Friday, February 5, 2016

Voice in the Wilderness by H.L. Wegley

H. L. Wegley's Voice in the Wilderness tapped into my niggling thoughts and concerns about the United States of America. His impeccable insights and research join to make an impressive political thriller that speaks to very current concerns. Oh wait. It's fiction. It is, and it isn't.

Beautiful K.C. Banning and her childhood sweetheart Brock Daniels were separated long ago by her disapproving father. K.C. is an IT specialist for the government and learns something she shouldn't. Brock is a conservative blogger with millions of followers. Reunited as adults in a heart-stopping, action packed quest to save the country in crisis, their feelings for one another come to an equally dangerous crossroads.

 The POTUS himself is after both their lives in a desperate attempt to keep them from getting the truth out and gathering opposition to his plot to take over the country. He will stop at nothing, spare no innocent life, in order to set Marshall Law in motion and make the nation helpless.

 K.C.'s faith has grown cold, and Brock was made to feel that he'd never be good enough for her. The journey back to each other as they fight powerful and evil forces is a encouragement in growing faith and trust.

The technical and military jargon were outside of my usual genre, but not dull or distracting. I found myself rooting for the two main characters, and realized that we need more like them in the real world battles our nation faces. Like I said; it's fiction, and it isn't. Highly recommended.

 H. L. Wegley served in the US Air Force as an Intelligence Analyst and a Weather Officer. He is a Meteorologist who, while working as a forecaster and a Research Scientist in Atmospheric Physics, published extensively in the scientific literature. After earning an MS in Computer Science, he worked more than two decades as a Systems Programmer at Boeing before retiring in the Seattle area, where he and his wife of 48 years enjoy small-group ministry, their grandchildren, beach hiking, snorkeling Maui whenever they can, and where he writes inspirational thrillers and high-action, romantic suspense novels. Besides his scientific publications, he published one non-fiction work, Colby and Me: Growing up in the '50s, a humorous collection of the childhood adventures of an early baby boomer. Check out his author site at

About the Author

H. L. Wegley served as an Air Force Intelligence Analyst and a Weather Officer. In civilian life, he worked as a research scientist, publishing in the scientific literature, then developed Boeing computing systems for 20 years before retiring near Seattle. He is a multi-published author with a 4-book inspirational thriller series, 2 nonfiction books, and 4 more novels on the way.
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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Podcasting 101

For more than a year, I've been contemplating starting a podcast. But the topic was always my stumbling block. I haven't exactly been great at doing a blog in the last few years, so how could I maintain a podcast?

That all changed last year when I attended Realm Makers. God seemed to tap me on the shoulder and tell me, "You're going to podcast with these two guys." About a month after Realm Makers, I approached my new acquaintances, Josh Hardt, and then Aaron DeMott about starting a podcast together.

That was the easy part.

Over the next several weeks, discussions began on format, how often we were going to meet, what everyone's jobs were going to be, and the all important title. We finally settled all the details, and started recording. We finally released our first round of episodes in January.

There were a lot of things to consider when we started.

First, why were we starting a podcast? Would we be able to contribute something different compared to what's already out on the market? The three of us are all nerds, we're all Christians, and at least Aaron and I are both published authors. After analysis of the market, we determined this was probably an under-served market. There's a lot of geek and fandom-focused podcasts, but there didn't seem to be any that came at things from a Christian worldview, let alone would talk to predominantly Christian (although not necessarily CBA authors.)

Now that we had a target audience, we had to decide on format. Would we do interviews? Do a topical discussion every week or so, or something in between? Initially, we decided to stick to interviews, but have already thrown in a bonus episode discussing Star Wars: The Force Awakens amongst the three of us. With our interviews, we break them into two parts: one for readers and another for writers.

Logistics became interesting, since we're all three spread across the Midwest, and we want to interview speculative fiction authors everywhere. To make things manageable, we use Google Hangouts through YouTube which allows us to record a video session. From there, it's easy to take the recording and strip the audio portion out for editing and polishing. It's a two-step process: first I have to convert the video file to audio (I use MP3 Rocket for this). Once that's done, I use Audacity for the editing--things like coughs and awkwardly long pauses get deleted. Depending on my own schedule and how awkward we got during a recording, it can take me 3 - 4 times the amount of time recorded to complete an edit. (This would probably be far less if I didn't have children interrupting my work time!)

