Book Review: Skeleton Run

Happy Father’s Day to all the great dads out there, including my own. 🙂 I will be with him today, at a pancake house with family.

If you missed my author interview with John DeBoer over his debut novel, Skeleton Run, check it out here.

As promised, here is my review of the novel, which I received from John’s publisher, Red Adept Publishing. For convenience, I’ve divided into five categories, and each was worth 0, 1, or 2 points. Scored on a scale 0-10.

Plot (semi-spoiler alert): The plot centers on four friends: Doctor Jim Dawson, Alan Granger, Bob Kretchman, and Tom Webster. An accident occurs where someone dies and the friends harbor guilt about the death. They later discover the baby of the deceased survived, and is engaged to a woman who later learns the truth. This will affect the plot at some level.

Enter Wendell Logan, billionaire casino magnate. He is frustrated by previous failures to get politicians to “buy” into his vision, which means his money, your vote. After years of failure (who knew George W. Bush wasn’t a team player?) he finally finds Alan, who left his Philadelphia law job and is now Governor of Pennsylvania. The goal? Get Alan re-elected in 2018 (PA’s next cycle), and then have him run for President in 2020, where he will agree to be Logan’s vassal in exchange for money. To help, Logan gets rid of Alan’s only real challenger.

Dr. Dawson, who is the main character, tries to keep his friends together as relationships fall apart. Alan is turning from them, focusing on his political ambition more than anything else. Logan, who wants to make sure no one threaten’s Alan’s chances of winning, begins eliminating characters. Soon only Dawson is left to face Logan’s minions. It will be up to the Doctor to find a way to keep himself, and his family, alive.

If you like political thrillers, this one is a sound, if not epic, page turner. Even when the plot was somewhat expected (too many Points Of View), I still found myself finishing chapters quickly to see what happens next. 2/2

Writing style: It was okay, not noteworthy. However, I am not a huge fan of multiple points of view, and this book had a couple too many. The main character was the Doctor, whose POV was first person, but more than half the book It made what should have been a fanatically thrilling ending a little more obvious because we, the readers, knew what was coming in the Doctor’s house when he went back. He also had a lot more narration in places than I normally like, which slowed down the flow, especially in the middle. 1/2

Editing: The editing was really well done. I didn’t spot any missed proofreading marks, or they were so few in number it didn’t bother me. Luckily for the author, and for future authors whose books I read, I’m a little more tolerant on proofreading errors than most. 2/2

“Believability”: This is a category I invented right now. This varies from genre to genre, but the point is, can I believe what’s going on? In John’s novel, I would say yes, I believed what I read. It is not implausible to think that a billionaire casino magnate might want to influence a particular race, and since I understand for book purposes, only focus on one race. Was it a little weird that Alan Granger’s opponent was as controllable as an RC car? Yea. Did ot seem at times like John used a POV for some characters who really shouldn’t have had them? Yea. But four friends, one accidental manslaughter, and a politician desperate for power are completely believable. 1/2

Emotion: This is another made up section, where I give my emotional feel for the book. I have a saying: If you, the author, can make me cry, you will write a book as successful as Twilight. I’m not joking; emotions besides hot and cold are not easy for me. This section can be for any emotion, though.

John’s book moved well and while I would have liked to see stronger emotional language in a few places, I think he captured the feel well. No, I did not cry. But I noticed that I rarely put my Kindle down once I started to read, and I was finishing chapters. That’s a great sign. 2/2

Final grade: 8/10. This is a solid book, not a blow-me-away, but one worth reading. The editing is excellent, the writing is not bad, and the plot is comparable to most bestselling thriller novels, if not exceptional. Even when you know what’s coming, John has a good way of keeping you interested. Will not top the bestseller’s lists, but this is a book worth reading if you’re into political thrillers.

Visit the Red Adept Publishing website for more information.

