and cooking on a four-hole woodstove, it spun me back. Unlike Effie and Bridgett, I never went to bed hungry, thanks to capable parents.
Surprise, this blog piece will double back to a “buy my book” message, but let’s first talk about winning and losing.
Consequences of winning or losing vary depending on the game. A soldier in an army standing against soldiers in other armies face the ultimate consequence. A friendly game of pool before dinner among friends is the other end.
I’ve never faced the soldier’s consequence but my early years were filled with sports winning and losing. I played on a high school basketball team who won a state championship with a 29-0 record. The feeling you get from that kind of triumph stays with you.
In college I would have probably carried home an even more impressive trophy if that clever opponent had not jumped in front of me on a fast break and fouled me out of the game. I know what it’s like to miss the final shot that would have won a game. Losing people is immeasurably worse.
My book, Billion Dollar Bracket, is about various forms of winning and losing. In part, it’s about a contest to win a billion dollars by picking all the winners in the annual NCAA men’s basketball tournament. But it’s about a lot more.
Many lives collide in this story. If someone picks the winners of all the games, the contest sponsors most likely go to jail for fraud. Some of the characters of this book are looking for riches, but others are looking for shelter, for redemption, a second chance in life.
Back to buying my book. Retired now from all work other than trying to be an author, what is winning now? Book sales? Critical acclaim from smart people? Right now, it feels like a privilege to just be in the game…put me in coach, I’m ready to play.
I’m writing an Amazon customer review of a book I like, marking it as “five stars” and offering comments that I think might entice others to buy it and read it.
Suddenly, I am distracted. I become aware of the strangeness of what I am doing. I am using an electronic device to send information out into the world where thousands if not millions of people might read it.
A specific question intrudes: who invented writing? And how have we come to this place that I am writing about writing?
Consensus is that writing began in the Sumerian middle eastern civilization over five thousand years ago. This ‘cuneiform” first writing was a practical, economic tool, a series of pictures and symbols used to keep up with livestock and grain. Eventually, writing was used to tell stories.
Of course, before writing there was the oral tradition, the storyteller, one of the world’s oldest professions. The storyteller was the keeper of the culture, keeping alive the ancient stories of heroes, values, great floods, and wars. Think the Homeric poems of the Iliad and the Odyssey.
The oldest written story is the Sumerian cuneiform Epic of Gilgamesh, a story of flawed kings, friendship, sex, dangerous quests, and the search for meaning and immortality.
Alphabets, manuscripts, and all manner of stories then grew for thousands of years but nothing developed that could be called “literary criticism” until Aristotle wrote Poetics in the 4th century BCE. It took another two thousand years or so before reading and writing was no longer confined to the religions and the wealthy. With the “Enlightenment” and the printing press, new forms of expression spread, and a new form of human life evolved, the “critic.”
From there we now have the “new criticism” and “literary theory” but I’m getting too deep in the weeds now. All I want to do is tell you that a book I just read is a “good read” and you should buy it.
Out of my reverie now, I become aware that I am using writing for the same reason the Sumerians invented it, for commerce.
Much has been written about how to manage the limits placed on our lives due to the pandemic. Physical fitness, workplace issues, and the stress of isolation from family and friends are three topics at the top of the list. But what happens with the creativity of writers and artists during such a time?
The story of Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, deserves reflection here. At age 18, she and poet Percy Bysshe Shelley visited Lord Byron at his home near Lake Geneva, Switzerland. The year was 1816 and the region was trapped in a “mini-ice age” due to atmospheric changes from the eruption of the volcano of Mount Tambora.
To pass the time during their confinement, Lord Byron proposed they each write an original story. The details of how this legendary story grew from the mind of young Mary Shelley are fascinating but beyond this writing. Rumors of what other activities Lord Byron suggested for passing the time will also not be repeated here.
The story Frankenstein was not the only remarkable act of creativity by the group during that “volcanic winter.” Lord Byron wrote a fragment of a story about vampires that others evolved to the modern version of the “romantic” vampire. (Polidori, The Vampyre: 1819.)
Back to the present. I must admit I have been “slowed” from the lack of bumping around in the world to see people and things. I spend a lot of time just sitting and thinking, and way too much time watching politics on television.
But I have hope. I’m becoming more skillful in using technology to connect to people. I’m reading more. And in the middle of all this, an idea for a new book has bubbled up to the conscious region of my brain. Too early to talk about, but like doctor Frankenstein’s creation, “It’s alive! It’s alive!”
