Reflections on the Old Year

On New Year’s Eve 2014, I wrote a list of goals that I wanted to achieve in 2015. It totaled over forty items, spanning four sheets (single-side) from a small, ruled notebook. I sealed that list in an envelope and scrawled “TO BE OPENED ON DEC. 31, 2015” across the front and the seal of the envelope. I tucked the sealed list in a journal and went about my business.

Yesterday, I opened that envelope and went through the list, checking off those things that I accomplished and making notes otherwise (e.g., maybe I accomplished part of a goal, or the goal needed to be modified during the year). Sadly, I didn’t check off most of my list, though I was proud of those things I did (the year wasn’t a total wash!). Among those was:

–Established a business banking account
–Found an accountant that specialized in small businesses
–Set up my author website
–Did book signings at independent bookstores
–Guest blogged on a site
–Got new glasses & a fresh supply of contact lenses
–Regularly exercised 3 times/week
–Wrote more handwritten letters, which of course led to
–Getting new stationery 🙂
–Got a new winter coat (not that I’ve had much occasion to wear it, what with temperatures being in the 60s & 70s for most of November and December 2015)
–Got more involved in my college alumni association and local chapter of the alumni club.

I also achieved some goals that I hadn’t listed, such as having my sports articles published in major, national publications such as Sports Illustrated (via The Cauldron on Medium) and Ms. magazine, and other articles published elsewhere around the web WOOT!  I was fortunate to make some cool connections with some like-minded folks in both the same and different industries, and I’m looking forward to our collaborations in the upcoming year.

I tried some new things and failed (applied for writing grants and submitted short stories to two publications), but got positive, valuable feedback that will set me up for success when I try again (and I was actually encouraged by The Powers That Be at each organization and publication to try again. How cool is that?).

Even those goals that weren’t accomplished were valuable. For some, they were only partially completed (I wanted to publish four books last year, but only did two: The Bastille Family Chronicles: Dominic and Stormbringer. That’s still better than zero. I also released BFC: Dominic and a previous book, Blizzard, in mass market paperback formats.).

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This a speculative fiction novel (a new genre for me!), written under the pen name Tai Daniels

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This is the second installment in the Bastille Family Chronicles series

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Now avaolable in mass market paperback, only on my website, tiffscribes.com

For others, they gave me an insight as to the work that was still to be done in order to check them off my list. Some goals were too vague, and some were too specific and didn’t allow for the twists and turns of life.

Still others became no longer relevant in retrospect, and these uncompleted goals are the ones to which I’m paying more attention. Their lack of relevancy to my life is forcing me to closeer inspect them and discover alternate routes that may be better suited to my needs.

Oprah Winfrey is often quoted as saying “Man’s rejection is God’s protection.” While some of my goals weren’t reached due to personal error, others weren’t due to circumstances beyond my control. There may be a reason for this, and that reason may be that Goal X isn’t what I really need–or, upon reexamination, what I really want. Not reaching those goals may have been a divine form of protection, and it’s up to me to figure out if this is true, and the way forward if it is indeed true. And for those unrealized goals that were my fault, having a long, hard look at some harsh truths is the best way to garner progress. As the Twelve Steppers say, admitting a problem is the first step. 🙂

Though 2015 didn’t shape up to be all that I hoped it would, the year ended up a lot better than 2014 was, for which I am truly grateful. I’m excited and optimistic for 2016, and I’m looking forward to opening the sealed envelope of goals that is now inscribed, “TO BE OPENED ON DEC. 31, 2016”.

Happy New Year, all, and thanks for stopping by.

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CYBER WEEK SALE: 50% off ERRYTHANG!

AAAAAAGGGHHHHH! This was supposed to have been sent on MONDAY, but when I switched from “draft” to “publish” on the WordPress app, I guess the app/phone interface didn’t get the memo. Grrrr…

Anyway, here is the original post that SHOULD have gotten to you a few days ago. *sigh*

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Hi all,

I haven’t blogged in a long while because I was dealing with an ill family member, NaNoWriMo, Thanksgiving, and the imminent publication of my fourth book.

Well, the family member is better, I didn’t finish NaNoWriMo this year (only got to 27K words), T-Day is over, and my fourth novel, Stormbringer, is out as of today. WOOT!

Since it’s that time of the year where everyone and their grandmother is offering a sale, I figured I’d jump on the bandwagon. 🙂

Here ya go: my biggest. sale. EVER.

50% off (yeah, I said it), all titles through my website. Yes, that includes my newest book, Stormbringer.  Enter code CYBERTIFF at checkout.

You can find details in the latest email that went out to my mailing list (and if you aren’t on my mailing list, then what are you waiting for?)

http://eepurl.com/bHIIdL

This sale is going on all week through Saturday, 12/5. Free U.S. shipping on all orders of $10 & up. How cool is that?

For those of you who wanted to try my books but were frugally conscious, now’s your chance! And did I mention that I now offer the mass market versions of The Bastille Family Chronicles: Dominic and Blizzard: A Sebastian Scott novel? The regular price for those is $8.00 each; if you buy them this week, you can get them for $4 each.  That’s two for the price of one, which is a pretty good incentive to buy both. 😀 And the larger paperbacks, which are $14.95 each, can now be had for about $7.50! At this price, you can get all the titles and stock up for your holiday reading.

Oh, what a bargain! What a bargain for you!

And did I also mention that the books come autographed? And that they make great gifts? Just saying.

The offer is only good through my website, and ends at 11:59 pm ET on Saturday, December 5. Remember to use the code CYBERTIFF at checkout. Come through and gitchu a piece.

Thanks for stopping by.

Advance Notice: Crimson Shore by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Hi, all! “Advance Notice” is a new section where I review the galleys (advance reading copies) I received via Net Galley and other sources. Most of these books are near their public publication date, so consider this a spoiler alert!

Crimson Shore

Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Grand Central Publishing

Publication Date: November 10, 2015

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I usually try to alternate between fiction and nonfiction books when I post what I’m reading, but this time I had to jump into Crimson Shore when I was recently approved to read the galley by Net Galley. And yes, there were other galleys that had earlier publication dates, but I was in a Pendergast kind of mood.

I have been a longtime Preston/Child/Pendergast fan since Relic, which introduced the irreverently unorthodox FBI Special Agent Aloysius X.L. Pendergast, of the New Orleans Pendergasts, in 2007. I first picked up Relic at a used book sale for fifty cents, and was hooked. I even read some of the separately written books by both Preston (I recommend The Codex) and Child (Deep Storm was good).

Crimson Shore is the fifteenth installment in the Pendergast series. This book has Pendergast taking on what appears to be a routine wine theft on the outskirts of Boston, Massachusetts, except that the wine overlooked by the thieves was of an extremely rare vintage. Pendergast, being a great oenophile, took the case on the condition that he would receive a bottle of the wine as payment (no small gesture, as one bottle was worth at least $10,000). He also saw this as an opportunity to further socialize his ward and quasi-forbidden love interest Constance Greene, in an attempt to re-cage the savagery she exhibited in Blue Labyrinth. Pendergast navigates the abusive power of the local police chief, and utilizes the assistance of the deputy chief–who comes from one of the town’s prominent families–when the wine theft reveals roots in the town’s dark history regarding a local shipwreck in the 1700s. Bizarre deaths lead a gruesome trail to an unexpected ending, which may finally use up the last of Pendergast’s seemingly nine lives.

Preston and Child still deliver excitement in Crimson Shore, but I can’t say that I’m that enamored of Constance as a more prominent character. Her role has grown in each book since The Cabinet of Curiousities, but I rather liked her when she was confined to an enclosed space, be it Pendergast’s Riverside Drive home; a cruise ship; or a mental institution (she was actually at her best there). Constance on the loose in society, and struggling to acclimate herself to modern public ways, was an incongruous note in an otherwise harmonious book.  I’m also on the fence about Pendergast’s obvious feet of clay since Fever Dream; while humanizing his character (Pendergast driving a Porsche? Really?), the razor-sharp investigative skills and abrasive, yet genteel Southern charm that put him on the public map seem to be eroding since that book; this becomes more evident in Crimson Shore. Still, Pendergast fans will enjoy his latest adventure, and the cliffhanger, while surprising, will not cause too much worry among the Pendergast fan club. There is also a recipe of sorts for preparing Sole a la Pendergast, a fillet of fish with a wine-based, creamy mushroom sauce.

Crimson Shore is available for pre-order at a discount; the book will be released on November 10, 2015, at full price.

RETRO READS: Dark Paradise by Tami Hoag

Hi all!  Welcome to Retro Reads, where I talk about my favorite books that were published at least ten years ago. You can still find most of them online, though sometimes they have been re-released with a different cover and/or title. I will let you know if a book is out of print and/or otherwise unavailable.

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Original paperback cover

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Re-release paperback cover

Dark Paradise
Tami Hoag
Mystery/Suspense
Publication date: 1994
Status: In print/Available

Yesterday, I noticed that some neighbors a few houses down have llamas in their front yard. Being that I live in the city part of Atlanta, I was a bit taken aback; wildlife of that magnitude isn’t usually seen around here (although the Mennonite church a few blocks down has sheep, which are available for rent to chew up rogue shrubbery, but I digress).

