Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Honesty of Reviews

Grandma_gray_haired

Reviews, be they for books, music, art, or movies, are important to the creator of the work in question. A good review alerts other readers that a particular book is well worth your time and money. A good review will help a singer or a band ease from struggle to success. Even in the restaurant business, a good review is often the difference between a full dining room and bankruptcy.

At the same token, a bad review can sink a Hollywood picture before it has a chance to open to the general public. Bad reviews are a part of the creative world that every participant will eventually experience. It’s just a fact of life. There’s no such thing as the perfect novel. Somebody somewhere will find something about your work they just don’t like. Even the Beatles found detractors when releasing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album many believe to be a masterpiece.

Grandma_and_horror

A review should be an honest, critical appraisal of another’s work. This appraisal will guide customers either toward or away from that person’s hard work. In today’s world of self-publishing, many books get published that aren’t necessarily ready for an audience. The story may be fantastic in theory but severely flawed in execution. (Pay the extra money for the editor!) But even in situations like this, honesty can be achieved without being rude. Something along the lines of: “I read the story and enjoyed it for the most part. The concept is quite entertaining. It could really use a thorough editing, to clean up the poor sentence construction, misspellings, and wrong punctuation. The author would do well to read up on Point Of View.” Civility allows others to know that, though the story is entertaining, there are issues within the text.

Civility! The Oxford American College Dictionary defines that word as: formal politeness and courtesy in behavior and speech; polite remarks used in formal conversation.

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Are we capable of civility in today’s cyber world? There’s this awful thing called a revenge review, where people will post negative reviews of books or music just to draw down a particular work’s rating on, say, Amazon.com. Some people, without conscience, will trash a person’s hard work just for the joy of hurting another.

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Recently, I became aware of a reader who actually changed her review of a book after it had been posted for some months. The reason? The reviewer had words with the author over something completely unrelated to the author’s work. This is a childish move, to be sure. But it’s also a dangerous slope to tread for the reviewer. By changing a four-star rating to a one, that reviewer loses credibility with those who read that person’s reviews. To change it after months alerts me that there’s something more going on. Did it suddenly dawn on you that the work deserved a single star rather than the four-star glowing review you originally awarded? Or are you being vindictive and childish because somebody called you out on an issue unrelated to the book in question?

A review should always be honest and from the heart. Once it’s been posted, it should be set in stone—unless the author has made corrections to the work, and the reviewer has re-read the book. To change a review—especially after a period of time—lets others know your word is not to be trusted.

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Reviews are important. And even though some authors like to downplay their importance, we know reviews help sell books. It’s a simple fact. So when writing your reviews, be kind—even in your criticisms. If a book needs work, approach your review as a teaching opportunity, sharing whatever wisdom and knowledge you possess. Civility goes a long way—and not just for the author, either.

All Authors Blog Blitz

Greetings, readers! I am thrilled to be able to participate in this year’s All Authors Blog Blitz. I am grateful to Y. Correa for extending the invitation. Now let me introduce Dorinda Balchin, author of the historical novel Heronfield.

Dorinda Balchin

Heronfield by Dorinda Balchin

Tony Kemshall is a young man excited by the prospect of adventure when war is declared in 1939. When the German war machine invades France in early 1940, Tony goes to St Nazaire to be with his French grandmother until things become settled. As the British Expeditionary Force retreats Tony puts his grandmother on board ship for England, then sets out to seek action and adventure. But the realities of war are very different to his earlier romantic notions, and as Tony gets caught up in the retreat to Dunkirk he develops a deep hatred of the Germans. After experiencing stuka attacks on civilians and the evacuation of the beaches he determines to fight to avenge the deaths he has seen.

Tony speaks fluent French which, coupled with his intimate knowledge of the St Nazaire area, makes him an ideal recruit for the Special Operations Executive who are looking for people to fight behind enemy lines. The SOE ask him to work for them, to be a spy, and he readily agrees. The problem is, the life of a spy is secret, and he can tell no-one about his work. Tony’s father constantly compares him with his brother David, a fighter pilot and hero of the Battle of Britain, and can only see Tony’s cover job with the Ministry of Economic Warfare as a sign of cowardice. Sarah, the woman he loves, compares him to the brave soldiers she treats in hospital, and finds him wanting. As the war drags on over six long years Tony finds himself alienated from those he loves, and realises that this war will cost him far more than he ever imagined. With his relationships in England at an all-time low Tony clings to his new family, the group he puts together working with the French Resistance.

This novel tells the story of the war in Europe from many different perspectives – spy, fighter pilot, VAD nurse, Civil Defence worker, civilian, the French Resistance, American GI. The one thing they all have in common is a link to Heronfield, the country home of Tony’s family in peacetime which has been turned into a convalescent hospital for the duration of the war. It is their link with this place which enabled me to create such a diverse group of characters whose lives could be woven together in a realistic way, just as so many diverse characters really did come together during the long years of the Second World War.

