How to Find Great Books by Indie Authors


Red PencilThere’s a plethora of great books on the market by Indie Authors, but in the growing e-book flood waters there are quite a few that are less than satisfying, and far from the professional product you are expecting for your investment (time & money).

Here’s my method for finding great books and discovering emerging writers.

Can you trust reviews?

Yes and no. It’s well-known that some reviews are planted to increase initial sales to get a book on a list or two, and boost its visibility. That doesn’t mean you can’t trust reviews, but you should look at the spread of ratings. Most books will have a distribution with the majority of ratings falling within a small range. These are likely the most trustworthy. I like to read the bad ones first, and it’s usually easy to spot the bitter, “this was not for me” or “not what I expected” reviews. Then I move on to those that fall in the mid range, and usually I get a good idea if the novel is something I want to try out.

If there are only a few reviews, and they are all five stars with glowing praise, that doesn’t mean it’s planted, but be cautious. That’s where this next item comes in handy.

Sample

If you’re not 100% sure, sample the book before you buy.

For authors reading this, a generous sample is more likely to lead to a happy customer than a tiny excerpt. Once a reader has invested the time to read a quarter of a novel and is hooked, they’ll come back and complete the purchase.

For readers, this is test drive time. Get a cup of peach tea, glass of wine, or coffee and kick back. Either you’re going to love the story and the writing, OR you’ll delete the sample from your library and move on. You may be out a little time, but not the few dollars you would have spent on that particular title. If you love it, you’ll have another great author to follow, and you’ll know when you buy their other titles, you will have constancy in quality and content.

Indie Reads

Here are a few titles that made me stay up way past my bed time. The plots and characters are engaging, and the quality of the presentation (clean copyediting & professional cover) was spot on.

Cyberstorm by Matthew Mather

Cyberstorm MatherDescription from Amazon

Sometimes the worst storms aren’t from Mother Nature, and sometimes the worst nightmares aren’t the ones in our heads. Mike Mitchell, an average New Yorker already struggling to keep his family together, suddenly finds himself fighting just to keep them alive when an increasingly bizarre string of disasters start appearing on the world’s news networks. As the world and cyberworld come crashing down, bending perception and reality, a monster snowstorm cuts New York off from the world, turning it into a wintry tomb where nothing is what it seems…

Review: Believable characters, combined with strong writing, provides enough realism to make you think this could happen today. Just when you think this is another end of the world story, it takes an abrupt turn. Not for squeamish types;)

Timebound by Rysa Walker

Time Bound WalkerDescription from Amazon

When Kate Pierce-Keller’s grandmother gives her a strange blue medallion and speaks of time travel, sixteen-year-old Kate assumes the old woman is delusional. But it all becomes horrifyingly real when a murder in the past destroys the foundation of Kate’s present-day life. Suddenly, that medallion is the only thing protecting Kate from blinking out of existence.

Kate learns that the 1893 killing is part of something much more sinister, and her genetic ability to time travel makes Kate the only one who can fix the future. Risking everything, she travels back in time to the Chicago World’s Fair to try to prevent the murder and the chain of events that follows.

Changing the timeline comes with a personal cost—if Kate succeeds, the boy she loves will have no memory of her existence. And regardless of her motives, does Kate have the right to manipulate the fate of the entire world?

Review: Time travel stories are always fun to read. Time Bound is inventive and well written, with just enough tension to keep the pages turning. This story would appeal to ages mid teens and above, with lots of room to imagine joining the cause to stop the Cyrists.

Time’s Echo by Rysa Walker

Times Echo WalkerDescription from Amazon

A Kindle exclusive novella, set in the world of Rysa Walker’s Timebound. 

Kiernan Dunne abandoned his family ties to help Kate fight the Cyrists, and he’s never regretted that for one moment. But he doesn’t understand why Kate can’t remember that night in 1893 Chicago, when she turned back to face the killer chasing them through the smoky corridors of the World’s Fair Hotel. Kate placed the CHRONOS key around his neck and made his eight year old self promise to wear it always, and that’s a promise Kiernan has never broken. 

When Kate suddenly vanishes after a Cyrist-engineered time shift, that hidden medallion is Kiernan’s only hope for finding her. He returns to the Cyrist fold to look for clues, but his search will lead him back to the question that has haunted him for years–what really happened after he left Kate at the World’s Fair Hotel?

Review: A quick read, and also a great follow-up to Time Bound, this can be considered a supplemental story to the series. Book two in the Chronos Files series is due out later in 2014.

Poe by J. Lincoln Fenn

Poe JLFennDescription from Amazon

It’s Halloween, and life is grim for twenty-three-year-old Dimitri Petrov. It’s the one-year anniversary of his parents’ deaths, he’s stuck on page one thousand of his Rasputin zombie novel, and he makes his living writing obituaries.

But things turn from bleak to terrifying when Dimitri gets a last-minute assignment to cover a séance at the reputedly haunted Aspinwall Mansion.

There, Dimitri meets Lisa, a punk-rock drummer he falls hard for. But just as he’s about to ask her out, he unwittingly unleashes malevolent forces, throwing him into a deadly mystery. When Dimitri wakes up, he is in the morgue—icy cold and haunted by a cryptic warning given by a tantalizing female spirit.

As town residents begin to turn up gruesomely murdered, Dimitri must play detective in his own story and unravel the connections among his family, the Aspinwall Mansion, the female spirit, and the secrets held in a pair of crumbling antiquarian books. If he doesn’t, it’s quite possible Lisa will be the next victim.

