Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Christmas Chronicles, by Jeff Guinn

For the Holidays, I read The Autobiography of Santa Clause in The Christmas Chronicles by Jeff Guinn. The Chronicles are a collection of three books that also contain How Mrs. Claus Saved Christmas and The Great Santa Search. Guinn writes three humorous 1st person narratives of the history of Christmas.

Guinn did excellent research in writing the stories, and provides a historical perspective on Christmas from about 30 A.D. to the present. He introduces us to famous and influential figures along the way. I found the early sections of Santa’s autobiography especially interesting when he tells us about Christmas and Christianity during the Roman Empire.

I also liked the way Guinn intertwined famous characters, writers and other Christmas stories into his tale. We get to meet King Arthur, Attila the Hun, Ben Franklin, Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Santa Claus helps Charles Dickens write A Christmas Carol. Guinn also shows the influence of Washington Irving and Clement Clarke Moore in shaping the legend of Santa Claus in the United States. However it wasn’t until Thomas Nast’s artwork that we got our visual image of Santa Claus.

Overall I enjoyed the Autobiography of Santa Claus, but the story could have been improved by the pace and tone. To quote the writer’s mantra, “Show, don’t tell.” In my opinion, Guinn did too much telling. The book had too much first this happened, next we did this and so on. He used a lot of passive voice in the telling. A few more action verbs would have improved the story.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dennis Lehane, Shutter Island

In Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island, he exhibits mastery in the use of description. He makes the scene visible to the reader by creating pictures with his words. The reader visualizes Shutter Island and the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. The reader explores the island facilities with U.S. Marshals Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule in their search for answers regarding patient Rachel Solando.

In a scene from the early part of the book, Teddy and Chuck ride the ferry from the mainland to Shutter Island. A beginning author might write, “They approach the dock.” Lehane wrote it, “The dock appeared as if by trick of light, stretching out from the sand, a stick of chewing gum from this distance, insubstantial and gray.” Aspiring authors could learn from Lehane’s prose.

The reader soon learns the story contains more than a schizophrenic missing murderess. It also contains deceptive twists and turns, and psychological thrills and suspense. The story scares the reader by illuminating the degree to which the mind deceives itself, and questions the reality of our own existence.

Like many of Lehane’s books, Shutter Island takes place near Boston. Lehane grew up in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, and attended high school during the Government’s mandatory desegregation program. He grew up in a tough part of town during a troublesome era. Many of his characters come from working class neighborhoods and his stories pertain to social issues.

In Shutter Island, Lehane asks the reader to question the moral and ethical treatment of the criminally insane. Do the rights of the innocent victims demand cruel and unusual punishment of the guilty, and what determines cruel and unusual?

Monday, October 18, 2010

St Pete Times Reading Festival

October in Florida signals great weather and lots of activities. This holds true even for bibliophiles. The Florida Writer’s Association will host their 9th Annual Conference in Lake Mary, FL the weekend of October 22nd, and the St. Petersburg Times will sponsor their 18th Festival of Reading on October 23rd from 10 – 4. The Festival takes place on the University of South Florida St. Pete Campus.

At the Festival this weekend, expect to see nationally recognized authors, Florida authors and discussions on book related topics. At 10:30 a.m., R.L. Stine will read from Weirdo Halloween and at 1:00 p.m. Michael Connelly reads from his book Reversal. Their readings occur in the University of South Florida Activities Center.

Florida authors Rick Wilber and Deborah Sharp read from their book. Rick will read from Rum Point, a baseball mystery set in the St. Pete area. Deborah Sharp writes the Mace Bauer series set in the country part of south central Florida. She will read a selection from her third book in this series, Mama Gets Hitched. The readings will occur in the Science and Technology Building.

James Swain and Carla Jimenez present a discussion on the future of books. James published several e-books a couple of weeks ago, and they will be discussing the process and fate of books. Carla owns Inkwood Books, a Tampa independent bookstore. Their talk is at 10:45 a.m., and held in the Peter R. Wallace Florida Center for Teachers.

See the Festival of Reading web site for a full list of authors and activities.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton

Just a couple of days from fall, but the weather in Florida remains hot and humid. Perfect weather for enjoying the air conditioning and reading a good book about pirates. Reading a semi-historical book about life in the Caribbean before air conditioning, bug repellant, and running water makes life seem so much better.

Michael Crichton's, Pirate Latitudes, tells the story of privateer Captain Charles Hunter, who has a severe dislike of the Spanish Navy. However, he does like their gold and silver. He sails out of Port Royal, Jamaica under the English flag in search of treasure and adventure. He encounters a hurricane, damsels in distress, nasty Spanish officers, sea monsters and native cannibals. The adventure begins early and continues throughout the book.

Dream Works purchased the rights to the movie. About six months ago, a considerable amount of chatter on the Internet stated that Stephen Spielberg hoped to make it into a movie. If they do decide to make the movie, it will be interesting to see how they manage to top Pirates of the Caribbean.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Summer Reading List of Baseball Fiction

Summer brings to mind the College World Series in Omaha, major and minor league baseball in parks big or small, and the annual All-Star Game, which really does matter. Opening day of MLB in April signals the start of our summer pursuit of the pennant in October. The game of baseball is filled with intrigue and scandal, heroes and heels. Summer also presents opportunities to catch up on baseball in other formats on those days when the home team is blacked out or rained out.
Blockade Billy, by Stephen King, is a departure from King’s usual tales of horror. George Grantham tells the story of bringing up young William Blakely from the minors to play for the Titans. But the novella offers its own uniquely chilling twist.
Double Play, by Robert B. Parker, imagines life in baseball after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. The story goes beyond this historic event, intertwining baseball with the criminal underworld. The novel focuses on the character of Joseph Burke in the role of Robinson’s bodyguard.
Once upon a Fastball, by Robert L. Mitchell, follows Seth Stein as he searches for his missing grandfather. Unlike the usual search for a missing person, Stein travels through time attending historic baseball games, catching glimpses of his Papa Sol.
Shoeless Joe, by W.P. Kinsella, fulfills the ultimate baseball fantasy in all of us – watching the famous and infamous play on the fields of our dreams. Kinsella explores myth, fantasy, and tests the limits of our willingness to believe. The Iowa Baseball Confederacy follows in the same tradition of fantasy and faith, with a little mystery.

Other Baseball Books to Consider
The Boys of Summer, by Roger Kahn
Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series, by Eliot Asinof
The End of Baseball, by Peter Schilling
If I Never Get Back, by Darryl Brock
My Father’s Game: Life, Death, Baseball, by Rick Wilber
The Natural, by Bernard Malamud
     posted by Stephanie Maatta Smith

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Florida Book Award Banquet

The Florida Book Awards in conjunction with the Florida Library Association held the fourth annual Florida Book Awards banquet this past Thursday.  They changed venues this year, and the event took place at the Rosen Plaza on International Drive in Orlando. Although the crowd was smaller than in previous years, we enjoyed the company.

We hooked up with some old friends from Florida State University, and met some recent friends from the University of South Florida.  We even made some new friends from the Burton Memorial Library in Plant City, and from WMNF 85.5 radio in Tampa.

Jack E. Davis, the gold medal winner in Florida Nonfiction, sat at our table.  He won the award for his book An Everglades Providence: Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the American Environmental Century.  He seemed a bit wary of the Everglades reclamation project currently underway.  Since the project calls for continuous management with canals and dikes, how can it be considered restoration?

Another gold winner at the awards was Glynn Marsh Alam.  She won in the Popular Fiction Category for her book, Moon Water Madness.    She is a native of the Florida Panhandle, and graduated from Florida State University.  She lived for a while in California, but has since returned to the area.  Her stories take place in the Panhandle region. Moon Water Madness is her seventh book in the Luanne Fogarty mystery series.  I like her stories, but of course I am biased after living almost twenty years in the area she writes about.

