Saturday, January 28, 2012

Serial Characters: My top 5 series heroes

Fictional series are all the rage. Readers have come to love characters they can follow from book to book, where they can see their heroes fully fleshed out to the detailed image writers envisioned as they put pen to paper or finger to keyboard. Given the attention span of most (including me), it's encouraging to hear that people get absorbed into literary characters and feel connections that warrant repeated visits.

From an author's viewpoint, it allows us to build on previous stories and watch our characters grow along with readers. We have as much investment in the characters, so revisiting characters we have spent so much time developing is akin to parenthood. Whereas a stand-alone novel is full of chapters, a series of books featuring one character is essentially a collection of chapters in that character's life. The hard connections from one book to the next still exist, but the plots, direction, and pacing can be changed dramatically. It allows flexibility and creativity, things for which writers are always greedy. Book series are much more common now than they were in years past (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes being an obvious counter-example), likely due to the inherent fan base that exists. The assumption is that those that read the first book will read the second, and any lost readers will be replaced by those fresh readers the new marketing scheme lures. It's a mutually beneficial relationship between author and reader that is most notable in genres such as Young Adult and Science Fiction/Fantasy. Devoted readers in these genres are immensely loyal and - thanks to a high social media presence - can serve as excellent street marketing teams.

The thriller genre has seen its fair share of multi-novel arcs, as well. Like the other genres, Hollywood has shown interest in the established fanbase and franchise possibilities. What makes for a good hero? What are today's "Sherlock Holmes" anthologies? Drop me a comment or shoot me a message. My list of five, in no particular order...

John Wells (Alex Berenson series)
I'm a sucker for a well-written military thriller, and Berenson's are among the best. As a reporter for the New York Times, he has much experience and knowledge from which to draw. John Wells, introduced as an undercover CIA agent embedded with Al Queda, is a realistic and believable hero that acts as you'd expect and has all the troubles you'd predict. He's multidimensional and relatable. His return to the States in the first book sets him up for future stories and involves his interactions with the public more than the similar, disconnected characters of other authors. {6 novels beginning with The Faithful Spy}

Shane Schofield (Matthew Reilly series)
Reilly's writing style is considerably different than most authors and may take some adjustment. His paragraphs are short (often one sentence) and he makes liberal use of the exclamation point. It's the closest a book can get to looking like a screenplay but still get 'novel' credit. That being said, he writes action sequences like no other, and his primary hero, Shane "Scarecrow" Schofield, is an entertaining creation. Reilly (an Australian) writes the USMC Captain Schofield character with as much energy and passion as a Yankee could, and the growth of the character over the books (something that, to be honest, Reilly doesn't focus on) is considerable. In the few books in the series, Scarecrow has been through some amazing events and has had some extremely poignant moments. The third book, Scarecrow, is easily the best of the bunch and one I could read over and over until the wee hours of the morning. {5 books beginning with Ice Station}

Isaac Bell (Clive Cussler series)
Years ago, I was ecstatic to come across Cussler's books. I dove into the Dirk Pitt saga and loved each book, but looking back I realized that they were rather similar. Remembering one story from another became difficult. In Cussler's defense, it's because he had written so damn many of them. His more recent trips into early 20th century America with Isaac Bell are memorable and entertaining. World War I espionage parallels the advent of the airplane. The rise of metropolitan San Francisco is portrayed alongside the growing railroad industry. It's historic and epic in scale, and Bell's detective/adventurer character straddles the lines of society in a way that allows the reader access to each and every part of it. The fact that he met his romantic interest in the first book and has remained with her thus far is somewhat unique in these serial novels, as well. {4 books - with a 5th due in March - beginning with The Chase}

Jack Reacher (Lee Child series)
The Reacher series (like Pitt) is a collection I stumbled upon after many of the books were already available in print. And, like Pitt, there are a boat-load of them. Child is a more verbose writer than any of the others on this list, and that's not meant to be a positive or a negative. His works are longer and take a little more focus to absorb, but the scope of them is varied and random. Some have Reacher trapped in a small town and working with locals on a murder or conspiracy. Others have him crossing the country (whether voluntarily or not) and pursued by multiple government agencies in a 'national security'-type situation. It's all very fluid and subjective as evidenced by Child's tendency to write different books with different points of view, often alternating back and forth from 1st to 3rd person from one novel to the next. Either way, Reacher is a consistent character. I've not read them all, yet, but his character development is slow and determined, much like Reacher himself. {16(!) books and one short story starting with Killing Floor}

