Saturday, May 31, 2014

Hints that will help you solve the great #JIHADI: A LOVE STORY #puzzle

Thank you to everyone who's entered. The person who correctly identifies the most faces gets a signed copy of the manuscript. As of now, this is the only way to get a physical copy of the book! Email me or leave guesses in the comment boxes below. I'll announce a winner on Monday.

HINTS: The guy in the lower left-hand corner was EXPERIENCEd. The guy in glasses right next to him was BIG on SLEEP.

The LIDDELL girl is positioned right below a movie star who was also BIG on SLEEP. Immediately beneath her is someone who is not, contrary to popular opinion, Maya Angelou, but who is BELOVED.

The guy at the very bottom, in the middle, appears on the US five-dollar bill. The guy right above him doesn't, and he SOUNDs FURIous about it.

The guy in the upper-left-hand corner looks a little PALE. He was born in Russia. Maybe that's why. The guy right next to him, however, has spent some time in the SUN.

The woman popping bubble-gum just released this outstanding album, which you should buy. The guy directly above and to the right of her has the same first name as my novel's protagonist.

To read and review a free excerpt of JIHADI: A LOVE STORY, a quarterfinalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest, click here.

Monday, May 26, 2014


To the person (immediate family excluded) who correctly identifies the most faces in this puzzle, I will send, free, a physical copy of the manuscript of my novel JIHADI: A LOVE STORY.

All the people pictured show up as direct or indirect references in the novel. Decisions of the judges (myself and my cat Paprka) are final, and may be arbitrary or incorrect. The contest ends when we get tired of looking at the responses. Stay tuned for an update on that. Email us your answers, or reply in the comment box below.

To read a free excerpt from the novel, click here.

Special thanks to for all the hard work on the collage!

UPDATE. Jem Bloom won this contest. Congratulations, Jem! For the answer key to the puzzle above, click here.

Origin of #MemorialDay #blackhistory

(I did not know the origin of this holiday until I came across this plausible-sounding explanation on Facebook. If it's in error, please let me know.)

KNOW YOUR HISTORY: Memorial Day was started by former slaves on May, 1, 1865 in Charleston, SC to honor 257 dead Union Soldiers who had been buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp. They dug up the bodies and worked for 2 weeks to give them a proper burial as gratitude for fighting for their freedom. They then held a parade of 10,000 people led by 2,800 Black children where they marched, sang and celebrated. Thanks to Abstrakt Goldsmith for this nugget of history most of us never learned in school.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

40 Great (Short) Novels

This list, forwarded via a friend on GooglePlus, left me feeling energized.

For one thing, I had read about half of the books on the list already, and had loved them all. (Slaughterhouse-Five led the parade, so I knew they were on the right track.)

For another, the list featured shorter works by people like Turgenev and Woolf that I knew I needed to get to sooner, rather than later.

Next up: TO THE LIGHTHOUSE! I've got it cued up for my next literary walk.Thank you +N. M. Scuri !

Wondering whether a character in a certain time period would have used a certain word or phrase?


Type in a word/phrase, select a date range from 1800-now, hit SEARCH LOTS OF BOOKS, and see how often it shows up. You can also compare one word/phrase to other words/phrases. Click here to try it.

Beware. It's habit-forming. #amwriting

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Nothing like a nice review from Publishers Weekly to start the day

I'm not crazy about the idea of posting the whole thing, as it's crammed with spoilers.

But this, which came in yesterday, will definitely do:



while the jagged structure and multiple untrustworthy narrators make for tough reading at times they mirror the fragmentation of war and readers who plow through will be well rewarded

To read a free excerpt of JIHADI: A LOVE STORY, the novel PW reviewed as part of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition, click here.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

My #Cat Paprika forwards the #ABNA reviews for #JIHADI: A LOVE STORY (Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award quarterfinalist)

(Note from my cat Paprika: "These reviews, from the first round of the competition, are based on the first 5000 words of the novel, and shouldn't be taken as reviews of the whole thing. I've read that. These people haven't.")

