Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Friday, December 30, 2022

My Year in Reading


It was a very good year for reading. (Cue in Frank Sinatra) But I’m not quite sure it was a vintage wine, year, sweet and clear, though I read some very good books.

Just for the record, I have three ring binder in my possession that lists the 100 books I read in 1966, the 56 in 1967, 53 in 1970, and the 25 I read from Jan to April in 1971. After that, the record gets sparse until I started recording the books I read again in 2021, with a total of 18. This year I have more than doubled that to 40 books. Or to be more precise, I started reading 40 books. It, however, has never been my policy to waste my time reading books I don’t like just because I started them. So looking down my list I find that I finished 25 of them, DNF’n 15 of them. Not a bad ratio, at least for me.

For new books, Michael Graeme’s A Lone Tree Falls, earned an A- from me. I had a lot of fun writing a tongue in cheek review of it in something like his style. He writes something like your grouchy, the-world-is-going-to-hell-in-a-handcart grandpa, but there was an interesting secret service story running through all his grouching that made it enjoyable. John Hadfield’s Love on a Branch Line was a much more lighthearted story that I discovered via a BBC production that is available on YouTube. I had order this book from England, via Abe books, as it is out of print. (And got a very nice hardcover copy as well.) I rated it a B+. A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine earned a B, but I find I’ve no desire to read the next book in the series. Sadly, the rest of my more recently written books did not fare as well.

I read two W. Somerset Maugham stories, Cakes and Ale, and The Moon and Sixpence that I enjoyed, Cakes and Ale more than The Moon and Sixpences as it involved writers and had a lot to say about writing that is still relevant today. I also read two Compton Mackenzie books, Monarch of the Glen and Whisky Galore and am reading The Rival Monster, all of which I enjoyed. I am going to continue to look for books from the first half of the last century which seems my spiritual home for reading.

I made an effort to discover good fantasy books, sampling books from the best writers in the genre. I tried two Guy Gavriel Key books, Children of Earth and Sky, and River of Stars, DFN'ed both mainly for the fact that I need a central character to follow though a story. Stories with multiple points of view, especially with so-so characters do not work for me. I then tried Robin Hobb’s Ship of Magic, which also had multiple point of view characters, all who seemed to drone on and on about the trivial details of their life, which was I suppose her way of world building, but I didn’t find a character that I cared about. DNF’ed it as well some 43% into it. (I tried...) I did read two Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn novels that TOR offered for free, Alloy of Law and Shadows of Self that I rated C & D. I had been told that one of the characters that I liked played a larger part in the second book, which is why I continued reading it long after I would’ve DNF’ed it, but sadly this wasn’t the case. I downloaded the third book in the series, but won’t be reading it. Early in the year, I read Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch and rated it a B- but once again, I won’t be reading on with the series. Indeed, I’m not likely to read any more fantasy books.

I read 13 books in the science fiction genre, I finished 7 of them. The worst book I attempted to read was Gene Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer. Wolfe may be a f**k’n genius, but not in my opinion. I sometimes wonder if you make something incoherent enough people people think you’re just too brilliant and after several readings discover their own meanings in it. I also tried a Peter F Hamilton book. I felt that it had way too many points of view and a slog to read, even as far as I did, which was 10%, but it was a long book. I made it all the way through James S A Corey’s Leviathan Wakes, but won’t be continuing on with that series either. Plus I read a few other older SF books, none of which sparked my old love of SF. Long story short, except for an author I know I like, I won’t be reading much if any SF anymore either.

Looking ahead, There is one book I am looking forward to, and that is Redside Story by Jasper Fforde, a sequel to perhaps my favorite SF story Shades of Grey. There were supposed to be two sequels, but they were never written because sales of Shades of Grey disappointed the publisher. However, a year ago I discovered that he planned to wrap up the story in one volume. It was supposed to be released last August, but that was pushed back to now July 2023. Fforde has a history of struggling to finish books, so we’ll see if he can finish it in time for a July release. Other than this book, I’ll probably to continue to explore more old time writers hoping to discover more lighthearted novels from 1900 – 1950’s, which seems to be my cup of tea.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

The Sunsets of Summer 2022

It is my custom to sit out in the evening at the end of my garage and watch the sunset every day in the summer, when there's one to see. These days we live in a condo on the top of a hill, with a wide view to the west. Below are the highlights of the summer of 2022.

July 5

July 22

July 25

August 2

August 19

Friday, December 23, 2022

A Lone Tree Falls Review


A Lone Tree Falls by Michael Graeme A-

Michael Graeme’s A Lone Tree Falls concerns itself with many things. Set in the rather dystopian world of present day England – at least in the eyes of the story’s narrator – it is a mystery novel, a British spy novel, a mundane fantasy, a dark warning of things to come that speculates on the mystery of life, all woven together in a literate style. If it is not literary fiction, it walks close to the line, interweaving thoughtful commentary on life, change, aging, and metaphysics together with black pebble eyed mobsters, with posh corrupt millionaires, ruthless professional spies, half mad magicians, if you believe in such stuff, and ordinary, everyday, people trying to make a go of life.

The first person narrator of this novel is one George Swift. George who is a retired spook. An analyst for the British Secret service. A backroom fellow who shot only one adversary between the eyes – in self defense – during his 30 year career which he served mostly abroad. By exchanging hotel rooms with a diplomat, a common precaution, he gets bombarded with microwave energy – or some such thing – meant for the diplomat that inflicts the foggy brain symptoms known as the infamous Havana Syndrome. No longer sharp enough to do his job, he’s retired early. Having lived largely on his per diem, he has a large bank account to see him through his retirement years, and files to keep him, hopefully, safe.

