Looking for Book Reviews?

As a new author (WHISPERS IN THE CANYON was officially published on 9/18), I’ve been scrambling to find sites that will review my novel. Reviews not only help in Amazon rankings, but also let your potential readers know how other readers reacted to your book. When a buyer is trying to decide which of the many available stories they’d like to read, reviews are a must-have.

background book stack books close up

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

Then I found Reedsy’s list of Best Book Review Blogs, a curated list of almost 200 reviewers that’s searchable by genre. In the Historical Fiction category, I found almost 60 bloggers who’ll review an indie novel. WOW!!! I wonder how many I’ll find when I look at the romance category!

I’d already sussed out six blogs to contact (two of them are on Reedsy’s list), but it took me almost an hour per listing to find them. So the amount of time I’ll save now is incalculable.

Not all the reviews are free, and some have limitations on subject matter. You may also need to join some organizations to qualify for the review. But those decisions are easily made based on your own preferences. What I love is that someone else has done the work of culling out the best of the best!

Take a look at Reedsy’s list for your own genre — I bet you’ll be glad you did!

WHISPERS IN THE CANYON Now Available!

I am thrilled to share the news that WHISPERS IN THE CANYON, the first book of the Donovan Family Saga, is now available on Amazon.com!

WhispersintheCanyonMed.jpg

In the 1880s Arizona Territory, Jesse Travers’ father dies and leaves her with a bankrupt ranch and a deep well of distrust.

Shunned by the village for her outlaw brother’s deeds, Jesse is not sorry to hear he’s been killed while robbing a bank. Strangely enough, it’s the man who shot him who brings her the news. Even more strange is this latecomer’s willingness to help her put her ranch back on solid footing. Lacking any other options and loving her canyon home, Jesse overcomes her trepidation and accepts his help.

Irish immigrant Adam Donovan inherited the gift of empathy from his Celtic forebears, and it’s not long before he ferrets out Jesse’s secret: she’s been deeply traumatized by abuse.

As they work together to improve her ranch, Jesse begins to trust Adam and feels the first stirrings of love―an experience she’s never known before. Then, as if to tell her she is unworthy of happiness, her past rises up with a vengeance and she is left with a terrible choice: retreat to a life of solitude and shame, or reveal her tragic secret in the minuscule hope of saving her relationship with Adam Donovan.

The novel is available as an e-book on Amazon right now, and it’s free if you have Kindle Unlimited!

 

Does Your Story Need a Bad Guy?

A writer asks if his work might suffer because he doesn’t write “antagonists”, by which he means there is no specific person for his hero to fight. He writes books about climate change and how it affects his characters.

My answer: “Of course you have an antagonistit’s NATURE”.

Traditionally, there have been five types of antagonists in literature:

Man against Man

Man against Nature

Man against Society

Man against Himself

Man against the Supernatural

Recently, another antagonist has been added to the list:

Man against Technology

AI by geralt from Pixaby

Picture by geralt from Pixaby

Given those choices, how do we figure out which of those antagonists fits our needs?

Man vs Man: You can look at any of the Hero sagas for this theme, whether it’s Beowulf or Batman. It’s also a common theme in mysteries, westerns, and romances, where the villain (whether murderer, rustler or ex-girlfriend) must be vanquished in order for the protagonist to succeed.

Man vs Nature: This theme is found in Moby Dick and The Old Man and The Sea, but also in stories like Cast Away and The Towering Inferno, where the protagonist must either use the natural world to save himself, or fight a natural force to save someone else.

Man vs Society: Here, the most commonly cited author is Jane Austen, whose characters are always bumping up against the artifices of 18th century England. To Kill a Mockingbird is another fine example, as is Riders of the Purple Sage, where a woman is pitted against the strictures of Mormon society when an unscrupulous bishop wants her for her wealth.

Man vs Himself: While Hamlet is the most obvious example of this theme, Riders of the Purple Sage also shows us this conflict, as the woman’s non-Mormon champion, Lassiter, must give up his guns to gain her trust and, eventually, her love. Lassiter’s internal struggle to reconcile himself to a non-violent solution to their dilemma is just as strong as Hamlet’s, though his ultimate act is much different (no spoilers here!)

Man vs the Supernatural: Whether it’s called Fate, God, or a wizard’s spell, conflicts can be found from the myths of Prometheus and Loki, to the witches in MacBeth, through to Harry Potter. It also includes vampires, flying monkeys, as well as the zombie apocalypse.

Man vs Technology: Both Brave New World and 1984 demonstrate the challenges of technology changing our life in ways we could not anticipate. Other good examples of this conflict are 2001:A Space Odyssey and Frankenstein.

frankenstein-by skeeze from Pixabay

Picture by Skeeze from Pixabay

 

Now that we’ve explored the kinds of antagonists, the question is: can a book have more than one antagonist?

