Sunday, November 27, 2011

Interview with Historical Novel Author M. H. Sargent

I'd like to introduce M. H. Sargent, author of the historical novel, Toward Night's End, set in the US during the upheavals of World War II.  M. H., thanks for dropping in to answer some questions. By the way, I have to mention how much I like the cover of your novel. It's beautifully done.

First, when did you start writing? What was it you first wrote?
I actually started writing short stories in high school. Just for fun. In college, I worked for the UCLA newspaper and some local weekly newspapers too. As for novels, this book, Toward Night's End was my first novel.

What period do you write about and why?
My story takes place in America during WWII and deals with the Japanese-Americans being sent to internment camps.The story came from a real life experience during the war. My grandfather had a dairy farm in Norwalk, California. He was also an attorney and he had Japanese tenant farmers handle the farm for him, day to day. Like many others in the area, when the war came along and the Japanese-Americans were forced into camps, families had to do a lot of extra work at their farms. One neighbor had a teenage son to help him and the boy went to the barn for some hay and discovered something hidden under the haystack -- it was an anti-aircraft gun. The boy's father called the Army and they carted it away. But that story has always stayed with me. We've been taught that all the Japanese-Americans were good citizens and putting them in the camps was a terrible wrong. However, if that is the case, why would some tenant farmers have an anti-aircraft gun, of all things? How did they get it? Anyway, that one episode got my imagination going and eventually lead to this novel.

What is your theory or belief on how historically accurate you need to be? How does that affect your story? For alternative history writers: how did you decide to change history? How do you reconcile it with “real” history?
Personally, I want to keep my story as historically accurate as possible. I really researched the Japanese internment camps, to give a valid description of what life was like in those camps. Obviously, all my characters are fictitious, but I tried to show what life was like then, how events did unfold.  

Tell me about your main character, real or fictional and why?
My main character is a 21 year old Japanese-American man named Matthew Kobata. He is completely fictitious. He lives with his family on Bainbridge Island, Washington. The book starts on the day all the Japanese-Americans on that island had to leave. His mother refuses to leave their home, since he never came home the night before. She wants to wait for him, since he is "a good boy" and knows they have to leave on the ferry. The Army forces the family to leave and the hunt is on for Matthew. Complicating matters, the bodies of  two Caucasian men are then found on the island and suspicions turn to Matthew.

What is the most surprising thing in the period you write about? Do you run into common misperceptions? How do you deal with them in your fiction?
As I say, the most common misconception is that all Japanese-Americans leaving on the West coast of the U.S. were loyal to America and it was wrong to put them in camps. But then again, I come back to that neighbor of my grandfather -- his son finding an anti-aircraft gun hidden on the property. Bottom line, I think things are not always as simple as they seem.

Who would you most like to meet from one of your novels? Tell us about them.
I'd probably like to meet my main character, Matthew. A very honorable young man that tried to stop a horrible wrong and got caught up in a web of deceit against this country.

What is your next project?
My other books deal an elite  4-member CIA team, all set in present day. So, I'm currently working on another book with them.

Toward Night's End is a fascinating and unusual look at the US during World War II. You'll find it here on Amazon for only $3.99. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Guest Post on Reviews and Reviewers by Fantasy Author Ty Johnson

Fantasy author Ty Johnston’s blog tour 2011 is running from November 1 through November 30. His novels include City of RoguesBayne’s Climb and More than Kin, all of which are available for the Kindle, the Nook and online at Smashwords. His latest novel, Ghosts of the Asylum, is just out and is now available for e-books as of November 21. To find out more, follow him at his blog

Now I'll let Ty discuss reviews and reviewers:

Once upon a time, book reviewers were thought to be mysterious figures, like ancient wizards who resided upon high in lofty towers. Most larger newspaper had a professional book reviewer or two, as did many magazines. Even smaller newspapers and publications often sported a part-time or semi-professional book reviewer.

Oh, how times have changed. Now it seems there are book reviewers all over the place, though the majority of them are not necessarily what one might consider a professional, in this case meaning these reviewers are not making a living from their reviews alone (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

The Internet has opened up opportunities for all of us to voice our opinions, and this includes book reviewers. There are review blogs, reviews on Amazon, reviews at Goodreads, links to reviews on Twitter and Facebook, reviews at HuffingtonPost, reviews, reviews, reviews.

I, for one, am thankful for all these reviews, and I’m also thankful the majority of these reviews are not coming from so-called professional reviewers.

I worked as a newspaper journalist for nearly 20 years, and I have first-hand experience watching professional book reviewers at work. Book reviewing is hard, in no small part because much of what is being reviewed simply isn’t very good, or at least isn’t worth any level of excitement.

As a fiction writer, my preference leans toward the less stuffy reviews of today, often short, to the point, and often eye opening. Writers get to see first-hand what is and is not liked in their fictional works, and good reviewers will spell out what worked and what did not.