Review: This is a good old-fashioned ghost story with some interesting twists, and a few chills. The descriptive scenes bring the story to life, as you get to see the story unfold through Dimitri’s eyes. Lighter than Stephen King, this blends humor with suspense in a unique way.

~~~~~~~~~~~

When you find a great book, pass it along, tell a friend, tweet it, or share it on Facebook. This is how the  great books are discovered.  Thanks.

Shameless self-promotion;)

Wired Judith GainesDescription from Amazon

Jade Weekes emerged from the oily wash of the Seine five years ago with no memory of her life, but an uncanny knowledge of fine art, museum security, and a knack for walking away with priceless treasures. Now she’s tracking an elusive Van Gogh with ties to an underworld struggle that will reveal her forgotten past. 

Jade Weekes leaves Paris to track a priceless Van Gogh from St. Pete to Chicago. Her contacts are shady and she is beginning to think there is more to this job than a buyer wanting a gift for his wife. Otherwise, why would Simon Morrell, a rival thief, cross her path just as the FBI begins asking questions? 

Caught up in the six billion dollar international art theft industry, she enlists help from unlikely sources: film actor Alex Ford, and veteran FBI specialists Stewart Connor and John Young.


Art Lost – Art Recovered


The art work is famous, and even though you may have stood before it at some point in time, do you know its significance–what made it good enough to be hanging there? When a thief steps over the invisible line in a museum, the one the Docent politely asks you to observe, and snatches a painting, most of us are really seeing the artwork for the first time.

Often, art theft does not make headline news, but when it does, everyone stops to listen. The news shares vague crime details, and how many thousands, or millions of dollars the art work is worth, and at the same time spurs our imagination to fill in the details not shared.

It makes us wonder why we didn’t pay attention when we had the chance.

Below are few current news stories of art theft, art recovery, and the personal pain of art lost. From Dublin, to Virginia, to the French Riviera, each article feels like a jumping point for a compelling story. It’s no wonder art crime is romanticized, but in reality it funds darker, criminal activity as part of a $6 Billion industry.

 

Click images below to read the full articles.

Riviera Heist

Suspected mastermind of Riviera art theft says FBI framed him

Dublin Painting Returned

Painting returned to Dublin gallery 20 years after theft

Ponytail Theif

Contemporary art thief with a ponytail

India Artifacts

Federal agents go on the hunt for stolen treasures

 

 


Enigma


January has a way of making everything new. A crisp calendar, a brand new notebook, and a post holiday purge of leftover candy paves the way for fresh creative endeavors.

To kick off the new year, here’s an excerpt from Enigma, the next installment in the Jade Weekes Art Mystery series.

Enjoy.

The Future Man | Paul Klee | 1933

The Future Man | Paul Klee | 1933

Enigma, A Jade Weekes Art Mystery

Chapter One

The boat rocked in long swells which Jade felt roll from left to right, like a book she’d read enough times to memorize. It felt like Andre’s barge floating on the oily wash of the Seine, but it wasn’t. The damn sun was too hot for one, and the calming cacophony of the Paris waterfront was an ocean away.

“How much time are you planning to waste in that chair?”

She turned her eyes in the direction of the voice, John Young stood at the rail, hands on hips. “I don’t have a job,” she said, closing her eyes again.

He crossed the narrow wood deck and stood over her a moment before pulling a lounge chair closer and sitting. “It’s been over a year,” he said. “The statute of limitations is up on self-pity.” The chair squeaked under his weight as he settled back.

“Who let you on the dock?” she asked, “I’ll need to reprimand security.”

“Andre called and…”

“And wanted you to check on me,” she finished. “I’m happy, tell him that. Now go away.”

“Your father is dead, you can’t bring him back. Andre is alive, thanks to you.”

Jade sat up. Her skin felt tight, like leather tanned and stretched to dry. She had intentionally moved as far away as she could from the memories, and half remembered images of her past, spending months building up walls. An interruption was unneeded, unwanted. Her pulse thumped in her throat. “Whatever you want, I’m not interested.”

Her only comfort zone was now out of her reach. For five years she had walked into galleries, skirted security systems and guards, and walked out with Reniors. It had felt like a normal life to her, normal enough to black out all memories hidden from her by retrograde amnesia, a side effect of being attacked and left for dead, floating in the Seine. Certainly, if you have something to live for, it doesn’t get washed so easily from your mind, she thought. The temporal vacancy was home.

The only image she had of her life before the attack, was of her father laying on the floor, his blood painting the gray tiles of their small Chicago gallery. Even as she’d tried to not remember, it came back when the same madman, Jarvinen, had tried to kill Andre, the mentor who had taught her a use for her unusual skill set. He was like her second father—for a while at least.

Young shifted beside her. She glanced to her right. His legs stretched to the end of the lounge chair, and he had pulled a Braves baseball cap over his eyes.

“Suit yourself,” she said.

“I will,” he replied.

Jade closed her eyes, trying to block out his presence. Water lapped at the dock pilings, and further down, she heard a boat crew yelling to one another as they off loaded a fishing party. Young made no sound, and after a while she began to think he’d either left, or perhaps fallen asleep. She glanced at the chair. He was still there. Lean and tan, clad in tan cargo shorts and a Jimmy Buffett t-shirt, he fit into the surroundings. It was a marked improvement over the mud and blood crusted jacket and jeans he’d worn when they had exited the sewers of Paris. He reminded her of unfinished business.

“What have you heard of Morrell?” she asked. Simon Morrell, a career art thief, con man, and murderer with no moral compass, lived adrift in the money currents offered by organized crime. Last year, when his plans countered Jade’s, she’d helped the police capture him with solid evidence to put him away for life.

Unfortunately, he had quickly disappeared—as was his habit—during a custody exchange.

“There’s an occasional lead, but nothing turns up,” said Young. “I think someone in the ranks is helping him, but so far I don’t know who.”

“Is he in Europe or the States?”

Young smiled. “Both, but I’m always a step behind,” he said.

“With Morrell, you can’t follow leads, you have to figure out what he wants, and get to it first,” said Jade.

“Is that so?”

She stood up and wrapped a large dark towel around her waist. The contrast of the terry fabric against her tanned skin, drew Young’s eyes upward until they met hers, and he looked away, pulling his hat back in place.

“Why are you here, John?”

