Saturday, December 20, 2008

BODY & SOUL by Frank Conroy

Frank Conroy, who died in 2005, was director of the Iowa Writers’ Conference for 18 years, and while he is celebrated for his memoir STOP-TIME, he wrote only one novel, BODY & SOUL, but what a great novel.
Throughout most of BODY & SOUL, I found the writing and the story compelling, although those qualities grow somewhat sluggish in the final quarter of the novel, but not enough to turn me off. Unfortunately, this teacher of writing committed a major story-telling faux pas by using a single sentence to look into the future of Claude Rawlings, the protagonist, undermining Aristotle’s rule that the ending should be surprising but inevitable.
Claude is the son of a very damaged woman, a Communist, grossly large (325 pounds; over 6 feet), who raises him with near criminal indifference. Emma, the mother, is saved by a black man, who moves in with her and works as a cabbie with her. In New York City in 1940s that was a relatively unusual mix, but as in any good novel, the writer has a reason for revealing the mother’s indifference to the race of her lovers.
Claude has an innate musical talent, which he works very hard to develop and throughout most of his life he appears extraordinarily fortunate in that at every turn people want to help him develop his obvious talent as a pianist and creator of music. He doesn’t have any idea who is natural father is, but Mr. Weisfeld (which I would translate as Whitefield—apparently as a name chosen purposely.) a one-time brilliant Polish composer, who lost his entire family to a bomb in the opening days of the Nazi invasion of Poland, becomes in effect the father substitute who loves and nurtures Claude. Mr. Weisfeld runs a music store on Third Avenue in the 1940s and 50s down the street from the basement apartment where Claude lives with his mother.
Through his music, Claude is exposed to the very rich of Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue, gets a scholarship to an exclusive private boys’ high school in Manhattan, gets a scholarship to college, and is enabled to make a very good living at what he loves. His first love is a snooty rich girl—he loves her, but she doesn’t even consider him other than to recognize he is a talented kid. He marries a wealthy girl, who is the cousin of his first love. Claude is carried through most of the book on a wave of success UNTIL he discovers his semen is dead; he and his wife can’t have children. He falls into a depression; she leaves and divorces him. Yet, good fortune never stops smiling on Claude.
In England for the performance of his first major symphony, he runs into his first love, now relatively poor, humble, very sexy and beautiful, a recent divorcee from a wealthy man, and she has a child. She and Claude pop into bed for constant and fantastic love making. This is the point at which Conroy fails the reader by telegraphing the end: Claude wants to marry his first love, she says no. When he is 45, still handsome and inviting as a great musician, she envisions him with a 25-year-old adoring fan on each arm, while she will grow older. And in parenthesis Conroy tells us that is indeed what will happen. For the first time in the book, Conroy leaves Claude to devote a chapter to the conversation between a gay black Jazz musician and his black musician boyfriend in which their conversation reveals, that the Jazz musician, who looks pretty white, is Claude’s father, that Claude, who looks somewhat Italian, was the product of a one-night stand, the only time the Jazz man fucked a woman. So now we know the innate talent comes from.
Claude and the Jazz musician play the piano together in an incredible performance, but Claude never discovers that this man was his father. In the end, Claude who is crazily in love with his first love is drawn away from her by an opportunity to fulfill his ambitions as a concert performer. Music has shaped and directed his life and in the end is more important then a mere woman. At the same time while he is incredibly creative as a musician, he isn’t as a man—can’t have babies. The book ends with him going on stage for his big London performance.
--A subplot of the novel is that the very rich are very unhappy despite all their money. They lead rigid, boring, meaningless, limited, class-conscious lives and commit incest of sorts: Claude’s first love, as a teenager, fucking her stepfather. That drives home the point that the rich are socially incestuous, wanting their children to marry only other rich people.

