The Alphabet Series by Sue Grafton

Hey everyone,

Well, my two weeks between blog posts has turned into a month…go figure! I was so certain I could stick to a regular blogging schedule, but as we all know, life gets in the way.

Over a year ago, maybe almost two (seeing as how the time goes), I decided to listen to the complete Kinsey Millhone series by Sue Grafton, starting with “A” is for Alibi. I’ve read all of them before, more than once, and listened to them too, also more than once, but I wanted to listen to the entire series in order. It does make a difference. Not only for the character’s development, but also to observe the growth and mastery of a gifted writer. It didn’t disappoint.

Kinsey is a great character. She’s flawed and perfect at the same time. She’s fiercely independent. She’s brave and loyal. She manages to survive betrayals and deceptions, assaults and gunshot wounds. She’s falls in and out of love, but has a constant, unwavering devotion to her 80-something landlord, Henry Pitts. She’s a fashion and food mess, always sticking to her favorites, no matter how much guff she gets. Jeans, turtleneck and boots are her uniform; with peanut butter and pickle sandwiches and a glass of Chardonnay, along with frequent visits to McDonald’s, her definition of  Michelin 5-star delights. As for family; well, about half-way through the series, she discovers long-lost relatives, and it’s unclear if she’s better for that or not. And she solves everything that comes her way, along with many cases that just, somehow, land in her lap.

I first read “A” is for Alibi around 1992, about 10 years after it was first published. I could not put it down; I found it at the library, and sat, transfixed, as I read it. I devoured each subsequent book in the series as they were released, and then picked them up again when I decided to try my hand at creating a female sleuth and writing a series. I studied them, or tried to, inexpertly dissecting character and storylines and themes.

The first half or so of the series, books “A” through “N”, were narrated by Mary Pfeiffer, with the remaining ones narrated by Judy Kaye. I found both narrators solid, but Judy Kaye injected such personality into Kinsey and her voice that I often felt that I was a fly on the wall as a conversation or event was underway.

Sadly, Sue Grafton died in 2017. She completed the series through “Y”, with “Y” is for Yesterday, and was under contract for “Z” is for Zero when she died. Apparently, she had not yet started it at the time of her death. Even through Sue Grafton wrote twenty-five books with the same character living in the same town, each book was fresh and new, revealing aspects of Kinsey’s character, along with startling new themes, that hadn’t surfaced before. Genius, that’s all I can say — Sue Grafton’s writing was pure genius.

Check this out, 25 books, can you imagine?!

Banner on Sue Grafton’s website

When Ms. Grafton was alive, she swore that she’d come back from the dead to prevent her heirs from selling her series to TV. But, times have changed. Her family sold the rights to A+E in 2021, saying that writing for television now is far more sophisticated than when Ms. Grafton was writing for TV in the 80s (Sue Grafton’s alphabet novels headed to television). I, for one, can’t wait and look forward to finding out who will bring Kinsey to life.

Until next time,

Nancy

Truck Stop Madness

Hey everyone,

I have two Truck Stop stories to review today: “The Smugglers” by Vanessa MacLaren-Wray and “Better Angels” by Steven D. Brewer. (Vanessa and Steven were on the “Technical Fiction” Panel Discussion with me.) The Smugglers was released in July, and Better Angels came out just last week. Both of these stories deliver characters and settings you want to know more about. Read on for my reviews!

The Smugglers” by Vanessa MacLaren-Wray

Attachment is everything.

Mother says, “Don’t name the merchandise,” and “Don’t let the humans see you.”

But Boy can’t resist naming the cute, fuzzy ball of feathers and knife-sharp talons they’re delivering. And why be afraid of weak, ignorant humans?

Plus, this old skinsuit works, but it’s getting cramped. Maybe it’s time for a change.

“The Smugglers” is a novella-length coming-of-age story that is layered and complex. There’s a lot going on here, having to do with what’s hidden and what’s not. The relationship between mother, Deralka, and child, Boy, is woven through the story, along with the fate of the adorable creature that’s being smuggled. On a more subtle level, there’s the need to squeeze into a skinsuit to blend in at the Truck Stop, as well as Boy’s leap into puberty that results in unexpected changes.

When Deralka and Boy, the smugglers referred to in the story’s title, arrive at the Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy to meet the buyer of their goods, the deal immediately goes sideways. Then Mother and Boy get separated and Boy goes on a round-about adventure that leads to the Truck Stop’s mysterious Orange Quadrant. The story is well-paced and engaging, with characters I hope to find in future stories. This is a great addition to the Truck Stop series, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Better Angels” by Steven D. Brewer

After trailing a notorious trafficker across the galaxy, a self-appointed guardian angel arrives at the Truck Stop.

Hidden within the trafficker’s cargo hold may be just what he needs to shut down the trafficker’s illicit trade for good.

“Better Angels” is a kick, no pun intended. It’s short, immediate and forceful. It catches you right from the beginning with an attention-grabbing surprise that may put some readers off, but I suggest that you read on. “Better Angels” will surprise you again and again, and it’s impressive how the author is able to accomplish this in a short 20 pages. It’s great science-fiction, and is another strong addition to the Truck Stop series.

So that’s it for today! Catch up with you again in a few weeks.

Nancy

“Technical Fiction” Panel Discussion

Hey everyone,

I’m back! My plans for blogging far exceed my actual blogging:) I try to write two posts a month, but…I haven’t been so disciplined lately. My last post was four months ago!

About two months ago now, Small Publishing in a Big Universe published a podcast I participated in, a panel discussion on “Technical Fiction”.

I was one of four panelists, all of us former or current technical writers. Other panelists were Steven D. Brewer, Vanessa MacLaren-Wray, and Steven Radecki. We had a lively discussion on the challenges and strategies of transitioning from technical writing to fiction writing.

The podcast is about 25 minutes long. Not surprisingly, many technical writers aspire to write fiction. We talked about how we came to fiction writing and how were able to strike a balance between the technical and fiction side of things. Interestingly, we all agreed that technical writing immensely helped our careers as fiction writers.

I’m retired now, but remember well the daily challenge of turning my mind from fiction to technical, technical to fiction. It wasn’t always easy. During the work week, I’d get up early and try to squeeze in some fiction before heading to work, where the office atmosphere made it easy to sink into documenting programming languages, debuggers, or B-2-B interfaces. Yikes! I can barely remember it all now! Interestingly, I have been in a fiction slump (though I have been working on a story recently), and somedays wonder if it’s because I don’t have the pressures of limited time at my back. Have to think about that one.

So check out the podcast when you have a few minutes to spare.

In my next post, I’ll be reviewing the latest addition to the Truck Stop collection, a story by Vanessa MacLaren-Wray called The Smugglers.

Until next time,

Nancy

Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy

Hi all!

I can’t believe it’s been a month since I last posted. Jeez, I have great intentions for a steady schedule, but….we all know how that goes!

Truck Stop Tuesday was last Tuesday already and I wanted to let you know about the third story in the Truck Stop series, “Hippolyta’s Dagger” by the talented L.A. Jacob. In addition to writing Carnival Farm, which I reviewed last November (and really enjoyed), she’s written two fantasy series published with Water Dragon Publishing (a Paper Angel Press imprint), Grimaulkin and War Mage, as well as a number of other works, which you can find on her website. Besides being a prolific author, L.A. Jacob is also the host of the Small Publishing in a Big Universe podcast. She’s also been curating submissions for the Water Dragon short story program, submissions I’m now reading. (Which is so much fun!)

Anyway, here’s my review:

Hippolyta’s Dagger” by L.A. Jacob

Someone’s always watching.

Graduate student Laurie Miller makes an unexpected find while working at an archeological excavation site in the Orange Quadrant.

When she learns that the head archeologist has taken credit for her discovery, her revenge comes from a surprising and ancient source.

This is another story in the Truck Stop series with several universal themes: power, privilege, gender, prejudice.

Laurie Miller, a student in archaeology, is completing her graduate studies under the preeminent, and pompous, Dr. Tom Jameson, an expert on the Orange Quadrant, the area currently under examination. Their excavation effort has been on-going for many months now, with nothing, other than dust, to show for it. Unusually, the site is guarded by sentinel bots, who look like a lot like Spartan warriors in their metal skirts, chain-mail breastplates, and bucket-like helmet; complemented with seriously pointed spears.

When Laurie finds something unexpected, and knows that Dr. Jameson will take full credit, her blood boils. But revenge comes in unusual ways…!

This is an fun story and a quick read, one you’ll definitely enjoy.

Favorite sentence: “Writing in minimum gravity, while wearing a clunky space suit fit for an overly tall human male, seemed to be more difficult than impossible.”

Interview with Small Publishing in a Big Universe

Hey everyone,

Check out my interview with the folks at Small Publishing in a Big Universe! It was a pleasure to talk with host (and prolific author) L.A. Jacob about books, writing, and publishing. It’s fairly short; just about 20 minutes – you can listen here or get it on your favorite podcast app.

In celebration, the ebook editions of the Shelby McDougall Mystery Series are on sale this week and through the weekend, April 13th – 17th for just 99¢ each!

Or, click below for purchase options:

Book 1: Due Date

Book 2: The Stork

Book 3: The Found Child

In the next couple of weeks, I’ll be doing a post for the Paper Angel Press monthly blog theme, so stay tuned!

Until next time,

Nancy

Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy

Hey everyone,

Paper Angel Press has a new short story series underway, with the first story released several weeks ago, and the next to be released on April 12th. Stories will be released monthly, on Tuesdays, so get ready for Truck Stop Tuesdays! Based on the first two stories, “The Stargazer Gift Shop” by Steve Soult and “Coke Machine” by Vanessa MacLaren-Wray, this series is a winner.

At the center of the galaxy rests a mystery — a fully-functional space station abandoned by an alien race for centuries.

Now a thriving hub for interstellar commerce and tourism, the station still contains more mysteries than you might imagine …

Both of these stories blew me away. I was taken with how both authors, from the first sentence, created a fully-functional world in such a compressed format. The characters are alive, the plots are quick and nimble, and the setting is fantastic. The premise is brilliant; this series is going to be so much fun. You can purchase the stories as they are released; the full complement of stories will be out as an anthology sometime in 2023, but I suggest not waiting — read them as soon as you can!

My reviews of the first two stories in the series are below:

The Stargazer Gift Shop” by Steve Soult

What would you buy at the Stargazer Gift Shop at the center of the galaxy?

Would you buy a soft drink, science kit, makeup, data disk, gumball, something else, or perhaps nothing at all?

While you are there, Rhoda will always be very happy to help you find the perfect gift.

On the surface, this is a sweet story about an android, Rhoda, who works in a gift shop at the center of the galaxy. She’s getting older, is eager to help, and worries about being shut down and her components farmed out. Rhoda is fully invested in her community and her job. She worries about the other androids working in the station and checks in with them during the course of the day. She enthusiastically helps out folks who wander into the shop, having to react quickly to avoid sticky situations. She has an ugly confrontation with a family of tourists, who, through some fast thinking and a small measure of grace, she manages to connect with in a positive way.

I love science fiction for its ability to reflect social justice issues. This story accomplishes that brilliantly. As the story unfolds, you’ll find universal themes: community, empathy, and kindness; along with privilege, prejudice, and power. As I read the story, I found myself resonating with the daily challenges of anyone working with the public — you never know what’s coming.

Favorite sentence: “It’s always nice to be fully charged in the morning, she [Rhoda] thought. That way I can get through the day without having to conserve energy.

Coke Machine” by Vanessa MacLaren-Wray

Every truck stop needs a coke machine.

What a way to die — coated in sticky effluent, upside-down in a disused access tube, lost forever in a drifting, abandoned, bankrupt trader ship.

Skip-ship engineer Marichka’s busy with a fire, a faulty Ancient-tech component, and now the etheric cabling’s sprung a leak.

Could everyone just shut up already?

Just like MacLaren-Wray’s full-length book, All That Was Asked, this story captured me right from the get-go. The author has an uncanny ability to draw the reader all the way in, starting with the first sentence, and not letting go until the hapless reader surfaces for air at the end. The story takes place in the compressed engine quarters of a ship, where Marichka, the ship’s engineer, is floating in a vat of goo, trying to make life-or-death repairs before the engine overheats, incinerating the ship and its crew.

Maclaren-Wray’s imagination is brilliant, bringing her world to life with vivid imagery and fierce characters. And her strong knowledge of engineering and physics, along with her attention to mechanical detail, pull the reader into a vortex of adrenaline-fueled, realistic action. It’s thrilling!