First the personal things for which I am thankful: decent health, a loving wife, a lovely daughter and granddaughter, a talented son-in-law, three remarkable sisters, impressive in-laws and loyal friends.
But this is my author newsletter, so let’s focus on what I am thankful for in that world. I am truly indebted to the people at BQB Publishing for bringing my book to print and teaching me far more than I even imagined about marketing my book.
Thank you, Terri Leidich and Julie Bromley, for your overall leadership from the world of BQB Publishing. Thank you, Caleb Guard, for the attention to detail in the editing, and thank you John Daly for the social media sharing.
IndieBound Paperback: https://bit.ly/3bGrzYH
Amazon US eBook: https://amzn.to/2ztZtlj
Amazon US Paperback: https://amzn.to/3eUJz3B
Amazon UK eBook: https://amzn.to/2Y5gEUH
Amazon UK Paperback: https://amzn.to/2KB4fQw
iBooks US eBook: https://apple.co/3l1wNmK
iBooks UK eBook - https://apple.co/32hd1w1
Barnes and Noble eBook: https://bit.ly/3bECB0L
Barnes and Noble Paperback: https://bit.ly/3aFRkHr
Rakuten Kobo US eBook: https://bit.ly/350MmVW
Rakuten Kobo UK eBook: https://bit.ly/2TVraKN
158 Books: https://bit.ly/2YhWO8X
The Audiobook is available now!
Genuine thanks also to Suzanne and Dave Lucy, owners of page158books, for hosting me for my book launch last Saturday. The event is on YouTube at:
I’m happily retired from gainful employment other than being an author. I’d love to build an online community of readers and writers who routinely share ideas, reviews, and so on.
Stay safe and well.
Your book may sit on a shelf in a book store or be presented to the world in print or electronic media. You may be face to face with potential readers who require some convincing to buy it. Either way, you have from seconds to a few short minutes to make an impression.
What if your book is about more than just “one thing?” The book cover can suggest only so much. The back-cover copy, and comments of praise just inside, says more, but this assumes the potential customer spends the time for a thoughtful examination.
Even the infamous and so-called “elevator pitch,” the brief, face to face, three-minute opportunity to convince the skeptical, still relies on that first sentence to convince the listener that you have something to say.
I’ve made it difficult for myself by writing a book that is a complex mix of people and stories. The cover screams basketball and sports betting, and it is about that. But it’s more. It’s a deep dive into the lives of diverse characters who struggle with the consequences—and the meaning—of winning and losing.
Make it even more complicated by featuring complex women as some of the lead characters. Can a man actually write convincingly about women? (I did grow up with three sisters who all still speak to me. And I’ve had three wives, the last of whom appears to be keeping me.)
Finally, the book has no sex or romance, and virtually no violence. How can that work?
I am undeterred. Connect virtually with me tomorrow, December 12th at 3PM. Here’s the link https://www.crowdcast.io/e/billion-dollar-bracket/register
It’s time to step up the marketing of my book, Billion Dollar Bracket, out December 1st. I’ve slowly become aware that my marketing efforts—when added to the offerings of a gazillion other books and authors—must seem like a firehose of choices going out to potential readers.
It wasn’t always this way. When I was a child, I went to the school library find a good book. During school it was not so bad, but in summer the school doors were locked. The county library was the better part of a day trip to travel there, although the Bookmobile did come around.
By high school, when I realized I was an “English major” heart and soul, I had the dream of reading every good book available in the world. There was even a collection called “The Great Books,” the accepted canon of what should be read.
I’m not sure when the number of books I felt compelled to read started feeling like drinking from a firehose of great works. The flow comes from family and friends saying “you just got to read this book!” It comes from the multiple online and print recommendations for creative and exciting books that I actually signed up to get.
Even though I once owned a bookstore, I still feel a little overwhelmed and intimidated when I walk through one. And now I’m pushing my book into the flood that will engulf potential readers.
One place I feel at peace is in my book club. A small group of us collectively review options and make our choice. Some of the books we choose I would never have given a second look, on the shelf or in an e-ad. But every selection is rewarding in its own way, probably because it is shared. At the end of the firehose is an oasis of dry ground.
Still thirsty for a sip from the firehose? Click this link: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/billion-dollar-bracket/register
This blog is a review of an article about audiobooks, plus my own modest experience with the concepts presented.
