Category Archives: e-reader

The Magic of Words

Richard Powell (1908-1999) is one of my favorite authors. PowellHe grew up in Philadelphia, started as a newspaper reporter, then went into advertising, before becoming a popular novelist in the 1950s and 60s.  He also taught creative writing at Syracuse University.

Powell’s most famous novel was The Philadelphian.  In 1959 it was turned into a movie, “The Young Philadelphians,” starring Paul Newman.  My favorite was his last book, Whom the Gods Would Destroy (1970) about the Trojan War epic.  If you like ancient history, it’s a classic, not only for the story, but for Powell’s brilliant writing style.

PhiladelphianOver the years I’ve hunted down and read all 20 of Powell’s novels.  When I was teaching high school English I was delighted to learn that he also wrote several magazine articles for The Writer magazine. Reprinted below is my favorite among his articles.  It provides some nice advice for novices and pros alike…


The Magic of Words
Richard Powell
The Writer (October 1967)

Of course it will never come true, but I keep having this dream in which the President of the United States sends a message to Congress demanding civil rights for words.  In it, he points out how badly words are abused, and calls attention to the fact that our language is a national resource that is being mistreated even more than our rivers and air.  It is only a dream, however, and I do not look for the War on Poverty to be extended to the spoken and written word.

The trouble is that the poverty pockets in this case are too hard to get at, because they are not in city slums or Appalachia, but inside people’s heads.  People are willing to use their brains on many difficult problems—avoiding income taxes, beating the horses, sneaking an extra coffee break—but apparently most of them couldn’t care less about the problem of how to use words clearly and dramatically.  Among these people are scientists, educators, lawyers, government officials, doctors, businessmen and housewives.

Is it possible that there are also writers among them?  Yes, friends, there are writers among them.

Impact

Let us skip the problem of writers who do not know how to use words clearly.  Nobody can help them, and perhaps the published writers among them do not even want to be helped, because a murky style of writing may sometimes win critical acclaim.  Let us, instead, take up the problem of writers who use words clearly, but with no more impact than that of a wet dishrag dropped on the floor.  There are many such writers.  They may do a fine job of plotting and characterization, but they handle words like a cook ladling out alphabet soup: the first collection of letters that comes out of the pot goes into the dish.  Here is an example of alphabet-soup writing:

  • I got up this morning as happy as a lark and, as usual, ate breakfast like a horse.  I sat at my desk and worked like a mule all day and ended dog-tired.

I have given you a lot of information about my day, have I not?  I have also given it clearly.  But how many people would be interested in hearing about my zoological day?  I have used words that bored you stiff and were as dull as dishwater, including the expressions I used in this sentence.  I have used old, worn-out groupings of words.  I have used words in a lazy, thoughtless way, picking up expressions once new and shiny, but now so overworked that they have no power to hook reader attention.  The sad thing about this is that there is a magic in words when they are used with a touch of imagination.  What I should have done, if I wanted anybody to pay attention to a very ordinary collection of facts, was to call on the magic of words.  Perhaps I might have written:

  • When I got up this morning I felt like the bubbles in champagne, and breakfast tasted as if I were just coming off a diet.  I spent the day beating a typewriter ribbon to rags, and ended up as tired as the clichés I was trying not to use.

Now I have dressed my dull facts in bright clothes, and so people might pay attention, I have thrown out my collection of zoological clichés and developed some new expressions.  A cliché is an expression that, when it was new, sketched a vivid picture for people.  The first man who used the expression ‘dog-tired’ no doubt impressed his audience; they would have pictured how a dog looks when he is panting and his tongue hangs out and he flops down.  But, with use, the term dog-tired lost its force.  Nobody who reads or hears it for the tenth or hundredth or thousandth time gets a vivid picture from it.  It has become a cliché.  It is now merely a crutch for lame brains; it is a mental sleeping pill.  It is a way to avoid thinking.  There is no word magic in a cliché.

I don’t want to pretend that, when I developed some new expressions to replace the zoological clichés, I simply made a flourish and pulled them out of a hat.  In the first place, I wouldn’t pull them out of a hat, because that’s another cliché, perhaps invented soon after the first magician pulled the first rabbit out of the first hat.  New expressions do not come easily to me; my brain is lazy, too, and approaches the idea of work like a teenager asked to do the dishes.  But I have learned that if I play the harsh parent with my brain, it will go to work, even though grudgingly.  It took me an hour to work out those new expressions, and if I had spent two hours on them they would undoubtedly be better.  I don’t advise writers to spend an hour on every sentence they write, because they might never finish a story or article.  But, when you need to grab attention, you must spend time and thought on the job.