We get to know George Swift, if not Michael Graeme, pretty well in the course of the novel.

W. Somerset Maugham once wrote about first person singular stories, “As we grow older, we become more conscious of the complexity, incoherence and unreasonableness of human beings; this indeed is the only excuse that offers for the middle-aged or elderly writer, whose thoughts should more properly be turned to graver matters, occupying himself with the trivial concerns of imaginary people. For if the proper study of mankind is man it is evidently more sensible to occupy yourself with the coherent, substantial and significant creatures of fiction than the irrational and shadowy figures of real life. Sometimes the novelist feels himself like God and is prepared to tell you everything about his characters; sometimes, however, he does not; and then he tells you not everything that is to be known about them, but the little he knows himself; and since as we grow older we feel ourselves less and less like God I should not be surprised to learn that with advancing years the novelist grows less and less inclined to describe more than his own experience has given him. The first person singular is a very useful device for this limited purpose.

But I digress. You're reviewing a book, Charlie.

I can’t say if Graeme’s George Swift is much like himself, but George has a lot to say about himself, and the world he finds himself back in, after so many years abroad. Less so, about some of his other characters, as befitting a novel concerning the secret service, and indeed, the even more secret world of mystics and magicians who have explored the universe we live in and have found ways to tap it, and, at the risk of madness, manipulate it. In this shadowy world where magic, or the knowledge of the universe exists that allows for its manipulation, George Swift is merely a mystic. He understands it, a little, and gains insight but does not manipulate it. Though foggy-brained and pushing 60, if not beyond, George is a deceptively dangerous man. He still knows how to play the game, and plays it well, if cautiously.

The story opens with George returning to the midlands town of his youth to settle the estate of his recently deceased father. He finds himself a stranger in a strange land. The England of his golden youth is now uglier, poorer, and far more corrupt than the land he remembered, as we all find when we return, after a long time, to the land of our own golden youth. He has much to say about this dystopian England that he sees around him, and in the first 50 or 60 pages of this novel, the plot thread hangs, almost unseen, on a meadow with an ancient tree decked with ribbons with cryptic runes in cipher, a faceless company trying to buy that meadow in order to turn it to more cheap houses, a black pebble eyed gangster with two vicious dogs who now lives behind his childhood home playing loud music at all hours, and nice girl that serves him coffee. I mention this only because the deeper plot is slow to get started. It starts with a trickle. Patience must be had. And indeed, even as the plot turns into a steam, it still winds and weaves its way through many thoughtful observations, inner thoughts, and conversations with you, dear reader.

At any rate, the secret service, or elements of it, are interested in that meadow, or rather the girl connected to the meadow – who seems to be a rather special girl, a girl with special talents – who George met at the coffee shop and again at the garden shop. She opposes the sale of the meadow, wrote the runes hanging on the tree, and is in some sort of danger. By chance, George’s presence in this part of England, his rambles through his old haunts, including the tree and meadow, are observed by his old employer, tying him to this girl, sparking the interest of his old secret service boss. George is summoned, questioned, and then assigned the task of keeping this girl safe from someone or something unknown.

And that, I think is as far as I will go into the plot. I hate spoilers and reviews that summarize the entire story. All I will say about the plot, is that while this novel serves up much more than just the plot – from speculation about how climate change will alter the very fabric of Britain to how the universe works – do we create it in our own minds, so that a lone tree that falls makes no sound if we don’t hear it, or are we products of a dreaming universe – that there is, in fact, a strong, well constructed plot that leads to a satisfying conclusion. In short, however much this river winds, it finds the sea at last. That said, I suppose that if you stopped reading this review some time back, you probably would find Graeme’s The Lone Tree Falls not to your taste. But if you happen to find yourself still here, I think I can safely say that you will enjoy this novel. I highly recommend it.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Happy Holidays To All!


Above are a couple of views from our deck on the first sunny day in almost two weeks. Strangely enough this storm came from the southeast, which is a very rare direction for weather to arrive in Wisconsin. Needless to say, we'll be having a white Christmas, as its currently -1 F with our high temps predicted to be in the single digits (F) and lows below zero for the coming week, along with 3 days with more light snow - maybe another 6 inches. Ah, winter, what a wonderful time to hibernate! (And write novels.)

I hope all of you have a wonderful holiday season for whatever holiday you celebrate, or just survive!

Below is a scene from the winter holidays in the imaginary country I rambled about in for several decades painting.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Whisky, Cakes, Ale, and the Moon


The Movie Poster rather than the book cover

Whisky Galore by Compton Mackenzie A-

He wrote this book in 1947, six years after Monarch of the Glen. It features all new characters, but refers to characters in the fist book in his loose set of Highland stories. It is set in 1943 on two small, fictional islands, Greater Todday and Little Todday, that lay off the west coast of Scotland. It concerns the everyday life on those islands through the lens of two marriages and a drought of whisky, and then a flood of it. It opens with Sargeant-major Odd returning to the islands after a stint in North Africa, eager to meet his fiancée and set a date for their wedding. Her widowed father, however, is not eager to see her married, and drags his feet about setting the date. In the meanwhile a mild mannered school teacher also wants to get married, but he must find the courage to overcome the opposition of his domineering mother. As the story opens, the war has disrupted the supply of scotch to the island there’s no whisky on the island for 15 days and counting, to the dismay, and despair of the inhabitants of both islands. Toss in a number of colorful characters, the wreck of a ship carrying 50,000 cases of scotch whisky bound for the US to pay for the war on the rocks of Little Todday in a fog, the concerns of the non-native captain of the Home Guard (Dad’s Army) and Mackenzie has his canvas to paint his humorous picture of rural life in the Scottish highlands and the home front in the midst of WW ll. I have often said that I like small stories – that I don’t need someone saving the world – to make a story interesting, and Whisky Galore is a perfect example of one such story.

I have the third story in the omnibus edition I purchased, The Rival Monster yet to read. I’ll probably get to it before the end of the year.

Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham B+

I came across this book in a review by Michael Graeme, here . He does it more justice than I can. It is a story about writers, and being one myself, I was curious enough to read the “Look Inside” sample on Amazon, which I found to be just the sort of writing I love. That is to say, clever, witty, satirical. If nothing else, just read it. The story concerns the narrator, an author, who is asked another author to jot down his memories of yet another now famous and dead author, that the narrator knew in his youth. The central question is how much can he tell about the early career of this famous writer and his first wife? The story was rather controversial in its day, as Maugham based his fictional characters rather closely, and rather unflatteringly, on real authors, the live one being Hugh Walpole with the dead one being Thomas Hardy.

As for the story itself, it tells its story more than shows it, as it is the fashion of today. Maugham uses the story to talk about writing and the social life writers of the late Victorian period, as the spins his fictional memoir of his youth and the goings on of his fictional writer, Edward Driffield and his wife of that period, their sins and virtues as well as his. While it is not my ordinary style of story or writing, I enjoyed the change of pace, and in fact, went on to read his The Moon and Sixpence.

The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham B

In his introduction Maugham says that he has no problem using real life event, places, and things he comes across as the basis of his novels. In this case he uses the life of the painter Paul Gauguin who famously went off and painted his masterpieces on the island of Tahiti. Maugham spent some time on Tahiti during the first world war. In the novel, Charles Strickland, the fictional Gauguin is a stockbroker that leaves his wife and two children to take up the life of painting first in Paris and then in Tahiti. Strickland is portrayed as a man totally committed to creating beauty, as he sees it, without any regard for anyone else. He comes across as rude, cruel, thoughtless, selfish, and careless of the harm he inflicts on everyone around him. The major part of the story is set Paris as told by the first person narrator, a writer like Maugham who also lived in Paris for a time – after leaving his wife. Strickland’s life on Tahiti is told by people who encountered him during his years on the island since the narrator arrived on the island after the artist’s death, and after he became famous.

Once again, Maugham uses his story to speculate on a wide range of subjects as well as art. He carries on a conversation with the reader as he tells rather than shows the story, though, like in Cakes and Ale, there is always scenes with dialog interwoven in the telling of the story. I don’t usually like unpleasant characters, and this book hasn’t changed my mind on that, but it was interesting enough – and described life a hundred plus years ago vividly enough to keep me reading, and mostly enjoying the story. I have no idea how closely this piece of fiction traces the life and personality of Paul Gauguin, though I suppose the answer is just 12 key strikes away. I just haven’t done that yet.

There are four more novels in the omnibus edition of W. Somerset Maugham I purchased. I might give The Razor’s Edge a try at some point in the future. We’ll see. But for now, I think I have all the Maugham I care to sample.

Friday, December 9, 2022

The Making of the Girl on the Kerb (Part 3)


The Girl on the Kerb, my new standalone for 2023, will be released sometime in Q1 2023. In this series of posts I recount the struggle to come up with a new story to write. You can find the first two parts here:

Part 1

Part 2

In those first to entries regarding this book, I discussed some of the story ideas that went into creating The Girl on the Kerb, since it is very much of a Frankenstein novel, i.e. one made up from parts of other, failed, story ideas. The short version of those entries is that I wanted a story set in a far future/post new ice-age Europe with a civil war looming over it that included the possibility that the advanced technology from the pre-ice-age might have been discovered and was going to be used as a weapon.

Fast forward to the summer of 2021. After spending several years writing short novels – I considered them more as stories and full novels, I wanted to write a real, standalone novel. And I thought that having written Keiree, set on Mars 1500 years after a deadly plague swept across the solar system, destroying Earth’s space traveling solar system wide civilization, that it might be interesting to see how Earth itself fared, after a similar time had passed. So I spent the summer daydreaming up Earth 1500 years after the plague.

The Earth I came up had all its natural resources exhausted in the building of its solar system spanning civilization, so the survivors of the plague had a finite limit to their resources, i.e. the recycled remains of the Solar Age civilization that remained on earth, since space travel was no longer possible.

Drawing from my discarded stories, I had the Yellowstone super volcano erupt shortly after the plague wiped out 75%-80% of the population, its earthquakes devastating the largely deserted cites of North America and burying the land in ash. Fifteen hundred years later, the surviving North American population, fiercely independent, is divided into small nations/tribes and living at a 19th century agricultural level. It is now considered a special cultural reservation by the world wide government, with limited trade, and travel with the rest of the world. In the past I've toyed with an America like this for a story, but in this one I’ve used this setting only for the background experience of the narrator. He is an analytical engineer who spent several years as an archaeologist in the “wilds” of North America excavating Solar Age cities and tech buried in the ash. This experience made him a desirable candidate  as a volunteer secret agent, as the various regional governments of the world do not employ spies to spy on each other. Not officially, anyway.

