Monday, May 21, 2012

The Restorer by Amanda Stevens

photo: Book cover from the author's website,

So I'm standing in Stop & Shop, where I buy many of my books these days--which is an issue I'll probably take up with my blog--when I saw this book.  Quick to judge a book by its cover, literally and metaphorically, I saw the image of a seemingly-weeping stone angel, its wings drooped and its face under its right arm, its left arm hanging loosely over a cemetery mausoleum.  The caption reads, "Every cemetery has a story.  Every grave, its secrets."  And Publishers Weekly said it was a "creepy, atmospheric tale."  On the back, Heather Graham (I read this quote because I thought it was the super-sexy actress commenting, but alas...) said that the author "...has managed the difficult feat of combining charms and chills..."  Now, I've been doing research about graveyards and gravestones for my novel, The Gravediggers.  And I admit to a morbid fascination of this stuff.  (For example, I can look at the front of a New England gravestone and tell you the approximate year of construction without looking at the dates.  It's all in the skulls, angels or urns on the front, or the flat or rounded shoulders, or the rock used--thin black slate is much older...I can do the same with the backs of baseball cards, but I digress.)  As this all had some slight bearing on The Gravediggers, I thought I'd see how someone else handled a few things I have to work with.

After buying it, I realized it was a Harlequin book, and I became slightly ashamed of myself.  As I'd already spent the money--and as I've been sniffling with a sore throat and blocked ears the past few days--I thought I'd try it anyway, and I would breeze past the sultry scenes.

Much to my surprise--and bias--I have to say that it was a very good, quick, and, indeed, a chilly and atmospheric read.  Most of it does take place in graveyards, which can get old pretty quick, but the author manages to describe the same things in different ways--or, in some cases, repeating creepy things to good effect.  The doom and gloom never gets old.  There is no actual bodice-ripping to speak of, thank God, and the romance is kept to a minimum--much of it one-sided until the end.  The mysteries are mysterious enough, though the book focuses more on the atmosphere than on the mystery.  It's solved very quickly, and perhaps abruptly, at the end, and the revelation probably won't surprise you.  (I have to admit that I nailed the villain right away.  But that's me.)  The ending was satisfying for me despite this, and the author carefully and wisely ends it with an open door to the sequel--though in an author-intrusion/speaking to the reader way that was consistent throughout the book, and which I could have done without.

The characters are (mostly) believable, as are the plot points and situations.  The main character, also the 1st person narrator, is a graveyard restorer (hence the title).  This is apparently not a well-paying job, though there's obviously plenty of old graveyards in the south and in New England that need tending.  I was always under the impression that local historical societies took care of this sort of thing themselves, but I suppose it's plausible that they may seek contract help.  Since these societies are vastly underfunded with local tax dollars and count heavily on volunteers--even in the administration--I wonder if this part is very plausible, but whatever.  You've got to get her in there.  (I volunteer a tiny bit for a local historical society, and the woman in charge of it is a volunteer who goes into the office only on Mondays.)  Of course, there aren't any symbologists, either, but Dan Brown got away with it.  (And this book mentions that very term, and is heavy, but not dependent, on symbols, and secret societies, etc.)  Anyway, the focus isn't on the main character's job, but is instead on her ability to see spirits--and the dangers they present.  Her father had also had the gift (or curse) and was also a graveyard restorer, and he gave her a set of rules to live by, because otherwise the spirits will latch on to you, forever.  As in, even after death.  The Harlequin focus, if you will, is on how she throws all those rules away when the haunted and brooding police detective enters her life.  The number one rule: Don't acknowledge the ghosts.  Don't even look at them.  If you do, they'll latch on to you.  She never dates, either, because of how often she sees ghosts, and their haunted hosts.  And, besides, who wants to date someone who smells like death all the time?

Of course, why someone who insists she needs to stay away from all these ghosts continues to take jobs working in cemeteries is never addressed.  I mean, where else would you run into more ghosts than a cemetery?  But, whatever, suspension of disbelief, and all that.  The main character is likeable and the minor characters are passable (though not fleshed out and a little interchangeable), so if you're appreciably creeped out by Gothic things, and if you can remember your teenage and college years when you walked alone in graveyards at times, pick this up and read it.  I'm going back to Stop & Shop to pick up the sequel now.

And, about buying books at Stop & Shop now that there's only one bookstore outlet in the state...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

My Interview, Part 3

Following is the end of my interview at a cool website for newbie and professional writers, The Writer's Block, at  Specifically, you can find my interview here.  But it's an interesting site, so look around!

You can find Part One of this series a couple of blog entries ago, or here.  Part Two is a few entries ago, or here.

7)      How do you promote your work? What methods have worked best for you?