It is not difficult for a person of normal intelligence to write in a colorful and dramatic way.  One summer, several years ago, I taught a writing course at Syracuse University.  Included in the homework I assigned were some problems in colorful writing.  I explained to my students that one method of colorful writing is to describe Item A in terms of Item B: for example, describe a mountain as if it were a living creature.  (It could be an old lion crouched in the distance, or a vulture hovering over the valley.)  None of my students were professional writers, and none had previously known any tricks of colorful writing.  But, when given a method of doing it, they produced such examples as these:

  1. (Describe a young girl, at her first dance, in terms of another type of living thing.)  “Jane sat in the small gilt chair beside the dance floor, thin, angular, unmoving, eyes carefully blank, legs straight out before her like knobby stems.  She seemed as much a fixture as the potted palms.”
  2. (Describe a society matron in terms of another type of living things.)  Mrs. Cheyney was, he thought, like a faded rose, even to her hands with their thorns of fingernails.
  3. (And the same.)  “Mrs. Culpepper looked for her name in the society column, easer as a St. Bernard sniffing at a hydrant.”

 This is good writing.  It is professional.  Anybody who can do this on demand could have a successful career in some form of writing.  The trick of describing one thing in terms of another is much used by good writers.  Carl Sandburg wrote a complete poem by using this trick merely one time.  The poem contains six lines and twenty-one words, and has been reprinted in many anthologies of American poetry.  It is titled “The Fog,” and Sandburg describes the fog as if it were a cat.

Some years ago, in writing a story, I wanted to describe gulls flying, and I wrote of them in terms of ice skaters:  “Gulls figure-skating against the sky.”  This happens to stick in my memory because Reader’s Digest used my words on its “Picturesque Speech” page and paid me ten dollars, the first of many delightful checks from the magazine and Reader’s Digest Condensed Book Club.  While writing this article I wanted to see if I had exhausted the ways of describing gulls in terms of something else, and I came up with these descriptions:

  • The gulls went tobogganing down the snowy clouds.
  • The gulls did a waltz in the ballroom of the sky.
  • High up, a gull wheeled and curved, writing a message against the blue paper of the air.

This experiment seems to hint that there may be as many ways of describing gulls in flight as there are gulls.

Mood and atmosphere

When does a writer use such colorful expressions?  Always?  No.  That might be like a steady diet of fruitcake.  Colorful writing is used to create a needed effect – perhaps of mood or atmosphere or character – and when the effect has been achieved, it is a waste of time to do it over and over.  Nor should colorful writing be used merely to show off.  It must contribute to achieving the writer’s purpose in his piece of fiction or article or poem or speech or whatever.  I would not use colorful words to describe the ringing of a telephone, unless I needed to create a certain mood; if the mood had already been crated, I would simply say that the telephone rang, and then get on to more vital things.  But if the call was going to be important and I had to get the reader in the right mood for it, I might write:

  • I reached for the ringing telephone as if getting my first lesson in snake charming.
  • The telephone bell echoed in my head like a dentist’s drill.
  • The telephone bell made a little apologetic murmur.
  • The telephone jingled pleasantly, like an old hurdy-gurdy.

Each of these sentences contributes to the establishment of a different mood or atmosphere.  They could not be used interchangeably.

The same method, of course, can be used in describing people.  In my latest novel, Don Quixote, U.S.A., I wanted to describe my hero’s physical appearance, and at the same time create a mood and tell something of his character.  This called for colorful writing and for the expenditure of several hours of mental sweat to produce two sentences. As I say, these things do not come easily to me; getting them out of my head is often like trying to shake the last dime out of a piggy bank.  After four hours, I had these two sentences:

  • Mine is not the grim, strong face of the typical Goodpasture.  Such a face is spare and angular, as if welded from steel plowshares, whereas my features look as if they had been hastily whittled out of balsa wood.

In those two sentences, I provided a good deal of information about my hero’s physical appearance, the family from which he came, and his character.  I doubt that it would have been interesting to readers if I had merely written:  “All of my family have strong, grim faces, but mine is rather weak and nondescript.”

Another way to write colorful language is to exaggerate to achieve an effect.  It is not very striking merely to write that somebody is thin.  If you want to create a dramatic effect, use exaggeration.  Draw a word picture of how that person is.  For example:

  • She was so thin she could have taken a bath in a fountain pen.
  • He was so thin he could have lurked behind a needle.
  • He as so thin he could have crawled through a pencil sharpener… and with a pencil in his pocket, too.

Effective parts of speech

In trying to make magic with words, it is wise to beware of the adjective.  Nouns are good words to use in sentences.  They are like bones, providing the needed skeleton.  Verbs are good words.  They are the muscles, providing the action.  But adjectives are in most cases merely the clothing or ornaments of a sentence, and it is easy to overdress a sentence.  Let me quote the beginning of a famous speech, and count the adjectives in it:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones.
So let it be with Caesar.

How many adjectives in those opening lines of Mark Anthony’s speech?  Shakespeare didn’t use any.

So in trying to put magic into your words, don’t think that piling up adjectives will do the job.  One well-chosen adjective may be perfect, like a diamond ring on the hand of a pretty woman.  Too many adjectives may be like too many diamond rings; not only does the display seem crude, but also it may hide the fact that the woman has lovely fingers.

Words should be a source of never-ending mystery and delight to any writer.  All of us should be forever curious about how words were invented and evolved and what they used to mean and what they mean now.  Another term for a cliché is a hackneyed expression.  Think a moment about the word “hackneyed.”  Do you know how it originated?  Well, back in the days of horses and carriages, a horse that was kept for hire was called a hackney.  Such animals were overworked, and were often tired and slow and thin.  Somebody started applying the term to phrases that were also tired and slow and thin: hackneyed phrases.  When first used, the term was colorful and called up a picture in the reader’s mind.  But how good a picture does it evoke now?

Are you the sort of writer who can look up a word in the dictionary without ever being lured into looking up others?  Can you run across such words as “boycott” without digging out the sad tale of Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott?  Can you hear the term “halcyon days” without discovering the pleasant old Greek myth from which it come?  If you are not fascinated by words, I feel sorry for you, because you must find the use of them a dull and tiring job.  To make magic with words, a writer must know what they mean.  And, if he hopes to use words in a new and colorful way, he must be able to recognize the old drag ways in which they have been used.

Words are like Cinderella:  sad little drudges, wearing rags and dirtied by soot.  It is in the power of writers to play Fairy Godmother, and make those drudges into shining creatures.  Words can sing and dance, growl and roar, tiptoe and march.  They will do all these things for any writer who is willing to wave the magic wand of his imagination over them.

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With This Shield: Historical Characters

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Of the 60 men and women in With This Shield’s character listing, more than 40 are based on real people from ancient Greek history.  Below you will find some additional information on 15 of these historical figures.  Am also including the pronunciation of their name, as readers have told me they find this helpful.

SPOILER ALERT:  Though the data below will not give away the plot of With This Shield, in some cases it will tell you what became of the character in history.  I’ve been careful to leave out events covered in the next book in the series, so it does not give away too much information.

Aeschylus (S-kuh-lus)

While only a teenager in With This Shield, Aeschylus will grow up to be one of the most famous dramatic playwrights in Greek literature.  Twenty years later, he and his two brothers, Cynegeirus and Ameinias, would take part in the Battle of Marathon (490 B.C.).

Of Aeschylus’ 90 plays, only 7 survive.  One of his earliest works, The Persians, is based on his experiences in the naval Battle of Salamis (479 B.C.).  It is unique among the Greek tragic plays in that it describes a recent historical event.

Aristides (ah-ris-TĪDE-ēz)

In The Histories, Herodotus describes Aristides as the “best and most honorable man in Athens.”  In later years he was called “Aristides the Just.”

His life is recorded by the Greek author Plutarch in his book The Lives of Noble Greeks and Romans.  Plutarch states that Aristides and Themistocles were friends when they were young, but they had a falling out because “…both were in love with Stesilaus…”

My favorite story about Aristides occurred when he was older. The Athenians were voting on who to ostracize (the ‘winner’ being exiled for 10 years).  An illiterate voter who did not recognize Aristides approached him and asked him to write the name of Aristides on the ballot.  When the statesman asked the man if Aristides had ever wronged him, the man said, “No, I do not even know him, but it irritates me to hear everyone call him ‘the Just’.”  Honest to the end, Aristides wrote his own name on the ballot and was exiled.

Callicrates (kal-ē-KRAT-ēz)

Callicrates is only mentioned once by Herodotus, who says he was the most handsome man in the Greek army.  Thirty years after the events described in With This Shield, he would die at the Battle of Plataea (479 B.C.) while the Greeks were waiting for the Persians to charge and an arrow struck him in the eye.

Herodotus wrote:  “Having been carried to the rear, as he lay dying, Callicrates said he was  happy to die for Hellas, but it grieved him that he did not get a chance to prove his bravery, that he did no acts of valor worthy of the spirit he had in him to perform great deeds.”

Callimachus (kal-ah-MOCK-us)

Twenty years after the events described in With This Shield, Herodotus lists Callimachus as the polemarch (commanding officer) at the Battle of Marathon.  Callimachus led the Athenian right wing and was killed after the Persians were routed and the Greeks were chasing them to their ships.

In Athens, it was customary for the father of the bravest man killed in the battle to give the public funeral oration over the dead.  Callimachus’ father and the father of Aeschylus (whose brother Cynegeirus was also slain) argued over whose son was the bravest.  Callimachus’ father won.

Years later the Athenians erected a statue on the acropolis next to the Parthenon in his honor, called “The Nike of Callimachus” (the Victory of Callimachus).

Cimon (SĪ-mon)

Miltiades’ youngest son would go on to become one of the most famous statesmen and generals in Athenian history.  My depiction of Cimon is based on what we know from Herodotus and Plutarch, who claim he was a great supporter of the Spartans.  In later life he wore his hair long in the Spartan style, and named his first son, Lacedaemonius, after the Spartan homeland, Lacedaemonia.

After the Greco-Persian Wars, when the Greeks formed the Delian League to prevent future Persian incursions (the League would become the precursor to the Athenian Empire), Cimon was named as its principal commander.  Cimon led most of the League’s military operations from 475-463 BC.  During that period, he and Aristides drove the Spartans under Pausanias out of Byzantium (later called Constantinople and today called Istanbul).

His most famous military victory came at the Battle of Eurymedon River (466 B.C.), when he captured or destroyed over 200 Persian warships.

Cleisthenes (KLĪS-thenes)

Cleisthenes was the grandson of the tyrant of the Greek city of Sicyon (also named Cleisthenes).  Among his more famous descendants in the Alcmaeonid clan were the Athenian statesman Pericles (builder of the Parthenon) and the orator, statesman and general Alcibiades.

Cleisthenes is remembered in history as the ‘father of democracy.’  While some people consider his reformation of the Athenian constitution giving equal voting rights to all citizens a benevolent act, more than likely he did it to break the hold of the wealthy plains tribes, the Pedieis, over Athens, giving each of the tribes a level playing field.

Cleisthenes called his reforms “isonomia” (equality under the law).  It wasn’t until later they would become known as “demokratia” (rule by the people).

Cleomenes (KLE-ah-men-ēz)

Even though Cleomenes reigned for 30 years, during which time he was the key player in Spartan politics, and he accomplished numerous, slick diplomatic maneuvers, Herodotus does not paint a flattering picture of him.  He accuses him of being unscrupulous, a drunk and insane.  Historians tend to believe that whoever Herodotus spoke to in Sparta to gather information about Cleomenes, was probably among his worst enemies.

Cylon (SĪGH-on)

What we know about Cylon comes from the Syrian neoplatonist philosopher Iamblichus, who wrote in his book, The Life of Pythagoras:

“Cylon was a leading citizen of Croton with all of the advantages of noble birth, fame and riches; but otherwise he was a difficult, violent and tyrannical man who eagerly desired to participate in the Pythagorean way of life.  He approached Pythagoras, but was rejected because of his character.  Unaccustomed to rejection, Cylon vowed to seek revenge and destroy Pythagoras and his followers.”

The story in With This Shield about the alliance between Cylon and Ninon, who used phony, forged documents, to discredit Pythagoras and inspire the populace to burn down Milo’s house are found in Iamblichus.  Whether there is any truth to the story, or if it was part of an oral tradition, is hard to say as Iamblichus wrote 700 years after Pythagoras’ death.

Elpinice (L-pin- ēz)

The daughter of Miltiades, Elpinice, is known from Plutarch’s Life of Pericles, where she appears twice.  On both occasions she confronts and rebukes Pericles regarding his political actions.

After the events described in With This Shield, she became the lover of the painter Polygnotus who used her likeness in a painting of Trojan women on a stoa in the Athenian agora.  Later, the richest man in Athens, Callias, fell in love with her.  At the time, her brother Cimon owed the Athenian state a large sum of money and he married her to Callias to pay off the family’s debts.

Gorgo (GORE-gō)

Euryanax’s cousin Gorgo is among the few women mentioned by Herodotus in The Histories.  She is notable for being the daughter of a Spartan king, the wife of a Spartan king and the mother of a Spartan king.

