Author Archives: Julie Kazimer

About Julie Kazimer

J.A. (Julie) Kazimer is a writer living in Denver, CO. Books include The Junkie Tales, The Body Dwellers, CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story, SHANK, Froggy Style: A F***ed Up Fairy Tale and The Assassin's Heart. She is currently working on a new fairy tale mystery for Kensington Books titled The Fairyland Murders.

5 Ways to Pick a Mystery Writer Out in a Crowd

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

In honor of mystery writer friend, Shannon Baker’s winning Writer of the Year for RMFW I’ve decided to offer some helpful tips to those needing a little help picking out a mystery writer when in a crowded room. This will be helpful in September during the Colorado Gold Conference, so take note!

5)  See that woman with the grey hair? Yep. She’s a mystery writer. In fact, most mystery writers I know are older women same as mystery readers. The bloodier the better for this blood-thirsty lot. That’s why we love them (and yes, I am one of them, I just use a lot of hair dye and lye to get rid of the bodies).

4)  See that guy twirling the end of his mustache? Nope, not a writer, just a serial killer, but if you look directly behind him to the woman unabashedly taking notes on his every move, yep, mystery writer.

3)  Ink and often blood stained hands.

2)  Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just glad to see me? A mystery writer will answer gun 98 out of 100 times. The other two times the answer is rope and penis.

1)  Any guy driving a Magnum PI car and wearing Hawaiian shirts outside Hawaii (Mario Acevedo and Tim Dorsey come to mind).

You’re welcome.

Any other ways you know of to determine if you have a mystery writer in your midst?

5 Things You Should NEVER Do in Fiction

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

Writers are given a lot of rules when we first start writing: Don’t change tense, don’t head-hop, don’t plagiarize the Bible… After awhile, we learn to pick and choose what rules are right for us and our work. But there are still some NEVER to be broken rules like those below:

5)  Kill a dog. Just don’t do it. Other animals are questionable decisions at best, but whack Fluffy, and there’s no coming back.

4)  Dare the reader to hate it. Yes, that’s right. Never, ever, dare your reader to hate your book or to put it down. Guess what? I’m not 5 any longer and can see right through your lame ass attempt at reverse psychology.

3)  Stand on your pulpit. If your book calls for political and/or religious views, fine. That’s well and good. Fiction is about what the book needs. But if you’re writing a spy thriller and suddenly I’m forced to read a passage about your viewpoint on building a fence around illegal aliens and I’ll stop reading right then. Never write to hear your own voice.

2)  Add characters to fulfill a quota. Unless that one armed, Jewish, lesbian sidekick is vital to the story, please don’t throw her in. She has a hard enough time playing catcher in her softball league.

1)  Follow the rules. If you want to kill a one-pawed, Jewish, lesbian canine stuck behind a electric fence with the Taco Bell dog, go ahead. I dare you. There are no absolutes when it comes to writing. Good advice on what people hate, sure, but if you dare to write it, then get on it.

How do you feel about ‘the rules’? Any no-no’s you can think of?

Death Becomes You: What Will Your Legacy Be?

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

I’m going blind.

The eye doctor told me this a few weeks ago. I have diabetic retinopathy which is basically uncontrolled bleeding behind my eyes from half a lifetime of having type 1 diabetes. Retinopathy leads to blindness. It might take a year, it might be five, ten, or twenty years.

There is no cure.

I will go blind.

(I’m not looking for sympathy, many others have it far worse. I’d like nothing more than to for you to read on because I feel like there’s a bigger point to be made).

Sadly, my first thought was, my career is over before it really started (I lie and say I’m an optimist when asked, but I come from a long line of Pollyanna-like pessimists).

And if my fate ends with not being able to write anymore (which it won’t since I plan to teach my seeing-eye dog how to type, so forgive me for any future novels begging for bones), what sort of legacy will my works leave?

What do my books say about me?

Better yet, what do your books say about you?

Scary thought, right?

Don’t get me wrong. I am proud of every book I’ve put into the world. I’ll freely admit some are better than others. Some suffered from my learning my craft. Some suffered from thinking I knew too much. Hell, in one book, and I won’t say which, I believed that using ‘said’, thanks to a bad critique group, was akin to publishing suicide. I only used it 939 times in 76 thousand word novel (Don’t try this at home; it will result in severe trauma). The book is published and available in ebook and trade paperback. I dare you to figure out which one it is.

But I’m talking less about craft and grammatical insanity than content. I wonder what sort of legacy my words leave in the world because there is immortality in your work. Even if you never publish a single word, it is forever alive.

As much as a part of me wishes to leave behind a legacy like Maya Angelou, who recently departed did, I know better. I am a genre writer, sometimes a good one, and sometimes bad. I love writing romance. I love writing mysteries. I loved writing F***ed Up Fairytales.

But I’m no Angelou.

I’m me.

And I will own my legacy.

And if we’re lucky, after we’re gone, we will have someone like Mark Stevens to convey our uniqueness with the rest of the world like Mark is doing with writer Gary Reilly. Also like RMFW does at every Colorado Gold conference when they honor Rick Hanson’s life’s work with contest where first place is usually a haiku’s using the word sphincter.

I think I’ll end this post here.

But I’d love to hear what sort of legacy you see for yourself, and what you wish your legacy could be? And if you could use the word sphincter, that would be great.

Orange is the New Black is Back So I Spent My Blog Writing Time Watching it…

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

My original post was going to be something very profound and enlightening, something that would make your writing career, and eventually put you at the NY Times Bestseller List, and then I started watching the 2nd season of Orange is the New Black…

If you haven’t seen Orange is the New Black, you really should, for your writerly sake. It is just plain, good storytelling. It can teach you a lot about characterization too. The story starts off about a young woman of privilege who ends up in prison for a crime she committed many years ago. But it grows into so much more as we see the world through the eyes of various inmates, in humorous, sometimes sad, gritty and grim, but very honest ways.

I LOVE this show for many reasons, the writing, the plot twists, but most of all for the characters, for each is deeper, and their stories sometimes horrible, but also entertaining. At the end of every episode, I feel for them. I carry them in my thoughts after the show is over. I embrace and connect with them.

All things we as writers want our audience to feel.

Then there’s the main character, Piper.

I hate her. Seriously can’t stand her.

But I continue to watch.

She is an anti-hero in the finest way.

I don’t like her, for she isn’t very likeable. She started off likeable, and I even felt sorry for her. Now I feel like stuffing her in a wood chipper.

Her choices are poor ones, resulting in causing others much pain.

And yet, I watch every episode, hoping things will be different. Hoping she’ll be redeemed in some way. Hoping for a happy ending, not for her, but for the sake of those around her.

Yes, I hate her.

But, like it or not, I connect with her.

Now I’m not suggesting you go and write crappy characters who I will hate. Nicolas Sparks fills that void for me just fine (Kidding, no Sparks’ related hate mail, please).

I’m merely pointing out, that every character is flawed in some way. Find those flaws, exploit them for your audience, show us who the character is beyond a description in the mirror (please, please don’t describe your character by having them look in the mirror; it’s been done a million times, by yours truly half of those times). Give your hero warts (not literal ones unless your heroine like to apply wart remover), and make us want to heal them.

This is perhaps most true when writing the antagonist. Too often we only show the antagonist’s flaws, his evilness. But to make a living, breathing bad guy, show us beyond his evil façade. Show us why he is the way he is, show us his humanity, and we will continue to read on.

Any of you watching season 2 of Orange is the New Black? What do you think? Care to defend Piper? Or anyone have another example of a great anti-hero, besides Hannibal Lector?

How to Make a Damn Good Living as a Writer

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

 

With a title like that you’d think I’d have an answer, right?

Well I do.

Just not one writers like to hear. So let’s get the nasty part out of the way now.

