Guest Post: The Never Hero by T. Ellery Hodges

A little while ago Todd got in contact with me to request a review of his novel, The Never Hero. He was kind enough to send me a copy in the mail so today I am featuring him on my blog. I hope you find the following interview with a fellow author interesting :)

Todd’s novel is available for free from the 7th through the 13th of December on Amazon. So get in quick!

Title: The Never Hero
Author: T. Ellery Hodges
Links: Amazon | Novel Website | GoodReads

Blurb:
Jonathan Tibbs is young man who has been forced to fight off an army of attackers, one at a time. However, he is caught in a predicament where no one on earth can ever be aware of his actions. If he survives an attack, time reverts back to the moment before he engages the enemy, if he dies, he ceases to exist on earth. Though filled with action and intrigue, the story centers around the question of how his choices can possibly have any meaning, when it seems that no matter what he does, the world can never know.

1. Tell us a little about The Never Hero:

I had the idea for The Never Hero when I asked myself the question: “What is wrong with men in my generation?”

There were a number of possible answers, so I tried to focus on what I felt others could relate to:
– There were no role models in the real world I wanted to emulate. In fact, I found that every person who might fit the bill was a fictional character.
– There was a disappointing sense that we go through our young lives looking for a fight worth fighting. Something that isn’t a perpetual philosophical burden, something we can look at and say: this is wrong, this is the villain, and this must be stopped.

I tried to stay true to these observations when I created Jonathan Tibbs and the circumstances he finds himself in. Still, there were other ideas I wanted to incorporate. We’ve all heard the cliché: “write the book you would want to read.” I wanted to read about a superhero making a self-sacrifice that was as pure as I could get it without sacrificing believability. The only way to do this was to create a situation where, no matter what the protagonist did, they would never get any credit for their actions. Superman leads a rough life, but at the end of the day at least the world knows he saved it. Jonathan doesn’t get this luxury.

I also wanted a hero who, though given certain abilities, had to work as hard as a normal person to be an effective opponent. In The Never Hero, Jonathan’s powers only activate when he needs to protect the world, but how effective those powers are is determined by his natural human form before those powers kick in. The stronger he is as a normal man, the stronger he is when activated. In other words, I wanted a hero that had to train like Batman in order to keep being Superman.

2. What is your writing process like?

I have an idea and I let it stew in my head like a puzzle that needs solving. Eventually I see a satisfying conclusion. Once I can see the linear progression, a time line of events that leads to that conclusion, I sit down and write.

The moment I type the first word, my wife enters and asks me how to solve for the hypotenuse of a triangle, then argues with me when I explain. I start to write again, and my fourteen year old son comes in and asks if I can drive him to subway. I make incredibly slow progress, blaming the delay on the distractions of my family. Then, the moment they aren’t home, I find myself watching television instead of writing. It’s a very complex process.

Really though, I write a terrible first draft. Then I revise it. After that I start to look for what ties all the elements of the story together. I look for themes and symbolism I may not have even consciously meant to incorporate. I try and see what the story is really about. Then, I revise again, and I do so in a manner that brings those identified elements into clearer focus. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Eventually, the story starts to flow, starts to culminate. I try my best to remove all the excess, and then there is the editor followed by the beta readers.

3. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

If it’s your first attempt, don’t add unnecessary paragraphs to your story because you are afraid you can’t fill an entire novel. When you finish the first draft, you’ll regret all of that fluff you need to edit out because you’ve written a 500 page tome instead of the 300 pages you originally intended.

A reading pet peeve:

If you don’t know why you character is doing something, figure it out before you publish. Nothing bothers me more than when I read a character behaving in an illogical manner and no explanation is given other than intuition or a subconscious premonition, or my most hated of all lines: “he didn’t know why, but he had to {insert illogical action}.”

A rant on description and vocabulary:

Description is only good if it serves a purpose, and too much of it, no matter how beautifully written, always runs the risk of losing the reader’s attention. I’d get upset about it, but I’d be a hypocrite. My most frequent complaint, even with my favorite story tellers, is when they spend an entire paragraph describing a mountain scene or a woman’s intricate dress pattern. I only go into a lot of detail about the furnishing of a room if it is actually important to the plot or if a location/object is its own character, so to speak, within the story. For instance, I once went into excessive detail about a character’s garage, but the character saw that garage as his friend. In other words, he anthropomorphized it (going to regret using that word after the next paragraph). Still, I think it is far better to say “They were in a forest” and let the reader build the scene to their liking.

Vocabulary was something that was brought into stark clarity when I asked myself if there was ever an exotic word that really improved a reading experience for me. The answer was simply: “nope.” When I wrote the original draft of The Never Hero, I had beta readers write down every word I used that they didn’t know. I ended up removing all but three, and even those I sometimes regret keeping (in case you’re curious, I kept phylogeny, pedantic, and prepubescent. I just now realized that they all happen to be ‘P’ words…weird). What I eventually recognized is that I had been using larger/exotic/scientific words more due to my own insecurity than necessity. I actually thought it would matter if readers believed I was intelligent, that it would give me some type of credibility as an author. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. The reader doesn’t care if I’m smart, and I’ll only alienate them if I try too hard to prove it. They care if I can tell a good story. That, and if I actually am smart, not just posturing with impressive word use, it should be clear in the writing.

4. What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently working on two projects, both of which I plan to release in 2015.

The Never Trespass.
The sequel to The Never Hero, this story takes place roughly a month after the events of the first novel, and delves deeper into the mysteries surrounding the secret war that Jonathan has been forced to fight as well as the history of all the characters responsible for the conflict.

Rolly
I am also trying out a new series that I plan to release as 50 to 100 page shorts, not unlike the length of a television episode. The series is called Rolly and follows a young woman surviving in a zombie apocalypse while both gifted and cursed with multiple personality disorder.

I haven’t written an official blurb for the series yet but I’ve used the following in a coming soon advertisement:

Rolly awoke the day after the grid went down. Until then, she’d spent her entire existence locked up in a padded room within the mind of Molly. It has been three years since Molly went to sleep, and Rolly has kept their body alive, surviving in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. Now, something has brought Molly back to the surface. She intends to use Rolly as a weapon, but the girl who has been sleeping through the worst period in human history has a conscience, and it’s liable to get them both killed.

5. What are your ultimate writing goals?

For once in my life I actually have an answer to this question: (1) Quit my day job. (2) Write full time.

Review: The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn

Title: The Sky So Heavy
Author: Claire Zorn
Publisher: UQP
Genre: Young Adult, Apocalypse
Links: Book Depository | GoodReads | Amazon

Blurb:

For Fin, it’s just like any other day – racing for the school bus, bluffing his way through class, and trying to remain cool in front of the most sophisticated girl in his universe, Lucy. Only it’s not like any other day because, on the other side of the world, nuclear missiles are being detonated.

Why I picked it up:

I was really excited to read this one. I rated The Protected by Claire Zorn 5-stars, so I was really interested to see what The Sky So Heavy was all about.

Thoughts:

This book had a seriously realistic feel. It wasn’t dramatic or over the top, it was just an honest account of what could happen if we descended into a nuclear winter. There was no glamour, just a cold hard reality.

Trying to save yourself and your family isn’t crazy. People will try to hold on when their world starts to tilt, they will grab onto whatever is in reach.

This novel certainly wasn’t a feel-good novel. It was rather bleak and depressing, but I have to give the author credit for writing something really gritty as opposed to glamorising the whole situation like a lot of apocalypse novels do.

I enjoyed this one. I don’t think it was as good as The Protected, but still enjoyable.

My Verdict – 3 stars

Blog Tour: The Devil Music by Carly Orosz

As part of The Devil Music blog tour, I am hosting an interview with its author Carly Orosz.

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Title: The Devil Music
Author: Carly Orosz
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Links: GoodReads | Book Website | Carly’s Blog

Blurb:

Cain Pseudomantis leads a miserable life. Bound to the mortal world by a powerful spell no demon could hope to break, he must obey his human master’s every command or face harsh punishment. He finds solace in the rock music which he listens to when he isn’t running unsavory errands for his master.

Then everything changes. While on a mission in a seedy section of 1980s Los Angeles, Cain impulsively buys an electric guitar and discovers an unusual talent for music, a talent that catapults him to hair metal stardom. With three superpowered human band mates and his beautiful girlfriend Michelle by his side, his life starts to look a lot better. But Cain soon finds that even rock stars have troubles.

Interview:

1. Tell us a little about Devil Music
Devil Music is something of an experimental project. I originally envisioned it as a graphic novel, but I was pretty busy with grad school when I got the idea, so I started writing it as a straight-up novel in my spare time. Then I ended up liking where that project went, so I kept the novel and resurrected my original graphic novel idea in the form of a web comic that continues the adventures of the characters. The web comic is free to view on my website (devil-music.com) and is updated weekly. My hope is that the comic will help to broaden my audience a bit. Also, it’s just a lot of fun to write.

2. Describe your writing process?
Slow and cautious. I tend to kick concepts around in my head for quite some time before I start committing them to paper, and that process then involves a lot of playing and re-ordering and experimenting. That’s why I’m very strict with myself about setting aside a certain amount of time each day to write. The process may be slow, but I can keep it moving forward that way.

3. What is your ultimate writing goal?
My goal, at this point, is to get my work on the market and have people read it. But my ultimate goal is to be personally happy with what I wrote, whether 10,000 people or 10 people read it.

4. What are you reading right now?
I am very nearly finished with Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (which I somehow managed to put off reading until I was nearly 30 years old–shame on me!) and I’ve started Dean Alan Foster’s wonderfully cheesy Spellsinger series from the 80s.

5. Who is your all time favourite author?
As much as I like fiction. I think my favorite author is Lucille Clifton. An excellent poet, and a very wise woman.

6. Do you friends and family support your writing career?
They do, quite enthusiastically. I think they were more excited when my proof copy of Devil Music arrived than I was! My dad has actually published a few books himself, and he’s given me some very good advice about the pitfalls of being a new author. I’m grateful to all of them for their help and support–particularly my husband, who did a good eighty percent of the legwork when it came to the technical aspects of putting the book together, like getting the manuscript formatted and finding an artist for the cover.

7. What are you working on right now?
A sequel to Devil Music, as well as the web comic. I’ve also been trying to blog more frequently; blogging is a good way for me to unwind and get my thoughts in order.

8. What is your advice for aspiring authors?
Keep at it. If you wrote something that you’re proud of, that you believe in, be persistent in getting it out there, both before publication and after (a much bigger part of being an author than most people care to admit is promoting your work, after all!) Also, get yourself a good editor. They’re well worth the investment.

Review: After We Collided by Anna Todd

Title: After We Collided
Author: Anna Todd
Publisher: Simon Schuster
Genre: New Adult, Romance, Drama
Links: Book Depository | GoodReads | Amazon

Blurb:

After a tumultuous beginning to their relationship, Tessa and Hardin were on the path to making things work. Tessa knew Hardin could be cruel, but when a bombshell revelation is dropped about the origins of their relationship—and Hardin’s mysterious past—Tessa is beside herself.

Hardin will always be . . . Hardin. But is he really the deep, thoughtful guy Tessa fell madly in love with despite his angry exterior—or has he been a stranger all along? She wishes she could walk away. It’s just not that easy. Not with the memory of passionate nights spent in his arms. His electric touch. His hungry kisses.

Why I picked it up:

I read and enjoyed the first in the series, After. You can see my review HERE

My Thoughts:

It’s no secret that I enjoyed After. I thought it was a great little trashy romance. But After We Collided was just more of the same. More fights, more Harlin and Tessa going back and forth, back and forth. It was fine for the first book, but if a book turns into a series, then something needs to happen. I would have liked a little more… well, plot. This just felt so much like After, it was like I was reading it all over again.

