Book Review—Dust

Like “Mr. Dark” in Something Wicked This Way Comes, a pale, desiccated stranger appears in the region, and immediately, bad things start to happen.

Dust Cover

When I first began reading Dust by Arthur Slade, I didn’t realize it was a YA novel. To me, the writing was cold and hypnotic, and it unfolded the way that darker, more severe, stories about serial killers and children do. Nevertheless, this is most assuredly a young adult dark fantasy.

Like “Mr. Dark” in Something Wicked This Way Comes, a pale, desiccated stranger appears in the region, and immediately, bad things start to happen. Unaware of the danger, the local farmers and the town’s banker fall under his spell and buy into his scheme to save them from the drought. Good luck with that.

As we follow an eleven-year-old boy named Robert, who is desperately searching for his younger brother, Matthew, we come to learn that not only has Matthew disappeared but many other children have as well. And the grownups don’t seem to notice—or care. When we come to know Robert, we can see why he believes it is up to him to find his brother.

One of my favorite things about this novel is the world-building. It takes place in Horshoe, a small town in Saskatchewan during a terrible drought. In the US, the drought occurred in the early 1930s and led to the Dust Bowl. Farmers are barely able to grow any crops due to a lack of rain. It’s always hot, and there’s dust everywhere—grit that blows into peoples’ homes, clings to their clothes, and invades their food. It’s this kind of detail that makes Dust such a compelling read.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
The children were disappearing.
And the worst thing about it?
No one noticed

A rainmaker brings rain to a drought-stricken town. The stranger amazes the townspeople with magic mirrors and bewitches the children with his beautiful butterfly.

First, one child vanishes. Then another. And another.

Only one young man sees through the lies and decides to act.

You’ll love this dark, mysterious young adult novel. Winner of the Governor General’s Award.

Get it now.

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Book Review—The Infinite Pieces of Us

The Infinite Pieces of Us Cover

The more I read YA fiction, the more I realize just how hard it is to be a kid nowadays. I won’t bore you with idyllic memories of roasting marshmallows around a campfire, but I will say that for many kids—and parents—today the world is a harsh, unforgiving place fraught with consequences. And this reality was never more evident than in the wonderful new novel by Rebekah Crane entitled The Infinite Pieces of Us. In it, she has given us Esther Ainsworth, a smart, soulful sixteen-year-old girl who has already lived far beyond her years and who is now forced to live in a dry, brittle desert that serves as punishment for something she did and whose secret must never be revealed.

As adults, we are well versed in the notion that we must accept the consequences for our actions. But we also lie—to ourselves and to others—to avoid those consequences, even if only for a while. In this story, Esther learns just how willing adults are to lie to keep the consequences at bay so we can live our lives as though nothing had happened. In such a world, Esther can’t rely on adults for guidance and must turn to her peers, hoping they can help. A touching subplot explores how Esther has fallen away from her sister, Hannah, who blames Esther for ruining her life by making the family move, even though it was their parents’ decision to do so. I found Hannah tragic and vulnerable and could easily picture a sequel starring her.

If you are a parent raising teenagers, read this book. Because these honest, hurt characters will tell you truths that your children will not—that what you see on the surface doesn’t begin to describe the pain and anxiety they carry inside like an even smaller hurt child.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
From the author of The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland comes a hilarious and heartbreaking novel about coming apart, getting it together—and moving on. It’s just a two-hour drive…

Pondering math problems is Esther Ainsworth’s obsession. If only life’s puzzles required logic. Her stepfather’s solution? Avoidance. He’s exiled the family to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, to erase a big secret from Esther’s past. So much for the truth. Now for the consequences: an empty swimming pool, a water-sucking cactus outside her window, a goldfish rescued from a church festival, and Esther’s thirst for something real.

Step one: forget about her first love. Step two: make allies. Esther finds them in Jesús from the local coffee bar; a girl named Color who finds beauty in an abandoned video store; Beth, the church choir outcast; and Moss, a boy with alluring possibilities. Step three: confess her secret to those she hopes she can trust. Esther’s new friends do more than just listen. They’re taking Esther one step further.