A suggestion: My latest novel, THE PENCIL ARTIST is available as an e-book on Smashwords, Kindle, and Barnes and Noble; as a paperback on Amazon.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Amazon is again offering writers a chance to see their novels in print and reviewed through the second year of its Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. I entered last year while I didn’t win the contest, it opened me to a broader experience in online publishing.
Like so many writers of my generation, I wanted to avoid the stigma of vanity publishing, simply meaning paying to have your book printed. The internet has changed the rules of the game. Now a writer can put a book online for a few dollars to acquire a domain name and hosting website.
You can still spend thousands of dollars to have an online operation do all of the work involved in putting together a book: editing, layout, cover, promotion, etc.
The outcome undoubtedly will be the same as if you yourself put in the effort to put together the book and to offer it free online, for sale online or a combination of the two. When I say effort, I mean struggling through the unfamiliar processes of turning your manuscript into a worthy online book.
After decades of almost getting my novels into print through an agent, I had come to accept that my works would end up in the dustbin of the unread. Then, at the instigation of one of my grandsons, I offered my best novel, THE DREAM DANCER, as a free online novel.
Then along came the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest last year. I entered another of my novels, THE JYNX. As mentioned before, I didn’t win the contest, but I made it to the semi-finals and after the contest, Amazon offered entrants a chance to sell their online books as paperbacks (via CreateSpace) and e-books (via Kindle). The easiest way to get your novel into the Amazon process is to hire Amazon’s CreateSpace to do the job. I chose to do it myself guided by the advice offered by April Hamilton. Her THE INDIEAUTHOR GUIDE provides computer amateurs like me with all of the information needed to put together a book for online publication.
You should also consider offering your novel as an e-book via Smashwords.
All three, CreateSpace, Kindle, and Smashwords sell books under a royalty arrangement at no cost to the author.
So take your novel out of the closet and throw it into the ocean of the internet via CreateSpace, Kindle and Smashwords—and maybe someone will buy a copy.

A suggestion: My latest novel, THE PENCIL ARTIST is available as an e-book on Smashwords, Kindle, and Barnes and Noble; as a paperback on Amazon.

Monday, November 17, 2008


At the end of my eighth week of enduring shingles on the left side of my face, I am once again able to use my left eye to write, read, and watch TV. Up until then (Saturday, Nov. 15, 2008), the eye was so light sensitive that I had to spend my time in darkness or with the eye closed.
Don't get me wrong, the torture of the shingles continues, but has abated somewhat. I started out with piercing pain in my eye and now have the discomfort of itching or the sense of a foreigh object is in the eye or a pressure on the eye. In reality, the sensations I mention come from the upper lid, the eyebrow, and the area between the eye and the nose. In addition, my forehead, side of the face, and scalp itch or feel pressure or are sensitive to touch (so I don't touch those areas.)
I learned a long time ago from experience kidney stone and then gall stones and in my childhood toothaches that the absence of pain is pleasure. For the past eight weeks, my life hasn't been pleasurable at all. In the grand scheme of pain, especially for the poor souls who suffer from burns, the shingles onslaught is a serious discomfort.
On Sunday, I watched a full movie for the first time in eight weeks and this entry to my blog is the beginning of my return to writing. I should mention that any physical exertion tires me enough to send me into sleep throughout the day. As a consequence, I lie awake through much of the night.
Since I was unable to read, I turned to Book on CD, which was a form of salvation along the NPR. Commercial radio generally is an emptiness unless you enjoy commercials.
At the outset, I asked my doctor how long this affliction would last. He sat silent and I pushed: "How long? Two days or a year?" The doctor responded: "Somewhere in between." Later he told me that I could expect this agony to last for at least several weeks or even six months. Well that is better than forever.

A suggestion: My latest novel, THE PENCIL ARTIST is available as an e-book on Smashwords, Kindle, and Barnes and Noble; as a paperback on Amazon.