Here goes: Only a very small percentage (under 8%) of working writers are making a living strictly on their writing alone, and those that are have a backlist a mile long. Whether you buy into Digital Book World’s latest report that 85% of writers make less than $1,000 a year or not, the possibility alone is a stunning one.

At least to those not involved in the publishing industry.

We know better.

We have author friends who make little more than a college student during their internship at McDonalds. We just received a check from our publisher which was less than the stamp it cost to mail, and worse, our agent took 15%. We live in a world where daily checks of our sales, in order to determine whether or not we can afford to spurge on the whole wheat bread or just buy the white, mushy crap again, are a regular occurrence.

Okay, I might be exaggerating a bit. But for most of us, if we didn’t hold a day job or better yet, an understanding spouse/partner/sugar daddy we wouldn’t be able to support our writely habit. A habit, yes. Because, let’s face it, we aren’t in this business to become rich.

Which is what I said a few weeks ago during a presentation I was giving on social media for writers. One of the attendees disagreed. He was, in fact, writing to make money. He’d done the research, found a niche, and wrote a book, a book he admits isn’t the best, in order to make a living as a self-published author. And he was making some dough at it. Not enough to retire for good, or even make rent (but close).

Now my publishing/artist ego (the one who suffered over 10 years of rejections and strife to become a published author) immediately reacted. How dare he! We write because we can’t do anything else. We write to live, to breathe, to be titled, WRITER. Those who write for money are hacks!

And then I took a step back, let go of my emotional baggage, and thought about what I now want from my writing career, which is the ability to make a living as a writer. At one point in my life, I wanted nothing more than to be published. To hold the title of author. Now, a total of 12 books in, I want to make a living wage doing what I love.

Maybe he was on to something.

Now I don’t necessarily agree that your book shouldn’t be the best book you can write. If it’s in the world, it should be the best you can give. That being said, I do think we, at least I am guilty of this, I don’t take advantage of the cold-bloodied business side of publishing. I can research who my audience is, and then gear my work toward that audience and advertising. That makes complete sense. There is nothing wrong with writing what you love, and turning it into a revenue stream.

After all, doctors don’t just cut you open and start digging around until they find what ails you. They test, and retest, looking for what needs to be added or removed, and then they get to work. And then you get a huge bill in the mail. See, the system works.

All that being said, you do have other options for making a living as a writer. In fact, I’m currently exploring one of those opportunities.

Online dating.

Or better yet, trolling the internet for anyone will to support my writely habit.

I’m a catch!

So far I’m weighing my choices. It’s a toss-up between a Nigeria Prince and a guy selling Viagra online. Both are very interested in getting to know me better.

As long as I send $50 for a processing fee.

I’ll have to check my sales…

Look Who’s Coming to the Colorado Gold Conference: Peter Senftleben

I first met Peter Senftleben at the Colorado Gold Conference in 2010. After reading his bio, I joined the critique workshop where he and other writers gave feedback on 20 or so pages of my manuscript. The couple of hours I spent in that workshop changed my life.

Forever.

Peter ended up buying that manuscript, which became CURSES! A F***ed Up Fairy Tale, in a two-book deal less than a month later.

Surprisingly Peter still speaks to me, even after editing my last book.

Peter’s awesomeness as a editor is but one reason to love him. A few of the others include his taste in TV shows, romance novels, and humorous twitter feed (follow him at @gr8thepeter and find his full bio at the RMFW website).

And without further ado, here an interview with Peter the Great, Associate Editor at Kensington Books:

What genres are you actively looking for? Are there genres you would prefer not to read?
I’m looking for all types of fiction, but mostly every subgenre of romance (of all heat levels), cozy mysteries, thrillers, psychological suspense, upmarket horror, reading group-type fiction, Southern novels, and LGBT fiction. I’m not actively seeking urban fantasy at the moment (the market was flooded), and I don’t acquire westerns for Kensington. We also don’t publish science fiction or fantasy (with one exception), so I’m not really looking for those either. I also don’t have much interest in non-fiction or straight historical fiction (as opposed to historical romance or mystery).

