Books

#Review: The Good Place

Sometimes, entertainment comes from the most unexpected places.

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When I saw a promo for The Good Place, I thought there was no way it could be anything but stupid. I continued on, hopping around #Neflix and as is often the case, 247 clicks later I hadn’t found anything that I wanted to see. Desperate, I took a deep breath and returned to The Good Place. I’m glad I did.

The premise of the series is that after we die, we experience one of two possibilities: We either go to The Bad Place and endure a hell made especially for us, or we go to The Good Place where whatever we desire is available to us. The story centers around Eleanor, convincingly played by Kristen Bell. She lands in The Good Place, only to realize she is there by mistake. Ted Danson also plays a pivotal role, but it is an ensemble cast with no weak players.

To my great surprise, the show is Laugh Out Loud funny. The humor is witty, with a humorous take on the human condition. I laughed because I could relate. It is also an emotional journey, with characters who are flawed, broken, with deep wounds that impact their choices and their beliefs more than they have realized. Moreover, the story arcs are creative and unexpected in that, “ did that really just happen” sort of a way, while still being true to the characters personalities.

I hope Netflix renews the series. I’m already addicted. 5/5 Stars

Spawn of Lilith—A Review 4/5 stars

Spawn of Lilith—A Review 

4/5 Stars

I recently finished Spawn of Lilith by Dana Fredsti. I liked this book and would recommend it to others. It seems to follow none of the “rules” we have come to expect in books. There is no inciting incident (or ordinary world, I couldn’t tell which was missing), no rising action. Most of the book is simply Lee, the main character, doing things. Lee buys beer. Lee take a job on a bad movie.  Lee takes another job with another bad movie. Although she’s a stunt woman, I’m not sure any of those scenes are necessary for the story. In fact, I wasn’t sure what the story was until the end of the book.

According to Lee, the movie industry is full of supernatural creatures. But they are not on the page, at least not in a way that impacts the plot or characters’ development.

So why do I like the book enough to recommend it? I like the characters. They were well developed and engaging. I like Lee. I like Lee’s friends— Eden, an actress, and Randy, a stuntman and a shapeshifter who never shifts. In a roundabout way, they help her grow and become more independent. I might have found Sean and Seth (her father and pseudo-foster brother) more interesting if they had been around more.  

I’d put the book back on the shelf several times because one of the blurbs described Lee as snarky. I hate snarky characters, but eventually I decided to give it a try. I did NOT find Lee snarky. Snarky is just bitter and angry, which Lee isn’t. She had humorous moments that were well done.

All in all, I couldn’t put this book down.  I’m looking forward to reading Lee’s next adventure.

Click on the cover to go to Amazon.

Click on the cover to go to Amazon.

Dress Up Dress Down With James DiBenedetto #MFRWAuthor

Join me in welcoming Jamies DiBenedetto to LAM!

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•   Tell us about your hero’s or heroine’s typical style of dress. What is the condition of the clothing?

Sara is the heroine of the Dream Doctor Mysteries. She starts off as a quiet and studious college student, but over the course of the series, she gets married, becomes a doctor, has a family, and solves murders and other mysteries with the help of her supernatural dreams.

Sara is a pretty conservative dresser, which goes along with her shy and reserved personality, especially when we first meet her. She’s in college, so it’s usually jeans and a sweatshirt, without regard to style as long as it’s clean.  But as events force her out of her shell, and she finds herself in new situations, she changes things up on a few occasions.

•   What does the choice of clothing tell us about him/her?

Sara’s preferred style goes along with who she is at first – she’s quiet, and her clothes don’t make a big impression, either. When she does dress up (for a New Year’s Eve dinner at a fancy restaurant with her new boyfriend), she barely recognizes herself in the mirror.  

•   What happens when or if your character wears the opposite style?

When Sara dresses against her usual style, she usually finds herself acting against her usual behavior, too – almost as if she’s wearing a costume and acting out a part.

•   Does your hero or heroine change his style of dress over the course of the book? If so, how, and what does it mean, if anything?

As the book goes on, and in later books, Sara becomes a lot more confident, and while she’s still has a pretty conservative style, she’s much more willing to try new things, and to try to make a statement with her outfits when the occasion calls for it.

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EXCERPT:

It’s nine o’clock, and everyone’s waiting downstairs for Beth and me.  She looks great, which is no surprise.  She generally does.  What isa little surprising, at least to me, is just how good Ilook.  That sounds immodest, but what the heck.  I’m allowed to be immodest once in a while, right?   

Beth spent the last two hours helping me do my hair and makeup, and she absolutely demanded that I wear the dress I bought with my birthday money.  It doesn’t quite say “do me”–nothing I own says that–but it might say “buy me some drinks and dance with me and I’ll think about it” if I wear it with the proper attitude.  It’s black and strapless and–for me, at least–very short.  It’s such a change from my usual wardrobe that I barely recognize myself in the mirror.   Especially with my hair up and the way-more-than-usual makeup job.

She gives me a final once over, and claps her hands.  She’s thrilled.  “There may be hope for you yet!”  She doesn’t need me to check her over, she knows without even looking in the mirror that everything’s right, not a hair or anything else out of place.  

I have to take one last good long look at myself, though.  The woman staring back at me has my eyes, but the rest of her…

I hear my own voice asking, “Who is that?”  

Blurb:

 College junior Sara Barnes thought her life was totally under control.  All she had to worry about was her final exams, Christmas shopping, applying to medical school – and what to do about the cute freshman in the next dorm with a crush on her.  Everything was going according to plan, until the night she started seeing other people’s dreams.

It’s bad enough that Sara is learning more than she ever needed to know about her friends and classmates, watching their most secret fantasies whether she wants to or not. Much worse are the other dreams, the ones she sees nearly every night, featuring a strange, terrifying man who commits unspeakable crimes.  Now Sara wonders if she’s the only witness to a serial killer – and the only one who knows when and where he’s going to strike next.

Dream Student is the prequel to the Dream Doctor Mysteries.

BIO:

J.J. DiBenedetto is author of the Dream Series and the Jane Barnaby Adventures and lives in Arlington, Virginia with the love of his life and a white cat who rules the roost. 

His passions are photography, travel, the opera, the New York Giants, and of course writing. 

Mr. DiBenedetto is devoted to writing books with a sense of mysticism to entertain and perhaps invite his readers to suspend belief in a way they might never have.

Since he was very young , he has always been intrigued with the supernatural and things that can't be explained rationally.

By always asking way too many questions, it piqued his interest to the point of setting his writing off and running when he grew up! All the curiosity building up all those years were finally getting put into words to captivate readers. And it hasn't ended. His main goal is to share all the stories he has inside, putting pen to paper. And that's how the Dream Doctor Mysteries were born.

Mr. DiBenedetto welcomes queries and feedback from his loyal readers. You can email him at jj@jjdibenedetto.com or at his website www.jjdibenedetto.com.

The next Jane Barnaby Adventure will be ready soon and he's anxious to hear what you think!

Social Media:

www.jjdibenedetto.com

www.facebook.com/jjdibenedettoauthor

www.twitter.com/jjdibenedetto

www.tinyurl.com/jjdaudio

www.tinyurl.com/jjdvideo

http://viewAuthor.at/JJDiBenedetto

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Thanks for stopping by, James!

Characters and Settings: How I Keep It Together #MFRWAuthors

I stumbled around for a long time trying to work out a system of getting characters and settings settled in my mind. I usually start with an actor who could play the character I have in mind. Being able to see real people makes their physical characteristics easier to describe.But after awhile I tended to mix them up with other characters in the book—or even another book. Sometimes I totally forget what I’ve written. My haphazard records didn’t ensure that my characters eye color or hair didn’t change from one page to the next. In 2009, everything changed. I discovered a book called Break Into Fiction by Mary Buckham and Dianna Love. I worked through all the exercises and pulled all my notes together. I didn’t have to generate new information about my characters but this book gave me a record keeping system.