Though little is known about her childhood, like other Spartan girls from a noble family, she would have exercised daily, been well educated, could read and write, and do mathematics.  She also would have learned how to drive a chariot and taken part in Sparta’s many festivals, which included dancing and singing in a chorus.

Gorgo is presented by Herodotus and Plutarch as an extremely wise, well-respected woman, who offered sage advice on several occasions.  Her most famous remark came when an Athenian woman asked her, “Why are you Spartan woman the only ones who can rule over men?”  To which Gorgo replied:  “Because we are the only women to give birth to real men.”

Miltiades (mil-TĪE-ah-dēz)

Miltiades is among the more famous Athenians appearing in With This Shield.  Will resist talking about his most well-known exploits, which will be detailed in the third book in the series.

Miltiades’ family, the Philaids, claimed descent from the Trojan War hero Ajax the Great.  Miltiades’ father won the Olympic Games three times for chariot racing, making him so popular it inspired the jealousy of Athens’ tyrant Hippias, who had him murdered.

Miltiades’ uncle, known as Miltiades the Elder, established an Athenian colony in the Thracian Chersonese (today known as the Gallipoli peninsula) where he set himself up as a tyrant.  When Miltiades the Elder died the tyranny passed to Miltiades’ brother Stesagoras, and after his death, to Miltiades.  Miltiades cemented good relations with the Thracian tribes in the area by marrying Hegesiplye, the daughter of the Thracian King Olorus.

The Greek historian Thucydides, author of The History of the Peloponnesian War, was a Philaid.  His father was named Olorus.  Whether it was the same Olorus related by marriage to Miltiades, is unknown.

Othryades (oh-THRAY-dēz)

As noted in the first two books of The Wandering King, Othryades was famous in Sparta as the lone survivor of the Battle of Champions (540 B.C.) between 300 Spartans and 300 Argives.

According to Herodotus, after the battle Othryades was so upset that his companions had all been killed, he committed suicide.  My apologies to Herodotus for letting Othryades live.

The image at the top of this post is a photograph of a sculpture done in 1779 by the French artist Sergel, titled “Othryades the Spartan Dying.”  It is on display in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Stesilaus (STES-ah-lāy-us)

The “beautiful and brilliant” Stesilaus from the island of Keos is mentioned in Plutarch’s Lives as the cause of the lifelong enmity between the two Athenian statesmen Aristides and Themistocles.

Like Othryades, I’ve taken some creative license with Stesilaus by turning “him” into a “her.”  It’s not that I’m anti-gay.  Not in the slightest.  I just did not think the story would read as well if two of my characters were fighting over a beautiful young boy.  That said, it’s important to realize the role homosexuality played in ancient Greece.

Says Plutarch of Aristides and Themistocles, “They were both in love with Stesilaus of Keos, the most beautiful and brilliant of youths; whom they both cherished so passionately, that not even after the boy’s beauty had faded did they lay aside their rivalry.”

Themistocles (tha-MIS-tōe-clēz)

While I don’t know how many readers are familiar with Themistocles, he is among the most famous Athenian statesmen and generals of all time.  I don’t want to reveal too much about him, as his story will continue in the next book in the series.

My depiction of Themistocles in With This Shield is taken from a tidbit of information I picked up while reading Plutarch’s Life of Themistocles.  Plutarch describes the young Themistocles by saying, “The wildest colts make the best horses.”

He also says that Themistocles was thrown out of his family by his father Neocles for drinking and carousing.  Though this information about Themistocles is debated, it helped form my characterization of him as brilliant, but somewhat wild and unscrupulous.

Plutarch also says that Themistocles was among the first people in history to become a lawyer to launch a political career.

Xanthippus (zan-TIP-ē-us)

Xanthippus was a wealthy aristocrat in Athens, famous in history as the father of the statesmen Pericles, who built the Parthenon and led Athens into its golden age.

Xanthippus married a niece of Cleisthenes named Agariste (Pericles’ mother).  Although not an Alcmaeonid, he became closely linked with their family.

Like Aristides, Themistocles, Miltiades, Callimachus and Aeschylus he would fight in the Battle of Marathon.  His greatest military victory would come in the last engagement of the Greco-Persian Wars as the commander of the Athenian naval forces at the decisive Battle of Mycale (479 B.C.).

Character request?

Want to know more about a character in The Wandering King series?  Let me know, and I’ll do my best to comply.

