Tuesday, October 15, 2019

A Pilgrimage

Any regular reader of this blog knows of my love of music. As I often say, the music of the 70s, 80s, and 90s provided him the background soundtrack that still accompanies my life daily. I am a fan of many bands and the music they make.  I have been lucky enough at this period in my life to take time to go back and see most of those bands live, which I have documented here.

Lynyrd Skynyrd's music has always been significant in my lifelong soundtrack. Even though the original line up of the band was only around for a few years, the music created during those years still stands up against anything being produced now or in the future. Even now, their music is probably heard somewhere in the world 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In 1977, the airplane the band was traveling in ran out of fuel and crashed. This disaster left Lynyrd Skynyrd without Ronnie Van Zant, lead vocalist who most of the band’s lyrics, Steve Gaines, a one-third of the Guitar Army who also wrote songs and provided vocals, and Cassie Gaines, one of their strongest voice of the Honkettes, their trio of background vocalists. For many, this was the end of the band, although a majority of the remaining members, after a period of recuperation, began to perform again.  Aside from losing a great group, for at least a while, the event was significant for me because I was supposed to attend one of the concert dates later on the tour. As a result of the crash, I never got the chance to see the original lineup.

A couple of months ago, I heard about a group that was raising funds to build a monument at the location where Lynyrd Skynyrd's plane crashed. Being a fan of their music, I went to Go Fund Me and made a donation. Then I started thinking about doing something a bit more involved. 

Since the dedication wasn't until 20 October, I had little time to plan out a trip so I could attend the event myself. Ever since I made that decision, I've had people ask me how I feel about going down there for it. The only word I can come up with to describe it is bittersweet. Yes, it is a sad event that is being memorialized, but at the same time, it is a time to remember some genuinely great music that was made and those responsible for making it.  I think that shared remembrance will provide an eclectic joy to all the people who attend.

This event is providing me with the chance to be together with a lot of other people who appreciate the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd the way I do. As part of the weekend, they even have a Skynyrd cover band (Nuthin' Fancy) performing on Saturday night, I think it will only add to the magic.

My next entry will be about my experience that weekend, and a few of the people who decided that creating a memorial and eventually seeing it built was something worthwhile. Considering it's been over 40 years since the crash, that's a long time to hold an idea and not give up until you see it completed. I look forward to telling you all about it.


Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Three Paperclips & a Grey Scarf Audiobook Released

The audiobook of Three Paperclips & a Grey Scarf is now available on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. 

Audiobooks are great for times when reading aphysical book just isn't possible. You can also play them through Alexa, which allows you to can listen to the book while you're cooking or doing something else. 

The book is narrated by William P. Ryan, who does a great job bringing it to life.

For a limited time, you can get one of five copies of the book in exchange for posting your honest review on Audible. Nothing too fancy just a few sentences giving your opinion of the audiobook. Send an email to freeaudiobook@valkyriespirit.com if interested.

But wait, there's more! In partnership with Audible, a special promo offer is available to new users that will allow you to get the AudioBook for free ( a $14.95 value) as part of a 30-day trial membership with Audible.

Click here for the USA

or here for the UK


Sunday, September 8, 2019

Blood Upon the Sands AudioBook Released

The audiobook of Blood Upon the Sands is now available on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. 

Audiobooks are great for a long drive or hike. You can also play them through Alexa, which allows you to can listen to the book while you're cooking or doing something else. I personally find them very handy.

The book is narrated by the award-winning voice artist Chris Abell, who does a great job bringing it to life.

For a limited time, you can get one of five copies of the book in exchange for posting your honest review on Audible. Nothing too fancy just a few sentences giving your opinion of the audiobook. Send an email to freeaudiobook@valkyriespirit.com if interested.

The total length of the audiobook is 12 1/2 hours, which is faster than some people can read the 400 pages of the physical book.

But wait, there's more! In partnership with Audible, a special promo offer is available to new users that will allow you to get the AudioBook for free ( a $24.95 value) as part of a 30-day trial membership with Audible.