I think the main problem is that the story is written in a way that hashes out every minute of their day. The timeline never skips ahead. It’s every single day, morning, noon, and night, and by the middle of the book it just felt like… okay, lets skip forward a little now. I don’t need to know that Tessa is curling her hair again.

I think while I could appreciate After for being exactly what it was, I just needed more from this one. If I’m going to commit to reading 400 pages, then it needs to expand from the first novel in someway and this just didn’t. Nothing happened.

My Verdict – 2 stars

Review: Slave by Mende Nazer

Title: Slave
Author: Mende Nazer & Damien Lewis
Publisher: Virago Press (Little Brown)
Genre: Memoir, Slavery

Blurb:

Mende Nazer lost her childhood at age twelve, when she was sold into slavery. It all began one horrific night in 1993, when Arab raiders swept through her Nuba village, murdering the adults and rounding up thirty-one children, including Mende.

Mende was sold to a wealthy Arab family who lived in Sudan’s capital city, Khartoum. So began her dark years of enslavement. Her Arab owners called her “Yebit,” or “black slave.” She called them “master.” She was subjected to appalling physical, sexual, and mental abuse. She slept in a shed and ate the family leftovers like a dog. She had no rights, no freedom, and no life of her own.

Normally, Mende’s story never would have come to light. But seven years after she was seized and sold into slavery, she was sent to work for another master—a diplomat working in the United Kingdom. In London, she managed to make contact with other Sudanese, who took pity on her. In September 2000, she made a dramatic break for freedom.

Why I picked it up:

One of the girl’s from work brought this one in for me to read. It came highly recommended.

My thoughts:

This is one of those books that makes you really think about the world. It tells the story of Mende, a girl who grew up in Sudan and was kidnapped from her tribe to become a slave.

Mende is an interesting character. As a young girl she was almost a bit of a brat, quite spoilt and outspoken. Which made it even more terrible when her childhood and innocence was stolen from her.

The writing was simplistic, but the pace moved well. This is a relatively short read considering the intense subject matter. I’ve never really read a book like this before, but this one makes me want to read some others, because I think it’s important to know stories like this. It really made me appreciate my good fortune in life.

In short, everyone should pick up this one. It has some great reviews on GoodReads and really teaches you something about the world we live in.

I had spent so many years convinced that those who had held me captive and treated me as their slave held ultimate, unlimited power over me. 

My Verdict – 3.5 stars

How many books have you read this year?

It’s coming towards the end of the year, and I’ve being eyeing off my massive TBR pile and wondering how in the world I’m going to get through it. But then I noticed this:

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And I figured hey, I’m doing awesome! So I can cut myself some slack with my TBR pile.

How many books have you read this year? Any highlights you want to recommend? I certainly don’t need any more reading material, but a TBR list can never be too long!

Feature: Aspiring Author, Jessica Loftus

Today I’d like to take a break from book reviews and writerly questions to feature a fellow aspiring author, Jessica Loftus. Jessica was nice enough to beta-read my novel Chemicals Collide for me, and in return for her generosity I thought I’d feature her on my blog!

About:
Jessica has always been a small town girl with a passion for books. Now she is figuring out how to reach her dream of holding a hardback copy of her own novel. Her passion for books has taken over as she is often found deep in a library, or just about anywhere, with her nose in one or sitting at her computer writing a current work-in-progress.

The choice to become a writer isn’t an easy path, especially when she first decided it. Even now she keeps the philosophy that nothing worth having or doing is ever easy. Her favorite type of critiques are the ones that tear her work apart, but is always seeking to find that golden reader that likes her work.

Big thanks to Jessica for answering the following questions!