Ethan Gage (William Dietrich series)
Ethan Gage is an extremely relatable character for me, mostly because he's an unabashed rogue that often cares more about himself than anyone around him. Dietrich's use of the 1st person works spectacularly well here and allows him to really reveal the character, but the change in Gage - specifically his approach to life and responsibility - over the books is what brings you back. Rarely is one moment comparable to the previous, and the twists and turns Gage takes internally are considerable. The historical setting that takes him through North Africa, Europe, and the United States during the age of Napoleon, Jefferson, and the wild frontiers makes it that much exciting a ride. His 'savant' status and quick-thinking wit bring the same excitement. {4 books starting with Napoleon's Pyramids}

Honorable mention for others my twitter followers and I find noteworthy.

Brad Thor's series starring Scot Horvath
Vince Flynn's series starring Mitch Rapp
Stephen King's Dark Tower series starring Roland Deschain
Will Adams' series starring Daniel Knox
Andy McDermott's series starring Eddie Chase
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Friday, January 27, 2012

The Charity of Words? A guest blog...

I offered my passable blogging and 8th-grade English skills to the folks over at in a guest blogging role. The post touches on the benefits to charity and the donation of net proceeds from sales to get word out about your project.

Check it out and drop me a comment...

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Author Bio: Comedy or Consistency?

I pride myself on my sense of humor and complete lack of professionalism in most instances. At work, I can certainly maintain a certain level of upstanding demeanor. But, I choose to avoid it in most informal instances, and I think it's made me a better person, writer, and leader. Knowing how to approach each audience and tailor your inter-personal skills to the person or group you are addressing is, to me, a crucial skill.

My first novel, Number 181, is a military thriller that focuses more on action and ignores most of the comedic stylings and witticisms to which my friends have grown accustomed. So, how to write queries? What about a bio? Do you showcase your own personality in them or maintain consistent, professionalism when your work is marketed as a thriller?

Most will tell you to always err on the side of caution and stick to professionalism (unless you're writing the next Christopher Moore-style satire that will have your readers LOLing... I can't believe I just wrote 'loling'). I struggled with this, largely because I treat agent queries like a resume or interview. Though I have advanced degrees in engineering, I handle interviews extremely informally as I feel it (a) separates me from the crowd and (2) is a better indication of my true personality, and personality is key to many employment opportunities. If you could read any of the numerous queries I sent out, you would find a couple subtle jokes. But, that's only because I removed the other three obvious ones. It was a painful removal process, cuz they were damn funny. Even 'lol'-worthy...

My author biography, though, allowed me to be a little more open with my personality as it wasn't absolutely tied to the book. I have plans and ideas for several other stories, and more than one of them have comedic elements. So, as the bio is about me and not the book, I let some character seep in.

Russell Stoewe is a full-time NASA engineer and part-time baseball player. He's often magnanimous and periodically hilarious. He writes. He photographs. He travels. He conquers. He loves water chestnuts and finds clowns displeasing.

Russell earned a graduate degree in electrical engineering from the University of Texas and an MBA from the University of Central Florida. He has spent more than a decade working for NASA in systems engineering, project management, and operations at Kennedy Space Center, Florida and Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. His work has taken him across the country and around the world, possibly an artifact of his management trying to get rid of him. He’s launched Atlas Vs and Delta IIs, satellites and astronauts, and loved every minute of it.

He's run marathons and played a decade of amateur baseball. He's made appearances on TV and in movies. All that's left to dominate is Saturday morning cartoons, but his efforts to have a Transformers character modeled after him have been met with roadblocks and frustration. Alas, it's doubtful that Moronicon will ever see the light of day.

Subtle and reserved with only a few chuckle worthy points, but it's enough to tell people (I hope) that I would be a fun person to grab a beer with and watch football.

What amount of humor do you allow into your professional correspondence? Do you see it as a hindrance or help? Risky or acceptable?

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Number 181 available in eBook format

After much formatting work (I'm somewhat of a perfectionist... "Why is there an extra space between paragraphs two and three on page 217?!"), my novel, Number 181, is available in eBook form! GetItHere At this point, I'm just so fascinated by the process that I'm enjoying the steps it's taking to work through development, distribution, and marketing.

"Look! I printed a real-life book, and it has my name on it!"
"A literary agent? I suppose it couldn't hurt to look..."
"WTF is a query letter?!"

Anyway, after talking with a growing number of friends that read primarily on eReaders and fighting the urge to get my own for years, I purchased a Kindle and decided to format my book for portable devices. This turned out to be more difficult than I had planned simply because I had it looking all nice and pretty in a PDF, and that don't necessarily fly in EPUB format.