Together, they hit the road to face Esther’s past head-on. It’s a journey that will lead her to embrace her own truth—in all its glory, pain, and awesomeness.

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Hooray! Chainsaw Honeymoon Is Published!

Chainsaw Honeymoon Cover 3D

I am so excited—what a journey! The Kindle edition of Chainsaw Honeymoon is available now exclusively at Amazon, and for a limited time, I am offering it for $1.99 US. Click here to order your copy. The print edition will be available in a few days.

Yes, I want to buy now!

Take a look at what IndieReader had to say about my latest novel:

“In this tale of a daughter literally trying to scare her estranged parents back together, Steven Ramirez combines the horror/slasher film and literature genres with the light comedy/romance of a Cary Grant film. Both genres present challenges on their own. What is amazing about Chainsaw Honeymoon is how Ramirez surmounts both of these demands. Added to these accomplishments is his ability to present the viewpoint of a fourteen-year-old girl. In the form of Ruby, Ramirez imparts to readers all the confusion brought about by puberty; the emotional neediness camouflaged by sarcasm; the obsession and continuing frustration with boys; and the bonds female teenagers forge with one another.” — IndieReader

Stop talking so I can click the link!

Book Description
Life, love, and a few dead bodies. Just another day in LA.

One year ago, Alan and Stacey Navarro underwent a painful separation, leaving their daughter, Ruby, to live with her mom and an over-caffeinated Shih Tzu named Ed Wood. People split up all the time, and most kids might get over it, providing they can still Snapchat. Not Ruby. A bright, funny fourteen-year-old who loves shoes and horror movies, she is on an insane mission to get her parents back together. But she can’t do it alone. She needs her two best friends, her dog, an arrogant filmmaker, a bizarre collection of actors, and a chainsaw-wielding movie killer. What could possibly go wrong?

Chainsaw Honeymoon is “hysterical fiction” and like nothing you’ve ever read. There’s romance, drama, and a creepy talking doll called Mr. Shivers. Cutting a breakneck, jagged swath across present-day Los Angeles, this book hurls flaming balls of movies, music, horror, and comedy—like some kind of possessed pitching machine. Is this real life? Better ask Ruby.

For fans of John Green, Robyn Schneider, and Ferris Bueller.

Vote for a Chance at a Free Book!

[Kindle Scout Ad]

VOTE TODAY!

I need your help. Earlier this week, I submitted my new horror comedy novel, Chainsaw Honeymoon, to Kindle Scout, an Amazon program that lets readers help decide if a book gets published by Kindle Press. Of course, I’d assumed that with the holidays, I wouldn’t hear back for several weeks. But on Wednesday, I learned Amazon had approved my book for a campaign. Cue the Japanese drummers! And this is where YOU come in.

Basically, I have thirty days to convince readers to vote for my book. And I am asking you to help. If Amazon selects Chainsaw Honeymoon for publication, every person who voted for it gets a free copy (subject to Amazon’s rules). So, please. Visit my Kindle Scout Campaign today and VOTE. Thank you!

VOTE TODAY!

[Chainsaw Honeymoon Cover]

Book Description
One year ago, Alan and Stacey Navarro underwent a painful separation, leaving their daughter, Ruby, to live with her mom and an over-caffeinated Shih Tzu named Ed Wood. A bright, funny fourteen-year-old who loves shoes and horror movies, Ruby is on an insane mission to get her parents back together. But she can’t do it alone. She needs her two best friends, her dog, an arrogant filmmaker, a bizarre collection of actors, and a chainsaw-wielding movie killer. What could possibly go wrong?

Book Categories
Literature & Fiction › Humor & Satire › Dark Comedy
Literature & Fiction › Horror › Comedy
Romance › Romantic Comedy
Teen & Young Adult › Literature & Fiction › Humorous › Dark Humor

Don’t miss out. This campaign ends of December 24th. Visit my Kindle Scout Campaign and VOTE.

Marked by Fate Box Set Available for Preorder

Just wanted you to know about a promotion from my fellow indie authors. Check this out.

Marked By Fate. Defined By Their Choices.

A collection of 25 Fantasy and Science Fiction YA coming of age novels from New York Times, USA Today, International, Amazon bestselling and Award-Winning authors!!

This action-packed collection is filled with teen warriors who encounter shadows, queens, witches, wizards, werewolves, and shifters. Sometimes these young adults partner with immortals, angels, vampires, demons, and gods. And with occasionally genetically engineered soldiers, cyborgs, and robots as they discover magical hidden fantasy worlds, encounter mind-blowing dystopian lands, space stations, and galaxies they could never have dreamed existed. Marked by Fate to complete these deadly and dangerous quests filled with nonstop action and adventure!

Pre-order on all vendors between now and Oct. 23rd 2017

Release Date: Oct. 24th 2017

Buy Links:

AMAZON SMART LINK: http://smarturl.it/MBFBoxsetAmazon

B&N SMART LINK: http://smarturl.it/MBFNOOK

Kobo SMARTLINK : http://smarturl.it/MBFKOBO

iBooks SMART LINK :http://smarturl.it/MBFibooks

 

COME AS YOU ARE—More News

Hey, guys! Just a quick note to let you know that today I posted the final chapter from my new YA horror novella Come As You Are at Channillo, a subscription-based online magazine. The novella will be available for reading online through the end of May.

I plan to publish Come As You Are in the next few months both in digital and print. The Kindle edition will be available for preorder first. (More on that later.) Also, I’m very excited to tell you that the book includes nine additional short stories.

If you’d like to read the novella now, check out my Channillo series page. And happy reading!

[Come As You Are Cover]

Synopsis
Ivan Stein isn’t sure he can survive seventh grade, let alone middle school. Living in a town known for its poverty and violence, he is regularly bullied along with his best friend, Ollie. But fortunes can change.

One day, Ivan finds an old notebook in an abandoned locker at school. Despite a nasty warning from the ill-tempered janitor, he takes the book home and soon learns that it once belonged to another kid named Craig and apparently possesses occult properties—powerful magic Ivan can use to punish his enemies.

The notebook describes five tasks Ivan must complete to unleash the full power of the book. But what he doesn’t know is demonic forces control the book’s pages—raw evil that will inflict suffering on the good as well as the bad and demand as payment Ivan’s very soul.

Read Come As You Are

COME AS YOU ARE on Channillo!

Hey, guys! Just wanted you to know that starting Tuesday, January 31st, I am posting chapters from my new YA horror novella Come As You Are at Channillo, a subscription-based online magazine that allows writers to share their work in regular installments. I will be publishing a chapter a week through the end of April, at which point the entire novella will be available for reading.

Please check out my series page. And happy reading!

[Come As You Are Cover]

Synopsis
Ivan Stein isn’t sure he can survive seventh grade—let alone middle school. Living in a town known for its poverty and violence, he is regularly bullied—along with his best friend, Ollie. But fortunes can change.

One day, Ivan finds an old notebook in an abandoned locker at school. Despite a nasty warning from the ill-tempered janitor, he takes the book home and soon learns that it once belonged to another kid named Craig and apparently possesses occult properties—powerful magic Ivan can use to punish his enemies.

The notebook describes five tasks Ivan must complete to unleash the full power of the book. But what he doesn’t know is demonic forces control the book’s pages—raw evil that will inflict suffering on the good as well as the bad and demand as payment Ivan’s very soul.

Read Come As You Are

 

Book Review—CLOCKWISE

[Clockwise Cover]I love stories involving time travel. If I were writing one, it would probably take on a more dystopian tone—not unlike the television show ‘12 Monkeys’ on Syfy. But that’s me. Clockwise is different, though. Thanks to the talented author, Elle Strauss, it’s funny, girly, and inventive. Also, it feels historically accurate, which is always a good thing for the discerning reader.

Teens have enough going on in their lives without adding sudden, awkward trips to the past. And when you add a little danger and a series of escalating romantic complications, you end up with a fun, satisfying read. The protagonist, Casey Donovan, is very self-aware. She goes on endlessly about her height, her hair, and her perceived lack of personality. And like most teens, she’s not really sure where she fits in, though her best friend Lucinda is mostly supportive. The fact that Casey is smitten with a jock doesn’t help matters.

In less skilled hands, this story would have seemed trite. One thing I noticed is that Nate, the object of Casey’s endless fascination, is written with real heart. I mean, come on. Good-looking high school athletes have a reputation that precedes them in movies and television. Allowing him to mature along with Casey was absolutely the right move. Clockwise is socially relevant and charming. A genuine pleasure.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Synopsis
A dance. A dare. An accidental tumble through time. Awkward.

Casey Donovan has issues: hair, height and uncontrollable trips to the 19th century! And now this –she’s accidentally taken Nate Mackenzie, the cutest boy in the school, back in time.

Protocol pressures her to tell their 1860 hosts that he is her brother, and when Casey finds she has a handsome, wealthy (and unwanted) suitor, something changes in Nate. Are those romantic sparks or is it just “brotherly” protectiveness?

When they return to the present, things go back to the way they were before: Casey parked on the bottom of the rung of the social ladder and Nate perched high on the very top. Except this time her heart is broken. Plus, her best friend is mad, her parents are split up, and her younger brother gets escorted home by the police. The only thing that could make life worse is if, by some strange twist of fate, she took Nate back to the past again.

Which of course, she does.

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Pulp or Poet?

[Size Mismatch]
Photo courtesy of Miguel Castaneda
via Creative Commons

A writer’s life is nothing, if not angst-filled. Each day, we struggle with dilemmas—most of our own making and many imagined. As for me, I like to battle my demons in private. The best course, I feel, is to put that kind of drama into my writing and let my characters live in Hell. But, frankly, I just can’t take it anymore, and I need to spill. So please, bear with me.

I’ve been writing for more years than I care to admit. In my twenties, I devoted my energy to screenwriting. Great idea, jefe. Get to the end of the line behind the thousands in LA already slaving away at what they hope will become the next ‘Captain America.’ Though I did manage to sell one screenplay and see it made into a movie, I never really enjoyed the success I was hoping for.

When indie publishing came along—mostly thanks to Amazon—everything changed for me, as it did for many other aspiring authors. For years, I had been amassing ideas for novel-length books, and the only thing stopping me from ordering my sport coat with the suede elbow patches was the terrifying thought of trying to secure a literary agent. Weak, I know. But enough about that.

My Eternal Dilemma
I’ve always aspired to write well—as opposed to banging stuff out fast for the money. And, believe me, if you’ve ever downloaded free books to your Kindle, you know what I’m talking about. There’s a lot of crap out there—a lot. And what frustrates me is the fact that this drivel sells—way better than anything I have written. Which brings me to my current dilemma—am I a poet who wants only to create beautiful things (that don’t sell), or a successful pulp writer who’s in it for the money?

My personal belief as to why a lot of indie books sell has nothing to do with quality. Sure, they have to have some semblance of plot and structure. Of course, the cover shouldn’t make you puke. And the formatting has to be at least good enough for you to be able to read the thing without getting vertigo. But what these books have going for them, I feel, is that they are catering to a successful genre. Like Romance.

Now, before you get all huffy and threaten to take my lunch money, let me explain. I am not trying to say anything bad about Romance writers. In fact, sometimes I wish I were one so I could sell more books. What I am saying is, must I write in genres that sell, rather than what I am interested in? It’s a great question.

