Wednesday, 31 July 2013

#bookreview: The Golden Crystal by @NickThacker


The Golden Crystal - Book Trailer from Nick Thacker on Vimeo.

The Golden CrystalThe Golden Crystal by Nick Thacker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After a failed mission in Afghanistan, Captain Bryce Reynolds finds himself being offered two million dollars, and treatment for his ailing mother, to protect James Whittenfield Jr. and his research company for the next six months. The deal seems too good to be true, and everything quickly turns bad when the Whittenfield Laboratories headquarters in Washington DC is breached by a team from Whittenfield's rival, Dr. Tanning Vilocek, the owner of Vilocorp. A bid to head off Vilocek soon turns into a race around the world as both teams both work against and with each other to gain the crystal for their own purposes.

Two things The Golden Crystal reminded me of straight off: Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and movie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008).

I read The Da Vinci Code way back in college, so I can't really compare writing styles and the like; my memory doesn't extend that far. The similarity I felt mainly stemmed from the way Thacker pulls from legends, myths and ancient history, as well as mathematics (the golden mean), to weave together a compelling story of two men's race to obtain the magical Golden Crystal (which is where Indiana Jones comes in). It's an interesting blend.

The book caught my attention early on, though it seemed to slow in the middle as Thacker digressed into little history lessons along the way. I suppose those "lessons" were useful to the story and the plot, but maybe it made the novel lose a little something as a whole. Nick really picked up the pace towards the end, culminating in a very exciting ending.

All in all, a very well-done debut!

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

View all my reviews

The Golden Crystal is available from Amazon.
Also visit Nick's blog or follow him on twitter.

Monday, 29 July 2013

How NOT to sell books on Smashwords, and a #bookreview: Fox Magic by IJ Parker

A while back, Danny asked about whether there were any viable options to sell e-books online to an international market, or whether there was any place to sell POD books online that could ship internationally as there was this author he knew whose books were no longer in print and he no longer had access to them.

So I talked about Smashwords (as usual) since Amazon isn't really international, and he said he'd talk to the author about it since she seemed receptive about how to extend her reach to international fans.

A few days later he came back and told me that this author, IJ Parker, wasn't keen on Smashwords because apparently she had put up a couple of books there, but they didn't sell. I said I'd take a look, and I downloaded Fox Magic, for USD1.49.

Here are my reviews:
Fox MagicFox Magic by I.J. Parker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fox Magic is a very, very short story set in Japan about Akitada Sugawara, a junior clerk in the Ministry of Law. Whilst attending to the Minister at his summer villa one evening, Akitada stumbles upon a colleague who raves about how he bedded and killed a woman who turned into a fox. Convinced that a real crime has been committed, Akitada continues to investigate the case even after the minister has dismissed it.

It's an interesting read that introduces you to the main character in the Akitada Novels. However, it's not quite worth the USD1.49 to purchase a 9K word e-book, a third of which is the preview of the 2011 Akitada novel, The Fires of the Gods.


The Water Sprite (Sugawara Akitada Stories)The Water Sprite by I.J. Parker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this much better than Fox Magic. For one, it was longer and introduced more of Akitada's character and life, including his retainer, Tora.

Parker again plays with Japanese superstitions in The Water Sprite, introducing us to the Kappa, which are mischievious water sprites which can, on occasion, turn violent. In this short story, Akitada is tasked to clear Ozawa Akitsu's name from the charge of rape and murder of his maid. The official is visibly upset when Akitada refuses to dismiss the charges offhand and insists on carrying out a full investigation.

Akitada Sugawara actually reminds me a little of Sherlock Holmes, with Tora as a peasant, superstitious Watson.

Again, approximately a quarter of this book is dedicated to a preview of a full-length novel.

View all my reviews

So the problem with her marketing strategy (at least on Smashwords) is really this: visibility.

Here's her smashwords profile. There's no link to her website, if any, or where we can get any of her other books. There's nothing there which tells you that this author has actually been published anywhere else, and nothing to distinguish her from the gazillion other self-publishers out there. Frankly, if Danny hadn't said that she'd been published before and that he liked her books, I wouldn't have given her profile a second look. There isn't even a profile picture (not that it really makes a difference, but it shows that she's not really interested in selling her books here).

Yes, this information is contained within the ebook itself (making it seem longer than it really is), but really, it should be accessible even on her profile page. Which comes to the question: do her readers even know that these two books are available on smashwords? Hmm.... most probably not.

Amazon has apparently garnered more sales for her, which is why she's sticking to it, but obviously if you put up all your novels for sale on Amazon (which is huge in certain places but not the rest of the world) and only put up two short stories (expensively priced at that) on Smashwords, which platform do you think will make more sales for you?

Okay, so I got round to googling her, and this is the best part.
I found her website. I randomly click a bar, and find out that oh, The Fires of the Gods is actually available on Amazon.


Very awesome. Oh, I haven't read this book... and now I know where to get it, right?

So I go to hunt for the book I downloaded from Smashwords and find that it's under The Short Stories.
And you know what?
There is no link at all to Smashwords, or anything that tells you that the book is available online.


And she complains that she doesn't make much sales on Smashwords. Well, if none of your fans know it's there, OF COURSE YOU DON'T.

Seriously, this is how you do NOT sell on Smashwords.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Women and the church: you're not really a woman if you're not married.

It started with a video advert in church about an upcoming six week course on hearing God's voice. And then Pastor Isaac made the announcement that it's only for women. And straightaway, a bitterness welled up in my heart - deep, sharp, angry - because I knew even before it was announced that the dates available would be inaccessible to me. And I was right. Women's meeting, Tuesday morning or Wednesday afternoon.

Because, you know, in the eyes of the church, if you're not married, you don't have kids, and you're working full time, you're not really, you know, a woman.

That's bitterness talking. I acknowledge that. I also acknowledge the fact that even if it were held on a weekend, I would think twice about joining it because I'm already busy enough as it is, and the stuff I have in my head to do will make me even busier.

But it's the very fact that a "women's meeting" is automatically scheduled on a working day makes me angry. Men's meetings are always on Saturdays, or evenings, to make sure that as many as possible can make it. Why can't women's meetings be too? Oh right, I forgot, the woman's place is at home, no? 

What about working mothers? Are they not women too? Or men have the "priority" on weekends, because well, they're men, and 100% of them work, as compared to the maybe... 50% of women who do. (50% is just arbitrary number. I don't know. Maybe my church has a lot of homemakers or retired women and maybe 50% is an overstatement, or then again, it could be an understatement OR THEN AGAIN, MAYBE ALL THE SINGLE LADIES WHO WORK HAVE GIVEN UP ON THE CHURCH AND GONE SOMEWHERE ELSE. Just saying.)

I don't know why I'm so worked up about this. Maybe I've been reading too many articles on gender, too many articles on how women are still being stereotyped, still being held by patriachish views, even whilst they are given the semblance of freedom, and this thing just flies up in my face where it shouldn't and stuns me. I don't know if the other 99.99% of women in the church see this as a problem. I don't know if they should. Maybe they should. Or maybe they'll just shrug their pretty shoulders and ignore it.

Go read this and tell me what you think. And it makes me angry because we buy into this as well. We, us, womenfolk. It's not the men doing the propagating. Most times we do this to ourselves.

Then again maybe, just maybe, I'm just being dramatic over nothing. Like you know, women and that time of the month *rolls eyes*. Maybe it's too many boundless articles about single women griping about not being able to find a husband. And single men griping about being turned down by too many women. And the net result being a lot of stupid, pointless advice which, you know, doesn't make a difference because, apparently, none of the guys in my church seem to be looking for a wife anyway.

And that comes up to the other nub that irks me about this whole women and the church thing. It's like how you don't really exist as a woman until you get married, or turn forty. They just don't know what to do with you, so they don't do anything. Other than, of course, suggest at ways to get you married off so that they will finally know how to categorise you: women's ministry, of course. 

Thursday, 25 July 2013

#bookreview: There Comes a Prophet by @davidlitwack

So last Saturday night at about 1 a.m., after writing some miscellaneous reviews and generally being lazy, I shut off my computer and decided to load this into Kobo. I figured I might as well read a few chapters before going to bed, but ended up reading until 3 a.m.. Gave up then mainly because my eyes were really tired and I had some misguided notion that I would like to wake up early and maybe go for a walk. Hah. Woke up at about 10-ish, and wondering how the book would end, I dived right in, finishing it at about noon. I haven't done this for a long time. Well, that was partially due to the fact that I've been too busy to read, but also because the book was really, really good.

There Comes a ProphetThere Comes a Prophet by David Litwack
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What if all that you have ever been taught as good and right, the light that you've been taught to appreciate turns out to be the hand of darkness that has been holding you down?

When Nathaniel Rush of Little Pond discovers that the vicars of the Light have things to hide, things that may change his understanding of the world, he has to decide if he should run away from this knowledge, fitting back into the normalcy of life he has always known, or if he should pursue it, like in his dreams of being a knight and hero. Along for the adventure is Orah Weber, the girl he would give up his freedom for, and Thomas Bradford, the doubter, the one already broken by the Light. They must find the hidden keep, preserved for centuries by the keepers, so that the truth and knowledge of the past ages and civilisations wouldn't be lost to the world.

I had been a little apprehensive at first about reading There Comes a Prophet, mainly because the other book by Litwack that I read, Along the Watchtower, was a little bit of a let down in the ending department, especially in the fantasy portion of the book. And seeing this was a fantasy too... And yet something different happened this time. I just couldn't stop reading.

Litwack's writing is fresh, and Nathaniel, Orah and Thomas come to life in your imagination as you frantically flip (or click) the pages of this book. That's not to say that the other characters are not well fleshed out as well - they are. You feel for the painful history between Nathaniel's father and Orah's mother, and at times you are even drawn to understand the arch vicar, who seeks the keep for reasons of his own.

(oh yes, and the ending for this one fit just right)

I received this ebook copy for review as part of a Novel Publicity tour.

View all my reviews

What I have to say about There Comes a Prophet is that there is nothing exceptionally new about the premise. Litwack takes a very basic darkness vs light story, turns darkness and light on its head, and waits for his young, rebellious protagonists to (hopefully) make the right choices in life, even if the right choices may not be popular, or accepted, or even pleasant.

It addresses a very sensitive topic as well - religion, and the questioning of it. How much should you accept of your religion (if any) and what should you question? Maybe one of the things that resonated with me in this book is the questions that Nathaniel, Orah and Thomas, and to some extent the Arch Vicar wrestle with. Is it better to live in ignorance and apathy in order to have "peace" in the world? Should we discount the greatness of our age due to its horrors as well? How do we apportion and appropriate what is good and discard what is bad in an era where everything is permissable and everything is (almost) possible?

What price progress?

Watchtower Tour BadgeAs part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, both Along the Watchtower and There Comes a Prophet by David Litwack are on sale this week. What’s more, by purchasing either or both of these fantastic books at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes. The prizes include a Kindle Fire, $650 in Amazon gift cards, and 5 autographed copies of each book. All the info you need to win one of these amazing prizes is RIGHT HERE. Remember, winning is as easy as clicking a button or leaving a blog comment--easy to enter; easy to win!




To win the prizes:
  1. Pick up Along the Watchtower at its discounted price of $2.99 on Amazon
  2. Get There Comes a Prophet at its discounted price of 99 cents
  3. Enter the Rafflecopter contest below
  4. Visit the featured social media events
  5. Leave a comment on my blog for a chance at a $100 prize.
Along the Watchtower tells of a tragic warrior lost in two worlds; a woman who may be his only way back from Hell. Get it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iTunes.

There Comes a Prophet A thousand years ago the Darkness came—a time of violence and social collapse. Nathaniel has grown up in their world of limits, longing for something more. For what are we without dreams? Get it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iTunes.

David Litwack, the once and future writer, explores the blurry line between reality and the fantastic.  Visit David on his website, Twitter, Facebook, or GoodReads.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

#bookreview: Along the Watchtower by David Litwack

Along the WatchtowerAlong the Watchtower by David Litwack
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Along the Watchtower blurs the lines between reality and fantasy, constantly shifting between the real world, where Lieutenant Freddie Williams is an injured war veteran struggling to come to terms with his injuries and assimilate back into normal life, and the fantasy world where Frederick, Prince of Stormwind, is grieving for his father's death and must solve several riddles within thirty days or lose his right to the throne and his kingdom to the Horde.

It was a gripping story, artfully told, exploring the difficulties war veterans face, even if they return without any physical scars. I'm usually not one for US war veteran stories, but I was drawn into Freddie's world, through Litwack's masterful writing. Of course the fantasy parts didn't hurt (since I love fantasy), and I was despairing when Frederick seemed to fall into a funk when he couldn't find the answer to the riddles.

The build up towards the end of the book was tantalising, and I was waiting for this really epic conclusion, where Prince Frederick banishes the Horde... but... okay, you have to read it for yourself, but I felt it was a little bit of a let down. Lackluster is the word that came to mind. Without that, Along the Watchtower would have been a five-star read.

I received this ebook copy for review as part of a Novel Publicity tour.

View all my reviews


Watchtower Tour BadgeAs part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, both Along the Watchtower and There Comes a Prophet by David Litwack are on sale this week. What’s more, by purchasing either or both of these fantastic books at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes. The prizes include a Kindle Fire, $650 in Amazon gift cards, and 5 autographed copies of each book. All the info you need to win one of these amazing prizes is RIGHT HERE. Remember, winning is as easy as clicking a button or leaving a blog comment--easy to enter; easy to win!




To win the prizes:
  1. Pick up Along the Watchtower at its discounted price of $2.99 on Amazon
  2. Get There Comes a Prophet at its discounted price of 99 cents
  3. Enter the Rafflecopter contest below
  4. Visit the featured social media events
  5. Leave a comment on my blog for a chance at a $100 prize.
Along the Watchtower tells of a tragic warrior lost in two worlds; a woman who may be his only way back from Hell. Get it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iTunes.

There Comes a Prophet A thousand years ago the Darkness came—a time of violence and social collapse. Nathaniel has grown up in their world of limits, longing for something more. For what are we without dreams? Get it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iTunes.

David Litwack, the once and future writer, explores the blurry line between reality and the fantastic.  Visit David on his website, Twitter, Facebook, or GoodReads.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

An interview with @davidlitwack, author of Along the Watchtower and There Comes a Prophet


Please enjoy this interview with David Litwack, author of the gripping contemporary novel, Along the Watchtower, and the deep, dark dystopia, There Comes a Prophet. Then read on to learn how you can win huge prizes as part of this blog tour, including a Kindle Fire, $650 in Amazon gift cards, and 5 autographed copies of each book.