“Andre, forever in need of something to occupy his time, discovered a trail that may lead to a lost painting. You know how he can’t resist a challenge,” drifted Young’s voice from under his hat brim. He seemed to sink deeper into the chair. “He thinks you can find it.”

Jade walked to boat cabin and pulled a cooler from under a bench. After sloshing through watered down ice, she returned with two dripping glass bottles, and held one over Young’s head. “Here,” she said.

He took the beer from her hand, and twisted off the cap. “Thanks.”

“Per my agreement with the French, British, and United States legal systems, I don’t find paintings anymore, but thanks for thinking of me.” She took a sip of her beer and sat. “Is Morrell involved?”

Young shook his head. “Not this one, it’s an old case, and a lot of years and people have done their damnedest to erase the trail. Just thought you might be bored hiding out, waiting for the rest of your life to happen. You can use your unique talents for something better.”

“What’s the catch?”

“It’s just a story, a few old letters,” he said. “And this.” He reached into his back pocket, then held an envelope out. “Take it.”

She paused, looking at it, recognizing the stationery from Andre’s desk. She could almost see the barge rocking on the currents of the river, beneath the shadows of Notre Dame. She took her time reaching for, it and pulled the envelope his from his fingers. The flap was partially glued from the humid air, and she slipped her finger under the edge to flip it open. A small black and white photograph with scalloped white edges, and the brown spots that come to old paper with age, slid into her fingers. A girl stared back at her, dark hair pulled back into a bun of some kind, with wild curls, breaking loose, suspended around her face. She wore a jacket and white blouse, and stood in the formal posture people took decades ago when posing for a picture.

“Who is she?” asked Jade.

“Keep looking,” Young replied.

The photo revealed little detail. The setting appeared to be in a home, a lace curtain peeked along the edge of the image, and a painting hung in the background. The girl seemed familiar, but Jade couldn’t pick any feature to connect a name or memory. “I’m sure I’ve never seen her, but there’s something about her… where and when was this taken?” she asked, flipping it over to scan the back.

“Dessau, Germany, 1938.”

Jade looked over at Young. “Name?”

“Look again,” he replied with a nod towards the photo. “I’m sure your father told you stories about her.” He paused to take a hit off his beer. “There was a reason he became an art collector and opened the gallery. If you haven’t remembered yet, I would think you’d want to look up your family.”

She let out a breath, “Family?” She slipped the photo into the envelope and tossed it onto his chest. “I don’t know the person I used to be, why would I waste time on a family tree?”

Young sat up, placing his bottle on the deck under the chair. He slid the photo from the envelope, and held it next to her face. “It’s the eyes and mouth that you find familiar,” he said, staring at her past its curved edge, his gaze challenging.

She looked at him, then at the deck over his shoulder, and then down at her beer bottle without answering.

“Why do you think that is?” he asked.

“You can hardly wait to tell me. I don’t know whether to be interested or annoyed.”

“You’re interested,” he replied in a softer tone. “You recognized her because her face looks a lot like yours.” He flipped the photo around so the image gazed at her.

Jade looked at the girl. She reached up and covered part of the image so only the eyes looked back. “Family photo?” she whispered.

“Your grandmother, Anna Blume.”

In the distance, a jet ski chopped over water sending its wake crashing. Suddenly, every sound seemed magnified, the shouts from the deck hands, and whistle calls from the seagulls competed for her attention. What had stumped her before, now was obvious. “Anna Blume.” She said the name, wondering if she’d said at another time in her life, perhaps before her memories were scrambled. The sound of the letters felt foreign.

“Anna left Germany shortly after this picture was taken. She was with her father, Jacob Werner, but somewhere along the way, they were separated.”

“My father was named after him,” she said. “Why is this important now? I’m sure she’s long dead.”

“She had a painting with her. She and her father, were running from the Nazi occupation when the train they were on was detained. Werner was taken away by German soldiers, but Anna hid with a group of women. She left the country, at least that’s what we believe. The history gets sketchy after that.”

“Wait a minute,” said Jade. “If you don’t know what happened to her, then how do you know she’s my grandmother? This sounds like some bullshit that you and Andre cooked up.”

“Why would we cook anything up? If you want to stay on this boat the rest of your life, I don’t care, but…” he paused with dramatic effect. “If we find out what happened to her, we find this.” He tapped the corner of the photo.

She looked at the eyes and face of Anna Blume, and then turned her attention to the painting hanging on the wall behind her shoulder. “I need a closer look,” she said.

Jade left him on the deck while she rummaged through the cabin. When she returned, she had a small domed magnifier. She laid the photo on the arm of the chair and covered it with the glass. The painting curved upward, exaggerating the lines of the geometric patterns that crossed over the face…no, she thought, it was two faces staring at her. “Paul Klee.”

“That’s what we’re looking for,” he said.

“He was one of the artists deemed degenerate by Hitler.” She moved the dome along the image to take in more detail. “He was too modern and bold with his vision to fit into the Führer’s art horde.”

“You know a lot about art from that period?” he asked.

“You never answered my question. How do you know this woman is my grandmother?”

Young paused, collecting his thoughts before answering. “You really don’t remember any of this?” He turned the photo to get a better view through the magnifier. “After Anna fled Germany, we traced her to France.”

“We? How are you in this?”

“I have an extensive file on you and your father. Naturally, when I found a mystery in his past, I couldn’t resist looking closer. It fit Andre’s story,” he said, rubbing his hands together to remove the water that had dripped from his beer bottle. “I shared it with Andre because he knows the shadier sides of the European art market better than anyone. If this painting had been seen in the last seventy-five years, he would know.”

“You said there were letters.”

Young pulled a pack of papers from his shorts pocket and unfolded them before handing them over. “These are photocopies of letters Anna wrote to her husband before she disappeared. She left Germany, ending up in France where she married, and had your dad. The painting she smuggled out of Germany is worth around sixty-million euros. The story says she left her family to take the painting to a museum on the German border to sell. They were struggling for food and basics everywhere in France at the time. She never came back. The painting didn’t surface, and when her husband looked for her, he found out she had never arrived.”

“So she never surfaced,” said Jade, “and neither did the painting.” She pulled the papers apart, looking at the delicate script handwriting.

“The last page is our clue. It’s the last communication she had with her family. The painting was the only thing of value she had when they left Germany.”

“So, if I find the Klee, its mine, right?”

“That’s not so clear,” he said, “and you know it. This photo is the only proof of ownership.”

“And the stories and letters?”

“Only a bill of sale will stand up in court, especially on a case this old.” He shrugged. “Even if we find it, it may take years to clear ownership.”

“I see what you’re doing.” She shoved the papers and photo into the envelope and handed it over. “Believe me, I appreciate your concern, but I don’t need a diversion. I’m happy to hang on my boat and stay out of jail. You’re the last person who should be getting me involved on an art hunt.”

“You’re the last person who should be wasting their intelligence bobbing on this waterway.” He downed the last of his beer and pitched the bottle into a bucket beside the deck rail with a harsh clatter just short of shattering.

“What if I could guarantee you’re on the right side of the law. You won’t be arrested,” he added.

“I recall that line,” she replied, “just before my court appearance.”

“You never had jail time. I made the case that you helped take down Jarvinen’s gang which solved a murder case and a string of heists.” He paused and looked toward the cooler. “You have another beer in there?”

“Help yourself.”

He pulled the cooler open and grabbed two more bottles. “This is your mystery to solve. It’s your prize to win.”

“I keep the Klee?”

“You connect the dots for your past.” He passed the beer to her. “You’re hiding, trying to keep yourself from remembering who you were before you lost your memory. I’m suggesting you face it head on.” He pointed his beer toward her. “You’re not Jane Werner, or Jade Weekes.” He tapped his bottle against hers, “You need to figure out who you’re going to be today.”

She popped the cap off the beer and let it bounce under the chair. “If I help you, I want the painting.”

“I’ll do what I can,” he said. “Are you in?”

“What’s in it for you and Andre?”

Young smiled, “This is strictly for fun.”

“Doesn’t it go against your job with the FBI?” she asked.

“The job is gone. I spent too many years living with the worst kind of people and seeing them walk on a technicality. It was time to retire.”

He stretched out on the chair, and Jade realized how much he had changed, aside from the clothing. The lines that had cut into his brow were softer, and he was relaxed. There was little sign of the John Young that had guided her through the Paris underground, ready to react to attack, and ready to kill if needed.

“How long have you been out?”

“A few months. It’s a nice pension too. I’m getting used to waking up knowing someone isn’t trying to kill me.”

“I’m flattered you trust me,” she said. “But I’m not interested.”

Young smiled, but the expression didn’t reach all of this face. He let out a long breath, “Andre said you’d say no. Aren’t you at least a little curious to know what happened to Anna and the Klee?”

“I don’t know Anna, or the line of descendants you think leads to me. You and Andre know enough to move on without me.” She stood and walked to the deck rail facing the dock. “I’d like you to leave.”

Young stared at her, seeming to weigh if her request was genuine, and then walked to the rail. He adjusted his cap to shade his eyes, and stepped onto the dock. “Let me know if you change your mind.”

She watched him walk the weather washed boards until he disappeared into the parking lot. The whole idea that she’d jump at the chance to find a painting, or even search through her family history to satisfy Andre’s whims infuriated her. John was ex FBI, and with the deep undercover stretch he did with Andre, his art world connections were shadier than Morrell’s.

A shadow of guilt tinged her anger. She wouldn’t have found Andre in the labyrinth of catacombs beneath Paris without John’s connections. His cover had been deep enough to burn his relationship with most of his FBI colleagues, who believed he’d turned to the other side of the game. Was he really retired, or had he been forced out of the bureau? She could call Stewart Connor with the Boston FBI office and ask, but that would mean she cared if his story were true—that would mean she was actually considering taking up the challenge. Stewart was John’s only friend left at the FBI, and had tracked her and Morrell to Jarvinen. What were the chances even he would know John’s official status, or would it be more closed files, locked out of his security clearance?

“Damn it!” Why can’t I just stay out of it? She turned and noticed the pack of papers and photos on the chair. John was leaving bait, she thought.

She grabbed the pages and marched to the rail with the intention of throwing them over, but her fingers wouldn’t let go. This is all be fiction, she thought. It’s easy to fake letters and photos. She held them over the water again, but her own eyes stared back at her from the grainy image, and again, she hesitated.

Inside the cabin, her cell phone rang. After the fourth ring, it stopped and was followed by a chirp of a text message.

She tossed the papers onto the chair, reached in the door, and grabbed the phone off the counter.

“Why this painting? Why Blume?” the text read. The number was unfamiliar, and Jade was sure it would lead to a pay as you go phone with no account records. She typed and hit send. “Who is this?”.

The reply came quick, “Find me.”

She stared at the text message, her mind reeling over the possibilities. Morrell? Young? Andre? “I’m not playing your game,” she typed. There was no answer, and after a moment she set the phone down.

It was a good questions. Why now? Why this hunt?

She grabbed a backpack and shoved in a change of clothes and a toothbrush. When she emerged at the end of the dock, Young was sitting on the hood of a black SUV, eating a hot dog. He didn’t seem surprised to see her.

Jade cocked her head, resisting the comment she wanted to make. Instead, she said, “If I help you, I want the painting, and I call the plays. I’ve spent years building connections to information, and to people who know how to make transactions happen. I’m not going to risk that.”

“I thought you were out of the business.”

“Some skills translate to other career paths.” She opened the car door and tossed her pack into the floorboards.

“That’s all you need to know.”

“First steps?” he asked, throwing the food wrapper into a trash can. He opened the driver’s door and slid in.

“We go to Chicago.”

“To your father’s old apartment?” he asked.

She nodded, “Jacob had a storeroom full of boxes with family papers, photos…things passed down. It’s the logical place to start piecing together the story.”

“Will you be calling on old friends?” he asked.

“Alex Ford, you mean?” Alex, an action-figure of a movie star, had helped to track her father’s killer to Paris, and had risked his own life to save hers. All that, after she had broken into his house with the intention of plundering his art collection. “He’s in London working on a project. He’ll be gone another month, at least.”

“So you’re still an item.”

She shook her head, “We were never an item. We just play chess sometimes.”

“Is that an euphemism?”

She gave a shrug, “I think your job for now is to drive.”

