Sunday, October 23, 2016

An Author Comes Calling.

It's always a special occasion to have an author colleague stop by at the Country House for a chat and a drink.  

This time around, it's my pleasure to welcome Ceanmohrlass to my little cyberspace cottage on the lake.  She is a retired grandmother who has been writing novels for her family and friends for over 20 years. She is the family genealogist, and writing the family history has only increased the passion for writing. She resides in Texas, and is currently (and always) working on her next novel.  "Stephani's Light" is her newest literary offering. 

So, since we're all here to talk about books and writing, let's get right to some interesting conversation with Ceanmohrlass.

Has writing always been a part of your life? 
Absolutely, it has been a part of my life since I learned to write at 4 yrs old. Crude, but effective even back then.

What made you decide to publish on KDP?
I tried to submit Stephani’s Light to six different agents, and although I was surprised at the majority of the responses being very helpful and cordial, my book wasn’t what they were seeking at the time. I decided to continue the tradition of self-publishing instead of continuing to query agents.

Tell us about the inspirations for your books.
Most of the time, my inspiration is some very simple thing that just nags at me until I get a story outline created. I have scrapped thousands of stories well before a completed first draft, and have at least a dozen stories that are chomping at the bit to get their time in the spotlight.  Stephani’s Light was inspired by a late-night view of a lighthouse photo online, and a dream began that woke me in the wee hours of the morning.

How do you go about creating your characters?  Are they inspired by actual people?  Are they “composites“ assembled from many “bits and pieces” of personality?  Or are they purely products of your imagination?
The characters are a struggle for me still. Some of them are a conglomeration of me at a younger and far less intelligent age, who are fortunately written in a much better light. Others, well that is a trade secret. ;)

How do you deal with every author’s nemesis: writer’s block?
I will let you know when that happens. I hear it is a real downer. I have the opposite problem. The characters are beating down my door most of the time, taking control of my pencil, and shoving me out of the way!

Do you prefer first-drafting or editing existing work?  Why?
I vary. For something like NaNoWriMo, I just start that pencil scratching and don’t come up for air until my Frappe high subsides. I have to slap myself upside the head sometime after and yell, “What were you thinking here?”  Most of the time however I just write until I have gotten the scene from my head to paper, then the details start to call out to me to be fixed.  I have mild dyslexia (yeah, that’s fun for a writer) and I can read that paragraph 20 times and it still needs work after.

Is there a subject you would absolutely refuse to write about, even if doing so would assure you of fame and fortune on the scale of J.K. Rowling?
Yes. I will not write a scene that my grandchildren could not read if they are under 21. I just don’t have it in me to allow myself to do so. Money aside, I stick to my guns on this one, and the money isn’t worth being less in my grandbabies' eyes.

Are you a plotter or do you prefer to “wing it”?
I usually am a pantser, but lately, I have come to appreciate even a vague outline of sorts. (Wish the characters would respect those outlines, but sometimes...)

What do you like to do when you aren’t writing? 
Gardening (horrible at it) and art, but reading is my main vice as the days become shorter.  (Note from Ponderson: I can totally relate to the lack of a green thumb.  I can lay claim to having killed a plastic plant!  It wasn't easy; but I did it!)

So tell us all about “Stephani’s Light,” your newly-launched book.

This is a contemporary fiction, and I consider it my tribute novel. This is the only one I have made available in paperback. My parents, younger son and his wife, my step-daughter, and my husband, and all my family and friends that encourage me are in my heart and a part of this book. The story of Macy, is one many of us can relate to. Macy has been content to trudge through each day but when her dreams begin to take over, things must change. I tried to make it light enough to not be depressing and readers to say, “Been there...” yet serious enough to show that actions have consequences in life. It is a journey of her sudden strength to take control of her destiny, and the havoc her rash decisions cause. I still tear up at the ending, but it does have that element of that happy ending that I try to incorporate in every novel I write.

Any final thoughts?
I have often been accused of being too perky, totally off the wall, and eccentric to the max! I wholeheartedly agree with this. I figure that I will someday become THAT granny on the porch, flowered dress, pearls, support hose, and a beer, in a big rocker on my screened-in front porch, antagonizing the young-uns when they pester me. :) I’ve survived cancer twice, and I understand the old third time’s a charm scenario, so I live for each day. No reason to waste a moment in life, whether I have 1 second or a trillion minutes left, I plan to enjoy them all.

Here's where you can check out the books written by this multi-genre fiction author:

I would like to thank Ceanmohrlass for stopping by on this beautiful autumn afternoon to share some of her thoughts on writing with us.  You can easily follow her on social media by clicking on these links:

My thanks to one and all for stopping by today.  I wish everyone a productive day and an inspiring autumn season.  Get out there and enjoy it! 

P.S: Don't forget to pet your Thesaurus today.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Got Flaws?

Tell me about your weaknesses.

No, this isn’t a post about job interviews.  However, once—just once in my life—I would love to respond to this asinine question by saying “Well, my main weakness is my tendency to puke on any job interviewer obtuse enough to ask me that totally lame question.”  I would then proceed to vomit the semi-digested remains of an enormous meal all over his/her desk.

I guess job interviewing isn’t one of my strengths; you might even consider it a weakness worthy of being mentioned during job interviews!