Heronfield grew out of the kernel of a thought I had when reading about a soldier shot as a coward. What if he wasn’t a coward at all? What if he had to hide his true self for the good of his country? From that small seed Heronfield grew.

I have always had a passion for history, and wanted Heronfield to be as historically accurate as possible within the confines of my story. I spent years researching the key points – Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, the bombing of Coventry, the work of the SOE in France, civilian life, D Day and beyond. The more I learnt, the easier it was for me to weave the stories of my characters into the timeline. For me a story needs to be character driven – Who are these people? How do they react? Why?  The Second World War was a time when ordinary people did extraordinary things. For me, as a historian, finding what is at the heart of these people, what makes them tick, is just as much what history is about as the politics and big battles.

In Heronfield, Tony is an idealist. He has great strength of character, is resourceful, intelligent and physically fit. He is immensely proud of the trust that his country places in him and shows great bravery under incredibly difficult circumstances, laying his life on the line in France to bring the war to an end as swiftly as possible. Yet, when in England, his life is full of frustration and anger as he watches another man with the woman he loves, unable to convince her that he is not the coward she thinks he is. Sarah wants to believe in him but finds it impossible when she sees men who are desperate to fight, and the injured from all parts of the globe. How can she love a man who sits behind a desk and does nothing? How can she care for him while he watches others die so that he can be safe? There is always a small voice inside Sarah telling her that she is wrong, that there is more to Tony than meets the eye, but after years of hurt she is faced with a choice between this man and a brave soldier who offers her love and honesty, something Tony seems incapable of. So, what should she do? As the war in Europe moves to its dramatic conclusion Sarah begins to realise that sometimes you should trust your heart, not your head. But sometimes that kind of knowledge comes to us too late.

I wrote the first draft of Heronfield when I was a ‘stay-at-home-Mum’ looking after my children. When they went to school and I returned to teaching there was no time to set aside for such a massive project, and so my manuscript sat on the shelf gathering dust until I gave up teaching and moved to India with my husband in 2008. We now live there, running a guesthouse, and I have found the time to write. Heronfield came back down from its shelf and was published in 2012. I have had some great feedback, a number of people have told me how they have learnt so much about the Second World War from reading Heronfield, which pleases the historian in me. But I also realise that people have only learnt a lot about the war in Western Europe. What about Eastern Europe? The Far East? North Africa? Over the last few months I have come to realise that Heronfield is only the first of a quartet of books which can give the same treatment to all the ‘Theatres of War’. When I have finished the novel I am currently working on I shall happily return to World War II, different characters, different stories, but still people to love and to hate and to journey with through one of the most destructive periods of man’s history.

The prestigious Historical Novel Society will be publishing a review of Heronfield in August 2014. Please do take the time to have a look when it is out! http://historicalnovelsociety.org/

Heronfield Cover

Dorinda’s website http://dorindabalchin.com/

Heronfield’s own webpage http://heronfield.wordpress.com/

Lulu print edition http://www.lulu.com/shop/dorinda-balchin/heronfield/paperback/product-21490087.html;jsessionid=4FE4A6D6DE52359D5F84F16B50A665C3

Amazon print and Kindle editions http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=heronfield&sprefix=heron%2Cstripbooks

Other ebook formats: epub, mobi, pdf, rtf, lrf, pdb, txt http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/240504

Dorinda’s GoodReads Page can be found at http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7095663.Dorinda_Balchin

 

Observations From A Phone Book

Phone Book Pic

I enjoy going to garage sales. These are great places to find deals on such things as music CDs, books, electronic, DVDs, and phone books.

That’s right, I said phone books! I bought a phone directory for a quarter just a few weeks ago. I know! I can hear you saying, “What an idiot! Why would anybody pay even a quarter for a phone book?” But this isn’t just any phone book we’re talking about. This is a genuine March 1965 phone directory for Lansing, Michigan, USA.

This little piece of history offers a glimpse into the past. A walk through the Yellow Pages presents a list of restaurants that no longer exist in my home town, hotels that have disappeared, and service stations that no longer offer full-service care.

What’s really fascinating is finding the address of some long-closed business and matching it up with what exists in that spot today. For instance, the little grocery store (Miller Leland Grocery) that once provided food and other necessities for a North Lansing neighborhood is now a pornography shop. Another grocery store (Shop Rite Super Food Store)—and the entire neighborhood it once supported—is long gone, erased by the highway that now runs through that area.

A stuffy office in which I spent six years working had been a variety store back in 1965. Above the office, what I’d known only as a dark, water-damaged void had been a furnished apartment occupied by the woman who ran the variety store. I know her name was Lula Wint. That’s all the information a phone book will offer.