~~~~~~~~~~~

Paul Klee
Paul Klee was a German-Swiss painter and draftsman who’s artistic influence survives in modern graphic design and typography. His exploration of styles and mediums defied classification, taking in elements of Impressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, and Abstraction. This was enough for Hitler and his Reich Marshals to deem his work subversive. Klee’s paintings were part of the degenerate art exhibition, Die Ausstellung “Entartete Kunst” in Munich, November 1937.


Every Picture Has a Story


I’m not sure when we first connect to art as something more than a scribble our parents put on the refrigerator. Somewhere along our personal timeline, we recognize our own feelings in a painting, and wonder if the artist felt the same way. Even works created decades, or centuries before we were born. Skip ahead to college dorms, and you’ll find Max Ernst and Edvard Munch hanging side by side expressing angst and romanticism. There are times in our lives when images convey more than the OED could find the words to explain.

Ashes_Edvard Munch

During WWII, art took on political meaning, and for many Nazi leaders, rising to power meant amassing collections of the masters, and giving their Furer the best of the lot, as the wide-scale looting and confiscation moved hundreds of thousands of pieces of art– renaissance masters to modern impressionist– from museums and private collections to train cars, salt mines, remote estates, to anywhere it could be hidden. The old masters were revered, the new free expression and bold interpretations of life created by artists such as Paul Klee, Picasso, Otto Dix, Max Lieberman, Van Gogh, Marc Chagall, Munch, and Ernst were labeled degenerate.

I’ve read accounts of bon fires, where works by these artists were rendered to ashes, others auctioned off to feed money into the Nazi war machine. Why were these marked for destruction? Adolf Hitler felt that anyone who painted in this style must be physically inferior to see the world and colors in this way. If the works he detested didn’t meet this definition, then he labeled it politically subversive.

The stories told within these images are now layered in stories of what happened to the art, and where it has traveled in the last 70 years.

Right now, stolen art is hot. Not for being stolen, but for the publicity generated by the news such as the cache of art discovered inside the walls of a Munich apartment, the trial of art thieves in Amsterdam which resulted in the destruction of priceless works by Gauguin, Matisse, and Monet, to the upcoming film directed by George Clooney, Monuments Men.

I think that’s why Jade Weeks, the main character in my art mystery series, is so entwined with her pursuit of art. She uses the stories inside the paintings to explain the disjointed memories that flash through her dreams. Recovering a stolen masterpiece recovers a part of herself. In the next series installment, she is tracking the history of a Paul Klee painting that belonged to her great-grandfather, and was last seen with her grandmother just before she disappeared near the border of France and Germany towards the end of WWII.Wired, A Jade Weeks Art Mystery

Jade is reluctant to get caught up in the search, but John Young, the undercover FBI agent who pushed her to solve her father’s murder in Wired, is determined to engage her help. Even though it feels like a set up, Jade can’t stay away. When she tries to strike out alone, a shoot out, and cryptic text messages push her right back into John’s path.