Monday, October 6, 2008


by Kate Christensen

In the opening chapter of THE GREAT MAN, Kate Christensen’s writing was so powerful I thought I was at the entrance to a great novel by a phenomenal writer. Teddy, the seeming protagonist, tells us at the outset why this novel is entitled THE GREAT MAN, who it turns out was her deceased, life-long lover, a totally self-centered portrait painter.
Teddy engages one of the painter's biographer’s in that first chapter in a conversation that is so rich and so revealing of personal lives that it could never had taken place in our real, dull world. But this is a novel and the conversation is entrancing. Kate Christensen can really write—especially about food. Description of the scent, texture and tastes of the food is as exotic as the dialogue.
My anticipation at the prospect of this novel quickly dulled as the writing became more mundane. So Christensen was not a genius of a writer, but a startling first chapter creator. Aside from that disappointment THE GREAT MAN carried me along. There were dead times as there quite often are in ordinary, but decently-done novels. We get to meet all of the women in the artist’s life and I would argue that he is the protagonist not Teddy or the several others used as devices to explore his relationships.
Christensen provides some interesting aspects of the continued sexuality and creativity of the elderly (those over 70) and focuses on the sensuality of food. And, she offers a nice twist about the authenticity of a work of art in the story.
The power of Christensen’s first chapter made me realize how ingrained that performance has become in a writer’s campaign to find a publisher, an agent, or a reader. In recent weeks, I have purchased novels by two indieauthors based on a reading of their first chapters and discovered that their writings fell so quickly flat and incompetent that I couldn’t finish the books. At the 1996 Sewanee Writers Conference, one of the lecturers suggested that a means of determining whether a novel might be worth reading was to read page 84. I’ve tried that many times and have been rewarded in the process. Obviously, it is a better test than a first chapter.

A suggestion: My latest novel, THE PENCIL ARTIST is available as an e-book on Smashwords, Kindle, and Barnes and Noble; as a paperback on Amazon.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


I am in my third week of a bout with shingles centered on my eye. How did this happen? I don’t remember having chickenpox as a kid, but the doctor said I probably did and the virus has lingering in my through the years waiting to pop out. A seemingly dormant volcano is the best analogy I can conceive for my herpes. The virus/lava boiled for decades somewhere deep in my system and then burst forth into my eye filling it with pain and draining my energy.
The onset of the disease began with me waking up in the middle of the night on a Monday with a sense of pressure in my eye and for some strange reason wondering if I had brain cancer. The unpleasant feeling in the eye continued through the first day. By the next day, there was a pressure in the bone on the left side of my nose and a distant ache that moved around the eye. Maybe it is my sinus, I thought. I slept through most of the third day and by the time I realized I better get to an ophthalmologist for what I thought must be an eye infection, the day was over and so were the doctor’s hours. I didn’t think it serious enough to go to an emergency room. So, I spent a miserable, painful night. I made an appointment to see my ophthalmologist, who had treated me a year ago for “a deep infection” in my left eye. Up until seeing the doctor, I had not taken any pain killers—I am a person who has both a high pain threshold and resists taking aspirin or whatever until I decide I can’t shake off the problem with meditation or deep breathing or ignoring.
The ophthalmologist decided I had sinus infection, which had moved into the eye. He prescribed antibacterial pills and eye drops. He told me to take Tylenol for the pain. That was Thursday. I got my prescriptions, took them and spent Friday in bed, in agony. By Friday night I realized I had a rash on the left half of my head—on my scalp, on my forehead, on the left side of my nose, and around my left eye and on the eyelid. I assumed I was having a reaction to the medicine. Early Saturday morning, I called the doctor. The receptionist said come right over.
As soon as I walked into the examining room, and by that time I was unable to open my eye, the doctor said, “The drugs aren’t causing that. You have shingles, herpes.” She explained it was a virus that had been lingering in my body since childhood. She prescribed a potent pill and eye drops aimed at a virus not bacteria. She told me not to expect the problem to clear up in three or four days, but to anticipate a recovery process that would take weeks. How many weeks? Who knows? On a follow up a visit a few days later, I was told to expect to experience lingering aftereffects such as fatigue and possibly pain that might last for up to a year.
In reading up on shingles, I discovered that left untreated—and even treated—the complications arising from herpes in the eye (aka herpes zoster opthalmicus) can be blindness and brain damage. Hopefully neither will afflict me since I got treated fairly early in the game, but the threat made me aware again of the dreadful outcomes facing people without health insurance. I fall under national health care, known in the U.S. as Medicare, and have a topnotch health insurance program backing that up.
What if I were among the 43-million uninsured in this country? I would have put off going to the emergency room until my eye closed and I couldn’t endure the pain. If I were lucky, I would be seen by a caring physician after sitting in the emergency for anywhere from a half hour to 12 hours. Hopefully that doctor would arrange for me to get the right drugs and eye drops. If I weren’t lucky and there were three gunshot wounds ahead of me in that emergency room and the doctor just wanted to push me through, I would end up as a leading candidate for blindness or brain damage. Boy, do we need national health care for our entire population.