1. Along the Watchtower is a powerful blend of contemporary fiction and fantasy that demands the reader's attention from start to finish. What was your inspiration for writing this work, and for combining World of Warcraft with a casualty of war and a dream world?
I’ve always been fascinated by how we perceive reality. Think of the film Rashomon, the classic exploration of multiple realities, where several witnesses to a crime describe events completely differently, each bringing their own life experience and biases into play. But it’s when we’re ripped from our normal life and placed in extreme circumstances that our reality becomes totally fragmented. Such is the case with hospitals and war. 
At the same time, I’d become engrossed in playing the online fantasy game, World of Warcraft, with my son, an avid player. With me on the east coast and him on the west, he suggested we meet weekly in the fantasy world of Azeroth—an invitation I could hardly resist. For several months, we had a Wednesday evening appointment, where our avatars would meet in this virtual world and go on quests together. I was struck by how totally immersed I could get in the game, how quickly time passed, and the surreal mood of wandering around in castles and crypts, solving riddles and following quests. 
The fantasy gaming experience has a dream-like quality to it. And I began to wonder: how would this experience affect the dreams of someone whose reality has been fragmented by war, PTSD, and traumatic brain injury. 
These concepts—war, hospitals, and the fantasy world of online gaming—came together in Along the Watchtower
2. Without giving away too much, can you introduce us to the main character Lieutenant Freddie, and tell us how he's similar and different in both worlds he inhabits? 
When Freddie comes out of his medically-induced coma in the VA hospital, he’s nearly given up hope. Everything he had to live for was gone, and he was racked with bad memories and guilt, in addition to his physical injuries. 
Prince Frederick doesn’t have the luxury of giving up. If he yields to despair, the kingdom that depends on him will fall into darkness. Because of this, he’s more willing to struggle through his trials. It’s through the prince in the fantasy world that Freddie is finally able to confront and overcome his personal demons in the real world. 
3. Your first novel, There Comes a Prophet, explores the roots of the dystopian fiction category while also reinventing it for a younger generation of readers. This genre boasts many great classics including Slaughterhouse V, 1984, and Brave New World to name a few. What are your favorite classic books? 
Dystopia literally means dysfunctional utopia, not necessarily an evil, power-hungry regime oppressing its people, but a well-intentioned system that has lost its way, resulting in a world gone awry. My favorite such dystopian is Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars. In this near perfect world, there’s no disease, hunger or poverty, and people are effectively immortal. But all are afraid to venture outside the walls of their city or even look beyond them. The thought of the open expanse of stars in the night sky terrifies them. All of this had been put in place to protect them from some past too horrible to mention. Yet the unfulfilled aspirations of a single individual drive him to discover the lost truth and let humanity move forward again. 
Lois Lowry’s The Giver is another great example. In a simple but beautiful writing style, she tells the story of a seemingly perfect world where bad memories have been abolished, except for one person, the keeper of memories. But the people are left unable to feel anything much—good or bad. 
4. People read books for many different reasons. Of all the different reasons you've seen in reviews, can you relate one story that really stood out for you about a reader's experience? 
One reviewer read Along the Watchtower and it brought back memories of being a young college student, witnessing the twin towers fall on 9/11. The book touched him deeply, because it reminded him that, as a result of that tragic event, we’ve been at war his entire adult life. The shock he felt on 9/11 all came back to him in reading the struggles of the recovering Lt. Freddie Williams. 
Interestingly enough, that same reviewer had a powerful reaction to the dystopian world of There Comes a Prophet. In that book, a ruling power limits learning and growth. This reviewer associated my story with the courageous young Malala Yousafzai, the Pakastani girl who the Taliban tried to kill for advocating education for women. 
5. Along the Watchtower features a veteran's healing process on the physical, emotional, and intellectual levels. What role do you think fantasy role-playing games and dreaming can play in a healing process? 
When we’re confronted with trauma too terrible to comprehend, our mind sometimes shuts the experience out to let us heal. But the memory still lingers in our subconscious. Sometimes it’s easier to confront those feelings through fantasy, like dreams or video games, rather than facing them head on in the cruel light of reality. Then once confronted, we’re better able to move on. 
6. Symbolism and description play a huge role in the opening chapters of Along the Watchtower. As the lines between reality and fantasy become more and more blurry, did you find it difficult to remember which 'character' you were talking as? 
 Freddie and Prince Frederick were undergoing the same trials at an emotional level, even though their circumstances differed. The hardest part in writing the two was to maintain a distinct voice for each—for Freddie the gritty language of the VA hospital and for Prince Frederick, more of a high fantasy tone. This difference was important to make each world believable. But since the book was written in a first person point of view, it was also critical to quickly alert the reader whenever there was a switch in worlds. 
7. Ocean imagery features prominently in your book Along the Watchtower. What's your favorite place to visit, and what scenery do you find most inspiring as an author? 
I almost hate to mention this because it’s such a well-kept secret. But my favorite spot is a place called The Knob in my home town of Falmouth. It’s a raised spit of land rising up dramatically into the harbor onto a domed rock, reachable only after a half-mile walk through the woods. I’ve actually used it as a setting in my upcoming novel, The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky
8. You run a very active blog and website, though the demands of marketing yourself can be overwhelming for many authors. How do you find balance in your life, and time to enjoy your surroundings in a highly technical world? Coming from a software background, I'm sure you might have unique insights on balancing the 'real' world with the technical one. 
I’ve spent most of my adult life in front of a computer, first as a software engineer and now as an author. The key is to take advantage of non-computer time to get out and enjoy yourself. But all writers want to be read, so you have to spend time reaching out to readers. The software equivalent was that I used to enjoy taking a break from developing software to visit customers and see how they were using what I’d developed. 
9. You've published two books, Along the Watchtower and There Comes a Prophet. Is there anything you'd like to share with readers and your future writing plans? 
I’m in late stage edits with an alternate world story called The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky. It’s about a world divided between the Blessed Lands, a place of the spirit, and the Republic, whose people worship at the altar of reason. A mysterious nine-year-old girl from the Blessed Lands sails into the lives of a troubled couple in the Republic and seems to heal everyone she meets. She reveals nothing about herself, other than to say she’s the daughter of the sea and the sky. But she harbors a secret wound she herself cannot heal. 
I’m also currently planning what will be a sequel to There Comes a Prophet. I’ve always wondered what happened to Orah and Nathaniel after their world changing heroics and what became of the contemporaries of the keepmasters who had crossed the ocean. Stay tuned. 
10. What do you like to do to unwind? You know, in those rare moments when you're not writing!  
Since writing and social networking are indoor activities, I try to get outside as often as possible. I go for long walks on the seashore, play some golf, bicycle, and generally try to stay active. I’m fortunate to be able to split my time between Cape Cod and Florida, both beautiful places in their respective nice seasons.
Watchtower Tour Badge   As part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, both Along the Watchtower and There Comes a Prophet by David Litwack are on sale this week. What’s more, by purchasing either or both of these fantastic books at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes. The prizes include a Kindle Fire, $650 in Amazon gift cards, and 5 autographed copies of each book. All the info you need to win one of these amazing prizes is RIGHT HERE. Remember, winning is as easy as clicking a button or leaving a blog comment--easy to enter; easy to win!