But we all do have imperfections, don’t we?  In my experience, perfect people are essentially uninteresting and not much fun to be around.  They lack depth, personality, warmth, magnetism, and charisma.  They are neither well-rounded nor sympathetic.  I’ve encountered a number of perfect individuals in my life—at least they loudly proclaimed themselves as such—and I’ve found them to be … frankly … boring.

This can apply to literary characters as well.  Consider the characters (particularly the protagonist) in the novel or short story you’re currently writing.  Do they have flaws?  Do they have imperfections?  Do they have personality elements that are downright unlikable?  Do they have relatability?

To be grandiose about it, do they have humanity?

If not, your writing may not be reaching out and connecting with your readers as effectively as possible.

As I sometimes reflect upon Dana, my protagonist in Child of Privilege, I wonder if I should’ve given her more of an edge, more of a nasty side, and a few more general flaws in her character.  Perhaps I should’ve given her more of a fiery temper or more of a potty mouth.

To this day, occasional plot questions still nag at me: after the incident with Wanda, what if our runaway debutante had resorted to prostitution in order to buy another bus ticket?  What if she had become a cocktail waitress at Red’s?  What if she had spent the night with some trucker at the honky-tonk and rode off with him?  What if she had cleaned out Greg’s cottage while he was at work and skipped town? 

During those final violent scenes in the bedroom at the Van Werner Mansion, what if Dana had actually carried out her wishes?

If you're unfamiliar with what I’m referring to, Child of Privilege is available at many fine online retailers.  To get in the know (and your very own copy), just follow THIS LINK.

(The preceding has been a Shameless Plug.  We now return you to our regularly-scheduled blog post.)

All characters—especially protagonists—need flaws.  Why?  Because perfect is boring; perfect is not much fun to read; perfect doesn’t keep the pages turning late at night; perfect leaves a writer little room for character development.  Perfect just sits there … being perfect.


Skillfully executed, flaws can become powerful devices for plot advancement, serving as triggers for totally unexpected twists and turns in the story.  But more importantly, they imbue your players with depth, texture, and connectability.  The most endearing characters reach out and touch the reader through their humanity, their fears, and their vulnerability.  They project the quality of humanness—like a bright spotlight--onto the theater stage of the reader’s mind.  The result: connection … and an engaged reader who keeps reading nonstop until The End.

So, don't overlook the potential value of imperfections when thumbnailing your characters.  You just might end up with some endearing personalities that your readers will love.  Allow them to stumble, fall, screw up, go to the bathroom at inconvenient moments, chew with their mouths open, leave the toilet seat in the wrong position, pick their noses, step in dog poop, scratch themselves in indiscreet places, and perhaps even fall asleep after sex.

Most of all, when some interviewer asks them what their weaknesses are, allow them to puke on the interviewers’ desks.

It'll serve ‘em right.

Imperfect is the new perfection.

P.S. Don’t forget to pet your Thesaurus today.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Authors and Reviewers: Was It Good For You?

Imagine pulling up to your local drive-thru window and shouting at that screeching menu board:

"I want a 5-star review, please.  Hold the constructive criticism.  I want an extra helping of praise for the characters, a side order of flattery for the author, throw in lots of compliments on the plot, and a large order of applause for the writing style.  And top it off with a glowing recommendation.”

Imagine having to wait in THAT line!

With the near-closure of the trad publishing industry to all but "elite" authors--celebrities, household names, and established authors with astronomical sales records--today's independent reviewers find themselves in roles far beyond what they had envisioned when they first started blogging.

In addition to simply reviewing books, many have transitioned into publicists quite capable of focusing thousands of interested eyes onto an author's latest novel.  They've become polished practitioners of social media, adept at strategically positioning those priceless Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, Amazon, and Google Plus spotlights upon authors literally starving for attention.

A well-engineered promotional splash by a prominent blogger with hundreds--or even thousands of followers--can serve as a marketing catalyst that can benefit that book and its author long after the initial review has been archived.  Many bloggers open their forums to raffles, guest posts, giveaways, novel excerpts, and spotlight features as well.  A good number delight in interviewing authors struggling to get the word out about themselves and their writing.  Personally, I've been offered a number of interviews with bloggers who had either declined a review or were logistically unable to provide one at the time; needless to say, I enthusiastically accepted.  In retrospect, I can truthfully say that I thoroughly enjoyed every one of my interview experiences and hope to do many more in the future.  

The vast majority of reviewers perform this eye-straining labor out of a love of reading, a devotion to literature, and the satisfaction of turning the world on to a deserving book that might've otherwise gone unnoticed and unread.  But I'd be willing to bet that the occasional THANK YOU from a grateful author does brighten their day.  They sacrifice their leisure hours and family time to read strangers' books and write reviews; not a good way to make a million dollars, but a great way to make a difference in the lives of the people who follow them.

But there are the inevitable times in this delicate relationship when pressures, egos, frustrations, agendas, and personalities will clash.

In an attempt to bolster a sagging Amazon ranking, a frustrated author contacts a reviewer and "demands" a quick 5-star review.  The reviewer declines.  Some caustic comments or emails are exchanged.  At this point in the proceedings, some reviewers will choose to simply ignore the intruder, add another name to their S**t Lists, and move on.