Before we could publish, we also had to find some free-or-almost free music to use as our theme music. There are lots of places where this is available, but you have to read the fine print to make sure it's okay to use in a podcast.

One of the final steps was choosing where we were going to upload to create an RSS feed so our episodes could be found and listened to. After doing some research into several sites (and trying to figure out if it was logistically possible at this stage of the game to self-host), we chose to use Libsyn. Their rates were reasonable, and their FAQ straightforward enough that I could explain it to my slightly-less-technically savvy partners.

So far, our podcast has been well-received from what we can gauge, and we're booking slots into March 2016 for interviews. It's been a lot of fun (and a lot of work as the producer!) and I'm glad we've started it. But I would readily admit it's not for the feint of heart. There's been a few times already I've questioned my sanity, especially as it cuts into time I'd normally be writing or editing.

But I'm still happy that we get to give back to the writing community in this manner.

Lasers, Dragons, and Keyboards launched on January 11, 2016. It's available at their website, as well as through Libsyn, Stitcher, and iTunes.

For further reading, I highly recommend these articles:
How to Start a Podcast by Joanna Penn at the Creative Penn
Your Podcast Website
How to Start Your Own Podcast (from Wikihow)
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Monday, February 1, 2016

Present Tense


Second in a series discussing the most common forms of Verb Tense:

Past, Present, Future, Speculative

Some good sites to visit:

A good article about using present tense, both pro and con:
A good discussion about using present vs. past tense in narrative:

Present Tense, the language of the immediate, seems like it should be the easiest to use. In some ways, yes; but in lengthy fiction, staying in the moment is difficult and limiting to perspective. Present verb tense has two forms: Simple and Perfect.

Simple Present - tells what is happening now

Most of us are familiar with the first person "I am" structure: I am walking (now), I am typing... and so forth; similar to what I call the was/ing structure of past tense, the convention adds a layer of fluff between story and reader, holding them at arm's length. Using immediate strong verbs convey an intensity that draws the reader into the character or story: I strut along the runway; second person structure: He gallops toward center field; Barbara wishes she could fly.

Perfect Present - tells of an ongoing action and employs present tense of had: has/have; may be written with or without the implication (of the conclusion).

I will have been in the air eighteen hours by the time my flight lands. He has to keep running until he reaches the finish line. Tammy may have the correct answer (if we live long enough).

Positives: When done well, readers are drawn to the action and live in the moment with the characters and scene. The tempo is often fast-paced. Young adult stories lately have used this convention. Readers will often enjoy trying to figure out which way we'll jump next.

Negatives: It's like absolute infinity--you have no past or future, only implication. Now, implication has its wonderful moments as well, but there are only so many times a character or scene can cast red herrings for the reader. Readers can lose the bond with untrustworthy characters. I find the style breathtaking and if I am pulled into a particularly intense book, can only read a small amount at a time.

Telling an entire story in this way is difficult to keep up, and often involves an author slipping into past tense to describe a flashback for example, because some piece of past information is necessary. This will take the reader out of the moment. Gone, Girl, used this technique.

Books and authors employing Present Tense:

Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale) and Andre Dubus III (House of Sand and Fog) often use this method to tell story, but even then only parts of the books from particular character points of view are in present tense.
Timothy Zahn, Heir to the Empire - very eloquent
Suzanne Collins, Hunger Games
Charles Frazier, Thirteen Moons
John Updike, Rabbit Run

What other books have you read that are written in all, or mostly, present tense? What do you think about reading ad writing in this style? Do certain genres tend to lend themselves to this convention over others?

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Lie Catchers--review of a Police Procedural

A friend recommended Lie Catchers and told me about the interesting twist--the unusual abilities the main characters possess that make them good at their jobs, but miserable in life. These aren't super-human powers, they're oddities of the human condition that make for fascinating characteristics to give a couple of cops.

Detective Jane Randall has synesthesia, "a sensation produced in one modality when a stimulus is applied to another modality, as when the hearing of a certain sound induces the visualization of a certain color." In her case, she sees color streamers attached to the spoken word. She knows the color of confusion, sincerity, lies.

Detective Ray Pagan is an "empath"--someone with exceptional abilities to be empathetic, an acute ability to feel what another is feeling, and some of the things he feels in his line of work are hard to shake off.

Between the two of them, they solve crimes and catch criminals.

The idea fascinated me, and I expected to see something highly gripping and unique. I  was a bit disappointed.

The plot itself is a good one: two children are kidnapped simultaneously, in seemingly unrelated crimes, one from the home of a mortuary owner and the other from a rap-music producer. The two detectives rely on their skills and their unusual abilities to solve the case.

I liked both of the main characters. Jane, dubbed Calamity Jane, is the wounded, scarred hero who has a lot to overcome. Ray has already conquered his ghosts--or at least learned to live with them. All but one, anyway. Ray has created a haven for special people, and without her permission, has dumped Jane into it. She resents his gall, but loves the haven. Frankly, so would I.

The author, Paul Bishop, was with the LA police department for 35 years and was "twice honored as Detective of the Year," according to his Amazon bio, so he provides a lot of detail pertaining to interrogation and the laws governing it. If you write Police Procedurals, read this one with a notepad nearby.

And, if you write Police Procedurals, don't do it like Bishop did.

I'm not sure whether Bishop didn't trust his descriptive abilities or his readers' abilities to understand what he just presented, but he was forever explaining the obvious. It got to be annoying after a while.

Truth is, Bishop presented his scenes convincingly. He did a great job of it, and I understood everything that happened. Then, as I said, he turned around and explained it all to me.

Reminds me of the greatest rule of all in writing: RUE. Resist the Urge to Explain.

If you're not sure the reader will understand your scene, write it better. If you've written it as well as you possibly can, get a beta reader to let you know whether it works. If it works, leave it alone, if it doesn't, rewrite it. But never assume your reader isn't bright enough to catch on to what you've written.

And always write to your smartest, most critical reader. You please that one, you'll please 'em all.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Writer's Winter

Okay, I confess . . . I love winter. Gray clouds full of snow, cold wind biting my face, soft sweaters, scarves, mittens, hats, and coats. Coffee and a good book while snuggled up in a comfy chair by the fireplace make my day. I hang on the weatherman's every word like a child waiting for Santa Claus, because snow where I live is about as rare as Santa's visits.

The majority of my friends hate winter. The steel sky and freezing temperatures make them miserable. From their point of view nothing happens in winter. Everything feels and looks dead. No leaves on the trees, no grass in the lawn, no flowers in the beds. Just . . . bleh.

I have to admit, after a couple of weeks of sunless skies, I do begin to feel dull and have been known to sit under a bright light until I feel better.

Soooo, why am I writing about winter? Because we sometimes experience this season in our writing lives when nothing seems to be happening. Our minds are frozen, no words are on our screens, no inspiration in our souls. Just . . . bleh.

Winter gives the appearance of death, but life is happening below the surface. This season is actually nature's time of rest and rejuvenation. Therefore, when we are experiencing writer's winter, we should do the same. It is a time to play, sit under a bright light of inspiration, and push our writing roots deeper.

The way I play is doing fun writing exercises. One of my favorites is describing things using different senses not normally used. This stretches my imagination and refreshes my description storehouse. Below are a few ideas I have in my book, Writing from Your Soul, due out early next month:

  • Describe violin music using taste and touch
  • What does fire taste like
  • What does bravery smell like
These are just to get you started. Grab a notebook and have fun coming up with your own.

I also sit under the bright light offered by others in writing blogs like this one. Jane Friedman another great resource for writers.

Finally, we push our roots deeper by reading. This is very nourishing to our writerly minds. Read for the pleasure of it, and resist the temptation to edit while you read. *smiley face here* Appreciate the talents of others.

If you find yourself in writer's winter, embrace it. Take the time to rest and rejuvenate. In no time writer's spring is sure to bloom!

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Monday, January 25, 2016

From Coffee Can to Publication

I recently participated in another round of Oral History Inteviews for out city. One of our colorful local authors, 83 year old Hub Parker, regaled us with tales of his early life of farming and ranching. He was in his 60s when an accident (he and his horse both fell, and the horse landed on his foot) put him out of commission for a long time.

Faced with a lot of time on his hands, he started scribbling down his thoughts and memories on little scraps of paper and stuffing them into a coffee can. Hub says, "I didn't know I liked to write until I started doing it."