Meanwhile the rest of the world – the parts that are still inhabited, and many remote parts aren’t since population growth is very slow – are governed by a world wide bureaucracy, as it had been in the Solar Age. This government is without leaders or politicians. Rather everyone and every aspect of the society is codified under an all-encompassing decision-tree known as the “Code.” The Code is so elaborate that it specifies how the society runs without recourse to new ideas or grey areas. For example cases in business or the law are determined by taking each aspect of the case down through an “if this than that” decision tree until the final decision is reached. Every alteration of a product must go through a similar process to determine it impact on the finite resources left on Earth. The remaining Solar Age technology allows the police to examine the memories of possible criminals to determine guilt, so that people accused of criminal action are examined and their guilt or innocence established by these machines, their punishment determined by the Code.

Much of the Solar Age buildings and technology being redundant, due to the much reduced population, has been torn down and stored away for recycling as needed – since it must last the life of humanity on Earth. To that end, the society’s technology is much reduced from the Solar Age, to something resembling the mid-20th century with trains, cars, newspapers, radios, but not things like full scale computers, or cell phones, etc. This gives me the opportunity to write the old fashioned stories I enjoy, while also giving me the freedom to treat them as I care to.

So I had my setting. The easy part. But what about a story? Always the hard part for me. The story concept that I spent the summer playing around with – unsuccessfully – was that though much of the Solar Age technology was now either buried in the ash of North America, scraped, and/or banned by the Code, there existed a secret society made up of several hundred families who were preserving all this Solar Age technology and knowledge. They were the rich and powerful families of the world, with their members holding the highest positions in the bureaucracy. They kept this knowledge alive with some shadowy end in mind. The characters in the story would get some sort of hint of this society and slowly uncover its secrets. Perhaps one of the characters would discover that they were a member of one such family before they had been initiated into the secret. Or something. Alas, despite a summer thinking about it, I could not come up with any real story line using this premise, and so as the summer drew to a close, I reluctantly shelved this world, only to revisit it in November after working on a sequel to Keiree, and starting a new Nine Star Mystery/Adventure story, The Aerie of a Pirate Prince that I only finished after writing The Girl on the Kerb. But I’ll save how I finally reached the final version of The Girl on the Kerb for the next and last installment.

Friday, December 2, 2022

Woo and Wednesday


This week I thought I would talk about two rather dissimilar TV series that share one feature key feature in common, a central character who is a young women who has considerable trouble expressing her emotions and fitting into society.

Extraordinary Attorney Woo

Extraordinary Attorney Woo is a 16 episode South Korean TV series on Netflix. The extraordinary attorney Woo, played by Park Eun-bin, is on the autistic spectrum. Her father was studying to be an attorney, and from a very young age, she had began reading books on the law. Being very intelligent, and possessing a photographic memory, she grows up to graduate with the highest honors from the finest university in Korea. However, given her limited social skills – and her vast knowledge of whales and dolphins that she is eager to share – she has a hard time finding employment despite her uncanny knowledge of Korean law. The show opens with her landing a job as a rookie attorney at a prestigious law firm, and follows the ups and downs of her career while at the same time, filling in her back story. Her success lies in her uncanny ability to see beyond the obvious elements of the case and find elements of Korean law that apply. In addition, it explores the sometimes iffy relationship between clients and what is right, as well as the price of these highly paid, but highly competitive and demanding jobs, even as it recounts her struggle to fit in, be accepted, and make friendships.

The actress portraying Attorney Woo, Park Eun-bin, does an amazing job of staying within the character of an autistic person, and the show never has her break her autistic character to become more “normal.” Indeed, the series closes with her going off to work, now a full attorney, just like her she did on her first day on the job. I highly recommend this show for not only its appealing star, but for its supporting characters and interesting story lines. In my opinion, stories about growing friendships make for the best stories. This is one of them.


Wednesday is an eight part Netflix series that follows the boarding school career of Wednesday Addams, of The Addams Family fame. The fictional family was originally created as a series of one panel cartoons by Charles Addams, which appeared in the New Yorker magazine over a 50 year period beginning in 1938.

I was introduced to the family in the 1964 TV show, which the family was less evil than in the cartoons which ran for two seasons, and in reruns forever. I haven’t seen any of the film versions.

Wednesday is set in an alternative reality where various archetypes of mythical monsters – vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters, telapaths, etc – actually exist and are part of society – sort of. They are the "Outcasts." Wednesday is sent to Nevermore Academy a school for these outscasts, after being expelled from many other schools. For various reasons, Wednesday has a great difficulty expressing emotions – even as she finds friends at Nevermore. The story revolves around a central mystery that involves several murders, and a monster in the woods. The show runner is Tim Burton, and I suspect that set up certain expectations that may not have been met, considering the mixed reception the show has received. I had no expectations – the trailers looked promising, but I have low expectations for American TV, so it was pretty much a wash for me. Plus, I am not a horror fan. However, I am happy to report that I enjoyed the show, with some reservations. Part of that enjoyment may have come from the set and its visual look and feel. I enjoyed A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix for similar reasons. But over all, I found the story generally enjoyable, for once again it revolved around finding friendship.