Click here for the USA 

or here for the UK


Friday, August 16, 2019

Sticking a Book In Your Ear

Back in the 80s, I was stationed in Germany, and for about a year, I found myself having to travel to the United States every few weeks for meetings and conferences. Depending on the time of year, the flight could be up to 14 hours each way. At that time, the inflight entertainment system meant everybody being forced to watch the same two movies displayed on a big screen in the center of the cabin.  This quickly evolved into having the choice of about five movies on an individual seat display.  There was no control over when the movie started and no way to pause them. After two or three flights, I had seen everything they were showing. I could watch DVDs on my computer, but the batteries only lasted about two hours.

Fortune had it that I got an email from a company called Audible. The service was basically books-on-tape but using computer files that could be downloaded and listened to on devices like an iPod. At the time I had no iPod and was about to delete the message when I noticed that if I signed up for a year of service, they would send me a free player. I signed an agreement to buy two books or so monthly for the next year and waited on my player to arrive. The next time I flew, I had four audiobooks loaded on my player, which gave me about 30 hours of entertainment. I not only had entertainment in flight but something to listen to as I drove through DC traffic to and from meetings.

I didn't realize it until just recently, but I listen to almost 100 books during that period.  I might've read the same amount, but it is doubtful because it is hard to read while driving in DC traffic – – except during the many standstills. As a result of listening to those books, I also discovered several authors I had never heard of before, like David Sedaris and Richard Belzer, among others. To me, audiobooks were great for filling a spot of time that might otherwise be left vacant while providing entertainment and the chance to indulge my imagination. 

I eventually got an iPod, the only piece of Apple equipment I own, and I still enjoy audiobooks from a variety of sources. I also enjoy having a book to take with me when I‘m faced with the prospect of a long drive.

When I first became an author, I wondered how I could get my book turned into audiobook format. I have a background in vocal narration both from the theater and radio, so I could do it myself, but I did not have a recording studio to do it properly. When I published my fourth book, I noticed two of the book publishers I was using offered audiobook creation services. They would pair the author with various producers to create the audiobook version of the manuscript.

Where do I sign up?

Later this week, I will be delivered my first completed audiobook. It was also the beginning of the Evan Davis series, Three Paperclips and a Grey Scarf.  The book is being read by vocal artist William P. Ryan, who has done a variety of other books in the thriller genre. His voice is very much up to the task, and I just completed the final review and approval.

The next audiobook should be out by October. From Within the Firebird's Nest will be narrated by a voice artist who formally worked for the Library of Congress doing their version of books-on-tape, Joe Biedrzycki.  He is very talented and will do a spectacular job bringing the book to life.

Blood Upon the Sands is being read by Chris Abell, who has done a lot of radio and TV voiceover work. He is an Audible Approved Producer meaning he is a master of the audiobook craft. It was kismet that we ran into one another. In the end, it worked out he had some time available matching my desire to release the audiobook in late August.  In the past few days, Chris has been sending me chapters so I can start reviewing his work.  They are dynamite. Really looking forward to hearing the rest of the book.

As each of these become available (Amazon, iTunes & Audible), I will post a notice here letting you know where you can find them. If you've never tried an audiobook before, I highly recommend them. I'm not sure about the other two, but Audible does offer a trial program that lets you get your choice of several audiobooks to find out what their service is all about.


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Death, Mourning & Today

My handling of death is based on being a military brat. No matter what base we were stationed at, almost everyone was from somewhere else.  Your extended family was never nearby, so everyone around you was reasonably young and healthy. Death for us was something that happened suddenly, unexpectedly, and usually connected to war. It was also something that happened elsewhere.

During the Vietnam War, when an Army sedan pulled up in front of a house and two or three dress uniformed men would go to the door, it was scary. Even though my friends and I didn't fully realize what it was about, all of us knew it meant someone's father was not coming back. During that war, all of the dead, at least the ones that were found, were brought home for funerals. I was lucky, my Dad came back, unwounded. I had a few friends who lost fathers and worse another whose pilot father was shot down and is still, to date, missing.