His wife found the can and asked him about it. "It's just a bunch of junk and when it gets full I'm going to dump it out and burn it, and then fill it up again." She encouraged him NOT to burn his little slips of paper.

Over time Hub experimented with poetry, submitted a few things and then was asked to do readings at cowboy gatherings. The persistent encouragement of family and friends eventually led to several published books of poems, and the novel, Long Ride to Davis. His narrative style is one of a kind.

Three tips for authors that I gleaned from Hub's interview:
  • It's never too late to start.
  • You don't need a lot of fancy equipment. Just use what you have (i.e. imagination, pencil and coffee can).
  • Surround yourself with a network of advisers and supporters.
Hub has a quality all authors need, and that is the ability to laugh at oneself. "I didn't know what I was doing, but I did it anyway," he said.

Just do it. 
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Friday, January 22, 2016

10 Steps to Girlfriend Status, Book Two of the Bird Face Series: A Book Review

A few weeks ago, I reviewed Cynthia T. Toney's 8 Notes to a Nobody, the first book in her Bird Face series, published by Write Integrity Press. Today I'm reviewing the second book called 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status. Anyone who read the earlier review knows how impressed I was with the characters and storyline, as well as Toney's uncanny ability to climb into the head of a middle-schooler to accurately regale readers with the angst, humor, giddiness, trauma, and thrills of growing older.

That talent led Toney to write a second book with the same character, Wendy Robichaud, now a 9th grader and in a different school. Being low on the totem pole and surrounded by more different faces than familiar ones, Wendy embarks on new relationships and a brand new family. Her mother, once crushed by the divorce from Wendy's father, has met and married a new man, the father of Alice Rend, a friend from 8th grade. When her mom and Mr. Rend marry, Wendy's simple life as the youngest in a two-person family morphs into the life of a blended family with a new stepdad, stepsister (Alice), and little stepbrother, six-year-old Adam. She's excited, nervous, and more than a little sad. What will life be like with an instant family? What if she and Alice don't get along anymore now that they're sisters and share a household, not to mention parents? Will little Adam, sweet as he is, get on her nerves? And last, but certainly not least, what on earth will she call Mr. Rend?

As if all that isn't enough to rattle her cage, Wendy's love life has taken an upward turn and she's in a relationship of some kind (friend, buddy, soon-to-be girlfriend?) with hunk and star baseball player David Griffin; her dear friend and older neighbor, Mrs. Villaturo, is acting strangely and claiming to see (and converse with) her dead husband, Gus; and when Mrs. V's son comes to check up on his mom, he brings his own son, Sam--another drop-dead gorgeous boy Wendy's age who sports beautiful eyes and just happens to be deaf. Add to all that a Robichaud family scandal from a couple of generations earlier that Mrs. V has alluded to and you've got more than just a little tension and excitement in Wendy's life.

Do a young person a big favor and give them a copy of both 8 Notes to a Nobody and 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status. These books might not spare them the agonies of middle and high school years, but they'll sure as heck give them someone to relate to--and I can think of nobody better to share those growing-up years with than Wendy Robichaud.
I love to hear from readers, young and old. I can be reached at any of these:

Follow me on Twitter:  @CynthiaTToney
Cynthia is a former advertising designer, marketing director, and interior decorator who holds a BA in art education with a minor in history. While employed by a large daily newspaper, she rewrote some ad copy without permission and got into trouble for it. At that point, she knew she was destined to become an author.

When she’s not cooking Cajun or Italian food, Cynthia writes historical and contemporary teen fiction containing elements of mystery and romance. Cynthia loves animal-shelter dogs and the friendly South from Georgia to Texas, where she resides with her husband and several canines.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Sounds and Rhythms of Language


                          Donn Taylor

In most writing, we work mainly on getting the meaning we want into concise sentences that put the most important information in the most emphatic part of the sentence. Our concentration will vary according to the kind of writing we're doing. If we're doing technical or scientific writing, content is everything. Insofar as we can, we avoid any quality of the words that might distract from the content. We avoid drama or other emotion. And as writers, we try to disappear so that the reader can concentrate solely on the informational content.

If we are writing fiction, we pay more attention to drama and emotion, varying according to the fictional situation. In this, we are trying to give the reader a vicarious experience rather than merely convey information. This of course involves voice and style, as well as a decision on how much the reader should be aware of the writer. Yes, there is a varying balance between the reader's consciousness of content (the story) and his consciousness of the writer's language and style. The more the writing leans toward literary quality, the more conscious of language the reader will be.

I would like to call attention to two qualities we usually don't think much about: the sound and texture of words and the rhythms of sentences. We actually use these qualities any time we write, but we use them mostly by instinct without conscious thought. Yet they can give our writing added depth, and they can be used in passages of commercial fiction as well as literary fiction. This can be illustrated by a passage from my espionage thriller The Lazarus File. The hero, Mark, was missing in action in Southeast Asia when his wife and young child were killed by a drunk driver. In this scene he has finally returned and makes his first visit to their tomb in Louisiana.

Among the moss-draped oaks of the silent cemetery, Mark read again and again the brief dates of two beautiful lives. Somewhere among the oaks a redbird called to its mate, who piped her spirited reply. Quick wings whirred. Then silence returned. In the darkening cemetery, Mark stared at the marble walls and felt, as never before, man's inability to penetrate the barrier between life and death.

            What makes this passage work? The emotional mood setting by deep sounds, mostly long vowels. The contrast of those with the lighter sounds of short vowels. The contrast of monosyllables with polysyllables. The varied sentence lengths, with the sense of finality conveyed by short sentences. And this brief passage does not slow the action of the thriller.

            Truth to tell, I wish I could write like that all the time. But I can't. I was thinking of sound and rhythm when I wrote it, but in that instance it all came together with a little revision.

            How does this apply to all of us as fiction writers? We should continue to concentrate mainly on clarity and moving the story forward. But we should always be conscious of possibilities to add deeper layers of emotional meaning through the rhythms of sentences and the sounds of words.
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Monday, January 18, 2016

YA Book Cover Trends


Cynthia Toney doesn't design book covers. She writes young adult novels.  But like any fiction reader, she's attracted to some book covers more than others.

After receiving positive feedback regarding the first two covers of her YA series, Bird Face (shown below), she began to pay close attention to the YA covers she liked, which led her to consider trends in YA covers.

She shares her observations with us:

In deciphering which features draw me to a book cover, I realized they’re the same features that designers of print advertising, known as display ads, employ in their designs. And I used to be one—a display ad designer, not an ad.

Everyone reading this knows that any two-dimensional design must stand on its own merit. It must please the eye regarding use of light, color, movement, balance, unity, and visual texture, to name a few elements of design.

An advertising designer also knows that the ad must somehow jump out at the reader from all the other ads on a newspaper or magazine spread or page. Readers of print periodicals make a decision in a split second whether or not to read an ad’s content. The same goes for a book cover, and thus for a book.

On a table or shelf, what can be done to make a book cover stand out among the rest? It has to do with knowing the trends and staying ahead of them if you can.

Going forward on memory alone—and it’s been eighteen years since I designed newspaper ads—here are some of the design trends I recognize from those days and see repeated in book covers today.


Big human eyes. Dog or puppy eyes. Snake eyes. Just about any eyes, with or without much of the face. The reader is captivated unless every book on the shelf uses eyes.

Off with their heads

—or one side or top or bottom half of the body. The brain fills in the missing pieces. This trend focuses the reader on what the body is doing or wearing and can give a strong hint about the story. Using only legs can work as well.


The back

--of a figure or of a head. Done right, it directs the reader into the figure’s point of view.

Human silhouette.

It evokes mystery. Unfortunately, newspaper advertisers often wanted to fill silhouettes with ad copy, to the dismay of the designer.

Limited Color.

At one time, all newspaper ads printed in black ink, and the product images attracted readers. Then spot color was introduced to draw the eye to an ad, but eventually most advertisers caught on and used it. When presses made full color printing available, a few big-budget advertisers were able to dominate the pages through size and color. Then the little guys followed suit, the pages filled with color and, once again, no one’s ad stood out. So, some clever advertisers went back to black to get their ads noticed on colorful pages.

Today, book covers appear to be moving away from full color and toward a limited color palette. What sometimes appears to be a single color is actually a duo-tone created with one color plus black. Sometimes the entire background is white.