Favorite sentence (which happens to be the first sentence!): “Hanging upside down, lungs on fire, fingers sizzling with bad information, I’m trying to reconstruct a joke I heard once, back in my beer-clouded apprentice days, a long story ending in a terrible pun.”

~~~~~~~~~

That’s it for today — hope you enjoy these stories as much as I did.

Until next time,

Nancy

Back to the Classics

Hey everyone,

At the beginning of 2022, Paper Angel Press revived the monthly blog post theme, where authors who are interested all blog on the same theme. I’m a little late to the table, but the February 2022 theme is “What book(s) influenced you the most when you were a young adult (12-18)?” This topic intrigued me, and after a lot of thought I came up with one.

I was lucky to have an amazing English teacher in high school, a man named Mr. Shivers. He was truly a lover of the written word and was able, somehow, to bring American literature to life, with joy and sparkle. His lectures were illuminating and insightful. This is from a perspective of many years past, so I may be forgetting things (lots of things!), but I do remember sending him a thank you letter as an adult, so I know I learned a lot from him about writing.

I specifically remember reading Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser in Mr. Shivers’ class. Sister Carrie was written in 1900, and in brief, tells the story of Caroline Meeber, Carrie, who leaves her small Midwestern hometown at age 18 to find a new life in the big city of Chicago. Carrie is young, innocent, and naïve, but has a longing, a sense that there is more in the world than what she’s experienced so far. What sticks with me all these years later is the detail, the marriage of internal and external, and Dreiser’s ability, within the first paragraph, to show the reader where Carrie came from and, by foreshadowing, where she hoped to go. In that paragraph, he deftly articulated the setting and the main character without sentimentality or judgement.

When I think of this book now, so many years later, I’m inspired by Dreiser’s fearlessness. In a time of Victorian morals, he took a bold leap, writing about unmarried people living together, about Carrie’s affair with a married man, about despair, and about hope. Such a change from The Scarlet Letter published in 1850, the classic tale of the “fallen woman”. Dreiser wrote about things you weren’t supposed to write about. In fact, after the book was accepted for publication by Doubleday, it was shelved, as a wife of one of the publishers found it too sordid. Dreiser insisted that Doubleday honor the contract, and in 1900, it was published with a run of about 1,000 books. But due to lack of publicity, less than half the books were sold.

In spite of that, the book went on to become an American classic: Sister Carrie has been called “the first masterpiece of American naturalism…” (from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Sister-Carrie). In his Nobel Prize Lecture of 1930, Sinclair Lewis said that “Dreiser’s great first novel, Sister Carrie, which he dared to publish thirty long years ago and which I read twenty-five years ago, came to housebound and airless America like a great free Western wind, and to our stuffy domesticity gave us the first fresh air since Mark Twain and Whitman…” (from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sister_Carrie).

Even so, Dreiser has been tagged as a writer who couldn’t write: “Dreiser’s reputation has always been vexed, and the long debate over his stature has been accompanied by a secondary debate—a malignant shadow of the first—devoted to the question of whether he could write at all.” (The Cost of Desire by David Denby, The New Yorker, 2003). But Denby does wonder where we would be without Theodore Dreiser and Sister Carrie.

When I surf around on the web, I don’t see any indication that Sister Carrie is still taught in high school. I know the themes are outdated and the writing likely tedious and plodding at times. I’m sure that high school teachers would have a hard time making the book relevant and relatable. But I did discover Reading Sex and the City, edited by Kim Akass and Janet McCabe. Published in 2004, it’s an academic critique of the TV show and the life and times of Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha. In fact, Chapter 5, titled, “Sister Carrie Meets Carrie Bradshaw: Exploring Progress, Politics and the Single Woman in Sex and the City and Beyond” appears to be a compare and contrast of the two Carries. Hmm….

Well that’s enough from me, an interesting detour down memory lane. To see how other Paper Angel Press authors met this challenge, check out Thoughts on Themes on their website.

Until next time,

Nancy

Podcast with Jenn Broda

Hey everyone,

Earlier this month, Small Publishing in a Big Universe interviewed audiobook producer and narrator Jenn Broda. She has produced many titles in the Paper Angel Press catalog, including the Shelby McDougall series as well as the Shelby McDougall short story Treasure Hunt. I couldn’t have been happier with how she brought my characters to life.

I knew that narrating and producing an audio book was much more than just reading the book out loud. But I didn’t know how much more! In the podcast, Ms. Broda goes into detail about what’s involved: the preparation, the narrating, the editing, the re-editing, the technical requirements.

One piece that I never thought about was the emotional impact of being an audiobook narrator: what if you don’t like a character? Or the story? Or what if some aspect of the story resonates deep within, touching on something personal? As a reader, you can just put the book down and let it go. But as a narrator, you have to stick with it, put your own feelings aside, and continue with the job ahead.