As an adult, stationed in Europe, I toured several American cemeteries from both World War I and World War II. All of them were beautiful and well-kept and appropriate monuments to the sacrifice made. I wondered how their families dealt with being told their loved one was dead, and instead of coming home to be buried would be interred in France, Luxembourg, or the Netherlands. They were given really horrible news, and yet no way to formally part ways with their loved one. There was no period in the end. Sad.

Before the Gulf War started, they requested volunteers to serve as escorts for the expected casualties that would be coming home. I did volunteer but was never called upon before I was deployed.

It's been over six months since my father passed away. Almost all of the personal business needing to be handled has been finished. Among the still outstanding are benefits due from the VA, of course. By the way, the people at the VA have been terrific, I blame the bureaucracy for the delay. As a result of those tasks being done, my father now turns mostly to memory instead of someone I deal with on an almost daily basis. This isn't to say that I'm not reminded of him several times every day by something that happens or something I do that I inherited from him. Just the formal mourning is coming to an end for me. 

I'm not really sure how I feel about that, although I understand it is healthy and normal. It just seems strange. I miss him the most when I want to share something. When a good thing happens or the great-granddaughter he never met does something cute the happy share-ables. Instead, I close my eyes and imagine telling him and him reacting as expected. My Dad had a great laugh and a great smile. In my mind and heart, he always will.


Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Way Less Stars Than Are In The Sky, But Invaluable

Regardless of what you do in life, somebody else is evaluating your performance. Even if you own the business or it is a family run business, and you're the one in charge, someone else is evaluating how well you are doing your job. Most people welcome an honest review of their efforts, as long as it is honest, and it is not placed on some kind of inflated grade scale. When I was in the Air Force, we received something called Airman Performance Reports (APRs) every year. You were graded on 10 or so performance characteristics with a score from one to nine. The problem was, the scale had become so inflated that an eight was seen as bad, a seven could end a career. What should have been considered an average score, a five, would land you outside the gate by the end of the day with your bags packed.
With the advent of the Internet, customer written reviews have taken the place of word-of-mouth for the performance of products. Most shoppers for goods on Amazon use reviews help them with purchasing decisions. I usually look for the bad reviews of a particular product I'm considering and take time to read what the person wrote. In some cases, it has nothing at all to do with the product but everything to do with the delivery or something else unconnected to the product’s quality. So, I tend to look at reviews with a jaundiced eye. But how does this work for book reviews?

Reviews for my most recent novel, Blood Upon the Sands, have started to appear on book sites throughout the realm. Most of these sites, allow readers to review books they’ve read and also evaluate the book from one to five stars. Amazon provides no guidance as to what these stars mean.  If you go to Goodreads, they provide some guidance, the stars from one to five:  did not like it, it was okay, liked it, really liked it, it was amazing. Based on that scale, two stars would be average. Barnes & Noble defines their star rankings similarly using the words: poor, below average, good, very good, excellent. Barnes & Noble really doesn't have an average, so you have a choice of either being below average or good (two or three stars respectively). I could find no star definition on Smashwords.

If I want to buy a book by a particular author, I buy the book. I could care less if John Smith from Fort Lee, New Jersey hated Dan Brown's latest book, it doesn't affect my decision to buy. However, if I'm interested in a book, maybe because of the cover or a  blurb I read, the reviews do come into play. But just like when I am buying goods, I read the worst review to see why they were given only one star. In a lot of cases, reading the review is illuminating. 

Reviews from my book coming in, (taking a moment to brag):  Self-Publishing Review rated my book 5 stars for each of their three judged categories (appearance, editing, content) as well as overall.  In addition, the reviewer wrote a very nice narrative that talked about the various nuances and was complimentary of my style and story. 

Once sales of my book started, I earned a Bestseller badge from Amazon and began to see reviews. My first 10 reviews on Amazon were all five stars. I’m a realist and didn't expect everyone to love my book, so I knew it would change. A few days later a couple of fours appeared. No big deal, especially if you took the time to read them.

One reviewer said she was uninterested because the book was set in the Middle East. Even though she spent more of her review discussing that than the book, in the end, she did say "engaging characters, perfectly choreographed action and smart dialogue delivered with practiced cadence. Despite not falling in love with the story, I know this is a well-written novel and lovers of political thrillers will eat it up." To me, it was a positive and honest at four stars. But because my book was no longer all five-star reviews, will it be left unread? I am unsure why, but the reviewer graded the book only three stars on Goodreads with the exact same narrative. Perhaps because on Goodreads three stars mean she liked it. 