As she tries to push away the memories of her father’s death and her life before his murder, she recognizes a kindred spirit in her grandmother, Anna Blume.

~ Stay tuned for updates and previews of Enigma, book two in the Jade Weekes Art Mystery series.


Layer by Layer Character Development


Bathroom Personality Assessment - Part 1There was a time when I read a lot of books on the craft of writing fiction. Today, I find the most insightful character development tips coming from psychology professors. We’re all a collection of layers made up of personal history, family, emotions, and unique experiences. If characters are developed with just one or two of these layers, then as writers, we miss the opportunity to make them feel real for our readers.

A few weeks ago I discovered a video in my weekly Pinterest update which uses forced perspective to illustrate the difference between assumption and reality. This led me to author and psychologist Richard Wiseman. His book Did You Spot The Gorilla? also talks about perception. I’ll let you read the book description yourself and instead focus on how I relate this to writing. How often are you so focused on getting your plot moving, and getting your characters from point A to point B that you miss opportunities to show character depth? This isn’t a wordy side trip for the sake of showing the character in gratuitous situations. This is an opportunity to develop a sub plot—you know the other problem your character has to figure out, that parallels the main theme or plot. No one has a single focus in life, including our characters. What did you do today? Now what was going on in the back of your mind during this time? Character also have inner dialogue and multiple tasks to juggle.

In Wired, Jade Weekes is trying to figure out why she’s been sent to steal a painting that is a forgery while at the same time piecing together lost memories washed from her mind when she was attacked on a Paris bridge. In the end, one problem is linked to the other furthering the plot, and adding a layer to her unique personality.

Understanding why we behave the way we do, and what motivates us can be helpful in creating characters who move the plot forward using a fully developed personality. In 59 Seconds, Wiseman talks about practical phycology we can use to improve our lives. I see this as a gold mine for character behavior and aligning their actions to their motives.

Below is a short list of books I’ve found insightful and also fun to read. Please leave a comment and share your favorite recommendations.

Did You Spot The Gorilla? Richard Wiseman
59 Seconds: Think A Little Change A Lot Richard Wiseman
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking Susan Cain (related post)


Wired for the Weekend


A Jade Weekes Art Mystery

A Jade Weekes Art Mystery

Wired went live on Smashwords in the early hours of March 15th, and is already flying off the virtual shelves. It’s available for Free through March 29th as I tweak the formatting, cover image, and promo copy. While there are a lot of moving parts to coordinate for the official launch, I’m excited to finally have it available, and look forward to feedback from readers.

Wired is the first installment of the Jade Weekes Art Mystery series, with the 2nd novel, Enigma, scheduled for release late 2013. Set in Paris, St. Pete, and Chicago, this mystery unravels an organized crime gang, solves a murder, and reveals the haunting past of main character, Jade Weekes.

Here’s the promo copy from Smashwords:

Short description
Read for FREE through March 29, 2013! Jade Weekes emerged from the oily wash of the Seine five years ago with no memory of her life, but an uncanny knowledge of fine art, museum security, and a knack for walking away with priceless treasures. Now she’s tracking an elusive Van Gogh with ties to an underworld struggle that will reveal her forgotten past.

Extended description
Jade Weekes leaves Paris to track a priceless Van Gogh from St. Pete to Chicago. Her contacts are shady and she is beginning to think there is more to this job than a buyer wanting a gift for his wife. Otherwise, why would Simon Morrell, a rival thief, cross her path just as the FBI begins asking questions?

Caught up in the six billion dollar international art theft industry, she enlists help from unlikely sources: film actor Alex Ford, and veteran FBI specialists Stewart Connor and John Young.

No one is who they seem, most of all Jade Weekes.

You can download Wired for your e-reader here.

The Red PencilLook for me to return to blogging on a regular basis as I vet ideas for novel number 3 in the series (working title The Missing), and ramble on techniques for character development. Enjoy your weekend, and get outside to soak up the extra sunshine. ;)


When Your Characters Go Public


Salvador Dalí, on the steps of the Philadelphi...

Salvador Dalí, on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m sure this happens to all writers from time to time. It’s our curious nature that’s to blame and our quest to provide realism to our work. I’m talking about the odd stares from strangers for doing what comes so naturally to us, thinking like our characters in public.

While doing research for WIRED and ENIGMA, I came across an article profiling the behaviors museum staff and security are trained to spot as suspicious. It explains why there always seems to be a Docent close by, and when I leave an area, someone new takes up the post and I often spy them eyeing me as I wander around.

Jade Weekes, the main character in WIRED and ENIGMA is an art thief and a savant when it comes to museum security. If she could just get over her amnesia, she would remember she designed a very clever security system for her late father’s gallery. To walk in her shoes and let my imagination run with her personal obsession for impressionist art and all things Salvador Dali, helps me develop her personality and add concrete details to help readers see through her eyes.

When I’m channeling Jade, this is a bit of what I do:

  • I like to walk the floor plan of the exhibit several times to see the traffic flow, and what physical and psychological barriers have been implemented to keep the public in place. (I attended a great seminar on the Rembrandt exhibit last year and gained a lot of insight on the subject.)
  • I often take notes of these observations which include the placement of security cameras, staff and any climate sensing devices. Since photography is allowed (without flash) in most galleries, I use my phone to snap pictures for later scene building.
  • I usually step to the sides of painting to see how they are secured to the wall and determine if any wires or hardware are visibly attached (security devices).
  • I also note any missing gaps between paintings which could mean a work was removed for repair or other reasons.