To win the prizes:
  1. Pick up Along the Watchtower at its discounted price of $2.99 on Amazon
  2. Get There Comes a Prophet at its discounted price of 99 cents
  3. Enter the Rafflecopter contest below
  4. Visit the featured social media events
  5. Leave a comment on my blog for a chance at a $100 prize.
 Along the Watchtower tells of a tragic warrior lost in two worlds; a woman who may be his only way back from Hell. Get it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iTunes.










There Comes a Prophet
A thousand years ago the Darkness came—a time of violence and social collapse. Nathaniel has grown up in their world of limits, longing for something more. For what are we without dreams? Get it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iTunes.







David Litwack, the once and future writer, explores the blurry line between reality and the fantastic. Visit David on his website, Twitter, Facebook, or GoodReads.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 22 July 2013

The Virtual World of Gaming and the Plight of War Veterans: A Guest Post by David Litwack


Please enjoy this guest post by David Litwack, author of the gripping contemporary novel, Along the Watchtower, and the deep, dark dystopia, There Comes a Prophet. Then read on to learn how you can win huge prizes as part of this blog tour, including a Kindle Fire, $650 in Amazon gift cards, and 5 autographed copies of each book.   


The Virtual World of Gaming and the Plight of War Veterans: A Guest Post by David Litwack

Gaming and war would seem to be as far apart from each other as you can get. But while you’re in the midst of them, they share one thing in common—a sense of being in an alternate reality.

I’ve always been fascinated by how much of what we consider to be reality is subjective, how each of us bring our own experiences and biases into play. But when we’re ripped from our normal lives and placed in extreme circumstances, our reality becomes totally fragmented. Such is the case with hospitals and war.

A couple of years ago, I became engrossed in the online game, World of Warcraft, thanks to my son. I’m on the east coast and he’s on the west, so we’d meet every Wednesday evening in the virtual world of Azeroth, where our avatars would go on quests together. I was struck by how immersed I became in the mood of the game as we wandered through castles and crypts, solving riddles and vanquishing demons, how for a short period of time, I could totally buy in to the alternate reality.

The fantasy gaming experience has a dream-like quality to it, which led me to wonder: how would this experience affect the dreams of someone whose reality has been fragmented by the trauma of war? These concepts—war, hospitals, and the fantasy world of online gaming—came together in Along the Watchtower.

I began to research the effects of war on returning veterans. I learned that 30% are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress. That means after six months they’re still dealing with flashbacks, disturbing dreams, depression and difficulty re-assimilating into their former lives. And that doesn't account for the many others who are seemingly able to adjust but continue to deal with inner turmoil. The war experience changes all forever. Many have suicidal thoughts (the suicide rate among veterans is triple that of the general population. More soldiers have died by their own hand than in the war itself). Many struggle with dark thoughts and have difficulty forming relationships, unable to “turn off” the normal flight or fight syndrome, leaving them suspicious in crowds and always on alert.

And then, there are the physical injuries. One of the ironic successes of these recent wars is the advance in battlefield medicine. The result is that far fewer die of wounds than in prior wars. The ratio of wounded to dead in WWII was 1.1/1, in Vietnam 1.7/1. In Iraq, it’s 7/1. More are saved, but more come home with debilitating, lifelong injuries. And 68% of the wounded have some form or brain trauma, penetrating injuries from shrapnel or non-penetrating concussions from the blasts of IEDs.

To learn more about brain injuries, I read In an Instant, the story of Bob Woodruff. The brilliant Woodruff had just been named co-anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight. Then, while embedded with the military in Iraq, an improvised explosive device went off near the tank he was riding in. Bob suffered a traumatic brain injury that nearly killed him. The book describes his recovery and recounts how fragile the human brain can be. At one point, the erudite Woodruff could rattle off the names of all prior U.S. presidents but couldn't remember the names of his own children.

And I read about post traumatic stress. One of the best books is Achilles in Vietnam. Written by Jonathan Shay, a Vietnam War era PTSD counselor, it compares his clinical notes from patients to the text from Homer’s Odyssey, showing how we as human beings have dealt with war trauma across the millennia. He shows how war disrupts our moral compass, leaving re-entry into normal life as a brutal and agonizing experience.