Longtime reviewers, having spent years earning their stripes and carefully cultivating their reputations and followings, may not be quite so tolerant in the face of an overly-aggressive author's disrespect.  You might call it the This Is MY House Effect.  Their blogs are indeed their cyber-homes, and somebody entering their homes and bullying them is unacceptable.  The reviewer is now doing a slow burn.  If the insistent author continues to denigrate the reviewer's standards, character, or methods of conducting business, the wrong button gets pushed.  And some reviewers--if pushed far enough--have no qualms about pushing back.  

At this point, Author Person, I have bad news and worse news for you. 

The bad news? 

Surprise!  Reviewers talk to each other.  The book blogosphere is a huge, interconnected world with countless partnerships, alliances, relationships, connections, groups, associations, and networks.  Information--and word of "troublesome" authors--traverses this matrix at the speed of email.

The worse news?  Once the word is out on you, good luck in finding another reviewer willing to even consider looking at your book. 

I've found that in working with reviewers, the late Frank Sinatra said it best: Nice and Easy Does It ... Every Time.

Welcome to the human condition, dear reader: reviewers--and authors as well--are people, too.

But when the mutual respect thing is happening, the vast majority of reviewers are helpful, generous souls who become treasured allies and partners by virtue of their love of reading, their enjoyment of an absorbing story, and their desire to help authors succeed.

Enough said. 

Now, what about us authors?

I can speak from personal experience here.  (Climbing up onto my soapbox.)

We slave away--sometimes for years--to produce what we hope the book-buying public will judge to be a compelling and satisfying read.  Like our literary comrades--the reviewers--we also sacrifice leisure and family hours in an attempt to entertain the world with our stories.  Our books--whether on electronic devices or printed pages--aren't mere collections of related sentences, paragraphs, and chapters; they are the author's blood, sweat, and tears honed by countless hours of writing and tedious editing.  Each chapter is packed not only with plots, storylines, and characters, but also with the author's emotions and feelings, many of which were exhumed from deep within his/her psyche and laid bare for all the world to see.  We've invested heavily in our novels in the hope that book-buyers will invest in them--and us--as well.  For many of us, our books are our children--and we wish everybody would love our children as much as we do.

However, in our zeal to nurture and protect our children, we sometimes mistakenly perceive potential benefactors as potential villains just waiting for a chance to harm our literary offspring.

As Shakespeare wrote, "Therein lies the rub."

Positive reviews are golden to indie authors.  There's no denying that the current publishing landscape does nothing to discourage this.  They are precious currency; they are credibility; they are acceptance; they are validation; they are approval; they are a literary “high five.” 

Our publishing environment dictates that we need them, but our egos likewise dictate that we crave them like children crave hugs.

But, like some parents at a kids' sporting event, we sometimes allow our pride and protective instincts to override courtesy and good judgment.

When you visit a fast-food restaurant, you have the right to specify exactly what you want: "I want a hamburger, no mayo, small fries, diet soda, and an oatmeal cookie.”

(Whether or not you'll actually receive them--in edible condition--is a story for another post.)

But if you're accepted for a review (no small feat these days; congratulations!), you're rolling the dice on that reviewer's opinion--for better or for worse.  If it's better, you become a happy author; if it isn't, you can always become a philosopher ... or a reviewer.  Simply stated, you pays your money and you takes your chances.  (I added this for literary effect only--don't even think about offering ANYTHING, not even chocolate!)

A reviewer's integrity is akin to a membership card in the blogosphere, something of a badge of honor.  Quality reviewers won't ask you to compromise your integrity as a writer; don't ask them to compromise theirs with a stilted review.

I actually used my imagination (for a change) and formulated my very own Top Ten List of Rules for Authors and Reviewers Playing Nice:

  1. Reviewers would welcome self-published books and review them fairly and objectively.
  2. Authors would routinely submit literate and appropriate queries, and observe genre and submission guidelines.
  3. No author would ever attempt to dictate terms and conditions or issue demands.
  4. Authors and reviewers wouldn't hesitate to cut each other some slack.
  5. Reviewers would follow through--within the agreed-upon timeframe--with fair and honest reviews based solely on literary and entertainment value.
  6. Author-bashing and reviewer-bashing wouldn't happen.
  7. Authors would accept reviews at face value, celebrating them when possible and learning from them when necessary.  Mutual Thank You’s would be commonplace.
  8. Reviewers would post their reviews to—at minimum—Goodreads, one of the major online retailers, and their own blogs (if applicable).  Additional postings would be icing on the cake and considered a favor.
  9. Authors and reviewers would routinely show respect and understanding for each other's time investment, talents, and feelings.
  10. A reviewer could feel free to DNF a book without fear of backlash or retaliation.  The proviso to this rule would include some sort of notification to the author.  This would provide the author with closure to the transaction rather than being left in the dark with no review, no communication, and no explanation--only deafening silence and a bill for the free review copy.  The author’s responsibility under this rule is simple: forget about that particular reviewer and move on to the next one.  MY standard response to this scenario is a polite (and VERY civil) note expressing disappointment that my book didn’t resonate with them, thanking them for their time, and moving on. 

If these ideals ever came to fruition, then perhaps we would all have a reasonable chance for success in this crazy and ever-changing publishing business.

I know I’d be much happier!

Now that I think about it, that 5-star review with a side order of flattery for the author--topped off with a glowing recommendation--sounds pretty good right about now.  A little plastic toy thrown in as well would be perfect.

I’ll take mine to go, please.

P.S: Don't forget to pet your Thesaurus today.