That said, the show was far from perfect, in my opinion. It suffered from the basic flaw of mysteries for me, which is to say they lean was to heavily on the theory that more murders you have, the higher the tension, the greater the stakes. It certainly could have been just as atmospheric and menacing with fewer killings, but subtly is not an American virtue. It had several mysteries, one of which was solved rather easily in the middle of the series. And quite frankly, the last episode which tied up the overarching mystery, was both over the top and lame at the same time. Key characters seemed to completely abandoned their previous characteristics, and not just the ones hiding secrets. I’m not going to get into spoilers, but let’s just say that things had to go on off camera to bring certain people together the way they came together that I find it hard to imagine ever happening. This episode. in particular, brought down my opinion of the show but I would watch its next season. And seeing that it is the highest viewed series ever on Netflix, I expect to see a second season, despite its rather mixed reviews.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Monarch of the Glen by Compton Mackenzie Review

Monarch of the Glen, the painting.

The Monarch of the Glen by Compton Mackenzie A (and NOT on the curve.)

As I stated in my Final Quest post several weeks ago, after sampling different genre and contemporary writing, I decided to return to my true roots in non-SFF writing, which is to say books written in the first half of the 20th century, give or take a decade. I wanted something light and bright, and didn’t already have on my bookshelves, so to that end, I ordered a second hand copy of Compton Mackenzie’s The Highland Omnibus, which includes three of his “Highland Novels”, The Monarch of the Glen, (1941) Whisky Galore(1947) and The Rival Monster (1952).

I am pretty certain that I have read this, and the other two novels, years ago, though I found that I remembered nothing of this story. The Monarch of the Glen (A pun on a famous painting of a deer) concerns a Scottish laird, Donald MacDonald of Ben Nevis, the 23rd of that family line, his wife, three sons and two daughters, plus friends, and his millionaire American guests, Chester Royde, his wife Carrie, and his sister Myrtle. The story recounts his efforts to marry one of his sons to Myrtle who stands to inherit millions. In addition there is a war against campers, who have disregarded his “No Camping” signs on his estate. All in the service of poking affectionate fun at Scots highland customs, language, weather and attitudes, with plenty of asides regarding English customs and foibles as well, so I won’t bother to recount the plot. For me the story is all about its writing.

As I have said in the past, I love clever, witty, and accomplished writing. Almost all of my favorite writers are British, or in the case of Raymond Chandler, English educated. There is something in how they use their language that I find delightful, though, of course, there is a wide spectrum of British writers, so that not all appeal to me. It is the light, bright, and atmospheric ones that I find so wonderful, and Compton Mackenzie falls into this category. Now, some of his stories are quite serious, but his Highland Novels, are meant to be funny, and they are. I could quote half a dozen lines here to support that, but well, humor is subjective, and perhaps taken out of context, the lines would fail to amuse, so I won’t. Suffice to say that I grinned, laughed out loud, and simply appreciated the man’s talent.

There is a British TV show with this name as well. I recall watching a season or two of it somewhere, but it’s connection with the book, if any at all, is tenuous at best, set, as it is, in modern times.

There are, I believe, three more novels set in the highlands and the Scottish Islands featuring some common characters. They are, Turning out the Home Guard, Hunting the Faries, and Rockets Galore that I fear I will have to order from England sooner or later, as they never reached this shore. But I still have two more novels to read before placing my order with Abe Books.

Friday, November 18, 2022

What I'm Up To These Days


‘What am I up to?’ you ask.

‘Not all that much,’ I reply.

I have one work currently in progress, Passage to Jarpara. It will end up either as a novella or a short novel, depending on when I reach its end. At present, I am 25K words into the story which is my third Tropic Sea Tale. It takes up the story of the Sella, Lessie, Taef and Carz within a week or two of where we left them at the end of The Prisoner of Cimlye. While we left them in a good place, with no pressing need for any sequel, I am quite fond of these characters and that setting. In addition,  I have always wanted to see Taef launched on his career as a college professor in archaeology. And while I don’t think this story will see his career actually launched, it will at least see him to Jarpara and its famous university.

The story is a simple, lighthearted travelogue, as the title suggests. We meet a few people, some new, some old, and have a few minor alarms and excursions. I always like to try to do something new in every new story, and in this story I’m writing about newly married couples, which would be a first for me. The chase is over. The challenge is to write some nice, sharp, and witty Nick & Nora style dialog within and between the two couples. Alas, there’s not much of that in the first draft so far. No reason to panic just yet, my first draft is all about the story, the second is about style, i.e. how it is written, so hopefully I’ll be able to insert some of the wit and charm that I set out to write in the second and third drafts.

I have no set timeline for finishing or releasing this story. In theory I could finish the first draft with a month’s writing. In theory. However, I was writing this story more or less as I went along, and I really don’t like writing that way. I like it when I have the story entirely in mind so that I can just sit down every day and put it into words. I have three main scenes/episodes yet to write, but the last one is only an idea, not a fleshed out episode, and I want to flesh it out before continuing, so I’ve paused my work on this story until I have the rest of it well in mind.

However, having just release The Aerie of a Pirate Prince at the end of September, and with The Girl on the Kerb ready to go just as soon as it is rejected by traditional publishers – sometime early in spring 2023, I have no pressing need to get this story done, so I can take my time to get those final episodes in mind. I’m thinking it might end up being a fall of 2023 release. One reason for this long delay is that I’m putting my imagination to work to dream up with a new standalone novel that I’m hoping to begin writing after the holidays.