Get your FREE copy of “With This Shield”

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As promised, I want to inform readers that The Wandering King (Book 2:  With This Shield), will be available for free from July 21 through July 25.  This applies only to the ebook available through Amazon.

While I made The Wandering King (Book 1: Summer, Harvest, War), available pretty much everywhere, one of the things I’ve learned over the past two years is that Amazon is king when it comes to book distribution.  Therefore, I’ve decided to offer book 2 through Amazon only. This allows me to take part in their Kindle Select program which makes the book available to readers enrolled in Amazon Unlimited.

While these are not exact figures, here is a rough estimate of the ebook sales book 1 has received from the following booksellers:

Amazon:  2,000+
Barnes & Noble:   20
Apple iBookstore:  10
Kobo Books: 5
Smashwords:  2
Scribd, and all others:  1

These are all ebook sales.  One of the big surprises in writing The Wandering King is that hard copies of books are slowly going the way of the CD, videocassette and the poodle skirt.  In comparison, roughly 50 paperbacks have been purchased through Amazon, 3 through Barnes & Noble and 10 at my local booksellers.

Also impacting my decision is that book 1 received 50+ reviews on Amazon, 1 review on Barnes & Noble, and no reviews on any of the other online sites.  Although I would like to place book 2 in as many outlets as possible, it just doesn’t seem worth the time and effort.

My apologies to all those who own a Nook.  If there is a bright side, CreateSpace’s Expanded Distribution has placed the paperback version of book 2 for sale at Barnes & Noble.  I am unsure whether or not they make it available on any of the other bookseller sites.

If you pickup a free copy of book 2 and enjoy what you read, would love to know about it.  Even better, post a review on Amazon.  Your comments have the power to contribute greatly to the success of the book.

Just to mention it, a paperback version is available for $15.95.  It pains me to have to offer the paperback of book 2 for $1 more than book 1, but unfortunately the additional 60 pages of text added to the price.

Most paperbacks today fall in the 13.95 to 17.95 range.  A 375-page novel costs an average of $16.95.  Book 2 is 444 pages long, so although $15.95 is high compared to the $3.99 cost of the ebook, hopefully readers still find the cost reasonable compared to other books.

It’s here! Book 2 of The Wandering King published.

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Apologies Department

I owe readers of the the first book in The Wandering King series a sincere apology.  It was a huge mistake on my part to think I would have the second book done by the end of 2014.

As you may well imagine, a book is, quite simply, finished when it is finished, nor will that conform to a set date.  Rather than rushing out an inferior story, I felt it was more important to get the job done right.

Book two, subtitled, With This Shield, is a longer than book one, Summer, Harvest, War, by two chapters.  Which I did not anticipated when I started writing back in the summer of 2013.

Book two is a more complex book.  Not that you need an engineering degree to read it, it’s just that the story line and characters are more multifaceted.  Whereas, book one was at its core, an adventure story, book two continues in the same vein, but also gets into areas of Greek philosophy, politics and religion, that I hope readers enjoy.

Too, I have also been remiss in keeping up with this blog.  When given the option of working on the book or creating a blog post, the choice was easy.  I devoted all of my free time and put all of my efforts into finishing the book.

So I hope my readers will forgive me.  The good news is:  the book is done.  It was placed on Amazon this afternoon.  By Monday, it should have been approved for sale by Amazon.  If book two is received half as well as book one, I will be immensely satisfied.

Appreciation Section

Several thank yous are in order.  A shout out to my friend and mentor, Dr. James Morris, for assisting me with the proofreading.   Though I probably gave him an ulcer by spelling many names using the Greek form when he preferred the Latin, such as Heracles for Hercules, and Asclepius for Aesculapius, I appreciate his ability to back off when needed.

Sincere thanks to Jean Cauller, at Green Eye for Design, for helping me with the book cover.

In addition to producing the cover for With This Shield, I also asked Jean to redo the cover for Summer, Harvest, War.  The primary change was to enlarge the book title, so that it’s easier to read as a thumbnail on Amazon’s website.  Jean did a great job, and will be assisting me with the paperback covers as well.

Anticipation Sector

While the book might be up for sale June 29, you might want to hold off for a few days.  My intention is to offer the book for free for 5 days.  When I do, I’ll tip people off here in my blog.

It’s my small way of attempting to repay my loyal readers and thank them for being patient with me.  Can’t wait to see how the story is received.

 

The Good, the Bad, the Mediocre: Amazon Reviews

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Good Reviews: The Bubbles in the Champagne

Since publishing The Wandering King in April of 2013, approximately 2,000 copies have been distributed through various booksellers.