Monday, June 20, 2016

My Review Request Hall of Shame

There are right ways AND wrong ways to submit a review request to a blogger/reviewer.

It's always a good idea to take at least a few minutes to familiarize yourself with them, their blogs, their preferences, and their ways of conducting business before hitting the "send" button on that critical request for a review.  Remember: they are doing you a favor--sacrificing time with their families and friends and their own leisure-time pursuits--by reviewing your novel.   

Here are some examples of how NOT to do it (definitely intended as tongue-in-cheek, although I'd be willing to bet that there are bloggers out there who have received requests all too similar to these).

Observing no particular sequence, we’ll start with this intellectual gem:

The “Could You Get Just A Little Personal?” request:

To whom it may concern:

I like your blog.  Do you do reviews?  I didn’t read your submission requirements because, frankly, I’m much too busy.  My novel is attached to this email.  Read it and review it.

The “Lucky Me” request:

Hello reviewer,

This novel will set the publishing world on fire.  It has mega-best-seller written all over it.  When word of this masterpiece gets out, Rowling, Grisham, Patterson, et al will be hiding under their kitchen tables.  This story is colossal; it’s stupendous; it’s stellar; it’s magnificent; it’s spellbinding; it sets a new standard in storytelling excellence that nobody will ever match … not now … not ever.  It is clearly the best frickin’ work to be released in mankind’s literary history.

And I’m giving YOU a crack at it.  I want you to prove to me that you deserve the honor of reviewing it.  Let me know real quick because there are hundreds of quality bloggers just dying to get their hands on it.

 The “How Awesome Is It?” request:

Hi Reviewer,

You'll really want to review this book because it is so damn awesome.  The characters are really awesome, the plot is really awesome, and the climax is really awesome (aren’t they all, LOL?  A little sex humor there).  This first novel is the best one I’ve written yet (it is definitely awesome), and I’m giving you the chance to get in on the ground floor.  How awesome is that?  Just go out to Amazon, buy yourself a copy, and post your review. 

The “Do I Look Like A Stepping Stone?” request:

Dear Blogger,

I’ll make this short and sweet.  I need a fast review (I’m talking next week at the latest), and I need it to be a 5-star.  Not only is my Amazon rating dropping like a rock, but I need one more 5-star review to impress Kirkus and get a real review from them.  So, hop to it … chop chop.  And remember: give me a 5 and keep me alive.


The “All The Good Ones Are Taken” Request:


Would you please review my book?  I’ve tried all the quality reviewers and they all turned me down.  So, I thought I’d give YOU a chance.   You can buy it at Amazon.

The “Well, Pardon My Genre” request:

Hi blogger,

I noticed you only review sweet romances (see, I did read your requirements), but I’m sending you my horror/chick lit/dystopian/spy thriller novel anyway because I just know you’d want to review it.  You don’t have to thank me; on the other hand, the best way to thank me would be with a 5-star review.  By the way, you really should expand your genre requirements.  You strike me as a very narrow-minded person.

The “I’ll Tell You What To Do With Your File” request:

4th (and last) notice, blogger:

I already sent you three review requests, but you never answered me.  Do you want to review my novel or not?  I’ll give you one last chance.  Go out to Amazon, check out the blurb and the opening chapters, and tell me what to do with the file.

The “Stick THIS in your Google Search Box” request:

I have a novel you’ll just love reviewing.  It’s on Amazon.  Just Google around a little bit to find out about me and the book.  Hurry; I really need some reviews from wherever I can get them.

The “I Ain’t Got No Kindle” request:


I noticed on your Review Policy Page that you don’t accept Kindle eBooks.  What the hell is wrong with you?  Get with the program!  If you had a Kindle reader, I would send you the latest novel in my “Mix Paper With Sand And You’ll Get Sandpaper” series.  It is entertainment at its finest; but you can’t read it because you don’t have a Kindle.  Are you a serious blogger or aren’t you?

The “Format THIS” request:

Hey Blogger:

I’ve attached my novel (in some crazy-ass digital format; I don’t understand all that technical crap) to this email.  Read it and post a great review on Amazon.  And don’t take all year to do it, please?

I hope this lighthearted stroll through my Review Request Hall of Shame has been enlightening and entertaining.  I know I had fun (and a few laughs) while writing it.  But do take heed of the underlying wisdom about review requests. 

If you’re good to bloggers, many of them will be good to you as well.

And don't forget to take a few minutes to pet your Thesaurus today.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Books About Writing Books For People Who Write Books.

Our chat at the Country House this time around will be quite a bit shorter than usual.  This is because I've finally finished the last b***-busting assignment (and the final exam) for my online college class and I really want to get the first draft of novel #2 moving again.

I've been spending quite a bit of time at my local libraries these days (mostly because of their free, high-speed wi-fi networks--gotta keep Windows and the new smartphone updated too, ya know), doing research and checking out their creative writing sections.

I've stumbled upon a trio of books that my colleague authors may find useful in sharpening their skills.

How To Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey
I stumbled upon this book completely by accident while searching for something else at the local Half-Price Books store (  From the blurb: "This is a hard-hitting, no-nonsense approach to the craft of storytelling.  For writers who need to understand the basics of the traditional dramatic novel, who want to learn how to put together a novel that will grab a reader and not let go, this book will be invaluable."

