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Do you want to Ride the Train again?

On February 14, 2014, I released my debut novel, Ride the Train. The first draft was written in about six weeks, and the edits took nine months. I put a lot of effort into it, and with the help of multiple beta readers and the members of Nevermore Edits/A Murder of Storytellers, my labor of love greeted the world. It was the culmination of a dream I had had since I was a child.

Now, it's almost three years later. Ride the Train remains my baby. Like most babies, it has it's flaws, but I still love it. I'll defend it until the day that I die. However, that doesn't mean that I can't work to make it better than what it started out. With that in mind, I'm happy to announce that for the third anniversary, I am releasing a second edition for Ride the Train. With what I have learned as a writer and editor over the past three years, I feel that this will be a better version.

What I'm the happiest about, though, is the new cover! Megan Baker of TatteredWolf Studios has really outdone herself on this cover. For me, it's more than worthy of my baby. It has filled me with a renewed love for this project that started out as a short story and blossomed into a part of me that I've shared. Ride the Train was my debut, and it's only fair that I do right by it.

Over the next few days, the ebook pre-order will be available through Amazon, with the book releasing in both electronic and print formats on February 14, 2017. If you would like to order a signed physical copy of the book, you may do so here.

As a special tribute, I will be adding a signed, annotated copy of the book. This version will have handwritten notes and information about various items in the book. You'll gain access to the process I went through, what scenes were previously different, and other little tidbits. The annotated edition will be limited to only five copies (Ever. Period) and will be shipped as they become available.

Dark and Dangerous Things II, Part One

I was lucky enough to win a copy of this anthology at a ComiCon 2015 panel hosted by the authors. The reason I'm breaking this review into two parts is because I've been a bad person and haven't finished reading the whole book yet. I'm considering it a win, though, because that gives me two blog posts instead of one.

The Hunt of the Unicorn by Donna A. Leahey: As the title suggests this story deals with a hunt for a unicorn. It's set in the modern era when unicorns are not as plentiful as they once were, but they are still sought after by those who know the true healing and restorative properties of their horns and magic. One thing that I've come to expect from Leahey is that she has a great grasp of societal norms and how to turn them enough to still be recognizable when viewed from a different angle. I know that sounds weird and cryptic, but I don't like to give things away. While I figured out the direction of this story fairly quickly, it didn't make it any less enjoyable.  (Five Stars)

Vampire City by Madalyn Singer: This story focuses on a young vampire who is taxed with writing an essay on why Vampire City is the best city on the moon. It's imaginative and has a little bit of the exasperation everyone felt when having to write one of these mundane essays in school. Singer captures this well. My only issue with this story, and this is personal pet peeve, is the length of the paragraphs. They tend to run on the long side, but that doesn't detract from the piece. (Three Stars)

Crow Creek Road by Margaret Perdue: What would have happened to Gladys Kravitz if she had lived next door to a serial killer instead of Samantha Stephens on Bewitched? Possibly what happens to Molly Baxter in this piece, or possibly something more gruesome. I'll admit that I have a soft spot for werewolf stories, since werewolves are my favorite supernatural character. Perdue gives a great werewolf story that also manages to add suspense and tension. I read this one in bed, and I was definitely looking toward the closet on multiple occasions. The only issue I have with this story is being able to see a plot element coming from quite a ways off. (Four Stars)

The Practice Bride by M. A. Chiappetta: This story is inspired by Frankenstein and witnesses young Dr. Von Franck attempting to recreate the work of his grandfather.When he is approached by a descendant of his grandfather's creature, the doctor learns about family expectations from a different point of view. With the running plot of reanimating a female corpse, the creature, Cal, and Dr. Von Franck wonder which of them she will choose. Chiappetta takes a deep look into the darkness of family dynamics in a way that keeps interest in this longer piece. (Four Stars)

Fungus Amongus by L. A. Smith: I'm not going to lie. When I read the blurb before the story, I thought it was going to be boring and mundane. I thought I would lose interest quickly and just skim over the story. Well, I didn't. Actually, this is my favorite story of the first half I've read, and it could very well be my favorite of the entire anthology. I'm not going to give anything away. Just read it. (Five Stars)

Quiet Whisper by Donna A. Leahey: Who doesn't love a good revenge ghost story? Against the backdrop of domestic abuse, Annette has to figure out how to deal with her husband Stan. Luckily she has a friendly voice who offers suggestions and guidance around the flying fists and controlling behavior. I like that fact that Leahey adds an element to the revenge ghost story that I don't believe I've seen before. What is it? You'll have to find out for yourself. (Four Stars)

So, that leaves me with four more pieces to read and review. Based on what I've read so far, Dark and Dangerous Things II is a showcase of some talented authors who know how to tell a great story. Check it out for yourself, or you can wait until I finish part two of the review. But, honestly, why wait?

Of Noble Blood by E.P. Ferguson

Since becoming a part of A Murder of Storytellers and Nevermore Edits, I've begun reading and writing in genres that I typically wouldn't have approached before. One of those is horror. It's funny because I enjoy the works of Edgar Allen Poe, who, let's face it, had a great handle on things horrific and macabre and that tried the human spirit.

With all of that in mind, it brings me to this great addition to the genre, Of Noble Blood. This gothic horror work by E. P. Ferguson has been likened to the horror version of Downton Abbey or, as author Mac Boyle put it, John Carpenter's The Thing meets Downton Abbey. Those descriptions will give you a great idea for the mood and setting of the piece, but they won't fully prepare you for what lies inside, waiting to drag your imagination through a tumultuous hunt for the hidden monsters of the Aubyn family.

I'll admit that one of the things I was most skeptical about before reading Blood was the fact that each chapter is told from the first-person point of view of a different character. Most authors struggle to differentiate the voices of more than a few characters, so my hopes were not high that it could be done with an ensemble cast. Well, only a few chapters in, that skepticism was dashed. Ferguson's knowledge of the characters leads to a true understanding of them and an ability to bring out their darkest secrets and fears. Each character has a voice and point of view that is distinctly their own, and I never felt like I was in the head of anyone other than the character presented.

Another thing Ferguson does well is staying true to a hallmark of gothic horror that makes the setting a character, too. Hallow Manor, the home of the Aubyn family, has its own distinct presence throughout the novel. It is very much a living, breathing part of the main cast, and it does not fail to deliver on its promise of adding tension and strife to the plot. However, Ferguson doesn't stop with the house. The surrounding countryside and the secrets held within it become an integral part of the plot, and without them the story would not feel nearly as dark and foreboding as it does.

If you haven't bought a copy of Blood  by this point in your reading of this post, stop and do it now. It is available in both print and eBook format on Amazon.com. You will not be disappointed. This will also give you the ability to get on board with E.P. Ferguson, whose works in progress are also going to be equally as enjoyable as Of Noble Blood.

What's the Deal?

One of the most frustrating things for a writer is writer's block. It's a terrible feeling, and it can strike at any time. Oddly enough, my most recent bout of it came after finishing two novellas in a trilogy. Both novellas combined were over 40,000 words, which I had written in approximately one month's time. However, as soon as I started the third installment, I got into chapter two and realized I hated the direction of the story and had no idea how to fix it.

I'm constantly brainstorming and mulling ideas, and while the characters for the novella continued to 'speak' to me, I had no idea how to get them to where they ultimately needed to be.  Finally, I decided to break the one rule I absolutely had to set for myself several years ago--I edited/started over in order to reset my muse. Thankfully it worked, and over the past week I've been able to find new direction that works.

Now that I've overcome that stumbling block, I've been focusing on wrapping up the piece and also looking forward to the downhill slide toward the holidays and the end of the year. We all know the Christmas/holiday shopping season has begun. With that in mind, I've scheduled some holiday deals for Ride the Train and A Body to Die For.

Beginning on December 1, 2015 through December 7, 2015, both novels will be on a countdown deal at for the Kindle. For 80 hours you can get each eBook for $0.99, and then the price goes up to $1.99 for the remaining 80 hours of the deal. The great thing about this is that you can gift eBooks to friends and family, so if you've already purchased them, you can still get a great deal on a gift.

"Orson Welles of Mars" by Mac Boyle

On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles presented an hour-long broadcast of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds. Through simulated news stories, Welles described an invasion of Earth by alien creatures from Mars. The broadcast caused panic among the populace, and it helped to make Welles (in)famous overnight. But did Welles have his eyes set on only fame and glory, or was there a deeper purpose behind his actions? What was Welles not telling us?

Author Mac Boyle crafts an intriguing and page-turning alternate history look at the impact Orson Welles had on the world in his novel Orson Welles of Mars. Through usage of actual events, Boyle takes the reader on a fantastic ride through the life of one of the most influential men in Hollywood. Welles was both loved and hated by those around him, and Boyle captures the two-edged relationship well. Whether you know all there is to know about Welles, or if you've only ever heard about him in relation to The War of the Worlds or Citizen Kane, by the time you finish this novel, you will feel as if you knew Welles personally. 

Boyle does a great job of capturing the voice and ego of Welles and bringing it to vivid life. The supporting cast of characters, both factual and fictional, help to formulate an opinion of Welles and his actions. The novel is also full of humor, imagination, and action that will keep you reading until you've finished the entire book. This novel is highly recommended for those who are interested in Orson Welles, for fans of sci-fi and/or alternate history, and for those who enjoy well-crafted stories that capture the imagination and fuel the "what if...?"

Orson Welles of Mars is slated for release in paperback and eBook formats on December 15, 2015. In the meantime, you can check out Boyle's other novel, The Devil Lives in Beverly HillsIt also features a look into the life of Welles as he attempts to thwart the destruction of all life at the hands of an ancient evil. While Devil is the first in a trilogy with Orson Welles of Mars being the second, each book stands on its own, and reading one is not absolutely necessary to enjoy the other.

Confessions of a Reformed Pre-Editor

This post doesn't contain any new or revolutionary information. As a matter of fact, it's something that gets said a lot. I think there's a reason for that, and as someone who has fallen into the trap on a regular basis, I don't think it's something that can be said too often.

Last night while talking to a friend who is showing an increased interest in putting his own ideas into words, I told him the best thing he can do is just to vomit out the rough draft. Don't go back and read. Don't worry about inconsistencies or plot holes. Forget about the fact that you had a great idea for a character who isn't introduced until halfway through the piece, who suddenly becomes more interesting than the protagonist. 

Just get the words out onto the page or the screen.

Therein lies the problem for a fair amount of authors. We want perfection. We want everyone to love our piece as much as we do, so we go over it and over it. The details have to be just right. The word choices. This is our baby, and we have to present it in all its glory to the world.

The only problem with that is we sometimes can't move on. There are still times when I think about Ride the Train and wish I had written a passage differently. There should have been a different word choice. Or, as some of my readers have brought up on occasion, maybe a certain character could have lived. Knowing all of the edits, re-writes, and re-re-writes I did with that novel--not to mention cutting about 20,000 words from the rough draft to the final draft--some might think it's crazy to still think about changes to a novel that was published almost two years ago.

But I do.

Even now the urge to go back and edit what I'm currently writing is sometimes too hard to resist. I think it's okay to break your own self-imposed rule every once in a while. However, when editing an in-progress piece takes more of your time and focus than writing that piece, you've got a problem. There is always time to edit, but creativity and progress are stifled by the desire to make a piece into something it will never be--perfect.

That Magical Time of Year

As the title says, it's that magical time of year again. No, I don't mean the time change where we "fall back" and spend a week or two thinking that's it's really X time instead of Y time, or that it's getting dark way too early. And, no, I don't mean the argument over "Happy Holidays" vs. "Merry Christmas" or the trumped up disgust over what stores are open on what day at Thanksgiving. I'm talking about NaNoWriMo.

For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo stand for National Novel Writing Month. This is the month--November--each year where authors challenge themselves to write 50,000 words between November 1st and November 30th. It's intended to get the creative juices flowing and motivate authors to push themselves toward a goal. There are events where authors get together to write and encourage each other. I've participated in NaNo for the past two years, but this year I've decided I'm not going to do it.

So, at this point you're either asking why I'm not participating or why you're still bothering to read this blog post. In response to the first part, I've decided to not participate in NaNo because I have found that it has the opposite of the intended effect for me.

NaNo DE-motivates me, and here's how. You have to write an average of 1, 667 words per day to meet the goal of 50,000 words. For some authors, including me, that generally isn't an issue. During October, writing only on weekends, I cranked out about 30,000 words alone. If I wrote every day, I could write more than 50,000. However, there is some psychological effect that deadlines have on me, and others, that if they aren't met, they become demoralizing. If you don't write your 1,667 words one day, you can make them up the next, but then it adds up and add up until eventually you're buried under an impossible avalanche of math and words.