Author Interview with John DeBoer

For the first in the Author World Tour series which I just made up now, I had a chance to interview John DeBoer about his new novel, Skeleton Run, published by Red Adept Publishing. This is a political thriller for those of you who are into political conspiracies an d a behind-the-scenes tour of how money affects the election process. I spoke with John about his debut novel:

S: Let’s start out with the inspiration for your novel, a political thriller. What made you choose Pennsylvania as the setting for much of the novel, and why?

J: Pennsylvania met the requirements I needed – reasonable proximity to the other locations, an important state electorally, and one with which I had personal experience. New York and New Jersey could have been used instead, I suppose, but their governors get a lot more national press than that of Pennsylvania, and I thought this might make my fictional governor easier to accept.

S: Was the villainous Wendell Logan modeled after any particular casino magnate? I keep thinking Sheldon Adelson, but maybe I’m wrong.

J: I kept thinking of Sheldon Adelson, too! But I wanted my Las Vegas billionaire to be younger and physically more robust.

S: Following up on Logan, why did you decide to give the reader a view into his head, as opposed to telling the story from the Doctor’s point of view?

J: One of the reasons I like to write in the Thriller genre is the freedom to get into the heads of the bad guys, to show their POVs out of the awareness of the protagonists. Nelson DeMille, Greg Iles, and John Sandford, among others use this device, which I think actually ramps up the suspense rather than mitigating it. In this particular novel, I use more POVs than my usual, but I felt I needed all of them for the story. My editor did make me eliminate one of them, though!

S: How long did it take you to write this novel?

J: More than six months, but less than a year, I think. I workshop my novels online. I write as I go, posting one chapter at a time. The back and forth reviewing/revising process this entails adds to the time, but then when it’s done, I end up with a fairly polished product – subject to my publisher’s editors’ input, of course.

S: Did you show this to anyone before submitting it for publication? What was the response to Skeleton Run?

J: Eleven other authors reviewed the novel from start to finish when I workshopped it, and all of their responses were very positive. I don’t let my wife read my novels until they’ve been published!

S: Which character was your favorite to write about, and why? Least favorite?

J: I had the most fun writing Logan’s character – ruthless, powerful, obsessive in his Machiavellian scheme – he represented evil self-fulfillment, and I enjoyed showing this. I also liked creating Granger’s character, beginning as a teenager and developing it into middle age. His personality was probably the most distasteful, but it made him the character he grew into.

Then we have the moral ambiguity of Luke Elliot, the hit man.  All are characters with flaws, tarnished in ways big and small, which make them more compelling as personalities. In one of my novels, The Flame, the antagonist – a femme fatale character in the vein of Matty Walker in Body Heat – actually got more print space than my good-guy protagonist. And in Skeleton Run, the narrator and putative protagonist, Dr. Dawson, though smart and able to rise to the occasion when push came to shove, has a less interesting character overall than those he must contend with. But since he’s a little bit of an alter ego for me (as are all my physician/surgeon protagonists to one degree or another), he also has to, by definition, be one of my favorites! Tom Webster, one of the boyhood pals of Dawson, has to be my least favorite character to write, only because I knew what I had to do to him, and that wasn’t pleasant.

S: What’s next for you on tour? your next book?

J: I’m about a quarter of the way through my blog tour, which will end on July 5. I’ve got interviews, like this one, guest posts, and reviews of Skeleton Run lined up to keep me busy until then.

My next completed novel, now titled, How Little We Know, does not yet have a publication date. A woman hiding from not only the mob via Witness Protection, but an incident from her earlier past,  meets Luke Elliot (the hit man from Skeleton Run) in Seattle, where he has gone to start a new life after a personal tragedy. Both have secrets to guard as they begin a relationship, in the course of which Luke has to call upon his past life to keep his love interest out of harm’s way.

My current WIP involves the ISIS threat to Americans and is tentatively titled, When the Reaper Comes.

S: Thank you for your time, John.

J: Thanks, Sam, for the interview.