Admittedly there are a lot of bad reviews and reviewers out there. Five minutes perusing book reviews on Amazon will prove this. Every once in a while you might also run across someone giving bad reviews out of spite or for reasons having nothing to do with the books or writers being reviewed. The opposite also happens occasionally, with writers trying to hoist fake good reviews upon the public.

However, the stilted reviews and the fake reviews are almost always obvious. The general reading public is not stupid, and the majority can spot an unfair review a mile away.

The intelligence of the reading public, and the growing numbers of solid reviewers, is one of the reasons I’ve never bought into the argument that a wave of bad e-books from unfiltered authors is a bad thing. Again, readers aren’t stupid, and they will be able to find what they want when they want it. There are billions of websites out there, but Google and other search engines make sure viewers can find they information they desire. Amazon and Smashwords and other online venues can and will accomplish much the same for writers and readers.

The problem for writers, however, is how to let readers know about your books and e-books. This is where reviewers are important. More and more readers are following book reviews, in no small part because of the massive amount of literature currently available (and it’s growing by the second). Readers are finding their favorite book blogs, and their favorite Amazon reviewers. Readers are sharing links at their favorite social networking sites.

Perhaps more than at any time in the history of the printed word, readers are depending more upon word-of-mouth than they are advertisements or bookstore placement for their reading material. It’s true Amazon and Barnes & Noble can still drive book and e-book sales through placements on their sites, but readers are finding freedom in looking elsewhere for good books, writers and reviews.

So, you writers out there, you need to pay attention to reviewers. Quality reviewers get noticed, and they can help you get noticed.

Readers, you, too, need to watch for good reviewers, because they can open your eyes to all new adventures, all new ways of thinking, new worlds, and new writers.

We need reviewers, especially good ones. They get the word out.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Interview with Mystery Writer David H. Fears

I'd like to introduce David H. Fears, author of the "Dark" series of hardboiled mysteries, set in Chicago in the early 1960s, historically accurate; lots of seduction and love triangles; sleuthing; complex plots and an interesting, likable hero. 

Thanks for answering some questions about writing a series of novels that combines hardboiled mystery with a historical setting, David. 

So when did you start writing? What was it you first wrote?

David:  The first grade. "Girl" was my first written word. The rest is history. Seriously, I came to fiction writing late in life, in my early 50's. I had to flush my academese style and learn the craft one item at a time. I did haunt some online crit circles, but am mostly self-taught.

What period do you write about and why? 

David: The early 1960s. I think because it is so rich in social change, reform, corruption, and also a simpler time for many Americans, if a stressful time for the nation. Also, I came of age in the late 50s, early 60s and know the time well.

What is your theory or belief on how historically accurate you need to be? How does that affect your story? For alternative history writers: how did you decide to change history? How do you reconcile it with “real” history?

Davd: My approach (not necessarily a "theory") is to utilize real events, places & people, then weave my fictional story & characters around historical accuracy. I don't make up events beyond that. In the 6 novels I've done I have used each subsequent year, beginning in 1960. I've included the following real events/people: Trenton Prison Riots of the 1950s, 60s. Purple Gang of Detroit; Mayor Daley's corrupt Chicago administration; police reformer O.W. Wilson; French Bonnot Gang; Portland corruption of the 50s, 60s, Big Jim Elroy, Stanley Terry rackeeters, Police chief, Mayor Schrunk, etc. I don't change history to fit the fiction of the novel, but adapt the fiction to fit history. Some names are fictional beyond the main characters.

Tell us about your main character, real or fictional and why? 

David: Mike Angel is a young man (30; fictional) who came out of Korea to join the police force with his father in NYC; like his father he refused to be on the take but also couldn't stand the administrative BS and control. He quit the force after his father retired and had just completed his first case as a PI. Mike then took up the torch to follow in his father's footsteps, but had misgivings all along if that was his true calling.  He struggles with a conflict about commitment and fidelity throughout the novels about women and one particular woman, Molly Bennett. His weakness is women in trouble who find him in each episode. Over 6 novels to 1965 he evolves somewhat, settling in as a fist-first but good investigator and slowly commits to Molly.

What is the most surprising thing in the period you write about? Do you run into common misperceptions? How do you deal with them in your fiction?

David: I was somewhat shocked at the level of crime, corruption, dirty cops, illegal gambling, prostitution, etc., especially in my hometown of Portland, where the last novel, Dark Moon, takes place. I deal with these by using real exposes, names, events, etc., and by immersing Mike into complex plots that make solving cases difficult.  

Who would you most like to meet from one of your novels? Tell us about them.

David: Ah, well, I suppose in some ways I've met each of my main characters, since I've lifted pieces here and there from folks I've known. Since I share Mike's sarcastic and smartass sense of humor, especially as he relates to his late father's retired NYPD detective Rick Anthony, I'd like most to meet Mike. I've met Molly already!

What is your next project? 

David: I'm continuing the last volume of a 4 vol reference work on Mark Twain, Mark Twain Day By Day. This is pure history using all available primary sources and much secondary work.  I have 4 more trips to make to UC Berkeley and the Mark Twain Project to read some 3,000 incoming letters to Twain. I have had small stirrings for a 7th Mike Angel novel but am letting that pearl choke on the irritation for a few months.