Another thing I didn’t know was that each hour of audiobook can take six to eight hours of production time. Wow! And I thought writing required a lot of editing and re-dos! First, the producer has to study the novel to understand the characters, plot, and setting, likely taking a lot of notes about a character’s age, vocal tone, and how a character acts in relationship to other characters. Once the initial narration is complete, the producer has to review the audio, listening for glitches or external noises or mispronounced words. Then, there’s the review by the rights holder, followed by narration changes and a second round of review. And finally , the producer has to actually create the audiobook, conforming to required technical specifications for each platform the audiobook will be distributed on.

I was astonished by the the amount of work involved and the number of roles an audiobook narrator and producer has. I also loved the backstory of how Ms. Broda got into the audiobooks narration and production business. Listen to the interview here to find out for yourself.

I’ll be interviewed in an upcoming podcast, so keep your eye on Small Publishing in a Big Universe to find out more.

Until next time,

Nancy

Book review: Short fiction

Hey everyone,

This week I’m reviewing two short fiction pieces from one of Paper Angel Press’ imprints, Water Dragon Publishing. Both are works of speculative fiction, transporting readers to imaginative worlds. It’s an impressive feat, to create compelling characters and build a word in the space of just a few short pages, but both these authors have done a great job with this. I recommend you check out both of these short works.

Parrish Blue, by Vanessa MacLaren-Wray, is a story dreamed out of the author’s experience with the Maxfield Parrish painting, Dream Castle in the Sky. In a far distant world, in a distant time, a woman’s life is changed by a dreamer who’s traveled across galaxies to see the painting. This is a love story, the story of a woman taking a leap of faith, inspired by someone who loves art.

The main character, Sallie, is a waitress in an exclusive restaurant, catering to Earth’s elite. When an unlikely patron ends up at one of her tables, she mistakes him for a victim of a set-up, a prop in a drama who would end up footing the bill for an expensive and lavish evening of fine drinks and exquisite food. But she’s wrong, and over the evening, as she brings the man one extravagant course after another, she comes to realize that he’s here for a different reason: for the painting and only the painting.

My favorite sentence describes the high-tech rendering of the painting. I love how the author marries old and new in this sentence, and how the reader immediately knows they’ve entered a completely different world.

“Mar-El Parelli’s ten-by-sixteen meter rendition of Maxfield Parrish’s Romance glowed with an impossible luminous, shimmering light made possible by MicroFirm’s patented image-generation components.”

26 pages, published 6/28/21

The Third Time’s The Charm, by Steven D. Brewer, takes place in an airship, a cross between an ocean liner and a gondola like that of “Castle in the Sky”. The story’s protagonist, Revin, is an apprentice to a history professory, Professor Dirge, and they are travelling to a distant university. The airship is powered by tow lines attached to what are called “ethereal streams”, or air currents. The lines are controlled by “remmers” whose work is to master the currents so the airship stays on course and stable.

But the ship, the Madeline, is overrun by pirates, and Revin is pitted against the pirate captain in two life and death struggles. The third time the two adversaries meet, Revin has to make a decision. And, as the title reminds us, “the third time’s the charm”! Not only is this a great adventure story, a swashbuckling pirate tale, but the author also skillfully incorporates a secret about the main character that the astute reader can glean from carefully placed hints.

My favorite sentence describes the main character’s thoughts about the journey ahead:

“His mind’s eye returned to the captivating vision outside the airship window: the bondless ocean dotted with tiny islands; white clouds forming on the lee side of volcanic peaks in the afternoon sun; and the glowing blue tow lines of remmers, drawing them inexorably forward, toward an unfamiliar land and unfamiliar people.”

38 pages, published 11/22/21

I recommend you check out both of these short pieces.

Enjoy!

Nancy

Happy, happy!

Hey everyone,

I hope you are able to enjoy the end of the year and take a breather and celebrate life. It’s been a long year for everyone, and here’s wishing that 2022 brings a lightness and a hopeful future. I look forward to that!

For me, it’s the time of the year for reflection and for taking stock. 2021 has been a tough year emotionally, but on the whole, it’s been good too. I completed a lot of knitting projects! I went on a lot of fantastic hikes. My husband and I went on adventures. We were able to connect, in person, with friends and family. Such a joy!

As for books; it’s been a good year on that front as well. I’ve had a few great promotions on the eReader Cafe; the audio editions of the Shelby McDougall series were released; and I’ve picked up the blog again. All great things. And over the last few months, I’ve been ruminating on ideas for Shelby McDougall short stories, and have some plot lines churning around. So things are afoot.

Last year around this time, my publisher ran a campaign on gifts for authors, entitled “The best gift you can give an author is a review”.

I agree with that! I love reviews; I love reading them and I love writing them. I enjoy thinking about what I loved about a book, along with what the author was trying to convey. I like searching for my favorite sentence or phrase and sharing that with future readers. So, if you’ve read a book lately, consider leaving a review! You’ll make an author’s day, I guarantee it.

In any case, happy new year, happy holidays, happy celebrations!

Until next time,

Nancy