Monday, October 27, 2014

On Writing Reviews

As much as I read, you'd think I would have had a lot more experience with writing reviews BEFORE I became a published author. After all, has been around for a long time and has always published reviews from readers. So why wasn't it until I became an author that I started writing reviews?

First off, it's probably a holdover from my childhood: "If you can't say something nice...." And, unfortunately, over the course of my life, there are probably a lot more instances when it was better for me to keep quiet than to say what I thought of a particular book. Or at least, I thought it was better.

Secondly, there's a fine line between saying you like or don't like, love or hate, a particular book and writing a review. A review means you have to look beyond your personal likes or dislikes of a particular work. It's like looking at a painting of, say, Van Gogh's "Starry Night" and saying you love/hate it because it has a lot of blue in it. And blue is your most/least favorite color. You have to go deeper than that.

When offering or asked to review a book, you have to be honest with yourself about how objective you can be. If something as trivial as the fact that the protagonist's name is the same as your spouse's ex can make you hate the story, gracefully decline the request to review. You can't make this personal. Also, if you're just not a huge fan of sci fi/fantasy, political thrillers, westerns, romances, etc. then don't offer to review a book you normally wouldn't read. You have to be willing to really get into the story in order to make your review worth reading.

And then there's the hardest part of all... what if you really, REALLY didn't like the story or if the writer didn't do a very good job of writing the story? What if, after struggling through to the end, you can't find much good to say other than the writer is a good friend of yours or you've liked other work but this one just doesn't do it for you? 

This is where writing a review can be tricky, especially if you're having it published in a public forum, especially if it's a product review. A good review can be beneficial to a writer, but primarily it has to be beneficial to the potential reader. If you write a glowing review of a book that is badly written, thinly plotted, or outright boring, you're not only not doing any favors to the reader, you're not helping the writer, either (assuming, of course, that the writer is a professional  who WANTS to improve, but that's another topic for another blog post... one titled "Don't Be That Guy".) People don't like to be tricked out of their money and an undeserved glowing review may inspire someone to plunk down their money on a book they are not going to enjoy. And they're not going to like you, the reviewer, very much, either.

A good review should be more than just a simple, "This book was amazing and everyone should read it!" cheer. Why did you think it was amazing? Did it make you cry, laugh out loud, really think, keep you up all night? Why should everyone (define "everyone") read it? Because it makes sense of suffering, it lifts the spirit, it draws a picture in a way that has never before been seen? There's no need to give an outline of the entire book including the climax and denouement (please, don't!), but tell us what the story is about, who the main characters are, and what you liked best about the story (the dialogue, the humor, the descriptions, etc.)

And lest you think a good review has to be four or five stars and unrelievedly praise the book, think again. A good review can also point out flaws and problems with the book... but it doesn't have to be mean-spirited and cruel. You don't have to like the book to write a good review (at least from the reader's point-of-view) but it's not necessary to totally trash the book or the author. And a good author will take a good hard look at a "bad" review and learn something from it (it might even be that the reviewer doesn't know what he or she is talking about, in which case it's best to just laugh and go on about the business of writing another book.)

In the last few months I've gotten pretty good at writing reviews and I've been asked to write reviews for fellow authors (even got to write my first back cover blurb, booyah!) I look at it like this: I've been given a great responsibility, not just to the author, but to the reader as well. And as a reader, long before I became a writer, I appreciate the honesty of a reviewer who takes the time to tell me what it is about a book that I will love. Or not.

Plus, I get to read a lot of books and not feel guilty if dinner is late. After all, it IS work!

Oh, the trials and tribulations of reviewing books....

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A New Novel by Oak Tree Press Author, Janet L. Greger!

Today on The Back Deck Blog, fellow OTP author, Janet (J.L.) Greger joins us to talk about herself and her newest novel, "Malignancy", the latest in her Sara Almquist series. Pull up a chair, grab a cup of coffee or tea, and let's see what Janet's up to these days!

Tell us about your self and your latest book.
I love to travel to slightly exotic places. In 2013, I went to Cuba. My tour guide was determined for our group to see Cuba as more than a place to see vintage U.S. cars. I figured many of her comments were carefully rehearsed propaganda. However, one of her claims caught my attention. She said Cuban researchers had patented a drug for cancer.

When I got home, I investigated her claim. Researchers at the Center of Molecular Immunology in Havana patented a therapeutic cancer vaccine to treat a rare type of lung cancer. That got me thinking. The result is MALIGNANCY.