What plot and/or character do you never want to see again? What would you love to see in the next manuscript you read?
I can’t say there’s anything I categorically don’t want to see because even the most tired plot or clichéd character could be fresh with the right voice or twist. That being said, I tend to say no to terrorist plots, simply because I find them trite and often writers use an organization as a  faceless villain. I prefer my bad guys to be human, with realistic motivations, and something specific for the protagonist to target. Often this can be extended to drug lords and human trafficking as well. But, again, they’re all possible if the writer does it well and creates a three-dimensional, dynamic antagonist.
Whenever I start a new submission, I always look for one thing: the desire to keep reading. I recently read something while I was on vacation that I kept going back to as my “fun read” even though it was for work. That’s what I need in everything I read, because that’s what the readers will want to feel as well.

What’s the best advice you can give to writers submitting their first novels?
There are a few things, and if they follow me or other editors and agents on Twitter, they’ll probably learn them (as they will if they attend conferences like Colorado Gold). Above all else: follow submission guidelines; nothing will get your query deleted faster than not sending it the right way. Also, make sure your manuscript is complete and as polished as possible—some of us will overlook a few typos, but some won’t, and sloppiness is just too much work to correct when you’re up to your eyeballs in manuscripts. Third, be patient; your submission is one of hundreds, or even thousands for some agents.

 As a returning Colorado Gold editor/faculty member, besides seeing me of course, what are you looking forward to the most about attending the upcoming conference?
Besides seeing you? Are there other activities? :) There is the hospitality suite… Actually, seriously, my favorite part of Colorado Gold is the critique workshop. It’s great to get a taste of writers’ work and to be able to give them concrete feedback. (For me, at least; they might not like what I say!)

 And finally, what is your all-time favorite books/movies/tv shows?

I’ll start with the easiest, TV: Profiler (except the last season), The Facts of Life, Arrested Development (except the last season), The Mole (when Anderson Cooper hosted), The Comeback (the only season), Scooby-Doo (the originals), Designing Women, Golden Girls, The Twilight Zone, Parks and Recreation (except the first season), Scrubs (except the last season), and the sublime Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies. I’m probably forgetting something, so maybe that wasn’t the easiest.

Movies: Clue! Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion! The Goonies. Memento. FEDS starring Mary Gross and Rebecca DeMornay. I love actually-scary horror movies and stupid comedies, but not usually together.
Books: Too many to list, but everything I’ve worked on, of course. Also The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and Dreamboy by Jim Grimsley.

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J.A. (Julie) Kazimer lives in Denver, CO. Novels include CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story, FROGGY STYLE and The Assassin’s Heart, as well as the forthcoming mystery series, Deadly Ever After from Kensington Books. J.A. spent years spilling drinks as a bartender and then stalked people while working as a private investigator.

Learn more at www.jakazimer.com or on her writerly talk blog More Than a Little F***ed Up. She can also be found (way too much of the time) on Twitter as @jakazimer and on Facebook as Julie Kazimer.

Inspiration

By Jeanne Stein

Recently I was asked to talk about what inspires me as a writer and a person. My first automatic response was everything. But then I realized I might be confusing inspiration with the process of creation—-taking an idea and developing it into a story.

Two different things.

The muse that sparks an idea can be anything. I get ideas from newspapers, television shows, eavesdropping on strangers’ conversations, other books. Ideas float on the air like dandelion snow. You only have to hold out your hand to grab one. Ideas are the beginning of the creative process.

Inspiration is something else. Inspiration is what makes me sit down at the computer everyday. It’s what helps me through the dark days when it seems I’m fighting a losing battle against the indifference of critics and sometimes even my agent and editor. It’s fighting the urge to give up when a brand new writer comes out of nowhere and wins that huge contract complete with movie and TV rights and a six-figure advance. And then reading the book and realizing, it is that good.