Seeing the llamas reminded me of Dark Paradise, the first Tami Hoag novel I ever read. The novel is set in Montana and tells the story of Marilee Jennings, a court reporter in California who takes a leave of absence from her job to pay a much-needed visit to her friend Lucy. Lucy was a fellow court reporter who came into a mysterious inheritance and ditched her job to live in Montana a year prior. When Marilee (“Mari”) arrives on Lucy’s doorstep, she finds Lucy’s expensive-looking house ransacked and learns the news of Lucy’s allegedly accidental death–and that Lucy left everything to her, including the llamas in the spacious backyard. Mari soon figures out that Lucy’s death wasn’t an accident and someone took the fall for it.  Her quest to bring the true killer to justice almost gets her put in a grave next to Lucy–even as she fends off the pressure from John “JD” Rafferty, the attractive owner of the neighboring ranch who wants her to sell Lucy’s land to him, to further his own agenda.

Dark Paradise has the right balance of suspense and romance; indeed, the character development is as enjoyable as the plot–which doesn’t have a stereotypical “happily ever after” ending. . What I like best about the characters are their flaws; Hoag makes them truly human, questionable decisions and all. The plot is an interesting commentary on gentrification and how it is furthered in areas considered playgrounds for the wealthy, and the ripple effect on long-term area citizens. This book was written back in 1994, before gentrification became so prevalent here in America, yet the message still resonates today.

I’ve gone on to read and enjoy other books written by Hoag, but Dark Paradise remains my favorite. It’s an engaging read that is worth the trip.

Thanks for stopping by.

What I’m Reading: The Gauguin Connection by Estelle Ryan

Like many, I like to take advantage of free (and reduced price) ebooks offered through sites such as Bookbub; it’s a good way to discover new (to you) author.

[It’s also a good way to clog up your e-reader with ebooks you intend to read “someday”, “when I have time”,  but I digress.]

The Gauguin Connection, by Estelle Ryan, popped up last year on Bookbub as a free ebook.

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I’m a fan of mystery/thriller/suspense novels, and this one had a rather intriguing premise: an art investigator who was also a high-functioning autistic. A good friend of mine is also high-functioning autistic, so I was curious to see how this condition would be woven into a story.

I wasn’t disappointed.

The Gauguin Connection introduces Dr. Genevieve Lenard, an autistic art investigator for an insurance company in France. She is sucked into a murder/theft/forgery case when a college girl is found murdered, and a piece of a famous Gauguin painting is found on her body–the same painting that is insured by Genevieve’s company. Genevieve uses both her investigative skills and her astuteness at reading body language to solve this case and many others to which the murdered girl was connected.

Genevieve’s character, by dint of her autism, relies heavily on body language in order to function adequately in society. She doesn’t understand slang, colloquialisms, or sarcasm, to the frustration of most who meet her. She also has a limited filter, and often speaks her mind with no concern as to whether or not someone’s feelings (or ego) might be hurt. I found myself laughing aloud at the character’s bluntness; she reminded me a bit of myself, many years ago (no autism, just a tendency to speak without employing diplomacy :D). Autism is not a laughing matter, but Ryan wrote Genevieve in a way that allowed the underlying humor of her remarks to shine through. Plus, I’m a smartass, so I appreciated Genevieve’s responses to asinine questions and replies.

I was also fascinated by Genevieve’s interpretation of body language as a means of assimilating in society. It is often said that most communication among people is nonverbal, and this book reiterates that. I picked up some interesting kinesthetic clues that bear further study, and it made the story even more interesting.

The book may have been a bit heavy-handed on the whole “socializing Genevieve” concept, along with a couple of stereotypical characters (e.g., the overstressed, focused lawman intent on pursuing justice; the lawman and criminal who constantly outwit each other, yet have a grudging mutual respect). Still, I found The Gauguin Connection to be an entertaining read, and I already purchased the next book in the series (which is up to eight books, so far).

[Heads up: the ebook is still free !]

Thanks for stopping by.

RETRO READS: Streetlethal by Steven Barnes

Hi all!  Welcome to Retro Reads, where I talk about my favorite books that were published at least ten years ago. You can still find most of them online, though sometimes they have been re-released with a different cover and/or title. I will let you know if a book is out of print and/or otherwise unavailable.

 

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Streetlethal

Steven Barnes

Sci-Fi/Speculative Fiction

Publication Date: 1983

Status: Out of print/Available used

Streetlethal was my first purchase from Borderlands Books in San Francisco. 🙂 I’d already become a fan of Steven Barnes’  books Lion’s Blood and Great Sky Woman (I checked them out from the public library), but I’d never heard of Streetlethal until I saw it while browsing in the bookstore. I bought it and another of his (unknown to me) books, The Kundalini Equation.

Streetlethal takes place in a somewhat dystopian future Los Angeles. The story centers around Aubrey Knight, a highly skilled nullboxer (nullboxing is like MMA to the nth degree) who becomes an enforcer for the Ortegas, a powerful drug family who also dabbles in black market organ selling and prostitution.  Aubry is set up by his new girlfriend/drug addict (guess who is her supplier?) because he wants to quit working for the Ortegas–which is not done–and sent to a maximum security prison for murder.

(Never trust a big butt and a smile, Aubry.)

He eventually escapes and goes after Luis Ortega, the man who orchestrated his set-up, which is how he meets Promise–a woman who had taken Aubry’s ex-girlfriend/snitch under her wing and got her into rehab. Promise becomes Aubry’s “in” to the Ortegas, with interesting results.

The technological advances in the novel are quite mind-boggling, especially considering that the book was written in the early 1980s. Barnes’s gift is showcasing the range of human emotion in all of his characters. In Aubry Knight and, eventually, Promise, we get everything from euphoria/”top of the world”; to the depths of despair when your world is snatched from beneath your feet; to the unique mindset of athletes, especially professional ones; to the confusion and borderline resignation when things don’t quite work out the way you’d planned. In his strong secondary characters (Tomaso Ortega and Kevin Warrick are excellent) we get the roller-coaster ride of power plays, drug addiction, insecurity, family dynamics, and the urgent drive that comes from feeling like time is running out when you have too much to do. It’s also nice to read a post-apocalyptic novel that doesn’t include zombies; then again, zombies weren’t as much of a thing in the eighties.

I missed the memo that Streetlethal is the first in a trilogy (it pays to read those last few pages of advertisements in a book), and that Aubry’s journey continues in Gorgon Child and Firedance (that has been rectified–thank you, Amazon used books). Fans of dystopian stuff, martial arts, science wonks, and diverse sci-fi/speculative fiction would enjoy this novel.

Thanks for stopping by.

What I’m Reading: The Rise by Sarah Elizabeth Lewis

It’s finally over.

This sense of relief is my predominate emotion after slogging through The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery by Sarah Lewis. Not that the book is terrible, per se. Lewis drops some valid gems throughout the book, and I found myself highlighting passages as if I were back in college. The book was obviously a labor of love. However, her writing style, while perhaps appropriate for her career in the upper echelons of the art world (especially writing art critiques), doesn’t quite translate to the hoi polloi reading audience. Once upon a time, I lived for the flowery yet convoluted sentence structure employed in the book, along with liberal sprinklings of $2.50 words and obscure art and cultural references beyond certain circles; it’s why I was a fan of the late Manning Marable (in fact, Lewis’s writing style reminds me of Marable’s–a lot). Nowadays, maybe my brain is just too old (or overworked) to cut through anyone’s etymological maze in the name of being perceived as one of the smart kids–which I already am –or stopping every other sentence to look up a reference that I don’t understand or with I am unfamiliar.

To quote singer Tamar Braxton: “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” 😉

[I mean, I love using my extensive vocabulary as much as the next nerd, but as a writer I know that my readers have to understand what I’m writing if they are to be engaged enough to drop some shekels in my basket. Feel me?]

Lewis uses The Rise as a platform to examine the correlation between creativity, failure, and mastery. Or rather, why some people use failure as an impetus to achieve mastery, while others use it as an excuse to quit. Why some creative people are content to exist within the prescribed, time-tested parameters of their particular niche; while others are willing to jump off a cliff at the risk of falling to their deaths while hoping to sprout wings and fly. The premise is valid; the execution, not so much.

Lewis likes to pack a lot of information into a small space; she will mention thermodynamics, Shakespeare, Sumerian myth, modern dance, and arctic exploration–sometimes all in one paragraph. The spasmodic jumps between exemplars lack the smoothness of, say, Malcolm Gladwell (to whom Lewis was unfairly compared), who has written bestsellers in a similar vein as The Rise: taking a subject and figuring out how it affects (or doesn’t) certain groups of people. Add this to the aforementioned maze-like conveyance of ideas and a penchant for name-dropping, and I understand why this book was such a chore for me to read.

As I’ve said before: the book isn’t bad, just tedious. Lewis’s perspective on failure and mastery is interesting, though not presented a clearly as I’d like. There’s good stuff in there, but you have to dig for it (alcohol and/or skimming ahead optional). I just had higher hopes for the content, given the initial hype surrounding the book in literary circles.

Thanks for stopping by.

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