Writing wise, what are you working on at the moment?
Right now I’m working on my short story called Wolf-Thief (In it’s second draft stage). I’m also still in the planning stages for my first full novel titled Wolfsbane as part of my Were-Witch Series.

Do you have any advice for fellow writers?
Life is going to get in the way sometimes. My life lately has been the pure definition of that. But you can’t let life stay in the way, you have to find time to write at some point and once you find that time you will not regret it for a minute.

What are your writing goals?
My ultimate writing goal is to have a book published. Whether it be through a company or I publish it myself. I want to be able to hold my work in my hand, completely dumbfounded, and mumbling “I made this” even if no one else reads it.
Though I would love people to read it anyway…

What are you reading at the moment?
That is actually a long list of books, but the main one I’m reading at the moment is “How to Read Literature Like a Professor” by Thomas Foster. He makes literature analysis easy to understand if you haven’t done it before but still fun for people who already do it.

Who is your favourite author/book and why?
My favorite book will always be Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry. I read it every summer and the binding is pretty worn out now. When I read it I keep learning something knew or take it from a different perspective. A large part of the series is questioning society, and though that can be seen as stereotypical when it comes to utopian/dystopian novels it comes across well here. If anything it taught me to always ask “Why?” and that is something I feel that everyone needs to learn how to do, or more encouraged to do since many already do it at a young age.

You can find Jessica’s blog here – Dare To Dream, Live To Write

What is your favourite quote?

I am a big fan of quotes. One of my favourite things about blogging is finding a nice reading or writing related quote to post at the bottom of each article I write. I love everything about quotes. I feel like if you find the right one, it can speak to you and thousands of others.

So what are your favourite quotes?

I have two that have really stuck with me over the years. They aren’t writing or reading related, but I want to share them anyway. They are:

Writing wise, I ADORE this one! It brings me SO much comfort!

What are your favourite quotes?

Review: Better Than Perfect by Simone Elkeles

Title: Better Than Perfect
Author: Simone Elkeles
Genre: Young adult, contemporary, romance
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Links: Book Depository | GoodReads | Amazon

Blurb:

After getting kicked out of boarding school, bad boy Derek Fitzpatrick has no choice but to live with his ditzy stepmother while his military dad is deployed. Things quickly go from bad to worse when he finds out she plans to move them back to her childhood home in Illinois. Derek’s counting the days before he can be on his own, and the last thing he needs is to get involved with someone else’s family drama.

Ashtyn Parker knows one thing for certain–people you care about leave without a backward glance. A football scholarship would finally give her the chance to leave. So she pours everything into winning a state championship, until her boyfriend and star quarterback betrays them all by joining their rival team. Ashtyn needs a new game plan, but it requires trusting Derek—someone she barely knows, someone born to break the rules. Is she willing to put her heart on the line to try and win it all?

Why I picked it up:

This book was sent to me from Bloomsbury in exchange for an honest review. But I’m a huge fan of the Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles, so I was excited for this one.

My Thoughts:

This book was cute. It has the same vibe as a Simone Elkeles’s other novels – a bad boy and a driven girl all messed up in a light and feel-good plot.

I really enjoy Simone Elkeles’s writing style. Not many authors can pull off first person, alternating POV, but Simone is really good at creating characters with distinctive voices.

Overall, I don’t have much to say about this novel. It was a short, simple read, that I read in one sitting. It kept my attention, the pace moved well, the characters were interesting… nothing to write home about, but still a lovely little contemporary romance.

My Verdict – 3 stars

Which book has been on your shelves the longest?

My bookshelves have been through some massive overhauls. I’ve gone through stages where I’ve sold every book I own (for travel reasons) only to start all over again a year or two later.

At the moment I’m committed to building my own little library, and I don’t think I’d ever sell my books again.

So today I’m wondering… which book has been on your shelves the longest? Which book has survived all your clean outs, trips to the second hand bookstore, book swaps, and garage sales?

For me, it’s Harry Potter. My books are battered and the pages are yellow, but I love my original copies.

What book have you had on your shelves the longest?