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

Using the method of memoir/dissenting voice worked well at conveying the story, moved at a fast pace and proved to have pretty good strength at grabbing my attention. Thelonius Liddell, R.L. Firestone, Fatima, other secondary characters in the story all begin to breathe, their personalities beginning to bubble up and over, despite such a small sampling to read. The tidbits of trivia and information (reproduction of vowels within the written text of the Muslim Holy Scripture is forbidden; Firestone disputes the accuracy of Liddell's facts regarding the board game Sorry!) added value and intrigue to the story.

What aspect needs the most work?

I would like to know who R.L. Firestone is in relation to Thelonius Liddell. I suspect this might become more clear later in the story. According to the hook/summary, Firestone is a psychologist.... But I wasn't certain, just reading Firestone's rebuttal entries, beginning with the Foreword, because Firestone's job/title is not given. What Firestone has to say becomes more fluid, informational, more personal (and maybe less formal), and more engaging as the story (and Ali's memoir) progress.



What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

I was completely taken in by Jihadi: A Love Story. I found it to be current, original, clever and compelling. I liked the mystery within the story and the format the dissenting voices use. I liked that it had a few formal lines without using language that fell into dull and stiff; I liked the idea of thinking for myself and figuring out what I believed happened (who's telling the truth? What really happened? Why was Thelonius murdered? Are there cover-ups occurring, and if so how/why/who knows it's a coverup and who has no idea?), even if the truth is tragic and justice is denied access to the stage. I would definitely want to read this book.




What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

The strongest aspect of this excerpt is the excellent and creative structure. It is both entertaining and thought provoking. Instead of having a normal straight up narrative, the author has woven a much more complex tale. The novel is structured as a memoir written in secret by a US citizen accused of treason and that memoir is critiqued .... The structure has the reader thinking about truth and lies, the unreliable narrator (or in this case, narrators) and that narrator's motives and hidden agenda. This approach is very creative and unique and is sustained throughout.



What aspect needs the most work?

Honestly, there is nothing in this excerpt that obviously needs work. The one word of caution I would add is that the author should take care, in the following chapters, not to take too dogmatic a position. In these opening chapters, the author's position is not made obvious, but there may be opportunities as the novel progresses to reveal the author's position too obviously, but I hope that does not happen.



What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

Overall, this is an extremely strong excerpt. The narrative construct is unique and creative. The voices of the two narrators are clear and sustained. The set up is interesting and compelling. There is not a wasted sentence or phrase in this piece; everything moves the narrative forward. This excerpt is refreshingly different from most of the espionage and thriller genre. Very well done!



Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How to get me to post a video of my #cat Paprika

The post in which my cat Paprika interviews me about JIHADI: A LOVE STORY has rolled up an absurd number of hits. 

I'm not quite sure what to make of that. It's either to do with cats, or fiction, or some combination of the two.

Anyway, she was very impressed with the response. She made me promise to post a video of her here if we get 100 reviews (good, bad, or indifferent) of this Amazon excerpt from the novel.

Leave a review on Amazon by clicking the photo of Paprika .. and help turn her into an Internet star!
Leave a review on Amazon by clicking the photo of Paprika .. and help me turn her into an Internet star!

Landmark Forum Takeaway #4


In a marriage, or in any undertaking, is the relationship a "fifty/fifty" proposition?

Lots of people say "yes," but in reality that doesn't work. Even a "one hundred/one hundred" proposition doesn't work, because there's still no consistent sense of personal responsibility. People play with the numbers and insert their stories and make the other person wrong.

The only way a marriage, or anything else, works consistently is via a willingness to return to a "one hundred/zero" proposition.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

My #cat Paprika interviews me on my #writing process. (#amwriting) (#bloghop)

Q. First things first. Why did you consent to be interviewed by a cat?

A. Not just any cat. You. I find you pretty easy to talk to. Over the years, we've built up a certain rapport. I know you support my work. I don't think you're going to ask me anything embarrassing.