Realistically the U.S. government might send (in the near future) scientists to Cuba to explore the possibility of creating government-sponsored exchanges between the two countries. (Several non-government-sponsored scientific exchanges already exist. Scientific exchanges were one of the early steps in the normalization of our relationship with China in the 1970s.) I thought Sara Almquist, the epidemiologist and heroine of my previous medical thrillers Coming Flu and Ignore the Pain would be the perfect protagonist to do a little “scientific diplomacy” in Cuba.

Here’s a blurb on MALIGNANCY. Men disguised as police officers shoot at Sara Almquist twice in one day. The real police suspect Jim Mazzone, a drug czar who Sara has tangled with several times, will order more hits on Sara. Thus when colleagues in the State Department invite Sara to arrange scientific exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba, she jumps at the chance to get out of town and to see the mysterious Xave Zack, who rescued her in Bolivia again. Maybe, she should question their motives.

This thriller has lots of action, descriptions of modern scenes in Cuba, bits of science, and something no other thriller has – a middle-aged woman heroine.

Malignancy is available at Amazon and Oak Tree Press:

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
About the time I was granted tenure as a professor in the biological sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I realized there were some “truths” I wanted to tell that could never be published in a scientific journal.

What steps did you take to learn the art of novel writing?
I read all types of novels voraciously.

Who are your favorite authors and how did they influence you?
John Grisham because he treats the legal system with respect but shows some of its darker secrets, sort of like I wanted to do about universities. J.K. Rowling because of her fantastic imagination.

What do you do when you’re not writing?
I like to travel. The scenes in Bolivia (Ignore the Pain) and in Cuba (Malignancy) are as I saw them, but I “revved up” the action. For example: while I wandered across the roof of St. Francis Church in La Paz, Bolivia, Sara is chased across the roof by drug dealers.

I love to spend time with my Japanese Chin, Bug. We do pet therapy together at hospitals in Albuquerque. The Bug in my novels is closely based on the real Bug. He’s even cuter than the picture suggests. 

You can learn about me at my website:, at JL Greger’s Bugs:,

What are you working on next?
I’m finishing an anthology of short stories tentatively titled, “Other People’s Mothers.” Every story has a seed of real experience in it. Many of the stories show the humorous side family life. Several of these tales are about child abuse, generally not physical but psychological. Americans like to think child abuse didn’t occur in “nice homes” in small towns during the last half of the twentieth century, but then we don’t all agree on what constitutes normal parenting techniques.

Thanks for joining us, Janet, and congratulations on the new book. Catch you in Tucson in the spring for the Festival of Books!

Monday, October 20, 2014

November is Coming....

... and that means different things to different people.

If you're a fairly normal person (choose your definition of "normal"), the thought of November approaching means things like winter is getting closer, Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner, and it's time to start baking and cooking like there is no tomorrow. Depending on the kind of person you are, these thoughts can elicit feelings of joy, anticipation, and excitement... or dread, despair, and desperation.

If you're a writer (the antonym of "normal") then the thought of November approaching means one thing.

NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month.

And it can elicit the same feelings... just maybe not in the same order.

NaNo can be a very effective "kick in the butt" for those of us who have trouble getting started and keeping going. Nothing like a deadline to inspire creativity, or, if it weren't for the last minute, nothing would get done.

For the last two years, I haven't "won" at NaNo (before I go further, let me explain NaNo to those who are unfamiliar with it--November is a month designated to writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days) and, by winning, I mean completing the requisite 50k words by midnight on November 30. The last two years, I was fortunate to be able to break the 20k mark on my writing. However, because it doesn't cost a thing and a huge cash prize isn't at stake, I'm not the least bit devastated by my "losses".

The reason is because despite my "failure" to reach 50k words in 30 days, I DID get several thousand words on paper (or screen)... words that formed a story or part of a story that hadn't existed prior to November 1. Both times that I "failed" to finish NaNo, I was able to jump start the next book in my Black Horse Campground series. And that is my goal for this November of 2014: the first draft of book four in the series.

Will I make 50,000 words? Maybe, maybe not. Eventually, I know I'll get far more when the final draft of Book Four goes to my publisher.

I just need a little "kick" start!

Monday, October 13, 2014

On Being A Professional Writer (or, How To Be A Writer Without Alienating Everyone You Meet)

Writing is one of those professions that sometimes, like Rodney Dangerfield, get no respect.

And sometimes it's the writer's fault.

I have participated in many an online forum for writers and attended numerous book events, sometimes as the author, but most of the time as a member of the audience (let me add to that: mainly as an author, trying to learn about writing and being a professional writer.) And in the process, I've been privileged (?) to witness a few things that became indelibly etched in my mind as key steps to being a professional.

