Reader Requests #3 — Trad-published books, my students, and my writing fears


Time for another Reader Mailbag! I put out a call for blog ideas on Facebook and got some great ideas. I’ll answer three questions tonight.

#1 – Traditionally published authors who have inspired you to write and/or continue as a reader. You’re full of love for the self-published (a lot of whom are just as good if not better than traditionally published) so who do you love in the traditional published world?

— Carrie Gillette

Great question. Obviously most people grew up on traditionally-published authors. It wasn’t until recent years when independently-published authors could realistically put their book in the hands of the reading public. My biggest influence when I was a teenager was Isaac Asimov. By the time I really got into his work, he’d already passed away, but I can’t deny his Foundation and Robot novels left a huge impression on me. I read about his writing process and how prolific he was and that really started my dream of becoming a writer.

ImageAs for contemporaries, I can’t talk about traditionally-published authors without mentioning Stephen King (although he has also independently-published). If anyone is EVER interested in writing, they should read King’s autobiographical/how-to On Writing. It was probably the first time I realized I actually could be an author. I was already a writer at that point (working in newspaper), but novels was a far cry from high school football articles.

As for authors that I will read no matter what – Lee Child’s Reacher books, Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt and NUMA Files books, Dean Koontz, John Scalzi, J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, to name a few.

I will never give up traditionally-published books completely. There are dozens of traditionally-published authors I will continue to follow and read, and I doubt I will ever give them up. There is a reason why they were published in the first place, after all.


#2 – What you’ve learned from your students.

— Christy Winemiller

As many of you know, I’m also a high school history teacher. This semester I am teaching U.S. Government, Economics, Modern World History, and World Geography.

High school kids are a trip sometimes. I love teaching and being a positive influence on students as they are trying to figure themselves and the world out. One day they will amaze you and the next they will confuse you. Science tells us that the teenage brain is not fully formed. That they can’t make the same logical conclusions that adults do. As teachers we often commiserate that we can see the logical and best answer to a problem but sometimes a kid doesn’t do it, even if it stares them right in the face.

But, what also comes along with that aspect of adolescence is passion. The logic isn’t always there. Their emotions often control their decisions instead. As teachers we see disregard for authority, an irrational sense of invincibility, and unreasonable passion over the silliest things.

Sometimes I’ll read a critique of young adult books by some stuffed shirt in New York and the complaint often is that they are not logical and too emotional. But that’s exactly what teenagers are. They ar passion to the nth degree. There was a girl in one of my classes a few weeks ago after Duke lost their first round basketball game. She was forlorn, in spite of the fact she will never go to school there (she admitted herself), we multiple states away from North Carolina, and she has no ties to the school. But she was just shaken by the loss.

That’s what I’ve learned – that as an adult logic comes back into play, but I can’t forget the emotion and passion that life needs sometimes. We can’t forget the wonder and magnificence of life just because we have a mortgage payment due at the end of the month.


#3 – Greatest fear when it comes to writing.

— Stefan Bolz

My greatest fear? Wow…I’m not really sure if this is my greatest, but I’ll share some fears I’ve had while going through this writing process.

Last year about this time I was probably 85-90 percent done with my first novel, Dead Sleep. And then I just sat on it. I made excuse after excuse as to why I couldn’t write that day. Days turned into weeks and eventually I hadn’t written for probably a month.

I was scared to finish. I couldn’t bring myself to let these characters go. Even thinking about it now, I still have a tear that is working its way to my eye. There was a finality to it that I wasn’t ready for. In fact it was earlier question-asker Christy Winemiller who assured me, telling me I would see them again the sequel. Once school ended for the year, I plunged back into the book and finally finished. On one level, it wasn’t hard, but on another, it was some of the most difficult writing I’ve ever done.

And part of it was the characters, but another part was simply finishing the book. There are more than a few projects that I’ve started and not completed in my life. It can be easier that way. You can’t fail if you don’t finish. What if you finish and people hate it? I think I have pretty decent taste and I like my book, but what if the world hates it? What if this book will be your last book?

I suppose there are a lot of fears rolled up into one situation, but there you go.


Some serious topics tonight, so I’ll leave you with the creepiest picture of a taco I could find:






ImageHoly cow. I hesitate to call this the best book I’ve read this year, but Zero Echo Shadow Prime will definitely fall into my best of the year list. I’d been recommended the book a few months ago and it piqued my interest, but I forgot about it until a friend told me it was out. I quickly snatched it up and spent every free moment reading this book from yesterday afternoon, evening, and then this morning when I finished. I was relentless as I worked to finish this amazing book.

Mr. Samet has outdone himself with his debut novel. While the plot isn’t the same, I had some of the same feelings and emotions I had when I read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. (To tell you how much I love RPO, I currently re-read it AT LEAST once a year.) I loved it, no if’s, and’s, or but’s.

So you might be asking – what is this book about? Zero Echo Shadow Prime is a novel about one character…or is it four…or a billion? My head is frankly still spinning a little from all the different aspects of this story, but to boil it down, ZESP is Charlie’s story. Charlie (short for Charlotte) is an 18-year-old woman who has created the world’s first Shadow (personal assistant in a way) to pass the Turing Test. Alan (obviously named after Turing) is a technological marvel, but Charlie has a problem. Cancer is stripping her of life until her father and a business associate named Jude offer a solution.

Next thing you know, Charlie’s story is now four separate tales. There is Charlie Original Recipe, called ZERO; Charlie the so-called zombie surrogate, a robotic body called PRIME; Charlie as her own version of a SHADOW, stripped of memories; and Charlie in a world with a billion other versions of herself, an ECHO.

It could have been dizzying to keep up with these four stories, but Samet does an excellent job keeping the stories separate, but at the same time drawing them all together. There is so much great story here, starting off the book with a bang with the story of Four Arms, an ECHO version of Charlie as she is forced to fight and kill (almost Hunger Games-style) in order to survive. Around each corner, however, there are twists and turns that leave you breathless, wondering how Samet came up with all this.

But even apart from all the action, this book really offers some intriguing questions. What exactly is a human? Is it just flesh and bone or is there something more? If a person was able to move their consciousness to a computer, is there a spark of humanity there?

With the new movie Transcendence coming out soon, these are all fascinating questions and ones that don’t have easy answers with the new world that we are embarking upon.

My recommendation – GO BUY THIS BOOK. NOW.

You won’t regret it.



I just got my paperback copy of John Hancock’s ROOF! I just had to show off the awesome illustrations before each chapter — a beautiful book! You can just tell that some books were made with love and ROOF is one of those books.

Oh…and pay no attention to my daughter’s finger just off to the side. 🙂

ROOF on Amazon: