Monday, October 27, 2014

Book Review: Jo by Leah Rhyne

Jolene Hall is a normal college student matriculating at Smytheville University in the Northeastern US. She has loving parents, is besties with Lucy – her dorm roommate (a beautiful red head with a politically
connected mother,) and she has a volatile but loving relationship with her boyfriend, Eli. Then everything changes one evening when she has a fight with Eli on the night of a major blizzard. She foolishly decides to walk home, and the next thing she knows she’s been revived from death as a Frankenstein-like monster. Her flesh is beginning to decimate, her organs have been replaced with pumps and electrical wiring, and her blood has been swapped out for some kind of viscous fluid.

Jo by Leah Rhyne is a novel which walks several edges. It’s not exactly young adult, but it’s also not adult enough in its treatment of some of the more emotional elements to classify it as a classic thriller. It’s not a mainstream horror or sci-fi story either. There is some generic discussion of the mechanics of the lead character’s reclamation over death, but not enough to satisfy a purest; and the story only has one tropey horror scene when Jo and Lucy find themselves surrounded by reanimated zombie-like monster-girls in a poorly lighted laboratory.

There’s a lot of humor in Jo, most owing to Jo's rapidly escalating stench; and the characters interplay well and believably for the most part. In that sense, it reminded me of the recent low budget cult movie Life After Beth. As with most books in these genres, we’re left wondering about how the characters so easily deal with situations that would throw most of us into psychotic breakdown, but if we readers actually refused to suspend disbelief on that score, we’d never get past the premise of zombies or reanimated corpses at all. Would we?

A few of the story’s weaker elements include the introduction of a high-level underground conspiracy which is capable of killing and reanimating an army of fembots, but has such poor security that two college girls are able to escape and destroy their lairs not once, but twice. Also, this shadow governmental agency is peculiarly unable to capture and prevent the girls from investigating their motives despite actually having them in their sites the entire time. Also, I felt the villains were telegraphed a little too much. This could have been avoided by perhaps having a few additional ancillary characters for the others to interact with, but it didn’t really harm the story because that wasn’t really supposed to be a mystery for us to solve.

Ms Rhyne is, however, very adept at figuring out ways to explain away and conceal the smell of a cadaver and to disguise a young girl whose face and limbs are falling away every ten minutes. And the relationships between the various members of Jo’s circle are reverently treated with discreet emotion and beautifully portrayed loyalty. I enjoyed their friendships and sense of family, and it genuinely helped me to relate to and root for the characters.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Jo, and I think it would make an excellent late October book discussion for a group of twenty-something college grad girlfriends looking for something escapist and light for their coffee klatch.

Leah's website is and her books can be found at all online websites. 


   Crossing my arms across my chest, cringing at the snap-crackle-pop sound from my shoulders and elbows, I sat in the car and watched the world outside. The bird was gone from sight, and in the darkening evening sky, the lights of the emergency room bay spotlighted the emergent chaos.   A father walked by, carrying a little girl who held a towel to her lip. Her face was flushed with tears, but she looked safe, riding in her daddy’s arms. Despite the terror in her eyes, I longed to be her for the fleeting moment. To be safe in my father’s arms. It sounded like heaven.   An ambulance pulled beside the squad car, and technicians unloaded a gurney. On it laid a person, covered entirely by a white sheet. Dead. Blissfully dead, I thought. It must be so nice. So much better than this.
   Then I cursed at myself for being weak. Outside, there were shouts and cries as the gurney slid on some ice. A smallish woman dove after it, quicker than the massive men around her. She saved it before it toppled on its side, but it tipped just enough to dump the white blankets into the filthy snow. The body lay, still strapped to the gurney,silent because it wasn’t a half-dead freak like me. The medics were paralyzed for a moment, but then, sheepish, they picked up the soggy blankets and covered the body’s face. I tried not to care that the dead body looked far more alive than I.   Others came and left as the sky around the hospital darkened completely. They faded into a time-lapsed blur, and as they did I thought about Lucy. Lucy, who was inside the hospital, possibly dying from exposure and hypothermia. Lucy, who stood by my side while I literally fell to pieces. Lucy. My best friend.   Please be okay, Lucy. Please be okay. Don’t be dead. I can’t handle it if you’re dead. Please be okay, Lucy. Please be okay, Lucy. It was my mantra as I stared out into the night.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Author Interview: Christopher S. Bell, Author of Modern Hobbies

Christopher S. Bell has been writing and releasing literary and musical works through My Idea of Fun since 2008. Modern Hobbies is his 14th published book to date, and 10th novel overall. His sound projects include Emmett and Mary, Technological Epidemic, C. Scott and the Beltones, and Fine Wives. My Idea of Fun is an art and music collective based out of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. ( . Christopher’s work has recently been published in The Broadkill Review, Mobius and He is also a contributor to Impression of Sound.

He describes his latest release, Modern Hobbies, as the tale of accumulated memories tied to the staying quality of inanimate objects.  Lawrence Thorne stands firm as one of the last survivors of a non-digital age, inevitably imprisoned by a thickened experiment meant to propel the human race forward, while still taking them two steps back.  Amongst his jilted ego, a frantic rebel resides waiting for the inappropriate moment to lash out on society before his insides do so first.  The subsequent consequences are beneficial albeit crippling to the fading mementos meticulously catalogued on his shelves.

This novel will appeal to fans of Kurt Vonnegut, Phillp K. Dick, Anthony Burgess, Hunter S. Thompson and George Orwell.

Who are your influences?
On this particular novel I was most influenced by the works of Kurt Vonnegut. Something like Player Piano or Slaughterhouse Five, which contain very significant Science Fiction elements, but are still highly focused on character interactions, no matter the time or place. That’s kind of how I approached Modern Hobbies, while Orwell’s 1984 is like the mold for any dystopian novel. That book still gets under my skin, but in the best of possible ways.

When did you begin writing?
I would definitely scribble endlessly in middle school. Most of my later English teachers were pretty good at inflicting standard arthritic pains from daily journal writing. Towards the end of high school, I really got into writing screenplays. I did that consistently through college, which certainly helped me write dialogue, not to mention plotting from one point to the next. Towards the end of college, I tackled my first novel and have pretty much been writing those or short stories ever since.

How do you come up with your stories, characters, character names, POV, etc?
Usually I’ll get the first of many ideas when I’m stuck somewhere, not so much forced to be quiet, but not feeling the necessity to talk. I think most writers’ brains run endlessly, no matter their current situation. From those initial sparks, I’ll build up little plot elements as they come to me, occasionally jotting something down here and there.

Months could pass before I finally sit down and plot out the entire work. Names are usually pretty easy. Pulling together different combinations from the phonebook or many indexes online, seeing what really suits the character. It has to be something you live with from that point forward, so you should go for the gold. Locations are usually based on some semblance of where I’ve already been, with the occasional added element. Like anything else, writers have to pull from life.

Do you work from an outline?
Yes. I usually have most plot elements worked out in some degree before I begin. The way these same elements change in the course of writing is usually the best part about the experience.

Tell me about your favorite scene in your novel.
There are obviously quite a few, but in this particular case, the climax still stands as my favorite. Without giving too much away, it’s the point where Lawrence reaches his breaking point, every element both outside and in, organic and synthetic, failing him before starting a new. There’s a flood happening, before an unlikely confrontation. I realize I’m being vague, but it’ll all make sense in-between the lines. At least, I hope anyway.

Can you tell us a little about your writing philosophy?
I try to write every day, or at least do something in the context to writing every day. Being regimented in this particular case is never a bad thing. Just to set aside some time every evening during the week to write and listen to a record is very therapeutic for me at this point. I tend to get out a great deal of my frustrations this way, in addition to the occasional choice phrase.

Have you ever tried writing in any other genres?
While Modern Hobbies is Science Fiction, my other books run the gamut. A lot of my earlier works are more youth based, pulling together elements from college and high school to tell a cohesive story. That’s not to say those works don’t also have an occasional WTF moment in them. I think it’s good to stretch out as far as you can with your writing. My recent short stories are all pretty standard literary fiction, nothing like this book, but still one could easily find a similarity in there.

Do you have any interesting writing-related anecdotes to share?
Unfortunately, nothing comes to mind. It’s funny because while I know a good amount of people who write or work creatively, most of our anecdotes are about other things entirely. I think good writing comes from the truth in the most awkward and often rewarding of situations. It’s something I do alone with the exception of songwriting, which can be highly beneficial with another person around to give it their all.

All of Christopher’s works are available at

Monday, October 13, 2014

Author Interview: D.J. Donaldson, Author of Louisiana Fever

D.J. (Don) Donaldson is a retired medical school professor.  Born and raised in Ohio, he obtained a Ph.D. in human anatomy at Tulane, then spent his entire academic career at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis.  In addition to being the author of several dozen scientific articles on wound healing, he has written seven forensic mysteries and five medical thrillers.

His latest novel, Louisiana Fever, features Andy Broussard, the “Plump and Proud” New Orleans medical examiner, who obviously loves food.  Less apparent to the casual observer is his hatred of murderers. Together with his gorgeous sidekick, psychologist Kit Franklyn, Broussard forms a powerful, although improbable, mystery solving duo.

When Kit goes to meet an anonymous stranger—who’s been sending her roses—the man drops dead at her feet before she could even get his name. Game on.

Andy Broussard soon learns that the man carried a lethal pathogen similar to the deadly “Ebola”—a highly contagious virus, feared worldwide for killing its victims (grotesquely) in a matter of days. When another body turns up with the same bug, widespread panic becomes imminent. The danger is even more acute, because the carrier is mobile. The man knows he’s a walking weapon and… he’s targeting Broussard.

And when Kit Franklyn investigates her mystery suitor further, she runs afoul of a cold- blooded killer, every bit as deadly as the man searching for her partner.

Louisiana Fever is written in Donaldson’s unique style:  A hard-hitting, punchy, action-packed prose that’s dripping with a folksy, decidedly southern sense of irony.  Mix in Donaldson’s brilliant first-hand knowledge of forensics, along with the sultry flavor of New Orleans, and readers will be fully satisfied with this irresistibly delectable mystery.

What inspired you to start writing, and when?
Oddly, the thought that I wanted to become a novelist just popped into my head one day shortly after my fiftieth birthday.  Part of this sudden desire was a bit of boredom with my real job.  I was an anatomy professor at the U. of Tennessee and had accomplished all my major professional goals: course director, funded NIH grant, teaching awards, and many published papers on wound healing.  So I guess I needed a new challenge. And boy did I pick a tough one. 

I wondered, how does a novice like me learn to write fiction? Taking a few writing courses is an obvious answer. But I had the vague feeling that there were a lot of unpublished writers teaching those courses and I worried that all I’d learn was how to fail.  I’m not saying this was the best way, but I decided to just teach myself.  I bought ten bestselling novels and tried to figure out what made each of them work. What tricks were the authors using to hold my attention?  What made these books so popular?  In a sense then, maybe I didn’t teach myself.  Maybe Steven King, Robin Cook, Pat Conroy, Michael Palmer, Larry McMurtry, and James Michener did.  In any event, eight years later, I sold my first book.  So, it took me about as long to become a published novelist as it did to train for medical research and teaching.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
There’s nothing easy about any of it. But titles are a particular challenge.  I often can’t figure out what the title of a book should be.  Oh, I know when a title is great and so do you… It’s like the dealer at a flea market who once said to me when I picked up an expensive item to look at more closely…”You have good taste.”  Then, while I was secretly preening at his compliment, he added,  “Of course, it’s not that hard to spot quality.”   It’s the same with book titles.  Here’s a test:  What do you think of this title?  THEY DON’T BUILD STATUES TO BUSINESSMEN.

To me, it’s awful.  I’d think so even if I’d been the one to come up with it.  Actually, it was the famous writer, Jacqueline Susann, who crafted that one for a book that eventually became a mega best seller as VALLEY OF THE DOLLS.  Could there be anybody who likes the first title better?  Okay…. there’s always someone who enjoys being a contrarian.  But that still doesn’t make the first title any good.

Let’s try another.  How about ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL?  That’s actually not horrible.  But it doesn’t sound like the sweeping saga the author wrote.  I certainly think the title it was eventually given, WAR AND PEACE, is far better.

So, it’s easy to know a great title when you see it, but boy is it hard to come up with one, especially when you’re writing a New Orleans series that needs to have a title that reflects the locale.  I usually sit for hours playing with words and rearranging them in what I hope are creative ways.  No matter what title I eventually settle on for a book, I have this nagging suspicion that even if I really like the one I pick, there was a much better one I could have used.  I just couldn’t find it.  My WAR AND PEACE was out there, just beyond reach. 