Playing a make-believe fantasy game and going to war both have a surreal quality that takes us out of our normal reality. But for war veterans, the sense of normality doesn't return without a struggle.

The Wounded Warrior Project is a wonderful organization, dedicated to helping veterans adjust. Their stated mission is: “To foster the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded service members in our nation's history.” How successful we’ll be at achieving that goal will tell a lot about who we are. It’s one of the most important stories of our time.

Watchtower Tour Badge  As part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, both Along the Watchtower and There Comes a Prophet by David Litwack are on sale this week. What’s more, by purchasing either or both of these fantastic books at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes. The prizes include a Kindle Fire, $650 in Amazon gift cards, and 5 autographed copies of each book. All the info you need to win one of these amazing prizes is RIGHT HERE. Remember, winning is as easy as clicking a button or leaving a blog comment--easy to enter; easy to win!




  To win the prizes:
  1. Pick up Along the Watchtower at its discounted price of $2.99 on Amazon
  2. Get There Comes a Prophet at its discounted price of 99 cents
  3. Enter the Rafflecopter contest below
  4. Visit the featured social media events
  5. Leave a comment on my blog for a chance at a $100 prize.
Along the Watchtower tells of a tragic warrior lost in two worlds; a woman who may be his only way back from Hell. Get it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iTunes.

There Comes a Prophet A thousand years ago the Darkness came—a time of violence and social collapse. Nathaniel has grown up in their world of limits, longing for something more. For what are we without dreams? Get it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iTunes.

David Litwack, the once and future writer, explores the blurry line between reality and the fantastic. Visit David on his website, Twitter, Facebook, or GoodReads.

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Friday, 19 July 2013

#campnano: In Transit 4, a #fridayflash.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3


It was the waiting that killed, and the uncertainty, Janice was sure of that, though it wasn't as if she was really waiting for anything. Anything concrete, that was.

She looked up from her phone as her sister popped her head through the doorway.
"Any plans for tonight?"
"Ye - I don't know. Maybe."
"You still waiting for him to call you?"
"No. I... No."
Cherise walked into the room and sat on the bed beside her.
"What's wrong, little go-getter?"
"Nothing."
"You sit in your room all day, staring at your phone. And nothing is wrong. Uhuh. That's not the Janice I know."
"I'm on leave. I'm not supposed to be doing anything."
"Like you could ever sit still even during holidays?"
"So, I've changed. People do, you know."
"Do they. You're still checking your work email."
"Well. Yes."
"So are you free tonight?"
"Yes, I guess."
"Great. We're going for dinner. Now, go out and do something and stop moping."
Cherise left the room, the last thing to leave was the little waggling fingers telling her to move on and stop waiting.

But what was she waiting for? Janice stared miserably at her phone. She wasn't quite sure either.

~

She almost dropped her phone when it actually rang.
"Hello?" she said, hating the tremor in her voice."
"Hi, is that Jan?"
"Yea."
"Nick here. I didn't catch you at a bad time or anything, did I?"
"Oh. Er, nope. What's up?"
"Remember the last convo we had? I was wondering if I could take you up on that - you know, I think your business model works. I'd just like to have a more in-depth look at it."
"Right. Oh! Right. Yes, when do you want to meet up - only I'm in Penang at the moment..."
"That's great, actually. I'll be there for a do this weekend. Maybe we could schedule something."
"Yes, sure."
"I'll call you when I'm there and we'll figure something out. Does Sunday afternoon sound good?"
"Should be, as far as I know."
"Okay. Catch you then. Bye."
Janice couldn't help the little tear that escaped her eye, brushing it away angrily.

Part 5
Part 6

Thursday, 18 July 2013

On writing in loops and thinking deeper

The  thing is that I seem to be getting into a rut. Somehow, the stories are looping, circling again and again around the same themes - broken relationships, broken trust, realism, disconnected faith and being lost.
It always comes back to broken dreams, and the unexpected happenings, which throws the protagonists into a spiraling circle of depression. And depression is the long recurring theme in all my 'realistic' stories. My fantasy stories have tortured protagonists, and agony, but not depression. They're too busy trying to survive to bother about what they feel emotionally. 

Maybe because I'm sometimes borderline depressive, or depressed, and it's catharsis to write it that way. Or maybe because that is what I know. I can't write happy. I've long realised that I don't really know how to be. Contented yes, looking forward to something, yes, but I've yet to be able to live fully in the moment. I'm always living on tomorrow and I suppose it has to stop.

But these stories, they're not going anywhere. Maybe because I've been stagnant for too long, and lazy. And I've never really quite moved on.

And yet it seems to me that the root cause of it is because I'm not thinking deep enough, hard enough, and I'm contented and complacent in my apathy (oh, the loops I'm making again). And I'm not delving because I'm not writing and I'm not writing because I'm not thinking and it all comes back to the same thing.

I need to be pushed. I need to be told 'there take this, run with it, because I KNOW YOU CAN'. I need that motivation that runs parallel to mine, not in front pulling me to places I cannot go, and not behind, pushing me because of their lack of ability, but alongside, saying we're in this together and we'll get somewhere because you have what it takes and so do I and where we individually lack, that's where we grow as one and cover each other's back.

And I never volunteer, but if I'm taking the effort to give you feedback and I care enough to try to make things better, that's how I'm telling you to use me, inviting you to invite me. because I never volunteer (mostly) but I said that already.

Oh the complexity of a melancholic phlegmatic introvert. 

And so I write in loops, as this piece goes, and the rambling headed to nowhere camp nano novel because I don't know where I'm going from here even though I really do.

It's the execution that kills. and that is what is freaking me, although I know that it's time and it's right but I can't for the life of me figure out how, and that's where people say trust in God and I say I do but the question still says how?

Write it down, Anna. Without vision, the people perish.
and what you write will call forth life.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

#bookreview: Twignibble by @nimpentoad authors, Henry Herz & sons

TwignibbleTwignibble by Henry L. Herz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Twignibble is a very cute children's book that talks about big stuff - caring about your friends, being resourceful and creative, and taking care of the environment (stop destroying everything, horrible humans! - no, he doesn't actually say that). The colourful illustrations (by Debi Pickler) are eye-catching and makes you want to just gaze at the pages over and over again. The story is engaging and an easy read for children.

Twignibble the sloth sets off around the world in his solar-powered helicopter to help his friends. From Big Gulp the grouper to Winddancer the Harpy Eagle, Twignibble thinks of various ways to save his friends and their habitats from being destroyed by pollution and poaching. Along the way, he also drops tidbits of what these various animals look like and how they live.

Twignibble is the second offering from Henry Herz and his two sons and is aimed at young readers from ages 5 - 8.

View all my reviews

The first story from Henry Herz and sons, Nimpentoad, was reviewed here.
I received this book (PDF) in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

#bookreview: The Emerald Tablet by Joshua Silverman

The Emerald Tablet (Legends of Amun Ra, #1)The Emerald Tablet by Joshua Silverman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Being the odd one out in a foreign land isn't fun or easy, but Leoros, the son of a scientist and an archeologist, is somewhat used to it. When Leoros suddenly finds himself in an alternate universe, where he learns to channel spheres of blue and green power, he is finally appreciative of the very experiences he once hated, but now stands him in good stead to survive and maybe even become a hero. Atlantia, a slave girl who sees visions, soon becomes Leoros' friend and ally as they navigate the politics of the Priests of Amun and try save Potara.

The Emerald Tablet is a mix of Egyptian and Greek mythology and fantasy (I'd hesitate to say scifi; with the emphasis on enchanted items and powers, I'd place it more in the fantasy camp) that jumps between modern Egypt on Earth and Potara, the planet that Leoros' is called to by the Emerald Tablet.

To be honest, I don't really know where I stand in terms of liking/rating this book. On one hand, the plot is interesting enough, though the writing itself tended to be a little draggy and repetitive at certain places. It started off great and then it lapsed somewhere in the middle, and built up again at the end. There were passages and sometimes chapters that were solid, and there were those that left me with an "eh, what? Okay moving on..." feeling. Formatting in my e-reader was a problem - it looked like it was converted directly from the print version with no editing/consideration for e-book formatting.

I'm struggling between a two and a three, but I'm not liking it enough to say that "I like it" especially since it really did take me a whole month to read it (and not because I was really busy).

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

#campnano: In Transit 3

Part 1
Part 2



It never struck Sharon necessary to hate anyone. The level of negative emotion necessary for the act was not worth the effort. She had always wondered at how her friends could find the energy to hate certain people in their circles, whether they were their high school acquaintances (calling them friends would have been an oxymoron) or their husbands' colleagues. All that changed when she saw the woman talking so animatedly to Keith, finally giving him her name card.

She shifted Pierce in her arms, craning her neck to catch sight of the two of them through the reflection of the glass and the continuous bobbing of people around the luggage carousel. She had never seen Keith that excited, or laughing so uproariously, except when he was with his old school mates. He definitely had never laughed that way at any of her jokes.
Pierce whined.
"Sorry darling, did I hurt you?" she said, never taking her eyes off the made-up tart. No one ever dressed like that, except if they were trying to suck up to someone, or to steal someone's husband. Why else would she dress up just to take a flight?

"I'll give you a ring some time this week," she heard Keith say as the two of them approached the exit to the arrival hall.
"That would be great," the woman replied. "I look forward to it."
Sharon watched as the woman strutted away, hips swaying with each dainty step. Keith looked around and checked his watch. Realising that he hadn't seen her yet, Sharon stepped towards him with a smile plastered on her face.

"Hey, there you are," he said, slinging his bag on his shoulder. He leaned in to give her a quick peck on the forehead, then lifted Pierce from her embrace. "How's my little boy doing, huh?"
Pierce grinned at him, clinging on to his neck. "Ga!"
"There's a good boy. Was that a ga or a da? Are you speaking yet?" He made silly baby noises at his son.
"Did you have a good trip?" Sharon asked as they walked towards the carpark.
"Yeah. The project's going well. Wish they'd just shift everything over here in Penang instead of having part of the team in KL though. It's so difficult to coordinate."
"Meet anyone new?"
"Eh? No. The team's fixed on this one, and there's no new hires over at HQ."
"Really," she mumbled under her breath, wondering if she should confront him. But they reached the car and Pierce was fidgety, and the moment passed.
"It's Pierce's first birthday next week," she said, trying to fill the silence in the car.
"Oh."
"What do you think we should do?"
"Anything. What does my wee one want to do, huh?"
"Shall we throw a little party?"
"Why not?"
"Who should we call?"
Keith shrugged. "Whoever you like. Doesn't really matter, does it? It's not like Pierce will remember."
"I guess not."
Sharon stared out the window for the rest of the drive home. She didn't think she had ever hated anyone as much as she did the woman who had taken Keith's heart away from her. She wanted to reach over to him and rip the card to shreds so that he would never see or talk to her again, but she didn't and she didn't know why.

Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

Sunday, 7 July 2013

#campnano: In Transit 2

Part 1

He pretended he could see her over the backs of the aircraft's chairs, over the heads of the people between him and her. It had been years since he had seen her, since they'd left college, since they'd broken up. He wondered if she'd finally achieved what she had been chasing so desperately after. Maybe she had. She'd looked to poised, so successful, so... somehow sad.

"Life isn't a race, you know?" he had said to her rather angrily one day after listening to an hour-long rant about why he should be focusing more on his studies and less on other things.
"But you need to do well now to get anywhere in life," she had protested.
"Must we get anywhere?"
"Of course we must! Don't tell me you want to remain a student for the rest of your life? Bumming off your parents? Never achieving anything, any measure of success on your own?"
"Of course I do -"
"Then you've got to start working towards it."
"Can't you just enjoy it while it lasts?"
"While what lasts?"
"This! This peace. This little eddy of not having to work so hard. It's sem break. Come on."
"Go do whatever you want. I'm not going."
"Janice..."
"Go away, Keith. I need to study."

He wasn't proud of the way he had stormed off that day, slamming the door of her house behind him. His temper had pushed his feet down hard on the gas pedal, earning him his first speeding ticket and a nasty gash on his car. He could see the "I told you so" written all over Janice's face the next day when she came to drop off the jacket he'd lent her ("You left this behind," she'd said rather frostily). They hadn't spoken for the rest of the college year.

Keith stared out the window at the passing clouds, wondering if it would be too forward of him swap seats to be next to her, to ask her whether she'd made it, just to confirm. He wondered too, if she'd forgiven him - but quite obviously she had, by the way she'd greeted him in the airport. He twisted the simple golden band around his left ring finger. Sharon would be waiting for him in the arrival hall, little baby Pierce in her arms, and he wouldn't have a chance to talk to Janice again. He didn't believe for one moment that she would remember him by the time she'd reached home.

And yet indecision paralysed him. He was content, with his average job, with his average wife, with his average home, but was she? What if, by talking to her, he'd stir up a something that would disrupt his perfect content?
What do I do?
Nothing, he decided. Let nature take its course, let whatever will be, will be. He'd never been the type to take the future by the reins.

He smiled across the backs of the chairs and over the heads of the passengers between, to where she sat oblivious to him and his thoughts. Just by appearing, she had already disrupted his content - not so perfect after all, but then again Janice had always had that effect on him.

Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

Friday, 5 July 2013

#campnano: In Transit


It wasn't like her to not know where she was going. Throughout her thirty years of existence, everyone, from her best friend to her headmistress, had declared her to be the most purposeful, most likely to succeed person in her year. And yet, here she found herself at a loss.
She stared up at the transit sign, a pebble in the midst of the airport's turbulent streams of passengers. Left or right? A frown puckered her brow, reinforcing the wrinkles of the past seven years. She checked the gate number on her ticket and turned left, joining the flow.
Maybe being too purposeful had its downside. She'd worked hard and networked harder, and now here she was, where she had wanted to be, earlier than she'd expected, tired and stressed, but still smiling at random people who - she stopped, turned sharply, almost knocking into a hurrying suit who glared at her.
He hadn't stopped; probably hadn't noticed her in the crush of people. Or maybe there was someone waiting for him at the departure hall. Someone. She stared down at the ticket in her hand, almost oblivious to the quiet curses around her. She was just about to continue to her gate when he reappeared.
"Janice! I thought I saw you," Keith said, a wide grin on his face. He grabbed her hand and pumped it enthusiastically. "Where are you headed to?"
"Home. And you?"
"The same. What flight are you on?"
"The one they're announcing right now," she said, grimacing. "Sorry, have to run. See you back there sometime?"
"We'd better hurry," he said, grabbing her hand. They ran down the terminal reaching the gate in time to slip in at the tail end of passengers.

Janice closed her eyes, hoping to sleep through the-hour long flight home, but her mind kept running in its loops, deepening its well-worn grooves. Her lack of focus and the growing restlessness were getting to her, knotting up in her chest. I just want to end it all, she found herself saying more than once.
"End what?" Lee Chin, her housemate and colleague, had asked.
"I don't know. This. That. Everything," she slapped a thick file, almost sending it down on to the floor. She was tempted to throw it out the window. That was when she decided it was time for a long holiday. It was time to take a break, to think, to reevaluate, to pause, selah.
You're supposed to be happy, the treacherous thought echoed in her head. You've got a cushy job, all you've been pursuing since childhood, you have money and now you even have time to spare. Who else could say they have all of that, at such a young age?
But she didn't feel young. No matter how much she tried to convince herself that she was young, that age was only a number, it came back to her that she wasn't getting any younger, and if she wanted to figure out what to do with the rest of her life, she had better do it now.

It wasn't like her to not know where she was going. It made her feel lesser and she didn't like the feeling.

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6