I’ll post my honest review of Skeleton Run on Sunday.

Buy John’s book on Amazon by clicking HERE

The Sad Puppies win! And the Right-Wing Balance to the Hugo Awards

If you have no idea what the Hugo Awards, are, they’re, like, the biggest deal in science fiction and fantasy writing. For anyone who writes in these two genres, winning one is like winning the Grammys or an Oscar.

Unfortunately, literary fiction has not been immune to personal politics. And we aren’t talking about the “did you hear what she said about so and so?” kind. We mean liberal vs. conservative.

Disclosure: I’m no long-time follower of the Hugos, so I’m commenting by what I see as I learn more.

Essentially the issue boils down to what conservatives, libertarians, and other “non-conformist” ideologies feel is a politicizing of science fiction literature by the left-wing of the group, led by former Sci-Fi Writer’s Guild President Jon Scalzi and Patrick and Teresa Nielsen-Hayden of Tor Books. The right-wing/no-wing side believe left-of-center types have used the Hugos and other sci-fi/fantasy awards to promote works by other lefties or “diversity”, aka giving awards to women/people of color/different sexual orientations BECAUSE they are non- straight white guys, as oppose to being great writers worthy of nomination. So about two years ago, some openly conservative/libertarian authors started the “sad puppies” group, named to be sarcastic about bleeding-heart liberals who always profess to do something to help “the  children” or “sad puppies.” AKA, the name is supposed to mean “vote for our nominations or you’re killing sad puppies”, something to that effect.

The counter-argument from the left was that for most of the history of book publishing, straight white guys have dominated and their reaction now is due to feeling threatened by women/POC/DSO taking awards from them so they’re lashing out. They NEED the diversity in the awards, they argue, since this is the only way individuals in under-represented groups (count the number of big-time Hispanic male authors, and get back to me) can have a shot at winning.

Well, it appears the Sad Puppies won. The 2015 Hugo Awards nominees are (apparently) mostly individuals who were being pushed by Vox Day and some other right-of-center sci-fi authors for the nominations. This has caused a huge firestorm of protest from those considered to be “social justice warriors”, i.e. who were (allegedly) punishing non-conformists by denying them the opportunities to get books/short stories published or nominated for awards, and those who think, after finally being included in the normally “straight white guy” world of sci-fi/fantasy literature, are being pushed back by those who (allegedly) want the 1950s back.

I’ve heard of the Hugo Awards before, and I knew they were prestigious. I had no idea the political ideology fights were so intense. It kind of stinks, in my opinion, because this means any and all nominations will be subject to what side of the aisle you’re on- and if people happen to read any of my Watchdog.org op-eds, like here and here and here, I’ll lose any possible chance i have of being “politically-neutral” and this eligible to offend no one if some magical unicorn came to me and .convinced its flying sea-monkey friends to nominate me for a Hugo. That’s about the only chance I will ever have to win one, and if I’m ever nominated, let alone win one, I’ll have to come up with something gross or crazy like jump out of a moving car or publish a sex tape or something.

Feel free to share your thoughts about the Hugo award nominating process or this year’s choices. Who do you think will win?

photos are not mine and are republished as ‘fair-use’ under U.S. Copyright laws.

Should Celebrities Take Stances on Controversial Issues, or Avoid Them Altogether?

 Feel free to share your thoughts: Do you take stands on controversial political issues, or do you stay away from controversy so you can focus on the noncontroversial part of your platform?

Politics and entertainment have mixed for as long as human civilization has been around. In the 5th century B.C. Aristophanes, a Greek playwright, used political satire of the times in his play and was one of the founders of comedic satire (Image if the Daily Show existed back then). He was one of many examples of politics and social commentary used in fictional works in the ancient world.