Frey delves into the mechanics of characters, conflict, premise, storytelling, climaxes, POV, dialogue, and editing.  I must admit that I learned a lot from this little book and I plan on re-reading it frequently as I am prone to do with books I enjoy.

Writing Popular Fiction by Dean R. Koontz
Koontz's book was one of my community college library finds.  His emphasis centered more on the individual fictional genres and the intricacies involved in the writing of each.  He also devotes some time to the practicalities of discipline, the creative process, and marketing.  It should be noted, however, that this book was written in 1973; some of the material is noticeably outdated.  But his bottom-line nuts and bolts of sound writing still make for some worthwhile reading for any author whether trad, indie, newbie, or established.

While I don't completely agree with some of his viewpoints, I can't dispute Koontz's track record: the man has a list of best-sellers longer than my arm.  He and literary success are close friends.  When authors of his stature are willing to speak, I'm willing to listen.

Grammar Girl Presents the Ultimate Writing Guide for Students by Mignon Fogarty
This has quickly become one of my personal favorite writing reference books.  Let's face it: grammar can be one very dry subject, especially if it wasn't one of your strengths in school.  Fortunately for me, I've always had something of an "ear" for what sounded right and what didn't.  But I'll admit it: this cheery little book taught me a lot.  Using animal cartoon characters, Ms. Fogarty has rendered distressing aspects like tenses, plurals and singulars, phrases, punctuation, the dreaded preposition, and a host of other terrors into light-hearted, easy-to-understand guidelines that actually make sense once you understand them.  Even if I'm not researching some specific grammatical point, I find myself reading this book for the pure entertainment of it.

I'm the first to admit that the Grammar Girl books are not the ultimate reference materials for all things literary; volumes such as the Chicago Manual of Style--which I also found at a nice price at HPB--are better suited for grinding, heavy-duty research.  But for a quick lookup--and a few moments of humor--this book fills the bill very nicely.

I would suggest Googling these books if you're interested in picking up a copy.  Prices and availability are all over the map depending on the vendor, condition, and whether you buy new or used.  Many libraries stock them as well.

Overall, they're good reading about good writing.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this post are solely my personal opinions based on my own experience and enjoyment of these books.  I received no compensation of any kind for this recommendation.  I have no affiliation or connection with the authors, literary agents, publishers, or retailers.  I either purchased these books with my own funds from a retail outlet or borrowed them from a library.  

So there.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Farewell, 2G Cell Phone Dude.

“...You’ve been identified as the user of an older 2G cell phone.…”

Well, excuuuuuse me.

I’d signed onto my cellular carrier’s website to buy a data package; no big deal, I’d done it countless times since buying my older 2G cell phone many years ago.  But this is the first time I’ve been busted AND IDENTIFIED for the heinous offense of using an older 2G cell phone.

Is there a special place in obsolete electronics hell for guys like me?

The old - Samsung A-177

For those much more knowledgeable than I on the warp-speed subject of cell phones—and that’s just about everyone on the planet—I’ve used a Samsung A-177 basic messaging/cell phone for about ten years.  The old boy has served me well and honorably, never breaking, malfunctioning, or failing me at a critical moment.  This little workhorse wasn’t fancy or loaded with gadgets and doodads; nor was it high-tech, fast, or glitzy.  It made and received calls and texts (although I don’t text), took low-res but passable pictures, and performed some rudimentary web browsing.  My carrier’s prepaid usage plan worked for me as well; it fit my needs and budget without undue strain.  All in all, it was a satisfying working relationship. 

So, something naturally had to come along and screw it up; something called 4G LTE.

I kept asking myself what I did to deserve this expensive disruption to my life.  Was I being punished because I didn’t buy enough cookies from that perky, bright-eyed Girl Scout in the supermarket last weekend?  I was touched by the disappointment on her face when I bought only two boxes of Thin Mints from her.  For the record, I LOVE LOVE LOVE Thin Mints.  But two boxes were all I could afford at that moment … honest.

Was it the telemarketer who woke me from a sound sleep to inform me that my computer was infected with a disk-eating virus?  He kindly offered to rescue me and my computer from a fate worse than the blue screen of death if I would give him my credit card number, allow him to remotely access my trusty old machine, and deliver it from the scourge that was threatening its electronic innards.

Such a nice fellow, huh?

I suggested he perform a perverted act with a small barnyard animal and hung up on him.

Is that what doomed my older 2G cell phone?

Or was it because I’m one of those folks who won’t take an item from the front of the supermarket shelf?  As I’ve gotten older (and my digestive tract more persnickety), I’ve come to be acutely aware of food expiration dates.  Knowledgeable shoppers know the supermarket practice of placing the older merchandise at the front of the shelf in hopes of selling it to unaware shoppers.  The newer stock is usually lined up behind, and that’s where I go without hesitation.  I’ll unabashedly grope my way to the rear of the shelf and select my purchases from there.

If there’s ever an angry store manager, a shoppercam, a mousetrap, or a hungry animal hiding back there, I’m in big trouble. 


Is that what doomed my older 2G cell phone?

Whatever the cause, I resigned myself to the inevitability of my trusty older 2G cell phone’s passing.  My reluctant rite of passage into the Smartphone era had begun: fate had decreed that I would adopt an Android because there was no way I could afford anything whose name started with an “i.”