The night club (The Silver Dollar Saloon) where I spent most of the 1980s drinking and partying to hair metal bands had been an indoor golf facility (Golf-O-Tron) in 1965. There are a few picture of this on a Facebook page dedicated to the now-demolished club.

An interesting observation is in what wasn’t here 49 years ago. There were five McDonald’s carry-out restaurants in the city back then—modern dine-in McDonald’s locations didn’t appear in our area until the early 1970s—but there were no Burger King restaurants. In fact, neither were there Wendy’s or Taco Bell or any other fast food operations (apart from a single Kentucky Fried Chicken). Dominoes and Little Caesar’s Pizza chains both got their start just down the road from Lansing, but neither had opened a kitchen here at that time.

A dip into the residential pages brings a brush of fame to the experience. The father of former NBA superstar Earvin “Magic” Johnson, a Lansing Native, is listed as residing at 814 Middle Street. The budding basketball hall of famer would have been in elementary (primary) school back in 1965.

Infamy lies in there as well. Donald Basinger is listed as living at 6271 Marywood Street. Mr. Basinger would, in December of that year, take a hammer to his wife, two of his children, and the family dog, killing all involved.

March of 1965 was a full two years before my birth. It’s interesting to find my father’s name listed at an address at which I’d never lived (my parents had moved by the time I came along). He and my mother were 19 years old; newlyweds; kids, really, just getting started in life. My older brother hadn’t quite reached his first birthday, and my sister, her entrance into this world was yet a month away.

I lost my father two years ago. I’ve lost each of my grandparents, as well. They’re all in this phone book, listed at addresses I know from my youngest of days on this planet. As are my long-departed great uncles, who owned and operated a small business that once chrome-plated every bumper and every door handle on every Oldsmobile built in this city.

Even the once-mighty Oldsmobile and all of its support businesses are no longer among the living.

It never dawned on me that something so mundane as an old phone book might hold a treasure trove of memories. As a writer, I find inspiration all around me. Finding this simple directory at a garage sale has already inspired several ideas that, with a little nurturing, will one day become short stories or essays—like what I’m writing right here.

So the next time you find an old phone book, pick it up, thumb through its pages, search out the past and bring it into the present. Trust me; you’ll get a kick out of it.

 

 

 

Meet Indie Author Bill Ward

And now, a few words from Rave Reviews Book Club Spotlight Author: Bill Ward!

Author Photo

Nurture your Soul

Since studying Milton’s Samson Agonistes at school this has always been my favourite quote:

“All is best, though we oft doubt, what the unsearchable dispose, of highest wisdom brings about.”

So if you get knocked down by life it’s for a reason and will ultimately be for the best!

Having been made redundant 18 months ago and approaching 60 years of age, I decided the time must finally be right to fulfil a lifelong ambition to write a thriller and get it published. So I turned my back on the corporate world and a good income in order to produce my first thriller Revenge. I had no illusions I would become an overnight sensation as an author but writing Revenge and subsequently my second thriller Encryption, has made me a far happier man, despite the dramatic reduction in income. I feel happier inside than for a long time and so I guess writing has been good for my soul!

The point of this blog is to remind everyone in a job that has overtaken their life that while material things and your finances are important so is nurturing your soul. And to quote many before me, it is never too late to change direction and you should never give up on your dreams. You can’t change the past but you can alter the future. As we all know, if you carry on doing the same thing you will get the same result. I decided rather belatedly to stop what I was doing and try to have some success as an author. I actually consider I have already been successful just by publishing my books and knowing they are being enjoyed by complete strangers.

I understand that I was more fortunate than many in being able to stop working as I have a supportive partner with an income. Life is definitely financially tougher but I am still happier!

I will finish with a famous quote by Lucille ball, which sums up my feelings:

“I’d rather regret the things that I’ve done, than regret the things which I didn’t do.”

 

Author Bio

Bill has recently retired from the corporate world and has finally fulfilled his lifelong ambition to become an author. He has written two thrillers, Revenge and Encryption, with the expectation of many more to follow.
Bill lives in Brighton, UK with his German partner and has seven daughters, a son, two horses, a dog and two cats!

Encryption can be purchased at most online retailers including:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bill-Ward/e/B00F154DZ2/re

http://www.amazon.com/Bill-Ward/e/B00F154DZ2/re 

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/encryption-bill-ward/1118739503?ean=9781496053404

Encryption_AMAZON

Encryption Synopsis

In a small software engineering company in England, a game changing algorithm for encrypting data has been invented, which will have far reaching consequences for the fight against terrorism. The Security Services of the UK, USA and China all want to control the new software.
The Financial Director has been murdered and his widow turns to her brother-in-law to help discover the truth. But he soon finds himself framed for his brother’s murder.
When the full force of government is brought to bear on one family, they seem to face impossible odds. Is it an abuse of power or does the end justify the means?
Only one man can find the answers but he is being hunted by the same people he once called friends and colleagues.