Odd behavior for sure, but do I merit being tailed? A small vase or Rembrandt isn’t safe around Jade or the underworld types she deals with, but they are perfectly secure in my company. I need them on display so I can let my characters fight over them and scheme ways to ferry them from the museum without notice. That’s the part of the puzzle I love to work out as I note the emergency exits and service elevators.

So far, Jade has never been arrested, but she is well-known to law enforcement in three countries.

As writers, we should think and behave a bit odd, because that’s how fiction turns from isolated ideas to page-turning stories.

Suspicious? I think not… just creativity at play.


Catching Fire


What does getting fired up mean to you? Are you red-faced as you sprint into action? Perhaps you’re a slow burner, allowing your ideas to percolate to a rich hue before you take the next step.

letters

letters (Photo credit: nate steiner)

The end of each year leads inevitably to promises we make to ourselves to be healthier, more productive, finish a project, start a project, lose weight, eat better, clean out the garage, stop procrastinating…..well, you know the scene.

Two books come to mind, both of which I’ve mentioned before:

In their own ways, each talks about the creative fire everyone has inside. Bradbury advises digging in and writing about what terrifies us, letting the fear we feel quaking inside spill into our characters and plot. Cain talks about the spark of passion in ourselves which we can tap into to find our own power and confidence.

Imagine a meeting of the two; a gift of fears and passions pushing your characters past obstacles and forcing them to confrontation. I gave Jade, the main character in WIRED, doubts and insecurities to make her falter, correct herself and make choices which will move her and the plot forward. Sometimes, I let her make poor choices so she can figure out her mis-step and grow. Letting her fears and passions run amuck on the page is to let her be human and perhaps a little more real to readers.

My goal for 2013 is to allow my characters to be human, flawed, brave, fearful and then press on despite their self-doubts. (Also a sound course of action for writers battling their self-critic.)

Good luck catching your own spark, nurture it well.


Gearing up for NaNoWriMo2012


The days are getting darker, colder. Evenings feature heavier meals and perhaps a dark fermented beverage to keep us warm. What better time to deprive ourselves of sleep and relaxation?

November is National Book Writing Month, a global challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in just 30 days. It is possible, but it takes sacrifice and determination. You must be willing to shirk your house cleaning duties and stock up on frozen pizza to cut down time wasted in the kitchen (you would just burn everything anyway because you’re distracted by your novel). You must be willing to either rise hours before dawn or stay up well after midnight to keep up the daily word count that will get you to 50,000 by midnight November 30, 2012.

I’ve participated twice in NaNoWriMo, each time falling short by a paltry 5,000 words. Usually, about two weeks in, I skip a few days of writing and never catch up. I may have a 3k word sprint, but once you fall behind it takes an incredible effort to catch up. Worst part? The word count is on the NaNoWriMo web site for all to see. That’s a lot of peer pressure.

The NaNo novels I’ve written have grown into full novels which aren’t half bad. It’s a great way to free up your inner critic and crank out some much-needed creativity. It’s amazing how much your writing improves once you stop agonizing over each word or phrase. NaNo dictates that you keep moving forward with your story instead of reaching backward to revise.

If you are serious about making a living as a writer, you already know that the best way to learn how to write your best is to write a lot. This is a skill that can only be developed by practice. Books and classes will only teach you the mechanics, but they won’t help you find your voice or personal writing style.

There are a lot of folks in the world with the opinion that NaNoWriMo is a lark for wanna-be authors, but there are so many more talented writers who embrace the challenge and see it for the benefits it offers:

  • Imposing a daily word count goal forces you into a daily writing habit that continues beyond November.
  • Writing quickly slays your inner critic so you can experiment, screw up and make mistakes…the best way to find your writing voice.
  • And best of all, it builds your confidence as a writer. You will be able to see leaps in your ability to plot a novel length story, dig into a character’s personality and know that you really are a writer.

Check out the NaNoWriMo website and get yourself geared up for November 2012. NaNo founder, Chris Baty has great advice  on surviving the month, while the forums offer support and a healthy dose of commiserating.

You can track my word count here, where I’ll post weekly survival updates, or on my NaNoWriMo page.

You should consider joining the madness and who knows, by December 1st you may be able to call yourself a novelist. :)


The Power of Quiet


 My idea of a perfect afternoon is this:

The sky is overcast and there is a chill in the air that hints at a hard freeze by nightfall. The house is unnaturally quiet and I like that. I pull a blanket from its drawer, the light blue polar fleece with snowflakes, and curl up in my favorite chair. I prefer the chair over the sofa or even the recliner. It hugs me and makes me feel secure and I am small enough to almost lie sideways and nap. But today I take advantage of the quiet and write. I may take a break to read or look up a reference, but mainly I am cruising through my own imagination creating problems for my characters. I lose track of time this way. An hour isn’t enough; two maybe; a whole afternoon even better.

It isn’t that I don’t enjoy my family—they’re the solid foundation that keeps me sane—it’s just that 99% of the time I am surrounded by people. Being alone helps me discharge stress and recharge my mental energy.

I am an introvert.

I’ve always known I was introverted, with brief periods of sociableness. Now I know why.