I read a blog post yesterday that said the muse is a dilettante, who must be coaxed and wrangled into being something other than a fickle creature giving out inspiration on a whim as she sees fit. My response to that was to say my muse is a dominatrix with a whip fetish. The night before last she kept me up until almost 4:00 a.m. to write, and it was amazing. But I know that as soon as I agree to NaNo, she'll get exasperated, and the word flow will trickle down to a frustrated few words per day that do nothing but kill my creativity.

So, no NaNo for me, but if you're not what one friend has called me--weird--then good luck to you on your journey through November. I hope you come out the other side 50,000 words closer to your novel, or to multiple short stories, or to whatever your goal is. As for me, I'm content to keep keep my muse content.

 

The Non-Gendered Character

Yesterday I attended the Women in Genre Fiction panel at Tulsa ComiCon. The presenters are local authors from A Murder of Storytellers and The Purple Ink Writers, and they discussed not only female characters in all forms of media, but also characters from minority groups--i.e., non-white male. 

After the panel I had the opportunity to speak to a fellow attendant, who wanted to discuss writing non-gendered characters. While this isn't something I do on a regular basis, it is definitely something that I enjoy doing. Whether I do it well or not is open to interpretation, but I prefer to think that I've got a good grasp of how to do it. In case you don't know, non-gendered characters are those that the author never specifically identifies as male or female. Most often their physical attributes are not described. If they are named by the author, which is rare for me to do, the name will be one that could apply to either male or female.

Non-gendered characters, which I usually refer to as The Narrator or some other moniker, work best in situations where either a male or female character would logically be. For my short story Finding Annie, The Narrator falls in love with a man, gets married, can't have children, and then...well, let's just say the story doesn't end well. The thing is, these are all situations that could happen to a man or a woman. The Narrator is never described, and his/her emotions are ones that anyone could experience.

Like I told the woman at ComiCon, the reader is the one who will make the decision--or not--if The Narrator is male or female. This is done most often through the lens of the reader's own gender, expectations of gender roles, what the reader considers to be subtle hints in the story, and a vast number of other personal ideas, issues, and reasons that are unique to each person. 

The reason I use a non-gendered character is most often because I want to look at how a person would experience a situation, and I don't want to look at it from either a male or female perspective. Society has its norms and mores for what is male and what is female, and sometimes it's nice to work outside of those constructs and be unfettered. It's nice to look at things from a human perspective, instead, because we all know that while there are average males/females, there are also those who exist outside of the average group.

With all of that in mind, I would be interested in reading other examples of non-gendered characters. If you know of any examples in any works, leave a comment so I--and others--can check them out.

Happy Little Mistakes

I've heard other authors who have said they don't submit a new piece to their critique group until they've completed at least one edit of the rough draft. While I'm definitely of the mind that authors should do what works best for them, I think they may be missing out on an opportunity.

With only one exception that I can think of, I submit nothing but rough drafts for critique. The primary reason for this is because I don't always get all of my thoughts out onto the page in a way that is coherent to anyone other than me. Another reason is because I tend to incredibly simplify most things, and there is a need to elaborate. It's easier for me to know when that is based on what others experience when reading my work.

But probably the primary reason I submit rough drafts is because of the opportunity it creates for me to brainstorm ideas and take pieces in directions I hadn't thought of before. The most recent example of this would be a novella that I am working on. Now, I did break my Prime Directive in that I made some changes to the rough draft before submitting it. However, that created a situation where a character who shouldn't know something actually did. I didn't catch it until it was pointed out to me, and I started thinking about the possibilities.

And then, while driving the other day the reason for that knowledge slammed into my brain with such clarity. Amorphous plot details for the climax of the book suddenly took shape, and that happy little mistake I had made in chapter one of a rough draft suddenly became a pivotal point for the end. I can safely say that I don't believe that would have happened if I hadn't submitted the rough draft to a group of people who are keen readers.

So, if you're the type to polish and polish before letting others read, I would encourage you to take a chance once in a while to give them the rough draft. You just might find yourself pleasantly surprised with the results.

Visual Learners Unite

Hello. My name is Shannon, and I'm a visual learner. Maybe I should clarify that even more to say I learn better by having a person show me how to do something instead of having a tutorial show me how to do something. Especially a tutorial that was written by a tech-savvy person who know absolutely what he/she's doing and trying to make it friendly enough that people like me can use it.  Take, for example, learning how to connect my blog to my Facebook page.