The Kindle version through Amazon was straight forward and simple, I must say. Within about 30 minutes, I had uploaded a digital version, and it was cleared for sale by the end of the day. I even downloaded a copy to have for myself (And, to have an actual sale in the Kindle store. I'm ranked 152,324!).

The Nook and iDevice versions are still being cleared through their respective processes. (This is taking longer than I'd imagine, but my only reference point is the rapid Amazon approval, so I'm working with a small data set.) Regardless, I'm pleased to report that my little novel is looking more and more like an actual piece of literature... contrary to the complete incompetence most people associate with the author!

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Friday, January 6, 2012

Guest Blogging: A Rookie's Attempt

I've never really blogged before. This site doesn't count, because it's essentially just my real-life randomness thrown down with a black background. It's often stream-of-consciousness or obscure references to Fraggle Rock. But, through my own poor decision-making, I've actually been cleared to do some guest blogging for the Savvy Authors website. Now, my work will take up server space and bandwidth on a site with actual traffic. It's awesome and disconcerting. I can write on anything and include information about my book cough(GetItHere)cough and a personal bio and picture.

That's the easy part.

The hard part is figuring out what to write about. I considered writing about the importance of the Doozers, but I wasn't sure I could come up with enough for a full article. [See what I mean? Obscure Fraggle Rock references....]. I believe I've settled on a topic, but we shall see. I have about 700 words down (the site recommends keeping it under 1500), and I think it's something new and unusual for them. You know... no point in regurgitating content they already have.

What's it about?

Visit the Savvy Author's website,, on or about January 27th and find out...

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Review: 'Scarecrow Returns' by Matthew Reilly

Let me start off by repeating what a big fan I am of Matthew Reilly's books. I enjoy them the same way I'd enjoy a big action-adventure movie. But, his latest, 'Scarecrow Returns,' is a step backwards.

The book starts off well-enough with a bit of back story and character development for which Reilly isn't necessarily known. It introduces the new team at the same time letting us in on Scarecrow's psyche. Unfortunately, Scarecrow himself is still a rather one-dimensional character. Given the events of the previous, full-length book (don't want to ignore Hell Island), there is ample opportunity for introspection. But, Reilly doesn't really spend the time on it. In his defense, most of his books are 100 mph, explosion-filled testosterone fests. But, you'd like to see some growth and depth at this point for these characters you've become accustomed to reading about.

The plot, a doomsday weapon-fueled race against time, is intriguing and put to good effect. The explanation for the weapon's existence and science behind its function are sound and believable. The primary villain is... villainous. His background is well-established, though there is a significant gap in his history that isn't really explained. And, it's an important gap.

Note: Mild Spoilers Below

The Good
  • The inclusion of the BRTE robot 'Bertie.' I had read some posts about the character and was ready to hate it. Instead... awesome addition and one that I came to care about more than a few of the under-developed human characters.
  • The action. Reilly leaves little confusion as to what's going on in the scene. And, it's an impressive mental image with which to frame everything.
  • The French chick. I was happy to see Reilly blow up yet another French Sub. Destroying French stuff is fun. But, I could picture this girl as I read the story, and I enjoyed the character.
  • Baba. He's an interesting, fun character, and I was happy to see him used liberally.
  • Fairfax. Having David back in the mix was a good choice.
  • Connections to previous books. The connection to Ice Station's Luc Champion character was nice. Also, having the bounty on Scarecrow's head because of the 'French incident' and having that be the reason he is stationed up in the Arctic... nicely done.
  • Consistency. If you liked his previous books and the characters he built, Reilly won't let you down with this one.
  • The last page. A nice way to end it that offers more than the usual 'tidy bow' wrapped around the crisis.