First off, and this is most often seen in anonymous online groups, it's never a good idea to bash the work of other writers, whether they are published or not, whether YOU are published or not. The writing community should boost its members and offer constructive advice on improving the craft. No one appreciates a "know-it-all" who sets him or herself up as an expert on the craft of writing (especially if their own writing doesn't reflect it.)

Secondly, be open to constructive advice (or criticism) about your own work. To be so enamored of your own work that you can't possibly see any room for improvement is a sure-fire way to set yourself up for failure. No one is perfect. Everyone can improve. And yes, criticism or a negative review of your work can hurt. Becoming defensive and lashing out at the reviewer or critique partner and questioning their reasons without taking a good hard look at WHY they had a problem with your work is not going to help you in the long run. Here, the key is to start with people you know personally who can be honest with you and have your best interests at heart. If they tell you that your work needs *ahem* work, then do yourself a favor and listen to them before you unleash your work on the less understanding, more critical public. Many people don't feel the need to be nice in a public forum, especially online.

Third, when you're attending a book event where an author is discussing their work and trying to sell their work, do not be the writer who takes advantage of a captive audience to promote your own book. That author may have traveled a long distance to get to the venue and only has a set amount of time. That author is there to talk about HIS or HER own book, not anyone else's... especially yours. And trying to steal their limelight means they won't have anything nice to say about you to anyone else (especially their publisher!)

In conjunction with that, it's also bad form to approach the author after the event and tout your book in hopes of gaining some promotional boost from a "big league" author. Some authors might not mind, but many barely have the time to write and promote their own books. And not everyone is willing or has the time to mentor an aspiring author. They worked hard to get to where they are; you shouldn't expect anyone to make it any easier for you. And don't ask them to "put in a good word for you" with their publisher. They are not going to jeopardize their career to push an author they 1) do not know, and 2) whose work they have not read.

Lastly, and this is hard for a lot of fledgling writers to accept, there ARE other things to talk about besides writing (and by "writing", I mean your own writing.) If someone asks what you do for a living or what you like to do, by all means, take the opportunity to speak of your work (especially if you're published and trying to sell it!) but DON'T kill all future conversation and possible friendship by talking exclusively about yourself and your work. You'll make a far more lasting and favorable impression on people if you talk about other things and show you're a well-rounded person, not someone who obsesses about themselves and their writing. And if someone mentions that they, too, are a writer, offer them encouragement and wish them well.

Always remember where you came from, think about where you're going, and consider who you would like to have with you when you get there. It can be lonely at the top... and at the bottom, if you're not careful about how you climb that ladder.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Back Deck Blog Presents Catholic Writers Guild Member Leslie Lynch and Her New Book, "Christmas Hope"!

Today, I have a special guest joining us on The Back Deck Blog! Award winning author Leslie Lynch gives voice to characters who struggle to find healing for their brokenness—and discover unconventional solutions to life’s unexpected twists.

Leslie lives near Louisville, Kentucky, with her husband and her adult children’s cats.  While not engaged in wrestling the beautiful and prolific greenery of their yard into submission, she flies as a volunteer for the Civil Air Patrol, loves the exuberant creativity and color of quilting and pottery…and, of course, writes.

You can find her at, on Facebook at LeslieLynchWrites, and on Twitter @Leslie_Lynch_

Path to publication:

In the late nineties, I flew radio personalities around Louisville, Kentucky, for traffic reports. I loved the flying, but sometimes the work could tend toward mind-numbingly boring. On those flights, besides challenging myself to fly with extreme precision, my imagination began to wander. I would often be one of the few people on the airport property at oh-dark-thirty while getting the plane ready for departure. Put those two elements together, and voila! Lannis Parker, heroine of my first book, Hijacked, was born.


I spent years writing that story, in part because I had to teach myself how to use a computer, and also because I didn’t know how to write a book. (Never mind the stolen moments in trying to get a sentence or paragraph written.) Then I discovered Romance Writers of America®. The organization was and is a treasure trove of information, and better, is teeming with generous authors willing to help other authors. I found my local chapter, Louisville Romance Writers, and began the hard part of the journey.

I took countless online courses, attended conferences and workshops, entered contests, and slowly learned the craft of writing. After innumerable revisions, Hijacked was a finalist in RWA®’s most prestigious contest for unpublished manuscripts in 2013. However, that honor did not translate into an offer of representation by an agent or contract by an editor. The publishing industry was (and still is) going through major upheaval. While no one rejected my work as weak, no one was willing, in this climate, to take a chance on it.

