Book Pet Peeves

Nov 2, 2014 by


Do you have pet peeves that will cause you not to read a book? The more I talk to readers, the more I realize that this is the case for many of them. We have to come with ways to rule out books, after all. It would be nice if we could read them all, but alas! So it got me thinking, do I have pet peeves? And if so, what are they? Well, it didn’t take me long to come up with a list.

By the way, this also gave the idea of starting a book review vlog focusing on common pet peeves. You should check it out :)


Yummy prose
Just this past week I opened a book I’d been eager to get my hands on for a while. I read the first chapter and, after that . . . I had to stop. I just couldn’t keep on reading. The story line wasn’t terrible, but combined with the bland prose, it just fell flat. It doesn’t have to be poetry, but the prose has to be engaging. It needs to have a little something, a cleverness with the words, something that lets me know the author didn’t write the first flat sentence that came to mind, but one that came from a deeper place within their creative brain. If that kind of yummy prose isn’t there, then the plot better get me by the throat—otherwise, I will set the book down.

This isn’t a requirement either. I can read serious topics, no problem. However, a little effective humor can get me rooting for the characters very quickly.

Non-jerk hero
Is this too much to ask? Maybe it is the feminist in me, but I’ve read enough “bad boy” books. I guess it wouldn’t be so bad if the female protagonists paired up against these guys weren’t so willing to put up with the abuse. I understand the appeal in “taming the badass,” but, personally, I wouldn’t hang out long enough to put up with it. I would say Adios very quickly. Instead, give a hero that knows how to treat a woman, and I’m in!

Original concepts
Vampire, werewolf, dystopia books . . . anyone? I’ve enjoyed a few novels in all of these categories (in dystopia more than any other) but my tolerance for reading the same types of books is low, now. Give me a book with a fresh concept (i.e. a being of the author’s creation—such as Morphids in KEEPER) and I’m hooked. I want to visit worlds no one else has imagined before.


Protagonist moving to a new town/school
I write YA and, as everyone knows, the concept of the poor protagonist in a new town and school is overused in the genre. Maybe it is due to everyone trying to copy Twilight. Who knows? Whatever the case, it has become a huge turn-off for me.

If dreams is an big ploy device in a book, forget it! I’m not reading it. Nope. I’m already in a book so, to me, a dream is like fiction within fiction. I think dreams are an easy way out. I use them sparingly in my writing, if I must—never more than a couple of paragraphs.

Flimsy plot logic
The plot HAS to make sense. I won’t lose interest in a book any quicker than if a flimsy explanation is offered to support big plot points. No, just no!

Cocky characters – much talk, no action
You know those characters that just talk about how mean they are and all they are going to do to kick butt, yet they don’t do much of anything? Yeah, those guys. I can’t stand them.

[Image attribution: Photo by Brenda Clarke, used under CC/No changes]

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Meet Jack Heckel

Nov 2, 2014 by

Jack Heckel

Today on the blog, I’d like to introduce you to the duo that together comprise the author of Once Upon a Rhyme (Volume I of the Charming Tales), Jack Heckel, they are John Peck and Harry Heckel.

To share a bit about this talented team, I can tell you that they live in opposite sides of the USA, John in the west coast where he works as a lawyer, and Harry in the east coast where—as a IT QA team lead— basks in his ability to break computers and make programmers miserable. They were roommates in college and were each other’s best man at their weddings.

Their novel ONCE UPON A RHYME was published by Harper Voyager Impulse and released in August. After reading it, I can tell you that these guys have an incredible sense of humor and can make you laugh out loud. You can read my short review of his novel on Amazon or Goodreads.

Now, let’s learn a bit more about John and Harry:


You are the first co-authors I’ve ever interviewed and I find myself very curious about the process. How does a typical day go for John and Harry as they twirl to become Jack Heckel? Or do you guys go in a telephone booth?

H: Unfortunately, we can’t give away our secret identities, but we have been writing together for five years. A typical day would be one of us writing a chapter while the other one edits a previous chapter, plans out the next chapter or does an article or social media work.

As far as the process of creating a novel, we always start with an outline. Once we discuss the outline at length, we agree on what chapters or story arcs each of us wants to initially write. After each chapter is completed, we send it to the other person for a rewrite. After the rewrite, it goes back to the original writer to review. This way the book sounds like it’s written by Jack Heckel, rather than Harry or John.

J: It is a fascinating process, because at the end of the day we often can’t identify who wrote what. Early on we would share our material with a writing group and they would try to guess who wrote what. I’m not sure they ever got it right. We always took that as a good sign that we’d gotten Jack’s voice right. And the uncertainty extends to us as well. Several times I’ve complemented Harry for some turn of phrase only for him to tell me he thought that I’d written that.

Sounds very cool! Living in opposite sides of the USA, how do you breach the distance and work together?

H: We do a lot of texting and emailing. However, that doesn’t make up for talking on the phone. We talk a lot when we are working together, often after midnight on the East Coast. When we really need to get through a milestone, we meet in person and have a writing retreat.

J: Harry is definitely the one impacted the most when we are under the gun, because he has to wait till I am free to talk, and that is often very late his time. But, for the most part the time change actually works well for us. Often times Harry can finish his work or edits on a chapter just in time for me to get started for the evening.

What advice would you give others considering co-authoring a book?

H: The most important rule is to have mutual respect. You need to be able to give and receive honest feedback and take 100% ownership of the work. Don’t worry about who wrote what or how many words. Be willing to compromise. Also, be willing to ask your co-author for help. I’ve had times when I was stuck and John bailed me out, either by writing part of my chapter, giving me an idea or just acting as a sounding board.

J: And on that last point, I can remember entire sections of the book where I would stare at a blinking cursor for a day or two and then call Harry and beg him to take over. Often all it takes is a few words for inspiration and that gets you going. In many ways I find it MUCH MUCH harder to write on my own. I think another key, beside respect, which I think goes without saying (though I’m glad Harry said it), is that you actually have to enjoy writing with your co-author. If there is any jealousy or bad feelings they are going to come out in the process of writing and the project will likely fall apart.

Do you see each other writing other series together? Any plans for solo projects?

J & H: Absolutely. In fact, we already are writing other series. We have a proposal for a set of novels in a similar vein to the Charming Tales but focused on epic fantasy. The first book is tentatively called (ominous music) . . . The Dark Lord. The main character, Avery, not only has to face down everything that can go wrong in a fantasy world, but also find a way to complete his thesis before he’s kicked out of school. And did we mention that he’s (ominous music) . . . The Dark Lord?

Additionally, we’ve been working on a set of YA novels about what happens when Rigel, the daughter of Orion, one of the world’s greatest superheroes decides to start her heroic career. She’s invited to join Freedom Squad, a team assembled to pay homage to the Victory Squad of World War II. Once she arrives at their headquarters, she finds herself surrounded by an earth elemental who can’t talk, a malfunctioning alien robot and a guy who claims not to have any powers at all. Oh, and then the mayor of the city appoints her team leader . . .

H: On the solo front, I’ve written a few small press books as Harry Heckel, including In the Service of the King (A Crimson Hawks Adventure), which is a swash and buckle story of a mercenary company who accepts an offer that’s too good to be true, and a black powder and sorcery series called the Krueger Chronicles. I’ve got several other novels waiting to find a publication home, including an epic fantasy and “A Greek hoplite goes to mythological Egypt” tale. Additionally, I write pen and paper role-playing games, notably in the past for White Wolf Game Studio and currently for Black Onyx.

J: I am definitely the junior member of Team Jack when it comes to writing. At present I don’t have any completed projects, but I do have several in the works that I will be publishing (or trying to publish) under a still to be determined pen name, including an urban fantasy that I hope will reestablish demons as the bad-ass villains they should be, and a YA dream trilogy that was inspired by a single line of prose that I could not get out of my head: “When I was ten and he was twelve we went to war, my friend and I.”

J and H: However, no matter what might happen in our solo careers, we plan for Jack Heckel to be here to stay. There may be side projects, but we are both committed to keeping the band together long term. We are having a blast.

It sounds like you guys will be busy. All these projects sounds wonderful! ONCE UPON A RHYME is absolutely hilarious. Humor—especially in the written form—isn’t easy to accomplish, what is the trick?

H: I really think that John and I are funniest when we start playing off each other. Life has a certain inherent ridiculousness to it, plus, we have plentiful source material in fairy tales. I’m not really sure what the real trick is, but I’m just glad that whatever we are doing works.

J: The phone calls are key. When we were in college we used to sit in the dark at night and stare up at the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling (yes we are so old that glow-in-the-dark stars were still a novelty) and tell each other stories. There is really no difference in our process today. That many of our stories turn out to be funny is something alchemic. It can’t be explained. I’ve told the story before, but my initial vision for The Charming Tales was a dark brooding exploration of the prince’s descent into madness. I’m so glad Harry pulled us back from that, because these novels have been so much fun to write.

How many more volumes are planned for the Charming Tales? What else can you tell us about upcoming books to whet our appetite?

H: We are currently planning for three more, if you include Happily Never After, which releases on November 25th. I could easily see that number climbing as long as we have material and enjoy visiting the characters. Happily Never After is really the second part of the story that began in Once Upon a Rhyme and we find out the results of Gwendolyn’s schemes as well as finding out if Charming will ever achieve couplet again. There’s a bit more romance as well.

As far as books after that, I don’t want to say too much, but Book 3 is tentatively called Pitchfork of Destiny and it starts with the Great Dragon of the North coming to Royaume and discovering that his love, the Great Wyrm of the South is dead.

J: And Book 3 ends with the teaser for Book 4, which I won’t speak of at all, but for which we already have a basic storyline sketched out. As for inspiration for more beyond that, I think fairytale is limitless in its potential. Between the Grimm Brothers, Perrault and Andrew Lang you have nearly a thousand stories to “borrow” from.

Rapid Fire Questions

Who is funnier John or Harry?
J: Jack.
H: Charming.
J: Can I change my answer? I like Harry’s better.

Did you outline ONCE UPON A RHYME or did you pants it?
J and H: We outlined first and then pants’d our way through the outline.

Favorite ONCE UPON A RHYME scene?
H: I love the whole book, but if I have to pick one scene, it’s what happens to Will while Charming is battling Gnarsh the Troll.
J: No doubt, for me it is the confrontation between Will and the Scarlet Scoundrel. Aha!

Thanks so much for visiting, Harry and John!

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2014 Southern Magic Holiday Giveaway

Oct 25, 2014 by

Huge Giveaway

Southern Magic brings a special holiday giveaway once more
21 awesome romance books,
swag, and 2 gift cards by 15 of its talented authors

Get ready for some of the best romance around
From New Adult to Historical to Erotica
There’s a little bit for everyone

One lucky winner will be selected at random
Get ready to swoon the month of December away

Don’t delay, enter now!
Or the bustle of the holidays will get in the way

Here are the wonderful prizes from the authors participating in this special giveaway
Visit the websites below to learn more

Betty Bolte
(“Emily’s Vow” and “Amy’s Choice” Paperback)
Katherine Bone
(“The Rogue’s Prize” ebook)
Nancee Cain
($25 Gift Card)
Louisa Cornell
(“Christmas Revels” eBook + $15 Gift Card)
Jamie Farrell
(“The Husband Games” Paperback)
Larynn Ford
(“Dreams Do Come True” eBook)
Christine Glover
(“The Maverick’s Red Hot Reunion” Paperback)
Callie James
(“Innocent” and “Student Bodyguard for Hire” Paperback)
Suzanne Johnson
(“Royal Street” Paperback)
Susannah Sandlin
(“Redemption” and “Lovely, Dark, and Deep” Paperback)
Ingrid Seymour
(“The Guys Are Props Club” Paperback)
Naima Simone
(“Secrets and Sins: Raphael” and “Secrets and Sins: Chayot” Paperback)
Carla Swafford
(“Circle of Deception” Paperback)
Peggy Webb
(“The Language of Silence” Paperback)
Meda White
(“Winter Formal”, “Fall Rush”, “Spring Fling” and “Christmas Give” Paperback)

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Meet Tim Lees

Oct 6, 2014 by

Tim Lees

Today on the blog, I’d like to introduce you to Tim Lees. He is a fellow author published by Harper Voyager Impulse and Tartarus Press. I decided to interview him and review one of his novel of my own accord and my opinion here is unbiased and honest.

To share a bit about Tim, I can tell you that he was born in England but now lives in Chicago with his wife and two dogs he loves, even if they are horrible from time to time. When not writing he’s tried his hand at being a teacher, a conference organizer a film extra and more. His short fiction has appeared in Postscripts, Black Static and Interzone. He was nominated for a British Fantasy Award for his collection The Life to Come.

His novel THE GOD HUNTER was released this summer and after reading it, I can tell you that his writing is direct and his characters true to life. You can read my short review of his novel on Amazon or Goodreads.