The next novel I will review: THE GREAT MAN by Kate Christensen

A suggestion: My latest novel, THE PENCIL ARTIST is available as an e-book on Smashwords, Kindle, and Barnes and Noble; as a paperback on Amazon.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


by Alan Furst
This is the tenth novel I’ve read by Alan Furst. Sometimes I have been disappointed by his endings, but getting there always has been so great a pleasure that I take the chance that the next Furst novel I buy and read will have a great, a logical, an appropriate or a powerful finale. For those of his novels that disappoint me in the final pages I usually say to my wife, Rae, “This could have been a work of art with a better ending.”
THE SPIES OF WARSAW has a logical and appropriate ending. Furst, as usual, takes us on a fascinating journey full of twists and turns, cliffs, sex, betrayal, and love in telling us the story of a French Army officer assigned to his country’s embassy in Warsaw as a military attaché in the months leading up to the German invasion of Poland.
Col. Mercier, the protagonist of THE SPIES OF WARSAW, is a combat veteran of WWI, whose role through tempting a German businessman and through high-risk eyeballing of the Wehrmacht on secret maneuvers, is to uncover the hardware and tactics of the coming enemy’s war machine. Along the way, Mercier manages to arouse the personal animosity of a brutish SS officer, who unfortunately for him doesn’t realize the courage and toughness of the Frenchman he is intent on personally beating to death. That element adds a great deal of excitement to the novel. This is a book well worth buying and reading.
Furst is one of the finest writers I've read. Earlier I spoke of endings so let’s turn to beginnings. The opening chapter of his 1991 novel, DARK STAR, is a tapestry of description. I use the word tapestry to describe the richness of place and people he depicts.
I was propelled through both THE SPIES OF WARSAW and DARK STAR. The only disappointment came in the closing chapter of DARK STAR when Furst manipulates the reader unnecessarily and misses what might have been a perfect novel.
Furst’s novels, always set on the eve of WWII, are character and plot driven with the history of the era laced into the background and never allowed to dominate, never allowed to swallow the protagonist.
In DARK STAR, Szara, the protagonist, is a successful Pravda journalist who does some spying on the side. The novel unfolds in the context of the events leading up to WW II, the invasion of Poland, the attempts by anti-Stalinists to unseat him, and the budding conspiracy of German military aristocrats to assassinate Hitler.
Szara lives in fear of being killed by the Soviet intelligence apparatchiks. He undertakes a series of Soviet intelligence missions in which his associates are murdered on two occasions, but he escapes. He finds two women to fall in love with in Nazi Germany. He isn’t loyal to anyone but himself, selling Soviet intelligence to the British in return for enabling several hundred Jews to escape from Europe to Palestine. Although he isn’t religious, Szara has a sense of obligation to Jews— perhaps it is a racial or historical loyalty. When his fear is fulfilled—that Soviet intelligence apparently discovering his betrayal have marked him for death—he goes on the run, is captured by the Gestapo and is rescued by an anti-Hitler German aristocrat.
Despite my unhappiness with the ending, DARK STAR is another novel well worth buying and reading.

A SUGGESTION: my novel, OOOEELIE, is well worth reading. Free on Kindle, SmashwordsBarnes and Noble, and Apple.

Monday, September 1, 2008


Twenty-three years after I wrote a novel called KINZUA, I began to rewrite it. The reason I was attempting to resurrect KINZUA was that in 1970, the book had gotten me an agent, who loved it and tried to sell it but failed. In addition, several of my colleagues at Newsday read it and said they couldn’t put it down. In retrospect, I can’t believe how low their standards were or how dishonest they were in giving me their assessments.
Any way, I reread KINZUA and was dismayed by how lousy a book it was.
The idea for KINZUA had come from the construction of the Kinzua Dam, which flooded a large part of a Seneca Indian reservation in northwestern Pennsylvania. The Seneca had the usual treaty with the United States, which promised that their people and their land would be undisturbed as long as the water flowed and the grass grew. And they were left alone for a couple of hundred years until powerful economic forces decided to seize a large piece of their reservation so it could be used for a combination of flood control, a power plant, and a huge lake for recreation.
KINZUA was a novel with mystical underpinnings in which a Seneca secret society conjures up a supernatural force that destroys the Kinzua Dam and in the process convinces the U.S. Government not to rebuild the dam.
In rewriting KINZUA into THE DREAM DANCER, I abandoned not only the characters and plot of the original novel, but eliminated references to the actual Kinzua Dam and the Seneca. Instead, I created an imaginary city, river and Native American band somewhere in Northwestern Pennsylvania, but kept the original concept of the federal government double-crossing a seemingly helpless handful of Native Americans called the Okwe.
Coop Rever, the protagonist of THE DREAM DANCER is chosen by the Great Spirit to carry out a deed that will save the Okwe land from being flooded by a dam and Okwe culture from being destroyed by a Congressman with a hidden agenda of revenge. Coop Rever, who had become a successful author and war correspondent, reluctantly becomes the Dream Dancer of the title at a great cost to himself: losing his wife and daughter and spending decades in a cruel prison for killing the Congressman and his family.
I consider THE DREAM DANCER my first fully realized novel. And, after many rereadings of the entire book and individual chapters, I have reached the immodest conclusion that it is a work of art. THE DREAM DANCER can be read on line at my website.