Earlier this week I put a working title to it; Chantiere House. Les Dessard, our narrator finds himself inheriting the chateau of Chantiere along with the ghost of his great, great grandfather who disappeared 11 years prior, and was only now declared legally dead. The story concerns the mystery of his disappearance, and presumed death, which his ghost has no recollection of.

At least that’s where it stands now. I still don’t actually have a story. I only have several characters and a setting and a situation to work with. It will, however be a “fantasy” novel for marketing purposes. Fantasy in quotation marks because I really can’t bring myself to write real magic. As in Beneath the Lanterns, the fantasy elements – for example the ghost – will be fantasy because the narrator is unaware of the advanced technology that creates the “magic.” The story will in fact, be set in my standard “universe” that includes all my stories save A Summer in Amber, Some Day Days, and A Night on Isvalar. It will be set on a planet called “Fair” that has been settled by stasis ships, like Dara in Sailing to Redoubt, and the original Nine Star Nebula worlds. However this settlement and their origins have devolved into a founding myth, the Arcane Age. And the original tech will have been largely – but not completely forgotten, remembered only as the Arcane magic. Those who still know the now secret truth and still retain remnants of the technology which have been passed down through a dozen generations, are known as the scholar arcane. The families of the scholar arcane now secretly wield the power within the government of Fair, though not without rivalry between them. I have the beginning chapters in mind, but the heart of the story, the fact that the Grandfather did something to bring some of the hidden Families Arcane down on him has yet to be hammered out. I suspect that this will be a mystery story more than an adventure story. I am guardedly confident that I can come up with that story, but until I do, this is very much a bird in the bush rather than in the hand. It may turn out to be a dead end. We’ll see.

So that’s were we’re at. I have one novel finished and ready for release in late 1Q or early 2Q 2023. One novella/short novel about half written, with about two months of work left to do on it. And one new long standalone novel with several of the opening chapters loosely sketched out in my mind. In short, I can keep as busy as I care to.

Friday, November 11, 2022

The Final Quest

This will be the final installment of my quest to find a new genre to read. As I said said when setting out on this quest, science fiction no longer appealed to me as a reader, and the same could be said for fantasy – though I was never a big fan of fantasy to begin with. Seeking a new genre to read, I downloaded free books from Amazon in Historical Fiction, Urban Fantasy, and Cozy Mysteries. What follows is my book report on the Cozy Mysteries I sampled.

Murder and Mint Tea, A Mrs. Miller Mystery by Janet Lane-Walters DNF 21%

This story features a 60 something old retired nurse with a lot of friends that we are introduced to along the way, which I believe is a key story beat in this genre. She lives in a “Painted Lady”, i.e. and old Victorian era house that she has converted into two flats – taking the upper one for herself and renting the lower one. Which tells me that Janet Lane-Walters is not very old, since any elderly widow with any brains at all, especially a nurse, would not choose live at the top of the stairs at her age. I believe the mystery concerns her new tenant. This tenant is a pretty lady with two children, a nice one and a nasty one. Her son made the arrangements and the lady is having an affair with a friend is his. I never reached the point where someone gets murdered, so there will be no spoilers in this review.

As I’ve said before, I don’t mind slow openings. My stories never open with a bang, so it would be the pot calling the kettle black to criticize a slow opening, but let’s just say that the only thing that happened in the first 21% of the story is that Mrs Miller breaks her leg crossing the street in a snow storm. Seeing that it is almost healed by the time the slightly slutty new tenant and her obnoxious son and nice daughter are introduced, what was the point of that incident? It’s a mystery. A cozy mystery. And remains one, since I called it a day on this cozy mystery before ever finding out. Or caring.

An Occupied Grave, A Brock & Poole Mystery by A G Barnett DNF 31%

This is a traditional English mystery story set in contemporary Britain. Unlike the previous story, this mystery starts right out of the gate with the elbow of a body discovered in the newly dug grave at the grave side service of a dead lady. Investigating the body, we have a new police detective, Brock, on his first day at the station, who is assigned the case along with detective Poole. Brock has a backstory that is slowly revealed, as does Poole during the investigation. The victim is a young man just released from jail – a relative of the person being buried – who is hated by everyone in the village because, while drunk, he drove his car into a young couple from the village, killing the young man, and the young woman, turned to drugs and died. So everyone in the village is a suspect in his killing.

While not a classic, it is not a bad mystery story, and I didn’t deliberately decide not to finish it, I  just have not been not motivated enough to pick it up again. Maybe I will finish it someday, but I really wouldn’t call it a cozy mystery. It is a straight up traditional mystery.

I then briefly sampled two other books, The Nantucket Inn by Pamela Kelly about someone opening her home as a bed and breakfast, and Deadheaded and Buried, An English Cottage Garden Mystery by USA Today Best Selling Author H. Y. Hanna. In sampling both of these books I came to the realization that I really didn’t want to read stories set in the contemporary world. I read for escape, and I’m not really into the daily Starbucks lifestyle. So I moved along to sample one more cozy mystery.