Q. Why do you keep posting the same picture of me over and over again?

A. Because I like that photo a lot.

Q. I hate short answers. Can you elaborate?

A. For one thing, you look thoughtful and expectant. It's like you're reminding me to write something. For another, that photo features three novels in which I immersed myself while I was writing JIHADI: A LOVE STORY. Reading a good book and getting inspired by it is part of my writing process. Those three novels were books I kept coming back to during the last two years of writing JIHADI. So were the two nonfiction books in that photo.

Q. Had you read all five of those books before?

A. Yeah. All of them. I'm big on books you can read twice.

Q. Will people have to read JIHADI: A LOVE STORY twice?

A: They can if they want. They don't have to.

Q. Does that mean they won't quote get it unquote the first time around?

A. Nope. Nice air quotes with the paws there.

Q. Why can't people buy a complete copy of JIHADI: A LOVE STORY? I get a lot of e-mails about this.

A. Because the novel hasn't been published yet. People can download a copy of the first five thousand words, though. That's the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) excerpt, which is downloadable here. The novel just made the quarterfinals of that contest.

Q. How many people entered the ABNA contest?

A. Ten thousand.

Q. How many novels are still standing, including JIHADI: A LOVE STORY?

A. Five hundred.

Q. Can people review that excerpt on Amazon after they read it?

A. Yep.

Q. Do you want them to do that?

A. Indeed I do.

Q. How are the reviews looking so far?

A. Very good.

Q. Do you tell people what to write in the reviews?

A. Nope.

Q. How long did you and I work on this novel, JIHADI: A LOVE STORY?

A. About six years. You're a beta reader, though, not an author. We discussed this, remember?

Q. Hmph. Listen, I thought this was a blog hop thing, right?

A. It is.

Q. So doesn't that mean I'm supposed to ask you specific questions?

A. Yes. Look at the email I sent you.

Q. Okay, wait a minute. Can you type in the password for me?

A. Yes. Get off the keyboard. See. There you go. Just read from the screen.

Q. Thank you. Question one. "What are you working on right now?"

A. It's a new novel called FREED. It's about my late Papa, among other things. Also about imprisonment and liberation. I've only finished one chapter.

Q. Is the second novel going to have more scenes about open cans of tuna fish? I remember I kept on suggesting you write scenes that had open cans of tuna fish for JIHADI, and you kept on not writing those scenes.

A. Yes. There will be more scenes in this novel featuring open cans of tuna fish.

Q. Question two. "How does your work differ from others of its genre?"

A. Well, my chosen genre is literary fiction, and most of the people I'm trying to live up to show up as books in that photo I used a little earlier in this post. My work differs from theirs in that I have the dubious, enduring legacy of the second Bush administration to write about -- a rich vein of source material -- and my work also differs in that I just wrote my first novel. They're all quite experienced, by contrast. To the extent of actually being dead. So. I do have the advantage of being alive. I guess that's another difference between me and the role models I chose. They're all dead. Except for Martha Alderson. She's not dead, thank God. She's not a novelist, though, so she's a different kind of role model. Martha is my virtual writing coach. Meaning she doesn't actually coach me except through her books and videos. Everyone who writes for a living, fiction or nonfiction, should buy her book immediately and then follow her on Twitter and YouTube.

Q. Did she pay you to say that?

A. No.

Q. Have you ever met her?

A. Not really. I talked to her once, and I tried to tell her how much her book THE PLOT WHISPERER meant to me. I think she thought I was a stalker.

Q. Isn't this blog post going a little long?

A. Maybe. But I promised I would write 1500 words today, so let's keep going.

Q. Question three. "Why do you write what you do?"

A. When it comes to fiction, I find I generally write best about things that piss me off. It's the only constructive thing I can think of to do with the anger. So in JIHADI: A LOVE STORY, I ended up writing about things like the rape culture that has emerged within the US military. There were a lot of topics like that.

Q. You're writing about ME now. Does that mean I piss you off?

A. No. Well. Hold on. Only when you sneak outside when you're not supposed to, which doesn't happen that often. I guess I should find a way to work that conflict into the new novel. That does piss me off.