Lens flare or spotlight treatment.

Brings light to an otherwise dark cover image, or calls attention to a particular area of it.

The cover for The Perfect Blindside is a great example of one that combines a limited color palette and a silhouette viewed from the back with a special lighting effect. Doesn’t this cover draw a reader right into the book? It feels almost three-dimensional to me, as if I could step with the boy down to where the light is coming from and investigate what he sees.

Large Title or Large Author Name.

This trend was addressed continuously in newspaper ads as “Large Header or Large Company Logo,” so it was more of an ongoing debate between designers and clients than a trend.  Sometimes the company logo was the header, just as the author name can appear large at the top of a book cover. Or the title might appear much larger than the author’s name and be located at the top or bottom.

Playing with the Title Presentation or Font.

Other trends include a title that fills the majority of a blurry background, such as the cover of We Were Liars. Sometimes extra kerning (space) is added between letters to spread them out. Another trend is to place the title text on slips of paper, such as on the cover for All the Bright Places. As in that case, a human image might not appear on the cover at all.

I first noticed all these trends in advertising almost two decades ago, but they work now as they worked then.

By paying attention to the cover trends in our genres, authors can plan for our next book cover. The question is whether to ride a successful current trend—or create our own.

What is a favorite recent book cover and why? Did the cover call to you from among many others surrounding it?


Author Bio:

Cynthia writes character-driven teen novels with twisty plots—because life is complicated.

The first edition of her debut novel, Bird Face, won a 2014 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award in the Pre-teen Fiction Mature Issues category. With a new publisher, Write Integrity Press, the original story is now book one of the Bird Face series and titled 8 Notes to a Nobody. Book two is 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status. Watch for future titles in the series, which will continue to combine mystery, real-life struggles, and innocent teen romance.


Best ways to reach Cynthia:

Twitter:  @CynthiaTToney

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Friday, January 15, 2016

Book Review - The King's Dragon

I must admit right off the bat, that I've been in major work-mode lately, and my reading has fallen by the wayside. However, in recent days, my work load significantly lightened up, and I was finally able to take a bit of time to do some fun-reading (rather than the research reading I've been up to as of late.)

I also rarely read novels based off of TV series I watch. I do read series that sparked movies and TV shows, but not the other way around. Just one of those weird rules of mine.

But a few months ago, one of my friends raved about a Doctor Who book by Uma McCormack. I'm a Doctor Who fan (yes, I'm a geek--why else would I write books featuring a superhuman main character?) and my friend said that this writer had done a brilliant job at characterization of the Doctor and his companions. Okay, I'm sold.

Sadly, my library didn't have that book. But they did have The King's Dragon by the same author. At right about 250 pages, this definitely fit my need for a quick, light read.

The story is pretty much typical Doctor Who-type fare: the Doctor and his companions arrive on an alien planet and find something amiss, in this case, a magical metal called Enamour on a pre-industrial planet, and a king with a dragon made of the stuff. The Doctor knows it shouldn't be there, and when two bands of aliens show up to reclaim what may or may not be theirs, a Doctor-kind of chaos ensues.

As a light-read, this was perfect. It was brilliantly paced, cleverly written, and the characterizations nearly spot-on for the characters I've grown to love over the last few years. I had no problem picturing this alien planet or its people, and for the characters I knew, their voices and facial expressions came through clearly in my head. It is British, being that Doctor Who is a BBC-produced show, so the spelling and the punctuation took a bit of getting used to (they use single quotes the way we use double quotes, and vice-versa. But I've dealt with that before when reading Ian Fleming's work.)

If you're in to Doctor Who as well, and haven't taken the plunge into the literary world of the Doctor, this would be a good one to start with, especially if you're a fan of the Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond.

The King's Dragon is $8.94 for Kindle, $4.85 for paperback.


Brief note from Liberty because Linda Yezak said I could:
This week, I launched a new podcast with two of my fellow nerds, Aaron DeMott & Joshua Hardt. If you're a writer, or a reader of sci-fi/fantasy/speculative fiction, you may be interested in following our podcast! Co-founder of AuthorCulture, K.M. Weiland will be our guest in our 'casts later this month. You can find Lasers, Dragons, & Keyboards at this link. Thanks so much!
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