The article, “So, You Want to Narrate Audiobooks,” was written by Kate Murphy and appeared in the Wall Street Journal on November 2nd, 2020. Murphy documents the growing popularity of audiobooks and describes what it takes in terms of talent and equipment to become a professional reader of books for this expanding audience.
Even before COVID, people were finding audiobooks a rewarding multitasking endeavor, coupled with working out, gardening, or other activity that allows split attention. In the last decade new titles have increased tenfold. Some believe more time at home bodes well for the industry.
And it is an industry. Audiobook narration is a “distinct art form that requires some natural ability but also determination, dedication, and practice.” It helps to be born with what Murphy calls a “radio voice.”
I understand about the voice. In addition to writing, I have dipped my toe into the world of “spoken-word art.” That’s a fancy phrase for “storytelling.” There is such a thing as a “storyteller’s voice.” It’s a little hard to define, but you know it when you hear it.
Murphy also says audiobook producers look for people with acting experience. I understand that, too. If you’ve even seen and heard a master storyteller “in the moment” with a captivating story, it’s clear that acting is part of the mix.
Then there is the financial investment. You can’t do this at the kitchen table with kids running around, phones ringing and dogs barking. You need a space, a “studio” actually and equipment beyond a smart phone. Murphy says you could spend the lion’s share of $10K for an optimal setup.
The article goes deeper and further than this short blog. You should be able to find it online. Murphy also nods to generous offerings of Facebook groups devoted to the topic.
When my daughter was born someone said “Enjoy her while you can. It won’t be long before the world takes her away from you.”
It happened slowly. First there were the doctors and their vaccines. Then came baby sitters, day care, preschool and eventually kindergarten and beyond. Those are good things, but not entirely comfortable ones. Not everybody sees her through your eyes and your heart.
Writing a book and giving it up to the world is a lot of the same. It begins with an idea that you nurture (mostly) alone. Somewhere along the way, if you are fortunate, you have other writers look at what you are doing and tactfully tell you that if you want a Pulitzer for this, it needs a little work.
Then if all goes well, you get a real editor to work on it. It’s not easy hearing “the opening is weak; it doesn’t grab the reader.” Or maybe “that whole section bogs the reader down, make it a scene with a lot of dialogue.” Back to the keyboard.
The real shocker comes if you decide to present your creation to the world in the form of an audio book. When I first heard the voices of my characters interpreted by someone else, all I could think was “Noooooo….that’s not what that person sounds like!”
I’m getting over myself. Even though these characters have lived in my brain for the better part of a decade, I can’t control everything. That’s a good thing.
Soon my book will be thrown out into the world. If it turns out as well as my daughter, it will be a best seller.
My son-in-law recently asked me what was the greatest change I had seen in my 73 years on the planet. I answered “the internet” but it’s not that simple. I should have referenced the larger global communication and media network, including the internet.
When I was a child, the family telephone was a “party line.” This means the line was shared by multiple users in the community. If you wanted to make a call you had to first make sure no one was using it. If you were stealthy enough you could listen in on others’ conversations.
One of the other contacts with the outside world came when the bookmobile drove up our rural dirt driveway bringing a panel truck load of books. The county library was the equivalent of a day trip away, roads and cars such as they were at the time. We got our first television when I was seven years old. I don’t remember when we got a camera.
Contrast that world with the one in which I am working with others to create the audio book version of my new novel, Billion Dollar Bracket. Ready to have your head spin a little?
Planning for the book began with email, text, and FaceTime conversations with my publisher’s representative who is located across an ocean in England. I needed to sign a consent, so I printed it out, signed it, took a picture of it with my smart phone, downloaded it to a computer file, then attached it to an email to her.
She then sent out a call for auditions, through a process I don’t quite understand, but since I requested an “American” accent, the call came back across the big pond. I understand there is a universe of applicants out there, maybe some are out of work actors. I now am listening to the auditions on an “application” called Dropbox on my smart phone. I will choose from what is expected to be fifty or so offerings.
What a world. I don’t understand it any more than I understood in 1954 how they broadcast Howdy Doody into our television, but I’m using these tools. It’s almost as much fun as secretly listening to people on the party line.
I read. I write. I learn. I’m in a writing group and I have four published books. I’m still pretty sure I’m not Steinbeck, but my heart and soul have found their way back to where they should be.