Q. Are you saying I shouldn't go outside, ever? Even when you're like, bringing groceries in? And there's a perfect opportunity to slip past you while you're holding heavy paper bags and all distracted? Are you saying I shouldn't go outside THEN?

A. Yes. That's what I'm saying. We've discussed this many times.

Q. Why? Why, why, oh why? Why?

A. Because there are big, powerful, mean cats out there who can kick your ass and have kicked your ass.

Q. I don't recall any of that. Question four. "How does your writing process work?"

A. Step one: Find something that pisses me off. Like you sneaking out when you're not supposed to. Step two: Start writing about that and follow it wherever it leads. Step three: Crank out at least five hundred words a day, good or bad, fiction or nonfiction, six days a week. Step four: Gather all those accumulated words into a complex system of Word files that no one but me could possibly make sense of. Step five: Pull the most promising sections into another, less complex system of files. Step six: Delete the worst bits while I edit the rest of it into shape.

Q. What's the ratio of "words generated" to "words you actually use in the final draft of a chapter"?

A. I've done some research on this. It looks like it's at least four to one. Maybe five to one.

Q. Is there anything else I'm supposed to ask you?

A. Yes. You're supposed to ask me who chose me for this blog hop.

Q. Okay. Who chose you for this blog hop?

A. That would be the wonderful Lisa Koosis, also an ABNA quarterfinalist. Her blog can be found here. Her ABNA excerpt can be found here.

Q. Are we done yet?

A. No. You should ask me who I'm tagging next in the blog hop. They'll post their own thoughts on how their writing process works next Monday, May 12.

Q. Who is up next in the blog hop, and will you please hotlink their names directly to their blog sites?

A. They are three gifted friends, and yes I will.

Razor-sharp parodist and sci-fi virtuoso Richard Gibney  writes: Chapter The First: Latency Delay. Richard started writing proper stories when he realized at the age of five or six that the artwork in his picturebooks just wasn't up to scratch. He won his first writing competition at the age of ten, and promptly capitalized on this early success with another two contest wins at the age of thirty five, reaching a number of shortlists in the meantime and since. He is the editor of and chief contributor to the English language version of Yeah! International Student Magazine in Ireland. Chapter The Second: In Medias Res, Be It Deceptively So. Born, raised and living in Dublin, Richard's stories have appeared in short fiction collections such as Best New Writing in the United States, in two Cork (Ireland) Libraries' collections, and in other media. Work has also been broadcast on one of Ireland's national stations, RTE Radio One, and in an RTE web series. Seventeen seconds of his material featured on a BBC Radio Four satire programme, probably the best-paying joke of his career so far.

Safie Maken Finlay is a writer, editor and book reviewer. Although she was born in London and has a diverse background, she has lived most of her life in Ireland, which she considers to be her home. She lives there now with her family in a house in the countryside, surrounded by curious cows, goats who think they are human, an inexplicable number of hens named after Star Wars characters, and some pets of the more conventional variety. Safie is the author of The Galian Spear, the first novel in a fantasy adventure series for children aged nine and over. She also edited the YA novel, The Custodian, by D. A. O'Connor, and is a writer and reviewer for the Swallows Nest Children's Books Site. Safie is supposed to be working hard completing The Sword of Want, which is the sequel to The Galian Spear, but she is frequently found on Twitter, instead. If you notice her tweeting, please tell her to switch off the Internet and go back to writing.

Katya Mills lives in California and writes urban fiction, flash fiction and dark fantasy. She recently self-published her first novel, Girl Without Borders. She publishes flash fiction, nonfiction and poetry on a daily basis via her blog.

Guys, you're up next.

Q. Wouldn't it be a good idea to close the blog post with a video of you reading something from JIHADI: A LOVE STORY so people could get a sense of your style?

A. That's a great idea. I'll put it at the end.

Q. So can I go outside now?

A. No.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Paprika #cat #caturday

My #cat Paprika wants you to download a free Kindle excerpt of JIHADI: A LOVE STORY and then review it on #amazon:

Make Paprika happy by clicking here.