A different Goodreads reviewer said "great characters, a great plot, an interesting plight, most people haven’t heard of. All the things that make a great story..." Even with all the “greats” they only rated the book three stars because they felt the villain was over the top. (Note: In any book I ever write, the villain will be evil not simply bad.) I honestly had no problem with the review because the reader seemed to be sincere about what they were saying.  However, because of the inflation in the star grading system, it may cost me readers who don't look beyond the stars for why a reviewer rated it the way they did.  After all, some readers look for evil villains and there is none eviler than Maksim.

While these reader reviews were coming in so were the reviews from literary sources: 

"An accomplished thriller that’s full of pace, intrigue, and suspense..."
Piaras Cíonnaoíth, Emerald Book Reviews

"…once opened, the action and events and premises are so compelling that pausing the experience is not likely. Highly Recommended--"
Grady Harp, San Francisco Review of Books

“…an exceptionally well-written thriller”
Atlantic Way Review

Yes, all of those had a rating of five stars, but I don't really have any idea what the scale of stars meant for their particular publications.

If the praise reviews are averaged against the critical reviews, my book still averages at almost 5 stars--- but I have to admit any less than stellar review hurts. The child of any creative effort is treasured by its creator regardless of what anyone else may think. 
It is impossible not to feel the pain when someone else evaluates your creation less-than-perfect even if you understand why.  

What is the takeaway? 
  • When you review something, be honest. 
  • If there is some sort of star or thumbs up grading scale be honest with that too. Evaluate and award the rating not only based on the scale provided but be familiar with how similar things are rated on a particular site. 
  • If you do provide a less than stellar rating, say why. A review is an opinion if you have one you should be able to defend and explain it. 
  • Likewise, when you go to buy a book, take a moment to read the worst review. Figure out why the person is snubbing a particular creative work you found interesting. They may be basing their evaluation on a different scale or using a different criterion which is irrelevant to you.

Don’t pass up what could be the best thing you’ve ever read simply because someone else downgraded the rating because they didn’t like the cover of the book.

I am at a level far under than writers who have been producing work for years and are considered the best at their game. Stephen King is probably not upset Rebecca Harn rated his novel as one star because she thought the villain was over the top -- but she did and it contributed to a less than 4 1/2 star combined score for his book. 

For right now, my book is rated higher than Stephen King's - but I doubt he is upset about that either.  


Saturday, May 4, 2019

Available Everywhere: Blood Upon the Sands

On 16 April 2019, Blood Upon the Sands was officially released.  It is now available in ePub and Paperback from the following retailers:

Against the bloody backdrop of a country simmering with racial tension, friendships are tested, beliefs are tried, and the prejudices of years are challenged…

Since the earliest days of Kuwait’s independence, the Bedoon have faced government-sanctioned discrimination. To accelerate their expulsion, an ex-KGB agent turned mercenary is secretly hired to manipulate the political climate by influencing public opinion further against the vulnerable populace.

Weaving real-world history and current events seamlessly into an action thriller, Blood Upon the Sands is a gripping story of the fight to reveal truth amid rising chaos and hate. Evan Davis is again thrust into the center of the conflict. Back, in the Middle East, this time under the patronage of a horse breeder, Hamad Al- Bourisli, Evan is brought in to write about Kuwait’s culture to improve the small country’s image in the West. Evan soon finds kinship with Hamad and intimacy with his beautiful cultural liaison, Najila.
When documents are anonymously left, Evan discovers disturbing truths about the stateless Bedoon population. Meanwhile, under the alias Shaytan, Maksim Bondreovich begins to spread terror and chaos across the country while framing Bedoon citizens for the atrocities.

Time is running out before Shaytan makes his biggest play yet – bombing the Hotel Sultana and placing the blame solely on the disenfranchised Bedoon population. As rising racism and public dissent become undeniable, will Evan go against his friend and employer to bring the truth come to light?