Now, let’s learn a bit more about Tim and his novel:

How does a day in Tim’s writing life look?
Shambolic. I would like to say I keep office hours and write almost non-stop, relying on skill, technique and hard work rather than inspiration. And there are days I do do that. Other days I mess around and put in a lot of time at the computer or scribble in notebooks, but nothing much seems to get done. Only a percentage of it is ever any good. Mostly I feel like I’m stalking the good stuff, trying to sneak up on it. Often I will only know days or even weeks later whether it was any good. So I keep working anyway, and hope for the best.

I do certain things better in the morning – usually revision, editing. By afternoon I try to con myself by going out to a café or some other venue and working there for an hour. This might mean running through a print-out or writing a first draft. The change of venue is often helpful at recreating that fresh, just-woken-up mentality. There are other tricks, and even miseries such as jetlag or insomnia can be co-opted into the fight; non-normal mental states may help you see a different aspect of the story, or solve a problem in a new way. Alcohol works up to a point, but pretty soon you discover that you’re not drinking to help you write, you’re writing to provide an excuse for drinking. So that’s not really recommended.

I really like your idea of using non-normal states of mind to help see a different angle to the story. Very interesting! So tell me, where did the idea for THE GOD HUNTER come from?
I often have an idea in my head for a long time before I get to use it. The seeds of The God Hunter were planted in my first published story, way back. Then I noticed a book called Ghost Hunters on my wife’s bookshelf, and somehow the story just appeared in my head. I combined it with the first idea and, eventually, it became a novel.

Sometimes ideas never get used. Even in short stories, usually two or three different elements have to come together before I feel the piece will work. Sometimes I’ll write half a story and leave it, perhaps for years, then rediscover it and find the second part is ready to be written.

Amazing how the mind works. Do you ever base your characters on people you’ve met? (I loved your characters. They felt so very real!)
I base them on characteristics of people I’ve met, which is not quite the same thing. When I was younger I wrote a number of romans á clef, all unpublished, and discovered that a character only really came to life when I departed from the template and added a bit of imagination to the mix. The same is true of scenes; the stuff I just made up seemed far more real than things that actually happened and which I wrote down pretty much verbatim. I suppose that’s why they call it “fiction”, isn’t it?

The dialogue in THE GOD HUNTER was excellent. Any advice for authors on writing good dialogue?
I think it’s a combination of two seemingly opposed things. As I mentioned above, I used to write a lot about events I’d actually experienced, trying to get the dialogue as close as I could remember to the real thing. So there’s that aspect: how do people actually talk? And that kind of dialogue may well be suitable for certain books. The God Hunter is an adventure story, though, it’s meant to be entertaining, and genuinely realistic dialogue is seldom that. People are never as concise (or as funny) as they think they are. So I filtered that through the kind of verbal sparring you get in, say, Raymond Chandler’s books. Lots of one liners, and the hero actually gets to say those witty ripostes that most of us only come up with afterwards.

The other thing I would suggest is—remember where your characters are coming from, as people. They’re not there simply to put across whatever information you want them to convey. They’re probably thinking about something else entirely. Sometimes it can be good to ask yourself what’s going on for them, aside from the action of the book.

Rapid Fire Questions

You’ve had some interesting jobs, what was the worst ever?
I worked in academia, rising to the lowly position of Research Assistant. I co-authored papers, edited books, ran conferences, met various esteemed personages, etc, and the whole thing sounds wonderful—the work, indeed, could be fascinating—but it was a nightmare; an organisation that ran almost entirely on bullying and nepotism. Nor was I the worst treated. It was a great relief to escape into the world of mental healthcare in which, despite some genuine dangers, there was real teamwork, objective goals, and (regardless of the shortcomings of the system itself) a chance to actually provide some benefit to people.

What is your favorite book?
Just one? I don’t think I can answer that! But I always loved Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin; I love the way he takes a horrendous period in history (the rise of the Nazis) and focuses on a few individuals caught up in the mess – small, often comic stories that somehow never trivialize the greater horrors going on around. In fantasy, I think Brian Aldiss did a similar thing with The Malacia Tapestry, a book I also much admire. But a favourite? Depends what mood I’m in.

Favorite book YOU have written?
Whichever makes the most money… (says the dedicated artist)

Thing you miss most from Manchester?
The past. Although I missed that when I lived there, too.

Thanks so much for visiting, Tim!

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