Since then I’ve looked at several systems for creating characters and settings but none have been as helpful as this book. Moreover, I attended two weekend workshops with Ms. Buckham which cleared up questions I had.

I’m afraid I’m not as particular about settings. The ones in my books tend to be real places I have been or seen. For example, Zander’s apartment in House of the Rising Son is modeled after Brian Kinney’s loft in Queer as Folk. Although I may change a few things, having concrete places in mind keeps me from having settings change constantly.

Today when I have a new plot percolating, one of the first things I do is to pull out my copy of Break Into Fiction and tackle those worksheets. I may not come up with all the answers when I start but this system reminds me that I need to know them to finish.

Finishing a Book: Complex Endings and Beginnings

I have friends who throw parties when their manuscript is finished. One even rented a hall, catered it, and signed books for the occasion. Others unceremoniously set it aside and start the next one. And others who throw up their hands in exasperation and declare they are sick of the whole thing, refusing to look at it again. I have elements of each of those extreme reactions, with a healthy dose of relief that comes completing a big project that is personally significant, and a little bit of grief that it's over. Not that I ever finish a manuscript. Rather, I am more likely to have it taken from me before I “edit all the life out of it”. Even after it has been sent off to the editor, I am likely to keep rewriting it in my mind.My best luck at letting go seems to be when I can bury myself in a new project. I keep a notebook of ideas and rely on a gem inside to intrigue me enough to pull me away.

There is so much that has to happen to successfully launch a book I am not sure how anyone finds the time to celebrate at all. And because for me, writing is something I'm driven to do, have no choice but to do, I forget what a monumental accomplishment completing a novel truly is. Going forward, I plan to honor my achievement by buying myself something nice. Some possibilities?

  • A Barnes and Noble shopping Spree
  • An Amazon gift card
  • A new tote bag
  • A fancy pen
  • A fancy journal
  • Chocolate

Hmm. Now that I look at these all in a row like that, it seems what I want for finishing a book includes only books and writing related things. Which bring me right back to writing. Oh, well.

Yes. Chocolate is involved. Chocolate is always involved. #don'tjudgeme

I Can Hardly Imagine Worse

I don't understand negative book reviews, and I have never been compelled to write one. If a book doesn't click with me, it doesn't click with me. Maybe if the book were racist, sexiest, and undecipherable, maybe I'd think that it would benefit society to hear my opinion. Otherwise, I recognize that nothing pleases everyone so if I read a book I don't like, I move on to the next book. My opinion about negative reviews was, unfortunately, exacerbated by my very worst one. You see, my worst review was also my FIRST review.

That's right. The very first review I received for my debut novel, HOUSE OF THE RISING SON, was a 1-star review. And it gets worse. The reviewer remarked, "I admit it. I skimmed it." She went on to say that she didn't like the main characters.

She hadn't even read it.

I am a realist. I hadn't expected the world to fall in love with me at first reading. I didn't think I was the next Laurell K. Hamilton. I just hoped some folks would find my book and enjoy the story, maybe connect with my characters. I knew that a book about a bisexual incubus with kids and a screwed up childhood wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea. Still, I couldn't have anticipated that someone who "skimmed" the book would be so publicly and permanently negative. Yes, 1-star reviews are permanent. They affect an overall rating in a way that is difficult to overcome, mathematically speaking. Fortunately, I'm surrounded by kind, generous, and experienced authors who talked me off of the ledge. I recall, in particular, a letter from syndicated columnist and author Vicki Williams. Her words of support and encouragement meant (and still mean) so much to me.

For giggles I read the 1-star reviews of my favorite books.Doing so helped me to understand something about the review process. Since nothing pleases everyone and we live in a world where the internet makes it easy for people to express all sorts of views, negative reviews are the cost of being a writer. Our work is public, therefore opinions about it will be too. It is also clear to me that most people don't understand the ramifications of negative reviews and consequently don't hesitate to give a very low rating for peculiar reasons. For instance:

  • "I skimmed it."  How do you know if it was good or bad?
  • "I hated the cover." Not a commentary on the story.
  • "Just got the book, I'll change the review after I read it." No. Just no.
  • "Not the type of book I care to read." And that deserves a low rating?
  • "I skipped every scene this character was in...The book was confusing." Of course it was confusing.