The hidden benefit to this long and tortuous journey was this: I discovered my voice. Heavily influenced by secular fiction initially, I had included words with which I was uncomfortable and a sex scene that was so patently wrong for the characters and the context that I cringed as I wrote it. I deleted those elements and tried to fit Hijacked into the Inspirational romance subgenre. However, many Inspy readers didn’t like the still-gritty tone. I’ve finally found a place that works for me, with an organic inclusion of God/God-related issues along with very human characters who face difficult situations. I began to understand that traditional publishers would require changes that I was no longer willing to accommodate.

Several friends had independently published their books, and I began looking at their journeys. It became clear that becoming an indie author might be the right fit for me. I published Hijacked in June, Unholy Bonds in July, and Opal’s Jubilee in August. This has been an entire new and extreme learning curve—but it’s an exciting one. It’s a tremendous amount of work, but I like having control over many aspects of publishing that traditionally published authors do not.

Currently, I have a Christmas novella that will be released in October as both a stand-alone and as part of a bundle with nine other authors. I’m excited and honored to be part of this project!

Sam Bledsoe prefers his reclusive existence. A one-man landscape business keeps a roof over his head and food on the table—and keeps his badly scarred face away from curious eyes. But when a woman faints on her way from neighbor Maggie Ross’s house, he doesn’t hesitate. He rushes to help while grappling with memories of the incident that burned him so badly.
Free spirit Becca Sweet is pregnant—and down on her luck. The father of her unborn baby showed his true colors when he showed her the door. The apartment she has lined up isn’t available until the first of the year, and with Christmas and a storm on the way, living in her car is no longer an option. Becca appeals to her no-nonsense sister for help, but Maggie, unaware of Becca’s pregnancy, chooses that moment to dish out some tough love.
When Sam comes to Becca’s rescue, their battered hearts collide. In a moment of holiday magic, they discover that Christmas hope applies to all—even to them. And will hope lead to love, the most precious Christmas gift of all?

My advice for other authors? Learn your craft. If you don’t have that part down, none of the rest will matter. Find critique partners (I know, one could write an entire book on how to accomplish the task embodied in those three words!) and learn how to take constructive critique without getting defensive. Then repeat those steps and be persistent.

One last piece of advice: Publishing, while it may not seem like it, is a small world. Be nice, and always present your best, professional self, whether in person or online.  

Thanks for joining us and letting us get to know you and your work, Leslie! Here's hoping you find many more readers and they find you and your work as well!

Monday, October 6, 2014

A New Novel by OTP Author John M. Wills!

Today on The Back Deck Blog, fellow Oak Tree Press author, John M. Wills, is joining us to talk about his new book, "Healer", which was released a few weeks ago. I've already read it and highly recommend it! So let's get to know a little more about John and his latest work!


Tell us a little about yourself and your latest book.

I’m retired from the FBI. Before that I spent 2 years in the military and 12 years as a Chicago cop. I’ve been married to the love of my life, Christine, for 44 years. We’ve been blessed with three children and 4 grandchildren.

My new release is called, HEALER. It’s the story of 16-year-old Billy Anderson who faces more than his share of adversity. Heckled in school because of a birth defect, and suffering the loss of both parents, he nevertheless maintains his strong faith and faces each day with remarkable courage. Billy’s life takes a dramatic turn one day when while attending church, an elderly woman dies in his arms. Before she takes her last breath, she tells him, “Receive the gift of healing.” This remarkable gift changes not only Billy’s life, but everyone around him.

(With my apologies, I can't seem to upload images to my blog today, so I'm going to post the link to "Healer")

      When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

It was after I retired from the FBI. I began writing articles on officer training and safety, but yearned to write fiction. While I continue to write non-fiction, I’ve published more than 150 articles to date, I enjoy writing novels, short stories, and poetry.

               What steps did you take to learn the art of novel writing?

I’m self taught, trial and error has been my writing instructor. Those who have followed my career tell me they see the progression. However, 33 years of writing police reports and affidavits certainly helped my writing development.

             Who are some of your favorite writers and how did they influence you?

I enjoy reading works by Richard Paul Evans and Dan Walsh. Their character development and smooth dialogue quickly caught my attention, as well as their wholesome stories.


              What do you do when you're not writing?


I read . . . a lot. I’m a book reviewer for the New York Journal of Books and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Reading books by different authors and genres other than my own makes for a better writer. I’m not sure other writers grasp that simple truth, but I’ve discovered it’s a marvelous way of improving one’s own craft.

                  What are you working on next?


I’m working on a novel about a troubled marriage. I think it’s a topic everyone can relate to, inasmuch as there are so many divorces and separations in our lives.

 Thanks for joining us today, John, and I hope everyone gets a chance to read "Healer"! Thanks for giving me this opportunity to promote your work!