Sunday, March 1, 2015

Reviewing Books Is an Invaluable Service to Writers


Do you make a habit of reviewing the books you read? Accumulating reader reviews of books is a huge hurdle for authors and the truth of it is that without them, a book doesn’t stand a chance of getting much notice. If you want to be instrumental in the fate of a book and/or an author, writing reviews and posting them on is the best way to do it. Posting your reviews on Goodreads, Shelfari, Library Thing, Barnes & Noble, Google+, LinkedIn, and other sites that promote books is also important, but reviews on Amazon have the greatest clout with readers, as well as with other booksellers and advertisers. As a matter of fact, some book advertisers won’t touch a book unless it has a certain number of reviews to its credit on Amazon.   

"The Bookworm"
watercolor by Linda Lee Greene
Have you ever been so touched, or informed, or entertained by a book that you wish you could communicate your appreciation of it directly to the author? Your review posted on is the best way to do it. Writing is a solitary, and oftentimes, a lonely undertaking, and feedback from readers is a writer’s lifeblood. It keeps them motivated; it boosts their self-esteem; it may well save their lives! You might be surprised to know that some of the most prominent authors among us don’t leave their computers for weeks at a time, or you have to use a crowbar to pry their pencils and tablets from their hands—they don’t eat, or brush their teeth, or bathe, or sleep. They almost never see other human beings. But the good news is that most authors I know respond to the reviews their books receive, if to little else. It could be your pathway to a new author cyber-friend. And you can bet your bottom dollar that many authors need your cyber-friendship desperately—as long as they don’t have to meet you personally because that would entail bathing, and ….well, you get the drift! Ha! Ha! Just kidding!  
Are you a writer who wants to support your fellow writers? Only you understand the blood, sweat, and tears that go into writing a book, and one of the most effective ways of validating other authors is to post reviews of their books on Receiving endorsement from ones peers is akin to being awarded an Oscar of Literature. And it’s a good way of paying it forward.

A lot of readers would like to post reviews, but feel intimidated by the process. “I don’t know what to say, or how to say it. I’m not a writer,” is a response I hear sometimes. You’re in luck. Amazon has lifted its ban on reviews that are too short! You can write something as simple as “I loved it!” or “This is one of the best books I’ve ever read!” or “It will keep you entertained!” or “I couldn’t put it down!” If you didn’t like the book, explain the reasons in the review because that’s information the author needs to improve her/his writing skills. On the other hand, a wordy synopsis is valuable because many readers who are considering the purchase of a book will read its reviews beforehand, and summary-reviews of the story are helpful to them.  

Please support authors by posting reviews of their books, especially at Go to the site and type in the name of the book. When the correct page comes up, click onto the icon on the right identifying the reviews section. The reviews will come up and will show a dialog box asking if you would like to post a review. Click onto it, and follow the prompts. It’s easy; it’s fun; and it’s satisfying. And you will make a lonely writer very happy, and maybe even save her/him from premature dentures!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Who Is To Blame When a Child Goes Astray?


You’ve followed all the rules: you went to school; built a reliable middle-class profession; got married; bought a nice house; created a family; made a good home; participated in your community—you’ve volunteered; supported charities; given to friends and family members in need; voted at every election—you’ve been a good son, sibling, friend, husband, father—and then one evening after a hard day’s work, you’re home with your wife and children, eating dinner, the television providing background white noise. A news bulletin catches your attention. There has been another assassination: the Democratic nominee for President of the United States, the hope of the nation, the person who is going to turn things around, has been killed, shot by an assassin’s bullet—and you hear your son’s name; your college-student son; the child of your first marriage; the child you left behind, identified as the alleged shooter, branded as a terrorist—and in that flash of mere seconds, your safe, secure, textbook life swirls off of the planet—lost forever in the utter blackness of the unknown.