The next step in my odyssey brought me to the phone store where I was instantly overwhelmed by phones, accessories, plans, contracts, data packages, and a salesman named Eddie.  Lining the walls were phones of every description, color, brand, size, snob appeal, price, and capability.  There were phones capable of brewing coffee, brushing your teeth (necessary after drinking all that coffee), walking your dog, telling you your name and your location (like you need a phone for that?), lying to your spouse, filing your taxes, washing your car, soothing you to sleep with a lullaby (with commercials discreetly inserted), curing a hangover, teaching you a foreign language, measuring your body odor (smell-o-phone?), detecting any attempts by government agencies (foreign or domestic) to read your thoughts (saves money on those aluminum foil hats), or beaming you up to the nearest transporter-equipped spaceship (transport to Federation starships is free; extra charges apply for Ferengi, Klingon, or Romulan vessels).    

Although I was intrigued by the prospect of discarding my foil hats (especially my football helmet model … it made my head feel like a baked potato), I thoroughly spoiled Eddie’s day by selecting the Motorola Moto E, a euphemistically-termed “budget phone” which shouldn’t be obsolete for at least 2 days.  But he avenged my frugality by selling me a bagful of accessories I truly didn’t need.  (does a Smartphone really need its very own little rubber ducky to keep it clean?)

We’ll see.  Thanks, Eddie.  You’re definitely NOT on my Christmas card list … not now … not ever.

The new - Motorola Moto E

When I got home with my new phone, I quickly discovered that the Moto E—with its 4G LTE thingy--was a completely different animal from my old phone. 

Holy learning curve, Batman!

That point was driven home when I started mindlessly experimenting with the damned thing and burned through $50 worth of data in about 10 minutes.

Warning, older 2G cell phone user, warning!  You need a different data plan now!

Evolution is expensive, isn’t it?  The dinosaurs learned that lesson too late; and they weren’t even forced to deal with cell phones.

I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever make the transition from an older 2G cell phone user to a happening, with-it, and unbearably cool Smartphone dude.  I started plowing through the User’s Guide—all 68 pages of it.


There were actions described in there that would’ve gotten me slapped if I’d tried them with a woman on a first, second, third, fourth, or even fifth date!: flicking, touching, holding, touching AND holding, tapping, double-tapping, twisting (ouch!), dragging (presumably intended for cavemen), pinching, rotating (I guess anything goes these days), squeezing, swiping, muting (for noisy partners?), vibrating (in which pocket do YOU carry YOUR phone?), and streaming (GROSS!).

What was this?  A Smartphone User’s Guide or a sex manual?  This phone and I had just met, and the book was already telling me to do all these things to it?  For cryin’ out loud: we barely knew each other.

Finally, the User’s Guide directed me to the Play Store.  The Play Store?  Uh-oh.  Danger, Will Robinson, danger!  What the hell was The Play Store?  At first glance, it sounded like Victoria’s Secret without the frills, lace, and see-through fabrics.  You know, to-hell-with-the-preliminaries-and-let’s-get-on-with-the-main-event.  I pictured it as one of those windowless little outskirts-of-town shops in which all the customers wore sunglasses (even at night) and were named John. 

An uncle of one of my grade-school classmates owned a store like that.  One day, Jimmy brought something from his uncle’s shop to school for show-and-tell.  As I recall, the boys immediately recognized it and thought it was the greatest thing since spitballs.  The girls—in unison--rolled their eyes, stalked out of the room, and made a run for the Principal’s office.  The nun simply sat there and blushed profusely.

Oh, the humanity!

Jimmy was immediately transferred to a nearby public school.  It wouldn’t surprise me if he were now a multimillionaire Internet marketing entrepreneur.  He had a knack for capturing attention.

Do you hide merchandise from The Play Store waaaaaaay back in your underwear drawer?  You know, along with that stash of brown-paper-wrapped items discreetly tucked beneath your vintage copies of Playboy?  Yeah, THAT stuff.  You may not have a clue what those gadgets are or how to use them ... but experimenting with them and considering the possibilities is a fun diversion on a rainy day.

Armed with my new data plan, my vibrating manual, er, User’s Guide, and diligently practicing to develop digital dexterity in my worm-fingers, I have resignedly taken the first tentative baby-steps toward becoming a happening, with-it, and unbearably cool Smartphone dude.  I’m slowly getting comfortable with my very own Android Smartphone—even respectfully flicking it--and should be an expert in a couple of hours.


The American poet Ogden Nash once wrote: “Ring out the old, ring in the new, but don’t get caught in between.”  It is with a sense of nostalgia that—during my spells of tapping, pinching, squeezing, et al—I remember my ol’ buddy and the many hours we shared together.  Through low and excellent signal strength, we communicated at 2G speeds without so much as a swipe or a double-tap.  But time and tide now dictate that I must mute the old and rotate the new, for technology waits for neither man nor older 2G cell phone.

So shall it be.


Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Writer Unwrapped.

We spend countless hours creating characters, situations, crises, and resolutions.  We anguish over storylines, plots, dialogue, subplots, personalities, twists and turns, and suspense arcs.  Ideas and inspirations pop into our minds at the damnedest times, and we hurriedly scribble them down in hopes of nurturing them into new and quirky characters, fast-paced and engaging chapters, and literary detours leading to even more suspense and drama.