We’ve already seen two examples of antagonists in Riders of the Purple Sage. We could also see it in The Towering Inferno, where the protagonist is not only striving to save people from the fire, but trying to discover what went wrong, while the builder is hiding the cost-cutting measures he employed in construction.

In my forthcoming book, Whispers in the Canyon, the human antagonist is dead before the story begins, but that doesn’t mean his evil deeds died with him. My characters, Adam Donovan and Jesse Travers, must deal with the aftereffects of the abuse Jesse suffered at her dead brother’s hands.

These two also have problems with nature to be faced, and the Man vs Himself theme rears its ugly head when Adam begins to blame himself for not recognizing Jesse’s plight earlier.

So, if your manuscript doesn’t have a “good guy” and a “bad guy”, and there’s something other than that (or several other somethings) causing problems for your hero, never fear. The antagonist of your story doesn’t have to be human at all.

 

THE WHARF

Writers are often asked where inspiration comes from. And the truth is, it often comes from someone else. Before I moved, I belonged to a wonderful writing group at the library of an overcrowded New York City suburb. Our Fearless Leader would send us a weekly prompt, and once it was to write about “a girl on a bench in the rain”.

I recently adapted the short story I wrote then to the novel I’m working on now: The Winds of Morning is a “prequel” to WHISPERS IN THE CANYON and depicts the family’s emigration to the States. The scene in the manuscript is one where Molly contemplates her husband’s wish to leave Ireland behind.

I thought I’d share the original story, the inspiration for that scene, titled The Wharf.

Daisy had taken to wandering down by the wharf of a late afternoon. She loved the soft salt sea air of Wexford, the left-over smell of fish from the morning’s haul, the screams of the wheeling gulls. Toward the end of the wharf a series of barrels, once full of salt cod, were lashed together to the pilings and made a sort of rough bench for the fisherman who sat and swapped stories after their work was done. But at this time of day, it was deserted — the men and children gone home to supper and early bed, the women done with their day’s duties, save perhaps a bit of darning by the oil lamp.

At this time of day, her own brood lay sleeping under the old lady’s vigilant eye. Daisy sat quite still, enjoying the quiet slap of waves against the piers, watching the clouds gather for their afternoon sally into port. Today, they only created a fine mist that was gone almost before it started. She shook out her hair — Daisy was quite proud of her hair, which had become soft and full from the rain, not unruly or tangled as so many ginger heads did. She took great care of her hair, never realizing that it was the brilliant green of her eyes that attracted others the most.

She turned her shoulders to the sun that was just gleaming again through the clouds, enjoying its warmth on her back. One of the young toughs of the village sauntered by, posturing and making eyes at her, but she ignored him completely.  She had precious little time; she wouldn’t waste any of it on him. Her offspring would wake and need to eat soon. A slight but unmistakable darkening of the sky to the east was taking place, and she was not surprised at the call when it came.

“Daisy!” The quavering old voice was sweet and affectionate, but Daisy pretended not to hear. “Daisy, time for supper!”

She took one last lingering look out to sea.

“Daisy!” the sing-song call came again. “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty!”

With that, Daisy stood up to shake herself all over, stretched out to claw the edge of her barrel, jumped down, and sauntered home again.

Bad News, Good News

Sometimes bad news is a very good thing.

A little background: my manuscript, WHISPERS IN THE CANYON, was (in what I thought was a cut and polished state, like a rare diamond if you will), 120,000+ words long. But feedback from many quarters said “That’s too long”, “It’s not the optimal size for publication”, “Agents will reject a first novel of more than 100,000 words”.

I needed to optimize my chances at publication, right? So I managed to cut the novel down to 104,000 words. And then the queries went out, the contests were entered, and a request came in for the first 25 pages. Wonderful news, right?

Not exactly. A few weeks later, the agent replied:

Thank you for the opportunity to consider WHISPERS IN THE CANYON. I like the tone you set in these pages and I can see the potential for greatness in the characters. However, I found the writing to be abrupt; I couldn’t become fully immersed in your story because of the brusqueness.

Wow! Characters with potential for greatness! WOW!

But abrupt? Brusque? Never heard that before. But then, all but one of my advisers and beta readers had looked at the long version. I didn’t wait for everyone to re-review it after the cut. Could it be true?

A very quick look told me, yes, it was true. In fact, I’d have to say the agent was very nice about it. The 25 pages I sent her read more like bullet points than a story. I had gotten so caught up in reaching the magical 100,000 word mark, I didn’t stop to let the true composition of the work affect me. I was blind to the fact that the essence of my style got away. I was paying attention to the number of words rather than their quality.