Sports has also played a big part in politics. In the 20th century integration of athletes from diverse backgrounds was part of the success of ending racism in America, in 1972 the world saw Palestinian terrorists massacre 11 Israeli athletes in the Munich Olympic games which has been one history point in the century-old battle between Jews and Muslims in that part of the Middle East, and Billie Jean King’s victory over a 55-year old Bobby Riggs was one historical point in the battle for equality for women in athletics. Whether intentional or not, these points became rallying cries for the mixing of politics in sports.

However, what is unique about the 21st century is that we have social media and lots of forums for celebrities to post, tweet, keek, pin, snap, or otherwise share their photos, videos, and thoughts. Many celebrities choose to be as apolitical as possible in their public lives so no one can get angry at them for taking sides and thus hurt product sales or reputation. But some celebrities do wade into the political arena and the question is: does being political impact your brand positively or negatively, and when do you want to be involved?

I picked four recent cases of people who  were involved in controversies involving politics when they are not otherwise political people (reputations not built on politics). These are randomly picked but they all had one thing in common: New Media made their opinions much more well-known than they probably would have been in the pre-internet age where news traveled more slowly and was less readily accessible.

Rupert Murdoch, founder of News Corporation, would come off as more political since he owns Fox News and the Wall Street Journal. Last week Murdoch posted a tweet reading “Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.” J.K. Rowling, the Harry Potter author, then tweeted back, “I was born Christian. If that makes Rupert Murdoch my responsibility, I’ll auto-excommunicate.” She then compared asking Muslims to be accountable to Jihadists the equivalent of holding Christians accountable for the Spanish Inquisition.

Then there were the double killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The tension between those who believe Brown and Garner were victims of cops deliberately targeting Black youth as “criminals” versus those who believed Brown and Garner were at least partially to blame for their demise ran high (for the record I was more surprised by the Garner verdict than the Brown one, though I didn’t follow either case closely). After the verdicts athletes like LeBron James, Derrick Rose, and Reggie Bush wore  “I can’t breathe” shirts during pre-game warm-ups last month. Six St. Louis Rams players put their hands up for “hands up, don’t shoot” and angered the police in St. Louis for doing so.

And who can forget earlier in 2014 when the Clippers, during Game 4 against the Golden State Warriors, tossed their warm-ups to the ground and turned their pre-game shirts inside out to hide the Clippers logo over what they believed was a racist comment by then-owner Donald Sterling towards Black people?

The one odd one was Liam Neeson, whose Taken 3 movie was just released in theaters. He told gulfnews.com, “there’s too many [expletive] guns out there, “Especially in America…There’s over 300 million guns. Privately owned, in America. I think it’s a [expletive] disgrace. Every week now we’re picking up a newspaper and seeing, ‘Yet another few kids have been killed in schools.’” Given that his movie involves him shooting guns and is marketed towards a diverse audience I have to believe this will hurt Taken 3’s total take since I believe this comment will be perceived by many to be “Elitist” and “Hypocritical”. A similar situation happened with Exodus and they suffered at the box office because of it.

Where I am going with this is on when otherwise non-political people make political statements and whether it helps or hurts their brand. Rupert Murdoch, whose name and companies have been involved in politics in nature, might be expected to make comments (and his comments probably won’t cost him viewers or readers in the end). Ms. Rowling’s books and movies are already out so I’m not sure how much her tweet at Murdoch will hurt her in the long run. Probably none of the athletes who made statements supporting Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, or Eric Garner will suffer either, but I really do think celebrities should be careful with what they say before taking sides.

So should you be political with your brand, or not? I think it depends on what you want to be known for and who you’re trying to appeal to. Some people benefit by taking public stances on issues, exercising their rights to free speech. Others like to shut up as to not offend anyone. Your personal brand is yours and it’s entirely up to you what you want to do with it. Just accept that stating your opinions in public risks offending people who disagree with you and who will boycott you to make a statement (not saying it’s a bad thing, just stating the obvious here). And in the age of the internet and social media, anything you say absolutely will be used for and against you in the court of public opinion.