The next day, many of these inspirational gems sadly end up being slam-dunked into the recycle bin or relegated to a “Bits and Pieces” folder to repose peacefully in Limbo.  If we're lucky, a handful of them will actually make it into the Word document where they'll fight to endure a seemingly endless succession of editing passes.  The survivors will be allowed to reside proudly on the pages of the final manuscript.

If the truth be revealed, every work of fiction includes a bonus--a piece of the author's psyche--as we truly do put ourselves out there along with our words. 

Our deepest fears, our most terrifying nightmares, and those memories we'd dearly love to erase from our minds beget our plots and storylines.  Those formless, unseen things that go bump in the night, the monsters that lurk under our mental beds, and those childhood bogeymen that we never quite managed to outgrow evolve into our characters.  Our most secretive feelings and imaginings become the dialogue and thoughts of our characters as though we've silently appointed them as proxies to think and speak on our behalf.

We spend hours simply staring into space--by all outward appearances--or at computer monitors until our vision blurs (as does our consciousness) and we simply must back away in order to recharge our creative batteries.

Every line of dialogue becomes a point of obsession; every sentence is scrutinized for structure and readability; every paragraph is read and re-read in search of anything irrelevant or, worse yet, boring.  The intrinsic worth of every chapter is evaluated and re-evaluated until we can recite them from memory.

At our worst, many of us--myself very much included--actually grow to despise our own creations because we harshly question their worth, their appeal, and their sales potential.  Somewhere along the line, we stop looking at them as products of our creativity; we begin critiquing them as commercial commodities.

Every author's fear is that his/her work will join the endless parade of other best-seller-wannabes penned by an endless parade of other authors, only to be lost in that mind-numbing procession of book promos found on every social media platform.

At some point, self-doubt, despair, and frustration combine to effectively choke that creative flow we all value so highly.  Hopelessness fills our minds with fears that NOBODY wants to buy our books, NOBODY wants to review them, and--frankly, my dear--NOBODY gives a damn about them ... or us. 

For many of us, what follows is a self-defeating round of what-ifs powered by sheer despair: What if I'm wasting my time and energy?  What if only a select few of us will ever achieve a modicum of success as writers?  What if the vast majority of us simply don't have what it takes?

Then there’s the most gut-wrenching specter of all: What if it NEVER happens for me?

With heartfelt promises to ourselves to finally let go of our pie-in-the-sky dreams and rampant idealism, we store our Word files away somewhere and make at least a token effort to move on with our lives.

Then, next week, next month, or next year, a brilliant idea comes a-calling when we least expect it.  A few random notes are scribbled on a notepad, a napkin, a scrap of paper, or on the back of a receipt.  More ideas come barreling down that dormant pipeline.  A plot begins to assume an intriguing shape; characters emerge from the shadows and demand to be brought to life.  We sit back down at our computers and begin tentatively toying with a handful of newly-hatched concepts.

And the process starts all over again.

Why do we do it?  Because--like it or not--we can't quit.

I've been writing for audiences of varying sizes and shapes since my grammar school days.  Even at that early age, I knew that something inside me delighted in entertaining people through my words.  The term “entertaining” can run the emotional gamut from infuriation to delight, from revulsion to empathy, from sadness to soul-searching, from tension to laughter, and from disbelief to contemplation.  Whatever the reaction, it’s okay as long as the reader feels something after reading my words.

“Please, dear God, don't ever allow my writing to become boring.”

How many times, author colleagues, have YOU recited that prayer?

I'm energized by shining a bright light on the best AND worst of human nature and behavior.  I often state during interviews that I enjoy chronicling ordinary people meeting extraordinary challenges with extraordinary courage, strength, and determination.  There are billions of everyday heroes fighting personal wars in every corner of American life's vast panorama.  It matters little if you're surrounded by the best of everything as was Dana in Child of Privilege, or if simply scratching by every week is a life-draining crusade.  It is my duty--and my pleasure--to weave fictional stories drawn from those silent struggles, sculpt them into novels, and relate them to anyone who will buy a book of mine and read it.  Entertaining, enlightening, revealing, educating, and sharing are, to me, among the noblest of goals in this life.  If my words can move just one reader to think about my characters or stories after the final page has been read, then I've done a good day's writing and I'm happy.

But what about that old bugaboo: reality ... the bane of every indie author?

If the odds against my success are so staggering, why do I continue pursuing this unlikely dream?  Why don't I simply quit and move forward to the next chapter (pardon the pun) of my life?

Believe me, I've asked myself those questions a million times already.

Is it because I long to be another J. K. Rowling or Stephen King?

That's part of it.

Sure, it would be my fondest wish fulfilled to be considered an elite writer by reviewers, book-buyers, and author colleagues alike.  Book tours, signings, interviews, return visits to those bloggers who were kind enough to help me during the lean years, and interacting with fans would be one hell of a great way to live, IMHO.

Fate, any time you wish to tap me on my shoulder, I'm ready.

As many times as I've walked away from writing--or tried to--something invariably pulls me back: some indefinable urge to post just one more short story or ridiculous commentary to my blog; some nagging little voice that keeps chiding me in no uncertain terms that I'm not finished yet; or some gently-glowing ember of a hope that I just might be on the verge of placing my work before the right pair of eyes.

That's what keeps me going ... that and the novels I've yet to write ... the characters I've yet to bring to life ... and the stories I've yet to tell.

Then there's that one unavoidable truth: whether I like it or not, I need to write.  It's in my blood (along with considerable quantities of alcohol, chocolate, and caffeine).