Murder in the Manor A Lacy Doyle Cozy Mystery – Book One by Fiona Grace C on the curve

Yes, I finished this one, and yes it is set in the contemporary world, so I guess I found it more compelling than the two previous contemporary stories. This story concerns a just divorced woman, Lacy Doyle, who is an interior designer, on the cusp of turning 40. After signing the divorce papers, she decided to quit her job and fly to England to visit a town she remembers visiting with her parents just before her father disappeared out of their lives. She has money to spend, enough to spend several hundred pounds on a taxi ride to this village without batting an eye. With all the hotels booked for the Easter Holiday season, she is offered a cottage on a cliff overlooking the sea to say at, that owner is planning to renovate. The next day she meets the handsome pastry chef, Tom, who runs a bakery, discovers a recently abandoned store across the street that reminds her of the past. She meets the owner and decides to open up an antique shop in it just as soon as she can change her visa to allow her to work in the UK. After this happens she inherits a dog who has made his way “home” after his owners, the former renters of the shop were killed in a car crash. She runs about buying a store’s worth of antiques using her London antique dealer contacts from her former job and opens the antique store – all in two weeks after arriving. Really? And what’s the rush?

That day, or the next the old lady of the local manor stops by and wants her to appraise her antiques, since she plans to sell them. They agree to meet at the manor the following day for breakfast, “I have it delivered to the house promptly for seven a.m.” the lady of the manor says. The lady says something that seems to indicate that she knew Lacy Doyle’s father – this is a plot thread that runs through the series, I believe. When Lacy arrives the following morning, she finds the door unlatched, and the lady of the manor dead inside. She calls the police, who determine that the lady was murdered. Lacy, somehow becomes the prime suspect. Who delivered the breakfast, you ask? It is never mentioned again. There is, however, Nigel the valet, but he was out somewhere with “an alibi” at seven that morning. For some reason, the victim’s three children, though they wouldn’t inherit anything but items from the play room, become Lacy’s prime suspects as she seeks to solve the mystery since, for some reason, she finds herself (almost) universally hated in the village for killing the old lady. The almost is handsome Tom, the pastry chef, and her next door neighbor on the cliff. Lacy must clear her name or her antique business would go bust, so together with Nigel she set out to solve the mystery It seems that a small, but very valuable painting, is missing from its place on the wall and they believe it is hidden in a locked grandfather clock because it seems people want that clock. And so it goes with various red herrings right up to the end where Lucy and Nigel gather all the suspects together – the victim’s three children – and the police, so Lucy can explain who did the deed, how and why.

The story had energy which kept me reading, but was unrealistic in so many ways. For example, the (unnecessary) speed at which Lacy set up shop. The fact that she was immediately the main suspect without any evidence, the fact that everyone in the village believed that and shunned her. Moreover, there was a sloppiness of the mystery, who delivered the lady’s breakfast was never addressed, and the missing miniature painting in the clock could’ve easily been slipped into a coat pocket and taken, but was instead locked in the clock. By the time the mystery was explained in classic drawing room mystery fashion, I didn’t care. A good mystery needs to be clever, and this was, at best a Hardy Boys level of a mystery with too many assumptions and right guesses.

Note: While downloading the cover image for this book, I was amazed to find that this title had over 10,000 ratings on Amazon. Wow. And darn good ones as well. Lordy, I'm out of the mainstream.

So what’s a fellow do do now? Where to turn for good books to read. To the past, of course. To either books or authors that I have read long ago and retain fond memories of. I went on Abe Books and ordered an old omnibus collection of three novels by a favorite author that I may’ve read, but don’t remember much beyond enjoying them. Stay turned. (Spoiler; so far so good. At last, good, clever writing by a master of the language.)

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

The Aerie of a Pirate Prince is FREE on Amazon

Just a quick note: The Aerie of a Pirate Prince is, of this posting, FREE on Amazon did this all on their own, I haven't been bothering to ask them to price match my free prices elsewhere for the last couple of years - Amazon sales being what they are. In any event, I don't know how long they will keep this price, so act fast if you haven't picked up this title yet! 

Friday, November 4, 2022

7 & 1/2 Years in Self Publishing - A report


It’s once again time to report my six month sales figures for my eighth year in self publishing – from May 2022 through October 2022.

Long story short: it was a very good first half largely due to sales of audiobooks on Google.

I released one new book, a novella, at the end of September, the fourth entry in the Nine Star Nebula Mystery/Adventure series, The Aerie of a Pirate Prince. It had been more than a year since I released a new book, so it was the new auto-narrated audiobooks that carried the ball this half.

My Sales Numbers

As usual, almost all of the sales are free ebooks sold through Amazon, Smashwords, Apple, and Google. What is new is that my sales now include audiobooks offered through Google’s Play Store. My ebooks are also available on Kobo but they do not report free sales to Smashwords. Barnes & Noble do report sales, but they don’t show up on my daily sales charts, so I don’t record those sales by the books – they’re just a rounding error anyway. In addition some books are also listed on other sites that offer free books. I don’t know how many, if any are downloaded from those sites.

Below is the chart comparing sales this half to my sales last year for this period.

Book Title / Release Date

1H 2021 Sales

1 H 2022


Total Sales To date ebook & total sales

A Summer in Amber

23 April 2015



244 Audio


8,711  total

Some Day Days

9 July 2015



331 Audio


5,163 total

The Bright Black Sea

17 Sept 2015



520 Audio


16,240 total

Castaways of the Lost Star

4 Aug 2016




The Lost Star’s Sea

13 July 2017



433 Audio


8,772 total

Beneath the Lanterns

13 Sept 2018





4,222 total

Sailing to Redoubt

15 March 2019



299 Audio


3,833 total

Prisoner of Cimlye

2 April 2020



359 Audio


2,274 total 

Lines in the Lawn

8 June 2020





18 Sept 2020



349 Audio



The Secret of the Tzaritsa Moon

11 Nov 2020



255 Audio



The Secrets of Valsummer House

18 March 2021



382 Audio


1,795 total

Shadows of an Iron Kingdom

15 July 2021



989 Audio



A Night on Isvalar

15 July 2021

(Amazon only – all $ sales only)




The Aerie of a Pirate Prince*

29 Sept 2022



36 Audio


190 total

Total Six Month Sales

* New releases.