Simple, easy to follow written instructions are easy enough to find, and they start out being easy enough to follow. Until I get to the point where I have to find a specific option that I'm supposed to reach by double clicking on a certain item. Except I don't have to double click. I just have to hover the cursor over a particular part of the page and wait for the option to appear.  Of course, I don't realize that until my anxiety and frustration levels are reaching critical mass, and I breakdown and ask for that most dreaded of things--help. 

And due to whatever law governs these things, as soon as I say I need help, the person moves the cursor to exactly the right spot, and I get to look like an idiot. Hurray! Well, at least it's done, and now everything works the way it's supposed to. Actual Hurray!  

Hello...again

So you've probably noticed there hasn't been much activity on this page for some time. Sorry about that. After a bout of creativity death, where I didn't want to write or be active in the writing community, I finally got my mojo back. In a big, bad way.

If you take a few minutes to look over the site, you'll notice I've made some updates and changes. One of the big changes that will be coming is reviews of indie books. I'm just getting started on that, so come back as often as you like to see what other authors have in store for you.

Cover Reveal

I'm excited and happy to reveal the cover design for my first cozy mystery, A Body to Die For, which will be released in January, 2015This is will be the first novel of The Strip Mall Mysteries series.

eBook copies can be ordered here.

The cover was designed by TatteredWolf Studios.  You can learn more about them here.

Under Construction

In case you haven't noticed it, a lot of things have changed for me.  The biggest change has come in the form of my last name.  Thanks to the state of Oklahoma being dragged, kicking AND screaming, into the 21st century, I was able to get married on October 26, 2014.  It was great to be able to do that in my home state instead of having to travel several hundred miles.  The ceremony was short and sweet with the focus being on spending time with friends and family afterward.  It was a great memory that I will cherish.

With that in mind, you'll still see my name as Bozarth on Ride the Train and Happy Days, Sweetheart, but all up-coming publications will be under Iwanski.

In the meantime, shannonbozarth.com should be redirecting to this site.  I'm going to apologize right now for the slow state of construction here.  To steal a mechanism from Dr. "Bones" McCoy from Star Trek, I'm an author, not a web page designer.  So please bear with me.  I promise this place will start looking better.  

Death Has a Name

DHAN.jpg

One of the things I want to do as an author is to help promote other authors.  If you’ve never tried to market yourself or your books, you have no idea how much hard work and time it takes.  So, why not give a shout-out to other dedicated wordsmiths who are doing what they love?

Death Has a Name by Jerry Hanel is the first novel in a paranormal thriller/detective series that follows Brodie Wade.  As a child, Brodie was taken from his mother when unexplained injuries began appearing on his body.  On top of those were the ‘hallucinations.’  Unfortunately, what no one knew or would believe when told, was that Brodie can see The Truth.  The Truth manifests itself as an opaque, white mist that emanates from anything and everything that has a desire to be understood or known.  Whether it’s the body of a murder victim or a police file containing evidence, there’s always something that wants Brodie’s attention.  Since no one else can see it, Brodie comes off as unbalanced–which he pretty much is.

Now, I don’t like synopses of books where the plot and characters are explained in detail.  Why even bother reading the book if you know everything that happens?  It’s like being told who the killer is and then reading a mystery novel.  Having said that, I will tell you that Brodie isn’t my favorite character in the book.  That would be Detective Phil Dawson.  Phil has a good heart mixed in with the skills of a life-long cop.  He basically serves as Brodie’s handler, and he certainly has his hands full.  It’s Phil’s down-to-earth demeanor that makes Brodie’s (at times) over-the-top idiosyncrasies easier for me to handle.

Death Has a Name is a quick, easy read.  It might take some time to bond with the characters, but the plot moves along very quickly once it gets going.  As with any book, there are predictable aspects to it, and there are characters that are cookie-cutter cliches, but for the most part you’ll definitely find aspects of them to appreciate and enjoy.

On Amazon.com, the novel has 23 5-star ratings and 27 4-star ratings.  If I was to rate the book, I would probably fall into the 4-star category, but that’s only because I’m nit-picky about some of the writing mechanics, and for me the main character isn’t the main character.  I’ve already purchased a (signed) copy of the second book in the series, Thaloc Has a Body, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

If you want to know more about author Jerry Hanel and his other novels, check him out on Facebook.