Of all my New Orleans books, I’m the most satisfied with the title for LOUISIANA FEVER. Although the title doesn’t specifically mention New Orleans, it lets readers know a lot about the locale. It also strongly suggests that the story involves some kind of contagious disease.  The fever part of the title actually refers to Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, a bleeding disease similar to Ebola. Most writers would be thrilled to have written a book that could be related to unfolding world events.  Normally, I’d be among them.  But in this case, I’d much prefer that there be no reason for Ebola to be in the news every day. I hope this threat is contained soon.

What was the hardest part of writing LOUISIANA FEVER? Did you learn anything from writing that book and what was it?
My intention in each book is to reveal more about my two main characters, Andy Broussard and Kit Franklyn by putting them in situations that cause them to change and grow. And the more books I write about them, the harder it is to develop these little character arcs. LOUISIANA FEVER was number four in the series, so my two protagonists were already fairly well fledged out when I began work on the book. At that time, I had no idea what would face them in the new story, or how they would react. But as pieces of the project took shape, opportunities appeared, as they always seem to do. In fact, those arcs for Andy and Kit turned out to be more significant than I ever expected. Strange as it sounds, in each book my characters teach me something new about themselves.

Why New Orleans?
When I first started writing, I had no idea if I could produce a book good enough to find a publisher.  That’s of course the big question in anyone’s mind when they think about writing a novel. But I figured I could improve my chances by setting the book in a place that provided a lot to write about and could be used to give my story a palpable atmosphere. I had lived in New Orleans for five years during graduate school, and even though that was a long time before I got the urge to write, those years remained burned into my memory. Is there any other city in the country that better served my objectives for a setting than New Orleans? I thought it was the perfect choice then, and I still do.  Also, coming from a biology background, swamps and bayous hold a natural attraction for me.  Whenever I see an interesting body of water, I want to get out of the car and walk the bank, looking for wildlife.  Maybe one day I’ll tell you how that kind of curiosity once resulted in me heading over to pick my wife up after work with no knowledge that there was a live cottonmouth moccasin loose in the car.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
Don’t write for wealth or fame because most writers in the world, even those who have sold books to major publishers, can’t claim either of those status symbols.  There’s an old quote that says, “You can get rich in this country by being a writer, but you can’t make a living.”  Write because you love it.  If you don’t love doing it then you can be crushed by the difficulties inherent in the pursuit. 

All of D.J.'s books in this series are available for the Kindle at a cost of $0.99 through the end of October. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Why There Will Probably Never Be A Podiobook Version of the Lupa Schwartz Mysteries

Lately, I have been listening to a lot of podiobooks. A podiobook is a novel which has been broken down into installments, recorded as an audio series, and released as a serialized limited-run podcast. The books I have been listening to are mysteries archived on, but there are other sources for podiobooks available. For example, the folks who brought us the Self-Publishing Podcast have begun something they call the Indie Fiction Podcast.

I find the format interesting, and consider it a great way to introduce new readers to a series. Most podiobooks differ from audiobooks one might find on such sites as in three major ways. First, obviously, is that they are serialized. Second is that they are offered for free – something which audible does not do unless one is also a member of a paid service. The third difference, however, is a major distinction. Podiobooks are generally read by the author whereas for-purchase audiobooks are generally read by a paid actor.

There’s a reason for this, obviously. If a reader is buying a novel, they expect it to be as professional and well-made as possible. Since podiobooks are offered for free, not only is it cost prohibitive to pay the high costs of voice talent, it’s also not something most listeners are going to expect or complain about.

The problem for me, though, is that the books in my series are clearly narrated by a woman. I would love to be able to narrate my books, but it would be very strange to hear a man’s voice saying such things as, “Mia was the only one there, and when I saw her, I was glad that Trevor had made a point to ask me to invite her along for his friend. It helped diminish the overwhelming envy I was feeling for her.”

That has to be read with a feminine voice to translate correctly. I would have to read every word of the narration in a fabricated feminine octave. I suppose I could use software to change the timbre of my voice, but I’d have to remove the filter for the male characters, which would create a false impression that the book had two distinct narrators.

When the first book was initially released, a friend made several sample audio files for a series of brief ads. The woman who volunteered to read that had the perfect voice for it. She did an amazing job, and I would love to be able to hire her or somebody like her to narrate the entire novel – maybe even the entire series – someday, but I’m not financially there yet.

In the meantime, here’s the series of commercials which I’ve compiled into a sort of book trailer. Enjoy.