Monday, June 18, 2018

Don't drive them to take up scorpion-petting!

The Artdog Quote of the Week

IMAGE: Many thanks to Debbie Ridpath Ohi and Liana Brooks, for this reminder of the importance of book reviews. Thank your favorite author in a way that counts!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Help an author

The Artdog Image of Interest

In keeping with this month's "Write reviews, already!" theme (emphasizing the importance of book reviews for author ratings), I thought this was an appropriate image to share.

IMAGE: The origin of today's Image of Interest, "Help an Author--Leave a Review," is complicated. I have unfortunately lost the history of the search that originally put the file in my folder, although I have a feeling it came through Pinterest. According to Tineye Reverse Image Search this image originated in February of 2010 on the "permanently under construction" Conferences page of the Theoretical Chemistry Group of the Bergische Universit├Ąt Wuppertal in Wuppertal, Germany. The image has "crawled" at least 20 times since. Maybe 21, counting this post?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Found on Twitter

Jennifer Foehner Wells
Back in ancient days before the Tweeter-in-Chief became a thing and I became more focused on boosting my productivity, I could beguile hours at a time on Facebook and Twitter. I made some great discoveries during that time period, including the marvelous Debbie Ridpath Ohi (@inkyelbows), who writes and illustrates children's fiction, creates delightful cartoons about the writing life, and turns doodles, found objects and table detritus into fanciful visions.

I also discovered sf authors for older-than-children, especially Jennifer Foehner Wells, who's become one of my all-time favorites (and a great inspiration), right up there with Lois McMaster Bujold and Louise Penny, as well as another Indie, Zen Di Pietrowhose space opera series I'm not done reading yet (reviews to come at a future date).

Patrick Weekes
During the same period, I discovered Patrick Weekes, a fantasy author whose unique takes on magic systems and morality within what looks like high fantasy world kept me reading and chuckling (He also happens to be the lead writer for the Dragon Age game).

Since my theme this month is catching up on my reviews, I thought I'd dedicate this post to reviewing books by two of my "Twitter finds," Wells and Weekes.

I've already reviewed two of Wells' books, Fluency and Remanence. I figure it's now time for a couple more, along with Weekes' Rogues of the Republic Trilogy. You know if they're featured on my blog, I think they're worth reading. Now let me tell you why.

Jennifer Foehner Wells
The Confluence Series continues

Darcy Eberhardt's story ended up being rebranded as Book Three of the Confluence Series (with two different Galen Dara covers), but whichever title you read it under, it's quite a ride.
Jane, Alan, Brai, and the rest of the Speroancora crew are back for another adventure in Valence (with a Stephan Martiniere cover)--in which Zara, an interesting new voice, also chimes in for Book Four.

Turning the tables on The Most Dangerous Game
Inheritance (published earlier as The Druid Gene)
By Jennifer Foehner Wells

Here's a new twist on the "abducted by aliens" idea, from an author whose entire "Confluence Series" deserves attention. Darcy Eberhardt is a second-year medical student who steals a break from studying for a test, to take an overnight camping trip with her boyfriend Adam. He's determined to take her to a special place he's found, so she can relax and rest.

It's pretty special, all right. Unwittingly, Adam has led her to a place where a secret hidden for millennia in her genetic makeup can suddenly activate—and land them both squarely in the bulls-eye of an interstellar target.

Can Darcy learn to control and use her ancient gift—as well as all of her other aptitudes and capabilities—to forge new bonds with undreamed-of allies, and rescue both herself and Adam from the trap they've fallen into? Join her for a crash course in the myriad lifeforms of the "Confluence" universe (including a reunion for some Wells readers with Hain, protagonist of her novelette The Grove), as Darcy struggles to confront the most dangerous lifeform in her new, expanded world, and pass the hardest test of all.

A note on the covers: both The Druid Gene and Inheritance  have covers by Galen Dara, whose distinctive style adorns much of Wells' website, too.

A riveting space opera series, and a worthy new addition to the cast

The "Confluence" series continues to provide fascinating non-Terran worlds and cultures, and plenty of excitement, danger and suspense to keep me turning the pages. This book brings together our old friends, Jane Holloway, Alan Bergen, Ei'Brai the kuboderan, and the rest of the Speroancora crew, as well as their accumulating list of friends from an accumulating list of worlds.