Well, I’m still relatively new at this, so I do what I can without letting it overwhelm the actual writing time, plus the career that I love which also pays The Man.  I blog, usually three to four entries per week.  I’m a member of (too many) online writers groups.  I befriend (or is it e-friend?) other bloggers, and I comment on their blogs.  I tell everyone who is related to me, who likes me, or who might be interested—or any combination—about my published work.  I just took a copy of Space and Time with my story in it to the local library and asked if they could subscribe to it, since my story was in it—and they said “Yes!”  (That was completely spur-of-the-moment.)  A few other things are in the works.

Despite all this, I firmly believe that the best method of promoting my work is to finish more of it, to send it out, to get it published, and to advertise that—then repeat.  I very strongly believe that a writer’s best advertising is his own high-quality, published work.

8)      What are your upcoming plans for 2012?
To finish, send out, and publish every single title I mentioned I was working on in #3!!!  Plus everything else festering in this overactive head of mine that I haven’t had time to jot down yet.  And to set up a better schedule for myself so that I can do all that.

9)      What is your definition of success as an author?

This is actually pretty simple, and I’m happy you used the word “author” rather than “writer,” or it wouldn’t be so simple.  A successful author is one who gets paid to his/her own satisfaction for the work he or she has produced.  Success, unlike beauty (though we could argue about that, too), is in the mind of the individual, not the beholder.

10)   What advice would you offer to aspiring authors?

Read a lot.

Write a lot.

Send it out a lot.

Stir.  Repeat.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Nonfiction Piece Published Now

 photo: Jackson the Greyhound, happy to be out for a walk

A short nonfiction piece, titled "Someone to Come Home to," about how my life improved when I adopted a greyhound, was published recently in an anthology, now available on Amazon at this link.  If you're interested in real stories about how to manage those anxieties that life can often throw at you, check it out.

And due to my spec. fiction sale, I've been accepted as a member of the Horror Writers Association.  (Besides our first name, it's probably the only thing that Stephen King and I have in common.)  Please click on the icon to the right and check them out!

If you feel like commenting about the piece, please do so.  Thanks!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day!

To all the moms who read this, and perhaps to all of those who are just plain maternal.  If you're not a mom, I hope you've said Happy Mother's Day to your own, if you can.  If you're not able, like I'm not, try and think of the happy times with her, and wish her one anyway, like I did.  Hopefully she can hear you; if she can't, you'll feel better anyway.

Please feel free to leave a quick comment about the best part of your day today, mom or not.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Jerry Maguire

photo: from the movie's Wikipedia site

One of my favorite movies, it's gotten stuck in my mental flypaper recently, for reasons that I couldn't even begin to tell you.  But the good thing about being a writer who writes a lot is that I am used to unabashedly getting my thoughts down and throwing them out there, even if said thoughts won't light up the world--or bring it down.  They're not important, but here they are anyway:

--It's occurred to me lately that one of the odd things about the movie is that Jerry Maguire is a complete orphan.  This would have been a great point to show in the movie, which, after all, is a warning against materialism, working too much to the sacrifice of personal contentment, and working at being a complete person--in other words, about relationships.  It was established that he was bad at relationships, but only with women.  He was afraid of commitment.  But what about his parents?  Maybe a cousin somewhere?  And why didn't he have a kid by his age (he's 35)--and with his money and opportunity.  He couldn't even father a mistake?  Anyway, this would have been a great point for the movie to quickly emphasize, even if it's just one line.  If he had a family, for example, he might not have been so desperate to make money.  Which brings me to--

--It is inconceivable that a sports agent of Jerry Maguire's calibre would not land on his feet quickly with another agency.  The movie clearly isn't about that--it's about fewer clients, after all--but Maguire doesn't ever seem to even have the thought.  Another super-agency like the one he left would have snatched him up immediately.  There are a lot of those.  Furthermore, at the very least, other young and hungry sharks would have wanted to leech onto him when he formed his own company.  This happens all the time, even in the literary agent world.  They go from agency to agency all the time, often climbing higher and higher--or just starting their own, where other less-experienced agents would join them.

--A real Jerry Maguire would never have left Cushman unsigned.  Again, I know the movie is anti-corporate, anti-contract, etc.--but, still, the #1 draft pick in the whole country is not left unsigned.  Once he's eligible for the draft, agent-barracudas would be all over him.  In fact, swarmy agents are latched onto this guy before he even graduates college--they just can't legally announce it and date the contract until after he's eligible.  Like, a few seconds after he's eligible.  I can't imagine Scott Boras getting by with just a handshake with the father of the #1 draft pick.  For those who don't know, #1 picks get signed to long contracts worth millions of dollars, often tens of millions if they're obviously great right away.  And the agent usually makes 15% to 20% of that.  So if the #1 pick gets signed to a three-year, ten million dollar contract--which is pennies these days--the agent will make one- to one-point-five million dollars of that.  Which is why a handshake the night before the draft simply would never do--not even for an nontraditional, anti-corporate guy like Jerry Maguire.