The Bad

  • Character development. Scarecrow, as the main protagonist, could use more levels to him, but the real failings are in the other team members, notably Billy 'the Kid,' Emma, and Mario.
  • The book reads like Area 7 (the 2nd Scarecrow book) but set in Ice Station (the 1st Scarecrow book). The pacing is almost identical and there is little to make us think that there are differences between the two. Heck, Reilly even included deranged polar bears as a frequent, 'gotcha' enemy roaming the island. [see: Ice Station's walruses or Area 7's... well.. entire section of deranged test animals]. It's not bad... just the same.
  • Crazy set-ups. Look, I get that Reilly is going for 'over the top,' but sometimes a scene plays out in a completely illogical manner solely in order to get the story to the next action set piece. It's difficult to get in the mind of central characters when nothing they do makes sense or is how a normal person would react in similar circumstances. The attraction of the Scarecrow character is his impulsiveness and brazen action. Unfortunately (and I don't remember this from previous installments), the justification for most of his choices here seems to be an 'ah screw it' approach. Kind of a 'why not?' reasoning. It's used multiple times, most with Scarecrow actually saying 'F#$& it.' It seemed simplistic, and I expected more.
  • (Spoiler!!!!!!) America is the bad guy. In Reilly's other series starring Jack West (an Australian), there are American forces going up against the hero. In the final book, Reilly (an Australian himself) eventually inserted a minor American character to help the Australian. But, I didn't mind the fact that Americans were on the other side of the battle. However, in the Scarecrow series (and I didn't consider this until reading this book), every story has Americans as the bad guys in some fashion... and Scarecrow is a US Marine! It's either a secret intelligence agency that's infiltrated all aspects of the armed forces, or it's a rogue general, or it's a Cold War CIA operative... Scarecrow may be American, but he spends most of his time fighting Americans.
  • (Spoiler!!!!!!) Mother is invincible. Now, I like the character of Mother Newman, and I'm happy she stays around. But, just like Ice Station, she miraculously survives after being left for dead. Raise your hand if you read the book and ACTUALLY thought Mother was dead... yea... that's right. No one. We all knew she'd show back up at the end. You're getting predictable, Matt.
  • Lots of exclamation points and one sentence paragraphs. It reads like a screenplay... which might be what Reilly is going for.

In the end, 'Returns' is an entertaining read, especially if you liked his previous books since it mirrors much of their pacing. If you didn't like them, you'll hate this. Unfortunately, the previous book, 'Scarecrow,' was extremely well written and globe-spanning. I was disappointed in that this novel seemed to take a step back for Reilly. It's good, but 'Scarecrow' was great. And I was hoping his Return would be better.

3* out of 5

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

***New Matthew Reilly book*** Who's excited?

Well, the latest Matthew Reilly book, Scarecrow Returns, has hit American shores. First off, I have to say how much I admire Reilly's story-telling. Somehow, he manages to fit character development, previous book events, and the current crisis all in the first few pages. No one writes action like Reilly. If you want to *read* an action movie, his stuff is for you. The highly descriptive scenes are amazing and let you picture what's going on without any problem. And, the little graphics he throws into the beginning of chapters are perfect.

Thanks to my desire to save money, save the earth, and cut down on clutter, I've tried to keep most of my fiction purchases on my Kindle (I still buy random historical books to read... though the shelves are filling up fast). But, I always buy the new Reilly releases ASAP in hardcover, because I re-read them like a fiend. The latest, released as Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves down under, is no exception. Why they changed the title for American audiences, I have no idea.

I'm three chapters in and already loving it. The new characters are individualized and unique, and I'm particularly interested in Emma Dawson and the foreshadowing/plot points Reilly dangles.

Scarecrow is getting over his last girlfriend, Fox. Is Dawson a possible new love interest? it helps that she's a civilian. Having Fox as a fellow Marine made for good story, but it made Reilly split them up tactically due to fraternization rules. Coming up with reasons to bring them back together for novels would have seemed forced. The end of their relationship in the last novel (full-length anyways... pick up Reilly's short story starring Scarecrow, Hell Island, if you haven't... good book) was almost a necessity and could prove interesting for future relationships.

The introduction of the robot character seems to be a favorite in early reviews. I'm not far enough along to feel the impact, yet, but the detailed explanation of its (her?) capabilities makes my mouth water with possibilities.

The insight into trouble on the homefront for Mother is interesting, too. For the most part, though I love the character, she's been very one-dimensional. It'll be interesting to see where, if anywhere, this plot thread goes.

Two more important points before I get back to reading it (you know... the reason I bought the book).

First, when the doomsday weapon is revealed and explained, I can't tell you how proud I was to hear that the thermobaric weapon had characteristics eerily similar to the (very real) explosives I used in my own novel, Number 181 (GetItHere). This somehow validates my big-timey explosions and at the same time inflates it to a level that I sure as Hell hope isn't possible. You never know with those pesky Soviets, though.

And, second, word has come out that Reilly's wife passed rather unexpectedly in early December. She was 36. I can't imagine having to deal with that at so young an age. I love his work and hope he gets back to it as soon as he can... but I hope he waits until he feels he's able.

To the book!

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