The Florida Book Awards Banquet is always a good time, and offers an opportunity to chat with authors and interesting people.  We spend more time visiting, chatting and meeting new people than on ceremony.  It is a fun activity for writers and readers.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Carpebiblio Blog update

After a month long absence in which I have been posting else where, I will be posting at this blog once again.  I have been writing book reviews and sports articles for blogcritics.com.  I have also begun to write embedded systems articles at Technorati.com.

A while back I published a blog here on Tips for Aspiring Writers talking about trying to write a 1000 words a day five days a week.   I am currently writing about 5,000 words a week but I have to write everyday to achieve this amount.

I am also working on two short stories.  I will be submitting Tim’s Chair this month to the Florida Writer’s Association “A Slice of Life” contest.  I will be submitting Mind Ghosts to another contest in the fall.  Tim’s Chair depicts a moment in time in Kirby’s life.  He has been on a downward spiral since he caught his ex-girlfriend cheating on him.  An associate offers him a chance to grab his life back.  Kirby needs to make a decision.  Mind Ghosts is a story of dementia from the viewpoint of the person with dementia.

This weekend I will be posting an article to Carpebiblio Blog concerning the Florida Book Awards.  We are off to Orlando tonight to attend the Florida Library Association’s banquet honoring the recipients of the Florida Book Award.

Until this weekend happy reading and writing.

Monday, March 8, 2010


The Florida Book Awards provide recognition of the best literature published by Florida authors the previous year. The Florida Non-Fiction category must be about Florida, but does not need to be written by a Florida author. The Florida State University Library coordinates the program.  Wayne A. Weigand directs the program with program chair Gloria Colvin.
Seven categories comprise the competition. Seven juries with three members each choose up to five medalists for each category.  Sponsoring agencies select the jurors.  Authors and publishers submit their works for the judging. 
A ceremony will be held on March 24 at the Historical and Cultural Awards Ceremony sponsored by the State of Florida’s Division of Cultural Affairs.  The ceremony will be held in the R.A. Gray Building in Tallahassee. Additionally all medal winners will be recognized at an awards banquet at the Florida Library Association Conference on April 8th.  The Conference will be held in Orlando.

Listed below are the winners of the Florida Book Awards 2009.

Gold Medal Winner: Joan Hiatt Harlow, Secret of the Night Ponies

Gold Medal Winner: Jack E. Davis, An Everglades Providence: Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the American Environmental Century
Silver Medal Winner: Carlton Ward Jr., Florida Cowboys
Bronze Medal Winner: Todd T. Turrell, Naples Waterfront – Changes in Time

Gold Medal Winner: N M Kelby, A Travel Guide for Reckless Hearts
Silver Medal Winner: Janet Burroway, Bridge of Sand
Bronze Medal Winner: Ana Menendez, The Last War
Bronze Medal Winner: A. Manette Ansay, Good Things I Wish You
Bronze Medal Winner: Michael Lister, Double Exposure

Gold Medal Winner: Campbell McGrath, Shannon
Silver Medal Winner: Denise Duhamel, Ka-Ching!
Bronze Medal Winner: Jesse Millner, Neighborhoods of My Past Sorrow
Bronze Medal Winner: Peter Meinke, Lines from Neuchatel

Gold Medal Winner: Glynn Marsh Alam, Moon Water Madness
Silver Medal Winner: Diane A. S. Stuckart, Portrait of a Lady: A Leonardo DaVinci Mystery
Bronze Medal Winner: Jonathon King, The Styx
Bronze Medal Winner: Chris Kuzneski, The Lost Throne
Bronze Medal Winner: Tim Dorsey, Nuclear Jellyfish

Gold Medal Winner: Juan Cueto-Roig, Veintiún cuentos concisos
Silver Medal Winner: José Alvarez, Frank País y la revolución cubana

Gold Medal Winner: Alex Sanchez, Bait
Silver Medal Winner: Rick Yancey, The Monstrumologist

To learn more about Florida Book Awards, visit: http://floridabookawards.lib.fsu.edu.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Science in Science Fiction

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a panel discussion at the University of South Florida Symposium on Science in Science Fiction.   Three of the greatest science fiction writers of all time – Harry Harrison, Ben Bova, and Gregory Benford served on the panel.  Between the three of them, they have over a hundred years of science fiction writing experience.

Harrison’s distinguished career began with his first published science fiction book, Plague from Space, in 1965.  His second work, Make Room! Make Room! published in 1966 loosely served as the basis for the movie Soylent Green.  It told the story of diminishing resources and overpopulation.   In 2009 he won the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award.

Ben Bova’s science fiction career began in the early seventies.  He has written over one hundred books, and served as editor of “Analog Science Fiction” and “Omni Magazine.” 

Gregory Benford has also been writing science fiction since the seventies.  He has a PhD in astrophysics, and teaches at University of California, Irvine.  He also does genomic research.

All three of these authors write hard science fiction.  They base their stories on scientific theory.  They use facts and technical data in their writing.  The science doesn’t change, whether it takes place on Earth, Mars, or across the Universe.  The scientific laws remain constant.

Some of their early works may appear a bit dated.  For instance, Bova said in one of his early works the astronavigator used a slide rule to chart their course across the galaxy.  Harrison had an onboard computer made with vacuum tubes.  On the other hand, in the late sixties, Benford wrote a short story about computer viruses.

The panel discussed the future material of science fiction, and how they view science fiction.  They all believe that hard science fiction writers are optimistic about the future.  Bova thinks that future science fiction themes will tell stories of mankind’s expansion into space.  Seeking solutions to societal problems and resources for a better life for all mankind.  Gregory Benford thinks the future of science fiction writing will include topics about climate change, genomic research, and the ethics of genomic research.  He also sees science fiction writing as optimistic.  If you are going to write about the future, than you must believe a future exists.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Marketing your Book: Sell your Book

Getting the book written and published comprises only about half the battle.  You still need to convince someone to buy your book and read it.  Authors don’t often think about marketing their work.  Publishers spend very little money these days on marketing a book; writers must fend for themselves.  Only celebrities and established authors sell their books with little effort.  The public won’t even know about your book unless you tell them about it.  Since most of us cannot afford a publicist, I have provided a few suggestions for getting you and your book recognized.

Some traditional methods include contacting people you know, business cards, author talks, and book signings.  Tell all of your friends, family, coworkers, classmates, and neighbors that you have published a book.  Tell them where they can buy it.  Put flyers on community bulletin boards, but make sure the flyer has all the pertinent information, your name, book title, subject, and where to buy it.   Design business cards, but leave the back blank.  Write the title of your book on the back of the card, and leave your business card around town.  Contact local book groups, friends of the library, and independent bookstores.  Let them know you are willing to do author talks and book signings.

The Internet provides even more marketing opportunities.  Create a web site for yourself and put a page on the web site for your book.  While time consuming, creating a blog to discuss your work and your book can bring name recognition and sales.  Contact book reviewers and bloggers, and ask them to review your book.  At least three thousand blogs exist that are dedicated to book reviews.  Find a couple that fit your book's subject matter, and ask them for a review.  Use social networking sites such as Facebook and Myspace to get you and your book recognition.

The bottom line, if no one knows you have a book, how can they read it. Thousands of books exist on bookstore shelves with more going on the market every Tuesday. Lots of authors compete for a reader’s attention and dollars.  If you are not willing to put the effort into marketing your book, no one else will.  You are the best advocate your book can have.  Get out there and sell.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Favorite Books

What makes a book an all time favorite?  Are there books that you have read several times out of choice rather than error?  I have read books a second time because they were so non-memorable I forgot reading them the first time.  I hate to admit it, but I have purchased a popular author at the airport bookstore during a layover only to find two hours into the second leg of the flight that I had already read the book – very frustrating.  I also have books that I have chosen to read several times.  For some reason they appeal to me over and over, and have a special place on the bookshelf.

Included on my list of favorites are the Tolkien books – The Hobbit and The Lord of the Ring series; Daybreak 2250 A.D. by Andre Norton; The Stand, by Stephen King, and Flint by Louis L’ Amour.   These four represent the Horror, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Western genres.  I know the fourth doesn’t really fit with the other three, but I have read these four books many times, and these are the genres I gravitate towards in my reading selection.  I have read many, many books in all of these genres, yet these four are the ones that remain on my favorites list.

Most people agree that these are good books, but people also want to know why these are my favorites.   I wish I could pin point why these are my favorites.  I read these books during the turbulent years of adolescence.  Most of these books are apocalyptic in nature.  Psychologist might say I was looking for answers as my life changed from childhood to adulthood.  I prefer to think they were well written stories that appealed to my imagination then and still do.

Do you have a favorite book? Care to share, and tell us what makes it your favorite? 

Friday, January 29, 2010

J.D. Salinger Obit

In keeping with his life style of privacy and reclusiveness, this obit will be kept short.  J.D. Salinger died on January 27th at his home in Cornish, N.H. at the age of 91.   He is best known for writing Catcher in the Rye.   He also wrote two short story collections Nine Stories and Franny and Zooey.  

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

James W. Hall

James W. Hall recently presented his new book, Silencer, at Inkwood Books in Tampa. Hall started his career by writing poetry.  Luckily for his many fans he switched to writing mystery/suspense stories set in the messed up state of Florida. He won a Shamus Award for best novel from the Private Eye Writers of America for Blackwater Sound.  He won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his short story, “The Catch” which was published in Greatest Hits: Original Stories of Assassins, Hitmen, and Hired Guns.

During his presentation Hall shared with the audience his like for John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee mysteries, and the influence these stories have on his own writing.  My friends and I also enjoyed the Travis McGee novels.  This could explain the popularity of Hall among my contemporaries, and the large percentage of males in the audience.

Hall admits his main protagonist, Thorn, differs from McGee on a couple of points.  McGee tends to be outgoing, and he does salvage jobs for people.  He assists people in regaining assets through various means that may or may not be legal, and he keeps a percentage of whatever he recovers.   Thorn on the other hand, tends to be a loner, and trouble finds him.  One thing the two protagonists share is the likelihood their female companions will experience untimely deaths.

Hall also made the point concerning the importance of character growth.  He follows the traditional literary approach that the character should grow/change from the beginning to the end of the book.  “The character ends in a different psychological place than where he begins.” I agree with the importance for the character to change or evolve in a story.  I have quit reading a couple of mystery series because the character does not grow.  The character becomes predictable, and makes the same mistakes in every book.

I enjoyed the author discussion today. He managed his time well, and entertained questions from the audience.  During the signing he shook hands, and had time to chat with the attendees. Inkwood Books provided a comfortable location for the discussion and had plenty of books on hand for the signing.  

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Robert B. Parker Obit

Boston has lost an author; Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) died this week.  He lived in the New England area, and cheered for the Red Sox.  In his career, he wrote over sixty-five books, and four series.  His best-known series, Spenser takes place in the Boston area, and was made into a television series, Spenser for Hire, in the mid-nineteen eighties.   He also wrote the Jesse Stone series and the Sunny Randall series.   His western series portrays the characters, Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch. 

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Nicholas A. Basbanes - Master of Books About Books

Alfie Cat, a.k.a. the Book Snob, requested a blog about Nicholas A. Basbanes.  I was working on my M.S.  in Library and Information Science, when Nicholas A. Basbanes published A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books, 1995.  I realized then that my love of books was actually common enough to warrant a name, have a book written about it, and I was not the only bibliophile.  He has since written a number of books about books, book culture, and book lovers.   He serves as an inspiration, that one can make a living not only writing books, but can make a living writing books about books.  What a novel concept!

Alfie Cat has just collapsed on the keyboard to remind me this is a blog about Basbanes and bibliophiles, not about careers, so I will save the career chatter for another day.  Basbanes writes about the history of the book, book hunting, and the antiquarian book trade.  He has published at least five other books Patience & Fortitude: A Roving Chronicle of Book People, Book Places, and Book Culture (2001); Among the Gently Mad: Perspectives and Strategies for the Book-Hunter of the 21st Century (2002); Every Book Its Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World (2005); Editions & Impressions: My Twenty Years on the Book Beat (2008); and A World of Letters: Yale University Press, 1908-2008 (2008). He has a new book coming out in May, About the Author: Inside the Creative Process.

If you are a bibliophile or want to know more about the history of the book and book collecting, then Nicholas A. Basbanes is the author for you.   I will sit back with my copy of A Gentle Madness, and reminisce about book hunting prior to the Internet.  Cruising through an independent bookstore hunting for a rare copy, and looking for a bargain.  Unfortunately due to the Internet and monster Book Stores, the likelihood of finding a rare book, underpriced in an independent bookstore is a thing of the past.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Tips for Aspiring Authors

I reviewed Carolyn See’s book, Making a Literary Life, for Carpebiblo.com in 2008.   I found the book so beneficial that I decided to do a new post for it.   Carolyn has three pieces of advice in the book that I have followed, and incorporated into my writing life – write a thousand words a day, five days a week; communicate with successful authors; and communicate with other aspiring writers.

Because I maintain a job in my non-writing life, I do not manage the thousand words a day five days a week.  I do make myself write a minimum of four hundred words a day, five days a week.   On the days I only have time the energy for four hundred words, I do blogs and book reviews.  On the weekends, I do a thousand words a day – working on book chapters, technical reports, or short stories.  I have submitted a few short stories, none published yet.  I have published numerous non-fiction works.

I have found authors surprisingly approachable.  At least once a month a local bookstore or organization sponsors an author talk/book signing.  Conferences are another good opportunity to meet authors.  I have met several authors at Florida Library Association, Florida Writers Association, and the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference.  The ALA annual conference occurs in late June/early July, and hosts an amazing line up of authors.  An additional alternative for communicating with authors is through online organizations.  For example librarything.com sponsors author chats.  I have even had success with good old snail mail author correspondence.  I have corresponded with Carolyn Say via snail mail and at the ALA annual conference in Anaheim.  

Lastly, meeting with fellow aspiring authors can be extremely helpful.  Family members and friends may not be totally truthful in critiquing your work.  If your spouse says your story sucks, it could make for bad cohabitation.   On the other hand fellow authors can be nice, but brutally honest with their critiques.   State writing associations generally have local chapters that sponsor monthly meetings.  My prose is generally acceptable and I have published non-fiction, but my dialogue stinks.  So I have joined the Florida Writers Association to seek help with this weakness.

So keep writing, and follow Carolyn See’s tips, and good luck with your writing career.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Deborah LeBlanc's Water Witch

I received Deborah LeBlanc’s, Water Witch (2008) while visiting St. Pete Beach last fall.  Book exchanges on the beach and poolside are a common occurrence, and a good way to find new reading material.

Leblanc writes paranormal mysteries. (You may find her with friends doing some ghost hunting in Louisiana.)  Readers will find Water Witch an easy but entertaining read.  The protagonist Dunny Pollock has a special talent for finding missing things.  When two kids go missing in the Louisiana swamps, Dunny’s sister, Angella calls her for help.   Only thing is Angella has more problems than just the missing kids; in fact the whole town seems to be going crazy.  Pawnee demons seem to be at work, and Dunny maybe in deeper water than she can handle.

LeBlanc was born in New Orleans, raised in Arizona, and now spends a good deal of her time in New Orleans.  She has not written a book since Water Witch, but instead spends her time helping new authors via conferences and the Pen and Press writers’ retreat.  She also works with Literacy Inc, an organization dedicated to improving literacy among high school students. Her other works include – Morbid Curiosity; A House Divided; Grave Intent; and Family Inheritance.

Pen to Press Writer's Retreat