The Good, Bad and Ugly reviews

By Joe Moore

We’ve been talking quite a bit this week about online reviews, especially those on Amazon, B&N and other sites, and the fact that some authors have admitted to paying for glowing reviews in order to boost sales, so-called sock-puppet reviews. I think we all agree that this is a truly deceitful practice and should be condemned. Many well-know authors are speaking out on this. But I find it more that dishonest, it’s just plain sad. If a writer has so little faith in his or her work that a viable option is to purchase 5-star reviews, that’s sad. Our work should be accepted or rejected on its own merit—it should stand on its own.

No book has ever been declared great by everyone who read it. There will always be those who dislike a book for more reasons that we can count. As a matter of fact, it never ceases to amaze me the vast span of reactions to books including my own and those of my friends. Pick any bestseller and you’ll find someone who loves it and someone else who doesn’t. And often both are willing to say so, in the strongest of terms. There are more than enough good, bad and ugly reviews to go around.

So I thought that instead of talking about online reviews, I’d share some of mine with you. I’ve listed 5 of my thrillers (all co-written with Lynn Sholes) and a sample of the good, the bad and the ugly online reviews we’ve received over the years.

Disclaimer: I have no idea who wrote and posted these nor have I ever paid for a review. These samples were gathered from Amazon and Goodreads.

THE PHOENIX APOSTLES

Phoenix-cover-final (Small)The Good: “I’ll read anything these two authors write. I have to be careful not to put a spoiler in this review, but there is one scene that knocked me off the sofa. I don’t often squeal during a movie scene when the bad guy comes out from around the dark corner, but there was a scene in this book that made me jump and I almost flung the book across the room. I won’t tell which one it was because I don’t want to ruin it for any other reader.”

The Bad: “I just couldn’t figure out if this book was for "young adult" reading or "teen reading" or adults or Christian reading or even anti-religion.”

The Ugly: “The writing is deplorable, the style so bland I had to read a page twice to make sure it was indeed that bad!”

THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY

tgcThe Good: “What I want to know is when is this going to come out as a movie? It has to be one of the most exciting thrillers I have ever read. I was hooked from the first page on when Cotten Stone (the main character) stumbles onto the dig site of the Crusader’s tomb.”

The Bad: “This started with interesting characters and action, but the quality of writing was fair and the story went downhill. Would not recommend even as a beach book.”

The Ugly: “The book was simply boring and poorly written. The characters had no depth. The plot took forever to go anywhere.”

THE LAST SECRET

tlsThe Good: “This was one of those books you cannot put down. Basically I was on the edge of my seat so to speak whilst reading it. Exciting, mysterious. Well written, keeps you guessing. Loved it… Would recommend as great reading!”

The Bad: “It takes more than an exotic location and some perceived struggle between good and evil to make a good story.”

The Ugly: “Religious hype … I was totally disappointed.”

THE HADES PROJECT

thpThe Good: “Lynn Sholes & Joe Moore have given us an exciting, fast moving, and scary novel. The proverbial "page turner".

The Bad: “I had a hard time liking the main character, Cotten Stone. She was a bit too whiny for my taste.”

The Ugly: “A waste of my time.”

THE 731 LEGACY

731The Good: “Lynn Sholes and Joe Moore do a masterful job of telling an engaging story that involves religious prophecy, global disaster, mass plague and an unbelievable revenge plot against the U.S. and its allies by a long-forgotten enemy.”

The Bad: “It was so predictable.”

The Ugly: “This book was a big ‘I don’t care what happens to you, no matter how sad it may be’ kinda story for me. The first time I read a Sholes & Moore book, and definitely the last time.”

So now that you’ve seen a few of my good, bad and ugly reviews, how about you guys? Got the guts to share the best and worst you’ve received? What about those of you that have posted online reviews? Without revealing the book title or author, want to share your good, bad and ugly comments?

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Fried catfish and grits

By Joe Moore

Grail_Conspiracy_coverFirst, some shameless promotion. This Friday, August 24, Amazon will feature two of my thrillers (co-written with Lynn Sholes) on their Kindle Daily Deal. For one day only, you can download THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY or THE PHOENIX APOSTLES for web-version-250only $1.99 each. Both ebooks were featured on the Daily Deal in 2011 and made it to #1 on the bestselling Kindle book list. If you didn’t take advantage of the reduced price before, be sure to do so on Friday. Enjoy!

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I recently read THE LOST ONES by Ace Atkins, a terrific story about a local county sheriff dealing with gun runners in North Mississippi. In addition to being an excellent storyteller, Atkins has an enviable talent for creating a strong sense of place—a vivid setting. By the time I finished the novel, I felt like I was so familiar with the back roads of Tibbehah County that I probably should be paying property taxes. And it gave me a big hankering for fried catfish, buttermilk cornbread and grits at the local diner.

So today I want to build on Joe Hartlaub’s Saturday post on Location and offer a few tips on creating a strong setting in your book.

Setting is integral to any story. As a writer, you’ve developed a unique plot and a strong set of characters. Now you must consider the setting. You can’t split the plot and characters from the setting and expect to produce a believable piece of prose in which your readers can relate. Why? Because like real life, your characters don’t live in a vacuum. Just like all of us, your characters are constantly affected by and reacting to their surroundings. For instance, how would your night scene be different if it took place in broad daylight? Rather than the scene being hot and dry, what if it was pouring rain? Would the weather and other natural elements change the dramatic impact of a scene? How would the setting make a scene spooky or funny or dangerous or calming?

Think of some classic scenes in your favorite books or movies and imagine them in different settings. Would they be as strong? Would Indiana Jones being chased down the streets of New York City by a big truck be as powerful as being chased by a giant rolling boulder through a cobwebbed ancient tunnel deep in the jungle? Would Clarice Starling’s interviews with Dr. Lecter have worked as well if it had taken place in a bright, modern chrome and shinny white prison rather than in the bowels of a dark, dungeon-like mental hospital for the criminally insane?

Beyond what your characters say and do, you must consider how their actions and reactions contrast or blend with their surroundings. And the best way to do that is to consider your setting as another character playing a part in the story. Setting is not just walls and doors and sky and grass, it’s how their surroundings interact with your characters, and their inner and outer actions and reactions to it.

Another element of setting is how characters live within it. By that I mean how they manage the common functions of life such as eating, sleeping, and other natural human processes. Most of us are familiar with the highly successful TV series 24. Even within the twenty-four-hour premise of each season’s show, people still had to take a deep breath once in a while. While 24 was a rare exception, most novels span more than one day. So during the course of the story unfolding, writers must manage their human characters with time to eat or sleep or at least rest for a moment. If the pace is so intense that the characters never get a break, the reader will become fatigued. Thrillers and mysteries are often described as rollercoaster rides. But even the longest coaster ride has peaks and valleys. Give your reader and your characters a break now and then by using the elements of the story’s setting.

And don’t forget about the passage of time as being an element of the setting. How does time passing speed up or slow down the plot or pacing? Is your story’s passage of time realistic? Or is it too compressed or expanded to be believable. Remember, unless you’re H.G. Wells and your book is called THE TIME MACHINE, be sure to manage your story’s clock so that it doesn’t get in the way of the story and give the reader a reason to pause and question it.

Setting is more than the location in which your story takes place. It’s all the external elements that affect your characters and their goals and objectives. If you treat your setting as an additional character, chances are your story will be fully developed.

Now let’s all go out for some fried chicken and collard greens.

How about you? Do you plan your settings ahead of time? Or let them develop as the story progresses. And readers, what was the most memorable and realistic setting in your favorite book?

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The Amazon Daily Deal

By Joe Moore

Today, Amazon has graciously chosen THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY (Midnight Ink, 2005) as their “Daily Deal”. This means that for one day only, they have reduced the price of the Kindle version to $0.99. I don’t know the tgcprocess by which they choose books for their Daily Deal, but I really appreciate it. Back on October 18, they picked my latest thriller THE PHOENIX APOSTLES, and by the end of the day, it became the #1 bestselling Kindle book on Amazon. So having 2 of my novels picked is a really big deal, and really cool. As you can imagine, I’m hoping for a repeat performance today.

THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY is very special to me because it began my writing career being the first book I ever had published. And the story of how it came about is also very special.

In 1994 a friend phoned my co-writer Lynn Sholes and told her to read the article Crusade’s End? in the April issue of Discover magazine. The caller thought it had great promise as a premise for a book. The article was about Leon Decoeur, an archaeologist, working late on Christmas Eve at a dig site in Jerusalem where he uncovered an ancient cup he believed could be the Holy Grail. Preserved inside the cup was a brown residue, later determined to be human blood. Discover quoted Decoeur, "You remember that cosmologist a couple of years back who claimed he’d seen the face of God? Well, I think we’re going to see His DNA."

As all writers do, Lynn started asking What If questions. In this instance it was: what if someone used the DNA to clone Christ?

At about the same time, I was a freelance writer reviewing books for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and other Florida newspapers. A mutual friend introduced me to Lynn. I reviewed her second novel (she was writing historical fiction at the time and eventually had 6 novels published) and we began talking about the business of writing. I joined Lynn’s local critique group where we often discussed current projects and those we envisioned in the future. The Discover article story came up repeatedly, but Lynn just didn’t feel comfortable taking on the task of making a book from it since it was outside her genre. So, even though the story intrigued everyone who heard the cloning-Christ premise, it sat dormant until I couldn’t stand the waste of a good idea any longer. One day, several years after the magazine article, I called Lynn and “threatened” her. I told her if she didn’t write that story, I would outright steal the idea and write it myself. I think that shocked her into the reality of “getting on with the rat killing!” as she likes to say. Lynn and I decided on collaboration. We spent countless hours writing a detailed, 52-page, chapter-by-chapter outline. Finally finished, we agreed we didn’t like major segments and started all over again, adding more dimension and texture.

The more research we did, the bigger the story grew. Finally, we thought the skeleton was ready for the flesh, and we began the first draft. That’s when we became acutely aware of the differences in our writing styles: her voice was lyrical, mine bold. Those two voices fought each other on the page. But we also realized our strengths: Lynn’s was character development while mine was plotting. It took a great deal of work to put our egos aside and build trust in each other before our different styles started to blend. (This is why you rarely see collaboration in writing fiction. It’s generally an impossible task.) After three years of working on our book, we felt, as did our beta readers, that our voices were blending and our strengths were paying off to the story’s advantage. When our manuscript was finally complete, we sent it off to Lynn’s agent who loved it.

Then came the bad news. Enter Dan Brown.

Now, TGC was conceived, outlined, and drafted a decade before Brown’s book, still he took all the air out of our story. Even though TGC was not the same story as THE DA VINCI CODE, it was still a “Grail” story. And there were small coincidences and idiosyncrasies in the plots, like killing someone off and making it look like an allergic reaction. So we went back to the drawing board. BTW, our working title from the beginning was CORPUS CHRISTI (Latin for the Body of Christ). When we finished, we changed it to THE ENOCHIAN PROPHECY.

We worked our way through the book again, doing more research so we could replace those close calls with THE DA VINCI CODE. And we even added a few additional twists. Then we sent it off again.

It found a home with Llewellyn Worldwide, and the book was published in 2005 as part of Llewellyn’s launch of their new mystery imprint, Midnight Ink. They wisely changed the title from THE ENOCHIAN PROPHECY, which no one knew the meaning of much less could pronounce, to THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY.

That year, it was named Book Of The Year by ForeWord Magazine, landed on a number of international bestseller lists, and was eventually translated into 24 languages.

TGC was the beginning of my writing partnership with Lynn Sholes resulting in 5 novels published: THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY, THE LAST SECRET, THE HADES PROJECT, THE 731 LEGACY, THE PHOENIX APOSTLES and the short story BAM! JUST LIKE THAT. We’re closing in on finishing the first draft of #6, the standalone thriller THE BLADE.

So what is THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY about? Here’s the website promo copy.

From a newly unearthed crusader’s tomb in Iraq to the guarded treasure vaults of the Vatican to a secret genetics lab on the banks of the Mississippi, THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY uncovers a sinister plot of ultimate revenge.

A small wooden box hidden for centuries is passed on to network correspondent Cotten Stone by a dying archaeologist. With his final breath, spoken in a language Cotten has not heard since childhood, he declares that she is "the only one who can stop the sun . . . the dawn." Unable to open the box, Cotten seeks the help of John Tyler, a noted biblical historian and Catholic priest on leave of absence from his duties but not his vows. Inside the box, they discover a cup wrapped in a cloth bearing the insignia of a powerful medieval order that professed to be the Guardians of the Grail.

Cotten is propelled into the headlines as she and John deliver the Cup to the Vatican for authentication, and she reports the story of its journey from Calvary to cable TV. But her life quickly becomes caught up in a global plot driven by an ancient sect devoted to bringing about the Second Coming. As those around her fall victim to the Grail Conspiracy, Cotten soon learns her true legacy and must question if she is stopping an abomination or is she working on the side of Evil. In the final conflict she learns why she is the only one who can stop the ultimate revenge against God by the Prince of Darkness.

If you haven’t read TGC, please take advantage of Amazon’s $0.99 Daily Deal and download a copy to your Kindle. If you’ve already read it, I hope you’ll download and enjoy it again. I’ll be forever in your debt.

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This is my last post until next year since TKZ will be taking it’s annual 2-week Winter break starting December 19. Thank you for reading and commenting on my posts throughout the year. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all.

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The Name Game

By Joe Moore

Book titles are critical. It’s that first impression when a potential reader glances down at the new fiction table in the local bookstore. And even if you’ve got a great title, you hope the publisher’s art department doesn’t somehow screw it up with the cover art. I’ve seen books with good titles that were almost impossible to read from a distance. And others where the design was so busy, it gave me a headache.

When Lynn Sholes and I decided to collaborate on our first book, we used CORPUS CHRISTI for the working title during the three years it took to write. Since it was a thriller about cloning Christ, we thought using the Latin for Body of Christ was cleaver. But when we sent it off to our agent, she pointed out the error of our ways. Could be a travel guide to a city in Texas. Could be a novelization of a Broadway play running at the same time. So we changed it to THE ENOCHIAN PROPHECY, a brilliant title that no one could pronounce or spell. Our publisher wisely changed it to THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY which has stuck in all the foreign translations except German.

Book 2 had the working title of THE THIRD SECRET. Steve Berry released a thriller by the same name so our agent changed the title to THE LAST SECRET. So far, it has worked for the foreign publishers that have translated it, although we haven’t seen the German version yet.

Book 3 had a working title of INDIGO RUBY for the year it took to write. The title had a great deal of meaning for at least two people: Lynn and myself. Again, the publisher stepped in and wisely renamed it THE HADES PROJECT which is exactly what the book is about. Clever.

BLACK NEEDLES was what we called number 4 which was the name we gave the deadly retrovirus that formed the threat of the book. Cool title, but it really didn’t tell the reader anything about the story. Could be a book about a knitting club for witches. So the publisher finally settled on THE 731 LEGACY. The book involves the Japanese WWII biological warfare division called Unit 731 and how its legacy propels the story. OK, we agree that was a wise decision and makes sense.

The working title to our next one is THE PHOENIX APOSTLES. We’ll see if that makes it to print.

Sometimes it’s better to leave the titles to the marketing and sales department and just stick to writing the story.

So why are titles important? Paul McCartney’s working title of the Beatles classic “Yesterday” was “Scrambled Eggs.”

Have all your working titles made it to the cover of your book? If not, were you happy with the final version?

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The journey of Cotten Stone

By Joe Moore

facebook-731 October marks the publication of The 731 Legacy, the fourth (and final) installment in the Cotten Stone series. My co-author, Lynn Sholes, and I have lived with our main character for over 7 years and have grown to know and care for her very much. Ending a series is almost like a death in the family—someone you have become close to has passed on. But like real life, it’s inevitable.

Cotten’s journey began over a decade ago when Lynn and I were members of a local writer’s critique group. Writing under the name Lynn Armistead McKee, she was the only published author in the group with six books in print. One evening she mentioned an article she’d read in Discover Magazine about an archaeologist who unearthed a well-preserved relic at a dig site in Jerusalem that he believed was the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper. Tradition holds that the cup was also used to collect Christ’s blood at the Crucifixion and became know as the Holy Grail. Traces of human blood were found inside the relic and the archaeologist believed it to be the blood of Christ.

Based on the article, Lynn proposed her idea for a book: What if someone used the DNA in the Grail to clone Christ. Someone evil.

I was blown away by the idea and encouraged her to write it. But she was reluctant and felt it might be too ambitious a task for her to take on. Her style was more lyrical with romantic undertones. This was a “high concept” thriller that she didn’t feel comfortable undertaking.

I was so intrigued with her premise that after waiting a couple of years, I finally threatened her that if she didn’t write the book, I would steal the idea and write it myself. We compromised and decided to work on it together. We felt that the areas I was weak in she had strength, and vise versa. We spent a summer constructing tgcan extensive outline and then began drafting the first chapters. Our collaboration could only be described as a train wreck. Everyone that read our first chapters could tell who wrote what. It was a mess. But we didn’t give up. And the thing that probably saved us from abandoning the project was the 10 years we had spent in our critique group. We knew our strengths and weaknesses, our styles, and our voices. So we put our egos aside and maintained a solid respect for each other’s skills while plowing forward until we completed what became The Grail Conspiracy three years later.

Lynn’s agent shopped the manuscript around and quickly got us a contract. Within a year, our book was named ForeWord Magazine’s Book-Of-The-Year, got translated into over 23 languages, and became an international bestseller. Cotten Stone’s journey had begun.

We had no idea that the publisher wanted a series until we noticed it said “A Cotten Stone Mystery” on the proposed cover. They wanted more? Apparently so.

tlsSo we came up with the concept of The Last Secret. Like TGC which combined cutting edge science (human cloning) with an ancient relic (the Grail), we continued this scheme with Cotten’s next adventure. The science was quantum physics and the relic was a 5000-year-old crystal tablet that predicted the Great Flood and held the key to surviving Armageddon along with revealing the path to the Kingdom of Heaven. Cotten’s journey took her on a race to find the tablet before it could be destroyed by the same group that wanted to clone Christ.

thpBook 3 was The Hades Project, again combining science (quantum mechanics) and a relic (The Spear of Destiny). The Forces of Evil were back, this time about to reek havoc with the world’s first quantum computer. To complete their project, they needed the rarest element on earth to power the computer, and the Spear just happened to be made out of it. The race was on.

That brings us to The 731 Legacy and the discovery that the remnants of an ancient killer retrovirus are scattered across the human genome. The Forces of Evil figured out a way to reassemble the virus and create a new generation of suicide bombers that can kill selected targets with something as innocent as a cough on a crowded bus or a sneeze in church. Like the previous chapters of her journey, Cotten had a tough time dealing with this one and came close to tumbling off the edge of the abyss into Darkness.

The Cotten Stone journey has been great fun to write. And many have told us equally good fun to read. Lynn and I have watched Cotten grow from a rookie network reporter who rejected her special calling in life to senior investigative correspondent for the Satellite News Network and the full acceptance of her “special” legacy. She learned a lot along the way and so did we. And despite the fact that the journey has probably ended, at least on paper, the good news is that in the end, Cotten and her fans finally got what they’ve been asking for all along the way. What was it? You’ll just have to read The 731 Legacy.

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