                 In the wake of unshakeable evidence of his son’s guilt, including a confession, the father applies the logic of a medical diagnostician, which he is by profession, to uncover possible extenuating circumstances, and in the retracing he tries to justify his own performance as a non-custodial parent to his first-born child. In the retracing, we witness a story known far too well by many of us—one, that despite our good intentions, we have, and will, fail our children. We get caught up in some current event: we divorce and lose daily contact with our children; we are offered the career opportunity of our lives across the country and we become holidays-and-summer-vacations-parents; we get sick; our spouse is unfaithful; one of our children dies; we lose our job. Or, even if we’ve done everything right, something within the nature of the child steers him/her onto the wrong course. We have, and will, fail our children. They have, and will, fail us.

                Author Noah Hawley, in his compelling novel The Good Father, has written a father’s agonizing search to prove his son’s innocence—to prove his own innocence, ultimately. But, in the end, this is an intelligent and emotional exploration of one man’s fantasy that he would be the lucky one, the wise one, who would save his child, and in turn, the child would save him. At the dark heart of the novel, this father’s coming to terms with his fallibility as a parent is a sobering lesson to all of us.

The brilliance of Hawley’s The Good Father is that it does not try to solve the enigma of why, in the face of inadequate nurture and/or nature, some children make it and some do not. It respects the integrity of the unexplainable and tells a thought-provoking story that illustrates the impossibility of answering the question: “Who is to blame when a child goes astray?” 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Readers and Writers Have Much to Learn from Author William Styron in His Sophie’s Choice

Finding the right title for a book is often the bane of an author’s existence. One highly successful present-day author is so book-title challenged that she runs contests among beta readers to come up with the best titles for her tomes. Author William Styron (1925 - 2006) didn’t have that problem, and of all of the great titles among his published works, the absolute spot-on one is Sophie’s Choice, published in 1979. Apart from the fact that it has found a home in the lexicon as an idiom translated as “faced with a forced decision in which all options have equally negative outcomes,” amazingly, those two little words hold within themselves the entire description of this 626-page novel. This is because contained in every major theme of this masterwork, Sophie is confronted with unbearable choices—she just can’t win, a consequence infecting everyone else around her—and of course, that is the seminal factor of the story. She is doomed, as is her paramour Nathan. An adjunct to the story is Stingo’s unlucky fate, as well—Stingo, the narrator of this story about three people in three separate rooms in a boarding house in post Second World War Brooklyn and the third leg of the ménage a trios around which the novel is constructed—Stingo, the young and naive writer whose life can only be construed as a portrayal of Willian Styron himself; Nathan, the drug-riddled, brilliant and charismatic lover; and Sophie, the beautiful and embattled Polish survivor of the Nazi terror, around whom the plot centers in regard to a tragic decision she was forced to make upon imprisonment at Auschwitz Concentration Camp during the war.
            Stingo’s Sophie’s Choice, to make use of the idiom here, was whether or not to woo Sophie, for whom he suffered an agonizing passion, or to honor his friendship with Nathan. A choice between his unbearable life or release through self-inflicted death was Nathan’s Sophie’s Choice. And Sophie’s options, or lack thereof, were fixed a handful of years before, specifically on the day she came face to face with the fascists' hideous ignominy toward life—her chances ruined by the blight it continued to cast on her life, as on countless others, for incalculable years following the war to defeat Hitler's evil regime.
Despite his unrequited desire to bed Sophie, and his failed attempts at love with every surrogate female who crossed his path, Stingo/Styron did walk away with a good story that found voice in the bestselling Sophie’s Choice, a winner of the US National Book Award for Fiction and the book widely considered his greatest literary achievement. Five years in the writing, the book was, says Styron, “suggested by a mere germ of experience. I had been living in a boardinghouse in Brooklyn one summer just after the war and such a girl lived on the floor above me; she was beautiful, but ravaged. I never got to know her very well, but I was moved by her plight. Then, about five years ago, I awoke one morning with a remembrance of this girl; a vivid dream haunted my mind. I suddenly sensed that I had been given a mandate to abandon the novel I had been at work on and write her story.”
Although deemed a modern masterpiece and a profound meditation on the foremost evil of the Twentieth Century, it is not without controversy, especially among those who consider some topics so heinous as to be unspeakable. A number of his detractors found Styron opportunistic and exploitive in this choice of topic, this one especially judged the third rail of letters. Styron answered his critics thusly: “No event could be so hideous that it would defy a novelist to trespass upon it. It was an episode in history that cried out to be explored, the ultimately challenging subject for a novelist.”
Bringing history to life in fiction can be tricky business. The central dilemmas of the authors of historical fiction are how to avoid coming across as pedantic, as well as how to bypass stiff and dry parroting of statistical information gleaned through research. The best advice I can offer in that regard is to study Styron’s techniques in this book. He couched his deep exploration of the history of the Nazi’s horrendous pursuit of a "Final Solution" in his characters—the actions of his characters revealed the history. He made an untouchable and unutterable story, real and describable by having his characters sweep the floors and vomit all over themselves and pee their pants.      
An additional literary device Styron used successfully, and an effective one often employed by writers, is the suggestion of background music to set a mood or design an ambience, and in this case, to announce Sophie’s presence or absence in her room. Nathan’s phonograph and enviable collection of long-playing classical records, housed in Sophie’s room, were crucial to the story. I last saw this method used in an outstanding book I read in recent months which I will review here in the coming weeks—a novel titled Those Who Save Us, authored by Jenna Blum, another book centered on Second World War Europe. 
I would venture a guess that far more people are familiar with the Academy Award-winning film of the same name than with the book. Although an outstanding film, one of the best, do yourself a favor and read Sophie’s Choice. Savor Styron’s intricate weaving of Stingo’s story, which the film downplayed, but which is the driving force of the book, lending it a full compliment of emotions and diversity of experiences that divert to lighter places, here and there, the heavy stream this novel follows. In addition, Styron’s elaborate prose is not to be missed…but keep your dictionary handy. Styron loved his polysyllabic words. Ha Ha!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Author and Artist Dianne Lynn Gardner on Her New Book Pouraka, a Magical Sea Cavern

Author and artist Dianne Lynn Gardner talks about her book Pouraka today on In Good Company. Check out the cover on this one. This is an example of her great work as a fine artist. This is one multi-talented individual.  


Linda asked me to tell you all what is ‘uppermost’ in my mind.


Well I can tell you my projects and I think you can guess that they are uppermost in my mind. Crazy me, I’ve been working on an Indie film from one of my books (YA fantasy), putting myself in the executive producer, producer and director’s chair. Add to that editing a novel to query (a vampire comedy) and the launch of two books, I’m not too sure I even have a mind left. And if I do it’s pretty much been split up in fragments.

What I would love to tell you about on Linda’s blog is my new novel Pouraka, which will be launched officially on Valentine’s Day, but we’re taking pre orders now.

Pouraka is a mermaid story that I tag as an Underwater Romance.

Why for heaven’s sake did I write a mermaid story, you ask? After having written a long series about dragons and portals and time travel fantasies, how did I end up penning a tale about two  mers in love?

I have a passion for the sea. I grew up on the coast. Beach combing was my favorite past time and I still remember walking the sandy shores on wet foggy days, listening to the constant rumble of the surf and lonely calls of the sea gulls. There aren’t many books that I’ve written that don’t have a touch of sea breeze and white caps in them.

I love myths and legends and parables that explain the reason why things happen. Like thunder comes from an angry God or girls like Pandora can open a box of troubles with their curiosity.

Pouraka is a fairy tale about make believe sea people who could have lived. Who knows? Perhaps they, like many other species are now extinct, and only their stories are left for us to hear.

I have written a prologue to Pouraka. It’s called Sasha and its up on Amazon as a separate book(let). It’s only six pages. But it sets the scene for Pouraka. I hope you enjoy both of the stories.

Synopsis to Pouraka (Pour ah kah)

Pouraka is a magical sea cavern tucked under the rocky cliffs near Barnacle Bay. Cora, a Pouraka mer, is torn between her friends in the seaside town, and her true love Tas, a foreign mer whose people fled when men invaded their waters.

Life becomes more difficult for all mers. An arrogant oil rigger's son, Tom, finds the bay and the rich aquatic life it harbors. When Tas attempts to rescue a pod of dolphins from Tom's gill net, he is captured to be sold to a theme park. Cora hears changes into human form and travels south to find him, risking her life to free him.
Time away from Pouraka leaves the cavern vulnerable, and a new threat arises when tourists discover its magic.
I painted the cover for Pouraka and the photograph for Sasha was from our trip to CA at Ano Nuevo where the elephant seals beach.


Monday, February 2, 2015

A Tribute to Writer & Explorer Peter Matthiessen (1927-2014)


Peter Matthiessen’s, The Snow Leopard, winner of the National Book Award: It is my favorite non-fiction book, maybe my favorite book among all genres. The book cover states: "Across the most awesome mountains on earth, Peter Matthiessen went in search of the rare snow leopard. His dangerous trip became a pilgrimage, a luminous journey of the heart.”

Below are two samplings of his extraordinary writing:

“Still I sit a little while, watching the light rise to the peaks. In the boulder at my back, there is a shudder, so slight that at another time it might have gone unnoticed. The tremor comes again; the earth is nudging me. And still I do not see.” The Snow Leopard, p 114

“The two ravens come to tritons on the gompa roof. Gorawk, gorawk, they croak, and this is the name given to them by the sherpas. Amidst the prayer flags and great horns of Tibetan argali, the gorawks greet first light with an odd musical first note—a-ho—that emerges as if by miracle from those ragged throats. Before sunrise every day, the great black birds are gone, like the last great tatters of the night.” The Snow Leopard, p 216

Considered one of the greatest writers of all time, compared to Melville, Conrad, and Dostoyevsky, his lyrical and harrowing explorations of both the world and the human heart, made him the only writer to win the National Book Award for both non-fiction (The Snow Leopard, 1978) and fiction (Shadow Country, 2008).

A literary lion died last year.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Superman, On and Off the Silver Screen


My initial reading of Still Me, the autobiography of competitive sportsman, A-list actor, Emmy-nominated director, producer and screenwriter, passionate activist, and author Christopher Reeve was immediately following its 1998 release, three years after he was thrown headfirst from his horse during the Memorial Day, 1995 horse jumping competition that left him unable to move or breathe—a time when I, along with almost everyone in the civilized world, was still reeling from the irony of the fact that “our” Superman would never walk, or do anything under his own power again, much less fly. I needed to read it again recently as research for the book I am writing that I hope to publish in the autumn of this year—a novel in which one of the main characters is paralyzed from his chest down by a bullet wound to his spine.

                I searched every nook and cranny for my pristine, hardback, first-edition copy of Reeve’s autobiography, and to my horror realized that in a harrying period of downsizing nineteen months ago, I donated it to a local public library, apparently. I remember weighing the pros and cons of holding on to it, and I was sure I decided in its favor—but…oh well. I have experienced this same gut-wrenching regret over the donation of other precious books that held places of honor in my formerly extensive library. Oh, the awful things life too often forces us to do! I ordered another copy of it, and my second reading of it reminded me of what a good and important book Still Me is. I will state at the outset, just to get it out of the way, that its only drawback that I can see is its title. As explained in the book, the title derives from Reeve’s wife Dana’s assurance to him following the accident that despite everything, he was still the same person, and she would be with him forevermore. Regardless, from the moment I first heard the title, it also suggested to me a double entendre on Reeve’s “stilled” condition. No matter the motivation behind it, it is an unfortunate title, in my opinion. However, it is the first and last mistake in this significant, well-written, non-fiction book.

                Reeve begins his life story with the following: “A few months after the accident I had an idea for a short film about a quadriplegic who lives in a dream. During the day, lying in his hospital bed, he can’t move, of course. But at night he dreams that he’s whole again, and is able to do anything and go everywhere. This is someone who had been a lifelong sailor, and who had always loved the water, and he had a beautiful gaff-rigged sloop. Not like my boat, the Sea Angel, which was modern and made of fiberglass. In the story the boat is a great old wooden beauty, whose varnish gleams in the moonlight…In his dream he sails down the path of a full moon, and there’s a gentle breeze, perfect conditions—the kind of romantic night sailing that anyone can imagine. But by seven in the morning, he’s back in his bed in the rehab hospital and everything is frozen again…” He goes on to relate the entire idea, and then says“…But the way out is through your relationships. The way out of that misery or obsession is to focus more on what your little boy needs or what your teenagers need or what other people around you need. It’s very hard to do, and often you have to force yourself. But that is the answer to the dilemma of being frozen—at least it’s the answer I found.”

                Throughout the book, just when the inner workings of the agonizing daily routine of his “frozen” existence as he describes it, is in danger of treading territory too heartbreaking for the reader to bear, Reeve turns to lighter fare. He embarks on a spellbinding, often funny, always moving, treatise of his life before his disability, including his bittersweet childhood as a product of divorced parents, his triumphs in sports, his first-rate college education, his advocacy for funding of the arts, his seemingly anointed pathway to acting, for many years on stage, both in classical and contemporary productions, and then in films, with his role as Superman skyrocketing him to stardom. The breadth and diversity of his acting career was a revelation to me, so attuned was I to him as Clark Kent in Superman, to the romantic lead Richard Collier in the cult film Somewhere in Time, and to the American Congressman Jack Lewis in the British film The Remains of the Day. He takes us into his ten-year relationship with the mother of his two older children Matthew and Alexandra, teenagers at the time of the release of the book. And then to Dana, and although his beloved, his commitment issues threatened to sabotage their love. His humanity came through most clearly with his admission of that weakness in himself, but true to the pattern of his life, he set out to rid himself of that flaw. He sought counseling, and it worked. He and Dana married and bore their son William. For the first time, he was happy in his personal life, for the first time as well, gave it precedence over his career and sporting life. The accident occurred only three years into their marriage.

                His disability ceaselessly tugged at him to be told, however, and with flawless timing and immaculate taste, he returned to the subject of paralysis as a result of spinal cord trauma, interspersing his personal trials and triumphs pertaining to it with a generalized discussion of spinal cord injury, its modes of treatment and its ramifications. An in-depth review of his new life is included—his return to his film career, and his use of his celebrity to become an ambassador for all victims of the disability—fund-raising for the American Paralysis Association, and other such entities, as well as a consistent program of lobbying Congress for funds devoted to research, for insurance reform, among other things. His speaking itinerary was so full that his previous life seemed almost static by comparison. In this way, he continued his financial support of his family. His crowning achievement was the foundation he and Dana formed—The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, Paralysis Research Center which is dedicated to raising funds for medical research of and—ultimately—a cure for spinal cord injury paralysis—Toll Free (800) 539-7309; International Callers (973) 467-8270 – Matthew and Alexandra serve on the board of directors of the foundation.  

The format of the book is spot-on. Reeve merged his past and present seamlessly. It is like a father and son gently lobbing a ball back and forth, or a duet between Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga—divergent in every possible way other than the matched quality of their voices and their mirrored urgency to tell their individual versions of the same story.

                   I wish I had known Christopher Reeve—I wish I had been his associate, his pal. His was a purposeful life—a life well-lived.         

Monday, January 12, 2015

Jillian Cantor's Novel--Artful Amendment of The Diary of Anne Frank

Author Jillian Cantor’s Margot, an ambitious “what-if’ story worthy of studying by writers and savoring by readers follows a trend among some contemporary writers of offering a new “take” on a time-honored history/story. Recently, I came upon an internet discussion by a writer who has authored a modern-day love story based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet—and my author friends K. R. Hughes and T. L. Burns, in their What She Knew, propose an entirely different version of the tragic death of actress Marilyn Monroe. These are only two examples among many others. The revised history in Margot is that of the esteemed true story The Diary of Anne Frank, the vivid impressions in the form of a diary, of Anne Frank, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl in Amsterdam, Holland, who with her mother, father, and sister Margot, as well as the family of their friend Peter Pelt, were forced into hiding on an upper floor of an office building for two years during the Second World War to evade capture by the Nazi Gestapo. Published in 2013, Cantor’s Margot posits that Anne Frank’s sister Margot Frank (the book’s protagonist) did not go to her death in the Nazi Concentration Camp Bergen-Belsen along with her fellow members of the household, all but her father, as reported, and instead, through a series of propitious circumstances, escaped to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America, which is the setting of the book.

                The story opens on Friday, April 3, 1959 on the heels of the release of the acclaimed motion picture of the famous diary, a feature film at a movie theater in the Center City, Philadelphia neighborhood where the protagonist lives. Working in a Jewish Law Firm as a legal secretary under an assumed identity of a Gentile named Margie Franklin, Margie/Margot lives a circumscribed life—a near recluse in a studio apartment “…containing only a blue couch, a wooden table with two chairs, a single bed, and the tiniest of kitchens,” a wall to wall area spanned by just ten of her compulsive paces, and shared with her only steady companion, an over-weight tabby named Katze, a tiny parcel of space in which she holes up every evening and weekend to partake of her only indulgence—a study of law books in her quest to become a paralegal, a mission set forth at the suggestion of her employer, attorney Joshua Rosenstein.  

Margie/Margot’s workmate and only friend Shelby does pry her loose from her furled way of life. Now and then, she acquiesces to accompany Shelby to a local establishment for a drink, “…even though I don’t drink alcohol…Last month Shelby dragged me to see Some Like It Hot…I thought the movie was fine, but I did not laugh at the places Shelby did, at Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon’s antics dressed as women. I still do not fully understand the American sense of humor. Hiding is hiding is hiding. What’s so funny about that?...Shelby wears a short-sleeved cotton blouse and full green skirt today, because it is April and the sun is warm enough to be without a sweater. But I still have my navy sweater on. I wear a sweater always, no matter what the temperature, so the dark ink on my forearm remains hidden, unseen.”

                This particular close-of-workday-Friday, Margie/Margot dodges Shelby’s appeal to accompany her to the movie theater to see the film version of The Diary of Anne Frank, an account “of another time, another place, one which I never wish to go back to in my mind.” She enters her apartment and visits for a while with her cat on the blue couch. “Friday nights, I always light a candle at sundown and say a silent prayer. Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam…Words repeat themselves in my brain, even though Margie Franklin, she is a Gentile. My Friday prayer, it is not a religion, it’s ritual.” She fingers her unopened copy of her sister’s diary. “No I haven’t read it. I don’t want to,” she says in her mind to an imaginary query on the part of Shelby. “I put the book back on the shelf, and I reach for the phone on my small kitchen counter. I turn the dial to o…’Operator,’ a woman’s voice says on the other end. I open my mouth to ask for him. Peter Pelt, I want to tell the operator. I need to talk to Peter Pelt.

                And so, the tale begins to be revealed. By way of the author’s clever plot devices—“hiding is hiding is hiding;”…the perpetual sweater to keep “hidden, unseen” the despised tattoo; the hemmed-in habitation; the stereotypical lonely-woman’s cat; all of it works so well toward this theme of concealment. The interplay of various psychological mechanisms—survivor’s guilt; sibling rivalry; self-imposed isolation and estrangement from her father ingrained through habit and fear; low self-worth due to wrecked goals and dreams and a detoured natural life-course; despondency; grief; loss—are handled subtly, but effectively, and on a rather high key. The author somehow avoids a maudlin approach, as the subject-matter would suggest, and builds a “what-if” conclusion much more palatable and humane than the “real” history. This is an interesting read, especially for lovers of historical fiction. It is also a quick and easy study for writers of the plot techniques stated above.