In the true spirit of Rocky Balboa, I'll gamely shake off the latest knockout punch and stagger back to my feet.  I'll keep telling myself that the right pair of eyes is out there somewhere just looking for my writings.  I'll keep telling myself that there are still thousands of reviewers out there to impress and millions of readers to find and win over.  I'll keep telling myself that it ain't time to quit yet. 

Most of all, I'll keep telling myself that tomorrow may find Opportunity knocking on my door.

Rest assured, I'll be here.  I'll welcome him in, heat up a pot of tea, and we'll become close friends.

Then things will get really interesting.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Page-Hungry Bookworm In The Country House

Since my last interview post was received so well, I decided to invite another literary colleague to the Country House for a chat.

My guest for a cup of tea today is Saradia Chatterjee (better known as Sara): blogger, poet, author, reviewer, and student of literature.  She is the owner of the Page-Hungry Bookworm blog and an ardent activist for human and animal rights. 

Sara, welcome to my Country House and thanks for stopping by for a chat.

Thank you so much for the opportunity!

Let’s start out with a question about your blog.  How did the Page-Hungry Bookworm come into being?

I must confess I didn’t start blogging solely due to the fact that I’m an avid reader who wants to share her thoughts on books. I was a clueless Indie writer trying to explore different websites that offered promotional services. That is when I was referred to several review blogs. I realized there are many authors in a similar situation and wanted to do my bit to help them. I also wanted to read the works of contemporary authors who don’t appear in popular media because of their decision to self-publish. I’m very glad I chose to be a book blogger. It’s been a wonderful experience so far.

One of your major passions is social issues, particularly animal rights.  I’ve seen the videos on your YouTube channel, and they are difficult to watch.  How did you come to be so deeply involved in this issue?

I have always been an animal lover but I wasn’t an active participant in any welfare project or something of that kind. My initial interest was wildlife conservation and protection of animals in the wild. While doing some research in that field, I had the chance to interact with some animal activists. I was shocked to learn about the numerous cases of animal cruelty around the world and thought that I should join others in spreading awareness. Many people don’t have much idea about the unthinkable plight of thousands of animals. I believe it is necessary to speak up about this issue as it is often ignored by those in power.

You mentioned that you prefer writing romantic stories rather than reading them.  Why is that?

I haven’t been able to explain that to myself either. Frankly, I used to read very few romances before I started my blog. But I wrote a romance novel and a couple of short stories which have romantic elements in them. I don’t enjoy reading romances because most of them are rather farcical. As I have mentioned in my blog, maybe I just didn’t happen to read that one romance novel that can change my viewpoint about the genre. As to why I like writing romances, I have only one theory. The first story I ever wrote was a romance and I suppose that is why I have some kind of attachment to it.

Please give us some examples of your “other-worldly" philosophy.

My other worldly philosophy consists of ideas such as poetic justice which are far removed from the reality of this planet. But I believe that faith in goodness and justice is absolutely necessary in the struggle for peace.

You’re writing a collection of short stories in which all the protagonists are animals.  Where did the inspiration come from?  How is the writing progressing?

The inspiration obviously came from my love for animals. I wanted to write about animal heroes and so I thought of this book. The writing isn’t really progressing well because I’ve been very busy. I really hope I can make time for this soon.

You have two works currently for sale on Amazon: “Beyond Tragedies” and “In The End.”  Tell us something about them.

Beyond Tragedies is the first book I published. It is general fiction bordering on romance. The main theme of this book is restoring faith in the power of hope.

In the End is a psychological short story. It’s just a few pages long and has a surprise ending. This story was inspired by a real life incident I learned about in a news article. The focus here is on a woman who is battling disease and depression and what happens after she chooses to give up on life.

When you’re comfortably curled up on your sofa and reading for fun, which authors are you most likely to read?

It changes from time to time. Right now, I mostly read Indie books. But if I’m reading for fun, I like to read non-fiction. A lot of people will find this odd but since I’m a student of literature I’m always dealing with fiction, and in this case, non-fiction books are like a breath of fresh air.

As a prolific reviewer on Goodreads, how do you handle the grind of reading an endless parade of books without losing your sanity?

I have grown so accustomed to reading that not reading will drive me to the edge of sanity. But yes, too much of it can become a chore. I don’t overburden myself with more books than I think I’m capable of reading. I read till the experience remains a pleasure. The moment I realize it is becoming a grind, I quit reading for a while. I do accept 90% of review requests if they are for genres I prefer. But that doesn’t mean I rush things. I take my time so that I can properly assess the books. Since you mentioned Goodreads, I would like to confess that I don’t admire it a great deal. This is a little unrelated to your question but I thought I might as well talk about it. Goodreads has too many rules and complications which I found very problematic both as a writer and a reviewer. It’s largely dominated by moderators which is not the case with other social media. I’m aware that many authors love Goodreads but I personally didn’t like my experience there. Now I visit Goodreads just to post my reviews.

Some closing thoughts of your choosing?

I look forward to reading plenty more Indie books and interacting with talented authors. Thanks to all the authors and readers who have made my blog possible! Thanks again, Ross, for this interview and good luck for your future projects!

Sara, it was a pleasure to chat with you.  Thanks so much for stopping by, and I wish you great success in all of your endeavors.

Some places where Sara can be found in cyberspace:

Works available on Amazon: