Saturday, November 30, 2013

NaNoWriMo, 2013

I wrote the first installment in my mystery novel series way back in 2002. A year later I wrote the second novel, backed it up on floppy discs and began shopping the first novel around to various agents. Got a few nibbles, but no takers. Meanwhile, over the years I continued writing the stories, posting one of the novellas on its own dedicated blog and creating a video installment vlog of another. Two years ago, for NaNoWriMo, I wrote a third novel in the series, and then last year, I wrote the fourth novel in the series.

Then I decided it was time to roll the stories out, so in February of last year, I published ExtremeUnction, the first novel in the series, in paperback through the POD printing service, Lulu. Shortly after, I published it to the Kindel through KDP then the Nook service PubIt. I began also publishing novellas and shorts I had either previously written or had been thinking of writing for years.

However, the whole time there was one thing nagging at me. I wanted to publish the rest of that mystery series. I even made up some covers for them which are all set and ready to go. Unfortunately there was a problem. In the years since I had first written that second novel, the computer I’d written it on had crashed and the discs had mostly become corrupted. I know I had printed out a few copies, but I cannot for the life of me find any of those. My computer savvy friend tried several times to retrieve the files from that fried hard drive to no avail. We managed only to save chapters one, two and five. The rest was gone forever. I had no option, but to re-write 33 chapters of the 36 chapter novel.

So in October, I outlined the story anew, and prepared myself for NaNo 2013.
Well, here we are one day shy of the last day of November, and today I will exceed 50,000 words early in chapter 35. I may even finish the final chapter tonight, but I will not post my results until sometime on the 30th. For the second time in two attempts I will complete NaNoWriMo a winner.

So what is NaNoWriMo? What’s it all about? Well, for most people who commit, it’s a social way to push one’s self to complete a novel. It’s a personal challenge that one shares with other writers through a social network. It’s a way to connect with other people who share a similar personal goal – like Weight Watchers for bibliophiles. The same way going to a gym and having a friend spot you keeps some people on track better than using a home weight system, NaNoWriMo has writing buddies and motivational notes from successful writers or regional leaders.

Personally, I don’t bother with any of that. I self-motivate just fine. I wrote novels one and four in the series with no assistance from NaNo, and novel two is in its second completion; the first non-NaNo, the second as a NaNo project. And, no, it isn’t really “done” done. I still have to do edits and re-writes, then get a few beta readers to find the inconsistencies and grammar and spelling errors I missed. But draft one will be in-the-tank, and that feels like success somehow.

But there’s something about getting to brag that I finished NaNo that makes the experience more satisfying. When I finish a novel in June, I can turn to my girlfriend and say, “It’s finished.” But her reply is usually something like, “Good. Now get to sleep. We have things to do tomorrow.” When I finish NaNo, I can post that to Facebook or this blog and know that – while nobody really cares – at least I can pretend that my boasts are helping somebody else achieve their personal goal as well. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Book Review: Daddy's Little Felons by Rick Bennett

Morgan Rapier is a retired Navy SEAL and an expert at creating computer code who has been surviving in San Francisco but not really living since the death of his wife. In his lonely free time, he comes up with a plan to send a virus to the next hacker who attempts to infiltrate his home computer network. That hack comes just as he receives a call from his old friend, Judge Patrick O’Shea, who pleads with him to come to Salt Lake City to help investigate the murder of a friend of the judge’s wife. This sets off a chain of events that doesn’t end before Morgan has solved the murder of Olive Jenkins, has become internet famous for subduing some redneck thugs on video – twice, has started a minor holy war in the Middle East, has crippled the internet infrastructures of both China and Russia, has helped the FBI track down a serial killer, and has taken a ride on AF1.

Daddy’s Little Felons by Rick Bennett is a thriller which takes its title from a term of endearment bestowed by the Mrs. O’Shea character on the criminal wards of Judge O’Shea’s court. Bennet is clearly computer literate, and the sub-plot concerning the hero’s takedown of the would-be hacker-world (if it can be called a sub-plot since the entirety of the plot is several interwoven subs) is easily the best aspect of the book. In fact, Bennet seems to understand this, as the text is riddled with hyper-links taking the reader to a website established by the author to serve as an encyclopedic set of footnotes explaining the creative concepts the author developed when conceiving the virus plot.
The book also contains several action and/or fight sequences which build in intensity as the story progresses … like a Bruce Willis movie. Early fight and action sequences read realistically, however later sequences are a little over-the-top – making them less Die Hard-like and more Hudson Hawk-ish. The characters are interesting, but a little one-note. The good guy characters and even one of the bad guys all seem to see the world through the same neo-con prism. Meanwhile three “liberal’ characters (all of them female) are shrill, belligerent, and self-destructive in their efforts to “discredit” Rapier.
Personally, I disagree with much of the political bias of the novel, and for some reason the fiction is heavy on the political bias. Nonetheless, I tried to approach it as a neutral reader, and it still came off to me as if the author had taken the actual personalities of Michelle Malkin, Sarah Palin, and Michelle Bachmann and simply superimposed them on fictional versions of Christiane Amanpour, Hillary Clinton, and Nancy Pelosi.
That said, I actually did enjoy the historical aspects of the story which include a detailed description on the Monroe Doctrine and the concept of “letters of marque” as well as some true-to-life history on the foundation of Salt Lake City and the episode of “The Mountain Meadows Massacre” and a real life villain named George Wood. I was also very impressed with the argument Rapier puts forward for deputizing American hackers to bypass international law and take down overseas cyber-terrorists due to the potential they have to disrupt commerce.
Overall, if your fiction tastes run toward Jack Reacher and your non-fiction tastes run toward George Will, you will probably enjoy Daddy’s Little Felons. If, on the other hand, your non-fiction tastes tend to favor Al Franken; you still might enjoy it, but you’ll probably put it down in a huff a few times along the way.
Rick Bennett’s website is The Morgan Doctrine and his book is available in electronic formats through Amazon.
     Alas, Lavar didn’t take my apology in the spirit I’d intended. Instead, he did his smirk toward Lamar, incorrectly assessing my honest apology as cowardice. Then back to me, “Too little. Too late, Morgan.”
     “So I don’t suppose you’ll let me buy you guys a beer and call it even?” I asked.
     “You’d probably get arrested for walking into a bar without your pants on,” smirked Lavar.
     “Ah, quid pro quo,” I said.
     “What’d you call me?” said Lavar, flexing to keep his pump-up going. Lamar looked equally confused and flexed, too.
     “Boys, that means eye for an eye. Pants for pants.”
     “Yes it do,” said Lamar, wanting to keep up his end of the conversation.
     “Too bad you feel that way, Lamar, Lavar,” I sighed. “Let me therefore apologize in advance.”
     “In advance of what,” said Lamar.
     “I truly didn’t want to hurt you guys, but you’re not leaving me much choice.”
     The faintest shadow of concern registered as Lamar’s eyebrows seemed to grow together. He looked about to step back, but Cousin Lavar seemed to miss the implication of my pre-pology. He snickered and said, “We’ve taken down big guys before.”
     “In a bar fight, maybe,” I said. “Fair warning. I’m a US Navy SEAL. Team Three if you know anything about SEALs. I’ve seen a lot of combat, and I could whip ten of you. So, last chance Lamar and Lavar Kendrick.”
     I repeated their last name, for my streaming video record.
     “Don’t forget Cousin Laverl,” said a voice behind me. Obviously, he couldn’t get to me with the car to my back, but perhaps he wanted me to turn so the other two could sucker punch me. My only risk in not assessing the threat might be a baseball bat to the head, but I mitigated against that threat by stepping away from the car and toward the two guys in front of me. Laverl would have to throw his bat, if he had one.
     My forward motion threw off the timing of Lavar’s round house punch, which glanced off my shoulder, instead of my jaw. Lamar also stepped forward, which accelerated his throat into my two right knuckles headed for his larynx. Luckily, I pulled the thrust at the last instant, thereby saving Lamar’s life. But even the pulled punch put him out of the fight, which I knew it would. Lavar had quickly followed his right-hand round house with a left jab to my solar plexus, and it might have hurt me if I didn’t have the reach advantage. A split second after I’d slugged Lamar in the throat, the heel of my left hand slammed into Lavar’s unprotected chin. Combined with his forward momentum, the force snapped his head back and into a garage supporting post. He bounced rather nicely with eyes rolled back before he hit the ground. Now, where was that little scamp, Cousin Laverl?
     I turned to see a wide-eyed statue on the other side of my car. He hadn’t moved since his opening line of the scene. A quick glance behind me at Lamar on his hands and knees and breathing, albeit with difficulty, reassured me that I hadn’t killed the poor devil. Maybe time for an olive branch?
     “Laverl is it?” I said. “You want to take a crack at me, that’s fine. Or you can give me a hand with your cousins to make sure I haven’t hurt them too badly. Your call.”

Friday, November 8, 2013

Author Interview: Dr. Glenn Shepherd, author of Not for Profit

Glenn Shepherd was raised on a farm in eastern Virginia, went to undergraduate school at UVa on an academic scholarship, and graduated in 3 years. There he lettered in wrestling four years,  was a pitcher in fast pitch softball leagues from high school through his military tour of duty, and on into private practice until fast pitch leagues were replaced by slow pitch softball. The certificate he  
values most is the award for being the pitcher on UVa's all Mad Bowl team; also, his participation in the Army's south eastern regional finals game.

He completed a surgery internship and general and thoracic surgery residency at Vanderbilt, completed Plastic Surgery Residency at Duke, and did a hand fellowship at the University of Louisville. He spent two years in the Army at the Ft. Gordon Hospital and the Second Surgical Hospital in An Khe Vietnam.
He entered the private practice of plastic surgery in Newport News, Virginia and worked for 28 years before retiring. For most of those years, he directed the Riverside Facial Anomalies Clinic where with the help of numerous volunteer specialists in ENT, Pediatrics, Oral Surgery, Orthodontics, Speech Therapy, Audiology and Psychology, he treated 500 patients.
He was the director of the Riverside Laboratory of Microvascular Research for 20 years where he financed and participated in basic research in wound healing, cleft palate repair, nail bed growth and repair, development of capsule formation in breast implants, vascularization of  the breast, and nail bed growth and repair. Numerous scientific articles resulted from the research. Three awards were given by the American Society of Plastic Surgery for this research.
He has been on the editorial staffs of The Journal of Plastic Surgery, Journal of Surgery Gynecology and Obstetrics, and the Virginia Medical Monthly.
He is the author of Not for Profit, the first in the Dr. Scott James thriller series. A second project in the works is a biography of Barclay Sheaks, a great painter who battles Parkinson's Disease and self-wills himself to a remarkable come-back from the disease. He is currently writing a novel entitled Relief Aid, Haiti, which is in the Scott James series, in which the plastic surgeon goes to Haiti to assist the surgical load of a physician friend who lives there. The villain of Not for Profit, Omar Farok, plans a nuclear attack on America and wants revenge for Dr. James' and Ethel Keyes' disruption of his earlier attack on the US.

I recently conducted an email Interview with Dr. Shepherd.
Who are your influences?
My chiefs of surgery, Dr. Scott at Vanderbilt, Dr. Pickerell at Duke, and Harold Kleinert in Louisville influenced everything I do. They taught that discipline and dedication are the backbones of every successful undertaking in life.  It's as important not only in becoming skilled at surgery but in all things, whether it's learning golf for the first time after one retires or writing a book.
When did you begin writing?
I wrote my first novel, SURGE, while a surgical resident at Vanderbilt in 1969. I was inspired by Richard Hooker's book, MASH, which was published in 1968. I used notes I wrote while working at the Second Surgical Hospital in Viet Nam 1964-65.  There was little humor in my book as I dwelt on actual happenings at the military hospital and the serious business of caring for the injured in the early part of the war.  The rigors of my training prevented me from completing the book, but it stimulated my writing which I started again with the book, The Hart Virus, a 1000 page manuscript that I finished in 1986.  It picked up newspaper headlines about the AIDS virus and I built a story based on my predictions of the eventual outcome of the AIDS crisis. Again, my plastic surgery practice left little time to pursue publication.  In reading it now, I was surprisingly accurate in predicting the course of the virus over the years.  It became outdated as did my book that followed, Faces in a Bamboo Garden, a story about the Vietnam War. And there were three other books that I wrote while I practiced medicine, The Crypt of St. James, Timeshare, and A Funeral in Texas. It was not until I retired from plastic surgery practice that I had time to devote to my books.  With the direction of the author and writing teacher, Richard Krevolin, I recently published Not for Profit. and Relief Aid, Haiti will be printed soon, hopefully in November.
How do you come up with your stories, characters, character names, POV, etc?
My stories all have come from newspaper headlines. For example, my unpublished Hart Virus came from the new at that time, HIV and its influences on the perception of gays.  Initially, there was a social stigma to AIDS that was followed by acceptance of gays in society and led to the current day integration into society, even to the recent legalization of gay marriages. Not For Profit uses the news media hype about potential flaws in the non-profit hospitals, combines it with the drones and their almost daily accomplishments in the war on terror, and links this with the horror stories of terrorist atrocities.
My characters are combinations of people I've met, people I see in everyday life at the food market, on the street corners, at restaurants, and everywhere I go. I am an observer of people, which was important in my plastic surgery practice as well as in my books. These characters are real to me, and I've used the "star" of Not for Profit in four of my unpublished works. Detective Harris is a person alive in me and was an old, wise professor in the Hart Virus. He also did "cameos" in several others of my novels, as did many other of the people of Not for Profit
Do you work from an outline?
I always start with an outline, but my characters drive the story. They decide themselves where they go and what they do. I lose control of them. And so, I cannot be compelled to follow that initial outline. My initial POV was third person, but the publisher, Paula Munier directed the use of first person for scenes of the primary protagonist and third person for other scenes.
Tell me about your favorite scene in your novel.
My favorite scene is the final paragraph of the book. Dr. Scott James had spent his life creating beauty, peace, and harmony only to have a quirk of fate mess it all up. The opening paragraph of the book tells the mythological story of Orchis, who did wrong and was punished by the gods by their tearing him to pieces. Orchis' father prayed to the gods to restore him, but instead of bringing him back as a man, he was transformed into an orchid.  Orchids references are used throughout the book to bind the diverging elements of the book and the final scene describes Dr. James' vision of seeing the moth-like shape of the Phalaenopsis orchids take flight and restore Orchis to a perfect human body, just as Dr. James has done daily in his plastic surgery practice.
Can you tell us a little about your writing philosophy?
I am a story teller, as my artist friend Barclay Sheaks told me often in my 50 year friendship. I spent considerable time honing skills as a writer so people would be entertained by my stories. But in this entertainment, I have interjected my personal ideas. In the current book, I deliver my personal feelings about the high cost of medicine and how some hospitals may have used their tax exempt status to compete successfully with private enterprises, take the profits they reap and buy more and more businesses, and build giant, hundreds of million dollar corporations, and demand multi-million dollar salaries for the CEO's, all these things adding to the hospital bills individuals and insurance companies have to pay.  A second philosophy I throw in is the great benefits our country has from its successful drone operation. 
A third idea I float is the horrors of terrorism. Some have said I was too graphic in describing acts of terrorism.  But I say that when the actual scenes of a terror attack are glossed over by a summary report of numbers-numbers killed and wounded, the horror of the terrorist attack is lost, as in the recent attack in Boston.  I have seen a few rare scenes filmed at the actual bombing sites immediately after the attack-sights of bodies torn apart, of the pain and anguish people suffered, the ripped apart bodies of the dead-but the media glossed over this to protect our experiencing the actual bombing, and seeing the lack of drama in the court room as these terrorists are tried.  I did not shield my readers. They see the entire thing. I want them to feel what I feel, and what I felt when I've treated victims in Vietnam and in the emergency rooms of hospitals.  I want not to glamorize the terrorist philosophy but to demonize the terrorists.  As with the few sexual scenes - Ethel Keyes was a victim of sexual abuse in her foster homes. Giving sexual favors was the only means this brilliant girl had of surviving in the London bowery.  She was trapped by the terrorists.  If she failed in her missions, she would suffer horrible punishment. I had to show in this book the actual scenes to take the reader along with her as she engaged in pleasurable and loving sex. To have a "jump in bed, screw, and smoke a cigarette" does not show the rehabilitation process that had to occur before her attitude toward sex was changed.  This is established in this book and the triplet, Jump, Screw, and Smoke may well be appropriate for Relief Aid, Haiti. Everything in my book has a purpose.  I am not interested in the sensationalism of sex and violence, but in building a basis for believable protagonists in future books. I hope Dr. Scott James and Ethel Keyes have a lot of stories to tell.
Have you ever tried writing in any other genres?
No. All my writings have been in the mystery genre. Rich Krevolin transformed my writing to the "thriller" category by abbreviating the back stories and getting quickly to the action sequences. Several hundred pages were trimmed from Not for Profit to make it move fast. In fact, the last 100 pages move so fast that I have difficulty proof reading them. Even after reading the book a thousand times, I still get caught up in the action and read so fast, I overlook even obvious errors.
Not for Profit is available in both print and Kindle versions here.