The next novel I will review is THE SPIES OF WARSAW by Alan Furst

A suggestion: My latest novel, THE PENCIL ARTIST is available as an e-book on Smashwords, Kindle, and Barnes and Noble; as a paperback on Amazon.

Monday, August 11, 2008


by Harry Harrison
Both Harry Harrison’s 1966 novel MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM! and the 1973 film SOYLENT GREEN are predictors of the squalid future facing the people of Planet Earth through overpopulation, the exhaustion of natural resources, and pollution. The powerful film, starring Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson in his terminal role, flows from the novel, yet the two works of art are the same and very different. Harrison is an effective writer and a master story teller although MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM! is flawed by an artificially-written diatribe against opponents of birth control delivered by Sol, a relatively minor character in the novel and a central figure in the film. Harrison could have offered the same information gracefully instead of so awkwardly. In both book and film wise old, exhausted and cynical Sol tells us how beautiful and abundant the earth once was. Harrison plays the role of writer as seer in forecasting that by 1999 the earth will be on the edge of exhaustion in its ability to support humankind. We have managed to make our way past 1999, but now scientists are predicting just as dismal a near future because of global warming. The underlying message of the novel, the film, and the warning of Al Gore and modern scientists is that we are eating ourselves: in the book: through unrestrained birth rates; in modern times: through unrestricted emissions of carbon dioxide from cars, planes, and power plants burning oil and coal products; and in the film: literally by turning human corpses into soylent green, a protein for the masses. I waited in vain for that distasteful food soylent green to be introduced in MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM! The soylent green—not in the novel-- turned out to be a contrivance of the script writer, used to hammer home that frightening prophecy of self destruction.

A suggestion: My latest novel, THE PENCIL ARTIST is available as an e-book on Smashwords, Kindle, and Barnes and Noble; as a paperback on Amazon.

Monday, August 4, 2008


I was plodding through a novel about farm families living in an isolated mountainous area of North Carolina when I happened to see SOYLENT GREEN, the 1973 film that envisions an overpopulated, squalid Earth. That prompted me to read MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM! by Harry Harrison, the novel, which inspired the movie.
It is disappointing to put down a book after reading 100 pages or more, to decide that it is not worth going on that the process is a chore rather than a pleasure. I had been slogging through the farm-family novel waiting for lightning to strike, for the work to come alive. If I hadn’t picked up Harrison’s novel to read a few pages out of curiosity to see whether it was well written or just a potboiler, I might have soldiered on reading in unending detail about every aspect of the lives and labors of Nineteenth Century farmers. But Harrison caught me, the pleasure of sailing rather than slogging kept me reading his book to the end.
The word pleasure stuck up like a snow-capped mountain in my mind as I considered the two novels. Having experienced kidney stones and a couple of other awful agonies, I often said to my wife, Rae, that the absence of pain is pleasure. Googling pleasure, I immediately came across Epicurus, the Greek philosopher, and was shocked to discover he said the same thing over 2,000 years ago.
At any rate, the role of the writer is to deliver a pleasurable experience to the reader. Sometimes that thrill comes after I have forced my way up hill through some heavy words and sentences. And, sometimes I just can’t go on, the writer has failed me, has failed to provide a twist that interests or a view that inspires.

Next time, I will discuss Harry Harrison’s novel MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM! and SOYLENT GREEN, the film it inspired.

A SUGGESTION: my novel, OOOEELIE, is well worth reading. Free on Kindle, SmashwordsBarnes and Noble, and Apple.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


by Deborah K. Lauro

The protagonist of HANSELL’S DRAGON is a man who created misery for the occupants of a tiny penal colony of the future in the form of voracious, flying dragons, and subsequently is trying to assuage his guilt by doing good for one person at time.
Alex Collin, the protagonist is a biogeneticist who has lived for 174 years becoming over that time a wise, skilled physician serving outback communities whose residents respect and love him, but would tear him apart if they discovered he is the man who made the dragons who prey on them. The character created by Lauro is a decent guy with a hard edge; he is capable of crushing those who cross him and suffers from the loss of those he has loved over his long lifetime since they do die of old age while he goes on. And, Collin continues his biogenetic experiments secretly creating mammal bodies with computers for brains and souls.
At first I thought Lauro’s account suffered from too much dialogue, then at Chapter 16 (of a 40-chapter book) the quoted conversations slipped more into the background and the descriptions and character’s inner lives engagingly emerged. She is an effective writer and story teller; whenever the plot seemed ready to slow Lauro produced another interesting twist.
There is a love story: a young woman preparing to leave this planet she loves to spend the rest of her life on an austere space station because of her man. Her love is a fearful, suspicious, prejudiced (against computers), narrow-minded man, who doesn't seem worthy of her. Other self-centered and selfish men and women dance across the stage adding depth to the book, and so do blindly loyal robots limited only by their natures and programs.
The author takes us into a different world of exiled criminals, which reminds me of the early days of Australia where the British dumped all kinds of people they wanted to get rid of whether they committed real crimes or not, serious crimes or minor ones. And guess what? Most of the occupants of the free universe live in stark, artificial environments while the supposed criminals live in a beautiful, but dangerous natural world, blocked from access to any high-tech tools or weapons by their distant prison guards, who are watching them from space stations spinning around their planet.
I read this book in its free-online novel form, printing off three chapters at a time and continuing to be propelled by the characters through the story. I would recommend purchasing HANSELL’S DRAGON from an online source, where it is available, as a paperback or an ebook. The free online version that I read suffered from a distracting glitch with little squares replacing quote marks and apostrophes. Despite that I enjoyed reading Lauro’s novel.

A suggestion: My latest novel, THE PENCIL ARTIST is available as an e-book on Smashwords, Kindle, and Barnes and Noble; as a paperback on Amazon.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


I have always been fascinated by the creative process: how my muse sends scenes, lines, plots, and solution to elusive issues out of nowhere into my mind. These flashes of inspiration usually hit me as I am attempting to go to sleep and more usually as I walk each morning in the park where I exercise near my home. Sometimes, of course, I can be reading or watching television or a film when the muse speaks.
In 2004, I wrote a novel, THE ABSCONDER, based on an incident from my boyhood when three young men from Woodside in Queens, in the early 1950s killed a World War II veteran in the process of robbing him at gunpoint. Two of the robber/killers were electrocuted in Sing Sing. I knew the brother of one and the mother of the other, both lived within two blocks of my house. The third fellow, who escaped the chair, had always fascinated me. The rumor around the neighborhood was that he came from a wealthy family who hired a lawyer who got him off. In reality, a little research showed that the third killer was the son of a divorced waitress with no money at all. The judge decided to give him somewhat of a break by sending to prison for 20 years to life. He served 28 years before being paroled.
The third killer was the model for my protagonist in THE ABSCONDER. The difference was that my character was absolutely innocent of the robbery murder as were the other two characters who ended up being electrocuted. In THE ABSCONDER, the three were railroaded by police detectives pressured by intense publicity to wrap up the case.
My protagonist, who had graduated from a Jesuit high school just before his arrest and thus was a pretty smart kid, emerges from 28 years in prison as an accomplished poet. To quote my notes on the character: “He is 46 years old. Youth is behind him. He is into true middle age. Silent, private, fierce (not sullen), fleshless, walking time bomb. A man not to be messed with. A heavy drinker, smoker. In a brawl he would use his fists, head, feet, any blunt instrument or knife at hand. His eyes traveled across those he met, examining them, measuring them.”
To escape the burden of life-long parole with restrictions that make his life miserable and unfree, my protagonist absconds. Unfortunately for him, his parole officer who has retired assumes a role like Inspector Javert in Victor Hugo’s LES MISERABLE and relentlessly pursues the protagonist with the intention of bringing him to justice by returning him to prison.
The problem with the novel was that my protagonist had become too nice a guy, living too pleasant a life, and in each instance he was found by the parole officer, he managed to escape without doing anyone any harm. That character and plot problem gnawed at me. I was dissatisfied with THE ABSCONDER, but was unable to fix it. AND THEN.
And then, I was walking with my wife in the park near my home not thinking about THE ABSCONDER when the answers to the four-year-old problem poured into my mind. The muse had struck again. I immediately (or a least as soon as I got home) wrote down the solutions. In the near future, I will be doing another rewrite of THE ABSCONDER, which promises to be a much better book as a result.

The next novel I will review is HANSELL’S DRAGON by Deborah K. Lauro.

A suggestion: My latest novel, THE PENCIL ARTIST is available as an e-book on Smashwords, Kindle, and Barnes and Noble; as a paperback on Amazon.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


June 26 is the most important day of the year.
Recognition of the significance of this date has come slowly, building each year from the first occurence when Kenneth C. Crowe II was born at Fort Meade, MD on June 26, 1957. On his birth certificate, his father's occupation was listed as soldier. His mother was a registered nurse.

A suggestion: My latest novel, THE PENCIL ARTIST is available as an e-book on Smashwords, Kindle, and Barnes and Noble; as a paperback on Amazon.

Monday, June 2, 2008


by Paul Auster (1999)

This is a short novel about a dog, Bones, and his master, Willy. Essentially this is a classic dog story about the loyalty, love and dependence of Bones on Willy, who is a bum, a misfit in American society, but who in turn loves Bones even though he doesn’t prepare him for their separation—when Willy dies. The book is simply written with no great efforts at description, yet it is funny and touching and clever. Bones in the end proves independent and courageous. Underlying it all is that Bones wants to go home to Willy. I couldn’t put the book down. It made me want to read more of Auster.

A suggestion: My latest novel, THE PENCIL ARTIST is available as an e-book on Smashwords, Kindle, and Barnes and Noble; as a paperback on Amazon.

Saturday, May 31, 2008


Thanks to April Hamilton who has emerged as the pathfinder for indie authors trying to get their books up for sale on Amazon, CreateSpace, Kindle and Smashwords, I managed to upload my latest novel, THE JYNX, onto those sites over the past couple of weeks.
Anyone willing to shell out many hundreds and perhaps thousands of dollars can find e-publishers willing to take them through the process. April tells you how to do it yourself in a series of free guides on her website at I can tell you from personal experience that April is the guide who can lead you through the maze to self-publishing and hopefully sales on the internet. And to make the way forward even easier, April has put all of the ins and outs of do-it-yourself publishing into a new book, THE INDIE AUTHOR GUIDE, currently available on CreateSpace and soon to be up on Amazon.
I’ve had two nonfiction books released through major publishers, but my dream always has been to see one of my novels in print. That seemed unlikely since my agent of many years couldn’t find a traditional publisher willing to buy my novels, even though she tried hard. Finally she told me all good things must come to an end and unceremoniously dumped me. And I have been unable to find an agent to replace her.
I figured my novels would go unread except by my wife, Rae, and the few friends, all writers with books and films to their credit, who did me the favor of reading them.
Then, as birthday gift last August, my grandson, Reeves, offered to put my novel, THE DREAM DANCER, online. My first reaction was reluctance. I didn’t want to fall into the world of vanity publishing. But realizing in offering THE DREAM DANCER as a free online novel, I wasn’t paying anyone to stroke me. I wondered whether I would draw any reasders from the world-wide ocean of the web. So far I have had 64,104 hits from Aug. 19, 2007 to May 30, 2008, and have averaged the transfer of the equivalent of one and a half copies of the novel per day. I have no idea how many of those hitters were actual readers—although one sent me an e-mail saying: “I read this book in 24-48 hours. I had to know what happened. A few parts were difficult to read, especially when he (the protagonist) was in jail…I loved the book.”
Last fall, I entered my novel, THE JYNX, in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. I made it to the first round of semi-finals, but obviously I didn’t win. What the contest did for me was to draw further into e-publishing. Amazon offered the semi-finalists a chance to publish and sell their books online through CreateSpace. With the help of April Hamilton’s free guides on her website, I managed to offer THE JYNX for sale via CreateSpace, Amazon, Kindle, and Smashwords.
There are no statistics, known to me, available on average internet sales of self-published novels. My research revealed that the average sales of print-on-demand books to be 75 copies, most of them purchased by the author and his family. So with that as a measure, I will consider the sale of THE JYNX to be a success at 75 copies sold to people other than myself. If sales reach 500 I will be delighted and at 1,000, I would be ecstatic. Watch this blog for reports on whether THE JYNX attracts that many buyers.