So how is this bad news good? If the agent hadn’t taken the time to give me her personal critique (which she was under no obligation to do), the short version of the manuscript would have gone out to every future requester. It would have continued to be rejected, and rightfully so. But I might never have known why.

I’m going back to the long version of WHISPERS IN THE CANYON, making some minor adjustments (because there were short scenes and some verbiage that actually absolutely needed to be cut). But if the end result is 118,000 words, then that’s what it will be. I’d much rather be rejected for a novel that’s too long than for one that’s poorly written.

So you’ll have to excuse me now — I have a thank-you note to write.

Cast of Characters (2)

THE  PARENTS & “GRAN”

MOLLY DONOVAN. When the Great Famine of Ireland began in 1845, Molly (nee Mary Agnes O’Brien) lived with her two younger brothers and her parents. Within two years, her parents had starved to death and her brothers were close to it.

Excerpt from WHISPERS IN THE CANYON:
“Molly had been lucky enough to inherit a place on the road gang. Fifteen hours’ hard labor a day, breaking rocks to build a road that went nowhere, and her wages were still less than she needed to feed her hungry family. The distribution of Indian corn had been suspended, the soup kitchens inadequate. The English government had left Ireland to its own devices, and over eight hundred thousand would perish.   
          … Molly O’Brien trudged wearily through the streets of a tiny village in County Clare. She was willing to offer her wages, her body, her soul for food for her brothers, and wept because she could not find or beg a scrap. As she stood on the banks of the River Shannon, the miracle she prayed for appeared.”

JOHN PATRICK DONOVAN was the answer to Molly’s prayers. Sent by his family of ships’ chandlers to County Clare, he was to pick up a load of oats that had not been delivered by the Earl. He found, instead, that the Earl had returned to England, and had locked up his oats in a barn while his tenants starved. Trying to reconcile the vast army of starving with the tons of food he saw being exported daily from his home in Wexford, he walked down to the river. And there he saw Molly. With her fiery halo of hair, gaunt body and calloused hands, she tore at his heart. He married her that day and, when one of her brothers died overnight, he brought her and her one surviving brother home to the bosom of his family. John Patrick could not tolerate the callousness of his government, so eventually he emigrated to America, taking with him his wife, his three sons, and his mother,

KATIE DONOVAN. As the story begins, Katie is nearing 90 years old. Katie, or “Gran” to the family, is a little white-haired woman who is almost blind from cataracts, but her hands are never still. She knits, crochets, tats lace, and even occasionally makes a shirt for one of her grandsons. She is a wise woman who quotes Irish proverbs and Homer as well, and is wont to say that even that fine man would have been an Irishman, “had he a choice in the matter.” Katie has inherited the gift of insight from her Druid ancestors, and is considered the heart and soul of her family. Her insight is much needed with the advent of “Little Jesse Travers” into their lives.

Cast of Characters (1)

The cast of characters for these family novels is fairly large, so I’ll begin with the main characters in WHISPERS IN THE CANYON.

ADAM DONOVAN. This 32-year-old bachelor is considered by his family to be a cowboy with a poet’s soul. He’s tall, dark and (yes) handsome (what Irishman isn’t?), and has a quick hand with a gun. He’s always thought of his life as complete — he enjoys the cowboy’s role and doesn’t really look beyond the family for his happiness. He’s not a shallow man, though, understanding almost all there is to know about grief and sorrow. His family depends on him to help them with their troubles. He’s never seen a problem he couldn’t solve, until he meets Jesse Travers.

BRIAN DONOVAN. Adam’s fraternal twin, and a red-haired giant of a man. His patience is the envy of his twin, and his calm acceptance of what life gives him makes him much admired by his family. When he sees that Adam has fallen in love with Jesse, he works to bring them together, though he is deeply in love with her himself. He knows that it is Adam’s strength and understanding that Jesse needs if she is ever to recover from her horrific past.

JESSE TRAVERS. At nineteen years old, Jesse is no bigger than she was at twelve. When her father dies after hearing of his only son’s death, Jesse is left alone in a remote canyon. The ranch she inherits is bankrupt, or so she thinks. Abused by her brother for years, she is reluctant to accept help from the Donovans. It is only Adam’s persistence, and Brian’s kindhearted scheming, that convinces her otherwise. But her brother’s treachery has gone deeper than even Jesse knows, and when all the facts come to light, Jesse is in danger of losing her mind.

I’ll be presenting more of the characters in future posts, including Adam’s parents, John Patrick and Molly Donovan, and Jesse’s friend, a Navajo blacksmith named Tommy Twelve Trees.