Some of these friends realign themselves into new configurations in this episode. We also get relatively brief glimpses of Darcy and Hain, but even more striking is a parallel plotline that introduces a strong new character, Zara, along with some other very cool new characters and a whole lot of new complications.

All the while, our assorted friends do their part to support each others' quests and keep the Swarm away from Earth. Relationships continue to evolve in realistic ways. Wells has written a worthy next chapter in this riveting space opera series, and has brought in a great new plotline. This is science fiction the way it OUGHT to be written! I already can't wait for the next book.

A note on the cover: As with Fluency and Remanence, Stephan Martiniere created the cover art for Valence. Wells has credited his covers as a factor in her early success. It's a case in point for Indies: people DO often judge books by their covers. Invest wisely in a cover from a real professional!

Patrick Weekes
The Rogues of the Republic Trilogy

Cover design and illustrations by Lili Ibrahim, Deron Bennett and Jason Blackburn do a remarkable job of keeping the look of Patrick Weekes' Rogues of the Republic series visually consistent (extremely important) despite the changing artistic hands for each book. 

Will skill, grit and a large bag of magical tricks be enough?

Getting imprisoned for life on the impossible-to-escape crystals of the lapiscaela was not necessarily part of the plan. 

But Loch, along with her band of rascals, rogues and magical miscreants are adaptable. Misdirection and sleight-of-hand might be pickpockets' tools, but they know how to employ those techniques and a whole lot more to further their ends—which actually are more worthy than they'd ever want to admit. Now, if only the implacable Justicar Pyvic wasn't so dedicated to tracking them down!

Soon it becomes clear that escaping from the lapiscaela was the easy part of their quest to regain a treasured artifact stolen from Loch's family. Before it's over she and her diverse companions (who include a shapeshifting unicorn, a talking magical warhammer, a disgraced mage, and a handful of others) will take on thugs, bullies, and power-mongering politicians, take a zombie for a stroll, and fight the Hunter Mirrkir, who is not mortal. But that's just the warm-up. 

Patrick Weekes brings to life a memorable cast of characters in a vivid fantasy world that is diverse, perverse, and consistently unlike others you may previously have explored. 

May the best cheater win . . . 

How can a book of naughty elf-poetry keep the Republic and the Empire out of a war?

Former Scout, rogue, and daughter of an all-but-extinct noble house in her homeland, Loch doesn't mind indulging in a little thievery, if that's what it takes, and she has an intrepid band of friends and fellow miscreants to help her. This crew of sorcerers, sleight-of-hand artists, safecrackers, acrobats and others, as well as possibly the outcome of a high-stakes card game, may be all that stands between peace and mutually-assured destruction. 

But there's a lot of interference to run, between the golems, daemons, elves, dwarves, mercenaries . . . And did I mention the dragon?

A more unlikely lot of heroes you'd be hard-pressed to find, and they line up some unlikely allies, too—some of whom prove more trustworthy than others. Patrick Weekes once again brings all the seemingly-chaotic parts together for a fast-paced, adventure in which the dangers are high, but the cost of losing is even higher.

Beset on all sides in the hardest test yet
The Paladin Caper

Targeted where it hurts the most: their families!

The Ancients want to rise again, but they've been stymied by Loch and her band of "unusual suspects" twice, now. This time they'll stop at nothing, and they have a head start. They've already infiltrated the highest ranks of the Republic. Their tentacles reach everywhere, and Loch's group has no lack of mortal enemies with grudges too.

Not to mention enthralled elves and dwarves, golems galore, and a temple full of reanimated-but-dead priests among the obstacles. With the team scattered and hard-pressed, and the Glimmering Folk on the march, Loch would die to stop the Ancients. 

Or has she, already?

IMAGES: Many thanks to Joe's Geek Fest, for the head shot of Jennifer Foehner Wells (be sure to read Joe's review while you're at it!), and to Goodreads, for Patrick Weekes' head shot. Thanks are due to Amazon for ALL of the covers: The Druid Gene, Inheritance, Valence, The Palace Job, The Prophecy Con, and The Paladin Caper. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Have you thanked an author today?

The Artdog Quote of the Week

While preparing last Wednesday's post, I found several images and quotes on this subject. It seemed as if my Quotes of the Week were finding themselves for me. I figure if I post them now, before my own book is out, I can promote a message that's dear to my heart at a time when it's not too embarrassingly self-serving.

The truth of the matter is, it's really hard for any author--traditionally published or Indie--to help more people find his/her book, especially when s/he's just starting out. Traditional publishers set an author loose upon the world with a stamp of approval--somebody already thought this was good. But a new author is allotted no advertising budget by his/her publisher, and no promotional help. So once the book is produced, they're in the same boat as the Indie (just making lots less on each sale).

No matter how it's published, readers need to know about new books they might like. And authors' careers and future as producers of more excellent books absolutely live or die by how many people find, enjoy, and share the information about their book.

One excellent way to get out the word about a good new book is through reviews that readers write and post: on Amazon, definitely. But also on Goodreads, on other review sites, on social media, on one's own blog--anywhere possible.

Reviews don't have to be long, either. Most people won't read past 50-100 words, so stop there, especially if you're crunched for time. A review short enough to tweet is a hundred times better than no review at all, "because I don't have time."

IMAGE: Many thanks to Monica Hart on Pinterest, for this image!

Friday, June 8, 2018


The Artdog Image(s) of Interest 

Isaac Asimov does not need my reviews, as so many contemporary authors do. But after having recently completed the classic "Robot" Trilogy, these three reviews were a pleasure to write. If you haven't yet taken this walk back into an earlier view of the future, you really might want to give them a try. They're classics for a reason. Dated? Sure. But even so, there's a lot to enjoy.

The Caves of Steel
The opening novel of this major science fiction trilogy from the 1950s is a classic, odd-couple, "buddy cop" pairing. Elijah Baley is an Earth-born detective who profoundly distrusts the high-and-mighty Spacers, who think they're better than those who stayed on Earth--and that goes double for the Spacers' robots, who threaten to do away with ordinary people's jobs and livelihoods. So of course when a prominent Spacer is killed while on Earth, and Baley is assigned to investigate, who should they name as his partner but a robot? And not just any robot. R. Daneel Olivaw is made in the likeness of the murdered Spacer, right down to the smallest hair. Cultures clash, misunderstandings ensue--but there's a mystery to solve. This book opens a world of wonders (some of them highly improbable, given today's understandings) and strong prejudices. A major theme is pushing one's boundaries to open up new tolerance to "the other." It's a theme we could profitably revisit today.

The Naked Sun
I think this is my favorite of Asimov's three classic "Robot" novels. It's a well-made mystery, and once again involves a cast of interesting characters in a very unusual culture. Elijah Baley is promoted and sent (against his will) away from Earth as a special favor to the powerful Aurorans. His mission: unravel a seemingly-insoluble murder on another planet, Solaria, for which the only suspect is a beautiful young woman named Gladia Delmarre--who swears she didn't do it. Baley is teamed up once again with the inimitable R. Daneel Olivaw. Together--and occasionally at odds with each other--they unravel the mystery in a way that only someone willing to "think outside the box" could do. Meanwhile, Baley continues to expand his horizons and push himself to new lengths against conditioning he's accepted all his life . Some of the extremely dated assumptions underlying the entire world made the whole work even more interesting to me.

The Robots of Dawn
By the time this third installment was written, some of the tech was already looking and feeling a little obsolete--but Asimov is regarded as a master for good reason. This book brings Earth Detective Elijah Baley, his sometimes-partner R. Daneel Olivaw, and the Solarian, Gladia Delmarre, back together again, in new circumstances on the primary Spacer planet of Aurora. But Gladia's in trouble again, and Baley still has un-dealt-with feelings for her from their earlier encounter. This book explores them and brings the trilogy to a resolution, while allowing Baley, once again, to use his powers of deduction in a way only a man NOT of Auroran culture could. Another fascinating take on culture clashes and assumptions made—even while it remains blind to some of the assumptions of the time period in which it was written.

IMAGES: I took photos of the covers of books in my possession, to make the composite as consistent as possible. The cover art for The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun are both by Stephen Youll. Cover design for The Robots of Dawn is by Kiyoshi Kanai.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Chipping away at the TBR Tower

Actually only PART of
my TBR pile.
It's harder to
photograph a pile of e-books!
I recently tweeted a photo of my "TBR" pile . . . not "to be READ," but "to be REVIEWED."

I'd been giving my work area a far-too-long-delayed cleaning, in an attempt to regain (the illusion of) control over my collection of books. On an impulse, I started stacking up books I'd read but to the best of my recollection had not yet reviewed . . . oh, my. What a guilt-inducing exercise!

Why guilt-inducing? Because some of those books are Indie-published. Even for traditionally-published writers, their reviews play a part in their ranking on Amazon's lists. And an Indie without very many reviews is in many ways INVISIBLE.

As Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant note in their indispensable Write. Publish. Repeat, (white spine, middle of my pile; sorry, guys, soon, I promise!), "Regardless of whether your reviews make you feel good or bad, that's not what matters in the big picture. Reviews mainly matter because they serve as social proof. The more reviews a book has, the more legitimate it will appear to people . . . " (italics are mine; p. 299 of the print version).

If someone reviewed a book, that is supposed to mean they read it (please DO read them! Anything else is fraudulent behavior that no one appreciates and many websites have effective means of punishing).

This meme goes around from time to time--and it's as right-on as ever. Pass it on!

I have often held back from writing a review if I am critical of some aspect of the book, but (especially for Indies) I'm trying to mend my ways in that respect, at least on sites such as Amazon. That's because even critical reviews are valuable. (I still prefer not to review books I just don't like at all, on this blog)

Critical reviews are never fun for authors to get, but even if a certain percentage of those who read the book didn't like it and say so in a review--they still were interested enough to read part or all of the book, and cared enough to write a review. Others might read what was meant to be a thumbs-down, and think, "hey, that sounds interesting!" (because not everything one person dislikes is "bad" to someone else).

Read it for 3D characters and nonstop adventure!
Let me give you a case in point. I double-checked my memory about several of the books in that pile ("did I really not write that review? I sure meant to!"). In the cross-checking I ran across a review by someone else for Remanence, by Jennifer Foehner Wells (I did review that one, thank you!! Also posted the review on this blog, which should tell you what I thought about it).

The guy (yes, it was a guy, but you guessed that, I bet) who wrote it criticized "the amount of time spent developing a touchy feely/romantic relationship between two main characters."

This, of course, is one of the many things I love about Wells's novels: three-dimensional characters who are more than just their job or their mission. They have personal lives and relationships (not all of them romantic) with other characters. Thus, this guy's "I dislike this" review reflected an aspect I really liked, and (alongside all the reviews by folks who loved the book) might have induced me to read it, if I hadn't already enthusiastically done so.

So go ahead and write those reviews. Take the time--especially if you liked the book, and double-especially if the author hasn't garnered 1,000 reviews yet!

For an Indie (basing this guideline on Platt & Truant, again), 10 or more reviews are reasonable, but not stellar. More than 100 reviews means the author's made a respectable showing, and might be worth a look from someone who's not sure. More than 1,000 puts the writer in a much more impressive league, alongside bigger-name, more established writers. Every review is important, even if it isn't the one that pushes the writer over a threshold, because every review gets them one step closer.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go write some book reviews . . . .

IMAGES: I took the photo of my own "TBR Tower." If you wish to re-post it, please do so with an attribution to Jan S. Gephardt and a link back to this blog post. I found the "I support Indie Authors" meme on Jo March's blog, via Pinterest. Thanks, Jo! The cover image for Jennifer Foehner Wells's Remanence is from her website. The cover artwork is by Stephan Martiniere. If you haven't yet read Remanence, you should buy it from Amazon and read it! Don't miss the rest of the Confluence Series, either!

Monday, June 4, 2018

The difficulty with old ideas

The Artdog Quote of the Week

Whatever our field of endeavor, we must grapple with the fact that anything we have thought of, someone else has too. But did they come at the thought the same way we did? Can we go deeper, look closer, find a new way of looking at the situation?

Creativity is at the very core of problem-solving, because only a new, creative melding of previously un-connected ideas can solve our most intransigent problems (except for those whose solutions we've known all along, and been afraid to apply . . . ).

IMAGE: Many thanks to Brainy Quotes, for this thought from John Maynard Keynes.