Do you use a pen name and why?

David: David H Fears (I use Mike Angel on the KB writers cafe, my protagonist's name. Much of the time HE comes out in my posts there--am I a split personality? Well, with my personality some split might help. I have written over 100 short stories and had a couple dozen published in print & ezine under the name DH Henry. I used it because many of my tales involved tail-chasing, and I suppose I wanted to see how they'd go over first. I self-published a print collection of them in 2001 from which I made a small amount after a 500 book run. I've also uploaded 44 of the best shorts on Amazon using the old DH Henry name. I now write only under my own name.

Thanks for vising, David. I really appreciate your time and the interesting answers.

Want a good mystery? Want more action for the buck? Try getting into Mike Angel's "Dark" Series: 

Dark Quarry is FREE until Christmas at Smashwords or available on Amazon

That is just one of this great series along with Dark Idol, Dark Lake, Dark Blonde, Dark Poison, and, just released, Dark Moon.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Review: Deep in the Valley: A MacLachlainn Saga, Book Two: Niall

This historical novel touches what is sometimes called the forgotten ethnic group of the US: Scottish Americans. There are, in fact, as many people of Scottish descent in the US as there are in Scotland. Many of them know little about their heritage or how our people came to be here.

Tommie Lyn delves deeply into this history in her historical series, The MacLachlainn Saga, that began with High on a Mountain and the story of Scotsman Ailann MacLachlainn's loss of his family and Scottish homeland as he was exiled, a slave, to the American colonies.

As Deep in the Valley begins, Ailann has regained his freedom and begun a new family in the land of the Cherokees with whom he has become a friend and ally. He has married a Cherokee woman, Mali. They have children, a farm and what Ailann is convinced should be a good life. But his second son, young Niall, is too much like his father, restless and rebellious, but so is the older brother with whom he has a long-standing rivalry for their father's affections. This is a rivalry that Niall always loses.

The characters are interesting and the setting beautifully drawn. You can easily relate to Ms. Lynn's obvious love for the heritages she writes about, both the Scottish and the Cherokee. Although much of this novel is what I would term domestic, it is none the less engaging and held my interest. However, as the American colonies rebel against British domination and begin their fight for independence, the plot changes somewhat, becoming a bit more of an adventure.  The mix of domestic and adventure should give something to people who prefer either in a historical novel.

I did, however, have a problem with the very frequent changes in point of view and the large number of point of view characters. I would just get interested in one character when she would change. That kept me from becoming as interested in or connected to the main character as I wanted to be. The story is presented as Niall's but I never felt particularly attached to him. This was a shame because it was a very interesting story and he could have been a much more interesting character if he had made up more of the story itself.

However, while I thought Deep in the Valley could have been improved, it is still a very enjoyable novel about a part of US history and the history of the Scots that is all too often ignored. Scottish history and the history of the Scots in the US is much more than shortbread and tartan tat. The depth of love for their homeland, for each other, and for their new country is beautifully portrayed in this novel and I recommend it both to Scots and to historical fiction fans.

Deep in the Valley is avilable on Amazon for only $3.99, a steal, I assure you.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Rant

I am going to be franker than usual in today's post, perhaps down to the fact that I am hospitalized following an accident and on heavy medication. (Or in other words, drugged out of my mind, such as it is)

So here goes. I just read a sample of a novel supposedly set in the Scottish Highlands. It made me throw up in my mouth.

"Verra" is not a Scottish word, dammit. In the Highlands, the chances are they would have spoken either Scots Gaelic (Gàidhlig) although if they were noble, they might have spoken Scots or French as those were also languages of the Scottish court. NEVER would they have said "verra" which is not a word in Scots or Gàidhlig. It is at best an idiotic dialectical spelling of a Lowland Scot speaking English.

Scotland was part of the medieval European world in which there were royalty, nobles, the small nobility and their adherants. While the Gaelic culture was extremely important in Scotland as was the Norman culture, imported when a Scottish king gave lands to Norman followers, neither were the rather peculiar romaticised version you find in these novels.  Scots were not some barbarians who painted their faces blue. A Scottish "warrior" in the middle ages does not even make sense.

The Scotland in "Highland Romances" is a made up place that never existed.

Do you have a right to write in this made up world? Yes, but PLEASE try not to make it insulting by writing a dialect on the level of "negro minstrels" or assuming that Scots were barbarians. And if you love to read it, that is your right, too, but PLEASE be aware that it has nothing to do with the real Scotland or its actual history.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The the Snowed In With Indie Authors Review and Giveaway

festival button

"What Book is That?" is snowed in!  Snowed in with indie authors, that is!  Every day in December, a different indie book will be reviewed at!  Each review has a giveaway attached for digital books, print books, gift certificates and more!  Over 30 books will be up for grabs, so stop by every day for a new chance to win!

A great giveaway and festival by one of my favorite bloggers. Please do check it out.