Ninety-seven percent of the sales have been e-books rather than hard copies, and 99% have been through Amazon. A distant second is Barnes & Noble (20 sales), and behind them is Apple iBookstore (2 sales). Dead last is Smashwords (1 sale).

The success The Wandering King has received on Amazon has been largely due to the reviews.  The average rating of your combined reviews gives your book a ranking under the ‘top rated’ listing and a special spot on Amazon’s web page.  This ranking has placed my book in the #1 to #3 spot under the Ancient Greek History category for the last 9 months.

To date, the book has received 40 reviews on Amazon.  Here is a breakdown of the number of 5-star through 1-star reviews:

                (28) 5 stars
                (9) 4 stars
                (2) 3 stars
                (1) 1 star

It has been a delight to read reviews such as:

  • Turning the last page of a good book, ending a good read, is like saying goodbye to a dear friend. One relishes the experience of both and longs for more time together…                    

                                       Dianne Smith

  • Many thanks to the guy who wrote this book. Really enjoyed it and have recommended it to all my friends. The book is something special, great character development; this man can really write.  

                                      Steve Fowler

  • Well-crafted historical fiction both educates and entertains the reader. Stephen Marte’s ‘The Wandering King’ achieves those goals. I’m looking forward to reading more of his story…

                                      Gregory Stoltz

  • Fantastic story, absolutely loved this. It is the story of a young Spartan growing from boyhood to manhood. The author portrays a character raised in a harsh world, but who still dares to defy tradition and what is expected of him. Brilliant, I cannot wait for the sequel…

                                      Tomas

A heart-felt thank you to everyone who has taken the time to write a review.  You have greatly contributed to the success of The Wandering King.

I do not know Dianne, Steve, Greg or Tomas, or the vast majority of my reviewers, which makes reading their reviews immensely gratifying.  Knowing people you’ve never met in Pittsburgh, Dallas or Portland enjoyed the story so much they can’t wait to read more, is music to any writer’s ears.

Admittedly, I do know four of my reviewers. My mom, my brother and two friends have reviewed The Wandering King, but they all read the book and enjoyed it, so their reviews are legitimate. Knowing Amazon will delete your book and toss you off their site if you try planting fake reviews, is all the motivation any author should need to play it honest.

I wish I could get more of my family, friends and co-workers to post reviews. When someone tells me they’ve read the book and loved it, my stock response is: “Put it in writing. Post a review.” Unfortunately, the majority of people who have told me they’ve read the book, never post anything.

Bad Reviews: The Worm in the Apple

The Wandering King has received only one bad review. After a year of nothing but good reviews, I received this in May 2014:

  • This is one I put down early. I’ve read Herodotus a number of times and have wondered what Doreius [sic] and His [sic] adventures to the lotus eaters could have looked like. The author tells his story rather than shows. The writing lacks even basic description. I do not have any idea where the other reviewers gave this book even a score higher than 2. It’s that briutal [sic].

                                    Sparta Fan

If Sparta Fan had an axe to grind with me, he succeeded.  His 1-star review succeeded in knocking The Wandering King off its perch as the #1 top-rated Ancient Greek History book on Amazon.  Seems hard to believe one review could knock me out of the top seat, but it did, which has adversely affected book sales.

As a professional writer who has spent a lifetime researching The Wandering King and three years writing and polishing his work, it is distressing to read, “the author tells his story rather than shows” and “the writing lacks even basic description.”

I refer Sparta Fan to the first chapter of the book, which appears here in my blog, The Planistai. To quote a sample of showing versus telling:

  • While we waited, I noticed Gorgo was trembling beside me. “Are you all right?”
    She looked at me wide-eyed. “I am so excited!”

If I wanted to tell the reader how Gorgo was feeling, all I had to do was say, “Gorgo was excited.”  Instead, these two lines show her trembling and wide-eyed.

Also in the same chapter appears:

  • “No girl is going to tell me what to do,” my cousin Pausanias snorted. Especially not the daughter of Cleomenes. Pausanias was a husky boy, with a thick neck, gloomy, deep-set dark eyes, a face full of pimples and a broad, pug nose that had always made me think of him as a wart hog.

If I wanted to tell the reader Pausanias did not like Gorgo, all I had to say was, “Pausanias did not like Gorgo.” Instead you see how Pausanias feels through his dialogue. Also in the paragraph is a brief description of Pausanias’ appearance. Why Sparta Fan would state the book “lacks even basic description” makes me wonder if he even read it.