(#)B & N Sales 66

NOTE: For some unknown reason the Shadows of an Iron Kingdom audiobook sold very well in Japan. Weird. 


4,414 + 66#

4,480 ebooks

4,574 Audio-books

Sales Total this Half:


56,305 ebooks

4,574 Audio-books

Grand total to date:


Sales at this point 2021:


Breaking down sales via venue gives us:

Sales figures for the same period in 2021 (for comparison):

Amazon 32%

Smaswords (Apple, & B & N) 18%

Google 50%

Sales figures for 2022 including only ebooks:

Amazon 19.5%

Smashword (Apple & B & N) 24.7%

Google 55.8%

With audiobooks now included we have the complete picture:

Amazon 9%

Smashwords (Apple & B & N) 11.3%

Google 79.7%

Even just comparing ebooks, my sales percentage continues to grow on Google vs. Smashwords and Amazon. This is largely due to declining sales on those two sites. However, ebook sales in total is down from last year almost across the board. 

The Headlines for this Sales Period.

I wrote one stand alone novel, The Girl on the Kerb, in 2022, which I expect to release as a self published book in the first half of 2023. I currently have it on submission to British SF publisher Gollancz and I’m waiting to hear back from them – likely in the 1st quarter of 2023. In the meanwhile I have been querying agents with it, with no luck so far. (And none likely.) I hope to submit it to Orbit Publishing when they launch an ebook/audiobook line later this year. I am not holding my breath about selling this novel, hence its expected release in the first half of 2023.

I am currently writing third story set in the Tropic Sea called Passage to Jarpana, which I expect will come in as novella or a very short novel. If it works out, that could see a release in either late December 2022 or early in 2023. As usual, there is no guarantee that it will actually get finished, but I’m hopeful.

This summer I republished all my paperback books in a smaller size and a matte cover with the idea of making them more like the fiction trade paperbacks found on bookshop shelves. I continue to toy with the idea of spending some actual money to get them on the selves of some selected SFF orientated bookshops. However, that would mean that I would have to become a distributor of the books, as I am sure no bookstore is going to buy from Amazon – and well, I didn’t set them up for extended distribution anyway. I’m still just thinking about it, not for making money, but just have a few of my paper books around after I’m dead.

Sales wise, as you can see from above, Google not only continues to lead the pack by a long margin, but dominated my sales not even taking audiobooks into account. Sales on Smashwords crept up a bit on the strength of Apple sales and the release of the new novella, while Amazon continued to fall. Part of the decline in Amazon sales is that I no longer try to get Amazon to price match the free price elsewhere – letting sleeping dogs lie – so most recently released books are full price on Amazon and free everywhere else. I added two European sales channels via Draft2Digital, Tolino and Vivlio, but I don’t expect any sales to result from that. I did it because Draft2Digital has purchased Smashwords and they will eventually merge, so I was just getting my ducks in order early. One novella. A Night on Isvalar is on Amazon’s Vella platform for serial works earns me bonus money without any sales at all. I also have that story in Kindle Unlimited, so it gets the occasional page read and sales. I keep it there merely as a signpost to my other books for readers who would probably never find them otherwise. That, and pure laziness.

I earned $53.22 in royalties, plus a $10 bonus payment for my novella on Vella, for a grand total of $63.22 for the last 6 months. My only expenses was the books I sent to my beta readers that came in under $63.22, so I continue to operate in the black.

The big news is obviously audiobooks. As I noted last May in my 7 year report, Google offered to create audiobooks from my ebooks using their text to speech technology for free, as part of a beta program. I took them up on their offer. Since my stories all being first person narrations, I don’t think they suffer for having only one voice narrate the story – that’s really the way they are written. You see the numbers above, they accounted for half of my sales. The the audio versions have gotten 50 plus ratings to date, all in line with the ebook ratings, and I’ve received no criticisms of the auto-narration quality, so I’m very happy with the results of that experiment.

Looking Forward

I have three goals at present, first is to get Passage to Jarpara written and published in late 2022 or early 2023. Second is to either sell to a traditional publisher or publish The Girl on the Kerb in the first half of 2023. My third goal is to write a new standalone novel over the winter. It will be a fantasy story – I’m going all in on fantasy as it is far more popular with agents and publishers than science fiction, so it is more salable. And salable is what I’m looking for, going forward, since I plan to spend 6 months querying every new standalone novel I write before I self-publish it, assuming I fail to sell it. My attitude is “Why not?’ The gold rush in self-publishing is long over, so a six month delay means nothing and gives me a sliver of a chance to get traditionally published, just for bragging rights.

I have tweaked my tags on all my books on Smashwords and Amazon to see if I can increase sales. In the past I haven’t paid as much attention to them as I should, and I hope to remedy that. We’ll see if we can find an increase in sales as a result of better tags.

Summing It All Up

A very good half. Experiments paid off. We’ll see if better tags pay off. We’ll see if we can sell stories to traditional publishers. We’ll see if I have another novel in me. Always a question. Stay turned.