Romance Rules
So, why did I pick on the Romance category? Take a look at the May 2016 Author Earnings report, which you can find here. This is what they say about indie author earnings (bold text is mine):

Turns out there were 43 [invisible authors] lurking unseen in the dark spaces between Amazon’s bestseller lists, including one author invisibly earning more than $250,000 a year. Unsurprisingly, 30 of the 43 invisible six-figure earners — including the top earner — were self-published indie authors. Most were writing in the Romance Fiction genres, but there was also an indie author of editor’s-choice Cozy Mystery Fiction, and even more surprising, a traditional-award-winning indie writer of Literary Fiction. We happen to think that’s pretty cool.

Cool, indeed. I have a number of writer friends—many of whom publish Historical Romance, Regency Romance, Contemporary and New Adult Romance. It’s my sense that they are doing pretty well. But here’s the thing—from what I can tell, they actually enjoy writing Romance. So for them, this is the best of all worlds.

A Genre Comparison
Not to put too fine a point on it, but I would like to provide an illustration of what I am talking about. The following excerpt is from my horror thriller novel, Even The Dead Will Bleed: Book Three of Tell Me When I’m Dead. Notice that the writing is purposeful and dark—just the thing for pulp fiction:

The girl was pretty with long, light brown hair and frightened blue-grey eyes that were almond-shaped—slightly Asian—and ringed with dark circles. Her full lips were pink and moist, her skin fair and blemish free. She couldn’t have been more than nineteen or twenty. I looked at the back of her hand and noticed a red needle mark—probably from an IV.

“Are you in danger?” I said.

Still nothing. I glanced left and right to see who might be watching. Then I released her arm and took a step back, my open hands away from my pockets. I thought she would bolt, but she stood there unsure, looking at her bare feet, which were dirty. Her shoulders jerked up and down and I realized that she was crying. I remembered what Becky had said when the alarm went off—someone’s escaped.

I wasn’t sure what to do. She must’ve broken out of Hellborn, and now they were looking for her. I didn’t want to leave her there—not like this. She needed help. But I didn’t want to get mixed up with a kid. Griffin, the girl Holly and I had rescued in Tres Marias, had turned out well—and I thanked God for her—but I needed to be alone to complete my mission.

“I’m Dave,” I said. “What’s your name?”

She looked at me steadily. I didn’t know what new hell I was signing up for. It was pretty obvious that it would involve more than slipping her twenty bucks and wishing her good luck. When she spoke my blood went cold.

“Don’t let them find me!” she said.

 

Here is another excerpt—this time from my latest, unpublished Young Adult novel, Chainsaw Honeymoon: A Ruby Navarro Disaster. Not to brag, but this might even border on the literary. See if you agree:

A loud yawn startled me. It was Dad. How long had he been standing there?

“Come on, Rube, it’s late,” he said.

And by the way, when did he get all parental? Mom must’ve had a talk with him.

“No-uh,” I said. “I need to figure out this sequence.”

Between you and me, I was struggling to keep my eyes open.

Gently, he closed the laptop and guided me to my bed. As I dug through the duffel bag for my pajamas, I felt something foreign. Removing my hand, I saw Mr. Shivers. How had he gotten in there again? I thought I’d left him in the closet back home. Too exhausted to care, I tossed him into a chair, where he landed in a sitting position.

“Tomorrow, I could use your help setting up the Roku,” Dad said.

“Aghh, you’re so pathetic. Fine, I’ll see what I can do.”

I let go of a major yawn. Smiling, he gave me a bear hug, practically squeezing the air out of me.

“Ooh, I thought I heard a fart.”

“Dad, that’s so rude!”

“It used to make you laugh.”

“When I was five.”

“Good night, Rube. Brush your teeth.”

He and Mom had definitely spoken. I wondered vaguely if he was going to go off and practice The Beggar’s Sideshow per Mom’s instructions. Before he left, I broke down and decided to spill. After all, the man deserved to know the truth. I picked Ed up and put him on my lap for moral support.

“Dad?”

“Yeah, baby?”

“She is moving on, you know.”

He was leaning against the doorframe, staring at me intently. I could almost see the man hormones keeping his emotions in check. Barely. His face was a mosaic of disappointment, anger and disbelief. He smiled sadly and, without another word, closed the door behind him. See, this is the difference between women and men. I would be throwing things at this point.

 

The point is, I didn’t research the markets for either of these works—I just sat down and wrote them because I felt like it. We’ll see if the charming and perspicacious Ruby is enough to help me sell some books.

Sage Advice
I am currently reading How to Make a Living as a Writer by the well-respected author and teacher James Scott Bell. His book offers clear, practical advice on how to actually pull off what he promised in the title. One thing he suggests is studying bestselling categories on Amazon and making a conscious decision to master that market, then cranking out your own novels. Here is what he has to say:

I believe a writer should love his genres. But you can learn to love a genre. Sort of like an arranged marriage.

Nicholas Sparks did this with his own career. He went into it like a businessman. He looked at the bestselling genres and discovered that each one had two big names that dominated. At the same time, a surprise book emerged called The Bridges of Madison County. It was a tear-jerking love story written by a male author. And it exploded.

Sparks decided he could be the second name on this unique subset — men who write tear-jerking love stories.

He’s done pretty well.

Now, from a business point of view, he’s absolutely right. But in the words of Jerry Seinfeld when asked to wear the puffy shirt, “But I don’t want to be a pirate!”

If I were more practical, I would begin immediately my own market research and get to writing that puffy shirt book. But to be frank, Romance isn’t really my thing—unless guns or time travel are involved. Besides horror, I am drawn to Thriller, Mystery and YA. Having said that, though, if I follow Mr. Bell’s advice, I am still going to have to research what sells within those categories. And I’m not sure I want to write a political thriller, for example. So, I am almost back where I started.

In On Writing, I seem to recall Stephen King referring to himself as a “journeyman writer.” Here is a guy who consistently cranks out solid work in a genre he loves—and who makes a very good living. But he is practical, too. He knows he is a business. I’m still working on that concept.

What to Do?
As I said, I have a new book coming out, written without the benefit of checking in on bestselling categories. I hope it does well. If it doesn’t, I may decide that my next novel needs to have the word “girl” in the title. It doesn’t take a ton of research to know that those seem to be doing very well lately.

THE GHOST FILES—Taking on the Dead with Style

[The Ghost Files Cover]I can see why this book is popular—and why it’s headed for the big screen. (Supposedly, it went into production this past summer.) I’m sure with the right cast, the movie could be a lot of fun. Oh, how I wish Roddy McDowall were still alive to play Dr. Olivet! Never mind. Maybe Brian Cox is available.

I only had a couple of quibbles with the story. Mattie sure has a lot of guys in her life who she thinks are “the one.” Hey, maybe that’s sixteen-year-old girls. Who am I to judge? That, and the ending is a little convoluted. No spoilers here, but I thought the reveal was a bit messy. These are minor points, though, so please don’t let them stop you from reading this very entertaining book.

Book Blurb

[The Ghost Files Cover]

Cherry blossom lipstick: check
Smokey eyes: check
Skinny jeans: check
Dead kid in the mirror: check

For sixteen year old Mattie Hathaway, this is her normal everyday routine. She’s been able to see ghosts since her mother tried to murder her when she was five years old. No way does she want anyone to know she can talk to spooks. Being a foster kid is hard enough without being labeled a freak too.

Normally, she just ignores the ghosts and they go away. That is until she see’s the ghost of her foster sister … Sally.

Everyone thinks Sally’s just another runaway, but Mattie knows the truth—she’s dead. Murdered. Mattie feels like she has to help Sally, but she can’t do it alone. Against her better judgment, she teams up with a young policeman, Officer Dan, and together they set out to discover the real truth behind Sally’s disappearance.

Only to find out she’s dealing with a much bigger problem, a serial killer, and she may be the next victim …

Will Mattie be able to find out the truth before the killer finds her?

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