Rather than continue to quote additional excerpts from The Wandering King, if you want to make up your own mind on the matter, please read the sample chapter on this site: The Planistai. It’s free.

I apologize if I sound defensive. I am. Writing is an intensely personal experience. Your books are like your children. Insult my son and like any good parent, my reaction is to leap to his defense.

A friend who read Sparta Fan’s review called it a ‘hatchet job.’ In looking over the other books Sparta Fan’s has reviewed on Amazon, I see he’s highly rated a number of books by British author David Gemmell. I’ve tried to read Gemmell’s work, but I don’t care for his style. I would describe his writing as, ‘historical fantasy,’ which doesn’t interest me. To be fair to Sparta Fan, I am guessing he was expecting historical fantasy like Gemmell’s work and instead got historical fiction. 

In the end, what I’ve learned from reading Sparta Fan’s review is that everyone has different preferences, and you can’t expect to please everyone.  It’s like looking at a painting by Picasso. One person sees an odd collection of blocks and colors that remind them of fingerpainting, while another person sees a woman weeping that is so evocative the viewer is moved to tears.

I suppose all I can do is be thankful that the majority of my readers appear to enjoy my writing.  On the flip side, I’ve learned that reading negative reviews can destroy your motivation.  Who wants to spend all of the time and energy required to write a book if some stranger with an axe to grind is going to piss all over your work?

Mediocre Reviews: The Flavorless, Chewy Steak

The Wandering King has only received two 3-star reviews. In one, the reviewer had nothing but good things to say about the book.

  • The Wandering King is an entertaining read that paints a different picture of the principal families of Sparta than other books of the same genre. Interesting stories, good detail, and enough action to keep the pages turning.

                                          David Nolletti    

David appears to have enjoyed the story.  Why he gave it an average rating is a mystery.  Perhaps to him a 3-star rating means it met his expectations or maybe some people are just tough reviewers.

The only other 3-star review commented that the book was “entertaining” but he found it troublesome that I used some modern language that he did not feel was appropriate to ancient Greece. Wish he had given some examples. If he had, I would have corrected them.

* * * * *

Where initially I loved seeing a new book review appear, I am now a lot more tentative about reading them.  It’s tempting not to look them at all lest it sap my energy to keep writing.  That said, I have no intentions of quitting.  Yes, I write so others will read what I’ve written, but first and foremost, I write to create something I would enjoy reading, and that feeling is not likely to go away.

If others have had similar experiences or advice regarding book reviews, would be curious to hear them.

Inherit the Flames

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In an author’s blog, I recently found a comment that after she had written three books she noticed a dramatic increase in sales.  She now has 12 books out, but it was after her third book hit the shelves that she felt she gained more reader attention and things began to take off.

It is going to be several months before I finish the second book in The Wandering King series, and possibly another few years before the third book in the trilogy appears. 

So I began wondering how I might be able to get a few more content on Amazon without taking too much time away from working on my Greek story. 

Don’t know if it’ll make a difference or not, but I’ve decided to publish a few short stories on Amazon.  The first of these is titled Inherit the Flames.

It’s a modern re-telling of the Biblical Cain and Abel story about a good brother and a bad brother.  Bad brothers tend to get into more trouble, so there is more opportunity for conflict, so the story follows one day in the life of Cain’s modern day counterpart, Conor. 

Both 18-year old Conor and his 21-year old brother Aidan are equally intelligent and talented, but each have chosen a different path in life; Conor to become a rock guitarist and Aidan to go to med school.  Take a guess at which one their religious parents favor and which is the outcast? 

The story is set in and around Atlantic City in 1978.  I lived in that area when I was young and as this was the year before gambling was legalized in Atlantic City, it provides a gritty backdrop to the story.  In those days my friends referred to Atlantic City as ‘Sin City’ as it was overrun with drugs, prostitution and racial strife. This is the enviroment that Conor is trying to esacpe and he’s got one day to do it. Will he succeed?  That question propels the plot forward.

Juxtaposed against Conor and Aidan are two female characters, Miriam and Alyssa, one from the wrong side of the tracks and one from a wealthy family that has given her everything. I’ve included them to add depth to the central theme of the story: do we inherit the sins of our fathers?  Are Conor and Miriam doomed simply because their fathers were evil men? Or will they escape their fate?

Though the short story only costs .99 cents on Amazon, if you’re reading this blog and tempted to buy it, wait till March 1.  I’ll be offering it for free through Kindle Select from March 1 through March 5.