--Thinking again of the orphan theme, or at least of someone being parent-less, Ray, the little boy, of course lost his father.  Cushman's mother is never seen, or mentioned.  Dorothy has her sister, Laurel, but neither ever mentions their parents.  Jerry Maguire has nobody at all, and mentions his mentor more than he ever mentions any parents.  The agency is definitely his family--which of course was part of his existential mess.  In fact, the most respected guy, in terms of family and relationships, is Rod Tidwell--who has a large family, but no friends, not even on his team.  For these athletes, their teammates are often just as much of a family--if not more--than their actual family.  But not for him.  Everybody, in some way, was off-balance with some kind of relationship.

--The AFI says Jerry Maguire is the tenth-best sports film ever.  I haven't seen the list, but I assume Field of Dreams, The Bad News Bears, The Natural, Major League, Rocky, Raging Bull, a football film from the 70s that I'm forgetting, with Burt Reynolds, and...What else?  Wasn't there a famous boxing movie from the 40s or 50s, The Quiet American, or something like that?  Moneyball, if the list is recent.  Bull Durham, of course.  That's ten, so one of these, or more, aren't in the top ten.  Okay, I'll take a look at the list now.  Wait, before I do, Chariots of Fire.  Oh, and The Karate Kid (the original, of course).  Now I can't find it.  Wait, here it is.  80s purists beware.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

My Interview, Part 2

Following is more of my interview at a cool website for newbie and professional writers, The Writer's Block, at  Specifically, you can find my interview here.  But it's an interesting site, so look around!

You can find Part One of this series a couple of blog entries ago, or here.

4)      Tell us about your latest published short story, “Hide the Weird”. Where can readers find it?

Readers can find “Hide the Weird” in Space and Time Magazine: The Magazine of Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction, via or at a newsstand near you.  It’s a romance with a twist: a young man can see into the very near future (usually a couple of seconds to a couple of days); what he sees next is an ex-girlfriend, who he still loves, jumping from her apartment window, aflame, and plummeting to her death, a shooting star he loves crashing to the ground.  But when?  Can he stop it?  If he can’t, how can he warn her about it without her thinking he’s a freak?  And, throughout all this, is he really saving anyone, or just making someone else die?  All of that in just four magazine pages, with a nice illustration by Mark Levine.

5)      I understand that you have recently completed a novel. What can you share about it?

That I’m soon to seek literary representation for it.  Just finishing the pitch and packaging. 

And that it’s a story of redemption.  Foster was a cop who couldn’t save a three-year old girl from plummeting to her death.  Now he’s dead inside—despite a fa├žade, he’s just a depressed and broke PI with a dying mother.  But after Henry Blanchard hires him to find his missing daughter, Foster soon learns he’ll have another chance to save someone from certain death.  And at the end, when he saves her, he saves himself.  

Some people fail at something so traumatic that it defines their lives.  How many get a chance at peace and self-redemption?  Foster does, but it’s not easy:  The vice-president of RI’s largest construction company is extorted and blackmailed by his ex-wife and her lover—a known crime figure named Charlie—who wants the company to work on the Mob’s pork-barrel projects and to launder its money.  The VP’s eighteen-year daughter, Melissa, witnesses this and runs away.  Foster finds her at her drug-dealing boyfriend’s in time to save her from Charlie’s hitmen.  But he’s forced to lose her.  Foster solves two other connected crimes while also fending off crooked cops, a dirty detective, a seductive and deceitful woman—and his depression, created by his mother’s illness and his regret and loneliness.  The climactic scene: a Wendy’s restaurant, where he finds Melissa—and the hitmen sent to kill her, plus some.  The novel resolves with Foster’s and Melissa’s recoveries, his mother’s death, the end of his mental and emotional anguish, and his self-redemption.  Sort of.

6)      Who are your favorite authors? What is on your reading list right now?

Too many favorites to mention, but here are some, in no particular ranking: Shakespeare, Stephen King, Robert B. Parker, Nietzsche, Anne Lamott, Alice Munro, Umberto Eco, Barbara Tuchman, Dan Simmons (though we need to have a talk about Flashback), Woody Allen (short stories and screenplays), Quentin Tarantino’s screenplays, lyrics of Paul Simon, Lennon/McCartney and Brandi Carlile.  And, well, how much space do you have?  Right now I’m reading Jonathan Kellerman’s latest (though they all seem to be bleeding into one by now), and The Best American Mysteries of 1998 (working my way up), and Joyce Carol Oates’ Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque.  And whatever I’m doing at my job, plus new stuff in the new textbooks that look interesting.  And…

(Me again.)  One more in this interview series to come.