The next novel I will review in coming days is TIMBUKTU by Paul Auster (1999).

A suggestion: My latest novel, THE PENCIL ARTIST is available as an e-book on Smashwords, Kindle, and Barnes and Noble; as a paperback on Amazon.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


by Bill Liversidge

The highest compliment one can pay to a novelist is to buy the book. I first read Bill Liversidge’s A HALF LIFE OF ONE by printing off his free online version finding it through Jennifer Armstrong’s Free Online Novels website ( I was so taken with the novel that I wanted to pass it along to my son, Roy, a voracious reader—so I paid a super compliment to Bill Liversidge by buying A HALF LIFE OF ONE via the UK, paying the price of buying a book overseas with diminished U.S. dollars and paying the airfreight with that same diminished currency, but the book is worth the cost.
My review of A HALF LIFE OF ONE:
This is the story of a businessman, Nick Dowdy, who is a failure in everything he does because he reaches beyond his capabilities. His business fails, his marriage is on the edge of failure, his relationship with his son is awful. As we move through the novel, we find how self-centered, how selfish and how ruthless Nick Dowdy is. The writing moves right along, the story has twists and turns that keep it very interesting, I found myself wondering what would come next and covering up the bottom of pages so I would not leap ahead of the course of my reading.
Nick Dowdy is a man with all kinds of schemes to get out of the predicament of the failure of his business. He is not willing to take a menial job. He thinks of himself as something special. Even he recognizes that his schemes are ridiculous and unworkable until he moves ahead in desperation to carry out the kidnapping of a successful woman entrepreneur. He isn’t what he seems. She isn’t what she seems. She doesn’t have as much money as he assumes. In the process of kidnapping her, he kills a fishing guide. This novel takes place in Scotland. And like so many kidnappers he finds his victim is more of a burden than he ever imagined. You know he is going to be caught. Just when he is on the edge of taking the step towards demanding the ransom, which certainly would lead the police to him, his house is saved by his wife from creditors and a job he has applied for opens up.
The ending is another version of the Edgar Allan Poe’s THE CAST OF MONTILADDO. Dowdy leaves his victim to die an awful lonely death in the darkness of an unheated shack, filled with rats in the bridge between winter and spring. The cruelty of this act by a man who considers himself a decent guy is astonishing and draining. In the end you see through Dowdy’s thoughts how little he thinks of his son and how willing he is to cheat on his wife and how he justifies the murder of two people, the fishing guide and the woman entrepreneur, and how he reveals his guilt in contributing in a small way to his father’s death, and his happiness in seeing his mother, who was a mental patient, die.
This was a well-written, smoothly moving, stinging portrait of a seeming everyman, who is decent and willing to work hard, but within himself lurks a self-centered selfishness that enables him to be startlingly cruel. At the same time, there is an element of guilt and the fear of being caught that is his sentence to a torturous life.
(Note: You can find out a lot more about novelist Bill Liversidge at his blog, View from the Pundy House at

A suggestion: My latest novel, THE PENCIL ARTIST is available as an e-book on Smashwords, Kindle, and Barnes and Noble; as a paperback on Amazon.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


Starting today with this blog, Novelist Online Onpaper, I will offer my thoughts on writing, reading and publishing at the very least on the first of each month and more often by whim.
Periodically, I will review novels from the present and the past, published online or on paper. Hopefully, I won't rain on any novelist, especially those seeking their audience without the help of traditional publishers.
The first novel I will review in the next couple of days is Bill Liversidge's A HALF LIFE OF ONE.
I hope you will return to see how I perform, to enjoy what I write, and to offer comments.