A fMRI scan showing regions of activation in o...I’ve been listening to the Audible version of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. This non-fiction examination of what makes each of us an introvert or extrovert gives engaging stories of some of the most famous introverts (think Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks and Steve Wazniak) and how their quiet contributions have changed our lives. Extroverts are not left out. In fact, we learn a great deal about our out-going friends and how their minds work.

What’s to be gleaned is how, as introverts, we can trust our instincts and insights gained from listening and observing before acting. We are thinkers, planners and love to have as much information as possible before voicing opinions in public.

As I’ve listened, two thoughts have been swirling in the back of my mind:

  • How do I harness my focus to improve my writing and productivity? I know that when I shut my “office door” to interruptions and noise I can accomplish a greater amount of work and at a higher quality. I’m also happier because my sense of accomplishment comes from completing a task without skipping steps to race to the finish.
  • Next, I wonder how I can use these insights to develop my characters. Cain goes into great detail of how introverts and extroverts differ in behavior and habits, but then takes it even further with an examination of the physiological differences. We are wired and evolved for the temperament we have and it can even be measured with FMIR, functional magnetic resonance imaging. Being introverted or extroverted is not a choice, but simply how our bodies and brain function. Now I’ve added to my “writing tool kit” ways to strengthen my characters convictions with habits to match their personality type. I can make their hearts palpitate in crowds and raise their stress level as a restaurant becomes noisy with boisterous partygoers.

Are you introverted or extroverted? Have you given it much thought? “Quiet” will give you a lot to think about and a lot of information to help build your character’s inner world. The scene at the beginning of this article describes my “flow”, a state at which I feel most energized and able to do my best work with seemingly little effort. Learning to create this more often and in different settings for myself and my characters will lead to a mutual understanding that if I put them on the page, they can find their preferred state of social engagement too.

Just as a footnote, there are many great resource books on personality and behavior that aren’t in the writing reference section of your bookstore. Go to your favorite bookstore website and look up “Quiet”, then check out the “Customers Also Bought” section for ideas on  multi-faceted traits you can give your characters. SavvyAuthors.com also has great workshops. I am looking forward to “PTSD & Victims & Multi-Personalities”.

What is your idea of a perfect afternoon and what does it say about you:)


Inner Critic Sentenced to Maximum Security Facility


Inner Critic

The writing process is hard. No one is telling you to get up an hour early to finish your chapter or polish your final draft. No one is cheering every time you find the write way to right a scene. No one cherishes your words or admires the sweat it took to type them. We love to write, yet it is torture of our own creating. As writers, we wake up every morning thinking about writing, wishing we had more time to write and agonizing over what we haven’t written.

I’m there with you. It’s hard every time I face my WIP. My subconscious turns small tasks such as a blog post into a giant time-consuming monster. When will I find the time? What will I write? Does anyone care about what I write?

I’m learning how to break that down by stopping the noise in my head that pulls me away from being creative. You see, as writers, we need creative time. It is the medicine that keeps us balanced and happy.

Mindfulness is a widely used stress reduction technique which can do wonders. I stop worrying about what I didn’t do or what’s happening next week. I take a few deep breaths and visualize what I have in front of me. Sometimes it’s my day job and I actually get more done than I thought I could because my mind is focused. Other times it is my beautiful daughter, and I am focused on her words and how wonderful she is at 7 years old and how she will only be this way this minute and if I don’t pay attention I’ll miss it.

When I sit to write, I focus on the characters and their issues and what they need to work through and accomplish. I leave the tension on the page. Killing your inner critic is hard.

Ray Bradbury - The Martian Chronicles ...Sci-F...If you think this sounds like New Age hogwash, try reading it from Ray Bradbury’s perspective in “Zen in the Art of Writing”. Writers are creating worlds, giving birth to characters and controlling the fates of every soul in their writing. Writing is supposed to be hard work, but our self-doubt should not be part of the process. Show up and put in the work, don’t worry if it’s any good or wonder if anyone will ever read it. Write for yourself and be present in the moment for your characters. You can be critical when you go into editing mode, but then, isn’t that another opportunity to be present and creative? You’re shaping the clay of your writing to a polished reading experience.

Take five-minutes right now to stop the distractions and breathe, be present and write without expectations or doubt. Perhaps a mystery about a mutilated inner critic found floating in a sea of Alka-Seltzer.

Random Thoughts NOT on Writing

The world is getting smaller and bigger at the same time. Our everyday lives, media and technology are fusing to create a new group-think that influences our choices and behaviors. What if we harnessed that power for good rather than distraction?

The Waze app on my phone uses crowd sourcing to help me navigate around construction and traffic snarls, even warning me when there’s a car parked on the shoulder of the road. This has saved me time and headaches even while driving familiar routes.

Roger Water

Roger Water (Photo credit: Serjao Carvalho)

During the intermission of Roger Water’s concert, I searched Twitter and found dozens of other concert goers posting comments and pictures of the show. Suddenly the sea of strangers transformed to a welcoming, shared experience.

We are a virtual herd, changing direction and changing each other in the process. What are your thoughts?


A Walk in the Art


Cool Toys Pic of the day - Google Art Project

Cool Toys Pic of the day – Google Art Project (Photo credit: rosefirerising)

Art Insitute of Chicago on Museum Monday.

This wonderful post from Mary Joe Gibson and this write life goes inside the Art Institute of Chicago. The galleries are also featured in the Google Art Project.

Happy Memorial Day.


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