Overtime, House of the Rising Son received more reviews, including many 4 and 5-star accolades. The fact that readers enjoy Cheyenne's story (and find him as sexy as I do) is encouraging, and has strengthened my commitment to continue writing. I do still read my reviews (can't help myself) but I take them for what they are: One person's experience. Bad reviews are going to happen. So are good ones.

If I Could Just Talk to Them #MFRWAuthor #book #authors

The list of writers I would like to meet and talk with is long. I’ve always been an avid reader and was lucky enough to discover Ray Bradbury, Robert A. Heinlein, Anne MCCaffery, and Ursula LeGuin as relatively new writers. But before them, I had fallen under the spell of Andre Norton. Born Alice Mary Norton, she wrote at a time when publishers believed only boys read science fiction, and obviously only males could write it. She wrote other books under pen names Allen Norton or Allen Weston. Her juvenile fiction usually featured an outsider who survives challenges and becomes the hero figure, saving the day. This “rites of passage” theme appealed a broad audience making her a best seller to adults also. My love of “underdog heroes” can be attributed to her.

A little later, I discovered Barbara Michaels who I suppose would be classified as Gothic romance. Again the outsider, usually considered the “bad boy” in the beginning of the book would turn out to be the hero in the end.

I would love to talk to these women about how they withstood the prejudices against female authors (and readers) and flourished and became the leaders in their genre.

Some time between Norton and Micheals I discovered H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. Both these authors wrote in the 30’s but had a resurgence of popularity. I can almost understand my attraction for Conan who was born a slave but became a king. He does loosely fit my character preferences. But my attraction to the cult of Cthulhu confused me until I remembered The Dunwich Horror in which the truly bad guy was my favorite character. He became a bad guy because the townspeople hated his family and shunned him.

So my third author would be H.P. Lovecraft. I would love to understand the working of his imagination. And I would like him to know that while he was never recognized during his lifetime, 80 years later he and his creatures are an integral part of the horror genre.

My 4th and 5th authors are still living. I would love to talk to Tanya Huff and Poppy Z Brite and ask why they stopped writing my favorite books. Tanya moved from main characters who were gay males to write female main characters in the military. And Poppy went from anguished gay males to books that seem to be about food in New Orleans. If I could just talk to them, for even a moment, I'd also beg them to write just one more book in their old style.

 

The First is Always Special #MFRWAuthor

I have been writing most of my life. Although every story has a permanent place in my heart, House of the Rising Son is my favorite work. The obvious reason could be that it was my first traditionally published novel. Firsts always have a special place in your heart. But that isn’t the only reason it’s my favorite. It’s special to me because of Cheyenne. The original story was born in 1993. Cheyenne, the hero of the story, has changed over the years, and his family has had many incarnations. Some variations worked better than others. For example, Chey has always been a rockstar— the talent is in his blood—but being human didn’t seem to suit him.

Another aspect that has remained constant has been that this unlikely and totally unprepared rock star became a parent. His children’s ages, names, and even the number of his offspring have varied as Cheyenne’s world evolved. Only his reactions and judgments have changed. Consequently, some of Chey’s stories were adventures, others were love stories, most were funny and all were outrageous. He was not a hero to anyone or savior of anything in any of his previous lives.

When I decided to submit his story for publication and introduce him to the world, Cheyenne changed more than he ever had before. In House of the Rising Son I expanded the number of people in his life and focused less on his primary role as parent, instead focusing more on his role in the world as an important member of the Incubi Nation. Of course, he remained a rock star.

The sequel to House of the Rising Son is scheduled for publication later this year, with more books and short stories planned. It’s time for the rest of his story to be told. Then who know? Maybe his children’s stories will make their way into published works. I imagine it will be fun watching their stories unfold, too.