We all need inspiration. Something to recharge the soul and get us excited about life. It’s that voice inside that says keep going. It’s the message I hoped my character Anna Strong would impart. It’s the voice that says women are strong and clever and capable of great bravery—-with or without super powers.

I’ve come to believe a writer needs to be his or her own inspiration. We need to have faith in our abilities and the determination to persevere. We can take strength from those around us, but ultimately, we our responsible for ourselves.

We are all our own inspiration.

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Jeanne C. SteinJeanne Stein is the bestselling author of the Urban Fantasy series, The Anna Strong Vampire Chronicles. Her award winning series has been picked up in three foreign countries and her short stories published in collections here in the US and the UK. Her latest Anna book, Blood Bond, was released August 27, 2013. Jeanne’s newest endeavor is in collaboration with author Samantha Sommersby: The Fallen Siren Series. Published under the pseudonym S. J. Harper, the first book in that series, Cursed, was released Oct. 2013, book two, Reckoning, will be out this October.

S. J. Harper: http://fallensiren.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000177556968

Early Influences

By Katriena Knights

 

I’ve been watching a lot of retro TV lately, as I mentioned in some of my earlier posts. I’ve also been reading books I read when I was in junior high (shut up—that’s what we called it back then…) and high school. To my surprise, I’ve been enjoying most of it, and I’ve also noticed some things that made me go “Hmmmmm.”

I’ve always been a voracious reader. In fact, I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t read, since my mom taught me how when I was about 3 ½ so I would quit dictating poems to her under the door when she was trying to go to the bathroom. In kindergarten I was reading EB White, and by junior high I was devouring Andre Norton, Heinlein’s kids’ books, Isaac Asimov, et. al. And of course Tolkien, but that would make an entire blog post on its own.

I recently discovered a slew of Andre Norton books on Amazon for free and for very low prices. So I grabbed a big selection of them and started reading. I was almost afraid to, thinking I’d see all the flaws and have no fun at all. But I was pleasantly surprised. Pick them apart all you want, but her books are a fun ride.

I also started noticing things that reminded me of my own writing. She jumps right into the middle of the story and usually leaves you to figure out what backstory there is (she’s not big on backstory in many cases). Things move fast, and the characters are often thrown into the middle of situations they have no control over. Something about her characters have a feel that reminds me of some of my earlier heroes—and some of my more recent ones, too. And that backstory thing—I don’t think I’ve ever written a book where I didn’t have to go back and add layers because I just plowed forward without thinking much about the characters’ histories. From now on I’ll blame Andre Norton for that.

As far as TV, I found a hint of some of my strong, independent female characters in Laura Holt from Remington Steele. But I’ve been most surprised by shows I used to watch in the 70s and how they’ve affected my characterizations of same-sex male couples.

When I first wrote Dark Callings, my first professional venture into m/m romance (written as Elizabeth Jewell), I thought I was totally inspired by the US version of Queer as Folk, as well as a lot of slash fanfiction I’d read over the years before I wrote it. But now, going back and re-consuming my adolescent favorites, I’m seeing influences from relationships in those shows. You can tell me there’s no homoerotic subtext in shows like Starsky & Hutch, CHiPs, and Emergency (you’d be wrong, especially with S&H), but the interactions between the leads, the power shifts and the hurt/comfort subplots—I can see all those influences in current books where the intimate relationship between two very dominant males is paramount. Oddly, though, somehow I never pair them up with one blond dude and one dark-haired dude.

I’m not sure why I’ve been revisiting these stories and shows. Maybe it’s part of yet another midlife crisis. But it’s been an interesting journey to revisit the media I devoured back then and see how it’s been absorbed, rearranged, and spat back out. I’d be curious to know if anyone else has had this experience. Have you ever read a book you loved when you were younger and seen elements of your own writing in it somewhere? Has it surprised you? Are you, like me, going to blame all your thin backstory on Andre Norton from now on?

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Katriena Knights wrote her first poem with she was three years old and had to dictate it to her mother under the bathroom door (her timing has never been very good). Now she’s the author of several paranormal and contemporary romances. She grew up in a miniscule town in Illinois, and now lives in a miniscule town in Colorado with her two children and a variety of pets. For more about Katriena, visit her website and blog.

How Amazon Turned Me into a Serial Killer

Prior to September of 2012, my life was perfect. I had friends, my books were selling, and all was well. Then Amazon went and ruined my life. Forever.

And no, I am not being melodramatic.

Okay, I am, but just a little.

For those who have an Author Central page on Amazon, you know exactly what I’m talking about. For those who don’t, let me give you a little insight into the madness. An Author Central page is a page dedicated just to you, to your books, to your social media, to your profile and customer reviews. It’s a great one stop for all you. A writer/megalomaniac’s dream.

Except for one small thing.

It’s nothing really.

Just a ranking of you versus all the other authors on amazon.

Considering there are over 8 million books on amazon (probably a few million more since I typed that) you can see how you stack up against the population of Colorado and Nevada combined. Good times. Good times.

Now you’re probably asking how an author ranking made me into a serial killer. Well, it wasn’t hard. I was halfway there already. Amazon just added fuel to my fire, along with a target. 15,413 of them as of right now. Updated hourly. Makes it much easier when I don’t have to troll for victims…

You better watch it number 15,412. I’m headed your way.

No really. I have no designs on murdering at least 15,000 authors.

Not anytime soon. You can drop the restraining order Christopher Moore. I promise *wink*

So why in Amazon’s infinite wisdom did they start ranking authors, and more to the point, provided the same authors with said rankings? What can they and you possibly gain?

I wish I had a good answer.

The only foreseeable advantage I see, other than making us nuts (which while fun, probably doesn’t help amazon’s bottom dollar), is to grow more home-grown kindle authors and to have more people buy into Author Central, thereby, in the end, making for lower ebook prices (which equals more units sold) and no traditional publisher middle man.

While it can be easy as an author to get caught up in your author rank, because, let’s face it, we don’t get a lot of ego boosts otherwise. Most days are filled with mediocre reviews and rejection, often from my cat. He really hates when I serve him chicken and salmon cat food. You should check out his yelp reviews, they are downright catty.

But I digress; my point is the ranking system is a trap.

If you looked at my overall author ranking since it was born in 2012, you might think, hey, she must be doing all right if she’s ranked below 20,000 (as an author, the sanity question is still out). But you’d be wrong. While I make some money on book sales, I don’t even make enough to hit the poverty line from my amazon sales. That means, chances are, rank 15,415, 15,416, 15,417 and on and on probably aren’t either.

Now I’m not suggesting you don’t sign up for Author Central. They have a lot of good, helpful tools too for all authors. But remember, there is always an author ranked one number higher looking to bump you off.

And amazon offers plenty of shovels for sale.

Any other thoughts on author rank? Or better yet, anyone know where 15.232 lives?

*All kidding aside, I take any amazon ranking with a grain of salt. For one thing, we have no idea what sort of algorithm they’re using to rank authors. Does the number of books, the sales numbers, and how cute you look in a bathing suit matter? And what’s in a number anyway? Writers are bad at math. We’re lucky if we can add 2 +2, which is why publishers make royalty statements so hard to read.

** This is a follow up post to Amazon Ranking: From Loser to Bestseller and Back Again which I wrote on March 25.

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J.A. (Julie) Kazimer lives in Denver, CO. Novels include CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story, FROGGY STYLE and The Assassin’s Heart, as well as the forthcoming mystery series, Deadly Ever After from Kensington Books. J.A. spent years spilling drinks as a bartender and then stalked people while working as a private investigator.

Learn more at www.jakazimer.com or on her writerly talk blog More Than a Little F***ed Up. She can also be found (way too much of the time) on Twitter as @jakazimer and on Facebook as Julie Kazimer.

Mario Acevedo Shares Some of His Favorite Authors

By Mario Acevedo

A recent questionnaire on Facebook asked to list fifteen authors that influenced you personally. I jotted down some names, then as I thought about it, kept revising the list. After I had posted the list I realized I had overlooked one of the authors. So I’ll start this edited list with him.

Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange. The hoopla about Stanley Kubrick’s movie adaptation is what drew me to this novel, I was in high school at the time. I bought my copy from the rack at the local Quick Check (really, there was a time when you could buy literary novels at the convenience store). I devoured everything about the story including the Nadsat glossary. I was hooked by the narrative’s subversive, violent tone. This was not a “feel-good” read. When my best friend and I saw the movie, we followed the screenplay with the same reverence as Twilight fans tracking the exploits of Edward and Bella. We geeked out so much that we wore Clockwork Orange costumes (this was in the primordial days of fan-cons and nobody wore costumes except on Halloween). I even made a bloody eyeball cufflinks. However, Burgess was horrified by the mass-appeal of the book and the movie (the infamous gang-rape scene was based on what happened to his wife when American soldiers broke into their home), and he wrote an opera to lampoon his own creation. And I’ve seen this musical adaptation, performed in Austin, TX, with women playing the gangsters.

Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade. I ran across this book during my “What good does Christianity do?” period in my life in the aftermath of a family murder-suicide. Having grown up in a Southern Baptist fundamentalist environment, for most of my life I had been reading the Bible as the “Great Book of Wisdom,” but it never made much sense to me. Then I came across The Chalice and the Blade and Eisler’s arguments opened my eyes that the Bible was a book of fiction, mostly, and written to serve a political agenda.

Jerzy Kosinski, The Painted Bird. I found this book on the shelf of my uncle’s home when I was on leave from the army. The story is an orphan’s wandering through Eastern Europe during World War Two. As a history buff I could easily put the hapless boy’s ordeals in context, and that’s what made it so chilling. This is only of two books that I’ve read that were so horrific I had to put them aside to process the brutality. In contrast, the violence in A Clockwork Orange struck me as theatrical and lacking in empathy for the victims.

Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I learned about this book from the most unlikeliest of sources, an after-school Warner Brothers cartoon. Bugs Bunny warded off a pack of dogs by showing them the book and they ran over the Brooklyn Bridge in search of said tree. Was there such a book? There was, and I checked it out of the public library. The novel was published in 1943 to much acclaim and success. It’s the coming-of-age-story of Francine who overcomes her family’s impoverished circumstances. The book was an enlightening detour from my usual fare of military history. Though I enjoyed the story it was the first time that my internal literary critic was activated. I thought the last chapters had rushed through the girl’s life and as a reader, I felt cheated.

Michael Crichton, The Andromeda Strain. I’m not a Crichton fan but I have to give him his due with this book. My dad used to buy the bestsellers when they were released in mass-market paperback. My memories were of him crashing on the couch during the weekend and churning through the pages. Because of his example I didn’t spend any time with the “classics” but with John D. MacDonald, Leon Uris, Frederick Forsyth, James Clavell, Trevanian, and of course, Michael Crichton. When I read The Andromeda Strain I was twelve years old and in hindsight, not a very sophisticated reader. So it pains me when today people get so worried about what kids read and get exposed to. Even I was able to tell fact from fiction. My dad finished this book late on Saturday afternoon and so I started early Sunday morning. I was so mesmerized by the tale that I faked feeling sick so I could skip church to finish the story. When I put the book down, I was amazed that the narrative had put me in a trance, oblivious to the actual world. Such is the power of a good story.

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AcevedoMario3x4Mario Acevedo writes the best-selling Felix Gomez detective-vampire series for HarperCollins. Mario’s debut novel, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats, was chosen by Barnes & Noble as one of the best Paranormal Fantasy Novels of the Decade. His short fiction is included in the anthologies, You Don’t Have A Clue: Latino Mystery Stories for Teens and Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery from Arte Publico Press, and in Exquisite Corpse and Modern Drunkard Magazine. He was a finalist in the Colorado Book Awards and the International Latino Book Awards. Mario lives and writes in Denver, CO.